The 30th day of thankfulness

Earthworms vs. Butterflies. Custodians and “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Exploding dinosaurs, microscopes, telescopes, minivans in my living room. The standard convention for giving thanks was broken this month, and I broke it for good reasons, reasons I hope to share on this my 30th day of thanks.

While not my ‘30th day thanks’, I am thankful for all of you who read the posts. Opinions regarding the posts were varied, some positive, some negative, but in the end I am humbled that people found them worth having an opinion about. In the Facebook world of banal nonsense, generating an opinion about things other than sports or politics proves to be a difficult task.

Today I am thankful that absurd things are often the truth.

We live in a spoken world. A magical world as it were, I hoped to convey that in my posts. A world where dandelions get called weeds even though they are the most useful of plants. (Thanks Ray Bradbury for pointing that out to me.)  A world where strange transformations happen all the time, a world where just about everything is miraculous. My hope for you who followed along these 29 days is that your tolerance for the absurd has increased, even if only by a maggot’s hair. In truth the moment you deny the absurd, the moment you try to package everything neatly, whether by science, or systematic theology, you lose sight of the world as it really is. Science and systematic theology both are helpful, but they are limited in that they refuse to account for the absurd. Science declares the absurd doesn’t exist, and theologians do their best, I know not why, to cover up the absurdity of our theology.

Today I am thankful that bread can be body, and wine can be blood. Today I am thankful that water can wash away sin, and human lips can forgive sin. Today I am thankful that vibrations from somewhere inside the one human’s neck can carry the words of God to a drum inside some other humans skull, and somehow those vibrations create faith. I’m thankful that Word became flesh, God ‘became’ man. I’m thankful for an instrument of torture, a cross that we look to as a sign of hope. I’m thankful for resurrection. I’m thankful that there is one mediator between God and man, I’m thankful that mediator is the Word made flesh which at one point dwelt among us.

Sometimes I think the apologists who feel the need to explain this all just need to go away. Stop telling me that Peter was telling me to turn this all into logic when he said “to be ready to give a reason for the hope in me”. My hope doesn’t lie in my ability to mentally ascend to proper theory. My hope lies in the absurd reality that Jesus’ life death and resurrection was for me for the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. The world was created in six days, I don’t care about a fossil record, I don’t really care much about Ken Ham or Kent Hovind’s goofy theories either. The best explanation is magic. The supper is really the body and blood of Christ, I don’t need some transubstantiation or consubstantiation, some over under or through to explain it, I have long since come to realize that the absurd is often true, and that is enough for me. If he said it, it is. I mean He said light and light was… right? Absurd? Sure, but true.

So today I am thankful for the word made flesh, for the absurd reality which is not merely a reality but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose for you. I am thankful for Him, and you should be too.



The archive of posts:

Nov 1 - thankful for the sacrificial uranium nuclei that help power my world.

Nov 2 - you ever wonder how many people have died in the process of discovering what plants were poisonous, medicinal, or safe? Today I'm thankful for those people, you should be too.

Nov 3 - I wonder how many deaths I would have died already if I didn't feel or fear pain. Today I am thankful for pain, you should be too.

Nov 4 - I burn ancient forests for a warm shower. I drive with the power of exploding dinosaurs. Today I'm thankful for all the organisms that put the 'fossil' in fossil fuels. You should be too.

Nov 5 - Edible, good for wine and tea, the first flower a child picks for his mother's bouquet, wish granting, and baby-head-pop-offing. Her great virtue is her willingness to indiscriminately set any green lawn ablaze in her golden glory. Yet her willingness to spread her beauty is the reason she is so persecuted. To hell with the poor soul who Satan inspired to call her a weed. Persecute away Mr. Tru-Green and Mrs. Chem-lawn my children will unleash more of this golden glory with each wish they blow, and you will never stop them! Today I am thankful for dandelions, and you should be too.

Nov6 - You know who gets more credit than they should? Butterflies. Disguised like the heroic earth worm, that butterfly-in-worm-clothing is only going to tear your plants to shreds, spin a cacoon, then bam! Show his real colors and fly off to South America. Meanwhile, Mr. Earthworm eats your dirt and makes soil to feed your garden. The same garden that pesky false-worm is busy eating. What does our noble Mr. Earthworm get in return? Impailed by a hook? Cut in two by your shovel? Drowned and bloated in your church parking lot? Smashed by your children? Yet you gaze endless at the evil Monarch's beauty entranced by his lies. You all should feel ashamed. Oh Monarch, fly back to South America, you're no longer welcome here. Today I am thankful for the earthworm, and you should be too.

Nov 7 - Burp a baby in a crowded room and when that monsterous gasteral release echos off the walls everyone will smile and celebrate. And celebrate they should! Yet burp yourself and they'll call you a pig. Why? Because they want you to suffer gas pains? They prefer your gas to come out the other end? Historically a belch was a compliment to the chef, and a true joy to the one who dined. But alas, some imbecile decided to label the belch disgusting and relegate all fomal dining into a painful experience. This should not be. Call me gross, I don't care, today I am thankful for the belch, and you should be too.

Nov 8 - Remember that greasy guy from grade school? He walked through locked doors. Lurking in the background, recognizable, but you'd never dare speak to him. Your vomit was cleaned, scrawlings on the bathroom stall deleted, and against all odds the locker room remained almost sanitary and you knew this greasy enigma was behind it all. Camouflaged in mechanic clothes he quietly blended in with the school's institutional hues. He refused to interfere with your learning, yet his humble efforts to stay out of the way projected a creepy and undeserved image of a recluse. Yes, I tell you every school has at least one Boo Radley, and for them, today I give thanks. I am thankful for school custodians, and you should be too.

Nov 9 - If I were 85 years old at the time when houses were first being retrofitted with indoor commodes I would have been repulsed. "You're going to do what?... INSIDE the house? This is a moral outrage!" Walking by a recently used washroom retrofitted with a commode and smelling the aftermath, I promise "I told you so" would find itself chiseled clearly across my face. 
People are generally disgusted by outhouses, feeling cursed to have to use one. But who thinks of the absurdness of an 'in-house'? (Keep your toothbrush in a drawer, and put the lid down before you flush, really.) 
Sometimes we bring things inside that should just be left 'out'. Today I am thankful for that great relic of the not so distant past, the outhouse, and you should be too.

