Thursday, January 31, 2008

discussions about churches and security at forums

Here are some links to discussions we had about the Colorado shootings and the idea of security at churches at the forums. I'll link to these, because I like them, although I may not have commented much in them.

U.S.A.’s gun culture now entered into the sanctuary
Attacks force churches to boost security

almost like a sequel to the "rambo" entry

A few days ago, I wrote a review of sorts concerning the movie "Rambo". One comment I made was about the difference between those who sit in relative safety judging others and those who are in the middle of such circumstances and must decide.

I came on this recently, and really, I couldn't have written a more telling piece if I'd wanted to. I'm going to provide the web address, but I'm not going to link to it, because I really don't want to. It might give it even a bit of a google-bump, and I don't want to help this kind of garbage any more then I have to.

The tone of this is about as arrogant and insufferable as I've ever come across, and I don't say those things lightly. It would have been one thing for him to have said that he did not like how the church handled the situation, that may have been fair, but when rhetoric such as this comes from him (taken from various places in the blog entry)...

Though I pray with you that the God of Jesus Christ will be glorified in this tragedy, I must prophesy to you, my brother, that our God, the God of Jesus Christ, has not been glorified. He has not been glorified in your actions prior to, during, or after the shooting.

Today the Body of Christ was wounded, not by an unbelieving gunman but by its own left hand. Today we struck back at our enemy, and hit ourselves. It was not merely New Life Church in Colorado Springs that was in the spotlight today, but the Church universal, and the Church universal has been disfigured...

Nevertheless, despite our stance of solidarity with you, you must be held to account for your actions. The severity of the damage done to the Body of Christ today must be made plain...

Your church, directed by your decision making, was more concerned about its own safety than the life of a lost man and your witness to the gospel of God's radical love before a watching world.

On your website you claim that your "purpose is to ... obey God according to the Scriptures." And yet when God in the Scriptures commands you to pray for those who persecute you, instead you kill him and tell a watching world that your "prayers right now are for those who were injured, and for the families who lost their loved ones."

I am ashamed, brother Boyd. I am ashamed because rather than going the way of the Crucified One and the martyrs who followed Him, the One whose Spirit indwells and empowers us both to be fashioned after the character of God revealed in Jesus, you chose that we would go the other way. Going this other way, you made it almost impossible for yourself to give thanks to Jesus Christ for His self-sacrificial service. You made it impossible for yourself to lift up the courage of the One who died for His enemies, who inspired and empowered you to follow in His footsteps. Instead, you thanked the police. You expressed your gratitude to the "courageous men and women in our law enforcement agencies and the way they responded." Rather than extolling the Christian virtues of self-sacrifice and enemy-love, rather than testifying to the power of prayer and committed Christian nonviolence, you exhibited the standard anxiety of a wealthy, privileged class of citizens when you sighed, "The police were on the scene, the building was secured, our people were safe."

You claim that you "emphasize every portion of Scripture," yet when it comes down to the wire, overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21) is not on the agenda.

...this goes beyond simple disagreement. This calls into question the pastor's witness and perhaps even his faith.

Nice job, jumping on a pastor who's already trying to deal with his own grief and the grief of his people, with nonsense like this. Maybe this guy's been read Job, and learned a few tips on comforting from Job's friends.

One comment I particularly "liked" was this one...

The opportunity for the unique witness of a Bible-believing, Christ-following people in a world gone mad with violence was surrendered for the safety and security of predominantly wealthy Christians.

Yeah, don't worry about the lives of those predominantly wealthy Christians.

For my part, I have no problems with church's having security, and if they have them, they should also expect that those in security should use whatever means possible to protect them. And in this case, the guard used a gun, and I think it was a wise choice.

If this ...person (to substitute for some far stronger terms)... on the blog were a pastor and decided with his church that they didn't want security, all well and good. That would be their choice, and the consequences would be their own, just as this Colorado church's was. But for him to write in such a judgmental fashion (and despite his words of professing humility at the end he is being about as judgmental as a person can be) goes too far, and it sickens me.

May I be kept from such "comforters".

Monday, January 28, 2008

movie review--rambo--very un-pc

First, a note of caution for any who may want or need to know--"Rambo" is not a nice movie. There are plenty of scenes of disturbing activities, cursing, and violence. I'm not going into details, but if your senstive to such things, it's not a movie for you. If you can handle those things, though, it's a movie well worth watching.

This movie was about as anti-PC as I've ever seen, but it does so not so much in a gratuitously insulting way, but more in a brutally in-your-face kind of way.

We are introduced right off to a small group of missionaries who have traveled to Thailand in order to take some medicines and I think Bibles to Burma. Rambo has a boat, and is eventually talked into taking them there.

Almost right after arriving, things go downhill. The village they are at is attacked by some kind of militia, the villagers massacred, and some of the missionaries taken captive. The pastor of their church hires some mercenaries and Rambo takes them back upriver, then joins them, and the rescue is under way.

I don't think the movie wallowed in its violence, but it was there, and there is plenty of it. Nor does it sanitize it. I could say that it is "gory", but in a different way then one might use that same word to describe, for example, some kinds of horror movies.

It would be difficult to call it a movie about faith, though it was there. In the scene where the missionaries have reached the village and before it is attacked, there are images of them providing medical help and teaching the Bible to them.

On a more ironic note, there is the one rather loud mercenary who berates people like the missionaries and even tells the one that it was them and not God who had rescued them, while a bit later he insults the militia leader by referring to him as "godless".

One of the more startling things about the movie is the change in the leader of the band of missionaries. He starts as a kind of stand-offish sort, not a bad sort but obviously not comfortable dealing with rough sorts like John Rambo has become, and when Rambo has to kill some pirates to keep them from taking the group's lone woman, he tries to take a form a moral "high road" about how it's never right to kill. Then, at the final big battle, to try to protect one of the rescuers, he himself tackles one of the attackers and even takes a rock to the man's head several times.

I suppose that's one of the movie's messages, that any kind of extreme non-violence position will not hold up in all situations. We get a hint of such a compromise when the pastor shows up at Rambo's boat saying he's hired mercernaries to rescue his people. If we assume that the leader got his views from the pastor, then the change in mind is quite high-reaching.

