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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The World's Growing Food-Price Crisis

Soaring prices of staples — which have risen about 75% since 2005, driven by growing demand, rising oil prices and the effects of global warming — have sparked riots in several countries, as people reel from sticker shock and governments scramble to feed their people.

One factor driving up the cost of food is the rocketing price of oil, which raises agricultural costs of everything from fertilizer to transport and shipping. Like the oil price, the cost of food is responding, in part, to the burgeoning demand in China and India, where rising incomes allow people to eat bigger meals, and to buy meat far more frequently. That, in turn, has helped to squeeze the world's supply of grain, since it takes about six pounds of animal feed to produce a pound of meat.

Then there is climate change: Harvests have been seriously disrupted by freak weather, including prolonged droughts in Australia and southern Africa, floods in West Africa, and deep frost in China and Europe. And the push to produce biofuels to replace hydrocarbons is also adding to the pressure on food supplies — generous U.S. subsidies for ethanol has gobbled up needed food acreage, as farmers switch from producing food. "The area used for biofuels is increasing each year," says Nik Bienkowski, head of research at ETF Securities, a commodities trading firm in London.

From The World's Growing Food-Price Crisis

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some truths are best left unsaid

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. - Psalm 51

Interesting that Lauren believed that she thought that she was a "good person;" yet something inside obviously is not convinced. The host, Mark Wahlberg said to her that "your truth" is that you still have not forgiven yourself. What did he mean by "your truth"?

Many Christian conservatives I have heard cringe at subjective truth statements like "truth for me" or "truth for you" or "your truth." Kierkegaard went straight to subjectivity for truth, not bashful at all to say that subjectivity is truth. Some of the most profound truths are those that remain concealed within us; truths that we are unaware or unconscious of.

People criticize the show Moment of Truth because it exposes people's inner-truth to millions of viewers. But in many respects it is only public exposure that allows us to plum the depths of our identity. Something profound occurs when a person states for public reckoning their actions. There is a new and almost indescribable understanding that opens for us when we engage in public confession. We are forced to identify our actions with ourselves. This is necessary because our conscious minds perpetually work to justify our actions and motivations; this is a pragmatic defense mechanism. After all, who really wants to deal with who they really are. So we smooth it over.

Once you say it and put it in the open, it's a whole new ballgame.

At the conclusion of this Moment of Truth episode, the host, Mark Wahlberg, said that he truly believe some truths are best left unsaid. I disagree. I suggest truth only becomes truth when it is spoken. Until truth is public, it remains amorphous, a hazy fog of self manipulation.

Truth in the inner parts means truth in the outer parts. Even David did not truly understand the truth of his actions until publicly confronted by Nathan.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Read this post

I want you to take some time to think about what motivates you to be such a good person. No false humility here, because deep down you know you're a good person; at least compared to all the other saps out there!

Here are a quick 35 questions to start your thinking!

So, what's your motivation for doing right? What's your motivation for doing good? Why do you keep the rules? Perhaps there is a sense of duty? What expectations have you felt placed upon you, expectations from family, work, school, society? What kinds of "Do this" and "Don't do that" commands are most important to you? And who told you that they were important? And why did you believe the people who told you?

What are the "rights" and "wrongs" that you feel strongly about? What are the "rights" and "wrongs" that you don't feel strongly about but that others find really important? And how did you come to rest on certain things as "right" and certain things as "wrong"? Did someone teach you? Or is it just "obvious" to you? Or perhaps some combination of both? Or have you never really thought it through before?

What are the taboos you live by? And where did they come from? Are there certain taboos that you would never consider doing because even the thought of them makes your stomach uneasy? Or, conversely, are you living to rebel against taboos that you believe were absurd, unfair, or illegitimate? If this is the case, do these taboos you are rebelling against make you want to break them just because people have imposed them on you?

What do you not do for fear of experiencing shame? Or, to reverse it, what are the things that you are intriguing precisely because they are shameful (and thus they are mysteriously intriguing)?

Are you a responsible person? Do you feel the need to be on time? Or, perhaps, are there others that you care for? Or are there standards that you live up to because you feel responsible to set an example for others?

How are you conforming to norms? What are the expectations that are placed upon? Expectations perhaps from religion? Or from family? Or from work?

What kinds of things do you do (or not do) so that people don't perceive us you as "a bad person"? What do you do to maintain a reputation as a "good person"? Or, perhaps you go the other way? Maybe you want to be perceived as bad and so you therefore break the rule intentionally?

All of the above are issues of law. I am trying to get you to evaluate your life. What obligations impress themselves on you? These obligations are laws: you must do this or you must not do that.

