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Tuesday, December 26, 2006
(2:27 PM) | Stephen:
Meme Doesn't Really Have This Definition

Cool! I’ve been memed!

Ok, five things about me, one of which is not true:

1. Shortly after I turned 8, I began to have trouble with my motor skills – writing, using utensils, holding objects, and finally even walking. I wasn’t paralyzed, I just couldn’t control any muscle movements. I spent a week in a hospital in El Paso undergoing a multitude of tests. They never really figured out what was wrong. They sent me home, and I slowly began to establish control over my own body again. I had to relearn everything - crawling, then standing up by myself, walking, feeding and bathing myself. My best friend George used to crawl around with me at my house so I wouldn't feel bad. I missed 3/4 of my 3rd grade year, and still don't know how I passed.

2. I have been in the Atlantic, Pacific (off North America and Asia), Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. I have also been in Lake Michigan, the Great Salt Lake, numerous smaller lakes, ponds, rivers and swimming pools. I do not know how to swim.

3. My nickname on my soccer team was “Atari Legs” because of the way I run. But I was fast, dammit.

4. While my wife and I lived in Korea, we toured the DMZ and the neutral “village” of Panmunjom. We knew several of the American soldiers, and one of them offered to take us on a “special” tour of the North Korean side. He said that they weren’t going to have any guards around for most of the day, and we could wander around some of their facilities if we wanted. So we walked around a bit on the North Korean side and went into a couple of the buildings. It wasn’t very interesting, just some meeting rooms and waiting areas for diplomats and guards. We were just getting ready to head back across the border when we heard a shout behind us and saw 2 North Korean soldiers running at us, with their guns in their hands. Our guide – a seargent in the US Army, II Infantry Division – said, and I quote, “Shit! Go! Go! If they catch us over here we’re fucked!” We started to run, and I could tell that we wouldn’t make it over in time. So I turned around and ran screaming at the North Korean soldiers. I managed to knock one over – mainly because they didn’t expect me to be such an idiot – and slow the other one down enough so that my wife and our friend could get back over. I got knocked around some and taken to a locked room for a few days. The US State Department, the South Korean Unification Ministry and the North Koreans all negotiated about me. Our friend was discharged from the military, avoiding a court martial only because it would have also implicated several other soldiers and officers in the practice of letting people wander around like that. I am barred from the DMZ and any nation that has an official DPRK embassy or consulate, which means I can’t ever go to India, China Russia or Japan, all countries high on my list to visit, along with quite a few others of course. And I have to get a special visa from the South Korean government and then register with the Unification Ministry whenever I travel to South Korea. I’m also barred from all US military installations there, even if I have a sponsor.

5. I have never been drunk, and have never used any illegal drug, not even marijuana. The first time that a drop of alcohol ever passed my lips, I was 29 years old. I have never used tobacco in any form.

Nicholas Beaudrot may call himself a leaf node in the blogosphere, but I beat him out, because I don't have anyone, really, to tag with this, except Chris. Hey Chris - get to it! Take 15 minutes away from your freaking granite countertops or whatever it is and answer this!

(12:53 PM) | Stephen:
La Tierra del Encanto

I'm sitting in Plateau Espresso, a coffeeshop in Alamogordo, NM. I've run a couple of Starbucks locations before, and make a habit of trying out as many coffeeshops as I can wherever I may go. This one is a Top Three Shop, maybe even tied for First Place with Cafe Trieste (the original location) in North Beach San Francisco. Which is saying a lot, because Cafe Trieste was the first coffeeshop on the West Coast - yes, before Seattle.

Anyway, Plateau Espresso is perched on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, overlooking the whole Tularosa Basin. As I said, the Rockies are directly to the east, locally called the Sandias. They average about 10,000-13,000 feet. The Organ mountains, so named because of the plethora of sharp, narrow peaks that make the range resemble a pipe organ, are about 40 miles to the west. From here you can make out individual canyons and ravines. To the south are the Jefferson Mountains that bisect El Paso, TX, and further you can see mountains that are in Mexico, 100 miles or more away. The sky is one that shows the true source of the word cerulean, with wispy white clouds scattered about for texture.

Millions of years ago, the Tularosa Basin was in fact a plateau that stretched between what are now its bounding mountain ranges. Rather than the mountains rising up, the plateau sank - uniformly. There is no altitude change from the west edge to the east until the mountains begin. There are two upthrusts in the basin, one of which retains its volcanic cone, though it has been dormant for thousands of millenia.

Five minutes into a walk in the desert, any location or direction, and one can find fossilized shells and trilobite-ish creatures, showing how this area was once a sea. More recently, until the first couple of decades of the 20th century, it was a rich grassland, arid, but not a desert. The introduction of cattle and overgrazing changed this into a desert, with mesquite, yucca and prickly pear taking the place of the grass.

Dog Canyon lies about 15 miles to the south, reaching into the Sandias. It has a year-round stream that runs down it, disappearing into the earth at the canyon's mouth. Aside from a few, very limited, visitor areas, it is closed to the public. This was not always the case, however, and I spent many a day hiking this canyon, splashing in the stream, drinking the water that is still untouched by human pollution, seeing the waterfalls through the ferns and all the other elements of a riparian environment that is still so foreign and wonderful to me.

Dog Canyon was used by the Apaches to stage their raids upon the encroaching Europeans, first the Spanish, then the Americans. So long as they were able to make it to the canyon, the Apaches were never caught or beaten. Unfortunately, the American Cavalry in this area finally got a commander who understood that and was able to finally subdue the great Apaches.

