Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Some people say the modern world has no wonders to compare to those of the ancient world. We have no Hanging Gardens, no Pyramids, no Colossus, and so forth. People have charged that our modern world is, in some ways, inferior to the ancient past.

While there is some kind of truth to that, I'd like to suggest some wonders of our own age.

  1. Taming electricity - All of the electromagnetic discoveries, really, have been a great advance. Radio, television, cable, cell phones, lighting, air conditioning, microwaves -- our advances have put more power and quality of life in the hands of more people than previous ages.
  2. Atomics - All of the discoveries of atomic and sub-atomic theory, along with the sciences of radiation, are an advance. Yes, atomic weapons must be included here also; not quite all of our advances are benevolent. Still, we include here X-rays, radiation therapy, and other types of medical diagnostics and treatment that were out of reach in previous ages.
  3. Vaccinations - Most of the terrors of childhood illnesses have been removed; unlike my parent's generation, I never had to worry about getting polio, or that my children might.
  4. Antibiotics - Many formerly life-threatening conditions are now minor inconveniences.
  5. Air travel - Not so long ago it was the stuff of fantasy -- only barely possible -- that someone might go around the world in 80 days. Air travel has made around-the-world trips so mundane that we're more likely to be annoyed by the crowds and delays than amazed that we can go around the world. Here we can also include our halting first attempts at space flight, whether the unmanned interplanetary ships we have launched or the close-range manned operations.
  6. The Internet - It would be tempting to make "computing" an entry by itself, with all the power and potential computers have brought to everyday tasks. But that has been left far behind by what we have done with the collected power of millions of computers and the ways they are connected The Internet allows us to get nearly any piece of information in the world instantly. A large percentage of all the recordings or videos ever made, or famous photos ever taken, or works of art ever known are now accessible to us in a few minutes. If a book is in another language, it's not really a problem: there are instant translators. And where the efforts of thousands of scholars might have never found their way to niche audiences affordably, now it happens every day.
  7. Wikipedia - Wikipedia is an example of the new type of wonder that is now possible with the new tools we have available. It is probably one of the largest cooperative efforts in the history of mankind. I do not see it as the crowning achievement of our age; instead, I would compare it to the early manned space flights: it is a vital early step towards realizing what is possible.

We probably under-appreciate the ancient past; but we risk under-appreciating the present as well.

So -- any favorites that I left out?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Notes on the order of service from the letters to Corinth

  • This order of worship is more open for everyone to participate than typical orders of worship. The main portion of the worship is invitational and is shaped from Paul’s words about everyone’s participation for the building up of the church. This order of worship has open calls for hymns or songs, words of instruction, and tongues and interpretation; it calls for all to be done in an orderly way as Paul instructed.
  • A Pentecostal or charismatic congregation could use this order of worship.
  • A non-Pentecostal or non-charismatic congregation could use this order of worship, though they may choose to include the portion on tongues and interpretations only on request.
  • Paul’s focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ takes the form of a fixed time when a selection from the gospels is read, and a word of instruction accompanying it.
  • The Lord’s Supper is included in keeping with Paul’s recollection of it.
  • In his letters to them, Paul confronts the Corinthians with their sin. An order of confession is included, along with a proclamation of forgiveness in Christ.
  • The special offering for the needy follows the language that Paul used in the letters to Corinth about the special offering being taken.
  • The dismissal and mission recalls the order of confession and reconciliation and the people go back into the world.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Order of worship from the Letters to the Corinthians

Last summer I mentioned a long-term project of mine: orders of worship in which every word closely tracks Scripture. The goal goes beyond quoting Scripture throughout the service; the goal is to let each portion of Scripture shape how we worship. Because this order of worship is from the letters to the Corinthians, it has several open calls for participation from the congregation as Paul described in his writings to them. I've made this order of worship as creative commons (CC-NC-SA). If anyone uses this as a worship service, please let me know anything that may need smoothing to flow well. This version includes the Scripture citations.

