Saturday, August 29, 2009

a bit of cheese with the whine

You know the type of rant where someone who goes on about the nastiness and judgmentalness of other, while all the while showing only the ranters nastiness and judgmentalness of those he's writing against? Well, you know that no judge is worse than the judge who judges you while telling you to not judge. That's a lot of what you'll see in the Ooze rant.

It takes him a bit to get going, but not long. First, he talks about someone who grew up what he calls a "fundamentalist", though he then cuts that off at the knees by saying that the religion the man was in was "cult". Then, he brings in the real issue--homosexuality. Apparently, Henri Nouwen struggled with it, though he never acted on it. But that's just him warming up.

I have friends that are involved in ministry to people that struggle with many issues including homosexuality and the way that they are treated by the majority of Christian leaders is horrendous, absolutely horrendous. One friend of mine spoke up for gay rights and was immediately black balled from speaking at several engagements due to his love for people that struggle with these issues. He has a message of GRACE just like the message of JESUS, yet, he was banned from speaking unless he towed the company line and tickled the ears of the listeners and fat cat political Christianistas.

So, if examples of this "horrendous, absolutely horrendous" treatment is one man not being allowed to speak about the liberal issue of gay rights, then I suppose we can understand where this writer is coming from. We may safely think that his idea of Jesus' "message of GRACE" (in all caps, of course) is an approval of homosexual behavior and a blanket approval of gay rights.

Oh, and the "Christianistas" comment shows his love for the brethren. But not to worry, all this speaker has to do is switch to the liberal camp, along with the emergents, and he and his message will be most welcomed there. He'll have plenty of ears to tickle, both of listeners and of fat cat political christianistas.

I kind of wander if Steve Camp would approve of this use of his song lyrics?

And someone should tell him that the quote he says is from a DC Talk song, isn't. It is from one of their albums, but it was a speaker on it, not a song.

When you see how soo many people are ostracized by factions within Christianity, do you feel the pain that they feel in their hearts?

Yes, I understand such ostracism. I am ostracized from the emergents and liberals, because I can't stomach their compromises, their whining, their faith in their own opinions. And their nastiness and judgmentalism.

There are soo many people running around that are rude and abrasive and as soon as someone tells them that they are offensive they claim that it isn't them that is offensive, it is the gospel. Well here is a little insight that, it isn't the gospel, it is YOU.

Oh, please. Yeah, people are just lining up to really follow Christ, just so long as He toes their party line.

People do not hate Jesus, Jesus is a rock star, people think He is awesome, it is many of his followers that they don't like. You can ask Ghandi, he has a very famous quote on the subject.

Of all the silly things I've read, "Jesus is a rock star" ranks up there close to the top.

And I think I'll go with what Jesus said, not Ghandi. Such as how He said that if the world hated him, it will hate us who love Him, too.

We are called to serve THE LEAST OF THESE and in so doing, we serve CHRIST.

Have you ever noticed how liberal christians (notice the small c) and emergents love to truncate that phrase of Jesus'? They almost always rather conveniently leave of the last couple of words, "the least of these my brothers".

In a somewhat bizarre twist to Hinduism, for such as this writer it may be said that the poor and outcasts have become the Untouchables. One dare not say that anything they do is wrong, one dare not question how they became poor, one dare not do anything except speak sweet nothings to them and give them a dime or two. Dare to raise a question about their behaviors, say that they are living in sin and need to repent, say that welfare only encourages poor people to stay in poverty, claim that charity was not meant to be handed out indiscriminately, and your a bad, nasty, judgmental person.

We are dealing with peoples lives here, we are not playing a game where everything is fine afterwards and everyone goes home friends. When we make statements about homosexuals where is the love? When we put targets on peoples forheads and try to evangelize them without even knowing them, where is the love? When we judge those with AIDS and say, well they have what's coming to them, where is the love in that.

I actually wish he would believe his first statement here. But if he did, his view and tone in this rant would have been different.

Where is the love? Tell us, sir, where is the love in approving of behavior that God clearly says he does not approve of? Where is the love in supporting people in their sinful behaviors? The truth is, there is no love in that, none at all. It may seem loving, people may say you're being loving when you do it, but they are wrong.

The world has little idea of what real love is. Perhaps that's why they have to try so hard to make Jesus more acceptable--saying he didn't say what he said, saying we've no real idea of what the real Jesus said or did, and so on. As one liberal scholar put it, in his mind Christianity must change or die. But the truth is, the truth of the Gospel does not change with the times, because man 2000 years ago is in the same condition as man now.

One wonders if he's ever read the Bible to ask the question about evangelism. Did Philip know the Ethiopian before he evangelized him? Did the Apostles know the people they preached to at Pentacost? Did Paul when he witnessed to the rulers of his day?

The only real issue the writer has that's worth mentioning is that about AIDS patients, though one has to ask where he is going. I think I know. Again, they are Untouchable.

Why are we so quick to judge?

Well, I, for one, wonder why this writer is.

But, there is one thing that you should never do. Don't ever disagree with them. They will make a public spectacle out of you.

Oh, yes, happens all the time. Disagreeing with liberals, of political and religious sorts (if the two can be divided) is a hazardous thing, because all ethics and fair play go out the window.

Now, for one of the kickers.

In the Old Testament you can take a look at all of the things that God's prophets went through. They stayed committed to God even to death. They were misunderstood, without a home, they roamed in the desert, the religious leaders largely despised them because of their message of judgment that came out of their mouths.

All this time, the writer has been going on against judging. But here, near the end, he notes that the prophets often had a "message of judgment". He's right, of course. Whether individually, as to David concerning his affair with Bath-Sheba, or to Israel and other nations as a whole, their message was of judgment both in the sense of saying "You've done wrong" and "If you don't repent, bad things are coming".

But if he's going to say that prophets spoke of judgments, he's obviously lost any right to say things like this.

Why are we so quick to judge? Why is it that we make decisions based on very little if any knowledge and then jump to the conclusion that either someone is a bad christian or not a christian because they did something that we disagree with? Notice the lowercase “c”. Aren't Chrstians supposed to be called to a higher standard than to kick God out of the judgment seat? Yet, we, small little people get so arrogant as to think that we can be His vessel of wrath.

And let's close with this.

What if those that are hurt most deeply by the church are actually the prophets that God wants to use today? What if He has profound things for them to speak forth to the church, but, the church refuses to listen.

Someone should tell him to stop reading McLaren. The "What if...?" schtick is getting old, as it really doesn't say anything.

Again, the Untouchable--those hurt by the church. Their word is as the prophets of old, not to be questioned, not to be judged. We can't ask why they were hurt by the church, or whether maybe perchance they may have been wrong and the church right.

Imagine this kind of mindset in Corinth, when Paul wrote his first letter to them. He singles out one man, who for whatever reason had married his mother-in-law, and Paul writes quite harshly to the church about their acceptance of this couple's behavior. He chastizes them quite harshly for their pride in accepting this couple. Why, I can easily how, with the mindset above, some in the church may have thought something like "Who is Paul to judge? An Apostle? He's just trying to make a public spectacle of us for doing something he disagrees with! We know this couple, and it's been years since he was here. In fact, we'd rather have this couple's words be as the prophets to us than the words of this gadabout Paul!"

talking, 7

This is the last that I've written of this work, and probably the last that will be written. If you've enjoyed it, I'm glad. If you've found it helpful, I'm gladder.

On Tuesday evening, I sent this e-mail to Gus.


Need to let you know that I won't be able to make it LoMo on Wednesday. Sorry. My reasons are pretty selfish, I guess. There's a blues guitarist in town that night, and I heard about his concert on Sunday from some friends at church, and they had some extra tickets, and I jumped at the chance of going. Meant to write to you yesterday, but it flew from my mind.

Anyway, if you don't mind, I'd like to recommend some things for you to look at in the book, in the chapter we're on. It's the one with the journal entries, I think you mentioned it during our talk on Friday. Well, your assignment, should you choose to accept it :-), is to look at the things the pastor is writing, and see what (if anything) that the sage said in the last chapter that would cause the pastor to start thinking that way or reach those conclusions.

If I may, here's a for example. He says in the first recorded entry that "all of our theologies...are basically modern". Now, what does that mean? What makes a theology 'modern', in the sense that he means it? More then that, how did he reach that conclusion? Is there something in the characteristic the sage gave that made him come to that conclusion? Remember, in the time line of the book, it was only the day before that he talked with the sage, and now he's making statements like that.

It's a short chapter, and you've read it already, so I hope it won't be a difficult assignment. I'm interested in you views of the threads running through here. Honestly, for me, I think that if we start out with what the sage says in the previous chapter as being like a starting point A, then it looks to me as if the pastor is jumping straight to H, I, and J (if not further) before he's even established if A is correct, let alone B, C, D, or E. But maybe I'm missing something, and you can see it and explain it to me.

So, Friday again, yes? I'll see you then.


A bit later that evening, I got this reply from Gus.

Hello, Jon,

OK, gotcha. Could use a free evening anyway, so no biggie.

I'll take a look at that, see what's there.

See ya Friday.


