...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Tolstoy: That's...uh....what?

A few years ago in a used book store - not sure if it was in Alaska or Arizona - I picked up a well-worn copy of Tolstoy's "On Civil Disobedience and Non-violence." I must say, I know very little of Tolstoy, but picked up the book because it sounded interesting. I thought Tolsoty was Orthodox. I mean, Tolstoy=Russian, Russia=Orthodox, ergo Tolstoy=Orthodox. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong again. I pulled it off the book shelf last week for want of something to read (I've been reading even more than I usually do in the last month or so; its one way I deal with the tension & frustration we're feeling right now. Yesterday I finished a 700 page book I bought Thursday night, so I'm quickly running short on reading material. I need a library card.) This piece is from an essay called Church and State:

"Religion cannot be forced and cannot be accepted for the sake of anything, force, fraud, or profit. Therefore what is so accepted is not religion but a fraud. And this religious fraud is a long-established condition of man's life.
In what does this fraud consist, and on what is it based? What induces the deceviers to produce it? and what makes it plausible to the deceived?...In Christianity, the whole fraud is built up on the fantastic conception of a Church: a conception founded on nothing, and which as soon as we being to study Christianity amazes us by its unexpected and useless absurdity.
Of all the godless ideas and words there is none more godless than that of a Church. There is no idea which has produced more evil, none more inimical to Christ's teaching, than the idea of a Church."

The essay continues thusly, charging that the Church is actually a fraud perpetuated by the clergy because of their desire for power primarily, but also wealth & comfort. It is, of course, a rather old argument, so what surprised me was not its content, but its unfortunate similarity to some Protestant currents of thought about denominations.

The church I recently departed was part of a smallish denomination of 39 local churches. Its grown considerably over the last decade or so, adding several church plants and accepting existing churches into its organization. While the local churches are, for the most part, doing quite well, the denomination itself is in a bit of a crunch. Churches are giving less as part of their general funding and many are starting to strike out on their own international-missions wise (those that care about IM, anyways) and so are reducing their direct funding for that as well. The main motivator for this decline in funding is a strain of thinking that says denominations don't matter, that its all about the local church. Bill Hybels and the Willowcreek Association are big contributors to this thinking; for them, the local church is really the only thing that matters because it is the primary vehicle for reaching the masses with the Gospel. In its utilitarian ecclesiology, denominational structures are essentialy useless and are therefore jettisoned, or at least jettisonable.

The heart of this matter is, of course, ecclesiology. How are we to understand ecclesiology, and the related issues of authority and structure? Despite Tolstoy's claims to the contrary (claims predicated mainly on a rejection of Paul and pretty much the rest of the NT), the Bible does give us a good basis for answering these questions, particularly in light of Holy Tradition. I think I may turn this into a little project - partially for the sake of my own sanity which is imperiled by the increasing tedium of near-constant home improvement projects over the last month, and partially because I'd like to answer the question for myself: what is the proper ecclesiology? No promises though, since I don't know if I'll have the time.

Holy Lands Blogging

Adam from Pomomusings (linked at right), is in Israel/Palestine for the summer with a Christian organization - it might be a PCUSA thing, or it could be something else; I couldn't find a definitive reference after a brief skimming. Adam is, of course, an Emergent guy and given Emergent's liberalizing tendencies, I'm not surprised that he sides with the Palestinians. Stuff like this isn't so surprising, but it is frustrating. How do the Jews feel when they are hit by suicide bombers? How do the Jews feel when all of the nations surrounding them funnel money to terrorist organizations that target Israel? How do they feel when all the surrounding nations don't even have Israel on their maps and refuse to officially recognize them as a sovereign nation? I'm not saying I think Israel's actions in response to the Palestinian terror organizations has been perfect; far, far from it. But simple fairness demands that we consider both sides, and that is something woefully lacking here. The pictures are good, though, so check out the photo galleries.


Writer's block

Ever since I became unemployed, I have had a bit of writer's block. I've had time to post at least a little here and there, but I just don't have anything to talk about. The last few weeks for me have been spent working on the house and looking for work - neither have been overly stimulating and haven't spawned any deep cogitations. Except that you should put primer on just about anything before you paint; one window frame will just not stay white. If color seeps through again, I'm going to prime it and then put the 6th coat of paint on. Hopefully that will do the trick. Thankfully, the home improvement projects are coming to a close. The upstairs is almost complete - just a little more paint on the bathroom window, installing blinds and re-hanging a bedroom door. If all goes well, it should be done tonight. Then its on to the crown molding in the dining room and a little paint removal. That could be done by Saturday afternoon if all goes according to plan.

