Friday, July 27, 2007

The Peacemaker as the Anti-Christ?

Below you will find a link to a brief video made by a Jewish young man named Mr. Max Blumenthal. He decided to visit the recent CUFI (Christians United for Israel) meeting led by Rev. Hagee and his friends. There are many things that are chilling about this video but here are my top five:

1) the Anti-Christ will be a person who will seek to make peace between the Arabs/Palestinians and the Jews

2) Armaggedon is something to look forward to, when we will have 'the cleansing of the earth'.

3) U.S. support for Israel should be unconditional, regardless of how they treat Palestinian Christians

4) If we want to participate in the second coming of Jesus, then we have to unconditionally support Israel from now until then, regardless of their policies or behaviors, otherwise we miss out on the parousia blessing.

5) It's a Biblical idea to have a pre-emptive strike on Iran before they cause more trouble for Israel.

Oh yes, there was also the tidbit about Hagee's multi-million dollar salary, ranch etc. So much for following the examples of the early church as described in Acts 2-6, who forsook all self-centered self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing behavior.

It seems that Rev. Hagee has given up on the beatitudes of Jesus, which among other things blesses the peacemakers and the poor. Indeed, it seems Rev. Hagee has managed to give up on the sovereignty of God as well since the NT is perfectly clear that 'vengeance is mine, I will repay' says the Lord. The NT is emphatic about Christians leaving issues of final justice in the Middle East and elsewhere in the hands of God, and not taking up weapons to try and exact some poor flawed human vision of justice. No one is worthy to unseal the seals of the wrath of God on human wickedness except Jesus himself, according to the book of Revelation. No One. Not the U. S. , not Israel-- no one. We have no more to do with Armageddon than the Israelites had to do with causing the original plagues on Egypt. Indeed Armageddon is according to Rev. 20-21 the day when Jesus simply calls down fire from heaven on the ungodly. There will be no final battle, simply a word of judgment by the Lord and then the end. And none of the events in the Middle East right now have anything to do with Armageddon. That's all in God's hands, not ours.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this video is not how many Christians have bought this horribly distorted view of the Gospel and the future, and fervently believe it too, but how very clear it is that the mixing together of bad theology with bad politics results in a Devil's brew which makes the Gospel say just the opposite of what it says.

Christians, are called, here and everywhere to be followers of the example of the prince of peace, and to be peacemakers. If they wish to be vocal supporters of any persecuted group, it should be their fellow Christians including Palestinian Christians in the first place and others thereafter.

Even more disturbing is the schitzophrenia of affirming the Gospel of peace for one's personal life and spiritual development, and longing for peace for oneself, whilst support the politics of destruction, bombing, and general mayhem in the Middle East. Jesus said "inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me." Perhaps, you will remember how Saul was confronted on Damascus road about his persecution of Christians. Jesus' words are chilling "Why are you persecuting me?" Well frankly, this is precisely what Jesus is asking Rev. Hagee right now because of his support of the destruction of the homes, families, and lands of Palestinian Christians by means of Israeli policy.

We should all be praying for the peace of Jerusalem, as Jesus himself did. And we should do all we can to support the recent efforts to bring peace between President Abbas and the non-Hamas Palestinians and Israel, so Jews and Christians and Moslems can live in some sort of uneasy peace in the Holy Land until the Lord returns, whenever that may be. It will not be politics at all that sorts things out in the Middle East-- it will only be the return of Christ. Short of that we are called upon to pray for and work for peace in that region.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Paul on Spirit-filled Living,the Singing of Praise Songs, and Mutual Submission


One of the more obviously relevant texts for the discussion of modern Christian worship is Ephesians 5.18-21, which involves a series of clauses all dependent on a main verb that talks about behavior in worship. In vs. 18 we have a clear contrast– 'do not get drunk with wine (Paul does not say do not drink wine, but rather don’t engage in dissipation), but rather be filled in Spirit'. This contrast is also found in the Pentecost story in Acts 2 and suggest that early Christian worship was often ecstatic and jubilant, involving loud singing. The outsider might have a hard time telling the difference between exuberant praising (especially if it involved singing in tongues) and a drunk person singing and carousing. It is not impossible that Paul is contrasting Christian worship with Bacchic rites which involved drunkenness and frenzy and orgiastic behavior. In any case, it should be noted that Paul says to Christians who already have the Spirit “be filled” and the verb is in the present continual tense.