So, the rest of the week came to pass, and Friday came around. Chess went well, though we were only three that evening, so we just played a few blitz games. A bit earlier then normal, Gus and I were again discuss our book, with the addition of Phil.

I may have mentioned Phil once already, but since he's getting into the middle of it all now, I guess I should make more mention of him.

Phil's in his forties, I think, though I haven't asked him. He's clearly a bit older then I am, at any rate. Very good player, when his mind's on it. Probably the most fun of all of us, with a sharp wit and not immune to some playful trash talk over the board. He's a mechanic and maintenance man, and probably the wiser for it, and certainly makes a fair level of money, if his attire is any indication--a classy casual, I guess I would call it.

We got our drinks, and settled in. Gus and I had copies of the book, and we set them out so Phil could follow. We all three had laptops, so we got those up and running, too.

"Did you get to look at what I wrote you about?" I asked Gus, opening up the discussion.

"Some, yes. I looked for where he got the idea that our theologies are modern, and I really don't see how he got that idea, at least from any particular things he said. I suppose it could have been a product of where he calls Modernism the age of Protestantism, but I don't know, that seems a stretch."

"What is it you're talking about?" Phil asked.

"This author's talking about how he thinks our doctrines are a product of modernity."

"Ok, thanks." Phil starts typing at his computer as Gus and I talk. I don't think our intentions were to keep him out, but he was busy with something, so it seemed.

"Why is it a stretch to you?"

"Well, he goes on the talk about Catholic beliefs which predate the Reformation, which I guess he sees as one of the signal events for Modernity. But even with that, he seems to think they are rather modern.

"And if Protestantism is by his definition modern, then how is one to answer that? The Reformation is one of the things that in his mind mark Modernity, so by definition all Protestant beliefs are modern. It''s rather circular reason, I think.

"Umm, if I may." That was Phil, looking up suddenly from his computer.

"Sure." I said.

"I found this about the creeds, some of which I think you guys believe in. Things like the Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, and so on."

Gus and I moved so we could see Phil's screen. He was looking at the Wikipedia page for Creeds.

"Say's here, that the Apostle's Creed goes back to at least the second century after Christ, and the Nicene Creed came about in 325 at the Nicene Council. Does Modernism go back that far?"

"Not near." I said. "The author seems to start it at about the Enlightenment, over a thousand years after that."

I looked at the Apostles Creed, which was on the site. "I see nothing there that I would consider controversial, and in fact it fits my beliefs to a tee."

Phil scrolled a bit more down the page. "And it seems as if these ancient people thought those creeds were needed, because of some things others were teaching that the church was considering heretical, like this Docetism and Arianism."

"That seems pretty modern for a bunch of pre-Modern people." Gus said. "Let's see, which characteristics of Modernism would that have fit in? Maybe 'control', and 'critical', and 'analysis', even 'institutional religion' to some extent. And all that well before Luther and Calvin."

"Very interesting." I said. "Rather then being Postmodern, maybe I'm rather pre-modern."

"Postmodern?" Phil asked.

"Yes, that seems to be the author's big thing, that we're entering some kind of Postmodern age, though he's rather reluctant to tell us what that means."

"So, he's saying that your theologies are modern, but doesn't say what a postmodern theology is?"

"Not yet, at least."

"And as a final touch," Gus said, "He says that postmodernism is in it's early stages, and that we shouldn't worry about trying to define it yet. So, your guess as to what it means is as good as ours."

Phil took a pack from his shirt pocket. "Mind if I smoke?"

Gus was fine with it. I wasn't very happy about it, but it wasn't a big deal. Phil lit up and took a few puffs.

"Where I come from, when I was young, younger even then Gus here, church folks I knew would have looked at me might badly for doing what I'm doing now."

I nodded. "You went to a church were smoking was considered sinful."

"Yep. Mind you, I guess it ain't much good for me, but I do it anyway. And way I see it now, it can't be much worse then half the things served at the usual church pot-luck dinner."

"So, you're a Christian, too." Gus asked.

"No, can't rightly say I am. See, I grew up in one of those types of fundamental churches that I guess give that kind of church a bad name. Almost every service I can remember, seemed like the preacher would make some reference to them being 'fundamental, independent, KJV toting, bible-thumping', stuff like that. Not that it was all bad, gotta admit it kept me out of a whole lot of trouble a lot of the other kids my age were getting themselves into.

"But I didn't really care for it once I grew up. Didn't make much sense. Women couldn't wear pants, don't know why. Something about it being too sexy, I guess, though to my mind a dress could be just as much, even a fairly conservative one. Men couldn't have long hair, though we weren't always sure what constituted long. Couldn't go to movies or listen to rock music. Couldn't hold a girl's hand if you were a guy.

"I grew up, went to a trade school, and went out on my own. Didn't particularly miss church, so didn't go back. I guess I would say there is a God, but it's not something I think much about. Do find it interesting, this stuff you're talking about. Hope you don't mind having me along for the discussions."

"Not at all." I said.

"Enough about me, I say. About this postmodern stuff, well, let me ask you this. If a man comes up to you, tries to sell you something like a car that he says is better then anything else out there, but won't give you any information about it and tells you that it's not even far into the concepting stage let alone ready to drive, what would you say to that?"

Gus answered. "Probably that he's not doing a very good job at either selling it or making it. Why would I buy a car that doesn't even exist."

"I agree." I said.

"That's about what I would think, though I'd probably say it a bit more strongly. Anyway, what's this guying trying to do, except trying to sell you something that he can't tell you much about, and that frankly may not be all that he's making it out to be?

"This whole postmodern thing, maybe there's something to it, maybe not."

"Jon compared it to the Hypermoderns in chess." Gus said.

"Oh, yeah, the guys in the early 1900s. That makes some sense, but Nimzovich spent some effort into putting his ideas into some books, and had a good idea I think of what he was trying to teach. He wasn't saying that chess was changing or that it was too early to say what was changing.

"No, old Nimzo and his pals, they had to put their ideas to the test, over the chess board, against the world best players, day in and day out. And they didn't always do so good, either. But their ideas took hold, and people started seeing how they could be applied. It was a good thing for chess.

"What else does this guy get his undies in a wad over?"

"Well, here he's talking about the idea of God being in control, and how it's a modern idea." Gus said.

"What do the two of you think?"

"He tries to say that the Bible doesn't say that 'God is in control', at least not so plainly. But I'm not sure about that."

"Why is that?"

"Well, he tries to make it some kind of mechanistic thing, but I don't know if I agree with that. I suppose people way back then would have seen it almost like king type of thing, but then I thought, even if that was rather accurate, it was probably more...I don't know...involved then just that. God is God, a king was a king, and while God does use kingly language for Himself sometimes, I would guess the people had more in mind when they thought of God then just as another king.

"The idea of God being sovereign, then, I guess was what came to mind. That is rather kingly, I suppose. Maybe all of this is only another example of the whole controversy about the sovereignty of God versus man's free will."

"Maybe." Phil said. "Not a subject I'm really up on. What are your thoughts?"

"For me," I said, "I guess I think both are true. God is sovereign, but man has free will."

"That doesn't seem to make much sense."

"I know, and I can't explain it well. I can't hold a view of God as a puppetmaster and all that we do has been foreordained and that somehow although we have no real choices we are still at fault and must pay for sins we commit even though we had no choice in our actions. On the other hand, the weak God of some theologies doesn't seem to have much to do with the reality of God as told to us in the Bible."

"Ok. So is God in control, in your view?"


"What does that mean?"

"It means that what He wants to do, He can do."

"Do things happen that He does not want to have happen?"

I thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose so."

"But if such things happen, is it because God allows them to happen, or because He causes them to happen?"

"I don't know."

"That's what I thought. Don't worry, I don't blame you, I'm not sure how I'd answer that, either. Do you think that the author makes some points about God being in control, though."

"Maybe, though I still question what he says."

"Some people might say that atheism would give much better answers to those things then belief in a God that we can't understand."

"I suppose some would, but at what cost? A Christian may wonder about how something may happen, but at least we have a way of determining whether a man commits an immoral act, or not. But in a universe of 'survival of the fittest', what is morality except a power play, and what is right but what helps the fittest to survive?"

"So we're damned if we don't, and damned if we do. Accept God's existence, and we're left with either a weakling who can't really help us, or an in-control ruler who causes bad things to happen. Don't accept God's existence, and we lose any real way of saying whether anything is right or wrong. That's what you're saying, Jon?"

"Pretty much, yes."

"Can't say as I find any of that really good."

"But what about us, Phil? Are we so innocent, or merely victims of divine fiat?"

"I'll answer that once I find out what 'fiat' means."

"Ok, good point. How about 'whim'?"

"Better, I can understand that. So, you're point?"

"In one of his writings C.S. Lewis makes an analogy to a parent who decides that it's time that the child start taking care of it's own stuff, so does not clean the child's room. The parent's will is that the child take the responsibility, but when the parent looks later at the child's room, it's a complete mess. It is the parent's will that the child clean up that allows to child to not do so.

"We have been looking at this as if God is responsible, either as a storyteller who makes us do only what He wants, or as someone who should stop us from harming ourselves and each other.

