Baby Jesus, Separation Anxiety, Object Permanence, and the Palmar Grasp

In the city of Bethlehem there is a church called Church of the Nativity.  This church is built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth.  In the basement of this church there is a cave, which is believed to be the stable where Jesus was born.  This cave is completely covered with gold and marble; many Christians of various traditions believe it to be a holy place and they come from all over the world to bow down and kiss the marble and gold which cover the cave where Jesus is believed to have been born.

As evangelicals, we do not believe that any one place is holier than any other.  We believe that the presence of God is not tied to any one specific piece of real estate, but rather that God is everywhere and that His presence is immediately accessible to any of us regardless of where we are or what we are doing.  But haven’t we lost something if we cannot relate to those Christians who bow down and kiss the spot where Jesus is supposed to have been born?

Christianity is a VERY, VERY freaky religion.  You think David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were freaky?  You think that cult out in Eatonton with all the pyramids and other such things that was in the news a couple of years back is freaky?  You think that UFO cult out in California a few years back who believed that there was a spaceship following the comet Hale-Bopp with super-intelligent beings aboard and that they would be taken aboard and taken away if they drank the Kool-Aid was freaky?  Well, they don’t have anything on us.

We believe that there is a God who is completely and totally other than us, who is present everywhere in this world and in this universe, and yet at the same time exists independently of and apart from this universe.  If the entire universe and every living thing in it were to suddenly vanish, He would just keep on keeping on, as if nothing had ever happened.

We believe that this God created everything in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, everything that we see around us, everything we don’t see, and everything else.  Furthermore, He also created each and every one of us.  There is nothing in this entire universe that would exist if He did not want it to.

Now doesn’t that blow your mind?  Doesn’t that just completely and totally freak you out?

But if all that isn’t enough, we also believe that this God who is completely and totally other than us, came into this world that He created and became one of us.  He became a person who walked and talked and ate and lived and moved and breathed and slept, just like us.

Eat your heart out, Rod Sterling!!!!!

Continue reading “Baby Jesus, Separation Anxiety, Object Permanence, and the Palmar Grasp”

The Monday Melange 03.29.10: Tiger Woods, Urban Meyer

–So it’s official:  Tiger Woods is going to make his comeback at the Masters.  I wonder who will be the first to yell out “GET IN THE HOLE!!!!!”  when Tiger Woods is playing, and who will be the first to respond with “That’s what she said!!!!!”

–AJC sports columnist Jeff Schultz says that Tiger Woods is making the right call by returning to golf at the Masters.  The Masters is an extremely controlled atmosphere; the peeps at Augusta National will see to it that nobody from TMZ or the National Enquirer gets within fifty miles of them.  And if anyone has the bright idea to pull that “Get in the hole/That’s what she said” stunt, their badge will be irrevocably confiscated.  That’s assuming they live to tell the story, which is by no means a sure thing.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel offers a dissenting opinion.  He notes that much of what Tiger Woods has done up to this point has overshadowed the PGA–such as that statement he made last month right in the middle of the Accenture tournament, and that interview he did last Sunday right after the Transitions Championship finished up.  He offers the opinion that despite whatever Tiger Woods may say to the contrary, he still thinks it’s all about himself.

–Urban Meyer is back in the news again this week.  He just got into it with a reporter who quoted a player who allegedly slighted Tim Tebow by saying that his replacement, John Brantley, is “a real quarterback”.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  So does much that has happened at Florida during this offseason.  The quoted player was wide receiver Deonte Thompson, and if you read the quote it sounds like he was saying that Brantley is a more conventional, drop-back-style passer, and it will be easier for the receivers to work with that.  Here is the quote in its entirety.  You be the judge:

You never know with Tim…You can bolt, you think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback.

Of course, the quote blew up nationally.  And how did Urban Meyer respond?  I will let Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler tell you in his own words:

“You’ll be out of practice — you understand that? — if you do that again,” said Meyer, while a couple of spectators still sat in the stands. “I told you five years ago: Don’t mess with our players. Don’t do it. You did it. You do it one more time and the Orlando Sentinel’s not welcome here ever again. Is that clear? It’s yes or no.” (finger pointing toward the face)

“Urban, come on. Don’t make any threats,” I said. “That’s fine. I’ll play by rules.  But all I was doing is quoting the guy. I don’t think I was the only one.”

“You’re a bad guy, man,” Meyer said. “You’re a bad guy.”