Here Paul might be referring to the sort of repeated fillings that happen to Christians who already have the full measure of the Spirit, but are inspired in spiritually high moments to speak and sing. In such cases it is a matter of the indwelling Spirit inspiring and lifting up the individual, not a matter of the individual getting more of the Spirit. They are caught up in love and wonder and praise and adoration of God by the Spirit that moves them.
John Chrysostom is right in suggesting that Paul is contrasting intoxication that leads to one sort of singing and inspiration which leads to another. He is not talking about some second work of grace or of sanctification here, as the contrast makes clear. “For they who sing psalms are filled with the Holy Spirit, as they who sing satanic songs are filled with an unclean spirit. What is meant by ‘with your hearts to the Lord’? It means with close attention and understanding. For those who do not attend closely, merely sing, uttering the words, while their heart is roaming elsewhere.” (Hom. Ephes XIX). Rudolph Schnackenburg says that Paul means singing from the bottom of one’s heart, and so it is an exhortation to heartfelt and sincere praise and singing. There is a difference between mere ecstatic uttering of things, and heartfelt praise which is an act of adoration.
Perhaps Paul knew about the Dionysiac rituals in which getting drunk was seen as the means of achieving religious ecstasy or frenzy or spiritual exaltation (cf. Is. 28.7; Philo, Ebr. 147-48; Vita Cont. 85,89; Macrobius, Sat. I.18.1; Hippolytus, Ref. 5.8.6-7). Since early Christian worship took place not only in the context of a home, but also often in the context of a fellowship meal, the issue of drunkenness and worship were not unrelated issues for Pauline Christians as 1 Cor. 11 demonstrates.
As Fee points out, what often gets overlooked in the discussion of Ephes. 5.18-21 is that we have a series of participles that modify the exhortation to be filled by/with the Spirit– speaking, singing, giving thanks, submitting. He also rightly notes that the emphasis here is not on the ecstasy producing potential of the Spirit, but on being filled, or having the fullness of the Spirit’s presence. Nor is the emphasis on being ‘high’ or drunk on the Spirit as opposed to being drunk from wine. Rather the picture is of individuals and a community together being totally given over to the Spirit and the Spirit’s presence and leading.
Philo seems to describe something of the Sitz im Leben Paul has in mind here: “Now when grace fills the soul, that soul thereby rejoices and smiles and dances, for it is possessed and inspired, so that to many of the unenlightened it may seem to be drunken, crazy, and beside itself....For with those possessed by God not only is the soul wont to be stirred and goaded as it were into ecstasy but the body is also flushed and fiery... and thus many of the foolish are deceived and suppose that the sober are drunk” (De Ebr. 146-48). Far from being filled with the Spirit leading to dissipation or drunkenness, Paul affirms it leads to wisdom and to the spirit of a sound mind and to the proper adoration and singing that all of God’s creatures should render back to God. In other words, it is the key to living the Christian life in a manner pleasing to God and edifying to others as well as one’s self.
The Spirit is both the means and the substance of the filling, and vs. 19 tells what sort of response the Spirit prompts in the believer. Christians sing hymns to Christ and also give thanks to God through the impulse and empowering of the Spirit. Note the implicitly Trinitarian nature of this discussion. The life of the Spirit-filled community is to be characterized by joyful singing, thanksgiving, and submitting to one another. “If believers were only filled with wisdom, the influence would be impersonal; however the filling by the Spirit adds God’s personal presence, influence, and enablement to walk wisely, all of which are beneficial to believers and pleasing to God. With the indwelling each Christians has all of the Spirit, but the command to be filled by the Spirit enables the Spirit to have all of the believer.” (H. Hoehner).
It is possible that the three sorts of songs mentioned in vs. 19 had differing forms. 'Psalmos' probably means psalms, usually praise songs with accompaniment, since the term originally meant ‘to pluck a string’. 'Hymnois' may be more hymn-like liturgical and acappella pieces which were pre-written, and spiritual songs may mean spontaneous songs from the heart prompted by the Spirit, but we can’t be certain about any of this (cf. Col.3.16). This could just be another example of Asianism, with the love for piling up near synonyms. “It is likely that in the singing and chanting traditional elements such as Jewish liturgical materials were combined with ecstatic, innovative tendencies.” (M. MacDonald).
What we can be sure of is that Paul says these songs are to be addressed, surprisingly enough, to each other, rather than just to God! They are to speak to one another in songs of praise. This makes clear that worship is not just a matter of adoration, but also involves edification. Vs. 19c probably does not mean ‘only in your hearts’, but rather ‘in a heartfelt way’ understanding that it is ultimately to the Lord. Perhaps what is meant is that the internal praise is to the Lord, but the external praise is to each other. We are always to do this in the spirit of thanksgiving (cf. 1 Thess. 5.18), and we are to do it, submitting ourselves to one another.
It is not to be a protracted display of ego, and as 1 Cor. 14 suggests believers are to defer to each other, taking turns. Notice too that here, as in 1 Cor. 14 nothing suggests a clergy dominated worship service. Everyone is allowed to join in and participate as the Spirit leads them. If we ask what the relationship is between the material in Ephes. 5.1-20 and the material found in 5.21-6.9 the answer is that a general discussion of sanctified or holy living leads to a particular example of what sanctified living looks like, namely in the Christian family. Schnackenburg is right that we find this very same sort of ethical discussion in the earlier Paulines, for example in 1 Thess.4.3-7 where we find another exhortation to holiness in relationships.
Finally, it is worth stressing that the clause submitting to another out of reverence for Christ" provides the transition from the previous paragraph to the household code which follows, such that mutual submission of all Christians to each other is then illustrated by the sort of mutual submission that goes on between wife and husband in Christian marriage. Ephes. 5.21 is the heading for the following discussion of marriage, indeed so much is this the case that there is no verb in Ephes. 5.22a-- in the Greek it simply says 'wives to husbands as to the Lord'. One must fill in the verb in 5.22a from 5.21 and this in turn means that what the verb meant in 5.21 is also what it must mean in 5.22-- indeed there are not two occurrences of the verb, only one, and the context in 5.21 is clearly that of mutual submission of all Christians to each other, in this case in the social context of worship. What follows from this observation is that Paul will go on to explain what mutual submission looks like in the context of Christian marriage-- wives to their own husbands, and husbands self-sacrificially loving their wives as Christ loves the church. The important point is that self-sacrificial Christ-like love is most certainly seen as a form of submission, the husband submitting to and serving the wive, just as she does for him.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Novel Ideas for Summer Reading

On a day when we have reached the eschaton of Harry Potter novels, it is appropriate to talk about summer reading, and what might be profitable. J.K. Rowling is certainly a good writer in the English spirit and style, but her works while very creative and entertaining are not classic prose. She does not have the skill of a Tolkien, nor the wit and grace of a P.D. James or Paul Doherty or an Ellis Peters, but she has become, perhaps rightly the most celebrated writer of British fiction in our time. As a teacher I can only applaud anyone who manages to entice children and young adults raised in the computer age to read actual books rather than endlessly staring at a computer screen. It is a puzzling fact that while many of the young will spend endless hours reading and writing words on a screen, the same youth can not be persuaded to read an actual book. This makes not sense to me, but then I grew up B.C.-- before computer.

While it is not a famous saying, it is possible to suggest that the aphorism 'you are what you read' has more truth than platitude in it. I often tell my students who want to write better that learning how to write well requires reading good books, and through a process of osmosis one's style improves under the influence of the masters. Read the great classics of English literature ranging from Shakespeare to Marlowe to Milton to Hawthorne to Melville to Steinbeck-- I could go on. But my subject for today is more popular level literature, often consumed while lying on a beach in the summer.

Not surprisingly, I have a special penchant for historical novels, especially those that deal with my period-- the Biblical era. My friend Richard Bauckham over a decade ago gave me a novel by Steven Saylor-- a Texan with a love for the classics, and a good ability to write. I have enjoyed over the years reading his novels about Gordianus the Finder, set in the first century A.D. He writes very well, and the stories are always interesting, and meticulously accurate when it comes to the historical settings and facts that appear in the novels. In this regard his writing is like that of Coleen McCullough of the same ilk, and like McCullough he has recently published not only a collection of short stories of relevance to Gordianus lovers (entitled 'A Gladiator Only Dies Once'), and even more recently this spring a length novel called 'Roma'. Epic in scope, and breath-taking in drama and detail, this novel in conception is much like Mitchener's famous 'The Source' in which the story of one family who lived in basically one place is told through many centuries and generations. Saylor does not acknowledge in the afterword his debt to 'The Source' but the conception of the novel is too similar to be accidental.

'Roma' is a novel of 549 pages (plus afterword) published by St. Martin's Press in hardback, and a splendid read indeed. The problem of course with such a novel is that when you are covering from 1000 B.C. to 1 A.D. you must skip a lot, and when you are doing successive generations in a story there is no continuity in this respect-- you cannot follow the story of one person throughout. New characters have to be continuously introduced because time marches on, and death prevails over all. One of the salient impressions left by this novel is just how much human hubris especially male hubris has prompted mayhem, war, and destruction, but also great constructions, and the like as well. The lust for power, fame, and money (not necessarily in that order) is a constant besetting sin of every fallen human generation, and Saylor tells the tale well. When he comes to the very end of his story, chronicling the rise and the fall of the Roman Republic, the rise of the Empire, the great stories of Romulus and Remus, or Scipio Africanus or the Gracchi brothers or Julius Caesar, he has his final central character Lucius Penarius offer this reflection:

"Men like Romulus or Alexander or Caesar could seemingly arise from nowhere and change everything. If men could become gods, anything was possible. Might the older gods, like men someday perish altogether? Who could say what might be occurring at that very moment somewhere else in the world-- perhaps in some obscure backwater at the empire's edge-- where the birth of a certain man or movement might alter the world's destiny once again? Perhaps Jupiter might be thrown down, to be replaced by another king of heaven! Not only one empire and one emperor but one god: Might such a world not represent an even greater state of perfection? Lucius banished the blasphemous thought, and concentrated instead on the earthly splendor of the receding retinue of Caesar Augustus, emperor of Roma, surely the greatest of all men who had ever lived or even would live on earth." (p. 549).

