Friday, October 29, 2010

Recent Comments? recent comments widget seems to only be displaying not-so-recent comments. I've found that a little delay is normal on blogger blogs, but some of the comments are almost a day old.

Any advice out there?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ai can haz minipulations pleez?

I don't quite remember where I found this because I was hop, skip and jump-ing through the blogosphere. I can't help but marvel at the shamelessness with which this speaker advocates manipulating Amazon reviews of liberal books to be low and conservative books to be high....along with movie reviews that may have political influence.

Rotten to the core is this kind of activity....says Yoda.

A good reminder not to believe everything you read or see on the internets.

The Tower of Babel

Random thought.

How insightful was the author of Genesis to make the observation that humans with the ability to communicate and be understood by one and all could be stopped by almost nothing?

In thinking about the story of the Tower of Babel, it occurred to me that the author is not only offering an explanation for how there came to be different languages and cultures, because God made it happen that way, but why there came to be different languages, because God was afraid that nothing would be able to stop humanity.
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
It's interesting that God is depicted as a character who willfully causes confusion rather than one who brings clarity to humanity. It's almost a back-handed compliment to humans that God would care about what they could achieve.

I am rather enchanted by the idea that whoever wrote this bit of Genesis saw the potential humanity had and the power it could wield if it were able to work together with a common language and culture.

Not too shabby of an insight for an ancient!

***updated miscellaneous thought****

There always seems to be a trace of this "God against Humans" tone in many of the Genesis stories, with the implication that God has something to fear from us. Maybe that's a subtle way for the author/authors to soothe themselves with the image of humanity as God's rival? Maybe that makes living in an imperfect world in which humans have little control a little easier?

Because...if God is actively thwarting us because He's trying to keep us from becoming too powerful, then we are simultaneously validated in our sense of worth, while also being relieved of the ability to make things perfect.

Who can win against God?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul and the Book of Jubilees

This isn't as much of a post as a quick note to myself and solicitation to others who might know more about the subject.

In the midst of reading a blog post and its comments which are tangentially related to my Adam post, I went off searching for an online version of The Book of Jubilees so that I could understand one of the commenter's comments.

After reading just a little bit of it, I thought to myself,"Gosh...this seems awfully familiar to me." Besides the fact that it is simply rehashing parts of Genesis and Exodus into a single coherent narrative, I realized that some of the things that I had been taught about Genesis and Moses came from The Book of Jubilees. For instance, earlier in my Christian college days, I was taught that Moses wrote all 5 books of the Pentateuch, receiving Genesis as a divine revelation, just as it is depicted in Jubilees.

I had also heard frequently that Cain's wife was his sister, and that all of Adam and Eve's children married each other. That's also from Jubilees:
And Cain took Awan his sister to be his wife and she bare him Enoch at the close of the fourth jubilee. [190-196 A.M.] And in the first year of the first week of the fifth jubilee, [197 A.M.] houses were built on the earth, and Cain built a city, and called its name after the name of
10, 11 his son Enoch. And Adam knew Eve his wife and she bare yet nine sons. And in the fifth week of the fifth jubilee [225-31 A.M.] Seth took
Azura his sister to be his wife, and in the fourth (year of the sixth
12,13 week) [235 A.M.] she bare him Enos. He began to call on the name of the Lord on the earth. And in the seventh jubilee in the third week [309-15 A.M.] Enos took Noam his sister to be his wife, and she bare him a son
14 in the third year of the fifth week, and he called his name
Kenan. And at the close of the eighth jubilee [325, 386-3992 A.M.] Kenan took Mualeleth his sister to be his wife, and she bare him a son in the ninth jubilee,

