Friday, February 29, 2008

Television: These Are the Voyages...

Secular Humanism seems to be declining as a religious view, but its philosophy (and decline) was clearly presented in the various incarnations of Star Trek.
In the late 60s, Star trek presented a Utopian Future. Its creator Gene Roddenberry, a committed Secular Humanist, believed that society would eventually reach a state where poverty, hunger, and war would become obsolete. The show is somewhat unique in that the characters, operating for years in close contact on a starship, almost never experienced conflict. When they did it was always due to some alien external influence.
In contrast to the earlier Doctor Who with its battles against true evil, and the later Star Wars with its dualist view of reality, Star Trek is interesting in its total lack of a real evil. Most shows involve the solving of some alien puzzle with the discovery of some new perspective that causes the crew to grow in knowledge. When they do encounter a situation requiring a fight, it is not an evil enemy they meet, just one that refuses to get along.
The show panders to traditional religion at times (“Bread and Circuses”), but more often it subtly attacked traditional religion. (See especially “The Apple,” “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and “Who Watches the Watchers?”) It usually took the view that religion is simply a primitive misinterpretation of empirical data.

As America’s landscape changed in the 80s and 90s, spiritual aspects of the alien cultures emerged. However, religion remained an exclusively private aspect of the characters lives. It wasn’t until after Roddenberry’s death, that the show took a more religious perspective on things. It seemed a more realistic view of a society formed with such a variety of cultures is that religion would persist and in fact contribute to conflict. In the spin-off “Deep Space Nine” in particular, religion became very real and very central to the story.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Acts: Simple, Yet Hard (5:12-14)

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number…” –Acts 5:12-14
This passage may just be read through quickly, but it is really a bit of complicated information. All the personal pronouns make for confusion in the intended meeting. Who meets in Solomon’s portico? Is it the church, or the apostles? Who are the “rest” that don’t associate with whoever is in the portico? And, depending on the answers to the first two questions (or perhaps not) how was the growth of the church accomplished?
All of these questions are ultimately not as important as a couple conclusions this passage illuminates. One: the Gospel, in spite of its simplicity, is not easy to accept. It is offensive. It is hard to believe. It is even harder to accept in a way that is effective for life change. Two: it does change lives. It has an impact on culture wherever it goes. It is unstoppable.
How do these conclusions affect the way missions should be done? For one thing, while the Gospel does need to be translated to new cultures, it does not need to be softened or made less offensive. It does not need to be made easier to accept. If its offensive, surrender-demanding aspects are removed it ceases to be the Gospel. God is the one who convinces. The messenger simply delivers the message. If the message is changed to aid the convincing, then it is no longer the same message.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Warning: Some Thought Required

People make an incorrect assumption in the Evangelical ghetto today, that their subculture is Biblical culture. That is quite often not the case. For example, just because a singer, painter, or novelist is Christian, it does not make their art Biblical or even true. Non-Christian artists are capable of making truthful art. More importantly, there are believing artists, creating good art from a Christian perspective, who are rejected by the sub-culture because they have not chosen the Evangelical ghetto industry to disseminate their work. (U2 and J.K. Rowling are just two examples.)

The danger is that people inside the subculture begin to equate their culture with Biblical truth and fail to recognize any other cultural expression of Christianity. They then begin to do things like enter politics as a block and things get scary.

Christians should be involved in civic responsibility. They should learn about the issues and vote their conscience. They just shouldn’t become cattle and follow the self-designated “Christian” political leadership. How does it stand to reason that just because a candidate belongs to the same denomination as you, they will believe the same things as you when it comes to politics? For that matter, would you want someone who has immersed themselves in the Evangelical sub-culture in charge of the nation and representing it to the world? If someone has a history of swallowing hook-line-and-sinker whatever the cultural leadership preaches as Biblical, instead of actually studying the Bible for truth, how much should his or her judgment be trusted?

