September 30, 2004

They're coming out of the woodwork

This just in:

BRANSON, Mo. - A Branson man has put a face to the anonymous references people often make to "they" by changing his name to just that: "They."

[Full Story]

On the positive side, the sentence "They is mighty ignorant" is now good English.

Just a reminder . . .

that despite the whole Rathergate scandal, Kenneth still has it all together.

Time for me to bug out.

And now . . . this (a twofer)

When you see stories like this, you just know that Arkansas or West Virginia are going to feature in the dateline, don't you?

PINE BLUFF, Ark. - A man who set his wife's pants on fire because he believed she was having an affair accidentally torched his mobile home and has been charged with arson, police said.

Officers said Leroy Brown, 19, perceiving that his wife had been with another man, set fire to the pair of pants he thought she was wearing at the time of the affair.

[Full Story]

Bad, bad Leroy Brown, dumbest man in the whole damn town.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world where indoor plumbing is still considered a newfangled luxury:

BLUEWELL, West Virgina (AP) - A family meal erupted into a gun battle after a father and son clashed over how to cook chicken.

The two men argued Sunday over the best way to prepare skinless chicken for dinner.

[Full Story]

(Am I cynical? You bet.)

September 29, 2004

Christian Carnival XXXVII

It's Wednesday again, and that means that it's time for Christian Carnival XXXVII, hosted this week by

As The Article That Will Not Die, an essay on God's providence that fits in with my ongoing series on God's will, refuses to honour deadlines, I have again not contributed anything to the Carnival this week. Looks like there's some pretty good stuff up, though, and I'll be posting a few of my favourites later when I've had a chance to do some reading.

Rodney Olsen makes a good point about the reductionistic tendency of mainline churches (specifically in this case, the Anglicans) to shrink the Gospel into quasi-secular activism for social justice:

It's all about the Church of England finding ways to lure people back to church. They've decided to offer a fair trade chocolate bar to every worshipper."

[Read What in Heaven's Name are we Doing?]

Baggas raises a thought-provoking question about the relationship between our prayer and God's plans:

But what's the role of prayer in a democratic election? Is it valid to pray that the candidate you favour wins? This is something that bears thought as we are approaching crucial elections in both Australia and the USA. Like the many other selfish prayers I offer up, I'm tempted to pray that the leader I favour is elected as PM, especially since I really can't stomach the thought of the other guy winning. I'll pray for the other guy if he wins, sure, but I'd rather not have to.

[Read Elections and prayer]

Mark D. Roberts reminds preachers that they, of all people, owe it to their listeners to check their facts before speaking:

When I get up to preach, my people need to know that I have made every effort to be as truthful as I can be. The more my people learn that I am trustworthy, the more they will give me their trust. They will believe me, not only about illustrative stories but, more importantly, about the theological content of my sermons. Conversely, if people discover that I really haven’t done my homework when I pass on the latest e-mail tear-jerker, then they’ll be inclined to doubt the main points of my sermons as well.

[Read Dan Rather Meets Teddy Stallard: A Warning]

Brandon at Siris posts a neat literary essay on Dorothy Sayers' radio drama The Man Born to Be King:

One of the most interesting aspects of the play-cycle is her characterization of Judas Iscariot. For dramatic purposes there is some need to develop his character beyond the minute amount we find in the Gospels themselves. This she does by starting Judas out as a disciple of John the Baptist, and building the story of a sort of running debate between him and Baruch, a Zealot, on the course Israel's future should take. In her first characterization, she calls him 'infinitely the most intelligent of all the disciples' (p. 69), and, in fact, makes him almost understand Jesus through sheer native intelligence alone. But always there is a serious problem with intellectual pride. Judas has an idea in his head about how Messiah should operate; he approves of Jesus because Jesus conforms to it. But he never allows that his idea could be flawed.

[Read Siris: Sayers, Judas Iscariot, and Intellectual Humility]

Cindy Swanson posts about her younger brother going to the Middle East to train Iraqi policemen:

I thought he had lost his mind recently when he signed up to go to Iraq for one year to train Iraqi police officers. Yes, the pay is more than good. But every time another news story about a beheaded American flashes on the TV screen, I physically flinch. I don't want my baby brother to become one of those news stories.

[Read "InshaAllah"]

Finally, bLogicus comments on the problem of skeptical "religious studies" courses at college, and worse, the inability of the church to equip young students to face this challenge:

Reportedly, many collegians are 'shocked and awed' by Bible-criticizing religious studies professors, such as the University of Texas Professor Michael White, whose 'Rise of Christianity' class is used to question and undermine the historicity of the Gospels.

[Read Irreligious Studies Challenge Christians ]


Alright, for the last time . . .

No. I am not the "Hot 89.9 $25,000 Fugitive."

Even if I did have $25,000, I wouldn't give it to you. Stop interrupting my dinner, my conversations, and my solitude by yelling "HEYAREYOUTHE89POINT9TWENTYFIVETHOUSANDDOLLARFUGITIVE?" at me. I've never listened to "Hot 89.9," and I won't, if they're as obnoxious as you.

If I want to be accosted by smelly, baggy-pantsed, lips-pierced ruffians demanding money, there are more than enough in the Market.

That is all.


Banned Book Week

Mark Shea makes an astute point about Banned Book Week and the cries of so-called "censorship!" that come from librarians every time parents object to children's literature they deem inappropriate:

I assert that no book is banned if it's not illegal to print it or posses it. For every book on their 'banned' list, I could order up a dozen copies and freely read them on the steps of the police station.

. . . This affected outrage at this straw-man threat to liberty leads people to believe that they are living with a boot on their collective neck. And since most -- if not all -- of the banned books are children's books 'banned' at the behest of parents, the kids get the idea that parents are oppressive.

[Full Text]

Update: On the other hand, Rebecca has posted a list of books banned somewhere by someone and highlighted the ones she's actually read. Since I'm kind of a sucker for this kind of list, I've gone and done likewise:

  • Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  • Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain [Twain's chief fault was in not having a time machine, so he didn't know that the word "nigger" would be completely inappropriate 100 years later, the ignoramus.]
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck [This was required reading in grade 10; apart from being steeped in profanities, not a bad book, although I prefer the works of his assigned in upper grades, such as Cannery Row.]
  • Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  • Forever by Judy Blume
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  • My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger [This Rousseauean hippie claptrap was required reading in grade 11. Crap crap crap.]
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  • Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Sex by Madonna [Ugh. She's scary enough clothed.]
  • Earth's Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl [I really like Dahl, but I don't remember whether I've read this one or not, so I'm not counting it.]
  • The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
  • Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
  • The Goats by Brock Cole
  • Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  • Blubber by Judy Blume
  • Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  • Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
  • We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
  • Final Exit by Derek Humphry
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood [I got to read this one twice in high school: as part of the expanded reading list for grade 13 modern lit (where it fit in quite well with other dystopian fiction such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four) and again as part of the core curriculum in grade 13 English lit the next year.]
  • Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  • Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
  • Deenie by Judy Blume
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  • The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
  • Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [This satirical novel turned out to be more prophetic than the better-known Nineteen Eighty Four by Orwell. Part of the core curriculum of my Grade 13 modern lit course.]
  • Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  • Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
  • Cujo by Stephen King
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  • Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  • Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  • What's Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
  • Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  • Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
  • Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  • Fade by Robert Cormier
  • Guess What? by Mem Fox
  • The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut [Again part of the expanded curriculum for modern lit. In case you haven't figured it out, I read the entire reading list for that course before ever taking it. It didn't hurt that my girfriend took it a semester ahead of me.]
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding [I hated it at first, but unlike Catcher I actually finished it. Apparently Golding's quite accurate portrayal of children as little savages doesn't sit well with some parents.]
  • Native Son by Richard Wright ["Whitey's keeping me down." Cry me a river, commie.]
  • Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Fantasies by Nancy Friday
  • Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
  • Jack by A.M. Homes
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
  • Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
  • Carrie by Stephen King
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  • On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
  • Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
  • Family Secrets by Norma Klein
  • Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
  • Private Parts by Howard Stern
  • Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford [Huh?]
  • Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  • Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
  • Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
  • Sex Education by Jenny Davis
  • The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
  • Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  • How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell [This funny little book was read to my grade 4 class daily by my teacher.]
  • View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
  • The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
  • Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Looks like I've read 17 of the list (counting series such as Harry Potter as one), so I'm only about 3/4 as dirty as Rebecca.

