22 October 2008

Well, It's Been Awhile

April to October...silence--why break it now? Haven't I given up on the prospects of faithfully maintaining a blog? Shouldn't the blog police put me out of my procastinating misery?

I don't have the answers to life's most persistent questions. But I have been thinking about Art lately. Specifically, I've been thinking about the connections between Asthetics and Religion. One commonality between the two aparently disparate subjects is the presence of Tension (by the way, a habit I've picked up in the long months since my last post is to capitalize those key and important Concepts).

In art as well as hermeneutics there is a fundamental tension between the artist's/author's intent/emotional expression and the audience's reception. In the philosophy of art this tension is expressed in the writings of Veron and Tolstoy. Veron tells us that the only meaning art can have is found in the personality of the artist. Art is the expression of the artist's emotion. Art must be viewed in the context of the author to have meaning. Tolstoy modifies this theory to say that in addition to expressing the emotions of the artist, Art, in order to meet the definition, must also connect with the audience. Tolstoy places much more emphasis on the role of the audience in the interpretation of art.
The same debate rages in the field of Biblical Hermeneutics. Much of evangelical hermeneutics these days is based on the idea that the author's intent is the thing to be grasped and understood as a basis for "making the interpretive journey" accross the cultural chasm which lies between the original Biblical authors and contemporary readers. It's logical, it's comforting, it makes sense. The only problem is that Jesus and His disciples did not interpret scripture that way, nor did the Church Fathers. Their hermeneuitic is far more subjective? prophetic? The historio-critical (for that is what I will call it) Hermeneuitc emerged slowly from the Enlightenment and especially from 19th century scholarship. So is the normative example of Biblical hermeneutics Jesus, or is it some stogidy German university professor (19th century), or some Fuller Seminary Ph.D. (21st century)?

To further "complexify" the issue, consider that the same debate can be had in Constitutional hermeneutics. Should the Constitution be interpreted according to the intent and context of the the Framers (a la Sculia), or should it interpreted based on the needs and context of contemporary America.
Apparently (maybe obviously), the Tension between Author/Audience is one implicit in any interpretative venture. Well, it seemed profound when I thought it, but now that I write it down I feel like a bonehead. More on this later (here's the beauty of ambiguous authoral intent: did I mean more on the connections between Art and Religion, more on the Tensions of Hermeneutics, or more on me being a bonehead?).

Anyway, I present to you one of my new favorite artists: Giorgio Morandi (he was kind of in to still lifes).

01 April 2008

The Return: Commemorated by a List of Books

I've broken continuity. Returning from Boston (sweet merciful crap, I love that place), I had a internet free Spring Break, and returning to school, I had a spare time free week of work. Now, I return, with a list of books that should be purchased and immediately sent to me, as well as a link to a short article about one of my very favorite books of all time: Erasmus' The Praise of Folly, and a link to an article about John Steinbeck that hurt my feelings (but don't worry because I have two).

Books I want to read:

Nothing to be Frightened Of

Julian Barnes

    Ruminations on death

Sputnik Caledonia
Andrew Crumey

    Strange dystopian literature

This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited

Justin Cartwright

    Pure intellectual nostalgia

Three Studies for a Crucifixion

Francis Bacon


Don't know what its about, but what a wonderful title.


Drinking for England

Fergus Linnane


Famous British drunks



Matthew Francis


Poems based on the 14th century Travels of Sir John Mandeville

05 March 2008

Jesus, the Syrophoenician woman, and a reversal of violence

No, I did not come up with the totally sweet title of this post, it is in fact, the title of a very interesting article/post from Theology for the Masses.

David Kuo on Anne Rice

Talk about transformations: Anne Rice goes from vampire sex and and vampire gore to a Catholic whose contribution to literature, like many Catholic authors (i.e. G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, et al.), seems to be a little deeper and more profound than your run-of-the-mill "Christian" author.

Now take David Kuo, former White house lackey, former committed fundamentalist Christian who has been transformed to a deeper, more profound, more moderate Christian thinker and writer.

The convergence of those transformations is that David Kuo has written an excellent review of Anne Rice's new book, the second in her Christ the Lord series, and I think you should read it (them).

04 March 2008

Book Thieves, the Truth Project, and Bulletproof Logic

Here's a short article about people stealing books from independent bookstores in Seattle. Included is what the author calls the New York Times bestsellers list of stolen books—the books most commonly stolen and resold to other used bookstores—really gave me some ideas, but, (un)fortunately, my ethical and moral shock collar has reined me in.

Also, my place of employment is offering me a chance to participate in Focus on the Family's Truth Project, and I'm wondering whether I should or not. I am deeply suspicious of Focus on the Family, but it does seem very interesting. It's a 12 week course hoping to give you a Christian worldview. Of course, cynics might at this point begin to pander the word "brainwash," but, we all know J. Dobson would never do anything like that. I think I am going to do it, but I have a feeling that at least on some points my Christian worldview is different from others. Dobson, Dr. Del Tackitt, Ravi Zacharias, and others would probably conclude (something about some ridiculous non-contradiction "law") that it is an impossibility to have two different Christian worldviews. I imagine (notice my intentionally non-committal language here) that their argument, whether they would admit or not, could be expressed like this:

1. I am a Christian.

2. I have a worldview.

3. My worldview lines up with the Bible.

4. If something lines up with the Bible it is Christian.

5. Therefore, my worldview is the Christian worldview.

6. If others have a worldview fundamentally different than mine, it is not the Christian worldview (A does not equal B, and so forth).