Of course Lucius is more prescient than he realizes, for at that very moment in time Jesus was growing up in Galilee, and unlike the over-reaching of Octavius Caesar who was a man who would be king and then declare himself a god whilst alive (even eclipsing his Uncle Julius who was divinized in and after death) Jesus did not strive to become a god through his deeds and conquerings and building projects. His was not an example of human over=reach. To the contrary his was an example of a God come down and accepting the humiliation of becoming human and mortal. As Phil. 2.5-11 tells the tale so ably-- humility and not hubris is what characterized the divine condescension through Incarnation of God's only Son.

Saylor's writings are serious prose, and often serious commentary on Roman life spiced up with mysteries to solve (at least in the Gordianus sub Rosa novels). If a somewhat lighter fare is more to your summer taste, then I would commend any of the novels by Lindsey Davis about Marcus Didius including the most recent one Saturnalia which also came out this spring. Davis is much more witty and charming in style than Saylor (or Rowling for that matter), and her stories are good old fashion mysteries to solve. Yet she does get her period right (the era of the Vespasian family rule in the 70s through 90s-- Vespasian, then Titus, then the dread Domitianus) and her details mosty right, all the while leaving a wry grin on one's face. Marcus Didius Falco is a bit of rogue, and until he met his match in Helena Justina (a patrician woman far above his station) a bit of a rake, given to spying for pay, and investigating crimes, including working for the Emperor himself. Along the way he has tight scrapes, hilarious pratfalls, and gets stuck with fun jobs like being caretaker of the sacred geese. There could hardly be a more painless way to learn some Roman history than by reading Davis' novels.

The latest one focuses on the 'Saturnalia' a winter fruitbasket turnover of a festival in which the slaves get to be the masters and the master must be slaves for a few days. This festival which began at the winter solstice on Dec. 21 has absolutely nothing to do with the later celebration of Christmas, despite many syncretists suggestion that it does. Saturnalia was basically over before one got to Dec. 25th, which was not considered a special day by the Romans at all. During the holiday in this novel, slaves keep turning up dead and dumped on the streets of Rome. Falco must discover why.

If ancient historical novels and mysteries are not your cup of tea, you might want to try the new novel by a Christian writer, Annie Dillard, famous for her award-winning book of many years ago, 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek'. Annie has a unique, and sometimes convoluted prose style which requires pondering and reflection. Her work cannot be sped read with profit, it requites savoring and reflection, and pausing along the way. Her latest is entitled 'The Maytrees' and is not, or not primarily about nature (unlike some of her previous work), but rather about the love of a man whose name is Maytree and a maid named Lou on Cape Cod in a bygone era. Here is a small sample of her prose about marital love between two passionate persons:

"After they married, she learned to feel their skin as double-sided. They felt a pause. Theirs was too much feeling to push through the crack that led down to the dim world of time and stuff. That world was gone. They held themselves alert only in those few million cells where they touched. She learned from those cells his awareness and courtesy. Love so spran at her, she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it. .. She shipwrecked on the sheets. She surfaced like a dynamited bass. She opened her eyes and discovered where on the bed she had fetched up. She lay spread as a film and as fragile." (p. 31). If this makes you blush or smile a wry smile, then either you are Christian or married or both. But that sensation of complete abandonment to that joyous thought obliterating moment is nicely captured by Dillard here and elsewhere.

One final word of warning. Saylor's novel is quite long. If you want a shorter one that is equally or more compelling then read his 'A Mist of Prophecies'. The Davis novel goes by as easy as cherry pie, and as for the 'Maytrees' it is an exceedingly short book (216 pages total text) on a large and important subject, namely love.

Friday, July 20, 2007

'Hairspray'-- Another Hare Brained Musical?

The heyday of musicals has long since come and gone. In fact they peaked in the late 50s and early 60s (think 'Music Man', 'Oklahoma', or the real blockbuster that basically killed off the genre for a generation-- 'The Sound of Music'). Basically those sorts of musicals were exported from the Broadway stage in NY to the studios in L.A. and became major films. 'Hairspray' is in fact another good example of that sort of phenomenon. The difference of course is that in film, you can fake the singing, whereas on stage, either you got it or you don't when it comes to singing and dancing.

Of course there have been notable surprises in the past twenty years that showed that the musical on film could still be a hit-- 'Grease' of course was a good example (and the music in 'Hairspray' is mostly a recreation of that same do wop period), and more recently 'Chicago' was certainly first rate and won various awards. How then will 'Hairspray do?

First of all it seems clear that the producers realized that two things were required-- star power and great music and dancing. Fortunately for the producers the music was already widely acclaimed to be good from the reviews of the Broadway play, so it was more about the casting. So what did they do? Well they picked two people who had been absolute stars of the two biggest more recent examples of this genre--- John Travolta from 'Grease' fame, and Queen Latifah from 'Chicago' fame. But not satisfied with that, they went out and got Michelle Pfeiffer to play the mol who is the TV show producer, and Christopher Walken as Travolta's--- well husband (you see Travolta plays the stay at home big momma who takes in laundry in this movie). And as if that were not enough we have Allison Janey in a cameo role as a really up tight Catholic mom. At center stage however is first timer Nikki Blonsky from N.Y. who is only three years away from watching 'Hairspray' as a mere spectator. She is terrific, as is the cast in general. Interestingly the setting for the show is not NY or NJ, but rather Baltimore. Who knew Baltimore was the center of the do wop universe?

Movie musicals are usually about as mainstream and apple pie as one could possibly imagine, shying away from anything that looks like controversy, but not 'Hairspray'. No indeed. Not only does it plug the message 'it's o.k. to be big and beautiful' (with Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Blonsky all doing their part to show its o.k. for the large to be in charge and 'get down'), but in fact this show turns into an integration and inter-racial dating promo as well-- all set in 1962 Baltimore. Which part of trying to do too many things in one play/ film don't they get? Yet somehow it all comes together and works.

Now about the music, because without the music, well, let's just say the plot will not be winning any awards for creativity or best script. The music, with hommages to big band music, show tunes, do wop, and even some soul and gospel, is first rate, and original. Because it is a musical we expect a lot of music, but in 'Hairspray' as in 'Chicago' it is almost non stop upbeat music, some of which goes for the jugular as pull out all the stops huge dance numbers with big finishes. Undoubtedly the producer and director wanted this film to have the same energy and drive as the play, and they succeeded quite well. There is very little dialogue or plain talking in this movie. And this brings us to an important point.

Musicals like opera, requires a significant suspension of disbelief. As the old saying goes in opera when someone is stabbed instead of dying right away, they sing for a while. In musicals, almost anything serves as an excuse for singing and dancing-- even detention at high school is turned into a song and dance routine. If detention had been like that, I would have tried to sit in on that class. You have to love music and dancing, to suspend your disbelief as much as is required for a movie like 'Hairspray' to work. And yet it does work.

The movie clocks in at a breathless one hour and 47 minutes (you have to be in shape to sing and dance that long almost non-stop), and it ably re-creates the feel of 1962 when the Platters and the Drifters and the Coasters were kings. And this brings up another point. The Beatles had not yet hit America, changing it forever musically, nor frankly had major integration marches hit the streets before a little later in the 60s. This show then is stealing a message from later in the 60s while wanting to live musically earlier in the 60s. No matter-- this show is not trying to be a history lesson, just some fun with a little social conscience.

