Saturday, October 29, 2011

there's nothing like being sick to kill writerly momentum

Being sick and unemployed isn't that much worse than being sick and in some ways it's an easier thing to deal with.  It's not like a company is going to lose productivity for my being absent and it means I can keep hunting down job leads from home.  But it has meant that physical and mental energy depletes faster and that as a result I have not been tackling my essays for Mockingbird as assiduously as I would like.

Oh, yes, and there's this thing about needing eye surgery.  All things considered, with the distractions at hand, I feel that I'm still doing a tolerable job writing about cartoons when I have so many other things going on in my life.  It is going to be easier to write when I'm not coughing up green sputum.

But there is a time and a season to everything under heaven and sometimes there is a time to party with friends.  I have come upon such a time.  For others there is a time to speak and organize conferences, so I hope you'll bear with us, dear readers, if the essays about Batman: the animated series have had to take a hiatus due to my health problems.  I trust there's no nail-biting anticipation.  I still have a lot more to write about the DC animated universe yet and hope to do that.  Meanwhile, the real world does have its priorities like hunting for work and doing what I can to get help for eye surgery. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Accolades of Steve Jobs as conqueror

Today, Americans everywhere remember Steve Jobs with the accolades civilization has traditionally reserved for conquerors. But Jobs slew no hated enemies. He did not plunder any rival city-state and bring the spoils home. He did not seize political power and crush despised factions. He made things and introduced services that changed millions of lives and the way we do business in both little and big ways. His vision was for a world where everyone’s life is more convenient and filled with more opportunities, not a world where “his people” gather arms to march on “those people” to utterly ruin them. The fact that he’s regarded as heroic in our age says a lot about how different the world is today.

It turns out, though, that he was much worse than you ever suspected. There are several admiring Steve Jobs stories in Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s much-anticipated authorized biography, but they’re overshadowed by the many, many more instances in which Jobs comes off as a world-class jerk. Jobs was rude, mean, abusive, and often neglectful to everyone in his life; the people he hated got it bad, but the people he loved sometimes got it worse. Some of this isn’t surprising. Jobs’ arrogance, his monumental self-regard, his irresponsibility, and his unremitting cruelty to those who failed to live up to his expectations have always dogged his image. During his life, Jobs did express regret for some of his actions—including abandoning his first daughter, Lisa, for several years after she was conceived out of wedlock. (He continued to suggest that he might not be her father even after a paternity test proved he was.)


When friends and colleagues offer theories about Jobs—several say that both his genius and his cruelty stem from the fact that he was put up for adoption by his biological parents—Jobs dismisses them. He can’t explain even the smallest of his quirks. Why did he refuse to have a license plate on his car? He admits that his initial reason, privacy, became moot in the age of Google Maps. So in the end he didn’t have a plate “because I don’t.” Illuminating!

... Jobs also seemed to suspect that he wasn’t really wounding the people he berated. If you were a bozo, why wouldn’t you want to know it? “I don’t stay mad,” he protested to Ive. Some friends suggest that he simply lacked empathy—or, as Tina Redse, a longtime former girlfriend, says, that he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s also quite likely that he was afflicted with an eating disorder. All his life, Jobs experimented with various extreme diets. (He’d fast for days, eat only certain kinds of fruits for weeks, and proclaim himself cleansed and invigorated after all of it.) He kept this up even after he got sick—indeed, for nine months after his cancer diagnosis, he refused surgery and tried various dietary cures, some of which he found online. His wife explored psychiatric treatment for his food issues, but Jobs refused

It may be true that our world is different today when a man like Steve Jobs can be celebrated in a way reserved for conquerors but the jury may still be out on how few human sacrifices Jobs made upon the altars of success and innovation.  Call me jaded, pessimistic, cynical, or cruel but I'm not so sure modern Western civilization has advanced to the point where we have heroes who obtain their victories without human sacrifices.  We may be better off in as much as the human sacrifice doesn't have to bleed to death but a guy who tried to convince his own daughter he wasn't really her dad still sounds like a guy with problems. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

another update on the Mars Hill trademark and the cease and desist letter

As I have blogged and commented here in the last week I don't see that Mars Hill has automatically been screeching evil in getting on the case of people about a trademark and logo.  The bit that caught me off guard was the trademark and logo didn't get federal approval until this year ... but then I remembered how many years Mars Hill was running before it had anything like by-laws at all and this stopped catching me off guard. 

It's interesting to learn that the church in Sacramento that was part of this cyber-dust-up is Assemblies of God.  Ah, the old AG days.  I'm not Assemblies of God anymore but I do have some fond memories from my Pentecostal days. 