That is, maybe, a sort of comment on the difference between the ethical stances of those who sit in relative safety and judging whether any action X is right or wrong and people making those decision under fire, whether literally or figuratively. That it's one thing to speculate about non-violence in a non-violent society, but another when you've just watched a whole village filled with innocent unarmed people being wiped out almost for sport.

Of course, things aren't that simple. The leader's first statement to Rambo about "Taking life is never right", in regards to what happened with the pirates, is something that isn't necessarily biblical. We aren't given any hint of the thought process concerning his change of mind, maybe he didn't think much about it, maybe it was only a "heat of battle" kind of decision.

Though as well, Rambo's early statement about if the group wasn't taking weapons then they weren't helping the situation isn't very good, either.

The movie ends on a mostly positive note. A couple of the missionaries are rescued, and John Rambo leaves his dreary life and returns to his home.

Friday, January 25, 2008

movie review--cloverfield--different kind of giant monster movie

I am a big fan of Godzilla movies. I have a small collection of them on dvd, a few from what I think are each of the different eras of the films. They're usually pretty fun without getting overly deep--maybe a statement or two about some issue, but not a lot before a monster or two shows up and things go from there.

The main difference from most Godzilla movies and "Cloverfield" has to do with the story's perspective. While most Godzilla's that I've seen give a balance between the monsters and the human stories, "Cloverfield" tells the story strictly from the human angle. The monster becomes the crisis, and is developed only in regards to that crisis.

Which isn't a criticism. In a Godzilla movie, almost all you really see of the common people are them running and screaming. The only people we really get to know are those actively involved in the crisis--military leaders and personnel, political leaders, scientists, a few other types along with sidekicks.

"Cloverfield" has its focus on a small group of otherwise fairly average people. They aren't trying to find some way to destroy the monster, nor have they really done anything to awaken to the terror and must some way to put it back to rest. They are simply caught up in it, and one of them takes along a video camera to record what is going on.

So we know what they know, which in the end isn't all that much. They arent "need to know" types of people.

It's a good movie, and I think well done given it's parameters. There are definite moments of creepiness and even jumpiness. It's a little frustrating at times that we aren't given very good looks at the monster on its rampage, especially in one scene where the friends get caught in the middle of a firefight between it and the military.

It's not an overly deep movie. The group of friends who are the focus of the recording are doing more reacting to what is happening around them then trying to respond to it. They are in a way more in damage-control mode then in any other way of thinking.

Don't go into it expecting answers and explanations.But if you can accept the story for what it is, it's enjoyable. I recommend it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

chesterton--shocking the modernists--dealing with boredom

In the book "The Well and the Shallows" by G.K. Chesterton, there is a short essay or article called "Shocking the Modernists" which is so very pertinent for to today that one is tempted to put 'post' in front of the word "Modernists" in the title.

The article centers around something he had read in an unnamed daily paper, under a headline "Youth Finds Church a Bore" and "A Girl Tells Clergy".

"Youth finds church a bore--and stays away from it.

This contention, put forward by a girl of eighteen from a platform at Girton College, Cambridge, yesteday, made the elderly delgates to the Modern Churchman's Conference sit up sharply in their seats.

The speaker was the attractive daughter of a Portsmouth naval chaplain.

Her most telling passage was this: 'I don't think public worship has any attraction whatsoever to the young. Religion is suppose to express God through truth and beauty, we are told, but in this age of specialisation people turn to science, art and philosophy to satisfy those needs'."

Well, doesn't that sound familiar. By golly, isn't that much what some are saying today?

Anyway, Chesterton has some words about thos who have taken the girl's statement and ran with it, with all kinds of crying and fainting. Then, he puts here claims to the question.

She says that people turn to science, art and philosophy. Will she swear by the Death of Nelson, or whatever else binds the daughter of a Portsmouth naval chaplain, that no science student ever shirks or plays truant in a science school? It will be vain for her to swear any such thing in the case of the art schoo; for I have been to an art school myself, and I can assure her that there were quite as many art students who found application to art a bore as there could possibly be divinity students who found divinity a bore. As for young philosophers, I have know a good many of them; at an age when nearly all of them were much more fond of philosophising than of learning philosophy.

I think that is a good point--any discipline requires discipline, which seems to say that it will not always in itself hold our interest. A young musician will find boring beyond belief having to play scales on the chosen instrument, a young athlete will be moved to tears by practices that involve almost everything except playing the game itself, a young actor will find the slog through memorizing the lines to be something designed to try the soul.

Is it really necessary that we should toil through all this tiresome repetition about the perfectly obvious difficulty of getting young people to when they actually want to play, before we even begin to discuss the mature problem of the relation of doctrine to the mind? It is perfectly natural that they boy should find the church a bore. But why are we bound to treat what is natural as something actually superior to what is supernatural; as something which is not even merely supernatural, but is in the exact sense super-supernatural?

It is only those who will discipline themselves, who will commit themselves, who will then come to a mastery of their discipline. It is only after the musician has disciplined himself to the discipline of music that he will be able to play music freely. It is only after the runner has disciplined herself through the discipline of training that she will be able to run like the wind.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

random thoughts

Can we please quit having commercials for medicines, real or fake, on televions?

No, serioiusly, please, no more. I've had it, up to here (holds hand a bit above head). They have to be among the worst-qualit commericals ever made, and I've had enough of them.

Especially the Cialus ones (and I don't care if I misspelled cialus, that's how deep my contempt for their commercials goes). Really, I don't want to be subjected to their 'warning label' stuff again. Or their 'when the mood is right' crap. Or that music they use for it. And the "viva Viagra" ones? Please, civilization is in enough trouble without those commercials contributing to its demise!

It's not like the others are much better, either (except the 'warning label' bits). They're all hokey, stupid, with the almost endless repetitions to "ask your doctor about x".

Seriously, do we really need 'ED' commercials on during prime time tv? Do parents really want 5-year-olds asking "What's ED"?

Can this genre of tv commercial please just...fade away? Really, no one will miss it!

