Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Wet Bar Wednesday – Expanding

August 10, 2016

Well, sort of.

I’ve been invited to become part of a blogging team of pastors and other sundry folks over at The Jagged Word.  While I’d love to say that the invitation was occasioned by my deep theological observations and my skill in finding Gospel themes in current events, it turns out that they like my drinks.  Which is good, because I can’t stand the way they’re dressed in that photo.  No worries, I won’t be emulating that *any* time soon.

Seriously.  I’ll be bartending for a second time for some of them in a month at our annual pastor’s conference.  Others have enjoyed them on other social occasions.  So every Friday I’ll be contributing a cocktail recipe to their web site.  I’ll try to sneak in some theology here and there, but really that’s a stretch I don’t think is too reasonable to make, generally speaking.  I’ll be revisiting many of the drinks I’ve posted about here over the years.  I’ll continue to post new drinks here as I enjoy them, but now there’s another place you can catch my recipes (as well as some very insightful and theologically rich articles by smart people).

My first post there should appear this Friday.

Enjoy!

Anticipating Change?

July 21, 2014

An old friend sent me the link to this blog post.  He’s not a church-going person, so it’s interesting that it caught his eye enough to send to me.  A few thoughts on each of the author’s points.

1.  Live, simultaneous viewing has been waning for decades.  With the proliferation of cable networks as well as VCRs (remember those?) over 30 years ago, people haven’t been watching the same things at the same times.  Our cultural attention has been shattered for a long time.  Granted, the Internet has accelerated this to an almost unimaginable level, bolstered by the ability to constantly surround ourselves with only exactly what we like or agree with at all times.  

The author then draws two conclusions, or questions.  He implies that Sunday worship is no longer an adequate offering of “content” for generations accustomed to having everything on their schedule.  Secondly, he stresses the importance of relationship.  

Firstly, if we continue to view worship (whenever and however it occurs) as content, we’re missing the point.  It is’t about content, although content is part of what happens.  It’s about relationship.  But it’s not the relationship that the author is emphasizing – human-to-human interaction.  It’s first and foremost about the relationship between God and his people.  Not you.  Not me.  But his people.  Which we are a part of.  Worship is inherently a communal action, something that stresses that my personal preferences and ideas are secondary to the shared beliefs of the community.

For people used to church, once a week worship isn’t an issue.  They ought to have this pattern well-established (although I maintain that this is the easiest faith behavior to be disrupted, and once disrupted, it can be the hardest faith behavior to re-establish).  For people not used to church, once a week worship isn’t an issue either.  They likely have no idea what to expect.  Either they’re looking to understand better and will accommodate themselves to this – like we’re conditioned (more or less) to turn our cell phones off during a plane flight.  During this period of transition, accommodation, transformation, is the time when the proper reasons for worship need to be communicated.  Relationship, yes.  But not relationship as we’ve grown to define it – me-centered, but rather Christ-centered.  

If we treat worship as content, our main focus will be production (something we control) rather than transformation (something that stubbornly remains firmly and exclusively the job of the Holy Spirit).  The point of church is not to “gather a crowd”.  The point of worship is transformation and renewal through the continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and the Sacraments He has entrusted to his Church.  It’s a paradigm shift all right – but not the one that most church ‘experts’ are pushing.

2.  Yes, continued shifts from communal to individual.  However unlike the author, I would argue that this is a strength of the Church, not a liability.  In an era where nobody needs to be connected to anyone live, in-person, Church stands as a very visible and anachronistic organism calling us back to community.  This is our strength, not a liability.  The content is best received in this context.  

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to augment the material that we give to parishioners, making it available online and in a variety of formats.  But we need to understand that this is always secondary to our purpose.  Our main purpose is not to present the Church, but to be the Church.  That doesn’t require a crowd, it just requires two or three gathered in the name of Christ.  A crowd is only necessary if what you’re really trying to do (for whatever reasons, good or misguided) is to begin or continue a specific ministry model that demands crowd economics.

In terms of calling people to something greater, this is dead-on.  But it isn’t “mission-driven”.  It is first and foremost a matter of repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution.  It is oriented around transformation.  Mission is something we control.  Transformation is something the Holy Spirit controls.  Transformation will, inevitably, lead to mission in one form or another.  But it isn’t necessarily something as neatly organized as a mission trip.

3.  Again, beyond my earlier caveats about the role of content, this is fine.  But this also requires a level of discernment.  Not every congregation may be equipped to produce quality content.  A congregation needs to clearly understand what they are equipped to provide and why they are providing it.  This can be helpful for members, but remember that what goes online has a habit of showing up in unexpected places and ways.  I have a colleague who posted some of his Bible studies on YouTube.  He got into a theological discussion with a Roman Catholic in South America.  It was a fantastic opportunity for the body of Christ to act in a beautiful way.  But I’m not sure that his YouTube videos have resulted in dozens of new members.  To avoid frustration and irritation (particularly as budget resources are allocated), there must be very frank and deliberate discussion and consensus about why this content is being created, how it is being provided, and what the goals are.  