It's an interesting list. Apparently, someone out there really hates Stephen King, Judy Blume, sex education, and dystopian satire. On the other hand, I'm also surprised not to see some mainstays of schoolhouse censorship on the list, such as The Wizard of Oz (witchcraft), Twelfth Night (cross-dressing), and The Taming of the Shrew (sexism).

Oooh, look at all the pretty colours!

In other Christian-blog-related news, I feel like pointing out1 that Ambra Nykol2 has just released her redesign of It looks great! And having recently released Crusty Curmudgeon v2.0 myself, I can relate to this kind of thing "testing the repetoire of my Christian profanity," even though my cosmetic changes are nowhere near the complete functional transformation Ambra has done.

1 Well, actually, I was looking for an excuse to try out the BlogThis! feature.

2 See? I got it right this time. I don't misspell anyone's name wrong twice.

September 28, 2004

Pilgrims, mark this site down

Flocks of the faithful are flocking to the Eagle Pass Police Department to see a mysterious statue of Christ. Police say the statue of Jesus just came floating down the Rio Grande. The statue is now in the department's evidence room. . . .

Many in the border town's Catholic community have made the trip to see the crucified Christ lacking the cross propped against two doors in the entryway of the evidence room. About 200 pilgrims a week are now coming to the police department to see the mysterious statue. . . .

Because no one has come forward to claim it and because of its mysterious discovery in the river, the Catholic faithful have embraced the statue as a religious message from God.

[Full Story]

This makes perfect sense. After all, when an unclaimed, life-size article of fibreglass religious kitsch is found in the river, there's no other possible explanation, and hence no alternative but to make a shrine out of it.

September 27, 2004

Monday morning quid pro quo

David at Jollyblogger has officially launched the League of Reformed Bloggers, a news aggregator-slash-blogroll for bloggers who agree in principle with the great Reformed confessions of faith. Unlike some Reformed organizations, membership requirements are pretty flexible, so if you're basically Calvinist and want to join up, drop him a line. In the year since the Curmudgeon started, I haven't gone too much into the specifics of what I believe, but basically I am in general agreement with the London Baptist Confession.

I also noticed this week that I have been blogrolled by a couple of people who were outside of my usual circle of friends. Hello, and thank you! Unfortunately, with Technorati's search engine down at the moment, I can't verify who they were. However, one was definitely Belief Seeking Understanding, and the other could have been Pure Text, who both submitted articles to the last Christian Carnival that I particularly enjoyed. So even if I'm wrong, pay 'em some attention anyway; they're worth it.

September 25, 2004

What herb are you?

Don't know if I agree with this, but unfortunately "YOU ARE OREGANO" wasn't an option. Too bad. You can never have too much oregano.

(Hat tip to Quizilla via Rebecca Writes.)

Is there a point in this speech?

It isn't often I find myself agreeing with Stanley Fish, professor of English and law and the reigning King of Postmodernism. But in my "professional" opinion as someone who writes for a living and speaks in public as a hobby, on the level of pure rhetorical analysis, here he nails it.

Fish conducted an informal poll in a freshman writing class, asking which American presidential candidate was most capable of articulating his position clearly. The results: George "Moron" Bush won hands down over John "Nuanced" Kerry. Fish summarizes:

[D]oesn't Mr. Bush's directness and simplicity of presentation reflect a simplicity of mind and an incapacity for nuance, while Mr. Kerry's ideas are just too complicated for the rhythms of publicly accessible prose?

Sorry, but that's dead wrong. If you can't explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it's not yours; and if it's not yours, no one you speak to will be persuaded of it, or even know what it is, or (and this is the real point) know what you are. Words are not just the cosmetic clothing of some underlying integrity; they are the operational vehicles of that integrity, the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond. And if the words you use fall apart, ring hollow, trail off and sound as if they came from nowhere or anywhere (these are the same thing), the suspicion will grow that what they lack is what you lack, and no one will follow you.

[Full Story]

I haven't tuned into a formal political debate in years. I may wind up watching all of them this time round.

(A tip of the hat to Russ at Coffeehouse at the End-of-Days for digging this column up.)

September 24, 2004

If you want to leave, take good care

The bridge of Cat Stevens' song "Wild World" seems to sum up the situation well: "If you want to leave, take good care / Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there / But just remember there's a lot of bad, and beware." In other words, Cat, I mean Yusuf, suck it up:

Yusuf Islam, the British singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, is taking legal action after he was refused entry into the US.

Mr Islam said the decision to deny him entry on grounds of national security was "very serious and wholly unfounded" and he wants an explanation. . . .

"I am a man of peace and denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for the US authorities to suggest otherwise."

[Full Story]

Uh . . . yeah. Though if you happen to be Salman Rushdie, then Mr. Stevens, I mean Mr. Islam, will denounce you and support the $6 million contract taken out on your life.

Royal Bank now a "safe place" for gays

Royal Bank of Canada employees have been "voluntold" to display little rainbow triangles on their desks (when you have to repeat the word "voluntary" multiple times, that's usually a surefire indication that it's anything but):

Tens of thousands of Royal Bank Canada employees are being asked by bank management to display the Rainbow Triangle on their work desks. In early September, RBC employees arrived at the office to find the directive on their PCs. "The RBC Safe Space (program) is a visible, non-threatening way to show that your desk, cubicle or office is a "safe place" for gay men, bisexuals, transgendered and lesbians," employees were told in the first edition of the bank’s online newsletter, Rainbow Space. . . .

"The Safe Space Program is a voluntary program that is designed to provide a non-threatening way for employees to send the message that homophobia and hostility will not be tolerated within RBC," states Rainbow Space newsletter.

While bank management claims displaying Rainbow Triangle stickers is voluntary, the inference taken from the request is that not showing the sticker could lead to hostility, demotion or job loss. In the wake of Canada’s Bill C-250, which includes sexual orientation in anti-hate legislation, there’s also the threat of a two-year prison term.

[Full Story]

It's good to know that the RBC is finally putting its foot down and demanding an end to the rampant and widespread practice of beating homosexuals into a bloody, unrecognizable mass of flesh when they set foot inside a corporate office. But I really do have to wonder whatever happened to tolerance policies such as, "Do your job and don't make an issue of where you put your thing, and we'll get along like a house on fire"?