How much of your life is dictated by laws? If you are a Christian or a religious type, what kinds of things do you do because they are the law? Not that law always has to be a formal thing; in fact, it can be an unspoken or even unconscious expectation or norm.

Why do we keep the law? What is it about these laws that drives us? That's what I'm wondering.

Law = Obligation

So much of our lives are lived based on obligation, and I want to flesh this out a little. Essentially, I think most of life is all about law. We are almost like machines in the fact that we do most of what we do because of obligation.

So, from a theological perspective, how does this relate with love? Do Christians really do what they do because they love God? I think for most Christians the church exists to put forth a new and better set of rules. After all, who really keeps the rules because they love God? Obedience that comes from love is more of a phantom idea. We tell ourselves that we obey the Christian laws because we love Jesus but the motivation of each individual act of obedience is usually because of fear of consequences.

We are human beings who cannot help but operate as law-keepers or law-breakers. We keep law out of fear and we break law out of a desire for freedom. But this is self-interest, not love.

Why do you keep the law, friend? And do law and love ever intersect for you?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The godless culture

I recently heard a Christian comment on how our (American) culture is not conducive to spending long amounts of time in silent prayer (which, of course, every good Christian must do). This observation strikes me as quite obvious; but aside from the transparent nature of this "insight," the question in my mind is this: why have Christians been so quick to blame their culture for their own spiritual deadness? For example, if a Christian is not spending time in meditation and prayer, whose fault is that? Is it the culture's fault? Is the surrounding culture to blame?

I say this: stop playing the victim. The fact of the matter is that if you claim to be someone who "loves Jesus" but find it hard to "spend time with him," then maybe you don't really love Jesus. This might be a tough pill to swallow, but consider: If I'm excited about someone, then I will want to spend time with them. If I am not excited about someone, then I will not want to spend time with them; I'd rather do some other things that are more exciting.

Placing blame on culture (or "the world" as the religious type likes to call it) is one characteristic of a narcissistic Christian: a Christian who believes, deep down, that all things revolve around their own "spiritual life." A narcissistic Christian resents culture because culture gets in the way of their "pursuit of God." Most narcissistic Christians wind up barricading themselves from their culture in many different ways (perhaps with the exception being that they still have nice corporate jobs where they can take "worldly" money and live in the world's suburbs!). But is isolation the answer? Did Christ call us to a purity that comes from disengaging from anything "worldly"?

Perhaps such a narcissistic Christian is really just a narcissist who hijacked Christ and put him to good religious use.

To the Christian narcissist I make a small suggestion: you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake who was created in the image of God to be better than everyone else. Get over yourself! There is more to life than your own trivial spirituality. I'm serious: you are not all that important.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Strange Case for Polygamy

Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same.

Time magazine has a section where they list ironic quotes along with the context of the quotation. The point is usually to make the person look like a fool for what they said. Typically that person is a politician, so it can be quite entertaining.

Recently, they featured a Mitt Romney quote:
"I must admit I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."
This is the notation listed below the quote:
"Mitt Romney, the Mormon seeking the Republican presidential nomination, whose great-grandfather was a polygamist."


And yet from a theological perspective, Romney's dilemma is the Christian dilemma. Most on the Christian right are adamantly against polygamy. Many regard Mormons as a cult and use the Mormon position on polygamy as a basis for mocking their religion. Here's the big problem: The greatest heroes of the biblical faith were polygamists. This creates a moral quandary. Either our heroes were sinners and were morally wrong to practice polygamy or else it was ok back then even though it's not ok today.

But this latter suggestion smacks of relativism, doesn't it? How can a Christian in this day and age who is fighting the good fight for moral absolutes--how can such a Christian say that the morality of polygamy shifted from one age to the next? Hhhhmmm...it's a toughie, no doubt! Did God say, "Okay, polygamy was not morally wrong back then, but these days it is a monstrous atrocity"? Seems a bit odd to me.

Perhaps I might raise the question, What is wrong with polygamy? I know, I know. Your sense of decency is offended. You are morally outraged that I would even ask the question. But let's look at this rationally, shall we? (Or, of course, you are free to just leave my blog and go somewhere else!) Consider a few objections:

1) The Bible condemns polygamy. Actually it does not; nor does it establish any moral absolute in regard to monogamy. Paul recommends that an elder be the husband of one wife, but Paul also recommends that women be silent in church and that Christians should probably opt for singleness. In other words, Paul's suggestion on monogamy seems to be more in line with a recommendation rather than a moral absolute that applies to all people in all eras.

