Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remain Calm. All Is Well.


Unless you live under the social media equivalent of a rock you know that three things are going on today. First, thousands are dead and millions are in jeopardy of starvation in Nepal. This news is rapidly fading in importance because it is far away, most Americans can't find Asia on a map much less Nepal and it isn't very interesting news when compared to Bruce Jenner mutilating himself. The second major news event going on are the ongoing riots in Baltimore as thousands peacefully protest a very suspicious death and a lot of people are using this as cover to strike a blow for freedom by burning down their own neighborhoods and stealing liquor.

The third news item, largely ignored by most of the media in favor of the latest news about the Kardashians, is that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in the case of a homosexual couple that flew to a state that allowed "gay marriage" to have a quickie "marriage" on the tarmac before flying back home and finding, to their apparent amazement, that Ohio would not recognize their "marriage" (see this article on NPR regarding their surprise). Of course the very fact that they flew to Maryland, had their ceremony performed on the tarmac, apparently without even getting out of the plane, and flew back to Ohio where they knew homosexual "marriage" was not recognized (which is why they left the state in the first place), sort of destroys any credibility to the notion that they were "heartbroken" and that they, like others, were not setting out to be "activists". Anyway, I fully expect the risible "Supreme Court" to do what it so often does, namely to do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do by creating laws and rights out of thin air. I can't imagine a scenario where anything other than a decree coming from the Court that every state will have to recognize "gay marriages" performed in other states or perhaps even to require all 50 states to recognize and perform "gay marriages" in  their own state.

Not surprisingly this is causing a great deal of garment rending and teeth gnashing among my social media circles. The church in America has for most of our history had a cozy relationship with the state, performing marriages for Caesar and keeping the peasants in line in return for favorable treatment for our institutions and clerics. The look on the face of most of the church is that of a loyal dog right after their master, having a rough day at work, gives them a kick. My message to the church is a quote from the Prophet Kevin Bacon in that most cerebral of films, National Lampoon's Animal House:

Remain calm. The actual Supreme Court has the Lord God Almighty as the sole arbiter and His definition hasn't changed. Likewise preventing a homosexual couple from dressing up and holding a "wedding" ceremony doesn't do much to advance the Kingdom. Neither does a religious professional officiating a wedding between two unbelievers make their marriage God honoring. I have been an advocate for divorcing the church observance of marriage from the civil union process of Caesar and for once I am looking in retrospect like I am ahead of the curve on an issue.

Remain calm. Preach the Gospel. Model the Kingdom in our lives and communities. Caesar can no more redefine what God has ordained than he can declare God is dead. We of all people should know better.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What if the church in America is where the real help is needed?

Americans want to save people from themselves. It is just in our natural character. Usually this means making them more like us whether they want to be more like us or not. This is infinitely more true when you look at the church in America, so concerned as we are with saving the savages around the world. Not from hell mind you but from being not American. After all, who wouldn't want to be an American?

So let me tell you about Saturday. We woke up Saturday morning to news of the earthquake in Nepal. With a child heading there soon on a mission trip, it was a jarring news story so we spent a lot of the morning watching the news, trying to get updates from the people we know in Kathmndu and prayer. It was a deeply troubling morning for us and those who were suffering, and especially the church ministering in that part of the world, were at the forefront of our minds.

Saturday night was a different matter. We went shopping and thanks to a fortuitous confluence of special offers and coupons we got an enormous haul of groceries that will last us a long time. Like a really long time. Anyway as we were checking out we were all pretty whiny. It was late, I was on my last nerve, it was taking way too long to check out. I was wallowing in self-pity while at the same time I was taking home several carts of staple foods that would have been quite literally life saving in the hands of my brothers in Kathmandu still reeling from aftershocks. My concern was getting it all put away at home.

What in the world is wrong with me?

I don't think I am especially unique in this regard, American Christians are just as impatient and entitled as the rest of the country, sometimes more so. We have no interest in suffering for the sake of the Gospel. We don't even want to be slightly inconvenienced while getting our supposedly superior religious fix on Sunday. I suspect that while the church in the much of the world welcomes our money to deal with issues on the ground, they are probably not as interested in importing our American form of culture and religion. We are like an especially irritating but rich cousin that dispenses unwanted advice at every family reunion on all sorts of topics and often we have no idea what we are talking about (but that doesn't stop us).

