Tuesday, March 31, 2009

City Notebooks

Moleskine journals are a particularly bad product for people who do not want to belong to a herd or follow trends. Especially if the attraction is not based on quality or attractiveness but merely on the reputation that the product was used by the likes of Picasso and Hemingway… a reputation that is difficult to believe since the brand did not even come into existence until 1996. For some of us who have journaled since before the company was around, the claim is funny. For the company spokesmen it is “not the absolute truth” i.e. “a lie.”

That being said, Moleskine has created one product worth checking out for people who meet the right criteria: the City Notebook. It is basically a blank journal designed to be used as a guidebook to a touristy city that is written by the user. It contains maps and a basic layout that can be adapted to meet the needs of the individual.

As a primary guide it is not the number one choice. It would also not be the best book for a first trip, unless you had the time beforehand to do the sort of research that might rob you of the initial discovery that is part of the joy of a new city. For someone who lived close to one of the cities and had the opportunity/ desire to repeatedly visit it, though, it is a good resource.

So far, the cities in Europe available from Moleskine are: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Prague, Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, Hamburg, Moscow, Florence, Venice, Athens, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Munich, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Torino, and Zurich. There are also some North American and Asian cities available.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Liar, The Prophet, and the Idolater (I Kings 13)

The fascinating thing about this story is that, presumably, God has called all three men. We know who Jeroboam was. He was anointed to be King of Israel at God’s orders and to punish Solomon for his sin. The other two men are both prophets, which is a professional vocational ministry position. In today’s terms, were talking about three men of God, three ministers!

Let’s take a look at the three sins committed in the story in reverse order:

First, the prophet from Judah sins by not doing what God wants Him to do. God has commanded the prophet to return home and not eat or drink before he arrives. He disobeys. Why? There are many possible reasons. He may trust the older man of God. He may have been swayed by the lie that God has sent this message through an angel. He may simply be exhausted. Ultimately, he ignores his orders from God and does not do as he was told.

Often we look at sin as being a commission of something wrong. Many times it is really a case of not doing the right thing. James 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

What sins are we guilty of in this regard? Are there things we know we should be doing, but are not? Are we wasting the time God has given us in our own pursuits instead of the plans He has for us?

Second, we see the old prophet from Israel sins by lying to the young man of God. That is an easy one right? Don’t lie. I think, however, that there is a deeper sin here that applies to us as well. Here we have a prophet of God living in a sinful land. There’s no problem with that; sinful lands need prophets. The problem is that this man has become comfortable in the land he has been called to condemn. He knows God. He apparently hears from God. And yet his sons are at the condemned altar. He has given in to the sinful lifestyle around him. Even though he still knows God and is interested in things of God, he is willing to lie to persuade the fellow man of God to come with him.

As Christians in America, we are always in danger of committing the sin of becoming comfortable with the sinful culture we live in. We have even melded the Gospel with the American Dream. They are not the same thing and in fact they are in opposition with each other in many areas!

Are we guilty of becoming like the world around us? Are we Christians first, or Americans?

Finally, we see the sin that started this whole story. It is perhaps the worst sin in the Bible. The sin of Jeroboam. God chose jeroboam. Solomon’s sin had upset God and he decided to take away the nation from the house of David, leaving them just one tribe. Jeroboam was the man God chose to do this. Jeroboam loved God. Jeroboam worshiped God. His sin was that he worshiped God in the wrong way. The sin of Jeroboam is exactly the same sin that the children of Israel committed at mount Sinai. He set up idols representing Yahweh. Understand this. He did not cause Israel to worship other Gods! The calves were to represent the true God! He was promoting the worship of the true God! The problem was that God had forbidden anyone to worship Him that way!

We all know idolatry is wrong. We are careful to not worship other gods in our life. But… Are we committing idolatry in our worship of God? Do we worship Him, or our ideas of Him? Do we worship Him, or the songs and services we like? Do we worship Him, or idea of how church should be? Do we worship Him, or a false representation of Him we have created in or minds that doesn’t challenge us to change?

We need to worship Him for the fear inducing, all-powerful, demanding, change inducing, boss of our lives He should be. We need to stop playing at Christianity and be Christians.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Top Films: More Hitch: The Lady Vanishes

“Some films are slices of life; mine are slices of cake.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock has been elevated to the status of the ultimate artist of directors by many. His works have been studied and dissected far too many times to be counted. However, it is often forgotten that he was first and foremost an entertainer. Even films he made early on in his career, before moving to Hollywood, stand up well today some 70 years later. The Lady Vanishes is one such film.