Blessing to begin worship

P: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor 1:3)
C: Thanks be to God for the grace he has given us in Jesus Christ. (I Cor 1:4)

Call for confession of sins

P: Brothers and sisters, if there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? (I Cor 3:1, 3)
Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning. (I Cor 15:34)
Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again. (II Cor 5:15)
We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God. (II Cor 5:20)

Confession of sins

C: We have been impatient. We have been unkind. We have been jealous and boastful and proud. We have been rude, self-seeking, and easily angered. We have kept a record of wrongs. We have delighted in evil rather than the truth. We have not protected, we have not trusted, we have not hoped, we have not persevered. (I Cor 13:4-7)

Proclamation of forgiveness in Christ

P: God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting our sins against us. (II Cor 5:19)
C: God made Christ, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Cor 5:21)

Call for mutual forgiveness

P: If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven, I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sakes, so that Satan might not outwit us.
C: For we are not unaware of the accuser’s schemes.

Call for participation in worship

P: Brothers and sisters, you are the body of Christ.
C: Each one of us is a part of it. (I Cor 12:27)

P: When we come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, or a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
C: All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (I Cor 14:26)

P: Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
C: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (I Cor 14:33)

The leader calls forward those with hymns or songs, two or three as it says also of the others, and the hymns or songs are sung. If the congregation decides it is best to schedule some songs in advance so that one or more musicians may practice, the person who called for the song may be permitted a brief introduction or dedication at the time it is sung.

The leader calls forward those with a word of instruction, “two or three” as it says. The words of instruction are introduced by saying:

P: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
C: If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (I Cor 13:1-2)

Any with words of instruction come forward to speak.

At the discretion of the congregation, this next call may be generally included, or included only on request.

P: If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. (I Cor 14:27-28)

Any with tongues and interpretations come forward to speak.

Attending to the gospel of Jesus Christ

P: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel that was presented to you, which you have believed, and on which you have taken your stand. (I Cor 15:1).
For I resolved to know nothing which I was among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (I Cor 2:2)

A section from the gospel is read, followed by a word of instruction on the gospel. Those that do not use a set lectionary may read something fitting for the day or occasion, or read through a book of the gospel week by week.

Special offering for the needy

If there is a special offering for the needy, it may be introduced with these words. This introduction should only be used on an offering taken specifically for the needy.

P: Now about the collection for the needy: On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up. (I Cor 16:1-2)
C: This service that we perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (II Cor 9:12)

The offering is received.

Blessing as the offering is presented

P: Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, people will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the good news of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.
C: Thanks to be God for his indescribable gift of grace. (II Cor 9:13-15)

General offering, including offering for called workers

C: Who serves as a solider at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the grapes? (I Cor 9:7)
Let us then give those who serve at the altar a share of what is offered on the altar. (I Cor 9:13)


P: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.
C: For he comforts us in all our troubles. (II Cor 1:3-4)

Prayers and intercessions may be offered here

P: Many will give thanks to God for the gracious favor granted in answer to prayers. (II Cor 1:11)

The Lord’s Supper

P: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (I Cor 11:23-26)

P: Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.
C: Therefore, let us keep the feast. (I Cor 5:7-8)

One or more songs may be sung while people receive the Lord’s Supper.

Dismissal and Call to mission

P: You are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God.
C: Not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart. (II Cor 3:3)

P: God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
C: He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making is appeal through us. (II Cor 5:19-20)

Blessing after worship

P: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (II Cor 13:14)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Father:

All prayer begins with understanding these words: "Our Father". God loves us, therefore we pray.

I'm tempted to say more, but sometimes it's best to just stop. In many words, the point gets lost.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Answered prayers and providence

Recently in the blog of a long-time iFriend, Metacrock posted his testimony. At one point he described a prayer of his sister's that had been answered exactly, and in a way that looks like God's hand can be seen arranging events.

I wanted to ask: What have you all seen by way of answered prayers? Or maybe it's by way of providence. And I know, in one sense, the most important thing I pray every day may be "Forgive us our sins" -- but in the drama of the day around us, sometimes we are looking for something that meets the other needs too.

