May 31, 2007


So I've finally completed the semester. I'm mostly pleased with my grades, especially given the ever-changing circumstances of the past semester ... moving twice (once during finals), many doctors visits for my wife, getting adjusted to a new school, work, finding new jobs, etc. Current GPA: 3.7 ... and my major was approved, so I'm now officially in the "Master of the Arts in Intercultural Studies" program. I was also pleased to discover that the registrar approved my transfer credits from Kingsley College (in Melbourne). Actually, they approved twelve credits rather than the expected nine ... so I have one less semester to complete at Asbury than I was expecting!

Still looking for another job, but I did get a call from Starbucks, so your prayers that it would pan out well are appreciated. The place they interviewed me for is actually closer (I think) than Coldstone, which would be nice so I could save on gas (which is currently at an exhorbitant $3.09.9/gal).

But I get to read books I want to this summer! Woo hoo! Here's a portion of my reading list:

Stuff I've already read since school let out:
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Books I'm Currently Working On:
Exiles, by Mike Frost
Stone Tables, by Orson Scott Card

Books I'm Looking Forward To:
Treason, by Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card
Children of the Mind, by Orson Scott Card (are you sensing a pattern yet?)

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis
The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton
Finding Life, by Ash Barker
The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch (a FORGE mate)
The Story We Find Ourselves In, by Brian McLaren
The Celtic Way of Evangelism, by George Hunter (an Asbury Prof, no less)
Credible Witness, by Darren Cronshaw (a FORGE mate)

So we'll see if I make it through all of them. In addition, I have a few others that I've been given by relatives I'd like to peruse, most notably a book written by a deceased relative, a medical missionary, called "Little Stories of China" (by Jennie Manget Logan). She served in China for 41 years starting in 1873, and given the extraordinary exponential growth in the Chinese church as of late, it should be a fascinating read.

May 28, 2007

The Cost of Freedom

Our freedom has a cost. Christians and Americans know this well: as Americans we have time and time again had to beat back bullies who would take our freedom from us and from others - in the Revolutionary war, it was about freedom from unfair taxation, in the civil war, from denying freedom to African Americans and abolishing slavery, in WWI and II it was about freeing the world from tyrrany. In the Cold War we fought our own to regain our civil liberties from the McCarthyists, and In the Gulf War we were party to freeing Kuwait of an invading army.

There have been many times that the freedom of others - a freedom that is very important to Americans - has been paid in blood; the blood of the enemy, and the blood of our own soldiers, men, women, and even sometimes children. We loathe the cost, a cost that should never have to be paid. But there are men and women who willingly lay down their lives so that the freedom of others may continue.

I've been watching a lot of movies about freedom lately. The other night, we watched
The Majestic. One character says "When bullies rise up, the rest of us have to beat them back down, whatever the cost. That's a simple idea I suppose, but one worth giving everything for." Kingdom of Heaven is another great example. In a conversation about religion, a priest says,
"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man - or not."
Two nights ago we once again watched King Arthur. Some memorable quotes:

"No man fears to kneel before the God he trusts. Without faith, without belief in something, what are we?"

"There is no worse death than that of hope."

"Deeds themselves are useless unless they are for some higher purpose."

"What other purpose do we serve if not for such a cause?"

"Knights! The gift of freedom is yours by right. But the home we seek resides not in some distant land, it's in us, and in our actions on this day! If this be our destiny, then so be it. But let history remember, that as free men, we chose to make it so!"

I highly recommend you go rent it.

There was a man, many years ago, who embodied such a message. He died for the men and women he loved. He beat back the bullies so that we - his creation - might taste freedom. This is why Christians know the cost of freedom - our God paid the ultimate price so that we might know such freedom.

On memorial day, we remember the men and women who have gone before us, putting their lives on the line and, when necessary, sacrificing themselves so that we may continue to enjoy the freedom we have.

To those of you who serve in the military, the government, the police, the fire corps, the national guard, the coast guard, and many others; thank you for your sacrifice. Never forget the purpose, the duty with which you have been entrusted, and never forget that we, the people you serve, love you, honor you, and remember you.

May 27, 2007

Deaton and the Ray Brown Trio

My sister found this on YouTube. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

And my Aunt recommended this one, saying (and I quote) "Gene Harris' piano playing will transport you to a lazy river and around a crazy bend into another dimension." I think we'd all agree she's right.

May 24, 2007


Anchoress has posted two fascinating posts (no matter which side of the debate you're on) that tell the other side of the story the media tells. Check them out:

About the Media

Impeaching Bush?

May 23, 2007

Summer Plans

Chris: wow, Mark, that'a a very clean waffle iron.
Mark: yes, yes it is.
Chris: in fact, it's ... it's beautiful!
Mark: dude, this waffle iron is so clean, not only can you see yourself, but you can also see the future.
Mark: go on, ask it a question ...

