Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wicked Innocence - This Should Be Illegal!

For some reason, Halloween is now the holiday when women dress like prostitutes and men dress up as something scatological or alcohol related. A free country isn't always a righteous country and adults act like morons with or without costumes. I accept this. But something is horribly wrong when costumes designed for teen and tween girls are marketed with the label "Wicked Innocence."

What in the name of Saint Francis is Wicked Innocence? What sort of culture thinks it is cute for children to dress provocatively and for innocence to be adulterated with a little wickedness. And it all gets excused by being "good fun" or dress-up. If we sell contradictions like this to children and their families, then the necessary societal disapproval of child molestation, pedophilia, and sexualization of minors loses its impact.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Sensationalism and the News

All day the major news networks and even the Weather Channel have been tracking the story of the child who supposedly floated away in a baloon. I think we will quickly learn that he was never in it. I do hope the child is well.

However, it made me think of a comment by Walter Cronkite that describes so well the national media's addiction to celebrity, sensationalism, and useless news. I wonder what it will take for one of the anchors or editors to finally say enough is enough.

Here's Cronkite's comment from CNN, Larry King show on 3/9/2001. First Larry King asks, "Are you disturbed by the seeming tabloidization of the news?"

Cronkite responds [emphasis is mine]:

"Absolutely. Very much so, very much so. The, we've always had sensationalism in the press. A lot of people think this is something new. It's not new. Look, you know, you've looked at the files, 1850, 1830, from the time of the revolution. They were terrible. The newspapers are far more, far more responsible today than they were in those days, right up, right up practically through World War I --far more responsible.

Broadcasting is reasonably responsible. But the trouble with broadcasting, as I see it, is we get hold of these stories that are really not important to the future of the democracy: Princess Di, O.J. Simpson for heaven's sake, John John's accident at Martha Vineyard. And we cling to these stories so long. We wear them out. We wear them to death, and they're not that important.

There's so little time on the air to report the important news that makes a difference whether we're going to live or die in this democracy of ours. Whether we're going to succeed or fail in our education, and our health care, all of these things. That's what should be taking our time and we spent all that time going over the same facts over and over again.

And we rush to these stories. With John Kennedy's accident, my gosh, within a half-hour one of the networks I won't name here on CNN, immediately found a pilot who piloted a plane similar to the one that Kennedy was in, and we saw that guy on the air for 24 hours telling us how that accident could have happened. He knew, had no more idea of how the accident happened than I did."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blue Jeans Sunday

I just read the first draft of David Chadwell's bulletin article for this week. David has done a great job of chronicling the events of Sept. 27. He sums up what we all experienced so very well in a single phrase: "We felt His life in us."

Throughout Sunday and Monday I have had members of the West-Ark congregation comment that they believe something especially good happened among us. Over and above all the good works there was a good spirit. Young and old, men and women, different cultures, were working alongside one another in a spirit of unity. We were sharing, feasting, learning, and needs were being met. We are starting to resemble that picture of the church in Acts 2.

I appreciate those who have been asking for another Blue Jeans Sunday. There will be another Blue Jeans Sunday. I hope we organize projects that will take us even further out into the community and serve others. But between now and the next Blue Jeans Sunday there is nothing in the world to stop all of us from getting together to write cards, make quilts, paint a neighbor's house, clear out brush and limbs, serve at the Hope Chest or CURE. I have always hoped that one of the lessons that we gain from Blue Jeans Sunday is that our permission to get together and serve doesn't come from any office, committee, or authority. The permission to serve, the charge to serve, comes from Jesus Christ (John 13). So go and do likewise!

And yes, you can wear your blue jeans to worship -- because worship never ends!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I Do Not Have Swine Flu

I feel like Orson Wells. He had a little fun with a radio prank back on Halloween in 1938 acting as if Martians had landed and everyone took him seriously. He probably had no idea how convincing he could be.

I was sick recently and claimed that I had Swine Flu -- it is the disease d'jour of course. Besides, who wants to have something run of the mill like the "common" cold when you can claim to be infected with H1N1.

Sorry for the confusion -- for the record, I do not have Swine Flu.

But maybe I did? I have been wondering how I would even know that I did or did not have Swine Flu? What's the difference between it and the many other flu's that are available? I don't even know that I had flu.

Swine Flu triggers something in us. We are conditioned to pay attention to it. But do you remember the ominous illness of days gone by? Remember Bird Flu? How about SARS? What about Mad Cow disease? There's a farm theme going on here.

