Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Funny

A friend's blog provokes ongoing debate, and I enjoy taking the opportunity to jump in every now and then. As I have been involved lately, it has occurred to me how often these debates are over whose set of presuppositions are correct, so the debate itself is pointless - few people are willing to give up their presuppositions because of a few lines on a blog somewhere, no matter how well written.

This leads to a stridency that makes the debates even less fruitful. Everyone takes the simplest, most dogmatic position, and yells invective at each other.

All of this was triggered by the following comic which gets just about everything correct. The main characters in this strip (if you have never read Frazz) are Frazz: the young single, well-read janitor at an elementary school who provides reason in the midst of the chaos; and Caulfield: the over-smart elementary schooler who provides nonsequiters to the teacher's "Any other questions?". You can find it at:

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sends to Jesus from jail and asks if He is the awaited Messiah, or if should they look for another. Jesus responds, not with a simple "Yes" or "No" but rather with a summary of His work: the blind see, the lame walk, the poor hear the good news, and then adds an encouragement not to be offended by Him.

The word for offended here is the Greek scandalon, which means a rock that causes someone to stumble on the road. Jesus was warning John not to get caught up in His previous conceptions about Messiah. Undoubtedly, John expected a conquering King who would overthrow Rome's oppression and set up a glorious kingdom in Israel. In fact, one wonders if John was not so aggressive in condemning Herod precisely because of these expectations. Perhaps Jesus' response was going to be the moment when John would realize for the first time that he was not going to be released from prison when the Messiah set up his throne.

Jesus always surprises us. He is often less than what we expect because He is so much more than we could imagine. It was this way on the first Christmas, it is often that way in our lives.

Have a Merry Christmas. May Jesus be more than you can imagine in your life, not only in this season, but all through the year.

Psalm 26

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity,
And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
Examine me, O LORD, and try me;
Test my mind and my heart.

In this psalm, David is consumed by his integrity. He even goes so far as to offer to be tested, examined by the Lord to prove the depths of his innocence.

As I was reading this passage this morning, it occurred to me that David undoubtedly wrote this before Bathsheba. I doubt he ever called upon the Lord to examine him closely and prove his integrity after that incident.

I think it possible that the Lord takes such self-conscious integrity and tests it to the breaking point, so that we might not be fooled into believing that it is our goodness or righteousness that counts in His sight. He loves us, not because of anything about us except for His love. When we forget that He goes to great pains to remind us.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Scandolous Freedom

I have a very simple recommendation. Every evangelical Christian should read Steve Brown's book A Scandalous Freedom. Period.

Steve is a PhD Presbyterian who pastored for years and runs a ministry in Key Biscayne Florida. His message is simple: God means it when He says He loves us, and we cannot do anything to make Him love us either more or less. Rather remarkable for a Presbyterian, or an Evangelical. The liberals stole grace from us, Steve Brown tells us where to find it.

Go get a copy today. Read it. Then tell everyone you know about it.


I am not often this insensitive (at least not publicly).

But I just read the story about the man who set himself, a Christmas tree, and an American flag ablaze over the San Joaquin Valley school board's decision to use the names Christmas and Easter for the winter and spring holiday seasons.

My gut reaction is that I wish the fireman hadn't been there.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eragon Movie

I went and saw the movie at the first showing here in the Valley, at 10:40am at Cine Capri. Side note - I liked the old Cine Capri better. I think Harkins has better theatres than the new one even now. But I digress.

I expected to be disappointed. It is little more than an adventure the movie, and in a sense I was. The movie is too short by at least 30 minutes, probably an hour (it comes in at just over 90 minutes). And the screen writers eliminated far too many things in order to get the movie down to size. Paolini has written a decent epic-type story, the movie is not even close to epic

I don't know if I like the result. Eragon is more heroic and succeeds far more than he does in the book, and I think I liked him better in the original. They change the ending from the book, and do so in such a way that I think they probably have no intention of making the second story (Eldest) into a movie at all. I will go see it again with the rest of my family and from there I will have a better idea of whether I like the movie, not as a version of the book, but just as a fantasy adventure.

I also learned something about film making that has been bugging me for the last couple of months, but that will have to wait for another post.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I am in the middle of a book entitled The Limitations of Scientific Truth, by Nigel Brush. I initially bought it because it looked from the table of contents like it covered a range of topics that I need to learn more about. I figured it to be a dry read. Not so. The author is a very engaging writer who takes a host of complex philosophical topics and condenses them into a nice package.

One of his points is that modern science has no solid ground for asserting that it finds truth. This is not his opinion, this is the current state of the world. All of the attempts at finding a solid philosophical basis for the scientific method have come up empty. Essentially, the only reason we believe the findings of science is because we choose to believe them.

Philosophy does not fare much better. The last century of philosophical thought has been forced to acknowledge that we cannot evaluate philosophical perspectives by any objective standard. If my belief system differs from yours, no external ruler exists in philosophy to measure them and find which is superior. Basically, if I believe something different than you, it is only because I choose to do so.

