Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shed home

This past weekend, our family went to one of those large greenhouse and shrubbery places and looked at pumpkins and such. But what really got our attention were those neglected big sheds for sale for several thousand dollars each. Somehow, my influence over my kids about tiny houses has filtered down and they realized they would like to have their own sheds to live in. This sounds like a set up for some Series of Unfortunate Events book, where the cruel parent builds small prisons for the children. But that is not the case. I think it inspiration.

My son even drew up a site plan for the new Umland compound which resembled the camp my daughter went to this summer. A semi-circle of sheds with a dining room/shower house/school room at the center of the arc. The parents either end up with their own shed or live in the conference center, perhaps in a loft over the communal part. The sheds only get electricity, but no running water, which complicates things both with zoning and with skills beyond my capability.

I can imagine a couple acres with a tiny house on it and buying it cheaply, then dropping a couple sheds in around the house and the need for home expansion to accommodate 5 people goes away. The bedrooms are huge, just not attached. For midnight urges and cravings, a modern chamberpot could be made available in each shed for the urges, and a water cooler and dorm fridge for the cravings. The rooms could fit a bed by using a hammock instead, which folds up when not in use. Security could be achieved by each shed having their own large dog, who would consider the shed their own doghouses. On those occasional big storm threats, everyone could join the slumber party in the school house/dining hall/shower house. According to the article below, many great geniuses did their work in sheds. Garden sheds are such popular places to hang out in the UK that their is industry to supply the demand, see the blog Shedworking.

But how would I keep the kids warm in the winter and cool in the summer? Blankets. No, that is too much like abuse. But if the sheds were spray insulated with polyurethane foam, the possibilities open up. Polyurethane gets me thinking about SIPs, and if using those, then kit assembly should be quick and easy. Then I thought about taking them off the grid, and including solar panels and battery assemblies with each shed. With iPods and iPads, they wouldn't need to plug in that much. If someone wanted to start a tin garbage can drum corps, the noise needn't bother anyone else in the house, because, the practice room isn't attached to anyone else's room. If someone wants to keep reptiles or rodents as pets, an escape won't threaten the rest of the household.

I really need comments from those who know about such things, why this fantasy is not good.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

book report: Stuff Christians Like (2010) by Jon Acuff

Between the heavy duty books I read, it's nice to cleanse my brain's palate with something light and salty, like when I went to a team building exercise from work where we tasted wines and ate saltines between each swallow. Stuff Christians Like is that saltine, but shaped like a Jesus fish, and likely to induce a spray of crumbs out of your mouth every few pages.

I started reading Acuff's blog early into it's history, not because I'm some sort of trend spotter, but because a few other blogs recommended him, and he's funny. Where Lark News was the Christian type of The Onion, sarcasm turned to 11 but presented as fact which leads some Christians new to the internet to forward the latest "unbelievable church news," Acuff is like a Christian version of Bill Simmons's at ESPN, when he used to write columns instead of podcasting and writing intermittently. Although not long winded like Simmons, or me in that previous sentence. I only regret Acuff has not written about the church's need to compare everything we produce to something produced outside it. For example, I used to enjoy Christian hair metal bands in the 80's, but needed to reduce them to being no more than cover bands of bigger secular groups bu saying so-and-so are like a Christian version of Iron Maiden. In hindsight, some of those bands were just that, copying the music, but baptizing the lyrics. But I am not saying Acuff is ripping off Simmons. No he gives credit to Christian Lander, who started Stuff White People Like. If the Christian artist is comparing himself to a non-Christian artist, why can't I join the fun?

I loved it... it was much better than Cats! I don't say that because of any hypnotic effect he had on me either [click that link if you weren't watching SNL in the mid-80's and missed the joke.] It's just very good.

I knew about the book for many months before buying it, but I didn't want to spend the money if he was giving me free content every day. But my daughter does not read the blogs like I do, so I bought it on impulse while shopping with her. I want her to enjoy the goofiness of the church. Jon Acuff is very good at pointing out, not that the king has no clothes, but many in his entourage are walking around with toilet paper stuck on our shoes or hanging out of the back of our pants. And he provided much more funny content not found at his blog.

