Friday, June 11, 2010

evangelical conservatives, the war on terror, and a pardox about Islamic animosity toward the West

Conservative American Christians mention the threat of Islamic terrorism, and Islamic terrorism is, to be sure, a real threat. But some of the most conspicuous terrorist acts in the last fifteen years in the United States have been homegrown by right and left extremists who believe America has become too decadent and unjust. Paradoxically, the evangelical conservative who would like to cite Rushdoony as a reason to push for good moral law out of love for neighbor is not, really, so very different from the Muslim revolutionary cleric who proposes that women should be covered up for her own good.

The difference may simply be between the level of actual political power the Christian can exert in this society compared to the level of power a Muslim can exert in the respective societies. Persepolis provides a useful example of how someone who is not as hard-core about Islam (i.e. stops believing in gods) ends up feeling in a theocratic society. While it would be tempting for the Christian to say "We wouldn't do that" secular historians tend to point out that, yes, we actually did do stuff like that. We killed each other over things that the secularist considers unreal. Now that's not true and it's also not true that wars would cease if there were no religion. The place of religion would be replaced by science. "Science damn you!" and "Science be praised!" The Alliance of Allied Atheists would still have their way and their say if they can help it.

I'm not sure the remedy to all this is to not speak against the problems in the West but part of the remedy is to realize that these kinds of trends to corruption exist everywhere. Blogger Orthoduck recently posted that while Eastern Orthodox like to blame the West's downward slide on the excesses of Augustine there's a reason "Byzantine" came to apply to Eastern backstabbing and intrigue. Throughout the scriptures the saving grace of the best of God's people comes from recognizing their capacity to be as bad or worse than sinners from the past.

Dissimilarities in feeling the love on blogging

We all find it easier to be loved as Christ has loved us than to love as Christ loves. It is easier to want to be loved in a way that is self-giving and self-crucifying than to love in that way. There are those who would say that such selfless love is stupid if it is being given but these same people generally have no problem receiving that kind of love and devotion. The people who decry that anyone would choose to be a disciple still love to comfort themselves by day and night at the thought of having MADE disciples by the brilliance of their thoughts or arguments or personality.

In other words, while anyone can denigrate bloggers, and no one wants cranky comments on their blog, everyone wants to think that "MY blog is actually cool and useful and not like all the other useless blogs out there!" There is a precious, beautiful irony in the inveterate blogger who denounces other bloggers as time-wasters. Judge not and ye shall not be judged, right? Well, all the other blogs out there are written by time-wasters but MY blog is chock-full of great stuff you ought to read.

No, really, mine isn't. My blog is chockfull of stuff that I love to write but I wouldn't tell you to read it. I don't even tell most of my family and friend what I'm writing. Either it interests them enough to read it or it doesn't. I prefer on the whole to link to blogs I find interesting and of which I have positive things to say. Either I find the ideas and content compelling or even when I strongly disagree with the substance and style of something said at a blog I at least considered it stylish enough and substantial enough to merit even mentioning. I don't see any compelling personal observation of Mars Hill to agree with Driscoll's claim that the Doctrine series caused 1,000 members to leave but he stated it so succinctly that it can be easily disputed in terms of its reliability by literally any of the 1,000 members who didn't renew their membership during that time. Since I was one of them this one was easy to field.

But I would rather you not read my blog on account of things like that, I'd rather that if you read my blog it's because we know each other. Barring that, if we don't know each other personally I hope you read my blog because you, say, enjoy music by Nikita Koshkin, Atanas Ourkouzounov, Paul Hindemith, Jonas Tamulionis, Penderecki, Messiaen, Bob Dylan, Pinkfloyd, Haydn, Shostakovich and the like. Perhaps you enjoy Pixar films or enjoy discussing biblical literature and theology. If you're into that stuff (and maybe anime and comics) then I hope there are positive reasons to read this blog rather than reading my occasional entries where I am not happy about stuff. I'm job-hunting right now so there's plenty I can be not-happy about.

God's promises and marriage, does God promise people spouses?

Of late I have thought a lot about the nature of the promises made by God to people at various times and how they are fulfilled. I have some family and friends who have camped out on the idea that God is faithful and that means He has to be faithful to His promises to provide for our needs. In one case this involved a relative 'standing on the promise' that God was going to heal her only child who was dying of cancer. And now that child is dead, having not yet reached thirty years.

A friend of mine has talked about how people have needs for things like water and air and food and (I should have seen this coming) there is also a need for sex. Ergo, guys need wives and God made guys that way. Well, the guy didn't ask me but I don't consider sex to be anywhere close to good enough a reason to marry. It may be one of the most conspicuous fringe benefits of married life that single people covet but I have lived in enough extended family settings that the sex part is probably no more than ten and possible as little as one percent of anything that goes on in a marriage.

