Eliza? Why won’t you give me free coffee?

04/30/2007, 11:57 pm -- by | 7 Comments

Hi Eliza, my name is Job, and I’m a frequent customer here at the Gulf station on South Main. In fact, this is pretty much exclusively where I buy gas. But I’m guessing, by the $1.29 that just popped up on your register thingy there, that Amber didn’t leave you a note or anything eliza telling you I always get free coffee when I roll in here at around 7:45 AM, Monday through Friday.

I was sad to see that Amber just quit one day, not even taking into account the countless minutes of wasted flirtation she stole from me when she left. That was some of my best work… But I was sure she would’ve briefed you that my charm was not worth fighting, so it’s best to just smile shyly and wave me off with this large hazelnut and my swagger.

No note, huh?

Did you look around out back?

Hmm.

So what you’re saying, Eliza — that’s a pretty name, by the way…I’ve never met a bad Eliza — is that I’m going to have to build from scratch with you?

*sigh*

Very well. Let’s get started…

So tell me, Eliza, are you working hard or hardly working this morning?

I’m slowly becoming catholic

04/30/2007, 3:35 pm -- by | 10 Comments

Not Roman Catholic, mind you. Just small-c catholic.

Catholicity has to do with understanding the church as universal, as full and complete. In a catholic vision, there are not multiple churches with which we may choose to cast our lots — there is one and only one church, fully God’s. While other churches may imitate and even reflect the light from the true church, there remains only one church.

So growing up, like most evangelicals, I was not catholic. I hoped people would join a church, not the church. I didn’t understand the full unity of the church as a goal worth pursuing — I mean, sure, it would be nice, I suppose, but it was not worth the expenditure of effort the ecumenical movement put into it. Now I’m a Baptist minister, among the group perhaps least concerned or committed to catholicity in the whole Christian spectrum.

But I find myself re-thinking catholicity.

I’m becoming catholic because of how tightly consumerism and denominationalism have become bound in our culture. Denominations (and now, frequently, congregations within denominations) have become brands competing for human souls. Don’t like the worship at my church? Go down the street, you’ll find one there more to your liking. If you don’t like that, if you like “smells and bells,” go visit the Episcopalians. If you like raising your hands, go visit the Pentecostals. Eventually, just like we all settle on a brand of deodorant we like, we all can have a church we like too.

I’m becoming catholic because I don’t know if we’ve ever considered how much this harms the gospel. When the church plays by a consumerist model like this one, the results are every bit as serious as heresy.

Why do I say this? Because the moral force of the church depends on beings something more than a spiritual Wal*Mart. Our ability to demonstrate and decry the dehumanizing effects of consumerism depends on our willingness to play by a different model.

Think of it this way: when have you grown the most spiritually? Likely it was during a moment of crisis, when you were forced to think differently about yourself than ever before. For some people, that comes during a life transition: the death of a parent leaves you next in line for the grave. The birth of a child makes you realize a spiritual responsibility for the next generation.

For other people, though, we are forced to think differently when we meet a challenging idea. I had a huge spiritual growth spurt when a mentor in seminary told me she had always considered me a very spiritual person. I was working so hard, desperate to prove myself an academic, and she saw a side of me that I never saw before. I didn’t want to see it at first but now it deeply shapes how I see myself.

We all run into these sorts of challenges — when an unfamiliar hymn is sung; when a preacher is more conservative or more liberal than we are used to; when a service does not seem Holy Spirit-anointed to our way of thinking and yet lays claim to God’s Spirit being there. In all of these times, our consumerist mindset tells us we need to go seek a new brand of worship, because this one is no longer satisfying.

Of course the reality is that spiritual growth only comes when we stay in those situations instead of running away. Spiritual growth depends on getting past the “fight or flight” reflex and dealing constructively with issues that confront us. This does not mean we are relativistic — on the contrary, when we rub up against differences, we find out who we really are and we begin to articulate it with conviction and depth.

Catholicity in this context is a virtue. Because it terrifies us, yet re-assures us, with the news that there is nowhere else to run. You cannot take the spiritually perilous step of looking for another church, because there is only the church. You cannot run away to find a more suitable brand, because there is only one brand, the Church.

We can question what form of catholicity is most authentic to the gospel. I do not believe that it means we all must become one church institutionally, or that it demands a rigid top-down hierarchy. This is why I’m still a Baptist and not a (Roman) Catholic.

