Archive for March, 2009

Tolerance, Eh?

March 29, 2009

In a display of the sort of tolerance that we can grow to expect more and more of in the coming years, our church was defaced today.  I’m assuming that it happened in the wee hours of the morning, when our quiet town of 65,000 or so is pretty well dead quiet.  

We had received two complaint calls in the last week about the sign – both people unhappy at messages on the sign that professed in varying terms that Jesus is the way of salvation.  I think the sign most recently read “Give Jesus a try – if you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back”.  Neither caller wished to leave their names or talk with me.  Both were irritated that we would be so closed-minded as to assume that there could only be one Way towards heaven/bliss/nirvana/moksha/whatever-they-think-is-out-there.  They didn’t wish to dialog, they wished to instruct.  We were being intolerant, and they needed to instruct us as to how to be more tolerant.
I’m of the opinion that it was one of these open-minded, tolerant folks who sometime last night or early this morning painted the glass over our sign black on one side, blocking out the message that they had found so offensive as to be intolerable, despite their assertions that we needed to be more tolerant.  A bored teen likely would have just destroyed the sign – put a rock through it, or some other means of violence.  But to paint over it in black paint demonstrates not boredom, but dissent and disagreement.  
This is the form of tolerance I expect more of in the future.  Tolerance for anyone and anything except anyone or anything that dares to make a definitive statement about the nature of reality, and the nature of our existence in this world.  Believe what you want, in other words, just don’t dare believe anything exclusively, and don’t dare believe anything to a point where you would express it to someone else.  This is intolerable.  We can’t debate any longer in a civilized fashion (is that something we were ever very good at as a species?) Tolerance is for anyone except those who refuse to turn off their brains and worship tolerance as some sort of global panacea.  Because it’s pretty clear that there are some tolerant folks out there who aren’t going to take any guff, and who feel more than justified in shutting others up if they don’t feel they’re being properly tolerant.  Or aren’t being tolerant in the right way.  Or, more accurately, just happen to disagree with their particular interpretation of what tolerance means and why it ought to be practiced.  It’s rather clear that tolerance isn’t.  It’s clearer each day that being tolerant isn’t enough – you must be the proper persuasion of tolerant.  Or you will be silenced.
Which doesn’t sound overly tolerant to me.  Which is why I much prefer the Biblical injunction not to be tolerant, but rather to love God with everything you are, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus understands what a scam tolerance is.  The Romans claimed to be tolerant – allowing their conquered peoples to retain their own pantheons of gods and goddesses.  Oh, but that pantheon had to include the emperor.   Tolerance wasn’t really tolerance – tolerance was do what we tell you to do, and if you do that, we’ll allow you – for the time being – to do other lesser things as well.  
Tolerance is a sheathed knife.  Tolerance is an uncocked pistol.  Tolerance is the thinly veiled threat that said tolerance will be withdrawn and obedience will be demanded in a more naked and brutal form.  Tolerance is an indulgence, and when boredom sets in, or when patience runs out, that indulgence is withdrawn.
Love, on the other hand, isn’t like that.  Love is not the checking of hate.  Love is not a temporary permissiveness.  Love is an action.  A decision.  A commitment to that other person that is not withdrawn, is not demanding, and is not an indulgence.  Love is a sacrifice, and love is hard.  
We’ll have the glass on our sign replaced within a few days.  And I’m torn on how to move forward.  I haven’t specifically requested that all the messages be vetted by me prior to being placed up.  Probably not wise.  But I’m not sure I would have asked that this one be changed anyways.  There’s another church sign in town, and they simply put up the title of the sermon on Sunday and the pastor’s name.  Our sign has attempted to amuse, to provoke thought, to exhort, to challenge.  That means some people won’t like what it has to say from time to time.  Is our duty as a church to placate people, on the off-chance that perhaps they’ll find us so tolerable that they’ll want to come and sit in with us some Sunday morning?  Is it to deny the truth we claim to hold more dearly than our lives themselves, on the off chance that others won’t decide that our sign needs to be painted over?  To avoid a next time, since next time they may just destroy the whole sign instead of just painting it over?  If a sign is so innocuous in it’s message as to be easily ignored, is there a point in having a sign in the first place?  
These are the questions I juggle in my mind.  Not worriedly.  Not anxiously.  This is to be expected.  In many ways, it’s a relief – it means that we’ve struck a nerve with someone.  I pray that someone reconsiders their actions in the future.  That they’d be willing to sit down and talk like adults.  I’m not hopeful that will happen.  But I pray it will.  For all our sakes.
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Food For…errrrr…Thought?

March 28, 2009

I’m not sure if I buy this, but it’s definitely something to chew over.   

Mary Eberstadt is opining that our sudden cultural abandonment of morals and boundaries in our sexual lives has resulted in an over-obsession with the morality of something more innocuous – food.  Basically arguing for a type of balancing act in human beings, so that when balance is thrown out in one arena, it is compensated for in another area.  Hipsters who wouldn’t dream of pointing a judgmental finger at someone based on their sexual practices feel more than justified in passing judgment on people based on their food choices and practices.
Definitely worth mulling over prior to your next meal…but it complicates trying to determine what wine to pair with it.

