Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Great Disconnect

One of the popular panic buttons for the big stadium revival movements is to proclaim that we're losing a generation of young people. Kids spend more time watching television than listening to their pastor! Of course, they probably spend more time showering than listening to their pastor, too...but that's neither here nor there. There's never a whit of evidence given for's just one of those things that make the grownups in the gathered flock nod their heads and cluck knowingly, while simultaneously writing out a large check for your youth ministry.

But now there's evidence. A study released last week by the Pew Research Center shows that younger Americans are much less likely to be religious than older ones. 19% of folks born after 1977 are likely to call themselves atheists or agnostics, as opposed to 14% of my fellow Gen Xers, 11% of baby boomers, and 4% of the "greatest generation." Secular forces are certainly at play, but another significant factor that must be noted in the Pew study (which compiles 20 years of survey data) is that there's an increasing acceptance of progressive values in America. People are less and less concerned about homosexuality. A significant and sustained majority care about the environment.

Why are young people increasingly disconnected? I think it's as much the fault of the public face of Christianity as it is our secular culture.

Let's look to the latest issue of the National Liberty Journal, which arrived in my mailbox at the church yesterday. On the inside front cover are excerpts from a recent sermon preached by Rev. Falwell, lambasting evangelicals for being suckered into environmentalism. He describes environmentalism as a tool that Satan is using to distract the church from telling the world about Jesus, and mocks the "so-called biblical mandate to maintain a prudent dominion over the earth."

Perhaps he hasn't preached out of Genesis recently. Or perhaps he interprets that passage to mean that we should be profligate in our use of the creation God has given us. Given this sort of blather, we're lucky we've only turned off one-fifth of this generation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I'll See Your Jew, and Raise You A Persian

My last post about Gamaliel was just me warming up. Gamaliel's grace coupled with his persistent Jewyness posed such a challenge for the early church that stories sprang up in the 2nd century claiming he had secretly been converted later in life. What? This good and honorable man who looked out for us...damned? Can't be! Can't! Unfortunately, the historical record from his time doesn't support these assertions. Ah well.

So...what is necessary to be "saved?" Just calling Jesus Lord doesn't cut it. One must do God's will, presumably. Be an instrument in His hands. But it goes deeper than that. You've got to be filled with God, anointed by the Spirit in the same way that Christ was anointed.

With that in mind, let's take a look at Cyrus of Persia. Here we have a big boss daddy pagan, the emperor of a pagan empire, who hopefully wasn't as outrageously pierced and metrosexual as Xerxes in 300.

Yet in the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear Cyrus described as God's "shepherd" (Isaiah 44:29). We hear that God raises up Cyrus "in his righteousness." (Isaiah 45:13) We hear...this one's a doozy...that Cyrus is God's "anointed." (Isaiah 45:1). In the Hebrew, this verse calls this pagan emperor meshiach, the royal title which we translate elsewhere as "messiah."

So the Bible calls him righteous, calls him God's shepherd, calls him...messiah. What do we do with this guy? I don't think he ever came up at altar call.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Gamaliel Conundrum

Having presented the Torquemada Paradox just a few posts back, now it's time for another puzzler: The Gamaliel Conundrum.

We hear again and again from those of a more conservative persuasion that showing tolerance and acceptance to other faiths...or perhaps, horror of horrors, actually having the audacity to claim that God might somehow be at work in a terrible thing to do. If we don't bludgeon those poor deluded souls into joining us on the gracious path Christ walked, then we do them a horrific disservice. Without that altar call and that public profession, an eternity of torment awaits them, no matter how good they might appear to be. Tolerance of other faiths is viewed as little more than being Satan's enabler. That's what Jack Chick tells me, anyway.

The irony in that, of course, is that were it not for an *cough* unbeliever *cough* who was willing to make that leap of open-mindedness, Christianity as we know it might not exist at all. That someone is Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the apostle Paul. As it's written the book of Acts, this great Judean rabbi, grandson and successor to the legendarily open-minded Hillel, finds himself holding the lives of all of the apostles in his hands. The crowd calls for their deaths. What does he do? If he lets things go as they're going, and doesn't intervene, all of the leaders of the early Jesus movement will die. Instead, he takes a stand and counsels tolerance, making a vigorous and persuasive case that they should be spared. He suggests that if God was not at work in them, then they would fail anyway, but if God is in them, then opposing them would be pointless. He sways the Sanhedrin, and instead of being killed, Peter and the apostles are just given a whuppin' and set free. So here we have a thoughtful, gracious, and tolerant rabbi saving Christianity.

