Sunday, August 31, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne (no man is an island)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Communicating Christ?

i do think we send some mixed messages. The traditional evangelism approach is to tell of Jesus' love while motivating conversion through the fear of him. No wonder people are confused.

i personally think we misunderstand both salvation and hell. We put it into physical rather than relational terms. Therefore, salvation = heaven while hell = fire/torture.

Actually, i think both are very wrong. In biblical terms salvation = relationship with God and one another, while the opposite = lack of relationship. Hell is always used metaphorically in the Scriptures and the only thing we know for sure about it is that it's where God is not. Therefore, hell is lack of relationship with God.

Now you'll ask, is there a place where God is not present?



Does that mean hell is eternal annihilation?

i don't know. i told you, anything we say beyond hell as a lack of relationship with God is purely speculative.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Guest Post: Kermit T. Frog

When Bad Things Happen to Good Frogs

Why do Bad Things Happen? What can we do once they happen to us?

I recently brought together several of our most brilliant and available minds, each with its own peculiar take on why bad things happen and what you can do about it.

Our participants in this roundtable included Dr. Bunsen Honeydew of Muppet Labs, representing the scientific opinion; Miss Piggy, representing the diva worldview; Floyd Pepper, representing the transcendentally adjusted perspective; and Pepe the King Prawn, representing himself. I served as moderator and also got stuck cleaning up afterward. The following is a transcript of the proceedings.

KERMIT: Thank you all for being here today.

PIGGY: Oh, Kermie, moi wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

PEPE: Si, she heard that food was being served, okay.

FLOYD: That’s one for the Prawn, zip for Miss Fatback.

PIGGY: Watch it, or bad things are going to be happening to you two.

KERMIT: Which brings us to the first topic of today’s discussion: Why do bad things happen to good people, frogs, prawns, and so on? Dr. Honeydew?

DR. HONEYDEW: Thank you, Mr. Frog. I’m so glad you asked. You see, Beaker and I have developed several theorems and a variety of formula related to negative occurrence and its impact on experientiality.

FLOYD: Sorry to hear that, Doc. That’s gotta itch like crazy. I got some organic extract of oleander ointment that’ll clear that up in two shakes.

DR. HONEYDEW: Oh, thank you, but I already had some this morning. What i‘m trying to say is that we discovered the two reasons why bad things happen.

PEPE: Bet you one of ‘em is a pig.

PIGGY: It’s gonna be, for you, shrimp. THWACK!


DR. HONEYDEW: The first reason that bad things happen is “by accident.”

KERMIT: So sometimes bad things just happen; they’re nobody’s fault?

DR. HONEYDEW: Precisely! Have you been peeking at our research?

KERMIT: No, I just have a knack for extrapolating the obvious. Well, I guess if some bad things are no one’s fault, then we don’t have to find someone to blame.

PIGGY: Speak for yourself, Frog. If it happens to moi, someone’s gonna pay.

KERMIT: And it’s usually me. Now, Dr. Honeydew, if I may be so bold—or at least so foolish—what is the second reason that bad things happen?

DR. HONEYDEW: On purpose.

DR. HONEYDEW: A malevolent force acting upon an undeserving object creates a distinctly unpleasant causal relationship.

FLOYD: You folks are gonna need something stronger than oleander to clear that up. Ever soak in oatmeal?

PIGGY: Ooh! All the time!

PEPE: Remind me to skip breakfast for the next few weeks, okay.

KERMIT: So, Dr. Honeydew, to put it more clearly, you could say that sometimes bad people do bad things to other people on purpose?

DR. HONEYDEW: We could put it that way, but then we’d never see another dime from the National Institute for Perplexing Jargon.

KERMIT: We wouldn’t want that. But perhaps you can answer the obvious follow-up question: Why do these bad people do bad things to other people?

DR. HONEYDEW: Not a clue. We’ll need more funding.

PEPE: Hey, where do I sign up to get on this gravy train, okay?

PIGGY: Oh, is there gravy? Pass it down!

PEPE: It was a figure of speech, okay.

PIGGY: Whatever. Pass the gravy!

FLOYD: Speaking of figures, Piggy, maybe you oughta pass on this gravy train.

PIGGY: I might be extremely offended if I had the foggiest idea what you were talking about. Fortunately for vous, I don’t speak your particular patois.

DR. HONEYDEW: Ooh, there’s patois!? Send it down! And pass the crackers!

KERMIT: If I may try to return to the topic. Now that we’ve sort of figured out why bad things happen, let’s move on to our second topic: What can we do about it? Anyone?

PEPE: I’m moving to another seat, away from you-know-who, okay.

KERMIT: Good idea, Pepe. In fact, by moving your seat, you’re actually demonstrating a strategy for dealing with difficult people.

PEPE: What do I win?

KERMIT: You don’t win anything. But you have illustrated a very effective way to deal with bad things: Get away from them.

DR. HONEYDEW: Mr. Frog is correct. It is completely legitimate to seek refuge away from the person causing the discomfort. This is known in the scientific and cowardly community as the Gedd-Oudaheer Imperative. And Miss Piggy and Pepe, you two did a fine job of demonstrating its effectiveness.

