April 19, 2007

Eight Years Later, We're No Closer

Before the era of the Blog, my friends and family were the unfortunate recipients of many a mass email from me on my oh-so-important thoughts on the happenings of the day. Eight years ago was one such occurrence.

Following the Columbine mass killing, as I watched and read the media and analyst coverage, I became convinced that there was absolutely nothing being said about the true societal issues that were at the heart of that dark day. There were superficial attempts, to be sure--video games (which pale in comparison to today's much more realistic games) and guns were bandied about. The angst of being a disaffected and unpopular student in a modern, large high school was also covered. But, in my (then and now) opinion, nothing was really being discussed about how our modern society, with its so many dehumanizing aspects, could have been at the heart of actions of Harris and Klebold.

Did I know the right question or the right answer at the time or now? No. I only knew the markers that I thought then (and now) were (and are) important: Our society's dehumanizing aspects across a wide range of issues, our society's elevation of the material over the flesh and blood and spiritual, and our society's almost manic attempts to elevate the individualized (not just the individual but all things individualized) over all. The intersections of these issues, I thought (and think) must be the point at which we begin to think about such horror (to the extent we feel the ability to think about it at all).

To be sure, some of the issues that were being discussed then (and now) were indicators or evidence of the larger issues (why is it that we seem to "need" so many guns in this country; why is a goodly portion of our youth disaffected; what do these video games say about us as a society???). However, that the essence of our society (that more and more goods and services need to be produced and consumed on an always increasing basis and that the individual self is to be exalted above all others) may play a part was not (and is not now) discussed.

Pause, fast forward eight years (almost) to the day, and we have the same situation, with the facts altered to make it interesting (for the moment anyway, no doubt some aspect of Anna Nicole's death is out there waiting to grab the headlines again).

Once again, the same old debates are trotted out and the same old lines, sides, issues, etc. are drawn. Will we really have a discussion about what this is really all about or will we continue the "less filling" "tastes great" debate of eight years ago?

There is little hope for that, in my mind. However, this article by Sacha Zimmerman in the online edition of The New Republic, at least gives me a glimmer, as Ms. Zimmerman is asking the more transcendent questions.

Read the article, and then ponder for yourself, what do you want to be thinking about eight years from now?

Big Caveat: One thing I want to make clear is that the above should not be taken in any way as an attempt to excuse, justify or otherwise let Cho, Harris or Klebold off the hook. They were evil, very evil. They each are 100% responsible for their actions--Not society, not guns, not video games, not Ritalin, not mean rich kids. My only point is that we, as a society, need to understand the deeper undercurrents that are affecting our youth (and quite frankly our adults) and determine how we can change. But to be clear, there are no doubt thousands of disaffected kids out there who are subject to the same societal undercurrents and who do not wake up one day and shoot their classmates. They may bury themselves in drugs, booze, etc., but they don't kill others. Cho, Harris and Klebold don't get to hide behind these societal issues--they are responsible for their murders.

Posted by Mark at 10:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2007

Another Sad Tragedy

Words seem to fail on a day like this. There is little for me to offer other than that our collective prayers and thoughts go out to the injured, and the families and friends of those killed, today at Virginia Tech. The Wikipedia entry seems to have the most information at the moment and the Roanoke Times is keeping a running timeline of events.

No doubt this will be politicized every which way, but now is the time for prayer and reflection.

Posted by Mark at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2006

The True Lord of the Dance

I must admit that this song by Sydney Carter, although perhaps not theologically pure, does appeal to me:

I danced in the morning When the world was begun, And I danced in the moon And the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven And I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he

The full lyrics are at the website linked above. To hear the song, you can do a Google search. The John Langstaff version is the one that I like best. You can buy the CD, or subscribe to Rhapsody and hear it. I like Michael Flatley, but he ain't the true Lord of the Dance.

I first heard this on Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Program this past Thursday. I then promptly locked myself out of the car at the gas station because I was in such a buzz from the song. The Spirit of Christmas can really sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Posted by Mark at 01:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 16, 2006

God's Gift

Christ came as a propitiation for our sins. He was the sacrificial lamb that suffered in lieu of our suffering. This was necessary to demonstrate God’s justice and mercy. Justice, because the sins of mankind made punishment necessary, and God is not a liar. Mercy, because instead of making us suffer the consequences of our sin, he bore them himself.

Sometimes I wonder if this central doctrine of Christian theology opens the question as to whether there is an assumption that there is a moral law to which God is subject. In other words, why was punishment required for the sins of man? What if God would simply have let the punishment go? For example, what if he would have forgiven man just by sending Jesus and making him flesh and having Jesus act as a good example on how to live and behave? What would have happened had there been no punishment that Jesus suffered? Certainly Christian theology would not allow that there is some power above and beyond God that would require the imposition of the punishment.

I think the answer lies with God alone. It is his nature to tell the truth. He stated that mankind would suffer punishment for sin. Mankind sinned. There must be punishment. Although there is nothing that could force God to fulfill what he promised—that is there is no force that could have prevented God from saying, in essence, “oh well, I tried and they sinned anyway; so I’ll let them off the hook.” However, God is subject to his own nature--if that can be said to be a form of subjection. His word is essential a law. When he said the word of punishment, he then necessitated the consequences. To have done otherwise would have been apart from his nature as a God who fulfills his promises and keeps his word.

Then to demonstrate his own mercy, he sent his Son into the world to suffer the very punishment that his own word ordained.

The question remains though, could God have changed his mind and said, “oh well, they sinned but I’ll let them off the hook?”

That is an impossible question to answer for a human I believe. I suppose the best answer is “yes” that he could have. However, that would have been a contradiction. And, in God there are no contradictions.

Posted by Mark at 12:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 14, 2006

The Ship Pounding

Donald Hall, the current Poet Laureate, is a very talented poet. He was, of course, married to the very talented poet Jane Kenyon. How do you know when a poet is talented? He (or she) can write about cancer treatment in a hospital and you are moved by it. The first few lines of The Ship Pounding (from Poetry Foundation.org):

Each morning I made my way
among gangways, elevators,
and nurses’ pods to Jane’s room
to interrogate the grave helpers
who tended her through the night
while the ship’s massive engines
kept its propellers turning.

Poetry is one of my antidotes to the crazy speed and materialism of the modern (or is it post-modern?) world--a way to slow down the day, and to reflect on greater things.

Posted by Mark at 10:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 13, 2006

Iranian President: World is Flat!

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at the "international conference questioning the Holocaust," declared today:

The earth is flat. Every nation knows this and believes it to be true. That anybody believes the world to be round is simply a plot by Zionist forces to control our thoughts. If, like me, all citizens of the world were to wear tinfoil on their heads regularly, they would realize quickly the truth of this.

In extended comments that were not widely reported, the Iranian leader dispelled a variety of other myths:

It is true that no human has ever landed on the moon. The entirety of the space program was filmed on a ranch near Crawford, Texas through funding provided by Howard Hughes. I can personally verify this because Elvis told me last week when we were hunting snipe near Atlantis.

Posted by Mark at 01:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2006

"I have here in my hand a list"

Ok, so it's not THAT kind of list. The December issue of The Atlantic has an interesting article naming the Top 100 Most Influential Figures in American History (registration or subscription perhaps required; I don't know, I am a subscriber). A group of esteemed historians, including evangelical historian Mark Noll, voted on the top 100 most influential Americans. The article is also filled with other interesting sidelines, including the most influential Americans still living, and subsets that include influential musicians, poets, architects, and others.