Such a pity he didn't come to Jesus, and will spend his eternity being forced by pop-tart succubi to listen to Hillary Duff's latest album over and over again. That is what we're supposed to believe, right?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Getting in Touch with My Inner Lorax

Last week, I saw what looked like rabbits moving oddly in our back yard. On further inspection, it turned out to be a mated pair of birds I'd never seen American Woodcock. These odd and reclusive birds are related to shorebirds, but have adapted to the environment in the deep woods and wetland. I conferred with my father-in-law and my mom, both avid birders, and neither had ever seen one. These are not city birds, not by a long shot. They don't really belong inside the Beltway, but the little patch of woods behind my house was evidently the best shelter they could find.

Yesterday, the neighbor directly behind us hired a team of day laborers, who promptly began to cut down every single tree at the rear of his lot. Tall healthy oaks and poplars, about a dozen of them, as well as a few smaller trees and all of the underbrush. What had been a nice little bit of woods in the back of his lot..a little patch of potential habitat...was quickly reduced to a muddy and denuded third-world moonscape. I watched, seething. But it was his property. Nothing I could do.

After dispatching the trees in his yard, the laborers moved to a large healthy poplar that sits smack in between our respective property. I went out and suggested, gently, that in order to take out this tree they'd need to work on my land...and I wasn't going to give permission for them to do so. The only English speaker of the group, a twelve year old boy, put up some resistance, but the foreman (evidently his father) considered for a moment and then shooed him off, and quickly called down the laborer who was starting to take out the lower branches.

Having dominion over creation allows us to do...well...anything we want. But the type of steward you are counts. He does hold us to account for what we do with what He's given us.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Defining Ecstasy

In order to continue my ramblings about the Holy Spirit, I think it's necessary for me to articulate again my position on the nature of ecstatic experience. I'll freely admit that my own faith has been significantly formed by such moments...theophanies, visions, and dreams have a somewhat larger place in my spiritual walk than most of my fellow Presbyterians. I don't tend to put them front and center...they seem...well...indecent. Disorderly. And you know what a fetish we Calvinists have for decency and order.

So what, then, is the role and definition of ecstasy?

First, one of the primary roles of ecstasy in faith is the shattering of preconceptions, a punch-in-the-gut reminder that our ability to frame our faith with carefully crafted systematics and apologetics is little more than, as Aquinas put it, "straw." Despite neo-orthodox theologican Karl Barth's effort to claim that Aquinas was talking about the "straw in which you lay the Christ child," that's not at all what Aquinas meant. He meant that on some level theology was worthless, the stuff you put in the barn so the crap is easier to clean up. Here we have the most OCD-thorough theologian in the history of Christianity, whose Summa Theologica takes up an entire wall...and after a moment of awareness of God, he sees that all his work just doesn't cut it. When the rubber meets the soul, His ways just aren't Our ways.

Second, we have to understand what ecstasy means. It's etymology is from the Greek, and means essentially, "to stand outside of oneself." When we think about ecstasy, we tend to visualize mystical trance states and the larger and more showy experiences. We see that pastor speaking in tongues on the tee vee. Or that that santeria babalou, fingers stained with chicken blood, wild-eyed and ridden by her god. We see the tweener twitching on the floor when the three hours of revival singing finally flips some switch inside her. But without inherently rejecting those primal moments, I think we're missing something vital if we see that as the most significant form of Christian ecstatic experience.

The most fundamental ecstasy we experience as Christians is our experience of agape love. It's the primary and foundational gift of the Spirit, the thing that draws us out of ourselves more profoundly. It's that love that shatters the boundary of existential separation that divides us, and connects us most deeply to both one another and to God.