As some of you know, I was recently (March) hired at an ice cream store. March, you ask? I know, I was shocked, especially my first night working when it started snowing and we had a grand total of one customer and two girls trying to stay warm while they waited for their parents. Business has picked up a bunch since then, but apparently not enough - the new store manager had to deny me the full-time work promised to me this summer (by the last manager) and so today was spent looking for a new job to fill out the rest of those elusive 40 hours. Hopefully Panera or Dicks will call back tomorrow, but alas, there are no guarentees.

But as for Coldstone, I've begun to enjoy working there. Basically we do one thing: make ice cream. This takes two basic forms: in an ice cream maker, and on a frozen slab of marble. I rather enjoy it, to be honest, except for one thing: the singing. Now, ok, I'm a musician, and I'm supposed to enjoy singing. But when I'm supposed to sing things like:

we're cheerful and we hollar because we got a dollar
we're happy 'cause we all are the coldstone family
da da da dum (hit something twice)
da da da dum (hit something twice)
da da da dum da da da dum da da da dum (hit something twice)

Yes, we're supposed to sing specially crafted songs if we get a tip. It's times like those when I wish I could shrink into the woodwork, but alas, the only options are MDF and marble, and they're too hard for shrinking. Fortunately I like my coworkers, so when it's more than two of us, I'm usually ok with the singing - group humiliation is so much easier to take. Most of the time we don't even have to finish because the customer gets weirded out and makes a break for the door, but sometimes (like yesterday) they say thank you and ask if we're required to take singing lessons.

Sometimes other things happen. We goof off, and get pictures like this:

And this:

Or we get large groups of well-dressed college girls in:

... and I try to set up my teenage coworkers. It's always a no (poor Mark) but it's fun to ask anyway. It's sort of youth-ministry, only stickier.

So that's what I'm doing this summer: work in several places, only one of which has actually hired me yet. I might get to read books that I've chosen (instead of my professors), which will be fantastic, and maybe I'll write about those at some point. We'll be off to CT for my cousin's wedding in early June, and who knows, the baby might show up one of these days. And Sally's coming. Here's to the warm season!

May 19, 2007

The Fishing Pole

Sam asked me a few weeks back if I'd post something about "my story." Now, my first reaction as "what? I thought that I HAD been posting my story." But I think I know what she means ... she wants to know when it was that God first decided to pop in and ay "hi, coffee?" I think that's what it's like for me and God; we do coffee. It used to be milkshakes, and recently we've decided to study together, but mostly I like the idea of doing coffee with God, to sit down over a caramel latte or a chai and talk things through.

It wasn't always like that (though it's definitely not like that all the time now either ... in fact, probably not most of the time ... but sometimes it is and those are the times I look forward to). I used to be a staunch atheist, despite the fact that I was raised in a "christian" home. I put quotes around that because I'm not sure what it means anymore ... the idea of "christian" being applied as an adjective ("christian radio" or "christian music") rather than a noun ("a christian") or a verb ("to be a Christian") has started to bother me, but no matter. God works with us in that stuff too.

I grew up attending a small Presbyterian church, the average age around fifty or so. There were families with kids my age, but for the most part, it was an older congregation. That's the way it seems to work in smaller churches these days. Though it was small, we did all sorts of stuff together - pot luck dinners, summer gatherings at the park (with pot luck dinners), youth nights (with pot luck dinners), and of course, the random fellowship nights with, of course, put luck dinners. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that this might have something to do with my inability to separate food and my faith - to eat with others is integral in being a Christian.

At the time, "church" meant - to me - sunday mornings when Mom and Dad (who were both elders at one point or another) would drag me out of bed to go to an early (read: 9am or 10:30am) service with boring music (traditional hymns played on an organ at half tempo), boring speaking (our pastor didn't understand what it meant to speak to the "lay-person" ... or the child) and boring sunday school (but I always knew the right answer - Jesus!). The church was more or less content to stay in its own rhythm, year after year, doing what it did best - maintaining the status quo. Families came and went, but the church on main street didn't really change. A constant in a quaint little town in upstate NY.

I can't say that I remember a lot of mission in our church. There was the usual stuff, the Angel Tree at Christmas, the food cubbard, the occasional high-school "rock-a-thon" where they would stay up all night in rocking chairs to raise money for the odd charity. In my teen years we went to a soup kitchen once. But mostly the church kept to itself. If there were other missional events, either I wasn't privy to them, or I was too busy complaining about the stupid services to bother noticing.

* * *

When I was twelve, stuff started to change. I'd always been a bit of a nerd, a brain-on-legs, but for the most part I'd always been a complacent, obey-my-parents-because-I'm-passive-agressive-and-don't-want-to-be-in-conflict sort of kid. But something had nagged at me, and whether it was that I hated going to church services or I really believed it, I told my mother that I didn't buy into her "God-thing" anymore, thank you very much. It was definitely a turning point in my walk with God, because Mom said the strangest thing to me. I'd spent the whole day working up the courage to tell her (mom and I have always been quite honest with one another, but this was a doozie), and I'd expected her to blow up or blow me off, of course God is real, stop questioning what we've told you. But my parents have a funny way of surprising me. She said "oh, well, ok, I suppose God will show Himself to you in His own time ... but you're still coming to church with the family."