Along the same lines, I wanted to tell you all about something that happened just after I moved into my current place, probably somewhere right around 2000. It was not long before Christmas, and I had a thought to make paper cutout snowflakes. That's not really like me, so I brushed off the thought. Day after day the thought kept coming back, and I kept brushing it off. Paper snowflakes absolutely had to be irrelevant. Finally, figuring that some corner of my mind must be having a fit of nostalgia or something, I decided to just go ahead and make the blasted snowflakes so that I could get rid of the thought, which had become really annoyingly persistent. I almost gave up when I saw that I was out of regular white paper, that all I had in the house was bright orange construction paper. But regardless of how silly the bright orange snowflakes were going to look, I went ahead and made them. I set them aside and forgot about them, relieved that the thoughts had finally gone away.

Not many days later, a friend of mine called. Her mother was in the hospital -- had been for over a month, in serious condition. She really wanted to take one day off because the stress was mounting, but she didn't want to leave her mom without a visitor that day. I said I'd go. On my way out the door I thought, "I shouldn't go empty-handed." And I couldn't think what to bring; I'd never actually met her mother. So I just grabbed the snowflakes -- the absurdly orange snowflakes -- and headed out the door.

So at the hospital, the visit went well. Even though we hadn't met, we knew a lot of the same people and just traded stories about the good events in their lives. Before I left, I pulled out the snowflakes and said I'd brought them for her. She choked up. She was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. You see, she had always made paper cutout snowflakes with the kids in her family, every year without fail. This year she was the first year ever that hadn't been able to make them. That one thing was a key part of the holidays to her, and she had been left out this year. It meant more to her than I ever would have guessed. Her gratefulness was touching, but all the while she was thanking me, I started wondering about that irresistible urge to make snowflakes that is so out of character for me.

And the walls near her hospital bed were white. If I had brought white snowflakes, they would not have shown up. The orange worked nicely, where white would have been completely pointless.

I'm not saying things like that happen all the time, I'm just saying there have been a few times when I have seen things, where I suspected there had been some direct intervention by God to bring about the result.

So I wanted to ask: What have you all seen by way of answered prayers? Or maybe it's providence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Never will I forsake you, says the Lord

I wrote this as a follow-up to "Verses for the overwhelmed". I re-read that and realized there was so much more about those verses and about God's word for us in times of trouble. So here are other pages along those lines:

And, if you were wondering, also:
What was going on in my life at home when I wrote the original "verses for the overwhelmed"

Site maintenance note

Back in early 2006, going through a rough patch (to say the least) in my own life, I put together a quick post for my own comfort on Bible verses for the overwhelmed. Much to my surprise, over four year later it continues to be the all-time most popular post on this blog, by traffic going there. I'm flatly amazed at the amount of traffic that Google has sent that page even in the most recent month, and reading the search phrases that led people there was heart-wrenching. So I wanted to drop any readers and especially feed-readers a note on a few things:

I will be posting a round-up of other posts that may be helpful for the overwhelmed, even though round-up posts are not exactly my usual fare; and I will be updating that old post from 2006 with a link to the round-up page. The point of all this is the surprising volume of traffic on that topic. If people are ending up here of all places when searching for help, I'd like to do a better job helping.

So the next couple of updates on this blog will be a little out of the usual.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Controversies: Is homosexual behavior sinful?

Some will see this conversation on homosexuality as questionable or even objectionable, since it considers the arguments both against and for something that has been regarded as an abomination of a sin by most people up until quite recently in history -- and is regarded as something approaching an unquestionable right by many people today. Others will see this topic as quaint and behind the times even in its framing, not going far enough in recognizing the wider issues raised by the whole of the GLBT community. Still, as my purpose in writing is to map out the most basic dividing lines and see if people can see another perspective even for a moment, I believe this is the best place for me to start.

Note: While this is part of a broad series on controversies in the church, I've noticed I get a lot of drive-by comment traffic whenever I cross a hot-button issue. Many times there's no sign the drive-by commenters have read the post in question much less the series of which it's a part; typically I get a cut-and-paste comment or link. If any comments are abusive or link objectionable material I'll remove them, but use some extra discretion here in case you spot something before I get around to comment maintenance.

