Friday, July 28, 2006

"... a part of the church's heart that I had thought dead."

Ephesians 4:29-32
" Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. NIV
I am feeling very optimistic about the church right now, and it's because of a series of articles in Christianity Today. (Hat tip to Sojourner's blog).

The Middle East's Death Wish—and Ours, by David Gushee, professor at Union University.

Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon, by Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut.

We Risk Not Just Suffering, But Annihilation, again by David Gushee, is a conciliatory reply.

Who Is My Neighbor' in the Lebanon-Israel Conflict?by Accad, is hisconciliatory reply.

I am happy because the knee-jerk mockery of suffering that has characterized too much of the church was aired. Like Accad, I too "... have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church's heart that I had thought dead." Gushee had written a piece that didn't do anything to challenge American indifference to the suffering caused at our hands, and mainly encouraged us to fear Iran. Accad's rebuttal and admonition states:
"Gushee wrote, '... Israel responds with massive (sometimes disproportionate) force; civilians get killed accidentally along with intended militants.'
'Sometimes disproportionate'?! Talk about an understatement to describe a one-week—and still going—machine of annihilation that has destroyed in days what had taken 15 years of reconstruction. Civilians "killed accidentally"?! Explain that to the young mother squatting right now at my parents' home in Lebanon, having just heard her husband was torn into pieces by an Israeli bomb as he was carrying out civil relief in villages of South Lebanon! But of course these civilians were at fault, since they had been warned by Israeli flyers to evacuate their villages the previous night. But to go where? To my father's living room?! They are welcome, but it's getting really full.
I believe it's healthy for the church when Christians can challenge and "stir one another up to love and good works," when the ugly stuff can be brought out of the closet and laid on the table. I'm delighted that by the end of the exchange, there is a change of heart. That the two can each clarify their own positions so that they don't seem so quite far off, and call each other "brother in Christ," makes me happy. I believe it is exactly what Ephesians is talking about above. Praise be to God!

I would hereby strongly encourage folks to make pray for the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, where Accad teaches. Their website offers pointers to helping refugees through the Middle East Bible Outreach, which has a donations page with Paypal links. I am going to send a little bit of money. I would encourage you to do so as well.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Criminalization of the Good Samaritan: Lutherans chime in on immigration

I received the July-August 2006 newsletter, "Sharing", of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod's "World Relief and Human Care" agency. The LC-MS'ers are by the way the more conservative of the two main bodies of Lutheranism in the U.S.

The newsletter contains the "Executive Director Notes" where the guy talks about immigration. Rev. Matthew Harrison says:
"Christians equally committed to God's Word may reasonably arrive at different conclusions on specific aspects of these issuse and their resolution. However, this much is certain: God, in His Word, consistently shows His loving concern for the 'stranger in our midst and directs His people to do the same...
Meanwhile, in order to fulfill our Christian obligation, we also request that the charitable act of providing assistance to undocumented aliens not otherwise engaged in illegal activity not be criminalized ipso facto. We pray that appropriate solutions may be found, so that our assistance to those in need can also include helping persons become legal residents and citiznes of this land of freedom and opportunity in which God has so richly blessed us."
I previously showed here how the lobbying arm of the National Association of Evangelicals took a similar stance. The question remains, therefore, as to which church bodies are in favor of the ipso facto criminalization. And how can we witness to these mistaken brothers and sisters, and how can we reduce their influence on the Republican Party.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Amnesty International is encouraging folks to put onto their websites excerpts of material banished by repressive governments around the world. Anyway, you can always learn more yourself directly from A.I. here:

A review of live CD linux distros on a 451 MHz Pentium II PC

Do you have an old clunker computer? I have heard that Microsoft may be making available a special version of its operating system available to those who bought some kind of protection plan from them, one designed to work well on older computers. I say why not try a live linux CD for free? You can also try live CD's with little risk to your underlying windows installation.

This round of testing was done on my father-in-law's computer, an Aptiva with a 451 MHz Pentium II processor and 254772 MB of memory. The computer was plugged into a DSL internet connection that had been shown to work in Windows before, during and after this round of testing. The main criteria were the following:
  1. Does it boot?
  2. Does it connect to the internet using the existing DSL wiring, with no intervention other than loading a browser app?
  3. Can I ever get to the underlying files on the hard disk of the computer?
  4. Will it read a USB stick, a SanDisk Cruzer Micro 256 MB device that was left plugged into a USB port during the entire set of testing?
  5. Does it exit or shutdown gracefully?
  6. Are there any other applications of note on this CD?

