I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


For the last several days I have been in the process of preparing my new house (I use the term "new" rather loosely) for the move.

I purchased a small, old house in a very ideal location, and there is much work to be done. I have never done construction, but I have some good friends who have expertise in fix-it-up work.

The two main rooms that we are working on are the living room and a side bedroom. In the side bedroom all things have been ripped down; at one point we could see up through to the roof! There was paneling and a cheap, lowered ceiling that were all ripped out of both rooms.

Lots of demolition. But, as the Good Book says, "There is a time to build up, and a time to tear down." Our time to build up has arrived. Today we work on drywall and patching work.

I never realized that construction was so much fun! (Matt, why didn't you tell me??!!) It's hard work, but very rewarding to see some of the old crap get broken down and taken out. We are transforming a house that had seen a bit of decay and lots of neglect over the years into something new and beautiful again.

Also of interest to me is the people who are helping me. Without their insights and spare hands, I wouldn't even begin. I have obviously very grateful; however, more than just thankfulness is the sense that my house is not just my house. That is, if there are people give their time and knowledge to make this project happen, then it isn't just my project and it isn't just my house.

I think of the old days (and the Amish of the present day) when members of a rural community would all converge on a property for a barn raising. The barn raising involves the whole community who, within a mere day, can construct an entire barn--no small task! But if it is your fellow friends and family whose time and labor have constructed the barn, then there is a sense in which it is both your barn and also a barn that belongs to your friends a family. So, in this sense there is individual rights and individual ownership, but there is still a strong sense that a person is not an island to himself but a part of a greater whole upon which he is dependent and into which he will invest his energies to help the community prosper. (From a philosophical perspective this is some of how the discussion proceeds as it relates to the economy of the gift.)

This sense of dependency is what we have no need of in America. Imagine if I had decided to pursue the accounting/business profession with all of my energy. At this point in life if I were buying a house, I would not waste time purchasing a fixer upper, and any needed repair work would be done by a hired professional, perhaps someone that I knew had a good professional reputation but certainly not a friend. My money would buy work needed to be done, I would have not part in it, and once the transaction is completed I would have no need for the workers and the workers would have no need for me. This is capitalism that creates distance.

In my current situation there is a reciprocity at work: I receive the gift of others and in turn I reciprocate this to others who might need something similar in the future. If one does not need to receive a gift, then one is less likely to give. Mutual dependency creates a sense of responsibility. It also connects us in a deeper way. In current American society, we have lost this. It is part of a larger way of life in which we have lost connectedness with each other and have become fragmented and isolated.

On another miscellaneous note....I told my family and friends that I was not doing Xmas this year. I got some cheers and some jeers. One of my brothers said I was right on and that Xmas was a crock. The other brother said was going to get me a gift, anyway; on Friday I received a FedEx from him that contained a lump of coal. (Actually, it was charcoal briquets that I will use this summer for cookout on the deck that I need to build!)

Photos will follow showing the various steps of de/re/construction. I am keeping something of a photo journal of this whole process.

Well, I must get back to work.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artificial Place

I recently watched The Island (2005) with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. It was a good film, definitely worth seeing if you enjoy sci-fi that is of the Aldous Huxley variety. There was certainly nothing that was entirely original in The Island, but I thought that the movie was well put together and the narrative and characters were compelling.

The setting for the film is in an artificial world. There are a group of people who have been rescued from the toxic poison of the outside world and now live in a safe, artificial environment. All things in this world are sterile and white. But this world is not the real world. Two of these people (McGregor and Johansson) eventually escape and discover that there is another world outside of the artificial one. The couple also finds that they are clones who have been purchased for their body parts. Those who paid for their cloning have no idea that real people (i.e. withe real consciousness) are being manufactured as products. The clones are brainwashed with talk of "You are special...You have a very special purpose..."