More and more I think that maybe we should stop using our money to send American missionaries to the heathen and unwashed overseas and instead spend that money to help missionaries from other countries come here to teach us a little humility.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

When the shoe is on the other foot

We spend a lot of time with the Amish in our area, driving them around and otherwise providing services to them. Hopefully that is going to expand very soon, more on that later. Even in our area where there are lots of Amish, numbering in the thousands, most places find them still in the minority. When we take them to the store or a doctor's office, even in places like Grabill that have tons of Amish, they stand out a bit among the "English". I generally don't notice it because I "fit in" in English clothes but it is definitely there.

Last night was a different story. We took some friends to an auction in Shipshewana, a town in LaGrange county Indiana that can only be described as an Amish tourist trap. There were several hundred people there and 95% of them were Amish from all over the area. This part of Indiana is home to the third largest community of Amish in the world so the volume of Amish buggies, Amish on bikes and Amish walking along the street is staggering. For us it was a very different experience as we were in the tiny minority. It was easy to recognize other English people but next to impossible to pick out specific Amish in the sea of black coats and white bonnets. We have been settings like this before but it is still jarring and never on this scale. You can't help feeling weird and out of place wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. Even my wife wearing a long dress and a head-covering was clearly out of place.

I thought back this morning to my early days in the church after coming to faith in Christ. We were an oddity in our Kentucky Southern Baptist church, a large family with five young children who had just left mormonism. We were something of a sideshow attraction. Nothing gets attention at a typical evangelical church like a family with a bunch of little kids, especially when they came from a mysterious cult. Looking back at that I wonder, do we recognize this when new people without a "Christian background" come to our gatherings? I am not saying that you need to change to look and act like the world to make people comfortable but are we at least aware of how jarring that can be and what a barrier to fellowship and discipleship it can be to be an outsider who doesn't fit in? It can be pretty easy for me to go somewhere different, I can go to a Sunday school class and jump into almost any conversation with ease. I know how to dress and how to talk the religious talk. I can fit in, although I choose not to. It isn't as easy for others who want to follow God but don't know how that looks and aren't experienced enough to recognize the difference between religious mumbo-jumbo and actual edifying teaching. Even in largely orthodox gatherings, we must be aware of our tendency to speak in a secretive lingo and engage in confusing behavior. I fear that many new brothers and sisters miss the fellowship of the church because they don't know how to fit in.

It is a fine line like so many other tangible aspects of the faith. We must be separate from the world while not being unwelcoming to others. We have to avoid straying into our religious fortresses to keep the world out and we also have to avoid being indistinguishable from the world in order to be welcoming. The best advice I can give myself as well as others is to never get so caught up in what we want that we miss what others feel. Hospitality is an integral aspect of the Kingdom community, not just for those who look, talk and think like us but just as much (or more) for the stranger and sojourner among us.

At some point we will all be that English guy in a barn full of Amish in our church gatherings. Remember how that can be disconcerting and remember as well that a friendly smile and a warm greeting can go a long way to making others feel welcome.

Friday, April 24, 2015

That is not what the word participate means

I like to watch trends in social media to see what people are talking about. For example, some relatively recent trends have focused on the need for "membership" as a response to the mass exodus of religious attenders and also the backlash against the "radical" movement that purports to call religious folks out of their general apathetic position by extolling the virtues of just being run of the mill church attenders.

I have started to see appeals from church status quo defenders on the idea of participating. Now when they talk about "participation" it is not what you might expect. We aren't talking about meaningful, 1 Corinthians 14:26 sense. No, we are talking about "participation by being passive". For example, Tim Challies linked to an article by Joe Thorn, Making the Most of Sunday. Right out of the gate we have on display the Sunday-service-centric view where all week is apparently nothing but time to prep for Sunday morning and make some dough so you can drop a check in the plate. Joe breaks down how a good churchgoer can maximize their religious experience on Sunday by preparing, participating and reflecting. It boils down to "Get ready for a sermon, listen to the sermon, think about the sermon afterward". What is really exposed is the emphasis on "participation" while maintaining control and the focus on the clergy. For Joe "participation" means: showing up early so you are ready, listen eagerly and attentively to the sermon, sing the songs you are instructed to sing when you are told to and do so enthusiastically, pray along when the pastor is praying, be sure to focus on God while actually focusing on the various scheduled events occurring in the church and then leave.

