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Stanley Hauerwas on War, American History, and Christian Identity

Can I Be Your Friend?

This one’s too much fun. Take a few minutes to watch this video and see how creepy Facebook behavior really is – in the real world at least.

Dorothy Sayers on the Lost Tools of Learning (and a happy birthday)

Today marks Dorothy Sayers‘ 118th birthday (June 13, 1893). Writer, theologian, poet, essayist, and playwright, Sayers did it all. And, she did it amazingly well.

To commemorate her birthday, here are some excerpts from her essay on The Lost Tools of Learning. Regardless of whether you agree with her argument that we need to return to medieval models of education (and the way this argument has been used by the classical and home schooling movements), her comments on the importance of learning to think are outstanding:

Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?


Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer.” Why do I say, “as though”? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this—requiring a child to “express himself” in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to “give himself the feel of the tool.”


For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education—lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It's an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

Was Sarah Palin right? Yes and no. But more no than yes.

I hate getting drawn into these discussions. Normally I would just ignore the small uproar surrounding Sarah Palin’s comments on Paul Revere, since that’s rather far removed from my normal blogging interests. But, I did post the video as part of our normal Saturday morning fun, so now I fell compelled to comment on recent reports that Sarah Palin was right.

No she wasn’t. Just stop it.

According to the LA Times, Sarah Palin’s version of Paul Revere’s ride was correct, and the media’s response is yet another example of the media reacting quickly and ignorantly to politicians’ statements. So, like Al Gore, George Bush, and Dan Quayle, Palin has been unfairly branded by this unfortunate response.

Now, at least part of the LA Times story is correct. Some have focused almost exclusively on Palin’s claim that Paul Revere warned the British. Since many people were not aware that Revere was captured by the British and that he did warn them about the colonial militia, they assumed that she had gotten the story exactly backwards. So, they were mistaken in focusing on this part of Palin’s claim.

But, that doesn’t mean she was right.

Here’s what she said:

He warned the British that they weren’t gonna be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells, and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free.

So, she has Paul Revere warning the British by riding through town, ringing bells, and apparently firing off warning shots. This is the part of her story that was so wrong. First, he didn’t ring any bells or fire any warning shots. He probably didn’t even yell. The whole idea was to spread the word without getting caught (which didn’t work very well anyway). So, secrecy was more important than noise.

But, more importantly, he certainly wasn’t riding around and making as much noise as possible to warn the British. The purpose of his ride was to warn the colonists. He didn’t warn the British until after he was captured. So, his warning to the British had nothing to do with his historic ride  (regarding which so many myths have been spread).

So, Sarah Palin was wrong. She wasn’t as wrong as people have suggested. But, she was still wrong. It happens all the time. And, it probably happens with popular history more often than anywhere (except religion). As James McGrath pointed out, though, the issue isn’t whether you or the people you admire make mistakes, but whether you’re willing to recognize and admit those mistakes when they happen. Apparently, a lot of people aren’t.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It's an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

Sex, murder, and preaching: How much is too much for Sunday morning?

Some analogies stick with you. They embed themselves deep within your psyche. You could probably get rid of them with enough counseling or some seriously strong medication. But, short of that, they’re probably yours for the rest of your life.

I remember one in particular. My youth pastor was preaching that Sunday, and he usually started by warming us up with an entertaining story. That’s what a good comedian preacher does, right? This Sunday was no different.

“Have you seen Top Gun?” he began. The congregation tensed immediately. My youth pastor was known for taking sermons in interesting directions. And, this certainly sounded like it might qualify. “Do you know the part where Goose bets Maverick that he has to get ‘carnal knowledge’ of a girl in the bar before the night is over?” He continued. “And, to pull it off, they end up singing ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’….”

To be honest I don’t remember anything after that. Did he really just manage to combine alcohol, gambling, and sex in one sermon analogy? That’s impressive. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he somehow managed to relate this to a Bible verse somewhere. But, I really have no idea.

How much is too much in a sermon?

A similar question came up a while back as I was reflecting on theological themes in Dexter, a TV show about a serial killer. The show does an outstanding job illustrating brokenness, loneliness, alienation, hope, longing, and sin, among other things (see these video clips). So, it’s ripe with sermon illustrations. The problem is that most of them would be pretty “edgy.” He is, after all, a serial killer. So, we’re not talking about family friendly fare.