For my purposes in this post, the interesting thing is that the world of the clones is an artificial one. The Place is manufactured and synthetic. If they escape, they find a sharp contrast between the artificial and the real. The artificial world is manipulated by standards and norms that are implemented for specific purposes: To produce homogeneous human beings. These are people who basically have the same identity and purpose in life and who behave in a regimented way so as to be used for the purposes of their creators. They are people, yes. But they are people who are manipulated by their environment so as to be useful for their ultimate purpose. Genuine self discovery and authentic sense of self is denied.

The Place is not authentic. The Place is artificial.

The idea of Place is important in relation to the church. Things like atmosphere, culture, norms (spoken or especially unspoken), forums for teaching/preaching/discussion, et al are very important. Place within the context of the church determines what kind of community that believers can become and the extent to which they can explore their faith or be indoctrinated (or brainwashed, as the case may be).

Question: Can the church become an artificial place?

Of course it can.

A church that becomes artificial is disconnected from the realities of the outside world. Just like in The Island, many church buildings in America teem with religiously minded folk who together create a kind of bubble from the world. Regardless of how bad you have screwed up in the past week, you can always exit the real world of struggle, go down the rabbit hole, and enter into the wonderland of church on a Sunday morning. Here you do not need to face the reality of your life, or, if you choose to introspect and examine yourself, you can repent and promise in your heart that you will try harder and do better. Along with your resolve comes a sense of having received God's grace. (Grace, of course, is never given by God unless we promise him that we will try harder, or, translated into spiritual-speak, that we will "rely on God more to help us overcome the flesh.")

The problem is that it is all artificial. We all exit the church doors and proceed to make the same screwups and live the same lives. In many ways, I think the problem has to do with Place. There can be no genuine or authentic change within the artificial world of church.

Another problem with creating an artificial church environment is that it renders the personal exploration of faith nearly impossible, except in very rare instances. This is one of the reasons why real life-change does not take place.

The current Place of church comes out of the mindset of mass marketing. Faith is something pre-packaged for the masses. It is similar to a McDonald's in that we can all come to church, get our spiritual fast food and be on our way.

One of the things that I have previously mentioned on this blog is that words mean things. What words mean has to do with how they are used. As such, I suggest that the word "Church" is, by definition, an artificial Place. Church is associated with a synthetic environment: a building, a budget, a way of smiling and saying, "Hi, how are you, I'm fine thank-you-very-much," and going through the motions of religiosity. This is true, I believe, as much for the "good" conservative Bible believin' churches as much as for the "evil" liberal or postmodern churches.

What is very rare (oh, so rare!) in Christian circles is an authentic Place.

Only in an authentic place can there be authentic expressions, experiences, and explorations on the part of the faithful. But it all starts with Place. If you have an environment manufactured for the masses, then do not expect substantive lives of faith. Having an authentic Place does not ensure that there will be people of faith; this is a given. But without an authentic Place real faith simply does not exist.

This all begs the question: Like the heroes of The Island, should we who are serious about faith all make a break for it and try to escape?!!? That's when it gets really scary, because the real world is never safe, and we are only human, after all, we would rather be safe than real; artificial people in our artificial worlds.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yearly Depression

I am in the midst of packing my junk for the big move. Although I am not a sold-out suburbanite, I still have what I believe is an excess of useless crap. Because I have a few weeks of downtime before I must move, I am making it my goal to throw out all things unnecessary or unhelpful and to organize all of the rest.

Bank statements.

The past few years have been rather hectic. Therefore, this particular former-accountant has not kept his own personal records very organized. My bank statements were basically all in a pile in no discernible order. The solution for me is to sort them (as I have done) and to put them in manila folders in a file cabinet. Each year shall have its own manila folder.

Next comes the existential moment.

I was labeling the years of each manila folder. I then thought to myself, "Hhhhmmm....perhaps you should label several folders going out several years so that your manila folders will be good and ready for each new year." Ah, I thought to myself (now switching back to my dominant personality), that's a good idea. The manila folders have tabs in different places (left side, center, and right side), so it would be nice to have them all organized and ready for each year.

So, I began to label them, but as I was labeling the new year (2008) and the years beyond I found myself with a sinking feeling of despair. Each year became more difficult to write and the sense of depression deepened; it was painful to write out the future years. I could only label through 2010 because going into the next decade was just too depressing.

