Best of Bweinh! — The Pope v. Billy Graham

12/2/2008, 12:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally printed in April 2007, here’s a true interfaith dialogue!

In this corner, supporting Pope Benedict, is Mike J!

And in this corner, backing Billy Graham, is Job!

Sit down, Billy. The Holy Father is about to educate your behind.

Seriously, let’s think about this, people. In one corner, you have a backwoods preacher from the American South. Quite a dandy in his early days, Billy donned the white bucks and powder blue sportcoats for Youth for Christ rallies as far back as the 1940s. Two whole generations of evangelical women cursed Ruth Bell under their breath for shattering their dreams and taking Billy off the market.

Even today, women admire him and men want to be him; pianists want to play for him, and even Michael W. Smith and dcTalk knew they had hit the big time when Billy Graham asked them to play for a “youth night” in a late ’90s California crusade.

All of this makes Graham a beloved figure, a bona-fide American religious folk hero.

It does not make for a worthy battle.

Because in the other corner, resplendent in papal garb, his robes billowing proudly behind him, his miter defiantly piercing the sky, is Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger.

He’s not a folk hero. He’s a junkyard dog.

He was known universally as the Vatican’s “doctrinal watchdog” prior to his selection as the 265th pope of the Catholic Church. And as if his international reputation were not enough, the Catholics that knew him best, the ones from his native Germany, referred to him as Der Panzer Kardinal — “the Tank Cardinal.” Why? Because he’s such a ruthless defender of the faith.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Ask the late Father Jacques Dupuis (if you could), or Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya. The former had the temerity to suggest that God was active in non-Christian religious traditions, the latter the unmitigated gall to refuse to sign a Vatican-approved statement of faith. Dupuis wound up trashed in a document Ratzinger wrote; Balasuriya was excommunicated, before the ever-gentlemanly Pope John Paul II restored him to the church.

You can mess with a guy named Billy. You cannot mess with a Ratzinger. You wind up trashed, excommunicated…or worse.

The man’s first papal encyclical was entitled Deus Caritas Est — “God is love.” Notably absent was any statement of Benedict’s own feelings. The obvious message: God is love, and Benedict ain’t.

The man is a flat-out papal bull.

The very notion that Pope Benedict could somehow best Billy Graham is so ludicrous I almost asked to be recused. No chance in heaven! Benny’s only advantage is that if he gouged Graham’s eyes or hit below the belt, he could absolve himself on the spot while the Rev. filed all that messy Grace paperwork.

But I still don’t see it. Graham didn’t win prominence by an ancient tradition of selection by peers; he received it by the eons-old tradition of selection by God. And Graham’s a natural fighter; whether Nixon or Parkinson’s, he handles his problems personally with sleeves rolled up and pride rolled down. So l’approvazione, papa, lo porta! Let’s go to the arena floor…

In this corner, at a holy 210 — the man who put “I can” in Vatican, the Stonin’ Roman…Germany’s own Joseph A. Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI!!!

And in this corner, weighing in at a lanky 205 — The Master Pastor, The Great Wheaton Beatin’…Charlotte’s own Rev. William F. Graham, Jr.!!!

*ding ding ding*

“Look at Graham charge from his corner! I haven’t seen anything like this since Joel Osteen fought the Dalai Lama in that New Delhi kick-boxing match last June! The Pope is on the ropes, medallions flying everywhere!!”

“Bob, this is tough to watch. I think Ratzinger forgot to drink his holy water, and he’s gonna need a miracle.”

“Graham continues his crusade! An uppercut to the the Father’s midsection and a roundhouse to the nose!!!”

“Bob, it appears the Rev. is nailing all 95 theses to Ratzinger’s chin tonight! I’ll bet the Pope wishes he were still a Cardinal so he could fly far, far away!”

“Good call, Gary. Ooh, a stiff right hook from Graham, and the Pope falls to his knees in exhaustion — or is it prayer to Joseph? Patron saint of lost causes?!”

“Pope Benedict XV felt that one!”

“Hold the chariot, Gary, the Pontiff is up and he’s going after Graham with fury in his eyes!!! The Catholics here are yelling ‘inquisition, inquisition,’ as Benedict rains blow after blow on Graham’s head and body.”

“Wow, Bob! Nothing apocryphal about that last punch! But it’s amazing how Graham’s hair stays right in place!”

“Is that LA Looks he’s got in there?”

“If I gambled, I’d go with Dep, Bob.”

“Golly Gee! Now the Protestants are up as Graham delivers punishing blows to the caretaker Pope!! Everyone’s a Calvinist tonight; this is pure destiny!! The Pope is down for the count!!!!”

*ding ding ding*

“And it’s over — Graham by knockout!”

Which side are you on?
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Best of Bweinh! — Married/Single Clash

11/21/2008, 11:00 am -- by | 3 Comments

In this corner, defending the sanctity of marriage, is Tom!

And in this corner, loving the freedom of the single life, is Djere!

Married life is the best kind of life there is. Trading freedom for security has always been the way we roll here in the U.S. of A! So many rough areas of a man’s life can be smoothed out by the delicate touch of a feminine hand.

Decision-making is a prime example. Making decisions is a lot of work. Where to live, what job to take, what to wear? Who has time to figure out the proper choice in all of these important areas? Most single men learn to make decisions quickly, weighing options and coming to decisions so fast that the process seems almost primitive in its simplicity.

The married man can still quickly reach a simple decision, but it is never the end result. Instead, it’s just one stop on the interminable amusement park ride central to any marriage: the discussion. By looping around and around the many possible choices, a man with a skilled spouse eventually comes to see the ignorance of his original choice, and the unparalleled superiority of the course his wife has already selected. Eventually these “discussions” can strip a man of his desire to make an initial choice, streamlining the entire process!

Marriage also lets a man grow beyond the boundaries he places on his social life. Many single men prefer the company of a particular group of friends, spending the majority of social time with them, coming to know them well. Once a man is married, these constraints are taken from him, and he can come to full social fruition. New friends he would not have chosen! New activities he does not enjoy! An entire new family with whom to spend holidays, reunions, excruciatingly boring conversations, and arguments!

And chores! Once a man has a wife, he has a partner with whom to split the domestic tasks central to any household. A single man has no assistance in performing these chores, and no helper to decide when they should be done. It’s true that marriage brings a man a tidier house, but with a spouse helping, the net decrease in work will be offset by the extra discussions that will fill the saved time, in lieu of radio, television, or blessed quiet.

It’s true that some freedom is lost. If I were married, I couldn’t keep the random and flexible work schedule I enjoy. I wouldn’t be able to spend my leisure time any way I like, I wouldn’t have as much time for quiet reading, I might not amuse myself so much with the Internet dot com. I certainly wouldn’t be able to drop everything and take a trip, change my plans at the last minute, or do any of the other things that make me the man I am.

No, I would become a different man, a better man, with a thousand chips of my very nature shaved away by the delicate chisel in my wife’s knowledgeable hand.

I only hope that man will think of the old me fondly from time to time, as he lives his life to the beat of his life’s new drummerette.

If he can find the time between discussions.

You know, when you’ve been married as long as I have (almost three weeks!), you almost forget what it was like on the other side…

Being single has its advantages. Gas mileage, for example. With only one person in the car, you’ll use less gas, you know, when you drive places… alone. And you’ll never have to worry about another person changing your radio stations. In fact, you never have to be exposed to any tastes other than your own! Gosh, that does sound pretty good… cruising down the highway of life — alone — listening to the same old songs on the radio…

And there are benefits outside your motor vehicle as well. Like at work! Now that I’m married, Karen calls me at work once or twice a day. But if I were single, think about how great it would be: eight uninterrupted hours without hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the telephone line. Even better — eight uninterrupted hours without hearing the person I care about more than any other say, “I love you.”