There was actually an episode of the TV show Leverage where a guy who has seen his marriage fall apart after the death of their only child (and his subsequent disappearance into alcoholism) poses a minister (it's Leverage so there's always con jobs involved). He gives a lengthy apparently pointless ramble about marriage and how awkward it is and how it's not about hijinks in Paris but about ambling through Home Depot looking for light fixtures to replace because the house has problems, or about changing diapers on a baby that won't stop screaming that deprives you of sleep night after night, or worrying about paying the utilities because you didn't get the raise you hoped you'd get at work.

If most single guys (and this would mean nearly all Christian single guys I know) envy the lives of married people I don't. I know too much about the catastrophic emotional and physiological trauma of miscarriages and the fears of sick children. I know too much about the hardship of making decisions that really seem to be the best decision possible for the family that lead to immense amounts of grief and loneliness because when the best option you have in your career is military service you get taken away from the people you love most.

I know too much about the sometimes endless, sometimes dorman conflict among family because of who married who for what reasons and the endless riffs and counter-riffs on political and religious litmus tests. I know too much about people assuming you can't possibly know or do as well as they can in whatever it is that you're trying to do. Every marriage can be likened to a couple driving somewhere and in the backseat is the entire family of backseat drivers. If you're fortunate they encourage you and don't offer advice every single time they think you're making a wrong turn.

I do not know these things from MY experience. I've never even been on a date. I know these things from the experience of my sister and brother-in-law and having lived with them and near them for ten of the thirteen years they have been married. I know it from having lived in a home with my siblings and my parents and my grandmother. I know it from having been friends for years with a variety of couples. The joys of marriage are real but they are academic to me compared to the sorrows and suffering I have seen married family and friends face.

When I hear single guys whine about how at least married people get to have sex and at least they are married I honestly sometimes want to tell those whiners to just shut the %$&* up already. When I hear married guys go on and on about how guys don't want to grow up and the proof of that is they are avoiding marriage I want to tell THOSE people to shut the $%(@ already, too. You can't condemn someone as a legalist if you have made your own sacrifices in marriage the measure of true adulthood.

Christ said that the Father knows our needs. He knows we need food, water, clothing shelter. Jesus said to not worry about these things because the Gentiles worry about them all the time. Don't pray over and over again as though your many words will make God hear you because the Father knows your needs. The thing is Christ said the Father provides for our needs, not our wants. Too many Christians conflate "I want that!" with "I need that!"

Speaking as an unmarried man I have seen a lot of theology that states that singleness is an epidemic, a plague that needs to be cured and that cure is men putting away their toys and getting married. This sounds great as a sales pitch but it's a lot of Law with no Gospel as Lutherans put it. What makes this worse is that this entails not some abstraction but flesh and blood men and women who jump on this bandwagon and in the interests of living out and promoting an ideology, a law of how men and women ought to be, sign on for griefs and burdens they did not imagine for themselves while hearing the sales pitch of "Do this and you will live."

A friend of mine once shared with me a story about how he came to change his mind about the nature of a place he was at. He met a fellow who heard it said that the goal of a young man is to get a job, get a wife, and get to making babies. The man said that this sounded great, it was something he wanted to do, and it sounded like something he could do. A year or so later and the guy was married and had a job and was soon to become a parent and admitted that once on the other side, he was overwhelmed and realized that this thing he signed on for was much harder and more trying than he had imagined it would be.

My friend got to hear from this man on either side of the divide and once the man had crossed the divide he found it was not as pleasant or easy as he had conceived it would be. If anything he might well have begun to buckle under the strain. Our lives are full of buckling under the strain of the unforeseen consequences of even our BEST decisions, to say nothing of decisions that are poor! In how many cases do we light a fire to see by and warm ourselves by that fails us?

There are times when we walk in darkness and we are tempted to find a light to guide our path. In these settings we may need to consider the words of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet. Whoever walks in darkness let him trust in the Lord. Whoever lights a fire for himself and warms himself by that fire there is a promise, he will lie down in torment.

God has promised that He will provide for us the things that we need. He proves Himself faithful and we have an opportunity to share with each other the faithfulness of God. I know there will be people who see this as discussing God's fulfillment of His promises through His people as something put in too humanistic a set of terms but Christ said that they will know we are His by our love for one another. This doesn't mean we make ourselves "love" each other as a way to prove that God is right. Rather by sharing our lives together in anticipation of the fulfillment of the promises of God we bow before the same truth and affirm the faithfulness of God for a better life to come and in this we have the opportunity to fulfill for and through each other a small enactment guided by the Spirit that is a foretaste of the great fulfillment that Christ Himself will usher in at the end of the age.