It took the wind out of my sails, so to speak. I vaguely remember mumbling something like, oh, ok, just so you know, and then I walked away and did something else for a while, thought nothing of it again for about two years. And that's when I decided I wanted a fishing pole.

* * *

I think I like the story of Jesus calling his disciples better now. Jesus is walking along a beach next to one of the lakes in Israel and comes upon some fishermen in their boat just offshore. They're having some trouble - their nets have been barren all day. He tells them to let down their nets on the other side of the boat. It's a strange thing to say, since any fisherman knows that changing sides isn't really going to help the matter - if the fish aren't on my left, they're probably not on my right either. But a funny thing happens when they do what Jesus says (I'm thinking out of sheer boredom) - they have a hard time getting their boat to shore because their nets are so full. Was Jesus asking them to just try something new, different, outside of their so-called "common sense"? I suppose so. But he tells them that, just like they can catch fish by doing it his way, so to can they be fishers of men.

It's ironic to me that Jesus shows them how to get more fish before he calls them to follow him. In my missiology class, asking for more stuff is called "consumerism." America, we decided, is full of it. I was no different, but I was only fourteen when I decided that I wanted to have a fishing pole. I'd never wanted to go fishing before, so I'm sure the request to my parents was to them an absolute mystery. Which is also probably why they said no, thinking I'd forget about it in a few days. But I persisted, and my mom, sticking with her initial decision, told me to save my allowance for one. I've always been a good saver (if I wanted something badly enough), but at that time I wanted it now - it was summer, I'd already spent my allowance (on who-knows-what) and valuable fishing time was speeding away. So my mother told me to pray about it. I reminded her that I didn't believe in God, but she just smirked and said that God was the only way a fishing pole was going to happen in my near future.

Naturally this bothered me. That's what parents are for, right? Buying you things, moving heavy objects that you can't, and driving you to school activities. It's the least they can do for making you clean the bathtub every week. Anyway, I finally got around to it and decided that my mother hadn't been wrong too often before (except for the bathtub thing), so why not? I prayed, some quick little thing (of the "god if you're there" variety), and, my short-term memory being what it is (like that of a fish), forgot the whole thing. I resigned myself to being bored the rest of the summer.

A week later, I got a call from a lady down the road, a mormon friend of my mom's who was going on vacation with her family and needed their brand-new expanse of garden watered while they were gone, could we help? Mom asked me, and I said sure, I certainly wasn't going fishing. Then she offered to pay me, I that made me happy. The week goes by, I've been wet a bunch (but so had the plants), and she came home. She payed me, and I discovered that it was just enough to buy not only the fishing pole I'd been eyeing, but also a tackle box and some lures.

"Chris, mind if we go fishing together?"
"Oh, you really are there. Um, hey, thanks for the pole and the tackle box."
"You're welcome. What do you think?"
"About what?"
"About fishing together."
"Oh, uh, sure. I guess. Do I still have to go to church?"
"Listen to your parents."
"Oh yeah, cool, ok."

Can God redeem our consumerism? Absolutely. I'm not there yet, it's definitely something I've been working through, but I think God reaches us whereever we are. But then He asks us to grow. And that's hard. But I also know it's possible. And that He'll be by our sides the whole way home.

* * *

So that's my "story," or part of it anyway. It's funny, I haven't been asked about it in a while. I used to get asked all the time, in college. One friend, a cultural-Jew (but practicing atheist) told me that it wasn't as bad as she was expecting ... I think that was supposed to be a compliment, but you never know. I miss college; so many ideas to talk about with people who will look back at you like, despite the fact that you really are nuts, you're still interesting conversation material. And they have ideas that, while they're completely nuts, also make good conversation material. And you move towards a better understanding of each other.

May 17, 2007

En Guard!

More fantastic videos from YouTube that I actually had time to watch! Enjoy :)

What he said ...

Yes, I'm done with my semester. Twenty-one pages of typed text (most of them single-spaced) and many hours of studying later, I'm ready to move on to the summer. Dinner and a movie out tonight :)

May 16, 2007

Power to the People

I've been contemplating the problems of power and poverty all semester, and it sort of came to a head in my final paper for KCW. Here it is, in all its confusion. Enjoy.

* * *

There has been a growing movement in the past several decades among many that call themselves followers of Jesus to move towards a more socialist construct of economics and government in the United States, motivated by an increased awareness of the poor and impoverished. Those in poverty are oppressed by the current system, say these Christians, and so the system has to change. Capitalism is the root of the problem, a system that encourages competition and thus encourages people to distrust one another rather than help. The capitalist system makes the rich richer and the poor poorer through its quiet movement towards consumerism, building vast wealth for a few on the backs of the many – the poor in our own country as well as many others. As a side-effect, a consumerist middle-class forms that desperately seek to work their way into the ranks of the wealthy; if they succeed, they are lauded as successes, but more often, they join the ranks of the many in poverty. Socialism, to these Christians, is the answer, for it takes the poor seriously. They maintain that more government programs can provide aid to those who need it, that salary caps for each job make it possible that all are paid fairly and are not allowed to acquire vast wealth. These are among the many claims made by these Christians as part of the socialist solution to combating poverty.

