Thursday, February 28, 2002

what's opera, doc?

Our daughter is a little over 2 years old, and is learning new words, skills and songs at a prodigious rate. Recently she introduced us to her newfound appreciation of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" by singing the lyrics:

Kill the wabbit!
Kill the wabbit!
Kill the wabbit!

It's a good thing I wasn't driving at the time, or I would have wrapped our car around a tree I was laughing so hard.

on my bookshelf

I'm reading a book by Gina Kolata about the 1918 Flu (also called the "Spanish Flu"). Epidemiology long has been an interest of mine, so despite the dry-sounding topic, it's really quite fascinating.

I think it was something that grew out of reading "The Canterbury Tales," actually. Craig Rustici, our Chaucer professor, explained that England in Chaucer's day was experiencing massive social upheaval owing to the new upward mobility experienced by laborers, whose skills suddenly were in demand, owing to the effects of bubonic plague.

In other words, a disease that made its way from China to Europe along trade routes was a major contributor to the end of the Dark Ages, along with more conventional means of social change such as shifting philosophies and wars.

So while my interest is definitely a layman's -- I can't begin to tell you the molecular biology at
play in chickenpox, let alone in plague -- I can't help but find massive outbreaks of disease interesting because of their social consequences. In the case of the Spanish flu, it led to an entire generation overdosing themselves and their children on antibiotics, affected commerce and transit -- people avoided large crowds, where the risk of exposure to the killer flu was increased -- and also led to the Ford presidency imbroglio of vaccinating everyone to avoid a return of the Spanish flu, even though there was no scientific reason to fear such a return. (The specter was that powerful.)

Kolata's been reviled by those covering the newspaper industry and science reporting for her brias and inaccuracies in her reporting, and deservedly so, but she writes engagingly and captures the personalities of the people she's writing about in this book. I have another book of hers here about the events leading up to the cloned sheep Dolly, but haven't read it yet.

Monday, February 25, 2002

top 10 olympic judge excuses

From an e-mail I received today:

Top Ten Excuses of the French Olympic Skating Judge

10. Thought she was voting for Al Gore
9. Forgot that bribery was only for Olympic officials, not judges
8. Thought Canada was part of the "Axis of Evil"
7. Bribe included autographed Jerry Lewis coffee mug
6. Used Arthur Andersen to tabulate her score
5. Wanted to hear Scott Hamilton throw a hissy fit
4. Mistook Russian stumbling for exciting new choreography
3. "Sale and Pelletier? I thought they said bin Laden and Omar."
2. You think hockey dads are rough, try dealing with Russian figure skating dads.
1. "I'm French."

Sunday, February 24, 2002

istari rank

Here's a poser for you. The Simarilion describes Olorin as the wisest of the Maiar, and certainly when you consider what happens to the other Istari by the end of the Third Age -- two Maiar lost without a trace, Radagast off playing with animals and generally uninvolved in the affairs of the intelligent races, and Saruman corrupt -- Gandalf clearly does the best job at following Eru's purpose.

That being so, why was Saruman made the head of the order, and why does Gandalf generally defer to him?

I suppose one could argue that Saruman's desire to lead the White Council was a portent of how the passage of time eventually would lead him astray into seeking temporal power as well, but then that leads me to wonder where Curunir was standing in relationship to Melkor when Eru led them in the symphony that created the universe.

A scenario that involves Curinir jockeying for power because he desires it, and Olorin being content to let someone else have it, seems to match their personalities by the end of the Third Age, but one wonders what they would have been like at the start of the age, when Eru had just sent them into the world.

Saturday, February 23, 2002

kinsey report

I might be wrong, but I believe the Kinsey Reports or Kinsey Institute also defined a homosexual encounter very loosely, including merely seeing another another person of the same sex naked.

If that's the case, then I'd have to admit to having a homosexual experience with about 15 other boys back in the middle school gym class showers, but I'd also have to classify it as rape.

Friday, February 22, 2002

writing and journalism

Journalism is a great field to pursue. It pays little -- I made $40K a year only after being in the field for five years and making what proved for me to be an ill-advised move into copy editing -- but in terms of job satisfaction, I have found it to be more than fulfilling. What a journalist does matters, which is one of the reasons we get so upset when they do it wrong. There is no feeling like writing a news story and then seeing it used by both sides in a debate to support their cases.

