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..."


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.