Archive for February, 2009

Ashes to Ashes

February 25, 2009

I freely admit to being a Lent junkie.  

Lent is the season of the liturgical church year which follows Epiphany, and precedes Holy Week and Easter Sunday (it actually includes Holy Week).  It’s a time of reflection, on the supreme gift of Jesus Christ in his suffering and death, and on our great need for that suffering, as well as our causative role in that suffering.  It’s a season that provides us the theological and liturgical breathing space to evaluate ourselves, and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in continuing the difficult and painful process of sanctification in our redeemed lives.
Today begins the season of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is the first day, and there are a total of 40 days in Lent – excluding Sundays (because Sundays are always a celebration, liturgically, of Easter).  Many people are more aware of the popular Mardis Gras, French for ‘Fat Tuesday’, so called because Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten fasting season, and so people really whooped it up on the Tuesday beforehand.  
The tradition of Ash Wednesday is associated most closely with the Imposition of Ashes.  Catholics (and some Lutherans) begin the observance of Lent with a visible, cross-shaped smudge of ash on their foreheads.  It is a symbolic reminder that we are destined for physical death, and therefore ought to soberly consider our lives in preparation and anticipation of that time – since we rarely know when it will arrive.  There are echoes of the Old Testament practice of covering oneself in sackcloth (course, uncomfortable cloth, sorta like burlap) and ashes as a sign of mourning or great loss.  
Traditionally, the ashes are the burned palm branches saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.  Some churches mark the festive palm Sunday with the waving of palm branches, to remind them of how the joyous Jerusalem crowds greeted Jesus on his final Passover arrival in the city.  A little water or oil can be mixed with the ashes as a fixative, so they stay better on the skin.  Traditionally, the sign of the cross made with the ash mixture is left on all day, and washed off after sundown.  
So I made ash today – twice.  The first time was for the preschool kids that I do chapel for each Wednesday morning.  We went outside and I tried to burn some dried palm branches from last year into ash, which was moderately successful.  I like to mix the ash with a more fragrant oil, and this year I used Frankincense and Myrrh oil.  It is reminiscent of the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus when they arrived to worship him, and there is a light, sweet scent.  Not all of the preschoolers were so sure of it, but most let me put the ashes on their foreheads.  
Since the burning wasn’t very even, and the resulting ash was pretty chunky, I discarded what was left, and went home and more carefully burned the remaining palm branches to ash.  It doesn’t really take much ash, since only a small amount is placed on each forehead.  If you burn two palm branches (smaller, not huge ones!) you’ll have TONS-o-ash.  A few drops of oil to mix it into a paste, and you’re good to go.  I like the symbolism redolent throughout the process, and the idea of being tied in to a church tradition in yet another manner.  Tonight, the ashes will be applied with the reminder to each recipient to Remember o man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.   
A good thing for all of us to keep in mind, on Ash Wednesday, in Lent, and always.

Would You Save Jesus From a Murderer – Rebuttal

February 22, 2009

A short blog entry about how to send away Christians trying to share their faith by baffling them with an ethical & theological dilemma.  To cut to the chase, this person asks the Christian whether or not, if they had been present at the crucifixion of Jesus with their 21st century  theological understanding, if they would have saved him or not (assuming they had the power to do so).  

It’s hard to imagine that this should baffle Christians, but a lot of folks out there don’t read their Bibles like they should, or don’t see some of the problems with the basic setup.  So, let’s break this down a few different ways.
Theological insight – the premise of this ‘stumper’ grants you your current state of theological understanding.  In other words, it assumes that, while you are present at the crucifixion, you know what Christianity and the Bible teach about Jesus in the 21st century (which, incidentally, is exactly what it has taught since the first century).  This should help eliminate some confusion.
Know the Back story – In Matthew 16, Jesus reveals to his disciples that he’s going to go to Jerusalem and be executed.  Peter, always well-intentioned, takes Jesus to task for this clearly unenlightened vision of the future.  He’s attempting to talk Jesus out of what Jesus knows is his destiny.  Jesus’ response?  “Get behind me Satan!”  He compares Peter’s desire to turn Jesus from his task with Satan’s desire to tempt Jesus to do things his own way, rather than the way His Father has ordained, something which was attempted in Matthew 4.  The issue is the same with Satan and Peter.  Both are attempting to convince Jesus to do things differently, when Jesus apparently knows full well how he’s supposed to fulfill his obligations. Jesus knows what it means to be obedient, and anyone that acts contrary to this is ultimately advocating rebellion against God the Father.  
Apply the Back story – Jesus is incarnate as a man in order to live the perfect life of obedience that Adam & Eve were called to and failed, and that was asked of Israel, knowing that Israel couldn’t do it either.  Jesus is, theologically speaking, the nation of Israel in one man.  His obedience compensates for the inability of Israel – and all mankind – to live obediently as required by God the Father.  The culmination of this life of obedience is self-sacrifice.  Jesus substitutes himself – sinless and perfect – for Israel and all mankind.  He accepts the punishment that our rebellion against our Creator God demands of a just and righteous God.  Jesus death is not some sort of hijacking of his mission and ministry on Earth, though his accusers undoubtedly thought so.  Rather, it is the final step of obedience.  Thus, just as Jesus rebuked Peter for drawing his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane at Jesus’ arrest, so we would be rebuked for thinking that Jesus needed rescuing.  In attempting to save Jesus, knowing what we do post-resurrection, we would actually be guilty of working against the will of God the Father.  
Be Careful of Terms – unlike a typical situation, while we would be inclined to describe a murder as an act of deadly violence carried out against an unwilling individual, this definition does not fit Jesus’ crucifixion.  We could describe the motivations of Jesus’ opponents as murderous, but as noted above, Jesus was not an unwilling or unwitting victim.  We can’t apply our human-based ethics to the will of God regarding His incarnate Son.  It’s apples and oranges.  By using terms such as ‘save’ and ‘murder’, it is easy to apply our own standards about how we ought to act in these situations if it were a neighbor or family member.  But Jesus’ execution was not random, and not against his will.  He even assures Peter that, if he was not willingly going along with the travesty of justice taking place, he would have “legions of angels” at his defense (Matthew 26:53).  
Understand Love – charging the issue with emotionalism just confuses things further.  Do you love Jesus?  Then why wouldn’t you save him?  If you don’t save him, how can you say you love him?  However, remember that Jesus defines love as obedience to God the Father (John 14).  Love isn’t sentimentality or rash action.  Love is seeking to understand the will of God, and to act in accordance with it.  By this definition, we would demonstrate our love and respect for Jesus as well as God the Father by allowing Jesus to fulfill his role.  Would it be painful to watch?  Of course.  Is it terrible that such a sacrifice is a necessity?  By all means.  That is the devastating power of sin.  That we have no way to free ourselves, and are only freed by the work of Jesus.  How do we know that this is true?  The resurrection on the third day, which vindicated Jesus’ teaching & works, and which demonstrated that our punishment has been paid in full.  Jesus could return to life because he had fully paid for our rebellion and sinfulness.
So, it doesn’t seem to be much of a stumper, but you have to be careful to analyze the premise, and avoid substituting common cultural ways of thinking about things for Biblical ways of thinking about things.

Livin’ La Vida Local

February 21, 2009

As I’ve noted (I think!) in earlier entries, my wife and I facilitated an experiment in communal living during our three years in St. Louis.  We moved from Phoenix to St. Louis, purchased a converted two-family home, and invited two couples from our church in Phoenix to join us. One couple (and their baby daughter) lived with us for two of the three years.  The other couple lived with us for one of the three years.  We rented room to a third couple for about seven months our first year there, until they were able to locate a suitable living situation for themselves.

Our goals were several – and ultimately, confused, which is why the experiment wasn’t successful (at least in my estimations of it).  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn a ton in the process, it just means that what happened didn’t really go as we had all planned and prayed for it to go.  Relationships were damaged to varying degrees.  
But when things were going well, it was an amazing experience.  To sit down at a dinner table with usually about eight people (including three children under four years old) could be a beautiful thing.  Sharing the preparation for the meal (alternating days of the week when each couple would purchase and prepare the dinner), sharing the clean-up after the meal – those were some good times.  And the experience reinforced in me that, despite other problems and issues that brought the experiment prematurely to an end, the idea of sharing a living environment with people not part of your nuclear or immediate family has a lot to commend itself.  
Here’s another brief article highlighting how others are also demonstrating the viability and joy that such unconventional living arrangements can bring.  This article highlights the economic benefits of such an arrangement, and that’s a benefit that everyone can appreciate.  Economics was one of our reasons for trying our communal living experiment, as well as the desire to experience and foster deep Christian community like you read about in the book of Acts in the Biblical New Testament.  
Ownership of a home (or at least the renting of a separate domicile like an apartment) has long been part and parcel of the American dream, born out of a time when the folks coming to our shores from Europe were leaving behind economic and political systems that directly or indirectly limited the ability of ordinary folks to own their own land.  Those humble origins have spawned an amazing tradition of land and property ownership in the US that has proven (recently, particularly) to be problematic in some key ways.  But even when the world financial markets aren’t melting down from abuses of power and privilege, everyone owning their own home is just plain inefficient.
Communal living is a difficult thing.  The family in the article has a house almost twice as large as the one we had in St. Louis, with double the number of bathrooms we had.  That would certainly help ease some of the stresses of having lots o’ folks in your home.  Hopefully more folks will examine these sorts of unconventional living arrangements as a means not simply of weathering the current recession/depression, but as part of more mainstream changes that could reduce the costs that a household requires, the environmental impact of providing separate housing options for every person/couple/family unit, and the other incidental costs involved in replicating furnishings and other household items that could better be shared.
I’m not sure my wife will be to eager to engage in another communal living experiment.  I know I would like to take another crack at it, learning from our experience in St. Louis and a few more years of grey hair and – hopefully – accumulated wisdom!  Depending on the economy, we may have that choice taken out of our hands to some degree!

Ain’t That the Cat’s Meow?

February 21, 2009

I find it hard to distrust people who are cavalier about their animals.  I’m no PETA nut-case, but I believe that owning an animal is a relationship and a responsibility.  You should do it because you love the animal and are willing to commit to it.  Conversely, I would find it hard to distrust someone who acquired a pet say, because it looked good professionally, and then quietly scuttled the animal to someone else when it was no longer politically expedient.  I’m sure it happens more often than I’d like to think.  But I would still tend to distrust those persons.  

Baby You Can Have My Car

February 21, 2009

A great article reminding us that there are other, more fundamental ways to go green.  

I’ve argued this for years now, that the post-WWII changes in city design have made us grossly dependent on driving everywhere.  Having lived in Phoenix most of my life, I can attest to how unreasonable it is to try and walk anyplace, since from May until November, you face very real health hazzards if you attempt to do so.  By separating living areas from commercial and business areas, we force people to drive, which forces in turn people to pollute and to rely on fossil fuels.  Demanding everyone buy a hybrid or more fuel-efficient car may sound like a great solution – if you’re a car manufacturer.  But the real solution is a fundamental rethinking of how we design our cities, and going back to a mindset that doesn’t assume at least two cars per family and a daily commute to the office via freeway.  
Such a mindset is grossly inefficient, wasteful of all sorts of resources, and guaranteed to continue to cause problems in getting people from point A to point B.  It ensures increasing taxes to pay for freeway infrastructure improvements, additions, and repairs.  It took my first visit to Europe to recognize how incredibly valuable and convenient it is to not have to worry about driving everywhere.  To demonstrate to me that public transportation could be cheap and incredily reliable, and even fun to use.  This will be a lesson slow in coming to America, but we so shamelessly ape the Europeans socially and politically and culturally, perhaps there’s a chance that we’ll develop their penchant for efficient public transportation.
I just doubt I’ll be alive to see it.  Or that my car will be.

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust

February 20, 2009

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  (ELCA) has released their latest statement on the issue of homosexuality and the church – Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.  The document makes recommendation to the 5-million member polity how the ELCA ought to deal with the issue of homosexuality, both in general as well as in terms of the ordination of homosexual clergy.  The ELCA’s most recent position has been to allow for homosexual clergy to be ordained, so long as they remain celibate.  That stance has been openly challenged by certain ELCA clergy, and an updated and more comprehensive statement of position has been necessary.  This was drafted by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

While the ELCA is the largest Lutheran polity in America, they are also the most liberal in terms of their positions and treatments of issues such as homosexuality.  Belonging to the roughly 2-million member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which has a decidedly more conservative stance on this issue, I was interested to read in detail the ELCA’s future position.  
Page 9 of the 33-page document (lines 299-303) provide the first concrete statement dealing with the issue of homosexuality.  The ELCA asserts that the issue of sexual orientation is not a matter of salvation.  In other words, whether you believe that homosexuality is acceptable or actively practicing homosexuality, will not affect the issue of salvation if you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  
On the surface level, this is true.  Sin is sin – and sexual sin is not different fundamentally in God’s eyes than shoplifting or blasphemy.  All sin separates us from God and, short of repentance and acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, condemns us to eternal separation from God.  However, the issue that needs to be dealt with here is one of submission to the Biblical authority.  While a specific sin is not something that will separate us from salvation, the issue becomes acknowledging sin as sin, or else attempting to whitewash it as something else.  If the Bible speaks specifically to the issue of sexual orientation (and it does), then as followers of Jesus Christ it is incumbent upon us to accept that Biblical authority, rather than exert our rebellious, sinful nature to contradict and argue against it, declaring a sin not to be a sin, and attempting to justify our behavior.  We all sin – continually.  But Christians are called to confess this, to repent of this, and to struggle against it, whether it’s a matter of sexual sin, shoplifting, blasphemy, or anything else.  The issue at stake is whether or not we allow God to determine the normative boundaries of our lives, or we insist on defining them for ourselves.  If the latter is the sake, then this is hardly a position of repentance, hardly a confession of sin, hardly a request for forgiveness.  And that sort of attitude *is* threatening to our salvation.
Lines 326-331 add to this by further distancing the issue of sexuality from a Biblical perspective, and instead relegating the issue to “moral discernment and practical wisdom”.  These are indeed gifts of God, but they hardly operate independently – or in contradiction to – Scriptural authority.  The Task Force appears to be separating the sexual issue from any sort of Biblical statement, and relegating it strictly to the realm of our best efforts at making sense of things.
Framing their discussion on sexuality in terms of a trust issue, the document continues.  They acknowledge that sexuality can be used to “serve God and serve the neighbor”, but interestingly acknowledge only that improper sexual conduct can hurt self or hurt the neighbor.  They seem to eliminate the dimension of displeasing God, who determined proper sexual relationship in Genesis, and reiterates the male-female, monogamous model throughout the Old and New Testaments.  It’s also interesting that in the notes on page 10, gender is defined strictly in terms of human construction and definition, again with the implication that the Bible does not define gender in very specific ways which may or may not match current social and cultural treatments of the topic.
Again in lines 367-372, sexual behavior is defined strictly in terms of “individual and communal consequences”, deliberately ignoring the spiritual consequences coram deo.  I find it interesting that in the following lines 374-377, sexuality’s proper place is nowhere explicitly stated as within the bonds of marriage and lifelong monogamy.  While I’m willing to bend over backwards and assume that there is this assumption on the part of the Task Force, it’s rather disturbing that it isn’t treated explicitly here.
Line 424 is troubling.  After multiple lines extolling the benefits of trust as the foundation of all relationships (based on modern social science theories, rather than the Bible, interestingly enough), the statement is made that “Social trust is grounded in the practice of mutual respect for the dignity of all people and their consciences.”  No, this is not the basis of trust.  If that is the basis of trust and our exhortations to be trustworthy, then we are doomed to failure.  Our current economic debacle should be hearty evidence enough that mankind does not instinctively act altruistically for the good of all.  That without a grounding in Christian understandings of the world that demand that all men and women are equal and must therefore be loved, protected, and trustworthy, we are definitely up a creek with no paddles and only about 2/10 of an actual boat.  If the foundation of trust is ourselves, we might as well give up and go home, lock the door and load the guns, because it ain’t happenin’.  
Lines 435-438 continue the dangerous trends away from the Church’s true reason for existing, and towards a socially acceptable reason.  “This church must be a leader in refocusing attention and practices and attitudes that build social trust.  Likewise, it must contribute to the development of responsible economic and social policies and practices that shape the expression of sexuality within social life.”  Actually, the Bible has already done that, in which case, it would be the job of any true church to faithfully bear witness to what the Bible states, since I’m fairly certain we aren’t going to improve over Scripture in terms of practical means of taking care of others and upholding the best sexual policies.
The lists in lines 461-485 are wonderful, but carefully avoid any mention of sexual proprietariness of any sort.  The list could just as easily be applied towards a defense of bestiality or pedophilia as to homosexual or heterosexual relationships.  This is the danger of leaving behind Biblical precepts on our behavior – regardless of how unpopular they might be with certain segments of society – and attempting to come up with some good ideas on our own.
Lines 502-508 finally go back to Scripture, referencing Mark 10:6-9 to affirm that historically, the Lutheran church has defined marriage as between a man and a woman – because that’s how the Bible affirms it to be.  I think it’s interesting that page 15’s discussion of divorce nowhere mentions the Biblical restrictions on divorce (for adultery and emotional/physical abandonment), but simply affirms that the church will minister effectively to the divorced.  I agree that this is an important role of the church – but I think the church also needs to take a fairly strong stand in reminding peopl
e who wish to marry in the Christian faith that the Bible has some pretty strong limitations on how and when divorce can occur.
Page 17 spends an awful lot of time stressing that not everyone is likely to agree on issues regarding same-sex relationships.  It completely avoids dealing with the thorny issue of Mark 10, which it brought up previously and which clearly indicates that marriage (and therefore sexual expression, which is Biblically limited to the marital relationship) is intended specifically as heterosexual in nature.  This seems like an awfully glaring hole in the effort towards cohesiveness within this document.
Page 18 relegates *all* attitudes on the issue of same-sex relationships and marriage to the murky area of “conscience-bound belief”.  Some find support for their belief in Scriptures and others don’t.  It seems obvious that this paper is not going to deal with the issue of what Scripture has to say on the issue, that this is apparently a foregone conclusion for the Task Force preparing this document.  I would think that this severely limits their ability to provide an even treatment of the issue, if they’ve already ruled out Scripture’s commentary on the topic – or have already determined that it doesn’t have a commentary on the issue.  I would think they would clearly state this then, as part of their operating assumptions.  Thus far, they haven’t.
Page 20, lines 727-732 and the notes associated with this section are interesting.  The text of the document indicates that heterosexual unions in the 20th century (and not earlier!??!?) were supported by social conventions.  The text notes state that “Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions assume and encourage households, similar to this (heterosexual married, nuclear family) model”.  No, the Scripture defines it, it doesn’t just assume it.  God places Adam and Eve together.  They have children together.  Sounds pretty married, pretty heterosexual.  ‘Nuclear’ is a rather arbitrary 20th century further delineation of a type of household that includes only parents and immediate children.  The Bible makes it clear that while the foundation of the family is the married heterosexual couple, there are certainly no restrictions on the incorporation of additional family members as part of the household unit.
Lines 763-765: “…this church must work toward greater understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.  It must seek that which is positive and life-giving while protecting from all that is harmful and destructive.”   These lines occur in a context which clearly asserts that same-sex marriages are and can be life-giving and appropriate, and therefore need to be supported, and that those who disagree with this are causing damage and harmfulness that violate the trust relationship the document claims is the Church’s primary concern, and which thus are acting contrary to the will of God to love our neighbor.  Wow, that’s a pretty convenient way of dismissing any opposition to your position, even if the opposition is based on the Scriptures that you yourself cite but chose to ignore (Mark 10).  
I like the statement beginning at line 937 which exhorts the church to not blindly follow popular standards of beauty that distort the Bible’s teaching about us as creations of God.  This document addresses a variety of sexual issues other than homosexual unions, and I think some of their statements in other areas (against sexual exploitation, for sexual education & discussion) are quite helpful.
Most of Section VI seems to waffle back and forth.  A strong tone seems wanted and warranted, but it seems constantly undermined by mitigating language, even if the intent of the mitigating language is not to actually contradict official positions.  People are inclined to cohabitate without being married.  There are lots of reasons for this – social, economic, personal, sexual, etc.  If the church does not believe this is right, then say it and be done with it.  Saying that you don’t condone it, and then lamenting about all of the various pressures and reasons that people use to justify it is not helpful.  If we are called Biblically to certain standards of behavior, then we are expected to attempt and meet those standards regardless of other pressures.
Lines 1121-1124 are disappointing, as once again they ignore God’s role in things, and treat the issue of procreation as simply a matter between a man and a woman, who need to be “responsible”.  Again, the Bible has wonderful contributions to this topic, which remind us that children are a gift from God, and thus, the issue of conception is not strictly an issue between the man and woman involved.  But none of that is acknowledged here, which is really a shame – as well as dangerously misleading.
Wow.  Lines 1143-1149 highlight the high trust that is placed in ministers and agents of the church, and talks about the high expectations that are placed on them in terms of their behavior, because of the trust that they are afforded by their position.  But there is no statement of position on how the church will deal with abuses in this arena.  It simply affirms that any such indiscretions are a violation of trust.  I would think that, given the climate of mistrust that has been fostered in regards to the church by the abuses of clergy, a more specific statement on the ramifications for such violations of trust would have been included.
In the Conclusion section, lines 1238-1241 propose that the ELCA should in practice allow (and therefore promote) the ordination of any homosexual in a same-sex civil union, domestic partnership or marriage.  Since the document doesn’t define domestic partnership (is this a legal term, or a term of convenience for ‘living together’ or ‘involved with’ someone of the same sex?), it would seem to leave the door wide open for a variety of situations regarding homosexual clergy.  Again, there is no effort made to legitimize this stance in light of the Mark 10 passage quoted earlier in the document.  Nowhere in this document is a theological treatment of the Bible’s stance on the issue of sexuality either alluded to or provided.  It’s as though the Bible didn’t exist.  That seems like a problematic stance, at best, for an organization asserting it’s identity as a part of the Body of Christ.  Jesus, incidentally, *did* affirm the authority of the Scriptures in totality.  This would also leave the ELCA in an awkward position, since they’re not just ignoring Jesus’ specific statements on marriage, but the entire Bible’s treatment of the issue of sexuality.
I was hoping for some better understanding of the ELCA’s current and proposed position.  Unfortunately, this document does not provide one, beyond the mantra of ‘trust’.  We must build trust, and to build trust, we must accept others and support them.  I agree.  But the church also has the unique and  at times quite difficult role of reminding the world that it was created by God, and that God gets to set the terms for healthy living.  God defines the grounds on which trust may be built.  I can build trust with someone while pointing out to them the error of their behavior.  It’s harder to do so, since the other person will need to be willing to hear what I say.  But it’s still a means of building trust.  Simply accepting anything anyone wants to do because that’s what will build trust completely ignores what the Bible calls the church to as a witness of Jesus Christ and a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God.  We ultimately provide a major disservice to people when we fail to point out the Bible’s teaching about their lives.  That isn’t building trust, it’s setting someone up for a very big, very dangerous fall.
By the logic in this report, we ought not treat
*any* form of behavior as unacceptable, since that might violate trust, or prevent trust from being built.  Yet I’m sure that the ELCA would affirm that murder is not appropriate or acceptable behavior, and that embezzlement would clearly be in violation of the 10 Commandments, and that coveting your neighbor’s stuff and plotting to steal it for yourself would be wrong.  Clearly, life is not relativistic.  Clearly, the church would acknowledge that some behavior is incorrect.  I would imagine the church would go to the Bible as the basis for that conviction.  So I find it odd that the ELCA would so completely and categorically ignore the Bible on this issue.  
I can love my homosexual neighbor without declaring that their lifestyle is pleasing to God.  I can befriend a homosexual and build a friendship of trust without sacrificing the integrity of my beliefs.  It might be harder, since the other person might not like my disagreement.  But I don’t control their reaction.  I can only try to love them and be honest with them and seek God’s loving best for them – which does not include ignoring what He has to say about my life and their life.  
I’m not surprised by the ELCA’s direction in this report.  But it’s disappointing.  Disappointing, and very, very dangerous.

Am I a Believer?

February 19, 2009

Nancy Pelosi met with Pope Benedict XVI the other day.  Papal insiders report that the 15-minute private session was used by the Pope to remind Pelosi of the Catholic Church’s firm stance against abortion and for the sanctity of human life.  Pelosi has tried to position herself as a devout Catholic who believes in abortion.  Pope Benedict took the opportunity to remind her that this was an incompatible claim.

Pelosi released a brief press statement talking about what *she* had to say to the Pope, in terms of complimenting him and reminiscing about a family Papal visit 50 years ago.  There was no mention made of the Pope’s comments to her on the issue of abortion.
This brings to mind the whole issue of how we define ourselves.  Pelosi defines herself as a committed Roman Catholic, and yet she clearly rejects some of the Catholic Church’s key teachings on crucial issues.  At what point does a personal rejection of key theological positions remove one from the pale of a particular denominational affiliation?  Can one be a Christian without accepting the Bible as authoritative?  Clearly, there are many people who think this can be done.  Can you be a Christian while denying the doctrine of the Trinity, or affirming the idea of reincarnation?  Can you be Christian while denying Jesus Christ as the incarnate true-God, true-man Son of God?
There seem to be many folks who feel that they are at liberty to pick and choose the ideas and beliefs and practices that they want from one or more religious traditions, combining them into an entirely new and individualized faith expression that may bear little resemblance in key ways to any of the religions that they borrowed certain ideas from.   Some religious traditions – such as Buddhism – take this all in stride, figuring that a person is going to have multiple incarnations on order to clear up their confusion and proceed towards the proper path of enlightenment.  This looks a great deal to the casual observer as an embracement of all faiths as one, when in reality it’s just a trust that over the course of multiple lives, people will clarify their confusions and follow the right path towards nirvana and moksha.  
Biblical Christianity doesn’t offer the luxury of multiple lifetimes.  We have apparently one shot to recognize the truth of God’s work in the world and our lives, and the particular work on our behalf of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  While it’s popular to claim that it’s possible to accept and reject different aspects of a faith system while still remaining faithful, this would seem – logically – to be erroneous, and – spiritually – quite dangerous.
I respect the Catholic Church.  I don’t agree with all of their man-made doctrines, and therefore I am *not* Catholic.  I wonder if Pelosi will reflect on her time with the Pope to ascertain whether she is indeed as Catholic as she likes to maintain, and whether or not she as a single individual with a very limited lifespan of experience, is qualified to redefine Catholicism not just for herself, but potentially for millions of Catholics in the US and around the world.  
It turns our that our ‘personal faith’ is sometimes not nearly so personal as we like to think it is.  That ought to give Pelosi – and everyone else – pause to consider what their personal tweaks of the faith are actually doing to themselves, to others, and to the faith they claim to adhere to.

Multiplex Jesus

February 19, 2009

While it’s easier for someone to identify Christian or Christ motifs and themes and references in a movie, sometimes it’s helpful to have things pointed out.  This is particularly true, in light of the issue with decreasing Biblical literacy among younger folks that I mentioned the other day.  

So in case you weren’t noticing, references to Jesus – if not theologically correct representations of Jesus – abound in movies.  Here are a few.  

Surprise, Surprise. Not.

February 19, 2009

Does anyone really doubt that this sort of thing has been going on widescale in Hamas-controlled Gaza (and elsewhere, I’m sure).  

I’m sure there *won’t* be an international outcry against these sorts of tactics.  I just can’t for the life of me figure out why not.

Read What?

February 19, 2009

As a part time university instructor, I’ve enjoyed working with students for almost a decade now.  And working specifically for a technology-oriented school, I’ve always lamented the somewhat stunted nature of knowledge of humanities – literature, history, etc.  I’ve tended to console myself that this is just an issue with the particular student demographic at my school.  However, it would seem that this isn’t the case.  

The attack on Christianity has reached such epic proportions in the academic realm, that students no longer understand even basic literary references to the book.  Obviously, this means that they aren’t receiving exposure to the Bible at home or in a house of worship either.  But the issue becomes not just theological but also cultural, when the singular bedrock document of Western Civilization is unknown to college students.  I’d be interested if folks think there is another book that has had the same – or greater – impact on Western Civilization.  I can’t think of one.  
This leaves academia in a.  They don’t wish to teach the Bible because the dominant liberal agnostic/atheistic intellectual elite wish to see Christianity (specifically, but undoubtedly they would extend this desire to all religions, eventually) wither away.  They don’t want to have to acknowledge the importance of the Bible to Western culture and society.  But on the flip side, if they don’t teach it, then we have a fundamental disjunct in what constitutes a traditional liberal arts education.  I doubt they would be content to graduate students who have never heard of Beethoven, or Descartes, or Picasso.  Yet each of these individuals was heavily influenced by a familiarity with the Bible.  It was part of their cultural (if not necessarily theological) world view.  
It will be hilariously ironic – as well as more than a tad depressing – if the educational institutions that seem to work so hard to eliminate Christian thought as academically acceptable, end up being the ones to teach the Bible as part of General Studies and liberal arts education as a whole.