September 23, 2004

Buffy Studies 101

Interesting BreakPoint article yesterday by Gina Dalfonzo about the religious dimension of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

In short, of all the TV shows that have ever been taken much too seriously - and there are plenty - Buffy takes the cake. At the risk of being labeled both unintelligent and uncool, I confess it unnerves me a bit when people with Ph.D.s refer to "Buffy studies" or "Buffy scholars," or calmly use words like "Buffyverse." Call me narrow-minded, but I can't help it.

[Full Text]

September 22, 2004

Today the "F" stands for "Fonzie"

It ain't my country or my election, so I try not to keep pounding on him, but he makes it so easy:

Mediocrity in education, part II

While we're on the subject, Conservative English Major relates a hilarious anecdote about a fellow grad student's intended baseball-related "thesis". I'll bet the first name that popped into your mind was either W. P. Kinsella, or maybe Kevin Costner, right? Wrong:

She interrupted: "I'm not doing that. I'm doing Baseball. Bats are obvious phallic symbols. The balls clearly represent sperm, which comes from the 'balls' of men. The gloves are symbolic vaginas, which accept and then reject the sperm. The gloves are worn on the hands, indicating masturbation fantasies. It's all very male, and has to do with discourses initiated in an attempt to exclude the feminine other by appropriating the methods and means of reproductive symbolism."

Clearly, not only does she see nothing odd about this, neither does her dissertation committee.

[Full Text; see also Joanne Jacobs]

See, this is why I will never have a graduate degree in English. I'm just not thinking loftily enough, or even stupid enough.

Publik skools: striving for mediocrity

Don't get me wrong. I have a public edumukashun from kindergarten through B.A., and no regrets. When I have kids of my own, I will probably want to send them through the public system as well, though in my case I also happen to live in a city where a local Christian high school also happens to be the best high school in the province. But antics like the following are symptomatic of a viewpoint that has become so widespread that I am seriously considering seeking to marry a doctor or lawyer, just so I can stay home and educate my hypothetical children myself without having to worry over my paycheque.

In her English class, James White's daughter Summer was assigned a letter, addressed to the President, which was to express her opinion on a subject she felt strongly about. So she did a few hours of research and came up with a really good letter on stem cell research. This was very well received by her classmates. The teacher, however, felt differently, and failed her.

In a meeting between the principal, the teacher, Summer, and her father, she was offered the opportunity to redo the assignment. She refused. And why not? The instructions were followed to the letter the first time. The reason given by the teacher essentially amounts to this: "Summer worked too hard on it, and it was too good." Needless to say, White has escalated this to the next level of administration.

Twenty years ago when I was where Summer White is now, if you stood out academically, envious people still strove to take you down a peg. These days, though, it appears as though it's the teachers doing the knocking down, not your classmates.

Christian Carnival XXXVI

is up at Neophyte Pundit. I opted out this week, but there's still a lot of pretty good stuff anyway that's worthy of your attention. Here are my highlights:

Eeeeyow! If I had a Crusty Award, substitute blogger "HogOnIce" at Aaron's Rantblog wins it hands down with this vituperative commentary on Madonna's "spirituality." Keep a fire extinguisher handy, because it starts hot and doesn't let up:

She’s in Israel right now, with a group of Kabbalah cultists who are doing for Judaism what Steven Seagal did for Buddhism. Yes, the Venereal Girl is applying her genius, helping the poor ignorant rabbis get the straight poop on life, the universe, and everything. Who better to guide them to enlightenment than the world’s most famous slut and skank?

They’re only the world’s greatest body of religious scholars. Brilliant men who have devoted their lives to studying the Torah and the Talmud. But Madonna knows more than they do. Because, hey, she took a course.

[Read Madonna the New Jewish Pope?]

David at Jollyblogger posts about how he thought he once understood the Gospel but was really missing the mark:

He explained to me that salvation was all of grace but so was sanctification. In thinking that the gospel justifies, but obedience sanctifies I had gone down an inevitable road of legalism that was destined to ruin my relationships, sap my joy in following Christ and wear me out. In this little story I have only focused on the relational troubles my legalism produced, but the fact was that I wasn't all that joyful and burnout was always around the corner.

[Read Still Trying to Get the Gospel]

(But don't miss today's followup article in response to one of his commenters, in which he interacts with Charles Stanley and Michael Horton on the question of eternal rewards. It's even better.)

Douglas at Belief Seeking Understanding riffs off a recent claim by Pat Robertson that God told him Bush would win the upcoming election in a landslide. He goes to the Scriptures and shows by example that whenever God revealed his hand in national politics, his prophets didn't go around blabbing about it:

For example, Samuel was able to keep a lid on it when God told him that he had rejected Saul as king of Israel. He was able to keep a lid on it when he anointed young David as king. The unknown son of the prophet who anointed Jehu as king of Israel many years later was able to keep a lid on it. And it wasn't just Israel. God told Elijah to anoint Hazael as king over Syria. I can only surmise that Elijah told his protege Elisha about it, because Elisha told Hazael that he would be king over Syria. But there's no record of any public declaration of this information.

[Read This "God Told Me" Thing Again...]

In an age where genuine repentance is rejected not only by the pagans but also by large numbers of professing Christians, the Parableman deals out some good words:

Once that's clear, I think it's easy to see how repenting and believing are really the same thing. Since the same word is used not just for believing and having faith but also for being faithful to the covenant, belief here is not just trusting in God in an intellectual or emotional way, though that's part of it. It's not belief in the biblical sense unless it involves being faithful to the covenant, which was clearly the old covenant in the prophetic tradition and is clearly the new covenant in the apostolic tradition. Jesus stands here at the crossroads, calling those in the old covenant to be faithful to the covenant God graciously made with them.

[Read Repent and Believe]

KB at Pure Text writes a review of a book which I agree ought to be required reading for anyone with ministerial ambitions:

I just finished reading a book for my Theology class by David Wells, a professor at Gordon-Conwell. The book is called No Place for Truth, Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? and I there’s a good chance that it ought to be required reading for every True Christian embarking on a path for ministry today.

[Read No Place for Truth]


September 21, 2004

You love me. You really love me!

Slightly belated props to Jollyblogger, as I am the proud recipient of his weekly Jolly Award.

David singled out my review of life of Pi, in particular my interaction with Martel and C. S. Lewis on the meaning of faith. His "exegesis" of my nickname is kinda funny too (for its infinitely more mundane origin, see my inaugural post).

On behalf of the curmudgeonly everywhere, I humbly accept!

You know, there is part of me that quite naturally recoils at extremist rhetoric, such as "baby killer," when it is used by certain factions of the pro-life movement. But as World Magazine Blog points out, there are people like this in the world:

You may have heard of Planned Parenthood's controversial "I had an abortion" t-shirts. But have you heard of Abortion activist Patricia Beninato, 38, describes the site she founded in 2003 as a place "where women can share their positive experiences with abortion." Here are a few excerpts from the more than 200 stories posted there:

Patricia writes: "I have had 10 abortions, I think (believe it or not, I have lost count). I am 34 years old, and the most recent one was two weeks ago. I have never regretted any of these decisions....I met a new man who already had 2 children from another marriage. I was pregnant again within 2 months. He wanted to have a child with me and I thought about it for about 1 day, but made the same decision (at that point, I couldn’t help but thinking, if it’s ok once or twice or 10 times, why not one more?)."

[Full Text]

and you start wondering if hell can possibly burn hot enough for such psychopaths. I'll bet Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy wondered, "What's one more?" too.

September 20, 2004

What I missed this weekend

Yesterday (September 19) was Talk Like a Pirate Day.


I mean, Arrrh, I be a dirty bilge rat, me hearties.

