Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Some Artwork

It's been awhile since I've posted, as I've been approaching the end of my term, and my writing time has been consumed with papers, studying and various other studious activities. Some of my work involves listening, though, and while I cannot write while listening, I most certainly can draw. Here is the result:

"Le Voyage dans la luna"
based on A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès
"Self Portrait"
I've been playing around with a few different programs to create the above, namely Manga Studio Debut and Autodesk Sketchbook. I did start the third one by tracing an image, by the way, I'm rubbish otherwise at creating faces that look like the person I'm trying to draw. 

Hope this tides you over till I can return to writing. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Neither in Quietism nor Utopian Frenzy

From CNN Money 

Today an important question will be decided. Today we will find out which man will lead the United States of America for the next four years.

This is not something to be taken lightly. To vote is a solemn duty1 of every member of the Republic, and the role of the president as leader of the most powerful Western nation is a crucial one.

Yet, today, as we execute this duty, let those of us who are Christians not forget our highest allegiance. Christ alone is our Lord, and no early leader, be he liberal, conservative, or any other stripe, it the ultimate master of history.

We are called by our Lord to work for good in this world, and that means, among other things, that we must do our right duties as members of whatever nation we find ourselves in. If that nation is a Republic, that means we should vote.

We are not to be quietists, sitting on the sidelines and letting the world go whatever way it may. Or worse, as quietism all too often actually does, participating in the acts of the sinful world thinking it doesn't matter since God is in control.

On the other hand, we must remember that the world will not stand or fall on the actions of any man but Christ. Let the heathens rage at the heavens, the ultimate good has been accomplished on the cross. No matter who wins today, the world will not end. Ultimately, we must remember that Utopia is not ours to bring, and that while the Lord will use the work we do in building His Kingdom, it is He alone who can finally usher it in.

Do good work, but do not fret or fear. You stand secure in the One centre of all time and space who cannot be moved. The One is True, Good and Beautiful loves you and loves this world, and His word will be final. In the last day He shall come and wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4) and justice at last shall be accomplished, but until that day let us in humility sow good seed in the little gardens we are given.

Especially in a country like American, which for all its problems is no tyranny, the leader we choose will not ultimately be able to do either too great of good, or of evil.

So I call to my Christian brothers and sisters to vote, in hope and peace of mind, and of course always with prayer upon our lips.

1. It is a solemn duty I must confess I am failing in this year, as I was not responsible in ordering an absentee ballot in time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Saints vs Reformation Day

from WikiPaintings
On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. For many, this marks the beginning of the Reformation, and the end of Roman dominion in the western church. Because October 31st marked the beginning of Protestantism, it is celebrated by many as Reformation Day.

It is fine for those of us not in fellowship with the Holy See to celebrate what we see as the end of many abuses perpetrated by the Church of Rome. Yet, there is an even more important holiday that we should not forget to celebrate. For October 31st is the eve of All Saints. Last year, I wrote a blog post commending the celebration of Halloween over the celebration of Harvest Festivals, since in the celebration of All Saints we celebrate "the holistic communion between all the saints extended throughout history and geography - the catholic communion."

This year, for the same reason, I want to commend the celebration of All Saints over the celebration of Reformation Day. As I said, it is fine to celebrate what we see as being gained in the Ninety-Five Theses, but we should not loose sight of the fact that Protestantism is an expression of a faith older and larger than it. The final reality we should all point to is the eschatological reality of union in Christ. The Church, despite her broken outward appearance, is spiritually one. To celebrate the communion of Saints is thus a much more noble thing than to celebrate any particular expression of that communion. Especially, it is greater than celebrating an event which, however important, was also responsible for the most serious visible fracturing of that Church since the Great Schism.

Therefore, with all the Saints let us give glory to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for the Passion and Resurrection of His Son by which we have been called from all peoples into one family. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Quick "Defense" of the Disney LucasFilms Buyout

From Disney
I have a big midterm tomorrow, so this is going to have to be quick. For those of you who don't know, Disney has bought out LucasFilms and made plans to release a new Star Wars film in 2015.

Many fanboys and girls have dutifully announced the end of the world.

It's an understandable reaction. Afterall, Star Wars has already been trampled on so horribly by Lucas, imagine what the Mouse might do. Nevertheless, I, for one, am cautiously optimistic.

To begin with, let's face the fact that Star Wars will never be what the originals were. Even a film that matches their quality will never match their magic. Let's also admit that, as I said before, Lucas himself has trampled on Star Wars. The prequels are horrible. Moreover, Star Wars stuff is being made. There's already the Clone Wars TV show, plans for a live action show, and that peculiar Seth Green comedy being made.

Disney has also shown they can do Star Wars. Star Tours is a brilliant expression of the Star Wars universe (at least the original is, I'm not really acquainted with the new one).

Not too long ago, Disney bought out Marvel, to similar fan distress. Now, that wasn't as big of a deal as this, but let's look at what's happened. Despite jokes to the contrary, Mickey Mouse has not waltzed into a Marvel film. Moreover, there's that little thing called Avengers. It hasn't all been perfect, of course - witness Disney's cancellation of the near perfect Spectacular Spider-man to replace it with an utter failure, but neither has it been disastrous.

Star Wars has needed to be emancipated from Lucas for a long time. A cultural myth that big shouldn't be in the hands of one man whose vision for it is so utterly divorced from that of his fans. I suspect a new Star Wars film under the direction of Disney will be good. Not, as I said, as good as the originals (but we still have those, and who knows, maybe Disney will let us get our hands on the original originals again), but possibly at least as good as Avengers, which is considerably better than the disaster of the prequels.

