Friday, June 30, 2006

God shed His grace on thee.

I feel like I need to start this off with some disclamatory statements, so that you hear exactly what I intend to stay.

I love America. I'm proud to be a citizen of this country. I would never willingly live anywhere else, and I would never want to be a citizen of anywhere else. I am proud of my heritage as an American. I'm proud to have many family members who are or were members of the Armed Forces. I love being American, and will always proudly claim the title.

I also love and appreciate the Armed Forces. They do an invaluable, dangerous work with a level of courage, sacrifice, and determination that most civilians couldn't muster. I have deep and abiding respect for those who serve this country, even the ones who became politicians.

That stated...

I don't want to go to church this Sunday. I don't have to teach Bible study, so I'm tempted to skip out. This Sunday is the "Fourth of July weekend" service. And every year, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

Each year, we have a service of "patriotic" music. We sing "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." We pay tribute to the military.

I'm not opposed to any of these. I like patriotic music. Just not in Sunday church.

I don't feel right singing what are essentially hymns praising the attributes of my country during the same hour and in the same place where I normally sing hymns praising the attributes of my God. Something about that feels very wrong to me.

I would be more than happy to have the church do a patriotic service on Sunday evening, or on Tuesday itself. That's not a problem. But on Sunday morning, when the people normally sing of God and the preacher delivers a message from God's Word, we will be singing about "purple mountains' majesty" and hearing the testimony of a fighter pilot.

And that doesn't sit well.

I think people swing too far in both directions, when it comes to the interplay between faith and country. Some people completely eschew their nationality and claim "Christian only"; usually these are the same people who are stauch critics of the government in much of what it does. On the other extreme are those whose faith is inexorably tied in with their sense of national identity. On this side of things, you get the "America is God's Favored Nation" crowd, where being the people of God and the people of the United States are too similar.

I think the first group of people are wrong. America is not our enemy...not yet. I think that believers have a civil responsibility to work within the system and to promote justice. I don't think you should agree with the government all the time, of course. But there's a difference between whining and working. Sometimes, folks forget which is which.

I think the second group are also wrong. I do believe America has been blessed, for whatever God's purpose is. We have reaped the benefit of His favor, as have other nations, but this doesn't make the U. S. "favored." On the contrary, what it makes us is responsible. We have been given much; much is also required of us.

And the fact of things is, we cannot put our faith in this government or any other. Of course, many folks (especially in the second group) would say that their faith isn't really in the government. But I ask, "Why do you turn first to government to solve problems that are heart-problems and community-problems? Where is the church's role? Why do you think 'legislation' before 'education' or even 'prayer'?"

This is what it will come down to, kids--and I know I'm going to sound like a whack-job conspiracist for a second, but hang with me: this government will eventually turn against our faith, either outright or in the context of "tolerance" and "pluralism." [It hasn't happened yet, so if you think it has already, take a step outside and have a look at what's happening to believers in other countries--get a dose of reality, in other words.] Eventually in this country, it will happen. It always happens. And when that day comes, we who bear the name of Christ will have to decide which of our loyalties are stronger--to the Party, or to the Lamb?

[When I say "party," I'm pretty sure you know who I'm talking about. Fact is, the tie between God and Country is strongest seen on the Republican side of things. But that does not excuse my brothers and sisters of the Democrat Party. We can all potentially fall into this trap of developing an unhealthy allegiance to political ideology and identity that usurps the place of our faith.]

Don't delude yourself into thinking it won't happen in this "Christian" nation. It will. And it may even happen in our lifetime, though I pray it doesn't. We have to ask ourselves now, before that moment comes, whether or not we will choose to be Christians first or Americans first.

This is not to say that I don't think highly-nationalistic believers will choose to stand for Jesus if the day comes. Though some may fall, I have hope that most will make the right choice. However, if your faith is deeply entrenched in your political or national identity, it makes that eventual division harder and harder to take. It will be a painful break.

Back to the issue of church services. I don't worry about my church as it is now. If the day came soon when that dreadful question is raised, I don't doubt for a moment that the leadership of my church would say, "We stand with Christ in all things."

But the patriotic services make me uncomfortable, because while there is now a clear division in the church's priorities between faith and national pride, these services seem to scoot the latter an inch closer to the former. Over the years, the space between may start to shrink. And the closer our corporate faith is to our national pride, the harder and more painful it will be to "love the one and hate the other."

This sounds like a lot of useless grousing. But it's not. I'm just worried. I'm worried about the "big-c" Church, especially those of us in the "big-w" Western tradition of it. I'm worried about believers in this country, and believers in my particular chosen political party. I worry that we should strive harder to keep our loyalties clear. The Kingdom we seek is not of this world. Our citizenship is truly elsewhere.

I love this country. I do, I love America. But I love God more. And I want love God so much more that it seems like I hate America by comparison. And if--no, when--the day comes that those two part ways irreconcilably, I pray that I will let go of the red, white, and blue, and cling ever more desperately to the cross.

So this Sunday, when I go to church (of course I'll go, I won't just skip), I may not sing all the songs, but I'll pray for the country, that it won't destroy itself, and I'll pray for the Church, that she will cling ever closer to her Savior--the bringer of true independence.

Runs around in underwear.

Whitney at Pop Candy had this cool link: a list of some of the old cartoons that people have posted on YouTube.

That got me to do a little digging, and I found something excellent: the premiere episode of the totally-underrated Animaniacs spin-off "Freakazoid!" (posted on YouTube in two parts).

Hilarious, zany, and clever, the hero of this cartoon sometimes riffs into something like a cross between Jim Carrey's "Mask" character and Jerry Lewis--but not completely annoying.

Check out both parts of the episode. Funny, funny stuff.

"Daylight Savings Time rocks!"

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Write that down, it's gonna be a thing."

New terms for the information age:

MySpace-out: v. 1. to spend hours surfing MySpace for friends and former classmates, usually when one should be doing something more productive, such as working.