Normative heterosexuality

Some people believe that heterosexuality is a uniquely valid expression of human sexuality. Heterosexuality's uncontested role in bringing about the birth of each new generation back to the dawn of time is seen as a conclusive demonstration that heterosexuality's status is unique and normative. Some see a divine blessing on heterosexuality alone based on in its place in the created order. Some also view various passages in the Bible as plainly condemning homosexual practice.

Internal diversity: Some people who believe in hetero-normality have no objection to homosexual practice or behavior, and simply reserve their ideas of marriage and family for the biologically-related family based on a heterosexual coupling and any resulting children. Others have no objection to homosexual behavior so long as it is kept private.* Others have an objection to homosexuality as a sin, but recognize sin as a problem common to all people rather than something that puts homosexuals into a different class than the rest of humanity. Still others have a strong view that homosexuality is harmful and destructive, either to society or to the homosexuals themselves, or both.

Strong points: Heterosexual desire is the common experience of most people. For reproductive reasons heterosexuality can be seen as an essential part of the human life cycle. For those who hold the Bible as authoritative, the passages that address homosexuality consistently view it as sinful.

External criticisms: Critics see this view as bigotry akin to racism, a discrimination against someone for a characteristic they had at birth. From a Biblical standpoint, critics also point out that many of the Biblical laws from the same era and books condemn practices that no one in our day would condemn, and that the whole of the Old Testament has been re-evaluated in light of Jesus' teachings, or modern knowledge, or both.

Response to criticism: The charge of bigotry is seen as a false accusation, and the comparison to racism is seen as a faulty analogy. While race is irrelevant to someone's character, sexual orientation is not irrelevant to sex or procreation. While responses to criticism about passages in the Bible vary, the most common may be that the Bible's moral code -- including norms about sexuality -- are still upheld by many today as expressing both a divine ideal for humans and a proven workable model for a culture.

The slippery slope: The ancient Biblical laws upheld the death penalty for homosexual behavior. For those who uphold the ancient view that homosexuality is an abomination, is it possible to leave an abomination without a consequence? Or would you endorse a penalty? Is it possible to condemn something strongly without persecuting it? If it is impossible to persecute or condemn too strongly something that is an abomination, what about the actual people who feel homosexual attractions? What keeps them from being demonized, dehumanized, or attacked?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: Two words: Fred Phelps. To expound a little, he is the poster-child for what certainly looks like a mean-spirited, hate-based, pseudo-religious campaign that routinely insults homosexuals. Fred Phelps is widely condemned by the Christian mainstream -- but he is, unfortunately, not quite alone in his seemingly spite-motivated actions.

Charitable moments: Those who believe that heterosexuality is the human norm may recognize that those who advocate the other side may have, first and foremost, a concern for the human beings who feel homosexual attractions.

Fair questions: If you're all about hating the sin and loving the sinner, why wasn't Fred Phelps shut down a long time ago? For those whose basic argument against homosexuality is "it creeps me out," explain: exactly how is that different from an unthinking prejudice? And, someone may say, if I was born this way and you find it sinful, doesn't that work out to you saying there is something wrong with me and wrong with the fact that I exist? Again, how is that not hatred or bigotry, or devaluing another human being? And if you're all about marriage and sexual purity, why isn't there the same amount of focus on heteros who fool around, commit adultery, or divorce?

Mainstreamed homosexuality

Some people believe that homosexuality is an equally valid expression of human sexuality. Homosexual love is seen as a positive good, worthy of unconditional acceptance, deserving of equal honor and recognition.

Internal diversity: There are some differences of opinion whether homosexuality is wholly genetic, or whether there are learned or chosen aspects of identifying as homosexual. There are also differences of opinion on whether celibacy is an acceptable call for homosexuals, whether the acceptance of homosexuality means rethinking the concept of marriage, and how to regard the phenomenon of ex-homosexuals.

Strong points: The most basic and essential reason people name homosexuality as an equally valid expression of humanity is based on a recognition that homosexual people are equally valid people and equally valuable human beings. It is, in its most basic form, an argument for the full and equal humanity of the people who experience homosexual attraction.

