Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

One of the interesting things about not having cable television is not actually seeing shows that are being written about in magazines and what-not.

So, lately I'm hearing about this Jeff Foxworthy show asking if you're smarter than a 5th grader -- I haven't watched the show yet, but I found this fun little online quiz:

Take the quiz here.

After taking it, come on back here an post your score (I'll tell you right now I got 90%).

Have fun!

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Extremely Dangerous Book

A few months ago my family and I traveled to Western Maryland to join in the celebration as my cousin crossed the threshold from mere mortal to "Doctor William Robert Cooper."

That morning, my cousin was officially conferred as a Doctor of Ministry by Antietam Bible College, Biblical Seminary & Graduate School. That afternoon, as we were all celebrating this impressive achievement and having a good time, I asked Doctor Cooper what the most interesting or surprising thing was that he learned in seminary.

His answer - he was surprised at how much stuff was in the Bible that he had not heard or read before.

Now keep in mind, this is a young man who was raised in the church, read his Bible faithfully, and has probably already sat through more sermons, teachings, and classes than most people three times his age.

And I know exactly what he means.

You see, there's A LOT of stuff that people who hold to a simplistic understanding of faith would not be comfortable dealing with in the Bible - from the basic sex and violence (trust me on this one, there's A LOT of sex and violence) to some truly disturbing questions about morality, reward, punishment, ethics, and the meaning of life.

I joke around with some of my minister friends from time to time, asking them why they don't try preaching a sermon on the incest that led to a whole new group of people (including the great-great-great-[add a few more greats] grandmother of Jesus)? Or how about the righteous woman who tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her by posing as a prostitute? Or the great hero of Israel who shoved a three-foot long sword into the belly of the very fat king who was oppressing the land? Of course, the reality is that all of these stories have significance and meaning, but it would be difficult to convey these deeper truths in a 20 minute sermon.

Frank Schaeffer wrote something in 1990 - I remember reading it at the time thinking there was a note of truth to it. Now that I've read a little more of the Bible, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Schaeffer's assessment:

Only by giving the Bible a devotional spin when we read it, by taking isolated verses out of context and ignoring the raw whole, by filtering and interpreting, do we "civilize" it. Civilized, the Bible has become a devotional prop of middle-class values instead of being the rude challenge to false propriety it actually is. The Bible is a dangerous, uncivilized, abrasive, raw, complicated, aggressive, scandalous, and offensive book.

The Bible is the literature of God, and literature, as every book burner knows, is dangerous.

The Bible is the drama of God; it is God's Hamlet, Canterbury Tales, and Wuthering Heights.

The Bible is, among other things, about God, men, women, sex, lies, truth, sin, goodness, fornication, adultery, murder, childbearing, virgins, whores, blasphemy, prayer, wine, food, history, nature, poetry, rape, love, salvation, damnation, temptation, and angels.

Today the Bible is widely venerated but rarely read.

If the Bible were a film, it would be R-rated in some parts, X-rated in others.

The Bible is not middle class. The Bible is not "nice." The Bible's tone is closer to that of the late Lenny Bruce than to that of the hushed piety of some ministers.

In some centuries, the church did not allow the common people to read the Bible. Now by spiritualizing it and taming it through devotional and theological interpretations, the church once again muzzles the book in a "damage control" exercise.

We now study the Bible but through a filter of piety that castrates its virility.

Seriously, there are times when I read the Bible these days and wonder how we ever ended up with some of the cheap, shallow, flimsy stuff that passes as faith today. I would argue that at least 90% of the people who claim they are "Bible-believing Christians" really don't have the foggiest idea what the Bible contains (at best, some might be able to spout off a handful of memorized verses).

So, I encourage you, dive in, really read what this book has to say - wrestle with it - don't treat it like a collection of sayings from a fortune cookie factory or read it like you're trying to imitate someone reading in Victorian England - ask some of the tough questions. Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? Why did God love Jacob and not Esau? Why are there two prostitutes in the lineage of Jesus? There's hundreds more where those came from - and believe me, if you're willing to dig and not settle for simplistic explanations that don't fit, you will find some real treasures in the answers!

OK, I'm going to get back to reading that dangerous, uncivilized, abrasive, raw, complicated, aggressive, scandalous, and offensive book now.

By the way, here's a link to my cousin's church in Western Maryland -- if you're in the area, stop in and say, "Hi."

What's the Motivation?

A few months back, a good friend came up with an interesting idea -- she had some key people in her life that all felt like they were meant/destined for "something big" but not sure what, and not sure what to do about it (I think most of us can relate). So, she wanted to start an e-mail discussion group to explore this concept.