Here is the full post from Jeremy Fowler.  And here is a post from Mike Bianchi saying that Urban Meyer was wrong to threaten Fowler.

I thought Urban Meyer was taking a leave of absence in order to step away from the stresses and strains of a high-profile job like Florida and get some sanity back into his life.  I am pleased to see that it is apparently working quite well.

Crazy times down at the UF.  Gotta love it.

Palm Sunday

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me:
I am dumb, I keep my secret still.

Fools!  For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

–G. K. Chesterton, The Donkey

Les Miserables 43: Absolute Virtue of Prayer

Before we return to the story, I would like to take us back to Victor Hugo’s discussion on prayer.  Here he offers a most vigorous response to the spirit of unbelief which was rife in his age, and in ours as well:

There is, we are aware, a philosophy that denies the infinite.  There is also a philosophy, classified as pathologic, that denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness.

To set up a theory that lacks a source of truth is an excellent example of blind assurance.

Several years ago Erwin McManus noted that the crisis of our age is not a crisis of truth but a crisis of trust.  Almost everything which we accept as truth comes to us because someone told it to us; the choice for us is whether or not to trust the people who are telling us what they claim to be truth.  The problem in our generation is that people have largely decided that no one and nothing is trustworthy as a source of truth.  This can lead to only one outcome:  blindness and darkness.

Back to Victor Hugo:

And the odd part of it is the haughty air of superiority and compassion assumed toward the philosophy that sees God, by this philosophy that has to grope its way.  It makes one think of a mole exclaiming, “How I pity them with their sun!”

…An admirable thing, too, is the facility of settling everything to one’s satisfaction with words.  A metaphysical school in the North, slightly impregnated with fogs, imagined that it effected a revolution in human understanding by substituting for the word “force” the word “will.”

To say, “The plant wills,” instead of “The plant grows,” would be pregnant with meaning if you were to add, “The universe wills.”  Why?  Because this would flow from it:  The plant wills, so it has a “me”; the universe wills, so it has a God.

As for us, however, who, in direct opposition to this school, reject nothing a priori, a will in the plant, which is accepted by this school, seems more difficult to admit than a will in the universe, which it denies.

To deny the will of the infinite, that is to say God, can be done only on condition of denying the infinite itself.  We have demonstrated that.

Denial of the infinite leads directly to nihilism.  Everything becomes “a conception of the mind.”

With nihilism no argument is possible.  For the logical nihilist doubts the existence of his interlocutor and is not quite sure he exists himself.

From his point of view it is possible that to himself he may be only a “conception of his mind.”

However, he does not notice that everything he has denied he admits wholesale by merely pronouncing the word “mind.”

To sum up, no path is left open for thought by a philosophy that reduces everything to one conclusion, the monosyllable “No.”

To “No,” there is only one reply: “Yes.”

Nihilism has no scope.  There is nothing.  Zero does not exist.  Everything is something.  Nothing is nothing.

Man lives by affirmation even more than he does by bread.


William Weedon: A Lutheran Take on the Last Days

Those of you who have been tracking with me closely on this blog have no doubt seen that I have been slumming with the Lutherans lately.  I have been reading a lot of Lutheran blogs these days, and their answers to many questions just make sense to me, a whole lot more so than what I am hearing in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom these days.

Here is yet another example:  the return of Christ.

It is no secret that the world of evangelical Protestant-dom is rife with all sorts of silliness, craziness, and outright bunk on the issue of when Christ is coming back.  From “The Pope is the Antichrist” to Hal Lindsey to Left Behind, we have an unfailing penchant for turning out all sorts of craziness on this issue.  And I am sure that some of you have seen John Hagee’s latest escapade over in Jerusalem; I believe this little piece of blogging is especially timely in light of that.

But here is some sanity on the issue of Christ’s return.  William Weedon over at Concordia–The Lutheran Confessions offers a breakdown of the things which we can know for certain about the return of Christ.

First, at the end of the age Christ will APPEAR to judge the living and the dead.  Not come–appear.  That may come as a huge, whopping surprise to many of you, but there it is.  The return of Christ will not necessarily be Christ appearing in the sky as if coming from another world.  Instead, it will be an unveiling.  In one moment we will see that, in fact, He has been with us all along, and that all the things we have accepted by faith are true in reality.  After all, He did say, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Other things we can know for certain about the return of Christ:

–Christ will give the godly and the elect eternal life and everlasting joy.