Foolproof logic, no doubt, but that doesn't make all the premises true, and in this case I think its premises #3 ff. that I have a problem with. I would restate the argument thusly:

3. My worldview lines up with my interpretation of the Bible (or is it that my Bible interpretation lines up with my worldview: a real chicken before the egg conundrum that may lie at the heart of the Christian cultural war)

4. There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, mine being one of them (superior to some, inferior to many)

5. If something lines up with one of an unknown number of possible Christian interpretations of the Bible then it is Christian (the question on which this point in contigent is what constitutes a possible Christian interpretation? Is it that you vote anti-abortion and anti-gay, and read that in to every scripture?)

6. Therefore, my worldview, along with an unknown number of others, is a Christian worldview contingent upon it lining up with one of those possible Christian interpretations of the Bible.

Now, logicians, how would I express that mathematically?

01 March 2008

Greg, Shane and Chuck

You need to read about this debate that Chuck Colson, Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd had. Wow. Take that Richard Land.

28 February 2008

Cartoons and Richard Land

Wittenburg Door is the world's first and oldest Christian satire magazine, and it is run by Trinity Foundation, which along with being a thriving homeless ministry, is also a tele-evangelist watchdog group. Hey, someones gotta do it. Along with hundreds of genius articles they have a cartoon series: Lifestyles of the Rich and Religious. They're freaking awesome!! Here's one about Kenneth Copeland; well, worth reading.

Also, here's a link to an interview with Richard Land, one the big head honcho guys at the Southern Baptist Convention telling us that its not that he's against taking care of the poor necessarily, its just that hating gay people is clearly more important (whoops, sorry, that's not what he said...just what he meant). He did say that he doesn't believe that young evangelical voters will vote for a president that isn't pro-life. On that one thing, Mr. Land and I agree. What we don't agree on is the definition of pro-life. By what he writes and speaks about, Mr. Land does not seem like he is pro-life; he is definitely anti-abortion, but if he were pro-life wouldn't he care more about the poor, about AIDs, and about torture, and not just about gay marriage and abortion? Nah, pro-life doesn't mean that you're actually for all life does it? Maybe we should change the title to pro-politically-expedient-non-gay-non-poor-non-Muslim-life. But, what the hell, at least he's not preaching against dancing and playing cards.

27 February 2008

Larry Norman (1947-2008)

Larry Norman, probably the first, possibly the best Christian rocker died on February 24, after a long series of health problems. Before DC Talk, before Petra, before Steve Taylor (one of the few who could give Larry a run for title of "best Christian rocker"), before Rich Mullins and Kieth Green, there was Larry Norman. He was a legend.

Here is an article about him on open source theology.

Here is an article about him from the Canadian Press.

Here is his official website, chronicling his last words.


Goodbye, Farewell

26 February 2008

Beowulf and Godsylla

Sometimes one comes across an item of such exquisite nerdiosity, that the only emotion one can feel is awe mixed with jealously for not having thought of it oneself. Here is such an item gleaned from the pages of one of the internet's most original publications: The Speculative Grammarian.

Here it is: Beowulf and Godsylla

Of course, Eduard Sievers would be turning in his grave, because as fine as this little poem is, it does not follow the dictates of Germanic Alliterative Verse! Travesty!

Also, here is a very interesting article about J.S. Bach, if you're interested.

At land, at sea, at home, abroad; I smoke my pipe, and worship God. -J.S. Bach

25 February 2008

Nostalgia and the Simple Life

If you hate thoughts-in-process; words and phrases well one their way to becoming full-fledged ideas, but aren't quite there yet; don't read this.

There is an interesting article, here, that discusses a recent accusation leveled against some environmentalists, that they are like the "Luddites" of 19th century Britain. Regardless of the true nature of Luddites (which the article discusses), today the term is applied to those who are distrustful of technology. The article discusses how wanting to save the environment does not necessarily evince wanting to rid the planet of technology. It talks about the real Luddites, and how the people who do advocate living a life less encumbered by technology are simply nostalgic for a different time, or they are trying to force some moral agenda on people (i.e. deep ecologists, militant vegans, etc.).

This got me thinking about the connection between the desire to live a simple life (and I assure you, absolutely no Paris Hilton connotations intended), and being nostalgic. In a previous post I discussed how I liked music that made me feel nostalgic for different time. I think that nostalgia is one of the defining characteristics of my personality. What connection, if any, does that have with another desire to live a simple life? I Thessalonians 4 talks about living a quiet life, minding your own business, and working with your hands as a Christian ideal. I think that it that type of hybrid nostalgia/desire for a simple life that attracts me to things like G.K. Chesterton's distributivism, to growing a garden and (theoretically) riding a bicycle; to music like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie; to collecting typewriters and old crap; to enjoying the literature of Steinbeck (Travels with Charley is the Bible of Nostalgia); to identifying with one of Isaac Asimov's characters in The Caves of Steel, who, living thousands of years from Asimov's day, is known as a "medievalist" because he prefers wearing glasses to having his vision corrected. So, am I a Luddite? I think the existence of this blog answers that question. Am I nostalgic for a simpler time? Aren't we all? Is this in some way connected for our hope in Christ's return and the final, unequivocal establishment of the Kingdom of God? Is being nostalgic for things past (which probably never existed anyway) a way of looking to the future? Well…I better stop before someone accuses me of being a pothead.

