Archive for October, 2007
OK, I know that argument over what would Jesus drive has pretty much fizzled out. And good riddance! It tended to be divisive and distracting. But I think a good point was put out there that perhaps, just maybe, we are a nation of addicted consumers and this addiction is not really a good thing for us or the planet.
I was reminded of this when I opened up my jar of Maxwell House instant coffee (too lazy to brew on work days). The lid had this really nifty rubberized non-slip yellow band around it that felt real cool when you turned it with your bare hand. (I don’t always wear gloves in the kitchen). I don’t think it made it any easier to open but it was called the E Z Grip Lid. I got to wondering – did this help to sell coffee? And why? Have the number of coffee jar opening accidents been drastically reduced? I could visualize Maxwell House lids flying out of housewive’s hands, smashing into their husband’s foreheads, blood pouring onto the dinette. Good to the last drop, indeed.
I was outraged! How much does it cost Kraft foods to make this special lid? How much more does it cost the consumer? Is the production detrimental to the environment? Are the lids being made in Chinese sweatshops? I was ready to take this case up with Kraft themselves but then I found out… that….apparently…..it… is… helpful for folks with arthritis. Makes it easier for them to shut the jar tight and then reopen it. Keeps the coffee fresher. (sigh)
But I couldn’t let this energy, this momentum, this thirst for justice go to waste. I needed a cause and I needed a cause just like this; trivial enough to not require any real thought but a threat that was wide spread enough that I could rant about it on my blog. Let me see….let me see…..
Aha! It was right under my nose all along! Well, maybe not my nose, but the noses of millions of American men – Super Razors! Something called the Razor Wars has been raging for some time now between shaving titans Gillette and Schick. Outside the mundane K-Mart world of those who use disposable razors, unknown to those reactionaries who still use their grandfather’s safety razors and completely foreign to the German loving OCD types and their electric rotating knife shavers is a world of action, excitement, sexual tension and space age technology; the domain of the Non Disposable Razor, or NDR for those of us in the know.
I remember when the first double bladed NDR came out. “What can they be thinking of?!” I thought. Trying it out with trepidation I found that yes indeed, it did shave much closer. You see, the first blade lifts the hair follicle out while the second blade cuts much closer to the skin – in fact so close that it cut the beard below the skin! Zounds!
This was great until my neck and face became a war zone of festering in-grown hair pustules (you’re not eating are you? sorry). Besides that, the double blades had the added advantage of allowing me make dual shaving cuts on my face that were in perfectly parallel lines. Ouch! So I grew a beard. Now not all of you out there may have the testosterone necessary to do this – that’s right, you guys who still have full heads of hair. But for me, it wasn’t a problem.
So from the sidelines I watched the shaving armament companies gear up for a war of escalating razor speed and power. The handles became rubberized with contour ribbing for a more sure grip ( The reported cases of emergency room nose re-attachments dropped 70% in the first year alone!) Then a third blade was added for more speed and an even closer shave. It seemed that the limits of shaving performance had been met.
But then, after years of R&D and million of dollars invested Schick unveiled its outrageous answer to power shaving – the four bladed Quattro. Named after a four wheel drive German automobile in honor of the company’s founder, Audi Schick, the Quattro blew away the competition. Men that bought the Quattro claimed that it was so fast that they could make it to work at least 20 minutes earlier than men using inferior razors, and that was after a coffee and donut at Krispy Kreme. (Yes, sadly this market demographic does not frequent Starbucks). Now it was just a matter of time. Schick could sit back, catch up on the “Lost” episodes they missed while developing the Quattro and just wait for Gillette to fold.
