Archive for June, 2010

Mormon Mania

June 30, 2010

I ran across an article in a Portland newspaper the other night about the Twilight movie series and how Mormon themes and beliefs are woven into and through it.  I wasn’t able to find it in the paper’s online archives, but here’s the article the article online elsewhere.  If you’re into the whole Twilight thing, it might be worth a read.

Because it’s not accurate.
I knew the article struck me as incorrect in it’s assumptions.  I could outline them all for you – and I was planning to.  Then one of my favorite sites – getreligion.org – posted their own critique on the article, which tracks pretty well with what I was going to say – and saves me the trouble of saying it.  Summed up – there are lots of things credited in the first article to Mormonism that are hardly uniquely LDS.  It would be more accurate to attribute these things more broadly than to assume that just because the Twilight author is Mormon, the ideas that she’s depicting are specifically Mormon also.
As an aside, I haven’t read or seen any of these, and don’t have any intention of doing so.  Are you a Twilight fan or not?  Why or why not?
Advertisements

Uber-Project Management

June 28, 2010

Are there reasonable or theological parameters to planning?  God gave us a brain, after all, and the ability to organize our thoughts and our actions to a certain extent (not as much as we like to think, in my opinion!).  I’m never in favor of ignoring our brains completely, though I’m often suspicious of relying on them too extensively.

So what to think about the recent report that it may not be possible to forecast menopause?  
Not everyone is convinced that this is actually possible – at least with any level of reliability.  But assuming that it is reliable, or will be, is this a good thing?  Some have compared the possibility of this sort of information with cholesterol tests and other attempts to indicate potential issues in the future.  But is knowing that you have a propensity to higher cholesterol really equivalent to this?  
I tend to think not.  But I’d be curious to hear what others think on this.  Harmless or beneficial information?  Or problematic on a theological if not physiological level?  

Unfair?

June 27, 2010
I’ve been reading with curiosity the Vatican’s response to recent actions taken by Belgian authorities in conducting raids and confiscations of Church property in response to allegations of child sex abuse.  The Pope himself is now wading into the fray to express his outrage.  I find this interesting.
It has taken remarkably little time – less than a week – for the Pope to weigh in against these actions, referring to them as “deplorable”.  Yet it is only recently that  the Catholic Church – and the Pope – has spoken more unequivocally against the equally deplorable actions of what I assume is a small percentage of Catholic priests and other officials.  Only recently has some form of apology come from the Pope.  As damaging as the allegations of child sex abuse are, they have taken on a far stronger tone due to the Church’s reluctance to admit that there have been problem cases with some of it’s people, and to take steps to rectify the situation.
Understandably this reluctance has led some to the conclusion that the Church is not fully committed to dealing with this situation.  Understandably, there are some who have been led to believe that other steps are necessary in order to determine if allegations are true.
There are lots of things that could be said here.  I could rail against the unnaturalness of the Church’s stance on celibacy for it’s called workers.  While I can appreciate their theological rationale, I don’t agree with it.  And even if the Church allowed it’s priests to begin marrying tomorrow, it wouldn’t eliminate all of the problems that the Church has to deal with.  People are broken – and sin flourishes in practically every environment.  But I think it would certainly make a difference.  
Is the Church to be treated differently than other organizations?  That’s an interesting question.  Although churches have proliferated over the last 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church is unique in it’s longevity and omnipresence in Western society and culture.  It can be – and has been, compellingly I think – argued that Western culture and society itself has the Church to thank for it’s existence and nature.  Not a popular opinion these days, to be sure, but curious all the same.  Does that uniqueness allow the Church a certain type of treatment or consideration not received by others?  Should it?  
I haven’t seen Catholic bloggers respond on this topic yet (at least the one Catholic blogger).  I wonder if they share the Pope’s outrage (I would expect they do), and if so, if they offer any reasons for that outrage beyond the it being unprecedented.  However, we’re talking about a Church that once experienced the indignity of three rival Popes three rival Popes installed and supported by warring political factions.  This is hardly the worst indignity the Church has experienced.   
It seems clear that the Church has been greatly concerned with controlling what investigations, what evidence, what admissions are made as to the real or alleged wrongdoings of the men and women who serve within it.  Acting in this manner has further compromised faith in the Church beyond the level warranted by the misdeeds of a small portion of it’s membership.  I believe that if the Church were more forthcoming, it might not be necessary to resort to practices reserved for organized crime syndicates, drug rings, and other organizations where pervasive criminal activity – and a willingness to try and destroy evidence – are assumed and/or valid.  I also believe that there are those who will never trust the Church.  Some in part because of the damage they have received at it’s hands.  Others for different reasons.  We would be naive to think that actions like what the Belgian authorities have taken will not continue, or even increase in frequency.  I would assume that this concern is due in great part to a desire to protect itself and it’s members.  While this is a natural reaction, it is not the reaction that Christians should seek or expect.  Not at the great cost it requires.
What should the reaction of the Church – and of Christians everywhere – be?  Prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Prayer for the victims of sinfulness.  Prayer for those who have fallen into patterns of behavior that are dangerous and damaging.  Prayer for the mission of the Church.  That mission is not self-preservation.  We are not responsible for the perpetuation of the Church.  That is the Holy Spirit’s work.  We are only to be faithful to what we have been called to do – to go and make disciples, to share the good news of what God has done in our lives.  
And we should remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is not limited by our institutional representations of it.  The work of the Holy Spirit is wide and beyond our ability to perceive or imagine it.  Our institutions may be damaged.  May be shut down or closed off.  May be denied legitimacy or the right of incorporation or public meeting.  This doesn’t phase the Holy Spirit.  It didn’t stop the early Church.  It hasn’t stopped the work of the Holy Spirit in China or the former Soviet Union or any other place where the structures of faith were banned or persecuted.  We should be vigilant and faithful in remembering that who we are as sinners redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Church, not a collection of buildings or hierarchies or organizational charts. 
The time will come, I believe, when we are forced to remember this.  Forced to experience it and live it out.  And that when that happens, we will have a far clearer understanding of whose hands hold us.  
 
