Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Problem of the Conquest

One of the most difficult questions I've had in my faith is, "Why, in the Old Testament, did God sometimes command the killing of whole communities?"

People are frequently killed in natural disasters, or sometimes directly from the hand of God (as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) and sometimes people will ask why, but I don't think that God killing people or natural disasters killing people is as troublesome as the question above.

I think the reason this question is troublesome is that we don't want these instances to be used as a precedent. If God kills, well, he is all knowing and all wise and must have a good reason for what he is doing, but we have no such confidence in ourselves.

Fortunately, I think the Bible confirms that this is precisely the attitude we should take. The times in the Old Testament when God commanded killings were limited to very specific groups. There was never to my knowledge a general command to kill unbelievers, or Gentiles, or those of a different race. In fact, the command not to murder is right in the Ten Commandments, and before the Israelites entered the promised land, they were commanded to treat kindly the aliens in their midst (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, for example). The commands to kill were only against specific, named groups.

Further, that it was God who commanded these killings was testified to by decades of miraculous signs, and not penny-ante signs such as those performed by the Egyptian magicians. These were big miracles: the miracles of Moses in Egypt, the waters parting for the crossing of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, water from a rock, the pillars of cloud and fire, the Jordan River opening up to allow the Israelite army to pass over on dry ground, and the miraculous destruction of the walls of Jericho. The cumulative effect of these - it seems to me - was powerful testimony that God really did command these killings.

But we, on the other hand, have no list from God of groups of people to be killed. And even if we thought we did, we have no miraculous confirmations that such killings should be carried out. Far to the contrary. We have not only the Old Testament admonitions not to kill and to be kind to strangers, we have the strong testimony of the New Testament as well. And even if we saw miraculous signs, I don't think that would be adequate because the Bible makes clear that not all miracles are from God.

That is why the commands to kill whole groups of people should never be used as a precedent. But that still doesn't answer the question, "Why, in the Old Testament, did God sometimes command the killing of whole communities?"

Well, the reason is given in Genesis 15:16, before the exile in Egypt. Here God says that the people were evil, but that their sin had "not yet reached its full measure." Presumably, during the years Israel was in Egypt, their sin became worse, until it did "reach its full measure" and God was ready to destroy them.

Okay, but if the Canaanites were so evil, why didn't God just do away with them himself? Why did he drag the Israelites into it?

I don't know for sure, but my suspicion is that God wanted the Israelites to take sides. He wanted them to participate with him in the destruction of the Canaanites so there would be a deep gulf between monotheistic Israel and its polytheistic neighbors. He did not want fraternizing, so he cleared an area for Israel to live in and separated the people from their neighbors with fear and antagonism. (The Old Testament has lots of separating commands, such as not to eat various foods and even not to mix different kinds of fabrics. Through all these commands it seems God is pounding into the Israelites' heads the idea of separateness, perhaps so the seed of monotheism could gain root.) Further, I think God wanted the destruction of many of the cities, animals and people to be complete so nobody could say that the Israelites' success was built upon what Caanan and the Caananite "gods" had begun and also so that what remained would not be an enticement to the Israelites to drift from God. In Joshua 24:23, after the main part of the conquest, Joshua is already having to tell the Israelites to "throw away the foreign gods that are among you." I guess they had been picking up idols as souvenirs. But already? They're already playing around with foreign gods, after just seeing the power of God?

Finally, as I read the Old Testament and the story of the conquest, I am occasionally struck by instances of mercy. It is not as if God just let the Canaanites go to hell in a handbasket without any intervention on his part. I think of Balaam, through whom - despite his sin - God spoke. This suggests to me that God's voice had been heard in Canaan during the years while Israel was in captivity in Egypt. The people were not ignorant of God; God did reach out to them. The problem is that they rejected his overtures.

I also see this in God's miracles during the Exodus. In addition to proving himself to the people of Israel, these miracles served to warn the Canaanites. Rahab mentions that Canaan had heard what God had done for Israel, and was afraid (Joshua 2:9-11), which was God's intention (Joshua 4:23-24). But apparently - except, of course, for Rahab - that message did not lead many to repentance, though Rahab's acceptance into Israel shows that this door was open. But if it didn't lead many to repentence, perhaps it did lead many Canaanites to pack up their bags and move elsewhere.

I think also of the very harshness of the command to completely destroy the people, and I wonder if that wasn't in part designed to persuade the Canannites to leave, or to repent. But did the Canaanites know about the command? I'm certain they did. The Gibeonites, who tricked the Israelites (Joshua 9:24), knew about it, so it is reasonable to think that other communities knew as well. And was there really an opportunity for repentance? I think so. The situation reminds me of Jonah preaching to Nineveh that it would be destroyed, but when the people of Nineveh repented God did not destroy it. Perhaps if the Caananites had repented they would not have been destroyed either. Finally, Joshua 24:12 says God sent hornets ahead of the Israelites to drive the people away. So perhaps only the most stubborn of the Canaanites remained.

Saturday, December 27, 2003


Wow! I've been off work since December 24 and I don't need to go back until January 5. Usually I go stir crazy when I don't have things to do, places to go and people to see, but for some reason I just feel very relaxed. I think it's because I've decided I'm not going to worry about work or projects or the state of the world; I'm just going to take it easy. So I'm getting in a bit of bike riding, and not getting in a bit of bike riding, I'm reading email and skipping email. Maybe I'll do a bit of planning for 2004, or maybe I won't. In fact, my enjoyment of this time off (and a comment by our pastor) has inspired a resolution for 2004.

Stress, the pastor said, is a result of having to get things done too soon. I think he's right. If you have a long time to finish a task, it's not stressful. So next year I want to simplify my life, not to do less, but so I have less to juggle and hopefully more time to do whatever tasks come my way. For example, I have several domain names I've purchased from various sources, and consequently, several accounts to manage. I think I'll transfer them all to the same account. I'll bet there are other things like this I can do.

In fact, I'm already simplifying a bit. My wife found a book she wanted for a few dollars less than at Amazon, where I usually buy, but -- since she uses my email account -- I asked her to please buy it at Amazon, even if it cost a bit more. I already get enough junk mail from Amazon and I don't want more from another company.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Is it True?

Here's a paragraph about Christmas that I included in my family's annual newsletter.

Just a thought about Christmas. Is it true? Is it more than a nice story? Is it true that God became a child and grew up and lived among us, teaching and preaching and performing miracles, then died on a cross, taking our sins upon himself so we can be forgiven? Did the judge really step down from the bench and take the convict's punishment? It is an astonishing claim, even if we have become dulled to it by repetition, and I pray you will honestly consider it. If you conclude that it is true then it begs you to embrace it. And if you conclude that it isn't true, well, at least enjoy the season's crisp air, lights, friends, food and fun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Teaching and Encouraging

I wonder if much of what we refer to as "teaching" in today's church doesn't actually fall more in the category of "encouraging" or "exhortation."