Yep, being single sure has advantages. I mean, at home you’ll never have to worry about someone messing up your stuff, the kitchen, unmaking the bed, or leaving the toilet seat in your least favorite position… because there’s never anyone there. In fact, when you’re single, you have the immense joy of doing all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chores yourself. All by yourself. Sure, you can daydream all you want that the next time you’re at the laundromat, there’ll be a pretty, single girl there who shares your joy of separating whites from darks for a bleach load, or your cultivated taste in fabric softener… but probably not.

And who does this ‘God’ fellow think He is? “It is not good for man to be alone.” What’s that all about? Certainly people weren’t designed with a helper in mind, a divinely inspired counterpart, like that “Bible” of yours says in Genesis 2:18.

When you’re single, you’ll experience neither the joy nor the pain that having a spouse brings. You don’t understand what Solomon means when he writes, “you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes.” Just the numb comfort of loneliness and hope deferred.

Man, those were the days!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a loving wife to attend to. Cheers.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXI: China

10/3/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Originally published in November 2007.

In this corner, arguing that China is an enemy, is David!

And in this corner, arguing that China is our friend, is MC-B!

If the question is “Should we view China as an enemy?,” my answer is yes. Should we be marching in the streets burning Chinese flags, boycotting Chinese restaurants and dry cleaners? No. But make no mistake: the Chinese government views the US as its chief rival for military and economic dominance in Asia, and ultimately throughout the world, and that makes us enemies.

China is experiencing an economic boom that has pushed it into the top 6 in both GNP and GDP, and it’s using that windfall to increase military spending, even though it already possesses the largest standing army in the world and the 5th-largest military budget. It’s also using that money to upgrade its technical capabilities, acquiring sophisticated guidance systems and other improvements (legally or illegally), with a stated purpose of developing capabilities to interdict US expeditionary forces and US carrier battle groups in the Western Pacific.

China boasts 20% of the world’s population and aspires to be the dominant force in Asia, which contains 61% of the world’s population and 3 top economic powerhouses, including Japan and South Korea. Anyone remember why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor? America was flexing its economic and military muscles in Asia, and Japan felt they had one choice — expand or die. They gambled on confronting the dominant power in Asia rather than settling for playing second fiddle for the next few hundred years, and they lost. China has the sense to know they will face that same choice one day. It is no secret that they are preparing for it, and so are we.

But where is the danger zone? Aside from general tensions arising from our projection of power across the ocean to remain the dominant force in Asia, there are two major flashpoints:

North Korea — we fought the Chinese face to face in North Korea at the Chosin Reservoir, and by proxy all over Asia from the 1950s through the 1970’s. Has North Korea been in the news lately? Is Afghanistan part of Asia? Think they feel threatened by the only superpower fighting in their backyard and threatening to start another war in their side yard?

How about their front yard? Taiwan. They currently have 790 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and are not at all secretive about the fact that invading the island is the primary focus of their short-term military planning. We are pledged to defend Taiwan in case of invasion, and in fact have already intervened twice when China has amassed amphibious assault groups across the strait.

Don’t get me wrong; I do not mean to say that we as Christians are their enemy — but as I said before, they know that our country is ultimately their enemy, and our military planners know the same thing.

Knowing the feelings of many Bweinh!tributors on this issue, I am under no delusion that I will win this Clash. I also do not take issue with my opponent’s claim that China might see the USA as a potential military threat. However, I would like to point out that defining our enemies to include all nations that would consider taking up arms against us if their regional interests were threatened could characterize almost every nation in the world as a potential enemy.

Remember the stink that certain Europeans raised when the US intervened through a legitimate organization (NATO) in the Balkan region? Even our closest allies, those with whom we have a history of cooperation, were highly mistrustful of our intentions. Since our history with China has been considerably more spotty, it is quite likely that the present situation is simply the same phenomenon exacerbated by past interactions.

In other words, in the military arena China and the USA certainly have differences, but the differences aren’t large or deep-seated enough to net China a special “enemy” status.

In any case, friendliness among nations isn’t measured by alliances and military agreements as much as it used to be. Rather, it is measured in dollars, and in economic terms we have seen over and over again that in the era of globalization, ostracizing any one large nation hurts everyone involved far more than cooperation does.

An example: our dollar is currently in a free fall (thanks, Ben Bernanke!). Even though we’ve sunk past the pound, the Euro, and now even the Canadian dollar, the Chinese government and other “unfriendly” governments around the world continue to hold reserves in US dollars, which helps to stave off the inflation of our dollar — even though switching to a different reserve currency could provide far more stability and credibility to foreign investment than staying with a weakening currency.

Being friendly with China also provides more opportunities for trade, which could open one of the largest single markets in the world (aside from India, I suppose) and lead to further harmony between our two nations. True, the Kantian peace thesis of democracies not warring does not hold when one nation involved is not democratic. However, in China’s case, the other two legs of the Kantian Triangle (involvement in international institutions and involvement in trade) are increasing by the day.

China cannot afford to treat us as an enemy because its economy would slow to a crawl, and we cannot afford to treat China as an enemy, due to the vast potential of its economy to shape the way the world operates. We must continue to engage China with the wariness that we would afford to an engagement with any nation, but the end goal should be to bring China into a closer, friendlier relationship with the United States.

Which side are you on?
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Best of Bweinh! — Crosswords v Sudoku

09/5/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

In this corner, arguing for the superiority of crosswords, is Djere!

And in this corner, on the side of Sudoku, is Tom!

The true gridiron classic, the crossword puzzle simply outclasses its numerical counterpart.

The crossword puzzle (in its modern form) dates to its 1913 invention by Arthur Wynne, but word squares have been found even under the ruins of Pompeii, a testament to their timeless popularity. Shortly after Wynne’s initial “Word-Cross,” the crossword puzzle again took the world by storm, easily becoming its most popular word game. Crosswords require finesse, creativity, logic, a firm grasp on language, and a sense of humor.

Sudoku, on the other hand (if that’s how it’s spelled), is a newcomer to the puzzle world, invented in 1974 by Howard Garns. Unlike the crossword, which requires creativity, logic, and knowledge, Sideko is solved by logic (or luck) alone.

And speaking of alone, Saduka is usually solved alone, a testament to the poor social and hygiene skills of its practitioners. The crossword is truly a democratic puzzle — the game of the everyman. Think back to the last time you saw someone hunched over a newspaper, pen (or for cowards, pencil) in hand. A crossworder may look up, make eye contact, and speak directly to you. “Hello, friend,” they might ask, “What’s a four letter word for ‘killer whale’?” It’s more than solitaire, it’s an interpersonal event… it’s proper socialization! It’s community!

Replay that scene in your mind, but substitute the lesser puzzle of Suck-doku. Instead of eye contact, your feral co-worker will likely make indiscriminate marks on the page, muttering to himself, never quite acknowledging your presence or humanity. Years later, after failing to complete even one square, he is, frankly, quite likely to snap and firebomb your company warehouse.

Oh yeah, and size does matter, baby. From the standard 15×15 grids of your weekday puzzle all the way up to the Weekly World News’s 35×35 Bigfoot puzzles, crosswords trounce Sakodu’s petty 9×9 grids. Aesthetically pleasing, the crossword contains radial symmetry, contrasting white and black squares in interesting designs. Suducu’s only claim to fame is that every puzzle is as boringly plain as the last.

What’s it going to be? The logic, beauty, and cruciverbial wonder of the crossword, or the irritatingly confining multiplication table that is Sydyky?

