God’s Good Gifts

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We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in the United States of America.  I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.

I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce. What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit. And it tasted like crap.Click To Tweet

As we were ordering, I asked the server if the pasta was freshly made.  He had a physical reaction to the question–incredulity?  “No,” he said.  “It’s delivered.”  He named the supplier.  None of the ingredients were made at the restaurant.  The back kitchen was merely the cite of assembly and reheating.  The essential stuff was made in some factory somewhere and delivered frozen or refrigerated through the back door.  I can see the one-gallon plastic buckets filled with sauce, the frozen bags of manicotti and ravioli, the one-gallon bottles of salad dressing, and the machine-made frozen pizza crusts.

I  ordered a baked manicotti and my wife the spaghetti.

Before I took a bite, I ladled a couple of tablespoons of red-amber grease off the top of the melted slab of rubbery mozzarella.   Beneath it, I found two small manicotti.  The pasta was limp and the ricotta cheese had that processed-frozen flavour.  The sauce was plentiful but tasted like it came from a plastic bag.  And, it was exactly the same sauce as that on my wife’s spaghetti.

By his grace, the Creator has given us the ingredients and the mandate and the will to innovate.  The Italians have discovered all kinds of sauces for pasta.  These include:

    • Acciughe, 
    • Aglio e lio,
    • Alfredo, 
    • Amatricana, 
    • Bolognese,
    • Burro,
    • Cacciatore, 
    • Frutti di mare, 
    • Funghi e iselli,
    • Marinara, 
    • Noci, 
    • Pesto, 
    • Pomidoro, 
    • Romana, 
    • Tartufata, 
    • Umbria, 
    • Vongole.  

With all these sauces, how can a restaurant use the same one on two different dishes?  The whole point of different dishes in an Italian restaurant is the variation in the sauce; the pasta is a secondary consideration.

Variety is one thing, but using fresh quality ingredients improves the dining experience exponentially.  In that Italian restaurant, there was no attempt to offer a quality product.  The industrial kitchen that produced the sauce used the cheapest ingredients it could buy in bulk.  The cheese, too, was produced from inferior products on an industrial scale.  Efficiency and profit were the end goal; a good tasting meal wasn’t even a consideration.  The United States has long valued efficiency and profit, and these are not evil in themselves, but they do not belong as the primary motivation in a restaurant, perhaps in a cafeteria.  That’s it! This meal would have been barely adequate in a cafeteria.

The ingredients were cheap.  There was no chef, only assemblers, and they come cheap.  The meal was worth $7.99, but I paid over $20 CDN for my cafeteria manicotti.

Where I live in Canada, I can get freshly made pasta and quality sauces for just over $20.

Is Tim Keller Under God’s Curse?

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I chanced upon a post in which the author, Michael, says that Tim Keller, in his book, The Prodigal God, is preaching a “different Gospel.”

This is serious stuff because if he is, Keller is under God’s curse according to Galatians 1:8.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Is Tim Keller under God’s curse?

In response to a comment on his post, Michael says, that Keller is “redefining the key parts of the gospel.”  If this is so, then Keller may be under God’s curse.  The parts of the gospel that Michael claims Keller is redefining are “the gospel [of] sin” and the gospel of repentance.

Redefining the Gospel of Sin?

Michael’s beef with Keller is he thinks Keller is calling the elder brother’s obedience a sin, that the elder brother needs to repent from doing good.

I’m not sure what to say.  Keller asserts nothing like this.  It’s baffling that someone could walk away from The Prodigal God with this notion–Keller is such a clear writer.  This is like mistaking the moral failing of the nine ungrateful lepers as having leprosy.

Michael has misread Keller for some reason and he writes three long posts explaining Keller’s “egregious errors.”  Of course Keller never says that the older brother is condemned for his obedience.  He says that the elder son is lost because the motivation behind his obedience is sinful.  Michael seems to struggle to wrap his mind around this idea saying that “Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong.”

I suppose Michael is right in a sense.  If you can isolate the act from the motive, the act itself is not inherently wrong.  But Keller is not condemning an isolated act of obedience, he’s talking about the foundational motivation, which is inseparable from the act.

I won’t go so far as to say that acts of obedience are insignificant, but the motivation behind them is far more important.  With an obedient act, you can cover up wickedness.  Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet said as much.

T’is too much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er / the devil himself.

We need not rely on Polonius an authority on Truth.  Let’s go to the Bible.

In Genesis 4, both Cain and Able brought a sacrifice to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected.  There are several ideas as to why God did not look upon Cain’s sacrifice with favour; one of the most likely reasons has to do with Cain’s motivation.  He may have been sacrificing as an act of appeasement–they pagan motivation.  The foundation of Canaanite worship was appeasement–bribing the gods to bring fertility and to protection.  Cain’s sacrifice may have been an obedient act, but God saw his heart an rejected the sacrifice.