Here are the Top 5:

Abraham Lincoln

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Alexander Hamilton

Now, to paraphrase Alan Jacobs in A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age, to make any such type of list is to invite immediate rebuttal about the list. I have made one circumnavigation, and I think the list is fairly complete (with one glaring exception). I will begin with quibbles about the order.

First, I would likely put Washington first and Lincoln second. This is a mere trifle--perhaps they should be tied for first. Nonetheless, Lincoln was not working from a blank slate. He had an idea of what America was. Washington did not have four score and seven years. He was writing on a blank slate. Thus, I would put Washington first. No Washington, perhaps no Union for Lincoln to preserve.

Second, I would put James Madison in the Top 5. Perhaps we would have had the Constitution we have now without Madison. I'd rather not gamble on it though.

Third, I would put Martin Luther King in the Top 5. He came in at eighth. His ability to rally African Americans around non-violent change, as well as his ability to rally white Americans with his eloquent logic, put him in a status with the Founders. If you disagree, consider how the Sixties, as trying as they were from a race relations perspective, would have played out without Dr. King and his non-violence.

Fourth, I was gratified to see Ronald Reagan in the Top 20 (#17). As time passes, his vision and his strength of will are being recognized. Ten years ago, he would perhaps have made the second 50.

Fifth, Patrick Henry doesn't make the list? I have been laboring under the delusion that he may have once given an influential speech, but perhaps I recollect incorrectly. I do not doubt that Stephen Foster (#97), Ralph Nader (#96) and P.T. Barnum (#67!) were much more influential. Wait! Thomas Paine (#19) is there instead? OK "PRESTIGIOUS" HISTORIANS WHO MADE THIS LIST, REPEAT AFTER ME: THOMAS PAINE WAS NOT AN AMERICAN, HE WAS A SCOTSMAN (IF HE WAS ANYTHING).

Other quick-hit trifles:

--Walt Whitman (#22) beats out John Adams (#25)? ??? ?????

--Jonathan Edwards comes in at #90. Glad to see it. Billy Graham does not make it. Not happy about that.

--Herman Melville rounds out the list at #100, making, apparently, Rachel Carson (#39) more influential. A fact no doubt supported by the fact that Silent Spring is on so many more high school and college course reading lists than Moby Dick.

--The first woman is Elizabeth Cady Stanton (#30). Apparently Sandra Day O'Connor has been less influential.

In the event, I do not want to nit-pick too much. It is a very fun list. If it gets people talking about the people, and the issues they represent, then it will have done a great deal of good.

Oh, and by the way, the person whose quote gives this post its title was an also-ran:

With only two votes, Cold War bogeyman Joseph McCarthy didn’t make the Top 100

Demagoguery ain't what it used to be.

Posted by Mark at 11:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Without Conscience

Catching up on reading this morning, I happened across the editorial Without Conscience in the September issue of Touchstone magazine. The editorial discusses the various movements in mainline Protestant churches and in the Catholic church that tend to water down, or dispense with entirely, basic tenets of the church in the name of "conscience" or "pluralism," or whatever. These corrosive elements have tended to be irreversible and, once entrenched, do not gladly suffer any “pluralism” in the form of tradition:

Such “pluralism” cannot work in practice, because it does not mean variety within a greater unity, but the anarchistic assertion of every individual will. This explains why in those traditions now dominated by the innovators, pluralism on their fundamental matters is severely limited (the traditional Episcopalian cannot impede the desire of a woman to be ordained). That those now in power once appealed for diversity on these matters but now refuse it is a lesson to those bodies in which the innovators have not yet gained power.

The editorial also discusses the rationale for why these "innovators" stay within their traditional bodies, rather than availing themselves of all our pluralistic society has to offer:

But why insist on “conscience” at all? We live in a pluralistic society, which means that Christians dissatisfied with their church have an endless menu of other groups to choose from. Almost any disgruntled Christian can find a nearby church whose life and teachings he likes better.

The dissenters appeal to “conscience” because it offers them a way to eat their cake and keep it too. As far as we can see, dissidents remain in the churches whose traditional teachings they deny mainly because they feel a stubborn sense of “ownership” to which belief is irrelevant—the sense that “It’s my church, and no one is going to drive me out”—and can explain their dissent, no matter how thorough, as the attempt by faithful members to correct a church in error. (The extent to which many are economically and otherwise bound to the body whose teachings they partly reject also should not be underestimated.)

The editorial does not break new ground but does succinctly capture the pressures on the traditional denominations from those who want to improve upon the Gospel that has been handed down from the early Church.

The editorial almost has a tone of puzzlement as to what is going on. It is as if Messrs. Hitchcock and Mills, who authored it, continue to be surprised by this now very old attack on Christianity from within.

For my own part, I am not surprised. In its infancy, when its doctrine was formed, Christianity was a marginal and radical movement, often peopled by the poor and dispossessed. That it has in ensuing years managed to gain some power within the secular world does not change what it is--a movement that cares about spiritual matters and not as much worldly matters. We are to make believers and disciples, not edifices and bureaucracies. Institutions are worldly things. We should not be surprised that institutionalized religion then is susceptible to worldly corrosion, anymore than other institutions, such as educational institutions, are susceptible to the same pressures.

That does not mean that we traditionalists should give up, nor should we flee our traditional denominations. Rather, must continually remind ourselves whom our real enemy is, and that he will not abandon the attack on whatever belongs to our Lord. That we will be in the midst of those attacks should be an encouragement that we are where the Lord wants us.

Thus, with love, patience, charity and wisdom, we should continue to defend the faith, and our churches, from the attacks of the world. In doing so, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater—that is, we should understand that the “dissenters” are beloved children of God. They need to hear the true Gospel, repeatedly if necessary, every bit as much as the unchurched. That is our duty as Christians.

We should also continue to look outside of our specific denominations, whether evangelical, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, and take up the cause with like-minded traditionalists in those other traditions. This is not to say that we need to give in to our doctrinal differences. We need to understand, however, that that which brings us together, Christ crucified and resurrected, is much greater than that which may divide us.

Perhaps, then, by our mutual cooperation and support, we will have churches whose foundations and bulwarks have been strengthened to withstand the attacks from the enemy.

Posted by Mark at 10:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

But What Can One Do?

Jim’s post below has spurred me to set down a few, seemingly trivial yet concrete actions I have taken to reduce my negative impact on the earth.

First, to restate the problem, regardless of Global Warming, it cannot be gainsaid that (i) landfill space is not infinite, (ii) fossil fuels will run out, and (iii) tailpipe and smokestack emissions, however much scrubbed, have a negative health impact and mar our surroundings. It is possible, as well, that average global temperatures are rising caused, however much, by fossil fuel burning.

Second, as a Christian, I must also give thought to God’s call on me to be good steward of His creation. This is true both for the present and for the future. Regardless of your eschatological beliefs, it is quite possible that our great grandchildren will live to see our leavings. I contend that we ought also to take some thought of what we bequeath to them.

Thus, it behooves Christians and non-Christians alike to give thought to how their everyday actions can change our earth for the better, or worse. Even if all you do is little, you have at least done that. If we all do a little bit, it could perhaps add up to a lot.

