Thursday, January 31, 2008

A unique statement of beliefs

Almost every church and denomination website contains a "Statement of Beliefs" which lays out their doctrinal positions. Usually it's the same boilerplate stuff. Recently though I came across a "Statement of Beliefs" which really intrigued me. In fact, I've been reading it over and over again. It is on the website of the Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, a Conservative Quaker organization. Check it out:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tired but happy

I'm sitting in O'Hare airport in Chicago, waiting for my connecting flight to New Orleans. I'm tired, but happy.

Last night at the jail we had a blast. Five inmates joined Carla and I for Bible study. Most of them have never read the Bible before, so I began with an explanation of how the Bible is organized. I explained my own frustration the first time I tried to read the Bible: I figured you read it like any other book, so I started at Genesis and worked my way back. I got to somewhere in Leviticus and gave up. I certainly didn't see Jesus anywhere in there!

The method I came up with for explaining the organization of the Bible is this: I compare it to a library and explain that just as a library has diffent genres of books, so does the Bible. I also explain that the books contained within the Bible were originally written on large scrolls. The scrolls were organized, not so much by chronology, but by genre. I show the two divisions of the Christian Bible and explain "Old Testament" essentially means (the Old Contract). I describe briefly
God's covenant with Abraham to bless all people through his seed. I then quickly go through the OT books; pointing out the five Books of Moses, the history books, the poetry/wisdom books and the prophets. While in the prophets I explain that their purpose was not to predict the future (as is commonly believed by people new to the Bible) but to confront Israel--Abraham's seed--for not hold up their end of the Covenant. Their job was to reflect God by being just, compassionate, merciful, fair, etc.

I also explain that the Old Testament is like a big arrow that points forward towards Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant.

I then explain the Gospels: These show us who Jesus was, what He did and what He taught.

Then I explain the rest of the New Testament as being the aftermath of Jesus; where His earliest followers are trying to work out what it all means after His appearance, death and resurrection. The New Testament, I tell them, is like a big arrow pointing back to Jesus.

When I do this I let my Bible lie flat on the table but hold the Gospels vertically, like this:

-------> || <-------

I explain that the Gospels really are the "core" of the Bible and that this is where, as new readers, they should spend their time. The rest can come later.

They got really excited about this last night. One guy exclaimed, "No one ever explained this to me before! Now it makes sense!"

We spent the rest of the evening studying the story in John's Gospel of the miracle of the loaves & fishes. The inmates really liked the idea of Jesus using the hopelessly inadequate lunch of a kid (just about the weakest and lowest person in their culture) as the basis for a miracle considered so important that it is included in all four Gospels. We talked about how God takes what we come to Him with, as pathetic as that may be, and makes something amazing and beautiful out of it. Great discussion continued and we were all disappointed when we realized it was 9:30pm -- time to wrap it up.

As is often the case, I got home completely wired from the excitement and couldn't get to sleep until midnight. Then it was up at 3am to leave for the airport.

So yeah, I'm tired but happy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
- Martin Luther King

Monday, January 28, 2008

So much for "cutting edge"...

A few years ago Carla and I visited a church here in Seattle that was getting a lot of buzz as a "cutting edge", "emerging", "post-modern", "hip and trendy" fellowship. Their church building even doubled as an espresso shop (I know, that's almost common nowadays, but a few years ago it seemed very cool). Perhaps my expectations were too high after perusing their immaculately crafted, high-tech website. Upon attending, I was horribly disappointed by how utterly typical their church service was. Four worship songs of the Matt Redman variety, announcements, a sermon, collection of tithes & offerings and dismissal. The pastor gave his sermon from a podium on stage while the congregation sat facing him in padded chairs. It was no different from what I had experienced in church for years. Except for the espresso machine at the back.

About two years ago I was in the Bay Area and drove all the way to Santa Cruz to visit a church that was getting a lot of buzz as a "cutting edge", "emerging" church. Their pastor had even authored a book on the "emerging church". I made it to their service and what do you suppose I found? You guessed it: Four worship songs of the Matt Redman variety, announcements, a sermon, collection of tithes & offerings and dismissal. The pastor gave his sermon from a podium on stage while the congregation sat facing him in padded chairs. It was no different from what I had experienced in church for years. Except they had black curtains and candles.