P.S. If anyone could help me with 26-Across — “Wish to a traveler,” eight letters? Yeah, thanks.

Crosswords and Sudoku are very similar, really.

Both combine the excitement of painstakingly filling out small grids in a strictly regimented way with the fun of sitting quietly. Both are presumed by many reliable sources as activities that build the intellect. And both are best enjoyed responsibly.

However, if one of the two had to be sacrificed from our nation’s coffee shops, subway trains, and lecture halls, the choice would be simple:

We would have to ditch the crossword.

Sudoku is, by its very nature, inclusive. Speaking the universal language of numbers, a Sudoku puzzle spreads its grid wide enough to encompass people from any culture, any walk of life.

Crosswords trend toward the opposite extreme of exclusion, taking on themes so obscure as to alienate the vast majority of those initially drawn to their checkerboard good-looks and witty tete-a-clue-tete. Glamour without warmth is not what I look for in a woman, and absolutely not what I want in a pastime.

Sudoku’s simple, yet elegant rules can be learned in minutes. Place each digit, 1-9, one time in each row, in each column, and in each 3-by-3 square.

Compare that to the nuances of a typical crossword puzzle. If there’s an abbreviation in the clue, does that mean the answer is abbreviated as well? In what tense do they want this word?

And what’s with all the Latin?

I’ll admit — Sudoku is a relatively new addition to the flashy world of the comic-page. But even considering the Jumble, word-search, and the behemoth that is the New York Times crossword, Sudoku remains one enigmatic David who can take up nine smooth digits and get the amusement done.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXIX: Text Messages

08/29/2008, 1:00 pm -- by | 6 Comments

In this corner, opposing text messages, is Josh!

And in this corner, in favor of texts, is Steve!

Listen, I don’t hate texts, okay. And I’m not the parent in that cell phone ad that needs some smart aleck kid to show me how to send them. I actually enjoy receiving the occasional text, and rarely, when necessary or convenient, sending one. I’m willing to concede some usefulness. So calm those angry thumbs for a moment.

But here’s the thing: texts have become completely ubiquitous. They account for a ridiculous percentage of some people’s total communication. And they are not without their drawbacks.

First, there’s the cost. Many cell phone plans now offer an unlimited text option, which has at least helped to curtail the spiraling costs for those too oblivious to do so themselves. But this will still add a not insignificant fee to your monthly commitment. And for those not inclined to take this route, there will be a fee not only for texts they send, but also for those they receive, whether they want to hear from every clown in their address book or not.

I hear you. The cost is minimal. But the cost to the English language is catastrophic. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are all completely decimated. This so-called shorthand, first popularized in chat rooms and instant messages, is now pandemic, and an entire generation that spends so much time writing is — somehow — completely incapable of writing.

I get it. It’s hard to type on a phone, so shorthand is easier. I’m certainly no fan of pushing the same button up to three times to produce one letter: yet another reason I prefer to use my phone for talking. I like having actual conversations, raising the level of discourse somewhere above three letter quips and emoticons. I like actual human contact and real social interaction, yet I see people surrounded by readily ignored friends, heads down, thumbs blazing. No, thanks.

*click click click*

Oh, hi! I apologize — I was sending a text message to some of my friends, telling them the great news that Gov. Sarah Palin will be John McCain’s VP nominee! What a good example of the power of the text: rather than calling each of these people individually, possibly interrupting them, possibly being forced into making small talk we don’t have time for right now, instead I just typed out a little message (“Palin Palin Palin”), and viola! It was like my own little news broadcast!

What Lileks (I think; I can’t find the quote! I wish I’d texted myself) said is so true: text messaging is the closest thing we have to beaming thoughts directly into people’s heads. When my phone buzzes, I’m truly excited — there are all manner of interesting people in my contact list, and I can’t wait to see which one has fired a thought my way. Maybe an interesting observation, maybe a long-forgotten reference to a shared experience, maybe the continuation of a philosophical debate: whichever, whatever, I want to see it. I guess I’m sorry Josh’s friends are so boring.

Yet text messages are not intrusive (my phone never rings and I have an unlimited plan); if I’m busy, they wait. This is different from phone calls. Get a text and you can answer right away, wait, or let silence speak for you. Texts provide a combination of distance and familiarity that makes actual communication possible. There are no guarantees, no strings, no promises — just thoughts, beamed between minds.

I agree with Josh when it comes to “shorthand”; I hate it too. To me, the value of text messages doesn’t come just from their speed and utility (although my Qwerty keyboard is super-fast). No, I love how they combine the heft and clarity of the written word (like an email) with a natural limit, like a prose haiku! If you really want to communicate in a text, you have to seriously think about what you want to say and how best to say it. Something that helps us communicate better, faster, and more thoughtfully? Text me anytime!

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXVIII: Houghton and Point Loma

08/22/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 7 Comments

In this corner, supporting Point Loma Nazarene University, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, backing Houghton College, is Job!

I\’d hate to disparage another school at the expense of my own, so I think I\’ll let Point Loma Nazarene University\’s merits speak for themselves:

”¢ The ocean. No matter where you stand on campus, the long, limitless horizon beckons, reminding you how insignificant you truly are. There\’s no better way to wake up in the morning. And it never grows old ”” stroll through the campus during any given sunset and you\’re bound to find scores of students staring westward, admiring the freshly painted canvas that fills the sky.

”¢ The location. The campus\’s oceanfront property includes beach access; Ocean, Mission, and Pacific Beaches are all within five miles. Downtown San Diego is just as close. Point Loma itself is an affluent peninsula with a small-town feel, giving a feeling of secluded island living while maintaining a comfortable proximity to all that San Diego has to offer.

”¢ The opportunities. All the travel spiels you\’ve heard about San Diego are true. It includes so much ”” Balboa Park, the Embarcadero, the San Diego Opera, playhouses, professional sports teams, and more. As part of a metropolitan area, the school has worked hard to establish a relationship with the community, creating an excellent platform for internships and networking.

”¢ The academics. From the outstanding nursing program to the renowned science department, the school\’s academic departments have few equals in the private Christian university circuit. Class sizes are almost always well below 40. Professors are knowledgeable and accessible, and they approach education thoroughly and rigorously. When I was a prospective student touring the Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages department, I was impressed with the department head\’s reasoning behind labeling my major as literature. “We don\’t just study literature written in English; we study world literature.” The faculty are on the whole not only experts within their fields, but deeply involved and mindful of their students\’ personal well-being.

”¢ The extracurriculars. The school\’s sports teams consistently rank in the top of their leagues. The intramurals are vibrant and varied, ranging from soccer and basketball to surfing and rugby. The debate team consistently sweeps tournaments. The newspaper provides comprehensive coverage of school and community events every week. The numerous campus ministries devote themselves to the spiritual development of students, the local community, and even further through mission-minded outreaches.

Ӣ The programs. The Fermanian Business Center has instituted myriad programs that use a Christian approach to economic concerns, aiming to help people while making inroads in the business world. The Center for Justice and Reconciliation focuses on poverty and inequality. The Study Abroad Center guides students through international programs in whatever countries they would like to visit.

Ӣ The events. The school continually draws prominent speakers. Last year alone, the campus hosted Philip Yancey, Francis Collins, Gay Talese, Anchee Min, Jon Foreman, Greg Mortensen, a colloquium of French poets, and the 2008 Kyoto Prize winners.

I think Point Loma\’s advantages speak volumes. However, I will add that the library is open from 7 am to midnight, Monday through Friday, a full hour earlier and later than another school that I know of.

Let us come together, but for a moment, my friends, and speak of heavy things.