That ecstasy, given by the Spirit, is the essential heart of Christian faith.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Real Face of Censorship

In advance of my upcoming May appearance on the podcast of the atheist Rational Response Squad, I've been having an ongoing e-mail conversation with "Darth Josh," my contact at the RRS and the coordinator of their podcast. This is a challenging exchange...I think particularly because it's desperately difficult for a materialist to grasp what is at the heart of faith. One way or t'other, it's been jolly good fun crossing swords with him.

Today, I heard from him that the Rational Responders website has been recently hit by a coordinated attack designed to shut down their web forums. It appears to have been a Distributed Denial of Service attack, in which a hacker or hackers take over hundreds of computers and use them to bombard a server until access is impossible. Unlike atheist Nick Gisburne's and my own difficulties with YouTube, which are easily circumvented and more likely the result of YouTube's benighted policies, this type of assault is a real threat to free speech and association on the Internet.

I know that tempers often run high around discussions of..or arguments, but under no such a tactic justified. My hope and prayer is that this is not something being perpetrated by a misguided "Christian" hacker or group. Christians need to make it absolutely clear that such behavior is antithetical to all that we proclaim. It violates the essential principles of American constitutional democracy, and it doesn't fare well against Christ's Golden Rule, either.

I would also hope that Christian bloggers who understand the importance of the free exchange of ideas would express their support for the RRS. If they weren't there to needle us with their mechanistic naturalism and silly stuntsmanship, the blogosphere would be a much less entertaining place.

Bibliolatry 103: The Dictionary's No Help Here...

It's my focus on the Holy Spirit within Christian faith that stirred me to get all grumpity at the Blasphemy Challenge folks. Most days, I honestly couldn't care less what atheists think. If they'd just gone their merry Godless way I wouldn't have given them half a thought. But when you start messing with my Comforter, it's Clobberin' Time. Or to be more accurate, it's clobbering time by the rather less rock-like standards of a slightly doughy pastor with a taste for satire and the absurd. Snarkily Poking Time, perhaps.

Oddly enough, both atheism and literalism seem to suffer from the same affliction when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Both succumb to the temptation to approach faith in a mechanistic way. But neither really grasps that the central truth of Christianity doesn't lie in doctrines, texts, or the frameworks that human language and rationality creates. It's essentially ecstatic.

That's why I have such difficulty with the term "Bible based." We can't understand the Bible...really know it...without the action of the Holy Spirit. We can know it as moral teachings, or as historical data. But saying one is "Bible based" seems to somehow miss the point.

I've also heard it said, again and again until my brain bleeds, that "All we need is Jesus." But that's hardly an orthodox statement of Christian faith in the Triune God. The problem is that we don't really have Jesus..not in the way He intended...unless we have the Holy Spirit. We can memorize the Jesus data we read in the Bible. We can assert our fealty to Jesus as we would to an emperor or whatever Republican equivalent happens to be in the White House. We can emote and babble away to Him to our hearts content.

But unless we've opened ourselves to the ruach, to the pneuma, to the shechinah, to the Paraclete he promised...we haven't experienced Him. We don't participate in Him. We aren't transformed and swept up into the relationship with God that Jesus both proclaimed and embodied.

Christianity is Christocentric, sure, by definition, just like Buddhists are Buddhocentric and Raelians are Raelocentric. But it cannot be truly Christian unless it is Pneumatocentric as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bibliolatry 102

Following up on my last post, one reponse to the danger of Christians being overly monomanaical in their focus on the Bible is.."Really, what difference does it make?" On the one hand, not necessarily much. There's much depth and power and guidance to be found in a straight-up reading of the Torah, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, and Epistles. I've known folk who were hard core fundamentalists theologically, yet were gentle, graceful and kind, clearly manifesting the fruits of the Spirit. And we're to know what is true to Christ by the fruit it bears, n'est pas?

On the other hand, I'm convinced that we've reached a point in the development of Christian faith when literal inerrancy of scripture is becoming idolatrous, in the same way that the inerrancy of the church became idolatrous in pre-Reformation Catholicism. Both Holy Scripture and the Church with a Capital C are good, they're holy things... but when we assume that they derive their authority from themselves, we're taking a dangerous theological step.

A church is authentically the Body of Christ if..and only is illuminated by and guided by the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we confuse our stumbling efforts at articulating doctrine and internal discipline with that Spirit and the gifts of grace it imbues, we fail. Scripture is similarly authoritative only because it is theopneustos, which means "God-breathed." Demanding that we approach these sacred texts as empirically true, as a priori true, seems to do violence to the source and nature of their truth.