What is notable about this list of how to participate is that you really aren't participating at all. While you might be considered to be "participating" in some of what Joe lists if done occasionally, if that is all you do when the church gathers you are being passive, not participatory, and those two are really mutually exclusive. I don't think that a gathering being participatory is the only factor or a cure-all for what ails the church. Participating in bad theology is just as bad as being passive, or perhaps even worse. But if we are going to make noise about participating and then describe something that is the complete opposite, something is wrong.

We don't know exactly what the meetings looked like in the early church. I don't even like calling them meetings because it sounds so formal, like something on my Outlook calendar. I prefer gatherings but regardless I believe that the Scriptures are intentionally vague on this point, giving us guiding principles without providing legalism-prone lists of "dos" and "don'ts". We do see some important principles and hints and one thing that they point to is that the brethren were tangibly involved when the church gathered. To summarize it was "one anothering", not "one and all the others". Participatory church can become an idol like anything else and it can also become a shtick to make money and gather influence for yourself but those potential errors shouldn't dissuade us from seeking ways to give the brethren the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to edifying and encouraging one another when the church is gathered. I don't think we have to do away with monologue teaching but I do think we need to a) place less emphasis on it and b) create ways for the church to engage in the teaching by allowing and encouraging many brothers to teach and the entire church to interact with what is being taught. A passive, spectator church is fertile ground for errors and cultists. To show that we really care about orthodoxy we need to encourage more of the brethren to teach and engage the Scriptures in the hermeneutical community.

If we are going to talk about participation, and we should, we ought to actually discuss ways for the church to participate, not just be more enthusiastic about being passive.

Oh the irony, Episode #1,455: Quit farming the way we pay you to farm!

Our benevolent overlords in Washington, D.C. have turned their keen intuition to a new frontier in the fight against global warming climate change, our nation's agricultural system.
Federal agricultural officials announced Thursday voluntary programs and initiatives for farmers, ranchers and foresters meant to build on President Barack Obama's efforts to combat global warming — and they don't require congressional approval.
Gotta love the sweeping new powers that our President has granted himself. No Congressional approval needed. How long until "No Congress needed at all" is the law of the land? So how exactly are we going to conquer "climate change" via "voluntary" cutbacks to carbon emissions? Easy!
Specific actions include reducing the unnecessary use of fertilizer and methane emissions from cattle and swine, reforesting areas damaged by wildfire and disease and encouraging tree planting in urban areas. For methane reduction in particular, the federal program promotes installing more anaerobic digesters, which use naturally occurring bacteria to break down organic waste to produce biogas, a fuel similar to natural gas.
Oh the irony....

Our government subsidizes in every way the system of agriculture that demands huge machinery, confinement operations, massive chemical application, burning of enormous amounts of fossil fuels, going to war to keep that fuel "cheap", etc. and then wants those same farmers to "reduce emissions" to combat the mythical "climate change". Only in America does that inherent contradiction not seem apparent to any and all. People will mostly do what they have an incentive to do so if you provide an incentive to farm that way and disincentives to farm any other way (like armed raids on those who sell "raw milk").

Thanks to the "get big or get out" mentality, our farms have gotten bigger and bigger with each passing year. Our land grant universities put out a largely monolithic message that reinforces this because they are subsidized by the big agribusiness firms that profit from the industrial farming system. Our government pays farmers and subsidizes them in various ways that make it almost impossible to not have giant machinery that spew carbon, compact the soil and require massive doses of chemicals. The same is true of animal husbandry that makes it incredibly difficult to raise livestock profitably unless you accept the industrialized, subsidized system which requires you to cram more and more livestock into your facility which in turn concentrates methane, creates mountains or lakes of manure that need to be disposed of, requires unhealthy doses of antibiotics and depends entirely on cheap feed grains which in turn require....huge, carbon emission spewing tractors. We are paying people to do the very thing that we want them to do less of. America, what a country!