About a year ago I was in Los Angeles and visited another "cutting edge" "emerging" church. The gathering was in a funky theatre/nightclub in downtown L.A. Can you guess what it consisted of? Four worship songs of the Matt Redman variety, announcements, a sermon, collection of tithes & offerings and dismissal. The pastor gave his sermon from a podium on stage while the congregation sat facing him in padded chairs. It was no different from what I had experienced in church for years. Except everyone had tattoos.

Yesterday, feeling desperate for some flesh and blood Christian fellowship, we went back and paid another visit to the "espresso" church in the first paragraph. Four years or so later and nothing has changed, except the congregation has grown a bit.

These visits keep reminding me of the reality that I'm ruined. After what I've learned and experienced; after reading books by the likes of Frank Viola and Robert Banks and being part of a house-church; I can no longer stomach a typical church service. I see right through the "po-mo" or "emerging" or whatever "flavor of the month" window dressing that is being placed around the same old product. It's still the song and dance of professional performance ministry in front of a passive audience.

Now, if you want to talk about cutting edge, how about a group of people gathered to worship Jesus with no agenda other than to encounter Him? How about having no one in charge except the Holy Spirit? How about sitting in a circle? How about a gathering where anyone can speak/sing/pray/prophecy/etc. but no one feels they have to perform? How about a gathering where silence is every bit as important as utterance? That sounds scary and very edgy but actually not new at all. I find it in my New Testament. I find it in George Fox's Journal from the 1600's.

I just can't seem to find it in Seattle in 2008.

But I'm still looking.

Computer Screen Cleaner

If your computer screen is dirty, you can go to this website and have it cleaned:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Rapture Song

Randy Bonifield wrote this touching and funny song as a lead-in to a sermon on "the end-times" at his church. He builds off of Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" (The quintessential Rapture song) to describe how the Rapture doctrine affected him as a kid.

Some perspective on entertainment

The fiery holiness preacher Leonard Ravenhill used to say, "Entertainment is the devil's substitute for joy!" That always rubbed me the wrong way. I think we were created to need a certain amount of recreation and entertainment. But I'll concede to Leonard that we certainly have lost our perspective on the priority of entertainment.

I don't watch much TV. I find it an annoying barrage of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." But lately I have been tuning into the cable news stations to keep up on developments and debates in the Presidential race. What I find though is that the "news" channels don't really provide much actual news. It's mostly "analysis", which is a fancy way of saying "opinion". Watching cable news channels also means that I've been subjected to a constant stream of over-hyped "journalism" about the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger, the mental condition of Britney Spears, the Golden Globe awards, the Academy Award nominations and other assorted and sundry bits of "entertainment news". Do the poor schlubs who have to report on this stuff ever stop to wonder what became of their journalistic aspirations and how they ended up squandering their talent providing "analysis" of Lindsey Lohan's hijinks?

Here's an interesting scenario: What would happen if all of the popular entertainers--actors & actresses, pop musicians, etc.--suddenly vanished? No Brad & Angelina, no Tom & Katie, no Beyonce, no Paris. How long do you think it would take the entertainment industry to provide a new supply of celebrities?

I'm thinking a few days.

I first encountered the speculation of such a scenario when I read an essay by David Brin. Although Brin is a scientist and a Ph.D., he is best known for his science-fiction books. He posted an essay on his website entitled A Long, Lonely Road: Some Informal Advice to New Authors, in which he extolls the virtues of science in the pursuit of empirical truth. He compares the relative scarcity and value to mankind of scientists vs. entertainers:

"As for the artists and writers I know, they seem almost universally convinced that they stand at the pinnacle of human undertakings. Doesn't society put out endless propaganda proclaiming that entertainers are beings close to gods?

Ever notice how this propaganda is feverishly spread by the very people who benefit from the image?

Don't you believe it. They are getting the whole thing backwards.