The discussions were insightful and thought-provoking. I checked with the key people in the group and they graciously agreed to let me share some of these thoughts on this new blog. So, here's the first of some of those discussions:

One thing I've thought about all my life is how exciting it is to be alive at this point in history (I know, sounds corny, please hear me out). Think for a moment about the ideas, concepts, and communications available to people throughout history. Up until just a couple of generations ago, your thoughts and ideas could only realistically be shared with people in your town (maybe county, possibly more if you were good enough to write a regular column or be featured on a regular broadcast). Today, the whole world is open to us.

I meet with a good friend who has traveled the world and lived in Brazil for at least 30 years. He's now settled in Delaware, but keeps in contact with his friends in Brazil, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia (his son lives and works in China). Whenever I meet with Dave, he is able to give me real insights into things happening all over the world -- normally I see news reports from CNN days or weeks later relating to some of these insights. There is no way this kind of communication and interaction could ever have taken place just a few decades ago. This excites me (I know, I'm a geek).

Anyhow, more to the point of feeling "destined" for "something" -- as I think about this, I realize that my mind is going in about 10 different directions. Normally, when that happens, I start to think "multi-part series!"

So, let's dig in with part one: Motivation

If we feel that we are to be part of "something big" -- why? Do we want to get personal glory from it? Do we want to be able to show all those nay-sayers in high school that we could amount to something? Do we want our ego stroked?

Or, do we recognize that things could be better somehow, and we want to do what we can to make that happen, regardless of who gets the credit?

In my opinion, it is only when we get to the point where we say, "OK, I don't care what happens to me, I believe this needs to happen" that we're ready to do whatever it is we're supposed to do.

So, one by one, what motivates you to try and find a way to try and "do something" towards improving the world around you?

Friday, August 24, 2007

ONLY for those with a sense of humor

Some of you know about the Wittenburg Door (yes, it's misspelled on purpose). I remember getting my first issue at a bookstore in Lancaster 20 years ago and getting hooked (I've got a pretty decent collection of old issues at home).

The Door has been described as Christianity Today meets Mad Magazine.

OK, the disclaimer -- this humor is not for everyone. Some people get offended when someone points out that the Emperor (or, in this case, religious leader) might need some covering.

But, if you're ready to enjoy some really funny stuff, you might want to click here and subscribe to the free e-newsletter from the Door.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Check out this blog, too!

Friends warned me that this blogging thing would be addictive -- and it is.

Apparently, it's also a great way to share thoughts, questions, and insights.

Click here to check out a great blog from Terry Foester.

I'll recommend more blogs and other sites as a regular feature here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Billy Graham, Bono, and Mary

I’m struck today by three incredible examples of humanity – Billy Graham, Bono, and a woman who calls us every week named Mary.

While picking up some breakfast food at the market, I see the latest Time Magazine with a cover story on Billy Graham. I was struck as I read the story about some of the doubts this evangelist has wrestled with and some of the mistakes he has fumbled through over the years.

I have an incredible amount of respect for Billy Graham, and I don’t think anyone can argue with the assertion that he has had a profound and lasting impact on the world.

After breakfast, I check the mail and a kind soul had sent me a couple of U2 DVDs (Thank you, Denise, you're the best) – so my daughter and I sat down to watch U2’s concert from Sydney, Australia filmed back in November of 1993. I started to explain to my daughter about the evolution of U2 when something struck me – like Billy Graham, these guys from Dublin have been pretty transparent about their searching, their doubts, and their mistakes.

The thing that hit me is something I think we all intuitively know, but just need to be reminded about from time to time – you only have a lasting impact on the world if you’re willing to take some risks, willing to make mistakes, and willing to be as transparent as possible in the process.

As Kelsey and I were watching Bono singing on the screen, our phone rang and Kelsey answered. It was Mary, and Mary asked Kelsey to hang up so she could call back and leave her message.

You see, our family has only met Mary a couple of times – she attends one of the local churches, she’s getting up there in years, she has a bad case of arthritis, and she can barely see. But Mary does something special. Every week, Mary calls a list of people, waits for their answering machines to pick up, then reads a verse of scripture, offers words of encouragement, and sometimes sings a song. I get a lot out of Mary’s messages.

Mary puts many of us to shame – I know none of us are gifted orators like Billy Graham or international rock stars like Bono, so we think that gets us off the hook for trying to make a difference in the world. But then there’s Mary, she doesn’t have her health, she doesn’t have her sight, all she has is who she is – and she’s willing to put that out there!

