Archive for November, 2007

Christmas and Mohammad the Bear

There is a British woman, a school teacher, who just stood trial in the Sudan after being charged with “insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs”. Her crime was that of permitting her students to give the classroom mascot, a Teddy Bear, the name of Mohammad. Mohammad is very common in the Sudan, with numerous boys in the class sharing this name.mohammed-the-xmas-bear.jpg

But apparently it is offensive to Muslims to name animals, even those that are stuffed with fluff, after the Great Prophet. It is considered sacrilegious and a violation of divine law and nothing demeaning should be associated with the name of the one that means so much to the Islamic people. This school teacher stood to receive 40 lashes and 12 months if convicted. She was found guilty and sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation.

In the West we are aghast at the idea that religious zealotry could exact such brutal punishment for an infraction of such triviality. But is our astonishment really generated by the zealotry or is it more likely due to the extreme punishment?

Every year there is a holy war waged by certain elements of the Religious Right to get Christ back into Christmas. Or so they say. Today a long list was read over the radio by James Dobson naming all the retail stores that refer to the Holidays instead of the Christmas Season, suggesting a mass boycott. Almost daily, the American Family Association sends out blast e-mails identifying another merchant that has chosen to ignore the Christian roots of this holiday. We are exhorted to write the CEO’s of these corporations, threatening to withdraw our patronage if they don’t tow the line.

But it is a free country, even for businesses. By what evangelical imperative do we go about demanding merchants use the Greek version of Jesus’ title of Savior in their marketing schemes? Does Christmas, as this country has come to celebrate it, have anything at all to do with the Gospel? Spend spend spend -sell sell sell – buy buy buy – more, bigger and better. What does any of this have to do with Jesus? It’s these same stores that commercialized the Christmas holiday in the first place. Why are we now expecting to see Jesus’ retail stamp of approval on them?

The holiday traditions can be great fun – Bing Crosby and “White Christmas”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story” with Darrin McGavin, eggnog, pine trees, candles, friends and family – these are all things to enjoy. But they have little to do specifically with Jesus, any more so than any good thing at any time of year does. Let’s be realistic – this has become a secular holiday for most of the country. Time to pick some better battles.

How does it look to non-Christians when they see us trying to bully people into respecting our traditions, especially when everyone knows that those traditions were purloined from the pagans? Of course there is no law that citizens must conform to specific Christmas traditions. But there have been (and still are) certain ‘blue laws’ on the books that have nothing other than Christian sensitivity as their goal. Whether Target, K-Mart, PetsMart, Lowes or the Gap label their most profitable season after Jesus seems sadly trivial when compared to the greater challenges now facing the nation and the church.

Kind of like making a federal case out of a Teddy Bear’s name.


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Small Churches; Getting it Right

small church

Buddy Oliver over on Rev22 just posted a pretty neat update on his small church endeavor, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Exit Doors.” Kinda hits the nail on the head, I think.

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Reconsidering Charity

food bank This is the time of year when we are reminded of charitable needs. Mark Winne, who used to work for the food bank system in Connecticut, wrote a poignant article last week in the Washington Post. In it he suggests that there may be something intrinsically ‘wrong’ with much charitable giving:

The risk is that the multibillion-dollar system of food banking has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, and so tied to its donors and its volunteers, that it cannot step back and ask if this is the best way to end hunger, food insecurity, and their root cause, poverty.

You can read the rest of the article here:

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Thank You for Flying Calvin Air

stewardess.jpg “Welcome to CalvinAir. We ask during the flight that everyone please refrain from smoking. There are two restrooms; one located here in basic seating and one up front in select seating. For reasons of safety we have anticipated your every need. You will be allowed to leave your seats when we reach cruising altitude. At all other times we ask that you keep your seatbelts tightly fastened.”

“In case of an emergency there are four exits; two located here in standard class seating and two up front in select class seating. Only those doors in select will actually open. Those in standard are welded shut.”

“If the cabin loses pressure then face masks will automatically drop from the bulkheads located above your seats. Only those masks in select class will provide oxygen. The face masks in standard class are not connected.”

“If we are forced to land on water then your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device. Only the cushions in select class will actually float, those in basic class are filled with lead.”

“Please enjoy your flight and, speaking for the captain and crew, thank you for flying CalvinAir.

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The Helper


(High above the Earth)

A lone spectral figure races against the dark backdrop of the heavens, relentlessly scanning the planet. Suddenly up ahead a beam of light shoots up from the depths of Middle America, piercing the clouds and fading into the ionosphere. Instantly accelerating to blinding speed, the ghostly entity dives towards the light’s source, a long, glowing, meteoric tail stretching brightly behind him.

(Meanwhile, somewhere in the American Midwest)

“Call on him! Call on him! That’s all you need to do. He will help us.” The young girl was breathless with excitement.

The boy knelt on the floor, his head bowed, hands clasped together with fingers pointing skyward. His eyes were closed and his lips moved in a fast and urgent whisper.

There suddenly came the sound of a roaring wind, rising louder and louder, like a fast approaching freight train. The window curtains began to wave about crazily and a pile of papers on a nearby desk fluttered around the room like moths in a whirlwind. A blinding white light filled the space and both teenagers threw themselves down on the carpet, hands over their eyes. Instantly in the middle of the room there appeared a man of light, hands on hip, cape swirling about his shoulders. On his chest were written the bright glowing letters; H.G.