Nov 10 - Long ago in a not so distant garden a group of tomatoes were bragging about their versatility, two peppers were vying for a place on pizza and the aloof carrot was dreaming of dessert. Tired of being relegated to a healthy snack, carrot shaved himself, and slid into some orange jello thinking he'd blend in. Aha! He was a welcome guest in the orange jello. "Jello is almost a dessert" carrot thought. However carrot remembered that even celery (you know, the ants on a log guy) once was included in jello. So carrot shaved up again, and went where no vegetable dared to go. Cake. He found himself swimming in spice cake batter and the world has never since been the same. You, bold carrot who has broken all vegetable convention, today is your day. No longer relegated to salad, beef roast and stew, you are now a dessert. Today I am thankful for carrot cake, and you should be too.

Nov 11 - Military technology amazes me, and it is staggering to think of how this technology 
has come to affect our everyday lives and raised our standard of living. Military technology society never dreamed of 50 years ago is common place now among civilians. Of those staggering advancements one stands out above the rest, the crowned jewel of military innovation... cargo pants. No more sitting on wallets, or having keys dig into your thighs. Our veterans we're rocking the cargos in foreign lands long before the rest of us knew it was cool. So today I am thankful for cargo pants, but more than that I am thankful for the veterans who made them cool, and you should be too.

Nov 12 - 44% pig skin + 28% bovine hides + 27% bones + 1% other = 100% awesome. Without this worthy mix, there are no more Gummy Snacks, Marshmallows, Jello, or even some ice creams, yogurts, chip dips along with many other glorious snacks. Beyond snack eaters, the pharmaceutical industry, photography developers, and even the cosmetic industry should all share in this November 12th day of thanks. For once we can take pride, like our ancestors, in letting no part of animal go to waste. Today I give thanks for gelatin, and you should too.

Nov13 - Cheese, Yogurt, wine, beer, even leavened bread, all the by-products of contamination. I'm thankful today for yeast and bacteria and you should be too.

Nov 14 - What if we could find a worm that would be willing to eat harmful bacteria? What if this worm was successfully used to treat infectious wounds? What if she also would be willing to spin up a chrysalis to keep those butterfly lovers who need a picture of transformation happy? This would be the ultimate species, no? What if it came out of its chrysalis and actually stuck around for awhile instead of flying off to South America? Yes this would be an organism worthy of our thanksgiving. So today I am thankful for the housefly in worm's clothing, a.k.a, the maggot, and you should be too.

Nov 15 - My best memories are uncaptured. They are faster, higher, louder, stormier, happier, prettier, uglier, tastier, stronger hotter and colder, yes the uncaptured memories are far more interesting than reality ever was. Reminisce with the right person and a memory will improve and grow, they won't correct you, unless they too are improving the memory. A good friend will add a couple Tacos tothe already inflated taco memory, or subtract 5 degrees from a cold winter memory, or even add a few bodies to the huge party memory, certainly they will not resist your additions either. But alas, some poor soul always gets carried away with a camera, only wanting to capture a memory, unwittingly they put it in cage. My mind sees ten tacos but the picture only shows six... burn the picture. Sure, caged memories don't die, but they don't live either. Today I am thankful for uncaged memories, and you should be too.

Nov 16 - if our uncaged memories have a freedom which caged memories do not (see yesterday) then today I am thankful for the hard drives which go on permanent strike to set those memories free, and of course you should be too.

Nov 17 - Thankfulness for maggots and houseflies was not echoed... by anyone so today I take a different tack. Today I am thankful for the weavers of nets, architects who work in fine silk as strong as steel. Great trappers of the aforementioned house fly. They stand ever vigilant in their task of trapping and destroying bugs in your home. In return you smash them. Today I am thankful for spiders, and you should be too. (Especially if you are not thankful for houseflies)

Nov 18 - To deny magic is to deny reality. We live in a spoken world, a fantasy as it were. A place where the green worms someday get to be butterflies and the brown ones have been cursed to eat dirt and reproduce by themselves. A place were black and white squirrels spray noxious fumes postmortem to remind the world of their existence. This place where frogs that pretended to be fish as children grow up only to stick there tongues out at blood sucking fairies that some call mosquitos. Even last night magical winds blew that sent children under ground while those same winds summoned heroes into giant red trucks, flashing cars, and mobile hospitals. It is a denial of reality to say there is no magic, and an outright blasphemy to call magic evil. Today I am thankful for magic, and you should be too.

Nov 19 - Stomp in a puddle deep enough wet your socks. Run barefoot to your mailbox in the dead of winter just to feel your body dance a jig in auto-pilot. Count how many snowballs you make after your hands have gone numb. Get grass stains while doing something other than mowing. The greatest mistake we ever made was to grow up. Why do you encourage your kids to make the same mistake? Mother, don't scold the muddy child because he caused you extra work, teach them how to clean it and then give them permission to get dirty again. Father, one barefoot lap around the house in the snow isn't going to kill them, scratch that, they might die of laughter when they run inside. Why must we forbid the very things that make life worth living? Today I am thankful for childhood, and the adults who still live it and encourage it, and you should be too.

Nov 20 - There's an enigmatic cluster of people in our society who travel in droves to quaint run down shacks. Wearing their creaky old bodies, each holstering a can of pledge and a waning cask of elbow grease, they conjure diamonds from history's rubbish. These pirates have scoured your garage to rob you of unseen treasure. Give thanks. The past has tangible and not mere sentimental value because of their thieving. We can only pray this order of buccaneers remains 100 years from now, lest our possessions turn to dust and never find value again. Today I am thankful for antiquarians and you should be too.

(An antiquarian is an antique collector.)

