Thursday, December 17, 2009

No More Anonymity


I changed my settings so anonymous comments are no longer allowed.  That's because I've been getting a lot of spam postings, lately (all of which I've deleted).

And yes, I know I haven't posted anything for a month.  I haven't given up; I've just been busy and distracted.  I intend to return.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Berlin and Moral Certainty

Tomorrow, November 9, marks 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. The wall stood for 28 years and was the most potent symbol of the separation between the free world and the Soviet Bloc. This anniversary means more to me than some others, perhaps, because I worked in Communist Eastern Europe from 1979-82, and I spent a lot of time in East Germany and Berlin.

The Soviets caused plenty of difficulty prior to erecting the wall, such as totally blockading West Berlin in 1948 and necessitating the Berlin Airlift (at its peak, more than 1,300 flights per day were bringing in supplies). But the Wall itself drew the battle lines more closely and tangibly than ever in the Cold War.

As I view the Berlin speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, I am struck by the moral certainty in their text (and demeanor). To them, there was no question as to the superiority of the free world and the leadership role of America. There was no equivocation. You can check out their speeches for yourself. Reagan's is particularly moving and worth the full 25 minutes.

Kennedy in 1963, two years after the wall was erected, separating East and West Berlin:



Ronald Reagan in 1987, two years before the wall came down:



And then there's Barack Obama, on the campaign trail in Berlin, 2008. Do you hear a difference?



Unfortunately, our President is too busy to go to Berlin tomorrow for the commemoration. Apparently, it does not rise to the importance of an Olympic bid, so he's sending Hillary.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to know more about the Berlin Wall, its construction, life, and final demise, you'll find no shortage of videos on YouTube. Simply enter these search terms (or click on these links): "Berlin Wall" or "Berliner Mauer."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not To Be Confused With Jesus


Every time I say I won't do any more John Eldredge posts, something comes up and I break my promise. But Eldredge is a wild kind of guy, not a Promise Keeper, so maybe it's OK?
.
What came up this time is yet another blog. I already mentioned Nate Claiborne's incisive analysis of Eldredge. But since then, I've come across Kent Leslie, who's writing his own indispensable series on Eldredge's Wild at Heart. He's as critical as I am, but a fair bit more humorous. And he's Pentecostal, which is not a branch of Christianity that I'd expect to be critical of books such as this.
.
So if you need additional and even better reasons to hate Wild at Heart (while still loving the sinner, of course!), then check out some of the posts on Mr. Leslie's blog.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Overwhelmed


Anyone else feeling overwhelmed?
.
It all piles up.
Deadlines at work make for longer hours and more packed hours.
House "administration"...cleaning, fixing, paying, logging, trimming.
A Sabbath that isn't, because of meetings and trainings in addition to church, itself.
Friends I'm trying to befriend, disciples I'm trying to disciple, and leaders I'm trying to lead.

And e-mails to open, blogs to read...
...and blogs to write.

So what happens?
Mail I used to read gets summarily tossed with catalogs I used to peruse.
Invitations get turned down.

And I get resentful at all those church conferences, meetings, seminars, retreats, orientations, trainings, etc., that keep popping up.

And I stay up too late and am too tired the next day to function well or have a good attitude.

No additional church activities, please!
(But I will sign up for a six-week Flannery O'Connor class at Emory.)
((Now that makes sense.))

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Give This Picture a Caption


The Dalai Lama's been visiting Taiwan this week. Here, he listens through his interpreter as (Catholic) Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi prays at an interfaith meeting.
.
That's the official story. But when I saw this picture, many alternate explanations and possible captions popped into my head, such as:
  • "Pray harder! He's winning!"
  • "Your Holiness, I think the Cardinal fell asleep. What do we do now?"
  • "He just prayed your food will be poisoned!"
You can do better. Add your own caption in the comments...
.
(Click on the picture if you'd like a larger version.)
.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pray Like a Jew


I recently finished a slow reading through The Standard Prayer Book, a Jewish book of liturgical prayers first published by the English Rabbi Simeon Singer in 1890. My version was printed in 1951, and you can get used copies on Amazon. I got mine at a library sale for $1.00.
.
There are many things to like about the prayers found in this book, and I suppose it should be no great surprise that a Christian would find most of these prayers perfectly appropriate and doctrinally true. After all, much of the Old Testament itself consists of prayers, and much of The Standard Prayer Book consists of passages from the Bible. Here's one I like. It's from the Evening Service for Sabbaths and Festivals:

We give thanks unto thee,
For thou art the Lord our God and the God of our fathers for ever and ever;
Thou art the Rock of our lives,
The Shield of our salvation through every generation.
We will give thanks unto thee
And declare thy praise for our lives which are committed unto thy hand,
And for our souls which are in thy charge,
And for thy miracles, which are daily with us,
And for thy wonders and thy benefits, which are wrought at all times, evening, morn, and noon.
O thou who art all-good, whose mercies fail not;
Thou, merciful Being, whose lovingkindnesses never cease,
We have ever hoped in thee.

Photo: Simeon Singer in the 1880s

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I Did Not Write This, and You're Not Reading It


I've been having discussions with several friends lately about how it's important that we don't spend our whole life on "truth patrol." Of course, we need to maintain good theology and sound thinking, but if we spend all our time on search and destroy missions, looking to stamp out godlessness and heresy wherever it may occur, we won't be spending our time focused on constructive things that will help us grow, love others, and become godly (Christlike) people.

So in this spirit of not always grousing about everyone who's doing anything wrong, I am not going to write a blog post about Brian McLaren celebrating Ramadan this year. I am not going to point out that if I ever thought he was an OK guy who was just misunderstood, I now think he's lost it when it comes to orthodox theology. I won't say that he has somehow become the Splenda of faux Christianity...his words may taste sweet, but they're not real sugar.

