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R.I.P. Dallas Willard

09 May

The first time I opened The Divine Conspiracy, I fell in love.  The object of my love was an elderly philosophy professor name Dallas Willard. Of course, what I loved was his mind and heart that poured out words like these:

“God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends among us the Way to himself. That shows what, in his heart of hearts, God really is like–indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and competent love.”

“But we get a totally different picture of salvation, faith, and forgiveness if we regard having life from the kingdom of the heavens now–the eternal kind of life–as the target. The words and acts of Jesus naturally suggest that this is indeed salvation, with discipleship, forgiveness, and heaven to come as natural parts.”

“Jesus came among us to show and teach the life for which we were made. He came very gently, opening access to the governance of God with him, and set afoot a conspiracy of freedom in truth among human beings. Having overcome death he remains among us. By relying on his word and presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God. And that is the eternal kind of life. Caught up in his active rule, our deeds become an element in God’s eternal history. They are what God and we do together, making us part of his life and him a part of ours.”

How different this was than the pablum of Christian fundamentalism I had grown up in.  How much deeper, more holistic and more beautiful.

I devoured The Divine Conspiracy, as well as Hearing God, The Renovation of the Heart, and The Spirit of the Disciplines.  They were, for me, the best expression of what deep thinking about the Christian life was all about.

Dallas Willard died yesterday, and I know of no greater way to honor his memory and work than by offering some quotes from him to those who may not have (yet!) read his books.

“And God has set up prayer in such a way that, if you want to explain it away, you can. That’s the human mind. God set it up like that for a reason, which is this: God ordained that people should be governed in the end by what they want.” 

“Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. Most of what we think we see as the struggle OF faith is really the struggle to act as IF we had faith when in fact we do not.” 

“The cautious faith that never saws off a limb on which it is sitting, never learns that unattached limbs may find strange unaccountable ways of not falling.” 

“We must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word “love”.” 

“There is no question of doing is purely on our own. But we must act. Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort. And it is well-directed, decisive, and sustained effort that is the key to the keys of the kingdom and to the life of restful power in ministry and life that those keys open to us.” 

“In many cases, our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is nothing short of a clear indication of how little we are engaged in His work.” 

“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Silence also brings Sabbath to you. It completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. IN silence we come to attend. Lastly, fasting is done that we many consciously experience the direct sustenance of God to our body and our whole person.” 

“The humility that cringes in order that reproof may be escaped or favor obtained is as unchristian as it is profoundly immoral.” 

“Multitudes are now turning to Christ in all parts of the world. How unbearably tragic it would be, though, if the millions of Asia, South America and Africa were led to believe that the best we can hope for from the Way of Christ is the level of Christianity visible in Europe and America today, a level that has left us tottering on the edge of world destruction. The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes-a time for men and women to be heroic in faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message TOO LOW.” 

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” 

“The test of character posed by the gentleness of God’s approach to us is especially dangerous for those formed by the ideas that dominate our modern world. We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel — or one desperate for another life — therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today. Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright.” 

“Happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not in being stirred up. This instinct conflicts with the drive to diversion, and we develop the confused idea that leads people to aim at rest through excitement.” 

 

 

Atheist Remix of “Welcome to this World”

30 Apr

A video produced by an atheist organization has been quite popular lately.  It is called, Welcome to this World, and is a satirical presentation of the Christian faith.  You can see the video here, and be sure to read the point by point rebuttal.

While I think the rebuttal is great, I also think this is a good chance for Christians to go on the offensive, and show the absurdities of the atheist worldview. So I took the liberty of creating an alternative narration.  This is not “answering a straw man with a straw man” because I have taken these ideas from the atheists I have read, and they are for the most part either from Nietzsche (the most consistent atheist) or the members of what is called the New Atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Pinker, Dennet, and others).

By the way, Internet Monk was kind enough to publish my remix, and you can see the comments for that here.

 

My child, welcome to this world. Before you grow up, there are a few things we must tell you.

First, you are the chance, random result of certain biological processes, and nothing more.  Your father and I were inborn with a desire to spread our own genes and thus, you are here.  This is why we “love” you. In turn, we are also solely the result of the same impersonal drive of our ancestors to competitively reproduce their own DNA.  In truth, just as a chicken is an egg’s way of making more eggs, you are your gene’s way of making more genes.

Oh, you will have false, deluded people who insist on making up stories about life having a purpose beyond this, but they lie. The cosmos is a closed system of matter. There is nothing outside it. Nothing.  The universe simply is. It has no purpose. And your own life, as part of this material universe, likewise simply is. It has no purpose.

Again, because there is nothing outside the universe (or at least nothing that could conceivably affect the universe), then matter is all there is.   You may someday wonder about the “why” of this.  “Where did the matter come from? Why is there something rather than nothing?” But there is no answer to that. The matter simply always existed.  There is no reason why.

Matter exploded into order not through the design or plan of anyone or anything, but solely through an impersonal explosion (again, don’t ask about the who or why of the explosion).  As the matter cooled, it formed itself into galaxies, stars and planets, and then somehow (we haven’t figured this part out yet) it changed into life.  That life evolved without help or design from anyone, and, in time, single cells of bacteria turned into ants, dogs and humans (including you of course).  Life is simply organized matter.

As your young mind learns logic, it will also see the implications of this truth.  You will see, for example, that your sense of free will is an illusion.  Just as we can tell the occurrence of the next comet, we could, if we had all the data, tell the next occurrence of everything, for everything in a closed universe must operate according to the laws of physics working out the results of the big bang.  Of course, you may feel you can do as you desire.  But you forget that your desires themselves must have a previous material explanation in a closed, material universe.  As one of our great prophets, Nietzsche, said,

If one were omniscient, one would be able to calculate each individual action in advance, each step in the progress of knowledge, each error, each act of malice. To be sure, the acting man is caught in his illusion of volition . . . this assumption that free will exists, is also part of the calculable mechanism.

In other word, my child, your free will is an illusion.  Your own mind will convince you of this if you think through it: in a material world, where your mind itself is simply molecules colliding without reason or purpose, what could the concept of “free will” possibly mean? As another prophet, Skinner, has said, “A person does not act on the world, the world acts on him”.