4.  I agree with this completely, though I think it needs to be focused further.  Don’t just tell a story.  Tell the story, and that fundamentally is not a story about us or me, but about God.  The story is essentially disruptive in that it short-circuits the dominant cultural story that is being told (at least in America), which is that everything is about my story.  Christianity posits that my story, insofar as it even exists, only has meaning (and possibility) within the story of God.  

I recently attended a great preaching seminar focused on story-telling in the form of narrative preaching.  Telling the story is important because it is not a story being told anywhere else in our culture.  The Church is the only one telling her story now, the story of God’s creative, redemptive, and sanctifying work.  Don’t assume your congregation knows the stories.  Don’t assume that they know how the stories function to link their personal stories into God’s meta-narrative.

5.  Money shouldn’t be an issue.  Money is an issue when a group of people insist on a particular model of ministry that requires economic resources.  This isn’t bad or wrong.  But look at the New Testament – the major exhortations regarding money come in regards to charitable giving to alleviate the suffering of Christians and Jews in other places in the midst of crisis and great need.  But this is rarely the focus of our congregational emphases on finances.  Missions are usually tacked on at the end, in the category of if-we-have-enough-left-over (regardless of whether this is a budgeted line item or not.  When funds are tight, watch how quickly missions get cut before staff salaries or facility maintenance line-items).  

People//members/congregations are not paying for something they use.  At least they shouldn’t be.  People are responding to the grace and gifts of God by offering back for his use part of what He has given them.  I’ve met with parishioners who had pastors decades ago liken tithing to paying membership dues.  This is faulty (regardless of how well-intentioned) information.  Giving in the Church is always first and foremost a response to the goodness of God.  

Failure to understand this properly will lead to financial issues (it’s one reason that financial issues might arise – certainly not the only reason!).  This doesn’t exempt “Mission-centered, mission-focused” churches either, unfortunately.  Why?  Because there are so many ways and places for people to direct their financial resources now.  Many of these are excellent.  The advent of micro-funding and crowd-funding has made it possible to raise money quickly and across a broad spectrum of givers, fueled by the ability to communicate the need and message quickly and inexpensively.

If Christians are conditioned to view tithing primarily as a means of directing their personal resources to worthy causes that they believe in, we’re missing the point.  Giving money to a needy family on the other side of the street or the other side of the world is not the same thing as tithing, according to Scripture.  Both are important and Biblical, mind you, but they are not interchangeable.  

Yes, the world is changing quickly.  The Church can and should adapt to a certain level.  But we also need to recognize that the Church is fundamentally different from culture.  Culture is transient, shifting, ebbing and flowing.  The Church is the Rock, the very Body of Christ in the world.  This should determine how the Church discusses change.  When we begin discussing change in terms of content and finances, we’ve missed the more fundamental issues that need to be not simply discussed, but affirmed and lived.  It’s a lot easier to talk about content than it is to talk about transformation.  Then again, being the Church has rarely been an easy thing.  

 

 

 

Opening Up

July 8, 2014

Here’s a great post from my friend Sarah.  It hits on a variety of issues that it’s good to remember many (if not most or all) people deal with at one level or another.

Perception.  Sarah posits the question as to whether or not she (and the rest of us) tailor our online social media personas to highlight our best moments and minimize our normal moments.   Facebook seems to show that we do, and blogging isn’t much different.  If you only know me from my online presence, you know a fair amount about me, but you don’t know the whole enchilada, as it were.  Relationship – that buzzword of the digital age – is about more than one-way broadcasting of our noblest thoughts, our cherished victories.  Relationship is about getting to know us on our off days. Keeping up with someone on Facebook isn’t the same as relationship.  It’s more akin to digital voyeurism and exhibitionism.  There are great dangers in mistaking the thrills of peeking in on people’s lives or revealing snippets of our own for actual relationship and engagement.

Standards.  We’re awash in photos and blogs and status updates and Pinterest shares about ideal, perfect, gorgeous lives.  Children who are always well-scrubbed and well-behaved.  Homes that are unfathomably gorgeous and apparently devoid of any form of life, human or dust-related.  It’s easy to assume – based on the little that we share with one another – that life should be one constant happy-hour party.  It should be joyous and carefree and easy and simple and beautiful and perfect.

How many people do you know with lives like that?  How many homes have you been in that match that?  How many children have you met that are like that all the time?  Come on, man.  Let’s be real.  

As a homeschooling family my wife is often particularly concerned about the state of our house, particularly because she spends a lot of time there.  But there’s also a ton to do each day in teaching and cooking and relationships.  It’s easy to assume that our house must be the dirtiest in the whole of our home-schooling community.  Yet on those rare occasions where she is able to see other people’s homes, she usually comes away relieved.  They’re human, too.  They have piles.  Not all of those piles are clean.  They’re human.

In that recognition and relief relationships can be built and strengthened.  Our vulnerabilities and shortcomings can also be powerful building blocks for real, actual, relationships.  But we have to be willing to be vulnerable, to take that first step, and to risk the possibility of being judged.