My daughter and I both laughed out loud reading this book. If the two of us, a generation apart can enjoy the book, then I think anyone familiar with conservative church culture in America would enjoy it.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

book report: The Heresy of Orthodoxy (29010)

When my family needs something from Amazon that doesn't qualify for free shipping, I'm always willing to help them out by adding something from my wish list to reach that 25 buck threshold. This time I happily added to our cart, The Heresy of Orthodoxy by A. J. Kostenberger and M. J. Kruger. This book is for you if you are someone daunted by Bart Ehrman's books which explain why he has such little confidence in orthodox Christianity, doubt which he hopes to ensnare his readers with as well. But even if you haven't even read Ehrman, our post-modern American churchianity, christian-lite, is a product of historical speculation by Walter Bauer, Koine Greek linguist extraordinaire. His weak speculations were that what we now call orthodox, was just one option among many, that eventually prevailed in the Constantinian world that produced the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds. These speculations were confined to the academic theologians who could read German until Bauer's works were translated. But those speculations were no match for actual history either, which was explained in the theological journals and academic meetings. But Ehrman did not agree with the evidence and revived it with his elegant prose and presentation of some but not all the evidence. Kostenberger and Kruger attempt to nip the heads off of this hydra in this short book. There are always more details to every argument and the examples would fill several books and the authors need to point this out at least once in every chapter, which became tedious after the third mention. But the counter arguments and counter examples they provide do a great job making Ehrman look silly.

Bauer/Ehrman question whether the oral teachings of the Christ's apostles were ever intended for pen and ink, and since they were, weren't they accidental and not intentional, and, if the first, whose to say which ancient documents matter? Are not all those ancient documents about Christ on equal footing? This last question, Kostenberger and Kruger say, is the high orthodoxy of our time, that values diversity to the point of not prioritizing any point of view over another, by calling one "orthodox" and another "unorthodox." In regards to the first question, they write,
First, the entire covenantal structure of the Bible (New Testament and Old Testament alike) suggests that written texts are the natural, and even inevitable, consequence of God's covenantal activity. Thus, the earliest Christians would have had a disposition toward, and an expectation of, written documents to attest to the covenant activities of God.
Second, it is clear that God's decisive act of redemption in Jesus Christ would have led to the expectation of a new word-revelation documenting that redemption. It is through Christ's authoritative apostles that this new revelation comes to us, not as part of church history, but as part of redemptive history. Thus, apostolic books were written with the intent of bearing the full authority of Christ and would have been received in such an authoritative manner by its original audiences. p. 124
This addresses the documents but what about the diversity of options/unorthodoxies in the young church?
Indeed, it seems that Ehrman has presented the existence of diversity as if it were contrary to what we would expect if an original, apostolic version of Christianity really existed. But is this a reasonable assumption to make? Ehrman slips this assumption into the debate, expecting everyone would agree that high levels of diversity must mean that no version of Christianity is the apostolic and original one. Thus his argument succeeds only if he sets the bar artificially high for the traditional view - it is only if there are very few (if any) dissenters, and virtually immediate and universal agreement on all twenty-seven canonical books, that we can believe we have found the original and true version of Christianity. But such an artificial standard decides the debate from the outset, before any evidence is even considered. After all, no historical religion could ever meet such an unhistorical standard. Ehrman never bothers to tell us what amount of diversity is "too much" or what amount is "reasonable." One gets the impression that he has challenged Christianity to vault over a bar where he gets to control (and can quickly change) the height. p.159
Three italics and two scare quotes in one sentence means this very serious. It is, but I do feel it is a little over the top stylisitically.

