Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Doing What They Knew Best

The ancient Israelites have taken lots of criticism for their complaining against Moses in the wilderness. Preachers, writers, and teachers in our day take their cue from Moses himself in this regard. At every rest stop the people found something to murmur about.

But maybe we should cut them some slack. Complaining was their most refined and practiced skill. We should expect them to find ways of showing off what they did best. I don’t mean this sarcastically. Up until the day after Passover the Israelites were slaves, as their parents and grandparents had been before them.

Among the dangerous abilities for slaves to have, taking initiative and solving problems rank pretty high. Very likely Moses was the only one in the crowd with any experience in fixing what was wrong. Slaves take orders, do as they are told, and that’s it.

Only verbally are they given the opportunity to respond to the way things are. And, they have to be careful how and when they do that. Slaves might sing their protest, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen . . .” Or, they may talk among themselves, “Can you believe what they did to him?” Or, they may daydream about better conditions, “O if only we could have . . .”

It shouldn’t surprise us to see them view their new leader Moses as the latest supervisor giving them orders. And, they talked about him like they did about their Egyptian oppressors.

They didn’t know how to suggest solutions or to offer leadership. They offered what they were best at. “O if only we were back in Egypt. Did you bring us out here to starve us to death?” It was a tough job, but no one could have been better trained for a job.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Creation of a Rhetorical Controversy

Thesis: At the inception of the primary fabrication time-phase, when the penultimate intelligence unit synthesized the geophysical locus and its concomitant gaseous hyperterranean coordinates, said mineral consolidation region failed to possess proper substance and volume reference points, and displayed a lack of wave frequency vibrations in the specific imposition registers over the anterior surfaces of the geotropic fault formation and, with the aqueous gas-to-firmament interface destabilized by a major kineticizing meteorological manifestation, the previously discussed entitical sentience unit expressed a desire for increased wave frequency modulations and with the immediately subsequent amplification adjustment, registered his positive reactions.

Antithesis: The ascription of penultimate status to the verbally operating synthesizer, not only of the geophysical substance, but also of the totality of sub-deitic intelligence units, is tantamount to a nabalian contradiction of orthodoxy. This disrepresentation of the initiating essence, unless it was malapropic or unintentional, renders moot the potential cyclone of argumentation over the reduction of the ultimate hypostatic breath of the text to the atmospheric disturbance of the translation. As it is written, "Accede the ultimate intelligence unit as veracous and the progeny of Adam without exception prevaricators."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Letters to the Editor

Like most daily newspapers, the Journal has an op-ed page. The editor regularly writes his opinion about local concerns and beyond. There is a political cartoon each day. They reprint editorials from other papers about current events.

And then there are the letters from readers. Sometimes it is obvious that people have lifted material from their favorite political website, putting the party line into their letter. Other times it is pretty much a rant, complete with name-calling, non-sequitors, straw-man attacks, and fallacies. But mostly, it is nothing but assertions--no logic, no argument, no evidence--on all sides.

Proverbs 26:4-5 advises, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."

So, should I write replies and ask the editor to print them? Or, should I privately weep and pray? On the purely political issues I have no inclination or temptation to respond, but occasionally there are moral and philosophical foundations involved. Can pigs be persuaded to wear necklaces?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Religion and Contradiction

Recently, I had a friend tell me that all religions are right in their own way.

Now, I'm no philosopher, but that didn't seem to make sense to me. Mainly because many religions are contradictory. For example, Buddhism denies the existence of sin. Judaism says sin is central to understanding humanity. Since they believe opposite things, the Buddhist and the Jew cannot both be right.

The Law of Non-Contradiction states that "A" and "Not A" cannot both be true. Christianity states that Jesus is God. Islam says Jesus is not God. They cannot both be true.

I know this isn't news to the sophisticated apologist or the worldview scholar. But I'm amazed how often I run into this line of thinking.

Recently, I climbed a mountain (Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado). As I climbed, I thought about the common claim that "All roads lead to the same destination". I thought of the paths on the mountain, and wondered if they all would lead me to the top. I didn't know. To claim that I did know would have been both foolish and arrogant. In fact, the only one who could know would be someone who had been to the summit. Fortunately, someone who had been to the summit had come down and marked the right trail for me.

The point is that no one can know whether or not all roads lead to heaven until they die. That is unless someone comes down from heaven and marks the right road. And if that someone also points out that all of the other roads lead to certain death, the kind thing would be to help out the other hikers. How intolerant of us.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Good and Bad Seasons; meditations from 2 Chronicles 26 & 28

Lately, I've been encountering people who are using their circumstances to determine God's perspective on their life. When things are going well, God must be pleased. When things are going poorly, God must be angry.

What to do? What to do?

That has echoed strangely to me as I've been reading through 2 Chronicles recently.

First, take the story of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. The text tells us of some fantastic accomplishments and blessing that the Lord gave Uzziah. Then, suddenly, it says (16) "But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction."

Next, on the same page in my bible, comes the story of Ahaz in chapter 28. The text tells us of some horrific wickedness and judgement that came to Ahaz. That is followed by this phrase (22) "In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord."