This came back to my mind last Sunday when I heard a particularly good sermon on the nature of God. Usually I hear sermons telling me to be a better parent, spouse, or citizen, or how to be more fulfilled, or that we shouldn't be discouraged or we should avoid this or that sin. Sort of the "news you can use" approach to preaching. And all good stuff, but though there is certainly overlap, I think I would categorize it more as encouragement.

It's not that I'm down on encouragement - it's good and necessary - I just wonder if sometimes we forget about teaching. I think of Paul's letter to the Romans. The first 11 chapters are mostly about the intellectual underpinnings of our salvation, then in chapter 12 Paul switches gears and starts talking about how it all applies. I wish more sermons were like Romans - good solid truth followed by good solid application.

Perhaps some people believe truth that is too distant won't have an effect on our lives. But I'm not too sure. When I hear a sermon on the grandeur and mystery and love and mercy and power and justice of our God, I leave with a deep sense of fulfillment, and, I think, am much more amenable to living the way God wants me to live. I want to draw near to God, not just to hear what I should do, important though that is, but to know him better.

Monday, December 08, 2003

How Loud is Too Loud?

I just got back from a weekend retreat. It was nice, with good worship times, but the music was rather loud for my taste.

It got me thinking. People have long argued about whether certain types of music are Christian or un-Christian - I'm okay with just about any kind of music - but my weekend experience makes me wonder if there is a Christian music volume. And I kinda think there is.

Perhaps the upper limit on volume should be before it becomes so loud that people run the risk of physically damaging their ears. It seems un-Christian that attending a worship service should cause people physical harm.

Also, during the retreat I noticed that no matter how loudly I sang the lyrics, I frequently couldn't hear a word that came out of my mouth because of the volume of the music. It was as if I was just silently mouthing the words. I found this unsatisfying. I want to feel as if I am involved in the music, and if my small efforts in that regard are overwhelmed by the musicians up front, it leaves me a bit disappointed.

So I'd propose a second principle: If the congregation can't hear themselves sing, it's too loud.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Child of Christianity

I just finished a remarkable book called, For The Glory of God, by University of Washington sociology and comparative religion professor Rodney Stark (Princeton University Press). He argues quite persuasively that a lot of what we've learned in school about Christianity's role in history is baloney. Science, he says, wasn't begun by the rediscovery of Greek learning during the Renaisance; Christianity gave birth to science. Also, he said, Christianity is responsible for ending slavery, and - unfortunately - he says it provided the theoretical basis for witch hunts.

Just to show that he isn't an airhead, let me follow as best I can his argument that credits Christianity with giving birth to science. First, he says that the Christian belief that the universe was created by God and is a real entity (rather than merely a shadow of reality, or a complete illusion) makes creation worthwhile to examine. Second, he traces how science actually came about. During the Middle Ages, he writes, Christians set up universities all across Europe, and these were not, as has been claimed, just centers where scholastics argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin (though I'm sure there was plenty of that), but they were schools for thinkers, many of whom had a real interest in investigating the world God created, and the scholars from these schools created science.

Too often I am able to summarize an entire book in one sentence (and I am annoyed that the author needed to spend 150 pages telling me what he could have communicated in a sentence), but I can't come close to doing that here. I've seldom read a book so packed with information so clearly presented. Fascinating!

Friday, November 28, 2003

Occasionally Gay

Thinking about the previous item, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I'm gay. Yes, when I set aside my cares, when the sun is shining and the air is crisp and there's a happy song on my lips, I am gay. Not homosexual, gay.

If you are not familiar with that use of the word "gay," it is because the word has been hijacked to mean homosexual. Perhaps the selection of "gay" was intended to suggest that the homosexuality is a happy and carefree lifestyle. But be that as it may, it annoys me that we've lost the meaning of such a great word.

In a recent issue of Wired Magazine, evolutionist-athiest firebrand Richard Dawkins outlined his plan to ruin another word. He wants athiests to be called "brights." The logic, of course, is to suggest that athiests are intelligent, and, by extension, theists are dumb.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Homosexual Marriage

In thinking about the Massachusetts high court's ruling on homosexual marriage, one thing that is very unclear to me is what homosexuals hope to accomplish by such marriages. The arguments I've heard say that making homosexual relationships into marriage would solve problems with inheritance, would give the right for one partner to make critical medical decisions for another when the other is incapacitated, would provide partner health care, and so forth.

I'm afraid it's still unclear. I can leave all my worldly goods in trust for a goldfish if I want to and homosexuals can leave their possessions to whomever they please. What does that have to do with marriage? And as far the other difficulties homosexuals face, it seems they could all be settled by contractual arrangements. So I really don't understand the reasoning.

But for the sake of discussion, let's assume there are benefits to marriage that homosexuals could not otherwise obtain. And having assumed that, let's back off even further and ask ourselves why any couple should receive such benefits; heterosexual, homosexual, man and dog, whatever.

In other words, why should the government provide benefits for people just because they decide to live together? Good question.

I suggest that it is because the government has an interest in promoting marriage, and when the government has an interest in promoting some behavior, it often provides incentives to encourage that behavior. For example, the government may give you a tax break if you install a solar system on your house or buy a hybrid car. The reason is because it wants to promote alternative energy sources. Someone may argue that it isn't fair; that the government should also subsidize SUVs, but SUVs don't promote the government's goal of energy efficiency.

So, what is it that the government wishes to promote in male-female marriages? Despite all its problems, marriage provides a reasonably good environment in which to raise children into productive, healthy citizens, and the government has a huge interest in promoting productive, healthy citizens. Further, until recently, the difficulty in obtaining a divorce helped protect from poverty women who stepped out of the workforce to manage a household. Their husbands couldn't abandon them with impunity. Today, with more liberal divorce laws, the government attempts to provide this same protection, should marriage fail, by requiring alimony.

On the other hand, it is unclear why the government should promote homosexual unions. There isn't the slightest possibility they'll result in children. Though homosexual couples could adopt children, it is highly debatable that this is a healthy environment for children. Further, I'm guessing that in most cases, if a homosexual partnership breaks up, both partners simply continue working at their current jobs; one unemployable partner is not suddenly left in poverty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Amish Airline Hijackers?

Some people hold to a a very ridiculous notion: that it's dangerous to believe something too strongly.

This is so silly! First of all, if this assertion is true, then the person who holds this position is dangerous. Why? Because if this person strongly believes that strongly believing is dangerous, then he (or she) is the dangerous person he is worried about. Look in the mirror, Joe!

But some people (I especially heard this right after 9/11) put a finer point on the argument. They say that strong religious belief is dangerous.

Well... it's still silly.

For example, Al Qaeda strongly believes it is right to kill people (at least if they're Americans), and the Amish strongly believe it is wrong to kill people. So, will anybody seriously suggest the Amish are as dangerous as Al Qaeda?

It's what you believe that's crucial. How strongly you believe it is secondary.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A Big Rock

Can God make a rock so big that he can't lift it?

