After twenty-nine years of church membership and four years of formal theological training, I have come to a stunning realization:
I have no idea how to talk to people about religion.
Not that I never say anything about religion. It's just that I usually find myself in the role of the "devangelist"--someone ready to acknowledge the faults of my religion and empathize with those who have rejected it, rather than put forth my own views in a positive and respectful manner. And, I have little or no understanding of how to go about that.
My wife has similar experience. She took an evangelism class at her college, and all she got was tract passing and "Way of the Master." It's not that those things never work, they just don't work for us. And, I don't feel like anyone is teaching anything that works for us. I have yet to see a great example of a way of dealing with religion between "offend everyone" and "say nothing."
I was wondering what experience you all had with this. Do you guys find it as easy as I do to play the role of the "enlightened" and end up defending your opponents more than yourself? More importantly, have you had any success sharing your faith effectively yet intelligently? If you have, I'd love to hear about it. I'm more than a little stuck.
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Six months ago Chinese electricity blew up X-Box. A sub-sonic WHUMP and I knew that I wouldn't be playing any video games for a long, long time. Last month I picked up some replacement parts in Guangzhou, and with a little help from my self-appointed computer parts helping man, got everything back on line.
That may have been a mistake. Even though I can't buy any new games here because China doesn't believe in intellectual property rights and Microsoft doesn't believe in letting people play pirated games online, I am finding that my appetite for gaming is essentially infinite. It's like being twelve all over again, only instead of being able to stop after a cumulative twenty-four hours or whatever it took to beat a relatively long Super Nintendo game, these things are massive, self-evolving worldscapes that NEVER REALLY END.
So, basically, if it takes me another two months to finish the game I've been building that I said I was going to have out in November, you'll know what happened.
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I think I need to change my Twitter name. I'd love to be the Diet Coke Robot, but I haven't seen one in six months. Even though the Chinese people have seen fit to import Lebron James, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Louis Vitton, they have fallen under the tragic impression that Coke Zero is equal to or superior to Diet Coke. And, perhaps it is, but if you're like me and you've been acclimating yourself to the taste of aluminum-laced phenylalanine for the past twenty years IT IS NOT THE SAME THING BY ANY MEANS!
I did actually undergo a forced detox last week when the wife and I took a slow train to Xinyu and spent a week in the countryside. The village itself was an incomprehensible mixture of modern and medieval, like it had started as the set of a kung fu movie, undergone a halfhearted transition into a middle rent condominium, and was then abandoned for fifteen years and resettled by Katrina victims. Squat brick buildings with wooden beams and traditional tile roofs sat or ran right into a wide variety of newer buildings, some unpainted concrete, some with clean but bright wood paneling and trim, and others, like the one I was staying in, coated in what in any other place would be called bathroom tiles. I tried asking several people how old the village was, but I could never quite understand the responses, hearing anything between sixteen and sixty. Nothing about the place gave any clues as to why one or the other could have been wrong.
Anyway, I am rambling, and not in a good way. To sum up, the lessons of the week:
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- Most things I can live without, like heat, internet, and life-giving caffeine. I don't enjoy it, but I can live with it.
- It is entirely possible for one's host to bend over backwards for you during the day and light fireworks outside your window at five that morning.
- One can kill a rat with an aluminum washbasin.
- Chickens are jerks.
Heard about project on the radio today to discover the neurological roots of morality. The purpose of this research was to explain morality in mechanical terms in order to eliminate the philosophical need for a soul. Apparently there are tons of people working on all sorts of different research, all with this same goal of rendering our eternal component redundant.
I think it's a pretty mean-spirited project myself. The larger implication is that people believe in souls because they just can't comprehend brains. Certainly an argument that could run both ways. But, I do wonder if I believe in souls myself. I do believe that all humans will be eternal, but only because God wills it. After all, if you take Genesis at its word, humans were meant to live forever in their bodies. Why would they need a special piece to go on living without them? The fact that we are allowed to grasp the eternal even though we gave it away is not a right, or an inviolable part of our nature--it is a gift.
At least, that's what I think. I wouldn't be too surprised if I was wrong on this. But on the other hand, these scientists do have a point that the "necessary" functions of the soul, especially identity, morality, and lasting meaning, really can be carried out in its absence. Very weighty conclusions. I just wish I had more confidence they were using these conclusions for the advancement of our spiritual knowledge rather than belittling their opponents in a culture war.