But that's not all...while reading chapter 3 of Jubilees, I realized that much of what Paul says about Adam and Eve and the theological implications of their Fall comes from Jubilees:
It is not
5 good that the man should be alone: let us make a
helpmeet for him.' And the Lord our God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him, and he slept, and He took for the woman one rib from amongst
6 his ribs, and this rib was the origin of the woman from amongst his ribs, and He built up the flesh in its stead, and built the woman. And He
awaked Adam out of his sleep and on awaking he rose on the sixth day, and He brought her to him, and he knew her, and said unto her: 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called
7 [my] wife; because she was taken from her husband.' Therefore shall man and wife be one and therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be
8 one flesh. In the first week was Adam created, and the rib -his wife: in the second week He showed her unto him: and for this reason the commandment was given to keep in their defilement,
9 for a male seven days, and for a female twice seven days. And after Adam had completed forty days in the land where he had been created, we brought him into the garden of Eden to till and keep it, but his wife they brought in on the eightieth day, and after this she entered into the garden
10 of Eden. And for this reason the commandment is written on the heavenly tablets in regard to her that gives birth: 'if she bears a male, she shall remain in her uncleanness seven days according to the first week of days, and thirty and three days shall she remain in the blood of her purifying, and she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor enter into the sanctuary, until she accomplishes these
11 days which (are enjoined) in the case of a male child. But in the case of a female child she shall remain in her uncleanness two weeks of days, according to the first two weeks, and sixty-six days
12 in the blood of her purification, and they will be in all eighty days.' And when she had completed these eighty days we brought her into the garden of Eden, for it is holier than all the earth besides and
13 every tree that is planted in it is holy.

This passage reinforces the idea that Eve is somehow less than Adam in the way that it emphasizes that Eve is made from part of Adam and is "his" wife. It also, interestingly, ties in the idea of a "period of defilement" for both male and female, thought at this point in the story both Adam and Eve are supposed to be innocent and perfect.

Later, when Eve eats the forbidden fruit, it is cast in a more deliberate, accusatory tone. In this version Eve eats the fruit and has enough time and forethought to clothe herself with fig leaves and then go out and find Adam in order to entice him to eat the fruit also.
And the woman saw the tree that it was agreeable and pleasant to the eye, and that its fruit
21 was good for food, and she took thereof and eat.
And when she had first covered her shame with figleaves, she gave thereof to Adam and he eat, and his eyes were opened, and he saw that he was
22 naked.
And he took figleaves and sewed (them) together, and made an apron for himself, and23, 24 covered his shame
The version in Genesis is more generous. In that version, Adam and Eve are together and both of their eyes are opened at the same time. They are co-conspirators, not predator and victim.
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
The Book of Jubilees is usually dated somewhere around the 2nd century BCE, quite some time before Paul and his use of Adam and Eve as theological sources. By the time it's been around for a couple of hundred years, it no doubt has authority for Paul and was something he would have been familiar with. It isn't much of a stretch to see how he would/could incorporate the underlying attitudes about Adam and Eve into his epistles and teachings.

Which makes for an interesting conundrum. What do we do with Paul's Creation Theology if it is based almost entirely on the slant of a particular ancient text which is not considered authoritative in either the Catholic, or Protestant tradition?

I do have to revise some of what I wrote yesterday. I wasn't thinking outside of the Old and New Testaments, when I said that Adam was absent. Because, although he is completely absent in what the constitutes the authoritative, Christian, Old Testament canon, that doesn't mean he was absent from the general thought-life of 1st century Judaism.

So...perhaps it isn't that Paul drags up a long-lost relative, creating a relatively novel theology. Maybe, instead, he is simply incorporating what he has been taught about Adam and Eve through texts and traditions outside of what we think of as authoritative Scripture.

Humanities in the Real World

HT: from DH's reading of InsideHigherEd

Monday, October 25, 2010

Adam, the Long-Lost Relative

In one of my recent posts I glancingly refer to Genesis and evolution and the theological impact that is implied by reading the Creation Story through literary lenses. If evolution is true, then viewing the story of Adam and Eve as a documentation of literal, historical people and events can send us in a completely different trajectory than if we read it as a primeval morality tale.

One of the main objections that Christians have in eliminating the historicity of Adam is the resultant chaos it would cause with many of our most ingrained Christian doctrines; total depravity, the dominance of men over women, the condemnation of creation and the introduction of death and sin into the world. These themes are omnipresent, in one way or another, throughout orthodox, Christian theology.

So...if there is no Adam...there is no need for Christ...if there is no need for Christ..then there is no need for Christianity.

But how did we get here, theologically-speaking? Before Paul's exposition of Jesus as the new/last Adam inaugurating a new creation and a new paradigm and remaking the cosmos, where was Adam? He is absent from almost all of Old Testament scripture outside of Genesis. There are no veiled references to him. There are no Psalms that mention him. There is no hint of him anywhere, and there is even less of a hint, if it were possible, of Eve's existence.