FLOYD: But other than runnin’ away scared, isn’t there something else we can do when bad things happen?

PIGGY: Oh, I know! You can sue them! Any diva worth her press clippings simply adores a good long legal battle. It can keep vous in the tabloids and on those TV entertainment shows for months!

KERMIT: Well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

FLOYD: Y’mean, our bus? Yeah, we’re looking’ for it too.

KERMIT: No, I mean that approach to dealing with bad things. You take something negative and turn it into something positive.

PIGGY: I still say they’d be better off suing.

KERMIT: I believe that we can all learn from our difficulties.

DR. HONEYDEW: I concur with Mr. Frog. Even the worst of situations an have a postivie outcome. Or a s Beaker always says: “Meep-meep-meep-meep.”

KERMIT: Could you translate? My meep-meep is a tad rusty these days.

DR. HONEYDEW: Of course. “if I ever get out of this, I’ll never do it again.”

KERMIT: And on that note, thank you all for coming here today.

PIGGY: What do we do now?

DR. HONEYDEW: I don’t know about you, but I’ve got dibs on the patois.

I hope the above conversation was helpful, although I strongly doubt it. But if nothing else, it demonstrates how different individuals react when bad things happen. Some, like Dr. Honeydew, are curious and eager to learn more. Some, like Pepe, are evasive, doing their best to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. Some, like Miss Piggy, are willing to fight back or to hire someone who charges by the hour to fight back for them. A lucky few, like Floyd Pepper, aren’t quite sure what happened and won’t remember it afterwards, so what difference does it make Anyway? But, for many like myself, the only way to deal with difficult times is to accept them and learn form the experience. And what have I learned? I’m so glad you asked, because I just happen to have here…


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Early Church Convictions Concerning Warfare

Thanks to Rachel Stanton for the citations listed below, which come from the works of the Early Church Fathers.

The use of violence was strictly prohibited in the Early Church until the 4th century, after Caesar made Christianity the state religion.

“We who had been filled with mutual slaughter and every wickedness, have each one - all the world over - changed the instruments of war, the swords into ploughs and the spears into farming instruments, and we cultivate piety righteousness, love for men, faith and hope which is from the Father Himself through the Crucified One.” - Justin Martyr, 100 - 165 A.D.

“He who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.” - Clement of Alexandria, aprox. 150-216 A.D.

“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” – Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.

“We have come in accordance with the counsel of Jesus to cut down our arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take swords against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our Lord.” - Origen of Alexandria, 185-254 A.D.

“We, who were formerly slayers of one another, not only do not make war upon our enemies, but, for the sake of neither lying nor deceiving those who examine us, gladly die confessing Christ.” - Justin Martyr, 100 - 165 A.D.

“But how will a Christian war, nay, how will he serve even in peace without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed, still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” - Tertullian, 160-225 A.D.

“The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.” - Tertullian, 160-225 A.D.

“A person who has accepted the power of killing, or a soldier, may never be received [into the church] at all.” - Hippolytus, 170-236 A.D.

“We cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.” - Athenagoras of Athen, aprox 180 A.D.

“You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers.” Origen of Alexandria, 185-254 A.D.

“And so it will not be lawful for a just man to serve as a soldier - for justice itself is his military service - nor to accuse anyone of a capital offense, because it makes no difference whether thou kill with a sword or with a word, since killing itself is forbidden. And so, in this commandment of God, no exception at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature…Thou shalt not kill… It is always unlawful to put a man to death.” - Lactantius of Bithynia, aprox 240-317 A.D.

“The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale. ” -Cyprian of Carthage, 250 A.D.

“And this is at least incredible, inasmuch as even now those Barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners . . . and cannot endure to be a single hour without weapons; but when they hear the teaching of Christ, straightway instead of fighting they turn to husbandry, and instead of arming their hands with weapons they raise them in prayer, and in a word, in place of fighting among themselves henceforth they arm against the devil and against evil spirits, subduing these by self-restrains and virtue of soul. Now this is at once a proof of the divinity of the Saviour, since what men could not learn among idols they have learned from him.” - Athanasius, 296-373 A.D.

“I am a soldier of Jesus Christ, the eternal king. From now I cease from this military service of your emperors, and I scorn to adore your gods of stone and wood, which are deaf and dumb images… I cast down my vine-staff and belt… and I refuse to serve as a soldier … I threw down my arms; for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it also by inflicting earthly injuries.” - Marcellus the centurion, 298 A.D.

"It is no longer a question of violence or nonviolence in this world. It is nonviolence or nonexistence.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reserving Physicians for the Healthy

i ran into someone the other day who was asking questions about what our responsibility to the poor is. He cited the fact that there are many people from economically impoverished backgrounds who choose a different (better) path in life and are able to pull themselves out of difficult circumstances. Kids that grow up in the same conditions come to different ends because of “the choices” they make. So what then is our responsibility to people who “choose” their predicament?