Truth, most of you reading this possess a college education, and on top of that, most of you were educated at a Christian college. And you know the usual players, do you not? If not, allow me to roll the credits of our shared context. Wheaton, Westmont, Calvin, and Azusa Pacific. Biola, Grove City, Gordon, Nyack, and Messiah. Bethany, Point Loma, Liberty, Houghton.

A stellar list, no doubt, but one rife with differences — theologically, financially, ideologically, and geographically. But one of those differences is very telling, and it finds its traction at Houghton College — for Houghton is one of the rare (popular and esteemed) Christian colleges that is not nestled in or near a major metropolitan area.

Gordon has Boston, Wheaton has Chicago, and Houghton has… a cornfield.

My friend Kaitlin has made a very convincing argument indeed…for a resort. But I think she has forgotten the purpose of a college: education. While I am certain that Point Loma has professors, donors, and sports teams to give off the appearance of an institute of higher learning, the school is really more interested in its beachfront cachet.

Their literature and website are filled with (mostly) pictures of San Diego’s trappings, the breaking Pacific and the tanned, smiling faces of the collegiately damned. Rare is the promotional shot of a student pondering anything of educational weight, and rarer still is the shot of anything with four walls surrounding it. Again, Point Loma would make a great summer camp (which it is, all fall, winter and spring), but is it an earnest mecca for the education-hungry, worthy of their pilgrimage? I think not.

But ah, Houghton. Remote, yet easy to find (just one exit from the major highway, 14 miles distant), and located in one of the poorest counties east of the Mississippi, Houghton has no city appeal. There are no movie theaters or beaches to frequent. No hotspots, bars, historical sites, or even McDonald’s. Houghton, as a destination, is only worth visiting for its express purpose: educating the young Christians of the future.

I cannot sway you with the impossible amounts of fun I had there, but believe me it was had indeed. I cannot convince you of Houghton’s intrinsic and organic properties, although our thorough separation from the world brought them out all the more. I cannot persuade you of Houghton’s lasting impression on all of its students because many, it’s true, couldn’t take it. Many tested the river that is Houghton only to turn back, stomachs in knots, knees scraped against the boulders of trial, serving to warn others from attempting to ford its rapids.

But this only makes my time on the other bank that much more fulfilling. I could have attended any number of the Jacob tent-dwelling schools — but I cast my lot with Esau, preferring the brambles and winds of a wilderness in a time that should not make us soft and well-recreated, but rather, hardened and mentally-fit.

And all that said — our girls’ basketball team could beat Point Loma’s men’s soccer team.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXVII: Unions

08/15/2008, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

In this corner, defending unions, is Erin!

And in this corner, opposing them, is David!

Unions are not the answer to everything, this I readily concede. Often, the face of a union is its representative to the union members, and the encounters with such representatives go something like this:

Enter a discontent, overweight (and overpaid) union representative to Place of Work. She has come to announce a change in appeals policy to union members at said Place of Work.

Lights come up, fluorescent and harsh.

Union rep: Blah blah blah, blah blah, change change, blah blah blah.

Narrator: What she\’s basically saying is, “Work, you poor saps, because by paying your dues, you get security you can\’t get on your own.”

Yes, many would say that unions do little more than whine for better pay, better conditions, and (often in my area) for the political casting-out-to-where-there-will-be-weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth of any and all Republicans.

I ask only that the reader would consider for the moment the things that unions still do. They offer an alternative to an expensive (and truthfully, often wasted) college education, instead providing marketable skills, the model of a good work ethic, and a group of people who not only lobby for their needs, but also form a community.

I have seen teachers\’ unions work to get better books for their students and keep their jobs (taking pay cuts to do it); I have seen electricians’ unions work to ensure higher safety standards on industrial and residential jobs (would you like to have someone electrocuted while they install the power lines for your future plasma TV?); I have seen pipefitters’ unions work against the flow of dying industry to keep jobs within an 800-mile radius of their homes, in an effort not to have to resort to taking jobs in California, Alaska, or Iraq.

This summer I attended a union picnic, where I was introduced to at least two dozen men and women I probably will not meet again nor remember very long. But what stuck with me was the overwhelming sense that these people were there for each other: on the worksite and in each other\’s lives. And if that means nothing, yes, I guess unions are out of date.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

There was a time when this nation needed unions, when they served an important purpose, protecting the poor. Women, children and immigrants were all exploited by employers with no compassion and virtually no government oversight. Children as young as eight or nine slaved away in factories, 16 hours at a time, for poor pay in unsafe conditions. Immigrants were forced to live in ramshackle housing, with exorbitant charges deducted from their meager pay to cover the cost of their food and housing — rendering them little more than slaves.

Those days are gone, yet the unions remain.

It reminds me of the story of the Chinese emperor who invited Mongols into his country to help vanquish foes from the South — only to find that when the war ended, the Mongols chose to settle down and stay, exacting their own methods of exploitation to lighten the purses of the Chinese people. Sometimes the cure brings with it the seeds of the next disease.

I don\’t know many people who would argue the US government does not do enough to micromanage small and large business owners these days. There are 30 different agencies listed on the US Department of Labor website that monitor the various employment practices and environments of American businesses, using nearly 18,000 employees to accomplish this noble task. We are well-regulated.

So what purpose do unions serve now? They are parasites. Unions have become bloated, self-serving political organizations used to control the actions, assets, and politics of the poor schmucks unlucky enough to trapped by them. That\’s all. They hold wages at an artificially high level and stifle productivity, while often protecting workers who are unmotivated, yet militantly committed to protecting their own livelihood.

Which side are you on?

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Clash of the Titans LXXXVI: The Olympic Games

08/8/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 4 Comments

In this corner, opposing the Olympics, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, supporting them, is Steve!

An honest, dispassionate evaluation of the Olympics, stripped of hype and emotionalism, will garner little more than distaste and disillusionment. “The Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles,” declares the International Olympic Committee website. And yet the Olympic Games have been fraught with scandal, politicization, and shamefully extravagant spending. Those are, I suppose, universal principles, but perhaps not the ones the IOC means to evoke.

The 1952 Olympics, highly charged with Cold War hostilities, did little more than inflame already tense relations. “There were many more pressures on American athletes because of the Russians,” said U.S. decathlon winner Bob Mathias. “They were in a sense the real enemy. You just loved to beat ”˜em. You just had to beat ”˜em. . . . This feeling was strong down through the entire team.”

The 1976 Olympics resulted in financial ruin for host city Quebec. The debt they incurred took decades to pay off. The Nazis, during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, hoped to establish their country as a superpower by exhibiting their superiority. China\’s goals are much the same this year in Beijing.

Other inevitable consequences of the Olympics, both present and past: championing an ethos of winning at all costs, even if the costs include a foreshortened childhood or lifelong physical effects; xenophobia, especially if Americans win less and economically threatening countries win more; poor stewardship of both environmental and social resources.

Moreover, the Olympic Games throw into sharp relief the drastic differences in advantages of rich and poor countries. Between the commercial sponsors and the unavoidably constant testing of the human body to see how far it can go, the Olympics are practically just a giant, corporately backed, international science experiment.

To truly embody the spirit the IOC wishes to spread throughout the world, athletes should compete on a purely individual level, regardless of their nations of birth. By forgoing nationalistic divisions, the IOC might do much in the way of their cherished unity. Furthermore, the Games should be completely privatized. As Stephen Hugh-Jones wrote in More Intelligent Life, “If private sector companies choose to sponsor the Olympics, that\’s up to them. But why on earth hurl public funds at these tarnished saturnalia?”

I love the Olympic Games. In ’06, I watched as much as I could, filling up old videotapes with hours of skiing, skating, and the euphonious luge. I studied with the Games in the background, the hum of competition spurring me on to a more perfect knowledge of the UCC.