Here's one I bet we've all forgotten -- who remembers the impending invasion of Killer Bees? Remember when it seemed like a huge swarm of them was going to cross the border of Mexico and just overwhelm us?

The lesson for the day: The media peddles fear. Don't buy it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon for August 2

Psalm 22

We believe that God’s mission has a church. We believe that this congregation, this church is part of God’s mission. That mission unfolds here in many ways, but if we had to name four ways that it is being worked out on a large scale then I would say, as we’ve said before, it is Campus, Kids, Healing, and Hope.

It is this last one that I want to call your attention to: Hope. What does hope look like among a people who strive to live out God’s mission in this world? What is hope? What does it do, what does it feel like? Is hope something more than a political slogan or campaign buzzword (like change)? Is hope anything more than wishful thinking?

To appreciate what hope means, we need a word of wisdom about our human condition that is more ancient than our American culture in the 21st century. We need a word of wisdom that is much deeper than our reductionist reading of Bible. We need a word that truly speaks what we feel rather than what we think we should feel.

There is such a word in the Psalms. We find it buried beneath the sweet and comforting glow of Psalm 23. We find it on the lips of Jesus as he suffers on the cross. It is a word familiar to God’s children, but unfortunately we haven’t always felt comfortable discussing it. It’s like on of those family secrets that everyone knows, but no one can ever verbalize it.

But this Psalm was written down for all generations. It was set to music and arranged to be sung in worship. It became the earliest Christians’ scripture for understanding Jesus. Unfortunately we have given this Psalm to Jesus, applied it to Jesus, but never owned it ourselves. If we are going to take up our cross and follow him, then we need to open this Psalm up. For as raw, ugly, and seemingly irreverent as this Psalm may seem, it is a key that unlocks the meaning of hope.

1. Crying Out for Help: What do you say when God seems Silent?
There are times when our wrote prayers just don’t seem to have any meaning. Sometimes it is easy or even comforting to shout praises – to declare God is Great, God is Good. We should and ought to give thanks. We should and ought to pray, “Our Father in Heaven, Holy is your Name!”
But sometimes, we cannot because we feel like we are shouting into an empty darkness. Let’s be honest, there are times that we want to say, “God, where are you?”
This Psalm (and many others) gives us permission to ask the questions that may seem inappropriate or irreverent. After all, God doesn’t want a relationship with people who don’t have any expectations of him (Do you want that sort of relationship?).
On the cross, Jesus doesn’t pray “Our Father who art heaven hallowed be thy name.” Rather he is verbalizing a question that he dare not ignore – a question from deep within his soul – “God, why are you so far from me?”
Jesus takes this whole thing very personally, because Jesus isn’t a Pharisee. He’s not a hypocrite. With the Pharisees, God is all business. When something goes wrong, well God didn’t mean anything by it. It’s not personal. But for Jesus, this is Father and Son. And if it is for Jesus, then it is for us.
We have expectations for God – we remember how he has helped other people in times of trouble. We can read stories about the mighty things he has done. And rather than give God an excuse not to help in case God doesn’t want to the Psalmist holds God’s feet to the fire.
This is more than just a prayer – something religious to say so that we can remind ourselves and others that we are believers – this is a plea.
If it seems irreverent or sacrilegious to make such a plea and accuse God of being away from his post, then let me explain why this matters:
1) We are going to feel like this no matter how often we lie to ourselves and others.
2) If we dress up our prayers and lie to God, then what have we lost? We have lost our expectation that God will do anything. We are essentially numbing ourselves to the pain and suffering and all of our prayers are saying – “Whatever.” There’s no hope there.
Psalm 22 is a deeply reverent prayer – It affirms that God should be God. It remembers how God helps those need it. It has high expectations of God and calls God out. High expectations lead to hope. It’s not enough to accept that God can do what he has done before – we must hope that he will. Expect it and call out for it!

