Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

Mega-Church Musings

Wendy at Just a Little Bit Odd has an interesting post on the Mega-Church Theme. And I'm not just saying that because she quotes me throughout her post. It's interesting that this theme seems to come up so often now. I feel like I'm seeing it everywhere, but perhaps it's just because I'm paying more attention now. (You can read my thoughts on the subject here and here.)

At any rate, Wendy brought to my attention an article from the New York Times Magazine about a Mega Church called Radiant that was started in the town of Surprise, Arizona. Surprise was my reaction when I read a liberal publication that actually provided a fair treatment to an evangelical Christian subject matter.

Wendy does a good job of summarizing my views on the situation as well as adding some insightful comments of her own so I'll refrain from reiterating them all here and simply point you in that direction if you are interested in further exploring this topic.

 

Heaven and Hell

I've just recently finished reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. It is redundant to say of any C. S. Lewis' writings, but of course, the book is sheer genius. It is an allegorical tale of a journey through Heaven and Hell. The writer recounts, in a first person narrative, the details of his journey.

It is essentially a meditation upon good and evil. An interesting, and unsettling, portion of the book ponders why and how seemingly "good people" are doomed to eternal damnation. One line in particular caught my attention:
Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut.

The book is chock full of fascinating metaphors, but it is beyond the scope of this post right now, except to point out that it is scary how thin the line is between good and evil as Lewis portrays it. It really comes down to pride issues on so many fronts. Again and again it comes back to the message that we need to humble ourselves in order to experience the eternal rewards. (For more ruminations on the Great Divorce, read the Pontifications Blog.)

UPDATE: I just took a look at Jollyblogger and thought I was reading my own blog for a second. Beat you to it by a couple days, David, but the conclusion is the same.

 

The Real Deal

I could try to explain why I find Ronald Reagan to be such an amazing inspiration. However, any attempts to do so would be feeble in comparison to the words of those who actually knew him. There is no more articulate friend of Reagan than Peggy Noonan.

She has a glorious way with words and is always insightful and worth reading. I've recently finished When Character Was King (A Story of Ronald Reagan) and would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about one of the greatest presidents in this country's history.

There are two gripping quotes from those that knew Reagan well that, in my opinion, really capture his essence. The first is from Marion Jorgensen, a friend of the family:
...the key about Ronnie is this: I knew him as a movie actor, as a governor of the state of California, as President of the United States, and the thing about him is he never changed. He was humble. He had no sense of entitlement. It wasn't about him, ever.

Rush Limbaugh (me clearing throat...subject for another day) echoed that sentiment, in speaking of Reagan:
And what I finally figured out was there was no image creation. There was no image. There was just genuine Ronald Reagan, and that's what cut through all the noise.

And then there was this self-assessment from Reagan himself:
I never thought of myself as a great man, just a man committed to great ideas....There is no question I am an idealist, which is another way of saying that I am an American.

Peggy Noonan offered this moving tribute to Reagan last summer shortly after he passed away. I pray God can bless us with a leader of this caliber again some day...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

 

Pipe Dreams of a Plastic Culture

Grab life by the horns. Image is everything. Just a little nip here and a tuck there and you could be a superstar. Maybe even an American Idol. Be like Mike. Be Here Now. Enjoy the ride. Because you deserve it. I want my MTV. I want my Reality TV.

Love of celebrity, love of money, love of self... If this is The Real World, I'm in need of a permanent vacation. I'm not feeling the love here. I'm feeling alone in a prison of my own making. When do we say enough with the distractions?

You can have your stuff. I don't want it. You can have your money. It won't make me happy. You can take your petty, superficial concerns. Give me the real thing. I want to find meaning, significance, purpose. I want to really truly live and that means I must first die. Die to my own narrow desires and love of self.

Just tonight, I came across some words of wisdom from Thomas Merton (from Asian Journal in 1973) that are very applicable. It is ironic, and telling, that I should find solace in the words of a monk when trying to make sense of this largely fake and materialistic culture. In explaining the sense of relief that is felt when we decide to center our lives on God and not on ourselves, Merton states:

To live with the true consciousness of life centered on Another is to lose one's self-important seriousness and thus to live life as a "play" in union with a Cosmic Player.

It is He alone that one takes seriously. But to take Him seriously is to find joy and spontaneity in everything. For everything is gift and grace. In other words, to live selfishly is to bear life as an intolerable burden. To live selflessly is to live in joy.


Surrender now. Feel the weight of all the world lifting. Release. Just do it.

Monday, March 28, 2005

 

The Road to Irrelevancy

I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised, but “The World According to Michael Moore” is now crumbling. Let’s call it a blogumentary in real-time…

4/14/2004: Michael Moore states:

The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win.

2/3/2005: Khaleej Times Online: "Iraqi village takes up arms against insurgents, killing five" (Link via Arthur Chernoff)

MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq - Inhabitants of an Iraqi village killed five insurgents who attacked them for taking part in the country’s historic election, police said on Thursday.

3/22/2005: New York Times: “Ordinary Iraqis Wage a Successful Battle Against Insurgents”

Just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough. … In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Says Dhia, ‘…I am waiting for the rest of them to come and we will show them.’

3/28/2005: Washington Times: "Pentagon Begins to See Iraq Momentum Shift" (link via PowerLine)

A Pentagon official said the more that intelligence agencies analyze the insurgency, the clearer it becomes that a large part is criminal, not nationalistic.

