Belated Anniversary

Late yesterday evening marked five years since I sat in a dorm hallway at the end of my faith rope with nothing but a Bible and a prayer, which produced Luke 24:34...

'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!' (NIV)

I've moved the lectionary texts around for this passage to be the preaching text for Sunday, mainly because we'll be taking communion.

I've never really done anything official to mark the occasion over the years, but I think that I've done plenty of unofficial things. Last night, for instance, was spent with a roomful of congregants as they shared hopes and dreams for the church's future. The three years prior I was always involved with some sort of seminary work. So in a sense I have marked the occasion: I've been moving forward.

'Do Not Be Afraid' - A Sermon for Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

A letter came across my desk a few weeks ago from the American Red Cross (did you know that March is Red Cross Month?). It’s a form letter, pretty obvious from the first line: ‘Dear Business Leader,

‘The springtime is a busy time for business. Probably furthest from your mind, as you serve your customers, is the possibility of disaster interrupting your ability to operate. But every year businesses are struck by disasters—fires, floods, tornados and other calamities that slow operations to a halt, sometimes for days and weeks, or even months. Half of businesses struck by disaster fail within two years. Do you know what you would do if your business were affected by a disaster?’

We each could provide our own list of disasters we might be thinking about this morning, ranging in scope. Disasters both close by and abroad are presented to us on CNN. Disasters are personal (such as illness) or perhaps more public (a teenager opens fire at a Minnesota school). And they raise questions, doubts, fears: do you know what you would do if you were affected by a disaster?

We have our different coping mechanisms, some healthier than others. Perhaps one has a creative outlet such as music, writing or art. We can escape into the world of Shakespeare or Danielle Steele. We can take solace in our favorite musical playlist. We can get wrapped up in a marathon of movies starring our favorite actors and actresses. Maybe we can bury ourselves under a layer of Ben and Jerry’s, dive to the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels and refuse to come up for air. The favored confidence of a friend could lead us through or we could just pull the covers over our heads and unplug the phone. We can preoccupy ourselves with the day’s tasks or allow ourselves to go numb to any and all responsibilities for a time. Disaster affects us in different ways, and we have our own ways to cope.

There’s no account given in Matthew as to how the disciples are coping. The last time we saw them they had fled the mob who had arrested Jesus in Gethsemane. The one little tidbit that Matthew writes is of a few women journeying to Jesus’ tomb. Their current coping mechanism is seeing that the body is cared for, or perhaps just visiting to continue the mourning process. In any event, disaster has struck Jesus’ followers: their leader is gone, trampled under the boot of the Romans. Whatever threat he posed has been snuffed out.

Things turn out a little differently on this particular day. Disaster gives way to a dramatic announcement, complete with a second earthquake, an angel, and even a symbolic ‘defeat’ of the Roman guard who became ‘like dead men.’ The angel announces that Jesus is risen and as they run to tell the others, Jesus himself just sort of pops up out of nowhere: ‘Greetings!’

Matthew describes multiple emotions during this episode: fear and joy. In response to Jesus’ appearance all they can do is fall to the ground and take hold of his feet. What can be said? They’ve gone from disaster to something they can’t even put into words, they DON’T put into words this entire passage. But the exhortation is repeated twice, first by the angel and then by Jesus himself: ‘Do not be afraid.’

After witnessing such a horrendous event only a few days earlier, the words ‘do not be afraid’ are fitting. Now the tomb is empty and Jesus stands before them. It’d be quite a shock to an already weary system. For Matthew’s community, now wrestling with who they are and why they are, the words are fitting as well. Do not be afraid. Remember…Christ is risen.

And now to us to continue on this holiday (and actually every day of the year) as people of faith to proclaim a new beginning, an ongoing presence of Christ in our midst, Matthew says to us, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, for so many centuries ago we experienced Christ in our midst after his death. Do not be afraid, because we have known him to continue with us (at the very end of Matthew’s gospel we hear that ‘I am with you always’). Do not be afraid, because we have known the risen Christ. Take comfort that he is with you also.’