There is a wideness, a grandeur to New Mexico that is pretty much lost anywhere else. The great landscapes of Montana and California have been tamed, even Arizona's Sonoran landscape has been bent to the will of humanity. But in New Mexico, roads are still scarce. Cities 60 miles away are considered close. It is possible to hear no human sound other than your own. The sky stretches forever, and the land still bears the scars of its violent geological development - the slopes of the Sandias and Organs look freshly scraped by the collapse of the Tularosa Basin, the land to the north is still covered by black, nearly-plantless lava, twisting and turning, forever locked into the grotesque convulsions it was performing when it suddenly cooled so long ago.

This is where I was born, where I spent 19 years, and where I have only returned to visit since. I have lived in Coastal California, the Midwest and South Korea since then. But I'm still a desert rat, still amazed at the sight of a lake or river. I like to think that growing up here helped me to appreciate beauty wherever and in whatever form it can be found.

Monday, December 25, 2006
(5:15 PM) | Stephen:
Dialup? Dialup?

I will respond to Neil's tag - I feel so cool! - soon, but all I have right now is dialup.

I'm trying to get my mom in the late 20th century, but it's a long process.

Hope everyone is well.

Friday, December 22, 2006
(12:27 PM) | sam k:
Rethinking Baptism, Again.

Up from the comments: an interesting treatment concerning the practice of vicarious baptism in 1 Corinthians 15, which I have written about in the past. I have been hopelessly remiss in gathering my wits to post a response, but I finally have a few moments to share some thoughts on the article.

At the foot of Rogers’ argument are two grammatical questions: who is receiving the baptism, and what is the nature of their relationship with the dead?

The answer to the first question rests in the difficulty of the text. For Rogers, the difficulty does not arise from an unorthodox practice of baptism—indeed a vicarious baptism is not in view at all, according to Rogers. Rather, the problem is that Paul gives evidence of the resurrection by reference to a non-Christian practice. This may not be apparent at first, but it is Rogers’ position that in v. 29 Paul is not speaking of the Corinthians, but of an unknown third party. That is, if he were speaking of the Corinthians, he naturally would have referred to them in the second-person plural or directly addressed them as “brethren”, as he does elsewhere in the letter. Instead he says, “What will those do who are baptized for the dead?” (Emphasis mine.)

This is rather problematic. The trouble, of course, is that Paul apparently draws an authoritative lesson for the church from the practices of non-Christians. To which group could Paul possibly defer concerning baptism and resurrection, if not the Corinthians? Rogers speculates that Paul is talking about the same people mentioned in v. 30, those who place Paul “in danger every hour” – namely, the Judiazers.

This, Rogers argues, is the key to the second question. If the passage is a reference to a Jewish practice, then Paul probably has in mind not a vicarious baptism (a baptism on behalf of), but something a perhaps more Jewish. Rogers cites Numbers 19, which describes a purification ritual that was required after a person came into contact with a corpse and was finalized by a washing with waters, or a purifying “baptism” (a baptism because of).

Such a reading is semantically possible given the flexibility of the Greek word for “for”, which can mean either “on behalf of” or “on account of”, depending on the context. What we’re left with, then, is something like this:

"If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied...Otherwise, what will the Judiazers do who receive baptism because of coming into a contact with a dead body? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized because of them?"

However, while Rogers’ exegesis takes precise care of our grammar, I believe the reading is “forced” and ends up spoiling the text. First, it assumes a particular sense of the word “dead” not actually in evidence (neither in Numbers 19 nor in Paul’s formulation of the resurrection). Second, the alternate interpretation of v. 19 lends feeble support for Paul’s argument, making it an unlikely candidate among Paul’s various possible meanings. And third, the most “natural” reading in the English (ie a consensus reached by scholars in a number of translations), unambiguous in both the NRSV and the ESV, is consistent with both Paul’s argument and what we know of the Corinthians, and thus, such an imaginative reading, while interesting, is unnecessary.

Who is the “dead”?

In order to fully understand Paul’s sense of the word “dead”, we must first understand the argument he intends to make about it. It is quite simple: There is literal afterlife, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised again to be a part of it. The interesting thing about this metaphor is how it expresses the transient nature of death in Paul’s eschatology. Death and sleep are conflated in Paul’s thought. The “dead” have not died in the usual sense; they have merely gone to sleep for a time. (Paul also uses this construction in 1 Thessalonians 4, where he addresses similar questions about the resurrection. I wish I had more time to discuss Thessalonians here, because I feel it should play an integral part in our understanding Paul’s eschatology more generally, as well as this passage in particular.)

Thus, when Paul speaks of the “dead” he is not merely speaking of a corpse; he is speaking of those who are only humanly dead, but who shall be raised, in bodily form, to face judgment on some later day. However, there is no internal evidence that the baptism described in Numbers 19 was performed because the corpse was believed to be somehow only “sleeping” in Paul’s sense of the word. This is problematic to Rogers’ exegesis for one of two reasons. It either requires imposing new meaning into the text of Numbers 19* or it utterly fails to understand the argument being made in 1 Corinthians 15. This brings me to my next concern.


While Rogers’ exegesis may make sense of v.30 in isolation from the text, it is irrelevant to Paul’s argument – that there is literal afterlife, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised again to be a part of it. Simply put, the fact that some Jews perform a ritual washing after coming into contact with a corpse doesn’t help answer the Corinthians’ question (again, unless we assume a particular sense of the word “dead” not in evidence).

