Saturday, November 04, 2006

 

It's Linky, It's Linky...Fun For A Girl And A Boy

Less than 48 hours old and I am fed up with the Ted Haggard story. Jollyblogger says pretty much what I have to say. The only comment I would add is that fallen Christian leaders are as old as Christianity itelf - as David rightly points out, old as King David really. I mind far less when it happens in big public figures like this than the 1000's that are hurt daily by fallen leaders that the public never hears about in small congregations everywhere. How many, Oh Lord?

Welcome to my world. Now, here's the real kicker. The film companies pay big, I mean big, money to local authorities to do this. How come each and every one of us that has to re-route and be inconvenienced by it does not get a cut?

Bond, the new Bond.

Nah, it's just old - oh yeah and somebody needs money. Besides...

Blind idiot does Home Shopping:


Somethings better left unreported.

No silly, they give off gamma rays. Then they turn green, get all hulked up...it's an old story.

Finding Viking stuff in Sweden is like finding toilet paper in a bathroom. Although, have I ever told you I've been to Gotland? Great place!

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Comic Art

Of all the characters that ever "worked" with The Defenders, none can be viewed as more bizarre than the one you see here - Howard the Duck.

Howard is mostly remembered as a movie that went horribly bad. I am one of the six people on the planet that thought the movie pretty good. The problem is, I think that you just had to "get" Howard, which meant you had to be seriously into comics. He was a cult figure and the cost of production necessary to make a superhero movie at the time meant you needed a huge hit - i.e. the picture needed a lot more than cult audience.

Howard came out of last week's character's solo comic - Man-Thing because well, frankly, they needed something weird. Needless to say, a talking, cigaar-chomping, heroic duck just kind of fit the bill.

The thing about Howard is this - he defies the comic book rules. Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that came after him, he was very sophisticated parody, but you had to have a deep understanding of that which he parodied to begin to get the joke. To their credit, Howard's team tried to continue the joke, which sort of meant the character had a limited life span, unlike Eastman and Laird who came up with TMNT - sold out, converted the characters to children's toys and have made more money than Croseus.

Disney sued over Howard, claiming a Donald rip-off, which was one of the more delicious things about the character. He did make fun of Donald after a fashion and you have to remember that Disney was a pretty reasonable comic publisher. In one character they managed to poke fun at themselves and the competition. It was tasty.

For comic fans of a certain age, it does not come much better than Howard, but we are a small group, too small to support the character. Sigh.... Ahhh, but the memories, seeing all those "serious" superheroes, and voluptuous comic babes lined up next to a short, cigar-chomping, curmudgeonly duck.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

 

Embracing Newcomers

A while back, Jollyblogger joined in on a discussion about welcoming and newcomers to church. The issue made me sad, it does when it comes up in my church. People often want to come to church anonymously, but that fact reflects numerous problems with society and the church.

We must first start by acknowledging that society increasingly creates and rewards anonimity. The internet may be the worst contributer to that effect ever invented. But increasingly, even when we venture into public, we seek to isolate ourselves - from iPod earphones to cell phones, when we are surrounded by 1000's, we try to "live" in our own private bubble.

There is something wrong with this, and particularly for Christians. Being a Christian is a communal thing. Lord knows I wish I could stay at home and lay claim to the title, but I can't. I need the teaching, I need the community, and I definitely need the accountability.

That last need is why people crave anonimity when they visit a church. They don't want the accountability inherent in being a part of a church community. This is a fact that strikes me as absolutely oxymoronic because so few churches demand anything from anybody anymore that it is heart rending that the world thinks we hold ourselves more accountable than we actually do.

So what to do? Well, I see two things actually. For one, when you are in the church, I think there needs to be more accountability, not less. But when it comes to visitors, I think the question is a little different. We need to model community without demanding it, or working too hard to force it.

A few years ago, my wife and I were seeking an "outlet" church. Someplace we could visit on occassion when we just needed a different view. We visited one church where we really loved the preaching and the service, but we were descended upon after the service with people virtually begging us to "join them." I would have enjoyed getting to know them, and sharing a bit of fellowship, but they seemed to want so much more. The were more needy of my fellowship than I was of theirs.

Which I think is the bottom line on this issue. If we are doing church right, people will be attracted to us, not put off by us. Think about it. Why do people work so hard to isolate themselves in public? Because, public is an unhappy place to be generally.

I cannot help but think that if a congregation really looked like Christ would have us look, people that visited would be upset if they were not invited openly to be included. I don't think the answer to the question of how to be welcoming lies in the form of visitor introduction you use. Rather I think it lies in examining how we function as a church and then doing better where we need to.

