Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ender Wiggins' Slander

I just finished a book by the Mormon writer Orson Scott Card, "Children Of The Mind." There's a rather memorable line in the book where Ender Wiggins, the book's protagonist, says, "I'm not a Christian. I don't pay for my sins, I learn from them."

I really liked that line. Coming from Mr. Card's Mormonism, it gave me a look at the world from a perspective not my own within Christianity. I love to look at what I know from different perspectives and understand what the outsider perceives.

"I... learn from my sins." Each of our sins are truly evidence of our need to learn. It is a very good thing to learn from one's sins. Technically, learning changes the mind. And I've always learned that the Greek word for "change your mind" is metanoia, and that metanoia is the Greek word in the Bible translated "repent." When you see the guy in a sandwich board that says, "Repent," the word means, "Change your mind." Thus, Mr. Card's character Ender is voicing the fact that there's a sense in which he repents of his sins. This is an idea at the core of what it means to be a Christian.

I've come to think that Christianity's Gospel has been hijacked with some odd, unscriptural accretions. This business of asking deity, Jesus, to enter one's heart, a pump for blood, never made sense to me. Same goes for "accepting Christ." What exactly does it mean to "accept" deity? These accretions hide what I believe to be the true Gospel: there is Mercy in Christ. Repent and believe to obtain it. Repent and believe. Repent. Change your mind.

Repent of my sins? Change my mind about my sins. Learn from my sins. These are awefully similar if not the same things. So, I'm all with Mr. Card and Ender, by all means learn from your sins for judgment is at hand.

This is not Ender Wiggins' slander.

Instead, he said, "I don't pay for my sins..." before he said he learned from them. Where and how could he get the idea that sins have to be paid for? Rhetorical question. We all carry within us the sense of Justice as image bearers of God. Justice demands that evil be punished. The lady with the blindfold holds scales. The scales of justice must be balanced. Christianity, and Judaism, and I presume Mormonism all assert the necessity for justice.

What Ender Wiggins gets wrong is that he thinks that sins are paid for by the sinner. Or that Christianity teaches that sins are paid for by the sinner. A bit of careful thought by Mr. Card would quickly disabuse him of this notion, for surely he's seen the central symbol of Christianity, the Cross of Christ. The Christian who is truly a Christian never pays for his sins and never thinks that he can and never thinks that he does. The Christian believes Christ does the paying, and that belief is counted for Righteousness. With that out of the way, the Christian can get about the business of learning from his sins.

So, how is it that Mr. Card knows about the Cross, even superficially, yet has Ender Wiggins claim that Christians "pay for" but not "learn from" sins. I think it's the Roman Catholic notion of penance. The Christian, even the Roman Christian, never pays for his sins. But the Roman Catholic often pays a penance. Penance is a mixed thing. When I've offended someone and seek reconciliation of the relationship, a peace offering helps restart the dialog. I'm not Catholic but I've occasionally been assigned a penance by my Catholic friends. And when I've not really been repentant about doing something that I thought right, but my boss would think wrong, I've asked what penance he'd like now that I'd given him a fait accompli.

This notion of penance gives the wrong impression to outsiders. And as you can see it can also serve as a substitute for repentance. And the penance can serve as an occasion for Simony (the attempt to buy grace for money named after Simon the sorcerer rebuked by Peter in Acts). The worst abuse of the penance in history served as the spark that lit the fires of the Reformation, specifically the sale of indulgences. "Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, Die Seel' aus dem Fegfeuer springt" As the gold in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.

I think this is why Mr. Card put slander about Christianity in the mouth of Ender Wiggins. I think the ease with which the doctrine of penance is misunderstood both within and without The Church strongly argues against Romanism. My own Reformed thinking insists that grace is free. Grace is free.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Seasonal Affective Disorder

These days around the winter solstice are short and gray. Thankfully, they're not as cold as they might be. I am thankful for global warming and wouldn't mind some more of it. But the dim light that filters through the clouds for the few hours of daylight leaves me a little bit out of sorts.

Last Saturday I had to do some work at the apartments. I own a coin-operated dryer. I tried to adjust the control unit to give my tenants more time for their money. Instead, I halved the time. I'm a better capitalist than I tried to be. Thus, last Saturday I gave the dryer another try. I don't quite understand the process, so I would try something then wait to see how long the timer would stay on. I took a lawn chair and a good light and a book. If I succeeded on the first try, I'd be gone an hour. Instead I would try something and read for a half-hour or so, then try something else. I never quite figured things out, so I was gone a long time Saturday night.

I read and enjoyed the solitude. Mostly, I enjoyed the light. The dryer is in the basement and the basement is not "a clean well-lighted place." So, along with the book and lawn chair, I packed a drywall light to take care of the "well-lighted" part.

If you don't know what a drywall light is, and you live in Michigan, you're in trouble. When days are short, I don't get enough light. I either have to jet south to Florida, or I need a drywall light. It's a stand with two 500 watt halogen lights attached. They get smoking hot and you'll burn yourself if you touch one. They also make a darkened basement as bright as a sunwashed tropical beach.

...just a second...

They also have the same effect on my family room where I'm typing now. Every winter when I start getting feeling grumpy and ticked off at everyone, I pull out the drywall light and set it up in the family room. It isn't something you'll see in Good Housekeeping or any home design magazine. But if you sit next to a drywall light for a few hours, you'll forget how short and how gray the winter days are.

They say that the post-holidays season is hard and that people get all depressed at this time of year. I don't think it's because the days are post-holidays, instead, I think it's because the days are so gray and short. I recommend a drywall light. You can find one at any big-box home improvement store. I googled up this , but if you're feeling ornery, just goto Menards or Lowes or Builders' Square. It will cost less than a shrink or a tropical vacation.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Emperor's New Haircut

I'm a geek who writes. I've also been a voracious reader for all my life. In high school my dad bought a collection of O Henry short stories that I absolutely loved. I also took lit classes in high school and this was my first exposure to Ernest Hemingway. I would read Hemingway stories and think "what's the point?" I figured contemporary literature was much like the emperor's new clothes.

This is why I became a geek. Later in college I took Contemporary Literature and I had minored in philosophy. My opinion of contemporary literature changed somewhat. I figured (accurately) that I could always bamboozle any lit prof by just putting in existentialist philosophy.

A few years ago I started writing and I wanted to write well. So, I started reading contemporary literature again. This included a revisit to Ernest Hemingway and other stories that I'd put down and think "what's the point?" This time I noticed something different. There still wasn't any point to the stories, but I was middle-aged and I had done some living. These "pointless" stories were able to convey something about life and something about human nature.

Mary and I were discussing this on our walk. She mentioned that it's sort of stupid to teach this stuff in high school to kids who haven't lived enough to recognize the truth of such character-driven stories. I agreed. I still think the emperor has no clothes.

All the fuss and bother about Hemingway is indeed the fuss about the Emperor's new clothes. The thing about contemporary literature is indeed much ado about nothing. The Emperor is naked. But he does have a new haircut.

If you're a geek who writes, the way to bamboozle the English majors who happen to be Editors is to make sure you know howto cut hair.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Performance Review

I figure one of the higher-ups set the "objectives for 2006" for his subordinates (my bosses) that include a line item "100% of subordinates shall receive performance reviews," because suddenly everybody made time for performance reviews for everyone in the department. Typical corporate foolishness that if you're not careful will increase your cynicism. Happily, my own cynicism was successfully hidden from view during my recent performance review, because it was never mentioned.

I find that bosses in performance reviews tend to have different approaches. Some, who've read The Minute Manager look for a way to "catch you doing something right." Others tend to look for some imperfection to try to "improve you." I have two different agendas during a performance review. One agenda is to identify what I can do better than anyone else and then do more of it. The other agenda is to identify what I'm failing worst at and then... AND THEN WHAT?

There's two ways to deal with what I'm failing worst at. 1) figure out "how" I'm goofing up and conquer that weakness. 2) figure out how to avoid doing what I'm weak at and do that less.

This is a subtle point that's missed by too many people. If I'm good at X and I'm bad at Y, then I might work at getting better at Y. ME, I'll charge ahead and try to figure out howto get better at Y. This is stupid. Smarter of me is to figure out how to ditch Y, opening up more time to do more X.

But first you have to know what is X and what is Y. You have to know at what you suck. At lunch today we were talking about the Japanese and German attitudes during WW2. It's common to believe they thought they were the ubermen much better than anyone else. Superiority was their birthright. It wasn't, but they thought so. I like to say that "Germans make no small mistakes." You have to acknowledge the possibility that you're ignorant or wrong to have any hope of learning or correcting yourself. If I believe I'm inherently superior in every respect, I'll deny the existence of any weakness in myself. I won't know what's Y unless I can get a clue.

The person who is least likely to learn is someone who thinks he knows everything. The Pharisees could never be forgiven because they denied they'd ever done anything wrong. This idea generalizes. In my performance review, I had my bosses tell me where I'm strong and where I'm weak.

I've got to listen carefully to hear what I don't want to hear. It's human nature to hear bad news and then spend whatever energy it takes to explain it away. When I was a Deacon at Trinity, folks would leave the church, when they'd leave sometimes they'd write a letter explaining themselves. I was always annoyed when the Deacon board would talk and talk until we'd explain it away and make no effective changes addressing the reasons cited.

This brings to mind the Bible passage that Louis is going through at Blythefield right now:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

I figure the anti-pattern I saw in the Deacons' meeting was finding a way to behold our failures and then finding a way to go our way and forget what we'd just heard. This may not be fair, but it seemed that way at the time.

There are some specifics of this passage that I want to point out. I think that the metaphorical glass or mirror of this passage is the law. The next verses speak of the perfect law of liberty. And elsewhere we see that the Apostles taught that God's law serves the role of a mirror, showing us our faces are dirty.