Ministry.  Ministry rarely happens on a schedule.  Outside of Sunday worship, I don’t know and can’t predict when the meaningful moments of connection will occur in a given week.  

What holds you back from ministry?  Not the guilt-ministry that we’re so often force-fed.  The ministry of feeding orphans or becoming a full-time missionary – neither of which are bad things in and of themselves and both of which are necessary aspects of Christian community, but neither of which are the only, best, or necessarily your form of ministry.  Just as hospitality may not be your form of ministry, even though it’s Sarah’s.

What are you good at, and why aren’t you doing it?  What way do you best serve your neighbor and create the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the middle of it?  Anybody that knows Sarah would know that hospitality and food and atmosphere are right up her alley.  Yet fear of inferiority and judgment may have kept her from putting those gifts to work.  What gifts are you afraid of putting to work?  

Remember that this isn’t just about you and I.  We can psychoanalyze and muse and self-examine all we want for answers to the above questions.  Those tools may be helpful.  But they also ignore the fact that Christians believe we have an enemy who wants to keep us ineffective and bottled up.  He might do that with a dirty bathroom or piles of clothing.  He might do that with feelings of inferiority.  

Don’t let him keep your gifts bottled up!

 

 

 

Disclaimer

January 5, 2011

My last several posts have sprung from a conversation I had with a friend who is not a Christian, but likes the idea of that sort of a God out there.  To an extent.

And I’ve focused on the sorts of rational/logical questions I’ve been trying to ask to prompt her in clarifying her position on what god she may or may not believe in.  It all sounds very clinical.  And at this stage of things, and given her background, it is.  Much of what she occasionally rails against theists for centers on a certain lack of reasonableness or logic to the faith.  Much of that is frankly based in an inaccurate understanding both of what Biblical Christians believe and why they believe it.  
But to get to a point where we’re discussing the reasonability of Biblical Christians, I’m trying to understand what conceptions she personally has about God, with the hopes that we’ll move to a place where she’s willing and able to hear about God from the Bible, , based on what she has been willing to agree to in these preliminary arguments (used here in the logical sense, not the confrontational sense) about God.  Once we have clearly articulated where she stands, then we can know if there’s a way forward in talking about the Bible.  Up until this point, attempts to go to the Bible have been uniformly unsuccessful.  But hopefully if I understand what she believes and why, and if she clarifies that for herself, we’ll know if there is a way forward in discussion.
But it’s not as if I’m going to argue her into believing Jesus Christ the Son of God is her Lord and Savior.  
That’s not a job I (or anyone for that matter) is capable of doing.  I’m praying that by trying to clear some of the undergrowth from around the issue, we’ll be able to get to a place where she can hear the Gospel without simply laughing or getting angry and running away.  But clearing the undergrowth is not the same as the Gospel.  
We like the idea that if we could just present the Gospel in the right words, the other person would have little recourse but to believe.  This is erroneous on lots of levels.  And it puts terrible, terrible pressure on the Christian, which can lead to crushing guilt if the person we’re trying to talk to rejects what we’re saying.  What if we failed that person?  What if that person risks eternal separation from God because we weren’t eloquent or convincing enough?  Man, that’s a hard thought to fall asleep on at night.  
Biblically, it’s clear that this is never what Jesus or anyone else had in mind (1Corinthians 1:18, for example).  It’s not simply a matter of non-believers being stupid or evil, as some once (and still) assume.  Satan works hard to blind people to God’s truth.  He uses many mechanisms to do so, some of which are fiendishly effective.  The war here is not between my words and someone else’s words, but between the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of Satan.  It’s not an even match to be sure, and if it were only that struggle at play, there wouldn’t be any non-Christians left in the world.  
But people are a part of the equation.  And people can resist or reject the Gospel for any number of reasons.  The goal of apologetics is to examine those reasons with an eye towards demonstrating them to be false or inadequate, so that the person acknowledges that they ought to at least listen to the Gospel message with an open mind.  They could still resist or refuse at that point.  But the Holy Spirit might surprise them as well.  
Are apologetics necessary?  Can God open someone’s heart to His truth without extensive groundwork by me or someone else?  Of course.  The Apostle Paul is a pretty stunning example of that, and he’s hardly the only one.  But barring direct divine intervention or action, some people seem to require groundwork to be laid.  Or perhaps it’s simply that laying groundwork helps me feel as though I’m making progress.  Perhaps it’s just a way of making me feel better about myself and my own faith, by assuring me I’m not a fool.
I’m a fool all right, but hopefully not on that particular matter.  Only Jesus saves, and the Holy Spirit is the key agent at work.  But as I’m led, I seek to be faithful in communicating the Gospel in any and every way that might be effective.  And if simply stating it outright (as I have with this friend) is not effective, I’m happy to backtrack and try another route.  She half-jokes that I want to save her soul.  I assure her that’s not in my job description, but that I hope to have some small part in the Holy Spirit’s work in her life, ultimately resulting in her acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  And if that requires continued conversation, so be it.  I’ll keep at it for the rest of my life, if that’s necessary.
I just pray it won’t be.  

