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.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sin is not the issue

The Christian faith allegedly is based on a robust theory of justification: Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin when he suffered on the cross. As such, the sins of believers (past, present, and future) are covered under grace.

So, why is sin an issue that so many of us allow to hold our attention? Why do some preachers, teachers, and religious leaders spend so much time talking about sin? Granted, not all religious leaders spend time on sin, and perhaps those who do are becoming more and more of a minority.

But it is not just religious leaders, but many a Christian is tormented in conscience and grieved over sin. But why? If a believer's sin is covered, then what is the big deal?

Perhaps the difficulty is that many of us know that we are going to do it again. Even so, a robust theory of justification should ease our conscience. That's what Luther thought. But having been justified, Luther was still tormented by his sin and threw stuff across his room at the Devil!

I would suggest that obsessing about sin is perhaps one of the surest ways to succumb to temptation. Why? Because it eats at you. Not sinning becomes one's obsession and as such it becomes an ever present foe.

Try this on for size: Don't think about a pink elephant.

Uhm, I said, Do NOT think about a pink elephant.

Ehem, excuse me, but perhaps you did not hear me. I said,

Kinda hard not to, though, isn't it?

What we obsess about is the thing that stays with us, and when it comes to sin, excessive guilt tends to produce more failure. It is a vicious cycle. It is, in fact, a deadly mentality.

But, what if sin isn't even the point of the life of a Christian? What if there is something more to shoot for? A different mindset; a different way of being?

Ah, yes! I know what you are thinking, my conservative friend! "What about Romans 6!"

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! (all translations from NIV)

But, friends, let us keep in mind that Paul is combating the stupidity of the person who sins "so that grace may increase." This person would be missing Paul's point and deliberately sinning for the specific purpose of increasing grace. I'm not talking here about deliberately sinning. That's a whole 'nother deal.

What Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not detract from what I have suggested. However, while we are in Romans 6, let's glean a few more interesting thoughts from the Apostle Paul.

"We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

So, there is a "new life" that is promised. But this is not the old way of life, where we obsess about our sinfulness. There is something of a death going on. We die to an old way of thinking and resurrect to a new mentality. We die to relying on our own strength and resurrect to a new union with Christ and a life lived for....for....for what? A life lived for not sinning. Nay, my brethren and sistren!

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The life we live we live "to God." We "count ourselves dead to sin." There is something distinctly positive and optimistic here. I suggest, the optimism comes by letting go.

Let it go.

Just let go.

I might also note that it is in this context that Paul says that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Die to the mindset of death. Set yourself free from guilt, and offer yourself to Christ. That's the best a believer can do, and then, whatever else happens, the blood of Christ cleanses from all unrighteousness.

Sin is not the issue. The optimism of the Apostle Paul is for a new life of offering ourselves to Christ for him to work in us and through us.

Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling.

Let go.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Fellowship of Freedom(less) Selves in Pop Christianity

I'd like to follow up on the prior post and place it in the context of pop Christian culture.

Walmart, Home Depot, and Barnes and Noble are all examples of "Big Box" retail stores. They make money by high volume sales and count on a low cost of goods sold by purchasing obscene amounts of quantities. (And if you are Walmart, there is no such thing as "overpurchase"--just send the extras back to the manufacturer and make them eat it!) This essentially means that we all buy basically the same types of pens, tvs, and deodorant.

Pop Christianity is similar to this in their various approaches to the self. They are all trying to sell you a one-sized fits all answer to who you are. This may take the form of giving you the "true" propositional truths, or the right way of thinking, the right way to feel, a certain self-image, various steps to success, or a "good" mentality. This is the commercialized version of Christianity. This is Big Box Christianity; an approach to the self that has a distinctively Walmart smell to it.

Traditionally, one saw this in the form of denominations or similar religious affiliations. There was a Baptist way of perceiving the self, or a Reformed way of viewing the self, or the Roman Catholic self, etc. But in United States, denominations have fallen upon hard times, at least in regard to their ability to maintain a grip and control on how the self is interpreted.