Example: "I MySpaced-out for an hour this afternoon, and couldn't finish my third-quarter analysis. But at least I friended 47 more people!"

Shake your head, say "nah."

I eat lunch in a cafeteria area in an adjacent building to my office. Normally, I eat with coworkers, but today it was just me and The King for an hour.

A group of young professionals took up some tables nearby. I'm used to seeing this group at around the same time every day. One of them is mocked behind his back by my coworkers and I on a regular basis, because one day he used the phrase "that's how I roll" about seventeen times in a five-minute span. Really, he brought it on himself.

Today, as I read, I overheard some of their conversation, which moved from upcoming movies to recent vacations. Apparently, this cat and his sig-other had just gotten back from travelling. He described going to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and a few other places.

As he described the small towns, the disdain in his voice was palpable. He revelled in recounting the backwardness of the townsfolk. How there was a brochure for "some kind of museum about China" that he thought would be pretty cool, until he found out it was in someone's house. (Granted, that's pretty funny and ridiculuous.) But he kept going on and on about how these people were "so out of touch with the world" that they treated this couple who visited the Far East as "travellers with news of the outside world!" One of his tablemates said that the rest of the town probably would never go anywhere themselves, so that was exciting to them.

At first, I listened to this good-humoredly, even chuckling a little to myself. Then I started thinking, "how would the townspeople think about his descriptions, his tone?" My laughter stopped. He started sounding like an arrogant urban-dweller, dismissing small-town life as provincial and backward. It sounded ugly and obnoxious. (Which, incidentally, means I sound that way sometimes, when I do the same thing.)

Of course, it didn't help his cause when he started talking about visiting his "bible-thumper" sister and brother-in-law. He talked about how they were very "cult-like" because they believe everything the Bible says (gasp!). The others at his table laughed their disbelief. He started saying how most of "those stories" are found in other cultures that predate the Bible anyway, though I think he mentioned Babylonian culture--which does not necessarily predate the Bible, incidentally. He said, "Come on, a man swallowed by a whale? That's impossible! And what, God and Satan push around this guy named Job for kicks, and have a good laugh about it?"

On he went. I had to force myself to focus on my book. Once, he caught my eye before I looked back down at the page I was stuck on for ten minutes. I wonder what my face looked like to him. I wonder what he thought. He seemed to be surprised that anyone else was listening. For a split-second, he had the look of someone who was afraid to offend.

Was I offended? No, I wouldn't call it that. Mildly piqued. Bemused by his typical assertions and garden-variety skepticism. (Do I sound a little disdainful myself? Hmm.) Was I going to jump up and "defend the faith" or go all Josh-McDowell on him? No. I was not.

Why? Maybe because I don't have all the facts and the counter-references at my mental fingertips, and I wouldn't have anything stronger than an "I believe" and a vague historical reference to back me up. Maybe because I work in a medical facility, a field long abandoned by the mass of Christians and left to the hands of rationalists who are overwhelmingly materialist. Houston may be in the South, but it's not necessarily in the "Bible Belt," which I suppose is as you would expect of big cities. Maybe it's one of the little holes you latch the Belt through. Eyelets. Whatever they're called.

Or maybe I didn't step up and let out my theological battlecry is because I'm indifferent. Maybe I was treating it like I treat most political arguments these days: walking away, head shaking, thinking, "rage on, friend, do your thing. at the end, we'll see what we'll see."

I think I'm pretty satisfied with my non-engagement in political discourse these days, but is that approach appropriate in spiritual matters, where the stakes are so much higher? Probably not. In fact, it's probably dead-wrong.

There's a right way to engage those situations as a believer. There's certainly a wrong way, too, a way that many well-intentioned Christians fall into. But there is a right way that is both confrontational and loving. There's a way to have friendly and respectful discussions about faith, without turning into a wind-up rhetoric-box. It can be done. I've actually been occasionally successful doing it before. But today... well, today, I don't know. I just didn't bother.

Should I have "defended the faith"? Yeah. But I didn't. I threw away my lunch trash, tucked my book under my arm, and walked away, idly swinging my lunch bag, shaking my head.

Save Screech's House!

I don't know if this is a gag or not, but apparently Dustin Diamond ("Screech" from Saved by the Bell) needs cash to save his house, so he's selling tee-shirts.

I think this is just goofy enough to be worth doing, so I'm linking. I mean, who wouldn't want a Screech tee-shirt?

And if any of you kind souls want to get me a Screech tee, size 3x, for 15 clams--well, I wouldn't be opposed to accepting it.

[h-t: Pop Candy, of course!]

Happy Birthday, Lloyd Dobler!

Don't know how I missed this.

Yesterday was John Cusack's 40th birthday.

Please celebrate with me by lifting a boombox over our heads playing Peter Gabriel singing "Happy Birthday"... or just read Whitney Matheson's great tribute to Cusack.

He's a Cubs fan? No wonder he's one of my favorite actors.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"day without roses"

he paints in strokes of blues and greens, in dashes
of yellow. he decides to add violet to
give the image weight, but discovers
he has run out of red and can't find any more.
none is left on his palette; he has used it all up.
there was a time when he painted
ruddy murals of fields covered
in the scarlet blush of wild roses, days when he prodigally
splashed the crimson stain, spilling it on himself
like a child with fingerpaints, but his
little paint pot soon spoiled and turned a sickly brown.
he even tried vainly to paint with the spoiled red, but
the color and the stench were too awful to bear.
now he searches his spare jars, every vessel on his
wooden shelves, and comes up empty.
he tries to mix other colors, to approximate
the missing hue, but each one quickly shows
a poor imitation. he decides to use different colors, then.
he decides he doesn't need the red, thank you.
orange. no, that won't work. brick. no, no, think.
perhaps a mulberry? possible, but still not what he wants,
what he is needing. he looks at his unfinished canvas.
he sighs. he sets the palette down, and then sets himself down
on his chaise. he leans against the back, he leans back and
he gazes on his dark image. he cannot finish. he needs the red.
and the red is nowhere to be found.
he falls asleep, he sleeps deeply, his work undone,
and he dreams of rolling fields, blooming in the gorey blush
of wild roses.