Into Year Number 5

January 1, 2011

At midnight, this blog will enter it’s fifth year (more or less).  It has changed a lot in the last five years.  It has become (somewhat) more consistent, and (somewhat) better written.   I appreciate each of you that read this blog, and therefore save me from the narcissistic Twittering that it might otherwise become.  I hope that each of you sees yourself as part of this project, part of this dialog, part of this subplot to the great intricate story of our lives.  I hope you’ll continue to send me articles and other media that interest you, perturb you, or cause you to think and question.  I hope you’ll share this blog with others out there who might appreciate it in some sense or another.  Most of all, I hope that through this, we each become more faithful to who it is we were created to be, and that we will One Day become in full.  Until then we struggle better together than alone, and perhaps that is what this blog seeks most earnestly to articulate.

To mark the fifth year of this blog, and the new year, and because I like what I had to say when this all began, here is a repost of my very first blog entry from August 2006.  Happy New Year, everyone.
In the Beginning….
Beginnings are hard.  They frighten, intimidate, excite, beckon and threaten.  They seem often to create anxiety for and about.  As sequential, chronological creations, each moment seems a new beginning, and it’s only through the sheer number of such moments that we eventually grow numb to them individually, and begin to fixate upon specific moments in time as momentous enough to be called “beginnings”.  Perhaps part of our greatest anxiety is that beginnings connotate the unknown.  Most beginnings entail outcomes that are not necessarily known and predictable. 

Of course, our perceptions of beginnings and time and reality are skewed.  How could they not be?  We are broken, fragmented, shattered people living in a pipe-bombed carnival mirror-show.  Few things are as they seem to be, or as we interpret them to be in this world.  Yet we prod and dissect and insist that things are what we claim them to be.  Including beginnings.

In the beginning…

Not, ‘Once upon a time’.  Not ‘A long time ago’.  Not ‘A while back’.  

In the beginning…”

There has only been one beginning.  There will be only one end.  We experience our world in bits and pieces rather than as a continuity.  We can’t imagine how the assertion of Genesis 1:1 could possibly mean what it says.  We insist that there are a myriad of beginnings and endings.  Our birth.  Our graduation.  Our marriage.  Our divorce.  Our death.  Starts and stops, beginnings and endings.

But Genesis asserts differently.  One beginning.  One single starting point, initiated by an eternal God for His eternal purposes.  We are nothing new.  My children are nothing new.  Their grandchildren will be nothing new.  All was known and part of the one beginning.  But each is only shown to me moment by moment.  While I was created for eternity, I was not created for infinity.  I am not God, and was not designed to experience the totality of His designs – only my part in them.  

I look forward to the day that I can look out over the vistas of eternity and begin to make some sense of it all.  Perhaps never complete sense – not in the way that God sees and senses it.  But certainly enough sense to appreciate the beauty and magnitude and scope of it all.  Enough to see it in continuity, and to finally understand the whys and hows of my life.  

Until then, I am stuck with the imaginings of beginnings and endings.  And so, I begin again.

I’m Awake. Honest.

December 14, 2010

Hard as it may be to believe, I’ve scanned the entire Internet for the past three days and found nothing worth blogging about.  

Truly.
So I’m reading.  After a couple of books reviewed for our polity’s young adult web site, I’m back to reading something a little more interesting (to me, at least).  It’s the latest publication from the LC-MS  Commission on Theology and Church Relations.  The title is Together With All Creatures and the topic is the proper Biblical understanding of mankind’s role in relation to the rest of creation.  With the heavy emphasis on ecology and environmentalism and the green movement in the last 40 years, somebody decided maybe we ought to formulate a good statement on what we believe in this arena.  
I’ve only just started it, and I appreciate thus far that the first 30 pages or so are historical background on the issue, examining the statements of various influential people – Christian and otherwise – on the relationship of mankind and humanity.  It also takes time to examine some of the particularly American voices on this topic, which helps trace the evolution of thought in our country in regards to nature and the wilderness.  
The only thing I’ve found curious thus far is in the section that begins to delve specifically into theology.  The working premise of the theological section of this book is (on page 30) that, 
“We bring together the confession of our common creatureliness and distinctive creatureliness in the thesis: 
God has called us to serve His creation as creatures among fellow creatures in anticipation of creation’s renewal. This renewal has begun in Christ, is continued by the work of the Spirit in the church, and will be completed upon Christ’s return.”
To me, this doesn’t really seem to emphasize our distinctive creatureliness, but I’ll hold off on getting all rabid about this until I finish the book.  The other interesting thing I saw – less than a page later – was this statement, describing the other creatures in nature around us:
They are our fellow creatures, and in a sense our neighbors, because like us they have been created by God and formed from the soil of the earth.
I don’t disagree with the spirit (Spirit?) of the statement, but I couldn’t remember the creation account in Genesis indicating that God had formed the animals out of the ground.  Certainly, it doesn’t describe God forming them by hand as it describes Him doing with Adam.  But sure enough – Genesis 2:19 states that:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.  (ESV)
I’ve read Genesis a zillion times, give or a take a few, and never noticed that line.  I guess with all the attention focused on God creating Adam out of the ground, I overlooked this.  That’s why we should always be reading Scripture, and why we should always be willing to go back to check Scripture against what someone says or claims or assumes Scripture says!  
I look forward to learning more through this document!

