Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on August 31, 2008

The Reflectionary is a weekly blog entry consisting of questions and comments on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary used at many Christian churches.

A new entry is added each Saturday, and features the readings for the following day, in hopes of enhancing the experience of participation during one's regular Sunday worship gathering.


Here are the passages for August 31, 2008, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the links at BibleGateway.com).

Exodus 3:1-15
  • Why do you think the passage mentions an angel in verse two, then never mentions the angel again? Moses is always seen to be talking directly to God thereafter.
  • God tells Moses to remove his sandals in verse 5, because Moses is now standing on holy ground? What makes it holy?
  • At the end of the passage, Moses asks God for a name that he can tell the Israelites is God's name. In most English translations, God's response comes off a bit like Popeye the Sailor: "I am who I am." Why does God answer in this way? Notice also that many English translations depict this line and quite a lot of instances of the word "Lord" (but not all) in capital letters: "Lord," for example. Why do you think translators depict these words in this way?
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
  • One of the down-sides to BibleGateway.com is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 45c, here. The letter "c" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the third part: "Praise the LORD."
Romans 12:9-21
  • This passage is filled with advice that most everyone should be able to agree is good to follow. Of course, actually living up to these standards can actually be very difficult. Even worse, most of us don't always realize when we've failed to live up to some important part of these teachings. But we all find some parts easier than others. Can you think of someone you know who does follow some part of Paul's advice particularly well, that you wish you could emulate more fully? How do you think they do it?
Matthew 16:21-28
  • It's important to remember that this passage comes immediately after Peter's proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. How could Peter be so right about that, yet so wrong about Jesus' teaching about his own death mere seconds later?
  • It's one thing to tell someone that they're wrong, or that you disagree with them, but why does Jesus actually call Peter "Satan" in verse 23? Doesn't that seem a little harsh?
  • I'm from a Presbyterian tradition, myself, so if you're not from that tradition, this question may seem odd to you, but understand that many Presbyterians have strong reactions to any theology that sounds like "works righteousness," as opposed to being "saved by God's grace alone." What should we do with a verse like verse 27 that says that the Son of Man (usually understood to be Jesus) "will reward everyone according to what they have done."
  • What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples 2000 years ago that some of them would "not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom"?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Animated Prowl

I've managed to do this weekly feature for more than half a year now without featuring a specimen from the current line of toys: Transformers Animated. Mostly, this is because I have more of an interest in detailing the history of the Transformers line than I do in advertising for currently available toys. However, having spent the past two weeks detailing some of Hasbro's attempts at motorcycle Transformers, Animated Prowl deserves some attention.

The Animated line has taken a distinctively more stylized approach to designs than other lines in the past. More angles and curves, kind of a pseudo-Japanese-anime approach. In some ways, this makes things easier on the designer, since there's less pressure to make the character look somehow "realistic." The bar for suspension-of-disbelief is placed in another atmosphere entirely. It certainly allows for some of the most cartoon-accurate toys to come along in quite a while, although there are still a few toys that fail to match their cartoon counterpart all that well. Prowl is definitely one of the "winners," though. Not only in terms of cartoon-accuracy, but just in terms of being a decent robot despite the motorcycle alternate mode. In fact, I'd say a person would be hard-pressed to find a motorcycle Transformer with a better robot mode. One does wonder at the inclusion of the traffic light/weapon, though, since it never appears in the cartoon. I've heard it said that it was originally intended to, but I haven't seen the evidence.

But, in keeping with the other motorcycle reviews thus far, it's time to pull out Cobra Commander again to ask "how well scaled is this motorcycle to allow an existing action figure to ride it?" In my personal opinion, it's not too bad a fit. Not quite right, but passable. Of course, since Cobra Commander is the leader of a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, it's probably safe to assume that this scene could never actually happen unless Cobra Commander had somehow incapacitated Prowl, a member of the heroic Autobots, to bring him under Cobra control.

