Faith vs. “Knowledge”

Post #1 in response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“…how did you come to conclusion that jesus is ultimately right – was my question. I am not saying he is not right, all i am asking is how do YOU know that?”

Before I wax philosophical, let me give you the most personal answer I can give (the short version, at least). I came to the conclusion that Jesus was right because he saved me from myself. I was raised in a church-going, though not especially churchy family. During middle school, at the encouragement of the youth pastor, I began reading the Bible on my own. Convinced that, if God exists, he could and would use just such a means of conveying his truth, I became open to Christianity… and to the fact that I was an egotistical bastard (you know the type: the one who looks down on others for getting B’s). During this time, I had a vivid dream in which (abbridged) I was drawn through darkness into the light and warmth of God’s love in Christ. Since then, there have been many cogent moments of experiencing his presence, such as my near-death in a car crash and my one serious, multi-month bout of manic-depression. But, most importantly, he has transformed me into a more compassionate and loving person (though I still have a long way to go).

But that might not be what you’re asking. What I believe, I cannot prove. I can give you my reasons, my doubts, and my areas of relative certainty. Yet these bits of information are of a different quality than the fact that I exist today, depending on how you define “I” and “exist” and “today,” because Descartes can build a pretty-much air-tight case for the existence of me. No one can build an air-tight case for the need for Jesus. Such is the nature of faith. Many have tried. But this looks less like a science experiment, rooted in things tangible, and more like a court case with a preponderance of evidence, much of it circumstantial, from which you, the jury, must arrive at a verdict.

“Faith is the evidence of things unseen.”

People usually believe in Jesus first in a personal way and then grapple intellectually with the implications of this. In light of my personal faith, why have I concluded that Jesus is ultimately right? Because of the faith the he has planted in me. This is a circular argument, no doubt. But I don’t mind that, as long as you don’t. Circular arguments are only a problem if I’m trying to convince you… and I’m not. Only God can do that. But like any decent, anonymous cyber-friend I can shoot back attempted answers and counter-questions to your questions.

I apologize if this raises more questions than it answers. Faith is about the Person more than it is about the ideas of theology. Questions drive us closer to the truth and a good question is better than any half-assed answer.

Now I still need to address the elephant in the room. Avant Garde further exclaimed: “[you write] in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant your God the Son alone leads to heaven!” In my next post I will address the exclusive claims of Christianity.

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The Curse of Cool

Yesterday’s David Hasselhoff is Today’s David Hasselhoff

There are few curses as grave as coolness.  Why?  Because to be cool is to be in style, and to be in style today is to be out-of-style tomorrow.  Like Patrick Swayze.  And just remember Louis XIV — and look-alike Fredrick the Great — vying to rule the known world with his hair parted like a big poofy butt right down the middle. 

I hope you’re not as cool as you used to wish you were.

Justin Timberlake: “Manslut”

Gone are the days when a man is a “pimp” or a “playa” for behavior that would earn him the status of a “ho” if he were a woman.  Let us usher in the era of the “manslut.”  That’s what they are.  Let’s not be afraid to call ’em like we see ’em.

What worthier recipient of the new term could there be than Mr. Timberlake?  He’s been around the block more than a few times… and show’s no sign of stopping.  He’s got the rhythm.  He’s got the moves.  He deserved to be crowned as the new King of Pop.  But he’s also a skanky, male ho.’  The inauguration of his “Futuresex Loveshow” tour should be evidence enough of that.  (Don’t even get me started on how little sense the title makes.)

Here’s to you, manslut.  The double standard stops here.

Be a Blessing!

God’s original promise to Abraham was to make him the father of all nations, “so that through you all nations might be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Orthodox Jews want to fulfill that promise, but the believe that they must bring all Jews back to God first.

Why wait?

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

I hear a lot about Christians going around and cursing people: not “cussing them out” cursing, but “calling down fire and brimstone” cursing.  I don’t think that Jesus leaves us any room for that.

Why pray for riches for yourself, which do not satisfy, when you can pray: “God, make me a blessing to others!”?  Your co-workers.  Your spouse.  Your children.  Your parents.  Random dude on the street.  Use your imagination.

