Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why is Geriatric 1927 So Popular?

"Have you seen this old guy on YouTube?" my son asked me today.

"You mean the guy from Great Britain?"


"I haven't yet. But AOL even mentioned him on their log-in page the other day."

What is it about the commentary of Geriatric 1927 that has YouTube viewers, AOL, my son, and others so intrigued?

Well, first of all, there's the sheer uniqueness of it. Cyberspace is often thought to be the exclusive purview of the young. The average blogger, for example, is a fourteen year old girl. (That's according to Hugh Hewitt.) And many of the videos presented on YouTube are made by or appeal to a younger audience.

But there's probably another reason that Geriatic 1927 is getting such attention from the younger demographic who log onto YouTube: In our mobile Western society, young people don't, as a rule, spend a lot of time with septuagenarians. Members of families whose parents have moved far away from their families of origin, grandparents are people that their kids see at Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe. Because of this, it's been my experience that young people are highly interested in talking with and hearing about the experiences and opinions of the elderly. Geriatric 1927 scratches that itch, with his reminiscences about his life.

Interestingly, Geriatic expresses appreciation for youth culture, as he's seen it on YouTube. This sort of respectful treatment of their cultural expressions may not be something young people have been given by their Baby Boomer parents, teachers, or bosses. That too, must explain some of this elderly vlogger's appeal.

As to the substance of Geriatric's on-screen comments, I've only viewed four of his vlogs and so can't draw generalizations. But his stated initial purpose was to complain about news items he finds annoying. In that, he has a lot in common with the legions of bloggers and vloggers who are taking advantage of today's cyber-technology.

See here to look at some of Geriatric 1927's vlog posts. Here's his first video (there are now 12 of them):

Metro Cincinnati Mourns Bishop Thompson

Herbert Thompson, who retired as bishop of the Epicopalians' Southern Ohio Diocese last December, died unexpectedly in Italy the other day. Thompson was widely respected by people both within and outside his denomination as a person of prayer committed to helping others. Here is the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary.

Friday, August 18, 2006

An Elder Preacher's Passionate Message Leads Me to Ask, "What If...?"

Once a week, I spend some time preparing for my weekend preaching in the library of The Athenaeum of Ohio, a short drive from my home. This week, a new book caught my eye, written by a Jesuit priest named Walter J. Burghardt.

If you've never heard of Burghardt, you should know that he's ninety-two and a fantastic preacher. His sermons, even when you don't completely agree with him, are generally short, to-the-point, and filled with practical Christian spirituality. But their simplicity of structure and expression clearly result from a depth of living, of spirituality, and of scholarship.

The particular Burghardt book that caught my attention and I've been reading, Let Jesus Easter in Us, is a set of sermons built on the Biblical call to justice. I like Burghardt's summary of the Bible's notions of justice:
Fidelity to relationships, to responsibilities that stem from a covenant. What relationships, what responsibilities? Three: to God, to our sisters and brothers, to our earth. Love God above all idols; love every man, woman, and child, enemy as well as friend, like another self. Touch all of God's material creation with reverence, as a gift of God.
At several points, he contrasts Biblical justice with justice as defined by philosophy or the law:
...the philosopher can tell you what his mistress, naked reason, demands: Give to each what is due to each, what each can claim as a human right. The jurist can tell you what his blindfolded Lady Justice demands: impartiality, no favoritism, simply the law on the books. Neither--neither philosopher nor jurist--can command that we love. Only God can demand love. Only the Jesus of Bethlehem's cave and Calvary's cross can demand that we love as he loved. Such is the justice that rises above the ethical and the legal, the justice that is divine, the justice of God.
There are times when Burghardt delves into politics. But most of the time, his calls to justice commend Christians to live in fidelity to the primary relationships of our lives, those with God, neighbor, and the world God has given us.

The homilies are almost always directly taken from Scripture, although Burghardt sometimes roots them in words from the assigned liturgy for the season of the Church Year during which they were presented. Burghardt has the master preacher's ability to connect the Word of God with the world in which we live and he does it with admirable economy. He amazes me because, in spite of his age, he is obviously in tune with what's going on in the world, able to relate to people's everyday lives.

I've read quite a few of the homilies contained in this book so far and have loved each one. Maybe the most remarkable thing about them is the Christian passion that permeates each one. Nowhere is this more apparent in one given at Holy Family Retreat Center in Beaumont, Texas on January 20, 2003. After a recitation of grim facts about the lives of American children--one in five US children are impoverished, for example, Burghardt talks about the relevance of his sad data for Christians:
...To what purpose such statistics? I list them with such cold, unadorned brevity because behind the word 'percentage' lie flesh and blood--millions of creatures as human as you and I, shaped by God with minds to know and hearts to love, with fingers to feel and emotions to burst forth in joy unbounded. Children of one divine Father, sisters and brothers of the one Christ who lived and breathed and died for them.
Jesus' call to love, Burghardt asserts--and I think rightly--is a call for all who follow Christ to live justly toward God, neighbor, and earth.