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I just worked my last night shift. From now on I'm just a regular nine-to-six kind of guy! Watch as I participate in such mundane activities as being available for normal socializing! Online gaming with people on my own continent! Sorry Norwegians! Also, not watching Dilbert re-runs at 10 A.M. on a Thursday! Not sleeping in when I feel like it will be a bit of an adjustment, but the extra hours in the day will be a nice bonus. Hooray for normalcy!
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In which I actually do that thing I said I was going to do over a month ago.
- Lacuna Coil, "What I See," Karmacode - I know this comparison is really weak and probably insulting to both bands in its own little way, but my first thought was "311 with the white boy knocked out of them." Tight yet discordant--very awesome!
- Dizzee Rascal, "Road Rage," Tongue N' Cheek - What is it about British rap that makes it sound simultaneously more sophisticated and more ghetto? Also, if I ever have a talk show with a "Moment of Zen"-style ending bit this will totally be in it at least once.
- Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, "Sophisticated Side Ponytail (Extended Version)," Glistening Pleasure - This and the associated album were my clear favorites in terms of listenability. As a band, though, they're a little disturbing. Are they actually sexual predators, or is it just a parody? Or is it a little of both? In any case, extra kudos for such well-played ambiguity.
- Gogol Bordello, "American Wedding," Super Taranta! - There are people who make me feel out of the loop, and then there are people who make me realize I may have been unaware of the very existence of the loop. This song does that, vigorously.
- As Cities Burn, "Made Too Pretty," Hell or High Water - An excellent palate cleanser after Natalie Portman.
- Ginny Owen, "Be Still, My Soul" - For quite awhile now I've thought about doing a really slick remix of "Of The Father's Love Begotten," until I remember that I don't have a great singing voice and don't really know anything about song mixing.
- Wolf Parade, "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," Apologies to the Queen Mary - I should listen to more things like this, as it seems it would actually enhance one's opinion of me if I were caught listening to it. Unlike most of the stuff already on this computer.
My apologies to jetski, whose music proved the hardest to track down. Otherwise, though, a very successful experiment!
Also, I just had a massive schedule change at work. I will go from working all evenings without two consecutive off days to string together to Monday to Friday, nine to six. Please bear with me as I make the transition back into actually having a social life as well as being online at the same time as the rest of the non-deadbeat world.
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Considering my history with the church, some of you may be wondering why I still put up with it every week. Honestly, I don't always know myself, but I thought I could at least try to tell you.
First off, I don't go because I have to. Many people inside and outside the church believe that it's sinful to skip church. While the attitudes that lead one to skip church may be sinful, the skipping itself really isn't. Consider the basis for the belief. The main proof texts are The Third Commandment ("Remember the Sabbath...", Deut. 5:12-15), and some passages from the Epistles (ex. Heb. 10:25, "Let us not give up meeting...").
This is the same line of reasoning that produces that "shellfish" argument I hate so much.
The first one at least would seem like an ironclad requirement for church attendance. That is, until it is interpreted along with the second. The better part of Hebrews 10 is spent explaining how the Sabbath and other rituals were not sufficient restitution for man's wrongs and should not be counted on for power beyond themselves. Luther reinforces this view in his Large Catechism, stating "As regards this external observance, this commandment was given to the Jews alone..." Most Christians at least tacitly acknowledge this when they come to church on Sunday instead of Saturday, when the Sabbath was actually instituted.
If anything, the epistle verses are always focusing on the supposed benefits of church rather than the act of church itself. These include community support, mutual education, and unified praise of God. But, what happens when these benefits don't materialize? Would such an assembly really be encouraged by the Bible? It's actually very common.
The praise, for one, is practically always lacking. It's not like we can expect to impress God with our poetry or musical prowess, but we should be working a lot harder to at least make an impression on each other. Seriously, what is the point of making people with no musical training, half of whom are half deaf, sing four-part harmony to an instrument played by someone trained for only half as many keyboards? The modern music is a little better, having made its way out of the seventies and into the nineties, but could still stand some serious improvement. I won't go so far as to say the music at every service I've ever been to has sucked goats, but I will say that most places simply can't list it as a selling point.
My level of awkwardness in church.