I also won't say that McLaren's practice of Ramadan with his Muslim friends bears no resemblance to the Apostle Paul's commitment as stated in Colossians 1.28,29:

We proclaim [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
I won't say that the last thing from McLaren's mind seems to be the proclamation of Christ. Or that his solidarity with others trumps fidelity to his putative Savior.

No, I won't say any of those things. I just won't do it.

But I will tell you that you can read his Ramadan posts on his website. The first of the series is here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places


I think it's part of the human condition that many of us feel lonely, if not all the time then at least from time to time. And if you're single, it's easy to think the antidote for loneliness is matrimony. But according to Henri Nouwen, those who marry because of loneliness will likely end up as lonely spouses. Our condition is not changed by our circumstance.
We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge - that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home. Such false hope leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.

Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. And many celibates live with the naive dream that in the intimacy of marriage their loneliness will be taken away.

- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, pp. 84-85.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chrysler Clunker


In the "Great Moments in Marketing" department, here's this gem from yesterday's news:

Chrysler says it is dropping its lifetime powertrain warranty in favor of a 5-year or 100,000-mile guarantee.

Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau says the decision was driven by market research that showed consumers prefer warranties with a fixed time period.

Really. What question could the market researchers possibly have asked that would yield this answer? Try the most obvious version on yourself: "Would you rather have a lifetime powertrain warranty, or would you rather have one that expires after a few years?"

If there were any morons (um, I mean "consumers") that said they prefered the "fixed time period," then they deserve to be owners of Chrysler products.

On the other hand, the true moron could be the Chrysler spokesman, if he really expects us to believe his nonsensical assertion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

God and the Whirlwind


A couple days ago, the ELCA denomination of the Lutherans voted to liberalize their stance on practicing homosexuals. Then a small tornado struck the place where they were meeting. After watching the storm from his Baptist church, Reverend Piper shared a few thoughts about it on his blog. I suspect this is one blog post he will end up wishing he'd not written. It's a shoddy hermeneutic he employs, and his conclusion that the whirlwind is a warning from God is a reading-into-Scripture that doesn't follow from his five premises. I really thought Piper was better than this.

This curious tornado touches down just south of downtown and follows 35W straight towards the city center. It crosses I94. It is now downtown.

The time: 2PM.

The first buildings on the downtown side of I94 are the Minneapolis Convention Center and Central Lutheran. The tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents, breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two...and then lifts.

Let me venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant. ...

Read his entire post here.

Jenell Paris found a certain amount of silliness in the Piper post. Her take on the matter is a great example of how humor can be a better corrective than anger. And no, it doesn't descend into ridicule.

John Piper explains the biblical connection between the Minneapolis tornado and its target, the steeple of Central Lutheran Church where the ELCA was meeting to discuss homosexuality and church leadership. His conclusion? “The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.”

Wow. Today the weather in Grantham, PA is “82 degrees, feels like 88.” The humidity is 73%. God is speaking to us, too, and I believe I have been chosen to interpret today’s weather for everyone else in Grantham, and perhaps even Mechanicsburg, our surrounding suburb. My spirit is unclear regarding Camp Hill or the city of Harrisburg, so I don’t think the prophecy extends that far.

Read the rest of her post here.

.
There was yet another preacher who weighed in on the matter. He said that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Had he been asked about tornados, I think he would have included those, too.
.
.
Illustration: William Blake, "The Whirlwind: Ezekiel's Vision," 1803

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wander Home


He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.
.
- Marilynne Robinson, Home, p. 102

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Posture of Grace


There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding....If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace.
.
- From Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home, p. 45

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Great Iconoclast

Images of the Holy easily become holy images - sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.

All reality is iconoclastic.
...
Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet.


- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 78-77, 83

Friday, August 14, 2009

Save the Planet. Use the Shower.

According to this fine video, you could save over 1,000 gallons of water per year, lower your utility bill, and increase your fun quotient. Who said environmentalism has to be dreary?



You can get more information at http://www.xixinobanho.org.br/, though it's a bit of a "shot in the dark" if you don't read Portugese.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In Praise of Celibacy


I'm still waiting for a preacher to read 1 Corinthians 7.32-35 at a wedding. As a lover of irony, I'll make sure it's read at my wedding...if God makes me get married some day. Don't hold your breath waiting for that.

I talk to a lot of people who somewhat recognize the value of celibacy (a.k.a. singleness), but very few seem to value it as a high calling. Jesus did, not only for Himself but also for His followers (Matthew 19.10-12), but somehow we zip right past those comments of His, putting them in the "Idealistic But Not Realistic" category of the things He said that we don't like.
.
Marriage obviously has its place, and it was God's idea. My intention is not to demean marriage, but to advocate that singleness should be seen as equivalent in value, not as Plan B or Second Best. Marriage and singleness are both Plan A...the only question is which Plan A God wants you to have.
.
The Christianity Today website just posted an interview with Christine Colon, who with Katie Fields cowrote a new book called Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today's Church. I just ordered the book and am looking forward to some good reading that will confirm my prejudices. My only regret, so far, is that Colon and Fields didn't draft a celibate/single male as an additional cowriter. That oversight probably dooms the book to be read almost exclusively by women. Nevertheless, here are a couple excerpts from the interview:

Celibacy can be a radical testimony to God's love and provision, because it reminds us that our ultimate fulfillment has to be union with God. That is equally true for married couples, but oftentimes marriage is seen as, once you have that partner you will be fulfilled. And that's a lie. With celibacy, you have to come to grips with that early on, to say, "My fulfillment lies in God, and there are always going to be these longings unfulfilled here on earth," but that's a good thing — if everything were fulfilled on earth, we wouldn't need God.

Marriage is the metaphor for God's exclusive love for his church, and it's a good and powerful metaphor. But singleness is also a metaphor of God's love — the aspect of God's love that extends to everyone. Oftentimes church communities become so ingrown and focused on, "Let's build up our families, let's build up our community." Wait a second, what are we here for? Singles don't have that exclusive relationship, so we need to build relationships out. And the church itself needs to as well.

...

