Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Crying over movie trailers.

Coming to terms with a silly emotional reaction

I cried about a movie trailer today. This is because I am a nerd. I always have been, but for a long time, I didn't want to be. Now, I am okay with it.

I suppose it was around 2009 when I was really contemplating life due to a job loss that I realized that I wasn't really an academic. My academic credentials, positions, and publications were just a side effect of something that was true of me at a core level.

I am a geek, a dweeb, and a nerd.

I am a computer building, D&D playing, fantasy book reading, bad poetry scribbling, html coding, weirdo.

I'm not a hacker or programmer, but I know when movies consulted with real hackers. And I can write html, a little Java, a little Python. I can definately read your code and tell what you're trying to do. If it's not working though, I can't always tell you why. One time a real programmer and hacker told me I was a "power user." I liked that term. I've built computers and rebuilt broken ones. It's fun.

I'm not a scientist. I am sooo not a scientist. How many times did I take zoology in college before just deciding that I could live with a "D" because "A's" in other subjects made up for it? I am thinking at least four times. On the other hand, one of those "A's" was in physics, but whatever. I am no scientist, but I love the pop science articles. I can easily get caught up in an Ars Technica article about string theory.

I also love pseudo-science. I think most of it is bunk, but if you are a serious flat-earther, I will listen to you rant all day. I'll think you're nuts, but I'll listen. You might even think I agree. I won't, but I will be fascinated by how you think everything will work if the world were flat. Anti-vaxers, biorhythms, reiki healing, astral projection, chem-trails. I'll think you're nuts, but I will love to hear about it.

Partly, I love it because I love science fiction. This new Star Trek series, Discovery, I'm going to wait until it hits Netflix or Prime, but I've watched every episode of every Star Trek series so far and read a lot of the books. I wouldn't call myself a Trekkie or Trekker (but I know the difference), because that is too specialized a nerd. I am more of a general nerd. Besides I like Star Wars better, which disqualifies me immediately from being a Trekkie or Trekker.

The reason I like Star Wars better is because of the Force. The Force is magic. Oh, it's got this whole philosophical Platonic Buddhist thing going on, but no one really gets it. Every magical system in every fantasy universe has some kind of philosophy behind it. I think that's part of why I love fantasy. I like it better than science fiction. I almost feel like science fiction is fantasy cheats because in most science fiction if you ask "why does magic work in your world?" the answer is "it's not magic, it's science, just science that we don't understand yet." There''s no question as to why it would work in an ontological sense, the way there has to be in good fantasy.

Of course, it wasn't really magic that got me into fantasy. It was dragons. Oh, my, goodness, I love dragons. Why? Because. They. Breathe. Fire. Not all of them do, of course. In the D&D worlds including Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms dragons can breathe all kinds of things: ice, sleeping gas, lightening, acid, etc. But even there, by far the most powerful dragon breathes fire. If you don't get why that is amazing, I just can't explain it to you.

As a junior higher, especially, my notebook was filled with pages and pages and pages of attempts to draw dragons. There were also a lot of attempts at elves, especially elf girls/women. The main reason for this is that elves are beautiful. That's the whole point of them really. Women are also beautiful. They're kind of magic too. They don't breath fire, but they make babies which is even weirder if you think about it. What's more, men's part in that process is kind of interesting too. So, I'd try to draw them. I am not a very good artist, especially in the visual arts. Still, I draw all the time. I still try for dragons and elf-chicks, but mostly I do weird patterns, kind of like zen-tangles, or mandalas or something.

I like to think I'm better at written arts. I write bad blogs, like this one, academic articles in rhetoric and media ecology, poems (meter and rhyme, mostly and mostly sonnets), and science fiction and fantasy stories. The only things I've really had published were the academic works. I get paid to do that. Not directly, it's just part of my job to do it, so I do. Still, I love to write. I love to play with ideas in a way that you can't play with them any other way. I love to explore my own mind. Nerds are kind of narcissistic sometimes. I am most narcissistic in my writing. I love to sit and read what I've written.

I'm not saying it's good. Maybe it just feels magic to me. Dragons breathe fire. Women make babies. I make words. It is my best super power.

And I find super powers fascinating. I was the generation that Marvel tried to bring back with their Secret Wars series that was coupled with a toy line through Mattel and other various pre-teen marketed tie-ins in the 1980's. It worked. Most people grew out of it. I did. I stopped reading comics in high-school and don''t think I read one in college. When I got to grad-school, however, and especially in the PhD. program, however, so much of the reading was so heavy and my program had a lot of critical theory in it, which I find depressing. Somehow, I found my way back to comic books then, especially what are called "trades" which are graphic novels created from putting a bunch of comic books together.

Sometimes, you just need to see the bad guys get their faces smashed in. Especially when you're hip-deep in Derrida and Foucault and realizing you might be the bad guy, you''ve got to kill it. It actually makes a lot of sense if you look at the rhetorical concept of catharsis, especially the way Kenneth Burke theorizes it, but Aristotle too. The idea is that you need to identify with the evil inside you and see it smashed. Comics fulfill that need for me.

So do video games which I also picked back up in grad school after a near-decade hiatus.What happened was my little brothers were playing Final Fantasy 10 (FFX) one Christmas when  I came home. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. It was also magical and technological and all these other things I love. Last time I really looked at video games, it had been Super Mario Brothers, which was cool, but not like this. I took out extra on my student loans when I got home (to school) and bought a PS2 and FFX. I still mostly play PS2 games. There is too much downloadable content in more recent games. It makes them frustrating to me. I want the whole game when I buy a game.

All of this is just to say, I'm a nerd. Among my other nerdy characteristics is that I have really developed a love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It brings a lot of my loves together. The comic universe is huge, and I really can't keep track of it all. The MCU, however has 17 movies and a dozen TV shows. I love it.

Today I saw the trailer for the new Avengers movie in the MCU. At the end of the trailer, I cried. It's not the first time I cried for a trailer. Star Wars trailers have done it to me too. I'll post the trailer here.

Now, I'll admit, the holidays are all around me. The end of the semester is hard on professors, emotionally. I've been having weird complicated dreams that I think have spiritual aspects that I am not up for. Our church is experiencing massive growth and change, which is good, but destabilizing. I probably just needed to cry and the trailer gave me cause.

Monday, October 30, 2017

I am done with the "real world."

Coming to terms with the real world

"Because that's what adults do" or "because that's the way the real world is" are stupid arguments for doing things. 

I will no longer be swayed by them. I will no longer choose how to behave, what to teach, how to raise my daughter, or how to express my spirituality because of them.

They are the equivalent of "because I said so." I am going to a class on Tuesday nights offered by headstart called "Father Power." It is good.  One of the things the facilitator has taught us is that saying "because I said so" is the ultimate in verbal and psychological abuse. It suppresses the human being emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, ethically, and creatively. "Because that's how the real world is" does the same.

Good things don't happen in "real life," but they happen to me. 

Every truly great decision I have made and every good thing that has happened to me has been in defiance of "reality" or at least the "real world" to which people are constantly referring. Packing stuff into a car and travelling a thousand miles to a place where I had no family or friends for graduate school was good. I had no money to move to where I am now, so "in reality" I shouldn't have taken the job site unseen on a temporary basis, but I did. So, a person I kinda knew packed everything in a horse trailer and moved me here. My temporary position became permanent. That doesn't happen in "real life." My wife couldn't get pregnant. One ovary was gone the other had a 6cm cyst blocking it. Now I have a 4 year old girl. Forget the "real world."