And, although I consider such issues of scale to be an exercise in insanity when it comes to Transformers, we also need to have the figure-to-robot comparison one last time. Prowl's pretty tall. Cobra Commander probably hopes that Prowl is under his control if ever the two of them should meet! But the scale issue is brought into question even by that traffic light. Of course, I don't usually stand close enough to traffic lights to really know how closely I'd measure up to them, so I won't make too firm a judgment on that one. But if the traffic light Mister Rogers used to have in his "neighborhood" home is any indication, this scale's probably not too bad....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Free David Scholer Resources

I've had David Scholer on my mind a lot lately. No surprise, I'm sure, given his passing less than a week ago. It turns out that the funeral will be held on Saturday, which also happens to be the 5th anniversary of Michelle's and my wedding (a wedding that David officiated). We all find our own ways to grieve and deal with the loss of a dear friend. For me, I've been spending a lot of my "online time" looking for items written by or about David. Besides the bits that I've written already, a lot of other folks have been sharing their own reflections, as well. Fuller PhD student Pat McCullough has shared not only his own thoughts, but also a list of many such reflections on his own blog. Included in that list is a link to the Baccalaureate address David preached just a few months ago.

Here are some other resources (all free!) of David Scholer's legacy that I've found while surfing the Internet. Enjoy!
EDIT: 8/28/08 - Last night (it's dated today, though), the Los Angeles Times released an obituary article on Dr. Scholer. My wife Michelle was interviewed as part of the preparation for the writing of this piece. Although she is not quoted directly, it's pretty easy for me to see ways in which she influenced the direction in which the article ultimately was written.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Remembering Dr. David Scholer

If you have at least one or two friends on Facebook connected to Fuller Theological Seminary, you've probably already learned that Dr. David Scholer passed away Friday morning. I've already written a fair bit about David (and his wife Jeannette) a few months ago, on the occasion of his retirement. I'm not sure that I have much to add now, and would encourage everyone to click the link. In any event, such a passing simply must be acknowledged. Please remember Jeannette, his daughters Emily and Abigail, as well as their families, in your prayers in the coming days.

Goodbye, David. You will be deeply missed.

David M. Scholer

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on August 24, 2008

The Reflectionary is a weekly blog entry consisting of questions and comments on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary used at many Christian churches.

A new entry is added each Saturday, and features the readings for the following day, in hopes of enhancing the experience of participation during one's regular Sunday worship gathering.


Here are the passages for August 24, 2008, the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the links at BibleGateway.com).

Exodus 1:8-2:10
  • When I read the king of Egypt's justification for forcing the Israelites into slavery, I can't help but think of some of the arguments some people make against immigrants (and I don't even mean illegal ones). "There are too many of them, and they're taking away jobs from us!" Is this kind of comparison fair? Why or why not?
  • While I certainly want to commend the midwives for their part in protecting Hebrew babies, I do wonder why the Pharaoh doesn't say to their excuse something like "then why didn't you kill the baby after you got there?" I'm honestly not sure what difference the midwives' excuse makes.
  • I do wonder a bit at some of the details of how the story of Moses's birth and his delivery to Pharaoh's daughter played out. How was Moses's mother able to hid him for three whole months? When Moses's sister went out to see how the baby was doing, one moment she's in hiding (at a distance), and the next she's asking Pharoah's daughter if she should get someone to nurse the baby. Was no one surprised at the child's sudden appearance?
Psalm 124:1-8

Romans 12:1-8
  • Oddly enough, the church I was at last week (not my usual church) used this passage last week instead of this one. The pastor there focused on the use of the word "transformed" and compared God's action to that of an electrical transformer. As an electrical transformer takes a huge amount of current, and changes it into a form small enough to be able to be used in a regular household, so God uses us to bring his infinite being (too much for any human to bear in its fullness) to those around us. How do you think this illustration compares to the actual text?
  • We are told not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Does that mean that we shouldn't think highly of ourselves at all, or is there a "line" that we should be looking out for? How should we respond to the temptation to thinking of ourselves too highly?
  • God gives everyone different gifts. What gifts has God given you?
Matthew 16:13-20
  • Roman Catholics use this passage as one indication that Peter was the first Pope. Even though Protestants don't have "Popes," we still have this passage. What does Jesus mean when he says that Peter (Greek for "rock") will be the rock on which the church is built?
  • What does Jesus mean when he says that "you" (see next question) can "bind" or "loose" things on earth, and it will be so in heaven as well?
  • Indeed, is he talking just to Peter or to everyone? (The word "you" in verses 18 and 19, just after Peter's response, is consistently singular in the Greek, but the "you" of verse 15, where Jesus asks "Who do you say I am?", is plural, which some suggest indicates that Peter is used as the representative of all the disciples.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon High Wire with Kicker

