Archive for October, 2022

Beauty into Ashes

October 23, 2022

It’s been quite a week or two for museums, climate warriors, and art. Once again eco-warriors have attempted to deface or destroy a work of art because they don’t feel people are doing enough to save the environment. The first thing that came to mind when viewing this and recent similar headlines is the short story The Smile by Ray Bradbury. In that story civilization is already destroyed and lost when art is being defaced. I guess the folks who have been busy in the past few weeks are just starting the artistic destruction early.

First off, I’d argue that a trip to a museum to see renderings of natural beauty is probably a good step towards climate awareness and a keener interest in whether or not there actually is anything we can do individually and collectively to prevent greater loss.

Secondly, what would these two young people rather the people in the museum be doing? What specifically are they demanding? How do they know what these people have or have not done towards climate change mitigation? The assumption seems to be people who have the ability to be in a museum instead of a workplace are likely to be more to blame for climate change? Is this a protest against climate indifference or wealth? Could these misguided protestors separate the two? Should they?

Fourth, their righteous indignation is incredibly arrogant. That’s not their fault, but the fault of their teachers and everyone else who has espoused or mouthed the mantra that the climate is changing, it’s entirely our fault, and it is therefore entirely preventable by us. Anyone who questions this mantra at all is harangued for denying the first part about the climate changing, and hardly ever is there any serious examination of the other two portions. Given even my rudimentary knowledge of geology and earth science, I’m aware the earth has gone through repeated cycles of comparative heating and cooling. Ice masses have advanced and retreated before, and we certainly either weren’t around (allegedly) or were not industrialized to the point we could possibly be blamed. Yet I never hear this discussed, either in semi-scientific articles for the masses, or in the destruction by young ideologues like these two.

Should we manage to alter the climate change, the world will still be significantly poorer for the loss of great art weaponized in an attempt to galvanize the general public to an unspecified goal via undetermined means. I don’t consider myself much of an art connoisseur, but it seems a great shame regardless of the outcome of the climate situation to sacrifice these valuable interpretations and reflections on the climate we are apparently losing.

Let He that Has Ears (and stands in the pulpit) Hear

October 21, 2022

Amen and amen to this essay on the purpose and point of preaching. Give them the goods, brothers!

Revisionist History In One Lifetime

October 4, 2022

I’m sure all of you have heard the news by now. How could you not have?!

Velma is gay.

At least, Velma of 2000-2022 is gay. The article gushes about how this has been a long time in coming, citing Scooby Doo “creatives” who wanted to make her sexual orientation obvious as far back as 20 years ago.

Wow. Twenty whole years ago. That’s a long time. But not hardly as long a time as Velma has existed. Scooby Doo, Where Are You? ran as an animated series from 1969-1970 (and in other iterations through 1973) and has lived on in syndication ever after. And there’s not a word in this article from any of Scooby Doo’s original creatives about Velma’s sexual orientation. Or any of the other characters for that matter. Strange, huh?

Not too strange. First of all, the original creators are all dead.

Secondly it’s not strange because truly, the Scooby Doo of the 21st century bears little resemblance to the original series. Some 30-years on, the characters are reimagined through modern sensibilities. Obviously there must be sexual tension between the characters, right? That’s what every teenager is most obsessed with, right? Daphne and Fred with their good looks surely must be an item, or an item in the making? And no teenage boy eats a lot naturally, Shaggy must really be a stoner. Velma all nerdy and awkward? Surely she’s lesbian. Frankly I’m surprised there isn’t speculation about Scooby’s orientation. Or that awful additional character, Scrappy Doo.

While the creators of the series are all dead, many of the voice actors are not. I’d be curious what Nicole Jaffe, the primary voice actress for Velma, would have to say about her character’s orientation, or if there was any thought given to that at all.

I grew up watching this show and loved it deeply. At 22-minutes a pop it’s certainly not Sherlock Holmes quality mystery, but it was great fun. And sexuality and sexual orientations never entered into the equation. Understandably, since it was a show aimed at kids and we still as a culture believed at that point in time that sexuality and sexual themes were inappropriate in children’s programming.

My, how much has changed.

Of course there’s no need to talk to these people for clarification of original intents and purposes. Such information is irrelevant today. What matters now is what we choose to make of something, how we opt to interpret it. And while history is always undergoing revisionism of one sort or another, it’s hard to believe it could occur so quickly and with so little regard or attention to the primary source materials.

It’s a shame that a teenager can no longer just be nerdy and awkward, or even not obsessed with the opposite sex. Or the same sex. And while I’ll admit that some interpretations may sound plausible given the timeframe the series was created, it’s a shame that those interpretation eclipse the actual original reality of a silly series about a talking dog and crime-fighting friends that transcend typical teen cliques.

