Friday, March 31, 2006

Gospel is not a demand.

Thanks to the willzhead blog for the pointer to "John Fischer: The Separation of Church and Hate", an essay recently posted at Breakpoint .

In the essay, John Fischer speaks of how the church's mingling with politics, namely a certain flavor of partisanship of the Religious Right, could make some folks rightly think that Christians have taken up hate. (Read the whole article yourself for a better articulation.) He says that casting one's lots with the Dems would have led to the same state of playing hatred-- it's not inherently a property of the Republicans.

First of all, I would say that the problem is not just casting with the GOP, per se, but as I see it casting lots with the Delay/ Robertson/ Stephens/ Likud wing of the GOP as opposed to folks like, well, John McCain.

Secondly, Fischer makes a wonderful point about misuse of the word Gospel.

4) We have opted for morality over the gospel.

Morality is cleaner and less threatening than the gospel. The gospel makes me admit my sin and welcome sinners. Morality lets me keep sin and sinners at bay.

Morality deals in black and white—right and wrong. But representing morality breeds entitlement, self-righteousness, and condemnation. No one is going to publicly champion morality without appearing morally patronizing of everyone else. This in turn fosters an attitude of contempt from others who feel judged and put-upon.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with morality—God knows we need it—it is simply not our primary message. We are not Moses to the world, coming down from our place with God on the mountain with His commandments in our hands. That’s been done; those commandments have already been given, and we all broke them. Our message is more like the blind man who was given sight, whose only message when put to it by the religious gatekeepers of heaven was, “All I know is: I was blind but now I can see.”

As representatives of the church of Jesus Christ, our primary message is the gospel that Christ died to save sinners, starting with us. In all things, the gospel must have preeminence. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it and usher in the day of salvation.

Now here, I have a criticism for religous folks of the Left (are they really just McCain-Wing Republicans?) like Ronald Sider and Rick Warren, in their misuse of the word "Gospel". I've been reading Sider's Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and I completely agree with his social analysis, his complaints-- his understanding of Law. Sider decries how things like divorce, racism, materialism, etc., are just as rampant in the evangelical church as they are in The World. The problem I got is that he uses the word "gospel" to refer to some of his ethical and moral statements-- it ain't Gospel, its' Law. Now we need Law, and Gospel doesn't mean as much without the Law to put it into context. The Lutheran understanding would have Law defined as "God's command of what is and/or what is not to be done" and Gospel as "the promise of the grace of God to forgive sins." See Melancthon here. If Lutherans have any contributions to Christian doctrine at all, the proper separation of law and gospel are right up there.

Rick Warren, too, has misused the term. In an interview entitled"Myths of the Modern Mega-Church", Warren says:

Anyway, the fundamentalist and evangelical movement said they were just going to care about personal salvation when they split from the mainline churches. What happened is the mainline churches cared about the social morality and the evangelicals cared about personal morality. That's what happened when they split. But they really are all part of the total gospel – social justice, personal morality and salvation. And today a lot more people, evangelicals, are caring about those issues.

Now I agree with Warren's historical analysis of the church. I agree with his ethical statements here, that social justice and personal morality are important, but they're not gospel, they are law.

Mixing the two terms has all kinds of problems associated with it. Just one is that folks might not think your theology is up to par-- they may discount your theological basis outright because of it. As for other problems of mixing law and gospel, folks may turn to Walther

Okay, fixed it.

Originally uploaded by pterandon.
This is made with povray blobs. I even made a "puddle" of blue liquid for it to grow out of.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Whoa. A mistake, but too funny to pass up sharing.

"Marxist distortions of the text" -- Matthew 25.

