Sunday, March 29, 2009

Planting Roots

So...you know that United Methodist Church that I kind of, sort of, fisked  awhile back?

Well, we have decided to actually stay and make it our church home.  

We've been very conflicted about the whole thing, but have finally decided to try  the "grow where you're planted" approach.  

As many flaws as this current church has, it has genuine people and opportunities for us to take an active role and contribute to the church.  In that spirit, tonight I decided to step out of the lurker status, which I have tightly clutched during the past year, and fling myself into actual non-Sunday-morning contact with people.  I worked up the nerve to join the worship team for rehearsal, in the hopes that I would be able to integrate more fully into the church's ministry and do more than passively sit in a pew.  

For many years in the church that we left when things started getting bizarre and dicey, I participated in worship.  It was my main contribution at the time because our children were still so young. It was something I could do without committing too much of my very consumed time.  When we moved on to Megamart Church, I tried to join the choir and was non-plussed by the whole experience.  It was so large, impersonal, and machine-like in the way it was run that I just faded out of it and decided it wasn't going to help me feel as if I were a part of the church.

So, here I am again, trying to step out into community and find a place where I can use some of my skills to help support or minister in some small way.  It's been a long time, and it feels really good to be trying again.  I have spent far too long on the sidelines licking my wounds over the last couple years.  I finally feel ready to move forward.

I think that's why we have decided to stay at this church with its little idio-syncrasies. We're finally ready to attempt community, real community, again.

Much of our faith can only be worked out in relation to other people.  Grace.  Love.  Service. Those are hard things to develop on your own.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Annihilation and Hell

A good starting point in this discussion would be to detail what common Christian conceptions of Hell are. In movies and books, it's always portrayed as a fiery underground; flames, lava, burning demons and people. This image has its roots in Jesus' own words:

Matthew 5:21-22
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago,'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again anyone who says to his brother,'Raca'[a term of contempt] is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

See...Jesus uses fire and hell in the same breath. That must mean it is exactly how we have imagined it, right?

Actually, the word Jesus used in the Greek is Gehenna, a place outside of Jerusalem where human sacrifice to an Ammonite god had been performed by several kings in Israel's history. A later king, Josiah, desecrated the place because of this horrible practice and it became a trash heap. People would burn their trash there. Executed criminals and dead animals were taken and disposed of there.

Jesus often used the image of fire when speaking of judgment. It's important to remember, however, that fire destroys things. If a house burns down to the ground, it no longer exists. The ashes are left, but nothing remotely resembling a house is left. The frightening image of eternal torment by fire isn't really represented in the image.

If Gehenna was a place where criminals' bodies were burned after their conviction, I think it's fair to say that Jesus is saying that that's what we're in danger of encountering; being convicted by God's judgment and having our bodies consumed by fire. It's death and destruction, not conscious torment.

Many Christians have theorized about what Hell is like. Nowadays it's considered unfashionable to proclaim the fire and brimstone version of Hell. In contrast, we can find descriptions of Hell as being "separation from God"...whatever that means. What people who describe Hell in this way are saying is something like this: People who reject Christ will die and "live?" in this sad place and know that they will have to live there forever without God. Because God is the source of everything good, then Hell will be a miserable place. Those in Hell will see the joy of those who have eternal life and will be tormented in their souls because they know that they will never, ever be able to enjoy God's presence in that way and that they have been rejected by Him. This will eat at them and make them "burn" in agony.


The Orthodox Church: teaches that Heaven and Hell are the same place...being in the presence of God. For those who love God it is inexpressible joy. For those who hate God it is torment. They so hate him that they cannot bear his presence, which cause them misery.

The Catholic Church: teaches something similar to the "separation" from God concept. People who do not love God have put themselves into self-imposed exile from God.

NT Wright, a bishop in the Anglican Church: Theorizes that perhaps those who do evil and choose not to worship God somehow lose their humanity.

This opens up a possibility: that a human being who continually and with settled intent worships that which is not God can ultimately cease completely to bear God’s image. Such a creature would become, in other words, ex-human: a creature that once bore the image of God but does so no longer, and can never do so again.

This is an evasion. So what if they are "ex-human"? Tormenting millions of dogs for eternity would be just as repugnant. I also believe the answer is unsatisfactory because it could be used to view non-believers as less worthy of God's love and portray them as being inferior to believers. I don't think that's what Wright is aiming for, but misunderstanding never stops those bent on finding justification for being awful towards others who don't share their beliefs.

People often say that Jesus talks about Hell more than anybody in the Bible. In some ways, they are correct. However, it's a misleading argument based on the fact that other than Jesus' instances, there are few references to Hell in the New Testament at all. If you do a common word search for "hell" in an NIV translation, you'll only find 14 uses of the word. Several of those uses occur together in Jesus teachings and represent a particular conversation with His disciples, wherein he uses the word multiple times in a few sentences. Only 2 instances occur outside of the gospels, one of which is the use of the term as a descriptor--James 3:6, and the other referring to angels and their punishment, not humans--2 Peter 2:4.

When it comes to the gospels, there aren't 12 separate teachings about Hell. A few uses of the word occur as adjectives, such as Jesus calling the Pharisees sons of hell. He's not teaching anything about the doctrine of hell in such a use. At most, Jesus refers to Hell 4 times throughout the gospels. I'm only counting the actual teachings. If He says the same thing in 3 different gospels, it doesn't count as 3 separate mentions because the gospels are reiterating one instance, not relating entirely new conversations.

