Archive for December, 2008

Mall Santa Claus’ in Civil War (sadly, not satire)

Posted: December 28, 2008 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
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war-santaI heard this story on NPR and tried to dig it up on their website but couldn’t find it. This report, from the Telegraph is the best I could do. I don’t even know what to say to this…

Rival Santa Claus leaders have been engaged in a decidedly unfestive power struggle that has polarised the lucrative US grotto market and forced hundreds of Father Christmases to choose between warring rival groups.

The hostilities have spilled on to the internet, in this case Elf Net, an online chat group where Santas go to exchange information on belt supplies and beard dyeing.

Organisers of the annual convention in Kansas of the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas, fear it will be disrupted by splitters from rival groups such as the Fraternal Order and the Red Suit Society.

The trouble started last year with a row on the board of the Amalgamated Santas, a 700-member group which was set up in 1994 by 10 Santas doing a television commercial in Hollywood.

Tim Connaghan, the organisation’s chief, was forced out after a rival board member, Nick Trolli, accused him of unethical behaviour by acting as a booking agent for 200 members hired for Christmas events and taking a $25,000 consultancy free from a film company.

Mr Trolli took over but he also proved controversial, expelling some 20 members for offences that included maligning fellow Santas on Elf Net.

In January, one of the banned members tried to gatecrash an Amalgamated Santas board meeting in California.

read it all here. There’s another link on a legal blog here. For a bizzare look into the Santa civil war, why not go to the source and see the Rebel’s website here and the “Unionists” here. This is so weird.

Thanks to Charlie Jordan for finding this. The atheist who wrote this article, Matthew Parris, describes the regeneration associated with faith and the work of the Holy Spirit in a far more moving and convincing way than most Western Christians. I recommend you read the whole thing

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

read it all here

swearinng-in
James K.A. Smith in Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology writes (quoting Cavanaugh in Radical Orthodoxy)  “Both the church and the modern state have a story to tell:  The modern state is ‘founded on certain stories of nature and human nature, the origins of human conflict, and the remedies for such conflict in the enactment of the state itself’; the Christian story is a narrative of creation, fall, redemption.  But…’both ultimately have the same goal: salvation of humankind from the modern divisions which plague us’.  Thus, “the modern state is best understood…as a source of an alternative soteriology (or theology of salvation) to that of the Church.”  Nothing I could find illustrates this point more clearly than this little article from CNN postulating on what Bible verse Obama will pick for the swearing ceremony.  Note that many of our previous presidents have chosen verses for themselves that the church has historically understood as pointing towards the Messsiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  This means that presidents have borrowed both the language of the Christian church and the theology of the Christian church, particularly the language and theology associated with the savior and transferred it to the government and the nation state.  This points to the ingrained and heretical assumed messianism of American politics.  A heresy that I think much of the church in America has bought into. What then is the proper way for a disciple of Christ to live as a witness to the true Messiah? 

From CNN:
If Obama wants to stress that theme again on January 20, he may prefer to follow Bill Clinton’s lead from the 1997 inaugural and open the Bible to Isaiah 58:12: “Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach.”

Questions of war and peace are always in the back of any president’s mind. Obama campaigned in part on a promise to end America’s war in Iraq.

Shortly after winning the White House on a similar pledge to end another divisive conflict — this one in Vietnam — Richard Nixon took the oath with a family Bible opened to Isaiah 2:4: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

With the polls showing an overwhelming majority of Americans convinced the country is on the wrong track,Obama might hint at a back-to-basics message by doing what Woodrow Wilson did in 1913. During his first inaugural, Wilson opened the Bible to Psalm 119, which concludes “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

Speaking of a return to basics, what about America’s first president? What did George Washington do?