Nov 21 - We talk a lot about first responders, but rarely about the last responder. We celebrate our life saving heroes but not our death saving heroes. When our first responders zip up the bag who will you call? Who will bring dignitiy to death? Final memories are hard memories, who is the hero who will step in to make those memories right? The last image burns into our retinas forever, who will create that last image. Who brings out the dead when the heroes of hospice can do no more? Another hero, that's who. Yet you look at him and shudder, you wonder about his back room where he weaves his spell, and you even question his sanity. You wonder about his childhood, and why he ever dreamed of such a profession. Today I am thankful for funeral directors, and you should be too.

Nov 22 - Few are the people who see conversation as an art and not a mere transmission of ideas. Conversations should often go beyond the practical, beyond the sharing of stories and advice, beyond jokes, they should touch things we never expected to touch. You know when you've been in one, its just different. Today I am thankful for the rare conversationalist, talk to one (I did tonight), and you'll be thankful too.

Nov 23 - With the Hubble telescope beaming back gorgeous pictures of space we have become obsessed with the enormity of this universe's beauty. It is mind blowing to consider how small we really are. Yet if we put a particle of dust on a microscope and continue to zoom in we will see gorgeous beauty there as well. Through and through we live in beauty, we are made of beauty, we breath beauty, we spit beauty. You just cannot get away from it. Even ugly viewed close enough is beautiful. Today I am thankful for telescopes and microscopes which reveal this beauty, and you should be too.

Nov 24 - Speak a dream and it vaporizes. The images were so vivid, confusing and real, you soaked in the thick dream residue enjoying that strange high. Then you speak it and the crystalline dream, becomes liquid, and in a moment it's a vapor that you frantically try to bottle in your mind. I'm convinced that if a dream were never spoken you'd be able to keep it forever. In any case today I am thankful for those moments when dream residue is thick and heavy, you should be too.

Nov 25 - Ears for hearing, eyes for seeing, tongue for tasting, nose for smelling, skin for touching. What if we had more sensing organs? A mole rat is oblivious to light. Talk to a mole rat. Explain light to him. Lack of sensing organs make you oblivious to almost everything in the world. How many more colors are there that you can't see? How much music does this world create that you cannot hear? How many flavors are there that you cannot taste? You barely sense the tip of the iceberg of reality. Today I am thankful that our world is richer than we will ever perceive it to be, and hopeful for what additional sense resurrection life might bring, you should be too.

Nov 26 - Beauty is largely subjective. If an item or a person is not beautiful to you, it is because of your decision. Culture helped, but the decision still lies at your feet. Today I am thankful for beauty, and eyes that are occasionally willing to see it, and you should be too.

Yeah remember those earthworms? Beautiful. Really.

Nov 27 - Yesterday I was high school, the day before that I was elementary, but jr. high was 1000 years ago. Just a week ago I got married and it's been like 60 years since my last cold. Good memories stay close while the lame ones drop into the distant past. Today I am thankful that our minds don't process time like our watches and calendars do, and you should be too.

Nov 28 - Children have real conversations with imaginary friends. Adults have imaginary conversations with real friends. Alone in your car you run mock conversations. Don't lie, you do. You get all the words right, your friend responds exactly as you plan. If it is a fight you win, if it is friendly banter the conversations moves right where you want it to. Go ahead, challenge your ideas and theories alone in a mock conversation with real friends. This is a good healthy exercise. However, today I am thankful that real conversations never go as predicted, and you should be too.

Nov 29 (late I know) - I'm putting two recliners side by side in my living room facing the front window, a love seat behind them, and one more love seat behind the first one, minivan floor plan. Then we are going to sit there for fourteen hours in an attempt to duplicate the excitement of a family trip to the beach, because let's face it long car rides were fun growing up, right? Absurd? Yes, long trips were fun because the journey had a destination. Today I am thankful that this terrestrial ball ride has a destination, and you should be too. (Unless you are the the type who fakes mini-van rides in your living room.)


That's a work! Nuh uh... yuh huh... nuh uh...

“What is the limitation of God’s action through people?” This question is anything but trivial, and it is precisely the dividing line between sacramental Christianity (not sacramentarianism mind you), and Evangelicalism. Let’s be clear that the way we answer this question touches nerves that we didn’t realize we even had, and actually exposes divisions in places where we once thought we were united.  So what is the limitation of God’s action through people? I can hear you saying “well God has no limits, and God can do whatever God wants to do!”

I might say Amen to that, but the truth is that you don’t really believe that, and you need to stop pretending that you do.

For instance, can God forgive you by having me say to you ‘your sins are forgiven’?  Or must God have me tack on the words “because of what Christ has done”?  Or must God have me tack on “In the name of Christ”. Or does God just do it, and any words I say are mere commentary on what he has done. You see there are limits that you have in place.  Can God have me cook bread, ferment wine, speak words of institution over them, feed them to you, and forgive you by those actions of mine? Can He? The question is, can God work that way?  Can God have me run to the church tap, fill a pitcher, put it in a font, sprinkle it on a baby in accordance with word, and wash away that child’s original sin?  Can God do that?  Of course the evangelical reader will astutely point out that I am creating a false dichotomy, or a strawman, and they would say “sure God ‘could’ do that, but that isn’t what God does in accordance with His word.” In other words that is not the way that he has revealed himself to be working.

The question we then ask the evangelical, especially in light of verses in scripture which seem to insinuate forgiveness in the supper, washing away of sin in baptism, confession and absolution, and so on is this; “What is it that makes the typical evangelical balk at a non-symbolic view of word and sacrament”? This is an important question, and one that I ask often.

The evangelical response inevitably sounds something like this; “We are not saved by works, therefore eating the supper, being baptized, being absolved, etc… can only signify what Christ has done. Baptism cannot actually wash away sin, because it is work, communion cannot actually impart forgiveness, because it is a work, absolution cannot actually absolve, because it is a work.  To say these things are more than symbolic is to violate the overarching theme of the New Testament which is salvation by faith in Christ, not of works.” Add on the fact that it sounds too Roman Catholic, and all arguments for sacramental Christianity are usually DOA before the normal evangelical will even entertain them.

