Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I am coming home. And I just checked the Winnipeg forecast: low of -15?? That's not low! Right on, my love for Winnipeg does not include -30. Seems that global warming is good for something. See you soon, after a nightmarish 13 hour flight from Nagoya to Detroit, then Detroit to Minneapolis, then Minneapolis Winnipeg. Seeing that it is a busy travel day in America, I wonder what exactly my chances are of actually getting gome for Christmas Eve. And I don't even get the we'll-do-anything-you-want service of JAL, I get the yeah-what-the-@#$-do-you-want service of Northwest. Yikes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Wow. Sometimes really good things do come from going to school. I just came across this guy who states with perfect clarity a muddled thought that floats around in my head. To me this is where things of the head meet things of the heart:

In my 12/13 journal entry I was not meaning to suggest that absolutes don't exist. I believe that they do - however, we never encounter absolutes in an absolute way. And our personal knowledge (see Polanyi) of the Absolute can never be communicated absolutely.

As such, absolutes don't exist inherently in any text, (Scripture, my life, nature, etc) - including what I write here. The words that you read point to a reality (if you will) that is beyond the screen, beyond the page. There is no "magical hermeneutical system" that will unlock the capital "T" Truth that is hidden within the page.

Any encounter of the Absolute is a relational encounter and cannot be reduced to any propositional or narrative form. By nature the Absolute must be occasional and unique to the time/place/relationship/person/community.

This is why following Christ is a relational/communal/faith journey. The Holy Spirit guides all toward Truth - Truth as a person. To hold to the Absolute is to look beyond self and beyond all systems of belief to Christ alone.

To hold externals as absolutes may in fact signal a weakness of faith and a desire to conquer our doubts and fears within systems of our own making.

The issue is not can I know what truth is, as much as the issue is, can I/we trust God to make Himself known and to guide us to Himself.

Update: Better add this:

Moral relativism is the highest from of morality that exists for Christians. If you are
Christ's (whatever that means) and God's Spirit is leading you to deny self, love God and
others, than morality as a legal system is obsolete.

We choose law, because we're afraid to embrace the freedom (relativism) that Christ
invites us to. Religion has always been about law, and will always be about law. Christ
fulfilled but we don't trust Him enough to live the reality of freedom that he longs to give.

It seems to me that we cannot change the way we read Scripture and keep the same
definition of sin. A bipolar Christianity would seem to be inevitable. (Dec.12, 2003)

Update: Yeah. ok, I am really liking this guy.

...Back to the point there is no doubt that how we understand the "fall" or what I might call the "emergence of humanity," has a direct impact on our understanding of the Gospel. Many of the NT passages so appropriately cited stress God's hatred for sin while imagining a life of followership. Is this not what we do with our kids all the time. When they are young, we give them clear rules, (maybe even 10 of them, call them commandments if you will), this are basic, they are written on heart of every child, be still we speak them. And Still our kids break them. As they grow, our emphasis on commands shift and we focus more and more on the heart, we stress love of God and love of fellow persons, and our discipline changes. The goal is never obedience though their obedience reveals their love. The goal is reciprocity. Aiding our children to develop into humans who can deny self in favor of loving others, including us.

The sin of our children is not our enemy. Sin is an unwitting participant in the training of children who can love. (Oct.3,2003)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I was really feeling good about posting this quote from Phillip Yancey's Reaching for the Invisible God, but after reading this on Dan's site, I was not so sure. At first look I thought that this quote reflected the kind of "generalized christianization" that Dan was talking about. But on second thought, maybe this quote pinpoints what should be the foundation of "Christianity as a subset of the way of Christ". Anyway, here it is:

In recent years a French philosopher and anthropologist named Rene Girard has explored that very question, explored it so deeply, in fact, that to the consternation of his secular colleagues he converted to Christianity. It struck Girard that Jesus' story cuts against the grain of every heroic story from its time. The myths from Babylon, Greece, and elsewhere celebrated strong heroes, not weak victims. In contrast, from the very beginning Jesus took the side of the underdog: the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the "marginalized." Indeed, Jesus chose to be born in poverty and disgrace, spent his infancy as a refugee, lived in a minority race under a harsh regime, and died as a prisoner, unjustly accused.