Over the years I have continually noted the cynicism, anger, and hostility toward Mars Hill and Driscoll as its distillation over the last five to six years.  I remain committed, perhaps obstinately so, to ambivalence.  The denomination recently put together a food drive for the Port Angeles Salvation Army corps food pantry over this last week and I have heard eleven tons of food were put together.  It also seems to have turned out that trademark lawyers have conceded that maybe they should have let the organizations talk to each other before lawyers do that lawyer thing they do. 

As Proverbs put it, every story sounds like the truth until the cross examination.  If you've made up your mind to be unabashedly for or against Mars Hill without any qualification or reservation you're being foolish.  There's no wiggle room for qualification there. 

Priestly Rants, The Reformation from Jeremiah's Point of View

Ever since I really soaked up Jeremiah 8:8 and began to think about its implications it has been hard not to think about  God warns through the prophet that we cannot claim to rest in the scriptures and claim that we draw wisdom from that because the lying pen of the scribes have made them into a lie. 

I feel it is useful to build upon what Priestly Rants wrote, the Law was not initially accusatory.  The Law was given for civil governance and, yes, that third use of the Law was in there.  This was actually one of the most important purposes of the Torah, to explain to God's people how they were to be different from the other nations around them.  If we attempt to avoid or disdain the third use of the Law we are not just running roughshod over the Torah in some happenstance way, we are ignoring the reason stated with the Torah as being essential to its coming about to begin with!  As N. T. Wright put it in his book on Justification in response to John Piper, the West might have been better off in its view of the Torah and handling justification if Calvin's fans rather than Luther's fans had had a bit more influence.  Not that there can't be huge problems seen in every team in Christendom but that's some other topic for another time.

One of the more memorable and weird debates I saw back on the unmoderated Midrash was between Pastormark and sorenchurchyard (whom I've never met but still dimly remember).  The debate was whether Law or Grace came first. Several people said Law came first and sorenchurchyard suggested that if anything it would appear to be "grace" that creation was made at all and that grace did, by virtue of that, precede the "law" in the garden.  Things spiraled downhill from there with Mark's fans and sometimes Mark himself behaving badly toward sorenchurchyard.  I got flamed by about three people along the way for pointing out that sorenchurchyard had defended his view ably and that Mark had lost his temper.  Mark apologized but the fanclub didn't.  Even back then Mark's fan club had much the same dynamic it has now.  And we're not even Lutherans here!  We didn't have to go lock-step into a formulaic Law/Gospel distinction.

I could write more, as I often could, but sometimes food for the mind must be subordinated to bodily food. ;)

"Even in laughter the heart aches, and the end of joy is grief" Proverbs 14:13

We find it easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep. Let's face it, in most cases those who rejoice are so eager to rejoice they'll spend their own money to invite you to rejoice with them. I've been invited to just enough weddings here that I am not idly saying this, nor am I saying for a second I wasn't fully of genuine joy to be at the weddings I've attended in the last two years. Those weddings were the high points of my social life in the last few years, no kidding.

But Proverbs says that even in laughter there is sadness and the end of joy is grief. The joy of the wedding day is real and should be celebrated and cherished because the unknown day may come when grief and sickness and, finally, death arrive. The day is not unknown because there will never be grief, sickness or death but because we do not know when that day comes.

ruminations on an axiom, "I trust God, I just don't trust His people."

God in His providence often uses people and organizations.  This has been one of the scarier things for me to accept about life in the last couple of years.  Part of me is still some kind of old school Pentecostal hoping for some ostentatious miracle of provision rather than the mundane acts of flesh and blood people.  In certain circles this latter set of provisions are called "ordinary means of grace".  Well, I've had the kind of life where I have been doubtful about such ordinary means of grace.  In the last two years I haven't really had much of a choice whether or not to accept them. 

Years ago I once admitted that I've gone through a good deal of my life with the axiom, "I trust God ... I just don't trust His people."  It has dawned on me over time that in my own way this is a paraphrase of Ivan Karamazov's sentiment, which I paraphrase here as, "It's not that I cannot accept God, I cannot accept His world."  Over time the previously unrealized overlap in these two sentiments started to get to me.  The overlap got to me for two simple reasons.  The first was that Ivan's statement was about his unbelief and this made me realize that perhaps I have had more unbelief in my life than I realized.  The second was that Christ said "They shall know you are mine by your love for one another" and this got me wondering how much I loved God's people as a measure of my love for God Himself.  As a certain saying puts it, he cannot regard God as his Father who does not acknowledge the Church as mother. 

