Thursday, December 31, 2009

book report: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I fell in love with Pearl Buck's world because of her magnificent writing from the very beginning. For example, this paragraph transported me to China onto the land of a newly married peasant farmer.

The sun beat down upon them, for it was early summer, and her face was soon dripping with her sweat. Wang Lung had his coat off and his back bare, but she worked with her thin garment covering her shoulders and it grew wet and clung to her like skin. Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour afer hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. the earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together - together- producing the fruit of this earth - speechless in their movement together. pp. 29-30, The Good Earth.

The novel celebrates the effect of earth on the main character, Wang Lung. Farming is his life, his savior, his redeemer, his confessor, his god. The opening setting of the novel was so compelling to me. I wanted Wang Lung to succeed in his poverty. I wanted his fields to produce. I wanted his marriage to O-Lan to thrive and his family to grow. Then the drought came. They nearly starved to death before they got on a train heading south where they lived as beggars outside a city's walls. But revolution drew close and Wang Lung brought his family back to his land. Always the land. There he found success again. His household grew again with success as he purchased slaves and hired field hands. He enlarged his earthen walled house. But then, the story turned tragic. In his mid-life idleness, he despised his wife's poor peasant appearance and ended up at the town's brothel. He ends up with a favorite, Lotus, whose petite size enthralls him. He eventually brings her to his home as his concubine. Yuck. I was so disgusted with him. I no longer cared for his success. I preferred his failure. Eventually, his land called him back to sanity, sort of. His addiction to Lotus becomes merely a fancy, though he can't remove her from his house. His wealth keeps increasing, but he is plagued by his obligation to his uncle, a lazy criminal schemer, a leech on his household. His sons insist on his move from the land into the village great house. But there is no peace for him there. Eventually he moves back to the earth walled farm house to live out his last days. But even there he has no peace, because the book ends with him over hearing his sons discussing selling off the land when he dies.

Pearl Buck was raised in China by her American Presbyterian missionary parents and moved back there as an adult, as a missionary herself for 19 years until she was fired for her liberal views, which I will come back to at the end. Her first child was mentally disabled.

The main character of her book, other than the earth itself is the rags to riches farmer, Wang Lung. Like Pearl, his first daughter is mentally disabled, she has no name, except for poor fool. Christian missionaries make one appearance in the story, when Wang Lung is in the southern city and a funny looking man hands him a piece of paper with a picture of a man dying on a cross. But Wang Lung is illiterate and in unable to read the message. He gives the broadside to his wife, O-Lan, so that she may add it to the other papers in their shoe soles.

This story, that so enchanted me in the beginning became a horror story to me. As I reflected Pearl Buck's life, I thought she might be borrowing from the life of King David in the Bible. A life that started out so simply for the shepherd boy, who faced a giant, and a hostile government, who got a wife from the local lord, who eventually moved into the lord's house then took many wives and concubines which caused strife to the point of murder and rape in his household. Like Wang Lung, he had no peace at the end of his life.

I wonder what sort of peace Pearl Buck had at the end of her life. She divorced John Buck and married her publisher in the same year, 1935. She adopted seven children and established an adoption agency so Asian children could be adopted by Americans. She became an humanitarian.

But had she lost her faith?

Why was Pearl fired from her missionary agency? Because of her modernist theological convictions, as summarized in this wiki article.
Notable Presbyterian missionary to China, Pearl S. Buck, now weighed into the debate. In a review published in The Christian Century, she praised the report, saying it should be read by every Christian in America and, ironically mimicking the biblical literalism of the fundamentalists, "I think this is the only book I have ever read that seems to me literally true in its every observation and right in its every conclusion." Then, in a November 1932 speech before a large audience at the Astor Hotel, later published in Harper's, Buck decried gauging the success of missions by the numbers of new church members. Instead she advocated humanitarian efforts to improve the agricultural, educational, medical, and sanitary conditions of the community. She described the typical missionary as "narrow, uncharitable, unappreciative, ignorant." In the Harpers article along with another in Cosmopolitan published in May 1933, Buck rejected the doctrine of original sin, saying "I believe that most of us start out wanting to do right and to be good. ... We are not often intentionally evil." She asserted that belief in the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ was not an essential prerequisite to being a Christian. Even Christ's historical reality or whether Christianity is the one and only divine truth is irrelevant. She said that the only need is to acknowledge that one can't live without Christ and to reflect that in one's life.
She sounds like someone from today's emergent church tribe, or a typical mainline liberal denomination. Why are we Christians so often either/or instead of both/and. Let us go forth and bring the kingdom of God to people's spirits and bodies in its full, all-encompassing claims. to bring food without truth is no better than the communists or al-Queada. To bring truth with no material assistance is condemned in the epistle of James as an example of one who could not possibly be truthful if the truth did not compel him to action.