I've written poems, played D&D, danced and sang before the throne room of the Lord God Almighty, swam in lakes, built fires in the back yard, watched superheros crash into buildings, written books about things I was thinking about, thrown rocks into a puddle, caught fish just to throw them back in the water, and shared peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with a loving dog. I've told stories, ridden horses to which I am allergic, fired hundreds of shotgun shells at little clay plates, watched the sunset from the Eiffel tower, sat down to wait for Old Faithful to erupt again, had sex, drunk whiskey, read the Bible, hugged a gangster, developed a reading knowledge of a dead language, and bought a guinea pig.

These things have all been varying degrees of "real" but none of them was done because that's what you have to do in "real life." In fact, all of them were done to a greater or lesser extent in defiance of what you have to do in "real life." They were done in rebellion against "what adults do." They made me happy and are, I would say, all good, moral things to have done.

The "real world" makes you do bad things

I could create an equal list of things that I have done because "that's what you have to do in real life," or "that's what adults do." I won't, but I could. I started to, but deleted it. The things on that list range from the dreadful, to the banal, to the downright evil. I've done them because while I might have ideals, I had to face "reality."  

Do you think Manafort is being indited today for ignoring the "reality" in which he found himself? No, he did what you have to do in real life. Do you think that a little boy in the SS thought he wanted to grow up and gas Jews? No, he was responding to the reality in which he found himself and doing what he had to do in the "real world" because he was an "adult." All of the most horrible things I have done have been because I was "facing facts" and "doing what I had to do." 

The "real world" that "adults" live in isn't even real

My intellectual life for the past four years has been increasingly influenced by media ecology. Media ecology is all about how media and thought patterns interact and exist. What I have learned is that the "real world" that "adults" inhabit isn't even real. It's constructed by our interactions with various communication and can certainly be constructed another way through different interactions. Worse than that, however, it is manufactured through various interactions that actually make us think that we consented to various things that we never would have wanted or needed or desired if the world were "real." Well, guess what, you no longer have my consent, "real world."

As a Christian, we aren't even supposed to be like the "real world."

We are supposed to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). Jesus prayed about us saying, "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). This world is one in which the Devil is prince (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), not someone we want to be like.

Instead of "acting like adults" and facing "the real world," we are to come as a "little child." Sunday we were visited by our district Pastor from the denomination. He challenged us to have "God sized dreams." You can't have those while focusing on the "real world."

There are good reasons to do things.

This doesn't mean I am going to stop paying my bills. To use electricity or water without paying for it is stealing and stealing is wrong. Exercise and healthy eating make our bodies better and are sometimes fun. The work I do is important and I am pretty uniquely equipped to do it, so I'm going to go to work.

There are good reasons to do things. Do them because they are beautiful. Do them because they are good. Do them because they are good. Aristotle chides young people because "καὶ μᾶλλον αἱροῦνται πράττειν τὰ καλὰ τῶν συμφερόντων" [and they grasp more at the noble than the useful], however, using similar language Paul argues that "πάντα δὲ δοκιμάζετε, τὸ καλὸν κατέχετε" [hold on tight to that which is noble] (1 Thes. 5:21). Aristotle's argument for practicality seems to fall on deaf ears for Paul and with good reason. That reason is that the purely practical is not a good reason. Good reason is a good reason.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Coming to terms with the reality of a stronghold

What is a stronghold?

Admittedly, the concept of a "stronghold" is barely Biblical. The word usually translated "stronghold" in the New Testament, ὀχύρωμα, only occurs once in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 10:4.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (1 Cor 10:3-6 emphasis added).
It is possible to find thousands of blogs and websites devoted to the concept (including this one). Googling "demonic strongholds" returns almost a million hits and googling "spiritual strongholds" produces over one million hits. That's a lot of hits based on one word that only occurs once in the Bible and rarely (if ever) in other Greek documents of antiquity. Without more context than this, I could never really even be comfortable with the translation, not that there are any alternatives I know about.

So, because of the loose scriptural basis, I think it's probably not a good idea to hold too tightly to the concept of a stronghold. Like a lot of things, it is a useful concept as long as it is a useful concept and can easily become a stumbling block (another barely Biblical concept), when it stops being useful. So, lets not take it too far.

First off, it's a metaphor.

Demons or the Devil don't really build houses in our minds or bodies. That is silly. I am not even convinced that Demons or the Devil have corporeal forms under normal circumstances that could live in houses. Furthermore, while these strongholds might be really useful to the broad class of spiritual beings who wish our downfall, I'm not even sure that they are necessarily always involved in creating them, maintaining them, or inhabiting them even in a metaphorical sense. So, let's not get too hung up on the metaphor either.

Like I said, however, they are useful to them. I'm sure that if they can figure out how to make a stronghold in our lives, they will. They don't like us and these strongholds are bad. Still, people who deal a lot in deliverance will tell you that they can drive out a demon, but if the stronghold is still there, it doesn't always solve the problem.

And that's important because in a real, literal, stronghold, the stronghold is good or bad depending on who's living there. If the bad guys are there, it's bad. If the good guys are there, it's good. But strongholds here are bad no matter who's "living" there and, like I said, I don't think anyone has to be.

They are made out of "arguments" and "high things" that are not "captive."

The reason that they're so bad is that they're made out of bad things. One thing that they're made out of is arguments. Some translations say "imaginings" or "speculations" and I don't get that. The Greek word here is λογισμός, and while I don't always feel confident enough in my Greek to argue over translation with the professional, credentialed, translators of most of the translations, λογισμός is a word with which I am intimately familiar as a rhetorician. λογισμός is logical argument.

And arguments are not simple assertions. Arguments are complex things composed of premises (in deductive cases) and inferences (in inductive cases) and conclusions. It is that complexity that makes strongholds strong. These premises and inferences are often intimately tied to our ontological perceptions and our sense of being in the world. What is real? Who are we? What are people like? What is the nature and essence of various things? The answers to those questions come together as premises leading us to conclusions about the nature of other things, ultimately leading us to act in the world in a certain way.

Then when we see or hear that these actions are sins, it can be overwhelming. Perhaps we will try to change the behavior, but that is difficult in the long-term because the behavior is behavior that makes sense. Or perhaps we will intensify the complexity of the logical argument in such a way as to say that it is not sin in this or that circumstance. The concept that our perception of reality is so flawed as to result in bad behavior is hard to take.

They are also made out of "high things" or  "lofty opinions." I am not entirely sure what this means, but I get a sense of "pride" coming out of it. Basically, elevating of the self one's own thoughts beyond where they should be. I think it might have something to do with the idea that we can take it. We can deal with it. We are strong enough. We are smart enough. Therefore, our opinions are good enough.

Then there are these thoughts that run around our mind not "captive." Failing to think about what you're thinking about. It is pretty easy to live an unexamined life from time to time. This leads to "mindlessly" doing things.

Do I have a stronghold? 

I don't know if you do, but I do. I just hit my top weight, again.

Now, don't get me wrong. Being a certain weight is not a stronghold, it is evidence of one for me. I have a recurring sin in my life, the sin of gluttony. I like to eat foods high in fat and carbs and eat a lot of them. I "like" to do so. There is my "lofty opinion."

