Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Wishes

Well, it's time for my annual Christmas break. This will be my last entry until the New Year. I hope you enjoy this Christmas parody (and, if you're so inclined, you can re-live last year's, too!). I'll be back on January 3rd. In the meantime, you might want to check out the "Stocking Stuffer" offer over at a WST G2 Blue "Santa" Grimlock! I'm getting mine!
(To the tune of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas
May your toys be Prime.
Next year, may your shopping all be done on time.

Have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas
Be he gun or tank
Either way, I hope it doesn't break the bank.

As you shop for the latest toys
All the greatest toys, in-store
Just remember to leave a few,
one or two will do, not more

Someday, all your favorite toys will gather
If the shelves allow
Until then, you'll have to muddle through somehow.

But have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The War on Christmas Revisited

Last year, there was a big uproar over the idea that "Christmas" was under attack. The idea is not that we're seeing too much of Santa Claus, and not enough of Jesus Christ, but that, when you see "Happy Holidays" on television, or at your local store, the name "Christmas" is being removed by godless heathen in the name of political correctness, and that Christians are increasingly told that they cannot have Christmas-specific displays in public places.

The "War on Christmas" is still around. There was a fuss a couple of weeks ago when Christmas trees were taken down at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (and eventually put back up) when a Jewish Rabbi requested that a menorah be added to the holiday displays, apparently threatening legal action if such attention to non-Christian holidays was not paid. But that situation has died down now, and it must be noted that there doesn't seem to be anything like as much uproar about the supposed "war on Christmas" this year as there was a year ago.

This lull in hostilities may be illustrated by the opening line in a Christmas letter I recently received: "A year ago, people were saying 'Happy Holidays' to each other, but it's nice to see that once again people are putting the 'Christ' back in 'Christmas.'" (paraphrased) Of course, the infuriating thing about this kind of a statement, is that it implies not only that "Happy Holidays" is some kind of anti-Christian attack, but that it's something new. People have been using the phrase "Happy Holidays" for many, many years now! There were no more people using the phrase last year than there had been for years previously, and I doubt that many fewer people are using the phrase this year. The only thing that's changed is that the likes of Falwell aren't quite as vocal (or, at least, as loud) this year as they were last year. (His Liberty Counsel's "Friend or Foe" site is still up, though).

The people who sent me that Christmas letter are not stupid people. But it's frustrating to see that they, like so many well-meaning Christians, have bought into the lies spread by those who've declared that this "War on Christmas" exists. (By the way, how does one declare a war, yet maintain that the war is against them? Aren't they declaring war against the secular forces in society? Shouldn't it be called the "War against the Anti-Christmas Forces" or some such? Yeah, yeah.... It doesn't roll off the tongue as easily, does it?)

The fact is, we live in a culture (not to mention a world) in which people of many different faiths must co-exist. And many of those different faiths have holidays that are celebrated at the same time as Christmas, and people would like to see their own beliefs given air-time. If the television stations and the shopping centers, which tend just as likely as not to be led by people who hold no strong Christian connection themselves, want to give equal time to other religions, why not let them? If they want to save time by using some "catch-all" greeting such as "Happy Holidays," who's being hurt? Christians have just as much freedom to celebrate Christmas in the privacy of their own homes as they've always had. If Christians are concerned that the public sphere isn't as open to them as it once was... well, that may be true. But we're not helping our witness with those who do not yet know Christ by aggressively fighting to maintain the nominal mention of the name of "Christ" within "Christmas" (almost universally without the actual substance thereof). We need to show believers of other faiths respect. If the good news of Christmas is really true, then people will change as they see how Christians behave when we're at our best, not when we're at our worst.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cliffjumper's Identity Crisis

Back when I was a kid, I would often hear someone claim that there was no difference between Cliffjumper and Bumblebee other than their color. Although the molds are indeed very similar, any serious examination of the two figures reveals that the molds are by no means identical. Different head, different chest, different feet.

However, the myth persisted. Ironically, this problem seemed to be made more difficult (rather than improved) by the fact that Hasbro also released a yellow version of Cliffjumper and a red version of Bumblebee. I've never quite figured this out. If one couldn't tell that the original Cliffjumper and Bumblebee weren't the same (other than their color) before, then surely looking at a yellow Cliffjumper next to a yellow Bumblebee would clear up all doubt! But, no....

Sadly, this problem has only gotten worse over the years. When Joe Toscano of decided to create a Cliffjumper Action Master, he naturally used Bumblebee as the basis, since no official Action Master Cliffjumper has ever existed. And, as the cartoon image on that link demonstrates, the final result is indeed fairly accurate, at least in regard to the head-shot we can see. Part of the problem here is that, although the original Bumblebee toy had a shield for a face, the cartoon always depicted him with a mouth, and the Action Master Bumblebee figure followed the cartoon's lead. So when AM Bumblebee was painted red, there wasn't too much different between the faces anymore. In fact, the only thing left (so far as I can tell) is that Bumblebee's head still follows a roughly round shape, while Cliffjumper's head is more triangular. But this difference is admittedly subtle, especially in the animation. The figure's feet are still Bumblebee's, but who's looking at them? This kind of thing is not only completely acceptable for a custom, but is in fact a pretty amazing job.

Recent versions continue this trend less excusably. Although Cliffjumper's name has been used a couple of times in recent years (in Armada and Energon), neither of these represents the classic character, so we can safely ignore them. But when Palisades put out a Cliffjumper statue, it was just a straight-up repaint of their Bumblebee statue: roundish head and VW Beetle feet. Unmistakably a "red Bumblebee." And this was no production mistake or custom figure. This was an official product, licensed by Hasbro! And now, there are a couple of new "Cliffjumper" toys on the horizon: one small figure in the Titaniums line, and one in the "Classics" line. These are also just red repaints of Bumblebee figures.

Although it seems that the original versions of both Cliffjumper and Bumblebee will be re-released as keychains (for the second time!) in the near future, given the trend toward saving money by doing repaints, I doubt we'll see a new version of the "classic" Cliffjumper character that's not a straight repaint of Bumblebee ever again. It seems that my old classmates were right. Just 20 years too early!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Preparing for Christmas

I don't know if it's a sign that I'm getting older, or that I may simply be getting too busy, but this year, as has been increasingly true for the past few years, Christmastime is sneaking up on me again. It's not really that I don't know it's coming. I've been preparing Advent podcasts for weeks now, and have already finished the special podcast scheduled for the Christmas Eve worship service (will be posted Sunday night, see the podcast page for updates). But the problem is, it hasn't really felt like Christmas all that much, and a lot of the preparations needed to get ready for Christmas (decorating the house, making sure presents are sent off, getting the Christmas letter written) are simply not ready yet.

As an Evangelical Christian, I don't need reminding that those kinds of preparations aren't really what the season's about. I hope that I can say with integrity that, even if I'm missing out on a lot of the other preparations, I still understand "the reason for the season" (which I admit is an irritatingly trite phrase, and I promise not to use it again). But I do believe that a lot of the not-explicitly-religious facets of the Christmas season are important, too. It is a time to catch up with family. It is a season of giving. It is a time to make an extra effort to be kind to people (which is not to say one shouldn't be kind all the time, but rather that, being human, we often need to have an "extra push" to do the right thing).

So, anyway, to all those family and friends who have been asking what I want for Christmas, my apologies for not being more on the ball. If it helps, I am including here a couple of links.

My Wish ListThe first one is to my Wish List. I have tried to be careful to include things that, while I would like, I will not be likely to buy for myself before Christmas.

