Archive for September, 2007

Star Struck


star_trek_03_1024.jpgDriving home from work today I heard a radio commercial for the International Star Registry. For a mere $54 and change you can have an actual star named after someone you love. Wow.

http://www.starregistry.com/

Personally, it’s not my cup of tranya, but I guess for those who crave immortality it could be pretty cool. I assume the stars that are biggest or closest will go first, if they’re even still available. But we would never run out of opportunities, even if everyone on the planet takes a shot at having a star named after them.

But then I got to thinking; if this does become a big thing, can you imagine how it might affect future space exploration?

(Slow fade…..)

Star Date; 1.17-64; Captains Log:

“After leaving Jack O’Brien system I have ordered course set for Shlomo Liebowitz in the Buddy Oliver cluster. We received a sub space communication from Star Fleet outpost B87 on My Favorite Auntie Rose of a mass apparent escape attempt in the penal colony on Roger, the Universe’s Best Dad. I have been ordered to transfer non-military staff to the R&R station at Jackie is the Hottest Babe Ever.”

Maybe you could name stars after your favorite celebrities:

“Scotty I need more power! We can’t escape Oprah’s gravitational field!”

This reminded me of the time my son had a really nice and accurate toy model of the original Enterprise. For some insane reason it came with removable engine pods and of course he lost both of them. After it had been sitting in the dark at the bottom of his closet for a couple of years I decided to toss it into the trash. My wife, the frugal and practical “Beverly of Bonny Bridge” insisted that we keep it for the next neighborhood yard sale.

This caused me to wonder; what poor kid would want an Enterprise with no engines. How would he play with it?

“Warp factor one, Mr. Sulu.”

“Captain, there seems to be a problem. I can’t engage the warp engines.”

“Mr. Scott, what is the situation?”

“Aye, Cap’n. I kinna oonnerstan’ it! It’s like we’ve goat noo engines atoll!”

“Mr. Spock!?”

“Captain, it appears that the reason we have been isolated in the Dark Zone for the past two years is due precisely to the fact that we have no warp engines. I am surprised that you were not curious before this point.”

“No engines!? My God! What….have….they….done!!?”

(Suddenly Kirk claps his hands to his ears and falls to his knees, writhing in pain. The crew rushes about frantically pushing random buttons as the whine of a garbage truck’s compactor increases in intensity. Spock raises one eyebrow quizzically. Fade to black.)

I guess the erstwhile owner of this incomplete star ship could always pretend that the Enterprise is playing ‘dead in the water’, to lure in the cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey. At least you can’t see that one.

Joost thinkin’.

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Opening Church Windows


John XXIIIHere is an excerpt from a letter by a minister of the Roman Catholic faith, Dennis Teall-Fleming. It was sent to Tony Jones, the National Coordinator for Emergent Village and he included it in today’s newsletter. It’s a pretty obvious analogy and helps someone like me, having been raised Roman Catholic, to put the Emerging Church idea into a better perspective.

The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.

That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!

Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.

I particularly like that line of Pope John’s about fresh air. With all the attention, both positive and negative, that has been given some of the leaders in the Emerging Church as well as some of the hysterical fears of the “movement” itself (I am now officially declaring ‘conversation’ as being too vague of a description – take note) I think that it is prudent to remember the impact that Pope John’s Vatican council had on the Church. To this day there are elements within the Roman church that think of John XXIII as a pawn of Satan, yet most Catholics and Protestants would fervently disagree. Perhaps the Emerging movement is just picking up where Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli left off ; opening up windows and doors for a church that suffers from the symptoms of long term theological OCD.

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Bridges: The Old Man’s Yard, Part 2


The first part of this story may be found at: https://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/09/20/the-old-mans-yard/

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Things had been going very well in the old man’s yard. There were plenty of fruits and vegetables, a large grassy lawn for games and big shade trees for when the sun got too hot. The Old Man’s house still sat high up on the hill and every once in a while someone said that they caught a glimpse of him.

The kids got along nicely. Some of them became team captains and they worked hard at coming up with rules for the games and making sure that everyone followed them. This was important because many kids wanted to play (although a quite a few of them just sat and watched).

There were lots of things to do besides playing games. The fence always needed mending. The sound of the traffic on the busy street was noisy and distracting and and there were some kids who still had bad memories. So they decided to plug up all the holes that let in the noise. They made mud out of the dirt in the garden and used it to fill in all the gaps. When they were finished they could hardly hear any of the traffic at all.

