When the Lights Go Down on the City

This week I had the opportunity to spend a couple days in downtown San Francisco. It’s not that I’ve never been to that city before—I’ve just never had an interest in walking its streets. So, my visits have always been limited to quick stops at its airport or meeting with the San Francisco Giants (a long-term client of the company I used to work for).

Why didn’t I have any desire to experience what San Francisco had to offer? With it’s convenient BART train system I could have easily spent many nights in it while visiting Concord, California (where that same company used to have an office)…and I had an employee who would do just that. He felt the tug of the "city by the bay," whereas I always wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. Continue reading When the Lights Go Down on the City

Abracadabra, You’re a Fish!

Does anyone else remember, as a child, role-playing as wizards or witches and turning each other into a frog or a cat or…? It was all fun and games until someone chose the wrong animal. "I am not a chicken!!!" "Yes you are!"

Remembering those humorous amusements (even when they went awry) brings a smile to my face. The reason this youthful activity came to mind is because I was perusing United Airline's Hemispheres magazine on the way to Nashville this week. It included an article titled "The Lizard King" about George Cera, who is paid by Boca Grande, Florida to rid them of as many spiny-tailed black iguanas as he can at $20 per head. If you are a PETA member, that might sound like an evil job, but those omnivorous lizards are an invasive species that (until Cera's intervention) were reeking havoc on native plants and animals. Continue reading Abracadabra, You’re a Fish!

No, We Aren’t the Center of the Universe…

One of the advantages to working for Dartmouth College for a couple years was that I could attend one course free per quarter. I did not avail myself enough of that benefit, but I did take one class that reviewed motion picture portrayals of Native Americans. As you can probably imagine, much of the curriculum's focus was on negative depictions of America's indigenous population including "white savior" plot lines. If you are unfamiliar with the term "white savior," have you seen "Dances With Wolves"? Kevin Costner (as John Dunbar) is a white savior. How about "Avatar"? Sure, that movie isn't a western and the Na'vi aren't Native Americans, but Sam Worthington (as Jake Sully) is a white savior. Regardless of whether some of these films are positive in that they represent indigenous people as having more wisdom (or greater spirituality or better character) than the evil racist white man ("Dances With Wolves") or the nefarious greedy corporation ("Avatar"), a pale-skinned male of European descent ends up saving the day.

The reason this comes to mind is because today my son Mikey, his friend Chris, and I attended "The Green Lantern." If you aren't familiar with that comic book hero, one important tidbit is that the Lantern's ring chooses the wearer, not visa versa. After some initial "introduction to key characters" scenes, the three of us saw how the imminent death of another alien Green Lantern led to Ryan Reynolds (as ace pilot Hal Jordan) being selected for the honor…and responsibility…of bearing the ring. The soul-seeing piece of jewelry detected something in Jordan that even Jordan didn't know he had.
Continue reading No, We Aren’t the Center of the Universe…

Even Doofuses Need Jesus

After an article has formed in my mind, I try to think of a catchy title—something that will make the average person at least wonder what the piece is about (while at the same not being a bait-and-switch). As this one continues you will probably be able to guess what I intended to have in the place of "Doofuses" in the title, but it just wasn't meant to be. Although as an elementary school child I used the now-personally-banished term as a form of "jerk" (and a mild one at that), a little research on the web confirmed my fears about its origin. It was actually a bit more worrisome to find that another replacement I might have chosen also originally referred to the same body part. I'm not sure what is worse, the fact that people don't hesitate anymore to use curse words or that (even in the more "innocent" decade of the 70's) a goody-two-shoes grade schooler was unwittingly a potty-mouth.

Either way, one would have to be pretty insulated from all forms of media to not have heard of the Twitter behavior of a soon-to-be-former U.S. Representative, Anthony Weiner. What I did not expect to see in the aftermath of his reprehensible actions (both in the tweets and in the lies that followed) was someone as respectable as Dr. Albert Mohler being dragged into the conversation. Strangely enough, it too was a tweet that got some people a bit cranky with him. Continue reading Even Doofuses Need Jesus

Wolf Control

Angry wolf

A little earlier this year Rob Bell, the popular founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan, set off a bit of a web explosion by releasing a video trailer promoting his soon-to-be-released (at that time) book, Love Wins. The video didn't specifically say anything heretical, but it implied quite a bit in its questions and statements. For instance:

"Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?"

"……and so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how that ever be good news?"

"What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected and beautiful that whatever we've been told or taught the good news is actually better than that. Better than we can ever imagine. The good news is that love wins."1

Even in those few, separate quotes you can sense some fundamental orthodox Christian doctrines being questioned. The blogosphere rightly questioned whether his new manuscript was going to promote universalism, pluralism, and a lack of an eternal punishment (i.e. hell). The response was quick and harsh, as was the counter-reaction. One side immediately called Bell a heretic, the other side, just as judgmentally, condemned people for speaking up before the book was even on store shelves.

Continue reading Wolf Control

What You Need

Battle of the Bands

This week I had a singer named Aloe Blacc playing on my iPod…probably because Augie really likes one of his songs and asked for it earlier. The title is "I Need a Dollar"…but Augie refers to it as the "Hey Hey Song" since he likes doing that phrase in the song with me:

I need a Dollar
A dollar is what I need
Hey, Hey

I like that song quite a bit myself, especially when Augie is accompanying it. 🙂

But that wasn't the tune that inspired this sermon, instead it is one named "Miss Fortune," where Miss Fortune's dad is discussing her with a suitor…and admitting he has messed her up by spoiling her just as he did her mom. This line in the song jumped out at me:

But the problem with having everything you want
Is you never really know what you need1

[ Repeat a second time ]

Now, I'd played that song before…but I have a habit of really only listening to the music…not the words…although I'll often pay some attention to the chorus. I'm glad this time I was actually aware of what he was singing…there seemed a lot of wisdom in such a simple statement (and in the tune itself…where the suitor doesn't listen to his soon-to-be father-in-law and sure enough, daughter turns out like mother).

Continue reading What You Need

What’s in a Name?

This week I spent a couple days off-the-grid in East Millinocket, Maine with Mike, my father-in-law (a retired truck driver who dabbles in used car sales). During one trip (to plain-old Millinocket) I saw a sign for an oil and propane supplier—one I'd never noticed before: Dead River Company. I told Mike that it seemed a regrettable choice for a business considering the environmental-catastrophe concerns people have with removing crude from Mother Earth. Especially after last year's Gulf disaster, it would appear that whether or not it originally made sense to name the forest products company in 1909 after a river that flowed through its land in western Maine,1 in 2011 it has to be a bit of a hurdle for Dead River's Marketing Department. Little did they know in 1936 when they expanded into petroleum products (anyone remember Esso?)2 that 75 years later some would consider them part the second most nefarious industry (only behind tobacco)…and that their name would be a constant reminder of the worst-case scenario for their trade.

However, the sub-optimal naming up in northeast Maine didn't stop there. Enjoying more of that beautiful area's flavor by reading the Katahdin Region News, I saw an ad for Rob's Oil Burner Service. Nothin' too bad about that; well, except that they put the initials above the company in bold capitals: R.O.B.S. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want someone coming into my home with R.O.B.S. on their uniform. 🙂

Yet, Dead River Company and R.O.B.S. only receive an honorable mention when it comes to the prize for unfortunate name selections. Continue reading What’s in a Name?

Would Jesus Use Facebook?

Facebook imageAs an avid user of Facebook it would seem especially important for me to answer this article’s title. However, I’ll admit that I never slowed down enough to ask myself its question; instead it only came to mind when a friend (in a Facebook message) mentioned that "since joining Facebook [she has] often wondered if Jesus would use Facebook."

Quickly…without opening your Bible…what’s your gut reaction? Yes or no?

Continue reading Would Jesus Use Facebook?

Do Views Exist On a Linear Trajectory?

Often when we see the excesses of a given group—political, religious, or etcetera—we connect them with one end or the other of the given categorization’s spectrum. It is as if we pull out some graph paper, draw a straight line, and are convinced that anyone’s view can be plotted on it. A little bit left of X, a little bit right of Y…a bit more liberal than A, a bit more conservative than B.

And we lionize that thoughtful, considerate, and mystical class that falls right in the middle…you know…the “moderates.” (Although it should be noted that in this paradigm a moderate is a big fat zero.)

Sometimes thinking of viewpoints this way makes sense. Denominations are often connected in overall thought with differences only being a matter of degree and non-essential doctrines. The same is true with politics—is it not fair to consider Code Pink to the left of, but on the same half of the line, as Democrats? The Tea Party, albeit somewhat of an unruly son, the child of Republicans (perhaps with some Libertarian DNA snuck in)?

But what of organizations and viewpoints the great majority would find excessive? Where would you place skinheads? Anarchists?

Individual lunatics?

The reason I ask is because I believe, at least with politics, part of the reason people choose to apply the linear paradigm is because they can use it to assign guilt by association. See a racist?! Clearly it shows the natural result of Republican thought!!! See an anarchist?! Those darn Democrats have struck again!

But are either fair? The anarchist example might be best. Should they be plotted around Democrats or Republicans? Given their other (likely) viewpoints and the folks they hang out with (e.g. at a G20 protest), it would seem fair to plot them left of the Democrats—on their end of the spectrum. However, given the Republican’s historical (but not necessarily constant or recent) commitment to as few laws possible and minimum government, shouldn’t it go (heading right on our graph paper) Republicans -> Libertarians -> anarchists?

Which is it?

I suspect most of us could easily expand our plotting to 2D…for example a Libertarian would be to the right and either above or below (depending on what the Y access defines). But would that really be be enough for every case? How about 3D?

I don’t believe so. I would argue some viewpoints, and definitely some people, exist in a totally different dimension. Their thought universe is wholly different than pretty much anyone else’s who has at least one foot in reality. To even speculate about connections to Democrats or Republicans is at best disingenuous and/or illogical, and at worst outright character assassination. There is no benefit; do we really believe if Democrats would tone down their language anarchists would suddenly embrace the rule of law? Or if the Republicans would stop their war-like metaphors skinheads would start embracing African Americans?

No, there is no benefit to connecting thought-outcasts with mainstream organizations other than to demonize our opponents. It isn’t an honest discussion, it is a strategic attack.

I have focused on the political because, I’ll admit, it’s easier for me to come up with examples…but it has theological implications.

To mimic Greg Gutfeld on Red Eye, if you don’t agree with me you are a Sabellian anarchist who is a closet member of the John Birch Society and believes in the Moral Influence Theory!