On the other hand, the “natural” reading, the reading which a consensus of translators has settled on, actually supports the argument quite well. The point of v.30 is this. Why would anyone receive baptism on behalf of someone who has passed away if one believed there was no resurrection – that death was the end of the road? They wouldn’t, obviously. Paul uses the rhetorical question to show the Corinthians that deep down inside they believe in the resurrection, either because they have held out hope for the dead themselves, or, to account for the “third person problem”, because belief in life after death, evident in the practice of baptism for the dead, is a common, sensible thing in their culture. This reading fully accounts for the grammatical questions posed by Rogers and makes a good deal more sense within the context.

In conclusion

While I find Rogers’ exegesis interesting, and in some ways more attentive than my own, it ultimately proves to be insensitive to the context out of which v.30 arises. On the other hand, it has been tremendously helpful in forcing me to rethink through the passage, and I would like to take this opportunity to amend my previous reading of the passage. In so doing, I hope to indirectly answer Stephen’s question concerning Christocentric universalism.

In the past, I have argued that 1 Corinthians 15 provides good evidence that at one point the Corinthian church practiced vicarious baptism on behalf of the dead. And further, that the lesson we should take from the passage is how Paul “exhorts them and even commends the Corinthians for their earnestness, while pleading with them over those doctrines essential to their shared life and election as a community”. However, I no longer believe that is necessarily the best reading.

It is quite possible that Paul is referring to baptismal rites the Corinthians’ practiced before being finally baptized into Christ, rites presumably still practiced in the pagan culture. Although this changes the shape of the argument slightly, it finds accord in the context and fully accounts for the “third person” problem posed by Rogers. The rhetorical question in v.30, then, is not an artful reductio. Instead it asks the Corinthians, “Every one of you tacitly believed in the resurrection I am teaching, when you practiced vicarious baptism, so why would stop believing in it now?” It also has the added benefit of consonance with his advice concerning food sacrificed to idols. One needn’t fully abandon one’s cultural narrative in order to follow Christ. One must simply teach his narrative to be submissive to the Truth of the Gospel.


*As many of you know, I am not dogmatically opposed to reinterpreting and recontextualizing Biblical texts in this manner. In fact, I am of the opinion that New Testament authors did this a fair bit. However, in support of such a reading, proponents of Rogers’ reading would need to demonstrate two things. 1) Specifically how Paul re-envisions the text to apply toward his argument, and 2) that such a reading would have been evident to a (primarily) Greek community in the 1C lacking any internal context.

(12:11 PM) | Stephen:

This night
We pray
Our lives
Will show

This dream
He had
Each child
Still knows

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” Matthew 18:1-5 NLT

The idea that we must be childlike to inherit the Kingdom of God is something of a cliché in the Church. But Jesus knew what he was talking about. So many children in this world are faced with devastating loss and vicious evil. But in the refugee camps children can be seen running, laughing, playing. Children are remarkably resilient. They can recover from so much more than adults, it seems. They are just wired differently, set up so that their default is to love, to believe, to experience joy somehow, no matter where they are.

We are not to exploit this or use it to excuse our behavior. No, our goal is to be like them, our call is to welcome and care for them, for the dream that Jesus carried in his heart is placed within the heart of every child, a dream of love, acceptance and peace.

We are waiting
We have not forgotten

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:22-23 NLT

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:1-5 NLT

Ever since the ragged band of believers stood on the hilltop outside Jerusalem, staring at the clouds, Christians have been waiting for Christ’s return. This return is not about vindication or revenge, but about redemption and healing, about peace and joy being finally given in full to all people. There will be a new heaven, we believe, not an exclusive country club for the contrite, but a new creation where disease, famine, war and strife are not allowed, where pain is unknown, where the tears and heartbreak that so mar our lives will be erased by the joy and grace of God himself. And this new creation, this new blessed life is made available to all, to everyone. Jesus himself said, “whoever is not against me is for me,” a reversal of what we usually think. Let this new earth for which we wait and work be one for all people.

On this night
On this night
On this very Christmas night

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. “ (Luke 2:8-14 KJV)

On Christmas night, some 2,000 years ago, an illegitimate child was born to a teenaged girl and her fiance – a situation so unacceptable that they were not able to find housing with Joseph’s own relatives in his ancestral home, unable even to purchase their way into a corner of an inn’s dining room.

“Pay me and you can sleep in the stable,” they’re told. And so the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the bastard child of Mary, is born among mud, straw and donkey shit.

Which is just fine for the first visitors to pay their respects to the newborn King – a group of shepherds, themselves familiar with and reeking of animal effluvia, the only people, perhaps, of a lower station than Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

This is our Lord, born to a young girl, laying in a feed trough. He did not come to conquer, did not come to place his image and symbols in the halls of power, to have his memory fought over. He did not come to be used as a justification for our selfishness, our desire to dominate one another, our greed and ambition.

He came to proclaim the time of God’s favor, to show God’s goodwill toward us, to proclaim and be peace, peace on this earth. Jesus came as love, as peace, as healing, as repentance, as acceptance and redemption.

So on this night, this very Christmas night, may we discover again the wonder of Emmanuel, God-with-us. May we receive his peace and redemption and then be that peace and redemption for this world.

Chris – who I will see in a few days and berate for not posting more – Sanpete, DuWayne, Neil, Ezra (and the crew at his pad: jacqueline, JiminPortland, nolo, bobmcmanus, Fred(!) and all the rest), those who read this blog and do not comment, those in my family, my friends,

Merry Christmas.

Though you do not all share my beliefs, I hope that you will understand and accept in the spirit it is given when I say:

May the peace and love that Jesus came to show us and be for us, be yours in full in this coming year. Thank you for all that you do to help me to stay true to what I try to believe, and for the grace you show me when I fail.