–Ungodly people and the devils will be condemned to eternal torment.  As C. S. Lewis says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ”  This will be a time when all the devils and ungodly cry out to God, “Leave us alone!!!!!”, and God says, “Okay, if you insist.”

–There is no end to this punishment.  The Anabaptists who were prevalent in Luther’s day believed, as Origen did, that at some point God would draw all things to himself–including hell–and that at that point the torments of all who were in hell would end.  Wrong.

–It is wrong to imagine a millennial kingdom in this world with the general suppression of ungodliness prior to the final return of Christ.  Those of you who believe that the millennial kingdom will be an earthly, political kingdom happening at some unspecified time in the future:  Wrong, people.  What part of “My kingdom is not of this world” do you not understand?

The Monday Melange 03.22.10: Jim Mora, John Hagee, Lionel Richie

–Remember when Jim Mora got on the radio and said that his dream job was to coach at Washington?  Well, it seems he’s a little closer to that position now.  Apparently he has just landed a gig coaching high school ball out in the Seattle area.

–For those of you who are following the big Avatar flap between Mark Driscoll and Christianity Today, here is another item from Christianity Today dealing with how evangelical Protestant-dom has responded to the portrayal of religious things in popular movies.  In the past, our response has been to run from anything that portrays religion in a way that we disagree with.  Now, in attempting to distance ourselves from the fundamentalists of yore, we have gone to the extreme of accepting almost anything that comes out of Hollywood these days.

–John Hagee is at it again.  John Hagee is the frontman for a very troubling movement within evangelical Protestant-dom that is rooted in dispensationalist eschatology which believes that Christ will not return until the Antichrist has ruled for seven years and for the Antichrist to come he must have a place to sit during his moment of triumph–ergo, the Temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem, ergo, the Dome of the Rock must be torn down and the Muslims driven out of Jerusalem.  Just try and pull a stunt like that, and watch the Middle East go up in smoke, and the whole world with it.

So here is Hagee in the news this week, denouncing the Goldstone Report and defending illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  Take a gander at this, people.  Now think:  Is this the sort of person you want influencing Israeli policy or U. S. foreign policy towards Israel?

–Not all Jews are in support of the Christian Zionist position.  Some actually see it as anti-Semitic in an indirect way.  And if you think about it, that kind of makes sense.  Christians supporting Israel because they want to set things up for the Antichrist to come to power and kill a whole bunch of Jews…doesn’t that strike you as kind of anti-Semitic?

–Here is a Jewish take on the whole Hagee/Netanyahu thing from Rachel Tabachnick at Zeek, who is less than fully enthused and actually sees it as a threat to Israel’s long-term security.  I tend to agree.

–Here’s one for the Funny How Times Change department here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion.  Check out this video of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”:

In the 80’s, back when this video was made, women would look at something like this and think, “How romantic”.  Nowadays, I bet those of you women who watched this were thinking to yourselves, “How creepy”.

–In this video Lionel Richie plays the role of a high school music teacher committing an epic professionalism fail by pursuing an inappropriate relationship with a blind student.  Notice that it does NOT show Lionel Richie appearing before the PSC for a hearing on the revocation of his teaching certificate.

–To all y0u male teachers out there:  If you are thinking of falling in love with a female student, DON’T DO IT!!!!!  Even if she is hot like the girl in the video.  Nothing good can possibly come of it.  You will almost certainly lose your teaching certificate, and you will be lucky to not be prosecuted under a million different anti-stalking laws.

–Which brings to mind the question:  Did Lionel Richie have the story depicted in this video in mind when he wrote the song?  Or did Bob Giraldi and the creative peeps who were charged with the task of making a video for this song come up with this idea themselves?

–Getting a wee bit nipply down at Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica.   High:  -61.  Low:  -74.  Windchill:  -112.  And that’s a good thing as far as we are concerned, because their winter is our summer, which means that if it’s getting colder down there, it will soon be getting warmer up here.

Les Miserables 42: Prayer

We are in the middle of Victor Hugo’s aside in which he analyzes the convent and its role in society.  He starts off by looking at it in light of history and politics, and finds it to be sorely lacking.  He then goes on to examine the convent in light of principles, and finds that whatever you may think about the convent from a historical and/or political standpoint, there is nothing that takes place there which violates the principles of a free society.  As a matter of fact, the convent practices a special form of community which is very much worthy of respect and which is, in fact, the prototype of the Republic which Victor Hugo has devoted his political career toward realizing in France.