It must be remembered that many well-intentioned religious leaders have made some pretty poor judgments when it comes to politics. Some of the leadership of the World Baptist Alliance when it met in Germany in 1934 saw Hitler’s social conservatism (He was anti alcohol, pornography, etc.) and declared him acceptable.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Top Films: Edelweiss, Tuppence, and Tapioca

In the 1960’s Julie Andrews starred in, among other films, a trilogy of some of the best ever Musicals. All three take a strong and perhaps surprisingly traditional attitude towards love and relationships. Taken in reverse order:

1967. Thoroughly Modern Millie’s title character is a girl in the roaring twenties obsessed with being a “modern.” She wants to compete with the boys, snag a rich boss, and marry him. Love doesn’t factor; it isn’t a “modern” ideal. The problem is a man named Jimmy. They meet, become friends and fall in love. Jimmy is in every way the man Millie needs; he is even the man she wants though she doesn’t see it. After an adventure involving white slavery, Millie realizes that her “modern” expectations are unimportant, and that she will be happier following her heart—however “traditionally” it leads.

1965. The Sound of Music’s Maria is a girl convinced that to truly love God she must marry him by becoming a nun. However, she is seen as unfit or not ready for life in the nunnery, and is sent out to be a nanny to the Von Trap children. There she brings life back to the broken home, and despite herself, she falls in love. In the end, though, she discovers that she can better love and worship God through her role as a wife and mother.

1964. Finally, (or initially) Mary Poppins is a supernatural nanny who saves the Banks family from falling apart. The father is obsessed with his profession and running a traditional home. The mother is caught up in effecting change in society and the role of women. The children are desperately crying out for the parent’s attention. When she has set all to right, she leaves to help another family. But the Banks won’t be looking for another nanny.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Way Things Were

The whole concept of International Christian Missions used to be a lot different. Back when it was called “Foreign” Missions people lived on compounds maintaining little Americas on foreign soil. Later on, when mentalities began to change and cross-cultural ministry began to be understood, the children were still shipped off to English-speaking boarding schools or if local International education was available, that’s where the kids went. Back then people used to “endure” four long years on the field, and then they were rewarded with a year back “home” in the states.

Nowadays “cross-cultural” is the key in missions. Church Planters are sent into a culture and they immerse themselves in it as best they can. They learn the language well. Their kids attend local, national schools. They visit the states to keep in touch and see family, but they tend to keep the visits short so they can get back “home” on the field, where they can’t imagine leaving their ministry for a whole year at a time.

It looks like all that may soon change for some missionaries, as international law and agreements between various countries is forcing things to be done differently. In many countries, people will only be allowed to stay five years and then they will be forced to leave for a year before being allowed to return and establish residence again.

What is the big deal? Hasn’t the old four-years-on-one-year-off been done before? Won’t it work just fine? Probably. However, the work will suffer the one-year absences of personnel. Families with children will have difficulty keeping kids in national schools when they must repeatedly take them out for a year.

As always, there are probably some silver linings in this change but they are hard to see at the moment.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Television: Doctor Who

It is difficult for non-British audiences to understand the cultural icon that “Doctor Who” is, but it would not be an exaggeration to place Doctor Who amongst the likes of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Beginning in 1963 as a semi-educational children’s serial, it quickly became a pop-cultural phenomenon with the introduction of the monstrous Daleks. The scary monster element of the program continued throughout its 26 years. In 2005, after a 16-year hiatus, it returned with new episodes.
Unlike later science fiction series and movies with specific philosophical approaches, (Star Trek’s Secular Humanism, Star Wars’ Taoism or Zen Buddhism) Doctor Who has been eclectic over its Decades-long run, but stories have always boiled down to the age-old battle between good and evil. Sometimes the Doctor faces true evil, like the Daleks who were clearly patterned after the fascist powers of the early 20th Century. Other times he tries to mediate between humanity and aliens who are on the verge of war, in an obvious commentary on the Cold War.
The most fascinating aspect of this show is its main character. He is an alien being with the ability to completely regenerate (whenever a new actor is needed.) The show goes to great lengths to present him as non-human. A sort of vagabond in space and time, he manages to always show up where some great moral dilemma is occurring and bring a higher ethic into play. He always manages to do the right thing and save the day.