But there can be reasons it is good to not necessarily trust God's people, particularly at institutional levels.  A lot of churches have done a lot of bad.  There are always the tales about Catholic priests molesting children.  There are stories about metropolitans caught with young hookers.  There are stories about homophobic raging closet case Pentecostal preachers. There are stories about bloodthirsty Lutherans.  There are stories about draconian and cravenly political Reformed.  There are patent white supremacists, debauched cardinals, scheming patriarchs and the whole line-up.  The Church is full of people so bad and mean that even a superhero, if a guy like Batman or Superman were real, would throw up their hands and say, "I give up.  There's nothing that can be done to fix this."

Some churches have done a lot of good but depending on where and how you grow up you get told that "those" churches are just into some liberal "Social Gospel" that isn't the real Gospel.  Twenty years ago I would have assumed Presbyterians were all of the Social Gospel liberal cloth just because from a Pentecostal perspective they would be labeled the frozen chosen.  Not that I was in much of a place to talk like that because I'm not exactly fire breathing myself.  I used to joke that I was a Pentecostal holy roller but some of my college friends were astonished by this joke because when they found out that really WAS my background they couldn't believe it.  One of my friends said he'd always pegged me as Dutch Reformed.  Ha, are there actually any Dutch Reformed in the whole state of Washington?  Well, anyway, it would appear that even when I still considered myself Pentecostal a bunch of people figured I was more likely to be Presbyterian.  And, well, now I am, so I guess my friends were right about me before I could even have guessed it.

I'm at a stage in life that I know would be enviable to someone in the Third World.  I weigh a bit more than I should and I live in a pleasant enough home.  I need eye surgery to remove cataracts and, fortunately, I am getting help for that.  Yet if a fellow American were to suggest I'm not really poor I'd differ with them.  I'm poor.  God willing I won't be at some point in the future but there's nothing like having no money and no job to make me realize both of myself and of people around me that when white well-off people talk about "consumerism" most of the time they don't really mean consumerism at all, they just mean that they like to bitch about the purchasing habits of other people so as to feel more righteous about their tastes.  People who are into "realistic" fiction can see comic books as unreal and something to look down on.  C. S. Lewis used to write that the child who reads about dragons and monsters is less in danger of being lied to about the nature of real life than a kid who reads dramas about borading schools and students who become friends there.  There may, in the annals of post 20th century literature be few dangers to dealing with reality than a literary fetish for socialist realism of any kind.  That's my take, but I digress as usual.

I'm not homeless and so I can't speak to the "hard life" that other people may have but I have become irritated by the realization that class resentments seem to abound.  I'm aggravated when relatively well-off white guys complain about racism from native populations who also complain about class warfare.  A college friend of mine once said that he'd hear fellow white guys say "I'm working for the Man"  Dude, historically speaking you are the Man!  That doesn't require a prophet like Nathan to mention, does it?  And the witness of non-white Christians to how many white Christians have conducted themselves doesn't need to get recited ad nauseum yet we do well to remember it. 

As Fearsome Tycoon noted over at BHT earlier this year, the Anglo Christians did their missionary work in a way where a lot of the native populations targeted by their work have renounced Christianity and Christendom.  And why wouldn't they?  It's hard to adopt the religious beliefs of people who attempted to subject you to genocide, right?  Cue no true Scotsman to the fiftieth power.  Those who think they know history and won't repeat its mistakes are worse off than those who don't know history.  It was the Pharisees, after all, who were saying they would not have persecuted the prophets when Jesus told them they were self-deceived.

But the reason it's scary to need help from other people is not exactly because I don't need help and can't accept help.  I can ... it's that this is, in its way, a kind of crisis of faith.  Is God "only" knowable through the kindness or cruelty of His people?  The more the Christian life is integrated into the life of Christian community the more perilous it becomes when you realize how broken and past repair every Christian community truly is.  If you haven't found something wrong with the spiritual community you're part of you just haven't looked hard enough.  But if you haven't found some spiritual fruit within that sphere of believers from which you can participate, benefit, and grow then you haven't looked hard enough, either. 

There is a brand of Christian piety that is not really marked by love.  It is impatient, it is cruel, it envies and it boasts of its purity,  It dishonors, mocks and belittles others while tacitly promoting itself.  It is, by accident of obsession, self-seeking even in its altruism. It is easily angered and keeps an endless list of wrongs for reference at such times as will be appropriate.  It may not delight in official evil but can indulge in a bit of schadenfreude now and then when providential suffering is meted out to the right people.  It rejoices in the truth so long as that truth conveniently confirms its own worst suspicions about other people or the rightness of one's own cause.  It often protests, rarely trusts, snickers at hope, and doubts the use of perserverence.  Yet it will still protect, still assume the best, will still hope, and will perservere.  It is a paradoxical thing.  It is something I see in myself even more than I see in others. 