Stuff like this is why I appreciate writers like Joel Salatin, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and David Kline. Rather than hipsters who want to farm so they can have a beard and be groovy, these are guys who are actually farming the way it can and should be done. I am under no illusion that a substantial portion of the population is going to start 20-30 acre farms, I mean seriously, we can't get a lot of people to even get a job and those that do want an exorbitant hourly wage for unskilled work. But if we can get more people to start farming like this it will certainly help to stem a small part of the tide and perhaps even avoid the seemingly inevitable food catastrophe that I see in our future.

It just kills me that the government says and does stuff like this and no one even sees how dumb it is.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Also known as Please Make It Stop)

As mentioned, we finished the trilogy of films created from a single children's book The Hobbit. It took a day longer than expected, costing me an extra $1.50 from Redbox but the price paid by my soul was much greater.

Let me sum it up in this way. It was one of the least enjoyable films I have ever forced myself to sit through. There are films that are hard to watch because the subject matter is difficult (Schindler's List). There are films that are just fun and require no thought (Pacific Rim). Some movies are not very good, some are really good, but most have at least some entertainment value if nothing else. The Hobbit trilogy in general and the Battle of the Five Armies in particular had not one iota of entertainment value. It wasn't fun, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't thought-provoking. It was just bad. Even my wife who normally is more gracious about stuff like this even commented how bad it was. Making it worse, it was way too long.

All I kept thinking was: please let it be over. In the end I was rooting for Azog to just kill Thorin just to get it over with. The orcs winning the battle of the five armies and conquering Middle Earth would be a small price to pay to reach a swifter end to this cinematic disaster; an audio-visual assault on the senses, on film-making, on acting and on simple human decency.

The interminably long battle at the end seemed to be the result of locking a dozen teen-aged boys locked in a room with endless Mountain Dew and incorporating every hair-brained idea they had into the scene. "Dude you know what would be awesome?! If they fought on ice floes! Sweeeeettttt!". "No, no, how about trolls with catapults on their back?! One of them could be a self-propelled battering ram!" On and on and on. Every single event was dragged out well beyond what was necessary. The crazy scene where Thorin sees himself drowning in gold looked like a scene that got cut from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, missing only a whimsical song from the Oompa Loompa's.

Martin Freeman was the lone bright spot in the movie. Perhaps someone could redo the book adaptation into a single movie, keeping him as Bilbo and ditching the rest. Even Ian McKellen looked like Ian McKellen trying to act like what Gandalf is supposed to be like. There was none of the smile barely hidden behind the gruff exterior, it was just "Hey, we are paying you a ton of money, act Gandalfy or something!".

It is hard to imagine the same guy who brought to the screen such a wonderful adaptation of the Lord of the Rings could somehow botch at every turn what should have been a fairly simple tale to tell. It went wrong when the decision was made to make a small, simple novel into three full-length films. Some huffing self-appointed Tolkien experts defend the film for incorporating other Tolkien lore into the movie but it is supposed to be the Hobbit, not a mishmash of Tolkien writings and an overly large CGI budget. The book is a wonderful story that is mostly light action woven into a story about friendship. Tolkien could have spent a lot of time writing about the battle at the end but he instead has the main character get knocked out and miss a bunch of it. Peter Jackson seems to have completely missed that.

In summary, you are much better off watching the old animated version or even better than that, just read the book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What keeps them in also keeps them out?

I have been slowly working through the talks from the 2015 Anabaptist Identity Conference held very near to me in Indiana (and I didn't find out about it until after it was over. Sadface.). Some are very delightful like the talks from David Kline, an Amish farmer who has a wonderful if wandering way of telling a story and seemingly accidentally making a point. Some are troubling, more on that later. I was just listening to a panel discussion titled The Turtle Wins on the way home from work and one of the panelists (David Bercot maybe?) said something interesting. I will paraphrase a bit here: What keeps our children in the church also keeps others out.

As I listen to these talks, one thing that kept popping up from these largely conservative, even "Old Order", Anabaptists was the concern about keeping their kids in the tradition. The world, including the religious or even the Christian world, is always beckoning kids away from a simple lifestyle and into the latest and greatest fads and innovations. We see this all the time among our Amish friends and community so I understand their concern. I also wonder about what the speaker said so simply but powerfully. It has been our unfortunate experience that in more conservative Anabaptist circles it seems to be more important to keep kids in than it is to welcome new people from the outside. I am not talking about welcoming someone to a Sunday service or a potluck or a singing. I mean meaningful, integrated fellowship in the community that comes without a bunch of strings attached or hoops to jump through.