Let us be both/and missionaries to our worlds, caring for body and soul. Let us resolve this for the new year.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

cinema review: Avatar (2009)

The remake of Battle for Terra was pretty good. Here is the opening of my review of Battle for Terra this past May,
I have a weakness for science fiction. Cool cartoons with alternative engineering and physics defying planets from directors enable me to ignore lame plots, shallow characters, and black and white themes. Hence, I took my kids to see the Battle for Terra and I liked it.
I only have to rewrite that review slightly. Instead of cartoons, Avatar is CGI, but alternative engineering and physics defying planets are constant. Lame plots, shallow characters, and black and white themes remain, but the three hours of eye candy make the faults easier to swallow. I

Avatar (2009 film)Image via Wikipedia

will not bring my kids to see this PG-13 movie however. The planet's natives, the Na'vi, are portrayed like many native stereotypes here on earth, barely clothed, hence the females are mostly topless. Another strike against bringing my children to see the movie is the blatant sex scene. Perhaps because it happened between blue actors with CGI tails added, it passed the censors' sense of what kids can see. I did not see the 3D version of the movie, so I can not comment on the coolness of that.

Cameron made several allusions to other movies and history of man's economic justification for the denial of human rights. Not only did he bring back Sigourney Weaver from one of his earliest and, in my humble opinion, best movie, Alien, but he used similar technology and alien looks.

I also noticed a nod to Apocalypse Now and invoked its atmosphere of enjoying the smell of napalm in the morning as the mean military man blew up natives with incendiary missiles.
Embedded video from Apocalypse Now, here.

Cameron acknowledges his common themes with Dances with Wolves. The most basic theme is that the richer and more powerful people desire treasure that weaker people hold sacred, and use their force to seize it. Unlike in reality, this movie is a fairy tale that results in the arrow shooting natives prevailing over the high-tech army. Reality bites. It bites more, in my opinion, when the deprivation of rights and liberty are done despite proclaimed codes of ethics.

I think a more uplifting, hopeful story would be one in which one of the oppressors, repents and convinces his oppressive tribe to do likewise. Some might argue that Constantine did this, to some degree and lifted the persecution of the Christians when he converted to Christianity. However, since he was the most powerful person in his region, he found his power convenient to continue to take rights to life and liberty from others. Another near example of this is a priest who joined the Spaniards to convert the native Americans and ended up arguing on the behalf of the indigenous tribes who were abused to death by the Europeans, Bartolomé de Las Casas. I've written about him and his fellows before, here. Sadly, they were not able to bring their governments to repentance with them.

Image via Wikipedia

If I were to speculate on theology and science fiction I'd say that since God gave dominion to humankind only over this earth, I would expect that humans would be driven off any other planet, be it Pandora of the Na'vi or Mars.

I can't recommend this movie. While raising a cry against exploitation, it exploits the nudity of women to up-sell the movie. It exploits the secrecy of sexual intimacy for titillation. It's post-ironic, a great term brought to my attention in a recent post at Touchstone. In this fantasy world of Pandora, there is no problem of natural evil. Nature assists, not indifferent, to its avatars, unlike the earth we live on where tsunamis kills hundreds of thousands as well as droughts and floods and pandemics. The movie might reflect Cameron's vision of heaven. But heaven does not exist where Christ is not. Pray for Cameron.

Golgotha Crucifix, designed by Paul Nagel, Chu...Image via Wikipedia

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Edward Cullen is Tarzan

I'm spending my Christmas break reading some classics. I plundered the classics shelf in the

Cover of Cover of Tarzan of the Apes

library and my loot included Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I never expected the thrilling read Burroughs delivered. However, halfway through the book, I wondered if I was reading Twilight or not. Stephenie Meyer, may write stories affected by her Mormonism (see my previous posts one, two, three, four), but she also must have read and been affected by Burrough's Tarzan. I will interleave Burrough's passage, from chapter 20, Heredity. with a couple from Meyer's Twilight, from the end of ch. 12, Balancing, through ch. 13, Confessions, where Edward brings Bella to a clearing. I will keep Burrough's passage in order. I will put Meyer's writing in italics.