Why is this?

Why a sense of depression over the upcoming years? I thought I had a lot to look forward to. In fact, I really do. I have goals, a direction for my life, and I feel more authentically me than I ever have at any time previously. I have a great job as an editor and am doing something I love. I've got great friends - even better than I deserve.

Why depression about the future? I am looking forward to it. It quite possibly may be the best years of my life. But I don't want 2010 to come. I don't want 2009 to arrive. Heck, I don't even want to see 2008, even though it is only weeks away.

I anticipate and embrace the future, and yet the thought that it will occur depresses me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bearing the Cross of Fame and Immortality

Follow up video from our current discussion on the desire of suicide shooters to gain immortality via the fame of the media. I see this as indicative of our American culture's current obsession with fame.

I had a brief conversation with co-worker/internet legend James Spinti on the issue. One thing that came up in the conversation is that it seems as though our culture has lost a sense of Self that we then supplement through fame: we have YouTube ("broadcast yourself"), Myspace/Facebook, American Idol, and other variants of these trends that are avenues for the Self to be noticed and to rise above the Herd (Nietzsche). We are lost in the Crowd (Kierkegaard). With no inherent sense of self-worth and Identity our only recourse is mass recognition. But it is all a mirage. Puddle of Mudd says,
Be careful what you wish for
Hope that its everything that you dreamed
When everythings falling apart at the seams
And I know that you never believed in me
Don't ever let them fuck with your dreams


In light of this situation, my question is this: Is the church really all that different? We typically create institutions and cultures with our own pop stars: Pastors, Speakers, Preachers, Teachers, Worship Leaders, Worship Band Members, Elders, Deacons, Counselors, Famous Authors, etc. We put people on pedestals and create hierarchies. Since we lack intimate relationships in the Body it becomes difficult to cultivate the Self in a genuine and authentic way. (The Self always needs to be cultivated within genuine relationship with others.) Without a true sense of Self, we revert to the same avenues as our peers to develop Identity: Become one of the Christian pop stars. Be known in my church as someone who is one of the best Christians in the bunch.

In my opinion, then, the deception within church is then worse than the culture at large because we can spiritualize it. We can act as though spiritual stardom is our cross to bear and that pride is our thorn in the flesh. But maybe spiritual pop stardom was never God's idea to begin with. Maybe it is a product of our own fantasy and the recontextualization of the culture's values into the context of church.

(This video is kind of generic w/ pictures of the band. Maybe when the real video makes it on to Youtube I can replace this one. Ironic, isn't it, that a band's song bashing fame will increase their fame???)

Interesting reflections by Puddle of Mudd on generating drama for the sake of writing "passionate" lyrics:
“Have you ever heard those lyrics by Nine Inch Nails: ‘I just made you up to hurt myself'?” he continues, laughing. “That's kinda how it is for songwriters I think: you almost create drama in your life just to get some good inspiration! Anything that irks you a little bit, for some weird and unknown reason, is good for really passionate songs. I write a lot of the stuff, but it's like a team – everybody's got their inspiration that they put into it.” [from the band's Myspace page 12/10/07]

Friday, December 07, 2007

Richard Hawkins and Media Immortality

I was watching an interview on Fox yesterday evening as I was peddling on the spin machine (pun intended) at the Grace College Rec Center. Fox was interviewing a psychologist (or psychiatrist) in an attempt to understand why the nineteen year-old Robert Hawkins opened fire in an Omaha shopping mall before blowing himself to bits shortly after he began. The psyche expert mentioned two things that interested me.

First, he said that the psychology field tends to lean on meds for its treatment, rather than on therapy. He said that there is a general trend to rely on meds as a quick and easy option. Whether or not that is true is something I do not know. To me, this seems like a rather convenient scapegoat, but it may very well be the case.

Second, and most interesting to me, was that he drew a parallel between the mindset of a suicide shooter like Hawkins and the motivation of an Al-Qaeda-type suicide bomber.

The common denominator? Both seek immortality.