Now all of that is to say that while it does not good to tell a man or woman "Your heart must change!" if you share with them what Christ has done and what the story of Christ reveals to us about ourselves and what we are capable of being then that provides hope and THAT is the kind of hope that does not disappoint. That is also the kind of hope that allows us to change. If, however, the heart of a man is transformed by Christ then this transformation may not come through marriage. It may, and often does, but for evangelical Protestants to say that the great sanctifier of a man is his committment to marriage is like a Pentecostal saying that the way for a person to reveal they have the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the sign gift of tongues. Do you see the parallel in the misapplied thinking here?

Now Isaac was Abraham's son and Abraham had been promised that he would be the father of many nations and that nations would bless themselves by the name of Abraham. Abraham was as good as dead so far as reproduction was concerned, as was his wife. Yet Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Notice how often and in how many ways he wavered in that belief. Notice how he let Hagar become the surrogate mother. Notice how he at length had to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Notice how Abraham tried to come up with everything in his power to MAKE God's promise come to pass. He was already married and God had promised him a son.

Then Isaac was born. Isaac surely knew of the promise Yahweh had made to Abraham and yet we see no evidence that he sought a wife. In fact he was forty when he was married and the one who sought out a wife for him was Abraham, through the means of a servant. Abraham had tried appointing a steward as his heir and this was not how the promise was to be fulfilled, either, by the way. Now came the moment when the son of the promise himself needed to be able to produce a son. That wasn't going to happen if he remained single the rest of his life. So Abraham took action.

Notice here that the promise of the descendents did NOT entail any particular promise about Isaac's wife. That, surely, would be necessary but Abraham could not really have known whether or not he would even live long enough to see his son marry. God's primary promise is that Abraham will become the father of a great nation through which nations will be blessed. Yet so much of God's promise is as vague as it is concrete. God promised to Abraham that not only would he have descendants but that those would be enslaved in Egypt before ultimately returning to the land. There is nothing about their eventual, inevitable apostasy.

There is also no mention of the coming of Christ, of course. Only Jesus could say "Abraham looked forward to see my day and was glad" because only He could see Himself in the scriptures both looking forward and looking backward to God's plan of salvation. Abraham receives the promise of a son who will in turn father a nation. But each step of the way when Abraham takes some initiative God reveals that, no, this thing you're doing is not how the promise is going to be fulfilled all the way up until Isaac is born. Then once Isaac is born he grows up into the boy who must be sacrificed. God sends Abraham on a sacrificial mission that will ultimately be thwarted--don't let any Christian tell you that you won't be given something you can't handle or something that can't be done!

At length it is Abraham who must arrange for Isaac's bride. There is here a moment in which God's faithfulness to His promise necessitates action. Yet it seems useful to stress in this example that a bride for Isaac is entirely secondary to the promise to Abraham. Rebekah is the means through which God's promise can be fulfilled through Isaac but is not herself explicitly part of the promise. Rather she is chosen through a mixture of prayer and providence as the one through whom Isaac can continue the line of Abraham.

Interestingly enough God speaks to Rebekah and not Isaac about who will inherit the blessing. This is the first time in which God promises that a younger will supplant the older in the scriptures and the response to this is to seek its fulfillment through deceit but that's another topic for another time. For now it is useful to note that when God made His promise to Abraham He did not continue corresponding with Isaac about this matter and spoke to Rebekah. We don't get a clear idea why this is. Perhaps Isaac was not interested in heeding God's voice but we are not told that God spoke to Isaac on this issue despite speaking to him about other things. All this is to say that God is faithful to fulfill secondary promise issues so that the primary promise is kept.

If even in the fulfillment of a specific promise to Abraham God did not also include "And here is the woman Isaac should marry" how much less should we suppose that marriage is automatically on the horizon for men and women? The scriptures say that he who finds a wife finds what is good and received favor from the Lord but the book of Proverbs also says that a bad wife is rottenness in the bones of him she marries. Ecclesiastes rightly weighs proverb against proverb to reveal that not all good men get good wives and not all good women get good husbands. If you find a good spouse thank God precisely because there is no scripturally stated promise or obligation God has to give you one in particular. We might also note that in our day and age there is no promise that you will even marry.

Then again, you might get a promise from the Lord that He will KILL your spouse and that you are not to mourn the death of the spouse even though you loved that person and the person was the delight of your eyes. Every day you see that person is a joy, a treasure, and then God says "I'm killing that person and you are not allowed to publicly grieve that death." Ezekiel wrote that this is what happened to him. People who comb through the scriptures looking for some promise where God says "I promise to give X a wife" would do well to skim over some parts of the Bible if they want to see what kinds of things God tells godly men to do regarding wives.