Since this is so, it follows that no actions can be “good” or “evil”. They simply are.  The Prophet Nietzsche again:

We don’t accuse nature of immorality when it sends us a thunderstorm, and makes us wet: why do we call the injurious man immoral? Because in the first case, we assume necessity, and in the second a voluntarily governing free will. But this distinction is in error.

Therefore, we will not punish you for being “bad” nor reward you for being “good”, for you had no choice in the matter. In any case, who are we to say what is “good” or “bad”?  We are simply pre-determined bodies of organized molecules like yourself. The only thing we have chosen by free will is to believe in a closed, materialistic universe that makes free will impossible.

As your mind grows, you will also need to make sure to not be deluded by the idea of “truth.”  Certainly, some things will seem true.  But remember your origins! Your mind is simply your brain, a physical organ, and it, like the rest of your body, has evolved from non-thinking matter.  And no-one and nothing is there to guide this evolving, other than the unreflective desire to reproduce.  Therefore, your mind evolved, not to find truth, but to reproduce your DNA.  Simply put, we have no reason to believe your mind has any other purpose than your genitals have, and thus no reason to think the idea of truth (if there is such a thing) matters to the mind.  The Apostle Steven Pinker puts it well:

We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.

Exactly. The question to ask is not whether an idea is “true” but whether it is “useful” to spreading your DNA.  (You may wonder if this makes our worldview self-defeating; it’s is best not to think too much about that. It is not useful).

This is the glorious world you have been born into.  Do not be deceived by those claiming you have value because you are human, or made in the image of some imaginary god.  The only difference between yourself and a fly is that your genetic information is more organized, just as a car is more complex and organized than a bike. In reality, they are both just matter. To be sure, sometimes one is more helpful than the other to get around in, but that all depends on whether you live in the Texas countryside or in downtown Hong Kong.  In reality, the matter in you (and thus, you yourself) is not more valuable than the matter in a corpse or a stone of the same size.  Of course, this applies to the other people you will meet also. Everyone and everything is the same: simply matter. And when you die, nothing will remain of you except a few memories in a few other bodies of soon-to-be dead matter.

My child, in keeping all these things in your mind from the start, you will be one of the few to rise above the herd and see clearly.  Even some of our fellow atheists still cling stubbornly and inconsistently to foolish notions of human freedom, human meaning, absolute truth, and all the accompanying nonsense of morality, justice and purpose.  BE CONSISTENT! Then you can end up like our great martyr Nietzsche, who bravely endured the insane asylum for his consistency. Yes, you will find for yourself the greatness seeing the world like the wise skeptic Mark Twain did near his death:

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle; … they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; … those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.

Yes, my child, welcome to this world!

 

Does Pro-choice Philosophy Justify Infanticide?

16 Apr

In 2010, 1,270 babies were killed after they were born alive after a botched abortion. Recently, a representative of Planned Parenthood stated that the life or death of a child born this way, “should be left to the decision of the mother and her health-care provider”.

Perhaps she had been reading the most chilling statement you will read this year:

“[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. — Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics

To most people, I suspect the words of the Planned Parenthood lobbyist and the learned philosophers above are morally repugnant. At least, I certainly find them so. And most pro-choice advocates would not, I think, agree with them. Even Planned Parenthood tried to discredit the words of its paid representative.

But it seems to me that the quotes above are the logical outworking of the philosophy behind the pro-choice movement, and not some strange perversion of it. This is a serious and startling claim. Let me see if I can justify it.

There are four main beliefs that form the groundwork for the pro-choice movement:

1. The status of the fetus is morally ambiguous or arbitrary; it is not a person
2. The mother, as a person, has greater value than the fetus
3. To force a woman to carry a child to birth is to impose an unjust burden on her
4. The fetus’s value is determined by the mother

One can readily see how these four fit together, with the first belief readily providing justification for the others. I will not take the time to argue against each of these (a rather long article, indeed) but to simply point out the reasoning for each, and then apply that to a child born through a botched abortion (or, even more chillingly, to a baby delivered naturally).

The first belief noted above is that the status of the fetus is morally ambiguous, morally arbitrary, or both. A fetus “grows” or develops into a person by a process of continual change. It does not have the status of human personhood at conception, nor is there any point where one can simply say, “Now it is a person. Now it has value”.

Once this belief is accepted, the second belief follows logically. The mother has greater value than the fetus because she is older and has developed feelings, thoughts and relationships that the fetus has not (yet). She is a person. The fetus is not (yet). Her body therefore has claim over the body (that is, life) of the fetus.

If this is true, then the third belief also seems to follow: since the value of the fetus is ambiguous or non-existent, while the mother has great value, than any burden that the life of the fetus places upon her is unreasonable, unless she chooses to accept that burden. The fetus has no claim to any rights (its status being ambiguous), while the mother has full rights (her status as a person being secure).

And this is why the fourth point follows: the value of the fetus is determined by the mother. If the mother chooses to bear the fetus to birth, then she (and others) will call it a baby, that is, an infant person. If she does not choose to value the pregnancy, she aborts a “fetus” or “the product of conception”.

 
Here is the point of my argument: the pro-choice philosophy here, followed to its logical conclusion, will also justify killing a child born alive after a botched abortion. In fact, it seems difficult to see why it would not apply to a child born normally after a full pregnancy, even weeks of months after the birth.

To return to point one above: in some sense it is true that an eight month old fetus is different from an eight week old fetus. It is viable, that is, can exist without it’s mother’s body. And it is more advanced not only physically, but mentally. It has grown countless neurons since eight weeks, and is able to think and feel what before it could not.

My point, however, is that this could all be said also of an infant a month old as opposed to a fetus of eight months. It can exist without its mothers body, but cannot yet live without (sometimes burdensome help) from its parents or guardians. Its neurons have continued to grow, and it can now think and feel (at least emotionally) many things it could not as an eight month old fetus, and this growth will continue throughout its life. The eighteen inch trip down the birth canal did not resolve its moral status, if that status is defined by its knowledge, viability, and feelings.

Minerva and Giubilini, in the article quoted above, are succinct on this point: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.”