Mohler on the Prince of Preachers

From today's entry in Al Mohler's blog:

Preaching has fallen on hard times. At least, that's the impression you would gain by listening to much of what passes for preaching in American pulpits. Something is clearly missing--and that missing element is the deep passion for biblical exposition that always characterizes the great preachers of an era.

Today, the church is still blessed by outstanding expositors, but they are too few. Many preachers lack adequate models and mentors, and they find themselves hungry for a homiletical model who can both inspire and instruct. In Victorian London, there once was a preacher whose power and conviction shaped an entire culture. It is time for a new look at the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Go read the rest.



Your love is extravagant
Your friendship mmmmm intimate
I find I’m moving to the rhythms of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant

[Full Lyrics]

My take on this "worship" song: Sung by one lover to another, it is erotic. Sung by the Church to its Creator and Saviour, it is obscene.

September 19, 2004

Citation de la semaine

Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching. St. Augustine was troubled in conscience whenever he caught himself delighting in music, which he took to be sinful. He was a choice spirit, and were he living today would agree with us. I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. We know that to the devils music is distasteful and insufferable. My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues.

- Martin Luther, quoted in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Abingdon, 1950) 341.

September 15, 2004

Christian Carnival XXXV

is up at Rebecca Writes. Looks like some good stuff this week. Coincidentally, Rebecca chose a George Herbert theme to present the posts; I read my first Herbert this weekend. My submission was my review of Life of Pi.

Other highlights:

Reynaldo Reynoso at the Bible Archive writes about God's work and man's response:

Healing is for the sick and salvation is for the sinner and Jesus said it the best to those haughty Pharisees who sniffed at Him asking “What, are we also blind?” He turned to them and said that they were not blind, for if that were the case they would need Him to heal them…yet they say they can see and that being the case their sin remains.

Theophilus at notes from the front lines has a challenging piece on the disconnect between our prayers and the confidence we actually have in them:

We were talking about how the "many people" who had gathered at Mary's house to pray for Peter's release from prison refused to believe it when he showed up on their doorstep in the middle of the night. Why not? They were obviously committed on some level to prayer -- they were meeting in the middle of the night to pray specifically for Peter, after all -- so why didn't it seem as if they were praying with any level of confidence or boldness? Why couldn't they believe it when God actually answered their prayers?

On the other hand, Ray Pritchard has a piece about the power of corporate prayer:

When we pray, things happen (in us and in the world around us) that would not have happened if we had not prayed. God has ordained that the prayers of his people are part of his plan to bless the world.

Belief Seeking Understanding has a nifty piece about the object lesson inherent in a drug store in the middle of nowhere. Hey, anything centred around roadside attractions is OK by me:

In 1936, as they were about to leave, they noticed a number of cars traveling on the nearby highway, and they realized that after driving through South Dakota on a hot day with no air conditioning, a glass of ice water would be like manna from heaven. So they made these series of Burma-Shave-like road signs, mentioning that they offered free ice water. It was a smash hit! Even a drugstore in the middle of nowhere can remind you of the words of Jesus when He said "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." Even a drugstore in the middle of nowhere can remind you of the words of Jesus when He said "Give and it shall be given to you."

Finally, despite her admitted inexperience, Ambra Nykol delivers a devastating counterblast against abortion on demand because of potential birth defects:

The lovely song of many women who have terminated their pregnancies for defectal reasons is of course, "I did it for love". This type of "love" believes that certain types of children will be better off dead in the womb than suffer in life. I suppose I can understand the logic. When the doctors are telling you that a child may not live beyond three months when born, why not end a life now to avoid more pain and suffering than necessary in the future. Why not? Because we are not God and we don't get the luxury of making such decisions. I realize this defies human logic, but that is the essence of faith.

Science fiction double feature

Well, not quite.

According to the FilmCan Web site, the Mayfair Theatre was playing The Day After Tomorrow followed by The Core. "Great," I said to myself. "What better way to spend an otherwise useless Tuesday night than taking in two disaster movies notorious for implausible science?"

But it didn't turn out that way. There must have been a communications breakdown somewhere between the Mayfair people and the FilmCan people, because the second feature turned out not to be The Core, but The Corporation, a Canadian documentary by Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent). Oh well. I'd already paid for the double feature, and I'd never seen a documentary on the big screen before, so I decided to stick around anyway.

Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a government paleoclimatologist researching the cause of the previous Ice Age in Antarctica when the entire Larsen B ice shelf decides to take a walk. He warns the United Nations that global warming is causing the icecaps to melt, which will ultimately result in a massive disruption of the Northern Hemisphere's moderate climate and a new Ice Age. Asked when this will occur, he opines, "Maybe a hundred years, maybe a thousand." Turns out he was about a hundred years off: the next day, the British Isles are at the centre of a massive storm system drawing supercooled air from the upper atmosphere, and all the Brits are Individually Quick Frozen. On the other side of the world, massive tornadoes unexpectedly destroy Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Hall's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and two friends are in New York City for an academic competition where, unbeknownst to them since the geniuses don't turn on the news, the next superstorm is forming right above their heads. A massive tidal wave strands them in the public library. After the newly formed Lake Manhattan freezes over, the majority of the library refugees decide to take their chances outside. Sam, his classmates, and about half a dozen others take shelter in a reading room and burn the books to keep warm, resulting in a pointless argument about censorship. (They couldn't have just burned Danielle Steel instead of Nietzsche? Better yet, how about the wooden furniture?) In the meantime, back in Washington, Hall learns that Sam is still alive in the Big Apsicle and, drawing on his experience in arctic climates, mounts an expedition with his two co-workers to rescue him.

To call the science in The Day After Tomorrow "implausible" would be an understatement. Willful suspension of disbelief is simply impossible. Apparently Emmerich, wanting to sound a warning about the dangers of global warning, was aware that superstorms simply could not form in such a short time, yet decided to accelerate the action anyway for entertainment value. Put another way, he tried to make a serious point with a deliberately stupid plot. (Good plan.) Meanwhile, the human story is equally wretched, with the characters one-dimensional and the situations manipulative. Hall's wife, a doctor, elects to stay behind after everyone else at her hospital evacuates, so she can take care of the cute little bald boy with leukemia whose parents are missing. (Feel that tugging in your chest? It's Emmerich pulling on your heartstrings.) While walking to New York in a blizzard, tied together for safety, one of Hall's buddies falls through the skylight of a buried shopping mall. He cuts the rope, plummeting to his death, to save the others. ("Nooooooo!!!!") On the other hand, the CGI (supplied by major effects houses such as ILM, Dream Quest, and Digital Domain, amongst others) is breathtaking for the most part, except for some rather obvious CG wolves.

When you see "Written by Roland Emmerich" and "Suggested by the book The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Streiber" in the credits, you know you're not going to see a Nova documentary. Art Bell never saw a bit of crank science he didn't like. Once upon a time Emmerich wrote a wonderful movie called Stargate but since then his screenwriting talent has devolved into movies that are long on eye-candy and short on intelligence, such as Independence Day and Godzilla. Emmerich appears to be in competition with Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) to see who can produce the loudest, stupidest blockbuster before he dies. Thanks to The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich takes a solid lead.

After an intermission of about 20 minutes came The Corporation. The premise of this documentary can be summed up thus: According to the judicial interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the American Constitution, a corporation is a person. But what kind of person is it? Given its disregard for the law, endangerment of life and environment, and refusal to accept responsibility for its actions, the producers conclude that the corporation is psychopathic.