I also found that being a reporter was a tremendous asset to me in terms of creatve writing. Because I had to write constantly to meet deadline, I learned that it didn't matter if I felt "inspired" or not. Deadline waits for no one, and if today you turn out crap, you can rest assured your editor will hand it back to you to improve. Being a reporter has boosted my understanding of the way people think, it's increased my knowledge of government at all levels (and therefore made me more effective at getting attention as a private citizen since I know which buttons to push), it's improved my sense of good and corny dialogue, and it's generally made me a better creative and nonfiction writer.

For someone planning to pursue writing as a career but not necessarily in journalism, I would recommend going somewhere other than journalism school, especially if she already has clips from the area newspaper. This will give her a broad background to draw from, rather than just journalistic writing, and will make her a better-rounded person.

In my experience, not having a degree in journalism is not a liability for getting a job in that field. I didn't have such a degree, nor have some of the best reporters and editors I've worked with. Conversely, some of the worst ones I have, do.

As to who writes better, a lit major or a J-major, that's one of the major unsettled debates of our time. J-school teaches word economy, which is essential for good writing, while most academics teach their students to write long. On the other hand, many news articles are about as exciting to read as the ingredients on a can of pop, though that may be due as much to the writer's inability to understand what counts as news and what's merely political preening as to anything else.

Back when I was managing editor at a local newspaper, I hired two full-time reporters. My interest wasn't in their college degrees -- in fact, I can't even remember for certain if my second hire had one. What mattered to me was whether they could write well enough that I wouldn't be coming back to them with oodles of questions and essentially writing the stories for them.

My first hire had a journalism degree from Columbia University, and his writing was dry, flat and lifeless. He also had, in my estimation, a skewed judgment of what made news (too much on meetings, not enough on people).

I don't recall what my second hire had her degree in; to be honest, I can't even recall that she had a college degree. But she could write. The only published piece she had before she came to the paper was a piece of fiction she had written, but it was engrossing.

Incidentally, when the New Jersey Press Association handed out awards for the 2000 press year, she picked up a first-place award in breaking news coverage and I think another award as well. The journalism grad got zilch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

mark one

My wife and I are starting a Bible study in our house next Tuesday with the twin goals of encouraging other Christians to deepen in their faith and bringing nonbelievers into the fold. The study will be bi-weekly, and will begin with the gospel of Mark.

We'll be going through one chapter every meeting, beginning with Mark 1. What follows are my notes and questions, not necessarily what I will be sharing during the actual study. I myself don't necessarily plan to post finished thoughts or conclusions here, except as part of an ongoing discussion.
  1. Why does Mark describe John the Baptist's clothing and tell us what he ate?
  2. Why is John's arrival significant and worth mentioning?
  3. If John's baptism was for forgiveness of sins, and Jesus was sinless, why did he get baptized?
  4. Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness is suggestive of Moses' time on Mount Sinai and Elijah's time fleeing to Mount Horeb. (Elijah even called Elisha to follow him after he returned.) Why does Jesus spend this time out in the wilderness? And then why does he do it again after he's been healing people?
  5. How do you interpret Jesus' statement that "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near?" (After all, if the time has come, why isn't the kingdom of God here already? Seems kind of an oxymoron.)
  6. When Jesus begins teaching in the synagogue, why does the unclean spirit identify him for everyone else -- after all, wouldn't it prefer people not know who Jesus is? -- and why does he command it to be silent? And why does he do the same thing with the leper?
  7. Given that Jesus teaches with authority and demonstrates authority over unclean spirits and illness, why does Mark say he was unable to enter a town? Wouldn't people be opening up the city to him to heal their sick?
  8. The chapter quotes from the Tanakh in several places, describing John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3) and during Jesus' baptism (Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1). WHat do these references suggest about Jesus?
  9. Characteristics we see of Christ in this chapter: his goals are bigger than those of his disciples, his compassion for the sick, his authority, and his respect for the law (cf. his instructions to the leper to present himself to the priest.
  10. Areas we can draw lessons from: time in the wilderness to get our heads on straight, exercising authority properly, attitudes toward others' authority, taking opportunities afforded us to teach, people's faith and how we respond to it.
Touching on No. 6, my study Bible also notes that it was a common occult belief in the Middle East that knowing a person's name gives you power over them. In other words, by naming Jesus, the spirit could have been trying to gain authority over him, an attempt Jesus dealt with quickly by commanding the spirit to silence and ordering it to come out of the man.