The most prominent use comes from Matthew 5:29-30. Jesus says it's better to gouge out your eye, or cut off your hand rather than have your whole body go to hell.

He reiterates this in Matthew 18:9 :

9And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.


Notice how he contrasts entering life against being thrown into hell? He is saying that it is better to have a living, imperfect body than a whole one burning in that trash heap called Gehenna. This verse clarifies all those scary sections about cutting off body parts instead of entering hell. Would you rather be one-eyed, going about your life, or have beautiful eyes decaying in death?

Besides this clarification, I think it's important to realize that Jesus is shocking us into evaluating our choices, not telling us that we should literally chop off our hands and gouge out our eyes....just in case some of you are contemplating disfiguring yourselves.

It is kind of funny that we would take the Hell portion of these verses literally, but not the dismemberment part. Some of us don't think it's too much for Jesus to be describing a place of eternal torment, but we do think it's too much for him to actually mean we should cut off our limbs. There's something backwards in that.

Having dealt with the fact that there are very few uses of the term Hell in the New Testament, I would like to caution that word searches are a very basic way of trying to get to the bottom of something and by no means should it be the last word in this exploration. It's only a partial attempt at dealing with the concept. Explaining the concept of judgment and punishment will be far more important than making a case for annihilation based on the scant use of the term Hell.

That's one the next posts I'm going to be working on.

More Additions to the Blogroll

The latest additions to my blogroll all have one thing in common, they have each fought, or are now fighting cancer.

Wander Linda  has finished treatment for breast cancer and looks poised to start some new adventures with the cutest four-legged friend imagineable...well except for mine, of course!  She has great photos from Arizona posted from time to time.

JollyBlogger is in treatment with stage 4 colon cancer and has written some great posts on how it has changed him.  Pray for him as he continues treatment.

Glenn Penner works for Voice of the Martyrs, Canada division.  He is having a rough go of things right now and prayers for him and his family would be appropriate also.

Cartoon Economics

From Marginal Revolution....South Park explains economics.  Some might take offense, but it's worth watching the headless chicken and the chart.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seen on TV

One of the funny things about having kids is rediscovering things through their eyes.  The normal, everyday things that we tune out or have learned to ignore over time are picked up by them and can absolutely fascinate them.

I knew I was in trouble a while back when I finally got out of bed one Saturday morning and found the kids watching an infomercial instead of their normal Power Rangers, Skunk Fu, or Go Go Rikki. They were awed by the charismatic salesman.

Every product they had seen seemed miraculous to them. They told me I should get Cindy Crawford's skin care system...not that I'm old right now...but just in case I started needing it soon.  To tame my curly hair, I needed the Kiyoseki Styler.  To take care of my rough calluses, I needed the PedEgg.

They seemed really concerned about my youth and beauty.  I try not to think about it too much.

Last Christmas was the as-seen-on-TV Christmas.  I received the Ove Glove, the PedEgg, and the Pancake Puff pan.



Later on, when we were wrapping our pipes in bubble gum and electrical tape, we decided to give Mighty Putty a try.  

The results and review of these products?

The Ove Glove:  Honestly, I use it all the time.  It's a lot easier to use than a normal oven mitt and it works great.  Have never been burned while using it.  It hangs on a little magnetic hook on my refrigerator.

The Ped Egg:  Works OK.  It takes a lot of time and effort to actually get rid of a heavy callus.  

Mighty Putty: Not so mighty.  Don't waste your money.  It's a completely useless composite material that has no practical purpose.  It should be relabeled Mighty Crap-China-Had-Left-Over-From-All-Their-Industrial-Waste-That-They-Forgot-To-Include-In Their-Poison-Dog -Food.

The Pancake Puff: This is one of those products that looks like more fun than it actually is. Yeah, let's make exotic, gourmet food in the shape of a ball!  That always makes it taste better! The only purpose this contraption served was to make me curse more in thirty minutes than I had all year long.  Do you know how hard it is to flip a pancake puff with a long, skinny stick? It qualifies as torture in my book...completely inhumane.

Somehow I have escaped any recent urgings to buy the new amazing products offered on the TV.  Maybe they've become skeptical after seeing the magnificent failure of Mighty Putty. 

On the other hand...Mother's Day is just around the corner and I have heard some mumblings about the Buxton Organizer and the Snuggie.  

Maybe I can wear them together! 

Annihilation--an introduction

It's probably fairly obvious to anyone regularly reading my blog, that I have been toying with the idea of annihilation for quite a while.  It's been percolating in my brain off and on for a couple of years, but has been gaining momentum and clarity for me in the last several months, I'm sure prodded on by my father's sudden passing in October.

His ashes sit in a carved, mahogany box on the top of one of my bookcases, his life condensed into a 5 pound bag of gritty, gray matter. It's what we all become eventually, so don't suppose me too morbid. I'm only matter-of-fact about it.

Considering myself a Christian, a believer in Jesus, I had to think...really think....about what I thought had happened to my father. He was an atheist. Not only was he an atheist, but he was rather mocking of any type of religion or belief in salvation. So, one couldn't even make the argument that he was an ignorant atheist who had never been exposed to the Gospel. He'd heard it plenty and decided that it wasn't for him. From a Christian perspective, he died without excuse.

I broached this subject once with my brother, a fellow believer, curious how he was handling my father's death. I had already been considering annihilation, and had been reserving my judgment on the matter, not becoming too emotional about the eternal aspect of my father's death. I was sad, but not consumed with images of him being tormented forever. However, I knew, or at least thought, my brother was more conservative than I was. I was afraid of what he might be thinking and struggling with.