The other link is on the sidebar, and is a bit more... simplistic, being a link to donate cash to my PayPal account. I know that many people feel that it isn't appropriate to give cash for Christmas, and I agree that a well-chosen gift can be a lot more memorable and fosters closer personal connections. But it is still a fact that cash would be helpful in my current place in life, so I'll include the link nevertheless. Incidentally, when sending e-mail related to the blog (or the podcast), please use the e-mail link at the top of the sidebar, rather than the address connected to these accounts.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Knock-off 2-packs at Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Morning is one of those "gift stores" that specializes in selling stuff that other stores don't want anymore, and sells those items at massive discounts. Usually, there's a reason why the other stores didn't want the stuff in the first place, but one can occasionally find good deals there. Last year, quite a few Transformers Energon figures and G1 reissues were able to found really cheap. But that kind of find is unfortunately rather rare.

While there don't seem to be any authentic Transformers to be found at Tuesday Morning these days, there are a number of knock-offs that are showing up. None of the knock-offs are, in and of themselves, all that unique. This kind of thing has been showing up at Big Lots and in other bargain outlets for quite some time now. But the fact that these are showing up in two-packs is a bit different.

Last week, I discovered this pair of knock-off Cyberjets. Knock-off Cyberjets are a relatively new phenomenon. I don't think I saw any prior to this past year. The figures in this box use the molds originally used for G2 Skyjack and G2 Space Case (left to right). I was more intrigued, however, by the images of Star Saber and Victory Leo on this box. Sadly, I couldn't find any knock-offs of them around (either knock-offs of the originals or of the more recent "RobotMasters" versions. I don't claim to be familiar enough with those particular Japanese exclusives to be able to tell which version is depicted on the box, although I'd guess the "RobotMasters" versions are more likely).

I found these two items while at a different Tuesday Morning yesterday. Each of these two-packs features a "Micromaster" combiner (Sixbuilder on the left of the picture on the left, and Sixliner on the right of the picture on the right) packaged with a downsized version of a "Scramble City"-style combiner (Defensor on the right of the first picture, and Bruticus on the left of the second picture, although in keeping with the pattern of most knock-offs, the color scheme of "Bruticus" more closely matches "Baldigus" from the Japanese "Car Robots" line).

As might be expected, the plastic quality of these knock-offs looks to be pretty low. But if you're looking for cheap Transformers, or are looking for fodder for a custom creation, these might be worth checking out.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Because It Apparently Can Never Be Said Enough

The word.

Is pronounced.


(Today's the day I have students from all over the seminary scrambling to turn in papers at my office. Regular, more thoughtful, postings will resume on Monday, after I've had a chance to catch my breath.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's a Wonderful Life Revisited

For many people, watching It's a Wonderful Life during Christmastime has become something of a Christmas tradition. I myself haven't watched the movie all the way through in years, but something hit me the other day, and so, thanks to Google Video, I was able to download a copy of the 1946 classic, which I watched last night. (Disclaimer: contrary to a popular legend, It's a Wonderful Life is NOT in the public domain. Although Google Video was offering the video for free in 2006, and was presumed to be doing so legally, the link has since been taken down.)

This movie is so steeped in American culture that even most people who've never seen the movie have some idea of the plot: George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) is about to commit suicide, and an angel is sent to save his life. In order to convince George that he is wrong in his belief that the world would be better off without him, the angel shows George just what the world would have been like if George had never been born. Eventually, George is convinced of just how much his life has been worth, and he chooses not to commit suicide.

I had a fairly good recollection of George's state of mind at the time the angel is sent to save him: the Bailey family Building and Loan is in dire straits. George's uncle has misplaced an important deposit, and George is accused of misapropriation of funds. Unable to collect the money, facing jail time, and possessing a $15,000 Life Insurance policy, George believes that he'll be worth more dead than alive and proceeds to a bridge, from which he intends to jump.

What I'd forgotten, and what particularly struck me during this viewing, was just how miserable George was throughout his life up to this pivotal moment. All his life, George has had dreams of leaving his "crummy little" home town of Bedford Falls to travel the world. He has ambitions of building great things and striking it rich. Unfortunately for George, every time he is just about to be able to leave, something happens. For example, on the night before George is to leave for college, George's father dies. Not only is George tied up for the next three months putting his father's affairs in order, but it soon becomes clear that the family Building and Loan will be shut down unless George himself agrees to take over.

It also suprised me just how much I identified with George's reasons for taking over the Building and Loan, rather than just letting it go. Bedford Falls is almost entirely owned by banker Henry Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore), a hard-bitten old man who has made his fortune on the backs of people trying to make a life for themselves. George knows that, without his family's Building and Loan, most people will never know the financial security that can come with owning one's own home, being forced to pay Potter's exhorbitant rental rates, never being able to scrape up more than the bare minimum to survive on. Although the monetary figures, being in keeping with the era, seem miniscule compared to the rates of today, this is a situation that is near to my own heart (in fact, I've written on the subject a number of times over the past couple of years). I wish there were more "Bailey Building and Loans" in today's world!

But again and again as I watched the movie yesterday, I was especially aware of the personal cost George Bailey had to pay for "doing the right thing." For another example, on the evening of George's wedding day, he discovers that the bank has closed down in the wake of a financial crisis. He then discovers that his uncle, in a state of panic, has likewise locked up the Building and Loan. Potter is circling like a vulture nearby, ready to pay Bailey patrons 50 cents on the dollar to snatch up their shares, enabling him to shut down his main competition. Bailey (at the suggestion of his new wife) is forced to use the $2,000 (a huge sum in that time) saved up for his honeymoon to give his patrons the money they need to get through the crisis, thereby preventing the Building and Loan from being shut down for good. It's a very memorable scene, and is a wonderful illustration of the kind of person George is. He consistently comes to the aid of others, despite the often considerable costs to himself.

In many ways, I identify with George Bailey. He is the kind of person I very much want to be like. But I grow weary of the financial frustration of living in Southern California, and often feel "trapped" in my current situation, much as Potter observes that Bailey feels "trapped" in Bedford Falls during another important scene. While I don't believe I could ever be described as suicidal, I find myself very much wishing that there was "another way" for people such as George to attend to the needs of others. While I haven't forgotten the ending to It's a Wonderful Life, where the people of Bedford Falls all gather together, pooling their resources to help George out of his situation, and he realizes just how "rich" he truly is in the love he has from his family and friends, I don't have much faith in similar community miracles happening today. Perhaps I have become too cynical. I very much want to believe in such miracles, much as I want to be the kind of selfless person that George Bailey often was. But that can be a pretty hard place to be....

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sales Savvy

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Have you found all the toys you want (to give to other people, of course!)?

Because I was vacationing in Placerville during the Thanksgiving holiday, I was unable to take advantage of the Target sale on the Transformers Millenium Falcon set (regularly about $35, they were selling them for $15), but I noticed today that Toys R Us is selling the set for $27. Do I get it now? Do I wait? Do I really need to get it anyway?

After all, I might need that money to get Generation 1 Soundwave, which is coming out soon, although there is some uncertainty as to whether that December 5th release date is accurate. I guess we'll find out by the time I can post on Wednesday.

And, of course, I still have my eyes on Primus, although I've been unwilling to shell out $50 (or even the $43 it's currently on sale for at TRU, although Target's current sale for about $40 is starting to look tempting), even for a toy of that size. I did try to take advantage of a Thanksgiving deal Wal-Mart had for Primus, which would have included bonus Mini-Cons, but the one Wal-Mart I was able to get to while on vacation didn't have any, and I haven't been able to find any at the Wal-Mart near home, either.

Apparently, the fact that I'm paying attention to the sales isn't at all uncommon. I was listening to a story on NPR that was talking about how consumers have been trained to wait for sales, especially during this time of year. People having limited funds look for sales, and tend not to pay retail if they think they can do better just by waiting.

Of course, an item such as Soundwave (which will only be sold at Toys R Us), will probably do a bit better, since it hasn't been on shelves for a while already. And since there's only one place to get it, people have no real expectation that they can find a better price by looking elsewhere. Of course, if it doesn't do as well as expected, we might start seeing massive reductions like finally happened to the G1 reissues from the last two years (starting from $20-30, they were finally practically given away at massive clearance prices). But that wouldn't happen for months, even in a worst case scenario. If you want to get this toy by Christmastime, the price you see now is the price you'll be paying.

