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?