Oh, don't get me wrong; art is a core element to being human. We need it, from our brains all the way down to the heart and gut. Art is the original "magic." Even when we're starving -- especially when we're starving -- we can find nourishment at the level of the subjective, just by using our imaginations. As author Tom Robbins aptly put it:

"Science gives man what he needs,
But magic gives him what he wants."

I'll grant all that. But don't listen when they tell you the other half -- that art and artists are rare.

Have you ever noticed that no human civilization ever suffered from a deficit of artistic expression? Art fizzes from our very pores! How many people do you know who lavish time and money on an artistic hobby? Some of them quite good, yet stuck way down the pyramid that treats the top figures like deities.

Imagine this. If all of the professional actors and entertainers died tomorrow, how many days before they were all replaced? Whether high or low, empathic or vile -- art seems to pour from Homo Sapiens, almost as if it were a product of our metabolism, a natural part of ingesting and excreting. No, sorry. Art may be essential and deeply human, but it ain't rare."

I like Brin's perspective on this. I've met some amazing musicians in my life, who will never be known to the world at large. How many brilliant songs have been written that would equal or eclipse anything from McCartney & Lennon but never got to the ears of the industry movers & shakers? How many Tom Hanks' and Cate Blanchett's never got their shot? One of the things I like about U2 is that they readily attribute their fame to dumb luck. They appear to try to maintain perspective, which is generally so lacking in the entertainment industry (including the cable "news" channels). As Bono once said, "Don't confuse success with fame. Mother Teresa is success, Madonna is fame."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The thought crimes of Ezra Levant

I caught a brief interview of Ezra Levant on the Glenn Beck show tonight and was amazed at what I heard. Two years ago, as publisher of a Canadian magazine called Western Standard, Levant printed cartoon images of Mohammed. These were the same cartoons that caused threats and riots when published in a Danish newspaper. You can view them here.

A radical Muslim imam by the name of Syed Soharwardy complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who proceeded to take action against Mr. Levant. While the Canadian taxpayers paid for the government investigation against him, Levant had to pay for his own defense out of his pocket (and via donations from supporters).

Mr. Levant wrote a pointed editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper explaining the situation and his opinion of it.

When Levant was brought in for his initial meeting (what he calls an interrogation) with the Commission in Alberta, he insisted on videotaping the proceedings. He then published segments of the video on YouTube (the second one is my favorite). The woman sitting across from him is an "officer" of the Human Rights Commission. Watch as Levant expresses, in no uncertain terms, his opinion of the inquiry.

You can follow the story at Levant's website:

Let's keep in mind that what Levant allegedly did to violate human rights was print cartoon depictions of Mohammed.

The allusions to Orwell's 1984 are obvious, but I'm reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote:
"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men [and women] with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

Quote of the Day

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Edison Glass - This House

I love this song and video from the Christian band, Edison Glass.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Word to the "Elect"

You may rejoice to think yourselves secure;
You may be grateful for the gift divine -
That grace unsought, which made your black hearts pure,
And fits your earth-born souls in Heaven to shine.

But, is it sweet to look around, and view
Thousands excluded from that happiness
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you, -
Their faults not greater, nor their virtues less?

And, wherefore should you love your God the more,
Because to you alone his smiles are given;
Because he chose to pass the many o'er,
And only bring the favoured few to Heaven?

And, wherefore should your hearts more grateful prove,
Because for ALL the Saviour did not die?
Is yours the God of justice and of love?
And are your bosoms warm with charity?

Say, does your heart expand to all mankind?
And, would you ever to your neighbor do -
The weak, the strong, the enlightened, and the blind -
As you would have your neighbor do to you?

And, when you, looking on your fellow-men,
Behold them doomed to endless misery,
How can you talk of joy and rapture then? -
May God withhold such cruel joy from me!

That none deserve eternal bliss I know;
Unmerited the grace in mercy given:
But, none shall sink to everlasting woe,
That have not well deserved the wrath of Heaven.

And, oh! there lives within my heart
A hope, long nursed by me;
(And, should its cheering ray depart,
How dark my soul would be!)

That as in Adam all have died,
In Christ shall all men live;
And ever round his throne abide,
Eternal praise to give.

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners' woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They'll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.