After debating this ad nauseum with a friend of mine I’ve come to a very simple conclusion. These two systems have different ideas regarding what scripture refers to as a work. When I hear someone say baptism is a work, I just scratch my head.  “How is someone putting me in water and saying words over me a work?”  My opponent would scratch his head and say “How is someone putting you in water and saying words over you not a work?”  Then we just kind of stare at each other like the other person is an idiot.

If you step back the difference is pretty obvious. The sacramental guy is saying a work is anything we do ourselves, and the evangelical is saying a work is anything done by any human effort other than Christ’s. So the literal sacrament view finds it absurd to think baptism is a work because it is done to you, not by you.  The supper is not a work because it is given to you, not done by you, absolution is not a work because it is pronounced to you, not by you… and so on.  In the evangelical framework all of those things are works because they are done under human volition and they believe it involves the creation of a mediator between God and man, which is strictly denounced by Paul. Which again begs the question “What is the limitation of God’s action through people?” or “Is it possible to say a person doing these things is really God doing them?”

I contend that if we are going to frame a debate between Christians regarding the sacraments the place we need to start is with a working definition of what the scriptures mean when they say we are not saved by works.  Debating any other point will inevitably amount to us speaking directly past one another. The other thing we must be aware of, is that belief in real presence, baptismal regeneration, and absolution does not imply Roman Catholicism. I hate to even have to bring that up, but it seems like the assumption of most evangelicals is that there is no third alternative between them and Rome.  There are though, some of Anglicanism, Lutheranism, even slivers of Methodism and I am sure some others hold to a literal view regarding the sacraments and their accompanying scriptures.

Without beginning to make the arguments as to why the literal sacramental definition of works is right, and the typical evangelical view is wrong, I want to use the rest of this post to explain some of the downstream differences we see in our churches which are resultant of our differing view of works.

One staple of evangelical Christianity is personal bible study. There is this idea that the private study of God’s word is, if not a mandate on a Christian, at the very least it is one of the healthiest things a Christian can do. For the evangelical one of the signs of a healthy church is bibles in laps of the parishioners following along as the minister preaches. The healthy evangelicals are being Berean and “fact checking” the sermon for lack of a better word.  The preacher then is merely supplementing, or guiding their own personal study. Ultimately under what I will call the ‘Berean mandate’ (as understood by evangelicals) it is up to the individual to determine truth.  Of course they would say ‘No we are discerning truth’, but take an honest look and you will see that regardless of what any minister would say, personal interpretation of the text is always trump in evangelicalism.

Of course the flip side is the more sacramental church. Nobody has their bible out, or very few do, and they and their minister are perfectly fine with that. Instead they are listening for the words about themselves to be spoken to them. (Faith cometh by hearing).  Instead of shuffling through to find the ministers passing reference to Philemon chapter 2 they are waiting to hear the Law and Gospel spoken directly to them ‘sacramentally’ through the minister. Of course the evangelical doesn’t hear any of it, because they were being busy Bereans looking for the second chapter of Philemon.

Oddly enough the evangelical looks at the sacramental folk as sheep just lapping up whatever the minister feels like saying, and the sacramental folk are looking back at the evangelical wondering why they are working so hard at apprehending a sermon.

For the sacramental people church attendance is super important, and a lot of times they don’t even know why, but they think, and rightly so, that showing up and hearing the words of God’s forgiveness, remembering their baptism, and receiving the supper somehow makes them right with God.  The evangelicals find that to be absurd. Of course the evangelicals are comfortable missing church as long as they maintain bible study and fellowship in a small group, or some sort of personal devotional practice. Both sides look at each other and say, ‘that sounds like works salvation to me!’

In the evangelical church you might hear a 58 part sermon on Ephesians, because the most important thing is understanding. (58 weeks in Ephesians was not meant to be absurd, seriously you’ll find stuff like that.) The sacramental church might spend 3 or 4 weeks in it depending on the lectionary, because they are less concerned with your knowledge and more concerned with pronouncing (thereby applying) Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to you, and condemning your flesh (literally condemning it, not a symbolic guilt trip) with the Law.

In evangelicalism growth happens primarily by study and service. In sacramental Christianity growth happens primarily by tending to the means of grace.

Of course we could go on and on here. Simply remember that the line of demarcation is in what constitutes a work. For evangelicals a work is anything done by anyone, for the sacramental folk it is anything done by your own volition. Which is why we sacramental folk watch the evangelicals and actually think they teach works salvation, and they look at us and say the same.

Hopefully that was an honest assessment, and before anyone yells at me, I KNOW that I made some sweeping generalizations there, and I apologize if I cast anyone into a role they really do not fill.  This is a springboard though which we can start from.

I need to stop for now, but I will continue this in multiple parts.


Dementia, Manufacturing, and the Not so Missing Link

There are two disturbing trends in America right now that need some serious attention. The first is the increase in dementia type illnesses occurring among people who are still in the prime of their life, and the second is export of manufacturing jobs overseas. While I think it is nearly impossible to stop the exporting of manufacturing jobs in our current economic reality, I do believe it is possible to curb dementia with relative ease. It is no coincidence that there is an inverse relationship between domestic manufacturing and dementia. The correlation is staggering. The answer to solving the dementia pandemic is to increase people’s exposure to common manufacturing chemicals. Healthcare professionals are keeping this secret. Again, realize that as time has gone on, less and less Americans are having the opportunity to be exposed to various cutting fluids, paint fumes, and metallic dust, and we are just now beginning to see the price that under exposure to these chemicals is really playing on our public.  Of course we have heard the bogus arguments from the other side. Many people want to tell us that it is actually dementia that is causing the loss of manufacturing jobs, and that to reverse the trend of job exporting we must first begin to cure dementia. While I understand the logic, I do find it rather careless to blame memory impaired people for the state of manufacturing in the US. Frankly I am appalled at that proposition.  Now fortunately for all 13 of you who read my blog I have a surefire way to reduce your risk of developing dementia in your golden years. A group renowned people and I, have been scavenging through the rust-belt and purchasing up all the unused manufacturing fluids and gases that we can get our hands on.  Now this is a secret the government doesn’t want you know, because they have their greedy hands in our health care, and dementia is big business for them. Anyway, we have procured literally thousands of pounds worth of chemicals, and have created a scientific method for simulating healthy levels of factory exposure to these chemicals. You owe it to your family and to yourself to contact us, and make sure you get the exposure you need. Call 800-555-6565 for your free sample, don’t forget that number… or else… you’ll forget that number.