But lest you think I've stopped being a hippie: FIFTY POSSIBLE WAYS TO CHALLENGE OVER-COMMERCIALISM by Al Fritsch, S.J.

20 February 2008

Racism, Demonization, and Christianity

Let me preface the below statements with several warnings: 1. This is a rant. Ranting is one of the ways I deal with overbearing amount of pain and suffering in the world around me. 2. I love my country, but not more than I love my God. 3. Finally, while this is a rant, I am not at all being sarcastic (something I have developed something of a reputation for), but I am emotionally worked up over some stuff. For one thing, I tried to talk to 117 9th graders who come mainly from white upper class families today about how maybe, just possibly, Jesus wants us to be concerned for somebody besides ourselves once in a while. Approx. 115 of them actively, adamantly, and spitefully opposed my message. So, yeah. I'm ranting. I'm emotional. Get over it, and I hear this: if anyone single one of you people tells me to move to Canada, not only I am going to call your parents, I'm gonna give you a morning detention AND I'm never gonna give you a f*%#ing bathroom pass again!!!!!!!!!!!!! Whew. I feel better now. Sorry for that.

The sad fact that has been hidden from me for many years by my education (thank you Ace Virtueson) is that America has always required some group of people to hate. Yes, a simple fact, obvious to most people, but it has really hit me hard today. Today I learned about the 120,000 Japanese people (70,000 of which were full-fledged, flag-waving, card-carrying American citizens) which were "interred" for up to 2 years starting the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941 for absolutely no reason. What a monstrous blot on history. Is too ugly to tell children? Is that why Christian education makes absolutely no mention of it?!? I have long felt hurt by what I feel like was an education that was extremely misleading when it came to two areas especially: science (you mean to say that the earth isn't 6,000 years old?), and history (sample history lesson: Americans are God's chosen race, the New Israel; God blesses us more than other countries; until 1962 when the Supreme Court banned prayer in school, our country was perfect [oh slavery, slavery wasn't that bad]).

I am coming to realize that our country (and probably all countries) has always had a certain group of people to hate. The list is long and in some cases it overlaps, but there has never been a time in our country where equity and justice for all has even been remotely considered. Here's a list of people that at various times (including now) it has been ok for the U.S. to hate:
1. Native Americans (starting with Columbus and continuing, with varrying levels of intensity to present day).
2. African Americans (starting with the inception of our country and continuing, with varrying levels of intensity to present day).
3. Chinese (Google: American Anti-Chinese League, 1800s)
4. Japanese (WWII)
5. African Americans (they get mentioned again with emphasis on the Civil Rights movement on the 60s).
6. Communists (post- WWII, cold war era) especially but not limited to: Russians, Chinese, and Cubans
7. Muslims (post 9-11)
8. Undocumented immigrants especially but not limited to Mexicans.

ALL of the above groups, and I'm sure I'm missing several, have experienced and many of them are experiencing HATRED at the hands of Americans.

Why? The only answer I can think of is that Hate is the logical outcome of Fear and Fear is the most powerful leverage a government has over its people. Now were there members of each of those people groups who in some way, real or imagined, threatened our country? Absolutely. So, then aren't Americans justified in their hatred? Well, maybe so, maybe that's just how the world is. You hate those who hate you. You hate those who in some way, real or imagined, have harmed you, and your afraid of those who are of the same religion, or color as those people who have harmed you, so you hate them, too. Just the way it works...unless you happen to be a Christian. Christians are not allowed to hate. Christians LOVE their ENEMIES. NO EXECEPTIONS. The Church in America needs to wake up (I believe this beginning to happen), and realize that we have made our country into an idol. America is not godly, and never has been. Hatred, pride, and greed are the three least godly things I can think of, and they are sins that we all as individuals, but also we as a people group, country, ethnicity have been guilty of collectively. Where is the Justice of God? When will He stand up for the poor and vindicate the oppressed? I will be afraid for my country on that day.

Amos 5:21-24
21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

17 February 2008

In Defense of Bob Dylan

Music is, by very definition as an art, subjective. Yet, most people can identify at least some of the reasons they like a particular song or musician. Further, it seems possible to identify some of the general characteristics that make songs great, but there again, there will be differences of opinions. I think, though, these differences can be generalized into several different camps based on opinions about what the definition of “good music” is.

The Varieties of Musical Experiences
1. There are those who define musical goodness purely in terms of technical perfection. To these people, music is only music when it is executed with polish, clarity, and pitch-perfect sound, otherwise it is simply noise.
2. To others, music is only good in relation to its context. These are the people who need the “perfect” song for the moment, for the mood, for the zeitgeist. The people whose favorite song is only their favorite because hearing it reminds them of a certain time, and that song encapsulates their experience. For these people, only a song’s context can determine its goodness.
3. To some, music must be a human enterprise, and appeal to human emotions and instincts. These people feel that sometimes music is “fake” because it relies too much on instruments and machines and computers, and not enough of real, living-breathing human beings. They tend to want music raw, uninterpreted, and unproduced.