The world is changed by such simple, small prayers as these.  You might not make any headlines, but you will make someone’s day, if not someone’s eternity.  What could be more satisfying than that?

“Hung-over” with Hilarity… in a Jaded Sort of Way

My Arrested Development binge has coincided with my Scrosese binge.  I’m half-way through AR season two, and I’ve watched Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed.  If I were a drinking man — which I can’t be, because of my bipolar meds — I’d say it was something like mixing strawberry daquiris with tequila shots.

(Incidentally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with other people drinking, just with being drunk.)

This could be more disorienting than the Christmas when I read nothing but Flannery O’Connor short stories and stopped trusting anything that strangers said for the next month.  Even the dude at the airport who claimed to be the kid from Problem Child.

Life is funny right now.  I can’t take myself too seriously.  Not with Ron Howard’s 3rd person narration running through my head, describing my every move.  And I’m somehow expecting everyone to get screwed in the end.  But that’s Scorsese, not me, and not God talking.  I’ve got to be careful who I listen to.

To Be Gay or Not To Be Gay: Is That the Question?

Further Reflections on a Complicated Issue 

In “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!Sufjan Stevens gives us what “is tempting to describe… as a story of male-male agape—just touching on the erotic, with mentions of falling asleep in the backseat of a car—between Stevens and his best friend, but Stevens also lets you see right through it as a love story between himself and Jesus, God born human, a man stung and mocked and wrestled with” (Daddino, Seattle Weekly). 

This may ignore the most straightforward interpretation of the song: “male-male agape” plus eros/philia.  “He runs washing his face in his hands.  Oh how I meant to tease him.
Oh how I meant no harm.  Touching his back with my hand I kiss him.  I see the wasp on the length of my arm.”  And “We were in love!” repeats the chorus jubilantly.  This love was a means of experiencing God’s glory: “Halelu!”  But this love really didn’t work out: “My friend is gone, he ran away….  Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged. I can tell you I love him each day….” 

All of this has led many people to ask, “Is Sufjan Stevens gay?”  To this I would respond: a) you’re missing the point of the song, and b) our culture assumes that the world is divided into a gay/not-gay dichotomy.  Kinsey showed this to be a blatant falsehood, although his numbers were probably skewed due to his sampling methods.  Regardless, Sufjan has recounted in concerts that he was well before puberty when the incident occurred.  This isn’t proof that he’s “gay.”  This is proof that a lot of people experience a lot of things that our culture would use to say, “Hey, you’re gay!”  What if the truth isn’t that simple?

Speaking of Conspiracies….

 Chris Paine has given us one more reason why open-minded Republican-sympathizers (they exist!) should be careful what they watch.

His 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? only mounts a secondary attack against right-wing politicians.  Big business and big oil are center-stage.  They seem to have screwed over the little guy, yet again.

I feel angry and sad, but mostly angry.  I tried to think of other historical incidents when the very technology we had longed for was within our grasp – we already had it! – and we let it slip away.  I tried, but I couldn’t find anything else this collosally depressing.

We have lost great technologies before, only to later regain them.  But have we ever lost them on purpose?

Kind of reminds me of what Dark Helmet once said: “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

Evil can be pretty dumb, too.  If we were not dependent on foreign oil….

The Worst Sin of All

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

“To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mark 12:33

The worst sin of all is hate.

People see those hating in the name of Christ, and curse God.

Gays cause bridge collapse.”

?!?

Does God Like B-movies?

Freedom, Responsibility, and the Theological Implications of Jonathan King’s Black Sheep

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Galatians 5:1

 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” Philippians 4:8  

There are two primary schools of thought regarding Christian ethics.  On the one hand we have the legalism: “these are the rules and you had better live up to them, or else!”  On the other hand we have license: “you can do whatever you want because God loves you.”  Both of these extremes fall short of the truth!

In legalism, everything depends on me, including my own salvation.  If I screw up, even a little bit, God is disappointed in me and I need to feel guilty.  This is not what the Bible teaches!  I think of the book of Galatians, in which we learn of the precious freedom that is now ours and of our position as God’s children and heirs.