But Gillette not only didn’t lie down and die peacefully they took a bold gamble, one so risky that it could either mean great rewards or…..a truly disposable razor company. Bringing in the best scientists that Germany had to offer (hey, I detect a pattern here!) and, using night vision goggles under the cover of darkness, the tech crews devised and produced the Mother of All Razors – The Fusion! With five blades, ( Five Blades?! This baby was shaving so close it was scraping the bone!) contoured rubberized pistol grips, an 8X10 Zeiss scope, 14 round turbo mag with AWD and chrome tip dual exhausts – this was a razor to be reckoned with. (Unfortunately, due to the need for an early pre-Christmas release it only came equipped with drum brakes and there is a company advisory against shaving too fast near the jugular. Vented discs should be installed on the ’08 model.) An extremely expensive piece of machinery, Gillette is hoping to recoup some of their costs by opening it up to the foreign market. Interestingly both Saudi Arabia and Israel have put in advance orders for the Fusion while Gillette plans to send advisers overseas to help train the Arabs on the technicalities of high performance shaving.
My concern is this; are we serving the Kingdom by spending our hard earned money (well maybe not that hard earned, I have done a little blogging at work lately, I do need to stop that) on dangerous, expensive and resource exploiting performance razors? Why can’t we just shave with the old fashioned straight razor – it can be used over and over again and it has so many more uses than just shaving faces. If we are uncertain about this we should just ask ourselves: What Would Jesus Shave With? I think the answer is pretty clear.
STUDY GROUP QUESTIONS:
How much speed can you get out of a NDR, anyway?
Should real men have smooth faces like girls?
How fast is too fast? Where are you going?
Why are bearded men sexier?
Does it really help you get girls? I mean really?
The new girl, Mary, walked briskly into the office carrying a stack of file folders. She was smiling cheerfully and wearing a bright yellow dress with a vibrant floral pattern. Martha looked up from her desk. “What in the world are you wearing? That dress is not appropriate business attire for this office –besides, it’s way too tight.”
Mary dropped the folders on an empty desk and rushed from the room.
“Where do we find these people?” muttered Martha.
“Well, what do you think?” Mary asked her new supervisor, Martha. Smiling, she spun around lightly in her new sun dress. Although a pretty outfit, to Martha it looked to be painfully tight on her. And much too casual for this type of office.
“Mary, you look beautiful!” she said. Mary gave her a quick hug and dashed back to her cubicle, excited to start a new work week. Martha made a mental note to invite Mary out to lunch and have a tactful conversation about the office dress code.
Please bear with me – I do have a point, somewhere….let me see….
Lately we’ve had some heated discussions on this site, over such issues as the doctrine of hell and the nature of evangelism. Rarely does one side seem to get the other to see it their way, including those times in which they actually are in close agreement.
I realize now that we’ve been arguing about the wrong thing. It’s not the message, but the messenger (as I suggested in an earlier post: http://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/shoot-the-messengers-why-fire-and-brimstone-preaching-is-evil/#comment-1788) More precisely, it’s how we put the message across that seems to really be the issue. I don’t think that it is always the truth of Christian doctrine that may repulse so many people (although that is often what we have been told) but more likely it is our delivery that needs to change. Of course we need to choose the right words but it is also important to take into consideration who we address and when we address them.
To criticize or rebuke someone we do not know well, someone who has yet to garner our trust, is often an exercise in futility. We must first take the time and effort necessary to convince someone that we really do care about them, in ways that are meaningful to them, and not necessarily to us. Telling an unfamiliar person that their actions or beliefs will result in damnation is akin to lobbing a personal insult at them. Marching in rallies with placards and signs (or calling radio shows or commenting on blogs) condemning perfect strangers rarely wins converts. How many times do we respond favorably when we are the targets of such criticism? I think it is unreasonable of us to expect a more open minded response than we would give ourselves. In many cases our opinions are unsolicited and unwelcome, no matter how well reasoned and thoughtful they may be.
When someone does ask for our opinion it might be best to ease it into the conversation gradually, finding out first who this person is, what burdens they might carry, what wounds they may still suffer from. To quickly respond with brutal honesty, no matter how convinced we are of the correctness of the answer, is not a good way to build honest relationships. The fear of being judged will discourage many people from opening their hearts. It may also deter them from asking our advice again.