But there is still one more very important thing that happens in monasteries:

They pray.

To whom?

To God.

Pray to God, what is meant by that?

Is there an infinite outside of us?  Is this infinite, one, immanent, permanent; necessarily substantial, since it is infinite, and because, if matter were lacking in it, it would in that respect be limited; necessarily intelligent, because it is infinite, and since if it lacked intelligence it would be to that extent, finite?  Does this infinite awaken in us the idea of essence, while we are able to attribute to ourselves the idea of existence only?  In other words, is it not the absolute of which we are the relative?

At the same time, while there is an infinite outside of us, is there not an infinite within us?  These two infinites (frightening plural!), do they not rest superimposed on one another?  Does the second infinite not underlie the first, so to speak?  Is it not the mirror, the reflection, the echo of the first, an abyss concentric with another abyss?  Is this second infinite intelligent, also?  Does it think?  Does it love?  Does it will?  If the two infinites are intelligent, each one of them has a principle of will, and there is a “me” in the infinite above, as there is a “me” in the infinite below.  The “me” below is the soul; the “me” above is God.

To place, by process of thought, the infinite below in contact with the infinite above is called “prayer.”

Compare this with what Father Zossima says about prayer in The Brothers Karamazov:

…Much on earth is hidden from us, but to make up for that we have been given a precious mystic sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds.  That is why the philosophers say that we cannot understand the reality of things on earth.

God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew up and everything came up that could come up.  But what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its contact with other mysterious worlds.  If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, the heavenly growth will die away in you.  Then you will be indifferent to life and even grow to hate it…. Continue reading “Les Miserables 42: Prayer”

Les Miserables 41: A Parenthesis

Now Victor Hugo undertakes a critical examination of the convent and its role in society at large, which is a very complex question.  His starting point is the idea that “the convent, which is common to the East as well as to the West, to ancient as well as modern times, to Paganism as well as to Buddhism, to Islam as well as to Christianity, is one of the optical appliances man turns on the Infinite.”

Why the convent specifically?  Because Victor Hugo is specifically concerned with the lot of women in France.  This was one of the driving concerns of his political career, and he has made it one of the driving themes of Les Miserables.

Looking at monasticism in history, he finds it to be woefully deficient.  Here we see the Progressive side of Victor Hugo come out as he gives the standard Enlightenment arguments against monasticism: that monasticism encourages laziness where there should be industry, that it parasitically draws off the wealth of otherwise prosperous nations, that it was useful early in civilization for inhibiting the primordial brutality of man and pointing him toward spiritual things but is now no longer necessary.  He then gives a haunting description of the harrowing things which went on in certain monasteries around Europe.  Here he describes an abbey near Brussels:

The author of this book has seen, with his own eyes, about twenty miles from Brussels, and there since the Middle Ages, within everybody’s reach, at the Abbey of Villars–the openings of the secret dungeons in the middle of the meadow that was once the courtyard of the cloister, and, on the banks of the Dyle, four stone cells, half underground and half underwater.  These were in pace.  Each of these dungeons has a remnant of an iron wicket, a latrine, and a barred skylight, which, on the outside, is two feet above the surface of the river, and from the inside is six feet above the ground.  Four feet in depth, the river flows along the outer face of the wall; the ground is constantly wet.  This saturated soil was the only bed of the in pace occupant.  In one of these dungeons there remains the stump of an iron collar attached to the wall; in another may be seen a kind of square box, formed of four slabs of granite, too short for a human being to lie down in, too low to stand in erect.  In this was placed a creature like ourselves and then a lid of stone was closed above her head.  There it is.  You can see it; you can touch it.  These in pace; these dungeons; these iron hinges; these metal collars; this high skylight, on a level with the river’s surface; this box of stone, covered by its lid of granite, like a sepulcher, with this difference, that it shut in the living and not the dead; this soil of mud, this cesspool; these oozing walls, how they declaim!

