Saturday, May 23, 2009


Comic Art


OK, you are a war driven race of shape-shifters, typically at war with the Kree, but you need the earth to continue your quest. Eveytime you try to take earth, you get your butt kicked by four geeks charged up on cosmic rays called the Fantastic Four. What do you do?

Why, what anyone else would do, you genetically engineer one of your own to have the powers of all four of the FF, and call him the Super Skrull. Perhaps the biggest perpetual loser in all of comicdom, Super Skrull gets beaten more regularly that Buddy Rich's set.

So, if this guy is such a loser. why does he not just go away? Well, in my opinion, despite the claims to lameness that are being made about all the old school gimmicky comic book stuff (Composite Superman comes to mind) people like this stuff.

Despite the maturation of comics of the last few decades and the extraordinarily adult nature of some titles like Watchmen, comics are not intended to be "literature" in the sense of Shakespeare. They are intended to be fun, escapist, and just a little bit childish. Like good children's books they can examine very serious topics, themes, and issues, but they need to do so with a light touch and a goofy air.

Super Skrull
is nothing if not goofy. He does supply a avenue to explore the nature of being a perpetual loser.

And then there is that amazing gimmick. The visuals are astounding. Why else would they have repackaged it in the last FF movie?

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Friday, May 22, 2009


There is No Dichotomy!

Milt Stanley links to Jared Wilson on "the gospel of self-improvement.":
The first is a problem of effectiveness: It's not really working at reaching the lost, because the majority of lost persons don't think they need Christianity to become better people. They're already "good" people.


Effectiveness is the language of contemporary evangelicalism, but if the data on the results isn't convincing, the second problem with the gospel of self-improvement is a problem of truth. It's just not the gospel message. It is not what Scripture teaches. It is self-centered, self-focused, self-concerned.
I understand Wilson's point here and agree with it, although I think he and I might disagree on the root causes. Wilson here presents and either/or scenario - "either the gospel is grace or the gospel is change."

I cannot agree with that - the gospel is change by means of grace. I will agree that it is not about "self-improvement" - but it is about changing who we are, and how we behave. Our life does get better when we experience the grace of Christ. Change without grace is self-centered legalism. Grace without change is cheap grace indeed.

If there is a problem with Wilson's analysis here is that it seeks to have the end game of evangelism as "response." We are not called to elicit response. We are called to proclaim the Word. Response is the business of the Holy Spirit, and I truly believe it will take many forms from altar call to quiet contemplation.

There is no dichotomy here, no either/or. What we need to do is learn to preach ALL of the gospel. We need to preach the grace that transforms - not self-improvement, but improvement for Christ's sake.

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Friday Humor

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Thursday, May 21, 2009


Cheap Grace Getting Cheaper

iMonk links to a story from a Kentucky Christian Music fest:
Then evangelist Tony Nolan took the stage to deliver a message and a high-tech take on the invitation for people to commit to the Christian faith. No walking forward to Just As I Am, Without One Plea here. Winter Jam goers were told to text “Tony” to 38714, and they would receive a text with more information about where to go for information. Winter Jam organizers estimated 2,500 people responded to that invitation Saturday night.
Spenser comments sarcastically about alter calls in any form:
Will churches be far behind? Will denominations be able to resist a new way to register “decisions” for Jesus? Will it be long before I hear this from a teenager: “Well, I texted the preacher at Winter Jam, so yeah, I’m a Christian.”
But then, in an effort to temper his rant, I think he misses the real problem here:
Don’t get me wrong. The invitation can be combined with the Gospel rightly proclaimed, and in that case texting is no worse than any other invitation...
How can the gospel be rightly proclaimed based on a text message?! Part of the Gospel message, one of the more important parts, has to do with incarnation - the whole Word became flesh thing. No flesh in text message!

I am no fan of head counts for altar calls, not buying the whole X thousand added to the Kingdom because they walked the aisle thing. I have always viewed the altar call as a means of identifying those that have found appeal in the message and then building relationship with them, and leading them forward.

But a text message, resulting in "more information" builds nothing but isolation. Spencer carries on about the theology of not having "to do" anything to become a Christian. Agreed, but we are to be Christin in community - in relationship, in flesh. An altar call can start a relationship and can press flesh. That's not becoming a Christian, but it is part of the process.

Pressing buttons on a cell phone builds a mailing list, but not much else.