Yet Protestants have to be more serious about thinking creatively about catholicity. What does an authentically catholic church look like? If not institutionally (as in Rome), what? How can our churches be more welcoming and hospitable to the idea of catholicity? How can we better work in concert with other churches, even churches with which we may disagree on important issues? These questions are especially important to free-church evangelicals; for one thing, it is our tradition that needs a heavy dose of catholicity, and for another, our way of thinking is so dominant in Western Christianity that for us to ignore the virtue of catholicity has major consequences.

The Council’s Ruling — Most Dangerous Drug

04/30/2007, 12:30 pm -- by | 2 Comments

This and every Monday, the Bweinh!tributors, having convened in secret for hours of reasoned debate and consideration, will issue a brief and binding ruling on an issue of great societal import.

This week’s question — What is the most dangerous drug?

Josh delivers the ruling of the council, joined by Chloe, MC-B, Djere, Job and David:

Because it touches more of society than any other drug, and factoring in vehicular and sexual tragedies, alcohol is the most dangerous drug.

 

Steve, in dissent, joined by Tom:

Although alcohol has a larger impact on society, the greatest danger — to the health of the user and others — is posed by crystal meth.

 

Mike took no part in the determination of this issue.

Next week: the best meal of the day!

Ask Bweinh! Poll — 2008 Candidates (#2)

04/30/2007, 10:30 am -- by | 3 Comments

Today’s Ask Bweinh! poll is proudly brought to you by the letter L and the number 7.

Two months after our first poll, and with some new Bweinh!tributors, we revisit the topic of 2008 presidential candidates!

Rank Candidate Points Previous
1. Mitt Romney 21 1
2. Rudolph Giuliani 20 3
3 (tie) Sam Brownback 10 8
3 (tie) Newt Gingrich 10 2
5. Barack Obama 9 Other
6. Mike Huckabee 8 4
7 (tie) John Edwards 7 NR
7 (tie) Fred Thompson 7 NR
9. Jeb Bush 5 NR
10. Duncan Hunter 4 NR
Other Chuck Hagel, Condoleeza Rice, Ronald Reagan, John McCain, Nancy Reagan, Jean-Luc Picard 1-3

Quote of the Day, 4/30/07

04/30/2007, 7:00 am -- by | 5 Comments

“Old men miss many dogs.

They only live a dozen years, if that,
and by the time you are sixty, there are several,
the names of which evoke remembering smiles.
You see them in your mind, heads cocked and seated,
you see them by your bed, or in the rain,
or sleeping by the fire by nights,

and always dying.

They are remembered like departed children
though they gave vastly more than ever they took,
and finally you’re seeing dogs that look like them.
They pass you in the street but never turn
although it seems they should,
their faces so familiar.

Old men miss many dogs.”
-S. Allen

(RIP, Liberty Diefenbaker Proton Fay)

Bweinh! Soundtrack — Keith Green

04/29/2007, 1:30 pm -- by | 7 Comments

Every weekend, a different Bweinh!tributor will discuss a song or songwriter that inspires or interests them. Read the first four soundtrack entries here, here, here, and here.

Scene: Three teenage boys huddle together in their dark living room, illuminated only by the colorful strobing of their television. There are three sources of noise in the house: the boys, their television, and a dust-covered record player.

Our parents were involved in just about every ministry our church conducted. Worship, children’s church, youth group, cleaning ministry, “Special Touches” ministry for those who were sick, prayer chain, elders’ meetings, ministers’ fellowship meetings… you name it, they pretty much did it. And it’s not like they didn’t want to be home. But church meetings kept them out of the house anywhere from one to three nights a week.

Sure, we got into our fair share of trouble, but eventually we fell into our groove. And half of our groove was Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. Still to this day, Steve, Tom, and I are some of the fiercest Mario Karters you’ll ever meet. (P.S. — Don’t even *think* about challenging me to Vanilla Lake 2. Seriously.)

The other half was Keith Green.

Though I’m sure he’ll correct my remembrance, Steve was poking around my parents’ room (like many teens) and discovered a dusty, forgotten box of our parents’ old records — like Bob Dylan, 2nd Chapter of Acts, and Keith Green.

And from the time we discovered the box, it was Keith Green every night we played.

So while other kids were zoning out to 90s grunge rock, we had (and still have) almost every Keith Green song memorized, down to the skipping of the individual records. When we drive and “He’ll Take Care of the Rest” comes on, each of us will sing: “He’ll take care of the rest / bum bum Ju… / bum bum Ju… / bum bum Ju… / bum bum / Just believe, and you’ll receive / that comfort you need…” Just like we learned from the record.

From the orchestral, soaring highs of the Prodigal Son Suite, to the musically minor, theologically major Sheep and the Goats, Keith Green’s influence on my brothers and me cannot be overstated. His were our first and most played CDs. Steve got the entire Ministry Years collection; I bought the Songs of Devotion, Songs of Worship, Songs of Testimony, and Songs of Evangelism collections.