My new favorite online video.

George W. Bush...sings U2?!?

(via Wizbang)

Superman Gut-Reaction Review (No Spoilers)

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's not as cool as the Cool Ten...

...but hopefully, it's just as entertaining.

LINKY-LOVE BONANZA!!!!!!!

Okay, here we go:
Okay, that's it. Have a good night.

Required Listening.

I know I throw that phrase around a lot here--"required listening"--but if you have any respect for my opinion whatsoever, you will believe me when I say that this is vital audio. Probably the best sermon I've heard in a long time. Life-changing.

Rick Ousley, at my church two days ago: "The Importance of Being Dead."
[Click the "mp3" button.]

Monday, June 26, 2006

My hips don't lie.

I completely fell off the "diet" train for the past two weeks, y'all. I ate really badly. Like, REALLY badly. Like, "I'll take the cheeseburger and seasoned fries and, sure, let's have a slice of pie, too" badly.

And as a result, I gained ten pounds in two weeks.

But then again, knowing exactly what my eating patterns were during the trip, I'm pretty sure I got off light. Can you say, "Braums chocolate malt"? Yeah. I'm counting ten pounds as a blessing.

Went grocery shopping last night. Fresh fruits and veggies, and all healthy and low-cal crap. So yeah, back on the train, no worries.


(Oh, and, I'm back, by the way.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Brief Text-based Interlude

I'm coming at ya live from the lobby of the Drury Inn in downtown Frankenmuth, MI. This town is one crazy place, lemme tell ya. Little Bavaria, they call it. It's all German food and crafts and touristy-type things. If I were a beer drinker, I'd be plastered right now, because there's beer everywhere. Plus, I was forced to spend more than two hours in the world's largest Christmas store. Yeah. Seriously, I'd be sloshed as a result.

Of course, if I were a beer drinker, I'd probably be on my way back to Chi-town to hook up with a Wrigley Girl, so that's really neither here nor there. (I wonder why none of you commenters mentioned my use of the term "Wrigley girls"? I expected something from one of you women, at least. Tiff or Kim, maybe. I hope that thing posted correctly. I can't go back and listen to them to make sure they all did. If somehow it didn't, I'll explain the "Wrigley girl" or "Wrigley chick" concept to you later.)

The vacation is more than half over, and as I said in my oh-so-entertaining audio posts (at least, I think I did), it's gone a lot better than I expected. Everyone's behaved themselves for the most part.

Here's the rest of the itinerary: tomorrow afternoon here in germantown, and tomorrow night with family in Jackson. Then, Wednesday in the early AM, I'm hitting the road and heading toward the big MO for some chillin with my KC boys. (I'll give you a call Tuesday night, Mr. T.) After KC, it's on to Shawnee, where I'll see the newly-minted Taylors and the less-recently-minted Cains. (I have to give Josh a call, too. Crap. I need to get on the ball.) After a day and a half in Shawnee, I'm swinging south for the home stretch--but not before lunch with my favorite person named after a cookie. (Not you, Little Debbie, sorry.) If any of you on the route want to see me, and you have my phone number, gimme a call, yo. If not, sorry, kiddo.

Reader news: Make sure to swing by Kelly's page and wish the proud papa congratulations for his beautiful new baby girl. Many congrats, dude. That's so awesome.

The internets here at the Drury are being very finicky about whose pages they let me surf, so I can't see what some of you are up to. So I'm going to trust that you're all doing well and that you miss me terribly. Of course you do.

I think that's all I have to say right now. I'm out, dude. Have a good night/morning.

And don't worry. Lots and lots of pictures are being taken.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Now it's time for 'so long'..."

"But I'll sing just one more song..."

Well, here we are. End of the week. I'm gone, man, solid gone.

But I'm sad, because I fully intended to drop one more "what I'm learning" post on you before I hit the door. Guess I need to learn a little more before I write that.

Well, I'll see several of you in the next two weeks, some for the first time, others for the first time in a long time (wow, I can't shake the church lingo, can I? heh.), and still others for the latest of many, many times. I'll be happy to see each of you, because I miss you all.

And those I won't get to see, well, I'll make it up to you someway somehow.

So before I go, some parting gifts.

Personal Message: To the two couples I know who are getting married this weekend, many congratulations and a thousand happinesses (yes, I'm making that one up) be upon you on your special day. May God richly bless you Carters and you Danners. Peace and grace.

Linky-dinky Love: Gotta throw something for your weekend entertainment.
  • Joe Carter talks about reverence and relevance. I haven't finished reading it, but it's good so far. Let me know what you think.
  • Behold! The tragedy of Hamlet--shortened, and with Legos. Here's Act 1. Get the other's on the filmmaker's profile page. (This may be good for you non-readers who couldn't last through the play.)
  • Here's a drama literally unfolding online as I type. I'm not going to summarize it here, but it involves a stolen Sidekick cellphone, and the Internet campaign waged to get it back and bring the thieves to justice. It sounds so bizarre, but it's really happening in New York. Crazy.
  • I don't know if you've heard the rumors, but I want to make sure you know the truth: Steve Urkel is not dead. We can all breathe a sigh of relief and go back to enjoying our polka music and gigantic wheels of CHEEEEEEEEEEEEESE.
  • Speaking of polka, Weird Al Yankovic has released his first new song in 3 years on his website. It's a parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful," and it's fantastic. There's a link (several, actually) on his homepage. Worth checking out.
  • One small political thing: Here's a fabulous editorial from the Toronto Star about the recent terror arrests in Canada, and the way terrorists see "neutral" Westerners.