Manhattan Declaration

December 2, 2010

Some of you may be hearing about a spat in the love-land that is all things i.

iPod.  iPhone.  iTouch.  iBanned.
Specifically, Apple decided to remove the Manhattan Declaration App (application), a piece of software designed for iPhones that allow the user to, among other things, digitally sign their agreement to and support of the Manhattan Declaration.   The Manhattan Declaration is a rather wordy but ultimately well-expressed statement affirming the dignity of human life (rejecting abortion, euthanasia, and any other technology or ideology that diminishes or dismisses human life at any stage or for any reason), the sanctity of heterosexual marriage (rejecting same-sex marriage and efforts to redefine marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman), and insists on religious liberty for all).  
Apple was petitioned to remove the app as something “offensive”.  A counter-petition is currently ongoing for Apple to reinstate the app.  It’s interesting how change.org who sponsored the petition to remove the app caricatures the Manhattan Declaration and it’s supporters (incorrectly), stating that the Declaration supports:
  • “elimination of choice for women” – no, women have many, many choices.  The Declaration seeks to eliminate exactly one choice – the choice to terminate a defenseless human life.
  • “stop the march to equality for LGBT people” – LGBT are equal as human beings.  However the Declaration does insist that normalizing LGBT issues legally will eventually lead to a fundamental societal breakdown.  
  • “elimination of any separation between church and state” – patently false.  However the Declaration does insist on the appropriateness of existing protection of all religious liberty by the state, as opposed to the growing insistence on fighting against religion by the state or the attempt to redefine the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion with a far less inclusive emphasis on freedom of worship.  
Much of the debate at this point focuses on the issue of how Apple determines when an app is offensive and when it is not.  The app development guidelines are only available to  developers registered with Apple, but rumor has it that they are openly rather subjective in terms of how these decisions are made.  
Is it good or bad for Apple to make this decision?  We have to think about this carefully.  Forcing a company to support or sell or develop or carry any specific type of product is fairly antithetical to our capitalist mindsets.  While companies are prohibited from improper discrimination in who may buy, lease or otherwise access and utilize their products, what products they choose to make remains their decision.  From this perspective, Apple is completely open to determining what Apps they will host and sell and which ones they won’t.  This is much preferred to the attempts currently underway by the LBGT community to force businesses to do whatever they want them to do, thus violating the inherent sanctity of a business/business owner to decide for themselves what sort of work they will or will not engage in.  
Ideologically, we shouldn’t be surprised at this turn of events.  Now that any form of objection or rejection of the LBGT agenda is being more and more equated with hate-speak, it’s going to be harder for any company to in any way support or associate with anyone hateful enough to disagree with the whims and dictates of LBGT promoters.  Sad for companies, true.  But don’t be fooled – this same level of rhetoric will soon be used against congregations and any other group that disagrees publicly with the LBGT agenda.  The public schools have already pretty much been won over to this mindset.  Public universities have also been on board with this for some time.  The courts are more and more demonstrating their predispositions to this agenda.  Is it a shock that Apple would capitulate as well?
People who agree with the Manhattan Declaration can and should petition Apple to reinstate the app.  They are free to do so, and if they can muster adequate public pressure, they should at least in theory stand a good chance of success.  But not a guaranteed chance of success.  Apple is ultimately free to make it’s own decision.  It certainly isn’t the only way to get the word out to people about the Declaration.    Ultimately I question the usefulness of the Declaration in the first place, but that’s another matter.  

Hijacking Holidays

November 30, 2010
Before going any further, read this.  It is President Abraham Lincoln’s official proclamation of a fixed national day of Thanksgiving.  If you  are tired of thinking about Thanksgiving, you can come back and read this next year, if you promise not to forget.  
Because everything I write is of vital importance to every single person on this earth.  Truly.  Italics would not lie.

By various sooper sekret pathways this article came to my attention last week.  It seemed ludicrous enough without any real further investigation, but it’s stuck in the back of my brain and I decided to address it this week after a little poking and prodding.  It’s an essay that decries the celebration of Thanksgiving as fraudulent and misplaced.  