These are broad categories, and most people fall somewhere in the borderlands between these. As for me, I am mainly a #3 man. Yes, I appreciate to a degree category #1. There is no musical experience like hearing the Chaconne of Bach’s Solo violin partita No. 2 flawlessly executed by a virtuoso performer. Unfortunately, there are extremely few musicians who can actually manage perfection sometimes, and no body can manage it all the time. Why then, you ask, is there so much “flawless” music out there? It is because it is the product of computers, sound boards, and an army of talented producers who take the musicians less-than-perfect output and polishes it until it loses its soul. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. The vast majority of big name pop stars would be flipping burgers today if it were not for slick producers and their incredible technology. I’ve seen the recording process. A talented producer can take three, disjointed bars played on an out-of-tune guitar, an off-key singer, and a drum machine and make into a billboard top-40 love ballad. Many people either do not know or care about where the song came from so this does not bother them.
But I’m a #3 man. I want to connect to a song. I want the song to wrench me; I want it to make me nostalgic for things I’ve never even experienced. And that’s the crux of the matter. The songs that tend to grab my emotional and spiritual attention are those that are guttural, fierce, raw, and brutal. I want music so deeply felt, so primal that you see a musician grow older and wither as he plays it on the stage. Yet, somehow, and this is paradox that I think may be at the core of all beauty, the music must also manage to be lyrical, idyllic.
Thematically speaking, I want to hear music about wandering, about uncertainty and hope (there’s that fundamental paradox, again). I want outlaw music. I want to hear music about trains, and traveling, about heartache, about times gone by. This is because, whether it is a figment of my imagination or not, these things seem more real to me. That is why I love Bob Dylan, though his voice be ragged. Though he never sings a song the same way twice, though his diction is difficult and he unpredictable so as to be a duetist’s nightmare: he is nothing if not real. He is Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, the Blind Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt. He is the drunkard, the saint, the troubled artist, the quintessential vagabond; riding boxcars, drinking sterno, saying things only prophets say, and caring not for the world; always shifting, changing, reinventing, yet transcendent; possibly the most paradoxical public figure to ever live. That is Bob Dylan.

And so, I propose a musical education a la youtube. Open your mind to the genius that is Bob.

Here's a one of his most famous songs, as he performed it for Pope John Paul II in 1997. By the way, what other musician, besides Bono, do you know who got invited to play for the Pope?

I just hope good old JP 2 didn't think Bob was accusing him of knocking on heaven's door.

Many complain about Bob's voice. They wander if he just smoked too many Camels. Here's a clip of Bob doing something a little different with his voice, and singing a duet with Johnny Cash. Pure vocal poetry; but he does have demon eyes.

Here is Bob performing with Paul Simon (another one of the world's greatest musicians). Watch it at least until the harmonica solo, for it may be the greatest harmonica that has ever been laid down.

As just illustrated in the last video, not only can Bob sing, write songs, and play the harmonica, but he can also dance. Here's another Johnny Cash song where Bob lays down some moves. What a great train song!!

Believe it or not, the most controversial thing about Bob's career was when he reinvented himself in the later part of the 60s, he went from singing acoustic folk songs to mainly electric guitar songs. However, the transendent quality, the guenuine, raw emotion of his music carried over. Let me illustrate with two versions of the same song. The first from the 60s (pre-electric, but the video is a corny photo-montage), the second from a recent (200) concert.

Ok, that was really good. But give this a chance.

Finally, two versions of what could be my favorite song (though its so hard to pick). One is with Eric Clapton (the Titans of Rock together on one stage!), the other is during the early 90s during Bob's "fat" stage. He is clearly drunk, he tells a ridiculous story in the beginning, his guitar playing is off, and yet, yet, he is real. So real. What can I say?

And, if you're still not convinced, well, don't think twice. It's alright.

16 February 2008

Poison Indeed--Cultural Digest Vol. I

Picasso, The Black Pitcher and the Head of Death

I pursue two things with this post: 1) My undeniable urge to be nerdy, 2) Something besides a political or moral blog post. So here it is, partially it is an open and honest look into my dehabilitating habit of omnivorously reading book reviews whilst I should be working; but, it has a little smattering of everything from folk music to Jewish Adventure Novels.
1st: Appelations:
How the '47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good
A very educational article about a wine that neither you nor I will ever taste.
2nd: Liber Bellum
A Novel in Four Vintages by Paul Torday
The review of a book about a wine snob.
Review of Michael Chabon's Novel Gentlemen of the Road
Here's the first chapter of the serial version of the book. I read almost the entire thing, at school, during a series of lunches.
3rd: Art
Why do people steal art?
4th: Music
Rugged, Unadulterated Blues/Americana
By the above genre classification what I really mean is that most of you will hate them, but they do a cover of Johnny Cash's Sam Hall, and Dylan's I was young when I left home. By the way, I hope you can appreciate the irony of me sending you to a myspace account as a part of an exploration of "culture."
Slightly More Polished Folk/Americana
A mixture of Simon & Garfunkel and Leadbelly.
Santa Fe, NM
Keeping with my folksy music theme, here's the official website of the Thirsty Ear Music festival, which I will be attending hopefully (it's close enough).
I've spent a ridiculous amount of time working on this post, and the formatting refuses to cooperate, thus the lack of spaces. Oh well, I hope you're appreciative.

