Friday, December 28, 2001

My family bleeds history

If the sap of a tree is blood, then my family tree bleeds history, like I suppose all family trees must.

My wife's mother was part of the second generation in her family born in the United States. Her maiden name was Wilhelmy, a surname her grandfather assumed after passing through Ellis Island as a nod to his ancestry. As she has explained to me, my wife — and therefore our daughter as well — is descended from Kaiser Wilhelm.

As an aside, I've always understood that my wife's great-grandfather added the Y to Wilhelm in an attempt to mask his ancestry, from a concern over potential germanophobia. I imagine an angry mob chasing the fellow down a dark alley only there to hear his name properly for the first time.

"Wait boys," the mob's leader says. "His name is Wilhelmy. He's not a kraut after all. Sorry about the misunderstanding, sir."

There is no such illustrious pedigree on my side of the family, from what I can gather, although I do have a Green ancestor who served in the court of King Richard II of England. He even appears in Shakespeare's play. The first Learn was an immigrant from one of the German lands who appeared in Tannersville, Pa., some time before the American Revolution.

We have our share of interesting legends, though. They include an ancestor who was a prisoner of war at Andersonville during the Civil War, and an Indian attack on the original Learn homestead that led to the Sullivan campaign in the Northeast to drive the local Indians off the land.

That second one was a pretty tragic story. The whole family was killed except for one teenager and a couple infants/toddlers, who were taken prisoner. The teen went into Stroudsburg to get help in mounting a rescue, but the rescue party was so drunken and disorganized that the Indians heard them coming a mile off and the children were killed.

The family tree bleeds history. I need to find out more.

Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

tolkien's women

Tolkien's got women other than Éowyn, though you might not be able to tell that from the fans. What about Galadriel and Arwen?

Galadriel has that tremendous scene with Frodo where he offers her the Ring and we get a glimpse of how terrible and awe-inspiring she is -- and then she passes the test. She refuses the Ring and allows herself to diminish and ultimately disappear from Middle-earth along with all she rules.

And Arwen is a much bigger character than just in Lord of the Rings. Check out the appendices and the other related material. The sacrifice she makes for Aragorn is a tremendous one, and says a lot about her strength.

The movie doesn't factor into this. I couldn't think of anything Liv Tyler had been in prior to "The Fellowship of the Ring," and finally had to check on to find out. Cate Blanchett I saw in Elizabeth, which barely gave her a chance to show her acting talent because the director did such a hackneyed job on the film that it was fairly incomprehensible.

One of the things that keyed my interest in the movie is that Peter Jackson avoided casting any "stars." Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen and the others are all fairly well-known, but they don't have the star drawing power of someone like Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer or the others. I can name only one or two movies for several of the stars, and even fewer for none.

I like the characters for their own sake, which is why I would have been annoyed if they had cast Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lopez as one of the elves -- it would have been an obvious attempt to cash in on someone's star status at the expense of faithful casting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001


Q: What does a Dead-head say when he runs out of pot?
A: Geez, this band sucks.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

unbreakable and comicbook realism

Which is better: Comic books that are written for children, like "Adventures in the DC Universe," or comics that attempt to treat the subject of superheroes more realistically?

In 1961, it was realistic to have Warren Worthington marvel at the sheer unadulterated joy of unaided flight, and to have Peter Parker become a superhero because a moment of self-absorption cost him his uncle's life. That stuff is fairly standard now and is no longer sufficient when we're talking about relative realism in comics.

During the "Dark Age" of comics, realism to an extent involved angst-ridden, bitter, smoking men and women who whine about the meaninglessness of life and read Jean-Paul Sartre and still wear tight clothes and do impossible things. In my opinion that sort of comic was done well by Frank Miller, Alan Moore and pretty much no one else.

If you haven't checked out Kurt Busiek's "Astro City," I recommend it. He does a lot of exploring the "off-stage" exploits of his superheroes, focusing on the superheroes' daydreams, their children's desire to be normal kids, their struggles with being good parents, and so on. One of his best story arcs involves an alien invasion of the earth, but the aliens are on the periphery of the protagonist's internal struggles for self-worth and identity.

The movie "Unbreakable" tries to go a step further and essentially asks the question, "If there really were people with super powers, what would they be like?" There's no fancy costumes or anything; the main character is simply at one extreme of the bell curve on a few points and has never thought of himself as a "superhero" or having "super powers."