I don't blame the conservative folks (and it is weird for me to talk about other people being "conservative" when I am pretty conservative myself but that term holds specific connotations in the Anabaptist world) for their concern about protecting their kids but I wonder if many groups are concerned that this often means keeping others out, making their community inherently less rich and diverse. Have they had these conversations?

So speaking more broadly, how do we (or should we) maintain standards for the church and our families while still being open to new converts, seasoned fellow believers on a new path and those who seek fellowship with us? This is one of those questions that I have no answers for.

So it has come to this

Although I hated, loathed and was emotionally scarred by the first two installments of Peter Jackson's shameless money making scheme by making one small kids book into three CGI nightmares adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel The Hobbit, I find myself compelled tonight to watch the third and final installment ("the defining chapter", a title in and of itself ironic because the actual battle takes place over the course of a couple of pages in the book, not even an entire chapter). I figure I have come this far, I might as well finish it out.

I anticipate hating this movie as well so anything less than that will be a cinematic triumph for Mr Jackson. Angry denunciation of Mr. Jackson and company will be forthcoming once I finish the movie.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The "white privilege" hoax

This is not going to pull any punches, which is rare for me.

Of all of the nonsense that oozes from our university system, and there is a lot of it, the latest dung heap is one of the most pernicious. I am talking about "white privilege" (followed in a close second by "micro-aggressions"). The concept is pretty simple, you just declare that white folks are all caught up in a supposed privilege upbringing based on their skin color which gives them an unfair and insurmountable advantage. Of course you can't suggest any sort of sweeping generalizations about blacks or Latinos based on their skin tone or ethnicity 'cause that is racist but hey hypocrisy and double-standards don't exist in the rarefied air of the ivory tower. You can't even call them out for it because that just means that you don't understand it.

"Man, you just don't get it. You are so caught up in your own white privilege that you don't even realize it."


I am not saying I didn't have a "privileged" upbringing, because I did, but it wasn't because I am white. Let me tell you about real privilege, I know a little something about that. I grew up in a fairly small town outside of Toledo, Ohio. It was a sleepy community for the most part when I lived there. My neighbors were all over the economic scale, from blue collar workers to highly paid professionals. Nobody was shooting each other and most of the criminal mischief in town was carried out by bored boys (and I may have been involved in such shenanigans including one trip in the back of a police cruiser). Granted my dad was the town doctor so I not only had an intact family but never wanted for money and was never concerned about how to pay for college. Going to college wasn't something I fretted over, it was a given and the only question was where I would go. The same was true for many of my classmates with parents who were not physicians. Looking back some 25 years later I can see many of my classmates have built pretty good lives for themselves, some in professional careers, some in the skilled trades. Many would look at us and say that we are just the product of "white privilege". I have a term to respond to that and it has to do with what happens to hay after horses digest it.

Our main privilege had nothing to do with being white. It had to do with growing up in intact families. Sure there was divorce and there were single parent households in my community and school but the vast majority of us were in intact two-parent homes. In fact, when I was growing up you didn't need to add the qualifier "two-parent" because that was the norm. In the era before the normalization of divorce and single parenthood kids had an enormous advantage compared to far too many children today. Like I said, there were certainly broken homes (back when you were allowed to call them that), parents who fought incessantly and parents with substance abuse problems. It wasn't entirely idyllic but the basic setting was more conducive to a successful future for kids, whatever that looks like, than the norm today. The reality, supported by innumerable studies, is that children do better in homes where both parents are married (to each other) and present in the home.

Unfortunately for a lot of children, several entire generations of them in fact, that reality is a political liability. No one in government or academia prospers from telling society that the best thing we can do "for the children" is to encourage people to not have those children outside of marriage. Rather our elites find it more profitable to advocate for subsidized child care or dumping endless funds into the public school system or more broadly creating a "social safety net" that is intended not to supplement families down on their luck but rather to replace fathers as breadwinners and guardians of the family. Even if "white privilege" existed, there is not really a solution to it. Perhaps that is the point. It is an amorphous, unsolvable pseudo-issue. When it comes to the real privileged upbringing a lot of kids have and a lot more don't, there is something to be done about it but it would necessitate taking money and power away from the self-imposed elites of our society and returning a level of trust to parents.

