29 June 2007

Blue Like Miller

My Intro to Religious Thought teacher is, in essence, the embodiment of post-modern philosophy. Raised as a conservative Methodist, he majored in Religion as an undergrad, and, as all Religion majors, realized that Christianity is not as simple as it seems. And, as all young adults coming to that this realization, faced the accompanying crisis of faith. After all, if you can accept that most of Genesis is exaggeration (at best, and this is not to mention all of the other things you learn about the Bible in school) and not notice an impact in your faith, something is probably very wrong with you. Studying those like Nietzsche and coming to the realization that you cannot prove what you believe tends to do that to you. Post-modernism is, really, the philosophy of rejection. All our lives are stories, and nobody's story can be correct.

It is into this time that we see (and need) a post-modern response to a post-modern philosophy. Whether or not they claim to be a part of the Emergent movement or not, authors like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, and Rob Bell provide this response. And most popular among them (at least among the youth group masses) is Donald Miller. I'll admit, his books are probably among my favorite. You laugh, wonder, think, grow angry, and hopefully, learn. Christianity Today's review of Miller (not his books, but the man himself) says Miller is "often described as 'irreverent' or 'bohemian'". Which means one thing: he fits in with the rest of the world born after 1970.

Though the article focuses, in the beginning, on Miller's current aging-yet-relevant style of being (the author mentions that he is starting to have those mid-age moments, meeting a friend and asking, "Hey, how's your wife feeling these days?"), it later goes on to discuss this new trend of the Christian experience as a whole. Quoting one fan, we read, "I love Blue Like Jazz because it's, like, a Christian book, but it doesn't make you feel bad about yourself." Which means one thing (well, several, but I'll focus on this one): Nietzsche was wrong when he said that guilt is inherent in Christianity. Instead, Miller would probably argue, and I will agree, that Christianity is a post-modern religion. It's about our stories. God's story about how much he loves humanity, humanity's story about how we are trying to get back to God, and our own stories about how we relate to God and humanity. Miller is quoted as saying, "The chief role of a Christian is to tell a better story."

And, as the article points out, this is how Miller writes. Blue Like Jazz is the story of Miller going through life and learning. Searching for God Knows What is a collection of essays drawing from stories - his story of developing his own sense of evangelism, realizing that the world is fallen and needs God's help, and thinking about the role of the Church. In fact, Miller has one book that is really just one long story punctuated with moments of philosophical clarity; Through Painted Deserts is about how Miller discovered Portland.

As the masses start to wake up and smell the stories, they will need leaders, or at the very least, influences. Whether or not he wants to be, Don Miller has taken that position.

So, what's your story?

Rock on.

20 June 2007

I was gonna...

...write a review of Christianity Today's cover story on Donald Miller over the weekend. However, I decided to shave my head instead.

Now, I just got out of a Religion test, have a German test tomorrow, and an English paper due Monday. In other words, I don't have time this week. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I'll be back with my review as early as Friday, as late as Monday. Not sure which, yet.

Back soon.


14 June 2007

The Passing of Ruth Graham

It saddens me to announce that Ruth Graham, wife to Billy Graham, passed away today. She was 87.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the Graham family and in honoring the life of such a wonderful woman.

Of his wife, Mr. Graham had this to say:
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."

Intro to Religious Thought (or: What They Don't Teach in Sunday School)

The academic study of religion is the most thoroughly depressing field out there. I'm pretty sure of it. It shouldn't be, but it is. They take everything you believe and show you how stupid it is to believe in it. All interpretations (at least according to my professor, and yes he means all, as in every, including those by non-believers) are wrong (yeah, he's a big fan of Nietzsche, for those who were wondering). What's weird is when you get home and realize you still believe, despite how incredible the beliefs are. There's an old joke I once heard, that if you have enough faith to still believe after going through Seminary, you have enough faith to be a preacher. I'm starting to think the same is true for religion majors. This reminds me of a mewithoutYou quote, "We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs; God of Peace, we want you."

The problem with the way we teach beliefs in modern churches is that we claim them to be fact. In the most conservative churches, it goes without question that Moses wrote the Torah, the world was created in seven days, we are the only religion to hold this view, there was a flood, we are the only people who believe in a Noah figure, the Patriarchs are all very real, we can prove that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and the Bible has absolutely no contradictions, historical or otherwise. In reality, the Torah has four sources and probably more authors, our TWO accounts of creation coincide with accounts from all over the Near and Middle East, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts a flood and an ark, there is not proof for any of the Patriarchs, least of all Joseph, who should have proof, and no proof of Israelite presence in Egypt. On top of that, the mention of iron and the Philistines should not be in the Torah, as neither would not be in Canaan until after 1200 BCE. Not to mention the fact that there are multiple versions of the texts we found at the Dead Sea, especially Isaiah, on who's prophecies much of our understanding of Jesus as Christ is based. It's quite sad to listen to the students in my class who haven't been introduced to these ideas until now. Their entire faith is shattering before them (though whether or not their faith should be based on creationism is another topic).

Then there are the ideas that nobody sees coming, no matter how progressive of a church they attended or how much study they do on their own. The idea that the Israelites worshiped multiple gods, that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of multiple gods, the idea that God had to wrestle a sea monster during creation, the suggestion that Noah's son slept with him while he was drunk, and the idea that Mary very possibly wasn't a virgin. Even though these ideas are not as wide-spread as the first, they'll still through you for a loop the first time you hear them.

So why isn't the Church teaching its members to think? Why is it that you don't hear these ideas until you get into the lecture hall? I'm not saying they should be a part of every sermon, but they are certainly things that older Christians should be concerned with. These are serious problems for our faith and if we want to be able to say we have a relationship with God and that we understand our faith and where it comes from, these are issues that need to be addressed.

On the issue of where our faith comes from, why is it that we don't look into the Israelite background of our faith? What makes Jesus distinct from all these other deities in the ancient world is not being born of a virgin or rising from the dead. It's the long, glorious history that culminates in Christ. Almost as if God looked around at all of these ancient cults and said, "Ha, watch this," and blew them all out of the water. If you don't learn about what distinguishes Jesus from others in the "divine man" genre of ancient history, then when you hear about these other "divinities", you face a tremendous crisis.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell says our faith should be more like a spring than a brick, in that it should be flexible (and springs can be used for trampolines and to invite people to come play, where as bricks can only be used in walls, to keep people out). When we raise people to have brick-like faith, when it comes time for someone to need to reexamine their faith, it shatters. When a person whose faith is like a spring reexamines their faith, they survive. How do we make our faith like a spring? By learning about it.

Rock on.

Edit: Ben Witherington expresses his thoughts on a similar subject at his blog.
My friend Pat writes on a broader sense of Christian complacency over at Notes from Underground.

10 June 2007


This just in. Joseph Lieberman will never be elected to anything ever again.

Poor chap.

Good, Clean, Christian Sex

I hear that sex is supposed to be fun. Like, a lot of fun. This comes from parents, friends, family, TV, the radio, and the movies. And I don't doubt that it is. I have a question, though. Why is it that what I hear from most churches is that sex is God's gift to married couples? Why do we leave it at that? It's either this one line about how good sex is or a long list of "thou shalt not's" that if thou doest, make sex bad. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for "free love" along with communion (though that would make for a catchy church sign and a great double entendre), but if sex is so great, why don't we discuss it more in church?

Sex is the greatest level of physical intimacy that humanity can have, yes? So it's no wonder that the Church is called the Bride of Christ, with the obvious intimate connotations that come with this, the description of Love that is inherent in this term. There's a reason we have an entire book that is little more than a love letter between two people in our Bible, despite the fact that this is often looked over (part of me is glad about this, as a sermon on the Song of Songs would be incredibly awkward). I know I'm just stating the obvious here; this is the same stuff you always hear in the obligatory youth group relationship talks. So why in the world are we not applying this?

The Church is going through something of a sexual revolution right now. By this, I mean that some on the progressive side of ministry are discussing sexuality as it pertains to faith. Not a list of what you can and can't do, but actually taking a look at how sex ties into our relationship with God. Rob Bell's new book has one of the most provocative titles in modern Christian writing: Sex. God. I was quite literally speechless when I first saw it. "Surely he can't have written a book about that!" I picked up a copy at the book store and was flipping through it. The first section is titled, "This Is Really About That". Then there is this little article from the Burnside Writers' Collective, which prompted this post, simply entitled "Sex, God, and Rock & Roll". Then there was the most awkward month of middle school youth group. It was our frank discussion on sex. This was meant to educate us. In public schools, discussions in sex ed are limited to talking about the basics. Nothing controversial (oddly enough, this is because of the Christian Right). So, to make sure that we weren't going blindly into the world of high school and sex, my youth pastor decided we would have four sessions of no-topic-off-limits sex talk. I assure you, this was quite unheard of in the suburbs of Columbia, SC, and most of my friends were quite shocked. Come to think of it, I think most people would still be shocked if this were to come up at most youth groups. All of this, I think, is for the better.

This leads us into the important question: What impact does it have on the world when the Church is afraid to discuss a gift from God? Well, it means that other people have to do the discussing. As the author of the article, Steve Simpson, points out, the porn industry is not afraid to talk about sex. The media is not afraid to talk about sex. This is where, then, people will go to learn about it. MTV and Ron Jeremy. I see in the dorms how good of a job they do in instilling good sexual values (or values of relationships in general). I thank God for those progressives in the Church that are not afraid to talk openly about sex because it's too important of a topic for Christians to not be involved in.

Rock on.