Would you use stuff like this in a sermon? It’s real, but is it appropriate?

Should a sermon be rated R?

I found myself reflecting on the same questions a few days ago, but from a very different direction. Carl Trueman posted some thoughts on how hard it was to preach through Judges 19, in which a woman is raped, murdered and dismembered. How do you preach that story to a congregation filled with people of all ages, backgrounds, and sensitivities? Sure it’s in the Bible, but does that make it okay for Sunday morning? And, if so, does that make some of these other examples fair game? Dexter is no more graphic than Judges.

How much is too much for Sunday morning?

As always, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. But, I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those of you who preach regularly. How do you think about your analogies? Do you ever find yourself struggling over whether a particular analogy is “appropriate”? How do you decide? How do you balance the need to connect the hard and dirty realities that are part of everyday life, with contemporary sensibilities? Should we be “earthier” in our sermons? Or, would that just be capitulating to the more debased aspects of modern culture?

10 Fascinating Facebook Facts – and what they say about us

Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, wrote a piece for CNN today on 10 Fascinating Facebook Facts – and what they say about us, drawing on insights generated by several recent studies about Facebook users and their habits.

With more than 600 million people actively using Facebook, these studies in fact provide a deeper understanding of our evolving cultural norms: our values, our morals and our changing relationships between one another.

One of the more interesting facts:

3. People in Facebook relationships are happier than single people

In February 2010, Facebook marked Valentine’s Day by comparing the relationship status of its users to their happiness — this was surmised based on the level of positive or negative sentiment in the user’s Facebook updates.

The result: Those in relationships were found to be slightly happier than single people. Those who were married or engaged were also happier than single people on average.

However, Facebook users in an “open relationship” — where the partners are not exclusive to one another — were significantly less happy than single people. Monogamy, it seems, makes us happy.

Read the rest here.

Francis Chan and Erasing Hell

Ok Ok!!  I know everyone is tired of hearing about hell.  I myself checked out about a month ago.  However, since it had been a while since I checked in I thought I would see if anyone had posted anything fresh on the issue.  I was optimistically hoping to find a response from Rob Bell clarifying his position.  To this point I have not, but I did find a promo video for Francis (I literally almost wrote Jackie) Chan’s new book, Erasing Hell.  Don’t worry he’s just asking some good thought provoking questions.  The book sounds like a respectful  and thoughtful response (IN WHICH I NOW MAKE A BIG DISCLAIMER THAT I HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK YET!  THUS I AM NOT ENDORSING NOR DEFAMING IT!!!).

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Bill Maher on why most Christians are no more Christian than he is

In this video, Bill Maher takes on evangelicalism, torture, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Now, just as fair warning, if you are a supporter of any one of those three things, there’s probably going to be something in the video that you won’t like. And, if you support two or more, you’ll probably hate it.

And, I should also mention that this is Bill Maher, so the video does contain some language. Not too much, but he likes to be naughty on occasion for shock

So, if he’s just picking on evangelicals and swearing, why post the video? Two reasons. (1) It’s a clear depiction of how many non-Christians view evangelicals. (2) He gets a lot of things right. It’s a short monologue intended to be humorous, so it’s hopelessly simplistic and reductionistic in places. But, his critique of evangelicals who pay more attention to political ideology than the Bible is spot on.

He opens the video with

New rule: If you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

And, his closing thought hits the same theme theme even harder.

If you ignore every single thing Jesus told you to do, you’re not a Christian. You’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans. And, if you believe the earth was given to you to kick a#@ on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian. You’re a Texan.

Check out the rest of the video and let me know what you think.

HT Jason Goroncy via FB

Channeling Desire: A Theological Vision for Celibacy and Sexuality

Celibacy. No sex. At all. Talk to most people today about celibacy and you’ll probably get one of two reactions, possibly both:

  1. It’s impossible. Anyone who claims to be celibate is lying, or will be soon.
  2. It’s unhealthy. Sex is an essential part of being human that you shouldn’t just give up.

And, to support their convictions, many will appeal to the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years. “See,” they’ll say. “Those priests tried to give up sex and they failed because it’s just not possible.” Or they’ll argue, “Look what happens when you try to give up such an essential part of being human. It’s just not healthy.”


Protestants seem particularly fond of such arguments, pointing at clerical celibacy as one of the more absurd aspects of Catholic dogma.