Since Mark deals substantially with Jesus' authority, this reading also makes some sense.

am i getting cited for this?

I wrote an article on "Lord of the Rings" that was published online by Focus on the Family. At the bottom of the article was my Yahoo! spam catch-all address, where I have received about 20-odd comments on my article, from Tolkien devotees to teeny-boppers to this and that.

Yesterday, I received my first request for help on a term paper.

Here's a copy of the e-mail I sent her. (I think I might drop the university a line just to let them know to check her paper to make sure she doesn't plagiarize me. That's been done to me before, and I can't say I appreciate it much.)

Dear Dr. Learn,

Thanks for the honorific, but I assure you it's not deserved. I have a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lafayette College, but have not continued my education beyond that.

I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions regarding Tolkien and mythology in relation to Christianity. Thank you so much for your time. If you simply don't have the time, I perfectly understand.

Wellll ... I think you can understand when I say I'm a little reluctant to answer these questions at great length just now, since by your own admission you're in the process of writing a term paper on this subject, especially since I'm a professional writer and have been plagiarized before.

If you do use my thoughts remember to attribute them in your paper, even if you don't quote me directly.

1. In my research so far, I have found many Christians to be reservedly open to C.S. Lewis, but not to Tolkien. Why do you think this is?

Because Lewis' writing is blatantly Christian and allegorical, and because Lewis is known primarily in Christian circles as an apologist, and deservedly so. It was Tolkien's example and faith that eventually led Lewis to become a believer, but Tolkien "despise[d] allegory in all its forms."

You can find more about that in various biographies about Tolkien. The one I have is "J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth."

2. In general Christians shun fantasy novels, and fairytale stories. One Christian told me that we as Christians don't believe in fantasy. They felt reality dealt more with Christian values. How do you feel about this statement?

I'd say they'd have to discount a large portion of the New Testament, since Jesus taught in parables. So did some of the prophets and judges.

Stories are stories, and as such they all present a window to truth; Calvary is the point at which all stories become True.

3. Tolkien once said that the Bible was the ultimate example of a myth. A true myth. Many Christians would take offence at this statement. In what way (if any) could the Bible be seen as a myth?

Tolkien was using the academic, rather than popular definition, in which "myth" refers to a story that is essentially true in an existential sense, regardless of whether it is factual. In that sense, yes, the Bible is a very mythical book. Another term used to describe this sort of mythic stature is "archetype."

4. Why don't Christian institutions/families encourage this type of genre? If you look at the media, it is everywhere, and is often the most popular median for children. Wouldn't open discussions of materials such as Harry Potter and LotR be more helpful than to have kids reading the books on their own?

Absolutely.

Many Christians fear what they don't understand, and as such they feel threatened by something as wildly popular as Harry Potter (when I was a teen the bogeyman was Dungeons & Dragons), especially since it makes use of magic as a vehicle for its storytelling.

5. Do you feel Tolkien is a predominately Christian book that is well written with obvious Christian undertones? If so, why is it so often overlooked?

"The Lord of the Rings" is a thoroughly religious book. Tolkien himself said that Gandalf and the other Istari are angels sent into the world at the start of the Third Age to battle Sauron's evil. The elvish waybread the fellowship receives in Lothlorien is representative of the Eucharist; the elvish heroine Elbereth is analagous to the Virgin Mary.

Then there's Tolkien's symbolism, such as Gandalf dying and returning to life more powerful than before and dressed in white; Aragorn having authority over illness because he is the true king, and so on.

6. Many Christians would say that Harry Potter and LotR are more related than LotR and Chronicles of Narnia. Does Harry Potter seem to express the same values as LotR?

I have no idea what J.K. Rowling believes spiritually (I am told she does not believe in magic), but her book contains many positive elements. Harry, Ron and Hermione understand the importance of friendship and loyalty; they display courage against incredible odds and risk their lives and reputations time and again to help each other and other people. Evil is punished, good is rewarded, and her imaginary world is essentially a moral one.

On top of that, if you've read the first Harry Potter book, you're aware that Harry's mother died saving him from Voldemort. The result of her sacrifice was that Voldemort's power was broken and he is unable to harm Harry. Since you go to a Seventh Day Adventist university, you should be able to see a very strong parallel to the gospel there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

cats and the devil

Theologians traditionally have believed that Lucifer was thrown out of heaven once it was discovered that he had a pet cat.