The Corporation scores a few good points: corporate arrogance, multinational corporations operating outside the law, exploitation of Third World and child labour, the pervasiveness of advertising, patents on life forms and even human genome information, the selling of "terminator seeds" that prevent farmers from saving seed from season to season, and privatization of the water supply. Specially singled out for special attention is Monsanto, which has brought us such fine products as Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), genetically modified wheat, and Agent Orange.

On the other hand, the whole tenor of the documentary is anti-corporation and anti-capitalist. A lengthy segment discusses the suppression by Fox News of an investigative report on Monsanto and rBGH produced by Steve Wilson and Jane Akre. While focusing on Fox's cover-up of a story that was in the public interest to report because it would affect their bottom line, the producers overlook the fact that Wilson and Akre were able to sue the same corporate entity for dismissing them in retaliation. Similarly, "Big Tobacco" could not be sued, nor could polluting oil companies be prosecuted, if it were not for the same legal standing that is the subject of this documentary's criticism. Focusing on the cons while ignoring the pros is unbalanced. A short sequence about Arcata, California's drive to ban chain restaurants from the city also appears to paint even small business owners unsympathetically.

Something like 40 different talking heads appear in this film to give their opinion: CEOs, lawyers, activists, economists, and others. Two people get significantly more "face time" than others. The first of these is linguist-turned-activist Noam Chomsky - not surprising, since he was the subject of Manufacturing Consent, the documentary that launched Mark Achbar's career. The second person was not so wise a choice: Michael Moore, who is not an expert on corporations or economics, but a like-minded filmmaker. His inclusion seems less like informed commentary than incest. Ironically, toward the end of the documentary he cackles in a most capitalistic fashion about using major corporations to distribute his films, which preach against what they stand for.

Overall, for a leftist screed, The Corporation is intelligent and, for the most part, balanced. However, at nearly two and a half hours, it is longer than it needs to be and tends toward the pedantic.

September 13, 2004

Dork III

We're fair and balanced at the Crusty Curmudgeon.

Sermon notes redux

Last year my church kicked off its fall season with a church-wide study based around Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life. In the main it went well enough that the powers-that-be decided to do something similar this fall, to get everybody on the same page for a few weeks. This time, they put together their own six-week series, titled "Better Together," a study of Romans 12. The subtitle of the accompanying study guide is "Finding Your Fit with God and Others." (Had I been in charge, I might have chosen to call it "The Scripture Driven Life," but there's probably a good reason I'm not in charge.)

Before the pastor got into the series itself, though, he started last week with some review: a whirlwind trip through the first 11 chapters of Romans.

A Panoramic View of God's Mercy: A Review of Romans 1-11

You get a breathtaking view of God's mercy . . .

  1. . . . when you see that you were hopelessly lost in sin (1:18-3:20).

    Paul's case: Everyone is born lost in sin.

    1. 1:18-32: Secular people, those who have no place for God, are lost. Not that they are ignorant of God, but they are belligerent in their unbelief.
    2. 2:1-16: Moral people - solid citizens, good neighbours - are lost. They overestimate their own goodness; they tend to see the faults in others and overlook their own. But they are still not good enough for God.
    3. 2:17-3:9: Religious people are lost. The Jews bragged about the Law, but then they went and broke the Law.

    Why does Paul tell us this? Because we can never understand the mercy fo God without first understanding ourselves. To see the mercy of God, we must first see our own misery.

  2. . . . when you see that you are considered righteous in Christ (3:21-5:21)

    Two key words to understanding God's mercy in rescuing you:

    1. justified (3:23-24): God does not hold our sin against us.
    2. credited (4:4-5): Christ's righteousness is counted as ours.

    This is done freely because of God's mercy. We are no longer lost, but found, and freely justified and credited because God is merciful.

  3. . . . when you see that you can live a new life by the Spirit (6:1-8:17)

    We don't need to live like we used to live, because we aren't who we used to be! These are some of the most important chapters of the Bible.

    Three key words to understanding new life in the Spirit:

    1. consider (6:11): Count it as true that we are made new people.
    2. choose (6:13): Say no to temptation, and yes to God.
    3. cooperate (8:12=13): With the Holy Spirit, who is more powerful than the flesh.

    When we do these things, our new life becomes evident to ourselves and others, and it is all due to the mercy of God.

  4. . . . when you see that you have a glorious future with God (8:18-11:36)

    Paul defends the faithfulness of God, arguing that he is keeping his promises, not only to the Jews, but extending them also to the Gentiles. By God's mercy, anyone who believes in Christ can get in on these promises. What can be better than this? Who is greater than God (11:33-36)?

In view of God's mercies, therefore, we give ourselves to God (12:1). Our proper response to God's mercy is gratitude.

Here is Better Together, week 1:

Making Dedication Personal: Romans 12:1-2

Paul appeals to his readers to make this decision:

  1. Make a total dedication of your body to God (1).

    This is personal, total, complete dedication.

    1. Total dedication means your whole body.

      This is evident in Paul's imagery, which is that of sacrifice. Paul's Jewish readers would have been familiar with the idea of sacrifice. They knew that it involved the whole body of the sacrificial animal.

      Likewise, Paul is asking for total commitment, not a token commitment. This means God owns our eyes and controls what we see. It means he controls our ears and controls what we hear. He owns our mouth and controls not only what we put into it, but what comes out of it. God gets us all, from head to toe.

    2. Total dedication means your whole lifetime.

      Not merely a sacrifice, but a living sacrifice - not something we do when we die, but while we live. "Living sacrifice" is seemingly an oxymoron, but there was a precedent. The Levites, who assisted the priests in offering the sacrifices in the Temple, were "living sacrifices." See Num. 8:10-11, where Aaron lifted up the Levites before God as "wave offerings" to God. They were set apart to serve God for their whole life. This commitment is now for all Christians to offer.

    3. Total dedication is motivated by God's mercy.

      God asks us to give our body to him because he has given his Son's body for us. Now he offers forgiveness, family status, and a glorious future. "Salvation is by grace; dedication is out of gratitude." Our response, out of gratitude, is to give ourselves to God.

    4. Total dedication is an act of worship.

      Worship is not just something done on Sunday morning at church. It happens wherever and whenever we are, all of our lives.

  2. Total dedication of your body leads to a gradual transformation of your life (2).

    After dedication comes transformation; we begin to see changes. Paul tells us a few things about transformation:

    1. Transformation is a process.

      God wants to change us into something better, but it takes time. But God will see it through (Phil. 1:6).

    2. Transformation is God's project.

      He does the work. We are involved, but we're not the ones in charge. The passage says "be transformed," not "transform yourselves."

    3. Transformation begins in your mind.

      We are changed from the inside out. God starts with our thinking, steering us away from wrong patterns of thought. The Word of God becomes the filter through which our thinking is changed.

    4. Transformation brings you in line with God's will.

      As God changes us we no longer conform to the world but start to live out the will of God. This is a positive change, as God's will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Are we ready to make a decision to make a total dedication to God that will result in the total transformation of our lives?

September 12, 2004

Poésie de la semaine

The Holdfast

I threatened to observe the strict decree

Of my dear God with all my power and might.

But I was told by one, it could not be;

Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then I will trust, said I, in him alone.

Nay, ev'n to trust in him, was also his:

We must confess that nothing is our own.

Then I confess that he my succour is

But to have nought is ours, not to confess

That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,

Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,

That all things were more ours by being his.

