Saturday, July 30, 2005

Warfare: Give the Innocent the Benefit of the Doubt

There has long been a strain of pacifism in Christian thinking and practice, and it's beyond my scope here to reargue the debate. I merely wish to point out that unlike the basic tenets of the faith--Mere Christianity--it is quite debateable whether or not principled pacifism (the opposition to all violence) is taught. The verses that principled pacifists use to support their position ("Thou shalt not kill", "turn the other cheek", etc.) would seem to leave, if read in isolation, little doubt that we should never kill and we should never resist an enemy. But many pacifist don't advocate pure pacifism but a form of pacifism that leaves room for certain unusual circumstances. For instance, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was pacifist until he made room for the defeat of Hitler in his ideology.

And this brings me to my first point: there is clearly room in the Christian pacifist debate for benefit of the doubt. So let's give the benefit of the doubt to the innocent rather than to the wicked, and resist the wicked when they are doing an injustice. It's good and righteous for me to practice forebearance when personally offended, but I can't conceive of a universe in which I would be called to not resist a murder when it's within my power to protect the innocent. After all, isn't it said that no higher love can a man have that he would lay down his life for a friend (John 15:13)? What good does it do my friend if the act of laying down my life doesn't serve the protection of his own?

My second point is this: man has a built-in sense of honor and a desire to protect his loved ones and his community. I don't believe that this is at all a manifestation of our sin nature, but an expression of our higher natures. Of course the corruption of this trait is plain to see, but in its purest form it is an expression of man's willingness to endure hardship and suffering, to the very loss of his life, for a higher cause. God built us to be warriors. He just demands, to my way of thinking, that we wage war for righteous reasons, that we wage it to protect and defend the innocent, and that we practice reconciliation rather than revenge.

Cowardice offends me to my core, as does "the last resort" thinking that dithers while innocent blood is shed. When the removal of evil is most simply and effectively accomplished through the use of violence, then violence should be used. Let the committed men of honor step forward, endure the risks, and make the world a better place. Fight the Saddams and Osamas and petty warlords of this world. I believe that when we do so with forebearance and honor, that this is pleasing to the Lord.

I understand that faithful and loving Christians would disagree. For my part, I will give the benefit of the doubt to the innocent and resist the wicked.

Friday, July 29, 2005

You Could Just Move to Paris, Helen

So, veteran White House correspondant Helen Thomas plans to kill herself if Dick Cheney runs for President. Two thoughts occured to me right away: first, why not just move to Paris rather than Hades (sorry, Helen... just laying odds). Second, why not stipulate that you'd do it if he was nominated or elected. But just to run? That's hardcore. And a good illustration of just how ridiculous the anti-Bush/Cheney hysteria has become.

This is a Dead Dog. Really.

Yes, this dog is in fact dead. He's been freeze dried, which apparently preserves pets' features in a way that can't be duplicated by taxidermy.

I only bring this up because in a conversation with a dear friend today, he mentioned that his beloved dog of 14 years is about to pass on. He asked me what I thought about him having his dog stuffed and kept in the house. First, I told him I thought it was weird. Then I told him that while I understood how he felt about his doggie, that life was meant for the living and not for the dead. We need to mourn them and move on. To hold on like this is not, in my opinion, a healthy thing to do.

But if this is your thing, check out Pet Preservations. They specialize in the freeze-dried technique I mentioned, and the doggie above is their handiwork. Pretty impressive, I must say.

Stupid Church People: Somebody Got Some 'Splainin' to Do is offline. Here's what their home page now reads:

Stupid Church People
is taking a break for a while
due to people who act stupid!

They invite fans to contact them, and reassure them that they "better believe we'll be back." The weekly podcasts are still available, but it's not clear whether the guys plan on staying on their normal broadcast schedule.

Stuff happens in life, and there's nothing for it to jump to conclusions ("somebody in their church must be trying to get them excommunicated!" was my first thought). I just hope they come back soon. Peace, Josh and Steve.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You've All Seen Him, But I Bought the Book

Recognize this guy? If you read blogs, you've seen him. He's freaking everywhere.