We wanted to look at celibacy as a state in which we are content with where God has called us, and are also willing if God calls us to a different state. We're not eliminating the possibility of marriage, but we're not put on hold until marriage comes. It's not, "I vow to be celibate until I die." It is saying, "God has called me to this state; I am going to serve God right here. If he calls me to marriage, great. I will serve God there. If he doesn't call me to marriage, fine. I'm going to serve God as a single person." With celibacy, we're trying to draw from the past but not be wrapped up in, "You've made your vow, and you're done."

You can read the entire interview here, and CT's review of the book here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Visit a Christian Brothel Near You...Or Start Your Own



Earlier this week, I mentioned my discovery of blogger Nate Claiborne. In today's entry, he paints a vivid picture of Christian idolatry. Here are some excerpts:


When one realizes that Bible starts and ends with a marriage, the pieces may seem to fit together a bit smoother. Enclosed within the humble beginnings of human marriage was the divine mystery of ultimate marriage.... If our marriages between men and women are to reflect the marriage of the people of God to Christ, then defiling that relationship with Christ is analogous to defiling the human relationship with one’s spouse.

This is why God presses the Gospel on the whole of our lives, this is why not paying close attention to our devotion to God is like adultery. To see this maybe more clearly, let’s use an example.

I am getting married tomorrow…to my lovely fiance Alexandra Kaufman. We are entering into a covenant before God to pledge ourselves only to one another, until death do us part. Considering that we are both virgins, the honeymoon will be quite the intoxicating, blissful experience as well. But suppose sometime around the first of the year something changes.

Alexandra initially only came to me for sexual fulfillment, but somewhere along the line her heart starts to wander a bit. It’s not as noticeable at first, we continue on as usual. But then after a while, she starts bringing home other guys to sleep with. This goes on briefly before I casually remind her that she is supposed to come to me for that kind of fulfillment. With that in mind, she apologizes and then does just that.

But by doing that, all she changes is that now she expects me to find the other guys for her. She comes to me for fulfillment, but she wants me to give her all manner of other men to satisfy her rather than myself. She could have the only type of fulfillment she was meant to have if she would only just ask for it, but she continues sowing her wild oats even within our own bedroom. I don’t particularly seem to mind though, because she is at least nice about it and she makes sure to not interfere with my sleeping habits. We both continue on in this sort of affair, because after all, it’s only marriage, right?

I would be worried if anybody reading this was not appalled at the possibility of my marriage…turning into something like this.

However, we often don’t seem too appalled when our relationship with Christ, which is pictured as a marriage turns into something like this.

We start out fully devoted, only to slowly turn our affections to things of this world. Maybe later we get gently rebuked and come to our senses, but instead of giving up our idols, we merely start coming to Christ to get them. What is worse still is that we fully expect God to respond in the above manner and not particularly mind if we are out busy working the streets, spreading our legs for whoever passes by, so long as we come on Sundays and renew our vows.

How would Alexandra feel if I went to the strip clubs 6 days a week and rounded out the night by picking up a prostitute, so long as I came to her at least once a week for a passionate reconnection?

How should God respond when we do the same thing?

In Christianity in America, this is the course of the mainstream. One glance at some of the largest churches in America reveals that they are run more like brothels. People come and are encouraged in their adultery by appealing to the idolatry of health, wealth and happiness as what God intends to give to us rather than promoting the orthodox idea that it is Himself that is to be most treasured by us.


If you'd like to read his entire entry, it's here.



Picture: Nicolaus Knuepfer, Brothel Scene

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cutting Remarks


A perfectly good God is…hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy…. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 49-50


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Real Faith Looks Like


You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? The same with people. For years I would have said that I had perfect confidence in B.R. Then came the moment when I had to decide whether I would or would not trust him with a really important secret. That threw quite a new light on what I called my “confidence” in him. I discovered that there was no such thing. Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
.
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 25

Monday, July 27, 2009

More on Eldredge (Sorry)


This is one sleeping dog I was planning to let lie [how many puns can be in one short phrase?], but then I came across Nate Claiborne's blog. He's a student at Dallas Theological Seminary and just posted a series on John Eldredge's book, Waking the Dead. Nate's blog posts are long and theological and analytical, and they are also very good. He has a way of taking apart bad theology without resorting to ad hominem attacks, and he adds valuable thoughts to the discussion of John Eldredge books and their defective theology.

I suppose another sign of his perspicacity is his referring to my own Wild at Heart critique twice in his series, when he refers to Eldredge's romanticism and gnosticism. But even without that, I would have recommended him. Really.

Check out Nate's blog. I think you'll like what you see, not just on Eldredge but on other topics, as well.


(Image by Rene Magritte. It seemed appropriate, because no matter how many times Eldredge insists we have "good" hearts, the hearts we actually have - and Scripture - keep testifying that the reality isn't quite so simple.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This is a Christian Picture (I Think)


It all started when I sent an e-mail to my artist(ic) friend Ron in Seattle, ranting about a video I found on YouTube showing some guy doing an improvisatory dance at the headquarters of the Christian organization I worked for in the early 80s. I found the dance embarrassing, stupid, and having nothing whatsoever to do with following Jesus. Ron found it "amazing" and "pretty darn beautiful." That led to several more e-mails as we discussed what makes for "Christian" art. It's easy for me to see how a Cranach altar piece is supposed to be Christian art, but I really don't know what to do with that YouTube dancer or even someone like Makato Fujimura (who by the way, like me, is an elder in a PCA church).
.
I may never get it figured out, but I was helped by an article I randomly discovered a couple weeks ago. Michael O'Brien is an artist and novelist. In his essay, "Fire in Our Darkness," which you can find here, he explores what makes fine art Christian. Following are a few tidbits, but if you're interested in the subject, I recommend reading the whole thing.