In other words, because the pro-choice philosophy is grounded on the idea that personhood and value are “developed” rather than given, it cannot argue that an infant who has simply traveled outside her mother’s womb is a person with value, while one who has not yet made that trip is neither a person nor valuable. Indeed, it would seem to have trouble arguing that a one year old child has the same value as her mother.

And this implies, it seems to me, that the mother has greater status or value as a person than a child born to a botched abortion, or to an infant of a month (or a year)  old. Personhood and value, remember, are developed, and of course the mother will be more developed in brain function, emotional depth, and in relationships than a newborn or infant.

Therefore the third part of the pro-choice philosophy comes into play: since the mother has the greater value and status, then her needs trump the needs of the child. If its continued life would somehow be burdensome to her, then it should not live.

Finally, we come to the conclusion. And this is the position the Planned Parenthood representative shocked her audience with: if a child is still alive after an abortion attempt, wiggling and struggling on the table, then only the mother (and her doctor, perhaps) has the right to decide what to do about it. If they decide to attempt to save it, they will do so. If they decide to let it die unassisted (or even to actively kill it) then they can and will do so. The baby (remember, it is a fetus no longer) only has the status or value they give it, no more.

One wonders, on this logic, why the same could not be true for a baby born full term, but now discovered to have a disability. Do the mother and doctor decide then if the disability is so severe that it would be burdensome to someone else (read: real people) to let it live? Why not? And where is the line of what is too burdensome, if not the individual choice of the mother?

Minerva and Giubilini again:

“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”

Please take 30 seconds to read that paragraph again.

Some may wonder if I am presenting here a slippery slope argument. I am not at all. I am not saying, “look if you let this happen, then these other bad things may happen”. Rather my argument is this: if this is morally just, then this other thing is also morally just. But it’s not.

Or, to put it in a syllogism, it is this:

Premise 1: If A, then B
Premise 2: Not B
Conclusion: therefore, not A.

(This, by the way, goes by the name of the moden tollens form of syllogism, and is recognized as one of the two valid forms of hypothetical syllogisms.)

To fill it out:

Premise 1: If abortion is morally justified on the usual grounds, then infanticide is also morally justified.
Premise 2: infanticide is not morally justified.
Conclusion: therefore, abortion is not morally justified on its usual grounds.

Now, of course, I did not take time to argue premise 2. I am making the assumption that my readers will already concede it. If not, then they are free to disregard my conclusion.
To sum up, the words of the Planned Parenthood representative, though embarrassing to the pro-choice cause, are actually morally and logically consistent with the philosophy underlying that cause. Planned Parenthood can “clarify” its position and walk back from its lobbyist all it wants. What it has not done, and cannot do, is show why, on its philosophy, she is wrong.

 
 

The Day with No Name

30 Mar

The strands of O Sacred Head Now Wounded from yesterday’s Good Friday Service still waft in and out of my memory.  The opening notes of tomorrow’s Christ Arose have not yet been played.  I live, for a while, on the day with no name.

O all the days of Holy Week, this is perhaps the most poignant.  Good Friday is tragic.  Easter joyful. But the Saturday between is one of sad and strange silence.  Our catholic friends hold no mass that day, and I know of no protestant church that holds a service.  It is a simply a day between the agony of the cross and the triumph of the empty tomb.

My mind goes back to the disciples and followers of Jesus on the day after the cross.  I wonder what strange mix of emotions swirled in their minds.  How could they reconcile these two undeniable facts: that the one they called Jesus spoke words and did deeds that could only be described as divine, yet this same Jesus had just been crucified as a common criminal by the rich and powerful?  Which was the real Jesus, the one who had power over the waves and demons and even death, or the one mocked, cursed and subject to death?

We, of course, who live on this side of Easter know the answer: Jesus’s humiliating death was not the denial of all that he taught, but the fulfillment of it, and the work and message of Jesus were validated by the resurrection.  But they did not see that yet. On that strange Saturday, they could only try to make some sort of sense of the great gap between the glory of the message and the inglorious death of the messenger.

It occurs to me that we too live with the same dynamic of that sad and strange Saturday of old.  We have heard and read the glorious things that Jesus said and did.  We conclude like the Roman soldier who was sent to arrest Jesus: “No man ever spoke like this!”  We hear the promises of a new creation, in which the glory and beauty of God fill the earth like the water fills the seas.  But we don’t see this glory and beauty.  Far from it.  Our experience seems so far removed from the promise.  Yes, we, too, live on Saturday.  We live between the cross and the crown. Yes, we live after Jesus’ resurrection, but before our own, and before the day when He comes and restores and glorifies all things.  We have the promises, but we must wait to see them lived out.  And in this waiting we yearn for the promise to be fulfilled.  We hunger for injustice and evil to be defeated.  We crave the beauty and glory of God’s glorious kingdom, and even God’s presence.  But our hunger is unsatiated.  The great test of our faith, then, is this: will the growing hunger make us turn away in frustration, or create in us a deeper anticipation and love for the things that will be?

Lord Jesus, help me this day, and all my days, to be found as one waiting and watching, for that glorious day, the greater Easter, when you not only return in your resurrected body, but share that resurrection with all those who are found in you. Amen.

 
 

Why our Church will NOT be hosting an Easter Egg Hunt

19 Mar

I write this now (and not closer to Easter) because I don’t want anyone to think I have a particular church in mind. I have not seen any big signs, nor seen any ads in the paper telling me which churches are having Easter egg hunts this year. I have no clue which congregations will feature a man in a cheap bunny suit prowling around on Easter weekend.  This isn’t about any one church; it is about a sad trend I have seen growing in the last few years.

That trend is churches co-opting popular holiday themes into their church programming   Whether it is having the kids sitting on Santa’s lap or the previously mentioned Easter egg hunt, churches are competing with each other to see who can attract the most kids to their holiday events.

The very word Holiday means, of course, a Holy Day. This means (or at least meant) a day set aside to mark a holy occasion.  Traditionally, the three Holy Days observed by almost all Christian churches, no matter the era or country, are those marking the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For Christmas, I think the issue is less clear cut, simply because many of the motifs go back centuries, are drawn from  many cultures, and are not tied into the cult of Santa Claus.  Wreaths and garland are fine. But I would never have a picture of Santa adorning the church wall, just as I would never sing Here Comes Santa Claus in place of O Holy Night.