I always come back to the fact that Jesus was the most attractive person ever to walk the planet. If we are His agents, should we not endeavor to be equally attractive? Which, by the way, takes us back to accountability, but that's for another time.

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Good 'n Plenty Links

That is, unless you give me billions of dollars right now and let me tell you exactly how to live your life. I am sorry, if I read one more potential catastrophe story, I think I'm gonna puke. We heard this same thing 50 years ago.

It's official, I'm going to hell.

Great Anime ruined. I love Speed Racer - or I did.

Obsession, it's not just a fragrance by Calvin Klein.

I wonder what kind of car he's driving. Probabaly the Batmobile.

Good idea, know way too many that fit the profile.

And they hate us Calvinists because of our belief in predestination?

Making me hate what I love.

 

Friday Humor

A Joke From Home...

A woman got on a bus in Indianapolis. She told the driver she wanted to go to the State Capitol building. At every stop, she rushed up to the driver and asked, "Is this the State Capitol?"

After annoying the driver with the same question a dozen times, she asked "How will I know when we are at the State Capitol?"

And the driver answered, "By the smile on the my face!"

Bonus joke (not quite so lame)

It's the summer of 1957 and Harold goes to pick up his date, Peggy Sue. Harold's a pretty hip guy with his own car and a duck tail hairdo.

When he goes to the front door, Peggy Sue's mother answers and invites him in. "Peggy Sue's not ready yet, so why don't you have a seat?" she says. That's cool. Peggy Sue's mother asks Harold what they're planning to do.
Harold replies politely that they will probably just go to the malt shop or to a drive-in movie.

Peggy Sue's mother responds, "Why don't you kids go out and screw? I hear all the kids are doing it."

Naturally this comes as quite a surprise to Harold and he says "Wha...aaat?"

"Yeah," says Peggy Sue's mother, "We know Peggy Sue really likes to screw; why, she'd screw all night if we let her!"

Harold's eyes light up and he smiles from ear to ear. Immediately, he has revised the plans for the evening. A few minutes later, Peggy Sue comes downstairs in her little poodle skirt with her saddle shoes, and announces that she's ready to go.

Almost breathless with anticipation, Harold escorts his date out the front door while Mom is saying, "Have a good evening," with a small wink for Harold.

About 20 minutes later, a thoroughly disheveled Peggy Sue rushes back into the house, slams the door behind her and screams at her mother:

"Mom! It's The Twist! The Twist! It's called The Twist!"

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

Mormons And The Word "Cult" - In The End, It's Attitude That Matters

Take a moment, clear your mind, now say to yourself "CULT" -- What images flash through your thoughts? My guess is it is not a pretty sight. Depending on your age, it may be Jim Jones, or David Koresh, or the Heaven's Gate group in San Diego. These are all images of pure, unadultered evil, worse, some of it in God's Holy name.

When confronted with such evil, we all have natural reactions of repulsion and disgust. Our instinct is to destroy the evil. This is a natural, and I think even Godly, reaction to genuine, irredeemable evil.

But here is the problem, when a word conjures up those impulses and reactions, on a very deep level, it is extremely difficult to use that word in other contexts and with other meanings.

As we have discussed, "cult" is a word with many, many meanings. Some of those meanings are quite useful, particularly in academic settings. Other meanings are generally pejorative, and it is understandable that groups that do not rise to the level I described above would not appreciate bearing such a label.

In the end, I think we as Christians have to be very careful in our use of the term. Despite its usefulness in purely academic settings it creates, for most, the negative reactions I cited above. Now I ask you, are these reactions, revulsion - disgust - destruction, reactions that are typically considered Christian when we are not confronted with genuine irredeemable evil? We cannot we forget Christ was indeed revulsed at the Temple as He tore through the money changers, but He responded to so many more that were merely lost or wrong with a very different attitude. He was a friend to sinners, and chastised for His reaching out to societies less-than-desirables.

So, when it comes to Mormons and the use of the word "cult" - we need to ask ourselves, what attitude is appropriate for us to have when we approach them? If it is the revulsion and disgust worthy of true evil, then a word which conjures those reactions and attitudes in us would be appropriate. However, if our attitude is to be that of Christ towards the prostitute or tax-collector, then indeed another word should be what springs to our mind when we think "Mormon."

