Saturday, June 06, 2009
Every grouping of superheroes needs a villain that is a time traveller, it just allows for those incredibly complex plots that allow for 100's of characters. For no group is that more important than the generational spanning Justice Society of America. And they have a goody of a time traveller in Per Degaton. Born in the forges of Nazism, Per Degaton makes the average time traveller look like a kitten. to call this guy a meglomaniac is to understate the case. And yet, at a time when most classic comic villains have had to be reinvented because Nazism simply does not fill the national consciousness anymore, Per Degaton has remained fairly close to his original conceptions.
There is something near perfect about the symmetry of the duel between Degaton and the JSA. I really love the JSA books because they are one of the last vestiges of what super heroics should be about. Oh the younger generations have all the foibles (drug addiction, infidelity, yada, yada, yada) that sells so many comic books these days, but the older guys always come in and remind the youngsters of what it means to be a superhero. It is, actually, about being better.
And Degaton, born in Nazisim, is always a reminder that real, genuine evil exists. The horrors of Hitler's Reich was the last evil this world was willing to look square in the face. It is still out there, but it is buried on page 3 as we try to live our lives in comfort or pretend such evil is only the stuff of fiction - on TV.
But in Degaton, that last great evil lives and each new generation must see and fight it - and in so doing he illuminates the evil that is real today.
Everyone ought to read the JSA/Degation stories.
Friday, June 05, 2009
One Sentence Wonder
Sometimes I think that in our efforts to be all that we can be when it comes to Christ, we make Him entirely too complicated.in what may be the shortest and one of the most powerful blog posts I have ever read.
I cannot think of any idea that better describes so much of what goes on, particularly in Christian blogging. We talk endlessly and with apparent "depth" about the most arcane of topics, but how much of it makes a difference in our day-to-day existence? How much of a difference does your particular view of the atonement matter when confronted with a grieving parishioner? How important is it whether you are pre- or post-millennial when tempted with internet pornography? Does the particular translation of scripture matter that much when you want someone to understand that Jesus died and was resurrected for them?
We seem to forget one essential fact - Jesus was a person - Jesus is a person - and being a Christian is all about being with that person.
During the heart of last presidential primaries, with my support of Mitt Romney, I heard over and over how Mormons worship a "different Jesus." I have never heard a more baffling statement in my entire life. Jesus Christ was an historical figure. There is only one. Now, admittedly, Mormons have a very different understanding of who he was in relationship to the rest of the trinity, and their understanding of His ministry is quite different than my own, but that does not make Him any different.
We really do complicate Christ. That does not, by the way, mean that all of the stuff we do is worthless, it simply means that we have to keep it in perspective. We have to remember the difference between what we are saying about Jesus and Jesus himself.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
I Want To Be Seriously Happy
We sing happy songs and smile. Smiling is, in fact, the new outward face of the “good Christian.” Our popular pastors are always smiling and well-tanned. I have no problem with smiling and tans, I just have a problem with happy. Happy, happy, happy. It’s too happy. I know, we’re told to “rejoice evermore.” Rejoicing is much different than happy.Folks, I agree that when it comes to ministering to those in pain, it is an act of denial to just "put a happy face on it" and try to get them to move on. But Christianity does make me happy. Later in the post, Jeff Weddle says this with which I deeply disagree:
We say happy platitudes to each other, “Just have faith, brother!” Followed by the patronizing grasp of the shoulder and the comforting smile. Rah, rah, rah, go win one for the Gipper.
There’s so much happiness that I wonder if anyone is even in Christianity, you know, like, for real. Pharisees prayed great prayers about being better than everyone. Christ commended the sinner who couldn’t lift his eyes to heaven. Pharisees strike me as winkers. You know winkers. Winkers are the people who are happy, smiling door greeters, who say “Hey, this is the day the Lord has made! Amen?” Wink. They have everything figured out. No sticking points. Life is good. Wink wink. Check out Proverbs 10:10 about winkers.
