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?

I, Eco-Hypocrite

I might look back on today as the day I became a Democrat.  Or a member of the Green Party.  It’s too close to call just yet.  It is already the Day I Became Less Stupid. 

I do not mean to imply that Republicans are stupid.  Far from it.  But they collectively have a strong track record for being stupid about the environment, just like me.

I have paid lip service to protecting Earth.  I’m the first one to stick up for the environment in conversation with my arch-conservative friends.  I love walking in the sun, under the leaves, feeling the life in trees.  I recycle.  My garden is lush.  But why do I have a garden?

Because I moved out to the country, traded my Starbucks for a Waffle House, and became co-owner of a house.  “A wise investment,” Dad said. 

But my professional life remains in the city and, now that I’m commuting 40 minutes each way three to four days a week, I wonder if it’s worth it.  Translation: I burn 60 gallons of unleaded every month.  I don’t carpool.  I don’t drive a hybrid.  I didn’t think that I could afford to.

Now I don’t know if I can afford not to.  I just finished watching An Inconvenient Truth.  Global warming is happening, and it is my fault.  What am I going to do about it?

I’m going to pray: for myself, for you reading this, especially if you’ve been like me, and for Al Gore, that people would listen.  This is bigger that politics.  This is about moral responsibility and justice for future generations.

I’m going to start car shopping, which will involve some creative financial manuoevering.  The big purchase might be years out, but I can hasten the day.

I’m going to educate myself about the candidates in the next election.  I’m going to pray for the candidates.

And I’m going to ask God for forgiveness.  This is our planet, but He gave it to us to take care of.  We can squander it, like I’ve been doing, or we can be good stewards.  What could be a better investment than that?

Atheist-Christian Dialog: On What Basis Good?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

After two-weeks of e-mail back and forth, Skeptigator and I have posted the polished results of our conversation: On What Basis Do You Decide What is Good?  The venture is as much mine as it is his, but for sheer simplicity’s sake, the conversation is posted in full only on his site.  That way, we can both reply to one stream of comments.

However, I will give you at least the cliff note’s version here.  That should give you a flavor for what you’re in for with the full version of this conversation and with future conversations on other topics.

Introduction

Skeptigator’s original question to all of us was: Does atheism lead to humanism?”. He concluded that it had for him and that, even if “humanism” was difficult to define, it had to include emphasis on human responsibility for fixing the world’s problems via reason and science.

My question: If humanity is to solve the world’s problems, how are we to decide which problems are worth solving? And do those ends justify any means? In other words, how do you determine moral goals and the moral actions necessary to fulfill them? On what basis do you decide what good is? Or is there no basis?

My conclusions:

Skeptigator and I agree on four basic things: that we should alleviate human suffering; that reason should play a role in that process; that we should all be willing to work together in practical ways; and that this is a conversation worth having. I commend him for his desire to alleviate suffering everywhere, regardless of any benefit to himself.

The details of our disagreement stem from one primary source (surprise!): the existence of God. And not just any God, but a God who is engaged in human history and knows our suffering on a personal level. An intellectual solution to physical suffering is insufficient. “Every one of us is made to suffer,” Annie Lennox says. It is true, for which of us has not known our fair share of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual woe? Our problem is bigger than we by ourselves can fix, although we are a part of the solution. The God of Jesus knows, cares, helps us now, and promises that final justice is on the way.

The second less obvious source of disagreement is human nature. Skeptigator, by his own admission [in original “Does Atheism Lead to Humanism” comments], sees no need to define it. I do. I have no business believing that we need God unless I believe that we are needy! By ourselves, we cannot do good. “If history has shown us anything, it is that you can kill anyone,” said Don Corleone. And we will kill anyone, I might add. Christians, Muslims, atheists and everyone else in power throughout history have always abused that power; and they always will, until this world ends, because we are human. We will always seek power, always abuse it in the name of the greater good, and always insist that this tendency is the problem of an isolated few.

The third significant issue is what began this whole conversation: humanism’s basis for determining good. Reason, human experience, and science are useful tools, but are not sufficient for establishing morality and purpose in life. Neither are they sufficient for establishing a consensus, even a wrong one. Disagreement is in our nature. Human reason has its limits, which we are wise to acknowledge.

In the end, we’re both skeptics: him about God, me about us. The burden of proof is on me, but I have none. Evidence and testimony, sure, but no proof. The only one who can prove His existence is God Himself. He refuses, for the time being, for our benefit. Faith will have to remain faith: “the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Skeptigator’s Conclusions:

Faithfool obviously has a religious faith and I obviously do not. Faithfool in his quest for understanding (and I dare say a budding skeptic but that’s perhaps wishful thinking) wanted me specifically to further explain where I derive my sense of morality.

The purpose of this conversation was to offer a unique way of discussing the source of morality if you do not have a religious faith (at least from my perspective). I think Faithfool and I could have gone for much longer than this however I believe we’ve each had enough space to make our cases. I do hope that this conversation will add to a growing number of conversations between people of faith and those without. As Faithfool pointed out recently to me, “we are not the only ones having this conversation”.

I do want boil down my primary answer to Faithfool’s question, “On what basis do you decide what good is?” Essentially my answer came down to “we are”. The combination of humanity’s experience, rational thinking and a scientific worldview is an extremely powerful tool or set of tools for understanding reality and the correct moral actions. I believe that this offers a better alternative to blind faith (a bit redundant I admit). I believe that moral actions have always been determined by human reason and that religion all too often captures/justifies immoral behavior at a certain point in time and that fossilizes and becomes incontrovertible dogma.

I am willing to accept uncertainty since a scientific worldview will never offer complete knowledge or certainty. I am willing to accept the possibility that we will make the wrong choices however and perhaps more importantly unlike many religious faiths we have a self-correcting mechanism in place.