Every once in a while, Eden gets a mention as a comparison to the good life in the prophets, but other than the brief invocation of a beautiful garden, the events that took place in the story and the main characters within it are largely absent.

That may not seem like a big deal. After all the Israelites had the book of Genesis, why do they need to keep referring to Adam and Eve? Well, it creates a void of religious thought in regards to human origins in Judaism.

The Creation is frequently referenced through the Sabbath, mirroring the tale in Genesis of God's six-day work week, with one day off to rest and enjoy his work, so there is always an echo of the Creation Story in the rhythm of Israelite life, but it is an echo that provides structure to life and to a theology of God as Creator of Life. There is no continuing echo from Adam in the Scriptures.

This seems strange when one considers how often Abraham, Jacob, and Moses find their way into the prophets, the psalms, and the histories in the Old Testament. How did someone who became so important to Christian theology fall through the cracks of ancient Jewish theology?

The answer is found in Paul. It isn't until Paul enters the scene that the Creation Story gets a fleshed-out theological treatment. Paul either believed in a historical Adam, or at the very least believed in the force of the image of a historical Adam, and that is where things get dicey, because Paul is the great explicator of Christian theology. If it weren't for Paul, there would be no direct comparison of Jesus to Adam and no theological dilemma in viewing Adam as a figurative person.

As a matter of fact, the only other source that links Adam and Jesus is the gospel of Luke, which ends Jesus' genealogy with "Adam, Son of God". This is also the same Luke who, according to Acts, traveled extensively with Paul, so we can't take Luke's reference as independent theologizing about Adam, and Adam's ties to Jesus, because it is likely that he received the idea from Paul, not from general Jewish consensus at the time.

Jesus refers to Creation in Mark 10:5-9:
5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Other than that, there is no overt reference to the Creation Story and Adam and Eve.

There are frequently people who emphasize that Paul was not moving away from Judaism when he converted to Christianity and began his ministry as an evangelist and apostle. Yet, in the context of what Paul says about Jesus being the last Adam and that those who follow Jesus will be part of a new creation that supersedes the old creation and the old covenant, he is making a striking break with Judaism, because Judaism never believed that there was a need for a new creation. Their hope for a Messiah was firmly rooted in a hope for a historical solution to their persecution under the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans.

In many ways, Paul is making a theological end run on Judaism. He doesn't need to answer their criticisms, or justify Christianity in terms of Mosaic Law or Tradition, because he has already declared that the old world and the old way of life are dead, pushed aside by Christ; the new and perfect Adam. And we see Paul use this tactic in removing the commands of the Mosaic Law in Galatians and Romans. He declares that those ways are the old ways which have served their purpose, but which are no longer relevant.

Paul has found a long-lost relative in Adam, and a useful illustration for what he views Christianity to be about, a completely new age initiated by God.

I might add more to this later.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Knowing Where You Come From

Back in July, I posted about a letter written by Benjamin Franklin to an unknown recipient, but which had been commonly claimed to be written to Thomas Paine in reference to Paine's Age of Reason. I never quite got back to to that letter, though I had meant to blog about it at the time.

It came to my mind recently in the middle of a particular blog conversation.

Here's the letter:
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.

But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?

Franklin's argument against the viability of the recipient to change men's minds about religion doesn't hold much sway with me. If ideas rise and fall only according to their ability to convince others to agree with them, then our successful ideas are only forms of pre-approved conclusions that won't upset the apple cart.

I think history proves that ideas which might seem unconvincing and insignificant at first to mankind can slowly start to brew and gain strength. In fact many movements start relatively small, with a handful of thinkers and proponents.

Yet, even though I would disagree with the motivation behind some of Franklin's comments, he does strike at my heart with this comment; "And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself."

It is a truth that I can't deny.

Since our great church shopping adventure began towards the end of the summer, we have semi-regularly landed in an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) church. And, I have been pleasantly surprised by it. Not having much experience with Lutheranism, other than a few visits here and there in the course of my life, and also being aware that the ELCA is the more liberal version of Lutheranism, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

What I have found has been peaceful and refreshing to me. The service has contemporary music, but also follows the traditional liturgical forms, with specific acknowledgments of the readings, confessions of the congregation, recitation of The Lord's Prayer through song, and culminating in communion. There is something powerful in the entire congregation lining up and one by one receiving communion form the pastor and his lay helper. For one brief moment, every congregant is being acknowledged and participating in a meaningful ritual.

