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Congress Fails at yet another Bi-Partisan Effort


 

The other day, a bipartisan effort failed when Democrats and Republicans attempted to play a game of baseball. The Democrats refused to start the game until the Republicans agreed to play by National-League rules.

Senator Chuck Schumer claimed, “The Designated Hitter is one of the saddest exemptions we have in today’s society. The Republicans claim that it raises the average run total per game, but it does not change the fact that injustices are riddled throughout their corrupt system.” Pelosi added,  “The Designated Hitter is allowed to hit, but does not have to play out in the field like everyone else! The system isn’t supposed to work that way. If you bat, you need to play the field! He shouldn’t get a break because he produces more runs, or totals more hits than everyone else. That line of thinking is ridiculous.”

 

The Republicans responded by saying that the Designated Hitter pays his dues already by batting, and shouldn’t be subject to unnecessary fielding requirements. Speaker Boehner exclaimed, “If we have a place for a designated hitter, he should have the right to choose whether he plays the field or not. We maximize our team, and the game overall by doing that.” Governor Romney concurred, “They say the DH needs to play out in the field if he’s going to bat? Adding a government mandate to that is not fair to the player. They’re just jealous of the Designated Hitter’s success.”

Ron Paul also mentioned that he is not playing either and claimed that both sides have it wrong.


Exploding Cars and Point of View


Finally Friday! It was not just any Friday, it was the Friday former apartment Fry C302  had anticipated for about five months. Our ultimate destination was Long Island, New York but Jason and I were going to stop in Philly to break up the trip.  I picked him up around 9:30 PM in Baltimore and we began our journey. Per the usual we discussed everything from girls, to politics, to sports and reminisced on those nostalgic moments that made college so great.

During one of our conversations I noticed a SUV fly past the passenger side in the middle lane. When he made it about three car lengths in front, the back of the vehicle started to shake and entered a fish tail. It then launched perpendicularly into the guard rail and all the lights on the car went black.

“They’re dead…” I thought immediately as I broke anticipating any debris that might ricochet back into traffic.

“Pull Over!” Jason yelled from the passenger seat. I started to pull to the left shoulder, but realized the stupidity of my decision and moved over to the right shoulder as soon as I could. Unfortunately a car in the right lane prevented us from getting over as quickly as we wanted placing us further away from the wrecked vehicle. Jason bolted out of the car and ran back towards the severe accident. I opened my door and braced myself against the car as I realized how close we were to traffic whizzing by. I restarted my car and pulled closer to the rail hoping that our car would not lead to a second wreck.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I saw other cars pulled over, or that I knew Jason was already down the road, but I wasn’t moving as fast as I’d like. The smoke from the car became thicker, indicating that something was burning. I walked over, preparing myself mentally to see a mangled, decapitated, or impaled form of the human body caused by the vicious crash.  I picked up the pace a little bit realizing that Jason would definitely pull people out if need be, and ultimately I’d need to jump in too if the situation called for it. A little ominous glow rose above the car, signally to everyone around that the passengers inside had to get out.
Luckily, by the time I arrived at the vehicle, the wounded driver (we’ll name him David for now) and fairly unharmed passenger had been pulled out by another bystander prior to either Jason’s or my arrival. The individual that pulled the victims from the car passed the David off to Jason. Blood ran down both sides of his face as he looked up dazed, unsure of what was happening. He only knew that something about 50 ft. to his left was emitting a very, very bright light. We could tell his chest was causing him immense pain as he held on to it, attempting fruitlessly to ease the sensation.  Jason sat him up on the guard rail, and the other passenger from the vehicle held David in a constant embrace, not letting him tilt in any direction.

Jason, myself, and a few other bystanders who pulled over tried to make some conversation to ease the tension and keep David awake (he had an obvious concussion). We were also shocked. As bad as David appeared, he looked better than he should’ve. I was sure no one survived the accident, so anything short of death was incredible.