Guess that's it, gang. It's been fun. I may try to post here and there while on the road, but don't expect a whole lot from me.

If nothing else, I'll be back on the 26th. With pictures, yes, with pictures.



[Oh, one more thing. Just in case--well, you know--I want you to remember this: God loves you madly. Walk in His love. And I love you, too. Peace and grace.]

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Curious.







"What Stephen King Character Are You?" (Now Open)




Mike Noonan. You're a writer, aren't you?(From Bag of Bones.)
Take this quiz!

"Baby, can you dig your man?"

He's a righteous man.

So last night, I not only fixed* my vacuum cleaner and did laundry, but I cooked a fabulous stir-fry dinner. And the other night, I mended a pair of pants. Yeah, that's right, I sew a little.

So, here you go, ladies: an intelligent and funny guy, free of disease and with no physical deformities, who is able to fix small appliances, cook tasty (and healthy) meals, do his own housework, and even mend his own clothes. Not to mention appreciate art, music, literature, and poetry.

I just want you to tell me if you think you can,
Baby, can you dig your man,
Dig him, baby
Baby, can you dig your man?



**Technically, all I did was re-thread a belt that had come off. But for this mechanically-disinclined English major, anything that requires using a tool to open the device counts as "fixing" it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

PBB Book Review: "House" by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker

I'll state from the outset the prejudices I had, when I started the book. One: I love well-written, creepy Christian fiction, generally. I'm a Stephen King fan, after all. Two: The reason I love creepy Christian fiction is because of Frank Peretti, who is one of my favorite Christian novelists. I started reading his books as early as the Cooper Kids adventure series (though I like the original cover designs more than the updated ones--they almost have more of a "pulp" feel) in fifth and sixth grade, and have been a fan of his novels ever since, especially "The Oath," which blew my mind a little in high school. So I'm predisposed to liking his work, even when it's a little, well, goofy. Three: The reason I included the word "generally" was because I'm not as much a fan of Ted Dekker, whose smash hit "Thr3e" left me feeling rather let down by the contrived and rushed ending.

There you go. Now that it's on the record.

When I heard that my favorite (non-British) Christian novelist and my not-so-favorite Christian novelist--still, the top two names in Christian fiction--were collaborating on a new supernatural thriller, I was guardedly excited. When I saw "House" on the store shelf and read the cover blurb, I was even more excited.

Basic scenario: Two couples travelling through the dark backwoods of Alabama are both stranded at an "inn" run by strange and somewhat unnerving "country folk." Suddenly, they find themselves trapped in a deadly game by a faceless killer who gives them "house rules" and tells them that unless they deliver a dead body--any one will do--by dawn, they'll all die.

I repeat: This is a Christian novel. Such a hardcore horror storyline is a rare thing in this genre.

I will say, without giving anything away, this is a CREEPY book. At times, it's Stephen-King-creepy. Because of this, some readers--even readers of the authors' previous work--may actually find it too disturbing.

It's also a quick read, or at least it was for me. I don't know if it's the writing style, the layout of the book, or simply that it was a "gripping page-turner" or some other reviewer cliche. But I read 320 of the 370 or so pages in the first night. And I didn't read it nonstop, either. I did stay up until 1 a.m. reading it, though. (Wouldn't suggest that, either. *shudder*)

So, basic stats: quick/easy to read, and almost too freaking creepy for Christian fiction. Now to the meat of the matter.

[SPOILER WARNING FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS]

The book read like a cross between "Saw" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but without the gore or the language. That atmosphere pervades the prose, and was very effectively conveyed. There were a lot of "what-the-crap?!?" moments, especially early on. Things that just come out of left field, but still work within the context of the story. (And for the record, I pegged the villain almost from the beginning, though I wasn't expecting the exact "how" that unfolded.)

The language issue is a funny one to consider. Peretti especially tries to convey realistic speech while still keeping it clean, so he'll write dialogue like, "Joe swore angrily, then said, 'I can't believe this!' " He'll tell you that people are swearing, but won't tell you what they said.

It's funny how NOTICEABLE the lack of profanity is, especially since I was concurrently reading "The Stand" by the King, who dispenses the "f" word freely. The only time in "House" that the lack of profanity pulled me out of the story a little was when one of the characters exasperatedly called something "fan-freaking-tastic." A character who otherwise "swears." Just thought that was funny.

Gore. Not much description of the icky, but what there was, was effective. There was quite a bit of violence though. Quite a bit.

As expected, you learn early on that the sinister goings on are occult-related. The requisite pentagrams start showing up on walls, for example. But that's never really fully addressed. More on that later.

It's no exaggeration: this book reads like an R-rated psycho-supernatural horror film, but without the profanity, blatant sex, and massive amounts of gore. So much so, that I was rather shocked by how amped-up it was from Peretti's usual style (a little more subtle and moody, with key scenes of shock or heightened suspense). In the book, it seemed to be one shock scene after another, including several reality-bending moments.

There comes a point where another character is introduced, halfway-in: a little girl trapped in the basement/dungeon/labyrinth. It becomes pretty clear what she represents in the symbolic set-up of the book, but her character's "meaning" isn't as fully explored as I had hoped.

The ending. Was somewhat satisfying, but still rushed. Yet the "climax" of the book was about 40 pages. But it still felt like the story just ended abruptly. Nothing was explained, and not much was justified. There was a psycho killer who would invite the powers of darkness to possess a house, then trap people inside, toy with them, and kill them. That's it. That's all. There didn't seem to be any real motivation for why. In a horror movie, that would be sufficient, but from Peretti, I expect more. In "The Visitation," we get a clear backstory on the antagonist, and we understand exactly where his hatred of Christianity comes from (as overblown as it may seem, in parts). In "The Oath," there's a clearer understanding of what it all means.