And so...what do I ponder with all my doubts as I sit in the pews and here a sermon from the gospels and sing along to a creed of which I am not completely certain? Do I feel like a hypocrite? A liar? A great pretender?

No. I don't. I don't feel like that, at least not at this point.

You see, I recognize what Franklin says, I owe much to my religious education. It has made me who I am. And, not only has it made me who I am, but I need it to continually remake me. I need the encouragement that I have felt from this local congregation. I need to be reminded to appeal to the better angels of my nature because I don't get that anywhere else. There is no encouragement form the world at large for me to strive to be a better person, to encourage me when I fail, to tell me that there is a better way to live life. Whether or not I intellectually assent to every orthodox doctrine, I have not arrived and I still need that emotional connection with something other than myself.

And the stories and words and parables that have moved me for almost 20 years.....they still move me. They still have the power to speak to me, even in my skeptical state, though the mode of operation differs.

You Won't Be Assimilated

I started this a while ago and never finished it. More random rambling.

James had a post up a few weeks ago ,which I wanted to link to and discuss, asking himself why he is so mad at Evangelicalism. It was up about the same time as AVI's Evangelical Suspiciousness post and the two posts together were swirling in my soupy brain for awhile, but I didn't have time to properly put down my thoughts. Here's a sample from James:
So I’m not much of a conservative evangelical these days. Do I have to be upset at evangelicals? Can’t I move on and live my spiritual life in peace? What’s keeping me from doing so?
First, go read James' post because it covers a lot more of his feelings than what I'm addressing.

When I was commenting on AVI's post, making somewhat slightly negative comments about evangelicals, I had to apologize for those comments and in the process, I listed myself as a former(?) evangelical, just like that....parenthetical question mark and all. I was unsure about the designation, because although the late Michael Spencer/Internetmonk seems to have popularized the term post-evangelical, I am not really sure how accurate the term is.

Evangelicalism, while holding a relatively set collection of religious ideas and doctrines, isn't defined by those beliefs as much as it is defined by the reactions to those beliefs. The most prominent personality characteristic of Evangelicalism is that we must do something about what we believe. Enter any evangelical church on a Sunday and you're going to hear "6 ways to follow God", or "how to be a godly wife, husband, leader, citizen..etc.", or "how to put your beliefs to work in the mission field, or on the political scene, or glorifying Christ though poster making", or "what you should do in response to this sermon".

It doesn't matter what the application, the point is that there is always an expected application.

Perhaps this isn't an exclusively evangelical trait. Maybe it's more a manifestation of the American character. Regardless of where it comes from, it inhabits my personality.

And that is what frustrates me.

You see, sometimes when I am reading a particular blog or article from the evangelical side of things, or from people I would label intellectual Christians, I get a little impatient. I will read something that makes me think and wonder upon a particular point, and that sends my mind going in a new direction only to have the author shrink back from the logical conclusion at the last moment.

I find this quite frequently in discussions of evolution and Genesis. Many thoughtful people will speculate that Genesis is not literally true, and that evolution is probably true, even if it is only serving as a divine tool of God. And, after getting to that point of accommodation to modern scientific theories about life, they will immediately revert to using Genesis as literal truth in all other theological aspects. They won't go on to the next step.

I come across this even more frequently whenever the subject of Hell comes up. Well-meaning Christians will agonize over the concept of eternal torment or separation, yet when confronted with the slim biblical evidence for the concept, and when offered valid interpretive alternatives that eliminate Hell in its current incarnation, they will refuse to abandon the idea. No matter how unappealing Hell may be, and how much they say they hope it doesn't exist, they will nevertheless fall back from those feelings and intuitions, throw their hands up and say "It is a mystery. Only God knows what comes after."

While that may be true, it isn't God who is perpetuating the concept and keeping it alive in the spirits of mankind. It's us. We hold on to Hell, because it is hard to let go of the familiar, even when we don't particularly like the familiar.

It's almost as if these types of discussions are nothing more than intellectual exercises, playing at the fringes of one's faith in order to make oneself feel very brave and daring while never taking any true risks. And, the people who go that next step and begin to ask how this new view should affect our faith, or what it means for certain doctrines...well they usually get labeled as heretics or "liberals". The kiss of death in an evangelical setting.