From Matthew 25:
V. 34. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. V. 35. For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; v. 36. naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me. V. 37. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? V. 38. When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? V. 30. Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee? V. 40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.
and what does the The Popular Commentary of the Bible by Paul E. Kretzmann , published by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1921, say about this text?
It is a kingdom which they are about to inherit, for they have been made kings and priests unto God, His Father, Rev. 1, 6. And the reason for this wonderful gift? A reward for their faith, as shown in the ordinary, everyday deeds of kindness to the lowly brethren of Christ: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned; outward expressions of love flowing from the love of Christ, as an evidence of faith. Christ expects no heroic acts. He demands no miracles, but He will judge the world in righteousness, making these deeds of kindness and charity the basis of His judgment; for it is impossible to perform even the smallest act of kindness in His- spirit without faith in Him in the heart.

In the early 1990's, I had the good fortune to get inside the head of some very conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastors through an internet discussion board on America Online. It is a shame that I did not print out more of those discussions, because they were formative years for me. Formative in terms of choosing a foil for my theological worldview.

We ended up talking a lot about what the bible says about poverty. A consensus on that board was that Matthew 25 was not talking about the physically poor around you, but rather that the "poor" of Mark 10-- those who gave up all for the gospel-- pastors. In essence, they held that the only thing this passage was about was how you responded to the gospel, (by inference of the poor pastors sent out to tell you it). Now I don't deny this message of gospel response has being an additional, useful way to look at the text. I had however always believed that this passage was talking about (v. 31-40) fruits of faith as helping poor around you, and (v. 41-46) it being a sin (the hellfire-and-brimstone thingy) to neglect the poor, the stranger, the prisoner around you. I also believe that one can stand pretty firmly on the established tradition of the church with this interpretation. Read how Luther uses this passage in his Explanation to the Fifth Commandment (LC).

These guys (LC-MS pastors are men), however, had a consensus that there was some kind of heresy involved in this bleeding heart version of Matthew 25. One spokesman for the group referred to it as a "Marxist distortion of the text." This gentleman and pastor was also talking up libertarianism.

Now I don't think there's anything wrong with libertarianism or Republicanism or anti-Marxism or biblical literalism or holding the Lutheran Confessions as being without error. These can be good things; I wear some of these badges on my sleeve. But eventually you can try to be "more Catholic than the pope", such that in this analogy, the pope becomes your adversary. Here we have a watermark text of biblical commentary from as conservative a publishing house as you can get-- and it's repeating the so-called "Marxist distortion".

Am I too bent out of shape over an off-the-cuff remark made 12 years ago? I believe that there is something afoot in this land, where biblical literalism is forced to hold hands with a view that is called "conservative" (in an insult to actual conservatives), and attributed as a motivator for things not required of the text. I think its fruits in the sixties were opposition to admonishments about racism, and today has fruit in indifference to or support for prisoner abuse, pushing the Iraq War, a denial of environmental problems, a denial of things like the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke. In all these evidences of Original Sin around us, I believe that the tradition of the Church Historic is not to blame, but rather that its tradition has been co-opted by those too mean or lazy to research it carefully.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I have successfully installed kubuntu 5.10 on a PC. I found in a repository the app "terraform." It makes some cute if not realistic landscapes for ya. The coolest thing about it is that it allows one to export to a povray format, and even has an option of rendering your image by povray itself. Such is one image. I guess this represents the "christening" of my kubuntu installation.

Bloody Irony

Two quotes ran across on the same day:

BBC News, "Political Storm Over Iraqi Deaths"
"Entering the mosque and the killings there are an unjustified and flagrant attack," the interior minister said.

"Approximately 18 innocent men who were inside the mosque performing sunset prayers were killed and became martyrs," Bayan Jabr added in an interview on Dubai-based al-Arabiya television. "They were killed unjustly and wrongfully."

and, Columbus Dispatch: "Iraq Sparks Salvo at Ministers' Debate
Johnson responded that the United States has made a strong effort to limit casualties in Iraq.