Trusting in the kindness of God's people is difficult because if we are betrayed or let down by God's people we then inevitably feel betrayed or let down by God, too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

rapid response clarification from Mars Hill about rumors on cease and desist letters

by Mars Hill Church on Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 8:34 pm

At Mars Hill we like to be generous with everything we’ve been given. For over ten years, we’ve made all of our sermons available for free online, invested significant time and money to help raise up thousands of leaders around the globe through, and given millions of dollars to plant dozens of churches through Acts 29. Recently, this has grown to include such things a free Leadership Coaching and Campaign research to help other churches and ministries grow. We love other churches and ministries, and we love giving generously to serve them.
By God’s grace, our ministry has grown to the place where we’re recognized by people all over the world. With this kind of recognition, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the influence that God has given us to tell people about Jesus.

Sadly, in addition to giving things away, we’ve also had things taken. We’ve had churches cut and paste our logo, take our website code and copy it completely, had ministry leaders cut and paste documents of ours, put their name on them to then post online as if it were their content, and even seen other pastors fired for preaching our sermons verbatim.

We’re not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the “Mars Hill” name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the “Mars Hill” name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we’ve used since 1996.

When cases like this arise in the business world, it’s customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this. We had a very productive conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation in the days and weeks ahead.

We made a mistake in not calling these churches prior to sending the letter. We should have picked up the phone before sending any other communication.

Unfortunately, rather than hearing from the church in Sacramento, we began hearing that the matter was instead being speculated on by a blogger who did not verify any facts with us and, as a result, provided an inaccurate version of what transpired. This blog post from us is intended to alleviate any confusion.

As a clarification, we have not sued any churches and have no plans to sue any churches.

We have not sent any similar letters to any other “Mars Hill” churches, and we are not planning on asking any church with “Mars Hill” in their name to change their name.

At the speed of the internet clarification has come. 

By now I don't anticipate the fans or detractors will have anything new to say they haven't already been saying.  What we can establish at this point is that if at any point in the future Mars Hill sues any church over branding issues the whole English-reading/English-speaking internet world has been put on notice that a flip-flop will have happened. 

By the way, plagiarism is lame.  There are a lot of things that can be said about a guy like Driscoll but his bibliographic citations and attributions have been, on the whole, pretty consistent.  He might lift some weak jokes from another pastor's Mother's Day sermon (which I've written about elsewhere on this blog) but for actual bibliographic stuff in his writings he's usually good about, say, referring to Richard Bauckham as a scholarly reference for his 1 & 2 Peter sermon series.  His spiritual warfare series includes a reference to the monstrous, door-stop book The Christian in Full Armour by William Gurnall.  Give Driscoll credit for at least this much, when an idea isn't really his own he's usually pretty good about giving credit where it's due. It's when he gets goofy ideas like that the Targum Neofiti teaches the Trinity that you can be sure that dumb idea is all Driscoll and not an idea he got from somebody like John Stott or Jim Packer. 

HT to Brian Auten over at BHT: The Rawest Nerve

When you bring up the issues of branding (a la Mars Hill) and celebrity in the context of young, restless, Reformed evangelicalism, I’d argue that you are hitting not just a “raw nerve,” but the “rawest nerve.” Yesterday, I organized my notes and links on the “state of the blog conversation” between 2007-2011 re: conservative evangelical celebrity. For those who might be interested, or might find them helpful for your own research, you can find the notes here.
[Addendum -- Thanks to Matthew Johnson for explaining the whole Dropbox thing to me; I'm a technological neanderthal.]

Yep, seens like branding and celebrity is the rawest nerve in the context of young, restless Reformed evangelicalism.  In a different sort of way the pitfalls of branding and celebrity were rampant in American Pentecostalism in the 1980s and 1990s.  Bakker, Swaggart, and others.  We could swap out terms like "annointed", "fresh fire", and "move of God" and replace them with "missional", "community" and "contextualization".  Of course the scandals that have erupted in connection to Pentecostals have tended to be about sex and money.  The scandals that have erupted in the young, restless Reformed orbit have been about about pride and power. 

It is usually said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.  Well, maybe the trouble is that those who do know history (or think they do) are doomed to think they will transcend it.  A friend of mine was telling me that the bit with the latest X-Men titles (not that, honestly, I have ever cared about X-men despite being a comics fan) is that "history doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes."

Slant rhyme is still rhyming.  We'll just have to wait and see how the next few couplets play out in the poem.