The Religious Extremist enters instant immortality after a jihad suicide bombing: Eternity awaits with virgins and other joys and blessings. For Hawkins, immortality awaits via his lasting fame. In this information/media age, Immortality = Fame.

There is a new "cyber fame" that doesn't seem possible in any other age. If you open fire in a small town or community anywhere in the U.S., your name and face are instantly uploaded to billions of computer screens and television sets across the globe. But it isn't just your name that endures: it's your story. All the pain/anger/hurt/rage/etc. that you feel inside can be communicated to countless billions for all ages, preserved on blogs, youtube videos, and websites for all eternity. This is something of a virtual immortality.

Cho Seung-Hui, the recent gunman at the Virginia Tech shootings, was explicit in his desire to communicate a message to the world, and now even his obscure and poorly written play, Richard McBeef, will be analyzed and taken seriously. Cho was transformed from being a disturbed reject of society to being a disturbed reject who now has something to say to society. He sacrificed his life for sake of his message.

It is interesting to consider the history of media in relation to sensationalizing murder. This from Wikipedia on Jack the Ripper:

The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. Whilst not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper's case was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy. Reforms to the Stamp Act in 1855 had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation. These mushroomed later in the Victorian era to include mass-circulation newspapers as cheap as a halfpenny, along with popular magazines such as the Illustrated Police News, making the Ripper the beneficiary of previously unparalleled publicity. This, combined with the fact that no one was ever convicted of the murders, created a legend that cast a shadow over later serial killers.

Some believe that the killer's nickname was invented by newspapermen to make for a more interesting story that could sell more papers. This became standard media practice with examples such as the Boston Strangler, the Green River Killer, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Beltway Sniper, and the Hillside Strangler, besides the derivative Yorkshire Ripper almost a hundred years later and the unnamed perpetrator of the "Thames Nude Murders" of the 1960s, whom the press dubbed Jack the Stripper....

...To date more than 200 works of non-fiction have been published which deal exclusively with the Jack the Ripper murders, making it one of the most written-about true-crime subjects of the past century. Philip Sugden's The Complete History of Jack the Ripper is widely considered the best general overview of the case. Six periodicals about Jack the Ripper have been introduced since the early 1990s: Ripperana (1992-present), Ripperologist (1994-present, electronic format only since 2005), the Whitechapel Journal (1997–2000), Ripper Notes (1999-present), Ripperoo (2000–2003), and the The Whitechapel Society Journal (2005-present).

The point of this post is not to blame the media for school and mall shootings and suicide bombings. But neither can we be naive. The fact remains that our 21st century ability to proliferate information is an indispensable element in granting meaning and significance to these murders. The media guarantees the preservation of the angst. In other words, the media is immortality. And "media" is no longer a group of elites. "Media" is me and "media" is you.

Imagine that a suicide killing had occurred in a small town or an isolated community in the United States some 200 years ago. News of such a killing would not spread far. The general populace would never know. On recounting the event, the locals would likely grimace, shake their heads, and looking down at the ground say, "What a senseless, senseless murder. So pointless."

We can't say this anymore, though. We know the point. It is to proliferate pain, spread one's message, and preserve one's story. The media provides the content for the meaningless to become meaningful.

So, there arises a new cult of suicide shooters in the United States; a twisted brotherhood of suburban terrorists. It is a counter-cultural movement of troubled youths who sacrifice their lives so that their face can be uploaded to your computer screen and so that their messages can be spread across the cable news channels and preserved on Wikipedia.