In a business setting, if you find you're weak at Y, you should merely avoid doing Y. In a personal, moral, setting, if you find your face is "dirty" at some point of the law, you should endeavour to avoid more lawbreaking in the future and use the "soap" of grace to clean your guilt.

I almost didn't paste in that last verse. Everything I've said above is supported without it. But it's right there and I think I can take a personal application from it. I think of what I've written and said. I suppose somethings I write well, those are my Xs. And some things I write poorly, those are my Ys. That's what I sat down to express in this little note.

But then I took a delivery from the clue train. I try to make the habit of asking the unwanted question of "am I guilty of this?" And that last verse speaks of bridling one's tongue. Ah yes, I see. I owe some people an apology for speaking harshly and unknindly. I wonder if I'm going to do anything about that...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Prophesy Conference

There have been two times when I believe I've truly seen a prophet at work.

I've seen more than my share of dispensation diagrams. One of the first books I read after I quit being an agnostic/atheist was Hal Lindsay's Late, Great Planet Earth. But it was none of that.

The first time was when I was reading a book written in the 1940s by C.S. Lewis and he precisely described the contemporary NEA. The second time was when I was watching a 10-year-old clip from the 700 Club where Pat Robertson is interviewing Francis Schaeffer and the latter was precisely describing the mainstream media's groupthink. These guys had this amazing ability to say things that would have topical relevance decades later.

So, I was talking to one of my daughter's friends at Umich and learned he was reading How Shall We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer. I related that my job in college involved showing the eponymous film series in various spots on campus, and I had seen it about 3 or 4 times. As well as when I saw Francis Schaeffer in person in Indianapolis and saw the 10-film series then. He disclosed that the DVD was now available and soon after I had warmed up my credit card and purchased it.

Last night I was watching the chapter on non-rationality in culture. It had a lot of goofball 60s drug use stuff that looked terribly dated. And then he moved onto a description of Existentialism and the various post-rational modes of thought. Nothing new here, I thought. I'd been a student of such things back in the day and I'd managed to remember most of it. However, when Schaeffer moved onto neo-orthodoxy, he started talking about Kierkegaard and Heidegger, et alia in terms I found familiar. And as you would expect Paul Tillich and Karl Barth were right there. These gentlemen provided a Christian theological interpretation of religious existentialism. Also familiar.

And also much more interesting b/c I have an ongoing argument with my Sunday School teacher about the orthodoxy of Kierkegaard. I don't think he was. So, my ears perked up a little and then I heard Schaeffer say something I hadn't caught before.

Schaeffer had described the psychodelic movement and the proposals that people be given drugs like LSD to help them find their own truth, to find some truth inside themselves. (As opposed to objective truth.) Schaeffer then characterized these non-rational/post-rational religion users as using religion as a drug.

That's it. The old opiate of the masses business. Karl Marx and Francis Schaeffer agree about this sort of religion for completely different reasons. Marx believed all religions were bogus and fictitious--it just made its adherents feel nice because it was divorced from objective truth. Francis Schaeffer would never assert that all religions are fiction, but he would acknowledge that some are more or less so.

Religion is a drug when it lives outside rationality. Religion outside the bounds of reason to Schaeffer, and every Christian like him, is mere drug use. It's a mere palliative that makes the user feel good, but it does not engage reality any more than a drug trip.

Pope Benedict recently pointed to the rational nature of deity and encouraged others to use rational dialog as the basis of interfaith exchange. I'm not saying anything about Islam today, but I do find it interesting that reason, qua reason, is endorsed as valid in a religious context by both the Reformed Schaeffer and the Roman Pope.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reverse Engineering Hemingway

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

Consider "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." I recently heard an audio recording of a reading of this short story by Ernest Hemingway. When it was done, I went "Wow. What a great story! How could he write that?"

First off, a story like that with a WOW climax is designed from the beginning with Francis Macomber's sudden death. Step backwards, how does he die? His wife shoots him. Step back, why does she kill him? They have an unhappy marriage. Why? Because they despise each other. Why don't they divorce? Because he is terribly rich and she's too old to find a richer husband. Because he is a coward.

A coward, eh? What disturbs the status quo that causes her to kill him now? He finds his nerve. Not all cowards are doomed to stay that way, some grow up and become men. (Remember, this is Hemingway, and men are men and Women are cruel decoration.) If she doesn't kill him right now, he'll leave her.

All right, what setting will have a man manifest cowardice and shortly thereafter find his nerve? Hemingway likes Africa, the American reading public likes Africa, and a big game hunt is a pastime of the rich where there are lots of guns about. Easy enough to make the murder look like a hunting accident. And with Africa being fairly remote you don't have much in the way of law enforcement about, and African big game guides make for better characters than, say, Canadian Indian guides.

Moreover, Hemingway has spent his money from the other stories he's sold going to Africa and doing manly things there. He can use his journals as filler until he gets the word count he needs.

OK. If I were Hemingway, I'd have the outline of the story set (in my head at least and if I'm me, i'll have it on paper). With the outline clearly defined, we can drop a few clues to foreshadow the climactic murder scene, but give them a plausible non-murderous meaning in the immediate context so as not to spoil the surprise when Macomber catches a bullet from his wife.

All right, now Hemingway can start writing.

No, wait. Not yet. He needs a hook. Something that'll cast that "can't put it down" spell on the reader. Start with a celebration that has a dark shadow inside it. Yeah, they return from the hunt with the bearers carrying Macomber to his tent while he's miserable, his wife is openly sorrowful, but subtly contemptuous, and the guide is disgusted and wondering how the rest of the safari will go. OK. everybody's unhappy and the reader doesn't know why?

Great, start writing...

Wait, spin the ending so that the reader isn't quite sure if its murder or not. Yeah, ambiguity is good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry's Joke

I just saw a video of John Kerry saying that you can either make something of yourself by working hard in school, or ending up in Iraq. The White House and others have demanded that he apologize for this.

Mr. Kerry and the Democrats in general claim that this was a lame joke that didn't work. Watch the video for yourself watching Mr. Kerry's body language and the expression on his face. Now, goto YouTube and enter the search term "stand up comic," and watch ANYBODY, noting his body language.

Now look at Mr. Kerry's video again. Does it look to you like Mr. Kerry is telling a joke?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mary and I just got back from a quick trip to The Double JJ Resort. Jane is at college and Dan was gone to Stratford, Ontario for the weekend. So, we hooked up my new (to me) trailer and took off on a shakedown cruise, figuring out how to most efficiently take a quick camping weekend vacation.

This Double JJ Resort place is a themed resort. They have a golf course. I don't golf. Horseback riding is a big thing there. Neither Mary nor I do any horseback riding. We picked this place mostly b/c P.J. Hoffmaster State Park wanted us to stay for more than just one night. But it was pretty cool.

A lot of families with kids were there. We were surprised at how many people were camping in the RV park. But the main thing is the Western theme of cowboys and horses and stuff like that. It was an amusing and relaxing time.

As we're leaving, Mary remarked about the cultural tension she felt. We were both raised in the country with a fair bit of farming going on around us. But she admitted that she just felt like she didn't fit in; she's a city girl now. I agreed. It's sort of interesting to see this subculture, but isn't me.

Then I said, "You know, our former Pastor at Trinity would just love this place." Mary emphatically agreed. We both could see him fitting in there perfectly.

He left Trinity for more reasons than I know, but I think it was simply a matter of flexibility and fitting. He's the kind of guy who'll stand for what's right and not back down. That's good. But Trinity wasn't a cowboy church in the country. Trinity is an American church in the 21st century suburbs. Across from Trinity sit a number of newly built MacMansions filled with families carrying quarter-million-dollar mortgages.

We just heard that our former pastor has taken a church in a rural area in the Michigan "thumb." I hope he does well. I hope he's got a country church where the cultural attitudes of his parishoners match his temperament.

Driving back from Double JJ's, I thought about two groups of people. There's Pew Warmers like me who help out in church when asked. Then there's Joe Random Neighbor, living in that MacMansion, who has no idea what this church thing is about.

It's my job as Pew Warmer to bloom where I'm planted. It is my responsibility to adapt to whatever culture my church presents to me. At my new church, Blythefield Hills Baptist, they occasionally have the "dancing girls" who do some liturgical dance thing. It's cultural, alien to my sensibilities, but neither good nor bad. I don't know if Joe Random Neighbor sees the liturgical dance and thinks, "I understand Christianity much more clearly now," or not. It had better, or it's wasted motion. I have compromise at this point, because there's nothing in the Bible that says this is good or evil.

But things are different for Joe Random Neighbor. He might step in the door of my church to see what's going on. If he sees a bunch of cowboy kitsch, he might get the idea Christianity is some kinda quaint backwards cult--a bigger version of the Amish. I don't know what he thinks of the cultural divide, but I don't think it's essential to Christianity.

My job as an Evangelical Christian is to express Christianity as accurately as I can. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but I speak in English. I have to translate the truth of Christianity into the language, grammar, metaphors and memes that Joe Random Neighbor will understand. This means accommodating my neighbor, tailoring my message to make sure he understands the essential message uncluttered by my cultural accretions.

Christians need to evaluate our own culture and their neighbors' culture to ascertain which things are good, which things are bad, and which things are neutral. If we find things in our culture that are bad, we need to repent of them. If we find things in our neighbor's culture that are bad, we need to preach against them. But those neutral things in the middle--cowboy kitsch or dancing girls, we need to evaluate whether they advance our goals. If my neighbor isn't into cowboy kitsch, I should drop it. If my neighbor comes to my church expecting liturgical dance, fine then.