They still guarded the gate, looking for kids that needed to be saved and also watching closely for any threats to the community. They needed to be very careful and take care of this wonderful gift that the Old Man and his son had given them. It wouldn’t do well to take any chances with the yard. It needed to be protected.

After a while some of the kids began to notice that there were some very different looking people in the yard. Most of these newcomers were watching the games but a few were playing. Some of them had different colored skin and all of them were wearing funny looking clothes. Intrigued, the curious children checked with the gate keepers and discovered that more of these strange kids could be seen marching along the other side of the busy highway. They rarely took advantage of the shouted invitations to come into the yard. Besides, being on the other side, it was too dangerous to cross. No one knew where these strange children went but it was assumed that they ended up unfortunate victims of the brutal traffic. It was sad, but it was their choice not to come in.

But how were they getting into the yard? There must be a hole in the fence somewhere, but where? A couple of the braver kids decided to go right up to one of the newcomers and ask him. He was wearing white flowing robes with a cloth wound tightly around the top of his head. He also had some sort of tiny bright stone stuck to the side of nose and his skin was very dark.

Three or four kids confronted him; “We think that it’s great that you’re here in the garden, but….how did you get in? You didn’t come through the gate – we were watching.”

“Oh, we just came over the sun bridge” he said, smiling. His voice sounded strange but kind of cool at the same time, sort of like he was singing.

“The sun bridge? What bridge? We’ve been here for a long time and there is only one way in, through the garden gate.”

“Oh no, you can come in by walking over on one of the sun bridges. There are many of them in the back yard, behind the house. Come, I will show you.”

With his long robes flapping behind him, he took off quickly, heading over the shoulder of the hill and towards the back of the old man’s house. He led them to a thick hedge row that separated the front from the back, to a place where numerous paths snaked through the leafy branches.  After winding their way through to the other side they entered a big yard very much like the one out front. It too was surrounded by a white picket fence, but there was no gate. On the other side of the fence was another busy highway, except the speeding cars and trucks looked very different from what the children were used to seeing. Most of them were very small and they all were very fast.

Standing a little higher up on the hill they could see over the fence as well as over the road. On the far side was another white picket fence and what looked like some more yards. Inside the yards children could be seen playing and wandering through the gardens. Each of these yards had a gate and all kinds of children wearing all kinds of funny looking clothes could be seen trying to escape the vicious traffic by rushing through the different gates. There also seemed to be a few ‘regular’ looking kids mixed in with them.

There were some more kids, mostly ‘regular’ ones, on the closer side of the road but still outside the fence. Sometimes one or two would dare to cross the busy highway to safety. Most of them, though, clung closely to the picket fence and kept moving onward. If they could avoid the traffic they might make it around front to where the main gate was.

But the most amazing thing was the vision towering over their heads. Shining bright in the sun and climbing high from each garden was a series of light and airy looking bridges. Though no two looked the same they all shared the same elements of grace, beauty and strength evident in good designs. One end of each bridge was anchored in the Old Man’s back yard. Venturing slowly across the bridges, safe above the roaring traffic, could be seen streams of the exotic foreign children, their bright colorful clothing shining in the sun. Once over, these ‘new’ children walked around dazedly, staring wide eyed at the novel surroundings. Then they slowly made their way up the hillside towards the hedge. Amazed, the ‘older’ children were taking all of this in when suddenly their young turbaned guide began to wave happily at some of the people. He ran swiftly down to meet them.

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“My son finished building those bridges just before he died.”

The children jumped in surprise. Standing right behind them and looking over their shoulders stood the Old Man. There were some tears in his eyes but he was smiling.

“You see, children,” he said. “My son and I understood that not all of you live close to the front gate. And the traffic became so bad that it was very hard for anyone to make it there safely. So we laid out some more yards, just like yours, on their side of the highway. We put up picket fences for safety and each one has its own gate. They have all the fruits and vegetables and trees and games that you children enjoy. It is so much easier for them to make it to safety, since the gates are on their side of the street. So many more are being saved. Sadly, though, some still choose to remain outside.”

“But what about the bridges?” the children asked.

“Well, even though their yards are safe and I provide them with all they need to live comfortably, my house is way over here, in this yard. When they look up, they can see my house and many of them want to come over. I do very much want them to come stay with me so there needed to be some way for them to reach me. They can’t do it on their own. So my son built these bridges, from their yard to mine. It can be scary for them but when they learn to trust in the bridge’s strength it becomes easier.”

