Saturday, February 01, 2014


Comic Art


So, this space, every other week, is devoted to bad guys. Today we examine a character that has the worst of origins, but is well, not so bad after all - The Red Hood. Like most good ideas in comic books, there are multiple incarnations. The first was an alias for the most villainous villain of all time - The Joker. But the story does not get really interesting until the modern incarnation.

Batman is currently on Robin number 4 - unless you count the future Robin's we know about then, well, the count rises significantly. Anyway, Robin #2, Jason Todd, was not much of a fan, or Batman favorite. So DC Comics, in one of the biggest events of 1980's comicdom killed him off. It was a huge deal. They set it up so that the story ended with his life in the balance and the fans voted on whether he would come up dead or alive next issue. The fans overwhelmingly voted him dead. It was an ugly death, beaten to a pulp by the Joker. (No one else could possibly kill a member of the Bat-family.)

Well, like all good comic characters, the dead must rise again and Jason Todd is back among the living. But there is a new Robin, so what to do? Well, in this case, Todd came back with such a mad-on at Batman that he set himself up in the Joker's old alias and proceeded to lead a crime wave through Gotham designed purposefully to allow him to kill Bats. You got to admit - this has Shakespeare written all over it.

In a twist, Todd is still really a good guy but is attempting to beat the criminals by taking them over - ala The Green Hornet. (There are no new ideas in comics, only repackaging.) Batman, of course, thinks this the dumbest idea since New Coke and so the animosity remains even if the war does not.

And now, Red Hood, teamed up with former-drug addict sidekick Roy Harper (Once Speedy to Green Arrow) and rejected alien Teen Titan Starfire (hottie and a half) "Red Hood and the Outlaws" wage a war on criminals in a non-Comics Code Authority acceptable fashion. The RHO writing has a bit of work to be really good, they are still finding their pace and niche, but the characters are great and it is the way to do edgy. Don't take our beloved characters and add edge - rather set up a situation where edge makes sense and go with it free of the restraints of the established characters.

Jason Todd is a lot cooler under the Red Hood than he ever was in the bird outfit.

Friday, January 31, 2014


One of Those Problems That Shouldn't be

Every Sunday morning, I lead the congregation of Third Avenue Baptist Church in what we call a “pastoral prayer.” I pray for many things during that time—congregational events, members who are suffering, evangelistic opportunities, various officials in government, missions opportunities, and even events that have been in the nation’s headlines. The part of that prayer that elicits the most comment, however—both positive and out of sheer confusion—is when I pray for another evangelical church or two that is meeting in the city of Louisville.

Each week, I choose one or two churches and pray for their services that day. I pray for the church to be attentive to the Word of God. I pray for the pastor to speak boldly and accurately from the Bible. I pray for people to be convicted of their sin, for Christians to be encouraged in the faith, and for non-Christians to be converted. I also thank the Lord that we live in a city where we are not the only church in which the gospel is preached!

Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians’ experience that many don’t know exactly how to process it. More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a very concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren’t serious problems afoot there?
Are we really THAT competitive? Are our theological and ecclesiastical views so narrow? Do we have so little understanding of who we worship? Are we really THAT worldly?

This really bothers me. It is as if "we" are not conducting ministry, then ministry is not happening. It is as if God cannot work through any vehicle other than our group with precisely our views. Are we really that self-focused?

Christ told us to have the interest of others more important than our own. I think we are missing the boat on that one.


Friday Humor

Because, despite claim of cliche - cat videos are funny.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Working Too Hard To Redeem Something

Josh Larson @ Think Christian writes about the movie "Pain and Gain":
The United States is not an easily satisfied nation. A hunger for more is built into its history, its economy and the majority of its movies. And so it came as a bit of a shock while watching Pain & Gain to realize that the film - a bigger-is-better action comedy from Hollywood titan Michael Bay - was championing, in its own subversive way, the Christian virtue of contentment. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,” Paul wrote to the Philippians. Pain & Gain knows something of this secret too.
Maybe - but when you have to work this hard to find the value in a movie, does the value really exist? As I watched the film I was so horrified by the stupidity of the primary characters and the heinousness of their acts that it pretty much blotted out any thing else. This is a phenomena of communication that we often blot out.

Communication occurs on many levels. - Not just the verbal. While lyricists pour heart and soul into songs, the music can completely blot out what they say if it does not compliment the words. Images are even more powerful. Thus, as I watched the Rock barbeque a corpse' severed hands in an effort to eradicate fingerprints and avoid identification of the body I was not thinking about contentment.

I wonder as we work to "shed the old and be relevant" with how we design our churches and their activities is we do not miss this important point. How we communicate matters just as much as what we are attempting to communicate. The best message poorly communicated cannot be heard. If our medium counterplays our message, it is often the medium that does the communicating.


Illuminated Hymns

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Hard Work

Dave Bish writes about gaining wisdom:
I hear Andy Arscott - with decades behind him say that. And it hurts. It hurts to young activist people. (I might be nearly 34 and old in my student context but really I think I'm fairly young.) Young activists aka evangelicals. Yes us. I want it. I want it now. I want things to be black and white. Clear cut. And happening, now.