As for the prediction that the Iraqi insurgents will win, well that's not seeming to pan out too well either... Lawrence Kaplan at the New Republic offers this assessment (Hat tip: Instapundit):

…over the past month, the news from Iraq has been unusually good. Depending on which military official you ask, insurgent attacks have dropped by either a third or nearly half. The number of Americans killed in action has declined. Civilians have begun killing terrorists.

So what exactly does the outspoken Mr. Moore do when a central tenant of his vitriolic screed has been so completely discredited? (crickets chirping) Actually, Moore may have provided us a foreshadowing of his response in this article:

Jeez, I think I'm right. The things I believe in, I believe strongly enough in them and I think I'm right. When I'm wrong, then I change my mind and I'm right again.

Well, come to think of it, honesty and humility never were his strong suits.

UPDATE: I suppose there is no better arbiter of the general mood within Iraq than the Iraqis themselves. So here's a new poll that - amazingly (me feigning disbelief) - has managed to slip under the radar of the New York Times and the rest of the MSM. Fortunately, Chrenkoff offers all the Iraqi news that's fit to blog.

For some people, it may help to have a visual in order to best understand just how the heroes of Moore's world are faring.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

 
Melt in a memory,
Slide in a solitude.
Not 'til I can read by the moon,
Am I going anywhere.
Not 'til I can read by the moon.


- "Fugitive Hotel" from Elbow's Cast of Thousands

Easter Sunset in Denver, Colorado

Sorry, too many pics, too little bandwidth. Sunset photos have been taken down for the time being.


Friday, March 25, 2005

 

A Need For Compassion

"And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love..."

It's one of my favorite old hymns, and I pray to God it is true, but I suspect otherwise. Now before I delve into this issue, I want to take a step back and explain where I'm coming from in terms of my own worldview.

As a political conservative on most issues, particularly social ones, I am as concerned as I suspect most of you are regarding the coarsening of our culture. Abortion on-demand, an abundance of ultra-violent movies and videogames, and the attempts to remove God entirely from the public discourse and educational arena all play a crucial role in this.

In fact, the more I focus on it, the more angry and bitter I become. It instills in me a sense of outrage and even hostility toward the "secular left" who often promote this downward spiral through staunch support of the issues cited above.

However, while I believe we all have a duty to be politically engaged, I fear that politics has the potential to cause us to act and think in the exact opposite manner in which God has called us. We can become self-righteous and even hateful without realizing it. In essence, we risk becoming a modern day version of the Pharisees.

The following are some examples of how we can degenerate into hatefulness rather than love if we are not careful. This is from Randall Terry - former leader of Operation Rescue:

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good ... if a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God...

On the 700 Club on January 18, 1995, Pat Robertson suggested:
[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers. (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost)

In an article from the Washington Post on 9/14/2001, the Rev. Jerry Falwell assigned blame for the 9/11 attacks, by asserting the following:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians... the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."

In an effort to make a point, I have admittedly cited extreme examples. But the sad reality is that the media, too, is always more than willing to cite these sorts of examples from Christians - over and over and over again.

This weekend in particular I am reminded of Christ's words nearly 2000 years ago. As he hung there, dying on the cross, facing an injustice far worse than any of us could ever fathom, he spoke these words - which are almost inexplicable: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do."

In this vain, Jollyblogger wisely advises us to be careful of our thoughts and words regarding Michael Schiavo. The Upward Paradigm concurs as does Palm Tree Pundit. Parableman, too, offers some good advice regarding how we should approach those who do not share our beliefs when he states:
Christians have an obligation to reach out with the gospel. Starting instead with a political agenda based on particular sins tells people that we value labeling them in negative ways more than we value caring about them as people...

In What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey quotes Ron Sider who speculates:
Think of the impact if the first thing the homosexual community thought of when someone mentions evangelicals was that they were the people who lovingly ran the AIDS shelters and tenderly cared for them down to the last gasp. A little consistent wholesome modeling and costly servanthood are worth millions of true words harshly spoken.

The problem lying at the root of the deterioration of our values in this country is a hardening of the heart and a lack of compassion for the intrinsic value of life. Paradoxically, our political anger over the results stemming from this problem is only going to cause us to display this same type of hardened heart toward others.

Now more than ever, we need to heed Christ's words which call on us to act compassionately and lovingly toward our enemies. It is really the only option we have to be a lasting force of change for good in this world.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

Suppressing Emotions So That Reason Can Prevail

I've been extremely reluctant to write on the Terry Schiavo case primarily because there are countless others doing it - many of whom can articulate the debate enormously more effectively and articulately than I can. But I feel compelled to make an observation.

As seems to be the case with nearly everything these days, either partisan politics or emotions seem to drive people's arguments - on both sides of the political spectrum. Most of the time, this is just a frustrating phenomenon to observe, since it rarely advances the discussion or alters any opinions. However, in a life-or-death situation like Terry Schiavo's, it is truly heart-breaking.

What we need is a well-reasoned debate and that is, as usual, the one thing that's been largely missing with respect to this case. That's a travesty when a human life hangs in the balance. The ensuing emotional firestorm is understandable but not, ultimately, helpful. That was why it was especially refreshing to read the article this morning at the usually left-leaning Slate.