Comment: I don't have any outrage at the moment at the soliders involved in today's mosque attack, and not much at those who ordered it. I hold out the option of an honest mistake of some sort. But if there were blood on anyone's hands, it is those who blindly defend this war by imagining safeguards that are not in place. The argument from imagination is the one thing I cannot stomach right now.

Rwanda's civil war vs. Iraq's civil war

I saw Hotel Rwanda recently. A theme of the movie, one I agree with, is moral outrage with the West for failure to intervene in the slaughter, save to rescue white foreign nationals.

I opposed and still oppose the Iraq war. Its liberal critics warned time and again that our unnecessary provocation could start a civil war. One may be brewing.

In my mind, in an attempt to be honest with myself, I'm trying to come up with a unified theory about when exactly military intervention is a good thing. If we were to pull out of Iraq, would there be a need for the kind of intervention force the Rwandans pined for and never came? On the other hand, could a Western occupation of Rwanda in have been as futile as the American and British one appears to be in Iraq-- could it have merely introduced new provocations?

But then as I type, I remember how the folks were ultimately saved. The hero of the movie has a conversation with a general who was either secretly complicit or officially disinterested in the slaughter. The hero goads the general into action by stressing the effect of the generals' action on his international reputation. The general's troops then stop the slaughter at the hotel. Maybe Western soldiers couldn't have done what an African general could, what a respected African civilian could demand of an African general.

More on this later if I come to any conclusions.

Quitting Kanotix.

I originally chose the kanotix linux distribution on my two hobby PC's because, for a time in 2005, it was one of the few live-CD distros with built-in madwifi drivers. I found it unthinkable that in this day and age distibutions of linux would think it acceptable to tell the user either
  • to do without wireless,
  • to go through some insanity involving digging up the CD that came with the card (have you seen my office?-- and isn't that soooo Windows 3.1ish)
  • or, to download (HELLLOOO, we're talking about a PC which IS NOT yet hooked up to the internet!) some stuff to recompile the kernel (as was twice suggested by otherwise helpful & friendly folks at Debian).
In the face of this obstinateness or cluelessness or indifference, a distro that took care of the most tedious stuff for you was, well, like chicken dinner in a restaurant where the cook had plucked all the feathers off the bird before cooking it. Something you'd expect, and get angry with everyone else for not having taken the trouble to do it also.

So I was a big fan of the kanotix distribution, and pushing it on all my friends, including my local LUG, who had never heard of it.

Eventually I grew tired of the distribution and went on to choose kubuntu and SUSE. Most of the reasons revolve around the German language:
  • The distro, unlike knoppix, does not offer a separate "EN" version. So when it boots up live, you have to be on your toes to select the "EN" selection or it will by default go to a "DE" one. It's a nuisance. I'd note that even Paipix, which is made in Portugal IIRC, doesn't have trouble supplying an "EN" version.
  • The web page for the wiki was (if it still isn't) set up so that has to use a German interface to sign in. I had chosen a password and/or userid it didn't like, and was getting error messages in German.
  • Once, I earnestly needed help with a technical problem, and went to the #kanotix IRC. There was a conversation between the developers a-ragin' in German, and I didn't get an acknowledgement of my politely repeated question. I guess this has happened more than once in other IRC channels, but it's more aggravating when there's another language going on.
  • I once lost my installation and a lot of data when I did "dist-upgrade"; I thought I was doing it in response to one of the team leaders in the IRC, his response to a question I had asked. Turns out kanotix periodically sets up on the front page of their web site warnings when you're not supposed to do this. (Problem is, most of the times you access the site, this is in German itself).
  • The web site has a policy of making all its interfaces in German, unless you register and sign in. If you're in a hurry, after you log in, you don't often want to go back to the very front page to get important messages. (See item above). It's just goofy to make folks kiss your bun in this way.
  • Years ago one of these boxes originally had WinMe, then WinXP. My foggy memory is that I when I upgraded from WinME to WinXP, I didn't lose any data or apps. On the other hand, during kanotix's trickling out of new releases in 2005, their original design was for you to just do your own back up and have yours apps wiped. At first, the policy was to tell the user to go reload them yourself; later they came up with the idea of a script to re-get the apps from apt. It was still a major pain. It conked out on me when an item in its script listing wasn't available at apt anymore. This in turn caused me to lose apps whose names started with letters towards the end of the alphabet.