2. God is Near:
The Psalmist reflects on God’s presence. God was there when he was born. God was there when he was just a nursing child. God is present in the little things. In the smallest, most common efforts at survival. God is there not removing it from us, but working in it.
Now all the more since this Psalm is spoken by Jesus on the cross, the experience of pain and suffering in this world is changed. It isn’t that pain and suffering are really different, but there is new perspective. God doesn’t run away from our suffering. He doesn’t abandon us.
Pain and suffering may come about because of our poor choices, but God doesn’t abandon us. It isn’t always divine retribution. How can we say that?
i. The cross and the words of Jesus show that God identifies with the weak and suffering. He participates in it. It is radical to suggest that God suffers.
ii. Suffering is not a sign of misfortune. Nor is God trying to teach us a lesson. Remember that Jesus made this personal. God isn’t a dispassionate divine despot experimenting on us poor humans. He is in the trenches with us. He has risked something in order to make a difference.
Hope feels like the experience of v. 24. God doesn’t ignore or abandon those who suffer. (v. 24)

3. Celebration and Suffering: Hope promises to praise God.
The Psalmist fixes Hope on the anticipation of telling the story of God’s help. – There is an expectation in the goodness of God. Somehow, someway when this is over the story of God’s help will be told. It will be sung.
Notice the setting for the praise – the assembly! Others will hear it. Generations later will tell it and sing it. (v. 25-31). Like evangelism it is going to be told everywhere.
But I have to ask: Do we give a place in our assemblies for people to bear witness? Do we permit ourselves the opportunity to praise God for his help. Not just in general, but the real stories. Can we name the pain and suffering that we feel? Not just the surgeries and sicknesses, but the depression, the fear, the pain and sickness of heart. Dare we name our brokenness like the Psalmist – like Christ?
In our culture we spend a lot of time and effort on ignoring suffering and pain. It is good that we have treatments and therapies that have been unheard of in ages past, but our attitude of secrecy and our advertising of solutions has implied that if you are hurting or suffering, then something about you must be abnormal. Furthermore, we get the idea that if life isn’t always glamorous, exciting, perfect, and snappy, then something is really wrong. If boring and sad are problems for our culture, then how much more is suffering and pain a problem. Our efforts to ignore pain and suffering are stressing us out.
When I say culture, I mean us in the church too. Can we be different enough to allow our Psalmist to tell what God has done? Is our assembly a time and place that allows the afflicted to fulfill their vows to praise God (v. 25)?

Imagine our assembly and our community as a place of Hope. Like God we do not hide our face from those who suffer. Like God we do not despise or abandon those who feel forsaken. The praises of those who have received help, strengthen those who cry out for it.

Sermon from July 26

Lessons From A Tool Bag

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement that made it possible for me to join the group that went to Mexico to work on a church building for the congregation in Santa Monica, just outside Monterrey.
· These lessons grow out of my mission trip in Mexico – (I packed my yellow tool bag and got busy with the work, not quite knowing exactly what we would be doing, but knowing that there was a mission).
· However, the application of these lessons is larger than just Mexico Missions or an particular missions.
· It is about THE mission and the church at West-Ark which is part of that mission.

1. Tools are not the mission. They serve the mission.

I took the tools I thought might be useful for the sort of work I anticipated. But then I packed some other items. At first I wasn’t sure why, but most all of them served the mission.
· Some became immediately useful – wire cutters and pliers
· Some became useful in unexpected ways – Wonder Bar (why would it be useful when we had all those crowbars and hammers? It is the best tool for prying a board when more is needed than brute strength.); the combination pliers. Without a socket wrench and a socket, we had no other way to remove the spark plug from a faulty compacter.
· Some were not useful at all expect for one moment: Why did I bring my headlamp? It was sunny all day. Why would I ever need this? At the very end of the trip, when we got home and it was 1:30 in the morning. I had searched for my keys. I then took out the headlamp and could see where they were hidden in my suitcase!

Our mission was not determined by the type of tools in this bag, rather the tools in this bag were made to serve the mission

2. The tool bag is defined by its contents – not the other way around!

This dirty old tool bag was slung around all week. It got filthy and beat up. It got wet. It wasn’t that attractive to begin with -- a rather sickly day-glow yellow and it has my initials scrawled on it. But this dirty tool bag performed its task well, it contained something that was needed to accomplish the mission.
It is a vessel. If it carried medical supplies, it would not have been a tool bag. I had another black bag for those useful items. It was defined by its contents.
We are containers; what we contain makes us worthy

3. Sometimes you have to hit the board to pull the nail.

Our nail pulling crew learned this lesson. There were moments that they would work on a particularly tight, twisted nail. Even though their hammer had a tight grip on it and even though two of them would be pulling on the hammer it just wouldn’t come loose. But then, they would take another hammer and hit the board. Pop! It came right out.
Working together; learning from one another. Seeking wisdom from those who were working ahead of us.
Don’t worry about what isn’t in the tool bag; just focus on what is in the tool bag. I was fortunate to have just what was needed – sometimes it took creativity – but we had what we needed. (But I did think on occasion that I would give my back teeth for a good reciprocating saw).
The mission always requires us to be creative and wise.