The only other source of information available to humans is revelation. Which of course cannot be measured by any external tools, and is therefore accepted or rejected entirely on faith. Now I don't have any problem with that - I know that my decision to accept the teachings of Scripture are first and foremost an act of faith. I have examined them and believe that they are likely correct. Yes, it is true that they work for me (except when they don't seem to), and there is an element of confirmation that I believe God gives to those who choose to follow the truth. But in the end, following the Scriptures is an act of faith.

I just find it very nice to know that science and philosophy are as much faith-based systems as Christianity.

At least we admit it.

Cultural differences

In my post on Forgiveness, I posted an addendum on multiculturalism. One of the follow-up comments put forth the view that one source of contention between cultures is the defensiveness that comes from being the "out," or minority view. The solution then, is for the dominant culture to reach out with support to the minority.

But what if the dominant culture really IS superior? Perhaps its superiority is precisely WHY it is dominant. Is such supportiveness reasonable in this context?

I do not accept the premise that all cultures are equivalent. Does anyone really contend that any human being really believes this? Even the multiculturalists must believe that their view that every culture is of equivalent value is superior to any alternative, parochial view. Humans cannot function absent belief that their perspective is accurate. This is why honest nihilists tend to commit suicide. But you see, if there is a clear difference between my perspective and yours, I am obligated at least to examine them and upon examination to adopt the one that is superior. This is why I blog.

This goes even deeper if there is a reason, moral or otherwise, for the two cultures to conflict. If their perspective are diametrically opposed, then the conflict is likely inevitable. And if they are mutually exclusive, then one or the other must be false and should be abandoned. I believe in the existence of absolute truth, so it is not possible to opposite premises to both be true.

It is, of course, possible for humans to be respectful in spite of their differences. It is one of the foundations on which Western civilization has been built. But if the non-dominant culture picks a fight, even from an understandable defensiveness, then it will be difficult for the dominant culture to sit quietly by and be called names. That is very much where American culture finds itself today.

Friday, December 08, 2006


A friend of mine recently posted an interesting article on the subject of forgiveness. This post started as a comment on hers, but grew too large to fit, so I moved it into my blog.

This basic issue revolves around the question of whether society can extend forgiveness to a murderer who has truly repented before being caught (in this case, 9 years after the murder). My friends and I agree that the answer, in short, is "no". I think this is part of what it means for us to have a secular government. Our legal system must deal only with justice, we do not have the wisdom to administer corporate forgiveness.

I think the idea here is that we can only practice morality in our personal lives. In the larger framework of society, we must act on principles. And the principle here is that the guilty must be punished. The validity of this principle is demonstrated consistently throughout history in society after society. What then, are Christians to do with the Christian call to forgiveness? What if the judge, the DA, and all the members of the jury were Christians? Could they let the accused go free?

I still contend that the answer is "no." The Christian morality that calls for forgiveness can only be practiced on a personal, relational level. This is not to say that Christianity has no place in society - clearly our principles are shaped by the morality found within the Bible. It is just that moral acts are inherently personal. You achieve a moral society, not by legislating moral behavior, but by developing moral individuals. It is then incumbent on those individuals to elucidate from their morality and their history the principles that will best govern society. This is basically the pattern outlined by our founding fathers.

Herein lies one of the great benefits of a pluralistic society. In such a society, it is possible to draw from the moral backgrounds of a wide range of cultures to find the principles that have proven most effective in building a stable society. This is so important because humans are notoriously bad at finding the right principles to govern based on their morality. I have asserted this over and over about Christianity, but it is true of every religious tradition; they are notoriously bad at managing secular power. If we could ever learn to stop yelling at each other, we in America might be able to find our way back to the place where we can negotiate our shared principles. But I dream...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I have just finished reading Eragon and Eldest, the 2 fantasy novels by Christopher Paolini. While they are billed as children's novels, I found that I really enjoyed them (especially Eragon, Eldest is the second novel in a trilogy, and suffers from all the issues common to such stories). I think one of the reasons I enjoyed them so much is that the hero, the young man named Eragon, is not a flawed hero. He is basically a good person, his only weaknesses are those of youth - he is 15 and 16 in the novels - not of character.

This got me thinking a bit about heroic characters. I can see that we need our heroes to be slightly flawed, both because we are flawed and cannot relate to a perfect hero, and also because so many of these stories involve the redemption of the hero. But popular culture has become so enamored with truly flawed heroes that it is hard to find someone you can really look up to. Perhaps those of you who read my blog can name for me a hero from either print or film in recent years who is at most mildly flawed. If you have read Eragon, can you name a hero like him?

My problem is that when I consume these stories, I find myself wanting a character that I can root for through the good and bad. Someone for whom, when something bad happens, I can feel it is truly unjust. Someone who feels like a redeemer to me, and not just another sinner.

Great stories resonate with us because they mirror the greatest of all stories - redemption. I have grown lately to feel that our culture only tells one side of the story, the side the Greeks told, of the tragic, almost accidental redemption of a flawed hero. But the full story includes the remarkable, miraculous redemption of a flawed world by a hero who suffered tragedy, not because he deserved it, but because He took it for us that we might be redeemed.

Eragon doesn't exactly tell this story, but it is closer than I have seen for a while. It was refreshing.