Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Dia De Los Muertos

I experienced my first Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, with a friend from Snohomish. It was helpful as she speaks fluent Spanish, and so could translate much of what I saw, both in language and culture.

We began with paintings of sugar skulls. It was very hard not to lick them while we painted. Mine had all the extra blood.

I must admit some trepidation about the holiday. I support reverence of ancestors and those that have passed. Yet I don't believe that we can communicate with the dead, being that they are in sheol (see my previous post). And I think that veneration of the dead can easily lead into worship, when we expect something from the dead as supernatural beings, or treat them in the same way as we do deities.

Yet at the same time, I really appreciate the comfortability with death expressed within this cultural holiday, as my Snohomish friend pointed out. In America we are often so removed from death, where it takes place in nursing homes and hospitals and not in our home; where advanced medicine often restricts death to the very old. Here there is a reminder of the monks of old, contemplating skulls to remember our own mortality and the immortality of God.

There was also some beautiful Dia De Los Muertos art, and even a cemetary in the building, that looked like the real thing.

Enfusing all the air were pleasant Latin strains.
Sadly, the festival was a bit small. So we wandered beyond, through the Seattle Center, till we came to a Japanese bell, begging to be rung.




Monday, 29 October 2007

I Will Fight No More Forever

There's a movie out there that's just incredible. I just watched it. It's called Soldiers of Conscience, and it's all about conscientious objectors, who realized what they believe when they were already in the US military, and fighting in Iraq.

I was stunned. First off, while the producers have a definite perspective- that war is wrong- this is not a Michael Moore style movie. It is also incredibly balanced and fair, even in its treatment of those who are supportive of the use of violence. One of the primary commentators in the movie is a philosopher-soldier-professor at West Point, sharing about the ethical nature of violence- and making some pretty good arguments. The producers were up-front with their perspective and what they were doing (unlike some other movies like Expelled), and even had permission from the US Army to film. They sent out advance copies to drill sergeants shown in the movie, and gave them the option to have themselves removed from the movie if they felt the portrayal was inaccurate or unflattering.

And yet, this is a powerful condemnation of war. It is a powerful support for the right to not kill, and the right to be a CO, even when in the military. It brings home the war like nothing else I've seen- so strongly that there were numerous times that I had to turn away from the screen. The movie shows what would bring brave men to realize that killing can not be justified, and that they can fight no more forever. And it shows the huge fight they face once they've made this decision.

Two elements struck me. One, was that in military studies of WWII, they found that only 1 out of 4 men would use their weapons in the field of battle. One out of four decided they could not fire at another human being. Rather than celebrating this, the military saw this as a problem. So they began training their soldiers to do "reflexive firing"- so that they would kill without thinking or contemplating the morality of the action. The soldiers are now trained to do that. The result has been that, in every successive war, the percentage of soldiers firing their weapons has steadily increased, until in the first Gulf War it was around 90%, and the carnage of this war is unseen before in US military history.

Secondly, the moment of crystallization of conscience that came to a conservative Republican evangelical soldier, when he realized his paradigm shift, was when he was in Abu Ghaib, interviewing an admitted Jihadist. The Jihadist challenged him, that he was not following Christ's teaching to turn the other cheek. Here was a Jihadist Muslim preaching the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soldiers of Conscience is playing Nov 2nd - 8th at the SIFF Cinema in Seattle. See the film's website for when it is playing in a theatre near you.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The One Where a Woman Preached at Mars Hill

As a follow up to the previous post, today I actually went to Mars Hill for the first time. I found some aspects very engaging and encouraging, and others not so much.

For the positive, let me say the music was outrageous. They had a full band up there, with electric guitar, keyboard, and drums, and they were rocking the house. This wasn't just a show, here-we-are-entertain-us bit either. They were able to make modern contextual music that was fun, and you could sing to. And they even used ancient hymns, like It is Well With My Soul, and for the first time I was enjoying singing hymns! What a difference a syncopated beat makes.
Also, as many have said, this was a professional show. Backdrops were designed specifically for the sermon series. There were audiovisual elements galore, and videos produced with a quality that you'd see on network TV, complete with complex CGI. I was impressed.