1. Tools are not the mission. They serve the mission.
· We turn our tools into the mission. I could have sat in a shady corner all day cleaning the tools, oiling them, refusing to use them because I didn’t want them to get worn. Fussing with everyone over the proper way to use the tools (instead of the creative uses we often had to employ). I could have been very selective about who used them and maybe even checked them out and hovered over the folks who used them. I could have brought back a shiny bag with clean tools. How would that have served the mission? Would that have served the mission? Of course not.
· Too often we make tools the mission. We focus and worry so much on buildings, programs, and resources. Now hear me correctly – I am not against these resources. They are all useful and all worthy of the time and expense as they serve the mission of God. But when our purpose is to keep and maintain these things, we cease to serve the mission (not the tools, but we cease to serve the mission).
a. It can be the physical resources – buildings, vans, property, family life center, and auditorium. Even smaller tools count: computers, software, carpet and pews.
b. It can also be more subtle things: bank accounts, committee structures, the type of printed or unprinted music we use in worship, the type of bread and juice we use in communion, the format of the bulletin. Even things like curriculum, the format of worship, the sermon and how it is preached (I struggle with this).
c. Yes, it is appropriate to think about these things as we pack our tool bag for the mission. It is good and worthwhile to think about their best use, but tools must never become the mission.
d. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with how clean our vans are, rather how we used that van in the mission. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with our musical arrangements of songs and whether we all hit the right note in the proper key, but he is pleased with the heart, passion, and gratitude that swells up in our praise of his glory. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with my preaching eloquence – or lack thereof – but he will be concerned with the truth and good news of the message shared.
Our mission is not determined by our tools; rather all of our tools must serve the mission.

2. The tool bag is defined by its contents – not the other way around!
· We are containers; what we contain makes us worthy.
· Think of how much attention we give to our outward appearance and our outward well-being. Are we truly as balanced as we need to be?
· 2 Cor. 4:1-15 . . . We can spend so much time trying to make ourselves and our congregation attractive, when we are simply the clay jars. Our weaknesses and imperfections do not become a discouragement or something to cover up; rather we plainly show that the power to save is from God – not us.
The container is defined by its contents – not the other way around!

3. Sometimes we should hit the board, not the nail.
· The mission always requires us to be creative and wise.
· Creativity and Wisdom – Luke 16. Jesus nudges the church for not being as creative as the people of the world. After all, if the people of this world are so intent on achieving their goals, shouldn’t God’s church be all the more intent on fulfilling his mission.
· Why aren’t we as creative and wise as we can be? Usually because we are afraid. Specifically we submit to the “Fear of Criticism.”
· We reveal it in our comments such as “Somebody’s going to say something.”
· Let’s take “Somebody’s going say something” out of our language. Notice how non-specific the statement is. What is the something that somebody is going to say? Maybe something good? Maybe something praiseworthy? Maybe something that helps? And who is somebody? Usually Somebody is Nobody.
a. Let’s be creative and wise and remove from our thinking the attitude of “Can’t Do That.”
· The spirit (or leaven) of the Pharisees is too often still among us waiting to spread and grow. We have to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. It is that tendency in us to focus on our resources to hoard them. To be satisfied in our rules, our policies, our abilities, our knowledge, and stop trusting in God. The leaven of the Pharisees kills the passion and creativity that God’s mission requires.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Open Letter to Obama

I love this sort of thing. Pasted below is a letter from the Paradigm Research Group. They requesting that Obama tell the truth about the extraterrestials on earth. What's even more interesting is where I found this letter. It is posted on the website of Bob Welch, former member of Fleetwood Mac and singer of hits such as Ebony Eyes and Sentimental Lady.

Open Letter to Barack Obama from:

Paradigm Research Group
November 21, 2008

Dear Mr. President Elect:

On October 17, 2008 PRG published an open letter to the candidates calling for them to make preparations to end the six-decade truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race. This letter reiterates that request.

Your staff is now aware that letters, faxes and emails are arriving at your former Senate office and the Washington, DC transition headquarters. In general this correspondence will ask of you the following:

1) demand a full briefing from your military services and intelligence agencies regarding what they know and what they are doing about extraterrestrial related phenomena. If you are told you do not have the proper clearance for this information, replace that person with someone who has read the Constitution.

2) press for open and comprehensive congressional hearings to take testimony from scores of government witnesses who have already come forward with extraordinary evidence and are prepared to testify under oath.