Here are some things I have done. I do not pass them on as things that everybody can or will want to do. I only provide them as examples of small things that can be done, if a little forethought is given to one's actions:

• I bring my lunch to work in a re-useable lunchbag. This enabled me to stop buying, and throwing away, paper bags.
• I bring my sandwiches, etc. in Tupperware. This has reduced dramatically my use of disposable Ziploc bags.

• I shave with a straight razor. This enabled me to stop buying, and throwing away, around 40 razor heads a year. Small, yes. But, then again, all those semi-sharp blades aren’t out there cluttering up some landfill.
• I use a high-quality hard soap for my shaving lather, and I use a brush. This has enabled me to stop buying, and throwing away, approximately 15-20 metal cans of shaving cream a year. I have had my current bar for four months and have barely made a dent in it.
• I have asked to take my Mars Hill Audio magazine subscription in downloadable form, rather than the CD form. This avoids having to deal with six CDs a year, plus their cases.
• We have started using cloth napkins for dinner rather than paper napkins.

None of the foregoing has had a negative impact on our lifestyle. Indeed, some of the changes have been enjoyable, and saved some money to boot. Take shaving with a straight razor. I enjoy it and it gives me a bit of a connection with the way my forefathers shaved. I suspect I could change still more and not negatively impact my lifestyle.

So, what little can you do?

Posted by Mark at 12:52 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2006

My Father's House

A column at the Knowledge at Wharton website discusses the interesting step that some megachurches are taking in essentially allowing themselves to participate in secular product marketing campaigns:

Now some advertisers are taking the next step [beyond marketing products with a religious tie in churches, such as the Purpose Driven Life]: marketing products -- like an SUV -- with no intrinsic religious value through church networks. "If we are going to target the African-American consumer, we have to go where they go, rather than ask them to come to us, and the church is a major institution for that community," says James Kenyon, Chrysler Group brand marketing senior manager.

The article discusses the potential benefits to churches that allow such marketing campaigns. One church received a new van that the church uses to help elderly parishioners get around in exchange for church members buying a sufficient amount of product.

The benefit to the product companies is obvious:

But there is no doubt that megachurches -- defined as churches with weekly attendances of over 2,000 people -- offer advertisers some huge enticements. They reach more than seven million people every Sunday morning, an aggregation of potential consumers that secular advertisers have ignored until recently, according to Scott Thumma, an expert on megachurches at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn.

"Megachurches represent the concentration of larger numbers of Christians in fewer congregations," says Thumma, whose latest research will appear in a co-authored book next year. "If nearly 50% of people who attend church go to 10% of the churches, then marketers have not given that phenomenon nearly enough attention."

The article notes, though, that not everybody greets this development with unbridled enthusiasm:

. . . Jesus spoke frequently about the dangers of wealth, warning that "you cannot serve both God and mammon." More dramatically, he overturned the tables of businessmen inside the Jewish temple and drove them out with a whip, saying "Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise."

To some Christian critics, the analogy could not be more direct. Isn't having Chrysler or Chevrolet vehicles parked in the foyer of a church "a little too much like putting the tables back inside the temple?" asks Skye Jethani, associate editor of Leadership, a journal for church pastors published by ChristianityToday.

The dangers of commerce intruding -- or being invited -- into churches are "infinite" from a religious point of view, says Jethani, who is one of two pastors at an "accessibly-sized" congregation of 400 in Wheaton, Ill. "Christianity comes to be viewed, not as submission to Christ and love of your neighbor, but an identity like any other, defined by what you buy, who you vote for, what entertainment you consume. Becoming so cozy with the methodology of business completely warps the message of the New Testament."

I am sympathetic to a church's desire to augment its resources through other means. Also, I generally support pastors using their influence to encourage businesses to invest resources in needed places in the local community for development. However, I think, on balance, that the critics have it right here. This trend (if it can be called that) seems to perpetuate two problems that I think plague the Evangelical Christian church today.

First, this phenomenon is a by-product of the "growth over all" perspective that seems to have a hold on the church. Growth, whether explicitly or implicitly, appears to be the standard by which Evangelical churches are measured. The growth standard appears to trump other potential indicators of success, such as the ability of a church to create lifelong disciples of Christ. I believe the obsessive focus on growth ultimately detracts from the cause of Christ, because it is not the explicit cause of Christ.

Indeed, the article quotes a leading business writer on the dangers of a focus on growth the detriment of core mission:

Even business guru Jim Collins, best-selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, has an opinion on the topic. Growth for the sake of growth is potentially destructive, warns Collins, who spoke this summer to a megachurch leadership conference about his new publication applying Good to Great concepts to "social sector" organizations like churches. The key question for churches, he says, is, "Do they have the discipline to say 'no' to any resources that will drive them away from their fundamental mission?"

Second, this trend represents a very explicit capitulation by the churches involved to American consumerism and materialism. As the article mentions, our Lord spent a goodly amount of time warning that an obsessive focus on the material necessarily leads a lack of focus on God, and is sin. These pastors, far from questioning the effects of American consumerism on their parishioners (much less questioning the effects of consumerism on the lost), have instead brought their Churches right into the arena of commerce. Whether or not Jesus believes that is a proper use for His church remains to be seen.

Posted by Mark at 05:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2006

Dear Kids, November 12, 2006

[For an explanation of this series, see this entry.]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The real questions are the ones that obtrude upon your consciousness whether you like it or not, the ones that make your mind start vibrating like a jackhammer, the ones that you "come to terms with" only to discover that they are still there. The real questions refuse to be placated. They barge into your life at the times when it seems most important for them to stay away. They are the questions asked most frequently and answered most inadequately, the ones that reveal their true natures slowly, reluctantly, most often against your will. Ingrid Bengis

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. James Thurber

The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions. Claude Levi-Strauss

Dear Kids,

Today I have been thinking, as the quotes above indicate, about the importance of questions, and how important it is for you to continually ask questions. People do not ask enough questions these days. Certainly people think about the mundane questions, such as “what will I wear today?” or “where will I eat?” These are not, however, the questions of which I am thinking.

Nor is questioning a value unto itself, as those who display the bumper stick “Question Authority” might have you believe. (As an aside, I would definitely encourage you to question anything you read on a bumper sticker.) Saying “Question Authority” alone is nonsense. Would you “question authority” if the authorities said “a tornado is coming, you should seek shelter immediately?” Of course not. No, the questions are important as a means to get to an end—they are not an end unto themselves.

In other words, my adjuration to you to ask questions is really a simple way of stating a more complex idea, which is that you should live an examined life. An examined life is one in which you don the habit of questioning what your values are and whether the things you do are serving your values. An examined life is necessary to lead a good life well lived. And that, a good life well lived, is the point, in my estimation, of living at all.

You will want to start with the question of whether you believe in God, and if so, which conception of God. Since you have grown up in our house, you have had ample (I hope!) exposure to the Christian revelation of God. I also hope that by this time you have committed your life to Christ. If you have, I should let you know that you will likely think about that, reconsider it, struggle with it, and wrestle with it for the rest of your life. Do not lose heart! This struggle makes you a stronger Christian. The more you examine your faith, the more you probe the truth of the Christian gospel and your own belief in that gospel, the stronger your faith will become. A person with a weak belief foundation fears wrestling with God; a person whose faith is strong need not fear such encounter. More about this perhaps later, as we are thinking about questions at the moment.

