Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

To anyone who is giving something up for the New Year (or anyone who isn't!), remember this Robert Louis Stevenson poem:

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A beautiful journey out through the entire known universe....

Thanks for pointing this one out, Skyhook. The universe is vast beyond comprehension, yet it is enlightening to ponder it with the help of this artistic, accurate representation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Article on Matthew's birth narrative

"You can debate whether Matthew's birth story is history or parable. In my own view, it is clearly a deliberate and very powerful parable. But what does it mean? And there is an even more important question which still presses, whether you take it literally as history or metaphorically as parable. It is also the only question Matthew would have thought worthy of debate: Who is your King and what is your Rule? Is it the violent power of a Herod or the non-violent power of a Jesus?"

- John Dominic Crossan

full article here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Matthew and Luke: The Birth Narratives

This is a post I wrote last year containing a comparison of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and my ideas on how we should read such stories. I have edited it slightly and present it here, if you feel like reading something that is probably too long. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season!

Matthew and Luke each contain short but elaborate birth narratives concerning Jesus’ birth. They also contain genealogies of Jesus which are quite different from each other. Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham, accentuating his connection to King David and mentioning the deportation to Babylon. Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back through David and Abraham to Adam and to God, perhaps meaning to be more universal by implying the inclusion of Gentiles. I have read some attempts to reconcile the different genealogies, but they do not seem too credible. One Christian apologist suggested that Luke may have traced the lineage of Jesus through Mary’s line, despite the lineage stating “son of, son of, son of, etc.” Another suggests that each just skipped certain generations. Quite possible, but does this make the lineages seem more literally correct? They are theologically driven, not historically driven. Matthew even makes the genealogy divisible by 7 to display a perfect numerology in Jesus’ line.

In the book of Matthew, Joseph and Mary appear to live in Bethlehem. They give birth to Jesus and live in a house, where they are visited by Wise Men. When King Herod hears of the birth of a Messiah and seeks to have him killed, they escape to Egypt. Herod then orders all the children age two and under living around Bethlehem to be killed. When Herod dies, Joseph receives a dream telling him this (this is his third dream by the way. Matthew focuses on Joseph more than Mary, and all his dreams are reminiscent of the famous Joseph of the Old Testament who could interpret dreams). The family returns to Israel, but moves to Nazareth after Joseph receives a fourth dream warning them against returning to the land of their previous residence.

In Luke, Mary and Joseph live in a town called Nazareth in Galilee. When Emperor Augustus orders a census of “all the world”, they must go to Bethlehem because Joseph is descended from King David. While they are there, Mary gives birth and lays Jesus in a manger, because there is no room at the inn. Then the angels appear to the shepherds announcing the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. The shepherds visit the child quickly (he is still in the manger - in fact this is the sign the angels said to look for). It is a joyful scene.

Eight days later, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised. They meet Simeon and Anna who both recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Then the family returns to “their own town of Nazareth.”

Luke’s version has a few historical problems. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ birth takes place during the reign of Herod the Great. The worldwide census takes places while Quirinius is the governor of Syria. However, Herod the Great died in 4 BC and Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 AD. Many have tried to explain this error. Some have proposed that the Bible has not been translated correctly. This approach has not gained traction. Others have suggested that Quirinius was governor of Syria twice or that there were two different Quiriniuses. This does not work with history since scholars know who the previous governors of Syria were.

One archeologist named John McRay, who is also a conservative Christian apologist, has even proposed the “two Quiriniuses” theory based on so-called “micrographic” letters on ancient Roman coins. Another Christian archeologist named Jerry Vardaman makes this claim. Vardaman states that the use of micrographic letters was widespread for centuries, yet no other archaeologist seem to be aware of them. He has never produced any evidence, not even any photos of coins, to any colleagues for peer review. There are only some sketches he made. It seems unlikely that Romans kept track of their history using letters so small on their coinage that only a magnifying glass could reveal them. Vardaman suggests they used a diamond stylus of some sort to write the super tiny letters, but of course, Roman coins are a bit rudimentary to begin with. Even Craig Blomberg, another prominent Christian apologist, in reviewing McRay’s book on Paul, questions aloud why McRay puts any stock in this “micrographic letter” theory since no one has ever even seen these coins. McRay and Vardaman suggest new chronologies for the life of Jesus and other ancient events that are far off from the ones agreed upon by evangelical and secular scholars. And to boot, Vardaman never mentions a Quirinius coin in any publication. It seems that he just mentioned it to McRay, and now McRay uses it as evidence. The McRay/Vardaman claim comes from the book “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel, a favorite of conservative apologists.