Ludicrous? Of course it is, yet you and I buy into, and even make arguments like this all the time. Entire movements are based on ideas similar to the one above. Anytime you read a story that begins with ‘studies have linked…’ you should put yourself on guard because more often than not a whole load of horse manure is about to spew forth on your page. (Organic horse manure, so maybe it is justified.) Of course this is not to discredit all stories that statistically link things together, but proceed with caution. The point is simply that in most cases correlation simply does not imply causation, especially in the incredibly complex world that we live in.

What causes obesity? Some say fast food, some say lack of exercise, some say its stress… I think it probably has something to do with sushi. More people in America are eating sushi than ever before, and more people are fat than ever before… coincidence? I think not. Seriously though, how many times will the FDA or the ‘organic’ or ‘vegitarian’ soldiers march through our streets telling us something is unhealthy, only to march down the street two years later saying the exact opposite before we will realize that maybe they just don’t know? That their arguments of causation from correlation are frankly wrong?  Can someone tell me what the current thinking is on potatoes, or whether high fiber diets actually reduce cholesterol or not?

Now if we project this tendency we have to grant causation to things correlated into the realm of the church we will see how prone to this thinking we are. Look at the worship wars for instance. Contemporary churches have typically seen more growth than traditional offerings, especially through the nineties and the early part of this century, therefore to grow the church we must become more culturally relevant. Seems like a good argument right? Or how about this, the sharpest period of decline ever in the American church corresponded in conjunction with the burgeoning movement of contemporary music into traditional churches.  Uh… two stories correlating different things, yet giving the exact opposite messages… both with stats to back them up.  Both sides can argue all they want, and people will line up and spend big money to go to conferences based entirely off of these ideas, without ever knowing that they are being sold placebo.  I can tell you the secret to church growth, and this is free for everyone who has read this far.  What you need to have happen at your church in order for it to grow is this: You need to see to it that number of people entering your ranks exceeds the number of people dying and or leaving the church. If you can do that I will guarantee your church will grow. I promise.

So what’s the point? Everyone is hopeful for a miracle and even willing to see a miracle in things that are obviously not miraculous. People stuff gel capsules with roots in them down their throat in hopes to stave off cancer. People use the latest strategies to present the gospel. People switch out to the latest leadership models to grow their church. People hope rigid spiritual disciplines with solve tepid discipleship, and on and on the list goes. And most of the justification behind all of these fads and trends is someone well-meaning soul who has determined causation based on correlation.


Mechanics, Engineers, and the Atonement... Finding the Right Place to Fight

The process you use to develop your theories, opinions, or truth statements are as important if not more important than the final conclusions that you draw. While this might seem obvious at first glance, the importance of this idea, especially as we approach issues of faith cannot be understated. For the most part we all process the same or at least similar ‘facts’, yet our process determines what weight we give to various ‘facts’ we are presented with. In most cases when a debate comes up on issues of theology (or really anything with even a modicum of subjectivity) we spend all of our time debating our conclusions based on the facts presented without ever engaging the validity of our processes used to arrive at our conclusions.

Let’s take a common debate between automotive engineers and mechanics.

No engineer is designing an automobile with the intention of making it difficult to work on, really, there is no conspiracy here. We really do want your car to be repairable, it’s just that in our thought process ‘reparability’ is only a minor factor. Yet, the mechanic is convinced that it is an absolute truth that ease and cost of repair should be a primary design consideration. In truth it is nearly impossible to say who is right or wrong on that alone. However if we decide to debate the thought process itself behind the design we can make headway in seeing whether one side’s process of thinking is superior to the other.

It comes down to values, and yet no cogent debate can occur about anything unless both parties have at least one shared value. As an engineer my core value is efficiency and cost reduction. Ultimately we find that the mechanic actually has this in common with the engineer. He wants the repair to be efficient and low cost. At the very least there is a starting point from which to debate and something fruitful can proceed. Before finding that shared value, mechanics are merely gear heads who don’t understand the finer points of machine design, and conversely engineers are just asses who have no consideration for the next guy who is going to work on their car after their design inevitably begins to fail. I am not a mechanic, and can only argue the engineering side. I would simply say just save the money I have gained you in efficiency and number of trips to Autozone, and use that extra money to shell out $500 to get your spark plugs changed. But, you might respond, it is ridiculous to spend that much for something that simple. To which I would say no more ridiculous than spending that at the pump, or changing them yourselves 3 times as often.  To which the mechanic might say, but being able to do something yourself is a value in and of itself.  Ah… and now we have found the difference, the point of debate as it were. I think overall money savings is more important, the mechanic places higher value on self-sufficiency. Now we have the ground work for a really interesting philosophical debate that we might have never found if we never started with our shared value of cost and efficiency.

The jump to theology is not hard to make here. Let’s take Calvinist, Wesleyan, and Lutheran doctrine with regard to the atonement. Calvinism would limit the atonement to the elect by grace alone, Wesleyans would make it available to all via decision which was enabled by prevenient grace, and Lutherans would say the atonement is already applied to everyone and is ascertained by faith. How do we get to a meaningful place from which to debate these things? We find that Calvinism is primarily concerned with the Glory of God, Wesleyans are concerned with Holiness, Lutherans are concerned with unwavering good news to all. These core values are very different and have an immense effect on our view of the nature and scope of the atonement.  Of course Wesleyans and Lutherans are still concerned with the Glory of God, and Lutherans and Calvinists are still concerned with Holiness, and Wesleyans and Calvinists are still concerned with Good News, BUT which of these things should have primacy?  That is where the debate must occur. Unfortunately the debates among these groups tends be around what is the role of good works, or what is predestination, or how can one know they are saved, or can salvation be lost… or a myriad of other topics. Yet with each group operating from a different platform regarding what is ‘most important’ each of those debates simply end with everyone thinking the other person doesn’t get it.  The only fruitful debate is a debate around what should be primary, from there other things can be debated, but until agreement on the primary occurs discussion around the secondary topics is largely pointless.

