Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"The Maker," by Daniel Lanois

The pantheistic/animistic statement, "everything is sacred" bugs a lot of people, namely monotheists, but in a sense, I kind of get the sense that John Calvin stated, "all truth is God's truth."

People may not know, but I am a huge music buff. I don't tout it much so as to not come off as pseduo-hipster. While historically some songs were definitely considered more spiritual and others more fun, in my opinion the delineation between secular and sacred tunes is a more modern fundamentalist invention. Thus you won't find me boycotting either. I can chill out to Jonathan Foreman or Sigur Ros.

However, in the same sense that I get a shudder of excitement from observing a display of cultivated morality in an obscure and primitive culture, like the Mek Tribe, a morality that wholly mirrors a tenet of Christianity, the feeling is same when I see the same thing occur in the lyrical content of a "secular" artist who bridges the polarized chasm between Christian and non-Christian music.

One such artist is Daniel Lanois; legendary producer, songwriter, musician. While many of Lanois' compositions reverberate with biblical imagery and phraseology, none is more apparently spiritual than his masterpiece, "The Maker." Take some time to watch this video from 1989 that not only transcends ages with its timeless sound, but inspires and soothes--and this from outside of "sacred."

Adderall--A Glimpse Into My Personality

Those who know me well know that I am quite disorganized, and that my short attention span impels me to relinquish incomplete projects I am embroiled in for new, fresh projects.

When I was in college, while I did hold down a full time job, the expense of tuition forced me to search for money in odd places. So I surrendered my body to medical science, voluntarily allowing physicians to test new forms of medicine in my system. I got so lucky as to be chosen for a study of a new generic form of Adderall for side effects. Besides a little cotton mouth and an overall fuzzy euphoric sensation, I remember cruising through a nearly 500 page compilation of the works of the Apostolic Fathers (not an "easy" read) in about five hours, which led me to believe I may be slight ADD, and that Adderall is cool.

All that to say; I will be coming back to these posts for follow-up soon:

The Confines of Government and Christian Civic Responsibility
Thoughts on Baptism

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Wife, the Nurse

I hate being sick...I feel so useless and ugly, and I cannot do the things I normally enjoy and cherish...especially on the weekend. This weekend I have been plagued by the flu. Aches, fever, fluid in lungs, etc. But God gave me a beautiful wife who possesses double the commiseration I lack, and has waited on me, more or less, hand and foot, making this experience far less uncomfortable than it could have been.

While I think it is more natural for a woman to be endowed with the gift of empathy, I believe Sandra is far more endowed than the rest. Thank you San!

(Stop by her blog if you have a chance)

Human Animal Hybrids--The Human Fertalisation and Embryology Bill

The Human Fertalisation and Embryology Bill has caused more than a stir in the UK, and I understand why. The US has not been exempt from stem cell issues. In fact, George W. Bush vetoed the House/Senate passed embryonic stem cell bill. Bush was in favor of stem cell research so long as the research did not utilize fertilized human eggs.

But the Human Fertalisation and Embryology Bill that has bounced around Parliament (and I believe was approved last September) has the controversial edge, hands down. Under the bill, Scientists are authorized to create human/animal hybrids. Simply put, the process involves taking an animal egg, removing nearly all the genetic material, and replacing it with DNA from a human cell. The new embryo, referred to as admixed, is reportedly 99% human. The embryo is grown in the lab for a few days and then harvested for stem cells.

Apparently it is more advantageous to use these hybrid cells due to the shortage of human eggs, and the results are better. The harvested stem cells are used in research to cure various diseases.

As was stated, the embryos are harvested for stem cells and then destroyed. But one cannot help but wonder what monstrosity might be birthed should the embryo be allowed to develop to term, and as curious a race as the human race is, it would not surprise me if a morbidly curious scientist were to allow such development.

Below is Cardinal O'Briens response. How do you respond?

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Friar's Journey

I read a lot of blogs, and once in a while, one impacts me to the point of posting it's link here. As I read through "Monastic Mumblings"--a blog that chronicles a man's spiritual journey, with the Brotherhood of St. Gregory as his final destination. His writing exudes true compassion, gentleness, humility, intellectual insight, and today, grief as he mourns on the anniversary of the passing of his wife. Read his blog. Say a prayer for him.

Along the lines of those who commit themselves to service and piety as members of a religious order, check out another personal favorite of mine; Nun Blog.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ancient History

It seems in the church (for sake of brevity, I am assuming church universal--all who designate themselves Christian) two types of folks exist, among many other possible polarizations: 1) Those who are content with the historical status of their church/denomination (that is, they feel it most closely resembles the "early church" of the New Testament, whether in structure, mission, liturgy, tradition, etc.), and 2) those who do not.