Meet Matt Furey, champion wrestler and fitness guru to average shmoes like you and me. His gig is selling his fitness books, tapes and seminars over the web, and he's done so well at it that he's coaching others how to market as well.

Anyway, I bought his book Combat Conditioning after seeing his ad about 738 times and finally succumbing to the curiosity. Strength training without weights? Sounds good to me, as I don't want to shell out for a gym membership and I've hurt myself working with weights before and didn't want to repeat that experience.

I'm actually really glad that I invested in the book, as modest as its production values are for the price. But it's what's inside that counts, and Matt does a great job of building a case for the physical strength and flexibility benefits of bodyweight resistance training. Many of these exercises are already familiar to us: situps, pushups, pullups, knee bends, chinups, etc., but Matt throws in a few very special exercises that provide much more of a full-body workout. Centered around his three-exercise Royal Court, Matt lays out an exercise routine that is accessible for anyone that has, and I can testify, very satisfying results. I've hardly been religious about adhering to his recommendations, but I am stronger and harder than I've been in years.

Much recommended... and unlike just about every other site on the web, he's not paying me for this publicity.

Where's George?

So, Im buying ice cream for my family the other day, and on one of the bills I get back from the cashier, I find:

See where I've been
Track where I go next
Turns out that among the many corners of the web, there is a site that has been tracking--since 1998--U.S. currency as it makes its way around North America. My particular bill ($1, series 1999, serial # B33262579P) was previously logged in Streamwood, IL about a year and a half ago, so it's travelled 1,713 miles in that time to get in my pocket. That's an average of 3.5 miles a day.

Worthless and fascinating, like so much that occupies the web.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Whither the Pastor?

As you may be able to tell from my recent posts, I've been exploring writings on the emergent church. I encountered today a truly enlightening (and disturbing) piece from Frank Viola of Present Testimony Ministry entitled The Pastor: Where Did He Come From?

In the piece, Viola establishes that there is no biblical support for the office of pastor outside of a single verse (Eph 4:11) and no support at all for the all-encompassing function of a modern pastor (as the equivalent of a modern CEO). He points out that the very notion of an office of authority was alien to the church until Ignatius of Antioch, who established the office of bishop and vested it with, for the first time, authority second only to Christ (later to be expanded to act as a stand in for Christ). Later distortions led the church to evolve into the heirarchical structure known as the Holy Roman Catholic Church. So ingrained had the authority of church offices become that even the Protestant Reformation continued the practice, albeit while rejecting the notion of the priestly function being as intermediary between man and God.

Money quote #1, with regard to the origins of the term "hocus pocus":

As Latin became the common language in the mid-fourth century, the priest would invoke the words hoc est corpus meum. These Latin words mean “This is my body.”

With these words, the priest became the overseer of the supercilious hokum that began to mark the Catholic Mass. Ambrose of Milan (339-397) can be credited for the idea that the mere utterance of hoc est corpus meum magically converted bread and wine into the Lord’s physical body and blood.[69] (The stage magic phrase “hocus pocus” comes from hoc est corpus meum.) According to Ambrose, the priest was endowed with special powers to call God down out of heaven into bread!

Money quote #2, where Viola wraps it all up in a bow:

The modern Pastor is the most unquestioned element in modern Christianity. Yet he does not have a strand of Scripture to support his existence nor a fig leaf to cover it!

Rather, the modern Pastor was born out of the single-bishop-rule first spawned by Ignatius and Cyprian. The bishop evolved into the local presbyter. In the Middle Ages, the presbyter grew into the Catholic priest. During the Reformation, he was transformed into the “Preacher,” “the Minister,” and finally “the Pastor”—the man upon whom all of Protestantism hangs. To juice it all down to one sentence: The Protestant Pastor is nothing more than a slightly reformed Catholic priest!

Catholic priests had seven duties at the time of the Reformation: Preaching, the sacraments, prayers for the flock, a godly life, discipline, church rites, supporting the poor, and visiting the sick.[239] The Protestant Pastor takes upon himself all of these responsibilities—plus he sometimes blesses civic events.