He responded that his pastor, a pastor of a Nazarene church, had comforted him with the thought that there's no way to know what my dad was thinking about when he passed. Perhaps he made a last-minute profession of faith or appeal to God for forgiveness and was welcomed into Heaven. I thought the likelihood of that was infinitesimally small, but was not willing to smash this hope of my brother's. I did briefly mention that I wasn't so sure that I believed in an eternal hell anymore, but didn't go into details. It was a conversation that I knew my brother wasn't ready for, and neither was I, honestly.

As I contemplated  the comfort my brother's pastor had tried to give him, I grasped the fact that Christians of every stripe really don't want there to be a hell. Who would? Yet, because of certain Scriptures and Church tradition, if we claim to believe in what would be called "orthodox"  Christianity, we must contend with the concept of hell, an eternal place of agony or torment.

Each flavor of Christianity has ways of getting around hell. Whether it's through interceding for those who have died in the hopes that you will help them escape purgatory--which is not quite the same as hell, but awfully close--or believing, as the Catholic church does, that people who have never heard the Gospel can be saved even though they are not Christians if they have a sort of natural/general faith in God, or whether Protestants take the God-only-knows route my brother's pastor did, our evasions and manipulations are pointing to a deep problem.

The problem, simply stated, is how do we proclaim a loving God and an eternal Hell? Can those two concepts co-exist and make sense?

Now, this is something that atheists and non-believers take Christians to task for in any in-depth discussion. Often the argument from their side is that a loving God wouldn't let evil exist or have a place of eternal punishment. Their main objection, besides the emotional one that we all have about hell, takes root in a rejection of God's judgment. They not only reject hell, but any concession that God has a right to judge humans, or that humans have somehow committed actions worthy of God's negative judgment.

That is not the angle from which I am reconsidering hell. I am not a Universalist. I don't believe that everyone is "going to Heaven". I don't believe that everyone will have eternal life. I do believe that God will judge people. I do believe that God demands justice.  He offers each of us forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but if we choose to reject him, then we stand alone before God.

All that to say....I don't think God is soft on sin and evil. I don't think Hitler will be singing praises to Jesus in eternity with Stalin singing harmony. Evil exists. Consequences for evil exist. God is merciful. He is loving. He is also just, and we must contend with that side of Him as well.

I'm going to try and lay out what I believe about all this, and how I came to believe it, in several posts.  I'm still working some things out, so if you're reading this and want to give me some food for thought either for or against the existence of hell, feel free to comment.  I find I do my clearest thinking when I am trying to answer someone, discovering exactly how I feel as I simultaneously attempt to communicate it to someone outside of my head.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes

The past couple of days were spent at my father's house, starting the reconstruction process.....actually more like deconstruction.

The contractor spent all day Monday opening up the walls in the house, removing the drywall and insulation, exposing the wood framing and studs.

It wasn't good.  Around every window the studs had been reduced to ash and disintegrated at the mere touch of a finger.  How the windows managed to even stay in the walls, I'm not really sure. Some of the studs in the wall, further away from the windows, were still pristine, so not everything is a loss.

The next step involves hiring an engineer to determine what needs to be done to ensure the structural integrity of the house.  The report he writes will determine what we wind up doing with the house.  If it will be too costly to repair, we may have to sell it "as is" to an investor at a shockingly low price.

I should have taken pictures to scare all you homeowners out there.

Take my advice...don't mess around with termites.  If you think you have them, deal with it immediately.  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Letting My Mind Wander--resurrection

some ideas i've been pondering about all these resurrection/eternal life posts...

Here's a tangent which is either completely wacky or brilliant. Consider the fact that we can find and match the DNA of ancient Egyptian mummies, even though they've been dead for thousands of years.  We can do it with so much precision that mummies can be grouped into families and relationships established and proven.  

Now imagine that we had the ability to encode that DNA into living tissue, a la Jurassic Park. We don't have that ability, but we can imagine it can't we?  In the realm of sci-fi we wouldn't think such a proposition too outlandish, because we know that each person's DNA is unique in its combination and in its genetic expression. Being able to use that information to clone a human is something that might be conceivable in a century or so....not that I think we should clone people. 

Another idea--Our DNA is shaped by the choices we make in life. Certain genes can be turned on or off depending on our environment and the things we do with our bodies.  In the same way, our minds are not static entities.  Our experiences and our choices can make physical changes in our brains, strengthening certain pathways, even creating new ones in the event that part of our brain becomes damaged.  

It's conceivable that, given enough time and knowledge, we would be able to catalogue, not only a person's DNA, but the way in which it has been altered or shaped as a result of the life that individual has lived.  This would, in essence, be like photographing a person's "soul" or life. 

It gets a little messy here because it comes back to attempting to explain what consciousness is--something which is an awfully slippery concept. 

If, as humans, we have the ability to catalogue and record the uniqueness of a particular individual's DNA, how much more could an omniscient God be able to know such a thing?  I'm not proposing anything radical to people of faith, but simply trying to cast it in a new light. Speaking about people being magically, molecularly reconstituted at some point in the future seems rather hocus pocus and untenable for many. 

However, if we imagine a store of information somewhere...in some superior laboratory...with an ultimately superior mind... might it be so far-fetched to envision this scientist reanimating life from his data? In present day imagery, we might imagine he would have a powerful computer with an infinitely large data base filled with information for him to use and extrapolate.  