Christianity provides value to Christians and the Christian message can provide value to Joe Random Neighbor. I think we have to demonstrate and deliver that value to "buy credibility" with him and so that he'll listen when we talk about God's justice and mercy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So, Was That A Sign?

When I stay up too late, I get sucked into useless activities. So, I was going through YouTube videos and I saw something from Westboro Baptist Church. They are the folks who hold up signs at funerals saying people are going to hell. (I was going to link to a photo, but that'd probably be overkill.)

So, I watched the video that I presume came from these people, and they have this girl who's smiling and matter-of-factly talking about how "you're going to hell" while playing a slide show of people holding similar signs with big smiles on their faces. All the while she's describing the whole thing with a smile on her face and a smile in her voice.

I'm a 5-point Calvinist, and this kid is quoting Romans 9 to me, and I'm thinking, "yeah, that's true" (in part). But another part of me is thinking, "have you read the book of life? How do you know your name is written therein?" I believe this business about God choosing who he'll be merciful to, and who he'll give grace to. I believe there's only two things people encounter after death: mercy or justice. There's mercy in Christ and there's justice for everyone else.

I believe in asymmetrical, double-predestination, which means God has a good idea to whom he'll offer the Effectual Call of the gospel in the context of my or someone else's preaching of the Universal Call of the gospel. I also believe God hasn't told me everything he knows. I suspect that God hasn't told the girl from Westboro Baptist Church everything he knows, too.

We live in a world that's "virtually arminian" in that God never tells us the details of his decrees, how his predestination works out. From our perspective, contingency is undeniable, because from our perspective God keeps some secrets.

One of those secrets is that book of life the Bible talks about. It talks about the judgement and the books being opened then. They aren't open now. I don't know whether God has numbered the folks at Westboro Baptist Church among elect; I don't know whether he hasn't, either.

It's incredibly arrogant to tell folks they're going to hell, because we just never know absolutely. There's grace. With grace you get mercy and you get heaven. Without grace you get justice and you get what you deserve. Who gives grace or not? It isn't the girl from Westboro Baptist Church, but God.

We can know with some degree of likelihood whether someone is in a state of grace or not. If I don't fool myself about the state of my heart, I can believe and my faith is counted to me for righteousness. That's faith alone: Romans 5. But I don't know what's in the heart of that girl from Westboro Baptist Church. I don't know if she really believes what she's saying or whether she's just faking it, gaming her family like teenagers are wont. Or maybe loving God not one wit, but only loving her self enough to dream up some rationalization that'll make her think she'll escape hell. I don't know. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. It's between her and God.

Jesus had something to say on the subject. He was asked what's the bottom line of God's law: the one-sentence summary of the OT perpetually binding moral obligations on all mankind. He said the first commandment is to love God and to love mankind. How can you love God that you have not seen, but hate his image-bearers (humanity) that you do see?

The book of James talks about how the devils know that God exists and that Jesus is God's son. But they are not loyal to him and they don't obey him. James is a practical book and its intended to give humans practical advice. He says that a man is justified, and I think he means here justified before other men, by his faith and his works. You can fake what's in your heart, but if I look at your life and your good works, I can infer whether your faith is just lipservice or not. Good works means law keeping and law keeping include that pesky love stuff Jesus was talking about.

They say that Christians can only be fruit inspectors: does a person's life bear fruit of good works or not? Based on that we stand or fall in each other's opinion. The only opinion that counts is God's and that depends upon the state of your heart.

So, what got me on this riff was right after the girl from Westboro Baptist Church got done saying for the zillionth time, "You're going to hell..."

ALL THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN MY HOUSE.

The timing was absolutely perfect. It was spooky, like one of those moments when you wonder if the Rapture just happened. There I sat in the dark with my laptop running on batteries glowing in the dark and I see that kid smiling and saying I'm going to hell.

So, was that a sign? Am I going to hell? I like to tell folks my favorite Amish aphorism is, "If you want to know if I'm a Christian, ask my neighbor."

The World Of Tomorrow

I liked to explore the property across the road from my house when I was growing up. This was OK because my favorite aunt & uncle owned the place, but they lived in Chicago and the place across the street lay vacant. There was a fallen down barn, a basement-house, and a couple out-buildings. I was poking around the loft in one of the out-buildings and I found some old books and magazines. The books were Hardy Boys and Tarzan and I devoured them. Then I turned to the magazines.

They were Popular Mechanix magazines that dated from the early 1950s. I found them quite interesting and read them intently. Thought of those magazines makes me feel quite nostalgic.

Thus, I was amused when I saw that someone had linked an article they'd scanned in from a 1950 Popular Mechanix entitled,
"Miracles You'll See In The Next 50 Years."
I was surprised and pleased to see that I actually remembered reading this magazine when I was a teenager. At that time (the early '70s) the predictions were a little funky, but nowhere near as odd as they are today.

When I was a kid I read all the Science Fiction I could get my hands on. And I knew that the future would be full of cool stuff like nuclear powered flying cars and jet packs. No mention of personal computers or the internet, though. That's the problem, back in the 50s and 60s a Science Fiction writer had a pretty good chance of making some really accurate predictions as well as some really unrealistic ones. People remember things where SF got close, like the Apollo project. People forget where SF really missed the mark, like flying cars.

The things that made such dandy plot devices for the SF of my youth have proven fairly intractible. And other things the Golden Age SF writer found unthinkable are widely deployed. For example, we have computers all over the place, but does any of them do speech recognition like you see Mr. Spock talk to the ship's computer on Star Trek? Here's an example: When I answer my telephone, I say, "Steve Poling speaking." The more advanced telemarketing systems are built to automatically dial and then listen for someone to say, "Hello." When they don't hear "Hello" they hang up and go to the next number without enqueueing a telemarketing person to take the call. By saying, "Steve Poling speaking," I defeat the technology by saying something unexpected that any human can readily understand.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Veggie Tales, coming soon to NBC

Hey kids!

Do you like Veggie Tales, but sorta get uncomfortable with all that God stuff (which is why your mom bought those videos for you in the first place)? Well, Good News! NBC has bought rights to Veggie Tales. And you'll soon be able to watch them on network television.

And best of all, that pesky God stuff in those Veggie Tales is going to be edited out of there by the wise and kind executives at NBC. (These are folks just like the wise and kind executives who proved in court that "artistic considerations" prohibit your parents from buying a DVD player that edits out the naughty bits and swear words. Think of all the new words you've learned!)

Now that NBC will be calling the shots for Veggie Tales, you can expect to see Larry the Cucumber demonstrating condom use. Soon you'll see a new "fruit" join the gang in the new "Open and Affirming" episodes with a special guest appearance of Tinky Winky from Teletubbies.

Now that's what I call "Must-See TV"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Notice To almost-Pedophiles

If you're an older gay adult and want to hit on a younger (18-year old) gay, make sure you do not use Instant Messenger. Instead, you should use the communications channels favored by Al Qaeda terrorists.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I Miss Newt Gingrich

Back in 1983, the governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards, gloated that he could not lose unless he was "caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." In the intervening years, we've seen a change of standards in American politics. Nowadays, the Washington beltway insiders are all aquiver about the resignation of a Florida congressman over years-old creepy IM messages. UPDATE: With an 18-year old.

You will recall that Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinski. Phone sex and fellatio did not constitute sex back in the gay '90s. However, Clinton was not a Republican and a different standard applies. Who needs to be caught in bed with someone when there's a creepy three-year-old IM message logged on a computer somewhere?

Before the gay '90s, being homosexual sufficed to disqualify one from positions of trust. If you wanted to work for NSA and get a Top Secret security clearance, you had to be straight as an arrow. In fact, the Soviets were adept at using sex to recruit agents. Alan Turing killed himself not because he was gay, but because the Soviets used that fact to blackmail him.

Presumably, the today's Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is more enlightened. Apparently, former Rep. Foley's sexual proclivities were not secret within the beltway and it appears that the House Republican leadership saw no problem with putting this person in a position of trust.

My problem with the House Republican leadership has nothing to do with Mr. Foley's scandal, but with a perception that they are STUPID. Let's see, the Democrats have a problem with William Jefferson, D-LA, who happens to store thousands of dollars in cash in his freezer. (Nicely killing the Democrat "culture of corruption" meme.) Then the FBI searches his offices whereupon Mr. Hastert attacks the FBI. (Stupidly resurrecting this meme.)

Now, Speaker Hastert has been caught in an apparent lie. He said at first that he was surprised by this story. Later he said that he knew about the sorta-creepy emails, but not the really-creepy IM messages. The press is jumping on the Republicans about what they knew 6 months ago, or a year ago. But someone on the Democrat side knew about this three years ago and sat on the story until it would do the Republicans most damage. This argues that Mr. Hastert did not know about this scandal.

There is a strategy for handling damaging information: Bill Clinton had a significant emotional event on Fox News. His people were the first to circulate news of the meltdown. Get all the story out there fast, so the story can flame out as quick as possible. If you know something damaging, you've got to figure your enemy knows it, too. You're stupid to think it won't become public, because your enemy will release the information at the time and at the rate that'll maximize its damage.

Therefore, either Mr. Hastert is stupid or he didn't have the damaging information about Rep. Foley. That he misjudged the cut of Mr. Foley's jib is another matter.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

New Toy

When I was just out of high school I got a tent and a backpack and did some camping. Years later a bunch of my friends started a tradition of going to Camp Barakel for family camp over the Labor Day weekend. That meant I had to get something to go with them. I was unwilling to pay for anything more than a tent. I got one and we went. Dan was 3, we've gone back every year since. Dan is now a senior in high school.

Each year we expanded the operation. I got a 10' by 20' canopy (that works well for graduation open houses, as all our friends' graduated kids know) and we set that up in addition to the tent. The kids got big enough and they wanted their own tents, too.