A Christian who was genuinely confused sent me an email with that question a while ago, and I was happy to try my best to respond.

But I suspect that most people who ask this question do it to show Christians that there is something their God cannot do. So nya, nya, nya! But frankly, methinks the critics exert themselves overly much. After all, they could just look at Hebrews 6:18, which says it is impossible for God to lie. There! Something God cannot do. Satisfied?

No, they'd rather ask one of those silly damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't questions, like, "Do you still beat your wife?" (I do, but only at foosball.)

So, for what little it's worth, let me try to answer the question.

God, by definition, is greater than anything else, so if God created a rock so heavy that he couldn't lift it, then he'd stop being God, because the rock would then be greater than him.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Second Coming

In my fellowship group a year or so ago, the topic of Jesus' second coming came up and a few people groaned. I understand the groans. There have been so many times when people have said that Jesus would come back in a few months or a year or two, and he didn't. So I think people were thinking about all these wrong predictions and don't want anything to do with the topic.

But I think about it a bit differently. I see those who get excited about Jesus coming back as similar to little kids at home with a babysitter. Every time a car goes by they run to the window because they're sure it's Mommy and Daddy. And, of course, so often it isn't. In the same way, these people often look at dramatic political events - particularly if they involve Israel - as signs of Jesus imminent return. Running to the window.

And actually, I find that kind of enthusiasm and belief so much more refreshing than the embarassment, the long-suffering sighing and cynical - though perhaps unstated - assumption that whatever is happening in the world, it almost certainly isn't connected with Jesus' return.

I confess to being a bit jaded too, but I sympathize with the kids who run to the window at the sound of every car, because I know that while they may be wrong about this particular car, someday they'll be right, and then I want to be at the window with them. Someday our Lord will come back, and looking at the state of the Middle East, it doesn't seem entirely unlikely that it could be soon.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Quotes from Hannah Whitall Smith

Here are a few quotes I liked from the book, The Unselfishness of God, which I mentioned earlier.

On Giving the Battle to the Lord

"Many hundreds of similar battles have been fought and won for me by the Captain of my Salvation, and the secret I learned then, of handing over the battle to the Lord, and leaving it in his hands, has never failed to work when I have acted upon it. It has been to me over and over a practical illustration of Christ's words, 'Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.' He has overcome it, not we; and He will always overcome it when we put the matter in His hands, and will stand aside and let Him fight."

On Old Age

"If it were not for Him, old age with its failing powers and many infirmities could not but be a sad and wearisome time; but, with God, our lovely and unselfish God, at the back of it, old age is simply a delightful resting place. To be seventy gives one permission to stand aloof from the stress of life, and to lay down all burden of responsibility for carrying on the work of the world; and I rejoice in my immunity."

On Giving Advice to the Young

"Advice we who are older may give, and the fruits of our experience, but we must be perfectly content to have our advice rejected by the younger generation, and our experience ignored. Were we willing to do this, I am convinced the young would much more often be glad to profit by what is called 'the wisdom of the old'; but, as it is, they are afraid to ask advice because they know they will be expected to follow it, whether it commends itself to them or not, and because they fear the old will feel hurt if they do not. Perfect freedom in asking advice can only exist along with perfect freedom not to follow that advice."

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Canned Church

I've been pondering lately what is necessary to have a church. By "church" I don't mean the universal Body of Christ, but the local gathering of believers.

If a few of us were to start a new church, what would we need? I think most of us would say we need a place to meet, someone to lead and preach, a musician or musical team, and someone to handle administrative tasks, such as putting money in the bank and paying bills.

But are all these things really necessary for cash-strapped little churches?

Well, I think every church - even small ones - need a place to meet, and someone to handle the administration, and a leader, but I'm not so sure about preaching and music.

In this age of electronics maybe you could replace live preaching with video tapes. There are a lot of good preachers out there, so why not use them? In fact, with video even the smallest church could learn from the greatest preachers in the world.

And I think the same might be said of music. Special singers at my church - which is large and has great live music - sometimes use recorded music as background, so why couldn't small churches use recorded music to which the congregation sings along? I know it sounds a little weird to sing along to a recording, but haven't you ever sung along to a song on a CD or on the radio?

Maybe a church service would look like this:

People enter the church, where there would be Christian songs or hymns playing in the background. The leader would get up, welcome people, open in prayer, invite people to greet one another, pray for prayer requests, then announce songs and play the music. After people had sung, the leader would announce the video or audio-taped message, and switch it on. At the end of the sermon, the leader would play another song or two and close in prayer.

I think great live preaching and great live music are always going to be best, but if they're not available - or are only available at a prohibitive price - then maybe canned preaching and music are the way to go. That way the whole church staff could be one dedicated but semi-skilled person working part time.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

You and Thou

I just finished reading The Unselfishness of God, the interesting and very well written spiritual autobiography of Hannah Whitall Smith. Read it if you can find it, though I think it's out of print. She's the one who wrote The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

Pardon me if this seems tangental, but something that has always bugged me is that the English language has no plural for the word "you." "I" has "we," and "you" has ... uh, "you." I've sometimes thought that we should adopt the Southern expression, "you all," or "ya'll."

Interestingly, Smith's book gives some insight into the "you" question.

She grew up as a Quaker (though she modified her views substantially) and the book has a lot of background on Quaker practice.

At one time, she said, Quakers refused to use the word "you," instead favoring "thee" or "thou." The reason, she said, is because when the Quakers began, "thee" and "thou" were the singular and "you" was the plural. But also at that time people were beginning to use "you" as a mark of respect in addressing nobility.

Well, the Quakers believed in equality and weren't about to put up with the inequality implied in the use of "you," so they wouldn't use it. But "you" gradually began to be used for everybody, but the Quakers had gotten into the habit of avoiding it, though the reason for avoiding it had gone away.

A couple of things occur to me from this story. First, I kinda wish the Quakers had won this battle, so we would have the plural I've long wanted. Second, I wonder if there are ways we act or habits we've formed as Christians for which there is no longer a good reason.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Long Now

The foundation called The Long Now has the goal of building a giant clock that will run for 10,000 years. At first glance that seems a rather pointless - though perhaps fascinating - thing to do, but the foundation's goal is to get people to think long term, and I guess 10,000 years is pretty long term.

In addition to promoting long-term thinking, I think it is an interesting idea for another reason, one that I doubt interests the foundation.

Alexis De Tocqueville, who wrote the best book with the most boring title ever written, Democracy in America, wrote a chapter called, "How, When Conditions are Equal and Skepticism is Rife, it is Important to Direct Human Actions to Distant Objects."

In brief (It is well worth reading the chapter in its entirety), De Tocqueville writes that as people lose their hope for eternal life, they limit their minds to the here and now, and to what they can accomplish in very brief periods of time. This focus on trivia, he argues, makes them unfit for accomplishing great, time-consuming tasks.

Therefore, he suggests that leaders and thinkers try to place the objects of their countrymen's ambitions "far beyond man's immediate range." Then, when people become accustomed to thinking into the distant future, he writes, "they can hardly confine their minds within the precise limits of life," and they will start to wonder what will become of themselves. By these means, he writes, people "would be gradually and unconsciously brought nearer to religious convictions."

If that's true, then blessings on The Long Now.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Who's the Timekeeper?

I enjoy my prayer group at work a lot, but I've been in other prayer groups that didn't work. I think the problem with the ones that don't work is that nobody is in charge. Here's how things go wrong:

People get together and eventually someone (hopefully) suggests that people share prayer requests, and people do, but they also chat about various other topics, then other people chime in and it becomes a general conversation. Then, about three minutes before the available time ends, somebody says, "Ohh, we're running out of time. John, would you pray for us?" So John prays a brief prayer and that's that. So, the few gregarious people are prayed for, the others miss out entirely, and the prayer time is perfunctory. Even worse, I've frequently seen instances when the time runs out and the group never gets to prayer.

I lead a group at work, and I think the solution is one person committed to watching the time, getting the requests out and making sure there is enough time to pray. I try to keep things on track by summarizing a person's requests. If I sense the conversation beginning to wander too far, I'll say, "So the things we can pray about for you are A, B and C. Are there any other things?" This tends to bring things back on topic. Also, I don't ask who has a request, we just go around the circle. That way even the shy people get a chance to share.

If I were to join a new prayer group, I think my first question would be, "Who's the timekeeper?" And if there wasn't one, I'd request that there be one. And if I couldn't get that, I think I'd decline to participate.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Theater in Church

Every once in a while, during a sermon at my church, an actor or two will come out and illustrate some sermon point with a little play-let. The actors do a good job and the themes are biblical, so why is it that every time this happens I cringe?

I honestly don't understand my own reaction. I feel embarassed - not for the actors, that they may flub a line or something - but for me. Why should I feel embarassed? I don't know. Nobody's looking at me. I have no theological objection to illustrating sermons with play acting.

When I mentioned this reaction to my wife, she said she feels embarassed too. So you better stay away from me. Whatever it is, it seems to be catching.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


I was in our church library on Sunday, and it occurred to me how much there is to learn about the Christian faith, and much that most people don't bother to learn. That's fine, I suppose. Not everybody needs to be a theologian, but I do think that everyone should at least have a basic understanding of their faith.

I think these basics used to be taught fairly consistently. I have an old copy of the Heidelberg Catechism I picked up at a used book store in Pennsylvania. It has 52 lessons on basic Christian doctrine, one for each week of the year. When a student finished the lessons, I'd say he or she was fairly well versed in the basics of Christianity.

But I'm not sure nowadays how much emphasis we now put on "catechism" - or whatever we want to call it. My church has a new members class that lasts for a few weeks, but I wonder how many churches even have that, and, if so, how meaty it is. Not getting around to a lot of churches, I couldn't really say, but I can say that I haven't heard much emphasis on such training. If so, I wonder if we aren't leaving people insufficiently grounded in their faith. Maybe we should think again about teaching catechism.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Neil Postman

I just read today that Neil Postman has died. I'm sorry to hear that.

Postman, if you don't know, wrote a lot of books about society and education. Very smart guy. At one time I worked with Andy, one of his sons, at a children's software company called Knowledge Adventure. One day Neil Postman came by to visit Andy, and after lunch I was surprised to be called into the boss's office.

I found myself in the office with my boss, my boss's brother, and Neil and Andy Postman. It turned out that they had all been out to lunch, and it had come up that I believed the Genesis account of creation (Perhaps because we were working on a program called Dinosaur Adventure), and Neil wanted to talk to me about it.

I look back with some amusement on what ensued; me, a Gentile, being called into the boss's office to defend before four Jews the validity of the Jewish scriptures.

Anyway, it was absolutely the most engaging and intellectually stimulating conversation I had had in ages! Neil Postman was charming, thoughtful, pointed, challenging and respectful, always letting me finish my thoughts without interrupting, like he really wanted to hear what I had to say. And I got the feeling that he enjoyed our conversation, too, which doubled my pleasure.

The Bookmark

I'm not sure many people still have a quiet time to start their day, but it's one of the best parts of my day. Usually I'll read a passage in my Bible, pray, then sing a hymn. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

I have a bookmark for my Bible that, obviously, keeps my place in the Bible. But also, on one side of it is a list of topics to pray about, and on the other side is a list of songs. The topics are just to jog my memory. So, the word "Family" reminds me to pray for my family members, and "World" reminds me to pray for missionaries I know and the lands in which they are working. When I'm done praying I flip over the bookmark, pick a song, and go on my way singing.

I've been doing this for a long time, though, and like any form, it can become rote, though I try not to let that happen, and I think maybe I should try some other technique, just for freshness. So anyway, I'm curious about other techniques. Does anybody else have a system that works well for their quiet time? Let me know.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

In Search of the Un-God

A number of people at work have their computers set to run the SETI@home program. The software, if you're not familiar with it, is hugely popular and quite clever. When the computer is not busy with other tasks, it gets raw data from SETI@home (basically electronic static from space) crunches the data to see if it can find messages from space aliens, then passes the data back to the SETI@Home project. So SETI@home basically gets a supercomputer for free.

But my point is that I wonder if searching for space aliens isn't a secular age's alternative to God. I think people need and desire God, but for secularists, looking for mysterious, super-smart and very nice space aliens comes about as close as they can get to God without having to invoke the supernatural.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl died recently, and the news reports repeated that she had made the greatest propaganda film ever, Triumph of the Will. Well, I'd never seen the movie, so I ordered it. It is a documentary of a Nazi Party congress in Nuremburg and it was fairly interesting, though I confess I yawned a few times.

What struck me as I looked at Hitler speaking to all his bright-eyed, bushy tailed followers just dying to do something for their Fuhrer, was that he gave these men a vision. He appealed to an innate desire I believe most people have - to be part of something greater than themselves. In the film the greater thing was "Deutschland," unified and strong. There was a scene in which men from various parts of Germany said something like, "I'm from Erfurt," and another "I'm from Hamburg" and another "I'm from Bingen" (or where ever) but then they all added in unison, "And we're all Germans." Or something like that. My German is rusty.

And I began to feel a bit sorry for those bright-eyed young men, for whether they knew it or not, the greater thing they were being led into was wicked.

What I'm getting at, though, is not that Hitler was evil - I assume you knew that - but that the desire to be part of something bigger than oneself is something people are born with. I think God put it there.

And I wish the church would recognize this. I think many church leaders believe people just want to have love and peace and money and successful marriages and good children and nice jobs and fire insurance for eternity. That's partly true, but I think it misses something critical - that there is a restless desire on the part of many Christians to be part of something big God is doing - even if it is hard. Or, I might even say, especially if it is hard.