The new Big Box Christian interpreters of the self sell books, distribute DVD's, CD's, mp3's, and hold conferences and speaking engagements across the country. The new Big Box Christianity is centered on personalities. Hence, we pick our favorites: Joel Osteen, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Scot McKnight, J.P. Moreland, and perhaps we could even throw Oprah in the mix. This list is very diverse, in that there are representatives of very very different approaches to the self. But they all have their commonality as Walmart-style Christianity in this: they are all selling basically one version of what a Christian self is. Whether that be a Piper/Sproul/Carson/Moreland version, where the self must hold certain "truths" in their briefcase, or whether it is an Oprah approach, where propositional truth is anathema. Oprah rejects that there is one particular "truth" that one should believe; however, the true "self" is found only (and exclusively) through a form of non-identity with anything propositional or even physical: we become who we are in the now by non-identity with who we are not; we are not form/ego/ideology/role and must strive to attain a linguistically indescribable consciousness of the now.

Let's look at Joel Osteen. Joel will say, "God has great things in store for you." If you attend his massive worship service, you will be encouraged to "hold up your Bibles and say it like you mean it: This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do." The rest of the service he will then explain what the Bible says you are.

Even the so-called emerging church types are in the process of bringing a Big Box version of the self to the market place.

In my view, all of these approaches beautifully illustrate the fallacy that Paul rejected some two thousand years ago in his letter to the Corinthians:

My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." (1 Corinthians 1, NIV)

It is interesting that unlike all of the aforementioned Big Box Christian preachers and teachers, Paul rejects himself as a central figure! Rather than self-promotion, Paul has in mind self-demotion and the unity of the community:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul then goes on to expound on the foolishness of the cross. The cross is humiliation and death to the type of self-promotion that occurs in today's Christian marketplace, where personalities claim to have the answer to who you are and what "self" means. All of them, of course, claiming to have the "absolute" or "Christian" or "biblical" perspective.

Even local churches in the U.S. often cultivate a superiority complex similar to that of the Big Box Christian self-promoters, vying for their niche in the spiritual marketplace by promising a we-are-better-than-the-other-guys approach. "Come to us! We will tell you who you are!" It still smells of the same mentality that went on at Corinth, only instead of "I follow Paul," we say "I am follow [fill in church affiliation]!"

Rather than claiming to hold superior convictions about the self, Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 1 about the foolishness of the cross. What a contrast! One will likely have a hard time finding a Big Box market for a product that announces to the world that it is defective!

Perhaps a more positive vision for the self is to cultivate a fellowship of freedom, where the self is free to explore. This is not a freedom from accountability, but neither is accountability of the type that forces the self to conform to a pre-defined model of what "self" means. A fellowship of freedom is one in which members truly love one another; and where there is love there exists a kind of obligation to each other that is combined with a self-less dying to one's own interests. The cross of Christ, in this case, becomes the motivation and inspiration for moving beyond a powerless self-help mantra and into a process of personal and community transformation.

I'm not suggesting that a believer cannot find some good ideas from the Big Box Christian preacher, leaders, and thinkers. Personally, I have found some good food for thought. So, please, by all means, keep buying the latest paperback. Really! I mean it!

What I am suggesting, however, is that the "I follow Rob Bell/Sproul/Piper/Osteen/[insert your church name]" type of mentality is harmful. Friends, it is time for bold leaders to step forward and create fellowships of freedom. Not static "movements" or "institutions," but dynamic and authentic contexts that cultivate the self and set it free to understand faith; freedom to understand what it means to take up your cross daily.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Just shoot me

Last week I woke up with the dread that someone was trying to kill me. It was a feeling that I was being chased and pursued. Someone(s) was trying to shoot me. So, I was constantly on the lookout for snipers who would sink a bullet into my head. Who was trying to shoot me? I'm not sure, but I know they were Asian/Oriental. I'm thinking Chinese.

Do the snipers represent potential women interested in marriage? And do the bullets represent marriage and the death of me?