A black or Latino or Asian kid growing up in a home today with a mother and father who are married has limitless opportunity in this country. Just about anyone who wants to and has a modicum of intelligence can go to college or a trade school. Even being poor and a minority only makes it easier, not harder. A poor black kid from Harlem or L.A. who works moderately hard at school will have their choice of college opportunities. In fact they will have an easier time being admitted and paying for college than a middle income white kid with comparable grades. Those are simply facts and they are indisputable, even if they are inconvenient.

Instead of encouraging kids with these simple facts, many try to discourage them with fatalistic moaning about "white privilege". The message they get force fed through the media and their peers is that achievement is beyond their grasp and their behavior doesn't matter because they are simply the victims of the inescapable "white privilege". Far from "empowering" minority kids, it simply reinforces the notion that they are victims who can only sit back and helplessly watch their lives unfold before them.

A privileged upbringing has nothing to do with race and an awful lot to do with family. The now prophetic words of the late Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan still ring true. There is nothing to be gained from suppressing self-motivation except from those who are invested and enriched by a system that created and now perpetuates generational poverty and dependence. When someone complains that I don't understand because of my "white privilege" I am simply going to tell them that real privileged upbringing comes from having two parents at home.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Getting schooled on scholarship

A cursory reading of my blog might give the impression that I am against scholarship or that I am anti-elders or anti-any number of things. That is patently untrue. I am against the abuse of these things or the overemphasis of these things to the detriment of the rest of the ministry of the church. Scholarship is a prime example. I think the church needs more scholarship, not less, but needs it in the right way. Enter Dave Black, a scholar of some note in his own right, on that very topic:
My own view is that scholarship does not exist for its own purpose but only as a servant of Christ and the church. It serves God's purposes but must never control them. It serves the world as well, but must never forsake it. Servanthood is the key to biblical scholarship. Scholars, having received the benefits of their studies, now go forth into the life of the church to render to Christ that form of service or that ministry for which God has equipped them. The apostle Paul -- possibly the greatest Christian scholar who ever lived -- was fundamentally a missionary and church planter. What then is the scholar's role? He or she is a member and leader of the Christian community. Such leaders can be authoritative but never authoritarian. They serve to inspire and animate the congregation. They arouse enthusiasm for personal Bible study. They feed the church of the living God and develop the talents and energies of all God's people....
...Faith in Christ is a dynamic thing. It can't be confined to the halls of academia. We need to gratefully recognize the scholarly guild. It has done great things in Christian education. But it includes training for all aspects of discipleship, not just the intellectual. We biblical scholars need to ask: Are we as active in the church and the world as we ought to be? Do we "operationalize" biblical truth? Have we limited the term "interpretation" to an idealized representation of what the Bible meant? The old Scottish proverb was right:
Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ.
Think about it.
That mirrors my own thoughts. Scholarship in the church properly understood and practiced seeks to serve the church, not just the rarefied air of the academy or behind closed doors in the pastoral study. Scholarship that serves to invigorate the sending of the church on the mission of God is good, scholarship that seeks to puff up the scholar's reputation among his peers with no practical use in the church is not.

So study and scholar away my friends, just always remember that if it isn't serving the church, it really isn't serving Christ.

Why Are Villains Cooler?

These are the kinds of things I think about.

If you love sci-fi and fantasy movies like I do, a pattern starts to emerge after a while. The pattern I am talking about is that the bad guys always seem to be a lot cooler than the good guys. Here are some examples....

Now let's be serious. Who is the more intimidating and cool figure, Daddy Darth or whiny, sister smooching Luke? I would be afraid of Darth but I would be more likely to take Luke's lunch money. Grand Moff Tarkin is in charge and tough, Admiral Akbar mostly sits in his chair being google eyed and realizing that the obvious trap is a trap. With keen insight like that it is no wonder he is an admiral!

What about Sauron who is totally gnarly and intimidating versus Gandalf who looks a little like a crazed homeless guy? Even the non-humanoid heroes versus villains is decidedly one-sided. Ooooh, we have slow talking, walking trees! Oh yeah, well I will see your Ent and raise you a Balrog.