Energon High Wire Vehicle with KickerLast week, I mentioned that Hasbro has had a rather mixed record of success (or lack thereof) when it comes to Transformers that turn into motorcycles. This week, we'll look at Energon High Wire. This is a larger version of the same character that was sold as a Mini-Con as part of Energon Perceptor. Included with High Wire is Kicker, a human who played an important part in the Energon cartoon. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time in the entire history of American Transformers toys that a non-transforming humanoid action figure was sold in a main line (Nebulans, included with the Headmasters and Targetmasters, could of course transform. Also, there have been a few figurines, but these don't really qualify as "action figures," and a couple of Japanese exceptions, as well).

Kicker and Cobra CommanderSince the human action figure is specifically included with a Transformer it's intended to "ride," one would assume that the two would be in scale to each other, but I think the motorcycle is a bit too large. In fact, I'd argue that Axer's motorcycle mode was a much better scale match for Cobra Commander (shown here to demonstrate that the two figures are the same size), and that wasn't even intentional!

Energon High Wire Robot with KickerHigh Wire has essentially the same transformation as his Mini-Con counterpart, with a couple of tweaks available due to the larger size. The right fist is an actual fist now, although the left arm still ends uselessly with the wheel on the end. In fact, it's really one of the most pathetic-looking excuses for a robot mode I've ever seen, especially in a toy of this size. I picked this one off of eBay pretty much exclusively for the Kicker figure, since Kicker is a unique oddity in the history of the line. But apparently my High Wire specimen is a bit unusual, in that most High Wires have an Autobot symbol on the gas tank that mine lacks. The seller told me that this was because it was either a prototype or a production sample, although I think a lot of eBay sellers throw those terms around anytime they have something unusual, and don't make any guesses as to the veracity of that claim. I certainly have no idea if the lack of an Autobot symbol makes my toy any more valuable. That's generally not why I buy these things, anyway!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Do You Deny the Authority of Scripture?

I try, for the most part, to avoid overtly controversial issues here, but one issue that I have been unapologetically vocal about has been the right of women to serve in all forms of church ministry. As one friend commented in a Facebook chat some months ago, this is not the position of the vast majority of Christians (that is, if you make sure to include all Christians everywhere in the world, and not just those of us in the western world). Nonetheless, this is one justice issue that I try to be consistent in defending.

It should therefore be no surprise that I don't generally think very highly of the works of Wayne Grudem, who seems to have made it his professional life's mission to argue why the Bible doesn't allow women to serve in certain forms of church ministry. What I sometimes have trouble conveying to my friends who disagree with me on this matter (especially if they agree with the works of Grudem) is that my issues with Grudem go beyond just my disagreement with his position, but also to the way in which he tries to make his point.

But while I often stumble or get tongue-tied on this matter, Kevin Giles clearly has no trouble at all. I posted this review Giles wrote in response to one of Grudem's recent works a few days ago on my Facebook profile (having discovered it through Jesus Creed), so perhaps a few of you have read it already. It's a rather longish profile: about 4 pages long. I don't really expect most people — especially non-scholars, to be all that interested in reading through the complete analysis of Grudem's book, but Giles does a very nice job of explaining why Grudem's interpretation is not to be equated with "what the Bible teaches," and he does so in a very thorough manner. What Giles says in his opening paragraphs conveys in a fairly broad way what I have sometimes struggled to convey, so here's just that portion copied for your perusal:
...The fundamental seismic fault in the author’s thinking is that he cannot differentiate between the interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. For him, if anyone rejects his interpretation of the key texts on which he and other hierarchists base their case for the permanent subordination of women, then that believer is by definition rejecting the authority of Scripture. What this means is that the methodological challenge to interpret Scripture rightly in its given historical and cultural context and to apply what is said rightly in another historical and cultural context is solved by assuming and asserting that “my interpretation” tells you exactly what the Bible says. When an author claims that one’s interpretation of God’s word is God’s word without any caveats, then, by implication, one is claiming to speak for God. The author is asserting that what he says the Bible says is what God says, and, thus, if you disagree with him, you are disagreeing with God....