"But if we look at, let's say, the Creation account, we can see God giving mankind responsibilities. In that case, it was to tend to the Garden, and in a negative sense to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

"Now, God gave those commands. But is God obligated then to make them do or not do those things? What obligation did God have to stop Adam from eating the fruit? Should He have whisked Adam away from the tree? Should he have fenced off the tree in some way, so that the people could even get to it?

"How many of our problems and troubles are of our own making? Some such threads we can see pretty clearly, such as when someone becomes an alcoholic or drug addict and their life pretty much falls apart. Others may be less obvious, but may still be there.

"If God has given us a measure of responsibility for ourselves, things we should do and things we shouldn't, is God obligated to keep us from harm if we choose to act contrary to what He says to do or don't do?

"Of course, it doesn't only work that way. The person who is a thief will harm more then just himself or herself, but also those they steal from. The same with murderers, those who practice sexual immorality, and even the little things like lying. In fact, it is often the harm to the victim that is most obvious to us.

"God may interfere, and I would guess does so more often then we think He does. But that should not become an expectation that He would do so. A person should not expect to live sinfully and also expect God to keep him or her from the consequences of those actions.

"As far as being a victim goes, perhaps the Christian's response should be as James recommends, "Count it all joy when we come into tribulations", because if we respond rightly to them, good will come of them."

Phil didn't seem completely convince, but was at least accepting of what I had said. "That makes some sense. Still, some consequences seem very extreme."

"I know. I guess in such cases, I can only go with my faith that God is good and just. Perhaps one can look at things people could have done, either to keep from getting in such a situation or to deal with it better once it has happened. That can sound trite, though, and I don't want to be that way."

Phil nodded, and stood. "I need a break from this heavy thinking, not use to it. Going to go get a refill."

"Sounds good." Gus answered, and I nodded. We stood in line, talking about other things, and after that returned to the table.

"I'd like to bring up one more thing from the chapter, if I may." I said.

"What is it?" Asked Gus.

"It's at the end, where he's talking with the other pastor, about the man with the dream catcher and cross in his car."

"What's this?" Phil asked.

"This other pastor was trying to refer to the current condition of spirituality he sees in the culture. He was talking about how he saw someone with a cross and a dream catcher in his car, and how that for him symbolized the current trend of compromise in things spiritual. The author of this book tried to say it may mean something else, such as that the man may simply not be finding in Christianity all he wants to find, such as a connection to the earth, and so has to turn to a pagan spirituality to find it."

Phil nodded. "Ok. So, did anyone ask the driver why he had those two things in his car?"

"What?" I was rather taken back.

"Sure. I guess that other preacher only saw them in a car, so he probably wasn't able to stop the guy to ask, but that's the point. We don't really know why he had those two things in his car."

"What else could they mean?"

"Well, let's see. We're assuming the driver knew of the spiritual meanings of both things, but that is something he may not have known. Maybe he had not been around people like you very much, and didn't know what a cross means. Maybe he wasn't familiar with Native American spirituality, and didn't know what a dream catcher means. Maybe he's Christian, but his wife is spiritual in a Native sense, and he keeps both up so as to not hurt her or cause arguments.

"The point is, we don't know for certain why those two things were in the car at the same time. Both the book's author and the preacher he was talking to could only speculate. If they really wanted to find examples of compromise or discontent, whatever their cases may be, they could easily have found others. Don't know if those 'coexist' stickers were around when they book was published, but surely those could be used by them to make their points."

"So you do think that both were discussing a real kind of...I don't know...problem, or trend, or something?" Asked Gus.

"Sure. I just think they picked a questionable example."

"And their conclusions?"

"Not sure I'm the best one of us to discuss that, knowing my lack of religious views and all. How about you, Jon?"

"Very well." I said. "I think that, in regards to the author of the book and his views on the cross and the dream catcher, we're starting to see how his views are shaped by his perceptions of what people want and need.

"For example, he tries to makes it seems that the man with the two religious things was someone who likely found something wanting in Christianity, or at least in the Christianity he was familiar with, so he turned to the Native spirituality to find that something he couldn't find in Christianity. For the sake of argument, let us grant that such was the case.

"Having assumed that, we have to ask, whose fault is it that the man didn't find in Christianity what he wanted? Which I suppose raises the further question, What was it that he wanted? And then from there, we have other questions, such as 'Was what he was wanting something that Christianity could legitimately give him or not?'"

"Let's say that what wanted from Christianity was some kind of a 'god in every tree' spirituality, but Christianity has One God, so for some reason he thinks that it devalued the earth, so he tries to combine the two of them. Don't know how, but he may try.

"Is it Christianity's fault, then, that he could not find it in Christianity? His desire would run against what Christianity stands for. But does Christianity not care for the earth? Yes, it does care for it. But it does not say that there are little gods in every rock and tree, and it does not say that material world is somehow the body of God. The universe is God's creation, it is not a part of God.

"This is one scenario, and may not be correct, but my point is much like the one Phil made, that even if he was a practicer of some kind of religious compromise or syncretism, we must not assume that his dissatisfaction with Christianity was right or not, and further we shouldn't assume that we must change Christianity or its message simply to make such a person happy. The message of Christianity is for people to repent and trust in God, not that Christianity will change to make people happy."

I think each of us were getting weary by that point. We talked about some small stuff after that, then said our good-byes and left.

Friday, August 28, 2009

talking, 6

We were quiet for a bit, probably a bit wearied from all of that. And it wasn't even all that much, I thought. We weren't really doing any 'heavy lifting', so to speak, and I'd be lying if I said I was completely satisfied with all I had said. Not that I thought I was wrong, but it still seems...I don't know...weak, or incomplete, or something like that.

Gus broke the silence. "I'm not sure I understand what's going on here, assuming there is some truth to the book's claim that their is something going on."

I nodded. "Maybe I can help a bit with an example, one from real life, even, that used some similar words, and even involves something we both like."


I laughed a little. "You'll have to find a chef to tell you if this is related to anything food-related. No, the parallel I want to use has to do with things in the history of chess."


"How familiar are you with the history of the game, particular over the past, oh, 150years, roughly?"

"Not very. I've been playing for a couple of years, but don't really follow it well, or know the history. Heck, I'm pretty sure I don't pronounce most of those opening's names correctly."

"I know, those can be difficult. Let me give a bit of a lesson, if I may.

"In the 1800's, chess play had a certain hack-and-slash character to it. Gambit openings were the norm, with people trying to create brilliant attacks, and defensive play was not all that good. Players like Morphy and Anderssen were more-or-less of that school, though they did bring some differences.

"In the early 1900's, a new movement began, called the Hypermodern movement. I guess it could be said to have begun with Nimzovich and his book "My System", and carried on by him and others like Reti, Tartakover, Bogolyubov, and others. To put it simply, they looked for different ways of playing the game, or maybe more accurately different ways of applying the principles of how to play.

"For example, you've probably heard about centralization, Gus?"

"Yes. Usually that means to somehow occupy or control the center of the chess board."

"Pretty much, yes. Most players before the Hypermoderns opened with the king pawns or queen pawns, as either white or black. Centralization pretty much meant occupation. With the Hypermoderns, the notion of distant control of the center was explored, and we started getting such openings like the Reti and Nimzovich, in which one or both bishops are fianchettoed early on, and defenses like the various Indian defenses, with one bishop usually being fianchettoed.

"Further, ideas about the center changed. Players began to delay moving pawns to the center, and even learned that a wall of pawns in the center may have its weaknesses as well as strengths. It was a rather razor-edged thing, to be sure.

"And so, at a time when some even world-class players were bemoaning the soon-coming death of chess, the game was receiving an infusion of new ideas and life. Those ideas are still with us, and often enough even the lowliest amateur nowadays will try to attempt to use them, maybe not very well, but he or she is still familiar enough with them to make some attempt."

"Well, I didn't know that. I knew about the Reti opening, though I don't understand it."

"I guess I should do some justice to the sage's statement of 'grossly oversimplifying' things, because to be fair that's what I did with that summary. One could, for example, point to such players as Lasker, Steinitz, and even Tarrasch as being kind of precursors of the Hypermodern school, particularly Steinitz. I suppose it should also be pointed out that few of the Hypermoderns were really at the very top of the chess world. The world champions of that era were Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine, and none of those could be considered Hypermoderns, though Alekhine may have come close at times. They would borrow ideas from the Hypers, but their overall styles were more a mix of the classical and the new.

"And I guess that is to be expected, and even may explain why they were stronger. They weren't so much trying to make something new as they were trying to play winning chess."

"Are you trying to bring in a bit of pragmatism, then?"

I paused, trying to consider that question. "I don't know. Maybe the question of whether one thing works better then another is ok, so long as the question of whether the options themselves are still ok is answered.

"As a for example, I know there are churches that have services at different times on Sundays. By that, I don't mean the ones that have morning services and then something else in the evening, but ones that have basically the same service a few times in the day, maybe early in the morning, then around mid-morning, and a last one at around noon, and they don't have an evening service. I'm fine with that, and see no reason why a church should be overly questioned for doing such a thing. In such a case, then, of when to have services, the idea of what works best may be a good one, because their shouldn't be a question of any particular time being somehow more 'sacred' then others. Traditionalists, then, are to my mind free to have the morning and evening services, but other options may be considered by other churches."

