And Another Thing…

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Why I Believe Anyway

 In my last post I came clean about the nature of the doubts that plague me and why.  I have never thought that I was alone with my doubts and the feedback confirms it. Thank you John, Jeff, Kinney (Preacherman), Jerri, Trey, Becky, and Zane (Big White Hat) for chiming in. You blessed me. What’s more, that post got more hits in one day than any other post I have ever had; the subject matter interested people whether they replied or not.

So I owe a post about why I believe in spite of my doubts; the other half of my internal dialogue as it were.  I warn you, this will not be an airtight, unsinkable apologetic, a home run, touchdown pass, or any other triumphant sports analogy.  It will not sparkle with originality. This is not about winning the game, but rather staying in it. Phillip Yancey once said that sometimes the only thing that keeps him in the game is the lack of a better alternative. These are the things that keep me in the game.

  • Doubting is not a sin. If you have ever been smacked, yelled at, shunned, shamed, or endured any other mistreatment for asking tough questions, you have my sympathies. But somebody lied to you. The Bible is riddled with doubt and prayers that God said “no” to, from Abraham to the apostles. Those who have endeavored to serve the Lord have always expressed (either in word or action) serious doubts about Him and what He would have them do. David, the man after God’s own heart, expressed his doubts and resulting miseries in the strongest language in the Psalms. Most tellingly, God’s own Son had doubt, or at least conflict over his mission (what else do you think he was struggling with in Gethsemane?). While the Bible teaches trust, it does not forbid doubt; this tells me that the God presented in the Bible is bigger than all of our doubts. That is a God worth believing in.
  • Meaning. Suffering is a fact, and to varying degrees a universal experience. However, there are only two perspectives on it: either it means something or it doesn’t. If the believer is right, then nobody suffers in vain no matter how difficult it may be to discern a point. If the atheist is right, then the best explanation for suffering is (as an atheist wrote in regards to this question) “sh*t happens.”  Given these two options, which do you prefer?
  • One God From Another. Atheists love to point out that every human being is atheistic regarding certain gods; nobody believes in the ancient Hellenistic gods or the pagan gods of Europe anymore. And they are right. Yet these gods that nobody believes in are qualitatively different from the God depicted in the Bible. If you read the mythologies surrounding each one, their deeds seem more like the antics of drunken superheroes – frat boys with “powers and abilities far beyond mortal men.” The God of Abraham and Isaac does not conduct Himself in any such manner. His manner is often confusing, sometimes it even seems distant, but it is never subject to our whims and wishes. And frankly, I like that I don’t understand everything about Him. I don’t want a god whose perspective is no broader than my own, nor do I want one who doesn’t care. And part of the message resounding throughout scripture is that He does care, whether He explains Himself or not.
  • The Natural World. I will never be able to look at the Cascade Mountains in the Northwest or the Shenandoah Valley right here in Virginia and not hear God saying, “Hey kids, check this out.”
  • Grace Under Pressure. Suffering is the greatest deterrent to faith, yet some of the most faithful people that I know have suffered some of the worst calamities of life. And their faith has not only survived, but also thrived. And each one, without fail, claims that the Lord saw them through. Having not experienced what they went through, who am I to argue?
  • The Fellowship of Believers.  So many believers in my life have blessed me beyond measure. Some of them I studied under in school, some of them I listened to on Sunday mornings, some of them I have taught, but I have learned something from all of them along the way. I am proud to call each one not just a friend, but a brother or sister.

  • Jesus Himself. Beyond anything else, this is where I hang my hat. When every other support for my faith gives way, this is the one that holds. I don’t always understand him. I don’t always like what he said in the Scriptures. Yet the boldness of his life and ministry and his impact on the world always astounds me. His response to every challenge was unexpected. His teaching was revolutionary. For 2000 years men, women, and children of every ethnicity, nation, socioeconomic status, and walk of life have called on his name and found redemption and deliverance. He can be placed in history. His teachings broke an empire and set the course of the western world. Could a myth or charlatan do that? I don’t think so.

Not impressed? That’s okay. Like I said before, it’s my list and these are the points on the map that lead me out of the valley. I encourage everyone to read the thoughts in the comments section of my last post. And once again I am going to solicit the input of believers: what does it for you? Why do you stay in the game? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Filed under: Faith and Religion, , , , , ,

Why I Doubt

For most people it seems to be in our nature to romanticize our youth.  As the stresses of the present and the tyranny of the immediate monopolize our attention and energies, many of us tend to think of our past as a golden age full of opportunities and potential that time, choices (good and bad), and responsibilities have stolen from us.  When I think back to when I was 18 (as I am 36 this was literally half my lifetime ago) I certainly miss some things: the energy level (remember when sleep was an option?), the belief that there was always something better around the bend, and the seemingly limitless opportunities that the world held for those who were willing to work for them.  More than anything else I miss the sense of absolute certainty in my perception of the world. Up was up, down was down, right was right (and easy to discern), wrong was wrong, and the Lord was working in everything.

I miss those certainties because it seems nowadays that all I have are doubts. And these doubts have lead me into a seriously dark valley in my journey of discipleship.  The irony of this is that the externals of my life have never been better than they are now.  I am in the first year of marriage to a woman that I love more than life itself. I have a good job with a bright future, and in a year and a half I will have a degree that will only brighten that future. What’s more, despite the schedule I have to keep and the demands of dealing with Dr. Sunshine, I am having the best educational experience of my life. The work is challenging and satisfying. Most of my professors are excellent.  I have made great friends among my classmates and seem to hold the genuine respect of the students and faculty where I attend. The rest of my family continues to enjoy good health. My wife and I are surrounded by people that we are proud to call our friends. I lead a life blessed far beyond what I deserve. So how can I have doubt?

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The horror, the horror!

 Finally got around to catching a couple of movies I have wanted to see, I Am Legend and Cloverfield. Cloverfield is the better of the two, but neither is a dud.I Am Legend is based on the classic novel of the same name by legendary writer Richard Matheson. It’s the story of scientist Robert Neville, the apparent sole survivor of a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into mutants with characteristics akin to vampires; increased violence and aggression and intolerance to sunlight.  The main story of the book and the movie begin about 3 years after the outbreak, and detail Neville’s attempts to survive, find a cure for the virus, and not lose his fragile grip on sanity due to loneliness.  There are substantial differences in the plot and themes between the book and the movie. Even now, some 53 years after its original publication, the novel is still deemed to edgy for film audiences. Regardless, the movie works, for what it is. Neville is portrayed by Will Smith, and to his credit Smith delivers on a demanding role. I have always been skeptical about Smith; in most of his roles he seems to be playing variations on his public persona; more charm and charisma than talent. However, in this one he is wholly convincing both as a man of science and as an isolated human being slowly losing his mind.  Unfortunately, the biggest weakness of the film is one of its most critical elements: the mutants themselves. Rather than using actors with make-up, the creatures are portrayed with very obvious CGI. The herky-jerkiness of their movements pulled me completely out of the story and made them far from frightening.

Cloverfield is the latest entry in one of the more tired subgenres of science fiction, the giant monster movie. However, this one offers a twist that brings fresh air to the concept: rather than focusing on the scientists, military personnel, and government officials trying to wipe the beast out, this story is told from the point of view of a small group of civilians who happen to be on the spot and have a camcorder handy to record the events. The entire story is told through the camcorder. This gives the action an immediacy that removes the emotional it’s-just-a-movie barrier and makes it very, very frightening. Throughout most of the film we only catch quick views of the monster. Thanks to the clever special effects work, it looks completely convincing. The biggest drawback of most giant monster movies is that the viewer is often left thinking: this giant, lumbering thing is heading in one direction; why don’t people just run in the opposite direction? Cloverfield corrects this by having pit-bull-sized parasites drop off of the monster and pursue and attack people individually. The parasites look like some hybrid of lobsters, spiders, and crabs; they are nasty and scary, and what happens to their victims is truly frightening.  The viewer does get several shots of the whole monster; it’s bigger than life, uglier than death backing out of the outhouse, and completely believable.  In addition, none of the characters suddenly becomes an action hero. While they demonstrate considerable courage, loyalty, and resourcefulness, they still come off like average folks in an unthinkable situation.  The one exception to this is the character of Hud, the cameraman.  Considering some of the shots he manages to obtain, one might think that the great tragedy of Hud’s life is that he missed his calling as a photojournalist.  Fast-paced, cleverly written and directed, this is the first great horror movie of the 21st century. I recommend staying through the end credits to hear the great score (the movie has no music). One caveat: I don’t know how this movie got a PG-13. It’s quite intense and the gore, while not gratuitous, seemed to me to drift into R-rated territory.

Filed under: Movies, , ,

Aliens…whoa.

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First it was The Manchurian Candidate, then Halloween, now another completely unnecessary remake is in the works; one of the greatest science fiction (or any other genre) movies of all time, The Day The Earth Stood Still. What’s more, the remake is going to star Keanu Reeves as the heroic alien Klaatu. I can hear him mumbling the classic lines right now… “Klaatu barada nikto, dude.”

If they are going to continue to ransack the classics, where does it end? How about a remake of Casablanca where Rick and Ilsa end up together? Or a remake of Cool Hand Luke where Luke gets away at the end? Shameless I tell you, shameless.

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New Year, New Edumacational Interlude

Spring classes started up tonight, so it’s back to the rodeo for this cowboy. After last semester’s mind-grinding course-load I have decided to go a little easy this time and only take 6 hours. I am taking an advanced policy course titled Families & Poverty and the second part of the Research class (both of my regular readers will recall that this was the class that caused me nausea and headaches last semester). This semester promises not to be so bad, as the worst of the foundational material is behind us and we don’t meet as often, which hopefully will lead to less time spent dealing with Dr. Sunshine.  I am actually looking forward to doing the research project. I can’t go into detail about it, this being the internet and all. Suffice to say my team and I will be studying the effectiveness of certain policies and interventions with the disabled population. If anyone is interested, I will share more as time and discretion allow.

The Families & Poverty course certainly looks interesting, based on the syllabus and the discussion that was already rolling along tonight. We are going to attempt to examine the multiple causes of and responses to poverty in the U.S. A big topic I know; but this professor is quite good (this is my 3rd course with her) and even the readings look provocative.

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Happy birthday to Carl Willis, who rocks.

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Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has a great post on what happens when believers try to out-theologize each other.

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This story from the Washington Post blew my mind and defies the notion that the age of miracles has passed.

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The two images below just busted me up. The first is from Letters from Kamp Krusty and the second is a promotional image for the upcoming film Step Brothers (ht: CHUD). 

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Have a great week!

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Quick Hits: The Revenge

I recently had my first (and hopefully last) root canal. There was a crack in the one filling that I had and the tooth went bad, so I paid my first visit to an oral surgeon. It was not the nightmare that I have always heard. The Novocain worked well and the pain afterwards was minimal, less than a stubbed toe. The only part that I did not like was seeing smoke rise from my mouth during the procedure. That scared me a little bit. A couple of days later my dentist put in a temporary crown, and in a couple of weeks I should have my permanent one. The temp crown is silver; I was hoping for a gold one with a dollar sign on it so that I could take pictures of it and call it “Pimp My Mouth.”

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Upgraded to a new cell phone and I am still figuring out how to work it. If you call me, be patient.

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One of Christine’s brothers lives in Austin, TX, and is constantly trying to sell us on the idea that we need to move there as soon as possible, or at least visit. He sent us links to all of the music venues, BBQ, and Mexican food places and after looking at them I really want to go like right now!

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Have you ever noticed…

…that people who say that they don’t care what anyone thinks want to make sure that everyone notices that they don’t care?

…that most self-proclaimed free-thinkers sound alike?

…how stupid people sound when they talk about how smart they are?

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Have you seen the ads for a new movie called In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale? This looks like a bowel movement on celluloid. First of all, it’s based on a video game. Second, it is a medieval fantasy movie with Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta. Yes, that’s right, the Bandit and Henry Hill are going to be in a sword and sorcery epic. These could be the funniest instances of miscasting since Harvey Keitel played Judas of the Bronx in The Last Temptation of Christ. What happened to Burt and Ray? They both used to be so cool. Maybe Dom DeLuise or Jerry Reed will cameo as wizards or knights or something. Come to think of it, I might want to see that just for the train-wreck factor.

This raises a question for you: What are the funniest mistakes in casting that you have ever seen in a movie?

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Predictions for 2008

  • Free radio will continue to suck
  • The mega-church movement will continue to implode
  • Atheists will blame Christians for something
  • Bush will say something stupid
  • The candidates for president will try to outdo each other in displays of religiosity
  • I probably will not like our next president
  • A celebrity will do something deplorable then apologize and go to rehab
  • The networks will barf up more reality shows

What do you think will happen in 2008? 

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Mystery quote:

“Doesn’t give me anything. But along with these other results, it gives YOU just about the most twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities I have ever run into…you’ve got one religious maniac, one malignant dwarf, two near-idiots… and the rest I don’t even wanna think about”

Hint: It’s from a war movie. Peace.

Filed under: Quick Hits, , , , , , , ,

Three bits on religion

There is an on-line quiz that purports to determine where Christians stand on the theological spectrum. Below is my score. It’s not 100% accurate (are these things ever?), but I have to say that I am a little surprised that Wesley and the Methodists seem to pop-up so much in my theology.

What’s your theological worldview?

You scored as an Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan                                                  89%

Emergent/Postmodern               `                                               64%

Neo orthodox                                                                           57%

Classical Liberal                                                                        50%

Reformed Evangelical                                                                39%

Fundamentalist                                                                          36%

Charismatic/Pentecostal                                                             32%

Modern Liberal                                                                          29%

Roman Catholic                                                                         18%

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Also, check out the New Year’s Resolutions for Televangelists over at the Wittenburg Door blog. It’s a hoot.

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Finally, I swiped this from Mark Elrod’s blog. I am not sure what this picture is supposed to represent, but something about it weirds me out.

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