Almost 220 years ago, in 1789, Washington opened the King James version of a Masonic Bible to Genesis 49:13 — “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”

read it all here

whitewashed-sanctuary

I highly recommend this entire lecture to Episcopal pastors in the Reformed tradition. It is wildly enlightening in seeing how the popular sentiment behind the Anglo-Catholic revival (I say popular sentiment because most of the prime movers of the A.C. revival were orthodox, godly men) of England led us into the current syncretistic mess and allergy to confession that the Episcopal Church currently faces in the U.S. I personally found it of great historical interest (J.C. Ryle seems to be fighting a similar battle) in this regard and many others. I also recommend this lecture to those who are interested in deepening their understanding of the aesthetic, particularly in worship. Read the whole thing, because it is easy to be deceived by the excerpted paragraphs below. Kuyper is not rejecting the aesthetic, as he makes clear throughout the essay. Nor is he rejecting “high church” liturgies, in fact he helped republish an old high church reformed liturgy (Forma Ac Ratio, which was influential in the Episcopal prayer book) and goes out of his way to convey the “liturgical” aspects of historic Calvinism. I think what he is aiming at, to repeat myself, is the popular sentiment behind the need for symbolism. So read it carefully, and read it all.

Every one who, moving in the finite, becomes aware of the existence of something Infinite, has to form a conception of the relation that exists between both. Here two possibilities present themselves. Either the Infinite reveals itself to man, and by this revelation unveils the really existing relation; or the Infinite remains mute and silent, and man himself has to guess, to conjecture, and to represent to himself this relation by means of his imagination; that is, in an artificial way. Now the first line is the Christian one. The Infinite at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past by the prophets, and in these late days has spoken to us by his Son�this Son being not a silent mystery, but the eternal, creating and speaking Word. Paganism, on the contrary, being destitute of revelation, wants the symbol, and creates it in its idols, “having mouths but they speak not, having ears but they hear not.” Symbol means a fictitious link between the invisible Infinite and the visible finite. It is derived from sumballein; i.e., bringing two different spheres together. Symbolism is the grasping of something outward and material, upon which the imagination may put the stamp of the unseen and unspeakable. The symbol is the middle link, being related from one side to what you can see and grasp, and from the other side to what you feel, fancy and imagine. As soon, therefore, as the consciousness of the Infinite revives in the public mind, in antagonism to a God-given Revelation, the demand for the symbol necessarily and immediately declares itself. So it was in the Grecian world, so it is now. Of course there exists also an unconscious, ever-changing relation between the Infinite and the finite in the actual phenomena of life; but this relation, being always partial, successive and momentarily gauged, cannot satisfy the soul. What she is longing after is a comprehensive impression of the Infinite in its totality, in its all-pervading and all-permeating action; and this sensation no finite phenomenon is able to stir in us, just because it is finite. What the soul want to realize is a grasping of the Infinite as such; and such an infinite sensation Symbolism only can produce, just because it puts an invisible stamp upon a visible or palpable phenomenon. In the Freemasonry you see quite the same thing. Freemasonry aims at the Infinite, but rejects all revelation, and therefore it created from the very first, and still advocates, the most explicit and elaborated symbolism. Spiritism, on the contrary, is almost choked with thirst for revelation from the other side of the tomb, and consequently knows of no symbolical fancy whatsoever. (more…)

I found this over at Steve Wood’s blog. I’ve posted it here exactly as I found it. Do go over and pay Steve a visit. He’s got a lot of really cool material up.

This video of Penn (from Penn & Teller fame) was my surprise of the week. Here’s the money quote:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell – or not getting eternal life and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward . . . how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

While I would prefer “evangelize” to “proselytize” I like his point.

Here’s the clip:

The Revelation to John

Dec 15:                        A Love Grown Cold                 (Rev 2.1-7)

 

“They that see God cannot but praise him.  He is a Being of such glory and excellency that the sight of this excellency of his will necessarily influence them that behold it to praise him.  Such a glorious sight will awaken and rouse all the powers of the soul, and will irresistibly impel them, and draw them into acts of praise.  Such a sight enlarges their souls, and fills them with admiration, and with an unspeakable exultation of spirit” –Jonathan Edwards, “Praise, One of the Chief Employments of Heaven” (Thanksgiving Sermon, Nov 7, 1734)

 

We begin today’s class with an important principle from Jonathan Edwards, namely that in beholding the excellency of God we are drawn into acts of praise that affect the deepest and most remote compartments of our soul.  That is why we do Bible study. That is why we take Bible study one step farther and do Biblical theology, and farther still to systematic theology.  These are an attempt to behold God, grounded in the revealed word that he has given us, that we might behold him and be given “an unspeakable exultation of spirit.”  I have said this many times before, and I say it again.  THE KEY to spiritual growth lies not in applying Biblical principles to your life, but in beholding God and having his majesty and the depth of his love, mercy, kindness and righteousness transform the heart and reorient our desires. 