OK, perhaps motivation was not the issue with Cain’s sacrifice.  It could have been that God didn’t like vegetables.  How about Deuteronomy 10:12-17:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

The Lord requires obedience; verses 12 and 13 couldn’t be clearer; but in verse 16, it clearly states that the Lord requires more than just obedience–he wants the circumcision of the heart. Obedient acts are fine, but God really wants an obedient heart.  In verse 17 we learn that God will will take no bribe.  God is clearly saying that he doesn’t want the motivation of obedience to be love and not appeasement.

Let’s go to Jesus  himself.  In Matthew 5-7 we have The Sermon on the Mount.  Again and again, Jesus says that righteousness is not achieved through mere obedience.  To be considered righteous, not committing adultery will not cut it–we can’t even look at someone with lust.

Keller is not redefining the gospel.  Keller’s condemnation of the elder brother is completely consistent with the gospel.  He is not condemning the older brother for being obedient.  He is saying that the elder brother is lost because he merely obeyed.  He was good so that he could have the inheritance.  The father wanted his love.  He wanted the elder brother to wash the dishes after the party.

My Eldest Son

To get my eldest son to do the dishes after dinner was almost always a battle.  He didn’t think it was fair that on his day for this duty we I had dirtied a huge roasting pan.  He didn’t think that it was his turn, because he did it last Thursday and he deserved to skip his turn tonight.  The variety and complexity of arguments never ceased to amaze me.  It wasn’t always a fight, but even when he obediently set about doing the dishes there was always a grudging attitude.

One Thanksgiving he came back from college.  I had prepared a huge meal for nearly 20.  At the end of the meal, he got up and did all of the dishes, refusing any help.  I was shocked.  What happened to my son?  He was living on his own, going to school.  Because he had very little income, he had been eating cabbage cooked with olive oil. salt and pepper.  When he lived under my roof, he had no idea how much money and effort went into feeding him.  Now he knew and he was grateful.  His gratitude led to behaviour far beyond obedience.

This is the behaviour of the youngest son.  This is the behaviour that the father wants from his eldest son.

Support for the Righteous Elder Brother

Michael believes that the elder brother was never lost.

His argument rests on the context of the Parable of the Prodigal son.  It is preceded by two other parables about lost things being found–the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Michael says that in these parables, the lost sheep and coin represent “a sinner who repents.”  The other sheep and coins that did not go missing represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”  The third parable must be understood in the same way.

Michael correctly understands the importance of reading verses in context, but to get the context he only went back to verse Luke 14:3.  He should have gone back to verse 1.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ audience is really important here–we have sinners and Pharisees.    But Luke doesn’t just say that the Pharisees where there, he tells us what they were thinking.  Jesus has something to say to both of these groups.  To the sinners, he wants to say that God earnestly seeks them.  Simple. He does this with two and one-half parables.

What does Jesus want to communicate the Pharisees?  Michael would have you believe that Jesus wants to tell them to keep up the good work.  If you are at all familiar with the Bible, Jesus never tells the Pharisees to keep up the good work. As a matter of fact, he frequently tells them that they are less righteous than the sinners.  The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is one example.

In his telling of these three parables, Jesus wants to address what the Pharisees are thinking.  That’s why Luke tells us they were muttering to themselves.  It’s the same thing that the older brother is muttering as he stands outside the party.

Michael insists that we must view the third parable as exactly parallel to the first.  I’m not sure why we would impose parallelism on the third when an extended application to the Pharisees makes so much sense given the audience.  Jesus and/or Luke are reinforcing the joy at the recovery of the lost with the parallel to the first two,  then extending the story to the condemnation of the Pharisees.  Bam! Brilliant!  This is a mike-drop moment that reinforces not just what our heavenly father is doing sinners, but what he’s doing for the self-righteous.  He’s inviting them in.

The father says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”   Come in an enjoy it.  The elder brother refuses.  If this isn’t lost, I don’t know what is.

Redefining Repentance and Salvation

According to Michael, Keller is also under God’s curse because he, Keller, claims that the father of the prodigal son accepts him before he repents.  He claims that Keller writes “that repentance is not needed for forgiveness, but rather comes after forgiveness.”  He says that

“Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.”

Tim Keller believes there is nothing that we do to earn our salvation–not even the act of repentance.  This idea expands God’s Grace.  I understand that there are some Christian denominations that place more emphasis on human agency than others.  Keller does not belong to one of these denominations.  It seems as if Michael does.  The God’s Sovereignty/Human Free Will debate has gone on for a long time and, these days, the general consensus from both sides is that both are true, it’s just that but one is a little truer, and it’s not a  salvation issue.

Michael seems to be saying it is a salvation issue.  If he is, he is also claiming that most of Christ’s church, both past and present, is, along with Keller, under God’s curse.

Let’s look at the parable to see the relationship between repentance and salvation.