Sunday, October 05, 2003


I just got back from a fellowship meeting tonight. We prayed and discussed some little problems at church. The discussion about the problems kind of discouraged me, but then I remembered a passage I'd just read in 3 John.

John writes (9-10): "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church."

Whew! Nobody in my church is trying to put godly people out of the church, yet that happened right back at the start of the church, and with the great Apostle John, no less. And who could not like John?

It really helped me put the trivial problems we were talking about into perspective.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Trance-Like State

Ever been to a revival meeting? If so, did you walk to it in a trance-like state? No? Well, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez thinks you did. He had this comment today about people going to a Schwarzenegger rally: "[T]he teaming masses streamed by me on foot, marching, marching, marching, trance-like, as if to a revival." It seems to me he could make his political commentary without being gratuitously rude to Christians.

The Next Wave

I'm going to go out on a limb. As I said in an earlier post, I think the church advances in waves and that we in the North American church are currently in a trough.

But what will the next wave be like? I'm going to make a prediction. I think the next revival will retrieve something of the sense of the awesomeness of God. I think a proper sense of awe has generally been lost. We think of God as our pal, not as our King, not as the great Creator above all the heavens, not as the one the very thought of whom should take our breath away.

I hope we don't loose the sense of God being our close friend, but if we can recover the awe, I think we'd be better off.

If I'm right, perhaps church services will be marked with more formality as people act in ways they think are respectful of God. Casual will be out and clerical collars and candles and old hymns and "Sunday clothes" will make a comeback, which is pretty much fine by me... except for ties; I really don't want to wear ties.

Banned in Saudi Arabia

I read in the newspaper this morning that the National Geographic article about Saudi Arabia that I mentioned in an earlier post has been banned in Saudi Arabia. Wow! And I thought it was pretty tame and in some ways perhaps even too positive. I would have thought they'd love it. I guess the Saudi leaders must be feeling extremely insecure these days.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Happy and Grumpy

I got a letter yesterday from an acquaintance in Iraq. He contrasted two Iraqis he had met. One was dirty from working all day, but happy. The other one wasn't doing anything but complaining that the Americans hadn't rebuilt his house.

Perhaps that second attitude tends to develop in a dictatorial society, where you are expected to just turn off your mind and obey, and where everything you get - when you get anything - comes from the government. And now that the government is, for the moment, the Americans, everything should come from them.

I think it will take a while to get over that serf mentality.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Missing in Action

Near where I live there is an excellent four-year Christian college. There is also a well known seminary, and hundreds of churches, some quite large. Also where I live there is a newspaper with a circulation of probably about 25,000 subscribers. Occasionally on the editorial page debates will erupt about some Christian topic. Letters are published on both sides of the issue for weeks until the editor gets sick of the topic and shuts it off.

All well and good.

But what I don't understand is why I almost never see a letter from a pastor of one of our hundreds of churches, or from an instructor at the Christian college, or from a professor at the seminary. Presumably they know more about Christianity than the average Joe on the street. Yet they remain remarkably silent. Why?

Maybe they do write but don't reveal their qualifications, though it seems odd not to when that could lend such authority to their words. Maybe they don't read newspapers. Maybe they feel it's beneath their dignity to get down in the dirt and wrestle.

Whatever it is, it's disappointing. Isn't Christianity worth defending in the marketplace? These are opportunities to reach 25,000 people with a single letter and they can't be bothered? How many sermons or classroom lectures reach that many people?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


One comment about my entry, The Stuffed Dog, below, is that it is a bit melodramatic.

I think the word "maudlin" might be a little better, but either way, it reminds me of something I believe Augustine once said, about how people could get all broken up over what happened to characters in a play, but had no concern for the real, live people they met every day.

I hope I'm not quite that bad, though I see the tendency.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Second Mile

A while ago I was reading a book by theologian F.F. Bruce, who was discussing Jesus' command that, "If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."

Bruce said Jesus probably had Roman soldiers in mind when he gave this command; they got tired of toting their packs and recruited people by the wayside to carry them for a mile. But how, Bruce asks, might that command be obeyed today?

What if, he suggests, a "Christian taxpayer, as an act of grace, pays double the amount demanded, or at least adds a substantial amount to it: what then? The computer would probably record it as tax overpaid, and the surplus would come back to him as a rebate."

Bruce's point is that "going the extra mile" requires thought, which is no doubt true, but his example raises another point:

Why shouldn't there be a line on our tax forms that allows us to give a bit extra?

I can hear the laughs. I can see the big bold zeros plugged in on that line. I can read the obscenities that start in the blank space and meander up the margin of the form. I can imagine the stapled-on diatribes. But I can also imagine that some, out of grace or gratitude, will add a few more dollars.

I don't imagine this would be a huge amount of extra money for the government, but I suspect it would be better than any poll in answering the question, "How do you think your government is doing?"

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Stuffed Dog

As I tucked my son in and prayed for him tonight, I noticed he didn't have his little tan stuffed dog, and didn't seem concerned about it - and that concerned me. I left his room, but remembered I'd forgotten to tell him I loved him, so I went back and told him, and then he remembered his dog. Relieved, I fetched the dog from where it had fallen behind the bed and placed it on his pillow.

I think it'll be so sad when he finally does set that dog aside. I'm not sure why that is so, except that it'll mean he's growing up, and, in a funny way, I'll feel sorry for the dog - the little faithful stuffed dog.

Multimedia in Church

I know that multimedia presentations during sermons are becoming increasingly popular, and I don't object to them on principle, but I'm beginning to wonder how much they contribute.

Today, for example, when I should have been listening to the sermon, I was admiring the graphics being projected on the screen. I wasn't, in fact, listening to the message at all.

I suspect this is similar to the problem publications and TV journalists face. Do the graphics and photos contribute to the story, or distract from it? In the case of magazines, you can be distracted, then go back and pick up where you left off. For TV journalism, often the picture is the news, so the viewer gets the main point by looking at the picture. But when the words are the message and you can't go back and pick up where you left off, as is the case with a sermon, then I become a bit more concerned.

Storytelling Through the Ages

I promised a bit more from the old book I stumbled upon (Religious Education Through Story-Telling, Katherine Cather). The parts I quote below are from a discussion about what stories children and adolescents like at various ages. I was particularly struck by the author's contention that you need to tell the miracle stories of the Bible at that age when children will appreciate them. If you wait too long, she says, they will scoff.

Two to Six: The author says children from two to six like familiar things: Parents, animals, and people like them. Stories that contain jingles and repetition are very popular. Here's a quote:

"The mother or teacher who does not have enough literary ability to introduce into her work jingles that fit the material is heavily handicapped. Nevertheless she does not need to be discouraged. She can feed the love or rhythm that runs as high as that of rime, be repeating phrases or sentences to form stanzas, in the following manner:

"And so the little birdie flew away,
The birdie flew and flew and flew,
The little birdie flew away
Because God said cold days were near.

"In the sweet scented garden of Eden,
The beautiful garden of Eden,
The pleasant green garden of Eden,
Long ago there lived Adam and Eve."