This reminds me of the best set of management books that I have ever read. There are literally thousands of dry, boring, ponderous tomes on how to effectively manage people and in my opinion they make excellent substitutes for firewood. But one tiny little book, “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard made my job so much more enjoyable as well as productive. Throughout the series that he co-authored with Spenser Johnson there is a consistent theme. Their philosophy in a nutshell is this:
No one wants to be ‘told’ what to do. People respond to praise much more readily than reprimands, so we need to find something that they are doing right before we try to redirect them. If we can’t get people to ‘buy into’ what our goals for them are then we will fail miserably. In order for them to ‘buy into’ our goals they must believe that we care for their well being even more than our agendas. This is only possible if it is the truth.
Think about it; if we don’t like it when people harangue us why should we expect them to respond favorably when we do it? If we expect others to respect our point of view, then we should treat their views with equal if not more respect.
My brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. Gal 6:1
You should forgive him and encourage him, in order to keep him from becoming so sad as to give up completely. And so I beg you to let him know that you really do love him. 2Co 2:7-7
In 1974, during the robbery of a Royal Farms store in Baltimore, a security guard was shot to death with his own gun. Witnesses at the scene, including the cashier on duty, described the assailant as a light skinned black man around 5 feet 8 inches tall. Michael Austin, a very dark skinned man over six feet in height was arrested for the crime. He was subsequently tried for first degree murder.
The cashier picked out Michael from a book of police mug shots. When confronted with the disparity in size and complexion he claimed to be mistaken the first time.The prosecutors held this witness up to the jury as being a very civic minded young college student and they readily chose to believe him. Besides, although Michael, was now married and gainfully employed he had a significant record of prior arrests and convictions. In spite of his employer providing him with a tight alibi (he was working at the time of the robbery and there were time cards and multiple witnesses) it made little difference. He looked good for the crime.
His family had a little money and they hired an attorney. Unfortunately the only attorney they could afford happened to be a drug addict and alcoholic. Michael assumed that he was drunk throughout the trial. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 15 years – no chance of parole.
It turned out later that the cashier was not actually a civic minded young college student but, according to his own family, a violent offender and drug addict. He also happened to be a paid police informant that may have been primarily interested in pleasing his employers and erstwhile antagonists. (Apparently the police wanted Michael for another crime but could not indict him for it.) A few years later this police informant died of a drug overdose.
A few years after the sentencing, the prosecuting attorney on the case went on record as saying that he should never have tried Michael. But nothing was done.
For the first five years of his incarceration Michael was an angry and bitter young man. He bucked the system every chance he could, was often involved in fights and spent much time in isolation. Somewhere in that period of time a change began to take place and eventually Michael began to settle down and take stock of his life and his situation. His says that this change was because of God.
Michael understood that, although not guilty of this crime, his past actions had made him vulnerable. His mother told him once, when visiting, that he only had himself to blame for this situation, that you are only as good as your reputation. And it was true that Michael had not been a good boy growing up.
Having been made a ward of the state he was placed in a foster home where he suffered physical and mental abuse. As a teenager he became involved with drugs and crime and spent plenty of time in juvenile lock up and even a little time in the state penitentiary. But at some point he began to settle down, got a steady job, found a woman he loved and got married.
In prison Michael began to study philosophy and music. He earned his G.E.D. and then later he earned a Bachelors Degree in music theory from Coppin State University, which had programs available within the penitentiary. He became an accomplished trumpet player.
An organization out of Princeton called Centurion Ministries took up his case. www.centurionministries.org/index.html Centurion is devoted to that particular part of Jesus’ ministry that addressed freedom for the prisoners, in this case the innocent ones. In 2001 Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke became aware of Michael’s plight and that year he was set free. Michael waited one year to ask for a pardon from the Governor. He wanted to prove first that he could be a contributing and law abiding member of the community. The state of Maryland awarded him 1.4 million dollars in restitution for the 27 years of freedom that he had taken from him. Although his first wife is now remarried (he is happy for her) Michael has met someone and they are engaged.