It is a reasonable, fair-minded assessment of the case and, subsequently, it is the best argument I've read so far as to why Congress was right to intervene on Terri Schiavo's behalf. It's just a shame there has not been more of this, since it is potentially quite persuasive. As Ms. Johnson puts it in her article:
My emotional response is powerful, but at bottom it's not important. It's no more important than anyone else's, not what matters. The things that ought to matter have become obscured in our communal clash of gut reactions.

Indeed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

 

What's in a Name?

So now I turn to the oft-asked question, “How did you come up with the name PlaidBerry and what does it mean?”

PlaidBerry was the name I gave to a short-lived rock band I started during high school (FYI - I play guitar and write songs, though now only sporadically). It was an offshoot of the critically-acclaimed band Roadkill who hit it big with the underground juggernaut “If the Booze Don’t Getcha’ (the Music Will)”. Sorry, that last sentence is largely fabricated, but there are about five old friends out there who may find it mildly amusing. No more inside jokes – I promise.

Actually, PlaidBerry turned out to be not much of a band, but more of a concept for a band that didn’t quite materialize. So what did the name mean? Well, nothing much, it just sounded cool.

When it came to naming the blog, I had some inkling that it would now be applicable in a whole new dimension. Though I had no idea what exactly that meant – other than vague thoughts about spiritual fruit and the fact that I liked the visualization it provided. And that’s where C.S. Lewis, as he so often does, burst onto the scene to reveal insights to me as to what on earth I was thinking.

In Reflections On the Psalms, Lewis mentions Plato's discussions about the fate of goodness in an evil and misunderstanding world. He then speculates as to Plato's hypothetical reaction if he were to find out about the Passion story of Christ (an event that of course occurred after all of Plato's pontifications):

I see...so that was what I was really thinking about. Of course. That is what my words really meant, and I never knew it.

No doubt mine is a very liberal adaptation of this theory of "second meanings", but it fits. I had no idea what PlaidBerry meant initially, but now I do.

The following is a description of my primary aspiration with PlaidBerry. “Plaid” is a metaphor to represent the fabric of society and how we should aspire to comprehend all cultural issues from a consistent, interwoven spiritual perspective. Joe Carter articulates this goal well with this statement: "we have to become cultural missionaries, translating the components of our worldview in a way that can be understood by our opponents."

By so doing, we can expect to bear good “fruits” in the form of positive changes in the community around us. This post at Reasons Why does a good job of explaining what it means to bear good fruit/result/product and how to spot the fruit of a false prophet.

Too abstract for those of you left-brained folks? Sorry, but I like it better than the previous explanation of “I dunno”. (Disclaimer: There is also some stuff on this blog that has absolutely nothing to do with spirituality or the quest for any deeper meaning.)

And that is the tale of the PlaidBerry. Though the moral of this story is much bigger than the name. At some point, I believe that all the proverbial pieces of the puzzle will come together and it will all make sense. We should expect to feel a certain sense of "A-ha! So that's what I meant by that or that's why this happened to me". The key is to pay attention along the way so we don't miss these moments altogether.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

How (Bitter)Sweet the Sound

“I stood on the edge, tied to a noose, but you came along and you cut me loose.” - "Amsterdam" from Coldplay’s Rush of Blood to the Head

I have no idea what Chris Martin was thinking when he penned that lyric, but I know what it means to me. It eloquently conveys the message of redemption through the grace of God. As we approach Good Friday, my thoughts are more focused on the One who came to wash us clean. The One who died so that we could live. It’s the greatest story ever told. It has the power to change hearts and lives, and our world desperately needs to experience it - now more than ever.

It is fitting, I suppose, that as we move toward the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of life, that the public discourse has shifted its focus back onto the issue of life with the ensuing debate over the Terri Schiavo case. Our nation’s increasingly casual disregard for life is an immensely troubling trend that is expounded upon by this paragraph in an article at RealClearPolitics, which observes:
Our culture is loudly, messily working out its views on human life, which are not the same views we entertained as recently as 50 years ago. Our views back then were largely formed by a sense of religious duty or, at any rate, religious precedent. God had given life to mankind. It was no trifling gift.

Mark Steyn echoes this sentiment, adding some specifics:

As the New York Times reported the other day: “Babies born into what certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to doctors in the Netherlands.

Much of that derives from the way abortion has redefined life – as a “choice”, an option.

So what should we do?

I think this sentiment from Blogotional points us in the right direction:
We have to reinsert Jesus into our society. We have to grasp again His essential ministry to fulfill the law. This will not be accomplished by forming Political Action Committees, making political donations, impeaching judges, or standing vigils. No, we can only fulfill the law when hearts in the nation are filled with the Holy Spirit, and this can only happen when they come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

A terse definition of grace is unmerited pardon or forgiveness. Grace is the great equalizer. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us need it, though none of us deserve it.

‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Amazing Grace is a sweet, sweet sound indeed. It is the eternal source of hope amidst our own sadness.

 
For anyone familiar with The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, this article is an interesting and creative adaptation of the themes of that book. Specifically, the author is speculating as to the mindset that Satan might be using to deceive us today. It is particularly timely with its insinuations as to how the coarsening of our culture is transpiring right before our eyes.

 
Ah, I'm not really sure what to think of this. It's a Christian parody of Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back." Sample lyric: "Well bless me, bless me and teach me about John Wesley..."

High marks for creativity, but I think I'm still a little traumatized...

Saturday, March 19, 2005

 

Will Blogging Revitalize the Church?

