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Today I read a very interesting article in Parade magazine that echoed a similar article I read in Time Magazine last year.  They both had to do with the melting of the arctic glaciers and ice fields because of global warming, and the subsequent race among nations to lay claim to this ever-clearing body of water, the floor of which may contain 25% of the world’s supply of natural gas and oil.  It’s a big deal because a small group of nation, including the United States, Canada, Russia, and several northern European countries, each of have a claim, but exactly how much they have to claim is up for debate.

There’s all sorts of political, economical and social implications for increased activity in the perpetually-melting north: cheaper gas prices for consumer, shorter and less expensive trade routes, international security, the gradual migration on people into previously unpopulated areas due to trading and drilling, and so on, and , perhaps most importantly, the presence of vital resources in a small space are ingredients for potential military conflict.  A few years ago it might have seemed silly to think about this barren wasteland of ice and snow as a new hot-button issue, but as gas prices continue to rise, it makes since that the all these countries would converge on this one area to squabble over the resources.

One of the things that bothered me the most about these articles is the short-sightedness of the people involved.  People are so addicted to oil that they will do anything possible to get their hands on as much as possible without taking into account that ultimately oil is a limited resource, meaning that eventually we will run out.  The politicians and businessmen quoted in these articles seem to care only about discovering and conquering, not about doing what’s right for the long term.

I’ve never been super concerned about the environment.  I do believe the evidence for global warming is convincing and that we do need to be good stewards of creation and so on, but I’ve never been one to fall into the camp of people who think that if we don;t go super green now, the earth will become uninhabitable and we will all die.  I just don’t think that will happen.  It doesn’t really seem compatible with my understanding of God’s plan for the earth.  However, I have come to see that while reducing our dependency on oil is good for the environment, it’s ultimately a moral issue.  In Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne, a book everyone should read before voting this year, the author, who is a pacifist, claims that since the acquisition of oil is a reason behind international conflicts, and since it has the potential to be behind many more conflicts, it is our duty as Christians to find ways to decrease demand for oil, thereby negating the need to fight for it.  It’s a captivating argument that I had never heard before until reading that book.  And it makes sense, doesn’t it?  By supporting research on hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel cars, we’re actually working to prevent armed conflicts in the future.

I know it sounds super-liberal, but this morning I also read an editorial by Larry Bowoto, a Nigerian villager who is filing a lawsuit against Chevron.  In the class-action suit, he and 100 other villagers claim they were protesting the fact that Chevron’s oil production has ruined local fishing and farming industries when Nigerian soldiers hired by Chevron Nigeria Ltd. opened fire, killing 2 and wounding a dozen others, including the author.  Today’s paper also had an article on the United States’ list of countries of that sponsor terrorism, and how Venezuela, which has been linked to Columbian terrorist groups, remains off the list, and thus free from sanctions that might hinder efforts to arm terrorists, because they are the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States.

The point – oil is a limited resource that is highly prized by the nations of the world, and conflicts over it will only grow worse as it depletes, resulting in unnecessary deaths.  It is our duty as Christians to oppose this.

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Today I went with my wife and a few other people from Youth For Christ Central Valley to go see Donald Miller speak at a ministry forum at Fresno Pacific University that included two separate 75 minute presentations and an extended question and answer session. Miller has been one of my favorite authors ever since I was introduced to him, and it was the first chance I’ve gotten to see him speak. End result – it was an absolute pleasure.

He talked a lot about narrative theology (without using that phrase, of course) and the relationship between stories and our lives.