And it doesn't always work like that.

Yet as Paul writes to his protege Timothy (I'm riffing here on 2 Timothy 2) he doesn't indulge my urgency. He speaks to his spiritual son and calls for him to reflect on things and trust that the LORD will give him understanding.

You can't rush REFLECTION. Look in the mirror quickly, walk away and you forget what you look like.

As GK Beale observes Paul's letter is wisdom literature. It alludes to Proverbs. Father to son, entrusting yourself to the LORD that he may give the grace of understanding. There are images to chew on - with fairly obvious messages about endurance followed by reigning....but it'll take divine-understanding not just Tim-understanding to know things.
I think it is that last line where Dave finally begins to get the picture, but he still misses by a bit. He is right that the beginning of wisdom is in reliance on the divine. But understanding is not necessarily then end game - truth is, and that is something different.

The world is full of people seeking to better formulate the proclamation of "the gospel." That is to understand it better and better, and therefore be able to declare it better and better. But the fact of the matter is, we don;t need more understanding of the gospel, we need its truth to be more evident. I have heard awful declarations of the gospel from people whose lives made its truth so evident that the declaration did not matter.

Proverbs tells us that wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. Genuine fear of the Lord is about us and our lives, not merely perspective or thought. Truth is not merely an exercise in reason, it is an exercise in evidence. The most eloquent lawyer in the world cannot overcome a lack of evidence in front of a court. Real wisdom accumulates evidence. We are the evidence of Christ's truth.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Joining Churches

Jonathon Leeman write at 9Marks about why congregations should work together. He employs all sorts of military analogies:
To understand how and why our churches should cooperate, it is worth taking a second to step inside the U. S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, while the ominous storm of angry Muslim students brews just outside the embassy gates. You probably know that the mob eventually broke into the compound, and fifty-two Americans spent 444 days as hostages in the Iran Hostage Crisis. Yet don’t focus on what eventually happened; focus on what it would have been like to be inside the embassy while the fury was still building. What would you be doing in those moments?

Presumably, you would be on the phone in a frantic search for friends. The U. S. State Department, the nearby Canadian Embassy, the Swedish Embassy in town, even sympathizers in the Iranian government—you would be grabbing for whatever friends you could find.

What you would not do is assume that your little embassy compound, floating like a storm-embattled boat in the middle of the seething urban sea that was Tehran, sat fine all by itself. You would not try to “go it alone!” as if the fate of the U.S. government’s diplomatic mission in the world depended upon your embassy’s shoulders.


It was not until 2:15 in the morning of December 18, 1944, that the orders came for the 422 and 423 regiments of 106th Division of the U. S. Army to retreat westward toward St. Vith, Belgium from their position in the German forests of Schnee Eifel. By then it was too late. The German Army had successfully executed a pincer movement, surrounding and cutting off the two American regiments. By the next day over 7000 American soldiers found themselves as German prisoners of war.

Now imagine an army regiment trying to do their work alone, without relating to other regiments or the larger division or battalion. It would be foolish.

The army analogy breaks down insofar as the division or battalion command belongs to Christ in heaven. But whether or not you are a congregationalist or a connectionalist, it should be clear that the work of our churches depends upon other churches, like one regiment depending upon another.
The timing is unique. I am in the middle of reading a detailed history of Eisenhower's role as commander of the invasion of Europe. What one soon learns is that his job, essentially, was to manage enormous egos. From Patton and Montgomery to Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. I could not help but get that same impression as I read Leeman arguing so passionately for cooperation between churches.

That made me very sad. Each church seems so convinced of it's own "rightness" that it finds it difficult to cooperate with another church, even in the face of the Great Battle. That seems to me somehow to miss a lot of the point of the gospel, you know the whole humility thing. It's like we think we should be individually humble, but corporately massive egotists. Somehow I think Christ intended the church, not just us, to model his humility.

This is, I think, the greatest leadership failure facing the church today. Pastors, unwilling to submit to the discipline of denominations, "hang out their shingle" and begin to think they are where the gospel begins and ends. Yes, denomination have turned so liberal as to almost be unrecognizable, but to make the same mistake in the opposite direction is hardly the solution.

Somewhere we need to get smarter.

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Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, January 27, 2014


Balancing Reason and Faith

Dave Bish tries to answer Richard Dawkins with scripture. In an effort to be somewhat poetic sounding Bish fails to directly make the key point, though it is there. Science is not the only means of "knowing." We learning things in many ways. We like to think we are all reasonable and scientific while ignoring the fact that virtually none of us act like Spock. The humor of a character like Sheldon Cooper comes from the fact that while he tries to pretend he is a creature of pure logic and no emotion - his emotions leak out all over the place.

The balance between faith and reason is important for any Christian. Someone that relies too much on direct revelation and feeling can be just as whacko as a Dawkins. In point of fact it is usually such people that "go to war" with the Dawkins of the world, leaving those of us with some level of balance as spectators in a very strange dance.

As a person whose resemblance to Sheldon Cooper is often uncomfortably true, I work and pray for a balance in my faith and reason. Do you?

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