This is the sort of stuff that is regularly pushed about in certain circles as truth or history or fact or reality.  Pieces of history and facts rearranged into an order that pleases the person and supports their hypothesis or assertion.  Yes, history is a discipline of interpretation in many respects – but there are more and less faithful attempts at that interpretation.  This essay is a less faithful one, and I’d like to spend a few minutes breaking down why, since at an emotional level this might appeal to people and ring of truth.
First off, the author’s bias is so blatant that he feels the need to go ahead and state it outright in the first three paragraphs.  He’s not right-wing, nor even centrist.  Anyone who so casually dismisses moderates and centrists right off the bat is going to be suspicious in my book, regardless of which end of the spectrum they prefer to situate themselves.  Not that there is inherent accuracy or truthfulness or honesty in being a centrist or a moderate, but because I’m likely to suspect them of less ideological goofiness that anyone on either extreme end of the ideological spectrum.
Paragraph three is where the historical inaccuracies begin.  The assertion is that liberals are capable and willing to admit that Thanksgiving is based on mythological events or even conscious untruths – of the “European invaders coming in peace to the “New World”, eager to cooperate with indigenous peoples”.  
I don’t see anything in President Lincoln’s proclamation that pertains specifically to invaders, peace, or indigenous peoples.  So to accuse the Thanksgiving holiday of perpetrating a myth is achievable only by asserting another basis for the holiday in lieu of the actual one.  The actual one is gratefulness for the undeserved gifts & blessings of God.  Despite the fact that there is no peace, but in fact is a raging Civil War going on at the moment.  Despite the fact that cooperation even with our own kind was trampled.  
Thanksgiving is based on the historically accepted idea that having just barely survived their first winter in America – and only then by the grace of the peaceful indigenous peoples around them – Pilgrim settlers from Holland joined in a meal with their indigenous neighbors in celebration of the fact that 50 of the 100 travelers were still alive.  I don’t think the meal was much of a political ploy.  It’s not as though they were trying to lure the Native Americans into a sense of peace before slaughtering them when the reinforcements arrived.  I’m pretty positive that the local tribes understood that these people were alive only by their benevolence and kindness.  Both sides undoubtedly couldn’t fully appreciate how history was going to unfold over the next 300 years or so, but at that moment, on that day, there was genuine gratitude by the Pilgrims, both to the local tribes as well as to God.  
In the next paragraph the author decries the rewriting of “the collective, cultural definition of Thanksgiving” in favor of personal interpretation.  He ironically is attempting to describe those who celebrate traditional Thanksgiving, but it more accurately describes his own efforts to turn Thanksgiving into some misguided celebration of overall ethnic tolerance and peace.  The remainder of this paragraph in the essay devolves into a lambast against capitalist ideology.  Hardly the time or place, but a further indication of where the author is coming from.  Thanksgiving is hardly the main issue this person takes umbrage with – it’s rather one aspect of a larger fish attempting to be fried.
Next we have fallacious generalism or oversimplification.  Yes, there were times when settlers – even the American government – resorted to extremely immoral efforts to dislodge or destroy native populations.  This is deplorable.  Period.  However to characterize all European and American interaction with native populations as part and parcel with these other situations and occurences is dishonest and inaccurate.  However, to acknowledge that the first Thanksgiving was, in and of itself without any consideration of what happened afterwards – a day or moment of genuine gratitude and fraternal kinship would pretty much destroy this guy’s argument, so that has to be ignored.  We must also ignore that some of the issues that play into the author’s assertions of genocide were also quite unintentioned – if also perhaps unavoidable.  Illnesses and diseases that were unknown in the New World but routine and non-lethal in Europe were unleashed amongst the native populations with devastating effects.  This was – at least initially – certainly not part of some pre-planned effort to kill off the indigenous population.  It simply happened.  Biology was at play long before ideology entered the process, one could reasonably argue.  Again, this is an awful set of events – but at least initially it was as big a surprise to the settlers as it undoubtedly was to the native populations and modern historians.
Most of the rest of the article is devoted to rather stunning suggestions of how we undue the damage of Thanksgiving, including land redistribution and wealth redistribution.  Depending on how these terms are defined, I could understand and support them to a certain sense.  However, he doesn’t bother to define the terms, let alone examine the huge problems that these solutions would undoubtedly create for everyone involved, problems that would hardly end up being the solutions he appears to envision. 
Then he creates an analogy using the Nazis.  You can imagine how things go from there.  Or maybe you read it for yourself.
In any event, his basic premise in this article is that Thanksgiving is about intercultural peace and love and happiness, and unfortunately his whole argument ultimately fails – regardless of the noteworthiness of some of it’s isolated sentiments – because of this false premise.  Intercultural peace is not the foundational cultural element of Thanksgiving.  While the initial event which is the historical anchor for Thanksgiving involved a moment of intercultural peace, this is not the crux of Thanksgiving – as a national collective understanding or otherwise.  If it were, I’m sure we would be celebrating Intercultural Joy day or something like that.  No, the crux of Thanksgiving and the historical event that underlies it and is reflected in Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday is on something the author ignores completely – giving thanks.  
Not giving thanks specifically for intercultural peace and understanding, though that’s a laudable and desirable goa
l.  Not giving thanks for the good things that we have done or are doing or will do.  Not giving thanks because we deserve what we have.  Not giving thanks because we have or haven’t made appropriate reparations to the people we have wronged, either nationally or individually.
The core of the historical event and the presidential proclamation is giving thanks to God.  For the blessings of life itself, regardless of the fact that we routinely abuse this blessing and take it for granted and spend our time trying to deprive one another of these blessings.  For the fact that our loving God continues to pour out His blessings on His creation.  Not because we deserve them or have earned them or are particularly wonderful, but because He loves us.  And why could God love a people that defraud one another and hurt one another and kill one another in order to hoard up these blessings for themselves?
Only because of our intercessor, Jesus Christ.  Because God – knowing we are incapable of improving ourselves and doing the right things, whether those things are what the author of this article suggests or otherwise – sent His Son to atone for us.  To obey where we cannot, to suffer what we deserve, to die as we all ought to die, to be separated from true righteousness and justice and mercy which is God Himself as we ought to be separated from Him for being son unrighteous, so unjust, and so unmerciful.  God can and does love us because of Jesus Christ.  
You want something to focus on for Thanksgiving, focus on Him.  Focus on the only true example of righteousness and justice and mercy the world has ever and will ever know – Jesus Christ.  Focus on what we did to him, how we handled that message and that reality.  We killed him.  And now ponder anew the meaning of righteous and just and merciful, that God knew this would happen, and that in happening, we are freed.  We are saved.  We are reconciled.  Not fully and not completely – yet.  But the process has begun.  The only process whereby the justice and mercy and righteousness that the author of this article would like to see will ever be achieved – and will be achieved.  Not on his terms, which are imperfect at best and hurtful at best, but on God’s terms which can be trusted to be perfect and right, always.
Hopefully Mr. Jensen could raise a drumstick to this reality on Thanksgiving, just as the pilgrims did.  Just as President Lincoln did.  And just as you and I ought to.  
And that message is of vital importance to every person on this earth.  The italics don’t lie.