Hard to believe sometimes, though, isn’t it? A man who died 2000 years ago raised again by God to guide us through the most difficult of circumstances? Where is that presence when it’s needed most? Where is Jesus popping up and saying, ‘Greetings!’ in our midst? After all, we do not live in a constant state of bliss. The halos around people’s heads in European paintings aren’t quite as noticeable in real life. Where could Jesus be in our disasters? How does our ‘do not be afraid’ appear?

The movie ‘Escape from Sorbibor’ is set in a concentration camp during World War II. One young man has just discovered what the camp is truly for, stumbling upon the gas chambers as they are running. He rushes back to the barracks in which the Jewish workers are imprisoned to find them playing chess and cards, playing music, dancing, laughing. The young man is appalled and offended. ‘Why do you do this if you know what goes on here? How can you sing and laugh? How quickly you have forgotten!’ An older man approaches him and pulls him aside. ‘No, we haven’t forgotten,’ he says. ‘But we do this to remember….to remember that we are human.’

How can we proclaim that Christ is risen, that Christ is present in a disastrous world? Through song, through dance, through sharing at this table, through passing the peace with one another and singing, ‘Alleluia’ and saying ‘Amen’? It is because we remember. We hear Matthew’s reminder, ‘do not be afraid. Christ is risen.’ And this is what we say to one another. We remember the old story of Jesus and God’s love. We remember, re-imagine, relive the surprise, the realization that we are not alone. We are continually surprised, continually realize that Christ is in our midst in unexpected ways. We remember to have hope in disaster and to strengthen our faith in the midst of despair. We remember that we are invited not to cope alone.

So you are invited to sing. Stretch your vocal chords a little more than they’re used to. Rip off a hunk of bread when it comes around. Take two or three. Hug someone you don’t know in the narthex. Say ‘Amen’ when you feel moved and not just when I prompt you. If you’re not allergic, come up here after worship and stick your nose right in one of these Easter lilies and give thanks for the wonderful aroma of life given to this plant.

Remember that Christ is risen. Remember that Christ is present. Remember that you are human and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remember that you are beloved children of God and remind one another of that. Turn to the person on your right and left right now and tell them that: ‘You are a beloved child of God.’

Remember that Christ is with you in disaster. Remember and relive the story of new life.

'Right to Life'?

Chris has some interesting thoughts on the Terri Shiavo fiasco (for it has truly become a fiasco, IMO).
Saturday. Stuff to pass the time. Lezz do it.

I'm still reading From Beirut to Jerusalem. Hey, it's over 500 pages long. It's gonna take a while. I just finished chapters dealing with Arafat's rise to power, Sharon's role as Israeli Defense Minister, and the PLO's departure from West Beirut during the 1982 conflict. Friedman doesn't sugarcoat or excuse any group in his writing. He speaks of the true strength of the Israeli army and the realization among some Palestinians at the time that they really weren't moving forward with establishing a state. It really is a good firsthand look into the events of the area.

I honestly don't think I've seen any movies since last week. Hm. Well, if you haven't seen it, see So I Married An Axe Murderer. It's one of my favorite Mike Myers movies and I think one of my wife's favorite movies, period.

I've been listening to a lot of Beck this week, and as it turns out his new album's being released on Tuesday. How about that. I recommend Odelay or Mutations myself. And don't expect them to sound similar.

The first time I saw the movie Office Space, I happened to be working in the Heidelberg Admissions office at the time. And because I was working in an actual office, I found the movie to be hilarious. If one has never worked in an office, one isn't as likely to find it so funny (example: my fellow summer camp staffers). All this is to not only plug Office Space, but also the TV show (gasp!) The Office, for which the American version just had its debut episode this past week. Steve Carrell is gold as the idiot boss. So far the movie wins out as being closer to my own office experience, but the show is still pretty funny. Amazing use of Jell-O, that's for sure.