External criticisms: Some critics who come from a Christian perspective do not understand how so many passages of the Bible that speak of homosexuality as sinful can be set aside when there is no passage that commends, recognizes, or accepts homosexuality. Other critics may not understand how something like homosexuality can be considered equal to heterosexuality, since heterosexuality is built into the human genome as the way our kind reproduces. Other critics feel a strong instinctive disgust at the thought of homosexual behavior, sometimes to the point of feeling physically ill, that seems to them evidence of the deeply unnatural and unhealthy character of homosexuality.

Response to criticism: On the Biblical criticism, there is some difference in responses. For those who believe the Bible is worth taking into account, some believe that the best option for homosexuals is celibacy. Others believe that the Bible speaks against only certain forms of homosexual behavior that take predatory or abusive forms. Others argue that such ideas are as obsolete as the Jewish dietary laws. Still others argue that Jesus himself is the only voice that can be fully trusted and that he never addressed the issue directly, leaving each of us to come to our own conclusions based on his principle that love is the highest good.

On the argument from the continuity of the species, some dismiss it as unworthy of consideration on the view that the world already has too many people and that we should desire a reduced population. Others view that any genetics-based argument has to come to terms with the possibility that there are genetic components to homosexual identity; many homosexuals perceive that they were simply born that way.

The argument from disgust is seen as roughly equivalent to bigotry dressed up as an argument.

The slippery slope: There have traditionally been certain limits on sexual expression: a context of a life-long marriage, certain relationships that cannot become sexual (such as among those already closely related by blood), and a certain age requirement for sexual participation. Some of these have been questioned by people who identify themselves as being within the homosexual community. Which of these restrictions still make sense to you, which do not, and why?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: Many times, those who believe heterosexuality is -- and should be -- the human norm are portrayed as unthinking and closed-minded bigots, no better than racists. It is often assumed beforehand that there is no conversation to be had; that the only possible reason for a disagreement is that the opponents are either evil or brainwashed, effectively dehumanizing those who disagree.

Charitable moments: The advocates for homosexuality may recognize that those who advocate the other side from a Christian point of view are concerned, first and foremost, with a sin that they believe debases a person. That is, they believe that the greatest service they could do a homosexual would be to free that person of that desire as an act of restoration and healing. They hope for redemption, not for destruction.

Fair questions: If the acceptance of homosexuality is seen as part of a general change in views about sex and marriage in our times, can you honestly look at society as a whole today and say without qualification that particular change has been an improvement? If the argument is that homosexuality is both normal and healthy, then what about the group of people -- regardless of what the percentage is, the group does exist -- who came to be homosexuals after experiencing some type of sexual abuse? If the basic argument is "I was born this way", why is there a use of hormones and surgical change in the homosexual community? When it comes to societal change, are you quite sure that you aren't playing a game of Jenga? Can you tell if you are moving a load-bearing piece before it's too late?

Related controversies: The role of men and women, the authority and reliability of the Bible.

A brief side-note about the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy -- I wonder if I should be disappointed that the recent court decision didn't go in a completely different direction. Would I be sorry if everybody had to abide by "Don't ask, don't tell"? Really, what ever happened to privacy?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Controversies in the church: frame of mind

Tonight I very nearly finished the next installment in the "controversies" series. I had started work on it this summer, but then busy season hit. Here I'll post some background that I think is as important as the write-up itself. I hope to have that write-up finished for my weekend post this week.

When I write on this series, I try very much to argue both sides in their strongest position. If I do well, people should have trouble telling what my own actual views are, at least so long as I work on the project of mapping out the different views. The exercise of switching views so often does leave me a little dizzy.

The whole project requires that I get in the right frame of mind before I start. So I wanted to post a little background on the night I picked to start and do most of the meditative / reflective work on the next entry in the series, which (according to my original plan) is the controversy over homosexuality.

Below is the notes I kept from the night I did most of the reflection, contemplation and meditation on the subject. (Yes, that's part of how I write on this type of thing.) The notes are fairly raw, and in reality were filled with many pauses where I would stop and think.

I wanted to write the next part of the series on a night when my frame of mind was right for the job. I've long since learned that clarity and sensitivity have to be carefully cultivated before I write. Maybe that's just because my own stock of those is short. But tonight is definitely the night when I'm in the right frame of mind to tackle this topic.

