Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christian Art Carnival

I'd like to see more on-line Christian art in the blogosphere. To that end, I will be hosting a Christian Art Carnival for this season of Advent/Christmas. Entries should be your own work created in the calendar year 2005 and should be related to Christmas. Artwork should be in jpeg or gif files hosted on your own web space (I might not have enough room to host everybody's artwork). Links are due by the end of the day on December 24, 2005 and should be submitted by email to christianartcarnival@yahoo.com. Please use the email subject "Christian Art Carnival Entry" and include the URL of the artwork, your name as you would like it listed, a description if you'd like one to appear with your artwork, copyright/permissions info, or whether public domain.

I will post the Christian Art Carnival at the new Christian Art Carnival blog on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005, God willing. Please no more than one entry per person. Since no prizes are on the table, no other restrictions apply. In the unlikely event of inappropriate submissions, I'll retain the decision on whether to link to a piece in the Carnival.

All you artists out there, hope to see you at the Carnival! If you're friends of an artist, please help spread the word.

Update 12/02/2005
The email address above has been changed to a new email account specifically for the Christian Art Carnival. A new blog has also been created to hold the results, though a link to the Carnival will be posted here.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fellowship and Fulfillment

Fellowship is a deeply Christian concept. Outside of Tolkien, in modern times there is not much focus on it. But consider this: Without fellowship, a friendship is shallow, a marriage is a failure, a family is a shell; without it, we count our days as empty. Fellowship is an abiding type of love that comes near to a union of the souls. When looking at ultimate satisfaction in life, fellowship is our deepest need.

Like too many matters of the heart, it has been relegated to an area of things feminine and optional. The early church saw things differently:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayers -- Acts 2:42
The early church had the same commitment to fellowship as to the teachings of the apostles, breaking bread, and prayers. Most of the Christians I know are very aware of the need to devote themselves to the apostles' teachings and to prayers. Depending on the group of Christians, they may or may not devote themselves to breaking bread. But it is rare to meet a group that devotes itself to fellowship. It is neglected; we neglect our brothers sitting next to us in the pews. Some have ceased to come entirely.

Fellowship with God Himself
And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. -- 1 John 1:3
God chooses to give the world something we would hardly dare to hope: to have fellowship with God himself. God Himself is present in our world. He has bound himself to be present in his word, and in the breaking of bread, in prayers, and when we gather together in his name. In the Holy Spirit, God Himself is present even within us.

This is just a small part of what the Scriptures say about fellowship. My hope for now is this: to reclaim the rightful place of fellowship in Christian talks as the first step to reclaiming its rightful place in Christian life.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I've been tagged

And a kind thank-you to Sven/Steven for something a little lighter to blog about today. He tagged me with this "Seven by seven" meme:

1. Seven things to do before I die
2. Seven things I cannot do
3. Seven things that attract me to (...)
4. Seven things I say most often
5. Seven books (or series) that I love
6. Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would if I had time)
7. Seven people I want to join in, too.

Seven things to do before I die
I'm such a dreamer but as Popeye used to say, I yam what I yam.
1. Write the definitive, God-honoring work on comparative religion
2. Restore respectability to an orthodox Christian mystic tradition
3. See my children become mature, God-loving adults instilled with a love of truth, a sense of humor, and a deep sense of fairness
4. Arrange for Chinese translations of Athanasius' On the Incarnation and Eusebius' History of the Church
5. Establish mercy missions in my city to be "hands of Christ" for providing medical care for the poor and for meeting the needs of local people hurt by any disaster that was worthy of making the news (e.g. house fire)
6. Improve my proficiency in Arabic.
7. When I find my days are numbered shortly anyway, go recite the Sermon on the Mount and other selections from the gospels in Arabic in Mecca during the annual pilgrimage. It won't be a pretty end, but who wants to go out in a nursing home anyway?

Seven things I cannot do
1. Be satisfied with only the 7 things on my "to do before I die" list
2. Pass up chocolate
3. Spend less than an hour inside a book store
4. Care whether the garage is clean
5. Get the hang of knitting, no matter how patiently BH tries to teach me
6. Stay awake through another chapter of Brothers Karamazov
7. Quit blogging at a reasonable hour

Seven things that attract me to (...)
Now, since my husband left me and has since remarried, I don't think I can remarry in good conscience. So these comments are on a man that I admire very much, though I keep that to myself since I wish him the best and don't want to waste his time.
1. He is the most forgiving person I have ever met
2. Honest
3. Outgoing
4. Fun-loving
5. Knows a hundred good movies to watch
6. Doesn't take himself too seriously
7. Passionate about taking good care of people

Seven things I say most often
1. Don't interrupt your brother.
2. Don't interrupt your sister.
3. Stop picking on each other.
4. Much better.
5. Not again.
6. Really, just stop it.
7. Thank you.
(Entire sequence is repeated at odd intervals during the day.)

Seven books (or series) that I love
1. LOTR (J.R.R. Tolkien)
2. Travels (Marco Polo)
3. Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
4. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
5. Dilbert (series/Scott Adams)
6. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham; #1 childhood favorite)
7. Indian Captive (Lois Lenski; #2 childhood favorite)

Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would if I had time)
2. Apollo 13
3. Wrath of Khan
4. Riverdance (Michael Flatley/Jean Butler)
5. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein
6. Monk (TV mystery series)
7. Gilligan's Island re-runs (don't know if TV series count but I hope so)

Seven people I want to join in, too.
1. Metacrock
2. Dawn Treader
3. The guys over at the CADRE
4. Darrell Pursiful
5. Richard Hall
6. Diane
7. Silas Jones
(Some of you are old friends, and some of you are commenters or people I've met around the blogosphere and just wanted to meet.)

And as they say no offense taken if you don't join in.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Fighting" AIDS and the deaths caused by morally silent Christianity

World Vision, a Christian group, recently published on Five Ways to Fight AIDS. They note that in the last year an estimated 3,100,000 people have died of AIDS, which is more by a huge margin than the tsunami and the hurricanes combined. Their suggestions? 1. Pray; 2. Sponsor; 3. Be an Advocate; 4. Run, Walk, Bike, or Swim; 5. Spread the Word.