Tim Challies and David Wayne at JollyBlogger have recently taken issue with Hugh Hewitt’s characterization of blogging as the new Reformation. Perhaps Hugh’s analogy is a bit of overwrought hyperbole, but he may not be that far off either...

This is tangential to a front burner issue for me right now (as witnessed by recent posts here and here). And that is the growing trend in the evangelical world, evident in some mega-churches in particular, in disseminating a primary message that focuses more on self than it does on God. A corollary to this phenomenon is that it also tends to present a “dumbed-down” sort of theology.

From a pastor’s perspective, Todd Bolsinger at It Takes A Church seems to shed some light on one reason why this is happening:
When our congregants expect us to deliver sermons filled with strong exegesis, relevant examples and a joke or two all in 25 minutes or less. It is easy to develop the habit of reducing everything to the ridiculous. Pretty soon our theology is nothing more than slogans or acronyms or representative stories. And communicating the depths of crucial issues and doctrine go by the way side.

Maybe books like this have a value for some people, but at some point, in order to mature spiritually, we need to probe and dig deeper into issues. That’s where blogging comes in and why it may just evolve into a faith outlet of gargantuan importance. The future of a real discussion and dissection of IDEAS has arrived in the form of this new technological medium. What shape it eventually takes - be it videoblogging, podcasting, etc. - is not the issue.

As Bolsinger contends: "...by writing and linking and writing and linking, we can respond to the challenges posed by skeptics, not with the hue and cry of the hurt, but with the rapid, clear and sober answers that reveal the truth."

David at JollyBlogger contends that “blogging is not an idea, it is a technology.” This is a rare instance where I think he misses the point. It is the new technological medium that is facilitating a fundamental paradigm shift in how we exchange ideas. Without gatekeepers or lack of specific credentials halting people from freely distributing their thoughts, the world of faith may well be reformed in monumental ways.

21st Century Reformation suggests:

As this dialogue grows, through this new media, the ideas that will renew the church and renew the culture around us will incubate and eventually flower. The 21st Century reformation is not just happening in politics and media but in the church as well.

If you weren't invited to the party, have no fear. The party is over and the discussion has moved out into the street. The blogoshere is the open air pulpit of the 21st Century. The open air preachers have arrived.

“Open air pulpit” indeed. The barriers to being heard are now gone and that is huge. In the entire world, how many people are out there that now have the ability to offer amazing insights and perhaps offer ground-breaking advances in the realm of Christian philosophy?

Undoubtedly, the Christian community has much room for improvement in effectively utilizing this new technological medium. Joe Carter offers some good advice on how to accomplish this goal:

As the blogosphere matures it's influence will continue to expand. It will continue to shape ideas, set political agendas, and shape culture. Christians who believe that a Biblical worldview has something important to add to the conversation cannot afford to ignore this medium...

To be successful in this effort will require that we band together and help others whether their blogs are more popular or completely unknown. We need to link to and visit each other's blogs, provide encouragement, and praise excellence and quality wherever it is found.

UPDATE: After reading JollyBlogger's updated
post
on this topic as well as his comment to my post, it may be that the fundamental disagreement here may be more about semantics than substance. Initially I understood he and Challies to be downplaying the potential effectiveness of utilizing this new technological medium, but perhaps it was more of a parsing of words.

In a new post on this topic, Challies states: "There is some disagreement as to whether Hewitt meant to say that blogging is the new Reformation or whether it will just be the medium that carries it."

That seems to be the case, but doesn't this just reinforce the value of blogging for advancing the discussion and further dissecting points of contention?

Another blogging pastor, Personal Trainor, weighs in with some Random Thoughts on Blogging. He states, "It makes me accessible to my congregation and them to me. I view it as a stream of consciousness into which they may plunge or not."

Joe Carter gathers some intriguing related thoughts on the subject from around the blogosphere. He seems to concur with this same theme, speculating, "Imagine what we might be able to accomplish if we were able to use our network and influence to shape the church as well as the world."


Friday, March 18, 2005

 

SuperSize Me...and My Church (Take 2)

“It’s not about you.”

Think about those words for a minute. It is, of course, the exact opposite of nearly everything we’ve ever been taught to think. It’s all about us. It’s about success, money, fame, the car we drive, the house we live in, and having lots of stuff. Image is everything, right?

But yet those are the first four words of Rick Warren’s smashingly successful book, The Purpose-Driven Life, and they turn the essence of our entire culture on its head. To be honest, I’m no fan of the book. I tried reading it, but could not maintain any real interest.

But then, of course, it’s not about me or what I think. It’s about the 8 million people that bought it. And if only 8 of them really got the message of its opening line, then it may just be an essential book. (UPDATE: Not to get off point, but there is a case to be made for some legitimate theological problems with the book as pointed out by David at Jollyblogger.)

Peggy Noonan posts the transcript of Ashley’s Smith’s amazing story about someone now on his way to prison who seemingly just got something out of that book. In it, Peggy suggests,
Maybe we should be thinking: God loves all of us, every one of us most tenderly, even convicts, maybe especially convicts, who know what they are and hang their heads and one of whom, so long ago, looked up, and cried out to the man on the other cross, and received from him a promise of forgiveness and a promise that soon, very soon, they would stand together in a place without pain.
That’s the message of grace, and that is what Christianity is all about. What I’m wrestling with here is the classic question of whether the ends justify the means. Is it acceptable to initially subjugate the primary message of grace with a message of prosperity and self-improvement if that is merely a marketing tool to get back to grace? That is, afterall, what’s going on now in a whole lot of churches.