Furthermore, one must deal honestly with the lives of true saints in the Old Testament who practiced polygamy. David was a man after God's own heart, and how many women did he have coming in and out of his chambers? The Patriarchs had multiple wives. And in the midst of this there is no condemnation of the practice. Why? Could it be that there was nothing morally wrong with it? This is a question worth considering.

All things considered, I would suggest that the Bible is more in favor of polygamy than against it. Even Martin Luther, as I understand, did not consider polygamy unbiblical, although he highly discouraged the practice and did not consider it normative. (Compare the interesting case of Philip of Hesse.) Perhaps also of interest is biblicalpolygamy.com.

2) Polygamy is weird. I consider the weirdness factor to be a legitimate objection. Unlike some, I do believe that subjective feelings and intuitions are an important (and even integral) of determining how we should act and what we should believe. However, the fact that a certain practice is weird does not in and of itself disqualify the practice. We can experience a weirdness factor as a result of how we are conditioned by our society.

A few hundred years ago in this country, it would have seemed "weird" and perhaps even "unnatural" to see an intelligent black man teaching white students. This may have seemed weird and unnerving, but that does make it wrong or immoral. In a similar way, I would suggest that our society (and particularly conservative circles) is predisposed to feel very very uncomfortable with polygamy. However, it has not always been this way. Different societies have viewed this practice in different ways. For an interesting perspective on this, see the Polygamy Worldwide section of the wikipedia article on Polygamy.

3) Polygamy is oppressive to women. This is a fair objection, because polygamy has been the context for suppressing women and abusing both women and children. Polygamy has been a vehicle for male domination and female subjugation.

Still, to be fair, abuse happens within the context of a monogamous marriage. All abuses and misuses that I can think of that occur within polygamy are also true of monogamy. So, I think we must recognize that it is not the contest, per se, that is the problem. Abuse is evil, but evil deeds come from evil people, not necessarily from a particular type of relationship.

A woman might respond that it's not fair that two women would have to share one man. Fine, then don't be in a polygamous relationship. But if there are two women who desire to be in a polygamous relationship with a man, then how can I argue against that? If that is a relationship they wish to embark on, then I don't see anything that is necessarily immoral about it. It may seem weird to someone else, but that's not necessarily a question of morality. Also, what if the reverse were true? What if two men married one woman. In principle, this approach isn't necessarily immoral, it is just something that makes us uncomfortable.

Perhaps the question has to do with whether the context is a loving and caring context, rather than if the context is immoral.

If polygamy is used in a context to abuse women and children then it is wrong and evil. But the moral outrage against polygamy in our society and culture may be a bit overdone; frankly, much of the conservative indignation toward polygamy strikes me as a bit self-righteous and narrow minded.

Hhhhhmmmmm.....have I just made a strange case for polygamy??? I thought I had sworn off marriage, but perhaps I should reconsider a polygamous relationship. That might be interesting.

Of related interest:
HBO Big Love clips (This is quite the interesting show, by the way.)
Christian Polygamy Info
Yahoo Christian Polygamy Group

Friday, February 08, 2008

What then the book?

I fancy myself a thinker. I fancy myself a writer.

There are certainly deeper thinkers in this world and certainly better writers. But I am what I am, and the world is what it is.

One characteristic of this world is that it is saturated with writing. So, if someone says, "I wrote a book" it is difficult to be impressed. "You and how many other countless billions???"

In a disposable society, the writing and the writer are disposed of. Even writers who make it into the big distribution chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, are disposable: a one hit wonder or the flavor of the day. The worth of the book (and by implication the author) is only as much as the profit to the distribution outlets at any particular moment in time. Books that don't turn a profit are moved out of the way. Books that do turn a profit take their place. The non-selling book is moved to the bargain shelf. What does this mean? It means that the non-selling book is cheap. It's ideas are cheap. It's author is cheap. And anyone who buys it is cheap.

There is so much "originality" that nothing is original.

We live in an era where so many people are famous that no one is famous. Fame is old hat; it is boring. 15 minutes of fame is allotted to everyone, but no one really gets much more. No one, that is, except Tom Cruise and Britney; and they, of course, are insane. But insanity is becoming the one trait that is the most valuable for a celebrity to achieve. Michael Jackson showed us the way.

So, if I fancy myself a writer, why should I write a book?

Affirmation? Not interested.

Fame? Nope.

Money? Boring.

