Friday, May 27, 2005

now that's a prayer meeting

Last night I was at a Bible study where we've been reading a bookabout prayer. In addition to a few of us trashing the book for itssimplistic views -- namely, the "Do these things to pray better" or"Six points for a more sucessful prayer life" approach that seems tobe so prevalent in Christian writing -- we set aside about 30 to 40minutes at the end of the meeting to pray for other people and groups.

Anyway, at one point I shared how it's bothered me that much of the church culture has been infused with nationalism, most visibly where the war in Iraq has been concerned. I knew one fellow back at the time of the invasion who was praying that God would destroy the Iraqi army utterly, and couldn't understand why other Christians felt squeamishor uneasy about such prayers.

So I suggested we pray for the Iraqi church. Under Saddam Hussein, they were allowed to worship freely, they could own businesses andthere was generally a spirit of some religious tolerance. With the nation now lurching toward an extreme version of Islamic fundamentalism, much of that tolerance is disappearing. Christian businesses have been targeted, Iraqi believers have been persecuted and in some cases martyred, and it'll just get worse if the new Iraqi government heads in the direction of adopting sharia as the basis orsource of its law. (And as I pointed out, it's quite likely that some of these Iraqi Christians were asking God very fervently to spare their country the turmoil that would result from an invasion. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were praying that God wouldsmash our armies, a couple years ago.)

We spent about 15 or 20 minutes praying for the Iraqi church, not for their safety, which is so often the cop-out that we Americans ask for, as if the illusory "safety" will last or give us what matters, but for the grace and courage they need to overcome their situations and draw their neighbors to Christ. We prayed for the martyrs' sacrifice to bring a revival to Iraq.

We also prayed for the terrorists, both the insurgents in Iraq and its neighboring countries, and for those who belong to groups like al Qaeda. We prayed not only that God would thwart their plans and throw them into confusion, but that he would bring them to repentance and forgiveness. Christ is a God who rejoices in setting people free, after all.

I wish I could attend prayer meetings like that more often.

Tangent: The more I think about this war in Iraq and the lines of thought it has begun in me, the more the whole notion of a "just war" seems odious. And yet, the thing that makes it more complicated is that God gives governments the authority of the sword, so that they are allowed to go to war withone another. I don't think it's ever a Good Thing -- I once read a paper that addressed the issue through graded absolutism; i.e., war ishateful to God, but some things are even more hateful -- but how can we, finite as we are, ever hope to see the grand scheme of things and whether a war is justifiable or not?

It reminds me on the one hand that this is undoubtedly a matter of personal conviction, but at the same time, it strikes me as a dichotomy between the actions of the kingdoms of this world, and the Kingdom of God. The war in Iraq is a conflict between the United States and Iraq (or the insurgents, whomever they represent). It's not, and never should be viewed as, a war between God's people and others who are not God's people. God has children in both countries, and plenty of other people who are calling themselves his children during the conflict but have nothing to do with him.

There's probably some pithy way to sum this up, but I can't think of one. It'll come to me in a few weeks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

church and state redux

According to the New York Times, the pastor of the Waynesville, N.C., Baptist church who kicked out members for not voting for Bush last November, has resigned. Frankly, his resignation is probably the best solution to the whole mess.

Healing, if it happens, will be a long time in coming. It wasn't just the pastor who booted them -- those nine members were voted out, which means that even if the poison originated with the pastor, it wasn't limited to him. The article I read indicated the pastor needed a major police escort when he left the church, and also indicted he expressed no remorse for what he had done, only that it had worked out this way.

I just find it appalling when ANY Christian leader abuses leadership and authority like this, whether on the Left or the Right politically, or on some other minor issue. (And yes, compared to the Deity of Christ or other key doctrines, I would consider abortion to be a minor issue.)

Ugh. The whole thing leaves a dirty taste in my mouth


Worst part of pre-patella bursitis:
  • Having a knee swollen to the size of a grapefruit

  • Spending six hours at the hospital, in one of those designer gowns

  • Having a doctor jab your swollen and tender knee joint to drain fluid

  • Getting highly irritated underarms from using crutches

  • Wearing a leg immobilizer

  • Children who complain that you cry when they sit on your affected knee

  • Inability to help rebuild Temple in Jerusalem

Vote in the poll!

I've been in worse shape -- the times I had amebic dysentery, and dengue fever spring to mind -- but to tell the truth, I feel fairly rotten.

We took the girls up to Morristown National Park on Sunday to see the Revolutionary War encampments at Jocky Hollow and to see the Wick house, where Tempe Wick lived. (There's a neat story about Tempe that Evangeline recently read as part of our study on the Revolution, and she's been begging to go see the house ever since she realized that it was a real place.)

My best guess is that I put some undue stress on my right knee when I carried Evangeline up a fairly steep hill to the (presumably rebuilt) cabins used by the Pennsylvania Line soldiers. Sunday evening my knee was becoming fairly uncomfortable, and around 4 a.m. Monday, it hurt so much that it woke me up. By morningtime, it was visibly swollen, red, and warm to the touch.

I ended up going to the doctor that afternoon, and he concerned enough he sent me to the emergency room with the warning that I might be there overnight, or longer. It turns out he was concerned they might have to operate on my knee.

Luckily, and I use the term with a measure of irony, all that happened is they drained some of the fluid from the joint to perform a culture, gave me an antibiotic IV drip and left me shivering in that stupid gown for about two hours until I reminded them that I would really, really like a blanket. (It took another two hours before I got them to understand that I really, really had to pee.)

The long and short of it is that I have bursitis, and am taking Keflex to kill the infection. I've developed a slight fever, have sore spots from the crutches and my knee is in steady pain. I'm also tired all the time, which is ironic, because I don't feel "sick," if you know what I mean.

