Tuesday, December 30, 2008

lopsided interpretations of Malachi 4

I hope to never see Malachi 4 invoked as a text that fathers should have regard for their children. Sometimes I have seen this chapter used and the passage about Elijah being sent to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children and the hearts of children toward their fathers is used as some kind of moralistic gibe to motivate Christian parenting.

Crap. Utter crap.

Malachi is a prophetic book and while it is true that it is considered good that Elijah would come to turn the hearts of fathers toward their sons and the hearts of sons toward their fathers how would a Christian interpret Elijah's relevance today? We do not have any teaching from John the Baptist that fathers and sons should turn their hearts toward each other.

Guess what? Though Christians have often taken Malachi 4 to prophecy the coming of John and I accept that interpretation to take the last verse of Malachi and make it prescriptive does violence to the text. It is not a prescription for what fathers or sons should do of their own accord, it is a prophecy about what Elijah would be sent by God to do. Incidentally we could spend a bunch of time on what smiting the earth with a curse might mean but for now that does not interest me.

No, what interests me is what God designs and promises. Christians see that John fulfills the promise but John simply points to Christ. Jesus notes that John was Elijah and yet the gospels never really indicate that John preached a lot about turning the hearts of the fathers toward their sons or vice versa.

So what does this thing in Malachi 4 mean? I am not here attempting to exegete the text down to the Hebrew or Aramaic, I am considering that John finally was pointing to Christ and that Elijah was the instrument used for a particular generation. But now someone greater than Elijah is here. Now someone greater than John the Baptist is here. John the Baptist was the greatest among prophets and yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. So ... about this Elijah fellow who turns the hearts of fathers toward their children.

Here's my hunch, Christ accomplishes this. The Christ who divides mother and daughter who declared that a person's enemies would be in their own household is the one who can turn the heart of a father toward his child. I have started to think that many a Christian invokes malachi 4 as a prescription for what Christian parents are SUPPOSED TO DO without considering the flip side, that Elijah will turn the hearts of the children toward their fathers.

I have sometimes noticed that a kind of pop psychology suffuses evangelicalism, often unobserved. Perhaps because of a whole generation of baby boomers who thought they had to rebel against the ideasl of their parents' generation this came about. Perhaps all the beatniks felt they had to forsake the legacy of their parents to find their true selves and find the true way. Perhaps all the hippies felt it was the path to enlightenment and true, unfettered humanity. Many Christians desire families where the children display love and affection and loyalty and honor to their parents and Malachi makes that look good. Malachi makes it look good saying that fathers should turn their hearts toward the children,.

Dude, guess what? Prophecy. If people were able to do that of their own natural abilities and never screw it up would God send Elijah to begin with? Would God send Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord? Would God promise to spare people in the day of the Lord in MALACHI 3? Yeah, go back and check that out. it's not that prophets never prescribe ethical teaching, of course, it's that the more I consider Malachi as a prophetic book the more apparent it is that some people have missed that this is a promise from God to His people, not a list of things He expects people to do as though they were naturally inclined to do so.

So why does this matter?

A while back I read a blog entry of sorts by a Christian who was lamenting the loss of fathers. The loss of fathers is a grievous thing in society (and not like the robot in the Star Wars movie) and the problem in society is that fathers are not to be found and not given the seriousness of consideration or responsibility that they have. And so on. I read an entry where a person lamented that their father did not love them as they needed to be loved. Even in evangelicalism there is a sort of lament raised for the father who wasn't good enough or wasn't what he should have been or wasn't around.

One of the more memorable jokes on this trope about the lost father, for me, is the gaggle of sharks in 12 step in Finding Nemo. The great shark laments, "I never knew my father!" and starts to sob. And why is it funny? Because it is thought by the shark that if he laments this loss of something never had that it will keep him from eating other fish, which is his natural inclination. Paradoxcially we, as Christians, could laugh at a joke like that and yet use Malachi 4 to the same effect as the giant shark supposing that if he admits he never knew his father he wouldn't be tempted to each fish. The smell of blood reveals his real appetite.

And so it is with us in America, when I consider how the narrative of the parents who betrayed us and let us down and weren't what we hoped is invoked by Christians. This is not to say parents, to say nothing of fathers, aren't abusers, rapists, killers, slave-drivers, liars, users ,manipulators, tyrants, drunkards, and every other sort of sin known to man. I heard a testimony from a woman a few years ago that made my blood cold. My heart went out to her and I have prayed for her regularly since. What we tacitly shared in common was something I shared in a group where she and I seemed to be the only people who appreciated something from blunt experience. The group had discussed how family can be a wonderful thing to rely on in times of trouble. I replied that that was often true but that on the other hand no one has the power to destroy you and maim your heart like family.

Solzhenitsyn once wrote that millions become statistics, you fail to have the framework from which to understand the magnitude of the horror. You might need photos of every person whose life was destroyed to begin to grasp the significance of at all. In the age of the internet we have that sort of capacity and yet it paradoxically numbs us. There is a reason Dostoevsky's Ivan reduced the staggering scope of evil in the world to the voice of one desperate child. What I fear we may have in our age is the strange paradox that we ignore that child as another statistic or consider ourselves the child against who all the injustices are done rather than see what we ourselves do to the child, for the child is not merely ourselves but those we sin against.

So, then, there is Malachi 4. This is, again, not a prescription of what Christian parents should do or expect from their children. It is a promise from God that through His servant He will incline the heart of a father toward his child and the heart of the child toward his father. It is a promise for mothers and daughters as well. This promise presupposes a rift in the natural order of things. After all, what God has made crooked no one can make straight. Yet it seems Malachi 4's last few versers are popular verses to invoke so that people can make straight what God has left crooked.

This speaks of the coming terrible day of the Lord whom no one could survive without God's mercy. So when the prophet promises for God that Elijah will turn hearts of generations toward each other we have gotten to a point where Ezekiel has said that fathers alone will be punished for their sins and not the sons, a change in things if you consider earlier punishments.

As a considerable aside, I once made a suggestion that when Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of hardness of men's hearts that this is something to consider in the following way, Moses received the laws from God so is Jesus suggesting Moses added a proviso or two in the Law that God did not intend? No, so then if God through Moses permitted that which He did not approve of what was the purpose? I wondered, probably to the dismay of some, if this wasn't a demonstration of God making some concessions even in the Mosaic law to some aspects of humanity in a certain epoch that were so far gone there was no point in prohibiting it. It is probably disturbing for Christians to consider that there are certain types of reprobation in a given time and age that God simply grants that in that epoch there is no changing it.

Rather than merely horrify us we must consider how this grace from God may manifest itself toward us in our time. This is not an observation that should lead us only to damn earlier generations whose sins repel us yet who might damn us with equal fervor for sins that we consider the acme of decent behavior. The generation that condoned child labor would still be right to condemn the generation that created and used the atomic bomb. If you don't think I have any grounds to say that go read Barefoot Gen. This point I have made obliquely and I am sure many will not catch what I am getting at. But I am content to let it be what it is and suggest that we consider that what may seem the cruelty of God permitting wickedness may, paradoxically, be more merciful than the justice we would demand He bring forth. And so here the aside is finished. Trust me, it is not so tangential as might appear.

We live in a society that idolizes youth. Preferably adult, sexualized youth of course the way our society works, but children are the future, as Whitney Houston sang so long ago. Children are held up as innocent. Children in Disney films are held up as the heroes over against blundering parents. We have a culture suffused with a belief that children will discern failures their elders missed and Christians certainly believe this, too, and it has more than a kernel of truth to it. It is often truth. We live in a society that makes children both heroes in narrative and also victims. So much so that the Comics Code prohibits the depiction of any child being struck by an adult and there is a whole stupid subgenre of horror about demon children who adults don't harm because of societal taboos. Believe me, there would be no possibility for such an absurd genre of narrative in earlier epochs of even Western history. Certain kids who were bad enough really would get killed. But that is yet another aside getting to the next one.

Scripture at various places attests that evil is indeed locked up in the heart of a child (and the parent, as well, since Scripture condemns various forms of child sacrifice). Focus on the rod and you'll miss what even Piaget observed, that children are capable of nearly limitless self-regard and truly believe the cosmos revolves around them. This does not make them guilty in any adult sense of guilt and their eternal fate is hardly my concern. I don't know, I don't pretend to know. But I am just jaded enough by what I have seen of children that I believe many Christians who take up Malachi 4 about parenting don't realize how hopeless that is and do not consider how Elijah, not them, will turn the hearts of children toward their fathers.

Things like infanticde and killing children were not considered a priori goods in Jewish society. Yeah, you could stone a kid for being rebellious but unlike Greco-Roman culture you weren't supposed to dump the aby over a hill if you didn't want another one.

Having taken many diversions by now I come back to the mourning shark. I have read things to the effect of people grieving for their father not being good enough but what if Malachi 4's promise is read as the eschatological promise that it is instead of as a prescription for a social agenda? What if we read it not as a prescriptive moralism but as an apocalyptic promise? Remember the words of God given through His sevent and He will send His servant to give you the hearts to fulfill it.

In this light I suggest that while there is nothing necessarily wrong with grieving for the failures and sins of your father when I consider Malachi 4 I notice that it addresses the children, too. God not only enables the fathers to grieve over their sin but the children to grieve over theirs. Who might they sin most against in this age? Each other, of course? You cannot manufacture what only the Spirit of God can produce. Your grief over your father's failure will not turn his heart toward you and his grief over your failure will not turn your heart toward him.

Yet if the Spirit gives you and your father, or you and your child conviction that you have sinned against each other and in that grief you reach out to each other and find ways to grieve together THEN I suggest that Elijah has truly spoken to you and prepared the way for the Lord. So often Christians would be eager to take Malachi 4 and prepare the way themselves! They want either their parents or their children to grieve and be turned back to them. That's not how it works.