I've added two new blogs/journals/sites where people can post their ramblings to the list this week. Maggi Dawn is an Anglican priest in Britain who has some Emerging Church leanings (still trying to figure out what that movement is about), and I've enjoyed reading her thoughts. And Everybody...move your feet and feel united is written by a college buddy.

That's it. Have a happy Easter and week.

The Edge of Reason

I've been casually reading about logic and fallacies the past few weeks, mostly on this site and this site. I figure I spend enough time getting myself into arguments around the internet and do plenty of reading that it might be helpful to bone up on when an argument is logically sound and when not. It'll also be helpful whenever switching on government debates and whenever I pick up a book from the 'Current Events' section of Borders which in my opinion should be renamed Pundit Alley. Seriously, this section is all filled with Coulter and Franken and Moore and O'Reilly all sniping at each other. It gets tiresome after a while. But I digress...

Actually, I don't digress that much. That actually helps me segway into my next point. There are two logical fallacies that I've been reading about that seem to be the most popular, both around the 'net and in politics in general: the ad hominem and the appeal to emotion. The former is discrediting one's opponent through irrelevant caricature. It may manifest itself in what in politics is called 'mud-slinging' or what in junior high is called a typical day.

Example of ad hominem: Oh, those Democrats are wrong because they're tree-hugging, gay-loving, socialist moonbats. Or, oh, those Republicans are wrong because they're war-mongering, gay-hating, money-grubbing fascists. See how helpful and relevant either of these are to the argument? Me neither. That's the ad hominem.

Now the appeal to emotion is pretty similar. Basically, string some ad hominems together, throw in some flowery rhetoric about why 'we good wholesome people' are right (actual premises and conclusions are by definition unnecessary), and you have an argument that basically does little more than rile up your constituents and demonize those other people.

I've tested out some of this stuff around the 'net and it's been amazing. I found this 3-paragraph rant where, after stripping away all the fallacies, could have been said in a sentence or two. We all make use of fallacies constantly. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, though. Otherwise there'd be more thinking before talking and less talking.

Wait...would that be a bad thing?

Holy Week Evangelism

All right, so Greg's post at The Parish is a little...okay...REALLY acerbic. But underneath all that harsh sarcasm lies a commentary on church evangelism during the Lent season. I myself have only recieved one flyer from an area church thus far (and surprisingly it's not from the local absurdly huge non-denominational one), fairly modest in scope and presentation and devoid of any sort of Easter giveaway. They only ask for your company that they might share the joy of Easter with you.

I don't think much of mass-mailing flyers in general. Whenever that subject pops up I remember a stand-up comedian's comment: "It's like they're saying, 'Here, YOU throw this away.'" Not really that effective in the long run. Maybe it'll attract one or two people, but it's not really worth the money. 'But you got those two people to come! Hallelujah!' Don't start.

As for putting on a more catchy hip facade, after I read Greg's post this morning I thought of a movie that came out a few years ago called The Cooler, which features a casino run by an 'old school' owner played by Alec Baldwin. A young guy comes in and attempts to make major changes, make things more flashy, but Baldwin's character strongly opposes it. 'It's the last of it's kind on the strip. A testament to the old days.'

I've commented elsewhere on worship with regard to being or seeming more 'with it,' but giving away a Harley? Come to church and we'll give you expensive stuff? Thankfully I don't know of any area churches doing this. But is this that to which some churches have resorted to attract new members?

Hey, you know what? Come to my church for Maundy Thursday. Yeah, we're gonna have some modern music played during the service, but you know what else you're gonna get? A piece of bread, a little bit of juice, and a bunch of readings from the New Revised Standard Version. Sorry, no Message or New Living or Today's Modern Ultimo Sweet Version. But you what else? We're gonna tell you through only slightly formal language and some old school hymns about a guy who believed in and trusted his message and his God so much that he went to his death at the hands of an oppressive murderous empire for it. And we're going to linger with that death for a few days instead of jumping right to the good happy 'more than a conqueror' stuff. And we're going to use an organ and hymnals. And there will be maybe 40 people there instead of 400. But I promise that they'll be 40 of the most loving friendly people you've ever met. And you won't leave with a Harley, but you'll leave with a handshake and maybe a pat on the back and certainly an open invitation to come back whenever you're able.