If you're into comic books, it's an interesting movie, but it's slow-paced and character-driven, which is why it wasn't received as well as more conventional superhero movies like "Batman," "Superman" or even "Spawn." I personally prefer "The Sixth Sense," which had a much stronger twist ending since it relied on completely changing the viewer's interpretation of the movie. In "Unbreakable," there are some clues to the twist ending, but most of the information to make it work is brand new.


I recently bought the original Tim Burton "Batman" movie with Michael Keaton, and was disappointed by some of the breaks from the established Batman character. Two things leapt out at me, though I'm sure there were others I could point out if I spent the time thinking of them.

One of the biggies, of course, is the degree of violence Batman used in the movie. He's been borderline even since Frank Miller reinvented him in "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman Year One," but to my knowledge, Batman has never willingly killed anyone. In the movie, he throws a few people to their deaths, offs the Joker and even fires machine guns from his plane at the Joker and his gang. What was it Superman once said? "When you strip away everything else, Batman doesn't want to see anyone else get killed."

And of course there's the whole Vicki Vale thing. The only time I thought that relationship worked right was in the Batcave when Alfred actually has let her in on the secret. Bruce Wayne's reaction here is classic Batman as he ignores her and focuses on stopping the Joker, essentially "I don't have time to deal with you right now."

Other than that, I thought THAT movie followed the comic fairly well. No wisecracking, some good fight scenes, good use of Batman's personal combat skills (though that could have been played up more), indications of Bruce Wayne's knowledge of chemistry, and of course some hints of the deeper and darker undertones of guilt that have led to Bruce Wayne's need to become the Dark Knight.

I never saw the Clooney or Kilmer Batman movies, since it was pretty obvious that the movies were on their way down. After all, Joel Schumacher said he wanted to get back into the spirit of the TV show, and we all know how awful THAT was. Adam West never played Batman. I have no idea what that was, but it wasn't Batman.

elmo ruins christmas

Evangeline acquired another piece of Elmo paraphernalia this Christmas.

Her Uncle Blair's offense is mitigated somewhat in that this Elmo does not sing or play music. He simply rides along the kitchen floor on his scooter. (Evangeline also found that Elmo scoots down the stairs, but not as neatly as he does on a flat surface.)

Sunday, December 23, 2001

thoughts on guns

As odious a product as tobacco is, the giant companies are within their rights to market it if the public is stupid enough to buy it, as there are no laws or court rulings banning the sale of tobacco.

Unless someone can make such an argument against firearms, that industry is legitimate and should not be lawyered out of existence because of what some people do with firearms.

That line of thinking should mean the next class-action lawsuit is against software companies like Microsoft for not making hackerproof or virusproof software.

Two of my brothers have owned a shotgun and a few other firearms for sport purposes -- we grew up in Pennsylvania, where the first day of hunting season is a holiday from school -- but I have never had the desire to own one, even after we had a burglar here in our house a few months ago.

Why? Because while my dog can screw up and bark at someone innocent, and even knock an innocent to the ground, I can't un-injure someone I killed believing them to a burglar, nor do I want to run the risk of an accidental death resulting from my weapon.

I think there is a perceived bias against guns in the media because a death or injury resulting from guns is more likely to make the news than nothing happening at all. On the other hand, if when I was editor of the Beacon, someone had come up to me and said, "Why don't you do a feature story on this rifle range down on Amwell Road?" or "Hey, I have a great idea for a story on this fellow who collects guns," I would have been all over it. As it is, no one suggested that idea until after I had left, and so we never did such a story. That's where gun-rights advocates need to be more proactive.

I think there is some bias against the gun culture in the news media because of what we've seen. Interview enough parents of children who died after being shot, and you might start to think that way too. Most journalists, however, would have the same approach as me: I might have a blind spot on a certain story, but if you can suggest an idea that expands my horizon, I'm all for it.

9/11 didn't really affect my position on the issue at all, since guns weren't the weapon of choice: box-cutters and airplanes were. Have to admit I'm glad to know that there are more federal marshals in the air, though I think it would be better if the airlines themselves put such marksmen on every flight instead of the federal crapshoot we have now.

plot and theme

A plot is, for lack of a better word, an external "crisis" that the characters in the story are trying to work their way through. Sometimes it's the driving force of the story, as you will find in a mystery novel; other times, it takes the back seat to character development, as in books like "Les Miserables" or "A Christmas Carol," where the transformation of the person is what grips us. Really good authors can combine the two of them.