In the past, an analogous image would be....ta da... : The Book of Life.  

It's funny to think of things that way.  I mean, do we really believe that God needs to have a book lying around to remind him who has eternal life? He's omniscient.  He should just know.

Yet, the image is useful.  It communicates a vast storage of knowledge.  It communicates the official-ness of the findings.  It's been recorded and written down, so it must be true and irrevocable and the last word. It's not too different from the God-as-a-scientist-in-a-laboratory-with-a-powerful-computer image. 

I have to record these things on my blog, because if I wandered about spouting them in everyday life, I'd have to put up with the eye-rolls of people who couldn't care less. Here I only have to put up with the lack of comments.

Lazarus and Resurrection

I've been reading through the gospel of John pretty voraciously over the last week or so, still entertaining the idea of man's default position of mortality.  I know there are a few issues that would have to be worked out and explained before a strong case could be made for the hypothesis I've been considering. 

 A couple of interesting things popped out at me while meditating on the story of Lazarus.

John 11:11

After he had said this, he went on to tell them,"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."

This is an interesting way of describing Lazarus's death, though it seemed to confuse the disciples.  Jesus clarifies that Lazarus is dead, and the disciples realize that Jesus wasn't speaking of natural sleep. 

Lazarus is asleep. Not gone. Not floating about. He is asleep---unconscious, not active in this world.

Jesus could have used any image to convey Lazarus's state and he chooses the image of sleep.

Once Jesus gets to Martha and Mary, we find one of the few instances in Scripture recording the common Jewish belief in a future, physical resurrection. 

John 11:21-24

"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her,"Your brother will rise again."

Martha answered,"I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said to her,"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Jesus doesn't comfort Martha with the idea of Lazarus in Heaven or Paradise.  He tells her Lazarus will live again and Martha agrees that, yes...at some future point...Lazarus will live again. 

As Jesus makes the declaration about himself being the resurrection, I realized that when Jesus says "he who believes in me will live, even though he dies," will is used to refer to the future, not simply as a vague statement about salvation.  The next statement is not a reiteration of the first, but a continuation of it. When Jesus is saying "whoever lives and believes in me will never die" he's referring to that future life, after natural death has occurred and resurrection has occurred. Those resurrected in the future who have faith in Christ will live eternally.

It's a slight distinction, but one I wouldn't have noticed before.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Parenting

There comes a time in every parent's life when you look at your sweet child, the fruit of your loins, the apple of your eye, and you ask yourself:
"Exactly how much therapy is this kid going to need to recover from having me as a parent?"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Additions to the Blogroll

I'm trying to shake things up a bit.  I went for a long period of time not reading many blogs and not commenting very often. I've deleted some of the blogs I haven't read in quite some time, or blogs that became inactive. Over the next few days I'm going to add a few more blogs to the blogroll.  I'm adding two today:

Exploring Our Matrix....interesting mix of religion and sci-fi. Plus, he watches Lost!

Confessing Evangelical...Thoughtful British guy who tends to be both sensible and genuine in his faith.

I'm open to suggestions and discovering some new blogs, so drop me a comment if you have a favorite blog you think I should check out.

Because I Love to Play Clue

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

See! I promised a pic to lighten the mood!

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

!Update! It's on like Donkey Kong! Special Olympian challenges Obama to bowling match.  

American political commentators make me want to stick a fork in my eye.  Seriously.

It's old news by now that Obama made a stupid crack on Jay Leno's show, comparing his unspectacular bowling score of 129 to something like the Special Olympics, the athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities.

Open mouth, insert foot.

Obama has apologized and his press corps is mopping up the mess, but now we have to spend at least a week analyzing the fact that the man said something really stupid that the average person might have said when kidding around with a few friends.  

Is it offensive?  Yes.  I don't think there's any way around that.  It doesn't matter how much Obama apologizes or says he didn't mean to cause offense.  We all know exactly what he meant. There is no way to change the meaning of what was said. He made a comparison of himself to people who have limited abilities.  The joke only works by making fun of the object of the comparison...people with limited abilities.

Obama seems to have had a hard time preventing the utterance of stupid things from his lips, and it's probably one of the traits I find most irritating in him.  Whether it's calling a reporter "Sweetie" or referencing people clinging to guns and religion, the man lets his biases show in these little slip-ups.

All that to say.....Obama is not off the hook.  For someone who was supposed to be inclusive and socially adept, he is surely proving otherwise.  People care about the ways in which they are spoken of and treated.  Too many of these gaffes and Obama's crown will definitely become tarnished and dented.

On the other hand, watching the commentators skewer him and hearing Republicans criticize him for being on Leno or making basketball picks is ironic, indeed.  If I recall correctly the shoe used to be on the other foot when George W. was playing golf or on vacation.  Early on, his critics seems to imply that he had no work ethic because he would spend time at his ranch.

I guess the Republicans feel turn-about is fair play.

In the end, it's all very silly and inane.  Implying that Obama is preoccupied with basketball to the neglect of his presidential duties, or that making an appearance on Leno means he doesn't care about the country is reaching for any dart to aim in his general direction.

How long does it take to write a basketball team's name on a white board?  5 minutes?

How much time does it take to do the Leno show?  A couple of hours?

Republicans need to get their heads out of....well....I'll use the words "  the clouds"...so as not to offend. They are making the party more irrelevant each day.  If they want to criticize Obama, they need to do it with something of substance.  They need to stop being so petty and find constructive ways to criticize his policies and find solutions.