Anyway, we could go on and on. The faith of many people is contingent on a literal interpretation of the Gospels. Therefore, some will go to great lengths to maintain the plausibility of that interpretation. The previous paragraph is just one example of this. By the way, these are often nice, good people. Just people that I disagree with on this issue. (Ha! I’m so non-confrontational.)

Another problem with Luke’s account of the census is that there never was a worldwide census while Octavius Augustus was emperor. There was, however, a census of Judea, Samarian and Idumea, the territories ruled by Herod the Great’s son Archelaus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. The most likely scenario, by far, is that the author of Luke made a simple mistake. As scholar and author E.P. Sanders states in his book “The Historical Figure of Jesus” :

“This is a relatively slight historical error for an ancient author who worked without archives, or even a standard calendar, and who wrote about a period some eighty or so years earlier.”

Also, Luke states that Joseph and Mary must return to Bethlehem to be counted because Joseph is descended from David. It’s very unlikely that people would have to return to the homes of their ancestors for a census. That would be like someone from America returning to the home of one of the Pilgrims because they are descended from Him. And David lived almost 1,000 years before Joseph the father of Jesus. This is most likely a scenario invented to put Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, since the Messiah should have been from the Davidic line and born in Bethlehem according to the Jewish thought of the day.

These stories are beautiful. They describe how these writers thought of Jesus. Did they invent these narratives? Perhaps. Were they part of traditions that evolved in different regions over the course of Jesus’ life? Maybe. Are they literally true? Well, anything is possible, and I try to remain open to anything. But history is about finding probability, not maintaining plausibility. And I think it is highly probable that if you were in Bethlehem (or Nazareth) at the time of Jesus’ birth, you would not have seen what is described in Matthew and Luke. However, if you met Jesus as an adult, perhaps you would have thought back to that first Christmas and considered it much more amazing than it seemed back then. What made the followers of this Jewish peasant construct mythic stories about him to rival the ones written about the births of emperors? This is the true question.

Finally, I will state the case that what is symbolic can be more powerful than what is literal at times. If something is literal, it happened. Very cool, perhaps amazing. If something is symbolic, then it means that the reality behind it is so incredible, so real, so foundational, that we can’t really get a good idea of the meaning through regular language. Thus myth, stories, music, art, poetry and dreams become essential ways to communicate in this awareness we are all experiencing called life. There are literalists on both sides of the issues. Some think it happened, others say it didn’t happen, and that’s it. But perhaps what did happen for the authors of Matthew and Luke was so real and present in their lives, that they could only express it through figurative language. We know ancient historians worked that way. They were not dispassionate scholars. They had an interest in what the reader thought - they were trying to convince their audience of a theological, spiritual truth. They are not just laying out facts here.

Look at the writer of Luke. The gospel is only part one of his work. The other part is the book of Acts. He wrote in a way that consciously avoided repetition. E.P. Sanders describes Luke as an “artist” because he never writes the same thing twice. The ascension stories of Jesus are different at the end of Luke and at the beginning of Acts (but not necessarily contradictory). He relates the story of Paul’s conversion three times in Acts and it’s a little different each time - in Acts 9 Paul falls to the ground, but his companions stay standing. They hear a voice, but see no one. In Acts 22, the companions see a light, but hear no voice. In Acts 26, the companions fall down when Paul does. In each version of the vision, Jesus’ speech to Paul is different and the last one in Acts 26 the message is much greater in detail and purpose.

