Friday, December 21, 2007

Primus the Planet

It's time for the annual Christmas parody, as I prepare to take an extended break to celebrate the holidays. This year, I have a not-especially Christmasy tale set to a not-truly-Christmasy song, that nevertheless still always seems to be sung only for Christmas. Previous holiday parodies may be found here and here. Merry Christmas to all, and I'll be back after the New Year!
(to the tune of "Frosty the Snowman")

Primus the Planet
Is an old eternal soul
He's the god of light, and he's sleeping tight
So the universe stays whole

Primus the Planet
Fought with Unicron all day
Who could not be slain in the astral plane
So he tried another way

There must have been some problem
With those asteroids he found
For when he moved his spirit in
He and Unicron were bound

Oh! Primus the Planet
Caused the Transformers to be
And his children say he will find a way
To bring them to unity

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In Case You're Looking for Last-Minute Christmas Options

Christmas has traditionally been a time not just of gift-giving, but also of looking for ways to make a meaningful positive impact on the world around us. This season, I'd like to suggest that you look into Kiva, a site that administers "microloans" to low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries.

The site allows you scan through a large list of people looking to improve their businesses. You can see who they are, and what they intend to use the money for. Kiva works with other organizations to handle administrative costs (and optional donations), so all the money you give goes to the person requesting the loan. You give $25, the small business owner gets $25 toward their loan (which is paid to them in one amount after enough people have donated enough to aggregate to the amount requested). The loan is interest-free, and they have one year to pay it off. Every month, you will get a progress report on the loan(s) you have contributed to. Although there is a small risk that the loan will default, the default rate is currently only 0.2%, making this a very safe investment that can truly help the lives of people seeking to improve themselves and their communities.

While they have a minimum loan of $25, you can certainly give more if you like. Also, a PayPal account is needed if you want to be able to get your money back after the loan's been repaid. If you do decide to join up and donate, please make sure you put my e-mail address in the "referral" field! Thanks!

Monday, December 17, 2007

RIP - Dan Fogelberg

I was surprised yesterday to learn of the death of Dan Fogelberg at the all-too-young age of 56. I was also surprised to see that the obituary mentioned several of his songs without mentioning "Run for the Roses". We'll, what kind of a Louisvillian would I be if I didn't make a point of bringing it to people's attention?

P.S. (I'm also a fan of Fogelberg's rendition of "Rhythm of the Rain" which is one of few remakes I prefer to the original having heard the original first.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Now's a Good Time to Be in the Transformers Club

You've really got to love that the Transformers Club has some amazingly talented people in it. Here's a trailer for an exclusive story that will be posted soon on the members-only portion of the club site. Kudos to Trent Troop and the others behind this project (especially for getting David Kaye to do the voice honors for Megatron!).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Rare Moment of Unity

While I don't really suspect that the Transformers fandom is any different than any other in this respect, it's become something of an in-joke among those of us who are Transformers fans online that we seldom agree on anything. We can be regularly expected to get into arguments about any of a number of different aspects of our increasingly diverse (after more than 20 years, what do you expect?) hobby.

But, yesterday, a thread at TFW2005 proved a rare instance of almost-universal agreement on a subject. It seems that HasbroToyShop.com had started selling AFA-graded specimens of a particularly hard to get toy. Now, I've commented on this practice in the past, so it should come as no surprise when I say that I'm not a fan of AFA grading, but I was still somewhat surprised at the outrage that followed. Given that Hasbro has distributed a survey about AFA grading some months ago (the survey itself is gone, but it was apparently done in April), it would seem that they were making their intentions clear enough some time ago.

One of the things that made this practice especially galling was the fact that, for HTS to have specimens (I'm not clear on how many, but they definitely had at least two) to sell in an AFA-graded edition, they must have had them when they were selling these toys a few months ago, when folks were practically melting the HTS server trying to buy them while they were still in stock. This would mean that HTS purposely held a few back in order to grade them in hopes of selling them at an even higher price!

Of course, there's nothing illegal (that I'm aware of) about such a practice. The market should determine the price, and if an item is in high enough demand, and Hasbro can find a way to get people to pay more for the item, it obviously makes economic sense to sell the item at that higher price. But for Hasbro's own online venue to participate in an AFA sale seems to be a conflict of interest. AFA doesn't produce toys. They grade them (taking a fee for their trouble) so that collectors can say that their particular specimen of a toy is in particularly good condition, driving up its value (as I've said before, this only works if the collector agrees never to so much as touch the toy again, leaving it in its graded plastic box!). For Hasbro to hold back toys so that they never even reach the public so that AFA can grade it, get it back to Hasbro, and then for Hasbro to sell it, would artificially drive up that toy's value. That's not cool.

And, so, yesterday saw the creation of a thread that ran for nearly 15 straight pages in less than half a day. The thread's still ongoing, but I expect that some of the furor will die down now that the items no longer appear to be on HasbroToyStore.com's site. Some folks in the thread say that the items have been canceled, which may be true. The original link certainly no longer points to the items. But the fact that the page has been taken down may mean that the toys were sold very quickly, and assuming HasbroToyStore.com has no plans to put more on the site, why keep the page live? So we may have an example of Hasbro's responsiveness to fan outcry, but we can't be sure.

In the interests of full disclosure, I do own a few shares of Hasbro stock. Even still, I have no interests in letting Hasbro make a profit if it's at the expense of the goodwill of Transformers fans. Usually, when Hasbro-bashing occurs online, there will be a number of people come on to speak in the company's defense. Most fans have little idea what goes into the production of the toys they love so much, and can sometimes make unreasonable demands. If anyone came up in Hasbro's defense on this matter, I still haven't found it.


EDIT - 12/20/07: HasbroToyStore.com has since put the AFA-graded toys back on their site. So much for "listening to the fans."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Looney Fun?

Today's the last day of the quarter, and it's hard to focus on much anything for long, what with students looking to turn in papers and stuff. So rather than spend time thinking of something to write, I'd hoped to link directly to a cartoon, courtesy of http://www.in2tv.com. Unfortunately, not only could I not get the embedded link to work, but it caused my browser to freeze up whenever I tried to play it. Seeing that this would probably do the same to most of your computers, too, I took the link down. Sorry! If you still feel like watching cartoons, feel free to check out In2Tv, which has worked well enough for me on its own.

And if you really care what cartoon I posted in the first place, it was "Dr. Jerkyl's Hide" featuring Sylvester the cat.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Finals Time Again!

It's the middle of Finals Week here at Fuller, which means that students are taking exams, turning in papers, or otherwise scrambling to take care of last-minute business before the deadline of 5:00 on Friday that signals the absolute end of the quarter (unless, of course, the student has filed the paperwork for an "Incomplete" with the Registrar).

It's not the first time I've written on the subject, of course. Here are links to some of my previous comments, in chronological order. Of course, nothing I say here should be taken as superseding anything a professor may have placed on his/her syllabus. The syllabus is always the final authority! However, since I find that so many students have questions about what to do with their assignments that aren't answered on the syllabus, I try to provide such information as I can. If you're not a Fuller student, you can safely ignore today's post. If you're still reading, I'll assume that this information might be of use to you.

First off, although it's redundant to say so, make sure you put not only your name (you'd be surprised how many people forget that part!), but also your professor's name (as well as the name and number of the course) on the paper. This will help me to know where to file your paper so that the proper professor or TA can pick it up at the end of the week.

Since Fuller is a bit spread out, with lots of potential places where a student could turn in papers, many students are understandably confused as to where to turn in their work. Again, check the syllabus first, since not all work comes to me. I don't take any papers for courses taught by adjuncts, for example, nor do I take papers for Fuller schools other than the School of Theology. If you've been asked to turn your paper in to "Mark Baker-Wright," that's me! Come to the second floor of Payton Hall and look for the sign seen in the picture. The arrow points directly into my office. If for whatever reason I'm not here (I often have to run errands elsewhere on campus, delivering mail and other items to professors and such), you can slide the paper under my door (do double-check to see that it's something that really does come to me, of course!) or wait until I'm back (I generally have the time I expect to return posted on the door).

I also have students come by looking to pick up some assignment or another. In that event, it will be helpful if you tell me what class you're looking for before telling me who you are! You'll see a wall full of papers, which I organize by professor. Once I know what class I'm looking for, the rest is fairly easy, but I haven't even figured out where to start if all I know is the student's name! Unfortunately, even then I may discover that your professor or TA hasn't given me your assignment. If that applies to you, you'll need to tell your professor or TA that you've been by, and that I didn't have it. Generally, I don't know anything further about the papers, since I don't tend to even be told that they're coming until they've actually arrived, nor do I have anything to do with the grading process.