"Could you hold on a moment. I need to go to the restroom. I'll be back."

"Sure." I was glad for the break. Truth be told, I was exhausted. I rarely talk so much, even at work. I live alone, have some people I e-mail fairly regularly, but such conversations as this were not common for me. It was welcomed, I admit that, but it was also laborious. I found a newspaper that had been left by someone, and was glancing through it when Gus returned.

"One more thing, Jon, and then I'll need to leave. Your analogy to chess seems to be saying that you're open to changes. Are you, then, adopting the emergent view?"

That was one that I feared would be tricky. "Let me try and answer that in this way.

"If you look at the chessic Hypermoderns again, you'll find that what they looked at was how the game was being played. The changes they put forth, then, had to do with ideas of, let's say, centralization, or development. And that was fine. In fact, in most ways, they didn't even really change the principles of how to play the game well, only in how those principles were applied.

"What they didn't recommend, though, was that the game itself should be changed. What I mean by that is, the game of chess that they played was the same game of chess that those before and after them played. They did not, for example, try to make rooks move like knights, or recommend that pawns be allowed to move backwards. Nor did they try to introduce pieces from other games, by for example saying that checker pieces should be used in place of pawns, or the players should roll dice when attempting to capture an opponent's piece.

"To try to put it as simply as I'm able, they were concerned with changing 'how' the game was played, not with changing the game itself."

"But haven't the rules changed over time? Like I said, I don't know the history all that well, but aren't things like castling pretty recent changes?"

"True, and it's about there that the analogy breaks down. It has changed a good bit in it's history--the queen and some other pieces are more powerful then they were at one time, and other things were introduced like castling. In more recent times, people have been concerned that the game is being played out, especially with computers and their abilities to calculate so much. Various ideas have been put forth about ways of changing the game, from the serious to the more not-serious ones like Bughouse. And that's not even counting the variations from other cultures, like Chinese Chess and the Japanese game Shogi.

"And for what it's worth, that's fine, because chess is only a game, and making changes to it does not involve in itself any important morals or ethics. In regards to the emergents, though, we do have to be more demanding, because it isn't a game, it's about religion and our souls and what God has told us. Some of the changes they make in church forms may be fine, and some of their social concerns may be ones that should be looked at, but I'm not so certain that they want so much to have us consider different ways of doing church as much as it seems they want us to go beyond that."

"I need to run." Gus said, standing. "Maybe we should keep doing this, trying to make sense of what this guy and his cronies are saying. Friday's a bit difficult, though, because of chess taking up so much time."

"We could try for another time." We talked for a moment about our schedules, and decided to try for Wednesday at around 6:30. He left, and I finished me coffee and paper, and walked home.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

talking, 5

I did better in chess that Friday, tying with Wayne for the highest scores in our blitz games. All of the normal five were there, along with one other who joined in, and so Wayne and I split the few dollars, and some of mine went straight into the LoMo's till for a mocha cappuccino.

This week, I brought along my laptop (pretty basic PC model, a bit above the cheapest priced, but not near to the nicer ones that cost more), and saw the Gus had his, too (much nicer Mac, I saw with a twinge of envy), and he had his open and on when I joined him. It took me a bit to get situated, and our conversation began as I was doing so.

One note: I'm not sure how to refer to the author here, so in order to keep from simply refering to "the author", I'll call him M.

"How far did you get in the book?" I asked.

"A bit further, think I'm a bit over half-way finished with it. How about you?"

"Read it through."


"My evenings are pretty free."

"I was a bit busy. Plus, I wanted to look up a few people mentioned in the book."

"Ah, research. Good, good, I did the same thing, but more on the author."

"Kind of did that, too, but then I started looking at a few other things. Guess I took that route."

"Learn anything?"

"Don't know. He mentioned some names somewhere in the first few chapters, people like Polanyi, Derrida, Rorty, some others. I had heard of some of them, somewhere, maybe in one of my classes, though we didn't go into them much."

"Interesting. What have you learned."

"That it's some pretty heady stuff. Give me a week or two more, before I tell you much about what they thought."

"Ok. If I may suggest, I think I have something from the book we can discuss."

"Really? What is that?"

"I guess I should say, a couple or three things." My computer was on but not quite ready to be used, so I fished the book from where I had put it in the computer's carry case, and flipped for a few second to find the correct spot. "Ah, here it is. It's pretty early on. The...what should we call him...?"


"Not the guy writing the story, so to speak, but the one who is kind of teaching him."

"Oh, the foreigner with the nickname from the popular movies. Do you think that's an accident?"


"Just a thought I had. He tries to pass it off as nothing that the man, I guess he's a kind of sage..."

"Sage! Good name! I was thinking guru, but that seemed a bit new-agey."

"Ok, sage it is, then. Anyway, The author of the book is a white guy, and I guess he kind of represents the guy telling the story, at least in some way."

"The story-teller is kind of like how he was, and the sage is more like how he is now."

"Yeah. But the sage, he's this islander-like guy, he's not white like you and me. And then he has the acronym-like nickname, which is the same nickname of the hero in those really popular sci-fi movie with the cool action sequences. And he seems to be doing to the hero of the book as the guy in the movie starts doing, leading people out of their old life into one that is, well, real. Into the rabbit hole, so to speak."

"I can see that. I like those movies. Keep another thing in mind, though, that the nickname means 'new', so it would fit the overall theme of the book for him to have that name, though it's a pretty transparent thing." I opened the first few pages of the book. "And the book came out a couple of years after the movie, so if it's a coincidence, it's a rather odd one."

"And the guy's race and nationality?"

"I don't know. Why does it bother you?"

"I don't think it bothers me, but, well, it just struck me as odd."


"Well, it's like this. I was reading what he was saying, and started wondering about it. But then, I caught myself feeling strange about it, because I wasn't questioning the writer, but someone else, this character, and he's not much like the author at all. It's like some kind of politically correct guilt trip came on me for questioning the words of someone of another race."

I took a sip of my drink, more to ponder what he was saying then anything else. "I would like to get back to a part of what you're saying a bit later, but your reaction to M voicing his current views through a man of another race is a fascinating one. Why do you think he did that?"

"I don't know. He's a white guy, as far as I know the philosophers he mention are all Europeans or Americans, but in the book the sage of postmodernity is of another race. It's not really all that unlikely, I guess, but my reaction to it seemed strange, like it was wrong for me to question him, like if I did so I was leaving myself open to being called a racist because I didn't just accept everything he was saying."

"Do you think that was the author was trying to do, set up something like a trap?"

"Well, that's a pretty serious charge, I would guess. But isn't it done in politics? I mean, I see these campaign ads about some issue, like local economy, and we're shown someone who gets on and tells us how the person running for office brought a factory to the town which brought jobs and money to them. Or something I remember from a year or so ago, some kind of health care legislation, and there was some controversy over it, and the side for it had some ads where a child comes on and tells us that if that bill is rejected and he gets sick, then he and others like him would die because they wouldn't be able to get help."

"I remember that."

"Now, the kid was, what, ten or eleven years old. Do we really expect a kid that age to understand legislation and health care and such? But some people did question the claims in the ad, and those who made it tried to make it seem as if those who did question it were greedy evil jerks who didn't care about children's health and well-being, when in reality they were saying the legislation was simply bad legislation, and the ad and it's claims were simply ridiculous, even manipulative."

"You've given this a bit of thought, I guess."

"Well, yes, a little. I hope I've explained it well to you."

"I think I get what you're saying. But to be honest, I don't know if that's what M was trying to do. It's possible, but it's only supposition. I haven't seen anything that really says that in the book."

"If that's what he was doing, though, it would kind of give it away if he did state it so bluntly."

"Maybe, but an argument from silence isn't really an argument. No, while what you said may be something to wary of, I don't think we can get away with saying M was trying to be so manipulative, at least not yet. I'd rather stick with what he said plainly enough through the characters, especially the sage, and it seems we can find enough in those to make this discussion a good one."

"Yeah, guess so. So, what did you find?"

I turned to my computer, and opened a rich text file. "Remember in the first real discussion between the preacher and the sage, and the sage starts talking about Modernity and Postmodernity, and to help with what he's saying he gives a list of some things that he says characterize Modernity."

"Yeah, I remember that."

"Here they are." I turned my computer towards Gus, and showed him the list of things from the book. He looked through the book quickly, and nodded when he saw that I had them right (though he also pointed out that I had one word spelled wrong, which I fixed with haste and a bit of embarrassment).

“Anyway, I thought a bit about those thing, and kind of questioned a few of them."

"Well, he does say that he's using broad strokes, that it's an oversimplification."

"Yes, he does, but what does that mean?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it. If, as he says, those who taught him would be most disapproving of his 'gross oversimplification', then why should we be happy with it? Is it such a 'gross oversimplification' that it is in reality not how thing really were, or are not really such strong characteristic of that age?"