There are only a few reasons I can think of to write a book:
1) To bring more people to my blog to join in the conversations, which I think are quite interesting. But even this is debatable, because too many people commenting can defeat the purpose; a blog can become saturated with comments.
2) A book is still a different media. There is still something unique about holding a physical book in your hands and sitting down with it to read. This is certainly something to consider, but on the other hand, there is a lot that can be done with a blog that cannot be done with a book; specifically, multimedia. I can provide instant links to articles or essays or interesting websites that the reader can instantly access. Also, I can embed youtube videos in my blog, something I particularly enjoy, or I can upload pictures from around the world. My writing, then, can be woven together with links and multimedia in a unique way. It is something new to the 21st century--a historical time for writing.

Blogs are also instant publishing tools. History moves faster now. We live in hyperculture. Commentary can no longer wait. Both for better and for worser, we think and live on the fly. Writing must evolve. We must reflect and write at the speed of life.

Also, blogging provides the opportunity for instant feedback. This allows me to nuance my thoughts with different perspectives, particularly from those who present differing points of view. Or, perhaps I may realize my position or line of thinking lacks any substance, whatsoever. (This last scenario is, of course, completely hypothetical.)

One might think that the old school advocates of "authorial intent" would hail the advent of the blog as an unprecedented opportunity to discern the ever-elusive intentions of the author. Strangely, this has not been the case.

I'm sticking with the blog. It is superior to the book. (And, of course, my writing holds no substantial market value!) Blogging is a better way to communicate, not just to present the writing of an author but to evaluate and judge the self of the author. We no longer read at a distance, with an author that we do not know who exists in our mind as an image of perfection (or imperfection, as the case may be). We can now see the blemishes of the writer; or at the very least we can see their virtual blemishes.

In short, I feel that the book is an item of nostalgia [this thought, like any other thought, is not original, because there is nothing new under the sun; nothing, that is, except blogging]

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Not-so-subliminal message

Watch "The Moment of Truth" tonight: 9pm/ET on Fox

This is my new favorite show--perhaps of all time--but interestingly enough, my friend Nicole was repulsed by the very idea of exposing one's most personal issues to a national audience. A group of us was sitting around chatting about the show, and Nicole was so offended that she didn't even want to hear us discussing it!

The Truth About Fox's Controversial Reality Show

With 23 million viewers, The Moment of Truth (Wednesdays, 9 pm/ET, Fox) garnered the highest-rated series debut in over a year — and the numbers don't lie. Here are some more cold, hard facts about the new Fox hit that asks lie-detector-tested contestants to put their reputations on the line by answering increasingly more personal (and more embarrassing) questions, for a chance at $500,000.

FACT: To come up with each player's 21 questions, producers dig deep. Contestants' friends and family are interrogated thoroughly. "They research your whole life," says Christie Youssef, 22, who admitted she's a virgin in the second episode. "I didn't have any idea of the scope until afterward."

FACT: No player has been fired because of something they revealed on the show. At least not yet. That could change after emergency medical technician Aaron Dunbar's episode airs. Dunbar, 22, admitted to falsifying patients' medical reports and to not recording vital signs as often as he should. "I don't think I'll be fired because it had no effect on the patients' care," Dunbar says. "I figure if they're sitting up talking to me, then they're OK. It's something that everyone does." Oh, really?

FACT: Truth has torn love­birds apart. Dunbar's girl­friend Nicole axed him right after his taping. "Hearing me say some things in front of everyone was hard for her," he says. The fact that strangers shouted "Dump him!" didn't help, either. The good news: She took him back after three months of groveling.

FACT: Truth has helped heal old wounds. George Ortuzar, Episode 1's "Hair Club for Men" gambler, had been estranged from his son for seven years because his ex-wife told the kid he'd gambled away his college fund. When asked on the record if he had indeed lost the college money, Ortuzar's truthful "No" vindicated him. Now, he says, "My son and I are close again. We speak all the time now. I have the show to thank for that."

FACT: There are some questions even Truth can't ask. "We don't ask anything pertaining to minors," executive producer Howard Schultz says. "And we have to follow FCC rules, so we can't ask graphic sexual questions."

FACT: Contestants who get caught in a lie really do leave with nothing. That's right. Zero. Zilch. But "if you answer all six Level 1 questions truthfully, you get $10,000," Schultz explains. "Five more: $25,000. Four more, and it's $100,000 and so on."

FACT: The voice of Truth's "lie detector" comes from The Bold and the Beautiful. Or, rather, the actress who owns it does. Her name is Tasia Valenza. She played Suzanne on the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful and Dottie Thorton Martin on All My Children. And that's the truth.

from Seattlepi.com

Diverging paths for two parties

The Republican and Democratic presidential contests began diverging Tuesday, leaving the Democrats facing a long and potentially divisive nomination battle and the Republicans closer to an opportunity to put aside deep internal divisions and rally around a nominee.
Adam Nagourney, Diverging paths for two parties, New York Times

Monday, February 04, 2008

Chapman and Warner - Rethinking Evangelism in the Old Testament

In my recent "manifesto" on church, The Church of The Underground, Melody and I engaged in a spirited debate on the nature of evangelism and the purpose of the church. One of the issues raised was whether the church should persuade nonbelievers. Also on the table was the whole point of evangelism: is it to "win souls"? Or is there something bigger???