Christianity is not about making this life better; it is about making our eternity perfect. A. W. Tozer said, “For myself, I long ago decided that I would rather know the truth than be happy in ignorance. If I cannot have both truth and happiness, give me truth. We’ll have a long time to be happy in heaven.”If Christianity in not making your life better right now, then you are not truly plugged into Christianity. Knowing the truth will, in fact make you much happier than living in ignorance. The real question is how much of the truth do you actually know.
Do you remember when you were a child and something made you unhappy? You cried and cried and only being totally encased by your mother's arms could make you settle down. Nothing in those arms changed the unhappy facts. The scrapped knee remained scrapped. But suddenly it was "OK" because your mother truly deeply loved you. That embrace did not take away the injury, but it did make you find a way to be happy, even if injured.
As Christians, we exist in such an embrace. The love of Christ, expressed in the very unhappy fact of the cross and the gloriously happy fact of the resurrection, is nothing if not such an embrace. If we do not feel happy, even with our unhappy circumstances, it is because we are not allowing ourselves to rest in that embrace.
We find "the wink" unsatisfactory because it comes from the stranger - we do not know if it is an expression of love, or a way to just make us go away. The winker needs to find a better way to communicate God's love, but that is a different issue.
I agree, the Christian life is full of trips and falls, pain and sorrow. Lord knows I have had my share. But the love of God embraces me - it empowers me to be happy with the pain. I do not deny my pain - that's a problem. But I do use it to drive me to snuggle deeper into the embrace of my Heavenly Father.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Is Evangelicalism Dead?
My question is - "What is dying?" Certainly Evangelical political influence is on the wane. Given how ham-fisted the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and James Dobson have been at that - no real loss. It will just clear the decks for smarter people like Jay Sekulow.
The mega-church movement is likely coming to an end. To which again, I shrug my shoulders. No real loss. It will just take a substitute for genuine ministry out of the way. No longer will people be able to pretend that they are worshiping when they attend something more akin to a television taping than a church service.
Maybe, just maybe what's happening is going to be what should have happened all along. Evangelicalism is going to morph into the reform movement of the denominations it should have been from the beginning.
Frankly, I am surprised Evangelicalism has lasted this long. It's rootless. It's a part of the gospel and one portion of the church's total ministry.
The amazing thing about our faith is the resurrection. I'm betting on it. I'm just thinking what comes back will not be what people are expecting.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Here we Go Again
Of all the viewers who followed the Gosselins, evangelicals were among the most faithful. Jon and Kate's refusal to resort to "selective reduction" when they found themselves pregnant with sextuplets, their membership in an Assemblies of God church, and their Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts all helped to make them icons of evangelical piety. Churches from across the country clamored to be added to their speaking tours. In the last two years the vast majority of Jon and Kate's presentations took place at Christian conferences or at evangelical churches, most often Baptist, nondenominational or charismatic.Hmmmm...maybe there is something to these well organized hierarchical denominations after all?! The quoting continues:
We evangelicals tend to be easily impressed. We cheered on Jon and Kate's decision to carry all six babies to term but rarely considered the prior question: Was it right for them to undergo risky fertility treatments in the first place? They had been married only a matter of months when Kate, who was in her mid-20s at the time, took fertility medication to stimulate her ovaries for intrauterine insemination and became pregnant with their twins, Cara and Mady.It was these greater questions about "reproductive technology" that casued my wife and I to opt out of same. But I digress...
Only a few years later, Kate's ovaries were stimulated once again, but this time they were hyper-stimulated. Warned by their doctor during an ultrasound examination that the fertility medication had worked a little too well and that four mature follicles were present, Jon and Kate nonetheless went ahead with the insemination. Apparently their doctor had miscounted on that fateful day, because Kate soon discovered that she was pregnant with seven embryos (one of which miscarried a short time later). Six babies were growing in a space designed for one, posing great risks to the life of each baby as well as to the life of their mother. Faced with this unintended but preventable situation, Jon and Kate were right to carry all of the babies to term. But this decision is not enough to warrant their status as models of Christian faithfulness. That most evangelicals were satisfied to celebrate the end—six miraculous lives—rather than assess the morality of the means whereby those lives were created, betrays the thinness of evangelical reflection on reproductive ethics. Too often our ethics have focused so singularly on the question of abortion that we have given comparatively little attention to the morally-significant issues surrounding infertility, reproductive technology, childbirth, and parenting. As such, we have a hard time challenging the assumptions of our consumerist culture or those who, like Jon and Kate, seem to be beholden to it.