3) formally acknowledge the extraterrestrial presence and finally end the truth embargo after 61 years.

4) make available for open development technologies which have been secretly studied and reverse engineered for decades with unlimited black budget funding. These technologies are derived from extraterrestrial vehicles and are now essential to overcome the environmental, economic and societal challenges of our time.

PRG is well aware of your intention to launch a high technology “New Deal” code named “New Apollo Project” to restore America’s economy. This massive program to subsidize green technology development, create jobs, expand the manufacturing base and reverse the trade imbalance will be likely accompanied by legislation prohibiting overseas hiring and offshore manufacturing.

All well and good, but it will not be enough. The challenges are too great and the response to these challenges too long delayed. It is essential the paradigm breaking technologies hidden in unacknowledged special access programs and sequestered behind the extraterrestrial truth embargo be included.

If you are in need of counsel to assist you in these matters, you have but to turn to your transition co-chair, John Podesta. His efforts to end the truth embargo and release all relevant government documents date back to at least 1993 and the Rockefeller Initiative. PRG believes he is fully aware of the extraterrestrial presence and is committed to creating more open, transparent governance. In this he is in sync with the chief financial backer of his Center for American Progress think tank, George Soros.

Reach out to your party’s allies within the military services and intelligence agencies. When you take office conduct the necessary meetings with the cross agency committees managing the extraterrestrial presence issue. In the spring of 2009, before the truth embargo becomes your embargo, initiate the most profound event in human history and begin rebuilding the trust of the American people in their government and the standing of your country in the world.

Stephen Bassett

Executive Director

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sign of the Apocalypse - Part 2

John Brummet reviewed the new Sasha Baron Cohen film "Bruno" in his column this week.

Pasted below is a blog I wrote one year ago when the news was first released that the Beer and Brawl crowd in Fort Smith had been Punk'd.

In response to my own blog below on point #1: Cohen may be a little more of a household name now but he is still known through his characters. I wonder if the American viewing audience will appreciate the character of Bruno as much as they do Borat. After all, Borat is a lot like Yakov Smirnoff, and he's a hit in Branson - What a Country! Bruno, however, is too much like that nasty Euro race car character that Cohen played in Talledega Nights. I doubt that Bruno will do as well as Borat at the box office. Besides, now that more people are in on the joke now, the "Is this for real?" factor is much less.

In response to point #2: Did anyone really believe that Cohen was trying to promote gay marriage? Proponents of gay marriage hardly need Cohen's help. Besides, I doubt that Cohen really represents anything other than humiliating others and disguising it as clever satire. My sense was that Cohen's portrayal of Bruno would in fact offend the gay community. This article from a British website that reports gay news issues would seem to confirm that.

In response to point #3: I will say it again -- the event was deserving of contempt even if it really had been what was advertised. When it comes to martial arts, Cohen is the akido master of comedy and ridicule, he turns his opponent's own destructive energy against himself.
I understand that a lot of different people attended the mock cage fights in Texarkana and Fort Smith. I also understand that many fighters who take their sport seriously were surprised by the prank. But I don't understand the angry crowd that showed up for the promise of cheap beer and even cheaper thrills. They got punk'd (perhaps too easily) and they will be portrayed as ignorant homophobic rednecks indigenous to the Arklatex region. For the record, I wasn't at the Hot Chicks, Cold Beer, and Hardcore Fighting event. The crowd doesn't represent me. For better or worse, they are accountable for themselves.

Now here's last year's blog from the archive . . .

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse

Fort Smith is in the news as the location of "Borat's" latest prank. We've been Punk'd. (I know, that's Ashton Kutcher, but it makes a point). If you want details, read the full report at The Smoking Gun. This has made the news worldwide.

The last time Fort Smith was in the news on this scale was two summers ago when a rainbow appeared in the sky with lightning. A different kind of rainbow and thunder was the focus of the recent prank. Attendees at a cage fight were enraged by two actors who engaged in PDHA - "public display of homosexual affection."

Here's what I find interesting about this imbroglio . . .

1. In America, Sasha Baron Cohen is known as Borat. Most Americans wouldn't recognize Cohen's real name. Congrats with that Borat.

2. Rumor has it that Sasha Baron Cohen filmed the prank eliciting the homophobic response as part of an effort to promote gay marriage. This is just a rumor, but assuming it has some element of truth, why would a parody of homosexual behavior make any sort of argument for gay marriage. Does "Borat" expect us to believe that his exaggeration is a representation of gay marriage? There are problems regardless of how one answers that question. If the goal was simply to expose redneck homophobia, how does that advance the legitimacy of homosexual marriage? This is a flawed causality.