Inquiring minds may want to know-- does Travolta work as a large woman? Well, yes, and no. His voice is frankly too phony southern to suit a real southerner like myself. On the other hand Michelle Pfeiffer does a racist Cat woman impression pretty good, and Christopher Walken is just plain funny as the father/ husband and owner of the novelty shop The Hardy Har Hut. I could have done without the slam on over-protective Catholic mothers, as played out quite brilliantly by Allison Janey, but then there were folks like that, in that era. Unfortunately Christianity doesn't come off to well in this film.

Is this a film for families to see? Well, I guess it depends on the family. If they are teens and adults, I suppose it will be fine, but some of the racier dancing and innuendo in this film will be too much for some Christian families. The joy and fun of the music doesn't overcome all the drawbacks of the film. Is 'Hairspray' another hare-brained musical? Well no, it's not. Nor is it mere fluff either. But whether it will win the awards 'Chicago' won is doubtful. As summer fun however, many are already enjoying it.

The Seer's Tower

From here I can see tomorrow,

From here I can see the shore,

From here I can see the future,

But I ask myself, what for?

Somewhere between curse and blessing

Between help and hindrance

Is knowing what’s coming

Preparing for the dance.

Would you want to know the outcome,

If it turned out you would lose?

Would you want to know the verdict,

If it’s not what you would choose?

Would you want to know the future,

If it ends badly for those you love?

Would you want to know the future

If it’s a vulture, not a dove?

But what if the future’s not totally fixed

And there’s still time for a change?

What if it’s not all written in stone,

And hope’s not out of range?

What if God only gives us glimpses

Of what will someday be,

But he let’s us fill in the blanks

Between here and eternity?

What if we have a role to play

In the grander scheme of things,

What if we have at least some say,

In who will wear the rings?

What if God only reveals

Enough of the future today

To give us hope and encouragement

But not remove the need to pray?

What if we see through a glass darkly,

And most of the objects aren’t clear,

Things look closer in the mirror,

Than they actually are from here?

Pundits and prognosticators

The weather men of time,

Are often over-confident

Ridiculous, not sublime.

Take predicting the return of Jesus,

Many have boldly bet,

They all have one thing in common,

They’ve never been right—yet.

When you have that sort of failure rate

Reticence is required

Lest you be dubbed false prophet,

Your predictor’s license expired.

The prophecies raises expectations

That God will see things through

They don’t encourage calculations,

Which tell God when he’s due.

Prophecy is not about calculation

Nor prognostication at all

Those are human preoccupations

Not part of the Almighty’s call

Prophecy is about God’s promise

That all will be well one day,

It does not tell us when or where

It’s not for us to say.

Prophecy paints the big picture,

Of justice and mercy at last,

It does not give us the co-ordinates

It does not say how fast.

There’s a reason for this reticence

God’s in control of time

He has not handed us the helm,

Only He knows the reason and rhyme.

Only he knows what is best for all of us,

Only he knows when to bring it to pass

Only he knows where it’s all going,

And how long it ought to last.

God will never make our lives

So we don’t need to trust

He will never make his creatures

So that prayer is not a must.

We will always be his creatures

Who must rely on his loving care

I am sure he is tired of our asking

“Aren’t we already almost there?”

When faith finally becomes sight,

And hopes are realized,

When the eschatological dust clears

And we see with new creation eyes

There will be one thing left standing

That we’ve been trusting all along,

A loving God’s desire and ability

To finish his own love song.

The reason love is yet greater

Than faith or even hope,

Is because it endures forever

And enables us to cope.

Climb down from your own seer’s tower

Place your life in the Father’s hands,

For he always knows what’s best for us,

And he gives what he commands.

Stop writing fear-based fiction

It needs to be left behind

It dishonors our loving Maker

Abandons the faith-based design.

Someday we will see our Savior

Someday we will know, as we're known,

In the meantime stop playing God,

And leave the future alone.

When Christ returns let him find you,

Doing what he made us for,

Loving people into the kingdom,

Feeding and clothing the poor.

Inasmuch as you've done it unto the least of these,

You've done it unto the Lord,

Let him find you imitating his actions,

Not frightening the faithful but bored.

Let him who runs read the writing

That's written on the wall,

'Take up your cross and follow me,

Sacrifice and serve them all'.

'Parting is all we know of heaven,

And all we need of hell'*,

Those who simply trust the Lord,

Will find that they've done well.

July 20 2007


* E. Dickinson-- Poem 96, "My Life Closed Twice..."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gender Battles that Compute

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

"House" for instance, is feminine: "la casa."

"Pencil," however, is masculine: "el lapiz."

A student asked, "What gender is 'computer'?"

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether "computer" should be a masculine or a feminine noun.

Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that "computer" should definitely be of the feminine gender ("la computadora") because:
1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory
for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ("el computador") because:
1. In order to do
anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and,

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

I'm sure you know who won!


A couple drove down a country road for several miles not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument and neither of them wanted to concede their position.

As they passed a barnyard of mules, goats, and pigs, the husband asked sarcastically, "Relatives of yours?"
"Yep," the wife replied, "in-laws."


A husband read an article to his wife about how many words women use a day...30,000 to a man's 15,000.
The wife replied, "The reason has to be because we have to repeat everything to men...
The husband then turned to his wife and asked, "what ?"


A man said to his wife one day, "I don't know how you can be so stupid and so beautiful all at the same time.., "The wife responded, "Allow me to explain, God made me beautiful so you would be attracted to me; God made me stupid so I would be attracted to you!"


A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly, the man realized that the next day, he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 AM for an early morning business flight.

Not wanting to be the first to break the silence (and LOSE), he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at
." He left it where he knew she would find it.

The next morning, the man woke up, only to discover it was
9:00 AM
and he had missed his flight....
Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't wakened him, when he noticed a piece of paper
by the bed. The paper said, "It is
5:00 AM, Wake up." Men are not equipped for these kinds of contests....


God may have created man before woman, but there is always a 'rough draft 'before the masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Long Day's Journey-- My Boston Marathon Experience

O.k., so the picture is sideways. That's about how I got across the finish line in the Boston Marathon-- crawling sideways. Turn your computer sideways and look. Actually if you right click on the picture, I gather you can make it much bigger and right side up in Adobe Photoshop.

And yes that's really me crossing the finish line at the Prudential tower, completely out of gas. I finished behind most of the elite runners, and ahead of Mayor Flynn. It was a very hot day for Patriot's day in April 1993, and many of the elite runners dropped out of the race by Heartbreak hill.

But what I want to talk about in this post is how physical experiences can prompt, or actually be amazing spiritual experiences. There is something about reaching the end of yourself physically that seems to open yourself up to God in whole new ways. You reach what is often called a limnal state.

The race began with me walking to the front of the pack to get one fleeting glimpse of the elite runners-- the Kenyans and Nigerians. Enormous legs, otherwise they looked like they hadn't eaten in weeks. Very thin and wiry. I knew I would never see them again, so I figured I needed to see them at the start. You see there were over 5,000 runners on that day-- and as I said it was very hot for an April day. Lots of folks went out hard without drinking enough H20. I saw them later on stretchers on the side of the road at Wellsley-- it looked like a mash unit had come to town.

I saw some amazing sites along the way from Hopkinton to downtown Boston. For one thing I saw a man pushing his quadrapeligic son the whole 26 miles. He was running at a good clip too. I also saw a crazy person with a rainbow afro running back and forth across the course with a T shirt on that said 'Kiss me, I'm Jesus'. Somehow, I begged to differ. If that was Jesus incognito then for sure I had been practicing the wrong religion for many years.