We're not the last of our kind, and we're not relics. We try to be hip and flashy when appropriate, but I'd rather we just be relevant and deep. And neither relevance nor depth involves giving away a Harley.

Random Musings at a Slightly Absurd Hour

~I kind of wish I had brought home that kitten who greeted me at the community service tonight.

~Tuna fish mixed with hard-boiled eggs is awesome.

~I jumped rope today, which means my calves won't work right when I get up tomorrow.

~Who really knows what Terri Shiavo wants?

~I wanna go to Seattle. BECAUSE IT'S THERE!!

~Who's ever been 'logically' argued into church?

~After Jesus raises up, my schedule's gonna have a small reprieve. And then it'll just fill up with other stuff.

~My chicken fajita was good, but your hovering over me to ask how it is wasn't.

~I didn't realize just how many old people go to Florida in the winter.

~I need to be in bed, not in front of the Idiot Box's Evil Cousin.


No doubt my readers have been following the case of Terri Schiavo.

Since this story broke, I've read the following in two separate places...

Random Democrat: 'If Terri wasn't white, Republicans wouldn't care.'

Random Republican: 'If Terri wasn't white, Democrats would care.'

Not that either is particularly proveable other than by hearsay, the assurance that the people to whom you say either one buy into your assumptions beforehand, and both are just plain logical fallacies that contribute very little to the actual issue.

Anyway, the only thing I really find fascinating about these two quotes is that they come from two places independent of one another.

Palm Sunday

17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.' " 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31 Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." 33 Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." 34 Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." 35 Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;
the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?" 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, "This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.' " 62 The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" 63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah,
the Son of God." 64 Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death." 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?"

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72 Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus
Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" 23 Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." 25 Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!"

26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters,
and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;
36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, "I am God's Son.' " 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him."

50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!" 55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again.' 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard
of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
It's Saturday, so you need stuff to help pass the time. Hey, here's some...

Not only did I finish Ridley this past week, but I went through another book: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. This was made into a movie a few years ago starring John Cusack, which is actually number one on my top 5 movie list (two plugs in one!). The novel is fast reading and provides a pretty accurate look into the male psyche regarding relationships (my experience, anyway). Now I'm on to From Beirut to Jerusalem, a book chronicling one reporter's experiences in...Beirut and Jerusalem. So far it's provided some pretty graphic accounts of the Middle East conflict(s).

We've seen a few movies this week. I've already written at great length about Man on Fire. We also saw (well, I also saw) Boondock Saints, which I'd been wanting to see for a very long time and finally did. It goes in the same category as Reservoir Dogs and is about two Irish brothers in Boston who decide to go on their own vigilante mission against organized crime. Not bad. We also saw The Incredibles this week, which I found to be surprisingly dark. It's not exactly the cartoonish romp that we've come to expect from Pixar. I mean, it was good (and I'm a sucker for anything with Jason Lee), but not always little kid friendly (one scene features Mr. Incredible hiding behind the skeletal remains of another superhero). Guess that's why it's rated PG.

This week I picked up Citizen Cope's self-titled CD on the recommendation of an online buddy. It's pretty good. I've only listened to it once through so far, so I can't really elaborate that much. But I enjoyed it.

Around the web, check out Gizoogle. It's quite ridiculous.

Have a good week.

A St. Patrick's Day Revelation

Yes, I realize it was yesterday, but that's when I had it. But it wasn't until later last night and typing on my blog wasn't my top priority (hey, I'm doing a half-decent job of cutting back my internet time).

Last night we watched the movie Man on Fire. If you aren't familiar with it, it's one of Denzel Washington's recent films, another of his 'One Man vs. Everybody Else' flicks, of which he's made his fair share over the years. For every one of his critically-acclaimed Oscar-nominated heart-tugging braving the system claiming his identity as a human being epics, he makes a movie like this.