Jesus admired people like a Roman soldier who cared for his dying slave; a tax collector who gave away his fortune to the poor; a member of a minority race who stopped to help a man accosted by thieves; a sinner who prayed a simple "Help!" prayer; a shamed woman who reached out in desperation to touch his clothing; a beggar who ate crumbs from a rich man's table. He disapproved of religious professionals who refused to help the wounded for fear of soiling themselves; a proud clergymen who looked down on sinners; the rich who offered only crumbs to the hungry; a responsible son who shunned his prodigal brother; the powerful who lived on the backs of the poor.

When Jesus himself died ignominiously as an innocent victim it introduced what one of Girard's disciples has called "the most sweeping historical revolution in die world, namely, the emergence of an empathy for victims." Nowhere but in the Bible can you find an ancient story of an innocent yet heroic victim dragged to his death. To the ancients, heroes were heroic and victims were pitiable.

According to Girard, societies have traditionally reinforced their power through "sacred violence." The larger group (say, German Nazis or Serbian nationalists) picks a scapegoat minority to direct its self-righteous violence against, which in turn bonds and emboldens the majority. The Jewish and Roman powers tried that technique against Jesus and it backfired. Instead, the cross shattered the longstanding categories of weak victims and strong heroes, for the victim emerged as the hero.

The apostle Paul touched on a deep truth about Jesus' paradoxical contribution in his claim to the Colossians. A public spectacle it was when Jesus exposed as false gods the very powers and authorities that men and women take such pride in. The most refined religion of the day accused an innocent man, and the most renowned justice system carried out the sentence.

As one of Flannery O'Connor's Soudiern characters commented, "Jesus throws everything off balance." The gospel centered on the cross ushered in a stunning reversal of values that went on to affect the entire world. Today the victim occupies the moral high ground: witness recent Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to a black South African clergyman, a Polish union leader, a Holocaust survivor, a Guatemalan peasant woman, a bishop in persecuted East Timor. That the world honors and cares for the marginalized and disenfranchised, concluded Girard, is a direct result of the cross of Jesus Christ.
The best in Japanese tv. Check out Matrix Ping Pong...
Man. One tries to be open-minded about the French and then they go and do some crazy thing like this.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Brilliant discovery from phlogger, dthprod. Gave us a lotta laughs, hope you enjoy. Join the fun here.


Androgynous Janzens:

Black Janzens:

Botticelli Janzens:

El Greco and Mucha Janzens:

Half Chimp Janzens:

Monday, December 08, 2003

...Several leading figures of the foreign policy elite have pointed out that the potential targets of America's imperial ambition are not likely simply to await destruction. They "know that the United States can be held at bay only by deterrence," Kenneth Waltz has written, and that "weapons of mass destruction are the only means to deter the United States." Washington's policies are therefore leading to proliferation of WMD, Waltz concludes, tendencies accelerated by its commitment to dismantle international mechanisms to control the resort to violence. These warnings were reiterated as Bush prepared to attack Iraq: one consequence, according to Steven Miller, is that others "are likely to draw the conclusion that weapons of mass destruction are necessary to deter American intervention." Another well-known specialist warned that the "general strategy of preventive war" is likely to provide others with "overwhelming incentives to wield weapons of terror and mass destruction" as a deterrent to "the unbridled use of American power." Many have noted the likely impetus to Iranian nuclear weapons programs. And "there is no question that the lesson that the North Koreans have learned from Iraq is that it needs a nuclear deterrent," Selig Harrison commented.55

As the year 2002 drew to a close, Washington was teaching an ugly lesson to the world: if you want to defend yourself from us, you had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible military threat, in this case, conventional: artillery aimed at Seoul and at US troops near the DMZ. We will enthusiastically march on to attack Iraq, because we know that it is devastated and defenseless; but North Korea, though an even worse tyranny and vastly more dangerous, is not an appropriate target as long as it can cause plenty of harm. The lesson could hardly be more vivid… (p. 38)

...As these few examples illustrate, even the harshest and most shameful measures are regularly accompanied by profession of noble intent. An honest look would only generalize Thomas Jefferson's observation on the world situation of his day:

We believe no more in Bonaparte's fighting merely for the liberties of the seas, than in Great Britain's fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth, and the resources of other nations. (p. 48)
Yeah, I was talking earlier about how falseness that we embrace about the inherent goodness of our nations tends to be opposed by the facts. And these facts are not uncommon, not that hard to find, and definitely not easily refuted. They are just widely ignored.

Today I was reading the Japan Times, a mainstream English-language newspaper here, and I came across an article about the current situation in Uzbekistan. Here is an exerpt, but read the whole thing.

"You will have to make up your own mind," the hotel receptionist said when I asked her why only a few people were allowed to share in the National Day celebrations with the president and his family.

After a month in Uzbekistan I was able to make up my mind. Uzbekistan is potentially a reasonably rich country, with oil and gas, gold and other metals and extensive high-quality cotton production. The benefits of these resources are, however, restricted to just a few families that support the exploitative economic mechanism established and maintained by the president and his cronies...

...The mass opposition is kept under control by fear. Apart from one or two groups of friends of the leaders, there is no nongovernment organization in Uzbekistan and no political parties except those that support the government. The legal system and enforcement agencies, including the military, are part of the regime that exploits the country. They depend on the survival of the regime for their own survival.

There is another difference between Georgia and Uzbekistan that makes revolution unlikely in the latter. This is that, while the United States is withdrawing its support for the Shevardnadze regime, reducing aid and putting pressure on him to allow fair elections, in Uzbekistan the U.S. is increasing its economic support for the regime and does not put any pressure on it to reduce its exploitation or to allow its people democratic freedoms. It makes no mention of fair elections...

...As long as the government is supported by the U.S., as many other brutal dictatorships have been supported, there is no prospect of such justified and disenfranchised dissent turning into a successful revolution.

Chomsky echoes this:

...Saddam was not the only monster who won the acclaim of the current incumbents. Among others were Ferdinand Marcos, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and Nicolae Ceausescu; all were overthrown from within, despite strong US support until their fate was sealed. Other favorites included Indonesia's President Suharto, who competed with Saddam in barbarism. The first head of state honored with a visit to Bush the elder's White House was Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, another high-ranking killer, torturer, and plunderer. The South Korean dictators also received Washington's strong support until US-backed military rule was finally overthrown in 1987 by popular movements. Even minor thugs could be assured of a warm welcome as long as they were performing their function. Secretary of State Shultz was so enamored of Manuel Noriega that he flew to Panama to congratulate him after he had stolen an election by fraud and violence, praising the gangster for "initiating the process of democracy." Later Noriega lost his usefulness in the contra war and other enterprises, and was transferred to the category of "evil"- although, like Saddam, his worst crimes were behind him. (p. 112)

... Also at least partially familiar is the long-standing support of the present incumbents for Saddam Hussein, often attributed to obsession with Iran. That policy continued without change after Iran's capitulation in the Iran-Iraq war, because of "our duty to support U.S. exporters," the State Department explained in early 1990 - adding the usual boilerplate about how aiding Saddam would improve human rights, regional stability, and peace. In October 1989, long after the war with Iran was over and more than a year after Saddam's gassing of the Kurds, President Bush I issued a national security directive declaring that "normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East." (p. 111)

... In December 2002, Jack Straw, then foreign minister, released a dossier of Saddam's crimes. It was drawn almost entirely from the period of firm US-UK support, a fact overlooked with the usual display of moral integrity. (p. 130)
I am reading Noam Chomsky's new book, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. As you might guess from the title, this is not a good read for those who equate recognizing the abuses of the most powerful country on earth with anti-Americanism. Chomsky makes a distinction between the American people and the American state, and then goes to town on the state's hypocrisy.

It's the hypocrisy that Chomsky can't stomach. It is not so much that a powerful nation is using its power to, often brutally, protect and advance its interests - that is pretty much the story of history. It is that this particular nation so excessively uses the language of truth and justice, and then mocks these words by its actions. Chomsky takes the role of a sort of secular prophet, a small and obnoxious, yet incessant voice revealing truths that we, in our comfort and plenty, tend to want to ignore. He reminds the powers that their main thrust is not altruistic as they preach it, but self-interested.

And even if half of what he says is true, we should be bugged; at the very least strengthened in our skepticism toward governments and political systems that pretend they share the same goals and dreams as Christ. For me, Chomsky is helpful in making my allegiances clearer.

Anyway, let's get down to some of the meat. He spends a lot of time discussing recent history, and delves into the Kennedy administration in light of some of the discovery's that are emerging from recently declassified documents. In building his case on America's incredible double standard in regards to "international terrorism" he mentions the discussions of the Kennedy administration regarding Cuba:

...After the [Cuban Missile] crisis ended, Kennedy renewed the terrorist campaign. Ten days before his assassination he approved a CIA plan for "destruction operations" by US proxy forces "against a large oil refinery and storage facilities, a large electric plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities, and underwater demolition of docks and ships." A plot to kill Castro was initiated on the day of the Kennedy assassination. The campaign was called off in 1965, but "one of Nixon's first acts in office in 1969 was to direct the CIA to intensify covert operations against Cuba."