And those of you know have known me for a long time know that I haven't picked up a single long term friend from any church I've been at. For whatever reason, I am simply not wired for fellowship. Sometimes I even come intentionally late so I won't have to do that weird hand-shaking thing where I have to smile and nod at the guy next to me while pretending I didn't forget his name for the tenth time this year. I'm sure plenty of people are capable of socializing in this situation, but I am not one of them.
Strangely enough, though, the people are a big reason I come to church. Sure, I'm completely impaired in dealing with them and I don't like most of them once I get to know them, but without them it'd be so easy to just shut out the world entirely, to forget that the world is full of people with hopes and fears and dreams completely foreign yet completely legitimate. The thing is, we all form our own churches, whether we go to one or not. Seal yourself in, and it's not long before your thoughts become your dogma and every stranger your heretic. For me at least, spending time with a group that simultaneously embodies my beliefs and rubs me all kinds of wrong is a great way to keep me anchored to reality.
Is there another way for me to go about getting this anchoring? Probably, but it wouldn't have sacraments. Unlike church attendance, which is enjoined for the actions it produces rather than the act itself, sacraments are commanded by God and directly invested with his power, making them that much more essential to Christian life and that much harder to screw up. That's the best part, really. Since they depend on the power of God and not any kind of clap-for-Tinkerbell mojo we will into them, they are by definition virtually impossible to flummox, at least in the way we bonerize fellowship or praise music. In a way, bad services are almost better than good ones, because they'e that much more a reminder that even though we're not worthy of it, God still saw fit to come down and be with us, in his son Jesus and in the gift of his sacraments. That's something you just can't get anywhere else, and for me, enough reason to keep coming to church no matter what else happens to it.
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In conclusion, sacraments are awesome.
Nothing on the radio here but Top 40 and I'm simply incapable of finding good music on my own, so here's what we're gonna do:
- You post the name, artist, and album of your current favorite song. It doesn't matter what it is, how much you think I'll like it, or how much you think I'll like or dislike your for it, all that matters is that you would like to be listening to this song right now more than any other song.
- I will make an honest attempt to not only procure this song, but listen to it, generously, in its entirety, and give it three benefits of the doubt with a disposition toward loving it.
- Once I'm done, I'll post my thoughts on the whole lot of them. Artistry ensues.
UPDATE: The single song rule has proven too mighty, so I hereby officially grant permission for multiple entries, with the disclaimer that I may pick and choose what I actually download if my iTunes budget suddenly dwarfs that of Lithuania.
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Unacceptable baby names:
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- American presidential surnames (Madison)
- Scottish surnames (Mackenzie)
- Questionable occupations (Hunter, Gunner, Conner)
- Major biblical heroes (David, Moses, Nathaniel)
- Major biblical women (Ruth, Esther, Debra)
- Major archangels (Michael)
- Anything related to any popular entertainment at the time of the child's birth (Bella, Edward, Jacob Blackwolf Moonblood)
Got a copy of The Lost Symbol for Christmas, and, despite having read most of Dan Brown's other novels, decided to read this one, too. Despite my expectations, I'm actually enjoying it quite a bit. The dubious history is still there, but it's much less offensive and more than a little educational. I guess the message of "the Founding Fathers dabbled in kooky Masonry" is a lot easier to stomach than The Da Vinci Code's message of "that religion based on Jesus is a total load of crap."
It's also made me think a lot about the definition of religion. We've had more than a few discussions about that around the nets and it occurs to me now that there has been some serious misunderstandings hinging on a simple problem of definition.
Whenever I talk about religion, I usually mean one's personal practices and beliefs regarding the spirit, spiritual powers, and the afterlife. Though it differs somewhat from theology in that it pertains primarily to personal practice rather than academic knowledge or organizational structure, it can also be used to refer to philosophies and "non-religious" belief systems such as atheism and agnosticism insofar as they proscribe specific actions and attitudes toward the spiritual realm. I like this classification because it provides a good blanket term for talking about all systems that deal with the spiritual, even through negation, that also allows the non-spiritual systems the protection they deserve under the establishment clause. I don't expect everyone (even myself) to use this definition for everything, but this works for me in the majority of situations.