I only wonder if perhaps there will arise so many of these suicide shooters that their names will become lost in a myriad of suburban terrorists and their acts will ultimately become banal and uninteresting to the public. For example, there is no national publicity if an inner city child is gunned down in the projects. Mall shootings concern suburbia because it hits too close to home.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Taking the Christ out of Christmas or Why Jesus is not the reason for the season

For my part, I know what I’m going to do about the people who are trying to suppress the “J” and “C” words. I’m not going to shop at their silly businesses, and I’m going to blast everyone I see with a full, loud, and uncensored, “Merry Christmas!” I might even start shouting at them, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” [from "Killing Christmas: Taking The Christ Out Of Christmas"]

About this time during the holiday season we hear a good deal of "Christ" and Christmas. Conservative Christians go to great pains to stress the importance of keeping the "Christ" in Christmas. Christmas, they say, is about Christ; it is about the birth of Christ and celebrating God's gift of his Son to mankind. We conservative Christians seem to feel that it our duty to put the "Christ" back into Christmas because "the world" (the most misused of all Xtian terms) has taken Christ out of Christmas. As the above quote illustrates, all of this can get rather political and emotional. Some respond rather strongly when they see businesses, government agencies, or whatnot use "Xmas" rather than "Christmas." "Put the Christ back in Christmas," we say! If not, then we shall not buy your goods and services!

In this post, I am going to make a rather radical suggestion. But it is not based on my emotions, rather it is purely a suggestion of reason. I am going to go against the conservative Christians and suggest that we should, in fact, take "Christ" out of Christmas. From here forward, I am going to use "Xmas" in my blog rather than "Christmas."

Please follow these simple points to my argument:
1) Words mean things.
2) The meaning of words is best found in how we use the words.
3) The word "Christmas" in America means: A holiday celebrating how much we can all afford to spend on stuff we don't need and that other people really don't want, all in hopes of keeping the economy afloat b/c most of our excessive buying is done during this time of year and all in all we want all of us to be happy and filled with good feelings. In short, the term "Christmas" denotes the religious worship of Consumerism.
4) The above meaning is the true meaning of Christmas. (True = how we actually do it)
5) The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with "Christ."
6) We should all acknowledge #5 and call the holiday "Xmas."
7) The "X" in Xmas can be whatever you want it to be.
8) For most of us, the "X" stands for a variable measuring the gross quantity of goods, products, and food we can consume.

The conclusion here is that "Christ" really should come out of "Christmas" This is in due respect to Christ and what he stood for. The holiday typically called "Christmas" is not about Christ, and I don't care if you go to a service, read the "Christmas story," light Jesus candles, make a donation to the United Way, or watch It's A Wonderful Life thirty times. All of these activities are good, and I can appreciate them; however, the reality is that these are side shows. We do our good deeds in order to allow ourselves the license to overindulge.

In short, Jesus is not the reason for the season....I'm going to make some bumper stickers!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for December 04, 2007 is:
rambunctious \ram-BUNK-shuss\ adjective

: marked by uncontrollable exuberance : unruly

Example Sentence:
By the time she finally got the three rambunctious children to bed, the babysitter was exhausted.

Did you know?
"Rambunctious" first appeared in print in 1830, at a time when the fast-growing United States was forging its identity and indulging in a fashion for colorful new coinages suggestive of the young nation's optimism and exuberance. "Rip-roaring," "scalawag," "hornswoggle," and "skedaddle" are other examples of the lively language of that era. Did Americans alter the largely British "rumbustious" because it sounded, well, British? That could be. "Rumbustious," which first appeared in Britain in the late 1700s, was probably based on "robustious," a much older adjective that meant both "robust" and "boisterous."

Where's Waldo????

The 2007 Eisenbrauns staff.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Human - all too human

I haven't blogged much on college football this year, but it has been an incredible year. Yesterday's action typified, mystified, and stupified the college football world, as it has been the case all season long. Both the #1 and #2 teams lost on the last day of the pre-bowl college football season. West Virginia (#2) lost an absolutely stunning game to Pittsburgh, who carried a losing record into the game. But this kind of upset occurs nearly every week, and the #2 team in the nation seems to be particularly prone to deflowering. In fact, the 2007 college football season is the year of the #2 curse.