For Easter, the issue for me is black and white: Nothing about a bunny delivering painted hen’s eggs in a church context, please.

My argument is simple: these things will confuse, dilute and blunt the message and meaning of these Holy Days.  Children are already confused about what parts of the Christmas story are in the Bible and which parts are tools of marketing departments.  Do we really want more children in our culture to wonder if the meaning of Christmas is about the resurrection, chocolate bunnies, or some weird combination?

The flip side of the argument, of course, is that these things draw children into the church, so that the church can reach the parents.  I have two responses.

First, even if it worked, does pragmatism somehow trump the clarity of the gospel message?  Is it worth increasing the scope of the church’s mission if we become less clear about what that mission is?  Has this ever, in the history of the church, been a good thing?

Secondly, I don’t believe these things will really work at increasing the scope of the church’s mission, for this simple reason: I don’t think God is honored by them, and so He will not honor them.  Outreach like this smacks of having a small vision of God, as if the Lord of the Universe needs us to get people in the door with Easter bunnies and painted eggs.

I don’t want to be the Easter version of the scrooge here.  Feel free to paint eggs with your kids and give them all chocolate bunnies their stomachs can handle.  This is all just good, childhood fun.  But, in my opinion, incorporating these themes into church is a very bad idea.

 
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Posted in Church

 

Islam? What’s Islam?

01 Mar

Interesting post at Fraters Libertas:

While you may not agree with the views of the new breed of aggressive atheists who have emerged in recent years you have to admire their courage for bravely standing up and speaking truth to power against the various religious institutions whose integrity they seek to undermine. No matter what consequences they might face, they aren’t afraid to lay out their case against religion in terms that are often harsh and sure to offend. Here is an example from an article called Facing Uncomfortable Truths:
In a recent Al-Jazeerah interview, Richard Dawkins was asked his views on God. He argued that the god of “the Old Testament” is “hideous” and “a monster”, and reiterated his claim from The God Delusion that the God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character “in fiction”. 

As you can see, Dawkins has no trouble attacking the Hebrew God in a most direct and uncompromising manner. No atheist wallflower he. 

Asked if he thought the same of the God of the Koran, Dawkins ducked the question, saying: “Well, um, the God of the Koran I don’t know so much about.”

How can it be that the world’s most fearless atheist, celebrated for his strident opinions on the Christian and Jewish Gods, could profess to know so little about the God of the Koran? Has he not had the time? Or is Professor Dawkins simply demonstrating that most crucial trait of his species: survival instinct.

Whoops. It’s funny how these confident, cocksure prophets of atheism-who barely have time to take a breath between slamming the tenets of Christianity and Judaism-often get curiously tongue-tied and shy when the subject of Islam comes up. The idea that Dawkins doesn’t “know so much about” the God of the Koran is absurd. Of course he knows about Islam. And the same disdain and disregard that he has for Judaism and Christianity should surely apply to Islam as well. 

The truth is that bashing and mocking Judaism and Christianity is easy and painless. You’ll get praise and admiration from those within the “right” circles of academia, media, and entertainment. Your opponents will argue with and debate your views and they may even offer (gasp) to pray for you. There’s no real price to pay at all. 

However, should you direct the same scathing criticisms towards Islam you’ll find those “right” circles suddenly closed off to you. And your opponents’ rebuttals may not be offered in articles and debate halls, but rather with bullets, bombs, and knives. Standing up to that takes real courage not the false bravado we see on displays as atheists attack Judaism and Christianity.

 

 
 

A Favorite Sonnet from Donne

19 Feb

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?  Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun  My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thy self, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I fear no more.

John Donne, 1623.

 
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Posted in Poetry

 

Poem for Ash Wednesday

13 Feb

I bow my forehead to the dust, I veil my eyes for shame,
And urge, in trembling self distrust, A prayer without a claim.
I see the wrong that round me lies; I feel the guilt within
I hear the groaning and suffering, The world confess its sin

Yet in the maddening maze of things, And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed stake my spirit clings; I know that God is good.
I know not what the future has Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death His mercy underlies.

And if my heart and flesh are weak To bear an untried pain,
My bruised soul He will not break, But strengthen and sustain.
And so I drift alone at sea, And though I have no oar;
No harm from Him can come to me On ocean or on shore.

I know not where my journey ends, beneath His heavy stare
I only know I cannot drift, Beyond His love and care.

John Greenleaf Whittier

 
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Posted in Poetry

 

When is a building not a building? Reflections on rule-based religion.

07 Feb

This week I took my daughter to visit Purdue. We were treated to a two-hour tour on a blustery morning. Our guide, a junior named Mary, pointed out one rather strange characteristic at the heart of campus. It was the Mathematical Sciences Building. The first floor was 12 feet in the air. The building was held up by concrete pillars, and the students walked underneath:

We then came to a grassy area dominated by a wide, six story building on the north side called Beering Hall.

To the west Mary pointed out on of the oldest buildings: University Hall

Mary went on to explain a quirk of these buildings. When John Purdue provided a great deal of the land and funding to make the university possible in 1863, he had four stipulations:

  • He was to be buried on campus
  • All buildings were to be constructed of red brick
  • The university would never have a music major
  • University Hall would always be the tallest building on campus.

 

Since University Hall is only four stories high, it was this last stipulation that would prove most troublesome as the small regional college transformed into an international university of some 40,000 students.  So the administration resorted to what could charitably be called creativity, and what could more accurately be called a dodge.

First, the math building is not really a building.  It is technically called a  “Land Bridge”. Really.  After all, good ol’ John never stipulated that land bridges couldn’t be taller than University Hall.

When it came time to build Beering Hall, the administrators apparently felt putting up one massive building on stilts and calling it a bridge is fine, but to do it twice would just be ridiculous.  After all, how many land bridges does one campus need? So they had another trick up their sleeves. The top two floors would be given a different area code than the rest of the campus. Thus, it could be argued, they were not actually part of the campus. Surely only a hide-bound literalist would insist otherwise.

We had a good chuckle at these shenanigans. But I was immediately reminded of how often we do the same thing in religion, especially if our religion is primarily rule-based.