Finals Week is always a hectic time for all concerned. But it's also a chance for me to see a lot of friends that I may not get to chat with while stuck in my office all the time. If you don't have to run to the next deadline (a real possibility!), feel free to say "hi!"

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Rant on the Misuse of Hyphenated Names

When I got married, I happily added my wife's last name to my own, creating the hyphenated "Baker-Wright." Despite some minor resistance and confusion from some family and friends, I have never regretted this decision.

But I have to confess to continuing frustration at how people misuse this name. Some occasional slips into calling me "Mr. Wright" might be forgiven. After all, this was my name before getting married, and many people knew me by that name. But "Mr. Baker"? I have never been known by that name, and know of nowhere where it is customary to "drop off" the second part of a hyphenated name, or any other place in the English language where it is acceptable to ignore the word or clause that comes after a hyphen. The hyphen means the names are connected! That's why we use it! It represents my wife's and my connectedness as a married couple! You can't just drop off the portion that comes after the hyphen! So why do so many people do it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You Paid Good Money For THAT?

Yesterday was the start of what I've been calling "The Great Fuller Chair Trade." Fuller purchased a number of new ergonomic chairs to replace office chairs that have been in our offices for many, many years now. Since the chair I've been using is not only very old, but has a few parts loose and some screws missing, I'm rather glad to have a new, substantially more solid chair to sit on. Many of the old chairs will still be used, finding homes in other departments and in other ways, while some of the worst (probably including my old chair) will be thrown out.

While walking around Fuller distributing mail yesterday, I ran into one of my professors, and asked about the new chairs. The reply was somewhat less than enthusiastic: "I wish they'd spent the money on student scholarships instead."

Having not only been a student at Fuller myself, but also being married to a person who has already gotten one degree from Fuller and is currently pursuing another, and having gotten financial assistance for all three of these degrees, I can certainly see the professor's point. More scholarship money would be nice. And I suppose that it's pretty easy to see spending money on chairs as "wasteful" if so many of the chairs being replaced are still usable (and I've no doubt that many are).

It's also hard to hear comments like that without thinking beyond just the specific issue of money for chairs vs. scholarships at our particular institution. For example, I just recently got back from a holiday visiting family members in the mountains of Northern California. The issue of how people spend their money there was the subject a fair bit of discussion. Most of my family members keep their financial heads above water, but it's certainly not without some difficulty. On the other hand, most of them do own their homes, rather than rent, and most of them (including some of the renters) have homes of fairly decent size with absolutely amazing views of the mountains. To say that such people are struggling may seem unfair if they're compared with people who can't even pay their rent and live in homes too small for their families. But things aren't that simple. For example, they may own their home (which may have been in the family for decades now), but they may not be able to find work sufficient to pay bills and put food on the table. Or they may have unexpected medical costs that threaten to drain all the resources they've saved up over the years. Different people have different struggles, and how we prioritize our spending is, in many ways, our own business and nobody else's. So when the discussion turned (as it occasionally did) to disapproval of how a particular family member has spent his/her money, I didn't think it was at all fair. That's not to say that we shouldn't be accountable as Christians to be good stewards of what we have. But there's something about these comments that seems to cross a line, and I think that we may jump to conclusions and judgment far too quickly.

But back to the subject of chairs and scholarships. I don't pretend to know what Fuller should have done, but I just can't bring myself to agree that chairs is automatically the wrong choice. For one thing, Fuller gets its chairs from a company that used to be run by one of our trustees, and so we get really good prices on them. It's a one-time expense that, while probably not cheap, certainly wouldn't amount to enough to endow any kind of perpetual scholarship (You'd need an amount approaching a million dollars to yield enough interest to pay for one student's yearly tuition costs). So, we're talking about chairs that will serve many staff members for several years (at least!) vs. a scholarship that helps only one (or a few) student(s) for only a single year.

I could also argue that it's fairly easy to imagine that Fuller may well save money on worker's compensation payments made if someone has an accident by using a chair that should have been replaced earlier. Or perhaps an employee doesn't have to pay so many medical expenses for back problems because they're using chairs that do less damage to one's posture (that could also be a worker's compensation issue, but need not be so easily). Or maybe that trustee (assuming he makes money off the deal) is more likely to GIVE a scholarship as a result (I kind of hope that's not the case, given the potential quid pro quo that would be implied).

In any event, Fuller has done something good for its workers here. It may even be that staff members here, being happy that Fuller has done something nice for them, work harder or more effectively at their jobs. Morale is often ignored when it comes to the "real" issues of checks and balances, but can have concrete benefits for everyone involved, including students.

But most of this is just speculation, and I suppose that I could be accused of arguing in my own self-interest. Still, there was something about the comment that Fuller should have used the money on scholarships that just felt wrong. I just can't bring myself to agree that Fuller should not have spent its money on such items of obviously legitimate office use. I can't see this as a case of Fuller being irresponsible with the money that it has, but rather a case of Fuller making a decision to do a particular good thing. Perhaps there's room for debate about which good thing should have been done, but it's a fait accompli now. I, for one, am glad for my new chair, and hope that Fuller can still find a way to give more scholarships to its students. After all, it's not like this expense used up all the resources Fuller has had at its disposal for the whole year!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back from Placerville

On occasion, I've encouraged folks who read my blogs via Facebook to come to the original Blogger site so that they can see my posts with all editing and formatting intact. This time, I'm going to encourage folks who come to Blogger directly to go to Facebook to see my Thanksgiving pictures, where I've already put up captions for everything, and that way I don't have to go through the whole process all over again for the one or two people who didn't see them the first time.

Here's the link. Enjoy! As it stands, you do have to be a Facebook member to see the pictures, but you don't have to be connected to any of my networks. I'm working on setting it up so everybody can see the pictures without having to be members of Facebook, but that doesn't seem to work yet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Hiatus

As I mentioned last week, I'll be out of town for Thanksgiving. I'd hoped to have some profound statement discussing the various things that we should be thankful for, but I have to confess that I'm really not feeling it right now.

Of course, perhaps that's what this holiday's actually about. If we only gave thanks when we felt like it already, we'd hardly need to have a special day for it, would we?

In any event, I'll be back next week.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trustworthy

Last week, Slacktivist commented on how some of the discussions connected to the "Intelligent Design" debate bring up the idea of who one "trusts" for information. Although Slacktivist moves rather quickly from religious issues to how this notion of "trust" has changed the way that journalists do their reporting (given Slacktivist's occupation working for a newspaper, this makes sense), I'd prefer to stick with the religious issues category.

The original post Slacktivist cites goes into some considerable detail as the issue of "trust" relates to the "Intelligent Design" debate. More than I care to read through with any attention to detail — just skimming through it all makes my eyes gloss over — but that's really the point. Most of us can't take the time to learn all the details necessary to truly understand many of these disciplines, and so we are forced to choose which sources to trust as reliable at some point or another.

But what really surprises me about all this is that both Slacktivist and tristero seem to think that bringing up the issue of trust is some new tactic that religious believers are using to bolster weak arguments. No doubt some religious believers do use this tactic as a diversionary tactic, but even there, it's hardly new. I've heard this kind of thing for many years now. For example, the old chestnut about how Jesus is referenced in more ancient documents than say, Socrates or Julius Caesar (in fact, I feel that I've mentioned this one before, but can't find the reference at present). This is an attempt, whatever else it's doing, to suggest that if we trust our history professors (or whoever) enough to believe that Socrates and Caesar existed (and why shouldn't we?), we should believe that Jesus existed, as well. And that's all well and good. The fact that most (not quite all, but pretty darn close) of those documents are themselves religious documents may or may not be meaningful to that discussion, but either way, it brings up the trust issue, and it's been used for years.

But the fact that the issue of trust has been misused for diversionary purposes does not negate the truth of the claim behind it: our knowledge is dependent upon which sources we choose to believe are reliable. This is inescapable. One certainly hopes that people are being trained in critical thinking enough to be able to evaluate potential sources for their reliability, but at some point or another, one still has to make a choice: do I trust this source or don't I? This has implications for every part of our lives: religious, journalistic, political, whatever.