It seems impossible that any modern group is mirror reflection of the ancient group that once rubbed shoulders with Paul, John of Patmos, and the physician Luke, so it encourages me to come across the latter group. This holy discontent is indicative of a desire for truth, and in most cases a commitment to personal growth and a missional mindset.

Most often, when talking to such folks I am directed to a number of books aimed at guiding me to that which most resembles the early church. More often than not, I am familiar with the authors and have even read many of their works. But what always gives me a chuckle, is that these authors are always modern authors, most no more than twenty years older than myself. While there is nothing wrong with reading such modern works, it seems like the last place to begin a search on origins. Shouldn't the search begin at the origin?

Of course the patented answer is, "yes, that's what scripture is for." But since scripture is not a comprehensive history of the early church, I do believe it alone cannot completely fill in all the ancestoral blanks...that is why any number of people read anything spiritual in nature outside of scripture, whether it be J. Vernon McGee or Donald Miller.

So why not broaden our scope. Stop putting sole stock in an author 2000 years separated from that elusive early church? Why not read the works of Polycarp, who was tutored by John, the disciple of Christ, or Irenaeus, Polycarp's understudy? Logic seems to indicate that the early church fathers stand to be much more veracious in painting a picture of what Christianity looked like at its inception.

So, put down that copy of Blue Like Jazz (which I read and enjoyed), and pick up the First Epistle of Clement. Here you will find a nearly comprehensive translation of their works, free, in electronic format, downloadable in PDF or Word format. This is a great resource, and I hope a few check it out.

P.S. Apparently Barak Obama employed the ever degrading middle finger insult to Hilary Clinton. Whether it's true or not is irrelevant...every one loves a rebelliously spicy campaign.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another day, another church...and infant baptism

The nature of my occupation requires me to frequent different churches on a regular basis. Quite regularly I wake up early on Sunday wishing I could sleep in or relax comfortably in the pew of the church I call home. Regardless of my attitude any given Sunday, these experiences leave me delighted and dismayed at the diversity in the church, and have consistently forced me to reconsider the my own theological leanings, balancing both Scripture and tradition, which are nearly and neatly inseparable.

This morning's occupational adventure brought me to Church of the Cross United Methodist Church. It was small, but nice with a mix of traditional and modern elements in the design. The worship service was a consonant treat as the organ belted out ancient hymn after hymn filled with words that actually ran soteriologically deep. The pastor was great, and the words that came out of his mouth were even better. His sermon, which was rooted in that book that is so often excluded these days...what is it?...oh yeah, the Old Testament, tactfully handled a truth that is so socially taboo it nearly extinct in the ecclisiological amalgam of the 21st century. The most beautiful part of the service was the infant baptism.

While, as infant I was baptized into the Catholic Church, only a few years later my parents left the church and I was raised in a fundamentalist/charismatic/dispensational church setting, in which infant baptism was beyond was heresy. My indoctrination led me to believe that baptism was is not so much sacramental as it an ordinance of the church; that is, it does not confer grace, merely confirms it. If one really digs into the Wesleyan doctrine followed by the church I visited today, they would see that technically infant baptism doesn't bestow grace, but it does make the child the social responsibility of the church. I appreciate this communal attitude that demonstrates a deep concern for the overall well being of any individual in the church.

Having dabbled in baptism several years ago while working on my MA (my thesis centered on the community at Qumran that was steeped in ritual cleansing), my views have been given wiggle room. Additionally, ridding myself of all postulation (quite impossible, but the attempt alone procures higher objectivity) in approaching the ancient Biblical text has left me reconsider many of the nuances of belief on baptism, including infant baptism.

Where do you stand?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Texas Cult, Religious Freedom, and the Law

Everyone is blogging about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints group in Texas, and besides the fact that I hate to be left out of the fray, I have been following the news and am intrigued. Not too long ago I blogged about another "cult," which is more fascinating, and in my opinion, errrr...honorable? But that is a mere subjective statement.

Let it be noted, as has been said by this author before, I admire the tenacity and religious zeal of various sects; however, that is not to say I agree in the least with their ideologies and subsequent practices.

Thus said, on to the group under scrutiny.

One must step back and consider why the group's religious privileges have been suspended and taken court: sexual abuse, a most loathsome crime. The accusations, at this point, center on the fact that underage teenage girls were forced to marry to men three times their age. This last adjectival clause (three times their age), is merely inflammatory, for does it really matter how old the perpetrating male is under the letter of the law? An 18 year old who lies with a 13 year old, under the letter of the law, is no less exempt.