It may be too simplistic to say this but legalism always seems to be some case where we insist on accomplishing for ourselves out of impatience what only Christ can accomlish within us. We do not realize how helpless we truly are because we think that we can help ourselves. We do not realize how depraved we are because we consider first the depravity of others. Malachi 4 does not say that Elijah will turn the hearts of fathers toward children only or the hearts only of children toward their fathers.

We must be skeptical when we find ourselves tempted to lament not because there is nothing to mourn. Jesus said that those who mourn are most happy for they will be comforted. We must be skeptical when we find ourselves inclined to lament because we should ask what we are truly lamenting. Not all sorrow is godly sorrow. Strangely, perhaps, mourning the loss of things we did not have can become our greatest pleasure and becomes our comfort. But if you lament what you did not have how would you know what it was?

A blind man can lament that he has never been able to see but what is he really lamenting? He is not lamenting the lack of sight so much as those things he would be sure to have, he trusts, if he had ever been able to see. That is often how our mourning is--we are blind men who are mourning the things we do not have because we cannot see even though we do not understand what it is like to see them. Indeed we mourn having never seen and the things we could have had had we seen. This is not itself truly mourning that we are blind. No, that is a different thing altogether.

Think of it this way, the man born blind may not lament that he is unable to see his wife if he can touch her. He has never seen anything but he can touch his wife and be touched by her. The man who has seen his wife and is then blind can surely mourn that he can no longer see his wife. He can praise her beauty as beheld in his eyes from memory alone and not see how she grows and changes yet remains beautiful over time.

We are blind men from birth whom Christ can give the gift of sight. We can mourn those things we believe we should be able to see yet we do not see them. But if Christ comes to us and heals us then perhaps we may weep in a new way. We are allowed to weep not for the things we never saw that we wished we could see but to weep with joy at the things Christ gives us sight to see that we have never seen before.

So mourn, yet do not make mourning your comfort or you have received your comfort already. Mourn without comfort and then Christ can come and comfort you. Mourn without comfort and Christ can bring forth people who can mourn with you. You may even be surprised to discover that those who Christ may bring to mourn with you are the people you were mourning about, the people who you were mourning over that they did not mourn. Only be alert so that when the moment comes you may be given grace by God to see and hear it or it may come and be unappreciated, just as Elijah was!

That is how, if I understand God's promises and their fulfillment in Christ rightly, the hearts of fathers are turned toward sons and the hearts of sons are turned toward fathers. Christians are so busy being zealots attempting to bring the kingdom of God in by force, being violent men grasping violently at the kingdom, that they do not see how it arrives meekly, on a colt, and do not recognize it when it speaks to them. It is no wonder to me now that Jesus so often says, "Let he who has ears to hear hear." Elijah came to point to Christ and Christ alone inclines your heart to the child or the father.

Why do so many Christians transform a startling promise from God into a command they must fulfill? They do not believe the promise. Fortunately God's ability to fulfill His promise is not dependent on their belief.

O Light who makes the cosmos shine
Please fill our minds with light divine
That with Yourself our hearts may glow
And You our darkness overthrow.
O Light in Whom no shadow lies
Give sight to all our blinded eyes
That we may see You are the Word
True light and life to all the world.
Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comments as drive-by events

This last year has seen some comments on this blog. By comments I don't mean, "I very much like your blog and here is a great money-making opportunity I want to share with you." We all know those aren't real comments. I mean comments about things I have written that contain substance to them. Many of the comments have been anonymous, and a few from people I know or am related to, and a handful from people I've never met but who for some reason read what I blogged.

I have heard it said that what people on the internet do is lie about who they are and use pseudonyms to say on-line what they would never tell people in person. Nah, that's not really true. ConcernedAbout, for instance, would undoubtedly tell me I'm some childish delusional person for actually being a Christian to my face. People may exagerrate aspects of themselves on the internet and, yes, there's a degree to which people do lie about themselves but most people are not so different on-line from who they are in face-to-face life.

Having said that I am not sure that anonymous comments should be seen as being made by people who are unwilling to identify themselves, though I know it may be tempting to see things that way. I tend to be a bit more prgamatic, and perhaps a bit more cynical, in supposing that it is essentially laziness that prompts anonymous comments. A person wants to speak up about a blog entry without actually logging in to a blogger username or any of that. They post an anonymous comment and have their say.

I have noticed that despite anything I might think I was really clear about it's always possible, even likely, for people to not get what I said. half the time I think this is because I was a sloppy, disorganized writer. The other half of the time I figure my blog comments section is simply being used as a way to generate traffic for the blogs of others and that commenting on anything I said is merely incidental to that goal. That's part of the deal, though, so that's fine. And those who decided to post as themselves did me the favor of speaking for themselves.

But there are also people who posted to disagree with me or to provide their own take on things I have written about. When anonymous I figure it is laziness rather than cowardice that spurred them to post anonymously. Really, since I've allowed for anonymous comments why bother to log in if you don't have a Blogger account?

In light of all that I'd like to say a word of thanks to the people who posted comments on the blog and did so from their own blogger account. Thanks to family, of fourse, for reading, thanks to Marie for reading when she has time, thanks to dwayne, thanks to wendy, thanks to quinalt, thanks to niccola, thanks to ConcernedAbout. Whether or not we have agreed on any issues at all some time of your day for reading is appreciated. Blogging is simply a form of entertainment in the end and I am glad if my little blog can be of some entertainment to you where ever you are at.

Yes, you too Concerned About. :) You might think my taking the biblical stories seriously as referring to things that happened is childish and dishonest but if that's the case you had better things to do with your time than comment on a blog. But you, too, posted as you, and that's something I do appreciate. Now I certainly have more interesting things to do with my time than to get into the differences between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint regrading the psalms, for instance, and I leave it to others to discuss the differences in emphasis and literary approach that exist in the way the synoptics handle a given parable that all three synoptists use ... but I trust readers get the idea. This blog is obviously about what I find interesting but is not all-inclusive.

And over time this blog has tended to be less and less about non-Spanish classical guitar repertoire, something I might change (or not) this upcoming year. I have also not written much about cartoons, either. I have no resolutions for the new year beyond composing more music, which I already tend to do anyway. I suppose I might also "resolve" to keep working on this blog. I anticipate that not many will read and that when people comment about 3/4 of the time it will be from people who don't quite get where I'm coming from.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jesus and parables

I have been reading, thanks to a commendation by Internet Monk I once read, Klyne R Snodgrass's Stories with Intent: a comprehensive guide to the parables of Jesus. This book is, in a word, wonderful.

Growing up it was hard to think of any segment of biblical literature more apt to abuse than Jesus' teaching. I once heard a person argue that because Jesus said nothing about homosexuality that meant there was nothing wrong with it. An exceptionally popular parable to abuse is that of the good Samaritan. Many people have taken up the parable as a way to argue that "my neighbor" is the poor, the oppressed, the outcast. One fellow said almost literally that his neighbors are whomever the Republicans persecute. Nice. I told him that his neighbors are obviously Republicans since those are the people who doesn't WANT to have as neighbors. He disagreed. I said he just proved the point of the parable both as Jesus tells it and as Luke framed it. So much for that. Some people like to frame "my neighbor" as whomever they feel they are already helping as though that gets them in on the good side of Jesus. jesus' parable about the Samaritan demolishes our right to ask who our neighbor is.

I would say quite bluntly that if someone left mars Hill in a tiff about things that that person must recognize the people at Mars Hill are their neighbors. Ditto to Mars Hill. The people who leave and are bitter are also your neighbors. This is just a matter of taking Jesus' teaching seriously. For a Republican Obama should be considered the neighbor. For Democrats McCain should be considered the neighbor. Find the person you hate most, the person you least want to be your neighbor, the one who has done the moost to harm both you and the people you love. That's still your neighbor. Jesus didn't sidestep any issues about what terrible things Samaritans had said and done. The Samaritans were still a group that sold out any confession of faith in Yahweh when it was more convenient to claim otherwise to avoid a military annihilation. The Samaritans still worshipped in ways not prescribed by or forbidden by the Law given through moses. They were, in a word, still messed up. But Jesus chose teh Samaritan to reveal to the man who sought to justify himself that he was NOT justified for defining who his neighbor was the way he had.

Snodgrass makes a great point early in the book, that we are often like generations before us tempted to spiritualize parables to avoid the sharp end of conviction they would bring to us. Another equal and opposite reaction is to strip parables of any allegorical or metaphorical function and make them just little aphorisms about moral teaching rather than stories that reveal the nature of God's reign now and in the age to come. There are two equally deadly ways of atomizing the teaching of Christ. In generations past the social gospel was often the clearest way of distorting or misrepresenting the teaching of Christ but it is surely not the only way. We can all too often view the Pharisees as the only group which came under jesus' criticism and forget the Zealots and the Sadducees. But we are often among those, too.

a general ramble on gratitude, work, and Ecclesiastes 2:24

I have come to the end of another year of my life, however long that life may be. And I have considered advice or exhortation or what-have-you from people over the years. I have considered how in my twenties I wanted to have and be what I am most certainly not now. The amibitions of youth are often futile but they seem like the surest thing to build a future upon when you're in your teens and early twenties ... or at any other stage in life. You can dream what you will and plan what you will but your future is in the hands of the Almighty.

I was reading Ecclesiastes recently and found it quite sobering for a variety of reasons. I love the book, by the way. I was reading about how two are better than one and I am most certainly one and likely to stay that way for a while. I considered the observation of the man who had no companion or descendent yet worked and worked and did not ask himself, "For whom am I doing all this work?" Truthfully I am that sort of fellow and yet I have no wealth amassed at all, nothing that means anything.