Christianity can't allow itself to succumb to the Colbert Tautology, in which we assert that the Bible is True Because the Bible Says It is True. The Bible is true because it was written by people who were filled with and struggling with the reality of their experience of the Holy Spirit. It's that shared experience of the divine that speaks to us as we read the texts. It's that Holy Spirit which gives those texts authority, and allows them to inform our lives and relationship with God thousands of years after they were written.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bibliolatry 101

In following up with the National Association of Evangelicals increasingly bold stands against environmental degradation, the modern slave trade, and the use of torture, I've been impressed at their depth of commitment to expanding the vision of American evangelical Christianity beyond the let's-talk-about-abortion-and-then-homosexuality-did-I-mention-the-little-babies-and-it's-not-Adam-and-Steve feedback loop that has consumed so much pulpit time over the last several decades.

One of the things that has struck me over the past few years as I've moved out of seminary and more had an opportunity to engage personally and spiritually with evangelical conservatives is the depth of what we share. Despite our differences in theology, I'm far more aware of our underlying commonality, and sympathetic to the witness of Christians on the other side of the theological aisle.

Still, there are differences, and the essential nature of that difference becomes apparent when you look at the statements of faith from evangelical and old-line denominations. Take a look, for instance, at the faith statement of the National Association of Evangelicals. Yeah, follow the link. C'mon. Then, take a look at the Brief Statement of Faith that represents the most recent expression the belief from my little corner of Christianity. It's...well...not quite as brief.

What's the difference? Much is the same, sure. But how do the statements begin? The NAE statement do most evangelical statements of faith...with an assertion of the belief in the Bible. It is, to use the philosophical term, an essentially epistemological statement, meaning it focuses first on how we know what we know.

In the Presbyterian statement, the primary (meaning first) affirmation is of faith in God. Scripture is there, sure. It informs every single word of the statement. But it's implicit, not front and center. The statement is less about the epistemology of faith and more about the ontology (the actuality or reality) of faith. That ontological assumption reflects the character of the most ancient Christian professions. Neither the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, for instance, has any discernable focus on the authority of scripture.

That, I suppose, is at the heart of my discomfort with being "Bible-based." At what point does that emphasis start becoming so dominant that it no longer articulates the reality of the archetypal primitive church? Or turn Christianity into little more than 21st century Pharisaism?


"Remember what your mama said about epistemology. If you spend too much time examining your tool, you'll go blind." Rev. Buford T. Cupcake, Jr., p. 35, The Collected Writings, Pneuma Press, 1973

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Three Hundred Paces

Earlier this week, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace indicated that he felt that homosexuality was immoral, and that openly gay individuals should not be permitted to serve in the military. This remark ignited the typical red/blue firestorm in both the formal media and the blogosphere.

General Pace was clearly speaking from a conservative Catholics standpoint about the expectations of Biblical morality. Without getting into the whole "is killing moral" and Just War morass too deeply, one wonders if General Pace grasps how rigorously applying Biblical norms of morality to our military would impact enlistment.

What about, for instance, the consistently repeated Biblical injunctions against drunkenness and fooling around with foreign women? I don't endorse these things myself, but from my own observations and reading about military life, a broad adherence to those standards would probably require us to discharge two or three divisions worth from the regular army and retire at least two aircraft carrier battle groups, not to mention retraining thousands of recruiters.

Of course, we could always emulate Sparta, the greatest and most focused warrior-nation the Western world has ever known, whose exploits are currently packing the multiplexes. Those Spartans didn't drink, nor did they fool around with women. They were the hardest of the hard core, who lived and breathed war from the moment they were born.

Then again, there is that little issue of their building esprit de corps through culturally mandated pederasty. Again, not something I'd encourage, but if General Pace had banned...well, you know...from the Spartan army, the defense of the Thermopylae pass might have been left to Laertes "Stinky Larry" Papandraiou, and I'm not sure he could have held off Xerxes mighty army for more than six or seven seconds. Kiss western civilization goodbye.

We're such an odd little species.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Flemming! Sapient! Meet Me in the Battle Arena!