New study of the tradition, however, reveals that he wasn't thrown out of heaven for having a cat, as much as for being a cat. The emerging consensus is that he jumped up and made itself at home on God's Throne when God stood up.

the church politic

The gospel inevitably touches on political matters, but it itself is not essentially political. The church politic fails for the very reason that the church is not supposed to be a political entity, but a spiritual one.

If we retain a focus on Christ, we will change society because we'll be changing the building blocks of society, even if we never get involved in the political arena.

What I'm saying is:

  • The church can be content to be a Sunday-morning phenomenon (with extra services, radio shows and what have you thrown in). This is one of the pitfalls we often fall into. It leaves us with a message but no audience.
  • The church can see the Sunday-morning option as no option at all. "By making ourselves irrelevant and uninvolved with the larger society, we forfeit leadership in our society to people with no desire to honor Christ," the reasoning goes. "Therefore we must reinsert ourselves and bring Christ back into the schools, the courts, the legal system." This often gets us focused on gaining power and results in us reminding ourselves and the world how evil the world is and how much more righteous we are. We have an audience now, but no message, and soon we don't have an audience either.
  • The church can be involved with people on an individual basis, helping them buy food, pay the rent, repair their property, provide for their children, find ways to live peaceably, and so on. We not only have Christ's message, we also have people's full attention.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

lobbying for righteousness

I think we should just outlaw crime and sin, and then we'll be in an earthly paradise.

But seriously: The Civil Rights Movement represented a major paradigm shift in our society's way of thinking about segregation and race relations. That shift bore fruit in people's unwillingness to tolerate racism any longer, and their willingness to be beaten (and worse) for crossing the segregation line in the South. Those actions had political significance but what I'm saying is that they are where the real breakthrough happened, not in legislation that Congress signed.

The lobbying effort to change the law must follow the change in society, or it is doomed to failure. During the GOP primary, Bush said he would not support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion on the grounds that a nation that could pass one wouldn't need it. Though his performance during much of the rest of the primary branded him a yogurt-head, I do have to agree with the wisdom of that remark.

If we want abortion to end -- and I'm sure many of us on this forum do -- we need to bring a paradigm shift to society at large, not send high-power lobbyists to Washington.

Politics has its place in church-world relations, but I think it's a much smaller place than we've allowed it to be in the United States. It's also unclear exactly how directly we can apply the example of Israel to the United States since Israel was, in no particular order, a monarchy, a theocracy, called to be a peculiar people different from the surrounding pagan peoples as the church is called to be today.

The United States is a democracy -- a concept not even found in Scripture -- pluralistic, and very much like its neighbors. How the church interacts with it must necessarily be different from how Israel interacted with itself.

The government has chosen (wrongly, I would say) to recognize neither the humanity of the unborn, nor the sanctity of their life. This does not alter the sanctity of unborn life, nor does it release us from our obligation to save those lives.

What I am saying is that our efforts at saving those lives are best oriented at a personal level to the women most likely to get abortions and to the doctors most likely to perform them.

As we effect a social change, we will see our leaders begin to follow.

Monday, February 11, 2002

language reform

In order to facilitate communication and cross-cultural understanding, as soon as I take over the world, English will become the official language of the world. Schools everywhere will be required to teach English as a subject at all grade levels, and all official government business will be done in English.

True, there are easier languages to learn, but it's no fun to be world ruler if you don't get to be petty every now and then.

In addition to the English-language requirements, students also will be taught Spanish and Arabic for four years each, while maintaining proficiency in their native tongue and learning one other living language in use in a neighboring country. (Languages like esperanto, Quenya, Latin and Klingonaase will not count for the fifth language, though people are of course welcome to learn them.)

Additionally, languages with a non-Roman orthography will be allowed to keep that alphabet because of its cultural significance, but they must also adopt a standardized Roman alphabet in order to boost literacy and make the migration of words and concepts across linguistic barriers easier. (If there is a sound in the language in question, like the Spanish eñe that cannot be duplicated with the American Roman orthography, speakers of that unofficial language will be allowed to add the appropriate letter from their own alphabet to their language's new Roman orthography.)

Local languages will not be suppressed. Owing to their importance to maintaining local cultural identity, these languages may continue in printed and spoken form for as long as there are people who want to use them.

The goal of these reforms is the eventual emergence of a new global English not tied primarily into any specific nation. And then, once we all speak the same language, we can begin the second stage of my plan, with the construction of a mighty tower on the plains of Shinar so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth.