What gets you to read "The Hobbit" the first time is the effort of the thirteen dwarves and their burglar to retrieve the gold from Smaug's lair. But what gets you to read it again is the transformation of Bilbo's character from a sedentary sort who mislikes adventures because they make one late for supper into the hobbit who risks his life sneaking the Arkenstone to Bard of Dale in an attempt to head off disaster.

Too much plot and not enough character development leaves you with a multimillion-dollar box office bomb like "The Last Action Hero." Switch the two around and you get something like "Unbreakable," which many reviewers considered too slow and plodding to be worth watching.

It is quite possible for a story to have no plot to speak of and still be good. Witness "The Sixth Sense," which was entirely character driven. In the case of "Star Wars," the plot was the conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion and centered on Grand Moff Tarkin's efforts to crush the Rebellion. Luke's growth from annoying whiny brat to melodramatic Jedi knight was a theme.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

tolkien's legacy

It's sad that Tolkien is not only the founder of the entire fantasy genre, he's also disliked by a number of people who have grown up with the derivatives. Pretty sad, they're so used to schlock they can't understand the real thing.

Friday, December 21, 2001

james bond

I've known a lot of people who are ready to start dueling over who the best James Bond is -- or rather, whether anyone since Sean Connery has played him "right" but I have to admit that the Bond flicks really don't do much for me, no matter who is playing 007.

I can't say as much for the earlier Bond movies that starred Connery, but lately they're just complex but uninteresting action flicks littered with pointless, consequenceless sex. It would make more sense if he were seducing women who at least could advance the plot by giving him useful information, for example -- that would shed some light on his character -- but more often it seems it's just sex to pass the time. It doesn't even cause serious entanglements, or at least does so only rarely. (I wouldn't like a Bond that amoral, mind you. I'm just saying that way it at least would serve a point to the movie.)

I'd also like to see the plots given a more intelligent treatment. If Bond is such a superspy, why does he draw attention to himself so much by driving tanks down the street in Moscow, or speeding down the Thames (and across the streets of London) in Q's specially modified speedboat. I guess I'd like to see Bond treated more like Sidney Riley, the British spy whose exploits he supposedly was based on.

But that might be such a break from the standard that no one would go see it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

god laughs, therefore i am

I've been wondering for over 31 years what point there possibly could be for such a thing as a "David Learn" to exist in this world, aside from affording God some laughs, and I have to admit I'm still not entirely sure what the point would be of such an entity.

the best star wars

I liked the original "Star Wars" movie, the one now subtitled "A New Hope." For all its flaws, it had a memorable and mythic story, the ending was tremendous, and it suggested deeper things beneath the surface.

But let's be honest: In many cinematic terms, the movie was hardly remarkable. The only good actors in Episode Four were Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones. Harrison Ford was on the verge of becoming a good actor -- he actually learned a lot of restraint from Guiness -- but he wasn't there yet. Carrie Fischer, Peter Cushing and many of the others were adequate, but Mark Hamill -- who had a fairly major role -- pretty much just walked through the movie with wide-eyed cluelessness.

And the writing was awful. The whole "Spare us your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader" speech is a classic example. Or the Millennium Falcon making the Kessell Run in under 12 parsecs, when a parsec is a measurement of distance not time, or ...

Well, it was good -- mostly because of its mythic qualities -- but I wouldn't say it was the best Star Wars movie. That title clearly goes to "The Empire Strikes Back." When it first came out in 1980, I was 10, or nearly so, and I hated the end of the movie. Since then I've come to appreciate that it's one wicked ending, the writing was topnotch, even Mark Hamill came across as a good actor, the director's vision was solid, and whoever came up with that fight scene between Darth Vader and Luke clearly had been doing some thinking about how a Jedi knight might fight.

It's by far the best Jedi fight scene we've seen in four movies. Remember how surprised Luke was when things started breaking off the wall to fly at him? You could almost hear him think, "Hey! You can't do that!"

"Return of the Jedi" sucked, and not just because it had a new Death Star. It was awful, for one simple reason: Ewoks. This should have been called "Attack of the Care Bears." An earlier version of the movie script had the Wookie homeworld being threatened, but the Evil Emperor decided there was more money to be made marketing the Ewoks.