So in other words, despite the Reformation we still effectively have a priesthood distinct from, and in authority over, the priesthood of the believers.

There is much more worthwhile content on Frank's site, which I encourage you to read. He's certainly had an impact on my thinking.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

On the iPod: Stupid Church People podcast

Yes, that's Stupid Church People. Still another capillary in the vein of counterpoint to the evangelical church in America, at least insofar as it practices "Churchianity". All smiles in the service, polished worship, conservative in its politics, and trending ever more towards the megachurch and six-figure (or even seven-figure) pastors, this churchianity, like every incarnation of it before, leaves wounded souls in its wake. Where once the church decapitated Muslims, drowned Anabaptists, burned Protestants, put Jews in the stock, burned witches, hung scarlet letters and excommunicated, it now merely burns out, alienates, demoralizes and drags down.

Among the detritus of our consumer church culture are the hosts of Stupid Church People, twentysomething Josh Shager and fourtysomething Steve Chastain. Living right here in the O.C., these two guys have put together a series of thoroughly entertaining and engaging podcasts. Definitely not "family-friendly", these guys don't mind dropping a little profanity or a few lewd comments in their side mission to poke a finger in the eye of the evangelical church.

But that's not all it's about, especially when you read the thoughtful posts on their blog. These guys, like many postmoderns, are struggling with how you follow Jesus when you can't stand to go to church. This is (at least in my estimation) what the emerging church dialog is all about. How do we remake church so that we can come up with a model that feels authentic, instead of merely authorized? Good question. Stupid Church People are asking it, and none too politely. Give it a listen.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pray for Marriage

Marriage is not easy. I happen to have a blessed one, but it took a lot of hard work and pain to get where we are now. We are watching those close to us struggle in their marriages, and it hurts. Of course, no one suffers more than the children, and the detritus of adult selfishness is already playing itself out before us after just a few decades of our careless experimentations with the marriage, relationship & gender models of old. The problem with the experiments is not that they are all unworthy, or that they haven't produced some good results. The problem is that they were all embarked upon with the goal of increasing individual happiness and freedom rather than strengthening the marriage bond and enhancing the commitment of parents to their children.

And here we are today. Women have more professional freedom (good thing!), men are more involved in their family lives (good thing!), and... well, that's pretty much it. And on the other hand, we have divorce, broken families, children born out of wedlock, increased STDs, AIDS, abortions, and untold relationship problems suffered by adult children of divorce.

We need to get smart about who we are and what marriage is all about. And trust me--if you're married, it isn't about you and your happiness. It is about making a commitment that is everywhere, all the time, in every way, bigger than your happiness, your goals in life, your freedom, and your desires. Everywhere. All the time. Period. You must decrease, and your spouse and children must increase. If you can't buy that, don't get married.

And on the subject of experimentation, let men be fully men and women be fully women. This jacked up notion of how everyone has feminine and masculine natures, and we all need to learn to balance them, is absolute crap. Men may take on feminine aspects, and women masculine, but it violates the design spec and will cause problems. But as Forrest Gump might say, this topic is "a whole other country."

I Hate the UN

I admit it. I truly do despise the UN, and I fear it to boot. Not because I subscribe to the black helicopter conspiracy theories, or because I fear that the UN will be the instrument of Anti-Christ's world domination. This is why I hate the UN:

1. It fails to serve the very principles on which it was founded: peace and human rights
2. It shrinks from confronting violent evil...
3. ...While expending all its energies on bitching about the behavior of liberal democracies
4. It leads people to the false belief that just because a country has a government, therefore that government is entitled to a voice in world affairs (as Jefferson rightly stated, a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed, which rules out more than half the UN)
5. It sponsors monstrosities like the Durban World Conference on Racism
6. It champions the notion of "international law", which is meaningless, and creates an atmosphere among the intellectual elites whereby people actually believe that United States judges, sworn to uphold United States law, are beginning to believe that international law has something to contribute to their legal opinions
7. It botched the entire affair with Iraq ever since 1991 and bears responsibility for much of the suffering ever since
8. It is completely lacking in heroic spirit and commitment, as evidenced by its cut-and-run "peacekeeping" efforts all around the globe
9. It is corrupt and arrogant, ranging from bailing on parking tickets, blowing taxpayer money at the finest restaurants and hotels around the world, and then there's Oil for Food...
10. Finally, it occupies some of the finest real estate on Manhattan. Speaking of which... now wants to spend $1.5 billion to renovate its headquarters there. That would be money well spent on plane tickets and moving vans to get the UN keptocracy off our shores and to, say, France. Or Burkina Faso, or Munich, or--heck, why not--Durban. Just get them out of our country.

