Saturday, January 08, 2011


Comic Art

Okay, imagine with me for a minute that you are a maniacal evil genius bent on world domination. Where do you start? Laboratory? Search for super-powers? A Plan? No,no,no,no,no...

...You need henchmen! Lots of henchmen - I mean by the hundreds, if not thousands. Now bear in mind, you have not yet raised the capital to pay them, but we are talking world dominating crime here - who needs capital - they'll get it out of the back end of the deal.

When it comes to henchmen, you not only need lots of them, but you need them smart, I mean really smart. SO, you go out and hire yourself Advanced Idea Mechanics - A.I.M because basically that is what the group is - really smart henchmen for hire.

Now, then henchman business is very competitive, so you have to do something to make yourself standout. AIM, being mechanics have been, for decades now, trying to develop the ultimate weapon. That's going to set them apart from all those other hench-operations out there. Why mess with Hydra when you can come to AIM and get the ultimate weapon? Besides, AIM has those really cool bright yellow funnel hats - perfect for clandestine ops.

One problem though - the ultimate weapon you develop, well it's not an it, it's a he. (Hey you started this experiment before computers got really smart so you went biological for your control and intelligence functions.) And he, being a superbrain and all is just smart enough to take over your hench operation and try to turn it into just another world conquering group, ala the Nazis. Sounds like the perfect foil for the Nazi fighting Captain America in the post WWII age does it not? I thought so.

After decades in hiding AIM is making a bit of a comic come back now and I for one am glad to see it. Hoards of faceless minions are absolutely necessary for fine comic writing. I have no idea how they recruit or pay all these people, let alone how they find that many engineers interested in anything other than video games, let alone evil. And what self-respecting engineer wants to be evil anyway? (Well, in this economy I suppose it is a paycheck) But they do, and it's fun.

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Friday, January 07, 2011


To Grow or Not To Grow Roots

Chaplain Mike reprints an iMonk classic who asks:
Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?

OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.

Before I leave the open thread to you readers, let me say that this is a REAL PROBLEM.

No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.

Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?

Spencer wrote this as he struggled with his wife becoming Catholic and his own search on the same question. His sort of nose-holding comments about turning to Catholicism are there for understandable - if sort of missing the point.

I dod not grow up Roman Catholic, but I did grow up mainline and at one time, we also had a deep tradition of spiritual formation, but as we have "gone evangelical" that has largely been lost.

But he has made a heck of a point here with regards to most Protestant churches.

Here is what concerns me about it at the deepest levels. Christ has said "Many are called, few are chosen." The church is therefore likely to be full of people that come, but do not have the thirst. But now, in the name of "evangelical success" we cater to them rather than simply extend hospitality - we make the church "for them." OK - evangelism.

But is there not a sense in which that is purely manipulative? Aren't we playing with people's relationship with Christ? Aren't we being a tad bit selfish? BY catering to their lack of depth instead of calling them ever deeper - are we not saying that those depths are for us alone?

Or, alternately, does it say that we ourselves have not plumbed the depths? Are we as shallow as the ministries that we create?

In either case - shame on us!

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Friday Humor

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Thursday, January 06, 2011


Learning from Catholicism

The Anchoress writes at length about a trip she took to Rome and Roman Catholic sacrament of confession while there:
For all of the well-meaning priests who try to gently let someone off the hook in the confessional, or who–in attempting to demonstrate the mercy of God–are perhaps too quick to say “it’s okay, you’re only human” (true as that is) I have always been so grateful for the simple acknowledgment by a simple priest that I had done something that was, yes, stupid and destructive, but that mercy was mine.

Sometimes it is not enough to hear “Jesus loves you and forgives your sins,” you need to hear, “yeah, girl, you screwed that up, pretty good,” too. If the weight and depth of the sin is never plumbed, how can the uplifting counterbalance of Grace be properly, gratefully, understood?
If there is anything Protestants have screwed up - it is doing away with confession as a sacrament. Some of us in the mainline have tried to preserve it in the liturgy, but as liturgy dies, replacing worship with the purely evangelical our efforts may be in vain. What passes for liturgical confession in the average contemporary evangelical service is laughable in how easy it is to overlook and ignore. For us Presbyterians, we have pushed the Book of Order to its very limits and beyond - but that is a fight for another time.

The gospel is not "You are good." The gospel is "You're a yutz, but God loves you and will make you good any way. Romans 5:8:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [emphasis added]
This is, I think, the reason small groups are so necessary - when they are good, they are confessional - not psychological but confessional.

Is your small group confessional?

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Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Condemnation and Discernment

Skye Jethani @ Out of Ur:
Given these findings, it’s pretty important that both Christians and non-Christians understand what Jesus means when he says “judge not.” The key is recognizing that the word judge can be used in two different ways in the New Testament. Sometimes judge is used to mean “judge between things,” to differentiate, or discern. In this case we judge between right and wrong, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.

But this kind of judging-the act of discernment-is not what Jesus is forbidding. In fact throughout the Bible we are commanded to discern. In the same chapter of Luke 6 and in the very same discourse as the famous “judge not” statement, Jesus talks about having the discernment to see the difference between good people and evil people (Luke 6:43-45). He compares them to trees. Good trees, he says, produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. The call to differentiate good from evil is to judge, to discern, correctly.