I once wrote a mock term paper showing conclusively that "The Return of the Jedi" was more accurate historically than "A New Hope," which was a story put forth by the New Republic to make its hero, Luke Skywalker, look good. (Not only did the reconstructionists make the Death Star fully built, they also gave Luke sole credit for its destruction.)

"The Phanton Menace" was just awful: flat, one-dimensional characters; too much mindless action and overreliance on CGI special effects. Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin, wasn't up to grown-up repartee but didn't have other children to act like a child around either. And Lucas couldn't make up her mind whether he wanted an innocent boy who would become Darth Vader, or a brooding and angry boy who already was warped and destined for evil things.

This is the only Star Wars movie we don't have a copy of, that I have no desire to have a copy of, and that I consider worst than "Return of the Jedi."

sabbath rest

Every farmer worth his compost knows that a sabbath rest for the land is not just a good idea, but a basic requirement of agriculture. The cycle of sowing, cultivating and harvesting takes its toll on the soil, microorganisms and variopus insects and other animals that live there.

Giving the land a rest once every seven years helps the microecosystem to restore itself, for the soil to regain lost nutrients and for your next crop to be even better. It's even more important if you rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which "burn" the soil and damage beneficial organisms in the ground like earthworms and ants.

It's a practice I'm trying to apply with my organic garden and flower beds at this house, though I'm starting with soil that's been badly abused over the 80-plus years this house has been in existence. I left alone for two years a nice swath along side of the house and in the back yard where nothing has been growing, and last year, I started to see a few things start to grow there on their own. They'll be even further ahead when I mix in compost this spring.

Of course, I'm not aware of anyone who gives ALL the land such a rest at the same time, which is what the Torah prescribes. Usually it's cycled through.

Saturday, December 15, 2001

santa claus

I get a headache trying to figure this out: There is actually a town that doesn't want Santa Claus to light the Christmas tree, because he's too religious.

Talk about ridiculous. When did Santa become such a religious figure he needed to be banned from a tree lighting? Many religious folk don't want Santa because he steals the thunder from someone who wasn't born on Christmas, whose birth is chronicled only in two of the four gospels, and whose birth was nowhere near as important as the Good Friday/Easter Sunday one-two knockout punch.

Good grief. The entire Christmas package -- trees, presents, wreaths, lights, Santa and his many elves -- is so much cultural baggage anyway, I don't understand what the fuss is. It's neither religious nor areligious,* and many who do not consider themselves to be even nominally Christian celebrate the holiday because it's a cultural holiday like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, built more or less around the idea of charitable giving and spending time with family.

I've known Jews who take their children to see Santa and I've interviewed Hindus who celebrate Christmas. There are probably even Muslims who do the same, though the imam I interviewed about that five years ago no doubt would deny any such notion vigorously and indignantly.

I wish the anti-Santa parade and the anti-Christmas parade would march into the same room in Toledo, Ohio, where they can merrily ruin their own Christmases and allow the rest of us to keep the holiday as we wish.

Not that I'm opinionated.

* Yes, I'm aware that the etymological root of Christmas is Christ Mass. My point is that the holiday as it has existed for more than a hundred years is no more religious that Mardi Gras, which also has a religious origin. Blame it on The New Yorker and the businessmen in New York who more than 100 years ago decided to craft the myth of when Christmas was a warm, happy time of good cheer in New York's distant Dutch past, all in order to boost revenue.

Friday, December 14, 2001

creationism gone wild

Three fun ways to fit dinosaurs into the biblical account of creation:

  1. The dinosaurs were destroyed in the events described in Genesis 1:1: "Now the earth became formless and empty, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." In this reading, we have no idea how many years passed and what got fossilized.

  2. Dinosaurs were created on Day Six with the rest of the animals in the Hebrew cosmogony, co-existed with man in the Antedeluvian world and went extinct some time after the Flood. The tremendous pressures brought on by a worldwide Deluge, particularly with the seismic activity mentioned in Genesis 7 are more than enough according to hydrogeologists to fossilize organic matter and to convert other organic matter into fossil fuels. I've heard some people link Leviathan in the book of Job with a dinosaur.