Let us all work together to show that we still remember, we have not forgotten, we still hold onto the dream that Jesus himself had, that this world would know peace instead of war, love instead of indifference, hope instead of despair. Let us continually look for the ways in which the Divine breaks into our world – lamps that do not go out, values and ideals that survive captivity and forced labor in a foreign land, the stories that we read at the end of the year but happen all the time, if we but look, when human beings decide to become better than we are, to choose against what seems to be our natural state and accept, help and love those who share this world with us.

Peace on earth, goodwill to all people. Let it be so. Let it be so.

*Lyrics in bold from Christmas Canon, © 1997-2006 Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Quoted without permission, but I imagine it's ok.

Thursday, December 21, 2006
(5:41 PM) | Stephen:
Pointless Gestures Don't Prove Your Point

Have you ever heard of the movie The God Who Wasn't There? It purports to be a documentary that exposes the falsehoods behind Christianity. Some of their evidence is rather less effective than stellar, such as the fact that many present-day Christians don't know the origins of their religion. So what?

Funny thing, though: I know one of the people they interviewed for their film. I haven't talked to her about it, because she comes off pretty poorly in it. However, the best I can tell is that they went around some Christian music festival asking random people "gotcha!" questions.

They also tout the founders of Snopes.com as being involved in this project. Wow. They used to list "The Raving Atheist," but last I heard he converted to Christianity or something, so they scrubbed that reference.

Anyway, now they have a new way of distributing their DVD. All you have to do is make a video of yourself saying "I deny the Holy Spirit," post it to YouTube, include some referring stuff in the text, and The Rational Response Squad will send you the video. The idea is that you need to be willing to commit blasphemy, specifically the Unforgivable Sin against the Holy Spirit mentioned in Mark 3 and Matthew 12.

I'm really sorry to disappoint the Rational Response Squad and everyone else behind The God Who Wasn't There, but unbelief is not blasphemy.

Speaking of Unforgivable Sins, there is another way to ensure that one is not forgiven by God: refusing to forgive others. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15).

So this becomes a problem, it seems, for those who wish to define blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as anything other than refusing to forgive others.

And for those of us who have a hard time following through on the command to forgive those who wrong us - once or 70X7 times.

(2:18 PM) | Stephen:
Pure Genius

Via TBogg, Mary Grabar, writing for Townhall.com, has a column that begins,

After watching The View and following the inane statements made on the program, I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is true what Aristotle, Saint Paul, and John Milton said: Women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner.
I'm not sure about John Milton, maybe he did say that. I've read most of Nicomachaen Ethics, but I don't remember very much, and I understood hardly any of it. But weren't the ancient Greek philosophers members of MAMBLA - Mediterranean Area Man-Boy Love Association?

St. Paul has proven difficult for many reasons, not least of which is what some of his letters say about women. But he never said what Grabar accuses him of saying.

Anyway, I just don't understand this type of thinking. Not when it comes from a man, and certainly not when it's a woman spewing it out. I was going to call it "self-loathing," but then I had images of Sanpete writing in the comments, "She probably doesn't think of it as self-loathing, etc. etc." So, ok. But it is a really low opinion of herself, not just the women on The View or Hillary Clinton.

The thing is, I can't stand The View either. It is silly, shallow and irritating. There is in fact very little intellectual content on it. Of course, it's a group of entertainers sitting around talking. I don't think that Bill Maher's shows have all that much going for them intellectually. In fact, massive amounts of brainpower are conspicuously lacking on most of television, radio, the movies and music. We don't pay these people to be smart, we pay them to entertain us. This is true of our news programs as well as our sitcoms and daytime talk shows.

That Grabar would use the lack of mental prowess on the part of The View's participants - or at least, the characters they present to us - as a jumping off point for indicting all women as stupid is, of course, much more illustrious of her own character and mental faculties than anyone else. Lowering the level of discourse below that of The View is quite an accomplishment. Perhaps her husband should set her straight and ensure that she doesn't write more columns like this, or at all.

After a quick Googling: Grabar has a Ph.D. And I can find no mention of her husband. Interesting that she was able to earn a Ph.D, unless it was some sort of handicapped women-only degree that isn't too taxing on the female brain. More interesting that her husband is not more prominent in her bio and various online information about her. Since he is the one who allows her to do all these silly things like earn degrees, write and teach, his benevolence and mentoring should be cited as much as possible. If this stuff is just coming from her without the input of a man, why should we take her seriously?

Monday, December 18, 2006
(11:21 AM) | Stephen:
Kline's a Brick and They're Drowning Slowly

I heard some interesting things about the Phill Kline fiasco.

He's been meeting with the DA's office, and has reportedly been quite "nice" through the whole thing. Well, duh. No one accused him of not being nice. Supposedly he's been very humble in his approach and conciliatory toward Morrison's team. We'll see how long it lasts. While it would be to Kline's great benefit to actually be humble and in the background for the next two years, it would also be playing against type and the behavior he's exhibited in every dealing he's had over his career.

There are slightly more than 600 GOP Precint Leaders in Johnson County. The attendance at last Monday's meeting was no where near 600 (for Precint Leaders, not including spectators). Not only did Phill not submit a resume to the Precint Leaders - other candidates did - not only did he wait until the very last minute of the last day to register to vote in Johnson county, using an apartment in Gardner owned by a GOP Precint Leader that is unoccupied as his "address," but Kline's supporters went around the county gathering proxies from every Precint Leader they could, fearing that the more people saw Steve Howe in action, the more they would want to vote for him. It worked, because the scuttlebut is that the majority of those in attendance voted for Howe, while the proxies carried the day for Kline.