Dan Brown didn't change my definition. But, he did make me realize the limited usefulness of classifying something as religious or non-religious. In one of the early chapters, the main character asserts that the Masons are not a religion because they do not provide a comprehensive system for dealing with spiritual matters, only basic pointers. This seemed sound enough to me, but then he went on to assert that because the Masonic Order is not a religion, religious objections to its practices are rendered moot. It was then that I recalled my own church's injunction against the Masons. The prohibition exists not because the Masons represent a competing religion, but because the religious tenets required by them, while not particularly vast or specific, can be interpreted as contrary to the church's doctrine of salvation through Christ alone.
Temptation to the Masonic Lodge doesn't seem particularly pressing to my own generation, but there are more common situations where the principle applies. I'm thinking specifically of folks that claim their belief system transcends the label of religion even though it deals with one's attitudes toward the spiritual. So what if it doesn't fit the definition of a religion? You can call it whatever you want, but the name doesn't make it exempt from religious scrutiny. It's just the philosophical equivalent of clever branding.
But, back to the Masonic doctrine. There's another definition that is causing even more trouble than the one for "religion," and that's the one for "salvation." In my church (and many others) "salvation" specifically denotes the preservation of one's soul in heaven after death. However, some churches (and from what I've seen, most secular individuals) conflate this salvation with what my church calls "sanctification," defined within Lutheran circles as the process of making one's self perfect and holy, which begins in life but is completed only in death and resurrection. When people object to the notion that there is only one way to salvation, they may be consciously objecting to the idea that only members of specific sects will enjoy eternal paradise. But, this objection is commonly founded on the understanding that there is more than one religion that can make you a Good Person. And, though my church has a few things to say about the very idea of "Good People," given what people actually mean when they say that I can heartily agree. As generally understood, yes, there are Good People in every religion, and almost all religions, when followed properly (and a lot of the times improperly), will actually make you a Good Person.
Oprah is right. There are many ways to this kind of salvation and you are right to seek and choose your own. I don't agree that this earthly salvation translates automatically to the heavenly one, but I do agree that it exists. It could also render the Masonic objection moot. If it were understood that the Masonic injunction to belief in a higher power were solely for the purpose of earthly salvation and enlightenment (which, given its vagueness regarding the actual nature of this higher power, is highly probable), then there would not necessarily be a conflict between this belief and belief in salvation through Christ alone.
And that's the lesson here. The Lutherans, the Masons, and every best-selling self help author since 1873 at loggerheads, all because we didn't clarify our terms. Here's to speaking as precisely as we can to others, and hearing precisely what others mean to say, even when they don't actually say it.
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|Subject:||Lead Us Not|
Second week of real tech work, with the following disturbing development: shift times, vacations, bonuses, and virtually every other good thing are tied to my performance ranking. My performance ranking is based not on how many people I effectively help, but how fast I get people off the phone. So, even though I'm the guy that's supposed to help you when your internet is borked, my job rewards me most for pawning you off on Microsoft and Norton and telling you it's not my problem. Thankfully I have enough experience to help people and get the job done quickly, but it's still a pain, not to mention a disturbing systemic problem. Which seems to be the trend, really. If I ever get a job that doesn't require some kind of frustrating moral compromise my conscience will explode from the sudden absence of outside pressure.
I'm just glad I have the luxury of doing something resembling the right thing this time.
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I hear some of you use this Twitter thing. Give me your names so I can stalk you. Mine is dietcokerobot.
I saw a graffiti tag in my neighborhood today, on the entrance gate just beyond the trees. This really surprised me, because the neighborhood, while not exactly posh or even exceedingly clean, does have a very strong air of dual-side-airbag, reinforced-multivitamin "suburban safe." Primed to their existence, however, I soon notice several others along the highway bridge piers leading out of the subdivision. Though vigorously painted over, they were still visible beneath the plaster now that I was looking for them. All this time before I thought it was just an attempt to make the base of the pillars more reflective, but it was really my tiny city's little war against vandalism.
It does unnerve me a little bit to have this so close to home. It means these places that look so safe, where I and fifteen dozen old ladies go jogging every morning, is a completely different place at night. Let's just hope this place never comes to me.
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As I sat in my dumpster-salvaged love seat drinking a Diet Coke, reading Camus and watching last year's Haruhi AMVs, two thoughts occurred to me. First off, that, contrary to my earlier apprehensions, I really did have a style. It's just a style that is bizarre and unnerving without quite crossing into interesting.