And while Burghardt shies away from both abstractions and prescriptions--he does give a reading assignment to one set of congregants, challenging them to read one of the Gospels and to note all of the places where Biblical justice comes into play and then determining for themselves how they might live that out--he occasionally shares a vision. In the sermon on the injustices to which American children are subjected, he concludes with one such vision:
An incurable optimist, I dream a massive movement among families. I mean a movement where every Catholic family with more than a mere sufficiency of God's gracious gifts would "adopt" one of the imperiled children in your area. Not legal adoption. Rather, a family friendship, within which the special needs of one child would be addressed: food that builds energy, funds for a basic education, books to read, braces to for uneven teeth, a pair of skates, a summer-camp vacation, perhaps even a job for the youngster's father. The needs are legion. With persistence, imagination, time, and some sacrifice, your people can transform a parish, parishes transform a diocese. And if the dream were to carry over to diocese after diocese, the country we love might well become known, be envied, not for its wealth but for its justice--the justice of God, the justice that is penetrated by love.
When I first read those words, I thought they were preposterous. Preacher talk. Burghardt, who first presented them in Epiphany Season, with Christmas, the feast celebrating the birth of the Savior Jesus, still fresh in his hearer's memories, was prepared for such a reaction:
Far out, off the wall, a mission impossible? Perhaps. But remember, the most improbable transformation in history began with a single child, a helpless child, in a tiny corner of our world, with no one to care save a virgin mother and a foster father. If we Christians could only see, in each little one in need, an image of Bethlehem's child, we could remake our troubled world...don't be afraid to take the first step, to reach out to another little Christ. Let none of us be afraid--for one remarkable reason: It is Christ Who reaches out through you, the same Christ who told you, "Blessed, fortunate, happy are you who hunger and thirst for justice."
Burghardt has me thinking, "What would happen if every Christian of sufficient means 'adopted' a child as he suggests? What if I were a Christian willing to take him up on his suggestion?"

More broadly, "What if I laid aside my unwillingness to tackle the little impossibilities and simply trusted God to make something of my availability to Him? What would happen then?"

These are frightening questions--I don't know if I have enough faith to live as Burghardt suggests I live.

But these are also exhilarating questions, among the many that Burghardt's amazing preaching causes me to ask myself.

Faith in a risen Jesus should always cause Christians to ask, "What if...?" and then, in dependence on Him, to look for the answers.

If nothing else, I'm praying that Burghardt's preaching and living will incite me to make one line from that Christian hymn, "Rise Up, O Saints of God," a more prominent prayer in my life. The line? "Give justice larger place."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

If You're Not Reading 'Another Think' Every Day...'re missing out on some of the most thoughtful, encouraging writing in the blogging world. Each of Charlie Lehardy's posts is a gem. Go there now!

There's Nothing Wrong with Being the Church

So says Jan, even though some congregations have decided not to use the term to describe their fellowship.
There are a lot of things wrong with the modern-day church. It is perceived as an institution in a world that is hungry for spirituality and meaning. It has frequently failed, or missed the mark. It came late to the AIDs crisis. But it has been the only consistent agent of change throughout history. Even Bono acknowledges that the Church, organized and impassioned, is a force to be reckoned with. After September 11th, thousands of people across the country flooded into their local church, identified as such and still trusted. The church shows up in Katrina-devastated New Orleans, in the inner-city, in Africa, and wherever people are hurt, homeless or hungry. It is still the only real Hope for the World.
Her sentiments remind me of those of Bill Hybels, expressed in his book, Courageous Leadership:
“...the future of the world rests in the hands of local congregations like yours and mine.”
The Church is the Body of Christ in the world, a divinely instuted family that has its dysfunctionalities to be sure, but is still the indispensable means by which the Good News of Jesus Christ is brought to the world, in words and in deeds.

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 5:15-20

[Go here and here to look at the first two passes. In the first of these, you'll find an explanation of what the passes are all about.]

15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (see previous comments on these two verses from the second pass at the lesson)
(6) William Loader interestingly points out that Paul, in urging the Ephesians (and us) to make "the most of the time," is calling Christians to "exercise good time management."

It's admonitions like these which lay behind the Christian notion that "idle hands are the Devil's workshop," an idea that is unfairly maligned, seen as prompting Christians to joyless adherence to grim duty.

But that's absurd! There is an immutable law of displacement within the human soul. When we're not about God's business, we're inevitably about the Devil's.

This doesn't mean that we're all to be monks, nuns, or pastors. "Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord," is another of Paul's admonitions. Biblical faith has a deep appreciation of the value of both work and leisure. Whatever our work or leisure time activities, our aim should be the same, expressing worship for God by loving Him and loving others.

When this intent is displaced from our lives, we can become followers of Christ, but slaves of the devil, the world, or our sinful selves.

(7) Colossians 4:5 is similar to this passage. But there, time is to be used wisely in relation to non-Christians. Here, the general issue is the Christian ethical or moral life.

17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(1) This is one of three contrast statements that are found in the passage. In fact, the entire passage, according to The New International Bible (NIB), contains "groups of three" structuring.
  • 3 "not...but" statements (vv.15b, 17-18)
  • 3 types of music (v.19a)
  • 3 participial phrases (19a, 19b, and 20)
(2) Foolishness is marked by trying to define truth and goodness to suit our own impulses and desires. But the Bible believes in objective truth, defined and revealed by God. There are ambiguities in life, to be sure; this is an underlying theme especially in the Gospel of Matthew. But Jesus Christ, as He says of Himself in the Gospel of John, is "the way, the truth, and the life," the foundational Reality of the world against which truth claims are to be measure. Through Christ, we see that the will of God is that we repent, receive new life through Christ, and seek, with the Spirit's power, to live out the life style of love God, love neighbor.