On this surface this argument seems very plausible. I suggested that we may be looking only at surface level evidence. What we need to do is begin discovering the underlying causes for someone choosing a lifestyle of poverty. Especially a broad number of people who seem “stuck” in these positions, for whatever the reason. We can chalk it up to laziness, but actually, this is a very exhausting way of life. Who would choose it and why?

There are many reasons why people are poor in our country. I will only speak to the argument of those who seem to lack the motivation to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately this is usually the our blanket assessment for all who are poor. In some ways, I will also be using the term “poor” very broadly to indicate a range of behavior the middle and upper class associate with this “culture”

Could it be that there are people who have been subjected to embrace a story about themselves that is not true? That they believe they will never amount to anything, so they don’t try? Could it be that the girl who’s had three abortions has submitted to her abusive boyfriend(s) because she simply doesn’t believe in herself? She is fearful of telling the young man to put on a condom because she’s afraid of rejection. She aborts the child because she has no confidence that she’ll be able to provide for it, or be a good mother?

Could it be that the drug slinger never believed he could make it in school? Or perhaps to succeed was to become socially ostracized. Perhaps dealing drugs was an easy way to obtain what he saw so many others acquire through means he didn’t feel were as readily available to him. Perhaps he never had the opportunity to enjoy such things because of his parents financially stressed situation and it always bothered him.

There have been ongoing studies concerning the results of infant neglect. How would infants fair if they had no physical contact compared to those that did. Here are some results. Have we in some way failed to nurture (neglected) a large margin of society?

Could it be that those who are “sick” in our society are not so just by choice or laziness, but do to lack of hope, friendship, encouragement and even resources? Isn’t it Jesus who said, “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick”? Why then do we feel justified reserving our physicians for those who are able to maintain their 'good health' ?

Of course, we’re all sick. It’s just the symptoms that are different.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Arriving at Death Safely

Many people tiptoe through life so carefully, only to arrive safely at death.

Monday, August 11, 2008


We are ecstatic to welcome Søren Micah into the world! He was born this morning at 8:05am and weighs in at 6.7lbs.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Please Mrs. Rosa Parks, we need your seat.

We can talk all we want about how we will not take the blame for the sins of our fathers, such as the genocide of the Native American's, slavery of blacks, or the inequality of women. What we do need to ask is how we continue in these same attitudes today, which may be more difficult to recognize, since we take our attitudes and values (or lack there0f) for granted.

We all would be outraged today if a Caucasian man told a black woman to give her spot on the bus to a white person...or would we?

Here's a modern day example of an old problem:

Obama had apologized to two Muslim women wearing headscarves who were prevented from sitting behind his podium by campaign volunteers during a speech in Detroit in June to stop them appearing in photographs of the event.

Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, where Asbahi had previously worked, told Al Jazeera that [his] resignation was symptomatic of a deeper problem in US political culture.

"People have to be exposed to the truth. They don't believe us when we talk about Islamophobia. They say we're whining or into self-victimisation. Things like this prove that's not true."

The early settlers felt justified in their treatment of "Indians", slaves, and women. Today we find that kind of treatment inexcusable...or do we?

This isn't an indictment against Obama's campaign team, since they were simply following "good practice" in making sure Obama didn't get bad publicity. The charge comes against the general population, the one's who would have surely discriminated against the Muslim women in the picture. No doubt, rivals would have exploited the opportunity to show how Obama is a danger to our country and in cahoots with "our enemy". i wonder how those Muslim women feel, who were probably very pro-America (which may be why they were attending a political event).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

When Liberators become Oppressors

Using violence to secure peace is a fundamentally flawed tactic. This week a group of animal liberationists used firebombs to attack the homes of UCSC animal research workers. If they wanted to undermine their own cause, they couldn't have found a better way.

Jesus sets out a different principle in the beatitudes concerning how we deal with injustice. He tells us that "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted". The idea of mourning is connected in the Hebrew Scriptures to repentance and a grief which comes from seeing what our sin does to our world. We mourn then for the way we treat one another and the consequences of that treatment. We mourn because of oppression, famine, exploitation, racism, sexism, elitism, poverty, disease, corruption, human trafficking, violence, and death. We mourn because we want to see ourselves and the world liberated from these burdens of sin. Those who mourn such things will be comforted as Christ and his Kingdom are realized.

The next beatitude says, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth". The idea of meekness has to do with humility, powerlessness, non-aggression. It is a paradoxical principle that those who are non-aggressive will receive what others try to take by force. In the end, it will not be those who use power, coercion, manipulation, force, bribery, or violence who win. It will be the "meek". Those who refused such tactics.

When we resort to force, we immediately lose the moral ground of that for which we are fighting.By using violence you legitimate your enemies use of violence. You now have a "fair fight". But if you refuse such things, then the oppressor is clearly seen as an oppressor.

Once these activists began firebombing, they turned what was considered an oppressor into a victim. The liberator is now seen as an oppressor. They have secured the loss of their own cause. At least, these individuals can no longer be effective activists, since they are no longer seen as defenders or peacemakers. This view will of course extend to an unknown extent to those with whom they are associated.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called 'children of God'.

(Above picture: Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares statue at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City. This statue was a gift from the then Soviet Union presented in 1959.)