So should I follow up with the Rational Response Squad? After a long chat with a new member of my congregation on Sunday (thanks, Enoch), I'm inclined to at least toss out the gauntlet. To do this, I've got to first deal with several issues.

First, the Blasphemy Challengeteers seem to only respond where it's expedient to do so. They're savvy enough to know that a conversation...a real conversation...isn't going to get them the media exposure that they crave. They need a high profile literalist whipping boy, and I'm just not going to serve that up for them. I'm the pastor of a sweet little church with three dozen members. Who am I to merit their time?

Second, having a "debate" with a progressive Christian just isn't in their best interests. Their whole schtick is trying to wrest people with functioning cerebral cortexes (cortices?) from the faith. Having a discussion with a Christian who could sound themes that might actually resonate with members of their Skwad isn't going to help them. Better to keep the assault on faith simplistic, a Bizzaro-World-Dubya either-yer-with-us-or-against-us approach to belief.

Finally, I'm just not sure any of this matters. Sure, it's got the Liberty University campus in a tizzy. But that's easy to do. Getting a rise out of Pharisees is an old thing, stale and dry. It's been a hundred years...and who remembers Freud's "Future of an Illusion?" Or Feuerbach's "The Essence of Christianity?" The whole thing is silly. Trivial.

Nonetheless, but with that in mind, if either of the Brians are reading this...I'll go on your little podcast gangbang. It'd be fun. Just could debunk the delusional Christian Progressive.

Of Making Many Blogs There Is No End

I'm at one of those points in my blogging where it seems that there's nothing I haven't written about. I have this compulsion about repeating myself, and hate to think that I'm just rehashing the same concepts over and over and over again, like that aging uncle who can't seem to stop himself from telling you the same story every single time you see him.

It isn't that there's no new stuff to talk about, but rather that I'm in one of those Ecclesiastes patches. There just doesn't seem to be a single new thing under the sun, and that sense of Solomonic fatigue is sitting heavy on my muse. The environment? The war? The struggle for meaning? It all seems too familiar, too rote, too straightforward. I read back through my blog archives, and can't seem to muster the energy to write. An idea will surface...and then suddenly, I realize that I've had some variant that idea before, and written about it before.

Perhaps it's my recent forays into the broader blogosphere. There, the pros and semi-pros jockey for attention, looking for the concepts that will drive the most traffic, linking and commenting and trying to wire themselves in for those precious visitors and the ensuing advertising. It seems less human than synaptic, less like the creative energy of thousands of souls and more like the aimless firings of neurons in a brain deep in the throes of a seizure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Do Si Do

Two related phenomena have caught my eye these last few days:

This morning, I and the boys watched with delight as the Wild World of Annandale unfolded in our back yard. The gorgeous and bright-eyed fox that has taken up residence in our neighborhood had taken down a big wood rat, which it was gnawing on happily just a yard from our downstairs sliding glass doors. It tore away hunks of it's prey, aware of our presence but tolerating us. Finally, it decided that we were just being too nosy, picked up the carcass in it's mouth, and ambled gracefully over to a wooded area behind the house. There, it buried the remains, and then wandered off into the woods.

I grew up in this area, which used to be the outer DC burbs. Now, though, we're considered close-in. The exurbs that now spread for 45 to 50 miles out from the city center are far higher density...big box strip malls and big box churches surrounded by endless treeless expanses of condos, townhomes, and McMansions. With fields and forests falling to development, there's been a counterintuitive migration of animals from the outer suburbs inward. Fifteen years ago, seeing or hearing a fox or a deer in my 'hood would have been something that happened once every few months. Now, it's common. They're far more prevalent, because the inner burbs with their trees and lower density are a far better habitat. For animals, that is.

There's another migration in the other direction. People...those who aren't rich, that is...are having to flee ever outward. Two articles in the Post this last week discussed how immigrant communities which used to populate the inner suburbs are moving ever further outward, as the more convenient and lower density housing moves beyond their reach. Even in the stagnant market, it grows harder and harder for working class folks to live an urban existence. So they need to drive further and further to their jobs, and are more and more dependent on the culture of the car.