I've gotten a couple of call backs for jobs, but so far nothing is really sounding that good. One didn't offer anywhere near enough pay for its area and the other basically gives you a completely random schedule every week; no 2 days off in a row, your shift can start anytime between 10am and 6pm and can be on any day and you have to work overtime on little to no notice. Thanks, but no thanks. I'm tempted to keep it open for the time being since I don't have any other good leads yet, but its a temptation I'm feeling very good about resisting.



So I went and saw "Batman Begins" on Friday afternoon. The wife, not a huge action flick fan, much less an aficionado of the Dark Knight, chose to let me attend on my own. The movie as a movie was good; good pacing and character development, they did a good job of filling in Batman's back-story, good action without it being over the top and certainly not very much gore, which is a nice change. I left the theater, though, feeling very troubled by the film. It just didn't sit right. WARNING: Spoilers to follow. If you plan to see the movie, come back and read this after you are done.

We are, of course, reacquainted with another version of Bruce Wayne's tragic childhood; only child sees his parents gunned down outside a theater, grows up alone, etc. However, this does not follow the script we heard in the first Batman movie - no "you ever dance with the devil..." and the Waynes' killer ends up dead at the hand of a mob assassin some years later. I realize the makers of this Batman movie did not want to be tied to any of the others, but I found this variation a bit grating. Yes, the mugger's death is integral to Bruce Wayne becoming the Batman: he was planning on killing his parents murderer after he got out early from assisting the government on an organized crime investigation. After his plans are foiled, it starts Bruce on a chain of events that lead him to seek to understand the criminal mind and eventually takes him to his mentor who will train him in martial arts, the use of fear and the importance of justice. In the first movie, you'll remember it was a young Joker who murdered the Waynes and that act played a key part in its plot. This discontinuity soured the movie for me, at least for a little while. If we are to understand this movie as a prequel of sorts, then this change in the story trips things up. It would be like tampering with the original Star Wars movies in the prequels; Leah isn't really Luke's sister, or Jabba the Hutt is actually a good guy.

We are first forced to confront Bruce's unmitigated hatred for the man who killed his parents, and with him, a thirst for revenge he unthinkingly labels justice. He refuses to forgive, refuses to let go of the pain, refuses to do anything but live in the past, embracing the moment of his worst agony. In this, we see that Bruce/Batman is actually diametrically opposed to the Christian ideal. He hangs onto his hate and is ruled by fear. He feels no love, only bitterness over what was taken from him with absolutely no regard for anyone other than himself. He eventually moves past this brutal fixation on vengeance, but only by a matter of degree. His mentor, a master ninja and member of the centuries old League of Shadows, which has battled corruption and evil as far back as the Roman Empire (this character mentions the league's involvement in the fall of Rome, among other examples of powerful political entities that eventually became corrupt and were pulled down) orders Bruce, as a final test of his training, to kill a murderer. Bruce refuses, saying since his compassion is the only thing that separates him from the criminal, then he must hold onto it. But truly it is not compassion - Bruce thinks the man should be killed by the lawful authorities, not him. There is no hint of trying to understand why the man committed his crime and if there might be elements that mitigate the deserved punishment. It is only this trifle of respect for the rule of law that separates Bruce from the criminal; he has no qualms about the use of violence, does not hesitate to instill fear and, in fact, is trained to use fear as a weapon, and certainly has no overall respect for the law. It also becomes abundantly clear later in the movie that Bruce/Batman has little respect for human life in his quest for "justice" and the "good."

In one dramatic scene, his old friend and assistant DA Rachel (played by Katie Holmes) is gassed with a lethal dose of a mind-altering chemical agent. Bruce/Batman must rush her back to the Batcave where he has the antidote. But his drive back to the manor is actually a car chase involving dozens of cop cars - many of which crash in manners that are likely fatal to the occupants. Further, Batman drives over rooftops, knocking debris onto the ground below in a complete disregard for any possible pedestrians. These innocent deaths do not matter to him so long as he can save his old friend; another mark of the selfishness that permeates Batman's motivations. Bruce isn't fighting for some objective good or for the benefit of society - he is fighting because he is consumed by hatred and anger. In this, he is actually very much like the character of Anakin Skywalker, the primary difference being that Bruce Wayne is self-aware enough to realize that, in venting his hatred, there is little that separates him from the criminals he fights. Thus, he puts a veneer of good on it, by fighting for "justice", by opposing them and trying to hand them over to the authorities for prosecution. But at its root, his fight is fueled by hate and by Bruce's selfish desire to act on it.

Which is why I left the theater thinking "is Batman an antichrist?" And the answer, I think, is an unfortunate yes. Yes, Batman fights evil, but for the wrong reasons. He fights, not in order to save the criminal, or even to save the criminal's victims, but in order to inflict the punishment of his own hatred on those he sees as "evil."