Edit: Something I thought and hoped I would never see - a Christian sex advice site. Somebody left a comment advertising for a web site "For Christian Husbands Only". And when I mean "sex advice site", I don't mean topics like "I struggle with lust/pornography/whatever", but "Keep Your Erection as Long as You Desire". This is another example of slapping the label of Christian on anything to make it all right. Sites like this, whether done in the name of God or not, still turn the focus of a marriage towards sex. Again, sex in marriage is a great thing. But it should not be the focus. And if there are sexual problems in a relationship, I would hope that the couple in question would have friends they could turn to for such advice.

07 June 2007

China, the US, and the 2008 Olympics

China is quickly emerging as the heir to the former Soviet Union's role as the second super power. China is among our biggest trade partners (seriously, find how many things in your house are marked with "Made in China"), one of the largest investors in the African continent, and the largest country in the world by population. It makes sense that such a model of the new and global economy would get the 2008 Olympics.

But should the US attend these games?

First, there is China's rights abuses in their own country. The fact that eighteen years after Tienanmen Square, they have yet to admit to any wrong doing or even allow for a memorial service in the Square itself does not demonstrate the type of nation that we should be supporting. (This is not to mention how many Chinese the Olympic construction has displaced, as Atlanta did the same thing on a smaller scale.)

Perhaps we as a nation should take a closer look at China's trading partners in Africa. Among them are the Sudan and Zimbabwe, two of the most notorious human rights abusers on the continent. China won't point out the speck in their trading partners' eyes with a plank in their own, but they won't remove their plank. China can hold tremendous sway in the reason and help to put an end to the Sudanese genocide, but instead of risking an economic advantage, they threaten to veto any UN sanctions on Sudan.

With the world on China as 2008 approaches, the US and other western nations have a great opportunity to shame China into shape. Threatening to boycott the Olympics, whose greatest supporters in recent times have been Americans, would force China to start reforming their rights policies.

But I don't see the US boycotting. China is our ally, and will be for some time, despite supporting the Khmer Rouge, despite its numerous rights abuses, and despite their support of genocidal African regimes. We want China to help us talk to North Korea. We want China to continue making our stuff. We want China. Our nation has essentially given China a get-out-of-jail-free card (or several).

Even if the US did decide to boycott, the American people would never allow it. To many rich business men are looking forward to going to the games. To many Americans depend on the Olympics to build up their national pride. NBC depends on the games to pull in advertising and viewers.

Five bucks says we would boycott the Cuban Olympics. Ten says we would boycott the Venezuelan games.

It kind of makes you wonder.

Rock on.

03 June 2007

The Kraft Effect

I think I may have made a major sociological break through over dinner. I was looking in my pantry, wondering what I should have: the Ramen or the Mac and Cheese. Suddenly, I had flashbacks of my childhood (granted, it wasn't that long ago) and all of the great foods: Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, Pop Tarts, cereal, Chewy granola bars, chicken tenders, and the like.

Then I looked around my kitchen, and oh crap, it's the same food. But just last year, I was dinning on the finest dinning hall foods (ok, most college kids can't say this): Philly cheese steak, smoothies, cheese cake, chili, mixed field green salads, and wonderful sandwiches. And through my last two years of high school, I had stepped away from my childhood favorites, developing a taste for vegetables, cheeses, and things that don't come out of a box. What happened?

The Kraft Effect.

The Kraft Effect can be depicted quite simply by a negative quadratic equation: as you move from childhood to a "zero year", your choice in food becomes more diverse. After the zero year, you begin to regress, with your food choices becoming more limited.

The reasons for the trend towards zero year is quite obvious, with the brain becoming more mature and more open minded, willing to try new foods. But what about as we move away from the zero year? I propose the following causes:
  1. Time - College/graduate students simply don't have the time to make anything more complicated than Easy Mac. The time buying the ingredients, cooking, and cleaning up? Ha. We have more important things. Like papers. And Facebook.
  2. Effort - What student wants to add more to his plate? Now your telling me that being in college isn't enough, but we have to learn to cook and clean as well? Ha.*
  3. Money - Easy Mac? Cheap. Store-brand Easy Mac? Cheaper. Ramen? Cheapest. Because, like with time, we have more important things to use money for, such as textbooks. And concert tickets.
  4. Taste - Seriously, I'm a little disturbed that store-brand Easy Mac tastes that good. Any cheese-sauce product that doesn't even require milk cannot possibly be healthy. But, oh is it addictive. Kinda like uncooked Ramen.
Yes, I expect that this new principle may help the world understand the student better. Of course, this is mostly just a theory. No scientist has dared trek into the hazardous native environment of the college student, and I expect that they won't for quite some time.

*This factor also explains why the undistinguished palate is only present in the dorms/apartments of students. You will observe that at restaurants, students avoid simple noodle/pasta dishes at all costs.

Rock on.