The questions do not end with your faith decision—the questions really only begin with faith. The next few questions you have to ask yourself, and keep asking yourself, are variants of the following: “What is my conception of the good life?” “What is my conception of living that good life well?” “What values form the core of such good life?” “What behaviors tend to lead toward such good life?” “What behaviors tend to lead away from such good life?”

These are exceptionally important questions. If you do believe in the Christian faith, then you will have some framework for answering, at least partially, at least some of these questions. The Bible, however, does not provide an exact blueprint for your life. It provides a few specifics and some general guideposts—it puts fences around the boundaries—but it does not otherwise direct the path.

Accordingly, you will want to start, if you have not already, asking yourself the above set of questions. You are eighteen; that is the time to start.

These questions, by the way, are not reducible to “what job will I have,” “whom will I marry,” “where will I live,” or “how much money will I make”. All of those questions follow the previous questions about a good life well lived, values and behaviors. Indeed, to the extent you can begin to map out a conception of what is a good life well lived, and what values and behaviors follow from that, the lesser questions that begin this paragraph really sort themselves out rather nicely (and at least one of them becomes irrelevant in any event).

If you begin to ask yourself (and continue to ask yourself, this process by its nature does not end) these questions, you will be in a much better position than many of your fellow Americans. Many Americans, full-grown adult Americans, do not bother to ask themselves any of these questions. It just never occurs to them. One does not need to wonder, then, why we have the number of neuroses, anxieties, bouts of depression, etc. in this country that we reportedly do. Asking and answering, however experimentally and temporarily, these questions in a lifelong process won’t always save you from experiencing such feelings, but will at least better equip you to deal with them.

Once these bigger questions are asked and answered, though, you get to go on to a new series of questions—at least if you are taking the previous questions seriously. Those types of questions will be addressed in my next entry.


Posted by Mark at 02:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 11, 2006

Dear Kids

(Note: The following is the start of a journal that I intend to deliver to my kids on their respective 18th birthdays. I flatter myself that some of the entries may have interest for others, so I publish them here. Nothing personal will be published, don't worry.)

November 11, 2006

Dear Kids:

Ten thousand years from now: can you imagine that day? Okay, but do you? Do you believe “the Future” is going to happen? . . . What about five thousand years from now, or even five hundred? Can you extend the horizon of your expectations for our world, for our complex of civilizations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of your own children, of the next two or three generations? Can you even imagine the survival of the world beyond the present presidential administration? Michael Chabon, Details, January 2006. (Quote found at: Michael Chabon's website.)

It might seem odd to you, on your 18th birthday, that I am writing to you ten, twelve or even fourteen years ahead of time. My point in doing so is both simple and complex. My hope is that, as an 18-year old, you have begun to think about the world around and beyond you—particularly beyond your particular place, which I will assume to be some suburban home somewhere in the United States.

Now, this hope of mine might be quite quixotic. I did not begin to think beyond my own narrow world well into my twenties—perhaps into my late twenties. It is true that I had opinions about the rest of the world. But those opinions were not really formed through thinking about the rest of the world. They were the fashionable opinions of those with whom I agreed politically and philosophically (to the extent I could be said to have had philosophical thoughts) at the time. That is to say they were the opinions of a young, conservative man coming of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Those thoughts seem almost otherworldly at this point. They certainly seem woefully naïve. That is not to be wondered at. Although they were perhaps relevant at the time, that was a very different time, if only 20 some years ago. It was a different age. Ironically, although the Cold War was still playing out—a war in which the destruction of all life on earth was contemplated on a regular basis—it seems a time of lightness and naïveté. Now, as I said, seems to belong to a different age. Although we contemplate the destruction of the world less often, we contemplate instances of mass killing much more often—and those mass killings by whomever seem very much more real, to me at least, than the potential nuclear annihilation that seemed only moments away at times during the 70s and 80s.

At any rate, I hope that you are pondering that which is beyond your current place at the moment. Perhaps, as you do so, you may wonder a bit at how the world got to where it is. You can, of course, read books of recent history, as well as books of less recent history, and newspapers (if such term is known) to get a general sense of “what is happening.” However, those recitations of bare facts may not contain enough of the flesh and blood of how we really got to where we are (when you are 18). It is my hope that this journal, in some small way, helps fill in some blanks. I will endeavor to avoid playing the solipsist, but must admit that this journal can only bear my thoughts and opinions, and those only for a very short span of the time between now and your 18th birthday. Nonetheless, you might be interested to gain this perspective as you contemplate the greater world around you.

Now I will hazard to make a prediction or two. First, I guess that you will find some of the words in this journal unknown to you. You might also find the style to be archaic, at best, and tedious, at worst. This is not a comment on your vocabulary but just an acknowledgement that some of the words I use, and the style in which I use them, are already old-fashioned as I write them. They will be even more so when you read them. Or, as I said, they may be tedious to a high degree.

The second, and more substantive, prediction (at least for now) is that your time will be marked, as our time is now, by an ongoing clash between two forces, the West (I almost might say “Christian” West, but that is barely true even now) and Islam. It may even be that the clash is between the Secular World (with nations such as China and India participating) and Radical Islam. In any event, I predict that yours will be a world in which certain Muslim nations and movements will continue to use violence as one means of imposing their religious will on other parts of the world.

I say clash. I could say “battle” or “war.” Whatever word is used, it is now a bit controversial to call the current clash a “clash of civilizations” or a “clash of cultures.” That is considered outlandish, presumptive, or worse, it is considered a statement that indicates that the speaker believes “our culture” or “our civilization” to be better than the other. Believing that there is a transcendent truth, or that some civilization or culture is better than another, is considered déclassé in the United States in 2006. Being terribly old fashioned, I commit the sin of believing in ultimate truths on a somewhat regular basis.

Nevertheless, we shall not say that we are in the midst of a clash of cultures at this time. No, when we consider one culture in which parents approve of, nay help, their twelve year old daughter strap explosives to herself so that said daughter might annihilate herself at a bus stop so that she might kill some Jews along with herself, we say that is merely a difference in ideas. That we in the West cannot even fathom such an idea does not make it a cultural issue. Thus, it is mere ideas that cause people to fly airliners into buildings, not cultures. I know this because a woman who was once the Secretary of State of the United States has said as much. She is considered to be a very wise woman indeed. And I am certainly not the person who could claim anything to the contrary. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see where such rhetoric stands when you are eighteen.

In the event, I dare to predict that there will still be a clash (of ideas or whatever) between certain portions of Islam and the Secular West (and whomever else) when you are eighteen. That conflict, I suspect, will provide the backdrop against which many of the important world events are played out, as it does so today. I will no doubt write more on this conflict, and its very old roots, in other entries.

I daresay, though, that you will perceive other issues and themes within the United States and the world in your eighteenth year. For instance, as I write this, there is a child in Africa who is, literally, starving to death. She does not know why this is happening to her, nor does she care. She does not know that this world currently produces enough food to feed each and every human on the planet. Such grand thoughts do not enter her mind. She does not know that one of the reasons that she cannot get enough to eat is that various warlords in her country are fighting important “wars”, which prevent the food and aid she needs. No, she will die quietly without the benefit of knowing these important thoughts. Still and all, though, the sun will rise tomorrow. Pro football will be on, and all will be well with the world. Her mother, perhaps, will shed a tear for the daughter whom she knew did not have much hope when she entered the world. Such is the lot of many in our world today.