And of course there were the temptations along the way--- one bar right along the road in Ashland Mass. had a big sign up-- 'stop in here-- free beer for the runners'. I wondered if they provided free Porto-johns down the road a few miles as well.

When I got to Chestnut Hill and passed BC there were a lot of Catholics out cheering us on-- some of those nuns had bad habits, but they were enthusiastic and I needed the help. I am not fast, but my stamina was pretty good back then. When I arrived at Newton the fire department was spraying everyone, including me, and when they saw I had the number 1993 (which was also the year) they wanted a group photo with me-- I said sure. I wish I had that photo now.

Heartbreak Hill, which is really several hills going for several miles through largely Jewish neighborhoods was tough for three reasons: 1) Alberto Salazar quit there he was so dehydrated. He had just won the NY marathon the previous year-- if he couldn't make it through the heat, why should I assume I could; 2) I ran into a young man half my age who was badly cramping up-- he was in tears. He had trained for a long time for this, and it was his dream to finish the Boston Marathon. It didn't look like it could happen on that day; 3) then there was the 75 year old granny shaming me up the hill. She was still running beside me and she said "Come on sonny, let's go up this hill". I was tempted to say "you go right ahead mam, I am basically dead." But somehow I got over that hill. Even Johnny Daily who had run the marathon since the 30s, and won it in the 30s had only run part of the race. Who was I to think I could finish?

When I got past Newton, the cable cars above ground were filled with portable cheering sections, otherwise known as students. They were moving minimally faster than me, but they were cheering me on. It was amazing. And then I turned the corner onto Commonwealth, and then I saw the Prudential tower and my legs buckled. I was overcome with emotion. I had been running on empty for a while and praying-- 'are you running with me Jesus'? Somehow he was there too.

And then there was my best friend standing at the finish line, Rick Sanders, taking my picture-- yes that picture above. Yes, it took me 5 hours to finish. I knew if I went too fast in the heat, I would never finish at all. But I did. When I crossed the finish line it was like I had entered the Kingdom. I collapsed in the arms of a lady who was a nurse, busy wrapping me in NASA foil. I was tempted to say-- 'great, that's just what I need, to conduct more heat to my body just now' but I was too exhausted to protest. With a lot of help from above, I had finished. I sat down and just wept-- tears of joy. Thanking the Lord. I had run a marathon once before in Cleveland in 1990 in the May heat, but it was nothing like this.

Which brings me to my subject for today. The interface between the physical and the spiritual. I have a theory. It is that we use an awful lot of things to hold God at bay in our lives. One of them is our physical resources. When we are feeling fine, we motor right along, but when we are sick, tired, and sick and tired, then we are all about calling on the One for extra help and strength. Sometimes we really do have to come to the end of ourselves to come to the beginning of God. What is remarkable is how patient God is with our arrogance and silliness as we hold Him at bay, and think we can take care of ourselves and are just fine.

Many years later I was studying Hebrews 11-12, and discovered that it talks about Jesus himself as the trailblazer and finisher of the race of faith and faithfulness. The text says we must keep our eyes on the lead runner, Jesus. It says we must leave behind the things that encumber us, particularly the sins that have been dragging us down like a runner's leg weights. Then it talks about being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, who are cheering us on to the heavenly or eschatological finish line. I felt that, that day.

You see marathoning is perhaps the loneliest of all competitions. You can't lean on anyone else, you can't coast on your bicycle for a while, it's not at all a team sport. Either you do it, or it doesn't get done, or so many would tell you. They see it as the ultimate expression of radical and rampant individualism, and individualistic accomplishment. But actually they are wrong. No one could run a 26 marathon if the course was not properly marked out. They would get lost. And in fact apart from the very lead runners, most would get lost anyway if there were not others running beside them and observers cheering them on, handing them water, spraying them down, etc. Most runners get tunnel vision in a long race and rely on sensing other runners around them to give them a sense they are on the right track. And then there are the shoes-- its all about the running shoes. Without them, maybe only a Kenyan or two could go the distance. Somebody else made the equipment that made it possible. Come to think of it, no one does it without a lot of help. You could never carry enough water on a day like that and run the whole course. Somebodies had to be spaced along the way with water to hand you.

But none of this is as important as the psychological strength, the inner strength to get there, and that needs bolstering at numerous times along the way, even if one is in good shape. There is still that seed of doubt, especially on a hot day, about whether it might be possible to go the distance. Which brings me back to my prayer-- Jesus WAS running with me. I sensed it strongly near the end when every sinew cried out--- 'stop the madness now'. I sensed it when I was overcome emotionally in seeing the Prudential tower.

Rarely, but occasionally in this life we get a glimpse of the veil being lifted and we see the interface between time and eternity, this world and the next. I saw it that day. I remembered the words of my favorite John Muir saying-- "Most days, we look at life from the back side of the tapestry, and all we see is loose ends, knots, dangling individual threads. But occasionally light shines through the tapestry, and we get a glimpse of the larger divine design, weaving together the darks and the lights into a beautiful pattern (see Rom. 8.28). All things did work together for good on that day, although afterwards I felt like a Norse God-- Thor, very Thor. I went home to Rick's and soaked in the tub for who knows how long-- with a Cheshire cat grin on my face. I had fought the good fight, run the race, and finished the course. It was a day I will never ever forget. But compared to the race to the Kingdom, and the endurance that takes, the Boston Marathon is but a small preview of such coming attractions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007



You don’t get there sooner

Running faster in that direction,

It only ruins your temper

Your color and complexion.


If you can’t remember

Whether you’ve been here before

I fear you’ll never find

The exit or the door.


You grow weary of the game

You grow wary of the claim

Cause all paths look the same,

And no one is to blame.


Did you take the trouble

To think the path through,

Before you even started,

Before you turned blue?


Are you going round in circles,

Retracing your selections,

Has it occurred to you,

To ask for directions?


Every turn you take,

Every move you make,

Every path you forsake,

Could be a mistake.


Some are not phased

By a complex maze,

It doesn’t take days,

Or leave you amazed.


Seeing the end from the beginning,

Shows you which way to go,

If only you’d had the foresight,

To start off quite slow.


And now it’s getting dark,

And all the noises gone,

Should I just stop and rest,

Should I be moving on?


‘My Word is a lamp unto your feet,

And a light unto your path’

BW3 July 17 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

'Potter V'-- The Trouble with Harry

Oh for the good old days of riding one's broom and playing quidditch. Harry has moved on from those mostly care-free days and now is presented to us as a troubled youth. The trouble with Harry is that he is not only haunted by his past, his loss of his parents and various other troubling events, he's being hunted, mentally at least by Lord Voldemort (a newer version of Dr. Death or Darth Vader). There is some connection between Harry and the dark lord, and its driving him bonkers as evil creeps into his mind. Add to this the conflicting feelings of puberty and you have one nicely mucked up Harry who has become short-tempered, and even stand offish with his dearest friends. His saving grace is his relationship with Sirius Black, some sort of relative, but even that goes for naught before this movie is done.

Like the last movie, J.K. Rowling in 'The Order of the Phoenix' is once more diving into the deep end of the pool of evil, though for some reason this movie seemed less heavy and foreboding than the last one-- perhaps because no children are destroyed in this one. The movie is a well paced one, clocking in at 2 hours and 14 or so minutes, and their really is no filler. It is full of CG magic (I especially like the animated tea plates on the wall with kitties mewing and moving around), and pleasant set pieces (including flying over London on brooms), but the story line percolates along rather well without interruption.