I went to school at a rather rule-obsessed Christian college. The student handbook was roughly the size of a Chicago phone book.  Church attendance, dress codes, prohibitions against movies; these all had a place in the book of rules. Yes, it was that kind of school. To register for class, each student was required to fill out and sign a form stating they would follow all the rules. By my sophomore year I took the dodge of printing my name instead of signing it.  The registrars never noticed, and I somehow eased my conscience a little; after all, I never signed that I would follow all the rules.

After spending a week with a Jewish guide in Israel, I learned that dodges like this are not limited to Bible colleges or fundamental Baptist churches.  From Shabbat elevators (that stopped on every floor in turn, so that you did not have to work on the Sabbath by pressing a button) to toilet paper in separate sheets (no tearing things on the Sabbath), anytime there is a rule there is a way around it.  Perhaps my favorite example is the Shabbat Amigo Scooter. If you have time, read how it works.

My point is not to mock. My point is to remind us that rules by themselves can never change the heart.  Morality can never spring from compulsion. If anything, rules only make the prohibited seem more inviting.

The gospel is always by grace.  I think it was Luther who summed up the formula in this way: Love God and do what you want.  In that order.

 

 

Hey Ray Lewis: You just won the Super bowl! Can we talk about your exegesis now, please?

05 Feb

Dear. Mr. Lewis

First, congratulations on winning your second super bowl. Your team played great.

Second, I also appreciate how you seek to give God glory through your words after the victory, as I have also heard you do after other games.  I know there are some who hold your past against you and deem you a hypocrite; I am not one of them.  If I didn’t believe people could be fully forgiven I wouldn’t be in the ministry. So kudos for that.

But here’s my problem.  When asked about how your team won, you quoted Romans 8:31 –“If God is for us, who can be against us”.  Great verse, but can we talk about your exegesis (interpretation) of it for a minute?  I only ask because 150 million people watched that game, and most of them heard your comments.  It would be a shame for them to get the wrong idea of what that verse means, wouldn’t it?

Let me just say upfront that this verse is not a promise that if God is for us we will succeed in winning football games, or winning at anything else (career, relationships, financial struggles).  I’m sure (or at least I hope) you do not believe that God is with you more than he is with the opposing team.  Right?  But how many people will hear you quote that verse (when you are asked why you won) and conclude that since they themselves are not winning in their own lives, then God must not be for them?

You see, this verse follows hard after verses 28-29 of that chapter, and doesn’t make sense without it:

   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the first-born among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called, and those He called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified. What then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

You see, the context of the promise [that God is with us is] is the goal of all God’s work: to make us like Christ.  The apostle is not saying that if God is with us then no other team can defeat us, or no problem plague us; his point is that His good purpose to make us like Christ cannot be hindered by any adversary or any problem or painful circumstance.  In fact, any opposition or problem becomes a tool He uses; they are a chisel in the hands of the master sculpture, as he fashions each believer into an image that is paradoxically both unique and Christ-like.

If this is God’s purpose then, it is easy to conceive how a defeat in the big game might do more to further that (by slaying our pride and self-confidence) than a victory.  But that is His call. He alone has wisdom to know what we need; it is His hand that holds the chisel.

So again, congratulations, and thank you for seeking to honor God and not yourself in your victory. But if by any slight chance you read this, consider whether He might not be more honored if your audience heard that His plan is infinitely greater than to help you win a super bowl.

 

Why Doesn’t God Give More Proof?

31 Jan

In his book, Contact, Carl Sagan satirically asks why God doesn’t place a glowing cross in the sky at night to serve as irrefutable proof of Jesus’ resurrection. One could just as well ask why God doesn’t set up a website, or place billboards around.  Why must we read and understand an ancient book to know God?  Bertland Russell, the famous British atheist, once was asked what he would say, if, after his death, he came face to face with the God he had denied in life.  Russell’s response: “Not enough evidence”.

This is not just a question for non-believers.  As Christians, surely we all wonder why the evidence for God can be denied.  Doesn’t God want us to all know Him?  Then why doesn’t He make himself more obvious?  Why doesn’t he shout from heaven?  We certainly agree with Moses’ statement, “You are a God who hides himself”, but we usually have no clue why.

I think the answer to that is in understanding the difference between faith and knowledge, and why God desires faith.

Briefly, knowledge is the intellectual knowledge of what is (yes, I am aware of the different debates about knowledge, but am not going to get into them here, as they do not affect my main point).  Faith is a little more difficult to define.  I define it this way: Faith is choosing, for good but not unassailable reasons, to believe something is true, and then acting on that belief.  This seems to me the definition most inline with the New Testament word (pistis in Greek) which is translated faith, belief, or trust.

Notice a couple things about this definition:

First, it is a belief that has consequences.  It is not a trivial thing, for this type of faith affects our choices (unlike, say, the belief that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that the sun is around a million times the size of the earth).

Secondly, it is based on reason and evidence, but it is not compelled by them.  That is, it is not against reason or evidence, but may sometimes go beyond them.  I believe my spouse is faithful to me, not because I can prove it by evidence (I don’t have her video-taped 24/7) but because it is consistent with what I do know of her and our life together.

Third, to some degree, it is a choice.  I have no real choice in believing that snow is cold, or that the chair I am sitting in is black.  Unless I want to deny my sense experience, the belief is forced upon me.  Nor can my belief that two plus two equals four be a faith decision; it is self-evident and irrefutable.  But faith is a flower that can only be cultivated in a soil mixture of doubt and knowledge.

Now, if this is so, then we may begin to see why God makes faith our only acceptable response to Him: Since faith is a choice, it involves moral, and not just intellectual, implications.  That is, to some degree, I will choose not just whether there is a God or not, but if I want there to be a God or not.  This is not to imply faith has no intellectual content, but to affirm that is also has moral content.  Reason can lead me to the water, but it can’t make me drink.  I still must choose.

This is then consistent with that, as C. S. Lewis said, hell is locked from the inside.  The believer says to God, “I want you”, the unbeliever says, “I don’t want you”, and God says to them both, “Your will be done”.

Finally, we should also stop to ponder the question of what effect it would have on our faith if God was more obvious, and his ways shown with certainty to be true.  For example, why doesn’t God automatically and visibly reward each act of faith and obedience?  Every time I refuse some tempting sin, or every time I obey Him, why doesn’t He boom from Heaven, “Good job!”, and send down a twenty dollar bill (or solve whatever problem is bothering me)?