A few painstakingly long moments passed as we waited for the arrival of the police and EMTs. Jason then looked at me and asked, “Is this really happening?” It was surreal. The car at this point was completely engulfed in flames. A few seconds later, we heard the final pops as the flames reached the gas tank, causing a small, but still startling explosion on the side of I-95. Everyone there was thrilled that these two individuals were on the side of the road, and out of the vehicle.

Minutes later, one of David’s friends showed up at the scene (yes, he beat the cops and EMTs). This was possibly the most difficult part of the evening. The friend (we’ll name him Joseph) ran up frenetically and in a panicked, desperate voice, he cried, “What happened man?!” He repeated those words over and over for awhile, pausing occasionally to look over David’s wounded and bloodied body. Joseph’s world crashed to the ground harder than his David’s car hit the guard rail. I had to look away and gaze back at the burning remains of the vehicle. It was almost too difficult to look at Joseph’s reaction to the entire thing. For some reason, there seemed like a bit of guilt in his voice. I have no basis for understanding why, but Jason sensed the same thing.

That was one of the many things that stuck with me from that night. It wasn’t just the honesty of his reaction, but the contrast from ours. Of course we didn’t know David, but I think there was another major factor at play. For those of us who saw the accident, David was in relatively great shape. I was expecting to come across a corpse, or at least something very close to it. When I saw him assisted to the guard rail, it was a huge relief. It was almost as if David was resurrected in my own mind.

Joseph did not witness the accident, so he could only compare David’s current state with his normal, unharmed state. This, along with all of our collective adrenaline rushes caused us to experience this I-95 scene differently. I’m not sure if Joseph will ever know just how lucky he was to see David in the state he did. Probably best he never does.

In the end both of our perspectives reflected a shared consensus on just how precious life is. Jason and I saw a life almost taken away, so behind all the wounds remained a preserved, and delicate life. Joseph missed the accident, but saw the evidence of how close he was to never seeing his friend again.


The Stain of the Oppressor


A couple days ago I started Miroslav Volf’s excellent “The End of Memory.” In it, he examines the philosophical, theological, psychological, and sociological elements of memory, and in particular, “remembering rightly.” In this, he is primarily concerned with “remembering rightly” when you are the recipient of a wrongdoing. Can we remember in a way where both justice and reconciliation are possible? Can we remember in a way where the oppressed do not turn around and become the oppressor? Can we remember truthfully in order to pursue reconciliation?

I’m only three chapters in, so I cannot give a full exposition, but one quote in particular is worth pondering. After attending school in the United States and marrying an American woman, Volf returned to his home of Yugoslavia for his mandatory military service. His education, new wife, and pacifistic views proved an incredible obstacle to the strict socialist state under the reign of Tito.

During the year 1984, he went through endless interrogations at the hands of a Captain G. These Kafkaesque (think The Trial) interrogations were essentially sessions of psychological and emotional abuse that caused Volf a great deal of pain. However, he tries to remember the situation as truthfully as possible. It’d be way too easy to make Captain G more of a villain than he was. Volf could add physical abuse to the story, or even intensify the emotional damage done. He could also de-contextualize Captain G. By this, I mean remove him from his surroundings.

Captain G was a military leader, but still a cog in the system, of a strict military under an oppressive socialist state and leader. While what Captain G did was wrong, he was also following orders. If Captain G was interrogating and abusing Miroslav Volf on his own for fun, with no pressures coming from the state or society, he is considerably more culpable than a Captain merely following orders. While the results are the ultimately the same, the true picture of Captain G is important. If Volf incorrectly remembers (or more accurately imagines) Captain G as a sadistic abuser acting as an independent agent, he his placing more blame than necessary on his oppressor. When this occurs, there is a chance that the roles of oppressed and oppressor will reverse.

In thinking through all this, Volf makes a penetrating statement, “In memory, a wrongdoing often does not remain an isolated stain on the character of the one who committed it; it spreads over and colors his entire character. Must I not try to contain that spreading with regard to Captain G’s wrongdoing?”