I freely admit that the Games suffer from corruption and waste, just like any organization of their massive size. I’m not wild about how the IOC rewarded a horribly repressive government with the honor of hosting them this year. And I understand that, as symbols go, the Games are incredibly expensive and frequently ineffective.

Yet I love them still. Here’s why.

As a universal, guileless language, sports are uniquely positioned to change the world. Take ping-pong diplomacy. Before Nixon could go to China, a hippie named Glenn Cowan had to board the wrong bus at the world championships in Japan; there he struck up an unlikely friendship with China’s best player. Mao saw pictures of the two exchanging gifts (in violation of Chinese policy), and suddenly the U.S. team was invited to China: the first non-Communist Americans to visit in 20 years. The tour was a grand success — tearing down stereotypes and clearing out Vietnam-era mistrust. 10 days after the team left, Nixon was formally invited to Beijing.

Governments only get away with things when people aren’t paying attention. Say what you will about the Games, but the world, billions strong, will be watching. And what will they see there? Each other. The Games are run by simpering bureaucrats, but Olympic athletes remain the most accurate representation of a nation’s people. Nations are ruled by a privileged few; the United Nations is full of diplomats, politicians, and (worst of all) lawyers. But Olympians are ordinary people — folks like you and me — with world-class talent. And inspiring stories: in 2000, Lopez Lomong, the American flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, was a Sudanese boy in flight from genocide, catching his first glimpse of the Olympics on a black-and-white TV at a Kenyan refugee camp.

Eight years later, he carries our flag. He runs for us.

Human beings are made to play, made to compete. Just as capitalism harnesses our fallen nature for our economic benefit, sports allow us to divert our natural passion and aggression — even (gasp!) nationalism — into productive channels. Sports improve the body while they train the mind — to work together with others, to move gracefully through space, to demand more of ourselves than we ever dreamed possible. And in a world where truth seems all too elusive, where postmodernism rips at the foundations of belief, sports offer exactly what we crave: standards and objectivity, doled out by the hands of a clock and the numbers on a scoreboard.

Yes. The Games are expensive. But they are also useful, inspiring, fun — and part of what makes us uniquely human.

Which side are you on?

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Clash of the Titans LXXXV: Where to Park?

07/1/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | No Comments

In this corner, parking close by, is Connie!

And in this corner, parking far away, is MC-B!

I’m writing the no-brainer side of this Clash — parking near. I have no idea why someone would choose to park far away ON PURPOSE, but defend my choice I must, so here we go:

Time: My time is at a premium and I must protect it at all cost. I simply cannot afford to park rows away when a spot is available closer. Plus, with the time I\’ve saved, I will be more prepared for my appointment. I will be seated sooner, remembering points or questions I plan to raise or cover. And I will not be sweaty, or worse: late, from walking long distances across foreign parking wastelands.

I might also spend my extra time planning something like, perhaps, dinner, thereby avoiding mistakes like serving pine nuts to someone with an allergy who may be eating with us that night. Haste causes many problems.

Efficiency: Having my vehicle nearby lets me keep my eye on it, in case of Tomfoolery. One never knows when one might be the subject of a prank, or worse yet, a felony! But being close by and ever diligent, I can either prevent the damage, or at least give a good description of the miscreant(s) involved.

Or, if I\’ve forgotten something in my vehicle, a few quick steps back to retrieve a photo or lab test won\’t hold up my friend/doctor. Oh, let\’s just face it, most of my doctors are my friends! And they all want to see pictures of Tom!

Attitude: When I find a spot near to where I need to be, I feel blessed (some others would say lucky, but I know better). This gives me a calm, happy, peaceful spirit as I enter my appointment or errand. This might lend itself to a more positive interaction later in my appointment. Never underestimate that.

I pray before I go somewhere, and (almost) always God provides a spot for me. In return, I try not to waste the wonderful time He has given me here. Someone asked if we should waste His time asking for parking spots, and I say if He gives them, how is it wasteful? He blesses our time when we give it to Him.

First of all, I\’m not going to suggest that I would surrender a close spot to look for one farther away from a store; instead, I argue only that hunting for spots close to a store is not a very good use of time or other resources. Of course, whether or not a person prefers to park close to their destination is generally dependent on their station in life and how they experience shopping and other errands. As a youngish man, I simply cannot see a reason to drive around the parking lot looking for a good space and wasting time when I could park at a moderate, or even far distance, and get there almost as quickly.

Additionally, there are a number of benefits to parking far. Exercise is probably the most obvious; while a small minority of people need to park close to ensure that they can transport their purchases back to their vehicle, it is undeniable that Americans as a whole could use more exercise, and that the vast majority could benefit from fitting small exercises into their day — taking the stairs, riding a bike, or parking a little farther from their destinations and carrying what they buy a little bit longer.

Fuel savings are another small benefit of parking farther away, due less to the small extra distance that one drives to the storefront than to the incessant circling that often results from trying to find that one good spot. Admittedly, this is a very small savings, but they do add up over time.

Parking far away, as long as there are still a few other cars near yours, is also a good way to avoid the hazards more often found at the front of the parking lot close to the store: most notably shopping carts, but also small children and other circling cars. As a result, it often allows you to leave more readily when you want to go.

Finally, someone else may need a closer spot far more than I do. Again, as a young man, it\’s not particularly important for me to get a close spot, but someone older or injured may need it. I’m sure it rarely works out this way, but certainly more often than it would if I actively sought out better spaces. For all of these reasons, going out of one’s way to park close to a storefront generally isn\’t worth the effort.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXIV: Dressing Up

06/6/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 4 Comments

In this corner, opposing dressing up, is Job!

And in this corner, in favor of it, is Chloe!

I will have my own policies
I will sleep with a clear conscience
I will sleep in peace

— Sinead O’Connor, Emperor’s New Clothes

Dressing up is a fact of American life. Social, religious and vocational pressures demand conformity and attention to dress in varying degrees. We have terms to assess the severity of these demands: black-tie, business casual, country formal, etc. This is unavoidable, unless you endeavor to be a pariah, in which case consciously dressing down is as much a conformity as consciously dressing up.

But the hardest crease for me to iron out of this societal doctrine is the thought that dressing up is an attempt to separate one’s self, one’s workplace or one’s church from its human surroundings: to suddenly appear as more than we actually are. In short, to be something we aren’t.

I am a Seabee in the Navy Reserves, and as you might imagine, I have several uniforms that I must wear at times. If you speak to members of the military about their uniforms, the consensus would be that we wear our uniforms with pride and the feeling of having earned them. Furthermore, most would agree that when we wear them together, we represent something far greater than ourselves as individuals.

The same can not be said of the uniform of modern fashion — a constant and ceaseless competition, an exercise in poor taste and inadequacy. Dressing up has become increasingly uncomfortable, inefficient, impractical and at times blatantly immoral — if not through the exposure or enhancement of flesh, then by the consuming, metastasized materialism that boils inside those dedicated to looking “good.”

If your job has a dress code, then of course you must abide. If you need a false confidence to get you through the day and curry the favor of those shallow enough to reward your efforts at color coordination, then of course you must abide. But if you can dress practically, cleanly and cheaply while losing no sleep . . . then you should abide that with equal fervence.

I like to look pretty. I wear skirts and high heels and makeup and jewelry. I spend a lot of time getting ready, even if all I\’m doing that day is working a ten-hour shift at the restaurant. My reasons have more to do with the way I feel about myself than they do with the way others treat me, but I have noticed a big difference when I look nice.