What put me into just the right frame of mind? I was at the Wal-Mart picking up a few things. I had checked out at the self-serve checkout lane, trading jokes with people nearby about how that used to be the faster option with shorter lines. And I was on my way out with my bag of things when I recognized a checker at another lane.

The frilly blouse, long hair, and earrings - and a name tag reading "Janet" - didn't fool me. I knew the man.

I still did consider him a man, despite his obvious change of feelings on the subject himself, both because of the male pattern baldness and because we had grown up in the same neighborhood. I knew him as Jim. His father's name is (was?) Ed. He plays the flute. I walked past his home on the way to the neighborhood park. I wanted to go say hi and tell him I wished him well. I had no idea if he would have welcomed someone from his old life. I had no idea if he remembered me (I am several years younger, and older kids don't always deign to notice younger ones.)

At any rate, he was busy helping a customer so I settled for making a mental note that next time I'm at Wal-Mart I will look twice at the checkers before I choose a lane, and maybe have a chance to say hi to an old neighbor.

He looked unhappy. I don't know if that was from the big picture of his life, or for working on a Friday night, or for being probably 50 years old and working as a checker at Wal-Mart. At least it's employment and an honest job. These days not everybody has those.

But tonight, I think I can keep the best frame of mind that I'm likely to get in remembering the essentially human nature of this debate.


If human sexuality at its deepest foundations is heterosexual, then accepting homosexuality actually degrades and lessens the person instead of helping. The goal is to restore someone to their full humanity.

If human sexuality at its deepest foundations has more than one natural and healthy fulfillment that reaches the height and fullness of goodness, then on what basis would someone call it wrong?

There isn't much common ground the two groups have as a basis for discussion.

Conservatives are likely to view the ancient Jewish laws, on the whole, as wholesome, even if most agree that they are not part of the New Covenant.

Liberals are likely to view the ancient Jewish laws as outdated, occasionally barbaric, once in awhile just plain ludicrous.

Conservatives are likely to view Paul's canonical writings as authoritative, perhaps even infallible. They certainly see him as having strong insights into the eternal and unchanging mind of God, transcending our human limitations.

Liberals are likely to think he was wrong about women too. They certainly see him as limited by the views of his time, and are worried about those limitations being projected into the future through his writings.

I know an openly homosexual minister. We've interacted a few times, but mostly I know him through his writings. And in those writings, I get the very uncomfortable feeling that the main point of his religion is to justify himself. I don't say this to be snide or condescending or demeaning. I say this because if you look at the content of his writings and the points they develop, you can make a very objective case that his ultimate point is to justify and legitimize himself, to gain acceptance for himself and recognition for the good in him. Not for the good in God.

Is he using Jesus to justify himself? Is he using Jesus to gain acceptance for himself despite his sins?

And did Jesus come to justify us? Didn't Jesus come to win us acceptance despite our sins?

What about the difference between confessing a sin and justifying it?

What about the difference between trying to prove we're religious in order to merit acceptance, and coming to God humbly for cleansing and healing because it is God whose love makes us whole?

And what about the undoubted number of religious people who are heterosexual, that still use God as a means to acceptance, respect, or fame?

But in all the controversy, there is still Jim. He's the bottom line.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Awareness of world religions: The Quiz

Here is a quiz about world religions -- specifically, about the lives and sayings of their founders, and the earliest followers' understanding of their mission. I'd really like to see people take a crack at this.

By the way, I have no intention of scoring anyone who answers, even though as the one who picked the questions, I do happen to know the answers. I figure anybody could ace a test if they got to pick the questions, so I won't use the quiz that way at all. But if you find yourself curious, please take a shot at it.