Is there a psychoanalyst in the house?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Berlusconi Rides Again

In world news, the headline reads Berlusconi Rides Again: "Only in Italy could Silvio Berlusconi, the country's richest and occasionally most outlandish man, be elected Prime Minister. Three times! Spry and combative as ever, the 71-year-old media mogul on Monday rolled to a clear-cut election victory just two years after Romano Prodi had ousted him from the job by a whisker's margin." Longtime readers of my blog might recall that we followed Berlusconi in the prior election when he made a no sex campaign promise to a religious leader, stating he would abstain until after the election. What an odd campaign promise, eh? Berlusconi lost that prior election, and yet one might suggest that the headline "Bersconi Rides Again" might well have applied both to this election and the prior, albeit with slightly different meanings.

In (loosely) related news....

High Testosterone Means High Profits: "You can almost hear Gordon Gekko cheer. Financial traders are widely seen as filthy rich, brash, and, well, ballsy. Now it turns out that there's cash in those cojones. According to new research from the University of Cambridge, a male trader's daily testosterone level is higher on days when he makes more than he would in an average day. What's more, the higher a trader's morning testosterone level, the more money he'll likely have netted before the close of business that day. Testosterone, in other words, can be good for business...." However, it's not all good times, as it were: "The effects triggered by chronically elevated levels of testosterone can eventually have the opposite effect. Animals observed in this same situation by scientists start to pick fights they ought to avoid, or to patrol a wider, more hazardous patch of territory. Perception of risk becomes blurred. For a trader on a roll in the midst of a bubble, for instance, that suggests 'several rounds of winning means testosterone so high they start taking stupid risks,' says John Coates, a former Wall Street trader turned senior research fellow at Cambridge, and lead author of the study. Amid today's volatile markets, chronically high levels of cortisol, which can conjure up feelings of anxiety and negative thoughts, are believed likely to squeeze a trader's stomach for risk, potentially perpetuating a market's fall still further."

Lastly, don't forget to join the bass fishing fantasy league. It makes following bass fishing so much more intriguing, even more fascinating than it already is. Now you can compete against other bass fishing enthusiasts and test your knowledge. But will fantasy bass fishing leagues spoil the purity of the sport? Bass fishing should be about a man, his rod, and the water. Has corporate America tainted the beauty and simplicity of following bass fishing?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fellowship and the Freedom of the Self

As I think about the community of Christ and the 21st century fellowship of believers, there is the question of the freedom of the self. What does it mean for the self to be free? What is the role of the fellowship of believers in this freedom?

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, freedom is one of the primary concerns. Whatever the precise nature of the issue, it is clear from chapter four that the Galatian believers were being encouraged to observe various laws and obligations as the basis of their faith: "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you."

They were being goaded back into slavery to law, rather than being set free. Law was replacing freedom.

In chapter three, we find that not only does law replace freedom, but when law is central to faith, the Spirit takes a back seat: "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"

In other words, the point is not to be set free by the Spirit and then go back to a life of law; rather, the believer begins the life of faith with the Spirit and continues walking the life of faith with that same Spirit. It is not by law, but by the Spirit that believers are set free.

Paul sums up his exhortation to the Galatians in chapter five by saying, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery....You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! What would it look like to cultivate fellowships of freedom? What power might our fellowships have in this day and age if we looked to set each other free to live the Spirit and not by law?

In his 1983 lecture "The Culture of the Self," Michel Foucault discusses at length the care of the self as it was conceived by the ancients, particularly the Greeks and also the aesthetic Christians. At the end of his first lecture, Foucault briefly discusses a few reasons why the care of the self seems to have disappeared in the contemporary age. One the reasons he notes is the manner in which the self is instructed about itself. Essentially, he suggests that our notion of self is imposed on us either by authoritarian/disciplinarian structures (schools, etc.) or it is the result of mass media. His comment here is noteworthy:

"Most of those techniques of the self have been integrated in our world in educational and pedagogical, in medical and psychological techniques. The techniques of the self have been embedded either in some authoritarian and disciplinarian structure or substituted for and transformed by public opinion, mass media, and polling techniques, which play a formative role in our attitude towards the others and toward ourselves so that the culture of the self is imposed on people by the other and the culture of the self has lost its independence." [Lecture 1, The Culture of the Self]

For Foucault, the notion of "self" is imposed on us; it is not the result of personal and independent cultivation. Rather than an independent self that cultivates itself and cares for itself, we in the 21st century live in an era where our identity and notion of "self" is either imposed on us or it is the result of media and market/advertising manipulation. Usually, our concept of self winds up being a mixture of multiple inputs, most of which are damaging. So, for example, we may grow up in communities (secular or sacred) where we are given a dogmatic definition of who we are, with little room for personal exploration. Our dogma denies us the independence to explore the self. Religion, social class, ethnicity, education, etc. all define the self.