But then it strikes me that this is a false choice. Jesus proclaimed “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Focus on that first part for a moment. Jesus states that he is THE way, not simply a way. According to Christ’s own words, there is no other way to get to where we need to be spiritually, and that would necessarily preclude the gospel of self-help. In fact, that is the polar opposite of how we are to get there, which is accomplished only by "dying" to one’s self.

Now, juxtapose Jesus’ famous self-description above with this remark from the pastor of the largest church in America as he is speaking of his church…

We don't have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming.
He also said his goal is to "give people a boost for the week." (More detail over at Exultate Justi) Now, personally, I like Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston who spoke those words. He seems to me to be a genuine and good-hearted man of God. But, alas, it’s not about me. Nor is it about Joel Osteen for that matter. It’s about God. And even people with their hearts in the right place can still get it wrong. And in this case, I can’t reconcile his words with Jesus being the way. It's the cross he doesn't have up there that is the way. (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost)

Of course, the point is not to single out one pastor, but rather to consider this one example as a representation of a growing and increasingly influential movement endemic to the mega-churches in particular.

In this article, Philip Yancey discusses how the best preachers have challenged earth to be more like heaven. He fears that the opposite is happening now, "Famous preachers of modern times, especially those who speak on radio and television, emphasize success and 'health and wealth'."

In an interview for Christianity Today, pastor Eugene Peterson elaborates on this theme:

The minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we're just exacerbating the self problem. "With Christ, you're better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy." But it's just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.
In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis observes,

There remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.

I am trying to reprogram my own thought process in order to reduce the self-absorbed mentality. I just hope that my church will help me in that endeavor and not hinder it. There's a need to make a conscious decision whether to kneel at the altar of God or Self. We can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

 

On the Lighter Side...

Ahh, just a few hours away from the makings of a truly remarkable day:

It's the convergence of the official start of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (a.k.a. The Big Dance or March Madness) and St. Patty's Day. I think these two much-anticipated events occur simultaneously once every, like, 1000 years. I'll check on it, but I'm pretty sure the planets are aligned. Here's to Irish beer and college hoops!

St. Patrick's Day
In true holiday spirit, The Onion offers an Irish Heritage timeline. Among the highlights:
432 A.D. St. Patrick arrives in Ireland offering 25 cent chicken wings and 2-for-1 taps all night long
1487 A.D. In a decision still regretted today, Irish let a few British friends stay in Belfast
1951 A.D. Irish Spring, the two deodorant soap, becomes the first soap allowed on Irish soil

Million Dollar Baby vs. Rocky
Here's a little Q&A from SportsGuy at ESPN's Page 2:
Q: What's your take on the media comparing "Million Dollar Baby" to"Rocky"?
A: I think a better question would be, "Would you have liked 'Rocky' as much if Apollo sucker-punched him in their big fight, Stallone ended up a quadriplegic, and then Adrian pulled the plug on him and opened a coffee shop with Paulie?" (And the answer, obviously, is no. That reminds me ...)

Music
Time to reload the iPod? Here are 5 great bands you may never have heard:
1) Hem - melodic, soothing female vocals along the lines of SarahMaclachlan
2) Snow Patrol - layered, Brit-rock (actually Irish) at its finest, similar to Coldplay
3) Drive-By Truckers - southern rock revitalized, a beefed-up version of Lynyrd Skynyrd for the 21st century
4) Interpol - think 80's british electro-pop on the darker side, a little Depeche Mode but even more Joy Division
5) Gomez - jam rock type, great live show, 3 different guys sing, I'm at a loss for any adequate comparisons - sound like Pearl Jam at times with Eddie Vedder-ish vocals, but really all over the map

Also, check out the new Christian Carnival (#61) posted over at ChristWeb.

Cheers!

Monday, March 14, 2005

 

Super Size Me...And My Church

Here’s a disclaimer to get out of the way upfront: I attend what presumably fits the mold of a “mega-church” in Denver, CO with 5,000-plus of my closest friends on any given Sunday. It has phenomenal music and what I believe to be good, Bible-based teaching. However, some of the criticisms floating around out there about the message of churches like mine do have some validity to them and I want to try to address that.

I think that examining one’s own religious environment is important – crucial even, according to the Apostle Paul. In I Corinthians 5:12-13, he writes, What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.

There’s one primary critique which tends to ring true to me: That mega-churches tend to peddle the gospel of self-help rather than the gospel of grace.

The argument against these churches is that they tell people what they want to hear rather than the whole, undiluted truth based on Scripture. Any discussion of the Gospel - of the need for repentance or sometimes even salvation - is secondary. For the most part these pastors focus on issues like money, relationships, and prosperity.

Tertiary arguments against the mega-churches include the concern that they often feature a cookie-cutter type of sermon lacking in substantial theological basis. The fear is that these sermons are designed more to fill the pews than to offer any deeply convicting spiritual experience.

Joe Carter over at the Evangelical Outpost gives his thoughts on the subject and, more or less agrees with the above assessment. Money quote: If the megachurches continue to put their marketing campaign before the word of God they will distance themselves from the Church. I, for one, would rather stand alone in an empty church where the Gospel is heard than sit in a stadium where self-esteem is made an idol.