Anyway, this one is set in Latin America and is about an alcoholic tapped to be a bodyguard for a rich couple's elementary-aged daughter (only the husband/father is Latin American, though; the wife is a slender blonde caucasion. Significance? Eh...). So at first Denzel is quiet and grumpy, just doing his job and all that. And then at some point his heart begins to melt with the help of the girl who just wants to be his friend and we end up with a cute little bond between them. Then she gets kidnapped and we get Denzel's one-man vigilante killing spree to get her back.

It's really formulaic in a lot of ways. You get redemption and revenge and hoping for the best for the little girl all in one package. It's like 10 other movies in the same genre. So why am I telling you about it?

Well, first, the very end of the movie (spoiler alert), which in other movies with similar plotlines features the by-this-point fully redeemed and sympathetic anti-hero 1) killing the final bad guy a) while walking away fine b) while walking away injured c) while sacrificing his own life in the process 2) and getting the kid back, this one has a slightly different take: he does not kill the final bad guy (but someone else does as a postscript), but he does sacrifice himself, trading his life in exchange for the girl's. Another variation: he's already been critically injured so while he's driven off in the bad guys' car to meet what we can presume to be torture and death his life quietly slips away.

The revelation I have during these final moments: this movie features some people who have chosen to be ugly doing ugly things, and one person decides life isn't so ugly any more, nor does he want to be ugly any more, but now has to do ugly things to do something beautiful. And after he's done all these ugly things, his last act is beautiful: giving up his own life to save another. In other words, humanity has the potential to be ugly (metaphorically speaking, of course) or beautiful, and sometimes those lines intersect.

In typing that last paragraph, my readers might have a myriad of reactions, including the following: "What the heck are you trying to say?" "Well, duh." "So does that justify the ugliness in any way?" "Why'd you have this revelation during THIS particular movie?"

Let's take these in backwards order. To answer the last reaction: I have no idea. This revelation was had by someone who has seen countless movies of this type, who lists Goodfellas and Fight Club among his favorite movies and has the first three seasons of The Sopranos on DVD. So why was this revelation had during this particular violent film about violent people that is no different from any other violent film? Maybe it struck me in just the right way. Probably closer to the truth is that final scene. You never see Henry Hill or Tyler Durden or Tony Soprano offer up their own life for someone else's.

Okay, so does that justify the ugliness in any way? Well, I've wrestled with this before and am still wrestling with it.

"Well, duh." Yep. Over the past year or so I've been rediscovering a lower theological anthropology. In other words, I'm coming to grips with the idea that people aren't as saintly or prone toward The Good as some more 'liberal' colleagues might suggest. Matt Ridley has some thoughts on that, as well as how we like to think that other parts of the animal kingdom are equally wholesome and pure. Some of the stuff he shares in his book might cause you to think differently, though.

Which brings us to what the heck I'm trying to say. Look, the movie is nothing special for the most part. 'Man on Fire' can be compared to many other films about men on fire (metaphorically speaking, of course). It's that last scene that got me. He is resigned to his fate after snuffing out a lot of the bad guys. The only way he can save the little girl is to sacrifice himself. And he does it willingly. He does something beautiful after doing all those ugly things to put a stop to other equally ugly things.

This got me to thinking about all the world's ugliness. I've been trying to wrap my brain around the complicated story of the Middle East, neither 'side' of which is good and pure (why can't more people admit that?). I'm trying to wrap my brain around the ugliness that people I know are facing (not necessarily inflicted by others of course) and how they're dealing with it. It ended up being too much to think about at once, and I was able, thankfully, to let it go for the night.

But there was something to one person totally giving himself up/to/for another, a flash of beauty in what was otherwise an ugly situation. Maybe it's no coincidence that I'm thinking about this a week before Good Friday.

This post has gone on for a very long time. If you've read this far, congratulations.