Three or four years ago, a friend told me about a popup camper for sale cheap. It was a 1969 Apache. If you're unfamiliar with the design, it's basically a trailer with a couple of slide out platforms for foam matresses and a framework of metal pipes overhead that a canvas tent slides over. Definately minimalist, but we were sleeping off the ground.

The net result of all this was that preparations for camping took all of August and setup at the beginning of Labor Day weekend took nigh unto 90 minutes to two hours. And tear-down consumed the entire morning (except for chapel) on Monday.

The last two years I've gone from feeling that this was a lot of fun to thinking that this was an unnecessary hassle. What I want is a way to "get away from it all" that isn't a major production. And I want that extra four hours at camp that I'm now spending frogging around setting up and tearing down.

Thus, a few years ago, I found out about a popup trailer company called Aliner. The big appeal is that this popup trailer can set up and tear down in less than 30 seconds. Thus I was surprised and pleased when my wife, Mary, showed me an ad on the internet for a two-year-old Aliner with a "Sofa Dinette" floorplan. The price was right. Last week we drove to Three Rivers to inspect the unit. It had some problems with the weatherstripping, but the seller was willing to fix them so we agreed to buy it. We did so yesterday.

We found that pulling the unit with our van is only slightly harder than pulling the old Apache. I figure its about 900 pounds or so. There's a campground about halfway to church from my house and we stayed there last night to test it out.

It was a good test since there have been off-and-on rain showers all weekend and the temperatures are between the mid 50s and low 40s. The propane furnace keeps the inside nice and toasty. The walls and ceiling are all solid, insulated to something like an R7 factor, so there were no drafts.

We haven't quite figured out how to use the storage spaces in this unit. Because things seemed cluttered, I couldn't quite get as relaxed as I'd like. The sofa that pulls out for a bed isn't particularly comfortable as either. I intend to do some customizing. What I WANT is a wing-back chair and a reading lamp.

It's in the garage now, drying out. If I don't get dragged off to do some plumbing at the apartments, I'll see if I can set it up inside there without hitting the garage door opener.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sabbath Keeping In Grand Rapids

After church Mary and I were taking our walk when we got to the secret sidewalk that connects our cul de sac with the next street. We heard a leaf blower coming from our neighbor's house. Now, this neighbor is some kind of Dutch Reformed (Reformed or Christian Reformed). These people take the commandment about Sabbath more seriously than Baptists do. Ergo, no yard work.

Approaching his house, I noted that it was after sunset. Maybe the Dutch Reformed sabbath ends at sunset like it does for the Jews?

The secret sidewalk runs alongside his house and back yard. So, we went past his back yard and saw him standing outside his back door. Our neighbor wore a tuxedo and he was not doing any yard work. Before him is an array of large plastic things.

We were naturally curios and he obviously felt sheepish enough to explain that he had returned from a concert tonight (thus the tuxedo) and his wife had brought home all the tupperware from her pre-school class. She had washed it and he was tasked with drying them (thus the leaf blower).

My faith in Dutch Reformed christianity is reaffirmed. He wasn't doing yard work.

Purple-Faced Rage

I just read that the Ex-President, who discovered that White House interns are adept multitaskers (He used one as a humidors.), is in a "purple-faced rage" about the suggestion that he let anything distract him from the business of making Osama Bin Laden dead.

This reminds me of something that happened when I was a child. I had a 9 volt radio battery with a rather distinctive label on it that went missing. A while later, I went to visit my cousin and playing in his "fort" in his parents' garage, I saw a battery that looked exactly like the one that I lost.

I thought it an odd coincidence, but I thought nothing more than that when I mentioned it to him. Much to my surprise, my cousin flew off the handle, got defensive and angry and became altogether no fun to play with. On the ride home, the cousins lived in Chicago and I lived in Kent City, I got to thinking. Did my cousin steal that battery from me?

Lesson in human nature: When someone goes purple-faced on you, there may be a guilty conscience in play.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

John McCain is a media hoax

A long time ago, John McCain ran for President as a Republican. In so doing, he was soundly defeated by George W. Bush, a non-conservative I was not particularly excited about. Mr. Bush has ruled roughly as I've expected, non-conservatively, but no so ineptly non-conservative as his daddy. This lack of enthusiasm for a non-conservative was reflected in the conservative-dominated Republican primaries of that election cycle.

Conversely, conservative apathy for Mr. Bush exists in stark contrast with the unfailing devotion of the mainstream media for Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain has maintained a symbiotic relationship with the news party since his implication in the Keating Five corruption scandal and that symbiosis has kept him safe from criticism while he's sponsored legislation to "take the money out of politics" a crusade paid for by George Soros. This legislation regulates political speech against incumbent candidates immediately prior to their re-election. Mr. McCain engineered the "Gang of 14" compromise that rescued the Democratic Senate from irrelevance in the Supreme Court confirmation process. Moreover, Mr. McCain has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of terrorists held in American detention. Rights our adversaries are sure to reciprocate as they're sawing the heads off kidnapped Americans for the world to see on the Internet.

Another presidential primary season is upcoming. And with Vice President Cheney both unpopular and not standing for election, there is an open field of Republican candidates for President. Most prominent among them is Mr. McCain who surprised Mr. Bush by winning the Michigan primary back in 2000.

I happen to live in Michigan and I voted against Mr. McCain in 2000. I have Democrat friends who voted for Mr. McCain in 2000. In Michigan, a Republican can vote for a Democrat standing for election in a primary, such as when I voted for Geoffrey Feiger, knowing him to be a weaker opponent of the then incumbent governor John Engler. Moreover, I worked a phone bank on election day in the 2002 elections, as I had on many other election days. The phone list that time consisted of people voting Republican in the 2000 primary. Never before had I gotten so many hang-ups and "go to hell" responses while get-out-the-vote calling. This led me to believe a large number of Democrats voted for a Republican candidate in the 2000 presidential primary.

Ergo, I've felt with a fair degree of certainty that Mr. McCain is unelectable in any Republican presidential primary election. Any word to the contrary is mere media hoax.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Interfaith Dialog

There is something wrong with interfaith dialog when one side uses words and the other side uses fire bombs. His Holiness Benedict XVI has said that reason should be the basis of dialog and that violence should not be used to compel conversion. In response, representatives of Islam have taken to the streets and are fire bombing Christian churches that don't even acknowledge the Pope.

The nature of the Islamic deity is quite something, rewarding those who murder in his name with 70 virgins and so on.

Update: added link to B16's address.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Character of Deity

If you're watching the news, his Holiness Benedict XVI quoted a 15th century Byzantine Emperor, saying, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman." In response, the followers of Mohammed are burning things.

What are we to conclude from this? Since this is the "religion of peace," they must think Mohammed's contribution to civilization was the invention of fire.

It is a common mistake to think that the three major monotheist religions worship the same deity. It's more than just one deity going by various aliases. Let's suppose I say that the only deity that exists just simply loves to pull the wings off flies. And in eternity, after he runs out of flies, he turns the people he likes least into flies. If you're a Jew, a Moslem or a Christian, you wouldn't call this deity YOUR deity.

When you evaluate a religion, you need to inquire after the character of its deity. My fly-torturing deity would give rise to a sucky religion.

After 9/11, we've heard this constant refrain that the terrorists are aberrations and they were not at all reflective of Islam. This has always struck me as incredibly gullible and foolish wishful thinking. This religion of peace seems to respond to any provocation with violence. I think this reflective of the religion's god-concept.

We've heard that Pope Benedict XVI disapproves of those who fly airplanes into buildings. It's been five years, I cannot name a single "moderate" Moslem who's done so.

As I've said before, you can fly airplanes into buildings OR you can criticize that practise. That which evokes distrust and suspicion of Islam is the former, not the latter.

UPDATE: I just read Benedict XVI's remarks and they bear only a tangental relationship to the media coverage. You really have to read what he said for yourself.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Islam

This morning High Command informed me that I'd better leave the radio off, because everything was 9/11 everywhere. I rolled my eyes and picked out a Keiko Matsui CD. It sounds good. Before I settled down, she told me, "There was this private in World War 2, Saipan who died. He single-handedly got a bunch of Japanese to surrender to him. Made them think he had them surrounded. They called him the Pied Piper."

I shrugged and said, "The Japanese weren't known for that kind of thing." Making my way to my computer I thought back to a story from World War 1. Sargeant York. Took out a German machine gun nest and single handedly took a bunch of Germans prisoner.

It made me think that the most glorious victories do not come when you blast your enemy into teeny little bits, but when you induce him to surrender. It's common to think the other guy is 10 foot tall and bullet-proof. But when you get down to it, he's just as fearful of the outcome as you are.

The tenor of most of the 9/11 retrospectives I've seen from the right goes like this. We're at the outset of another World War and the forces of Mordor have us all divided. Even the Brits are about the take a powder. Pakistan just gave Bin Laden sanctuary. And every Democrat in this country wants to cut and run, they only disagree in the extent of the cowardice they want to manifest in doing so. Woe is us, and we're so screwed.

So, let's look at it from the other guy's perspective. Iran is acting nuts because the gubmint there is standing on a banana peel. Western values of pluralism and open inquiry make US the leaders and makes THEM technological vampires. These guys cause trouble because they have money. Our money from the sale of oil. There's only so much oil in the ground and this kind of geopolitical instability only serves to increase its price. But eventually, that oil is going to run out. And when that happens, they're on their own. Conversely, the US, Europe, Asia and Israel all know howto create wealth. The world will return to a situation where nutcase Imams will have to get jobs driving taxis and muttering to themselves.

