Archive for April, 2010

I Feel Bad for Chuckling…

April 18, 2010

With all due acknowledgment to the many people who are adversely affected by the situation with the volcano in Iceland pretty much grounding all air travel in Europe – I know this must be very, very frustrating and/or damaging to lots of people.  I empathize with their frustration, and pray for swift resolution to whatever issues this unexpected turn of events has caused.

However, I can’t help but chuckle.  We’re an amazing creation, humankind.  We’re also pretty confident about how things are and how they ought to be and how they’re going to be.  I find it a healthy reminder that in an age when so much is possible, it’s good to remember that something as simple as a volcano in pretty much the middle of nowhere can demonstrate exactly how little control we have over our world and our lives. 

A good reminder for all of us, all of the time.  Towards that end, I found this post just too fantastic not to include here .  This is the God I fear and love.  I place my life in His hands because that is what I was created to do, and because despite my petty pretensions to the contrary, I have no other choice.  I am always in His hands.  And I know that regardless of the results of my life, no matter what it might look like to someone on the outside, I know that I can trust this dangerous God to love me as only He can and will – with a love that sacrificed His own Son so that I might live. 

Another Data vs. Facts Distinction

April 17, 2010

I’ve written before about the difference between data and facts.  Data is information.  It is objective.  Facts, on the other hand, are often extrapolations of applications or interpretations of data.  Data can be very reliable when understood properly.  Facts are reliable less frequently, depending on the level and type of interpretation applied to the data the facts claim to be based on.

For example – this very brief news article reporting on the “breakthrough” of a technique that removes different biological components from two different human beings at the embryo stage (destroying both of those human beings) and implants them into a third human being at the embryo stage.  Here is an example of facts being extrapolated from a set of data that is not discussed in any detail or length.  The reader is left with the impression that this is now a viable option that should be pursued to eliminate genetic flaws that lead to dangerous or fatal health conditions.  It is worded in such a way as to highlight and extoll the accomplishment before pointing a finger at those that would dare to object and raise “controversy”.

Here’s a much better commentary  (though one inclined to different conclusions from the first article) on what has actually been done and not been done.  Note references to the actual report rather than the vaguely worded first story.  This article also posesses a bias, but that should be expected since it’s self-labeled as a blog, as opposed to the first article which comes from a “Health Editor” for a news publication. 

The issues raised in the second article are very real and very important – human life is being destroyed in the hopes of being able to save other human lives by continuing to destroy human lives.  The outcomes of the study thus far are not nearly as glowing as The Sun would have you believe. 

When I’m 64…

April 15, 2010

Much ado  has been made of the Vatican’s newspaper story of last Saturday, April 11.  In it, the Vatican extols the blessings of the Beatles and forgives them for some of their more controversial statements .  After 40 years, the Catholic Church seems to be offering an olive branch to a musical group that offended Christians & Catholics with the lifestyle of it’s influential members, and comments from John Lennon that seemed to elevate the group over Jesus in terms of popularity.  This generosity has not been universally heralded .

First off – forgiveness is in order whenever someone sins against us – whether they think it’s a sin or not, and whether they are repentant or not.  So in one sense, this step by the Vatican shouldn’t come as a surprise.  What might come as a surprise is that it’s taken roughly 40 years to reach this point.  Forgiveness is saying that we aren’t going to hold someone’s offenses against them, and that we are rather going to continue to seek for their best through our Heavenly Father.  Part of that best is that the offending party will recognize the nature of their offense and seek repentance – not from us necessarily, but from their Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness is not the act of claiming that an offense was not really an offense.  That’s a step of avoidance, not dealing head on with an issue.  Reading Lennon’s comments in full – combined with the lifestyle and metaphysical inquiries the group pursued at the time with Easter mysticism – makes it clear that Lennon was not just blowing off steam.  Although the depth of his spiritual maturity – in whatever discipline he was pursuing at the moment – might be questioned, the seriousness of his statement seems indisputable.  He was forecasting the demise of Christianity.  He was asserting that Jesus and His teachings had been hijacked and “twisted” by his followers.  These are not trivial assertions, and attempting to treat them as such is disrespectful to Lennon, as well as to the Church’s followers 40 years ago. 

On the other hand, the Vatican appears to not so much be forgiving the statements of John Lennon, as trivializing them – treating them as though they weren’t what they sounded like at the time.  In a great sense, the Vatican is taking Lennon’s words out of context in order to sound generous in laughing them off as the bluster of a genial bloke dealing with popularity.  

What I’m curious about in this is how this proclamation will be heard by faithful Catholics.  If the Vatican is essentially forgiving and laughing off the statements of Lennon – as well as the sexual liberal and drug lifestyles of the members – how is this to be reconciled with the Church’s demands of it’s followers that they follow the Law scrupulously, and take great pains to seek not just forgiveness but also atonement by rigid adherence to the demands of Confession and the penitential system?  If Lennon bashing the Church is eventually seen to just be the offhand comments of a talented blowhard, how seriously should Catholics be taking their own shortcomings?  If sexual liberty and drug indulgence can be somewhat written off, how can anyone take the Church’s teachings on penance seriously?

