Saturday, April 11, 2009
Many people read comics and "fall in love" with the villains - they reach an iconic status that for this guy is hard to understand. Boba Fet or Darth Vader would be classic examples for me. Why all the focus on them - they are just fodder for the Jedi blade. But there is one bad guy, opposite Batman, that when he is done right, he absolutely steals the show - Two-Face.
Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, did not really come into his own as a villain until the 1980's. His appearances were rare before then, but after Miller reinvented the Crusader in the '80's and Andrew Helfer reinvented Two-Face in the wake of that in the book you see on right here (my personal nominee for best written comic book - ever), well Harvey went from a gimmick to the real deal.
Now, what ever you do, do not let the movies tell you about this guy. The Tommy Lee Jones portrayal from the Joel Schumacher/Val Kilmer film was awful - just awful. Jones is better than that, but I think Jim Carrey's over-acted Riddler and that ridiculous make-up forced Jones over the top - not to mention the script from hell. Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face from the most recent film is much better, but still falls short of the the mark. Harvey Dent is no man's pawn, not even the Joker. In fact the Two-Face I know and love would have killed Joker for the attempt - which, by the way, would have deepened the hero/villain chasm that defines this character and made him that much more interesting.
Nope, if you want to know Two-Face, and trust me, you do, you want to find yourself a copy of Batman Annual #14. You want to read it over and over and over again, and you will find the real nemesis Batman has always deserved. Both Harvey and the Joker are capable of unspeakable evil, but unlike Joker, Two-Face is redeemable - and therein lies the deliciousness of the character.
And the key question is - if Batman is ever able to permanently redeem Harvey Dent can he find the redemption he needs so deeply?
Friday, April 10, 2009
Good Friday Art
Stranger Than Fiction
So instead of worrying about the day when computers try to take over the world, we ought to worry about the day when humans, using the latest technology, attempt to do the same. As our lives become more and more integrated with and dependent on technology, and as computers gain potential for advancing both good and evil, that’s the attack of the machines that won’t have to be filmed on a backlot in Hollywood.I think that analysis correct, but I also think it fails to examine the why. Of course, the writer here, Ryan Sayre Patrico, seems to think AI a remote possibility, something I am not so sure about, at least in a limited sense. Passage of the Turing Test is indeed a long way away, but artificial "intelligence" within a well bounded space is already achievable (chess for example).
It will unfold in our own backyards.
But the essential point that Patrico makes is that machines are morally neutral. Even in most science fiction stories in which AI "takes over," (I, Robot) they do so out of a stance of moral neutrality, or because they do not know how to respond to human morality (2001). In other words, artificial intelligence does not equate to humanity.
We are confronted once again with the age old question - what defines us? Evolutionary theory would say it is intelligence - but as we have just seen - there is more to humanity than mere intelligence. Is it morality that defines us as essentially human?
Or is morality just another evolutionary result? Not hardly.
But even that does not make us "human." No, what makes us human is the image of God that resides within.
What saddens me is how few Christians truly try to grasp that essential humanity. We revel in our brokenness, cheapen grace, settling for being less than fully human. The church, for the sake of apparent survival, caters to this desire to grasp less than the full gospel.
Christ was the ultimate humanist, for it is only through Him that we discover our true and full humanity. Why do we look elsewhere, and why do we accept so much less?
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Thursday, April 09, 2009
The Lord Will Bless
For decades, many religious organizations have sought federal funding for social ministry programs. The logic is understandable, and there is no doubt that religious institutions and organizations are often far more effective and efficient in delivering these services. The refusal to fund these programs would, in essence, represent a discrimination against these religious organizations. The Bush administration was right to see this as both wrong and costly.I have to agree with that on a very practical basis, but I think there is a different and better reason for Mohler's advice in this apparently hopeless day.
Nevertheless, I would never advise a Christian organization to participate in these federal programs or to receive tax monies. The brutal reality is that when government money flows, government regulation inevitably follows. Furthermore, taking government money sets a bad precedent and can easily become a seductive snare. When government policies violate the organization's convictions, or when regulations would require a compromise of those convictions, government funding is a trap.
We have a very different source of hope than the world - and ours is the only source which will ultimately supply.
Ps 121:1-2God provides.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Not the government, not our employers, heck not even our own hard work. Just God.
When an agency, ministering in God's name, turns to the government teat for funding, it denies the fact that God provides.
There are lessons to be learned through all of this. When I was in professional ministry, I always had a hard time raising money. I ran a perpetual slight deficit. Never enough to actually shut things down, but just enough to nag. Since I left professional ministry there have been hard times, there have been tight times, but there have never been deficit times. God has supplied. Do you think just maybe implicit in those facts is the idea that I was supposed to be doing something besides professional ministry? I certainly do.
Maybe the right question to ask in these uncertain times is not "Where is the money going to come from?" - maybe the right question is "What should I be doing differently?" That is a hard question to ask - it's a scary question to ask. But remember:
That is all you really need to know.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Rely on Goodness
I really though about him when Milt Stanley linked to this interesting post.
But there’s a ginormous difference between the tantalizing idea that our faith will cause good things to happen to us, and the biblical portrayal of authentic faith: believing that God is powerful and good no matter what happens to us.I have been fascinated in recent weeks by the national mood phenomena we are facing. I don't share it. I have had my moments of doubt and fear, too be certain, but I keep coming back to the fact that things have been much worse in my lifetime and that my God has brought me through them.
The first one is based only on our groundless and wispy hopes. The second one is based on God’s proven wisdom and strength. That’s the point Paul was trying to make in his famous declaration of faith: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
I find it fascinating that the most identifiably evangelical president of my lifetime, Jimmy Carter, delivered the least hope-filled speech I have ever heard. I compare that to the speeches of Winston Churchill at what truly was Britain's darkest modern hour (in the wake of Dunkirk):
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on thebeaches , we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.Note his reliance on God's good time! And so I return to Peale. Argue his theology all you want, but please do not argue his essential message - There is hope, and God's good time is at hand.
If you are a Christian in the world today, I think you have a mission, we all do. And that mission is to rely on God's goodness and to take hope from it. That mission is to both act and speak with hope. If you have no hope, get on your knees, confess your lack thereof, and ask God to supply what you need - for He will.
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009
For Better or Worse - Good or Bad
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has tapped a 13-member committee to investigate the place same-sex unions should have in Christianity and wider society and issue a report in 2010.When one becomes a minister in our denomination, one must answer the following question positively:
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal, and God’s word to you?It seems to me that if you do so there is little room in the church for same-sex union - SAVE FOR THE LOVE WE FEEL FOR ANY AND ALL SINNERS. Society may do what society may do, but inside the church, we must follow our holy guidance.
But this part made me glad:
Reyes-Chow said the committee is part of a Presbyterian belief in communal discernment.I do love my Presbyterian tradition of "communal discernment." I have seen too many leader heavy churches go so wrong.
"In the end it may take longer and it may be more frustrating," Reyes-Chow said, "but it's the best way to determine (guidelines) for our church."
Why do I stick with the PC(USA) - the same reason God sticks with us - I love it.
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Monday, April 06, 2009
Drinking or Draining
There are two kinds of Christians.Now, this is a brilliant metaphor - as far as it goes. And I think that anyone that reads it and thinks about it for even a minute will be drawn to it. But if you think about it - it contains some problems.
“Sink Christians” view salvation like they would a sink. The water of salvation flows into the sink so that Christians can soak up all the benefits:
“Faucet Christians” view salvation differently. They look at the world as the sink and themselves as the faucet.
The biggest one is that a faucet, unless it is connected to some good plumbing, is just a useless hunk of polished metal, or in some cases plastic. The actual performance of the faucet is only as good as it's connection. A faucet is not a source, it is a conduit.
The gospel does not "flow" from us - it flows through us, and we forget that at our peril. It is not our job to bring salvation to the world - That is Christ's job - it is our job to be His instruments in that effort.
Being Christ's man or woman is a call to a double sort of selflessness. We must be selfless to our God and we must be selfless to the other. It is too easy to take pride in the "service" we render. It is too easy to lay claim as our own to the actions of the Holy Spirit.
I hope you are a faucet Christian, I just pray you remember where the water comes from.
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Sunday, April 05, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Be not conformed to this world: but be ye trans¬formed by the renewing of your mind. - Rom. 12:2
“Do not conform” is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo. Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance, and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three.
Even certain of our intellectual disciplines persuade us of the need to conform. Some philosophical sociologists suggest that morality is merely group consensus and that the folkways are the right ways. Some psychologists say that mental and emotional adjustment is the reward of thinking and acting like other people.
Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.
In spite of this prevailing tendency to conform, we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists. The Apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith, counseled, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability. We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty.
Every true Christian is a citizen of two worlds, the world of time and the world of eternity. We are, paradoxically, in the world and yet not of the world. To the Philippian Christians, Paul wrote, “We are a colony of heaven.” They understood what he meant, for their city of Philippi was a Roman colony. When Rome wished to Romanize a province, she established a small colony of people who lived by Roman law and Roman customs and who, though in another country, held fast to their Roman allegiance. This powerful, creative minority spread the gospel of Roman culture. Although the analogy is imperfect - the Roman settlers lived within a framework of injustice and exploitation, that is, colonialism - the Apostle does point to the responsibility of Christians to imbue an unchristian world with the ideals of a higher and more noble order. Living in the colony of time, we are ultimately responsible to the empire of eternity As Christians we must never surrender our supreme loyalty to any time-bound custom or earth bound idea, for at the heart of our universe is a higher reality - God and his kingdom of love - to which we must be conformed.
This command not to conform comes, not only from Paul, but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.
When an affluent society would coax us to believe that hap¬piness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
When we would yield to the temptation of a world rife with sexual promiscuity and gone wild with a philosophy of self expression, Jesus tells us that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When in our spiritual pride we boast of having reached the peak of moral excellence, Jesus warns, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
When we, through compassionless detachment and arrogant individualism, fail to respond to the needs of the underprivileged, the Master says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up in hate toward our enemies, Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray fir them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity.
In spite of this imperative demand to live differently, we have cultivated a mass mind and have moved from the extreme of rugged individualism to the even greater extreme of rugged collectivism. We are not makers of history; we are made by history. Longfellow said, “In this world a man must either be anvil or hammer,” meaning that he is either a molder of society or is molded by society. Who doubts that today most men are anvils and are shaped by the patterns of the majority? Or to change the figure, most people, and Christians in particular, are thermometers that record or register the temperature of majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature of society.
Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Along with this has grown an inordinate worship of bigness. We live in an age of ‘jumboism” where men find security in that which is large and extensive - big cities, big buildings, big corporations. This worship of size has caused many to fear being identified with a minority idea. Not a few men, who cherish lofty and noble ideals, hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different. Many sincere white people in the South privately oppose segregation and discrimination, but they are apprehensive lest they be publicly condemned. Millions of citizens are deeply disturbed that the military-industrial complex too often shapes national policy; but they do not want to be considered unpatriotic. Countless loyal Americans honestly feel that a world body such as the United Nations should include even Red China, but they fear being called Communist sympathizers. A legion of thoughtful persons recognizes that traditional capitalism must continually undergo change if our great national wealth is to be more equitably distributed, but they are afraid their criticisms will make them seem un-American. Numerous decent, whole¬some young persons permit themselves to become involved in unwholesome pursuits which they do not personally condone or even enjoy, because they are ashamed to say no when the gang says yes. How few people have the audacity to express publicly their convictions, and how many have allowed them¬selves to be “astronomically intimidated”!
