Sunday, January 31, 2010

Love My Car Lighter MP3 Player

Here is my tech tip of the week. If you are like me, you have some old USB drives or SD cards that are less than a gig sitting around in a drawer. With one of those, and about 10 bucks, you could have a really nice car MP3 player. You slap some of that memory (loaded with Mp3s) in one of these, and you are good to go.

The player plugs into your car lighter and broadcasts to an empty FM station. It can easily be moved from car to car. I keep a drive of music and a drive of books and lectures in the glove compartment. I got the one in picture for less than 10 bucks from Meritline.com . So if remembering the ipod is touch and go, or you are tired of having discs all over the passenger seat.... here ya go.

Friday, January 29, 2010

If That's Winning, I'd Hate To See What Losing Looks Like.

Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked!! ~ Hudson (Aliens)

Often, it is not until you step outside a situation that you can look at it objectively. Having renounced certain religious, political, or societal views, you then look back to see glaring inconsistencies that are so obvious, it makes you wonder how you spent so many years stepping over them.

I had one of those moments of realization yesterday. I began abandoning popular evangelical theology years ago and along with that, their interpretations of an eternal Hell. It seemed to me that evangelical theology only allows for two interpretations of eternity, either:

  • God is in control, and his design was such that the vast majority of humanity will be consigned to eternal torment.
  • God’s original plan was thwarted and although he has provided an escape route (which for some unknown reason favors people of white European descent or those who have been conquered by them); nevertheless the vast majority of humanity will be consigned to eternal torment.

I am wondering how, in either of these scenarios, God gets to claim a victory? Under most circumstances, when Team B destroys the vast majority of Team A’s interests, we would consider Team A “surviving” at best, even if they got the final blow.

As I see it, under typical evangelical theology, "god" gets his ass kicked.


Hmmmmm..... and they say what I believe is heresy...... ;)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dr. Beck on Justification Theory

I regularly read Dr. Richard Beck's blog. He has the ability to take Ph.D level theological issues and write so a layman like me can understand. I have been enjoying his review of The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell.

The focus of the review is Justification Theory. The book asserts that common defenses of this theory are based on mis-readings of Paul. Dr. Beck states that "Justification Theory is, at root, a rhetorical device for evangelism."

Therein is where Justification Theory started to fall apart for me years ago. As I began to see the case for Universalism being made throughout scripture, Justification Theory eroded. In this new context, what was the point of evangelism? For me, Justification Theory and the Christianity it had spawned showed it Achilles's Heel. I have actually heard Christians articulate it "What is the point of telling people about Jesus if there is no Hell?"

What point indeed....

Here is a piece of the review:

Recall, for Justification Theory to work the human person must complete a tortured inward journey culminating in the realization that he stands condemned before God. But if the doctrine of election is operative this introspective and epistemological journey seems to be a bit irrelevant. Further, given the condition of total depravity how could humans even begin or complete the journey? And here's the deal. Most of us are well aware of these problems. Justification Theory is, at root, a rhetorical device for evangelism. Through bible study or preaching you lead the listener through the critical realizations:
  1. I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And this includes you! "All" means all.
  2. The wages of sin is death.
  3. In light of the aforementioned realizations, you're screwed.
  4. But you can have grace if you accept, through faith, Jesus as your Savior.
But if faith is a matter of election it seems that evangelism is problematized. Evangelism presupposes a clear head and a clear heart. It presupposes the ability to volitionally respond. But if faith is a matter of election is any of this necessary? And if total depravity is in play is any of this even possible? Depravity and election throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of Justification Theory, rendering most of the theory irrelevant.

These are very old debates. Witness the tensions between the Calvinistic and Arminian attempts to resolve these questions. The point is, Luther and Calvin were no simple and consistent advocates of Justification Theory. Important aspects of their theology (e.g., their anthropology, the role of God in granting faith) greatly complicated their espousal of Justification Theory, so much so that the children of the Reformation are still debating the issues. The tension between evangelism and election is still very much with us. Consequently, it would be silly to assume that Justification Theory has been handed to us by Luther and Calvin as anything other than a partial and incomplete soteriology.