"I noticed that, and it did seem a little strange."

"Look at one of them. He says that one aspect of Modernity was conquest. I'll not doubt that conquests did take place in that time, but is that something that necessarily marks that period over others? Look at the ancient world, and all of the conquerors and empires of that time--Persian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and in other parts of the word Chinese and the Mongolian Empire. I suppose one could point out the Incas and Aztecs in the western hemisphere. Not to mention Israel's conquest of the Promised Land and all of their wars over it.

"Understand, I'm not saying that conquests didn't happen in the Modern era, only that it's not something that marked it as different from those before it, and I doubt it will be different if we assume there really is a Postmodern era."

"You think postmoderns will be conquerors, just like moderns?"

"Yes, because human nature hasn't changed. Any conquests may be different. I think it will take the form more of legislation and international pressure then of armed force, though even that will have to be there in order to make the pressure felt.

"Really, what is the United Nations but the latest attempt to conqueror the world? While they may not use much force to do so, they do try to use various kinds of pressures and resolutions in order to make countries fall in line with their agenda. In that way, perhaps the Postmodern era will be marked by what has to be one of the most grand schemes of conquest that mankind has so far developed."

"I...I don't know. Sorry, but the UN has never impressed me. Nothing seems easier to ignore then a UN resolution."

"It's not a perfect scheme, I know, but I think there is something to it. Whether it will be the UN or something after it is, I guess, debatable, but I do think the UN is the current embodiment of the attempt."

I sat back, starting to feel drained. "I think some of these others can be questioned, too. His statements about the arts in the 'objectivity' section seem strange, considering that this era was also the era of Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven, Picasso, van Gogh, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and many others who did great things in the arts. And did any Modern believe more in absolute truth then an Old Testament prophet who came before the people to tell them a message that God had given him to give to them, knowing they would not accept it and likely harm him sooner or later? Where any Moderns more commit to analysis then such Greeks as Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Pythagoras? Were any more committed to debunking their opponents as Socrates?"

"He may have had a point with some of those characteristics, yes. Maybe with individualism, or Protestantism. It's an interesting list, but not one I think to be accept unquestioningly."

"I agree."

"But you did read the chapter after that, correct?"

"I should have, yes. I read a bit after that, too."

"Did you notice anything about that next chapter?"

"Let's see..." Gus looked over the pages in what was a rather short chapter. "It's him writing some journal entries. There are some things here that I thought were a bit of a stretch."

"There is something I noticed, too. Not in what he's writing, but in what he's not writing."

"An argument from silence?"

I laughed a little. "In a way, I guess. What I did notice was that the preacher isn't wrestling with whether or not what the sage said in their first meeting is true or not, but he's wrestling with what it means since the sage is right. What I mean is, he's gone from hearing what the sage said to accepting it almost without any questions of if he's right."

"Are you sure? Like I said, I haven't finished the book yet, but I do remember him questioning the sage, and at one point even getting almost violent with him."

"Yes, but what kinds of questions does he ask, and what kinds of issues does he wrestle with and find difficult? Look at the first journal entry he put in, one that happens the morning after. There is no questioning of the truth of the sage's claim, only of what their truth means to religion. In other words, he goes from, let's say Day 1, getting a brief history lesson about modernity and postmodernity, to the next day suddenly critiquing all of the beliefs in various kinds of churches. Quite a jump, I would think, from one day to the next."

"It's a work of fiction. Yeah, that's a bit unrealistic. I guess that could be seen as a bit of a hiccup."

"True, but look at it from the point of view of what you said earlier. You had a hard time questioning the sage, you thought because of his race and ethnic make-up. But the pastor character doesn't question him, either. He rather quickly goes beyond that to trying to understand how things will change since what the sage says is true."

"And your point is that we should question whether what the sage said is true or not?"

"Well, that's where we've started. I think we've raised some good objections to some of what he said, both in regards to the past and to his ideas of things now being 'post' those supposed modern characteristics. We aren't post-conquest, we're doing conquest in a different way. We're not post-critical, we're simply trying to silence those who disagree with us through various indirect means--the Fairness Act, having courts decide who should be allowed to present scientific evidence in classrooms, obvious journalistic media biases in regards to being for certain things and against others, and even such things as smoking bans which restrict a business' ability to set their own policies. We've not post-analytical, not by a long shot. We're not post-secularism, if anything secularism is very strong now. We're not post-objectivity, the postmodern's are just as certain of the rightness of their positions as any pre-postmoderns, but their kind of 'commitment to uncertainty' seems more like a blind behind which they hide their own core of objective truths."

"Quite an insight there."

"It's not my fault." I smiled a bit sheepishly. "Like I said, I did some online research of this author, and of the movement he's in. I found a podcast of a man talking about one of M's other books, I think it's a sequel to this one, with the same characters in it. The speaker pointed out that in the other book the sage was treated almost like a prophet, in that nothing he said is questioned. People ask him questions, yes, but they accept what he says without question. When I heard that, I wondered if it was true of this book, too, and at least in these two chapters we've been talking about, it was. I noticed that the preacher went from getting his first lesson in postmodernity to accepting what the sage told him without going through any kind of serious questioning stage of what the sage said. If he had, he may not have jumped in so quickly."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

talking, 4

I made mention a bit ago of things that make a Christian's witness difficult in the 'real world'. My experience with having a real job has brought that home to me, in ways I'm still not sure how to handle.

For example, I have a co-worker at the print shop who rejects Christianity because she thinks it's anti-women, particularly in regards to what she thinks of as abortion rights and male superiority. So, for her, people in the pro-life movement are by definition unloving and hateful, and since that is the position of many who are Chrisitian, she has no desire to hear about it. The few times I've either brought it up or been around when it was brought up, her reactions have been heated.

Another case at work is of a gay man who thinks the Bible's sexual morals are outdated and do not apply to him, so that when he hears someone point out places where his sexual acts are condemned, he automatically labels them as unloving and has not desire to hear what they are saying, nor even to really be around them.

This is a very difficult situation for me. I work with them, and they work with me, and it's not a large place, so several times a day we must communicate with each other. She is, like me, a designer, and we have many times bounced ideas off of each other concerning our work, and co-designed several projects. He is a manager.

It's not something that is often an issue, at least as far as work goes. But it is an issue, for me. I'm not good friends with either of them, we don't hang out after work, I've never been to their homes nor they to mine. I think that in regards to work we respect each other, and as far as work goes trust each other.

But that's where it begins and ends, and I'm at a loss as to what to do about it.

The thing is, this isn't like a mission's setting. I've been to places in the world where Jesus is either not known about, or very little is known and most of that incorrect. The two people I've mentioned both know about Jesus, and the man was even in seminary at one time before he chose his lifestyle. They're both fairly well acquainted with the Bible and with arguments against their position, they have simply rejected those things or found ways to work around them, and frankly can't stand it when other voices question their claims.

Years ago, back in my youth, there was a speaker at the church I went to with my parents. He made a statement something like this, that if you want to know how a Christian should live, ask someone who's not a Christians. For some reason, that seemed to be a deep insight at that time, particular since it was a very fundamentalist church. His point, I think, was that too often those in the world look at how people in the church act, and see that how some of them act is simply wrong, and it effects their notions of the faith and whether they should listen to people in it.

At the time, I thought it was a very good point; now, I'm not so certain the speaker had a point, or that at least things have changed a good bit since then. If I were to believe and act in ways that my female coworker mentioned above would consider 'loving', I would have to adopt a pro-choice stance and believe that men like myself are pigs. And to do the same for the manager would mean I would have to accept his sexual choices as being as ok and to disregard what the Bible says about them.

This is one of the difficulties. I cannot 'love' in the way that they have chosen to call love, so in that sense I am not 'loving', and so they may tell their other friends about the "hypocrite" who says he's Christian but is so full of hate. And I'm not, but by their definitions I am.

This whole thing has taken on the feel more of a PR battle then of an objective search for what is true and right, and there is no way people like me can win in such a conflict. We rely on the truth, not the spin, and those who find the spin more inviting then the truth will find some way to label us negatively and either dismiss us or denigrate and even try to silence us.

There are far-reaching concerns here, but for me, it's practical--how can I be like Jesus to such people? Do I maybe make the workplace unpleasant by constantly harping on my co-workers sins and wrong positions? Do I remain silent at all times about such things? Do I entertain the idea that maybe the Bible's hard-and-fast moral norms are not applicable anymore?

I reject that last, but the others are more troublesome. All I know is that I'm going to have to go to work, and that I'll be working with them, and that while we will able to work well together if we keep our opinions and beliefs with ourselves, there are issues of eternal importance here, and how can I address those?

Anyway, that week went by with little incident. Work was work, and was busy enough, but nothing big happened at it. After work, I would go home and do whatever. I'm not a big TV watcher, though there are a few shows I follow, as well as wrestling. By Tuesday, I had finished the book, and began to seriously ponder it. Which led me to a few hours on the internet over Wednesday and Thursday evenings. By Friday, I guess I had a good bit for Gus and I to think about, and wondered what he had thought, too.

talking, 3

Saturday was pretty busy. I did get to the library, but couldn't find a copy of the book in question. Played a few rounds of disc golf thereafter, then went to some used book stores. Not really to find that particular book, mind you, though that was one reason. I simply like to browse in such book stores.