When put in terms like these, it is easy to see how this would distort our relationship with God.  We would be treating Him as an object, something we manipulate for our own gain.  Faith here would not only be stunted, but warped.

The example of Israel may be instructive here.  If God was ever obvious, it was in His dealings with the Israelites, especially in the early years under the leadership of Moses.  Just think: they saw the plagues on Egypt.  They experienced the crossing of the Red Sea.  They heard God thunder from the top of Mt. Sinai.  In fact, the last verses of Exodus tell us that the visible sign of God’s presence was always with them:

In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud (representing God’s presence) lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if it did not life, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. (Exodus 40: 36-38).

God certainly could not have been much clearer than that.  Yet, the faith and obedience of the Israelites in the desert was anything but exemplary.  Philip Yancey notes:

I also noticed a telling pattern in the Old Testament accounts: the very clarity of God’s will had a stunting effect on the Israelite’s faith.  Why pursue God when He had already revealed Himself so clearly?  Why step out in faith when God had already guaranteed the results? …In short, why should the Israelites act like adults when they could act like children?  And act like children they did, grumbling against their leaders, cheating on the strict rules governing manna, whining about every food or water shortage. (Disappointment with God)

On the contrary, when God wanted to raise up David as His ideal King (thus representing His people) He did so by often seeming silent and even unfair (just check out the Psalms).

In short, God knows what He is doing with us, and His silence and hiddenness have purpose.

 
 

The Sin of the Orthodox

29 Jan

[note: by “Orthodox” I am referring to those who are biblical and traditional in their theology; I am not referring to the Orthodox Church]

Each time I read the book of Job I find deeper meanings.  As I read it this week, one idea that kept coming to my mind was the sin of those who thought they had God all figured out.At the conclusion of the book, God responds to Job, and then responds to Eliphaz and his friends.  The friends were, you will recall, the “miserable comforters” who debated with Job about the justice of God. The substance of their great debate could be summarized this way: The friends argue that since God is just, Job’s afflictions must be the punishment for some hidden sin.  Job argues in response (repeatedly): Look, I don’t have any “secret sin” that deserves this kind of punishment, so God is not being just to me.  The friends then accuse him of undermining the notion of God’s justice.  Job responds by repeating what he knows: I am innocent, yet enduring incredible suffering, and this suffering seems to come from God himself.  Again, Job implies, “God is not being just with me”.Now, of course, we readers are let into a secret.  Chapters one and two describe the scene in heaven where God twice describes Job, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.  In fact, God says, “there is none like him on earth”.  So we know before the dialogue begins that the three friends are in the wrong.  Job’s afflictions are not punishments.  Job is blameless before God.But imagine if we did not have this information.  Imagine we walked in to the story right where the dialogue starts.  On the one hand, we have three wise, older men who have an exalted view of God and are eager to defend his ways.  They are completely orthodox in their understanding, and their first priority is to protect God’s reputation.  On the other hand, you have Job, who seems to be not only suffering, but positively afflicted by God (the suddenness and completeness of his losses cannot be mere coincidence).  Job argues that he is blameless, therefore God is not being just, while the orthodox friends argue that God is just, therefore Job is not blameless.  Who is right?

Wait: before you answer, again try to strip your mind of what you know from chapters one and two.  And you may find yourself in the position of Elihu.  Elihu is a rather mysterious figure.  He shows up without introduction and his name is not mentioned again after his long speech (chapters 32-37).  His speech does not serve to advance the dialogue at all, and neither God nor Job nor the friends respond to it.  Here is what I think: Elihu is intended to function as a warning to the reader.  His viewpoint and speech (“Job, you are wrong; I know wisdom, and you are speaking folly”) are the natural conclusion we are tempted to draw simply by listening to the speeches (without the prologue).  In his speeches, he not only agrees with the orthodox friends, but is angry at them for not being able to withstand Job’s arguments.

It is right after his speech that God Himself arrives on the scene and, incredibly, joins in the argument.  God does two things.  First, he reproves Job (chapters 38-41) for failing to understand what Kierkegaard would later call “the infinite qualitative distinction” between God and man.  Job is wrong because He simply is not in a place to understand God’s ways, and therefore is recklessly hasty in saying that God is unjust to him.  The second thing God does, then, is surprising.  He approves Job, especially in contrast to his orthodox friends.  Twice he tells the orthodox, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has”.  In fact, God regards this not only as a mistake, but a sin, for which they need to offer a sacrifice and ask Job(!) to pray for them.  God seems less upset by Job yelling at Him than the friends yelling at Job on God’s behalf.

This, then, is the surprising conclusion to the dialogue: Elihu listens and takes the side of the orthodox friends and rebukes Job, while God listens and ultimately takes the side of Job and rebukes the orthodox.  And this is the heart of the book of Job: God’s ways are, in the final analysis, not able to be fully understood by man, simply because we are never in the position that He is in.  Even the most godly (like Job) and the most orthodox and cerebral (like Job’s friends) can never understand God in the same way they understand the things of this world.  In fact, God describes the words of the orthodox friends, who felt they were speaking godly wisdom, as “folly”.

Now, here is where the rubber hits the road.  I have always taken pride in holding correct, orthodox views of God and theology.  And I still feel that the traditional, conservative, biblical viewpoint is the best way to understand the world in which we find ourselves in.  Yet, books like Job warn me to be very humble about this.  In the end, I have little doubt that my orthodox, evangelical theology will be like the fig leafs the first couple used to clothe themselves: wholly inadequate, and replaced by something else by God’s grace.

What does this mean practically?  It means that we should be careful that our study of theology should never outstrip our understanding of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.  It means our eagerness to defend God should never come at the expense of loving people.  It means we must learn to live out our worldview fully, all the while realizing that when we see Him all of our previous “knowledge” will be fig leaves of foolishness.

 

Meeting God on His Holy Mountain

17 Jan

I saw something new as I was reading scripture this morning.