By the way, the second paragraph of the Time cover story on Billy Graham contains this line in describing the various people who have visited the Graham family in their home over the years:

“Bono once showed up and played songs on the piano in the living room”

And the song my daughter and I were listening to Bono singing when Mary called –

Love is Blindness.”
May all of us follow the examples of these individuals.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Which Positive Quality Are You?

OK, we had some fun with the "nerd" test last week (and Cynical Cypress, I think I know who you are!) but since then, I discovered that I don't have to sit down and put these quizzes together -- someone else has already done just that (isn't the Internet cool!).

So, take a moment to take this quiz here, then click back to post what your positive quality is (I know, it seems kind of juvenile, but I actually found some of the questions thought-provoking).

After a few of you post, I'll reveal the results of my own test.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let it out!

OK, you're going to have to work with me on this one.

I've been thinking more and more about this concept that every relationship we have with those around us (spouse, parent, child, friend, co-worker, boss, stranger on the street, everybody) is both a reflection of and something to learn about our relationship with God.

Ponder that one for a moment.

I'll expand on that idea in a future post, but for now I just want to start with that premise and move into the relationship I have with my lovely bride.

Now, this is one that you can't argue with, because if you've been to more than a couple of weddings, you've most likely heard the verse:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…
This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5: 25a, 32
So, allow me to share something interesting about the relationship Kristin and I have.

You see, one of the things I've always enjoyed about Kristin (we've known each other since 1989, you do the math) is her sense of style - she wears the most interesting clothes and jewelry. Some would call her style "funky", others "interesting", still others "wild." She loves the color orange and she makes her own unique jewelry.

Kristin also has an incredible voice - seriously, I could sit and listen to her sing every day for hours.

Unfortunately, Kristin has dated guys in the past who didn't really care for her sense of style, and some who didn't want her singing too loud in church. It would appear that some of these guys weren't too comfortable with Kristin really being herself.

When Kristin and I first got married a little over two years ago, I remember her asking regularly if I was OK with her wearing certain outfits or jewelry, or making sure I was really enjoying her singing.

I believe my message to her has been consistent - I want her to be more of herself than she's ever been before.

Here's the cool part.

She is more of herself now than when we first got married. She loves being able to express who she is - she seems to love knowing how much delight I take in being with her as she does everything that makes her feel like more of herself.

So, is it possible that God is like that with us?

Could it be that while we're listening to people telling us not to sing too loud or to dress a certain way - maybe God is saying, "wait a minute, I like your voice - I like your sense of style - I want you to be the YOU you were meant to be!"

I think so, and I don't think I'm alone…

…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall God rejoice over you

Isaiah 62:5b

What makes you unique? What is inside of you that you really want to let out? I believe the God who put that creative spark inside you wants to see it come out - wants to delight in what happens when you become more of who you are meant to be.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Getting" God

Have you ever started talking with someone and feel that almost instant connection - they mention a book or movie or something that they really enjoy and your first thought is, "Hey, I thought I was the only one who liked that!"

And you quickly realize that the two of you "get" each other and a bond of friendship is instantly formed.

And it doesn't have to be over something really deep or important.

For instance, when Bill Berger and I discovered we were both fans of Bruce Campbell, and that we both had a special appreciation for the movie "Bubba Ho-Tep" - well, that pretty much bonded us. I knew as we started quoting lines from that great movie about two senior citizens in a nursing home (Elvis and John F. Kennedy) fighting an Egyptian mummy in cowboy boots -- that Bill and I "got" each other.

And as we discussed the deeper cultural commentaries the movie made beyond the fun, irony, and adventure, well, that just strengthened the bond exponentially.

So, do you think God might be like that?

In 2 Chronicles 16:9, the prophet Hanani tells King Asa of Judah that

"the eyes of the LORD range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are truly His."

Could we read that as God is looking for those who "get" Him?

You see, there's some interesting instances when God is recorded as speaking for Himself in scripture.

First, you have the creation account with God declaring his creation "good" and, in one instance, "very good."

Then you have God responding to Job in chapters 38 and 39 of that incredibly deep book. And let's take a look at that in context - I think we can all imagine a hypothetical situation where a husband is complaining to his wife because he felt she didn't take care of some minor thing (ironing a shirt or whatever) and the wife's response is something like,

"Do you have any idea what I've taken care of? After cooking breakfast for the entire family I took the kids to their appointments, took your stuff to the copy store for your big presentation, re-negotiated the mortgage with the bank to save us thousands of dollars, took care of the grocery shopping, cleaned the bathrooms, dusted and vacuumed the house, cooked dinner for you and the kids, helped the kids with their homework, stuffed the folders for you to hand out at your presentation tomorrow, and packed your lunch. Now, do you think you can iron your own shirt?!"