'Today's Top Stories'

I got up to go through my morning workout (almost 2 weeks running) and flipped on Headline News to catch what's going on in the world. I'd picked up such a habit from when I had access to an eliptical machine in our St. Louis apartment complex's fitness center: do 30-45 minutes of cardio and watch the news at the same time. Work out your body and your brain. Double whammy!

Anyway, I realized something today while I went through this morning's ritual. Presented as today's top stories were Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Robert Blake, and the baseball steroid hearings. Oh, and a brief story on obesity reducing our national life expectancy. For the most part, the stories deemed most crucial and newsworthy to our lives were celebrities either getting in trouble or we're happy that they aren't in trouble after all or we're hoping they won't be in trouble.

The past few days have been spent going back and forth between the shootings at the Atlanta courthouse and the church shootings in Wisconsin, in addition to stories of gay marriage in California, developments in Iraq, and social security. But today was a full-blown case of vicarious living through the notoriety of national icons.

It was just interesting to be presented with a full-tilt onslaught of hero worship presented as news this morning and realize it.

A Thinking Faith

A while back I made the mistake of picking an online fight with a high Calvinist. As most online arguments go it consumed a lot of my time for a few days with little positive result.

Anyway, he threw around a lot of heady theological and philosophical terms around such as secondary causation and libertarian volition. You know, stuff that Jesus talked about all the time. I was mildly familiar with these concepts but hadn't studied them in years and at one point just went on a frustrated mini-rant on ivory tower philosophical drivel that has no bearing on reality. The dialogue didn't last too much longer.

Fast forward to a funeral I did a few weeks ago. I sat down to chat with the funeral director for a few moments and he spoke of another pastor who 'would always use big words. I needed a dictionary whenever I talked to him.'

At one point I would have been happy to know all the typical orthodox theological concepts inside and out, be an academic, and then go forth into the world and bestow this knowledge on the masses. Then 9/11 happened. Then a good friend was killed in a tornado. Then those big elaborate terms and concepts didn't matter so much. And generally I'd wager they don't matter as much to Joe Christian who needs a word of hope after losing his job and Jane Christian who wants reassurance that her parents will be okay in the nursing home.

Now, lest I be labled anti-intellectual, I have mentioned in the past the importance of a 'thinking faith.' So how might one hold that in tension with calling secondary causation ivory tower drivel? Well, one does it the same way one reads Shakespeare: take the time with the material, read over a paragraph a second or third or fourth time, use a dictionary, and then give yourself permission afterwards to say, if you truly mean it, 'Man, that was terrible.' Perish the thought that anyone would say that about Shakespeare, of course (actually I say it all the time about 'Merchant of Venice,' but that's for another day).

There are many theological systems that have been and are vigorously defended by those who hold them as absolute (I speak now of systems like dispensationalism, Calvinism, Armenism, and others neatly packaged and labeld for one's convenience), and two reasons among others why some find criticism of these systems to be abhorrant:

1. They're argued from scripture. Often, 'scriptural' equates with 'right.' If a system is scriptural, and scripture is God's Word handed to humanity to be supremely revered as the written Truth, who are you to argue against a 'scriptural' system? The problem comes when another text pops up that doesn't quite gel with the argument one has laid out. For example, high Calvinism may cite Malachi 3:6 ('For I the Lord do not change') to illustrate God's being unaffected by the world. Unfortunately for such a system, Exodus 32:7-14 tells of Moses talking God out of destroying the Israelites. Verse 14 even says, 'God changed God's mind.' Here the Hebrew for 'changed' can also be translated 'repent'! So can a system that is 'scriptural' be 'right?' Perhaps. Which scripture and how are you using it? But usually, if one argues against a system in this manner it may lead to the second defense against criticism, which is

2. You don't understand it well enough. Sure, if you throw a bunch of terms like 'secondary causation' (which even after you start reading about it doesn't make a whole lot of sense) into it. And if you come to a different conclusion about something like secondary causation, one still somehow doesn't know enough about it. This happens with scripture as well. Take my example above. The Malachi text and the Exodus text actually somehow DO work together, it's just that one doesn't understand the Exodus text well enough.