I recently taught a class at church on the canon of the Bible, textual transmission and textual criticism. I'm not an expert by any means, but I learned a little from my biblical Greek class a few years ago and in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. So when the authors, turned to this important topic, I wasn't sure if they would have more than the softball stuff. Perhaps they didn't but they at least presented me with some new softballs, or at least some more perspective on the topics. The following quote are a couple paragraphs I really enjoyed.
Although Ehrman presents his who-knows-what-the-text-originally-said approach as part of mainstream textual criticism, it actually stands in direct opposition to many of his fellow scholars in the field (and even seems to be out of sync with his own writings elsewhere). Historically speaking, the field of textual criticism has not embodied the hyper-skepticism evident in Misquoting Jesus but has been more optimistic concerning the recovery of the original text (or at least something very close to it). In response to Ehrman, therefore, this chapter will put forward four theses that embody an approach that is more consistent with the kind traditionally taken in the field of textual criticism.
  • We have good reasons to think the original text is preserved (somewhere) in the overall textual tradition.
  • The vast majority of scribal changes are minor and insignificant.
  • Of the small portion of variations that are significant, our text-critical methodology can determine, with a reasonable degree of certainty, which is the original text.
  • The remaining number of truly unresolved variants is very few and not material to the story/teaching of the New Testament.

If these four these are valid, then we have good reasons to thinks that we are able to recover the New Testament text in a manner that is so very close to the original that there is no material difference between what, say Mark and Matthew wrote and the text we have today. Although we can never have absolute certainty about the original text, we can have sufficient certainty that enables us to be confident that we possess the authentic teaching of Jesus and his apostles. pp.204-5
I like those italicized words. Unlike the Islamists and King James only people, we don't need a perfect text, we need a sufficient text. The places where the text is imperfect, are not places that throw the main points of orthodoxy into confusion. The give examples of some of those places in dispute, such as whether the original text included Jesus's sisters with his mother and brothers who were seeking him out, Mark 3:32, or what emotion Jesus had when he saw some lepers, Mark 1:41.

So, is Ehrman honestly arriving at historically driven conclusions that should command much attention from the reading public?
It seems clear that Ehrman has investigated the New Testament documents with an a priori conviction that inspiration requires zero scribal variations - a standard that could never be met in the real historical world of the first century. Ironically, as much as Ehrman claims to be about real history, his private view of inspiration, be definition, prevents there from ever being a New TEstament from God that would have anything to do with real history. Not surprisingly, therefore, Ehrman "concludes" that the New Testament could not be inspired. One wonders whether any other conclusion was even possible. p.230
Since Ehrman is the Walter Bauer for the 21st century, he attracts the author's fire, and rightly so. The loss of Ehrman's faith is not good reason to evangelize others with sloppy scholarship and his endeavor to replace orthodoxy with diversity. This is a good read for the committed reader, not for the casual one. Consider it meat, not gravy, but well worth the effort.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

high stakes dialogs

I think religious conversations can be very pleasant with anyone other than conservative Christians and militant atheists. A cocktail party full of Buddhists, Hindus, Daoists, liberal Christians, even unorthodox christian splinter group members, Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, and perhaps Jews and Muslims, could all discuss religion dispassionately, but adding a conservative Christian to the mix is like tossing a grenade into the crowd.


Because everyone else has room in their theology for everyone else in the afterlife, or the non-afterlife. A conservative Christian takes Jesus' words conservatively, that no one comes to the Father [which means not just sitting on God's lap but all the heavenly afterlife stuff] except through the Son, JC himself, see John 14:1-7. The flip side for this is that those who reject Jesus go to hell, described by Jesus several times, with plenty more detail in John's Apocalypse, see Rev. 20:11-15. Every other belief system either lets everyone enjoy an afterlife, or do not have an afterlife to speak of, or, if you are Muslim, can't guarantee anyone except Jihadist martyrs an afterlife. The militant atheists are a sub-category that believe people are oppressed if they believe in an afterlife and do not partake in all the pleasures this life have to offer. So religion talk at the cocktail party could set them off on an evangelistic tangent as easily as a conservative Christian. Both believe in definite consequences for how one perceives the purpose of this life, preparation for the next or not.