--Anne Bronte (1843)

Saturday, January 12, 2008


"The church is a whore, but she's my mother." - St. Augustine

I think I know how Augie felt when he wrote that. I've spent the last few years feeling pretty disgusted at the church; at least the church as I've experienced it. I spent many years at churches which, in retrospect, seemed more concerned with maintaining and perpetuating an organization than with being the body of Christ. I saw man-made hierarchies which severely limited people's ability to realize the dreams that God had put into their hearts. I saw (not always, but often) people using leadership positions for ego-gratification rather than to serve. I saw exclusion of those who, for whatever reason, didn't measure up. I saw an overemphasis on form and an underemphasis on function. I saw teaching without discipleship. Oftentimes even the teaching wasn't very good.

I went through a process of deconstructing my understanding of what church is. It was a messy process, as deconstructions tend to be. I sought to strip away the forms and rituals and layers of cultural veneer and get to the intrinsic core. I discovered that to be church one doesn't need buildings and clergy and rituals and sermons and worship teams. I also discovered that even when church is in its simplest and purest form, human sin can still spoil it.

And yet...And yet.

As a follower of Jesus there is a tidal pull which draws me to meet with other followers of Jesus and worship Him in gathered community. Dysfunctional, conditional, manipulative and hurtful, but community nonetheless. And sometimes, when we forget ourselves and our agendas, the love of God and the image of Christ appear in our midst; though only in a flash and a glimpse; and it all seems worthwhile.

Quote of the Day: William Penn

"Rightly may we say our unhappiness is of our own making, since we know what we shouldn't do, but still do it.

Disappointments that aren't a result of our own foolishness are a testing of our faith or a correction from heaven, and it is our own fault if these disappointments don't work for our good.

To complain about them does not help; indeed, to do so is only to grumble at our Creator. But to see the hand of God in our difficulties, with humble submission to his will, is the way to turn our water into wine and to induce the greatest love and thankfulness toward God in our hearts."

William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Jail Diary: Liz's Story

We arrived at the jail on Sunday for chapel service unsure of what to expect. Most of the inmates we've been interacting with over the last couple of months have recently been released, so we didn't know who would show up. For the first time ever, it looked like no one was going to be there. We were beginning to discuss how long to wait around before calling it a day when Liz bounded into the room. Liz is an enthusiastic and likeable woman in her early 30's. She has been a regular at the chapel services and her positive attitude is always refreshing. She loves singing worship songs.

It was only the three of us, so we pulled our chairs into a tight circle and sang some worship songs together, followed by prayer. I was ready to begin the Bible study but first asked Liz how she was doing. She was upbeat. "If it's ok with you" she said, "I'd like to tell you my story." We avoid asking people at the jail about their crimes, primarily because we want to see them as people Jesus loves; not as car thieves and drunk drivers and prostitutes and drug dealers. But if someone wants to talk about their situation, we will try to listen without judging them.

"Maybe you heard about my case." Liz continued, "It was on the front page of the area newspapers a couple of months ago." I won't go into any details of what she told us. In general terms, Liz worked as a nurse's aid. A patient at the facility where she worked became ill and died. A scandel ensued. Charges of manslaughter and criminal neglect were filed against the owners of the facility and anyone who had cared for the patient. This included Liz. She found out about the charges against her, and the 10+ year prison time they carried, via a front page newspaper story.

Others are fighting the charges, but on her salary, Liz could not afford a lawyer and so had to rely on a court-appointed attorney. The DA offered her a plea bargain: If she pled guilty to neglect, he would drop the manslaughter charge. Since she had no prior criminal record, she would serve less than a year. Alone and under pressure, Liz felt that she had no choice but to accept the bargain.

Now, with a felony record, she would never be able to work in the healthcare field again. In addition to her legal troubles, Liz had recently gotten out of an abusive marriage. She had lost everything.

Yet she glowed with joy as she spoke to us about what a wonderful experience the months in jail had been. She had never been really close to God, but now she felt Him close to her all the time. Once all of the distractions had been stripped away, what remained was the tangible presence of God. She often sensed Him guiding her and sometimes heard His voice. She gushed about how much she had learned of God's love and care for her and how He had taken these awful circumstances and turned them into something beautiful. I reminded her that for the last 2,000 years Christians have sought out solitude and separation from the world; sometimes for a few weeks or months, sometimes for years and sometimes for life; in order to set aside worldly distractions and encumbrances and focus on seeking God.