Political Correctness, Western Gullibility, is the Jihadists' best weapon. But it's probably not going to survive a mushroom cloud over a major city. Mercy is a Christian virtue unknown the the Greeks who formulated Western thought. We live in a post-Christian civilization. It is only a matter of summoning the will and you can transform even Swedes into Nazis.

After 9/11, I first experienced a sensation I now recognize as wrath. Such wrath can summon the will to transform large portions of Syria, Iran, and Waziristan into radioactive glass parking lots. Sure, tangos can retire to hide in the hills to plot. But we make those hills poisonously radioactive, dirty bombs can be used in more places than just Manhatten. And we can shoot every villager who triggers a geiger counter when he comes to town.

Islam means surrender. We need a Sergeant York to fox the savages into surrendering.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Prophesy Junkies and Divination

I was in High School when Hal Lindsay wrote "The Late-Great Planet Earth" and it's hard to believe (this being a public high school), but we listened to a phonograph record of Jack Van Impe's "The Coming War With Russia" in speech class. In the decades that followed, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold millions of copies of their "Left Behind" novels. Suffice it to say, Prophesy has long been of interest to a lot of people around me.

So it was at Camp this Labor Day weekend. The preacher preached from Jesus' Olivet Discourse which is the mother lode for prophesy junkies. In this passage, the Savior is asked for the signs of the end of the world and Jesus complies. The preacher then proceeded to interpret the passage indicating those things in current events that may correspond to the signs Jesus described.

Only trouble is that people have spent the last couple thousand years pointing at current events and matching them to the content of prophesy to make a case for the imminent end of the world. I am not enamored with eschatology, because I believe it serves as a distraction from more important matters, particularly, soteriology. I would rather someone knows how to get saved than how many horns or bowls or seals are in the eschaton.

(The preacher at Camp wasn't stupid or even wrong, I suppose. But each time he said that money was "digitalized" it felt like fingernails being drawn across chalkboard.)

This week I had lunch with a couple Christian brothers. One is a cradle Baptist like myself who was exposed to a lot of Hal Lindsay premillenialism. The other was raised Christian Reformed and I presume exposed to an amillenial eschaton. Talk got around to prophesy. My Christian Reformed friend said that someone he knew had gotten in which a group who claimed that prophesy teaches that the world will end in ten years. Had we heard anything of that? Not specifically. But it's not as if this hasn't happened a zillion times before.

I got to thinking about what is the "right" way go use prophesy given the fact that I'm so un-enamored with the way I've always seen it used.

Consider Joel 2:28-32, where the prophet claims that in the day of the Lord, the sun will be dark, and the moon will be like blood. This prophesy is actually used in the Bible, and I think that usage gives us a clue. The Bible tells us that on the day that Christ was crucified, it was dark from noon to 3:00pm. If Christ was crucified in AD 33, then there would have been a lunar eclipse at moon rise then, too. If you are familiar with the appearance of a lunar eclipse, you'll note a reddening of its appearance. If this happens at moonrise, the light from the moon will pass through more of the atmosphere reddening it even more.

Let's suppose you're living in Jerusalem, maybe one of the guys in the crowd shouting for that Barabas fellow. Fifty days later you're in the Temple and there's a commotion. A preacher, one of Jesus's disciples, who's calling himself Peter stands up and quotes the aforementioned prophesy. Think about how you'd respond. You've seen these things. You've read the prophesy. The prophesy points to the recent past and shows you how to interpret events of the recent past.

Contrast this with fortune-telling or divination. In those activities, the goal of the activity is to forecast or predict the future. I think my dislike for prophesy mongering is that even if the preacher doesn't intend to do so, he's acting like a Baptist fortune-teller. Instead of interpreting tea-leaves, he's interpreting ancient Hebrew verse, or ancient Greek apocalypse, but he's pointing to the future.

I think it is wrong to use prophesy as a tool of divination. I think the correct interpretation of prophesy always points BACKWARDS in time, not forwards. This is confusing. I'll illustrate. Let's suppose the prophet Joel lived and wrote before 800BC. Let's suppose Christ was crucified in April 33AD and Peter preached 50 days later. I can't see how anybody could have interpreted Joel's prophesy before April 33AD. We see, however, Peter interprets the prophesy after that point with powerful good effect.

I think that we should go through scripture prophesies with an eye for what HAS happened, instead of looking for whats GOING TO happen. When we find a match, we should use the prophetic message to properly signify those events.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

$2.499 Gasoline

I should point out that yesterday at the peak of the Labor Day driving binge, I was able to fill up my gas tank at $2.499/gallon. I don't know whether the evil oil monopoly conspiracy was asleep or what, but it was nice to see the numbers scroll upwards at a slightly slower rate.

What a difference a year makes. I recall seeing on the news signs for gasoline over $6/gallon. Hurricane Katrina had reduced New Orleans to a 3rd world status, with cannibalism in the Super Dome. And the world was going to run out of letters for hurricanes, too. Has there been any hurricanes this year?

That's because we impeached George Bush and stopped global warming, right?

Strait Gates and Broadways

Driving back from Camp yesterday I blew through a rural area where some religious organization had posted this portion of a Bible verse:

Matthew 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Since I've been under the influence of ecumenism, I got to wondering how the above applied to my context. I don't know which little country church put up that sign, but I can imagine it's vastly different from the mega-suburban Blythefield Hills Baptist Church that I attend. What exactly constitutes "strait gates" versus "broad ways?" In my separatist days, I would have answered that "strait" means rejecting the world and all its wisdom. But now I don't think that's the answer.

What I like most about Camp and what brings me back every year is theological conversations around the campfire. Usually these conversations involve something interesting and philosophical. This year I was surprised when a friend's daughter mentioned "Lordship salvation." I hadn't heard that term in decades. It's funny how some problems just don't get solved but the confusion remains over decades.

If you don't know what "Lorship salvation" means, let me refresh. Some teach that there is a distinction between asking Christ to be one's Saviour and asking Christ to be your Lord. If such a distinction is possible, then those who ask Christ to be Saviour but not Lord, can be termed "Carnal Christians." Carnal Christians who wish to improve their spiritual lives can do so by upgrading their Saviour relationship to a Lordship relationship. Others teach that Salvation means more than just a fire insurance policy, but conversion of the whole person and that Salvation means rescue from one's current life of sin. This second group would term the "Carnal Christian" a "non-Christian."

The first group claims that the second group makes "Lordship" a work that must be added to one's faith in order to be a Christian. The second group asserts salvation by "faith alone" but it is a "faith that is not alone." Surely, everybody in both camps claim that one is justified before God by "faith alone." (This is a Protestant argument.) This leads to a two-tier Christianity with mere fire-insurance policy holders looking up to their spiritual betters who have "rededicated their lives" to the Lord Jesus.

Coversely, the second group claims a causal relationship between good faith and good works. Good faith will cause good works and thereby I justify my good faith before myself and before other Christians by my good works. This is how the Protestant interprets James 2:24. (The Protestant distinguishes between Paul's use of Justification before God, and James use of Justification before Man. Luther failed to make this distinction and thus sought to remove James from the canon of scripture. Catholicism defers Justification in order to bring James and Paul together.)

I happen to be a Reformed Christian who asserts this causal relationship between good faith and good works. I think that identification with Christ as Saviour in true saving faith alone suffices to justify a man before God. Causally, faith alone causes justification before God. This is how I read Romans 5. Moreover, I think that true saving faith has its root in the supernatural creative act of God within the believer's heart. God causes a change of heart and that changed heart starts functioning by believing. At this point, logically, the believer is Justified. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer at this point. This changed heart that believes then obeys. This obedience is the way in which the righteousness of Christ inheres within the believer and this is termed Sanctification. Thus one is saved by faith alone, but it is a faith that is not alone.

You'll note that there is no room for ├╝ber-Christians or Saints in this second way of looking at things. Every Christian is identified with Christ to the same extent.

Good faith causes good works. You can distinguish between them, but you cannot separate them. If you belong to a "cannibalistic church" that doesn't quite get around to keeping Christ's double-love command, you've good reason to doubt the bona fides of that church.

Christ is in the forgiveness business. He does so by means of putting his righteousness into the lives of his followers. The WWJD bracelets are nice if we keep in mind what exactly it was that Jesus actually did. I suppose the broad way that leads to destruction is to try to "do what Jesus did" and latch onto this bit of his life or that and copy it. Jesus said "woe" to evil doers. and Jesus fed the five thousand. and Jesus did the all the stations of the Cross. The strait gate is to ignore all that and rest in Christ alone by faith.

Periodically, we should test our faith asking whether our lives fit what Christ taught. We need to periodically revisit the Law that Moses revealed and that Jesus interpreted on the Sermon on the Mount. The Law is a mirror that should point out the dirt on our face and metaphorically drive us to the soap of Christ's righteousness claimed by faith. This self-critical introspection and this utter dependence upon Christ doesn't come naturally. I hope this is what Christ called a "strait gate."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hatred And Mistrust In The Moslem Community

The Australian Prime Ministry contradicted multi-culti dogma by asserting that moslem communities in Australia must assimilate into Australian society, including notions of equal rights for women and other things that characterize Western values.

The response was that these statements "fueled hatred and mistrust" of Moslems.

Let's see, John Howard calls on immigrants to act civilized. Those are words. Even if they were lies, instead of fairly practical common sense, they are only words.

Moslems seized airplanes and flew them into buildings. Moslems routinely strap bombs to their children and send them into Israeli coffee shops and pizza parlors. Moslems use dead children as props in their manipulation of Western media coverage of the war they start.

Question: what cases more hatred and mistrust of Moslems? The words of that last paragraph, or the actions that those words describe?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Most Useless Guys In The Bible

I recently came to the conclusion that the most useless guys in the Bible were Job's friends. You may recall the story. Job is put through some serious hurt. In the midst of his misery, his friends arrive and "comfort" him.