Wisdom is conducting oneself in ways that are consistent with our faith. Of course, no follower of Christ ever lives completely wisely. This is where the practice of "daily repentance and renewal," asking God to help us make midcourse corrections and to grant us the forgiveness we need to live, comes in.

18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
(1) Once more, we see the phenomenon of spiritual displacement. But the contrast here isn't between wine and the Holy Spirit. It's between drunkenness, a dependency on alcohol for feeling good or good times on the one hand, and reliance on the Holy Spirit, Who can guide us in personally fulfilling and God-pleasing life styles.

(2) The passage draws on these Old Testament words:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink. (Proverbs 23:26-35)
(3) Paul has previously prayed in this letter that God would fill the Ephesian believers with the Holy Spirit. But as I asked in this post:
If believers are filled with the Spirit, why do they need to be filled again? Billy Graham deals with this well in his fantastic book, The Holy Spirit. He says that out of the abundance of His life, God gives His Spirit to all when they come to believe in Christ. But those believers can also be filled again and again, for their consolation; for reminders of God's love, presence, and power in the midst of trying circumstances; and for sharing Christ with others by our words and actions.
19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,
(1) When we allow God's Spirit to displace self-driven living and let God's wisdom direct our "walk" through life, worship is the basic attitude of our lives. See here.

20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) Christians aren't meant to thankful for the bad things that happen to us. But when you know Christ is always with you and that He has given an inviolable future with God to you, you have the capacity to cope with what comes your way. See here.

I Rail Against the Church Doing Politics...Again


(For an earlier rant on the subject--there have been many of them--see here. Sorry for the funky misalignment of letters and sentences in this post. Numerous attempts to fix it have been unsuccessful.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Amazing Story

As a one-time atheist, I found myself peculiarly drawn to this person's tale of coming to faith in Christ.

Toby, also a former atheist and student of Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, describes something of his conversion and what it has thus far meant:
After a lifetime of atheism, almost entirely devoid of any exposure whatsoever to religious practices; after cofounding a secular humanist club in undergrad; after spending way too much time picking apart really bad arguments for the existence of God; after declaring a few times (before witnesses) that I was an "incorrigible" atheist, probably the last atheist who would ever, ever convert to Christianity--after all that, I've converted to Christianity...

I can't explain why, because there is no explanation. I converted, and there was no reason for my conversion. None. Really, none...

...I received no visions, heard no voices, had no hallucinations of any sort (a pity, since I'm rather fond of hallucinations, though I doubt they're any sort of basis for faith). I was not convinced of God's existence by some amazingly clever philosophical argument I'd never considered before. I did not feel that I was at the end of my rope and needed some supernatural force to get my life back on track. I didn't feel a deep psychological need that only religion could fill. I felt no deep sadness, no sense of lack, no sense of despair. No arguments, no needs, no wants, no motivations were responsible for my conversion.

I found myself in a position where I faced an incomprehensible choice to either commit to God, or not, with no basis whatsoever for choosing one over the other--and I chose to commit. It was that simple (that difficult, that bizarre). I know next to nothing about existentialism, but I get the feeling this was some hardcore kinda existentialist moment...
If you're a Christian and Toby's nascent theology doesn't look like yours, I wouldn't worry about it. We're all in the process of becoming and you and I could well be wrong on every point at which we might disagree with him. But for me, it's enough to know that someone has changed the sun (the Son?) around which he orbits.

And one other thing: Few people are ever intellectually argued into faith in Jesus Christ. Christ woos us through the Holy Spirit and the Spirit-empowered witness of His people. An amazing story like this one is all the inspiration I need to keep wooing for Christ for a long time to come!

[Thanks to Ambivablog for leading me to Toby's site.]

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 32

I'm dealing with a few questions that may have cropped up as we've been moving through this series. I did so in the last installment and tackle one more here.

Q: Christians speak of Jesus as being God and also as the Son of God. Which is He?

A: Both.

Jesus, in many different ways, made the stunning claim that He was God. "I and the Father are one," He once said, for example.

Yet He also spoke of Himself as the Son.

It's important to understand that in describing Himself as the Son, Jesus was not claiming a subordinate or derivative role for Himself, except to the extent that He voluntarily submitted to the will of the Father in going to the cross. While never using the term, Trinity, the Old and New Testaments taken together reveal that God is one Being, three Persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

In His willingness to accept worship, Jesus signaled that He was God. But as the Son, He had a particular role, what the theologians call an office. As the Son, Jesus was the Person of the Godhead Who built the bridge between God and humanity, heaven and earth, eternity and our time-bound world. He was to be the Redeemer.

I love the confession about Jesus found in the New Testament book of Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
More on Jesus in the next post.

One Tragic Result of the Sin of Anti-Semitism

Ambivablog cites someone who cites someone else. (Go to her site to sort it all out.) But consider this:
In a column a few months back, Dennis Prager cited perhaps the most tragic statistic that haunts the human race. Throughout history, so many Jews have been murdered for being Jews, that “While the world's population is about 30 times larger than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish population has barely doubled. Had Jews been left alone to procreate at the same rate as others, there would be about 180 million Jews in the world today.
In spite of the New Testament witness that it was the sins of the whole human race and in spite of the fact that it was a Gentile functionary of the Roman Empire who, in essence, signed Jesus' death warrant, there have been Christians over the centuries who have accused the Jews of killing Jesus and used that as an excuse to hate or kill Jews. Hatred and baseless prejudice will always find excuses for sin.