A Little Help, Please?

March 28, 2009

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently  passed a resolution condemning defamation of religion.  The general concensus is that the measure is designed to limit missionary work in Muslim countries, as well as to respond to actions that some Muslims consider defamatory of their religion – such as the infamous cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed that raised such a ruckus a couple of years ago.

However, I can’t find a draft or final copy of this resolution anywhere – including the UN Human Rights Council’s web site.  If anybody can find out what the title or number of the resolution is, or a link to it, I’d appreciate it.  

All Hail the Messiah

March 27, 2009

I can’t understand why people who profess to be intelligent – far more intelligent than the rest of us, they say – can be so completely and totally enslaved to a cult of personality.

This gentleman, who apparently managed to free himself from the foolishness of Christianity, is now a devotee in the Cult of Obama.  
I didn’t vote for the Obama, but I respect the idea of an Obama – someone who is really an agent of positive political change.  So far, I haven’t seen an substantive change in how business is handled.  Corrupt politicians are still given exceptions because of how desperately their services are needed.  Lobbyists don’t appear to be losing any clout in Washington D.C.  Taxpayers are being charged massive bills to ‘fix’ the economy, and are being denied the accountability and transparency of knowing who got their money.  However, regardless of who occupied the Oval Office right now (with the exception of Jesus Christ, and He wouldn’t bother with such a trivial title), I would never assume that the person was clearly the One-And-Only-Providential-Savior-Who-Holds-The-Knowledge-And-Ability-To-Singlehandedly-Save-The-World.  Is it me, or is this guy’s rhetoric just over the top in a way that is more than frightening?  He clearly needs a savior, and he thinks that he’s found the right one in Obama.  
I believe that Obama wants to change the country.  But I don’t know how he defines change.  Is it the creation of a massive civilian security force to help keep the peace?  Is it rescuing us from the devastation of a Greater Depression?  Is it pushing us towards a European-style socialization of industry and health care?  I don’t think that these things are inseparable in Obama’s vision of our future, and while I wish to avoid not simply my suffering but the suffering of millions and billions of people in the US and around the world because of financial fallout, I am not at all happy with the price tag or the attendant issues that are being pushed forward along with fiscal policy.  I am not at *all* comfortable with the equating of dissent and disagreement with ‘suicide’, or worse yet, the mass murder that this writer describes it as.  As near as I can tell, people who study economics have no idea what will make a difference at this point.  To assume that Obama does – or any person for that matter – is ridiculous.  
Be supportive.  But such arrogance and condescension – whether from the right or the left – is ultimately pointless and dangerous.  It’s frustrating and ironic to have to tell people so committed to secular humanism and rationalism to use their heads.  

Who’s Shrugging Now?

March 27, 2009

Since the end of my high school days, I’ve been very forthcoming in admitting that the two single literary works that had the greatest impact on my life are the Bible and Atlas Shrugged.  For folks familiar with both of these works, it may seem like a rather incongruous pairing.  The harsh empirical, anti-religion objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, set off against the authoritative Word of God.  To explain why it works for me would take a long time, so I won’t attempt to do so here.  For a time, it was my ritual to reread Atlas Shrugged every summer.  While it’s been a few years since my last read of it, it remains pivotal in my development.

So it’s with some bittersweet joy that I watch as Atlas Shrugged becomes a suddenly desirable read these days.  If you’ve attempted to read it, you understand why.  The book is massive – 1000+ pages.  It contains sections of monologue that are longer than other books.  The writing style is sharp and angular – there are no shades of grey, no ambiguities.  Rand holds the world under a light that permits no uncertainty about right and wrong – something she shares with the Biblical witness, though her conclusions are almost 180 degrees different.  
But today, it is becoming a byword for dissatisfaction with the fiscal policies of the new administration, and with a monolithic government that seems to only grow larger and more intrusive and abusive.  Frankly, this book should have been a best seller since it was published, if it’s popular today for these reasons.  The issues that people feel the book addresses are by no means new or exclusive to either the current administration or either party.  
While I don’t agree with Rand’s conclusions, her clarion call for personal responsibility and accountability is much needed.  And that call extends universally.  It doesn’t just apply to Washington fat cats, but to every man and woman of voting age – including myself – who has taken (at best) a lacadaisical approach to understanding and following politics.  Who has themselves shrugged in frustration about being unable to do anything about an undesirable situation or ruling.  Who has assumed that others are better informed and better qualified to make decisions.  It is these people – and myself – who are ultimately to blame for the abuses of privilege, the utter contempt with which we are treated not simply by politicians, but by judges and other so-called representatives of the people.  These people exist and thrive on the very reality that nobody ultimately cares enough to make them leave.  They become indispensable by the very fact that they are willing to endure almost universal disdain in exchange for the perks and privileges of power.  
Anyone who doesn’t suspect that our country is in very real, very severe trouble is not paying attention.  Reading Atlas Shrugged is great fodder for intellectual gorging, but what is necessary is a willingness to act on the principles we claim we hold, or else give up on complaining and whining about a situation we have no stomach to tackle and try and change.  The idea of becoming socialist may seem like a trivial issue to many who envy the long vacations and seeming comfort of successful European countries.  But the issues that are most dangerous about our drift towards socialism are ultimately not economic, but philosophical and theological.  Rand sees this as well, though not through the same lens as the Bible.  
The question becomes whether the answer is to plunge into involvement in an attempt to turn the tide of politics that has been rising for decades, or take Rand’s approach, and disconnect.  Completely.  To reject the philosophy that the pursuit of material wealth is the ultimate goal in our lives, and that all other things including the health and well-being of our children or our devotion to our faith can suffer for the bulk of our lives and be magically redeemed in retirement.  I don’t yet know which answer is the right one for me.  But I am wondering, and hopefully you are wondering as well.
And if you’re looking for something to read, check out Atlas Shrugged and the Bible as well.  You’ll have plenty of company.  

