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Sunday, September 28, 2008

for better, for worse: 5 ways blogging has changed my life

Keith McIlWain has tagged me from a meme created by L.L. Barkat. Here are the rules should you decide to keep them:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you.

3. Link back to the parent post (L.L. Barkat is not so much interested in generating links, but rather in tracking the meme so she can perhaps do a summary post later on that looks at patterns and interesting discoveries.)

4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all

5. Post these rules — or just have fun breaking them

How blogging has changed me:

1. I've always had trouble articulating my thoughts. When I try to speak, the words all swirl together and I can't put them in the right order. But by putting them in writing, organizing them on the screen, and revising — and returing to the same themes later from a different angle — I'm finding it easier to organize them in my head when I want to say something. If blogging did nothing else for me, this one thing would make it all worthwhile.

2. I've met a lot of interesting people who have interesting things to say. I have more than 100 blogs I enjoy reading: some who express things in a way I'd like to be able to; some who provoke me to think again about things I thought I understood; some who give good advice about zombies.

3. As a result of keeping tabs on so many blogs, I don't have as much time for my other interests as before. At times I will cut back, skim most blogs, and rarely update my own, but I've found that the benefits of blogging outweigh the negatives.

4. In the past I've enjoyed traveling, having visited about half the U.S. states and nine foreign countries. Because of my current family situation, I can't travel right now; however, by reading blogs from people around the world, I get to experience a little bit of what's happening out there.

5. I can't think of any other ways at the moment, so I'll break the rules and stop at four.

I'm going to tag the following people, some of who may not participate in memes. That's OK. And if your name isn't here and you'd like to participate anyway, feel free to join in:

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Friday, September 26, 2008


This song is "40":

and as of 12:06 this morning, so am I.


Monday, September 22, 2008

agenda-driven or christ-driven?

Keith McIlWain has a good post on competing Christologies within the United Methodist Church.

He begins with a quote from Mark Tooley's book Taking Back the United Methodist Church. (See Keith's post for the details.)

Keith offers this insightful comment about the competing views of scripture:

I would take issue with Mr. Tooley's depiction of conservatives viewing Scripture as divine while liberals view it as a human document. We affirm that Jesus is both divine and human; surely, we can do the same for Scripture, without losing sight of the fact that it is our primary authority. Jesus, then, is both Savior and Liberator. For conservatives or liberals to forget this would be (and has been, at times) painful for the Church.

I agree. Christology has always been more a case of both/and rather than either/or. The paradoxical nature of Christian theology doesn't necessarily mesh well with modernist binary logic that would force us to choose one or the other, but we can't really expect any secular culture to be a perfect fit with Christianity.

Keith then adds:

That said, in all honesty, it is my opinion that in recent years it has more often than not been the theological Left which has forgotten these truths. Many on the theological Left (not all) seem to be more agenda-driven than mission-driven, doctrine-driven, Scripture-driven, or Christ-driven.

Here I disagree, not with Keith's assertion about those on the theological left who are agenda-driven, but with the implication that this is not equally true of some on the right.

In fact, in a post that begins with a quote from Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, it's highly ironic to accuse the theological left of being agenda-driven. Tooley is the poster boy for agenda-driven right-wing nationalism gilded with a thin layer of Christ-talk.

Mark Tooley supports torture and nationalist warmongering, against broad coalitions of conservative, moderate, and liberal Christians whose agreement on these matters is remarkable primarily because there are so few issues that unite Christians so strongly.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence (CCWV) is a statement signed by many Christian leaders, both Protestants and Catholics, including liberals, moderates, and conservatives.

CCWV includes five confessions, of which the first two are:

1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity.
2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.

We've seen the benefits of international cooperation in the recent past: George Bush Sr. built a coalition of 80 nations, including 30 nations that supplied more than a quarter of a million troops, before the first Iraq war. George W. Bush, on the other hand, gave speeches dividing the world into "with us" and "against us," Donald Rumsfeld ridiculed any foreign leaders who voiced reservations, and we ended up with a much smaller force for a much larger task. The first Iraq war was finished in three months; the second has lasted longer than U.S. involvement in Word War II. International cooperation makes a difference.

Somehow, though, Mark Tooley manages to twist cooperation to mean idolatrous faith in the United Nations. He writes:

CCWV places great hope on "international" processes. "A policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity," it declares near the beginning, and "We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies" near the end. While warning that "no nation-state may usurp the place of God" it did not likewise insist that neither the United Nations nor any other international force can usurp the heavenly throne.

That reliance on international groups might be just as idolatrous as nation-state patriotism, it did not admit. Nor did it explain why international consensus must be a prerequisite for virtuous action in a world that is, according to Christian teaching, perpetually fallen and in rebellion against the divine order—and in which those the United States would consult and cooperate with have their own self-interests, which may include collaboration with oppressive regimes.

Note how Tooley deftly changes "cooperation" to "consensus" in the second paragraph. That's a much easier target to attack, but the word consensus does not appear in CCWV. Nor does the document mention the United Nations. But Tooley is more focused on his political agenda than on the actual contents of the CCWV document.

Another of CCWV's confessions is this:

4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.

To which Tooley replies:

CCWV was also very concerned about America’s “demonization” of “perceived enemies.” One wonders if the signers acknowledge the possibility that America has enemies, or that any of those enemies may be demonic in their behavior. Is criticism of the Iranian theocracy, or of North Korea’s Stalinist regime, an act of “demonization”? Or is it simply describing the reality of those regimes?

Surely Mark Tooley is intelligent enough to know the difference between criticism and demonization. It's one thing to criticize someone's actions; it's quite another to degrade the person and treat them as less than human. But Tooley is clever enough not to directly criticize the language of the CCWV. Instead he leads with a hypothetical, "One wonders if..." and follows up with insinuating rhetorical questions, leaving the reader to consider possible answers. Again, Tooley is concerned with advancing his political agenda rather than actually considering the text of the CCWV confessions. Belittling the signers of the CCWV is only a side effect.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a faith-based organization trying to press our government to take the high road in matters of human dignity. Because the U.S. is global economic leader, we have a responsibility to set a good moral example as well.

I've written previously about Mark Tooley's issues with the NRCAT. Essentially, he complains that the NRCAT is not foucsed on torture by other nations.

The torture committed by nations like Syria, China, Iran, North Korea, and other nations is reprehensible, to be sure. But we have no moral authority to speak against it if we remain silent when our own government commits acts of torture. Because the United States is a democracy, its citizens have the power to affect our nation's policies. It is our responsibility to speak up when those policies violate human dignity. That's why the National Religious Campaign Against Torture focuses on abuses by the U.S. government.

Mark Tooley's agenda, on the other hand, is to neuter the church in its role as an independent voice. In Tooley's vision, the church should be a lap dog that passively accepts anything decreed by the powers of this age.

This is not the sort of renewal the United Methodist Church needs.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

toward a political philosophy

In this election season, my thoughts are turning more to politics than usual. Right now I'm thinking through something I've never been able to formally put into words: my political philosophy, and how it relates to my faith (if the two are related at all).

I've never been comfortable with the politics of the religious right. In fact, I believe the reputation of the Christian faith has been badly damaged by this group. So now that the "religious left" seems to be on the ascendency, I should be overjoyed. Right?

The truth is, the religious left makes me just as nervous as the religious right. Even though I agree with many of the causes that religious liberals are championing -- stewardship of the environment and a social safety net for the most vulnerable citizens, to name a couple examples -- I'm not convinced that these problems have purely political solutions. Or, to be more precise, I don't think the available political solutions are specificially Christian.

The United States is not, and has never been, a Christian nation. Nor has any other nation. Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party was founded on Christian principles, and neither party today espouses Christian principles in its party platform. There are issues, to be sure, where each party's philosophy coincides with Christian values, but that does not mean that either party is seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Nor should they. Our political leaders ought to be concerned with ensuring that the nation's citizens have freedom and opportunity in this life, and leave the preaching to the churches.)

Still, I think governments can and should play a role in alleviating the problems their citizens inflict on themselves and others. The libertarian notion that government inaction will lead to a better life for all of us is simply too naive to be successfully put into practice. Human beings are inherently selfish, and in any political climate there will be ruthless people who will use any means available to them -- government power, corporate power, military power, sexual power, even religious power -- to oppress others.

So just what is the government's role? I must confess, my concept of the proper role for government has always been a little nebulous. If I had to state it succinctly, I'd probably have to describe my political philosophy as generally utilitarian. The government should act in such a way as to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people -- or as the United States Constitution puts it, "to promote the general welfare."

But what does that mean? How does that principle translate into policy? As the Wikipedia article linked above states, utilitarianism has been adopted even by Marxists and libertarians as a basis of their political theory.

So to say my political views are utilitarian is not really to say anything at all. It's a great starting point, but it could lead to any number of conclusions.

I'll have more to say in a later post.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

published again

My travel essay Sink or Swim was published this week at Associated Content. It's the story of my experiences trying to get around in a country where I didn't really know the language.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

lazy blogging

Geez I just noticed I have not updated this since you last visited... You would not believe how insane my life has become. Apologies to my regular readers! Even the little blue ones!

I am not going to post now with any regularity, personal projects, just generally being a pain to the bodyguards of the blogger I am stalking, my day is passing in a blur from lunchtime to whenever. I am not complaining though. life happens.

I swear on the bones of my ancestors I will write something that makes sense soon. No, really! What do you mean you don't believe me?

Generated by The Lazy Bloggers [sic] Post Generator. Hat tip: John the Methodist

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

praying for rain, the right way

So anyway, Pierre said that Elijah prayed and closed the heavens for three and a half years. So maybe I should go for three and a half days - just enough to let me get to Ouaga, without disrupting the season...

Read the full story from Keith Smith, a missionary in Burkina Faso in West Africa.


Friday, September 12, 2008

would it be wrong to pray for rain?

Henry Neufeld links to an MSNBC article about Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family, who called for "Christians" to pray for rain during Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Shepard made a video of his call for rain, which has been preserved for posterity at YouTube.

"Would it be wrong," asks Shepard, "to pray for rain?"

I can only conclude that Shepard doesn't understand what prayer is all about. From the MSNBC article:

He prayed for there to be rain—abundant rain, torrential rain, “rain of Biblical proportions”—in Denver on August 28th. “I’m praying for unexpected, unanticipated, unforecasted rain that starts two minutes before the speech is set to begin,” he said, adding, “I know there will probably be people who will pray for seventy-two degrees and clear skies, but this isn’t a contest.”

At least Shepard is correct that prayer isn't a contest. Still, he ought to take some time to consider what it might mean if we ask God to do something and it doesn't happen.

Years ago, I read Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline. The chapter on prayer includes these words:

Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus' praying is that when he prayed for others he never concluded by saying, "If it be thy will." Nor did the apostles or prophets when they were praying for others. They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the milieu of the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done.

The point is so important, Foster restates it later from another angle:

One of the most critical aspects in learning to pray for others is to get in contact with God so that his life and power can flow through us into others. Often we assume we are in contact when we are not. For example, dozens of radio and television signals went through your room while you read these words, but you failed to pick them up because you were not tuned to the proper frequencies. Often people pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they were not tuned in to God. We begin praying for others by first quieting our fleshly activity and listening to the silent thunder of the Lord of hosts.

In both of these passages, Foster is talking about prayers for others. Though he doesn't say so, the same ought to be true about prayers against others as well.

I won't presume to say that imprecatory prayer is always wrong. But before praying for a calamity, I would want to be sure God is preparing to bring one. Was it wrong for Stuart Shepard to pray for rain during Barack Obama's speech? Clearly, it was.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

who knows?

A Taoist parable

In a valley lived a farmer. He was not rich, but neither was he poor. He had food enough for his family. He had fields that yielded a good harvest year after year. And he had a very fine work horse.

One morning the farmer discovered that his horse had run away during the night. His sympathetic neighbors said, "What bad fortune!" But the farmer simply replied, "Good, bad, who knows how it will turn out in the end?"

Two days later, the horse returned, bringing three wild horses with it. The farmer's neighbors were happy for him. "What good fortune!" they said. But the farmer simply replied, "Good, bad, who knows how it will turn out in the end?"

A few days later, the farmer's son was trying to tame one of the wild horses when the horse threw him to the ground, breaking his arm. The neighbors said, "What bad fortune!" But the farmer simply replied, "Good, bad, who knows how it will turn out in the end?"

A week later, military officials arrived in the valley, looking for able-bodied young men to conscript into service. Because the farmer's son had a broken arm, they left him alone. "What good fortune!" said the neighbors. But the farmer simply replied, "Good, bad, who knows how it will turn out in the end?"

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

spiritual type

According to this quiz, my spiritual type is mystic. I think that's about right.

You are a Mystic, known for your imaginative, intuitive spirituality. You value peace, harmony, and inner silence. Mystics are nurtured by walking alone in the woods or sitting quietly with a trusted friend. You may also enjoy poetry, meditation, wordless prayer, candles, art, books, and anything else that helps you connect with God.

Mystics experience God best through rich images and symbols. You are contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world as real to you as the exterior one. Hearing from God is more important to you than speaking to God. Others may attribute human characteristics to God, but you see God as ineffable, unnamable, and more vast than any known category. You are intrigued by God's mystery.

Some famous mystics, according to the site:

Thomas Merton | Enya | John (the Gospel writer)
Brother Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God)
Desert mothers and fathers | Charlie Brown
Sister Wendy | Phoebe Buffay | Julian of Norwich
Luke | Anthony de Mello | The Who

Take the quiz from the Upper Room. Hat tip to Daniel McLain Hixon.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

why diss community organizers?

Sarah Palin, in her acceptance speech at the GOP convention, criticized the leadership experience Barack Obama gained working as a community organizer for the Developing Communities Project, a Christian ministry that works for social justice by helping adults with job training and continuing education, and by teaching kids about anger management, conflict resolution, and saying no to drugs.

Palin claims that, by contrast, she has had "actual responsibilities" serving as an elected official.

The truly puzzling aspect of Governor Palin's criticism is that her Republican Party has long advocated non-governmental alternatives — particularly faith-based solutions — as the best remedy for social problems. Can someone help me understand?

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