He started out by talking about how he was approached with the idea of writing a script based off of Blue Like Jazz, which is more a collection of essays than a coherent story. So, he researched the craft of storytelling only to discover parallels between our lives and the stories we create. This will be the subject of his upcoming book. Here are some highlights of his talk and my reactions:

  • He talked about the essentials for a good story, including the necessity for us to care about the character, the need for that character to desire something, and the resulting conflict from the achieving or striving for that goal. What I found particularly interesting was his assertion that the character can’t think of himself as better than others or the audience won’t care. As someone who studied literature and reads quite a bit, I can tell you that his assertion is false, that it’s quite possible to have a character who thinks extremely highly of himself and to have that character fall flat on their face. The reason Miller probably didn’t mention it, I assume, is because this is an altogether different type of story. Having a prideful character who has a flaw (hubris) and subsequently falls down a peg or two is the defining characteristic of a tragedy (think MacBeth or Oedipus Rex, for example). I started thinking about this idea of a story versus a tragedy, and it brought to mine the repeated warnings of Jesus, Paul and other Biblical writers to not think of ourselves as better than others, and it got me thinking about how pride, the Devil’s sin, is always the first step towards a real tragedy.
  • When we refuse to look at the Bible as a story and instead reduce it to propositional truths (such as the four spiritual laws), we lose a lot in translations. The Bible, Miller argues, is not a textbook or a series of laws, but a story that is much more complicated than we make it out to be. As he says in his book Searching For God Knows What, the truths we pull out of Scripture are “the facts of the story…but that isn’t the story” (151). He compares it to a relationship, arguing that you couldn’t present your wife with a laundry list of facts about her and why you love her and expect to sweep her off your feet. Instead you write a poem, because there are some things that are too beautiful for words. I’ve always found this way of reading Scripture compelling, and I’m inclined to agree with Miller’s methodology. His examples, particularly his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, are always helpful in wrapping my mind around the idea of the Bible as a story.
  • He talked about how our lives need to be lived like stories. We have to want something and go through conflict to achieve it. However, in order to not sound like Joel Osteen, Miller attaches stipulations. For one, your desire has to be meaningful and people have to care. You wouldn’t watch a movie about someone buying a Volvo, he says, but you will watch a movie where someone tries to save Holocaust victims, or motivate underprivileged kids, and so on. Basically, we have to find something in line with God’s plan for making the world a better place and go with it. Secondly, you have to be willing to go through conflict. Like a character in a story, we only grow and change when we are pushed beyond our limits and face-to-face with conflict and struggle. Thirdly, our story has to have the power to change others, to impact and motivate their lives in a meaningful way.

I realize as I write this that it is a jumbled mess and probably doesn’t make much sense, but I assure you it was wonderful and enlightening, especially for someone who spends a lot of time in stories.

For those who are interested, I recommend picking up one (actually, all) of Miller’s books. Most relevant to the aforementioned idea of the

Bible as a story would be Searching For God Knows What and Blue Like Jazz, but all of his books are fantastic.

Does anyone have any thoughts or reactions to the idea of narrative theology?

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As I previously mentioned, yesterday was the Love Won Out conference in San Jose. I had some reservations that, since it was going to be a Focus on the Family event is was going to be very anti-gay and unproductive. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I actually loved the conference to the point where I would say that anyone who has questions about the relationship between the Church and homosexuality should attend.

The conference was aided by a large presence from Exodus International, an organization that ministers to gays and ex-gays, and so many of the speakers where themselves former homosexuals. Here are some highlights from the conference:

1. They talked about what makes a person gay

The speakers explored common myths about gays and lesbians and looked at numerous studies that focused on the origin of homosexual tendencies. While many Christians wrongly assume that it is a simple choice, the speakers painted homosexuality as a combination of many factors, including possible genetic factors and developmental influences that cause someone to have unwanted sexual desires. Studies and surveys showed an overwhelming correlation between homosexuality and sexual/physical abuse, along with unmet or disturbed bonding with same-sex parents and/or peers.