Of course, the sticking point in my plane is becoming established as absolute ruler of the earth, since I personally find military conquest an odious route to building a power base, I don't go for Machiavellan manipulation to obtain my ends, and I don't see hordes of followers lining up to recognize my sovereignty.

Alas for the best-laid plans of mice and men...

i didn't marry my mother

Do other guys get an odd feeling when they get married and find that their girlfriend now has their mother's name? ("I'm married to Mrs. Learn? But that's mom!") I can't speak for other guys, but that particular problem has never arisen for me, even though my parents are still together after 34 years and four sons.

It was difficult for me to think of my wife as "Natasha Learn" instead of "Natasha Henson," but that has come with familiarity and practice. My sister-in-law Rhonda, however, I still call "Baz" since her maiden name was Bazzo.

I did find it a difficult adjustment to make when I became a teacher and everyone started calling me "Mr. Learn." After all, that was my father's name. The sobriquet soon grew on me, though, and I now introduce myself to small children as "Mr. Learn" and actually instruct my daughter in the ways of Mr. and Mrs.

Never thought of myself as a traditional sort of guy, but it DOES seem more respectful than having her call adults by their first name. I make an exception for friends who become Mr./Mrs./Miss or in the case of close friends, Aunt/Uncle.

'the meaning of life'

Several months ago The Times of Trenton carried a political cartoon in which a rather large figure representing the state (I think) was being given a small after-dinner mint by a waiter who was protesting that the mint was "wafer thin."

The actual political message of the cartoon was lost on me. I, and I imagine just about every other Monty Python fan who saw the cartoon, was too busy laughing at the allusion.

So what's everyone's favorite part of "The Meaning of Life?" I'd say one of the best scenes is where everyone dies during the dinner party because of the poisonous salmon mousse, and as they all get up to leave for the afterlife, Michael Palin's character says, "Hey, wait a minute! I didn't eat the mousse."

Both versions of childbirth (the modern world and the -- ahem! -- Third World) were hilarious, and I enjoyed the live organ donors too, but I have to admit I found Terry Jones' explosion just a little too disgusting for me. The whole restaurant sketch actually was too much. (Though I still enjoyed the reference in the Times' cartoon.)

But the chapel service at the British boarding school was classic, the scene in the World War I trenches was unforgettable, and actually much of the rest of the movie was good.

Still love the death scene. "You come in here uninvited, break our glasses and now you calmly announce that we've all died. I should like to remind you that you are a guest in this house!"

the greatest evil

I believe Leviticus uses the same Hebrew word to describe beastiality as it does homosexuality (toe'bah, detestable), but in any case, as sins go in the Bible, homosexual intercourse gets very little press compared to sins like greed, oppression of the needy, injustice, and so on. Put another way, Jezebel is described in the Bible as the epitome of evil women. No one ever said she was a lesbian. That's why I get so angry with people who act like homosexuality singlehandedly will be the downfall of America.

And on a somewhat related side note, did you know that the Talmud breaks people into three groups:

  1. What's mine is yours, and what's yours is yours (the saint);
  2. What's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine (the simpleton); and
  3. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours (the sodomite)

Yowch.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

dominion theology

Thinking about this subject more last night while I walking the dog.

In addition to the example of Christ refusing earthly dominion over the nations when Satan offered it to him, and in addition to the clear teachings of Christ that his kingdom is "not of this world" and manifests itself within people's hearts (as opposed to their legal, economic or political systems), we also have the account of the Israelites.

For those not familiar with the establishment of the Davidic dynasty in Israel, essentially the Jews were upset that while other nations had a king, the closest thing they had was a crazed lunatic who lived in a cave and came out every now and then to rout the Phillistines.

When they requested to go from a theocracy to a monarchy, the Bible says that God grew angry with the people, that their request for a king was a rejection not of the judge Samuel but of God himself. I would posit that this was so -- even when the king was faithful to God, as Saul initially was, and as kings like David and Hezekiah generally were -- because the nation was putting its trust in something tangible and "real," rather than in an unseen deity.

That's often the same pit Christians fall into when we start relying on political means to improve society or to stave off something we consider sinful. The idea is that if abortion is outlawed, if gays are not afforded special protection, if school-sponsored prayer is allowed again, somehow our nation will be more godly and a better place to live.