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Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Where It All Starts

Bruce Reyes-Chow recently put up a post that should be written by every pastor in every church in the world:
From the "Um . . . tell us something we didn't already know" file, pastors don't really know what the heck they are doing.


I firmly believe that many of us pastors experience burnout because we cannot fathom the public acknowledgment that we do not have it all together and fully understand "God's plan" for our lives. We are so driven by the doing of ministry and the need for acknowledgment and success that we sometimes justify this yearning by dismissing any brokenness its pursuit may create as part of our sacrifice to God. In an attempt to move closer to God by our successes we move further away from God by distancing ourselves from those whom God lives through all around us. I struggle with this all the time in my own need for recognition and influence and its effect of family, community and my own well-being. What pursuits are of God, what are simply driven by my own vanity and can we ever fully separate the two?
I hesitate slightly on this one because in some cases I have seen the whole "fallible pastor" thing has resulted in a loss of any sense of holiness about the church at all, but then holiness should not be dependent on leadership, but the congregation. This fact tells us something about institutional organization, not just leadership.

I have said repeatedly that I am Presbyterian because I believe it is the best way to organize a church. But any organizational scheme requires people with the right talents in the right places. In the true Presbyterian system, pastors do not lead the congregation except in limited areas - the Session does. I truly believe that what has happened in our church is as much a failure of ordained lay leadership as it is clerical leadership. But then I also think clerical leadership has failed to develop in lay leadership what is required. - or they need to go recruit it for their congregation.

I increasingly see churches where staff views Session as annoyance and almost "us v them" mentality develops. Either that, or I see Session reduced to insignificance, something that the church does to keep its Presbyterian charter. but once the budget is approved, the Session sees nothing that actually matters, and the budget discussion is so carefully controlled as to give the Session little choice.

Bruce starts in the right place by "confessing" his inabilities. It is the place that every single one of us should start. I confess that I cannot preach worth a tinker's doggone. So now what?

May I suggest that we work, diligently, to function like the genuine body of Christ. To actually use all the gifts that are around us, which means using all the people around the church. One of the major products of humility is giving up control.

Funny, the institution builds the character which builds the institution.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Worshipping Yourself

Milt Stanley links to some amazing words:
The God Evangelicals claim allegiance to in our day is just as unknown, in the sense he is hardly recognizable when compared to the God of the Bible. Many of us are quick to point out the obvious excesses and extremes of those who are blatantly peddling their wares on TV and radio in the name of God so they can sit in gold plated chairs, drive Rolls Royce’s and Bentley’s, and enjoy lavish lifestyles at the expense of the ignorant. Meanwhile the God we profess to know, while slightly more moral than the one of the “you write it and I’ll cash it for Jesus” crowd, is a dependent weakling compared to the God of Holy Scriptures.

The God of the vast majority of self proclaimed “Christians” is one who thinks humans are the center of the universe and his chief purpose of being God is to make them happy and prosperous. You know, the God Joel Osteen supposedly speaks for every Sunday on TV. You don’t hear much about God followers being thrown to the lions or being sawed into from Osteen and others like him. Even those who don’t approve of Joel Osteen because of his perceived weakness on “sound doctrine” still largely buy into his grand idea of a man centered world populated by people, each of whom can have a heavenly father who is no more than a supernatural concierge who is waiting to supply their next wish list.
How do we approach God, as a means to an end, or as the end itself?

Well, the fact of the matter is, He is both. The problem is we are all too stupid to know what our real desires are.

Did you ever want something for Christmas so bad that you thought you would die if you did not get it. Think Ralphie and BB gun in that movie that we have all now seen so many times we can recite it better than scripture. (Yes, that is a bit of a dig.) Did it ever end up being far less fun than you thought? My chemistry set comes to mind. And all you really get is disappointment. I did far better chemistry buying crap on my own than that pre-packaged and entirely too safe piece of fluff. (I made gunpowder in first grade, on my own - find that in a chemistry set!) And what passes for a chemistry set these days - forget about it!

Anyway, think about how we live our lives in that perpetual state. We keep wanting something and reaching for the wrong thing. We create little gods when what we want is GOD.

Your little gods may not be mammon - I know mine aren't. But they are there. For me its knowledge. Sometimes I encounter people that behave in fashions I cannot understand, and they refuse to explain themselves. I get obsessive. It is the puzzle I must solve.