Because it hits so close to home for me being that my background is in large, non-denominational churches, it is difficult to objectively contemplate this subject. However, there is undeniably some truth to these criticisms. In particular, I get very uneasy about stuff like this:

Regarding the high-profile frequent guest of the mega-church tour circuit, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Carter writes: "As appears to be common among televangelists, Jakes has a taste for the high life. He lives in a 1.7 million mansion, flies on chartered jets, and sports a gargantuan diamond ring."

Couple this with the "prosperity gospel" so often preached at these churches and I have a hard time relating this materialistic-driven obsession to much of anything Christ had to offer us. From what I recall, Christ never appeared too concerned with enriching his followers or himself with material wealth. In fact, he may have even had a stern warning or two regarding the potential pitfalls that riches can bring about.

However, my own basis for analysis is predicated on a generally accepting attitude toward any church or denomination that preaches the fundamental gospel of Christianity. There are many different preferences in worship style and diverging opinions on many specific portions of doctrine. And I am naturally very averse to any atmosphere of in-fighting within Christian denominations. Providing a wide diversity of views, thereby making our religion accessible to more people - without compromising its core beliefs - is a good thing.

I do think that the root of much criticism stems from issues of jealousy and/or self-righteousness. We have to be especially cautious in questioning the motives of any man or woman of God. Nonetheless, the message itself and the medium used in communicating it is fair game and should be held to account for its accuracy and integrity in conveying Biblical Truths in a transparent manner, which should preclude the use of rose-colored glass.

UPDATE: Via a link from the Christian Carnival, I found this post from Wendy that examines some reasons why so many people are leaving the church. Some concerns similar to my own regarding the focus on materialism are cited. Some more stuff at Blogotional.

From a more personal perspective, Irene Q. relays some similar concerns regarding a huge growth project occurring in her own church.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

 

Glass Half Empty?

Then you should really consider filling it back up. Never know when you might need a drink.

I myself am a recovering pessimist. I have only recognized my own need for "recovery" because there is something about the pessimism I've seen in others that has been increasingly off-putting of late. There has been something about the pessimist - exactly what I have not quite been able to articulate - but something nonetheless apparent and sufficiently hideous that has brought about a desire for me to purge all traces of it from my being.

Then in re-reading the indispensable Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, the problem with the pessimist was revealed. Chesterton compares the pessimist to the "candid friend". And goes on to say that the problem with the candid friend is that he is not candid at all. He's holding something back and takes a dreary sort of pleasure in pointing out unpleasant things. Chesterton describes it as "a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help."

My issue here is with those folks who offer plenty of critique and nothing by way of recommendation. Zero proactive effort is taken to remedy the problem (as they see it) and no ideas are offered as an alternate solution. Of course, countless examples of this scenario abound, whether it be at home, work, church, etc.

In particular, I am irritated by the "anti-American American" types. Sometimes known as the "Blame America First" crowd (Ward Churchill and his inane philosophy is as good an example as any recently), they fancy themselves blessed with such extraordinary intellect that they can see what the rest of us mere mortals cannot. Specifically, that America is the great source of evil in the world. While they may not endorse the methods employed by Osama bin Laden, they can certainly empathize with his mindset.

Setting aside the fact that such a worldview is so completely devoid of any sort of grounding in reality, these people have a bigger problem. They live here. The vast majority have even reaped the benefits of living in the most prosperous and generous nation on earth.

Contrary to what their actions and remarks might suggest, they are not aliens dropped onto this planet solely for purposes of observation and vilification. No, the world and indeed the country they so denigrate is their own. Devoid of any sense of loyalty or patriotism, their faux indignation merely provides a convenient forum in which to display their worldly sophistication and intellectual superiority. Most assuredly, there is no love of country or genuine concern for fellow man dwelling at the heart of their disparaging repertoire of grievances. (Update: Look here for an example of those rooting against America - in their own words.)

Chesterton concludes, "The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises - he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things."

Chesterton wrote those words nearly 100 years ago and yet they are as relevant and insightful today as ever. There is something of an eternal nature to The Truth, in that it has a way of transcending time and place to shed light on a darkened world.

John 8:32: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

"Darkened world?" Isn't that pessimistic you ask? No, just realistic. The question is do you have enough love for this place in which we live to try to change it? If not, you've become a pessimist of the worst sort.

UPDATE: Jeremy Pierce offers some ancillary remarks on this post. It is well worth reading as a necessary dissection of my thoughts. He makes a good point in a comment below as well that some people are gifted with the ability to discern the need for change:

"The other thing I'm really good at is finding flaws in people's arguments and objections to their views. I can't for the life of me construct my own views to replace those with, but the kind of philosophical thinking that I'm very good at is still important and needs to be done."

I agree that it is absolutely essential to have people with this ability. Without this sort of constructive criticism, positive change will never take place because it would not be diagnosed in the first place. To me, it is really all about the underlying intentions of the person making the criticism.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

 

Get in the Ring (Round 2)

Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.~ William Provine

Well perhaps. It is undoubtedly cause for frustration and calls into question the integrity of those that push science primarily to advance a specific philosophical or theological agenda. However, too many times that seems to be used as a justification against evolution. The problem is that’s not an argument against the theory itself anymore than it is for unbelievers to argue that, because Christians are hypocritical or judgmental, the teachings of Christianity itself are invalid.