Unless I am greatly mistaken, such will be the case in the world eighteen years hence. Children will starve to death needlessly while enough food is produced to feed them. Such it has ever been and such it will ever be. A sobering thought, no doubt.

No doubt there will continue to be ecological problems in your day as well. Whether or not “global warming” will plague your thoughts, I do not know. Such concepts are a bit grandiose for my small mind. What I know, though, is that you will be wondering what the heck will be done with all the garbage that continues to accumulate. Why is there garbage on the side of the road? What, exactly, is that coming out of that smokestack? What is the cumulative weight of the exhaust products that come out of car and truck tailpipes, and what effect do such particles have on the air? Other similar problems will no doubt trouble you as well.

(That’s also two more predictions I suppose.)

Now, here I must make a confession of sorts. You see, in writing this, I have truly wanted to provide you some perspective, however shallow and idiosyncratic, on the world around you. However, as I write about the world to come, and how it came to be that way, I am forced to think about, well, how it might come to be. This forces me to contemplate how I would like such world to be. Because I love you, and only want the best possible future for you, this forces me to think about how I might think and act and feel about bringing about a rather better than worse world for you at eighteen. Thus, I hope, in my own small way, to also use this journal to change me so that things might be changed for you. In addition to be old fashioned, I tend to be foolishly optimistic.

That is no small task. But then, I have ten years.

Oh, and, Happy Birthday.


Posted by Mark at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 05, 2006

Hastert Should Resign

There are now allegations that Dennis Hastert's office knew about the emails from Representative Foley to pages, perhaps as early as three years ago. Nonetheless, certain members of the Republican leadership, and Hastert himself, resist calls for Hastert's resignation.

For my own part, it seems like there is enough evidence to indicate that Hastert, and others in the House, knew about the allegations, or should have known. If it becomes clear that they did have actual knowledge, and did nothing, then they ought to not only be removed from leadership, but removed from the House altogether.

However, the analysis does not end with actual knowledge. Regardless of Hastert's actual knowledge, there is now enough evidence to indicate that he should have known about the emails. It seems clear that a number of people in the House knew about Foley. It appears to not have been a secret. Consider if the House were a school district, or a corporation for that matter, and the school district or corporation had such information within it but did not have a system in place to follow up on this information and get it in the right hands. Such a school district or corporation would be subject to huge liability.

The House, however, apparently has no such system for properly dealing with this type of information. How do we know that? Because Dennis Hastert himself admits, by his denial of actual knowledge, that there is no system in the US House of Representatives to get this type of information to him. There is, in short, no system to protect these pages. Remember a goodly number of these pages are minors--children, albeit older children. Hastert, as the administrative as well as political leader of the House, has a duty to protect these children that is the same as any school principal. He has clearly, by his own admission, failed to so protect them. That is reason enough for Hastert to resign immediately, regardless of his actual knowledge.

Posted by Mark at 07:19 AM | Comments (3)

October 02, 2006

Our Ugly Age

Frederica Mathewes-Green has an interesting observation about the lack of aesthetical sense in our age. Her point goes beyond the skin deep. The ugliness that is reflected in our media reflects a more fundamental ugliness. That her example is a children’s' movie is also not a coincidence. Much that is targeted at children, whether cartoons, clothes or toys (particularly dolls), is drawn intentionally as an absurd and gross caricature. "Life," this predominant theme seems to say, "is not to be taken seriously, and it is ugly in any event. Accordingly, let us seek out new and grotesque frontiers to avoid dealing with our reality." It's not pretty aesthetically nor morally.

Well, it doesn’t solve the underlying ugliness of our age (particularly our Culture of Death) to simply say, “Let’s only buy that which is beautiful.” Nonetheless, it would not hurt to give it a try. This could particularly be true in the realm of children. We parents fund this ugly stuff. We simply ought to stop. If you think the stuff your kids want is yucky--don't buy it. Don't fund this junk. It's ok to be culturally chauvinistic with respect to the goods you buy for your kids. You do not have to say, "well that's not for me but if that's what's cool with the kids . . ." We parents all need to show a little spine. We run our kids lives, not these purveyors of crap. Let's put them out of business. In doing so, perhaps we will be taking a small step forward on other cultural issues.

Update: Subscribers to the Mars Hill Audio Journal know that the subject of beauty comes up with some frequency in that publication. Ken Myers has a nice essay that delves into this subject a bit and ties the idea of beauty into the larger theme of the imago Dei. (Note that this is also a fundraising letter.)

Posted by Mark at 12:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2006

It's 2006, Not 1998, Perhaps It's Time to Get Serious?

[N]ow my heart is doubtful. The world changes, and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand . . . such reckless hate?
Theoden, King of Rohan, in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings--The Two Towers

For some time I have had in mind to write a mild defense of President Clinton from the charge of "do nothingness" in the face of the al Qaeda threat during the 1990s. These charges that his lack of minding the store caused 9/11 smack of ahistorical amnesia on the part of the accusers. Anybody who was over 18 in the mid-1990s knows, or should know if he or she had sense, that Bill Clinton would have had zero chance of taking any real military action against al Qaeda or the Taliban prior to September 11. Fortunately for me, procrastination has its benefits and the worthy Captain Ed has written the defense for me:

For five years, we have rehashed this long and embarrassing history of American cluelessness. It is a bipartisan history, with both Republicans and Democrats arguing at various times that administrations used terrorism as an excuse for their political benefit. All it does is poison the atmosphere and allow hyperpartisans to play gotcha games with political opponents.
The time has come -- it has long since come -- for that history to become just that: history. None of us can pretend that Bill Clinton could ever have declared war on al-Qaeda in the manner Bush did without having a 9/11-type event as a catalyst. Not only would the Left have screamed much as they do now, albeit without the Hugo Chavez-type conspiratorial thinking, Republicans would have never given Clinton the kind of support needed to send American troops into Afghanistan. The political climate had been thoroughly poisoned by the time of the African bombings and Congress would never have put aside its deathmatch with Clinton to unite in a war effort, especially against a band of terrorists most Americans didn't know existed.

The political climate is still poisoned against a President, albeit a different one this time. Yet, what matters, what is important, is to get on with the business at hand rather than trying to pretend that the past was other than it was. The more energy we waste on each other, the less clear our purpose becomes and the less focus we have on stopping the threat that faces the free West.

I suspect, however, that these calls will availeth naught. Eloquent statements like Captain Ed's will fall on the deaf ears of those of the right who are intent on their dogged campaign against the hated Clintons, both the one who can no longer run and the one who might. On the left, the eloquence and intellectual honesty of those like Christopher Hitchens (see here and here for examples) will also fall on deaf ears, as his otherwise fellow travelers become single-minded in their one true objective--the hatred of all things Bush.

The result is a clear statement to those who observe us: We in the United States (and frankly the West in general) are not serious about this war with militant Islam. We would rather sit on the brink of utter ruin and debate over petty injustices, real or perceived, as if such debates will stop those who want to kill us. (Perhaps we will trifle them to death?)

Sadly, I am increasingly of the belief that the West really does not have what it takes to finish this war. How could it, since it does not actually agree that there is a war, or, if there is, what the aims are, or even who the enemy might be.

So, how exactly is it fair to lay all of that at Bill Clinton's doorstep?