Some may argue that their now-banished practice of polygamy warrants a strong reaction. I argue strongly the other way. Firstly, the CJCLDS no longer practices polygamy and in fact reviles it. But more, what is polygamy save a sexual sin? Christ clearly had a loving attitude towards sexual sin, while wrong, it does not rise to the level of irredeemable evil. (As an aside, polygamy as currently practiced by some polygamous groups is pure evil for it is more enslavement than marriage - but they are not the average Mormon you will meet on the street - they are break away sects that live in shelterd, highly secluded communities)

Some may argue that it is acceptable to use the word "cult" concerning Mormons in academic discussions where the innocuous meanings are understood and granted. My response to that is maybe so, behind closed doors in the halls of academia. But we must remember, in this Internet age, our journals and writings are far more public than ever in history. When we discuss the issue on blogs, or it is published in a journal that goes on line - the use of the term is no longer limited to participants in the conversation, or the limited subscription list of the journal. It is now available to the general public. In such instances our use of the term, though understood innocuously by the "target" audience, will be grossly miscontrued by the casual observer and we will be guilty of fostering the kind of revulsion that is unworthy of the people of Christ.

Words are powerful things - far more powerful than those of us that use them well realize. Words are often more than merely defined. They are often evocative of imagery, emotion, even an action-based response. We who have tamed words for ourselves are responsible for the evocation the words we use produce in others, and sometimes even in ourselves.

Christ did not come to merely transform our thinking - He came to transform us into beings in His image, beings whose thoughts, actions, attitudes, and utterances are all like His. In such an instance, can we afford words that create other than such in ourselves or others?

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Illuminated Scripture



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I R Dumb Licks Links

Here's the way I figure it - if the soldiers in Iraq are dumb, I MUST BE A COMPLETE IMBECILE. (HT: CDR Salamander)

This is funny for two reason. 1) No one can claim they invented the web -not even Al Gore, it was a collaborative thing to say the least. 2) This guy is way behind the curve in figuring bad things could come out of it. Naked attempt to build control.

Keeping the poor poor - the job of global warming advicates everywhere.

Because media matters more than reality.

A battle for the ages. Of course, the fish will win, they can carry axes.
He told scientists that their fears about creationism were "exaggerated", though he said it should not become mainstream education.

Mr Blair, who will deliver a lecture on science tomorrow, said the scientists should be worrying about the "big battles", such as climate change, the recent scare over the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and stem cell research.
I'd call that diverting from the silly with the patently false.


WAY COOL - worth sitting throught he video ad.

This is not as funny as it seems at first glance. We simply are not built for casual sex.

Extra anus kills four-legged chick - Real headline, 'Nuff Said.

Say it isn't so!

Worst science headline of the last several decades. - Wine is a solution, there is no "wine molecule," only water, sucrose, alcohol,.... And we wonder why the general public is ignorant of science.

There is desparate and then there is this.

At his age, this will not be an issue.

NO DUH! headline of the decade.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

 

Mormons And The Word "Cult" - The Common View

I continue to wonder about the usefulness of the term "cult" in common conversation. I started by pointing out that the term has multiple definitions, not distinguishable in general context or grammatical methods and was therefore an impediment to communication, not an aid. I then looked at the most common religious/academic defintion. That definition is innocuous enough, being purely descriptive, but it is not in common use. Most people do not restirct themselves in conversation to such precise terminology.

As I have stated plainly, I am examining this issue in particular when it comes to Mormons because of my interest in the potential presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and how derisivly that term is thrown about as concerns that particular religion.

The problems arise with what is called in one Wikipedia piece, the "Definition by Secular Cult Opposition."
Secular cult opponents define a "cult" as a religious or non-religious group that tends to manipulate, exploit, and control its members.
  • The common anti-cult definition summarised,
  • Manipulative and authoritarian mind control over members
  • Communal and totalistic in their organisation
  • Aggressive in proselytizing
  • Systematic program of indoctrination
  • New membership of cults by middle class
Note, the Wikipedia piece calls this a "secular" definition, and secularists certainly apply it to most religions. I have heard the diehard secularists apply it to the Roman Catholic church.

Worse yet, this definition does in fact apply to some groups that maintain a more traditional Christian theology. Many Pentecostal churches will manifest aspects of this definition, and some of them sink deeply into it.

It is this image of the coercive, mind-bending, hard to leave group that comes to most people's minds when they hear the word "cult," and therein lies problem when it comes to using it associated with Mormons.

Much like there are traditional, orthodox Christian groups that meet this definition to one extent or the other, the same can be said about Mormons. There are a number of break away "Mormon" sects, many still practicing polygamy, that are very ugly and coercive in this fashion. I use the word "Mormon" in quotations because the large, readily identified Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you know the Salt Lake City group, denies that such groups are Mormon. But the CJCLDS certainly does not fit that definition of coercive or mind-bending in any way. I know far too many "Jack Mormons" for there to be legitimate claims of coercion or "hard to leave," and almost all of them have no real animous.