(again, purely hypothetical - I've never actually been part of a conversation like this myself.)

Now, what is the wife really saying in this scenario? Isn't she saying, "gee, it would really be nice if you noticed what I have done around here"?

That's kind of what I see with this section of Job - in the midst of God "putting Job in his place" there's this under-current of "hey, look at what I've done - can't you appreciate how fast the wild donkey is, or how powerful an ox is… or how about that stupid ostrich? It doesn't have a bit of sense, but isn't it awesome to watch it run with its wings outspread? How about the horse and the hawk - aren't they just the coolest things ever?"

Do you get the feeling that God is looking for people who can look at His creation and say, "Yea, that's pretty cool!"

Maybe this is why David is referred to as a man after God's own heart - I can't even count the number of times he refers to God's character and creation throughout his writings. Could it be that God saw this young shepherd boy who "got" Him? Not only did David "get" God, he was able to express an appreciation for what God created and how God works.

Imagine for a moment how God might respond to someone who is able to look at creation and say, "Wow, this is really cool!"

Think about how God might delight when an individual learns a little more about the universe in which we live, about the way stars are formed and planets are shaped and the incredible timing of comets that come streaking through the solar system on a set schedule, and that person recognizes how awesome that is.

Contemplate for a moment how God might look at someone who is peering into a microscope and discovering the intricate ways that cells interact and that person is struck with wonder.

Let's take it a step further.

I wonder if the God who is searching for those whose hearts are truly His might be looking for a person who is looking at a group of people and saying, "wow, that person's smile is incredible - it really lights up a room. And that man's commitment to detail, I could never have the patience to build the kinds of models he builds - that's pretty neat. And that kid that always seems to get into trouble, I just had a conversation with him and he's actually got some interesting ideas, I think there's something special there."

Is it possible that in trying to look at things from a different perspective, we might catch God's attention and He'll respond with, "hey, I was waiting for someone else to notice that, let me show you some other neat stuff."

If there's even a hint of truth in these musings, I hope we all get a chance to somehow "get" God.

P.S. Bill Berger agreed to let me use his name in this posting -- Bill's currently battling cancer, please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

But it's for the children...

Samuel Johnson wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” While I have no doubt about the truth of that assertion during Mr. Johnson’s lifetime (1709-1784), I have to argue that Patriotism has been replaced as the refuge of last resort for just about everybody, not just scoundrels.

To properly identify this refuge, I’m going to attempt to coin a new term – “Childrenism” – as in “Childrenism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

So, if I’m going to have the audacity to create a new term, I guess I have to offer up a working definition. Let’s try this one on for size:

child-ren-ism noun (2007) 1: any attempt to restrict personal freedom,
infringe on public liberties, or forward an agenda “for the children” 2: any use of the rhetorical question “what about the children?” to justify a weak argument 3: filler

Be honest, how many times have you listened to, or even engaged in, an exchange of ideas and you’ve heard the person proposing something truly pathetic – or even abhorrent – as being an absolute necessity “for the sake of the children”? By the way, when you say “for the sake of the children”, “What about the children?” or any other phrase associated with childrenism, you must do so with an extremely earnest expression on your face and in your voice – you know, almost whine it out of your very being.

One of the most common uses of childrenism is in the realm of censorship and broadcasting. We’ve all heard the conversation:

Self-Appointed Moralist: You have to sign this petition to the FCC! We have to make sure that these radio stations keep their language clean and stop making crude jokes!

Free-Market Advocate: Um, if you don’t like what they’re broadcasting, why don’t you just switch to another station – I mean, I’m not interested in listening to some of this stuff, either, so I just don’t

Self-Appointed Moralist: Well, yes, you and I can do that –
But What About the Children?

That’s it, end of discussion, thank you for playing, you can pick up your parting gift at the door.

Now let’s go into something a little meatier.

I have two teen-aged children attending a local public school. A while back there were two incidents, one involving some girls taking over-the-counter cough medicine to get high, the other involving a student bringing a starter pistol to school.

The school administration and PTA held a meeting with parents to discuss these incidents and address any questions or concerns we parents had. As you can imagine, there was much more of a focus on the gun incident than the cough medicine. Personally, I found the administration’s approach and answers to be informative, forthcoming, and reasonable.

Then, it happened. One of the other parents started asking about the possibility of installing metal detectors in the school. That’s right, metal detectors in a middle school in Newark, Delaware.

And why would we need metal detectors in a middle school in Newark? Why, for the sake of the children!