He sums up his argument as follows:

Monasticism…is a disease to civilization.  It cuts off life.  In a word, it depopulates.  Incarceration, castration.  In Europe, it has been a scourge.  Add to that, the violence so often done to conscience; the vocations so frequently compulsory; the feudal system leaning on the cloister; primogeniture emptying into the monastery the family surplus; the cruelties we have just described; the in pace; mouths closed, brains walled-up, so many unfortunate intellects incarcerated in the dungeon of eternal vows; the assumption of the veil, the live burial of souls.  Add these individual torments to the national degradation, and, whoever you may be, you will find yourself shuddering at the sight of the frock and the veil, those two winding sheets of human invention. Continue reading “Les Miserables 41: A Parenthesis”

The Monday Melange 03.15.10: Mark Driscoll, Carl Edwards

–Hope you all had a happy Pi Day yesterday.  3/14.  Get it?

–OK, so I’m sure you have heard by now that Mark Driscoll is not too crazy about Avatar.  He even calls it demonic.  He slams Christianity Today for their review of Avatar.  Christianity Today was not too crazy about this, as you can see in this response.

This whole exchange is instructive because it shows just how much things have changed in evangelical Protestant-dom regarding the arts, specifically movies and the theater.  Once upon a time–and those of you who are over 40 can vouch for this–there was a time when the theater, and going to the theater, were condemned by evangelicals in no uncertain terms.  Even going to–or going past–a video store back when the whole video rental thing first took off, was supposed to cause evangelicals serious discomfort.  Even avowedly Christian movies such as The Hiding Place and Chariots of Fire caused evangelicals no small amount of tension.

But now, just a few decades later, things have changed drastically.  Nowadays, the largest Christian magazine takes a critical position when a leading pastor negatively evaluates the spiritual content of a Hollywood film.  Driscoll goes to great lengths to point out that he is not a fundamentalist who is opposed to the theater–but even at that his opinion is still a minority report in evangelical Protestant-dom.  (This is not to say that Christianity Today, or anyone else in evangelical Protestant-dom, lacks discernment.  This is only to say that those of you who are over 40 must be shaking your heads and wondering what the hell has happened because the world has changed so much and Christians have changed with it.)

–Do I think Avatar is demonic?  No, just trite and timeworn.  The storyline left a hella lot to be desired, but the graphics and special effects are amazing.  You definintely need to see this movie–in 3D, if you have the chance.  Surely you can sit through a couple of hours of trite storyline in order to see this.  There are many 3D movies out there that have even less in the way of plot than this one.

–Carl Edwards slammed into Brad Keselowski from behind, at 190-ish.  And what did NASCAR do?  They put Edwards on probation for 3 races.  Apparently they were hurting for revenue and thought that this sort of thing might bring fans back.  NASCAR hurting for revenue?  Who knew?

Here is a video of the Carl Edwards thing so you can judge for yourself.  Do you think NASCAR did the right thing?

Okay, enough about racing.  I’m not a NASCAR fan, and I don’t think you read this blog to see my thoughts on NASCAR.

Les Miserables 40: Petit-Picpus

Here is one of those asides which annoy many readers of Les Miserables.  After settling Jean Valjean and Cosette’s fate for the time being and explaining how Javert got wind of Valjean and lost him again, Victor Hugo takes a rather lengthy pause to explain a little about the history of this Petit-Picpus convent where Valjean has found himself.

This convent was a community of Bernardines who were attached, not to Clairvaux, but to Citeaux.  This made them Benedictines.  They followed a very strict rule, which called for them to wear a black guimpe (something like a turtleneck) which came all the way up to the chin and a veil with a fillet that came all the way down to the eyes.  They abstained from meat all year and fasted all through Lent and on many other special days.  They get up at 1 AM to chant matins for two hours.  They sleep on straw with coarse woolen sheets year-round.  They never bathe.  They never light a fire.  They scourge themselves every Friday.  They observe the rule of silence and speak to each other only at recesses, which are very short.  They wear a hair shirt for six months, from mid-September until Easter.  Even this is a modification; the original rules called for them to wear the hair shirt year-round, but that was unbearable during the summer months.  Seems like ol’ Saint Benedict was a little rough on the ladies, wouldn’t you say?

The rule of Saint Benedict which these nuns lived by took the idea of separation from the world to an almost insane extreme.  We see this in the following quote:  “Never did a toothbrush enter the convent.  To brush the teeth is the top rung of a ladder whose bottom rung is–to lose the soul.”  But are we evangelicals really all that different?  There are many of us who see such simple things as a beer, a glass of wine, a tattoo, a body piercing, a night at the theater, an hour of secular radio, etc. as the top rung of that ladder whose bottom rung is to lose the soul. Continue reading “Les Miserables 40: Petit-Picpus”