The World Vision article is typical of many, and the remainder of this entry does not concern World Vision in particular, but the general "morally silent Christian" approach of which they are an example. Of that approach, it is all very kind and well-intentioned. But it is not helpful in stopping the spread of AIDS in the same way as reducing the top risky behaviors -- IV drug use and promiscuity. This morally silent stance is supposed to be non-judgmental. And it is. It's also directly culpable in letting people continue at high risk of death, so that millions more are expected to die.

It's no big surprise when some secular groups are against what Christians would recognize as morality. Despite the obvious destructive effects of drug use and promiscuity, secular groups are slow to speak against these actions because of their determination to be anti-religious, even if that stance costs millions of lives a year by current estimates. It is, perhaps, testimony to how intense is the secular hatred of religion that they will not consider "monogamous and drug-free" among the solutions. This despite the fact that simple monogamy and refraining from drug use would be the most cost-effective and long-lasting way to solve the problem. Still, that is not even permitted serious discussion. The permissive approach looks at the root of the problem and absolutely refuses to tackle it. This ensures the continued spread of the disease. Due to the constraints of reality, the "preventive" measures will occasionally fail, but promote the continuation of the exact behaviors that spread this deadly disease.

It may be predictable that secularists take this approach. What is less excusable is when Christian groups consign millions of people to die because they are afraid of being called names. Who cares if people call us names if we are saving lives? Are we really so frightened of name-calling, or so naive as to think the anti-Christian bias from the secularists will stop if only we won't condemn today's popular pet sins? Do we really think we're doing a favor to those at risk of dying by allowing them to feel unjudged in their destructive behavior? Do we imagine they'll thank us when they're dying that at least we didn't speak up when it could have helped? Or are we so confused about morality ourselves that we're unwilling to preach it in order to save lives, as if that were not among the legitimate purposes of morality?

The best thing we could do for high-risk AIDS areas is to send missionaries to teach forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ's name, and to stop living decadent lives. A condom protects you from AIDS today but not when the box is empty; monogamy protects you from AIDS for free and forever. Clean needles protect you from AIDS while you have a supply of clean needles; not shooting up protects you permanently.

I hope to follow up in the future with why Christians must reclaim monogamy as a good message.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Celebrate Thanksgiving: Give Native Americans Something to be Thankful For

  1. Personal: Start your Christmas shopping at a Native American gift shop. If you have funds for more than just shopping, make a donation to a Native tribe. Many have housing or job-building projects that could use more funding.
  2. Group: Purchase land adjacent to a reservation and donate it to the Native tribe.
  3. Government: Work with elected officials to create a program whereby new state parks or national parks are created and put under the guardianship of the Native Nations.
Note: Some members of the Native Nations are a bit tired of the "guardian of nature" schtick, but many embrace it as their rightful heritage. It ought to at least be a choice.

When the Europeans first came to this country, the Native Americans welcomed them. I do not know what they expected, but this was surely not it. And typically what follows next is hand-wringing, but not constructive. The main non-rallying cry has been, "What can we do now?" But "what can we do now?" is only a call for inaction if there is no answer. If we can rightly be ashamed of our forefathers' blindness, we can also rightly be proud of their accomplishments -- but none of that is actually helpful.

The answer is not for people of non-indigenous descent to go back to Europe (Asia, Africa). Things have gotten a bit more complicated over the centuries. The Karankawa tribe who used to live on the land where I now sit -- they are entirely extinct. My children, on the other hand, are 1/8 blood Cherokee, though they have never applied for tribal papers from the Cherokee Nation.

The answer is not to spend all our time wringing our hands over the wrongs of the past. Neither is the answer to sweep the wrongs of the past under the rug. Do we share the blame for the wrongs committed by our ancestors? I'd say the answer is: We only share in the guilt if we see the injustice and take no action. The injustice is not only a past event but a continuing reality, and when we take no action we share that guilt.

But is there any action to be taken? If we cannot give the land back, and we cannot go back to Europe, what remains? I would go back to the original observation that the Native Americans welcomed us; they did not begin by thinking we should go back to Europe or that we should have nowhere to live in their land. But they did seem to think they would be treated with justice and treated as friends, and they did seem to think they would have a better lot than we have since given them. (Some have noted that the Native Americans were not actually any more peaceful than Europeans, just less well-armed. That's probably true enough, but amounts to hinting that might makes right, which is not an ideal that I'd choose to support.)

I'd respectfully submit that our Thanskgiving Celebrations are best if we also give the Native Americans something to be thankful for. Help them have the same prosperity we enjoy in their lands. That, I think, is more what they had in mind when they welcomed us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Revelation: Sabbath and Jubilee

When we try to understand the Biblical book of Revelation, we are plunged into rich symbols and intriguing mysteries. I’m sure this depth and interpretive enigma is more than just part of the book’s appeal, but also part of its design. Part of the message we are supposed to understand is the fact that there are mysteries too great for us, beauties we have not yet imagined, realities we have not yet grasped. The book of Revelation keeps us honest in our pretensions to have neatly analyzed all there is to understand about The Ancient of Days.

But sometimes there is a hint, in all those rich symbols, of things we have already understood – or have already had explained to us. One symbol used repeatedly in Revelation is the number 7. As often as the book repeats the number 7, the book’s goal must include fixing that number firmly in our mind in the picture of the end of all things. So what does the number 7 mean?

The Bible has already told us many things using the number 7 as the reminder or key. In the beginning of the Bible, the number 7 is tied to the completion of a good work, to the fullness of time. It is linked to the time of rest. In the ancient ceremonial laws of the Torah, holy time is often counted in sevens. Each seventh day is designated as a time of holiness, a time which is blessed. The first feast of the year lasts for seven days. Seven times seven days come before the next major holy day. The next major holy days – including the Day of Atonement – fall in the seventh month of the calendar, so that seven is the number associated with forgiveness and atonement. Every seventh year was a year of rest for the people and the land. After seven times seven years there was ordained a Year of Jubilee when debts are forgiven, those in bondage are released, and lost inheritances are restored to their former owners. In the prophet Daniel, seventy times seven years is the fullness of time before Messiah comes. In Jesus’ teaching, seventy times seven times is associated with forgiveness of sins.