The Preacher says that there is nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy the work that God gives him to do under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:24). This is not a proposal to go find work that you love and enjoy and THEN be thankful to God for it. This is a suggestion that you enjoy the work you ALREADY have as a gift from the Lord. This is not some "What color is your parachute" or "do what you love and the money will follow" injunction. We are told that we should find pleasure and enjoyment in our work because that is the work God has given us, not because it is the work we want or the work we think we deserve.

We are in an economic situation that does not look like it will get better. I feel as though I have so little that I have much to lose but it doesn't feel like much to lose. I have a job and I have a home. The rest of the things are things that, honestly, I crave having in my life but do not truly need. If I were to lose them tomorrow I would grieve. I would cry, I would be angry and I would shout. Seriously, I would. But I also recognize how little is actually needed for life, especially for a single man. It is not that I don't want things at all but that I also realize that at some point I'm going to die and those things I have will not go intot he grave with me. God has given us life to be grateful for now, not later.

A living dog is better than a dead lion and yet we see mto be a generation that craves the histories of dead lions. We so often would rather be the dead lion than the living dog. While there is life there is hope but hope in what? In the dreams of youth? It is the easiest thing for a young man to dream of being a rock star or an important man. It is easy for a man to drea mof being a great artist or writer, great at something that society frankly does not really need more of. This is not to demean the arts at all. I love the arts a great deal. I have blogged plenty here and elsewhere about my love of the art of music. Far be it from me to say there is no value whatever in the arts.

But I'm hitting the middle of the 30s next year and I am realizing how in the grand scheme of things the arts really don't mean anything in the end. It is not food, not shelter, not friendship, not safety, not family, none of these things. Hindemith once remarked that the greatest artists tended to be people who didn't obsess over their work mattering. Hindemith fell pray to this temptation as he went on in life, which is too bad because it was his earlier works that were the greater works, by and large. When we wish to make much of ourselves we reveal how small we are but if Christ lifts us up then we are able to comprehend our worth in light of Him, not ourselves.

I have often wondered if my job is really worth doing and some have advised me that my talents and abilities are wasted at the job that I have. But when I survey the condition of the city I live in and consider the number of friends I have who don't have jobs I realize that it is best to be grateful for the job I have. There are plenty of things I could complain about if I wished and often I wish to do so!

But I realize at the end of each week that I have a job, a job that many may look askance at, that many may think is not good enough for a man of my knowledge or abilities. More and more I have come to feel that is not a scriptural attitude about work and more and more I feel that it is best to be grateful for the job that I have than to pine for jobs that I don't have, let alone jobs that I think I deserve. I don't really deserve any job as far as that goes. Work is a gift from the Lord, though it has a lot of sorrow added to it. I have the job I have because the Lord gave it to me.

I have a job that affords me enough to live on by myself and to in a small way be a help to others. I have a job that affords me enough time to spend with friends when I have gotten home at the end of the work day, a job that not all people have. Those who work swing or graveyard shifts either have friends from that life or rarely see their friends. I have a job that allows me to live, not two jobs. Some people have to work more than one job to support themselves or their family. I am grateful that I have one job and do not have to work two.

Would I like my life to be different? Sure, you bet. But God does not owe me anything, even if I were not a Christian I would still say that the world does not owe me anything.

Mark Driscoll's thoughts on a low Sunday, a few thoughts on the value of proofreading for content as well as style

http://blog.marshillchurch.org/2008/12/22/final-thoughts-from-pastor-mark-at-1237am-after-the-lowest-sunday-in-many-years/

I consider this a great object lesson that no matter how good you think your material is or how inspired you feel you should, if you're a blogger that anyone knows or cares about, have someone proof read and copy edit your work. Don't just post without thinking through as many of the implications of what you've written as you can. Because if you don't, well, you come off as saying things you probably never even thought you'd come across as saying. If I posted at 12:37am after hours of talking in front of people I'd do worse, no doubt, but there's stuff here that reveals some logical gaps that I think wouldn't have happened had Mark waited a day or so.

After more than 12 years at Mars Hill I have found days like today are great learning opportunities and I want to share them with you before I log off and start to focus on the holidays:
1. We learn who sees Mars Hill as a calling and who sees it as a job.
Those who see it as a job are the first to call in and cancel their duties, not show up, dog it, or leave early. Those who see their service at Mars Hill as a calling go beyond the call of duty to cover for everyone else. Today, for example, we had a staff guy walk a few miles to work in the snow as his car was totaled by a drunk driver. We also had a volunteer catch a ride many miles in to serve the evening services and worked both evening services even though he had no way home and was just trusting that God would allow him to catch a ride with someone.


These sorts of snowy days in the Emerald City are great learning opportunities. Learning about waht? We seem to have learned that staff and volunteers will make big sacrifices to come do the jobs they feel called to do. A staff person and a volunteer are people who probably see Mars Hill as both a calling and a job so holding them up as a contrast to the people who didn't show up during the weekend of a snow storm seems problematic. People who don't show up to church because of snow are not dogging it, leaving early, cancelling their duties or the like to a job because church isn't a job. Because they don't HAVE to be there (which I'll get to in a moment) they don't go.

Mark is assessing the situation as a professional minister first and somewhere along the line as a shepherd, maybe. The staff guy who walked a few miles to work is walking TO WORK. He sees it as a job. That volunteer caught a ride and worked both evening services with no way to get home and was just trusting God would allow him to catch a ride with someone. I've sometimes been that guy in some settings and what happened was no one was going my way and I rode public transit. It's easy to praise someone else's sacrifices when you don't have to make any reciprocal sacrifice to make sure the guy who sacrificed gets home safely. Not saying people shouldn't make sacrifices but I am saying that it's just sloppy thinking to use staff and ministry volunteers as examples of people who DON'T see attending church as a job. Clearly they do.

2. We learn about our own heart.
If we are depressed, complaining, or secretly wishing we could be home there is something wrong with us. Days like today are opportunities for us to love our volunteers, pour extra appreciation on those who come, and make sure that we do not neglect those who join us. Charles Spurgeon once said that when you pay attention to the seat that is empty, you are paying a disservice to the one that is filled. This fall we got as high as nearly 8000 people.


Point 2 is where it is most apparent someone wasn't proofreading this for things even as simple as paragraph breaks. It's too bad because with a few paragraph breaks this would have read nicely.

This must be a message for the staff and leaders and not for the congregation or anyone who simply didn't show up. This is solid stuff for pastors and staff who might be resentful for going out to serve when the attendence isn't what they hoped it would be. Of course it should be noted that for all the people who didn't show up, they don't have any problems at all that we can presume. Mars Hill does such a great job of making it possible to download sermons and give on-line that plenty of people who could not safely drive to the services could still hear teaching, give to the ministry, and download a few songs or put on a CD and have some corporate singing and prayer where they can.

Resentment is not only a disservice to the people who ARE there it is also a disservice to the people who AREN'T there because they want to be cautious and safe for the sake of themselves and their families. If a guy's car got totalled before ths snow storm and he walked miles through the snow to get to work I hope someone offers to give that guy a ride.

With all due respect, this is the Driscoll who admitted he overworked himself to the brink of adrenal failure and had to start delegating a lot of things to other people because he was destroying his health. Driscoll is probably not the best person to consult about what a reasonable sacrifice should be for the sake of a job. He's admitted he's not so good at taking sabbaths here and there over the years. I'm glad he is grateful for the people who showed up but he also doesn't sound like he'd be all that good to work for unless you share his similarly workaholic nature. If I were married and had kids during a snow storm I'd dust off the guitar, play some songs and sing them with my family, read some Bible with them and stay home.

But, today we dropped down to a few thousand for the worst snow and ice I have ever seen in Seattle. But, we were still statistically a mega-church today (around 2000 people) which only roughly 1500 churches in America are. Of that, about 2/3 of the attendance was at the video campuses and I spoke live to the campus with the greatest percentage decline. The total attendance at Ballard where I preach live was…666 people of all things. I preached to 80 people at the first service in a room that seats 1300, and the best attended of the four services today was about 250 people. But, those are people who Jesus loves and our attitude toward them says a lot about us. Even if there is one person, that one person is someone God has brought for us to minister to and if they are willing to come we must be willing to love them with Jesus love. I walked the floor acting as a greeter today, thanking the volunteers, and one kind woman asked me if days like this bummed me out. I said no and explained that I can still remember the days when even having 80 people at one service would have been a huge win. When you’ve pastored a church from your living room onward you learn that your job is to love everyone that God brings and search your heart if you cannot do so wholeheartedly because the attendance is not high enough for you to feel that so few people are worth your time even though Jesus considered them worthy of dying for. So, on days like this I try to get up early, have four contingency plans to get to work, work hard all day, and pray the Psalmists plea for God to search my heart. I know this can sound proud. I’ve failed at this for years. And, more and more this is a lesson God is teaching me. As I learn it bit by bit, I love our people more and appreciate that I get to pastor anyone.

Since 2/3 of the attendees didn't hear you live anyway this underscores my observation that they could download sermons from home and give on-line. The thing we should be careful about is that Jesus said some things about who we are called to love. We're not just called to love the people who brave the snow among God's family. We are called to love and serve the other people, too.

Jesus said "if you only love those who love you what credit is that to you? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" Any godless person can be thankful for the two thousand people who show up at a megachurch on Sunday after a big snow storm. Can a person be thankful for the people who have been members or attendees of the church who DIDN'T show up but are still part of God's family?

Considering the great lengths to which Mars Hill puts content on-line for people I hope that next time Mark remembers to not just thank the people who did show up but also even those wh0 didn't who are otherwise faithful participants in the community. This is progress coming from him, it really is, but I would also like to encourage Mark to be thankful for the people who were wise enough or prompted by the Lord to stay home with family and not head out in the storm. That Mark seems to feel that those who didn't show up dogged church like they dogged a job suggests that he's still got some ways to go. But he's being honest about it even if he may not be aware of how this abundance of the heart spoken from reveals he's in process.