 

And yet even this pursuit can be corrupted and turned from its original end, as we shall see in our reading today, we see a church whose love has grown cold.  What is striking about this, is that their love grew cold when they were so well equipped to behold the majesty of God.  So there is a lesson for us here.  When knowledge of God becomes more important than God himself, then our doctrine has become our idol, replacing our “first love” with cold dogma.  May God save us from this!  Let us see what Jesus has to say to the church in Ephesus, and see how we might be turned from this sad situation. (more…)

santa1Thanks to Charlie Jordan for forwarding this thought provoking article.  The author’s logic is the type that makes me squirm while simultaneously perking my interest.  At the end of the day, I like it…I think

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

read it all here

During the first week of our series, “The Christ to Come” I spoke on why Jesus came.  Namely, he came to fulfill the law.  The second week, Messianic Jewish Rabbi David Levine spoke on where Jesus came from.  He came from the Jewish people, in fulfillment of the prophesies for the Jewish Messiah.  A promise, he was quick to remind us, for the whole world.  Last week Iain spoke about who Jesus came for.  We learned that Jesus came as a light for those walking in darkness.  Today I would like to speak on how Jesus comes, why it is significant, and what application we can render from it for our lives.  

 

How did Jesus Come?

One of the most important tenets of ancient Roman law was that the republic was to be protected by military coup.  The way the senate protected the republic was by forbidding the military to cross the river Rubicon in force.  Crossing the Rubicon on foot, by yourself, was of course entirely legal and would spark little interest.  However, crossing the Rubicon with an army signaled intentions of rebellion and was of course highly illegal.  In January of 49 B.C., Rome was facing a civil war between two military commanders, Pompey and Caesar.  Trying to avert a civil war, the senate declared Caesar a public enemy and ordered him to lay down his command or face criminal charges.  Rather than lay down his command, Caesar led his 13 legions to the Rubicon, and he and his army waited patiently on the banks.  Turning to his army, Caesar spoke: “Even yet we may draw back; but once across that little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”  Seeing no opposition from his army, Caesar is said to have muttered under his breath, “alea iacta est,” or “Let the die be cast.”  With these words, he crossed the Rubicon, thus signaling open war with the Roman republic. 

 

Jerusalem had its own Rubicon, and there was a particular way to cross it.  Jerusalem’s Rubicon was the Mount of Olives, and it was significant for several reasons.  The first reason is that after Israel’s greatest King, King David, returned from a forced exile he returned over the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 19.20).  It was a long held tradition that when Israel’s coming King, the Messiah came, he would come over the Mount of Olives.  Secondly, in Ezekiel’s prophesy, he sees a vision of the Holy Spirit departing the temple because of the people’s sin (Eze 11.23).  When the Spirit returns to bring God’s righteous rule to the people of Israel once more, he does so by passing over the Mount of Olives (Eze 45.1-5).  So the Mount of Olives is significant in Jewish history, because it is the place by which both the Messiah and God’s Spirit will one day return to Israel.  It is Jerusalem’s Rubicon. (more…)

lipstickpigUnbelief disables a man for the performance of any good work. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” is a great truth in more senses than one. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” You shall never hear me say a word against morality; you shall never hear me say that honesty is not a good thing, or that sobriety is not a good thing; on the contrary, I would say they are commendable things; but I will tell you what I will say afterwards—I will tell you that they are just like the cowries of Hindostan; they may pass current among the Indians, but they will not do in England; these virtues may be current here below, but not above. If you have not something better than your own goodness, you will never get to heaven. Some of the Indian tribes use little strips of cloth instead of money, and I would not find fault with them if I lived there; but when I come to England, strips of cloth will not suffice. So honesty, sobriety, and such things, may be very good amongst men—and the more you have of them the better. I exhort you, whatsoever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, have them—but they will not do up there. All these things put together, without faith, do not please God. Virtues without faith are whitewashed sins. Obedience without faith, if it is possible, is a gilded disobedience. Not to believe, nullifies everything. It is the fly in the ointment; it is the poison in the pot. Without faith, with all the virtues of purity, with all the benevolence of philanthropy, with all the kindness of disinterested sympathy, with all the talents of genius, with all the bravery of patriotism, and with all the decision of principle—”without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Spurgeon, The Sin of Unbelief, preached Jan 14, 1855

nicholson

Jack Nicholson experiences a different kind of shock in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

A central theme of Christopher Hitchen’s book, and indeed a central theme of the “new atheism” is that religion is uniquely positioned to make “good” people do “bad” things. But is that a rational conclusion, and is it in accord with the scientific method, an epistemology par excellence of the new atheism? Perhaps not. The article below covers a well known study conducted in the 1960’s on authority and its effects on morality, that is, its ability to affect the moral boundaries of typically “good” people. The study concluded that when someone who I believe to have legitimate authority tells me to do something I will most likely do it, even if it comes into conflict with my own personal moral convictions. While this could easily be bent towards religion (and it has), the curious thing about the experiment is that the “legitimate” authority was a scientist. So the conclusions of a scientific study actually end up undercutting one of the major claims of the New Atheism. How rich! The fact that this study is both well known, and took place over sixty years ago, only adds to the New Atheism’s long litany of facts overlooked (and of course brings to mind their embarassing attempts to reinterpret Communist civil rights violations in light of latent theism). Oops.

From CNN:
His experiment in its standard form included a fake shock machine, a “teacher,” a “learner” and an experimenter in a laboratory setting. The participant was told that he or she had to teach the student to memorize a pair of words, and the punishment for a wrong answer was a shock from the machine.

The teacher sat in front of the shock machine, which had 30 levers, each corresponding to an additional 15 volts. With each mistake the student made, the teacher had to pull the next lever to deliver a more painful punishment.

While the machine didn’t generate shocks and a recorded voice track simulated painful reactions, the teacher was led to believe that he or she was shocking a student, who screamed and asked to leave at higher voltages, and eventually fell silent.

If the teacher questioned continuing as instructed, the experimenter simply said, “The experiment requires that you go on,” said Thomas Blass, author of the biography “The Man Who Shocked The World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram” and the Web site StanleyMilgram.com.

About 65 percent of participants pulled levers corresponding to the maximum voltage — 450 volts — in spite of the screams of agony from the learner.

“What the experiment shows is that the person whose authority I consider to be legitimate, that he has a right to tell me what to do and therefore I have obligation to follow his orders, that person could make me, make most people, act contrary to their conscience,” Blass said.

read it all here

Why It Was Necessary That Jesus Christ Be True Man
It was necessary that the Mediator of this covenant and this reconciliation be true man, but without any stain of original sin or any other, for the following reasons:

Firstly, since God is very righteous and man is the object of His wrath, because of natural corruption (1 Tim 2:5; John 1:14; Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:2-4; 1 Cor. 1:30), it was necessary in order to reconcile men with God, that there be a true man in whom the ruins caused by this corruption would be totally repaired.

Secondly, man is compelled to fulfil all the righteousness which God demands from him in order to be glorified (Matt 3:15; Rom 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would perfectly fulfil all righteousness in order to please God.

Thirdly, all men are covered with an infinite number of sins, as much internal as external; that is why they are liable to the curse of God (Rom 3:23-26; Is 53: 11, etc). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would fully satisfy the justice of God in order to pacify Him.

Finally, no corrupt man would have been able, in any way, to even begin to fulfil the least of these actions. He would first of all have had need of a Redeemer for himself (Rom 8:2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 2:1-2). So much was necessary for himself before he could buy back the others, or could do anything pleasing or satisfying to God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6). It was therefore necessary that the Mediator and Redeemer of men be true man in his body and in his soul, and that he be, nevertheless, entirely pure and free from all sin. (more…)

nativityThis is not only a clever bit of Christology, but it is also a powerful argument for the orthodox claim that salvation is found exclusively in knowing Christ. Note for Augustine, it is in the knowing that we are saved because only Christ does man  (Jesus) mark a trail for men to follow.  Only Christ as God can mark a trail to our salvation.  Thus, it is only in knowing the God-Man, Jesus Christ, that we can come to salvation.

It is a great and very rare thing for a man, after he has contemplated the whole creation, corporeal and incorporeal, and has discerned its mutability, to pass beyond it, and, by the continued soaring of his mind, to attain to the unchangeable substance of God, and, in that height of contemplation, to learn from God Himself that none but He has made all that is not of the divine essence.  For God speaks with a man not by means of some audible creature dinning in his ears, so that atmospheric vibrations connect Him that makes with him that hears the sound, nor even by means of a spiritual being with the semblance of a body, such as we see in dreams or similar states; for even in this case He speaks as if to the ears of the body, because it is by means of the semblance of a body He speaks, and with the appearance of a real interval of space,—for visions are exact representations of bodily objects.  Not by these, then, does God speak, but by the truth itself, if any one is prepared to hear with the mind rather than with the body.  For He speaks to that part of man which is better than all else that is in him, and than which God Himself alone is better.  For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God’s image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme.  But since the mind itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence is disabled by besotting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified.  And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, Homine assumto, non Deo consumto. established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.  For this is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  For it is as man that He is the Mediator and the Way.  Since, if the way lieth between him who goes, and the place whither he goes, there is hope of his reaching it; but if there be no way, or if he know not where it is, what boots it to know whither he should go?  Now the only way that is infallibly secured against all mistakes, is when the very same person is at once God and man, God our end, man our way.   Quo itur Deus, qua itur homo.

From Augustine’s The City of God, XI.2

the thought is expressed almost word for word in Chrysostom, but since I can’t remember the reference I must resort to what Calvin and Luther often do; “Chyrsostom somewhere says…”  Anybody know the reference? 

Via Kendall. From The Weekly Standard:

Let me get this straight:

A 20-year association with a radically leftist, anti-American, racist preacher whom Obama referred to as a spiritual adviser meant absolutely nothing about Obama’s judgment or philosophy, and illustrated only the bigotry of those who dared criticize it.

A 20-minute association with one of the country’s most well-liked, mainstream evangelical preachers who happens to support traditional marriage cannot be countenanced and illustrates only the bigotry of those who would dare allow it.

Got it.

read it here

Prominent liberal groups and gay rights proponents criticized President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday for choosing evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration next month

Warren, one of the most influential religious leaders in the nation, has championed issues such as a reduction of global poverty, human rights abuses and the AIDS epidemic.

But the founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has also adhered to socially conservative stances — including his opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights that puts him at odds with many in the Democratic Party, especially the party’s most liberal wing.

“[It’s] shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now,” Andrew Sullivan wrote on the Atlantic Web site Wednesday.

People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert told CNN she is “deeply disappointed” with the choice of Warren and said the powerful platform at the inauguration should instead have been given to someone who has “consistent mainstream American values.”

read it all here

jindalouch…this wasn’t on some two-bit conservative blog. It was on Newsweek’s website. It also came from major political figure and rising Republican star Piyush Jindal. Jindal is interesting for several reaons. He’s the youngest governor in the U.S.  Also the first non-white to govern Louisiana. He’s a hindu, who converted to Christianity (Protestant) then on to Roman Catholicism. He’s worth keeping an eye on.

At 12, an evangelical friend named Kent gave him a paperback Bible for Christmas. Raised in a “strong Hindu culture,” Jindal considered himself “anti-Christian” and stashed it in a closet. But a crush, Kathy, soon convinced him to read the book “from cover to cover.” Jindal gradually warmed to the Scriptures, and while watching a Passion film at Kent’s church, he was suddenly “convicted” of his “sinfulness and [his] need for a savior.” Most conversion narratives end there. But Jindal’s doesn’t. Ever the A student, he studied Kent’s Bible “by flashlight” and even “learned bits of Latin, Greek and Hebrew.” After a long stretch of soul searching, Jindal concluded that Protestantism lacked “scriptural cogency” and decided to become a strict Catholic instead. (“Bobby said he trusted God to put his own house in order,” recalls Ahsanuddin.) Although critics have questioned the governor’s motives—Hindu activist Ramesh Rao recently wrote that “Jindal knew well that [conversion] was the only way, as an Indian-American Hindu, he could achieve his political ambitions”—his deeply Catholic views, including a “100 percent” opposition to abortion “with no exceptions” for rape, incest or health of the mother, undoubtedly anger more voters than they attract. “If I wanted the aesthetics without the inconvenient morality,” he wrote in 1998, “I could become Episcopalian.”

Your thoughts? Read it here