When the results were announced, a group of Kline supporters fell to their knees and shouted phrases such as "God is good" and "Our God is still in control." Steve Howe is a conservative Republican, an abortion opponent, regular church attender, morally upright guy. He can, to use the vernacular, testify to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I fail to see how anyone can claim that there was God's candidate and, I don't know, the notGod's candidate in this. Especially because "God's candidate," true to form, ran an intentionally secretive and deceitful campaign.

Finally, the idea has crystallized, for now, that this was political suicide for Kine and the Johnson County GOP. That's from Republicans, not partisan Democrats like me. We of course will see in two years. But Republicans are furious about this. There was an immediate move to either recall Kline or perform an "ouster," but neither looks possible. The Democratic party in Johnson County will probably see a nice uptick in registrations over this, and can probably count on a few more votes next time.

(11:08 AM) | Stephen:
Sundry Ruminations

Busy week last week:

Monday, December 11, 2006
(11:26 PM) | Stephen:
Embarassed by Kansas Republicans - Again

Tonight, Phill Kline was "elected" Johnson County, KS, District Attorney. I put in the scare quotes because Paul Morrison, his predecessor and successor, won his last reelection with 99.17% of the vote, 213,566 votes. He had no opponent, mainly because he did such a good job that even Democrats (back then he was a Republican) loved him. Tonight, Phill Kline got 316 votes to Steve Howe's 291.

So 25 dumbass Republican precint leaders got to choose the new District Attorney for the rest of us. They did it, obviously, to give the 65% of Johnson County voters who chose Morrison over Kline last month a big, fat middle finger. Now we all have to pay for this for the next two years, when we can kick Kline out of this office. I hope that there won't be yet another publicly funded position given to him to abuse after that. He needs to go get a real job.

I really hope and pray that Steve Howe and the rest of Morrison's team stays on. Kline is barely a lawyer at all, let alone someone who can handle himself in the courtroom. Unfortunately, being a supreme example of a worthless, lying sack of shit isn't really a quality that juries look for when deciding who presented the better, more factual case.

Did you notice how much I can't stand Phill Kline? I have my reasons, and they go further than the fact that he's now going to use the DA's office to poke around medical records and leak them to Bill O'Reilly.

Anyway, the good news is that this is a serious miscalculation on the part of Johnson County's GOP. Kansas politics has a rythm that they just threw out of whack. See, what happens is wingnuts get elected to positions based upon nice-sounding phrases and promises, then lay low for a year or so in place before launching their real agenda. Things like introducing Intelligent Design to the classroom, making Sex Ed opt-in, or gathering medical records on a fishing expedition - one that targets only certain clinics that provide quite a few abortions and not hospitals that provide lots of other services. Then the moderates in the state get fed up and kick them out. A few years later, the cycle starts again.

This year, the wingnuts got handed defeats all over the state. This should be the time for them to lay low, rebuild and then come roaring back a couple of years from now. But apparently the fact that Paul Morrison became a Democrat in order to completely massacre Kline at the polls was too much for these people to handle, and they decided to send a message.

So in two years, the Democrat/Moderate coalition in Kansas - and it is there - will have Phill Kline as their all-too-willing bogeyman we can trot out to the voters. I'd rather he just fade into well deserved obscurity, but I guess we need to work with what we've got.

(11:28 AM) | Stephen:
Funny Stuff

I just love this. He got it exactly right.

This is from Bob the Angry Flower, an-always great comic. Stephen Notley has that rare ability to make the most absurd ideas funny and relevant. Go there and buy books or something. He also works for Popcap games, which are usually pretty fun.

(10:18 AM) | Stephen:
Omni: Sucky Car, Sucky Theology*

Neil has a post at Ezra’s place about the newest Creationist strategy: “Fine Tuning.” The idea is that this universe is uniquely suited for the existence of life, such to the point that the slightest variation in any number of variable would cause it to either be hostile to the formation of life or not exist at all.

That this is bad science is handled quite well by others. Neil of course shows that the philosophical underpinnings are equally weak. The real problem, insofar as this relates to larger issue of Christianity and its future in the USA, is that Creationism – Fine Tuning, Intelligent Design, whatever – is terrible theology. I said as much in a comment to the above thread, pointing out that a God who only spruces up the universe so that we can live here isn’t much of a God in the first place, and in the second, the presence of so many things that go wrong in this universe (from our perspective, of course) makes a mockery of God’s supposed power.

To understand why it’s so important for the RR to be able to gain acceptance for their interpretation of Genesis, we need to to take a look at what has happened to the Christian worldview through the millenia.

Much is made of the “omni-“ categories: omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. These categories pose a real stumbling block to people who try to engage Christianity from outside it. If God is all these things, then why evil? Why disaster? Why the myth of free will? Indeed there is the discipline of theodicy, which seeks to defend God’s goodness against the charges that people make against it. And Calvinism has developed into a theological tradition that doesn’t really count free will into its equations, seeking to emphasize the sovereignty of God and the mystery of his will and plans – a mystery that we cannot hope to understand or fully know, but that includes tsunamies, earthquakes and AIDS and that will one day be known to us as a fully loving and gracious plan.

As a Wesleyan, I reject all this. I reject predestination – excuse me, I reject double predestination, the idea that some people are chosen for heaven and some for Hell in a choice made before the creation of the world. Rather, I believe in the idea that we are all predestined, predestined to believe in God and be reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. However, we have the ability to choose, because God wished to have companions, creatures made so closely in his image that he could relate to them almost as equals! – equal partners, at least, in terms of relationship if not power.