More Facebook Trouble 2

There is a fair amount of hub-bub on the Facebook side of this conversation. There are folks who are glad I said something about the initial statement made by "Sam" but there are plenty of others who think it is unkind to publicly disagree with someone's point of view (particularly if it is one they agree with).

However, here is THE perfect example for why I wrote what I wrote. One commentator said on a later status update of "Sam's" concerning this issue:

"Are you talking about the comment you posted about dial 1 for english? If so then I am 100% in agreement w/your comment. In fact, I copied it and posted it myself and had to step back and laugh at the ruckus it caused. The thing that got to me was that the comment was true and so many people took offense to it."

Copied it and posted it herself.... glad the love is being spread around the world.

Here's the thing, if someone is making bigoted comments, does it help to point it out? Probably not. You will go blue in the face trying to alter that worldview. However, if there are a group of people listening and these ideas are being spread..... Yes, I believe it is a moral imperative to speak. Keep it calm, be polite, .....

.... but speak.

_________________

On a related note, I find this video extremely funny. It is a great example of how people can talk past each other concerning racism and bigotry. F-bomb and racial slurs dropped regularly, so you have been warned.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2DxyAGzGxM

Stuff Fundies Like

Stuff Christians Like is a very funny site. If you grew up in the Christian subculture, it is sure to bring a chuckle or two.

I thought of their site because of a video that Bruce put up. In it, Pastor John Piper is trying to convince the audience that the bible is exciting and interesting. If we don't find it so, it is because the "world" has inverted our perceptions - it is Avatar we should actually find boring.

This is something fundamentalist pastors like to do : find whatever the overall culture is enjoying at the moment and try to bring it down a couple of notches. They can never just enjoy it with everyone.

Their god has insecurity issues.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Facebook Trouble

Yes readers, my predilection to offer a question or commentary has once again taken me to the dark end of Facebook. Not an actual defriending (like happened recently), but my comments were deleted and observers have suggested that I be "hid" (Facebook lingo for keeping you as a friend, but blocking everything you say).

In this new era of electronic conversation, it is sometimes unclear as to what would be proper conversational etiquette. Should one throw controversial subjects into the ether? How should others respond? Are they allowed to respond? Is it an attack on the person if their idea is questioned or contradicted?

It all started this way....

Let's call my Facebook friend Sam, since I don't know any Sams. Sam stated in his status (a status is a short commentary similar to a Tweet):

"WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST and the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status"

Now, in the interest of full disclosure I have to state that I have a tendency to roll my eyes at anything that wants me to "copy and paste into your status", particularly if it has a religious subject. I took issue with both of the statements. I teach immigrant families, so I didn't care for the first and I blanched strongly at the religious insinuation of the second.

I debated whether I wanted to get into this. I don't like to argue for arguments sake, but I also think ideas like this need to be challenged. So often people who make statements like this are very insulated in their experiences with people outside their group. Therefore, they have a hard time even picturing what this might sound like to someone not in their frame of thinking.

So I simply commented below:

"What does one do if they disagree?"

To which Sam replied:

"Vote."

Again, I debated responding. I knew I was not going to change Sam's view, so why bother? But then I considered that there are tens if not hundreds of people who read Sam's comment. Maybe they had a bad experience recently with someone struggling with English. Maybe they have been led to believe that militarism and Christianity have no contradictory philosophies. Sam's comment may stir them up and embolden them along this path if they never hear a counter proposal.

So I responded:

"Voting may help deal with what I perceive as the bigotry of the first statement, but I am not sure what I could do with the blasphemy I see in the second."

Sam replied:

"Explain why you feel this to be blasphemy? The second statement that is. As for bigotry, I stand strong on my beliefs and will refrain from commenting as to keep the peace."

At this point, an observer commented that my use of blasphemy and bigotry "are pretty strong words. We must learn to respect the feelings and opinions of others and reign in our own." I am not sure whether his closing comment was to the two of us or to me alone.

So I responded (this is probably 95% accurate, the original was deleted. I had kept a rough draft in Word, but I know I made a few changes as I was posting it):

"It is not simply a matter of keeping the peace or respecting the views of others. When we make public declarations, particularly if they are made against a group of people, we have to expect that it will generate controversy. As a friend of mind reminded me recently - there is no such thing as free speech - our words have consequences. I occasionally blog on topics which people will disagree with. If I am going to put my statements out to the public, then I should expect that my words may be challenged.

I believe the first statement is bigoted. I teach many students who are second generation Americans. Their parents are working 2-3 jobs. They live in a community that is primarily Spanish speaking. The reality is, those first generation folks are always, generally speaking, going to be weak on English regardless of which culture they came from. Conversational English is one thing, academic English is another. Most public documents and legal exchanges require an academic level of English. How many of us know more than one language at an academic level? It is an enormous amount of work even if you are fully immersed (which they are not). Statements like the first are said flippantly and repeated to stir up anger and frustration amongst the dominate culture. I think this kind of talk is damaging to our national outlook.

As to blasphemy, yes I do think it is disrespectful to compare the two. People have MANY varying feelings about the use of the military (the discussion of which I will leave for another time), so I do not think it should ever be hinted at that one must keep their views of Christ in tandem with certain feelings about the military (if Christian). Overall, I think it displays a troubling trend in many strands of Christianity. God is no longer over all, but is rather a plank that is used to buttress one's arguments of politics and American exceptionalism. God/Guns/Country becomes a set of interchangeable words used to express one's worldview. This, I believe, is a blasphemy.

Facebook is not a private affair. Most of the things we write are read by hundreds of people. Such quips may be said unchallenged when one is with their homogeneous group of friends over a beer, but these things are being said in a larger context. I do not say this in a mean-spirited way or to stop conversation; rather, I hope this generates conversation. I believe we all hold many ideas based on hearsay and popular, but unfounded, notions. Unless our ideas are challenged, we become intellectually inbred. I am in high disagreement with both statements, and want to argue for another view, but that doesn't translate to anything more than that.
"
_________________

I meant my last statement to clarify that I did not take any of this personally; it was a disagreement of ideas. I don't think it was received that way though. Soon after, Sam deleted the comment and the ensuing discussion. He later put in his status that our conversation was a contentiousness that he did not want to have as part of his Facebook experience.

This has left me again pondering how we go about talking to one another... how we agree, how do we disagree?

For the most part, I have always enjoyed being contradicted (unless the person is being rude). I remember some of my first college political science classes. I would make some sweeping cliched generalization that I had learned to parrot as an evangelical. My professor, Marv Surowitz, never failed to challenge my presumptions. I remember once he smiled at me after I made some trite statement and said, "Hackman that is pure HorseSHIT!" and then using history he completely deconstructed my argument. I was shocked; in my religious subculture homogeny of thought was expected. However, instead of being offended or embarrassed (well, maybe a little embarrassed), I found those experiences invigorating. I felt like I was moving into open fields. (As a side note, I took Marv for 3 classes over my first two years and he was a large component of why I went into teaching).

Those experiences (and many since) have taught me to hold views, but hold them loosely... always ready to change as new experiences offer more information. So I think I have a hard time understanding folks who tie their beliefs up with their ego. To deconstruct their argument is to deconstruct them. What I interpret as a challenging of ideas, the other interprets as a personal attack.

Which leaves me wondering how to address people when they make pronouncements that I highly disagree with or find destructive.

How do you handle it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Race To The Top?

Race to the Top is the Obama administration's attempt to address the problems ailing American public education. But like all of the attempts previous, I believe this is going to create a lot of lingo and a flurry of activity, but will ultimately be an adventure in missing the point. Like its predecessors, this program fails to address what really ails us.

The four main points of the program are:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
Here we see the same old failed argument - Set better standards! We need standards! This approach has been tried repeatedly and never changes anything. Simply throwing a goal into the air, but not addressing the circumstances which drives our condition does nothing but frustrate the students, parents, and teachers.

Building data systems? Allow me to translate: Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. Throughout my 19 year teaching career, I have seen a steady buildup of paperwork to be done for each child. Paperwork that ultimately ends up in a file that no one looks at, but sounds impressive when we tell school boards we are tracking it.

Rewarding teachers? Heh.... heh... heh... please! Bonuses for teachers in good areas, threats for teachers in tough areas. This is utterly pointless and will not improve a thing.

I work in an impoverished inner city area. My students come from homes with little to no education in the family, who are on their own most of the time, who often have family members with substance abuse issues or are in the penal system. I have sixth grade students who will be parents by the time they are 15 and will drop out by the 10th grade. Setting higher standards, threatening my pay, or having me fill out more paperwork on my students is not going to change the fundamental factors that are driving their educational performance.

President Obama, I expected something other than more of the same from you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Little Perspective on Lott and Reid

There has been a lot of hubub in the press over the past two days concerning some troubling, and some would say racist, remarks by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Many Republicans contend that the Democrats are going soft on Reid, and had a Republican said those words, the Democrats would be showing no mercy.

On this point, I believe the Republicans are correct. I think it is a fair question to ask if the response would be different if Reid had been a Republican. In fact, I think the honest answer is that it would be different. One of the most troubling points to me in politics is our lack of honest, self-reflective responses. So often, we gauge our reaction or support according to "which side" an event or opinion is associated with.

That being said, I believe the comparison of Reid's comment with that of Trent Lott back in 2002 is off the rail. This is where Republicans lose my sympathy.

Trent Lott had said back in 2002 of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential run:

"When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we (S.Carolina) voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either." (It is also worth noting that Lott voted against the Voting Rights Act and against the continuation of the Civil Rights Act.)

Let's do a little history into Strom Thurmond and perhaps we can get a peek into the "problems" that his presidency would have avoided.

Thurmond was a staunch segregationist as Governor. He resisted Truman when the army was desegregated, when poll taxes were eliminated, and when anti-lynching laws were proposed. When the Democratic Convention took on a decidedly anti-segregation position, he broke from the party and ran as an independent in protest. He garnered 2.4 % of the popular vote and won 4 southern states. While on the campaign trail he declared:

"I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches."

This was the presidency Lott wished would have happened?

Again, I think Democrats need to honestly ask what their response would be had Reid been a Republican. However, when Republicans try to rank those two scenarios as equal, I realize there is a faction of that party that is still living in 1948.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Deprogramming Takes A While

Growing up in my teens and early twenties with a steady, daily immersion in Rush Limbaugh gave me a definitive bias against NPR. I was told it was leftist, biased, liberal, etc. I had never even listened to it, but I would roll my eyes if I heard anything positive about National Public Radio. The very words NATIONAL and PUBLIC were dead giveaways to its deprivation.

What is interesting is that this bias remained with me even throughout the moderation of my politics, philosophy, and religion. I continued to listen to Right-Wing talk on the radio, because there just wasn't anything else to listen to.

Over time though, and with the ease of technology, I started to listen to lectures and books in the car that I had burnt to CD. I was unknowingly de-toxing from AM talk radio. On occasion, when I tuned back to Rush, Hannity, or Beck.... I started to notice how BORING they were. They repeated the same thing, endlessly, over and over. I would switch over to another station and come back 15 minutes later only to find they were STILL ranting about the same thing.

It was during one of these times over the past two years that I clicked over to NPR. They were discussing the struggles of the Mexican towns along the US boarder. Drug cartels practically own these cities and the violence and corruption there was pitiful to hear about. Over the next hour, I heard statements made by our Secretary of State in France, a story on Islamic and Christian relations in various middle-eastern countries, and a piece on issues presently being looked at in the British Parliament.

I had a strange feeling as I stepped out of the car. It wasn't a feeling I usually got when I listened to AM radio. I felt..... educated!

I hadn't expected this from NPR. Why did conservatives hate it so much? I continued to listen. When issues were addressed, there didn't seem to be any bias. If the president spoke, or an issue was presented, you heard from supporters and detractors. Where was the bias?

I did an experiment. I tuned to AM talk radio every 10 minutes and listened for 30 seconds. What I found was that there is actually very little said about conservative politics. What you get is a steady stream of Left bashing and ridicule.

I discovered why NPR is thought to be liberal by dittoheads- because NPR does not bash the Left. For an AM talk listener (who hears a steady stream of Left bashing), a Left-leaning view, presented side by side with a Right-leaning view in a calm manner, would sound PRO-Left. It is like stepping into a tepid swimming pool after being in the hot tub for twenty minutes..... it feels like it is freezing!

I am happy to say that, having purged the rancid rhetoric of Right radio, I can now enjoy and be educated by NPR.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Have A Confession

There is a scene in the Simpsons movie where Flanders stands up in church and announces, "I have a confession to make!" Homer immediately crosses his fingers and starts quietly chanting, "Gay, Gay, Gay!"

I have a similar reaction every time I see Republicans getting excited about Sarah Palin. I find myself smirking, crossing my fingers, and quietly chanting "Run, Run, Run!"

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Misunderstanding Universalism

This week I heard in multiple conversations a common misunderstanding of Christian Universalism. There is a sense among some that this teaching runs against the thought that God is Holy or that God is Just. I heard someone say, "If we all go to heaven, why does it matter what we do?"

I think a key element in this misunderstanding is due to a belief that God is vindictive. Even amongst Christians who would proclaim God's unconditional love, there is usually a follow up of some kind of conditional "but". Yes God loves you... but....

Christians get dizzy trying to balance a loving God with one that needs to vent wrath. I think this is often the case of people who truly have experienced the love of God, but were taught that he has this wrathful side that needs to be satiated. They know their experience to be real, yet they have a contrary belief about God that they have not been allowed to question.

This perception of God forces us back to a conditional love; and since that is what we see "God" modeling, that is the love we give as Christians. It is a hobbled love that is always looking to protect the interests of the self, and therefore can never begin to move toward the goal of truly loving your neighbor - let alone an enemy.

So then, what does one do with holiness and justice? First I have to ask: Is God in service to these attributes? or are these the attributes that are part and parcel of a God whose very nature is love?

Often, Christians will state these attributes as if they were conditions that God had to creatively satisfy.... so since someone has to be punished, God punished Jesus. This kind of theology binds the Creator of the universe and makes the loving attribute of forgiveness pointless. God does not forgive anyone, he just takes out his wrath on Jesus. It would be like if I forgave my wife but then slapped my kids -because someone has to pay for the offense against me.

I think the answer to all of this lies in the metaphor Jesus gives to God - Our Father in Heaven. God reacts as a Father. It is not that Univeralism abandons any thoughts of discipline and justice, rather it assumes that discipline and justice are redemptive rather than vindictive. As the book of Hebrews says "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." There is a point to discipline, it is for our betterment.... God is not balancing the scales to keep some part of himself from going postal.

My children need never fear me. I correct, train, and discipline them so they will grow up to be responsible and loving human beings. My desire for this is not driven by a need in me, but by a love for them. God's desire for right behavior and justice flows out of a love for his creation, not a frustration over imperfection. Universalism recognizes that God ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, ALWAYS perseveres, and NEVER fails.

My Christian Universalism is not opposed to justice and holiness. I see them as the outgrowth of a loving Father who desires his children to grow into a loving people... and I believe God has the patience to see his will come to fruition.
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