Here, there's not so much. There's some theological shorthand. Good versus bad, light versus dark, innocence sacrificed to save the guilty, and something about angels that I'm still not sure about. And that's all true, and I'm glad of it, but they could have done so much MORE with it. Am I asking them to hit me on the head a little harder with the point, give me a little more of a didactic ending? Yes, actually. Because that's what I expected, and somehow I feel a little cheated. And Peretti is good at doing that without making it annoying. "House" just doesn't have any staying power, for me. It doesn't have any resonance. It's a "summer read."

[END SPOILERS]

At this point, I'm going to give you the final rating, and then I'll make two observations.

If you like horror movies, read the book. If you like supernatural thrillers, read the book. If you like Ted Dekker's books, read the book. If you like Peretti's books...maybe read the book. But if you like stories that try to do more than shock and have something meaninful going on, take your chances, because you may be disappointed.

In other words, it's a good book, but it's a fluff book. If that's cool for you, read it, because it's well written. Just not as well carried-out.

Two final thoughts:

There is a clear tension between the two author's styles. Peretti, as I mentioned, is more methodical in his approach, generally. He sets up his themes very well. This may be why his work is thought to be slow or a little contrived sometimes. But he's able to convey the tone and mood of a story very effectively. He's a good storyteller. Dekker, on the other hand and in my admittedly limited experience, is more about action, fast pacing, and shock value, which are also very effective in this genre of fiction. In film terms: Peretti is more like "The Others," while Dekker is more like a slasher movie. One uses slow-boiling creepy, the other flashy, shocking scary. And this tension was clear in "House," especially when it comes to theme. You could clearly see the underpinnings of the theme being laid out, but the ending seems to build a quick and cheap structure on the firm foundation. That's why I felt let down, because there was so much that could have been explored and wasn't.

The second issue is one of movie adaptation. They are already working on making this film into a motion picture (which, if they stay true to the book, would probably merit an "R" rating, believe it or not). And this troubles me, because I think that from the outset, the authors had an eye on bringing this story to film, and it shows in the story. This is another reason why the story may not be as methodical as I normally expect from Peretti. I don't know, maybe I'm giving him too much credit in general for his writing style. But it was clear in this book that their eyes were on the "prize," and so writing a good novel started to lose importance. If that is the case (I hope it's not), then I would ask Peretti and/or Dekker to just cut out the pretense and start writing screenplays. Because there is almost a feeling that "House" is a novelization of a film, rather than a novel standing on its own. And they're both better writers than that.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The PBB Cool Ten (6/4-6/10)

10. 23-33. And yet, I'm hopeful. Not just about the complete dismantling of the Astros yesterday, but because the Cubs have won their last two series, against the top teams in the division, the Reds and The Enemy(TM) . Keep it up, fellas. Derrek's almost back. Mark's starting next week. It's time to make the run, and right in time for the June marathon of division rivals.
9. Hey, movie geeks--check this sweetness out.
8. Required PBB listening--on the AOL Music Page, the album, "Strumming With the Devil." It's a folk/bluegrass cover album of early Van Halen songs. I was never much of a fan of Van Halen, but I'm listening to this album for the third time right now, and may pick it up for the trip. That's how good it is.
8a. Also on the AOL page: "The Worst of" Jefferson Airplane, new albums by Cheap Trick, Live, and The New Cars, a re-issued Depeche Mode album, the "Cars" soundtrack, and the Very Best of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. But you'd better listen to the VH album first.
7. Good (?) Slate reviews for the Godfather video game and the new book by my afore-mentioned second-favorite author.
6. For you MySpace kids, well, here you go. But I don't ever check it, and I won't post on it, so don't get your hopes up (or, your panties in a bunch, if you're anti-MySpace).
5. I think this is pretty sweet. If I weren't teaching SunSco somewhere else, I'd check this church out.
4. If you're on a diet, and you've gotta have ice cream, I don't think you can do much better than this. I've been chowing down on some mint chocolate chip, myself. Umm, and by "chowing down," I mean, eating very controlled and small portions, of course. Ahem.
3. I finished reading the new Peretti/Dekker thriller, "House," last night. Since it's 6/06/06, I figure it's only appropriate to review this creepy supernatural thriller today. Expect the review to post this evening. Also, the next post in the "What I'm Learning" series will be up sometime tomorrow. So look for that, if you're so inclined.
2. I appreciate the good discussion that has occured on this page. One thing I'm always thankful for is that, when we disagree about things, we don't resort to being mean and nasty. I can't tell you how many other blogs suffer from such things. So thank you all for showing yourselves to be mature and considerate. That's tremendously cool.
1. Knock, knock. (Who's there?) Dave's vacation. (Dave's vacation who?) Dave's vacation is next week!


AND A SPECIAL HONOR: THE FIRST-EVER INDUCTEE(S) INTO THE PBB COOL TEN "HALL OF FAME":

This honor goes to "The Greatest Generation." On this day 62 years ago, brave American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, and changed the course of world history. Please take a moment and honor their bravery and sacrifice, fighting an enemy that did not attack them on behalf of a people who could not or would not defend themselves. Their commitment, their dedication, their awe-inspiring grit and courage, make them heroes.

See video here, here, here, and here.

"All things go, all things go."

I want to take a break from the serious discussion for a second to just revel a little in two things.

First: One-hitter, baby. Not only stellar pitching, but Zambrano hit a THREE-RUN HOMER. What's the word for that, Astros? Um, oh yeah. OWNED.

Second: I am excited about my upcoming trip. Last night, I secured hotel accomodations for the northbound leg of the trip. Very exciting. Unfortunately, due to money and time constraints, I'm not going to see much, if any, of downtown Chicago. No museums, no nightlife, possibly no EL. (Very upset about this.) But the easiest way to work out hotel and transport to and from the ballgames was to stay in a suburb and work out passage on the Cubs Roundtripper. Not only is it kinda neat, it's CHEAP. And cheap, my friends, is good.