15 February 2008

The Craftsman by Richard Sennet

Here is a book review for The Craftsman by Richard Sennet. Has our society lost a part of our soul with the advent of the Industrial Revolution?

London Times Online

In other book news, I've begun reading Godel, Escher, Bach; an incredible book, even though my 1983 copy (exactly as old as I am) has completely fallen apart.

Here is a list of the ten best bookstores in the world: Book porn.

Trucks and Fascism

The other day I was directing traffic in the parking lot of the high school I work at. There was this huge dullie, uber-triple extended cab, F-3,000,000,000 truck, with monster-truck tires leaving the parking lot. All the sudden, I heard what sounded like a very large aluminum can rolling around in a truck bed. I turned around just in time to see the truck's 4-foot long, 8-inch diameter tailpipe fall completely off in the middle of the road. The truck kept on going. I thought that was the funniest thing in the whole freaking world. But, it did remind me of the fact that I am prejudiced against drivers of ridiculously large trucks (I do not have a problem with ranchers and farmers driving trucks, just the greedy, neglegent northeast height yuppies with their enormous trucks and their Hummers and their Escalades [In New Mexico, we pronounce each syllable after the spanish fashion: Es-ca-la-de]. We all have our prejudices, you know. Sometimes we call them pet-peeves, but really they're biases. Usually, they prevent us from seeing the whole truth of the matter (except in my case of course).

I have long said that if I became the fascist dictator of Albuquerque, I would outlaw all trucks within city limits unless the driver got a special agricultural permit. As my wife, who is many times a prophetic voice in my life, keeps on telling me, I need to get over my prejudice. For one thing, I know alot of really great people who drive trucks.

The problem with fascist dictators is...well...they're fascists. They try to impose their personal beliefs (usually hate-filled) on everyone. Hitler, Franco and Mussolini all started out pushing a "moral" agenda (they used the term loosely), and ended up willingly destroying human life in order to inforce that agenda. This is obviously wrong. It would even be wrong if their morality was truly moral. It would be wrong for me to impose my anti-truck legislation, not because I am wrong about trucks, but because it is wrong to politically impose your morality on people, no matter how correct your morality may or may not (Hucka)be.

06 February 2008


Dispensationalism, was once held to be a serious heresy by the majority of evangelical Christians. Today, it is the other way around: anyone who is not a pre-tribulation-rapture-pre-millenialist-dispensationalist is considered suspect in fundamentalist/evangelical circles. Personally I think it is a viewpoint that is 1) wrong 2) not necessarily evil in and of itself, but has contributed to some distrurbing trends. It is interesting to me the way that history and theology are intermingled, and how that intermingling has vast and surprising effects on politics and public policy. I think this has totally been the case with dispensationalism. I have a lot of fragmented thoughts on this, and it is going to take me several posts to get them all out, but I think here I'll give you so pre-lims:

1. pre-tribulation-rapture-pre-millenialist-dispensationalism has led to an irrational and immoral support of the nation of Israel by the United States.

2. pre-tribulation-rapture-pre-millenialist-dispensationalism has led to widely held misconceptions about end-times, bible prophesy, and the nature of the Kingdom of God, which has flawed the way people interpret history, current events, and most importantly Scripture.

3. pre-tribulation-rapture-pre-millenialist-dispensationalism fosters/grows out of a gross misunderstanding of the purpose and program of biblical prophesy, which can be easily illustrated by a recent informal poll of about 120 9th graders and a Christian school. Everyone of them agreed with this statement: "The primary role of a prophet in the Bible was to fortell the future." Does the church train its young people to think that Ezekiel and Jeremiah were nothing but glorified psychics!?!? Sadly, I think the answer is yes.

More on this later, I must go and eat at Il Viccino with my wife.

29 January 2008

Kissing the Calvinism

I just did a google search on Jean Aymon and since he was a Frenchman (sorry, Will), all the pages that came back were in French. So I decided to use the "Translate this page" option that is provided by Google. Unfortunately, Google can somehow prevent me from cutting and pasting, but the French wikipedia article about him, when transgooglated reads: "He kissed the Calvinism, took refuge in Switzerland, then in Holland..."

You have to admit that however skewed that translation may or may not be, the idea of "kissing the Calvinism" seems to be an apt description, similar I think to the English expression: "He embraced Calvinism."

This leads me to this meditation: Religion is something that unless it is pursued intimately i.e. "embracing" or "kissing" it, it does not have a lot of meaning. I think this is what those crazy "It's about relationship, not religion" people mean. Christianity is a religion, no doubt about it, but religion is the means to a relationship, and if you are not serious about the religion part, can you have a true relationship?

In any event, don't worry, I will not be "kissing the Calvinism" anytime soon.