I walk between two worlds right now, because I can emotionally identify with Evangelicals in many ways, and yet they would probably never claim me as one of their own. Still, walking into any contemporary, evangelical church can feel like home to me, not only because it is familiar, but because even though my theology is different, the pathos is the same. Some of the core values remain, even though the reasoning behind them is quite different for me. These are people that I am comfortable with because I understand them, which also means that I know what they would think of me and my doubts and my endless theological tinkering.

And that is why it is so easy to be angry at evangelicals even after you have stopped considering yourself one....because you feel the perceived rejection of a group which you wanted to be a part of and still value in some ways and yet which refuses to accept you.

Perhaps only the Borg can assimilate everyone successfully.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


We were out of town this weekend, up visiting my in-laws, throwing a Birthday Party for DH.

He's ancient now; out of his youthful thirties and plunging headlong into his forties. His sister, her husband and I are all turning/have turned 37 this year, so we joke that he is now officially the old man of the group. I'm the youngest by about 5 months, so I get to harass them about their advanced ages slightly longer than everyone else.

That cake in the picture was a Blackout Cake from The Cheesecake Factory and could have fed 50 people. Chocolate cake, chocolate icing, chocolate chips, and covered in crushed almonds, it helped ease the pain of DH's inevitable decline.

This past week was also our 13th wedding anniversary. I told DH that we don't need to be superstitious about the number 13 because we had technically just finished our thirteenth year and were starting our 14th year together.

Feels like the 41st....but totally in a good way! ;-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Permission to be Free

A short meditation...

Nowadays, I do a lot of my religious meditation/thinking by looking past the historical/literal sense of things and trying to see the concept behind it. This helps me come to grips with the doubts that have plagued me lately and gets me past trying to figure out what is historical and literal, and helps me look for what the point is behind any particular doctrine.

In doing this, I reached a point where I realized that the message that we call "the gospel" is, at its core, an affirmation for humanity.

Imagine being part of a religion in which the level of commitment and requirements are high, so high that the average person probably can't meet them financially, or morally. Imagine being part of a culture that describes itself in terms of being "chosen" and yet your history and Scriptures are full of stories that record your failures, every exile, every instance of rebellion, every rash decision by your group's important leaders, and every threat and warning delivered by prophets threatening God's judgement.

That's your identity...being part of a people crushed under the Roman boot probably because it's punishment for a large-scale spiritual failing. After all, that is the way that every national calamity has been portrayed for the last 800 years or so.

Now imagine that someone appears with a message, and the message is that none of that matters. That God accepts all those who want to be accepted. That God is not angry, but wants relationship with people. That the burden of commitments and requirements and meeting all of God's expectations is no longer carried by you and your nation.

Christian doctrine places all those burdens on Jesus pretty early in its development, making him the bearer and fulfiller of commitments and requirements, but just think about what it means for the people of that time and place and with that history to be given this message.

Now, imagine for a moment that someone comes to you personally and says,"I know all the times you have blown it and screwed up and been less than you should be....but I just want you to know that you, and your life, have value and worth and acceptance in my eyes."

That is a powerful, life-affirming message. And that is what Christianity provides whether or not we believe in all the literal arguments put forth by Christian apologists.

Somehow, this message gets lost in some of our incarnations of Christianity. The message becomes one that was for "those people" in the first century; Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers. Yet, we are the same as "those people", we have only exchanged the Jewish law and pathos for our own law and pathos.

So what were "those people" waiting for? They wanted vindication, a messiah that would prove that God ultimately hadn't abandoned them, that they still were His "chosen" people, his beloved Jacob.

That is exactly what the story of Jesus provides, permission to feel free. Permission to feel loved. Permission to feel forgiven, even if you hadn't met the expectations that you, yourself, hold.

The permission to let go of what you thought had to be.

The permission to move forward, in a different direction.

And that's powerful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shopping Signs

Overexposure to the Son
Prevents Burning

Nice way to attract visitors, right? Threaten them with Hellfire in a cute, punny way.