Don't worry, current and former Chicago residents. I will be back in the future. Oh yes, I will be back. To soak the whole city up like a drag from a mile-long cigarette, hold it in my lungs until it burns, and slowly exhale it through my nose.

So yeah. I'm leaving town a week from today. And already, I'm feeling the Illinoise.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Internal Medicine.

[Disclaimer: For some reason, this was an incredibly difficult and touchy post to write. I ask that the reader would keep this in mind, and would understand that nothing in this post is said lightly or flippantly, so as to offend. That is never my intention.]

My last post was written from the perspective of my personal interactions with others. As I said, Christians as individuals have a responsibility to treat all people, regardless of culture, politics, sexual identity, or lifestyle pattern, with dignity, respect, and love. This is how we are to be known to the world. This is true.

But things become a little more complicated when you expand this concept to how the church should operate. This is not to say that the church should not treat all people with dignity, respect, and love; of course, it should, all the time and every time. No, I’m talking about the internal operation of the church.

See, we were really talking about three different scenarios, instead of two: how the individual Christian interacts with the non-believer; how the Church body interacts with the non-believer who is outside of the body; and how the Church interacts with a member of its own body. Here’s where the breakdown in the argument happens, I think.

From this point on, then, I’ll be speaking specifically about the relationship between these professing Christians and the local church.

A point was raised that I think should be examined more closely. Specifically, what the role of the Church is, in regard to the lifestyle choices of its members. This is where things take a bit of a turn. This subject, most often referred to as "church discipline," is one that is a little foreign to me, coming from a religious denomination where it is rarely and inconsistently practiced. But I will quickly try to explain my understanding of how it *should* work, based on what I read in Paul's letters to the early churches.

One role of the church is to provide community. Paul has a lot to say about community. One of the characteristics of the church community he describes is interpersonal accountability. In Galatians, he talks about restoring a fellow believer who was caught in sin. To me, this implies two things right away: that other believers were involved in the confrontation, and that there was repentance on the "caught" believer's part. Elsewhere, Paul talks about unrepentant believers being expelled from the community for continuing to sin proudly, after being lovingly but directly confronted.

Essentially, Paul talks about how each member is responsible to the other members of this community of faith. In Ephesians (5:3-4), Paul says that there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality, because it’s inappropriate for “God’s people.” Collective.

Notice that Paul also stresses that this accountability is only concerning the community of believers called the church. In the Corinthians passage, he explains that he's not talking about people outside the church.

This idea of each person being involved in the other people’s business sounds offensive to modern ears. The knee-jerk reaction to this is, “You have no right to tell me what to do! You’re not God!” No. But the New Testament teaches that we are to encourage each other to righteousness.

Our ingrained individualism (and I’m speaking primarily of Western Christians) balks at the ideas of being accountable to anyone else. “A person’s beliefs, behaviors, and practices are a private thing.” Well, yes and no.

Think back to Paul’s often-used metaphor for the church as a living body. When one part of the body is injured, the other parts register the hurt. When one part of the body is sick or infected, the others become ill or suffer. When one part of the body is unable to function in the way it should, the other parts suffer.

As a member of the body of Christ, you are connected to the other members of the body. When you suffer, they suffer. When you rejoice, they rejoice. This may seem a little too simple, but there is more going on than we often believe or acknowledge. Each believer has a spiritual gift that they have been given for the betterment of the body as a whole. When one person is not fulfilling their function, the rest of the group suffers.

So we come to the area of sin. Notice that Paul doesn’t seem to be talking about incidental sins, because we all sin occasionally—some more than others. *Hand raised.* What he’s referring to here are habitual sins, lifestyle sins. And not the sins we confess, but the sins we don’t think we need to confess. The defiant deeds that we justify as being okay, usually by attacking our church’s “wrong interpretation” of the Bible. These are the things that affect our ability to function in the Body.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road, as it were. If we conduct church the way that the Apostle Paul indicates in the New Testament, then sometimes we are forced to confront other believers in the body, in love and respect and for the purpose of encouragement and restoration, about choices and habits that we understand are biblically wrong.

This is an alarming thought to many believers, especially believers who have been burned by backbiting and cruelty from other Christians. And I acknowledge that this concept can easily be abused by hypocritical and malicious people in the church (“Gasp! You mean people in the church can be bad?” Yes, Virginia, it’s been known to happen.) But going on how I read the Bible, that’s how the church is supposed to be set up—not as an authority structure, like people confessing to priests, nor as a religious police state, which would thrive on punishment and vendetta, but as a family, where brothers and sisters would call their loved ones out when they’re making mistakes that could have hurtful consequences.

“Supposed to” work that way, I repeat. So why doesn’t it?

It’s abused. People, being people, misuse this idea of loving confrontation as a way of hurting their fellow believers, of tearing them down to make themselves feel better. This is where the “fundie” accusations have merit, because those believers with the most (small-c, non-political) conservative approach to faith are often most likely to use it as a weapon. It’s a sad fact, but fact it is. And this is totally, utterly wrong. It is sin.

It’s uncomfortable. Another problem is that the church has shied away from the idea of “discipline” because they don’t see confrontation as being part of love. This is bad parenting, as well as bad theology. If your child has a habit of running into the street without looking, you don’t wait until an opportune time when the child asks you about your opinion on the subject, before voicing your views. You run after the child, grab them by the arm and pull them back, and tell them (sometimes forcefully) that it’s dangerous to do that. You don’t do this to hurt them, or to stunt their individuality. You do it to protect them, because you love them. If my little sister were about to do something stupid and/or dangerous, I would certainly grab her, pull her away, and maybe yell at her a little, to get my point across. Not because I don’t love her or want to hurt or shame her, but because I love her enough to hurt her feelings in order to keep her safe. The church has lost the stomach for hurting people’s feelings for their own good. Maybe it’s because we don’t often enough see sin as the deadly, oncoming car that it is.

