Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Act of Valor

So, the #1 movie in America (Act of Valor) is an unabashed piece of war propaganda, conceived at the Pentagon for the purpose of increasing recruitment. According to the Washington Post, "A Quadrennial Defense Review released in 2006 had indicated that the Navy needed 500 more SEALs in order to meet projected demands, explained Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan, the Navy’s chief spokesman. 'There was a series of initiatives we launched to try to increase the number of SEALs we have in the Navy,' he said. 'This film project was one of those initiatives.'" This is nothing new, but we will likely see an increase of it as the powers that be seek to justify and perpetuate the empire.

The History of U.S. involvement in Iran

Given the increased anti-Iran rhetoric of late, this video provides a good shot of perspective:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thought for the day...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I'm guilty on multiple counts...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Santorum's view on college

From a speech earlier today... This is the man who wants to be our President...

There is an excellent essay on Patricia Barber's blog, Head Upon a Stone, entitled Will the Real Quakers Stand Up? Not All at Once Please.

Excerpt: "If George Fox came back today, I doubt he would recognize any of us as Quakers. It would be very odd if he did because the genius of what he and the seekers of the 17th century discovered was that humanity's search for God is not something carved in stone, unchangeable and frozen in time."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rich Mullins

Huh… I didn’t realize that Rich Mullins grew up as a Quaker. Or that a documentary is being made about his life. Awesome.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marie Colvin

A true hero and a voice for those who otherwise would not have been heard. Her final dispatch paints a chilling picture of the horror and futility and inhumanity of war.

Here is a tribute from one of her colleagues: We Lost a Great One - By Sarah A. Topol | Foreign Policy

Killed in the same rocket attack as Colvin was 28 year old Rémi Ochlik, an award winning photojournalist from France (pictured below). At least 80 civilians were killed in rocket attacks throughout the day. Hundreds of civilians have been killed over the last three weeks.

Quote of the day:

"God said it,
I interpreted it,
I believed my interpretation,
That settles it."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My new friend...

Dao the basenji--the most inquisitive dog I've ever met.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Total Depravity vs. Perfection

(This is an update of a post from 2009)

Yesterday I experienced two extremes of Christian worship. In the morning I attended a Quaker meeting and in the evening I visited a Calvinist church service. Besides the differences in liturgy and emphasis (the centerpiece of the Quaker meeting was a time of silently listening to God while the centerpiece of the church service was a sermon given by the pastor), I was struck by the utterly opposite views towards sin and the state of humankind.

At the Quaker meeting we sang:
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

At the Calvinist church service we sang:
I am nothing if not sin.

Quakers view the problem of sin through the lens of the doctrine of Perfection, whereas Calvinists view it through the lens of the doctrine of Total Depravity. The ramifications of the two approaches are astoundingly different.

The foundational doctrine of Calvinist theology is Total Depravity. It is the "T" in TULIP (TULIP is an acrostic used to spell out the five points of Calvinism). The remaining four points of Calvinism (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints) are built upon the foundation of Total Depravity.

John Piper, one of the leading teachers of Calvinist theology today, defines four senses in which mankind is totally depraved:

(1) Our rebellion against God is total. Apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God.
(2) In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
(3) Man's inability to submit to God and do good is total.
(4) Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.

According to the doctrine of Total Depravity, it is impossible for any person to come to God of their own volition. Therefore, the only way a person can receive Christ is if God predestined them and enables them to come. Only those who have been thusly "elected" by God can become true followers of Jesus. The rest of humankind--the majority who were not predestined for salvation--are, ipso facto, predestined for eternity in Hell. If one is among the predestined elect, it is regardless of whether or not one lives a life of holiness (although it is assumed the the fruit of one's election will sooner or later become evident).

The Puritan settlers in America were staunchly Calvinist and, in recent years, Calvinism has had a resurgence at mega-churches such as Seattle's Mars Hill and Portland's Imago Dei.

Many Christians who do not attend Calvinist churches or even know what Calvinism is have imbibed elements of Calvinist theology. In particular, the doctrine of Total Depravity is widely accepted among Christians who otherwise would not self-identify as Calvinist. This tends to lead to a defeatist attitude towards avoiding sin on a day-to-day basis. The typical Evangelical Christian struggles with the notion, which they have been told is Biblical, that there is nothing good in them. They are Biblically instructed to try to overcome sin in their life, but also assume that it is a foregone conclusion they will always ultimately fail due to their Total Depravity.

Quakerism takes a diametrically opposite approach to dealing with sin. In fact, Quakerism arose in the 17th century, in part, as a reaction against Calvinist theology. Probably the most controversial doctrine of Quakerism is the doctrine of Perfection. It is also probably the most misunderstood doctrine of Quakerism. Perhaps it would have been better to call it "Maturity" or "Continuous Obedience".

At the core of Quakerism is the belief that God can be experienced here and now. George Fox's seminal revelation was that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself." This means that one can walk continuously in the "Inward Light" of Christ's presence; receiving wisdom, direction, encouragement, conviction, instruction and the ability to overcome temptation and live a holy life.