Now the author of Luke wasn’t too worried about precise, literal facts. Why should he be? He was not a court reporter. I do think that he investigated traditions about Jesus and the disciples, but surely no Christian had a detailed version of exactly what Peter said after the arrival of the Holy Spirit or what Paul said on trial, etc, etc. This is historical fiction. The writer takes these traditions and makes it into a story. Some think that the author completely invents many details and stories in Luke/Acts. For instance, the Greek scholar and writer Gary Wills thinks that Luke definitely invented the idea that Paul was a Roman citizen since Paul was beaten so many times and it was illegal to beat a Roman citizen. It is certainly possible. I tend to think that the author of Luke did a lot of work gathering up traditions from different Christian communities and worked them all together. I think this because Luke claims to have investigated things thoroughly at the beginning of his Gospel. But once again, surely there was no transcription of what Mary said in response to Gabriel (the Magnificat) or Simeon’s speech when he met the infant Jesus (the Nunc Dimittis). These are either poetry by the author, or maybe early Christian hymns/speeches/traditions that he works into the story. This is the communication of spiritual truth more than historical fact.

I have had different attitudes about the Christmas story through my life. As a child I wanted presents mostly, but I still felt a sense of holiness at the Christmas Eve service when we read the stories. As a teenager I felt this sense deepen as my understanding of the Christian faith deepened. I felt amazed that God would love humanity enough to come down in human form and experience what we go through. In college, many of my literalist beliefs did not hold up under scrutiny, and I became a little snotty about religion. I have never considered myself an atheist, but I was always very eager to explain that I didn’t think what I used to think. I was not a fundamentalist! I seldom bowed my head in public prayer, even though I prayed constantly by myself. As I matured a little, I finally became more OK with reclaiming religious expressions and church again. I could talk about God or Jesus again, without a preamble concerning Biblical history and different interpretations. I realized that talking about God in a real, experiential way is talking about faith. And talking with faith. And perhaps most readers of this blog know that I define faith as a positive attitude of openness, more than belief without evidence. Belief is holding on. Faith is letting go.

I am still happy to discuss theories of the historical Jesus, Paul’s theology, the process of canonization of the New Testament, etc. In fact, I’m more “happy” to, with less to prove or disprove. I still believe in an honest exchange of views of course, and I’m grateful that readers of these entries feel the same. But I feel that all of us are essentially the same, despite our different levels of literal belief in the New Testament. When we’re alone. When we’re seeking hope. When we’re grateful. When we’re worried. When we’re joyful. When we’re together.

Thank God.

And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blog Adventures again

I have too many discussion going on. But here they are if you are bored! They are with fairly conservative Christians, and we usually end up debating the source of morality and stuff like that.

Here Doug Peters and I discuss the difficult issue of abortion under "Hypocrisy and other fun subjects." The forum labeled "God's Morality" also discusses an interesting subject.

Here on Burk Braun's blog, "Darrell" and I discuss matters such as the reasons for and perceived source of our morality.

There are a lot of comments here on Wade Burleson's blog on all things Baptist, but Benji Ramsaur and I discuss the basis for our views on Scripture. He believes that Scripture is self-authenticating, meaning that we "receive" our feelings on it and respond to them, rather than needing to have any reasons for our thoughts on it. I disagree.

Anyone can jump in anywhere, by the way. Towards Truth is a smaller forum and could use a few more participants. If you feel like debating, there is always a place on the internet! Hopefully we all view the debates as acts of partnership in trying to think better ourselves.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Church Ladies - A Probable Pauline Interpolation

- I posted this back in April, and I thought I would put it up on the new blog after some topical conversation in the comments section here.

Many people are familiar with the following verses of Scripture:

“As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35

There are other verses in the New Testament that also speak of limiting women’s roles in the church and in the home. These verses are in the so-called “pastoral epistles” which include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Though these letters claim Pauline authorship, many scholars do not consider them to be written by Paul. One reason is that they reflect a church structure that did not exist when Paul was writing. So someone wrote the letters “pseudonymously” , which is kind of a polite way of saying that someone forged them.