Had an interesting idea on how to describe the Super Bowl if the Patriots and the Packers are in it. If they both win today, I'll have to put that into words and post it. I think it'll be hilarious, not to mention true.

For those of you who think you're all so hip and postmodern, I recommend Chesterton. Doesn't really matter which work, I guess, just pick one. Funny how that guy, roughly 100 years ago, speaks so sharply to so much of the crap coming out today.

I've heard that Marvel is messing with the Spider-Man story, supposedly sending him back in time to his high-school days--before he and MJ marry. So, a lot of years of Spider-Man stories, down the drain. Sad. What a waste. What do we do with the years the editors have devoured?

Finally, this, from the book "The Parables of Peanuts".

Even the Church frequently attempts to flatter itself and to win friends and influence people by watering down Christ's bedrock teaching of man's basic and innate depravity. If Christ had wanted to be more popular, he should have done the same. Apparently, however, Christ was not interested in sacrificing truth to win popularity contests: "The world...hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (Jn 7:7). Therefore, any confrontation between the world and Church will inevitably look like this:

(four panel comic)

panel one: Lucy--"Charlie Brown, I want to ask you something"

panel two: Lucy--"Do you think I'm a crabby person?"

panel three: Charlie Brown--"Yes, I think you're a very crabby person"

panel four: Lucy--"WELL, WHO CARES WHAT YOU THINK?!"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

the death of fischer

I learned chess when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Rather, I had some others I went to school with at that time show me how to play, and later learned from some library books that they had taught me wrong. No harm done, though.

Early on, I came on a book or two of chess history, and found in it things about people with such strange names as Alekhine, Capablance, Petrosian, Morphy. Some of those names, I'm still not certain how to pronouce correctly, like Morphy, and he was even an American player--is it like the word 'morph' with the added 'y' sound, or like the more common name Murphy?

I don't recall paying much attention to Fischer until I started playing in local tournaments after high school. I knew of him, I know, but I don't remember him really standing out. Most of the books I had or had access to were pretty old, so I was a bit more familiar with older players.

But once one gets into chess competition, one can see how much of a shadow, for good and bad, Fischer has had over US chess. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that chess in the States is always looking back to him, to 1972, to Iceland.

US chess looks again to Iceland, where Fischer has been delivered the checkmate no man can escape.

What do we make of him? Chess prodigy? World Champion? Demanding? Bizarre behavior? Hate-filled? Mad? Pitiful?

I don't know.

I have no eulogy, I never met him, didn't know him, and maybe I'm glad of that.

There is only a sadness, a sense of not so much of loss as of waste.

It might almost have been better if he had never touched a chess piece, except that's placing the blame where it shouldn't go--on the game, and not on the man. And it is there that the responsibility ends.

His story is now done, at least as far as his life on this earth goes.

I know that at one time, in the mid-60s, Fischer had some spiritual inclinations, and was for a while a part of Herbert Armstrong's cult. He left it, I know, though I do not know if he went into anything else. His rantings and opinions in the last few years give little to build hope on.

But I am not his final judge, only God is. I can offer no other hope then this, that God is just, and knows all about his life, and whether he may have turned to Christ in faith at some time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

relevant magazine interview of rob bell

--because diapers are an assault on the earth--

It is tempting to give that quote, and leave it at that, in regards to this interview by Relevant Magazine of a pastor called Rob Bell. A few months ago, I wrote a bit on some things in one of his books, Velvet Elvis, and those are on the blog, if one is interested.

But for now, I'll focus on this interview. It's not an overly long one, but it does provide some points of interest. (btw, I've looked for the interview at the Relevant Magazine website, and while it does refer to it, I couldn't find it there, and since it is in the current issue, perhaps that's understandable).

For example, let's take this quote, towards the end of it...

...when followers of Jesus can think of nothing better to do with their time than to pick apart and shred to pieces the work of other followers of Jesus who are trying to do something about the world, that's tragic, and I don't owe those people anything.

..with these quotes...

And the church has contributed to that disconnection by preaching horrible messages about being left behind and that this place is going to burn--absolutely toxic messages that are against the teachings of Scripture, which state that we are connected with God, we are connected to the earth, we are connected to each other.


I think you just begin by acknowledging that (America's idea of church) is an absolute total failure. The whole system that says these few people, because of what they said, did, believe, etc., are going to Heaven and everybody else is going to Hell, is deeply flawed and must die.

...and we can see how this is going to go--Bell can rip and tear anyone who disagrees with him to his heart's content, but if anyone dares do the same to him, the whining and the tantrum begin.

Am I being uncharitable in such as assessment? Again, look at the first quote. Bell seems to be saying that simply because he is involved in "trying to do something about the world", then his ideas and his words should not be questioned, at least not overly much. He even goes so far as to say...

When a Christian can find nothing better to do with their time in the face of this much pain and heartbreak, you start realizing that some Christians need to be have to be totally disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging is somehow a redemptive use of your time.

Since I'm writing on my own blog here and now, you can correctly conclude that I of course disagree with him, though perhaps I would say that I consider it one way in which I can be of service to God and to others.

Bell assumes that those critical of his ideas are not doing anything else for God or the world, and I find that to be a stretch. By setting up this false dichotomy (I thought such as him didn't like dichotomies and dualisms, btw), Bell tries to make himself look good and his critics look bad, based solely on them being critical of him and his assertion that they are not doing anything for God in the world--perhaps more accurately, because they are not doing anything he would approve of, but considering my own ideas on a few such things, I'm not going to restrict what people can do for God (like blogging) simply based on Bell's likes and dislikes.

Bell's argument is inherently flawed. If he wants to make a list of activities that somehow pale in comparison with "the pain of the world", and if he wishes to include blogging among them, are there not other activities that would be similarly 'unredemptive', to use the negative form of his word? Perhaps, for example, doing a speaking tour? Jumping on a trampoline? Giving an interview to a magazine?

But I doubt that he would include all blogging as being 'unredemptive'; after all, many of his fellows in the EC are quite prolific bloggers. I really doubt he is going to include them in his condemnations.

Bell's position is only tenable if we are to conclude that ideas are not important, that 'doing good' is somehow more important then the ideas behind the good works. But here is a "for example" concerning an idea he expresses in the interview...