Of course, I may not end up buying any of these toys right now. After all, it's Christmastime, and I have a number of other folks I need to buy for, too. (There's really no fooling anyone in my family. I'm the one who likes Transformers!)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Classic Transformers Review: Reflector

I originally wrote this review intending for it to be a part of the official Transformers club, either as part of the magazine or on the web site (I've been arguing for a long time now that the club members-only web page needs better content and more updating). Many months have passed now, and there's no indication that the club intends to use this material. Updating the review a bit with appropriate web linkage, hopefully it will provide some better-than-average content here.

Most fans who remember watching the original Transformers cartoon when it originally aired remember a character named Reflector. Reflector was a camera that split apart into three identical (or nearly so) robots. Yet this fondly remembered character never appeared in toy stores due to what was apparently a late decision by Hasbro not to offer the 3-robots-in-1-camera toy (which they had licensed from the Japanese company Takara, and which had been part of their “Microman” line) for regular distribution. The TF cartoon bible (excerpts of which can be found here) lists Reflector as one of the original Decepticons, but has notes that the toy was discontinued, with instructions not to use the character in future episodes. This no doubt explains why most of Reflector’s cartoon appearances were in very early episodes.

Having already secured the rights to the Reflector toy from Takara, Hasbro needed to find a way to distribute such merchandise as they had available, and so they made Reflector available as a mail-order exclusive, much as had been previously done for the Powerdashers and Omnibots. Reflector was notable for being the only Decepticon to be made available only through mail-order in over 20 years of Transformers history, a distinction held until club exclusive Landquake appeared this past year.

While the toy version of Reflector consists of three robots that combine into one camera, as in the cartoon, the three toy robots are not identical, as the cartoon Reflector robots were (notwithstanding the camera lens on one robot of the trio). Hasbro also took the step of giving each of the individual robots names: Spectro (the red robot), Viewfinder (the middle robot), and Spyglass (the blue robot on the right of the camera). One imagines that if Hasbro had colored Spectro blue like the other two robots, the illusion of three nearly identical robots would have been more closely maintained, but Hasbro colored their version of Reflector pretty much the same as the Takara Microman version, which was created without the need for such considerations.

This isn’t to say that Hasbro didn’t bother creating anything new to make their version distinct from previous versions. In addition to creating a new sticker set with “Reflector” (instead of “Microx”) along the top and adding Decepticon faction symbols, Hasbro created full bio and tech specs to be included with Reflector’s instruction booklet. This is especially notable since Hasbro did not create tech specs for the previous mail-order exclusives. However, only tech specs for Reflector as a unit were created, as opposed to separate bios for Spectro, Viewfinder, and Spyglass. In fact, the tech specs for Reflector make absolutely no mention of the fact that the camera can split into three separate robots!

Each of the robots is roughly the same height, just under 4 inches tall. This makes them just barely taller than the average Action Master. Spectro and Spyglass both have die-cast metal chests, while Viewfinder has a die-cast metal core to which plastic features are attached on both front and back. All three robots have arm articulation at the shoulders, and both Spectro and Viewfinder have normal knee articulation (Spyglass has reverse-knee articulation, necessary for transformation.). All three robots have some form of hip articulation, as well (Viewfinder and Spyglass’s legs can bend either forward or backward, but Spectro’s legs only bend backward). In addition, all of the robots have chromed thighs, although most of this has flaked away in my specimen after roughly 20 years of wear and tear. Finally, it is worth noting that all three robots have distinct legs that can move independently of each other, a feature not to be taken for granted in Transformers of this era.

Transformation to camera mode is fairly simple. Each robot folds in half (Spectro and Viewfinder’s legs fold up behind the torso, while Spyglass’s legs fold up in front), and the Spectro and Spyglass are attached to either side of Viewfinder by aligning several pegs. Separate attachments for the lens and flashcube are then attached to the camera.

The resulting camera is about 2 1/4 inches tall (2 1/2” if measured to the top of the flashcube), too small to be considered a “life-sized” camera. The flashcube is chromed but, as with the robot thighs, this has mostly be worn away on my specimen. Camera features include a lens-and-mirror assembly inside Viewfinder that allows you to look through the back of the camera and see objects on the other side (though not very clearly), and a shutter at the top of Spectro’s head that allows you to push down with a reassuring “click” and “take a picture.” It should also be noted that the flashcube has a hole in the middle to insert a missile to be launched (theoretically, as Hasbro took the spring out) by pushing down at the top of the flashcube. The flashcube may also be used in Spyglass’ robot mode.

Reflector makes a wonderful display item, both for its rarity and for its place in Transformers history as a seldom-seen cartoon character.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Long-Awaited Day Has Finally Arrived

For nearly two years now, Transformers fans have complained about the lack of any club exclusive toys (not counting the "freebie" exclusive you get just for joining, nor the BotCon convention exclusive toys, which are generally made available to club members if any remain after the convention). As of yesterday, this has finally changed. Club exclusives Astrotrain (with 4 Mini-Cons) and Airazor are finally available for pre-order. Each is being limited to 2000 figures, making these toys quite rare.

Here is the pertinent information from the e-mail sent to club members:
Astrotrain is $87 +shipping, Airazor is $42 +shipping. Shipping is $7 domestic for the first item and $1 for each additional item. Foreign shipping will vary by country. If you are placing a foreign order, we will calculate the airmail cost and add it to your order.

Example order: if you are domestic and order one Astrotrain and one Airazor the total cost will be $137.
Orders may be made via e-mail (if your credit card is already on file with the club) or by telephone (special arrangements are being made for non-US members to have Fun Publications call them if needed, so as to avoid prohibitive telephone costs).

Fun Publications is very clear that these will only be available to members of the official Transformers Club. Membership costs $40 (for people living in the US who don't choose the more expensive shipping option). That's expensive enough to be worth thinking over seriously, but that membership does include an additional "freebie" toy (probably will ship in the spring) and a 6-issue subscription to the bi-monthly Transformers club magazine (yeah, there's also 12 issues of Master Collector included, but that's just a bunch of classified ads which are pretty much worthless).

The Transformers club is finally getting up to speed. If you've been on the fence about joining up to now, this should at least give you something to add to that decision-making process.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Number 300

Keeping track of blog posts is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary practice. What makes the number "300" special? Why is the round number "300" any more special than say, "299"? These are fair questions, and I offer no particular answer than to say, "because I say so!" ;)

Looking for an appropriate way to celebrate my 300th Transforming Seminarian post, I'll post a few pictures I've got lying around that are worth sharing, but for which I really don't have enough to say about to dedicate full posts to.

This picture by no means represents my entire Transformer collection. It is, however, the single most prominent cluster of them in my home work space. Many of my Transformers sit on a shelf inside of a closet. Others are scattered on the tops of bookshelves and desk spaces around the room. Still others are stored in boxes. But this group, which changes fairly regularly as I gather new toys, or want to give old ones new prominence, sits on top of a filing cabinet in the middle of the wall area. Anyone who walks into the room can't help but see that huge Brave Maximus surrounded by various minions.

About a half a year ago, I did an article on repaints that featured two of these three figures. About a month ago, I was able to locate and purchase the bright yellow and orange one (Sunstorm). Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a good way to mention it on the blog, so I'll take the opportunity to use the picture now. Here it is!

And, finally, a quick picture from my recent vacation in Placerville for Thankgiving. Placerville is where my parents grew up, and most of my rather large extended family still lives there. One of my family's defining characteristics is that we like to play board games. "Family Feud" is always a favorite.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Change is Possible

A few days ago, Scot McKnight posted about an article written by respected theological Stan Gundry about Gundry's move from traditional (often called "complementarian") beliefs regarding gender roles (including, but not limited to, not allowing women to serve in ordained roles in the church) toward a more egalitarian theology (allowing women to hold any church position allowed to men). The article makes clear that this process did not occur in a vacuum, but as the result of years of questioning and prodding by Gundry's wife, herself a Christian to whom Biblical authority was of utmost importance.