That in mind, the group, America dry heaves in disgust at the allegations. And yes, my stomach turns a bit. But I must point out my own hypocrisy. Just a few weeks ago I observed a documentary set in Papua New Guinea in which young 13 years old girls were sent away to neighboring villages to marry men three times their age. Disgust did not sit in. "It's just a part their culture," I thought to myself. And I was not alone. Most viewers, the English adventurers behind the documentary, and cultural anthropologists everywhere would be infuriated were any human power to step in and halt the practice in the name modernism. There is little to no difference between this practice (if one isolates religious belief) and the practice of Texas' FLDS creep squad.

But I cannot neglect an oh so important factor: Law, which is not only governs any culture, it flows out of culture. So when it comes down to it, there really is a different set of standards, in my mind. And here I am not upsetting the commitment to absolute truth to which I subscribe, that is divine truth. Here I am talking about man-made standards. Some things that are permissible in the mind of man, are not in the mind of God, yet man still allows them in the legal sense, as in the Papua New Guinea. So while something is legal for a jungle tribe, is not legal for an American sect, but maybe neither are morally acceptable to God.

Anyway, now to the heart of the issue. I believe wholeheartedly in my First Amendment Religious freedom. But the constitution of the United Stated guarantees this freedom, so long as it does not infringe upon civil order. At the this point, it seems that the FLDS group observes practices that infringe upon civil order, and in my opinion, a reprimand is necessary. Double standards in federal forensic responsibility only breeds contempts amongst civilians.

I know this is a slippery slope into absolute repression of religious expression. I myself give up certain rights central to my belief system to obey the law, and while not thrilled with it, do so for the sake of respect of civil authorities. And I believe that the restrictions I deal with are tertiary to my faith, and I can deal with it.

So while I sympathize with the FLDS group in that they cannot legally fully express their beliefs, I have to ask, are the beliefs that are in violation of the law worth committing? Would it be sinful for the group to wait till their young women breech the age of 18 to marry them? It might not be ideal to their beliefs, but it does not violate them. And this is the sense in which I myself at time avoid moral compromise but satisfy combating systems...religion and law.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Florida Teen Beating and Net Neutrality

Atrocious acts are only proliferated through gross repetition, so you will not see the disturbing and widely circulated clip in which 8 Florida teens participate in the brutal beating of their sixteen year old peer here on My Friend Ivan, but for sake of context, you can find the footage here.

Watching the video and reading press coverage reveals that the act was absolutely baseless and at best animalistic. As the victim of pack aggression is being knocked unconscious, her attackers repeatedly call out, "why don't you like us!?" and, "come on...fight...defend yourself," clearly stupid motivation.

The teens' video never made it to its intended definition, YouTube, due to police intervention, but the very fact that the intended result was mass exposure via the video networking giant, coupled with the instigation lying in ill-placed comments on MySpace, has citizens, parents, and bureaucrats demanding implementation of legal restrictions on the various social networking sites. Polk Sheriff, Grady Judd, stated, "It's incumbent upon YouTube and MySpace to make drastic changes. If we desensitize kids to this kind of beating today, what's next?"

But, besides the fact that this knee jerk reaction steps on vulnerable constitutional toes, would it really solve anything? And really, are YouTube and MySpace to blame?

Desensitization has already occurred, Sheriff. The other night as I was watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which in itself trivializes and makes sport of Romanesque violence, I observed several commercials for video games that if purchased, allow the player to commit virtual atrocities that rival that of Chronus' treatment of his sons.

Sure, the voyeuristic nature of the alleged defendants may encourage delinquency to some extent for certain personalities, but I highly doubt they are the root of the problem. And besides, while a parent cannot be blamed for every pubescent mishap of their offspring, the fact that at least one of the parents defended and praised the actions of her daughter lends itself to suspicion of a faulty instillation of morality. Teens are not adults. The raging hormones, emotional stress of school, and many other factors do not allow for rational decision making, at least in this society. Thus, as parents do have rights over their children's time and activities, limiting internet usage is the only real solution in my mind.

Besides, justice is already being dolled out to the real perpetrators, not only by the US justice system, but by the very sites that are involved in the controversy. The unfortunate eternal memory of the internet will forever memorialize the faces of the aggressors and dub them delinquents, a sentence that in my opinion, is far more harsh then the crime, and bears witness to the fact that fate does not always heed the principal of Lex Talionis.