Where is the turning point in this story?  According to Glen Skrivener over at the Gospel Coalition the “real change in the prodigal—both his change of status and of heart—happens in the arms of the father. That’s where repentance occurs.”  This is consistent with Romans 5: 8.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The father runs to the lost son with open arms and joyfully embraces him before he can even get a word of repentance out of his mouth.  I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that salvation comes to everyone in exactly the same way–the way presented by this picture of the son wrapped in the father’s arm.  The younger son is repentant; he is saved.  Where is the elder brother?  He’s standing outside.

I’m actually baffled that someone can see the picture of the elder brother standing outside the part muttering, furious with his father and brother, and say that the guy is just fine.

Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful story “Revelation” is about an elder brother who receives a vision where she sees all sorts of people moving up toward heaven.  There’s a large batch of elder brothers who

were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, was such a blessing to me.  I was much more like the elder brother than the younger.  I was good.  Reading it I had a whole new appreciation for the heights and depth and breadth of God’s Grace.  I would wish the same experience to Michael and his readers.

 

Fake News and the Zombie Apocalypse

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Have you ever not said something that you truly believed was true for fear of the backlash?

If so, your individuality may have already been absorbed into the horde.

In his recently uploaded YouTube critique of news media, Is CNN FAKE NEWS? – Existentialism and Mass Media, PlasticPills describes the power of the media to shape public opinion to the point that individuality is absorbed into the mindless whole.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy. Click To Tweet

And you know what happens when you stray from orthodoxy.  The same thing that happens to all heretics, they are burned at the stake.

Mass media creates and maintains orthodoxy by pruning away individuality, that is, “anything that is different, abnormal, or special.”  It does this by attacking what diverges from whatever values it deems to be orthodox at a given moment.

Mass media also suppresses individuality by making the ordinary seem exceptional.  Look at what your favourite 24-hour news channel is calling “BREAKING NEWS.” This used to mean a president was shot or a new genocide was underway.  Now it means a president sneezed or someone misused the term genocide.

According to PlasticPills, although news media would like to pretend its purpose is to inform us of significant or extraordinary events, the actual purpose is to entertain, and in doing so it “literally creates a mass audience of idle, reflective [not in the sense of ‘thoughtful’] people, all with the same opinions and desires and discourages independent thought.”

The leveling of all events to entertainment makes it impossible for people to differentiate important events from unimportantClick To Tweet

The Philosophy of “the Public”

PlasticPills is basing his argument on ideas of Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard is critical of the “monstrous abstraction” which he called “the public.”  Existentialist philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger commented on the same entity calling it the “herd” and “Das Man” respectively.

The public is, for Kierkegaard, “the concept of an anonymous group that dictates everyone’s proper behavior.”  And the news media creates this entity.

Perhaps the central tenet of existentialist philosophy is the importance of individual, free, authentic choice.  So they are antagonistic toward “The Public” (the horde) because it discourages independent thought and negates individual freedom.

Because of outlets like CNN, there are no individuals, just masses with opinions. Click To Tweet

Zombies and Mass Media

So what does this have to do with zombies?

Monsters are about what we fear.  Popular monsters are a product of our collective fears.  The zombie horde is our monster because it embodies our Modern identity crisis.  We like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, but the very presence of a monster indicates that deep down we may have our doubts.

Individuality and individual freedom are strongly valued, worshipped even, in our society.  But there are forces in our society that threaten the individual.  Kierkegaard and PlasticPills assert that one of these forces is the mass media.  It creates “the public,” this mass of opinions from which deviation means metaphorical burning at the stake.

Kierkegaard’s Public is analogous to the zombie horde.  It mindlessly walks through our streets and the mall looking for any movement or sound that diverges from the norm as defined by the horde.  When it senses heterodoxy, the mindless herd turns toward the thinking individual on mass and rips out his entrails and eats his brains.

We are intrigued to watch this scene play out on the screen because we feel it play out in our lives.  We fear our individuality being absorbed into the group, but the fact that the horde already exists (on television and in the theatres) indicates that the absorption we fear may have already occurred.

Pre-Show at the Movies

annca / Pixabay

I remember when they used to show cartoons before this movies.  I remember Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny.  I like Bugs Bunny way better.  I was almost as excited to see the cartoons as the feature film.

Movie pre-shows date back to the early days of cinema but what happens before the movie has changed over time.  These changes tell us a little about who we are and how our society has changed over time.

Newsreels

Before television became so ubiquitous, most of us got our news from the radio or the daily newspaper.   Although these provided information and the occasional picture, they weren’t moving.  Newsreels were shown before the feature films filled this niche.  Only in the theatre could people see moving pictures of these significant events.  I would bet that some people went to the theatre in early 1942 more to see the newsreels of the bombing of Pearl Harbor than they did to see Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Hindenburg Disaster in 1937

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor

There is a good dose of propaganda in the newsreels.  The messages in each of the above newsreels are not all that subtle.  These taught us how to think about Nazi pride and racism, or Japanese treachery.  The newsreels carried a powerful message about who we are and what we did and stood for.  We were the good guys and proud to be so.   Newsreels represented orthodoxy; they formed identity and created confidence in who we were confident in who we were as a people, and our place in the world.  It was manipulative, but the end goal was to achieve a common vision that was thought to be of benefit to the country.