As fellow Christians, we should have reminded the Gosselins that life is a gift to be received in gratitude, not something to be grasped, purchased, or sold. In many ways, the last four seasons of Jon & Kate Plus Eight is the story of a family that seemed to progressively lose sight of this truth. Of course, they had help along the way from TLC, from the show's producers, and not least of all, from their Christian viewers.
As such, the breakdown of Jon and Kate's marriage is but a symptom of the larger weaknesses of ethics in the evangelical community. We are easily seduced by wealth and fame. We are easily contented by the shallow rhetoric of hot-button issues. In short, we are easily deceived by cultural values painted in Christian veneers (or clothed in Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts).Lord, hear our prayer...
The hope for us—and the hope of Jon and Kate—is to turn once again to the rich, complex, and difficult ethics of Jesus and to let those ethics form us into a more discerning people in the world. It is time that we look for role models who value self-sacrifice over material gain. It is time that we practice forgiveness and the healing of broken relationships and call fellow Christians to do the same. It is time that we take our own marriage vows seriously and hold our brothers and sisters to be true to their commitments as well. Most importantly, it is time that we develop a view of faith and life that is capable of asking deep questions and courageous enough to embody real answers. Then, and only then, will Christians have something to offer the world and something to offer Jon & Kate Plus Eight.
Cool or Uncool?
The Mars Hill Church in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood is not your grandma's church. On Sunday, the pastor's sermon was being broadcast on large video screens to accommodate his laryngitis and the congregants in church were broadcasting on their iPhones.OK, first question - what don't we know?
They weren’t talking, but “Twittering,” typing in brief thoughts or messages for their friends to read in real time.
For example, radio show hosts now use twitter to monitor audience reaction to what is going on on the show and may modify it on a moment by moment basis. Now for radio, that is a good thing. But, do you think the pastor here was monitoring the Twitter feed and altering his sermon as the reactions came in? Does the praise band adjust the play list based on congregational response?
Lord help us if such is the case.
Not to mention, media is no substitute for message. Have you ever thought about God's sequencing:
The Word become flesh...
The Word could be messaged, but God decided such was insufficient, it had to be embodied. It seems like as media capability increases we are trying, somehow, to reverse that process. It is usually not good to try and reverse the direction God has set.
Should people get feedback on what is happening in your church? - of course they should, but we should be in their face when we do it. we need to "press flesh" as it were.
I find it fascinating. People that want to be president of the United States spend months or years traveling - they try to touch as many people as they can, personally. Why is it those that minister in God's name seem to be working, tirelessly, to find a way to never leave the office?
Something to think about, isn't it?
Monday, June 01, 2009
The preacher’s primary task is not to tell people what to do. It is to proclaim good news.Sounds amazingly, well...Evangelical!
To be effective, therefore, preaching must be in the indicative mood, not in the imperative.
Those who come to Mass on Sunday need reassurance—more than exhortations to be good—that God continues to love them despite their failures.
“Preaching is communication of Jesus Christ himself,” Fr. Alvin Kimel writes.
Our goal should be preaching that causes our hearers to say, with Cleopas and his unnamed companion (perhaps his wife) on the first Easter evening: “Did we not feel our hearts on fire as he talked with us . . . and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
I find that so often, this kind of morality preaching comes from preachers that are concerned that if they don't preach it, the congregation will never hear it. They feel this way, of course, because so little of the congregation shows up for other than worship service. Which could be a result of, oh I don't know, preaching that fails to bring them the real Jesus whose Spirit would motivate them to show up to something like Sunday school. Just guessing here.
There is a vast need for in depth ethical and moral instruction in the church - a vast need. But the pulpit is no place for it.