In addition, we are manipulated by advertising, marketing, or political media so that we will behave in a certain way: buy this, buy that, support this candidate/legislation, act a certain way at work, etc. As we talked about in Market, Brand, and Sacrament, meaning is dictated by advertising. What the self should value is determined by fad and fashion. As Foucault suggested 25 years ago, our concept of self is imposed on us and we lose our independence.

In other words, the self is controlled, manipulated, and conformed; the self is not free. There may be many who read this and find it ridiculous. America is the land of the free. If anyone is free, it is Americans. And while it is certainly true that we have the blessed opportunity to cultivate an independent self, we are most often controlled and manipulated for the interests of the institutions, corporations, and political organizations. Institutions in America rarely (if ever) exist to set the self free; rather, they exist for advancing agendas, values, and corporate bottom lines.

American Christianity is no stranger to this system. It is most often organized around Movements. It exists for its own values, agendas, and fund raising. Often it exists for its own sake and not the sake of the fellowship of all believers. As such, it is the modern reconstruction of the "I am of Paul. I am of Apollos. I am of Christ" disputes that Paul addressed in his letter(s) to the Corinthians. We each have our loyalties to a particular denomination, church, parachurch organization, favorite theologian or theological movement, etc. Even the so-called Emerging church is, sadly, just another in a long line of Christian Movements. Rarely do movements exist to set the self free to care for itself or to understand and cultivate the self.

A believer who understands the call to Christian freedom, however, and the freedom of the self to explore faith with honesty and integrity--this Christ follower will leave behind these silly squabbles and rise above the fray to a higher calling and a more pure pursuit. Religious movements are built by conforming and controlling people--imposing a concept of self on an individual; but a Christian fellowship is founded on freedom. "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free." The believer is respected as a unique individual who is not first and foremost a product of the Movement; instead, each believer is set free to understand faith and to define what "faith" means for that individual and their own situation in life.

So, if we combine these insights from Paul and Foucault to our discussion of freedom, I would suggest that the community of Christian believers ought to be a fellowship of freedom. The respect for each individual's personal exploration of faith is of paramount importance. When there are forums of freedom, we can then begin to understand the self and care for the self. These forums of freedom are brothers and sisters in Christ sharing their hearts and lives with one another in honesty, openness, and freedom.

Community as the starting point for understand each other and caring for the self. Cultivating the self does not occur in a vacuum. The self cannot understand itself without others. Individualistic anarchy is always the worst scenario. But the self cannot authentically explore itself without freedom from others.

In summary, there is this very strange and bizarre scenario: Christian brothers and sisters cannot flourish without each other, but they cannot grow in community unless that same community sets them free. "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free." Will God raise up Christian leaders with the courage and vision to set people free? And is God raising up people who want their freedom? Are there those who truly long to understand and cultivate their self?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spiritual Experience

Sometimes the desire to have a spiritual experience is the best way not to have one.

It's possible to force the matter and lose the Spirit by grasping.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oprah and Spirituality

I thought I would post a few videos on Oprah and her views on spirituality that have been circulating on Youtube recently.

The first two are mostly Oprah's take on spirituality, religion, and God. The last one is something of an anti-Oprah hit-piece; it is mainly a summary of clips from the first two videos but with a "beware of false teachers" motif.

In certain ways, I sympathize with Oprah's position. I do not agree with her belief that ideology necessarily means that one's spirituality is closed; I think in many cases it is ideology itself that serves to advance and cultivate goodness and true spirituality. For example, there are ideals that say, "I believe that rape is wrong," "I believe people should not be hated based on their skin color," and "I believe that recreational genocide by insane facist minded leaders is immoral." Surely these and other beliefs advance the goodness and spirituality/truth in the world. I think this is an important point that Oprah is missing; sweeping all ideology under the rug is perhaps a bit hasty.