He was 25 years old the day her reported to do his time and he was 52 years old when he finally walked out the prison doors. Since 2001 Michael has started his own business, a successful recording studio in Baltimore. He also leads a jazz band, where he plays trumpet. His band spends a lot to time playing charity benefits up and down the East Coast. Michael himself devotes his free time talking with young people in schools, churches and civic events. www.inthis2gether.com/index.html
This is where I met him, as he came to our school to speak to the students and staff. His message is simple; don’t let other people, don’t let circumstances, define who you are or make your decisions for you. At some point you must learn to respect yourself, and even love yourself, in order to start doing those things that will earn the respect and love of others. He also said that they needed to understand that so many of the people that they thought of as being part a dominating system were actually there because they loved them. It was time for them to start showing these people the respect that they deserved.
Most of the students in our school (around 90 or so) are ‘troubled’ youths from blighted urban areas and his message seemed to resonate with them. After he spoke, some of the kids, mostly the hard cases that have done time and are probably close to doing some more, gathered around him, shaking his hand, hugging him, asking him more questions. It touched them that this guy seemed to give a damn about them. I hope they understood that we give a damn about them as well.
At the time of Michael’s conviction, Maryland had no death penalty, but it was reinstated not much later. If the death penalty had been in effect at the time he would not have been able to earn his G.E.D., get his college diploma, learn to read and write music or play the trumpet. And our kids would never have met him.
I got gas today. I wasn’t real happy about it it, since it cost me over $2.70 a gallon. After I filled up my tank the pump began to beep, asking me in its insistent little way if I wanted to take my receipt. As usual, I deliberately ignored the machine, indulging in a little psychological payback for ‘ripping’ me off; “Forget it, pump. You can beep all you want, sucker. Take your receipt and…..” For the first time I stopped myself in mid silent-rant. What was I doing?
I suddenly became aware of all the harmless little ways I took out my anger, ways in which I never really hurt anyone. Like the time my local bank had been bought by a big national company without our knowing about it. We didn’t realize (the Lord giveth and the fine print taketh away!) that the new bank had a policy that all deposited checks were held for 5 business days. Suddenly we were being charged hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees even though we had more than enough in the bank to cover all the checks. Since they refused to accommodate us, we withdrew all of our money. Except for $1.42 cents which I left in savings just to aggravate them. They have been sending me statements on that account for over 2 years now.
And then there was a time I closed out my credit cards because of the way they kept finding reasons to raise my interest rates. I made a point of overpaying a couple of these companies by a few bucks or so. Occasionally they would send me checks for the balance but I wouldn’t cash them. It was worth it to know that I was costing them money, albeit not very much.
Even though I hadn’t really hurt anyone personally, I realized that there was a victim here. Myself. By refusing to let things go, by letting circumstances get to me, even just a little bit, I was allowing some of that worldly poison to seep into my heart. And like the leavening that we have been talking about on another thread, that poison has a way of growing, working its way through my entire being.
So from now on I will try to refrain from kicking the lawn mower. Even though it may deserve it.
We are all children, grandchildren or at least stepchildren of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and have cause to be both grateful for the consequent privileges and anxious about some of the consequent problems.
So says N. T. Wright, in his little yet important book “The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God – Getting Beyond the Bible Wars“. In a brief chapter devoted to the challenges that the church has faced from the Enlightenment, Wright talks of how Modern thinkers have successfully proposed that all the Earth’s sordid history had been making its way to this pivotal point, the point where humanity had finally come of age. From that point on, through the auspices of science and philosophy, mankind would thrive as it never had before. War, suffering and disease would soon be things of the past.