  3. Dinosaurs are still not extinct. People who hold to this view usually tie dinosaurs into critters like the Loch Ness monster or other big creatures in heavily forested parts of the world. Scott Adams, to my knowledge, is the only person to suggest they live in the basements of houses and give wedgies to people.
And of course there are the really silly views that dinosaurs never existed in the first place and God either created their fossilized remains to test our faith, or that the whole thing is made up by paleontologists eager to bolster their standing in the scientific community. (Probably some truth to that second part, actually; they'll proclaim a whole new species based on one or two bones and fail to account for the variation within a single species today. Heck, humans range from under four feet tall to over eight feet. And dogs? Don't even get me started.)

There is a view that holds that there was a pre-Adamic race of humanity, or perhaps reptilian beings, who were destroyed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew can be rendered "Now the earth became formless and void." There is much basis in Scripture for this belief as saying the "unclean spirits" in the New Testament are angels who rebelled against God and were cast down. It's just that the latter doctrine is more widely accepted than the first.

On that tangent, I've heard it said that the "unclean spirits" Jesus was casting out of people were nonaligned spirits; i.e., they had taken no sides in the war between heaven and hell and are being forced to decide as the gospel advances. And I've also heard that they were -- are you ready for this? -- the eternal spirits of members of a pre-Adamic race!

genocide in the bible

A friend of mine wrote a very intriguing piece on two of the genocides mentioned in the book of Judges, specifically the slaughters of the Canaanites and of Amalekites, that used to be on his now-defunct web site. I don't remember all the nitty-gritty, but he tackled the subject from the perspective of graded absolutism.

A simple example of graded absolutism: Violence is wrong. Letting someone be beat to death also is wrong. If you see someone being beat to death, are you justified in using force to stop the assailants? Of course you are, and depending on the circumstances, you probably could even see your way to using lethal force.

As I recall, the contention of Greg's piece -- and if it's still online, I don't know where it would be -- was that for God to order the destruction of the Amalekites and Canaanites, their sin was so grievous there was no other way to handle it. He also gave the whole thing an important perspective: the command to wholesale destruction of a people were not given as frequently as people usually think.

Me, I still feel uncomfortable thinking of those orders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

the music i like

I don't hold with the differentiation between "Christian" music and "secular" music. What's good is what's good, and what's crap is crap. Most of what is produced on Christian labels is crap.

I appreciate music that makes me think and that challenges me to care about other people and that makes me stop and think about what I claim to believe. To that end, there are only three Christian musicians I've found that I consistently enjoy: Michael Card, Steve Taylor and Keith Green.

Keith Green died in a plane crash in 1982. His complete discography is available on Sparrow Records as "Keith Green: The Ministry Years." It's hard-hitting and prophetic stuff.

Steve Taylor is a former youth pastor who warranted an entire chapter in Jimmy Swaggart's book ranting about the evils of contemporary Christian music. Like Keith Green, his lyrics are also prophetic, but they're usually more in-your-face and are set to higher-power music than Keith Green's easy listening style.

Mike Card's music is more meditative and thought-provoking and often is Scripture paraphrased and set to music. I believe he is still rounding out his multivolume work on the Bible, which the last I knew merely awaited his album on the book of Hebrews. (I have a suspicion he's not going to follow my suggestion of rhyming Melchizedek with "Oh what the heck.") Mike's stuff is folksy, which I enjoy.

I guess I should add John Michael Talbot as a fourth Christian musician I've found I enjoy because of his meditative, worshipful approach to music.

Beyond that, I generally go for music that predates me by a decade or more, though not always. I enjoy Alan Sherman and Weird Al's wit (I'd also enjoy Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg if I had their albums), but I also enjoy the folk songs of Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Crosby, Stills and Nash; and I enjoy a lot of the music produced in the 1960s and 1970s: Credence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, and miscellaneous songs like "Eve of Destruction" and "Abraham, Martin and John." Billy Joel's music often is good also.

It really depends on what you want out of your music. Some music is nihilistic and embraces destruction, like stuff by Marilyn Manson, and other stuff just revels in offending parents, which I've never really found appealing either. A lot of what's produced today is meaningless fluff, but that includes a lot that's produced for Christian records labels as well. I used to get nauseous every time I'd hear the lyrics "God is too wise to be mistaken / God is too good to be unkind / So when you don't understand / When you can't see his plan / If you can't trace his hand / Trust his heart." (I feel sick just typing it.)

I've found much Christian music to be rather poor artistically and uninspired lyrically, which is why I don't listen to it. It's driven as much by the market as secular music industry. (Put it this way: How many balding middle-age men would make it big as Christian artists today if they were just starting out?)