Matanya Ophee writes that Mark Delpriora has established that Sor was able to transcribe a Haydn B flat fugue for solo guitar

Sor did it, but forgot to show us,
Now it was done by Mark Delpriora. There is one statement by Sor in his method, just after Example 82, one almost goes by without noticing it. It says:

J'ai été toujours d'opinion que d'arranger tel morceau que l'on voudra pour un instrument qui ne peut le rendre proportionnellement, c'est plutôt le déranger; et qu'au lieu de dire arrangé pour tel instrument, on devrait dire sacrifié à tel instrument. Je joue la fugue à double sujet en si bémol de l'oratorio de Haydn, la Création;

Which I translated as follows:

I was always of the opinion that wanting to arrange such a piece for an instrument that cannot render the music in the same proportions as in the original, is often to discompose it. Instead of saying that the piece was arranged for such an instrument, one should say that it was sacrificed to it. I play on the guitar the B-flat fugue on a double subject in Haydn’s oratorio The Creation,

The double fugue in question is a vocal fugue with full orchestral accompaniment which bring the oratorio to a close. It begins on m. 10, of N° 34, the final chorus in the oratorio, on the words Des Herren Ruhm, er bleibt in Ewigkeit [The praise of the Lord will endure forever]. This is an intriguing statement. Sor specifically says that he plays this fugue. In the present tense. He may have just read through the piano score on the guitar, or he may have actually noted it down on paper. Such a transcription by Sor is not known to exist. So I suggested to Mark to try and see if Sor was just bragging, or if in fact this double fugue, in b-flat, is possible on the guitar. Turns out that it is possible. Mark's transcription will be published very soon. Look for it.

Speaking as a guitarist and composer with several years of experience in choral singing who composed a three-voiced fugue in B flat minor last year (with fully invertible counterpoint, though admittedly with some voice crossing between countersubjects 1 and 2) I can totally believe Sor's claim that he was at one point able to play Haydn's double fugue in B flat from the Creation on the guitar. I happen to love fugues, I happen to love Haydn's music, and I enjoy The Creation. When I get some work lined up and find out where and when this double fugue transcribed for guitar is getting published I will have to see about picking up a copy. Meanwhile I will keep practicing my prelude and fugue in B flat minor, my prelude and fugue in F minor, and my prelude and fugue in C minor. I'll have to get around to composing a fugue in B flat major later on when I have ideas I actually like enough to commit to working on.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

some considerations on Jehoshaphat, how a godly leader can still make a lot of amazingly stupid decisions

Jehoshaphat is one of the more renowned kings in the long sordid history of Judean and Samarian kings who arose in the wake of the soon-divided kingdom of Israel. He was known for clamping down on idolatry (though, ultimately, these reform efforts would prove ineffectual). He was also, famously, the one who asked "Is there not a prophet of the Lord here that we may also consult." But that story encapsulates the king's persistent problem. Though he loved the Lord he kept giving in to the idea that forming alliances with utterly wicked leaders was, so to say, good for business. In fact despite his love for the Lord the last recorded incident of his reign was a business venture that ended in literal ruin.

He worshipped the Lord but his worship was not enough of an example to finally sway the people. This begins a pattern that is revealed throughout the scriptures that spiritual leaders would do well to consider--God's people apostasize consistently enough that even if you have the most awesome leader around that will not necessarily stem the tide. In many cases even the best leaders are problematic. In the case of our king we're discussing now he had a propensity to ally himself with Ahab and with other wicked Samarian kings.

Why he did so is not entirely surprising. A unified Israel, even if it was only unified in the sense of the two separate kingdoms working together for a common goal, would accomplish much. Enemies could be fended off that were a common threat that could defeat either kingdom if taken on individually. I can sense some preachers and scholars would argue that herein lies a case against ecumenicism of any and every kind but that's not where I'm going with this, necessarily. Jehoshaphat's alliance led him to wage a battle that ended up a failure and ended with Ahab's death. This is the famous, paradoxical case in which God reveals that He permitted a lying spirit to entice Ahab to his death by promising military victory for an ill-advised battle.

Despite this warning Ahab decides to go anyway! He disguises himself on the battlefield while having Jehoshaphat enter the fray wearing royal attire! Jehosephat is willing to go into a losing battle wearing his royal robes. When he gets fired upon he cries out to the Lord for help and the enemy soldiers, seeing that he is not the king they are actually looking to kill, and on instructions to not bother with the great or small but just with Ahab, leave him be.

After this Jehoshaphat is warned by a prophet not to ally himself with the wicked. Unfortunately the king does not seem to really learn this lesson even after he personally pleads with the Lord for deliverance from a military threat. At the end of his reign we are told of how he worked together with another king of Samaria, this time to build ships to go to Tarshish.
Between Kings and Chronicles the composite account is that Jehoshaphat's own ships were wrecked in route or he attempted to build ships with Ahaziah, king of Israel, and these ships were destroyed. Kings states that Jehoshaphat declined to work with the king of Israel while Chronicles says that he did but the ships were destroyed.