Where are all the "normal" people in politics?  People who don't jump to conclusions? People who aren't sidetracked by Party witch hunts?  People who care more about actually serving the people than staying in office?

Does such a politician even exist?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Body and Soul, Part 3

I was reading a post from the jollyblogger, who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis and is currently in treatment and receiving chemo, and it brought back memories of my own chemo experience. I had never really understood physical suffering up until that point.  Here's what the Jollyblogger had to say:

Embracing weakness was a challenging thought and compelling concept when I thought of it as a kind of metaphorical, spiritual kind of weakness. I could embrace this metaphorical, spiritual weakness as long as I could also remain strong and healthy and competent in the whole of my life. For me it was synonymous with humility, so in other words, I would try to be emotionally, spiritually and physically strong, but just be humble about my strengths. 

Then cancer struck and I also took another look at the classic passage from Paul on weakness - II Corinthians 12:7-10

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I always lifted verse 9 out of the context and thought of the weakness here as a kind of "spiritual" weakness. But after I found I had cancer and started enduring some serious physical weakness I looked at the context more closely and saw that the weakness Paul is speaking of here is physical. It's a "thorn" in the flesh, not a "metaphor" in the flesh. It's a thorn in the "flesh" not a thorn in the "spirit" or the "soul.

I appreciate what he has to say and recognize that I used to do/still tend to do the same thing. It brought me back to what I've been pondering in my previous posts

While I've been kicking around the idea that human beings are by nature purely physical beings, without separate, immaterial "spirits", I realized how much what I thought I knew about certain Scriptures has been tainted by what I have assumed.  Much of what I have been taught, and also learned on my own, consists of the spiritualizing of passages which probably were meant to be taken literally, in a physical, material sense.

Some examples might be helpful. I think the one jollyblogger alludes to is a good example. Frequently that Scripture is quoted in the context of Christians struggling with sin. The thorn is the flesh is not really seen as having anything to do with the body, but is seen rather as a person's propensity for a particular sin. 

Another example...."For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23

I've read or heard that verse many times. When I have read or heard it, "death" did not hold its everyday, common use.  Instead, it became a spiritualized version of the word, meaning damnation, hell, really bad consequences for sinful choices.  Never in my mind, or in the minds of most Christians, is it interpreted as simply being physical death.

However, once again I notice that death is being contrasted by eternal life, whose source is a gift from God.

Why does this happen?  Why do we spiritualize what would otherwise be straightforward passages in Scripture?

There are a few things at play here.  The first problem may be that we are trying to reconcile our common experiences with what we've been taught about God.  When we see that there are many people who sin with abandon and without remorse, and yet they are still sucking air and living relatively untroubled lives, we attempt to make sense of it.  Obviously people don't die when they sin, unless their sin has somehow put them in physical danger. At the same time, because death is not immediate and because all people die--holy and unholy, believing and non-believing, saint and sinner--we assume that the verse doesn't mean what it clearly says.  It must mean "spiritual death" or hell, or any number of things.

We follow this same interpretation in the Genesis account.

Genesis 2:16

And the LORD God commanded the man ,"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die."

Well, they didn't die, at least not instantaneously.  They eventually did die, but we tend to not like the messiness of explaining why they didn't die right away, especially when we have God quoted as saying "when you eat of it you will surely die."  To explain away this perceived contradiction, Christians usually say that Adam "died" in a spiritual sense when he ate the fruit. We spiritualize the verse to convey that something internal happened to Adam, and that physical death was eventually a consequence, but by no means the most important consequence.

Now, when I conjecture that man, in and of himself is simply a material being, some may think that I am putting him on the level of common animals, that somehow I see man as being less unique, or special than those who would divide a human into body and spirit. That isn't what I am aiming for.  What I am saying is that man's "soul" is part and parcel of his body.  The two can't be separated and are not meant to be.  If God wanted pure spiritual beings, then there would be no need for physical resurrections.  

God created a material universe.  He created material beings.  He condescended to become a material being himself.  I think it would be safe to say that He values physical reality and has chosen to work through it.

One of the more interesting aspects of following this train of thought is the recognition that in the Old Testament, God's wrath or judgement is always fulfilled through death.  Humanity becomes evil all the time, so God sends a flood to wipe them out.  The Israelites won't trust God and enter the promised land, so they stumble around the desert for another 40 years until the doubters are dead.  A guy who accidentally touches the Ark of the Covenant  is instantly struck dead.  

The prophecies of judgement all revolve around death and destruction with no hint of "spiritual" consequence, no never-ending conscious torment.

Of course...this all eventually rolls around to annihilationism again, which I plan to get back to at some point.

I know...this is probably boring to everyone who reads my blog.  "Enough already!", everyone's thinking.  What can I say? I'm boring and tedious sometimes.  Just look away.  Don't worry...I'll throw in a cute cat picture one of these days.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tax Questions

I'm not sure how many people know this, but you can call the IRS and ask questions about preparing your return.....for FREE!

So, if you like to do your own taxes, but you have an issue on which you need some more clarification, you don't have to pay an accountant to figure it out for you.

Call them.....they don't bite.  I promise.

1-800-829-1040 ...isn't it cute how they put 1040 in the phone number?

Who says the IRS doesn't have a sense of humor?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Body and Soul, Part 2

I've been thinking through the thought experiment I started in my earlier post about whether humans have any part of immortality other than that which God chooses to imbue to them as a part of eternal life.