That segues nicely into the omni- categories. They aren’t in the Bible. Any hint of them is not in the Bible. They are Greek philosophical categories, and they don’t mesh too well with the Hebrews that populate the Christian Bible.

Of course, Greek ideas are present. John’s Gospel in particular uses Greek philosophical ideas to explain things about Jesus, and Paul uses some Greek dualism in several of his letters. This has led to problems for later Christians who did not understand Hebrew philosophical ideas as well as Greek. This came to a head with Anselm, he of the oft-used Ontological Argument: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. So pretty much God maxes out all the stats. That’s why video games make invulnerability “god mode,” because just like Kyle Katarn with that cheat enabled, nothing can hurt or disturb God or set him off his track of where he wants to go.

Except that this is not what we see in the Bible. Immediately, it seems, Adam and Eve rebel. Cain murders his brother. Abraham claims his wife is his sister, and she is, ahem, brought into another man’s “household.” Jacob steals from Esau. The Hebrews make God so mad in the Sinai desert that he tries to make a secret deal with Moses: “I’ll kill these morons and go find you a people that doesn’t suck as much.” “No way, God, if you do that, everyone will make fun of you. You gotta work with what you have.” Then there’s the example of Jesus. He came to offer God’s salvation, and we murdered him.

What is the Bible if not the story of God being continually rebuffed and thwarted, and yet being able to constantly offer redemption to his children? This is the story of a powerful and loving God, but not of an Immovable Mover, an immutable and passionless Ground of Being who directs all that there is in a grand game of chess in which God is apparently playing himself. To preserve our ideas of an omni-God, we need to believe that God caused Adam and Eve to sin, that God had Jesus’ death planned before he even created the world. Indeed, many people believe this. But that doesn’t do justice to the biblical record.

According to the Bible, there is no omnipotent God; rather, God is strong enough to see us through our hardships and to accomplish his plans. There is no omniscient God; rather, God knows us, knows our sorrows and joys, knows our hearts and secrets, knows our longings and desires, knows our pain and our evil and loves us still. And there is no omnipresent God; rather there is a God who is Emmanuel, God who is with us. He is with us no matter where we are, no matter where we go, no matter how lost we become. It may be that God really is an omni-God. However, at the least he has self-limited his power as it relates to us, in order to allow us a true, not illusory, free will.

*My first car was a brown 1985 Dodge Omni hatchback, with a brown interior. Brown. My girlfriend said, "please don't get a brown car. I don't want to ride in a turd." It is my belief that I was incredibly handsome in high school, perhaps the best-looking guy there. The reason is that I was able to go on dates and have girlfriends while driving a brown 1985 Dodge Omni. My friend Scott drove around a blue 1980 Chrysler Land Yacht. This was back when "Love Shack" from the B-52's came out. "I got me a Chrysler, it's as big as a whale, and it's about to. set. sail!!!" Nobody sings about brown Dodge Omnis.

Saturday, December 09, 2006
(11:37 PM) | Stephen:
Heaven is a Wonderful Place*

Sanpete in comments to this post says:

Scripturally it seems to me that universalism has an uphill fight. It's a simple enough idea, but none of the biblical writers seem to have been let in on the idea, or to have let us in on it. The Christocentric variety has fewer scriptural barriers, and even has the suggestive idea of teaching the gospel to the dead in its favor (1 Peter 4:6).

Certainly, that 1 Peter verse is usually front and center for anyone who wants to argue for a Christocentric universalism. Here's an interesting verse from Paul that may have something to bear on this idea as well:

"Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" 1 Cor. 15:29

Chris, the other contributor who seems to be way too busy, has written some interesting things about baptism for the dead, and I'm hoping that bringing this up here will spark some more thoughts and provoke him to post.

There isn't much else in the Bible that directly talks about this, as Sanpete noted. But I wonder if the Bible is as black-and-white on the issue as most people think. Certainly there is a profound misconception regarding the nature and purpose of Hell, never mind that for the Hebrews there wasn't such a thing.

Yet there are some sections of the Hebrew scriptures that talk about God's love reaching even to those in the grave (Sheol), such as Psalm 139 - though it's quite dangerous to develop our theology from the Psalms.

What it really comes down to is how one is going to approach and interpret the Bible. It is not possible to overstate the impact that the Enlightenment has had on the way that people approach their faith in general and in the area of Biblical studies in particular. We are a reductionist people; everything must be broken down to its simplest components so that it can be understood. This is no less true when trying to put together a Biblical theology than it is when trying to map the human genome.

The problem is that this approach gives an incredible amount of weight to individual verses, which then must be weighed against other incredibly weighted verses in order to finally come to a conclusion. That is why the various contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible cause people so much trouble. Some find them to be an impassable roadblock on their faith journey, while others - who find them equally troublesome - decide to attempt the task of convincing themselves that what they plainly see is not what is actually there, but is rather a coherent and self-legitimizing narrative that flows from verse to verse, chapter to chapter, book to book.

But this isn't the only way. I believe that the reason these books - oral traditions from various peoples and even other religions, scraps of writings combined into "books," letters, histories from people who would not understand a word of a standard modern history - the reason these are all put together into one greater Book is because there is something greater than consistency or lack of contradiction that ties them together. This something is unfortunately incredibly hard to define or even find. But it's there. If we just look past the superficial views of a thundering "Old Testament" God and a super-nice Jesus and his benevolent Father in the New, then we can see the character of the one God that is presented and how this character is always in play.

