Friday, May 06, 2011

part 4 of Superman essay up on Mockingbird

Part 4 of my Superman: the animated series piece is up over at Mockingbird. This part of the essay is a little ode to the genius of the DCAU take on Brainiac. I see Brainiac as a brilliant narrative embodiment of the evil of Krypton, the sin nature of Krypton incarnate, if you will. I also believe the DCAU Krypton/Lutbor polarity does a great job of revealing how Superman's legacy has evil in it, whichever legacy he turns to.
Superman's recent renunciation of American citizenship probably won't amount to much other than a publicity stunt in the end, but that renunciation shows that perhaps like a Confederate, perhaps like an ex-patriate American author who flees the U.S. and makes a reputation for himself in Europe which gives him retroactive heroic status, Superman is a character through whom Americans continually work out what they think about being American, even if that means Superman, like many Americans, wants to disavow his American heritage and legacy. Some of the people I've met who hate America most are most quintessentially American in their values and culture.
This part of the essay is arguably the most "Harlemanic" in terms of style and content. Let the reader understand and if the reader doesn't understand I'll be explaining what that means in later essays. Superman is just one member of the Justice League, after all. ;)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

a few comic book cover images the world can do without

1. The constipated screamer.

You know, the guy who's pumping both fists in the air, maybe with claws extended, who looks like he's screaming so as to better push out that #2 that has been in their because with all that red meat and beer he's guzzled he didn't have enough fiber in his diet to stay regular.

2. The weepy guy standing up and holding some dead person.

Yeah, I'm looking at you Superman, holding whichever dead person is not going to be dead inside of two years. Stop crying so much, buddy, you know that nobody stays dead in comic books forever.

3. The puppeteer

Now, see, this was cool when it was used with the Joker because the whole concept fit the visual conceit of the character and, well, you know, the conceit of the character! Thing is after nearly three decades it can seem over-done

4. This would be #1 if we were only discussin gcomics with female central characters, cheesecake aisle.

I tentatively endorse Laura DePuy's decade old admonition in the annals of Sequential Tart0--J. Scott Campbell can be forgiven for making cheesecake because his women all have shoulders broad enough to support the melons they're packing. So Danger Girl is tolerable, Tim Sale Poison Ivy not quite so much. And all you artists you use circle stencils ... shame on you!

Link: Gospel Coalition: Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son

Although it is rather common in contemporary theology to treat the immanent Trinity as a blueprint for everything from ecclesial structures to gender relations, this use of the immanent Trinity is problematic and does not reflect the emphasis of the NT.

See, if people hadn't gone off and been idiots in attempting to force the issue of the eternal subordination of the son to make a point about gender roles in culture and marriage then there'd be no risk of either one side or the other misappropriating Augustine's writings as a way to prove their respective points on either side of a gender divide! It means people in Christian thought are making the doctrine of the very nature of Yahweh a tool for getting a particular task accomplished on the subject of ecclesiology (i.e. whether women get ordained or not, and what roles wives are supposed to play) based on how the members of the Trinity relate to each other.

Johnson points out that attempting to model human relationships after an intra-trinitarian relational pattern is impossible because we are called to forgive each other and no member of the Trinity is capable of asking forgiveness of another member of the Trinity because Father, Son and Spirit alike are all utterly holy, without sin. Surely I don't have to spell out that implications of this in, say, marriage, eh? Johnson doesn't dwell further on this point but I would say that in light of various polemics about ecclesiology and gender roles that is the heart of why this subject ever comes up.

Johnson is too nice to say what I'm about to say, that this whole fracas debating the eternal functional subordination of the Son within the Trinity is an idiotic, assasinine case of Western Christians in a post-industrial society conscripting the doctrine of the one true God revealed in the scriptures to field points about gender roles. How either side can manage to think that they are doing this wisely and not somehow trivializing one of the most mysterious and unique doctrines of the Christian faith is beyond my capacity to imagine.