However few scholars doubt that the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. But here is the kicker. There is very good reason to think that Paul did not write the verses quoted above. Many scholars consider them a later edition by a scribe copying the letter. In fact, a likely scenario is that a scribe wrote these “verses” as a note in the margin of the letter while copying it. The scribe’s note reflected a later, post-Pauline view of women’s role in the church. Eventually, after much distribution and subsequent copying (by hand, of course), the scribe’s note in the margin found its way into the letter itself.

There are three reasons for thinking these verses are not original to 1 Corinthinans.

The first is that these verses “move around” a bit when reading ancient manuscripts of 1 Corinthians. Sometimes they are verses 34-35. Others times they are located after verse 40. This would support the idea of verses 34-35 being a later interpolation.

Secondly, if one leaves out those verses all together, the flow of the letter makes more sense in its discussion of the role of prophets in the “gathering” (or “church”).

The third reason is that if we read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul gives instructions that women should wear veils on their heads when they pray and prophesy. This is in reference to the gathering (or church), as it makes little sense for Paul to mention this regarding a woman at home alone, praying and prophesying.

Consider Paul’s view of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:3-5:

“On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

So the nature of “prophecy” was that it was something done for the church. Prophecy was “speak(ing) to other people”. It was public. Remember that “church” to Paul was simply the gathering of believers. It was not a building, or anything as “official” as it is today. It was the believers gathering together, sharing a meal in remembrance of Jesus, and then in turn offering up hymns, prophecies, lessons, etc. It was not very hierarchal in structure. Yet!

So why,when giving instructions for worship, would Paul say that women should be silent in church after stating that women should have their heads covered when praying and prophesying?

He probably didn’t. As Christianity became more established, it seems to have reverted back to something closer to the societal norms of the day, including the secondary status of women. But what did Paul write of gender roles within the early church in another book?

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Good blog entry

I thoroughly enjoyed Burk Braun's latest blog over at Biophilia.

He argues something that I believe in strongly. There is a greater truth to consider when arguing with others about facts. That truth is compassion.

A quote from Burk

"while philosophy (love of truth) is an abiding pursuit and jewel of cultivation, the most important object of cultivation is our regard and love for each other, without which quests for truth can't happen."


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Came Out Of A War

I know, I know. Write a new Christmas song! Hopefully soon. But I am still happy with the way this one came out. Click on the title to listen and/or download. Thanks to Beth Swales for some excellent singing on the track. Merry Christmas!

When the Romans ruled in Israel

A savior child was born

would he lead the zealots

and sound the battle horn?

But not a general or a warlord

or a president was he

He taught inner transformation

was the key

Christmas came out of a war

Christmas was born into hostile occupation

so maybe some good will can come to me and you

We know Jesus was born in a manger,

that’s what the stories say.

But today we live in castles while we pray

Maybe celebrating Christmas

can still keep us occupied

But the Romans haven’t left us

They’re inside.

Christmas came out of a war

Christmas was born into hostile occupation

so maybe some good will can come from me and you

Christmas is coming again.

Christmas is coming again.

Christmas is coming again.

Christmas is coming again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Interesting discussion..... taking place here -

Doug Peters created this site to further pursue discussion about Christianity, the supernatural, the human condition, evolution, etc. As of now, it is only he and I. Anyone should jump in who would like to. We had been discussing such things during an online debate between
Commonsense Atheist and Thinking Christian which has since fallen through.

Click on the forum "The Human Condition" or any of the others.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Charter for Compassion

Have you affirmed the Charter for Compassion yet? It's a project spearheaded by religion scholar and author Karen Armstrong. The Charter was created by a group of religious and secular leaders who wish to affirm compassion as the guiding principle of their various traditions. Check it out!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Over Seas by G.A. Compton

The wise men look no more toward the star;
The shepherds, all, are blinded in its light;
The herald-song is silenced by the jar
Of sudden death's triumphant scream. The blight
That will dwarf little children yet unborn,
Drops from the skies and lurks beneath the seas,
While venomed hate, this very Christmas morn,
Cankers the heart of nations, like disease.