The article is quite long, and worth checking out on its own, but one thing I found particularly interesting was the list of questions Gundry's wife had accumulated on this issue. Here's an edited sample:
• If women are not to be the leaders and teachers of men, how does one account for Deborah, Huldah, Phillip’s daughters, and Priscilla’s role in the instruction of Apollos?
• Why is it that Paul instructs women to be silent in one place and acknowledges with apparent approval that women publicly pray and prophesy in another?
• Doesn’t the prominence of women among the followers of Jesus and in the Pauline Epistles suggest something significantly more than women leading and teaching children and other women?
• How is it that in the church the benefits of Galatians 3:26-28 apply equally and in very tangible ways to men, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, and those who are free, but not to women?
• If a woman is to obey her husband, is she not responsible directly to God for her actions? Is he in effect a priest, an intermediary between her and God? Is she to submit and obey even when his instructions are morally wrong or contrary to her understanding of God’s desire for her?
• Aren’t husbands and wives to mutually submit to one another as all believers are to submit to one another, and how does this qualify the presumptive one-sided submission and obedience of wives to husbands?
• Are all women to submit to all men?
• Is the husband to be the leader of the home even if the wife has better leadership skills, or the husband is disabled, or the wife has greater spiritual insight and sensitivity?
• Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately continue to teach him, and if women really are not to teach men, isn’t it odd that women are allowed to teach them in their most formative years?
I'm not ignorant enough to assume that complementarians have no answers for these questions. In many cases, in fact, I've seen them. But I do think that this kind of questioning reveals the desire of a person who isn't just trying to "rebel" against traditional teaching. These questions come from someone honestly seeking to understand the whole of the Bible as it stands.

There was a recent debate hosted by Newsweek, featuring many Christian leaders on the topic of whether discussions between people who hold radically differing views (such as on the nature of truth, in the Newsweek thread) do any good. While some argue that discussion is indeed worthwhile, I have to admit that a lot of people seem so entrenched in their positions that dialogue often seems useless. I find it encouraging to see this kind of article posted once in a while. Perhaps Gundry's story is the exception, rather than the rule. Still, even these isolated stories have repurcussions, and I'm encouraged to see that change is possible.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Cheap Laptop

A week or two ago, my wife's laptop stopped working. When she took it to the "Geek Squad" to have a look at it, they determined that the hard drive had gone bad. Rather than spend the $600 or so they quoted her to replace the hard drive and have as much of her data transferred as possible, she decided to purchase a newer laptop. We found something that should serve her well for under $800, including the operating system (which itself includes a free upgrade when the newest version comes out in a few months). She'll still have to manually replace the backed-up files, but it still seems to be the better choice.

That doesn't mean that her old laptop is now being thrown in the garbage. For years, I've made it a hobby to keep old computer parts around, getting use out of them for as long as possible. I purchased a new hard drive for less than $80, and popped it in the otherwise-dead laptop. Since I use Linspire, I'm allowed to put that operating system on multiple computers (most operating systems insist that you buy the software for each computer you plan on using the software on, at least if you're going to do it legally), so I just installed Linspire, and the computer is up and running with the new hard drive. Now, I have a laptop of my own, which I hope will prove itself useful in the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend as we travel to see family.

Having gotten the hard drive working, there was still one major hitch: Linspire isn't that great when it comes to hardware compatibility. Although they intend for the system to work "right out of the box" (so to speak), if you're not buying a computer with Linspire already on it, but instead trying to install it on an older system, you're likely to be using hardware that Linspire is not yet (or will ever be) compatible with. In my case, the biggest problem seemed to be Internet access. Neither of the wireless adapters we already had at home seemed to be compatible. If I can't get the computer to work on the web, it's largely useless to me, since practically all software and driver updates for Linspire are done via Internet download (although it's conceivable that this laptop might still have proven useful for taking meeting minutes at work, a task I've been performing with a 5-year-old Palm VIIx).

I spent a fair bit of time at the Linspire forums, but couldn't figure out how to make my existing wireless adapters work. There were a few folks who tried to offer some technical assistance, but as is often the case on the Linspire forums, most of those were so technical that I couldn't follow them. This is a problem I've found with Linux operating systems in general (not just Linspire). They're not for novices. They're for the really computer-savvy. I consider myself pretty adept at computers, and this impression is often echoed by my co-workers who often ask for my assistance with various minor computer problems (there's a proper tech support staff here at the seminary, so they handle the major stuff!). But I'm not up to the level of many Linux enthusiasts. In fact, I found the Linux for Dummies book rather intimidating (and I usually sing the praises of that series!). When these gurus try to provide help on the forums, they often speak in a technical jargon that no doubt makes sense to fellow gurus. Unfortunately, I don't understand half of it, and so the long and short of it is that I was left no closer to getting my hardware to work than I was before.

A lot of people on the forums always suggest consulting the hardware compatibility list, but I've generally found this advice less than useful, and more like a cop-out. I have a suspicion that the list hasn't been updated in quite some time, so the absence of a piece of hardware on that list is hardly conclusive. In any event, the technical nuttiness on the forums at least makes perfectly clear that lots of hardware that's not on the list has been made to work perfectly well. Still, it's a good place to start, and I do have a tendency to be a bit impatient when it comes to these kinds of projects. I printed out a list, and took it with me to the local computer store. I found a PCMCIA card that looked to be on the compatible list for about $40, and bought that. True to the promises made by being on the compatibility list, the card worked fine.

I'm still working out a few other kinks (my USB flash drive doesn't seem to work on this computer now, despite that it did work when this computer used Windows XP, and it does work on my other Linspire computer. Also, my wife's USB drive works just fine), but basically, I now have a functional laptop to take with me on vacation. Expect to see Friday's regularly scheduled blog post, while I'm on vacation.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Custom Boxes

Over a year and a half ago, I put up some pictures of custom boxes I had created for Happy Meal Transformers. Since that time, I have made a few more boxes. None of these are of the quality or "G1-accuracy" as Mirage's Boxes, but I think they're pretty nice, and worth showing off once in a while.

One limitation I've always been under is that my printer can only handle regular 8-and-a-half-inch width paper, so I'll never be able to do these boxes for figures larger than the World's Smallest Thrust you see at the top. I also don't have access to facilities that would allow me to custom-mold clear plastic inserts (of course, neither does any other custom box maker that I'm aware of), which is why I've taken to using styrofoam. If you'll look at those Happy Meal boxes I made in 2005, you'll see that I tried to twisty-tie them to a colored paper backing. This is fine for display purposes, but does have the unfortunate effect of allowing the toys to slide around inside the box, which can be problematic for transport. Styrofoam has the advantage of being more stable, and is reasonably easy to shape, but it is rather messy. (You might even be able to see some lose bits of styrofoam trapped in that Thrust box.) Also it doesn't work as well for certain TFs (I have a couple more Happy Meal TFs I needed to stick with the twisty ties for).

Still, displaying some of these smaller TFs in this way does give the toys some visual character that they might not have if they were displayed loose. By placing small versions of the original Tech Specs on the back (or a custom, as in the case of toys like Tap-Out, which weren't originally created when Tech Specs were done this way. I've done a few custom Tech Specs myself, but the Tap-Out Tech Spec was done by James Byun), the feeling that these smaller toys could have been originally sold in boxes like this is reinforced.

I created the template for these boxes using Adobe Photoshop. The files are fairly large, but I'm willing to share them if anyone's interested, and can work with Photoshop files. Just send me an e-mail, and I'll send you an example. Feel free to ask for a specific character, although the odds are I won't have it. I can definitely give you something from the right faction, though. Just remember that this kind of template will only work for fairly small figures.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Created to Scale

To the best of my knowledge, there are only two classes of Transformers, in the entire history of the franchise, that have been explicitly created to be a specific scale when compared to the "real" vehicles the toys represent.