Good thing gas is such an increasingly cheap and inexhaustible resource.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bush-Cheney 2048: To the Pain

Another leaked video from my source in the Democratic National Committee.  Let me be the first to register my the negative tone of this attack ad.  Can't we all just get along?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Send In The Lions

Having briefly scuffled with the atheist Rational Response Squad (RRS) for the first time this last week, I felt compelled to explore their web presence and discussion forums. I've spent little chunks of time over the past few days listening to large portions of a podcast exchange between a group of atheists and Ergun Caner, President of Liberty University.

For an admitted Christian progressive, this was greatly amusing at first, albeit in a Roman circus sort of way. It's nice to be in the audience for a change. However, after about 10 minutes of listening and noshing from my bag of fried ocelot spleens, it started to get..well..tedious.

Dr. Caner opened the discussion with an expressed desire to find common ground with his soon-to-be rhetorical assailants, but it soon became evident that there was no potential there at all. Expressing the hope for common ground is one thing, but he had absolutely no shared frames of reference with the RRS folks, nor they with him. Their practiced attacks on his literalism and his monomanaically literalist biblical defenses meant that there were repeated failures on both sides to have any clue as to what the other was talking about.

It was a bit like watching a band of rhesus monkeys shrieking ritual challenges at an interloping orangutan. They each know there's a conflict...but neither has a clue what the other is saying. Other than a few scratches, bruises and toothmarks, both come out the far side of the exchange essentially unchanged.

We've got to be able to do better than that.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Taking the Best Seats

After my recent post about the Amish and sectarian divisions within Christianity, I've continued my reading in Hostetler's sociological study of their culture. They're a fascinating community.

As I was working my way through the book, one passage in particular struck me. I've posted a fair amount recently on the doctrine of salvation, and found that the position of the Amish on their "savedness" is surprisingly different from what I had anticipated. Here you have a sect that has separated itself from the world, and engages in practices that establish intense difference between themselves and the rest of the world. If the Amish followed the same logic as a cult, their separation would be considered evidence of their "savedness."

But Amish community is radically opposed to anything that is prideful. "Hochmut," or pride, is one of the greatest sins an Amish person can commit. Instead, the ideal is living a life governed by "Demut," or humility. The idea of publicly proclaiming one's own salvation is taboo, as it would violate the essential Amish principles of humility, self-denial, and obedience. As Hostetler describes it:

"A knowledge of salvation is complete only after the individual hears the welcome words at the last judgment, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world' assert that 'I know that I am saved' would be obnoxious because it smacks of pride and boasting." (Amish Society, pp. 76-77)

The beard notwithstanding, I'd make an absolutely lousy Amishman, but I do resonate strongly with that approach. I only wish there was a bit more Demut in the rest of big, bold, and brassy contemporary McChristianity.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

I Wonder If Jor-El Had To Deal With These People?

In response to efforts by the National Association of Evangelicals to raise awareness among Christians about global warming, recent weeks have seen an uptick in activity by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. The ISA, which formed in 2006, represents the conservative wing of American evangelical Christianity partnered with free-market think-tanks and the four remaining scientists who still doubt global warming. Their position is laid out on their web site, and essentially boils down to: "Let's consume our way out of global warming."

Lead by Chuck Colson and James Dobson, the group has recently sent a letter protesting this effort on the part of the National Association of Evangelicals. As I read it, one sentence hopped right off the page at me:

"Evangelicals are to be first and foremost messengers of the good news of the gospel to a lost and dying world."

Lost people, sure. I buy that. That's my job as a pastor, and a task that's set before all Christians. That's the whole point of the Gospel.

But do we really have to do our evangelism on a dying world?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Beard Gets Me Thinking...

With the Episcopalian church struggling over rifts in it's world communion over gay and lesbian ordination, and my own Presbyterian denomination facing schism over the issue, I found myself thinking about that compulsion we churchy folk seem to have over our own collective purity. Since the time of the apostle Paul, we've desired to set ourselves apart from those who fail to meet the standard, or who approach Christ in ways that we feel compromise the faith. So we seek purity, and divide, and divide, and divide again. Where does this sectarian drive all lead? Surely...surely...we’re only one schism away from being the True Church.