Tonight, Mark Driscoll spoke on death, suffering, and the afterlife. The central text was from Philippians, that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. And this is where it began to get a bit wack.

The sermon was long. Not a criticism as much as difficult for me. I would have liked some more time of meditation, or worship, rather than listening to Mark for about an hour. But the beginning of the sermon was very moving, as he described his own personal experiences with death. I would have liked it if he'd stayed on that track. It was when he preached that he hopes his wife would die before him that it got a little weird.

Yes, I can hear his reasoning. He wants to provide for his wife all her life. While there is a bit of a patriarchal element in that, there's also a good bit of love and caring. Still, it's a little bit odd to hear a guy preaching that he daily prays that his wife would die before him.

It was here that I received the greatest encouragement in the sermon, and not actually from Mark. A couple times during the sermon he stopped for a short video, and one time was for an interview with a pastor's wife at Mars Hill who is likely to die from cancer by Christmas of this year. It was incredibly moving, and what she had to say about her impending death and faith in Christ was profound. And it struck me that in this way, a woman could preach in front of the congregation at Mars Hill, as long as she was on video.

Then he began to preach on cosmology. I'm not sure why he didn't stay closer to the central sermon text. There's a lot of good that can be said about the idea of living for Christ, but we never really got around to it. Instead, it was Mark Driscoll's personal cosmology. And this is a cosmology worth of Origen's imagination- minus Origen's caveats to not take him too seriously.

Mark preached against the ideas of universal salvation, purgatory, and the concept that the soul sleeps while waiting for final judgement. In the process, he confused the terms universalism with universal salvation, a common error that results in the condemnation of those that believe in universal salvation as heretics denying the divinity of Jesus. Using a parable, that of Lazarus and the rich man, Mark constructed a cosmology wherein we go to Paradise or Hades while waiting for final judgement. But Paradise and Hades no longer exist, he said- when Christ came he abolished both. Now we go straight to Heaven or Hell, but we will have no resurrected body until that judgement.

It's not that I disagree with Mark's points. I do, but that's not the point. It was that he was so dogmatic about them. He was preaching that this was the way. And while many Christians have believed parts of what he is saying, even many theologians, and some early Church Fathers, it is not the only belief. Mark was arguing from disputed texts, about issues that are not clear-cut in theology, but are rather speculative. He repeatedly used phrases such as "this belief is common but it is wrong", and did the same with his denial of sheol. (Whereas the ancient Hebrews believed that we went to the grave and there was no afterlife, and the New Testament seems to clearly point to the idea of a waiting place before Judgement day, it is commonly seen in Western Protestant Christianity that we go straight to Heaven or Hell.) Indeed, while the Early Church Fathers certainly had widely diverging opinions on this, Justin Martyr condemned those who believe that we go straight to Heaven, saying that they are Gnostics and no Christian (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p197). The majority of the Early Church Fathers affirmed that we go to a waiting place, which they called Hades- and which was the standard translation of the Hebrew Sheol, or grave. Hades was not the equivalent of hell, or at least not the modern translation of that word- and for this reason modern translations do not translate Hades with hell, but instead use "everlasting punishment" to refer to hell.

All of this deals with highly speculative stuff. It might be that I die and go to Heaven and find out Mark was right. It might be that I die and go to Sheol and meet Mark on Judgement Day, and I'm right. But the point is there really isn't enough certainty in this matter to preach from the pulpit that one particular way is The Truth. This is especially true if you are developing ideas from parables, like that Paradise and Hades were abolished with Christ's resurrection. That's just bad exegesis, to rely on a parable for cosmology.

Lastly, Mark repeated a common American Christian myth- that, at some point in the future, we will go to Heaven. The New Testament is quite clear, that the future home of humanity is the New Earth, and not the New Heaven. Now, granted, I only realized this myself relatively recently. I'm not going to hold Mark to a higher standard than I hold myself. But the belief that we will go to Heaven has rather pernicious results, as it has often lead to a lack of care for this planet that we are on, resulting in cataclysmic effects that we will be dealing with for generations. And again, Mark was dogmatic about what he was saying in this matter as well.