Unfortunately Hogwart's has been taken over by the Ministry of Magic (headed by Fudge-- ably played by Edward Hardy of 'All Creatures Great and Small Fame') and a headmistress in pink one Ms. Umbridge (as in 'I take umbridge at that'), who clearly was trained in the No Fun League begins to squeeze all the possible joy she can out of school and put all the deadly rules in she can. One begins to wonder if she is actually in league with the dark lord herself. Headmaster Dumbledore continues to be his affable and pleasant self, and Severus Snape is his usual melancholy self, but most of the other instructors we are by now used to at Hogwarts make no more than cameo appearances. The story focuses on the psychological struggles and drama going on in the life and mind of young master Potter. Left behind is the rivalry with other students (e.g. the aptly named Malfoi-- which means 'bad faith' hardly appears) in order for the larger struggle with evil to take center stage. Not left behind, but not as central as before, is Harry's relationship with Ron and Hermione, his two best chums. In fact, at one juncture Harry has his first kiss, and its with a girl we have not previously met before this movie.

One of the things about Rowling's novels as they have developed over time is that they have certainly become longer and more complex, and the story telling has become more adult. One wonders what small and mid-sized children are doing at movies like this, and what they make of it. Clearly much of what is going on and the nuances of the psychological drama will be well over their heads, and the dark images frankly too dark for most children.

The phoenix of course was the bird which rose from the ashes, apparently from the dead, and it not surprisingly became one symbol in early Christianity for the resurrection. It is no accident that this episode is named 'the Order of the Phoenix'. This refers to a group of good magicians who have banded together to rise up and fight the evil, and Harry, in his own fashion starts a student chapter of the order at Horgwarts, complete with training sessions in spell casting or zapping of bad things with a wand.

There is a juncture in the movie where there is a very crucial and serious discussion between Sirius Black and Harry. Sirius reminds Harry that the world is not composed of those who are all good, on the one hand, and those who are nothing but evil on the other. "Most people are a mixture of good and bad" Harry is reminded. This presumably is meant to help Harry not be so hard on himself when he has dark thoughts, but Sirius also stresses that Harry is a good person with some flaws, and he should not doubt his goodness, nor blame himself for all that has gone wrong. The message, if there is one, is that ordinary persons with some goodness in them, can strive to be their best selves, and overcome their temptations to give way to darkness.

Various of the reviewers of this movie have commented on the fact that it seems like an interim report, before we get to the real epic struggle between good and evil. This is a helpful observation, and it is in this movie that we hear the prophecy that either Voldemort or Harry must be done away with before the resolution of the drama. That is barely on the horizon here. The good news for now is that Harry is able to fight off the mental invasion of darkness into his fertile and sensitive mind.

So we must bide our time until the penultimate installment of these films comes out-- 'the Half-Blood Prince' in a year or so. In the meantime, start working on your wand waggling-- evil is coming to town and will not be messing around.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Canadian Nurses love 'Sicko': Hand out free tickets to help prevent the Canadian system going the American way

My friend Dr. Ross Bailey from Toronto kindly sent me this story further to our earlier debate about health care. It speaks for itself, and it makes some of the points I was stressing. The nurses of Canada know perfectly well that if Canada adopts the American system, many folks will fall through the cracks-- particularly the poor ones.
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario gives Michael Moore’s new film SiCKO two thumbs up

TORONTO, July 13, 2007 - The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is encouraging all nurses to take advantage of a special promotion which offers them free admission to filmmaker Michael Moore’s documentary SiCKO. Alliance Atlantis Canada has announced that all nurses in the country can attend the film for free from Monday, July 16 to Thursday, July 19.

Yesterday, Michael Moore was quoted in an Alliance Atlantis media release as saying “Nurses across Canada are on the front line in the battle against those forces who want to inch the Canadian health-care system toward the American way. They know that once a Canadian sees ‘SiCKO’, the last thing they will want is an American-style approach.” Moore was applauding the United Nurses of Alberta who distributed 150 free tickets to his film to members of the public. Moore has offered to reimburse the union.

On behalf of all the nurses in Ontario, RNAO would like to thank Michael Moore and Alliance Atlantis for recognizing the key role nurses play in our health-care system. “Michael, nurses stand by you. We share your passion for a universal and not-for-profit health-care system and we thank you for your honest and courageous documentary. I’ve watched it twice and it is absolutely terrific!” says Doris Grinspun, RNAO’s Executive Director, who lived in the US for six years before immigrating to Canada.

SiCKO provides an insightful analysis of the for-profit health-care system in the US and contrasts it with universal health-care systems in other countries, including Canada. “Nurses who see the film will learn more about the American health-care system and will feel proud they live in Canada - a country where health care is a human right and not a commodity,” says RNAO President Mary Ferguson-ParĂ©.

Nurses’ knowledge, expertise and compassion are central to the Medicare system established by Tommy Douglas. “We encourage nurses to use what they learn in Moore’s film to engage their families, friends and neighbours in discussions about Medicare. These discussions are particularly important given the Ontario election this fall and the potential for a federal election,” adds Ferguson-ParĂ©.

All Registered Nurses (RNs), Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) across the country are eligible for one free admission to SiCKO from Monday, July 16 to Thursday, July 19 at any Cineplex Entertainment, Empire or Landmark Theatre. In order to receive a free ticket, nurses must show photo identification and one of the following: their license, practice permit, registration card or union ID.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association for registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.


Below is a media release from Alliance Atlantis explaining why they’re offering nurses free admission to the film.



TORONTO, ONTARIO – July 12, 2007 - In an effort to encourage members of the public to see Michael Moore’s latest provocative and acclaimed film SiCKO last week, The United Nurses of Alberta purchased 150 tickets to distribute to the public. Today, Michael Moore congratulated their efforts and offered to reimburse the union for their action.

When reached for comment, Michael Moore stated, "Nurses across Canada are on the front line in the battle against those forces who want to inch the Canadian health care system toward the American way. They know that once a Canadian sees SiCKO, the last thing they will want is an American-style approach. The problems that do exist with the Canadian system are a result of it being under-funded. The solution to better health care in Canada cannot be found south of the border."

As further show of appreciation, Alliance Atlantis* Motion Picture Distribution announced today that it will offer one free admission to see SiCKO to all nurses across Canada for a limited time starting on Monday, July 16th through to Thursday, July 19th. Nurses must present valid documentation at the box office of participating theatres**.

“Sometimes it takes an American like Michael Moore, to remind us of what Canada does right,” says United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith. “Some people are constantly pushing to turn health care into a profit-making business. SiCKO is an excellent vaccination against that privatization disease. It’s good for our health.”

Jim Sherry, Executive Managing Director of Alliance Atlantis* Motion Picture Distribution comments, “We applaud the United Nurses of Alberta for their enthusiasm and hope to encourage others in the nursing profession to see the film that continues to spark debate across this country. By offering this opportunity to nurses across Canada, we are acknowledging the considerable amount of interest that has been expressed to us by several nurses unions and it is our hope that this gesture will resonate in continued dialogue and debate surrounding this remarkable film.”

Canadian exhibitors, Cineplex Entertainment and Empire Theatres, have displayed overwhelming support by participating in this special promotion as well as displaying generous support to the nurses' unions throughout the country.