Seeking insights into our splittin' ways, I decided to read up a bit on the macdaddies of Christian moral uprightitude: The Amish. We all remember last year's Amish schoolroom shooting, and the mindbogglingly Christlike graciousness of that community towards the family of the shooter. Here's a sect that sets standards of humble personal piety which make Jerry Falwell look like the lead singer of GWAR. Surely in their agrarian, family-centered, simplicity they must have overcome that schismatic compulsion for division.
For perspective, I turned to John Hostetler's definitive book entitled, get this... Amish Society. Hostetler's a sociologist, and a former Amishman....and not the embittered sort. He approaches the Amish with an objective but sympathetic touch.

What his book shows is that the Amish share that desire to divide as any other part of the Christian world. Within Lancaster County alone, the Old-Order Amish disagree with the Beachy Amish, who disagree with the New Amish. There are Amish who aren't in communion with one another over issues that seem to us...well...silly. But within those communities, even a slight variance from practice might be a mortal failing.

So we’ll split, and split, and split, over issues that have little to do with what is at the heart of our faith. But least, in this mortal coil...just is not something that can be attained. It seems that the more we seek it, the more it will elude us.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Walls Down at the Precinct Are Bleeding

This winter, I've been watching the increase in tornadic activity with some interest. Over the last five years, the number of major, damaging storms in the month of February has gone up slowly...but this year, it's up by nearly a factor of 10. Of course, reflexive naysayers will reject the idea that Global Warming has anything at all to do with this. It's just an unusually strong El Nino. The data is inconclusive. It's all just media-driven hysteria, or perhaps a manifestation of God's displeasure at Al Gore's Oscar win.

But now we're moving towards a point when those who want to "debate" on this issue won't just have to debunk the vast preponderance of scientific data...which matters less to most Americans than the current location of Anna Nicole's slowly rotting corpse. It's becoming a self-evident thing...obvious to any dispassionate observer.

That's why the big boys on the doubt side of the argument are backing out. ExxonMobil in particular is no longer providing support to the naysayers. The potential damage to all sectors of the economy is too great, and even those who are guided by a simple profit metric are realizing that a warming planet is NOT good for business.

What I find ironic the presumption that starting to try to do something about this is somehow an excuse to bring in "big government." If you really wanted to turn America into a neo-Socialist state, you'd just let this thing play out. Free markets thrive in times of abundance and stability, but when crops are failing, storms are devastating the Midwest and coastal regions, and we find ourselves in a time of crisis, people will flee to the protection of a powerful centralized government. Think the Dustbowl. Think the Depression. Crisis begets government intrusion.

I mean, c'mon. Y'all have to know that was Ralph Nader's plan all along.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Thanks, Mr. Ffff...Ffff..wait, I'll get it...Flemming.

I'd like to express my appreciation to Blasphemy Challenge co-creator Brian Flemming for his gracious willingness to stand up for my fair use rights on YouTube. I'm also delighted that he found my parody of the Challenge amusing. That atheists and Christians are able to laugh together is either a reminder of our common humanity or a sign of the end-times. I can't quite decide which.

None of us are well served if we allow each other's ability to debate and challenge to be stifled by censorship. In fact, I'd love to discuss this, the Challenge, and the God Who Wasn't There further with the estimable Mr. Flemming, but I and other Christians are currently stymied by his requiring a signed and notarized statement before any conversation will even be considered.

That's unfortunate, because I'm left in the position of being unable to respond to a debate he's already begun with me. On his blog, Brian writes:

"The argument underlying Pastor David's parody is typically fallacious (it amounts to, "I see Christianity as an expression of peace and love, so the Rational Response Squad is opposed to peace and love"), but that's of course completely irrelevant to whether it should be removed from YouTube. If poorly reasoned arguments were forbidden, Christian pastors wouldn't be able to post on YouTube at all." Oooh. Quite the smackdown.

It would be fallacious...were that a reasonable encapsulation of my satire. A more objective summation would read "Love is the essential core of the Christian ethos, so the Rational Response Squad has willfully misrepresented Christianity." Of course, that's open to debate. I'm sure there's a great, snappy comeback to my poor reasoning, but we'll never get to hear it.

It's a pity, because it'd make for a very entertaining conversation. Might even be fun. I promise I'd keep the speaking in tongues to a minimum.