I appreciated his focus on suffering, and that this is normative for Christianity. I could even enjoy philosophical speculations on cosmology. But it is the approach I question. It was not given as speculation, but as dogma. And looking out at the crowd of hundreds, 6,000 every Sunday, mostly in their 20s- these young men and women will generally know very little about theology or early church history. They will accept what Mark says as Gospel, not having the training to investigate and question it. And they will go forth from that meeting having learned something new, knowing now the truth, and not realizing that they have been taught one narrow, rather imaginative viewpoint of the future.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The church of the mountain of the god of war.

Mars Hill is the largest church in Seattle, and one of the largest and fastest growing in the United States. It is also one of the most controversial churches in Seattle. Tomorrow I shall visit this seed of controversy.

Admittedly, Seattle's more on the liberal side, as cities go. But Mars Hill would find Iowa a bit too liberal. Mark Driscoll, the pastor, advocates that women should not be in leadership, that we should not refer to God as female, and that women should please their husbands. He teaches his church that the Bible should be read literally in most cases. So far, it's not that different from many churches in America, and on some of these issues, the majority of churches.

But it's the approach of Mars Hill that's different. For they are cutting edge, appealing to post-modern life, with "metachurch". Right now, you can decide what the pastor's sermons will be on in January. As you enter the foyer, you see hip art and popular music like rockabilly and Indie Rock. They're high-tech, with live feed to various satellite campuses around the Seattle area. The pastor uses modern language and speaks in a relaxed style. So far, it's all the kinds of things I like- it's the kinds of things I think every church should be, in its own culture, and sadly things far too few churches in America follow.

But it's the combination of these two elements that is concerning. For to silence critics, the church's website describes themselves as moderate "complimentarians" - they are not like those liberal egalitarians who just try to please the culture, or those conservatives that say a woman shouldn't lead. For Mars Hill believes that women should lead, but just not as elders or pastors. In this, they use language that certainly deceives. Moderate sounds great; but the complimentarian approach is not viewed as moderate. It is seen as a subsection of the traditional approach, and not much of a subsection at that. Indeed, the term is often used synonymously with traditionalism. The view that Mars Hill advocates is actually the majority view of conservative Christians, who for a long time have described themselves as following the "traditional" approach, rather than the "complimentarian". But by reframing their position as moderate, Mars Hill sounds better.

But Mark goes on. For his upbeat, post-modern approach leads to old beliefs in more attractive packaging. Women should put the needs of the home before their work. The Mars Hill website highlights the percentages of men and women, since a big goal in coming to the church should be finding your mate, and specifically, the woman finding her place in life. Since a quarter of Seattle Pacific University now attends Mars Hill (yes, a quarter!), many women at that Christian college are slowly switching majors to more traditional female majors. They are encouraged to remember their role in finding a good man to settle down with. Their role is to be a good wife first, caring for the home, and the career is optional. A married man might stray if the woman "lets herself go", as might have happened with Ted Haggard. So a woman should work to make herself attractive, to get the guy, and to keep the guy. That's her responsibility. Feminist guys are by implication gay, and are against the masculinity of God. (Let me stress, I am reducing the wording here, as a verbatim quote would be really too offensive for this blog. Remember Mark's desire for updated language.)

Mark derides other churches for having female leaders. His style is often very combative against those he disagrees with- it's part of the post-modern image. Mars Hill even attacks Bible translations, like the NRSV, for its feminist and pro-homosexual language. Inaccurately attacks them, it turns out, and I'd suggest it couldn't be anything else than purposely misleading. For the church website declares that the NRSV has "wrongly translated male and female in Genesis 1.27 as the androgynous humankind". This is an attempt, Mars Hill states, to remove the idea that there are differences in gender, and make us all the same, denying the actions of our Creator.

The only problem is that the NRSV doesn't say that. The NRSV is a great book for not only using gender neutral language, but using it when it is appropriate, for the commitment to the original Hebrew. So the NRSV translates Genesis 1.26 & 27 as "26 Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." The word adamah there refers to both a man, and humanity. The context lends weight to the idea of humanity. The word is not seen as androgynous, but inclusive. The NRSV at no point replaces "male and female", but rather continues to include it when it occurs in the Hebrew, as you can see in verse 27. That male and female are referenced only lends support to the translation of the word as humanity earlier, rather than man. Yet the Mars Hill site very clearly gives the impression that humankind is used here in place of male and female. As you can see, it is quite clear that the NRSV continues to use the words male and female.