What's funny is that we actually visited this church, which happens to be a Disciples of Christ church. If you follow the link to the Wikipedia page you'll find a mildly propagandistic summary of the Disciples of Christ:
For modern Disciples the one essential is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and obedience to him in baptism. There is no requirement to give assent to any other statement of belief or creed. Nor is there any "official" interpretation of the Bible. Hierarchical doctrine was traditionally rejected by Disciples as human-made and divisive, and subsequently, freedom of belief and scriptural interpretation allows many Disciples to question or even deny beliefs common in doctrinal churches such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the Atonement.
Beyond the essential commitment to follow Jesus there is a tremendous freedom of belief and interpretation. As the basic teachings of Jesus are studied and applied to life, there is the freedom to interpret Jesus' teaching in different ways.

As would be expected from such an approach, there is a wide diversity among Disciples in what individuals and congregations believe. It is not uncommon to find individuals who seemingly hold diametrically opposed beliefs within the same congregation affirming one another's journeys of faith as sisters and brothers in Christ. who was looking for an example that Wikipedia articles might be biased and written by agenda-driven individuals? Exhibit A has been provided above, though it is hardly sinister in its intent, most likely having been written by an ardent, devoted Disciple of Christ.

From their own literature, the only thing that the Disciples of Christ claim to cling to tightly are baptism and communion. Everything else is up for grabs.

One would think that with a description like the one from the Wikipedia article that a Disciple of Christ church might not be very conservative, especially when it comes to invoking the image of eternal fiery torment. I guess that it's OK to be unorthodox as long as you still believe in Hell!

When we visited the church in question we got to hear our first female pastor preach. Personally, I thought her message was OK, though DH found her completely boring and incomprehensible, probably because she said a lot without really saying anything, going back and forth about various opinions on the Scripture reading without proffering an interpretation of her own

We gave this church a try out of my desire to try a more liberal stripe of church. After reading tripe like the Wikipedia article and the Disciples of Christ own webpage, I thought it might be a place that I could feel comfortable as I continue to figure out what's going on with me.

What I found was not what I had thought that I would find. The general atmosphere seemed cloying and very reminiscent of my early Christian faith. The congregation was almost exclusively Southern in origin, or feel; humble people trying to follow Jesus in a very traditional way, in terms of Southern Protestant Christianity.

It's difficult to convey what I mean if you've never lived in the South. The women wore too much perfume and dressed in floral prints, but they were quick to introduce themselves and point out to the congregation that you were visiting...whether you wanted to be recognized or not. The men had mustaches and wavy hair, combed back in Billy Graham-ish style, and sat dutifully next to their wives in their blue jeans and plaid short sleeve shirts (This is Florida. Nobody dresses up in "Sunday clothes".)

Despite the writings I had encountered, the church did not feel very untraditional, or innovative, or liberal...or any of the things I thought might lurk inside a denomination that seemed to define itself so loosely. No, it felt culturally confining and closed off, mostly based on intuitive impressions, the way things were done, the tone of the sermon, the discussions between the congregants. It wasn't bad or wrong, it just wasn't what I was looking for, or expecting.

I realized later that visiting it had helped me discover that part of what I was/am looking for in a church is one that is heavy in the intellectual/thinking area. I didn't feel comfortable in the Disciples of Christ because that particular congregation was practicing a very simple, cultural form of their faith. They didn't attend that church looking for in-depth conversations. They attended because it was a simple way to practice their faith. By allowing such an open-ended doctrinal spectrum, yet keeping the important rituals of baptism and communion, discussion of anything else becomes extraneous.

It served up a strange combination to my senses.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I See You, Part 3

JSAllen linked to this article in the comment section of my last post and I thought I would put it on the front page. It recounts innovative surveillance tactics being used in Britain.

Here's a snippet:
The service works by employing an army of registered armchair snoopers who watch hours of CCTV footage from cameras in stores and high street venues across the country.

Viewers can win up to 1,000 pounds ($1,600) in cash a month from Devon-based firm Internet Eyes, which distributes the streaming footage, when offenders are caught in the act.

The scheme immediately drew criticism from civil liberties campaigners who say it is more evidence that Britain has become a "Big Brother" surveillance society with CCTV on every corner.

Participants, who pay a fee to subscribe, press an "alert" button which relays an instant text message notifying a shop keeper of suspicious behavior. The SMS is followed up with a photographic image of the potential crime.
Founder of Internet Eyes, Tony Morgan, says the scheme puts shop owners back in control of security and allows local communities to tackle crime and anti-social behavior.
Welcome the new, citizen-based Gestapo to the 21st Century!