  

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

June 25, 2010

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a movie review.  For the benefit of those who may have started reading since my last one, a quick reminder.  I’m not interested in reviewing movies in terms of whether they’re good or not.  In this age of fragmented media consumption, it’s difficult for that word to have much meaning beyond the technical sense.  Whether I find a movie humorous or well-crafted is somewhat secondary.  I’m interested in what the movie has to say.  Not just in terms of the main plot line, but in the underlying assumptions and presuppositions that the characters and plot line move along.

Our kids were very excited to go and see this movie.  They were blessed with t-shirts and Happy Meal toys (thanks to my folks!) over the last few months, and just about wet themselves when they found out we were taking them to see it.  They  had a blast, and my eight-year old son was quite enthralled with the adventure and excitement of the dragons and chases and battles.  On this level, the movie is quite entertaining.
But two things struck me in watching this film, and it may involve some plot spoilers to talk about them.  I don’t think so, but it might, so just be forewarned.  The first was the film’s treatment of really the only female character, Astrid.  The second has to do with the interesting philosophy the film promotes towards the end as to man’s proper relationship with the world around us.
Those of you familiar with this blog know that I’m not a feminist.  Not in the traditional sense of the word, to be sure.  I’m a firm believer in equality between the sexes, but I also know that equality doesn’t not mean identicalness.  We are made to be equal, but each gender is gifted for different things, intended for different roles.  It’s our sinfulness that assigns greater or lesser importance to one role/gender over and against the other – something that we were warned about all the way back in Genesis 3.  
So this movie has only one real female character, Astrid.  A butt-kicking, resolute & determined Viking girl of probably 13 years.  We’re first introduced to her in exaggerated slow motion as she is back lit by an explosion and viewed through the protagonist, Hiccup, who is crushing on her.  Despite the sexualization of her in that sequence, it’s clear she’s a capable and brave girl.  But repeatedly throughout the movie, her skill and resolve is thwarted and ignored.  She competes against Hiccup (who, as the name might suggest, is something less than the typical, strapping Viking lad), but her hard work, practice, training, ability to overcome her own fear to face up to a task – these things are all ignored.  She loses the competition to Hiccup basically because he cheats.  
You’d think this would lead to a less than friendly relationship between the two, but no.  Instead, her indignation and frustration is almost instantly changed into adoration and love-sickness.  The rest of the movie doesn’t focus on her capabilities, but on her cheering on and encouraging Hiccup.  She makes the biggest impression when she uses her lips, rather than the rest of her skills combined.  
Don’t get me wrong – I think that it’s great for a woman to be encouraging a man instead of degrading him and minimizing him – something that often comes out in pop culture (Married with Children , for example).  But to start with a promising female character and reduce her to being able to smooch the hero into la-la land?  Kinda disappointing.  
Can you tell I have a daughter?
The other thing that sort of jumped out at me was the end of the film.  One of the underlying premises of the movie is that mankind has fundamentally misunderstood dragons.  They’re not really fierce and dangerous predators, they’ve just been forced into this role.  They’re really quite friendly.  All fine and good – I think this is really an interesting switcheroo.  If we just took time to understand these creatures and their issues, we’d see that we could really be on good terms with them.
To say the least.
Major spoiler ahead!!
The end of the movie sees the right relationship between mankind and dragons introduced.  Dragons are no longer feared enemies – and neither is mankind for that matter.  But rather than seeing these two different species living in a more equal relationship, the movie ends with dragons becoming pets.  These creatures that had been capable of vying against man to get what they needed from us are reduced to the docility of dogs on leashes.  The protagonist brags in his voice over about how the dragons are exactly that – the equivalent of ponies or dogs or other domesticated animals.  They’re now pets.  
The movie shows two sorts of natural interactions between mankind and the world around him.  One is a battle, the other is the aftermath of battle – subjugation.  You’re either against us or under us.  We don’t co-exist with the natural world, we either fight it to the bitter end or rule over it absolutely.  I’m no tree-hugger, but that seems like an awfully narrow set of options.
This film promulgates some of the worst stereotypes about men and their interactions.  It says If you’re a guy, you can win over the woman and the world.  Neither one is of much use as a partner, as something to be lived with in harmony.  They’re ultimately both there to be held sway over.  Benevolently, of course.  Let’s not be a dull brute about these things.  
I’d like to think that we can come up with a better message than that.  I’d like to think that we don’t have to have a romantic relationship in a children’s movie.  I’d like to think that, before kids reach the age where their hormones are running amok, they can be taught to value one another – regardless of gender – for who they are, not what they might possibly provide us.  I’d like to think that a culture obsessed with eco-equality and eco-consciousness could demand a movie that provides better options than all-out war or firm domination with or over nature.  
Perhaps we’ll see these things yet.  But not here.  Instead, laugh with your kids through the chase scenes.  Sigh at the requisite scenes of parental/child dysfunctionality and misunderstanding.  And keep thinking, and keep talking with your kids.  Hollywood isn’t going to teach them the way they ought to be in this world – the way they were created to be.  That’s your job, and my job.   And we’ve got our work cut out for us.  

Coming Sunday to a Theater/Church Near You

June 24, 2010

Sad and true.  And funny.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aItk_SJkpDM&feature=player_embedded
Props to Patrick Madrid’s blog blog for cluing me in to this video.  

Tech Lit

June 24, 2010

For the consideration of those who claim that technology has not really benefited humanity, a few situations that might have turned out differently:

http://aidwatchers.com/2010/06/how-the-development-of-technology-averts-shakespearean-tragedies/

Camry

June 20, 2010

Portland International Airport wasn’t particularly crowded Thursday afternoon.  Outside the gray clouds continued to hover indecisively over the city and the nearby river, uncertain as to whether they would release their water or hold off until later in the day.  Inside, I made my way to the bar of the oh-so-authentic-not Mexican-themed cantina-thingy.