Many, including this writer, consider this to be his best British film. Academics have claimed that no matter how many times they watch it with the intent of studying the mechanics of the film, they always get sucked into the plot and forget their objective. It is truly an entertaining film.

Two things stand out in the story, though, that are of special interest to those of us who are cross-cultural messengers: the cultural study of the film, and the role of the messenger with the report that no one believes.

The first element is best seen in two British gentlemen that provide the comical relief of the film. They do a good job of portraying typical tourist attitudes that find fault and inadequacy in every aspect of the foreign culture. It is played for laughs, but is really a sad commentary of the ignorant western attitudes toward different cultures. The role unfortunately played best by many Americans (read USA) today. This is especially a detriment when said Americans wish to convey a message that is already in doubt in the other culture.

There in lies the best aspect of this film. The main character is forced to convince an entire trainload of passengers that someone has disappeared completely from the train without its ever stopping. The very fact that she is able to obtain cooperation from some people on the train, when they don't believe her, is an interesting study in persuasion. The thing that sways the unbelievers at first is not facts—for there are none—but rather the relationships she establishes with them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Father John

Father John was the long-winded type,
That kept his parish from their Sunday feasts.
So generally speaking, Sunday morning mass,
Was full of fairly empty seats.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Worst Pain Imaginable

In response to a friend’s recent emergency appendectomy, I was reminded/prompted to relate the following:

On a Thursday evening in the fall of 2005 I went to bed with a stomachache. I usually don’t have them much anymore since I quit dating I don’t have to put up with mounting gas pressure anymore. I have always suspected that I have a high tolerance for pain, and the fact that I put up with the pain for nearly 24 hours is evidence of that fact. On Friday, I took a kid to the hospital for dental surgery and went into work. The pain was distracting enough that I couldn’t really concentrate and our office manager commented that I was starting to look a little green. I decided to go to the hospital just to get reassurance that everything was ok.

I hadn’t realized just how much pain I was in until they hooked me up to an I.V. and shot me up with Morphine (which, by the way, is not a pleasant experience either… the initial reaction for my body was a shot of painful burning that swept through my body as the drug sped through my blood stream.) After the Morphine, I was finally able to lie flat on the table, the pain had me bent double up to that point.

Turns out I had an appendix that was swollen three times the normal size and tucked in behind my colon. I needed old fashion, cut-you-open, surgery.

All that was nothing.

When I woke up from that surgery, (the second one of the year for me—the other one is a great story too, for later) I was introduced to the greatest pain man will ever face. Two nurses came in and informed me that I needed to be voided. Turns out, they thought you had to pee every four hours or you would die. I tried to tell them all about my peeing habits—and the superhuman size of my bladder… all to no avail.

I think the entire hospital heard my reaction to the ordeal.

Four hours later, they were back. I tried to tell them I just didn’t need to yet. It didn’t work. This time, I glanced down there. I wish to this day I hadn’t. Did you know that the tube they stick in there is as big around as… well, let’s just say biology and physics are two separate disciplines. By the way, I was right… I didn’t need to go.

After that, I laid low and hoped they had forgotten about me. I was never so happy as I was for the squirt I produced on my own several hours later. Every nurse on duty got to see it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do You Believe...in the Hogfather?

Fans of fantasy, humor, and writers who like thoughtful philosophical topics should check out the Diskworld books by Terry Pratchett. He is constantly using his imaginative fiction to (not so subtly) comment on the world. It is true satire. It is well written. It is very funny. However, be warned. He will make you think. He also likes to question things that many hold dear. He not only targets politics, commercialism, and all the stupid things in our culture—but religion and faith.

His approach to religion and faith is particularly interesting in that his fantasy world is inhabited by truly supernatural beings and belief is important, even if organized religion is corrupt and flawed.

Terry Pratchett is a self-described humanist, and based on his writing, could probably be described as an Absurdist. For example consider the following conversation between Death and his granddaughter in the film adaptation of Hogfather:

“Humans need fantasy to ‘be’ human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
“With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?”
“Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.”
“So we can believe the big ones?”
“Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.”
“They're not the same at all.”
“You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.”
“But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?”
“You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?”