Furthermore it seems "natural" for me to engage in this sinful behavior. I have altered the behavior many times. My guess is that in the past 10 years I have probably lost 500 lbs (which is significantly more than I weigh). Still, it is always easy to fall into "bad habits" which is a euphemism I like to use for my sins, whereas yours I will just call "sins." Cookies taste good and it is easy to eat six or seven of them. I don't like many cold foods, on the other hand, so salads are generally out.

It's not a sin to eat one doughnut, but how about two? Probably not. What about three? What if I only eat one, but then have a cheeseburger later and with that I have fries, well at that point I might as well have a soft-drink, right? Where is the line for gluttony? My entire ontological structure blocks me from knowing when I've crossed that line into sin.

And I generally don't even care (how's that for spitting on Jesus), until the sin reveals itself in my body. Then I have consequences. Then I alter the behavior, but the stronghold is still there. The arguments still make sense to me.

So what do I do about it?

I am not sure (this is why I'm a teacher, not a preacher. I don't have the answers to declare; I have the questions about which we can think). I think I've come close to getting this one before. The beginning is taking thoughts captive. Specifically, for my stronghold, that has to be thoughts around food. I've noticed that when I carefully keep track of calories and pay attention to macro-nutrients, I do better. So, I've spent the past week doing that and Monday-to-Monday lost three pounds.

The thing is that I've lost weight this way before. I've changed the behavior before by "taking thoughts captive" in exactly this way. It's a start.

Submitting myself to the Holy Spirit is important.

Lifting it up in prayer is important.

But there's something else. 

I think I've gotten them down in other areas. I don't smoke at all or get drunk anymore and haven't for a very long time. Those were once areas of my life I had to fight. Even the notion of looking at pornography on my computer frightens me now, whereas at one time I had no compunction at all against it and rolled my eyes at people who seemed to imply that merely looking at pictures was a sin.

Of course, merely looking at  pictures is not a sin, but looking in order to sin is a sin, and financing sin is a sin. It was when I realized the type of sins I was financing that really pulled me away from that stronghold. After I'd met and talked with women (my own students) trafficked into that industry and realized what was done to them and how their "consent" was obtained I realized that I was causing these awful things to happen by gleefully clicking my mouse. I didn't need special software or accountability partners after that. I was not going to go near the stuff.

David Hume (whom I would not say one should consult on theological matters generally) said that the will is "the slave of the passions." What he meant by this is that there needs to be some intense impression made that moves a person emotionally in order to bring arguments in line. I can point to several things that have tied intense emotions to food for me. Those produce the arguments.

Equal passion needs to arise in order to bring down the arguments. I don't know how to get that, but I think it's true. Somehow, overeating, gluttony, needs to become "exceedingly sinful." I need to really, really, see that it's wrong, not just that I don't want to be fat. I think when that happens, the stronghold will come tumbling down.

Until then, I am going to keep fighting, keep taking every thought captive. I pray the rest will come and  come before this kills me.

Friday, September 15, 2017


A quarter of the US is burning.
Did you know that? It's not really quite true
but close enough  to cause stomach churning
like those lovely hurricanes, white and blue

flooding our eastern shores already drenched
with heroin, racism, huddled mass
incarceration yearning to be quenched
if one more amnesty will just get passed.

In all that a family member's cancer
or a missing dog shouldn't make us pout
but if I start looking for an answer,
well, then, it's MY fault that the dog got out.

There's no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ.
At least, there's none from God. So, I guess THAT is nice.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The problem of Consent

Coming to terms with an even smaller relativism.

Good and Evil are interesting things.

The Snake said that if we ate of the fruit, we would be like God and we would know the difference between good and evil. This seems like a funny thing to tell us, given that we must have already had some idea about the difference between good and evil because we'd been told not to eat from the tree.

Still, since that time, we've been trying to figure out good and evil. I'd like to think that the main project of moral philosophy or ethics is to try to find the best way to know and communicate the good, but sometimes I wonder if the reason we spend so much time wondering what good and evil are is because we already know what they are, but want to find a way to justify the particular kind of evil we enjoy.

I hope that's not the case though. There are a lot of ways that people have thought about how to decide what's right and wrong. I kind of like Aristotle's notion that what is right is what allows people to flourish and what is wrong is what inhibits human flourishing. Of course, it is possible to take this in some weird directions including eugenics. I also kind of like the Platonic/Stoic injunction that what is right is what reason dictates is right whereas what is wrong is what reason dictates is wrong. On the other hand, reason depends heavily on the premises on which it is based and as computer programmers used to say "Garbage in, garbage out.

Hume basically thought that we know what's right and wrong based on feelings, or moral sentiments. It disgusts us to see evil and so we don't like evil. Still, I'd say that we often really like things that are really bad.

I think that Kant's categorical imperative, that we basically know what is right and wrong the same way we know that a triangle has three sides even if we don't count them because that's what a triangle is, has some traction. Still, it is a struggle to find out what these moral axioms are and, in my opinion, leaves us with having to go with one of the other systems. It's not so easy.

Some people like, Mill and Bentham, have argued that whatever does the most good for the most people is what is ethical. That makes sense, except for how do you know if it's really good?  You're back to using another system to find that.

So, I'm not saying it's easy. 

All of the men listed above have had a pretty profound impact on how I have formulated my ethical system and so while I just "wrote them off" above in a few terse sentences, that was more to show how slippery the subject is, not to say the thinking wasn't formidable.

But I feel like there's an ethical system that is just giving up and that's social relativism. The social relativists say whatever a given society says is okay is okay and whatever a given society says is not okay is not okay. It's not okay for people in the US to eat each other, but it we shouldn't go imposing those values on New Guinea. We can't really figure out what's right and wrong but we can go with what works for a given society in a given time and place.

Such a value system, or the lack thereof, works well for doing anthropology. It's not a terribly useful exercise to go to a far away country and write back home about all the things the other country is doing wrong. If you want to study them, you should try and figure out why they think those things they're doing wrong are right.

However, it doesn't provide much guidance on how to live one's life, especially in a diverse society. It's pretty easy to find people who will tell you what you're doing is okay. Then that becomes your society. Since that is your society and since you know good from evil based on your society, everything is okay, which it's not.

But it's gotten worse

As problematic as social relativism is, it has gotten worse. Lately, I've been hearing about an even smaller form of relativism: consent. This has been going on for a while. Basically, since you can find a group who is small enough to condone whatever you're doing and that is your society, if you can find them, it is okay. As long as what you're doing doesn't directly effect other groups ability to do what they want you should be able to do whatever you want. As long as everyone involved is consenting, everything is okay.

But where do these rights come from?

I admit that I was taken in by this tiny relativism for quite a while. As a principled Western libertarian, I often said "my right to swing my hand ends at your face" and I still see that as true. But at some point I have to ask "why?" And if the answer is "because you didn't give consent to hit me." I can pretty quickly go from there into all the ways that you DID give consent.

You knew when you saw me that I was a hand swinger. I had a shirt on that said so, but you still came in swinging distance, so you agreed.

Some of the pro-consent crowd have altered their verbiage based on this to "affirmative consent." Maybe that makes it a little better, but if I "affirmatively consent" to have you pour chemicals in my eyes so I can be blind, that is still wrong. Why is it wrong. It inhibits human flourishing. It is unreasonable. It is repugnant. It violates directives. . . all those ethical reasons I put above. It is just plain wrong, even if I consent.