Cartoons

When I was a kid, the newsreels had phased out.  Television news offered the events of the day in moving pictures in the comfort of home.   Apparently, the movie house people figured we needed something before the feature. perhaps to help us settle into our seats, so they replaced the newsreels with cartoons.

Why cartoons?  I don’t really know, but I can surmise.  Why are people coming to the theatre in the first place?  Theatre goers came to be entertained, so let’s entertain them?  Cartoons are entertaining; the solution was simple and logical.

Is it just me or does there seems to be some respect for the audience in this idea?  I paid money to be entertained, and they entertain me.

But then it changed.

Ads

I don’t want to see ads.  When it comes to the long list of things I don’t want to see, ads are just above: emergency surgery on children, snot, vomit, and very old people rollerskating.

Yet here I sit, forced to watch commercials and I am paying to do so.

Gone is the respect; back is the propaganda.

But this propaganda is not designed to shape a people for mutual benefit and the national identity.  This propaganda is designed to create discontent for the benefit of corporations.

We are no longer seen as human beings, but as consumers.

Every day we are bombarded with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of commercial messages–newspaper, magazines, radio, bus-stop benches, the bus, stuck on trucks and cars, pens, billboards, sports stadia and jerseys, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, every game I play on my phone, and television.

For just a day, try to pay attention to just how many ads you are exposed to and you’ll be blown away.  It will be a lot more than 1,000.

So, I go to the movies to get away from it all and then there’s an ad.  I remember the first time I saw an ad in the pre-show.  I said, quite audibly, “Oh, come on! Seriously!”  A few people seemed to agree with me, but most didn’t seem to have a problem with it, and now no one does.  That first time, it was just a single ad.  I just saw Rocketman tonight–there were many non-movie related ads.

Ads Create Discontent

The underlying purposes of the newsreels was to inform and to shape us into what a particular people, what the creators believed was a better people.

The people behind the ads are not interested in our well-being or that of the nation.  In fact, they want us to be a worse kind of people.

Is it better to be content or discontent?  Content, obviously. But a content people is bad for the corporate bottom line.

Human beings have teeth.  They are tooth-coloured.   Someone correctly surmised that they could make a lot of money if they convinced people that tooth-coloured teeth are not the right colour for teeth, and then sold them a product that would make their teeth this new colour.  Their whole goal is to change our idea of what is normal for tooth colour from natural to an artificial colour that we need to pay $50 a month to maintain.  They chose white, but they’ll be moving onto pastels any year now.

Someone else created dishwasher detergent that killed 98% of the bacteria.  This made them a tonne of money after they managed to convince people that bacteria is not a natural occurrence, which it is.  Then, they exploited the psychological connection between bacteria, germs and residual food on dirty dishes. Voila! Billions.

This is two of many examples where advertisers deliberately manufacture desire–they create a perceived need so they can sell us an unnecessary solution.

The goal and cumulative effect of these types of advertisements are to convince us that we are not good enough, or we can’t be happy unless we buy something.  Although they make it seem like they are serving us, they aren’t–they are exploiting us.  They don’t want us to be content.  If we were content, we wouldn’t buy their crap.  They want us to feel like we are lacking–perpetually unfulfilled, forever needing.  Coca-Cola spends over two billion dollars a year on advertising because it can make many, many more billions by doing so.

The corporate attitude behind the ads–we are objects.  Objects to be used for the benefit of the corporation, usually to the detriment of our own.

Who let these scum into the movie theatre?

Bring back the cartoon!

Bring back Bugs Bunny!

Ads before the movie! Who let these scum into the theatre? Bring back the cartoon! Bring back Bugs Bunny! Click To Tweet

Pretty Pike

In the fishing store on the north end of Red Deer, Alberta is a photo of a 3 pound pike on the line that has been reeled up to the side of the boat.  No big deal, but the photo shows a 50-plus pounder hitting the smaller fish like it was bait.  This picture is awesome.  And it perfectly illustrates my impressions of the Great Northern Pike.

The Great Northern Pike, or just plain Pike has a head like an alligator and it’s got a lot of teeth.  This is where the similarities end, because compared to the pike, an alligator is affectionate and cuddly.

In that same tackle shop you can by flies for any kind of fly fishing for any season.  They have a “fly” for the pick too–a mouse.  On the wall, you can get a lure that, as it moves through the water, imitates the movement of little cute baby ducklings.  Yes, pike will eat mice and ducklings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they at the feet off of geese just to be mean.

Pike are Mean

One time, I was fighting a rambunctious pike for a few minutes.   Given the bend of my rod, he was a big one.  Horsing him to the boat with 50lb. test line with a 3″ yellow Five of Diamonds treble-hooked spoon.  I pulled him right to the edge of the boat and we looked into each others eyes.  His eyes held malevolence.  Mine astonishment.  He had the spoon in his mouth sideways.  He isn’t hooked at all.  The hook dangles uselessly beyond its left cheek.  He’s holding onto the tackle, just because he doesn’t want me to have it.  Sensing the net coming under him, he just let go of the lure and, obviously miffed,  swam off.

Another time, after fishing an area for a while, we decided to try another area of the lake.  My buddy Keith set down his rod and went to drive the boat to the other side of the lake.  As we get up to cruising speed, I get this silly idea of casting  in my spoon.  We might have been going 20 km/hr.  My rod is bent by the drag on the large spoon and hook.  All of a sudden, my rod bends double.  “Fish on,” I yell.  Keith is surprised, and kills the engine.  I have a large pike on the line.  What’s going on in this fishes head, when he attacks a lure travelling at 20km/hr?  Nothing but loathing for anything that moves, is all I can figure.

I caught a 5 pound pike while fishing from a canoe.  I strung a leader though it’s gills and paddled home.  Perhaps it was primal instinct that caused me to occasionally I looked back to look at the fish.  Never turn your back to the enemy.  It’s eyes were filled with malice and as he trailed behind the canoe, I began to feel more like prey than predator.  I swear I heard raspy whispers of threatened revenge bubbling up from behind me.  I got safely to shore and prepared the fish for the barbecue.  When I through the head into the woods, one of the razor sharp teeth hooked my finger and left a nasty wound.  Was this carelessness on my part, or was it a posthumous act of revenge?  The latter is consistent with my experience.

Poet Stevie Smith is familiar with the pike.  Here poem “Pretty” contain these lines:

And in the pretty pool the pike stalks
He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,
The prey escapes with an underwater flash
But not for long, the great fish has him now
The pike is a fish who always has his prey
And this is pretty.

The pike is not pretty.  Smith knows this.

Here’s her poem, “Pretty.”

Shark Week? BORING!! Pike Week! Fishing stories about one of the most dangerous denizens of the lake. Pike are mean. Click To Tweet

This is Us, in Space–Star Trek Discovery

xusenru / Pixabay

I know I would hate This is Us.  The trailers show a bunch of face actors disgorging feelings onto each other.  The plot elements exist only to generate intense emotional communication opportunities for pairs of characters.  Barf.

This may be unfair to This is Us; I haven’t seen it, but I have seen Star Trek Discovery and this is exactly what it’s like.

It’s so bad, I can’t bring myself to rewatch the final episode so as to support my assertions.  It would be too much to bear a second viewing.

I seem to remember hearing that Star Trek: The Next Generation had a team of super-nerd, Star Trek geeks fact functioning as a sort of a quality control committee.  Well, there is no such committee on Discovery.

The writers of this latest Star Trek installment are not governed by precedents established by previous Star Treks.  It’s not even governed by the universal principles of good writing or those of common sense.

Should the Admiral or the Captain sacrifice their life for the good of the ship?  Hmmm–obviously there is no Star Fleet protocol to help make this decision–the only thing we can do is have a discussion in which we set out our emotional appeals in the hopes of the other seeing the power of our emotional position.  This all while the ship is in imminent peril.

Oh, let’s not forget the context of this conversation.  The ship is in the middle of a fight for its life.  Why are the admiral and the captain the only two people who can work on the little problem of an unexploded photon torpedo stuck in the hull?  Aren’t their thousands of guys in red shirts that can do this?  At least have some engineer there to work on the door.  Barf.

Oh, and where do faulty photon torpedos come from?  Does that make sense?  This plot element is great for a WWI movie, or Gilligan’s Island, but not the Star Trek Universe.  The whole plot is like this. Contrived, contrived, contrived.

There are all sorts of peril in Star Trek Discovery, but despite the urgency of the situation, there's always time to stand face to face and explore feelings.Click To Tweet

I remember when Star Trek was about a five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds/To seek out new life/And new civilizations/To boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Not so with Discovery.

They have no time to explore the universe, they are too busy standing about with watery eyes and quivering lips, yapping about their feelings.  Even Spock.   Barf.  With this show, any new life and new civilization we encounter is just a catalyst for a long self-indulgent simpering, and exposition.

When they aren’t standing face-to-face talking about their feelings, they are standing face-to-face explaining things.

“We can’t do this and this because of that and that, so we have no alternative but to do this and this makes me feel deeply, so deeply that I must unpack my feelings onto you, and the viewing audience, before I do what needs to be done.”

Barf.

But I really like Captain Pike (Anson Mount).

I suppose it’s too much to hope that all the shows current writers and controllers followed Michael Burnham and Discovery into the time-space wormhole leaving Captain Pike and the Enterprise to be the subject of a New Star Trek series.

And then we can follow Spock’s advice and “never to speak of Discovery, its Spore Drive, or her crew again, under penalty of treason.”

 

Driving and Character

A few days ago, I was driving down the highway.  I was in the right lane where I was supposed to be.  I can up behind a slower moving vehicle, who was driving where he was supposed to be.  I put on my signal, checked my blind spots, and merged left.  There was a  guy in that lane who saw what I was doing and sped up to close the gap so I couldn’t get in front of him.  I wasn’t having any of that.  Neither was he.  He laid on the horn as if to inform me of his presence.  This was unnecessary; I already knew he was there.  Perhaps he was angry that I would presume to move in front of him.  I gave him the universal, “Give me a break and quit being a jerk” sign.

I’m not saying I behaved generously in this situation.  I am saying that the other guy didn’t.

I contend that North American roads and traffic rules create competitors.

I was driving in Cornwall last summer and there is no space for this approach.  Cornwall roads promote collaborators.

The roads are intended for traffic in two directions, but it is only wide enough to accommodate a single car–a very little one.  And there is no shoulder, only stone wall covered in spiny vegetation–these are called hedges.

The speed limit is 60 km/hr. and I found myself, on day one, sitting on the right side of the car, shifting with my left hand (manual transmission of course–automatics were almost twice the money).  Theoretically, I was supposed to be driving on the right side of the road, but there was no right side of the road, or left side, in Cornwall.

The way you passed another vehicle was with the use of pull-outs.  a pull-out is about 11 inches longer than the car you are driving.  If a car came up from behind, you simply used the next pull out to let them pass.  I used them regardless of what side they were on.  I think this was appropriate.

When you encounter an oncoming vehicle someone needs to use a pull-out.

    • You advance to the next pull-out and let him by.
    • He advances to the next pull-out and lets you by.
    • You back to the next pull-put and let him by.
    • He backs to the next pull-out and lets you by.

The relative positions of each car to the closest pull-out is often the determiner.  But with experienced Cornwall drivers, it all happens very quickly with some flashing of headlights as a means of communication.  They can often get past each other with hardly a reduction of speed.  But if backing up is required, it’s somehow clear who is doing it, again with a flash of the headlight, and it’s sorted in no time.

The key to the whole system is cooperation.  The guy refuses to accommodate, or back up, will snag the whole system and nobody will get anywhere.

The system demands cooperation.

I can’t help but wonder if this sort of daily cooperation begins to change a person.  Every day they must work with others to achieve mutual benefit.

I wonder if the daily competitive, “me first” refusal to accommodate shapes a persons view of the world, even to the level of his identity.

Why no honour cords?

McElspeth / Pixabay

Not too long ago at my school, the graduates who had a GPA higher than a 3.6 wore gold chords around their necks at the graduation ceremony.

Ridiculous idea, I know, but we’ve remedied that now.

Some students continue to ask why we discontinued the practice.  They, and sometimes their parents, feel they have worked very hard to earn a good GPA and ought to be recognized as a reward for their effort and persistence.  They think it’s stupid that to abandoned honour cords just to spare the feelings of those who did not earn them.

Here’s what I tell them:

We got rid of the honour cords because they go against the philosophy of our Christian school.

Some people worked very hard to get above a 3.6 GPA, others hardly worked for it at all. And we did not get rid of honour cords to spare anybody's feelings.Click To Tweet

Essential Skills and Unique Gifts

One of the purposes of every school is to develop important skills and abilities.  We want students to have acquired the essential skills by the time they graduate, whether they are naturally gifted with them or not.

But just as important, perhaps more, is we want to help students discover and develop the unique gifts that God has given them.

Some receive a few gifts, others, many.  The number of gifts or their quality has nothing to do with merit.  It’s all grace.  All gifts are free and all gifts are valuable.

Our Father in Heaven gives his children many gifts. Some receive gifts that make them good with people, others make them creative or athletic.  The list is very long.  Some of God’s gifts help students to be very successful academically.

If all gifts come from God why would we honour just the few that help a student to get high marks?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Student

The school is also interested in the growth and development of the whole student.   not just their minds.  Human beings are multifaceted–one whole, many parts.  Jesus names the parts in Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV): heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

The whole student matters to God.  The whole student matters to the parents who send these kids to our school.  The whole student, then, is what the school seeks to nurture and challenge.

If the school’s focus is the whole student, why would we celebrate just one aspect of a students at the graduation ceremony?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Students

We seek to nurture every student.

This is why we offer such a wide variety of programs and extra-curricular activities: Textiles and Mechanics, Art and Music, Sports teams and Drama productions, and this is just the beginning. Yes, and we offer a wide variety of traditionally academic classes, every student is challenged in a lot of different directions.  Students work very hard in all of these areas.

Does it make sense to celebrate just the hard work of some?

We celebrate the hard work of all students, regularly and in many ways.