This is typical absurdist thought about faith. The irony is… while Death calls the objects of belief lies; they are very real in his world. So the question is:

Why do humans the world over and throughout history need and turn to faith? If there is no meaning to life, why is it a universal condition of humanity to seek it?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Galatains 1:1, 10-12 (The Call)

Luther talked about how, before he understood the Gospel, he used to dislike Paul’s seeming arrogance here. He came to understand, however, that Paul was merely expressing the confidence and authority he had in his calling. The Call is important. In Luther’s own words: “Those who have a certain and holy calling must sustain great many conflicts, as must those whose doctrine is pure and sound, so that they may constantly remain in their lawful calling, against the infinite and continual assaults of the devil and the rage of the world.”

In other words: you must be sure of your calling. Ministry is not a job for people who can’t do anything else: the skill-less, the uneducated, or the unsuccessful. It is not for people merely seeking power or a leadership position. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Spurgeon used to tell his ministry and preaching students that if they could imagine themselves doing anything else and being happy—they should abandon the ministry and do that other thing.

Vocational ministry is not a cushy job. It is hard and thankless at times. Those who think they may have that vocational calling need to be absolutely sure of that fact; cross-cultural workers even more so. There are days when that is all there is to keep one going.

In 2008 Southern Baptists sent out over 800 people as missionaries. Considering they are just one of many groups sending people out, there are a lot of people hearing a call every year. An interesting fact, though, is that 6 out of every 10 sent committed to a limited period of time, ranging from two to three years. Short-term involvement is a valid means of ministry, but how hard must it be to hear a call like that, knowing it is all just temporary?

You have to be sure of your calling.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Films: More Hitch: The 39 Steps

"It was impossible not to see that the love scenes were filmed like murder scenes, and the murder scenes like love scenes.” --Francois Truffaut, regarding Hitchcock’s films.

Hitchcock’s genius is often described in part in his ability to torture the audience with suspense. He used the cinematic language with perfection to create tension in the audience. He did this both in what he showed and revealed and also in what he did not show or reveal. He would frequently let the audience in on information that was unknown to the characters, thereby creating the tension where the audience would anticipate what was coming, but delay that resolution until it was almost unbearable. Most famously, he would leave key elements such as violence off-screen, knowing that the audience’s imagination was far better at creating scares.

What is a less discussed fact is that he did the same thing with sex. Hitchcock made many sexually charged movies, but most of them use implication rather than actual sex to create the mood. The 39 Steps, made in 1935, is one such example. Consider how sexual this movie is:

Hannay meets a woman at a theater who asks if she can come home with him, because, “I would like too,” and then proceeds to spend the night at his flat.

Hannay tries to elicit the milkman’s help with the truth (murder) but ends up only able to convince him with a lie about a sexual encounter.

The conversation between the businessmen on the train is about women’s underwear and then the (presumed sexually motivated) murder of a woman.

The farmer’s wife, much younger than her jealous husband, helps Hannay out of an obvious physical/emotional attraction.

Finally, Hannay’s first encounter with Pamela results in him forcing himself upon her to avoid police detection (unsuccessfully); their second encounter ends up with them hand-cuffed together and spending the night together as implied lovers.

All that adds up to an ultimately rather innocent movie that is more sexual and tense than most movies about sex today where nothing is left to the imagination and no tension exists at all.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Greatest Shock of All

The children of missionaries usually face the hardest Culture Shock of all. No, not when they move with their parents to a “foreign country” as a child. At least not since most sending agencies began to limit the age of children being sent. The hardest culture shock of all is experienced by those MKs that return to the States to head to college after living in a different culture for so many years. And, it is not necessarily the return to the United States culture that is so difficult, even though that is a genuine culture shock. Most MKs have learned how to deal with the ins and outs of cultural change through experience. The hard part to adjust to is re-entering the church culture in the United States.

There is a lot that does not make sense to MKs about church in the states:

How do churches justify spending as much as they do on the things that they do? How do they even justify doing some of the things in the first place?

How do you get used to a place where Evangelical Christianity is more culture than belief? In many places in the world, the minority status of evangelicals ensures that participation is by choice and belief rather than just popularity and cultural acceptance.

Why don’t churches in the states practice Biblical discipline? Why does belief not impact and change people making them different from nonbelievers? And the flipside of that question: How can they be so legalistic when they essentially live like the rest of the world?

Of course, all of these questions and others are tainted with the perception filter that is culture shock. Not all of the issues are quite so pervasive or extreme, but it might do the church some good to tap into the resource of returning MKs. It sometimes helps to hold ourselves up to the mirror of outside perception.

That—and it could help a lot of MKs if more people understood why they seem so negative when returning to the states.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Overlooked Culture Shock

Most mission sending agencies prepare their people for the experience known as “Culture Shock.” This is the psychological-stress-inducing period anyone goes through changing cultures. (Perhaps psycho-behavior-producing period would describe it better.) There have been years of study devoted to the process, and probably hundreds of books written on the subject. Needless to say, most cross-cultural workers go into the experience with their eyes wide open.

What is unfortunately missed most of the time in the USA-to-Other-Culture equation is a whole other cultural change that is about to happen. Many missionaries from the United States are coming out of a complete immersion in the evangelical sub-culture (ghetto is a better term.) They are used to multiple services at church every week, a variety of church programs for every age and interest, an ability to completely avoid encountering anyone who does not belong to the ghetto, and so on and so on. They have “Christian” radio, “Christian” television, “Christian” restaurants, and “Christian” phone books where only good “Christian” businesses are listed. They have sermons, and Sunday School lessons, and an endless list of books designed to spoon-feed them everything they need for a healthy spiritual condition.

When those people go overseas to tell people about Jesus, they often find the loss of the Evangelical culture more difficult than the loss of the American culture. How do you maintain your spiritual health? How do you raise spiritual children? How are you supposed to be a witness to lost people if you do not know how to walk the Christian walk without all the helps? How are new Christians in this new culture supposed to get by with just a Bible and prayer?

In spite of some exceptional credentials, a lot of missionaries need to learn and practice some very basic Christian disciplines.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Don’t get me wrong,
I’m not bitter.
I just wish that,
I’d not heard of Twitter.

Now I only,
Keep up with my peeps,
By reading,
Their mind numbing tweets.

(Even though,
They live right next door,
I just don’t seem to,
Get out anymore.)

Now I guess,
I’ll have to just sit here,
And support,
This narcissistic transmitter.

Ima Twit is updating her twitter.
Posted 1 minutes ago · Comment · Like

Ima Twit is updating her twitter.
Posted 2 minutes ago · Comment · Like

Ima Twit is updating her twitter.
Posted 3 minutes ago · Comment · Like

Ima Twit is updating her twitter.
Posted 4 minutes ago · Comment · Like

Monday, March 16, 2009

Galatians 1:6-10 (Why Doctrine?)

Doctrine, or that which one believes to be true, is important. However, we live in a time where people focus on passion, sincerity, and emotion instead of doctrine. They see it as too divisive and removed from real life. It is true that for far too long people focused simply on intellectual aspects of faith without letting them impact their everyday lives. Today things have changed toward an emphasis on authenticity and away from absolutes. It is a paradox of postmodern thinking. The problem is, without the foundation of doctrine, all the passion and sincerity are pointless. Without a foundation in reality, why do we do the things we do?

Paul was driven to write Galatians because the churches he started on his first journey had turned away from the truth they had been taught. In this letter, Paul gives a clear argument of the dangers of the false teaching they had embraced. He begins, though, by showing how serious the issue is. The false teachers were to be cursed!

Christianity believes that the doctrines found in the Bible are not man-made; they are from God. Any churches we start or join should be churches that seek always to follow the teachings of the Bible. It is a vital task of missionaries, church-planters, pastors, and teachers to continually and clearly teach and practice what the Bible says.

(In doing so, we may at times discover things that we have come to believe that are not actually Biblical. Dogma vs. Doctrine is perhaps an issue for another post.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ponzi, Madoff, and One Other Example

Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant to the United States at the turn of the Twentieth Century. In the twenties, he went from zero to millionaire by running a financial con-game that has since been known by the name a “Ponzi Scheme.” Basically, a Ponzi scheme tells investors that it can take their investments and return huge earnings in a short period of time. Instead of earning those profits through economic means, the first pay-outs are made using further investments from newer customers. As human nature is so predictable in get-rich-quick situations, most investors can be counted on to not cash out, but continue to re-invest and even invest more as more good reports continue to pour in.

This is the same basic scheme the Bernard Madoff just went to jail for for the rest of his life. He has been said to have run the largest Ponzi scheme in history. However, that is not true.

Anyone think of another, larger Ponzi scheme out there? Think of an “investment” scheme where people invest money for years and years into a fund that guarantees a certain rate of return. When pay-outs come, however, they are made not from the investments and earnings of the investor, but from monies invested by other contributors. In fact, just as Madoff and Ponzi did, the money invested is never really there or invested in anything, but spent by the people running the fund for other things. The whole account is basically full of I.O.U.s

The worst part of this giant, obscene Ponzi scheme is that nearly every single person working in the United States is forced by law to contribute to this fund.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Brain Trust of Mob Thought

To begin with a disclaimer: This is not a pro-gun blog entry. A lot of arguments can be made in favor of guns; all pragmatic defenses of things that are designed solely for the purpose of killing. That is the topic for another entry, probably never found here. This is another complaint about government.

The more democratic a country is, the more knee-jerk its decisions will be. That seems to be a rule of life. Mobs tend to act without thinking. Another rule would be: if government proposes it, it will most likely not work.

Examples abound. A school shooting occurred in Germany this week. A seventeen year old entered the school he graduated from last year and killed over a dozen students. The story has been thoroughly covered here and a lot of information is coming out about the shooter. He had a history of serious mental problems. He used his father’s guns. He warned people on the internet the day before.

The government’s reaction? A new law prohibiting people under 20 from owning guns. That may be a good law, but the point here is… What does that law have to do at all with preventing mentally insane people from taking someone else’s guns and killing people with them?

The other example the past several months has been the governments of the world dealing with the economic crisis. The economy is indeed suffering and a lot of people are hurting. A lot of people and companies are facing the reality of losing everything and starting over.

In the face of this problem, the governments of the world are spending like there is no tomorrow. Has there ever, in the history of humanity, been a stimulus effort that has worked?

It is the equivalent of a fish tank that is running out of water, whose “leaders” are trying to solve the problem by moving the water from one side of the tank to the other.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"The Crappiest Generation of Spoiled Idiots"

We stand on the shoulders of giants, to paraphrase a character in one of Crichton’s book. According to the generational cycle of things it is inevitable and occurs every so often throughout history but we really do live in the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots. Perhaps for the United States, or simply at this point in technological history, this superlative is not an overstatement.

Comedian Louis CK has a pretty entertaining routine on the subject, but it is one of those bits that are only funny because so many people are already thinking the same sort of thing. The advances we have seen in the past twenty years are nothing short of amazing. How quickly we forget that and take everything for granted. Perhaps, in a way, it is the advancement—and its speed that are to blame. To quote Crichton again:

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expect to banish paper, but we actually banish thought.”

Examples are everywhere. As kids we used to be able to entertain ourselves with a couple sticks or a patch of land. Today kids are only entertained by the latest razzle-dazzle video game for a week or so.

It even goes all the way to “the top.” In some ways it is a relief to no longer have the most politically un-savvy president in memory. Instead however, we are stuck with the “coolest” president ever. Coolness is a good quality, but really only important to those who are in that sort of clique in High School, or those who have never gotten over being in that clique since. Think about it… Bush was the butt of every foreign policy incompetence joke; Obama has racked up some stinkers already in the first few weeks. In his meeting with England’s Prime Minister he gave Brown a set of 25 DVDs where traditionally priceless and unique historic items are given. Technology again.

We are losing touch with history and reality; unless you count those National Treasure movies… they’re so entertaining and educational!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Evil Beheld

Graceful strength,
Limber force,
Image of fear,
Sliding torque.
So it glides,
Above the ground,
Scarcely touching,
Without a sound.
Blotched in greens,
Powerfully held,
Your beauty screams,
“Evil beheld.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

Galatians 1:1-5 (Introduction)

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.” –Galatians 3-5

Paul’s first missionary journey, and the first half of his second one, were characterized by quick incursions into a town, the rapid establishment of a church, and the almost immediate expulsion from the city caused by persecution. Later on in his ministry, Paul had the blessing to be able to stay for extended periods in Corinth and Ephesus, thereby establishing churches more firmly. As far as the short term trips were concerned, Paul’s Macedonian experience seemed to reap good results. His Galatian churches, however, caused him more trouble and concern.

It must have been rather frustrating for Paul. To hear reports from his first churches of heresy and the people turning to legalism, away from the Gospel he had established them under. He did not let it lie, though. He quickly wrote them a stern letter, reminding them of the truth they had believed and urging them to turn from the false teaching.