Yet, I do believe in our rights to life, liberty and property. That's why I'm libertarian, but I don't believe that these rights exist from the consent of the governed. I have to say that I think that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that those are among them. That same creator is the source of goodness. And then, it is up to us to find what is good. And it's not just what we can find someone to consent to.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Coming to terms with sin.

I almost never write a blog two days in a row. However, yesterday, a Facebook comment on my blog said
In this you said that the question he should have answered is whether or not homosexual Intercourse is a sin. And then you go on to not answer what you think either. Which irks me.
I really meant that I wanted the reporters to ask that. They ask these other questions that are leading and can get different answers. "Would you perform a same-sex marriage" is different than "do you think sex between two people of the same sex is a sin," especially, as I explained in that blog, for a committed Calvinist.

Still, that's a reasonable statement. I ask others to go on record and do not myself. I think that I certainly implied that I feel that homosexual acts are sins when I said
 I am 100% sure that there will be people in Heaven that struggled with their homosexual desires every single day of their Christian lives. Some days they did better than others, but maybe, on the day they died, it was a bad day.
But it is just an implication I never came out and said it.. There are a lot of reasons for this.
  1. I am not in the habit of telling other people what their sins are. 

    1. There are things I do that I know some people think are sins and I absolutely do not.  Sometimes I used to argue about this, but their exegesis and hermeneutic always seemed flimsy. Finally, I decided that those things are sins FOR THEM, but not for me. I don't want to argue someone into sin by telling them it's okay.
    2. There are things, cussing primarily, that I am pretty sure are sins, but lots of Christians seem to feel a freedom to engage in it. I explain to people why from scripture, but they often tell me my exegesis and hermeneutic is flimsy. Still, it is more than exegesis and hermeneutic. My conscience pricks me when I cuss. My mind goes back to when I used to cuss and the bondage I was in to cussing. So, I am pretty sure it's a sin for me. 
    3. There are lots of things where I don't think that any reasonable reading of scripture could allow the activity, but people will still argue with me that they're okay. In those cases I have a different tact. "So you don't believe X is a sin, I disagree, but lets not talk about X. Have you ever done something that YOU'D consider to be a sin? At that point we can talk about our need for Jesus. So sometimes I think that saying some particular thing is a sin gets in the way of talking about sin generally. Kind of like when the woman at the well didn't want to deal with her own problems so she decided to argue about where to worship in John 4.
  2. The tie to ontology.

    1. Somehow, the idea has gotten around that it is a sin to BE certain things. I would never tell anyone it is a sin to be gay or lesbian. 
    2. If by that they mean attraction, no one can help to whom they are attracted. Believe me, if I could only be attracted to my wife, I would be. As it is, I am attracted to probably 2/3 of the female population. I don't lust after them. I don't flirt with them. I certainly don't have sex with them. The fact of my attraction is an annoying part of life, kind of like my need for deodorant. Another person's attraction is equally not a sin, although the hopelessness might be more difficult.
    3. If they mean that they see themselves as part of a subculture, even that is not a sin. I am part of a number of subcultures, some of which define themselves in important ways by doing things I won't do. 
    4. If they mean that it is a sin to BE gay meaning a person who not only wants to engage in same sex intercourse, but who has done so, even still, past is past. It does make you who you are and action begets ontology, but it doesn't mean your continued existence is sinful. In fact, quite the opposite, it would be a sin for a person to end their existence.
    5. And that's the ultimate thing. People die because they think it is a sin to BE something that they can't help but be either because they have an attraction, are part of a subculture, or have done certain things in the past.
    6. Everyone has a right to BE, perhaps even more profoundly, everyone IS. I am many things I never should have become. I am many things I wish I weren't but I had no choice about. I am not always sure which of these are which. 
  3. I respect freewill

    1. Quite different than Peterson, mentioned in my last blog, I am not a Calvinist. I don't think that grace is irresistible. I don't believe that atonement is limited; literally anybody can be saved. I don't think that election is unconditional; you have to choose to accept the election. (I don't believe that depravity is total, for that matter; believing we retain the image of God despite our fallen states. That doesn't have anything to do with our argument here). 
    2. God gave us the right to chose to do things He doesn't want us to do. I don't think God can create a rock He can't lift, but I do think he could look at the smallest pebble and decide never to lift it. That's what he's done with our free-will. 
    3. Evil hurts people. When people make the argument that they're "not hurting anyone" or "only hurting themselves" they are acknowledging this aspect of evil. Unless God allowed people to be hurt, innocent people to be hurt, there would be no evil. 
    4. Unless people could choose evil, there would be no possibility of love because love is freely given. 
    5. So, I have to let them be hurt too. I can do what I can to protect myself and my family, but even though they are hurting themselves and others by creating a wall between themselves and God, I have to let it go.
    6. Certainly, if people have never heard that this hurts people, I can step in, but do you honestly think there's a gay person among the 1.5 million (based on the 5% stat) of them there are in America who haven't heard that it's a sin?
    7. I think enough of them have been clobbered with the "it's a sin" thing and at some point we have to let people sin. 
So, those are the reasons I think I did not mention it in addition to the fact that I was critiquing the reporters more than Peterson. 

So, Yes, I am convinced that homosexual acts are sins. 

I think this is the real conclusion of Plato's Phaedrus (although plenty of readers and NAMBLA would say differently): that love between men cannot become sexualized. I am pretty sure that if we take Aristotle's notions in  Oikonomikos regarding the necessity of fealty to a wife and his concept of law in keeping with nature, he came to the same conclusion. Cicero certainly read Aristotle that way and agreed with him in several speeches of invective against the way Romans were living. Read especially his speeches against Verres, Cataline, Cicero's defense of  Pulcher and all Cicero's Philipics. Those three men had more reason than anyone in our culture to take a fond view of homosexual activities and were certainly speaking to a culture where no one had heard it was sin. Paul was speaking to that same culture when he wrote. 
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality [οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 9-11). 
Paul used two words, just to be clear, that neither partner was okay in these situations. My opinion is that the original readers didn't need an explanation as to "why" because they had Aristotle, Plato, and especially Cicero ringing in their ears. This could have even been citing a Ciceronean phillipic. It reads like one. I wouldn't know. Lots of Paul's audience would know though and whether or not it is a direct quote, they would recognize the similarities.

Cicero explained the destructiveness of these type of relationships that are primarily physical and not for the formulation of a household. He explained that there is an inextricable tie between physicality that destroys any possibility of true friendship between men once this potentiality exists between them. He shows how these liason's eventually crushed Marc Anthony, and other individuals and even hypothesizes that it was a major factor that destroyed Greek civilization and that was destroying Rome. It is what people mean when they talk about Roman "excesses."

Early Greco-Roman Christians were watching everything Cicero said would happen happening. That's who Paul is speaking to. They were watching the "Kingdom of Rome" end and were warned that such things would not be allowed to bring down the "Kingdom of Heaven."

Nothing has changed since that time in terms of what makes us human. Nothing has changed about what makes people do the things they do and nations rise and fall.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Peterson, double-minded flip-flopper or just a plain old Calvinist

Coming to terms with Patterson on Same-Sex marriage.

Opinion One:

Two articles have come out regarding Eugene Peterson in the past two days that are getting a lot of social-media traction, so I might as well give them a little myself and put in my two cents. The first was an article by Jonathan Merritt and published by the Religion News Service entitled "Eugene Peterson on changing his mind about same-sex issues and marriage." In it, it seems that, as the title would imply, that Eugene Peterson changed his mind about same sex marriage, would perform a same sex marriage and quoted him saying:
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.
You can think what you want to about Rev. Peterson's's opinion, but it seems to be pretty clear. Homosexuality and the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman are outside the realm of argument. It's "not a right or wrong thing" as far as he's concerned. So, that's that. If you disagree with him you should just "go to another church." It's all pretty cut and  dry.