The ramifications of the idea seem endless to me.

Doing some amateur word studies through my concordance, I found something interesting. The term Spirit, as far as a specific thing/person is used almost exclusively to refer to God. It is occasionally used to refer to demons or angelic beings--unclean spirits. When used while speaking about humans, it is usually in a generic sense; congregations having a spirit of unity, a spirit of love, etc. In that meaning spirit is more a descriptor of a general attitude, not a descriptor of an ethereal thing.

This makes for an interesting idea......God, specifically God's Spirit, as the only source of immortality. That has the appearance of being quite an obvious statement.  Of course God is the only source of immortality and eternal life. What I am aiming at is a very literal understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." 

He was making more than just a passing allusion to salvation. He is declaring that God's immortal Spirit is the only thing capable of raising the dead to life.

Today's reading in church was John 2:13-22:

13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

 17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." [a]

 18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body.22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

The lesson concerned the moneychangers, but my mind was elsewhere.  I was thinking about the Israelites worship of God, and their belief in the validity of temple worship.  To make a proper sacrifice, one had to go to the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was the abode of God's Spirit.  It was the place where people went to meet God, fulfill their oaths, asks for answers to prayer and take part in the official religious life of Israel.

One could pray to God anywhere, but there were many rituals which could only be performed at the Temple.  It was considered a Holy Place.  

Realizing these facts makes sense of Jesus tirade, but I think the most interesting part comes afterwards when he refers to himself as the temple.  It's more than a euphemism, more than a picture, and more than an analogy.  Jesus is quite literally the temple of God's Spirit, not tied to a physical location but walking about with the people, eating meals with the locals, fishing with Peter, and walking dusty roads, carrying the Spirit and Glory of God throughout the land instead having it tucked away in the Holy of Holies.

The eternal and the immortal Spirit of God has pierced into the physical world through Jesus' incarnation.

That incarnation continues in the life of believers.  The person who believes in Christ becomes indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  They have been granted, through God's grace, eternal life, immortality, victory over death's finality.

Everything I'm writing is pretty standard Christian theology, but I'm looking at things through a slightly different lens which grants a newness to my mind.

Considering Heaven vs. Hell is very abstract.  We can sometimes emote about what either of those places might be like, but it still very imaginative and inaccessible to our sense of reality.

If I think about salvation in terms of Life vs. Death, a continuation of myself in a true, physical reality vs. ceasing to exist, living by having a small piece of God's immortal Spirit placed within me vs. my existence being left to take it's natural course of death and decay....all of a sudden things seem more real to me.

I don't know.  There's still much for me to think about.  Maybe this all seems crazy or extraneous, but there is something in it that is calling for exploration.

more later.

Trust and Control Issues

I finally have a new washing machine.  Yippee!!

It has an auto-sensor feature which determines how much water is needed for the load and dispenses it accordingly.
  
Ever the doubter, I keep opening the lid to make sure that the washing machine actually knows what it's doing.

Opening the lid cancels the auto-sensor mode and makes the tub fill all the way to the top.

If I look, I mess it up.

If I don't look...it could be doing my laundry the wrong way.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm critical of my appliances and their job qualifications.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Laugh Instead of Cry

This is funny and sad all at the same time.  If only there were no original screed to parody.

Body and Soul, Part 1

I still have yet to order this book, but plan on doing it soon.  It addresses some of the things I have been thinking about for several years now, and I am curious to read what the author has to say.

For some time now, I've been considering several ideas which are connected to each other in Christian theology. 

The first idea I've been contemplating concerns whether or not human beings have souls/spirits apart from their physical bodies. We always act and speak as if they do.  Even outside of religious circles, the general public frequently conceives of a human being as a body with some inner, alive essence which departs when someone passes away.  The body is a shell; the soul is the creamy immortal filling. 

Dualism is the official name of this concept, the dividing of the material world from the spiritual world.  It comes in many forms and varies from belief system to belief system, but in essence results in dividing the world and it's experiences into two separate categories which are linked, but which exist separately.

Although this is the widely accepted view of most Christians, I have had my doubts about the basis for it. Many Christians assume that a human being is immortal, that their soul is imperishable. Where that immortal soul resides for all eternity is the single most important question of their faith. Heaven or Hell? Will we rest in God's presence or be tormented, forever apart from Him?

What is curious about this is that, biblically speaking, human beings are hardly ever spoken of in this way. In the Genesis narration, Adam and Eve are depicted as living in the Garden of Eden with two very special trees; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Of course, we know the story. They eat the forbidden fruit, are cursed and banished from the Garden.

In all my years of studying the Bible, following Christ, attending church..etc., I can't recall a single pastor or study addressing a very important part of the story and the whole motivation for removing Adam and Eve from the Garden...Genesis 3:22-24:
And the Lord GOD said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever." So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
A very simple reading of the text implies that man does not live forever. Not only does man not live forever, but God seems to be concerned that man might live forever in his now-corrupted state. Sending him away from the source of life is damage control.  Without immortality, there will be a limit to the destructiveness unleashed  by the young humans' choices.

This raises a few questions, if God is concerned that man might live forever and goes to extreme lengths to prevent him from living forever in his current state, why does Christian theology contain the doctrine of Hell? Hell would seem to be the very embodiment of what God is fighting against in Genesis; the eternal existence of people who are marred and stained by sin and evil.  I plan to get into that a little more in another post.