The central Hebrew prayer, Deuteronomy 6, says, "Hear O Israel the Lord you God, the Lord is One," so we live with the awareness that all of reality is one. We are connected with all thing everywhere...

Now, how can one take the Shema, and suddenly come to a rather new-agey conclusion that all of reality is one? If the Lord is One, and all or reality is one, is Bell saying that all of reality is God? Or God all of reality? But what even does that mean? Are we suddenly talking about pantheism, or panentheism?

Perhaps some would say I'm making a stretch there, but it's not much of one, if it is at all. Perhaps he misspoke, but if not, then his claim that "all of reality is one", particularly as he bases it on the shema, must be questioned, and seriously. And if Bell takes his ball and goes home because we don't play the game to his liking, let him.

Perhaps the most stupid statement in the whole interview, indeed one of the most stupid I've ever come across, even more so then the diapers one, is this...

There is an absolutely mind-blowing passage in Isaiah 19 where God calls Egypt His son and Assyria His beloved. Egypt and Assyria where the enemies of Israel. Today, that passage would literally be "Taliban My son, Al-Qaeda My beloved".

This is stupid--beyond stupid--because the context is a prophecy about a future time (the phrase "in that day" is used several times in verses 18-25, verse 25 being the one Bell refers to) when Egypt, Israel, and Assyria would be right with God. There are many aspects to those verses, none of which have yet to occur. If you read the chapter before verse 18, you will see that God speaks quite strongly against Egypt, promising and prophecying judgment against it.

To give an idea of just how stupid this is, let's do a substitution just like Bell does. This time, though, we'll say "Nazis My son, KKK My beloved". If he had said that, would anyone be taken him seriously? Taking him to task, yes, and very rightly so, but taking him seriously? But how is saying that any better or worse then what he said? If, for example, one of the big Nazi crimes was anti-semitism (and it was), then both the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be guilty of that, too.

For Bell to substitute literal nations for terrorist organizations like Taliban and al-Qaeda is nonsense on a grand scale. Such rhetoric is far more "horrible" and "toxic" then teachings on the rapture, and much more against Scripture.

So, to close, Bell's "all of reality is one" statement is disturbingly new-agey especially when connected to the shema, and I do question him about that, and I don't care if he doesn't like being so questioned or critiqued. I'm not happy with it, it's not biblical. Reality is not 'one', God is not a pantheistic or panenthiestic part of nature, or nature a part of Him. He is transcendant, high above us, all-knowing, all-powerful. He is also eminent, near to us, everywhere at all times. The material world is His creation, not His body. As an artist is separate from his work, so is God separate from His creation. That doesn't devalue it, nor does it mean that He does not love it and love us, but we are not one with the dolphins and the mountains. God has given us a responsibility to use and care for His creation, but as stewards.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

a postmodern rethinking-reimagining-deconstructing of the mythical story of Abraham and Lot

(The problem with doing this is that it's very easy to misunderstand, so here's what's going on. This is a farce, a satire, a mocking. Not a mocking of the historical account of Abraham and Lot, but of the whole postmodern method of re-interpretation, deconstruction, especially as it is applied to the Bible.)

I want us to take a look at Abraham. Abraham and Lot. It's common to think that Abraham is the hero of the story, and Lot as being the one in the wrong. After all, Abraham is one of the big 'good guys' in the story of the Bible, up there with Moses and David. Lot, he doesn't have the best of reputation.

But let's look at this again, shall we. Let's see the story from a different angle, let's rethink it, reimagine it, and maybe we'll see things differently.

For example, let's take a look at Abraham and Lot, on the mountain, Abraham having given Lot the choice of which way to go--Lot chooses one place, Abraham will go the other. We are told the Lot saw a place that looked nice, but that it was a mistake for him to have done so, because it is that place which had the two cities, Sodom and Gamorrah.

But did Lot make a mistake? Wasn't it, rather, maybe Abraham's mistake? After all, Abraham was the leader of his family. Let's not make much of the evils of patriachy for now. Abraham was a product of his times, and his story is a story of his time. We do see things better, we would not accept such a familial state, but that is us.

Should Abraham have abdicated his responsibility to choose? If we assume that he was so wise as we want to think he was, should he not have chosen instead? Could this whole disaster have been averted, if Abraham had chosen? If Abraham had been the real man of faith that so many have thought of him to have been?

But instead, Lot is given the choice, he has the responsibility. And Lot chooses to live near the cities, then later in the cities.

You've probably heard many sermons, read some devotionals, all of them saying Lot made this huge, horrible, disastrous mistake, first in living so close to those cities, then in actually living in them, among the people, even becoming a man of some importance in the city.

But look at it this way, please. Reimagine the story. The story tells us that those cities, Sodom and Gamorrah, were sinful evil places. Of course, we think somewhat differently now. We know that this is a story of a harsh, judgmental, vindictive God, a primitive version of God, a God for a primitive culture. We must not judge too harshly ourselves, but we are not bound to believe that God is really like that.

God is love, He is light. God cared so much for those people, God isn't some kind of cosmic policeman, waiting to throw down fire and brimstone on a city full of innocent people. And even if they were sinful, so what? Aren't we all? We have no right to judge them! How can we say that God judged them? That would not be justice, it would be injustice? Can we accuse God, even this tempermental and primitive God, of injustice?

NO, no, we cannot. But why is this story in the Bible? Surely it didn't really happen? But it is in the Bible, we must take it seriously, even if we cannot take it literally.

So, what is it saying to us?

In my reimagining of the story, the story of Lot is not one of him being wrong, but of him being right. He was right to choose those awful cities, not just because they were awful, but because that was where Jesus would have been--not out in the mountains or deserts, away from the cities like Abraham so selfishly let himself be pushed.

What am I saying? That we should question, not Lot, but Abraham? What if Abraham had born his responsibilities, and not pushed them off on Lot? What if Abraham had looked out over those valleys, and seen, not a couple of cities which were filled with sin, but a couple of cities filled with people--really, live, people, with children in the streets, people with hopes and dreams. People who were loved by God, people who needed to know about him.