28 January 2008

Vocational Turmoil

Recently, I've been having some internal conflict. You might even call it cognitive dissidence. Whatever the term it is equal parts disconcerting and exciting, and thus presents a nice little paradox. Essentially, as I struggle more and more with my faith, and what that means, I struggle more and more with my vocation. What does God want me to do? Here are some things I've been praying about. Some are old standbys but some are very fresh.

1. Go to law school and become a human rights lawyer.
2. Get ordained and become a human rights pastor.
3. Become a bike mechanic and be a part of economic development in 3rd world countries a la bicycles.
4. Become a professor.
5. Open a coffee shop.
6. Join Christian Peacemakers and go to Iraq, or Palestine.
7. Become an independent journalist.

Ah, the possibilities. More on this when I have more time.

24 January 2008

For the Bible Tells Me So

I just went to see the new documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" at the Guild theatre on Nob Hill. It is a documentary about Christianity and homosexuality, made by gay Christians. I am still sorting out my thoughts here (maybe that's why I'm writing this blog).

First the movie, it tells the stories of 5 families, and how they dealt with their sons or daughters being gay. It is extremely well made, emotionally moving, and affirming movie. It does not Christian bash--let me qualify that statement--it does not Christian bash, but it does very clearly point out the hypocrisy, hatred, and shamefully blasphemous activities of certain fundamentalist leaders, tele-evangelists, and others who I have been critical of long before I saw this movie. This movie is going to Sundance soon, and I see a monstrous brouhaha brewing over this movie and this issue.

Now about this issue, on the question of whether or not it is wrong, I have struggled a lot. Any honest Bible scholar must admit that all references to homosexuality need to be viewed in their context, something that very few outspoken anti-gay Christians have been willing to do. I will not reiterate all of the contextual arguments surrounding the various passages, but I will make a few general remarks that will enable you to think and study on your own (actually, since nobody really reads this, what I am really doing is setting criteria for my own study).

1. I believe that OT passages, especially Levitical passages dealing with homosexuality should be dealt with in the same light that we deal with the rest of the Levitical passages. We either must understand that God gave a specific set of rules, to a specific set of people, for a specific time, for a specific reason, and therefore understand that not all of the nitpicky hygienic, social, and relational rules can still be applied to us, OR we can be consistent: and kill those who eat bacon, wear earrings, wear wool and linen together, and a whole long list of other things on top of claiming that homosexuality is wrong because of Levitical rules.

2. Of the several alleged NT references only one is actually talking about consensual, adult homosexual relationships. The others are talking about what was considered the "sexiest" (what I consider the most base and disgusting) of all Roman and Greek cultural ideals--having sex with pre-pubescent boys (that, by the way, is one more area where "manly" movies like 300 mis-portray cultures such as ancient Sparta). Romans 1 is the only passage that apparently condemns adult, consensual, homosexual behavior.

3. Read Romans 1, study the historical, literary context (maybe also the textual history), but before you go out and join Fred Phelps on his "God Hates Fags" tour across America, read Romans 2

Here's a little snippet to chew on. My comments are in [], and emphasis is mine as well.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful [now wait, Paul, who are you talking about a certain group of hateful fundamentalists or homosexuals?]; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;[how I love to point this out to my students] 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 2
God's Righteous Judgment

1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

And so I have no answers, except that I have no right to judge, lest I bring condemnation on myself. I continue to wrestle. My hope is that God either gives me an answer or goes all WWE on me and dislocates my hip and gives me a new name, either one would be cool.

Here is something of a bibliography of study tools on the topic from Jay Bakker's Revolution Church.

Anarchist Priest: Collect for Peace

I am collecting prayers for peace. Here is one that I happened upon today.

Anarchist Priest: Collect for Peace

21 January 2008

Abandoned Urban Graveyard

Today I went to an old graveyard that is right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Albuquerque (Lomas, between I-25 and University). I had driven by the place dozens of times before I noticed a grave stone sticking out from amongst the weeds. I decided to go check it out. I've been itching to try out my wife's new Sony Cybershot digital camera, so I took it along. Since there was no place to park nearby, I parked at the American Legion (thank you post 13), and walked about 3/4 of a mile. I hopped the low fence, and found myself standing in an overgrown cemetery nestled between a storage facility and a busy city road.

Alot of the graves are only marked by these little metal markers.

Some of the grave markers were homemade.

Most of the graves (that could be read) were from the 1930s, although one was from 2007.
Most of the people buried here were probably very poor, Catholic, and most of the markers bear Hispanic last names. The cemetery is within a mile of UNM hospital, but who knows who these people were or where they came from? I wonder if anyone remembers them?

16 January 2008

Greg Boyd on Mike Huckabee

Once again, a highly trained and degreed professional theologian says it better than me. Suprised? In this case it's Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Baptist Church in St. Paul, MN, and professor of theology at Bethel Seminary. I went to his church once, got a ride from a nice guy named Josh, but I never found anyone else who ever went there, so I ended up going to Boyd's "rival" church, Bethlehem Baptist, pastored by John Piper, another well-known author and pastor. The two are almost antithetical in almost every theological issue, except, that little matter of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Anyway, Greg has written a very nice commentary on our old bud Huckabee's statement that he would change the Constitution to meet "God's standards."


14 January 2008

Just when I think...