What both Chronicles and Kings agree upon in sequence is that Jehoshaphat pretty much did whatever the Israelite kings asked him to do. He was a godly man who nevertheless took his cue from the mores, wisdom, and policies of the godless. God warns him through a prophet that this was a stupid, wicked thing to do, and the ships were lost in the disastrous attempt to make it to Tarshish. Amidst all this his own devotion to the Lord was not enough to sway the people from their disobedience.

These are sobering lessons for anyone--it doesn't matter how righteous a leader you actually are your people can still become or remain utter sinners. Samuel loved the Lord but his sons were so terrible their corruption became reason to ask for a king. Samson's parents had some regard for the Lord but despite having "the annointing" of a special power Samson was a stupid horny brawler whsoe stupidity God paradoxically employed to provide literally crushing judgments on the Phillistines. You can be the best parent you can be and your children may end up wicked. You could be a crazy sinner like Saul and end up raising a renowned warrior and friend like Saul. Christians may not realize how much the formulas of raising the right kinds of kids don't necessarily yield anything of the kind. The narrative books of the Bible reveal by way of example what Ecclesiastes warns us about by precept--the race is not to the swift, nor victory to the strong, nor long life to the wise but time and chance happen to them all.

You may even discover along the way that the things you considered great ideas were actually in opposition to God. You may discover that the reason people around you sin in ways that boomerang back to hurt you is because they are sinners, or you may find that though you serve the Lord faithfully it's your own bad example and bad decision-making that hurts you. When I consider ways in which I could have expanded my job skills before I got laid off I regret that I did not do this back when I was employed. I made the mistaken assumption that my job was going to be stable for the foreseeable future. I don't think it was foolish to have allied myself by employment with the organization I worked for. I'd be happy to work for them again, but times were tough and they laid me off.

What I regret now, looking back on things, was allying myself so closely to people and groups who were apt to bullying and condescension. I invested too much of myself into a group dynamic in which if someone didn't fit in then the thing to do was either to ostracize them or, in exceptional cases, to go after them and attack their character. There is, for me, an unusually sad case in which a fellow at the organization (a Christian one, I might add) simply had it in for a guy. He disliked the guy immensely, assumed the worst about his motives and statements and made a point of enlisting other people in his campaign against the man.

For a time he had a few people on his side but at length the tide began to change. I had attempted to tell him in several instances that his campaign was profoundly ill-advised. Even some people he looked up to said that the person had some problematic ways of saying some things but that they saw nothing particularly bad about the substance of what the man said. This fellow would not be deterred and finally the campaign became pronounced enough that a significant person in the organization called the guy and a few other people in to rebuke him for his conduct. Despite this the man was completely unphased and did not take any consideration of the possibility that he might be in the wrong both in the substance of what he was doing with regard to the man whose character he had judged, as well as being wrong in how he proceeded to act upon that judgment.

A few years later this man with something to prove ended up running afoul of very prominent people in the organization, some of whom were at one point friends. He had begun to get burned out and stayed through a stubborn determination that he was going to stick with it and be who he was. This stubbornness exacerbated existing problems and when a significant conflict came up he stuck to his bull in the china closet approach to everything. By this time his grudge against the other man had become prominent enough that it actually got the attention of some high-level people in the organization and they took immediate and stern action. Around this time there was also a major shake-up in the leadership of the organization and the man who had once been able to enlist people in his cause against his neighbor found himself mercilessly on the receiving end of the same sort of character assasination and presumption he had poured upon his neighbor.

It was sad to see not just because the actions were so stern but also because it began to appear that this was a particularly bitter way for a fellow to reap what he had sown. Having spent a few years assuming the neighbor was wrong and taking things in the worst way so as to dispute with the neighbor, the man was on the receiving end of the same summary judgment and dismissal of character he had heaped on others. Rather than change the way he dealt with all this and reconsider his own way of dealing with people he retrenched himself and began to see himself as a martyr despite all this. In his mind he was unjustly dealt with and there was no real possibility that he had brought anything on himself, much less any question of whether or not he had managed in any case to reap what he had sown.

Others who had reconsidered their connection to the place and the people left because they began to regret the nature of the association. This man decided that all such associations were wrong and for people who gave up their rights. It never occurred to him that he had allied himself to oppression and repression even within the organization. Having made himself joyfully the toady for demagoguery and made himself a low-level demagogue he was burned by that. Rather than reconsider his entire path he has, at length, simply switched which demagogue at whose feet he pays fealty. This, too, is a sad thing. To put it in comic book terms, if you decide not to work for the Joker but decide to work for Ra's al Ghul this is not a net win for you in the ethics department. Batman at length still has to take you down.