3. Understandably, people are angry that Cohen has made them the butt of a joke. However, there's not a lot of redeemable content in an event that brags about "hot chicks, cold beer, hardcore fights." In other words, the event was deserving of contempt even before the actors stripped down to their underwear and started kissing.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weighty with Max Planck's Quanta

Make no mistake:
if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell's dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, "Seven Stanzas at Easter"

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Soul of Survivor

The king of reality television is Survivor. It was one of the first and it remains one of the most popular. One could argue that it created the genre. For nine years American audiences have watched players outwit, outlast, and outplay one another in a game in which people are “voted off the island.” Double-crosses, alliances, tricks and strategies are standard in getting rid of others so that the winner is the last person left. The Sole Survivor takes home a prize of $1,000,000.

I struggle to succinctly state what it is about Survivor that bugs me. I believe that Survivor taps into the “Survival of the Fittest, Dog-Eat-Dog” mentality that embodies the worst values in our culture. It’s not just a game. Long before Survivor, unrestrained competition with others has been a problem. We fear the stranger. We fear those who can harm us. We fight over what we regard as limited resources. Outwit, outlast, and outplay is more than a catchphrase for a game show. It is a marketing of our basest impulses.

I don't like the end of Survivor. The final outcome is all wrong. After all the alliances and backbiting, the game comes down to two people. A jury decides who will get the $1,000,000. This is revealed on a built-up final episode in New York where the winner celebrates and all the losers usually act like good sports accepting their 15 minutes of fame as a consolation prize. If Survivor is going to be true to its creed (Outwit, Outplay, Outlast) then I think the sole survivor should be left alone on the island with the $1,000,000. After all, if the point is to get rid of everyone else, then really do it. Vote the runner-up off the island, then leave the winner with the a briefcase of cash and a note that says, “Congratulations. You got rid of everyone else. You outlasted them all. Here’s the cash. Now use it to get off the island.”

That would be a more fitting conclusion I think.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

My 15-year-old son has a plan for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. I asked him why everyone is discussing Zombies so much. He named it: "People are bored." Well said. Still, here's my contribution to the problem that could be potentially be more important than swine flu . . .

1. Name one FICTIONAL character you'd most like to be with when zombies attack.

Popeye. I'd have to try to beat up as many of them as possible without spinach at first. They would would gang up on me and beat me until I had a black eye and birdies flying around my head. However, right when they start to eat me brains, I would eats me spinach -- the theme music would play and my fists would turn into piledrivers and spurred on by John Phillip Sousa's "Star and Stripes Forever" I would smack the zombie hordes and with each punch I would turn them into gravestones and little mounds of fresh dirt with lillies on them. All the zombies would be destroyed and I would blow "toot-toot" on the pipe - circle out.

2. Name one FICTIONAL character you would not want to be with when zombies attack.

The girl from the Twilight series. She would fall in love with a zombie and beg to become one of them.

3. Name one REAL person you'd most like to be with when zombies attack.

Keith Richards. The zombies would be confused by Keith Richards. They would think he's one of them and he's probably immune to them. He could walk among them and totally destroy them.

4. Name one REAL person you would not want to be with when zombies attack.

A Jainist. It could be confusing. I would naturally want to have compassion for the zombies and respect them as living creatures - but then zombies aren't alive, are they?

5. Name one FICTIONAL place you'd most like to be holed up in when zombies attack, why?

Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. 1) The Oompa Loompa's could take the zombies easily. 2) The Wonka-vator could outmanouver a entire zombie army. 3) Even zombies would be freaked out by the boat ride.

6. Name one FICTIONAL place you would not want to be holed up in when zombies attack, why?

Sherwood Forest. Zombies seem to do well in the woods and especially at night. Even Robin Hood would have a tough time with them.

7. Name one REAL place you'd most like to be holed up in when zombies attack, why?

Congress. Zombies want to eat brains. They will avoid the Capitol.

8. Name one REAL place you would not want to be holed up in when zombies attack, why?

Haiti. Zombies would have home court advantage.

9. Name one FICTIONAL weapon you'd like to have to use against zombies, why?

The EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle from Stripes (1981). Destructive power and comfort combined. Maybe the seats are covered in rich Corinthian leather.

10. Name one FICTIONAL weapon you'd like to NOT have to use against zombies, why?

The Heart Ring used by the littlest Planeteer on Captain Planet. Zombies have no heart.