Posted by Mark at 12:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Have Duct Tape, Baling Wire, Will Play in Playoffs

The Minnesota Twins, whom some had written off early in the season, have overcome the loss of two ace pitchers (including a franchise veteran), the loss of their pre-eminent batter for a time, and a variety of other problems, to gain at least a wild-card entry into the playoffs. What an amazing run. We'll see how they do in the playoffs (personally I am optimistic). Whatever happens, it's nice to see a team win by being a team, and not just a collection of high-priced talent.

Go Twins!

Posted by Mark at 12:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 22, 2006

Help Stop Those Who Want to Stop the Dead Woman Redux

Ok, this is a recycle post. I feel, though, that I must take drastic action, as I have received a larger than normal amount of bogus feel-good emails recently. Tonight it was Andy Rooney, a few days ago it was Civil War dad finds son on battlefield with the music to Taps in his pocket, a few days prior it was one of the Hillary Clinton lies, namely her refusal to meet with Gold Star Mothers. It goes on and on, with the grandaddy of course being the Madalyn Murray O'Hair story below.

Folks, truth is much, much more interesting, and moving, than fiction. So, check these things out at Snopes.

If you need a moving story that is true, check this one out about a Flight 93 hero and his daughter. Then there is this story about the difference a young girl can make.

Original Post:

Well, I got this email today asking me to help stop Madalyn Murray O'Hair and get the FCC to reject Petition Number 2493, which O'Hair and her atheist organization have put in front of the FCC to prevent Christian programming over the airwaves. Doctor Dobson wants all good Christians to help stop this threat to our freedom.

I'd love to help, but you see, this email is a hoax. It's been a known hoax for almost ten years (during which time Ms. O'Hair died). I was actually astounded to receive it, as I thought everybody knew this was a hoax.

Here's a good rule of thumb for emails. If you receive one that asks you to forward it on because of something outrageous that it is reporting to you, do yourself, and your potential recipients, a favor. Go visit snopes.com, do a search on a prominent term in the email, and make sure it's not a hoax. Here is the Snopes entry on the O'Hair email.

A public service announcement by your friends at Stones Cry Out.

Posted by Mark at 11:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

That They May Have Life

I do not consider myself especially ecumenical, mostly because that term is freighted with much baggage with regards to watering down the Gospel, and liberal theology. Or at least that is so in my mind. However, I am very passionate about a rapprochement among the various large groups of Christianity, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Syrian, etc. When Our Lord adjured Christians to "Love One Another," I take it to mean literally that we need to eschew division and come together in communion.

Thus, I have always observed with favor the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project. That group has released a new statement, "That They May Have Life" in the most recent volume of First Things. Interestingly, not only does the group attempt to bridge the chasm between Evangelicals and Catholics, but it also attempts to engage the larger culture in a conversation about life, namely the Culture of Life. I will have more to say on this but would encourage you to read it yourself. In addition, if you are serious about things Christian and things Cultural, you would do well to subscribe to First Things.

Posted by Mark at 06:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 19, 2006

Why I Like Christopher Hitchens

As to conclusions about religion, politics and life, Christopher Hitchens and I have very little in common. Although he defies easy categorization, he is probably best described as an intelligent Harry Truman-esque liberal and an atheist. If I paint too broadly or out of the lines on Mr. Hitchens, it is only to contrast him with me--namely a politically conservative evangelical Christian.

Why do I like Mr. Hitchens although we disagree on ends? First, he's just a brilliant writer. Read almost anything he writes, and you will at least be the better off for having read a well-written piece.

Second, he calls 'em like he sees them--even with respect to those with whom he might otherwise disagree. Take his recent defense of previous Presidential Press Spokesman Ari Fleischer. One doubts that Mr. Fleischer has much in common with Mr. Hitchens, particularly with respect to politics. However, for the sake of honesty, Mr. Hitchens provides a defense of Mr. Fleischer. A defense that is likely at odds with the desires of the readers and publishers of the journal in which it appears, namely Slate. A defense that will likely not be a hit with the effete intelligentsia with whom Mr. Hitchens probably otherwise hobnobs at cocktail parties.

In other words, Mr. Hitchens is intellectually honest. Perhaps the defining demonstration of this is his essay resigning his column in The Nation. No doubt this resignation, and his intellectual parting with the irrational left, has caused him much subsequent personal grief. Somewhat of a modern, if less dramatic, man for all seasons is our Mr. Hitchens.

So, although Mr. Hitchens and I disagree on much, I must commend him for his zest to out the truth, and for his good writing. Those who regularly read Stones Cry Out would do well, regardless of their religious or political stance, to read Mr. Hitchens from time to time as well.

Posted by Mark at 12:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

If Baseball Were Still King

Doug Grow quotes a local professor on the America that could have been if baseball had retained its pre-eminence over football:

"The sun would shine brighter. Sweet breezes would waft over us. The smell of hot dogs would permeate the air. Cracker Jacks would fall from the sky and Wally the beer man would be governor."

(Wally the Beerman is a local celebrity who delivered, um, beer at Twins games for years going back to the time of our great-grandfathers.)

I like football (including the very gutsy performance by the Vikings tonight). However, to an old baseball player, there's nothing like the crack of the bat and the smack of the glove to put chills down your spine.

Posted by Mark at 11:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Where Were You, Daddy

I suppose it is inevitable that, like my parents' generation before me, I will be subject to the question "where were you on September 11, 2001 daddy?" or words to that effect.

I was driving to work in Minneapolis at about 8:00 am or so Central Time. I was listening to KTIS, the local Christian radio station. Between songs, one of the DJs, Chuck Knapp, mentioned that it was being reported that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was not a "we interrupt this program" report, just a between songs break for regular news.

I remember my thoughts: A real tragedy, especially for the occupant(s) of the plane. I hope nobody inside the building was hurt. I did not, however, think it was a major problem.

I recalled that, in 1945, a B-25 bomber hit the Empire State Building. I thought this was nothing more than a modern, but perhaps smaller, version of that tragedy.

I parked and walked to my building. As I stood on a corner waiting for the light, I overheard a woman and a man talking excitedly, with the woman saying that "two planes" had crashed into the World Trade Center. I scoffed in my head at the way in which a story quickly gets blown out of proportion. Of course, I had just heard the news report, and the real story. So, I shook my head (without saying anything) and crossed. One small plane hitting the World Trade Center is a tragedy, but a routine tragedy. My mind, of course, could not comprehend, or accept, two planes hitting the Towers. Because, of course, that would not be an accident.

In the event, I got in the elevator and went to the 27th floor. People were talking quietly and nobody appeared to be working. There were snatches of conversation that I overheard that made it clear that something was definitely wrong, but I was still none the wiser.

I entered my office, powered up the computer and tried the CNN website. It was down, as were the other news sites. I called my wife at home and asked her to turn on the news.

She turned on the television--"oh my God, the building is on fire, there are going to be people dying in there" was what I heard next. Then, "both buildings are on fire."

I knew then that we had been hit by terrorism (as did everybody else, of course).

I hung up a few minutes later and walked around the floor. I spoke with people, we were all dazed of course. It was still beyond comprehension.

Some time later, I went to the office of one of my partners who had a TV in his office. Right before that, the first tower had collapsed and we were watching the immediate aftermath. My partner said something to the effect of "who did this." I knew. After Khobar Towers, after the embassy attacks and after the Stark, I knew exactly who did this. I was also aware that US intelligence officials had announced a few days earlier that signals were indicating that al Queda was actively planning something, and that another Stark-type attack was possible. Of course, that was a feint to draw attention to the Arabian Gulf, and away from home.