Finally, I recently suddenly realized that Mars Hill is named after a foreign deity. Oh, I know the intention, to refer to the famous speech by Paul in Athens. Yet still, there's something unsettling about this. It's like having a Christian church named First Church of Venus, or Apollo Community Church. It doesn't help matters that Mars is the god of war, and the pastor of this particular church tends to be so contentious and attacking of other Christian groups.

With all of this research, and admittedly biased viewpoint, I decided to brave the experience, gird my loins, beard the lion, visit the den, and exhaust my cliches. Come tomorrow to find out what happened.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Notes from Open Worship

During Open Worship today (that Quaker thing where you sit in silence and listen to God), an image came, for the first time in a long time. It was an airport, with a series of low buildings, like out of an Old Western, and beyond, a great plain of igneous rock. The rocky plain was clearer than the buildings. And I felt with great strength, that I would go there.

On a hunch, I looked up a couple pictures. This is how the place looked that I saw in the vision. Its the airport of Hadibu, in Suqutra.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

12/9/07

I think it's important to speak truth. To do it parabolically, and provocatively, as Jesus did, so that people are willing to think new thoughts.

I used to have a beautiful green Hyundai, covered with bumper stickers. I had to give it up when I went to Morocco. But through the wonder of photos, I was able to retrieve all of my old bumper stickers, and then some. (Minus the one that said, "Reelect Gore in 2004.") And I was worried there wouldn't be room on the back of an American car- but I've even got space for two more!

A silver T-Bird just doesn't scream Abdul Muhib. But this back does. Now my baby's got back.

Some bumper stickers I just couldn't find, like one saying President Obama. But that's the magic of Makestickers.com. (Thank you Anne!)






Since you can't see some of them, I'll translate with hovertext:
Any society that gives up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

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Hard to get ΙΧΘΥΣ with feet. Unless you write it in with white-out.



I got inspired from some of the posters I've been putting up for my church, and created a couple others at Make Stickers.com. I could choose between a picture of Bush or Ossama. I went with this- I think we have a greater need to see an Arab Muslim terrorist as in the image of God.
I do believe that we should be willing to speak the truth of love, even if there is danger involved. And that, far too often in America, we stop in speaking the truth because we are concerned with fitting in with the culture. Yes, we should do that- but in form alone. Our content should be that of the Kingdom. And there is, I firmly believe, less persecution in America because we have been less of the Church. If the blood of the martyrs is truly the seed of the church, then woe to that church that no longer is willing to pick up its cross.
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This isn't about being killed. It's about following Christ- which must involve the willingness to potentially face the ultimate sacrifice, and the ultimate reward.
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So, I've been having a contest, to find out which of these will get me killed first on the freeways. Also, what the date will be. You can't take Dec 9th- I've already got money on that one. Winner gets my life insurance policy.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Birth & Bowling

Bowling reminds me of Morocco. We would head up North to the capitol, Rabat, and go bowling and ice skating in the only alley and rink in the country. I bowled more in Morocco than anywhere else in my life. And since there's no historical bowling in Morocco, they use the English word for it, which is particularly juicy, since the word for pee is bowl, and to say I pee is can bowl. Which just allows for no end of fun.

Tonight me, my brother Kent and his wife Trina, my friends Adrian and Eric, as well as Janette of GWA, all gathered at the Garage, and bowled. The Garage is a converted...garage, and has some rather cool decor, as you can see. (I forgot my camera, so we have to use video for all of this.)

It was an intimate gathering with candles that wouldn't quit. (That's Janette's voice you can hear over the video.)

I was struck with how much more primitive the bowling technology was, as compared to when I bowled in a 2/3rds world country. Here it was buttons you pushed. Morocco used computerized touch pads. A brief flasback to halcyon Moroccan bowling:

The three of us who bowled tonight all did pretty well, each getting a couple strikes. I almost won the round, for the first time. But Kent went and pulled a strike at the last frame, winning the round by 4 points.