But we don’t do it at the graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony is not about individual recognition.  It is, rather, the celebration of the class as a whole.  The graduation ceremony is a community celebration.  The community gathers, not just to see “their grad” cross the stage, but to celebrate “Our Grads” as we mark this important moment in their lives.

The uniform of caps and gowns appropriately balances the attention on the individuals and the Class of 20– as a whole.

It doesn’t make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one narrow set of gifts, relating to only one part of the student.

It doesn't make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one gift, relating to only one aspect of the student. Click To Tweet

This is why we’ve done away with honour cords.

The Meaning of Game of Thrones

I read the first three books. I loved them, and then I waited.  I waited for George R. R. Martin to write the fourth book.  By the time it came out, I had forgotten what happened in the first three, so I read no more Song of Fire and Ice.

Then, in 2011, HBO gave us the television series Game of Thrones.

I’ve enjoyed watching, thinking and arguing about the series.  Some people don’t think Christians should watch it because of the content.  I disagreed with them in “Why Christians Might Watch Game of Thrones.

Now we are in the eighth season.  The first episodes of this final season suggest an important theme.  Perhaps it’s the way we might understand the entire series.

The story is set in a pseudo-medieval world, a brutal world.  The series follows the main players in the deadly game of thrones.  The purpose of the game is to  establish and solidify and expand their kingdoms in Westeros at the expense of the other players.

The nine main houses of Westeros are Stark, Arryn, Baratheon, Tully, Greyjoy, Lannister, Tyrell, Martell and Targaryen.   The first 7 seasons are dominated by the overt and covert machinations of various of these houses as they struggle for control or domination of a greater piece of Westeros.

SPOILER ALERT

The Game of Thrones

The cost of playing the game of thrones is high.  Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is beheaded at the end of season 1.  Ned was thought to be the hero of the story–he was admirable in every way.  If he played the game at all, he played it with integrity.  His integrity, in fact, kills him.  His name has become a verb in my family–when a main character is unexpectedly killed on a TV show, he is said have been “Ned Starked.”

Besides Ned Stark’s there are many significant deaths that are a result of playing the game:

  • Oberyn Martell played the game with a little too much confidence in his matial skills–he payed, first with his eyeballs, then with his life.
  • Because of this death Ellaria Sand poisoned young Myrcella Baratheon, a Lanister princess.
  •  Sweet and innocent Tommen Baratheon kills himself after his mother kills his wife, and a lot of others, when she blows up the Sept of Baelor in the game.
  • Lysa Arryn cannot fly, so she falls to her death when pushed through the Moon Door by Lord Baylish, a master player until the Stark girls take him out.
  • Renly Baratheon is murdered indirectly by his brother, Stannis.  He is assassinated by magic smoke.
  • Speaking of Stannis; he burns his own daughter to death in order to win the assistance of the Lord of Light to win the game.  The Lord of Light was away from the table.
  • Viserys Targaryen earned a golden crown–he died because the gold was still in liquid form.
  • Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned by at his wedding by Olenna Tyrell–no regrets here.
  • The vile Ramsey Bolton decided to play.  He played the game hard, but lost big time.
  • Walder Frey wanted to play.  His big move was the Red Wedding.

Almost all of the people who killed the above were killed our of revenge for doing it.

“Winter is Coming”

“Winter is coming” has been the tagline of the show since the beginning.  In literature, the seasonal year has long been a metaphor for human life.  Spring is linked to birth and the winter is analogous to death.  This idea is reinforced in Game of Thrones with the simultaneous arrival of winter and the Night King.

“Winter is coming,” then, means “Death is Coming.”

The Night King is accompanied by a gigantic army of the dead.

By the end of season 7, Jon Snow realizes that the inhabitants of Westeros are no longer playing a game of thrones, but a game of life and death.  His mission is to convince the other leaders that they must stop fighting each other and come together to face the far bigger enemy–the Night King and his host.

He has limited success in creating a coalition of the living against the zombies from beyond the wall.  The houses Stark, Targaryen and Arryn join together to fight the dead.  But that’s pretty much it.

The Tullys would likely help, but the head of their house, Edmure, was last seen rotting in a cell at the Twins.  Gendry is the only remaining Baratheon. He’s at the fight, but since he’s illegitimate, he’s just a soldier.  Theon of house Greyjoy is doing his bit, but he’s brought no army.  House Tyrell has been erased.  All that’s left of the Martells is Ellaria Sand who is in a prison cell watching her daughter decompose.  These families have lost the game of thrones before it became the game of life.

This leaves the Lannisters.  Although her brothers fight with the north, Cersei and all the armies under her control have refused to march. The Greyjoy navy under Euron are joining with Cersei.

Game of Thrones as Allegory

Game of Thrones can be looked at allegorically.

“Winter is coming,” means “Death is Coming.”

