Saturday, March 13, 2010
You know, you just cannot call yourself a comic book publisher these days unless you have a bad guy with an abnormally large, really deformed head. We have seen two such characters for Marvel in these spaces before - MODOK and The Leader. but today we turn our attention to the DC version of such a character - Hector Hammond. Primarily a Green Lantern foil, the first thing that needs to happen is Hector Hammond needs s cool super-villain name. "Help-I've-fallen-and-I-can't-pick-my-head-up-Man" comes to mind.
Hammond dates back to 1961, but he was actual mobile then. Lately, his head has gotten so big that he is actually funny to look at. The artists have had to resort to atmospherics to make this guy look menacing. I mean come on, I have bobbleheads with better proportions.
Hector is supposedly a "future man" - that is to say what we will evolve into many, many years in the future, his transformation brought on by an alien meteorite he stumbles upon. That seemed to be a theme of the 60's - men evolving into sheer brain power. Who can forget this memorable episode of The Outer Limits?
But in the words of the Dylan song, "The times they are a-changing," and Hammond is a character that at least in appearance has reached the limits of even comic credibility. The whole hidden-menace, invisible-chess-master thing they have going with him makes some sense as plot, but come on, GL could just pop that over-sized head like the infected zit it appears to be.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Recalling Chesterton - Finding The Mystical
"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."Her point, is related but actually different:
The comment of one participant particularly grabbed my imagination. ”We take what should be a relationship developing experience and make it into a task she said. Hospitality, social justice, evangelism and even bible study all become things we do in order to feel like good Christians.” She is right. And as a result they add busyness and pressure to our lives without making us feel closer to God or to each other.I agree with that sentiment entirely. But too many people, myself often included, use that as an excuse to abandon those practices. However, such is not the point of the idea - we should do them, but it is HOW we do them that matters. Says Christine Sine, author of the post we are examining:
The journey into intimacy in relationship begins not in busyness and doing activity but in quietness and solitude.My only issue with her presentation here is that these practices of solitude and meditation can become as legalistic and formulaic as the Bible Study and prayers previously discussed, but at their heart lies the broader point.
Developing deeper relationships does not begin with more time spent with people but with more time spent in solitude. It doesn’t begin with getting out into the crowds and the multitudes but with drawing aside into a quiet place to pray. And in that quiet place prayer is not about us doing something before God, it is about listening. It is not about prayers that express our concern for the world, it is about opening up the doors and the windows of our souls to the presence of a God who is never more than a breath away. It is about allowing God to fill every fiber of our being so that all that we are and do flows out of a deeply rooted relationship with the God of all creation.
We need to learn how to tap into the mystical parts of our faith. Whether it is meditating in solitude or climbing a mountain, or viewing an incredible piece of visual art or whatever the activity, we need to find a way to take ourselves and the here out of the picture enough that we come in contact with the transcendent reality that is a supernatural creator.
There are two things extraordinarily difficult about this. For one, we must put ourselves aside. We are natural creatures, not supernatural ones and to glimpse supernature, we have to let go. The other is the entirely rational nature of modernity. Modern education consists of teaching rationality. For those that study the sciences like myself, there is a double dose. God generally behaves rationally, but He is above rationality - He is certainly beyond our senses.
Depth with God is hard becasue it is a step into that which we not only do not know, but CANNOT know. There is only trust in Him.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Jesus the Answer
For western Christianity the question for which Jesus is the answer was guilt. A much deserved hell was a clear and present danger for the general population and the church offered forgiveness and release from that threat. Money poured into the church through the sale of indulgences. Luther transformed the church when he discovered that our release had already been purchased. The audience glued to Jonathan Edward’s sermons saw themselves as that spider dangling above the pit of hell suspended only by God’s grace-filled self-restraining effort to not react to its rebellious loathsome appearance. Much has changed.It is a great point and it is one that argues for the so-called "culture wars" more than any other. It is truly dangerous to shift the "gospel message" to match the changing motivations because without sufficient humility there really is no gospel message. Vander Klay follows up this post with one on the most modern sin:
This change has become a challenge for conservative Christians. The 20th century staples of evangelical evangelism no longer grip. No one imagines God would ask anyone to justify why He should let them into his heaven. “Just as I am” is a birthright, no plea is needed.
