Monday, April 30, 2007

A Hodge-Podge of Religious Ideals

My friend Chris alerted me to these quizzes. I have to say, I'm surprised at the results, although I can't say I actually disagree with them. If anything, they just confirm what I've said about my own religious background pretty well: I'm an odd hodge-podge! I would definitely say that one would need to read both of these survey results to understand me, though. If you read the first without the second, you may think I'm excessively doctrinal, whereas if you read the second without the first, you'd get the impression that I don't think that sound doctrine is at all important.

You scored as John Calvin. Much of what is now called Calvinism had more to do with his followers than Calvin himself, and so you may or may not be committed to TULIP, though God's sovereignty is all important.







John Calvin


73%

Anselm


73%

Karl Barth


60%

Martin Luther


53%

Augustine


47%

Charles Finney


47%

Friedrich Schleiermacher


40%

Jürgen Moltmann


40%

Paul Tillich


27%

Jonathan Edwards


27%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern


75%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


68%

Neo orthodox


64%

Roman Catholic


57%

Reformed Evangelical


50%

Modern Liberal


43%

Charismatic/Pentecostal


43%

Classical Liberal


39%

Fundamentalist


14%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, April 27, 2007

Together Again: The BotCon 2007 Jets

Well, as it turns out, the folks behind BotCon decided to release pictures of Thrust yesterday, so I wasn't too far off in my predictions.

But anyway, this marks the first time since 1985 that Hasbro has released all six characters using the same basic "Starscream" mold (or a variation thereof). Most of these characters have seen other forms over the years, some more than others, but never before have updated versions of the original forms of all six characters been available at the same time. Although some fans are angry at Fun Publications--believing that, had FP left well enough alone, the characters which are now BotCon exclusives would have been eventually released by Hasbro at mass retail--the fact that no mold has ever been used to recreate all six characters since 1985 argues rather strongly against this. FP should be commended, rather than criticized, for their efforts.

So, in honor of this nostalgic achievement, here is a quickly hashed-together image of all six characters, together again for the first time in over two decades!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Exclusive News?

I'd actually made a conscious decision to delay my post for today, because I suspected that the folks behind BotCon would reveal pictures of the upcoming Thrust exclusives, having shown Dirge last Thursday and Thundercracker on Monday. However, it appears that other news is taking precedence.

In July, the folks behind BotCon and the official Transformers club will be releasing a comic book, sold via regular comic outlets, set in the same "Classics" storyline that's currently featured in the club comic and BotCon exclusives set. If the image they've given us is any indication, look to find exclusives announced soon based on the Elita-1, Huffer, and Springer characters, either at BotCon or via the club.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Missing the Boat

It's been a while since I've commented on a Billy Graham article. Readers who note that I only seem to mention him when I disagree with him won't realize that I actually have enormous respect for what he's accomplished in the name of Christ. Still, there are certainly times when I wish he would handle issues just a little bit differently.

Here's an example from last week (click the link for the full article):
Q: I know you won't agree, but I believe every generation needs to make up its own mind what is wrong and what is right. After all, there are lots of things that people used to think were wrong that are widely accepted today. — C.P.


A: Dear C.P.,
It's true that our society tolerates ways of behavior today that would have been rejected a few generations ago—but does that make them right? Or can we honestly say we live in a better world because of them? For example, would anyone honestly argue that the widespread breakdown of the family today is a good thing? I doubt it.

The Bible tells us that God has told us what is wrong and what is right—and the older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom of those unchanging moral truths. Think, for example, of the Ten Commandments (which you will find in Exodus 20:1-17). They tell us to honor both God and our parents, and to avoid murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting what doesn't belong to us. They form the foundation of a stable society, and when we ignore them, both our lives and our society will suffer.
As with most of Graham's responses, my issues aren't so much with the doctrinal issues Graham raises, and more with how he responds to the question. Instead of what he wrote here, highlighting the "widespread breakdown of the family," why didn't Graham grant that the person asking the question had actually made a very good point? For example, slavery used to be widely practiced, and even sanctioned by the church. Now, there is almost universal agreement that slavery is not only "sinful," but an evil practice that we should be ashamed is a part of our history.