Several observations:
  • People will go to untold lengths to elude responsibility for their own sin. My sin killed Jesus. How dare I try to pin that blame on somebody else? As we sing each Lenten season to our Savior, "I crucified Thee!"
  • Jesus was a Jew. So were Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Hannah in the Old Testament. So were John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul, and others in the Old Testament. The light of the world, Jesus, came from the Jewish people. What warrant does anyone have for hating Jews who, along with the rest of us, spurned and killed the Savior of the world? All this affirms is our common humanity, our common sin, and our common need of a Savior? Beyond all that, what warrant does anyone have for hating anyone for their religion, ethnicity, or nationality?
  • As the Gospel of John makes especially plain, Jesus, God-enfleshed, died at a time of God's choosing, among a people of God's choosing. You wouldn't have Me in your hands, Jesus told Pilate, unless God had placed me there. "It is finished," Jesus exclaimed as He died, choosing the very moment of His death, surprising all who witnessed His crucifixion by the rapidity with which it came. (Crucifixion ordinarily entailed a much longer dying process.) The world did spurn Jesus and nail Him to a cross, but only because God had chosen this as the means by which the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world. This only adds to the tragic absurdity of so-called Christians blaming Jews for the killing of Christ.
Anti-Semitism is one of many sins that result in murder. But it's sobering to consider how pervasive, destructive, and violent this particular sin is, especially among those who profess to follow Jesus Christ.

Trusting God by Trusting the Church and Finding and Using Your Gifts

John Schroeder addresses the critical issue of living in authentic community with Christ and His Church. I love these two paragraphs:
I think it is important that as Christians, we figure our what "our jobs" are. For example, the job of a pastor is to help form Christians and Christian community. Thus, when a pastor starts taking stances on political issues for the church, despite the fact that as a private citizen he should have an opinion, he is stepping outside of his "job description."

Why is this important? Because we want the best people doing things, that's why. I learned early and with difficulty that I am not suited for vocational ministry. When I did such ministry, not good things happened. The same would be true for other people when they step outside of what they are suited to doing. A pastor is not suited to politics for any number of reasons. Likewise, a politician is not suited to do what I do, or what a pastor does.
Read the whole thing.

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 5:15-20

[See the first pass at the text here.]

A Few More General Comments
1. The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) calls this passage, Wisdom as Thanksgiving. When we exercise the wisdom God has given to us, it's a way of expressing our thanksgiving to him. When, for example, we refrain from drunkenness, as is mentioned tangentially in this passage, we give God and His Spirit place in our lives. That's wise. Drunkenness displaces God and is an unwise, even dangerous, way of living.

2. NIB also--rightly, I think--divides this short passage into two sections: 5:15-18a, which is a call to live wisely; 5:18b-20, which is a doxology.

3. William Loader says this about the passage:
...In this excerpt of the continuing instructions the focus falls first of all on wisdom. This comes both in 5:15 and in 5:17. Why emphasise it? What would it mean for the hearers not to be wise? To answer that we need to note the themes of the preceding verses. 5:6 assumes there is persuasion around which could lead them astray, probably in Christian guise (see also 4:14). The verses which follow speak of unfruitful works of darkness, hidden, shameful behaviour. This may be sexual immorality (a theme in 5:3). It may be that this is just a typical warning against false teachers. It was common to accuse false teachers not only on going astray in their thoughts but also in their behaviour. It was probably less than fair, but we see it happening more and more in the later writings of the New Testament and then in the early church.

The instruction to look accurately at how they live and not to fall to foolishness (5:15) arises from the assumption that there are real dangers to faith and that often they need intellectual discernment...

Verse by Verse Comments
15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
(1) The opening verse sets the tone for what's to follow. This entire passage expresses the letter of Ephesians' penchant for contrasts, here calling Christ-Followers to love wisely, not unwisely. In what follows, we'll be told some of what constitutes a wise life.

(2) Of course, wisdom is a highly valued trait in Biblical faith. The book of Proverbs, in the Old Testament, is wisdom which God revealed to ancient King Solomon. Many contemporary business people, as well as Christian leaders like Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, and Gerald Mann, make reading Proverbs a regular routine. Wisdom is the practical know-how needed to live life with a sense of connection to God's purposes for us.

(3) In Proverbs, there's a passage that contrasts wise and foolish people:
Hear, my child, and accept my words,
that the years of your life may be many.
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered;
and if you run, you will not stumble.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers. (Proverbs 4:10-14)
(4) Wisdom is rooted in God and belongs to those who call on Him, Who dispenses it. Psalm 14 says:
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout

all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Pslam 14)
(5) The times in which we live, where evil exists, requires us to exercise spiritual caution, avoiding temptations that might lure us from God. This means adopting a lifestyle wisely tuned into God. Our lives and our faith can otherwise be destroyed. The God we Christians meet in Jesus Christ will never abandon us. But we can walk away from Christ and when we do so, it rarely happens as the result of some grand conversion to evil. We walk away from Christ "by littles," an unwise decision here and there that we allow to build into a wall of self-centered unrepentance. That is the path of destruction. Avoid it, Paul says.