“But what will happen when all those other kids come in? Will there be enough room in the yard for the rest of us?” The children looked very nervous.

“Don’t you worry about that. And don’t you worry about them, either. I’ll make sure that there is plenty for everyone. Later, when it gets dark, we can all go up to my house. I have comfy rooms waiting for everyone. I also have a great surprise for you. Though you will remember my son giving up his life to save you – He still lives! Yes, right now he is up in my big house, busy building additional rooms for all of you. My son, you see, is quite the carpenter.”

“So, children, go and greet your new friends. And try to play nice.”

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Hangin’ with a Harlot: Jesus on Inclusion


woman at wellIn the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, an exhausted Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Under the relentless Palestinian sun he and this woman have a conversation. Not only is she a Samaritan, generally reviled by the Jews, but also a lowly woman and one of of ill repute at that. Nevertheless he proceeds to engage her in a theological discussion;

“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The Message

Reading this the other day I was (like his disciples) shocked by the implications of what Jesus was doing here. He was essentially flipping the bird to conventional wisdom and established customs by hanging out with someone who was pretty much a first century ‘untouchable’- you know – one of ‘those’ people. He was also telling her that in his eyes she was just as good as anyone else. OK, she might need to get her act together, but she had no reason to feel ashamed in front of anyone, not even the religious upper class. In fact, there was going to come a time when it didn’t matter how she even went about worshipping God just as long as she was honest, authentic and compassionate. Wow!

Are we there yet?

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The Biblical Squint Test


christmas tree

(Sorry for being out of season, but…..)

We were talking on one of the earlier threads and there was some disagreement over the true meaning of certain scriptural passages. (I must be kidding, right? Here?) It seems like we kept going around and around and around. I was suddenly reminded of another familiar situation where I keep going around and around and around. Christmas.

Or to be more precise, decorating our home for Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year, I probably even loved it more when I didn’t have a faith (but that’s another story). But I am not crazy about getting everything down from the attic, setting up the decorations and then having to clean up. I especially don’t like having to trim the tree. It is a lot of work.

I used to spend a considerable time making sure that every single strand of tiny lights was evenly distributed on each branch, like my father had taught me. Soon enough I learned how to stand about six feet away and toss the lights on like a fisherman casting his net. I’ve always preferred the little tasteful white lights, like the ones we had growing up. My wife, though, hails from a tradition that celebrated with gaudy multi-colored lights. She was raised Lutheran and I Catholic. In the spirit of ecumenicalism we agreed to blend both types of lights. 25 years later I can’t even think of not having it both ways.

Some people accuse me of wanting to have it ‘both ways’ when it comes to how I relate to God. I can see value in most all faith traditions and I hesitate to say if someone is not with God even though they may respond to him differently than I do. I consider myself to be a Christian but there have been times when I have been challenged on this. Apparently some think that I can’t hold to this more tolerant point of view and still maintain a faith in Jesus.

Usually our arguments will boil down to the essence of where we disagree – Holy Scripture. Someone may place more emphasis on a certain verse than I do. I might be inspired by something completely different. With both of us concentrating on what we each holds most dear, we usually end up stalled and, at best, agreeing to disagree. But that can be so unsatisfying.

When decorating our Christmas tree, each family member would devoting his or her efforts to specific parts of the tree. When the children were small they concentrated on the low hanging branches. I would be teetering on the stool near the tree top while my wife would finesse the all important mid section. Even then, some would stray more towards one side of the tree over the other. Many times the kids would hang balls and ornaments in the ‘wrong’ places, out near the ends of the branches where they sagged or too far inside where they could hardly be seen. This would drive me nuts but over time I learned to bite my tongue, for the sake of familial harmony.

When all was hung, when the boxes were empty, we would take a few steps back to review our handiwork. After a few moments my wife Bev would say, “Well? Does it pass the squint test?”. To my surprise, it always did.

Standing in close to the tree all I see are the individual ornaments of different shapes, colors and sizes and where they are placed. The occasional broken branches and bare spots are starkly visible. I am painfully aware of the ‘mistakes’ of my children. Though they should be fixed so that they make more sense, I just accept their placement.