Moses Shows the Tablets of Law -- Chagall

In Exodus 19, you have perhaps the most dramatic scene in the whole Old Testament.  Moses, after being used by God to lead Israel out of slavery, is instructed to climb to the top of Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai).  It was on this occasion that God then revealed the Ten Commandments, the covenant stipulations between God and Israel, by which He would be their God and they would be His people. God told Moses he would meet with him in a thick cloud, and indeed the whole mountain, we are told, was covered in smoke and thick darkness. Apparently the presence of God was marked by a tremendous storm (some think Horeb was an active volcano) both to reveal His power and to conceal where His voice came from. And there, the invisible God met with the representative of His people. There in the dark mist and cloud, Moses could not see anything of God, but could only hear his voice.  Such is the way the Holy God appears to unholy men. His presence is ever veiled. God spoke to Moses in a more intimate way than anyone before Christ, yet it was still in a thick cloud of darkness and storm.

 

Elijah's Vision -- Chagall

Several centuries later another prophet of God was instructed to make the trek to Horeb. Elijah had been used by God greatly to call Israel back to repentance and faith (and away from idolatry).  Again, God called his prophet onto the mountain, and again God spoke to him.  I Kings records:

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Again, though the prophet is called to the mountain to meet with God, it is in the midst of a storm. And again, the prophet veils his face, and sees not from whence the voice came.

 

In the New Testament, we also find a prophet (though more than a prophet) who ascends a mountain.  You will find the story in Matthew 17:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Here Jesus (like Moses and Elijah) goes up to the mountain for holy conversation.  But we note some differences in what happens.

First, Jesus apparently does not go to Mount Horeb, but (most likely) Mount Hermon, far to the north of Israel instead of far to the south.  This is not to sanctify north as more spiritual than south of course, but to point out that it is not the mountain that makes the divine conversation possible, but Jesus Himself.  He does not come to holy ground. He makes every ground holy.

Secondly, Jesus, unlike Moses and Elijah, does not come to the mountain alone for the divine conversation.  He brings Peter, James and John, those who represented all his followers, to the mountain with him, and they hear and see what he hears and sees.  This fits in well with the promise of Jesus that He is not only the one sent from the Father, but is the one by whom we also can be brought into close fellowship with the father (see John 14).

Thirdly, when Jesus ascends the mountain, there is no great and forbidding storm, no thick darkness and trembling mountain. Yes, a cloud of God’s presence does enter into the scene, but it is a “bright cloud”.  Jesus (by his later work on the cross) takes the terror of God upon Himself, so that he can say to us as he does to his followers on the mountain, “Get up. Don’t be afraid”.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the Law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched mount Sinai’s flame 

John Newton

Finally, we see this great contrast. Though Jesus, like the Moses and Elijah, goes up to the mountain for a divine conversation, the motif is flipped on its head when we see what happens on the mountain: Moses and Elijah appear, conversing with Jesus.  They come to the mountain again, not to see God veiled in thick darkness and surrounded by storm, but to speak with God in the person of Jesus.  And Jesus himself is transfigured (or, perhaps better, revealed) as a person of light and majesty. He is not simply another prophet of God, nor even the greatest prophet of God. He is simultaneously the great prophet of God and the great God of the prophets. 

Oh, Holy Father, thank you for revealing yourself to flesh and blood, sinful and stupid as we are.  Thank you that you have always had your prophets by which you revealed your ways and laws, and you have called us to listen to those prophets. But thank you so much more for Jesus, the Son sent from your right hand, to be not only your last and great prophet, but You yourself in human form.  Help us all the more to heed your call, and listen to him.  Amen.

 

 

 
 

Imagine the Most Overrated Song in the History of the Universe

16 Jan

Okay, that title may be a little over the top.  Hey, I have to get page views somehow.

But I do have in mind a song I believe to be the most over-rated song I know.  That song is Imagine, by John Lennon.  I realize some of you are already picking up the rotten tomatoes.  For many people, the song has the status of Scripture for a secular age.  It has been covered by over 120 artists, and consistently is picked as one of the top pop songs of the last century.  And, to be clear, I am not saying it is a bad song. The melody has an understated beauty that I love.  What makes the song overrated is the lyrics. Catchy as they are (I know of no high school sophomore who doesn’t love them) they don’t stand up to five minutes of actual, thoughtful scrutiny.

Don’t believe me? Walk with me through them, please. And drop the tomatoes. We are all adults here.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

So far the song invites us to imagine a world without any belief in heaven or hell or really any kind of reality above us.  It implies this would be, like, totally awesome and all, because then people would be living just for today.  Can we stop here and think about this?  Let me ask you a question.  Out of all the people you ran into today, what percentage were really planning and working for the afterlife in their daily decisions?  How many do you suppose even thought about the afterlife one time? “Living for today” practically defines modern American culture. Have you heard the phrase, “That guy is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good”?  Do you actually know anyone like that?  Maybe it was true of some monks in the middle ages, but even that might be debatable. From my perspective, “living for today” seems like the default position we should challenge, not some rare and noble aspiration.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Okay, so now we are asked to imagine a world without countries or religion. Such a world, the song assures us, would be a place of total peace, since no-one has anything worth killing for, and nothing worth dying for.  Leaving aside whether having nothing worth dying for would be a good thing, we are left with a question of how this utopia would work out.  I am asked to imagine it, so imagining is what I am doing here…. Still imagining….And yeah, I got nothing.  It seems to me that ascribing violence solely (or even primarily) to nationality and religious belief is like believing sexism is caused by marriage.  Lennon was simply naive here.  Did he really think human nature would somehow magically change if he could wave his magic wand and make us all secular world citizens? Did he never read Lord of the Flies, for goodness sake? By the way, the Communist countries of the 20th century got half-way to John’s imaginings: they got rid of religion.  I don’t think anyone will argue they cut violence in half, however. Quite the opposite.

And I’m not even going to mention the grammar of the first line.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The chorus is innocuous enough, I suppose, but since when do lyricists get away with rhyming a word with itself?

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and call shenanigans on this one.  Methinks John was trolling us. This was a fabulously wealthy man, with more possessions than your average third world village. His net worth at death was estimated at 150 million dollars.  Much of this would come from royalty sales from Imagine. He and Oko lived in the Dakota, considered to be one of Manhattan’s most prestigious and exclusive cooperative residential buildings, with apartments generally selling for between $4 and $30 million. They had six of them.  Some were for storage.