So the number 7, one of the main symbols of Revelation, is known to us. Seven has long been the favored number for the fullness of time, for blessing, and for rest. It is the number designating the time for things to be restored to how they were meant to be. Seven is the number assigned to the time for the forgiveness of sins, the cancellation of debts, and the release of those in bondage. Seven has been the number for the time when those who lost their homes and inheritance came back home, restored to what was once their own by God’s decree that that’s the way it should be. “Seven” has always been God’s promise for the blessing he has stored up for the fullness of time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Comparative Religion: Goodness and Harmony with Nature

This is a continuation of a previous post on comparative religion. The first part laid out the general approach of looking for truth and goodness, and some of the problems that come up in understanding "truth" and "goodness." This part explores one of the side-paths: the view of "goodness" as "harmony with nature".

The question of "harmony with nature" came up previously, and right away we meet some interesting questions if we define "good" as "harmony with nature" and "evil" as "disruption of harmony with nature." If nature includes people (and who would say that it doesn't?), then can anything be done by a person be out of harmony with nature? If an action is not "natural" for a person, then where does it come from, if not from human nature? And if it does come from human nature, how can someone say it is not in harmony with nature? I'll expore these questions a little bit more.

We know that some wild animals, such as wolves, might kill one of their own pack simply to achieve dominance. Certain parts of human history read very much like the behavior of territorial pack animals, ever seeking dominance and territory to gain some sort of advantage within the pack or amongst the packs. So what is the relationship between what is natural and what is right? Again, for the moment I will leave open the questions raised so that we do not miss too much ground as we do our exploring. I will simply say that someone would be wrong to imagine that I am condoning humans acting like pack animals simply because I have not yet covered the various approaches to the question. Various religions leave open ways for man to have an ambiguous place in nature so that man, even if natural, is not necessarily in harmony with nature. In some understandings, restored harmony with nature, or restored union with Ultimate Reality, is the final goal of religion. If (on the traditional Western view) nature is a self-revelation of God and God is Ultimate Reality, then we find a lot of similarity amongst several different religions though not to the extent of sameness.

On the topic of harmony with nature and its relation to goodness, another approach deserves mention here. The example may be familiar but still worth review. Suppose -- what I earnestly hope is not true -- that a doctor were to tell me that I have cancer. Suppose that, to preserve my life, it were necessary that some part of my body be removed, and that the doctor should take a knife to me for this purpose. It might be argued that there's some sense in which the cancer is natural since it occurs in nature, and also some sense in which I see the cancer as not good since it tends to destroy, even to the point of destroying its own host. The doctor's decision to perform surgery and remove the cancer is a decision that takes it for granted that certain cells have more right to live than other cells, that some are healthy and some are unhealthy. It seems obvious when we think of cancer that any part which tends to destroy the whole has got to go, regardless of any debate over whether it is natural.

Still, is cancer "natural"? In the normal course of things, the body repairs and renews itself with new cells made after the pattern of the ones before. These cells, built on the same pattern, work well with the whole. If a healthy body does not typically produce cancer, is cancer still "natural"? If cancer is said to be natural at all, then it is only natural in the context of an unhealthy, destructive system.

On the subject of goodness as harmony with nature, we will want to keep an eye on not only whether something occurs naturally, but also whether it occurs naturally in a healthy system, and whether it tends to benefit the whole or to attack, destroy, or weaken the whole. We will also want to keep an eye on the pattern that produced the nature in question, and whether something is in keeping with that pattern.

More to come on the topic of comparative religion, exploring with goodness and truth as the basic guideposts.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Risk: The board game and the history of megalomania

Remember the board game Risk? It's a game where you try to conquer the world, while all your friends/enemies try to conquer it first. Sometimes world history books read just a little like the people were playing Risk. The first surprising thing is how often people think conquering the world would be a good idea. The second surprising thing is many people have been fairly successful at it -- at least in conquering huge sections of the world. Here are a few observations that seem to follow:

1) Most of the time, most places are so badly mismanaged that they can't really withstand a substantial threat. "Leadership vacuums" -- vast empty spaces created by absence of leadership -- are common.

2) Nature abhors a vacuum. If there's not a leader in one region, a neighbor is very likely to volunteer himself. He is not very likely to have the other's best interests at heart, regardless of what he might say.

3) As in all games, whoever moves first has the advantage.

4) The desire to dominate other people and take their possessions is among the most enduring motivators of human history.

5) Megalomaniacs have limits. Their armies are a certain size and can only manage a certain amount of territory. And typically, the megalomaniac-in-chief dies and leaves an empire that crumbles in just a few generations. Fairly unique in this context is the Islamic jihad movement, founded by Mohammed, which actively seeks out new megalomaniacs to lead each new generation; it is wise not to ignore such things. As they say, "Reality is not optional."

It would be an interesting treatise to track down the great megalomaniacs of history and study what can be learned about how megalomaniacs form and gather followings. But here are a few more observations worth noticing:

6) Christianity has, at long last, noticed that using the world as a Risk game is not consistent with the teachings of Christ. It has noticed this while at the top of the Risk game, not just as a convenient cry from someone who is losing.

Before all the other people in the world start the regularly-scheduled chastisement of Christians for being so slow on the uptake, it's worth noticing another thing:

7) Nobody else in the world besides Christians has showed any sign at all of thinking the game of Risk is wrong. Their only objection has been to their losses.

Given that everybody else is still playing Risk, we can't afford to just let ourselves be run over. Those are not little playing pieces on the field, those are our homes and families.

What about George W. Bush? I've had objections to some of his policies and decisions, to be sure. But despite what valid criticisms are available, I do not believe for a minute that he's out to build an empire or play Risk. Why not? As anyone who has ever played Risk knows, if you want more territory you go for a next-door neighbor. Mexico, just next door to us, has oil -- and as horrible as its infrastructure is, at least it's better than Iraq's. We have some grievances against Mexico, if Bush were determined to push a territorial war and gain some oil reserves (which, obviously, he's not). Also notice the U.S. didn't actually end up with the Iraqi oil. If the modern war were really about knocking off some convenient nation for the sake of oil, Bush could have found someone who was far less trouble than Iraq, and closer to home, with fewer entanglements.