…Like ham in beef chow mein…

November 18, 2010

I'd never cry if I did find
A blue whale in my soup...
Nor would I mind a porcupine
Inside a chicken coop.
Yes life is fine when things combine,
Like ham in beef chow mein...
But lord, this time I think I mind,
They've put acid in my rain.
--- Milo Bloom

(from the mind of Berkeley Breathed, author of the beloved Bloom County comic strip)
Not necessarily acid in my rain, but a sneaky new version of the New International Version (NIV) Bible in place of the traditional NIV normally served.  
To begin with, I’m a fan of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.  It works hard to maintain textual integrity/faithfulness to the literal wording of the original Hebrew and Greek, while also making efforts to be readable in English.  It’s considered to be more textually faithful than the NIV.  For additional information on the usefulness/accuracy of the ESV, you can refer to this somewhat lengthier document.  
But I use the NIV oftentimes for quick reference.  Particularly, I’m fond of using the popular Bible site www.biblegateway.com for  quick reference or use as I’m working on Bible studies.  Thanks to Gene Veith’s blog  for letting me know that the NIV at this site – and soon to be all NIV sites and prints – has been changed.  
The NIV was originally published in 1978 and revised in 1984.  There was an effort in the early part of the new millenia to update the NIV again in a form known as Today’s NIV (TNIV).  There was a fair amount of controversy about this translation because it utilized gender-inclusive language as opposed to the original masculine pronouns in many parts of the translation.  I’m not a fan of gender-inclusive language unless it’s appropriate or intended.  Changing how we translate a document as important as the Bible simply because of sensitivity (misplaced, in my opinion) that the Bible is somehow gender-offensive is dangerous precedent.  Beyond the philosophical level, there are other very good reasons to be careful how the Bible is translated in light of modern sensibilities.  For a very brief but very helpful analysis of this, this article  by Wayne Grudem is extremely useful.  
In any event, the TNIV did not enjoy a very widespread adoption.  I assume this means that people didn’t buy many copies, which is always disappointing to a publisher as well as the group that has funded the research for the translation.  It’s probably also disappointing to people who have an agenda of furthering the reach of gender-inclusive language.
The NIV is scheduled to be replaced completely  in 2011, with the traditional NIV and the TNIV no longer being published or made available.  If you like the NIV, I suggest you hold on to your copies of it because you won’t be able to buy a new one after next year.  And, you won’t necessarily know that there’s a difference because despite there being some pretty substantial changes, it’s going to continue to be called the NIV.   So unless you’re very careful, you may be already referencing the new NIV when you’re using online Bible sites.  I was very surprised by this, and very disappointed that there wasn’t some effort made to indicate that there was a change.  
I’m sure that part of my concern is also driven by personal preference.  In some ways, it’s not much different than those who grew up with the King James Version.  It’s not a matter of accuracy, but a matter of familiarity and comfort.  An argument could be made that the gender-inclusive language is not a crucial issue.  However, it’s a change based on a very recent cultural (and mostly Western culture) issue regarding feminism and language.  I don’t see how the issues of a comparatively small percentage of people worldwide ought to dictate or influence the way one of the most widely known translations of the Bible is updated and made available.   I am also suspicious that this is an effort to push people to buy more Bibles, and the thought of marketing playing a part in all of this just sickens me.  
Whatever the reasons, and whatever your stance on those reasons, the most important thing is to be informed so you can make good decisions.  Hopefully this helps!

You Must Be Poking

November 16, 2010

I love waking up in the morning and having to think.