Is God’s glory the primary concern, is Holiness the primary concern, is Good News to all the primary concern. Again, we all agree that these things are interrelated, but that is where the debate must begin.

Should cars be easy to fix by anyone mechanically inclined? Or should cars rarely need fixed?  Of course the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, but debate must occur at the primary level of what is most important.
Next time you debate anything with anyone, I encourage both parties to attempt to trace their line of thinking all the way back to your point of divergence. If you don’t start there, then whether you know it or not, you are just debating past each other. However if you get to your point of divergence, you might at least come to understand, and *gasp*, even respect that the conclusions of your friend make sense in light of their fundamental differences.  You might even find that from the point of divergence onward you both are using the exact same process to draw your conclusions. Of course this is not to minimize our differences, these things are immensely important, but at the very least we should debate the differences in at the point of divergence not at the logical downstream conclusions.

Make sense?


Good News is Unconditional Too

 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” –John 20:23

I have found that the vast majority of commentary that I’ve read on this text goes to great lengths to explain away the plain reading of the text. While none of the commentators would be so brazen as to say they have a complaint with the text itself, the undertone of each of them is indeed a complaint. The common thread of these commentaries sounded something like this; “we know that only God can forgive, therefore this text means that the disciples were charged with proclaiming the good news about how someone may be forgiven.”  Yet that is not what the text says at all. The text clearly says ‘if you forgive… they are forgiven… if you withhold… it is withheld.’

For reasons unknown to me we have a real problem with the idea that someone can forgive sin on behalf of God. The vast agreement of commentary surrounding this passage proves our discomfort with that idea. We claim to also have a problem with the other side of the equation as well. We ask, “who are we to withhold forgiveness from anyone?” However, in practice we can see that we don’t have a problem with the second side of the equation at all.

How many times have we heard a preacher boldly claim that ‘there is none righteous no not one’ or that ‘all have fallen short of the glory of God?’ We hear these things, and we collectively say ‘amen’ as we should. God has indeed said that we have all fallen short, and when the preacher declares that to us we should hear it as God speaking because it is true. We have no problem with the preacher condemning us from the word of God. This is not some fundamentalist only thing, progressives too have their own way of doing this. ‘We have failed to bring justice’ ‘we have failed to be open-minded’ ‘we have failed to serve the marginalized’ and so on.  Again this is all to say the same thing, ‘we have all fallen short’. We are used to this sort of preaching, and we readily accept it.

The problem that we have is when a Christian says the words ‘you are forgiven’. We get all bent out of shape and say ‘only God forgives! No one can forgive sin in heaven other than God!’ We are fine with the preacher saying all are condemned, but as soon as someone says ‘ALL are justified freely by his grace’ we respond saying ‘whoa back up, there is no way that ALL are justified. You can’t just tell someone they are justified until they have examined themselves to see if they are in the faith.’ 

Can you see our blatant inconsistency here?

When I look at you and tell you that in baptism you were buried with Christ and risen with Christ, or say the words ‘baptism saves you’, or say ‘you are forgiven’ people will line up to insert various caveats as to why or why not that may be true for you. Yet all I have said are the words of scripture themselves, it is someone else who is adding or taking away from it.

Why is it that we have not embraced the idea that we can pronounce actual and effectual heavenly forgiveness with our human mouths from God’s word, yet we are comfortable with speaking actual condemnation from the scriptures?  Why is it that we wrongly insert ‘if’ somewhere in the message of forgiveness but rightly leave out ‘if’ in the message of condemnation from the law?
These are questions worth consideration.


Semantics and Homosexuality

Homosexuality is the most pressing social issue of our time.  Whether or not it should be is open for debate, but as far as public attention goes, the debates surrounding homosexuality and society get the most play.

The conversation around this issue has been so charged that the task of getting to the bottom of what both sides are attempting to communicate is a daunting one. The underlying struggle of the whole debate actually comes down definition of terms. Both sides of this issue will say different things using the same terminology and then debate right past each other. Language itself is critical in the whole debate, and in the end whoever gets to define the terms wins the debate and determines the public perception. When someone says “it’s just semantics” and writes off ‘semantics’ as a mere secondary thing to the debate they have already lost, regardless of what side they are on.  Semantics are at the heart of every debate, and it is semantics that will form the collective conscience of the society. This is true for any public discourse, not just debate around homosexuality. In the gun control debate for instance, the old line “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is merely semantics nothing more, but it is the heartbeat of the debate. If that statement is collectively agreed upon by society, those who argue against guns have a huge uphill battle to fight in the public eye. Semantics are the heartbeat of every debate, and again I reiterate, that whoever successfully defines the terms of a public discourse will always be the primary drivers of policy.

In the abortion debate it is probably more obvious than anywhere else.  We might ask the question: “After conception what is growing in the mother’s womb?” Seems to be a fair enough question, but even that question itself assumes an anti-abortion position by calling the impregnated woman a “mother”.  Before the debate even begins as to whether it is a fetus, child, embryonic tissue, or whatever you may choose to call it, the woman carrying it has already been called ‘mother’ in the question, which of course presumes that what she has been impregnated with is a child. My adamant position against abortion is beside my main point, which is that semantics matter.

Now regardless of your position on gay marriage, or the morality of homosexuality as a ‘state of being’ or ‘homosex’ as an action, you are not equipped to even navigate your way honestly through either side’s position without first giving notice to the semantics involved.

