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)

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.



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.



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?


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.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Worship Thoughts

I've recently discovered Facebook (a fact most of my current readers already know, because they probably read the feed from this blog directly there, rather than the actual blog page itself, which is fine, except that I'm not happy with the lack of proper formatting--italics, picture placement, etc--in the Facebook version). Among the friends who I've reconnected to is my former drama professor from college.

Although we reconnected several weeks ago, I only got around today to reading some of the notes he's posted. I was very amused to hear him say this about one of his recent classes
the written comments suggest about half the class would follow me over a cliff... and the other half would push me.
I can attest that this was true back when I was in college with him, too!

But more interestingly, he has the following comments on the nature of worship (the topic of the class in question).
It seems to me the central question of worship is "Did our offering please God?"

Unfortunately, the church is often asking: "Does our youth group think worship is relevant?" "Do major donors object to the use of a projector?" "Can senior saints read the lyrics?" "Are congregations offended by incense or dance?" "Do I have the time to actively contribute to worship?" "Were the people in the pews moved by the beauty of PowerPoint?"

But the Audience of worship isn't in the pews. He's on the throne.
I recently audited a class on drama in Christian worship here at Fuller, taught by the professor who is now my wife's PhD supervisor. While working on her PhD, my wife has also started working as the Assistant Director of Chapel here at Fuller. So the topic of "worship" is one that I have had occasion to talk about quite a lot recently (or I should say, especially recently. I have spent the past decade studying and working in a seminary environment, after all!). The revelation of my drama professor's comments is nothing new, but it does highlight what seems to be a very real issue in churches (and in seminary, perhaps ironically) today. Even when we're supposed to know better, a lot of our attention when it comes to "worship" is taken up by details that have a lot more to do with pleasing those who are in the pews than with pleasing God.

I suppose that there are some obvious reasons for this. Even though we profess God to always be with us, there is a certain... immediacy to the presence of our fellow human worshipers that God sometimes lacks, or at least is felt to lack. If someone in our congregation doesn't like a song, or the way the speaker used that particular illustration, or what-have-you, they're sure to let us know in no uncertain terms. If God is displeased with our worship, he either is kind enough to "let it slide" a lot of the time, or at least his attempts to communicate his displeasure tend not to be understood so clearly.

But this is still a tragedy, because it causes us to forget what the point of it all is. I hope that this past Wednesday's chapel message is available soon on MP3, because Director of Chapel Doug Nason really got to the point of it all in his message on what worship is all about. Pending a proper link to the message itself, here's a link to the Fuller Chapel page, in hopes that it will be updated soon (this is a matter handled by the tech folks, and not my wife or those immediately connected to her office).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Poor Kids First"?

One of the big news items today is the fact that President Bush has vetoed the child health care bill, saying that it asks for too much. Folks who know me can guess that I probably lean more on one side than the other, but I'd like to comment briefly on my frustration at the apparent impossibility of modern American politics.

One the one side, you have the Democrats (not just them, but it does make it easier to discuss issues when you can divide groups into two distinct camps. Perhaps I should be bothered more by that fact...), who are arguing that Bush doesn't care about poor kids. One prominent Democratic leader has already called Bush "heartless," and some pundits are accusing Bush of holding this program "hostage."

On the other side, Bush last week accused Democrats of holding health care for these children "hostage" if they passed this bill. He reiterated the same point today by suggesting that lawmakers should take care of "Poor kids first," by which he seems to want Democrats to pass a law that deals with only the poorest kids, as opposed to expanding the program to cover higher income brackets (the fact that some would consider some of these higher income brackets "poor" despite being in moderately higher levels only serves to demonstrate how poorly defined "poor" is in the first place. I remember reflecting with some college friends that the only workable definition of "rich" seems to be "anyone with more money than you." The same principle seems to be at work here).

Of course, no one wants to be accused of holding poor kids hostage, but by tossing that word around, both sides hope to score points against the other, and nothing's actually getting done. All of this adds up to the inescapable point that our political system is, itself, in very poor health. I wish I could suggest anything at all to heal the very serious damage in the system, but for now, it seems all I can do is shake my fist in impotent rage at it all....

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fuller Seminary Celebrates 60 Years

On October 1, 1947, President Harold John Ockenga gave a speech at a convocation designed to declare Fuller Theological Seminary officially open. Today, the seminary celebrates 60 years of existence as a school of higher learning designed to train upcoming generations of church leaders.

Ockenga's speech is one of many to be found in Fuller Voices, edited by former provost Russell Spittler, and is worth the time to read through. That's not to say that all of what Ockenga says would be the kind of thing a Fuller President would say today. He decries the fall of Western Civilization where a modern Fullerite would likely choose more measured statements. But the core intent of his message would echo today as well. Despite very real problems--problems which Christians must take action to face--we must not give up hope.

There are a lot of ways in which Fuller Seminary didn't look then like it does now. The seminary didn't even have its own land yet, holding classes in the Sunday school building of nearby Lake Avenue Congregational Church (the church still exists, but no longer includes "Congregational" in their name). Initially, Fuller had a mere 39 students, whereas it now enrolls nearly 5,000 students each year. The early Fullerites were all men dedicated to a brand of evangelism that would be considered "right-wing fundamentalist" today, whereas the modern Fuller enrolls both men and women from a wide variety of Christian backgrounds. In fact, I'm not even confident that the founders of Fuller Seminary would approve of all the changes that have taken place here (original Fuller professor Harold Lindsell famously resigned in the 1970s over differences in opinion regarding Biblical inspiration, writing The Battle for the Bible about his unhappiness over Fuller's position), but I strongly suspect that God does.


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