It’s a shame that such an ‘inclusive’ idea isn’t radical enough any more.

A Needed Gospel

October 2, 2022

I was having a theological discussion the other day with a friend regarding the challenge of sharing the Gospel in some cultures, particularly affluent ones. I pointed out that in such situations there might be no perceived need for the Gospel to address, and therefore people would be less open to the Gospel. He countered that we have to be careful about tailoring the Gospel to fit the perceived needs of recipients. This is a flaw in a great deal of global Christianity through the heretical prosperity gospel, which preaches that faith in God will naturally lead to tangible, economic benefits that will improve the lives of the faithful because God the Father’s intent is to lavish his good gifts upon us.

As I contemplated the discussion later, I kept coming back to this issue of need and the Gospel. It’s a historical reality that the Gospel often finds the most faithful and eager adherents among the most marginalized of society. Whether it was the lepers and the prostitutes blessed by Jesus directly, or the lower classes of Greek and Roman society who heard the disciples preach, or the poorer citizens of cultures around the world – such as the untouchable class in India’s Hindu caste system – people with very real and imminent needs often hear the Gospel more clearly and place their faith in it more readily.

After all, their other options might be few to none.

Add to this the Church’s historic (and present) practice of providing help and relief to the suffering both locally and globally, and it makes sense that people suffering through dire need who hear the Gospel and are assisted by those already professing it would be more open to making it their own faith. They’ve seen it in action.

It sounds good, but the flip side is just as slippery. Should a perceived need not be met by the Gospel or the Church, it might be equally easy for someone new in the faith or only shallowly familiar with it to despair and give up the Gospel in search of another, better option. Or the option of giving up entirely. My friend is right, relying on the ability to assist with a particular need in terms of tangible aid is a potentially dangerous confusion of the Gospel.

But the reality remains that the Gospel does meet our needs. And it should be preached and taught as such. But this requires adequate teaching to counteract the default cultural teaching and assumptions about life and reality. It requires an active counterpoint to cultural mantras (at least in the West) of rugged individualism or the promises of science and technology to solve our problems. It requires a more fundamental awareness of the Big Picture. This can’t be stressed enough, particularly in cultures where there no longer is a Big Picture. Where there’s nothing but the abyss of meaninglessness that logically follows in a mechanistic universe formed by accident. When culture insists there is no meaning in anything or anyone, the Church must work harder to teach that there is meaning in everything and everyone.

The Gospel does meet our needs, but those needs are not always (or ultimately) a matter of food or clothing or money. The Gospel fulfills our deepest needs and longings, but in many places those needs or longings have been buried under nothingness. There is no explanation for the sense of guilt, or disappointment, or frustration. And there is no fundamental hope that things can, should, or will be radically different at some point in the future. There can only be the vague encouragements to pretend life has meaning and to soldier on through suffering.

Given the skyrocketing rates of violence in the West – both in suicide as well as in the wanton destruction of other lives – such encouragements are understandably less than convincing. Evolutionary theory and natural selection can’t address the fundamental issues we face as human beings – why am I here? why is there suffering? why should I endure suffering? why should I help others? why should I continue on day after day when I’m unhappy? will there ever be anything more or better than this?

But the Gospel can and does answer these questions. It provides the meta-answers that place the problems human face individually and corporately in perspective, providing ways and means of interpreting them, coping with them, and continuing on in the face of adversity. As such the Gospel not only meets our needs, it defines them for us. We might be happy enough to simply acknowledge unhappiness with our lives, dissatisfaction with our jobs, loneliness from a lack of meaningful connection to other people. But the Word of God lifts our eyes to the Big Picture. A Big Picture that accounts for why we deal with such things, how we can deal with them better, and provides the all-important basis for hope to endure – things will not always be this way. There is a better day coming – the Day of the Lord.

So I’d still argue that the Gospel does address our needs and it’s not wrong to talk about it in such terms, so long as we allow Scripture rather than our sinful and narrow-minded hearts to define what our needs are. My need is not more followers on my blog, or more money in the bank, or a better car or a prettier wife or better behaved children. My needs are at the core of my being and cannot be addressed by more zeros at the end of my bank balance.

Let the Gospel address the needs people have, because it has addressed – and defined – the needs of those who share it. Jesus is the answer not just to temporary happiness or satisfaction but to the deepest existential questions existence conjures. Including, sometimes, hunger and nakedness and oppression. And miracle of miracles, the Gospel draws us in to sometimes be direct or indirect contributors to meeting the needs of those around us, which we find usually results in our own needs being met at the same time.