Again, just to reiterate, I’m not so much concerned with the conclusion(s) one reaches about the origins of the world and mankind as I am about the thought process behind it. Personally, I am an absolute believer in ‘creation’ and marvel constantly at God’s magnificent gifts to us in nature.

But, I’m also not resting the entire foundation of my faith on the idea the world is a mere eight or ten thousand years old. (Check out these two good arguments - one for and one against the validity of an "old-earth" theory.) How exactly the creation of the natural world came about may, in fact, be a bit too much for my tiny mind to grasp. As such, I'm not willing to arbitrarily discount any well researched opinions of the many intelligent, honest members of the scientific community.

Mark Noll goes to great lengths in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, to document the dangers to the thought life of Christians posed by the increasing influence of fundamentalism within Christianity in the twentieth century.

Noll states: By their all-or-nothing attitudes make it harder, rather than easier, to isolate the critical issues at the intersection of religion and science. The roar of battle between “creationists” and their “scientific” opponents drowns out the more patient, more careful voices.

It is after all not just scientists with which “creationists” are arguing, but also the vast majority of geologists and anthropologists that argue against a literal reading of Genesis. You nearly have to believe in a vast atheistic-evolutionary conspiracy to think that all these folks are lying in order to advance their worldview. Continuing on an adversarial course against science is not going to help the cause of Christianity in the least going forward.

In the words of Pope John Paul II, Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish. (Letter to George Coyne June 1, 1988)

For further discussion on this topic, there is a Christianity and Science showcase coming up at AllThings2All Blog. (Hat tip: Jollyblogger) Update: Speaking of reconciling Christianity and Science, Nobel laureate Charles Townes has just received the 2005 Templeton Prize for a life's work in this capacity.

Monday, March 07, 2005

 

The Tipping Point

I'm really starting to think that January 30, 2005 will be remembered as a watershed moment in history. The day 8 million Iraqis elected their own interim government seems to have set off a firestorm of huge geopolitical consequences in the Middle East. This could be the defining moment when the groundswell of desire for freedom erupted and spread throughout the region.

But don’t take my word for it…

Here is the transcript of an exchange between Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) and Katie Couric this morning on the Today Show. Or was that Karl Rove disguised as Bill Richardson? Actually, Richardson’s a fair-minded guy, but it is still fairly daunting to read his praise of Bush’s foreign policy. Here’s a portion of what he said:

I believe the Bush Administration deserves credit for putting pressure, and saying that authoritarian regimes have to go. …younger Arabs that are fueling this discontent throughout the Arab world, becoming pro-US, which is a good sign for the future.

Even Katie Couric gets in on the action:

A lot of foreign policy experts are hailing the Bush Administration's policies, and saying the Bush Doctrine, of spreading democracy throughout the world, there's clear evidence that it's working.

Not exactly the biggest fan of the administration’s foreign policy, Jon Stewart also made some intriguing observations on the Daily Show. There’s a partial transcript of his conversation last week with ex-Clinton aide Nancy Soderberg over at Wall Street Journal Online.

Stewart: Do you think that the people of Lebanon would have had, sort of, the courage of their conviction, having not seen--not only the invasion but the election which followed? It's almost as though that the Iraqi election has emboldened this crazy--something's going on over there. I'm smelling something…. I gotta say, I haven't seen results like this ever in that region.

Soderberg (reluctantly agreeing): Well, I think, you know, as a Democrat, you don't want anything nice to happen to the Republicans, and you don't want them to have progress. But as an American, you hope good things would happen. …I think it's moving in the right direction. I'll have to give them credit for that. We'll see.

There's a whole lot more of this sort of thing coming from even more unlikely sources including the New York Times editorial page. The point is that honest people all over the political spectrum are coming to a realization of the huge events unraveling before our eyes. The consequences of which could have a dramatically positive impact for all of us - or at least we can hope so.

Of course, this is not to say that everyone is now “getting it”. For more of the same, head-in-the-sand extreme left-wing nutjob commentary, check out democratic underground or daily kos. The moonbats over there do not disappoint.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

 
"Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones, take this soul and make it sing."

- "Yahweh" from U2's How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb


Posted by Hello


Breckenridge, Colorado Posted by Hello


Some Buffalo Soldiers Guarding the Foothills of the Colorado Rockies:


Posted by Hello


Genessee Park, Colorado Posted by Hello

I've spent the last years Rocky Mountain Way...

And now that I've figured out the whole digital camera thing (a little behind the curve on that one I know), I can actually start to post some of this glorious scenery. I took the top two pics today on a snowshoe trip. I spotted the buffalo on the way home. Uh, the splendor of Colorado.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

 

Get in the Ring (Christianity v. Science Round 1)

It’s a big hot-button issue on both sides – the origin of mankind that is. The stakes are high and winner takes all. But does it have to be this way? Speaking from the viewpoint of a Christian, why is it that so many fellow believers view evolution (and the scientific community in general) as an assault on our core beliefs that is be rejected immediately and forcefully?

I have no specific expertise in scientific matters and so I am neither interested nor qualified to engage in a debate over the merits of evolution. My qualm here is not with those well-educated folks convinced of the validity of "Scientific Creationism" over evolution. But rather with those who are so casually dismissive of Evolutionary Theory, without really understanding it in the first place.

To advocate that Creation, not Evolution, is the answer because "that's what the Bible says" strikes me as being more than a bit overconfident and presumptuous of our own human capacity to interpret scripture. Do we really know that the earth was created in 6 days? Would it necessarily refute the story of creation in Genesis were it not so? If, say, each “day” were a billion years?