And that was one thing I found, which did make me rather happy. Found other things, too, which also made me happy. Books are one of my extravagances.

Spent some time with friends that afternoon, and in the evening found myself again at the LoMo, beginning again my reading of the assigned reading between Gus and self. Read a few chapters of it, found some stuff of interest, and then had the absolutely brilliant idea that, if I'm going to discuss this, maybe I should get a highlighter to mark places of interest. So, I finished my coffee, walked to a not-too-far-away drug store which was open all night, pick up a highlighter and a few other needful things, and went home.

Once again, I was up late, this time reading the book, marking things to remember, and pretty much trying to make sense of it all. Went to sleep tired and a bit disturbed.

The church I go to is pretty large. Maybe not megachurch large, but still pretty large. I liked it that way. I liked being mostly anonymous to most of the people there.

Maybe that's strange, and let me make something clear--I know several people there, and some of them I count as friends, so it's not as if I'm not known by anyone there. I'm even a part of one of their small groups which usually meet at one family's home. And I've helped out at a few of the things they do.

What did I mean, though? Why do I want to be a part of a larger church, where I'm pretty much a 'face in the crowd'?

I guess because I am a 'face in the crowd'. No one special, no one with power or position, no one who is over anything. I'm average.

When I heard it, I can't remember, though it may have been in my time in missions or in my training for it. The person speaking made what I guess was an off-hand or throw-away comment about how if a preacher wants to get a response from the people in the congregation, 'response' meaning getting them to the alter and getting advised in some way, then they would tell them that they don't pray enough, or don't care enough about their lost neighbors or heathens in other lands, or don't give enough, or don't open their doors to people quite enough, all with the undertone that they are selfish people. I don't think that speaker was saying that doing that was a good thing, only that it was something some preachers and speakers did.

It was one of those things that stayed with me, even through the several years since I heard him say that. I came to notice it in things preachers and church speakers would say, what I came to call "cheap guilt trips". I came to see the 'average Christian' as being someone who is all too often maligned, condemned, ridiculed. They are the ones that any supposed 'radical' will point to as being what is wrong with the church, even as the 'average Christian' is writing a check to help fund that person's ministry or organization. They were accused of not being strong enough witnesses, even as they would be at their jobs dealing with the fallout among their fellow workers of televangelist's money and sex scandals, Word of Faith silliness, real or supposed hypocracies among Christians their workers claimed to know, priests who molest young children, and the million-and-one other things, real or not, that their non-believing co-workers have heard about and use against them.

The situation is complicated, I know now, having been in the 'real world' for a while. In that sense, being now an "average Christian", I am glad to be in that position, and for now don't want to make it otherwise.

My respect for the "average Christian" has grown, but so has my concern. Let's be fair, it's the "average Christian" that all too often is taken in by the health-and-wealth people, who buys books on shallow theology, who seems far more interested in feelings and experiences then in truth. It's a sadness to me.

After church, I had lunch with a few friends, then played a bit more disc golf. Evening again found me reading, this time at home. I was not able to stay up as late that night, as on Monday morning I went to work, but by the time I finished I was glad to see that, in spite of going a bit slowly with marking areas of interest, I was over half-way done.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

so, what do you think...?

It's amusing, sometimes, to see where some will look for support of their own prsuppositions.

Consider this...

Waddya think #2?

...where the discussion is about a quote by Voltaire.

“Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men”

...which fits their presupposition that they are good and the rest of the church is bad.

But let's look at some possible context for this quote; namely, some things in the life of Voltaire.

wikipedia Voltaire emphases mine, and apologies for some of the language.

Voltaire's next destination was the Château de Cirey, located on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. The building was renovated with his money, and here he began a relationship with the Marquise du Châtelet, Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil (famous in her own right as Émilie du Châtelet). Cirey was owned by the Marquise's husband, Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatelet, who sometimes visited his wife and her lover at the chateau. The relationship, which lasted for fifteen years, had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they studied these books and performed experiments in the "natural sciences" in his laboratory. Voltaire's experiments included an attempt to determine the properties of fire.

Though deeply committed to the Marquise, Voltaire by 1744 felt life at the chateau confining. On a visit to Paris in that year, he found a new love: his niece. At first, his attraction to Marie Louise Mignot was clearly sexual; he wrote her letters (only discovered in 1957) that verged on pornography, such as "My soul kisses yours; my prick, my heart, are in love with you. I kiss your beautiful ass..."[5] Much later, they lived together, perhaps platonically, and remained together until Voltaire's death. Meanwhile, the Marquise also took a lover, the Marquis de Saint-Lambert.

Like many other key figures during the European Enlightenment, Voltaire considered himself a deist. He did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in God. In fact, Voltaire's focus was instead on the idea of a universe based on reason and a respect for nature reflected the contemporary pantheism, increasingly popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and which continues in a form of deism today known as "Voltairean Pantheism."

In terms of religious texts, Voltaire's opinion of the Bible has been summarized by a 21st century author[who?] as: 1) an outdated legal and/or moral reference, 2) by and large a metaphor, but one that still taught some good lessons, and 3) a work of Man, not a divine gift. These beliefs did not hinder his religious practice, however, though it did gain him somewhat of a bad reputation in the Catholic Church. It may be noted that Voltaire was indeed seen as somewhat of a nuisance to many believers, and was almost universally known; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire's death, saying, "The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket...."

So, when Voltaire wants Christians to be "tolerant", what might he have had in mind that they should have been tolerant of? Of course, at that time, there were persecution going on--the article referenced above makes reference to a few of them, so let's not overlook them. But just as likely, he may have thought that his ideas and lifestyle should have been tolerated, perhaps even accepted.

a true parable in response to a false one

Peter Rollins, who thinks that disobedience is a way to show that you're a true disciple, has taken it upon himself to write a "parable" (more like a farce) of those Christians who look for our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and who would love for Him to appear.

The Rapture
Introducing the characters…

The first is a rough take on it, the second is more fleshed out (and I do mean 'flesh', as in 'in the...').

So, in response to this bit of ridicule on his part, here's a response from me.

There was a woman who met a man, and learned that he loved her, cared for her, esteemed her. He was a good man, she learned, one who was kind, considerate, just, and true. When after a time he proposed to marry her, she agreed.

During their engagement, he had to leave for a time. When he was preparing to leave, he wrote a letter to his beloved, both expressing his love for her and leaving instruction for her on things he wished for her to do for him in his absence.

When he had departed, her friends would often visit her, and came to notice some strange things about her. They found her often in the company of others, talking in disparaging ways about her betrothed and his people. A few times, they saw her with other men, acting around them as more than friendly, letting them kiss her, and she was even with them for the nights. Those who knew what her fiance had written to her, what he had told her to do, were surprised to learn that she did little of what was told, but rather neglected much of it and even did the opposite.

What was most surprising to some of those friends was that she said that she did not look for the return of her fiance, but rather said that her lack of looking for him was because she found him in her other lovers, and it was in giving herself to them that she showed that she most loved her fiance.

When the man returned, and learned of his beloved's indiscretions, he saw that her love for him was false, and he broke off their engagement, and told her to leave him.

talking, 2

It was a bit after nine when I got back to my place. It was an apartment, small, very basic, but not expensive, and enough for my needs. It had a bit of a living room, a bedroom, kitchen and bath, and a small balcony, as I was on the second floor.

And it was a wreck. Well, a wreck in the sense that pizza boxes, soda cans, books, and other stuff was set around wherever they had happened to land. I may have had talent as a housekeeper, but it was undeveloped, to say the least.

As I said before, it was Friday, so I wasn't too concerned about the lateness of the hour. I had a couple of things I wanted to do. One was to watch the TiVo of Friday night wrestling. The other was to get online and do a bit of research on what Gus and I had talked about. A third (making it more then a couple, I know) was to start some water boiling for some noodles.

So, I started up the player, started the water boiling thingy, and got on my computer. For all of the apparent simplicity of my existence, I had done a bit more then basic for the internet connection, as I had suffered enough with dial-up in my early days online, thank you very much.

Perhaps a bit of an explanation is in order here, so as to maybe help you know from where I am coming with all of this.

As Gus said, I was for a few years in my 20s in missions, going to a few different places in the world, and staying for a couple of years in Eastern Europe. My time in missions was a good time, one I look back on with a good bit of gladness. I saw and did some things that I think could be considered "good works", met people I have the highest respect for, and all-in-all have no regrets over that time in my life.

It was not, however, without incident. Or rather, without things that made me question some parts of what I was doing, or rather who I was with.

The group I was with a pretty large, with missionaries in several different countries. In theory, they were what could be called "non-denominational", meaning that they had people serving with them from several different types of Christian churches.