Jehoshaphat's life also serves as a sobering example of how we can refuse to learn from our mistakes and also refuse to take heed of godly counsel. He first allied himself with an Israelite king for a military campaign. When this ended badly he stayed on the course a while not allying himself to the wicked. Then he got an idea to ally himself to an Israelite king not for military ventures but for financial ventures. This, too, ended badly.

There are Christians who keep making the same mistakes and rather than admit to themselves that they have made grave mistakes they look to circumstances to explain away failures they have brought upon themselves. It is easier to blame bad times than to blame your own bad judgment. It can be easier to tell yourself the Enemy has sown division in your ranks when you have been a poor leader. There are people who continually fail and blame circumstances rather than confront the weaknesses in their own hearts. There are Christians who will despite every warning God providentially provides still proudly and self-assuredly do whatever dumb-ass thing God providentially warned them NOT to do. They will reap the consequences and then, stiff-necked, keep doing the same stupid thing over and over again in as many ways as possible in the hopes that THIS time God will bless it.

The warning in the life of Jehoshaphat for us is that though you may love the Lord and He will be lenient with you for a time, that leniency won't last forever. To protect you from yourself God will allow you to reap the failures you have established for yourself. Of course the Lord is gracious and things can go on for a lifetime with the Lord not seeming to do much to discipline a person. David went his whole life being a pretty poor husband and father overall. Samson never really got over his foolishness. Jehoshaphat never gave up on allying himself to Israelite kings on principle even after God's prophets warned him against this--he interpreted God's warnings against a wrong principle as a warning against particular actions.

We, too, can decide to interpret God's warning against allying ourselves with wicked people and wicked actions in self-excusing ways. A Christian may latch on to a get-rich quick scheme and rationalize that this ISN'T a get-rich quick scheme and that God is behind it. There are many ways in which this alliance can happen but a lot of them can involve compulsion and the force of law disguised as Christian love.

For instance, some Christians can promote a shotgun wedding and assume that because the two fornicators got married that they are responsible to work things out in their marriage from there. If the two now-married fornicators end up divorcing because they couldn't make things work out, well, that's their fault, right? Well, what if compelling them by means of social pressure was actually the WRONG thing to do in that case? What if that case established a bad precedent that the community learned the wrong lesson from, that forcing people to conform is the best way to make people better people rather than appealing to them on the basis of the good news of Christ?

Now in another case two people who love each other and have through that love spawned a soon-to-be-born child may marry to legitimize the birth and the difference in that case is that they dropped the ball in sexual purity but have not dropped the ball on other relational issues. In that case it is better to marry than to burn. It is possible to start badly and end well. By contrast, if we try to force something to end well that has started badly we can make that worse and compound the sin. This is partly a problem of Jehoshaphat's precedent. By allying himself to Israelite kings for war and for business he was rubber-stamping things in a way that was not wise. It may, for all we don't know, have made his own example as a God-fearing king less effective. At this point we won't know for sure and I have rambled for a very long time.

the quest for Eden is a quest for power

I have read bits from this author through an interview she did with Michael Spenser. This particular essay leaves me unimpressed. The reason I find it unimpressive is that when Tarico writes that a quest for Eden will change the way we approach things she must surely realize that the quest for conquest and the drive for conflict is that everyone is grasping for the state of Eden by force. It isn't possible for us quest for Eden as though that quest did not involve conflict any more than the pursuit of conflict will obtain it. The whole narrative gist of Eden is that it is a completely unattainable state. If the state were attainable the entire religious mind would not have evolved (so the story might go) to imagine that it ever existed in any case at all or it may simply be a backward projection of our dissatisfaction with the present as a retroactive pining for things that were never had (which Tarico might agree with).

Every narrative arc is finally man against man whether humanity battles nature or itself in the abstract or itself in the intrapersonal. To imagine that we can pursue Eden as Tarico proposes means that "man vs himself" must be elevated to the pinnacle of all conflicts. The paradoxical problem with this is that the human being in conflict with his or her own worst impulses on behalf of the betterment of society is precisely the entire locus of religion (hint, hint).

Humanity is incapable of transcending itself and always has been and always will be. Any alleged upward evolution will reveal an essential stasis of the human species. Our upward rise in knowledge brings with it an upward drift that corresponds to our capacity to destroy as well as to create. Properly understood the human race cannot actually choose what path it will take as a whole. It isn't possible. Those who deny the plausibility of a designer of the universe fool themselves into thinking they can collectively redesign humanity. It isn't that this is not fundamentally possible but that the same self-deluding impulse is at work in these people as it is in those these people would claim they will deliver us from. We cannot as a race appropriate our impulse to rise to the highest possible level without that impulse simultaneously commiting us to plumbing the lowest possible depths. Anyone who pays even the least bit serious attention to literature and philosophy knows this is the inherent risk of human activity regardless of where we fall on issues of religion.

character listings for Toy Story 3

I'm anticipating the arrival of Toy Story 3 in theaters. It is pretty much a given unless I unexpectedly die in the next few weeks that I will see this movie with my nieces and nephew. I own the first two movies and love them a great deal. Even if this third one is merely "okay" by Pixar standards it should still be better than most cartoons out there. Since this is Pixar one can hope that the third movies suck rule that applies everywhere else doesn't necessarily apply here.