What to post?

I was fortunate enough to find a local coffee shop that has free wireless access, and my wife was fortunate enough to have a friend give her an old lap-top. A happy bit of providence that has allowed me to spend several mornings this week applying for jobs while sipping a nice, hot cup of joe. So far, no responses on the job search, but I re-wrote my resume and cover letter, so I'm hopeful that the latest broadcast will turn up some results.

I've been doing some extensive home-improvement projects over the last 2 weeks - new trim & paint in one of the bedrooms, constructed closet doors, painted the hall/stairs, replaced the kitchen floor and am getting ready for crown-molding and other trim in the dining room. We have some ancient paint - probably lead - on some of the trim in the dining room and applied some Ready-strip (as seen on TV) last night. Man, that stuff is awesome! After only an hour or so, some of the paint was literally dripping off the wall. I'm going home to scrape it all off in a few minutes, in preparation for the realtor coming over to have a look. Based on a phone conversation with her earlier this week, she seems to think we can sell our house for at least $10,000 more than what we paid for it in October. Its a combination of the market and the improvements we've made, and certainly isn't a bad turn-around on the investment. Hopefully she'll maintain the same rosy outlook when she sees it today.

I have, of course, lately had little time for in-depth reading and haven't had a chance to consider much beyond the immediate projects set before me. But I did have a chance last night to read a litle "For the Life of the World" by Fr Schmemann, and this quote jumped out at me:

The first act of the Christian life [just before baptism] is a renunciation, a challenge. No one can be Christ's until he has, first, faced evil, and then become ready to fight it. How far is this spirit from the way in which we often proclaim, or to use a more modern term, "sell" Christianity today!...One does not see very well where and how "fight" would fit into the weekly bulletin of a suburban parish, among all kinds of counseling sessions, bake sales, and "young adult" get togethers.

Where, indeed, would "fight" fit? Now, anyone who has even been casually acquainted with this blog over the last year or so knows that this is a critique that speaks directly to the church by which I was formerly employed. So I'm not going to talk about that; its well-worn ground and I'm honestly trying to put it behind me. To constantly talk about or dwell on that church's failings would be only to continually pick at the scab, starting to bleed all over again. No, its my own life, my own heart that I'm interested in.

And I realize, immediately, that I have not truly taken that stand to fight. I have not truly "renounced Satan, and all his Angels, and all his works, and all his services, and all his pride?" For instance, when I exploded at my wife yesterday because she made a harmless joke that wounded my fragile pride, where was my renunciation? When I have wallowed in bitterness and anger over being fired, or held onto a grudge against the leaders at my former church, where was my decision to fight? When I am faced with temptation, with my own failing, where is my resolution to do battle? It is lost in apathy, to be honest. I think it is a sensation that has dominated this last year; a feeling of swimming in molasses, of constantly battling a swift current and being exhausted by it. It is easier to go with the flow than to go against it, simpler by far to float instead of fight. But its end is destruction, dissolution and I want to be Christ's. I want to be holy, to be transformed, to throw off this entangling snare.

I renounce Satan, and all his Angels, and all his works.....


Narrowing the search

The first week of my extended vacation has passed largely without incident. I have spent the majority of my time working on our house and preparing it for a potential/likely sale. There were 3 big projects to be completed: the second bedroom upstairs needed trim & closet doors, the kitchen floor needs to be replaced and crown molding in the dining room. The first, aside from a few more coats of paint, is done. The second is about half-way there; just waiting for the floor primer (never knew there was such a thing) to dry so we can start laying the vinyl tiles tomorrow morning. The crown-molding will have to wait until later this week, but we'll probably get the house on the market in the next few days.

The biggest thing the wife and I are facing right now is, of course, what to do next. On a suggestion from my mother, I'm looking at nursing schools - I've always been interested in medicine and a job with good pay & benefits, with high portability and a huge "other-focused" factor, is right up my alley. We've been praying about it a lot and we're feeling a peace about pursuing that, but still aren't fully decided on it. Part of that stems from the fact that I would have to complete some more schooling and the rest from not knowing where to go/if we should stay here. But more school was inevitable - a BA in Religious Studies looks nice on the wall but doesn't open many doors - as was moving. However, there are a couple of school options here, as well as others near family on both sides with varying degrees of potential job connections. So where we're going is pretty up in the air right now. Which is why I'm glad I've had all these projects to work on; its allowed me to stay focused on the immediate, accomplishable future. Very soon, though, this transitional period will end and we will have to get on with the difficult work of actually stepping out in faith.

There have been a lot of things I've wanted to comment on over the last week, but haven't had either the time or computer access to make that happen. Once these projects are completed and until I find a job or we move, I should have more time. Your continued prayers are greatly appreciated.