Augustine gets trotted out and subjected to debate by Protestants who allegedly go with sola scriptura; post-apostolic traditions get cited to discuss whether or not this or that view can be defended and both sides in the recent debate end up being shown up as trying to stack the deck in their favor when the patristic evidence and apostolic evidence at hand strongly suggest the saints of old had other fish to fry than claiming or denying that the Son's eternally functional subordination to the Father (which they weren't really talking about because they weren't generally thinking of the Trinity in those terms) means that women can't be pastors or that husbands are always in charge.

That's the scholastic variation. Here's how I can translate the schoolyard variation I once heard exchanged between my younger stepbrother and stepsister.

Bull honkey dudesquash

But I'm running out of steam here and I don't usually blog on steam, if you understand my meaning.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Excerpts from Carl Trueman's "Minority Report"

... there is an awful lot of junk out there in the church-world, and therefore one must always use discernment in deciding which battles to fight. One simply cannot fight them all. One must have some criteria for selection, and whether or not it has an immediate impact upon one’s immediate constituency would seem to have a decent claim to being one of the most important.

Second, all Christians have a responsibility to help build up their local church. Part of that involves positive actions: for example, encouraging each other and bearing one another’s burdens. Part of it also involves refraining from certain actions which might lead others astray; and one such action would be introducing certain errors to people who would otherwise be blissfully unaware of them.

... This leads to my final observation. I sometimes wonder if the reason so many theologians, amateur and professional, like to engage in online theological controversy has as much to do with them wanting a piece of the action as desiring to help the church. Like those people who stood around weeping and wailing after the death of Michael Jackson and yet who had no personal relationship with him at all, so I suspect many make themselves feel important by engaging in theological controversies which, by the criteria above, are none of their business. Once, for example, someone has written a good refutation of Rob Bell’s use of Scripture or historical sources, there is really no need for the rest of us to do anything but refer others to such. At least, that is the case until someone has exposed the refutations themselves as weak or inadequate.

Many find theological controversy to be a fun hobby. That is a very naïve view. For those who have been involved in such where reputations, livelihoods, and, at certain times and places, even lives have been on the line, it is a nightmare. We should engage in it only when it impacts the small patch of the kingdom in which we have responsibility, and only to the extent that our abilities allow us to do so with competence. Limitation in polemic, as for Goethe in art, is the secret of true greatness.

As someone who used to participate a lot on php discussion forums that involved theology at my old church Trueman pretty well knocks it out of the park with the last two paragraphs I've cited. The emphasis added is mine, not Trueman's. I used to know a fellow who I haven't seen in years who got into a theological debate. I ended up in the debate. The debate was ... I think about whether or not the concept of supercessionism was inherently anti-Semitic and the proposal was that it was and dispensationalistic "two-covenant" theology was proposed as the only possible alternative to anti-Semitism inevitably arising from anything remotely like the idea that the new covenant fulfills and supercedes the old on matters like, say ... dietary laws or whatnot.

The fellow did not exactly win the argument and I was more concerned to have my non-dispensationalist position not cast as anti-Semitic than to "win". He wanted to "win". He even said, "I'd like to win a theological argument for once." I replied, "Winning isn't the point, though. The point should be to help people in the church learn more." I have been a young man eager to win theological arguments to get in on the action, far, far more than I would like to say and in any event far more often than I even could say!

Having been one of those guys who got involved in theological disputes about things that didn't matter and/or don't matter I know that "you" are not going to follow my advice because I'm not Carl Trueman. I'm a nobody. I'm not a pastor or a widely known author, though I just quoted a pastor. :) Can I say in my defense that at one point I was entrusted with answering theological questions on behalf of Mark Driscoll? Well, that's not necessarily a meaningful credential either and in any case I was one of probably dozens of people who had that role at one point or another.

All that is to say that there have been times where I have had to assess whether or not a theological debate was worth jumping into and I made the wrong call by jumping into something that doesn't effect me, people I love, or the church I'm at. I only heard about the Rob Bell stuff because some people I know from Mars Hill brought up Rob Bell as the new big controversy. Wait ... I thought five years ago the big controversy was something like N. T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul and him denying double imputation or something.

