Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Genius marketing

It was not from Ghirardelli or Lindt or Toblerone or even Hershey, and I should probably not have eaten the whole thing at one sitting last night. Nevertheless, the Raspberry Chocolate bar from an off-brand in the grocery store (Chocolove? really?) also had this going for it -- a poem inside the outer wrapper, tucked next to the gold foil that wrapped the chocolate itself. And we're not talking about some 8-year-old's variation on "Roses are red; Violets are blue," either:

If You're Ever Going to Love Me

If you're ever going to love me, love me now while I can know
All the sweet and tender feelings from which real affection flow.
Love me now, while I am living; do not wait till I am gone
And then chisel it in marble -- warm love words on ice-cold stone.
If you've dear, sweet thoughts about me, why not whisper them to me?
Don't you know 'twould make me happy, and as glad as glad could be?
If you wait till I am sleeping, ne'er to waken here again,
There'll be walls of earth between us and I coudn't hear you then.
If you knew someone was thirsting for a drop of water sweet,
Would you be so slow to bring it? Would you step with laggard feet?
There are tender hearts all round us who are thirsting for our love;
Why withhold from them what nature makes them crave all else above?
I won't need your kind caresses when the grass grows o'er my face;
I won't crave your love or kisses in my last low resting place.
So, then, if you love me any, if it's but a little bit,
Let me know it now while living; I can own and treasure it.

Unknown Author

Monday, June 20, 2016

A compelling cover

Shawn Colvin plays an acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest." It's just a memorably good tune for a fine summer solstice.

This poem by Robert Hayden fits well with the song, also.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sometimes all you can do is laugh

Judging by letters to the editor that he spawned afterword, Los Angeles Times columnist Richard Rodriguez knows less about word usage than anyone with a platform in a major metropolitan daily should, and not much  about Christianity, either.

Trailing in the wake of a Rodriguez column that sounds like a health hazard to brain cells (replete with references to murder as a form of prayer), grandees who run the op-ed page at the LA Times have begrudgingly decided that "Not all Christians worship a homophobic God."

Would that their breathtaking ignorance were rare and special. Unfortunately, as Mollie Hemingway and others have so ably demonstrated, it's not.

Word to journalists on both coasts who wouldn't recognize a legitimate phobia if it bought them a drink at a dive bar near the newsroom: a "phobia" is an irrational fear. "Homophobia" is an almost-wholly-pretend condition synonymous with less-than enthusiastic embrace of all things homosexual.

God has no phobias. God is perfect.

It follows that there are no Christians who worship a "homophobic" God. None!

Is Theology 101 really that hard?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Slice and Dice

CNN today published a story headlined 'Obama goes on tirade against Trump over 'dangerous' Muslim ban, 'radical Islam.' The two men credited with writing the story were apparently beside themselves with ill-concealed admiration for our president, because their piece was filled with lines like "The commander-in-chief's fury, which seethed out of him in a stunning soliloquy on live television, amounted to a moment of historic significance."

There are several things wrong with that string of assertions. First, President Obama's "fury" was delivered in the same bloodless lecture style he always uses. Second, his soliloquy would be more aptly described as "petty" than "stunning." And third, I'm not prepared to regard improvised sneering at critics as "historically significant."

That said, I did also watch what CNN had suggested was an epic tirade. I don't know what the CNN reporters thought they saw, because President Obama's remarks were a poorly-conceived hash of misdirection, straw man, and playground insult.

Let's roll the tape, shall we?

POTUS: "For awhile now, the main contribution some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration, and me, for not using the phrase, 'radical Islam.' That's the key, they tell us."

Me: "ISIL" is a poker tell, and one of the things to which critics rightly object, seeing as how people who don't accept or legitimize grandiose dreams of a restored caliphate that includes parts of Israel say 'ISIS' instead. Beyond that, nobody's said that identifying the problem properly is "the key" to beating ISIS. What many people have said is that proper identification would be a good start, and far better than pretending that ISIS is "un-Islamic," as the administration wants us to do.

POTUS: "What exactly would using this label [radical Islam] accomplish?"

Me: He meant that as a rhetorical question, but naming things rightly would make it easier for the machinery of American foreign policy to stop wasting time fighting generic "hate" or falsely conflating "extremists" of many different religions with the jihadists who alone have been waging open war against everyone else for more than two generations now.

POTUS: "Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away."

Me: Straw Man! The point of proper labeling is not to treat labels as though they were magic spells, but to make offense and defense more efficient, and to more easily fortify the argument for hearts and minds that must be won because it is a prerequisite for any lasting victory over people who hate (or maybe just despise) all that the West stands for, and think we're all "infidels." There is irony here, also, because ignoring a threat does not make it go away, either.

POTUS: "Since before I've been president, I've been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism."

Me: How do you know that those groups have "perverted" Islam? Are you more of an authority on Islam than the imams and the mullahs who say to anyone who will listen that ISIS is well within mainstream Muslim thought? Are you suggesting that "extremists" are misquoting the Koran?

POTUS: "Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase, we're gonna turn this whole thing around."

Me: Straw Man! It's good to know that your advisers don't believe in pixie dust, but we also know that your advisers include Ben "Mind Meld" Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett, neither of whom has ever ventured out of the ideological corral that you like so much. Hillary Clinton was an adviser of yours, also.

The president's tirade goes on in the same easily-refutable vein for several more minutes. Everything I commented on above came from the first 1:20, but life's too short to fisk the whole peevish exercise in arrogant self-justification.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

An Open Letter to Mike Lee

Hi Mike,

May I call you Mike? We've met, but don't know each other, and although you don't strike me as the kind of guy who stands on ceremony, I could be wrong. I'm not in your church. Moreover, I wouldn't know a "Free Will Baptist" if I tripped over one, and I've never set foot on the campus of Bob Jones University. That said, I'm a pretty good listener. When I go to one of the services you lead, it's because I want to hear what you're telling my children, and what bothers me is that lately you seem to have descended into a functional anti-Catholicism, perhaps even without meaning to.