Why not grant that our perception of "right and wrong" can change over time, even while holding to "eternal truths"? By granting what the questioner has right, you put him/her in a more favorable state of mind to listen to the points at which you may still disagree, and a dialogue is engaged. Why can't we (as evangelicals, not just Graham) work more toward an active dialogue with those we disagree with? It's not like everything a non-Christian says must be wrong, simply because a non-Christian said it!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Parents, Beware!

First off, I can't take credit for digging this video out of the depths of time. It came from CrazySteve, by way of Nala (CrazySteve cites yet another source, but that's as far back as I'm going to go...).

Before I make any further comments, though, you need to see the clip.


OK, seen it now? Good. Now we continue with comments.

In case it's not already painfully obvious (which means you probably don't know me and/or haven't ever read my blog), I do not agree with the opinions stated in the video.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's say I was concerned about the "witchcraft" that shows up in the Voltron segment. Has anyone noticed that the "witchcraft" is being performed by the bad guys? Bad guys, by definition, do bad things! If folks are concerned that kids might emulate this behavior, we should just eliminate all villains from all fiction everywhere, lest a child decide that they'd rather be like the bad guy (not that I don't think that kids do like to emulate bad guys once in a while, but this is pretty flimsy reasoning for keeping these things out of our fiction).

No doubt these are the same folks who hate Mickey Mouse for doing the Sorcerer's Apprentice bit. At least there, Mickey is the "hero" of a piece. Ignore the morality lesson in that story (to spell it out for those who need it, beware of using shortcuts to do your chores), just make sure you're not watching the mouse do magic! And, of course, none of us need reminding of what such folks think about Harry Potter....

But it wasn't enough that the protectors-of-our-children (patent pending) condemn Voltron to the fiery furnace, they also set their sights on Transformers because of the level of violence in it, even to the point of killing (gasp!). To illustrate this point, they show us... not the infamous "death of Optimus Prime" clip from Transformers: The Movie, but a scene from War Dawn, a second season episode (making it possible that TF:TM hadn't yet been screened when this video was created. War Dawn came out about 8 months before TF:TM. However, you can ignore the 1984 date shown as the date by YouTube. War Dawn itself didn't appear until December of 1985!). Not only is the "evil" of this scene again perpetrated by the bad guy, but the two robots (not humans!) killed here are described as restored to life by the end of that episode itself! If these self appointed protectors-of-our-children wanted to make a fuss, they might at least have complained that this sequence trivializes death, making it look like a dead person can simply be restored to life with little difficulty, but they didn't even have that much imagination.

And I haven't even addressed the point that "real" killing was forbidden on US afternoon cartoons at the time (you ever notice how, even in the military-based GI Joe cartoon of the era, nothing more "alive" than a tree trunk ever got hit by all that laserfire?). How hard did the protectors-of-our-children have to dig to find this clip, that they could even claim represented death? I'm fairly confident that they wouldn't have found any "real" deaths in any other pre-movie episodes.

Even if I agreed with the concerns about witchcraft and violence in children's television to the same extent as these folks, their arguments are terrible! Just what did they think they were accomplishing?

As I've said in the past, such diatribes by people with too much time on their hands does a horrible disservice to the reputation of Christianity. It's no wonder I have to wade through so many comments online where fans think horrible things about Christians. You don't have to look far to find examples like this. Never mind that millions of Christians are able to live lives of integrity and faith without buying into this fear-mongering. And, if that weren't enough, we have to fight those within our faith who accuse us of "letting evil win, by doing nothing" (to paraphrase a statement often attributed to Edmund Burke, although he may not be the origin), or passively allowing these kinds of "sins" to be portrayed in cartoons.

But, since I don't agree with those who created the video in the first place, I must not care enough.... At least I have faith that God will sort it all out in the end.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Taking a Quick Break

Although I had plans for different entry today (sorry, to those who I've already told about it!), it would be inappropriate to do what I had planned without taking a break to comment briefly on the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech on Monday. I have no words of wisdom to offer here. Only deep sadness and anger at the fact that such things continue to happen in this messed up world. The entry I wrote on Monday was done well before I heard anything about the attacks, and I am angered to have heard some folks making comments in response to them (already!) that sound a lot like what I was complaining about there. (I won't repeat the comments here, nor offer links to give them any more attention than they deserve, except to say that taking this tragedy as an opportunity to self-righteously say "this is what happens" when a particular interpretation of Christianity is not adhered to seems to me to be tacky in the extreme.)

I'll be back on Friday with the bit I'd intended for today.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy to be Right

One of the things that I often find difficult to understand is the tendency of the "Christian Right" (or some members of it, anyway) to express happiness at the eventual doom (either in this world, or the world to come) of those who are not part of the Christian "saved." While proclaiming all the right words about Christian "love" and "mercy," they seem to enjoy sheer glee at the prospect of watching "heathens" burn in Hell for all eternity!

Slaktivist has commented on this often when writing about the Left Behind series of novels. Here is an early example.

I expected Left Behind to ... invoke the apocalypse as a cosmic version of the Hypothetical Bus [i.e., "be ready, because for all you know, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow..."], urging sinners to repent because the end is near.

But that's not LaHaye and Jenkins' agenda. Jonathan Edwards famously wrote of the fires of Hell as a warning. L&J write of the Tribulation as a vindication, a confirmation of their own rightness and righteousness.

Their intended audience is people who, like them, already believe in premillennial dispensationalism. Their tone is the juvenile triumphalism of an adolescent semi-threatening suicide or running away: Just wait until I'm gone. Then you'll see. Then you'll be sorry.

There's a message here for "the unsaved," but it's not ... "get right with God, because time is short," but rather this: "Ha-ha! We were right and you were wrong! Have fun in Hell!"

I would suggest that this is not a very winsome or effective strategy for evangelism.

A more recent and personal example happened outside my office a couple of years ago. First, I have to set up the scene. One of our professors collects artwork, and occasionally decorates our hallways with some of these pieces, in order to give the space a bit more variety. During this particular time, he had put up a series of faces of famous leaders who brought positive change in the past century, with a single word below the person's face appropriate to what he/she had done. One image had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the word, "Dreaming." Another had Ghandi, with the word "Watching."

A particularly conservative and tactless PhD student saw that picture of Ghandi and announced, "Yeah! Watching... from hell!" I promptly informed him that, even if his theology on this point was true, the attitude was not.

There are lots of other examples. You seem them at parades carrying signs about how God hates a certain group of people. You see them in tracts where sinners are depicted in particularly gruesome punishments as a wrathful God kicks them down into Hell. There's a line somewhere between what might have been an intention of warning people against these practices, and falling into a self-righteous revelry at the eventual doom of the people you've spent so much time and energy arguing against. And these folks regularly cross it.

If we're really living up to all our words about love, and compassion, and forgiveness, then it should tear us apart that there are people who might not get into heaven because they do things that God has called sin. Reminding these fallen fellow human beings that "God hates them" (which I don't even believe is true) or that they're in for eternal torment (which I wish I didn't) is not helpful for evangelism, and makes us sound a lot more like Nelson from The Simpsons (if you didn't click that "Ha-ha!" link above, you should do so now) than people who care about the fate of the non-Christians in the world around us.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"You Should Be On a Game Show"?

When I first arrived in Southern California, I kept a promise to myself that I made a long time ago: I went to see a taping of a game show.

The show in question was The Price is Right. And, yes, the cliché held true: the set looks bigger on TV. Including that time, I've been to about a half dozen tapings, and have enjoyed those experiences immensely.

I've been trying, off-and-on, to fulfill another dream while I've lived here: to actually be a contestant on a game show. That one's still eluding me.

Besides the Price is Right tapings, during which everybody in the audience is a potential contestant, I've tried out for quite a few shows, most of which are no longer on the air: Whammy! (The All New Press Your Luck), Winning Lines, Match Game, Pyramid, Card Sharks. For each one I called the appropriate phone number, made an appointment to go down to the studio, waited with a group of other potential contestants, and auditioned (they actually use that word!) to be on the show. So far, not one has accepted me as a potential contestant. (I almost auditioned for Family Feud as well, but that audition fell through when one of my cousins broke his arm the week before my extended family would have come down to LA to join me in trying out. Ahhhh, well....)

On Wednesday, the Associated Press did an article on Deal or No Deal, giving some insight into the contestant selection process.

"Originality is everything," said casting producer Neal Konstantini, whose staff of 13 chooses the contestants. "They've got to be fun. They've got to be zany and wild and energetic. I'm not putting on anybody who's going to bore you."

But a good player is hard to find. More than 150,000 audition tapes have been submitted and thousands turned out for casting calls around the country. Just a fraction of the candidates had what it takes, he said: "Somewhere in the neighborhood of one or two percent actually make it on the show."

Konstantini and his team recently began a nationwide contestant search. Traveling to nine cities in the "Deal on Wheels" bus, they'll see as many as 75,000 potential players - and choose maybe 75.

It's hard to get on a game show. And especially on a show like Deal or No Deal, it's really not a matter of how well you play the game. One person can pick suitcases from a random assortment just as well as the next person. A contestant coordinator is looking for a particular type of personality to be a contestant. Remember, this is entertainment. If an audience doesn't like a particular player, it won't matter how much that contestant wins, viewers will change the channel, and the show will fail.

If you look at that list of shows I tried out for, they kind of run the gamut in regard to skill or knowledge required to play. Whammy! is fairly random, although like Deal, guts and courage to take risks and press forward certainly matter. Match Game depends a bit on your ability to make appropriate word connections, especially funny ones. Pyramid requires more intelligence: you have to have a good vocabulary and knowledge of definitions. Card Sharks is mostly a game of luck, but also has an element requiring you to know about human nature. The Price is Right requires the contestant to know what items sell for. In some cases more than others, the would-be contestant needs to be able to play a mock-up game well in order to advance. For the Pyramid trials, you really couldn't expect to advance if you didn't nail the practice game (I personally think I did pretty well, but my "partner," another would-be contestant, deep-sixed me by playing poorly. I need to have good definitions given to me in order to guess the words!). But in all cases, contestant coordinators need to find contestants that will attract viewers. Apparently, I haven't been the kind of person that they've been looking for....

I'm pretty sure I'll never be on Deal or No Deal. Besides those odds from the AP article, have you seen the contestants? Those guys are crazy! While I think most people who know me would call me "unique," I don't have that level of just-plain-insanity that most Deal contestants have. Perhaps I'll eventually make it on some other show, although it's harder to try out now that I work full-time than it was when I was still a student (I have taken time off of work, with my supervisor's permission, to try out for a couple of the shows mentioned above, though). Time will tell if I've got what a particular contestant coordinator is looking for....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Government By the People and For the People?

Despite the title, this is not a post about Democrats and Republicans. Rather, I'm thinking along more local lines. No, I'm not talking about state or city governments, either. I'm talking about student governments.

Long time readers may remember that I was a member of student government back when I was in college, and for a short time (although I doubt anyone would have connected the very brief mention of my time as Arts Concerns Chair to student government) in seminary. Now that I'm not a student, I'm really not as connected to that kind of thing anymore, but my office is located in a part of campus that overlooks the main student gathering space, the Garth, and so I couldn't help but notice yesterday when speeches were being given by the candidates for the upcoming student government elections.

A friend happened by my office at about that time, and I made a comment about it to her. She's a current PhD student who returned to Fuller after taking a few years away from the school to travel abroad, get married, and take some time apart from academia after having gotten her MDiv here. She commented that she wasn't very connected to the student government thing, and when I suggested that this was natural for a PhD student, who by nature doesn't have to be on campus all that often anymore, she corrected me to say that she was never very aware of Fuller's student government when she was a Master's student, either! When she left, I looked out my window again, and had to admit that, although the sound system was all set up, the emcee was lively, and the speakers were all prepared, there really weren't too many other people there listening to the proceedings. Although the speeches were set up in the ideal place to capture people's attention as they walked by, it seems that few really cared enough to stop and listen. Then a particular comment by the emcee caught me. After the candidate for ASC President (ASC stands for "All Seminary Council," what we call Fuller's student government) gave her speech, the emcee noted that she was the only person running for that office. "I wonder if she'll win," he said....

That was my situation when running for student government President at Montreat, too, and was also the case for pretty much every student election before and since that I have awareness of. And if there isn't any real interest among students to run for office, I can't imagine that too many students are all that involved in what the student government actually does.

There was an article in a recent edition of the seminary's newsletter, the SEMI (note that the link is to a PDF file. The article in question is the first one). In it, two current student government officers list a number of things that the student government has accomplished on behalf of students in recent history. Although the list is quite extensive, I still can't help but feel that it overstates the case for the necessity of student government. Not only do most students not take advantage of the vast majority of the items mentioned, but I'd go so far as to say that, for most of the items included, very few students were involved, and the same few students were involved in multiple events.

On one hand, it has always been very important to me that students be given a voice in how the seminary conducts its business and services. On the other, if students can't be bothered to be more involved in the activities that student government does, can it really be said that the student government adequately addresses their needs? Even worse, might the funds and resources given over to student government be used more effectively by different means? Fuller is, and has been for as long as I can remember, extremely tight for funds, and efficiency is very important. Although it is important that student needs be met, if their needs aren't being met properly by the current system, and if the current system is a drain on funds and resources, I'm forced to conclude that the current system of student government should be scrapped in favor of something that does the job better. (Perhaps we could apply this argument to national politics, but I'm not quite ready to make that leap yet.)

I'd welcome any comments that might help me change my mind.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's That Time of Year Again

Living in Southern California, expecting your rent to go up each year is about as dependable as expecting it to be hot in August. There's always the chance you might be wrong, but nobody's going to bet against your being right.

Last week, I got my annual letter from the manager of my apartment building, informing me of the increases in maintenance costs, and that there must therefore be a comparable increase in the monthly rent.

Good news first: unlike last year, the increase in rent was not greater than the so-called "cost of living" increase I received in my own paycheck this year (which itself has never even kept up with inflation).

Bad news next: the increase comes a full month earlier in the year this time around, effectively negating any benefit gained by the comparatively smaller increase.

When I complain about realities such as these (which it seems I've done fairly often, but this one's still one of my favorites), a natural response would be "why don't you move to someplace where the cost of living is better?" Indeed, many people have asked me this very question, and I've arguably had the opportunity to do exactly that. It is difficult to explain to people who ask this question that there is a sense in which my wife and I need to be here, in this geographical area at this point in our lives. Despite the high cost of living, which I will continue to argue is unjust and uncalled for, there are opportunities to follow God's call upon our lives that we simply cannot take advantage of elsewhere. If we are to truly be the people that we believe God wants us to be, we need to stay here, at least for now.

But I still really hate this time of year....

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Exclusivity Revisited

In one of my earliest posts, I commented on the high price of the BotCon 2005 exclusives. Now that the 2007 convention set has been revealed (fewer toys at an even higher price, I note, but to be fair, all five of these will be "deluxe" toys or larger), the usual arguments have cropped up again. Many fans are offended at the very fact that some highly desirable toys are exclusives (lots of folks simply can't understand why some of these toys weren't made available at retail), and therefore cannot be purchased without paying large sums of money.

But it's not just that the toys are expensive that people argue about. I'd rather not get into name-calling or finger-pointing here, but in at least one fan's case, the argument is this: his problem isn't that the toys are too expensive (although I believe that he thinks that they are), his problem is that, if he is unable or unwilling to actually go to the convention, he can't get the toys, even if he's willing to shell out the cash for it.