Here are a few excerpts from the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation that may be of interest. (JTI is a new theological/exegetical journal that comes from a somewhat conservative perspective and seeks to blend together the disciplines of theology and biblical exegesis, exploring the two as complimentary.....though they probably would not like me classifying them as "conservative"! Especially Vanhoozer, who is a self-described "postconservative.")

This article is by Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner entitled, "Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament." Chapman/Warner are interested in exploring the Old Testament concept of mission, but they desire to do this with a bit more care and concern for the context; rather than simply glossing the OT and "finding support" for a preconceived notion of mission, Chapman/Warner seem to want to sit and stew a bit and open up their paradigms to new ways of looking at the text, ultimately allowing the Old Testament to develop its own thoughts on mission. As such, they land on the story of Jonah. After discussing and sifting through the narrative, Chapman/Warner draw a few interesting conclusions. I list a few here:

(1) Like mission, evangelism is not in the first instance something that humans do but something God does....

(2) Evangelism is deeply related to a theology of creation and a doctrine of providence, rightly construed. We are all God’s creatures—evangelism rightly entails compassion for the earth and all its many inhabitants. Issues such as social justice, international development, nationalistic warfare, animal welfare, and global warming cannot be separated from the salvation of souls within the purview of Christian theology.

Some may object that evangelism is properly about saving souls and that neither the earth nor its nonhuman inhabitants have any. But we would argue that evangelism, viewed as human participation in God’s encompassing mission of reconciliation, must be about more than human soul-saving. After all, the OT envisions a covenant between God and “every living creature” (Gen 9:8–17) and the NT describes how “the creation itself will be set free” (Rom 8:21).

(3) Evangelism as imitatio dei therefore means, first and foremost, that Christians must embody God’s love for the world and display God’s desire for reconciliation with the whole world. They do this as individuals whose hearts and minds are inspired by God, but they do so most fully in communities of faith as the reconciled body of Christ....

(7) Christian evangelism is always centripetal as well as centrifugal because it always entails bringing people into community as well as sending people out from community. The double movement is constitutive of evangelism: people are sent out in order to return with others. In this way Christian community extends itself in order to remain itself. But “extending” does not mean the mere replication of the church’s character as an institution (i.e., without facing new challenges or allowing for increased diversity in membership)—in other words, growing just for the sake of growing. And “remaining” means preserving a faithful theological identity, not retaining the social profile of a congregation. In evangelism, the church preserves itself only by giving itself away, remaining hospitable and gracious to all, and not by seeking merely to maintain a homogenous membership.

In keeping with the double movement that the Bible envisions, evangelism is therefore better understood as “welcoming” or, better still, “enlisting” rather than as “winning” or “proclaiming” or even “inviting.”

Citation information:
Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner, "Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament" in Journal of Theological Interpretation 2.1 (2008), 44-69.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Reflections on Super Bowl XLII

First, let us pause to remember the glory of years gone by.....As I watch the game, I am in my Super Bowl tee shirt from last year that displays the front page of The Indianapolis Star.....A friend asked me this morning if I printed it off of the printer this morning: uh, no. The Colts are still the champs until someone else takes the the title!

Jordin(?) Sparks sang the best national anthem I've ever heard. She has an incredible voice, she had an elegant (but not complex) arrangement, and she put real feeling into her song. Even after the song, the camera showed her--she needed a few moments to compose herself. Wow. Well done.

An incredible upset. I'm a big fan of anyone who beats the Patriots (and especially Tom Pretty Boy Brady), but I think that the Pats were just overconfident. Can you imagine winning every single game in the season and then losing the BIG ONE???? That would be, like, really bad.

One Manning passing the torch to the next Manning??? Quite a game, friends. Quite a game.

On to the commercials. You can view them all at:

I loved the Audi commercial that spoofed The Godfather movie.

And how about this Facist Under Armour commercial? What's that all about? Anyone get the feeling they are at a rally for the Third Reich???

What is the point of a Facist commercial for Under Armour? To create an aura of supremacy surrounding those who wear the Armour? If I wear the Armour, do I become part of something larger than myself? Does the Armour make me invincible? A new prototype?