Lest I be accused of being just another unilateralist, let me say that I do believe international institutions can be effective and worthy of commitment. NATO was an excellent example. Alliances formed for a real purpose. And since the highest purpose of government is ensuring political, economic and religious freedom, the UN ought to be replaced by an institution that actually embodies and defends those freedoms. Which is why I support the formation of an organization that admits only those governments who rule with the just consent of the governed and whose constitutions, laws and enforcement policies are designed to protect those freedoms, not take them away. Preferential trade agreements ought to be restricted to members of that organization. Countries that do not deserve to belong should be shunned, making it plain that to have a voice in that forum, their people must have a voice within their borders.

Call it the United Democracies, or Free World Union, whatever. Just get rid of the UN once and for all. It has outlived its usefulness, and can only be a force for ill in the future.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Chimera of Personal Freedom

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
-Jesus Christ, as quoted in John 8:32 (NIV)

For he who was a
slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave.
-The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:22, NIV)

Every man longs for his own freedom, the freedom to do what he wants when he wants to. In fact however, there is nothing stopping us from doing so except the logical consequences of our behavior if what we want to do is break the law and hurt other people. Otherwise, God is not stopping us. We can do whatever we wish.

I suspect though that when we say that we want to do whatever we want whenever we want, what we really mean is and be content. The problem for us is that this desire to be unbound and liberated in both person and spirit is not consistent with our design; it would be as if a bicycle wanted to be a paddleboat. We are given free will to make choices, but it is not our design to be liberated from encumbrances and be "free" spirits if free means unaccountable and without responsibility. Simply put, we are not free in that way and never will be no matter how we might wish it. It is our design to serve God. If we choose not to serve God (through loving commitment to our personal mission), then we will simply choose to serve something else, most likely a self-serving (and therefore self-destructive) addiction such as comfort, sex, alcohol, drugs, television, recreation, avoidance or fear. We have to serve. It is our design to serve.

To be truly free, we must choose to serve God--who by the way has demonstrated through his commitment to our free will that he is no slavish taskmaster and has no aspirations to dominate and control our souls. He wants to see us conform to our design specifications and experience the joy and peace that comes from fulfilling what we were made to fulfill. In doing so, we become one with him who created us. We receive the ultimate reward for our conformity: "Well done, my good and faithful servant." We reside with the master and creator for all eternity.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

On the iPod: A Different Perspective Podcast

Podcasting is a new phenomenon, and it's something of a daunting challenge finding some quality audio. Apple's iTunes podcast directory is pretty undescriptive but the newly operational Odeo is well-designed and clearly organized. I was able to find a number of podcasts, some promising and others clearly a crapshoot. You can count on the numerous NPR podcasts to have high production quality, but there's an elitist snobbery that oozes from NPR productions that I can only stand for so long (made all the more obnoxious by the fact that they are clearly oblivious to their own biases and effete aires). So, the intrepid must dig for hidden gems.

