Monday, August 27, 2007

God's Warriors - The Heretic

This is an interview that Christine Amanpour did of Greg Boyd for a special called "God's Warriors" that aired on CNN. Greg did a wonderful job of representing a problem I agree is epidemic in Christianity right now.

Happy Days in Government

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned. :-)

President Bush is expected to make a statement about Gonzales at 11:50 a.m. from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he has been vacationing. [AGAIN!]

...

Although Bush had long stood by Gonzales, many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle had called on him to quit after the firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006.

"Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday. "He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove." Rove, another longtime Bush official and his top political adviser, also resigned this month.

"This resignation is not the end of the story," Reid warned. "Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House."


Attorney General Gonzales resigns, officials say
(CNN, August 27, 2007)

This is shortly after Carl Rove had also resigned. Ahh...I wonder what other legal bogs are pressing this series of resignations? And I wonder what media zoo will ensue once they would like the spotlight off of them? Guess we will wait and see!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fake Christian Caring

I've had it with fake Christian sentiment. I'm tired of people greeting me and then greeting me another day like they've never seen me before. I'm tired of people seeming interested in who you are...but then they can't remember your name the next time you see them. I'm tired of being invited to activities, especially work ones, were you meet a whole bunch of people for an activity, but then you might as well have never met anyone at all.

I'm tired of acquaintances who act all friendly, but then couldn't give a crap about you. I'm tired of people who only come to you when they have a need, but otherwise are all about their own life. I'm tired of relationships where you always get the short end of the stick.

I'm tired of being part of this crowd that is dead to the idea of community and authentic friendship. I'm tired of the completely irrelevant conversations about the weather, the world's most recent tragedy, or how busy you all are with whatever.

I'm tired of people not interested in their elder's experience, or those that think the only way learning happens is to experience something (usually something wrong). I'm tired of people making excuses for their own willful and habitual wrong. I'm tired of people who act concerned when you are in need, but they really don't want to help you out, instead they just want to know about it.

I'm tired of finding all this crap most of the time in the church. Tell you what...if you really don't give a shit and want to know who I am...don't greet anyone and certainly don't feign interest in people. Number of us aren't going to stand for that anymore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why your freedom of speech means essentially nothing

Do you actually have freedom of speech if you only have it in the privacy of your own home? Even people in communist nations and religious nations have that.

Update: Here is the Presidential Advance Manual (PDF) itself.

White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; A02

Not that they're worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn't want any.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."

The "Presidential Advance Manual," dated October 2002 with the stamp "Sensitive -- Do Not Copy," was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004. The techniques described have become familiar over the 6 1/2 years of Bush's presidency, but the manual makes it clear how organized the anti-protest policy really is.

The lawsuit was filed by Jeffery and Nicole Rank, who attended the Charleston event wearing shirts with the word "Bush" crossed out on the front; the back of his shirt said "Regime Change Starts at Home," while hers said "Love America, Hate Bush." Members of the White House event staff told them to cover their shirts or leave, according to the lawsuit. They refused and were arrested, handcuffed and briefly jailed before local authorities dropped the charges and apologized. The federal government settled the First Amendment case last week for $80,000, but with no admission of wrongdoing.

The manual demonstrates "that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. "Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it's not a favorable one."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that he could not discuss the manual because it is an issue in two other lawsuits.

The manual offers advance staffers and volunteers who help set up presidential events guidelines for assembling crowds. Those invited into a VIP section on or near the stage, for instance, must be " extremely supportive of the Administration," it says. While the Secret Service screens audiences only for possible threats, the manual says, volunteers should examine people before they reach security checkpoints and look out for signs. Make sure to look for "folded cloth signs," it advises.

To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming' throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems," the manual says.

"These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators," it says. "The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."

Advance teams are advised not to worry if protesters are not visible to the president or cameras: "If it is determined that the media will not see or hear them and that they pose no potential disruption to the event, they can be ignored. On the other hand, if the group is carrying signs, trying to shout down the President, or has the potential to cause some greater disruption to the event, action needs to be taken immediately to minimize the demonstrator's effect."