Let’s take the most obvious term, ‘homosexual’. Believe it or not, this is not a term that’s definition is universally agreed upon, not even close.  Some would say a ‘homosexual’ is a person who engages in sex acts with a person or persons of the same gender. If that is the definition then there is no such thing as a celibate homosexual because the term is defined by the act itself.  Others would say it is a person naturally disposed toward engaging in same sex acts with a person of the same gender.  Notice that this is a drastically different definition. In the first definition the term is based on an action, in the second definition it is based on a disposition toward an action. Another definition might be that it is simply some intrinsic characteristic of person that affects far more than mere sexuality and that the term ‘homosexual’ really has nothing to do with the physical acts of ‘sex’ at all.  Again, this definition which is also popular (maybe the most popular) is drastically different than the first two. In this third definition you could, in theory, have a homosexual who is content in a happy and functional ‘heterosexual’ marriage.  The point is that it is impossible to have a discussion around this issue if you have no idea what definition of ‘homosexual’ your discussion partner is operating with. Truth be told I am sure there are countless other definitions people are operating from that I haven’t even considered.

Marriage is another term that a lot of battle has been done around. There is the simple definition that many will work from that marriage is the coming together of a man and woman as a family unit.  With that definition it really does not matter what legislation is passed, there is no such thing as same sex marriage because of a conflict of terms. Of course there are other definitions of marriage that abound, namely that marriage is the union of two persons in a committed monogamous legally certified union. With this position the battle for gay marriage is one of legalization. Those holding this position would say that the only thing that stops gays from being married is a legal barrier, and that if that barrier is dropped then same sex marriage is validated. Other views deny the legal side altogether, and say that gay marriage has been going on for a long time and the only battle left to fight is getting the already existing and future gay marriages to have legal protection. Of course there are other views as well and society is divided. The case can be made both for and against polygamous marriage, but the question must be raised whether or not the wives of polygamy are actually ‘wives’. It depends on the semantics. I do not bring up polygamy to try to lump it into the debate around homosexual marriage, not at all, I only bring it up to say that there are debates surrounding the word 'marriage' that go back even further than our current one. There are many other facets beyond heterosexual, homosexual, and polygamous to the definition of the word marriage.

The very act of sex itself needs to have a clear definition as well. We all remember the whole “what is is?” debacle during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. At what point is something ‘sexual’? It is an important debate to have. Certain practices which are culturally normal in other parts of the world would be seen as sexual in here in Northwest Ohio, and I am sure that is a two way street.

Love itself might be the hardest of words to define, but it plays into the debate as well. I love men. That is a true enough statement coming from my fingers to this screen. However in the context of this debate what could those three words mean? It’s hard to tell. It could mean that I love men exclusively, or love them sexually, or that there are some men like my son and my father that I love, or that I love humankind in general. The ambiguity of any statement regarding love is alarming.  As is the ambiguity of terms like ‘homosexuality’ ‘marriage’ or ‘sex’.

If you actually want to engage anyone in this debate, you owe it to them to at least define the terms you are working with, and you really should go an extra step and try to understand the terms they are working with.  Otherwise you just continually talk past each other, and whoever ends up on the wrong side of the war of semantics will just look like an unloving, or immoral fool in the end. In truth we are all both, but the odds are that you would see the people you debate with in a different light if you understood their terms.


Divine Authorship - A Writer's Look at Free Will

Over the past month I have taken it upon myself to write a novel.  In the process of developing a gripping plot and characters worth following I have learned a number of things about myself as well as the world around me.  It has been a rewarding process.  The primary thing I am learning is that I am a terrible writer, especially of fiction.  That little truth has stung and even depressed me a bit, but in the process of writing my skills have gone for absolutely terrible, to really bad.  I’ve figured that if I keep at it another ten years I might even ascend to mediocrity.  How’s that for a noble goal?

There is one unexpected thing I’ve learned regarding free will and divine sovereignty.  After attempting to control my characters and keep them rolling through the designed plot I have for them, I am realizing that I have less control over them than I want to.  It is a strange realization to say the least.  In truth my characters can do nothing without my fingers striking the keys.  They can say nothing that I have not thought in advance.  I know the words that will come out of their mouths before they even speak them.  I am absolutely sovereign over them.  I change the weather around them to make them react, I put people in their lives to make them grow, I place challenges in their path to make them fail, and then I determine their reaction to those challenges and failures.  In every sense of the word I am sovereign over them.  My sovereignty as an author was always something I assumed.  However what I did not expect was for my characters to have their own free will within the context of my divine authorship.

If you spend time perusing writing websites, or reading books about writing you will find continued advice to ‘let the characters speak for themselves.’  It seems to be a great paradox.  The idea of letting your characters speak, even though they cannot speak without your mind giving them words is a hogwash concept.  Hogwash until you try it.  As I write dialog my characters say things which I did not expect, I find that my characters react to situations in ways that I do not desire.  I have even found that if I do not reign in an evil character they will eventually become good, or that if I give a good character enough rope they will hang themselves with it.  I know that sounds like some sort of psychobabble, but sit down and develop some characters of your own and put them in a story together and you will find that what I am saying is true.

There is a real sense in which the moment I place my character on paper I relinquish a degree of sovereignty that I have over them, though I never relinquish my authorship of them.  I am still the source of their words, their world, their situations, their plot, and ultimately their demise or exaltation. They can do nothing without me, they cease to exist if I cease to write them.  Moreover anything they do will ultimately serve my purpose, which is to elevate and honor my protagonist.  Nonetheless my characters exist in my mind (and on a bunch of sheets of character profiles) and the traits, personalities, and backgrounds I give them drive their own free actions, sometimes against my will.  Ultimately their own actions will determine their role in the story.

If we are willing to look at God’s sovereignty in the light of divine authorship with Christ as the ultimate protagonist in His narrative we will see how this blending of free will and sovereignty actually works.  If you have never sat down to write fiction this all could seem like an  ethereal of a view of sovereignty that places either too much responsibility in God’s hands. On the other hand you might be uncomfortable with the idea that God’s own creation has some degree of effect upon him, but if you have written you will see no contradiction or problem here.