The nature of their "comfort" is to rise to defend God, claiming that Job's misfortune is the consequence of Job's prior bad acts. They are useless for a couple reasons: 1) they are mistaken in their explanation of Job's misfortune. There is a tacit assumption underlying their remarks, God is under suspicion of wrongdoing in permitting Job's misfortune and must be defended. 2) God doesn't need their help to assert and vindicate his righteousness. As a result, the friends "comfort" consists of accusing Job of prior bad acts.

At the end of the story, God shows up and instead of vindicating Job, he discloses that there's plenty of blame to go around. It's improper to engage in theodicy. It's improper to demand of God an explanation. God is God. If God is not good, there is no Good. If God does that which hurts us that we don't understand, he doesn't owe us an explanation, we owe him the benefit of the doubt. And incidentally, Job's friends were wrong to suspect Job.

Let's suppose you're Job. It's altogether proper to lament the negative circumstances. There is a whole book of the Bible filled with Lamentations. Do that.

Let's suppose your friend is Job. How can you be something better than useless? For one thing, don't assume the negative circumstance is due to your friend's sin. If you love your friend, you owe him the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the negative circumstance is a judgement for sin indicates that you're using your doubt about your friend to think the worst of him. Don't do that. If your friend hurts, you should hurt. Compassion means sharing someone's passion, suffering alongside.

Encourage your friend. The Navy Seals are a tough, elite group. Every Navy Seal goes through training and part of that training is Hell Week. Now, let's suppose you're idling on the beach and you see your friend the Seal struggling up the beach burdened with some heavy military equipment. He's suffering, but he's suffering because he's BETTER than most of his peers. And you are idling on the beach. You can't deny your friend is suffering, but you can remind him that hard training is only for elite troops, and despite the present suffering, there will be something better on the other side of it.

Pressure makes diamonds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Accidental Puritan

One of my fave Catholics tells the story of an explorer who went sailing in search of adventure, whereupon he landed upon an island that he found quite marvelous in its geography, climate, and the culture of its natives. After marveling for a season about this find, he came to realize this island was England. (If you've not yet read "Orthodoxy," by all means quit reading this and read that instead!)

I had something similar happen to me. I grew up with WFUR playing in the background. There was Carl McIntyre "20th Century Reformation Hour" and I learnt to roll my eyes at the appropriate times when that old demagogue was in full sail. And Kent City Public High School assigned as reading, "The Scarlet Letter" and they did the "The Crucible" as a high school play. I didn't believe Christianity at the time, and I most certainly wanted nothing to do with that kind of hatefulness. I rather enjoyed having fun, and I had absolutely no fear that "that someone , somewhere , is having fun." Had you asked me what I thought of the Puritans, I'd have rolled my eyes.

I kept this attitude when I started reading my Bible again and ended up identifying myself as a Christian again. In the intervening years, I was blessed to receive an excellent, Christian education chock full of Intervarsity Press apologetics and some world-class philosophical theology at the feet of James Grier who was teaching at Cedarville at the time. In the course of those years, I had a bunch of humanistic notions wash out of my brain. "Hmmmm, I suppose God doesn't need my permission to save me." Stuff like that.

Whereas my world-life view had once been a patchwork of bits that fit on Sunday, but not on Monday, or fit in Physics class but not in Old Testament class, instead I came to find a single integrated way of thinking where everything fit--even the parts that can't fit in a box. Superficially, I became a five-point Calvinist. I liked the rationalism and I found no place where my Reason overturned scripture. And I loved books, and a friend turned me onto a mail order bookstore that had the kinds of books I found most interesting. Contemporary stuff from Banner of Truth, and the old stuff, too.

The name of the bookstore was Puritan Reformed. That name bugged me to no end. I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI where the Reformed guys were all liberal or believed you were a Christian because you were Dutch, or something like that. And then there was the Puritan bit. I like to have fun to much for that to make any sense. And that Reformation thing was something that made total sense. It translated Christianity into the language of the Age of Reason. And I was fine with that. And the Puritans were the 2nd generation Reformers. Semper Reformanda and all that.

Yeah, I identify with the Reformation, and with Reason, and that made me a Puritan.

But that word, Puritan, has lots of overlays of meaning that have been added by Puritanism's enemies over the centuries. I don't buy into any of that. So, maybe I'm not a Puritan. It depends on what you're thinking when you use the term.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Antichrist

Years back I encountered some local apostates. These were people who were raised in Baptist churches like me. In fact, one had been a pastor for a while. They all had one thing in common, disbelief and a hostility to the gospel.

I have had cause to reflect upon my early religious experience and I think I have found a new lens through which to view it. Gospel is supposed to mean "good news."

Let's suppose you weren't raised in a bible believing church and you've never heard the gospel. What comes to mind when you think of "good news?" Let's see, I see the oncologist tomorrow. Good news would be that he finds no sign of cancer. Let's suppose I stop by the Quickie-Mart and pay the Michigan Voluntary Tax On The Stupid, and unlike every other time, I win a few million bucks. That's good news, too. Or someone gives you a car, tax-free.

Good news should put you in your happy place. So, why is it that the gospel doesn't put you in your happy place? I remember looking at a little book my mom left laying around that contained a plain summary of the gospel. I remember being afraid and avoiding that book. Why? From my earliest age, I associated terror and pain with this thing called the gospel.

Was this Good News business just a cruel lie? "Here, kid, have some bread. Ooops, it's a stone. Hahaha."

The thing that makes the downer of the gospel, is that it only makes sense in context. That context is like that Cancer thing. "Hey, I got a cure for cancer. Oh, by the way, you have Cancer."

The two word definition of the gospel is "repent and believe." You can't sugar-coat the need for Repentance and everybody needs to Repent. Most folks don't naturally want to Repent. Great evil occurs when someone tries to force it.

Repentance isn't rocket science: one the one hand, I try to get away with doing wrong and/or rationalize it away. On the other hand, I want to quit doing wrong and enjoy a clear conscience. Change your mind from the former to the latter, sincerely do that and you've Repented. Was that painless?

If you were raised like I was, the Repentance evokes discomfort, despite the fact that the last paragraph defining the term isn't particularly scary.

Given the fact that the visceral reaction that I felt is not rational, we've got to go beneath the surface to find an explanation.

Let's go back to that Cancer analogy. Imagine comes up to you and says, "Hey, buddy, you got Cancer. I got the cure. Want the cure?" Then the guy gives you a placebo. You still feel that gnawing ache in your gut. The sugar pill didn't do any good. And then you look at the guy, and he's got huge tumors growing out of his neck.

This is horrid, but should not be surprising. AND YOU SHOULD NOT IMMEDIATELY DISMISS THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU ARE THAT GUY. I've spent a good part of the day contemplating several "former baptists" I've known. In the worst case, they're angry atheists collecting factoids and arguments that atheists collect. In the best case, they found the cure elsewhere. And there are a lot of hurting people who live someplace in between.

Paul curses these people in Galatians 1:9. I've a friend who "wrote the book" on ecumenism. She's distrustful of interfaith stuff and we're on the same page there. I had bought into her challenge to love the brother who happens to come from a different Christian tradition. But the I saw the preaching of another gospel by spiritual fifth-columnists in my own church. The double-love command requires me to give every benefit of the doubt. But I have no doubt that a different gospel was being preached.

Now, you may be wondering how my metaphor of the guy witholding the cancer cure looks in the specific case of the Baptist churches I've been in. Short answer: Finneyism. Also known as Revivalism.

Review: Wikipedia says "Revival is a work of God by his Spirit through his Word..." That's close enough for our purposes. What did Jesus say about the Spirit? Does the Spirit blow on command? To the contrary, Jesus said the Spirit is like the wind that blows from you don't know where and to you don't know. So, who you going to believe, Jesus or the revalist? Deity will be summoned to make a preacher look good in the last minutes of a sermon.

But how is a Revivalist going to keep the donations coming in? How is the preacher going to convince his deacons that he is God's annointed? If you were raised like I was the answer is in your memory banks: an emotional appeal to perform a Baptist Sacrament using every method of psychological manipulation known to man. Is this God's Spirit or is it a man-made show?

This "gospel" that does not feel like Good News and that chases people out of Baptist churches and that innoculates it hearers against the true Good News of Christ is anathematized by the Apostle Paul, but it makes money and empowers preachers.

This false gospel starts with the truth of God's Justice then distorts it into an everlasting cruelty perpetrated upon those who don't cooperate. All this is played up in the most terrifying terms and young children are exposed to this sort of abuse. When they grow up, they're only sane to want to avoid hearing it again. Instead of preaching God's law that perfectly reflects God's character, there are exhortations about obedience and pride and lust cast about in vague terms. "Here, jump through this hoop. No, jump through that hoop. Bad bad, you jumped through the wrong hoop."

There is no mention of the perfect merit of Christ perfectly performed on our behalf and imputed to us by faith alone.

Instead, there's a load of guilt followed by a call to submit. No, this doesn't advertise itself as Islam, but it walks like it and it quacks like it. And what is the action you are called upon to submit to? Is it repent and believe? Often it's something the hearer doesn't quite understand like asking deity to haunt a pump. (Have you asked Jesus into your heart?) And what exactly does it mean to "accept Jesus?"

The true gospel call is that Christ has erased guilt on the Cross and offers to take yours gratis. Claim Christ, claim Christ's righteousness as your own. Let no man steal what Christ has given you. Trust Christ and none of yourself.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Certainty and Precision

One lesson of Post-modernism is that you can't know everything with certainty. I have a friend in my writing group (with whom I share a first name) who takes that to mean you can't know anything for sure. And I disagree with that. There are some things you know for certain, but the edges can get a little fuzzy. No problem with that, really. We know that two plus two is four. And we know you can define Galois Fields of order 4 where two plus two is zero. And we know that two apples plus two bananas almost equals one fruit salad.