Being a Christian and yearning for some solid Christian thinking that goes beyond your typical recorded evangelical sermon, I have been pleased to discover A Different Perspective podcast by former pastor/web host/aspiring actor Alan Hartung. Alan is active in the Emerging Church movement, which I confess to know little about having spent my Christian life (14 years as a youth and the last twelve as an adult) in mainstream churches, Catholic and evangelical. I'm sympathetic to the basic premise that the church (as in universal) is emerging from modernistic times and needs to return to the teachings of and experience of Jesus. Turned off by whatever in mainstream churches is not speaking to them, younger Christians are experimenting with new ways to form communities, worship, teach, and seek the face of God. It certainly has positive potential from my point of view, and I am sympathetic to many of their grievances, especially regarding expositional sermons. I don't think I can tell you the subject of more than maybe ten of my pastor's sermons over the last seven years. I love the man dearly, but his sermons were never why I showed up to church. And given that sermons form the bulk of the typical evangelical service... well, I doubt that I'm alone in my lack of interest (though in fairness, my pastor is an acknowledged speaker and is well loved and respected by his congregation and peers).

Alan Hartung's podcasts are definitely not mainstream evangelical, but there is no doubt that he is a sincere believer and is passionate about Scripture. In one podcast, he relates how he once taught an entire year's worth of Wednesday evening services from Colossians. The first chapter of Colossians.

Alan's podcasts are clearly a work of love and not a pro effort. Audio levels are uneven; the intro music is easily twice as loud as his voice, and even when he's speaking I find I have to adjust the volume to follow him. It also sounds like he uses a cheap mike or highly compresses the audio, as it has that tinny timbre to it. None of this is relevant to the quality of the content, which is quite good. It's just part of the new amateur audio broadcasting phenomenon. It's manageable, and I'm sure Alan's production skills will evolve.

True Humility

True humility comes with the realization that your entire person, your best and worst, your highest and lowest, all that you are, is useful only to serve others. That it's not about you.

We should have little use either for conceit or self-hatred. Conceit makes us lose our way, to start thinking that maybe it really is about us. So does self-hatred. If it's not about you, then it's not about you. Forget about thinking too highly or lowly of yourself. The problem is, you think of yourself instead of your service. When your wants and needs are absorbed into your cause, your mission of service, then true peace and humility comes. You live your design.

Friday, July 15, 2005

On the iPod: Anti-Americanism, by Jean-Francois Revel

Here, in a cool, reasoned missive to his fellow Europeans, is a French intellectual's thorough exposure, analysis, and debunking of the phenomenon of anti-Americanism. Here are a few myths that the author explodes:

1. MYTH: Americans are ignorant of the "rest of the world," and Europeans are well informed about goings on in America.
2. MYTH: Americans are crass and uncultured, they worship money above all else, and they are crime-ridden and violent.
3. MYTH: Americans are reflexively unilateral and ignore the reasoned pleas for cooperation from their European allies.

The root cause of all anti-Americanism, in the author's opinion? Nothing less than an ongoing war against free-market liberal democracy, one that has been waged by the far left and far right (which, combined, constitute more than a third of the electorate in France) since the early part of the 20th century. America draws the most heat not only because it represents the summit of achievement of free-market democracy, but because it is its most passionate advocate. Dispense with the notions that brash America is rubbing up against our more seasoned and even-tempered European cousins' sensibilities; the fact is that it is who we are and what we represent far more than what we do that galls the heart of the unrepentant socialist of both the National (right) and International (left) varieties.

This book is available from Tell them Audible user kezekiel sent you, and you and I will both get a free book if you sign up for a AudibleListener membership.

Today is the Big 4-0

And so here I am, at the crossroads so to speak. A milestone like this has a way of creeping up on a man. A multitude of thoughts have flittered my mind over my life so far, but one I distinctly recall: when I turned eighteen, I wondered what my life would be like at future milestones (21, 30, 40, etc.). Twenty-one would have to bring new maturity and adventure; Thirty was a bit hard to imagine, and 40... well, that would come in 2005--light years away from 1983. A whole new millenium! Inconceivable.

And yet here I am, and there's nothing for it to be reflective. Navel gazing may be good for some, but for me it has never been rewarding or beneficial. The deeper I look the more confused I get, and that's a fact. I've found that, thanks to the intervening 23 years since my eighteenth birthday, my many mistakes, and the wisdom of a well-found wife, it's always better to count your blessings, set your course, and sail away. The present is what we have; the past, baggage.

May the next 40, or how ever many I am given, be pleasing to the one who made me and to whose design I lift my meager efforts to conform.