As long as hierarchists argue in this way, there is no possibility of finding common ground on the question of the status and ministry of women. To begin an honest and open dialogue, we have to agree that the issue is not the authority of Scripture, but how Scripture is to be interpreted and applied. Evangelical egalitarians do not reject the authority of Scripture; they reject an interpretation of the Scriptures that suggests that God’s unchanging ideal is the subordination of women.
I've said this a number of times, and I'm sure I'll say it again: it's one thing to have a disagreement, but one needs to learn how to engage those disagreements in a civil manner. Accusing your opponent of denying the authority of Scripture fails to do exactly that, especially when the person you're debating is another Christian scholar. Also taken from Giles' review, here is a list of Christian scholars that Grudem has accused of denying Scripture's authority:
John Arnott, Jack and Judith Balswick, Linda Belleville, Gilbert Bilezikian, Darrell Bock, Clarence Boomsma, Peter Davids, Craig Evans, Gordon Fee, R. T. France, J. Lee Grady, Joel Green, Rebecca Groothuis, Stanley Grenz, Stan Gundry, Mimi Haddad, Jack Hayford, Bill Hybels, Walter Kaiser, Craig Keener, Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I. Howard Marshall, Alvera Mickelsen, Roger Nicole, Grant Osborne, Alan Padgett, Ronald Pierce, David Scholer, AĆ­da Spencer, Sarah Sumner, Anthony Thiselton, David Thompson, Ruth Tucker, William Webb, and Don Williams.
That's a lot of names! And they come from a fairly wide span of interpretive perspectives. I'm confident that some of my more liberal friends would see at least some of them as too "conservative" for their tastes. I can't claim to be familiar with all of these people, myself, and so won't argue that I agree with all of them. That's not even the point. The point is that I do know the perspectives of quite a few people on this list. Some of them are personal friends, or are professors that I've been privileged to work with. Even when I disagree with them on some issues (as I do on occasion), I would never dream of accusing them of "denying the authority of Scripture"! That would be a huge insult to people who have devoted their lives to the task of studying Scripture and making its teachings available to other church leaders. For most, if not all, of these scholars, they would ask "why would I do this if I didn't believe in the authority of Scripture?" (I'm aware of some scholars of biblical material that are not, themselves, Christians, and who would not affirm the Bible's authority. I'm sure they have reasons for why they do what they do. But I'm also pretty sure that none of these non-believing scholars are on Giles' list.)

My own denomination, the PC(USA), is involved in a different kind of interpretive debate right now: whether or not practicing homosexuals should be allowed to be ordained as pastors The debate is threatening to tear the denomination apart, and indeed a number of churches have left the denomination already (including the one that I used to attend while in college). Many of those who are against such ordination argue that the issue is one of "correct" Biblical interpretation, and I am not sure that I disagree with them. However, I do think it goes too far to accuse those who argue for the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians of "denying the authority of Scripture." The same argument has been used, and clearly continues to be used, of those who believe that women should not be ordained (indeed, Grudem apparently argues in another book that the ordination of women is a step toward the inevitable ordination of practicing homosexuals, a process preceded only by what he describes as "abandon[ing] inerrancy." Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler also calls these two issues "closely linked"). We must be careful of the accusations we make toward others, let we be accused of doing the very same thing ourselves by those who disagree with us on other interpretive matters. There's no such thing as a truly "objective" reading. All Scriptural study involves interpretation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taylor Hall: My Temporary Office

Taylor Hall CATS Student CenterWell, we've successfully moved our offices out of Payton Hall, and are in our temporary places for the next two weeks. I'm currently located in Taylor Hall. Like many "halls" on this side of Fuller's campus (the southeast side, for those who care), Taylor Hall is an old historic house which Fuller has repurposed for academic use. Among other things, this is where the School of Theology's PhD programs are administered these days. I have been placed in the student lounge, so thanks to all the PhD students who have sacrificed the use the couch in here for the next couple of weeks while I'm in here. (It's a pretty nice couch, too!)

Temporary Taylor OfficeI'm pretty much set up all along this wall. My computer, my phone, my Bible, pretty much all the documents I'm likely to require access too, and a few photos and Transformers stuff; it's all here. Basically, the wall wins out simply because of the location of the network box (visible in the lower-right corner). I pretty much have to have an Internet connection, or I can't do much of anything!


Taylor Hall Penny PostOne of the lesser-known truths of this building is that it used to serve as a dormitory for Fuller students many years ago. In fact, my understanding is that a couple of current professors here used to live here back when they were students! I don't know if those pennies were stuck in the staircase pedestals back then, or if that's a more recent phenomenon, but it definitely adds to the unique character of the building.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on August 17, 2008

The Reflectionary is a weekly blog entry consisting of questions and comments on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary used at many Christian churches.

A new entry is added each Saturday, and features the readings for the following day, in hopes of enhancing the experience of participation during one's regular Sunday worship gathering.


Here are the passages for August 17, 2008, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the links at BibleGateway.com).

Genesis 45:1-15
  • This passage is often used as an example of how God can use the evil in the world (in this case, the fact that Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery) and bring about a good result anyway. God is clearly capable of doing this kind of thing all the time. But I find myself concerned that these passages are used too often to say that God will bring about a good result from evil actions in all cases. This just doesn't match my observations of the real world, in which innocent people suffer all the time, and would dearly welcome such a deliverance, yet it never seems to come. What are we to do with passages like this in light of such reality?
  • Why is Benjamin singled out in the last few verses?
Psalm 133:1-3

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
  • Sometimes the lectionary chooses particular Scripture passages to be read on the same day because those passages have something in common. Should we make something of the fact that Paul writes of his connection to the tribe of Benjamin on the same day that we read a passage where Benjamin is specifically singled out in the Old Testament passage?
  • I find this passage a bit confusing. It sounds a bit like it's saying that disobedience is a good thing, even though this flies in the face of my expectations. I appreciate that receiving God's mercy is a good thing, but wouldn't it be better if one had never disobeyed in the first place?
Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28
  • (Note that some churches will omit the parenthetical part, even if they use the rest of the passage) Why were the Pharisees offended by Jesus' teaching? Were they simply upset that Jesus was teaching something contrary to their own teachings, or did they perhaps understand what he meant in regard to things coming out of a person's mouth?
  • Re: Verse 16--I often wonder what Jesus' frustration with the disciples must have looked like. If they were offended that he ridiculed their intelligence, we certainly don't see any sign of it.
  • The passage with the Canaanite woman is a difficult one. Jesus seems to treat the woman's request by responding with a racial insult (that's how I'd hear the bit about dogs, anyway, and I see no reason to assume that things were that much different back then. I certainly can't imagine it wasn't an offensive thing to say). What if the Canaanite woman hadn't responded so well? What would the disciples have taken from this incident? Would they have assumed that it was okay to treat people like that? After all, Jesus did it!
  • Why does Jesus, not only here but elsewhere, limit himself to the people of Israel? How do we understand what Jesus did for the whole world when we consider this fact?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Robots in Disguise Axer

I've already mentioned that the Robots in Disguise line contained quite a few repaints of toys that had previously been used in other lines. I don't think I've yet mentioned that the line, originally created in Japan as "Car Robots," wasn't originally intended for release in America at all, but was eventually brought to the states as something of a time-saving measure. When the Beast Machines line was ending, Hasbro was originally planning to continue the Transformers concept with a line they called "Transtech." Although a number of fans were excited about this line, which promised to return a few Generation One characters alongside Beast Era characters, all in new (arguably more science fiction-based) forms, Hasbro decided to scrap the concept altogether (having seen some of the sketches, I didn't shed any tears over this decision, but your mileage may vary...). Having spent so much time developing Transtech, Hasbro was unable to release a new line of toys in a timely manner, and wanted to make sure to do things right. Since Takara had already gone to the trouble of creating a whole line of toys that hadn't yet had an American release, including a cartoon series that would keep that Transformers concept in the American consciousness, it was a no-brainer to seek the rights to have those toys brought over here. Make a few modifications to the vehicles, dub the cartoon, and viola! "Robots in Disguise": a line of toys able to bridge the gap between Beast Machines and the line that Hasbro would design next (eventually to be called "Armada," which we've discussed a bit already)

However, the Japanese "Car Robots" line wasn't quite large enough to yield sufficient toys to keep customers happy for the whole eighteen months that Hasbro would need to get Armada ready, so Hasbro fleshed out the "Robots in Disguise" line by repainting other molds that they had available. Axer, seen here, was a 2002 repaint of a Generation Two "Laser Cycle" called "Road Pig." Axer was noteworthy as being the first time that one of the "new" Action Master characters of 1990 had a name reused on a transforming toy (in fact, I think it remains the only example of this phenomenon to this day!). And since Action Master Axer himself came with a motorcycle, actually having Robots in Disguise Axer turn into one seems an appropriate choice.