Still ... I can't help but notice that the listing of toys as characters in this new cast sounds suspiciously like the naming conventions of my niece Wooster (big hint, not her real name). Wooster has, suffice it to say, not very creative naming methods for her toys. Her first significantly memorable baby doll was called "Baby". The second significantly memorable baby doll she called "New Baby" and the third? Wanna guess? Can't think of it, well, it's "New New Baby". It's charmingly uncreative that Wooster has such a bluntly utilitarian way of naming her toys. If I remember correctly at some point her older sister suggested that Wooster actually come up with a different kind of name for some of the dolls. Well, the Pixar characters added to Toy Story 3 have Wooster-style plainness to their names. Big Baby particularly stands out among the new roster.

Monday, June 07, 2010

let us now bewail new technologies like our forefathers did

Something that has stuck with me over the last few years is that I will hear Christians talk about the explosion of terrible content in the media, particularly the proliferation of pornography. That is certainly something to consider but it does seem as though we Christians and heathens are selective about our moral outrage. Christians can tend to get worked up about sexual content in media while heathens get worked up about violence and not many in either camp get worked up about both.

The reason I am going to have to admit to some skepticism about this stuff is not because there's no point to saying that new technology allows immoral content to proliferate is because it has always been this way. When the printing press was invented CHristians can point out how that allowed the Bible to get distributed more rapidly and widely but the development of the printing press allowed for the publication of novels, which more than a few people considered blots of immorality unworthy of serious attention. Novels and plays were considered trashy and reprobate. So while the internet may be hailed and decried as promulgating this and that the difference may be a level of scale rather than a qualitative difference in terms of content.

IF there is a difference in the internet to be considered it could be that the hyperlinking and googling nature of internet reading and research lends itself poorly to off-line thought. It used to be, to wax absurdly nostalgic, that if you were to debate ideas with people in an off-line setting you could talk about the ideas as ideas. While I was participating on the discussion forum of a church I began to notice a difference between people who would debate ideas as ideas in conversation and people who would hyperlink to their favorite or newly discovered authority on an issue and consider the discussion settled. You won't have to guess too hard that I vastly prefer the company and conversation of the first type over the second. I have no use for someone who in the middle of a discussion about dispensationalism effectively says "Read these two hyperlinks I pulled up at the first Google hit I got and concede that dispensationalism is the right way to think about eschatology." Even if I WERE a dispensationalist I would find that whole line of communication profoundly aggravating.

The dangers of the internet are the dangers in your own heart if you're an adult. If you're a kid you probably shouldn't be reading this blog anyway unless you're parents are okay with it or you're old enough to even care enough to stumble on to this blog. If we consider what technology has changed it has changed the scale but not the quality of our capacity for evil. Perhaps what has changed is a qualitative change only in the sense that as more things are in print Christians have new opportunities to commit libel instead of slander. I am surprised at how many people on discussion forums don't realize that some of the things they say constitute such egregious character assasination as to constitute libel were it not for the fact that all these people (including you) are nobodies whose reputation can't actually be harmed because not enough of your real self is presented online for that to apply.

Except with Facebook, perhaps. I've seen absurd instances of people going on to another person's Facebook page, flame-baiting, and then having the stupidity to plead harassment when the person who was flame-baited responded graciously to profound differences of conviction. It was disappointing but one of the constants in my life has been my capacity, despite my better judgment, to still manage to be disappointed at how bad we as people can be. I would prefer to be pleasantly surprised but I don't EXPECT to be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Link: Internet Monk The Comeback kid [how generous should we be in letting a fallen pastor back into ministry?]
In this case the subject is Ted Haggard's return to ministry without seeming to actually be returning to formal ministry, just a return to ministry in general. He has said he doesn't plan on being a pastor and isn't qualified to be a pastor but he is back with his wife to co-plant a church. Depending on who we talk to there is the belief that he should be given a second chance while others say that because the sins he committed were so very public and so serious and he seems to be so eager to skate over the significance of them and say he's cured that he is not yet ready to return back to ministry.

At this point some would point out that there are sins so bad that once you're established to be guilty of them you are never again fit for any kind of ministry. Christians could probably safely agree that sexual immorality, covered up drug use, and the like could be permanently disqualifying sins. The person has not necessarily compromised their salvation but he has precluded himself from serious consideration as a pastoral candidate.