Opinion Two:

Except it isn't. Today another article came out that completely contradicted the first one. That article was written by Kate Shelllnut, was published in Christianity Today and was titled "Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage." In it, it seems that, as the title would imply, Eugene Peterson does not support same-sex marriage. When it comes to marriage between two people of the same sex, Peterson is quoted in the article as saying "That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage." He claims that he affirms "a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything."

That is the exact opposite of what he said in the other article isn't it?


James, who most of protestants believe is Jesus' flesh and blood little brother, had some negative things to say about being double-minded. He said
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5-8).
That doesn't seem to be a good thing and I sense a lot of double-mindedness regarding this issue in the two interviews with Peterson. The man seems to be of two opinions. However, I am not sure that means that he "is unstable in all his ways" or that "he will not receive anything from God."

James says that we ask God for wisdom if we lack it. Sometimes, we don't lack it.

We're coming up on a new semester here. I don't really need to ask God if it would be wise to start doing some lesson planning. I've been teaching for 17 years. I know that if I don't go into next week with every class period planned for every class between the first class of the semester and the last, it is going to catch up with me. I also know that by midterm my plans will be adjusted many times. I don't need to ask God for wisdom about whether or not I should plan. I do need wisdom and ask for it (In Jesus' Name) for how to plan each day. And even though God will give me that wisdom, it might be within His sovereign will for me to plan classes I don't get to teach or to be met with obstacles that He wants me to deal with at the time, not in advance. He's totally God and I am totally happy with that.

The areas where I need wisdom are these: should I do a class on the classical rhetorical canon of memory in my public speaking class? If I don't it will be the only canon I neglect. If I do, I will have to take something else out that I also want to teach. Should I talk about the narrative paradigm in my Persuasion class? If I do, I'm going to have to get some outside readings. What are some that 200 level students can  handle? Maybe it is too complicated for that level who are just now learning about the syllogism.

In other words, the only areas where we should ask for wisdom is in areas where we are double-minded. Those are the areas in which we lack wisdom. When we do, we shouldn't be double-minded about whether or not we're getting it.

Maybe he should have asked for wisdom first.

The second article says that he came to this conclusion that Peterson would not do a same-sex wedding after praying for wisdom: "When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that." Maybe he should have reflected and prayed before the interview, but maybe he had no idea that this kind of question would be asked.

It seems strange to me that any person within Christendom in the 21st century hasn't reflected on the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, but maybe Peterson legitimately had not asked himself these questions. How could he get away with not asking them?


In the Christianity Today article there is a really interesting statement:
“When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who ‘seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,’ I meant it,” he [Peterson] stated. “But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

“We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior,” he stated. “It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.”
 If we look at this statement, we can see why Peterson could have lived his entire Christian life not really thinking much about one of the biggest clashes between traditional Christianity and our culture.

Calvinists espouse what they call the TULIP doctrine. TULIP is an acrostic for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Preservation of the Saints. A good explanation for these can be found by googling TULIP and Calvinism, which is what I did to get this site.

Although there are many different branches of Calvinism and some of them might be as surprised by Peterson's confused position as those of us who don't consider ourselves Calvinist, I think by looking at this basic doctrine we can understand. All human behavior is totally depraved, so people living in homosexual sin are depraved but so is everyone else. This sinful behavior is irrelevant because God's election is unconditional and irresistible. People who have faith, which comes as an arbitrarily assigned gift have it regardless of how they live their lives.

Some Calvinists I know would call this a perversion of the doctrine and they might be right. I am not qualified to argue. Still, I can see how you can get from point A to point C through point B.

And it's kind of right.

We have grace. We have grace to fall back on over and over. Thank God for His grace, his unmerited favor, his everlasting love, because you know what, I sin every single day. I am 100% sure that there will be people in Heaven that struggled with their homosexual desires every single day of their Christian lives. Some days they did better than others, but maybe, on the day they died, it was a bad day.

But to arrive from that to the point of view that behavior doesn't matter is crossing all kinds of lines. Behavior does matter. God will forgive us, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to forgive us for. And words matter; words like "marriage" have a religious context that either does or doesn't make sense. Either it means a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman with God or it means something else.

Our culture says it means something else, and I gotta be honest, there are a lot of times when I question the religious meaning of even heterosexual marriage. I question whether it's something I can continue to live up to. I question whether or not it's worth fighting for. I question whether or not I should even try. And if I do ever give up, what does it mean? The people who point out that those whose heterosexual marriages fail have done more to disrupt the sanctity of marriage than any gay person getting married are dead right.

And so he answered the wrong question.

The question isn't really about gay people or gay marriage. The question is: is sex between two people of the same sex a sin? He hasn't been pegged down on this one in either of the two articles. He seems to say, "It doesn't matter because God can forgive sin." But it does matter, even if God can forgive sin because we need to know what is forgiven and we need to struggle against behavior that does not live up to the high calling to which we are called. If gay sex is a sin, there are consequences, even if God forgives sin. If gay sex is not a sin, there are consequences, even if God forgives sin. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

They hate us for our freedoms . . . which is a reasonable position

Coming to terms with why they hate us, and I sometimes do too, on the 4th of July.

On September 20th, 2001, 

in the wake of the horrible terrorist attacks earlier that month, President George W. Bush addressed the nation. He answered a question that many of us were asking at that time:
Americans are asking ``Why do they hate us?''
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Of course, like all statements made since the internet boom of the mid-nineties, the statement was quickly mocked.
And like all mocking, the mockers had their point. There was certainly more to it than that. American foreign policy with regard to the parts of the world in which Islam is dominant is, to say the least, fraught and complicated. Furthermore, anyone can understand the notion that if you are on the fence regarding your opinion of a country, and that country bombs your children, you will pretty quickly choose a negative position.

But make no mistake, they do hate our freedom. The Islamic Caliphate, known as ISIS, which has risen in years since
 then makes that clear. The Caliphate is worldwide. The Caliphate is the only legitimate expression of Islam. The Caliphate is opposed to any sort of Western Liberalism.

It is not just against bombings. It isn't just against Western oil companies on holy soil. It is opposed to Western Liberalism.

And I get it.

I don't care what side of the political spectrum you are on, if you went to the 4th of July parade today there was something to offend you, deeply.

I was offended. I was offended at baseball teams who were playing music on their floats, full of minor children, playing music with lyrics that were openly misogynist and graphic in their depictions of sexuality. I wasn't exactly offended by the somewhat provocative dances performed by teenage dancing crews in fairly little and fairly tight clothing, but I know how interested my 3 year old daughter is in taking dancing lessons. Will I be as calm about it in 10 years? Will she feel free to wear something other than these uniforms if she's not comfortable with it? I don't have anything against women, even young women, wearing what makes them feel comfortable and desirable, but I do not like people feeling that they must conform to the hyper-sexualized society.  There were floats from religions that I really don't want to have their message legitimized. There were floats for people whose politics disagree with mine. There were floats from groups whose lifestyles I would really prefer my daughter didn't even know existed parading their twisted views in front of everyone. There were open displays of disrespect for authorities that I see as God ordained. It made me angry.