I'll bypass a third defensive fallacy, which is, 'Oh, you're just rebelling against the Truth.' Convenient.

So where's that leave us with a 'thinking faith?' As you can see, it's actually pretty important. It keeps us from swallowing church traditions whole even when they seem strange, contradictory, or irrelevant. It helps us to understand not only our theological heritage better but also who we are and should be as Christians today. It's also more challenging and vibrant. An unquestioning faith is a dead faith. How ought we to live if we aren't allowed to question what we believe? The world is ever before us presenting us with new situations that we've never faced before, new hopes, new setbacks. One's faith can't effectively answer those new situations without our being able to question how it might, or whether it can. This is the importance of a thinking faith: it keeps us on our toes, just as life does, and just as God does.
It's a cold snowy Saturday morning and we need some stuff to keep ourselves entertained. So here's some.

Still trying to get through
the Ridley book. This afternoon I think I'm gonna curl up on the couch with my cats and try to get through more of it. In the meantime, I'll recommend for you another book: Sky Knife by Marsella Sands. This book was given to me by a man at one of my field education placements in seminary. It's by his daughter. It's a good piece of historical fiction set in a Mayan city in the midst of its heyday.

We watched a couple movies this week. We saw
The Forgotten with Julianne Moore, and that was adequate. The same day I rented that, I also bought 25th Hour, which I'd seen before and really enjoyed. It stars Ed Norton as a convicted drug dealer spending his last night as a free man with his closest friends out on the town in post-9/11 New York.

This week I picked up an album called 'Unclassified' by
Robert Randolph and the Family Band. They're a good mix of jazz-rock-gospel-soul. This album keeps it light and I wouldn't mind hearing more from them.

No TV recommendation for you this week. You had to have seen that coming.

Here's something to get stuck in your head while you're at work.

Enjoy your week.

Fasting - Food For the Soul

Okay, I'm gonna fess up. I haven't committed to a Lenten discipline this year. I considered a few options like 'giving up' some food or vice, fasting once a week, shutting off my @#$%&?!! computer for six weeks....but I haven't really devoted myself to anything. So now we're over halfway through and still nothing. I had resigned myself to accepting failure until I picked up the March 8 issue of Christian Century, which features an article on fasting. The author talks about fasting as a spiritual exercise rather than just not eating, paying attention to one's hunger rather than trying one's best to ignore it, and so on. But I was most struck by this tidbit:

'Monks have restricted meat and dairy products in part because bread and vegetables have always been the food of the poor--the simplest and least expensive food available. When we voluntarily agree to share this food, we become more tangibly connected to the poverty of millions who struggle to put food on their plates for today. Though I have known for some time that many people in the world are hungry and that my experience of plenitude is a privilege, the experience of fasting made this knowledge a more physical reality to me. I understood more fully Robert Farrar Capon's comment that we should not allow our abundance to deprive us of an understanding of hunger. Capon writes 'As long as the passion of the world goes on, we are called to share it as we can--especially if by the mere luck of the draw, we have escaped the worst pains of it.' I felt that I had found a very small way of enacting this knowledge, of letting it live in me more completely.'

After I read this, a new aspect of the fasting experience was shown to me: connection in admittedly a small way to the hungry in our world, those to whom Jesus tells us to pay attention. Fasting is a connection to those among God's people who are ailing, an experience of their predicament and, one hopes, a response to it.

So this is what I've decided. For the remainder of Lent I'm going to restrict my diet to bread and vegetables--the 'food of the poor'--twice a week. On these days I'll make it a point to study a Biblical text that calls the Israelites or the early church to respond to the hungry, and seek out ways in which I can contribute locally.

This sounds like a good invitation to make churchwide, too. Hmmmm....

Aw, come on!

Not that I'm an Illinois fan by any means, but Ohio State?

Seriously....Ohio State?

It's a day early, but I am presenting you with your weekly dose of pop culture recommendations today. Why? I had a revelation (more like a re-revelation) this morning that I spend way too much time on the internet. So tomorrow the computer stays off while I read a book or play my guitar or anything other than warm the seat of the desk chair.