The Old Testament says very little about an after-life.  In fact the idea that the dead exist consciously in some other dimension can hardly be found in the entire Old Testament. The only example I can find of such a concept even being broached is when Saul asks a medium to contact Samuel, God's judge and prophet, who has died.   Other than that, there seem to be no clear examples found in the Old Testament.

That is not to say that the Old testament does not use the word "soul" when speaking of humans.  It is frequently used, but very often in combinations with other words to describe human nature, such as body, soul and spirit, or one's whole heart, mind and soul.  It is a description of the consciousness of the human being, a representation of the entire total of a human's feeling, desires, and emotions.  It is not usually used when discussing death and what happens afterward.  

In contrast, an idea which is touched upon briefly in the Old Testament is resurrection.  In the book of Daniel, after he has seen visions of the end of time, Daniel is left with this message from an angel:
Daniel 12:13
As for you, go your way till the end.  You will rest and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.
The angel says nothing about Heaven, but only reassures Daniel of a future resurrection.

In the New Testament things become even more intriguing.  If we read the New Testament with the belief that man has an immortal soul, we will assume that each time the term "eternal life" is used, it's referring to our existence in Heaven and possibly our eventual bodily resurrection. In that reading, eternal life=salvation=not being in Hell.

However, if we assume that man does not have an immortal soul already, then the Scriptures take on a different meaning. Eternal life means just that, physical life without end.  Existence forever. This would also mean that those who do not have eternal life are no longer living in any sense of the word. Instead, they simply cease to be and do not continue on even in Hell. The term for this theory is annihilationalism. Once again, I'm coming back to that in a future post.

The term eternal life is used extensively, and almost exclusively in place of "salvation", by Jesus and usually tied to the physical resurrection of his followers.
John 6:38-40
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day."
Thinking about salvation in these terms impacts common interpretations familiar with most evangelical Christians.  For instance, when speaking with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus declares that no one could see the kingdom of God unless he was born again.  Nicodemus takes the term literally, asking how a man can re-enter his mother's womb and Jesus says that a person must be born from above, born of the Spirit.  At first glance this seems to work against the idea that Man is not both a material being and a spiritual being.  Yet, If we think about what Jesus is saying in the context of man's mortality, it could be interpreted that God grants immortality to believers.  They are being born again by being given another chance at eternal existence.  He is birthing immortality into a perishable being.

Further on, in one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Jesus says:
John 3:13-17
No one has ever gone into Heaven except for the one who came from Heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
If eternal life is interpreted as everlasting physical existence, then perish means die.  In every other context we use the word perish to portray a tragic death, not to portray a continual state of suffering.  If I say my neighbor perished at sea, I am clearly saying they died at sea, not that they are still being tossed upon the foamy waves, conscious and suffering from hypothermia.


I have much more to delve into with regard to this. I hate to cut this short, so hopefully I'll get back to it in a few days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jon Stewart takes on CNBC

Quote

One of the quotes I underlined in There Is No A God, comes from Frederick Copleston:
God becomes a reality for the human mind in the personal movement of transcendence. In this movement, God appears as the unseen goal of the movement. And inasmuch as the Transcendent cannot be grasped in itself and overflows, so to speak, our conceptual web, doubt inevitably tends to arise. But, within the movement of transcendence, doubt is at once counterbalanced by the affirmation involved in the movement itself. It is within the context of this personal movement of the human spirit that God becomes a reality for man.
Lots to think about in those few sentences.

Forgotten Voices

In preparation for re-piping our house, we had to remove everything from under all of our sinks and empty out our bedroom closet to provide unfettered access to all the sinks and showers. Stacks of boxes and miscellaneous junk lie scattered in piles throughout the house. I haven't shoved it all back into place because I mistakenly convinced myself that this would be a perfect time to go through everything and thoroughly organize our house.

One of the boxes from the closet contained several of my journals from my college days. Just for kicks, I decided to look through them and relive my youth.  

Leafing through page after page, I was struck by two things; how much I have changed, and how much I haven't.  If I sit quietly and mentally travel back to that period in my life, I can resuscitate the thoughts and feelings so prevalent in my entries. I remember the uncertainty with which I regarded the future. I recall the unsettled emotion of not quite fitting into my surroundings.  "Almost perfect, but not quite..." rings through my head, a line from a childhood poem by Shel Silverstein.

Now, I know that many of the problems I faced during that period in my life, were not wholly a result of my own deficiencies. I recognize that by moving to the South, I had thrown myself into a culture into which I could never really fit. I could appreciate it. I could be comfortable in it. I could make friends with others who lived there.....but it would always be like wearing beautiful shoes that were two sizes too small for my feet. At the time I assumed that it must have been my feet which were the problem; too big, too strong, too used to traveling on their own. 

I tried everything to make those feet fit into those shoes. I painted the toe nails. I walked tippy-toed, heels hanging out of the backs of those infernal shoes. When my feet hurt, it wasn't because the shoes didn't fit, but because I had worn them incorrectly.  

This was complicated by the fact that my relationship with God had become melded to a specific, cultural incarnation of Him. When certain aspects of my surroundings were uncomfortable or I felt particularly on the outside, it was hard for me to distinguish between the cause of my struggles. Was it me, or my environment? Did I feel distant from God because of something I had done, or because those around me were certain that He moved in ways A, B, and C, whereas I thought it was more like D.?

Some lessons I have learned. Others....I still haven't quite figured out.  