11. Name one REAL weapon you'd like to have to use against zombies, why?

A can of Gumout Carb + Choke Cleaner and a Zippo lighter.

12. Name one REAL weapon you'd like to NOT have to use against zombies, why?

Saddam Hussein's WMD's. You can't find them when you need them.

13. What's your favorite zombie movie?

Gone With the Wind (1939). I love it when the zombies burn Atlanta.

14. Do you ever want to be an extra in a zombie movie?

How do you know I haven't been?

15. Do zombies scare you?

No, I just find it irritating when they keep clicking their ballpoint pins at meetings.

16. Could we control zombies?

Public schools have been working on this for the last 20 years.

17. How would zombies take over the world?

They don't want to take over the world, they just want equal rights for the living dead.

Harry Potter and . . . .

"Harry Potter and" combined with various Christian references that when combined actually sound like they could be genuine J. K. Rowling novels:

1. Harry Potter and the Apostles' Creed
2. Harry Potter and the Archbishop of Canterbury
3. Harry Potter and the Deacon's Bench
4. Harry Potter and the Rose of Sharon
5. Harry Potter and the Shape Note Hymnal
6. Harry Potter and the Emergent Church
7. Harry Potter and the Council of Chalcedon
8. Harry Potter and the Limited Atonement
9. Harry Potter and the Great Schism
10. Harry Potter and the Number of the Beast

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Rescue

I don't claim to be a mystic, but I felt deep in my bones that Capt. Richard Phillips would be rescued today. Perhaps it just seemed perfectly poetic that the rescue of a man who sacrificed his life for others should take place on Easter.

The convergence of this breaking news drama with Holy Week and Easter Sunday should not be missed. In the gospel, Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of the world he loves. In doing so, Christ entrusts his life to God. There is an element of risk. Too often the surrender of Christ is portrayed as a magician's trick in which Jesus has a divine escape hatch and is never truly in danger. A simple reading of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane communicates Jesus' anxiety and his request to maintain confidence in God's power to raise him from the dead. As Jesus goes to the cross, the future is in God's hands. The power to raise Christ from the dead resides in God.

The victory on Resurrection Day is a crushing blow to the powers of death and destruction. The rules of the game are changed. The one who sacrificed his life is not simply given back his life, his rescue and vindication mark the beginning of the end for the powers of evil.

Monday, February 09, 2009

17 Connected Things

1. One of the earliest Christian missionaries in Iceland was Thangbrandr. He arrived in Iceland in 997 with the backing of the King of Norway. Thangbrandr wasn't too successful. He got into fights with the pagans. Thangbrandr killed a berzerker and a poet who wrote derogatory poems about him. His enemies used swords, but Thangbrandr killed his foes with a crucifix. A sorcerer cast a spell that would cause the earth swallow up Thangbrandr. The spell worked, but Thangbrandr escaped the pit. He eventually went back to Norway and told the king that the people of Iceland were too pagan to be converted.

2. Bjork might be the most famous Icelander in modern times. Everyone seems to remember her swan dress from the Academy Award. Bjork started out in a band called the Sugar Cubes.

3. Sugar cubes are a recurring visual device in the Watchmen graphic novel. The masked vigilante Rorschach is constantly chewing on Sweet Chariot brand sugar cubes. The sugar cubes become a clue at one point in the story.

4. The characters in Watchmen were variations of little known super-heroes in the Charlton Comics line in the 1960's. The author of Watchmen, Alan Moore, wanted to use those heroes and write a story that would presume what the world would genuinely be like if super-heroes were a reality. DC Comics had recently acquired the rights to the Charlton characters and had other plans for them. Moore invented other heroes based on the originals. Here's the substitution list with the Watchmen character named alongside his Charlton original: The Comedian = The Peacemaker, Dr. Manhattan = Captain Atom, Rorschach = The Question, Nite Owl = Blue Beetle, Ozymandias = Peter Cannon/Thunderbolt. Silk Spectre is an amalgam of every 1940's/1950's scantily clad super-heroine.

5. The Rorschach Inkblot Test was developed by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1921. Making symmetrical inkblot patterns on paper was an art form and pastime long before Rorschach used it in psychoanalysis. Hermann Rorschach's nickname in high school was "Klecks," which is German for inkblot, because he often made inkblot art.

6. Switzerland grew out of a confederacy of small communities. The earliest documentation of this confederacy is the Federal Charter of 1291. This charter is consider the founding document of the Swiss Confederacy.