Belenix 0.4.4 (strictly speaking, an Open Solaris distro)

  1. During boot up, got stuck in an endless loop of "Init (IM) exited on fatal signal 9: restarting automatically"

DSL-N 0.01 RC2 (Damn Small Linux- Not!)

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after using EFELM to mount the device
  4. Read files from the USB stick, after using EFELM to mount the device.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Not many apps, but that's this distro's aim: to be small.

DSL 3.0 RC1 (Damn Small Linux)

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after using EFELM to mount the device
  4. Read files from the USB stick, after using EFELM to mount the device.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Not many apps, but that's this distro's aim: to be small.

Dyne 2.1

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD.
  4. Would not read files from the USB stick.
  5. Exited gracefully
  6. Has Blender, which did a successful render. Has GIMP.

Frenzy 1.0 (strictly speaking, a BSD distro

  1. Booted with the command of "startx".
  2. Internet never worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD using the MTOOLS FM app.
  4. Read files from the USB stick.
  5. Exited well with reboot command.
  6. Not many apps for the graphics afficiando.

Kanotix 2006-Easter-RC4

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after as su, using mount /dev/hda1 command.
  4. Read files from the USB stick, after my mount command for the HDD.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Has GIMP.

Knoppix 4.0 DVD-EN

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after as su, using mount /dev/hda1 command.
  4. Read files from the USB stick, after my mount command for the HDD.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Has GIMP and Blender-- blender renders well.

Mediainlinux 4 RC5

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after as su, using mount /dev/hda1 command.
  4. Read files from the USB stick, after my mount command for the HDD.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Has GIMP, povray, and Blender-- blender renders well.

MPentoo -2006

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after using mount command.
  4. Read files from the USB stick.
  5. Exited well.
  6. Not many apps for the graphics afficiando.

OpenLab 4.1 alpha release

  1. During boot up, got stuck with error message of "Graphics configuration has failed. Either you have no supported graphics or no mode selected."

RR4 Linux 3.0 RC1

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, even using mount commands
  4. Read files from the USB stick.
  5. Did not exit gracefully-- went back into a reboot of itself.
  6. Has Google Earth, which never launched. Has Blender, which never launched. Also noted that this one went quite slow on this computer.

RR4 Linux 3.0 RC1 mini

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Couldn't read files from the HDD, even using mount commands
  4. Read files from the USB stick
  5. Did not exit gracefully-- went back into a reboot of itself.
  6. Has Google Earth, which never launched.

Simply MEPIS 6.0-rc3

  1. Booted with one row of icons half-off the screen.
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD, after as su, using mount /dev/hda1 command.
  4. Read files from the USB stick.
  5. Exited well with reboot command.
  6. Has Xara LX

Slax - Kill Bill 5.1.6

  1. Boots!
  2. Internet worked.
  3. Read files from the HDD.
  4. Read files from the USB stick.
  5. Exited well with reboot command.
  6. Not many apps for the graphics afficiando.


The winners of this test can be broken down into four categories:
  • The Unexcusably Boring

    MPentoo and Slax do acceptably well on this older computer, I just found the lackluster application list to be quite boring
  • The Excusably Boring

    The products of the damnsmallinux group are lacking in apps, but you gotta forgive them-- they're making a distro with 80 MB or less!
  • The Technically Astute

    Kanotix 2006-Easter-RC4 impresses me as perhaps one of the better distros for a rescue situation, and it does have GIMP!
  • The Graphics Sweeties

  • Knoppix and Mediainlinux do exceptionally well at all these tasks, and come with enough software, including graphics apps, to choke a horse. These are officially the winners here today. Mediainlinux even comes with povray (albeit completely lacking scene files). Mediainlinux gives one almost enough reason to start liking Gnome :) .

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Well I sure aint' no Dane...

... 'cept by blood, and that's only 1/64th part.

The organization Pantelope: T-shirts for Modern Mammals is selling a T-shirt with the slogan "We're All Danes Now." Their inside story for the T-shirt says:
"The Inside Story

It's about so much more than free speech. Anyone who tells you different probably needs their meds adjusted.