With it’s intellectual storytelling the viewer is always made to think, that is at least when the cheap production values can be overlooked. This is a problem the show faced over its original run. In spite of its success, it was always hampered by being a publicly funded show.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Acts: Waiting Tables? (6:1-7)

As chapter 6 of Acts begins a shift occurs. The focus leaves Jerusalem and follows the Gospel as it begins to spread through the region. Here the Gospel becomes for the first time cross-cultural. Traditionally 6:1-7 has been seen primarily as the beginning of the Deacon. This is probably missing the real point of this passage, or at least sells it far short.

The first big conflict in the young church is not a theological argument, but a cultural issue. It seems all the church leadership was comprised of Aramaic speaking believers, and the Greek believers were being overlooked. Today many churches would mistakenly equate the Gospel to the culture and demanding that the Greek believers conform to the Aramaic way. Far to often, Christian cultures see their culture (behavior and speech) as the key to Christianity, and forget that the Gospel is the key.

The early church leaders took a different approach to the problem. They recognized the other culture as valid and equal. They led the church to recognize leaders from this other group. Their ministry would be to take care of administrative matters. Their qualifications would be three: reputation, administrative ability, and spiritual filling.
Today, in some traditions at least, this office of Deacon has evolved from table waiter and administrator. In a culture where the Spiritual leaders have become free agents rarely arising from within a congregation, they (perhaps correctly) see themselves as the true, local spiritual leadership. The problem is they see their leadership role primarily as that of cultural guardians. They make sure that everyone in the church conforms to the accepted culture. This is a far cry from the first seven of these ministers, men who took the Gospel on its first cross-cultural journey out of Jerusalem and into the Greek world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

State of Flow

The psychological concept of Flow is a state of being in which people are able to perform beyond a conscious level. Before you begin to think this is some sort of paranormal concept, consider a few examples.

Athletes constantly speak of trying to “be in the zone.” In this condition they are able to perform activities instinctively, they “react reflexively” more than “act attentively.”

Musicians also experience this when they begin to play without really thinking about the individual notes or chords. In an ensemble (especially in contemporary music or jazz) they speak of being in a “groove” when the whole group achieves this state together.

Video Game programmers speak of designing their games with a state of flow in mind for the player as their goal. People play the games pursuing this level flow, where they begin to fell less like they are playing an electronic device and feel as if they are actually within the environment of the game.

The psychologist who initially described this concept admitted that it was nothing new. Eastern religions have pursued this state for ages: the idea of being “one” with everything etc. However, while the eastern idea of Flow involves emptying the mind to achieve this feeling, the practical examples listed about all involve mental activity. Yes discipline and practice are repeated until the performance is beyond active thought, but emptying the mind is not needed.

Another area where some people achieve Flow is in reading. Some people describe the act of reading fiction as ceasing to be reading. They actually visualize what they are reading to the point that they cease to consciously see worlds and mentally live in the world they are reading about. This is anything but a mindless activity.

Where does the state of Flow fit into true spiritual meditation?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Navigating the East German Cultural Stream

Larry McCrary has accurately described Western Europe as a river with three cultural streams. In the part of Western Europe know as the “former East Germany,” two of those streams are almost non-existent, and the third has become a quagmire for the Gospel. It is Larry’s second stream, the post-Christian, that has come to dominate. Several events in this region’s history have served to repeatedly dam up the flow and influence of Christian thought.

Scholarly Slaughter of Scripture. 

This was the birthplace of the Reformation. That is something that is hard to remember when 80% of the population declares themselves to be Atheists and refuse even a cultural tie to Christianity. However, it was here too that attacks began against the Bible that robbed it of a Spiritual Authority and made it nothing more than a (in scholarly understanding, a historically and thematically unreliable)

Political Persecution of the Church. 

Then came the Twentieth century with German “Christianity” repeatedly backing misguided or downright evil political forces in the first half of the Century. Communism dominated the second half of the century permitting some degree of “official church” but persecuting and holding down free expressions of Christianity. Atheism was the official sanctioned “religion” and taught to all East Germans during this time. Today, it is by far the dominant view and accepted without argument or question by most.

Resurgence of Pagan Spirituality. 