Luckily, and this time I use the term with a smaller measure of irony, my mother came up today, with plans to stay for the next week since I'm unable to drive comfortably, even if I take my knee out of the leg brace.

The worst part has been that my girls are fascinated with the leg brace and have tried to play with it and with my leg. Ruth sat on my knee twice yesterday, and Evangeline unwittingly kicked in a few times. Today, Ruth kept trying to climb all over me, so I switched sofas. She immediately complained: "No, daddy, I want to climb down your leg!"


Still, it's nice to know that I have friends. Because Natasha was unable to pick me up at the hospital, she asked a friend if he could, and although the hour was late, he was more than happy to do it. Tonight he called just to ask how I was feeling.

I made up a list of reasons psoriasis was a good thing to have, a while ago. Now I'm trying to come up with a similar list of reasons to have bursitis. There has to be something good about it, although it is hard to appreciate when your knee looks big and round enought to be the grapefruit on someone's breakfast table.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

church and state

In Waynesville, N.C., the pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church has kicked out nine members for not voting for President Bush. That's hideously over the top. I hope the IRS revokes the church's tax-exempt status.

A story on CNN indicates that the ousted members are considering a lawsuit. Also inappropriate. What is it they want, to be reinstated as members? I'd pass. Returning to a church with an atmosphere as poisonous as that church's surely has become, is just foolish.

How on earth did we ever get to this point, that we feel we have the right to define the dictates of other Christians' consciences? This may be more egregious than most, but it's hardly an isolated attitude. I've run into many Christians who looked down their nose at me for voting for Kerry, as I'm sure you have too.

It's a sad day for the Church when we get more concerned with the kingdoms of this world than with the kingdom of the next.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

kevin smith's 'quiver'

You know, I've never been a tremendous fan of Green Arrow.

As superheroes go, he's not particularly remarkable. Oliver Queen is another billionaire playboy industrialist -- like Tony Stark, like Bruce Wayne, like Daniel Rand and like Marc Specter, to name a few -- who uses his fortune to finance a career of vigilantism. His schtick is that he's a peerless archer, a modern-day Robin Hood.

Queen has no superpowers, but because of his money he can buy trick arrows, like Hawkeye. Because he's in the DC Universe, Green Arrow usually associates with the Justice League, although I have vague memories from when I was younger of a title that he headlined specifically with Green Lantern.

I've been reading the collection of  Kevin Smith's "Quiver," and it's enough to spark my interest in the character.

For starters, he is easily the most radically liberal superhero I can think of. He is the only superhero whom I can picture actually calling the police fascists, chewing out the City Council for closing a youth center, and even telling off Aquaman for having elitist royal attitudes.

But beyond that, this comic is just a solid introduction to the character and his history.

Oliver Queen died after the events of "Zero Hour," a 1994 DC companywide event that grew out of the death of Superman two years earlier. Superman's death was followed within a year by the appearance of four separate heroes each of whom might be a resurrected Superman. One turned out to be Kon El, his clone; the second, John Henry Irons, the superhero Steel; the third, Superman with a mullet; and the fourth, the supervillain Cyborg.

During this period of four Supermen, Cyborg destroyed Coast City, where Green Lantern lived in his civilian capacity as Hal Jordan. Driven insane with grief, Jordan tried to use his power ring to remake the universe so that Coast City was restored. In the end, it was Oliver Queen who killed his friend.

Queen himself died not long after on another adventure, and into his shoes stepped his son Connor Hawke, himself a skilled archer but one who did not use gimmicks like boxing glove arrows.

The mystery of "Quiver" is why Oliver Queen is alive again, and to an extent whether he even really is Oliver Queen. He has no memory of Coast City's destruction, cannot believe that Hal Jordan is dead, and is stumped when he first sees a cell phone. "What, do you think you're Batman?" is essentially his reponse.

It's this search for an explanation that drives the comic, and the reactions other members of the Justice League have to his unexpected return that make it interesting. Batman not only is suspicious of Queen's apparent resurrection, he provides some of the most cutting commentary about how derivative a character Green Arrow is, down to the Arrowcave and Arrowmobile, and even Arrowmobile.

The comic's momentum falters as the explanation for Queen's return begins to emerge, though it recovers as the story works toward its conclusion. It's a fun read, but it does beg the question: Is it really necessary to bring a hero back from the dead?

One of the things I've liked about D.C. Comics is that they haven't been pulling these penny-a-piece resurrections, except with Superman. The roster of dead superheroes, and the succession of their sidekicks and namesakes, has given the DC Universe a sense of history that Marvel lacks. Not only was Oliver Queen dead and someone else assuming the mantle of Green Arrow, there was a new Green Lantern in the Justice League after Hal Jordan's death, and a new Flash as well.

No one seriously expects members of the Fantastic Four to perish in the line of duty, or the Avengers; and if a hero does die, you know they'll be back soon enough. Even the villains recover from death. The Green Goblin had been dead for more than 20 years before he came back at the end of Marvel's ill-advised Clone Saga. That makes the menace of death much lower and the theatrics of superheroics much cheaper. There's no risk to what they do.

But in DC Comics, the death of Oliver Queen until now meant that there were real stakes for Connor Hawke's efforts with the Justice League. The fact that Kyle Rainer was the most recent and last of the Green Lanterns told him that he had reason to be afraid. Jay Garrick was still alive and powered as the Flash, but he was also in his 60s or early 70s. Wally West knows not only that Barry Allen died saving the universe, but that as the Flash he's responsible for a legacy that goes back before he was born.

Bringing heroes back from the dead cheapens their sacrifice, and erodes that sense of a grand and proud history. Kevin Smith has taught me to appreciate Queen as a character, but not that he was worth bringing back from the dead.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.