Being told I sounded like Keith Green on the piano was probably one of the greatest compliments I had ever received. Sure, it’s not true by any stretch of the imagination, but it was nice to hear.

If you’re looking to be challenged in your walk, your faith, your devotion, your evangelism, your worship, or your life, listen to Keith Green.

And play Mario Kart.

Three things

04/29/2007, 12:08 pm -- by | No Comments

1) We’re hanging in there in 30th place in the Best Religion Blog awards race, but if you haven’t voted for us yet, please head on over and do so!

2) We’ve joined the Christian Blogosphere blogroll — click the plus sign under the image in the right sidebar, and you’ll find links to scores of interesting Christian sites.

3) Household Gods, Gutter Flock, and Speckled Ram move on in the Battle of the Bands!

Play Ball

04/27/2007, 3:15 pm -- by | 3 Comments

After a prolonged period of meteorological schizophrenia, it appears as though spring is permanently here. And with its arrival, I have just one piece of advice — go play wiffleball. I don’t want to hear that you’re not an athlete, or that you’re not into sports, because wiffleball isn’t really a sport. And yet the beauty of the game is that it is the closest thing we have to pure sport this side of Calvinball.

Wiffleball isn’t a conventional sport because the physics of the ball as it moves through the air levels the playing field in a way rarely seen outside of inner-tube water polo. Anyone can play. Anyone can be a star. Anyone can throw a pitch Tim Wakefield only dreams about. Anyone, no matter how good they are at normal sports, can strike out. Anyone, no matter how bad they are at normal sports, can make the game- winning play.

But what defines true sport in its purest form? It certainly isn’t broadcasting rights or multi-million dollar contracts. It isn’t even a universal set of reproducible rules. It’s about a group of competitors coming together on their own turf and their own terms, striving for the goal or purpose of their game, all the while realizing the striving is the purpose.

Go grab your friends and get your wiffle on. Maybe you’ll poke your finger in one of the holes and pull the wiffle balk. Maybe you’ll channel your childhood (and mine) and circumvent a house instead of bases. Maybe you’ll have a game whose participants, rules and dimensions can never be captured again. Either way, you won’t find a cheaper or more genuine thrill.

Clash of the Titans XVII: HPV Vaccine

04/27/2007, 12:00 pm -- by | 18 Comments

In this corner, arguing against a standard HPV vaccine, is Job!

And in this corner, arguing for a standard HPV vaccine, is Tom!

I am very much not a father. I am very much not a female. But I do think it is somewhat possible that I might someday father a female and I can guarantee you no government is going to mandatorily vaccinate my adolescent daughter for any sort of sexually transmitted disease, such as the Human Papillomavirus.

The implication is disgusting. While the vaccine appears to be very effective, thorough and well-tested (albeit costly), and while I’m definitely not saying all Gardasil doses should be destroyed and the recipe burned, the notion that the government should go to
such brash, expensive, and heavy-handed means to “vaccinate” poor parenting is audacious, invasive and infuriating.

Currently only one state, Texas, has taken the steps to make such vaccinations mandatory. While the issues raised about Merck’s campaign donations to Gov. Rick Perry are tough to build an argument around, his use of an executive order in favor of legislation requiring all girls entering sixth grade to be vaccinated does show a feeling that public dialogue may not go his way. And when the Texan legislature overruled his order, it further showed that apprehension about such invasion is most certainly there.

I think a far better tack to take would be allowing some competition to ferment, to make HPV vaccines cheaper and more readily acceptable, perhaps even easier and less expensive than pap smears.

What is more, understanding the disease, the manner in which it’s spread and the way it affects the physiology and psychology of women is of far greater benefit to our society than allowing the government to come in and sweep the problem under the rug.

Issues as personal as sexuality and children should always be handled delicately and with broad dialogue — never with executive orders that imply an urgency that suspects parents don’t already worry enough. Offer the vaccines, sure. Mandate them?

Over my dead body.

This shouldn’t be a debate over the actual use of the HPV vaccine. Its spread might be linked to the grinning, busted-up specter of promiscuity enjoying belle-of-the-ball status throughout most of the western “romantic” world, but few would say nothing should be done to stop the single largest cause of cervical cancer. Instead, my focus is bringing the vaccine into the standard arsenal of vaccinations.