So, I understand an impetus to dress them all in burkas, beat the ones who are disrespectful and un-submissive into respect, submission, or death, murder those who you find offensive. I really do get this. I really do hate our freedoms too.

And you get it.

Like I said, whatever your side of the political spectrum, there would have been people who you would have liked to silence too. There were showcases of American military respect, honoring veterans. There were floats arguing that you can never respect a country that uses violence. There were Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, etc. etc. etc. Think of some group who you think is dangerously nuts. They had a float in our parade.

And even though I get it, I love it.

Did my Grandpa fight at Iwo Jima for people to get up and say and do all these things that make a mockery of his values? Yeah, kind of.

See George W. Bush was right. They DO hate us for precisely the values he listed: "our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." It's not just our religion they hate, it's the freedom of religion. It's not just our speech they hate, it's our freedom of speech. It's not just that we disagree with them. It's that we have the right to disagree
And we all have that authoritarian living inside of us. There is that person who says "they shouldn't even be allowed to say that." Or "if they think that way, fine, let them think that way at home. Don't make me look at it." But that is not the American in us.

I disagree with what you say, but I hope that I would have in me to fight to the death for your right to say it. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Have you cried?

Coming to terms with missing tears

Have you cried lately? That's what you're missing.
That's why you're so angry and always tired.
All those snide slights that you are dismissing
are missing the tears that they should inspire.

And it's not just pain that you hold within
the awe of mountains should bring tears to your eyes,
the size of the sea, the sickness of sin,
the death of soldiers and the cross of Christ

all the pains and pleasures, ice, fire and stone
old wounds reopened that sometimes still bleed
kisses of children and lovers now gone,
a stranger's kindness, an intimate's greed

The joys and the hurts, the dreams and the fears
must be baptized in the water of tears.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A strange, complicated dream I had last night

Pray that you might interpret (I've got nothing):

 Last night I dreamed that the university where I teach asked me to teach a karate class. I've often said that I could teach anything at the 100-200 level because I can read faster than the students, but this was going to be a stretch. What's worse is that my wife and all her Mom's groups signed up for the class.

The class was held in a Buddhist/Toaist water garden. There were a number of men in meditative poses sitting around contemplating the water. I remember some bronze frog statues and the sounds of live frogs coupled with the water. There was lots of green and flowing water.

 One of my wife's friends, a red-haired woman (who I don't think really exists) confronted me and asked what are we really trying to get out of this class. One of my wife's other friends yelled out "black-belts" and everyone shouted in agreement. I was concerned because my basic plan was to look at some karate books, learn some moves and stances and then teach them to the students. I had no idea how to get them certified as black-belts.

 After the students left, I thought I could learn something by looking at the men (monks?) who were meditating in the garden. One guy was listening to an audio-tape that, somehow, I knew was like a catechism for Karate. So, I listened in and the guy was on question 81. The problem was the tape only asked questions, it did not give answers.

 I was about to ask the old man for the answers when I was knocked down by a large, black German shepherd. He had that wonderful warm-doggy smell and the intense feeling of hair as he completely covered my body. My vision was entirely filled with his face and deep black eyes. The dog was pulled off of me by his owner, a brown shaggy haired skinny man in his twenties with a prominent adam's apple, tan and brown plaid short-sleeved shirt worn open over a white undershirt, and tight, slightly faded jeans that might have flared a bit at the shoe.

For some reason I began to tell the man all about my difficulties involving teaching karate, which I knew nothing about. When I said the word, "karate" the black dog walked over to where a board was laying on top of four cement blocks standing vertical in two columns with two blocks each. The dog stood on his hind legs and chopped the board with his forepaws.

The brown-haired man explained to me that he'd been studying karate for years and the dog had leaned a lot of it too. I asked the man to teach me karate. The man said that there weren't any good books for it at the university library because the library was too academic.

Instead he suggested that we travel to the community college here in town. I didn't know there was a community college here in town (because there's not), but we got into my car, some kind of compact, and he guided me to it. During the time between the garden and the community college the man turned into one of my very best friends in the world who lives in Iowa, is blonde, not brown haired, and is in his 40's, not 20's. Anyway, this didn't bother me.

 We got to the community college which was an ultra-modern construct four stories tall and wider than a football field of almost pure glass. Unfortunately, one of the top floors was on fire. My friend explained that this is where the library was. We asked one of the students walking by what was going on and if the books were all destroyed. He was annoyed that we were bothering him, but answered that many of the books had been destroyed but that others were being moved to the Art Consortium until the library could be rebuilt.

 I had never been to the Art Consortium and had always believed it was just a group of people, not a physical place, Also, sometimes in the dream it wasn't an Art Consortium, but was a Nature Consortium. Still, I drove there and went inside to look for where the college had stored the books. The building was massive, like a mall, but filled with little classrooms and lecture rooms and symposium rooms, all with tables and chairs but no people.

The halls, however, had lots of people. They were mostly elderly ladies and they were all worried about Donald Trump not funding the arts. They kept saying "people don't understand we need money to keep this thing going." I went from room to room looking for where they had put the library books. I went into one room and they had danishes similar to the ones put out at events at universities. I ate a cherry one because there was only cherry and cream-cheese and I don't like cream cheese.

As I was eating it one of the old ladies at the door greeted me. She was smiling and very friendly, but when she walked away from me she said to one of the other ladies, "See, this is what I am talking about. No one understands. He ate one of the danishes, now it will have to be replaced."

 I felt very bad about eating the danish even though I was fairly certain they had been put out for people to eat. I began to wonder if this was all real, which made me aware of my body and my bed and I woke up very, very, thirsty.

 He who has ears, let him hear.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

To my liberal friends from a conservative.

Coming to terms with working with liberalls

I'm a conservative

I generally see myself as a "conservative" although that term has become so contested, so controversial, and so tribalized that I don't know if the fact that I consider myself that means that any other person who uses the same appellation would ascribe the label to me. That's okay.

What I mean by that is that I espouse most traditional Judeo-Christian values regarding individual morality and family roles. I usually think free markets work better than regulation for most people. I espouse virtue in an Aristotelian and Aquinian sense. I value the Western Tradition. I believe in American exceptionalism, but don't believe it is inherent or something up to which our country has lived, rather that it is put forth as an ideal in our founding documents. I see the government as untrustworthy, yet I still try to follow the laws in most cases mostly because I don't see much value in making waves. I try to be extravagant in my respect to people who serve this country in the military or police. I think that the tried and tested generally functions better than the latest fad. I wear a button down shirt and a tie to work usually. I like "everything at the right time –dinner at dinner time, lunch at lunch time, breakfast in time for breakfast, and sunrise at sunrise, and sunset at sunset," the description of a conservative in the classic work of political philosophy, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged To Himself. I hesitate to say this, since if I do I will undoubtedly make grammatical mistakes in this blog, but I generally try to use standard grammar and proper verbiage. I make errors in all these ideals, but I try.

I don't particularly like President Trump. I did not vote for him. I have liked some of his decisions, even controversial ones. I liked the choice of Betsy Devos for secretary of education because I believe in the very conservative idea that parents should raise their children, not the state. While an education is essential in that rearing, I don't think that the government, especially the national government, should have much say in how that education is accomplished. I have liked Neil Gorsuch as a pick for Supreme Court Justice because I think that the Constitution is supposed to be a document that constitutes our government and guides our politics rather than our politics being used to constitute the document. 

I have strong disagreements with the President Trump, however. First of all, the man has shown himself to be a cad, which is a word we need to bring back to the English language as a means of policing men's improper foibles rather than decrying "misogyny" or "rape culture" both of which exist, primarily because we don't keep our cads in check by calling them cads. Secondly, his blustery language and apparent lack of self control in tempering his responses are not conservative virtues. His populism flies in the face of conservatism catering to certain people through demagoguery rather than appealing to them philosophically. His foreign policies seem to smack of the idiocy of Smoot-Hawley and a fear that Western culture cannot stand up against the barbarism of contemporary west Asia and the militant forms of Islam that have established themselves there. Much like the identity-politics of the left, he has rejected the melting pot and thinks that people who come cannot be Americanized within a few generations. I hate that kind of thinking. It is not "conservative," at least not by my definition. 

So it is from this point of view that I offer my recommendations to my left-leaning friends (which I think would describe most of my friends). I am a conservative, so I have a different point of view than you. Still, I think in my disapproval of President Trump might mean people like me are someone with whom you can work, if you are willing to work.  You don't like Trump because he's not a liberal. I don't like him because he's not a conservative. Here's a list of things you have to do, however, so we can join forces to limit the damage he can do.

First of all, you have to accept that Trump is President.

I am well aware that he did not win the "popular vote." I don't care. The popular vote is not a measure of legitimacy. The Constitution wisely developed a system of Representatives and Senators which correspond in numbers to an electoral college that would create a balance between the desires of the majority of the country and the majority of the people in the country. The former being spread out throughout the nation, the latter being clustered in a few geographically small urban areas. The majority of the people is taken into account, but Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota (the least populace states) do not have to accede to the will of California, Texas, and New York (the most populace). This is a good and fair system. If you don't shut up about the popular vote, your open anti-rural bigotry is going to push people into Trump's flailing arms. Acting like the popular vote matters is insulting to anyone who lives in a rural state. 

Furthermore, he is likely to stay President for the next several years. Feel free to look for 2020 candidates, but more and more of my liberal friends are calling for President Trump's impeachment. That hope is foolishness just as it was for many of my right leaning friends who wanted President Obama impeached. It is simply not going to happen.

While many elected conservatives feel much the same way I do about President Trump, there are partisan constraints. Furthermore, none of the disagreements about which I have are actionable. They are personal. From what I have seen from my liberal friends their disagreements are political or personal but not law breaking. Those few cases where there may be legal issues don't rise to the level to which they would need to rise to overcome partisan loyalty. In other words, there is nothing being alleged about President that, if true, would make a Republican want to impeach him. Conflicts of interest, if proven, could be divested before any impeachment proceedings. Ties to foreign governments can be mitigated in a variety of ways. Even allegations of fraud are not adequate to make a person vote against a member of his or her own party. 

Right now you are simply not going to get the Republican-led House of Representatives to file articles of impeachment. That could change in 2018. It is possible that the Democratic party could capture the House. There are more than the necessary 14 seats in play. Traditionally the party of the President loses seats during midterms. You might get enough people to file articles. Okay, then what?

Then it goes to the Senate where 2/3 of the Senators are going to have to vote to remove him from office. It is not going to happen. Right now Republicans control 51 seats and are barely hanging on to a simple majority. The mid-term elections, as I said earlier, normally go against the President, but the 2018 elections will not. There are only eight Republican Senators coming up for reelection, none of which are listed as "toss-ups" by any of the three major raking agencies (Cook, RothSabato). Whereas there are Democratic seats that are. This means that unless something unforeseen happens, Republicans will control the Senate and unless he's done something that will cause felony charges to come against him, they aren't going to remove a President of their own party from office. Give up on that dream. Party loyalty is not what it is in some countries, but there is enough that you'll never hit a 2/3 majority in the opposition with this President in four years. So, give up. As long as you're working against him you are not working for anything and there are things for which we can work.

Don't be too freaky to be someone with whom I can work.

I certainly admit that "liberal" and "conservative" are as much lifestyle choices as political boundaries. I don't expect you to be like me. Liberals and conservatives both like camping, for instance. I'd love to invite you to go camping with me.  I'm probably going to be roasting 89¢ per pack hot-dogs over my fire and you'll be eating organically grown kale mixed with non GMO nuts. We can offer each other some and accept or decline. I don't care. Actually, 10 years ago I would have been like you. I would say I've grown up. You might say I've sold out. I don't care. I can still go camping with you. You can even beat your Djembe and sing songs that express Hindu principles in a Native American style at the fire. Afterwards, you can talk about how uncomfortable you are with the juxtaposition of needing to experience authentic spirituality while not wanting to appropriate. I don't mind. There are a lot of things like that. We can do them together and as long as you let me be me, you can be you. You might be surprised just how "liberal" I am in these areas. I'm a bit of a crunchy con, but even conservatives who are not won't mind you. We have actually a lot in common.

Still there is a line I'm going set. If you condemn me for eating hot-dogs, it won't make a good camping trip for me. If you think being out in nature means that you need to be au naturel, I am going to be pretty uncomfortable. If you decide to bring along a partner and make love while sharing a tent with me, I'd have to excuse myself. If you decided this space away from the auspices of law enforcement was a great opportunity to enjoy some recreational pharmaceuticals, well, look, I'm not at that place in my life socially anymore nor do I wish to go camping with those who are right now.

Most of you would say, well, Dr. Cline, Rhetorical Questioner, I would never do those things if I went camping with you. Those are cruel liberal stereotypes. Of course they are! That's why I invited any liberal who happens to be reading my page to go camping with me two paragraphs ago. We'll have fun.

But the thing is, political action is a lot like camping. Conservatives can protest President Trump's inappropriate comments about women that point to actions even more inappropriate. However, for me to join with you, wearing a knitted hat designed to look like a vagina is just not going to fly. Good for you for having one, I guess, but you're not going to bring any conservatives to your cause. You are going to look like a nut (or, I suppose, the female equivalent). Many conservatives feel that legal immigration should be expanded and that immigrants who came here illegally as small children unable to make their own decisions and who have grown up basically Americanized should hardly be "deported" to a country they never knew. That's silly, which is why there's never been Republican consensus (or Democratic consensus for that matter) for or against the D.R.E.A.M. act. The act was sponsored by fricken' Orin Hatch and you don't get better conservative credentials than Orin Flippin' Hatch. This is an area where we can work together, like camping. If you're carrying an "amnesta para todos" sign, well, that's a sign we can't sign on to. Of course we believe that Black Lives Matter and want reform of the criminal justice system. Rioting and burning, however, makes us distance ourselves from your cause.  Do you get this? My mom in rural Nebraska is not swayed to any political action in favor of people wearing vagina hats.

Pray with me. Love one another with me. 

If you're an atheist liberal, probably you won't pray with me. Atheist conservatives like Austin Petersen, George Will,  or the various followers of Ayn Rand's objectivism won't pray with me either. I won't say then "let me pray" because while I've heard of atheists who won't let theists pray around them, I've never met them. They're generally like, "knock yourself out, and wish on a star while you're at it." So, how about this? Agree with my prayers.