Like I said, I’m a parent. I have two children attending this school. If this school were to install metal detectors, it is somewhere in the realm of possibility that at some point a student bringing a gun into the school could be stopped and my children would be safer. If I oppose this idea, then am I saying that I would rather my children live with that risk hanging over their heads?

Yes, I am willing to put them at risk of physical harm. I would rather have them live with that risk than be trained and conditioned to sacrifice their freedom for some added sense of security. And yes, I’m willing to fight for the rights of every broadcast radio and television station to air whatever they think the market will bear even if it means my kids might happen to hear a few naughty words and an obnoxious shock jock once in a while.

Why? Why would I have this attitude? Why would I choose a course of action that could risk my children’s physical and mental health? Well, for starters I would rather they lived with a sense of freedom than a sense of security. I would rather they think for themselves than try to create a false world around them.

Yes, I am doing all of this for the children.

By the way, Samuel Johnson wrote something else, and this one remains true today and will most likely remain true until the end of time: “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Friday, August 10, 2007

How nerdy are you?

Rick Reynolds said something that rings true for me. He said, “The smart people I know are a lot funnier than the stupid people I know.”

Last night, my kids and I were at a gathering of several hundred smart, funny people - or at least smart people with a good appreciation for humor.

That's right, we were at a Weird Al Yankovic concert.

Mr. Yankovic's latest hit song is titled “White & Nerdy” - and that was the audience, we are the white and nerdy.

The concert was incredible, if you ever get the chance to see Weird Al live you will not be disappointed - from the video clips to the costume changes to the sing-a-longs and polkas, this show has it all!

So, let's take a moment to rate ourselves on the “White & Nerdy” scale.

This is simple, below you will find the lyrics to the song. In parenthesis, I've assigned a point value for each nerdy trait. Just add up the number of points that apply to you and check your score at the bottom. If you'd care to share your score and/or any details about your nerdy-ness, please do so in the comments section. Good luck!

White & Nerdy
Lyrics by Al Yankovic (2 points if you can name at least three songs by Weird Al, 5 points if you own any of his recordings)

First in my class there at MIT (5 points if you've been to MIT, 50 points if you've attended MIT as a student, 10,000 points if you were, in fact, first in your class at MIT - subtract one point if you don't know what MIT is)

Got skills, I'm a champion at D&D (5 points if you've ever played D&D, 20 points if you've ever been a “dungeon master” - subtract one point if you don't know what D&D is)

MC Escher, that's my favorite MC (2 points if you can describe a work by Escher, 10 points if you've ever owned anything with Escher's work on it - subtract one point if you don't know who MC Escher is)

Keep your 40, I'll just have an Earl Grey tea (2 points if you've ever had Earl Grey tea, 10 points if you know who regularly requests Earl Grey tea - “hot” - subtract one point if you're scratching your head on this one)

My rims never spin - to the contrary
You'll find that they're quite stationary
(3 points if the rims on your car do not spin - subtract 20 points if they do)

All of my action figures are cherry (2 points if you've ever collected action figures, 10 points if you still have at least one in the original package)

Stephen Hawking's in my library
(5 points if you've ever owned a book by Stephen Hawking, 40 points if you've ever read it - subtract 20 points if you don't know who Stephen Hawking is)

My MySpace page is totally pimped out
Got people beggin for my Top 8 spaces
(5 points if you have a MySpace page, 10 points if it's “pimped out” - subtract 3 points if you've never seen a MySpace page)

Yo, I know pi to a thousand places (40 points if you've ever figured out pi to at least 15 places, subtract 10 points if you think we're talking about something with crust and a filling)

Ain't got grills, but I still wear braces (if you're over the age of 20 and have braces, give yourself 10 points)

I order all of my sandwiches with mayonnaise (3 points)

I'm a whiz at Minesweeper, I could play for days
Once you see my sweet moves, you're going to stay amazed

My fingers movin' so fast, I'll set the place ablaze
(5 points if you've ever played Minesweeper for more than 2 hours in a sitting)

There's no killer app I haven't run
At Pascall well, I'm number one
(20 points if you've ever used Pascall)

Do vector calculus just for fun (30 points if you've done calculus “just for fun”)

I ain't got a gat but I got a soldering gun (10 points if you own a soldering gun, 20 points if you use it - subtract 20 points if you're thinking there should be legislation to ban the sale of soldering gun ammo)

“Happy Days” is my favorite theme song (5 points if you can remember the words and/or the tune to “Happy Days”, 20 points if you can remember what was originally used as the theme song from the black and white days - subtract 5 points if you don't know who “The Fonz” is)

I could sure kick your butt in a game of ping pong (5 points if you have ever played ping pong, 10 points if you are good at it, 30 points if you've ever played in an organized tournament)