A mockery in churches now is sung
Of Him, who taught the ways of peace, good will;
Rachel, again, is made to mourn her young
By Herods, who deny Him, as they kill--

Foul stench of war in smokes that reek and blur--
His gifts today--His frankincense and myrrh!

--December 25, 1941

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Promo spot for Look Magazine

I have posted this before, but it still cracks me up. If you're not familiar with Look,
it's one of those social weeklies that has photographs of people in different hot spots all over town.

And Derek was never asked to make commercials for local publications ever again. Directed by Derek Doublin. Written by Steven Stark. Starring Damon Boelte and Derek's cat Bob. Susan Ebert made the prop!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Revelation by G.A. Compton

When I think of that wide expanse of Night,
And all my mind urged by my soul and heart
Peers at its opaque walls with finite sight,
And sees but doubt step forth with poisoned dart;
When I ask if death's shoals do border on
that ageless, graspless thing, Oblivion,
Or is the Lethe-sloping shore to dawn,
Soft as the touch that lulled Endymion-
Then the immortal love, my dear, that you
Have brought, lifts me above my mortal ken,
('Tho reason, with all logic, may not view
The scene confounding tongue and agile pen;)
And I look down at doubt from far above
And know there is a God, and God is Love.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts on the Supernatural

If there is a supernatural element to our universe (or beyond), how could we possibly know it?

1. I often use the term “intangible naturalism” as it could refer to something wholly natural that is beyond our current ability to understand - whether because of a lack of knowledge or because our brains are not made to understand it. An example would be electricity. Now it is considered a product of the natural universe, but perhaps sparks and electric currents were examples of “intangible naturalism” 1,000 years ago. Anything “supernatural” or “intangibly natural” at this current point in time are indistinguishable. Perhaps we will discover how the “intangibly natural” fits into the chain of cause and effect in the future. Perhaps we will not. Where would one decide to call something currently not understood supernatural? The transition from “intangibly natural” to “supernatural” is not one that we are equipped to make.

2. The only difference between natural and allegedly supernatural elements of existence is predictability. Once again, think of electricity. It is natural since it predictably acts certain ways given certain causal elements. But think about what it does. Things move without being pushed, visual sparks shoot out of our hands when we touch, lightning splits the sky - this is the stuff of fairy tales. Except that we can predict it.

3. Anything supernatural that acted predictably would not be supernatural! It would be natural. Another way to think about this besides predictability is connectedness. Everything natural is affected by other natural elements and affects other natural elements. It’s all a dance of cause and effect played out in motion through time. Supernatural elements are disconnected from this. If they were not, they would be natural. Evidence is based on the connections of cause and effect, so we cannot use any natural evidence to support supernatural conclusions. The supernatural will not obey our attempts to observe it or else it would be natural, therefore there is no way to prove whether supernatural elements exist or do not exist.

4. It makes no sense to complain about a lack of proof for the supernatural. However it also makes no sense to put forth specific supernatural explanations for anything as that would require many wholly arbitrary presuppositions about the supernatural. For instance if we say that “God cured my sickness”, then why not say “God created the memory in me and others that I was sick, but I never really was.” Why is the first more plausible than the second? If it’s because of less supernatural involvement then, as I’ve argued elsewhere, why not assume there is no supernatural involvement? Also, if we are describing supernatural in terms of quantity, where do we get those ideas of quantity? We get them from the natural world which the supernatural does not have to resemble in any way. Which is easier for God - to cure a cold or to create 1,000 new universes? So to argue a supernatural explanation, whether God or anything else, is to place many assumptions on to that supernatural hypothesis.

5. But once again, to say there is no such thing as the supernatural because of a lack of evidence is also problematic. Reliable evidence would make it natural!

Conclusion - there could be supernatural elements of our existence, but we can never know it. It would lie outside the realm of evidence, so we cannot complain of a lack of evidence for it. However, to put forth specific ideas about supernatural explanations, and to insist they are right, makes even less sense.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The World Isn't Fair by Randy Newman

His voice, snark and harmonic complexity keep his audience a bit smaller than the audiences of others, but he is one of the best writers of popular song alive today - or dead today!