Today many East German Atheists are ironically not Materialists. They accept a spiritual aspect to life. While they have unquestioningly denied the existence of God, they turn to old ways and beliefs that seem to contradict their Atheism. Perhaps they do not really believe the spiritual aspect of these “entertainments” but there seems to be a fascination with Astrology, occultism, alternate medicines, Ufology, and the paranormal among young people in this area.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Exegesis, Eisegesis, and Urinalysis

What is theological education coming to these days? The latest example of idiotic Biblical teaching probably only impacted a congregation of a handful of people, until the “sermon” made its way onto the World Wide Web. (You can find the particular sermon below.)
It would be funny if it weren’t so stupid and embarrassing. The hard part is figuring out what is the worst part of this sermon. Is it the theological significance assigned to the six times a phrase is found in the Bible? Is it maybe the attitude towards the King James Version as if every translation before it (including the original Greek and Hebrew) were mere links in the evolutionary progress of God’s Word on the road to the “Inerrant KJV”? Most likely it is simply the assertion that peeing while standing is God’s way of determining who real men are.
True, peeing from a seated position is encouraged in Germany. Some think it is a grand conspiracy of androgyny, but it is really more of an attitude encouraged by those who clean toilets. German toilets in themselves are a source of tremendous culture-shock to non-Germans. They actually have a “viewing-shelf” strategically placed in the bowl so that the product can be clearly seen before it is (less than satisfactorily) washed away down the drain.
The truth is, maybe this pastor missed the mark in his own special exercise in eisegesis. He clearly sees a mandate from God that men should pee standing up, but he forgot that it clearly says in the same phrase that men pee on walls. Perhaps KJV-Bible-Thumping MEN everywhere should abandon the use of indoor plumbing altogether and start peeing on walls.

Ironically, this is another problem faced in Europe. So much so that they have designed walls that are “pee-proof.” If you pee on them, they funnel it right back at you!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Television: The Andy Griffith Show

One year after “The Twilight Zone” hit the airwaves, an entirely different program appeared on the same network. “The Andy Griffith Show” was a comedy, and not interested in asking the same metaphysical questions. It mostly just wanted to make people laugh. However, it did stake its claim in the area of ethics.
The Andy Griffith Show does not really reflect a “simpler time” but rather a simple outlook on things. Most shows involve ethical dilemmas. Some go the sentimental route with Opie or Aunt Bee; others take a more slapstick look at Barney or Gomer. It is easy to loose sight of the fact that this show aired and was set in the 60’s. By comparison, think about Ron Howard’s other series: “Happy Days.” It was supposed to address the 50’s, even if it did have a more seventies take on things.
The list of masterpieces in the black and white period of the show alone is too long to list here, but perhaps the best episode ever, “The Pickle Story” manages to be tear-inducing hilarious, and still manage to explore serious ethical questions that have plagued people since society began. When is it alright to lie to the people you love? What are the consequences of cheating?
That is not to say they never took a look into the supernatural side of things. In Don Knott’s last season his character had two episodes that were almost “zone-ish.” In “Three Wishes for Opie” Barney obtains a Gypsy box that really does seem to have magical powers. And “The Lucky Letter” is still as relevant today as ever, what with all the chain-emails going around.
In its first five years at least, before the show went color and lost Barney, it is arguably one of the best television shows ever aired.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Moulin Rouge

"This is a story about truth, beauty, freedom: but above all things, this is a story about love." --Christian, writing on his typewriter.

What love? The sinful, fleshly version sold at the Moulin Rouge, or true Love—agape love as seen in the ideals of Christianity? The screenwriters claim to be influenced by Orpheus, the Greek tragedy of the man who could enchant all living creatures with his music. When his lover dies he goes to Hades to rescue her, but loses her when he looks back to make sure she is with him.

This story has its Orphean elements to be sure, but there is more here than Greek mythology. For starters, Orpheus' love is ultimately selfish, Christian’s and Satine's is not. Satine is changed by love and ultimately is willing to sacrifice herself to save Christian's life. Also Satine dies not due to some fateful wish of the gods, but due to a life in the environment of the Moulin Rouge that ultimately kills her.