More later, I hope.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lebanon: Now What?

As Lebanese strive to rebuild their country, two sobering assessments of what's happened and what it means for the future.

There may come a point when the Lebanese blame Hezbollah as much, if not more, for the loss and destruction they've experienced in this recent war. After all, it was Hezbollah that precipitated the conflict by poking their wet fingers into the electric socket and getting a response.

But it was Israeli bombs that fell on Lebanese homes, businesses, power plants, airport, highways, and bridges in what appears to have been a non-sequitur counterattack.

Besides all that, of course, is the encouragement which this war has given to that strain of thinking in the Middle East traced by Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt to "Karbala and Masada." It willingly accepts stupid, futile, meaningless martyrdom as a glorious thing.

John Kennedy used to ruminate over the fact that if a would-be assassin were desperate enough and heedless enough of losing his own life, no security measures in the world could be strong enough to impede him. Radicalized Islam has perhaps concluded that life is so cheap and meaningless that it's willing to sustain death "in a blaze of glory" over life in a peaceful democracy. (And that appears to not only be true in the struggling democracy of Lebanon, but also the advanced nation of Great Britain!)

Life has once more been cheapened in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the immediate beneficiary. Let's pray that the Lebanese don't remain enamored of the group for long. People who see their lives as meaningless tend to share their misery in very destructive ways.

Whatever we can do in America to help the Lebanese rebuild their country could give people reason to doubt the dangerous, empty-headed propaganda of Hezbollah...and reason too, to back away from the silly path of faux-martyrdom embraced by those with no appreciation for the gift of life.

Can Kinky Friedman Be Elected Governor of Texas?

He started out tongue-in-cheek, though rarely has his tongue been in check. Nonetheless, Kinky Friedman, the country musician and writer, who calls himself "the Jewish Cowboy" and bears a passing resemblance to the late Western film star, Richard Boone, isn't just going away in his independent run for governor of Texas.

The Daily Times notes:
The national Rasmussen Reports July 24 poll gave [incumbent Republican Governor Rick] Perry a lead among voters with 40 percent of the vote. [Republican State Comptroller Carole Keeton] Strayhorn [also running as an independent] received 20 percent and Friedman 19 percent. While Perry’s percentage has been static since February, Friedman has gained 10 percent and Strayhorn dropped 11 percent. [Democratic nominee Chris] Bell scored 13 percent in both polls.
Like such facile--and successful--gubernatorial candidates as Ronald Reagan in California and Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, Friedman is an effective and seasoned communicator--the author of more than twenty books and composer of many songs--who knows the value of well-crafted phrases. A sampling of Friedmanisms:
  • “I think money doesn’t vote, people do."
  • “My mind is alert to terrorism, of course. In Texas, particularly, we need to be alert to the situation. Imagine what would happen if Rick Perry has to get on an airplane without his hair gel.”
  • “The other three candidates seem to have humor bypasses. If you’re a politically correct person, you should vote for one of them. You have to be politically correct to be a politician, and the three of them are. Me, I’m a compassionate redneck.”
  • “As you know, I’m 61 years old, which is too young for Medicare and too old for women to care.”
  • “But I care about Texas and I want to fix what’s wrong with it. We are probably the richest state in the country, but we got potholes in the roads, we can’t pay our teachers, we can’t provide health insurance for our kids and they’re trying to sell off the state parks!”
  • “We can make Texas number one in renewable fuels — which is a helluva lot better than being number one in executions, toll roads, property taxes and dropouts!”
  • Noting that in 2002, a scant 29% of the electorate came out for the election, Friedman asserts, “Last time, they spent $ 100 million just to drive 71 percent of us away from the polls. This time, that 71 percent is coming roarin’ back--with pitchforks!--to throw the moneychangers out of the temple!”
None of it adds up to a political program, of course. But few pols seem to have anything resembling a program these days, so it probably doesn't matter.

Besides, Friedman has something else going for him that's very similar to Reagan.

Ronald Reagan's breezy optimism disarmed his Dem opponents accustomed to running against conservatives whose politics was characterized by seething rage. Conservatives were angry at government institutions they deemed bloated, bureaucratic, intrusive, incompetent, and too inclined to play nice with the Soviet Bloc.

Reagan was every bit as angry as Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential standard bearer who got clobbered by Lyndon Johnson. But Reagan was a sunny fellow who could deliver scathing words with a non-threatening smile. A succession of Republican and Democratic opponents in primaries and general elections--including Pat Brown, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale--never knew what hit them after they'd tangled with the smiling Reagan.

Friedman has apparently established himself as something of a folk hero in Texas. (At least that's how the current President Bush sees him.) As a musician and author, he's won lots of people over as fans with his humor and good-natured persona. It's that persona that's likely to allow him to deliver his stinging indictments of Republican and Democratic business-as-usual without scaring anyone off or being seen as a regular pol, even if he doesn't seem to have a complete platform.

Friedman's independent run may be coming at an auspicious time for him. His articulated mood corresponds precisely with that of people all across the country: People are all pols, especially incumbents, Republicans and Democrats. They're angry with government. And we saw in last week's Connecticut primary the power of anger to bring people to the polls, especially people who haven't voted for awhile. Pleasant, intelligent candidates who articulate their anger in a non-threatening, yet memorable ways have a heightened ability to garner big support in 2006.