Oh wait, there is of course the polyester garbed Federation types in Star Trek with their cell phone phasers and ships that look like a dinner plate with two flashlights hooked to it versus the Klingons with warships that look like actual warships and cool weapons like the Bat'leth.

In the Road Warrior the "good guys" are a bunch of whiners in rags hiding in their compound while the Lord Humongous is....well Humongous. The toughest good guy is a girl wearing hockey shoulder pads. Come one!

Sure in the new iteration of Battlestar Galactica the Colonial good guys have some cooler heroes but still it is hard to compare the clunky looking Viper with the Cylon Raider and the coolest Colonial is not even in the same ballpark as a Cylon Centurion.

You get my point.

So why can't we come up with some cooler heroes? Is it an issue of style over substance?

Or is it that we naturally are attracted to the powerful, the violent, perhaps even the evil? There might be something inherent in human beings that craves those who break the rules because maybe we want to break the rules. Give me lip? How about I force choke you to make my point. Which would you rather be, a wizard who apparently is incapable of performing any actual wizardry and needs to get hobbits to carry out tasks for him or a guy with an all-powerful ring and 9 minions who are nearly invincible?

Maybe I am just reading too much into this but whatever the case, even though the bad guys invariably lose to the good guys, the bad guys always look a lot cooler doing it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Such Encouragement

I love it when people are thinking and talking about critical issues rather than leaning lazily on tradition or screeching at one another. While I often seem (overly) negative and alarmist, I also see regular reminders that many of my brethren are deeply delving into the Scriptures and seeking to be the change the church so desperately needs.

First, Dave Black takes aim at a most pernicious error, the idea that in a local fellowship of the church one man is the sole source of authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Dave writes in Pastors Are Not The Ultimate Authority On Bible Teaching (And Who Is) :
Put all this together and you arrive at the conclusion that God has provided multiple teachers in His church: gifted leaders, our fellow Christians, and ultimately the Holy Spirit Himself. I “preach” regularly in churches. But to be honest with you, I would never want anybody to hang on my every word. I would rather point them to the only infallible source of knowledge about God and His will for us, and that is the Bible. It is this Bible that we are to teach one another. We need each other, not least when it comes to understanding and obeying God’s word. I urge you to find a church home that encourages this kind of mutual edification. If there is a strong teaching ministry where you attend (and hopefully there is), make sure the teaching is sound and feedback encouraged. (A monologue need not exclude audience participation.) Make a point too of participating in small group Bible studies. Remember that believers are all on a par with each other: teachers and taught alike are fellow-sinners and fellow-learners. If possible, make room for more formal courses in the Bible. If a local church is to make a significant impact in its community, it must become a learning center, a place where truth is valued and taught. 
I love that. It is infintely better than the common responses which often boil down to demeaning or diminishing the Bible, an "anything goes" attitude toward teaching or a lack of teaching altogether. I am an advocate for a "Community Hermeneutic" where the church is collectively responsible for interpretation (See my post Toward A Community Hermeneutic ). We don't need less Bible teaching in the church, we very obviously need more. What we don't need is more "one man show" gatherings where the sole authority for what the Bible teaches is invested in the opinion of one man, no matter how learned he might be.

The second post is from a new source that I really have been blessed to find, Dwight Gingrich. Dwight looks at a topic I frequently post on, who is permitted to share the Lord's Supper? Should we restrict it and if so, how? Dwight turns to the earliest Anabaptist confession, The Schleitheim Confession, for a look at what the Anabaptists taught back in the era of overt persecution in his post The Schleitheim Confession: Who May Share The Lord's Supper?. Dwight writes:
 Perhaps significantly, no mention is made of sharing a oneness merely with one specific congregation; the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum, that scattered, rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally united into one denomination or church alliance.
I love that! I hope I am not misrepresenting Dwight but what I read is that the Supper is restricted to the church the church has never meant to be sub-divided into one specific congregation to the exclusion of all others. Certainly this does not mean that we never restrict anyone from the Supper, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 makes that clear, as does the Anabaptist practice of the Ban but holiness and unity are not and cannot be made into adversaries. They are two facets of the same concern for the Body of Christ. I look forward to reading more from Dwight on this topic as he has teased in this blog post and others.

Give both of these a read and think them through. Maybe comment or write your own thoughts in some venue. Never stop seeking to return the church to Her roots.