On the other hand, I do not fall in step with the popular alarmist reactions that believe Oprah's thoughts on spirituality completely undermine the message of Christ or the Gospel of Paul. I am a strong John 14:6 believer, but I would not define it along the terms of popular Christianity today. I agree with Oprah, for example, when she suggests that Christ did not come to start Christianity. That gets an "Amen" from me. Christ's message of reconciliation is not confined strictly to a particular creed or belief system. I think it is possible to experience the power of Christ without necessarily doing so through a propositional dogma. So, in this sense, my understand of Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life" is far more robust than most Christianity. As Truth, Jesus was (and is) not limited to dogma or doctrine; rather, he is the person of truth whose message and ministry of redemption is far bigger than can be contained within the creeds, denominations, or church buildings to whom we often pay the most homage. Religion does often become an end in itself and the various religions founded on the name of Christ often have the smallest view of Jesus and the reconciliation he came to bring. Jesus merely becomes a means to an end.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I'm into a protein shake phase again. Having injured my knee in a half marathon last fall, I've been forced to switch up my workout routine. This means going from running 99.9% of the time to more of a cross training routine. So, now I bike, swim, do a little running (mostly jogging at this point), and also some weight training to try to build strength.

I read in the recent Runner's World that many endurance athletes may not be getting enough protein, protein usually being considered something for strength training. Since I am now trying to mix in strength training with endurance workouts, I am trying to do a bit with protein supplements.

What does all that have to do with cinnamon?

Well, I've done protein shakes before, but they taste bad. So, to sweeten the deal, I have usually ended up using sugar or honey to entice my taste buds. Let's face it, if it tastes like cardboard, the protein shake phases won't last long!

But sugar is something I'd rather not do a lot of. I try to cut sugar intake b/c most of what we eat in America relies heavily on sugar/corn syrup/etc. for flavor.

Enter cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a great way to add flavor to my protein shakes or to anything else, for that matter. I love the flavor of cinnamon, so if I mix in some raisins, blueberrys, and cinnamon I find that I do not have to add sugar to the protein shakes--and it's a really flavorful experience; a tasty way to get a heathly, powerpacked snack/meal. (Blueberrys, by the way, are the recent rage of healthful "powerfoods.")

So, if you are looking to cut the sugar and still add flavor to your food, consider cinnamon. It is a tasty spice, which also has some health benefits. And, who knows, maybe cinnamon can spice up your love life:
I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let's drink deep of love till morning;
let's enjoy ourselves with love!

Proverbs 7:17-18

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ordnung und Rumspringa

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

Living in northern Indiana does have its benefits. One of them is to be in close proximity to a fascinating group of separatists: The Amish. In a world where technology surges ahead at terabyte speed, the Amish attempt to freeze time and create an organic way of life. In a way that would make Heidegger proud, the Amish focus on cultivating a simple community of love and brotherhood. This is no small task in the middle of the United States, where technological innovation is unprecedented. So, to ensure that their way of life is preserved, the Amish have Ordnung.

"The Amish blueprint for expected behavior, called the Ordnung, regulates private, public, and ceremonial life. Ordnung does not translate readily into English. Sometimes rendered as ordnance or discipline, the Ordnung is best thought of as an ordering of the whole way of life … a code of conduct which the church maintains by tradition rather than by systematic or explicit rules. A member noted: The order is not written down. The people just know it, that's all. Rather than a packet or rules to memorize, the Ordnung is the understood behavior by which the Amish are expected to live. In the same way that the rules of grammar are learned by children, so the Ordnung, the grammar of order, is learned by Amish youth. The Ordnung evolved gradually over the decades as the church sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and change. Specific details of the Ordnung vary across church districts and settlements." [Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture cited in Wikipedia article Ordnung]

Ordnung, then, is essentially Law. It is Law translated into life; behavior of conformity for the greater good of community, self, and God.