Here's to hope.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Holy Virginity

Virgin Mary Annunciate by Fra Angelico
from WikiPaintings 
Sex is good. Or so I've been told, loudly and often, by churches eager to set themselves apart from a past perceived as anti-sex. We are not those old Greek Fathers who hated sex. We now see that the Jews perceived sex as unambiguously good, and so, therefore, should we. Nevermind, of course, that the culture which surrounded the Greek Fathers also saw sex as good, and engaged in it, apparently, in ways wild enough to make the sexual revolution look like a Victorian luncheon. Nevermind that when Socrates, in Phaedrus, contrasted love and sex, he was doing so in a society in which pederasty was the norm. Nevermind that Christianity, in making virginity a virtue for all people actually created great liberty for women.

And certainly let's not ask how we got from the (admittedly extreme) place of St. Gregory of Nyssa insisting that the Song of Songs could only be allegory and not about sex at all, to a place where Mark Driscoll can claim it's not at all allegory, but just a sex manual.

No, nevermind all that, the Greek Fathers were prudes, and we most certainly are not.

Of course, we are quickly reminded, this is sex in its proper context, which is marriage. Till we can have this proper sex, we should wait. Virginity, then is virtuous.

Yet what if the Greek Fathers had a point? Yes, sexuality is a good thing, when it is, and we should never cease to give glory to God for His gift to us of it. Yet in a world in which sin is a reality, it is hardly unambiguously good. Its not just promiscuous sex that's the problem either, married relations have their fair share of problems.

I vehemently affirm the proposition that sex is good, and that we should not forget this fact. Yet, it's a fact that would be hard for us to forget in the world we live in. Our culture frequently tells us that sex is good. We tell ourselves sex is good. And let's not forget the huge problems that single men and women in the pastorate have in finding jobs, or the marginal place which single people are assigned in our churches. Nor is it unproblematic that, in my experience, the Christian desire for companionship looks almost identical to that of the contemporary non-Christian world, and radically different from that of the past. The pendulum has swung too far.

Let us continue to affirm the goodness of sex, but let us recover virginity. Let us affirm the positive goodness of virginity as a virtue, and not just its negative goodness. In other words, let us not just see virginity as avoiding a sin of commission, but as a positive commission of virtue. Let us also not fall into the trap of thinking that spiritual virginity is asexual. To engage virginity as a Christian virtue is very much to engage ones sexuality. One cannot be a virgin without being a sexual being.

We should also not let the religious virgins and sacramental marriages be two different worlds. Both expressions of Christian virtue ought to speak into and inform each other.

Many of the great Saints of the Church, from St. Paul to St. Thomas Aquinas, and above all, of course, the Virgin Mary, have been such virgins.

 I will close by saying that it is not impossible to transverse from one world into another. For those, like me, who are single, but do not feel a call to lifetime celibacy, there is still a place for positively engaging our virginity as a special gift by which can be identified with the great Saints of the Church, and be shaped more into the image and likeness of Christ. We can, and ought to, engage our virginity as a prayer unto God, and not merely as a waiting room for the glorious future of marital bliss. Let us be present to where we are, that, in the sacrament of the present moment, we, with all the Saints, might be transformed by God's love so that our lives might be a good for the sake of others.

The Martyrs Testify: Christian Catholicity Against the Victim Mentality

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen
by Annibale Carracci from WikiPaintings
A few weekends ago, Regent College had a conference on faith and politics. During this conference, Peter Leithart spoke on the role of martyrs in the transformation of society. He emphasized the powerful witness of the Christian martyrs against the system of power in the old roman world, and how this witness stood as a prophecy of the coming destruction of pagan Rome, and as a prayer to the God who would surely not let the seed of the martyr blood lie fallow. Leithart then emphasized that we ought to identify ourselves with the martyr witness.

In response to this, Iwan Russel-Jones worried that to focus on the martyrs would simply encourage the harmful victim mentality of modern evangelical Christians.

And he's right - it might. Indeed, I think it will if we continue to forget the catholicity of the Church. If we forget that we are one body with the martyrs past, present and future, then we may indeed exaggerated our own sense of cultural alienation into melodramatic martyr language.

However, I believe that the prescription of Peter Leithart is precisely what we need to cure the victim mentality. For Leithart is not advocating a localized view of martyrdom and the church, but a global one. When we are truly catholic, remembering that many Christians today are true martyrs, and that they are our brothers and sisters, along with the saints in Heaven who's prayers continually go up before the throne of God, then we can be under no illusion that our present trials are martyrdom. Our witness will become the prayers, fasting and acts of service we do in honour of those whose lives have become true sacrifices.

Let us remember the martyr-saints who have gone before us, and those who stand beside us in the Church militant.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Reflection on Angels

by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo via WikiPaintings
The grace of God is a terrible thing. Not in the more common parlance, but in the old sense of a thing likely to cause terror. For we, our faith tells us, have been creatures of the darkness who "loved darkness rather than light, because [our] deeds were evil" (John 3:19). The light blinds us, the message of God leaves us paralyzed.The Word of God, by whom we are made whole, is "like a refiner's fire" (Malachi 3:2).

Is it any wonder then, that throughout scriptures, the presence of angels, the messengers who carry the words of God, leaves men stricken with holy terror? Often, this is understood as a result of the angel's otherworldly nature, for they are indeed utterly eldritch in their appearance. Yet, might it not be they themselves that terrify, but the message they carry?

For though they bring good news, the message is also terrifying. We are called to give up ourselves, to raise crosses and be buried with Christ that we might live to God. That this is a scary thing should not be downplayed.

To those in darkness, the messengers of God seem to bring death. Yet, though we die, if it be in Christ we shall live. Like Isaiah, though we be men of "unclean lips," God will make us clean that we might become messengers of His Kingdom (Isaiah 6:5-7).

We will, and we should, fear this message of God, but more so should we hope. The messengers of God are but creatures, and the words they have brought us are not, ultimately, words of death, but words of life! Today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, let us remember to whom their presence should ever point us. Let us, when we hear the message, like the blessed virgin Mary, declare to God, "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Let us receive Christ this day, that "as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen" (Angelus).

The Paradox of the Altar

By Giovanni Battista Tiepolo via WikiPaintings
Many of the desires we have are God given, for our Lord desires us to pursue our vocations, that by them we might make manifest His Kingdom.

Sometimes God asks us to give up our desires though, even the things He has seemed to promise us. That giving up, however, is frequently not a permanent thing. We offer up that which we love most that we might receive it back holy - "whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25). Like Abraham, we put the child of promise upon the altar trusting in the goodness of God.

Yet there is a paradox, and one I am not at all certain how to live in. I have felt called to, at least for a time, sacrifice something dear to me. Nevertheless, I have a certain faith that God will give it back to me sanctified. How do I do this, though? How do I give up to God the promise, trusting all the while that He shall return it to me? How do I make God my end and not the thing I am giving up? For unless God is my desire, the Beloved who I yearn for with all my heart, then I cannot sacrifice this desire, and I will never then receive it back holy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Orthodox Way

I've always been an ecumenist. I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church, and believe that every creed professing person is a member of Christ's Church. A few years back, however, I had a few realizations that changed the form of my ecumenism.

The first was the realization that sola scriptura, when seen in the ahistorical way many modern Evangelicals view it, is an untenable position.

Second, I realized that the sort of ecumenism I had developed bordered dangerously on consumerism. Denominations don't really matter, they're like fashion. I put on liturgy, you put on anabaptism and none of it matters substantially. I truly believe that ecumenism is good, but when it reduces to matters of taste, it becomes dangerously individualistic.

These two realizations led me to the third. If I am to be a serious ecumenist, and not merely one who considers the diversity of the church merely a matter of fashion, then I need to take seriously the identity and claims of the branches of the Church. Moreover, since I could no longer hold to simplistic sola scriptura, I could no longer dismiss out of hand the claims of those branches of Christianity, namely the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, that depended upon the authority of tradition. At the same time, I was also reading much Medieval Philosophy, and beginning to see the coherence of some of the views of Roman Catholicism.

I had always thought that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers could very well be real Christians, just as easily as any Protestant could. However, this had always amounted to thinking they could in virtue of the fact that the core of what they believed matched what I believed. It was, in other words, a kind of patronizing ecumenism. They got in because, despite all their weird additions, they were in essence like me. Yet, both these churches claim for themselves the identity of being the one true holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The rest of us might be Christians, but we are so in virtue of being, as it were, accidental members of their faith. That's a serious claim, and I decided that if I would be a serious ecumenist, then I should give it genuine consideration.

So, on and off for the last couple of years I have been giving Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy a serious look. This has not, necessarily, been with an eye towards converting, and I highly doubt I will. On the one hand, there is something about the two churches I find highly aesthetically compelling. At times I feel like Protestantism looks like a sketch of Christianity, while Roman Catholicism looks like a detailed Renaissance painting and Eastern Orthodoxy like one of its Ikons, with all the colour and symbolism it brings. Yet, there's too much about Rome and the East that doesn't sit easy with me, their absolute rejection of a female priesthood for example, so that even if some of their claims compel me, I'm not sure I could ever align myself with them.

Still, in the end I want to seek Jesus where He may be found, and I at times I think there is something of Him in the Old High Churches that we have lost, so I continue to look at them and learn from them, and only God knows what will happen.2

Researching Roman Catholicism has been relatively easy. They have many books that clearly lay out their views and apologetics, including their very detailed catechism. Searching the East, however, has proved more challenging. I have long desired to find a kind of Mere Christianity of Eastern Orthodoxy, and had so far come up empty. I was, thus, understandably excited to see The Orthodox Way in the list of extra readings for one of my classes, and quickly picked it up.

I am extremely happy with the book. It is beautifully written and clearly exposits the Eastern faith not merely propositionally, but as a living faith. I find that much written here I can wholeheartedly agree with, and those things that I don't agree with I at least find compelling. Most of all, the book fills me once again with wonder at God's glory and excitement about the future of my faith here on Earth, leading me in turn to fervent prayer. I have not been so wholly captivated by a work of theology since I read N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope several years ago.

As I said in my long preamble, I do not expect that I will ever go over to the East, but I am deeply grateful for this book, and it certainly gives me food for thought. If you are a Christian of any stripe, but especially one with questions about our brothers and sisters in the East, I heartily recommend a look at this book.

There is much more I could say about this book, and I may indeed write more posts on it in the future weeks reflecting on what I have read within its pages. For now though, I simply want to leave you with a glowing recommendation.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
1. This is why I am so opposed to re-baptism. If there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," (Ephesians 4:5) by which "we were all baptised into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13), then to re-baptise is to declare the other baptism unreal, and thereby to declare that all baptised in that other church aren't members of the body.
2. I certainly hope you will pray for me as I ask these important questions. I don't want my decision to be based on fashion, the sexiness of a certain theological view, or even my own limited reasoning, but on the guidance of God's Spirit.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism Review

Something is wrong with Free Church evangelicalism, or so D.H. Williams (I would say accurately) claims in Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants. The Christian Church has gone through splits before, first in the Great Schism between East and West, and again in the Protestant reformation, yet the massive proliferation of splinter groups in recent memory is unprecedented. The Free Church isn't going away though, in fact, it's growing with incredible rapidity. Almost any Christian would say the growth of the Christian faith is a good thing, but the divisions D.H. Williams rightly finds troubling. The problem isn't just divisions either, but the theological free-for-all that feeds them. When it's every man for himself in theology, then every man's convictions can become a cause for division. Treating the Bible as an authority certainly doesn't seem to be enough either, as the long history of Christian heresies bears out.

So how to solve the problem? Williams doesn't think the end of the Free Church is likely, or even desirable (he is a Baptist after all), but he does think the Free Church can be revitalized and given a theological center. The key, Williams claims, is to reclaim the early Tradition. He does not mean by the Tradition the Roman Catholic Magesterium, but rather the guides to theology, such as the Creeds, that act as lenses through which to read the Bible. What Williams wants to argue in his book is that Protestants, even Free Church Protestants, don't need to fear the tradition. The Reformers were right to emphasize scripture, but they also saw the place of Tradition as an aid in understanding and interpreting it. Indeed, they even used the early Tradition as weapons in their battle against the Roman Catholic church. There is no reason, Williams thinks, that the Free Church cannot lay hold of the benefits of the Tradition and still remain the Free Church.

The argument of the book is certainly unique and definitely compelling, but I'm not sure it's entirely successful. I'm not, of course, the audience of this book, as I'm a high church Anglican with a pretty positive view of the role of the Church's Tradition in Christian orthodoxy, but I'm entirely sure how persuasive the argument laid out in the book would be to his audience. Moreover, I'm not sure that the Free Church really can be what it is and at the same time respect the Tradition. I don't know the answer to that quandary, as my own understanding of the relationship between Christian orthodoxy, Scripture and the Church's Tradition is still something I'm definitely wrestling with, but I'm suspicious. For one thing, while the Tradition is a valuable thing, it too can be open to interpretation, so I'm not sure it solves the hermeneutical puzzle that troubles Williams. If all he wants to do is encourage Free Church protestants to at least converse with the Tradition, more power to him, but it hardly seems likely to solve, in and of itself, the individualism that plagues that expression of our faith.

Perhaps the biggest problem I see is a lack of clarity on the part of Williams as to what he means by Tradition. He makes the distinction, often made in certain circles, between Tradition and traditions, but I felt he did a rather poor job explaining what he saw as a difference.

Neverthless, not all is bad with this book. Certainly, Williams is bringing an important part of the Christian faith to the attention of those in the Free Church, and he is doing it as an insider. He does succeed in arguing that Protestants don't need to fear the Tradition, and successfully dismantles Anabaptist myths of the "fall of the Church" after Constantine.

So, there's certainly plenty of good material to be had here, but it's certainly not the earth-shattering book I was hoping for. Worth a read if your a Protestant, especially a Free Church Protestant, with questions about the Tradition, but it probably won't settle things for you.1
1. Another more detailed review of the book can be read over at First Things.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What's So Wrong About Apologizing?

By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work)
 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney said a lot of things, mostly benign, a times nice, and occasionally utterly terrifying.1 Some were also lies. This, of course, surprises no one. Politicians lie, we know that. I want to talk about one lie in particular, the claim that Obama began his Presidency with "an apology tour." As the Washington Post has pointed out, this isn't true at all.

What I want to talk about here, however, is not so much the lying, but the nature of the accusation itself. Let's imagine it was true that Obama apologized because "America ...had dictated to other nations." I ask, what would be wrong with this? Is it not part of being a mature, adult human being that when you think you've done something wrong, you approach the wronged parties and apologize, ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation? Imagine knowing someone who had continually acted in a selfish manner, and had, to top it all off, refused to ever admit wrong, always blaming others and pridefully boasting of his actions? What would you call such a person? Manchild comes to mind.

Now, America may not be like the selfish person described above. I actually do believe that, most of the time, the cases in recent memory where America really screwed up (i.e. Iraq) were still entered into with the best of intentions. Nevertheless, if you act with the best of intentions and you mess up, you apologize. Of course, it's another question entirely whether America did mess up, but if that's your point of contention, Mr. Romney, then say that. It's perfectly reasonable to say, "Mr. President, you apologized for dictating to other nations, but you shouldn't have apologized because we were right in taking those actions." To get upset merely over the fact of any sort of apology ever being made for anything, though, is backwards. Somehow though, it's gotten into the understanding of some Americans that any sort of admission of weakness is anti-American, a failure of patriotism.2 That's silly. America is not the Kingdom of Heaven, but a human nation. Human nations err.

I sincerely hope that Romney, should he become president, can find a place in his heart that will be okay with apologizing if the country, under his leadership, makes mistakes. I find it hard to imagine he will though, since doing so would mean admitting that America isn't always "the greatest country in the history of the world."3
1. However politically calculated, it's still nice hear a conservative emphasize the rights of women to have a political voice. On the other hand, calling optimism uniquely American is annoying, and promising to build up a military so powerful no one would ever dare to question us is horrifying.

2. Moreover, I think this emphasizes just how thoroughly not Christian the American nation is. To recognize wrong, address it and seek forgiveness is a central part of the lived Christian faith, but to apologize for American misdoings is, apparently, anti-American.

3. Quotes taken from NPR's transcript of Romney's speech.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sometimes Something Goes Right

By NASA. Photo taken by either
 Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans (of the Apollo 17 crew).
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes something goes right in the world.

It's been a rough week for sane readers of the news. With everything from a certain Republican showing an abysmal ignorance of female anatomy to horribly offensive topical bibles... it's been easy to fall to despairing.

But sometimes, something goes right with the world, and I can't help but smile.

You see, being pro-life should be about more than an opposition to abortion. It should be about a passionate respect for all life, and a commitment to the protection of those who cannot protect themselves, be they the unborn or rape victims. Yet, as Rep. Akin's comments earlier this week showed, those in the pro-life movement can sometimes loose sight of that fact.

Then today I read this piece of news at the Huffington Post. Go ahead, read it.

Now let that soak in. 50,000 Pro-Life Christians are supporting care for the environment. 50,000 Pro-Life Christians are putting life first, not a particular issue. 50,00 Pro-Life Christians understand that protecting the environment is not about the defense of some abstract thing, but about the stewardship of our world.

Somewhere, right now, out there in America, 50,00 Pro-life Christians who get it are walking around.

Sometimes something goes right in the world.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Every Man Just Wants To Be a Princess

Aaaand now that I have your attention.

That's exactly what I mean. Well, almost exactly. "Every" is a bit of an exaggeration, since it's hard to say that every individual member of any particular group wants one thing. There's always exceptions (like sociopaths for example). But given that caveat, and the context I'll shortly be giving you, I'm pretty sure that what I said is 100% true.

So, onto that all important context. If you're the sort of person who reads this blog, then you probably know what a complementarian is. Nevertheless, I'll give you the short of it. A complementarian is someone who thinks that there is an essential difference between men and women, and that this essential difference in some way suits them to different roles (that complement each other). Just what these different roles are can very wildly from one complementarian to another, but in general I've found it's not in terms of, say, work. I've rarely met a complementarian who just thought women should stay at home.1 More often, the important axis for explaining the essential differences purported to exist between men and women is marriage.

Frequently, the details of this essential difference are couched in mythic terms. In everything from Wild at Heart to the unintentionally ironic organization "Lancelot Lives" (which itself is apparently no longer alive2), the difference perceived between men and women is painted in vivid pictures of knights and princesses. This, they say, is no accident because those tales aren't accidental, they portray something essential about humankind. Men, you see, are knights, or at least desire to be, and women are princesses. The men want to fight battles, rescue the weak and defend there homes. Women want to be rescued, and... um.. be beautiful... and some other stuff I guess. Both parties, they say, want love, but love of a different kind. The men want their strength and leadership to be respected. The women want to be cherished.

And I say that's a load of crock. Of course men want respect for what they've accomplished, but so do women. Men want to be cherished too. I don't there's a man in the world who, when faced with darkness, doesn't desire to be rescued, held, shown nurturing love. It's not always a romantic desire to be sure. Sometimes they just want it from friends, sometimes from their parents, sometimes from God. But they want it.

Moreover, as a Christian I'm inclined to say this is a good thing. The faith we practice teaches us that we are dependent upon God, that we are literally nothing without Him. Every Christian, male or female, should experience points in their life where they fall on their knees and cry out to God for rescue, beg Him to come down, wrap His wings around them and cherish them. Moreover, every Christian, after having been cherished by God and fed at His table, should find the strength to gird themselves for the battle of faith and go out into the world as knights for the gospel, spreading not violence, but the very cherishing love they have been given.  So, in short I agree with the complementarians that the myth of the knight and the princess is no accident. It tells us something about ourselves, but it isn't a lesson about gender. Every man just wants to be a princess, and every woman wants to be a knight.3

1. Though most are opposed to women in ministry. 2. At least I cannot find it anymore, but I saw it once, I swear.
3. None of this is to say I don't think there's any difference between men and women. At the very least, our bodies are different, and I think that's important. I don't know what the difference is though, and I certainly think it's problematic to make it a matter of roles. Especially when those roles involve terms like "submission" and "leadership".

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Windup Girl Review

Worlds Without End
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi 
2010 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 2009 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel 

 I'm a sucker for a good setting. After all, I was raised up on a steady diet of The Lord of the Rings and learned early that a well built setting is a wonderful compliment to a good story, and can even be a pleasure all its own. When you come down to it, that's probably why I love science fiction and fantasy - they're the only genres were I can indulge in the pleasure of world building. Well, The Windup Girl is an absolutely fantastic bit of world building, and I'll waste no more time in giving it high praise.

Rather than being set on some far off planet or in a gritty metropolitan future, The Windup Girl takes place in a Thailand of the future, one that exists in a radically different, but utterly believable, political and economic world from our own. It's that believability that's so incredible about Bacigalupi's world. Our world has gone through many economic shifts, from agrarian to industrial and beyond. But who from an agrarian society could have pictured an industrial world? Of course, there's no guarantee the world will go the way of Bacigalupi's vision (hopefully it won't) but one can readily imagine it, and that makes it a wonder to behold.

Without giving too much away, since so much of the pleasure of The Windup Girl is the slow unraveling of its setting, the world Bacigalupi builds is one of a post-industrial crunch. Well before the time of the book, the petroleum that fuels our world's economy ran out, without any comparable alternative being found, and the global economy quickly became a thing of the past. The world couldn't just go back to being agrarian though, because industry had changed the world forever. Alternative technologies provide for some of what petroleum provided before, though with nowhere near the power, and the world is slowly inching back towards a global economy. Maintaining these technologies is crucial, because during the industrial age the agro-businesses had created genetically engineered crops and plagues that guaranteed humanity would need to continue to rely on advanced technology to keep itself alive and fed.

In the midst of this world of economic isolation and genetic disaster, the city of Bangcock is a boiler plate of political and economic tensions. Two major forces jostle for power within the city, as those who seek to protect the city from the outside world, the "White Shirts" of the environmental ministry, butt heads with those of the Trade Ministry who see salvation for Thailand in the recovering global economy. The Windup Girl is the story of one genetically engineered Japanese girl who becomes caught up in these forces.

This book certainly won't be for everyone, however. It is a story about politics, and so naturally it moves at a lumbering pace. Mind you, I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, but it was certainly not a page turner and took me awhile to finish.  Also, the exploitation which the titular Windup Girl Emiko faces throughout the story is not easy stuff, so if you've got a queasy stomach you should probably stay away. It's also not a book without it's flaws. The prose is perfectly serviceable, but not incredible, and the characters that inhabit it, while not flat, fail to really jump off the page.

It's also not a book whose message I can get on board with, though that certainly doesn't mean its poorly done, or that I can't enjoy it. Without giving too much away, the books overall slant seems to be something of a Buddhist Transhumanism. Which, when you come right down to it, is a very interesting worldview, just one dramatically opposed to my own.

So, if you love world building, and enjoy political stories, I can highly recommend The Windup Girl. If that's not your style, then this book is definitely not for you.

Also, fantastic cover.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Anti-American

I, Daniel Schwen
 [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Anti-American is a phrase I hear bandied about a lot these days. Mostly, I'm afraid, it's in conservative circles. It's a phrase, however, that doesn't seem to have any clear content. Or, rather, it's a catchall for anything and everything the conservative speaker disagrees with. Obama is anti-American because he's "a socialist," for example.

The thing is, I cannot imagine anything more fundamentally anti-American than this use of the phrase. The very foundation of what it is to be American, I would think, is to be (little "d") democratic. Our society is built on the principle that government serves by the will of the people. The people, the society, not you and your personal opinions. Of course, "the people" is an abstract concept - the will of "the people" really consists of the will of many of the people, and your personal viewpoint is one that must be taken into account in determining that will. That's why we vote.

In the end though, sometimes the vote goes against you. Sometimes a president gets voted in on a mildly liberal platform, promises he'll reform healthcare and then actually does it. Well, you may not like it (I'm certainly not sure what I think of "Obamacare") but it is, to some degree or another, the will of the people.

So it's not your will. Well, good thing is we are a democracy, and you can fight Obamacare, or anything else about liberalism you don't like, and try and get things changed. Of course the system isn't perfect, many people are disenfranchised in one way or another by our society because all human societies have at least some oppression built into them.1 But you can try, and you won't be shot for it, and that's a good thing. More importantly, it's the fundamentally American thing, the ability to disagree, to debate, and then to build a society off of the results of that debate, in our case determined by vote.

The flipside of that is, however, that if the debate doesn't go your way, you don't dare call the outcome anti-American (assuming the result isn't one that someone disenfranchises someone). To call viewpoints you disagree with anti-American is to subvert debate, to say that democracy is fine and all as long as it goes my way, and so is, in short, to be a tyrant. It is to be anti-American.


1. I don't mean to be flippant about the oppression that exists in our society. I'm a Christian, I believe Christ came to set all captives free, and that all societies that exist for the sake of the small elite and the expense of the weak and downtrodden (read: all societies ever until Christ returns) are to some degree or another demonic. We should fight the demonic, and always strive to make society more equitable, even if we never reach our goal.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I Forgive

By Radomil [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0,
 via Wikimedia Commons
Jared Wilson has issued an apology for the language used in his post on 50 Shades of Grey. For my part, I accept and acknowledge this apology, and extend my forgiveness for the language used.

I wish that Jared Wilson could acknowledge the problems with the views he expressed (not complimentarianism per se, but the accusations he levelled against egalitarianism) but I'm not surprised. That remains a problem, but at least the harmful language has been addressed, and the apology given with immense grace and humility.

Regardless of the problems I have with Jared's point of view, the manner of this apology shows character. Some in the comments have refused to accept his apology, some because they felt it inadequately addressed their problems with the original post (fair enough), but others who insist that it was insincere. To those people I offer an injunction. You cannot know someone's heart. If you don't want to accept the apology because you feel it inadequate compared to the hurt it caused you, fine, but do not insist that he did it just to save face. You can't know that, and it is wrong to assume you do.

Jared, I accept your apology for the words used, and I continue to hope and pray you will see the problems with the viewpoint you advocate. Blessings to you, my brother in Christ.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Colonization According to My Tin Poetic Ear

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives [Attribution],
via Wikimedia Commons
Warning: This post discusses sexual violence.

In my last post I wrote about why, in the plainest English possible, I found the recent Gospel Coalition complimentarian post disturbing. I wrote it because I felt their defense in response to the outrage had completely missed the point. Anyway, earlier today I read this post, which I felt did a much more thorough job of explaining the problem, and in the meantime defending egalitarianism, than I had done.

Reading this post led to a discussion with one of my roommates, and brought up some points I had glossed over in my last post. I mentioned in my footnotes that the language of colonization and conquest really are a problem, because no matter what you intend to be saying, the realities of public language can mean you're saying something quite different. I would think that at least the problem with the language of conquest should be obvious. War is hell, conquest is brutal. The connotations of that language can't be anything but dark.

Yet, I'm inclined to think that the language of colonization is actually more disturbing, precisely because of the dissonance between its myth and its reality. The myth of colonization is one of brave men and women making a virgin land fertile. The reality was white settlers taking land that already belonged to other people, destroying those people and then reshaping the land in their own image.

 So with the language of colonization, you bring in a metaphor that is, as my roommate pointed out, very appropriate for patriarchy, but also very disturbing. The one thinks he is simply taking something fresh and unclaimed, the other is brutalized and destroyed. There is no virgin land to be taken, a person is already there, and she has the right to that land. If she invites you in, well and good, but if you colonize then you violate her, plain and simple.

Perhaps I have, "a poetic ear like three feet of tin foil" but I do not think these implications can be missed. Do I think Wilson and Wilson were advocating rape? No. Do I think they intended their metaphors to carry these connotations? No, but they do anyway. Language is public, you can't bring in symbols without getting all their baggage. Moreover, a white man especially can't use the language of colonization without some very disturbing implications.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Victim Blaming, or Missing the Point Entirely

Image Taken from Restoration Community Church 
Warning: This post discusses sexual violence.

Today, a friend drew my attention to this post over at The Gospel Coalition, then Rachel Held Evans' response, and finally TGC rebuttal.

In the original post, TGC writer Jared C. Wilson writes about the perverted sexuality of 50 Shades of Grey, and quotes from Douglas Wilson’s book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man. The quote, which I won't bother to reproduce here since you can read it both in the original post and in Evans' response, has caused a great deal of outrage.

The reason for this outrage is that Wilson and Wilson appear to be claiming that egalitarianism is ultimately responsible for the existence of rape, sexual violence and forms of sexual perversion that glorify them. In other words: victim blaming. Again.

Wilson and Wilson, of course, responded to the outrage, but their response completely misses the point. They seem to think that they're being accused of advocating rape and other forms of sexual violence. I actually wouldn't be surprised if some people have accused them of it, since they use language of "conquest" and "colonization" in their description of "proper" sexual authority and submission,1 which would quite rightly upset some people.2 By-and-large, though, that isn't what people are complaining about.

People get that Wilson and Wilson are saying that rape and sexual violence is bad. That's hard to miss. Unfortunately, it's also hard to miss when Douglas Wilson says "Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence." Wilson is, undeniably, claiming that egalitarianism creates the environment for sexual violence. He is saying that because woman desire something apart from the life of the curse, and desire to live in equality with men, rape happens. That is a highly disturbing thing to say, and I hope and pray Wilson and Wilson can come to see how horrifying what they're saying is.

I know complimentarians I respect. I don't think that point of view is inherently evil, though I do think it's wrong, but this is not merely complimentarianism, it's sheer unbridled patriarchy, and it's wrong.


1. Douglas Wilson thinks that using these terms is okay because not all conquest and colonization is violent and destructive... apparently.

2. Just because you intend to be saying one thing, your text can still be saying quite another. In a world in which sexual violence is so prevalent, the use of terms like "conquest" and "colonization" for healthy sexuality is not okay, even if you think you mean something different by it. Language is public. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

That Cursed Tree

Death came by a tree, in the deception of the serpent, by the First Adam
Life came by a tree, in the destruction of the serpent, by the Last Adam 

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Passionate God

by Desconocido Francais [GFDL]1
via Wikimedia Commons
It is an old axiom in Christian theology, borrowed from the Greek philosophers but supported by scripture, that God is unchanging. The reason for this, on the philosophical side, is that God must by nature be perfect. Any change is, however, either a change for the better or for the worse. Thus, God is immutable. Some points about that idea might be argued, but by and large I agree with it and it is not the focus of my post today.

Rather, I want to address a particularly corollary of the immutability of God according to the Church Fathers and most who came after them - that God is passionless. Passions (or emotions) are themselves changes of state, encompassing certain physical and relational states experienced by the subject. Because they necessarily involve change, the Greek philosophers would argue, the passions are necessarily imperfections, and so God cannot have passions. This led to problems for the Church Fathers, who by and large accepted the Greek vision, but who also acknowledged the genuine incarnation of God as a human person who did indeed suffer. In explaining this, the Church Fathers appealed to Christ's nature as fully God and fully man. He suffered passions as a man, but not as God.

Many, including myself, later questioned this explanation. This, in turn, leads to questions about whether or not God's perfection can in fact be understood in the manner the Greeks understood it. I think the answer is both yes and no.

I say yes to the Greeks because I do believe perfection does in fact entail a kind of immutability. God, if He is truly perfect, cannot grow wiser, for then He would be less then perfectly wise. However, I think their understanding that all change is a change for the better or for the worse is at least partially flawed. For some things, the relative virtue of a change very much depends on that to which it stands in relation. For example, if I want to go to the store, which is to the right of where I am currently sitting, a turn to the left would be bad, while a turn to the right would be good. Lacking a goal, any turn would, of course, be neutral. This, as of yet, does not defeat the Greek's point. For, that I can turn either to the better or to the worse relative to my goal and I am thus not in the best of all possible positions (i.e. perfection) in which no change could either improve or worsen by case.

What then, of passions? Passions themselves are, I believe, good or bad depending very much on circumstances. Fear is a good and appropriate emotion when faced with danger, but bad if it is in response to something neutral or helpful. Important in the world of passions is the conditioning of the emotional system. The perfect emotional being would always have the proper emotional response to every possible stimuli. Few of us, of course, have this. Even the most healthy mind might find itself experiencing fear at a needle bearing beneficial medicine. The point here is that fear is always good/right/fitting when facing genuine danger and always bad when not facing genuine danger. Though our emotional lives are often an admixture of the good and the bad, there is an ideal emotional state in which a change in emotions is not a change for the better or the worse, but simply the appropriate response to the stimuli at hand.

My contention is that God, especially an incarnate God, can in fact have passions without those passions being changes for the better or worse, but instead appropriate. It is appropriate for God to have anger at sin, love for His creatures and joy in their salvation. Moreover, if God incarnates, then it would be appropriate for Him to experience fear at the threat of crucifixion or anger at corrupt and heartless religion.

Divine passions would, of course, not look fully like ours (human language must always fall short in describing the perfect being afterall). Certainly, God the Father would not experience the physical change of state that we associate with emotions. Questions of temporality come in too, but dealing with that is outside of the scope of this article.

So is God immutable perfection? Yes, but that does not mean he is without appropriate passions. Understanding always, that until we meet Him face to face, we always see as in a mirror darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12).
1. By English: Unknown Español: Desconocido Français : Inconnu (Luis García (Zaqarbal), 27–September–2008) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0]

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Good Side of Prayers to the Saints

by Fra Angelico [Public domain] via Wikipedia
It's been quite a while since I've written a post. As I've hinted at, I've been in a time of great transition, but that doesn't excuse the disservice I've done to you my readers. I thank you for your grace and your patience. I've started grad school now, and am settling into my new home in Vancouver quite well. This, of course, means I'll be quite busy, but it also means that I'm going to have a good deal of fuel for this blog. Already today, after being remonstrated by one of my fellow grad students for the lack of new postings on my blog, I have thought of two subjects to blog on. Hopefully this will continue.

The second post will becoming soon, as well as (hopefully) an update on my life for those of you interested. First, however, I thought I would address again the topic I left you with last time - the saints. Specifically, I want to address the topic of prayers to the saints, and something I think we may have lost in giving them up.

Before I do that, however, let me stress that I am not advocating that we pray to the saints, I certainly do not. I am, as a protestant, well aware that such prayers, particularly in their form as patrons of certain areas, walks dangerously close to paganism. Indeed, while the doctrine surrounding the practice is most emphatically not worship, it all do often degenerates into syncretistic worship in practice. This is certainly the case where my sister and brother-in-law minister in central Mexico, where the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a more important celebration than Easter. Worse though, the practice in its actual application often puts a wall of separation between the people and Christ, denying that we can approach the throne of Grace boldly (Hebrews 4). Again, to my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, I must stress that I understand this does not represent the practice at its best, but is a corruption of it.

However, I do not think the practice is, at least in it's general form (i.e. not in the form of patronage) as out of left field as many of those who share my confession might think. We are, as I talked about in my last post, a catholic church. Moreover, that catholicity is not merely geographical but also temporal. In Baptism we are joined under the headship of Christ to all the saints, both those living (Militant) and dead (Triumphant). Furthermore, I believe that prayer is first and foremost communal and only afterwards individual (that would have to be discussed in more detail in another post). In the communal nature of prayer, we both join together liturgically, and intercess for one another. When we do this, we join in with the Church Triumphant who forever stands before the throne of God giving Him glory and praise.  If then, I can ask my friends or family to pray for me, it seems to me not insane that we could ask those now asleep for prayers as well. Of course, this begs further questions about temporality, the state of souls before the Resurrection and much much more.

There is, of course, the question of just who stands in the Church Triumphant, which makes the patronage system of further dubiousness in my mind (though I understand that's the entire point of Canonization of Saints on the basic of attributed miracles). Nevertheless, I believe that this is largely why prayers to the Saints can be effective, because the saints are praying and (forgive me) God meets us in our weakness.

However, I think by and large the Protestant restraint on this issue is a correct move. What I want to stress to those in my tradition, however, is that in emphasizing our direct access to Christ (which we are right to do) we do lose the constant awareness of the Church Triumphant which prayers to the Saints brings. I therefore think that we, as children of the Reformation, need to be extra careful not to loose that creedal truth. In light of that, it is I think important for us to emphasize or implement liturgical practices which bring to us an awareness of that truth. Thus, for example, the Anglican Church as part of its liturgical calendar recognizes feast days for saints without and the same time praying to saints. This, as I understand it, is traditionally put forward as a way of lifting up examples of good Christians past who we can emulate. That's a worthy goal, insofar as it goes, but I think we should moreover take those times to emphasize that these Saints are (insofar as we can know) with us in our worship of God.

That, of course, is just one idea, and I'm sure there are many other ways Anglicans could express this truth liturgically, as well as ways in which other traditions might do the same.

The Lord be with you.