"When Karl Marx was a boy
he took a hard look around
He saw people were starving all over the place
while others were painting the town
The public spirited boy
became a public spirited man
So he worked very hard and he read everything
until he came up with a plan

There'll be no exploitation
of the worker or his kin
No discrimination 'cause of the color of your
No more private property
It would not be allowed
No one could rise too high
No one could sink too low
or go under completely like some we all know

If Marx were living today
he'd be rolling around in his grave
And if I had him here in my mansion on the hill
I'd tell him a story t'would give his old heart
a chill

It's something that happened to me
I'd say, Karl I recently stumbled
into a new family
with two little children in school
where all little children should be
I went to the orientation
All the young mommies were there
Karl, you never have seen such a glorious sight
as these beautiful women arrayed for the night
just like countesses, empresses, movie stars and
And they'd come there with men much like me
Froggish men, unpleasant to see
Were you to kiss one, Karl
Nary a prince would there be

Oh Karl the world isn't fair
It isn't and never will be
They tried out your plan
It brought misery instead
If you'd seen how they worked it
you'd be glad you were dead
just like I'm glad I'm living in the land of the
where the rich just get richer
and the poor you don't ever have to see
It would depress us, Karl
Because we care
that the world still isn't fair"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Debates part two

This is an interesting debate between Cambridge professor Arif Ahmed and Liberty University professor Gary Habermas. They are debating the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

I find Ahmed's opening statement to be one of the finest examples I have heard on why it is logically problematic to argue for the supernatural with evidence (which is by nature naturalistic). Habermas is a super nice guy. I know from listening to other debates that he is quite smart and knows his Bible quite well, however Ahmed's opening statement leaves him with little ground to stand on. He must allude back to more general theistic arguments, trying to defend the idea of the existence of an "evidence-granting" God by referencing near-death experiences. Habermas is more accustomed to arguing for the historical, physical nature of the resurrection by making claims like "75% of scholars believe in the empty tomb", etc. Ahmed's points make that difficult to defend as reason enough for believing that "a body can pass through solid rock" (as the resurrected Jesus reportedly does in the book of John).

Both men are nice and respectful of each other, and the whole debate is quite interesting, even if the rug is pulled out from under Habermas right at the beginning. Perhaps there are decent points to be made for the possibility of the "supernatural" (or at least "natural beyond our ability to comprehend") - but presenting naturalistic evidence, which is connected causally to all things, to "prove" a supernatural intervention, which is not necessarily connected to anything, is tough business. All one can do is to show a gap in our current understanding and then speculate a solution. Ahmed's three points in his opening show why depositing a supernatural solution into a naturalistic hole does not work well.

I also like Ahmed's introduction of himself as NOT a "devout atheist." He admits that he might quite like to believe certain aspects related to the idea of religion, (particularly his survival of his own death in some way!), but he simply sees no good reason for it. Fair enough.

Of course, one might point out that it is very difficult to disprove the supernatural as well. Cue people to start referencing the tooth fairy, unicorns, etc. but I'm not talking about specifics. I just mean the possibility of some force or entity that does not need to play by the rules of naturalism somewhere in existence. If a supernatural force altered the "matrix" five seconds ago and changed our memories, we wouldn't know it. Of course, even if this DID happen, there is still not necessarily any good reason to believe it. So the best advice is a sense of faith - a recognition of human limitation followed by a positive attitude of trust towards the unknown - and a reliance on reason to deal with what we can understand - "understand" being a word with a very open-ended definition I think.....

Anyhoo - good opening statement by Arif Ahmed!

Here it

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hoop Dreams

Have you seen the documentary Hoop Dreams? It follows two aspiring basketball players from their middle school days through college. It is one of the most engaging films you will ever see.

I rented it about 10 years ago. It was late and I needed to get up early the next morning to teach a few cello lessons. I made the mistake of popping in the movie, thinking that I would only watch a few minutes until I was sleepy. Three hours later, I finally turned in.