It goes both ways. See, here’s the kicker. It seems like few people actively support the idea of church discipline, because then they’d have to submit to it. And no one wants that. It goes against our individualism. We on the Protestant side of things like to trumpet our “priesthood of the believer” tune, as a way of saying that “we don’t answer to anyone.” Here’s my thinking: the person who says “I answer to God” yet disobeys what God says in His word, isn’t answering to God.

I’m going to stop for a second and say, I’m not just talking about one type of sin, or one red-button issue. I know it’s easy to hear it that way, but I’m talking to myself here. I’m talking about the whole list.

At the risk of rambling any more, I’m gonna close with this.

Here’s what I believe about church: A church is a body of believers united by a common, basic core of beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the acting out of the Christian faith. In some faith backgrounds, this is called a “creed.” Some flavors of Protestant Christianity get a little freaked out when that word is used, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a creed can be a very useful thing, when properly focused on Christ.

[And I’ll go ahead and disclaimer this, too: creeds should have nothing to do with politics. Ever. EVER. These statements of faith should be about actual faith, not the poisonous merging of faith and political dogma or agenda. Such things are just as deadly poison as false teaching and bad doctrine.]

If you encounter a church that has a firm teaching about a particular moral or lifestyle issue, based on their understanding of the Bible, and you are openly and vocally opposed to this teaching and act accordingly, you shouldn’t expect that to be overlooked by the church leadership. And this could be about ANY sin issue, not just the “hot-button” ones. But you can and should expect to be questioned on this issue, if the church leadership is doing their job. If you insist that your stance on this issue is none of their business, or that they're wrongly interpreting Scripture, I also think you should expect them to have second thoughts about your status as a member of their church body. This doesn’t let them off the hook on the “respect, dignity, and love” requirements—not at all. But they have the right to be firm about what they believe is objectively right and wrong, just as you do.

This isn’t because Christians want everyone to be the same, as much as it may be interpreted that way. And it doesn’t mean that you can never have a good relationship with people from that faith community. And it certainly doesn’t shut the doors of all Christian churches against you. It just means you need to find another church whose core beliefs match yours.

It’s like playing a game of kickball. You invite other people to play with you, but you find that one player is convinced that a “pitch” that bounces three times means that they automatically go to first base, and another thinks that the bases should be run clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, and another thinks that they should get six strikes instead of three. If you tried to accommodate all of these variations, the game would devolve into chaos. So what do you do? You say, “Here are the rules for the game we’re playing.” If other players don’t want to accept these rules, there are other groups playing the game a little differently. But you want the group you’re playing with to have a unified understanding of how the game works.

[And I’m not even going to touch the issue of whose set of rules are the “right” ones, primarily because it would be impossible to argue one set of “rules” over another—not because there isn’t an objective right and wrong in many cases, but because not many people believe there is, or they do and are convinced theirs is it. So why bother.]

This is a horribly simplistic and problematic example, and I’m sure you can easily poke holes through it. But I hope you are hearing what I’m trying to say here. There has to be some common ground, when it comes to the beliefs of a church community. Otherwise, why not have a church made up of a handful of “Christians” who don’t believe Jesus was divine, and another handful of believers who don’t think that God is all-knowing or all-powerful, and another handful that deny that some people don’t go to heaven. How can you teach the Bible and the workings of the faith, as best as you understand them, to people who don’t share the same common starting point and foundation? How can that body function as a whole, when so many of the parts are working contrary to each other?

And I know there are professing believers--good, loving, wonderful people--who believe these things (some who even read this page). That’s why I chose those examples. And these are “big-doctrine” examples, but the smaller things are still important. But you get what I’m saying. (I hope.)

The Church needs to take these things seriously, because God takes these things seriously. We can’t just turn away when our brothers and sisters take dangerous steps toward these types of deeply rooted sins, because of the danger of it not only hurting them but spreading to others. We need to strive to extend the truth to these believers, so that we may have a chance to help rescue them from harm.

I’m struggling even now to express myself about this issue. It’s not easy, because there’s so much emotion involved. But I think it does boil down to objective right and wrong. I believe in it. I believe the Bible clearly expresses that certain things—doctrines and beliefs and practices and lifestyle choices--are black and white, in terms of sin.

And if I were the pastor of a church body, I would have to say to prospective members or current members who are involved in divisive and fellowship-destroying activities, “This is what we as a community of believers profess to believe about these specific social/doctrinal/relational issues. We’re not going to back down from this, because we believe, based on our best understanding of the Bible, that this is true and right. If you believe differently, then please know that we love you, respect you, and want the best for you. But we cannot tolerate what we believe is wrong, because that will poison this community. If you want to (continue to) be part of it, which we would welcome, something needs to change.” I would try to say this with as much humility, gentleness, and respect as possible. But I can’t just back down because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

In the story of the almost-stoning of an adulterous woman, much attention is paid to Jesus’ admonition to the self-righteous that the sinless man should be the first to throw stones. Attention is also paid to Jesus’ statement that he didn’t condemn the woman. But so often, we miss his last words to her in this passage. He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.” Jesus doesn’t excuse or gloss over the fact that the woman had sinned. He addresses it directly, calling it what it is. Yet He does so without belittling or attacking the woman. With love, he accepted her as a person, and then simply told her to change. When we talk about the issue of church discipline, this is our example. Love, encourage, and tell the truth--"sin is sin. Don’t do it."

The point of this is love. And love means telling the truth. And sometimes love means boldly and compassionately rebuking. Because the point of such rebuke should never punishment or marginalization or making someone feel less-than. The point is encouragement of each believer to fully realize who they are in Christ, and to spur each other on to a stronger and truer faith.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Well... (UPDATED)

Thank you all for your comments on the last piece. I appreciate your kind words.

However, after rereading the post and the comments, there are a few related issues that I feel compelled to address, so as to avoid confusion or misunderstanding of my intention.

Don't worry, I'm not going to take back anything I've said, because I stand behind all of it. But I feel like maybe I need to flesh out a few follow-up issues.

Those of you who are now bracing for the worst from me, don't worry, really. I'm NOT going to change direction and "bring in da noise, bring in da fundie." I just want to add some Scriptural direction and foundation to the ideas and where they lead.

...Unfortunately, that said, I'm staring down the barrel of a noon deadline that just won't quit. So this evening, before I go home, I promise to address the corrolary issues of the previous post. And maybe, if I'm feeling extra spunky, I'll go ahead and move into the issue of loving your enemies, Trav. Definitely will address that before I go on vacation in a week and a half.

So: all that to say, the discussion's not done. Hang around for the follow-up.



UPDATE: You know, I was thinking about this, and I decided that I need to do a little more thinking. So I'm gonna work on this one AND the next one over the weekend. Come back on Monday, we'll hash these lingering issues out. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What I'm Learning: People

I know, it's about time for me to post something. Well, I don't want you all to feel ignored, so here you go. Perhaps a new regular segment here at PBB, or maybe something I do once and then forget. But here it is.

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I'm learning about the worth of human life, even the lives of those who believe differently than I do.

I watched "Rent" recently. I'd heard the original Broadway soundtrack before, but had never seen the live show. Even though many Christian reviewers had "warned" against the film when it was released, I decided to watch it anyway.

If you don't know the story, it's easily told. It's the story of a year in the life of 8 or so "bohemians" in New York, circa 1989, chronicling their success and defeats, their loves and losses. They are artists and musicians and filmmakers and other "outsiders" who struggle to survive and find community on the fringes of society. Most of them have HIV/AIDS. About half of the characters are gay/lesbian. Some are recovering or struggling drug addicts.

I think most Christians would stop right there and lose interest. I understand that. But I wanted to press forward and see what it's about. Well, as far as the traditional "morality" aspect is concerned, it's what one would expect. Alternative sexualities and lifestyles are celebrated. "The Man" is damned. Anyone with traditional values or expectations is shown in a poor light. But to simply write the film off as "trash" is to miss the real value buried underneath the sexual innuendos (or plain lewd comments) and objectionable ideas.

There's a moment in the film when some of the characters visit an AIDS support group. During this scene, there's a song sung over and over that really struck me to the heart: "Will I Lose My Dignity/Will Someone Care/Will I Wake Tomorrow/From This Nightmare?" Encapsulated in this moment is the plight of those suffering from disease. More than that, it's the cry of the leper, the adulterous woman, the poor, the abused, and the helpless.

It hit me that Christianity was nowhere to be found in this film, in any substantial form. Yet it is at these support groups, at the dinners, at the funerals, at the celebrations, where followers of Christ needed most to be. How often have we absented ourselves from interacting with people who have radically different value systems than we do, in the name of "morality" and "being in but not of." Yet somehow we're surprised or disappointed when the people whom we refuse to engage don't turn to Christ on their own accord. Why should they? Thanks to us, the only "Jesus" they see is the one who turns His back on them.

The characters in this story find meaning in living life to the full, living each day fearlessly. They find meaning in loving each other, in creating art to express their passion, in raucous dinners and parties and dancing and laughter. On the brink of death, they live fully. While they may not find wholeness in their lives, they find something, which is better than the nothing that they are offered otherwise. And this is not to say that this is okay. I'm not arguing, "At least it's something." But if you don't offer someone an alternative to what they have, then they just try to make the best of it, don't they?

Here's the indictment that faced me: I have an alternative. I have a tip on the source of meaning, and hope, and life, and joy. The key to finding purpose and perspective. The thing I know that non-believers need, whether they realize they need it or not. And I don't share that. Heck, I don't even live that out in my own life all the time.

What the crap is my problem?

Why can't I live fearlessly, not because I have embraced the temporary joy of today, but because I have been given hope and peace and assurance that I can walk in the spirit of my Savior tomorrow? That I don't have to combat against tradition or society that want to shame me, because in Christ there is no condemnation, and no need for shame for things past? Instead of fearing the void that comes at death, and the idea of losing those I love, I can rejoice that to live is Christ and to die is great gain, and that my loved ones who die in the Lord will share a table with me at that beautiful future wedding feast of the Lamb?

Why am I so afraid of sharing such beautiful words to people whose hopelessness is disguised in smiles? Everyone needs to hear this message. Because the same grace that saved me from my own wickedness is offered just as freely to them.

Jesus made it a point to reach out to people who were shunned by society because of their circumstances and behaviors. People who lived promiscuous lifestyles, people who suffered from deadly, incurable disease, people who were considered low-class and no-account. These were the people He loved. These were the people He went to and told that God was offering the kingdom to them.

They all mattered to Him. The blind beggars, the adulterers, the lepers, the demon-possessed, the sick, the shamed, the scorned, and the scared. He loved each of them fully and freely, accepting all of them to his table just as they were, and sharing with them the news of God's mad love for them.

It is the pinnacle of arrogance to ever refuse, explicitly or implicitly, to share this same Good News with people that we consider "undesirable" or "unworthy." It is a blasphemy to ever consider ourselves the judge of who is or isn't "acceptable."

So as I watched this flawed but beautiful film, I had to stop looking at the characters as what they did, and instead tried to see them as God would see them: people who love, who live, who hurt, who suffer, and who each need the work of Christ in their hearts in order to find true and lasting peace.

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So there you go. Lesson #1: People need God. All people. And it's not my job to stand at the end of the velvet rope and judge this person as worth God's time, and this other person as not.

As you would expect, this lesson is starting to wreak a little havoc in other areas of my thinking. If every life is valuable and every person has dignity and should be shown the love of Christ, how does this mesh with my less-than-charitable view on terrorists? War? Civil defense?

The answer is, I don't know. I'm still working on this. I'll post more on this, and my related reactions to the film "United 93", a little later on, maybe.