The main gimmick of the G2 "Laser Cycles" was that they had a weapon that would light up when a button was pushed. Axer retains this gimmick.

As previously established, Axer turns into a motorcycle. The Transformers line has had a rather mixed history of success (or lack thereof) with motorcycles, as we'll explore further over the next few weeks.

For now, it's worth noting that Axer is one of few Transformers that is actually just about the right size to accommodate a G.I. Joe figure. It's not a perfect fit, but it's certainly close enough that the Cobra Commander figure shown here (chosen because this is one of few figures I have in my limited Joe collection that wears a helmet! Besides, it's appropriate that the bad guys should be paired up.) doesn't look too ridiculous.

This also gives us a chance to see what at least this character would/should look like in robot mode when compared to a human being. Most Transformers media tend to vary pretty wildly (sometimes even between frames in the same story!), in their depictions of how large Transformers should be compared to humans (check out this picture of Optimus Prime's head for a particular bad example. Snake Eyes could never hope to drive a semi as big as what that Prime would turn into!). Axer doesn't look like he'd be all that tall, really....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Great Shutdown

This summer at Fuller has been a bit unusual. Of course, summer is always different from the rest of the year. Most of the professors aren't around, and student visits are few and far between. Also, I've already been involved in moving several offices around as new professors come on campus and we must find ways of accommodating everybody with the limited space available. This happens every year, to a greater or lesser extent, and this year has been no exception.

The thing that makes this summer unusual is the construction of the new library next to the existing one. Parking spaces have been blocked (and in some cases deleted entirely!) to make way for construction vehicles or new structures. Areas of campus are no longer accessible to foot traffic, forcing students and staff to devise new routes to get to the parts of campus that are still open. In fact, when there was a 5.4 scale earthquake here in Southern California a few weeks back, I honestly just thought it was an unusually violent surge in construction for a moment. When the new library is finally ready to open (I'm told it will be ready this January), it will be the culmination of almost a full year of construction, to say nothing of the years of planning that came before it.

Next week will begin what is probably going to be the single largest interruption in our regular schedules on campus, as an entire wing of the campus will have its electrical power shut off and the buildings considered off-limits for the rest of the month so that electrical wiring and other work can be done both in our buildings and in the new library. Others on campus have already started referring to this period as "The Great Shutdown," and I think the name is appropriate.

The building I work in, Payton Hall, is among the buildings to be shut down, and we are in the process of arranging to work in other areas of campus for the next two weeks. Needed books and materials are being transferred to our temporary locations. Phone and fax numbers are being forwarded, as well. On top of that, we are also making sure that the many professors who have affected offices on campus are also being taken care of (in many cases, in their absence!). Refrigerators are being defrosted now, so as to avoid large puddles and ruined carpets upon our return. Computers are being removed and/or unplugged from the walls to avoid power surges. Security is being arranged to patrol the buildings while the staff is kept away. It's a pretty major undertaking, and it all has to be done by the end of the day on Friday. One way or another, we'll be ready.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Peace Passing Ponderings

When I was a teenager, the church I attended didn't participate in the liturgical tradition of "Passing the Peace," and so when I was first introduced to it at a Montreat Youth Conference many years ago, it was a new concept to me at the time, and I quite enjoyed it. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it is a fairly simple procedure done during worship in many different Christian traditions, and dates back to antiquity. The practice can be done slightly differently depending on where it is performed, but generally speaking, one person greets another by saying "The peace of Christ be with you" (perhaps while shaking that person's hand), and the other person responds "and also with you." This is also considered a time for Christians to make reconciliation to each other, if one has wronged another. Some scholars date the tradition back to the concept of the "holy kiss" that Paul writes about in Romans 16:16, although I don't know of any American churches that do the "kissing" part.

Anyway, I felt that the practice highlighted the relational nature of what it is for the church to be the "body of Christ," and I was pretty happy as a youth to try to introduce the concept to my church back home. When I heard that a few of the older members of my church complained about it a few weeks after we "passed the peace" at Youth Sunday Service, I just chalked it up to what so many of us who are heavily involved in the life of the Church have come to understand as the "we've never done it that way before" problem.