While many of us cannot directly relate to Volf’s experience, or to that of a holocaust survivor facing the same questions with regarding, “how do I remember and deal with my past victimization?” We can easily apply the above quote to our lives. It is very easy to look at someone who hurt us and define them by the deed. If someone lies to me in a way that cuts deeply, I will most likely forget the positive qualities he or she has. This individual ceases, and becomes a liar. It is an easy thing to do. It’s harder to view a person who hurts us, and remember them in context of all the virtues they possess. Demonizing and casting more blame on an individual than he or she deserves perpetuates the wrongdoing.

“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned…. in my own situation, I could do nothing about the first victory of evil, but I could prevent the second.”  Volf (p.9)

Thoughts?


Don’t let your ____ define you!


A couple years ago I had what many people describe as a “crisis of faith.” I questioned everything I believed and seriously wrestled with my worldview. There were certain nights in particular where I pretty much accepted the idea that this reality was it. There was no god, no resurrection, no redemption, no purpose, nothing. This line of thinking was particularly difficult. Many of you know I have mild cerebral palsy and I also accumulate every possible overuse-injury imaginable. If I were to follow the purposelessness thinking to its full extent, that meant that the surgeries and all the pain I’d faced at the time had no ultimate redeemable value. That also meant that anything I’d face in the future was fairly meaningless as well. That reality was a disturbing thought, but I’d much rather live with a disturbing thought if it’s true, than delude myself with a fantasy.

So my search for truth continued. Some days I was warmer to Christianity than others, but the first part of C.S. Lewis’ quote from Christian Reflections held true, “Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality…” In the midst of this season of extreme doubt, I was still involved in the church. This brought obvious inner-tension. How could I volunteer, or serve the God whose existence I question? It didn’t help that I over-thought everything and used every waking moment analyzing, reading on, and wrestling with my doubt. I wasn’t just looking at the specific areas I was doubting, but also this “weakness” of mine. Why did I doubt when my other friends don’t? Why do I think the way I do?

All of this led me to grab coffee with one of my friend’s pastors. He gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received (maybe a tad bit hyperbolic, but you get it). He told me, “Don’t let your doubt define you!” The phrase on its own is relatively self-explanatory, but he expounded a bit more. “You have quite a few flaws, struggles, and quirks, why are you letting one thing you struggle with define who you are as an individual?” He had a good point. The idea in the specific situation was that I could not let my little existential crisis define me and prevent me from accomplishing things I wanted to achieve. This did not mean I should just shove my problem under a rug and forget about it. On the contrary, I needed to read up, examine my doubts, and pursue the search for truth. However, in the process I could not let that define who I was.

I’ve learned that the little phrase applies to much more. As I’ve lived a little longer and encountered new struggles I’ve had to quote, and re-quote that same little line. “Don’t let your ____ define you!” Some days it is particularly difficult look at yourself beyond the lens of a struggle, flaw or trouble you are facing. Instead of saying, “I am John Smith,” the thought “I’m a failed-spouse” or “I’m an addict” dominates.

I am not someone who can claim victory over this particular issue. Many days I have to look beyond a situation and tell myself, “don’t let it define you!” I still have to fight the problem, and work to fix it but I cannot let it get in the way of who I want to be. Sometimes it’s easy to say, “someday when things get better, I’ll achieve, pursue, or put my effort into ____.” What happens when someday never comes? What if it won’t come until you move beyond a pigeonholed definition of yourself? I only write this as advice because it is some of the best that I’ve heard. I also have to repeat this little lesson to myself. I don’t know who reads these posts, but if anything actually clicked with anybody, I’m praying with you tonight!


Interesting Graphic on Evolution and Creationism


 

BioLogos produced this graphic the other week. Interesting and worth a look.

 


Watching Somebody Love


“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Donald Miller Blue Like Jazz

The other day I caught one of the screenings of Blue Like Jazz in DC. While walking back to the metro, one of my friends mentioned a quote from the movie (as well as the book) and commented on how the idea was rushed in the film (or at least not given the time or thought that the quote might’ve deserved). It was set up on Donald’s inability to love jazz music until he saw how much his father appreciated it. He also related it to seeing Penny’s love for Jesus stir a passion in her for the people of Kashmir, India. While Miller’s use of “sometimes” obviously implies that he is not making a general all-encompassing statement, it is worth looking into a little further.

Miller’s examples start out with one key factor, he had some aversion to both jazz, and Jesus (at least at that period of life). So this phrase will not apply to someone who tries ice cream as a child and immediately loves it. However ice cream can serve as an example. I’d argue that in order to truly love something, you have to understand it. Also, in understanding it, you must know how to love it.

Understanding: If I am going to truly love ice cream, I’ll need to at least know why it is lovable. It is lovable in part because it is edible, sweet, flavorful, cold, and creamy (at least not a solid). If I claim to love ice cream because I enjoy its hot temperature, I am not describing ice cream accurately, and am probably talking about something entirely different. Ice cream is also intended for consumption by its creators. If you like ice cream because you enjoy throwing it at a wall, you are not fulfilling the purpose that the creators intended, and you are making it something quite different.

Know How to love: If I understand it, I also must know how to appreciate it and love it. I cannot enjoy the flavors, texture, or sugar if I receive a bowl of ice cream and flush it down a toilet. I might enjoy looking at it swirl and disappear but I am not enjoying ice cream. Rather I am enjoying an odd form of visual stimulation. I can only enjoy ice cream, if I am able to take in the properties that make ice cream, ice cream. I do this by eating it. Which, is also how I understand it!

So what does all this have to do with the quote above? Sometimes we don’t know how to love something properly. We may not know enough about it, and need someone to help us understand the object of love, as well as how to love it.

Your hypothetical friend is a Shakespeare fan, you… not so much. It is hard to get past the language, the plots aren’t quite your thing, and the issues rarely seem relevant to you. You notice that your friend reads the plays, reads literature about the plays, and will often view a play like “Merchant of Venice” multiple over the course of years. You eventually ask your friend, why do you like those stories so much?

The person will probably not tell you that they love Shakespeare’s stories, he only had about six originals. He or she will probably point out the rich literary tradition that he drew upon. Or the person will mention the complexity he added by throwing in a character whose name correlates with a person from Ovid’s Metamorphosis or Greek mythology. The individual might also mention Shakespeare’s ability to write a character’s personal thoughts into a play (a skill and element of storytelling which most screenwriters today avoid like the plague). A true Shakespeare fan will also mention the double entendre in his storytelling. Shakespeare had a remarkable ability for writing plays that simultaneously challenged and maintained the status quo, allowing him to subtly insult a monarch to his face while keeping his head attached to his body. Or, the Shakespeare fan could mention the variety of issues the Bard raises, such as race, homosexuality, hypocrisy, antisemitism, and feminism/misogyny. Then, the fact that the plays are left so open, that the tone or vocal inflection of an actor/actress could drastically alter the play’s message on any of the above topics. This is why your hypothetical friend loves Shakespeare.

His love of Shakespeare also shows you how to love it as well. You don’t just sit back and read, you pursue an understanding. I will never gain appreciation for some of the hints Shakespeare drops with names unless I do some work on Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I will miss some elements he intended if I don’t strengthen my knowledge of his influences. Also, I can miss out on some of the discussion if I choose not to research his production company. If I ignored that, I would be hopelessly unaware that his actors were all male. Knowing that fact alone adds some more puzzles to the story, As You Like It. Where Rosalind, in pursuit of Orlando, dresses up as a male named Ganymede (a character in Greek mythology with some homoerotic overtones) in order to make him the perfect suitor. In doing this, one of the other female characters falls in love with Ganymede. While we cannot make judgments as to his intention, when we picture the play as it would have been presented, it causes us to think even more.