So I propose the question, in light of Chaplain Mike's discussion thread, of what constitutes a permanent bar level offense and what would constitute a temporary reprieve from qualification for ministry. Leave it to an Orthodox priest to cite a historical precedent in which the question arose as to how to treat those who denied Christ during persecution who later came back to a public confession of faith (super short answer, they were admitted back into the church).

Christians would probably generally agree that sexual immorality disqualifies a person from pastoral office. Overlooking or abetting sexual immorality would also qualify. But are there other things? For instance, if a pastor ended up in court for a traffic violation or got a citation for not complying with city ordinances for electrical wiring in his home would that permanently disqualify him from ministry? I'm not sure that it would.

If a pastor ended up having a financial meltdown after getting his pay cut by forty percent and having his hours cut from forty a week to twenty a week would he be unfit to be a pastor because he failed to manage his finances or would the church be complicit in the financial failure of the pastor? While the pastor's failure to make ends meet would be indisputable there's no way the church that subjected him to such a drastic curtailment of income wouldn't also be culpable for the failure. A pastor in this setting who failed would not, I think, be at all disqualified from being able to be pastor at another church. If he were then the team that cut his salary by forty percent and THEN bumped him down to half time would be as unfit for ministry as he is. My own surmise is that in that case there would be reason to question the competence but not necessarily the good will of the entire organization. But that's just me, and that's me being gracious. Other people seeing such a real or hypothetical scenario might be harsher or, perhaps, far more lenient.

Whether or not at that point he would even wish to be a pastor is another subject but I'm not here to discuss the question of why on earth anyone would WANT to be a shepherd. That is a mystery of what God and devils put into the hearts of men and what men want for themselves. Since I can't even pretend to know how a person's heart and mind incline toward a shepherding impulse I'm not going to swim in waters too deep for me. I suppose married people who are raising children will get that, though.

As I was saying, I don't see that that would disqualify the aforementioned financially insolvent pastor from ministry because at that point his employers essentially pulled a move James warned against in his epistle, of seeing someone who was in a bad way and simply wishing them the best without doing anything. Pastors should be good managers of their households but in the times that the apostles were writing pastors had to be good managers of their households independent of tax exempt status, tax breaks, and other things. How many pastors would qualify as good stewards of their finances and heads of household if they had to do their pastoral work in addition to working full time? Answer, probably zero.

It is not for nothing that atheists have sniped that many people who go into ministry really aren't any good for anything else in professional life. If you're looking at a professional pastor you're probably looking at someone who never really did anything significant in another profession. I'd like to disagree with that assertion but in many cases it just seems to be true.

We are a country that was built by immigrants and people leaving the old world because they were unhappy there. They wanted a second chance, a place in which to remake themselves and the world around them. This meant sweeping away the old order (i.e. lots of Indians and people in Mexico and other Europeans that weren't quite Anglo or Saxon enough and Catholics and ... so on). Rather than decry or endorse that history I simply note it for what it is. I mention it because people on any side of any spectrum in America seem to have an "all crimes are paid for" approach to their own moral failings, however epic they may or may not appear to be.

Christians have a way of accomodating this impulse that has sometimes been called cheap grace. This can be manifest in a guy joking that he has the spiritual gift of discouragement one year and lamenting that other people have it years down the road after having boasted of having the gift himself. In Ted Haggard's case it may have been his capacity to speak sternly about the folly of others while he was guilty of the same folly. When your sins and mistakes make the news it is safe to say that it has become of epic enough proportions to make the news at all. Lots of people have been found guilty of decrying homosexual activism on the one hand and then were later found to be what some call "closet cases" at one level or another. It takes a certain level of presence in the public sphere to actually make the news for it.

To throw a bone to Ted, maybe he is a case where he isn't really much good at doing anything else in the long run than doing the pastor thing. There may well be plenty of atheists who trained as pastors, became atheists at some point in their lives, but have no marketable job skills and thus punch in their time cards, as it were, and just do the pastor thing not because they believe in any of it but because that's all they're really good for in the job market. It's sad, and exceptionally unfortunate.

I suppose now that I am in my thirties I am getting to see how I have inadvertantly pigeon-holed myself out of getting a variety of jobs by the default of working in the field I have worked in. I have seen people I have known pigeon-hole themselves on issues like tenancy and relationships and have dug for themselves holes they can't possibly get out of and that they are probably too proud to ask help for to get out of them. I constantly wonder if I myself am that sort of person. I also wonder if I wouldn't be better off if I were less reflective, introspective and doubting and more reflexive, insistent, and dogged. It seems the world is given to those who bluster and bully and grandstand their way through life effectively enough that people think those people actually know what they're doing. That seems to be how most pastors end up being pastors anyway. I'd like to be less morose about this but I am not in the most peppy and zippy stage of my life.