I find it ironic that the self-proclaimedly liberal Slacktivist is the one who decries the current trend:
...promoters of junk science deliberately seek to push the dispute away from questions of fact to questions of trust. Tristero thinks that tactic has to be confronted explicitly — that this is a game we should refuse to play. I think he's right about that.... That way lies madness — treating the world like a game of "Family Feud" in which there are no true or false answers, no actual facts, only the arbitrary opinions of "100 people surveyed, top five answers on the board."
I find this ironic, because I'm so used to hearing the conservatives argue that it's the "liberals" who seek to deny the objectivity of truth. Not so, here. The "liberal" is (rightly) accusing the proponents of a conservative religious line of thinking of promoting the idea that one cannot or should not worry about the facts.

I think that both are right, and both are wrong, here. There is such a thing as objective truth, but I'm not at all convinced that facts and figures can be interpreted wholly objectively. Just look at how candidates for political office spin facts and figures to suit their own ends. We do well to treat these statements, however many facts and figures are tossed our way, with a critical eye.

In any event, I agree insofar as we should be encouraging people to weigh arguments on the basis of their inherent strengths, and that there are indeed "facts" to consider when doing this. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that if we have all the facts, that we'll all finally agree on their interpretation. Human nature simply doesn't work that way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

To Pay or Not to Pay. That is the Question

Through fellow Fuller alum Erika Carney Haub (whose husband Douglas is a fellow current Fuller worker), I learned of a conversation online regarding the question of whether or not ministers should be paid. Like Erika, I'm not unbiased on this matter. I can say for myself much the same as she says for herself and for her husband:
I know I am not coming at this totally objectively. I would not have done what I did in pursuing seminary studies if I did not think service to the church as a paid minister was a valid calling. That said, neither Doug nor I have received paychecks for our ministerial work for years now....
In my own case, having gotten an MDiv several years ago that has still yet to actually contribute in any meaningful way to my income, the idea that the church may be moving toward a non-paying model of church leadership is threatening. I can't help but wonder if I've devoted several years of my life and several thousand dollars of tuition fees to a foolhardy and worthless enterprise. I knew going into seminary that I was looking to enter a career that would never be especially profitable. But I still expected to be able to earn a living following God's call on my life, and so far, that hasn't really happened. Indeed, I wonder if the type of position I trained for no longer exists in form it did when I got started.*

But, having laid all that on the table, the discussion of whether or not churches should pay their leaders really has been an interesting one. Like Erika and Ms. Clawson (since I don't know her, calling her "Julie" just seems off, although I equally suspect she'd resist the formal "Ms." label. What's a blogger to do?), I want more people to recognize that they are the church, and to be invested in its work. The idea that the pastor is the "professional Christian" has been a blight on the American Christian lifestyle for far too long. It seems that many congregations abdicate the responsibility of doing Christian work to only the paid church workers.

It's not even like the idea of not having paid church staff is anything new. This blog discusses the fact that Quakers historically didn't have paid church leaders (this changed in more recent times). And I think most would agree that the original church leaders of the New Testament were not "paid" in the conventional sense. In fact, even today we speak of "tent making" (a term that references the "paying" job held by the Apostle Paul, which I've written about in the past) to describe an actual paying job done in order to fund one's ability to survive while doing the "real"** work of ministry. The first comment to Erika's post reminds me that there are cultural dynamics to this issue, too. Many minority churches in America currently have mostly unpaid or "bivocational" church leaders.

But like pretty much everybody in the blogs linked so far (and I hope that this isn't just my bias talking), I don't know if I believe that the idea of a church with no paid leaders is sustainable. Like any job, including secular ones, being paid for work implies a commitment that doesn't exist (at least not in the same way) with volunteer work. If you're just volunteering for something that becomes unsuitable, there's really not much keeping you there doing that job except your own values. If you're paid for it, you lose that income if you leave (and potentially damage your ability to get another job depending on how you leave, something that's less the case with volunteer work). And, let's be realistic, people have to be able to earn a living. Either a person has to work a "paying" job and give "extra" time to the church, or you can pay that person to work at the church, and they can then devote their fullest energies to the church job. Surely no one thinks that the church should get only the "leftovers" of a person's energy and time! But the other bloggers address this issue more fully and more eloquently than I can here.

My gut feeling on this matter is that more and more churches will find some kind of a middle ground. More of the church's work will be spread around to be done by more people. That's a good thing. But since the church's resources will likely stay at about the same level, this will be accomplished by a combination of volunteer work and having more of the paying positions handled via part-time work. Of course, not all churches will do this. I'm sure that many churches will stick to the full-time paid pastor model. I just hope that fewer and fewer that do so will see that person as the "professional Christian" who enables the rest of the congregation to fail to do the work of the church themselves.

*Actually, that kind of position clearly does exist in places, but increasingly it seems to exist only in places that the rest of the world left behind a couple of decades ago, which is hardly the type of church I'd be looking to serve!

**There's an odd contradiction in how the word "real" is often used in this discussion. "Real job" is often used by laypeople to refer to the secluar, but paying, job held by church leaders in many churches that don't pay them for their church leadership, as Ms. Clawson herself acknowledges in the above-linked entry. Yet many of the non-paid church leaders themselves describe their ministry as the "real job" as if the paying one were somehow artificial. I'll avoid using the word "real" hereafter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The New "Brigadier"

While perusing the Doctor Who news, I came upon this article that tells us that the character of Captain Jack Harkness, introduced in Season One and returning for the last few episodes of Season Three (not to mention the spin-off series Torchwood, which I've never seen, and don't especially expect to) will be back for some episodes of Season Four next year.

That got me thinking about Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who had the distinction of showing up in Doctor Who as a supporting character (pretty much never the main "companion") off-and-on throughout the span of the original series, beginning in the era of the Second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) and continuing all the way through to an appearance in the very last season of the original series (Season Twenty-Six) alongside the Seventh Doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy). In fact, if you add in non-televised and other-character appearances, actor Nicholas Courtney (who played the Brigadier) has appeared alongside every Doctor from the First through the Eighth, the only actor with this distinction!

While it would be tons of fun to see the Brigadier to show up alongside David Tennant (the current Doctor: the Tenth) in the new series (and Nicholas Courtney's still around, making such theoretically possible), it's clear that the actor can't keep going on forever, and so it makes sense for the producers behind the new show to introduce their own elements. It seems to me that Captain Jack is being set-up to fill the Brigadier's role: a military-trained friend of the Doctor's able to deal with alien threats on Earth when the Doctor may not himself be available. Where the Brigadier had UNIT (short for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, which itself has shown up a couple of times on the new series), Captain Jack has Torchwood (and indeed, Torchwood appears destined to fill in the "UNIT" role in the new series, since apparently the real United Nations isn't too keen on it's nominal involvement. At least, that's the rumor I heard some time back). Where the Brigadier's character took a back seat to more explicit "companions" such as Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack has played second-fiddle to Rose Tyler and Martha Jones.

But like the Brigadier, who kept showing up again and again for years after the departure of other companions (and other Doctors!), Captain Jack (who himself has already outlived one Doctor, and is getting to know his second) seems poised to outlast the companions he was introduced alongside. Will fans of Doctor Who ten years from now be talking about Captain Jack the same way as current long-time fans talk about the Brigadier? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Traveling Mercies

Like many people, my wife and I will visiting with family this Thanksgiving. And like many people, this means travel. Since we only get two days off of work (Thursday and Friday), we have to fit all of our traveling into a fairly short window, but my parents have generously contributed to our travel abilities by buying our plane tickets, facilitating more time spent actually being with family as opposed to being on the road driving. This is a good thing.

And that should really be the end of it, but for my sense of economic efficiency. After accounting for time spent getting to the airport and getting through security, I figure we probably save about 4 hours each way by flying instead of driving. As to time spent with my parents, the four hours saved on the trip up is the only time saved that matters, since they have to leave before we do, anyway. Even though I don't have to pay the money (and, indeed, no longer have to pay the costs of driving myself up either), I can't help but think that the extra four hours isn't worth the extra expense.

This naturally makes me appear a bit ungrateful. After all, they want to spend the money. It obviously is worth it to them to be able to get that extra time. And I'm certainly happy to have the extra time, however small it is. Why should it matter that it somehow seems like an economic imbalance? And, of course, even if my parents have to leave a bit earlier than we would, we still get to spend that much more time with other relatives thanks to my parents generosity. Clearly, they have done a good thing.

I often spend time listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. Garrison Keillor often pokes fun at the sometimes-ridiculous extremes people go to avoid accepting kindnesses. It's okay to give to others without expecting anything in return, but it's somehow not okay to accept someone giving to you. Indeed, in this set-up, one wonders how anyone ever does do anything nice for anyone else! You have to be able to take once in a while!

Although Keillor's humor is deeply-rooted in Midwestern culture, which doesn't really apply to me all that well, I have to believe that a similar factor is at work in myself. I have trouble accepting such a kind offer. This is certainly true with my in-laws as well, who have allowed my wife and I the privilege of joining them on an Alaskan cruise last year, and also on recent weekend trips to the coast (such as this one). I am indeed grateful for these gifts, and can certainly say that I've needed the breaks from my usual routine.

So why is it so hard to just accept these gifts and say "thanks"? I'm not entirely sure, but need to be aware of this within myself.

So, "thanks" Mom and Dad. I look forward to seeing you next week.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The First Thing We Do, Let's Save All The Lawyers

Since the (relatively few) people who read my blog tend to be a fairly well-educated bunch, I really don't need to point out that I'm misquoting Shakespeare with my title. But the fact that most readers will get the joke is rather the point.

It's fashionable to make fun of lawyers. We have a whole category of "lawyer jokes," and even friends who are themselves lawyers (or who used to be) seem to enjoy them. We enjoy thinking of lawyers as people that it's "okay" to despise.

And then something like the recent events in Pakistan comes along. The President of Pakistan has suspended his country's constitution and fired the Chief Justice of his country's Supreme Court. This short-circuiting of the democratic process by one of the United States' closest allies in the "war against terrorism" has been a deep embarrassment, frustrating Democrats and Republicans alike. Indeed, it's uncommon in these increasingly-divided days to find a political event so capable of bringing both sides together.

And who is it that everyone, conservative and liberal, is rooting for? Who is it that everyone wants to make sure is saved, so that justice may ultimately prevail? The lawyers! The irony is wonderful! For once, I think I can speak for most of us in hoping that the lawyers win.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Secret to Masterpiece Megatron's Scale Revealed!

A lot of fans were really excited about the prospect of a "Masterpiece" Megatron toy to correspond to the "Masterpiece Optimus Prime" of a few years ago. More specifically, they were thrilled that there would be a Megatron "in scale" to Prime (at least in terms of robot mode). Now, I've already commented on the ultimate futility of "scale" arguments, but the reality is that this makes a big difference to a lot of fans.

But let's face it, how many adult fans (those most likely to be able to afford these particular toys) are actually likely to physically engage their robots in battle? After paying all that money to import the toy from Japan (which will never be made available domestically, because of the realistic, if admittedly oversized, gun mode. This gun mode is a reason I will never have this toy in my home, either. I'm not a fan of realistic guns.), owners of Masterpiece Megatron would never risk chipping the paint or denting the plastic (even assuming they don't have the childish impulses they once almost certainly had when the Transformers started out in the '80s)!

But, fear not, Transformers fan! For I have discovered the real scale to which Masterpiece Megatron was constructed, thanks to a picture from my brother (who doesn't have the hang-ups I do about this toy). This picture clearly shows that Megatron was intended not for battles with the demonstrably heftier Masterpiece Prime, but for display with the original G1 Laserbeak toy, which was often traditionally shown in precisely this position atop Megatron's arm. Here they are, together again as they were always meant to be!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Story: The Monster Mash

(This one just seems appropriate for October 31st!)

When I was in high school, I was a member of the choir. In addition to the "serious" pieces we did throughout the year, every spring we did a "Top 40" production: a montage of songs that could have been heard on the radio at some point in the previous few decades. There was music, dancing (or choreography, at least) and a lot of fun.

During one particular year, I was given the solo for "The Monster Mash," and we went all-out. I was given a lab coat, some other members of the choir got monster costumes, and we even had a vampire to come out of a coffin. We must have spent months rehearsing the production, but because the sound equipment had to be rented, we only had the microphones and speakers we'd be using for the big performance available on the day itself: not long enough for a full run-through.

You can probably guess by now what happened. My "big number" came up, and I grabbed the microphone, and hammed it up for all I was worth. Unfortunately, no one had told me that the microphone, being a wireless, had to be turned on to be of any value whatsoever. This meant that although my parents and everybody else in the audience could see me relishing the role of mad scientist, no one could hear anything I said! And we only had the one performance, so there really wasn't any opportunity to "fix" the mistake at a future time.

I've always wished I could "go back" and redo that performance. It really was a lot of fun putting it together in the first place. I certainly know a lot more about sound equipment now than I did back then. Still, sometimes you only get one "make it or break it" chance. That one just wasn't my day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

RIP - Board of Declaration

In the past, I would occasionally mention having some debate or another on Fuller's "Board of Declaration," which was a bulletin board intended to be an open forum to discuss important issues. Unfortunately, as I noted during most of those posts, the discussions would cross out of the bounds of civility, and into vitriol. As a result, I finally decided to stop posting, a decision I think the rest of the seminary had already made long before I did, since it was already at the time getting only a few people to post, and definitely generated so much more heat than light that few of my friends even bothered to see what was being put on the Board anymore.

So, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised last week to notice that the Board is no longer located where it has been for most of the past ten years (perhaps longer, but this is the only amount of time for which I can personally account). It's possible that it's been quietly moved to another location, but I expect that it's gone completely. Indeed, given that we're now more than a month into the new academic year, it's probably been gone for many weeks now, and I've only just noticed.

On one hand, I grieve the loss of any venue of communication whereby people are allowed to discuss matters that are important to them. On the other, it seems clear that the Board had become obsolete at best, and an embarrassment at worst. Perhaps the purpose that the Board originally fulfilled has been replaced by blogs like this one. I know that this blog has certainly become a more viable venue for me, personally. A blog, theoretically, can have a far greater reach than a physical board, although I expect that I probably have fewer individual readers for any given post than I had see one of my Board of Declaration posts over the time in which one was available. What's more, the Board of Declaration had a very focused audience: the Fuller seminary community, whereas my blog has readers that may not be at all similar to each other in theological outlook or political viewpoint (not that Fuller is all that homogenous, but it's certainly more so than the Internet!).

Still, I came to not notice the Board while it was still around, so I expect I won't grieve its passing too heavily.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Red Letters: The Debate Continues... Well, Kinda

Tony Campolo's posted another follow-up to the "Red Letter Christian" debate, and since I've so recently mentioned it, it seems important to show that the debate continues. However, I'm not sure that there's really anything new here, and I wonder why he bothered.

One "sort of" new element, at least in regard to this particular discussion, is the disclosure that "RLCs" are avoiding the term "evangelical," because of it's connections (rightly or wrongly, as Campolo himself acknowledges) to the "Religious Right." Of course, this isn't exactly "new," but it does echo what I said on Wednesday about words having meaning.

But most of this article is simply a rehash of Campolo's original response to Guthrie, only not written directly to Guthrie this time. Since both this response and Campolo's original both seem to have been written for the "God's Politics" blog, and therefore will be read by the exact same audience, why bother? Campolo rehashes the same arguments about Jesus's statements about marriage and divorce vs. Moses's, as well as the same "eye for an eye" bit, without contributing anything new. Perhaps if he'd read my own responses to these arguments, we could move the debate ahead a bit, even if he would just give reasons why he doesn't think my arguments are compelling.

Of course, I'm just one blogger among thousands, and there's nothing special about my blog to make it particularly well-known, or particularly worthy of Campolo's attention. Such is life. But I do wish that, if Campolo wants to continue this debate (which is a fair debate to be having), he could contribute something new to the discussion beyond what he already said a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seeing Red

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a debate between Tony Campolo and Stan Guthrie about the "Red Letter Christian" movement. Since my interest at that time was more about the integrity of the whole Bible than about political interests, I tried not to weigh in on the political implications of what the debate was about, but tried to stick to the interpretive issues raised by the existence of the debate itself.

This morning, Scot McKnight mentioned the debate as well, and it seems appropriate now to turn to the political concerns that sparked the current debate in the first place. McKnight is usually a fair thinker when it comes to issues like this, and so I look forward to what he has to say on the issue. He barely scratches the surface here, but hopefully he'll have more to say in the coming days.

McKnight starts by citing Campolo's definition (taken from a blog entry that, while undated, appears to have been written a couple of years ago) of just what a "Red Letter Christian" is. McKnight quotes the important aspects of Campolo's definition itself, but it's also interesting to note the reasons Campolo cites for using this label as opposed to some other:
Because being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican in the popular mind, and calling ourselves “progressive” might be taken as a value judgment by those who do share our views, we decided not to call ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” We came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.
Campolo knows that words have meaning, and that how a group chooses to identify themselves will affect not only how people respond to them, but who will continue to listen to them in the first place. When I was in college, I knew of Campolo as a Christian who refused to be tied to a "conservative" agenda, yet who my conservative friends continued to take seriously. Since I've been in Southern California during most of the recent years in which "liberal" and "conservative" camps have moved so far away from each other, and since the political climate of Southern California is admittedly quite different from the political climate of North Carolina in any event, I'm not sure how my college friends would look at Campolo today. Still, as I read his words, I see nothing that a Christian seeking to do God's will, conservative or liberal, should find objectionable.

Although I still would hope to have a more holistic view of using the words of the Bible as we seek to impact the world around us, one could scarcely find a better place to start than the words of Jesus. And if we do take Jesus's words seriously, then there must be political implications. I look forward to seeing what develops out of this discussion.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blasts From the Past: Montreat Youth Conference Planning Team

Although I consider myself a fairly technologically savvy person, it takes me a bit of time to "warm up" to some of the latest trends. Now that I'm fairly comfortable with the world of blogging (I've only been at it for two and a half years now!), I've started checking out some of the social networking websites. My first reaction to these has been that they are definitely targeted for an audience quite a bit younger than myself: people still in college or younger. But I have nonetheless found quite a few friends from the various walks of my life in this process, and it has been interesting getting back in touch after so long.

Now that my wife has started her PhD studies, I've considered my own life to be at a bit of a crossroads, as well. I don't expect to be doing what I've been doing for the past chapter of my life for that much longer, and feel that it is time for me to move on to something new. What that will look like, I still don't know, but part of my effort to determine this has been a fairly conscious effort to reclaim parts of my past that I have neglected or forgotten, and getting in touch with old friends has been an interesting part of that. As I see what the people that I used to spend so much of my time with are doing today, I remember more of where I used to be myself, and recognize more consciously how much has changed in the time since then.

This past weekend, I've been spending most of my time trying to reorganize the room in our apartment where I do most of my computer work. I've had boxes and piles of paper piling up, and have had trouble finding places to store it all properly. As I was sorting through all this material, I found this pamphlet that was used as part of the Youth Conference I was on the planning team for back in 1992. It detailed the schedule for the weeks of the conference I was responsible for, and lists many of the various people who contributed. I've mentioned this period of my life before, but it's hard to emphasize just how important being a part of this group was to me during that time of my life. A bit of disclaimer: I expect that this material is still copyrighted by the Mountain Retreat Association. Since the conference is now 15 years old, I expect that there should be no objection to my making the pamphlet available through the internet, but if someone from there should have any concerns (and I have indeed reconnected to a few people in a position to say so over the past few weeks), just let me know, and I'll see that the file is taken back down.

I've also found a series of pictures I had taken during some of the planning team meetings. These were either in the Spring or Fall of 1991, but I no longer remember which, for sure. I'm sure I have other (and better!) pictures somewhere, but haven't yet rediscovered them. I'll put up another post if I can find them.



EDIT (1/1/08): Found another one!

Friday, October 19, 2007

So, How's Drew Doing?

As I type this, it is Friday morning. I have been able to watch all four of Drew Carey's episodes of The Price is Right aired so far, either by videotape or through the online episodes available at the CBS web site. It's probably safe to say that the replacement of Bob Barker has been one of the most talked-about issues in the game show world since the scandals of the 1950s. So, how's Drew doing?

It should probably be noted that CBS appears to be airing these episodes out-of-order, compared to when Carey taped them. There are three reasons for this assumption:
  1. Out of four episodes aired, two of them have been what are commonly called "perfect" shows. That is to say, every one of the six pricing games played that day was won. One of the "perfect" shows was aired as Carey's premiere on Monday. Perfect games are quite rare. Carey himself noted on Monday that there had been only 76 previous perfect games in the previous 35 years on the show.
  2. On Monday's show, during the Showcase, one the prizes was a television set. As is common when such prizes are given away, a clip of the show was displayed on the screen. This clip did not appear to be from the same episode, and thus must have been from an earlier taping. It is possible that this clip was from a rehearsal, but this seems unlikely.
  3. If you go to watch the episodes on the CBS web site, you'll notice that each episode (other than Monday's, anyway) has been assigned an episode number. I'm not sure what to make of these. They're all in the 4000's, and supposedly the 5000th show was aired almost 10 years ago! Anyway, the three numbers shown are not only not consecutive, but out of order. It's possible that they're using an oddball episode numbering scheme, and episode numbers are not assigned in numerical order. This would certainly explain the low numbers. But it's still pretty odd.
I mention the possibility of out-of-order tapings, because this fact (if true) means that we cannot determine the degree to which Carey gets more comfortable in his role as he gains more experience. I personally thought that Carey seemed more comfortable on the Thursday episode than he had on the previous three, but if he in fact taped that one before all or most of the previously aired shows, this means little.

Anyway, enough with the disclaimers. Here's what I think:
  • At the beginning of the show, Carey not only asks the first four contestants for their bid, but he also asks a quick "how're you doing?" While I appreciate Carey's friendliness, it seems to confuse the contestants, who were all prepared to give a bid, but (in some cases) are caught off guard as they feel the need to change gears and answer the personal question first. I'm sure Carey will find a way to ease such personal touches in more organically as he gains more experience.
  • Carey seems to have less control over the contestants on the stage. This is a very important thing for a game show host to be on top of. Contestants, naturally, are excited and enthusiastic about being on television and possibly winning huge prizes. The host has to find a balance between allowing the contestants to express this (after all, seeing such excitement is part of what keeps the show interesting!) and moving the game along so that everything fits into the alloted time. However, as has been noted elsewhere, the contestants seem a bit more... crazy... than they have in the past, and may therefore be harder to control than even Bob Barker could have handled (and there have indeed been a number of cases in which he had trouble). This may be a chicken-and-egg problem, though.
  • Carey talks rather too fast for my tastes. Perhaps this is just early nervousness, and he'll slow down as he gets more comfortable. Or maybe he's been instructed to do this to get more into less time (hour-long shows have to give more time to commercials now than they did just a few years ago).
  • Carey seems to know the games pretty well. He comes off as a bit stiff, but I don't see where he's made any major mistakes yet. Of course, they could have edited such out (I've actually seen where they've had to make small edits, reshooting a portion of the show for production reasons, when I've attended tapings in the past), but in his later years, Bob had trouble with certain bits all the time, and was corrected on-screen, so I'm guessing we're seeing the "real Carey" here.
  • Carey seems genuinely interested in contestants winning. This should not be underestimated.
  • Carey has kept the Barker-instituted tradition of reminding viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered at the end of each show. (Similarly, the producers have opted to retain Barker's name on the pricing games that have it. Carey's joke regarding "Barkers Bargain Bar" that it was named after the founder of The Price is Right, "Ezekiel Barker," was quite clever; homaging Bob in the obvious way, but failing to fall into the trap of coming right out and saying that Bob was the original host, which isn't true. Bill Cullen was.)
All told, Carey has the potential to do well. He's not Bob Barker, and could never hope to be, but neither does he need to be. Carey is already demonstrating an effort to make the show his own, and elements of his own personality are already beginning to shine through. He just needs to get a little more comfortable in the role, and that can only happen over time. Whether or not he will rise to the challenge remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Observation

If you're driving in Los Angeles county, the odds are very high that you will never have a justifiable reason to use the "bright" setting on your headlights!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's the Day

If you're fortunate enough to be at home at 10:00 am (or 11:00, depending on where you live. Check your local listings), today's the first episode of The Price is Right with Drew Carey as the host. I've seen some of the new sets (don't worry, nothing too major) on the CBS site, but will have to wait to see an actual episode until I can watch the tape being recorded while I'm at work. No doubt I'll have more to say then.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Attending a Jeopardy! Taping

Feeling the need to take a break from my normal pattern, but not really being in a position to take a large block of time off from work right now, I took what I called a "mini-vacation" on Wednesday and took a half-day off of work so that I could attend a taping of Jeopardy! But I wasn't just at any Jeopardy! taping. I was able to watch both parts of the 2-part Tournament of Champions finale. I won't spoil the ending here, except to say that it was a very good game, and will be worth seeing when it airs on November 15th and 16th.

This was my first time to see a taping of Jeopardy!, and the first game show taping I've been to in quite a few years, having been to see The Price is Right a number of times before I started working full-time. The atmosphere between the two shows was very different, reflecting the very different natures of these two shows.

Whereas Price is fairly enthusiastic show, with hundreds of people in the audience clapping and yelling nearly the whole time, Jeopardy! is fairly sedate. People certainly do applaud during parts of the game, but it's definitely more "polite appreciation" than "Woo, hoo! I'm on TV!" And I was surprised to notice that during this, arguably the most important single episodes of the year, there were actually several vacancies in the audience. That never happened for any of the half-dozen or so tapings of Price I was at. Of course, the fact that every audience member at Price is a potential contestant probably has something to do with that.

There were similarities, of course. Tapings for both shows started by having the announcer (the late Rod Roddy for the Price tapings I was at, and Johnny Gilbert for Jeopardy!) come out, but even there the natures of the shows were obvious. Roddy's introduction (pretty much the same at every taping I attended) was a humorous account of his career to that point, designed to get the audience in a festive mood. Gilbert's introduction was mostly to ensure that we clapped at all the right places, but kept quiet at the times when contestants might hear our responses (an event which would theoretically cause taping to stop, and the contaminated question to be replaced, but this didn't happen for the games I watched). Both hosts also took time during breaks in taping to answer audience questions.

I don't mean to make it sound as though Jeopardy! was less enjoyable to watch personally than Price. The shows are just very different. While both are game shows of a fairly "traditional" kind (as opposed to either "reality" shows such as Survivor, or the current run of one-player games since Deal or No Deal*), Jeopardy! is undeniably a more "serious" game than Price, consisting of answers and questions (in that order) that often stump people with college degrees. In fact, Johnny Gilbert made a specific comment to the effect that, while so many shows on television deal with the stupidity of people, Jeopardy! celebrates the intelligence of people. Of course, Price can certainly be said to require a different (arguably more practical) kind of intelligence, but it relies on the fun and variety of the pricing games to keep an audience's attention.

Now that I've been to one Jeopardy! taping, I'm eager to go back for another, or maybe to catch Jeopardy!'s sister show, Wheel of Fortune. Unfortunately, taking time off is a bit of an ordeal. It's not that I don't have the potential vacation time saved up, but that it's hard to make room for the people I work for (and with) to do without me. Just maintaining my boundaries and telling folks (again and again) that I wouldn't be available after noon on Wednesday was a bit tiring. But still, I do need to do this again sometime. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

*Yes, I know Deal or No Deal wasn't the first one-player show, or even the first such show of the modern era, since Who Wants to be a Millionaire came a few years earlier. However, Millionaire is a traditional quiz show. Deal and its successors rely on a rather different kind of game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Elevating (Parts of) Scripture

Since my wife is in the ordination process there, I've been spending a lot of time in an Episcopal Church lately. Since I've spent most of my life as a Presbyterian, it's safe to say that there have been a few differences in how Episcopalians worship compared to what I'm used to. One prominent part of every Episcopalian worship gathering is the reading from the book of the Gospels. A large, ornate book is brought down the middle of the congregation, and raised up high while prayers are being made (sung, usually). Then the book is opened and read.

Of course, I'm not unbiased. This form of high liturgy makes me somewhat uncomfortable. But as an evangelical Christian who believes in the authority of Scripture, I have no theological problem with the practice. With one exception.

There are other Scripture passages read during the service, as well. But none of them get the "full exaltation" treatment. This is only done for the reading from the Gospels (that is to say; Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; as opposed to the other 62 books of the Bible).

But it's not like Episcopalians are the only Christians that elevate (in their case, literally!) some portions of the Bible above others. And I'm not talking about the Catholic church, either. Check out this article by Tony Campolo (itself a response to a Christianity Today article written by Stan Guthrie for the October 2007 issue, but when I first wrote this response, I hadn't yet read it. See further notes at the end), where he discusses the popularity of "red letter" editions of the Bible. Campolo quotes Guthrie as saying the following:
Though I own several Bibles with the words of Christ in red, I've always found the concept a bit iffy. After all, we evangelicals believe in the plenary, or full, inspiration of Scripture, don't we? Setting off Jesus' sayings this way seems to imply that they are more holy than what is printed in ordinary black ink. ...[I]f all Scripture is God-breathed, then in principle Jesus' inscripturated statements are no more God's word to us than are those from Peter, Paul, and Mary - or Ezekiel.
As may be assumed by what I said earlier, I tend to agree with Guthrie's reasoning. However, Campolo gives a strong argument for why many Christians do, and should, consider Jesus' words with greater priority. For example:
[W]e believe the morality in the red letters of Jesus transcends that found in the black letters set down in the Pentateuch, and I'm surprised you don't agree. After all, Stan, didn't Jesus himself make this same point in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said his teachings about marriage and divorce were to replace what Moses taught?
Apparently, both Guthrie's original article and Campolo's response have certain political implications, but those aren't my concern here (indeed, I wonder at Guthrie's apparent assumption that those who invoke the "red letters" tend to be on the political left, given how many conservatives I know also like these versions). Campolo is certainly correct in his reasoning that Jesus himself gave teachings that he explicitly put above the teachings received from earlier Scripture.

I'm not quite sure that Jesus is saying that Moses was wrong or being replaced, however. Rather, he explains Moses' intentions, and states a "higher" way. He doesn't replace what Moses taught, exactly. He transcends it (to use Campolo's own word from earlier in the paragraph). What Moses taught is still important, and should still be taken seriously (in the case of divorce, Jesus references Deuteronomy 24:1, where the words "because he finds something indecent about her" are important. An indication the she has been unfaithful, perhaps). Even more, Jesus at several points shows how teachers of his day had misinterpreted those earlier Scriptures, and he tries to put them "back on track" (there does seem to be indication that some teachers in Jesus' day took those same words: "because he finds something indecent about her," as an indication that a husband could divorce a wife for any reason at all. He only need not like her anymore. Jesus suggests that this teaching is not in keeping with God's intentions).

Campolo's other examples strike me a similarly flawed. When he asks "Don't you think [Jesus's] words about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hurt us represent a higher morality than the 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' kind of justice that we find in the Hebrew Testament?", I can't help but wonder if Campolo is unaware of the interpretation that the "eye for an eye" bit is in fact a limiting factor in a society where vengeance could cycle out of control (i.e., "Yes, you are allowed justice for a wrong done against you. But the punishment must fit the crime"). Of course, it may well be that Campolo is fully aware of this interpretation, but considers the "love your enemies" command to a be a "higher morality," and I'm not sure I disagree. But neither do I think that "loving one's enemies" and "seeking justice" are mutually exclusive.

In the end, though, I think Campolo is right in his basic premise. Whether we are conscious about it or not, Christians do give Jesus' words a certain priority, and rightly so. As Campolo suggests, we do filter other passages of Scripture through the lens of Jesus' teachings. To use the previous example, we are kept from misunderstanding God's intentions for marriage/divorce as written in the Deuteronomy passage by what Jesus had to say about that passage in Matthew 5:31.

However, I still stop short of the more explicit elevation of parts of the Bible (even Jesus' words) over other parts. I just can't get around the idea that such practices imply that the "non-red" parts of the Bible have been diminished, which I don't think is appropriate. The non-red parts of the Bible are still important, and certainly haven't been "canceled out" by Jesus' life and teaching. I wouldn't mind seeing a worship gathering where the whole Bible is brought out before the congregation and lifted up amidst prayer and singing. I think that would be kind of cool.

UPDATE: October 11, 2007 - Christianity Today has since posted Guthrie's article, followed by an edited version of Campolo's response. Apparently, the parts of Guthrie's article that Campolo didn't quote are almost entirely on the political issues I had no interest in dealing with here. I'm saddened by that fact. I think that there are some interesting issues of biblical interpretation raised here, but fear that they are completely lost amidst the political bickering.

Monday, October 08, 2007

REPOST: The Hitchhiker's Guide to Christianity

I originally posted this over a year and a half ago, but I've never been especially happy with the "last part first" set-up I get from that link, and haven't figured out how to set it up so that the story reads from beginning to end as it should. I finally decided that I just need to repost the whole thing in it's proper order as a single (if long) post. Here goes:

(with apologies to Douglas Adams)

NARRATOR (always voice only): This is the story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity, a wholly remarkable book. Probably the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Augustine/Calvin. It is more popular than The Complete Exegetical Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-Three More Ways to Convert a Non-Believer, and more controversial than Winston Stapleton’s trilogy of theological-political blockbusters, Where Bush Went Wrong, Some More of Bush’s Greatest Mistakes, and Who Is This Bush Person Anyway?

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Western Coast of the United States, the
Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Biblaica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal (though, ironically, nothing about the Apocrypha itself), it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words SINNERS WELCOME inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover.

To tell the story of the book, it's best to tell the story of some of the minds behind it. Artie Kent, a student from Evergreen Theological Seminary, is one of them. Though, as our story opens, he no more knows his destiny than a Southern Baptist knows the history of the XXX Multiplex in West LA.

(scene: ARTIE KENT walks in from stage right. A group of students comes in from the opposite side. At least one is holding a sign saying “The End of the World is Nigh!” Others should have signs protesting a construction project. Artie sees the group and approaches.)

ARTIE KENT: Excuse me, what’s going on here?

PROTESTER ONE: We’re protesting the construction of the new 410 bypass. Since they couldn’t build it through the wealthy town south of here, they’ve decided to take it straight through the seminary.

ARTIE KENT: But why?

PROTESTER TWO: Well, it’s a bypass. Apparently you’ve got to build bypasses.

ARTIE KENT: Well, I’m afraid I can’t stay and help, I’m late for class. Good luck! (Artie runs out stage left. Protesters shout and wave their signs while walking off stage right)

NARRATOR: The
Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines “luck” as “that which happens by chance; fortune or lot.” It says that to “try one’s luck” is to “try to do something without certainty of success.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide also mentions luck. It notes that many Christians define luck as “the notion that the world is random and left to chance at best, and an evil force at worst. Either way being antithetical to the notion of God’s all-controlling providence and blessing.” This requires them to come up with new terms for otherwise everyday phrases. “Good luck” becomes “God bless,” a “Pot luck” dinner becomes a “pot bless” dinner, and so on. The Hitchhiker’s Guide further notes that other Christians see this an unnecessary infringement upon contemporary language, suggesting that “everybody knows we don’t really mean that the world is left to chance” and further arguing that the first group of Christians shouldn’t be such nosy busybodies. This, naturally, gets the first group of Christians upset at the second set, leading to many heated arguments and fights over how best to use language in a way that consistently describes God’s loving kindness, the end result of which is that nearly all Christians involved more fervently desire that God would simply take them away to heaven all the sooner, so they might leave this crazy, messed-up, chaotic world behind.

(Artie returns from stage left. He stumbles upon a pile of clothes and picket signs in the middle of the stage.)

ARTIE KENT: What in the world? Don’t tell me that LaHaye and Jenkins were right after all!

FORD: (Walks in from off stage. Dressed somewhat eccentrically.) They weren’t.

ARTIE KENT: Really? Then how do you explain the piles of clothes laying here? Clothes I know that my friends were wearing just a couple of hours ago! And who
are you anyway?

FORD: Oh! Excuse me. I’m Ford Prophet. Well, I’d say LaHaye and Jenkins weren’t
entirely right, at any rate. Yes, some Christians have indeed been raptured. But didn’t you think it odd that your class continued right through it all, and that your professor kept on lecturing as though nothing had happened?

ARTIE KENT: Now that you mention it, that does seem a bit odd….

FORD: Now work with me, here. According to the book, the people that got left behind got a second chance to know Jesus, right?

ARTIE KENT: But of course. Buck Williams’ conversion scene from the movie has been played in our evangelism seminars for years!

FORD: But how did
you come to know about Christ?

ARTIE KENT: Oh, that’s easy. My second grade Sunday School teacher!

FORD: Exactly! Someone told you about him! Now, do you really think that giving people a second chance would do the least bit of good if all the Christians were already gone? Who would tell them about Jesus?

ARTIE KENT: Hmmm…. You have a point. But shouldn’t there be plenty of nominal Christians left behind? They would realize that they were wrong after seeing what happened.

FORD: Yes, yes, well, I think you credit humanity with a bit too much intelligence. Anyway, I figure that’s why some of us are still here. We’re here to set folks straight. And that’s why I’m here. I’m here to ask you help me write the most important book ever to be written.

ARTIE KENT: (a bit put off) The Bible’s already been written! It’s totally sufficient for our salvation….

FORD: yes,yes,yes. Well, the second-most important, then. Here (hands Artie a copy). Just read the first paragraph.

ARTIE KENT: (takes book a bit warily) Ooookay. Whatever you say. (Looks at book, while voice-over gives next passage.)

NARRATOR: God is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big God is. I mean, you may have trouble wrapping your mind around the concept of transubstantiation, but that's just peanuts to God.

ARTIE KENT: Interesting.

FORD: So, will you join me?

ARTIE KENT: Well, I don’t know…. (loud noise offstage. The noise of a bulldozer engine.)

FORD: Well, it looks like you’d better make up your mind now. With all the protestors raptured, there’s nothing stopping that bulldozer from tearing down the seminary! (noise gets louder. Sound of buildings being torn down. Lights flicker and debris thrown on from offstage left. Artie and Ford run off stage right.)

NARRATOR: Have our heroes really been “left behind”? Will they escape the destruction of the seminary? Will they be able to find meaningful employment? What does all this mean for the rest of the seminary population? Does anything have any meaning anyway? At least
some of these questions might be answered in our next installment.

LIGHTS OUT: END PART ONE


PART TWO

NARRATOR: The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very happy and been widely regarded as a good move.

Many cultures believe that it was created by some sort of god, although the Christian concept of a single supreme being is by no means shared by all of them.

As multitudinous as the explanations for the Universe’s creation are the theories of how the Universe will end. Even among Christians, there is widespread disagreement on this. Many Christians, for example, believe in a concept known as “the Rapture,” whereby the faithful are taken away from Earth to join God in heaven before the final end comes to the poor saps left behind on the planet below. While some Christians scoff at this interpretation of the end, this is exactly what seems to have occurred to a group of student protestors with whom Artie Kent had a conversation only a few hours ago. Despite that fact that they are Christians themselves, Artie and his friend Ford Prophet have reasoned that God must have left some believers behind to tell the remaining non-Christian population that the end is coming soon, and so have started writing The Hitchhikers’ Guide to Christianity, with which they hope to reach the masses.

Having recently escaped the destruction of Evergreen Theological Seminary to make way for the new 410 bypass, Artie and Ford come upon the former seminary bookstore, which is beginning to make changes in light of recent events.

(Artie and Ford enter from stage right. They arrive to meet a worker standing behind a cash register on stage left.)

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Welcome to Evergreen Family Booksellers. How may I help you today?

FORD: I’m not sure. I’m surprised to see that the bookstore is still here. I’d have thought it would be demolished with the rest of the seminary.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: The benefit of being on the other side of the street, I guess. Of course, since we won’t have so many students coming by, anymore, we have to become a more conventional Christian bookstore.

ARTIE: I see you have the complete set of “Left Behind” books on your shelves.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Well, as the number one selling series of Christian literature on the market, we’d be pretty foolish not to carry them. We’re also looking to carry the complete set of “Left Behind” videos, compact discs, computer software, children’s literature and study guides.

FORD: And where are all the textbooks?

BOOKSTORE WORKER: They’ve been moved to the clearance section. Pretty much no one buys the academic books these days. Most Christian book-buyers prefer to have all that intellectual stuff done for them, and so we’re just looking to carry “Left Behind” books and Thomas Kinkade posters. Our new motto is: “Don’t worry, you won’t have to think about a thing!”

ARTIE: How about your Evangelism section?

BOOKSTORE WORKER: That’s mostly filled with extra copies of the “Left Behind” books. But we have a few other items as well. As a matter of fact… (Ducks under register to get Bumper fish) Would you like a Bumper fish?

NARRATOR: The Bumper fish is probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It is a small plastic outline of a fish affixed with adhesive on one side, intended to be sold in Christian bookstores and placed on the bumper of the buyer’s automobile. The practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Bumper fish on your car you can instantly tell anyone that you are a Christian in any language.

This led to the creation of the Darwin fish, a similar outline of a fish with legs added, intended to make fun of the fundamentalist Christian rejection of the theory of evolution. The Darwin fish led, in turn, to the creation of the “Truth Fish”: a Bumper fish emblazoned with the word TRUTH in large capital letters, depicted as eating a Darwin fish. This led to the Reality Bites fish, (a Darwin fish eating a standard Bumper fish).

Other fish have been created following this pattern, in what has commonly been called the “Fish Wars,” giving us the Cat fish, the Tuna fish, the Yoda fish, the Science fish, the Alien fish, and the “Fish N Chips” fish, among many, many others.

Most leading theologians lament this misuse of one of the most ancient symbols of Christianity, but that hasn’t stopped Christian bookstores from making a fortune on Bumper fish magnets, Bumper fish shirts, and other Bumper fish merchandise.

Meanwhile, the standard Bumper Fish, having effectively removed all barriers to communication between Christians and non-Christians, has caused more and fiercer arguments than any other item in all of Christianity, not including, of course, the Bible itself.

ARTIE (holding fish, puts it back down on the counter): I think I’ll pass for now, thanks.

FORD: But maybe we can help you guys out.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: (suspicious) How?

FORD: My friend and I are writing a new book to help all the regular folks out there know more about Christianity. It will make Christianity look “with it” and “hip.” You’ll sell millions of copies!

BOOKSTORE WORKER: I don’t think anyone uses the terms “with it” and “hip” anymore.

FORD: Whatever. Look (pulls out a copy of the Guide, and hands it to the worker). Here’s a copy of the current draft. You look it over, and if you like it, we can have the final version ready for your shelves within a month!

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Well, I don’t know….

FORD: Wonderful! (shakes worker’s hand) Artie! We’re off to do more research! (Artie puts down the copy of “Left Behind” he’s been holding, gives worker a look that says “yeah, he’s weird, but it’s best just to humor him,” then leaves with Ford.)

NARRATOR: Will Artie and Ford be successful in getting the Hitchhiker’s Guide published? Will the Evergreen Family Booksellers become multimillionaires? Will Artie ever tell Ford that he’s three fries short of a Happy Meal? Join us for the next reasonably illuminating installment.

LIGHTS OUT: END PART TWO.


PART THREE

NARRATOR: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Coast of United States lies a small, unregarded little church.

If one traveled from this church at a distance of roughly seven miles, one would find an utterly insignificant little green-colored seminary whose denizens are so amazingly primitive that they still think that double predestination is a pretty neat idea.

This seminary has, or rather had, a problem, which was this: most of the people that went there were unhappy pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because it was the utter absence of these small green pieces of paper which tended to cause the unhappiness in the first place.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones who considered themselves predestined.

Eventually, God apparently raptured a significant portion of the seminary’s student population to heaven, effectively ending their concern over the small bits of paper forever. This left no viable opposition to the building of the new 410 bypass right through the center of the seminary property, causing the seminary to be shut down, and forcing those who remained to take their problems elsewhere.

Two of those who remained, students Artie Kent and Ford Prophet, have since embarked on a journey to write The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity, which they hope to better enable the remaining unsaved population to come to know Jesus Christ, whereby they, too, would have their problems solved.

Artie and Ford now find themselves at the relocated offices of Evergreen Seminary's School of Psychology, where they find former students attempting to solve some problems of their own.

STUDENT 1: Now tell me, are you experiencing feelings of loss and betrayal?

STUDENT 2: (surprised) Why, yes!

STUDENT 1: Do you feel as though something has been taken away from you?

STUDENT 2: (even more amazed) Yes! That’s it exactly!

FORD (to Artie, but loud enough for others to hear): Well, of course she does. Her school is buried under a pile of rubble!

STUDENT 1: (a bit annoyed) Can we help you?

FORD: Yes, I think you can! You see, my friend and I are doing research for this book, you see, and….

STUDENT 1: (excited) Oh! Research! Oh, I’m sure we’d love to help!

FORD: … and we’re trying to work out how best to communicate Christianity to the average person.

STUDENT 1: What do you mean by “average?” We would need to have the term carefully quantified in order to ascertain reliable results.

FORD: (obviously not expecting this)…. Well, you know, “average,” just like… Artie, help me out here.

ARTIE: Well, you know, “normal.” Just like everybody else.

STUDENT 1: (laughs) Oh, I’m afraid I’ll still have to ask you to be more specific. Obviously, we’re not all a bunch of clones walking around.

ARTIE: Oh, I see your point…. Well, how about “not unusually different.”

STUDENT 1: Surely, you’ve been at Evergreen long enough to know that we value our differences.

(egg timer sound goes off.)

STUDENT 2: Oh! Time’s up! My turn! (Students 1 and 2 switch places)

STUDENT 2 (to Student 1): Now tell me about this dream you had about the walls crashing down all around you.

FORD: What a minute! Who’s treating who?

STUDENT 2: Oh, we’re treating each other. We’ve all had to deal with the loss of the seminary, and so we’re working through each other’s trauma over the experience.

STUDENT 1: We’re wounded healers.

NARRATOR: The Hitchhiker’s Guide says that a “wounded healer” is any person in any healing profession that has had to struggle with many of the very same problems that the person being healed has come to the professional for help in dealing with. The term is most often used for professionals in the mental heath disciplines, due to the high number of such professionals that appear to come from broken homes or have otherwise painful backgrounds. The Hitchhiker’s Guide hastens to add that this phenomenon is only in apparent disproportion to the rest of society due to the fact that mental health professionals are aware of their issues, while the large majority of humanity simply stumbles along in total ignorance of the monstrous problems that practically everybody, in fact, possesses.

(PROTESTER ONE comes onstage, dressed now in business attire, and walks up to the two Psych students. Artie and Ford are visibly stunned.)

PROTESTER ONE: Excuse me, I’m here for my 4:30 appointment.

ARTIE: But, but, you’re the protester I talked to before the Rapture!

PROTESTER ONE: Rapture? What are you talking about?

ARTIE: Are you, or are you not, the same student protester I spoke to before the construction crews demolished the seminary?

PROTESTER ONE: Yes….

ARTIE (turns to Ford): And did I, or did I not, find protest signs and a bunch of clothes in a pile on the ground, EMPTY, when you and I met?

FORD: Well, of course.

PROTESTER ONE: And you think that I was raptured? (laughs) Wow, you need to read your dispensational theology a bit more! No, I was simply hired by the developers to handle public relations!

ARTIE: Say what?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, they were impressed at how well we were doing, and asked us if we’d rather work for them instead of against them. Paid considerably better than a seminarian’s salary, let me tell you!

ARTIE: (flabbergasted) But why did you leave your signs, and ALL YOUR CLOTHES, right there, in the middle of the road?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, we wouldn’t been very good public relations consultants in t-shirts and slacks, would we? And if we were carrying around signs that accused the developers of working against the will of God, that would be rather counter-productive to good PR work, wouldn’t it?

FORD: (interrupting) So, you mean to tell me, that your values, your convictions, your dedication to the work of Evergreen Seminary, all meant nothing compared to a big paycheck? You simply abandoned everything to work for the big corporations?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, actually, I’m rather conflicted about it. That’s why I’m here. (turns to Psych student) I’d like to speak to someone about my deep-seated feelings of guilt.

STUDENT 1: Of course, if you would just join us this way…. (Both Psych students and protestor head off stage, leaving Artie and Ford alone.)

ARTIE: I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Does no one have any personal integrity anymore?

FORD: Well, look at it this way. Perhaps the Rapture hasn’t happened yet. But there’s still a need to tell people about God. And clearly the old methods haven’t worked. What do you say? Wanna join me in writing the most important book ever written?

ARTIE: After the Bible!

FORD: (starts walking off stage) Yes, yes, of course. The Bible will always be the most important book ever written. But have you ever looked at that thing? Someone’s still got to interpret it. I mean, all that stuff about prophecy, commands against cutting your hair, exhortations to stone children.... It’s no wonder we’ve got so many competing denominations out there! Now, what I think we need…. (fades as Ford and Artie head off stage)

NARRATOR: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity was written by Mark Baker-Wright of Transforming Seminarian, and features whatever actors you wish to imagine in the roles, with the provision that the voice of the Narrator must be understood to be read with a British accent at all times. If you have failed to imagine such a voice in your reading of the script thus far, you are therefore required to go back to the beginning, and start again.

You may now return your seats to their full and upright position, and the remainder of your journey through life will proceed without interruption.


END

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