So many images from that day linger. One personal image occurred when I was looking out of my office window. My office overlooked the Mississippi, and the contrast from looking out over the deep peaceful blue of the river, and the images on the TV, was stark. I looked up, and followed an airplane high overhead making a puffy contrail as it flew from West to East. Abruptly, however, it made a 90 degree turn north, and headed for Canada. US airspace had just been closed. Today I can imagine the frustration of those people over the next few days, as they tried to get home--their trips interrupted. Today, such an interruption would be a major event. That day, though, it was a very small thing in a world that changed in an instant.

I don't know what to say, five years later. As a country, we have gone back to business as almost usual. That is good and bad. We are not nearly as focused on terrorism, or al Queda, as we were then. That, too, is good and bad. We cannot ever go back to before September 11. However, we all need to work together on how to live past September 11.

Posted by Mark at 08:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 04, 2006

Our "Perfect" Future

At Touchstone magazine's blog, Mere Comments, Russell Moore comments on our not too distant future of picking the traits of babies as we would a Chinese dinner. A little of this, some of that, NONE of that, that or that. He worries about the implications of our impending perfection by genetic selection:

We should be sad about all of this, not sad as culture warriors who are losing a battle. We should be sad knowing that the techno-utopian Reich that overshadows us now may soon leave us with a world in which only Christians have Down's syndrome babies in their strollers, only Christians have bald little girls fighting through chemotherapy, only Christians have little boys in "husky" size pants as they struggle with childhood obesity.

I wonder what happens to art, to literature, or to movies? The limitations of humans often play a large role in setting the scene in the arts. Our diversity is the rich canvas upon which the artist paints or the novelist writes. Limit that diversity, and what becomes of "kid with limitations overcomes limitations for greatness" motif?

Posted by Mark at 09:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

the anchoress

We wonders, my precious, is there a harder working blogger (blogeress?) out there than the anchoress"? We doubts it my precious, we doubts it.

Posted by Mark at 02:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Greatest Moment in a Movie

I'm not a television kind of guy.

I admit, however, to loving movies.

So, I get to wondering, while "As Time Goes By" is playing on my Comcast Rhapsody, what is my favorite movie moment? This could be answered in two ways--favorite amongst all movies, or favorite within several favorite movies. So, I'll answer both.

At the moment, as time goes by, my favorite movie moment--against all comers--is--a tie. Casablanca is my favorite movie (in case you were not paying attention to the obvious foreshadowing). Two moments stick out in Casablanca as "lump in the throat moments." First, when Rick helps the young Bulgarian couple to win enough money to leave Casablanca. "Have you tried 22 tonight?"

The second Casablanca "lump in the throat" moment is when Lazlo conducts the band in singing "La Marseillaise" to drown out the Nazis singing "The Watch on the Rhine." One does not need to be a Francophile to get Goosebumps.

Two other movie moments that linger for me:
--The "I say a little prayer for you" segment of My Best Friend's Wedding. I haven't a clue why this scene delights me--but there you have it.

--"You had me at hello." This from, of course, Jerry Maguire. (Remember when Tom Cruise just made movies?)

In any event, the last two are what are on my mind at the moment. The first two are still my favorites.

What are yours?

Posted by Mark at 01:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 02, 2006

Bloodless Christianity

Christianity Today's Christian History & Biography newsletter contains a comment by Elesha Coffman on Communion. The comment leads off with a description of a new method for preparing communion developed by an evangelical church leader:

[R]etired engineer Wil Greenlee has invented a Communion cup filling machine, reducing the average time it takes to fill a 40-cup tray from 5 minutes to 2 seconds. The time savings really add up at Greenlee's church, massive Southeast Christian in Louisville, which goes through 20,000 cups of juice in three weekend services. A process that used to take a 75-member prep team two nights to complete can now be finished in one morning, and with less spillage.

"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary," Greenlee says of the improved routine.

The comment then describes in brief detail the communion practices of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

I don't want to debate the essential meaning of communion, nor argue “real presence” versus some other theology. However, I was struck by the last comment of Mr. Greenlee above:

"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary."

It would be unfair to pick on Mr. Greenlee for his comment. He was likely just commenting on his invention and not elucidating an over-arching theory of communion.

His comment, however, may describe the only real philosophy behind the communion practices of many evangelical churches. In many evangelical churches, and I’ve been to quite a few around the country, the communion portion often feels perfunctory. It is usually not the center of the service--the worship service now fills that function. And, communion is anything but communal in most evangelical churches. We go through the motions so we can get on to the sermon, and then get home. This is completely contrary to the twin functions communion has traditionally serviced in the church--a celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, however defined, and a ceremony meant to draw the body of Christ together as one.

Ms. Coffman has some interesting closing thoughts:

The assembly-line efficiency of Communion preparation at a church like Southeast Christian seems like it could strip some of the mystery and meaning from the ancient ceremony, but that doesn't bother me terribly. What goes on in the sanctuary and in each believer's heart is certainly more important than what went on the kitchen several hours earlier. It does bother me, however, that so many evangelicals can get excited about efficiency while so few actively engage in dialogues on ecumenism, sacramentalism/symbolism, or even eucharistic theology. Somehow the "what" and "why" of Communion have been subordinated to the "how."

As an evangelical myself, I'm not just pointing fingers here. Honestly, I wonder what we might be missing.

One might wonder indeed. A bloodless Christianity.

Posted by Mark at 07:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

A Solipsistic Trifle

I have no pretensions about my poetic skills. Nevertheless, I have been dabbling a bit lately, and thought I'd post one that at least I like. I acknowledge that (i) it is too short for a poem and (ii) perhaps not very good.


Arranging papery purple flowers in the vase,
The last dried remnant of a bouquet
presented to the young dancer at recital.
Her mother’s late night love labor
Will not be lost on the girl, nor on her God.

Posted by Mark at 11:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

American Neo-Nihilism

Mark Triplett, a commenter on Doug's Post "The Future of Dissent," notes the following:

Doug, it's only one small step to state that no one at anytime may say anything negative about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality regardless of government funding or not.

This new law in California goes way beyond the slippery slope and falls off the cliff.

The sad thing is that most will accept this as the new reality and move on not realizing that the next thing you can't talk about in schools will be...... you fill in the blank.

Soon it will be like 1984, the novel, where good is bad and bad is good.

Mr. Triplett is correct. Most Americans, if forced to sit down and listen to the implications of the new California law, would disagree with it. However, as Mark states, that would end the matter. Survivor would be airing in a few minutes, or the Powerball drawing, and the issue would quickly be forgotten. Does that mean that, since the issue failed to engage attention beyond the moment, the issue was not that important? I don't think that is the case, because I cannot imagine any important issue these days that would really inspire passion, or even interest, in the majority of Americans beyond their next meal and television program.

At least Nineteenth Century Russian nihilists, as sketched by Turgenev and Tolstoy, had a philosophy. Twenty-first century Americans are nihilists by default, not by thought, avocation nor philosophy.