But, as Sarah Coakley points out in her article, “Taming Desire: Celibacy, Sexuality, and the Church,” a real theology of desire requires much deeper reflection. Coakley argues that if we look at how people respond to both clerical celibacy and homosexuality, we’ll find several, deeply-rooted problems.

1. There is both a widespread pessimism that celibacy is even possible and a shared consensus that certain forms of sexuality should never be expressed. So, we maintain that (clerical) celibacy is impossible, and at the same time we tell “sexual deviants” that they should remain celibate.

2. There is a focus on issues surrounding homosexuality and a corresponding neglect of the problems that plague so many heterosexual relationships. So, we spend considerable time discussing gay clerics, but devote surprisingly little attention to divorced clerics.

3. There is a tendency to view celibacy and marriage as opposites: one involving no sex, and the other as much sex as possible.

Coakely uses these three to demonstrate that popular sexual thought is deeply conflicted.

She then turns to an interesting discussion of Freudian sublimation. Unlike the common notion that Freud viewed all sexual sublimation as repressive and unhealthy, she points out that Freud’s more mature thought saw sublimation as a necessary channeling of energy toward other ends. So, even Freud could be a champion of celibacy, as long as it was a healthy redirection of energy and attention toward worthy goals.

Having dispatched the supposed anti-celibacy champion, Coakley turns her attention to Gregory of Nyssa as an example of a Christian thinker who saw sexuality as something that could be channeled toward a greater purpose. Referring to Gregor’s “On Virginity,” she says:

Indeed, what is truly interesting about Gregory’s treatise is the image that lies at the heart of the argument. It is the metaphor of the “stream” of desire, and of its right direction, use, and even intensification in relation to God. In this task, Gregory says, both celibates and married people are equally involved as a life-long ascetical exercise (“ascetical,” of course, here referring to the practice of disciplining and training one’s body, of learning, in other words, self-control).

It might be thought that Gregory intends this intensification of desire towards God as mutually exclusive with a sexually-active life in marriage. But interestingly, he repeats the same metaphor of the stream precisely to explain how sex in marriage can be a “good irrigation” provided it, too, is ordered in relation to God and so made “moderate” in comparison with the intensified and unified stream that desire for God demands.

It is not, then, to suppress passion that Gregory’s treatise is written, but actually (as stated by Gregory at the very outset) precisely to “create passion” for “the life according to excellence.” And so Gregory lauds virginity, not on account of its sexlessness, but because of its withdrawal from worldly interests.

So, she argues that “Gregory’s vision of desire as thwarted, chastened, transformed, renewed and finally intensified through its relations to God…represents a way beyond and through the false modern alternatives of ‘repression’ and ‘libertinism’.” Placing the discussion in a much broader theological framework, we can see that sexual desire is not an end in itself and break free from the constraints of modern sexual discourse.

When it comes to specific ethical issues, I’m sure that Sarah Coakley and I would differ significantly. But, she has done a great job here identifying the weakness of our modern notions of sexuality. We consistently reduce it to particular forms of sexual expression/repression. Instead, we need “to re-invest the debate with a theological and spiritual wisdom too long forgotten.” She is well-aware that this will not make the arguments go away, they are too complex for that, but she’s right to argue that this is a necessary step forward.

If you’d like to read further on some of the issues involved in developing a theological vision of sexuality, here are a couple of other posts on the subject:


The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities

Forbes magazine just put out its list of the 1oo Most Powerful Celebrities. This list factors in their total annual income, TV/radio rank, press rank, web rank, and social media rank,  to determine the total overall influence of each celebrity. Based on these criteria, here are the 10 most powerful celebrities in the world today:

  1. Lady Gaga
  2. Oprah Winfrey
  3. Justin Bieber
  4. U2
  5. Elton John
  6. Tiger Woods
  7. Taylor Swift
  8. Bon Jovi
  9. Simon Cowell
  10. LeBron James

We had an interesting discussion a while back about Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the World. And, most of the commenters agreed that the Time list was really more an indication of celebrity status than influence (unless the two are equated in some way). The Forbes list at least makes it clear that we’re dealing with celebrities, though it still equates “powerful” with media influence. Although I have to agree that this is true to some degree, I don’t have to like it.

And, I’m not even going to bother commenting about the people on this list. Why bother. Justin Beiber? Again? I’m going to bed.

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