Yes, sometimes I get unwanted attention from men (see “The Proper Way to Treat Your Waitress” from last summer), but they are never crude or inappropriate. And yes, sometimes people are still rude or impatient with me. But when it comes down to it, when I dress up, I get more respect.

Why is that? Well, when we see a poorly-dressed person, certain stereotypes tend to pop into our heads: they don\’t care about themselves, so why should we care about them? Or perhaps they\’re lazy, they\’re bums, they don\’t take care of themselves.

But when we see well-dressed people, we think of wealth and prosperity. We assume they\’ve worked hard to get where they are, and that they care about themselves. These associations make us relate more positively to them, and so we give them more respect.

Let me give you an example straight from my opponent\’s mouth. When Job came to visit Steve, he was dressed in his Navy uniform. The attendant at the toll booth saw his outfit and gave Job a significant discount on his toll. Job has found that when he dresses up in his uniform, he not only gets more respect, he also gets a lot of freebies and discounts.

Whatever Job may say, even he has found that dressing up is beneficial.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXIII: Rap Music

05/30/2008, 11:00 am -- by | 2 Comments

In this corner, opposing rap music, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, supporting rap music, is Mike!

While the phrase “rap music” may not necessarily be an oxymoron, the genre and the ethos of the culture it perpetuates directly contradicts many of the values dear to the consumers of mainstream media who would champion it.

Rap music, and most notably gangsta rap, is powered fundamentally by provocative content. Divorcing the form from its content divests the music of its force and intent. In 1997, Dr. Dre attempted to tone down his message. “I have kids and wanted to get away from the ”˜b—–s and ho\’s\’ and the violence,” he said. But the resulting album generated less than half of his usual revenue. “I had to come back to the real. Back to the gangsta,” he said.

This “gangsta” culture, however, is merely a poor and potentially detrimental caricature of urban life. Spike Lee, in the film “Bamboozled,” satirized the portrayal of African Americans in contemporary media, arguing that rap propagates the harmful stereotypes that most would want to see eradicated. Performers such as rap artists, he contended, play into mainstream prejudices, glorifying the ghetto lifestyle at the expense of the people they purport to represent.

Byron Hurt, who directed a film that identified the misogyny and skewed masculinity inherent to the genre, would agree. “We need to have artists second-guess creating lyrics that are anti-woman in the same way that they would second-guess writing something that is anti-Semitic,” Hurt said.

Rap music gives many consumers a false sense of familiarity, a fake compassion. Said Hank Shocklee, a prominent producer in the rap industry and half of rap ensemble Public Enemy: “If you\’re a suburban white kid and you want to find out what life is like for a black city teenager, you buy a record by N.W.A. It\’s like going to an amusement park and getting on a roller coaster ride ”” records are safe, they\’re controlled fear, and you always have the choice of turning it off. That\’s why nobody takes a train up to 125th Street and gets out and starts walking around. Because then you\’re not in control anymore: it\’s a whole other ball game.”

By creating the conception of such a blatant and unfounded racial divide, rap music denies consumers the opportunity to discover for themselves how few differences actually exist between seemingly disparate people. Journalist David Samuels sees in rap music “a voyeurism and tolerance of racism in which black and white are both complicit.” Somehow, he said, the deviant behavior characteristic of the culture seems appropriate or even acceptable. “The values it instills find their ultimate expression in the ease with which we watch young black men killing each other: in movies, on records, and on the streets of cities and towns across the country.”

Rap music essentially undermines the entire endeavor to recognize the equality of all, regardless of racial, gender, or socioeconomic differences. Unless the genre, and the culture associated with it, undergoes a thorough overhaul, it should be thoroughly avoided.

I luv rap music
Always have, and I always will
There’s no other kinda music in the world
makes me feel quite as chill

“I Luv Rap Music” — DC Talk

I love rap music too. First, because it says something. When I was growing up, rap was symbolic of all that was wrong with the world, all that had gone haywire. Dutifully, I avoided it through my adolescence. But then I discovered it — Public Enemy. Arrested Development. And I found music that unapologetically said something. It wasn’t like country music, a paean to an old way of life that could never return; it wasn’t like pop, all painted and gummy; it was real, it was about issues, it was about life. Of course, much rap says nothing worth saying; but when you have heard rap that speaks to the black community about issues especially important to that community in a language that naturally rises from that community — then you have heard music with meaning.

I also love rap from a professional perspective. Preachers and rappers both make their living with words. Each of us has a stock of standard stories to draw upon and our professional reputations are staked upon being able to tell those stories well, using communication appropriate to our community. Some of the most clever wordplay and arresting language is used — regrettably — not in the pulpit, but behind the microphone. As a preacher, rappers actually give me something to look up to as there is such focus on the moment of communication and communicating in a memorable way.

Finally, I love rap because it brings this suburban white male into contact with a culture that is different from my own. I don’t mean to romanticize gangsta rap; I recognize that much of it is not pure artistic response to harsh realities but created by and for a listening market. But listening to it — even the worst of it — keeps me connected to an urban society different from my own.

At times, contact with that different culture challenges me to change and ask provocative questions; for instance, we should ask why inner-city America is still overwhelmingly religious while the suburbs are increasingly secular, if not atheistic. That challenges me, makes me think about what is deficient about the brand of Christianity I practice. At other times, contact with that different culture challenges me to think about how I can address deficiencies and needs in that culture, even coming from outside of it.

Regardless, it does me well to listen to rap because it takes me outside of what I know and challenges me to think differently.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXII: Married v Single

05/21/2008, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

In this corner, defending the sanctity of marriage, is Tom!

And in this corner, loving the freedom of the single life, is Djere!

Married life is the best kind of life there is. Trading freedom for security has always been the way we roll here in the U.S. of A! So many rough areas of a man’s life can be smoothed out bythe delicate touch of a feminine hand.

Decision-making is a prime example. Making decisions is a lot of work. Where to live, what job to take, what to wear? Who has time to figure out the proper choice in all of these important areas? Most single men learn to make decisions quickly, weighing options and coming to decisions so fast that the process seems almost primitive in its simplicity.

The married man can still quickly reach a simple decision, but it is never the end result. Instead, it’s just one stop on the interminable amusement park ride central to any marriage: the discussion. By looping around and around the many possible choices, a man with a skilled spouse eventually comes to see the ignorance of his original choice, and the unparalleled superiority of the course his wife has already selected. Eventually these “discussions” can strip a man of his desire to make an initial choice, streamlining the entire process!

Marriage also lets a man grow beyond the boundaries he places on his social life. Many single men prefer the company of a particular group of friends, spending the majority of social time with them, coming to know them well. Once a man is married, these constraints are taken from him, and he can come to full social fruition. New friends he would not have chosen! New activities he does not enjoy! An entire new family with whom to spend holidays, reunions, excruciatingly boring conversations, and arguments!

And chores! Once a man has a wife, he has a partner with whom to split the domestic tasks central to any household. A single man has no assistance in performing these chores, and no helper to decide when they should be done. It’s true that marriage brings a man a tidier house, but with a spouse helping, the net decrease in work will be offset by the extra discussions that will fill the saved time, in lieu of radio, television, or blessed quiet.

It’s true that some freedom is lost. If I were married, I couldn’t keep the random and flexible work schedule I enjoy. I wouldn’t be able to spend my leisure time any way I like, I wouldn’t have as much time for quiet reading, I might not amuse myself so much with the Internet dot com. I certainly wouldn’t be able to drop everything and take a trip, change my plans at the last minute, or do any of the other things that make me the man I am.

No, I would become a different man, a better man, with a thousand chips of my very nature shaved away by the delicate chisel in my wife’s knowledgeable hand.