The second was that, despite my aspirations to eccentricity, there probably existed a great deal of individuals like me. After all, the component parts are not only common, but reinforcing. The liberal arts degree alone embodies the peculiar mixture of pretension, entitlement, and uselessness that underlies all of these pursuits. Add a simultaneous revulsion for and worship of the consumer culture and your picture comes to fine Generation Y focus.
Only fourteen more days until my new job begins. Maybe then I'll have less time for being weird.
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In this post: things we judge ourselves on but really shouldn't. This is brought about by my recent feeling like a failure of a human being by not having a job for six months. Totally stupid? Yes. But it happened. Hardcore. No job? I MUST CUT OUT MY LIVER AS PENANCE!!! Never mind that a sizable percentage of the country is in the same position due to a well-documented economic phenomena. IT IS UNFORGIVABLE!!!
Conversely, have you ever felt really awesome after completing something absolutely trivial? That thrill of elation upon alphabetizing your DVD collection, removing all of the hairs from a bar of soap, or successfully running for Senate is powerful, but utterly unjustified. What did you do to make the world a better place? Absolutely nothing! Shame upon you and the hollow satisfaction you represent!
Now, it may seem that I am out to rob you of all of the subtle joys and daily highs and lows that make your relatively trauma-free, middle-class lives worth waking up for in the morning. However, this is certainly not the case. I am robbing you of your joy for my own amusement, which, on the internet, is for some reason a critical distinction.
I call upon you to aid me in your own destruction by furnishing more examples of hollow pleasures, meaningless failures, and other gross amplifications of emotion. Commence!
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So it turns out that recent legal developments have rendered the previous post absolutely wrong. Update your mental data banks to avoid embarrassment and confusion.
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So it turns out the Second Amendment doesn't actually protect an individual's right to own firearms. Instead it's about state militias, which were all but extinct by the turn of the twentieth century and officially superceded with the creation of the National Guard. So basically, it has about as much to say about modern law and practice as the Third Amendment, which, unless said National Guard invites itself to your sleepover, is pretty much nothing.
As long as I live in Texas I will never, ever speak of this.
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I have a wife now. That's awesome.
I saw the new Harry Potter movie. That's kind of awesome.
I played some of the best rounds of DDR in my life after consuming more alcohol than I had ever consumed in my life. That's really awesome.
My cake got famous without me. That's...I'm not sure what that is.
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I would like to talk to today about something I hate, yet can't quite muster up a sound reason for hating. Think racial prejudice, only funny.
This thing is...this squirrel.
There is just something about this character that sends me into a frothing rage. That other squirrel is probably going to spend half the movie getting knocked around by this manipulative bitch. And, he is going to like it. AND THEN, he is finally going to hook up with her despite the fact that she has proven herself to be an abusive gold-digger (or nut-digger, but not in the good, sexual way). Is this the picture of romance we need to be painting for our children?
And then there's the whole matter of tertiary sexual characteristics. Why do all of these kids movies have some weird girlified character? For the prepubescents who actually know what romance is? For the parents who want to relive their younger years through previously unsexy creatures?
I know this is hardly a new thing, but it's getting a bit out of control.
This one is the best. Hourglass figure, ample cleavage, and...misshapen algae-colored head. It's almost like they're trying to mock the concept, only they're not. Which makes me more than a bit depressed, then a bit more depressed for being depressed about vague trends in children's movies.
Yep. Need a life.
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Back in high school, I was known as The Disco King. This might have been a good thing had I not graduated high school in 1999. One day I was disco dancing in the orchestra pit, as was my custom, when a vigorous windmill maneuver slammed the mechanical pencil I was holding in my left hand firmly into my right thumb, leaving a quarter-inch sliver of graphite upright in the flesh. Naturally, this was very painful. I spent a good deal of my free time trying to root out the little graphite stick, but even with my great idleness my mind was eventually turned to other things and I was forced to leave it alone.
What I didn't realize was that my graphite implant was permanent. Ten years later, a little black smudge on my finger reminds me of a time when I was an even bigger dork than I am now. And that's worth something, I think. Because when you've lost your job, gotten kicked out of school, and resorted to living in your in-law's guest room, it's good to have a reminder that no matter how far you've fallen, you've still come a long way.
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