The love in Moulin Rouge begins as fleshly love: flashy and enticing, but costly and fake. Then Christian and Satine discover selfish romantic love. This drives them further to a love that lasts, that is unselfish, even sacrificial. But they are both caught by their pasts. Christian fails to see beyond the surface of things and fails to see Satine’s true love for him. Satine in turn is forced by her past sins to reject him in an effort to save him. In the end, however, Love wins when Satine reveals her love for Christian, dooming the Moulin Rouge and endangering herself. When she does finally die, lying on the theater floor, she commissions Christian to "tell their story" prompting the whole telling of the movie. The lesson learned?

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." --Christian, again on the typewriter.

So the themes in Moulin Rouge are sin, sacrifice, regeneration, truth, beauty, goodness, and love. The story, like Orpheus, sets out into Hades to save Love, but unlike in the Greek tragedy, Love wins in the end.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Magic Realism is the genre that would need to be used if you were to set a story in Barcelona. It is an ultimately urban realm, but full of fantastic and impossible to believe sights. It is almost as if a kid set out to build a grown-up version of a modern, square-block, metropolis; and then grew bored with the uniformity and gave into tremendous flights of fantasy every few blocks.
Everything from Gaudy architecture (literally), to palm trees, to open markets selling every strange species of fish imaginable, to living statues of devils, demons, and angels, to kiosks selling exotic animals is available. When one ventures off the normal-everyday streets into the Gothic Quarter, the real world is left behind and extremely narrow, silent and tall, cave-like alleys run in every direction.
Hidden gems are available to the adventurous explorer: like the restaurant founded in the 1800s named “Los Caracoles.” If you are not looking for it, you might not find it. It looks, from the outside, like a small bar scarcely large enough to allow you to walk past the patrons sitting down to a drink. Squeeze past this and into what looks like a “back room” (duck if you are over 6 feet tall) and you will find yourself headed into a large kitchen and through a labyrinth of rooms and tables into a large and fancy restaurant!
Time seems to stand still in this magical city too. Spanish culture spreads itself out into all corners of the day that never seems to end. No matter how late you explore, you will never cease to feel the bustle and the safety of the crowd. This city really does never sleep, no doubt fed and maintained by a constant stream of their excellent coffee!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

That Hideous Strength

(In honor of the 50th post here on NonModern, I dedicate today’s blurb to the greatest novel of all time.)

Why should “That Hideous Strength” be considered one the best? Among the several factors against it is the fact that you may have never heard of it at all. While C.S. Lewis is among the most respected and loved authors of the Twentieth Century, “That Hideous Strength” may be among his least known books.

“That Hideous Strength” is the third book in Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, but it is really the odd one out. It takes place entirely on earth instead of on another planet like the other two, and it relegates Ransom (the main character in the other two) to a minor role. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, it is the most relevant of the three.

Lewis greatness lies in the fact that he is a thinker. He infuses all of his books with observations and serious ideas illustrated in the narrative. His stories still manage to engage at the same time. He has been accused by some of being to directly allegorical, but that is what makes his stories more than just fun escapism.

The science fiction trilogy is no different. He starts out exploring what it means to be creature in “Out of the Silent Planet” and then engages in a great “what if” in relation to Eden and original sin in “Perelandra.” In “That Hideous Strength” he culminates his ideas with an expansion of his commentary on Postmodernism in “The Abolition of Man.” That is not all though, as he gives serious and incredible analysis of marriage, “inner circles,” science as religion, Arthurian legend, and equality in the roles of the sexes.

If you haven’t read this book, you need to.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Acts: The Self-Identifying Church (4:32-5:11)

This is a difficult passage to absorb. At first glance, the church comes off as some sort of early communist society. However, it is never presented as prescriptive. Sure the church held all things in common, but Peter tells Ananias that, in fact, all his property was his to do with as he pleased. More is said here about the nature of church than about property.
The church here is such a closely bonded group that they became a sort of family. No one went without necessities because they all took care of each other. Whatever other aspects go into defining what church is, the self-understanding of fellowship, more than just a gathering of people, must be in place. Some people today try to redefine church to include a group of Christians and non-Christians alike that is loosely together on some sort of journey of exploration and discovery. This is far too nebulous a definition. Beyond the obvious conditions of regenerate membership and regular gathering, a simple self-awareness of “belonging” seems to be a given for a church to be a church.
The other important aspect of this passage is the danger of trying to deceive God and His church. The sole motivation behind Ananias and Sapphira’s deceit was to make themselves look great in the eyes of the community. God alone deserves glory and He is a very jealous God. When we do things to bring glory or praise to ourselves, we are treading on very dangerous ground indeed.
In the end, the only reason to redefine church would be so we could claim to have started groups that were not in fact what we claim them to be. This would be a pursuit of something that may not be a desirable goal.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Television" The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling shocked audiences when he declared his intention to create a science fiction/fantasy anthology show back in 1959. He was the most celebrated dramatic writer of his day, and no one could believe he would lower himself to B grade materiel like fantasy. But Rod Serling understood that a lot of important things could be said through a genre that few took very seriously. Over the next five years a lot of serious stuff was said. Most everyone knows about “Time Enough at Last,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders,” and “To Serve Man,” but here are a couple more treasures:
“Walking Distance” explores nostalgia when a man finds his way back into his own childhood. “The After Hours” is a truly scary exploration of isolation and feeling out of place. “The Howling Man” speaks of the underestimated danger of true evil. “The Eye of the Beholder” and “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” explore our beauty obsessed society. “Nick of Time” takes on superstition, and “It’s a Good Life” is almost unbearable as an all-powerful boy is a cruel god of his own world.

However, perhaps the most relevant episode for today’s culture is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” It is a chilling look at groupthink and the way people become truly monsters when society is led to believe they are in danger. Depending on your point of view it could speak a lot to the state of the world facing terrorism or climate change. Either way it shows the danger when society through fear gives its leaders too much power to control their lives.

The Twilight Zone is perhaps the first truly great television show ever made. Through its themes and messages it promises to stand the test of time and is as relevant today as it was when it was made half a century ago.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Throwing God Out with the Holy Water

It seems that behind every thoughtful atheist (there are plenty who have never really given it much thought) there is someone who is actually anti-religion. That is completely understandable. There is not a religion in the history of the world that has not turned out negative. They are just a series of manipulative, power-creating rules that attempt to force people to follow a few select leaders.

(How can this position be espoused by a self proclaimed Christian? Like many Evangelicals, it is the position of NonModern that the Bible promotes not another Religion created by people, but a relationship with the God of the universe. Too much of Christianity over its 2000 year history has abandoned the Bible’s teaching in favor of just another Religion bent on controlling people.)

Atheism, though, is hard to accept from any truly thoughtful person. How can anyone authoritatively suggest that there is no God and even refuse the possibility? The fact is that most Atheists reject Religion, and in the process go to far and toss God out as well. Richard Attenborough says of the various conflicting beliefs around the world: “They can’t all be right.” Therefore, his conclusion is that they are all wrong. That is a bit of a stretch of logic. Just because the Elephant described by the blind men was not a snake, a rope, or a tree did not mean the Elephant itself did not exist.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Global Warming: A Win-Win for Doomsayers

The best part of this control tactic is the way it is a win-win situation for the doomsayers. If the Whoever decided to use climate change to control the masses was a genius. In an “enlightened” age that has shut its eyes to the supernatural side of life, they have found a no-risk way to tell people how to live. They took an aspect of the natural world that is in constant change and convinced people that (a) this change spells disaster, and (b) they are causing the change. They have found the perfect recipe for controlling people’s lives.

The amazing thing is the brain dead way in which people have bought into the tactic. When it is warmer than usual—it’s because of Global Warming. When there is an unheard of cold snap—it’s because of Global Warming. When there are more hurricanes than usual—and yes, when there are fewer hurricanes than usual—yada-yada-yada.climate starts to cool down, then it was due to their efforts. If people give into their demands and things keep getting warmer, it was simply a case of too little too late.

What no one wants to talk about is the raw data used to back these claims. The benchmark for “normal” surface temperatures is the average between the years 1961 and 1990, just thirty years of data. Going back before that to the 1860s (the mere 100 years for which instrument readings are available) things were usually (but not always) cooler. Since 1990, temps have been higher. However, the world has been cooling ever so slightly since 1998 when the record for the hottest year occurred. (The year of the super-powerful El Niño.) Finally, human carbon emission levels do NOT track with these temperature ups and downs.

The world is warming, but don’t trust anyone that tells you you’re to blame.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Görlitz: The Good and the Bad

As far as first impressions go, Poland can thank Zgorzelec for a lousy one. Zgorzelec being the Polish side of Görlitz, Germany’s eastern most city. Görlitz is utterly charming. It has three impressive church buildings, three old towers, an old town hall with an astrological clock, and so on and so forth.

But. Reader, beware! When you stand next the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul and look across the river into Poland and think, “Wow! That is really ugly, but I think I will cross that bridge so I can say I was in Poland,” you need to know that is the beginning of a bad idea. For, when you cross that bridge, you will be informed that you are not a resident of the city and you must cross at the next bridge where the border crossing is located. Since it is a nice day, you might just walk down the river to the right bridge, not knowing that the next bridge is a really long walk away. When you finally get into Poland, you might decide that since you are hungry you will change some money and find a place to eat so you can say you ate in Poland. After walking around Zgorzelec for the better part of an hour, you will realize that there is nothing to eat near the border! But your car (and all the German restaurants) is an hour’s walk into downtown Görlitz! So you change your Polish money back into Euros (except for the coins that can’t be changed so you are stuck with them) and head back famished, tired, and thoughroly unimpressed with Poland, which is probably under normal circumstances not a bad country.

So, if you go to Görlitz and want to experience Poland, drive across the border.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Acts: Signs of the Spirit (4:31)

There are church groups out there who teach a two-step process to salvation. You get saved from your sins, and at a later point in time you are given the Spirit of God. This gift is accompanied by outward signs, they say, usually incoherent babbling.
This whole doctrine is built on not differentiating between the terms “baptized” and “filled,” and on making a couple of specific occurrences a norm for all people for the rest of time. These moments are (1) the first group ever to get the spirit (Acts 2), and (2) the first group of Samaritans to get the spirit (Acts 8).
The Bible does speak of people who are already saved, being “filled” with the Spirit and there is in this instance in Acts 4, a sign. They speak the Word of God with boldness.
Christians today like to talk about Spiritual Gifts. It seems an aspect of our self-obsession. We like to take tests and learn more about ourselves. There is also a desire to find out what Spiritual gifts we don’t have so we can feel all right about not doing certain things.
“Oh, sorry, I would teach Sunday School, but I don’t have the gift of teaching.”
“Well, I would like to share my faith, but you see… I took that test and I don’t have the gift of evangelism.”
The fact is that every single Christian according to the Bible is supernaturally, spiritually gifted to Evangelize. Look at Acts 1:8, or here in 4:31. We all have all the power of God at our disposal. All that is required of any Christian is to simply share what they have witnessed first hand. God takes care of the rest.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Can television be an important place for serious cultural exchange? It is even more difficult than cinema for television to have lasting significance, due to the way TV is tied to money and sponsors. This is evident in the lake of good programming in spite of the huge output. However, it can be an even better example of how successful artists and communicators need not only have important ideas to communicate, but they also need to be able to connect with the audience.
Public television in the US is a good example. The attitude in most circles of Public TV is that only PBS can transmit shows of true artistic merit. By their definition, true art can never be recognized or appreciated by the masses; therefore an enlightened government must support these programs. The fact is, that while PBS occasionally supports a good idea, much of their “art” is simply boring.
To see that commercial TV can succeeded in being entertaining and still engaged in important ideas and thoughts, one need no more than list some of the programs that have succeeded: The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Doctor Who (a British public television program), Star Trek, Columbo, The Simpsons, Quantum Leap, The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and 24 just to name a few. The fact that most of these shows even made it to air is a testament to the truly amazing vision and ability to communicate that the creators had. The fact that they went on to success and repeated seasons in a medium where most shows aren’t given a chance beyond several episodes reflects in each case the amazing endeavor of the hundreds of people required for them to succeed.
The answer, then, is yes. Television has at times produced programming that is at the same time entertaining and thought provoking. It deserves a place in serious cultural conversation and thought.
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