One could just as easily call me an Germanophobic bigot for all these items except the last one. I would also note that several other distros made in Europe, like knoppix, mediainlinux, angula, and paipix, don't have a problem catering to Anglophones in this way, and they DEFINITELY don't cause similar aggravations. When you go to knoppix's web sites, sometimes you have to click on a British/US flag, but after that, all aggravations related to language are OVER.

The moral of this story eventually became apparent to me. An association of a few highly intelligent and capable folks, no matter how hard they try, are not guaranteed to produce a product of the same caliber as that provided by a foundation or corporation of a few hundred. "Davids" can beat "Goliaths" but they are not statistically prone to do so. This last insight gives me pause as I dream about starting up some kind of business on the side from my day job.

The president of my local LUG, during my period of maximum aggravation, suggested trying one of the more popular distros at I am now a satisfied customer of kubuntu 5.10 and SUSE 10.0

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Becoming superstitious about hard drives.

I spent at least a week trying to install kubuntu on a spanking brand new HDD. I was trying everything. I only got it to work, finally when putting the HDD out on the wood. I would not claim however that the wood is an essential component to the system!

I must say however that when I had a HDD setup that linux did not like (whatever it was), ubuntu blithely let me go through the 20 minute installation process, only to choke on the next reboot. (I went through more than a dozen before I figured out it was HDD related). SUSE on the other hand was quite adept at letting me know that something was smelly about the HDD situation.

I think I'm going with one box with ubuntu just to join the cult ;-S, but this experience has made me much more appreciative of suse.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

God is purple; not magenta (or black, not white). Romans 3:19

I've seen several calls for reconciliation of Christians who are divided across political lines. The common metaphor is to be "purple", that is "red" (Republican) plus "blue" (Democrat). My take on the matter is that it is a good thing to call people to be purple, but I think that some of the uses of this purple metaphor are calls I really don't support-- they are really calling folks to be magenta.

Now for a primer on the difference between the colors in a computer monitor and the colors in paint. If you mix blue and red light, you get the color magenta, which has blue light and red light in it. If you look carefully at the color for the word magenta above, you'll see it's not exactly the color you get with a purple crayon. This is what I think some of the calls for "purpleness" are really aksing for-- let everyone get together without taking seriously any of their criticisms of the way things are. Affirm your brother or sister's presence but not their conscience. One fruit of this "magenta" view occurs whenever there's a discussion of some outrage in civic life or politics, and the partisan says, "Oh, but the other party did it too. What's your point? I will therefore remain unchanged." This is not how I like to look at fellowship and dialogue and reconciliation.

In painting, however, "blue" paint gets its blueness not because it is a source of blue light but because it absorbs-- it refuses to reflect-- something that is very non-blue. The same with red. Mix the two and you have something that refuses to reflect practically everything but a range of the light spectrum somewhere between blue and red. Here is a photo I found at flickr which shows what happens when blue and red cellophane overlap: In this "purple" view, you wouldn't honor your brother or sister by affirming everything they are and say, but by allowing them to take away things that you would let go. Let their indictment of sin remain on the table. What if we took seriously the taking of unborn life in abortion AND the counter-productive escalation of violence by the Bush Administration in Iraq? Added indictments of the welfare state AND oppressive business practices of corporations?

Add another political party or two-- another layer of cellophane-- and what do you have? black. Not a numbing, mindless black but a case where "every tongue is silenced." Nothing remains but the cross. Everyone is allowed to leave on the table an indictment of something in the world as a bloody good reason for there having been a cross.