Thus, to the Quaker, it is possible to walk in obedience to God and to not sin.

Here is one way to think of it: Can you go for one minute without sinning? Total Depravity would say "No, even if you are not actively sinning, you are still filled with sin." Perfection would say, "Yes, since to sin is to walk outside of God's will, if--by God's enablement--one stays within God's will for one minute, one has not sinned for that minute." If it is possible to be in God's will for one minute, then how about two? If two, how about five? If five, how about fifteen? If fifteen, how about an hour? If an hour, how about a day?

The upshot of Perfection is that it is remarkably optimistic. Since sin is something which enslaves and degrades us, The doctrine of Perfection says that we have the potential, by walking closely with God, to live in freedom and dignity. It should be stressed that Perfection isn't about claiming to be perfect, nor is it about earning God's approval. God's love, as demonstrated through Christ, is a pre-existing condition. Therefore, if we stumble and sin, we have not lost God's love and acceptance. As Philip Yancey once wrote, "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more than He already does. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less than he already does." This is because God's love is perfect and it is all about Him, not us. God's default position towards humankind is love. It is because of God's love that God enables us to walk in obedience. Our part is to respond to God's work within us.

The joy of the Christian life (what Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith called "The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life" is going through our days in a living, interactive relationship with God; fully aware of His passionate and unchanging love for us. As we do so, we naturally and progressively live more and more within God's will. We grow into God. We also begin to reflect Christ to the world in which we live. We become the imago dei (the image of God to our world). This is why Quakers have so often been at the forefront of human rights and social justice movements which seek to help the downtrodden and free the oppressed.

When I read in Matthew 3 about John the Baptist and his call to the ancient Jews to "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him." by repenting from sin (and being baptized as a way of publically signifying that repentance), I see the same principle of what came to be called Perfectionism. The Greek word translated as "repent" is 'metanoia', which literally means to have a change of mind; a reorientation; a fundamental transformation of outlook; a whole new way of thinking. John Newton wrote "I once was lost, but now am found, T'was blind but now I see." He experienced metanoia. When Jesus told Nicodemus to be "born again" He was telling him to start all over again with an entirely new way of thinking. This is metanoia. This is Biblical repentance and it is a very positive thing. It is our hearts turning and opening, like flowers, to the light of God's love.

The Biblical Book of James is all about choosing to walk in obedience with God. James tells us that "...the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James then cajoles us to "...get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (1:21 -- It should be mentioned that, Biblically speaking, the "Word" is Jesus; what Quakers would also call "the Light"). James goes on to tell us that " by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead [literally, "is a corpse"] ... Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." (2:17,18) Later he instructs us, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." (4:7-10) This is repentance. This is metanoia. It is like driving down the highway and realizing you have been going the wrong direction, so you get off at the next exit and then get back onto the highway going the other way. James may make it sound like a downer, but it is the gateway to walking closely and joyfully with God, free from failure and bondage and sin. This is what the doctrine of Perfection is all about.

If you read the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, you will see a phrase repeated over and over: "To him who overcomes." What follows each instance of this phrase are promises to the one who overcomes. In fact, the entire Book of Revelation, rather than being a freaky prediction of end-times events, is a document written to encourage Christians to walk closely with God during tough times and to overcome rather than be overwhelmed.

In Moses's farewell address to the ancient Hebrews (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) he offered them this challenge: "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it."

God gave the prophet Jeremiah a similar message: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. ... For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

These messages, and many more like them, form a thread which runs all through the Bible. It is an invitation to live moment-by-moment, day-by-day, illuminated by the inward light of Christ. It is an invitation to continuously experience the tangible presence of God and, as a result, to be radically changed from the inside-out to one who is not Totally Depraved, but is mature, obedient, free, victorious and filled with life and love.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I am nothing if not sin

I visited a very popular church tonight, where they sang "I am nothing if not sin." I couldn't have disagreed more.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jesus love you. Then again...

(Source: Lark News)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gay Marriage in Washington state

Washington state Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) spoke frankly yet eloquently this week about gay marriage.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

An open letter to Pastor Steven Andrew

In response to your call for Christians to boycott Starbucks "for promoting homosexual ‘marriage’ in Washington State" (

Thank you, Pastor Steven Andrew, for inspiring me today. I work a demanding full time IT job plus attend seminary as a full time student plus teach from the Bible each Sunday. Sometimes it gets hard and I get tired and feel like giving up. Sometimes I wonder why I am doing all this. But whenever I begin to feel this way, someone or something reminds me of why I endeavor to follow Jesus with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and why I study so hard to better understand and teach Christian theology, with the goal of helping people attain a closer direct relationship with the Living God.