The woman in charge for the shift was busy making drinks behind the bar as I seated myself.  I waited until she wrapped up and made her way over to me, laying out the perfunctory bar napkin to break the ice.  I ask her what she recommends.
Oh good – I’m really a psychic, so let me tell you what you’re having.  She places her knuckles to her temples and closes her eyes.  She’s probably my age or a little younger, with long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.  I see spicy tacos in your future.  Black beans.  Chips and salsa with a side of guacamole.  She opens her eyes and flashes a confident grin.  But what about to drink, I prompt.  Eyes close again.  I see you drinking a draft pilsner.  Oooooh.  I’m not a beer-guy.  I was thinking more along the lines of a margarita.  Then you should have a double house margarita on the rocks.  Sounds good, but rice instead of beans, please.
She punches in the order and buzzes around to the other half dozen people scattered around the bar.  Two younger couples finishing up beers.  An older gentleman sits down briefly and asks for a Bud light.  
So has it been busy today?  It was swamped earlier for lunch.  And one of my girls decided not to call and not to show up, so it’s been extra crazy.  She never stops moving even as she talks, wetting the rims of margarita glasses before salting them.  I watch as she makes my drink and sets it in front of me.  She banters easily with the waitress on duty.  She strikes me as one an authentically nice person, and simply because she’s extra generous on the shots in my drink, pouring the remains of the near-empty tequila bottle into the glass after my shots.  You make the best of what you’ve got.  Yeah.  We made it through the rush.  We get buy.  
Another woman shows up for shift,  a taller, pale red-head who looks to be in her early 30’s.  The banter continues.  My server nearly convinces the red head to use super glue and another finger to help heal over a paper cut.  She’s half doubled over with laughter at the gullibility of her co-worker.  There is the friendly banter of people accustomed to working with one another but who don’t probably share a lot of the rest of their lives.  The red-head asks about someone, and my server moves to her cell phone and quickly pulls up a text message and reads it off.  I can’t hear everything, but it’s clear it’s referring to someone who’s in the hospital.  Not responsive.  That’s the phrase that grabs my ears.  
The text message is closed and the phone is quickly back beside the register.  The two move around the small bar area with ease.  I chew the spicy chicken tacos as they serve the other customers and begin the process of departing and taking over the bar area, respectively.  There’s a moment of calm as my server is wiping down the area behind the bar counter near me.  So who’s not responsive?  
She pauses.  Clearly, she’s caught off guard.  She’s attempting to compose herself.  Perhaps deciding whether or not to get into this conversation with someone who will be somewhere else in the world within the next hour or so.  Just another customer.  Weighing her emotional reserves.  I wait, chewing.  
My dishwasher was in a car accident on the 26th.  He’s been in the hospital in a coma.  He’s only 20.  He’s a good kid.  A really good kid.  She pauses again, head tilted and down to the side for a few seconds as she regains composure, prevents the tears from leaving her eyes.  They don’t know if he’s going to make it or not.  We’re silent together for a moment, my chewing done for the moment.  I weigh the moment.  She was willing to share this much.  What’s his name, I ask.  Camry.  I’m sorry to hear about this.  I’ll be praying for Camry.  She glances up for a moment, eyes barely touching mine before her gaze continues purposefully around the bar, hands reaching for the damp wipe-rag.  Thanks.  I appreciate that.  Another pause.  My son is 11 years old.  He’s could be a miniature version of Camry.  
Within a few moments the bantering is back again.  We wield our routines and daily comforts as best we can to help us deflect and deal with the hard realities of our world that we are not prepared to handle, that we don’t know how to respond to.  In a few minutes I will board a plane to meet with a congregation looking for a pastor but uncertain about much else.  I’m uncertain if I’m the man for the job.  They’re uncertain about a lot of things I’ve asked of them.  She’s working short of staff and worried in the back of her mind about Camry and her son and all the myriad things she can’t control.  I can’t offer any more control, but I can assure her that somebody else cares, and is willing to pray.  For Camry and children and family and all the things we can’t control, all the many ways we can’t protect them from the dangers of our broken, jagged world.  
I pay my tab and prepare to leave.  She is busy enough not to have to hang around me too much at this point.  The pain is here now.  Her pain.  I hold a portion of it in my hands just as she did.  The knowledge that a 20-year old is hanging by a thread.  The fear every good parent has for their children from time to time.  And in the meantime she has a job to do and people to oversee and a family to think about.  Now is not the time or the place for much more.  For now, her hands just need another surface to wipe, another rim to moisten and salt, another order to fill, another good-humored jest to toss out into the abyss around her.  I call out goodbye.  I’ll pray for Camry.  
Then it was off to my plane and a different city and a group of uncertain people.  But I can’t get Camry out of my mind’s eye.  So if you believe in a God who loves us and hears us, join me and say a prayer for Camry’s healing and recovery and a lifetime yet to give praise for another chance.