And, not meaning to seem just nitpicky, paragraphs dude. They are handy for organizing thought. Don't post after midnight no matter how good your insights seem. If you're learning that you need to be grateful for things you wouldn't have been grateful for or struggle to be grateful for now then that's cool.

#3. We learn about the deep love some people have for our church.
Today I met, for example, a couple who drive in nearly every week from over three hours away and they left very early in the morning before the sun was up to be at the morning service. Last week I met a couple that is from Virginia and listens online. They were coming to Portland for a Christmas break with their extended family and they so wanted to attend Mars Hill that they braved the snow and drove from Portland even though the wife was pregnant. On a good day it takes about three hours to make this trip and my guess is that it took them maybe 10-12 hours round trip to attend one Mars Hill service as they drove in, worshiped with us, and drove out. The commitment of some people is completely humbling and noble. The fact that they love Mars Hill is infectious and encourages me. Even if there are 80 instead of 1300 in a service, if they are 80 people who want to love and worship Jesus and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to church then those people are the hardcore of the hardcore and from what I heard they out sang crowds ten times their size because they were determined to fill the room with worship to Jesus.


Thing about this I have to ask is about "the deep love" part. "We learn about the deep love some people have for our church." That's not necessarily a good thing. Churches can be idols, after all. Spending hours one way just to attend a service may speak of devotion but is it devotion to Christ or devotion to a church or devotion to you, Mark? Only the first of these is any good and the goodness of the others follows only from that first devotion. Any Christian knows this but it bears repeating. If people can make it to Mars Hill and they believe the Lord has called them there then that's what it is. That could be great, but we had also best not simply assume it is great.

Not too long ago, during the snow storm, in fact, I walked about twenty blocks through the snow storm to deliver things I promised I would get for a friend. This friend is disabled and couldn't get out into the snow to get things he needed and his aide had bailed on him because of weather warnings. I didn't PLAN to walk twenty blocks through the snow storm, believe me, but since I realized the bus system wasn't working as it needed to and since I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand I hoofed it with the things I promised.

The Psalmist says that a godly man keeps a promise even to his own hurt ... so I walked through the snow storm to drop off things. I tried walking back and it was, suffice it to say, not the smartest move to try to walk back. Fortunately God was kind and had someone call me when I realized I was really stuck in the middle of the snow with no great odds for a bus ride home and I got home.

To be honest if people risk their safety or spend a huge amount of time dealing with snow just to attend a church service I don't see that as having any inherent spiritual value if it is first and foremost a reflection of a person's love for an individual church. I was willing to trudge through the snow to help a disabled brother in the Lord and that in itself is no credit to me, really. However, I would be willing to say that I believe that, of the two risks to safety, it is better to risk your possible safety to help a brother in the Lord than to just go attend a service. In truth I am sure the Lord sees Himself glorified either way but I am here merely professing my preference.

And since as I have sometimes heard "it is all about Jesus" I ask, admittedly a rhetorical question, of the things Mark Driscoll has learned from one of the "worst days" what lessons has he learned about Christ? Jesus has given Mark the primary pastoral role over a little network of churches that collectively constitute a megachurch, even on a snow day when attendence was a mere fourth of what it was earlier in the year. A church that big it would be no surprise that the attendence would drop that much and no surprise if it was still a large attendence.

But how grateful might Driscoll be if the rest of the 8,000 simply didn't come back? I hope he would be immensely grateful, not because they represent the hardcore of the hardcore but because he gets to be a pastor at all. Let's not be thankful only for the hardcore of the hardcore but also for the hardcore and even for those who aren't hardcore at all. Why? Well, a reason to note be thankful for the hardcore of the hardcore on principle is because in the days when Jesus walked among us He had his harshest words for the hardcore of the hardcore, who were often referred to as Pharisees. Doesn't mean the hardcore of the hardcore (or just the hardcore) at Mars Hill are Pharisees at all, let me be clear about that.

But substitute "Jesus" in this paragraph of Mark's with "Mars Hill" and it becomes clearer what I think needs to be a perennial concern at a church like Mars Hill. Are they coming for Jesus or are they coming to hear Driscoll? The two are unfortunately often equated by well-meaning people. I don't equate them but I don't assume the two are separate. I trust the Lord has Driscoll where He wants him but I also don't know what that means. I've read too much of the Bible to assume that just because someone is raised up to a leadership position by the Lord that that's only a good thing. The Lord raised of Pharoah, after all, to destroy him and make an example of him for future generations. In this case I think we've got a guy who loves the Lord and just needs a copy editor because he's written some things that I really think if he were to have looked at them a day or so later he wouldn't have published.

I'll admit that after helping a disabled friend by trudging through the snow last weekend I read this thing from Driscoll and it made me angry because equating people who don't show up to a church, specifically Driscoll's, with people who dog it at work suggests an attitude that is problematic. Mark, as a pastor, is not an employer first but a pastor first (or a missiologist or whatever spiritual office he considers himself to have).

But I have to keep in mind that Driscoll was not running on all cylinders and that he said things that reveal areas where he really needs to grow. There are all sorts of areas where I need to grow and I think the area where both Driscoll and I probably need to grow by our own respective accounts, is in the realm of showing gratitude. So if anything I realize that while I believe Driscoll has said some stupid stuff that he wouldn't have said if he had thought things through he and I are (I trust) on some parallel paths.

I am not a pastor so I admit that I'm not sure why just a couple thousand people could ever be construed by anyone as one of the worst days. Two thousand people is still a lot of people for a Sunday across six or seven church campuses and 2/3 of those people were people you never even saw, Mark. If just a couple thousand people the day after one of the nastier snow storms the city of Seattle has seen in a while is one of the "worst days" there must be things much worse than just a few thousand people showing up for a church like Mars Hill.

What would a better candidate for "worst day" look like? A lawsuit. Someone getting killed in an accident during a holiday paegant. A pastor getting arrested for breaking the law. A pastor being convicted of a crime to do with money or sex or property or misuse of confidential information. A while back a pastor was removed on the charge of fraudulently using another church tax ID number, a really huge level crime. Think of local church debacles like, say, Overlake from the 1990s. Think of Ted Haggard. Really, considering all the things that could happen in association with Mars Hill just a few thousand people showing up hardly constitutes a "worst day" given the circumstances at any level. Obviously Driscoll's idea of a "worst day" for Mars Hill isn't anywhere near as bad as a "worst day" I could imagine for the church. May the Lord grant that only Driscoll's idea of "worst day" is what happens to the church.

And, Mark, should you or any of your church staff read this, please do consider having someone proofread and copyedit your blogs no matter how good they seem. I'm a nobody with an unimportant blog that no one reads. You're a celebrity pastor doing a lot of pulpit teaching at a megachurch. If I write something stupid few people read it so it doesn't matter as much. If you write something when you're exhausted it doesn't read as nicely as you might think. So that's just a suggestion to anyone who blogs, too. Take it or leave it. Given the way of the blogosphere most people will leave it. :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At one point I touched upon comics

Don't have the patience to do so now except by way of a link since Frank Miller, who once wrote fun and funny stories has made the mistake of trying to transition into film.

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/on-screen/Content?oid=878213

Now years ago I saw another author attempt to transition into film. Business of Fancydancing was basically a noble failure. But at least it looked like it was attempting to actually do something. Failing by attempting to do too much is still something.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

snowed in blogging

As any of you may notice, because there's a lot of snow in Seattle, we're all vaguely snowed in here, some of his very much snowed in. Not me personally, mind you, but I have friends and family who are. I listened to a sermon on the iPod today since I knew I wasn't going to bother to head out to an actual church service on public transit in this kind of weather.

I am considering the issue of "being fed" or what self-feeding looks like in a personal context. Earlier you may have noticed I wrote about how I have been dramatically reassessing my understanding and attitude toward the psalms. I was reading a bit of Athanasius on the topic, actually, and it struck me how much self-feeding I'm likely to have to do on the psalms. The church I have been part of has never once gone through psalms from the pulpit, which is pretty astonishing the more I think about it. I hope this may be rectified soon but I am not sure if I am sticking around for that or not.

Now when I wrote earlier about self-feeding and the pastoral buffet of teaching I was not consciously mulling over what I am consciously mulling over now, what may genuinely be grace to one man may be nothing but a damning law to the other. At this point a pastor must consider what may be a law of averages. You can preach for the 90% of the congregation who you believe needs to shape up and repent of X sin but doing so means that the 10% who are left who have a different or opposite struggle hear the rebuke for the others and either sense that it is not for them or feel worse about where they are already at for not being the other 90%

There are few issues in evangelicalism where this gets more prominent than not being married. I know of a church that dealt, dare I say, obsessively with the topic of marriage and dating for a few years and it tended to be from a set of assumptions that 1) everyone ought to get married at some point because 90% of people will marry 2) we're focusing on getting all those singles into that 90% 3) the net effect was to tell singles that their goal was to get out of their single status but paradoxically singles might be enjoined to serve more and thereby find people whom could get them out of the singleness phase of life.

Now if I find myself in a situation where the things I most struggle with, things like fear that my life is stagnating at a respectable but nevertheless dead end job in an economy where my skills don't seem all that marketable and I most certainly could not support a family on the income I have but I believe that for a wide variety of providential and rational reasons that I have the job God wants me to have where I am at ... of what use is teaching about marriage and dating to me in a setting where for years dating was considered bad? I have had well-intentioned friends say I'm not ready to be married. Yes, I knew that quite a long time before they did, thanks.