The first of these, the Alternators, are still fairly widely available in stores. These transform into 1:24 replicas of actual automobiles you might see on the street today (1:24 being a fairly common scale for model cars). In fact, Hasbro licenses the rights to these vehicle designs from the automobile manufacturers, so in the case of Alternators Wheeljack (center), who turns into a Ford Mustang, you'll see the Ford logo proudly displayed on the packaging.

For many fans, the Alternators represent the pinnacle of Transformers design. Not only are they realistic vehicles (truly "Robots in Disguise"), but their transformations are often intricate and complex. For me, this is the line's major downfall: they're too complex. And the instructions, simple line art drawings with few or no words, are often no help at all. I was reminded of this fact when trying to transform these toys for this photo. I actually tried to do Smokescreen (on the left) first, but couldn't get all the vehicle parts to line up properly when I was all done. I finally gave up on that one, put the toy back in robot mode, and tried my hands at Wheeljack. Wheeljack is also ridiculously complicated, and I actually had to pop several parts off of the toy to finish the transformation, although when all the parts were replaced, I at least had a vehicle that looked right. Although the roughly $20 price tag you'll find on these toys isn't too unrealistic for what you get, it's high enough that when coupled with the frustration factor I have on these things, I tend not to buy Alternators on my own. In fact, I think all but one of the four I have (including one that isn't pictured here) were gifts. This isn't to say that I'm upset to have been given these toys. It's just that the frustration gives me pause when it comes to buying them on my own. If you have the patience to deal with the transformations, though, these are still very worthwhile toys.

The other class of Transformers designed to a specific scale were originally released as the G2 Go-Bots. These toys have been repainted and reissued quite a few times over the years, and are more commonly referred to these days as "Spychangers" (a name they picked up in the "Robots in Disguise" line of 2001-2002). These toys are 1:64 scale, specifically designed to be compatible with "Hot Wheels"-style racing sets. (One of these days, I'm going to splurge for one of those loop-the-loop tracks and put these guys on it!)

In contrast with the Alternators, transformation for these toys is simplicity itself. Nearly every one transforms in the same way: pull the back of the car out, flip the hood down, and pull the arms out to the sides. A few other toys were released in the class as part of the "Robots in Disguise" line that have slightly different transformations, but these also weren't specifically designed to be in the 1:64 scale of the original vehicles on which they're based (although they still have the free-wheeling axles, so they'll still work on the race tracks).

It may be worth noting that both of these lines used scales that were chosen specifically because of some competitor's product. It may also be worth noting that there are one or two actual Transformers toys (in isolation, and not really as part of a classification of TFs) that transform into a play version of some actual item (1-to-1 scale, if you will), but that's really not the same thing. Even still, for all of the clamor out there in the Transformers fandom for toys that are "to scale," such toys really the exception, and not the rule.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Act of Faith

My seminary has been releasing public warnings of a con artist on campus. This is a guy who's been around before. Basically, what the guy does is engage students in conversation about matters of faith. He then suggests that they prove their faith through acts of trust, such as getting the person to go to a bank and withdraw money. If the student resists, the guy gets "very manipulative and can become intimidating."

I've had a run-in with someone like this a few years ago (probably not the same guy, since the report says that he tends to target international students), and although I'm cynical enough to stand my ground, and not give in to this kind of manipulation, I always walk away from such an encounter feeling very conflicted. Like I've somehow failed to trust God, despite the fact that the con artist's own manipulative nature is evidence against the situation being worthy of such trust.

I don't have an easy answer to that problem. On one hand, I think that Christians need to be more sacrificial in their giving to those in need. On the other hand, we need to be wise about how we use the resources God has given us, and I'm convinced that this doesn't mean we have to give our money to every potential thief that asks for it. I'd like to encourage my friends who may find themselves in this situation to be strong, and not give in to unwarranted guilt, while continuing to pray that God will encourage us to be more giving to those who actually need the help.

Monday, November 13, 2006

An Unexpected Find

Last week, I commented on the difficulty of locating the Micromaster Superion set, having traveled all over Southern California to CVS Pharmacies in the area.

So, imagine my suprise when I found this at Big Lots yesterday!
This is the only Aerialbot I found, and a trip to another Big Lots yielded nothing, so this may be just a fluke. I left this one on the shelf, although I definitely left wishing I'd found this a week ago. Silverbolt was the last Aerialbot I needed, and this is less than half the price I ended up paying per Aerialbot at CVS!

A side note: I've just switched over to the new version of Blogger. There may be a few glitches while I get used to the new system.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Full Circle

Back when I was a student at Montreat College, shortly after I had become student body president, we had a congressional candidate speak in one of our convocations. This person was asked to come because she was an alumni of the college, but she was asked not to do any "campaigning." This is not, I expect, because the candidate was a Democrat, although it's tempting to suggest such, given the somewhat-conservative leanings of the college. Instead, I expect that the college did not want someone to require them to bring the other candidate to speak in accordance with "equal time" laws. I expect that if this kind of thing had happened more recently, the "equal time" laws would have kicked in no matter what the candidate was intended to say, simply because she was making an appearance.

I have to confess that I did not actually hear this candidate speak. I don't actually recall why not, and given that students were required to attend a certain number of these events each quarter, and given the fact that I was student body president at the time, I assume that I must have had some reason. In any event, I heard later in the day that the event did, in point of fact, turn out to be far more of a "campaign appearance" than was intended, much to the chagrin of pretty much everybody involved. Even worse, the candidate apparently became rather hostile toward her captive (and admittedly probably hostile themselves) audience, telling them that she had better things to do than to talk to a bunch of unappreciative college students.

This happened to be the year of the last major political switchover from one party to another: 1994. Not surprisingly, the Democratic candidate that spoke to my fellow students did not win. As I recall, she wasn't especially gracious in defeat, either.

Fast forward to this year, when it seems that Democratic victories in both houses of Congress will somewhat reverse the trend of 12 years ago. The candidate that won that 1994 election (who was actually the incumbent in 1994, and who has continued to serve ever since) has now himself been ousted by a new congressman. We seem to have come full circle.

One thing I've been pleased to see so far is that pretty much everybody has been gracious in both victory and defeat. President Bush's lunch with Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has been all over the news. Defeated California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides gave a very classy concession speech that congratulated his victorious opponent (if you don't know who the governor of California is, you're not paying attention) while remaining true to his own values. Although there were several very close races, we've not yet heard the tales of losing candidates raising vitriolic legal battles to contest the results, such as we had in 2000. I can only hope that this spirit lasts into the actual work that our politicians must perform in the coming year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democracy at Work?

Well, it's all over but the counting (at least in some areas). After sitting through weeks (if not months) of campaign ads and petitions, the 2006 election cycle is finally over. Most of us can now take a rest from the relentless phone calls, junk mail, and door-to-door canvassers that mark each new election.... At least until the next election comes along.

I voted shortly after the polls opened yesterday. This is important to me, not because I want to be first in line, but because it works best with my work schedule. Voting at 7:00 am allows me to get to work on time (actually, a bit earlier than usual, also granting me the rare privilege of a stop at McDonald's for a McGriddle for breakfast!), whereas voting after work means that I'm more likely to have to stand in a long line when I'm feeling my most tired.

I do have to confess, though, that I grow increasingly discouraged at the whole process. I'm pleased enough that yesterday's results indicate that there will likely be some measure of change in Washington, but there are a lot of propositions that I supported here in California that failed to pass. Of course, the positions and candidates I support are generally not the "popular" ones, and even though the Democrats won a number of elections in this particular campaign, it doesn't really address the real problem, which I consider the Democrats as much a part of as I do the Republicans. Here's the issue: if I wanted to support a "third-party" candidate, I have virtually no chance of ever seeing such a candidate win under the current system, which allows a candidate to win with a mere plurality of the vote, rather than a majority.