Of course, this isn't technically true, and never has been. Exclusive toys have always been available on eBay after the convention, and they often sell for very high prices. But the argument goes that the fan would like to give the money to Fun Publications, the people that have actually gone to the trouble to create the toys, but that they have made a decision not to take his money by selling these toys to him, simply because he won't be at the convention. (I should at this point make clear that I'm aware that the 5-figure box set is available to non-attendees through FP, and I myself will be getting these toys this way. Non-attendees do have to pay the same price that attendees do, though, which seems high to some considering that they don't get the benefits of the convention itself. Still, there are other toys that will only be given to those who are there.)

Battles have been waged on the message boards between people with this attitude and those who argue that such people don't understand what the meaning of the word "exclusive" is. And there is something to this: an "exclusive" is something that's available only through a particular source. If a convention offers an exclusive, it stands to reason that attending the convention is the only way to get it.

However, I find myself wondering if the apparent misconception of the word "exclusive:" being taken to mean "something that is special or rare" as opposed to "something only available through a particular source," is a wider problem. Take, for example, one of Slacktivist's criticisms of the Left Behind series of Christian novels (for those wondering about the acronyms, "L&J" are "LaHaye and Jenkins," the authors of Left Behind, and "GIRAT" means "Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time," which is intended to refer to Buck Williams, one of the lead characters, who in a previous scene survived an car bomb intended for him, and who has supposedly been operating under an alias since then, although no one, including the authors, seems to have noticed):

Rosenzweig doesn't ask what happened. He doesn't ask how Buck survived the car bombing, or if he was its intended target, or why it seems someone is trying to kill him. Instead, he says: "[Carpathia] had so wanted to meet you and had agreed to an exclusive interview."

"Can we still do that?" Buck whispered, to the boos and catcalls of the competition.

"You'll do anything to get a scoop," someone groused. "Even have yourself blown up."

L&J's image of the press corps seems to be based on the City Hall boys from His Girl Friday, which I guess means Buck is Rosalind Russell. Rosenzweig assures him that he can still get his exclusive interview and in doing so demonstrates that neither he nor Buck (nor L&J) knows what "exclusive" means:

"It will probably not be possible until late tonight," Rosenzweig said. His hand swept the room, crowded with TV cameras, lights, microphones and the press. "His schedule is full all day, and he has a photo shoot at People magazine early this evening. Perhaps following that. I'll speak to him."

So, yes, after Carpathia speaks to the entire gathered press corps, and after a jam-packed day of interviews and press events, then Buck can have his "exclusive." This is like those "exclusive" interviews that local reporters claim when they take their last-in-line seat opposite an exhausted and distracted film star at the tail end of a three-day press junket. Even People gets to talk to Carpathia before the GIRAT does....

If the wider culture (of course, one wonders how much conservative Christian writers can be said to represent the wider culture, but the kind of mistake they make here seems to indicate something wider), let alone Transformers fans, has started to think of the word "exclusive" as synonymous with "special," rather than meaning "only one way you can get it," perhaps we can understand why people are miffed that FP won't take their money.

But even if we grant that people are undereducated or misinformed, the sheer intensity of the arguments on the fan boards seems to indicate a greater problem. It seems to me that it's not just that people get really touchy when you put them behind a wall of anonymity. It looks a lot to me like people are actively trying to get into fights. That's just not healthy.

Life's not fair. Either deal with it, or leave us alone. We've got better things to talk about.

Monday, April 02, 2007

BotCon 2007 Registration Forms Are Up!

If you're reading this, and are a Transformers fan, then you probably already know that the BotCon 2007 registration forms went up on Saturday. You can find them at www.botcon.com.

Since there was a lot of information released on the brochure that came out at the same time, I've made a fairly extensive update to the Unofficial BotCon 2007 FAQ. If that link's helpful, I'm glad, but I should note that the best information can almost always be found directly at www.botcon.com.

Registration is a little more expensive this year (at $279 for club members), but indications are that this will be the most heavily attended BotCon ever, so you may not want to wait before sending in your registration form if you want to attend and/or get the box set of exclusive toys!

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