7. Also in 1291, May 10 to be exact, the nobles of Scotland agreed to let Edward I of England negotiate their crisis of succession when King Alexander III of Scotland died without an heir. He died from being thrown off his horse. He had stayed late at a meeting a meeting of royal advisers in Edinburgh. He wanted to get home and see his wife in Fife. His advisers begged him not to ride during the night as it was not only dark, but also inclement weather. He found dead the next day.

8. The nobles would come to regret their decision to trust Edward I. Edward refused to relinquish his control of Scotland. This led to the Wars of Independence and rebel uprisings led by William Wallace. Robert the Bruce eventually succeeded in turning the English back and establishing independence for Scotland in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.

9. Robert the Bruce is mentioned in an episode of the original Star Trek (The Savage Curtain). Of course it was Scotty who mentioned him. In the scene, Scotty and Dr. McCoy are incredulous that Abraham Lincoln is going to beam aboard the Enterprise. Kirk has ordered everyone to stand ready in the transporter room in dress uniforms and take the event seriously. McCoy says, "President Lincoln, indeed!" To which Scotty replies, "No doubt to be followed by Louis of France and Robert the Bruce."

10. I once worked with a fellow who honestly believed that the government had developed the the technology for teleportation but it was ultra-top secret. I asked him why it hadn't put us out of business (we were working for a trucking warehouse) and he pointed out to me that the technology was unpredictable and objects were often teleported into the side of buildings or ships. I think he was getting his story from the urban legend about the Philadelphia Experiment, especially because he talked about test subjects being beamed into the side of a battleship. When I asked him how he knew about this top-secret information he told me that he reads a lot.

11. The Philadelphia Experiment is a fascinating conspiracy theory/urban myth involving the U.S. Navy's attempt to develop a cloaking device that rendered the USS Eldridge invisible. This allegedly took place in October 1943 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. In some accounts, the Eldridge was surrounded by a glowing green fog. Other accounts claim that the Eldridge was displaced in time. A more pedestrian explanation is that the Eldridge, or a ship docked nearby, was undergoing a degaussing procedure that would make the ship invisible to magnetically guided torpedoes and mines.

12. The process of degaussing is named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, a German mathematician and scientist in the 18th and 19th century. Gauss was a child prodigy and mathematical wizard who calculated logarithms in his head rather than relying on charts. Gauss contributed to the discovery of the dwarf planet, Ceres that lies between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter.

13. The existence of dwarf planets and hidden planets are often presumed before their discovery. The behavior of other planets and objects in the solar system give a clue to their existence. Since the 5th century BC, astronomers and mathematicians have imagined the existence of another planet that lies directly opposite of Earth on the other side of the Sun. Writers from antiquity forward have imagined what this "Counter-Earth" would be like.

14. One of the earliest notable female astronomers and mathematicians was Hypatia of Alexandria. Although she was pagan, she was respected by many of the Coptic Christians of her homeland, Egypt. Yet, she was killed in 415 by a mob of angry Christians stirred up by a zealot.

15. Some of the earliest copies of the New Testament are written in Coptic. Coptic is the language of the Egyptians written with Greek letters. Writing in little images likes birds and snakes probably got old. Coptic had to invent seven additional letters in order to make sounds not available in Greek.

16. Likewise the Icelandic alphabet had to create four letters not available in the Latin alphabet to produce all the sounds in the Icelandic language.

17. In the year 1000, the nation of Iceland converted to Christianity. The ruling council, the Althing, decided that two religions was not in their best interest. So they appointed a pagan priest named Thorgeirr to decide whether Iceland should be Christian. Thorgeirr spent a day and night in meditation under a fur blanket and finally decided that Iceland should be Christian. The Althing accepted his decision but allowed pagans to worship their faith in private. Thorgeirr later took his pagan idols, threw them into a waterfall and became a follower of Christ.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

25 Random Things

There's a part of me that finds this Facebook meme interesting. It's interesting to read so many random facts about friends and acquaintances. I know that some folks would never bring these topics up in conversation. I like that part of it. I want to hear the stories. You people are good storytellers and you may not even know it.

However, I feel like something is missing. Where's the time and place in our culture to sit around and tell these stories in person? Facebook is a poor substitute for that sort of interaction, but where else does that interaction take place? We have made our lives and culture too busy. I fear we are soon on our way to becoming like the humans on Wall-E who sit in their floating recliners communicating to everyone via our laptops.