Whether you agree or disagree with the current Bush policy, a fair observer will still notice that Bush has chosen his targets in the modern war with an eye to keep the Risk situation in Eurasia from getting out of hand. It's still very debatable whether the policy is succeeding.

It's also worth noticing that the old-style game is outdated. In the old-style Risk game, a territory had to be conquered before moving your pieces across its borders. Current immigration policies have cheerfully welcomed in a certain number of Risk-playing foreign soldiers to set their positions before the battle starts ... which takes us back to #3: Whoever moves first has the advantage. Immigration policies would do well to be a little less blind to "people who are followers of megalomaniacs" when letting people into the country.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Obnoxious" as marketing gimmick

It's probably no big secret that a lot of people try to be obnoxious because, simply put, obnoxious sells. It drums up controversy, it drums up talk, it drums up business. Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh use it as a tool as a matter of course; Ann Coulter and Molly Ivins have taken it to new highs (lows?). Over the last week or two, I have seen more than one Christian blogger admit to being obnoxious (or its equivalent) on purpose, just to get notice (attention, traffic). One question: does anyone think "deliberately obnoxious" is a God-pleasing approach? It's not only the question, "Does the end justify the means?" It's also a matter of "Is it possible to achieve the right end with those means?"

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Problem In Seminaries: Follow-Up

To gauge from the amount of discussion around the blogosphere, the Internet Monk really touched a nerve with his recent piece on questionable methods of recruiting pastors and the harm to the pastors' families, their churches, and themselves. I promised I'd follow up with some thoughts on how to improve the situation.

Even churches founded on the Reformation often have a mistaken idea that "Reform" (in any major sense) is something that only the Roman Catholics need to do. But given Murphy's Law, reform is for everyone, and must be continuous. Humility, confession, and repentance are spiritual basics for churches and church bodies, not just for individual Christians.

When it comes to Christian ministry, I have to wonder, in general:

  • Was the person's maturity really evaluated when they sought to come into the ministry?
  • Has the shortage of ministers made us ask fewer screen-out questions, even if they are important ones?
  • How do you remove a well-intentioned person who lacks the ability without humiliating them? Without stigmatizing them when it comes to finding a different line of service?
  • How perfect does a pastor have to be? Are we setting standards that nobody can meet?
  • Which flaws should we bear with patiently, and which are over the line?
  • Are there more ministry options than full-time for life, overworked for life, or marginalized for life?

Without claiming to have answers for all of those, I'd like to suggest a few things as a place to begin:

  1. Churches should ask for a commitment from the pastor that their first ministry is to their own family. Pastors should expect the churches to respect that.
  2. Churches should support their pastors in their family time (and spiritual wellbeing) by designating regular days off for their pastors. No Bible studies, no prayer meetings, no special services, no council meetings. Genuine rest. An elder or spiritually mature member should be able to handle most emergencies -- and should have the "church emergency" cell phone for the day.
  3. A church cannot be a one-man show. The Bible speaks of a variety of offices or positions in the church. There should be those who help visit the sick, those who teach, those who help the needy with material needs, even those who can preach.
  4. The pastor should seek out and encourage spiritually mature members to consider a sort of apprentice pastorship in their area of interest. This would build the congregation's strength, allow those who are not fully-fledged pastors a wider range of opportunities to serve, and provide a rest for the pastor when needed. Jesus sent out people two by two, and I think the pastor should question himself if he finds himself performing many of his duties alone instead of with a fellow-worker.

This just scratches the surface -- but I think scratching the surface is exactly the right place to start. Grand sweeping changes take an entire reorganization (such as the Reformation, or the new "Emergent" scheme) before they work. Churches that don't reform when needed find themselves splintering -- but so do churches that change too drastically. As small as these changes are, as obviously incomplete as they are, they are also one more thing: workable. That makes them a candidate for "where to start". The time to take the next step is after we take the first one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Christian Carnival #96

This week's Carnival is now up at Jordan's View. My favorite this week: Merry Chris ... er. Happy Holidays! over at Attention Span. Highlight: the term "Nativitophobia" for the reaction of anti-Christians or Studious Secularists to Christmas.

Marketing "Prayer Products": How Far Is Too Far?

Is this prayer ad over the top?

Given Hollywood's sudden interest in Christianity after The Passion of the Christ, it's easy to wonder if Hollywood looks at Christians and sees only dollar signs. If so, we shouldn't feel lonely; they see many other groups that way also. But for how long have we tolerated being seen as dollar signs by a variety of others, some claiming to be within our own camp? The linked adverisement is for a "prayer product" that is supposed to bring you "health, wealth, success". Learning to pray is good; prayer instruction is legitimate. So when does it cross the line to crass commercialism and profiteering off of religion? And on the "buyer" end, where's the line between looking to God to provide your needs and seeing God's value only in terms of "health, wealth, success"? I've been pondering where the line is, but I'm fairly sure this is over it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Personal Worship

Tim Challies is stirring up discussion on the subject of personal worship. I was interested to see the similarities and differences between his approach and mine to personal time of worship.

Mine usually starts near one of my favorite icons on my wall, the crucifixion. (I'm a member of a Lutheran church, and I hold to the original Lutheran tradition of not being an iconoclast. I don't really see much difference between having an icon of Christ on the wall and having a modern-art painting of Jesus on the wall, except that the icons aren't painted in those annoying cloying pastel colors and instead are rich in both color and theological symbol.) I approach God through Christ as Peter says. Typically my worship is late in the day, and I begin on my knees with regret for whatever acts of apathy and lovelessness, anger or selfishness or pride that I have perpetrated in the day. As I work through admitting them before God, the prayer is just the simple, "Lord, have mercy."