I was thinking about this more and was just wondering how long it will take criminals to pay for this service and use it case businesses, use as a "lookout" tool for their crimes, or obtain personal information for identity theft, or stalk people in their own neighborhoods.

If I can think of all the criminal ways that this could be put to use, imagine what a really ingenious criminal could do with this information.

Friday, October 08, 2010

I See You, Part 2

It's weird to be completely right about something.

A while ago I wrote a post about law enforcement putting GPS devices on people's cars.

Exhibit A of where this is exactly headed:

Afifi, a business marketing student at Mission College in Santa Clara, discovered the device last Sunday when he took his car to a local garage for an oil change. When a mechanic at Ali's Auto Care raised his Ford Lincoln LS on hydraulic lifts, Afifi saw a wire sticking out near the right rear wheel and exhaust.

Garage owner Mazher Khan confirmed for that he also saw it. A closer inspection showed it connected to a battery pack and transmitter, which were attached to the car with a magnet. Khan asked Afifi if he wanted the device removed and when Afifi said yes, Khan pulled it easily from the car's chassis.

"I wouldn't have noticed it if there wasn't a wire sticking out," Afifi said.

And here's something I predicted would happen concerning the device if it was found by the car's owner:

The agent who initially spoke with Afifi identified himself then as Vincent and told Afifi, "We're here to recover the device you found on your vehicle. It's federal property. It's an expensive piece, and we need it right now."

Afifi asked, "Are you the guys that put it there?" and the agent replied, "Yeah, I put it there." He told Afifi, "We're going to make this much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate."

Oh, how I wished he had refused to return it, or destroyed it, and made the government jump through legal hoops to get it, or better yet, try to prosecute him for destroying something abandoned in his car and attached to his private property.

This is bad. Very bad.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Some days being the caretaker of people and pets is a huge bummer. Like today, after warning The Intuitive and The Rationalist that I was leaving at 7:20 am for work and not waiting for any last minute remembrances of forgotten tasks or homework, or brushing of teeth, or tying of shoes, they still almost didn't make it. The Intuitive came wailing out of the house as I started the car, upset at the prospect of being left behind and having to walk to school. He plopped himself into the car and told me it was my fault that he was running late.

My fault. Even though I am the one who woke him up in time, had breakfast waiting for him by 6:30 and told him up front that I expected him to get himself ready on time.

I tried to put an end to that reasoning by asking him how much time he spent laying on the floor of his bedroom playing with his Bakugan figurines/toys.

I got a grudging "A lot," out of him.

Yes. It always the mother's fault, or the fault of whatever person has decided to foolishly take on responsibility for everyone else.

I even take on responsibility for non-human my poor dog.

You can just see it in her eyes as she's looking at me. It's all my fault that I put her in the cone of shame....not the fault of her constantly scratching her chin causing the same spot to bleed all over the carpet, never getting a chance to heal properly.

I don't just stop at mammals. I have also assumed responsibility for keeping one long-lived leopard frog alive for the past year. I even go out of my way to buy it boxes of crickets to eat and make sure that only spring water is put in its container. Apparently, tap water kills frogs.

It hasn't blamed me for anything yet, but it does freak out and try to get away as soon as I open the lid to its terrarium.

I get no respect, I tell'ya.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Insults Falling Upon Us

One of the local channels in our area plays Ghost Whisperer for three hours straight every afternoon/early evening.

I never watched the show before, but now that it's always on, I have managed to catch a few episodes. In one particular episode, Melinda, the main character who helps spirits "cross over" to the light, is having a conversation with her friend who has come to believe that Melinda can actually see ghosts, though her friend remains skeptical by default. At one point, Melinda acts hurt and goes on and on about being able to believe in more than what can be seen with our eyes. She also implies that her friendship will be compromised by her friend's disbelief and lack of trust in her.

This 30 second blip in the show brought me up short because I have heard versions of this conversation in church and in politics.

AVI had a post up in September about Evangelical Suspiciousness that may be tangentially relevant. In the comments section he wonders aloud about otherwise seemingly normal, bright people with fringe beliefs, who are strongly anti-vaccination, or convinced 9/11 Truthers etc.

I have had this happen to me before. It's unsettling to be in conversation with a person and realize that they have latched onto something you consider kind of wacky and misguided. When you respect someone for their other intellectual positions, or maybe have even looked up to that person, and you find a cognitive fault in their reasoning it does make you rethink your evaluation of them.