Protestants used to claim that Roman Catholics were idolaters because they had statues in their buildings. A couple of years ago an elder from a conservative Protestant denomination explained to me how Vietnamese people more easily came to Roman Catholicism from Buddhism because both religions worshiped idols. A new wave of literature is no longer so facile on this, understanding sin as idolatry is something deeper than carvings of wood and stone. Idolatry is making a publishing comeback. Tim Keller’s latest book “Counterfeit Gods” puts in book form many of the themes his sermons have had for years. G.K. Beale, a New Testament scholar recently authored “We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry” where traces these themes through the Bible. Jewish scholars Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit have their own book from Harvard University Press on the subject.You see, if we succumb to this modern curse, we place ourselves in front of Christ.
For most today self-definition and determination is seen as a foundational birthright of our existence. Not only does nobody put baby in a corner, but unless baby is defining herself and keeping herself out of a corner, she is failing to live up to her existential mandate. Most self-help remedies for a variety of identity ills prescribe self-definition through self-assertion. I must take control of my life by constructing a preferred identity, living that out maximizing individuality and authenticity.
Such desperation drives us to turn good things into ultimate things.
This analysis goes a long way to explain the problems that Evangelicalism finds itself in. It is built on the formulaic foundation of "Sinner turn to Jesus," and when that does not "work" anymore they don't have much.
So, are the culture wars what is necessary to turn this thing around? Kind of, but not entirely. There is one cultural front that I think we have to address.
Parents need to learn to let their kids fail.
Kids fail, they are going to learn in a hurry about their sinful nature. Way too many parents hover and fix and cajole. Ask any teacher or school administrator about how hard a parent will fight to raise a kids grade. When I was in school if I brought a bad grade home my parents response was not punishment, but it was to remind me "I'd earned it" and ask me what I was going to do the raise it next period. It's a huge lesson in the limitation of being yourself to actually fail.
And such over-parenting is a symptom of the self-identity idolatry Vander Klay herein defines.
Which brings me to the bottom line on all this. We need to learn humility. WE need to practice humility. We need to stand naked in front of Jesus and come to understand just how ugly we are - for only then, when we look at His face and see the love He still has for us will we come to understand the true gospel.
And we we do that, really, honestly do that - the world will follow, because the light that Jesus puts in us will show them their naked ugliness as His light showed us, regardless of the culture we live in.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Learning From Dealing With Death
In my experience, most people and churches in the evangelical world have their focus on fellowship and activism. The kind of work I do doesn’t fit the model very well.That is very damning stuff, particularly if you read the rest of the interview. He goes on to talk about how a lack of liturgical resources contribute to that lacking in Evangelicals and he goes on to talk about the meaningless cliche's and difficulties the newly widowed experience in a "family oriented" situation.
If I could sum it up, I would say it is about the fact that Evangelicalism has a "target audience" and the rest of you all just don't "fit the profile" so you need to find someplace else.
It's rather appalling when you break it down to the core like that isn't it. Makes it look like you enrich your ministry at the expense of the less desirable, you know those people that are depressed, dying, maybe underprivileged in some other way.
I learned an interesting lesson when I got married. My wife hails from the Portland, OR area - across the river in Washington. I grew up in areas up and down the Mississippi River. The first time I visited my wife's home territory she bragged that the Columbia River was the biggest river in the country. I scoffed. "The Mississippi River is a mile wide," I bragged, "It drains most of the eastern U.S." If you looked at things, there was just no way the Columbia was bigger that the Mighty Mississip - it just wasn't far enough to the other side. Then she sent me a link.
You see, the Columbia makes up for its lack of girth in its depth and it moves a much higher volume of water than the Mississippi, making it indeed the biggest river in the country.
The picture Chaplain Mike paints here of the average Evangelical church is just like the Mississippi River - a mile wide and an inch deep. It appears enormous, and is indeed large, but there is more to these things than meets the eye.
Here's the thing, the average Evangelical "church" sounds like a ministry to me, not a church. Can something be a church that only reaches out to a segment of the Christian community? I have said it before and I'll repeat it here - what passes for a worship service in most Evangelical churches is what I used to do when I ran an evangelical meeting - called "club" - in Young Life. It's a great outreach, but it is NOT church.