On the other hand, I am probably not that cut out to be a monk. I do not have a confessional tradition where being a monk really interests me. There are no evangelical monks, are there? Where are they? Evangelicals are busy telling people that 90% of people will marry. That 10 percent that won't marry or maybe aren't marriage material? Who cares about them? They don't matter that much, they're just the ones with lots of free time to serve ... in some formal capacity.

And that IS a distinct advantage, isn't it? But if the chef provides food for all but the lactose intolerant what are those lactose intolerant people going to do when they see tons of cheese being ladeled on to the plates? This is where the paradox of self-feeding returns. A person who feeds themselves what they know through experience they can handle suddenly risks being the jerk who doesn't go along with what the chef is spooning out for the others. The most respectful thing would be to not show up for the meal if you know no concession is being made for what you can and can't digest, but then people want to know why you're not showing up for the weekly meals. Well, uh, you can't exactly spin that and you can't say what's what without the risk of steeping on people's toes when that's the last thing you want to do.

And so it has been from that perspective that I have not attended a certain place for a few months. I am also at a stage in my life where to hear months of preaching on that topic would not be a benefit to me where I am at. I already feel a sense of anxiety that I am neither cut out to be married nor to remain single the rest of my life and rather than this motivating me to somehow "prepare" for married life ... as if anything on earth really does that ... it has put me in a place where I feel that since teaching on married life seems academic and useless to me and since I in my single state frankly don't need to know now the stuff that was apt to be discussed for the sake of my own conscience I skipped out. Not that I have no struggles with lust or anything, far from it, but knowing how things went last time these topics were broached by preacher X I know better than to put myself in a position where stuff that is meant for the 90% is stuff I actually need to hear again. I've heard from plenty of preachers that that special book is in the Bible and it would be wrong not to preach from it. I'm at a point in my life where me hearing preaching from that book ... eh, not so sure I need to. So if it is a blessing to others, awesome. I just skipped it.

So if that is what food is being put on the table and I don't feel that I can in good conscience partake of that food should I be at the table? Should I not be at a church because I'm either not being fed or the food on offer is food that I feel I shouldn't eat? Is being part of God's people about ME being fed to begin with? If by fed a person means understanding the Gospel in new and life changing ways I'm not sure I've been fed since about 2005, to be honest, and I don't like to frame things in terms of it being just a pastor's fault that I don't feel I have come to a great appreciable understanding of the Gospel of Jesus in three years' time. I've got a lot of problems, a lot of problems, in comprehending what the grace of God is. If I am in a church where it seems like other people get it and I don't does that mean it's all my fault? Somehow I don't get that sense either because no one is righteous except Christ when the chips are down.

So I have taken a break from a place and from any regular church attendance. I used to hold firmly that membership in a church was vital and necessary to one's Christian walk but over the last few years I have had my confidence in that shaken. I like the idea in principle more than in practice. Spenser's axiom that the more real you are the less likely you are to feel welcome "may" apply or it may be that what is genuinely grace for person X may come off as law for me. My best guess as to why this is is that there are things that I feel I ought to be and do and since I see myself as unfit to be and do those things I judge myself as wanting in the scales that other people seem to be obtaining.

Or, to be more blunt, if 90% of people marry and I am not only not married but have never even bothered to "he who finds a wife finds what is good and obtains favor from the Lord" (in other words actually date, which would have been weird because the church I've been part of has a colored history of being pro marriage and anti dating) what's my problem? Is it a problem that can be remedied or is it unfixable? If I don't think I'm selfless enough to be a husband or father or don't make enough money should I try to fix that or simply resign to that and then feel as though a lot of the preaching at the place I have been is simply not for me, never has been for me, and never will be for me? Or is it possible that people marry for reasons that are not that rational and I've been potentially sold a bill of good about how ready people actually are when they marry? I have had people tell me that people should marry because it is better to marry than to burn and what's my excuse for not marrying? Does pleading total lack of qualification to be married count? Nope. I have constantly felt like I'm in some weird double bind where if I don't feel like marriage material that's agreed to but that eventually I 'should' marry. And I have gotten some very clear indications from family and friends that married llife, particularly parenting, can be the measure of adult fulfillment. It's not on purpose .... but it can be unintentionally discouraging.

I don't know what I want, really. I'm told by a church culture and by some zealous friends what they think OUGHT to be the case. I am in a setting where I know what the "law" says, whether the law of averages or the law of Scripture or the law of expectations and I am starting to realize that what other people think is not very important. I am not good at ignoring the opinions of people I respect or care about. For a lot of my early years I was told I needed to know what I wanted and have a plan for my life. I did that for a while and it never panned out. Now I don't think it does anyone any good to have a plan for their lives because God thwarts our plans. We can commit our plans to the Lord and He can destroy them or uphold them as He sees fit.

I'll be honest, when I was in my late teens and early twenties where I wanted to be at this point in my life was to have a teaching position in literature or biblical studies at a college, be married, and have a kid or two and maybe have some time left over to write music once in a while or publish something in some form. I'm not a professor of anything, most certainly am not married, no kids (thank God, as I wouldn't want them except after the earlier conditionof being married had been met) and I haven't had anything published in the traditional sense of that term.

Instead I have a blog here on the internet that I know at least some people read. I started off this blog intending to write about music and cartoons and eventually deal with some theology and it seems to have inexorably shifted toward theology, but theology of an admittedly vague sort. I am most definitely single and have no, so far as I understand the term to have currency in this society, been on a date. I'm of two minds on whether I ought to or even want to go on a date. I am a boring fellow as my blog can probably attest, I tend to be obsessive about the topics that interest me, topics that I'm not sure very many people care about. Even within one of my fields of interest, classical guitar, my interest is often met with a sort of indifference or bewilderment. I am a very introverted person. Get me in a room with more than about ten people, especially people I don't really know, and I am apt to have an inversely proportional dynamic at work, the more people you put with me in a room that I don't know as family or friends the less likely I am to want to say things.

And the part where I feel like I must have a bad attitude on the subject of dating, marriage, and women, is that I often wonder who would be worth the trouble. Really, who would be worth the trouble? This is not tos ay I don't love women. There are women I love a great deal, as friends. The idea of there being any other element sorta repels me and not exactly because I plan it that way, either the feeling of anxiety about romantic attachment or, God knows, the slightest hint of romantic attachment itself.

So I can say that I'm not against the idea of having a girlfriend but am not sure it is worth the time, trouble, and effort to have one. But Ecclesiastes mentions that there is a man with no companion and no children and he works and works and he never stops to ask himself, "For whom am I doing all this work?" We can't spiritualize the topic to the point of saying "well, you work for God." We can, of course, but that's not what Koholeth talks about. You can't huddle up with Jesus to keep warm on a cold night. Make no mistake, it's pretty damned cold here in the Emerald City right now. Telling me I should be complete in Jesus and be warm ... thanks, I have my electric bill paid up and have baseboard heating. So I don't have anyone to help me keep warmbut I'm covered.

I have heard some Christians say over the years that is is important to have a legacy. This legacy has been most often framed in terms of kids. Kids are idols sometimes. The first born of Egypt were slain. Now at one level this indicated that children could be idols but at another level it's not what the point is. God destroyed the legacy of the Egyptians in one night but killing the firstborn in all the land. Our legacy is Christ, not the legacy that we spend our lives working to establish.

I could spend my whole life composing music and I could get published and perhaps in a century my music will actually be played or still be in print and perhaps I might end up getting mention in a footnote in a music history book. But that is not likely. My music is not that awesome and people who work on music primarily for their legacy or to prove things never amount to anything, not unless they happen to have already amounted to something and recognize that legacy is what you give to others for their benefit, not yours. Bach's music legacy is a gift to us and I believe that he recognized he rocked the house and also that it was his gift to future generations of an already musical family to continue serving by creating music. But as Koholeth put it, it is good to enjoy your work that God gives you to do. This isn't a caseof "do what you love and the money will follow" it's "love what you have been given to do because if you don't you probably can't bargain with God for a better deal."

And this is where the food for the 90% that is hard to digest for the 10% comes back. I have some idea what God wants me to do on the basis of the work that He has given me joy in doing. This is not stuff that makes any sense to people where I am at, and perhaps it is more accurate to say that the sort of music I feel God has given me time and inspiration to work on is useless to any church. I am too insecure a performer to want to put my music out in front of people myself. I prefer to give my music to other people to play. I tried a rock band thing for a while and musicians said positive things about the music and audiences, such few as I had, didn't resonate with it. I have often wondered if there is a basic problem in what I write, if it lacks emotional depth or connectivity with people.

but while I feel closer to the Lord when I compose, feel as though I am doing something He has given me to do when I compose, I do not sense that what I do as a musician or composer is something God's people will have any use for. I've tried a handful of things and nothing much came of it. A professional musician once told me that my music would be a challenge to market. She said that it's good music, accessible music, but that it is too complex and unusual to appeal to the usual church music crowd but it's not nearly strange enough to appeal to the academic musician crowd, not unusual enough. In other words I'm not John Rutter but I'm not Lutoslawski or Charles Ives.

I am not sure where God wants me to be other than where I am at and I'm chafing a bit at where I'm at. I feel as though if I were to ask people where my life is going they'd say "nowhere". That's where I feel I'm at now. In earlier ages there was a popular understanding that how providence played out could sometimes means that things suck and you can be grateful you're not worse off. We live in an age now where even among Christians providence tends to only be invoked as a way of pointing out all the cool stuff God gave you that you SAY you don't deserve but secretly think you do deserve because, hey, God in His omniscience gave it to you so that means you must have been doing something right. And if you claim, "No, that's not the reason" y0u're probably lying because the first great liar was immensely blessed by God and moved from "I deserved this" to "I deserve more". If you think you deserve something you can't have real gratitude for it.