What Adam had, and forfeited for all,

Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

- George Herbert

A life on the ocean waves

I wonder what it is about shipwreck or survival stories that fascinate people so much? As a child I read at least a half dozen stories of this genre, both classic and not-so-classic: Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, The Black Stallion and several of its sequels, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Strange Companion, and Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire." And, of course, three seasons of everyone's favourite guilty pleasure, Gilligan's Island. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I was so easily drawn into Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning masterpiece, Life of Pi.

Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a Parisian swimming pool and known to all as "Pi" Patel rather than the more obvious and unpleasant alternatives, is the teenage son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India. Discontented with the state of affairs during Indira Gandhi's state of emergency in the 1970s, his family decides to close down the zoo, sell the animals, and emigrate to Canada. They leave India aboard a Japanese freighter, bringing some animals with them that are to be sold to North American zoos.

Then the ship unexpectedly and inexplicably sinks with a "monstrous metallic burp" somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi, the sole human survivor, climbs aboard a lifeboat occupied by a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, a female orangutan that floats aboard on a bunch of bananas, and a 460-pound adult Bengal tiger improbably named "Richard Parker." Infighting ensues; predictably, Richard Parker climbs to the top of the lifeboat food chain. Next on the menu, Pi is physically unable to defeat a tiger in a fight. He realizes that the key to his own survival is to keep Richard Parker alive and happy.

This is a beautifully written novel. Martel's straightforward prose is a pleasure to read, vivid and descriptive without being flowery or pretentious or excessively verbose. The first third of the novel recounts Pi's childhood in Pondicherry: how he learned to swim (and how he got his unusual name and subsequent nickname), how he was brought up by his zookeeper father to respect the danger of wild animals, and how he converted to Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. While some readers might it excessive that a full third of the novel is devoted to backstory, it sets up the real story by explaining how Pi managed to acquire the specific skills that enabled him to survive his ordeal. (Perhaps the author missed an opportunity here for a lesson about divine Providence.) Readers who worry about such things will be pleased to know that there are no "adult situations" or bad language in this novel, apart from the obvious childish puns about Piscine's full name. There are, however, many graphic descriptions of animal-on-animal violence.

Life of Pi is very much a self-conscious postmodern novel. Martel plays with postmodern skepticism about the knowability of true truth and the distinction between fact and fantasy. The book begins with an "Author's Note," purportedly about how Martel came to write his story. This is the part of the book that we instinctively understand to be factual, rather than fictional. Yet partway through, Martel, sitting in a café in Pondicherry, encounters a minor character from the story, who tells him he knows a story that will make him believe in God, and that he should look up Pi - now a middle-aged zoologist living in Toronto with his family - and hear it for himself. (At this point, I turned back to the page with the copyright and CIP data, to see if the standard disclaimer about this being a work of fiction and resemblances being purely coincidental, yada yada yada, was there. It wasn't.)

So right off the bat Martel creates doubt about whether this story is factual or fictional. He propagates this doubt all the way through the novel. Written as though it were a combination of Pi's memoirs and Martel's investigative reporting, it begins as a simple memoir of a childhood in Pondicherry amongst the zoo animals. Then it turns into a rousing adventure of survival on the high seas. However, some of Pi's later adventures begin to test the limits of your credulity. Finally it wraps up with a sequence that calls everything you have read into question. (Since this is a book review rather than a critical essay, I won't give away the ending; suffice it to say that if it's true M. Night Shyamalan wants to make this novel his next film project, it isn't just because he, too, hails from Pondicherry.)

Another postmodern touch is Pi's religous plurality. He is a devout Hindu, Christian, and Muslim, and sees no conflict between these three mutually exclusive faiths. By contrast, in a humorous (and cleverly written) chapter in which his priest, imam, and pandit encounter him in the zoo and quite rightly attempt to persuade him to give up two of his religions, they are portrayed as buffoons rather than wise men. "I just want to love God," the young (and naïve) Pi retorts.

Martel (through Pi) does make one insightful comment about atheists and agnostics, which is the key to understanding the meaning of the whole novel. I quote chapter 22 in its entirety:

I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!" - and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story. (70)

This, according to Martel, is true faith: to believe the "better story" even if it flies in the face of "dry, yeastless factuality." I am reminded, somewhat, of C. S. Lewis' comments in the radio talks that eventually became Mere Christianity:

Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn't have guessed. That's one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It's a religion you couldn't have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we'd always expected, I'd feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it's not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let's leave behind all these boys' philosophies - these over-simple answers. The problem isn't simple and the answer isn't going to be simpler either. (Broadcast Talks 42)

And he writes, in his essay "Miracles":

Each story must be taken on its merits: what we must not do is to rule out the supernatural as the one impossible explanation. . . . When the Old Testament says that Sennacherib's invasion was stopped by angels, and Herodotus says it was stopped by a lot of mice who came and ate up all the bowstrings of his army, an open-minded man will be on the side of the angels. Unless you start by begging the question, there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in the existence of angels or in the action ascribed to them. But mice just don't do these things. (27-28)

Lewis seems to be saying here that the better story is the more unlikely one. But I think his point is actually the opposite: in the final analysis, we should prefer the angels not because they make for a better epic, but because common sense has to trump wishful thinking. It would be nice for someone inclined to disbelieve in angels if the mice conspired to sabotage Sennacherib's archers, but unfortunately conspiracy is foreign to mousey nature. So if we're honest, we're stuck with the angels anyway.

I daresay Lewis is right, and that in the final analysis Martel's analysis of faith lacks depth, along the lines of Twain's schoolboy "believing what you know ain't so," merely because it makes for a gripping yarn. Faith in the Biblical sense isn't blind optimism in the "better story." It means taking God at his word: specifically, believing the Bible when it promises that the sacrificial death of Christ is sufficient to turn away the wrath of God on account of our own sins. "In other words," says Lewis,

I believe it on His authority. Don't be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you've been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent. of the things you believe are believed on authority. . . . A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life. (Broadcast Talks 58-59)

Still . . . don't let Martel's deficient understanding of faith keep you away from what is still a gripping yarn in its own right.


Lewis, C. S. Broadcast Talks. London: G. Bles, 1942.

---. "Miracles." God in the Dock. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. 25-37.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Toronto: Vintage - Random House, 2001.

September 11, 2004

Random street scene

Last night on the way home from the library, the guy who boarded the bus right behind me was a tallish, heavy-set Marine-looking type with blue eyes, a blond crewcut, and tattoos all over his neck and arms (and presumably upper body): a Confederate flag on the back of his neck, a KKK cross on his left elbow, a Nazi stormtrooper on his right bicep, various Celtic and Norse symbols and other images I couldn't identify here and there.

Of all the seats he could have chosen on this not-too-crowded bus, he sat down next to a young and very black girl. Not to stir up crap or anything, as he didn't pay her any more attention than common courtesy required.

Oddly enough, if I hadn't just started reading the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, full of snobs and bigots and hypocrites of all kinds, I might never have noticed the incongruity.

It kind of made me wonder what his story is - or better, what it could be if I had a mind to write one. Is he the white supremist thug his decorations suggest? Or is he over that, having recently found God, but unfortunately there isn't enough skin in the world to graft over his tattoos? And why that seat in particular if he could have chosen any number of nice Aryan seatmates to share with?

I may never know. Any aspiring authors want to take a crack at it?

You mean it wasn't illegal already?