I only hope that man will think of the old me fondly from time to time, as he lives his life to the beat of his life’s new drummerette.

If he can find the time between discussions.

You know, when you’ve been married as long as I have (almost three weeks!), you almost forget what it was like on the other side…

Being single has its advantages. Gas mileage, for example. With only one person in the car, you’ll use less gas, you know, when you drive places… alone. And you’ll never have to worry about another person changing your radio stations. In fact, you never have to be exposed to any tastes other than your own! Gosh, that does sound pretty good… cruising down the highway of life — alone — listening to the same old songs on the radio…

And there are benefits outside your motor vehicle as well. Like at work! Now that I’m married, Karen calls me at work once or twice a day. But if I were single, think about how great it would be: eight uninterrupted hours without hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the telephone line. Even better — eight uninterrupted hours without hearing the person I care about more than any other say, “I love you.”

Yep, being single sure has advantages. I mean, at home you’ll never have to worry about someone messing up your stuff, the kitchen, unmaking the bed, or leaving the toilet seat in your least favorite position… because there’s never anyone there. In fact, when you’re single, you have the immense joy of doing all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chores yourself. All by yourself. Sure, you can daydream all you want that the next time you’re at the laundromat, there’ll be a pretty, single girl there who shares your joy of separating whites from darks for a bleach load, or your cultivated taste in fabric softener… but probably not.

And who does this ‘God’ fellow think He is? “It is not good for man to be alone.” What’s that all about? Certainly people weren’t designed with a helper in mind, a divinely inspired counterpart, like that “Bible” of yours says in Genesis 2:18.

When you’re single, you’ll experience neither the joy nor the pain that having a spouse brings. You don’t understand what Solomon means when he writes, “you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes.” Just the numb comfort of loneliness and hope deferred.

Man, those were the days!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a loving wife to attend to. Cheers.

Which side are you on?
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Best of Bweinh! — Women In Ministry

05/6/2008, 11:30 am -- by | 2 Comments

In this corner, arguing for different ministry roles for men and women, is David!

And in this corner, supporting the ordination and public ministry of women, is Steve!

“I don’t hate women. . . my mother was a woman!” — Mike Tyson

It would be wrong to suppose, just because I am on the opposing side of this issue, that I favor a ban on women in ministry. My first two pastors were women and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the role they played in my early development as a Christian.

I simply think there are unavoidable Biblical statements that must be incorporated into our understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate for how women function in the body of Christ.

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 we find, to me, the most formidable barrier to a carte blanche approach to women in ministry. Paul mentions subjection, authority and Eve’s role in the Fall of man as all playing a role here. Unless we reject Paul’s words as Scripture, which Peter specifically warned us not to do in 2 Peter 3:15-16, calling them Scripture, I don’t see how we can ignore his statements.

He uses the word subjection (hupostassas), which is also noted in the relationship of men and women in Ephesians, 1 Peter and Colossians, and mainly connotes order as opposed to chaos within an organization. Any attempt to define the separate roles of men and women in the church and family has to take these Scriptures into account.

Is the woman less of a Christian? No. Does she have a different role to play in the church and family? Yes. A role that carries with it submission to male authority? Yes.

In this section Paul says, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man.” In the Greek the phrase “to teach” is not constructed as a one-time action; it refers to holding the position of “teacher.” The word “teacher” is interpreted elsewhere as “master” (rabboni), and refers to the person who ruled on doctrinal matters in the synagogue and was recognized as its final authority. Paul was not forbidding a women to preach or teach in his assemblies, in my opinion, but rather forbade them from holding that place of authority.

He links this, however uncomfortable it makes us, with the Fall, Adam being “first formed” and Eve being “deceived.” If we need further proof Paul believed there was a lingering judgment on Eve’s descendants, we need only read through verse 15, where he makes the statement, “Nevertheless she shall be saved in childbearing.” What was the punishment bestowed upon Eve for her place in the fall? Pain in childbirth. Paul notes that though there is a lingering judgment that has placed her in subjection to man, judgment will not overcome her. But the judgment still remains.

Paul also told the Galatians, “In Christ there is no male and female,” and this statement is not a contradiction. Man has no favor with God that woman does not have, no special gifts or perks. We just serve in different roles. My boss is not inherently better than me, but he is over me in authority, and I must respect that.

What should a woman do if she is called to preach? Preach with all her heart! Teach? Teach with all her heart! Sing? Sing with all her heart!

But should she be ordained? I do not believe so — but I willingly acknowledge another thread that runs through the Bible. God rejects those who reject him, and uses whomever is faithful, whether or not they meet the requirements of His own scriptural statements.

The culture of Christ’s day treated women as second-class citizens. Jews of that time were known to thank God for not making them “a dog, a Gentile, or a woman,” and almost all ancient men treated their wives, daughters and sisters as mere possessions. The famous trick question of the Sadducees, meant to attack the resurrection, was built on the concept that a woman’s existence — even in Heaven — was primarily defined by which man owned her.

And into that world came Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, who never treated women this way. He spoke, alone, to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4), He visited Mary and Martha at their home, He allowed women to support Him financially (Lk 8), He was lavishly anointed by a woman at dinner (Lk 7). He did not allow a woman caught in adultery to be condemned while her male compatriot got off scot-free (Jn 8); when His disciples fled, the women in His life anointed Him for burial (Lk 23) and first witnessed His resurrection (Mt 28).

Similarly, throughout the Bible, women served in leadership and ministry roles. Deborah led the nation of Israel (Jdg 4-5). Miriam, for all her faults, was a prophetess (Ex 15:20). Priscilla taught and preached with her husband (Ac 18:26), and in Romans 16, Paul sent greetings to many women in the ministry, including deaconess Phoebe and apostle Junia.

Against this powerful model of Christ’s behavior and the normative example of Biblical ministry by women, we have — what? A passage in I Corinthians that, on its face, seems to demand absolute silence from the same women who were just given instructions on proper public prayer, and a passage in I Timothy written to those in Ephesus, a city known for false teachers and the female-dominated Artemis cult.

It is not that these passages are unscriptural, or somehow less important than any of the rest of the Bible. It’s precisely because none of these texts can be ignored that, one way or the other, we must reconcile the contradiction between the repeated use of women in public ministry throughout the Old and New Testaments, and the apparent stark prohibition of such behavior here.

Is it simply that God used women when men were not available? Not so of Miriam, who served with her brother, or Deborah, who ruled Israel alone, while married. It’s not true of the women Paul greeted in Romans, and there’s no suggestion of a divine or universal command in those churches to limit their ministry to certain roles, or to avoid making women the ultimate ‘teacher.’ The only places this is mentioned are Corinth and Ephesus.

Let’s look at those churches. Much of I Corinthians was devoted to order during worship, which (from context) likely had to do with largely uneducated women dressing provocatively and blabbing during church. And like I said, in Ephesus, local women were quite ‘liberated’ in their form of worship. Weighing the evidence from other churches against the history of these two, doesn’t it make more sense that Paul’s words were guidelines for specific situations, rather than universal, normative commands?

I do believe that in general, men and women are called to different roles in the family and church. But God has made us all unique, with different gifts. Not all women have the gift to encourage; not every man can teach. It would be improvident to suggest, based on two passages and the Fall, that we should limit the use — or even the context of the use — of some of God’s gifts to half of His people.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans XVIII: Hockey Fights

04/29/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Originally published May 1, 2007!

In this corner, arguing against fighting in hockey, is Mike!

And in this corner, arguing for fighting in hockey, is Dave!

Hey, I have an idea.

You know hockey? That sport with the small base of rabid fans?