Now that I've grown up, and have perhaps become a bit "set in my ways," myself (not that this is a good thing!), I'm less enthusiastic about the tradition. Especially now that I'm in a church where I know fewer people (their definite warmth and hospitality notwithstanding), the introverted side of my nature takes far greater precedence, and I find the practice to be more of a chore than a blessing. I wonder if the people at my particular church lean more on the extroverted side than most. Whereas people at most churches I've been to shake a few hands, greet a few people, and then go back to their seats, this church really gets into the time of greeting and catching up with how people are doing. A lot of folks make sure they've got my name right (I'm impressed with how many actually have, in a relatively short time), and will ask questions or make comments about something I may have mentioned a previous week. This is not something I really wish to criticize, but I must confess that having to go through this every week for an extended period of time is kind of my own personal version of Hell. It's really not at all a "peaceful" activity for me, but rather one in which I must make the effort to be friendly, and just spend some time "recharging" after it is over (which is true for me some time before it's true for most of the rest of the congregation!).

But I still think that such practices are important. How are members of the church to "carry each other's burdens" if they don't spend time getting to know each other? And I would indeed argue that spending time in fellowship is, itself, an act of worship, which is why this practice is appropriately placed within the Sunday Worship gathering itself, as opposed to being relegated to coffee time afterward (which I confess I don't currently tend to stick around for). It's just an act of worship that I need to consciously engage in, rather than one that comes naturally to me.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on August 10, 2008

A couple of years ago, I tried my hand at podcasting with a program I called The Reflectionary. Each week, I would read Scripture passages chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary (used by many Protestant denominations) for worship the following Sunday, followed by questions or comments on each passage. I kept the podcast going for over a half-a-year, and then moved the service to a separate text-only blog for a couple more months, but by the time a full year had passed, I found that I was running out of steam, and the project died out. The old podcasts are still available via archive.org (just search for "Reflectionary"), although the blog entries have since been deleted.

Another year has passed since then, and I'm going to try the text version again, with a few modifications. One important change is that I won't be creating a separate blog for these reflections, but will incorporate them into my existing blog on Saturdays. Also, whereas I posted the entries a full week in advance previously, entries will now be posted only one day in advance, in hopes that the passages will be fresh on the mind of the reader as he/she attends worship the next day. I won't comment on every passage, nor consider all the possible questions that one could ask about the passages (as if I could!), but will simply ask the questions that come to my own mind as I reflect on the passage. I will leave it for the reader (or perhaps the reader's pastor?) to consider answers to the questions.

So, with that introduction, here are the passages for August 10, 2008, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the links at BibleGateway.com).

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Why do you think Jacob (Israel) favored Joseph over the other brothers? How do you think God felt about this?
  • Why did Jacob send Joseph after his brothers while they were tending sheep? Why wasn't Joseph already there among them?
  • Why do you think Reuben speaks up to defend Joseph (or at least to ensure that Joseph wasn't actually killed)? Why does Judah ask the brothers to have Joseph sold into slavery rather than killed? Did he know of Reuben's plans to rescue Joseph? Was there still an intention by the other brothers to have Joseph killed despite having already acted on Reuben's suggestion?
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

Romans 10:5-15
  • There's considerable debate among different Christian denominations about how a person is "saved." What does it mean to be "saved"?
  • What does it mean to declare that "Jesus is Lord"?
  • What does it mean to believe "in (one's) heart that God raised him from the dead"?
  • What other passages might be worth considering in these reflections?
Matthew 14:22-33
  • Why did Jesus send the disciples on ahead without him? Was he planning on walking on water to meet them beforehand?
  • Why does Peter ask to join Jesus on the water? Why don't any other disciples do this?
  • Like most of you, I've heard lots of sermons on the story in this passage. Here's one of my favorites, as preached by Rev. Tom Are, Jr. nearly 20 years ago at a Youth Conference in Montreat, North Carolina.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Alternators Shockblast

Over nearly 25 years of Transformers product, Hasbro has tried to maintain a balance between coming up with new characters and concepts, and giving homages to characters and concepts that have come before. The first few years of the original line (roughly from '84-'86) are homaged especially often. When the Alternators line came out, there were apparently at least three main goals:
  1. Create a line of toys that is entirely within a particular scale (in this case 1:24, which is commonly used for model cars).
  2. Create a line of toys that are licensed by the actual automakers themselves, and therefore accurately resemble the vehicles they purport to turn into.
  3. Create new forms for well-loved characters from the Generation One era.
Because most of the automobile-form Transformers have always been Autobots, there haven't been all that many Decepticons in the Alternators line, and most of those that were in the line were repaints/remolds of molds actually created for Autobot characters. Such is the case with Shockblast, which was remolded from the Alternators version of Jazz.