And this character can best be expressed by the word "love." Yeah, that comes from 1 John 4. But it's there. The other things that we learn about God is that he is creative, from the Creation itself to the ways in which he works to redeem human beings. He is relentless, he never gets tired, he never loses interest, he never forgets his promises, his covenants, his children.

Universalism of any kind runs counter to bunches of verses. But a relentless, creative, loving God is not going to be dissuaded by verses or theologians or Church doctrines. And this kind of God I can see working and working until all are with him.

*It's a lyric from an incredibly stupid song. And I've been to church camp, so I know from stupid.

(10:20 AM) | Stephen:
Misoverestimating Himself

Apparently, Bush told a bunch of Democrats in Congress how he is like Harry Truman. How Truman had to face down Communism, and how he left office deeply unpopular for the stands he made, but of course now he is revered by almost everyone and the Truman Doctrine became the blueprint for US strategy during the entire Cold War.

My Grandmother is a consummate Democrat, my Father a consummate Republican. Both of them count Truman as their favorite president, which I've always found interesting.

And to be fair to Bush, he is exactly like Truman in one way: Bush also has managed to unite my Grandmother's and my Father's opinions regarding him.

Both of them regard Bush as the worst president in the last century, probably ever.

See, he's a uniter, not a divider.

Friday, December 08, 2006
(12:09 PM) | Stephen:
Those Subtle Brits

Oh man, this is funny:

NASA has confirmed its moon base will not illegally occupy other people's land.

The news deals a crushing blow to the dreams of thousands of idiots, who coughed the cash for their very own patch of dusty countryside on the moon. NASA announced earlier this week it would start building a permanent lunar outpost in 2020.

Wording in the original, emphasis mine.

(1:31 AM) | Stephen:
Satellite Churches

I spent some time poking around the Community Christian Church website. It's quite an organization. It's a Satellite Church, a multi-site congregation that uses video and other technology to offer the same sermon and perhaps music to a couple - or a lot - of different locations.

It's funny how the Wikipedia article says that North Coast Church of Vista, CA, was the first church to do that. Ha ha, no. That would be The Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea. They've actually gone away from that model and the various congregations are calling their own pastors. It's now more of an association or denomination than a whole bunch of congregations all "pastored" by Cho, Yong-gi. However, he is still the main focus of the association.

On a personal note, I taught two of his nieces English when they were freshmen in college. Absolutely brilliant, wonderful girls.

The thing about satellite churches is that they completely remove any priestly component to the lead pastor, except in a very general sense. They also show the most complete break with sacramentalism this side of totally non-sacramental groups like the Salvation Army. They could not more clearly say that the focal point, the ultimate expression of the worship service, is the sermon than to organize congregations that (often) share nothing but a common sermon delivered to them by video.

If there is the Eucharist at all, it is served by junior pastors at best. Same with baptism. I don't think we need to get all squirrely about the Eucharist they way some Romans and others can. But it should be a big deal. It's a mystery, something we don't understand. It needs to be blessed, not by some stubble-faced intern with a BA in Communications and ripped jeans, but by a person ordained by the Church, set apart for the sake of ministry and leadership to the Body of Christ. That needs to be the central focus of our services, just like it was for the earliest Church, something the Restorationists leave out when trying to recreate the 1st Century Church.

Some 44-year-old "dude" with an allover tan and a soul patch, wandering around a parking lot talking about eBay is, in my not humble opinion, lean fare for starving souls.

(1:12 AM) | Stephen:

I have often thought about trying to call myself something other than "Christian." Something that would convey how I'm trying to believe in Jesus, but without all the baggage that the term "Christian" comes with. I used to attend a church that used "Christ-follower" quite a bit. Of course, that was a very cutting-edge church, even getting written up by Bob Webber quite a bit.

Oh, you don't know Bob Webber? People who didn't know him as well as our pastor and church usually call him Robert Webber. That's how cool we were.

Anyway, I don't want to find a new name any more.

'Cause the videos at that link are not funny and they're too clever by half. The cool Christ-follower comes off as being more smug than the uptight Christian - just like in the original Mac ads! So instead of getting across the idea that at Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, people can just relax and be themselves, they appear to be snotty and conceited about how much better they are at the whole Christ-following bit than all those old fogey Christians. I've seen church plants use this type of thing in direct-mail and newspaper advertisements, where they intentionally paint the other churches in town as either boring, lacking in authenticity or both.

That's wrong. I mentioned growth by cannibalism before. The Church cannot eat its own and claim to be following the Great Commission. There's enough problems in this world that we don't have to mock each other.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006
(4:58 PM) | Stephen:
When We All Get to Heaven

I have heard it said that anyone who truly experiences grace is at least tempted to become a universalist. This has been true at least in my experience and that of others that I know.

It's a hard issue though, because it deals with concerns that have been cropping up about secular lefties' ability to work with people who believe that everyone who does not share their beliefs will end up in Hell. I can understand that this is a real concern whenever a Democrat starts blathering on about the imaginary problem of hostility to religion within the party. Whenever I have read or heard someone who has this concern, it makes me assess my beliefs regarding this. Should I be more "evangelical?" Should I be sure to share my faith, whatever that means, with everyone I meet, everyone I attempt to work alongside?

I'm reluctant to do so, because my beliefs in this area, as in so many, are in flux. I have experienced grace many times over, and do in fact find myself attracted to some sort of universalism as a result. The reason for this is because of the powerful nature of grace, the fact that it can overcome so much, work so hard and endure for so long.