Christ used parables throughout his time on earth to teach eternal truths in a way that we could understand. I fail to see the rationale for such outrage over suggesting that perhaps some language in the Bible is meant to be interpreted metaphorically.

I think this stems from a belief by some that when something is meant “metaphorically,” it is hardly meant at all. In Miracles, C.S. Lewis disputes this claim. For me the Christian doctrines which are ‘metaphorical’…mean something which is just as ‘supernatural’ or shocking after we have removed the ancient imagery as it was before.

And that is precisely the point, I believe. It does not invalidate the inerrancy of Scripture to think that some passages are allegorical. Nor does it dilute the meanings or the ramifications of the Scriptural passages in any way. Mark Noll (in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) points to the potential pitfalls a completely literal interpretation may facilitate:

The modern evangelical church is extremely sensitive about the discussion of scientific issues that bear on Genesis 1-11. Enough Christians are so afraid of what might turn up in such discussion that anyone who does try to explore the issues is in ecclesiastical jeopardy. The prevailing atmosphere of fear tends to squelch attempts to deal with these issues.

It occurs to me that Genesis and biology become opposed only when either:
1. A misguided scientist claims that biology impugns Genesis OR
2. A misguided Christian claims that Genesis impugns biology

It also occurs to me that this topic is such a thought-provoking one that it would take an entire book to do it justice rather than one mere posting here. At any rate, I’ll refrain from drifting off in a myriad of tangential directions at this point.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

 

I Got The Ill Communication

Has Scrappleface found a cure for liberal bias? Test it out – go belly up to the bar and watch some news. Money Quote: Our focus groups tell us that when you consume distilled spirits, that slant seems to straighten up and the spin reverses.

But... If this story is making sense to you, you may want to get back on the wagon.

Wow! How did I miss this award on Sunday night? Schwarzenegger Wins Oscar for 'Best Actor' for Role as 'The Governor' Here’s the scoop: The public is delighted by the way Schwarzenegger has blended his fictitious Hollywood super-hero persona, with the character he is portraying of an outraged citizen who decides to take on the evil power structure at the state capitol.

Well, he wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award, but it’s good to see Michael Moore is being given his props after all.

Stay tuned for a return to real news soon.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

 

The Contenders

The always amusing Mickey Kaus is continuing to try to figure out a way to get John Kerry out of the spotlight. The goal is to get Kerry off the stage to keep him from drowning out other Democrats who may otherwise have a chance to emerge as leaders. Read his most recent idea here.

He also observes, If she's smart, Hillary doesn't want Kerry out of the presidential race. Until January, 2008, he's her best friend--an easily-beatable foil who takes up precious media space that other, more formidable challengers might otherwise make good use of.

Now 2008's a long way off and I'm not inclined to speculate too much except to offer these two thoughts:

First, Hillary, while very polarizing is also very smart - as witnessed in her recent positioning toward the center on several key issues of late. Underestimate her at your own peril. She is absolutely the Democratic front runner as it stands and will likely be a very formidable candidate for President.

Secondly, I'm going to make a prediction in the Republican race which is wide open as of now. Senator George Allen from Virginia is going to be the man to beat. He's intelligent, articulate, and led the GOP to a huge win in the Senate last November. (He headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee in its candidate recruitment and fundraising efforts that led to the pickup of four seats for the GOP majority.) And not to worry about Senators not being able to win the White House, since he was Governor previously. Hugh Hewitt thinks the upcoming battle over Supreme Court nominees could propell Allen into the spotlight.

That's Allen v. Clinton in '08. Remember, you heard it here first.

 

The Times They Are a Changin'

The blogosphere is buzzing with optimism about all the recent developments toward freedom in the Middle East. As it should be.

Cal Thomas declares, Twenty years after Ronald Reagan proclaimed freedom inevitable for what were then called "captive nations," freedom is on the march as perhaps never before. Read the rest of his article here.

There's more from Mark Steyn in his new column:

…for perhaps the most remarkable development, consider this report from Mohammed Ballas of Associated Press: "Palestinians expressed anger on Saturday at an overnight suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce, a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes."

I’m not going to get into all of the details of everything happening now, but Gregory Djerejian gives a nice summary of all the recent progress in this post.

It’s an encouraging sign to see left-wing bloggers like Matthew Yglesias giving credit where credit is due for these developments. (He’s referring in particular to Mubarak’s surprise announcement over the weekend to open up elections in Egypt.)

Yes, it's but a tentative step and things could still all work out poorly, but still, this is a pretty unambiguous success for Bush's second term freedom kick….Give the man some props.

I’ve got a whole lot of respect for someone like Yglesias for saying something like this. Despite the inevitable backlash that will follow from his liberal readers, he’s honestly assessing the situation. Andrew’s talking about this subject as well…

I think even the fiercest critics of president Bush's handling of the post-liberation phase in Iraq will still be thrilled at what appears to me to be glacial but important shifts in the right direction in the region.

Let’s hope he’s right. More honest punditry like Yglesias’ could enable us to move past the name-calling and have an actual dialogue about how to best prevent the spread of terrorism. Which would be, you know, kinda important and all. Now, someone just needs to inform Ann Coulter of this new spirit of bipartisanship.

UPDATE: I've found another reason to support the spread of liberty abroad.

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