This might be the tagline for all of our lives.  There are various ways to play the game of life.  We can pursue love, money, fame, sex, family, and power.  Analogous to the game of thrones, our playing of the game of life will have a high cost.  We invariably pay the cost by sacrificing our relationships or money or family or health or happiness.

Then we become aware of death.  For many, this awareness comes too late; they have  already been consumed by the game itself.   Some will stop playing the game when the reality of death crosses the wall.  Priorities will change as they become begin to grasp reality.  An then there a those like Cersei.  Still able, but refusing to acknowledge the reality of death, the true enemy.  They respond by playing the game harder than ever.

Game of Thrones might be, among other things, an allegory for our response to the reality of death.  If the series is, in fact, allegorical, it will be very interesting to see the conclusions Game of Thrones will offer in the remaining episodes.

Game of Thrones is a life and death allegory for the way we play the Game of Life in the face of Death. Click To Tweet

Why We Won’t Go To Heaven When We Die

kareni / Pixabay

We don’t go to heaven when we die.

In a previous post, I presented 12 questions that might reveal the degree to which we unknowingly separate God out from the rest of life.  In a comment, Monica asked me to go a little deeper into question number 3:

3. Do you speak of going to heaven when we die?

Answering this in the affirmative might be an indication that you suffer from Modern Secular dualism: the idea that material things and spiritual things are radically distinct.  This separation leads to two false views of reality.  The first is the secular manifestation of this idea: that the spiritual world does not exist, or is irrelevant to our lives.  A second error, like unto it is that of the Christian under the influence of Modern Secularism–that although the spiritual realm exists, it is very distant.  This view leads to the idea of “going to heaven when we die.”

Since its beginning, the church battled heresies involving the relationship between physical and spiritual realities.

Gnosticism: Material Bad

Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that was very influential in the early centuries of the church.  One of the basic ideas of Gnosticism is that the spiritual world stands in opposition to the material one because they have to distinct natures–the material is evil and the spiritual is good.

Accepting this premise, it follows that the body is evil and the soul is good.  The soul is imprisoned in the physical body, but upon death, it is freed and goes to a spiritual heaven where it has always truly belonged.

Modern Secularism is a lot like Gnosticism in that it also separates the physical from the spiritual.  The difference is the Gnostics undervalued the physical and the Moderns undervalue the spiritual.

We find neither devalued in the Bible.

Genesis

In the first verses of Genesis, God creates all that is.  He called it all good.  On the sixth day, he created people.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

Human beings are certainly physical beings, but we are spiritual beings as well.   Both are good.  Jesus offers and even more complete anthropology when he quotes the Old Testament command to

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ Luke 10:27.

Human beings are created with bodies and minds and hearts and spirits–all of these are declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  The Fall results in a twisting or distortion of all things, not just physical things.  Contrary to both Gnostic and Modern teaching, all dimensions of humanity are valued, all are fallen.  Consequently, all aspects of humanity are in need of redemption.  In his death on the cross, Jesus redeems all of the whole person, not just her soul.

God declared all of creation to be good.  All of creation is fallen because of Man’s sin.  All of creation, not just some human souls, have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

This is why we speak of the Cosmic Redemption–Christ redeems the entire Creation–all that God has made.  On his return, he will complete redemption when he makes “all things new.”

Revelation

At the end of the book of Revelation, we see a picture of where history is headed.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21: 3-5

John sees the new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, “coming down out of heaven.” God will dwell among his people, on earth.

This is not new.  It is a biblical pattern.  God delights to be with human beings in the Garden.  He travels with the nation of Israel, living in a tent as they did.  He lives with the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem.  He dwells among us as the God/man, Jesus.  Today, Christ takes up dwelling within us in his Spirit.  So it is no surprise that God would once again be the one who comes to us.

It sounds to me as if we won’t be going to heaven.

God lived with his people in The Garden, in the wilderness, in the temple, in the first century, and indwells us today. Why do we talk about going to live him in heaven when we die? Isn't it likely He'll stick to the same pattern?Click To Tweet
It seems pretty clear that none of us, or very few of us, are going to heaven when we die.Click To Tweet

Eternal life starts now

One’s view of heaven can make a tremendous difference in our lives right now.

If heaven is just spiritual and spiritual things are distant in both time and place, then eternal life has little to do with “real” life.  The Christian life is a life of waiting.  And so we wait.

If heaven is a holistic reality involving the whole person and all of creation; if Jesus lives in us and if heaven will be on earth, then a lot of the conditions for heaven are already in place and it is pretty close.  Eternal life will certainly be different when all things are made new, but it will also be a continuation of what God has started in us and with us.  This makes the present, eternally significant.

Modern liturgies reinforce the idea that the spiritual is non-existent or far away.  Christians need to counter these with our own liturgies that practice the wholeness of creation.  Ones that reinforce the spiritual significance of our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Ones that increase our awareness of the nearness of Christ in us.  Ones that help us to see all life is worship.  Ones that equip us to embrace our purpose to steward creation.

 

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