This issue has troubled the church ever since. Not just the particular issue in the letter to the Galatians i.e. works vs. faith, but the issue of doctrinal integrity. Today it feels like people are not concerned with what is believed, just that belief be genuine. The problem is that sincerity and truth are two separate things. Sincerity counts for nothing unless that which is sincerely believed is in fact true.

Therefore, just as in Paul’s case, one of he primary tasks of the church planter, cross cultural evangelist, and church leaders everywhere needs to be the guarding of the doctrinal truths taught in scripture. It may not sound exciting and adventurous, but without it all the other efforts we undertake are pointless.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Broken Bible Stories: Esther and the Extreme Bachelor

Once upon a time there was a Persian King whose name, as per the custom in those days, was impossible to pronounce. For the sake of our story we will call him King Bob.

One day, King Bob was giving a royal party for all his men. When they had had enough to drink (which actually is to say too much), King Bob summoned for his wife to be brought before the guests to demonstrate her great beauty.

(As everyone knows today, but few knew back then, great beauty is of paramount importance. It supplies the bearer with happiness, a better life than ugly people can have, and the best opportunities in life—such as being able to marry a king and become a queen, for example.)

It seems, unfortunately for her, that the queen (whose name was also impossible to pronounce) was at that very moment entertaining guests in a party of her own and refused to respond to the king’s summons. This enraged the king who promptly divorced his wife and put her out on the street. Thus he became “The Bachelor King Bob.”

It did not take long for this most eligible bachelor to be approached by the TV executives of the day with a gem of an idea for his own show. They would call it “Extremely Made-Over Potential Queens” or “The King Bachelor.” He liked it and it immediately went into production as a mid-season entry right before sweeps.

Esther was one of the finalists selected by the non-voluntary casting calls for all eligible young ladies in the kingdom. She was not very popular on account of her homely looks. She was not Persian. Her name was not even that hard to pronounce. (Although some people tried to pronounce the “th” sound instead of leaving the h silent.) She was however, very kind and of a gentile nature.

Viewers followed Esther and the other finalists for the first season as they were subjected to all forms of painful surgery to fix any perceivable flaw however minor it might seem. The season finale showed the results of the surgery as the girls told viewers how much their lives had already been changed for the better. Some had been depressed (as most unattractive people tend to be on account of their looks.) Now they were happy all the time (as beautiful people can not be sad.) Others pointed out that even if they did not become queen, their life was already better than they could have imagined on account of their looks.

Esther had been an audience favorite all season long due to her good and kind nature. (How surprising to see a homily person with such a disposition! All TV viewers knew that good and kind people were always beautiful; the bad characters are always the ugly ones.) Many commentators had pointed out that Esther was finally getting the looks to match her beautiful temperament and this was only fitting.

In her interview, however, Esther did not please the audience. She was not gushing with gratitude towards the sponsors or the Bachelor King Bob. She seemed worried that all the painful surgery had only served to change her appearance and that she no longer felt like people treated her as the same person. The audience was sure she would not last in the second season.

Season two saw the fierce competition for the Kings heart, as the girls were placed in “The Harem” for the season, with one girl being voted out of “The Harem” each week. Esther quickly won back the hearts of the audience as her good and kind disposition was still evident. Surprisingly, all the other young ladies had seemed to become haughty, proud, and to good for each other. Frequent quarrels and fights arose in “The Harem,” and producers were driven to great lengths to keep the girls content. (Such bad behavior from such beautiful people!)

In the end, the King was taken with Esther’s good and kind nature (it was the only thing that set her apart as all the girls had been cosmetically altered to the accepted standard of beauty and therefore all looked the same.)

She went on to be a great Queen, never placing her own safety above that of her people, but that is another story.

The show went on for several seasons changing sad, depressed, and lonely ugly people into beautiful but ultimately sad, depressed and lonely people. But their exit interviews gushed of how their lives were going to change. They tried to plan a five year reunion once, but no former contestants would participate or even be seen on camera without further surgery.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Embracing Bad Words

Growing up in “foreign” and more importantly non-evangelical cultures can make one more sensitive to the legalism—no, downright Pharisaical attitude of the Evangelical Ghetto. Usually the root of the legalistic practice is not bad; it is just the habits that have become standards that we use to judge people’s spiritual health that are wrong.