If they are so off-course in this area, how do you know they're not off-course in other areas?

Besides the implications for the particular image we have in our minds about people like this, there is also a sense that there is no room for conversation with someone who is heavily invested in "fringe" ideas. To disagree with them, or question their positions is to personally offend them.

When DH and I left the non-denominational church that we had been a part of for years, because the pastor had decided to push some new ideas and doctrines that relied heavily on experiences with "Demonic Oppression", I remember having the same types of thoughts.

Even though I strongly disagreed with where our church was going, along with about 1/2 of the congregation, I had the following thoughts,"How could I be right and a well-educated pastor of almost 20 years be wrong about something like this? It's his job to know this stuff. He has had way more experience than I ever will with people. How could I be right and he be wrong?"

At one meeting, when the pastor was trying to make his case and let everyone know that only people who were on board with his new teaching would be allowed in leadership, he asked the doubting crowd,"Do you think I am making this up? Do you think that I am crazy? Don't you trust me?" He pressed the people to accept his teaching because of their relationship with him, and when they couldn't believe for themselves, he asked them to believe because of him.

Except most of us couldn't. We weren't ready to sign up for a strong belief that every addiction, marital problem, or spiritual struggle was the result of us being oppressed by demons, necessitating a special "healing and deliverance" ritual.

He manipulated people. He shamed people into listening to him because of who he was, rather than listening because he was right. His outrage at our "unbelief" was personal. Not believing his teaching was the same as not believing him. There was no room for disagreement. We either believed what he said, or considered him a liar, from his perspective.

When we have strong religious or political beliefs, we tend to identify ourselves by those ideas, and the rejection of those ideas feels like a rejection of ourselves. I have seen this in myself. There have been times when I will be reading a blog and the blogger's sharp criticism towards someone, or something, that might be close in comparison to who or what I imagine myself to be stings me. I have to purposely shelve my feelings and remind myself that it's not about me, though I am not always successful at it.

There are times when I feel like the Psalmist:
Psalm 69:8-9

8 I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother's sons;

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
Minus the "zeal for your house" part...because I feel this way frequently in many other situations which are not religiously themed. Still, the feeling represents the situation accurately. The insults of those who insult our beliefs fall upon us.

The Psalmist goes on to ask God to take care of those mockers, blotting them out of the Book of Life, letting His wrath fall upon them and overwhelm them.

I'm not sure that's the object lesson we want to take from that particular Psalm, though it reminds me of Retriever's post today about Psalm 127 and how the pastor planned to preach on it. I didn't bother to leave a comment on her post about how I used to read this Psalm in exactly the way her pastor planned on presenting it! Her insult for the pastor's methods fell upon me also....even though I don't read the Psalms like that anymore.

It's funny how we align ourselves with ideas and movements and attach so many personal feelings and emotions to them that we seem incapable of hearing them abused without feeling the arrow dig into our heart a little bit.

Race for the Cure

Yesterday morning we woke up at 4:30 am, got things packed up and headed out to St Petersburg with the kids by about 5:30 am. By the time we parked, walked a mile and a half to the Race for the Cure location, and registered the boys for the kids' race, we had just enough time to watch the sun rise over Tampa Bay.

The wind was not cooperating with my hair, but considering that I was there to run, I sucked it up.

Here's a fuzzy pic from just before the finish line. The hand in the foreground belongs to The Intuitive. I wish I could say that the picture was fuzzy because I run so fast that no camera can catch me! I mean, I am right behind the super hero in the blue cape.

That must mean I am fast...right!?
Alas...I am not fast...but I was faster than last year. I managed to run just under an 11 minute mile for all 3.1 miles. For serious runners, that's geriatric speed. For me, that's actually pretty good. Last year, I was at a 14 minute I'm OK with my speed.

Next year I'd like to see my time decrease another 3 minutes. I must have some goals after all!

We signed the boys up for a race, but they were disappointed when it was only a dash. The Rationalist is intent about doing the 5k next year. As long as he actually practices for it, I think that would be fun.

This year, my sister-in-law took up running and decided to run the 5K also. She managed to run at about the same pace as me, even though she's only been running for a couple of months....not that I am jealous or anything. ;-)

I'm sure she'll probably smoke me by next year.