Depending on how much of a beast I was that day ("simple" repentance can take me awhile) and how exhausted the day has left me, I may or may not get much further than that before closing out with the Lord's prayer. If I'm struggling with pride, I fix my eyes on Jesus' humility and how that is the true way to approach God, love God, and serve God. If I'm struggling with parenting burnout or frustration, I pray for my love to be renewed and for me to see my children as God sees them. If I am discouraged by things around me, I fix my eyes on the promise that in this world we will have trouble but Christ has overcome the world. If I'm struggling with apathy, I stop to be glad of God.

Now all of this makes me sound much better than I really am. Many days I crawl into bed tired and cranky, with "Lord have mercy" and "May your name be kept holy" as the most prayer I can manage before I fall tiredly asleep. So I don't want to paint the picture as if I manage as much worship time every night. But there are nights when I manage better, and if we're to encourage each other then it's worth sharing the best of times as well as putting them in perspective against the fact that I'm at least as much sinner as I am saint.

So where I was before the perspective-check: I hold tight to what I've been taught, "The joy of the Lord is our strength." If I have no strength, usually at the root I find that I have not taken time or thought for joy. If it's daylight I just open my window and am still and am glad for the world. David said "He restores my soul" about God making him spend some quiet time in a beautiful place. Sometimes my soul needs restoring, and that's the best way I've found to do it.

For Bible study, sometimes I read a short section (up to several chapters) several times over to make sure I'm following all that's being said. Some nights I'll read one of the shorter letters a few times in a sitting. I read prayerfully, by which I mean roughly what the hymnist meant when he said "while I breathe I pray", being mindful of God's presence in his Word. There are times when I'll work through just a paragraph or two, going over the text a dozen times, making sure I have understood and really considered exactly what is being said. I look for what the author says his topic is, and how the supporting points tie back to the central point. I look for how God is praised and honored, and how his love is shown. I look for truth, for gladness, for the many surprising references to Jesus scattered throughout the Old Testament. I look for verses that can be a strength in time of trouble, or (even if abrasive) can scour away some of my more stubborn faults or dark spots.

The Bible has such rich depths. It's a bit of a peeve of mine when people look at it for knowledge and instruction alone. Of course it has those; but God's word is spirit, it is life, it makes us clean, it transforms us, faith comes by hearing it, it feeds our souls, it's our food, it's our bread. It's not information alone, it's also strength and nourishment. When people complain of not wanting to read a certain passage of Scripture again because they've read it before, that makes about as much sense to me as not wanting to drink water again because of having had a glass of it once before. The point of drinking wasn't for the unique experience, it was to strengthen and refresh.

When I get to prayers for people I know, the only thing that is much consolation is the cross, which fortunately I have visually right in front of me on the icon. For my children when they are still not treating each other decently? That's what forgiveness is for, that's what God's love is for. For my neighbor who is throwing her life away with bad choices? The cross is the only hope radical enough to reach that depth of despair that she's going through. For my friend whose husband is dying of cancer? The cross again is the only thing that can reach that. The cross and the empty tomb, that is what gives us rational hope, gives us justified courage to keep going. And again a lot of times with all those thoughts flying through my mind, the only prayer I manage is "Lord, have mercy." I figure that's ok; that's the basic essence of prayers that ask something anyway. There's no shame in keeping it simple.

The one pastor who was most like a spiritual father taught me about the Lord's prayer, that the more we mature as Christians, the more that prayer is our heart's prayer. It's not every day that I can truly say that God's honor instead of mine -- the honor of God's name -- was really at the top of my heart's desire. I could go on about how this prayer humbles me and challenges me and teaches me. And when I let it, that's what it does.

But again the perspective-check: often enough, I crawl into bed exhausted from a long day and just manage, "Lord, have mercy."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Biblical Problem in our Seminaries

Recently, Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) wrote about his journey towards becoming a Christian pastor, and his sincere regrets over having chosen this path in life. While I've often had trouble relating to his posts as he speaks from a branch of Christianity that seems very alien to me, this time I think he has hit a note that resounds through more of the church than just his branch. The pervasive practice in the church has been to recruit pastors who are very young, still in school and not yet established in their own families. While many worldly careers take this approach, I question whether it is the best approach -- or even an entirely acceptable approach -- for those shepherding Christ's flock.
If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. ... He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know now to manage his own family how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert or he may become conceited ... (excerpts from I Timothy 3, which is worth reading in full)
And again
the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (from Titus 1, again worth reading at length)

Typically, the "recruit through school" approach brings a very young group into the pastoral position; it's a position for which not quite all of them are really ready. Often the "assistant pastor" approach is open for the new pastor to be mentored, or other mentoring schemes are set up until the pastor gets his feet under him, and this is a good thing. But it leaves open a very real problem: what if someone becomes a pastor who, upon maturing, really doesn't belong in that line of work at all? At one time I belonged to a church whose pastor was unable to lead his own family, whose children were "open to the charge of being wild and disobedient" to say the least. When the pastor's job called for preaching he could preach a sermon. But when the pastor's job called for mature leadership, he simply could not deliver. (Yes, his sermons did suffer from "the leadership vacuum" as well; they tended to be very educational but not very edifying.) More than that, in our church body (and many others, from what I gather) the amount of education required for a pastorship includes extensive knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew before entering the Master's program. While this makes for admirably well-educated pastors, it also means it is rarely practical for someone to obtain that education after becoming mature, having children, and demonstrating humble, trustworthy, and effective Christian leadership.

The problems are both dealing with pastors who simply do not meet the Biblical requirements for church leadership despite having their degree, and clearing the path for those who meet the Biblical requirements but are not likely candidates for the church's official Master's program (though they may require some additional training). I have in mind a few possibilities, but would be curious if anyone else has seen this also and has thoughts on it. I'll hold off posting my own thoughts about solutions until after the next Christian Carnival.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Media bias against Christianity: The Economist

The Economist is a magazine which makes an effort to take a well-rounded look at the economic scene around the world. It also takes a look at politics around the world, though with noticeable sympathies towards certain views and antipathies against other views. It is a pity -- and for a news magazine, a disgrace -- to consistently publish biased pieces against Christianity. Of course The Economist is hardly unique in this bias, but the persistent anti-Christian bias of this magazine was highlighted for me yesterday when someone dropped off for me last night some recent editions which she had finished. These are typical of a trend I have noticed in the magazine, but let these recent examples suffice for now:

The October 29th-November 4th 2005 edition had an article on the then-upcoming election item in Texas whether marriage should be defined in the state constitution as the union of one man and one woman. The article (pp. 30-31) featured a prominent picture of a Klansman with a burning cross as its only photo. The article contains more digs at Texans' integrity than can be easily counted. Absent from the article is any mention that any rational person might have any reason to think that marriage and the family are founded on the union of one man and one woman. The first reason that springs to my mind is the obvious biological fact that humanity has reproduced that way from time immemorial. Also absent from the article is any consideration that, cross-burning aside, there might possibly be any legitimate religious or social reason why mainstream voters -- Democrat and Republican alike -- handed in such a decisive endorsement of defining marriage and the foundation of the family as heterosexual and capable of fertility, as humankind and all religions have always defined marriage as heterosexual (though some religions admit to polygamy, in which everyone is equal but men are more equal than women). The immediate message given by the article plus headline was that supporters of heterosexual marriage could only be dangerous and semi-lunatic fanatics; the text of the article did nothing to change the initial impression.

The November 5th-11th 2005 had an article titled "Texas' dangerous churches: The faithful on the front Line" also captioned "Surely not what the Good Lord intended" (p. 32). The article contains a mocking treatment of Christian reasons for baptism (one rejected by a great many Christians, including specifically those in the baptism-gone-awry that is subject of the article) and the "fact" that baptism is "known to be dangerous" as the lead-in for coverage of a pastor who managed to electrocute himself with his electronic equipment after baptizing a new member. Funny, the churches I've attended that immerse only baptize adults; and those that baptize infants sprinkle water in the hair. None of this prevented the author -- obviously someone with little knowledge of church outside of uninformed prejudices --from following the wrongheaded assertion that baptism is "known to be dangerous" with mention that some people being baptized at sea in South Africa died earlier this year. The fact that the sea is more dangerous than the typical baptismal font did not enter the magazine's computations as to the dangers of baptism. There was no perspective-check on the fact that roughly 2 billion people worldwide are baptized and if it were really all that hazardous (less hazardous than taking a bath, I'd expect) we might hear of baptism fatalities every weekend. The anti-religious article continues that "Worshippers in the state (Texas) are prone to horrifying accidents", in which category are grouped the explosion at the Davidians' compound in Waco and the gun-attack by a madman on a church in Fort Worth. I'm not actually convinced that either of these can be rightly described as "accidents" as the article states; in both cases, religious folks were actually under violent attack, a fact that seems to elude The Economist. After wrongly classifying these as accidents, the author continues to mention, in the category of the dangers of religion in Texas, that a Roman Cathlic priest had pricked the fingers of a dozen or more children during Mass (not drawing blood) to remind them the pain of Christ on the cross. The parents were outraged about the risk of blood-borne infections. Despite the article's main headline about "Texas' dangerous churches", I've been attending church ever since my conversion to Christianity from agnosticism some 30 years ago and have yet to see anybody injured in church -- a fact I could not say about work, or the highway, or home. Oddly, in the wake of hurricane Katrina, I think a mention of religion in Texas to a fair-minded person might have included the millions of dollars which the religious donated to charities, the more millions worth of goods likewise donated, the fact that tens of thousands of Christians volunteered to work at shelters, and the fact that thousands of displaced people were sheltered in churches. The absence of mosques and synagogues from the shelters list typically does not draw comment, though many mosques do not tolerate the presence of the "infidel" and Orthodox synagogues do not tolerate the presence of the non-Jew, though Christians following the teachings of Christ would welcome even their worst enemy, especially at a time like that.

On occasion, one of the writers (all anonymous) will give even-handed treatment of Christianity, but this is very much the exception and not the rule. After all, publishing a once-a-year unbiased piece does not exactly erase the bias of the others; true lack of bias means that a bias is never in evidence, not that some mix of biased-and-unbiased should even out as if bias were tolerable if only a small bit of justice were thrown in on the odd occasion. It is not as if a biased view were one that deserved equal time, or in the case of this magazine, more-than-equal time. If the staff of The Economist considers itself unbiased, they are sadly mistaken; they have just become so comfortable with their biases that they no longer question them, and this cannot be a good sign.

Is there a "Christian Anti-Defamation League" yet?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Daily bread: Jesus' challenge for our daily lives

Jesus often quoted the Scriptures of his day -- the Law and the Prophets. When we read the writings of the godly men of the ages, we see things that Jesus brought from those pages and highlights again for us. One of those things that Jesus highlighted for us I'd like to discuss today. It's in the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lord's Prayer. How often have we prayed, "Give us today our daily bread"? Bread is a humble, simple thing, but it is enough. When Jesus taught us to pray "Give us today our daily bread", he highlighted something written long before. You can read it yourself in the book of Proverbs. A God-fearing man's prayer is recorded for us beginning at Proverbs 30:7:
Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die.
Keep falsehood and lies far from me.
Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?'
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

When you pray for daily bread, you may have known you were praying not to be too poor. But did you realize you were also praying not to be too rich? "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." We pray for our bodies not to be too hungry. But we also pray to be content when we have this much. Otherwise, our greed may start to hunger for things that do not satisfy. Because the greed is never satisfied, it is always hungry. "A little bit more" and "one more thing" -- but after each thing, there is always still one thing more. We pray to be free from that, to be content with what we have.

I'll also say a quick word about Christians and riches. It is too easy for us to say, "If God would make me rich, then I would serve him better." But he asks us to serve him now. Are we looking at what we have and saying it is not enough? Are we again proving Jesus right when he says, "You cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve both God and wealth"? If we are waiting on wealth before we serve God better, then which master are we serving better now?

When we pray, "Give us today our daily bread," we pray for enough but also for contentment. What we have is enough. We can serve God now.

Against the rumors that I'm not actually a Christian ...

I took a quiz over at QuizGalaxy that pegged me as a complete agnostic. I've never met a quiz on which I hit the exact bullseye on someone's axes before. I think the problem is actually that I don't fit the quiz very neatly. They have "faith" and "reason" at opposite ends of one axis, then "scientific" and "spiritual" at opposite ends of another axis. I see faith and reason as fully integrated (if your faith isn't solidly established, it's not "faith" but "wishful thinking"). I also don't see any inherent contradiction between being "scientific" and being "spiritual". Since those pairs are given as polar opposites, I have to suspect the quiz of having been made by a person very biased against religion ...

The poll concludes (very incorrectly) that I'm ambivalent towards religion and find that religion and spirituality are unimportant in my life ... which just goes to prove that if you ask a limited set of questions that have a certain bias, you'll get answers that have a limited applicability.

Take this quiz at QuizGalaxy.com

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Prayer and Confusion: Asking Anything in Jesus' Name

Update: This post is about one kind of confusion: whether the Bible promises we get anything we want when we pray. For other kinds of prayer and confusion, you may want to read Bible verses for the overwhelmed.

I think there is an unhealthy trend to see if prayers "work" -- by which people typically do not mean whether God hears us (which he always does, and in this sense prayers always work); but instead whether God gives us what we want. I think that's a dangerously misleading concept of what prayer is for. Prayer is not like dropping a quarter in a vending machine, pushing a button, and mechanically we get what we want as if God had no more thought in the process or design for our lives than that. That's one reason many people find religion frustrating; God's ideas about bringing us to maturity are very often at odds with our ideas of what we want.

Before I launch into one source of misconceptions, I'd like to make a crude example. Once, someone I had never met called me to ask a favor which would take probably an hour and a bit of trouble. I'd never even heard of this person before. But she said "Bobby (last name omitted) said I should call you to take care of it." That changed everything. I worked with Bobby for a long time; he was like a father to me, a completely trustworthy man, and I would do anything for Bobby. So as soon as this complete stranger asked something "in Bobby's name" I was going to do it. That was that. But what if she had asked me to do something illegal and still said "Bobby said I should call you to take care of it"? Well, I'd know she was lying; one reason Bobby has my complete trust is that I know he'd never put his name behind a request like that.

Now, some people look at the time when Jesus told his followers to pray for anything "in his name" and they would have it (see John 14). Some people seem to have no more thought for that than to tack the words "in Jesus' name" to the end of the prayer as if it were a magic incantation like "abracadabra" and because you said the Magic Words (not "please", but "in Jesus' name") that poof presto God will do what you ask. I've heard of people praying for a Cadillac "in Jesus' name". That strikes me as completely absurd, much as if someone had asked me in Bobby's name to do something illegal. Jesus spoke those words "ask anything in my name" to the twelve at the Last Supper, and the discussion was about the disciples continuing His work on earth after He had returned to the Father, not about getting Cadillacs. The point was to bring glory to God, not to bring riches or comfort to ourselves, not to avoid hardship because we just don't want to deal with it. (Funny, we avoid hardship as if it were an evil and run towards evil as if refraining from it is hardship, and we wonder why things are the way they are.) The disciples prayed boldly -- but generally it was for others, not for their own personal benefit. The disciples did not pray to have luxury, to escape from hardship or to have an easy life. The same night that Jesus said they could ask for anything in his name, he also said they would have trouble in this world; hardship is a given.

I don't mean to discourage anybody from prayer, not in the least. I think a misguided view of prayer discourages prayer, and that the pseudo-magical application of the phrase "in Jesus' name" -- without any effort to understand what that means -- has done some damage.

I hope to take up some more thoughts on prayer in upcoming posts.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Blessed are the peacemakers

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

I was studying up on peace tonight and I noticed that there's quite a bit of condemnation for those who proclaim peace when there is no peace. A false proclamation of peace misleads the people, giving false hope instead of true. This quote in particular reminded me of the whitewashing of the news out of France: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say; but there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14; repeated Jeremiah 8:11, and similar things by some of the other prophets).

And if you already have peace, there is no need for the courage and strength of a peacemaker. Neither is a peacemaker an appeasement-maker; big difference there. Appeasement is "peace" through surrender or by allowing violence to rule the decision; that kind of "peace" will always be precarious, at risk of falling again. Sustained peace requires strength. It also requires parties who all want peace; that remains to be seen in the case of France.

What then is there for us to do while we wait for the final peace?
"Do not plot evil against your neighbor" (Zechariah 8:17)
"Love truth and peace" (Zechariah 8:19)
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men" (Hebrews 12:14)
"The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving" (James 3:17)

This is not to confuse peace with pacifism; sometimes use of force is necessary to restore peace and safety, as seems to be the case now.

I've read a few alarmist posts around the 'net in the wake of the French riots, and I've read some minimalist posts. Both sides agree that the problems in France have run deep for a long time; both sides acknowledge that there may not be an easy solution. Jesus blesses peacemakers in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God." Those blessings are generally not pronounced on any easy path.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

French riots: Does "Tolerance" mean never being able to say "Stop"?

... or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (I Peter 2:14)

I have watched a few telecasts now about the French riots, and read a few comments, and checked a few news sources. Not finding what I was looking for in the English-language news sources, I checked some general-purpose news in French. (You can read along here, here, and here and in related links.)

I found that the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, been branded dangerous in certain circles for calling the rioters riffraff/rabble/scum; this is supposed to have set back relationships with the volatile Muslim minorities by decades, and his resignation has been demanded. Sarkozy's views that the violence has now become organized has come under opposition from the French left. Nevertheless, Sarkozy's general approval rating remains about 57%. (Note: Sarkozy noticing that torching cars or day care centers is the work of riffraff and is unacceptable seems the sanest thing in the French response to date. With wild mobs roaming the streets destroying properties, it is a bit incomprehensible how the real "danger" of the situation is the person who dares to criticize them.) Nevertheless, Sarkozy has been ridiculed as trying to play the sheriff (which, in the context of that article, was roughly shorthand for a silly, chest-thumping, unsophisticated approach to resolving the conflict. Rhetorically it was a nice move since "sheriff" hints of "primitive" and "uncivilized" and "American" and "Texan" -- pointing the finger silently at He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and determined not to respond likewise).