I have heard it said, "you can't put God in a box," and that's true. But does that mean we can know nothing of deity? I think not. I think there are some things about God that are certain and there are lots of things that get a little fuzzy. It's a mistake to insist that we know things for certain that the Bible is silent about or only obliquely touch upon.

A good example is evolution versus creation. I'm of the mind that takes whatever the Bible says as certainly true. I'm also of the opinion that most fossils are not fakes like the Piltdown Man bones. (However, you'll note that there's always a risk of being taken in by a fake fossil, given what we saw in Piltdown.) I am also of the opinion that I make mistakes and so do all humans now and then. The job of the scientist and of the theologian is to take whatever's known and try to construct a coherent logical framework that explains it. This is a matter of "interpreting" what's' known to come up with theories or theologies.

Frankly, I have become relatively annoyed with the Creationists because they tend to put too much time into proving that their interpretive constructions are better than the evolutionists constructions. Humans make mistakes, and it is unwise to take our notions of how the first 10 chapters of Genesis should be interpreted, and treat them as infallible. Genesis is infallible, not my notion of it.

Same goes for the end times. The Bible says that if a strong man knows you're coming, you won't be able to rob his house. So, when talk about the Rapture and the End Times, and we point to this or that and say, "that's it." You can bet the Enemy knows this, too. This leads me to think a lot of the Hal Lindsay stuff I read won't work out the way we think.

Besides, there's a difference between Revelation and Dispensationalism. The former is infallible word of God. The latter is an interpretation thereof, a human construction, and subject to error. And no, I don't know any specifics that I can point to as erroneous. I'm saying here's a theoretical framework that will explain our surprise when a popular end-times scenario plays out unexpectedly.

Trouble is that often things are a little fuzzy, lacking a solid biblical mandate, and we forget that. We affirm those things as if they are gospel. The gospel is infallible, I'm not. I may forget that, or I may well know that things are a little fuzzy, but I don't bother to bog down the conversation with a disclaimer every other sentence.

Now, when you hear someone say something, and it seems a little fuzzy to you, but you think he's stating it as if it is gospel. You owe him the benefit of the doubt. 1) He might know something that you don't, but didn't bother to buttress his case with some factoid he thought obvious. 2) He might not know he's on thin ice. 3) He might know it's a little fuzzy, but he forgot to add a disclaimer. 4) He might know it's fuzzy, but doesn't want to open that can of worms because he wants to make another point. 5) He hasn't learned when to be intentionally ambiguous. In all these cases, you owe him the benefit of the doubt.

The Christian ethic is summarized in the double-love command. Practically, we do that when we give the other the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself where you can't do that, run away.

When I finally learned how to get an A in philosophy, I discovered something I've found useful ever since. I found that depending upon how I worded the answer on an essay test, I could avoid or open a can of worms full of things I didn't know. There were bits I was certain about and there were bits I were fuzzy about. So, I phrased things that would cover the fuzzy bits. Ambiguity is a good thing to cultivate when you're teasing about the fuzzy bits, but if you know something for certain, you ought to be clear and unambiguous.

Friday, August 18, 2006

You're On Your Own

I think of myself as a Christian and I hope those who know me agree with that assessment. Christianity exists in tension between mercy and justice. The mercy business is for when you fail to obey God's law. And justice is how well we all measure up against God's law. I think that's fairly simple.

I go about confident in the imputed righteousness of Christ that I claim by faith alone. And I try to do what's right, as an expression of gratitude, as a matter of obligation, I figure I have to live right. Living right means obeying God's law. Nothing more or less than that: God's law. God's character is imaged in God's law and it an unconditional perpetual ethical obligation. That sounds bad but it's Good. It's the baseline against which the Good is measured. If I'm a good person, I'm obeying God's law as well as possible.

But law gets cluttered. There's the "law" of Roe v Wade that says a woman's privacy gives her the legal right to abort her unborn children. There's the "law" of my alma mater that said not to listen to the Moody Blues in the dorm and keep my hair cut length short enough it didn't touch my ears. There's the "law" of whatever my mom said about smoking and drinking. Is a pattern emerging?

Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Consider the Sermon on the Mount where he explains what God had in mind in Torah about God's moral character. Contrast with what the Pharisees did to fulfill all righteousness. It was something different. They made their own law to keep instead of God's law that they clearly could not keep. That's what damned the Pharisees, they substituted their own legal framework for that of God.

There's more. What is the purpose of God's law? It serves as a target, a benchmark that illustrates how we fail to measure up. A mirror that shows us our face is dirty. You wash your face with soap. Don't try to use a mirror, it breaks and the shards cut you up. I used to stop there in my condemnation of legalists. Now I go one step further.

You can't use the law as a basis of competition for social status. Think about a gathering of fairly upright people. The book of James condemns deferring to people on the basis of riches. Ah, but consider spirituality. How does the Evangelical acquire status and lord it over his peers? By being more holy than they are! How does he do that? Why by keeping to a stricter ethic than they do! That's what *I* do. When I utter one of those bad words you shouldn't say, I go "oops," and look around at who heard. Any Evangelicals? No, whew.

"That's a pretty cavalier attitude about sin, isn't it brother Poling?" Actually, it's the whole point of this essay. (Another Evangelical status seeking behavior is use affected language like brother or sister or beloved.)

(I don't think saying those vulgarities and rude words are violations of the 3rd commandment. That's the command not to say the NAME in a useless fashion. Consider how people say, "Oh my God!" or "God, no!" That's what I think the 3rd commandment prohibits.)

I figure that God helps people keep HIS law and use HIS law to become more like HIM. I used to get all bugged at the sins I'd pray about and get absolutely no traction on overcoming. And I was quite insistent about how God was't keeping his promises about improving me. But then I started asking myself, are these God's laws or are they Baptist laws? I looked through the Bible and I didn't find anything on the subject. But I saw all kinds of real things God commanded that I didn't keep and that didn't bother me.

When you try to keep God's law, by faith God provides grace to live out Christ's righteousness at that point. When you follow any other rule set, you're on your own.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Will The West Lose?

It's pretty clear that either there is some big-time denial of reality among the "reality-based" community, OR there's a radically different paradigm in play among our brothers on the Left.

When I was a lad, the Cold War pitted Capitalist West against the Communist East. It was more than a disagreement about politics and economic systems. With exceptions such as Checkoslovakia's "Communism With A Human Face," we saw a more humanistic West and a more statist East. A side aspect in all this was the relentless Atheism of the Communists versus the freedom of religion, or more accurately, indifference toward religion of the Capitalists.

Overlapping the end of the Cold War was the beginnings of our current world conflict. Carter let the Iranian mullahs get away with acts of war against our embassy. Reagan pulled troops out of Lebanon after a Hezbolla car bomb flattened a barracks and killed a couple hundred Marines. Bush Sr. sent troops to Mogadishu to deliver pizza. And Clinton cut and ran after the "Blackhawk down" firefight. Add to this the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. And a half-dozen major acts of terrorism against the US in the 1990s. This non-response convinced some Moslems with lots of petrodollars that the West was cowardly and corrupt--too soft to respond to a renewed efforts to establish the Califate (that hit the cosmic Pause Button sometime around 9/12/1683 at the gates of Vienna).

Now, let's suppose the Left is not as totally inept and boneheaded as they're acting. What we on the Right call "Islamofascism" may well be regarded by the Left as a mere "nuisance." Though this makes no sense to me, I'm going to try.

Let's think like a Lefty for a moment. First, we're grumpy because the "New Soviet Man" business didn't work out and that human nature isn't as malleable as we'd hoped. Second, despite the failure of worldwide Communism, we're convinced that Rationalism is more ultimate than Religion. The godless Atheism is kept under cover, but the Lefty sees all the evils of the world stemming from the backward followers of ancient myths. To the Lefty, there's little difference between the Fundamentalist Christian protesting the abortion clinic and the Fundamentalist Moslem blowing up the Israeli coffee shop. (No doubt, said Christian would be blowing up the abortion clinic if he could get his hands on some explosives.) They're both crime problems.

Suppose the Lefty thinks this business of Religion is just a phase an immature humanity just has to grow out of. When the rest of humanity catches up in its Evolution to the enlightened ubermench level of the Lefty, religion will decline as fast as the membership rolls of the Episcopal church. Suppose that the Lefty thinks that ultimately, the Islamist and snake-handling rednecks will be as extinct as the dodo bird.

Then QED. There's no need to start WW3 to defeat evil in the Islamist who straps bombs to his kids and sends them off to school. (That whole idea of good and evil is just so passe.) Simply appease the savages while they enslave or murder their neighbors, secure in the knowledge that we don't live in those countries, or in those immigrant ghettos of our cities. We'll just patiently wait for their children to evolve out of their pesky alliegence to Islam.

Conversely, suppose (like me) you're not so evolved nor enlightened. Suppose you know smart people who adhere to all sorts of odd ideas including religious ones. In this case, you won't just pat the savages on the heads secure in the knowledge that they'll "evolve out of" their murderous doctrines. It was the Conservative, Edmund Burke, who said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

This is why I can't take the cut-and-run Democrats seriously. I fear the next time the US has a president as feckless as Israel's Ehud Olmert (or most of those mentioned in the third paragraph of this essay.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Modest Proposal

As you may know, in any electoral system, there are records kept of voting patterns. Political boundary lines are drawn that identify these voting patterns. One can, via gerrymandering pretty much guarantee any kind of electoral outcome.