That was the theory, and to their credit they did make a good attempt to abide by those ideas. Still, one didn't have to be in it long to know that they tended to favor some Charismatic types of teachings. There was much talk of a concept called 'spiritual warfare', with much emphasis on singing and music and praying in some ways the seemed at times more concerned about insulting the Devil then in talking to God. There were teachings about the idea the there are still prophets and even apostles around today, and that they should be listened to and taken seriously.

For the record, I have no problem with some of the charismatic practices, such a speaking in tongues. Though raised more-or-less a Baptist, I have never been satisfied with the explanations they give for why they do not accept tongues. At the same time, there does seem to be a danger to it. Too often, it seems that charismatics let the events of a service, the music and the tongues and the feelings and the excitement, get to them and to cloud their judgment.

There was one time, when I was stateside, and went with a few others to a service where there had been records of strange manifestations going on. The reason I went was that, early that day, I had stepped wrong and sprained my left angle, and those with me thought the man speaking may be able to pray and heal it. Normally it wasn't something I would have gone for, but for whatever reason this time I caved and went along, limping into the already crowded auditorium a few minutes after things had begun, and sitting towards the back.

I remember little about the service itself, which should not be taken necessarily as a shot against the speaker, as I've little memory of many of the sermons I've listened to in my life. After he finished, he did the usual thing such people seemed to do, inviting people up and even doing the "I see's a vision...there's a man with a problem with his need to come up here" type of thing. One of those announcements was for someone with a hurt leg, and of course the people I was with thought that had to me, and I limped forward.

I stood in a sort of line, and and speaker went along, touching people on the forehead and they fell. Then he came to me, and did the same thing, and I didn't fall.

I don't think that made him happy, but such is how it went. I didn't fall, felt no need to fall. He said some things to crowd, I can't remember what exactly, but I think it had something to do with being open to what the Spirit was doing. He tried again, and I'm pretty sure he gave a bit of a push to me forehead, but I still didn't fall. I guess he gave up, and went on the next person, who did fall.

With nothing else to do now, I limped back to my friends, my ankle still sore, and with an all-in-all not good impression of the events. We left not long after that. I limped for about a week afterwards, the ankle was still a bit sore for a few more weeks.

I do not doubt that God heals, I have known of such things happening. What I do doubt is the "demand that God heal you" mindset too often displayed by Charismatic faith healers, and have an active distaste for the "if you're sick you're not right with God" scam that seems part and parcel of the TV healer message.

The internet was something I discovered a bit later, but once I was on, I was hooked. I began researching stuff, and finding out things that were, well, unpleasant. Not so much about the mission per se, but about some of the people who were, well, friends of it. Of course, I also learned that simply because it's on the internet, doesn't mean it's the gospel truth. Still, that combined with things I heard about, began to bother me.

Eventually, I left that mission. My lack of comfort with the way they were going became an issue to me. It was amiable, and it was time.

That was a bit over four years ago. Not long after returning, I got the job at the print shop, doing work I enjoyed doing, a bit of graphic design work along with the usual printing duties. Got the apartment, got a bleed-edge video game system, settled in to a life more ordinary.

So that night, between watched snatches of grown over-muscled men rant like children and throw themselves in remarkable ways around and outside of the wrestling ring, I did some searching for things on the author and the book Gus had mentioned. It was a rather fruitful search.

The TiVo of wrestling ended, and I continued to search. It was a Friday, I had Saturday off, so time wasn't really on issue. After a while, I remembered about the noodled, but the water boiling thingy had clicked off, and the water had cooled, so I decided to skip it.

I finally went to bed, with the idea that this may prove rather more interesting then I had originally thought. Like I said, I was a bit familiar with the things said, but for the most part it had not be in my radar. Now it was, and not only that, it was having an influence on a friend. Maybe it was time to get to the bottom of whether this whole emergent this was good or not.

Monday, August 24, 2009

wally is my hero

Ok, going off-topic here, so hang on, or jump off, as you will...

talking, 1

First, a bit of an explanation.

A while back, I started writing a bit of something, kind of in response to McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christian". It would essentially be something like the book itself, a few people talking about stuff. It went a few chapters, then kind of died out, and it's unlikely it'll be continued, for what it's worth.

Had a thought, and decided that, if nothing else, it may be good to post what little I've done on it here. Maybe it'll be eye-openning to a few people, maybe it'll give some something to consider, maybe it'll actually help someone to not fall into whatever McLaren has fallen into.

So, saying all that, here we go...

It is only a few minutes walk from my apartment to the coffee house, and I usually walked it when I went there. Usually, depending on the weather.

On this late afternoon, the weather was fine. It was a Friday, I had finished work and come back to my place, had a quick dinner of some kind of noodle dish fixed in boiling water, collected my chess stuff, and set out.

The Lonely Mocha was not a large place, but large enough. Nor was it a dimly-lit counter-cultural type of place, which was fine as well, since I wasn't exactly a counter-cultural kind of guy. I'd like to think that's because I don't have the ostentation.

Ok, maybe it's time I introduce you to myself, at least a bit. Jon Smith, a bit over 30, single, likes chess and reading and board games and video games and recently started playing disc golf in order to get outside. Work at a print shop, make enough to get by, though will probably never be rich.

For a few months, a few people have been playing chess on Friday evenings at The Lonely Mocha. The proprietors have abided (abode?) our presence, and we do support the establishment, so it's a benefit to both of us.

There are about five of us who are regulars. We do sometimes have others show up to play, I think our high was nine, two or three weeks before.

None of us were masters, nor even experts. We're hacks, fish, guys who have regular jobs and some have families and really don't have the time nor the talent to push towards chess mastery. But we enjoy the game, and every now and again in a game one of us does something worth noting, though none but us will ever be know for it, I suppose. And our brilliancies probably aren't all that brilliant, anyway.

Two of us were already there when I arrived, and were already setting up for a blitz game. There was a bit of a line at the counter, so it took me a few minutes to order something, this time a chai latte, and another of us arrived while I was ordering. There were, of course, a few non-chess-players in The Lonely Mocha, too, some talking with each other, others on computers, one had what looked to be textbooks out and seemed to be studying. There was some background music playing, I think it was some kind of folksy stuff, which was usual for the LoMo, though every now and again one got some Blues, Muddy Waters or B.B.King or John Lee Hooker, in the mix, to my satisfaction.

I sat at a table beside the two who were playing, and watched the game progress. I wasn't certain, but I would have guessed it had started as a King's Indian Defense. The center was blocked, black had fianchettoed his king's bishop, there had been a few exchanges, pawns were being pushed by each player on opposite sides of the board. The two players were deeply into the game, making moves and gentle pressing the stoppers on the chess clock.

More time went on, some lines were opened, pieces exchanged, and they came to the endgame with six pawns each, white having a rook and bishop and black a rook and knight. The center was still closed, and the bishop was not very active, but black couldn't get his knight in a good spot, either. The players began hitting the chess clock with more force.

Time continued to run down, and then each had only seconds left. Moves came thick and fast, pieces were accidentally knocked over, rooks were exchanged, the clock began being hit with force as they tried to stop it before any more micro-seconds ran off then they could help, the bishop took the knight in a position that messed up black's pawns, white got a passed pawn on the queenside, and black finally resigned in a losing position. The tension immediately left the players and those of us watching, the player's shook hands and made comments about the game, and we joined in some, pointing out things we had seen (most of which probably wouldn't have really helped much anyway).

For much of the next couple of hours, I was into playing chess. We played each other in blitz games, two games against each person, alternating colors, with $3 from each of us at stake for the winner. I didn't have a good night, misplaying a pawn ending in one game, mishandling a Sicilian Dragon defense in another, and dropping a rook in one other one. Phil won the pool.

After that, I wasn't up for any more. I went up, got a regular flavor-of-the-day coffee, found a newspaper, and decided to relax a bit before heading back home. I was starting the funnies when Gus came and sat down across from me.

Gus was probably the youngest of us, college age, good guy, a bit erratic in his playing, but so were the rest of us. He was a student at one of the smaller colleges in the city, I'm not sure what he studied. He wasn't a big man, I suppose rather medium, and he always had a book pack with him, usually slung over his right shoulder.

"Hey, Jon." He said by way of greeting, and I set the paper aside. I'm not a very good people person, but didn't mind the interruption. Didn't really like the paper anyway, and the funnies are too often not so funny.

Also, Gus and I had a few times conversed about things. Many different things, politics and religions and women and sports and such. We weren't best friends, but I guess he respected me in some way. He was moderately active in one of the college's Christian groups, had talked about friends there and sometimes doing some of the stuff they did.

"Hello, Gus."

"Hey. I remember you saying one time, that you'd done some kind of overseas stuff, missions stuff I think, at one time."

I nodded, "Yes, I had." It wasn't something I talked about much. Not that I was ashamed of it, but it wasn't something I bragged about, either, and those times I had mentioned it, people seemed to either make far too big a deal about it, or basically ignore what I'd said. It had come up once or twice, not planned, and I hadn't done much more then mention it.

"I wonder. Well, I have a friend in the L--, and a few days ago, he gave me a book by some author. Said it was suppose to be really good, like it's suppose to make people think of things like God and church in different ways then they had before. I think I have it here with me."

Gus fished around in his pack for a moment, found it, and put it on the table between us.