What if You Posted a Bounty, and Nobody Cared?

June 17, 2010

If you’ve been fascinated by some of the recent media coverage of Gary Brooks Faulkner Gary Brooks Faulkner, this little article this little article is a good reminder that he’s hardly alone.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a $25 million dollar reward Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a $25 million dollar reward for “information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction” of bin Laden.   Who is the reward intended for, then?  It would seem that the intent is not for US citizens – or British if the Wired article is accurate – to launch independent efforts to find the man who has eluded the US for almost ten years.  
It’s undoubtedly a politically sticky wicket to have private citizens launching man hunts in foreign countries that are allies of the United States or at least valuable enough politically to not want to irritate.  Those that attempt to do so seem to run a very real risk of either being branded a lunatic or a criminal – or both.  I’m assuming then that the reward is really intended for some ally of bin Laden’s who will be tempted by this large sum of money to betray bin Laden (and likely the person’s own religious and/or philosophical values) in order to obtain a reward that will earmark them for the rest of their likely very short life as a sell-out.  
I wonder how many leads this reward has generated.  None of them have been good enough to catch or convict bin Laden in nearly 10 years, so I wonder how effective it is.  And I certainly can understand why the promise of such a reward would motivate some  people to attempt to earn it on their own terms.  

Imago Dei

June 14, 2010

We had the opportunity yesterday to worship at Imago Dei Imago Dei.  This is a chuch that has gained a lot of notoriety over the past few years.  It’s a successful congregation in Portland, which is impressive in and of itself given the non-Christian culture of the Northwestern US.  Moreover, it’s particularly successful with younger professionals and artistic types.  Their pastor, Rick McKinley, has been linked with pop theology stars of recent years such as Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller.  They initiated a thing called Advent Conspiracy Advent Conspiracy a few years ago, and this has since been adopted by hundreds of other churches across the nation and world.

There are lots of ways I could talk about my experience yesterday morning.  In Lutheran circles, it’s often a matter of talking about what a congregation of another denomination doesn’t do.  They don’t do the Sacraments right.  They don’t do liturgy.  They don’t do this or that or the other.  I could do that, but it’s not really what I want to do.  This isn’t a Lutheran congregation, and my goal in going was not to see how un-Lutheran they were.  I went to see what they were doing right, and it turns out they’re doing a few very important things right, and it was good to see and hear and experience that.
We happened to attend on their last Sunday in the location they’ve inhabited for the past four years – a public high school.  There were various people wandering around with orange ‘host’ name tags on that I would assume are there to help visitors identify people who could help them.  We were greeted officially by one person on our way in, who directed us towards the auditorium where worship was getting underway.  
It was odd to be one of the older people in worship – something I haven’t experienced in several years.  The auditorium was filled with a broad cross-section of teens and 20 & 30-somethings with a few folks here and there with more decades under their belts.  The stage of the auditorium was taken up by the prerequisite praise band, and they were very talented people.  I still chafe at what I think is the grossest of errors in assuming that the musicians in a contemporary, alternative, traditional, or any other service need to be up front, on a stage, in performance mode.  These folks weren’t doing anything other than playing their instruments, but it’s still too much like a concert for me, and not enough like worship.  
But I wasn’t going to talk about that sort of stuff, was I?  Rats.
The highlight of the service was the sermon.  Rick McKinley preached, and it was the only time that this particular pastor of the congregation was on stage.  In our media-saturated culture even churches have the equivalents of rock stars – guys (and gals) whose views or abilities place them in the spotlight for others to admire, emulate, or attack.  For better or worse I don’t follow these people on Twitter or Facebook, I don’t download their sermons and Bible studies or stream them to my computer.  So I had no idea who Rick McKinley was, or what he looked like.  I had to Google him later to realize that it was Rick who was preaching.
And he did a stellar job.
It was a poignant service, as the Imago Dei community bid farewell to a venue that had allowed them to grow and experiment for four years.  The text Rick preached on was an unlikely one (in my opinion) – Deuteronomy 8.  However this was based on another reading, Joshua 4:1-9, 19-24.  God commands to Israel to memorialize their crossing of the Jordan River by creating an altar of 12 stones – one for each tribe – on the eastern bank.  The altar is to serve as a touchstone, a reminder of what God did for His people to later generations who did not experience it firsthand.
If you want to listen to this sermon, you can get it here (it’s the June 13th one).  It’s much better than my summation.  
McKinley first explained – reminded – the community of our propensity for amnesia.  Of our own ability to forget the Savior we rely on, the Creator who sustains us, and the Spirit who leads us – to think too highly of ourselves and our own abilities just as God knew the Israelites would.  It’s an important message to hear, and it was a good day for the Imago Dei community to hear it.  
McKinley had five large stones that had been pre-drilled through the center, and a steel rod.  As he preached, he talked about what each of the stones were to mean to the Imago Dei community, what they would be reminders of.  The first was the paramount importance of worship.  The second was the vitalness of prayer.  The third was the sacrificial calling to love.  The fourth was the humbling yet freeing directive to serve others.  The fifth rock represented the importance of dreaming big.  Of not putting limits on what God might facilitate through our own humble giftings.  