But when I move back a bit, take in the whole thing and, softening my focus just a little, I can make out the image of a beautiful, colorful and blazing bright Christmas tree. All the intricate and and glistening ornaments, each of them with their own story of Christmases past, working together to create this wonderful creation. Even those deep and dark crannies where the lights do not reach suggest mysterious areas worth further exploration.

A cooperative effort between God and his children, a Christmas tree speaks in a slightly tone to each person that meets it, evoking memories and feelings that cannot always be expressed. The ‘imperfect’ yet natural shape, the ‘inaccurate’ placement of the balls, the ornaments that range from big and shiny to small and fragile – each element works together to present a perfect whole. A little different every time, each observer can agree that the shape is always the same, and the spirit that this shape evokes can be shared by all.

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The Old Man’s Yard


garden gate

There once was a kindly old man who lived in a big house, on a big yard in a town named after him. His yard faced a very busy road, a road that he had laid out himself a long time ago. Back then it was a quiet country lane that meandered through green farmland.

Now this street was so busy that there was hardly any room for all the cars, trucks and buses that zoomed back and forth all day and all night. The air was thick with smoke and noise. In order to make more room for more traffic the street had been widened, leaving no sidewalk for pedestrians. This made travel very dangerous, especially for the poor street children of the town, who could not drive cars. Many of them had been terribly hurt.

The old man watched this happening and it made him sad. So one day he walked down to his white picket fence and hollered to the kids, “Hey, kids! C’mon, get in my yard. It’s safe in here.” The children on this side of the road dashed through the gate. The noise of the traffic was so bad that he had to yell a few more times before those children across the street heard his voice. They were clinging to the Jersey wall and were so scared that they could not move.

The old man opened the gate wider but still the petrified children would not come. From the other side of the street things looked too dangerous, and with good reason, thought the old man. Cars and trucks continued to rush on by. So the old man called for his son, who was working out back in the garden, to come and help. As soon as his son saw the terrible situation he ran out into the middle of the road and held up his hands. “STOP!” he screamed.

There was a screeching of tires and a loud honking of horns and then a sickening thud. The traffic had come to a halt, the first time in years. The young man was lying on the ground, his body broken. Blood was everywhere.

The children ran over to him. They were crying because they knew what he had done for them. He tried to talk but he kept choking on the blood filling his throat and mouth. They leaned closer to hear him.

“Quickly, children!” he said, coughing. “Run for my father’s house. The gate is open. The yard is safe – the house is yours. But remember your brothers and sisters.” And with that he died. Just then hundreds of horns started blaring, engines revving impatiently. A siren wailed in the distance. The traffic was tired of standing still.

Sobbing, the children quickly dashed into the yard. There the old man stood with the other children, tears streaming down his face. They ran to him and he put his arms around them. They all cried together, sad because he lost his son.

After a while, the old man spoke to them. “Now, now my children. Don’t be too sad. My son died for you but he died happy, because you are all safe with me in my yard. If any of you had died in that traffic he would have been very, very sad. But now you must carry on, in his memory. There are other children to be saved. You must help them cross the street and show them this yard. If you do this, his spirit will live on in you. Meanwhile, rest awhile in the garden.” And then he went up into the house.

The children looked around and they saw how beautiful the garden was, full of bright flowers and all kinds of fruits and vegetables to eat. The old man was so kind, so cheerful and hospitable that they decided to stay. For the first time in their lives they felt safe. Safe and loved. The old man was happy that they loved him and loved his garden.

The children remembered what the son had told them before he died and right away they ran to the garden fence and began hollering for the children across the street to run for the open gate. They yelled unto their voices were ragged. Some of the street children heard them and those on this side of the street were able to come through the gate easily. A few on the other side tried to make it through the traffic towards the open gate. One or two of them made it but many more of them were struck by the speeding vehicles. Most ran back, afraid of being hit.

Eventually some of the children got tired of calling to the kids outside and began to spend more of their time on the green lawn, laughing and playing with each other, singing songs and making up poems about the young man, his father and the beautiful garden. One day, a few of them, after looking nervously at all the traffic on the other side of the fence, suggested shutting the gate. They were afraid some of the more dangerous cars or trucks might make it through and that would just ruin everything. The gate looked way too small for even a little car, much less a big truck, but the majority agreed. Just to be safe.

“But what about the other kids out there?” one of them asked.

“We been calling ’em and calling ’em and they just don’t listen. If they wanted to come in they would have. Besides, mos’ everyone on this side of the street is inside already” they said.