As a certain blogger I liked and respected sometimes hinted at, the trouble that can happen in the land of the truly Reformed is that this need to be out looking for a fight so as to contend for the faith delivered to all the saints means you get to fighting fights that, strictly speaking, do not concern you. Bloggers can imagine that what they say matters because they have to say something so they matter to themselves and their fan clubs. Someone could make this charge about Slice of Laeodicea. Okay, well, they could make this charge about Mark Driscoll, too. They could make this charge about Steve Camp. They could make this charge about me or any other blogger who is a Christian. And in many, many cases the charge could stand because that's our real temptation, to write about something so as to be able to look at that and say "I made this."

Monday, May 02, 2011

the death of Osama bin Laden and tensions in Proverbs

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.
Proverbs 24:17-18

The whole city celebrates when the godly succeed; they shout for joy when the wicked die
Proverbs 11:10

I have seen the first half of the first proverb quoted and notice a few people considering the second proverb during the news that Osam bin Laden has been killed. Some folks have said they will not believe bin Laden is really dead until a body has been produced. Whether or not these peple would also choose to believe bin Laden is not dead had the announcement come from a Republican president I do not know. There are pious expressions that we should not rejoice in the death of a man, even a man such as Osama bin Laden while there are other people who are rejoicing.

As I have reflected before so I reflect now, Ecclesiastes is a sober reminder that even attaining wisdom it iself a form of vanity. Koholeth weighs proverb against proverb and realizes that things are broken. Consider the precedent of Koholeth's methodology and observations in light of these two Proverbs about rejoicing in the demise of an enemy and in how a city rejoices in the death of the wicked. If it is wrong to rejoice when your enemy falls lest God take displeasure in it and revive him what happens when by God's providential design your enemy dies? Do you not rejoice then? Will Christ raise him from the dead?

Conversely, if it is not right to celebrate that a wicked man has perished for a city does this mean the reason we should not celebrate the death of bin Laden is because he was not wicked. If it is wrong to celebrate the death of a man who plotted the death of so many people is this because it was immoral to take up arms or enlist in the armed forces to go find and destroy him? Would it then be wrong to have enlisted in the war-like path bin Laden himself chose that is the reason it is wrong to celebrate the death of bin Laden? That would mean that becoming a soldier to fight a terrorist is morally equivalent to being a terrorist.

As I know brothers and sisters in Christ who are pacifists they can consistently stake out this position but other Christians who have staked out a pro-war on terror stance this reticence to celebrate that a killer has been killed reveals a fissure in wisdom. The scriptures are clear that when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy in the city. They can only not rejoice in the death of the wicked who are wicked themselves. The scriptures are full of songs that revel in the death of oppressors. I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider He has thrown into the sea. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered. Rejoice for the Lord crushes the nations. Blessed be the one who repays you, Babylon, by killing your babies and dashing their heads against a stone. These passages do not lend themselves easily to a view that says Christians should never rejoice in the death of another.

David, who was a chief among sinners despite being a man after God's own heart (not just that adultery thing but mercilessly slaughtering women and children), was not afraid to celebrate that the Lord had given him victory over his enemies. When God had given into David's hands those enemies who sought his life David could simultaneously rejoice that his life was spared but weep. David could rejoice that the Lord had taken Saul if only because Saul had sought David's life but raised a lament for Saul and Jonathan. David could be relieved that Absalom's insurrection had been quelled while grieving over his lost son. A true soldier can rejoice in the death of an enemy who is an enemy of the peace while grieving that it took the gears of war to put a stop to that enemy. If it's wrong to celebrate bin Laden's death then this would be because the entire war on terror and so on was immoral and no one should have enlisted in the military to fight against terrorists.

Again, for those Christians who are completely pacifistic I can see why this position would be consistent for them and yet ... the scriptures still say that when the wicked perish a city rejoices. Scripture condones celebrating the death of the wicked. So in the end we may find with Koholeth "Why have I become so very wise?" With much wisdom comes much suffering and this, too, is futile.