And what’s the basis for the Vatican’s generosity towards the Beatles?  Their talent.  In a sense, the Beatles have earned this forgiveness by demonstrating that they truly were musical geniuses and not just a few rotten apples with guitars.  Would the Church extend this level of forgiveness to the Rolling Stones ?  Or to any other much appreciated artist whose work stands the test of recent memory?  What about Robert Maplethorpe?  At what point is talent inadequate for meriting forgiveness from the Church? 

I think a much more honest approach would be to keep the issue separate, as they truly are.  The Beatles were without a doubt more than just a talented bunch of guys.  Their influence is pervasive even today in music.  From the perspective of pop music, they must undeniably be given their due.  On the other hand, the antagonism of Lennon towards Christianity doesn’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – soft-peddled.  He stands out to me as the case of a highly gifted person – a person gifted by God – who is unable to see the source of his giftedness.  It’s a sad thing indeed, and not just a young man grappling with the demands of sudden popularity. 

What is Church 2

April 12, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote the first of what I anticipate to be several related entries on the nature of church.  I talked about two understandings of this word, one which is probably more common, and related to a specific, local entity called a church.  The other understanding is more nebulous – the Church is the body of all believers in Jesus Christ.  And I talked about how the purpose of any local Christian church is to facilitate and help it’s members to membership in this latter, universal Church.

The problem, however, is that the very way that we conceive of a local entity called a church virtually ensures that the number one priority of that church will not be trying to increase or solidify membership in the church universal.  The church will say this is it’s number one priority, and there will be many people (God willing!) who earnestly believe or desire this to be true.  But the brutal fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, the number one priority is that the church will be there the following day.  And the following week and month and year and decade. 

The number one priority of pretty much any church (I’m praying there are exceptions, and hoping you will point me to some!) is survival. 

There are some logical arguments about why this could be justified.  For example, if a local church weren’t concerned about it’s ongoing ministry, it could be argued it would be too insubstantial or ill-equipped to be sharing the Gospel effectively.  By ensuring that a church has staying power, it can be asserted that the church will continue to make an impact in people’s lives.  Maybe that’s a valid argument. 

But before we go into arguments about whether or not this is a good thing, we have to be honest enough to say that the primary preoccupation of a local church entity is self-preservation.  Once we admit this, we can move forward into thinking about what that means about how or what or why a church does what it does.  Some churches are well enough off that their survival is not necessarily the main issue on everyone’s mind.  In many more churches, I suspect, this concern is near the top of everyone’s mind who knows what’s going on in the church.  We hate to say it.  We feel guilty saying it.  And yet there it is.  Whether you’re planting a church or continuing a church, the number one issue to be dealt with is not the Gospel, but with self-preservation and that crucial critical mass of attendance figures or giving figures that reasonably cause you to assume that this church can continue operating for another set period of time.

Scripturally we are led to reasonably conclude that a church is going to have some staying power.  Paul spends a fair amount of time talking with people about how to do church.  1Corinthians 9-14 deals with many different issues related to how a church acts or what a church believes.  The second half of Galatians deals with how a church should act and believe, along with Ephesians 4-5 and the latter part of Colossians.  1Timothy 2-3 deals directly with church life.  And the very fact that Paul is able to write to groups of Christians in specific locations leads us to expect that a local church will have some permanence, some continuity of ministry.  And Scripture doesn’t show us whether these first churches had self-preservation as their foremost goal or not.

I find it problematic that survival is the first goal of probably every church.  Does anyone else? 

Call Me Goofy, But…

April 9, 2010

So, you choose to attend a college called Trinity, and then are incensed when the diploma mentions Jesus Christ

I’m sure there are some that would find this to be some sort of bizarre coincidence, a further example of how for greater understanding and peacefulness, an institution needs to modify it’s practices so that nobody is offended.  I’m sure to many this only makes sense.  What’s the big deal?

I’m not one of those people.

A diploma is a very personal item” says the president of the group and happens to be Muslim.

No, a diploma is not a very personal item.  That’s the point of a diploma.  A diploma is an institutional item.  It’s supposed to be an objective demonstration of your ability to complete a process.  It’s an institution’s reputation in print that you have adequately demonstrated a mastery of a curriculum.  The institution is putting it’s reputation on the line that you will represent them well.  In fact, you don’t want a personalized diploma.  What you want is a diploma that links you solidly with all the other people who have attended and enriched that institution, and gone on to do good things in their community.  Your credibility is not a separate issue, but part and parcel of the university’s credibility.  Your own degree and experience is supposed to benefit from and be representative of the experience and degrees of everyone else.

The diploma is personal only insofar as it’s your name on the diploma.  You satisfied the requirements to receive it, you did the work.  The diploma is personal in that it represents your choice of an institution.  It says something about your decision-making.  It might demonstrate the choice you made in educational institutions, or it might reflect your choice to even complete a degree despite financial or other constraints. 

But it’s not a personal item beyond that. 

What’s equally disturbing in this situation is that the university itself now has to examine itself to determine whether or not it’s a Christian educational institution, or an educational institution that just happens to have been started by Christians.  While this story makes it sound more like the former, a quick perusal of their website makes a much stronger argument for the latter. 

The only place I could find mention of faith issues was here, in the Student Life area of the website.  The page appears to be the chaplaincy page, which the article mentions as evidence that the school really is Christian and by implication, that the demand of this small group of students is unreasonable.  Unfortunately, the wording on the page doesn’t lead one to assume this.

The mission of the chaplaincy…” – not the university as a whole, but just the chaplaincy. 

“…is to lead those who follow Christ…” – not everyone, not all nations (as Matthew 28:16-20 would remind Christians), but just those who already feel comfortable describing themselves as Christian.  Evangelization is not the emphasis here, but rather providing limited service to the portion of the student body who probably assumed the school is Christian.

“…to support those of every faith, and to serve all who call Trinity home.” – Christians are to accommodate everyone else.  No wonder the Muslim leader of Trinity Diversity Connection feels so comfortable in issuing demands.  At the very least, the chaplaincy of Trinity sort of sets the expectation that those demands are reasonable and ought to be tolerated and supported.  

I find it interesting that the chaplaincy doesn’t identify Christian growth or leadership development or discipleship or evangelization as goals.  Rather, the goal the chaplaincy holds out for Christians is to accommodate everyone else.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for respect (which is not the same as tolerance, as I’ve talked about before).  But if this is the best goal that the chaplaincy of a school called “Trinity” can put together, clearly the emphasis is not on Christianity – and the rest of the page bears this out rather brutally. 

This would appear to be a school that is eager to be seen as endorsing and affirming of all and any belief, despite it’s Christian heritage and nomenclature.  It appears to be a school that has decided in the last 40+ years that the cultural call to diversity and to avoidance of Christianity is something to be embraced.  The reasons for this are many, but I’d wager that a fair amount has to do with attracting a diverse student body – something that appears to be working.  Unfortunately, without a framework within which diversity can be properly expressed and maintained, diversity breaks down into anarchy and petty struggles for individualization at the expense of everyone else.

On a smaller scale, this is the problem our nation is facing.  As much of our leadership – intellectually, politically, and tragically spiritually – elects to pretend that our nation was never predicated upon or steeped in Christianity, the fact remains that it was and is.  And the fact that it was and is is the only reason that we enjoy such a diversity today.  Our Christian heritage was applied not to destroy religious freedom – as in the case of most of the Western European nations our elite so desperately aspire to emulate –
but rather to ensure it.  To protect and foster it. 

Show me another nation in the world – secular or religious – that protects and encourages religious expression and freedom.  The foolishness of our leadership – and the leadership of schools like Trinity, apparently – is the assumption that any and all of Christian influence is on a par with the Inquisition, or with witch burnings.  Ironically, in the rush to pain Christianity as a massively unenlightened and medieval faith, we must ignore the most powerful and recent example of Christianity’s possibilities – our own cultural history. 

For everyone who is ashamed of the Christian heritage they either espouse or live in the midst of, just a gentle reminder.  Odds are incredibly overwhelming that, were it not for that Christian heritage or culture, you’d be being brutally persecuted or exploited.  You’d be told what to think, and disobedience would be a legal issue, rather than one of integrity.  Christians ought to wise up – and so should everyone else who has come to our nation in search of a better life, and found one – that Christianity is not the obstacle to religious freedom and protection in this country.  It is rather it’s only guarantor. 

Ms. Qureshi is a good demonstration of that.

On a final note, I think it’s hilarious – and brilliant – how the university turns the tolerance card back on these dissenters, claiming that tolerance demands that we accept religious connotations and preferences (which is what Ms. Qureshi and others are essentially demanding for their own beliefs), rather than eliminate them or avoid them.  This beautifully demonstrates the fundamental unsustainability of those who would use tolerance as a club to destroy and repress others.  The club works equally well on those who resort to it, as well as those they would seek to use it against.

A Helpful Tip…

April 4, 2010

I know a fair number of people who blog – whether regularly or sporadically, for work or personal interests, out of a sense of obligation or because of some urge to purge.  Whatever their motivation, the net result is the same – a piece of themselves suddenly available for pretty much anyone to look at.

Or steal.

If you write for fun or profit online, you need to be aware that a lot of other folks are more than happy to borrow your ideas.  And your words.  And claim them as their own.  In academic circles, we call this plagiarism.  Personally, I like to refer to it as craptacular.  

This article is a good summary of some ways to determine if someone else is stealing your content

I’ve personally caught students cheating by using the Google method this author notes.  It works amazingly well so long as you choose a unique enough passage.  So enjoy writing.  Enjoy publishing.  And remain aware that someone might be passing off your inspiration as their own.