I don't know if Kinky Friedman can win the Texas governorship. But his candidacy will make this year's election there one of the most interesting races in what promises to be a very interesting political year.

[See here and here.]

Monday, August 14, 2006

I Think It's Official: I'm a Curmudgeon

Or so Sippican's fun comment over at Althouse would seem to say. I mean if I'm that begruding about passing around Wow's, I must be a curmudgeon.

By the way, be sure to read all the comments to Althouse's post on historical books written with literary beauty. You'll derive quite a reading list from it.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 5:15-20

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson
15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

General Comments
1. For background on the book of Ephesians, see here.

2. This passage is a segue to a section of Ephesians that presents a household code. Such codes appear in many of the letters found in the New Testament. They delineate the ethical or moral obligations of people relative not only to the households in their primary residences, but also in the household of faith, the Church.

3. Moralizing, as the world usually practices or talks about, is an entirely different matter for Christians. The Christian moral code is something that Christians voluntarily embrace not in order to win points with God, but because they're grateful that in Christ, God has already won eternity for them, because Christ is living in them, because they know Christ has made them a part of an eternal family, the Church, and because they know that doing things Christ's way puts their lives on an optimal path.

In his first chapter on Christian morality in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:
...a Christian is not a man [sic] who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin again after each stumble--because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out. [Thus crucifying the old sinful self and enabling the new God-self to rise.]

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or--if they think there is not--at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating in them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts--that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body...
If you've been paying attention to these "passes" at the Biblical texts over the past several weeks or to the messages based on Ephesians, you can see how much what Lewis writes here resonates with this New Testament letter. The Church is the Body of Christ, a living organism attached to and dependent upon Christ for its life, an entity composed of all of us. The mission and purpose of the Church is fulfilled when all these individual cells healthfully work together and live together in love and cooperation.

If you want to know why the Church can sometimes be so ineffectual and off-putting to the world we are called to reach with the Good News of Christ, you need look no further than this fact: There are too many Lone Ranger Christians, too many who think about "Jesus and me." Christianity isn't a me-faith; it's a we-faith. Every indivdual person is unique and special in the eyes of the God Who made us and died and rose for us; but every individual is part of a big redeemed family.

In this passage and others, Ephesians calls us to live out this revolutionary new life of love and mutuality, of interdependence and the sharing of our gifts for the good of the Church internally and the mission of the Church externally.

More on this passage later in the week, I hope.
If you live or are close to Columbus, consider attending the Central Ohio debut of a new independently-produced film...


It's a mock-umentary look at the world of stand-up comedy.

My brother, comedian Marty Daniels will perform just before the showing of the film, along with several other comics. Marty has a small role in the movie.

After the movie has run, there will be a Q-and-A and a Meet and Greet.

It all happens tomorrow night, Tuesday, August 15, at the Drexel Gateway Theater, on the south edge of the Ohio State University campus.

Tickets are $10.00. For information or to order tickets, call 614-545-2255.

For more information, on the film or the theater, see here and here respectively.

For more info on my brother and his comedy, see here and here.

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 31

In this post and the next, I'll respond to a few questions that may have cropped up about what I've written so far in this series.

Q: You promised to try to keep the posts in this series short. But some have gone on forever. Why have they (like the answers you sometimes give to questions) gotten so long-winded?

I did make that promise and unfortunately, I've broken it. This reflects both an occupational hazard and a personal penchant. I can get long-winded. I'm sorry. I'll try to keep these posts shorter from now on. I've similarly veered off course by not hewing to the pattern of The Small Catechism, as I'd originally planned. I'll try to correct that as well.

Q: In part 13, you said that war is one circumstance under which, in spite of the Fifth Commandment, killing might be defensible. As a Christian, doesn't it make you feel uncomfortable to say that?

Yes. When I say that God is pro-life and that I'm pro-life, I'm not making a political statement. God makes life. He loves life, this incredible invention of His, and He wants us to cherish it too.

But we live in a world in which people who are given over to evil sometimes attack the innocent. If a menacing person broke into your home, brandishing a gun and threatened to kill the members of your household, would it be appropriate for you to let them do their worst to the people you're to protect or to take defensive measures which may result in the death of the attacker? The answer should be obvious.

By the same token, to use a concrete example, if the US government and military had decided to simply ignore the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, we'd think them criminally negligent. They would have been as guilty of killing by not defending the country as the Japanese Imperial air force had been in attacking Pearl Harbor in the first place.

This brings up three important points:
  • Whether in war or in some other context, a believer in the God of the Bible can only justify their taking another life in defending others or themselves against attack.
  • When Christians kill, it should never be for the purpose of exacting revenge.
  • Related to the two above points, Christians should never be the initiators of violence.
Tomorrow, I hope to respond to several more questions that have come up during the writing of this series. After that, I'll resume the series...with shorter posts, I hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

'Natural Moderns': A Great Exhibition to See If You're in Cincinnati

We went to the Cincinnati Museum of Art today. There is no admission charged to enter the museum any longer, which, as my wife pointed out, makes it ideal for taking the place in through bite-sized chunks It's possible to really look at a few pieces, giving them the attention needed to appreciate them, without feeling pressed to see everything in one visit.