One area that is really sensitive for evangelicals is language. There are certain words that are automatic sins, no matter what the context or how the language evolves. You can tell how spiritual a person is by their level of lingual-sinfulness. The really spiritual ones won’t even say “crap!” or “fart!” or “shoot!” The worldly Christians might say “bitch” instead of “complain.”

Those are not the bad words that we need to talk about here, however. They are just an interesting aside. The bad words in cross cultural circles today are those like proselytize. We have been convinced that we need to be subtle in our approach to non-Christians. We should go slow and never ever use crass methods like tract distribution or a packaged Gospel delivery. We could never present the Gospel cold-turkey without first building a relationship or preparing the heart of the individual through copious amounts of coffee and company.

Once again, this attitude is not bad at its roots, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the earnestness of out task. Here is a great reminder from world famous atheist, Penn of Penn and Teller. (Incidentally, he loves to use bad words, but not in this clip!)

Check it out. (Thanks to {missional} space for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Absurdism: The Belief that Belief is a Silly Cop Out

There is a drive within humanity to find purpose. We all seek an answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?” The answers people make up to fulfill this need can be very interesting. The Nonmodern answer to this question would be that man cannot hope to find the meaning of life on his own. The answer must be given by the One who made life. Incidentally, that answer is never really given in full. For some of us, that can be frustrating. Oh… we also suspect that if we ever did hear the answer in full it would go right over our heads.

For at least one human attempt to deal with this need for purpose, the Nonmodern approach is intellectual suicide. Absurdism states that there is apparently no real “meaning to life and the universe and everything,” to borrow a phrase from a well-known absurdist. They say if there is a meaning, it is impossible for humans to understand so it is pointless to seek it.

The Absurdist says that all humans on the quest for meaning eventually realize they can’t find it. They then have a choice. They may despair and commit suicide. They could also throw their hands up and accept an answer by faith that cannot be demonstrated. (That is the intellectual suicide.) The third option is that the meaningless should be embraced. People should enjoy life where they find meaning always realizing that there is no real meaning.

What does the Absurdist say about God? They don’t believe in God, but they also don’t deny His existence. To deny Him would be to assert a fact and the Absurdist avoids that whenever possible.

If you are wondering if any of this really matters, you need to know that this philosophy is pervasive in western culture. Some of the most popular authors and creators of Pop-Culture are committed Absurdists. Even people who don’t know what it is have bought in to its beliefs. The good news is that Absurdism is open to spiritual conversation and thought.

Maybe some of these people can be convinced that the true silliness is to put so much faith in human intellect if it is a part of an absurd universe.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Modern Art (A speculation of Non-sense)

The shape
on the canvass
is somewhat
like the abscessed
in the jaw
of the man
I just saw
on TV
channel eight
a special
‘bout a state
where people
eat sugars
and at time
pick boogers
just to see
how big
a booger
they can dig.
Sort of
like the time
the Fifth
said he picked
one of six
or seven
inches long
though some say
he was wrong.
None of this
then explains
why the man
(named James
Chang the Fourth)
had a tooth
such as that
or the truth
of what
is the madness
right there
on the canvass?

Monday, March 2, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:23- 28; 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 (Conclusion)

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –1 Thessalonians 5:23

In his conclusion to both Thessalonian letters, Paul invokes God as the God or Lord of peace. God is called the God of peace in other letters as well. (Romans, Philippians, Hebrews) Peace implies harmony and unity in the people of God. (It also comes at a cost. The most common use of the words “of peace” in the Bible is in Leviticus and Numbers, where it is used to designate a sacrifice. God brings ultimate peace to the world through the death and sacrifice of His Son on the cross.)

Here Paul prays the God would grant the believers peace. He also prays that God would sanctify the believers; that they would be preserved complete: in spirit, soul and body. This is something that the believer can count on (verse 24, as well as Philippians 1:6) yet it is still something he prays for.

Too often we pray only for things we want or hope to see. There is Biblical precedent to pray for things that are guaranteed by God. (The whole of the Lord’s Prayer is asking for things that we are told elsewhere that God will do.) The point of prayer is not to ask God to change His mind about something, but rather to line our own wants and desires up with His. We know God will sanctify the believer; He promises that. When we pray for our sanctification and that God will change us to be more like Him, we are seeing that change taking place.
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