Must Watch Metaphor

March 27, 2009

I don’t endorse South Park.  I can’t.  This doesn’t mean that it isn’t at times incredibly hilarious, and even keenly insightful.  It just means that a show as bent on deliberately seeking to offend as many traditional sensibilities as possible isn’t something I can come out and endorse.  

Not that anybody really cares all that much what I do or don’t endorse.  
But this clip is both hilarious, insightful, and a powerful metaphor for the Biblical Christian message.

Twitless

March 27, 2009

I don’t Twitter.

I don’t ever anticipate having the slightest desire to Twitter.  
Ever.
This video sums up my feelings about the whole Twitter phenomenon.   Which, I would like to say for the record, should probably burn itself out of our consciousness by the end of this year.  Then again, I predicted that CDs were going to be known as the “8-tracks of the 90s” back in about 1990.  So I wouldn’t advise taking my predictions too seriously.
The problem with Twitter – other than it’s complete and utter pointlessness – is that people are ill-equipped these days to know how to use it intelligently.  As articles like this so aptly point out, people have a hard time understanding what is appropriate to share, when, where, and to whom.  As we become more isolated from other people, our attempts to connect with other people – no matter how shallowly – begin to misfire more and more.  We become so accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives into mutually exclusive domains, that we forget that our precious technology often spans these domains and binds them together in frightening or at least potentially embarrassing ways.  
People have ways of divulging their ignorance and lack of tact or common sense in so many more ways now, and to so many more people than ever before.  As hilarious as this may be to watch from the sidelines, I can’t help but suspect that none of us will be laughing about these things for long.

Consistency

March 26, 2009

I’m a big fan of consistency.  Not the issue of how something feels, but rather, the link between actions and beliefs and thoughts.  The idea that we are to strive constantly for harmony between these arenas, and that what we believe has a direct impact on what we think and what we do.  One of the single most evolutions in the past 150 years has been the dissolution between belief and action.  

So I commend the group of students at Notre Dame who are protesting the University’s selection/acceptance of President Obama as the commencement speaker for the graduation ceremony this year.  These are some sharp students who understand the bitter irony of sacrificing the foundational Catholicity of the institutions beliefs in favor of a big-name celebrity that makes the school look hip and cool.  While I can’t confirm that this was the actual thought process of university officials, it would seem difficult to come up with another explanation.  
I hope this is a reminder to other thoughtful folks out there that what we do ought to jive with what we believe, and overlooking glaring, monumental disjuncts in these arenas for the sake of some sort of publicity boost is a poor trade off at best.  It will be interesting to see if the school changes it’s mind on the issue.  

I’m Chicken

March 25, 2009

Rather than publishing a potentially offensive but thought-provoking discourse on the nature of warfare double-standards between legitimate nations and rogue militant groups on the issue of using human shields, I have chickened out.

Instead, I offer a broader map of television sitcoms than the New York-centered one I posted a few days ago.  Enjoy.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Evolution

March 21, 2009

So, I don’t really agree with the whole macro-evolutionary, natural selection theory that says we all basically come from cosmic lint.  

There are lots of folks who do find this concept to be rather compelling.  And yet, for reasons that elude me, they seem to assume that no other species beyond human beings has really evolved much.  In other words, we were somehow magically blessed with the right combinations of blind chance – over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again to develop from our primate ancestors until we now have microwave popcorn.  Yet the popular assumption seems to be that no other species has developed in any real way similarly to us.  
And hence, scientists and naturalists are being continually surprised by discoveries that, to my way of understanding their theory, ought not to be any surprise at all.  In fact, were I them (which again, I am not – to our mutual relief), I would tend to think that these discoveries supported my natural selection assumptions.  I would make a point of not acting continually surprised that other species demonstrated certain characteristics and behaviors that these folks apparently are convinced are the domain of humans and only humans.
I am not particularly surprised that a monkey can plan.  Makes perfect sense to me, and I don’t even think we’re related!  But others appear to be quite surprised.  
Go figure.