Sometimes The Pantelope takes on serious issues, such as the recent Danish cartoon controversy. Well folks - we're all Danes now, whether we like it or not. Clashing cultural dynamics affect those with their heads tucked snugly in the sand, the same as those who keep a watchful eye out and stay involved. The former just won't realize the consequences until the ship has sailed...

Seventeen languages in red, white and black express our global solidarity. You gotta hand it to those Danes, they've been at this freedom thing for quite awhile. King Christian X made a stand in 1940's Copenhagen - his shadow stretches across the years. Citizens snubbed the cult of the Fuhrer as they fought to maintain freedom for all. The Pantelope is proud to commend their fine example - you're invited to do likewise. "
This is of course in response to the Muslim outrage at a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper that made fun of Mohammed. If I remember correctly, the publisher at the time said he undertook the effort in order to show how Islam wasn't compatible with modern civilization. I say that it just as easily shows that the jingoistic conservatism of the paper isn't compatible with modern civilization.

First of all, I see this kind of propaganda from atheists all the time: pointing to the brutality and stupidity of fringe movements in Christianity as evidence of what the faith is ultimately about, rather than judging the faith on its constituitive documents. Likewise, after 9/11, William F. Buckley, George W. Bush, and Chuck Colson took pains to point out that the hijackers represented heretical strains of Islam. Were they incorrect?

Do you think it's really all that hard to find a religious or political group in the US for which you could incite them into blood-spilling over cartoons? Political cartoonists in the US have received death threats for principled exposition of their principles. To set out to do so says more about your own bloodlust than it does the nuts and rednecks you do incite. It's like yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater to make a point about inadequate fire exits in the facility.

Have you ever been do a dinner party where there was one guy who you felt was emotionally unstable, someone whose buttons you knew how to push? If you were to antagonize him to the point of there being a fistfight, then surely the guests would hate the unstable man all the more. They'd probably hate you too for making your point, even if they became all the more convinced that the nut was a nut.

Indeed, there is an even more controversial thing that one in the face of those who rioted over the cartoon: "Jesus is Lord." Folks are martyred for this every day. Let this be our witness. That's another thing that bugs me about the cartoons, in that it is tacitly viewed as some kind of advancement of the Christian faith. Can you imagine this being suggested as a form of evangelism:
  1. Set down a bunch of your Muslim friends in the room.
  2. Show the Mohammed cartoons to half of them and make disparaging comments about their faith.
  3. When a fight breaks out, discuss it with the other half: doesn't this show the superiority of the Christian faith?
Such Christians who evangelized one-on-one in this manner would be excommunicated immediately! Isn't it all the more counterproductive to effective evangelism to allow this kind of bombast-from-afar to be tied to the Church?

That's where I specifically differ from the sentiment, "We're all Danes now." Count me out. Oh, and by the way, "Jesus is Lord!"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