Of course, back in Morocco, my videorecorder had no sound. Makes a world of difference when you can hear a pin drop.
I dressed the part, finding a plad shirt. Eric truly looked the part, with some fine form.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Severe Drought in Suqutra

I want to put a shout out for an urgent prayer request. It would appear that Suqutra, that island I want to go to, is going through an intense drought right now, the 2nd worst in living memory. On an island of 45,000 people, where livestock are the mainstay of life, 100's of sheep and cattle have died. Suqutra regularly has regular dry periods throughout the year, but this is far worse than the norm. Poverty is extreme on Suqutra, so most can't afford the water tankers, and the traditional built cisterns have dried up. Those that haven't are contaminated with parasites. Some people have been forced into internal migration to survive. But there are no easy answers. Keeping livestock alive through severe droughts could upset the ecological balance, something very precarious on an isolated island of 1400 square miles with a high rate of endemic species and a unique ecology. For thousands of years the people have had natural ways of living with the environment to sustain themselves and the island- something necessitated if they are to survive, with the limited island resources. However, increasing ecotourism and modernization in the last 15 years have created greater pressures on land, and this drought only makes things worse.

Please pray for
  • The welfare of the people. That their needs would be met, for food and water. That they would survive this with physical needs met and joy in their hearts.

  • The welfare of the land. That the livestock would be sustained, and that the wild animals and plants would not be decimated by this drought.

  • That the right solutions will be found, to remain in shalom with the land, resisting the pressures of modern technology and drought. I believe this requires miraculous intervention in ingenuity, and I have no answers, but I know one who does.

Cruisin with the T Bird

Well, I did it. I took the plunge, and bought a car. T Bird sounds pretty fly- a lot more than how the 95 LX looks. It sounds like a muscle car too- with a cold. But it was only $800, and I got a great deal from Geico. (Good rates, even if their TV show is awful.) I've come to realize I no longer live in a city where I can cross the entire city for only $5. And for dating, it doesn't matter how egalitarian I might be, or the modern world has become- it's harder for a guy to be carless than it is for a woman. A crappy car can say the guy's into simplicity- but he needs a car. She needs to know that, if she's in need, he can be there. And Flexcar just doesn't say that.

So I used Craigslist for the first time, and got this Thunderbird- my first American car. And while American is not a natural fit for me (I'd rather contribute to the debt America owes the rest of the world for living off it's back), it does open a whole new world for me. Suddenly the American dream of freedom is open to me again. I can decide on a whim to go anywhere in the city, any night- without checking the bus schedule, getting the wrong information, and waiting an hour at bus stops. Any weekend I can take that trip to the Scablands I've been wanting to, and see the remains of what is perhaps the largest flood in historical times. But most of all, I can drive people around. When you don't have a car, or a reasonable home, you can't have people over, or have them use your car. And tonight - Tonight, I received the opportunity to drive a friend home. That's what having a car is all about.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

An Aquarial Evening

Yes. Now that I have a video camera I will be posting more videos.

The aquarium was kind enough to host an evening gala party for all of it's volunteers, and I took the opportunity to get some quality video of some of my good friends.

Some of the images on my walk to the aquarium...

There are four kinds of Pinnipeds: walruses, seals, sea lions, and fur seals. The seal uses it's tail for propulsion and it's pectoral fins for steering, can't walk well on land, and has no external ears. The sea lions and fur seals use their pects for propulsion and their tail for steering, can walk on land, and have external ear flaps. Basically, the fur seals and sea lions are more adapted to an amphibious lifestyle rather than strictly marine.
A look at 400 million year old sharks and white sturgeon.
These guys are true seals, Harbor Seals.



The Giant Pacific Octopus.

Windows on Washington Waters- the main window, and the half-moon window.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Thank you, Amazon

After reviewing for the last six years, for the first time Amazon sent out a little somethin somethin to the top reviewers! In order to encourage more video reviews, many of us received a $150 video camera, Flip Video. It has a built-in flashdrive, so you don't need to boot up with a CD, but can load your videos directly up to U Tube or Amazon.com. The joy is I now have a camera that can record audio as well, and am not restricted to the simple video within my digital camera of previous.

I don't know that I'll take Amazon up much on doing video reviews. I prefer the glory of the written word. But I felt a video review was highly appropriate for a video camera.