The girl peeked up through her fingers. “He’s here! He’s here! He has come to help us!”

(Later, at the dining room table)

“So now you see why we called for you. We need your help” said the girl. “If we don’t pass this exam then we won’t be accepted to Canon College next fall.”

“The temptation to cheat is so strong. Can you please help us!” His eyes wide in panic, desperation filled the boy’s voice.

The figure seated across from the boy and girl was so bright with light that it was impossible to look directly at him, yet no visible features were discernible and he seemed to lack material substance. There was a soft filminess about him, a somewhat translucent quality to his presence, like maybe he was there yet also somehow not there. A low voice emanated from deep within.

“You were right to call on me, kids. With my help you will be able to accomplish your task. Here, take this and keep it someplace safe.” He reached across and placed something in the girl’s hand. “Now that my work here is finished, I must be going.”

“But why can’t you stay with us? When will you be back?” the girl cried.

“I can’t stay; others need my help. But remember; I am always there for people of righteousness. Just call on me and I will come!“ At that moment he rocketed out of his chair and in a rush of blinding light and energy shot through up through the ceiling, leaving behind a swirling mist of shimmering particles.

The room began to settle back to normal. “Holy smokes! He’s gone!” said the boy breathlessly. “What was that he gave you?”

Slowly opening her hand they saw a square of folded paper. Carefully she opened it up and, reading what was on it, she began to smile, tears of joy running down her cheeks. “The answers! He gave us the answers to the exam! Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

They both ran to the window and looking up they saw a blazing comet streaking towards space, and a voice crying “Up, Up and Awaaay!”


An Over-Commitment to Scripture?

exalted bible

There is an interesting article over on the CT blog site. It concerns remarks made by J.P. Moreland at a recent gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society. He strongly voiced his objectiona to the  ‘bibliolatry’ among American Evangelicals:

“In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,” he said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”

….more provocative was Moreland’s argument about why evangelicals became over-committed to the Bible. Rather than developing a robust epistemology in response to secularism, he said, evangelicals reacted and retreated. Now evangelical theologians aren’t allowed to come to any new conclusions about the truths in Scripture, and they’re not allowed to find truths outside of Scripture. As a result, he said, they’re engaged in “private language games and increasingly detailed minutia” and “we’re not seeing work on broad cultural themes.”

These are just a few of his remarks and the rest of the article may be viewed at:

J.P.Morleand is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

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Painting by the Numbers


When you first decide that you want to be an artist you might pick up a “Paint by Numbers” kit. Each ‘painting ‘ is really a diagram full of many differently shaped and numbered spaces, each number representing a different color in your paint box. By religiously applying the correct color to each numbered shape it is possible for the budding ‘artist’ to create a colorful painting that should be a very closer rendering of the picture on the kit’s lid. If done carefully it could easily be hung on someone’s wall with little or no apology.

But with all due respect to those “Paint by Number” aficionados out there, it is not art; any more so than coloring in a coloring book is art or completing a jigsaw puzzle is art. It is a craft. And just as the completed puzzle needs to match the box lid, so the “Paint by Number” painting needs to replicate the next person’s attempt at the same picture. You are not allowed to paint outside of the lines.

To artfully paint a picture is exceedingly difficult for someone who does not have the eye for it (take this from one who has failed miserably in this regard). Skills are important (the craft part of painting) as well as technique. But to create a work of art requires vision as well as the ability to lose oneself in the painting, to become a part it, a creative act akin to love. The beauty of great painting is that it never is identical to another work and the visible outcome can get the ‘message’ across to different people in different ways.

I think the “Law” of the Old Testament is much like what we find in a “Paint by Numbers” set. The Laws are very important because they help us to paint a picture of what someone who loves God looks like. But it can be very trying to stay within the lines and at times we may even mistake one color for another. More often we end up painting a picture of ourselves, someone who has yet to realize a love (as opposed to a fear) of God. It is an attempt, through attention to detail, to create something worthy of being called Love.

On the other hand, a picture painted with Christ as inspiration may still have flaws of perspective but will not exhibit the structured choppiness of a ‘Paint by Numbers’ work. There will be a smoother blending of the colors, softer pastels may be used as well as bright primaries, all suffused with a light that only the Spirit can provide. The result is a unique and heartfelt work of art instead of the more commonplace attempt at making a rigid and orderly reproduction. The goal of every ‘Paint by Numbers’ picture is to look exactly like the next, whereas original productions will vary from artist to artist.

There is a lot to be said for this orderly and systematic way of developing the discipline for art; following instructions, holding the brush properly, laying down the paint and paying attention to the finer details. Hopefully learning to see the whole picture by not focusing on the many small parts. But at some point the fledgling artist will need to throw away the props and find the faith to start learning from the Teacher. God allows many canvases on which to make many mistakes and in the end we should be painting beautiful pictures with the goal of pleasing the Master.

As my friend Jason said, it’s like “The difference between looking at a Seurat from 10 millimeters or 10 meters.”

covered bridge painting

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