In license, nothing depends on me.  I can do whatever I want.  Problem is, this isn’t what the Bible teaches either.  If you have truly grasped and understood God’s grace, your life will be radically altered.  “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18)

True freedom happens in the context of an obedient relationship with God.  John 8:32 gets tacked on the side of academic buildings and libraries, but without verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This is a messy freedom, but I am free to make mistakes, knowing that God does not love me any less for making them.  Nothing I can do can wreck his plans.  Nothing I can do, short of utterly rejecting him, can wreck my standing with him… and even that probably depends on him more than I realize.

The new ethical standards Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount are both more difficult, more personal, and more flexible than the rules of the Old Testament (Matthew 5-7).  Jesus came down so hard on the Pharisees because their hearts did not match their actions.  In the new ethics, why I do anything matters even more than what I do.  Are my motivations pure?

Which brings me to the movie about zombie sheep.  Jonathan King’s Black Sheep really is the best bad movie I’ve ever seen (not to be confused with the worst good movie I’ve ever seen, Eregon).  Shaun of the Dead was an A-movie in a B-movie genre, and one of the best comedies of 2004.  Black Sheep really is a B-movie trying to be the best B-movie possible.  It suceeded, with maximum gore, witty dialogue, and close-ups of man-eating sheep heads chomping their way to victory.  There were also the recurring themes of the importance of family, of taking care of the environment, and of facing one’s fears.  The fruitlessness of money, the occasional ridiculousness of New Age spirituality, and the grossness of Scottish food also formed a comedic backdrop.  I laughed harder than I’ve laughed all year.  What could be funnier than zombie sheep chasing a dude with a sheep phobia?  As in any mad scientist movie, we realize that the ones who created the zombies are the true monsters.  In the midst of their despair, the heroes must decide that there is something worth fighting for and that hope is always the best choice, however unlikely.

Despite its low status in the eyes of critis, horror has been the only genre of film to retain an overwhelming sense of the transcendent.  Granted, it is a transcendent evil, but transcendent nonetheless.  Just because it depicts evil does not mean that it is an evil movie.  (See also Broaddus’s “The Theology of Horror“.)

I do not think that God would have been pleased with 6-year-old me seeing this movie.  I would have had nightmares for weeks.  But for 28-year-old me…  I can say with confidence that God was glorified in my viewing of this gory film.

 Paul writes, using the Corinthians’ own words against them: “‘Everything is permissible’– but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’– but not everything is constructive.”  (Corinthians 10:23)

Black Sheep would not be beneficial or constructive for everyone.  But for those who can endure the flying intestines (you know who you are), there is much that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  What could be more beneficial than that?

God doesn’t like all B-movies.  Only the good ones.

Why Straight, Christian Men Should Listen to Lesbian, Agnostic Songwriters

When I bought the Indigo Girls’ Retrospective, I endured some awkward questions from the cashier. 

“Is this a gift?” she asked. 

“No, it’s for me.” 

“I thought most of their fans were… you know….” 

I shrugged.  “They’re amazing lyricists and musicians.” 

And it’s true.  Whatever criticism one might have of their views, one cannot deny that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers speak with great clarity and beauty.  To be sure, in their protest songs they may shout at you.  But, in their love songs and life songs, they warmly invite you to walk in their shoes.

What is the nature of love, as expressed by the Indigo Girls?  With shocking Biblical imagery, Amy Ray presents it as “Strange Fire.”  This is a reference to Leviticuts 10, when two priests gave an unauthorized offering to God and were destroyed by his wrath.  But here, that fire is love, which is offered to each other, not to God, and forms a “refuge from the wrath.”  The poet then lashes out against those who oppose that love, with “haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17, quoted verbatim in the song).  At the very least, the song illuminates the greatest transgression of Christians toward those experiencing homosexual desires: by stigmatizing the struggle and “casting stones,” we have committed greater sins than the sin we sought to oppose.  (“Is it a sin?” is a conversation for another day.)

It is not my place to attempt to summarize the entire body of the Indigo Girls’ work, but I would be amiss not to at least mention “Ghost.”  Emily Saliers captures the utter bitter-sweetness of unrequited love: “I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels….  I can’t swim free the river is too deep, though I’m baptized by your touch, I am no worse than most…. in love with your ghost.”  Is this unrequited love the same as that between a man and a woman?  How can you know if you don’t listen?