When Jane realized that she was being borne away a captive by the strange forest creature who had rescued her from the clutches of the ape she struggled desperately to escape, but the strong arms that held her as easily as though she had been but a day-old babe only pressed a little more tightly.
So presently she gave up the futile effort and lay quietly, looking through half-closed lids at the faces of the man who strode easily through the tangled undergrowth with her.
The face above her was one of extraordinary beauty.
A perfect type of the strongly masculine, unmarred by dissipation, or brutal or degrading passions. For, though Tarzan of the Apes was a killer of men and of beasts, he killed as the hunter kills, dispassionately, except on those rare occasions when he had killed for hate--though not the brooding, malevolent hate which marks the features of its own with hideous lines.
When Tarzan killed he more often smiled than scowled, and smiles are the foundation of beauty.
One thing the girl had noticed particularly when she had seen Tarzan rushing upon Terkoz--the vivid scarlet band upon his forehead, from above the left eye to the scalp; but now as she scanned his features she noticed that it was gone, and only a thin white line marked the spot where it had been.

Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn't get used to it, though I'd been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday's hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface... A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal. p.260

I lightly trailed my hand over the perfect muscles of his arm, followed the faint pattern of bluish veins inside the crease at his elbow. p.261

As she lay more quietly in his arms Tarzan slightly relaxed his grip upon her.
Once he looked down into her eyes and smiled, and the girl had to close her own to shut out the vision of that handsome, winning face...

On and on they went through what seemed to Jane a solid mass of verdure, yet ever there appeared to open before this forest god a passage, as by magic, which closed behind them as they passed.
Scarce a branch scraped against her, yet above and below, before and behind, the view presented naught but a solid mass of inextricably interwoven branches and creepers...

"I'll show you how I travel in the forest."...I waited to see if he was kidding, but apparently he meant it...He then proceeded to sling me onto his back, with very little effort on my part, besides, when in place, slamping my legs and arms so tightly around him that it would chake a normal person...And then he was running. p. 279

He streaked through the dark, thick underbrush of the forest like a bullet, like a ghost. There was no sound, no evidence that his feet touched the earth. His breathing never changed, never indicated any effort. But the trees flew by at deadly speeds, always missing us by inches... Then it was over. We;d hiked hours this morning to reach Edward's meadow, and now, in a matter of minutes, we were back to the truck. p.280

Though they had come many miles, it was still but midafternoon, and the amphitheater was bathed in the half light which filtered through the maze of encircling foliage.
The green turf looked soft and cool and inviting. The myriad noises of the jungle seemed far distant and hushed to a mere echo of blurred sounds, rising and falling like the surf upon a remote shore.
A feeling of dreamy peacefulness stole over Jane as she sank down upon the grass where Tarzan had placed her, and as she looked up at his great figure towering above her, there was added a strange sense of perfect security.
As she watched him from beneath half-closed lids, Tarzan crossed the little circular clearing toward the trees upon the further side. She noted the graceful majesty of his carriage, the perfect symmetry of his magnificent figure and the poise of his well-shaped head upon his broad shoulders.
What a perfect creature! There could be naught of cruelty or baseness beneath that godlike exterior. Never, she thought had such a man strode the earth since God created the first in his own image...

I reached the edge of the pool of light and stepped through the last fringe of ferns into the loveliest place I had ever seen. the meadow was small, perfectly round, and filled with wildflowers - violet, yellow, and soft white... I spun around, searching for him with sudden alarm. Finally I spotted him, still under the dense shade of the canopy at the edge o the hollow, watching me with cautious eyes...

Edward seemed to take a deep breath, and then he stepped out into the bright glow of the midday sun. p. 259

There stood Tarzan, his arms filled with ripe and luscious fruit.
Jane reeled and would have fallen, had not Tarzan, dropping his burden, caught her in his arms. She did not lose consciousness, but she clung tightly to him, shuddering and trembling like a frightened deer.