What saddens me is that as Evangelicalism fades, and the mainlines fade faster there is nothing to pick up the pieces. There ought to be a synthesis of the two. Partnering, wherein the Evangelical churches become the outreach ministry of the mainlines and a funnel that leads the committed into the genuine depth and sanctification that only the church can offer. The so-called "emerging church" is, in the sense we are discussing here, the same phenomena - but worse - more individualistic, narrower, less liturgical.
I pray a lot - and am deeply grateful for a God that acts despite our working so hard to muck things up. In my experience, most people and churches in the evangelical world have their focus on fellowship and activism. The kind of work I do doesn’t fit the model very well.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Narrow Minded Faith
What I find especially curious about such stories is precisely this: The narrowing of vision and the discovery of a supposedly single, naturalistic form of causality (e.g., economic productive forces, psychosexual motives, natural selection) comes disguised as an opening of one’s vistas to the real world. By contrast, those who retain a worldview recognizing the inescapable complexity of the cosmos and who refuse to see it as self-contained are almost always portrayed as cramped and closed-minded.I do not and cannot disagree with Koyzis as far as he goes, but I also find this approach a bit narrow-minded. It remains tied purely to the intellect.
Yet would it not make more sense to assume that those who, with the psalmist (e.g., in Psalm 104), take joy in the sheer variety of God’s creation and live their lives accordingly are the open-minded ones? Would it not be more accurate to judge that those buying into reductionist explanations of reality have the narrower minds? Yet the peculiarly modern prejudice to the contrary dies hard, and there are still many people willing to take it at face value, particularly in the academy and the popular media.
I spent years of my life, especially when in academia, learning about Christian apologetics, it seemed vital. Then I took a course on C.S. Lewis' apologia taught by an atheist writing a book to refute Lewis' various arguments. His argument was that he did not have to refute Lewis because in A Grief Observed Lewis "admits" that when confronted with the death of his wife, no apologetic was sufficient, there was only faith and habit. I found Lewis correct here and the professor's argument compelling. No apologetic is sufficient.
If we are attempting to help people become better Christians we need to give them faith and habit, and pray that with that faith and habit they touch something of the supernatural and are transformed on levels beyond mere worldview. We need to give them access to a God that remains when all that is their reason tells them He does not.
God is indeed reasonable, but He is beyond reason. As long as we limit our access to Him to our reason, we place ourselves before Him and make our reason an idol.
Monday, March 08, 2010
The Church and the Economy
The response by so many of our Mainline leaders and structures has been to denounce the prosperity gospel but offer no "middle range." We get platitudes about living in abundance and exhortations to avoid greed but where is the instruction that guides me in my daily economic life. Consequently, Christians pick up whatever they can from whoever they can get it ... our equivalent of shamans ... to make sense of their economic existence. They sure don't get it from the the church. The prosperity gospel fills a vacuum created by Mainline leaders. So, yes, the prosperity gospel contributed to the crash but the rise the prosperity gospel is a consquence of silence from Mainliners and other Christian communities.It's interesting he does not expect the Evangelical community to reach out to those "middle" issues.
I essentially agree with the point that the church is not providing enough answers and hence things like the prosperity gospel step into the gap, but I would stop short of pointing fingers at a specific expression of Christian faith or the development of theological tools.
I would place the blame on us - mainline, evangelical, even catholic - having reduced Christianity to one of two polar extremes. Either Christianity is mere intellectual agreement to a short easily stated set of beliefs. or it is a miraculous, seemingly supernatural experience, typically tongues. Talk about missing the middle! Christianity is both those things and everything in between. "Theology" isn't the answer because that's just more intellectual agreement. Miracles may help. but we cannot rely on them.
I can think of no word other than "mystical" for what we need to find. That word has a lot of negative connotation, but what I am talking about is a place where faith meets understanding and the miraculous meets the everyday. We worship a supernatural God and we have access to His power to operate outside nature. But we live in the natural world - somehow we need to integrate that, not escape into one or the other. Our mind informs our faith and our faith informs our action, but - our action informs our faith and our faith informs our minds, sometimes against the information our senses provide it. It's not a street with traffic flowing in either direction, it's an integrated whole that is simply us.
There is a point to be made the the American's church's emphasis on abundance contributed to the over extension of credit that lies at the bottom of the recent economic crisis. However, I doubt the numbers would say that it is "the" cause." But there is something we as Christians can learn from all this - Christ addresses our totality, when we lock Him in a box, He is going to find a way out.