Having sex with corpses is now officially illegal in California after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill barring necrophilia, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

The new legislation marks the culmination of a two-year drive to outlaw necrophilia in the state and will help prosecutors who have been stymied by the lack of an official ban on the practice, according to experts.

[Full Story]

The really creepy part of this story is the fact that it took two years of debate to make it reality.

God's guidance and "open doors"

Blessed Assurances Baptist Church is nearing the end of its building project. In the last few years they have outgrown their current facility, and in their last week before they move onto their new, bigger campus in the suburbs, they hold a special prayer meeting. At one point, Pastor Irving directs the congregation: "We are moving into an area of the city that has many unchurched families. Let's pray that God will open doors that will allow us to minister to our new neighbourhood."

Open doors. It's a perfectly good, Biblical metaphor, used multiple times in the New Testament. It is used, basically consistently, for providential opportunities to serve God.

Paul uses this metaphor three times:

But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Cor. 16:9)

. . . when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit . . . (2 Cor. 2:12-13)

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2-4)

Luke also uses the same metaphor in a similar way in Acts, writing that God had "opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (14:27) - not to say that the evangelist had been given access to the Gentiles, but the Gentiles to God. John also records Christ's words to the Philadelphians: "behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" (Rev. 3:8). I'm not convinced that this particular usage is consistent with the others, so I am leaving it alone for the time being. (Anyone who can provide insight here is most welcome to comment.)

What can we learn from Scripture about open doors?

  • Open doors come from God. Paul says as much all three times. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes that his work in Ephesus is "the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 16:10). In his second letter, he says the door "was opened unto me of the Lord" (2 Cor. 2:12). He asks the Colossians to pray "that God would open unto us a door" (4:3).

    Some people warn against taking every opportunity because some open doors are Satan's snares to trap us. But Paul and Scripture never say this. When the Bible speaks of the snares of the devil, it always means sins, not situations. God is in control of circumstances. Think it through: Could Paul have truthfully written that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28) if God and Satan were in competition?

    Others warn against going through open doors because while they might be good opportunities, they might not be the best opportunity. (There's that notorious idea of "God's second best" again). But if God is in control of all circumstances, isn't this really saying that he might be trying to trick you by laying enticing but inferior opportunities in your path? Or perhaps God is conflicted, giving you the opportunity but really hoping you won't avail yourself of it. Perish the thoughts! So this warning isn't really very useful either.

  • We should seek out open doors. Paul was an opportunist when it came to seeking chances to preach. He didn't care if the door was obstructed by adversity, and he asked his readers to pray for more opportunities. We read in Acts that he actively sought them out. He went to the synagogue in hopes of preaching to Jews, and the marketplace to preach to Gentiles (Acts 17:17). He went to the waterside in Thyatira because he knew there were women there who held prayer meetings (16:13). He even used the idols of Athens as an object lesson to point to the true God (17:23) and, in what has to be one of history's great displays of chutzpah, his own trial to preach to the local governors (24-26).
  • Just because a door is open, doesn't mean we have to use it. Opportunities are not commands. Paul had a door open to him in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12). Since he had been there before, but was sent away by a vision (Acts 16:8-12), you might think this time he would be all the more eager to stay and do the work that was interrupted that first time. But he didn't, for the seemingly unspiritual reason that he was concerned for a friend. It seems as though Paul was expecting Titus to meet him in Troas, but he didn't show up. So although Paul would probably have preferred to stay, he went to Macedonia (again!) where presumably he met Titus. Sometimes, even pressing personal concern must take priority over availing ourselves of every opportunity. Other doors will open. I doubt Paul spent any time sitting on his hands because he passed that one up.

"Open doors" should not be a cause of concern or indecision. When faced with a multitude of open doors, we shouldn't worry about which one is the "right" one to take. Rather, we should thank God for providing such an abundance of opportunities to serve him.

See also

First in the series: Finding and doing the will of God: Prolegomena

Previous entry: Fleece, peace, and the "still small voice"

Next entry: God's plan

September 10, 2004

Manufacturing dissent

Unless you've been in a coma over the last few days, you can't have missed the flap over CBS' apparent use of forged memos to smear President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, on Wednesday's 60 Minutes II (hosted by Dan "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" Rather). (I'm not going to repeat what's been said. But if you are one of the comatose, start here and read on.)

Naturally, like sharks smelling blood, the other major media networks have started to attack, starting with ABC, though at the time of writing all the major networks have related news stories up on their Web sites. Lest we forget, however, no one in the major media is innocent of charges of manufacturing the news.

In 1992, NBC News claimed on Dateline NBC that a side collision with certain models of GM trucks might rupture their side-mounted fuel tanks, resulting ina deadly fire. The only problem was, they couldn't get a truck to catch fire. So they rigged one with pyrotechnics.

ABC aired a segment on Prime Time Live in 1993 in which producers, posing as employees, found evidence of tainted food and unsanitary conditions in the supermarket chain Food Lion. Finding it too difficult to find actual damning evidence against the store, they faked it, for example, videotaping expired food that they planted themselves, or showing a dirty meat slicer that it was their own job to clean.

The Fox network is infamous for airing sensationalistic "documentaries" about alien autopsies or moon landing hoaxes in which conspiracy theorists are given a disproportionate amount of time compared to skeptics.

The problem is that we continue to assume that the driving force behind these networks newsgathering is the public interest. It isn't: it's the buck. Sensationalistic "news" stories means higher ratings means more advertisers means more money. And "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). Of course, it doesn't hurt that those who gather and report the news are overwhelmingly leftist along with all the baggage that entails (supporting the Democrats, anti-capitalism, anti-corporation, etc.). And it really doesn't hurt for CBS' frontman to have a rather personal grudge against the Bush family.

Your (local) tax dollars at work

Evidently, Ottawa city council has nothing better to do with its time than this idiocy:

Councillor Gord Hunter is concerned the new name given to two Barrhaven baseball diamonds could make the area a magnet for neo-Nazis.

Yesterday, council approved renaming the baseball diamonds the Eagle's Nest, in honour of the East Nepean Eagles, the little league baseball team that won the Canadian championship in Brossard, Que., and then represented Canada at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, last month.

But Mr. Hunter says the name "has significant negative connotations" -- it's the same name as that given to Adolf Hitler's infamous mountain retreat.

[Full Story]

After all, we all know how much neo-Nazis like to hang out at baseball diamonds!

The name was chosen by the 10-year-old kids who were part of the baseball team. How many of them do you really think know what Hitler called his infamous mountain retreat? Where else would eagles live, in an eagle hole? Earth to Hunter: Get a life.

September 09, 2004

For crying out loud, George . . .

Apparently Lucas has fiddled with the original Star Wars trilogy yet again, according to Sci Fi Wire:

[Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith star Hayden] Christensen now appears at the end of Return of the Jedi in a scene where Luke sees the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and his father, Anakin Skywalker. The role was originally played by Sebastian Shaw, who still appears as the human face behind the Darth Vader mask in another scene in the film.

Pointless tampering. Absolutely pointless. If Shaw remains on screen for Darth Vader's death scene, why bother replacing him with Christensen as the spirit of Anakin? It doesn't correct any plot holes or continuity errors, and it seems more likely to alienate fans of the original trilogy than impress them. (In fact, unless he intends to replace Sir Alec Guinness with Ewan McGregor as the spirit of Obi-wan Kenobi, it arguably causes continuity difficulties.) This is nothing but gratuitous revisionism just because Lucas can.