I reached the edge of the pool of light and stepped through the last fringe of ferns into the loveliest place I had ever seen. the meadow was small, perfectly round, and filled with wildflowers - violet, yellow, and soft white... I spun around, searching for him with sudden alarm. Finally I spotted him, still under the dense shade of the canopy at the edge o the hollow, watching me with cautious eyes...

Edward seemed to take a deep breath, and then he stepped out into the bright glow of the midday sun. p. 259

Tarzan of the Apes stroked her soft hair and tried to comfort and quiet her as Kala had him, when, as a little ape, he had been frightened by Sabor, the lioness, or Histah, the snake.
Once he pressed his lips lightly upon her forehead, and she did not move, but closed her eyes and sighed.

So I rest my case. I only wish Meyer had imitated more of Burrough's craft and noted how much quicker a story could flow with fewer adjectives and more plot and character complexity.

I didn't read New Moon, but I know the story of competing lovers. Like Bella, Jane also has several suitors who compete with Tarzan for her affections, Robert Canler and John Clayton, not unlike Jacob Black.

One important difference in the stories is that Tarzan leaves his wildness to pursue his love, Jane Porter. He departs from the jungle and learns to speak French and eat with proper table manners (cooked food, utensils, and napkins). He leaves his environment to pursue her across three continents. But Bella has to join Edward's vampire world to be united to him. I have to admit, as a father of daughters, I prefer the romantic vision of a young man pursuing them and leaving their wildness behind to court them with their maturity, rather than them losing their souls to be with some perfect guy. There's no perfection without a soul. There's no one good enough who won't lay down their lives for her, in my humble daddy opinion. Hence, here is another classic required for my daughter's before they read more of the Cullen saga.

Although, I didn't find any literary criticism comparing Twilight and Tarzan, I did find this video, saying the same thing with clips from the movie. Enjoy. If you don't see video, go here.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas - Gospel of John, chapter 1

John 1
The Prologue to the Gospel

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 1:5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

1:6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 1:7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 1:9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 1:11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 1:12But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children 1:13 – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

1:14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 1:15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 1:16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 1:18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

The Testimony of John the Baptist

1:19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 1:20 He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” 1:21 So they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No!” 1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” 1:24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 1:25 So they asked John, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, 1:27 who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!” 1:28 These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing.

1:29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 1:30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 1:31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.”

1:32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 1:33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 1:34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.”

1:35 Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. 1:36 Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 1:37 When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 1:38 Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” 1:39 Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

Andrew’s Declaration

1:40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. 1:41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). 1:42 Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

The Calling of More Disciples

1:43 On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 1:44 (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 1:46 Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.”

1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!1:48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” 1:50 Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 1:51He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth – you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

LDS hymn, "Praise to the Man", Yikes!

The melody is nice, the words are worshipful but of Joseph Smith not Jesus Christ.
(see video at if you can't see it in feed)

Here are the lyrics.
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus annointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.

Praise to his mem'ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assasins,
Plead unto heav'n while the earth lauds his fame.


Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.


Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know 'Brother Joseph' again.

Lyrics from Keith Walker in his series "Quick questions for Mormons"
(see video at if you can't see it in feed)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

8 Ways to Thrive (not die) with Family

This is from Tommy Nelson's ministry newsletter The Hub, formerly called Song of Solomon. His sermon series on the Song of Solomon was helpful in our marriage and definitely influenced my interpretation of the book. He is familiar with imperfect marriages and that results in imperfect families, even into adulthood. These words are helpful. Merry Christmas.

1. Take a deep breath – Is what your mother, brother, or sister-n-law said, or going to say really worth ruining the sweet time you have? I know that words are extremely powerful, but for many of us, we need to learn how to ‘give them less power.’

2. Watch your tongue – As you have heard and will hear many times, An OUNCE of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If most of us would just take a deep breath, relaxe ONE moment before we speak, we would either say less damaging things or when someone says something Potentially damaging to us, we choose not to react.

3. Stop thinking of the past all the time. This is huge in family. Whenever someone in our family makes a comment to us, we see it in light of the previous 20, 35, or 50 years. It’s time to forget some of that (I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary). A short memory can be quite helpful in these situations.