I still struggle with some of the same emotions. I have recognized that we all have certain issues which will always be with us. We can make a little headway now and then, but we can't change our personalities or the vulnerable spots in our psyche. An awareness of the troubled waters in our soul won't calm them, but can help us navigate through them.

I was taken aback when I came across entries written at the beginning of my relationship with DH. Having been married for over 11 years, relatively happy and content, I had forgotten any turmoil I had felt beforehand:
I'm so scared sometimes...not so much about J---, but more about myself.  I'm scared that I can't commit, or that somehow I'll fail in marriage. Right now in my life, If I screw up or get depressed, or falter in my relationship with God, the effects are mine, and mine alone, to bear. What will I do if I start hurting other people?...my husband and children?  That scares me.  I know that I can't let that fear dominate my life.  What options would I have?  Never get married?  Never have kids?  

I can't run all my life.  I know that, and yet I have such a fear of failure.  It is going to be difficult to stand and do battle with myself and my fears.
It's funny to read that now. At the time marriage was frightening to me. My mother had been married four times. My father had lived alone for many years, not even dating anyone. I had no idea what a healthy relationship would look like, other than my own idealistic notions of what it should look like.

Making matters worse, I had experienced some personal failures which stung me, causing me to question my own suitability for relationships and commitment.

I have come very far, indeed. To say that I had forgotten those feelings is inadequate.  They have been excised from me, and my soul has filled in the spaces left behind by their removal.

If anything, my marriage and the family springing forth from it, has firmly grounded confidence within me.  I have seen the fruits of commitment and love.  I have felt the reassurance of stability in relationships.  It has been transformative for me and I could never imagine feeling as I did before.

Age really does bring wisdom.....may even more come to me as I grow older

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Daily Occurrence At My House


"I could be arguing in my spare time...."says The Rationalist.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Twittering

Joined Twitter.  Apparently, I don't waste enough time online.  I had to put more effort into it.


Let me know if you want to be my friend...or a follower. 

 I'm trying to amass enough followers to start my own cult.

I'm already scoping out compounds and trying to pick cool outfits for us to wear.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There Is A God--some thoughts.

First off, I enjoyed the book overall.  My favorite part was the preface, and I am intrigued enough by Roy Abraham Varghese's writing to consider picking up some of his books.

The first chapter or so was somewhat dry as Antony Flew recounts his many contributions to philosophy and his role in promoting atheism. He's setting the stage to pre-emptively disarm those who doubt his former sincerity as an atheistic philosopher, or think he hasn't fully considered the philosophical options.  

The most striking thing about Flew's "conversion" to acknowledging the existence of God is his complete honesty and the humility he is willing to show in "following the argument wherever it leads." I dare say most atheists, and many Christians, wouldn't be so open and humble in re-evaluating some of their longstanding assumptions/presumptions about the existence/non-existence of God.

I'd recommend the book to anyone who has begun exploring the common philosophical arguments between atheists and theists, and who is familiar with the basic ideas involved in such arguments.

So...what led Flew to this reversal?

Flew's primary motivation can be partly categorized as a recognition of the Argument from Design; the complexity of the universe, DNA, and the immutable laws of Nature communicate a rationality which springs forth from a superior Mind, as he calls it. He quotes several scientists in this area, such as Einstein, Schrodinger, Planck and even Stephen Hawking, revealing their sense of the ultimate guiding force of the universe as one of rationality and purpose.

He has several good quotes from Einstein, who while not "religious" in the sense that most people would understand the word, possessed a definite sense of mystery and wonder attributable to this "superior Mind" which seemed to form the laws of Nature.

One of the Einstein quotes:
Everyone who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the experience of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
another one:
My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
Flew makes an important distinction between science and philosophy and the ability to come to conclusions about the existence of God.  This is significant because it pinpoints the Achilles heel in the arguments made by someone like Dawkins, or PZ Meyers, who attempt to use scientific advancements as refutations of the existence of God. Ultimately they are using data and interpreting the results into a philosophical argument, not a scientific argument.

Flew says it best:
You might ask how I, a philosopher, could speak to issues treated by scientists.  The best way to answer this is with another question. Are we engaging in science or philosophy here? When you study the interaction of two physical bodies, for instance, two subatomic particles, you are engaged in science. When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles--or anything physical--could exist and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking like a philosopher.
He goes further:
Of course, scientists are just as free to think as philosophers as anyone else. And, of course, not all scientists will agree with my particular interpretation of the facts they generate. But their disagreements will have to stand on their own two philosophical feet. In other words, neither their authority nor their expertise as scientists is of any relevance. This should be easy to see. If they present their views on the economics of science, such as making claims about the number of jobs created by science and technology, they will have to make their case in the court of economic analysis. Likewise, a scientist who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case.  As Albert Einstein himself said, "The man of science is a poor philosopher."
I was surprised that some of Flew's reasons for believing in the existence of God were already intimately known by me, and are perhaps the strongest cases that I myself have made to people when discussing this subject. The main points of contention lay in three important areas: First Cause--from where did the universe come?; Life itself--how does matter suddenly become alive, self-replicating and purpose-driven towards survival and consciousness?; the complexity and organization of Nature--one can't break nature's laws.

The book didn't cover any new ground for me.  I didn't discover a new way of thinking about God's existence, but I have read several books in this vein, so that wasn't surprising. However, I think the most enlightening points in the book are rooted in Flew's  case that philosophically speaking, many atheistic scientists are deficient in their refutation of God's existence.

There's still more rolling around in my head...so I might come back to this in a few days.