What a sport it is! Such speed, as players fly down the ice; such grace, as the best players weave in and out and around defenders on their way to the net; such precision, as the best shooters pick their spot and put it in the one area the goalie can’t reach; such power, as the best shooters wind up for 100 MPH slapshots that nearly tear the back of the net.

Which brings me to my idea. Let’s clog the ice with goons!

Let’s take that sport, with such a unique combination of athleticism and grace, and let’s make sure every team has at least one guy whose job it is to go out and fight the other team’s one guy. Let’s make sure that the fast, exciting guys (many of whom are from another culture) cower in fear that they might get knocked in the head while Western fans nod appreciatively at the Russian getting his due at long last! Let’s be sure that head shots stay legal and that at least once every game there is a fight with at least one player caught in the flattering “jersey-stuck-over-my-face” pose!

Why would anyone want to watch Sergei Federov or Simon Gagne or Sidney Crosby or Daniel Briere, with their crisp passing and deadly accurate shooting, when we could watch Todd Fedoruk or Colton Orr mangle each other for a while?

Further, let’s make fighting part of an “unwritten code” so that it’s cloaked in romanticism! A near-apocalypse would happen if a dozen (coincidentally?) mostly black NBA players cleared the benches and brawled; lengthy suspensions would result and white America would cluck their tongues at how bad the NBA’s getting. But if we have a “code” for mostly white players to live by, with consequences like getting your teeth knocked out, then suddenly it’s quaint! We can say it’s just part of the game, always has been, and always should be. Hey — Hammurabi had a code! So should we.

What would hockey be without the fighting? Speed, agility, grace, precision, drama? Who would ever watch that?

I am here to defend the use of Goons in hockey. If you don’t know what a Goon is, let me explain. He’s the guy who lumbers off the bench and pulverizes the opponent who dares to initiate, or even attempt to initiate, some type of painful contact with a hockey team’s “skilled” players. A skilled player, of course, has a Russian, Swedish or Finnish name and the same size uniform and skates as the Goon wore in Pee Wee hockey.

I know that the usual tack would be for me to cite the Code, that unwritten (yet often written about) set of laws that serve as the rules of engagement for Goons. I would explain to you that skilled players are valuable assets who need protection and explain how deterrence necessitates fisticuffs — like a safety leveling a wide receiver who catches a pass across the middle, you do it so they think twice the next time they think about doing something they shouldn’t.

But I’m going in a different direction — economic concern. For the Goons.

Here’s the question to consider — what else can these guys do for a living? These are not, as one athlete has said, “the brightest tools in the shed.” These people have struggled to learn human speech and have even found a meaningful way to contribute to society that (usually) doesn’t involve violent crime. Why turn them out?

And Goons are entertaining! During a tense playoff game several years ago between the Flyers and Devils, noted Goon Claude Lemieux (my spell check offers lummox here) was trash talking Flyers captain Eric Desjardins. After a particular rush ended with a Desjardins shot rather than a pass, Lemieux taunted him with the remark, “You always think about yourself first! What does that ‘C’ on your shirt stand for? SELFISH?” And then we have Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion’s now-famous words of wisdom to his Montréal teammates before a big game: “Three things we must do tonight, and that is shoot and pass.”

Where else can the world use men like this? Burger King? Wal*Mart? Sure, but these places seem to have enough imbeciles already, and if they were also huge and muscular, I couldn’t make fun of them anymore. We need to keep fighting in the NHL — to keep Goons employed and off the streets.

Which side are you on?
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Clash of the Titans LXXXI: Prose v Poetry

04/25/2008, 12:30 pm -- by | 4 Comments

In this corner, arguing for the superiority of prose, is Chloe!

And in this corner, fighting on the side of poetry, is Erin!

“I was delayed that afternoon because I had brushed the teeth of a pretty animal that I’m patiently taming. It’s a chameleon. This endearing animal smoked, as usual, some cigarettes, then I left.

I met her on the stairs. “I’m mauving,” she told me, while I myself crystal at full sky I at her look that river towards me.

Then it locks and, maîtresse! You pitcherpin so that at nice vase I sit down if the paths tombs.”
–Desnos

Go ahead. Tell me what that means.

. . .

Yep. I don\’t know, either. That\’s because it\’s poetry, which was never meant to be understood by anyone but the Opium Club.

Think of all your favorite authors when you were little, all the people you learned to read from. Tell me, how many of them were poets? I\’ll wager not a lot, because kids can\’t learn to read on poetry. Why? Because it doesn\’t make sense! And when it does make sense, it\’s talking about feelings or nature or other things that are really, really boring to read about, and have no impact on society whatsoever.

Prose, on the other hand, is not only much easier to understand, but it\’s also really exciting! Are you a science fiction fan? A mystery reader? Narrative and memoir? Do you like straight-up non-fiction about humor, politics, history, or theology? Prose has it all!

And by the way, feel free to show me what Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia would look like in poetry. I would guess that not too many people would read those versions. They wouldn\’t get them, because the author would play around with the words, try to say things in new ways without actually saying them, using things like metaphor and alliteration that tie up your tongue and muddle your brain. Also, they\’d throw in archaic words and references to heathen gods we\’ve never heard of because we\’re good people.

With prose, on the other hand, we can learn about all sorts of different subjects, and authors can communicate important ideas and cultural phenomena. Sound boring? This is exactly what Lewis did with Narnia and Pratchett does with his Discworld series. One draws you into a new and exciting world, while the other keeps you on the floor laughing! When was the last time poetry had you on the floor laughing?

Poetry is nice, I\’m sure, for those ten people in the United States who get it. For the rest of us, though, prose is the more interesting, accessible way to go.

I was in third grade when I discovered poetry. It was during “reading” class, and I had just discovered the amazing talent of tuning people out. We had 20 minutes of silent reading time, to be followed by the rest of our regular class time. Halfway through silent reading, I came across the word “fuchsia,” and I stopped.

Who invented a word like “fuchsia?” I knew it was a color, but what did it mean? I put down my book, picked up my pencil and paper, and proceeded to sit through the rest of silent reading and the first fifteen minutes of class writing about what I thought fuchsia could be. And that was my first poem.

Why tell you this? Because I think that poetry is about something deeper than the conveying of information: it\’s about the beauty inherent in everything that there is to convey. Even tragedy or atrocity point to what could be beautiful and no longer is.

Poetry isn\’t necessarily about an argument, or a description, or a collection of thought; and that is why it is wonderful. Taking words that would not normally complement each other, kneading them into submission (but never entirely!), and hoping that what you come up with will catch someone\’s soul besides your own — that is one way to look at poetry.

In more formal verse, the challenge is to go beyond the rules — of expression, depth, etc. — while obeying the rules of form and meter. Such a collision of goals results in poetry that constantly seems like it is trammeling up a few drops of what really is inside of what we can perceive, like oxygen inside a beaker. We can\’t really see the gas, but the form of the glass contains it just long enough for us to get a sense of what it\’s like.

Prose, while able to accomplish more in the areas of formal cataloguing of knowledge, information, and advertisement, can claim no advantage over poetry in storytelling, social commentary, persuasion, or celebration. Many of the greatest contributions to literature (Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, to name just a few) contain what? That\’s right, poetry — because it expresses beauty, emotion, and that tugging behind your navel that means that something important is going on.

And just look at the tomes of prose in the world — anything from tax law to textbooks, poorly written novels to theological treatises — where do we draw the line on what gets published? What is quality? What communicates well? Poetry must work much harder to prove its worth, and the poet to prove her or his gift.

What we have to decide is what is more important to us: the dry, systemic, and categorical communication of human experience in truth that is prose, or the vibrant, painful, beautiful communication that is poetry.

Which side are you on?
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