Most Church art is still produced by factories, not created by a sense of mission or desire to incarnate the unseen reality. Only the artist transfigured in faith and master of his medium can accomplish this. Father P. Raymond Regamy, in Religious Art in the Twentieth Century, says, “Nazi art, the socialist realism of the U.S.S.R., and the art that we normally find in churches are the three most dreadful manifestations of art that our century has witnessed.” There is a harsh truth here. Who knows how many have rejected religion from a subconscious revulsion to paintings of Christ they have absorbed since childhood. An effeminate Jesus and saccharin madonna may appeal at one level of a starved emotional life, but they do not reach deeper to liberate and heal. The face of God must be portrayed in Christ as mercy and truth combined. Unless it is so, religious imagery will be a closed door inhibiting our growth in the Kingdom. Bad art has the power to deform a people just as good art generates new reflection, growth, vision, and hope.

...

The artist is all idealist, and for him the ideal is the real, capable of transforming his world into what it should be. For Western man it is difficult to grasp this curious vocation. He misreads art as decoration, entertainment, or a tool for imparting information.

...

The popular modern emblems of faith are the rainbow and the much-abused butterfly. Yet they are losing their symbolic power because they have been used exhaustively to express a false joy, that of resurrection without crucifixion.

...

As a liturgical artist he will need to balance the tension between mystery and hospitality, a creative and healthy tension which should be characteristic of our places of worship. So often the parish church is a safe place where we go to keep intact our middle-class vision of existence. We want to tame God, to make the sanctuary an extension of our living rooms and ourselves into spectators — consumers — of the liturgy. We must re-experience the church as holy ground, welcoming and warm, but sacred. A place where we are not to be confirmed in mediocrity, but led to transfiguration. This is a particularly urgent need, because in liturgy the human soul should be opened to God, and once it has been so exposed it must be fed real food. Much of what passes for liturgical art fails to nourish because its makers have not found its source within themselves. There is talent but little or no vision. Church art rarely commands respect; it is seen by the world as a gasp from a dying Christian culture. If we are offended by these opinions we must now, more than ever, seek the origins and purposes of art and bring it to fruition in the prophetic heart of the Church. [We could say the same about church music, couldn't we?]

...

No renewal of sacred art in our times will come if the artist's gift, his spiritual gift, is regarded as a piece of merchandise with which to cover the empty spaces on our walls.


Picture: Makato Fujimura, "Splendor Joy"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Read this Book. See Jesus.


Jesus was not an American. Nor a capitalist. Nor a product of the Enlightenment or Romanticism. He wasn't a postmodernist or a CEO or a copilot.
.
Believe it or not, Jesus was a Middle Easterner. And a Jew. He could speak Hebrew and some Greek, but mostly he spoke Aramaic.
.
What does all this have to do with us? Well, if you're reading this, chances are that you are none of the above-mentioned things that Jesus was, and you are many of the things Jesus was not. Therefore, when you and I read the Bible, we tend to read it through lenses quite different from those worn by the first hearers of the message. We may reach accurate doctrinal conclusions about the essentials of the faith, but we may also miss much of the richness that comes from understanding the culture in which the Bible was written. When it comes to Jesus, we miss the sheer audacity of his words and his person, even as we bow before Him for our salvation.
.
That's where Kenneth E. Bailey comes in, with his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Bailey grew up in the Middle East (mostly Egypt) and taught there for 40 years. His 60 years of life experience, linguistic ability, and curiosity come together in this amazing look at the Jesus of the gospels. It is impossible to read this book without growing in an appreciation of the cleverness, theological and philosophical depth, social brazenness, and deep compassion that go into describing the incarnate Christ. Bailey's insights are not "novel" in the sense of being unorthodox theologically. Rather, they are like a key that opens a door and allows a much fuller view than what one was heretofore gaining through a keyhole. The previous view was accurate, but limited. The new view is broader and richer and gives deeper meaning to what was seen before.
.
In 35+ years of reading Christian books, I don't know if I've ever read one that caused me to say "Wow" or "Oh my gosh" as many times as this one did. And only rarely have I read a book of theology that actually led me to worship; this is one of them.
.
It's hard to summarize this book, because there's so much in it. The six main sections deal with: The Birth of Jesus; The Beatitudes; The Lord's Prayer; Dramatic Actions of Jesus; Jesus and Women; and the Parables of Jesus. It all adds up to 400 pages, but it's not a difficult read. Nevertheless, don't expect to get through it quickly: you may find yourself wanting to stop often and savor what you just read.
.
Why did Jesus ask handicapped people whether they wanted to get well? Why was Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree? What's the point of the parable of the talents (hint: it's not about using your God-given abilities)? Who is the only person in Jesus' parables given a name, and why? How did Jesus view women? Which "inn" had no room at Jesus' birth? How does the Lord's Prayer blast away the concept of salvation being only for the Jews? And why should we trust that what we read in the gospels is what really happened? All this and much, much, much more is brilliantly answered in this book. You'll never read the gospels the same way, again.
.
I gave a friend a copy of the chapter about the Syro-Phoenecian woman (Matthew 15.21-28). In this encounter, we see Jesus refusing to answer the woman pleading for her daughter's healing, then telling her that He only came to help Jews, then calling her a dog. After my friend read Bailey's exposition of this passage, he said, "I used to read this story and think, 'Jesus is a jerk.' But now I read it and say, 'Jesus is amazing.'"
.
Jesus is amazing. Read this book and you'll have a much richer understanding as to why.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

He's Wright About That


One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may
“love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire.

- N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, writing today in the London Times.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sarah's 15 Minutes Are Up...or Should Be


I started out really liking Sarah Palin. As time passed, my enthusiasm waned. For me, the biggest blow was when Katie Couric asked her something along the lines of what she read to keep up with current events, and Sarah answered, "Oh, everything." When pressed, she couldn't name a single publication...if only she had said, "The Economist"! I'm not sure Katie was playing fair in the interview, overall, but this particular question was eminently fair, and the answer thoroughly disappointing. I knew then that we were in trouble.