That is, of course, utter nonsense. We're relying on external criteria to measure what only God can perceive, because he weighs our hearts and that is where he jduges. When we focus on bringing those external appearances into conformance with our expectations instead of dealing with the underlying problem -- people are disconnected from God -- we sell our soul for a misplaced relevance, and lose the moral and spiritual authority the church has.

Our responsibility as Christians is to model Christ's character. That means bringing people to him through sharing the gospel, through feeding the poor, through visiting those who are sick or in prison, through clothing the naked, and generally coming to the aid of those in need.

If we do that, we're going to see a lot of changes happen in our society whether we engage in political activism or not. I would contend that we would in fact see more changes because people would be seeing the gospel being lived out all around them instead of listening to well-paid, finely dressed lobbyists who claim to represent the disadvantaged. More than that, when the church gets into the streets of the cities and engages the people there, they change: crime drops, drug use drops, recidivism drops, and so on.

Sometimes being a watchman simply means making people see what they don't want to. Wasn't it William Wilberforce who forced England to see the illegal traffic in children by carefully documenting the steps he took to buying a child to have sex with him? He personally didn't engage in any political manuevering, but England changed pretty dramatically overnight.

That, I think, is how we're supposed to treat the ailments that sin has afflicted our world with. We get involved in people's lives and get them to see the abhorrence of what they're doing. Abortion will drop much faster if only one in ten people who claim to be pro-life takes in a teenager in crisis pregnancy or pledges to take financial responsibility a child of a woman who "can't afford to have a baby," than if we continue to lobby Washington to rewrite the nation's abortion laws.

Friday, February 08, 2002

tax-exemption for churches

Saw a recent column by Cal Thomas on a measure that would repeal the law that prevents churches from dabbling in politics. From the column:


Though the measure is rarely enforced, the political activism of some conservative Christians over the past two decades has caused religious and political liberals to demand that the tax-exempt status of some conservative ministers be revoked. These same people are mostly silent about the political activism of liberal clergy, especially those who are African-American who preach politics, lobby Congress and endorse candidates from the pulpit. Jones is right when he complains that the Internal Revenue Service applies a double standard to the law.

To the best of my knowledge, nothing about the rules governing 501c(3) organizations forbids them from taking a stand on issues. What is forbidden is lobbying for specific political candidates or parties. That is, I think, as it should be, as long as it goes across the board. If churches choose to endorse politicians, that's their right: But they should have no tax-exempt status that other organizations lack.

At the Assembly of God church I attended while a college student, the church regularly had information posted about abortion, gay rights, and so on. If the pastor had said from the pulpit that he was voting for George Bush, that would have been crossing the line and could have cost the church its nonprofit status.

In my opinion, the whole thing is a red herring anyway. Our focus shouldn't be on upending Roe v. Wade or undermining the Vermont Supereme Court's decision on gay unions but on reaching the lost and demonstrating compassion to those who need it. If we make the wholesale commitment -- not just monetarily, but personally, in a relationship -- to help women and teenage girls in "crisis pregnancies" by taking them into our homes, giving them unconditional emotional support, and so on, we'll see abortion rates drop. All politicking has accomplished in 31 years has been to get us labeled as obsessed with issues the larger society considers to have been largely resolved, created enmity between us and the people who need Christ's love, and spawned all sorts of lunatic-fringe movements like God's Army. Similar solutions and problems exist along the church's attitude toward gays.

Remember, Christ was offered political power, but he told Satan where he could stick it.

My concern is that too often politics has become the preferred means of saving the world the evangelical church has chosen. Christians have the same right to a voice in the political process as any other group, but we should also be enlightened enough to realize that the power to realize the level of change we want does not lie in political parties, legislation or voting blocs.

I'll stick with the abortion issue because it's one we hear a lot about in Christian circles. That one child in three is killed in utero is appalling, to put it mildly, and I've taken part in my share of the protests and marches to end abortion.

That said, I don't think it's a fruitful use of energies and effort to fight on the legislative front for the end of abortion. Why? Because changing the law -- which we have been unable to do after 31 years -- is not going to change the underlying problems with the American culture that led to Roe v. Wade in the first place. To do that, we need to engage our culture on a person-by-person basis and bring a spiritual -- not a political -- revolution to our nation.

That requires personal commitment of time, energy, and a commitment to love. Relationships are nowhere near as easy to maintain as political zeal.