In every society, the desire for instant justice often leads to misplaced wrist slapping and and even more misplaced legislation, as exemplified in such pseudo fictional works as The Crucible and Fahrenheit 451.

Restrictions of sort do have to be placed on web based material, and already do exist. For example, besides a few perverts out there who may indeed read this post, very few would object to legislation that criminalizes circulating child pornography on the internet. And MySpace and YouTube abide by such legislation, the self impose higher standards, forbidding nudity and such objectionable content, and have implemented user friendly reporting procedures for this type of content.

Contrary to his party's historic commitment to minimizing government vestment in private affairs, congressman Tim Couch (R) wants to pass legislation that makes anonymous commenting on blog sites and social networking sites illegal to prevent ugly incidents such as the one described in this post. Besides the fact that this would solve nothing, in that it punishes the proprietors of such venues for a crime they did not commit, Couch's proposed legislation blatantly violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, making Couch's proposal itself criminal.

If the alleged comments made by the victim in the attack had actually been anonymous, requiring a false identity on MySpace, the attack might never occurred. It is the humble opinion of this blog author, that imposing legislation that limits freedom of speech on the last frontier, the world wide web, is a slippery slope that could lead to unlawful censorship of more historic forms of media, and perhaps even censorship of personal linguistic expression. Keep the net neutral!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Monks of Moyross

RTÉ Television - The Late Late Show

Cultural relevance? That buzz-phrase was lost in the semantic popularity contest to social relevance, it seems. But no judgment from this obscure commentator one way or the other.

So is cultural relevance blinding lights, pop music, electronic beats, huge video screens, ash trays built into the pews? I don't think so. But the point isn't to offer judgment or praise on such things, but to suggest that cultural relevance, as pertaining to any religious system, and in particular, Christianity, has little to do with anything cosmetic.

The monks in the clip above have little to offer but compassion, Christ, love, finely tuned rhetoric, and some sweet freestyle rhymes.

P.S. I tried repeatedly to embed the clip, but my computer skills are worse than my social skills, so you'll just have to follow the link. It's worth it to see a burlap clad monk rap.

Pope Benedict XVI to Visit the United States

Pope Benedict XVI plans to make his first US visit to New York and Washington DC. The theme of Benedict's visit: Christ Our Hope. Check out his appropriate salutation...I believe this is the first of it's kind for any pope.

I would guess that nearly all readers of this blog our protestant, and many feel a perceived disconnect between the Roman Catholic Church, and the bizillion protestant denominations in the US. After viewing the video, what is your reaction?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Russian Doomsday Cult

I was impressed with myself when recently I was offered the opportunity to join a local religious cult. Yes, I have arrived.

I have long been fascinated by the belief systems of modern cults. I admire their tenacity and commitment to belief. Labeling a movement as a "cult" and all the implicit negative connotations that accompany the term is risky, since it is such a subjective label. And besides, all the characteristics of a "cult" are evidenced in early Christianity: Extremist (at least in perception), living in unconventional manner under the guidance of a charismatic leader, esoteric, apocalyptic focus...

With all the cults that have popped up in recent years (Koresh, Heaven's Gates, Jones), I think America assumes we own the market on all things cult-ish. Not so. Enjoy the pictures of the Russian doomsday cult that, until recently, has been holed up in a cave awaiting the end of the world, which they believe is coming in May. The group believes, among other things, that barcodes are evil--a sign of the beast, refuse to consume processed food, and believe that credit cards are from Satan. The group, a splinter sect of the Russian, are absolutely devoted to God, and left the bunker only after melting snow caused collapse.

Cult members leaving bunker with emergency workers.

Pyoder Kuznetsov, leader of the sect.

Cult members.

Inside the cave where members lived for six months.

Entrance to the cave.

Home where cult members now reside.

Crosses outside the cults home.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Muslims Outnumber Catholics

Catholics--1.13 Billion or 17.4% of the worlds population
Muslims--1.3 Billion or 19.2% of the worlds population

For the first time since the birth of Islam, the world sees a demographic shift. I find it fascinating that in the 1400 years since Islam was birthed from the revelations of Mohamed, the tide turns in mine and your lifetime.

However, throw protestantism in the mix, and the scale is still heavy on the Christianity end, unless you are one of those who believes that Catholicism is an apostate, non-Christian cult. But for the two groups with a bitter history, this is monumental. Some wonder if the recent conversion and baptism of Magdi Allam is a public statement that tide may change once again.

What does it mean? It means somewhere, this information has spooked someone to the point of manipulating the stats to calculate the exact time and date of the end of the world.