Should a child get a vaccine their parents don’t want? There’s a difference between “standard” and “mandatory” vaccination. Your child won’t be denied access to preschool because she wasn’t immunized against HPV. Then there’s Job’s position — it should be available on request, but not suggested as a matter of course. When was the last time your co-worker was out for a few weeks with a nasty case of measles, mumps, or polio? Never — because of the vaccines that have rendered most individuals immune to them. They don’t merely keep individuals from getting sick, but prevent disease from spreading throughout a population. Since HPV is often asymptomatic in men, this makes it more important for women to be immunized, as a matter of course if the parents do not object.

There are moral implications to women getting these vaccinations before puberty. But when you travel to the third world, you don’t start vaccinations when you’re hip-deep in mosquitos. You get the shots well before you need them, to develop a sufficient immune response. Vaccines are useless for someone already infected, so it’s best to give the shots when they have the best chance to be effective. Will it make the country more promiscuous? How could it get any worse? And how many kids know what MMR or DTaP (two current vaccines) stand for? All the kid has to know is she’s getting a shot to keep her from getting sick, and if she’s good, she’ll get a lollipop.

HPV has been strongly linked to cervical cancer; even in women who approach sex the right way, its widespread nature makes it a threat — from rape, a husband’s past, or infidelity. We owe it to ourselves and our children’s children to try to stop it.

Which side are you on?
View Results

Life On Other Planets?

04/27/2007, 10:30 am -- by | 4 Comments

According to USA Today, an observatory in Europe has discovered a new Earthlike planet that holds the promise of life. Because of its position circling a red dwarf star in the Libra constellation, it is thought to stay at a temperature between 32 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, thus making water, and life, possible.

Is this “discovery” accurate? Just a few weeks ago I was perusing a textbook from 1901 that stated the “fact” that Mars was the only earthlike planet in our solar system, showing “pictures” of rivers and continents, clearly visible on its surface. Maybe they have or maybe they haven’t seen what they think they have — the star is over 121 TRILLION miles away and appears only as a wobble crossing starlight, with all the rest just an extrapolation — but if it’s true, we have the latest hope yet for life on another planet. So does life on other planets threaten the veracity of Christian truth?

I read an essay by C.S. Lewis several years ago on these issues, called “Religion and Rocketry.” He laid out a list of certain things that would have to be incumbent in this “life” before it would in any way discomfit Christian truth. The life would have to be like us, of course; it would have to be sentient and show the ability for rational thought. But his best point (I thought) was that the race would have to be fallen.

In other words, our special claim to God’s attention here on this planet, above all else He created, is the fact that we fell from our original place and needed redemption. Christianity is all about that. That’s the whole point — he created us, we fell, and he is reconciling us through his Son, Jesus Christ. If there are other races out there like us, who never tasted sin and fell, then perhaps for them the Gospel would be irrelevant.

So under those conditions, is there room in our theology for life on other planets? Could there be un-fallen races? Is it possible that there is more to the vast physical universe than cold emptiness and scattered stars?

I remember addressing this with my spiritual mentor (David, the Maxon patriarch, father of three Bweinh!tributors) when I was newly saved. I showed him the Scripture where Jesus said, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold,” and asked, “Could that mean UFOs and aliens are real?”

No words were necessary; his expression was enough to momentarily daunt me. Still I ventured further. “What about this scripture in Luke, where it says plainly that Jesus went ‘UP INTO THE SHIP’?”

The look I received was enough to make me drop the subject for the next 29 years . . . but now, after all these years, is it possible?

Joke of the Day, 4/27/07

04/27/2007, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

A man went to his rabbi and said, “I’m very troubled by my son. He went away and came back a Christian.”

The rabbi said, “It’s funny you say that. My son, too, left home and returned a Christian.”

So they decided to pray about it, and God said, “You know, it’s funny you say that…..”

Cumulative Advantage (Part One)

04/26/2007, 4:45 pm -- by | 8 Comments

What’s the difference between U2 and The Virgin Prunes?

The most obvious difference is that you’ve heard of the first and not the second. And with good reason — U2 has sold over 170 million albums and won 22 Grammy Awards, while The Virgin Prunes . . . have not done either of those things. Their vast disparity in success necessarily suggests a vast disparity in talent, right? Of course!

Except maybe not.

The members all grew up together in Dublin. Dick Evans (Prunes guitarist) and The Edge (U2 guitarist) are brothers, and Dick was actually a member of U2 when they were “The Hype.” The other Prunes were all friends of Bono and the rest, in a society they called the Lypton Village, where they protested suburbia through performance art and an invented language. Neither band had particularly good musicians. Of one concert, the Edge remembered: “As appalling as we normally were, we were just indescribably bad, and the sound was atrocious . . . we were so hopelessly inconsistent.” He consistently identified his brother as a better guitarist.