“But what if they’re scared? Remember, we were scared once, too. And how can they get in if the gate’s closed?”

“The big kids’ll keep callin’ and if they see ’em crossing the street they’ll hold the gate open.”

“Maybe we should go out and help them?” she asked.

“What, are you nuts! Look at that traffic, it’s busier than ever!” They were getting tired of his questions. “Dontcha see? They gotta wanna come in. We can’t make ’em. Besides, if the old man really wanted ’em he’d come down outta his house and grab ’em. Like he did with us.”

Time went by. Soon the bigger kids got tired of calling and watching and wandered away from the fence. Sometimes the gate would inch open and a shy little face would peer in. Usually the children were so busy playing with each other they didn’t notice and the new visitor would slip quietly back out. Once and awhile a kid might make it all the way in and eventually, after some time watching, might be noticed and invited to join in the games. Most of the time they just sat down and watched.

Eventually they locked the gate, to make sure that no one came in unannounced. It was important that all the children knew who was in the yard with them. Some could be allowed in, under strict supervision, but there was a simple catch; To get in, they all had to ask politely and humbly for someone to open the gate. No one should be allowed to come in on their own. This way, someone who didn’t appreciate the old man’s generosity and the son’s sacrifice couldn’t just wander in by themselves and start using the garden in the wrong way. In fact, if someone wouldn’t ask in just the right way they probably didn’t really want to be in the garden in the first pace. They were probably trouble makers and would be happier outside with all the others. Now, everyone in the yard understood the importance of proper behavior.

It had been so long since any of the children had seen the old man come down out of his house. He probably had all the kids that he wanted. After all, his garden wasn’t for just anyone.

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God’s Pick in the Election


Is it Hillary? Rudy? Barack? Mitt? More importantly, has he chosen your friend or your neighbor, your wife, your parents or your children? Has he even chosen you?

mary and noah

Because, some Christians say, long before the universe was but a twinkle in God’s eye he decided on who he was going to be with in heaven and who he would condemn to the fiery pits of hell, for ever and ever and ever. Using scripture verses such as Ephesians 1:3-4 there is an entire theology based upon a very specific and literal interpretation of certain passages in the Bible. Although some of those passages would seem to be in opposition to others (even those attributed to Christ) there is usually no chance of chatting amicably about this over a cup of coffee. The case is closed and theological minds on both sides are made up. In fact, a persistence in opposing either particular point of view can result in the religious version of WMD (the word ‘HERETIC’) being brought out and dusted off. (I’ve come to develop quite a perverted fondness for that label, myself. )

Considering how cemented this philosophy is within the minds of its adherents you might think that it has roots growing all the way back to the teachings of Jesus. But, though some say Augustine is the father of this doctrine, most would give John Calvin the lion’s share of the credit. It is only after the Protestant Reformation, fully 1500 years after the death of Christ, that this philosophy was fully articulated and expounded.

Calvin

I count as friends some who believe fervently in predestination, that God has decided long before we are ever born what our fate will be. I mean no offense when I say that, personally, I find this doctrine to be completely at odds with what I believe the Bible teaches us, particularly through Jesus. I also think it contradicts what God reveals to us through nature and the lives of others. Of course, I am hardly alone in this regard. It is almost as if the Christian faith is split right down the middle on this issue and, in spite of how important it would seem to be, there is something like a cease fire over the topic. John Wesley ( an opponent of this doctrine) is said to have said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”. But wouldn’t this be considered an essential of the faith? I have heard popular preachers accused of being “abominations” (that’s a constructive word, isn’t it?) because they professed to having difficulty with the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity. Why is there no greater debate within the church over this very clear-cut Doctrine of Election?

I’ve read John MacArthur’s take on this; (as well as others) but I just don’t buy it. (And sorry, John, I think you are just a tad arrogant when you attribute any disagreement with the very man-made ‘TULIP’ formula as to being driven by pride. I think we could turn that one back on you as well.)

http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=transcripts&aid=231193

I’ve read that the renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon had such a problem with this that one week he would preach a Calvinist sermon and the next he would preach an Armenian one. Certainly we can do better than that. Can we open this up for discussion without offending each other? I would hope so. I admit that I have much to learn about the ‘why’s and wherefore’s‘ of the reformed church and I would like very much to be sympathetic yet I cannot see my way clear of this very thorny subject. Am I destined to never understand?

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