Of particular interest are the perceptions of the planners. In his review of recently released documents on Kennedy-era terror, Dominguez observes that "only once in these nearly thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S.-government sponsored terrorism": a member of the NSC staff suggested that it might lead to some Russian reaction, and raids that are "haphazard and kill innocents... might mean a bad press in some friendly countries." The same attitudes prevail throughout the internal discussions, as when Robert Kennedy warned that a full-scale invasion of Cuba would "kill an awful lot of people, and we're going to take an awful lot of heat on it." (p. 85)

One might wonder to what degree our first world lifestyles are lived out on the backs of the third world. Chomsky contends that just such a situation exists and is far more than just an temporary consequence of the free market - it is foreign policy:

...These patterns have not been restricted to the domains of the Monroe Doctrine. To take one of many examples from other parts of the world, while Washington was facilitating the "democratic rebellion" in Brazil and seeking to overcome Cuba's efforts to "take matters into its own hands," elder statesman Ellsworth Bunker was sent to Indonesia to investigate troubling conditions there. He informed Washington that "the avowed Indonesian objective is 'to stand on their own feet' in developing their economy, free from foreign, especially Western, influence." A National Intelligence Estimate in September 1965 warned that if the efforts of the mass-based PKI "to energize and unite the Indonesian nation . . . succeeded, Indonesia would provide a powerful example for the underdeveloped world and hence a credit to communism and a setback for Western prestige." That threat was overcome a few weeks later by a mass slaughter in Indonesia and then the installation of the Suharto dictatorship. From the 1950s, fear of independence and excessive democracy—permitting a popular party of the poor to participate in the electoral arena—had been driving factors in Washington's exercises of subversion and violence, much as in Latin America... (p. 93)

Chomsky's reporting of the history of Reagan's contravention in Latin America is gut-wrenching. And it is not like this is hidden stuff, this isn't conpiracy theory history. It's not hard to find, but, like the gay cousin in a Mennonite family, we tend to not want to talk about it much. He talks about the School of the Americas (based in Florida, I think):

...The famous School of the Americas, which trains Latin American officers to carry out their missions, proudly announces as one of its "talking points" that the US Army helped to "defeat liberation theology," the heresy to which the Latin American Church succumbed when it adopted "the preferential option for the poor" and was made to suffer its own "terrors of the earth" for this departure from good order. Symbolically, the grim decade of Reagan-Bush I terror was opened, shortly before they took office, by the assassination of a conservative Salvadoran archbishop who had become a "voice for the voiceless," with thinly veiled complicity of the US-backed security forces; and the decade closed with the murder of six Jesuit Salvadoran intellectuals whose brains were blown out, and their housekeeper and her daughter murdered, by an elite Washington-armed-and-trained battalion that had already compile, a record of bloody atrocities.

The significance of these events in Western culture is illustrated by the fact that the work of these troublesome priests is unread and their names unknown... (p. 91)

More later...

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Peter Kreeft writes about what it means to be a Christian:

"If 'to become a Christian' means to receive the real, objective Christ, then the only way to be saved is to become a Christian. But nothing in Scripture proves that Socrates was not a Christian in this sense. If on the other hand 'to become a Christian' means to knowingly profess the orthodox faith in Christ, then you do not need to be a Christian to be saved, or else Abraham is unsaved, and so are all who believe orthodox ideas. How unorthodox do your ideas have to be in order to send you to hell? Where is the dividing line? Does God give you a theology exam?"

via Jeremy Olson

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Ooh, the danger of everyone walking around with a cell phone in this place!

Most of my friends know that I hate talking on the phone, and I regularly leave calls for the answering machine, or just send an email. Well, that gets all the more dangerous when you are walking around in public areas with a cell phone in your pocket.

A friend of mine told me a great story this week. He was sitting on a bench in downtown Nagoya when one of his co-worker friends went walking by. He thought it would be funny to give him a call and then walk up behind him as they are talking (yeah, can you see it coming...). So he makes the call and gets burned as his friend takes out his phone, looks at the call display, sighs deeply, and then puts the phone back in his pocket and walks on. My flabbergasted friend couldn't think of anything to do other than immediately send the guy a phone mail saying "I saw that". The next time he saw him, the guy apologized profusely, but jeez, damage done.

It made me nervous because I have done that same thing SO MANY TIMES!! But I will be checking over my shoulder the next time I do it in public...