"The Amish, believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and the Ordnung is meant to ensure that members of the church live life by following the Word of God. The Ordnung contains a set of behavioral rules. A person is expected to live a simple life devoted to God, family and community according to God's laws. Once a rule has been adopted, it is nearly impossible to have it rescinded or changed.

"Some of the most common rules are: separation from the world, hard work, a woman's submission to her husband, mode of dress, refusal to buy life insurance, and many more. Outsiders often think in terms of restrictions, i.e. no electrical power lines, no telephone in the home, and no personal ownership of automobiles. However many of their guidelines are for the purpose of guarding a person's character. The attempt is to prevent pride, envy, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, etc.

"The foundations of the Amish life are: an unassuming character, the love of friends and family, respect for the community, and separation from the rest of the world. The Ordnung defines who the Amish are. This code's purpose is to guide the behavior of the church's membership into Christ-likeness. Disobedience of these integral lifestyle regulations are punished by disciplinary actions initiated by the church leaders. Shunning (Meidung) is one of the most severe actions that the Bishop can mete out." [From Wikipedia Ordnung]

From the above, I highlight the following: many of their guidelines are for the purpose of guarding a person's character. The attempt is to prevent pride, envy, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, etc. Ordnung exists to create a community of righteousness and love; it guards against what the Apostle Paul terms "the desires of the flesh." It is a safeguard: Law counteracts the Flesh. Ordnung reigns the vices of our most base inclincations.

Ah, but the desires of the flesh will not be so easily tamed. In fact, when Law is put in place to stop the flesh, it often stirs the flesh all the more. Paul knew this well:

"I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.' But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." (Romans 7)

According to Paul, when Law is used to regulate the flesh it produces more desires. Tell someone not to covet something and the desire for that thing increases. We want what we cannot have; it is human.

The Amish seemed to have recognized this at some point in their development. No community of the blessed can exist if its members never understand what might have been. The outside world, the devil's playground, holds mystery and fascination. In his classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde puts it this way: The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing...

"Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the word take place also."

The above citation is a critical turning point in the novel. These words spoken by Lord Henry to Dorian Gray embed themselves in Dorian's imaginations and stir his wonder and curiosity, leading to his wish that he could sin forever without consequence and live as an eternal youth.

The Amish know the Apostle Paul, and whether or not they have read Wilde, they understand what is at work. For this reason, they have Rumspringa.

Rumspringa is a time for the flesh. It is an opportunity to quench the thirst, satisfy the curiosity, and taste the forbidden fruit. It is a time in the life of a young Amish to explore. This time comes prior to being baptized into the community and is something of a rite of passage. If a youngster comes through Rumspringa and is then ready to live under the Ordnung of the community, then they are welcomed into the fold.

There are a variety of different levels of indulgence during the period of Rumspringa. Not all Amish youth are rebellious; it all depends upon your opportunity, your group of friends, and your desire for experimentation.

"In large Amish communities like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, and Elkhart and LaGrange Counties, Indiana, the Amish are numerous enough that there exists an Amish youth subculture. During the rumspringa period, the Amish youth in these large communities will join one of various groups ranging from the most rebellious to the least. These groups are not divided across traditional Amish church district boundaries. In many smaller communities, Amish youth may have a much more restricted rumspringa period due to the smaller size of the communities. Likewise, they may be less likely to partake in strong rebellious behaviour since the anonymity offered in the larger communities is absent." [Wikipedia "Rumspringa"]

So, the Amish balance Law and Flesh with Ordnung and Rumspringa. They cultivate a strict community where vice and lust are forbidden and the community and family are the priority. But in order to do justice to the desires of the flesh, they follow the insights of Oscar Wilde and allow room for the young to explore and indulge temptation. The result? According to the film Devil's Playground, 90% of Amish youth return to the community after Rumspringa.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Colonizing Mars

For thousands of years, the human race has spread out across the Earth, scaling mountains and plying the oceans, planting crops and building highways, raising skyscrapers and atmospheric CO2 levels, and observing, with tremendous and unflagging enthusiasm, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply across our world's every last nook, cranny and subdivision.

An invitation.

Earth has issues, and it's time humanity got started on a Plan B. So, starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars