On the boundary

Will be discussing theology and culture (music, film, TV, books)from a classic Reformed Christian persprective, with some charismatic and pacifist stuff thrown in too.

Location: Hobart, Indiana, United States

Grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, went to college at Whitworth College, Spokane, then attended Fuller Seminary. Married in 1979 and have 8 children. I have been a pastor since 1984

Sunday, February 25, 2007

God's foolish grace

You don't usually think of going to Italian opera to discover theological insight, but you might take a look at Boito's Mefistofele. If you aren't an opera fan, Arrigo Boito may not be a familiar name to you. He is actually best known for the very literate libretti he did for Verdi's Otello (from Shakespear's Othello, obviously) and Falstaff (from Merry Wives of Windsor and a little Henry IV). But his own take on Goethe's Faust has some excellent insights, I think, into grace and salvation.
As you may recall, in Goethe's telling of the Faust legend, the wager hinges on Faust finding something that so fulfils his longing for wisdom and beauty that he says "Remain, for thou art fair". After creating a utopian society Faust finally utters these words and it takes some what I find rather unconvincing metaphysics to release him from his bargain and gain his salvation. In Boito's version Faust is dying and has a vision of a utopian society and Mephisotfeles thinks he's got him, but then Faust sees the citizens of his society ascending to heaven and then the heavens open and he sees the heavenly host and at that point says "Remain, Thou art so fair" and Mephistofeles loses his wager with God. As he descends into the earth Mephisofeles cries out "Already God destroys the work of evil with His foolish grace."
And it is "foolish". I think that those of us who have been raised in the church or have at least been Christians for a long time, become numbed to the foolishness of the cross that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians. I have run into more than one non-Christian who thinks this whole idea of grace is cheating. We as fallen humns want to make it on our own , pull ouselves up to heaven by our own bootstraps. I believe that when we as disciples of Christ lose our awarenss of the foolishness of the cross we fall into that same way of thinking. We try to live the Chrisitna life on our own power. We don't conschiously think that, but we lose the sense of our daily, total dependence on God's grace.
I recommend that you take a listen to Boito's opera, or if the whole thing is a bit much at first, listen to the final scene. I can never hear that without tears in my eyes. We all need to keep alive the wonder of what we just celebrated this Holy Week.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Where have all the real pacifists gone?

As a pacifist I find that I don't feel at home with much of what passes as the 'peace movement'. Why, you may ask? Because I don't believe they really beieve in non-violence. There are a couple of reasons I say this. One has been illustrated in the furor over David Ray Griffin's book Christian faith and the truth behind 9/11. People who claim to be for peace seemingly have to come up with these irrational conspiracy theories to prop up their opposition to war. Sure, there are inconsistencies in the 9/11 report and I am sure that there was a good bit of ass-covering sins of comission and omission. At the same time, however, when the allegations of what happened that Griffin and others allege are held up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. they don't really stand up(the experts cited in this Popular Mecahnics article here are a bit more impressive than Griffins).
I am against the war in Iraq, but that is because I am against war, not because I think George W. Bush is the anti-Christ. Which brings me to my other complaint. I have found more angry, bitter people in the 'peace movement' than just about anywhere else. They complain about the Right demonizing Islamic militants or communists, but the thihngs I hear them say about Bush, Republicans, conservative Christians, etc. is demonizing at its best. I see little of what is supposed to be the backbone of pacifism, passages like "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;" (Matthew 5:44-45a); "But if your enemy is hungry, feed them, and is they are thirsty, give them a drink...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:20-21). First of all, even though I am against the war I do not see Bush as my enemy, but even if I did, much of what comes out of the mouths or pens or keyboards of today's 'pacifists' doesn't even come close to the model that the scriptures present us with.
This will date me, but in high school I read a book by Alan Watts (does anyone read Alan Watts anymore?) who was an American convert to Budhissm who srote a number of popular books in the 60's. I liked his writing, but disagreed with a lor of what he said, but I was struck by one observations of his, (which is echoed in the Bible) that you can't bring peace to a situation, either as an indiviual or a nation, if you do not have peace yourself. I do not claim have achieved perfect peace myself by any means, and so I think all of us who say we are for peace should see if we have peace within oursleves, more specifically the peace that only comes from Christ living in us through His Spirit. If our words and attitudes do not reflect the peace that Christ calls us to, maybe we should just shut-up until we really have some peace to share. And if we really believe that what the scriptures say is true, that is all we need. It shouldn't require a huge, world-wide conspiracy for us to stand for peace.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tag, your it

I have been tagged by EMC and since I have never cheated in a game of tag I don't want to spoil my perfect record, so, as Cosmo Kramer would say, giddyup.
1. One book that changed your life:
I think most of the people answering this could put the Bible for 1-3, so we'll go for the #2 choices. For this question I would have to say Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. I first read it in high school and it was like the St. Crispin Day's speech in Henry V. It told me, if I want something easy or something to make me feel warm and cozy, following Jesus was not the place for me. If, however, I wanted something that would require, and be worth, everything that was in me every day for the rest of my life, then this was the place.

2. One book that you've read more than once.
There are a number, but the first one to come in mind is Ellul's Violence. It showed me that you didn't have to be a Pollyanna about human nature or an ostirch about the realities of politics in order to be a pacifist.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island:
A tough one, but I would say The brothers Karamazov. It has theology, great characters, and Dostoyevsky's incredibly passionate writing that I never get enough of. When people talk of Christian fiction , I wish they were talking about books like this rather than the Left Behindseries.

4. One book that made you laugh:

Again a tough one, but the most recent would beThe Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, Mel Brooks son. The title and author says it all.

5. One book that made you cry:
Like some other respondents, books don't make me cry. David Lynch's Elephant Man or Mahler's Kindertotenlieder are another thing.

6. One book that you wish you had written:

In checking the various sources and using my best text critical methods, the red ping pong ball goes to this as the original version of question 6. I would feel a bit awkward saying something like Calvin's Institutes or Crime and Punishment, so I will say Reflected Glory by Thomas Smail. It's about 20 years old but its still the best book I've read that reflects an affirmstion of all the NT spiritual gifts being at work today set frimly in the context of classic reformed theology.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Aside from obvious ones like Mein Kampf, I would say Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth. I saw him on his TV program a few weeks ago saying that the prisoners at Guantanamo should be grateful that they are living in such a tropical paradise (he was serious). If he hadn't written that first book, maybe he would have become an accountant or an anchor on ESPN predicting splits on college hoops instead of the second coming.

8. One book you're currently readying:
William Morris's The Well at the World's End.
C. S. Lewis described it best: "Can a man...possibly find a series of events which really catch and bring home to us all that we grasp on merely hearing these six words? Morris came near enough to make the book worth many readings."

9. One book you've been meaning to read:
Again quite a few, but I think the one that's been on the list the longest would be
Les Miserables. This dates from even before the musical, but one of these days...

10. Now tag five people:

I'm new at this blogging stuff so I don't have five, but I do have three:
Dan, alli, miss sara

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Nate and Melissa test

My kids have a test that they use to determine whether a relationship, particularly a potentially romantic one, is worth pursuing. They bring the person to our house and see how they respond to Nate and Melissa. Nathan is 21 and has a dual diagnosis of Down Syndrome and autism. Melissa is 17 and has Down Syndrome. Melissa is your typical person with Down Syndrome, loves to hug, loves to laugh. She is quite articulate and, once she gets over her initial shyness, will plop down next to you and start up a conversation. Nate, on the other hand, is much more reserved. He will probably say hello, but is not much of a hugger. He has his quirky 'autistic' tics and his speech is hard to understand if you aren't used to it. Some people just don't feel comfortable being this close to people with disabilities but,as far as the rest of their siblings feel, if someone can't accept Nate and Melissa, that's it.
Sadly, my denomination (PCUSA), as well as many others, flunk the Nate and Melissa test. Oh, they say they are inclusive and have staff people who focus on disability rights, but they also say that their disability could makes it "morally justifiable" to take their life before they are born. I am sorry, but you can have all the Accessibility Sunday's you want, but if you feel that an unborn child with my kids' disability makes it possible for someone to decide that it would be better off if they weren't born, that's not much of a welcome.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How did the gospel get into The Matrix?

I am going to shift gears so I don't look like a cranky, ranting middle-aged guy. I am a lot of fun. Really. This post is about something near and dear to me, why the essentials of the gospel keep turning up in film, music, literature, etc. from people with little or no connection to the Christian faith. OK, some of it, a lot of it in years gone by, is because the Christian faith and biblical images were part of the warp and woof (woof just doesn't seem right, but I checked and it is) of western culture. That is not so much the case any more, with even life long church goers often woefully illiterate concerning the Bible and basic theology. Some film makders, for example, (Schrader, Scorsese) come from religious backgrounds, and, while not Christian, acknowledge the influence of their upbringing. Many artists, though, have no real Christian background, and some artists,(eg. Spileberg concerning ET) adamantly deny any connection with the gospel story, even when the allusions are more than obvious.
Enough preliminary, here is what I'm getting to. My original source for this was Tolkein's essay On Fairy Story, but i have added some to it. My starting point is Revelation 13:8, "All who dwell on the earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written in the book of the Lamb who has been slain from the foundation of the world." In other words, the atoning death of Jesus was not a last minute plan by God when He saw that sin had somehow entered the world and the 10 commandments weren't cutting it. It was there from before the world began. That is why, as Tolkein says; "There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true." Since we are created in God's image and there is something about God's essential nature that makes the gospel story foundational to all creation, I believe there is something deep within us that knows that this is true, that this is what all humanity, all creation, is yearning for.
I believe that the more gifted the creative artist, the more in touch they are with the truths of human existence and the more in touch they are with the underlying reality of the death and resurrection of Christ, even if they don't conciously believe it is true. I also believe that, because they are not conciously trying to tell the gospel story, but are just letting their artitistic impule drive them, they tell it more effectively than just about every "Christian" work of art from the last 30 years that I have seen (the only exception that comes to mind is The Hiding Place). A lot of Christians in the past few generations have gotten involved in the creative arts just to portray the 4 Spiritual Laws in artistic form, and that never works. There is a world of difference betwen Bach seeking to write every piece of music he composed, whether it was a church cantata or a prelude and fugue for the harpsichord, to the glory of God, and trying to make every creative effort end in an altar call (Uh oh. I'm getting cranky again).
That wasn't always the case. Bach, Handel, Dostoyevsky, Dante, Rembrandt and on and on. But where are their conterparts today?
This is somewhat abreviated, but since I'm beginning to rant I'll stop here and come back to it when I've regained my cheerful nature.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Who's judging who?

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered today that, because I believe the bible teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful, I am a Klansman. I am indebted to Re. Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Chruch in Austin, TX for pointing this out to me at this "progressive" website. here. First of all, I know of no self-respecting fundamentalist oganization that would have me as a member, so unless anything to the right of Bishop Spong is Fundamentalist I think you need to be more careful with your teminology. Second, unless any kind of challenge is, necessarliy, an attack, I haven't attacked anyone's family, or tried to take away anyone's kids, and I'm not sure what bsic civil rights Rigby is saying I am constantly working to take away.
Rigby also claims that the story of the woman caught in adultery teaches that "real Christians don't use the Bible to condemn other people." First of all, he is using the Bible to condemn me throughout his little essay, but lets forget that for now. Any serious look at the text shows that this is an incredibly superficial reading. When Jesus says "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" He is not just making that up. He is simply reiterating the requirements of the Mosiac Law (Deuteronomy 13:9, 17:7 and elsewhere) that the witnesses of the crime must be the first to throw the stones and that they must not be prticipants in the crime itself. Jesus is not attacking the Law or those who really do take it seriously. He is attacking the double standard that still is prevalent today. The law requires that both the parties be brought. Where's the guy? This was doubtless a set up, and Jesus is pointing out that these very men were doubtless guilty of having a little fun on the side themselves. So its the double standard of a male dominated society that is under attack, not the Law.
Rigby talks about putting the shoe on the other foot. OK, lets try it with the question of abortion. Rigby points out the Jesus was not silent about those who abused the bulnerable. Who is nore vulnerable than an unborn child? We get angry when torture is called enhanced interrogation techniques, or killing enemy troops is pacification or killing civilians is collateral damage. Why? Because it downplays the violence involved and dehumanizes the vicitms. What about referring to an abortion as terminating a preganancy or, my favorite, evacuating the uterine contents? What could be more sterile? What could be more dehumanizing?
So maybe while Rev. Rigby is condmening those he says are condmning others and calling them , calling me names (hateful, a bully, a vicious predator, harassing, slandering) he should remember that Jesus said something about taking the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your brother or sister's.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What's up with the Trinity?

I was going to comment on the paper on the Trinity that was presented at the General Assembly, but I can't come up with anything that does it better than
this cartoon.