Here's how the quiz works: I have listed some things about various religions that are important either for understanding the life and character of their founder --or-- that are easily misunderstood and can be used to mis-represent the life and character of the founder. I've also added a few items about the early followers and their understanding of the founder. I believe that all of the answers about the founders can be verified in the official recognized source materials of each religion, though some of the "early follower" questions lead to wider reading in the early history of each faith. There may be more than one answer for a founder in the same category -- for example, the same person may have said more than one objectionable thing. Occasionally an answer will apply to more than one person, though that is rare. And there are a few "red herring" items that don't actually apply to anyone on the list. So for each, please answer:

B = Buddha
J = Jesus
M = Mohammed
N = None of the above

  1. Abandoned a wife and child
  2. Compared a woman who sought his help to a dog
  3. Defied the Temple authorities in the Temple
  4. Died of exposure in the desert after a pilgrimage
  5. Died peacefully of old age
  6. Early followers admired their leaders for conquering neighboring nations
  7. Early followers admired their leaders for their boldness in proclaiming good news, sometimes suffering torture, imprisonment, or death
  8. Executed as a criminal for treason and/or blasphemy
  9. Extreme ascetic practices affected his health
  10. Followers' mission: Bringing the world into submission to God, and, where the people are receptive, to do so peacefully
  11. Followers' mission: Condemning polytheism, including Trinitarianism
  12. Followers' mission: Proclaiming forgiveness to the world, preaching cleansing and rebirth
  13. Followers' mission: Seeking enlightenment, following the right path
  14. Got financial support from donations from supporters
  15. Got financial support from holding hostages for ransom
  16. Got financial support from raiding and looting / plundering
  17. Got financial support from working as a tentmaker
  18. Ordered the torture of a man who hid treasure from him and his army
  19. Ordered the assassinations of his critics
  20. Said that his followers must hate their father and mother and follow him
  21. Spoke of a future when his followers would succeed in armed conquests of other nations
  22. Vowed to mutilate 30 of his enemies
  23. Was executed as a criminal for treason and/or blasphemy
  24. Was poisoned by a woman he had enslaved

I know this is something off of the usual subject matter of this blog, but I am very curious which things are general knowledge and which are not. So if you're as curious as I am, I'd be glad to hear your response -- as much as you're willing to share.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Awareness of world religions

All restaurants are the same. You pay money, you get food. But that doesn't mean there's no difference between Olive Garden and McDonald's and Popeye's; it just means that to qualify as a "restaurant" you have to be doing the same kind of thing.

All books are the same. They have bindings and pages. But that doesn't mean there's no difference between A Tale of Two Cities and Where the Wild Things Are and Harry Potter; it just means there are certain things that qualify an object as a "book".

All religions are the same. You find out what can be known about the big picture of life, the universe, and everything, and about being a good person within it. Most people I've known underestimate the differences among the various religions, often to an amazing degree. "All religions are the same" is a mantra generally spoken by those who do not know much about any of them, much like "All books are the same" is not something you would hear from someone who spent any amount of time reading. We have book and movie critics attuned to the fine differences in kind and quality in their field of expertise; it's a shame we (or the media folks) take books and movies so much more seriously than religion.

Recently I saw the results of a study where various people had been asked various questions about religion and scored on the results. The write-up I saw was analyzing which groups did better than others on questions about world religions or about Judaism and Christianity. But the two things that struck me most about the results were these:
  1. Most of the scores for all groups were failing scores; it was just varying degrees of dismal
  2. Many of the questions were superficial, for example "Name that holiday"
There are different reasons we may want to know about the religions. First and foremost is to see what they teach about the meaning of life (for many religions, this works out to what they teach about the character of God / the gods), or to see what they teach about how to be good people. Next it is to see if a major improvement in the condition of human life could be made by what has been learned; Christians might think of this as homework to do before evangelism. And a third is a merely human and worldly reason: to see if there is any harm or danger from any of the beliefs, whether certain harmful beliefs are really just distortions of the original beliefs and actions of a faith, or whether they are the originally intended beliefs and actions of a religion.

I'd like to conduct a brief survey of my own here. I'll post it separately so people don't have to read this introduction unless they happen to want to. But it will focus not on the names of holidays or the names of theologians, but on the original teachings of the original founder / hero of the faith. I'll focus on major world religions with a recognizable human founder and focus on one question: What do we, as people of our day and culture, actually know about the founders of the major world religions?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Personal note

I'm getting over an illness; while it wasn't serious it was energy-draining. I hope to be back to my regular posting schedule soon.