I know that in my life I am looking for the preacher that drives me deeper. Actually, scratch that - for the preacher that calls me to Jesus Christ who drives me deeper. I think if you are to be a preacher, that is the kind to be.
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Choose you this day whom you will serve. - JOSHUA 24:15.
We are told in sacred lore, that when their hours of study were over, and the wise men left the halls of the Academy, they departed from one another with the following quaint and beautiful blessing: “Mayest thou behold thy world during thy lifetime, but may thine end be in Life Eternal, and thy hopes, may they endure throughout all generations.” On New Year’s Day, we too take leave, not from one another, but from the old year, and from all that it held for us of good and evil, of gain and loss; and I know of no more seemly benediction which we can bestow upon one another at this hour, than this selfsame prayer of the Rabbis.
If I were to bless you this day, between the dark and the dawn of the New Year, with the choicest gift in the treasure-house of God, I could think of none more rare and precious than this. It is threefold benison, each part segment of a perfect whole: “Mayest thou behold thy world during thy lifetime.” Is there anything more complete than this? To see our whole world while we live! The world of our desires and the world of our hopes! To win every goal, to taste every fruit, to slake every thirst at the fountain of success. What a generous benediction this is! Surely this is what we pray for on this, our Holy Day. “Grant us life, long life; grant us health, happiness, prosperity, peace. Let us not die ere the last mile of our journey is covered and the last beautiful scene glimpsed. Permit us to see our whole world while we live.”
And how thoroughly human a prayer it is! What man is there who would wish to close the fascinating book of life before the last chapter is read and the last page is turned and the story is fully told! Unless he be of those who have suffered much, whose eyes have been darkened by unutterable sorrow, and from whose hearts anguish has drained all love of life. We all wish to live, to see all, to know all, to taste all, to have all. The world is so resplendent with the works of God and the works of man, with the beauty that dwells in the earth and in the habitations of the children of earth. Our souls are hungry for this earth beauty and this life beauty, for all the wonder and grace which are in existence. How very human then is this prayer, and how truly it voices our deep-most longings. And yet, somehow, the wise men of old, who uttered this valediction, keenly felt its incompleteness, for they hastened to supplement it: “But may thine end be in Life Eternal, and thy hopes, may they endure throughout all generations.” On the face of it, a paradox! If one could see his whole world in his lifetime, why should his end be in life eternal? If one could realize all his cherished hopes here and now, why should they be extended throughout all subsequent generations?
But the Rabbis, who saw life steadily, felt this wish to be in¬adequate, because unattainable. They knew that no man can see his whole world in his lifetime, nor realize his high hopes in his generation. But they also knew of a world which every man could realize in his lifetime, and of a hope which every man could see fulfilled. In the eyes of the Rabbis there were two worlds; the world of our wishes and desires, and the world which these same wishes and desires create for us and in us. The world of our dreams and hopes, and the world which these dreams and hopes surround us with. In a sense every man builds his own world. Every man constructs his own world, his universe of wish and desire, the far-flung constellation of passionate cravings and longings, whose fiery center is self. The worlds of no two men are alike. Some build their world of clay, of carnal wishes and coarse desires. It is narrow, never extending beyond the reach of the senses. Others fashion their dream-empires of finer stuff, of the needs of the mind and soul as well as of the body. Theirs is a larger estate, reaching out through spiritual roads into distant worlds. Still others, who are caught up by some vision and touched by some inspiration, shape their worlds out of ineffable beauties, transcendent and measureless to man.
And each builder would like to see his dream-world come true in his lifetime. But God, the Master Builder, who has his own plan and his own architectural design, has so ordered his Universe, that none shall see his world fully realized in his lifetime, and that the finer and subtler the stuff the dream-world is made of, the more difficult shall it be of attainment. Even the clay-world is hard to attain. Low desires and earthly cupidity, even when satisfied, leave ashes in the mouth. Each fulfilled desire incites to others, stronger and more impetuous. “The sea hath bounds, but deep desire hath none.” Passion means suffering. Until our hankerings are appeased, we suffer, and after they are appeased we soon weary of them. When we are in want, we strive for the necessities of life; when we have the necessities of life, we crave for comforts; when we have comforts, we crave for luxury. When we have luxury, we cry for the moon - a mounting fever of discontent, an endless cycle of futility. The Greeks called it “The Torments of Tantulus.”