The manual adds in bold type: "Remember -- avoid physical contact with demonstrators! Most often, the demonstrators want a physical confrontation. Do not fall into their trap!" And it suggests that advance staff should "decide if the solution would cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone."

The staff at the West Virginia event may have missed that line.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Did God Cause the 35W to Collapse?

I've heard a number of people are that have implicated God in this disaster, and a friend of mine who blogged about the 35W tragedy also...which I'm happy that he chose not to implicate God, though he does very much believe as John Piper does, whom Greg is referring to in the following blog repost. John Piper has a history of claiming that God is behind tsunamis that killed thousands, and that God would be justified in killing any of us at any time. Not a very good view of the example Jesus brought to us as the real view of the Father? Eh? Anyway....read on.


"Why the 35W Bridge Collapsed" by Greg Boyd

As all of you know, I’m sure, a little over a week ago the 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. This is the most traveled bridge in Minnesota. It was a tragedy, though the fact that only 13 people died and/or are presumed dead is really amazing, especially given that this happened at the peak of rush hour. The catastrophe is rendered especially poignant by the fact that it involved the failure of human-made structure we instinctively trust. Like the Titanic, this collapsed bridge has become a symbol of our perpetual vulnerability.

It’s also an occasion for theological reflection. A prominent local pastor in the Twin Cities reports that the night of the collapse his eleven-year-old daughter wanted to pray that people wouldn’t blame God for the event. He told her this was a good prayer since “blame” implies God did something wrong. He assured her God let the bridge fall, in part because he wanted people in Minneapolis to “fear him.” But, he assured his daughter, God isn’t to “blame” because he did nothing wrong (www.desiringgod.org/Blog/745).

In this same blog the pastor discusses Luke 13:1-5 where Jesus responds to two catastrophes: Pilates' slaughtering of some Galileans and the fall of the tower of Siloam that killed 18 people. About both events Jesus asked his audience, “Do you think these people were more guilty than anyone else? No. But unless you repent, you will all perish” (vs. 3-4, my paraphrase). This pastor interprets Jesus to be saying that “everyone deserves to die,” for “all of us have sinned against God.” And this, he insists, is “the meaning of the collapse of this bridge…”

What is more, this pastor argues that catastrophes like this one are God’s “most merciful message,” since they mean there’s “still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction.” For this reason, the message of the collapsed bridge is “the most precious message in the world.”

Now, I respect this pastor as a man of God, but this teaching honestly concerns me. I’ll make four points in response to this blog.

First, his interpretation of Luke 13:1-5 assumes that God was somehow involved in Pilate’s massacre and the falling tower of Siloam. He thinks Jesus was teaching that the ultimate reason the Galileans were massacred and the tower fell on people was because “everyone deserves to die,” and Jesus was simply saying to his audience; “You’re as guilty as they are, and you’ll die too if you don’t repent.” But where in the text is there any suggestion Jesus assumed God had anything to do with either of these catastrophes?

In fact, if you read on five more verses, you come upon another catastrophe Jesus confronted: a woman who had been deformed for 18 years. Rather than assuming that God was somehow involved in this deformity, Jesus says this woman was bound by Satan (13:16). He then manifested God’s will by healing her.

This is what we find throughout the Gospels. They uniformly identify infirmities (sickness, disease, deformities, disabilities) as being directly or indirectly the result not of God’s punishing activity, but of Satan’s oppressive activity. So it is that Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry by saying he was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and power” and “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Ac 10:38).

In light of this, I see no reason to accept the assumption that drives this pastor's exegesis.

Second, while I agree with this pastor that all people are sinners who deserve to die, I wonder how the death of Christ factors into all this. Scripture teaches that Jesus died “not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:2). If so, then why is God still in the business of physically punishing people for their sins by sending catastrophes? Wasn’t Jesus’ sacrifice enough?

Certainly God has the right to punish people by taking back the life he gives when he sees fit (e.g. Acts 5:9-10). But in the light of Calvary – and the entire ministry of Jesus – why should we think that this is his post-Christ ordinary mode of operation? Isn’t the Good News good precisely because, despite our sin, Jesus came to give us abundant life (Jn 10:10)?

Third, and closely related to this, the model of God bringing about disasters to punish people is rooted in the Old Testament. Here we several times find God using nature and human agents to punish people. (Though even back then this wasn’t God’s normal mode of operation). But in these contexts, God first gives ample warning about a coming judgment and he tells people exactly what he is doing. Punishment without teaching is not pedagogically effective.

Imagine a parent saying to their child, “I’m going to spank you whenever I want to but not tell you why.” It just doesn’t work!

Now, God is no longer working within the framework of the Old Covenant in which these judgments have meaning, so we have no reason to think God is still trying to teach people lessons by sending disasters. But even if were to suppose he was still operating this way, where are the warnings and the teachings? If God was in fact collapsing the bridge to make people in Minneapolis “fear him,” as this pastor claims, why didn’t God establish a context where the people would understand what God was up to and have a chance to repent?

I can make my point this way. How many non-believers in Minneapolis do you think interpreted the bridge collapse as an expression of God’s wrath? And of these, how many were moved to turn to God out of fear? I’m thinking it's probably close to zero. If God was trying to get people to fear him, it simply didn’t work. But it did cost a number of lives and inflicted misery and sorrow on many more. It was a harsh spanking without any helpful instruction, and thus was unhelpful while being costly. Is this the way the God revealed in Jesus Christ operates?

Fourth, and finally, if you accept that angels and humans are free agents who thus have the capacity to go against God’s will, there’s simply no need to appeal to a vindictive divine purpose to explain why catastrophes like this collapsed bridge happen. As Scripture depicts the matter, the world is oppressed by rebellious, evil powers that in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels have corrupted nature. As I’ve discussed at length in previous blogs, nothing in nature operates exactly the way God originally intended it to operate.

On top of this, we humans have allowed ourselves to be co-opted in the epoch long battle these powers are waging against God, so we too have become corrupted. We thus don’t have the right priorities, which in part is why bridges we build sometimes collapse. Think about it. To give one illustration, we are generally much quicker to spend billions of dollars on war than we are making sure people are safe (and adequately fed).

There’s undoubtedly plenty of blame to go around for why this bridge collapsed, ranging from fallen cosmic powers to a wrongly prioritized government to the wrongly prioritized people who elected these officials into office without holding them sufficiently accountable. But if you accept that God created a world with free agents, the one being you don’t need to blame is God.

If, on the other hand, you don’t accept that the cosmos is populated with free agents who can therefore make decisions that are contrary to God’s will, then you have an even greater problem. (This is the camp the pastor whose blog I’m discussing is in). For in this case one has to explain how everyone can deserve to die when everything every person has ever done, however sinful, was part of God’s great plan from the start!

Not only this, but if angels and people don’t have free will that can go against God’s will, then it’s no longer adequate to say God “allowed” a bridge to fall. You have to say God “caused” the bridge to fall. Other agents may have been instrumental in bringing about the collapse of the bridge, but they only did what God’s sovereign plan decreed they do. So one is fudging words to say God “allowed” the bridge to fall and that God is not to blame for the bridge falling.

In the end, this view requires that we accept that God punishes people with catastrophes – and then eternally in hell -- for doing precisely what he predestined them to do. Good luck making sense out of that!

I suggest it's far more biblical, and far more rational, to simply say that in a fallen, oppressed world, bridges sometimes collapse -- and leave it at that. Rather than trying to see the vindictive hand of God behind catastrophes, it’s wiser to simply acknowledge that the world is an oppressed place where things sometimes go tragically wrong and focus all of our mental and physical energy turning from our self-centered ways to carry out God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”

That, after all, was what Jesus was getting at in Luke 13:1-5.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ahh...Apple releases a beautiful new iMac

Apple has released their new iMac, and I'm pretty excited about it. They have made a number of updates and enhancements to that product, including the new aluminum casing. Also, iLife has been updated with a number of really useful new features...as well as a new application for their business applications, Numbers.

Frankly Pages kicks Microsoft Word and Publisher's butt, Keynote so completely kicks Powerpoint's butt...that now with Numbers added to their iWork bundle, businesses need to take notice. Also Apple Mail will connect with Exchange servers for e-mail. Think about an easier computing experience.

Here are their product pages:
iMac
iLife
iWork
MacOS X 10.5