What's your little god? What are you doing to find the real God that lies behind the desire?

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Monday, May 18, 2009


Nice and Evil


I am willing to bet most will answer, quickly - Yes! But stop and think about it for a minute. Let's consider a couple of posts on the same blog, but written by two different people. The first, by Matt Anderson, is advice to a person wronged. It's good advice, but it is in some sense, cruel. It advises a poor and tortured soul to, more or less, continue to stew in the emotional torture and trust God to work it out. Again, good advice, but in my experience cruel. When faced with injustice I typically find action better than inaction - smiting preferable to prayer - so much so, I find the suppression of those emotional urges to be almost physically painful.

Then there is this post by Tex in which he argues that political decisions are, currently, made with a bent to compassion, and little else. In other words, Tex seems to think political decision are made to be perceived as "nice." Tex even points out that sometimes nice is anything but, and that such is relatively easy to see on the micro scale:
A child comes to her mother, math homework in one hand while wiping away tears of frustration with the other. Mom, being the loving and caring sort, sees her daughter’s predicament and is filled with pity. Her pity motivates her to try and help her daughter, but her prudential wisdom, her understanding of her daughter’s real needs, and her beliefs about growth and education will determine if her pity moves her to do her daughter’s homework for her, or to sit down and help instruct her on the finer details of long division.
(Tex leaves out an alternative more commonly practiced today than any of us would care to realize - the mother decides it is the school that is cruel for making her precious one learn long division in the age of the calculator and begins a crusade, attacking the school, the curriculum, and personally lambasting the teacher. This just proves that "nice" can be terribly selective.)

In every case here the problem appears to me to be one of perspective. Do we focus on ourselves or the other? In the case Matt is discussing, his advice may appear cruel, but his point is God has a bigger picture in mind that we may not have. Short term satisfaction may feel good and therefore seem nice, but if it harms the long term good, it can be anything but. So the case with the child and the homework.

The political case(s) Tex discusses are the most personal of all. Decisions are often made by our nation to be perceived as kind and compassionate - which, if you think about it is entirely self-serving. Short-sighted people perceive things in a short-sighted manner, but that is not reality, nor is it necessarily "nice."

The nicest teacher I ever had was Merle Schulenberg - high school chemistry. Spent two semesters calling me, publicly and often, "retard." Did I hate it - absolutely. Then I started college chemistry and absolutely beat the crap out of everyone else in the department. What was Merle doing? Well, he knew I had a talent for chemistry so he ratcheted the bar higher for me than the rest of the class. Anything less than perfection and the accusations of "stupid" came flying my way. Motivation - that's all it was. (There are lessons about my acquaintance Bob Knight in here somewhere too.)

Just remember this, God's character is good, but it is far from nice. He has obliterated civilizations, destroyed cities, and even murdered His own son.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009


Sermons and Lessons


How to Have a Good Time

It is to be noted that almost everyone associates happiness or pleasure with time. Hence we speak of depressions, plagues, hot and cold wars as “bad times,” while pleasant companionship, good dinners and evenings out are identified with having a “good time.” Seneca has said “Time hath often cured the wound which reason failed to heal”; on the other hand, Doctor Johnson observes: “You cannot give an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.”

A “good” time is one of those catchwords which actually belies the true nature of happiness. The truth of the matter is that the greatest pleasures and joys come when we are unconscious of time.

The more conscious we are of the passing time, the less we enjoy ourselves. The clock watcher never enjoys his work. “Serving time,” a description of imprisonment, is synonymous with unhappiness and confinement. One prisoner who was sentenced to five years said to the judge: “I’ll not live that long.” The judge said: “At least, you can try.” Boredom is in part due to the inability to fill up time. People who overstay their time in visiting make one appreciate the reflection of Benjamin Franklin: “Fish and visitors smell after three days.” Once a visitor who had been standing on the doorstep for an hour, relating new items of gossip, finally said to her hostess: “I know there is something I forgot to say.” The hostess retoned: “Maybe it was ‘good-by?” The very phrase “killing time” signifies that existence in time can be depressing. A number of very obvious pleasures, and sometimes highly intellectual pursuits, are nothing else than “pass-times” by which man seeks to forget his temporality. The less conscious we are of the passing of time, the more we enjoy ourselves. In moments of sheer delight, we say: “The time simply flew”