Now, of course, there are those that have left the CJCLDS quite bitterly, and make all sorts of outrageous claims, but again all that does is say that at worst there are some congregations in the CJCLDS that are not functioning in accordance with church doctrine - I can find that in almost all traditional Christian denominations.

The term cult as discussed in this post is certainly derogatory, typically perjorative, and when applied to the CJCLDS labels as evil that which is simply wrong. As Christians, I do not think we help matters by applying such a term and all its standard implications, to people that we are called to love and hope to encourage towards the truth.

When you have a word that has multiple meanings, indistinguishable without explaination, applied to a church that requires much further explaination, it sure looks to me like we have to find a better way to have the discussion.

Part IV of this seris is here.

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Links Of Learning

From bad politician and presidential loser, to despicable, bottom-feeding, scum-sucking jerk. I give you John Kerry:



I cannot respond nearly as well as Dadmanly - Repsonse 1 - Response 2

Bear in mind, this man was, and to some extent still is, his party's standard bearer. Consider that as you vote next Tuesday.

No research, only fear, and mysterious unnamed contentions of "withheld" research. Dear friends, more than one environmental issue has been born of such fear mongering.

I had no idea they could read!

Would that more pastors were willing to make public confessions of thier failings. Not only would they receive forgiveness, they would model much for the church and we would all be better off. The long story is no excuse, he concludes with the words "I failed" the Christ longs to hear for from them, He can remake us.

All about GodMen. I am willing to say that my brand of church (PCUSA) is a feminized. But we arrived at that state by worrying more about women and their role than God and His. In attempting to reverse the trend, men should not make the same mistake.

This is getting old. It is so nakedly political and it has become "the message" of the left. How many times do we have to say, it's not an either/or thing.

There are jobs and then there is this.

This is a story that should have a song written about it. You know like this:



Ministry? - or does this say it all:
He loves pageantry and he also, it almost goes without saying, wants to save souls. "Sin destroys and Jesus saves," he says. "That is the message that Hell House creatively imparts." Inspired by Jerry Falwell's "Scaremares" from the 1970s, Roberts launched the first Hell House in his church in 1993. Three years later, he created a Hell House "kit," now available for sale online, which contains a script, a sound CD and a 263-page instruction manual. The kits retail these days for $299;


Halloween crimes - the post mortem. Even more. And finally, the french never get it.

And then it eats the local community and another SciFi movie is born. Speaking of which - here's another plot starter.

Add some deep-fired Snickers and I could die a happy man.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

Mormons And The Word "Cult" - The Academic View

Yesterday, we discussed the idea that the term "cult" has so many meanings, so difficult to distinguish contextually or grammatically, that the word is of limited usefulness in common discourse. As I said in that post, my motivation for examining the subject is my interest in the potential presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the curent governor of Massachuestts and a Mormon. "Cult" is a word often heard when discussing Mormons.

There are essentially two "academic" definitions of the word cult in the religious sphere. (There are others in the cultural sphere, but they are not of interest here) The most basic definition is simply "a culture of worship," meaning essentially the liturgy, life, and society that surrounds the veneration of something. In this definition, any church is a cult. In this most basic definition, the word distiguishes nothing between any religion.

The next basic definition is in purely Christian terms. One person which studies such movements defined the term this way:
"By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith."
It is this definition that I wish to address relative to Mormonism in this post.

Based on my experience and discussion with Mormons, if confronted with this definition of the word "cult" they would likely accept it for themselves. They readily admit that they differ from traditional Chritsianity in many areas. My Article VI Blog partner readily admits just as much by drawing a distinction between Latter-Day Saints and creedal Christians.

Any Mormon familiar with their church's doctrine would understand that the CJCLDS understanding of the godhead (the Trinity for orthodox Christians) is quite different - as is their view of the atonement. Of course, there is the expanded canon of the CJCLDS. The list goes on.

Mormons might object to the language which renders their faith as derivative of orthodox Christianity as they believe they are the restored church and we are the ones that are derivative. But that fact notwithstanding, they will not object to the fact that they are clearly differentiated from orthodox Christianity and would accept a definition of the word "cult" designed only to draw such a distinction.

Based on this, the "cult" description is often used in academic discussions of Mormons, and even between Mormons and orthodox Christians in academia. Academics are typically very good at keeping thier meaning very precise in discussion. This definition is neutral and purely distinctive, it carries with it no essential judgement of good or evil, only right or wrong.

Such neutrality is not generally intended when the term is used in general conversation. And so Mormons often object at being described as a "cult" in normal conversation. Why? Well some of it has to do with the implications of derivation implied by the term, but this is a fairly minor problem that I have had little trouble overcoming. The problems arise because of another implication and definition of the word, and that implication and definition is meant or understood by most people that use the word, and it creates a perjorative sense to the word. It is to this definition that we will turn our attention tomorrow.

Part III of this series is here.
Part IV of this seris is here.

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Ball Of Linkage

A bit of common sense in Jolly Ole. Possibilities as those avoided in the story, dear friends, are why we separate church and state.

SUPPORT PROJECT VALOUR-IT! It's the very least you can do for such sacrifice.

DC Comics will be all over this guy for copyright infringement in about 10 seconds.

Let's see, we want to spread the gospel so when A CHILD comes to our door expecting candy, we give the literature. Halloween has gotten out of hand a bit, but disappointing children IS NOT the way to win friends to Christ.

Count the faulty assumptions here. Moral nonsense, scientific nonesense - besides,naturalistic implications imply behavioral determinism, so why is there evil?

A story you will never forget.

It seems that cheese-eating surrender monkeys can't even cuss well.

Me - Explained.

Take off the mask, you'll find Mel Brooks. (Hint, you have to be really old and a fan of comedy to get that joke)

Worse than this waste of a life, is that someone was willing to PAY him to do it.

PETA is on it's way. Forgive me, but the image of PETA squaring off against Kim Jong Il (well at least the South Park version thereof) is just amuzing to contemplate.

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Kitty Kartoons - Halloween Edition




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Monday, October 30, 2006

 

Mormons And The Word "Cult" - An Introduction

It is not uncommon for words in our language to have mutiple meanings, some more than others. But when it comes to relgions, there is one that I think has so many meanings that it borders on not being useful anymore. That is the word "cult."

Just look at Dictionary.com on the word. The top entry alone contains 10 different defintions, not all of which are even religious in nature.

  1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
  2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
  3. the object of such devotion.
  4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
  5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
  6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
  7. the members of such a religion or sect.
  8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
- adjective
Note the incredible breadth of meaning there - 1 and 4 are innocuous and nearly universal since most of us believe in something.

Definition 6 on the other hand is specific, about something that is wrong, and potentially evil.

Such a breadth of meaning in a word that gets tossed around a lot can create an enormous amount of misunderstanding. When you then take a word like "cult" that is often used as a pejorative its use can create hurt feelings, offer insult, and most importanly erect barriers where they should not exist.

My concerns about this word arise from my fascination with the potential presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, a Mormon. "Cult" is a word often applied to the Mormons, sometimes meaningfully, sometimes pejoratively, and and almost always misunderstood by someone in the conversation. It is the last clause of that previous sentence that makes me wonder about the utility of the word. It just does not seem to aid communicaiton because whenever it comes up, the discussion has to stop down and the user has to identify which meaning and sense he is applying to the term. Words are supposed to make communication easier, not harder.

The heart of the problem lies in the fact that it can be used in exactly the same context and grammatically and be intended either descriptively or pejoratively. Consider this sentence:
Amy Semple MacPherson started and ran a cult.
Now, if you apply either meanings 1 or 4 from above a member of "The Four Square Gospel Association" will agree with that sentence. If; however, you apply meaning 6, you are likely to have a fight on your hands, maybe even a really ugly one.

Over the next couple of days I want to look at the question of whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a cult or not. The answer, predictably after this set-up, will be "yes" and "no." To make matters clear, I don't agree with much of the Mormon belief structure, although I have a great deal of sympathy for the impressions of the creedal Christian institutions that fostered Joseph Smith and his followers. In my opinion Smith saw the problems pretty clearly, he just did not find the right solution.

But back to the question at hand. Since we will find the CJCLDS to be a cult in one sense and not in another, I wonder if it is a useful designation? You can be pretty well assured that someone you are talking to will take it the wrong way when you say it, so it serves as a barrier to communication, not an aid. I, for one, don't have time for words that make communication harder, not simpler.

Part II of this series is here
Part III of this series is here.
Part IV of this seris is here.

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Didn't The Bangles Sing About A Day Like Today Links?

There is a big European report on gloabl warming due out this week that is generating all sorts of coverage over there. Interesting, on Friday the Beeb comments that it will harm business growth. Meanwhile, on Saturday, it's all about the poor and starving in Africa. It's apparent that to some, global warming is becoming the universal evil. Funny how Jews and then Christians figured out a far more conherent explanation for evil millenia ago.

(HT: Greenie Watch)

And then...climate change is responsible for the great die-off that ended the rule of the dinosaur. BUt we weren;t around to make it happen then? And aren't all those fossil fuels that create it the stuff of dinosaurs? I am confused again...

Speaking of fossil fuels - Clinton has told a whopper. I wish it was actual news.

This is the oldest game in environmental activism. When you cannot change the population in general's behavior, find a convenient, if not terribly significant to the problem as a wwhole, target and let loose the dogs of protest.

I've been teaching a high school Bible study for three years - this is a no-branier.

Been to Skopje, not surprised. Might have something to do with all those years of communist oppression and Russia being the symbol of all thing communist, you know?

Not to mention all those kids with the shakes.

Set your cuteness meter on stun.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

 

GodBlogCon Over Links

mArk Daniels links to an interesting discussion of faith and politics. I have to admit to being somewhere between Boyd and Wallis - there are some Christians who need to do politics, but it is not the call of all.

Best fiddle with this on Sunday - it'll consume Monday. (Click the Brit flag in the corner for English)

There is a difference between silly and glib, and actually insulting, and Joel Stein has no idea where the line lies. He "reports" on his atheistic view of a Presbyterian service, which he attended out of respect to a friend recently ordained. Some friend.

Friends it was good to see at GodBlogCon (so many, if I forgot you I apologize!) - Joe Carter (also of frcblog) - Mark Roberts - Andy Jackson - John Mark Reynolds - LaShawn Barber - Matt Anderson - Jimmy Akin (a new friend) - Jim Kushiner (another new friend) - Charmaine Yoest - Hugh Hewitt - and all those wonderful and great and bright Biola and Torrey Honors students.

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Sermons and Lessons

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

JAMES MOFFATT - On the editorial staff of the Hibbert Journal; minister of the United Free Church of Scotland; born Glasgow, July 4, 1870; educated at the academy, university and Free Church College, Glasgow; ordained in 1896; Jowett lecturer, London, 1907; author of "The Historical New Testament," "English Edition and Translation of Harnack's 'Ausbreitung des Christentums,'" "The Golden Book of Owen," "Literary Illustrations of the Bible."

THE COURAGE OF RELIGION


And David said in his heart, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul. " - 1 Sam. 27: 1.

But he did not perish by the hand of Saul. He lived to pronounce a eulogy, and a generous eulogy, upon his dead foe. Saul perished first; his attack seemed irresistible, but it came to nothing, and David's fear proved vain.

Thus do even strong, religious natures often make trouble for themselves out of a future about which they know next to nothing. David was terribly discouraged at this moment. The fond hope which he had cherished of succeeding to a high position in the kingdom had ebbed away. Wherever he turned, he saw nothing but the prospect of further peril and privation, whose end, sooner or later, meant defeat. Saul's resources were so numerous, and his power was so versatile, that the result of the struggle seemed to David to be merely a question of time.

Now, forethought is one thing. We have to be on the alert against the risks of life and open-eyed in face of any horrible combination which may threaten our position or affect our interests injuriously. But it is another thing altogether to collapse weakly in despair of heart before apprehensions and anxieties which may turn out to be quite unfounded. In the early part of last century a young scientist once wrote: "It has been a bitter mortification to me to digest the conclusion that the race is for the strong, and that I shall practically do little more but be content to admire the strides others make in science." It was Charles Darwin. He was in bad health, and bad health is apt to bring low spirits. Yet Darwin lived to do work which made others only too glad to follow his strides in science. That is one instance of the misjudgments which we are prone to make about our future, and David's bitter cry is just another.

We can all see how wrong it is for a religious man to yield thus to depression, and how foolish this perverse habit is, but surely we can also feel how natural it is to lose heart and courage for the moment. Only those who have had to make the effort know how difficult it is to be brave at certain times in life. I am speaking not of the courage required for some enterprise or heroic action, but of the quieter courage which holds depression at bay, which braces the soul against anxiety and which ena┬Čbles people to be composed and firm under circumstances of hardship, when doubts as to our own usefulness and prospects occur, or when the pressure of things seems to thwart and even to deny any providence of God within our sphere of life. At such moments, the strain almost overpowers us. David was living the anxious life of a hunted creature, like Hereward the Wake, or Bruee in the Athole country, or Wallace in Ayrshire and the North, obliged to be on his guard against repeated surprises, his nerves aquiver with the tension of pursuit. As he bitterly complained, Saul was chasing him like a partridge among the hills. True, he had first succeeded in outwitting his foe, but at night reaction came over him like a wave. How long could this guerrilla warfare go on? One day the fugitive pretender would be sure to fall into an ambush! He could not expect always to foil the attack of his enemies! And so thinking he lost his heart. "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul."