We have in the Middle East a unique situation. The government of Lebanon is roughly divided into two Islamic parts, Sunni and Shiite and one Christian Maronite part. The government of Lebanon disarmed all the parties of the last civil war EXCEPT Hezbollah. And recently Hezbollah went to war with Israel. This is sort of like the Republicans or the Democrats deciding to attack Canada. Since these political parties do not go around with weapons, Hazbollah is probably a bit more like the brown shirts of the mid 20th century.

Of late, Hazbollah has made a point driving into non-Hezbollah neighborhoods, intimidating the populace, and then launching a bunch of rockets at Israel. When Israel attacks the launch points, a bunch of non-Hezbos are screwed.

In World War 2, the United States Air Force learned how to create fire storms in cities like Tokyo and Dresden. There is a precedent for this kind of thing.

What say that some guys in Jewish intelligence get hold of the voting patterns of the last Lebanese election, and turn those districts that voted most heavily for Hesbollah into scorched earth. Since Israel will be damned for inflicting civilian casualties, they might as well go after Hesbollah's supporters in Lebanon. This will help motivate the Hesbos to defend their own neighborhoods instead of taking their show on the road.

There's a story of two guys in a forest who see a bear charging. One guy stops to lace up his running shoes. The second guy asks why he's doing that b/c neither of them can possibly outrun the bear. The first guy replies that he need not outrun the bear, merely the second guy. This is the kind of dynamic that's needed in Lebanon. The non-Hesbollah folks of Lebanon need to find ways to drop a dime on the Hesbos. If they don't, they're just cannon fodder for the Syrians and Iranians.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

movies i'd like to see

I just left the family room in disgust. The TV was playing some movie. The blonde woman was being chased by some crazy guy with murderous intent. Let's see... a) will she run backwards from the guy and trip on a tree root? b) will she get into the car and it won't start, or no keys, or whatever? c) will she pull out a large calibre hand gun and put daylight through him? If you've seen any scary movies in the last couple decades you know the answer has only once in the entire history of cinema been #c.

And in juxtapose with the blonde demonstrating a total mastery of murphyesque ineptitude, there is the crazy guy. Whereas she does everything in haphazardly, he glides through the scene finding a rock of exactly the perfect size to bash the car's windshield. The glass is a marvelous tempered non-safety variety that shatters immediately into little crumbles. Obviously, the movie gods are merely toying with this crazy, because despite his invincibility and total command of the scene, and despite the utter ineptitude of the girl, YOU KNOW he'll be dead at the end of the scene after the girl demonstrates plucky determination and dispatches him in an utterly implausible fashion.

Hollywood needs to get out of its rut. Instead of showing the same tired scene over and over again with different types of slashers and different sorts of blondes with plucky determination, show us something new. Here are some suggestions:

1) the blonde dials 9-1-1, locks herself in the bathroom, and the cops arrest the crazy. He is locked up in some mental hospital and spends the rest of his days in counselling.

2) the police show up, put daylight thru the perp, and then are sentenced to prison for their "disproportionate" response.

3) the crazy proceeds to kill the blonde and everyone else who stands in his way. A grateful nation makes him supreme leader and the UN gives him a seat on the Security Council.

C'mon Hollywood, let's see #3. Bonus points: make the crazy Iranian and the girl Jewish.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Don't Judge Me

On two occasions I've seen someone on television say, "Don't judge me..." The first occasion, I was watching "My Name Is Earl" and the person who said it, Brett Butler, would perpetrate some aweful thing and immediately say mantra-like, "Don't judge me." Moments later, she'd do something equally bad and repeat her mantra. The second occasion occured when my daughter was watching a teen show, Gilmore Girls, and the young mom said to her teen daughter, "Don't judge me..." and then supplied some reason I forget.

In the first case, Brett Butler plays someone who screws up time and again, then uses the "don't judge me" line as a vaccination against self-improvement.

In the second case, the Gilmore mom is merely inarticulate. She mispoke. She intended to say "don't condemn me." And she gave reasons to justify herself. Judging is different from condemning. Best to remember that.

Self-justification is related to judging. When Brett Butler on My Name Is Earl said "Don't judge me" she had already judged herself and condemned herself.

We all know what Jesus said about judging: The way you judge others is the way you should expect to be judged. I want to be judged generously and mercifully. I hope I judge others that way. Tell me whether this is so or not.

I know the only way I'll improve is if I get feedback, positive or negative. Go ahead and judge me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cheeks and Teeth

Last week we had a discussion at work about whether the Christian ethic is inconsistent or not. Moses said, "Eye for an eye" and Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek." But Jesus endorsed the law of Moses.

What gives?

I've always regarded apparent contradictions as an opportunity to learn. These are generally resolved by finding distinctions. And one learns as one finds distinctions. (If you know how to distinguish between Monza Red and Candy Apple Red, you've learned something about cars.)

Resolving the "eye for an eye" versus "turn the other cheek" problem involves distinguishing between large injuries and small injuries. There's an old saying that, "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." If you're messing with a Red Ryder BB gun and someone puts an eye out with that thing, it's a big deal. You should get into legal trouble if it wasn't an accident.

But not every injury rises to that level. There's a popular book entitled, "Don't sweat the small stuff." When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, he's talking about a small thing that's best not blown all out of proportion. The Romans had a law that said that a Judean could be forced to carry a Legionaire's gear one mile. Jesus told people to go the extra mile. If everybody is doing more than what's required of them in a million small ways, society will get along better. I think of this as social lubricant.

Thou shalt cut the other guy some slack, give him the benefit of the doubt. We are imperfect beings who work with partial knowledge. Jesus's ethic of social lubricant provides a coping mechanism for this.

I once told someone this and she said, "Does this mean I should be a doormat?" And I replied, "No, sometimes you run out of doubt." There are times when there is no doubt that a crime has been committed. There are times when whatever social framework within which you find yourself, e.g. the laws of the state of Michigan, specifies sanctions and punishments for specific misdeeds. In those cases, you pursue justice.

The Christian exists in tension of Mercy and Justice. We care about right and wrong, so we recognize and we embrace Justice. But we acknowledge we're sinners and we seek Mercy.

So, where do you draw the line between small things that you make a point of mercifully letting things slide versus large things where you pursue justice? It depends upon you. Jesus said that the same strictness by which you judge others will be the strictness by which you will be judged.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Billion Dollar Hamburg

If you're a private pilot, you've heard of the "hundred dollar hamburg." This is what you get when you climb into an airplane and burn a hundred dollars' worth of aviation fuel to fly to some locale to buy lunch--a hamburg. It's not about the hamburg; it's about the flying.

I just watched the Space Shuttle land. When it did, a NASA flack said, "Discovery's crew completing a 5.3 million mile mission to restore the International Space Station to an assembly-ready status and proving they can use a fifty-foot boom as a heatshield repair platform." Last night I heard Matt Drudge say the former consists of "taking out the space station's garbage." And when they were playing with the fifty-foot boom I heard it described as standing on it and jumping up and down a lot. This business about repairing the Space Shuttle heatshield is important because one Space Shuttle has been lost because a bit of foam nicked the fragile bricks that serve as the Space Shuttle heat shield. (Of course, if you didn't fly this turkey, you wouldn't have to worry about its heatshield failing.)

I've been watching Space Shuttles take off and land on TV for a quarter of a century. That's twice as long as I watched the "moonshots" on TV for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects combined. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects NASA was working toward an identifiable goal articulated by JFK. The accomplishments of this Space Shuttle mission is fairly typical. NASA has spent billions of dollars in low earth orbit growing soybeans and watching spiders spin webs in zero gee.

It's not as if they haven't accomplished anything in this quarter century. They've built the International Space Station.

When I was a kid, the Space Station was this spinning wheel in high orbit that served as a stopping-off point on the way to the Moon or Mars. (NASA has little more than paper studies--that they've paid millions for--to go there.) And the International Space Station? It's an unfinished tin can that circles the earth in low earth orbit doing stuff like growing soybeans and watching spiders spin webs in zero gee. It's "International" because the Russians send cosmonauts up there and we send astronauts up there. I suppose they spend all day shaking hands and toasting each other in the other-guy's language for world peace. The International Space Station must do something more significant than that, I hope they serve great hamburgers.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Greenhouse Effects

If Al Gore is to be believed, global climactic change caused by human activity is an inconvenient truth. Mr. Gore has spent the last couple of decades claiming that we are just ten years away from the point of no return. I recall claims of environmental devastation, just ten years away, dating back to the 1970s.

Let's suppose for a moment that carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming. What is to be done about it? There was that Kyoto thing that levied carbon taxes on the countries that create wealth (while burning fossil fuels) and didn't do anything to poorer countries that also emit as much or more carbon dioxide. (I am uncertain where carbon tax money would be spent, but I suppose Mr. Gore has an idea.)

The whole idea underlying this is that since CO2 emissions cause global warming and reduced CO2 emissions will undo the badness. I think such a notion of causality is simplistic. Life is full of effects that are not negated when you negate their causes. A divorce can be caused by unfaithfulness, but subsequent faithfulness will not necessarily cause reconciliation. Is restricting CO2 emissions the most effective way to counter global warming? Are there ways to reflect more solar energy into space? For instance, clouds are white and provide shade. It's fairly easy to create clouds. Don't like clouds? OK, there are other ways. Let's treat global warming as an engineering problem.

"But, but, but," the environmentalist says, "we don't understand atmosphere dynamics well enough to 'engineer' climate." Is that so? Then how can you pontificate about global warming with such certainty?

My complaint is that Mr. Gore has his legion of Lysenkos who chant impending doom. The impending doom is too dire to wait until they understand the problem well enough to prove it. They say that emitting CO2 causes global warming and offer nothing more substantial than to stop emitting CO2. That wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that we're talking about committing trillions of dollars to unproven hypotheses.