Political zeal also necessarily has the consequence of villifying our opponents, with the result that our opportunity to display Christlike character is diminished. In the situation with abortion, it's also impossible for the two sides to agree on what the debate is over. It came as a complete shock to a pro-choice co-worker of mine that I'm "pro-life" and not "anti-choice"; Jennifer always had considered the issue to be one of choice.

But then, there are many other reasons besides abortion that the judgment of God could come on the United States: arrogance; hoarding wealth; worshipping the bottom line; failing to reach the lost of the world with the gospel, even when they come here; and so on.

Abortion and homosexuals often are just popular whipping-posts for preachers because they don't make as many parishoners uncomfortable.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

in recovery

I generally bill myself as a recovering Pentecostal or recovering evangelical. The difference from fundamentalism is a slight one in terms of most doctrine, but an important one in terms of interaction with society at large.

And of course I mean the part about being in recovery. I fell off the wagon so to speak a few weeks ago when my daughter had a fever of 105.1 degrees. I lapsed into full-fledged Pentecostalism, invoking the Resurection power, rebuking the illness, and claiming healing for her by the blood of Jesus. (I'm not an idiot, though: She was in the bathtub while I did this, and then we rushed her to the emergency room.)

exiling new jersey

The reason I want to exile New Jersey to Siberia is to make way for the imperial palace and imperial grounds. Since my lovely and talented wife is an ecologist, she'll be allowed to oversee a restoration project of unprecedented size as New Jersey is restored to pristine wilderness through phytoremediation and careful, deliberate cultivation of new forests where once shopping malls, factories and roadways gathered beneath the moon. So no, we wouldn't be exiled to Siberia, especially as we're not really from New Jersey anyway. We just live there at the moment.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

duh, gee, tennessee

Today my wife and I each received a piece of mail from Prudential. According to these letters, Prudential has noticed that my wife and I have the same last name and live at the same address; therefore, in order to save printing costs and paper, they will be consolidating our statements and mailing us only one copy ....

... provided we each fill out a form at the bottom of the letters and mail the forms in so they know it's okay.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

greeting cards

Here are a few cards you will never see in a Hallmark store:

1. So your daughter's a hooker,
and it spoiled your day.
Look at the bright side,
it's really good pay.

2. My tire was thumping.
I thought it was flat.
When I looked at the tire.
I noticed your cat. Sorry!

3. You had your bladder removed
and you're on the mend.
Here's a bouquet of flowers,
and a box of Depends.

4. Happy vasectomy!
Hope you feel zippy!
Cause when I had mine
I got real snippy.

5. Heard your wife left you.
How upset you must be.
But don't fret about it,
She moved in with me.

6. Looking back over the years
that we've been together,
I can't help but wonder:
What the HELL was I thinking?

7. Congratulations on your wedding day! Too bad no one likes your wife.

8. I must admit, you brought religion into my life. I never believed in hell until I met you.

9. As the days go by, I think of how lucky I am that you're not here to ruin it for me.

10. As you grow older, Mom, I think of all the gifts you've given me. Like the need for therapy...

11. Congratulations on your promotion. Before you go, would you like to take this knife out of my back? You'll probably need it again.

12. When we were together, you always said you'd die for me. Now that we've broken up, I think it's time you kept your promise.

13. You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket... I'd miss you heaps and think of you often.

14. Your friends and I wanted to do something special for your birthday, so we're having you put to sleep.

15. Happy Birthday, Uncle Dad!! (available only in Mississippi and Arkansas)

Saturday, February 02, 2002

anti-superbowl party

There are three kinds of people in the world:
  • Those who play professional sports
  • Those who watch professional sports
  • Those who know that professional sports are nothing but a thinly disguised attempt by large corporations to subjugate the masses, but still enjoy watching the overpriced commercials and laughing at the frogs.

(There is a fourth type that desires nothing but to see Britney Spears in various stages of undress, but this type needs little discussion here.)

So if you can think of nothing better to do than to sprawl in your Lay-Z-Boy ("The New Look of Comfort") recliner, eating Doritos ("For the Bold and Daring"), guzzling Coca-Cola ("Enjoy Coca-Cola Classic"), and cheering as a bunch of multi-millionaires in ridiculously thick padding ("United We Stand") stretch sixty minutes of game time into three or four hours of nonstop ho-hum, then read no further.

BUT! If you're put off by pigskins and sick of Superbowl Sunday, then you need to organize an anti-Superbowl party. God knows we need more of them.