I've found that the music I enjoy stylistically is simple and folksy rather than heavy on the synthesizer and electric guitars (Steve Taylor is an exception); addresses themes of lasting value, whether social issues like Phil Collins "Oh, Think Twice," or delving into spiritual matters like Mike Card or Keith Green; or telling a story of sorts, though such songs are rare these days.

The heart of the individual musician I'm never going to know. I don't generally keep tabs on musicians' private lives -- just not interested -- although sometimes it leaps out at me, as it did with Amy Grant and Gary Chapman's divorce. (Let me add that Amy Grant's "Lead Me On" album back in 1990-ish was her finest album ever, in my opinion, because it was so personal. I still enjoy it, even though the divorce foreshadowed in "Faithless Heart" has come to pass.)

Another example you can probably relate to: I'm aware The Beatles did major drugs at the height of their popularity, and I'm aware of the rumors that songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" contain veiled references to drugs. That knowledge does not alter my enjoyment of The Beatles' music, though I have to admit that most of the "Sergeant Pepper" album is a little too weird for my tastes.

We all have our own criteria by which we judge what music we enjoy and find acceptable. Like Dave Barry, I'm starting to hate albums with titles like "Classic Children's Songs from Hell." I'm satisfied that my tastes are in submission to God, even though I know some people who would pray that I would stop listening to Simon & Garfunkel.

As a side note, just because something or someone appears to be in opposition to the church, Christianity or even God does not mean what they have to say should not be heard. Many times people outside the faith have valid perceptions and criticisms we're blind to. Or as Cervantes once observed, "Even a fart can be musical."

Put your emphasis on the substance of the music and its style, not the label that it falls under. That way you can't go wrong, and if you do, it's not for lack of effort or for trying to take the easy road out.

larryboy gets left behind

I don't know how many Veggie Tales viewers would understand a parody of the Left Behind books, but I think it would be interesting.

"Left Behind" as a phenomenon is pretty much restricted to evangelical Christians, from my understanding. A lot of the mainstream Christians might not get the parody, and it would be even more lost on non-Christians.

I suppose it could be interesting if it's handled well. Junior could start freaking out because his parents disappeared at the Stuff-Mart, causing Larry-Boy to leap to all sorts of wild conclusions when he notices Alfred is also missing. Later, it turns out that they were all in the bathroom or something...

Monday, December 10, 2001

keeping the sabbath

I would have to say that where I come down is somewhere on both sides of the debate of whether to keep the sabbath. I agree that keeping the Sabbath is not burdensome in the least, but I also agree that it is left to the individual believer to decide how or if to keep a Sabbath.

A fair amount of it ties back into the Christian segmentation of the Mosaic law into civil, moral and ceremonial law. While that's a breakdown I've heard before, I'm not convinced it's a division reflected in what Christ did on the Cross; rather, it seems to me to be a description of the function of different aspects of the law. Nowhere in the Torah is a distinction made between those three types of law: you find "moral" law, like the proscription on homosexual intercourse, incest and beastiality mixed in with other laws on how to make clothes and where to go to the bathroom. First-century Jews in fact regarded any effort to say one part of the law was more important than another as heretical, which is why the one scribe tried to trap Jesus by asking him which of the commandments was the greatest.

Since the Torah finds its fulfillment in Christ and we are freed from its sting and free to live by faith -- Paul quite specifically warns the Galatians against subjecting ourselves to live under part of the law, since we then are obligated to follow all of it -- I have to say that God does not require us to keep the sabbath. It's up to each of us to decide how, if and when we do so.

It's also worth noting that the sabbath existed long before its observance was required. All the way back in the creation story, God blessed the seventh day because on it he rested from his work. So even though we're freed from the requirement of keeping the sabbath, we're not free from the blessing of keeping the sabbath (if we keep it).

So what is the blessing? Well, as an outgrowth of this discussion, my wife and I started keeping a sabbath about a month ago. We keep ours on Sunday. Since it's essentially arbitrary which day you begin your week on, we start ours on Monday. Our reasoning was more or less what I've described above.

We started brainstorming reasons God might have had for putting the sabbath in the law he gave Moses. One reason we came up with is the standard reason you'll hear in churches: It's to remind us that we can't supply all our own needs, no matter how hard we work, and so we need to have faith to take one day off in seven. The second chief reason we thought of us is that it builds family.