4. If your comment does not build someone up, then keep it to yourself. Many times in family, we think it is our job to ’share all the difficult stuff.’ You know what, unless you have an active, ongoing, close relationship with a family member, chances are ‘more critique’, or ‘less positive’ opinions should be shared by a person’s friend, not a family member.

5. Unsolicited advise is almost always received as criticism, not help.

6. We only have a few days together. Let’s be friends:) Friendships are positive. Let’s let our family times be positive.

7. Christmas is about Christ’s generosity of Spirit, not a spirit of negativity, stress, hurt, and history. If we will slow down enough to get the right perspective on our eyeballs, then He will give us what we need to make it much more enjoyable.

8. Don’t stay too long! Proverbs says,’Don’t stay too long in your brother’s house.’ That’s from the wisest man who ever lived. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2009

book report: The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

I received for review from Thomas Nelson publishers the first book in a new series called the Ancient Practices Series called The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister. I expected a book that was more encyclopaedic and almanac. However, this book is a liturgical devotional. Ms. Chittister finds abundant spiritual nourishment in the church calendar and seeks to demonstrate to those less enlightened the extraordinary benefits from observing the liturigcal calendar. I dog eared many passages in the center of her book where she meditates on ascetics and Lent and Ash Wednesday. Those devotions on pain and suffering for Christ spoke to me. However, as a low church Protestant, who has never followed the liturgical calendar, I asked myself frequently, “Why not the Bible?” For everything in the calendar she claims as a benefit for our spiritual growth I see primarily in the Bible, then, secondarily, in traditons. However, I know few Christians read through their Bibles regularly. Perhaps the calendar is for those? But, the symbols need a chapter of explanation. Does the rare attender of a high church which observes the calendar know the symbols any better than the Bible from which they are derived? Let me say that I enjoy the explanation of the calendar, but I’m one who likes to read these books. So few do. For this, I’m grateful for Ms. Chittister’s attempts. However, I wish she pointed her readers first to the scriptures, from which these holy days derive.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Commenting at...Faith autopsy again

In response to Ben's letter to Jesus.

Dude You are whining. Stop it. Grow up. Man up. You made your bed, now you are laying in it. Sorry it sucks. You shouldn't be disappointed that your utopian view of the church didn't pan out. It's not the view in the Bible anyway. See James 3:1 

Statue of the apostle Saint James the Less; ch...Image via Wikipedia

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. ESV

Is James being prescriptive or descriptive? I think the greater judgment is to be expected regardless. You betrayed the trust of dozens of people who gave you their money as a gift unto God. You aren't a chief sheep. You were their under-shepherd and took advantage of one of the sheep. You aren't safe to the flock bro. You turned wolfy. Your hunger was more important than your flock. 

Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. ESV

The ESV study note points out "Maintaining the earlier balance of not judging (vv. 1–5) yet not being naively accepting (v. 6), Jesus teaches his disciples that they must be wisely discerning when professed prophets come into their midst. The life of the prophet and the results of his influence on others are the fruits that will indicate whether or not his message is consistent with the kingdom life of righteousness. fire. The only thing bad trees are good for is firewood, a striking metaphor of the future judgment for false prophets"

But back to James 3:1 . John Gill writes loquaciously but it's all good regarding this verse.
My brethren, be not many masters The apostle having dispatched the subject of faith and good works, which constitute the pure and undefiled religion mentioned in ( James 1:27 ) which gave rise to this discourse, he proceeds to consider the evidence of a religious man, suggested in ( James 1:26 ) who is one that bridles the tongue; and enters into an account of the use and abuse of the tongue: and which is introduced by this exhortation; and which seems to be opposed to an affectation among the Jews, to whom James writes, of being called "Rabbi, Rabbi", or "Mori, Mori", master, master, condemned by Christ, ( Matthew 23:8, Matthew 23:10 ) . The words may be rendered, "be not many teachers"; or be not fond, and forward, and ambitious of being preachers of the word, but rather choose to be hearers of it, agreeably to the advice in ( James 1:19 ) , "be swift to hear, slow to speak"; not but that the office of a teacher is a good work, and a very desirable one; and spiritual gifts, qualifying for it, are to be coveted with a view to the glory of God, and the good of souls; and to have many teachers is a blessing to the churches of Christ and a large number of them is often not only proper, but absolutely necessary: but then this office should not be entered upon without suitable gifts, a divine mission, and a regular call by a church; and when entered into, should not be performed in a magisterial way, as lords over God's heritage, and as claiming a dominion over the faith of men, but as helpers of their joy, peace, and comfort; nor according to the commandments of men, but according to the oracles of God. Or it may be, this exhortation may have respect to censorious persons, rigid and severe reprovers of others, who take upon them, in a haughty manner, to charge and rebuke others for their faults; reproof for sin ought to be given; sin should not be suffered upon the brethren; to reprove is not blameworthy, but commendable, when it is done in a right manner, with a good spirit, and to a good end: in case of private offences, it should be privately given, and for public ones, men should be rebuked before all; but then this ought to be done in a gentle manner, and in a spirit of meekness; and when it is a clear case, and plain matter of fact, and which ought not to be exaggerated and aggravated; mole hills are not to be made mountains of, or a man be made an offender for a word, or a matter of human frailty; and reproof should be given by persons not guilty of the same, or worse crimes, themselves, and always with a good end; not to screen and cover their own vices, or to be thought more holy and religious than others, or to satisfy a 