There's a few different types of universalism. There's the belief that it just doesn't matter what anyone believes, or if they do at all. We all end up in the same place, be that annihilated, heaven, Nirvana, etc. There is such a thing as Christocentric Universalism. The basic idea is that Hell is no impediment to Jesus and his ability to reach out to "lost" souls. Eventually, all people will be won over to Jesus, even if it takes a million years.

People who believe this also tend to believe that those who never hear of Jesus in this life get an automatic pass into heaven, since it's not their fault they aren't Christians. Some of them also believe that those who are faithful to another religion will find their faithfulness and service rewarded as if it were all done and believed within Christianity. C.S. Lewis used this idea in his conclusion to The Last Battle, where a soldier who lived his entire life hating Aslan finds himself in Aslan's presence, rewarded with eternity in paradise.

So I suppose that Christocentric Universalism need not assume that everyone but professing Christians will be in Hell. Those that do manage to end up there, however, will not find it to be an eternal place, and will, if nothing else, be eventually worn down by Jesus' persistence.

This type of universalism is rather arrogant, because it assumes the truthfulness of (most of) Christianity's claims. However, it does avoid the question that a more total universalism always begs, which is "why bother with any belief at all?"

Some form of universalism is immensely attractive to me. I don't know if that's because, having experienced real grace, I naturally extend it in its fullest expression to all others, or if it takes away my obligation as a Christian to evangelize.

Or most troubling of all, if its because universalism lets me put some intellectual discomfort to rest and to associate myself with people whose politics are most closely aligned with my own.

Honestly, I'm not happy with any of my options.

Saturday, December 02, 2006
(10:36 AM) | Stephen:
Potty Mouth

As I'm sure you know, Dennis Prager made up a fake controversy about Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the nation's lone Muslim Representative to Congress, saying that Ellison had made a statement that he would not swear his oath of office on a Bible, but would require a Koran.

That's fairly sad, of course. Apparently Prager - and those who joined in with him - are so bereft of intellectual prowess and integrity that they can't make their arguments without creating them out of whole cloth.

But the ridiculous story did get me thinking about swearing oaths, which got me thinking about "swear" or "curse" words. Neil the Morally Upright Lycanthropist is also thinking about these words, although from a completely different source and perspective.

What's interesting about swearing oaths on the Bible, or at all, is how it is actually a way for the State to co-opt religious sentiment for its own purposes. All efforts to swear upon something are a bit blasphemous, of course, whether it is our mothers' graves, "heaven, for it is God's throne. . .the earth, for it is his footstool. . .Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. . .[or] your head, [upon which] you cannot make even one hair white or black." And Jesus goes on to say that our "yes" should just be "yes," and our "no" should just be "no." There is no reason to suggest that one would - or even can - place the integrity and holiness of a grave, heaven or God himself at one's disposal to prove that a claim is true. Simply be people of integrity.

So the idea of placing one's hand upon a holy text and swearing an oath is an entirely unChristian idea; I suspect it's the same for Judaism and Islam as well, and probably quite a few other religions. Pressing a holy book into the service of the State exalts the State above God, and a person's obligation to that State upon his/her obligation to serve that God.

Anyway, everyone knows what the "bad" words are, and the various ways we have devised to express something that sounds similar yet doesn't carry the social stigma - or soap tasting opportunities - as the words themselves.

Dang, darn, heck, zounds!, egad! and others are all substitutes that were employed at one time or another to curse without cursing, as it were. It's funny how different parts of our society are headed in opposite directions; TV and radio allow much more profanity than they did when I was a child, at the same time conservative parents don't like for their kids to even say "crap" or "dang."

Of course, saying a word like "shit" or even "fuck" - or words experiencing newish popularity like "cunt" is not the same as "taking the Lord's name in vain." That's actually what Jesus was referring to with his admonition against making oaths upon heaven and the like. We might also be able to place exclamations such as "Oh my God" in this category. However, the usual complaint is that exclamations that use the name of God or Jesus are calling upon them when it's not really necessary to get their attention, thereby wasting their time, I guess. While I don't think we need to reduce the words God or Jesus to nothing more than exclamations in response to a good candy bar or surprising event, I'm not sure that we need to worry so much about wasting their time or assume so much that we are able to command them in such ways.

As for the rest of the naughty words, none of them really have anything to do with God except for Goddamn, and its various forms. This one is probably the only one that we can properly call a curse word, since its literal meaning is to tell God to curse someone or something. So just as we can't really call these words take the Lord's name in vain, neither can we properly call them curse words. Anyway, I've never been able to get a bunch of "she-bears" to come down a hill and maul a bunch of kids.

There was a time when I decided that it wasn't the words themselves, but the attitude behind them that was the problem. This is correct, I still believe, because it's keeping in line with the general thrust of the Sermon on the Mount. So I tried to keep even the replacement profanity out of my vocabulary. Do you know how hard that is to do? Pretty darn hard I can tell you. Oops.

Anyway, I've come to another place in my understanding of profanity. Words of this type are absolutely necessary for us. We rely upon our language abilities for our entire civilization as humans, and we need words that will express the entire range of feelings, positive and negative. And I believe that trying to avoid certain words completely places us under too much psychological strain. We probably should avoid making these words our all-purpose adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs, but when there are feelings that must be expressed, we should use the words that best express them.

However, we should make every effort to excise certain words, or at least their negative connotations from our vocabulary. Bitch, cunt, pussy, basically any word that carries with it the idea that a person is bad because of particular feminine characteristics. There simply is no need to perpetuate the idea of women as less than fully human when we are seeking to insult one another. There's plenty of other words to use.

Have a great *&$# day, #&$@!$&#.

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