Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kudos to Steve Carr for publication

Steve Carr is a local church planter, and he seems to be everywhere these days. I like Steve because he is jazzed about Christ and he's willing to share that enthusiasm. He also has no qualms about being involved in the public arena. He doesn't do this in a "rallying the troops" sense -- never does he abuse his position as pastor of a congregation. Instead, he writes letters to city council (see his thoughts on the recent casino issue, exercising his rights as a citizen.

Major Kudos to Steve for his letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Enquirer today. He wrote to respond to a well intentioned but misinformed earlier opinion piece that suggested there was no conflict between the Da Vinci Code and the gospels.

Steve responds graciously but firmly:

Walt Huber might be well-intentioned in his efforts to synthesize Christian Scripture with the content of "The Da Vinci Code" in his "Your voice" column "'Da Vinci,' Gospels need not be in conflict" (May 22), but his simplistic solution isn't satisfying to either side.

As a Christian minister, I believe that Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection did complete the work God sent him to Earth to accomplish. So the idea that God "sent Jesus back to Earth" a second time to "spread his word" would have been unnecessary. It also would have undermined the mission of the church, to whom Jesus left the responsibility to tell the good news.

The message of Christianity is divisive, forcing individuals to choose whom they will serve. Instead of trying to come up with a solution that makes everybody happy, let's just be content to have differing opinions and agree to disagree.

Well done, Steve. May other Christians have your blend of graciousness and boldness.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Art -- reflections on gothic and darkness

Bonnie over on Intellectuelle has a magnificient post reflecting on presentation of darkness in art. It's an interesting meditation on Gothic art, honest struggling with darkness, etc. Here's two teriffic paragraphs that track along with our recent themes of Christianity and Art:

"Early Christian and Medieval art portrayed much, via pose, convention, and symbol, of Biblical story and Biblical truth. Even during the Renaissance, Christian truth and honor were still prevalent (in a more humanistic depiction.) But most non-religious art since the Enlightenment has sought to depict a different reality than the one of the Bible; it has sought to glorify all things human (humanism) and undermine, ridicule, or outright shatter “traditional” or Christian morality. And, sadly, much Christian art in the modern era has become sappy, trite, obscure, or dull.

I would like to see gifted modern Christian artists reclaim art, using all methods available to reach and “re-enlighten” contemporary humankind. Beyond pretty pictures (not that those don’t have their place) or rousing (dare I say, entertaining?) tales and inspiring figures, or even morality pieces, I would like to see art that gets real, gets deep, and uncovers what’s really going on inside of human beings. I'd like to see it demonstrate that a nightmare can be turned into a most glorious reality of truth and redemption, from the psyche outward"

She seems to hit the point that Philip Ryken talks about in his book Art for God's Sake: that Christian artists need to truly wrestle with the truth of sin (as well as the beauty of redemption. Fine work Bonnie, thanks for the post!


Monday, May 22, 2006

Reflections on Art -- the afterglow of glory

As we draw near to our Covenant-First celebration of arts (June 11, for those in doubt), one of the questions that we must ask is “What is art?” That is a whopper of a question – with a multiplicity of answers depending on your worldview and depending on whether you are a producer of art or a receiver of art. We may be tempted to drop back to Marshall McLuhan’s statement “art is anything you can get away with.” (from The Medium is the Massage).

What I’d like to focus thought on today is art as a glimpse of glory. Even in dark art – something like a Titus Andronicus or Heart of Darkness or Animal Farm there is a mysterious power (at least in art that works). In uplifting art, the power makes you yearn to be a better person – you feel cleaner for having read or enjoyed it. I experienced this after watching The Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare in Love -- it was as though I too could be that hero. In dark art, the power chills and haunts by the possibility that the vision presented may just be true. In either case, there is something that clings to the heart and goes away with the receiver of art – and I believe that which clings is the afterglow of glory.

Either it is the glory of aspiration to a better reality – redemption and restoration to an Edenic state. Or it is the darkness of corrupted glory (for that only corrupted glory could so cling to the heart and haunt it so). A part of what makes artists succeed or fail is their ability to evoke that response in the receiver.

Now this is where some hyper-sensitive practicing artists may pounce. “The success of art has nothing to do with the receiver's response, they might say. Great art is often vilified by the masses. Brilliance is not measured by the people. Think, Russell, of the parable of the young man who came out of the Art Museum and said to the security guard “I don’t think much of your museum’s paintings.” And the guard replied ‘Young man, It’s not the paintings who are on trial here – it’s you!’ What do you make of that.”

First – that artists are not concerned about the same thing as receivers in art. Artists are concerned about the process of making art. Receivers of art may be interested in such process out of curiosity, but their real interest is in the finished product and what it does for them. Without a doubt among those who receive art there are both dullards and discerners. There are both sensitive souls and cynical sops. However, it is the reflection of a community over time on a work of art that will strip away pretense for reality. Some artists may come in and out of fashion (Shakespeare for instance has cycled through popularity and disdain over the centuries) – but there is always the question of whether a work speaks to receivers. Else, why should I bother with it?

I don’t mean this in a utilitarian sense – but simply on the level of heart to heart communication. I have no patience for the solipsistic artist who expects receivers to get on board. Some attempt to reach the audience must be made. And I suggest that when it is successful, it is because the artist has captured something of glory.

More thoughts to come
Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Props to Squidoo

Just a quick thanks to the folks from Squidoo for naming my DaVinci Code -- Answered lens as one of the lenses of the day for May 19. If you haven't seen the lens, it's a link page of great resources for finding out more about how to winsomely and attractively answer the DaVinci Code.

More to come on Monday.
Soli Deo gloria

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Controversey in the Presbyterian Church -- but not the PCUSA

While following up on some postings of friends, I found this interesting site called Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together.

Apparently, this is a call for charitable theological discourse within the evangelical presbyterian community (PCA, EPC, RPCNA, OPC etc). It seems these communities are being convulsed by arguments over The New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision theology (this topic also led me to the very cool online Theopedia)

So here's this group calling for charity in conversation over theolical issues. Meanwhile there are others who believe that the very foundations of the christian faith are at stake. Does this sound familiar to anyone in the PCUSA?

Now there are a few notable differences: the issues at stake in the PCUSA (the nature of scripture, the nature of Jesus work, concepts of sexual purity, the implication of Christ's redeeming work for non-Christians, etc) are not even on the table in the circles of the Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together folks: They all basically agree with each other on these things. However they still fight like Sharks and Jets. John Frame has a fine essay that touches on the topic of contentiousness in the evangelical Reformed community.

I'm not sure what the implications are for our present situation, but perhaps we in the PCUSA should start paying closer attention to what is happening in other reformed communities around us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Off the Shelf: Art For God's Sake

Just posted my review of Philip Ryken's Art for God's Sake over on Writer's Read. More thoughts about art to come later on today or tomorrow here on the Eagle and Child -- stay tuned!

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Breaking the Code -- the Norman Rockwell Code

Now this sounds funny -- an independent filmmaker has created The Norman Rockwell Code -- featuring as the main character, the son of a certain Mayberry Deputy. Follow the link to the official website and watch the trailer -- it's a hoot.


The Christian and the Arts

I've discovered that many folks of artistic bent feel that Christianity is at war with the arts. I've also found many Christians who think that the arts community is at war with Christ. Sadly, this has produced a lamentable season in which the Christian community is unaware that Christ is sovereign and Lord over all the arts.

Fortunately, there are many within the reformed community of churches who are trying to redress this situation -- there are serious artists and theologians who are working to produce good, God-honoring art. In our own way, we're trying to engage in this reflection at Covenant-First by having a celebration of the Arts on June 11. This celebration will feature an Art Show after worship and publication of a literary magazine. In part we're showing that the impulse to create is a basic human impulse, and indeed is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

However, we should not forget that beyond the avocational aspects of art, there are people called to art as a vocation. Consider Makoto Fujimura, whom I wrote about in an earlier post. He is a well respected artist and a serious Christian. His work is not "evangelistic" in the sense that he doesn't paint pictures of Jesus and he doesn't bludgeon his audience with his faith. However his work reflects the character of the world in which we live -- brimming full with grace and glory, sin and suffering, and the longing and hope for redemption.

Philip Ryken, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, has recently come out with a wonderful little essay on Art for God's sake (forwarded to me by Eagle and Child reader and Covenant-First member Rob Heidenreich). Ryken briefly and effectively explores scriptural teaching about the arts -- showing that creativity is a part of our nature - it is a part that needs redemption through Christ. Then he explores and validates the vocational calling of the artist. He follows that with a chapter calling us to use all forms of art in service to God's glory -- abstract expressionism, realism, impressionism, dance, music, theatre -- all can be used legitimately for God's own glory. But he finishes by saying that Christian art must have standards for excellence -- it must be glorifying to God by reflecting both truth and beauty. Much Christian art focuses on beauty without wrestling with the truth of the ugliness of sin. Much secular art focuses on the truth of the ugliness of sin without recognizing the beauty that God has created (and ultimately the truth of that hope of beauty)

Ryken makes a point that Christians must heed. The Christian artist does not need to make all his work evangelistic: “the way a Christian who makes cars glorifies God is not by painting ‘John 3:16’ on the hood. Rather, he glorifies God by making a good car. Similarly, the artist glorifies God by making good art, whether or not it contains an explicit gospel message.” (51) Art is a thing unto itself -- done right it will demonstrate deep reflection on the truth of creation, done wrong it becomes a third rate and not very enjoyable sermon.

I'm looking forward to reflecting more about art and the arts in the coming weeks as we lead up to this celebration of the arts.

Other related posts:
On enjoyment of arts vs looking for a message
Art as showing shadows of glory
Depravity, Dignity, and Art
Christianity and Art, take one

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, May 15, 2006

Off the Shelf: Specials

My latest book review -- of the Sci Fi book Specials is up on the Writers Read blog. Take a look and enjoy!

Soli Deo gloria

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Casino for Broadway Commons -- Bad Idea

I try to stay away from political issues in the pulpit -- and generally I try to stay away from them in this blog. However, Cincinnati City Council is moving quickly on a very dangerous proposition, and I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you.

Simply put, certain council members are pushing for a casino in downtown Cincinnati (see the full story from the Enquirer). Tammy and I believe that this is dangerous and will dramatically harm the quality of life in Cincinnati. Here are some resources to inform you on the impact of gambling. Steve Carr has a well thought out post on this one. Andrew Warner also lends his voice on the issue.

We wrote an email to all our city council members -- the text is below:
Council Members,

My wife and I have followed with dismay the story about the proposed casino for Broadway Commons -- we are very upset that several of you who we elected as leaders have been key players in promoting this possibility.

We are both 34 year old non-natives to Cincinnati. We moved to Cincinnati in part because it has a great reputation as being a family centered city. Since we've been here, we've seen that this is indeed a great town. Cincinnati is a center for business, industry, and the arts. Cincinnati is an elegant and classy city with world class sports teams. Cincinnati is a hub for the branding industry and home to several Fortune 500 companies. Cincinnati is blessed with great natural resources from parks to strong community organizations to rich local traditions. Will you cheapen all of this by selling out to gambling interests? Please, build upon the present greatness of this city -- don't tear it down in a neurotic attempt to copy someplace else.

It is our firm conviction that a casino for downtown will only cause more problems than it creates. John Kindt, Ph.D., professor of commerce and legal policy at the University of Illinois, testified before Congress in 1994 that for every dollar of revenue generated by gambling, taxpayers must dish out at least three dollars in increased criminal-justice costs, social-welfare expenses, high regulatory costs, and increased infrastructure expenditures. Putting a casino so close to the precarious situation of Over-the Rhine is a recipie for disaster.

In his 2003 State of the State address, Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn confessed his frustration with reliance upon gambling revenues:

"For years, our economy has depended almost exclusively on tourism and gaming [gambling], rather than by exporting goods and services. Three out of every four of our tax dollars are collected from sales and gaming taxes; taxes vulnerable to swings in the economy. … Implicit in this tax strategy was a belief that the revenues from gaming and tourism could keep pace with our growing and diverse population. Unfortunately, this strategy has failed. … My fellow Nevadans, the lesson from the last 20 years is clear; our revenue system is broken because it has relied on regressive and unstable taxes [from gambling]."

Statistics about the quality of life in Nevada bear out the immense social cost of reliance upon gambling (these statistics were as of 1999):

Nevada has the highest suicide rate, nearly double the national average.
Nevada has the highest divorce rate.
Nevada has the highest percentage of high school dropouts.
Nevada has the fourth-highest percentage of out-of-wedlock births.
Nevada has the third-highest abortion rate.
Nevada has the fourth-highest incidence of rape.

Gambling addiction has destroyed the lives of celebrities such as golfer John Daley, OJ Simpson, and our own Pete Rose. We fear that the city is playing with fire it does not understand. Though the allure of recapturing the dollars flying to Lawrenceburg seems appealing, we plead with you to stop pushing for a casino.

Respectfully Yours

Russell and Tammy Smith
Pleasant Ridge

If you feel so led to join us in writing them, their addresses are,,,,,,,,


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Gospel According to Shakespeare -- Richard III

Our next Gospel According to Shakespeare class is tonight -- and we're doing Richard III. So, I'm putting down a few thoughts and themes that I hope to discuss with the group -- your feedback and thoughts are welcome as well (as an aside, you might also check you my Squidoo Lens on Shakespeare and Christian themes -- if you come across good resources, I'll be glad to add them to the lens).

That said, let's look at some thoughts on Richard III

Appearance of Godliness
Richard is one of Shakespeare's most seductive villans -- he takes many of his characteristics (such as playing to the audience, openly admitting his villany to the audience, seduction, subtlety, and a love of destruction) from the Medieval stock characters of Vice, Avarice, the Devil -- all from the morality plays. Shakespeare's genius is in taking the flat stock characters and breathing life into them -- and here he does it in spades with Richard.

One aspect of Richard's vice is his duplicity -- his ability to be one thing and seem entirely another. This is best seen in Act III scenes 6 and 7 where he is courting the officials of London. Buckingham the conspirator is prepping the Mayor of London, saying that Richard is

...on his knees at meditation;
Not dallying with a brace of courtesans,
But meditating with two deep divines;
Not sleeping, to engross his idle body,
But praying, to enrich his watchful soul.

Richard then emerges flanked by two clergymen, begging pardon for having been at prayer so long. It is the classic picture of religiosity used cynically to advance the causes of power. One thinks of Saul in I Samuel 15 -- after Samuel announces God's rejection of Saul as king, Saul begs that Samuel come back and bring honor to him before men. He wants the holy man to bless him before the people. I also think of Matthew 23 -- Jesus' pronouncements of woe upon the Pharisees and teachers of the law -- see verse 27 "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." Or perhaps John 10, when Jesus talks about being the good shepherd of the flock -- he contrasts with the theif who comes to kill and destroy and the wolf that comes to devour the sheep.

Richard's duplicity and relentless God-talk remind us that evil often masquerades in the church.

Psychology of Evil
Richard's opening speech lays out his intent. Now that war has ceased and peace has arrived, it is the time for love, merry making, and rebuilding. Richard says that he is not cut out for such things (though in the rest of the play he shows himself adept at seduction, play-acting, and vanity of his physical appearance -- quite simply he lies here saying he's not cut out for these things):

I am determined to prove a villan
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

No other explanation than this. No psychologizing here -- no wrongs done in the past. Richard destroys for the sheer delight of sowing mischeif and chaos and destruction. This becomes clear again in Act V as he urges his men on to fight:

Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls.
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law!
March on, join bravely, let us to it pell-mell,
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.

Evil here is blind and bent on destruction -- it carries the distillation of how Paul describes wrath in Romans 1:28ff or perhaps Peter's description of false teachers in II Peter 2 (particularly v12 "But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.")

Justice and Conscience
Shakespeare has this very interesting scene the night before the climactic battle where the stage is split between Richmond's camp and Richard's camp. Both are asleep and the Ghosts of Richards victims all parade onstage, taking time to curse Richard and to bless Richmond. Then Richard awakens and gives the only indication that he has a conscience -- he is a man haunted. His villany has taken a toll on his soul. Not unlike Jesus revealing the sins of the woman's accuser's in the sand, the ghosts have revealed the truth of Richard's sin.

Later, Richmond will pray for victory -- with a prayer not unlike that of David before going to meet Goliath.

Like I said, these are preliminary thoughts -- we'll be hashing through them tonight. Look forward to your comments as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

DaVinci Code -- resources

Just a quick post for the moment -- a reminder that I've put together a list of helpful resources for addressing the Da Vinci Code and the attendant silliness that goes along with the book. Check out the resources list at my Squidoo Lens for "The DaVinci Code -- answered".

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What do I do with a toxic friend

If it were only one conversation, I don't think I'd blog this one. Yet the pattern seems all too frequent. What starts out as friendship turns poisonous and then they come to me -- "What do I do about this toxic friend?" What is a toxic friend? -- see the fine article here. Or perhaps you want a more known source, then check out the CBS article on this subject

The problem is usually the same -- we're Christians. We're supposed to be loving and self-sacrificing and give of ourselves even when it hurts. We're supposed to love the unlovable and embrace the unembracable.

That's true.

But we're not Jesus. We're Jesus' disciples; but we're not Jesus.

Most toxic people are looking for others to fill their void -- that void that is infinate. What makes them toxic (rather than neurotic) is that they have developed strategies (whether consciously or subconsciously) for making others feel guilty for the toxic friend's inner void. Life becomes an increasing quagmire of drama, phone calls, tearful conversations, continued impositions, and accusations. The toxic person seeks to draw others into their own misery, rather than actually being rescued from their misery.

You cannot fill that void; neither can I. Only Jesus can. The problem of the inner void is only solved by surrender -- you cannot do that for your toxic friend.

However here is what we can do as Christians.

1) Pray -- first and foremost, we pray. Not just that God would "help this person in their troubles." You also need to pray that the Holy Spirit would grab their heart and that they might start obsessing more about the living God, and less about their own circumstances. You also need to confess your own feelings -- be they of frustration and anger and exhaustion. Finally in prayer, you need to have your own time of surrender -- surrender the toxic friend to God, resting in his sovereignty.

2) Set boundaries -- this does not mean to say "I won't help you." Setting boundaries means you make very clear what you CAN do with integrity. By setting boundaries, you may have to weather all kinds of bad behavior and unfair accusations. Remember, you're not responsible for making this person happy. If they cut off the friendship because you've pulled back to save your sanity, your marraige, your job -- then that is their perogative. Mourn the loss, pray God's blessing on their lives, and move on. Don't become a prisoner to someone else's misery.

3) Stay involved. Once you've set boundaries and said what you can do, then you have freedom to do it. It may feel awkward after the first conversation where you've set boundaries -- but the act of demonstrating that the friendship, as far as you go, isn't over will do wonders.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one -- comments are open!


Friday, May 05, 2006

National Day of Prayer -- Retrospective

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Yesterday, I participated in Hamilton County's observance of the National Day of Prayer. With us were the parents of Matt Maupin who is the only MIA for the present war in Iraq. As I talked with the Maupins afterward, they asked us to continue to pray for Matt -- which I told them we would do. They are fine folks, and however we can encourage them, let us please do it.

The event was covered in the Cincinnati Enguirer -- see here for the story!

"And for those of you who are curious -- below is the manuscript for the prayer I prayed -- not word for word what I said, but pretty darn close.

Lord God Almighty, we acknowledge you as the soveriegn God – the lord over nations and lord over cities and lord of our churches. Lord you rule from on high, and it is by the grace extended to us through Christ that we have the freedom to gather before you, unite our hearts in prayer, and seek your guidance, wisdom, power, and rule over our lives, our churches, and our cities.

Lord we confess, we are a city that is torn by violence. We have allowed bitterness, wrath, and anger to become idols in this city. We have allowed the idol of uncommitted free sexuality to reign in parts of this city. We’ve turned a blind eye as the scourge of drugs and abuse and despair and hopelessness have swept our city. All the while, we have pursued our little agendas, playing turf warfare among government bodies, playing our chess games of power and prestige. Lord, give us hearts that mourn our sinfulness, give us hearts that hunger and thirst for righteousness, give us hearts that repent of our sin and turn to you.

Sovereign God – we pray that your Spirit would bring healing to this city. Where there has been violence, we pray for peace. Where there has been despair, we pray for the hope that comes through Christ. Where there has been addiction, we pray for the freedom that comes through Christ. Where there has been bitterness and division, we pray for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Lord, indeed we pray that this city would honor you and would be transformed by you into a place of blessing.

To that end, Lord, we pray for the churches of this city. We repent of the divisiveness and turf battles in which churches have engaged in this city. We repent of building our own little empires of ego. We repent of thinking that the world somehow owes us respect. We repent of complacency and self-serving behavior. Lord heal us and send us, we pray.

We pray that you would spiritually empower each church in this city to proclaim Christ as Lord. Grant unto the churches of this city a missionary mindset – that each church, in its own setting where you have placed them, would reach out and be a blessing to its neighbors. Let your word be proclaimed faithfully. Let your saints issue forth from the pews to be salt and light in a watching world. Let the good deeds of your people bring praise and glory to you, O God in heaven.

Lord, we pray that you would make us people of prayer – people who cry out to you night and day, continually. People who praise you and love you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And then makes us people who are sent – sent to be blessings and ambassadors in the name of Jesus Christ.

We ask all these things for the praise and glory of Jesus Christ, and it is in his name we pray.Amen"

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rushkoff declares war on God

Just in case you missed the breaking news, Doug Rushkoff, a prominent media theorist, author, and writer of graphic novels, has put the bit in his mouth, laced up the gloves, and come out of the corner with jabbing hard, looking to land a haymaker punch on the glass jaw of religious belief. That’s right, Rushkoff declared war on God: “God doesn't exist, never did, and the closest thing we'll ever see to God will emerge from our own collective efforts at making meaning.” Now a quick caveat -- I like Doug's work -- Loved his book Coercion, I've enjoyed his articles online. But on this one, he's a bit, shall we say, over the top. Let’s hear some more of what he has to say:

“When religions are practiced, as they are by a majority of those in developed nations, today, as a kind of nostalgic little ritual - a community event or an excuse to get together and not work - it doesn't really screw anything up too badly. But when they radically alter our ability to contend with reality, cope with difference, or implement the most basic ethical provisions, they must be stopped. Like any other public health crisis, the belief in religion must now be treated as a sickness. It is an epidemic, paralyzing our nation's ability to behave in a rational way, and - given our weapons capabilities - posing an increasingly grave threat to the rest of the world.” Not much subtlety there.

Rushkoff then makes some pretty wild claims about the original intent of the biblical authors (last time I was in grad school, Doug, such claims did need to be backed up with textual evidence) He reveals that his goal is to undermine religious fundamentalism by appropriating the stories and images of the Bible to his own ends. It seems that Rushkoff thinks a belief in the truth of Biblical accounts somehow prevents us from identifying with the characters of the stories and empathizing with them – putting ourselves into their scenarios: “We are all Cain, struggling with our feelings about a sibling who seems to be more blessed than we are. We are always escaping the enslaved mentality of Egypt and the idolatry we practiced there. We are all Mordechai, bristling against the pressure to bow in subservience to our bosses.” No problem so far – I can sign off on those sentences, but then he says “But true believers don't have this freedom…..” It seems that Doug doesn’t give us poor misguided believers credit enough to have a middle schooler’s capacity to enter a story. I guess we’re devoid of such characteristics as empathy, imagination, or intelligence.

So his solution is that freethinkers and pagans and others alike should pillage the Bible for images and use them in their own way as a means of subversion of traditional religion. The best way to end religious fundamentalism is to take the text away from the fundamentalists (as a semantic caveat – Doug’s terminology and usage seems to take in a whole sweep of folks whom we could variously parse as fundamentalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, traditionalists, neo-orthodox thinkers, and just about anyone else that thinks that Jesus really did rise from the dead and ascend into heaven). Bring it on, Douggie, bring it on. You’re just being Brer Fox throwing Brer Rabbit into the brier patch.

After all, do we not believe that “the word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). Let the pagans come reading our scriptures. If what our God claims is true (and it is), then that is the most dangerous thing they can do for their own set of beliefs – for it will harden some into irrationality (as Rushkoff seems to have done – his post reads like a rant, dripping with anger), for others it will soften their hearts and they will begin to grapple with the living God. Maybe Doug should read Augustine’s Confessions for a picture of what happens when people take up the scriptures and read.

On another level, Doug’s declaration is tired and rehashed – anyone remember “religion is the opiate of the masses” or “man is the measure of all things”? Remember the Stoics? Remember the Roman Empire? Remember the cries of “Christians to the lions!” This has all happened before – there is nothing new under the sun. The recent revelation of the Gospel of Judas gives us insight into a community of pagans who sought to appropriate the stories of the Bible to advance their own agendas: The Cainites they were called. Reappropriation of the Christian stories was the whole thrust of the Gnostic movement in the early centuries of the church. And when reappropriation didn’t work did not the pagan Roman emperors seek to crush the insignificant little Christian rebellion, wiping out existence of their stories?

No, I’m not worried about Rushkoff’s challenge. Let the pagans go running headlong in the scriptures, let them immerse in them and soak in them. That’s what we’ve been inviting them to do for years. They’ll be in the hands of someone far more dangerous than you or me.

However, we ought to take his gauntlet challenge seriously – seriously enough to know our own scriptures well. When God starts messing around with their heads, He’ll send them to us and they’ll ask us questions, and we need to be prepared to offer a explanation of the hope that we have. We need to be serious enough to learn the myths and cultural archetypes and turn them on their head to show how they point to the living God (Read Peace Child for a great example of what that’s all about – or the Parthenon Code for a more controversial example). We need to be serious enough to live our faith on a daily basis through acts of love and blessing to those in our midst.

Thanks, Douggie. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve got up your sleeve.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Great Stories From Egypt

One of the blogs I've been following is that of a Young Adult Volunteer in Egypt named Teri. This week, Teri has been sharing some teriffic stories about life in Egypt(you'll have to scroll down to the May 1 entry -- I don't think that the permalink for her individual posts is activated) .

First she talks tells of her family's tour through the great sites of Egypt, but she quickly shifts from travelouge to the far more interesting story of the Coptic Christians who have been relegated to Garbage City, a slum on the outskirts of Cairo. These Christians make their living sorting through the refuse of Egyptian society, recycling what they can. For more information on this neglected subculture, see this article.

Then in contrast, she tells of the cave churches in this neighborhood that have been established by the Coptic church. Teri vigorously writes of vivid contrast of the squalor in which the people live with the cleanliness in which they worship -- it is easily one of the best written stories I've read on the internet. See here for further information on and photos of Cave Churches.

Teri's well written post calls my attention to wider concerns: the global face of Christianity which contrasts with our relative comfortable secularism in America (see my previous post on a great book about African Christianity), the odd breed of tolerance that Islam extends toward Christians (see World Magazine's great article on this theme), and the call to find a way to effectively help the global poor (see Michael Kruse's post on an organization he supports that is getting the job done).

Thanks Teri for a compelling read!

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, May 01, 2006

Resources for Writing

Given the last post's response, I should focus this blog exclusively on ministry and preaching. Thanks to all the commentors who have argued and added contrast and texture to the conversation. I will come back to the imperitive of preaching soon. However, for today, I have a different bugaboo to excise from my brain: the craft of writing.

Good, clear writing is an essential skill not just for pastors, but anyone who communicates. When I write, I remember Mike Beates' exhortation trim fat from our writing -- be crisp and vigrouous in our prose for flabby writing brings no honor to God. He told us seminarians, proud of the bigness of our brains and complexity of our terms, of the scene from A River Runs Through It in which the father, helping his son with an essay, gave the paper back saying "Make it half as long." When the son returned, the father said "half as long, again." Prune ruthlessly -- make every word tell. Be intentional. At my best, I struggle to heed his instruction.

Mike was not the only voiceto contribute to my development: here are a few of my favorite teachers:

Elements of Style -- Strunk and White's classic remains my standard. If nothing else, they nag me about the use of the passive tense; it is hoped that their ruthless scrutiny of the passive will be of benefit.

On Writing Well -- William Zinnser's text takes a close second to Srunk and White. He cries out in the streets for muscular prose that grips the reader; writing that demands attention for even the most mundane. Zinnser's great gift to me was warning against flabby cliches and pompous qualifiers. One might think it plain as day that qualifiers and cliches be avoided like the plague, however there is a general tendency to sometimes rely upon such techniques when the pistons aren't all firing.

Before We Get Started -- Brett Lott writes like a celtic knot, his train of thought twisting and turning, winding through leaves and pomegrantes and the heads of strange beasts, yet always coming back the the original starting point. I'm still working through this relatively recent book, but I've already found profit from it. The first chapter, which reads almost like a Baptist sermon, hangs on the importance of those small words a, the, this, making a case for the vary care in word choice that he practices in this modern classic on writing.

Fifty Writing Tools -- Roy Peter Clark's pithy series on journalism -- filled with morsels to sweeten any writer's work.

Who has influenced your writing -- drop a comment and let me know.

Soli Deo Gloria