Just when I think I've posted something good, I find someone who has said what I said, only way, way, way, way better. I guess that's the difference between me and David P. Gushee "Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, and author of The Future of Faith in American Politics, to be released this week."

Meditation on Christianity and Politics: Part I

I started to get uneasy way back in 2004, when Pres. Bush pulled out 80% of evangelical Christian votes (Pew Research). I began to wonder what role Christians should have in politics. Should Christians become Presidents? Can Christians stay Christians if they do become presidents? Ask Pat Robertson these questions and he may just order your assassination and then bench press your lifeless body. But, more apropos to the those of us without the millions of dollars required to become a president: to what extent, if any, should Christians get involved in politics? Once again, conventional (dare I say "fundamental") wisdom on the subject is a clear and resounding yes, not only should Christians become deeply involved in politics, but it is a biblical mandate to do so. Conventional wisdom is also that Christians should be primarily concerned with two issues: abortion and gay right/gay marriage. Despite all of this wisdom, I couldn't but help feel uneasy about this whole faith and politics thing back in 2004, and now, in 2008, I wouldn't say that I am uneasy so much as frightened and deeply disturbed. As so many Christians are realizing, faith + politics is not such a simple equation. It is certainly more complex than faith + politics = anti-abortion.

To follow that rabbit into its hole for just a minute: two things are becoming increasingly clear to the pro-life movement: 1. There is more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion. A consistent witness for life is the only way forward. 2. Politics, especially presidential politics has some severe limitations on what it can do in the realm of abortion, anyway. Obviously, there is more to be done than appointing a few supreme court justices, who, no matter how anti-abortion they may be, will never change the hearts and minds of the American people (oh yeah, that's God's job, sorry Alito).

I certainly have not formulated complete and compelling answer to question of the role Christians should play in politics, but I do think that I can make some tentative remarks intended to be used as thinking points on which to build more concrete arguments in the future, and like all buildings and arguments, if the foundation is faulty then...

1. Jesus did not come to earth the first time to become a political figure, and lead a political or military revolution against the Roman Government. Many people expected Him to, and many people were disillusioned when it became clear that He would not, but Jesus had no intentions of becoming a political or military leader.

2. Jesus did intend to lead not only a spiritual revolution (the way to get to heaven), but an ethical and moral revolution; one that turned out to be in complete and total opposition to not only the mindset and worldview of the Romans, but also of the Jewish ruling class. In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus makes it explicitly clear that He was on earth to do certain things prophesied by the prophet Joel: preach the good new to the poor, release captives, heal the blind, and free the oppressed. If you can convince yourself in the light of Jesus' actions (healing the physically blind, feeding the physically hungry etc.) and His teachings (THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT) that he was talking about some transcendental, vague, and mystical release, blindness, oppression from the bonds of sin, etc. then so be it. But I am not convinced. I believe that Christ's mission on earth involved more than spiritual salvation. I believe He came to save people on earth from their tangible, physical problems, as well as give a transcendent, ultimate solution (i.e. eternal salvation).

I believe that Jesus' teachings were absolutely revolutionary--they turned the world upside down. "The last shall be first and the first last." "Love your enemies." "If someone sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well." "Blessed are the poor (in Luke's version there is no "in spirit" and in the context ["woe to the rich"] He is very much speaking in material economic terms)" Jesus was talking about his political and social here and now, and, I am convinced, His teachings resound in our political and social here and now. Jesus was an ethical and moral revolutionary; He was profoundly on the side of the poor and the oppressed. Furthermore, He has called His disciples to follow in the footsteps of His radical love for everyone.

What, if anything, does that have to do with the contemporary political scene and Christianity's role in it? I'm not sure, but I continue my list of thinking points, nonetheless.

3. We need to broaden the definition of "moral majority" to include the moral issues Jesus was actually concerned with: poverty, loving enemies (water-boarding is an ancient Assyrian way of expressing affection, didn't you know?), etc.

2. Maybe (this is a tentative maybe) instead of being a part of the political system (in the same way that Jesus refused to be directly involved in the political corruption of his day), we should be the type of prophetic voices against injustice that Jesus was.

What would it look like if, instead of "the base of the Republican party," instead of talking points for pundits, instead of sheep easily manipulated by candidates who go to church and pray when it is politically convenient to do so, instead of just being "another pawn in their game," if Christians were that voice crying out in the wilderness, if we took a stand against injustice of all sorts that went beyond mere politics. The problem with that picture, I dare say, is that in order to do so it would not really require a change in presidents or candidates or congressmen, it would require a change in us; in our lifestyles, and our testimony.

12 January 2008

St. Knut's Day

Tomorrow, I was just informed, is St. Knut's day. You can imagine my shock at this, I'm sure. Well, don't worry. It turns out St. Knut's day, celebrated on in Sweden, but not Denmark as you would expect, does not celebrate the life of Knut the Great, but of Knut IV (no apparent relation). Knut IV, come to find out, was a real nice guy, extending Christmas for 20 days, and giving presents to people. He lived from A.D. 1043-1086 and was canonized in 1101.