I found that the head of the Paris Mosque has called for peace overtures -- from the French government. (I would have expected such a call to be directed towards the rioters, myself.) He received assurance that the scene would not be repeated of French forces tear-gasing rioters who had hidden for sanctuary in a mosque. (I did not see any suggestion in reply that the best way to keep a mosque from being tear-gased would involve not letting rioters use the mosque as a hideout.)

I found that the official response is portrayed as coming under some internal criticism from Jean-Marie Le Pen for its impotence (impuissance).

However, on Saturday 11/05/2005 (a bit late, to my thinking, but somewhat better very, very late than never) the parents of the two boys who electrocuted themselves hiding from the police and the local Muslim federation (fédération des musulmans de Clichy-Montfermeil) called for the cessation of all violence.

I am hoping that there were earlier and clearer calls for cessation of violence ...

The question at the top of my mind is this: If "tolerance" is your chief virtue, is there ever a right time to say "This is wrong and must stop"?

For those wondering if the French are over their heads, we can rest assured that they have received offers of help from Moammar Khaddafi of Libya. No, I'm not kidding about the offer of help, just about the part where that might be cause to rest assured. The text I read did not specify which side Khaddafi would be helping.

Update 11/06/2005
Last night's rioting was the worst yet, according to French sources on-line. Authorities have also discovered a place where molotov cocktails were being prepared and assembled for nightly rioting. The only strong condemnations that I have seen issued continue to be directed at Interior Minister Sarkozy for taking too hard a line against the rioters; reports more favorable to Sarkozy mention that he has been tough both on crime and on the causes of crime in his statements. The continuing condemnations of the Interior Minister have called his comments "intolerable" without citing any specific comments, so I'm left wondering if he ever said something more incendiary than that the rioters were "racaille" (rabble / riffraff) which seems unobjectionable if a bit understated from my viewpoint. If he has said something more objectionable, it would be nice to see quotes provided. It also seems out of all proportion that the fellow publicly opposing the riots is subject to public censure far more often that the rioters, at least in the articles I've found.

Handy links to updated news for people who read French:
Most violent night yet
Sarkozy's (unspecified) comments "intolerable"
Homespun Molotov cocktail factory
Some prison news on those arrested so far

Thursday, November 03, 2005

To Ariel on Humility

Ariel of BitterSweetLife is asking for comments on humility. I'm not sure I have much business commenting but that seemed all the more reason to focus on it. Here are some thoughts I had while doing a Bible study on humility last night.

False humility
There's some focus in Paul's letters on how annoying false humility can be. I wonder how much "focusing on our humility" might give an occasion for false humility. First, there's the danger of focusing on ourselves which is not exactly what humility is about. Then there's the temptation to be proud if we happen to do well.

Humility and the Chief of Sinners
The pastor who made the strongest impression on me only ever used one example of a sinner: himself. No matter what the occasion where he had to point out sin, he always pointed it out in his own life and passed by public putdowns of other people. He also passed up the much easier road of having some nameless, faceless sermon-example sinner. He made it plain that the sin he was struggling with was the sin in his own life. He had the idea that Paul had: the Chief of Sinners -- the biggest sinner we have to worry about -- is ourselves.

Humility and temptation
Those who are humble are better equipped to handle temptation. "Pride goes before the fall" -- and sometimes the pride is imagining that we can't be tempted, we've spiritually progressed beyond that. (As if.) James joins the ideas of pride and temptation, and humility and submission, not really mincing words but calling the proud "religious" folks double-minded, friendly with the world, and at enmity with God. It's very true that temptation has its easiest time when I'm proud.

Humility and reverence
Paul links humility with refraining from complaint and argument. "Do everything without complaining or arguing" -- and what gives voice to complaints and arguments except pride? What appreciates the greatness in someone else except humility?

Humility, honesty, and repentance
Pride says we have no sin; pride is a liar. Humility confesses our sins -- and God has pledged to forgive and cleanse those who turn to him humbly. Humility is more honest than pride.

Humility and wisdom
James says that wisdom leads very naturally to humility; true wisdom (God's wisdom) is not a puffed-up thing but is humble. The wiser we become, the more we realize that we are not actually deserving of being the centers of the universe and that pride is not nearly as useful as humility. Pride puts down other people; humility lifts up other people.

Humility and learning
The book of Proverbs links humility and learning. If we think we already know it all, not only are we dead wrong but our growth is stunted because how could there be any more room to grow? How could we let someone teach us if we think we're better than they are? Pride is the enemy of both friendship and growth; humility encourages them both.

Humility and service
Christ himself was humble -- so humility is not for those who are not good enough to aim for "loftier" virtues. In fact, humility challenges the idea of "loftiness" when it comes to virtue.

Humility and submission
Ooh now isn't "submission" a dirty word these days? It conjures up images of tolerating or silently condoning abuse -- nothing good comes to mind. But right up there with admitting we are not perfect and admitting we do not know it all is admitting that there are times when we owe it to someone else to listen to them. In the case of God, we owe it to him, both from love and from trust, to follow. If we are humble enough, we might even appreciate his greatness and realize how fitting it is to bow to him. Some who have progessed down that path remain continuously aware that it's a profound honor to serve God.

My studies mostly pointed out that I'm really bad at humility and have a lot of growing to do. It's a good thing that Ariel brought up the subject and challenged me to answer.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Atonement: The Incompleteness of the Penal Substitution Model

There have been discussions around the 'net of understanding our atonement. Particularly, the discussion has centered around the place which penal substitution should play in our understanding of atonement. Here is a brief overview of why penal substitution cannot stand alone as a theory of atonement:
  • "Transaction theology" at its worst ends up taking the holiness out of our redemption;
  • Focus on atonement-as-substitution removes or displaces the discussion of our transformation;
  • Focus on the "transaction" aspects also obscures the active role of Christ in being the agent of our redemption not just the price tag needed for some other effective agent;
  • Focus on substition also turns the cross of Christ into an event at which we are spectators or beneficiaries but not participants

These are not minor points of the atonement, and we cannot afford to have them displaced by giving center stage to a theory which pushes these things onto the sidelines. As important as it is to understand that Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us back to God, we must not forget that "atonement" is not fully satisfied until our fellowship and communion with God Himself is restored.