Blind conformity makes us so suspicious of an individual who insists on saying what he really believes that we recklessly threaten his civil liberties. If a man, who believes vigorously in peace, is foolish enough to carry a sign in a public demonstration, or if a Southern white person, believing in the American dream of the dignity and worth of human personality, dares to invite a Negro into his home and join with him in his struggle for freedom, he is liable to be summoned before some legislative investigation body. He most certainly is a Communist if he espouses the cause of human brotherhood!
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” To the conformist and the shapers of the conformist mentality, this must surely sound like a most dangerous and radical doctrine. Have we permitted the lamp of independent thought and individualism to become so dim that were Jefferson to write and live by these words today we would find cause to harass and investigate him? If Americans permit thought-control, business-control, and freedom-control to continue, we shall surely move within the shadows of fascism.
Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion. The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war, and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God. Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows. Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.
We preachers have also been tempted by the enticing cult of conformity. Seduced by the success symbols of the world, we have measured our achievements by the size of our parsonage. We have become showmen to please the whims and caprices of the people. We preach comforting sermons and avoid saying anything from our pulpits which might disturb the respectable views of the comfortable members of our congregations. Have we ministers of Jesus Christ sacrificed truth on the altar of self-interest and, like Pilate, yielded our convictions to the demands of the crowd?
We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right. Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants. Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests. Finally, they captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ.
Gradually, however, the church became so entrenched in wealth and prestige that it began to dilute the strong demands of the gospel and to conform to the ways of the world. And ever since the church has been a weak and ineffectual trumpet making uncertain sounds. If the church of Jesus Christ is to regain once more its power, message, and authentic ring, it must conform only to the demands of the gospel.
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!
In his essay “Self-Reliance” Emerson wrote, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” The Apostle Paul re¬minds us that whoso would be a Christian must also be a nonconformist. Any Christian who blindly accepts the opinions of the majority and in fear and timidity follows a path of expediency and social approval is a mental and spiritual slave. Mark well these words from the pen of James Russell Lowell:
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.
Nonconformity in itself, however, may not necessarily be good and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power. Nonconformity per se contains no saving value, and may represent in some circumstances little more than a form of exhibitionism. Paul in the latter half of the text offers a formula for constructive nonconformity: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Nonconformity is creative when it is controlled and directed by a transformed life and is constructive when it embraces a new mental outlook. By opening our lives to God in Christ we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists and freed from the cold hardheartedness and self-righteousness so often characteristic of nonconformity. Someone has said, “I love reforms but I hate reformers.” A reformer may be an untransformed nonconformist whose rebellion against the evils of society has left him annoyingly rigid and unreasonably impatient.
Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed nonconformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience which is an excuse to do nothing. And this very transformation saves him from speaking irresponsible words which estrange without reconciling and from making hasty judgments which are blind to the necessity of social progress. He recognizes that social change will not come overnight, yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility.
This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.
Some years ago Professor Bixler reminded us of the danger of overstressing the well-adjusted life. Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted. We must, of course, be well-adjusted if we are to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities, but there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted. I confess that I never intend to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. We need today maladjusted men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who, when ordered by King Nebuchadnezzar to bow before a golden image, said in unequivocal terms, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. . . . But if not . . . we will not serve thy gods”; like Thomas Jefferson, who in an age adjusted to slavery wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”; like Abraham Lincoln, who had the wisdom to discern that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; and supremely like our Lord, who, in the midst of the intricate and fascinating military machinery of the Roman Empire, reminded his disciples that “they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Through such maladjustment an already decadent generation may be called to those things which make for peace.
Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter ask, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?” But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering.
In these days of worldwide confusion, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth. We need Christians who will echo the words John Bunyan said to his jailer when, having spent twelve years in jail, he was promised freedom if he would agree to stop preaching:
But if nothing will do, unless I make of my conscience a continual butchery and slaughter-shop, unless, putting out my own eyes, I commit me to the blind to lead me, as I doubt is desired by some, I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.
We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds? Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul-saving music of eternity? More than ever before we are today challenged by the words of yesterday, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”