Difficult as the clay-world is of attainment, even more difficult is the dream-world which some men wish to see fulfilled in their lifetime - the world which is not circumscribed by the ordinary wants of life, the world fashioned out of the silver sheen of ideals and the gold of aspiration, the world patterned after the similitude of God’s own perfection. The man who, conscious of his high estate, fashions such a world, and who, by his dreams, would lengthen the road between himself and the beast, and shorten the road between himself and God, the man who projects a wish-world of justice and peace, an empire of knowledge and love, of truth and beauty, that man will never see his world fulfilled in his lifetime. Such wish-worlds are eternities in the making. No single hand can effect them, no single generation can encompass them. Such dreams lead the dreamer, not to the goal of consummation, but to the pit and the dungeon, the rack and the cross, and all the miserable artifices of a world afraid of his dreams. Such dreams lead the dreamer along the dolorous road of frustration and loneliness, to death.
Many illustrations come to our mind when we think of this. Let us but choose two - an ancient and a modern one. Moses, a leader of men, built for himself a dream-world of heroic design - to liberate a people from the yoke of bondage - to give it a law and a land - to fashion it into a priest-people and to send it forth a messenger of a new revelation and a new covenant. Did he see his world come true? On the top of Mount Nebo, he died a lonely and a world-wearied man, his tired eyes straining to catch a glimpse of the land of his unfulfilled promise. He freed the people. He broke the chains of their body. He could not break the chains of their soul. He gave them freedom, they enslaved themselves. He gave them a law, they flouted it. He gave them a hope, they destroyed it. Where was his world?
And what became of the dream-world of that modern dreamer - Woodrow Wilson? Somewhere in the Capital of our land, there lived for two years a broken old man, alone with his memories, ruminating among the ruins of his shattered dream-world. He had visioned mankind healed and redeemed, made one in peace and freedom. He failed. During the early years of the great world struggle he sought to maintain neutrality. He failed. He gave his life blood to establish a covenant of peoples to enforce peace. He failed. He hoped for peace without victory, and failed. He hoped for peace with victory, and failed. He hoped that justice and comity would follow the Pentecost of calamity, and behold, violence and hatred everywhere. Did he see his world in his lifetime? He died even as his dreams died.
Our ancient sages knew the sorry plight of such world builders. They therefore added to their benediction this phrase: “But may thine end be in Life Eternal, and thy hopes, may they endure throughout all generations.” The end is not here - cannot, should not, be here. A world which a man can achieve in his lifetime is unworthy of him - unworthy of the reach of his imagination, the chivalry of his spirit, the hardihood of his faith. Only such tasks and ambitions are worthy of us as lay bare the finitude of our bodies and the infinitude of our souls, the impotence of flesh and the omnipotence of spirit, the brevity of our days and the eternity of our dreams. Blessed is the man whose dream outlives him! Blessed is the man who is strong enough to see himself grow old and powerless while his ideal remains young and green. For then, old age assumes a dignity which compensates for our infirmities. The flame of life may burn low, but the holy incense of our visions will rise inextinguishable from the undefiled altars of our ageless souls.
In his picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde tells us of a young man, radiant and beautiful as a god, whom a great artist painted in the full splendor of his youth. When the man beheld the finished masterpiece, he burst into tears. “How sad it is,” he cried, “that I must grow old. My face shall be¬come wrinkled and wizened, my eyes shall grow dim and colorless, but this picture shall remain always young. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change and I could remain always what I am now!” His wish was granted. Throughout the succeeding years his picture - his dream-world - changed with the changes that came over him, while he remained unalterably the same. Through successive stages of degradation and shame, through sin and cruelty and vice, he remained the same, young and beautiful - but his picture - the mirror and reflex of his soul - took on all the ugli¬ness, all the viciousness, and all the spiritual disfigurement which were his. At last the horror of the picture, the ghastly deformity of his dream-world, drove him to madness and to self-destruction.