Hey, speaking of books, I'm still reading Ridley's The Origins of Virtue. Did you know that it's been observed that when chimps go hunting, they tend to give the spoils to female chimps more likely to have sex with them? Yep, this is what your pastor is reading about.

We've seen two movies this week, and they couldn't be more different: Shaun of the Dead and I, Robot. The former is a healthy combination of comedy and horror/thriller, similar to Evil Dead where it pits Joe Average against the forces of evil. The latter is loosely based on some of Isaac Asimov's sci-fi writing, pitting Joe Not-so-Average against artificial intelligence. Both are very good.

For music, check out a band called Stockholm Syndrome. A little rock, a little funk, a little political anger. Good for what ails ya.

How come every week I make it a point to tell you that I don't have a television recommendation for you? Do I protest too much? I hope not....

Around the web, check out Google Scholar. It links you to articles on whatever you type in. For example, whereas searching on normal Google for 'Israeli/Palestinian Conflict' might take you to Bob's Sweet Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Watch and Balloon Animal Instructions, searching for the same thing on Google Scholar will retrieve academic analyses on the conflict's economic implications, the battle for water, and comparisons to other conflicts through history. It's a very handy site to use.

Enjoy. Go out and fly a kite tomorrow or feed pigeons or hang out at a coffeehouse. Okay, so maybe only one of those is possible right now in the Arctic tundra that is northeast Ohio, but give your computer the day off. I will be. Cheers.

...and stay off!

I was thinking about this today and thought I'd share it with my loyal readers.

All right, so when I entered seminary 3 1/2 years ago, I weighed 175 pounds. This was actually the weight at which I graduated college minus 10 because I had just come off a summer as a camp counselor where a good chunk of every day was spent hiking around in the hot sun. So I gained that 10 back with little effort at all.

Anyway, the next two years were spent (as were the previous 4) making late night trips to fast food places of various sorts. I didn't think much of it because it had been the norm for me before. But on top of late night snack runs I began to substitute meals with this 'food.' Wouldn't you know, soon I had cleared 200 pounds, getting closer to 210. Luckily I was beginning to really notice that this was a bad thing, so I tried jogging. Jogging lasted about a week. Then I tried taking walks every day. I lapsed on that pretty quick. Eden students got free memberships to the Webster University gym, so I got one of those. At first I would work out and then reward myself with--what else?--a McChicken sandwich and fries. Stalemate.

So in January of 2004 I made up my mind that I was going to weigh 190 by graduation. Gone were ALL fast food runs, gone was ALL regular soda, and hello to salads. Lots of salads. And if I needed to, I would crawl or be dragged to that gym 3-4 times a week.

After a month there was a little more room in my waistline. After two months I was fitting more comfortably into pants I had given up wearing altogether. And by May of 2004 I was down to 190 pounds. Somewhere in there I picked up diet soda and a strong relationship with the eliptical machine. This past summer while I filled in at my home church, part of my responsibility while staying in the parsonage was to walk the pastor's dog. A 30-minute walk almost every day for 2 months took me down almost to 180.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I don't have a normal workout routine right now. We have a few aerobic tapes and for whatever reason I can't stay dedicated to them. It was one thing for me to walk to the gym, get on a machine for 45 minutes, come home and get on with my day. For some reason I can't get into the same routine with these people with smiley faces wanting to 'hear me breathing.' It's probably just that I've had such a long layoff that I need to get back into the habit, but people on workout tapes just bother me. And an eliptical machine just doesn't fit in our budget that well. I've been walking around the church cemetery, but since it's been minus 317 degrees the past few weeks, I haven't really wanted to do that very often. A gym membership? Almost as hard on the budget as the stupid eliptical machine.

Most of this is making excuses, and I realize that. It's just that those workout tapes drive me nuts. But that's the best option right now if I'm serious about it.

Guess I'll go pop one in. Rats.