So when I write about other religions, I'm not disrespecting them by asking them to reconsider their theologies. I am trying to treat them the way I want to be treated, the golden rule that Jesus includes in his definition of love. If I wrongly believe that I can walk across a busy highway blindfolded without bodily consequence, a person who loves me, will seek to engage me to reconsider my philosophy. A famous atheist published a video a few years ago of his appreciation to someone who gave him a Bible after one of his shows. He didn't convert, but he understood the giver was acting out of concern for him. The video by Penn the magician is at the bottom of this post.

I share critiques of religions (including my own) at this blog and at my facebook page out of concern for my neighbors. I want you to be in heaven with me. I don't want you to go to hell. I'm sorry this offends you, but I'd rather offend you now, than have you offended at me in hell for not telling you what Jesus offers.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

freedom of speech and religion: rights vs. consideration

I agree that Muslim New Yorkers have a protected right to build a huge mosque in an area damaged by the 9/11September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...Image via Wikipedia terror attacks, the Cordoba House/Park 51, but I think it obnoxious and provocative.

I also agree that a pastor of a tiny church in Florida also has a protected right to publically burn Korans, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, but I think it obnoxious and provocative.

Perhaps both groups can learn from each other.

Why do I think the mosque location is obnoxious and provocative? Because Muslims killed 3,000 people in the name of Islam, and having such a large mosque in a building damaged by those nuts reeks of a victorious army monument. Additionally, the original name, Cordoba house, is offensive because of the history it represents, Muslim invaders building a mosque on top of a church in Spain after their invasion in 784 AD. It's simply insensitive at best, malicious at worst.

Why do I think the Koran burning is obnoxious and provocative? Because all book burning in general is obnoxious and provocative, but poking sticks in hornets' nests do not teach any lessons to the hornets. Additionally, a self-proclaimed representative of Christ would do well to learn from Paul in Athens, see Acts 17:16-34, about inter-religious dialog.

Friday, September 03, 2010

book report: The History of the Church by Eusebius300s AD

Eusebius was the Bishop of Caesarea from 314 to 340, having survived horrible wavesEusebius of Caesarea may have continued the Li...Image via Wikipedia of Christian persecutions, until the rise of Constantine. This 400 page translation by G. A. Williamson, was engaging not only in the words of Eusebius, but also in the footnotes of Williamson with his occasional jabs at the modern claims of Catholicism.

Eusebius references so many other works and commentaries and essays by the great early leaders of the church, which he had copies of in his possession, that he leaves me jealous for his luxury of time and resources. There is so much more that I want to read, stimulated by the extended quotes Eusebius makes of these great apologists and teachers of the young church.

Several things stuck out to me in this history.
  1. It doesn't take long for screwed up people to screw up theology.
  2. Some of the screw ups do it for money or sex or fame.
  3. Some things never change.
  4. Some bishops were great, some just were, some turned out to be screw ups.
  5. There were so many brilliant teachers back then. I think we are in a time of poverty compared to these guys.
  6. It's amazing how God preserved the church through the genocidal attacks it went through. Eusebius does not shy away from the cruelty invented by the Romans for the purpose of forcing Christians to recant, usually unsuccessfully.
  7. God is always glorified.
  8. Miracles and spiritual gifts came and went.
  9. The church was serious about studying.
  10. The church today stands on the shoulders of giants.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

book report: The Lotus and the Cross by R. Zacharias (2001)

I really enjoy Ravi Zacharias when I hear him on the radio. I've read, and reviewed, one other book, edited by him, Beyond Opinion, that I also enjoyed. He has published a few dialog, style books, so I bought four of them. My wife and oldest daughter also read this book and the other ones, so I am late to the party. The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus talks with Buddha, is a brief, hypothetical discussion between Jesus and Buddha.