I can honestly say that she is the most joyous inmate I've ever met. We never did get to the Bible study that I had prepared. We used up our entire chapel time listening to Liz's story. Then the three of us prayed prayers of thanksgiving--with tears in our eyes--and hugged goodbye.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Whiny Rant of the Week: Commercials at movie theaters

We went to see a movie last night at an AMC theater and were disgusted by the display of crass commercialism. Essentially we paid to sit and watch television commercials on the big screen prior to the previews and feature. The commercials were interspersed with incredibly annoying segments from a company called Screenvision, which featured a smug host who spoke as if addressing an audience of young children (or morons).

I've concluded that the movie industry must think we are morons. After all, we spend billions of dollars to watch films that are, more often than not, paragons of poor writing and monuments to mediocrity. Now, in addition, they've figured out that we will pay money to sit in silence like idiots and watch TV commercials.

I'm done with it. As much as I like movies (which are the folklore of our age), I've reached the tipping point where there are just too many negative factors to warrant a trip to the cineplex.

If you want to get a taste of where this is all leading, go rent the film Idiocracy. Or, better yet, go read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

By the way, I've discovered that there are actually grassroots organizations that have arisen to protest the showing of commercials before movies! Two examples are and

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Movie of the Week: Mime Love

And now for something completely different: A mime love story from the film Paris, je t'aime.

On evil and Forrest Gump revisited

I received an email regarding my recent post about "Evil and Forrest Gump" and decided to post it here, along with my response, for the following reasons:

1. The email came from someone close to me who does not consider themself a Christian. I appreciate their perspective and feedback.
2. I'm a lazy bugger and decided that for the effort I put into the reply, I might as well get a blog entry out of it.

To: Danny
From: S

I read Evil and Forrest Gump, you wrote "God's desire is for true, loving relationship with the people that He has made in His own image. In order for this to occur, people had to be given free will. Only if they could choose to reject God would it mean something if they chose to love God. Unfortunately, the choice to reject God and His ways results in evil."
Are you saying to reject God and his ways always results in evil? What about people who reject God but are kind and generous in thier own right (you know a few of those) or those who accept God but behave in evil/sinful ways?
I personally take issue with the word "evil" and how we tend to use it anyway, but thats just me.

To: S
From: Danny

There is some background behind my statements about evil that isn't apparent in that post, and I should have clarified it. The reformer John Calvin, who by many accounts was not a very nice man, coined the term "total depravity" to describe human nature. A lot of his followers (Calvinists) and detractors alike have misunderstood what he was getting at. They think he meant that humans are "totally depraved": that there is nothing good in them. This misconception has led to all kinds of misery. What Calvin was actually saying was that there is an element of depravity to everything we do. In other words, each one of us is a mixed bag - capable of tremendous good and tremendous evil. This is as true of the devout Christian as it is of the atheist. Speaking for myself, even when I manage to do something good and honorable and apparently selfless, there is still more than a bit of my own agenda mixed in.

Didn't Freud say something along similar lines only in terms of conflict between the ego, the superego and the id? It seems to me that most (if not all) forms of religion, spirituality and mental health treatment acknowledge and attempt to ameliorate an internal conflict, which we all struggle with. Christianity terms this struggle as one of choosing continuously between good (God's will) and evil/sin (against God's will). Scientologists deal with it by trying to become "clear" of engrams. Buddhists seek detachment. Etc, etc.

When I spoke of rejecting God and His ways I was thinking not so much of a one-time event of "accepting/rejecting Christ" but of the continuous ongoing struggle to "do the right thing". The ultimate test, I believe, of whether or not something is the "right thing" is whether it is the loving thing. Paul said, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Even though Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament, he made it clear that he still struggled with his "evil" nature: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14-25)

The point, from a Christian perspective, and the core of what I want to say, is that the struggle is very important but we still fall short and must rely upon God's grace, mercy and love. This should make us humble and compassionate. A Catholic mystic from India named Anthony De Mello wrote, "The sign of authentic Christian maturity is when you're grateful for your sins, because sins lead to grace." This echoes Paul's observation that "...where sin increased, grace increased all the more." Grace is love in action.