This is often what get’s Christians into hot water in our uber-tolerant and increasingly diverse culture. When a Christian labels something as “wrong” or “evil” they are often pounced upon as being judgmental and out of step with Jesus. Sometimes this is the case, as I will discuss below, but very often the accusation is the result of a culture that no longer understands the difference between discernment and condemnation.
Boy is this stuff right on, but there are a couple of points that need to be made to add to it.

Fist of all - style matters. How we express our discernment can often turn a legitimate judgment into a statement of condemnation. Everything from the tone of voice to the adjectival choice must be considered when one is pronouncing a "discernment."

Secondly, we are often too sensitive when it comes to hearing such pronouncements. Not everything is about us as individuals, though in this narcissistic age we tend to assume so. Which is, I think a big part of the problem.

Here is the bottom line. If you feel convicted when someone is discerning, then chances are you need to make an improvement. Why can we not accept that with the humility seen in the cross rather than the violence of "you're judging!" We're sinners, that's why - but we need to get over it.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Changing ALL

David T. Koyzis @ Evangel writes:
Over the past twenty or so years, publishers have turned out a steady stream of Christian worldview books, which together have altered the conversation over the relationship between faith and cultural activities in God’s world. Most of these have sought to reshape a “Christian mind.” From Harry Blamires and Francis Schaeffer to Nancy Pearcey and Al Wolters, there has emanated a growing library of writings dedicated to fashioning a Christian worldview from which to approach all of life.

But are such efforts adequate to the realities of living in the real world?


This is something that philosopher James K. A. Smith understands well and it forms the thesis of his Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. We are not simply thinking beings. We are not even believing creatures, as important as this facet is. We are, rather, desiring beings, motivated in a basic visceral way by what we love. We do not necessarily consciously decide what or whom to love; we are in fact shaped by certain rituals, by pedagogies of desire that form us without our even being aware of them. We are habituated to desire certain things by the larger culture, and it is Smith’s task to get us to recognize these secular “liturgies” and how they work themselves into our hearts. Following Augustine’s insight, Smith asserts that we inevitably worship what we love. We are homo liturgicus – liturgical man.

Furthermore, human beings are teleological creatures, structurally constituted by God to seek and follow a particular vision of the good life. Either we seek the kingdom of God or we pursue a counterfeit kingdom, and we do so as members of a community in the grip of what Charles Taylor calls a social imaginary. A social imaginary is more basic than a worldview, with the latter’s focus on the cognitive element. To be sure, the cognitive is important, but it is not the place to begin if we hope to understand our deepest motivations. We must instead focus on what we are passionate about, what drives our deepest longings. These are in turn shaped by the various liturgies in which we are caught up.

Smith shows us how these liturgical rituals work in our lives by asking us to pretend we are Martian anthropologists, looking afresh at something as mundane and familiar as the shopping mall and the university. If we look at the mall as a centre of pilgrimage, as a grand cathedral with numerous side-chapels (stores) and icons (advertisements) stationed at the entrances, we become conscious of the role of the rituals of shopping in shaping our desires, culminating in the “sacramental” act of the purchase of the desired good, which, we are trained to expect, will bring happiness and salvation.
I cannot help but note that as we change the models of how we "do" church to look more consumeristic, we, that no amount of "worldview thinking" will change the essential slippage that we see in faith.

The absence of the liturgical in the evangelical church would, under this thesis be aiding the slide, not stopping it.

We are called to be fully renewed and totally transformed. As a old Young Life hand I like the idea of "attractional" ministry, but we keep forgetting that the idea is not to match the world's idea of attractive, but to become so like Christ that His beauty and winsomeness cannot be avoided. We should be setting new standards for what it means to be attractive, not conforming to the worldly ones.

The avoidance of the liturgical for the sake of attractiveness is, by this thesis the problem, not the solution.

What to do? Simple as leaders of faith, we should let Christ permeate us - on every level. Koyzis goes on to discuss this in detail.

"It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me."

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Monday, January 03, 2011


Swiping At Religion

Deep in a sulfur cave in southern Mexico, a group of indigenous people have for centuries asked their gods for bountiful rain by stunning the cave's fish with a natural plant toxin. Once the fish have succumbed, the Zoque people scoop them into baskets for eating. Now scientists are finding the ancient religious practice is impacting the fish's evolution.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? That this is a set up for a ecological swipe at faith - even a silly faith like this one. Well, consider how the story ends:
The local government has now actually banned the ceremony, because they felt it might pose a danger to the cave fish.
So, is this a case of governmental interference with religion when the religion behaves in an anti-social manner like polygamy, or running their services so loud that the neighborhood cannot sleep? Nope this is banning a religious practice for the sake a a FISH!

You know, sometimes when people talk about Christians staying out of politics, I get upset becasue this is what happens when we do. In a religiously pluralistic society, we cannot get dogmatic, but we do have to stay involved for a few basic principles.

This story represents a very real triumph of the purely materialistic over the spiritual. Science is not de facto materialistic, but it is restricted to the material. When it is considered "truth" and religious concerns are completely invalidated, we have a problem.

This is not a live and let live thing here. This is people having their faith overturned for the sake of a FISH.

Someone pointed out the other day that in this age, heterosexuals are living together without benefit of marriage while homosexuals are fighting to marry. The world is turned completely upside down. Here is another instance.

We have got to get busy.

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