31 October 2006

Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other

Happy Reformation Day.

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The world hasn't been the same since.

Luther, a Augustinian monk, spent his life in fear of God's judgement. He saw no hope for salvation in the Church, which had begun focusing on works as a means for salvation, and using Purgatory as a tactic for selling indulgences.

Luther went to Wittenberg to study at the University, earned his doctorate, and most importantly, realized the importance of salvation by grace through faith.

After the posting of the Theses, Luther was excommunicated, but refused to recant, leading to his famous saying at the Diet of Worms:
Hier stehe ich; kann ich keine andere tun; Gott helfe mir.

Which, translated, is "Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me."

As Luther continued to preach, many of the local princes followed him. While it was a long time before true religious freedom was found, it broke the Roman Catholic church's five-hundred year monopoly on western Christianity. The Reformation also served to divide the Holy Roman Empire between the Protestant and Catholic states, a pretty distinct line between north and south.

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation brought the Renaissance into the Church. Luther utilized the movable-type printing press (developed by Johannes Gutenberg a century earlier), the vernacular, and wood-print cartoons to spread his word (Albrecht Duerer was heavily influenced by Luther). The Catholic Church utilized art to combat Luther's teaching.

But perhaps the most important impact of the Reformation was that it brought religious life out of its stagnant state throughout Europe. After Luther posted the Theses, the average citizen started to stand up and take notice of what was going on.

Rock on.

Edited and expanded on 31 October 2008.

30 October 2006

Taps - In Honor of a Fallen Pioneer

This past weekend was fall break for the University of Georgia, and as so many people, I joined the mass exodus from campus to return to my old watering hole, Leavenworth, Kansas. During the three days before break began, I had received some saddening news: a graduate of my high school, only three years older than myself, had been killed in action during the War on Terror. I had attended school with his brother. I knew people he knew. His name was still mentioned by my friends.

The viewing was held at Leavenworth High School and members of the LHS JROTC served as ushers. The funeral director had requested four cadets to hold doors and direct people with in the school, and being an important task, the call went out to senior cadets. However, more than four cadets showed up. There were twelve, all in uniform, with six others in civillian dress asking if they could help out. Ater the viewing, the funeral director asked the cadets to carry the flag-drapped casket out to the hearse. Never before has the LHS Corps of Cadets performed such an honourable task, and they did it with great professionalism.*

The next day was the funeral. There was a request that the members of the military community line the streets of the Fort for the procession. The turn out was astounding. As the hearse drove slowly by, not a sound was made, but the point was made clear. This was one of our own. He died that other may live, the least we could do would be to show up in support for his family.

Rest in Peace, Corporal Unger.

*This portion of the account is second hand and provided by LTC (ret) David Black, SAI of LHS JROTC.

22 October 2006

Giving - The College Edition

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

When I first read "You will be made rich..." I immediately checked my wallet, hoping to find a $5 bill (or, preferably, larger) I had forgotten about. No such luck.

Many of us, especially college students, think that we can't give back to God because we don't have enough for ourselves. I mean, we are in college and facing new expenses. At least $300 on books per semester, food, toiletries, and laundry. All of this was provided before and we have to buy it now. Plus, there's "entertainment expenses". New CDs, movies, going out to eat.

And forget about time. If we want to go to class, get our work done, sleep, eat, keep clean, and spend some time with friends, then we have no time to give back.

Of course, all of these are nothing more than excuses. Half of my"entertainment budget" for this semester could feed a starving child in Africa for over two months. And time? I have a problem. I can't find the time to do anything. That doesn't mean that it's not there. I just haven't found it. This is because I refuse to wake up more than thirty minutes before class and spend time I should be working on my favorite addiction: Facebook.

Now what does this mean? Is every single disciple called to take a vow of poverty? No. But all disciples should be very careful with their resources.

The Lord will provide something for you to give back to him. You just have to find it.

Rock on.

Post Script: Yea, it's been a while since I've posted on the Bible. Why? Because I planned on doing my quiet time in the mornings. However, as I've said, I sleep in the mornings. So please bare with me as I try to wake up in time to spend some time in and with the Word. And prayers are always appreciated.

18 October 2006

The Ultimate Simulacrum

It started with epic poetry, I think. Yeah. Using fiction to escape reality. No matter how bad things got, you could always escape to the accounts of Gilgamesh or Odysseus. From there, it spread to plays (why imagine what happened when you can see it?) After plays come movies. With movies, you can see the exact same play multiple times. And the dawning of VHS, DVD, and downloads allow you to see it whenever you want to.

