Flotsam and jetsam (12/28)

It’s all a snow job by nature. The reality is, we’re freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.

It is unfortunate that we divide action and contemplation. It is unfortunate that we sometimes suspect those who pursue a robust inner life.

In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod’s grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments….All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.

A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said teeth found in the cave are about 400,000 years old and resemble those of other remains of modern man, known scientifically as Homo sapiens, found in Israel. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half as old.

  • Jason Goroncy offers a very helpful summary of 12 ways to prematurely write off Yoder. If you’re interested in John Howard Yoder, anabaptism, or “constantinianism”, you should check it out.

Short Review: God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark

In God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (HarperOne, 2010), Rodney Stark offers an interesting, and different, take on the Crusades. According to Stark, we should not see the Crusades as expressions of European aggression, colonialism, or religious intolerance. This picture of the Crusades is largely, if not exclusively, the result of Enlightenment thinking and its strident criticisms of institutional Christianity. Instead, he contends that the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic wars of aggression, persecution of those on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the Turkish threat to Constantinople. In effect, he is pushing back against the idea that the Crusades were a time when brutal, ignorant Christians ravaged the peaceful, cultured Muslim lands.

There were several features of the book that I found most interesting. First, was Stark’s claim that the Crusades were not a prominent feature of Muslim rhetoric until the modern era:

Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. (9)

I also appreciated Stark’s argument that we often overemphasize the cultural superiority of Muslim societies over those of the European “Dark Ages.” He specifically identified technological developments in transportation, agriculture, and warfare as evidence of significant cultural creativity and advancement by European societies.

And, Stark did a very nice job discussing the motivations of the Crusaders, arguing (convincingly, I think) that they were motivated more by their perceived need for penance and a desire to liberate the Holy Land than by a lust for power or wealth. (I didn’t realize that as few as 10-15% of Frankish knights ever went on Crusade, reinforcing the idea that the Crusades were not seen as a quick avenue to power and prestige.)

I did think that Stark’s argument stretched a little thin in places and that he could have done more to recognize the dark side of the Crusades. Nonetheless, his basic conclusion was compelling and interesting:

The thrust of the preceding chapters can be summarized very briefly. The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.

Animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was”

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Santa Claus was actually a tortured soul trapped in endless bondage to his mind-numbing task? Probably not. But fortunately, Neil Gaiman is the kind of person who thinks about such things and his creepy Christmas poem “Nicholas Was,” which explores this very idea, has recently been put to animation. Here’s the fabulous result.

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http://vimeo.com/17911948

My Five Faves of 2010 (music)

To close out the year, I thought I’d offer up my own list of favorites from the past year in music, books, and TV/movies. I’m not going to make any attempt to claim that these reflect the actual best offerings in those categories – only that these are the ones I liked best.

So, to start things off, here are my five favorite albums from 2010 (in no particular order):

  • High Violet, The National
  • God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, Ray LaMontagne
  • Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons
  • Brothers, The Black Keys
  • The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: Glee soundtracks

Flotsam and jetsam (12/27)

This article challenges that belief by questioning some of Dembski’s assumptions, pointing out some limitations of his analysis, and arguing that a design inference is necessarily a faith-based rather than a scientific inference.

I conclude that most if not all of Foucault’s condemnatory remarks concerning the subject are not intended as a death sentence for the subject per se; rather, his objective is to lay to rest a particular socio-historical construction of the subject and subjectivity. That is, Foucault’s critique is directed expressly at themodern construction of an ahistorical, autonomous subject as sovereign originator of meaning, one untainted by his own particular historical and socio-political context.

Pride - Plagiarism is driven by the refusal of limitation. A student comes up against their own intellectual limits, the time allotted in a busy semester, etc., and, unwilling to accept limitation, compensates by deception.

A prayer for Christmas – Augustine of Hippo

Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.

~Augustine of Hippo (354-440)

Why do sea turtles seem so wise?

We went snorkeling today at  Po’olenalena (Hawaiian names are great) and got to swim with some sea turtles. There’s something very stately and wise about a sea turtle. They just seem to know things that the ready of us can only wonder about. Why is that? They’re just turtles. As far as I can tell, they lay around the bottom of the ocean all day and lay eggs occasionally. But they’ve figured out how to make our seem like they’re tapped into the deep mysteries of life in a way that the ready of us are missing out on. (They’re a bit like theologians that way.)

Of course, what do I know? Maybe they are smarter than I am. It’s unlikely that a sea turtle would be dumb enough to lock itself out of its condo – twice.

Monty Python on the Trinity

I’d never considered this particular quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the context if the Trinity before, but it’s quite apt.

“First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”

That’s some good trinitarian theology there.

(Thanks to Philip Jenkins for the idea - The Jesus Wars, p. 64.)

Checking in from Hawaii

I’m currently sitting on the porch of our condo watching the clouds drifting over the ocean, listening to some great music, and reading about the socio-political implications of the Trinity. Is there a better way to enjoy an afternoon break? (I’ll be posting on this later. Kathryn Tanner has an interesting argument about why we shouldn’t try to draw socio-political implications directly from the Trinity. Instead she thinks Christology is a much better starting point.)

We’re having a great time do far. Yesterday was snorkeling with my oldest daughter in Kapalua and pulling my youngest around on a boogie board for far too long. The day before we just hung out on the beach closest to us all day. I’m not sure what the plan for this afternoon is, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

By the way, I think it’s really funny that some of the people we’re with keep checking the weather back home so they can feel even better about how nice the weather is here. (It was sunny when we left Portland, but I hear that didn’t last long.) Apparently it makes your vacation even better if you think the people back home are miserable.

A prayer for Sunday – Karl Barth

O Lord our God, you wanted to live not only in heaven, but also with us, here on earth; not only to be high and great, but also to be small and lowly, as we are; not only to rule, but also to serve us; not only to be God in eternity, but also to be born as a person, to live, and to die.

In your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you have given us none other than  yourself, that we may wholly belong to you. This affects all of us, and none of us has deserved this. What remains for us to do but to wonder, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to hold fast to what you have done for us?

We ask you to let this be the case in this hour, among us and in all of us! Let us become a proper Christmas community in honest, open, and willing praying and singing, speaking and hearing, and let us in great hunger be a proper Communion community! Amen.

~Karl Barth (1886-1968)