Ages 6 or 7 to 10: "This is the period of childhood when, like the winged horse Pegusus, imagination is a thing no man can control. Tales that satisfy now must be tales that feed the sense of wonder. During these years, which broadly speaking, are from five or six to nine or ten, the craving is for narratives that abound in supernatural elements, those in which animals are endowed with human intelligence and attributes, and in which human beings perform feats that are impossible of achievement to mortals unaided, tales in which the happenings are such that only through the help of higher powers can they be brought about."

"Failure to give wonder tales of the Bible while the child craves them often is followed by an irreverent or purely naturalistic attitude later on. - Skepticism and an attitude of levity toward the Bible often result when the wonder stories of the Book of Israel are presented to older boys and girls, who, because of the psychological period in which they happen to be, are unsympathetic toward them."

"No matter how spiritual or beautiful a narrative may be, or what ideals it embodies, the child must make his first acquaintance with it in the period of his development when he craves material of that type, if it is to benefit him to the full limit of its possibilities."

Adolescence: "The epic period of the child's life covers a longer range of time than any other. From the age of ten to eleven on through adolescence hero worship runs high, but it undergoes definite transitions. The lad at ten, and also at fourteen delights in living in a realm of stirring adventure, but his hero at the earlier age is a different type of individual from the one who awakens his admiration during the later. The man who conquers through physical prowess alone is his first ideal, he who is rugged and elemental. But, as he nears adolescence, a more refined type supplants this crude one. Deeds of spiritual courage and fine idealism arouse admiration. The youth who a little earlier valued muscular strength and skill above everything else now responds to tales of those striving for the victory of right over wrong, even though the situations abound in little physical exertion."

Between 14 and 17: "History appeals to them now, not only as a chronicle of men of achievement, but as a drama of nations, each one of which is a participant struggling to solve its portion of the problem of the world. Interest in interclass and international affairs begins to run high. Spontaneous debates and discussions as to social policies are carried on with deep earnestness.

"A new sense of power possesses the boy or girl, a feeling of ability to overcome all obstacles, to cope with any danger. This feeling of resource sometimes far outbalances self-control, which also is rapidly growing now, but not rapidly enough to keep pace with the sense of ability to cope with any situation. Life is marked by an intensity of impulse, the impulse to do many different things - to do one, and then not to do it, but instead to do something that for the moment seems more glorious and exalted."

Later adolescence (17 or 18 and 24): "Youths of later teen age come slowly into a realization that there is a limit to their control over conditions, to their capacity for surmounting obstacles. Self-control is growing and strengthening. There is an increased social sense, and accompanying it, a growing respect for law. Not always is there conformity to law and the established order of things. Frequently independence, even defiance, is manifested in regard to prevailing opinion and belief.... Enthusiasm and aspiration are common traits. It is now that dream-houses are constructed and life plans are made. Careers are mapped out.

"The story-teller who works with youth in this period has a tremendous opportunity for the strengthening of Christian character. By using stories that show how to overcome the self-assertive tendency that sometimes leads to disaster, and by choosing tales that direct enhthusiasm and aspiration along wholesome channels, the narrator can be a splendidly constructive influence."

"During the later period of adolescence sex is fully awakened, and plays a vital part in the fixing of ideals and the formulating of life plans. It is therefore of great importance that young folk of this age have stories that teach the higher meaning of love, that portray clean, idealistic, but virile and bouyant manhood and womanhood."

Friday, September 26, 2003

G.K. Chesterton

I got a book called Platitudes Undone. It's kind of weird. It is a series of mostly Nietzschean and mostly forgettable proverbs by Holbrook Jackson, with penciled in comments by G.K. Chesterton. The fun, of course, is reading the comments. Here are a few I liked, with Chesterton in italics:

Definitions put a limit to ideas...
Definitions are ideas. A snake's head and tail don't "limit" the snake. They make him.

Beware of those who agree with you.
True: but don't alter your opinion to annoy them.

Doubt is the prerogative of the intellect...
The mind exists not to doubt but to decide.

The future will look upon man as we look upon the ichthyosaurus - an extinct monster.
The "future" won't look upon anything. No eyes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Toys for Iraqis

This is very cool! An Army officer in Iraq is collecting toys for the local Iraqi children. Check it out here: Chief Wiggles. I think he's going to get more toys then he ever bargained for.

Bored Rich Kids

I was reading National Geographic the other day, in which there was an interesting article about Saudi Arabia. A number of the Saudis the author interviewed believed the reason the Saudi young men became involved in the 9/11 attacks was not because they were poor, but because they were rich - bored rich kids at loose ends.

At least that squares with the facts, unlike those who blame the attacks on poverty.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Christianity at its Best

Missionary's family opposes death penalty in India
The family of a murdered missionary forgives the murderer. The ability to forgive the murder of a member of your family has got to be God given.


I was chatting with a liberal friend of mine today, and he is disgusted at the prospect of voting for Bustamante, and I am disgusted at the prospect of voting for Schwarzenegger. They say times of tragedy bring people together. I guess so.

Sunday, September 21, 2003


Sometimes I think the kingdom of God advances in waves. God brings renewal and as a result churches become more holy and obedient and begin to reach out to their communities and to the world. And the church does influence the world, but at the same time the world influences the church. Both are changed. While positive things happen in the world, the church becomes lukewarm, until there is no real difference between those within the church and those without. And then God brings another renewal, often from some completely unexpected source, and the process repeats itself. I don't know certainly that this theory is true, but it's worth pondering.

Right now I wonder if - as a whole - the church is in a trough of lukewarmness: secular, materialistic, commercial, undisciplined, self-absorbed, lots of glitz and little substance. If so, I pray that God will revive us once again. In fact, God, revive my heart! I'm many of those things I just condemned.

No Favoritism

I picked up an old book at the church library today, about telling stories to children, (Religious Education Through Story-Telling, Katherine D. Cather, Abingdon Press, 1925). I like old books because they give a different perspective. Here's a quote I find interesting and different from today. Whether the effect on children would be as the author says, I don't know, but at first glance makes a certain amount of sense.

"For a boy or girl to understand very early that there is no favoritism in God's plan is to render him more amenable to both the moral and the religious code. It makes it possible for him to fit harmoniously into conditions of life that are disagreeable and hard to him, against which, without having gained this knowledge, he might be inclined to rebel.

"In other words, the child should be led to see that God's plan embraces the great universe. It is not designed for the comfort or convenience of one individual. No matter how great the desire of that individual may be, it does not bend because of his pleasure. It is a plan of love mighty enough to include all mankind, and to cover not only an hour or a day of life but the entire course. Therefore what ofttimes seems hard about the working of God's laws, is hard only because we do not see our own lives or those of others in an unblurred perspective."

I'll share more later.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The Wrong Question

Something that bugs me a bit in some news reporting I've read about Islam is the assertion that "the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful."