I get that many of the people in your congregation think of themselves as ex-Catholics. The "Meet the Gospel" series that you are currently preaching hasn't done Catholicism any favors. I would not have expected it to, but have you considered the irony involved when you talk about Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans without first acknowledging that the only reason you have talking points tied to the canon of Scripture is that the Catholic Church preserved that canon for you and every other Christian?

Last week you poked gentle fun at the Catholic criteria for declaring people saints. When I asked after the service about that, you said your sole aim was to highlight Saint Paul's well-known greeting "to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy." I get that; I really do. It's often paraphrased as the "priesthood of all believers," as you well know. But guess what? The Catholic Church gets that, too. Except you don't seem to care: You played my church -- the Church -- for laughs, mentioning the Vatican's "Congregation for the Causes of Saints" just to snark about how "they sound like a fun bunch to hang out with." I'm certain you are under the impression that Catholicism has complicated Jesus's message unnecessarily. As an heir of the Protestant Reformation, how could you think otherwise?

What you did not mention, but should have, is that Catholic criteria for sainthood does not contradict or ignore Saint Paul's insight; it merely allows that insight to scale up and out past local devotion so that models of heroic virtue can be admired by people worldwide. True, "saint" means "holy," and we're all called to holiness. But had you done a little more reading, you would have found that canonized saints have lots of company (Remember all the people in the Book of Revelation whose robes were "washed white in the Blood of the Lamb"?).

In other words, as much as you'd like to slam clerical bureaucracies, the Church has never claimed to know who all the saints are. You and I could -- and should -- become saints even if we're never blessed to have two verifiable miracles attributed to our intercession, Yet it's unlikely that Christians in faraway places will know of our example after we die unless that example was stellar enough for the worldwide Church to take notice of it. You want to pretend that's "unscriptural"? Ha! It's "extra-scriptural," but in perfect harmony with Scripture.

Side note, assuming that the line "Oh Lord, I want to be in that number" rings a few bells: If you associate the gospel tune "When the Saints Go Marching In" with a particular style of American music, it's New Orleans Jazz, and guess who the original settlers of New Orleans were? French Catholics. Perhaps their theology was a little more squared away than you give it credit for being.

I'd hoped that last week's failure to do enough homework for your message was a one-off, but today you went after infant baptism in similarly snarky fashion, saying that there isn't a single instance of infant baptism in Scripture. I'm beginning to wonder how many targets are in your doctrinal shooting gallery, and where you get the authority to draw a bead on them.

With respect to infant baptism not being in Scripture, my question for you is, "Are you sure?" Seriously. Here's why I ask: We know that John baptized with water "for repentance," and prophesied that Jesus would bring a greater baptism.We know that Jesus was Himself baptized by John, so that the two of them could together "fulfill all righteousness." The other baptism accounts in the New Testament are in the Acts of the Apostles, right? That book is about the early Church. If you're starting a church, as the apostles were, you don't start it with babies -- you start by converting your adult friends and neighbors. That's what they did. But the apostles also knew that Jesus had said "Let the little children come to me." Do you think Jesus was kidding? Do you think He added a caveat about how kids couldn't come to Him unless they were old enough to profess faith in His name?

And how about -- in the Acts of the Apostles -- when a Roman centurion accepts the new faith, and is baptized, "and all his household with him." Do you know for certain that there were no youngsters in that household? I don't think so. While I'm in a betting mood, let me note that you never told us where you got the idea that infant baptism started "300 years after the apostles." Did you mean to blame the Emperor Constantine for that "innovation," or did it just sound like that? If the "300 years" figure that you tossed out was not just for effect, then may I ask whether you take a similarly dim view of the statements of faith in the Nicene Creed, which actually does date from that time?

I know you love Saint Paul. We both do. Even without getting to the other inspired writers, Catholics can't help but notice how chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Colossians says some very cool things about the power of baptism as more than a sign, and about how baptism is the New Covenant analog to what circumcision was in the Old Covenant. You pointed out that Jews traditionally circumcise male infants when they are 8 days old. What, then, is the justification for denying baptism at the same age? It either is an analog to circumcision or it isn't -- only you didn't mention that analogy. I wish you would.

I'll  end with a plea: You're welcome to argue with Roman Catholic theology, but it's a disservice to your congregation and the Catholics you don't know who love you and your congregation when you use your position as a pastor to knock down straw man arguments rather than grappling honestly with what Catholics believe and why. A two-minute trip to the Vatican web site and another round of highlighting mistakes made by John Calvin or Martin Luther won't cut it. Neither will passive-aggressive class titles like "From Pope to Hope." You can do better than that. Please do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Amen to that, Mister Lowry

Rich Lowry, saying what needs to be said about Yale students who major in English but would rather not study major English poets:

It takes a deeply impoverished imagination to read Shakespeare and regard him simply as an agent of the patriarchy. It is safe to say that the bard is better at expressing what it is like to be a teenage girl in love, or a woman disguised as a man who falls for a man, or a bloody tyrant than almost every actual teenage girl in love, woman disguised as a man, or bloody tyrant...

The poet Maya Angelou said in a lecture once that as a child she thought, "Shakespeare must be a black girl." It was because, growing up in the Jim Crow South, a victim of unspeakable abuse, Sonnet 29 spoke so powerfully to her ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, / I all alone beweep my outcast state, / And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, /  And look upon myself and curse my fate.")