So, I'm watching Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Chris Fowler discuss the situation this morning. Ohio State will sneak in to the #1 position. But who gets the #2 spot? This is where the debate touches on a philosophical issue: Who decides the #2 and how? Does the computer calculate the statistics and make the purely rational, objective decision? Lou Holtz was asked who should be #2. Lou answered by quickly whipping himself up into something of an emotional frenzy and made a call for those who vote for the #2 team to vote "from the heart." The computers don't watch the game, Holtz said, and the human element is necessary. This drew a pointed criticism from Mark May (which is a rather regular occurrence) who sarcastically suggested that one should not use their brain when voting. The discussion continued as to whether rational/objective measures should be used, or whether the undefined human element should be the ultimate standard for determining the college football rankings.

In some ways this is a debate we will continue to have as the lines blur between "reality" and "virtual reality." College football currently uses something of a hybrid method. The rankings are based both on human voting and also complex mathematical formulas based upon statistics; however, the so-called human element is favored. There are three elements to a BCS ranking: The AP Poll (human voting), the Coaches Poll (human voting), and the Computer Averages. The computer averages are a combination of 6 different computer rankings systems based on objective, mathematical statistics. The BCS tries to take something of an average of these various computer ranking systems to calculate the non-human element.

Why a preference for the human element? Why not just split it down the middle? Or, better yet, just let the computer decide. This is a philosophical question of great importance. As human beings we cannot ultimately choose a purely objective or mathematical means of ranking our college football teams. We still believe that there is a subjective and undefinable element that human beings possess that a computer cannot simulate. Given the choice of which college football team is "the best," we will favor a "human" choice over an objective choice. Most of us relate to Lou Holtz. We want those who cast the votes to choose "from the heart." For the majority, there is something about football that is essentially human and un-quantifiable.

College football rankings are just one of many areas of life where we must question the role of the subjective human being in relation to the objective computer system. Where it gets really interesting is when computers generate virtual realities that simulate the so-called "human element." What happens when we can no longer distinguish a difference between the "virtual world" and the "real world"? I blogged about this in relation to Warcraft and a South Park episode a while back. If one spends their lives in their mother's basement battling in an online video game of Warcraft, then what is more "real"? The virtual world of the game or the world outside mother's basement.

Another intriguing issue regarding the virtual and real world is that of sexuality. If sexual fantasies can be indulged in the virtual world with greater satisfaction than in the real world, then what are the moral implications? In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, "The body is not meant for sexual immorality....Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?....All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." If there is no other "real" person involved, and just virtual stimulation, where is the sin? Is it a "virtual sin"? Is it a lesser sin to engage in cyber sex rather than to find a hooker on the street? If most of us are being realistic, we would generally say that cyber sex is not as bad as real sex.

The virtual world is becoming the real world, and the real world is becoming the virtual world. It is increasingly becoming difficult to tell the difference.

The virtual/real overlap is also seen in Spielberg's movie A.I., the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick. In the movie, there is a moral dilemma regarding how to treat "mechas." A mecha is an artificial life form. The movie opens with a discussion of the moral implications of creating mechas that can love. There is a sequence of dialog that I have always loved. "Hobby" is giving what appears to be a lecture at a Corporation sometime in the future regarding a new virtual person (robot) that looks just like a real human. In fact, they have even equipped it with the capacity to love. A female team member raises a few questions that are intriguing:

You know, it occurs to me... um...with all this animus existing against mechas today, it isn't simply a question of creating a robot who can love, but isn't the real conundrum - can you get a human to love them back?

Ours will be a perfect child caught in a freeze-frame - always loving, never ill, never changing. With all the childless couples yearning in vain for a license, our little mecha would not only open an entirely new market, it will fill a great human need.

But you haven't answered my question. If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold toward that mecha in return?
It's a moral question, isn't it?

The oldest one of all. But in the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?
[Taken from http://www.moviescriptplace.com/main/movie/501]

Trailer for A.I.:

In this extended A.I. clip, David, the robot boy who is made to love (played by Haley Joel Osment) meets up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) and they search for the Blue Fairy (recall Pinocchio) so that David can win his mother's love. Gigolo Joe makes several, very interesting comments relevant to our discussion here on cyber sex. Also intriguing is at the very end of this clip when Joe and David combine "Fact" with "Fairy Tale" in order to find the real existence of the fairy tale character, Blue Fairy.