I have no argument with that assertion. In fact, I'm sure it's true. The problem is that it's just flat irrelevant.

I say this because the vast majority of any group is peaceful. Not everybody who subscribes to a doctrine acts upon it.

So whether the vast majority of some group is peaceful is simply not the question. The question is (or should be), "Does this philosophy or religion promote violence?"

Friday, September 19, 2003

General McClellan

Like everybody, I'm curious about new presidential candidate Wesley Clark. I read in the LA Times today something that gives a clue to his character. When asked if Bill Clinton, with whom, apparently, he has had some conversations, would endorse him, he said he hadn't even thought about it.

Rrrright. If such an obvious thought hasn't occurred to him, then I'm not very impressed with his intelligence. If the thought has occurred to him, then he's lying.

Speaking of Clark, the obvious parallel - which I'm sure Republicans are already laying out - is that of General George McClellan.

McClellan was the smart but lethargic general who commanded the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, making a mess of a good plan by his lethargy. He ran against Lincoln as a peace candidate, and, of course, lost.

Modern Art

I don't know why I got to thinking today of modern art, but I did, and it reminds me of a stunt my brother pulled when he was a teenager.

He and a couple buddies went to a modern art gallery, and apparently had the reaction I've had, which can best be expressed as, "Huh?" So they pulled off their shoes and dumped them in a corner of one room, then went off to the side, sat down and watched.

People came and went and examined the pile of shoes in the corner, meditating upon it deeply.

My brother and his friends, meantime, could barely contain their laughter.

Pure Faith

I was listening to a radio interview with someone with a book to push. I didn't catch all of it, but the speakers' comments appeared to disparage the idea that human beings have a soul.

The announcer mentioned that the author would be speaking at a local sceptics society, and the thought occurred to me that the one thing sceptics never seem to be skeptical about is atheism. That they seem to accept on pure faith.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Bad Shoe Company!

I recently got into an argument - I'd like to call it a discussion, but, well, it was an argument - about a shoe company. Yes, a shoe company.

I won't say which one, but one of my co-workers maintained that this shoe company is exploiting the workers in the Asian country where it manufactures its shoes. How? By underpaying them.

Well, I've always figured that if someone is doing something bad, they oughta stop doing it, so I asked him if it would be better if the shoe company packed up and went home.

He hesitated, realizing, of course, that however little the shoe company was paying, it was better than paying nothing. No, he said, the company should be paying more.

So, I said, it seems you're saying the shoe company is being good, but, not good enough. Oh, and by the way, isn't the shoe company doing more for the people of this country than you are? After all, the company is paying the people something; you're not paying them anything.

I've read similar charges in some socially liberal Christian publications. But I've never understood them. Whatever evils a company may be committing in its labor practices - and I don't dispute that this may indeed happen - paying people for their work isn't one of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Easy Ballot

I've heard a number of comments lately by journalists who believe the California recall ballot is complicated and confusing.

Well, I just went through my sample ballot and can state without qualification that this is baloney. It's the simplest statewide ballot we've had in my recollection.

Most of the ballots have half a dozen statewide offices mixed together with county and local offices, one or two county initiatives, leavened with a hefty does of judges, and to top it off, an array of 10 or more statewide initiatives, which are often exceedingly complex.

This ballot has four items: Whether to recall Governor Davis, who to replace him with, and two statewide initiatives.

It's easier than ordering a cheeseburger at Chili's. If some journalists think it's complicated, I think that speaks more about them than about the ballot.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

God's Mercy and Hell

I just added an essay on God's mercy and Hell here and a story illustrating the concept here.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Terror Marketplace

A while ago a couple guys - one a liberal, techie, friend of mine - were gloating that Admiral Poindexter got in trouble over his proposal to try to glean terrorist intentions by using market methods (His proposal was that people would essentially "buy shares" in the likelihood of one or another terrorist events happening, thereby raising prices on certain scenarios, which, in turn, might give security people a clue about what to prevent.) I told my friend I thought Poindexter's idea was a good one, that was at least worth exploring. He surprised me by agreeing. In fact he thought Poindexter's plan was a great idea. Furthermore, he said it has already been successfull in other areas. Now I was really confused. I pressed him and it turns out that he just doesn't like Poindexter.

Anyway, one of the objections to Poindexter's plan was that terrorists might buy shares in this terror marketplace and thereby not just destroy things and kill people, but also make money off of it. While that shouldn't be a difficult problem to overcome - just take their names - the project is now dead.

Or is it?

Why would terrorists need a special terror-marketplace? If they were going to bomb an oil refinery, why not just short the oil company's stock? Or if they're going to do more evil things to an airline, why not just short the airline's stock?

This in turn suggests that a fair proxy for Poindexter's terror-marketplace is the New York Stock Exchange. So I hope the Department of Homeland Security and Securities and Exchange Commission are keeping a close eye on short selling. If someone starts beating heavily that an airline's stock is going to drop, that should be a big, fat red flag.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Prejudiced ACLU?

My wife just heard on the radio that the ever-helpful ACLU is appealing the timing of the California recall election because some counties do not yet have electronic ballots and that would "discriminate" against minorities.

She, being a "minority," was a bit miffed. What exactly, she wanted to know, is the ACLU saying? That minorities are too stupid to use punch-card ballots?

You are safer now

USA Today (off-line) had a wussy headline today that bothered me. In remembering 9/11, it asked something like, "But are you safer now?"

I think this question should be broken in two. 1) Are you safer now? and 2) Do you feel safer now?

1: Of course we're safer now! Whatever our country's security flaws, I have to believe there are fewer flaws now than there were before 9/11. Also, however capable Al Qaeda is now, I can't believe the battering we have given it has improved its ability to hit us.

2: But of course we don't feel safer! We were hit by a huge terrorist attack, something we didn't expect. Our illusion of safety was shattered. We realize it could happen again. And it can; and it may.

But setting feelings aside, are we safer now than before? Absolutely. By far.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


RIAA settles with 12-year-old girl

This item sets me off.

I sympathize somewhat with the RIAA in its desire to protect music copyrights, but not very much. What annoys me most is that the music the industry has published for decades has promoted all sorts of immoral behavior, from killing cops to adultery to - no doubt - theft. But now! Now that people are violating their copyrights, suddenly they're bastions of morality.

Well, even if they're hypocrites and brought a lot of their troubles upon themselves, that doesn't make it right to steal their music.

Why are we hated?

I've read quite a few articles and heard quite a few radio reports on why the United States is hated around the world.

The answer usually is something about supporting Israel or unilateralism or one or another of our real or alleged sins.

But I don't think that washes. In terms of our sins, I think we're no worse and a lot better than most countries.

I think the reason we are hated is the same reason Microsoft is hated. Yes, Microsoft has its faults. Yes, it has been a bully in the marketplace, but I'm not convinced that is has been any worse than a lot of other companies. I think the main reason it is hated is because it is big and powerful and rich.

And that's precisely why I think the United States is hated.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Original Sin

The doctrine of original sin, as I understand it, is that everyone is in some way born guilty, not guilty of having done anything wrong personally (that comes later), but guilty because of the sin of our first parents.

This is a confusing and unpleasant doctrine, and I'm not sure I can make it pleasant, but I can point out that this doctrine, which is so easy to reject in the Christian faith, is something we accept almost without comment or complaint in everyday life.

For example, suppose a company has committed fraud and the guilty management team goes to jail or is fired. And suppose a new, honest, team is installed. Does the new team's innocence mean the company does not have to repay those it defrauded? Hardly. Does it mean the government is unjust if it penalizes the company? Of course not! Though nobody currently at the firm is guilty of anything, the company itself is guilty and everyone who works for it takes some of the burden of that guilt upon themselves, not as personal guilt, but as corporate guilt.

So it is in this sense, I suspect, that the human race is guilty. Though we did not commit Adam's sin and are not individually guilty of anything he did, yet in our identifation with Adam, we are harmed by his sin. And it is no more unjust that this be so than it is unjust for a company to be penalized for the sins of departed directors.

Driving and Voting

One more item to factor in to the California recall. A friend - adamantly pro Schwarzenegger - points out that he would try to roll back issuing licenses to illegal immigrants, which Davis panderingly approved and which Bustamante is unlikely to attempt to undo. It's a point. I'm happy for immigrants - legal or otherwise - to drive safely, but I'm concerned the license could be used to register to vote, and it is just flat wrong to allow non-citizens to vote. I am just disgusted with Davis for approving this.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The Trouble With Ice Cubes

You know what's really annoying? Semicircular ice cubes; the kind you get from a lot of these ice-cube dispensing refrigerators.

The problem is that when I put them in a glass, they invariably turn sideways, creating this little dam that prevents you from drinking. Because the "cubes" are semicircular, they fit perfectly against the side of a standard glass.

So I sort of twirl the glass around so the ice floats away and isn't creating a dam. Then I put it to my lips and it pops back in place. Then I'll give it a little poke with my finger or a spoon and it looks okay, but as soon as I put it to my lips it realizes it's been negligent and jumps back on duty, keeping me from my iced tea.

What's with these semicircular ice cube dispensing refrigerator makers? Don't they test their products? At least they could ship them with a supply of straws.

Who to Vote For...

What a dilemna. Who to vote for in the California recall election?

On the one hand, I'd be delighted to have Davis out, but on the other hand I think it likely Bustamante would just take over, and I can't say I see much difference. Davis always has his finger in the air trying to determine which way the wind is blowing, and Bustamante's refusal to reject MECHA's racist principles strikes me as more Davis-style pandering.

On the other side, I've always admired Peter Ueberroth, but he doesn't appear to have the slightest chance, and I like Tom McClintock's straightforward approach, but he also seems like a bit of a longshot. I was prepared to listen to what Arnold had to say, but he doesn't seem capable of saying much of anything, and that whole episode with Oui magazine was way out of bounds. First he doesn't know what the reporters are talking about when asked about it. Then he remembers and says he didn't run his life to be governor. And finally, he says he made up some of the stuff in the article.

Yikes! He describes an orgy for a magazine and doesn't remember? How many orgies has he attended that this particular one just kinda slipped his mind? And just like Arnold, I'm not living my life with an aim to becoming governor either, but what does that have to do with participating in orgies? And then he says he made up some of these stories. So now he's admitting to being a liar. I'm reallly doubtful.

So why don't I just vote for McClintock? Well, I'm afraid of splitting the Republican vote. But then again, maybe I should. After all, my allegiance is to principles, not to party. Also, if Schwarzenegger wins the governorship and runs the office as badly as he's running this campaign, then the state continues as it has and the Democrats can blame Schwarzenegger and the Republicans for the mess in the next election. As long as the state is in a mess, maybe it's best the blame lay right where it belongs, with Davis. But then, if Arnold can pull the state out of the soup, maybe he could reinvigorate the Republicans and help deliver California to Bush during the next presidential election. But could he? I'm pretty doubtful...

I guess I'll just have to wait and watch for a while.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Genealogies of Jesus

There are two genealogies of Jesus listed in the New Testament, in Matthew and in Luke, and they are not quite the same. A common explanation for this is that one is the genealogy through Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, while the other is through Mary, his mother.

Perhaps this is the case, but the problem I see is that the wording does not seem to suggest that either genealogy is through Mary. It seems to be saying that both genealogies are through Joseph.

So, I think they are both through Joseph.

But how can this be?

I think that when Joseph was young, his father - or father and mother - died. Then, either his mother remarried or, if she had also died, Joseph was adopted. (In support of this speculation, Joseph apparently died fairly young, as we hear nothing about him in Jesus later life, so perhaps Joseph suffered from a hereditary disease that also afflicted his birth father.)

Anyway, this would mean that one genealogy was through Joseph's birth father, and the other through Joseph's stepfather, or adopted father.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Being More Secular

Since 9/11 I have frequently read comments suggesting that the world would be such a better place if Islam and Christianity would just be more "secular."

When you think about it, this isn't really possible, even if it were desirable. Secular means "non-religious," so what these people are asking for is a non-religious religion. It is kind of like asking the color green to please stop being so green.

A religion that becomes secular stops being a religion. It may keep some of the forms of the religion, but it has had it's heart cut out.

And, when you think about nations that are, or have been, most determinedly secular, the ones that stand out are the communist countries, which have denied the supernatural in all its flavors. The Soviet Union comes to mind, as does the People's Republic of China under Mao. Or, to bring it up to date, North Korea and Cuba. I doubt that any of these countries are the models critics would like Islam or Christianity to follow. Or - sigh - perhaps they are.

Anyway, I'd be happy to hear about the importance of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control," (Gal. 5:22-23) but don't bother me with secularism. Secularism doesn't cure anything.

Speaking of Books

Speaking of books reminds me of how to pick an unfamiliar author's best work. In picking "Blood Lure" I looked at all the covers of the books by Nevada Barr and read the lines that said, "Author of ...". I figure the publisher will tout the most popular of the author's books. A lot of the covers said, "Author of Blood Lure," so I fished around until I found Blood Lure. I haven't been disappointed.

Not Quite Natural

I like mystery novels, and have been working on a good one by Nevada Barr, called Blood Lure, set in Glacier National Park. The book combines an exceptionally good story (though with a bit more rough language than I prefer) with an environmentalist view of the world. On occasions the book gives a message I've heard repeatedly from environmentalists:

"People are messing up nature."

This statement divides things into two groups, nature and people. And this is a bit odd since people are part of nature. We're as much a part of nature as the trees and tigers and whales.

But on the other hand, we're also part of a spiritual realm, and in a sense we do stand off from nature and are not fully a part of it.

I had never thought of the environmentalist movement affirming humanity's spiritual side, but sometimes if you listen hard enough, you'll hear all sorts of intersting things.

First Post

My first blog post. I'm so excited.