Basically, this means under certain family circumstances, a male child who fails to connect with his father or another male (father is emotionally distant or physically absent, or child is molested by an older male figure) and he develops overly attached or dependent relationships with female figures, it could cause the child to have unmet same-sex bonding that is necessary for normal development. That being said, as the child longs to have that need fulfilled, he may eventually reach puberty and find out that those emotional needs correlate with his sexual awakening, creating unwanted homosexual desires. This creates a “third sex” mentality (where the child cannot properly identify with either gender), which leads to feelings of isolation and confusion, and eventually, acceptance within a “safe” gay community. The same can also be said for a female child and lesbianism. This isn’t always the case, but there is an incredibly strong correlation between these types of childhood circumstances and the likelihood of the child becoming gay.

This was interesting to me because most Christians tend to dismiss ideas that people are “born gay,” or that a child’s upbringing has anything to do with it. Often times, we feel more comfortable blaming it on a demonic possession instead of treating it like a complex condition. The speakers related it to many other complex conditions, such as alcoholism and violence, that come about as a result of inborn susceptibility, upbringing, and personal choices.

The speakers were also careful to point out that while no gay man or women choose their feelings, they do choose their actions, meaning that it is possible to have homosexual desires and temptations without sinning and giving in to them.

2. The way the Church deals with the homosexual community needs to change.

This was an awesome point, because many of the speakers were themselves rejected by the Church when they were practicing homosexuals. The main flaw, the speakers noted, was that Christians treated homosexuality worse than other sins. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross,” one speaker said, going on to elaborate that the self-righteousness of the anti-gay protester is just as wicked in God’s eyes as the acts committed by the gay man.

But they took this beyond the religious and into the psychological. As I mentioned earlier, teenagers struggling with homosexual thoughts and temptations feel like a third sex that doesn’t fit in with either gender. That kid will look for a safe place where he can talk about his feelings and desires and be accepted. Often times this is what leads someone to embrace the gay community – they’ve found a safe place to be themselves. By reacting angrily and judgmentally to the rise in open homosexuality in hopes of bringing people to Jesus, we actually do the opposite – we reinforce the perception that they don’t fit in and it drives them further into the place where they find comfort, the gay community. It’s like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. Furthermore, if a young person grows up in church and then begins to have homosexual temptations, he will see how the church acts and realize that he doesn’t have a safe place to talk about his problems. So we’re not only preventing converts, but we’re causing people who struggle with homosexuality to leave the church.

Outreach to the gay community needs to be characterized by compassion, not hatred. The gay person needs to be treated just like any other sinner. One speaker even said that we may not even need to bring up the issue at all. Just tell them about Jesus, and if they give their life to Him, let the Holy Spirit deal with his sin.

3. I learned a bit about countering pro-gay theology.

Pro-gay theology is basically a way of interpreting Scripture that reads all of the condemnations of homosexuality as being misinterpreted or mistranslated.  For example, pro-gay theologians claim that the Hebrew word in the laws of Leviticus 18 are mistranslated, meaning “ceremonial male prostitute” instead of homosexual.  Biblical scholar Joe Dallas went through all of the passages of the Bible that mention homosexuality, broke down the Greek or Hebrew words, and cross-referenced them with other passages in Scripture to establish continuity in meaning.  Furthermore, he examines some of the logic of pro-gay arguments and points out several fallacies, namely that they search for exceptions in the commandments without distributing them to the whole commandments.

I plan on buying one of his books and reading further.  Though he breezed through his arguments fairly quickly, I felt that my questions about pro-gay theology were answered.

Overall, it was a great day.  I learned a lot about homosexuality, and also a little something about judging a book by its cover.

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Think Christian had an interesting post linking a Hermeneutics quiz (Hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of religious texts), and I found it interesting, as it forces you to examine how you read the Bible.

I got a 66 out of 100, which means I’m categorized on the very low end of “progressive,” which means:

Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible’s so-called “plain meaning” be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?

Kind of interesting.  How did you score?

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On Christian Businesses

A post in two parts.

Part one:

There’s this customer that always comes into my work that owns a driving school.  He drives around in a red Dodge Intrepid that is plastered with stickers saying “Jesus isn’t my homeboy, he’s my LORD” and things of the like.  The name of the business – Christ-Like Driving School.