'Out of the Mouths of Babes'-- Part II-- Their Letters

A very long time ago, Art Linkletter published a little book on kids letters to God. There have been many such books and articles since. These are twelve of my favorites in their original scrawl. Children seem to have an innate sense of God, and they certainly know how to be honest in their prayers-- unlike some of us adults. Enjoy, BW3

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Out of the Mouths of Babes'-- "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from email."

3-year-old Reese: "Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name. Amen."

A little boy was overheard praying: "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."

After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."

I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord's Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: "Lead us not into temptation," she prayed, "but deliver us from E-mail."

One particular four-year-old prayed, "And forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."

A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother, Joel, were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. "You're not supposed to talk out loud in church." "Why? Who's going to stop me?" Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, "See those two men standing by the door? They're hushers."

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons,Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. "Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked. "He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"

A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New Mary Magdalene Revelation

Rivaling the discovering of the Talpiot Tomb itself is this new revelation presented above in a news source almost as reliable as the recent book on the tomb of Jesus. Who knew that the M+M on that candy actually stood for Mary Magdalene!!!

You just never know where ole Mary Magdalene may pop up next and who she might be linked with. It would be interesting to see her on an episode of "Desperate Housewives". I can only imagine the stories she could tell about being married to Jesus-- "Cooking for that man was just impossible-- he demanded that everything be just perfect". Or perhaps we may hope to see an image of her appear on a barn in Nebraska. Me personally I am holding out for the line of Mary Magdalene clothes and accessories. I gather they're doing something with bringing out a new line of burkas as well with her label on them.

Stay tuned for further revelations about Mary Magdalene. You may yet prove to be one of her descendants :)

The Virtual Church on the Rise

If you snooze you lose, and you may feel the heat sooner rather than later.

For example, have you been attending church online of late? What, you didn't know you could attend church, or synagogue, or the mosque on line? Well yes, you can, sort of. Now, I am not talking about a web link to a live worship service in a real church. No, I am talking about websites where you can go to pray, to network, to join others in studying the Bible, to exchange pictures, and so on, and no they are not just glorified chat rooms.

Consider for example, this recent article from the NY Times about holy space on the internet--

For example, have you checked out and or How about ?

One thing these sites have in common is that they are strictly monitored, prayer is encouraged , foul language is banned and good things happen. One of the reasons for the rise of such sites is to provide an alternative to the My Space site which sometimes has racy adds and other content and participants offensive to many Christians. If you think I am being overly cautious when it comes to MySpace, the Times article drops this little bomb--

"Last month, MySpace agreed to hand over the names, addresses and online profiles of convicted sex offenders after attorneys general from eight states demanded that the site, which is owned by Fox Interactive Media, do so. MySpace also deleted the profiles of 7,000 convicted sex offenders." There are wolves and other predators out there you know.

If you'd like to try something fun and Jewish try, though you might want to sift it a bit before you let your children loose on it.

In my view, there is no real danger of this phenomenon replacing the real church, or even the church newsletter, but it certainly reveals that Christian people are looking for contact with unknown but like minded Christian folks. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. We used to write pen pal letters. Now people go to websites and make friends from around the world and have their faith nurtured.

Several things about my own teaching online have made me think of Gal. 3.28 where Paul tells us something of what the church ought to look like-- a place where ethnic, social, and gender differences should not be allowed to determine how we are viewed, or for that matter what roles we play in church. In some ways, it is easier to accomplish Gal. 3.28 online.

What I have discovered is that online, and without picture IDs you have only minds-- there are no handicaps, no race, no gender, no social impairs, no elites-- just minds. Various sorts of folks who would not normally speak up in a real class are often the most vocal online because their negative inhibiting factors are gone. Check out the websites and see what you think-- in the meantime look at the picture above again and remember---

You've got to be flexible to get near to the heat and action without getting burned.

Friday, July 06, 2007

'Sicko'-- It's Enough to make you ill

Michael Moore, our current resident agent provocateur and gadfly is at it again, and this time he really hits you where it hurts-- in the pocketbook. His bright searchlight of investigation casts it glare on the health care industry, and more specifically on the health insurance and HMO juggernaut. I have to tell you that even if only a minority of what is said in this docu-drama is true, it confirms most of our suspicions that we are being had by our insurance companies and health care providers. It is of course always possible to complain about the odd injustice when someone falls between the cracks. But Moore is dealing not with the abuses of the system but rather its inherent and systemic problems.

When you peel away the shiny veneer of the health care industry and discover that 'managed care' has as its main goal the making of money and thereby the limiting of care, even to those who most need it, then the situation is grave indeed. Moore takes various of those folks who were involved in the rescue efforts in NY at ground zero, and not merely chronicles their on going health woes-- losing jobs, losing homes, losing faith in the American way, but he takes these folks on a journey to Gitmo in Cuba and eventually to a hospital in Havana where they get much better and very much cheaper help for what ails them than they had been able to get in America. Shameful. Call this demagoguery if you like, but it makes the point. Our system is screwed up.

Some of the more devastating revelations of this docu-drama are: 1) we owe to Tricky Dick in collusion with Mr. Kaiser (of Kaiser Permanente fame) in 1971 the rise of the HMO for profit scheme. The White House Tapes do not lie when they tell us that the specific goal of the new health care system was to make money, and minimize care when it was not profitable to give care. So much for the hypocratic oath; 2) Moore documents how every single major Western nation except the US has a universal health care system of some sort which has not bankrupted the nation, nor prevented doctors from making a good living, nor caused rampant anti-democracy notions. Indeed he documents how universal health care was a natural outgrowth of democracy not socialism, a natural effort after WWII in Europe to do a better job as a society of looking after all its citizens, because the cries of many, including the least and the last in society were finally being heard, and their votes were making a difference. 3) One of the more telling remarks was that in European democracies the government is afraid of the power of the people and listens to their protests and legitimate cries for health care, whereas in the U.S. the people are afraid of the government, of it becoming too controlling and the like, and this then inhibits even legitimate national programs like the Postal Service, or Public Libraries, or Police and Firefighters or interstate roads and highways being adequately funded. It is this same fear of 'big brother' that has made a universal health care system a hard sell in America, whilst by and large it is a runaway success in Canada. It is just heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of people refused treatment who either die, or remain maimed or become homeless because the cost of their health care either prevented them from getting treatment or alternately bankrupted them when they got treatment anyway.

The film is under two hours, but it has more of a clear flow and direction than Moore's previous films. It uses the same montage kind of approach, allowing people to tell their personal stories and allowing that in itself to generate the pathos of the movie. We watch a man sow up his own wound caused by a work accident because he has no health insurance. We see a woman dumped in front of the Salvation Army, having been put in a taxi and sent there by a hospital who decided not to complete treating this woman who needed antibiotics and stitches for a head wound. We see a woman lose her daughter because in her panic she took her to the nearest hospital which refused her care, even though the mother herself worked for a hospital in town. Care was refused because it was an 'out of network' hospital closer to where her daughter became ill that she had first taken her child. We hear the testimony before Congress of a woman who was in health care management and was promoted time and again because she 'saved' the health care provider so much money by refusing care to patients in need. And the beat goes on. We see Americans driving across the border to Canada because they can't afford their heart medicine, their cancer treatment, their surgeries in the U.S.

Some 50 million Americans today are without any kind of health care or health insurance. I mean None. Of the 250 million insured, most have health insurance which has so many exclusions for pre-existing conditions, or just recurring conditions that the insurance does not help them when they most need it. It's a national scandal to say the least. And then we are regaled with those who lobby our Congressmen and Senators for the health care industry-- giving out enormous pay offs to both Republicans and Democrats so the health care industry and its pharmaceutical allies can keep making huge profits.

Some of this comes pretty close to home for me. The cost of my cholesterol and blood pressure medicine (both hereditary issues in my case) are very steep and are not covered by my health insurance. Some days you just ask-- what good is it, this whole system? It doesn't even work well for those who can afford to pay for health insurance.

Say what you will about Michael Moore, love him or hate him, he knows how to make us think about what needs to be changed about our society. Certainly the health care industry would be a good place to start. When you realize that the Great Physician himself could not have afforded health care in this system, and would have been censured by the AMA for practicing medicine without their approval, you realize something is wrong with this picture. To say the least.

A Bridge over 'Troubled Waters'-- Rethinking our Theology of Baptism

I was watching the PBS special the other night in which Paul Simon was honored for a career of great song writing with the very first Gershwin Award of the Library of Congress-- certainly a well deserved tribute. Of course one of his most famous songs, actually sung mainly by his partner Art Garfunkel, was "Bridge over Troubled Waters". In a sense, my new book on baptism is meant not merely to further stir up the always boiling pot of baptismal discussion, but to see if we can't get beyond the usual Baptist vs. Paedobaptist deadlock when it comes to discussing this issue especially in Evangelical and more general Protestant discussion.

What I am arguing is that a good deal of water has been shipped by both Baptists and Paedopbaptists when it comes to their theology of baptism, and we need to return ad fontes (yes, the baptismal font) and rethink some of these things in the light of Scripture and earliest Christian practice, rather than in the light of much later Christian squabbles about baptism, especially those generated by the Reformation.

What I am arguing is that there is not really so clear a delineation of what a theology and practice of baptism should look like in the NT that either a strictly Baptistic or a more broad practice can clearly be ruled in or out. In fact, we have no chapters at all in the NT about how and by whom baptism should actually be administered, unlike what we find in the later Christian tract called the Didache. This is surely why we continue to debate and disagree about this very matter.

And no, the Greek verb 'baptidzo' itself does not specify a specific quantity of water to be used, though doubtless immersion is a better symbol of being baptized into Christ's death than other modes of the practice. 'Baptidzo' for example in the Didache is used to describe the practice of pouring water over someone's head, not immersion. This verb does not necessarily imply the ancient equivalent of a watery slam dunk :)

One of the burdens of my little study is to make clear that part of the confusion about baptism comes from the failure to recognize certain facts: 1) water baptism is one thing, the use of the language of water to describe spiritual experiences is quite another. To put it differently water and Spirit baptism are distinguishable things which do not necessarily happen together or at the same time, though that is also possible. Water does not inherently convey Spirit, and reception of the Spirit does not necessarily involve water baptism. This is perfectly clear from a close examination of Acts where we have several patterns--- water followed by Spirit reception, Spirit preceding water baptism, Spirit received without any Christian water baptism for a long period of time (e.g. Apollos), and a few places where water baptism and the reception of the Spirit seem to be nearly simultaneously (e.g. the Ethiopian eunuch). Conclusion--- there is no one mandated pattern or order of these things in the NT. 2) I am also stressing in this book that there are many places where the language of water baptism and its rich symbolism are used to describe a spiritual experience, NOT what happens in or by means of the rite of water baptism itself. Paul for example in 1 Cor. 12 talks about all believers being baptized into one body, not by the minister, but by the Holy Spirit! In this selfsame document he says he is thankful that he did not water baptize more Corinthians, because apparently they tended to take a magical view of what resulted from such a ritual. 3) I am also stressing that too often both the Baptist and Paedobaptist practices have, for the sake of regularity and control, misunderstood the meaning of baptism. Baptism is neither a Christian dedication ritual nor a Christian equivalent to a bar mitzvah-- a rite of passage for a young adult prepared to assume the mantle of his faith consciously and on his own. Baptism in the NT is a rite of initiation, and should be practiced on anyone who is at the point of entering the covenant community or has already done so, whatever their age. Once one has crossed the boundary from the world into Christ one should already have the initiation ritual, the rite of passage into the community. All the baptisms in Acts are missionary baptisms. The book of Acts neither raises nor answers the second generation question-- what do we do with children born into and raised in Christian families who know no other way of life? Should we treat them like little heathens, or are they already a provisional part of the covenant community? 1 Cor. 7 suggests the children of even one Christian parent is 'holy' that is, set apart for God, and not unclean. Acts and Paul's letters (see 1 Cor. 1) as well talks about the baptism of whole households. Were there really no infants in any of these households? These are the right kinds of questions to raise when thinking about how we practice baptism today. Basically we have turned this ritual into something we can manage and do at a specific or regular point in time-- in infancy, or when someone comes of age, or in the rarer case of an adult convert, as soon as they convert. 4) I have shown at length that there is no clear statement in the NT that suggests baptism must be preceded by a confession of faith. Acts 8 and the eunuch story is no exception, if we look at the likely original form of this text, and not its later Western text additions.

I also suggest in this book that we need to be able to distinguish baptism and the Lord's Supper. One is a rite of initiation, the other is a ceremony of confirmation. One is about union with Christ, the other about communion in Christ. One is a passive sacrament, performed for the recipient, the other is a sacrament which requires active participation, active recognizing of the Body, and partaking of the elements. The failure to see the differences between these two sacraments causes continual confusion. And then there is this fact-- a rite of initiation, as a form of a rite of passage, can and should by definition only transpire once in a person's life. As the old saying goes, you can only step into the stream for the first time once. Yet sadly, as my friend Chuck Killian remarked about his own experience growing up in Indiana, in revivalistic circles you may end up going to the altar so many times and being 'born again' so many times that you have stretch-marks on your soul!!!

The reason baptism is said to be 'one' in Ephesians is because it should only be practiced once. You can only be 'initiated' into a religion for the first time once. Our confusion about baptism, even stretches to our confusion about what is symbolized in baptism-- does it symbolize the divine initiative of grace for us, or does it mainly symbolize our response to that initiative? In my view it is intended to symbolize the former, while the Lord's Supper symbolizes the latter. In other words, no one in the early church was asking- "should we withhold baptism from some members of this household until they come of age?" for the very good reason that they saw baptism as an outer and visible sign of what God was doing for and in that family, not, or at least not primarily, a symbol of the human response to God's initiative.

There is a good deal of detailed exegetical discussion in this book and also an attempt to help us all get beyond anachronism-- the reading back into the text of later church practices and notions about baptism. I am also stressing that we need to respect each others practices, since the NT does not clearly mandate exactly how the rite should be performed and on whom, much less where. This I think means, no rebaptisms. If baptism is to be seen as 'one' as Ephes. 4 suggestions, we need to stop the practice of rebaptisms as it violates what the ritual was intended to symbolize-- initiation into Christ and his body. We can have ceremonies of remembering one's baptism and being thankful, but no rebaptisms please unless you just don't think the NT theology of baptism matters much when it comes to praxis. Though Baptists and Paedo-baptists stand on opposite sides of the baptismal waters, I would hope in the 21rst century we could take time to learn about and respect each others legitimate practices, even if we have disagreements about them. Put another way-- the world is watching. If we can't even show respect and mutual support when it comes to the initiation ritual into Christ, who should anyone think there is a 'one true church apostolic and universal'?

Think on these things.