Romantic love gets beyond time by eternalizing the present second; it makes time stand still, and tries to get beyond its succession by obliterating the past or future. The present moment of ecstasy, the dance, the music, the moonlight and a drive through the park, the joys surrounding graduation, all are rendered static; what is now will always be, without change or alteration. Movies, novels, short stories, and particularly narratives with passion as the theme, take a segment of life or time and, by an intense description of that moment, make it stand for life itself

A young woman once brought a young man to see her father. Her father objected, saying: “He earns only $25 a week.” “I know; Daddy,” she answered “but when you’re in love, time passes so quickly”

Another evidence of the connection between timelessness and happiness is found in the fact that the “old men dream dreams, the young men see visions.” Both old and young seek to escape the moment in which they live; the young look forward in hope to better days, the old look back in retrospect and memory to the “good old days.” The old man becomes, in the language of Horace, “laudator temporis acti.” Youth wishes to hurry time; old age tries to slow it down.

Time makes it impossible to combine our pleasures. It prevents us from making a dub sandwich out of the various enjoyments of life. The mere fact that I exist in time makes it impossible for me to march in the army of Alexander and in the army of Caesar at the same time; it forbids the simultaneous thrill of Alpine ascents and Riviera pastimes; I cannot sit down to tea with both Homer and Vergil, or enjoy simultaneously listening to Aquinas on philosophy and Da Vinci on painting. We often see signs by the roadway which say: “Dine and dance,” but no one can do both at the same time.

Temporal goods cannot be enjoyed all at once. The characteristic of the temporal enjoyment of various goods and objects is that they must be enjoyed in succession. Some begin where others leave off. When something new comes, something that we had before is taken away. We cannot have the ripe wisdom and the reflective serenity of maturity together with the impetuousness and the adventurousness of youth. All are good; yet none can be enjoyed except in the season of life appropriate to it. What is true individually is true socially. However much we may gain by what we call the advance in civilization, something has to be surrendered. For instance, our life is being made more secure, but with greater security there is a loss of adventure.

Real happiness brings together all the joys we have ever had, concentrating them in one focal point, bringing together the thrill of living at every second of existence from infancy to maturity; the joys of discovering truth, such as the scientist, the philosopher may have; the ecstasy of love, whether it be a patriot’s for his country, a priest’s for his Lord, a spouse’s for his spouse. To intensify all this happiness in one focal point we would have to be outside time.

Happiness then has something to do with escape from time. But there can be a true and a false escape from time. First, we shall concern ourselves with the false, or the neurotic, escape from time. Time necessarily implies consciousness, and consciousness implies responsibility. One of the joys of sleep is its delightful irresponsibility. False escapes from time have something to do with flight from the burden of self-existence and responsibility.

Doctor Adler, the psychiatrist, has said: “Time is the neurotic’s worst enemy and the degree of precision with which a man succeeds in solving the problem of time is one of the measures of his normality” A German philosopher, Franz von Baader, has written on The Sufferings of Temporized Man. Marcel Proust believes that time has a corrosive effect on us like “water of mineral springs on the objects immersed in it.” A Spanish philosopher, Diego Ruiz, says: Tempus est dolor. There are various neurotic ways of escaping time; one is by opiates, which here stand for all forms of inducing unconsciousness to the passing of time. The empty soul which feels its emptiness seeks to put itself in a state of irresponsibility. The futility, the sterility, the gnawing of conscience, all of which are incidental to existence in time, cannot be endured. The self can be forgotten only by getting outside of time or consciousness. The narcotic which dopes the hunger of the soul enables a man to escape both his own misery, which he knows, and his possible salvation, which he knows not. The overemphasis on the unconscious represents also a flight from self, not only because too much self-analysis tends to break up into tiny fragments the unity and autonomy of personality, but also because the unconscious is identified with that for which we are not responsible.

Another neurotic way of killing time is by surrounding oneself with noise. Noise drowns out the consciousness of self and its passage through time. Silence becomes unbearable, because it makes the self reflective; noise, however, keeps one externalized. The neurotic regards stillness as a privation of movement, and silence as a structural flaw in the everlasting flow of noise. Silence becomes identified with emptiness. The Greek word for school was schola, which means “leisure.” Education was inseparable from a certain amount of silence and freedom from pressure.

As Aldous Huxley wrote: “The twentieth century is among other things the age of noise . . . that most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper of course than the eardrums, it penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions - news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on wood pulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose - to prevent the will from ever achieving silence.”