Other minor updates made to the 1997 special editions include the uncredited appearance of Ian McDiarmid as a holographic Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back (McDiarmid played the role of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, as well as that of Senator Palpatine in the recent trilogy) . . .

Well, OK, this corrects a continuity error brought on by a change in casting between two movies. Still, you have to wonder how Clive Revill, who played the original Emperor, feels about being erased. (The same would go for Jeremy Bulloch, the original Boba Fett; according to IMDb, he is now to be voiced by Temuera Morrison, Jango Fett in Clones.)

. . . and a compromise to the infamous Star Wars cantina shooting, in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Greedo now shoot at each other at the same time, the paper said.

[Full Story]

Diehard fans just hated this change, intended to make Han Solo into a kinder, gentler criminal who shoots only in self-defense. So, for those keeping score, it's now Solo 1, Greedo 1, and 1 tie. (Want to go for the best of five, George?)

While I didn't mind most of the alterations made to the original trilogy, I tend to be of the camp that says film ought to be preserved "as is" so we can appreciate and study the filmmaker's original work - not pulled out and retooled every few years because the producer sees something he could have done better if only he'd had the ability twenty years earlier. To make matters worse, the original unadulterated Star Wars is no longer commercially available and probably never will be. When Stephen Spielberg retooled E.T. for its 20th anniversary, he had the wisdom to include the 1982 version in the DVD package. It's too bad George Lucas can't follow suit instead of revising film history.

(Thanks to white noise for seeing this before me.)

September 07, 2004

New and improved!

For those who care about such things, I've added an Atom syndication feed to the CC. The link is near the bottom of the sidebar, or here, for your instant gratification. I may add an RSS feed in the future if I think it's warranted.

Frankly, RSS/RDF/Atom are a complete mystery to me. Then again, it was 10 years ago this month that I sat down at a computer terminal at school and discovered a new icon had been added to my Windows desktop: something called Mosaic, which appeared to be a graphical hypertext engine of some kind.

September 06, 2004

Monday morning quid pro quo

Jeremy at Parableman had some supportive words about my article on Romans 12 from a couple of weeks ago, which he came across thanks to the Christian Carnival. Unbeknownst to me there had been a big discussion about God's Will a few months ago within the Christian blogosphere, not long before my own network of must-read blogs extended that far.)

My blogroll tends to reflect not merely those blogs I read regularly (of which there are dozens) but the ones that I read daily and before any others. Naturally, personal friends get preferential treatment. I've known Rand for about 7 years, ironically because he married another close friend from when I lived in Ottawa while a student. He hit the ground running a few weeks ago with his new blog a pattern of sound words. (Incidentally his wife also blogs at Peccadiloes & Penetralia.)


September 04, 2004

Latin help

My Latin skills are pretty much nonexistent. If you have a working knowledge of Latin and get the reference:

neglegere homo retro aulaeum

then can you help me correct it, if necessary?

September 03, 2004

Happy birthday to me

I pause to note that today is the first anniversary of the Crusty Curmudgeon.

No plans to celebrate. I might tweak the design a little bit.

The SF moratorium is on

As I mentioned a few days ago, I realized that my normally somewhat-balanced reading took a definite turn for the improbable last month, with nothing but science fiction actually getting read. Now I like SF as much as the next geek, but enough is enough, so for the month of September I declared a moratorium on the genre. (The exception was Niven's Ringworld's Children which was due back at the library today and I was re-reading in hopes of blogging a book review soon.)

Then I thought, why not plan this out a bit, and deliberately design a little bit of variety into the program? So this is the plan I came up with, in no particular order:

  • Something I haven't read since high school. For this I chose Jimmy Breslin's The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight, which I thought was a laff riot in grade 11. Once upon a time, there was a newspaper columnist with a sense of humour who wasn't at all the sad bitter shell of a man he's become.
  • Something I should have read, but didn't. I chose Henry James' short novel The Turn of the Screw, part of the syllabus for OAC English Literature back in high school. Yes, Mrs. Emmerton, I BSed my way through pretty much that whole course, except for Apocalypse Now, The Wall, and Macbeth. Sorry about that.
  • A contemporary, critically-acclaimed novel. Non-SF, of course. I've chosen Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
  • A collection of short stories. No choice made here yet. Flannery O'Connor, perhaps.
  • A collection of poetry. Again, I haven't made a choice yet, but I'm thinking maybe George Herbert, if I can find him.
  • A biography. This time, it's Here I Stand by Roland Bainton, the classic bio of Martin Luther. I'm jumping the gun a bit on the church-history Sunday school class I'm currently enjoying, but I couldn't resist when I saw it at the library.
  • A work of theology. Another acquisition from the church library: Keep in Step With the Spirit by J. I. Packer.
  • Another work of nonfiction. I grabbed Volume One of the New Oxford History of Music, which covers primitive and non-European music.

And now we wait and see how long it takes me to go crazy.

September 01, 2004

Christian Carnival XXXIII

The Christian Carnival is up at the New Trommetter Times. No submission from me this week; I intend to offer something approximately every other week, just so I am not under abnormal pressure to post something blogworthily Christian every week, and don't get unnecessarily repetitive with the "God's guidance" series.

Anyway, check it out. My personal favourites:

  • LaShawn Barber argues that it is neither good politics nor good Christianity to overlook illegal immigration:

    Among illegal aliens I have brothers and sisters in Christ. The call to share the Gospel with unbelievers and worship a merciful and gracious God with believers doesn’t stop at our national borders. God saves all kinds of men, and all kinds of men are my fellow inheritors of Christ’s bounty!

    However, I am not required to ignore or oppose justice against lawbreakers, even if they are believers. Government is supposed to punish lawbreakers, and Christian criminals are not excepted. God appoints men to authority and laid down the function and role of government.

  • Mark D. Roberts continues his series on the ongoing crisis in the Episcopalian Church in Los Angeles over biblical authority:

    I have not followed closely the actual debate in the Episcopal Church about the ordination of homosexuals. But my guess is that serious discussion of biblical texts has not been in the forefront of this conversation, at least in the last few years. Those who continue to hold on to the rather obvious (yes, literal, maybe even simple) meaning of biblical passages are dismissed by their opponents as “literalistic and simplistic.” It’s a way of avoiding serious debate about the meaning of the biblical text, and replacing it with an approach in which people need only to “speak their own view of the truth” in love.

  • Joe Missionary explains why the fashionable practice of "prayer walking" is hocus-pocus:

    Whereas praying while walking certainly may have some benefit to the person praying, the contemporary practice of "prayer walking" is misguided. To claim that praying in a particular region has MORE power than praying at home or in your car has no basis in Scripture whatsoever. Further, it adds to the mysticism which is creeping into today's Church.

  • William Meisheid at Beyond the Rim has an interesting article about what he and Ben Stein have in common:

    We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves.

    In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.

  • Rebecca writes another in her series on the attributes of God, this time a good one about God's holiness:

    I'm not sure it is even right to think of it in the same way we think of the other attributes, for it doesn't seems to be one among the others, but rather the overarching attribute: the one that defines all of what God is.

  • Finally, Reynaldo at The Bible Archive touches on a subject related to the one I had intended to tackle this week: open doors and what the will of God is when no one can agree on it:

    The difficulty then is found not in the heart of Paul for his heart was set for the Lord, but in his friends. He knew that he would have to suffer many things for the name of Christ Jesus—and yet, his very godly friends tried to persuade him from his course.