I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on (10 points if you've ever won a game of trivial pursuit)

I'm fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon (30 points if you know anything about Java, 50 points if you can say at least two words in Klingon)

I've been browsin', inspectin'
X-Men comics, you know I collect 'em
(30 points if you have a collection of comic books, 50 points if you keep them in their plastic covers)

The pens in my pocket, I must protect 'em (30 points if you actually use a pocket protector)

My ergonomic keyboard never leaves me bored (20 points if you've ever owned an ergonomic keyboard, 35 points if you're using one right now)

Shoppin' online for deals on some writable media (15 points)

I edit Wikipedia (20 points if you've ever contributed or edited a Wikipedia entry)

I memorized “Holy Grail” really well
I can recite it right now and have you ROTFLOL
(5 points for every time you've watched “Grail”, 25 points if you can recite at least three lines right now - subtract 20 points if you have no idea what this is about)

I got a business doin web sites
When my friends need some code, who do they call?

I do HTML for 'em all

Even made a home page for my dog
(10 points if you work in the computer industry, 15 points if you use HTML, 40 points if you've ever made a web page for a pet)

Yo, I got myself a fanny pack (20 points if you use a fanny pack)
They were havin a sale down at The Gap (20 more points if you bought it at The Gap)

Spend my nights with a roll of buble wrap
Pop, pop, hope no one sees me…getting freaky
(10 points if you've ever popped a roll of buble wrap)

I'm nerdy in the extreme and whiter than sour cream
I was in A/V Club and Glee Club and even the Chess Team
(20 points for each organization you've joined)

Only question I ever thought was hard
Was, do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?
(10 points if you had to think about that question, 20 points if you've thought about it in the past and already made up your mind - subtract 40 points if you have no idea what the line is about)

Spend every weekend at the Renaissance Faire (10 points for every time you've ever been to a Renaissance Fair, 30 points for every time you dressed for it)

Got my name on my underwear (Um, I really don't want to know, so we just won't count this one)

If you scored:

650 or more - You are the “poster child” for White & Nerdy - I'll be sure to give you a call when I need help understanding quantum physics

450 - 650 - It's safe to assume you've been to your share of conventions, keep an eye out for some of my friends at PhilCon and BaltiCon

250 - 450 - You're in the “borderline” area, you might be able to hang out with the nerdy elite, but some of their conversations go over your head from time to time

100 - 250 - You're probably accepted in polite society and don't ever get any strange looks when you make your observations out loud

10 - 100 - You might want to actually read a book from time to time

less than 10 - Um, are you sure you know how to use a computer?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Thought for the day -- August 8, 2007

The price of freedom of religion, or of speech, or of the press, is that we must put up with a good deal of rubbish.
- Robert Jackson

Sunday, August 5, 2007

God doesn't like bricks, so don't be a brick

So, I’m listening to a sermon recently that focused in on the story of the tower of Babel found in Genesis 11 – the point of the sermon was dealing with man’s use of technology. You see, for that time and that people, the brick was high technology. Because you could make all these bricks the same size and shape, building something – say, for instance, a tower – becomes a lot easier than using rocks or stones.

This got me to thinking – I don’t think there’s too many references to bricks in the bible.

So I looked it up.

Guess how many times the word “brick” is used in the bible – eleven – now that’s not to say that there’s eleven times where the bible talks about bricks, that’s eleven times that the word is even used. The vast majority of those eleven times are contained in two episodes – first, the aforementioned Tower of Babel, second, the bricks the Israelite slaves make in Egypt. Neither case is very positive.

So, what seems to be the building material of choice in the bible?

Well, a quick check shows more than 130 uses of the word “rock” or “rocks” and more than 340 uses of the word “stone” or “stones.” Now, obviously all of those uses aren’t in reference to building something – you have the stone that Jacob used as a pillow, the stone Jacob then moved from the mouth of a well so his future wife’s sheep could drink. Then there’s the stones used as memorials to remind people of things God did for them in certain places and there’s the stone a young shepherd used to take down a giant. Apparently stones can be used for a lot of things.

Immediately I started thinking, but of course, God doesn’t want to use manufactured, uniform bricks – every one looking the same, feeling the same, weighing the same, made the same. God likes using stones and rocks – every one with a different size, shape, weight, and texture.

As I looked a little further into this, I found out some other interesting things.

According to the midrashic commentary on the Torah concerning the construction of the Tower of Babel:

A rabbinic legend relates that people paid no mind if a worker on the tower fell to his death. If a brick fell, however, they lamented the delay in their building project.

Then, according to the p’shat commentary on the Torah concerning the making of bricks in Exodus 5:

Chopped straw or stubble was a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of bricks.
It was added to mud from the Nile, then shaped in a mold and left to dry in the sun. The straw acted as a binder, and the acid released by the decay of the vegetable matter greatly enhanced the plastic and cohesive properties of the brick, thus preventing shrinking, cracking, and loss of shape.

In other words, bricks thrive off of the decay of once living things.

So, it would seem that we have a God who would much rather put in the effort to pick the right rocks and stones to build something worthwhile as opposed to taking the easy, convenient way of using identically manufactured bricks that gain strength from the decomposition of once living things.

Now, here’s the tough part – are we willing to treat people as the precious stones that they are, looking for the areas where they will fit best in the building of our community – or do we want to treat everyone like a brick, forcing them into a uniform mold and killing any living thing inside of them?

The stone that the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone

Psalm 118:22

Faith and Relevance

I’ve been reading an excellent book by John Fischer called “Fearless Faith” (I highly recommend anything John Fischer writes – he is normally very thought-provoking and interesting). The basic premise of the book is that Christians today do not regularly engage themselves with the world and culture around them, but have instead created a safe Christian sub-culture where we can live without fear of having our preconceived notions challenged.

I still struggle with what relevance Christianity has to today’s culture and society. It frustrates me to know that for many, the stereotype of a modern Christian is someone who has disengaged their brain for simplistic, bumper-sticker slogans. It frustrates me even more when I see Christians who live up to that stereotype (trust me, none of you fit in this category). How are Christians supposed to be light and salt to a world that can so easily ignore the trite garbage that many Christians throw around (“the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”). Again, let me emphasize that none of you even come close to these kind of offenses – but let’s face it, we’ve all seen and heard this kind of stuff.

Allow me to quote from the book now:

“Christians need to become familiar with more than just the Christian point of view … I think, in this regard, of Daniel and his three friends who served in a pagan king’s court and of how well versed they were in the thinking of their day. It says of them that ‘God gave [them] knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom’ (Daniel 1:17, 20). In other words, they knew everything their contemporaries knew, and then some.

For some Christians today, it’s almost as if they are afraid of being corrupted by a thought they haven’t already had, as if they have already made up their minds about everything. A Christian may have made up her mind about the basic doctrines of the gospel, but she is always in the process of figuring out how that doctrine fits into the life she leads in the real world. That’s why the discussion has to go on, and in that discussion, opportunities to dialogue with the world will always come up.

Jesus commands us in Mark 12:30 to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That means, when properly used, the mind is something to love God with.”

This struck a major chord with me and I remembered something someone had mentioned about that passage in Mark, so I did a little looking and here’s the rundown on what we’ve got:

  • Jesus was answering a scribe who came into the middle of a game of “gotcha” between the Sadducees and Jesus (the Sadducees were losing)
  • The scribe simply asked which was the greatest commandment
  • Jesus answered by quoting Deut. 6:4-5 – BUT, he added something. The passage in Deuteronomy commands us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength – Jesus said we were to also love God with our mind (also noted in Matt 22:37)
  • The word “Mind” used here (and in Matthew) is the Greek word “dianoia” which Strong’s translates as “deep thought – the faculty (mind or its disposition) by impl. its exercise – imagination, mind, understanding”
  • Jesus then added the second command from Lev. 19:18 – to love your neighbor as yourself. I had always assumed these two commandments were found in the same place in the Old Testament. I did not realize before that Jesus had taken these two commands from two different parts of the Old Testament and put them together like this
  • The scribe then compliments Jesus for his answer and adds “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”
  • Jesus then compliments the scribe, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God”
  • After that, no one said a thing.

Think about this for a minute: Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our mind – our thoughts, our imagination, our understanding. Not only that, but this scribe who started off challenging Jesus – maybe he was trying to trick him, maybe the scribe was genuinely impressed by the way Jesus was handling the Sadducees and really wanted an answer – either way, he asked the question that lead to the revelation of this great commandment – and by the time the conversation ends, Jesus declares that this scribe is almost at the kingdom of God.

In the middle of all of this, I started thinking about how I relate to my children. Obviously, I appreciate it when they obey my wishes without complaint. Yes, I enjoy it when they express their love and affection for me. But, there is nothing like getting into a conversation with them – when they reveal something they’ve discovered, thought about, read, wondered about – when they ask the tough questions and want to struggle through to find a real answer. I can’t help but think that maybe God is like that. Yes, he enjoys our obedience and praise, but is He waiting for us to engage Him with our mind?

Is this why Jesus encouraged us to ask, seek, and knock? Does He want us to wrestle with those tough questions knowing that the answers we find will help us grow into something more than we ever imagined?

What do you think? Is any of this legitimate?

William Safire on the book of Job

William Safire wrote a great book called "The First Dissident" -- it's an analysis of the book of Job that is well worth your time to explore.
What follows is a list of some of my favorite quotes from that book -- seriously, get a copy and read it:

The essence of Jobanism is to refuse to accept injustice from any source – family, culture, nation, or God – and to press inquiry into inequity beyond what others accept as the limits of the knowable.

To belong to the political club of Joban dissidents a person must (a) have suffered grievously either by circumstance or by a personal decision to support an unpopular cause; (b) have reacted angrily while in the wilderness or prison to the immorality of such hardship inflicted by those in aloof authority or cruel command; (c) have refused to be browbeaten or tortured or intimidated by anyone into silence or acceptance of unjust punishment; and on rare occasion and not requisite for membership, (d) have been reconciled to Authority after having glimpsed the big picture or after having gained some share of its power. Members of the dissidents’ club are required not to understand why any of these disasters has happened to them, though it is the custom to repeatedly demand, “Why me?”

Consensus in international relations is agreement by the lowest common denominator, the way too many undemocratic regional groups arrive at secret covenants. Perhaps because their culture distrusts revelation of dissension, the consensualists resist an open vote and a clear decision. Instead, the minority is given not just a voice, but a veto; nobody loses face, but the group must sail as if in convoy, with the speed of the group dictated by the slowest ship. Agreements by consensus are fuzzy and deniable, rarely subject to what President Woodrow Wilson, urging “open covenants openly arrived at”, called “the white light of publicity.”

Diplomats tend to embrace consensus as their goal, just as they see “the process” as a goal. But the process is not a goal; a “peace process” is not as important as the furtherance of freedom or the advancement of right, neither of which should be considered a “war process”.

Consensus in American domestic politics was a term associated with Lyndon Johnson, who, as Senate Majority Leader before he became President, was a famed deal-maker. His ideas competed in a cloakroom rather than a marketplace. Although that technique often gets things done, it does not get issues thrashed out, and the lack of a clear-cut and public victory by a majority makes such legislative deals easy to unmake.

Today political consensus is most often synonymous with “conventional wisdom”. John Kenneth Galbraith’s coinage, updating religion’s “received wisdom”, denotes the average of the trendy and voguish. This suspect mean calls to mind the humorist Garrison Keillor’s report of the politician who promised to provide a school system in which every child was above average.

The trouble with consensus decision-making today is that everyone has to agree on some watered-down version of any move. I dropped in at the meeting of the planning commission of the town of Frederick, Maryland, and was told I could not observe their discussion before a vote – that behind closed doors, “they’re consensing.” If this actionless verb describes the emerging voice of the people, we could look forward only to weak bleats of hesitant agreement in place of the healthy roar of controversy. Fortunately, Jobans refuse to consense.

Here is a paradox: What enables basic change to take place peacefully is not the inviolability of order but the possibility of conflict. We all hasten to articulate our preference for non-violent change, but in the end it is the credible threat of an uprising that breaks the center’s shackles.

Two guys are lined up against a wall in front of a firing squad. One starts to protest and the other whispers to him, “Don’t make trouble.”
Those are diametrically different ways of looking at the universe. People can be divided into trouble makers and trouble averters, those who make waves and those who pour oil on wavy waters, the governed who will risk chaos to gain freedom and the governed who will risk totalitarianism to achieve stability. In an age that celebrates ambiguity – where some of us are of two minds about using a word like ambivalence – fear of being simplistic too often steers us away from the simple. But the simple truth is that all of us lean one way or the other – toward moral rebellion or submission.
When does a dissident put his conscious above the law? Poet-Job has a few answers: when the matter is not trivial, but about a bedrock principle; when nobody else seems to give a damn about innocent suffering; when disobedience noisily proclaimed will call attention to injustice; and when the objector is prepared to suffer the law’s effect to dramatize the need to change the law.

If the book of Job reaches across two and a half millennia to teach anything to men and women who consider themselves normal, decent human beings, it is this: Human beings are sure to wander in ignorance and to fall into error, and it is better – more righteous in the eyes of God – for them to react by questioning rather than accepting. Confronted with inexplicable injustice, it is better to be irate than resigned. Job would not be intimidated or silenced until his God permitted him to see – to understand – how much he did not yet know. Only then did he submit, and it may have been too soon. Job teaches that it is for each person who assigns his portion of sovereignty to a higher authority, spiritual or temporal, to renegotiate the terms of submission so that we can see beyond our present ken.