Think about it. If you have one day in seven where you, your spouse and your children are all together, it gives you time to focus on what's really important in life. We might still do stuff around the house, or run a few errands, but we're doing them together and in each other's company. We keep the computer off all day, and we don't make long-distance calls to family members, because it's our sabbath. We know it's *our* day as a family.

We've been loving it. In fact, I've noticed that we're getting frustrated with each other a lot less.
So even though I don't think a sabbath is required, I do think people who choose not to observe one, or even to split it across two days as many of us in America do, are missing something. (Incidentally, we use Saturday to get a lot of solitary stuff done around the house. That's when I do my work on the garden and the yard, for example.)


I never did care for the term "saved." It seems like just another way of determining who is "really" a Christian and who is not -- like there's any way for us to really tell that -- and it sounds silly anyway. Where do people get "saved?" What sort of APR does the bank offer? Is there a penalty for early withdrawal? Puh-lease.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

superman qua reporter

I've often wondered what sort of story DC Comics could get if it focused just on mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.

The normal course of events is that when there is trouble Clark changes immediately into his Superman outfit and rushes off to save the day. But imagine if Clark didn't do this for some reason. In this world he is just a reporter. It has never occurred to him to wear his underpants on the outside or to draw attention to himself. He just goes about fighting crime and corruption as the world's mightiest journalist.

Think of the story leads he'd get, for starters. He'd still have uncannily good eyesight, though it would never occur to him that he could set things on fire by staring at them, and he would be able to hear things no one else could. Maybe he'd put it down to hunches or intuition, but he'd get the goods on every corrupt business or political deal that he set his mind to cracking.

Imagine him doing a piece on organized crime, and the power bosses ordering a hit on him. He'd be absolutely fearless.

They actually did something like this in "Elseworld's Finest," an Elseworlds comic featuring a Depression-era Kent and a penniless Bruce Wayne as they raced Lex Luthor for the Argo Codex, but they abandoned that conceit fairly quickly for the traditional outlandish superhero morality tale. I'm talking about something where he's just a reporter, and that's the whole point of it.

I also recall an issue of Action Comics set on Earth-2 where Clark forgot he had the Superman identity because of some sort of ensorcelment. In that story he married Lois and became a crusading reporter, but I don't recall much of that either.

Come on, DC: "The Adventures of Clark Kent." How about it?

Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

forbidden fruit

I think any Christian who's given the matter some thought has raised some serious questions about the Fall of Man and the forbidden fruit in Eden. Certainly many non-Christians have. After all, if the idea is that Adam shouldn't eat from the tree, why put it in the Garden of Eden, and not a mountaintop on Mars? Putting it right in the heart of the garden is rather like setting up a sign with flashing neon lights that scream, "Getcher forbidden fruit! Right here, today only!"

Part of the problem lies in our use of the term "perfect." Adam was not perfect before the Fall, nor do I believe Jesus was perfect when he was on earth, nor do I believe we will be perfect in the new earth. I believe Adam was sinless (until the Fall), as was Jesus, and as we will be one day ourselves, but being sinless does not mean being perfect.

Being sinless doesn't mean you understand everything. Jesus was sinless his entire life, but the Bible says he grew in wisdom as he aged; in other words, he probably had some of the same questions that everyone else has a teenager, and I imagine some questions plagued him up until the day he was crucified. And from my limited understanding of things, each of us will have different areas of understanding and ways of understanding God even in the next life, which is part of why we need more than ourselves to fully appreciate him.

As to why Adam sinned -- and note that Paul blames Adam and not Eve for the Fall and for the entry of sin and death into the natural order -- I haven't any idea what moved him. John Milton suggests in "Paradise Lost" that Adam believed Eve to be lost since she had been deceived, and couldn't bear the thought of losing her, so he ate the fruit in defiance of God's command.

Another possibility is that he saw that Eve didn't die when she ate the fruit, even though God had said they would die as soon as they are it, and so he figured God was an idiot. There might have been other factors too, conversations or words exchanged that are not reported in the Bible. And of course, all this assumes that the story in Genesis is meant to be taken literally.

Interesting note: the command not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil appears to have been given after Adam's creation but before Eve's, if you assume a chronological order to the events in the second creation story.

If that interpretation is correct, it was Adam's job to instruct Eve about the rules of the Garden, and he apparently failed.