Sometimes you need to see someone love something, particularly how someone loves something to love it. Usually this involves seeing what the object really is, and we rarely will understand something full on our own. If, like Don, you grew up seeing Jesus as a white, middle-class, Republican who fully endorsed Reagan’s supply-side economics who only cared about people after they died… you might have an aversion to Him. It might take someone actually following Jesus (John 14:15), who is caring for the people both physically and spiritually to show you what loving Jesus looks like.


Favorite Reads of 2011


Yes I am trading thoughtful (or merely time-consuming for me) posts for an end of the year book list. It’s not a top ten, and I do not have a “read of the year.” These are the books that lingered in my mind past the initial reading and were the ones I couldn’t put down.

Fear and Trembling: Soren Kierkegaard

– From his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of faith. He examines Abraham’s obedience and willingness to sacrifice Isaac as a tool to explore the internal process of making an obedient decision out of faith. Here he deploys his famous analogy of the Knight of Infinite Resignation vs. the Knight of Faith. Making the topic more interesting, Kierkegaard’s seems to use his analysis as a way of coming to grips with his own personal failure of letting his beloved, Regine Olson, slip through his fingers.

Resurrection of the Son of God: NT Wright

– The third installment in Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God Series packs a punch for anyone interested in studying the topic of Resurrection and/or afterlife. He takes us culture by culture, thinker by thinker, philosophy by philosophy, examining what each people group thought of in terms of resurrection, afterlife, death, etc. Wright does this to set up a historical understanding of the concept in order to fully comprehend what Christians meant when they used the term in the New Testament. He then proceeds to argue that the best explanation for these Christian writings and the Christian movement, was a historical bodily Resurrection. This book is also helpful because Wright accurately critiques the all-too common unbiblical Platonic and Cartesian views of heaven present in many evangelical churches today. A “must-read” if you’re ready for 750 pages on the topic.

Exclusion and Embrace: Miroslav Volf

– Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace might be my book of the year. The book explores ideas of conflict, conflict resolution, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, and evil all in relation to the cross. He skillfully critiques modernity and postmodernity’s attempts at deciding what we’re supposed to do with evil and atrocities in the world in favor of a Biblical view. An excellent read and a good way to brush up on post-modern thinking.

Evil and the Justice of God: NT Wright

-Yes another NT Wright book made my list. This book is highly influenced by Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace but more directly tries to answer the “Problem of Evil.” He attempts to present a Biblical Model and answer that is both enlightening and challenging. Wright’s handling of the problem will not satisfy all, but is a refreshing departure from the usual defenses and arguments presented in favor of Christianity. Like Wright’s other material, he astutely emphasizes the complete meta-narrative of scripture enabling us to see the problem, and the picture more clearly.

Generous Justice: Tim Keller

– Tim Keller released an excellent little book on the topic of justice. This was one of the more refreshing reads as Keller is an unashamed evangelical whose passion for evangelism and social justice are evident in all his writing. He effectively articulates God’s concern for the poor, making any theology omitting the poor, fallacious theology. Many books that address the issue of social justice come from the perspective of a more liberal-minded theology, Keller breaks that trend providing a breath of fresh air for those who feel that evangelicalism in the United States lacks passion in that arena. A short, but great read.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: Richard Bauckham

– An excellent read in the field of Biblical Studies regarding eyewitness testimony in the ancient world and specifically in the Gospels. While the book’s scope is broad, my favorite sections are Bauckham demonstrates the Bible’s internal textual evidence regarding the witnesses behind particular stories. His section on the eyewitness testimony of women in the Gospel of Luke is of particular interest.

I had other good reads this year, but these are the highlights.

In an effort to protect myself from Theological McCarthyism, I offer this disclaimer.  While I would highly recommend any of these books, I do not endorse all the ideas conveyed by the authors.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Hunger Games trilogy: heck, I started the books and couldn’t put them down.