Posted by Mark at 10:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 28, 2006

A Plea for Christian Environmentalism

"Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices." Otto von Bismarck

In a recent article at The New Republic Online, the eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson has penned a plea to Christians to help save Creation:

It may seem far-fetched for a secular scientist to propose an alliance between science and religion. But the fact is that environmental activists cannot succeed without you and your followers as allies. The political process in American democracy, with rare exceptions, does not start at the top and work its way down to the voting masses. It proceeds in the opposite direction. Political leaders are compelled to calculate as precisely as they can what it will take to win the next election. The United States is an intensely religious nation. It is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian, with a powerful undercurrent of evangelism. We secularists must face reality. The National Association of Evangelicals has 30 million members; the three leading American humanist organizations combined have, at best, a few thousand. Those who, for religious reasons, believe in saving the Creation, have the strength to do so through the political process; acting alone, secular environmentalists do not. An alliance between science and religion, forged in an atmosphere of mutual respect, may be the only way to protect life on earth, including, in the end, our own.

Professor Wilson presents some evidence of why he thinks the world is on the verge of environmental collapse:

Scientists estimate that, if habitat-conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century. The ongoing extinction rate is calculated in the most conservative estimates to be about 100 times above that prevailing before humans appeared on earth, and it is expected to rise to at least 1,000 times greater (or more) in the next few decades. If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity--in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life--will be catastrophic.

However, he does not provide evidence beyond that paragraph. Nor does he offer any practical ideas on what Christians can do to stop the destruction. Because this is intended as an initial step, and is intended as a short online article, these are not fatal flaws. It will be interesting to see what flesh he adds to these bones in his forthcoming book mentioned in the article.

More troubling, potentially, is the offer of an alliance, using the language of faith, by a secular humanist who appears to have no other interest in matters of faith in general, or Christianity in particular, beyond accomplishing his own agenda. Members of the academy, particularly those in the hard sciences, tend to be condescending (or worse) towards people who take their faith seriously. What consequences are their for Christians to take up this offer to become unequally yoked? ("Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 Cor. 6:14)

I will take Professor Wilson at his word that this plea is freighted with utmost respect for Christians and our beliefs. In addition, I am increasingly concerned about environmental matters, although I remain agnostic about the threat of Global Warming. Even without Global Warming, though, there are plenty of environmental issues to cause concern, such as deforestation and toxic pollution, particularly in the less developed countries.

However, I think that Christians need to address these problems from a distinctly Christian perspective--one in which we take seriously our stewardship of the Earth. (See Genesis 1:26-31) In addition, we must remember that God's salvific plan through Jesus was for the entire creation, not just humans. (See, e.g., Romans 8:20-23 and Revelation 21:1-2) As the Church, Christians have an important role within that plan for the creation.

This does not mean that we should exclude cooperation with non-Christians, nor ignore what they have to offer. It just means that we need to discern God's plan for the environment, not man's plan. If we ignore this important philosophical starting point, if we start out with our own plan and not God's, then we will likely miss the mark, and risk watering down the Gospel for the sake of getting along with secularists, or risk veering down the path of animism.

What, then, does that mean for the Professor's offer? Of course, his offer is obviously rhetorical in the sense that he does not really expect an answer, or that he will be sitting down with the National Association of Evangelicals in a future meeting to discuss the alliance. What this means as a practial matter, though, is that we need to look inward to Christianity and its sources and resources to discover and determine the means by which we should be faithful stewards. If Professor Wilson would like to join us within that context, then he is certainly welcome.

Posted by Mark at 01:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 27, 2006

Literary Criticism

Two examples of why literary criticism remains one of the higher art forms:

Dana Gioia--Example Number One

Thomas Hibbs--Example Number Two

Conducted properly, literary criticism can both illuminate the work at hand and illuminate life in general.

Posted by Mark at 01:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

Is there a text in this class?

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world?

Christianity Today has an article on "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future." The Call is the work of a small group of Evangelical Christians who are interested in reclaiming a holistic Christian meta-narrative. The Call speaks to Christians, North American Evangelical Christians in particular. Ultimately, though, the Call is meant to align all Christians under a meta-narrative that reaches back to the early Christian church and reaches past today to confront a world that appears to be increasingly polarized by competition among several meta-narratives.

The Call is interesting and I recommend that you read it. For the moment, I will remain an interested observer. The Call is not particularly weighty--it's not treacle but neither is it red meat. I have more hope for the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project as a means by which Christians will obey Jesus' adjuration to "love one another" commanded by John 13:34. Nonethelesss, if the Call results in Evangelical Christians taking their first century Church and Patristic roots more seriously, then it will have accomplished much good.

The main mover behind the Call, Bob Webber, was also involved in a similar call in 1977--"The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals." I also encourage you to read the Chicago Call. It could have been written today and has retained its vibrancy and prophetic nature.

Posted by Mark at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

Wild-Card Haiku

I wonder if Tom
would think me to be churlish,
to Haiku Twins win!

It's Haiku part deux.
The Twins win again tonight!
Like birds, they take flight.

(Necessary caveat to avoid bad luck caused by perceived bragging: Lots of baseball left this season. Anything can happen.)

Posted by Mark at 09:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 25, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

Why dost thou gaze upon the sky?
O that I were yon spangled sphere!
Then every star should be an eye,
To wander o'er thy beauties here.

Sir Thomas More

Well, thanks to the graciousness of the good folks who have been keeping Stones Cry Out up and running the last 18 months, I have been allowed to return to posting. My hiatus was the result of a number of personal and professional issues that left little time for anything else. (Nothing salacious on the personal side nor controversial on the professional side; just no time left over for posting.)

For those of you who don't know me (or to reverse the phrase of a famous candidate for Vice President "who is he, what is he doing here?"), I am one of the founders of Stones Cry Out. I stopped posting in November 2005, due to the above reasons.

So, many, many thanks to Doug, Jim and Tom for keeping the lights on and the bills paid. I hope to keep up my end of the bargain as we move forward. In my lacuna, I have noticed a few changes in the Blogosphere (is that word still in use?), and am excited to be a very minor participant in the continuing evolution of this medium.

Posted by Mark at 12:14 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 24, 2006

Interesting Psycho-Political Science

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
Mark Twain

If the 2004 data predict behavior, many undecided, moderate, and even liberal voters will be moved in the Republican direction by any news about terrorism.

Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago (and referenced in these pages previously by Doug), has an interesting comment at The New Republic Online (free registration required). Professor Sunstein extrapolates to the 2006 and 2008 elections the results of a research study conducted after the 2004 elections. The research purports to demonstrate that voters tend to view Republicans more favorably when confronted with terrorism, and perhaps their own mortality.

Professor Sunstein wonders whether, in the light of the recently unveiled plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners, Republicans will have an election advantage, so long as terrorism remains in the forefront.

I have little to add to the Professor's provocative thought experiment, other than to note that it is interesting.

One wonders, though, about the Game Theories that could be played out based on this research.

Theory 1: The efforts of the Bush administration, and Congressional Republicans, in quelling worldwide terrorism bear fruit. Worldwide terrorism diminishes. The mind of the American public wanders to other matters. In a scene that hearkens back to Churchill's defeat in 1945, a Democrat is elected President in 2008 and Democrats extend (or take) their control of Congress.

Theory 2: Terrorism thrives (or at least continues apace), despite the efforts of the Republicans. Viewing the Republicans as still being stronger on terrorism, the American public votes in a Republican as President in 2008 and continues to give Republicans a bare majority in Congress.

There are, of course, multiple other permutations.

Posted by Mark at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack