Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Game Show Alert: Game Show Marathon

A new game show is premiering tonight, and this one looks to be something special....

CBS will air what it's calling the "Game Show Marathon" on Wednesday nights for the next couple of months. Unlike most "marathons" on TV, this isn't a bunch of reruns strung end-to-end. Instead, this is a celebrity event that revisits many classic shows, with carefully re-created sets and classic sound effects. One-time talk show host Ricki Lake will be the host.

Tonight, the celebrities will play "The Price is Right," which admittedly shouldn't be too hard for CBS to pull off, as the show is still going strong on their morning schedule, and they no doubt are just using the existing set and props. No "re-creation" required. Future weeks will be more ambitious. The games to be played include (in order of when they'll be played): "Let's Make a Deal," "Beat the Clock," "Press Your Luck," "Card Sharks," "Match Game" and "Family Feud."

I'm sure that it's no coincidence that most of these shows were on CBS at some point in their histories (the only exception being "Let's Make a Deal," which ironically has aired on both of the other "Big 3" networks, but not CBS). In any event, it will be on at 8:00 pm in most areas. Check it out!

UPDATE: 6/2/06 - I apparently was wrong. It's not just Wednesday nights, but Wednesdays and Thursdays. Sorry if anyone missed last night because of me!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Sin of Omission

During a conversation with my wife recently, she discussed a particular author/professor (who shall remain nameless) in the "Emerging Church" movement, who's books she had been reading as part of her class on "Historical Paradigms of Liturgical Renewal." This author/professor was invited by the professor of my wife's class to visit the seminary a few weeks ago so the class could meet with him. During the group's discussion, the current state of the church was discussed. The author/professor expressed the sentiment that the current situation whereby many women discern God's call to positions of church leadership, yet are denied the right to pursue such a calling, is lamentable. Apparently, his feelings on this issue are strong enough that he claimed that this was the main reason that he has not become a Roman Catholic (although he appreciates their worship style rather highly).

My wife was expressing frustration over the fact that, now that she's read several of his books, it is clear that this author never makes mention of this issue in print. If the author/professor feels that this issue is so important, why not mention the issue when writing about subjects (such as church worship) where the issue is relevant? This silence is part of a larger pattern within Evangelical Christianity. It's one thing to be against women in ministry for theological reasons. That's a different argument. We're talking about something else here: people who find biblical and theological support for the inclusion of women in ministry, yet still behave under the clear assumption that ministerial roles will be filled by men unless explicitly told otherwise.

I should be clear: I'm not suggesting that this author should devote his energies, which are properly directed to issues regarding church worship and liturgy, to "the issue" of women in ministry. However, if women are involved in church worship and liturgy (as inevitably they are, if women are ministers at all), a book discussing church worship and liturgy ought to acknowledge women as ministers when it speaks of ministers, rather than simply using male terms. To fail to acknowledge this is to perpetuate false assumptions that men are more suited to ministry roles. While these assumptions remain widespread in the church, even among congregations that give nominal assent to the notion of women in ministry, women will still find resistance when they seek ministerial roles, even in such congregations. This has nothing to do with whether women "aren't suited" for such work (as complementarians often claim), but simply with the reality that many of us in the church still have unchallenged assumptions. If all a person's ever seen are male ministers, can that person be faulted for assuming that women are less suited to the role?

Also relevant here, especially in regard to the "Emerging Church" movement, is the trend toward the practices of the ancient church. There are many historical traditions that this movement is seeking to reclaim, and this has largely been a positive trend. But there are some historical traditions that it would be downright disastrous for the modern church to adopt. As my wife put it, "If I were looking to the historical traditions of the church to define who I am as a person, do you know what I'd find? Hello?!?! 'Devil's gateway'?" This highlights the need to question traditional assumptions even further.

So this is my challenge, not only to that particular author/professor, but to all who believe that women are gifted and called by God to be ministers of the church: when writing or talking about ministers, whatever your more explicit topic may be, please make sure to acknowledge women in these roles. It is only by explicitly acknowledging that women can be ministers that unchallenged biases against women as ministers will ever be overcome.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Rare Transformers Auctions: The Half-Way Point

The Laser Cycle Jazz auction has closed. Final value: $1358.33. Winning bidder: Delphan Rane (the same guy who's won all four of the previous auctions, for a grand total of $12,408.33).

You know, when I decided to start featuring these auctions, I really had no intention of making this "the Delphan Rane show." We are now half-way through the Hartmans' promised cycle of 10 auctions. The Stunticons will start next week. Whether Delphan will continue his streak (perhaps he'll actually have a right to claim he's "not rich" by the time it's all over. He's paying what can only be considered a huge chunk of change for anyone...) is anyone's guess.

One more thing that's worth mentioning is that one of the reasons that Hartmans are selling off these rare figures is to help pay for debts incurred back at BotCon 2004, which I attended since it was in Pasadena (virtually in my backyard!). If the current patterns continue for the next five auctions, the Hartmans will have made roughly $23-24,000 (after taking out eBay and PayPal fees). I truly hope that this will enable them to settle any remaining debts.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Transformers Updates

Yesterday was a big news day for Transformers fans. The folks at Fun Publications have unveiled pictures of the first of this year's BotCon exclusives: pre-Beast Wars Optimus Primal. It is a recolor of the Cybertron figure Crumplezone with a new head added to make it look more like Primal. Have a look at the first ape version of Optimus Primal (there was a bat version that's mostly forgotten today) and judge for yourself whether or not the new exclusive captures the essence of the character.

Also released, but to members of the Transformers club only, were pictures of several toys in the upcoming "Classics" line to be sold in stores by the end of the year. These are updated versions of some of the best remembered characters in the original Transformers series of the 1980's. (UPDATE: Hasbro has released pictures of these [adding one more] to the general public)

One last bit that surfaced yesterday, albeit illegally (and therefore I won't provide a link to the source, as I don't wish to give the thief too much additional publicity) is what appears to be a test shot of upcoming BotCon exclusive pre-Beast Wars Rattrap. If this truly does represent the toy we'll get at the convention, Rattrap is a repaint of the Cybertron toy Ransack.

As is typical of the Transformers fandom, opinions vary wildly on all these toys. Some love them, some hate them, some love some of them, but hate others, and so on....

As for me, I'll look forward to adding some of these to my collection (and no doubt, in the case of at least some of the BotCon exclusives, I'll look forward to selling some to offset the costs of going to the convention in the first place!).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Really Important Distinctions

My friend over at Ekballō mentioned this short article by Michael Harrington today. In it, Harrington suggests that the political divide that currently creates such a huge gulf between Americans is best described, not in terms of "red states" and "blue states," but rather by three categories: "urbans vs. nonurbans; marrieds vs. nonmarrieds; and absolutists vs. contextualists".

I'm inclined to agree. But whereas Harrington suggests that framing the debate in this way may help us to have more productive dialogue on divisive matters, I'm not so optimistic. Perhaps my cynicism is higher at the moment after writing yesterday's post suggesting that the Board of Declaration be done away with. Whether that's true or not, it certainly is the case that I grow increasingly weary of all the fighting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I Declare...

[Later in the day after I had written this blog post, the Board of Declaration was purged (for a second time) of all Board posts related to the debate on Iraq and pacifism. Two of the contributors to that debate had new posts up within the day, the most recent accuser of "anti-American" sentiment among them. He attempted to defend himself by saying that to call the other contributor "anti-American" was less an insult and more a statement based on evidence. The words which follow are my response, also posted on the Board of Declaration, to that whole situation.]

I have been a member of the [seminary] community for nearly 9 years now. Over that time, I’ve seen many heated arguments on the Board of Declaration. When I discuss the matter of the Board with my friends, I often hear something along the lines of “Oh, I don’t read that any more. All they do is argue, and nothing ever changes.” Usually, I have attempted to respond to such statements by agreeing that the arguments often get out of hand, but that the goal of increased communication, even on contentious issues, makes having a resource such as the Board of Declaration a valuable addition to seminary life.

I am starting to reconsider that position. Although the Board of Declaration has several clearly stated rules intended to foster a community of open discussion, these rules are frequently ignored. Usually, when someone crosses the line enough to gain the attention of the Office of Student Services, the action taken is simply to remove the offending posts (and, frequently, all posts related to that discussion). The same participants then just put up new posts, often breaking the same rules, except that this time they accuse the seminary of censorship for daring to enforce the rules of the Board. Rules that contributors implicitly agree to by the act of posting in the first place. This further contributes to the air of negativity that has permeated the Board for far too long.

Lately, activity on the Board has been limited to just a small handful of participants, and the arguments being circulated are really nothing new. Perhaps this explains the recent degeneration into ad hominem argumentation (attempting to convince readers that a particular person’s arguments are invalid by invoking some negative sentiment about that person). I wish to explicitly note that whether or not the negative statements are true has no bearing on whether or not the argument is ad hominem. It is a logical fallacy, and it is explicitly forbidden on this Board. Contributors who cannot adhere to this rule, especially after multiple warnings, should be permanently banned from posting.

But perhaps this is a moot point. I’ve seen this cycle repeat many times over the years, and I am forced to admit that the debates posted here seldom meet the intended standard of constructive exchange of ideas. If meeting this standard is not possible, then I must reluctantly suggest that the Board of Declaration itself be taken down, and that this space be given over to some more productive purpose.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: Laser Cycle Jazz

Taking a break between the G2 Protectobots and the G2 Stunticons, the Hartmans are offering a different example of a not-quite-mass-produced G2 Transformer this week: Laser Cycle Jazz.

Like the G2 Protectobots, Laser Cycle Jazz is a new version of a character previously done years earlier in the original Transformers series. And like the G2 Protectobots, Laser Cycle Jazz is a recolor of a mold used previously. However, unlike the G2 Protectobots, Laser Cycle Jazz does not use the same mold the original version of the character used, but rather uses a mold that had been recently used within G2 itself: that of Laser Cycle Road Rocket.

There are only 12 known examples of Laser Cycle Jazz in existence. As with all of the rare items in this series, if you want this one, be prepared to shell out a fair bit of money. The bid on this one's already at over $400.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Simple Civility

In the past, I've contributed to the seminary's Board of Declaration (check out these three posts for comments on this phenomenon that I've made in the past). I've continued to read some of the debates that have grown on the Board in 2006, but so far this year I have avoided contributing, myself. The often hostile nature of the Board makes it difficult to contribute and keep from escalating into emotional outbursts.

The most prominent (and arguably most contentious) issue on the Board in recent months has concerned the appropriateness of pacifism. Usually using the current war in Iraq as a backdrop, but also in more general terms. One prominent contributor is a Mennonite, who speaks out of his denomination's long tradition of Christian pacifism, and believes that this is what the Bible teaches. A couple of other contributors are more conservative, and obviously disagree (often quite strongly).

Things started to get especially ugly a couple of weeks ago when one of these conservative contributors accused the pacifist of being "un-American" due not only to his pacifist stance, but also his willingness to call America to account for certain acts (which I won't bother detailing here). He also called the pacifist a "criminal," citing the pacifist's history of civil disobedience, and actually attacked the seminary for accepting this "criminal" into our PhD program. These posts were taken off of the Board within a couple of days, and our Vice President for Student Affairs posted a note explaining that the debate had crossed the line into inappropriate behavior, specifically stating that ad hominem attacks were outside of Board policy. He did, however, say that the debate could continue if it remained civil.

Yesterday, the other conservative mainstay of this debate added a new post. In the middle of this rather lengthy contribution was a new accusation that the pacifist contributor has proved himself to be "anti-American" by his statements.

What is it about some people that they don't seem to understand that such attacks are inappropriate? It was specifically stated (and is still prominent on the Board in large letters) that ad hominem attacks are not permitted. Does this conservative contributor think that saying that someone is "anti-American" is somehow not "ad hominem" if the statement is borne out by the target's own statements? Does the conservative contributor merely think that he is above Board policy? Most basically, does the conservative contributor think that it is unimportant to keep debates civil, so long as he can get his "two cents worth" in?

I have already told a couple of friends that I think this particular contributor, who has often crossed the line of what I consider to be appropriate Board practices in the past, should be banned from posting on the Board entirely. I doubt this will happen. Either way, I think that he should be called to account for such behavior, if the Board policy is to have any efficacy whatsoever. I feel that this conservative contributor owes not only the pacifist contributor, but the entire seminary community, an apology.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Regarding Amnesty

In my newsletter article on immigration, I pointed out that some politicians are using the word "amnesty" to argue against certain kinds of immigration reform. I said that the proposal being debated in the Senate at the time, and which now seems likely to pass, does not grant amnesty, but imposes penalties of some kind on all people who have been in our country illegally.

Still, the word is being tossed around heavily by some politicians. Check out the following quote from Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin:
"Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty,"
This is in reference the President's speech on Monday night where he called for illegal immigrants to "pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law" (Note: the link to the speech requires free registration at latimes.com). In large measure, the president's requests are covered by the Senate proposal.

Perhaps it's worth pulling out the dictionary. Here's how the Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines "amnesty:"
"An act of pardon on the part of a government or authority, absolving offenders or groups of offenders."
The way I read this, if there's any penalty issued, the act cannot be amnesty, by definition. It's very frustrating to see this word being bandied about so recklessly. It makes me wonder what the politicians that use it really want. Clearly, they want criminals to be punished. That's fine. We've already been told that simply acting to deport all illegal immigrants is not an option on the table. Such an attempt would prove costly and ultimately futile. Clearly, something else must be done. But what punishment is appropriate to meet the demands of justice? If conservative politicians think that the penalties being discussed aren't severe enough, that's one thing. But what would they suggest? Many are arguing for tougher border patrols. It looks as though this will indeed happen. Still, this will only prevent new illegal immigrants from entering our country (if, in fact, it works). It does not address the issue of what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here. I assume the "anti-amnesty" politicians have something in mind beyond the already-dismissed deportations, or else they're just blowing hot air.

Even still, I'd like to know just how the "anti-amnesty" crowd thinks that the current proposals amount to "amnesty." To use an analogy, a judge might commute a sentence from time served in prison to a monetary fine coupled with community service. While people might argue that the criminal in such an example got off too easily, no one would accuse the criminal of having received "amnesty," since the criminal is still being punished in the eyes of the law. Why is the word being used here?

The only reason I can think of is that the conservatives don't really want any change to happen at all. I don't really believe that this is the case. I believe that conservatives want to see the immigration problem dealt with as badly as anybody (if, perhaps, we disagree on just how to deal with the issue). But I really can't understand the politicians who are so aggressively arguing against "amnesty" here. I'm often told that it's not good enough just to complain about an issue. If I have a problem with a given solution, I am often asked to suggest something better. So that's just what I'd ask of the "anti-amnesty" conservatives. If the current proposal sounds too much like amnesty to you, suggest a different penalty. Tell us what you'd like to see happen. Just what do you want?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Revisionist History

Around the middle of last week, a number of the professors at my seminary (possibly all of them, but this is unconfirmed) received a magazine in their mailboxes. It appears to be a one-time publication, produced specifically to be distributed to American leaders, both secular and religious, free-of-charge, for the purpose of "bringing America back to God." This assumes, naturally, that America is (at least historically) a "Christian nation." The list of introductory ways in which America is said to have fallen away from God is vague at first, but a more detailed reading highlights the usual list: liberalism, sexual sins, the breakdown of the traditional family--all things that conservatives find easy to rally against. Yet the publication seems to forget equally American sins such as our still persistent racism and shameful treatment of people in poverty.

The mantra of "bring our nation back to God" is one I've seen often, especially among conservatives. Now, I certainly have no argument with the notion that the people of the world (not just America!) could stand to follow God more closely. Nor do I dispute the fact that many of the people that first came to America from Europe did so specifically seeking the freedom to follow God in the manner that they believed God wished to be followed.

The first article in the magazine details the Christian backgrounds of a number of U.S. Presidents (13 of them, not including Theodore Roosevelt, who is also favorably cited in this article, but in a different context.). I see no reason to dispute the facts presented, although the interpretation is heavily slanted. Perhaps most telling is the picture of a stained-glass window tagged to the end of the article. The window itself was completed no earlier than 1931 if the dates visible on it are an indication. It purports to depict "The Prayer Meeting in the first U.S. Congress" in 1774 (one assumes that they mean the First Continental Congress, indeed formed in 1774, which is obviously before the American Revolution, and before the body that we call the Congress today was formed). Dozens of the nations "Founding Fathers" are depicted in reverence, many on their knees with their heads bowed and eyes closed....

Now, that first Congress did, in fact, open with prayer, and sessions of Congress still do today. But it's rather telling that this is the intended depiction of the attitudes of the assembled patriots. While many of the nation's leaders acknowledged the existence of a God (usually one resembling the Christian God of the Bible), their own lifestyles often displayed behaviors that would be considered horribly sinful to most Christians (especially conservatives). Tales of mistresses, blood feuds, illegitimate children, and thievery abound within the first generation of our nation's leaders. Not all that different than today, really. And certainly few conservatives would argue that the non-sectarian prayers which open today's congressional sessions have impelled our current leaders to live Christian lives (a few notable Christian exceptions notwithstanding).

The remaining articles continue this trend of well-intentioned revisionism: using chosen facts to paint a picture of the United States of America as an historically Christian nation, which has fallen away from its roots in modern times. This is what I have a problem with. The facts presented are not, in and of themselves, in question (or, at the very least, would require someone far better versed in that period of history than I am). However, the editors of this magazine conveniently ignore examples such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin (both well documented philanderers, for all of their positive contributions to American beginnings), whose contributions to this country's beginnings were indispensable, even if they did engage in "less than Christian" behavior. It ignores historical tragedies such as the near genocide of the Native American peoples in the interests of westward expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries.

America is not, nor has it ever been, a "Christian nation." How could a non-personal entity such as a country accept Christ? It is the individuals that comprise the nation that can claim Christ. But let us grant that individuals make up a greater community that the authors are attempting to direct "back to God," and that the authors are seeking a wide-spread "recommitment." One could well argue that the behaviors argued against in this and similar publications are dangerous. I certainly do not dispute their sinfulness. One could argue that people are currently accepting sins that were considered taboo in an earlier age. But this kind of historical white-washing is surely not the way to make such an argument. If people within our national community are truly to repent and turn to God, it must be done with an honest awareness of all of this community's history, both good and bad. If our nation, as a collective, is to come back to God, how are we to do so if we remain ignorant of some of the historical sin that is still a part of our nation's collective identity?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What Evangelicals Believe: Part III

Article 3 of my seminary's Statement of Faith reads, "Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power."

Adherence to the Bible is absolutely essential for the evangelical Christian. In What We Evangelicals Believe, the author, a former president of this seminary, affirms that this article declares that "the Scriptures are precisely what God wanted them to be." (p. 47) Yet, oddly enough, Article 3 is arguably the part of the Statement of Faith that has created the most controversy. This is due to a revision from the original version of the seminary's Statement of Faith, in which the analogous paragraph said, "The books which form the canon of the Old and New Testaments as originally given are plenarily inspired and free from all error in the whole and in the part. These books constitute the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice."

The Statement was revised in quite a number of ways, intended to keep the guiding doctrine of the seminary up to date with the times while true to foundational intentions for evagelical study in an academically rigorous framework. However, in the revision to this part of the Statement of Faith, the seminary chose to drop the phrase "free from all error in the whole and in the part." Phrases like these are still something of a litmus test among conservative churches and institutions. To many, if "inerrancy" is challenged, the authority of the whole Bible is lost. This is, needless to say, not my seminary's position.

The controversy that arose from this omission was the centerpiece for a book entitled The Battle for the Bible, which argued that "inerrancy" was a doctrine without which one could not be considered "evangelical." Shortly before this book was published (in 1976), the author of What We Evangelicals Believe, having been the seminary president for over 12 years at the time, gave a chapel address to the seminary staff and students, in an effort to prepare them for the controversy which would follow. This speech is collected in a work collecting many speeches important to this seminary's history, edited by our former provost, and for which I had the honor of transcribing many of the speeches contained therein from the original audio recordings. In the speech, the president did not seek to defend the seminary's stance in dropping the term "inerrant." Rather, he spoke to defend the seminary's right to continue to call themselves "evangelical," despite the statements in The Battle for the Bible to the contrary.

Here are some excerpts:
Evangelical unity has been threatened by what I must consider narrow definitions of the term "evangelical." This large and cherished word must never be given a sectarian meaning. (Voices, p. 71)

The purpose of our scholarship is not to destroy, but to build up. It is not to lay bare the humanity of the Bible, but to expose the way in which the Spirit of God used the humanity of the Scripture in order to bring us the truth. (Voices, p. 73)

Once we are committed to engage in intellectual dialogue with various academic disciplines, particularly the historical and behavioral sciences, there is no way to back out of the responsibilities of using all the tools and methods of investigation open to us as scholars. Of course, faith and scholarship will go hand-in-hand; but one can never substitute for the other. It is particularly important that we not use the tools of scholarship to buttress our confidence in the teaching of the Scripture, when at the same time we reject them if they call for the correction of some of our traditional interpretations. (Voices, p. 74)

We cannot spare the time to defend our right to call ourselves evangelicals. The Lord knows who are his. We have heard him call us by name. We stand humbly and gratefully in the company of his people....We need only to be reminded that it's not enough to brand ourselves "evangelicals," we must be about our evangelical tasks.

...My basic thesis [is] that we must never use the term evangelical without our hearing the ring of the gospel in it. A seminary, a church, or a person can be evangelical only when bearing these marks:
  • Loyalty to the content of the gospel, including the reality of the incarnation; the centrality of the cross; the triumph of the resurrection; the hope of Christ's return, confidence in the power of the gospel to cut to the heart of our basic human problems and to call men and women to be reconciled to God;
  • Motivation by the spirit of the gospel, expressed especially in our love--despite our differences of race or color, occupation or education, interests or traits, habits or standards;
  • Control by the demands of the gospel, including the demand to go into the world making disciples and the demand to teach these disciples the things that Christ commanded, including God's concern for human need in every form. (Voices, p. 76)
Although What We Evangelicals Believe, written years later, does not explicitly mention the controversy created by Article 3, surely some of it was still in the author's mind when he wrote the book:
Scriptures are to be used in light of their context. Every part of God's word was given in a human situation and written by human hands. Whether the need was a psalm for prayer in sickness, proverbs to help with the raising of children, parables to understand the kingdom of God... every part of Scripture was given to meet a specific human need.

Understanding that context and purpose brings us closer to understanding God's word. The human setting of the divine word is not a limitation but a strength. God has deliberately bent over to speak our language and to meet our needs. (pp. 49-50)
If statements like these do not display an "evangelical" (from a Greek term often translated as "good news") mindset, I'm not sure what would....

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rare Transformer Auction Update: G2 Blades

The auction for the final of the 4 G2 Protectobots is now over. Final value: $4050. And yes, Delphan Rane, the nom de guerre of the winner of the other three auctions, now has a "complete" set (in quotes because there is no G2 Hot Shot). Total cost for all four Protectobots: $11,050.

I was going to use this entry to talk about the Protectobots as a set, but some monkey-business from this last auction requires that I talk about that, and leave the Protectobots message for another time....

About mid-way through the week that Blades was being auctioned, at least one bidder illegally attempted to use the "bid retraction" system to fish for a bid that would put him JUST under the then-current maximum, so as to make the winner have to pay more than he otherwise would have. When this was discovered, the illegal bids were retracted. I hope that the culprit was also reported to eBay for this egregious violation of their rules, but this would have been done outside of my awareness. (Incidentally, I say "at least one" because as I look at the bid history for the item, a second bidder that retracted a bid looks more than a bit suspicious. "Entered the wrong amount" indeed....)

While I did comment previously on the apparent contradiction of a person claiming to be "not rich" while winning so many expensive auctions (and did so even further on the relevant Allspark thread), it truly saddens me to see someone stoop to such low and petty measures to force this collector to have to pay even more just so he could complete the set. That is beyond unfair, and is rightly condemned. Whether or not Delphan Rane is "rich" is well beside the point. He has every right to win these collectors items in an open and fair auction. But the minute that someone does this kind of bid tampering, the auction ceases to be open and fair.

I haven't commented on the issue of "sniping" here on the blog, but I've often spoken out against this bidding method elsewhere in the past. For those who don't know, "sniping" is the practice of placing a very high bid within the last few seconds of an auction, in order to win by beating any other possible high bids at the last possible moment. Despite eBay's nominal discouragement of this practice, "sniping" is very popular. Personally, I believe that "sniping" is dishonest and cowardly, and I encourage people simply to bid the highest amount they're actually willing to pay, and let the chips fall where they may (this is eBay's advice on the issue, as well).

However, it must be admitted that this practice, while more open and honest than "sniping," does leave one vulnerable to the kind of bid tampering that occurred here. It's difficult to argue against "sniping," no matter how dishonest it may seem, when it becomes apparent that such practices are the only way to viably win an eBay auction. It's quite frustrating.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More on Immigration

When I wrote an article on immigration for the seminary newsletter a few weeks ago, the Senate debate was foremost in my mind, and the limited word count dictated that I try to focus my remarks as tightly as possible. Still, I'm a bit embarrassed that I did not think of the quote from Leviticus 19:34, "The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

It took reading a recent article by Slacktivist to remind me of those words. I invite you to check out his comments, although I warn you that they will definitely be controversial. For a clue as to why, I'll simply suggest that he's connected the hospitality advocated in this Leviticus passage to the tale told in Genesis 19:1-29, and has drawn some rather interesting conclusions....

In related news, it's reassuring to see that the Senate has finally agreed to re-open the immigration issue (which has been stalled since before I wrote the newsletter article).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Top Ten disclaimer

It was just brought to my attention yesterday that the Top Ten list I've posted on a couple of occasions has been adapted for The Christian Century, somewhat abbreviated and under the heading "Ten reasons for NOT ordaining men". It appears in the April 18, 2006 issue. Whoever submitted it was nice enough to give me credit by saying the list was "adapted from transformingseminarian.blogspot.com".

I'm quite flattered. While I was aware that this list was circulating on a number of blogs since the "Grid Blog" event, getting mentioned in a magazine as prominent as this is another matter entirely, and I'm not quite sure I'm up to the responsibility that goes with it....

However, since this blog is the only source given for that list, and since the title is changed somewhat, someone coming here having read the list in The Christian Century may not realize that I did not actually write this list, nor be able to readily locate my version. I have decided that, despite my reluctance to name my professors in the past, I really need to give as much information as I can, so here it is:

I originally received this list a few years ago from Dr. David M. Scholer during a class entitled "Women, the Bible, and the Church." He informed us at the time that the list did not originate with him, either, and that he did not know the original source, but that he got it via an internet communication from others back in 1997. He made a few modifications to the list he received, and I have since made a few modifications of my own (most notably changing the reference to "basketball tournaments" from "cricket matches").

I am glad to see that the list has proven popular, although I am also aware that even a few feminists have taken exception to it (often apparently assuming that the list advocates "reverse discrimination," which is certainly not the intent, although I am somewhat sympathetic to the concern). It is, and has always been, my hope that this list may prove a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, attempt to shine some light on how silly some of the traditional arguments, i.e., those used by people against the full participation of women (and men) in all forms of ministry, truly are.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Evangelicals Believe: Part II

Continuing my defense of how the term "evangelical" should not be reserved solely for followers of any political ideology, but rather is a term to be shared by all who share the foundations of the Christian faith, I turn now to the second article of my seminary's Statement of Faith, which reads, "God, who discloses himself through his creation, has savingly spoken in the words and events of redemptive history. This history is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, who is made known to us by the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture."

At a cursory glance, there is much in this article that reflects Article 1. The fact the God is the one who reveals is re-emphasized, as is the Trinity. The main addition here is the element of salvation, especially as seen in "redemptive history."

Evangelicals affirm that God is not simply revealed as a voice who speaks in the heads of a few people. Rather, as the author of What We Evangelicals Believe puts it: "When we list creation and history as the double stage where the divine drama takes place,we are embracing the totality of life." (p. 33) This article acknowledges the fact that a huge portion of the Bible that Christians affirm is not codes and laws, but story. The codes and laws, which do indeed comprise part of the Bible, would lose their impact upon us without the context of the story of God's revelation in history. The laws alone might still be the Word of God, but people would ignore them. God acted in human history to make sure we would listen. "History is the place of our salvation. The God who has preached to us through his creation has entered our human politics, economics, and culture to declare by word and work that he is our Savior." (p. 36)

That God acts in our world... yes, even in politics... is something that all Evangelicals affirm. Note that this does not imply a particular polical agenda, but emphasizes God's place within the political process, as well as in all of life. There is no reason that a Christian cannot be a politician. In fact, I would agree with the Republicans insofar as being a politician who can be open about his/her faith is a welcome thing. However, there are many Democrats who are committed Christians, as well, and it simply isn't fair to suggest that they have rebelled against the teachings of the Bible because they advocate policies that may appear contrary to a non-fundamentalist interpretation. This, of course, goes to the heart of the matter. Ironically, the "fundamentals" of the faith (which were are here in this series detailing) are far more basic and far less extensive than the doctrines advocated by those who call themselves "fundamentalist." More on this as the series continues....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Blades

The final G2 Protectobot to be auctioned by the Hartman brothers is now up on eBay: Blades. Since my previous guess at closing value proved incorrect, and because the same guy has won the last three auctions, I expect that the closing value for this auction will be quite high. I expect that the same guy will win this one again, and will push the bid especially high up in order to do so.

Alternatively, it could be the sentiment among many that the four Protectobots should stay together, and so fewer people will bid. That's possible, but I doubt it. Already, the bid amount is at $885, which certainly isn't demonstrably lower than previous G2 Protectobots at this stage in the game. Still, time will tell.

Friday, May 05, 2006

"A Safe Space"

Yesterday, I commented on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler's comments on China's policies when it comes to families. Today I wish to comment on some recent statements he's made regarding church membership.

Apparently, a Presbyterian church in Texas has recently admitted an outspoken atheist as a member. I would agree with Mohler insofar as he believes that this is inappropriate. A member of a Christian church should, at the very least, be able to affirm the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.

But Mohler doesn't stop there. Take this quote, for example:
[The statement that this particular church is "expansive in defining faith"] gets to the heart of a widespread confusion about the nature and identity of the church. There may be strategic places which represent "a safe space and an exciting atmosphere" for a vague and wide-open spiritual quest, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christian church.
While I might stop short of advocating that churches accept atheists as members, what good is the church is if isn't "a safe space" for exploration of spiritual issues? The atheist should be welcome within the church's doors! Where else will the atheist ever come to understand the Christian faith, if not in the fellowship of believers?

Mohler has much to say on this issue, bringing in common (for him) issues of liberalism and the acceptance of homosexuals (an almost random inclusion, perhaps explained by noting that it may be the single greatest "hot-button" issue facing the church today), and advocating for some form of censure of this church for its actions. What it all seems to boil down to is that Mohler has an exclusivist view of the church. A friend of mine recently put it another way: "Where do we draw the boundaries?" "At what point do we say that an act is not permissible for the Christian?"

These are fair questions. However, I would argue that they miss the greater evangelical call of the church. While certain boundaries may well be appropriate, we are to continue to seek ways to be inclusive to all humanity, in the hopes that they might learn of Christ through us. If churches simply close their doors to non-believers, how will non-believers ever change? This doesn't mean that we turn a blind eye to sin. This may mean that we do not accept non-believers as church members (a point I agree with Mohler on). It may mean that we do not ordain ministers engaged in certain sinful acts. But it also means that we continue trying to find ways to reach out to whoever God has put us in relationship with. To do otherwise means that we fail to obey Christ's command to "go and make disciples of all nations.... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 19, 20, emphasis mine). Isn't the failure to reach out to non-believers a greater sin than a potential "over-acceptance"?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Recipe for Disaster"?

I believe that it is important not to live in an echo chamber. That is to say, I believe that it is important to spend some time reading and otherwise being exposed to thoughts other than my own. For this reason, I have recently added the blog of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler to my regular readings. Dr. Mohler is a well-known leader among conservatives, and although I find that I regularly disagree with him, he seems to be making an effort towards reasoned thought, as opposed to simply making knee-jerk reactions to everything conservatives find bad about the world (at least, some of the time...).

Recently, Dr. Mohler commented on a situation in China, whereby the combination of a 25-year old "one child per family" rule (an effort to fight a massive overpopulation problem in that country) and a cultural preference for male children has created a huge gender imbalance.

Now, it is well known that part of the reason for this imbalance is the willingness of Chinese parents to abort female babies, and I agree with Dr. Mohler in finding the practice reprehensible. I think even most members of the "pro-choice" movement would agree that this practice of aborting babies because they are not the "right" gender is barbaric.

What surprised me about Dr. Mohler's comments is a statement he makes after observing that "it is estimated that as many as 40 million of its young men could spend their lives as bachelors." He called this situation a "recipe for disaster" asking, "Where are these young men to turn for wives?"

Now, undoubtedly, a lot of these men will indeed want to marry, and will have difficulty in doing so. But Mohler seems not to consider the possibility that, if a lot of these men don't ever marry, that's not necessarily, in and of itself, so terrible. It might even hasten China's efforts to curb the overpopulation problem. Where did we pick up the assumption that all, or nearly all, people must find a mate? For Mohler, this assumption is never challenged.

I certainly don't wish to argue that the sexual drive is not very strong, and I can see someone arguing that so many sexually frustrated men may turn to prositution or rape to fill their assumed sexual needs. But Mohler never suggests this, and I'm fully aware that rape (at least) is less a crime perpetrated to fulfill one's sexual drives, and more one perpetrated to exercise control over another person. So perhaps even by suggesting it, I'm suggesting a problem where none exists.

But that's rather the point. Mohler seems to assume something that isn't challenged here: that 40 million men who can't find wives is a "recipe for disaster." Just what "disaster" does Mohler foresee? He never says. He spends the rest of his commentary noting how frequent and convenient abortion has become in China. Ironically, in his more recent comments, where Mohler worries about the collaspsing birthrate in Europe (a problem China would no doubt love to have), he heavily criticizes the "modern lifestyle" in which "[h]aving children just doesn't seem to fit," yet never mentions whether or not abortion is one of the ways that Europeans are keeping birthrates low. Perhaps I'm adding two-and-two and coming up with five, but this seems to indicate that Mohler is simply operating from an assumption that says that something must be wrong with people who don't have kids.

I would have preferred that Mohler spend less of his time in the article on China harping on abortion (which nearly all of his readers likely already agree with him on anyway), and more time discussing what problems he sees for China's future. Perhaps then we could have a real discussion. Perhaps I might find that my own assumptions (about Mohler's assumptions) are incorrect, and I might even agree with him. As it is, I don't know.

More on Mohler tomorrow....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gaining Perspective While Looking for Housing

Last week, I commented on the ups and downs of being forced to follow a strict limit on the number of words used when writing for print publication. Another difference in writing for another publication, as opposed to the blog, is a loss of control over the formatting of the article itself. The newsletter can't just print an article, as is, with no formatting changes. There'd either be lots of blank space below the article on the page, or the paper would run out before the article was done. The newsletter editor must arrange the text, choose a size, a font, add pictures, draw a text box, etc. Whatever it takes to make the article fit the paper, and draw attention to the parts of the article that deserve it.

One thing I've noticed in the past couple of articles I've had published is that, while the editor has not actually changed any of my words (which would be their right), many of the words I'd had italicized wind up not being italicized in the printed article. In addition, it seems that this time, they also removed my footnotes. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps the editor thought they were superfluous. Perhaps the word processing software missed them when I e-mailed the article. I don't know. After I send the article away, I have no further control over the process before seeing the article printed in the newsletter.

For this reason, it's nice that I retain the right to my own articles, enabling me to reprint them here on the blog in a more complete version. This is only a little bit different than the version printed (my intended footnotes are done as hyperlinks here, italics are added back in, and a few sentences are a little different), but at least I have control over my own work again.

When searching for an apartment a few years ago, my wife commented that trying to find housing in Southern California is like being thrust into the Total Perspective Vortex.

Readers of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy (which is actually five books, but that’s another matter) will be familiar with the concept of the “Total Perspective Vortex.” A person thrust into the Total Perspective Vortex sees the “unimaginable infinity of creation” in a single moment. Somewhere within that infinity, on “a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot,” is a marker reading “you are here.”

While looking for a place to live doesn’t quite allow one to see the entire universe, it does provide an opportunity for traveling many miles endlessly, seeing cities and suburbs that have not been previously seen, despite living in Southern California for many years. And while there’s no “you are here” sign, talking to multiple landlords only to find that they do not have anything to offer you (“we don’t accept pets,” “that apartment has already been rented,” the place is too small, or too run-down, or too expensive) does lead one to ponder the meaninglessness of one’s existence in the grander scheme of things.

In Adams’ book, a person who experienced the Total Perspective Vortex (and survived) was driven insane.

Why is looking for housing in Southern California such a highway to madness? One reason might be the high cost of living in this area. “Affordable rent" is generally defined as requiring "not more than 30 percent of an income.” The average rent in Pasadena is $1209 per month for a 2 bedroom apartment. Doing the math, this means that the couple would have to make $4030 each month to afford their rent. If a husband and wife both worked 40 hours a week, this means that each spouse would need a job paying approximately $11 an hour to “afford” their rent.

The current minimum wage in California is $6.75 an hour. Needless to say, there are lots of people who don’t earn enough to meet the government’s standards for affordable housing. I consider myself fortunate to have a fairly stable job here at the seminary. Since my wife is a student, she does not work full-time, and although we do get student financial assistance, we find ourselves constantly struggling to avoid going into debt. We don’t have any children, and so only have to worry about paying for ourselves. What about the person or family that doesn’t have such job security, and has several children to pay the costs of raising? It is easy to see how a twist of fate could send a family already in such a precarious position into utter destitution.

Clearly, this is an all-too common story in Pasadena. One can’t walk downtown for any length of time without seeing someone who is homeless, having to beg for whatever money generous people are willing to spare, just so that they can find their next meal. Each of these people has their own story. It’s far too easy to say that such people made poor life decisions, and that this is why they’re currently on the streets. There are plenty of people out there who are “playing by the rules,” so to speak, who still find themselves unable to make ends meet.

Does God have anything to say about this? I think so. Surely God does not intend for us to feel that our existence is meaningless as we face the harsh realities of our world. Acts 4:32-37 shows how the early Christians cared for each other. This is a pattern for us, as well, though our individual responsibilities may differ according to our own gifts and abilities. Some may volunteer to work at a homeless shelter. Others may donate material resources. Others may advocate for social policies that aid those in need.

My wife and I have considered ourselves blessed to have been able to find housing when we’ve needed it, and to have had the help of family and good friends who have helped us out during those transitional times. Not everyone has been so lucky. We know that many of our friends have had great struggles in finding housing, and can only hope that we have been able to provide assistance to them when they’ve needed it. Our perspective may never be total (thank goodness!), but hopefully the blessings we have been given may grant us some perspective on God’s call to help those who we come across in our little corner of the universe.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Breaking Even

Having had one article published in my seminary's newsletter just over a week ago, I was asked to write another one, this one on housing and homelessness, for the newsletter the very next week. I'm pleased to say that the article was published this past weekend, and I'll post a slightly expanded version tomorrow. But in the meantime, it's enough to say that issues of this kind are heavy on my mind at the moment.

Living in Southern California, rent is not cheap. In fact, this is one of the most expensive areas in the United States one can live. (This page shows the cost of living in cities around the world. Los Angeles is #44, the second most expensive city in the US after New York City.) Although I have a reasonably stable job here at the seminary, it does not pay particularly well. And while my wife is working on finishing her MDiv and preparing to begin a PhD, she has had to step back from the full-time job she used to have. This has necessitated trying to find ways of cutting our expenses, so as to avoid digging ourselves deep into debt. This past month alone, I switched internet providers in an effort to shave about $40-50 a month off of our expenses, and have also changed our long-distance coverage to reduce costs by another $20-30.

I have recently been informed that, effective next month, my rent will be going up by another $45 a month.

It is very frustrating to work so hard to cut costs down, only to have other costs go up to offset any benefits gained by the reduction. The cuts were intended to compensate, if only in small part, for the reduced income. Now I find that they're just barely breaking even with a new increase in existing expenses. It's just not fair! But there's nothing for it but to keep looking for other ways to bring our expenses down. Not to mention the frustration at being told that the ability to pay $7000 on rare toys is "more a person's motivation rather than financial status," as if to say that most of us could do it too, if we really wanted to bad enough. Why do some people seem to have trouble admitting that "rich" is a word that just might apply to them, and that perhaps when some of us say there are people out there who truly can't afford things, we just might know what we're talking about?

Ahhh, well. I did take that thread on the Allspark off-topic. At least I can continue to write about it in my own blog. I set the rules here! ;)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Latest G2 Auction Value, plus BOTCON!

The G2 Streetwise auction is over. Final value: $2125. A bit higher than I expected. For those keeping track, that's a total of $7000 for the three auctions done so far. And yes, the same guy won again....

But I've got bigger fish to fry today! Friday afternoon, further details for BotCon, the official Transformers Convention, were released, including the names of the characters in the 5-figure box set that comes with the full convention package.

Most Transformers fans are aware that this year is the 10th Anniversary of the "Beast Wars" series that pulled the Transformers franchise from near extinction (for a second time) after "Generation Two" failed to sell as well as expected. (This is why the G2 Protectobots and Stunticons were never released, in fact, explaining the ultra-rarity of the toys I've been following on eBay this past month and a half.) To celebrate this 10th Anniversary, the Botcon set intends to reveal five of the original "Beast Wars" characters in "pre-Beast Wars" forms. These characters are: Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rattrap, Rhinox, and Dinobot. Pictures have not been revealed.

Convention exclusive toys are always repaints or remolds of existing Transformers toys. This is done to keep costs (which are already very high) down to a manageable level. Also, we've been told that each toy will come with a "Golden Disk Key" which sounds a lot like the "Cyber Planet Key" that the current Cybertron toys on the shelves come with (some folks have suggested this could refer to an "Energon chip" such as came with the Energon toys of a couple of years ago, but I'm not convinced). That gives us some room to speculate on which existing toys could be recolored and remolded to resemble which character. People have been photoshopping ideas for almost a year now (hoping that FP would do something like this), but this idea is one of the best I've seen so far. (EDIT: Actually, I like this one even better, but couldn't locate the picture when I originally wrote this post.)

So now the question is, do I go or don't I? I've been saving, bit by bit, so that I have nearly enough to cover the cost of registration (including these toys), but I still have to pay for travel. Time will tell. If you're interested, you can see some TF and other items I'm trying to sell to clear out some stuff I don't need and raise a small bit of cash.

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