Lots of liberals I know, however, are led to a liberal position by their faith. The idea of setting the captives free, caring for the poor and sick, aiding widows and orphans in their affliction, and standing up for the foreigner and the alien seem to fit better with the Democratic party than with Republicans. That makes sense. Most conservative Christians see these as personal commandments and not something we accomplish through the government, but we get where liberal Christians are coming from.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted by sources whose veracity I cannot gauge as having said "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." So, let's pray we are on God's side. So, let's pray for our leaders. Let's pray they be filled with temperance and wisdom. Let's pray they make the right decisions. Let's ask that our own lives be made beacons of light to a world, we both agree, needs it badly. Let's pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Let's pray for a growth of love and truth in our country. We can do that, can't we? I am not a fan of President Trump, but I'd rather he experience repentance than that he be impeached. Honestly, wouldn't that be your preference too?

And we can be kind to each other. We have disagreements. But let's generally assume that those disagreements both come from a place of goodness and if we can't accept that, that it comes from a place of pain. We need to care about each other's pain. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Aristotle, Plato, Audience, and Truth.

Coming to terms with Aristotle, Plato, audience, and truth.

Fun class on Wednesday

I had a really fun class on Wednesday that I recorded. Here it is to share.

Oh! And check out my book!

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Coming to terms with Candlemas, tradition, syncretism, and purification

Today is Candlemas

Traditionally, this is the day, 40 days after Christmas, when we celebrate the time of purification for Mary and Jesus' presentation at the Temple.

The Old Testament clearly outlines why Mary did this:
Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons,a one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
Since we pretend Jesus was born on December 25th (no one really knows), we would then pretend that forty days later, February 2nd is the day Mary would have been purified and she and Joseph would have brought Jesus to the temple where Simeon and Anna prophesied over him (Luke 2).

Traditionally, this has been a big thing for Christians. According to Wikipedia, many Christians take down their Christmas decorations on this date. The lights of the home are blessed. Christians focus on their own purification and "bringing light into the world."

This is a Christian tradition. I would say I was raised Christian. Still, for at least the first two decades of my life I had no idea about this holiday, it's importance, or even that it existed. It was groundhog day. Some years we may have had biscuits and sausage gravy (ground hog), but every year we joked about it. We'd guess in school if the groundhog had seen his shadow. I had no idea the day had more important symbolism. I knew nothing of the tradition. 

The Dangers of Tradition

The New Testament is pretty clear about the dangers of tradition. Jesus warns that by focusing on tradition we can "break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition," (Matt. 15:3), it can cause us to neglect "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matt 23:23), that you can "leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8). The entire book of Galatians is a written by the Apostle, Paul, basically as a warning against people who try to force traditions on the believer. He is concerned that by following traditions, one can be trying to be "perfected in the flesh" where we can only be perfected in the Spirit. Paul is mostly concerned about circumcision but also mentions that the believer should "let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col 2:16-17).

So, it is no wonder that many of the (ahem) traditions which have heavily influenced the development of my theology have shown a distrust of tradition. The Reformers are concerned about Roman "superstition" and that in the attempt to follow Christian tradition, many are aiming at a "salvation by works" rather than "by grace throug faith" (Eph 2:8-9). The Restorationists want to "call Bible things by Bible names," and restoring "New Testament Christianity." If a tradition was not specifically named in the New Testament, therefore, it is treated with distrust if not contempt. The Pentecostals are often concerned with what they call "a religious spirit," which to them represents abject legalism and a faith which 'holds to a form of Godliness, but denies it's power" (II Tim. 3:5).

Because these three have been the primary influences on my theology, I never much thought about the various traditions and where they come from and what they represent. In my family, we celebrated Christmas and Easter as holy days and every Sunday we went to church (my Dad is a preacher, so it really isn''t an option). We took "the Lord's supper" and I and all my siblings were "baptized by immersion" when we were at a proper age. Still, the thousands of other traditions which historically supported Christianity were not really discussed. I was in my teens when I found out that "the Day of Pentecost," for instance, happened every year, not just one time, in Acts.

Still, I saw other traditions develop that were insidious even without the --- traditional traditions. I remember the tussle around having guitars in the church. I have seen open anger at those who would sing "off the wall" rather than from a hymnal. And if the veterans who attended church were not acknowledged on the Sunday before Independence Day, and Memorial Day, and Veteran's day, there would be much grumbling and complaining. I've been told I'm going to Hell for going to "so-called 'Christian' rock and roll shows." I've seen downright superstitious fears of fantasy novels, He-Man toys, and Dungeons and Dragons. I've watched with a combination of amusement, disgust, and a chilling fear of expressing either as people ritualistically burned Harry Potter books, Mötley Crüe albums, and stuffed plush Smurfs.

I saw exactly what Jesus, Paul, and the more contemporary influences on my theology warned about as arguments surface over whether or not there should be coffee in the sanctuary, about how much and where girls should be allowed to show skin on their bathing suits, or if Bob Dylan was "really saved." Doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly (Micah 6:8), loving God with all your hear and soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself, (Matt. 23:37), all these take a backseat to the important things like making sure the pastor doesn't eat at a cheeseburger restaurant that serves beer. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27) but the former takes a back seat to the latter which means "not wearing baggy clothing."

So, even though there was an abhorrence of tradition, traditions developed nonetheless and put their strange stranglehold on faith.

Worries over Syncretism

Traditions such as Candlemas were seen by many influential people in my life as being especially problematic as they seemed to place a Christian veneer over archaic pagan rituals. Greek, Roman, and Celtic religious practices seemed to poke their scaly heads from beneath the rocks of these traditions. Many people objected to Christmas trees and Easter eggs because of their pre-Christian symbolism. Still, it was hard to fight those as cultural phenomena. Those traditions that were Christian but were not part of the culture at large, were even easier to disdain for people already nervous about a mistletoe over a threshold. They weren't even discussed except perhaps as mockery of Catholics or Lutherans who still practiced these "demonically inspired" holidays.

The worries were not without basis. Most Christian rituals and holidays have their counterparts in pagan culture. There is a cycle to the year and any agrarian culture is going to notice that certain things happen in certain parts of the year and engage in activities that notice it. Thus, any religion of the northern hemisphere is going to have a holiday at this time where the days begin to noticeably lengthen and the promise of spring hesitates in the air. Spring is coming, but when is a real question for people who didn't arbitrarily mark a day on a calendar as the "first day of spring."

So, there are rituals about animals breaking their hibernation, briefly, to check the weather. There are rituals about light. There are rituals about preparing the ground to be fertile. These are going to exist in any culture that pays attention to the weather and the changing of seasons.

So, the pagans had them. So, the Christians who came later copied them. Does that make them evil?

Certainly, there are traditions associated with this holiday that no Christian could condone. Pagan acts such as ritual drunkenness and rape really couldn't be tolerated by a people defined by temperance and chastity. Still, does that mean that "light coming into the world" cannot be appreciated by Christians?

I'd make another argument. That argument is that God's "invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20). Part of God's story was clearly shown to the pagan, pre-Christian people and they recognized it and marked it. Certainly, Satan perverted it (and ritual rape is definitely a perversion) but it was God's to start with and it is God's now.

To me, the concept of redemption is an important one when dealing with things that have pagan aspects. Is this a perversion, or is this part of what was holy and there from the beginning?


And that is the entire point of Candlemas. Mary had to be purified, even after giving birth to the perfectly pure Son of God. We also need to be purified. Light needs to be brought into our homes. By celebrating the holy day of Candlemas we recognize that need for redemption. We recognize that in our impurity, we needed to be bought at a price of God's purity. That "for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We can be purified. Light can be brought into our lives.

Also, maybe we'll have biscuits and sausage gravy tonight.