Film poster for The ApostleImage via Wikipedia

revengeful spirit, but for the glory of God, and the restoring of the person that has 
sinned. Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation: should men enter into the office of teaching others without a call, or perform it negligently, or live not according to the doctrine they teach others, such would be judged out of their 
own mouths, and by their own words, and their condemnation would be aggravated; and should men judge rash judgment, they themselves will be judged at a higher tribunal; and should they be too censorious, and bear too hard on others, they will have judgment without mercy.
Can your gifts still be used by God? Certainly. Perhaps in a venue you never thought of, like the
end of Robert Duvall's movie, The Apostle, 1997. Your sin has closed one door, but God is very creative.

God is good (which is why he forgives you as do many in your offended spiritual family) 

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Justice for American Indian nations

One thing I like about the Obama administration is his attempts to dealjustly with American Indian tribes. One example of this is a recent settlement with the nations to settle royalty payments for century old leases, see story at Buffalo Post. The AP story includes this important context and information, 
Under an agreement announced Tuesday, the Interior Department would distribute $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 Indian tribe members to compensate them for historical accounting claims, and to resolve future claims. The government also would spend $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land broken up in previous generations. The program would allow individual tribe members to obtain cash payments for land interests divided among numerous family members and return the land to tribal control.
The settlement also would create a scholarship account of up to $60 million for tribal members to attend college or vocational school.
If cleared by Congress and a federal judge, the settlement would be the largest Indian claim ever approved against the U.S. government – exceeding the combined total of all previous settlements of Indian claims.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that the Indian plaintiffs are entitled to $455 million, a fraction of the $47 billion or more the tribes have said they are owed for leases that have been overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

If you click on the "Native American" tag on the bottom of this post, you will find many stories about how the European invaders took advantage of the tribes. No one, including myself, believes the indigenous people were clueless dupes, but the Christian invaders rarely let their faith interfere with making money. That's still true today. I am glad my government is attempting to correct historic wrongs. I hope Congress and the judge approve this settlement.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

John Granger on Twilight

I'm happy to report that John Granger, who opened my eyes to the Christian symbolism of Harry Potter, has written a review of the Twilight series at Touchstone. It's a long article, so I don't feel bad sharing a couple paragraphs towards the end of his essay. I disagre with him about the quality of the stories. He calls her "a wonderful storyteller, if no champion stylist." I agee she is no stylist and I'm not sure her storytelling is wonderful. But kudos to John for reading through all the books and starting his article with compliments. As he did with Potter and reading into Rowling's background to see her use of symbols, he does likewise with Meyer and her LDS background. I'd actually like to pull several paragraphs from this essay, but then you would have no incentive to read the entire thing. Please visit his essay at Touchstone

This brings us back to the Garden of Eden. As mentioned above, Twilight is a romantic retelling of the story of Man’s Fall presented in the engaging and exciting wrappers of a romance and an international thriller. This may sound like a stretch, but consider the first book’s cover—a woman’s arms holding out an apple—and its opening epigraph—“But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not taste of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

This isn’t, however, the story as Moses told it or as Christian saints and sages have understood it. As a Mormon, Mrs. Meyer departs from the traditional Christian understanding of that event, and the nature of her departure appeals to rather than repels her readers.