This is the tragedy of one who wishes to outlive his dream, whose life-picture is tied up with that which is physical and transitory. When such a man grows old, he will have memo¬ries which will embitter his days; for all his glory will be of yesterday, and all his hopes as if they had never been. in the midst of life he is in death. Israel Zangwill, in his Italian Fantasies, brilliantly sums up this truth. “He that dies in the full tilt of his ambitions is buried alive, and he that survives his hopes and fears is dead, unburied.” And the ancestors of this brilliant writer, in their equally incisive way, declared: “The righteous are alive in death, the wicked are dead in life.”
The world, then, of dreams and ideals which man creates for himself, cannot be, should not be, achieved in his lifetime. But the Rabbis knew of another world which they believed every man could and should achieve in his lifetime. It is the world created for man by his own ideals. It is built up of mental and spiritual reactions to those ideals, out of enthusiasms and exaltations which these very ideals and loyalties create within him. For the ideals of man give to his life a definite content and a definite scope which are his real world. This, then, was the meaning of the Rabbis: “May your life be blessed with the vision of a world so beautiful that it will crowd your life with beauty, even though the vision cannot be fulfilled in your lifetime. Life may deny you the world of achievement, it cannot deny you the world of poetry and romance and the rich savor of living which the very presence of the vision within you will create for you.” Therein does the spiritual differ from the physical. The physical must be owned or consumed to be enjoyed, but we need not own or consume or realize our ideals in order to enjoy them. We enjoy them in the quest, and struggle for them, in our devotion to them.
An ethical book written by a Jewish mystic of the eighteenth century tells a naïve and charming folktale. There lived somewhere a lonely and pious Jew, poor and forgotten of men, whose entire possession in life was one single tract of the Talmud. He had no other books. The pious man spent all his days reading and re-reading this one sacred tract. It filled his entire life, it became his world. He guarded it, he loved it, he treasured it. When he died, so runs the tale, this precious tome of sacred lore was transformed into a radiant maiden of surpassing loveliness, who led this faithful devotee to the Gates of Paradise. Quaint, is it not? But how profoundly true! In similarwise did Beatrice lead Dante along the terraces of heaven. For every high devotion, for every transfiguring wish, or hope, or prayer, an angel is born unto us to be our ministrant and guardian.
Such is the potency of ideals. They give us a whole realm of celestial beauty in which to live, even while these ideals are passing through the tragic stages of denial and frustration which lead to their ultimate transfiguration. And such ideals are within the reach of all men. One need not to be learned, or highborn, or opulent, to have them. They are more precious than gold - and yet the pauper may have them for the asking. Some men have vast estates, but they are lost in waste and weeds. Others have a few square feet in front of their little homes, but love plants a flower-bed there and a tree, and behold, there is beauty and the dream of perfection.
The cobbler at his lathe may have an ideal of high artisanship. He will see the charm of his work during his lifetime. The day-laborer who is conscious of the indispensable character of his work, the merchant who is faithful to his standards of service, the employer who finds in his office a challenge to unselfishness, the professional man who regards his calling as a consecration, all of them have a dream-world which will outlive them, but one which will abundantly bless them throughout their lifetime.
These ideals are near at hand. You need not ascend mountains to find them. They have no habitation. They are everywhere. They are not only near, they are seeking us. Halevi, the mystic poet of the Middle Ages, exclaimed: “I have sought thy nearness, with my whole heart have I called upon thee, but when I went forth to find thee, I found that thou hadst been seeking me.” Our ideal is seeking us. Open your eyes, it is here, in your home, in the multitudinous acts of mutual love and sacrifice, in the exalted experience of friendship, in shop, store and office, in your community, in social work, in civic work, in religious work, in the humblest and highest task it is there.
“Behold, I have set before thee this day, Life and the Good, Death and the Evil. Choose thou Life!” Amen.