God's Plan B to Change the World

I got this email from a person running an evangelical missionary team. (Apologies if I've violated any courtesies or copyright laws by pasting it here.) We were discussing the turmoil in the world today.
"The amazing things though is that our people say that the crazier things get the more people realize that this world's system does not have answers to the world's problems and that the only answer is becoming a part of the kingdom of God."
I have a number of responses:
  1. On one hand, God once said to the apostle Paul, and may possibly say to some of us in our physical suffering, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
  2. I remember Bonhoeffer saying in Cost of Discipleship that for the AntiChrist, all spiritual concerns are reduced to temporal ones such that "everything is political." That is, authentic Christianity invariably has a component of being fixed on the hereafter.
  3. A consequence of the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin is that there won't ever be an end to poverty or injustice or war until Christ comes again.
  4. There is great wisdom in the Lutheran concepts of Right and Left Kingdoms, in that the church has the job to speak on spiritual matters and the state to keep temporal order. Indeed, article 28 of the Augsburg Confession states:
    "Therefore the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of the Church has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another; Let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it not abrogate the laws of civil rulers."
  5. On the other hand, my guess is that for every one nontheist who gets saved because they see the world's mess from the crises at hand, there are four nontheists who will completely reject the Church because they see it indifferent or complicit with the suffering, and it's very easy to make the case for that this week of all weeks.
  6. Exodus 3:7:
    "The LORD said, 'I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.'
    Let's not invent an imaginary God that isn't deeply saddened by suffering.
  7. While the church has no standing to tell the state how to keep order, it has the Office of the Keys, which are about sin. It is about informing folks of the spiritual consequences of things, and the Spiritual Remedy-- the Cross-- that has been made available to us.
  8. Martin Luther wrote at length about the spiritual consequences of current events in his day. He wrote "An Admonition to Peace" and "Whether Soldiers, Too, May be Saved." These are gravely serious documents as he calls out specific actions in wartime as being a work of the devil, or an offense that sends one to Hell if one dies committing the act. Luther here I do not believe is "abrogating the laws of civil rulers" but preaching the gospel. Law and gospel. Pointing folks to the Cross by pointing out the fallenness of humankind.
  9. What about Wilbeforce's preaching on slavery or ML King's preaching on racism? Are they errants or champions of the faith, now?
  10. How does one make any sense of this idea of "Gospel" and "being saved from sins" if the things that deeply offend the heart are no big whoop to God-- they surely get no press time from the Church? This I think is the biggest anti-apologetic for Christianity. Luther said, "By making our sins small, we make Christ small."
  11. The Christian view of Atonement is a sure path to temporal peace in my view. We could say to folks,
    "Yes your enemy has done gravely abominable things that offend the Lord. Leave temporal vengeance up to the Lord and accept that through Christ's work on the cross, God's wrath is truly spent, but on Christ Himself. Both for your enemies' misdeeds and those of your own, which are innumerable."
Pray for us.

The Midwest versus email

ITEM: I recently sent an email, a reply, to a Famous Person in Linux who resides in Europe. The note was rejected by the recipient's server as having come from "a spam domain", i.e., gmail. (Okay, Europe is not the Midwest, but I'm building a pattern here.)

ITEM: My uncle lives in a small town in Minnesota-- the kind where everyone is on dial-up provided by the good ol' boy down the road. It's the kind of town where the computer supplies store looks like it could easily be confused for a very small life insurance company or very small real estate company, except for the two stacks of blank CD-R's for sale on the window sill. Earlier in the year, there had been a family crisis going on, and he was sending out emails to the extended family, including to myself at an old, defunct address. Reason: he never got my notes from gmail last year in which I informed him of the new address. While visiting him this spring, I tested out gmail and sent him several emails. They never arrived to his account.

ITEM: I was setting up a project where I was giving away a tribble of money to seminarian students in my denomination. I wrote emails on two different occasions, a year apart, to every seminary professor in my denomination-- perhaps 80 of them, broken up into batches of 20. I never got any replies. Now perhaps my project was too unclearly or inflammatorily stated, or interfered with their own plans for teaching, but I'm wondering if it's some kind of midwestern cluelessness about gmail.

I'm wondering if there is an attitude among the less net-savvy that folks should be using a "valid" email server instead of something like gmail. I'm guessing that more net-savvy folks may be using services like yahoo mail and gmail in order to avoid using their work email for personal business. I also remember hearing in the 1990's, during the heyday of dial-up services like AOL, that "the internet" hadn't caught on nearly as well in the Midwest because of its being sandwiched in time zones. East-coasters would have a few hours of use with relatively low competition for bandwidth in the early evening, as would West-coasters in late evening. But Midwesterners had it bad all evening long. Maybe all this is a legacy of this pattern from the old dial-up days.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Incisive Quote of the Day

Seen in a reader response to " Deadly Hezbollah attack on Haifa"
"What is happening in the Mid-East is proof that trust in the West will never help Muslims."
How far does one have to leap to say that equal numbers will also say The Christian Church is of no help to them as well? If we see gross violations against human dignity, violations of Just War principles of noncombatant immunity and proportionality, and the West, particularly that segment of the West which wears its faith on its sleeve, cannot seem to find fault?

Pray that all the victims all around in this mess can see the difference between our hateful inaction and the actual faith revealed in The Word and as The Word.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Two widely differing views of values for service personnel.

Suppose for a moment that you were taking your family to a crowded street fair where there turned out to be a violently angry drunk. Suppose cops were dispatched to deal with the threat.

Keeping in mind that your children are in the midst, what kind of instructions would you want the chief of police to give the cops? How about, "Rule Number One is for you [the cop] to come home alive." Or, how about, "The last thing we want to do is create a situation where you have to fear that every time you pull the trigger, there is going to be a review"? Regardless of what the cops on the ground did, you'd probably be incensed if those were the instructions.

No, you'd probably hope that the cop were told to put the protection of innocent civilian life as a higher priority than his or her own safety. Indeed, if a cop were to be mortally injured while defending kids, I cannot imagine a leftist who wouldn't shed a tear. It's probably the case where John 15:13 most directly applies:
" Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Such a value system of selfless protection of the community seems to be espoused in this "Army Values Card" which someone had posted to their flickr photostream. The gentleman who did so was even honest enough to say he couldn't see himself living up to half these values. How many of us sitting in comfortable suburbia can say we do. The road of valor is a tough and narrow one.

Army Values Card, originally uploaded by jasoneppink.

Contrast this value system with that espoused by an Army legal person specifically in response to accusations of Army personnel killing civilians. In an NPR story, Anatomy of a Shooting: A Civilian's Death in Iraq Maj. John Dunlap, the chief law officer for the 256th Army Division, is quoted:
"Soldiers were called upon to make decisions on a daily basis in snap seconds," Dunlap said. "And we did not want to create an environment where soldiers thought they were going to be second-guessed and prosecuted for making decisions that would save their life. Rule number one is to come home alive."
If this were a police chief talking about cops patrolling our neighborhoods, even where they occasionally get into gunfights with bad guys, we'd be incensed, BECAUSE WE ALL PLACE A VALUE ON THE LIVES OF THE CHILDREN AROUND US.

If however, we do not place such a high value on the lives of the locals around our soldiers, if we just want to get them home, then it's a more tolerable philosophy.

But it's a deadly philosophy. It endangers the lives of the next Army service personnel to walk by, because you've ticked off the locals. It endangers the lives of civilians in the US, as it makes terrorist recruitment all the easier to do. Maybe we should't cut and run but continuing to run this war with a redneck value system is endangering us all, and helping the Iraqis none. It is a philosophy which revokes the sentiments of John 15:13.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I now see that we can nothing do: family values vs. social justice

—Which is God more concerned about, money or sex?

I often meet two types of Christians: those who are activists interested in preaching against violations of that part of God's Law typically known as "family values" and those who are the same but for "social justice". Too often one who is a proponent of one kind of activism is either lackluster in the other, or in some cases a sardonic critic of the other even being of any concern to the church. It makes for a laughable situation where one holds to two completely incompatible doctrines of sin, the two varying by how much the person is personally ticked off by the offense.

When I've seen people give justifications for their silence on whichever front is of not interest to them. They typically bring up inability of humans to save themselves, our powerlessness under the law, the futility of human effort, or even that law preaching isn't to get into meddling in specific violations-- which they call "legalism". But for the sin that upsets them, it gets elevated to a reason for denominational schisms.

In chimes Luther. In his debate with Erasmus in Bondage of the Will, Luther tears apart Erasmus' view of the law as being something we are able to follow:
[Erasmus had said,]"It would be ridiculous to say to a man standing in a place where two ways met, Thou seest two roads, go by which thou wilt, when one only was open."—
[Luther rebuts:] This, as I have before observed, is from the arguments of human reason, which thinks, that a man is mocked by a command impossible: whereas I say, that the man, by this means, is admonished and roused to see his own impotency. True it is, that we are in a place where two ways meet, and that one of them only is open, yea rather neither of them is open. But by the law it is shewn how impossible the one is, that is, to good, unless God freely give His Spirit; and how wide and easy the other is, if God leave us to ourselves. Therefore, it would not be said ridiculously, but with a necessary seriousness, to the man thus standing in a place where two ways meet, 'go by which thou wilt,' if he, being in reality impotent, wished to seem to himself strong, or contended that neither way was hedged up.
... The whole that the law does, according to the testimony of Paul, is to make known sin.
And this is the place, where I take occasion to enforce this my general reply:— that man, by the words of the law, is admonished and taught what he ought to do, not what he can do: that is, that he is brought to know his sin, but not to believe that he has any strength in himself. Wherefore, friend Erasmus, as often as you throw in my teeth the Words of the law, so often I throw in yours that of Paul, "By the law is the knowledge of sin,"—not of the power of the will. Heap together, therefore, out of the large Concordances all the imperative words into one chaos, provided that, they be not words of the promise but of the requirement of the law only, and I will immediately declare, that by them is always shewn what men ought to do, not what they can do, or do do And even common grammarians and every little school-boy in the street knows, that by verbs of the imperative mood, nothing else is signified than that which ought to be done, and that, what is done or can be done, is expressed by verbs of the indicative mood.[emphasis added]
Ought to do, not can do. Can not do, but ought to do. Notice that Luther does not say, "cannot do and therefore you ought bloody well shut up about the whole nonsense." Perhaps it offends human reason even more that preachers be in a situation of preaching on that which cannot be done.

Granted, too many activists let their chariots get stuck in the mud of mere legislative advocacy. Or they get burned out too easily, or make unreasonable demands on the world and themselves. In all these cases, a little doctrine of impotency would be a balm to the soul.

From this doctrine of man's impotence, however, I cannot see how sarcasm in the face of another's biblically principled concern is ever justified. Neither is the doctrine of man's impotence in any way an excuse for silence or indifference to preaching / activism. Woulnd't it be nice if we could to find a way to say to our non-allies, to those who picked the wrong virtue to espouse,
"Yes, I am a sinner, and I specifically have offended God by thought, word, and deed in the manner in which you say. I do feel a calling to witness and serve in other ways, which is reasonably to be expected given that there are many fruits and gifts of the Spirit."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Klaus Knopper

Klaus Knopper, originally uploaded by glueckauf.

As a fan of the operating system Knoppix, I thought it was cool to see this portrait of its creator.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Working on a stormtrooper-type villian's henchman

Reversing the Works of Mercy.

Bethlehem Bloggers published this commentary by Frubious Bandersnatch on the recent Israeli actions against Gaza:
It is doubtless true that terrorists, as human beings, are ultimately sustained by water, food and heat. Also, by Israeli definition, Gaza is a 'haven for terrorists'. Thus by denying water, food and heat to large sections of the Gazan population, Israel will almost certainly harm some terrorists. However, such a strategy could only really be effective in eradicating terrorism if the entire population of Gaza were annihilated along with the terrorists. In short: by genocide and ethnic cleansing. The absolute immorality of such a solution should be clear to the meanest intelligence. And yet, let us be clear, this is the strategy that Israel is currently pursuing.
I have been watching with interest the discussion in my denomination, the ELCA, among those interested in preserving biblical authority and retaining traditional sexual ethics-- two unqualified goods in my viewpoint. I've seen some discussion of the letter by the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA on the Gaza crisis to President Bush:
Mr. President, we write out of the deepest concern for the ever deteriorating situation in Gaza. We condemn the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and pray for his safe return. We recognize the grief this brings to all Israelis but we cannot accept the response which punishes all Palestinians in Gaza.

While it is helpful that President Mubarak and the Group of Eight foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are addressing the issue, the United States must use its long friendship with Israel to find a diplomatic solution which will not further impoverish and burden ordinary Palestinians. The loss of electricity alone affects all and only further escalates the mounting humanitarian crisis. Our churches and institutions there are filled with anguish as they try to meet the needs of Palestinians-- whether Christian or Muslim.

We have long applauded your vision and ours of a two-state solution and your Road Map for Peace. We continue to work with our Christian and Jewish colleagues to gain citizen support for this initiative but have been saddened that more progress has not been made toward its realization. If the present situation is allowed to continue unchecked, it could end the tenuous hope that remains for a solution that brings peace to Israelis and Palestinians.

You, and your administration, are always in our prayers as you seek a way forward in these difficult times.
The conservatives are upset. They don't like that he is advising on a matter of foreign policy, saying that he sounds like a Democrat, that he has discredited himself with the political constituency of the denomination which has opposing views. My God, do we really have a sizable constituency in favor of bulldozing children??

We must not forget that the office of Bishop or Pastor is not that of political lobbyist. There is in Lutheranism a doctrine of separation of Kingdoms-- effectively of Church and State. I do not view this as meaning that the State can do whatever it wants but rather that the church does not get involved in specifying or moting out punishments. The State has a duty of preserving temporal order and the Church has a duty which includes the Office of the Keys-- informing folks of God's wrath and God's love.

A good God by definition cannot fail to burn with wrath over such a crisis as is happening in Gaza. It takes but the meanest intelligence, to quote to article above, to see the immorality of the situation. I would bet that many nontheists who are exasperated with the Christian concepts of sin and wrath could make an exception to their exasperation in this one case. That the American church too often separates man's inhumanity to man from its doctrine of sin only turns thinking and feeling folks away from its doors.

Sometimes I think these things go in cycles. The mainline denominations take a moral stand on a controversial issue, like apartheid or pollution. Their conservative critics gripe at the mainline bureaucrats for having talked about the topic at all. Then after a while, a few noted Republicans or a pope or two join the chorus. Suddenly the paradigm shifts and we're told, of course everyone's always been against the humanitarian crisis, there was just principled disagreements of how to go about rectifying it that caused some to reflect before acting.

The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA tells us that "Our churches and institutions there are filled with anguish as they try to meet the needs of Palestinians-- whether Christian or Muslim." If this really were a time of detached reflection and not one of mourning, not one of tearing our clothes, then it is logical that it is a time of severe admonishment to the churches on the ground there. They tear their clothes and ask the American church for help, getting only a few of us riled up. If they keep making mountains out of these molehills, either they need to cut us off or we cut them off.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Nominal and Childish Sins?

The NY Daily News
quoted an excerpt from the upcoming autobiography of Stephen Baldwin, an actor who has made known his conversion to Christianity:
Baldwin has some advice for Bono: Shut up and sing. "You would do far more good if you preached the gospel of Jesus, rather than trying to get Third World debt relief," he wrote. "God will take care of that Third World country. Get back to your calling, Bono."
A number of reactions:
  1. In the past eight years, I have been to quite a few Christian rock concerts by groups whose lyrics contain a more overtly Christian evangelistic content than does U2. One notable example is the group "Jars of Clay". I remember them gushing at length about African AIDS charity work, notably the organization Blood:Water Mission. Is it possible that God is taking care of that Third World country through the exhortation of Christians like those in Jars of Clay?
  2. What Gospel? One that saves us from what? "Nominal and childish sins"? Or the sins of "greed, trickery, and exploitation", grinding the face of the poor, neglect and indifference? Martin Luther King, speaking on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man [Dives], said, "Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war on poverty." I believe that King is not merely delving into politics but King is echoing a refrain in the witness of the Church historic: your treatment of your neighbor affects your relationship with God. Once you've got a grasp of this relationship being broken, the Gospel makes a little bit more sense.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Two Kingdoms, Three Consequences.

When I first got interested in man's inhumanity to man as a theological issue, a vicar in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod gave me a warning. He said that due to the Two Kingdoms doctrine, Christians ought not worry about such things, they are to be left up to the state. I say he's got it wrong. Too often I heard conservative critics of the mainline denominations make similar indictments of the press releases made by denominational bureacracies. Here is a treatise on the Two Kindgoms doctrine as it relates to this controversy:

If you beat your spouse or shoplift from a store, there are three consequences. Three 'accounts' you'll eventually have to settle or deal with:

i) NATURAL LAW: the relationship with store owner or spouse is likely to change, perhaps counterproductively to your aims when you undertook the act.
ii) GOD'S LAW: the wages of sin is death. (spiritual, eternal)
iii) CRIMINAL LAW: the state does not bear the sword in vain (jail, fines, loss of other privileges, etc.)

All three happen, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we deny it or not. The pastor may need to go visit the wife-beater regardless of whether the state knows about it. The pastor's intent is not to salvage relationship with state but to salvage relationship with God. The pastor's mentioning of NATURAL LAW can be a part of the preaching of GOD's LAW. The pastor doesn't need to proscribe to the state penalties for spousal abuse.

Now the following are bad ways for a national church leader to act:
A) Spend all your time advising the state on exactly which penalties to exact. One of the points of the Augsburg Confession specifically says the Lutheran church is not to do this.
B) Spend all your time on the natural law without mentioning God's displeasure or even mentioning the Gospel.

Now the following are bad models for the conservative critics of the mainline bureaucrats to engage in:

A) Criticize the bureaucrats' statements as if there were no egregious violations of GOD's LAW behind the crises they write about.
B) Criticize the bureaucrats' statements as if there were a political constituency in the denomination in favor of bulldozing children and bombing power plants, a constituency one must not offend. Using Waltherian language, such folks perhaps first need to be preached into hell before they can hear the gospel.

Luther wrote about these things. He for example wrote that pre-emptive strikes in warfare are the work of the devil. He appears to have successfully gotten GOD's LAW *and* gospel into the dicussion of his current events. The mainline bureaucrats may fail to live up to the model of Luther. Their critics however too often sound as if the offense they take is really against their own "personal peace and affluence", that the bureaucrats woke them up from their quietism. This I say is the most effective evangelism for liberal protestantism & other New Age religions that there is--you send folks seeking after a new religion that makes sense of the law written on their heart.

Review of "The O'Franken Factor: The Very Best of the O'Franken Factor."

It needs an explicit lyrics warning. One story on this audio CD is about a man who has been laid off from his job and becomes economically desparate. So he becomes a male prostitute.

Al Franken could have found a whole bunch of other ways to bring the plight of the unemployed to our attention, complete with his style of incisive humour. I'd still vote for him as senator over any of the current Republican leadership. But Franken goes over the top with this sketch.

I am throwing this one into the garbage.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bee at Bard College Garden

Bee at Bard College Garden, originally uploaded by pterandon.

Finally figured out the "super macro" settings on my camera.
Look out flower gardens, here I come!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Minority of Silent Majority not like Moral Majority

I happened to run across a copy of A Christian Manfesto, written in 1981 by Francis A. Schaeffer. I have great respect for his work, and find much to agree with him, even though some have said that this book was influential in forming the Moral Majority. Maybe you could call this book a blueprint for the best possible hopes for what the Moral Majority could have come, if it were not to have violated Schaeffer's own advice: "We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country. To say it another way; 'We should not wrap Christianity in our national flag."

Anyway, I found this quote helpful in my own musings earlier in this blog about two kinds of pro-life-ism.
"In the Nixon era we heard a lot about the Silent Majority, but most people did not realize that there were two parts to that Silent Majority among the older people. There was the majority of the Silent Majority and there was the minority of the Silent Majority.
The majority of the Silent Majority were those who had two bankrupt values-- personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity-- a life made up of things and more things-- a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.
On the other hand, the minority of the Silent Majority were those who were standing on some kind of principle, and often with at least a memory of Christianity even if they were not individually Christians.
This sounds like the difference between Cheney and McCain Republicans today.

Personhood NOT vested at conception?

A few quotes from the "Excerpts From Opinions on the Use of Military Commissions to Try Detainess", New York Times, June 30, 2006.

Scalia wrote in his dissent:
"We should undertake to determine whether an unlawful combatant has been charged with an offense against the law of war with an understanding that the common law of war is flexible, responsive to the exigencies of the present conflict, and deferential to the judgement of the military commanders."
Emphasis added. Does anyone else shudder here? He makes reference to a "common law of war" which trumps the Geneva Conventions. This man seriously gives me doubts as to whether the pro-life position could be morally incorrect. Even as I have come closer to a moral position of "personhood vested at conception" on the abortion issue, the fact that men such as Scalia would be its such ardent supporters causes me to take serious pause. Not that the Democratic party is correct on abortion, but that a moral necessity is first to be virulenty against a certain sector of Republicanism. Maybe somewhere out there there is a "bloody evil, misanthropic pro-life position," and a "God-fearing, non-neighbor-hating, pro-life position."

Meanwhile, Justice Paul Stevens writes for the majority:
"We need not decide the merits of this argument because there is at least one provision of the Geneva Conventions that applies here even if the relevant conflict is not one between signatories. Article 3... provides that in a "conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the high contracting parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, 'certain provisions protecting' [p]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by... detention.' ONe such provision prohibits 'the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.'"

Emphasis added. The question is to what extent the present form of the Christian church on earth has numbed folks against the law written on the heart, common decency, yea even the values of the Declaration of Independence, such that when a group of them gather you might need to fear the value positions they espouse. They that might excuse horrors that offend values recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Don't get me wrong. I still believe that some kind of Eternal One Out There speaks truthfully through the bible, not only in bible as Word and as Cradle of Christ but also in bible as papyrus-- the actual literal words on paper handed down to us. I believe that the Book of Concord and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church are to be found in the list of correct descriptions of the theology in that Bible. If however you are to recommend the opinions of a professor, the Boy Scout troop led by a particular man, or even some guys' lawn services on the basis of any one of them being Christian, I am first and foremeost dubious, given the climate we are in.