Every time he comes in I can’t help but wonder if this particular expression of faith is an effective method of evangelism, if that is indeed the intention at all.  For one, the guy who drives it isn’t exactly the most chipper guy in the world, and can you imagine what someone thinks being cut off by this guy?  But aside from all of that, I see it as a less-than-effective method of evangelism because I can’t imagine a non-Christian wanting to take driving lessons from this guy when there are an innumerable amount of other choices available.

The conclusion that I can draw is that this driving school isn’t supposed to be for non-Christians.  It’s for Christians to have a nice, safe, comfortable environment to learn to drive.  It’s Christians helping other Christians to do business in an entirely Christian-filled bubble.  It’s Christians make other Christians feel all warm and fuzzy.  And that’s it.

I’m sure that as you read this you can think of other businesses like this, that exist simply to serve a Christian alternative to secular businesses.  They offer the exact same products and services, but hey, they share the same faith, so people should shop there instead.

Every year when our church does outreach events (Christmas, Easter, etc.) our pastor always makes a point to tell us that these events are not for Christians ” to show up and and  get goosebumps.”  It’s for non-Christians to come and learn about the joy of Christ. I think we should have that attitude in the business world.  We shouldn’t have a business meant to exclude those who don’t share our faith, and we shouldn’t always shop in places that agree with us.  Those situations create potential for dialogue.

Thoughts?

Part two:

As I discussed this with my wife, I compared having a Christian driving school to having a Christian fast food restaurant.  And we spent the better part of an hour laughing about what they would serve at a Christian fast food restaurant, and so here is the product of that conversations:

Employee: Hi, welcome to Body of Christ, would you like to hear about our special?

Customer #1: Sure.

Emp.: Well, today we’re featuring the Trinity Burger – three all beef patties working together to create one delicious burger.

Cust. 1: Alright, I’ll try that.

Emp: Would you like to make that a Communion meal with a drink today?

Cust. 1: Yes, Flood size please.  Oh, and can I have extra ketchup and no pickles on the burger, please.

Emp: Extra blood of Christ and rapture the pickles.  Got it.

Customer 2: And I’ll have a My God My God Why Have You For-Steak-and-Cheese Me Sandwich please,  with a Garden of Eden side salad.

Emp: And what would you like to baptize your salad with today?

Cust. 2: Do you have Caesar?

Emp: (shakes head).  No, no.  We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  We have a Jesus dressing instead.

Cust. 2: I guess I’ll have that then.

Emp.: Anything to drink?

Cust. 2: I’ll have tea, please.  Can I get that overflowing with milk and honey?

Emp: Sure thing.  Anything else?

Cust. 1: Nope.

Emp.: Well, if the Lord doesn’t return, you’ll be order number 7.  Thank you and come again.

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I couldn’t resist posting this video. When you watch it you’ll know why.

I think he’s reading a little too much into scripture.

Think Christian gets the credit for this find.

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Holy Highway?

I found this article on the Burnside Writers Collective blog.  It’s…umm…interesting.  Here’s an excerpt:

If you turn to the Bible — Isaiah Chapter 35, Verse 8 — you will see a passage that in part says, “A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.”

Now, is it possible that this “highway” mentioned in Chapter 35 is actually Interstate 35 that runs through six U.S. states, from southern Texas to northern Minnesota? Some Christians have faith that is indeed the case…

Churchgoers in all six states recently finished 35 days of praying alongside Interstate 35, but the prayers are still continuing.

Some of the faithful believe that in order to fulfill the prophecy of I-35 being the “holy” highway, it needs some intensive prayer first. So we watched as about 25 fervent and enthusiastic Christians prayed on the the interstate’s shoulder in Dallas.

On one hand, I could see this as a creative way to bless your local community and your country, kind of like a prayer walk.  On the other hand…I’m pretty sure this is a ridculous interpretation of scripture, that it is a ministry that doesn’t really help anyone, and that it makes Christians look crazy.

 But I could be wrong.

 

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