The book is barely 94 pages, but not every page has text more than one sentence, functioning as a call out. It's written to be read quickly, less than an hour, which is partly why my oldest daughter gave these book a shot. But, she warned me, Zacharias is not strong as a narrative writer. I have to agree with her, which surprises me, because he is a great story teller in the debates played on his radio show. He just doesn't sound like I hear Jesus in the gospels, who tends to answer questions with questions, and respond to questioners with something two layers deeper than the conversation started.

I think the subtitle would be more accurate, with diminished expectations, if it were, Ravi talks with Buddha. But, while the ambition did not meet with great success, I still learned plenty in this little book, but not until the end.

The Introduction to the book, by Zacharias, informs us that he sought out Buddhist monks, of many "denominations," to accurately represent Buddha in the narrative. In light of what I learned in Prothero's book, God is not One, review here, I appreciated this extra effort. Prothero portrayed Buddhism very positively and did not present much contrast to Christianity. But Zacharias pointed to two significant areas of contrast, that I will quote here. The first is of authority.
Buddha: Well, I gave my disciples no written world as an abiding authority.
Jesus: Now we're getting somewhere Gautama. Why didn't you give them an abiding authority?
Buddha: Because...everything is impermanent.
Jesus: Even that statement? Is that impermanent too?
Buddha: I think...I'll have to think on that. I have a terrible feeling I'm backing into a corner here.
Jesus: That's what I"m saying to you. Your followers have no final word to rely on. If there's no final world, how does one accuse another of "perversion"? In fact, some of your followers say that even if you had remained silent there would've been no loss of insight, as far as they're concerned.
There is no permanent truth if everything is impermanent. And even the statement that everything is impermanent is only impermanently true. Which means the absolute you posit become only relatively true. If it's only relatively true, it can no longer be stated as an absolute.
You see, you inadvertently proved that truth is asserted principally by words and can be tested by reason. How, then, do we know what is true if nothing is ever said or though in assertions? And you have no eternally binding word.
Buddha: But everything else I have taught hangs on that statement of impermanence. pp.76-77
Good question. How can one absolutely say there are no absolutes? Despite nothing being permanent, Zacharias delves into the abundant rules of Buddhism. He also covers the Christian theology that existed before Budda, in the early writings of the Old Testament.The discussion includes a young woman, Priya, who is dying of AIDS acquired from her life as a prostitute. The discussion pivots on what Jesus and Buddha have to offer her as her life begins to end, so young. Thus, the second significant issue is how do we prepare for our deaths?
Jesus: We come to the end of our discussion, Gautama. What would you offer Priay?
Buddha: She knows, I am sure. We call it the Triple Gem. The Buddha - enlightenment; the Dhamma - the teaching; and the Sangha - the community.
Jesus: Look at them one at a time, Gautama.
First, the Buddha. According to your teaching, you personally no longer exist, nor will she. Nonexistence is the first gem.
The Dhamma. The teaching has no eternal Word to preserve, no absolute to be guided by. That's the second gem.
The Sangha. The community consists of those who believe no self exists and move toward not desiring anything, including the friendship of others. That's the third gem.
You know Gautama, one day a man looking for precious pearls came upon a pearl of great price. He traded everything he had to obtain this pearl.
I am that Pearl of great price. Through me, Priya can bring the rule of God into her heart...I will give her the purity that she thinks she can never recover.
Priya: My choice, then, is the Triple Gem or the Pearl of great price?
Jesus: Your choice is either to obliterate your self or to find your self. Desolation of communion. pp. 83-84
Zacharias also covers the superstitions of Buddhism. I'm impressed how much is covered in so few pages. I also enjoy how many parables, like the pearl of great price, that Zacharias weaves into the dialog, without feeling compelled to footnote all the Bible references. I don't know if Zacharias unfairly represented Buddhism, but he came across as gentle in his criticism of it, despite being stark in pointing to the eternal consequences.

I'm sure I would benefit from another Zacharias book, Jesus among other gods, for a more in depth contrast. But for a quick compare and contrast between Jesus and Buddha, I recommend The Lotus and the Cross.
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