Both bands played many of the same concerts and neither could get signed by a record label for several years. The Prunes’ style was far more avant-garde and punk, at a time when that was quite popular in Great Britain. So why did U2 become the world’s most famous musical group while the Prunes never made the big-time?

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine suggests it might not be what we think. Researchers set up an experiment where thousands of participants, split into eight groups, rated and downloaded songs by bands they had never heard. In one section, the participants would only see the name of the song and band; in the other, they could also see how often the songs had been downloaded. If the quality of a song truly determined its popularity, they reasoned, the same songs would be hits in both sections and all groups.

But they weren’t.

“Good” songs, defined as ones downloaded the most in the independent sections, did have a higher market share overall — but the result for each individual song widely varied. One song, ranked 26th out of 48 in quality, was #1 in one world, but #40 in another. There was little correlation between top-five quality and top-five popularity. The scientists concluded, “Because the long-run success of a song depends so sensitively on the decisions of a few early-arriving individuals . . . and because the particular individuals who play this important role are chosen randomly and may make different decisions from one moment to the next, the resulting unpredictability is inherent to the nature of the market.”

What people like isn’t just what they like — it’s what they think other people like.

It’s easy to come up with an explanation for why something happened after the fact, and it’s tempting to believe our successes are a function of our own peculiar gifts or skills. But in a world where The Virgin Prunes could have easily been U2, where actual ability and objective worth is less valuable than sheer luck-driven popularity, what control do we have, really?

To Be Continued…

Can I interest you in some fine real estate?

04/26/2007, 11:30 am -- by | 3 Comments

Come right in. Please, sit down. What can I do for you folks today? Interested in buying some property, huh? Well, okay, we have a lovely house down on Park Street: oh, you wanted something a bit more unique? Hmm.

Well, maybe I can interest you in one of the most recent arrivals on the real estate scene. We’ve got a few plots that we’re practically giving away on Planet 581 c.

What is Planet 581 c? Well, according to CNN.com, it’s the most Earth-like planet that scientists have ever discovered. Well, yes, I suppose that technically Earth is more Earthlike than 581 c, but I thought that was implied. Okay, okay, I’m sorry, no need to get testy. Anyway, this planet is filled to overflowing with that sweet, sweet substance that we call liquid water. Do you have children? I’ll bet they’d love to jump off a swinging rope into some of 581 c’s cool, clear rivers and lakes. You don’t? That’s a shame. You look like great people.

Did I mention the fact that, on this planet, it’s your birthday every 13 days? By the time you’ve been there for twenty years, you’ll be about 561 years older on this planet, have 561 more years worth of birthday presents, and be able to absolutely destroy Jeanne Calment’s record. Think of that, folks: a place for your name in the Guinness Book of World Records, and all for the low price of this fine piece of property. I have to tell you, though, that buying anniversary presents could get a bit pricey (the 1000th Anniversary is the Bohrium Anniversary, by the way). Probably no problem for wealthy folks like you anyway, right?

This beauty of a planet is also just a quick flight from Earth at only 120 trillion miles away. That’s still more than far enough to keep the mother-in-law at bay, right sir? Oh, okay, that’s fine, no need to get offended.

Aliens? Well, we haven’t checked it out completely yet, but I can guarantee that 581 c is in one of the safest neighborhoods in the known universe; no known signs of life anywhere nearby means no crime, no vandalism, and no pollution. Well, yes, I suppose it might get a bit lonely, but who needs other people when you have each other, right?

Okay, well, you folks take some time to think about it. I can’t guarantee that we’ll have these plots when you make your decision; they’re going pretty quickly. If you decide you want to buy, you have my number.

Ask Bweinh! Poll — Bible Characters

04/26/2007, 10:30 am -- by | 1 Comment

It’s another Ask Bweinh! poll, underwritten in part by the Standard Oil Corporation and U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel: making your money.

Who do we like best in the Bible, not including Jesus Christ? Here are the answers!

Rank Character Points
1. Paul 11
2. Elijah 9
3-4 (tie) Peter, Job 8
5-6 (tie) Ehud, David 6
7-9 (tie) Moses, Esther, Jael 5
10-15 (tie) Solomon, Samson, Luke, Balaam’s donkey, Jeremiah, Matthew 4
Other Melchizedek, Shadrach, Josiah, Leah, the leviathan, Jethro, Apollos, John the Apostle, Naaman, Nimrod 1-3

Quote of the Day, 4/26/07

04/26/2007, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“I prefer rogues to imbeciles because they sometimes take a rest.” – Alexandre Dumas, fils

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