We must be on our guard against such moments of reaction, especially toward evening, when after the tiring day the body is too exhausted to help the mind against the inroad of oracle fears. Then doubts about our faith and health and work and income rise and shape themselves into dark possibilities of evil, and feelings are apt to get the better of our self-possession, and faith is shaken for the moment. It is a great part of life's management to be on our guard against such apprehensions. Towards night, or when you are run down, whenever reaction sets in, the judgment and the content of faith are apt to be disturbed by fears which either vanish or at any rate shrink to their true proportions in the light of the morning. You are bound to remember that, and to lay your account with it.

The mood is almost constitutional with some. Owing to inherited disposition or to imperfect training, some are tempted to dwell repeatedly upon the darker side of things. They are highly strung, by nature. Their sensitive hearts get easily deprest. The sense of danger, which acts upon certain people like a pacific stimulus, only serves to damp their courage. They belong to the class for which Bunyan, with all the generosity of a strong nature, felt such evident sympathy - Mrs. Despondency, Miss Much-Afraid, Mr. Fearing, Mr. Feeble-Mind, the ready inaction of Giant Despair and of Castle Doubting.

At the same time, neither circumstances nor character can altogether explain the occasional failure of moral courage in life. David, for example, lived in the open air; his body was strong; there was nothing morbid about his habits of life; he loved music and fighting. But nevertheless he was subject to fits of depression and dismay, which discolored life and made God seem actually indifferent or hostile to him. Now, what is to be done, when the spirit is thus overwhelmed within us?

In the first place, there is usually something that can be done. Action is one of the best means of banishing idle shadows from the path. There is this to be said for David, that he never allowed self-pity to benumb his faculties. Despair made him energetic; it drove him at this crisis to seek shelter outside the boundaries of the country for himself and his household. Instead of folding his hands and letting things drift, he did his best to secure a haven for his family and to provide as well as he could for himself. Such is the first note of practical courage in our religious life. Often, to lose heart means, with us, to lose vigor. People brood on their difficulties and perplexities until hardship is allowed to paralyze their faculties of resistance. Now David's example summons us to face our troubles and to make the best of them, instead of sitting down to bemoan ourselves as the victims of fate. We all have our moments of cowardice. Thank God if they are only moments. Thank God if we have enough faith and nerve left to rise, as David did, even with a heavy heart, and put our hand to some business of the day. The mere feeling of movement will help to raise our courage. It will inspire us with the conviction that we are not meant to be mere driftwood, at the mercy of the wild risks and chances of the current. Our very proverb about "rising to the occasion" is based upon this truth.. And to rise to the occasion means that we shake off the selfish torpor of self-pity and depression, standing up to grapple somehow with the difficulties of our lot.

The second mark of returning courage is to get away from the circle of our own feelings, and this is the escape of faith. Remember what David forgot for the moment - God's purpose and God's faithfulness. Long ago he had been chosen from the sheepfold for a career which neither he nor anyone else anticipated. God had lifted him from the country to the court. His vocation had opened up, and now, although everything appeared to contradict this purpose, could it have failed? Could the will of God be shattered or recalled? Was the past experience of His favor accidental or delusive? Such is the heart's logic of the religious man. It is in fact the underlying faith in providence which rallies and restores our nature in its broken hours. Newman once called it the true religion of Great Britain. "What Scripture illustrates from its first page to its last," he declared, is God's providence; and that is nearly the only doctrine held with a real assent by the mass of religious Englishmen. Hence the Bible is so great a solace and refuge to them in trouble. The reason why people draw hope and encouragement in this way is that religion means not simply an ordered view of the universe, which excludes caprice and tyranny alike, but a sense of the divine control and care for the individual. A vague impression of providence would not rally anybody. What is needed to reinforce our moral strength is the conviction of God's personal interest in the single life, and of a wise, loving Will which never fails anyone who loyally follows it at all hazards. No outsider can form any idea of the, change produced in a human soul by this resolute trust in the higher responsibility of God. The center is changed from nervous worry about oneself to a pious reliance on the care of the Lord, and a real but unaccountable sense of security passes into the very secrets of the soul. According to our temperament it takes many forms, from quiet calm to an exulting confidence, but in every form this faith does its perfect work by putting the entire concern of life into God's sure keeping.