There is another set of Christians of an older variety that believe that continued faith in Capitalism is the key to solving the poverty of the world. According to these Christians, trickle-down economics will work if we simply hold out long enough and make sure that malevolent outside forces – the forces of socialism, communism, terrorism, and the like – are held at bay or defeated so that capitalism and democracy can prosper. They assert that it is not capitalism’s fault that the poor are marginalized, that the fault lies completely with the poor for not taking part in the system, for being lazy instead of working hard. Even so, malevolent outside forces must be expunged for the danger they present to the poor in other countries; these governments must be removed and replaced with democratic capitalist regimes that will begin to allow for equal competition, to allow the poor to work side-by-side with the rich for the betterment of their nation and ultimately for the world.

Both groups have mistakenly put their faith in a human system rather than in the God they claim to follow. Socialism is no better than capitalism or Marxism: the appeal of all systems, whether explicitly or by inference, lay in the suggestion that they will give power to the masses in some form. For the socialists, the power is given to the people in the assurance that everyone will receive his fair wage and a communal power through the “justice” administered to those that have held power until now (by removing their power). Capitalism purports to give power to the people through their own individualism; by working hard, it says, you might move up in the world – you control your own destiny. Additionally, communism, like socialism, gives a communal power to the lowly masses, claiming that they will now direct the rich to do their bidding .

But all of these systems deceive. In the capitalist system, the workers become fierce competitors who work for their own benefit at any cost, even at the expense of others. People other than themselves become tools to be used or burdens to be cast aside . In the socialist system, it is the laws that become oppressive; as human nature takes over, more laws are “needed” and thus created, gradually removing freedom and eventually becoming so rigid and stagnant that it is better for the individual or the family to be poor and receive benefits and handouts than it is to work for money which is then taken by taxation and redistributed to the many; inevitably, a worker will do the least amount of work possible, but still receive exactly the meager wages he has been promised.

However, while all human systems have their obvious deceptive flaws, they are not necessarily wrong on every count. Socialism is quite right in making the plight of the poor a concern for those who are not themselves poor, though its practical solution ultimately contributes to the problem rather than solving it; instead of treating the cause, it treats the symptoms. Capitalism is likewise employed well in its emphasis on effort, encouraging people to work hard for their material and social goods. However, it is the competition between workers that causes capitalism to fail, pitting people against one another to such a degree that they begin to put their faith in the material resources and their own abilities rather than in the collective effort of their community. Solutions likewise treat the symptoms rather than the problems, and often capitalism will move in the direction of socialism. There is a profound imbalance in both – and I would contend, all – systems that claim that the effort of people alone, by law or by hard work, is enough to alleviate poverty.

What most fascinates me is the way that poverty is an outgrowth of this phenomenon of imbalance. When all parts of a society are not functioning together as a unified whole, in mutually interdependent harmony, those with more material goods begin to consume an increasing number of resources, which by necessity come from those who have little to begin with. This is a natural consequence of both capitalism and socialism; even in socialism, some are ‘more equal than others.’ Yet poverty is not just about people who do not have enough material or even social goods; that some have more than others is not itself the tragedy, but that those who have the least suffer. Poverty itself is not the ultimate problem; rather it is a mere symptom of the greater cancer permeating this planet: pride, the source of greed, selfishness, and arrogance. In the Ultimate Reality originally intended for this earth, people were not meant to depend solely on themselves, but to be interdependent. We were to serve others, and the others serve us; instead of everybody fighting for scarce resources (either individuals or communities against one another).

We no longer live in that world; human pride, starting in a broken relationship, made sure of that. The Ultimate Reality broke down when Eve was lured into doing something for herself alone, and then one by one, starting with Adam, humanity followed suite. It took one free person to put a kink in the perfect system, a system designed to work only when everyone was freely cooperating. I often wonder if the system could be restored. Perhaps if there were a group of people who were to start modeling the example, in time others might catch on. This is where the church comes in; to be the model of the alternative, even at our own expense, even if we're taken advantage of by others.

For this new economy – the Economy of God – to be brought to fruition, people will have to want the change to happen. Paradoxically, the best way to introduce positive, workable change is to teach people to, in a manner of speaking, help themselves: by taking the initiative to help others (a social change as much as a spiritual and physical change), a person helps himself in the long-run. But he has to want it, to care about it more than his own initial comfort. Often he must learn how to serve (as it is not an instinctive response, hence the current poverty crisis), which is once again where the church comes in, the model of servanthood to the world, an imitation of Christ himself. It is the realization of the responsibility engendered from the freedom God has given us that we find the solution to poverty.