Christians understand Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God, their “original sin,” or Fall, as the beginning of man’s distance from God, a distance that man could not restore on his own, but that required the incarnation and sacrifice of a divine, sinless Savior to accomplish.

Mormons reject this interpretation. Not only do they hold the Pelagian view that human conscience and free will are sufficient for salvation, but they go a step further, asserting that, not only was the Fall not a bad thing, it was actually a good, even necessary thing for human salvation.

In some streams of Mormon tradition, Adam is, in fact, the finite God of earth (or the Archangel Michael), and Eve is his celestial wife from another planet. The Fall and expulsion from Paradise, according to this view, were necessary in order for Adam and Eve to marry and reproduce. “Celestial marriage” is a core ordinance for Mormon exaltation (salvation), and without the “Fall,” man could not take this important step in his progression from mortality to post-mortal life as a god in the Celestial Kingdom.

This is a remarkable departure from orthodox, creedal Christianity with respect to sexuality and understanding how human beings relate to God. In traditional Christianity, sexual continence is adopted by those who aspire to devote themselves more deeply to the things of God, while in Mormonism, sex within marriage is itself an edifying, even salvific, spiritual exercise. A “single Mormon” is something like a “square circle,” and monastic vocation a sacrilege.

Joseph Smith, Jr.’s doctrines of Eternal Progression and the sufficiency of human will and conscience also break with Christian tradition. Instead of man working in synergy with God to receive and be transformed by his grace, Mormonism advocates a can-do spirit of works, which, if performed in conformity with God’s teachings in the LDS church, will result in one’s drawing ever nearer to God in this life and in the next.

The Plan of Salvation, as illustrated by some ...Image via Wikipedia
Here is a representation of the mormon "plan of salvation." I've heard this from the boys on their bikes.

But orthodox theology is much simpler. We are sinful and deserve spiritual consequences four our sinfulness, hell, the 2nd death. But God let his Son, Jesus Christ pay our penalty. All we need to do is turn from our sin and turn to Christ, in effect, consent to be loved.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lies to reject from Twilight

I have to thank Randy Alcorn for this link to a Wired article on the 20 lessons from Twilight. Here are some that resonate with me as a dad of two daughters.

  1. If a boy is aloof, stand-offish, ignores you or is just plain rude, it is because he is secretly in love with you — and you are the point of his existence.
  2. Secrets are good — especially life-threatening ones.
  3. If a boy tells you to stay away from him because he is dangerous and may even kill you, he must be the love of your life. You should stay with him since he will keep you safe forever.
    1. If a boy leaves you, especially suddenly (while telling you he will never see you again), it is because he

      Cover of Cover of Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition)

      loves you so much he will suffer just to keep you safe.
    2. When a boy leaves you, going into shock, losing all your friends and enduring night terrors are completely acceptable occurrences — as long as you keep your grades up.
    3. It is extremely romantic to put yourself in dangerous situations in order to see your ex-boyfriend again. It’s even more romantic to remember the sound of his voice when he yelled at you.
    4. Boys who leave you always come back.
    5. Because they come back, you should hold out, waiting for them for months, even when completely acceptable and less-abusive alternative males present themselves.
    6. Even though you have no intention of dating an alternative male who expresses interest in you, it is fine to string the young man along for months. Also, you should use him to fix things for you. Maybe he’ll even buy you something.
      1. Lying to your parents is fine. Lying to your parents while you run away to save your suicidal boyfriend is an extremely good idea that shows your strength and maturity. Also, it is what you must do.
      2. If the boy you are in love with causes you (even indirectly) to be so badly beaten you end up in the hospital, you should tell the doctors and your family that you “fell down the steps” because you are such a silly, clumsy girl. That false explanation always works well for abused women.
      3. Men can be changed for the better if you sacrifice everything you are and devote yourself to their need for change.
      4. Young women should make no effort to improve their social skills or emotional state. Instead, they should seek out potential mates that share their morose deficiencies and emotional illnesses.
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    Underground architecture proponent dies

    From the top of Malcolm Wells's website.

    Macolm Wells

    With regret, we report the passing away of Malcolm Wells.

    Malcolm passed on Friday, November 27, 2009. Mac wrote his own obituary in advance. You can read it here.

    Below is a cartoon of his and his thoughts. I love underground housing.