This meant that the Enlightenment was offering its own rival eschatology, a secular analogue to the biblical picture of God’s kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus. Christianity had declared that God’s Kingdom had been decisively inaugurated by Jesus himself, particularly through the death and resurrection. This sense of a one-off historical moment in the first century, however, had been so muted in much Christian theology – eschatology being replaced by systems of salvation and ethics – that the Enlightenment’s cuckoo-in-the-nest move was made all the easier, and has in fact often gone unremarked. It was this eschatological takeover bid which caused Enlightenment thinkers to pour scorn on the Bible’s picture of the coming Kingdom, in a move which is still taken for granted in many circles today; first, to misrepresent it (“All the early Christians expected the world to end at once”) and then to rubbish it (“They were wild fanatics, and they were proved wrong.”) This “we-know-better-now” move, so characteristic of various strands within Enlightenment thought (and now forming part of the mental and emotional landscape of most modern Westerners), disguised the fact that the Enlightenment’s alternative was equally wild and fanatical: the belief that world history, up until now a matter of darkness and superstition, had turned the decisive corner – in western Europe and North America in the eighteenth century! – and come into the light, not least through science and technology.
The Enlightenment proposed a new perspective and a new solution to the problem of societal evil. Not to be outdone, the church caved in;
Much would-be Christian thought (including much would-be “biblical” Christian thought) in the last two hundred years has tacitly conceded these huge claims, turning “Kingdom of God” into “the hope for heaven after death” and treating Jesus’ death , at the most, as the mechanism whereby individual sinners can receive forgiveness and hope for an otherworldly future – leaving the politicians and economists of the Enlightenment to take over the running, and as it turns out the ruining, of the world. (This political agenda, by the way, was of course a vital part of the Enlightenment project: kick “God” upstairs, make religion a matter of private piety, and then you can organize the world to your own advantage. That has been the leitmotif of the Western world ever since, the new philosophy which has so far sustained several great empires, launched huge and horribly flawed totalitarian projects, and left the contemporary world thoroughly confused.) Scripture itself, meanwhile is muzzled equally by both sides. It is squelched into silence by the “secularists” who dismiss it as irrelevant, historically inaccurate and so on – as you would expect, since it might otherwise challenge their imperial dreams. Equally worrying, if not more so, it is squashed out of shape by many of the devout, who ignore its global, cosmic and justice-laden message and treat it only as the instrument of personal piety and the source of true doctrine about eternal salvation.
In an attempt to “prove” the Bible true to those “Enlightened” critics its defenders strove to demonstrate it’s historical accuracy by redefining what a “literal” interpretation meant:
There is a great gulf fixed between those who want to prove the historicity of everything reported in the Bible in order to demonstrate that the Bible is “true” after all and those who, committed to living under the authority of scripture, remain open to what scripture itself actually teaches and emphasizes. Which is the bottom line: “proving the Bible to be true” (often with effect of saying, “So we can go on thinking what we’ve always thought”), or taking it so seriously that we allow it to tell us things we’d never heard before and didn’t particularly want to hear?
For the past couple of weeks in class the kids and I have been learning how to bake bread. Although I have spent over half my life working with all kinds of food I have shied away from baking. It looked just too complicated, all those different steps involved, all the precise temperatures and measurements. I’ve always been a lazy cook and baking just looked like too much work.
Well, I was happy to find out just how easy it is to make good bread. Like most anything else, all you really need is the right equipment, good ingredients and the patience to learn from your mistakes. The first couple of attempts at making a good German rye would have looked more at home stacked next to a Howitzer instead of inside a wicker basket. The Italian bread turned out pretty good the first time we pulled it from the oven and today we finally produced what is an excellent, chewy and very flavorful seeded two pound rye.
It’s so cool to see how the yeast takes the dough and turns it into something that is literally alive and breathing–before you sacrifice it to the ovens. There are some other foods that serve as hosts for these or other little creatures, resulting in some delicious eating. Cheeses are the most common, some of them sporting visible molds. Then there are the fermented meats and cabbages – sauerkraut, kimchee, some pickles; but many of these are ‘acquired tastes’. But everyone loves bread.
Of course alcoholic beverages are also made by little living organisms as they encounter and thrive upon the natural harvest of the earth. Fermentation in its various forms is responsible for all the beer, wine, whiskeys, vodkas, rums, cordials and fortified drinks that are made. Some of them will even display the telltale effervescence of their active work.
I guess that it is possible that Jesus did not intentionally choose to use bread and wine for the Eucharist. After all, these two ingredients were common staples of the Palestinian people. It was pretty much a given that these two items would be found on the table. Wine was often cut with water, to enhance the dubious qualities of both the water and the wine, but good wine (like Jesus was famous for) was usually served at special occasions. Although we often hear of Jewish unleavened bread, risen dough was also baked and consumed. There were other foods served at the Last Supper, but Jesus used only these two to remind us of his living sacrifice.
I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus turned to bread and wine when looking for a metaphor for his death and resurrection. It’s also no accident that these two foods were served at Jewish holidays. Both bread and wine are the two naturally occurring miracles of the food world. Left alone, both crushed wheat and crushed grapes will invite in living creatures that change both hosts into bread and wine. This is why moistened flour will eventually start to rise on it’s own as it receives the yeast floating in through the kitchen window. Grapes (and many other fruits) will always ferment – in fact, grape juice is more of an ‘artificial’ beverage than Pepsi. Man must work hard to prevent grape juice from turning into wine.
Wheat, crushed, mixed with water and in communion with live yeast grows to become a bread ready to be baked. Grapes, crushed, it’s juices communing with live yeast, turns to wine ready to be drunk. Both bread, wine and yeast work together to become so much more than the sum of their parts. Perhaps we are like the yeast, encountering Christ’s blood and broken body, being taken in and then taking him in to ourselves, we work together with others to raise up his Church. Broken bread and poured out wine, shared by those who remember Jesus as the creator of grass and vines, giving himself to be broken and poured out for our sins – this is what we know as Communion.
What a great gift. Wouldn’t it be nice if, the next time we shared communion, that we served some really good, fresh baked bread? And maybe some good, inexpensive red jug wine? Instead of paper wafers, little cubes of Wonder Bread, Welches grape juice and Christian Brother’s Cream Sherry? Something maybe a bit more aesthetic, a bit more authentic, maybe a bit more…tasty? Instead of little medicine cups perhaps we could try intinction or -what the heck?!- take a risk and share the cup! (We can always offer grape juice for those who cannot or would prefer not to partake of wine.) Perhaps bringing wine back into some Protestant services would cause too much arguing – I don’t know. But there is no reason not to serve some good bread. Jesus chose food for a reason. He probably enjoyed good food. I don’t think it would be too hard for us to give the elements of this meal the respect that they deserve.
And now that I can bake…..
Check out this report from ABC’s 20/20. Looks very “Hollywood” to me.
Oh, no. Say it ain’t so;
Columnist Ann Coulter Shocks Cable TV Show,Declaring ‘Jews Need to Be Perfected by Becoming Christians’
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Slash-and-burn columnist Ann Coulter shocked a cable TV talk-show audience Monday when she declared that Jews need to be “perfected” by becoming Christians, and that America would be better off if everyone were Christian.
Coulter made the remarkable statements during an often heated appearance to promote her new book on advertising guru Donny Deutsch’s CNBC show “The Big Idea.”In response to a question from Deutsch asking Coulter if “it would be better if we were all Christian,” the controversial columnist responded: “Yes.” “We should all be Christian?” Deutsch repeated.“Yes,” Coulter responded, asking Deutsch, who is Jewish, if he would like to “come to church with me.”Deutsch, pressing Coulter further, asked, “We should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians?” She responded: “Yeah.”
Coulter deflected Deutsch’s assertion that her comments were anti-Semitic, matter-of-factly telling the show’s obviously upset host, “That is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews.”
You can read the entire transcript here:
Now you may agree or disagree with her remarks. But do you think she should have made them? I think Coulter should reconsider Jesus’ command to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.