May God protect us from both of these things. May He protect us from the pride that comes from strength, and from the faithlessness that comes from distress. And may we use every circumstance as a reminder to live for the Lord with our whole hearts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What about the Pope?

The blog universe has been overrun in recent days due to the Pope's passing. It seemed people needed something equally controversial to run to after the whole Terri Shiavo mess. And it wasn't all respectful, as there was plenty of backlash from the anti-religious folks. But for now, it seems the media frenzy is starting to fade. At least until the white smoke is seen at the Vatican, signifying that the Cardinals have picked the next guy.

Conspiracy theorists, such as Dan Brown, like to convince impressionable people that the Catholic Church is corrupt in a highly organized way. Some Protestants regard the Catholic Church as a cult that we need to rescue people from. But most people just figure that we're all the same, that Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, and everyone else should just ignore their differences and celebrate humanity.

The truth is that we do have differences that will not go away, although faithful Protestants and Catholics agree on most of the essentials: Jesus is God, Jesus is eternal, Jesus is the only way to salvation, the Bible is God's word, etc. However, the Papacy reveals one of the biggest differences: Authority.

Is God's written Word the full authority of His revelation? Or does a man also have the authority to speak for God, adding to-- and possibly changing-- what the written Word says? Catholics believe that the Pope has such authority.

Pope John Paul II was a good man. He had startling integrity. Never once did he compromise to be politically correct. He stood for the dignity of human life in an era where that is frowned upon, constantly challenging world leaders of every political color. And he had tremendous impact. He was centrally responsible for the freedom of Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism. He garnered respect even from people who didn't agree with him.

There is a good possibility that the next one picked won't have as much backbone or compassion. The next Pope may decide to "re-interpret" what the Word says about sexuality, life, or even Jesus. If that happens, we need to stand firm as Protestants on what the Reformers called sola scriptura, that Scripture alone is our authority.

In the meantime, we need to pray that the Cardinals pick another man of integrity.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sin City (billy)

I saw the movie Sin City last night with a friend of mine. After all as a guy and newly introduced to the 30-something decade, I am still very much that same boy who enjoys the shoot-em-ups, the comic books, the sci-fi / fantasy genre, Star Wars Action figures (yeah, I got a red Ep III Vader), and RP video games. Yet I am also a man in love with Jesus, a man who prays to the Christ each day, studies the Word and teaches others (reluctantly to be sure but nonetheless), a man educated in philosophy, ethics, apologetics, and pop-theology.

So Sin City was incredibly interesting to me on both the artistic and movie-craft level (it was amazing, pioneering, visionary, and visceral) as well as on the moral / ethical / philosophical level.

-Mild Spoilers Ahead-

There are no heroes in this movie. There aren't really any "good guys". Even the "good guys" are dark and seedy and very human in a post-human kind of way. What struck me about the three intersecting stories of the film is how I found myself rooting for and identifying with those characters I was "supposed to" but surprised at how different from me they were. The protagonists were men with exceedingly dark souls who were faced with a moral / ethical decision and ultimately made the "right" choices - even at great personal expense. They were at once martyrs and convicts being justly punished.

Yet while it was easy to cheer for Marv in his quest for just retribution, I admired the rightness of a fervency for justice while I wondered at the basis for his decision. Where did that sense of justice come from? As I rooted for Dwight in his quest to ensure liberty for the self-determined, Henry David Thoreau style "intentionally living" whores of Old Town, I saw the rightness of valuing of liberty. At the same time I couldn't help but wonder why he bothered. As I hoped that Hartigan would survive the injustices and suffering he was made to endure on behalf of another (one truly innocent and pure), I had to question whether or not his day job was really enough to make him do it.

It dawned on me during a post-film discussion with my friend. The film is an excellent depiction of the moral life adrift. Without a transcendent tether, where man is the measure of all things (as Protagoras said through Plato) including those things intangible and belonging to the thoughtful realm (e.g. ethics, morals, knowledge of good and evil), the ability to act righteously or with nobility does not vanish. It exists, it manifests, it may even motivate and spur one to the ultimate sacrifice. Yet it extends only to the edge of the agent's skin.

Ethical acts become bastardized in a very literal way. Every ethical act has a different father, a different cause. Marv, Dwight, and Hartigan each acted righteously. Yet there was no transcendent righteousness in Sin City. This is not because Marv was a thug or Dwight a convicted murderer on the lam or Hartigan a cop with a penchant for vigilantism. It is not because Sin City is a Hobbsian foil to Locke's notions of civilization and government - irrational and unavoidable. It was not because of what each of the characters were. Their righteousness was bastard because they fathered it themselves.

In Matthew 7: 9-11 Jesus makes mention of the fact that even the evil know how to be kind, just, loving, and sensitive. Yet he never claims that this is sufficient for anything (a satisfying life, getting to heaven, being liked by others). He mentions clearly that He is the only thing that is enough.

Bastard morality - morality I father has the sheen of right-ness. I want to root for it. I do root for it. But it's never enough to satisfy, sate, or slake a thirst for lasting right-ness or the peace a lasting right-ness precipitates. For that a transcendent morality is required. Else the peace lasts only as long as the space between the end of this and the start of the next moral crisis.