I don't deserve to be able to compose the music I write. My eyes are poor and my hands were injured working some menial jobs ten years ago. I don't deserve to be able to write or play music at all or to read. In earlier age, even if I had been born ten years earlier, I'd have died at childbirth or shorty there after. I don't really "deserve" to be alive at all. And I don't take that in the weird health-and-wealth speak to mean that "You were a winner before you were even born. Your sperm hit the egg first out of millions of sperm." Uh, great, Mr. preacher, that really proves a lot. Unlike you, who are married, I have never once sat down and thought about which one among millions of sperm of any guy's semen would be most likely to reach the egg in a woman's uterus first and thereby somehow prove that the resultant baby was a winner before birth. It just doesn't follow logically anyway.

A friend and I were chatting a while back and when I explained that I like the idea of marriage in theory and as an institution but am not sure it would justify all the junk attendent to it he joked (or half-joked) that I would make a great monk. Perhaps I would, but evangelical Protestantism does not seem to have any monastic orders. If you're a fellow like me who specializes in researching obscure contemporary classical guitar repertoire and enjoys South Park then I would probably make, I don't know, probably make for a truly terrible monk. What I know does not have much practical value and what I don't know could fill enough books that would require the deforestation of Brazil.

Boar's Head Tavern discussion of Piper's seven theses

You will have to go read a few pages of the Boar's Head Tavern for this entry to make any sense. Piper wrote a few theses about what he considered central to his preaching and key to understanding the message of the Gospel. Unsurprisingly he rearticulated points from Desiring God and the Christian hedonist regimen. God is in it for His own glory and as He is the most perfect and holy being self gratification is nothing less than the best He can be and do and pursue.

Don't even bother reading what I'm saying here unless you trawl through the BHT's last week of stuff and I recognize that may bore you immensely. But it's important to get this caveat up front and center.

I am the lurker who wrote to John H and pointed out that the problem with Piper's theses is that you can hold to all of them and have Arian theology. I'm totally serious. I don't say it to suggest Piper has Arian theology at all, but I point out that there's a colloquial saying that to assume makes an ass of you and me. Yes, it does, and there is no more dangerous place in which assumptions can make asses of us than in confessional and creedal contexts where instead of articulating the Gospel as handed down to us over the ages we eschew creedal language and attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Christian hedonism, properly understood, is a concept with a superfluous and potentially even harmful nomenclature. Anyone with an Augustinian understanding of how sanctification works will observe that as none of us can delight in the Lord as perfectly as Scripture may prescribe that anyone with an iota of self examination may find Piper's formulations cheap and depressing even if they get at things that are biblically defensible and true. THe problem is that, as Piper seems to have put it about acolytes of Bishop Wright, the fan club can move in dangerous directions the exponent does not. Ah, well, ditto Piper.

One of the lamest things I have seen said for Christian teachers is "if you just understand his heart you'll see h's totally right about this." Another variation is, "You just don't get where he's coming from and don't understand why he's really correct." Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God." So, no, I do not have to suppose that any teacher is so good as to be THAT good and that means that neither Piper nor Wright, both of whom have written thigns I admire, are above some basic observation and criticism. I don't think it's unfair to point out that Piper's seven theses don't seem to mention the Holy Spirit at all and that you can epouse those seven points while not even holding a traditional orthodox trinitarian confession. If I'm a bad guy for pointing this out I'm guilty as charged. Reformed folks freak out about what goes unsaid that they think needs to be said but so long as it's one of their own people cut slack precisely at the points where if the teacher ISN'T one of their own the assume the worst rather than the best.

I have seen discussions in cyber-land where people have shot down contemplative literature as a whole genre and then went on to say "I would read a book on contemplative prayer if John Piper wrote it!" Respecter of persons, dude, the apostle James says to not be that. You may not discriminate against poor brothers in the Lord but if you refuse to read any contemplative Christian authors and topics unless John Piper writes it then you need to grow up. Period. Protestants who get like that have no right to complain about the authoritarian favoritism of certain teachers by Rome or Constantinople if they're going to be the same way.

Since blogger readers seem able to completely misread what I have written about on other topics--Piper's fine overall and I usually don't have problems with him when focuses on Christ, which he does a lot, all the time really. But the thing is that I have grown tired of Piper fans who overlook in Piper what they would consider terrible in other pastors and theologians. For instance, N. T. Wright got grilled by people when Jesus & the Victory of God came out because they thought he didn't affirm the resurrection. So many people misunderstood what he said in that book he realized he had to write a new book in the series he's been working on, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Since that book is awesome we're better off as a community of saints that enough people didn't get Wright that he set the record straight on what he affirms as true about Christ and His rising from death. The freak-out was about what Wright didn't say. I think it was fair to ask but I also think it's fair to point out that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Just because I like Wright doesn't mean I think Resurrection didn't need to be written to set the record straight on where he's coming from.

By analogy, Piper has his Christian hedonism and God is in it for His own glory. If Piper had articulated his points in a more robustly trinitarian way (as in did it at all!) I wouldn't have suggested to John H that there were some serious problems in how Piper formulated his ideas. If people think Piper is off the hook because the context should be assumed ... well, that's why confessional and creedal language is so handy. If Piper had spent some time articulating a traditional orthodox Christian understanding of the GOspel in an ordinary way instead of inventing a new nomenclature that has to be explained in a whole book some of this could have been avoided.

Without clearly articulating the role the Father, Son, and Spirit have together as the one true God Piper's "Christian hedonism" 7 bullet points that attempt to say that the greatest glory is for God to be glorified fails to account for what makes this a truly Christian view if, indeed, it is even remotely Christian at all. But if someone were to point out this and say that it shouldn't be presupposed that the 7 points Piper made are necessarily Christian in their theology I imagine the flames wouldn't come by fast enough.

What prompts to say this is not a doubt about Piper's Christian confession but a frustrated observation that a pastor who has been at it as long as Piper has ought to know better. Paul said, "I resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified." The minimalist statement was not, "I resolved to know nothing except that God is holy and sovereign." The good news isn't really that God is sovereign at all! Frankly the good news is not even an appeal that God is holy. Why? Because Zeus was considered holy and sovereign and he was often a holy and sovereign asshole! We can never take for granted as Christians that when we talk about the one true God who made all that is it somehow goes without saying that we're talking about the Father, Son, and Spirit, that the Son came and lived with us in real, human flesh, died, and rose from the dead. Certainly Piper gets this but there is never a time when this can be so presupposed that in making a list of bullet points we can, say, glide over that.

The good news is that God is loving and gracious! The prince of the power of the air has plenty of sovereignty after a kind but he is neither loving nor gracious. The kings of this world lord it over one another but that is not what the king of kings did. If Piper doesn't articulate his views in trinitarian and incarnational terms all the time he is no less susceptible than anyone else to distorting the Gospel. Even Paul wrote that he had to be careful so that it would not seem as though he had run the race in vain. Guess what? Last I checked Piper isn't quite at the level of the apostle Paul. This is not really written as a rebuke so much as a reminder, not to Piper, but to anyone who reads Piper and bothers to read the blog. The best of us can still potentially go astray. I wrote quite some time ago Joash was a king who began well, it seems, but ended terribly. I don'[t care how good Piper may seem now, there's enough time before death to have run the race in vain. It's not him I'm particularly worried about as the dynamic Michael Spenser pointed out that any attempt to offer a friendly, practical critique of some of Piper's weak points is often met with "how dare you?" This may be the case even in situations where Piper, not to put too fine a point on it, is unknowingly asking for trouble by presupposing what he has an opportunity to preach.

when self feeding becomes a pastors nightmare, people thinking for themselves and not agreeing with you. :)

http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2008/12/yet-more-on-self-feeding-part-two.html

One of the curiosities about self-feeding is that when it is prescribed it seems to come up in cases where you would think that self-feeding might actually be what you DON'T want if you're in church leadership. The paradox, the tension afoot in self-feeding is that if someone is a strong enough of a Christian with a strong enough of a personal walk with the Lord and knowledge of Scripture to feed themselves what do they need you for, the pastor? A pastor may understand his (or her, in some denominations) role to be putting the food and milk of the Gospel out there for people to partake of. That's the thing, if you are being like Peter and tasked with feeding the sheep then if the sheep can feed themselves who needs you? Certainly not God and arguably not the sheep!

If the sheep are smart enough to feed themselves (and I'll leave most of the humor and irony involved in this statement unexplored for now) then a pastor who aspires to have sheep who can feed themselves is aspiring to obsolescence, to not having a job. Think about it, if the role of the pastor is to tell people to feed themselves then the more they decide to feed themselves the less they have need of a pastor to tell them what is food or not. In churches that appeal to a common authority that must be agreed to on catechisjm/confessional grounds, then what is considered food and milk acceptable to eat and drink becomes clear.

For instance, what if a person studies the Scriptures and meditates on the Word and discerns that infant baptism is great and biblical and should be done but the pastoral leadership doesn't see it that way? Does the man who ascribes to infant baptism suddenly stop being a self-feeder and a divisive man who is dead weight to the local church? Pastors who want self-feeders should be careful what they wish for and Orthodox and Catholics might rush to point out that this is where most schisms tend to happen. I'm just cynical enough about church history that I'm not sure it's quite that simple, either, but the joke stands on its own. It is often the case that pastors want the flock to feed themselves just so long as everyone agrees on what food is.

Which is why confessional and creedal language is so valuable. If certain pastors did not feel a need to avoid confessional and creedal language in favor of reinventing the wheel then there would be less room for misunderstanding and for articulating would appear to be ostensibly orthodox Christian talking points in a way that is not as orthodox as first appears if one reads them without presupposing a staggering amount of doctrine.

Which I will get to in a different post.

Monday, December 15, 2008

self feeding and the endless challenge within Protestant evangelicalism

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/internet-monk-radio-podcast-121#comments

... And I would suggest that one's first reaction as an evangelical is to go feed yourself until you find the answer. Now that may including reading the Puritans and reading your church confession or going to seminary but you're, you're taking your plate and putting the food on it. And it seems to me there is this vast missing piece of the puzzle of who is feeding whom because evangelicalism ultimately doesn't WANT to solve the authority problem, doesn't WANT to say "What's the official teaching of the church", but wants to leave a very large component of self feeding as part of the journey.

This is a fascinating quote and a fascinating observation. When we discuss the term "authority" it gets to the basis on which an interpretation of Scripture can be considered to have any weight or credibility. The old saw amongst Catholics and Orthodox is that it does not good to take the approach of sola scriptura because even if you posit an inerrant Bible you do not have inerrant interpretation without some ground rule of authority. Of course this is not to say there is no epistemic challenge in establishing the authority of Orthodox or Catholic interpretation but the challenge there lays simply in the challenge anyone would face affirming faith in what Lewis called "mere Christianity".

I would agree with Spenser's suggestion that self-feeding is axiomatic in evangelicalism. I would go further to suggest that a crisis latent in any sort of Christian life or community is that when you feed yourself and when you fill your plate (which you invariably do even in settings where the question of authority is considered settled) what are you putting on your plate? To borrow the categories proposed by the author of Hebrews there is milk and there is solid food. As has been pointed out by countless people over the ages Jesus told Peter, at the time of his restoration, "feed my sheep." The apostles were tasked with providing spiritual food to those who would come to believe in Jesus.

Paul wrote that teachers should be careful what sort of building they work upon the foundation of Christ. This is where, if I may venture a bit in mixing the metaphors shared in Scripture, we should consider that the apostolic role, and the role of the teacher, is to provide food to the body of Christ. The provision of this food is that which was entrusted the apostles, the bread and wine that are the flesh and blood of Christ.

Now if milk represents elementary teachings it may be that a challenge in any church tradition is to consider the quality of the milk given. Is it possible that in evangelicalism there are different forms of solid food and different forms of milk? Some milk is raw and full while other milk is skim milk or pasteurized. Some would contend that this milk has been so processed that even it is no longer what it would be for the baby Christian. As for solid food, let us suppose it is meat per the colloquialism, some meat is of a very high quality while other meat is ground up into hot dogs and may not even be meat as we would normally wish to call it.

The central question here is do self feeders REALLY self feed? If they do then what sort of solid food or milk do they feed themselves with? If Spenser is right that evangelicals don't want to solve the issue of authority and that self-feeding is the norm perhaps it's helpful to reformulate this observation. Self-feeding means you decide what you put on your plate. Any iteration of church authority of any kind at any level supposes that what you put on your plate should be what the teacher puts there.

And this gets back to the issue or claim of "I'm not being fed." There are many ways this could be parsed. It could mean you want to hear something you haven't heard before. This sort of "I'm not being fed" could be nothing more than a case of itching ears. But other kinds of "I'm not being fed" could be because the milk is so processed or the meat is so processed that one begins to believe that the food one is being presented with is not really the food of the Gospel, not really the bread of Christ's body and the wine of Christ's blood. To labor this analogy of food a bit it may be that evangelicalism has a problem of obsessing over processed food. Grape juice and wonder bread have replaced the real bread and wine.

Now I'm still thoroughly Protestant enough to not be pessimistic about things. I believe that self-feeding happens in every Christian tradition but I also believe that the challenge of authority in evangelicalism and Protestantism does amount to how people determine what food should be options, at the risk of extening the food/feeding metaphor beyond any reasonable bounds.

There's a sense in which pastors who want the congregation to feed themselves have a point. We should all, as believers, study the Scriptures. For evangelicals (or any other branch of Christianity) the challenge of "private interpretation" comes up. A person who studies the Scriptures and concludes that people have free will will suddenly find himself odd man out in a Presbyterian church. A Methodist who holds that unconditional election is biblical will likely be invited to consider fellowship elsewhere. We want you to feed yourself, to be sure, but we want to make sure that what you put on your plate is what we consider food. Twinkies do not count. Nor do tootsie rolls. You should have meat ... but not just hot dogs ... unless the hot dogs were produced by your local pastor and then they are okay! By the way, I'm not necessarily saying hot dogs are never appropriate food. They have their time and place.

But it does seem to raise the spectre of what is considered solid food. Some things that are considered solid food may really be the Gospel while other things may be the bread and wine of legalism or antinomianism. The trouble is perhaps not the self-feeding aspect as who goes where for what food.

Friday, December 12, 2008

There is not a laughing emoticon big enough for this one

http://boarsheadtavern.com/2008/12/12/1242/

First follow this link, THEN follow the link he links to. You will understand, trust me.

random thought of the day

Feeling responsible for things you can't change or control, and which only get worse through your words or actions, can be a sign of being a control freak or having a rescuer complex. In some Christian circles this habit of mind and heart is euphemistically referred to as "headship" and considered a virtue all Christian men should aspire to.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

awe-some

http://metalutheran.blogspot.com/2008/12/stages-of-conversion.html

I laughed quite a bit reading it. Phase 5 option 1 pretty much encapsulate the house church movement and the cycle starts over again. If you're lucky the people running the house church movement aren't people who are liable to jump at a bank debenture scam known as Omega the way some people I know did during the Clinton administration. That way some housewife doesn't make off with a bunch of money after saying things like that "Daddy" (God the Father) told you this or that. Or if you're lucky the house church you end up at doesn't have the husband and wife team hosting it at their home divorcing.

I ended up at the church I attended for the better part of thest decade because I thought that as pathetic as denominations and organized churches tend to be the crap piled up higher and faster with less real accountability in the house church movement. People are as facile and two-faced in that tradition, too, precisely because they think they're being real. And they are being real, real sinners. Doesn't mean that there aren't amazing problems everywhere else, just that this five-phase sequence illustrates beautifully how the person in quest of a tradition that defines them gets progressively disillusioned.

Even after i decided I leaned heavily Reformed that Reformed people were so giddy at the prospect of saying Arminians didn't really embrace the Gospel got on my nerves. I was led to believe that the popes were the ones who said other people weren't part of the true faith and then saw Calvinists do the same thing. Of course it's also possible for people to not like Protestants ripping on Catholics and then join a church that considers both Catholics and Protestants to be heretics ... but my Christianity is minimalist enough that I can consider people in the Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic spheres to all be believers without necessarily agreeing on a lot of mundane details.

One of the ironies of this cycle is that in leaving a tradition you tend to display yourself the worst excesses of the tradition you're trying to leave behind. This is particularly the case with what I'd have to describe as a spiritual superiority copmlex. More colloquially known as plank and speck.

Poem: duet of leaf blowers

A duet of leaf blowers

Death can be strangely beautiful
when it is something or someone else.
The dying of the day's light
is one of the great beauties of life.
We reflect on sunsets as
anchors of beauty
in the violent sea of the world.


The death of an animal
whose muscles feed us
is beautiful, something to savor
unless the animal was a friend to us
or our child.


And as leaves wither and fall from branches
their glowing red and yellow deaths
are beautiful to us
unless the rotting mulch on the streets
should cause us to slip
or lose our footing
or skid into an accident.


So we delegate the task
of cleaning the evidence of death
from our lives.
We assign men and women to blow away
the red and yellow leaves from the streets.
Hear them start the engines of their leaf blowers
as cars roll by, engines that would drive the saws that
cut down trees but now instead blow away their droppings.


I listen to two leaf blowers grind and roar
an improvised chorale on the subject of death in the city
and the rhythms of gathering and burning.
They roar like street preachers regaling a crowd
gathering the dying leaves to warn them of the hellfire to come
and the cars that roll by mumble each indifferent whoosh of "amen".


Free verse, first draft, weekend. Do not consider this a serious poem.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

cat photographers and the design in things

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/390951_cat06.html

"If my cat can take photos prettier than what we've taken, what is art? It asks a lot about the intention behind art and how it's interpreted," Michael Cross said.

I leave it to you to actually read the whole article. It's a classic puff piece work of journalism and I mean puff piece in a good way, honest. But this quote is emblematic of what I consider to be a huge risk in contemporary philosophy about art. Yes, strapping a camera programmed to take photos automatically every two minutes does ask us to consider questions about the intention behind art and how it is interpreted but the answers to these questions may not be to ask questions about what a cat is actually thinking about when he roams a neighborhood. The cat's intentionality isn't important in terms of the art. The intention of strapping a camera to a cat who is allowed to wander around the neighorhood all day is where the artist's intention is. What is the intent of an artist who seeks to literally see things the way a cat might see them?

What is it about humanity that we seek to understand or perceive thinsg from a perspective that is not human? Is it to consider possible kinship or shared experience with other animals since we all live in the same world? That seems obvious enough? But we can't be sure that the way a cat thinks is the way we think. What if the camera had been programmed differently so that the cat only "took" a picture if he looked at something intently by focusing on that thing for two to five seconds or longer? Then we would only get photos when the cat didn't make any sudden movements with his head. And we know that would lead to quite a few less pictures! Cats are layabouts who nevertheless move almost constantly.

If a cat takes photos that are prettier than his master, though, any honest photographer will admit that that can be as much about sheer dumb luck as skill. That's why photographers take more than one shot of the same subject. You don't know what image will take and what image won't.

Now I like cats so I find the idea of programming a camera to document a cat's journey through a neighborhood theoretically fascinating but I am pragmatic enough to recognize that this could also produce a lot of boring photos just like people can produce boring photos. The old axiom that 90% of anything is crap in the arts would surely apply when the art is being programmed to be taken by a cat throughout the day. THAT is the intentionality and interpretation behind art.