His friend Elton John used to poke fun at Lennon’s materialism by re-writing the ditty:

Imagine six apartments
It isn’t hard to do.
One is full of fur coats
The other’s full of shoes…

(Ya know, it’s pretty bad when Elton John rips on you for accumalting too many clothes…)

The point here is not just that Lennon was a world class hypocrite, though he was. The point is that his lyrics forced him into hypocrisy by their very naiveté.  Even a cursory reading of human history would show that human societies have never been without possessions.  Indeed, possessions, in the form of tools, shelter and clothing, at least, are one of the key things that distinguish us from animals.  Certainly this also creates problems of greed and inequality, but those problems are because of the inherent flaws of the human heart, not the mere fact that we like to keep things we find useful.  But of course it is much easier [read: more childish]  to say something like, “ wouldn’t it be cool if no-one owned anything and had no greed” than to actually provide some sort of solution to greed and poverty.

Actually, Lennon himself later came to recognize the hopeless naiveté of the song (though he never turned down the royalty checks).  His last personal assistant implied Lennon turned Republican (gasp!) and related, “He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naiveté.” So at least we can say that Lennon was not intellectually stagnant.

To be frank, despite his flaws, I like John Lennon, or at least feel sympathy for him. Celebrity is a heavy burden, and, if I had his gifts, I probably would have borne it less gracefully than he.  Besides, I blame Yoko for most of the bad stuff. My point is not to chide him for his faults, but to point out that if even he was embarrassed by the song, perhaps the rest of us can stop treating it like it is modern day scripture.

 

13 Things that Must Die in 2013

18 Dec

Ah, a new year is knocking at the door once again. Soon we will have to let him in, I suppose. But before we do, can we have a little talk?  We really don’t want a repeat of 2012, do we?  So right now, before 2013 walks across our threshold, let’s agree that, as much as it depends on us, the New Year will not include the following:

Hashtagging: The hashtag use was created for Twitter. I signifies the subject you are tweeting about, and thus it allows similar tweets to be organized together. Using it on Facebook is stupid and will be a misdemeanor in 2013. Using it in non-social network settings will be a felony.

YOLO: In earlier ages, the phrase Carpe Diem (seize the day) was used to remind us that life is fleeting, therefore we should make the best of the present moment to learn, work, serve others, and, if necessary, perform heroic acts.  Today YOLO (you only live once) is used to justify gluttony, materialism, and irresponsibility.  The decline of western culture in two catch-phrases.

Pop Stars with fan base names: When it comes to popular music, it can be a fine line between simple appreciation (“I really like U2”) and rabid fandom (“One Direction is the best band in the world”). You know you have gone over that line when you are not only a fan of a group, but you have a special little name to denote your mindless fandom. Lady GaGa has Little Monsters, Nicki Minaj has Barbies and Kens, Bieber has Beliebers, One Direction has Directioners. I would make a remark about all these people being better called “sheeple” but that word is another thing we need to kill in 2013.

Taking a picture with an iPad: I’m not normally hung up on what looks cool and what looks stupid, but this crosses the line. It is the equivalent of wearing sandals with white sweat socks. Just don’t.

Taking pictures of one’s meal: Can we all just agree to go back to enjoying our meal without thinking the rest of the world wants to see it?

Obsessing about food: Food is good. Obsessing about food is gluttony, no matter how skinny you are.  Foodies, grow up.

Vampires: Actually, I thought this one died a year or two ago. But vampires are apparently hard to kill, since we got “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” in 2012, as well as another installment of the Twilight travesty.  If we see any more of this nonsense in 2013 then please notify PETA, because somebody is beating a dead horse.

Zombies: Yeah, I’m calling this one played out. Enough already. It was cute for a while, but that “while” ended last year, and now zombies are EVERYWHERE.  No more zombies in 2013, please.

Crab fishing/gold mining /parking/ reality shows: I’m not saying these are all terrible. Some are rather interesting (even though I wonder how much has been staged). I’m just saying we have reached the saturation point when we have a show about catfish noodling.

“Outrageous” Female singers: Here I am talking about those singers who apparently feel their talent is not good enough to ensure their career. Whether it is Lady Gaga’s meat dress or whatever it is Nicki Minaj is wearing here, it could be argued that these artists are simply expressing themselves through their wardrobe and antics, I suppose. But, to be frank, this seems a less charitable interpretation than that they are attention-seeking hacks. Unfortunately, the “outrageous” motif has gone beyond clothes: it has spawned a whole slew of young women who feel outragaeousness to be the highest calling of their life, as witnessed by the profound and insightful lyrics of Brittney Spears:

Outrageous! When I move my body

Outrageous! When I’m at a party

Outrageous! Wear my sexy jeans

Outrageous! When I’m on the scene

Yes, Brittany, you are outrageous and dangerous and transgressive and …yawn

Fake celebrities: That is, people who are only famous for being famous (or perhaps for exemplifying some nasty trait).  I suppose this has always been a curse of the modern times, but it has gotten worse. NO MORE HONEY BOO BOO. NO MORE KARDASHIANS. JUST STOP!

Leggings as pants: Ladies, we need to talk.  Some of you seem to be under the impression that leggings are a proper sort of outer wear. You are mistaken.  They are underwear. And even if you have the figure to pull off this look (and most who wear them don’t), you are still wearing underwear in public.  This is not hot. It is awkward and often ugly.  If this were not enough, there are now signs that this obnoxious trend is drifting to the manly side of the ledger. Meggings are here.  I swear I will punch the first man I see wearing these.  Unless he looks like he could take me, that is. In that case I will slyly take a pic with my phone, then post it with witty comments on Facebook.

Tattoos: There was a time tattoos were rebellious, anti-establishment, and made a statement.  Well now that statement now is, “I follow pop culture trends a lot”.  In 2013 you are allowed one small, personally meaningful tattoo anywhere covered by the normal casual attire.  No more than that (and especially those ugly face tattoos).

Also on the list: 

  • Throwback Jerseys
  • Exotic Pets
  • Taylor Swift and her ex-boyfriends
  • 50 Shades of Gray

Anything you want to add to the list?

 

 

 
 
Random thoughts on life, the universe and everything