He spoke honestly about the struggles of the community.  The arrogance with which they had begun, assuming that church was broken and needed to be fixed and made cool – and that they were the ones to do this.  He talked about their struggles to love one another.  He spoke a lot about the humbling experiences of the past four years, while not ignoring the wonderful things that the Holy Spirit had done in the community in spite of their sinfulness.  
This could easily have been an self-congratulatory sermon, patting everyone on the back for their good work and naming and claiming the building that would soon be theirs as proof of their special and unique status.  But it wasn’t.  Instead it was an encouragement to remember not their own greatness, but rather the greatness of God who had carried them and humbled them and taught them and loved them.  At the end of the message there was a tangible reminders of these things that would grace their new church home.  A touchstone, a reminder of who they were and where they had been – a broken, enslaved people in need of a savior.
I hadn’t expected to really enjoy myself, but I did.  Hopefully I’ll get to go back one more time before we leave the area.  This is clearly a group of people who seem to be focused on the right things.  And while I may not agree with all their theology or worship practices, these are brothers and sisters in Christ, and I’m proud of them.  

Mouse Theology

June 6, 2010

So we’re on this massive road-trip, and when we stay in places with television, our children are ecstatic.  They don’t get to watch television at home, so they greatly have enjoyed their morning fills of PBS Kids or Disney Channel programming in the mornings.  We know what they’re watching, and they aren’t allowed to watch any of the live-action sitcoms on either channel that seem aimed for an older demographic – or are aimed at turning younger demographics into premature teenagers.

This morning I was getting breakfast for the kids ready as they watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse .  It struck me what an interesting metaphor the show is theologically.
Each episode has a basic premise – some adventure or problem that needs to be solved or item/person that needs to be found.  Before beginning the quest in earnest, the characters are equipped by this mechanical device in Mickey’s Clubhouse that provides Mickey with tools they are likely to need to be successful.  These are stored in an entity referred to as Tootles, who can be summoned by calling.  Once Tootles appears, the characters must decide which tool is going to be necessary at this point.  Once the tool is used it becomes dimmed out and inaccessible again through Tootles.
It struck me how this is vaguely analogous to the Christian life.  God the Father provides us with the ‘tools’ that we need in our Christian life via His Holy Spirit.  These are accessible at all to us only because of Jesus Christ, in whom we have relationship to God the Father as heirs.  We don’t get to choose the tools we are provided in our lives as Christians, but we are assured that as we are gathered into communities of faith (local congregations), the Holy Spirit has provided the necessary tools.  We may need to sort out (through prayer as well as discussion) which tool is most appropriate for a particular need, but all the tools have a valuable place in the community.  
No, it’s not perfect, but it just struck me this morning that there’s a similarity.  We are provided for.  We are cared for.  We are equipped.  And we are to work together to best discern how to make the most sense out of all of this,  to use all of them and honor all of them as much as possible.  Hot diggity-dog!