Here, then, lies another remedy for nervousness and agitation about our prospects. Even in your hours of panic, when life seems brought to nothing, you can reflect: "After all, I am the object of my Father's care and purpose. I can trust Him absolutely. He has put me here and been with me hitherto. I am not left to myself. I cannot, I will not, believe that He has grown weary of the responsibility for what He made." To say that in your heart is not vanity; it is the sheer trust of faith, won from long experience and still to be verified during the days to come. Unknown as your future may be, you are at the disposal of One whom you have learned to trust, whose management of life you are prepared to accept, not coldly but with a steady and even a cheerful consent. The deepest thing you know about your life is that you are His choice and charge and handiwork.

That naturally opens out into a third source of courage, namely, gratitude. Faith, in order to do its perfect work, needs to pass from dull submission and acquiescence into a habit of thankfulness to God. The spirit of praise ministers to our sense of God's reality by calling up before our mind and heart those acts in which we see His character and from which we are intended to gain a firmer impression of His continuous and personal interest in ourselves. When we thank God, we realize Him more profoundly and intimately than ever. Too often, I am afraid, most of us are thankful to get past some difficulty, and if we remember it at all it is to congratulate ourselves secretly upon the skill and good fortune which carried us over the jolt in the road. But these steps and stages should be precious to the soul. They ought to be accumulating for us, as the years go by, a steady faith in God's sure faithfulness. Now that is impossible unless we are in the habit of saying to ourselves, as each favor comes: "This is the doing of God. I thank thee for this my Father. Thou art very good to me." Dejection is frequently the result of nothing more than a failure to practice this habit of thankfulness. We forget to praise God for His daily mercies, and so they pass away from us without leaving any rich deposit of assurance, as they would have done if we had owned His hand in every one. Now the full good of any deliverance and help is not merely the outward benefit which it confers upon our life. The relief is something. But surely we are also intended to win from it a new confirmation of our faith in God's character and a deeper apprehension of His purpose in relation to ourselves. The repeated acts of God within our personal experience are so many glimpses into the constancy and truth of His will, and it is our privilege to use those, from time to time, in order to learn how surely He can be depended upon. David seems to have forgotten this, for the time being. He had rejoiced over his recent exploit, but he had not allowed it to bear home to him the sense of God's unfailing care, and that was one reason why he lay open to misgivings and fear. It is always so, in human experience, when we face the future without having won from the past a more settled faith in the continuity of God's living will.

Such are some of the methods by means of which religion ministers to strength and constancy of life. Courage indeed varies with our disposition and our training. "The French courage," Byron wrote once to Murray, "proceeds from vanity, the German from phlegm, the Turkish from fanaticism and opium, the Spanish from pride, the English from custom, the Dutch from obstinacy, the Russian from insensibility, but the Italian from anger." A generalization like this is always loose, but it serves to remind us how many forces in life will call out courage; an inspiriting example, sympathy, indignation, pity, the sense of self-respect - any of these will often keep us from breaking down and giving way. Faith can pour strength along these and other channels, but most directly of all it helps us, if it is real, to be self-possest and brave by calling up before us the entire compass of the situation. Where we fail is in forgetting to include the greatest element of all, or in undervaluing it. We leave God out of our estimate. David said, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul." Was there no more in his life than that? I and Saul? What about God? Had life resolved itself into a mere trial of strength between David and his foe? Was there no longer any providence in it? What of the splendid confession before Goliath, "The Lord who delivered me from the power of the lion and the bear will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" Ah, there spoke the true David, the man after God's own heart, who recognized God's hand in the action and passion of his days,. and who was no more sure of his own existence than of God's answer to the faith and effort of the soul.

The sterling courage of religion is to be satisfied with this assurance, to win it from experience and to hold it by due care of the mind and body and by a habit of sincere thankfulness to God. It may be that for a time your life is very different from what you expected. You may have to face difficult passages and dark turns when it is not easy to feel much more than the annoyance and uncertainty and strain that sometimes crowd upon you with disturbing force. There are days when you scarcely venture to look ahead, in case you are unnerved by the prospect. It seems as if almost everything conspired to strip life of its just hope and vitality. When such clouds of physical reaction and brainweariness come down, will you believe that God has not abandoned you? Do not reckon up nervously this chance and that, pitting the one against the other, but fall back on what you know of God's character and goodness in the past, till His word and witness put some fresh hope into your soul.

Say not, The struggle naught availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain;
The enemy faints not, nor faileth
And as things have been, they remain;


Say it not, even in your heart. Believe it not. What does remain is the undying interest of God in you. What faints not, nor faileth, is this redeeming purpose. Don't give way. Whatever you do, do not lose heart and hope, under the gray sky. Tell yourself to wait, to wait for the living God, and see. And you will see what thousands of men and women have rejoiced to see, that, whoever fails you, whatever may be thrust on you or taken from you, nothing, neither life nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, will be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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