"Interesting. May I?" He nodded, and I picked up the book. I recognized it, had even read a part of it, and was somewhat familiar with the author and people who were part of his...organization? Movement? "Have you read much of it?"

"Just a few chapters. Pretty heavy stuff, even if he is writing it kind of like a story. Or, I guess, more like a bunch of guys talking and trying to make sense of stuff, though it seems like the one guys already made sense of stuff and the others just ask questions."

I opened the book, and scanned a few pages. My earlier attempts at reading it had ended soon enough. Maybe I didn't have time for it, or maybe I had other things to do. Maybe it just wasn't that big a deal to me, at that time.

"Jon, you believe in God and all that, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"Good, 'cause I don't really know what to make of all of this. Yeah, I know there is a God, and yes I'm a Christian, but what about what people like are saying? This whole postmodern thing they're talking about and writing about? Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I do, maybe a little."

"I mean, you know me, and know that I'm involved with some of the Christian groups. That's fine, I've been to their stuff a time or two, pretty good people, no complaints. But if I listen to them long enough, I'd come away thinking that all they think we think about is sex."

"You mean it's not?" I was joking.

"Well, there's beer, too."


"Anyway, to be serious, I know they mean well, and I'm probably not being fair to them. Some of the other students do seem to think about little else then, well, getting into bed with others. I'm interested in the whole dating thing, sure, but I hope I'm not so shallow that it's the most important thing for me."

"That's likely, but what about the book?"

"I don't know. Like I said, I haven't read much, so I'm not ready to say if it's good or not. Heck, I don't even know enough to say whether it's good or not. I mean about God and religion and stuff. I haven't believed for all that long, only a bit over a year. Still, his whole thing about this thing called postmodernism and that how we think now is different then how we thought even a few years ago, and we don't care as much for reason and evidence as our dad's did, and it's all a good thing, I don't know. It's deep stuff, and I don't know what to make of it."

"Can I help in any way?"

"Can you read it. Well, I'll read it, too, but can you read it, too?"

I was a bit taken aback, but not much. Truth to tell, our talk had made me curious to try again to read it. Whether I would have gone looking for it or not if he hadn't asked, is another thing. Maybe if I had stumbled on it, I may have gotten it then, but I doubt I would have put any special effort into finding a copy.

"Well, that's an idea. Maybe I will. I need to visit the library tomorrow anyway, they may have a copy. Do you have a pen?"

"Sure." He hunted around in his bag again, and found one. I took it, and wrote the name of the book and author on a piece of paper that was taken from my wallet.

"There it is. Shall we meet here in a few days, to see what we think about it."

"Sure, Jon, sure. Do you have a phone number?"

"Yes, but try e-mail." I wrote that down on a scrap, and he gave me his.

“I'll get right on it," he said. "And maybe we can figure this stuff out. Next week, this time?"

"Sounds good. It's not a big book, but it may take me a few days to finish it, what with work and video games and all."

"Priorities, man, I know."

"Well, don't worry. I'll have it finished by next Friday."

We talked a few more minutes, then he went back to play some more chess. I finished the comics, read a few other things, bade my good-byes to the other players, then walked home.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

but fiction is so much more fun

But many people seem to share my hunch that neither a formulaic religious approach nor a materialistic secular approach has it all nailed down. Think of all the people who in recent years have read (or seen) The Da Vinci Code--not just as a popular page-turner but as an experience in shared frustration with the status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. Why is the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book more interesting, more attractive, and more intriguing to these people than the standard version of Jesus they hear about in churches? Why would they be disappointed to hear that Brown's version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church's conventional version? Is it possible that even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice?
Brian McLaren, the secret message of jesus, p. X

I suppose one may really wonder if he truly expects this "sympathy for the devil" approach to really lead anywhere good.

For example, he asks why people may prefer Brown's fictional Jesus to the real one. But a follow-up may be asked, why should they not? For one thing, fiction is often on the surface more interesting than real life. One reason for that is because fictional character, even historical fiction ones, do things that, likely, a real person cannot do--go on long journeys to throw rings into volcanoes, fly to the stars, descend to the depths of the earth, take shotguns to zombies, and so on. Considering the large amount of fiction out there, in reading and viewing materials (and as one who reads and views fiction a lot, I'm not prepared to condemn it, but it is an observation), I would say that people are likely disposed to seeing fiction as interesting, especially as compared to the supposed mundaneness of their own lives.

But there is more to this than that, I think, especially as it relates to Jesus. If we could go back to Jesus' day, or maybe a bit after, say a few years after His resurrection, and told people the types of things about Jesus which Brown writes about--Jesus didn't really die, he was secretly married, and so on--who would be the people who would most likely believe those tales? While there would likely be scattering over several circles, I think it safe to say that those who would be most against Him and His Church would be the ones most likely to buy into the stories. Remember, they were the ones who started the tradition of remaking His history to their own ends, with bribing the guards at His tomb to say that He hadn't really resurrected, but to instead say that His body had been stolen.

Anything, then, that would have lessened the impact of the real Jesus would have been welcomed by them.

And, so, we come to today. Who would most welcome these revisions of Jesus' life? Look at the peope who even now say that the Gospels are mostly fake history, or those who say that Jesus' death would be an example of "divine child abuse" if it really happened. Look at those who really have bought into the Gnostic things Brown delves into. Look at those who say truncate Jesus' life, saying that the real Jesus has largely been lost in this early-church-created fiction of Jesus as Christ. Dan Brown is far from the only person out there playing shenanigans with Jesus' life. The only reason he's gotten so much press is that he's likely been the most popular one, and his work, being a work of fiction, has been most accessible to people.

But the fact that some (even many) people prefer a fictional Jesus to the real one doesn't invalidate in itself the message of Jesus that the church has given to the world. The church has been far from perfect, yes, but as well, it has been far from the blight that many, included McLaren, have at times tried to spin it as (the fact that Brown focus' on the Catholic church, a large but rather controversial section of the church with many very questionable teachings and practices, makes the debate tricky). The real Jesus is hard, He demands things, and even unpleasant things.

He tells people to repent of their sins, and they may not want to, especially of sins they enjoy. They would rather grasp for any straw that lets them think that their sin isn't really sinful, or that those who say it is sin have their own problems and shouldn't judge.

He tells people to take up their cross and follow Him, and they would rather not do that. Better to put on a show, change the standards to fit ones own desires, than take up an instrument of death and really follow Him.

Little about the real Jesus would appeal to fallen man. They may like the miracles, and can find ways to make the parables fit their own ends with a little creative reinterpretation or deconstruction, but when all else fails, they'll turn to the fictionalized versions to fill in the gaps.

So, Brown's popularity is not really a signal against the church, but only another example of how people would trade the truth of God for a lie.

follow the crowd

Scholares believe that the word sex is related to the Latin word secare, which means "to sever, to amputate, or to disconnect from the whole". This is where we get words like sect, section, dissect, bisect.

Our sexuality, then, has two dimensions. First, our sexuality is our awareness of how profoundly we're severed and cut off and disconnected. Second, our sexuality is all of the ways we go about trying to reconnect.
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 40

Bell plays pretty fast and loose with the concept of sexuality in this book, essentially broadening the definition for sex to mean any way in which people connect with each other. Outside of a general ickiness when one thinks of that in connection with some kinds of relationships (parent/child, buddy/buddy, siblings), he gets rather confusing in his use of the term.

These moments (special moments) move us because they have a sexual dimension. They help us become reconnected. They go against our fallen nature, which is to be cut off.

This is why music is so powerful...

Music is powerful because it is sexual. It connects us...The experience of a great concert--with everyone singing together, waving their hands in the air, and a feeling of oneness permeating the room--has a significant sexual dimension to it.
p. 41

This is a confusing play on language. There is simply no need to start using sexual language for any of these things.

Plus, one can question whether any of those experiences is necessarily good in and of themselves. For example, he refers to what he experiences at music concerts. I can think of something like Woodstock, quite infamous for drugs and sex.Did that "feeling of oneness" maybe cause some people to loose their inhibitions and their minds, and do things they later regretted (or should have regretted)?

Or what about other concerts, where the "feelings of oneness" led to senseless violence?

What he seems to be writing about seems more like a group mentality, or mob mentality, where individualism is lost for a time in some kind of collective drive, be it to sex or violence or what have you. Far from glorying in those experiences, there seems to be reasons to view them with at best skepticism.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

baby angst?

The woman (Eve) is told that there is going to be conflict between her and the man. The man is told that there is going to be conflict between him and the soil.

And this is where you and I come in. We were born into a world, into a condition of disconnection. Things were created in a certain way, and they're not that way, and we feel it in every fiber of our being.

Is this why the first thing newborns do is cry?
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 40

One wouldn't suppose that the first thing a newborn does is cry because, well, the first thing that happens to it is that the doctor spanks it, would one?

And he does it for the child's own good, too, to help it to start breathing. If he doesn't, the child will suffocate. Severe damage or even death may result from it.

While kind of seeing his point, Bell does go a bit far with the newborn analogy. One must go a ways before saying that those just born are experiencing existential angst.