The next morning I was very tired (but inspired!).

In his most recent blog, Roger Ebert calls Hoop Dreams "the great American documentary."

Here is the original Siskel and Ebert review.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just Another Ten Percenter.......

Most people know that my "theology" is liberal. Very liberal. I have noticed that oftentimes, these days, the more conservative a church's service, the more liberal the theology. A strict liturgy goes along with an open-minded, metaphorical interpretation of Scripture. More literal-minded churches have contemporary praise bands, skateboarding and televised services played on big screens at different franchises/campuses.

Obviously, I am over-generalizing. There are many conservative, traditional services and many liberal, contemporary services out there - but please accept the "Tithe Rap" as, in the words of my friend Adrian Brown, "one more reason to stick with traditional worship."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Recent Little Dragon Interactions


“Hey, LD, what’s going on?”

“Not too much.”

“Are there any new songs you want to work on?”

“Yeah, this one!” (starts to strum “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”)

“Oh wow, what made you think of that?”

“I got to see Willie Nelson play live over the weekend.”

“No way! Did he play around here?”

“Yeah, he did. I got to meet him too.”

“Are you serious? That is seriously cool. Where did he play?”

“At my Grandpa’s birthday party.”

(dumbfounded silence)

“At first he said no, he doesn’t play private parties. But then he changed his mind. It was awesome. He is a nice guy.”

Wow. I suppose everyone has a price - even iconic American singer/songwriters.


LD : “Do you ever watch the show Glee?”

“No, I haven’t seen it.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good. They mostly do old grandma music from the late 70‘s/early 80’s, but it’s awesome.”

OLD GRANDMA MUSIC from the late 70’s/early 80’s? Huh?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall Guy

I love the fall. It is my favorite season. We are really lucky to see such vibrant oranges, yellows and reds on our trees this year.

This is a beautiful picture taken by Barbara Ebert (my mom-in-law). I think it really captures this moment in time.

Sue, Seve and I went to the zoo yesterday, and let me tell you, this is the time to go! The trees tie together the trails and exhibits into a tapestry of jeweled flora and fauna - not sparkly and showy, but subtle, reflective and deep.

The lions were right up against the glass. The “cubs” are 3 years old now and when Seve put up his hand to the clear surface, the lion would put up her paw. Then she would roll over, like a giant domestic short-hair attempting to play.

A bear was also sacked out right up against the glass, limbs splayed in all directions, clearly unworried about keeping its gender a secret!

The Oklahoma Trails exhibit is stunning right now. The trees have really grown up since construction was completed, and the waterfalls are beautiful, flowing in still motion, sending serene white noise into the fresh, autumn air.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interesting Swedish Proverb

“Theology is poetry plus, not science minus.”

The "plus" lies in the fact that theology makes truth claims concerning the practice of life and what is sacred. Of course poetry does too, but theology usually couples the aesthetic, abstract claims of art and philosophy with a concrete lifestyle program to be enacted.

Valid faith claims lie in the realm of axiomatic premises about what is good. They lie outside the realm of provability and at best point us to the limitations of human knowledge with a sense of hope and wonder. Religions are man-made symbolic systems to attempt communication and deeper understanding of this hope and wonder. Unfortunately these symbols often become the truth themselves for millions of people instead of remaining the humble, flexible signposts pointing to truth that they are meant to be. While I feel strongly about naturalism, or at least if there is anything supernatural I feel strongly that we cannot successfully argue for it logically without severe ad hoc constraints asserted onto the supernatural, naturalism describes the past up to this point. It also provides us with the materials we have to make decisions. Yet it does not inform us of what exact decision we should make in any given circumstance.

For that it seems we need a “plus”. Religion is not necessary, of course, but it is a language that can sometimes help us discuss and think through our experience of existence. At its best it is "poetry plus."

And theology is certainly capable of being “science minus”. This happens when religious discussion, meant to provide a language to describe the indescribable, is used to make concrete scientific claims. It’s when we claim to know things, objective things, that we don’t really know, except perhaps in our non-objective (and lovely) hearts.