If that sounds confusing, perhaps I can explain with an illustration. Suppose that there are only 10 voters in a small rural jurisdiction, but 3 candidates. We'll call these candidates "Liberal 1, Liberal 2, and Conservative 1" Now let's further suppose that 6 of the 10 voters consider themselves "liberal," who would never ever vote for a conservative. The other 4 voters consider themselves "conservative," and would never ever vote for a liberal. It is likely in this scenario that the 6 "liberal voters" split their votes so that "Liberal 1" got 3 votes, and "Liberal 2" got 3 votes. But since the 4 "conservative voters" only had one viable candidate, "Conservative 1" gets 4 votes. Under the electoral system in place in most of the country, "Conservative 1" wins the election, since "Conservative 1" had more votes than any other candidate, even though, if most of the 10 voters had a choice, "Conservative 1" would have been the least favorite candidate for the 60% that voted for someone else. The majority of people now have a leader that they don't want.

One might respond that this is why we have primaries: to ensure that we don't have this kind of situation. But the way we do primaries doesn't help either, because only voters registered for a given party can vote in most primaries. In a Democratic primary, only registered Democrats can vote. Likewise for Republicans. So, in the Democratic party, there may be two candidates: one who is "liberal" and appeals well to the Democratic core, and one who is "moderate" (or maybe even conservative) who would appeal well to "swing voters" and to Republicans, but since only registered Democrats are allowed to vote in the Democratic primary, the "liberal" candidate, who appeals well to registered Democrats but not to "swing voters" (much less to Republicans) wins the primary. And since the Republicans have exactly the same situation in their primary, the two candidates that make it to the "general" election represent the opposite poles of the electorate, rather than any more moderate position. This virtually guarantees that the result, whatever it is, will alienate a large number of the voters, rather than getting someone in office who can unite people with divergent views.

The results of yesterday's election may have thrilled you, or they may have angered you, depending on where you stand on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, unless you simply don't care about who our politicians are, it's likely to be one extreme or the other. Until we can re-design our election system to allow more moderate candidates, who more accurately represent the will of the majority of the American people, to have a viable chance of winning elections, I fear that we will continue this kind of bi-polar disorder as the electoral pendulum swings back and forth.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tracking Down Micromaster Superion

For the past few years, Hasbro has been reissuing collections of "Micromaster combiners" that were originally released in Japan way back in the early '90s. The basic pattern for these sets is that there are six Transformers who follow a common theme (trains, construction vehicles, airplanes, etc.) who can be configured together into a larger robot with the help of some accessory parts (unlike most other combiners from over the years, none of the Micromaster combiner members actually connect directly with any other members. They only connect via the extra parts).

All four of the teams Hasbro has reissued have been released as exclusives through KB toys, which has made some of these teams increasingly difficult to find, as KB is, at best, a struggling sales chain. Rumors had surfaced about the latest set, the Micromaster Aerialbots, as far back as a year ago, but they were not actually released until rather recently. In fact, European Transformers fans actually were able to find these toys before fans in the US, an occurrence which is very rare indeed!

And when word finally started coming out that the Aerialbots had finally reached American stores, I still was unable to find any in KB which, it must be said, is terrible about restocking their shelves. Presumably, they want to clear out product they already have, but given that their prices average out to about 25% higher than most other chains, KB doesn't tend to sell things very quickly.

I finally heard that the Aerialbots were showing up in CVS pharmacies, which I thought was odd. I had already known that the Railbots (the previous Micromaster exclusives) were showing up in CVS, but since those toys had already been at KB for several months by that time, I just assumed that KB had given up on selling the Railbots, and were getting rid of their overstock, and that CVS has opted to give the toys a try.

I later learned that CVS and KB were owned by the same company, although it appears that this is no longer the case (although KB was once owned by the company that currently goes by the name CVS, KB is currently privately owned). I do not know to what extent this former relationship plays into CVS's acquisition of what was originally understood to be KB exclusive merchandise, however.

To this day, I have still not found any of these toys at KB, although I have been assured that some KBs out there are carrying them. I did manage to track the toys down at CVS after an extensive search. I must have traveled to just under a dozen different CVS stores in Southern California over the past week, picking up the 6 toys at 5 different stores. (Drug stores are notorious for only having one or two of a particular type of toy on hand!)

Anyway, I was finally able to track down the complete set. Here is the combined Micromaster "Superion" for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Writing with Clarity

Scot McKnight has written about the difference between writing at the level of "rhetoric" and writing to "lay people." Although I have often complained about similar brands of "elitist speech" (for example, the "Christianese" that many Christians use when communicating with each other that utterly fails to communicate to those outside their niche. See this post for just one example), I must confess that, spending so many of my waking hours in the halls of a seminary, it is hard to get out of the mindset of academic rhetoric, and to use terms that would be more commonly understood were an outsider to walk by.

Why is it so hard to communicate in simple terms? I suspect that one reason is that we wish to be understood. Lawyers are infamous for the long legal briefs that they write, using terms so apparently complex that only other lawyers can dicipher them. Yet it is my understanding that, more often than not, these are written in such complex terms to more clearly communicate the intentions of the writer, so that someone else can't come along and make the document mean something else other than what was intended. They use terms and concepts which were never intended to be understood by "common" people, but which are intended to communicate clearly to other lawyers. Yet, at least it seems to me, the very complex language itself is what often makes an undesired "re-interpretation" possible. Do we similarly shoot ourselves in the foot, despite our best intentions?

And besides the issue of using terms and concepts that fail to address most people's needs, there's the simple question of length. If you go to the comments section of Scot's blog entry, you'll notice at least one or two regular bloggers who write lengthy comments. At least one of them is aware of instructions that Scot has given repeatedly to keep comments to only one or two paragraphs (See here for a recent example). The problem is, this particular blogger seems unable to keep his comments brief. In this thread, he actually breaks his comments up over several postings in an attempt to follow the letter of this rule, while completely missing the spirit of it. On one hand, I'm sympathetic to this problem (although I have to confess that I disagree with this particular person's theology on almost every meaningful level). He, more often than not, represents a minority position on Scot's blog, and he wishes to counteract the misinformation that is often out there in opposition to his own positions. He wants to be understood. Yet, because of the sheer size of his posts, I must confess to just skipping over his comments entirely on more than one occasion. His purpose is therefore defeated.

I'm not guiltless in this either. Looking through my posts (perhaps even this one), I can be pretty long-winded at times. It seems to be a common problem. But what's the alternative? Just don't write so much, and risk leaving out what seem (at the time) to be important bits of information? How would one go about chosing what to include and what to leave out? And how much of the problem is less about length, and more about the concepts that are being discussed in the first place, some which are arguably on levels that many people simply don't care about?

I guess we'll see on Monday if I get any better at writing with more clarity. ;)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It Couldn't Last Forever

If you follow game shows at all, then you've probably already heard by now that Bob Barker has announced that he will retire as the host of The Price is Right at the end of the current season.

This doesn't come as too much of a surprise. There's been speculation each year for several years now that each season would be Barker's last. Yesterday's announcement merely happened to be when he finally said, "now's the time."

I've had the honor of being in the audience for several Price is Right tapings in the years following my arrival in Southern California almost a decade ago, and I actually did get to speak with Bob during one of the taping breaks (not that he'd remember it at all; he's had literally thousands of such encounters in his 50-year career on television). As I recall, I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he had received during the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1999 (this must have been within a few months of that honor). Nothing hugely original or profound, I know, but it was my chance to interact with one of the last remaining "greats" of the game show world in person.