Somewhere along the history of fiction comes the game. Little kids heard a story or saw a play and decided to make it their own (every kid has been there at some point). These games advanced, slowly at first, with role playing games, where you got to build the character up over time, making your own little world with your friends. These eventually gave way to computer games (the first games were RPGs where you typed in commands). These led to Sim City, which, like plays, kept the player from having to imagine the setting. And then the game the very quickly swept the nation: The Sims. You could create a character, give him a job, let him go on dates, or anything you imagined. After a few years, the game became available online, so that you could play with people across the globe.

And now: the final stage. A simulation so far removed from the original, from real life, that it has become the original, that it actually affects real life. Second Life. It is The Sims, only it is played with real money. You exchange US dollars for virtual money and with that, you can open a virtual business, sell virtual realty, or buy virtual clothing. There are over one million players. People make six digit salaries playing this game. Congress is even debating whether or not to tax income made playing it.

So we have gone from reality, through a complete cycle of simulacra (a copy of a copy), to a hyperreality ("The simulation of something which never really existed." - Baudrillard) so real that it has an impact on the economy and the government.

We are now faced with a question. Not "Where is the line?", as I think we noticed the line when we crossed it (when people started waiting in lines a week long and getting in fights for the latest gaming systems). The real question is "How do we get back over the line?" Or are we so far gone as a nation that our culture will move from Hollywood (itself a simulation of the royalty of Europe, sans bloodlines) to online?

Rock on.

15 October 2006

Paul Rusesabagina

On Thursday, October 5, I had the chance to see Paul Rusesabagina (the inspiration for the movie Hotel Rwanda) speak at Georgia Tech. Having both seen Hotel Rwanda and read his autobiography, An Oridnary Man, I jumped at the opportunity to hear one of my heroes speak.

Most of his speach was a condensed version of his book. But at the end of his speech, he said something that stuck with me. He said that his book and his speech were his message, his insight into the failure of humanity in all regards to Rwanda. The audience, being college students and the future leaders of the world, were his messengers. It is up to us, the rising generation, to step up to the plate and carry out the promise Never Again.

"A sad truth of human nature is that it is hard to care for people when they are abstractions, hard to care when it is not you or somebody close to you. Unless the world community can stop finding ways to dither in the face of this monstrous threat to humanity those words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time." - Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man

13 October 2006

All Hallows' Eve

All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween as it is commonly known, is a day of remembrance. It is not the devil's birthday (I don't know where that rubbish came about) nor is it a harvest festival (We already have one. We call it Thanksgiving). Many churches boycott this holiday, saying that it has pagan roots. Yes. Yes it does.

The Celts of the British Aisles celebrated a day they called Samhain on what is now known as October 31 (they used a solar calendar, so the date is pretty exact). It was the day on which the god of the dead ushered those who had died over the past year (you see, it is also their equivalent to New Year's Eve) to the realm of the dead (The seasons of autumn/winter coincide with this. Make sense?). As part of this celebration, many of our modern Halloween traditions (costumes, gourds with lit interiors) get their start.

To combat this, the Church created it's own celebration to commemorate all saints on November 1 (All Hallow's Day, or All Saint's Day). The day before is, of course, All Hallow's Eve. So, yes, churches, it does have pagan roots. But so do Christmas (Why else would the celebration be in the winter? It was originally the Celitc celebration of the solstice.) and Easter (The Jews use a lunar calendar. Easter doesn't even always follow Passover. The timing coincides with the Celtic celebration of rebirth and Spring. They call it Ostara.)

Interestingly enough, one of the most important holidays of the Church (Easter) and one of the most shunned (Halloween) are nothing more than the life cycle celebrated by the Celts (Life and Death, Fall and Spring).

So what about celebrating these holidays? I firmly believe in remembering the dead. Do I need a special holiday to do that? No. But I have no objection to setting aside November 1 to be thankful for the believers who came before me. Christmas and Easter? Remember the birth and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ always. Do you need a special holiday? Again, no. But does it hurt to lay aside one day of the year?*

Now the economic take over of these holdiays is something different. Trick or treat? The Easter bunny (a Celtic tradition as well)? These are pointless, but fun.

As for churches? Harvest Fests (or, as at certain military posts, the Halelujah Fest)? You're not fooling anyone. By wearing costumes and carving pumpkins, you're avoiding the Christian aspect of the holiday and embracing the pagan roots (Irony, thy name is fundamentalism).

Rock on.

Edit: *Oddly enough, Christmas and the feast day of Saint John the Baptist fall on or near the equinoxes, two other major pagan holidays, to symbolize John's saying of the Christ, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) Just so, light begins to decrease on John's feast day, and increase just before the mass of Christ's birth.