I see the word "evil" as an adjective that describes what people do, not who they are (although Scott Peck in his very engaging book People of the Lie describes a rare type of person that is so utterly and completely selfish and self-centered that he terms them as "evil").

So, to respond directly to your questions:

>>Are you saying to reject God and his ways always results in evil?
Pretty much, although this rejection is not a singular event but a continuous process and is something that Christians and non-Christians alike do. A big part of "following Jesus" is to seek to make choices in line with His will and character, which is Love.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature."

>>What about people who reject God but are kind and generous n thier own right (you know a few of those) or those who accept God but behave in evil/sinful ways?

This reminds me of something else from C.S. Lewis. In his children's the book The Last Battle (from The Chronicles of Narnia), the "bad guys" are the Calormenes. They worship a malevolent god called Tash. The "good guys" in the story worship Aslan, who is a metaphor for Jesus. Emeth, a Calormene soldier, goes on a quest in search of Tash but encounters Aslan instead. He describes the event:

"So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size as an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, "Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him." But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, "Son, thou art welcome." But I said, "Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash." He answered, "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me." Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, "Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?" The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, "It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?" I said, "Lord, thou knowest how much I understand." But I said also (for the truth constrained me), "Yet, I have been seeking Tash all my days." "Beloved," said the Glorious One, "unless the desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Martin Luther described Christians this way: "We are all beggars telling other beggars where to find bread." So it doesn't surprise me in the least that a person who claims to have "rejected God" lives a life marked by goodness while a person who claims to be a Christian lives a life marked by evil. It may just be that the first person rejected God in word but followed Him in deed, while the second accepted God in word but failed to follow Him in deed. Jesus said of the one's who follow Him, "You will know them by their fruit."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

After Innocence

I watched a very moving and thought-provoking documentary the other night entitled After Innocence. The film is about a non-profit legal organization called The Innocence Project which uses DNA evidence to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned.

The film introduces viewers to several men from various states who were convicted and imprisoned on rape charges. Some of these men were incarcerated for upwards of 20 years before DNA testing proved their innocence. In most cases, they were convicted based upon circumstantial evidence and unreliable eye-witness testimony.

The centerpiece of the film is a man named Wilton Dedge who, at the beginning of the movie, is still in prison. Although DNA testing has proven him innocent three years prior, the state of Florida and the prosecuting attorneys are fighting his release. The film follows the attempts of the Innocence Project to gain his freedom.

Once released, few of these men receive any form of compensation for their wrongful imprisonment. They are turned out onto the street with no money or career skills. The film documents their struggles to rebuild their lives from scratch.

The most disturbing thing about the film is this: The men who are exonerated are those who were "fortunate" enough to be convicted of crimes in which DNA evidence was a factor (namely, rape) and in which samples containing DNA were collected as evidence and preserved for decades. What about all of the innocent people currently languishing in prisons for whom there is no DNA evidence? One gets the impression that what we are seeing in this film is the tip of the iceberg.

This news story appeared on the AP wire this morning:

DNA tests get man freed after 27 years
The Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 01/03/2008 11:00:22 AM MST

DALLAS—A man imprisoned since 1981 for sexual assault was freed after a judge recommended overturning his conviction.

Charles Chatman, 47, was released on his recognizance after serving nearly 27 years of a 99-year sentence. He was freed on the basis of new DNA testing that lawyers say proves his innocence and adds to Dallas County's nationally unmatched number of wrongfully convicted inmates.

Chatman became the 15th inmate from Dallas County since 2001 to be freed by DNA testing. That is more than any other county nationwide, said Natalie Roetzel of the Innocence Project of Texas, an organization of volunteers who investigate claims of wrongful conviction.

Texas leads the country in prisoners freed by DNA testing. Including Chatman, the state will have released at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates since 2001, according to the Innocence Project.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Favorite Books

I was going to end the year by listing my 5 favorite books of 2007, but I've decided instead to just list some of my favorite books of any year. These are books that I have read and re-read and that have had (and continue to have) a profound effect on me. They are also books that I seem to continuously recommend or loan out. There are plenty of great books that I left off the list for the sake of brevity or because they deal with a very specific topic (for example Richard Abanes' excellent One Nation Under Gods, which is about Mormonism).

This list is somewhat sloppy and incomplete, much like my reading habits.

I have also removed the section on my blog where I listed the books I'm currently reading, books I've recently finished and books I'll be reading next. These lists always felt a bit pretentious to me and I did a lousy job of keeping them updated (probably because every time I did I felt like I was being pretentious).

Here's the list:

The Bible - I use an NIV Wide-Margin from Zondervan which is no longer available. I like wide-margin Bibles because I can write notes in them (that's a picture of mine above). The NIV is not my favorite translation; I actually prefer the NRSV; but I haven't found a decent wide-margin NRSV Bible yet. I can't stand the King James or The Message.

Bible Study:
How to Read a Book - Mortimer Adler
How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth - Fee & Stuart
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church - Frank Viola
Poet & Peasant/Through Peasant Eyes - Kenneth Bailey
Reading the Bible with the Damned - Bob Ekblad

Bible Commentary:
The Expositor's Bible Commentary - Frank E. Gaebelien
For Everyone Series - Tom (N.T.) Wright

Theology for the Community of God - Stanley Grenz

Church (Ecclesiology):
Rethinking the Wineskin - Frank Viola
Who's Your Covering - Frank Viola
Pagan Christianity - Frank Viola
Missional Church - Darrell Guder, editor
The Externally Focused Church - Rusaw & Swanson
Paul's Idea of Community - Robert Banks
The House Church - Del Birkey
The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace - M. Scott Peck

Sin & Salvation:
Missing the Mark: Sin and Its Consequences - Mark Biddle
The Inescapable Love of God - Thomas Talbott
Hope Beyond Hell - Gerry Beauchemin

Eschatology (the End Times):
Revelation: Four Views - Steve Gregg
Last Days Madness - Gary DeMar
End Times Fiction - Gary DeMar
Whose Promised Land? - Colin Chapman
Christian Zionism - Stephen Sizer

Church History:
The History of Christian Thought - Jonathan Hill
Backgrounds of Early Christianity - Everett Ferguson

The Universe Next Door - James Sire
The Christians Secret of a Happy Life - Hannah Whitall Smith
Amish Grace - Kraybill, Nolt & Weaver-Zercher
Addiction & Grace - Gerald May
Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
Searching for God Knows What - Donald Miller
Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship - N.T. Wright
The Challenge of Jesus - N.T. Wright
A New Kind of Christian - Brian McLaren
The Story we Find Ourselves In - Brian McLaren
The Last Word and the Word After That - Brian McLaren
The Little Book of Biblical Justice - Chris Marshall
The People Called Quakers - D. Elton Trueblood
Quaker Spirituality (Selected Writings) - Harper Collins Spiritual Classics
Amusing Ourselves to Death - Neil Postman
The Life of Rev. John Murray - John Murray

Anyone care to list some of their favorites in the Comments section?

Quote of the Day

"Holiness is God's ability to confront evil without being defiled. God's holiness does not require Him to keep evil at arm's length. God's holiness enables Him to take the wicked in His arms and transform them. God is never in danger of being defiled. No evil can alter His love, for His gracious character is beyond corruption. This is what it means to say God is holy - God's love is incorruptible.

Holiness and love are not competing committments. God is love. His love endures forever. This enduring love is what makes God holy. No manner of evil done to us or by us can seperate us from this love. God transforms His morally imperfect children through the power of His perfect love. It is our experience of this love that inspires us to such perfection.

Jesus said, 'Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect' (Matt. 5:48). If this verse was a command for moral perfection, our cause is hopeless. Fortunately, this admonistion follows a command to 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' (Matt. 5:44). Perfection is demonstrated not by moral purity, but by extravagant love. We are like God not when we are pure, but when we are loving and gracious."

- Gulley & Mulholland, If Grace is True