Today was the second day for a new--and small--exhibition called, Natural Moderns: Georgia O'Keefe and Her Contemporaries. Included are two paintings by O'Keefe, both stunning. Even though it's a small exhibition, it's far from disappointing!

The theme is landscapes--and seascapes--as seen through the self-consciously modern eyes of O'Keefe, Arthur G. Dove, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin.

The two O'Keefe works immediately call out for attention. This is especially true of Red Hills, a gorgeous painting at which I couldn't stop staring.

The surprise of the exhibition for me was Dove, of whom I don't remember ever hearing before. His pieces are clearly inspired by nature, but are abstractions, what he called "extractions." And that's a sensible designation for them, since Dove seemed to extract the color and energy out of nature, while rendering his subjects in abstract ways. The effect, for me, is like seeing something of the essence of a roiling sea or an evening sky, conveying something of their nature far more certainly than could a more photographic rendering.

The museum's web article on this exhibition notes:
Dove, Hartley, Marin, and O’Keeffe were members of the famed Stieglitz Circle, named for photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, who championed avant-garde art in America. (Stieglitz and O’Keeffe married in 1924.) Between the two World Wars, the Stieglitz Circle worked to define a distinctly American form of modernism, finding meaning in the American landscape and the natural world, which they expressed in thoughtful and highly personal works of art.
If you're in Cincinnati and have the chance to visit the museum in its beautiful Eden Park setting, you might want to check out this exhibition, which will be showing through January 14, 2007.

"Life is good!"

That was my son's reaction to today's Cincinnati Reds extra-innings win over the Philadelphia Phillies, coupled with the Saint Louis Cardinals' sweep-clinching loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That combination of events puts the scrappy Reds, wanderers through the Baseball wilderness for more than a decade-and-a-half, just a game-and-a-half behind the Cards in the National League Central Division race. The Reds are now heading for Saint Louis for a three-game series that starts on Tuesday.

The Reds also have a tenuous hold on first place in the NL Wild Card race.

I became a Reds fan back in the Summer of '69. I was fifteen at the time. Our family took weekend camping trips to Rocky Fork State Park and I took my gargantuan six-band radio along. Late at night by the campfire, I listened to Reds games.

That same summer, my uncle, who lived in the Dupage County suburbs of Chicago, took my cousin and me to Wrigley Field during a weeklong stay I had there. The Reds played the Cubs that day. I don't remember the score. But I do remember that we sat on the first base side, almost on top of Pete Rose, then playing in right field. We were surrounded by members of the Rosie Reds, the longest-extant traveling fan club in the Major Leagues.

The Reds had the nucleus of a team which would go to the World Series the next year, when they would lose to the Baltimore Orioles. And just a few years after that, during 1975 and 1976, the Reds fielded what many Baseball aficionados consider the greatest National League teams ever. Those '70s-teams are known as the Big Red Machine and even kids in Cincinnati born decades after the Reds of that era played, venerate them. I've been a fan for thirty-seven years, through thick and thin, glad to say that I followed the Reds before they tore the cover off the National League in the Machine era.

Of course, Philip has been a fan since birth. On the day he was born, my wife's late step-father brought a gift to the hospital: a small bat with Johnny Bench's engraved signature.

When in July, 1990, I was called from the church I was serving in northwestern Ohio in order to start a new congregation in the Cincinnati area, my son was wary. When I told him how much easier it would be for us to Reds games here, he was a bit more reconciled to the notion.

That fall, to my amazement, the wire-to-wire Reds, who had been in first place in their division every game of the season, went on to sweep both the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League title and the Oakland A's for the world championship. I'll never forget how, on the night the Reds won the Series, people in our new neighborhoold went out onto the street with brooms and buckets, making lots of noise to celebrate the win.

The Reds are still in the 2006 race for the championship because of scrappiness, an explosive offense, the contributions of everyone on the bench, and a pitching staff put together by a combination of the wiliness of a shrewd general manager and lots and lots of duct tape.
But it's a fun sight to see our team in contention in mid-August. Life is good!

Living the New Life

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on August 12 and 13, 2006.]

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
As a teenager, I was an admirer of Robert Kennedy, the Senator, former Attorney General, and brother of President John Kennedy. After he was assassinated in June, 1968, I remember reading two of his friends say of him, “He was always in a state of becoming.”

I wonder if the same thing could be said of you and me. Are we in a state of becoming...someone more, someone finer, someone better, or someone stronger in our relationship with the God we meet in Jesus Christ?

It’s my observation of life that we're either growing or we're dying. We’re either engaged in a process of living or we’re in what I call “suicidal ruts.” (A rut, I’ll remind you, is nothing more than a grave with the ends kicked out.) Are we in a state of becoming?

This is an especially important question for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. The section of Scripture from which our Bible lesson for this morning is taken, starting with the eight verses immediately preceding our lesson, is a place where Paul is contrasting the old life that the Gentile converts had lived before they had come to follow Jesus and the new life in Christ they were now called and privileged to live along with Jewish believers in Christ. “Don’t fall into the old ruts!” Paul is saying. “Live the new life that Jesus died and rose to give to His people. Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s words of admonition that come right before our lesson, in this way:
And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They've refused for so long to deal with God that they've lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can't think straight anymore...