Another neurotic escape from time is flight and speed.

The opposite of flight is leisure, which implies a quiet mind, in a comparatively stationary body. Almost all the producers of great art and thought have been stationary. Socrates never left Greece, and rarely Athens. Kant never left Koenigsberg. Leonardo da Vinci restricted himself to northern Italy, and Bach stayed permanently in Leipzig. Schubert spent most of his life around Vienna. Wordsworth, except for three years, remained in Westmoreland. Doctor Johnson staved in Lon don most of the time. Today, in contrast, many writers are expatriates: they have uprooted themselves from their countries as they have uprooted themselves from tradition. Their restlessness of soul translates itself into a restlessness of body. Incessant movement keeps them from making the greatest voyage of all - the discovery of self.

Max Picard says that our love of speed is a flight from God, a way of escaping the Great Pursuer, or what Francis Thompson has called “the Hound of Heaven.” The man of faith, when he takes to flight, enters into himself. Today, flight is purely external. Hence we try to speed through time in order to fly from our origins and to escape the dread of being driven back within ourselves and being confronted with the spirit. Thanks to speed, man has gained the illusion that all things are subject to him. Like a mighty conqueror, lie mounts his chariot, and all things pass by. In a world of faith man knows that God is everywhere. As the Psalmist put it: “If I go to hell, even there His power is present, if I go to Heaven, there He reigns.” In darkness, in flight, and in repose, God sees and knows me. By flight and speed, man hopes to escape this ubiquity of God. God is permanence amid man tries to escape Him by constant change and movement. Speed, for the neurotic, is not something physical, it is some thing mental. This is not just a love of objective speed, but of subjective speed. It is a way of affirming his egotism through an identification of the ego with the power of the machine. It seems to annihilate time, but wholly in a neurotic way.

If time is an obstacle to true happiness, because it makes it impossible for us to combine our pleasures, it follows that the only way we can be really happy is by completely getting out¬side time, so that there is no “before” or “after,” but, in the descriptive Latin words, tota simul. Tota: all enjoyments of which our personality is capable. Simul: simultaneously, that is, without any succession.

If happiness consists in transcending time, it follows that no complete happiness can be found until eternity, when there will be a total fulfillment of the deepest aspirations of the soul. But what are these? Suppose each of us could take out his heart amid put it into his hand as a kind of crucible, to distill out of it its inmost yearnings and aspirations; what would he find them to be?

The first condition of happiness is life, for what good would riches and power be without the life to enjoy them? And the life we want is not for five more minutes or five more years, but always - an endless, ageless, timeless life.

The second requisite for happiness is the possession of truth. We were made to know. But it is not so much truths we want to know, not isolated bits of information, but all truth - not, for instance, the truths of science alone, to the exclusion of the truths of theology, or literature, or music, but total truth. To be happy, our mind must be bathed in light and knowledge and for this we must perceive truth, not in fragments, but altogether in some complete and timeless perception.

The third requisite for happiness is love. It is not good for man to be alone. But this love must be timeless; therefore it must not age, or decay, or lose its ecstasy.

Though these are the conditions of happiness, we find that all of them are made impossible by the mere fact that we are in time. Life in its fullness is not to be found here, because here in time life is mingled with death. Neither is truth found here. Consider how often the prejudices of youth are corrected by study; how often those who come to mock remain to pray; how often, too, the more we study the less we feel we know, because we see the new avenues of knowledge down which we might travel for a lifetime. Neither is love in its fullness here, for while we are in time, love has its moments of satiety; even when love does remain fine and noble, a day must come when the laborer’s shoulders are unburdened, the last embrace is passed from friend to friend. Nothing that ends can be perfect.

None of these conditions of happiness is to be found totally and completely here. But we are not to be cynics and say that happiness does not exist at all, for if there is a part there must be a whole, if we have a shadow there must be a light. It is like looking for the source of light in a television studio. It is not to be found under the cameras or the desk, for in those places, light is mingled with shadow. So, too, our reason tells us that we, if we are to find Life amid Truth and Love, must go to a Life that is not mingled with its shadow, death; to a Truth that is not mingled with its shadow, error; and to a Love that is not mingled with its shadow, hate. We must go out to something that is Pure Life, Pure Truth, and Pure Love; that is the definition of God, and the possession of God is happiness.

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