It is not new for artists since the 20th century to include elements of the random in the inspiration for art. In fact it is not new for ANY artist to include elements of the random in their work. Prior to about Beethoven cadenzas in piano concerti were often improvised by performers and room was given for individual interpretation. In other words, if you give people the opportunity to incorporate the random or unplanned into a planned form we're talking stuff as old as Baroque music (figured bass prescribed a lot but left a lot open) or jazz.

Where teleology and philosophy about existence go this gets me thinking about a time when my brother was discussing with an atheist whether the cosmos reflected design or not. The atheist argued that the universe was not designed but the result of stochastic processes. A cheap evasion, really. The real debate is not about whether or not the cosmos reflects design but whether we can infer from its existence that the design is intentional or not. If hydrogen has X properties rather than Y properties, which themselves are characteristic of oxygen, then the very nature of things indicates a limit on how random the cosmos can be.

This may or may not reflect an inherent, intentional design in terms of what we can prove but essentially no one can argue that there is no design to the cosmos. I grant that there is plenty of room for debate and strong disagreement about whether or not the cosmos reflects intelligentible or intelligent design. Note that by saying that I am not in any way endorsing Intelligent Design as a junk category of pseudo-scientific thought. Even as a Christian I don't think there's a legitimate basis for ignoring existing materials by way of saying "The butler did it as opposed to Mr. Jones." The argument that if intelligent design is going to be a viable alternative to Darwinian explanations there has to be a provable hypothesis with replicable results can't be evaded.

In other words, the alternative to saying the photographs taken by the cat are not without intent is NOT to say the cat took the photos on purpose. Intelligent design at best can postulate a world in which the camera can be programmed by the artist to take photographs but that does nothing to explain the cat or the photograph. On the other hand, it's no more accurate to say that there is no intent behind the photographs taken by the cat because they appear at two-minute intervals and while the cat brings no intent to the proceedings the person who programmed the camera is present, as it were, in the programmed camera and wishes to see whatever the cat sees.

We have to consider, as listeners and artists that in a setting where we are listening to music there is a great deal of trust that sound is being manipulated in a way that reflects intent. People who listen to sound that is considered unorganized by most but hear within that sound music are bringing their desire to hear music into things like listening to the sounds of public transit or distant trains. Does this make the sound of public transit or distant trains music? These people who bring that kind of intent to listening would say it most certainly does. But ask the other seventy people on a route 5 bus in Seattle if the sounds they hear on the bus are music and they will likely say 'no' or have to take their earbuds for their iPods off to even hear you ask them the question.

At some point if the tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it happened but you can't call it music. The perceiving mind alone is not enough to make music by itself. All arts, despite many protests by individualists that the individual artist or consumer of art is the arbiter of taste has a communal element. There must be both a message and a recipient. The reason no one takes seriously the idea that the creakings, squeakings and groanings of public transit constitute music is because no one assents that there is intent or design. If you go to a new-music festival or a Seattle Composer's Salon and hear music that sounds like a collection of random stuff thrown together you know that despite the appearance of chaos that is a stochastic process. The lack of organization is part of the organization. That is where we are at the point where we can recognize artistic intent, because we're told it was on purpose by virtue of someone bothering to bring the thing for people to hear. But on public transit those sounds are not yet art because no one says to another, "I perceive music in this."

This gets into how I think music and the arts become religious experiences for people these days in lieu of more traditional understandings of religion. Atheists can obsess about the Beatles as though the members of the band were gods, and many do. Others find other objects of worship but that worship happens is a given. We can elevate ourselves by choosing to perceive in random sound music. We become the music-makers even though we have no instruments and do not produce any sounds of ourselves. Now in a modernist thought-form this would indicate that the cosmos is random or stochastic and that we impose the perception of music on the world around us. In a pre-modern mind this may well have transformed into "The heavens are telling the glory of God." We may perceive music operating at every level if that is what our religion is or we may perceive music as an outworking of the harmony of the things God has made or some other divinity or may perceive that we ourselves hear the music. Obviously I'm not going to digress into all those variations of perception and attribution of purpose here in a blog entry. I like to enjoy my weekends doing things once in a while.

So when you read about how someone programs a camera to take photos every two minutes and straps that camera two a cat and sends him on his merry way then, yes, that experiment invites us to ask questions about the arts and about interpretation. We can ask questions about what art is and what the intent behind art is but I think that asking those questions over and over is a waste of time. Transposing our intents on to animals is not the same as asking whether chimps may produce art or whether birds actually sing for the fun of it.

As a Christian I see the entire cosmos suffused with art the Lord has given each of us, human or animal, an opportunity to be part of. I already acknowledge that my intent may not be what is needed to produce art but I also don't wish to ignore that there must be a sender and a recipient for art to happen. Too much of alleged musing on the arts focuses only on one or the other and not on the relationship the two, ideally, should have.

In pop culture this kind of relationship is explored obsessively in gossip magazines or in Rolling Stone interviews with Bob Dylan. When once a link is recognized between a performer or creator of some kind and his/her audience a cottage industry erupts to extol the greatness of the perceived link even though it is invariably virtual. People feel connected to the words of someone who doesn't know them and doesn't care about them but they PERCEIVE a connection because they believe divinity speaks through them.

This isn't just true about rock stars, film directors, composers, authors, or painters. In the Christian blogosphere it may be writing about Mark Driscoll or John Piper or Ben Witherington II or Tom Wright says stuff that speaks to us. The Christian doesn't have to be alive. Patron saints are everywhere whether we're talking about Francis of Assissi or Aquinas or Augustine or C. S. Lewis, Theresa of Avilla or Mother Theresa. Those we venerate we venerate in different ways and we venerate them, in a sense, because they are artists. A saint whose wisdom and life inspires you to seek Christ is someone you admire. They are not Christ, obviously, but if you email them asking them to help you with a question you have there is a sense in which what you are doing isn't so different from a Catholic petitioning a saint to help them. In some ways it is no more useful, really, since you can study the Bible and church history to obtain things.

But I think the way to think about them is as follows; God programs the camera and fixes it on the cat. The cat is just a dumb animal wandering around as he sees fit but God uses the beast to take photos of what the world is like, what is out there. The photographs reveal the truth, and can be used to reveal the beauty and kindness of God. We would, however, be fools to think the cat took the photographs or imputed intent and art to the cat himself. The cat just carries the camera, the camera is the Gospel. The cat is finally not important in terms of being an agent himself since without God's providence and the work of the Spirit the cat accomplishes nothing. So when we hear the Gospel preached through men, they are like the cats whose lives are valuable and whose lives are transformed by Christ through the mission they have been sent on and what they do and say matters, but they do not have control over the message of Christ. Moses can obey but God delivers His people and this paradoxically does not diminish the importance of Moses' calling.

Our cult of personality tendencies as Christians inspire us to think that the cat took the photos, like a misleading headline saying a cat took 200 to 400 photographs. We want the news to be about the cat when the cat is the vessel. In the same way that someone programmed a camera attached to a cat to take photographs to produce works of art God uses stupid people to do something stupid, preaching, to reveal His wisdom. The best preacher on earth is still a cat with a camera attached to his collar who is walking around doing the things that cats do. The resulting photographs that have any beauty are the moments where God in His kindness reveals Himself. As Bach is reputed to have said, he wrote down the notes but God made the music.

But we Christians with our penchant for idol worship want to see the cat and don't consider the one who programmed the camera. It's something I have to remind myself of. It can often seem as though the photos have no purpose and that most of them look dumb. There are all kinds of ways to live by sight rather than by faith and the most devious forms of living by sight look like living by faith.

Our capacity to comingle entertainment with worship is ancient. This may not even indicate that it is actually idolatrous. It is easy to claim that we should not transform worship into an entertainment culture. Yeah, we perhaps shouldn't have a world in which people think it's actually a great idea to program a camera, attach it to a cat, have the thing wander around for a day or two and then make a documentary about how you did that and broadcast the thing on Animal Planet. That IS really stupid and it would be equally stupid to do with a dog. This is in every respect the nadir of reality TV.

But is it? Isn't it easy to condemn how stupid other people are while not recognizing our own foolishness? The things that others buy that they don't need are stupid but the things that I buy that I don't need are art? Somewhere someone genuinely enjoys that awful painting Thomas Kinkade did of NASCAR but I listen to Messiaen's organ music about the Nativity, which is something most people would never reoognize as being anything other than the most atrocious noises. I'm not taking back any critical stuff I've ever said or written about Kinkade. Far from it.

But I am reflecting a moment on how easily I can look down on someone else's idea of art or purpose while being blind to my own foolishness. I watch Batman cartoons. I may think that people who watch 24 might as well watch superheroes who actually wear capes but the person who watches 24 would say I watch Batman cartoons. The truth is that we're both watching indestructible superheroes who can get grappling hooks to always work and whose cel phones never run out of power and whose internet connections actually work. If I have any advantage over the person watching 24 is that I KNOW Batman is fantasy.

So much of the human condition can be considered in attaching a camera to a cat. It speaks so simply about the nature of our race that I could spend the rest of the weekend writing about it. I could laugh about how silly it is and I've chuckled a bit or I could decide to be outraged at the waste of time and resources. I could get like Judas and claim that the money and time that went into that could have gone to helping the poor. Both reactions are facile. When I consider how as a Christian I have attended a church where I have seen video broadcast of someone I don't really even know talk for over an hour about his kids who I have never met and don't really care about, isn't that sort of like attaching a camera to a pastor and having him ramble for a while and notice that eventually he gets to a point? It's no more fair for me to dismiss that then the wandering cat with the programmed camera. God is big enough to use the foolishness of preaching to reveal Himself. God can use a cat with a camera to reveal His providential kindness just as He can use a preacher.