But that's no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.
Then comes the verses that make up our lesson, the whole theme of which comes in the next-to-last verse for today. “Therefore,” Paul tells us, “be imitators of God.” The word translated as imitators is, in the original Greek, mimetes, from which we get not only imitate in English, but also mimic. When I was a boy, I can remember consciously imitating my dad. I thought that the way he stood and the way he sat and walked were the right ways to do those things. I wanted to be like my dad. And when I was learning to write, I did that by imitation: I put my hand on a pencil, one of those #3's that were the size of a horse's leg, and my mother would put her hand on top of mine and guide my writing. Later, I imitated the movements that she had taken my hand through for forming my letters. We learn by imitation. Paul says that Christians who are in the state of becoming all that Jesus Christ has freed them to be imitate or mimic God, our Father.

Paul helps us to see what that means in a series of imperative statements, most of which are made up of three elements:
  • a vice to be avoided;
  • a virtue to be embraced; and
  • the reason the virtue is good for us to adopt.

  • Listen to those imperative statements again, this time in Eugene Peterson’s translation: more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

    Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

    Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can't work.

    Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.

    Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
    Tell the truth, get past your anger, make a living so that you can help others, use your words to encourage people, and forgive each other. There probably is no major religion in the world and no ethical system that would have any disagreement with those imperatives. But there’s one thing that makes Paul’s list of ethical behaviors uniquely Christian.

    One of the most popular non-Christian views of God is the one that sees Him as “the cosmic watchmaker.” People who hold to this idea of God think that God is like the maker of a watch. He uses ingenuity and creativity in giving life to His creatures, including human beings. But these people say that after their version of God finishes the watch and winds it up, He leaves creation to its own devices. This idea of God is appealing to those who can't tolerate any ambiguity about life or mystery in God. They can't reconcile the notion of a loving, powerful God with the existence of bad things in the world.

    But the God Who has revealed Himself through the ages and is talked about in the Bible is no cosmic watchmaker. This God cares so much about us that, after we human beings had brought shame and pain on ourselves by rebelling against Him, God didn’t give up on us. He even became one of us to win us back. One of my favorite passages in the New Testament, found in the book of Philippians, is thought to be the words to a song the early Christians sang together when they worshiped:
    Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
    In Jesus Christ, we see that the God Who made this universe isn’t disconnected from us. He isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty in order to love us right where we are. Quite the opposite!

    While channel-surfing on Saturday, I came across a scene from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve never read the book or seen the whole movie. But the scene seemed to convey something of the truth about God I’m talking about. Harry and his friend Hermione were surveilling a cottage in which another Harry and another Hermione were talking. For some reason, the Hermione outside the cottage tossed a stone through the open window. It hit the other Harry in the back of the head. But when it happened, the Harry on the outside rubbed his head and told Hermione, “That hurt!”

    That's akin to God's sense of identity with us. God is so invested in us that when we hurt, He hurts. When we rejoice, He rejoices. When we die, He mourns. When we believe in the Son, Jesus, we rise.

    Knowing this about God, ot should come as no surprise then that when we become children of God through Jesus Christ, we gain more than just a Father in heaven. We also gain a family.
    That's where our lesson with all its ethical imperatives comes in. Of course, Christians are called to be forthright with non-Christians, as well as considerate, loving and so on. But our lesson is really about how we in God's family, the Church, are to live toward one another. By faith, we're part of this family. Now, Paul says, live as one family.

    Earlier in the book of Ephesians, you’ll remember, Paul called the Church, “the Body of Christ.” He said that all believers in Jesus Christ have been made members of each other. Becoming imitators of God means so identifying with one another that we recognize that when we hurt another member of Christ’s body through self-serving deception, discouraging words, the failure to forgive, and so on, we really wound ourselves. We wound this single Body of Christ. By the same token, when we forgive each other, encourage each other, pray for one another, and offer our lives in service to Christ together, God blesses all of us. We build up the Body of Christ so that it can reach out authentically with the life-changing news of Jesus' death and resurrection.

    This past week, I needed to share something with the Church Council. It was something about which I felt badly, a failed attempt by me to be reconciled to another Christian. After I’d said my piece, I was surprised--although I shouldn’t have been--to discover how supportive and encouraging the Council members were. As stupid as it may sound, I, who am always encouraging others to share their prayer needs with the congregation, had been a bit embarrassed about having asked others for their prayers. But Carol, one of our Council members, put things in perspective when she said, “Mark’s a member of this congregation, too. He should be able to ask for prayer just like the rest of us.” When I told my wife--who happens to be the real theologian of the family--about it later, she said, “She's right. After all, Mark, we’re all part of one family.”

    We Christians, like the God we imitate, are called, in Paul’s words, to “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We’re called to be part of the family that Jesus’ death and resurrection made possible.

    When I look at my life, I see many times when I’ve failed to love Christ or His Church. More often than I care to remember, I’ve put myself first and acted as though I were an independent agent. But no believer in Jesus Christ is an independent agent. We belong to each other.

    Think of this stunning fact: The Church is the only place God has created for the purpose of helping us all take the baby steps we need to take toward becoming like the God Who sets us free sin and death to live with Him forever.

    The Church is the Body of Christ. Let’s live as though we really believed that’s true.