Thanks to Doni for this wonderful link to a long but enjoyable article/critique.  The author, Zadie Smith, interweaves a movie – The Social Network – with a book – You Are Not A Gadget .  While I don’t have much interest in seeing the movie, it’s a book I’m definitely going to be reading before too long.
The main thing that struck me in this article is somewhat of a side note of focus.  Smith (as well as the movie and the book) wrestle with what drives Generation Y to do the things that it does.  The traditional goals of great wealth or great power seem uninteresting to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.  This must make it really difficult to write scripts or books or articles about him.  Yet it’s totally in keeping with the nature of Generation Y, philosophically and otherwise.  This is the result of philosophical and religious choices that are now close to overwhelming our culture.  Smith writes towards the end of this essay:
For our self-conscious generation (and in this, I and Zuckerberg, and everyone raised on TV in the Eighties and Nineties, share a single soul), not being liked is as bad as it gets. Intolerable to be thought of badly for a minute, even for a moment. 
A few paragraphs later she relates her students’ reactions to a scene in a book she is having them read:
In the most famous scene, the unnamed protagonist, in one of the few moments of “action,” throws a dart into his girlfriend’s forehead. Later, in the hospital they reunite with a kiss and no explanation. “It’s just between them,” said one student, and looked happy. To a reader of my generation, Toussaint’s characters seemed, at first glance, to have no interiority—in fact theirs is not an absence but a refusal, and an ethical one. What’s inside of me is none of your business. To my students,The Bathroom is a true romance.
And finally, a few paragraphs later:
The last defense of every Facebook addict is: but it helps me keep in contact with people who are far away! Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg—but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.
What is the meaning of life?  Philosophically and theologically, Generation Y has been informed that there is none.  There is no unchanging Truth, and even if there were, we couldn’t possibly know it reliably or communicate it effectively.  Power and money are means to an end, a means to accessing or controlling Truth, with all of the commensurate benefits that can come from such control.  But those tools aren’t effective if Truth is nonexistent or unknowable.  Those are tools from another age.  The aren’t for another age, because there are still plenty of people who recognize today that even if there is no truth, having money and power is a better way to spend your life than not having power and money.  And some of those people have scores to settle, addictions to feed, a twisted desire just to see what they can get away with, and any number of other minor and major neuroses that the rest of us need to pay attention to for our own protection.
If not power and money, then what?  What remains?  Smith argues relationships.  I think that’s a bit too generous.  I think ultimately what matters now are feelings.  Feeling liked.  Feeling popular.  Feeling connected.  Feeling in the know.  Feeling reassured that your life has some meaning because you are connected to x number of people.  Never mind that those feelings are all too often superficial and poorly supported, even in the midst of unprecedented opportunities and options for connectivity.  Relationships take a lot of work, but feelings are relatively easy.  
Click a button.  Send an invitation or a request.  Accept or deny (or now, make your decision later).  When connected, the other person exists not so much as a unique person (relationship) with dreams and hopes and abilities and shared history, they become a source of feelings.  Perusing their photos, evaluating and judging their status updates.  We have the illusion of relationship because our connected status allows us to ‘hear’ from them daily or weekly or whenever.  Never mind that those updates aren’t generally directed towards us, and are shouted into a bleak ether made only slightly more friendly by the illusion of tens or hundreds or thousands of people that might hear and care, if only briefly.
If relationship was really the point, we’d prioritize that.  We’d write letters (snail or e-mail).  We’d take trips to visit people.  We’d invest ourselves in the relationship in tangible, active ways.  This would make a few things immediately apparent.  That most of our digital connections are not people we’d be willing to go to that effort or expense for.  We may have a lot of connections, but as social researchers continue to stoically chant, we have very few real, true friends.  People we would take a bullet for.  Or a plane.  Or an hour out of our day.  Very few of our connections matter in a real and deep and abiding sense in that they matter to us,  rather than for us.  Most of them provide just feelings.  It’s all we want from them.  It’s all we expect to be able to give them, if we bother to think of giving them anything at all. 
As an obstinate Facebook user (I don’t update very often, have never changed my profile picture, etc.), I understand the lure of feeling.  And I do very much see Facebook as an adolescent-driven source for feeling.  Smith comments:
Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of b
lue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is.
I think that Smith is too quick to paint users of Facebook passively.  I see it’s limitations and awkwardness, but I do value the fact that it has enabled reconnection with people.  The people that I really revalue reconnecting with I tend to now relate with in ways other than Facebook – emails or letters or visits.  But Facebook was valuable in that initial step of reconnecting.  Perhaps that is what it will ultimately be remembered for when it goes the way of Facebook and any other sort of software interface.  It remains to be see whether, once those connections are there – or more accurately once the subset relationships are there – people will move on with their lives (and relationships) without a continued desire to be told how many pigs their friends have found on Farmville, and without the constant advertising opportunities that will only increase with time.  If we are more than the sum of our ability to coerce or purchase or connect, we’ll need to demonstrate that in meaningful ways.  I tend to think those ways are going to look a lot like how they’ve always looked, as opposed to having a new medium and methodology to them.  
Or we may just continue to take the easy way out, reinforcing ultimately the philosophy that nothing really matters, only what we think or feel, and other people will continue to be reduced to tools for generating feelings and thoughts within us.