This is the kind of fellowship I can go for-- one where you tell your brother or sister, "You've got a point here and here, but your actions there and there just don't cut it in terms of human decency or church tradition. Where folks at the sinful extremes of the politcal spectrum offer insightful critiques of the other, and the other takes it to heart. Where we say and we listen to the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:

"This is the mission entrusted to the church,
a hard mission:
to uproot sins from history,
to uproot sins from the political order,
to uproot sins from the economy,
to uproot sins wherever they are.
What a hard task!
It has to meet conflicts amid so much selfishness,
so much pride,
so much vanity,
so many who have enthroned the reign of sin among us.
The church must suffer for speaking the truth,
for pointing out sin,
for uprooting sin.
No one wants to have a sore spot touched,
and therefore a society with so many sores twitches
when someone has the courage to touch it
and say: "You have to treat that.
You have to get rid of that.
Believe in Christ.
Be converted."
January 15, 1978

Monday, March 06, 2006

Closer to plausible mazes

At least now I've been able to add:
i) some kind of focus item for start and finish
ii) a peturbation to the maze based on the position of that object.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Originally uploaded by nostgard.
Hi. I made this post to test whether blogger were blocking all photo-blogging from flickr or not.

Nice waterfront photo, too!

Friday, March 03, 2006

I changed my buddy icon in tribute to Shin Tao

I would encourage folks to put his face anywhere they have a buddy icon presence.

My "Flickr Central" posting.

Posting a screen grab here, just for yucks.

Yahoo helps track down and arrest Chinese dissidents

A Chinese dissident is in jail because Yahoo! went out of their way to cooperate with tracking them down.

Please take action.

“Yahoo! sold its soul and is a national disgrace.” - Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, February 19, 2006

Dear [subscriber to AI list],

Everything about the Internet company Yahoo! screams fun – from the name itself to the bright purple colors, to the endless array of online services and distractions. Around the world they are associated with creativity, innovation and the free flow of ideas.

I think that’s why it is so shocking to learn that Yahoo! has colluded with the repressive Chinese government to help identify Internet dissidents who were subsequently thrown in jail.

I urge you to join me today by expressing outrage at Yahoo!’s participation in human rights abuses in China.

The details are shocking. Investigations by Amnesty International and others show that:

• At the Chinese government’s request Yahoo! routinely censors search engine results in China -- without disclosing that the censorship has happened.

• Yahoo!-disclosed private user information has allegedly been used to persecute at least three political dissidents in China.

• In one case, that of journalist Shi Tao, information turned over by Yahoo! was submitted as evidence in a trial that ended in a 10-year prison sentence. A primary piece of evidence was a private email Mr. Shi sent to the United States from his Yahoo! email account.

We don’t really know how many voices have been silenced through Yahoo!’s collusion, or how many people have been rounded up. What we do know, and why we need your help, is that Yahoo! cannot hide behind the supposed realpolitik of working in China.

Recent examinations of four American Internet technology companies operating in China– Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco -- suggest that Yahoo! has most actively aided repressive forces in China, by helping to jail political dissidents.

New York Times columnist and consistent voice for human rights Nicholas Kristof concludes “Yahoo! sold its soul and is a national disgrace.”

Yahoo! is not immune to public condemnation. Your demands for change will get the Internet giant’s attention.

Amnesty demands that Yahoo! use its influence to secure prisoner of conscience Shi Tao's release and to stop any actions that could undermine human rights in any country in which it operates.

Every voice makes a difference. Please take action today.

Thanks for all you do.

Bill Schulz

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lost a month's work due to Maxtor HDD crash

I was dusting off this file, and wanted to slip in an improved robot.
I wanted to go from here:
to here:
No dice. That file was probably lost in a set due to a HDD crash (did I say a MAXTOR brand Hard disk died on me yet?) and it was probably a month since I had saved files. But I've got a few USB sticks floating around here, just gotta get my new distro to recognize 'em.