The problem with quoting this proverb to justify celebrating bin Laden's death or to frown upon celebrating bin Laden's death is the quotation of proverbs in itself has nothing to do with wisdom. Like the legs of the lame which are useless to him, so is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorn stuck in the hand. Even his effort to use the proverb both harms him and reveals his foolishness. A fool uses the wrong proverb at the wrong time on the wrong person for the wrong reason.

Since I do not consider myself wise (because to consider myself wise would ensure that even a fool has more hope than me) I can't really say that one of these proverbs is the "wise" one to quote nor can I say that quoting the other proverb is necessarily wrong. If it is wrong to rejoice when the wicked perish and when the designs of the wicked are foiled then how can anyone truly say that we should rejoice that Christ has broken the bonds of death and crushed the head of the serpent? Surely among the wicked there is none more wicked than the adversary? If the city of God does not continually rejoice in the defeat of the Wicked then how can we display any obedience or love toward Christ? You see the scriptures do not attempt to resolve for us what we insist must be resolved in one direction or the other.

This may not so much be to prove one side right or the other wrong so much as to reveal that with the Lord resides wisdom and He chooses not to reveal all things for reasons we can't know. When times are good rejoice and when times are bad consider, for the Lord has made one as well as the other so that no one shall be able to know what comes after him. I have seen people who ten years ago ardently supported the war on terror have a drastic change of heart. I saw Christopher Hitchens go from being against Gulf War 1 to being surprisingly ardent in support of Gulf War 2.

We can rejoice that a wicked man has perished but not because we are not ourselves full of sin. We can rejoice that the Lord has seen fit to permit one wicked man among many to perish for the benefit of the city while recognizing that it is tragic that he chose a path of wickedness, this man who died. Yet beyond this we should recognize that we ourselves are not necessarily better than this man who once bore the image of God in his life. We can, however, look in our hearts and see that we are guilty of the same sin as bin Laden was, which is to look around us and ask in the most rhetorical way "And who is my neighbor?" seeking to justify ourselves for whom we have decided is not fit to be our neighbor and therefore not worthy of our love.

But here is the thing, even this can be nothing more than a pious fraud. It is true that there is no one who is without sin and yet we judge ourselves better than others all the time. All. the. time. It's easy to say we should not rejoice in the death of bin Laden or that we should rejoice in the death of bin Laden. It's easy to say that he isn't even really dead or that he is. It's tougher to resist saying in our hearts "I told you so" when someone screws something up and we knew we were right. Even saying this in our hearts can show where our disposition is. Whether or not we grant the possibility of a last second conversion by bin Laden; whether or not we remember to pray for those like him; in our day to day lives we may well discover that the challenge to walking faithfully with Christ brings with it a realization that there's a lot we don't know and can't know.

In various other ways we like to exonerate ourselves and condemn others in more mundane things than acts of terrorism. I can be tempted to assume the worst about someone who decides not to interview me when I'm job-hunting. Someone could decide that a person who is on food stamps or unemployment checks is part of what's wrong with American society and its endless drift toward socialism and anarchy. But perhaps most of all we are tempted to pontificate at times like this by quoting one proverb or another while forgetting to remember that it is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other.

In times like these it becomes easier to appreciate not only why Ecclesiastes has been given to us in the scriptures but why it is essential for all Christians to meditate deeply upon this beautiful, challenging book and to consider the other wisdom literature in light of the mutual warnings each book gives us. We should not presume that this will make us wise but we can trust that as elusive as the authors of scriptures themselves said wisdom is to not stop seeking it. If we remember that seeking wisdom is about seeking God it will help us avoid the snare of thinking that we have obtained wisdom merely because we can quote proverbs. As we've seen in Christian blogging about the death of Osama bin Laden, one proverb after another can be quoted in this time and this suggests that where ever wisdom truly is it is with the Lord and we have almost certainly not attained it.