Sunday, May 22, 2011

And Now Aidan the Sports Reporter Talks About the Mariners Game

I told Aidan he could "report" on the M's game today for the blog, so here goes:

"The Mariners won 6 to 1 today against the San Diego Pay-dres. They got a winning five streak today. There was one intentional walk before Felix Hernandez got to go up to bat. Carlos Peguero got a 2-RBI double today. It was amazing how he hit it and how fast the Mariners player on first ran to get to home. There were like about 13 strikeouts from Felix. He pitched really well. Only a couple hits for the Pay-dres."

Watch out ESPN!

Answering to Automatic, Assumed Anglo-Saxon Atheism

Having finally given in to the wonderful stories of Stephen Moffat and having at long last become the sterotypical, nerdly Doctor Who fan, I now have a new exposure to my favorite (foreign) country, the United Kingdom. In general, I love all angles of that culture. But if one thing bugs me about current British culture it's this underlying assumption of "been there, done that" when it comes to any questions of God or the like. I don't mind the fact of dismissal as much as the casual nature of the dismissal, the "of course I don't believe, I'm British!", the "well-we-don't-have-an-empire-anymore-and-we-don't-have-God-either" blithe, unthinking atheism of the comments. If Christianity is cultural in the American South, then atheism is well on its way to being the unthinking cultural assumption in the British Isles -- or at least their exported culture seems to take it as an assumption past even reflecting on. I hope the actual British people have more, well, hope.

So here, I'd like to give a knee-jerk answer back to two recent British quotes (well, one's last year but I just saw it):

Steven Hawking in the Telegraph: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. … There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Funny, the book I reviewed on this site that gives the most evidence of being "afraid of the dark" is Julian Barnes' Nothing to be Afraid Of, a British atheist writing about death. That book is painful to read, fear permeates its pages, and I find it commendable and an effective work of art that Barnes would put his soul out there so clearly. Where is the evidence that fear of death makes people Christians but makes others Julian Barneses? There must be some other variable that controls the result here.

Not to mention, the whole realization that God's faithfulness extends even after death is something that only slowly dawned on the Jews over thousands of years. Fear of death might explain Paul and St. Augustine (well, it doesn't but that requires a longer rebuttal), but it can say nothing about why Israel survived the Exile, or anything before that either. It doesn't explain most of the Old Testament at all, which, last I checked, is more than half the Bible. C.S. Lewis has a quote about this somewhere.

Where is this person who's afraid of the dark? Only a man made of straw.

River Song in Doctor Who at the beginning of The Pandorica Opens (Series 5), speaking to a Roman centurion: unforuntately, I have to paraphrase this because I can only find it in another paraphrased blog, but basically "You've been a soldier too long to believe that there are gods watching over us."

I happen to actually know some soliders and they happen to be Christian. I don't think that's because our military is somehow not used to combat or something -- the complaints I hear tend to be in the other direction from that. There's nothing about being a solider that prevents faith. Maybe there's something about being British and into sci-fi, but that's not quite the same thing! But it should be obvious that this isn't about real people -- it's about making unthinking generalizations, and about most other topics it'd be clear that it's just a trope. For some reason, theological tropes -- that is, anti-theological tropes -- are OK in British culture. Well, I'll just have to live with that, there are other advantages to enjoying said culture.

Not much point to this post, just answering back into the ether and playing with words. Just gotta tell SOMEONE.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to Know When the World Will End

The end of the world is all over Facebook today, fodder for jokes and theologizing. My favorite status update is from my friend Matt: "I feel fine." In terms of viral marketing, this message has permeated the culture to be sure. It's the theologizing that I worry about a bit.

It's obvious that the close-reading gymnastics used to reach this particular date as the end of history are incredibly flawed. It's obvious that this precise prediction misuses the Bible and misrepresents God; one of the best ways to point that out is to make fun of it. But in the middle of all the jokes flying back and forth, and the earnest denunciations of flawed exposition, I see a lot of people moving from the specific to the general, and saying that basically, it's silly to believe in the end of the world because it will never end. Is the idea to hold the opposite wrong view so overall it cancels out?

I keep thinking of the line from the O Antiphons service about how we await the Second Advent of Jesus; there is still more to come, and some of the changes will be abrupt, like phase changes of freezing or sublimation, brought about by the new breaking into the old in the same way it did on Easter morning. I'm not ready to say it must be abrupt or it must be gradual, but I know it must break in and it must change.

Read 2 Thessalonians: judgment can, does, and will break in. It did in AD70 when the Romans razed the Temple. It did when Rome fell 400 years later, and when Constantinople fell in the Fourth Crusade, and again, and again, and again. "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair." These falls are all part of a bigger fall, ruins upon ruins. The overall pattern is that falls happen, bubbles burst, and people die. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul tells them that a lot of bad stuff has to happen in terms that don't entirely make sense to us, but the message that bad stuff will happen, lawlessness will set itself above every power and principality, even in the holiest place, but Jesus will set it right. Paul goes so far as to say you can know the judgment has not come yet because it hasn't gotten bad enough yet: a huge falling-away, a ruler without laws that worships self and created things over the Creator, over everything. I'm pretty sure that's not happened yet, but the fascinating thing about Paul's prophecy is that it's general enough that I can't be sure it's not! The major point is not to be able to identify exactly when judgment will come, but to keep the focus of worship on the Creator where it belongs. I'm pretty sure that God maintains the ability to surprise us no matter how smart we think we are.

The general truth of the Thessalonian letters, and Revelation, and all the related things we're trying to think about right now, is that the pattern of history is one of growth instead of stasis. Every day is not the same, and the world is not in a loop. It is a line, and we look forward to God setting right what we cannot change with new creation. The pattern is that death must precede new life, and we are not in control of granting either one. Tearing down must precede building. What Paul says to do is to run from lawlessness, depending on the grace of God and living with love for each other, because love builds and transforms. History doesn't all make sense, everyone knows that (and if history doesn't make sense why should prophecy?). Looking at the canon I modify that slightly: it doesn't make sense ... yet. Some days, patience and perseverance are all we can supply and we wait for the rest from above. We can't let something that's wrong in the specifics dissuade us from the general truth that we await a Second Advent.

Book Review: After You Believe

I listen to so much N.T. Wright in the form of recorded lectures that I don't always read his books, especially his mid-level books. At first, After You Believe read very similarly to his recent talks on virtue. But the middle third was well worth it. In a sense, I "spoiled" part of this book for myself by listening to every available talk while driving around! But the good thing is it was still worth taking the time to read (especially because I could skim the paragraphs with the examples I already heard). The message is important and worth absorbing through the eyes as well as through the ears. The thread of the role of worship and the Eucharist is subtle but it's there, and that's what I'm paying most attention to these days.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book Review: The Temple and the Church's Mission

I found out that I've been a bit of a fan of G.K. Beale's work for a while now without knowing it. G.K. Beale, with D.A. Carson, wrote a commentary of how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, which I have used as a backbone for two classes so far and will again: it's literally a gold mine. Then I heard a reference in an N.T. Wright talk (what's with all the double initials here? Unfortunately I'd have to be B.J. and that sounds like a truck driver!) to this book about what the temple meant in Revelation 21 and I quickly found that this Beale and that Beale are the same people. So The Temple and the Church's Mission feels like a book I should have read long ago.

Actually, Beale put forward a paper at a conference that summarizes his argument fairly well, and if you're pressed for time that paper does a masterful job of summarizing his argument. I read it first, wanted more, then read this 400-pager to follow up. To tell you the truth, I think it could have been about 100 pages shorter, because there's some reiteration and some lines of argument that may be unnecessary, but that's definitely debatable. What's not debatable is Beale's style, which relates themes across authors and takes each piece of Scripture seriously. Many other authors seem to have a "canon within the canon" for their emphasis but Beale truly gets the full scope of Scripture in. The topic is, basically, what did the Temple mean to Old Testament and New Testament authors? I'm convinced this is an important historical "blind spot" because we don't have an equivalent structure and haven't for 2000 years, so we've forgotten what it was. Beale goes a long way toward correcting for this. I would have liked more history and equivalent cultural features and the like but perhaps others have followed up on this? In any case, this is an important book and an important way of thinking. I'm going to have more about exactly what the Temple may have meant in my "Last Lecture" in two weeks (from today ... mild yikes ... ) but for now this was a theological page-turner. What more could you want?