All indications are that The Price is Right will continue after Barker's retirement, although for how long depends entirely on how well the host chosen to be Barker's successor can fill the enormous shoes Barker will leave behind. But don't count the as-yet-unnamed new host out too quickly. Barker himself had to fill some rather large shoes when he first became host of what was then called The New Price is Right back in 1972: Bill Cullen had hosted the original version of the show from 1956-65 to great acclaim and popularity. At the time, few could see anyone replacing Bill Cullen. The fact that few people today are even aware that an earlier version of The Price is Right ever existed is a testimony to Barker's hosting ability.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Textual Difficulties

I was reading a rather lengthy blog post by scholar Ben Witherington, III. Although the post is really about the issue of priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic church (the only major denomination to require celibacy of its clergy), there is an interesting bit about the interpretation of I Corinthians 7. Here is the text of verse 1, as it appears in the TNIV:
Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
The punctuation, as it appears here, is very much in keeping with Witherington's interpretation: The part within quotes does not represent Paul's thought, but part of a letter Paul had received from the Corinthians, which he is about to respond to in the part of I Corinthians that follows. This interpretation is the current consensus of many scholars.

It is not, however, a universal agreement, and it is not even the interpretation of all English translations of the Scripture. Here, for example, is the same verse, as translated by the older NIV:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
Now, I should be clear that I'm not talking about the difference between the translations of the words (i.e., the difference between "to have sexual relations with a woman" and "to marry," both of which attempt to translate the same Greek phrase). I'm talking about those quotation marks which are present in the TNIV version, but not in the NIV. Most older translations follow the trend of the NIV, while many newer versions (including the conservative Holman Christian Standard Bible, lest anyone think that I'm suggesting some "liberal" interpretation) include the quotes.

To see how such a difference of opinion is possible, a bit of background is in order. The original manuscripts of these passages were not only written in Greek, but were written using all capital letters, with no spacing or punctuation. To illustrate the kind of confusion this occasionally creates, look at the following phrase in English: GODISNOWHERE.

Did you read that as "God is nowhere," or "God is now here"? With this phrase, sitting on its own, it would be impossible to be certain. Thankfully, we tend not to have such phrases sitting in isolation within the Greek manuscripts, but rather, we have complete texts that can provide context, and so scholars can usually weed through the lack of spacing and punctuation with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

Still, debates remain. In the case of I Corinthians chapter 7, the immediate context allows for either interpretation, but depending on which way we take verse 1, we will look at the rest of the chapter very differently. To use the traditional translation (without quotes), Paul is asserting his opinion that "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." When Paul suggests, in the following verses, that "... since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband", he is then understood to be making a concession to the strength of the sexual drive. But if Paul were to have his way, we are left to understand, everyone would remain celibate.

But if we assume that "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" is a quotation from an earlier Corinthian correspondance, the rest of the chapter takes on an entirely different meaning. Paul is actually arguing against the Corinthian position that all people should become celibate. Although Paul does agree that celibacy can be a good thing, he insists that such celibacy is not the norm. Paul asserts that most people should marry. Sexual relations (within marriage) are what Paul understands as normative, not celibacy! You can read Witherington's article for more about this particular case, including a little bit of explanation as to why this is the preferred interpretation (although this is not Witherington's intended focus).

This kind of textual difficulty is only one of many challenges that confront the Christian who seeks to be faithful to the biblical text. Yet so many people assert that "the Bible says" such-and-such on the basis of exactly these kinds of debatable texts, and accuse those who disagree with them of seeking to subvert the Bible, or of otherwise "not being a good enough Christian." A little more humility, honestly seeking the will of God, rather than assuming we've already found it, would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Channel Surfing

It's "pledge drive" time again at NPR. Getting more than a little tired of listening to the personalities at NPR tell me that paying for NPR is a better value than the money I spend on coffee, newspaper subscriptions, or cable (three things I actually don't spend money on, although I'll at least grant that in those cases, it's because I don't use any of those things, whereas I do listen to the radio), and still being unconvinced as to why I should pay to listen to a particular radio station, when most other radio stations make no such requests (yes, I know that it's because other stations pay their bills by doing commercials. Just bear with me.), and getting a bit tired of listening to NPR's particualar spin on current events (even though I usually agree with it), I decided to switch channels.

After a fair bit of channel surfing, I decided to give the local Christian talk radio station another try. This is the station that I used to listen to all the time when I first entered seminary, but after a few years, I decided that I was spending too many mornings in bed yelling at the poor theology of the preacher who did the morning program, and having too many disagreements with the conservative talk program I'd listen to in the evenings, and so I stopped listening to them. It's been a few years now since that time, and the person who did that talk program has since retired, so it seemed worth going back and seeing what they were like these days.

This particular station bills themselves as "the intersection between faith and reason," which is a sentiment I can certainly respect. Unfortunately, I found myself mostly listening to the same "two big issues" that I've associated with conservative Christian movements elsewhere: sexual matters (mostly, what not to do, of course!) and pro-life propaganda (I hasten to add that even those who favor abortions would never consider themselves "pro-death," but I digress). I was especially offended when the host weighed in on the Michael J. Fox/Rush Limbaugh debate. Since I was listening to conversative Christian radio, I wasn't surprised that the host was in favor of Limbaugh's position, but I found it particularly odious that the host would accuse Fox of being dishonest in his public messages supporting certain Democratic politicians. He wasn't saying, as Limbaugh had done, that Fox was necessarily off his medication (although he left that possiblity open), but he did accuse Fox of "acting" by appearing more "out of control" than in any previous appearance (his assertion). I assume that the host failed to see Fox's appearance before Congress, but would otherwise point out that, when Fox has appeared elsewhere, it has usually been in his capacity as an actor, and the camera can edit out most of Fox's less "photogenic" moments. If there's obviously an interest in showing Fox's real condition for a message such as the ones he's been doing, how is that dishonest? But even worse, the host accused Fox of dishonesty because Fox did not explicitly refer to "embryonic" stem cell research in his message. It is true that stem cell research using adult stem cells is not restricted, and that there have been some positive developments out of such research (although I think the host overstated the case more than a bit). It is also true that there is little present evidence that "embryonic" stem cell research would yield advancements that the adult stem cell research can not (of course, part of the reason for this lack of evidence is the lack of research that's been available to date in this area). But I personally fail to see this kind of omission as a dishonest one. The host went so far as to say that, if Fox were honest about his intentions, he'd tell his audience that he favors killing unborn children in favor of the slim possibility that people like Fox might be able to get some help. Frankly, I expect that Fox would be "dishonest" if he said such a ridiculous thing, since I'm sure that Fox does not share the host's assumptions about when life begins.

I also found it odd that the commercials on the station dealt almost exclusively with economic matters. Life insurance, capital investments, charities seeking donations (most of these falling into the "donate your used car" variety, oddly enough), lawyers seeking to help you "get what you deserve" if you've been in an unfortunate situation. I expected more commericials selling actual merchandise, like what I see on TV. I don't know if this is a peculiarity of Christian commercial radio, or of radio in general, but I was surprised nonetheless.

Another station I listened to (although I don't recall the commericals enough from that time to comment) was also a conservative station, although this one was not a religious station. The two hosts of the program I was listening to were talking about the controversy created over the letter sent to Spanish-language speakers in Orange County. Since the time I wrote that blog entry, evidence has surfaced that the letter was sent by a staffer connected to a particular Republican congressional candidate. That candidate denies any knowledge of the letter, and has resisted calls to step out of the election. The talk show hosts were not only in support of the candidate, but because there is a clause at the beginning of the letter (note: is a PDF file) that said "If you are a citizen of the United States, we ask that you participate in the democratic process of voting," they suggested that anybody who was bothered by the clause that followed: "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time, and you will be deported for voting without having a right to do so", wasn't paying attention, thereby dismissing anyone who was "scared" by the letter as either illegal themselves (meaning that they should be scared) or stupid. My thought is that the second clause overrides the good intentions of the first, but oh, well. (For the record, the bit about "if... you are an immigrant" is outright wrong, since a citizen could well be an immigrant. The current story is that the language of the letter was the result of an imprecise translation of the original intention from English into Spanish. Let's assume that this is correct. Although there would be nothing legally wrong with a letter that reminded non-citizens that they have not been granted the privilege of voting, it still strikes me as a scare tactic of questionable ethicality, since it could well have the effect of frightening legal citizens out of voting.)

