Monday, May 28, 2007

Jonah and the Minnow

While the story of Jonah and the whale (or sea monster or fish or whatever) has long been a source of ammunition and ammusement for those who want to ridicule the Bible, this is truly one of the most doofus objections to the Bible that I've ever heard.

The argument is basically that the story is ridiculous; that a whale couldn't swallow a man, and if it did the man would surely drown.

To which the proper response should be: "Well... of course!"

This story is about what is is called a "miracle," and - do I really need to explain this? - miracles violate the basic laws of nature. If they didn't they wouldn't be called "miracles."

If the Bible said Jonah was swallowed by a minnow, I wouldn't have the slightest philosophical problem with that. God is quite capable of putting a man into a minnow. In fact, scientists - whom the critics presumably believe - say that the whole universe was once smaller than a pinprick, so if the universe was once so small that it could get lost in your empty back pocket, what's so hard about fitting a man into a big fish?

Note: There has been some discussion about whether Jonah was kept alive in the sea creature or was brought back to life after his underwater trip, but either way we're talking about a miracle.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Invited But Not Chosen

In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells a parable about a king who invited people to a wedding banquet for his son, but the people ignored the invitation and some even killed the king's messengers. So the king killed the murderers and had his servants round up all sorts of people - good or bad - for the wedding.

Okay, I get it so far, but at the ending of the parable is a part that I've always found curious.

The king finds that one of the people does not have on wedding clothes: "Friend," he asked, "how did you get in here without wedding clothes?" and then, the man having no excuse, the king had him tied up and bounced outside into the darkness, "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Then Jesus concludes the parable by saying, "For many are invited, but few are chosen."

Yow! Seems a bit severe for not having wedding clothes on, and anyway, what's the difference between being invited and chosen? Well, remember, this is a parable, so you are supposed to look for the meaning hidden underneath, so let's do that.

Reading further, in Matthew 26:50, when Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden, it caught my eye that Jesus said, "Friend, do what you came for." So, first the king called the man "friend" and now Jesus calls Judas "friend." Is it possible that in the garden Jesus was tying Judas back to this parable?

I think it quite likely since Judas fits the parable so well. Judas was invited but was certainly not chosen. Judas was asked to join with Jesus, to be a friend and even to become one of the twelve, but deep in Judas' heart he was an enemy. And, just like the guest without wedding clothes, he would soon be thrown into the outer darkness.

So I think that having wedding clothes on means being a true friend to Jesus, being someone who really wants to celebrate with him at his banquet. In fact, if you don't love Jesus, if you're just a fake friend, why would you even want to crash his banquet? And why do you think God would allow it?

So if you are pretending to be a believer - maybe because your friends believe - it ultimately won't work. Please stop faking and make it real.

Become a Christian

Friday, May 11, 2007

James Macpherson Improves Journalism

My friend James Macpherson is coming in for a lot of criticism across the Net. People are saying that he is ruining journalism by his decision to hire writers in India to help cover local news in Pasadena, California, for his Web site. Well, I'd like to say a few words in his defense, but before I do, I need to make clear that I have helped him with some of the technical aspects of his site, and have a financial interest in his success, so if you need to discount what I say, now you have a reason.

One of the main comments I've read is that a reporter really needs to be local, and actually go to the events he or she covers. Having been a reporter, I agree that if other things are equal, being physically at an event is a better way to do journalism. However I'm sure that ever since the telephone became common, distance reporting has been a regular practice. I certainly did plenty of phone interviews when I was a reporter and I know others did as well. And today interviews are also conducted by email, Internet Messenger, and by Skype. And I'm sure lots of reporters in the United States don't attend their local city council meetings anymore, but watch them on cable television or by webcast.

I also agree that cultural differences will likely show up in reporting from India, but that is easily dealt with by James editing the story before it is published, which he will do.

So while I agree with those arguments, I think their effects can be minimized. But, what I am seeing is a far different problem than most people are seeing. I see this not as a conflict between good and bad journalism, but between journalism and no journalism.

What I mean is this: I used to work for the now-defunct Arcadia Tribune, in Arcadia, California, which was owned by our local daily newspaper. When I worked there I had to physically go to virtually every Arcadia City Council meeting, every Planning Commission meeting and every School Board meeting and write up what happened. But the local daily newspaper no longer requires that. I know this because recently I did an email newsletter about my local school district, and in four or five years attending the board meetings I saw a reporter maybe twice. And because there were seldom any stories, I knew that no reporters were watching by cable television either.

So, my point is that this is important stuff AND IT IS NOT BEING DONE WELL! The newspapers I am aware of no longer cover local government meetings on a regular basis, particularly for smaller cities. In newspapers' defense, perhaps the economics no longer make sense, but reporting on what local government is doing is one of the main functions of newspapers and its a rotten shame to see papers either unable or unwilling to perform that task.

So, by figuring out a way for his publication to economically perform this vital government-watching function in more complete way, James is improving journalism. What he is doing may not be perfect, but by filling some of the gaps in local news coverage, James is making a big, positive step, and he doesn't deserve the abuse he's getting.