As I'm sure you know, the reason for my initial shock, and what you might even call distress and dismay, is that I thought St. Knut's Day was celebrating Knut the Great, who was only great in title, and in the same sense that one could call Napoleon "great" or Alexander "great" or Constantine "great" Yes, military geniuses one and all, but sainthood should be reserved for those who manage to avoid murdering their families, friends, and anyone else who happens to get in the way of their "greatness."

Knut the Great invaded England in A.D. 1015 (He was also the king of most of Scandanavia). He was known for his extreme brutality. In one famous instance, he took some diplomatic prisoners, and, as was the custom, he was planning to take them back home to Denmark where they would be treated with at least a modicum of dignity. But, at some point, he decided it would not be expedient to take them back to Denmark, so instead of releasing them, or just killing them swiftly, he had his ships find an abandoned beach and set them on shore after cutting off each of their legs, arms, and noses--quite creative, but not exactly a John Paul II or a Mother Teresa.

It is interesting that we call some of the most brutal men in history "Great" simply because they were successful conquerors/rulers. Of course, success is measured rather differently by God, I think, than by man.

11 January 2008

Bush Visits the Mount of the Beatitudes

Recently, Pres. Bush took a tour of the Mount traditionally associated with the Sermon on Mount (Matthew 5 ff.). His tour guide was a prominent Melkite Archbishop named Elias Chacour. The Archbishop told the Catholic News Service of his plan to give Pres. Bush a little refresher course on the Beatitudes, and what it means to love one's neighbor. Here's the link.

Promenade of New and Recently Discovered Books

Here's an annotated bibliography (informal of course) of books that have been on my radar lately, categorized by subject for ease of browsing.

Everything must Change by Brian McClaren
Brian McClaren, as many know, is deeply associated with the "Emergent" church, and as such has received alot of criticism. I find his writing to be clear and engaging. In fact, I will have to eventually post some articles and blog posts by the man as a sample. Theologically, he is somewhat "liberal" (though I am beginning to question the usefulness of the term applied to theology), but I have recenlty been following right behind him. One of my favorite books on practical Christian ethics was co-written by McClaren: Adventures in Missing the Point (other co-author: Tony Compolo).

The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America by Jim Wallis
Speaking of liberal, Jim Wallis' new book promises to be very interesting. Though, personally confused on the role of Christianity in politics, I have a lot of respect for Jim Wallis and his Sojourner's Magazine. A veritable voice crying the wilderness, Mr. Wallis (along with Tony Compolo and few others) have been spreading the gospel of peace, justice and above all love for a very long time. Mr. Wallis has a lot to do with the much touted paradigm shift in the way Christians are seeing social and political issues that will hopefully have a positive impact on the elections.

AEgypt (4 book series) by John Crowley
I read a review of these books recently, and now I am going to have to take my bank card, throw it in a coffee can full of water and put into my freezer, to avoid going out purchasing all four of these seemingly fascinating books. Here are the actual titles:

  1. The Solitudes
  2. LOVE and SLEEP
  3. Daemonomania
  4. Endless Things (published 2007)

The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem
I recently read Solaris, and found it to be quite possibly the best "hard" science fiction book I've ever read. I want to read the Investigation, which is supposed to be another philosophical novel set in London, and raising questions about scientifc enquiry that I have a feeling are very relevant. Unfourtunately, it is a devilishly difficult book to find.

Well, I am going to end this here mainly because I am having formatting issues with the above list. I hate computers. Give me that unmatchable smell of books. Stay tuned for the next installment though, there is never really an end to the promenade.



And so I endeavour on the unavoidably egotistical exercise of maintaining a blog. In the past I have written the occasional post to the myspace blog section, but, for reasons bordering on vanity, I have decided to begin a new blog site; and as all good blogs do, I have chosen a theme, or several themes. Those of you who know me know that I am just nerdy enough to be able to constantly talk about Christianity, Books, Bikes, or some other aspect of Culture, and you know that I can quickly become tedious (my wife knows this most of all). So, apart from egotistical reasons, I think that this blog, as an outlet for the aforementioned tedious subjects, will actually be a greater service to you, my friends and family, giving me a place to express my interest in somewhat abstruse subjects, in what is sometimes a pedantic way, and all the while giving you the option of either reading my posts at your leisure, or lying to me about reading my posts at your leisure.

A Short History of My Blogging Career Thus Far

As I previously alluded, I have kept several blogs/pseudo-blogs before. First, there was the Livejournal account named Levantine Pig. I wrote consistently on that tableau for months at a time in college. In my memory my posts were brilliant, but the only real detail of content that I remember is that I wrote a pithy little essay about finding the corpses of pigeons that had been run over in the parking garage where I worked-Montaigne, no doubt, would have been proud--but alas that blog is no more! It has been rendered up to the great abyss, the dark vacuum which lies behind the recycle bins and deleted folders of cyberspace.

Then came the cultural phenomena known as myspace. Since I was really into this Levantive Pig thing (it's a standard of measure--approx. 2'4"), that is what my-space account was called for a time, though I have changed it now. I have written quite a few blogs there, mainly of a political, religious, or religiously political nature. I may re-post some of them here, although many of my readers will be likely to have already read them (assuming they're real friends).

And so with this post, I begin a new chapter. But, don't worry, like the other two it may be quite short-lived being that I can't keep using grandiose words and turning melodramatic phrases forever...or can I?