And what does Abraham do? Abraham turns away from them. Abraham let's them die. He doesn't engage them, he doesn't try to understand their culture, he doesn't try to live among them.

He just goes off into the desert, where he thinks he'll find God, and pretty much tells those cities to go to hell. He did not realize that he would have found God, not in the heat of the desert, but in the face of the poor of Sodom.

And thinking this, can we see Lot in a new way now, can we reimagine him, rethink what we thought about him before? Because we should. Yes, we can see Lot as a failure, but if he failed, it is because he tried. His mission may have been a failure, but at the least, he loved those people, he tried to live among them, he tried to bring righteousness, which is justice. After all, even the New Testament called Lot 'righteous'.

So you can see, when we reimagine the story, it isn't Abraham who is the hero. It's not even really the vengeful wrathful primitive version of God that is the hero. If the story has a hero, it is really Lot, who at the least tried.

And what about for us now? What can we gain from this myth?

There was a man who came up with an idea for a set of story, about people whom he claimed would be 'left behind' when something called the rapture occurred. Rapture-guy, as I'll call him, has sold a lot of books, tons of books, and all for what--to spread an Americanized escapist concept of the end times, which tells us that God is still just like the primitive vengeful wrathful throwing-fire-from-heaven God of Abraham's time.

Can you see how they are like Abraham? They think God is "out there", and will come to rescue them from the world someday. They think this world is evil, wicked, sinful, and that God must be wrathful with it, and only needs to get them out of the way in order to blow the whole thing up.

Listen to me--God is not like that! No belief system can box in God! God loves you, no matter what you believe! God doesn't care what creed you say you follow, or what you bow down to, or what you think of the afterlife, or even if you say you believe in Jesus or not. God cares about justice on the earth now.

These people, these who believe in a rapture, they're just like Abraham, shoveling off their responsibilities to love and interact and to reach out to the cultures around them, and all the while they think this is God leading them. It's not!

These people say that the world will end badly, with God pouring out bowls of wrath and angels flying around crying down "Woes!!" on the people of the earth. Friends, you have to understand, God isn't like that! This earth is God's creation, He called it 'good' back in Genesis, and while yes we don't believe that God literally created the world in six days, we still know that God thinks it good. He loves his creation, he wants to restore it, he isn't going to reign down fire from heaven on it!

Rapture-guy, you're not helping anyone. You're embarrassing me, your embarrassing us, please, just stop! No one wants to hear about God being angry at them, because He's not! No one wants to hear about how your right-wing God hates commies and gays and anyone else who just happens to disagree with you! Can't you see, those will be the people going into the Kingdom before you, because the first will be last, and the last first! They aren't the ones needing to repent, you are!

We shouldn't be like Abraham, looking for some god-in-the-sky, but we should be among those places which those people like Abraham call wicked and sinful. We should be among those wicked and sinful people, not to 'convert' them, not to 'persuade' them to our beliefs and viewpoints, not to judge them, not even really to 'evangelize' as those like rapture-guy think we should. We can't say that we are any more right or righteous then those sinners and wicked people are. We can't go among them with a superior attitude thinking we have all the answers. If there is truth, it may be that those supposed sinners and wicked people can actually teach us, that they are superior to us.

(again, I want to restate that this is a satire, and in no way should be seen as a reflection of my own beliefs)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

after the death of god--caputo, spectral hermenuetics

Having read and commented on Vattimo's essay, I move on to Caputo's. And to do so, I want to begin with a quote from Chesterton, from Orthodoxy.

Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."

For all that I disagree, and rather vehemently, with Vattimo, in my comments about what he wrote, I still have to credit him for writing rather plainly. I must, because with Caputo's essay, we enter a realm of words used in an almost meaningless way.

Caputo begins be trying to describe what he calls "events". Of course, how most people use that word is not what Caputo means by the word. Here is his definition, on p. 47.

An event is not precisely what happens, which is what the word suggests in English, but something going on in what is happening, something that is being expressed or realized or given shape in what happens; it is not something present, but something seeking to make itself felt in what is present.

Caputo says a lot about events, both from what I guess are his own thoughts and from the writings of a few other people, but the above is good summation. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say that an event as Caputo uses the word is really a non-event as most of the English-speaking world uses the word.

Is that a fair summation on my part? I think it is, yes. Caputo cannot even say for certain if these 'events' actually are, and even seems to say they are not and will never be. From p. 55.

The event is always already ahead of us, always provoking and soliciting us, eternally luring us on with its promise. The truth of the event is its promise to come true. Events make promises that are never kept by any actual occasion.

So, while 'events' are not only nonevents, their truths are lies, and they never keep a promise.

(And at the moment, I have the few lines I remember from Chagall Guevara's song "I'm living in Escher's World" running through my head)

Ok, what does this have to do with religion and God? From p. 50.

We might even say, to put all this a bold and simple stroke, that in postmodern theology what happens to us is God, which is why we call it postmodern theology. Or, to couch it in slightly more cautious terms, in postmodern theology what happens to us is the event that is harbored in the name of God...

And from p. 53.

In the Scriptures the covenant is a promise or a covenant cut by God--that is why I speak unabashedly of theology--where the name of God is the name of an event, of something that stirs within the name, something I know not what, some sacred spark or fire.

Ok, let's see. 'Events' are nonevents which may not even be real and lie and don't keep promises, and now the name of God is the name of an 'event', so that must mean that God is an 'event'.

(In case you haven't noticed, I'm doing what Chesterton suggested, and trying to put Caputo's ideas into words of one syllable, or to modify it a bit, to use words that are common and easily understandable. So, whiles "promises" is a three-syllable word, I figure it's a common enough word so that it will not take away from the baldness and boldness of the statements)

Ok, what does this do to God, or at least Caputo's idea of God? Here is something from p. 57, about prayer but it also states some things about his 'god'.

Prayer is not a transaction or interaction with some hyperbeing in the sky, a communication with some ultrareality behind the scenes, the invocation or appeasement of a magical power of supernatural intervention from on high.

And on p. 58.

I would put the same idea by saying that our desire is for the Messiah who never shows up, which is what keeps desire going.

And on p. 65, in a statement of unusual bluntness for him.

God is not a cosmic force, a worldly power, a physical or metaphysical energy or power source that supplies energy to the world, who designs it, starts it up and keeps it going, and who occasionally intervenes here and there with strategic course corrections, a tsunami averted here, a cancerous tumor there, a bloody war quieted over there.

So, to do a Chestertonian "in other words", his god is not all of the things the Bible says God is. When we pray to his god, we pray to a nothing. We long for a Messiah who will not come, even though the Bible promised He would come and He has come and will come again. His god does nothing in the world, does not work miracles, did not create and does not keep, and does not love us or care for us

And what about Jesus? From p. 66.

I ask, what is happening on the Cross? What is happening to us? What events pulsate through that unforgettable scene? It is a mystification to think that there is some celstial transaction going on here, some settling of accounts between the divinity and humanity, as if this death is the amortization of a debt of long standing and staggering dimensions. If anything, no debt is lifted from us in this scene but a responsibility imposed on us... The crucified body of Jesus is a site--one among many-- of divine eventiveness...and we are to make ourselves worthy of this event.

From p. 63

Jesus was crucified, not freely, but against his will, against the will of everything that is good and just, human or divine...The radical uprooting of the heresy of Docetism dmeands that we locate the divinity of this scene of misery and defeat, the sacredness of its memory, not in some hidden power play or long-term investment in a divine economy of salvation.

So, Jesus did not lay down His life, it was taken from Him, making His words about laying down His life only more lies. Jesus' death was not a sacrifice for sins, is not the way in which we may be made right with God. We are still in our sins, and if anything we now have more of a burden put on us, because we must work to make ourselves worthy of an 'event'.

This is getting long, and some things I've already written about a few weeks ago, concerning his ideas of the God being weak and without power. I'll not comment on his cheap and stupid shots on the US, except to say that they are there.

His ideas remind me of a Bible verse, which gives a list of things indicative of how things will be "in the last days". Among them will be people who will "have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof".

And the next words are an injunction to believers in regards to such people, "From such turn away".

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

book review, part 1--after the death of god--toward a nonreligious christianity

A week or two ago, I found a book at a bookstore called "After the Death of God", with some writings in it by two men, Caputo and Vattimo. Try to give the reasons such a work may have come to be of more then casual interest would be too long, but both names have come up in their own ways, and in regards to Caputo, I have heard some presentations of his on podcasts from a certain religious website. A few weeks ago I even commented on some things Caputo has written.

The book has an introduction, not by one of the authors above, then begins with what I guess could be called an essay by Vattimo, called "Toward a Nonreligious Christianity".

One thing I want to say is that the essay is written in an accessible way. Not that it is all of that easy to understand, and I can't claim perfect understanding of it all, but I'll take the chance that I do understand him to some degree.

Vattimo seems to claim so kind of Christian belief, but it also seems to be of a peculiar sort. For example, on p. 42, in regards to the Lord's prayer, he says

...I know preciese that the words I am using are not intended to convey some literal truth. I pray these words more for the love of a tradition than I do for the love of some mythic reality.

and here, on p. 38

Likewise, with the language of the gospel, I can only understand it as that which is not ontic, not given in the external world, not is it meant to be interpreted realistically.

Given such statements, then, I don't think it's unrealistic sees the Bible as largely mythic, not history; as mostly a collection of stories, whether divinely inspired or not I'm uncertain as of yet. In fact, I'm pretty well convince, reading other things he's said and written, that he doesn't believe in God at all.

There are two things I want to focus on from this essay. The first is in regards to truth. From p. 37

In Christianity there is a fundamental commitment to freedom. And, to add a bit of scandal, by standing for freedom, this includes freedom from (the idea of) truth. After all, if there really is an objective truth, there will always be someone who is more in possession of it than I and thereby authorized to impose its law obligation on me.

And further down that page.

...if Christianity did not liberate us from objective truth, how could we even maintain our belief in Scripture, or how could we prevent Scripture from being logically inconsistent, if not utterly absurd?

There are several lines this ideas of the Bible being illogical and absurd could have taken. For example, "historical Jesus" which seeks to de-mythologize Him, meaning that it begins with the assumption that accounts of His miracles and His claims to divinity are untrue. There have also been question about the historical reliability of other parts of the Bible, particularly in regards to the early part of Genesis. I think this is partially was on his mind, at least by some things he said in other parts of the essay.

And so we have one of the fruit being born from the compromise with evolution--Scripture when taken as truth becomes "logically inconsistent, if not utterly absurd". What is left? from p. 41

In this sense, emancipation actually consists in pursuing secularization, which is to say, emancipation relies on the process of desacralization, in having a better understanding of the spiritual sense of Scriptures by reading them spiritually.

Which leads us in the direction of the other thing I want focus on. From p. 44

As I see it, Christianity is moving in a direction that cannot but lighten adn weaken its moral load in favor of its pracrical-moral charity. And not only the weakening of its moral-metaphysical assumptions, but, by this transformation, charity will eventually replace truth.

I cannot say how familiar that sounds, how much what he says seems like things others are saying. There does seem to be a movement to treat the record of Jesus' life in the Bible as some kind of myth, while also wanting to treat them to some extent seriously. It really does seem as if their object of faith is not so much Christ, not even so much the stories about him, but their ideas and the 'truths' they claim to glean from them.

And as a consequence, what is left? We have some people who try to make concepts of Heaven and Hell being real places where we go when we die into a form of what they say is some kind of unbiblical dualism. They try to downplay the role of beliefs and creeds, and emphasize their forms of social and charitable works. Charity replaces truth, a Vattimo says.

I do not think that I need to defend the importance of charity or love in Christianity, but I do see the need to defend the importance of belief in Christianity now. To more-or-less quote C.S. Lewis from "The Four Loves", "Love, having become a god, becomes a demon". Not even charity can take the place rightfully belonging to God without become an evil thing. One can see that welfare systems which allow those meant to be helped to live lives of sloth, and which make the people dependent on an organization or a government to provide for them. One can see it as well in socialistic ideas such as taking from those who have, irregardless of whether they gained rightly or wrongly, and giving to those who have not, again irregardless of whether they can manage their gains or not.

After all, does the Bible also not say "If a man will not work, he shall not eat"? Didn't Paul tell some in Thessalonica to stop living idle lives and start doing something productive? Charity is good, but it is not God.

Vattimo seems to be saying that charity is somehow the main thing. But in making the Bible nothing more then a book of nice stories, he undercuts his own position. Because if the Bible is only a book of nice stories, if its morals are now of no importance, then by definition even the commands to charity are only human constructs, and his holding them over some other ethic--for example, one which says charity is an evil which must be done away with--becomes in the end only his own preference. If there is no divine command behind it, then there is no compulsion to live by it. If there is no objective truth, then not even charity can be something we must pursue. Vattimo's "message of charity" becomes only a message, not something we must follow, not a command, only a preference, which people can (and no doubt will) discard or use as they see fit.

What you will find behind the "death of God" and the "Scriptures as mythology" rhetoric is simply a 'god' who is made in the image of people like Vattimo. Vattimo is openly gay and a socialist, and it would not be surprising if his 'god' and his 'mythologized bible' wind up agreeing with his economics and politics, and also doesn't look with disapproval on his sexual activities.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

in the interest of fairness and balance

I try to be fair. Whether I am always successful is, of course, subject to debate, but the attempt is there. In the interest of that idea of fairness, and because I think it's thoughtful and does a good job at presenting a balance, I thought it a good idea to present this professor's thoughts concerning the Emergent Church and it's offshoots.

It is fair, I think, because I am critical of the movement, or at least of some who are leaders in the movement. And not without reason, I contend. People like McLaren can tend to talk and write in vagueness, but sometimes whenever they stumble into clarity, what they say can at the least be troubling.

And in recent times, the movement has fragmented, as some who were in the movement have become uncomfortable with its direction and have broken from it. Perhaps most notable is Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, who recently called out people like McLaren in some of the things they have written and said.

In this, I think this professor, Bock, gives a fairly balanced view of the movement, in regards to its strengths and its faults.

.link to "bock's blog"

At the risk of countering what I just wrote, I'm not so certain of his first three points, where he says that he sees "these clear strengths". He may have some good points in them, but I also question them. In the first, I would have liked if he had explained what he labelled "its (modernity's) spirit of freedom and quest for human autonomy". The second tries to bring up "consumer culture", as if greed were some kind of new thing. I'm also not certain of what he's saying about the the church's budgets. Perhaps church's could spend differently, though that is also something each church must decide for itself. The third seems to want to blame things like technology for our supposed disconnectedness. While, much like Chesterton, I'm not a big fan of efficiency, it has it's place but can become a demon when made a god.

I'm simply not certain that we are to some extent more isolated because of technology then we were in olden times. I'm not certain there isn't a kind of "good old days" time of golden fog over how some people see the past, and I realize that is at least borderline arrogant of me. But I am a person of this day and time, and without apology. I have a liking for things like e-mail, the internet, computers, cars, airplanes, television. Maybe not telephones, maybe those can be labelled as 'spawns of evil'.

Anyway, concerning the next list of strengths, nine in number, I have no problems with. And the six concerns he gives are things I have seen as well.

If I may give one more possible strength of the movement, it is in the idea of trying to do church services in different kinds of ways. I do like the idea of church being something more then a gathering to sit and listen, sing a few songs, and meet and greet a bit. Most churches are, though, in that they often have more then just a couple of services a week.

The movement must not be condemned as a whole--there are some good things coming out of it. At the same time, as Professor Bock says, there are things to be concerned about it in. And the sad things is, those who want to be known as leaders in the movement are not helping it by their words

Monday, January 7, 2008

the voice 2--politics

It's all political.

That is something to keep in mind in regards to McLaren nowadays. Maybe it wasn't as strong in something like "A Different Kind of Christian", which I wrote a bit about a few months ago, but it's showing up now and stronger. The association with people like Jim Wallis and Sojourers has seemed to encourage him to voice political views.

Luke is very interested in the ways that disadvantaged people of his day--the poor, the sick, the women--respond to God...

This is echoed a few pages later, regarding the story in Luke of the shepherd's visit to the child Jesus.

Remember what we said about Luke's fascination with disadvantaged people? Here we have it again...They (the shepherds) had little to no status in the world. They were the humble and the poor whom God was now raising up to receive heavenly messages and an audience with the great King...

Is this a 'for certain' thing?

First off, was this something new God was doing, something He hadn't done before? How about Joseph--slave, prisoner, made second in command of a powerful nation. How about Moses--very topsy-turvy in this regard, child of slaves made child of royalty who became an exile and a shepherd who met God and became a leader and an instrument of deliverance for his people. How about Gideon--a little guy who was out doing his job in very adverse condition when God called him to go to war. How about David--little kid keeping sheep becomes a war hero and after some tumulous times of running becomes a king and a poet and a prophet. And there're people like Elijah, of whose background little is known.

Of course, one could just as easily point out examples of people in other social spheres who were used by God--Abraham, Job, Daniel, Solomon. I've read where Isaiah may have been of pretty high family, though I'm not certain of that.

And there is one more thing about Jesus--the fact that for all that the humbleness surrounding His birth, He still came of Israel's kingly line, going back to David. His geneology is given twice in the Gospels, so one would think that it must be pretty important.

Does Luke care about the social status of those he is writing about? Maybe. But maybe not, too. It is something being read into the story, perhaps with reason, or perhaps not. At the least, making Luke into some kind of polemic about the disadvantaged and the lowly is questionable, and seems more like the writer's attempts to insert his politics then any kind of biblical thinking.

My purpose here is not to say that God does not use those of low social status, and doesn't care about them. My purpose is to say that God does not exclusively use such people, but has used people of all kinds of social classes and statuses. The Christmas story does have shepherds of little wealth and status, but it also has wise men who do bring rich offerings for the Christ child.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

movie review--national treasure: book of secrets--putting the fun in patriotism

This movie was pretty much what I expected--lite, fun, witty, a kind of Indiana Jones but not a deep or serious, certainly not as serious as "...Temple of Doom".

Among the fun-ness was: breaking into the offices of two heads of state; a chase scene in Britain involving a beer truck and the most satisfying squashing of a Euro-bug type of car; high-flying high-balancing high-jinx in a cave; escape from a library; and other things that I'll not mention lest I give away too much for those who haven't yet seen it and wish to.

The only really negative thing was probably the relationship thing. Apparently, Gates, the adventuring problem-solving treasure hunter, had been living with his girlfriend and been kicked out in the time between the first movie and the opening of this one. It does raise concerns about the whole 'living together instead of marrying' issue.

There were several good things in it, too. The basic story is that one of the Gates' ancestors, who lived during and a bit after the US Civil War (1860ish) was suppose to have been a quiet hero in keeping the South from finding a large source of funds to continue the war, but then is accused of actually having conspired to kill President Lincoln, and the Gates, father and son, set out with their friends to clear his name.

Along the way, both Gates, father and son, are reunited with their respective lady-loves--the father had not spoken to the mother for many years, and the son is of course reunited with the former girlfriend. There are adventures in Europe and back in the States, as clues are found and the puzzle pieces come together in, of course, the discovery of the treasure.

The movie has lots of banter in it, and humorous situations. There is some violence and shooting, like in the chase scene, but nothing comes of it. The only death is merely implied, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility to discover that that person actually lived rather then died.

Actually, there were two deaths, one at the first of the movie. That one was pretty much 'real', in the movie sense.

It wasn't a "bashing" movie in any way. The US president is depicted, and plays along on the search for the treasure, which is said to maybe be of national importance. It doesn't deal with what would be considered 'big issues', but it does portray the country positively.

In summary, I recommend it. It was fun, without much bad it in.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

movie review--i am legend--good but tough

I want to say first off that "I Am Legend" is a very good movie. I want to say further that "I Am Legend" is one of the roughest movies I've ever watched through.

Last week, in "AvP: Requiem", I saw what is could be considered an example of the typical 'monster movie'. It was a 'fantastic' type of movie, and while creepy and scary, it didn't give much of an impression of being realistic in almost any way. The monsters were obviously fictitious, alien, unrealistic, and the characters had that kind of movie-ish unrealistic element to them that is common in such movies.

"...Legend" had a disturbingly realistic edge to it. The story itself is rather fantastic--a virus used to cure cancer mutates and causes people to turn into albino-ish carnivorous bat-like creatures who try to avoid the light. Regular humans are for all that we know when the movie begins down to one man, who along with his dog is living in the wilds of New York City while avoiding being detected by the mutated creatures.

What gives it such a realistic edge is Will Smith. He does a terrific job with a character the is remarkably complex--a scientist who bears the guilt of how wrong his experiment turned out, a man truly alone in a big city, a father and husband who had lost his family, a scientist trying and failing to correct the mistake, a lonely man whose need for company has come down to talking to mannequins and whose family is a dog, and a man who goes over the edge when that dog becomes infected and is killed.

Another thing that made it tough was the creatures. We get the impression early that they are mindless, crazed, without any spark of humanity left in them. That is what Smith's character thinks of them, and then he comes on one that is different--when one of its tribe is captured by the scientist, it acts as if it may actually try to attempt to rescue it, although it was unable to enter the sunlight. Then they set a trap for him, like one he set for them. Then they show signs of having leadership and even communication and an ability to organize. When at one point the scientist says that they have lost all signs of humanity, I think that he knows he's lying to himself.

Much of what Smith does is probably all too realistic--it's not a stretch to think that a man alone for at least two years would become too attached to mannequins, or to his dog, and considering that it was his research that caused the disaster to happen, that he should fight guilt over it and try to remedy it on his own.

The guilt part if tricky, because it is not explicitly said--we don't have a stereotypical breakdown-and-confession, even if it would be with no-one else around. There is the scene where he thinks one remedy fails and he slams some things around, but even that doesn't get out of control. Probably the closest it comes is at the end when he thinks he's found the cure but will be killed by the creatures before he may be able to help them.

But it seems like that guilt is always there in him, pushing him to find the cure and then goading the helplessness he feels into a rash act of revenge, and maybe also having a part in his last act of sacrifice to pass on the cure.

Much has been made of the God-talk in the movie, and it is there, and it is done with respect. A set of too-convenient coincidents are given as signs of divine guidance, and such may well be. Then the fact that Anna's knowledge of the human colony in Vermont (I think that's the right state) is correct only emphasizes the divine guidance.

Of course, it's a work of fiction, but still, it was good to see that the writers didn't leave God out, which would have been understandable in such a bleak story, but that they show His hand even in their troubles.

I really don't know if it's a movie I would want to watch again. It is a very good movie, and I recommend it, but it's harsh and bleak and at times gut-wrenching. It's not a easy movie, not by any stretch, but it is powerful.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christians Under Siege in Indian State

Christians Under Siege in Indian State

From the article...

Three days of violence against Christians in India have raised fears that the recent election victory of a Hindu hardliner in India's most-developed state may be prompting other activists to turn on non-Hindu minorities.

A curfew has been imposed in a remote part of eastern Orissa state after clashes over the Christmas holiday that reportedly left at least one and possibly three people dead.

Up to 12 churches and dozens of homes of Christians were ransacked or torched, state officials and Christian groups reported.


Dayal urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene and said Christian leaders would try to see him on Thursday.

"The Hindu attackers are announcing openly, even on television, that every person who become a Christian becomes an enemy," he said.

Earlier this week, another Christian group, Gospel for Asia, reported that "anti-Christian extremists" in Orissa had badly beaten one of its missionaries, Matish Junni, shaved his head and paraded him around his local village.

It said Junni, who pastors 25 local believers, had just days earlier begun construction on a small church building.

"The extremists who attacked the pastor on Sunday demanded that the church members halt construction immediately," Gospel for Asia said.

Hindu hardliners accuse Christians of luring low-caste Hindus to covert to Christianity.

Hinduism's rigid social hierarchical system places at the very bottom of the ladder so-called "untouchables" or "dalits." Converting to Christianity, or Islam, allows dalits to escape from the caste system.