After reading your call for Christians to boycott Starbucks (based on your logic that--in light of Romans 1--Starbucks hates God because they expressed an opinion in support of gay marriage) I am inspired and reinvigorated. Yes, Pastor Steven Andrew, it is ignorant, spiteful, self-righteous, arrogant pundits like you--who speak hatred and exclusion in the name of Christ; who worship a perverted syncretic god of American nationalism; who only seem to be able to feel good about themselves if they can look down upon someone else (see Luke 18:9-14)--it is people like you who energize me to be more like Jesus (not the Republican Jesus of your imagination, but the Jesus of the Gospels who was a friend of sinners and who was hated by the likes of you for spending his time among the "unclean" and marginalized and outcasts of society and who challenged the dominant "purity-based" religious system of his day). I am inspired, more than ever, to work harder, to get out there and to spread the Good News of God's amazing love for all humankind--especially to the gay community who have been so wounded and alienated from God because of people like you.

Thank you, Pastor Steven Andrew. I raise my Starbucks grande triple latte to you in salute.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Adventures in Charismania: "Your loyalty is in question."

The first fifteen years or so that I was a Christian, I was part of a Charismatic, Fundamentalist denomination which had risen to prominence during the "Charismatic renewal" of the late 70's and early 80's. Their emphasis on the practice of spiritual gifts (such as healing, casting out demons, "words of knowledge", prophetic utterance, speaking in tongues, etc.) coupled with a savvy church-planting methodology had resulted in dynamic growth. Later, as the excitement (and manifestation) of the spiritual gifts began to wane, the church embraced a nascent prophetic movement. Certain individuals, recognized as Prophets, traveled throughout the denomination giving "prophetic words" to congregations and lucky individuals.

One such prophetic word had a sweeping and profound impact: According to the vision, times were about to get very hard in America and people were going to turn to music for comfort. A tremendous revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit--the likes of which had never been seen before--would be ushered in by "anointed" musicians taking worship "to the streets". This particular denomination had many musicians and was known for its great worship music, which to this day is sung in churches of all types all around the world.

My wife and I were part of a large church (roughly 1,500 adult members) within this denomination. We were in rotation on the "worship team" and had wonderful times playing with a variety of talented musicians. The Senior Pastor, who had founded the church, played piano and had been a music producer during the "Jesus Movement" of the 70's. Well-known Christian musicians would often visit our church when they passed through town and they sometimes "sat in" on the worship set, which was quite a treat.

As this new prophecy about music-induced global revival rippled through the denomination, our Senior Pastor decided he needed to start a record label and, using church funds, begin building an infrastructure to support what was about to happen. In order to concentrate on this "ministry", he hired a surrogate Senior Pastor. The surrogate Senior Pastor would take over the pastoral duties--freeing up the founding Senior Pastor to focus on the production and business of music. A recording studio was setup, top-notch session musicians were hired and relocated from L.A., "anointed" talent was scouted and production began.

Unlike the founding Senior Pastor who, though a gifted teacher, was somewhat aloof and autocratic, the newly hired surrogate Senior Pastor was a very open, sincere and humble man who had a true pastor's heart for the congregation. He had been recruited and relocated from a small town out of state, in part because of his good Charismatic credentials (his parents had written some influential books). He was also a musician, though not of the caliber to be considered for the church record label. He formed his own "worship team" with second-string musicians, which included my wife and I. We became friends. He became, for all intents and purposes, our pastor.

Eventually, the excitement about the great prophetic vision subsided. The revival was a bust. A couple of very mediocre albums had been made, selling a few hundred copies, primarily to church members. The pro musicians gradually drifted away to other gigs.

The surrogate pastor was notified that he was going to be let go, as the Senior Pastor was going to resume his previous responsibilities. The surrogate accepted the decision gracefully. Word of his impending dismissal leaked out to the congregation. Someone started a petition, intended to be given to the surrogate pastor to show him how many people considered him to be their pastor and didn't want him to leave. The Senior Pastor and his administrative hierarchy got wind of the petition. The surrogate pastor was immediately removed and a series of fiery sermons were delivered by the Senior Pastor on topics of authority, discord and loyalty. In one sermon, I remember him railing against the "sons of Absalom" who were trying to divide and destroy what God had set in place.

Those who had been close to the surrogate pastor, including my wife and I, were telephoned by church staff and informed that their loyalty was in question. We were asked to come in for a meeting to clarify where we stood. I calmly explained that we had faithfully served, three services each Sunday plus mid-week service, for several years and if that wasn't enough evidence of our faithfulness then we were done.

The next Sunday at church, a most amazing thing happened. People who had been our friends for years suddenly wouldn't talk to us or make eye contact. Apparently word had gotten out about our refusal to comply and, in the midst of a congregation of hundreds, we felt ostracized and isolated. After the service we went, as always, to the restaurant nearby which, as always, was filled with friends from the church. Only, again no one would speak to us or make eye contact and there were no seats for us at the tables. One friend, a guitarist who we had often played with, began to wave and smile, but his wife shot him a fierce look and he quickly bowed his head.

We never returned to that church.