Finally, I found a station that was presenting last night's game of the World Series. Just what I needed. No politics. No heated opinions. Just a good old-fashioned game. I am growing so weary, frankly, of caring about many of the important issues of the day. I don't expect that I will be able to stay away from them for long, because of the sheer fact that I do care about many of these issues so much. But it was good to just relax and listen to a game for a change.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rebellious Streak

Among the many different hats I wear from time to time is the hat of a proofreader for the seminary's weekly newsletter, called "the SEMI." Next week's issue will focus on the issue of abuse (many different forms thereof). An article on spousal abuse was written by Dr. David Scholer, who teaches regularly on the issue of women in ministry, and who I consider a close friend. The following is an excerpt from the upcoming article:
...of course, I know of virtually no Christian male leader who talks publicly in support of spousal abuse, but there are (far too) many who teach a submission that never takes account of this reality and who counsel women who receive abuse that it is their biblical duty to endure it. I remain struck by the fact that John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s 1991 book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism barely addresses the issue of the abuse of wives. Given the Fourth Affirmation in the official statement of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood about the way that men have abused their God-given authority over women (according to that view), one could expect that their magnum opus might have a chapter on spousal abuse. Alas, there is none. There are three isolated pages in the over 500 page book that briefly mention the abuse of wives. The book has just been reprinted (2006) with a new preface, which comments on what complementarians (formerly traditionalists) need to be concerned with now fifteen years after the book’s original publication. There is not a single word about spousal abuse.
A bit of context: Dr. Scholer is what we like to call an "egalitarian." That is to say, he affirms the rights of both men and women to all roles within the Christian church. Piper and Grudem consider themselves "complementarians." They argue that God calls men and women to different, but "complementary," roles within the Christian church, based upon the natural differences between men and women. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is considered the quintessential text of their organization, the "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" (CBMW).

But this blog entry isn't really about the evils of spousal abuse. I'm certainly not looking to accuse "complementarians" of advocating spousal abuse, even if I might suggest that they (as with so many of us in our society) turn a blind eye to it too often. But I'm sure that Piper and Grudem are as opposed to abuse as anyone else with a sane mind.

But my work on the SEMI issue on abuse led me to a related topic when it comes to gender issues. What actually struck me about Dr. Scholer's article was his comment about an "Affirmation" of CBMW against such spousal abuse. I got curious to see the actual text of the affirmation, and finally found it. The affirmation in question reads:
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).
  • In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
  • In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
Very affirming of "proper gender roles," to be sure, but likewise clear that abuse is wrong. I reject that assertion that for women to "resist limitations on their roles" is a sin, but that's the egalitarian in me talking, and gets a bit more to my point (yes, I do have one!).

I did a bit more research, and found an exposition on this statement (note: the link is to a PDF file). In talking about that last point, it repeats the assertion that the "root problem" is "a sinful resistance to biblically prescribed roles." I've often heard the suggestion that anyone who disagrees with the CBMW does so out of "sinful resistance." It should be no surprise that I find the suggestion more than a little offensive. In my conversations with "complementarians," I often try specifically to make the case that we believe what we do, not out of a sense of "rebellion" against God's word, nor out of a desire to make God's word say something other than what it really does, but because we truly believe that God's word, rightly interpreted, means something far more open than what people like the CBMW think it does. In regard to the issue of spousal abuse, it gets us nowhere if a complementarian affirms that abuse is a sin, but refuses to listen to an egalitarian's suggestion that a wife has the right to do something about that sin, accusing the egalitarian of rebelling against God's will for submissive wives.

A recent post on the blog for "Christians for Biblical Equality" (CBE, an organization that might be described as the Christian polar opposite of CBMW) says it this way:
If I were to talk to the most ardent of the hierarchalists, I might hear that I’m an evangelical egalitarian simply because I’m rebellious or I might be accused of rejecting the authority of Scripture or I might have been “feminized” (whatever that actually means). As a matter of fact, I’ve heard these very accusations time and time again. In some cases, it is believed that evangelical egalitarianism is simply a disguise for the conspiracy of liberalism among evangelicals.
I don’t like those broad labels and accusations which have no basis in reality, at least, for me. Perhaps I’m an egalitarian because I’ve seen it in God’s Word after years of struggling with the idea and after years of seeing abuses in the church and in our seminaries. At any rate, if the hierarchalist is willing to get to know me a little better as a person before making up one’s mind about me, I am willing to get to know him or her as well.
I should be clear here that I believe that the writer refers to other kinds of abuse (i.e., non-spousal) when he uses the term "abuse" in the above quote. His point is simply trying to keep an open mind, and trying to get past the knee-jerk labels. I have attempted to be as fair in my own dealings with "complementarians" (I think few people would call themselves "hierarchalists," and so I avoid that term), no doubt with varying degrees of success. I don't really expect to "convert" too many such people from interpretive views they've held for most of their lives (in most cases). But if I can at least convince them that I'm not exercising a "rebellious streak," then at least we can agree to disagree with intellectual integrity.
And that's really my point: there are some serious issues to be discussed, and I'm not foolish enough to think that everyone will agree on such substantive issues. But if we can at least avoid the accusations and accept that there's an honest attempt to follow God's will, maybe we can work together to reach some solutions.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wheeling But No Dealing

Although I enjoy collecting Transformers, I live under a significant financial crunch. It would be wiser not to buy any new Transformers at all, but under the often proven dieting philosophy that cutting things off "cold turkey" is a strategy doomed to failure, I have maintained a discipline of budgeting only $25 a month on Transformers toys. This is occasionally supplemented when I do an "odd job" outside of my normal 40-hours-a-week job, but even then I only put up to half of any money earned in such endeavors toward new Transformers, the rest going to ease financial burdens. However, any and all money earned by selling Transformers is fair game to getting new TFs! It sounds like a complicated system, but it really isn't. Suffice it to say, I've thought a lot about how to discipline my spending habits in a realistic way.

Since I'm trying to be wise about how I spend my Transformers dollars, I'm always rather keen on keeping an eye open for any sales or clearances that might be happening. This is especially the case right now, as the current "Cybertron" line is starting to die out, being replaced by the "Classics" line that will fill the gap between now and when the toys dedicated to the upcoming Transformers movie come out. When a rumor surfaced that Target was starting to clearance "Cybertron" toys in this way, it seemed as though the right time had come.

I had a (mostly) free day yesterday, so I drove around Southern California to the various stores that might sell Transformers, paying specific attention to Targets. I must have visited at least 5 different Target stores in my area. None of them are starting to clearance any Transformers yet! In fact, very few of them have even started stocking the new "Classics" toys in any significant numbers. I'm sure that "Cybertron" won't start hitting clearance until these stores have something to take their place.

But what was even more annoying was what I found at a couple of Toys R Us stores I visited. They're starting to repackage some of the "deluxe" toys (i.e., the size sold for $9.99 at Toys R Us) in 3-packs. I found two versions available, both filled mostly with toys that have no appeal to me anyway, but what was really surprising was the discovery that the 3-packs (with the label "Super Value" on them) are being sold at $29.99.

$29.99 for three toys that are already pegwarmers (i.e., no one wanted them the first time they were on the shelves. That's why they're getting repackaged.), that were originally sold for $9.99 apiece. Do the math. That means I'd be paying $29.99 for toys I could have already bought for $29.97. Far from being a "super value," I'd actually be paying 2 cents more to get the 3-pack! Someone needs to have their head examined.

Long story short, there were no "deals" to be found yesterday. For all the driving around I did, I bought no Transformers at all. (We won't talk about how much gas I used up in this endeavor) Still, it beats staying around the house all day....


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