Now she's resigned from her governorship, and I wish she'd just go away. Peggy Noonan (a card-carrying conservative, by the way) has put into words thoughts I didn't even know I had. Here's an excerpt from a recent Wall Street Journal column (emphasis mine):

Sarah Palin's resignation gives Republicans a new opportunity to see her plain—to review the bidding, see her strengths, acknowledge her limits, and let go of her drama. It is an opportunity they should take. They mean to rebuild a great party. They need to do it on solid ground.

Her history does not need to be rehearsed at any length. Ten months ago she was embraced with friendliness by her party. The left and the media immediately overplayed their hand, with attacks on her children. The party rallied round, as a party should. She went on the trail a sensation but demonstrated in the ensuing months that she was not ready to go national and in fact never would be. She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn't thoughtful enough to know she wasn't thoughtful enough. Her presentation up to the end has been scattered, illogical, manipulative and self-referential to the point of self-reverence. "I'm not wired that way," "I'm not a quitter," "I'm standing up for our values." I'm, I'm, I'm.

In another age it might not have been terrible, but here and now it was actually rather horrifying.


If you'd like to read the entire column, it's here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

We Have More in Common With The French Than You Thought


President Obama, sightseeing with French President Sarkozy at this week's G-8 summit in Italy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Better Deaths Than Any I've Ever Seen"


There are only a couple things I pray regarding the end of my life. One of them is that I will die well. By that, I mean that if I have any advance warning of my impending earthly demise, I desire to die in faith, confidence, trust, and peace, not "like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4.13). I want to honor God not just in how I live my life, but also in how I "live" my death.

If it's a protracted death, Iwould love for it to be something like what's described in today's New York Times. The story profiles nuns at a convent and the provisions they've made for each other to die among friends, with dignity, in an environment of hope. Here are some excerpts:

July 9, 2009
Months to Live
Sisters Face Death With Dignity and Reverence
By JANE GROSS
PITTSFORD, N.Y. —

A convent is a world apart, unduplicable. But the Sisters of St. Joseph, a congregation in this Rochester suburb, animate many factors that studies say contribute to successful aging and a gentle death — none of which require this special setting. These include a large social network, intellectual stimulation, continued engagement in life and spiritual beliefs, as well as health care guided by the less-is-more principles of palliative and hospice care — trends that are moving from the fringes to the mainstream.

For the elderly and infirm Roman Catholic sisters here, all of this takes place in a Mother House designed like a secular retirement community for a congregation that is literally dying off, like so many religious orders. On average, one sister dies each month, right here, not in the hospital, because few choose aggressive medical intervention at the end of life, although they are welcome to it if they want.

“We approach our living and our dying in the same way, with discernment,” said Sister Mary Lou Mitchell, the congregation president. “Maybe this is one of the messages we can send to society, by modeling it.”

Primary care for most of the ailing sisters is provided by Dr. Robert C. McCann, a geriatrician at the University of Rochester, who says that through a combination of philosophy and happenstance, “they have better deaths than any I’ve ever seen.”

“It is much easier to guide people to better choices here than in a hospital,” he said, “and you don’t get a lot of pushback when you suggest that more treatment is not better treatment.”

Few sisters opt for major surgery, high-tech diagnostic tests or life-sustaining machinery. And nobody can remember the last time anyone died in a hospital, which was one of the goals in selling the old Mother House, with its tumbledown infirmary…and using the money to finance a new facility appropriate for end-of-life care.

“There is a time to die and a way to do that with reverence,” said Sister Mary Lou, 56, a former nurse. “Hospitals should not be meccas for dying. Dying belongs at home, in the community. We built this place with that in mind.”

….Here, everyone mixes. Of the 150 residents, nearly half live in the west wing, designated for independent living….Forty sisters live in assisted-living studios, and another 40 in the nursing home and Alzheimer’s unit, all in the east wing, with the chapel, dining rooms and library at the central intersection. Closed-circuit television allows those confined to their rooms to watch daily religious services.
….
Dr. McCann said that the sisters’ religious faith insulated them from existential suffering — the “Why me?” refrain commonly heard among those without a belief in an afterlife. Absent that anxiety and fear, Dr. McCann said, there is less pain, less depression, and thus the sisters require only one-third the amount of narcotics he uses to manage end-of-life symptoms among hospitalized patients.

On recent rounds, Dr. McCann saw …Sister Jamesine Riley, 75, once the president of the congregation, who barely survived a car accident that left her with a brain injury, dozens of broken bones and pneumonia. “You’re not giving up, are you?” Dr. McCann asked her. “No, I’m discouraged, but I’m not giving up,” Sister Jamesine replied in a strong voice.
….
Some days, Dr. McCann said, he arrives with his “head spinning,” from hospitals and intensive-care units where death can be tortured, impersonal and wastefully expensive, only to find himself in a “different world where it’s really possible to focus on what’s important for people” and, he adds, “what’s exportable, what we can learn from an ideal environment like this.”
….
Barbara Cocilova, the nurse practitioner here, sees differences in the health of these sisters compared with elderly patients in other settings….Among those with Alzheimer’s, Ms. Cocilova said, diagnostic tests tend to produce better-than-expected results among those who are further along in the disease process, a possible result of mental stimulation.
….
Sister Bernadine Frieda, 91, spry and sharp, spends her days visiting the infirm with Sister Marie Kellner, 77, both of them onetime science teachers. Sister Marie, who left the classroom because of
multiple sclerosis, reminds an astounded sister with Alzheimer’s that she was once a high school principal (“I was?!”) and sings “Peace Is Like a River” to the dying. “We don’t let anyone go alone on the last journey,” Sister Marie said.

Seven priests moved here in old age, paying their own way, as does Father Shannon, who presides over funerals that are more about the celebratory “alleluia” than the glum “De Profundis.”…He shares with them the security of knowing he will not die among strangers who have nothing in common but age and infirmity.

“This is what our culture, our society, is starved for, to be rich in relationships,” Sister Mary Lou said. “This is what everyone should have.”


I've often criticized the Times for cluelessness on religious matters. This article is a notable exeption. You can read the entire thing here.

And click here for a short audio slideshow about the sisters and their home. It's excellent.
.
(In case you're wondering, my health is fine, as far as I know. There are no veiled messages in this blog post!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Search of Radical Atheists


I enjoyed these comments by Edward Oakes in the June/July issue of First Things:

In Untimely Meditations, Fried­rich Nietzsche spins a tale that goes like this: Once upon a time, on a minuscule planet orbiting a mediocre star, clever little animals emerged from the slime—and not long after began using puffed-up words like truth and goodness. Even worse, they thought they could attain genuine knowledge in this ultimately dead world. But their little C-grade star eventually cooled, and these pathetic little creatures died out, and with them died their proud words and hard-gained knowledge. The universe shed not one tear but merely looked on from its cold, infinite, uncaring skies.

One must at least credit Nietzsche for drawing out the consistent implications of atheism. Recent atheists, in contrast, seem to preach their atheism with an odd fervor, and one looks in vain for these overheated unbelievers to acknowledge that atheism entails a pointless universe. Perhaps, though, we should sympathize with our current crop of evangelizing atheists. Nietzsche’s pointless-universe thesis is so difficult to maintain that not even he could manage it. In a later book, The Gay Science, he came to the conclusion: “It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato: that God is the truth, that truth is divine.”

Rare is the contemporary atheist who takes his atheism as radically as did Nietzsche.


Monday, July 6, 2009

A Mirror Dimly


You will never love art well until you love what she mirrors better.


- John Ruskin (1819-1900)



(Picture: Face of Christ by Rouault)

Friday, July 3, 2009

White Other


I was filling out a registration form recently to access information on a U.K. government website, when I was asked to indicate my ethnic group. You know the old saying that England and the U.S. are two countries separated by a common language? It appears we're separated by more than just that. Check out the list...


Which ethnic group would you describe yourself as being in?

White British
White Irish
White Other

Black British
Black Caribbean
Black African
Other Black background

Asian British
Chinese
Indian
Pakistani
Bangladeshi
Other Asian background

White & Asian
White & Black African
White & Black Caribbean

Other mixed background
Other ethnic group

Prefer not to say


This list tells you a lot about the U.K. and the history of the British Empire, doesn't it? I'm guessing the 2010 U.S. Census will have different choices.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Nine out of ten of you struggle with impure thoughts...Especially after the story I told about my wife"

I'll be back soon with posts of more substance, but for now...here's satire as it ought to be, truly funny. At 10 minutes, it's a bit long, but I laughed all the way through. Find out the perils of youth (or young adult, for that matter) ministry and why you should always check out the guest speaker before giving him the stage:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comparing the Resumes

It's been too long since we've had a JesusAndMo fix.



(Click on the picture if it's not big enough.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I'll Be Doing on My Flight to the West Coast Next Week

I consider myself very knowledgable about planes, at least compared with the average layman. But I learned something today that heretofore had completely escaped my notice. In 71 seconds, you can learn it, too. Check this out:


Kind of makes you want to get on a flight today, doesn't it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Michelangelo the Frivolous


I've been critical of Twitter for what seems to me incorrigible frivolity (and narcissism). Who would have thought the Sistine Chapel would be similarly categorized by its painter?
.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was unquestionably one of the greatest artists ever. People still flock to see his works, many of which have become iconic: La Pieta, David, God giving life to Adam, and the entire Sistine Chapel (pictured above). I've been blessed to see these works "live," and they live up to their billing. If anyone spent his life in worthwhile endeavor, it was Michelangelo. And yet, this is what he reportedly wrote toward the end of his life:

So now from this mad passion
which made me take art for an idol and a king,
I have learned the burden of error that it bore
and what misfortunes spring from man's desire.
The world's frivolities have robbed me of the time
that I was given for reflecting upon God.

(Credited to Michelangelo...source unknown.)
.
"Robbed of the time that I was given for reflecting on God." My friend David recently blogged on the importance of silence in one's life. I've had a few posts on the subject, myself. We need times of being alone with God. We weren't built to be led through cacophany; it causes us to confuse gods with God and makes it hard to identify our idols.
.
Serving those idols, rather than reflecting on God and living in light of eternity, can never be anything other than frivolity in God's economy. As much as I hate to call Michelangelo's awe-inspiring works the act of a frivolous idolater, that's what he apparently called them, himself. As beautiful an evocation of the Eternal One as they may be, they were never the Real Thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why I'm Still Single

When I got to Oregon State University for my freshman year of college, I started out attending the meetings of Campus Crusade for Christ. But a guy across the hall was involved with a similar group called The Navigators, and that's the parachurch organization I ended up committing to. When I transferred to the University of Oregon the next year, I got involved with the Navs there. Then I worked for the Navs for three years in Eastern Europe, before returning to the U.S. for grad school and 2-1/2 more years of Nav campus involvement. All together, it's almost 10 years of direct involvement, and I've maintained a lot of contacts over the 24 years since I got out of grad school.

That may go a long ways toward explaining why I'm still single.

On campus, one of the taunts - or badges of honor, depending on your perspective - was "Navigator Neverdater." Unlike Crusade, we weren't known as a marriage factory. In fact, it was rather the opposite. Early in my college career, someone said that you only have 4 or so years in college, and it's an unparalleled time for growth in your Christian walk, so why not focus on that and save the dating/marriage stuff for later? Sounded good to me, so I made a commitment not to date until after college. Only when I started getting interested in someone during my missionary years did I remember that my commitment had expired. So we dated a couple times, but she married my friend, instead. They're now Navigator staff.

All of the above is simply to introduce this delightful video from a Navigator college student. It's clear that this part of the DNA of the Navs is still recognizable. Of course, the Navs are defined by something much different than collegiate dating practices, namely such things as Scripture Memory, Bible study, discipleship, and spiritual reproduction. And also of course, most people involved with the Navs do get married. Nevertheless, if you were involved with the Navs in college, you'll love this video, and if you weren't, you'll probably find it rather funny, too:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?


I often attend a small monthly philosophy group in Atlanta. The discussions are quite different from what I have with my friends during the rest of the month, because no other evangelical Christians ever attend this group (as best I can tell). For that matter, no other Christians of any discernable stripe attend, and the leader is a determinist who doesn't admit to believing in any God at all.
.
It's good for me to be there, because it helps me think through my worldview and convictions and how I can explain them to someone who's approaching our discussion from a very different angle. Of course, I hope that the others will somehow be nudged toward Jesus by what I have to say.
.
This week, we were discussing what makes for a good marriage relationship (or nonmarital partnership). One of the guys was claiming that the ideal relationship is one where:
  • You live and let live.
  • Tolerance reigns.
  • Neither party demands anything of the other and neither changes anything to accommodate the other (neither one "compromises").

It's hard to summarize accurately what he was saying, because to me it seemed inconsistent and a bit incoherent, but it was clear that he didn't agree with my claim that the best relationship is one based on active love, commitment, deference, service, and sacrifice. His view seemed to be that each should do whatever he/she wants, with the goal of maximizing self-pleasure and minimizing self-pain. I commented that if two partners with that view ever actually agreed on something, it wouldn't be a relationship, but a coincidence.

I left there thinking how radically different our worldviews are, and when I got home, I took the dog for a walk and prayed, remarking to God how vitally different my life is because God made me His child. Certainly, I don't always practice what I claim to believe about good relationships, but it's my aspiration to do so, and I'm immensely thankful for the significant friendships God has given me over the years. I believe I'm a lot less lonely than the guys I was talking to last night.
.
Of course, our Heavenly Father, Himself, is the best example of how to build good relationships (though it sounds weird to state it that way):
  • "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3.16)
  • "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15.13)
God's extraordinary love gives all (or at least all we could ever imaginably need), and it demands all. When we understand what He's done, we gladly give all in return - first, as a sign of thanks, and then in confident expectation of even more demonstrations of His love for us. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4.19).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tim Keller Speaks Elvish


If you're the least bit interested in Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, you'll want to read an excellent new profile at ChristianityToday.com. There's a lot of personal and family info, Redeemer history, Keller theology, and church strategy. All in all, it's an engaging article about a church that seeks to engage its city culture of artists and businesspeople with the message of Christ. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Twittering Your Life Away


(Click on the cartoon for a larger version.)
.
Every generation comes up with new ways to waste its members' lives. Watching television and cruising used to be it, though cruising's imperilled by high gas prices. Television is still quite with us, even though total viewership is down: witness the obsession with "Lost" or "24" or "The Office" or "Heroes." More recently, IMing (AOL Instant Messenger and the like) found ways to consume hours of peoples' lives in frivolity; it's still around, though apparently not as compelling as it once was. Computer/video games steal some people's lives, but the waste-monger getting the most attention these days is social networking.

Of all the social networking media, I find Twitter particularly interesting, in that most tweeters seem to think other people should be endlessly fascinated with the minutiae of their daily lives. It's narcissism, isn't it?...though most people prefer to call it "keeping in touch." Narcissism for the sender, distraction for both the sender and the receiver (a-musement, "not thinking"), and at the end you have a vaporous pile of ethereal nothing. Maybe someday, Twitter will turn into something useful. It's not there yet.

I came across this blog entry today. Although this guy calls himself extreme for having a dozen ways of reporting on himself, he seems representative of the spirit of the age:

If you are like me then you have at least one or two social networking accounts.... I may have taken it to extremes but I eventually went and got a FriendFeed account which tied most of them together. By doing this when I update my Friend Feed status I update my Facebook and Twitter accounts. but here is where it gets tricky. If I update my Flickr, youtube, my Google Talk status, one of the many blogs, or my 73s.org accounts, Friendfeed will pull from them and publish the update out to the others. As these updates get pushed to the Twitter account my Live Spaces account will post that update as well. Another cool thing is if I share an item from Google Reader, it will also push that and any comments to Friend Feed, and then back out from there. Duplicate items can happen, and I am still working on that, but all in all it is easier to really only manage one or two instead of the 12 I once had to cut and paste too.

Now If I could get the Zune Social updates to replicate as well, I would not have to update anything separately.

Do I really need to let the whole world what I am having for dinner? If you have to ask then you just don't understand. It is cool to be able to let you friends and family know what is going on, and to share articles that have caught my eye. Do I have to? no not really, but it is cool, and I am still having fun with it. When it becomes a chore then I may have stop. Until then, keep connected, and share what tips you have for linking your social networking in the comments.

I don't think of myself as a Luddite, and I'm not opposed to electronic communication. I'd have trouble living without e-mail, and obviously, I keep a blog, which I admittedly hope a lot of people will read. But I really don't think anyone cares which type of Trader Joe's cereal I ate this morning, nor whether I put yogurt or milk on it, nor whether I ate it out of a cup or a bowl, nor whether I was sitting in the kitchen or out on the screened porch when I consumed it. If that's the level of detail you want from your friends, then I think you need to get a life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Law of Unintended Consequences: John Eldredge and Mexican Decapitations


Everyone who knows me knows that I'm no fan of John Eldredge's theology. But for all the critical things I've said about him, I never would have predicted that a "faith-based" Mexican drug cartel would use his books as texts...and cetainly not a cartel that carries out massacres by separating their victims' bodies from their heads.

But that appears to be the case. Joseph Michael Reynolds reports on his blog that, "La Familia Michoacana was all over the news out of Mexico last week. In President Calderon’s home state of Michoacan, federales carted off ten mayors and twenty other local officials who were allegedly under the control of La Familia, an ambitious cartel often described as a 'pseudo-evangelical cult.'” Reynolds goes on to say:

[An] internal intelligence report on La Familia from the Mexican justice department surfaced in Milenio, bringing the news that the faith-based cartel grounds its indoctrination program on the writings of macho Christian author and veteran Focus On The Family senior fellow John Eldredge, who now heads Ransomed Hearts Ministries in Colorado Springs.

There are four separate references to Eldredge in the Mexican intelligence memo on La Familia. The cartel has conducted a three-year recruitment and PR campaign across Michoacan featuring thousands of billboards and banderas carrying their evangelical message and warnings. La Familia is known for tagging its executions and other mayhem as “la divina justica”–divine justice.

The report says La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno aka El Loco o More Chayo (”The Craziest”) has made Eldredge’s books required reading for La Familia and has paid rural teachers and National Development Education members to circulate the Colorado-based evangelical’s writings throughout the Michoacan countryside.

The Daily Kos has also picked up on this story. The Milenio article referenced looks very informative, but my Spanish is horrible, so I'll have to leave that to someone else.
.
If you're going to write books, it's great to have readers, but these must be fans that John Eldredge would rather not have. I've heard plenty of stories about people doing stupid things after reading his books; this is beyond all that I would have imagined.
.
(If you're feeling a need to see La Familia's handiwork, there's a photo on Reynolds' blog.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Someone's Gonna Pay For This


In the spirit of yesterday's post about the difference between politicians and statesmen, I offer a current example of how politicians aren't leveling with us, and instead are telling us what we want to hear. But eventually, the truth will get out, and then it will sink in, ... and then we'll get soaked.
.
This comes from a "Special Report on Business in America" in The Economist:


A green revolution
May 28th 2009 From The Economist print edition
Saving the world will not be cheap

The best way to curb global warming would be a carbon tax. The money raised could be divided up among citizens or used to repay the national debt. A tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) would give everyone an incentive to emit less of it. It would be simple, direct and transparent. For these reasons, it will never happen in America.

Frank talk about energy policy is rare. Politicians hate to admit that anything they plan to do will cause pain to any voter. During the election campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system for curbing CO2 emissions, not because it would work better than a carbon tax but because it did not have the word “tax” in its name. Both candidates also gave the impression that their green policies would yield huge benefits while imposing no costs. A shift to alternative energy, they agreed, would not only check global warming but also create millions of green jobs and help break America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Neither dwelt on the fact that cap-and-trade will raise energy prices, that subsidies for renewable energy will have to be paid for, or that both policies will destroy jobs as well as creating them, while probably cutting growth. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a 15% cut in CO2 emissions will cost the average American household $1,600 a year. If politicians pretend they can save the planet at no cost, they risk a backlash when people realise they were fibbing.


If we're going to address global warming (or climate change, or whatever it's called this week), we need to understand the cost, and we need to compare the cost with the benefit. So far, no one proposing legislation seems to be doing that.

If you'd like to read the entire article, it's here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Politicians Many, Statesmen Few

I've been going light on the political blogs lately, more out of cynicism than lack of interest. But I would like to share this quote I came across. It's from Henry Kissinger, who certainly has his share of detractors, but I think he accurately describes what the problem is in politics today:

The great statesmen of the past saw themselves as heroes who took on the burden of their societies' painful journey from the familiar to the as yet unknown. The modern politician is less interested in being a hero than a superstar. Heroes walk alone; stars derive their status from approbation. Heroes are defined by inner values; stars by consensus. When a candidate's views are forged in focus groups and ratified by television anchorpersons, insecurity and superficiality become congenital.

Henry Kissinger, Years of Renewal, 2000

Who are the statesmen of today?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wincing at the Gospel


Last week, I blogged about how we can seek to avoid Jesus by developing a false sense of righteousness. Those who don't think they're ill won't be interested in knowing what the physician has to say.

This week, I came across a poem by Julie Stoner that addresses the same issue. It's from the June/July 2009 issue of First Things. Poetry and I often don't get along, but this one I like:


"I Did Not Come to Call the Righteous"


Matthew 9:9–13

We ninety-nine obedient sheep;
we workers hired at dawn’s first peep;
we faithful sons who strive to please,
forsaking prodigalities;
we virgins who take pains to keep
our lamps lit, even in our sleep;
we law-abiding Pharisees;

we wince at gospels such as these.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Are Atheists So Irrational?


This article came out on September 19, 2008, and I meant to blog about it then, but I've been running way behind. It's about a Gallup study that examined the beliefs of the religious and the irreligious. Guess who turns out to be the most superstitious?

Here's an excerpt from the article, which originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal here. If you want to read the entire article and that link doesn't work for you, try this one.



Look Who's Irrational Now
By MOLLIE ZIEGLER HEMINGWAY


...The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won't create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that's not a conclusion to take on faith -- it's what the empirical data tell us.

"What Americans Really Believe," a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely.

Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't....

...

On Oct. 3 [2008], Mr. Maher debuts "Religulous," his documentary that attacks religious belief. He talks to Hasidic scholars, Jews for Jesus, Muslims, polygamists, Satanists, creationists, and even Rael -- prophet of the Raelians -- before telling viewers: "The plain fact is religion must die for man to live."

But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O'Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."


Baylor's own summary of its study can be found here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Official: Georgia is (Almost) the Worst


I like being able to drive at NASCAR-like speeds in my adopted state of Georgia, but overall I have little respect for my roadmates. I don't have to be on the road for long before I see swerving, wrong speeds (too slow/too fast for conditions), running red lights, stopping at flashing yellows, no headlights in the rain, not using turn signals...whatever signs of incompetence you can imagine, you get to see them every day on Atlanta's roads.

Now there's confirmation: it's not just my perception that drivers here are incompetent. GMAC Insurance has administered something called the National Drivers Test in all 50 states and DC. The test is designed to measure knowledge of basic driving laws, and Georgia ranks 47 out of 51. Only California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York score lower.

The state where I grew up and took driver's ed, Oregon, ties for 8th place, and that seems about right.

You can read more about the test results and see how your own state scored here.

And if you like, you can take the National Drivers Test, yourself, here.

I took the test. My score? 95%...and the one question they say I got wrong, I know is correct in some states. So I'll take a gentleman's 100%.