Handouts can sometimes be a good thing; disaster relief, for example, is compassionate aid at a time when people have no ability to help themselves. But the best way to get people back on their feet is not to give them lots of the finished products – that makes them dependent on the relief worker, whilst unable to return the favor and thus learn to serve. The best way to help people is to help them rebuild their means of providing their own resources. For example, instead of providing only food, it is better to provide an interim supply while teaching them the means of producing food – education, startup equipment, even a market in which to sell or trade goods – eventually provides a more sustainable positive long-term outcome.

Ultimately, our difficulty with this model is that we do not like that there is no instantaneous solution. A colleague of mine worked in Papua New Guinea as a missionary, and he tells a story about a duck coop that he put together for a village of the locals, intended to be a source of food and revenue for the whole village. He was called away for visa reasons, and returned to find the duck cage empty, the locals once again without food – they had eaten the ducks because they were hungry. He had neglected to explain that by not eating the ducks, they would eventually have eggs to eat and soon after that, they would be able to eat both eggs and duck as the duck population grew, even a source of revenue with which to buy other goods from other villages. But the locals were unwilling, even in light of the situation in front of them, to change their thinking – they wanted food now.

It is by the intentional long-term redistribution of power, not of material resources, that poverty will be eliminated and the Economy of God realized . Perhaps “redistribution” is an inaccurate term, for all people already have this power and often do not realize it. This power can be found in a gift we have all been given by our creator – the power to choose and to live with the consequences of those choices. What humanity must realize is the responsibility that this power requires. While we all have the power to choose, it is most often the case that we have chosen to give up our freedom.

How does an oppressed society deny its oppressors victory? By their willingness to live with the consequences of taking responsibility instead of bowing to the demands of the oppressors and bowing to the hopelessness fostered. Often, the impoverished say things to the effect of "the rich came and forced us;" and I ask the poor why the rich were allowed to continue their conquest. Human beings grant power by behavior; each of us has a God-given capacity to decide to follow or to lead, to conform or to follow a higher calling. Will a community choose to conform because they feel they have no choice, or will they choose to deny power to the oppressors by following the higher path of God’s Economy ? Are they willing to deny themselves the immediate comforts? For that is what this conformity seems to be about. For example, in rural South America, small farmers often agree to give up their land when given the choice to sell (or do nothing when forced) by international agribusiness because they find in themselves no hope for a future.

This does not deny the responsibility of those that would oppress; indeed, it denies them the power they seek to remove from the "small man." The power they foster is the power of intimidation, and if enough of the "smaller men" were committed to working together to oppose the agribusiness or the corporation or the international industries, the industries would lose their power. It is a communal responsibility when the systems – socialism and capitalism – insist that the individual is powerless (though in different guises).

What many "developing" or "third-world" nations lack are the leaders who would lay down their lives for their freedoms, those that would lead the masses in the peaceful revolt of denial of power. There is a dehumanizing power to the system; the poor are subject to it in the transfer of resources to the rich, but the rich too are subject to the system. Out of fear, the rich become seemingly unable to deny the system its power. The larger number of people, both poor and rich, would rather blame disembodied “international corporations” for taking advantage of the power the locals – now impoverished – have unwittingly given them.

Again, this does not deny the leaders and participants of larger corporations their responsibility, but it does acknowledge that the corporations are choosing to take advantage of the situation presented to them. Small communities look to the government to change their situation for them; that's why the government was started in the first place, to aid the people. But the government too has given up its purpose, and has taken up instead the call to profit and personal gain rather than the call to servanthood. The government has become a slave to the corrupt system, but once again, it has freely surrendered its freedom to make a choice to the deception of the system, making it also responsible. In this, the responsibility lies with both parties: the oppressors and the oppressed.

The individual and the community must come to understand their part in the redemption of existing systems; both capitalism and socialism are viable, so long as there is no misuse of the free will we have all been given. Ultimately, this requires that all people, of all cultures, come to a relationship with the living God, the creator and redeemer of all peoples and all systems. In this relationship is found accountability, learning, and ultimately empowerment to take responsibility for one’s self and for those around us.

Einstein once said that "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." If those in need were desperate enough – and ultimately we must realize that this includes all of us, for all are affected by this situation in the long-term – humanity would come to embrace a solution that would improve their situation for the long-term. The solution to poverty is not merely a matter of material or social resources, or even of the redistribution of wealth, it is a matter of initiative, of motivation; if the church were to care about the solution enough to work for it together with the poor – with all of humanity – the cycle of poverty could be broken.

Christians (and more importantly, the church as a whole), as those who have been liberated by a loving God, are foremost in this responsibility. As missionaries, we are to be agents of change in all aspects of society. Missionaries to the poor must emphasize the responsibility of the poor not to wallow or become self-righteous in their poverty, but instead to work against the system by establishing a new system and denying the old its power. Likewise, missionaries to the rich must show the rich their spiritual need to act responsibly towards the poor in a material and social way; the call to servanthood. In this way is the world of the rich redeemed by once again denying the corrupt system its power. But this way also redeems the system itself, restoring it to its original function of service to all people.

We must begin to work for the redemption of the current systems, undermining them where appropriate, and ultimately teaching the masses about the power of free will that they already have and its proper use. This teaching comes in many forms. Some may be vocal about this teaching, by engaging the poor on their own terms and living with them as examples. Others may be asked by God to live as separate communities, ideals toward which other communities might strive (though realizing that they are still connected to the “outside” world). Still others might be asked to incarnate themselves into political and economic systems and work towards their redemption, the proper treatment of all people and leading the systems towards an appropriate expression of the Economy of Heaven. All creation – all people, all systems, all communities – are to be “for the other”; it is in the learned quality of servanthood – the system of power which God Himself employs – that the Economy of God arrives. This is the system of power toward which Christ-followers strive.

May 13, 2007

An Addendum: Beyond Rationality

I wrote this in response to my last post after I received back comments on the paper from the grader, who it seems completely missed the point. The grader wrote: "But how then do we KNOW Christianity to be true? I'm not sure how your somewhat skeptical worldview accounts for Christianity being true above other religions other than (by the) subjective criteria of corrsepondance with experience." While I am bothered by his inability to grasp what I thought was obvious from my writing, it just goes to prove - in a manner of speaking - that our subjective lenses cloud everything about reality.

This is as far as science and "rationality" can take us. I believe I have sufficiently answered the question "can we know our faith to be true?" in my previous post. It is with respect to the previous post that we must begin to ask ourselves a new question, "does this matter?" Does the question itself matter, in light of the answer?

Again, it's entirely possible that no, it doesn't. If faith is itself the basis for everything we know to be true, then it's possible that knowledge is only part of the answer. If God is there - again, a leap of faith - then it stands to reason that, if His character is that of reknown, he would not create anything - in its intended form - without integrity. Our senses are all we have to depend on and, like it or not, the only senses that give us information. As such, we have to trust them; it's not optional. But if we are being deceived, it is at once a clever deception and one which we will have a hard time deciphering. But if God is there - and I submit that he is - then it is by him, through him, and ultimately FOR him that our senses are useful. If we can know something to be true, it is only in light of our creator.

The question only matters if God is not there; if our creator is a creator of things of integrity, our senses will work and it is only by our senses that we will see him. But if he is not there, our senses can then be called into question on a more profound level, and the question becomes "can we know anything to be true at all?" It is thus an artificial question perpetuated by the enlightenment philosophy that denies God in the first place in favor of naturalism, a question we no longer really have to answer because fewer and fewer are actually asking it. Relativism is less about a plethera of absolute truths but more about a plethora of subjective lenses with respect to a mystical truth about which we can know very little for sure. The objective observer is dead, and many are questioning if he ever existed in the first place.

The thing that bothered me the most about the grader's response was that he was obviously intent on an agenda: "proving" Christendom to be true was more about disproving the validity of the beliefs of others instead of actively seeking the reality that I believe we all experience everyday, but that our lingual systems and cultural beliefs have ill-prepared us to express in similar language. I'm not saying that everybody's beliefs are true - far from it - but I am saying that our ability to prove anything misses the point. Truth isn't simply a matter of fact, though fact is part of it. Truth is beyond fact, beyond rationality, encompassing the effects as well as the causes, intuition as well as science, belief as well as rationality, and above all, the leaps of faith we all make by simply waking up in the morning. In this view I think that reality is restored its sense of mystery and wonder, and our place in the universe is restored: seekers of truth, not knowers of fact. In this view we can begin to inhabit, rather than evaluate, our subjective relationships with the world and with the divine, and thus move beyond the artificial into the living world in which we as humans were always meant to reside.

May 9, 2007

But Can We Know For SURE???

I wrote this paper for my philosophy class and thought I'd share it with you. Tell me, does it suck?

One of the main questions posited by the enlightenment philosophers was the question, “can we be certain of truth?” It is an interesting question, and one that has dominated thought for nearly five hundred years in the western world. One of the central claims made by enlightenment philosophers is the claim that, if I can know something, then I can prove it. As it is traditionally defined in the classic analysis of knowledge, S (the subject) knows P (a proposition) if and only if:
1. S believes P (conviction condition)
2. P is true (truth condition)
3. S is properly justified in believing P (justification condition)
This brings to light a more fundamental question: can I, in fact, “know” anything at all? While there are only two options (“yes” or “no”), the three conditions of knowledge form a unique synthesis; for a given bit of information, all conditions must be met, or I cannot be said to know it to be true.

It is a foregone conclusion that the subject believes the proposition; we would not be asking the question if he did not. Thus it is down to the truth condition and the justification condition. The trouble comes in the second proposition; if we knew that the proposition was true, we wouldn’t require the three conditions. To put it another way; in a universe of absolute truth (given that there is an absolute, granting the second condition), the only human conditions of the three are the conviction and justification conditions, both of which are subjective in nature. The question must thus be rephrased: what could justify the third condition? How are we justified in knowing something?

In the premodern world, it was widely held that divine revelation of some variety (from God, gods, ancestors, or other spiritual entities) were the source of all knowledge; a person could know something to be true because it was revealed to him (rarely “her”) by a spiritual entity. Another way this might be said is that the objective reality (conceived of in spiritual terms) revealed itself to the subject. At the advent of the enlightenment, this changed; no longer could a person claim that a spirit ancestor or God or some other entity revealed the truth of the universe to them. What led to this is debatable, but it can be conjectured that abuse of the claim of divine revelation led to its disfavor. In the modern western world, the favored method became any of the five classic senses: primarily sight, but then smell, touch, taste, and hearing; reason (and to a diminishing degree, revelation) was used to conceive of the objective reality.

But consider: if my five senses are used to perceive reality, by what means am I assured that my five senses are working properly? How can I be sure that my brain is interpreting the input presented in a truthful fashion that accurately represents an objective reality? An example of this can be found in the American legal system: when interviewed, many witnesses recall the same situation in many different ways. Consider also the notion of sensory vertigo: when two of my senses give conflicting data, I become disoriented. If it is possible that one of my senses can give false data, what if it were true that all have been giving false data and I’ve simply been unaware of it? How do I know that the lie presented to me is not just as coherent as the true objective reality? The answer is that I cannot be certain; simply because it appears that everything works properly is no guarantee. That I have not perceived a problem does not mean there never will be, nor does it mean that I have not perceived a coherent lie. It simply means that the world as I perceive it makes sense in my learned worldview.

Rationality is itself a function of the human mind. The concept of a “rational” worldview is simply a leap of faith; one puts one’s faith in the concept of “rationality” as a means to truth, rather than in one’s relativism or revelation. “Rationality” is thus another subjective tool – a “lens,” if you will – used perceive the objective world. Furthermore, rationality is oft equated with the majority’s perception, disguised as objective reality; in this way we can come to terms with words such as “sensible” and “reasonable,” words used to convey the subjective rationality of the masses. Furthermore, rationality is dependent upon memory; if I cannot be certain that my memory has properly relayed the past properly to my conscious mind, I cannot be certain that my rationality (or the five senses by which it was recorded) is an accurate representation of an objective – or even a previous subjective – reality.

If I cannot be certain of my memory, my reasoning power, or my five senses, it stands to reason (ironically) that I cannot be sure of those powers in other people! If I cannot trust my own faculties, how can I trust another person's faculties when I am relying on their subjective interpretation of potentially false data? This of course does not take into account the potential that the other person might not have pure motivations and could relay falsified accounts of their own perceptions towards a mischievous or maleficent end; they could lie.

The above discussion, however, does not mean that rationality, memory, or any of the five traditional senses are useless; indeed, all are entirely useful within one’s own worldview, as tools, higher functions, perhaps even as senses in their own right. But this is conditional upon the acceptance of one basic, rather paradoxical premise: that everything upon which we base our worldviews are themselves based upon leaps of faith. The very dependency we place upon faculties like reason, memory, and our five senses is a leap of faith that these faculties are useful and will not fail us. All knowledge, to this extent, begins with faith, a decision to believe in something based on our perceived confidence in our faculties. In light of this, it is nearly safe to say that we cannot ever be 100% justified in a belief, and therefore cannot be said to “know” anything – our religion, our beliefs, our worldviews, even the existence of the basics like our friends, family, or physical objects – to be true.

We have, in our enlightenment reasoning, maintained what I have called the five traditional or classic senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. While these seem to be the most real, I submit that it is because we have been taught thus, not because they are, in truth, the only five senses. All senses need training; our sense of sight is trained, as infants, when our eyes open and we are able to observe the world around us; immediately, we begin processing the visual input and cataloguing images into hermeneutics. Likewise, our senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch need to be trained to ‘properly’ (defined by those who train us) interpret input. It might be said that there are more than just five senses. Through history, and also in other present-day cultures, we see many other sensory claims; the sense of God (Godsense, or perhaps a sense of the spiritual or metaphysical), the sense of the passage of time (timesense), the sense of memory (pastsense), the sense of the non-concrete (intuition and interpolation), and the sense of right and wrong (moralsense) are all considered senses in one culture or another.

We have observed that when a person is deprived of one sense, the other senses tend to compensate; a blind person can hear, smell, and remember things better than one whose classic five senses remain intact. In this manner, it is possible that, because we do not use it, our sense of God is much harder to recognize. If a person grew up in a culture accepting the sense with a different label compared to another culture, that person would have a hard time believing somebody else's account of its input. Likewise, memory could simply be an extension of a sense of the past; do we all believe that the past occurred because we have memory, or do we have memory because we can sense the passage of time? Reason itself may simply be an extension of a sense of order; humans believe that reason works because we have a sense that the objective reality has about it an intrinsic (if chaotic) order.

Given the overwhelming odds the human mind must face in light of the combined uncertainties garnered from the above discussion, it is little wonder that there are so many worldviews prevalent on our planet. Worse, the above questions only garner more questions, rather than answers. My proposed worldview is, of course, dangerous; it opens up the possibility that I or anyone else could be wrong about what we believe, and that those that we disagree with – even those that seem insane – might be right. If we truly do have a Godsense, it requires training (like the other senses), and given an incorrect training, we would interpret the raw objective data in an incorrect, non-truthful way. While this accounts for the multitude of religious experiences, thoughts, and feelings perpetuated in today’s postmodern culture, it also provokes feelings of intense worry among many; if it is true, it means that we once again don’t know for sure whether our worldview is in fact correct.

In the twilight of the enlightenment, this might at first seem to be a problem, but in fact, it is a marvelous advantage. Instead of proving the validity of one's model with well-known, “objectively-proven” facts – facts which inevitably pass through the subjective lenses of perception and interpretation – we as Christians can now appeal to the results, rather than the premises, of worldviews. Instead of arguing whether something is true in the objective sense, we can rely on the more subjective – and I believe, holistic – understanding of truth as action; we understand a worldview to be true by its fruit. As imitators of Christ in our actions, rather than in words only, we are brought back to our apostolic roots; to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When one sense fails – memory, emotions, rationality – the rest can compensate, becoming stronger. The world could truly know Christians by their love.

May 7, 2007

So Freakin' Excited!

As finals are fast approaching, and as I'm currently trying to get two books read (and their respective papers written), I take comfort in looking forward to two things:

1) Our daughter will soon be here in early July(ish), upon which time her name will no longer need to be kept secret, and ...


Yes, that's right. You knew about my daughter, but did you know I'm going to India? Neither did I until about ten minutes ago. I'd put in the application and all that, and we knew that I technically could go, but the question still remained as to whether the trip itself would be approved (would we have enough people, would the seminary approve it, would British Airways let us reserve the seats), but all has come through and we're definitely going!!! Very, very excited!

Back to the books. In the meantime, an excellent
article by Stacie on something that's been gnawing at my mind as well.

May 3, 2007


"Theaters are the churches of the twenty-first century. They're where people sit in the dark to watch people in the light tell them what it is to be human." [New York Theater Critic]

From Broadhurst to Epworth

It's amazing to me how moving can itself be a very communal experience. My wife and I moved this past weekend, our third time in the last four months. While it was "only" a move around the corner, I've been dreading it since we moved the last time. Asbury gladly accepted us into graduate housing, but discovered that they had no room in the married with children housing. They offered us temporary accomodations in their married without children dormitory (a sort of dungeonish place filled with the most amazing people you could ever meet) called "Broadhurst." To put it in perspective, when I told a professor that I was living in Broadhurst with my expectant wife, he said "yeah, everybody's gotta do time in Broadhurst once."

The first time we moved, in this last streak, was our move home from Australia. In itself it was definitely communal, although I didn't think much of it at the time. I'd been living among family of the spiritual flavor - mimos had become my church home and it seemed only natural when Beck and Kev, Sarah and Jonno, Annette and Pete, and all the other families chipped in to help us out getting our place cleaned up and our collected belongings (of which there were many) to the airport. At the time, I was so focused on the dreaded 15 hours of plane time, the heat transition (110 degrees in Melbourne to 15 degrees in Rochester), and my lack of sleep that I wasn't really thinking much about it. But looking back, a family was brought together helping us move.

Our move to Kentucky was sort of like that, although this time it was actual biological family that helped. We caravaned down from New York with my parents and Liz's parents, and again it felt somewhat natural (if a bit odd, having spent 10 months away from them) to have the help. But what I didn't expect was the influx of people that came out of the doors in the apartment complex to help me and Liz move into our tiny one-bedroom hovel. I met some of my current friends during that move - Jason and Dani, Brandon, Dan and Joanna.

It was upon our last move - this past one - that I discovered that this is truly a part of the culture of the Broadhurst apartment block. I knew that it was said to be, but I'd only seen it happen the once. We spent the better part of a day with Dan and Joanna, and Kelly and Shannon working to move our stuff from the one place to the other. Along the way various people came to try and help (namely Jason, who emptied our storage shelves into Kelly's Blazer), but eventually I had to - amazingly - turn people away because I didn't have anything for them to do! Think of it: "no, sorry, I'd love to make you break your back for free, but it turns out I just don't have anything to make you do." Yeah. They're amazing.

We were a family that day. Having Dan and Kelly help me put together a wardrobe was probably the best part of that day, which on first blush makes me think "why?" But I know why - it's because they're becoming my friends, and they helped me carry the burden of moving again so gracefully. I started the day in sour spirits, but Dan and Joanna walked into our living room and said "alright, what first?" and I just started to smile.

So to everybody who helped us move, thank you. We're making you fondue when we get a spot cleared for you to sit down in our new place.