In the story I am writing I have had numerous moments where a character has pleaded with me (in my mind) and changed the direction of my narrative, yet somehow it is all happening within my own mind and only finds direction only from me.  The character which free thinks, still must use my mind to do the thinking.  I think of moments within God’s divine narrative of human history where similar things have happened, moments where God repented of what appeared to be his initial plan.  Moses telling God what would happen if he wiped out Israel comes to mind.  Again, in the 40k+ words I have written in my novel I can think of a number of times when my characters have advised me on my plot.  Nonetheless the characters cannot even think apart from me giving them my own thoughts.

I encourage you to try writing, if for no other reason to learn something about yourself, as well as how your own characters can have free will while under your absolute authority.

There are other things I have learned that will have to wait for other blog posts.  Not the least of which is how my own personal attitudes and desires are reflected in the way I tailor my story.  Every piece of narrative is somehow a reflection of the author, but that is a topic for a later date.


What about the Conquest?

I stand before a group of God created people, with the command to lead an army to utterly destroy those people, men, women, and children.  Everything in me screams out for the justice of God and the protection of the innocent, and yet through the messengers of God, the very anointed ones which we follow, I am told to kill, and to kill mercilessly.  Should I doubt the anointed ones?  Should I go rogue?  Should I begin an insurrection amongst my own people in order to change the course of history?  Or should I do as my leaders have commanded?  I mean, it is “our” promised land, the land which God had sworn to our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Yet, there are women and children in that land, unsuspecting women and children who will die by my sword… if I obey.  How do I know that God has spoken these things?

One of the most troubling sections of scripture to most believers is the conquest of the Holy Land by Israel.  I think we tend to approach the text, placing ourselves in it, and have emotions elicited that follow the path of the paragraph above.   It is impossible to simply spiritualize the hostile takeover and still respect the scriptures themselves.  The Hebrew texts present this take over as historical text, and you would be hard pressed to read it as allegory.  Many well-meaning pastors have tried to turn this historical text into a mere life lesson about overcoming hardships, or claiming God’s promises.  In doing this the pastor, knowingly or not, is attempting to make a beeline past the history itself in hopes that nobody will notice.  The people of Canaan simply become ‘obstacles in our lives’ the land simply becomes ‘our idealized Christian existence’ and the carnage is quickly sterilized into mere addictions and habits that have fallen by the wayside.  We do this sort of thing with the cross as well, but that is another topic altogether.  The question is how do we deal with the history itself?  I suppose we could ignore it in favor of platitudes about victory.  We could do the opposite and celebrate it and find some sort of twisted pleasure in God’s vengeance.  We could write it off as God becoming progressively nicer, I mean the slaughter of Canaanites is certainly not as drastic as the flood account so God must be getting gradually nicer… right?  We could, in the same vein as Brian McLaren, view it as the people of God gradually becoming more aware of the mercy of God, and choose to see this hostile takeover as progress from seeing the flood as an act of God, but not yet seeing the fully realized mercy and inclusion we find in Christ.  There are a lot of ways to look at.  The spiritualized way is to ignore the history.  The ‘joy in the vengeance of God’ is a way to affirm the history, while ignoring all the other attributes of God which we cherish.  The ‘progressive understanding of God’ method acknowledges the history but denies God’s action in or authorization of it.  Where is a good place to stand?

I tend to think that we come to this section of scripture with some pretty faulty presumptions.  First we presume that these people of Canaan were relatively innocent, believing they were ‘sort of’ bad, but the women and children surely must have been innocent.  We give the benefit of the doubt, but on what is that founded?  Recall in the whole account of Sodom and Gomorrah, “yea if I find just 5 righteous men I will spare the city.”  To deny God’s patience is a mistake.  What was so horrific about these people that they needed wiped out?  Or was it merely the manifest destiny of Israel and these Canaanites were innocent by-standers?

I think we ought to at least consider the possibility that the people of Canaan were violently opposed to God, violently opposed to mercy, and violently opposed to life and creation, and that maybe, just maybe, they were getting the just rewards of their actions.  Recall that God waited until their ‘iniquity was fulfilled’ before sending in the troops so to speak.  We are back to Genesis “If I find 5 good men, I will spare the city.”  The question I ask is what ought to be done with a people who heat up bronze statues till they glow, and then place their infants in the hands of that statue in the belief that they could please their gods?  Moreover to consider that the reason they were trying to please their gods was so that they would have better weather and be able to grow more crops for themselves?  Ought a nation, or religion like that be allowed to continue? Would we not cry out for the justice of God against such a people?  Yet now we read of God carrying out his justice against such a people and we bristle at the thought that God would order the death of anyone.  Don’t leave this completely in the Old Testament either, lest you stumble across Ananias and Saphira in Acts.

I am not about to say that I am comfortable with the conquest of Canaan, or that I have some warm fuzzy feeling about it, or that I have reconciled the carnage in my mind.  I am not about to say that this portion of scripture fits neatly into my understanding of God, and ultimately of the grace of Christ toward the world.  It doesn’t fit neatly at all.  At the same time few people cried “injustice!” when storm troopers offed Nazis who saw it a duty to their god to mercilessly kill infant Jews and other minorities.  In fact if anything it seemed an injustice that many survived.

It’s good that we are troubled by death and conquest.  It is good that we are not comfortable with the conquest of Canaan, I don’t think God would want us comfortable with it.  At the same time, we ought to look more objectively at the people conquered, and be willing to see that there was a lot more justice in the whole thing than we tend to be willing to see.  Moreover as we look at the failing of Israel to fully carry out these gruesome commands of God, we see the very injustice of the Canaanite people infecting Israel themselves as they begin to make the same hideous offerings once made only by the people of the land.
I’m optimistic.  I think when Christ came, announced His kingdom, lived died and rose for the world, that things have gotten better.  I believe things will continue to get better, at least in regards to Canaanite-like death worship.

As we approach the conquest portion of scripture, at the very least, let us not minimize the culture of death which Israel was called to eradicate.  It is also critically important for us to see that post- life, death and resurrection of Christ for the sin of the world, there is no place whatsoever for militant conquest of a people.  The conquest was finished on the cross.  Nonetheless we ought to be a bit more objective regarding the conquest narrative of the Old Testament before we raise our fist at God and cry out ‘that’s not fair! My god wouldn’t do that!”