If you've clicked that Jazz link, or recognize the robot form of Shockblast as resembling this character I reviewed several months ago, you've already noticed that neither of these Alternator toys have the same name as their Generation One counterpart (neither did this one I reviewed before Transformer reviews were a regular weekly feature). Basically, what happened is that, with toys, a company can only continue to claim a trademark to a certain name so long as the name is actively used by the company. If a name is not in current use by one company, another company can use it on their own product. In the case of the name "Shockwave," another toy company currently had it on their own toy, rendering the name unavailable for Hasbro, and so the substitute name "Shockblast" had to be used. However, if the resemblance isn't enough to tell you that this toy is really supposed to be Shockwave, click on the picture of the robot mode above and check out the license plate (visible at the robot's toes). This situation has since been rectified, allowing current toys to use the "Shockwave" name once again.

Shockblast turns into a Mazda RX-8, a far cry from Shockwave's distinctive space gun mode, and I'm actually rather impressed that the Alternator toy's robot mode looks so much like the classic character given how completely different the alternate mode is (and even more when one considers that the mold was created with an entirely different character in mind!). The toy's front wheels are pegged together so that if you turn one, the other turns with it (a common feature in Alternators). Also, the vehicle has doors that open and close like real doors (that doesn't happen all that often in non-Alternator Transformers!), but the area inside isn't quite large enough to fully accommodate an action figure of the appropriate scale. There's really nowhere for the driver to put his/her feet!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

All Translation is Interpretation... But Not All Interpretations Are Equally Valid

I've been working off-and-on for more than a year now to work through reading N.T. Wright's The Last Word. It's an excellent resource on biblical interpretation which takes on a lot of the current debates about what is and what isn't acceptable in the work of interpretation, as well as detailing some of the history behind how certain interpretive philosophies came to exist. Although the following passage should come as no surprise to those who know my own philosophy of biblical interpretation, it states things more eloquently and concisely than I have thus far been able to do on my own:
...one hears it said frequently that all reading of scripture is a matter of interpretation, with the implication that one person's interpretation is as good as another's....

This is demonstrably flawed.... Genuine historical scholarship is still the appropriate tool with which to work at discovering more fully what precisely the biblical authors intended to say. We really do have access to the past; granted we see it through our own eyes, and our eyes are culturally conditioned to notice some things and not others. But they really do notice things, and provided we keep open the conversation with other people who look from other perspectives, we have a real, and not illusory, chance of finding out more or less what really happened. It is possible to say definitely that some readings of ancient texts are historically preferable to others. (Thus, for example, there are serious and not merely subjective ways of deciding that a book which argues that Mark's gospel is really about recovering from alcoholism--there really is such a book--is not getting as close to the heart of the text as one which locates the work afresh within the Jewish and Roman power struggles of its day, and which then attempts to understand today's world of religion and empire and address it with the same gospel.) Real history is possible; real historians do it all the time. (pages 111-112, paperback edition, published in 2006)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"He Can Defend Himself..."

Going through the daily lectionary readings yesterday, I was struck by this passage from the book of Judges. After Gideon had demolished an altar to Baal, and the townspeople sought to punish Gideon for his actions, Gideon's father said these words in Gideon's defense (click on the link for the full passage):
"If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar."
With all of the angry protests that Christians often get into on God's behalf, I expect these words might apply just well to us, if not even more so. If God really is God, God doesn't need any help from us to be defended....

Monday, August 04, 2008

Prayers of the People... Not Just "The Other People," But Me, Too!

Like many churches, the church that I go to (Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena) has a time during Sunday morning worship for "Prayers of the People." Different churches handle this element in different ways, of course, but Knox follows the pattern of having a worship leader step down into the congregation, often with a pad of paper and pen in hand, so that when they ask if there are any requests, the requests can be written down so as not to be forgotten when it actually comes time to pray.

I've seen this method used in many churches, but what has always impressed me about Knox is that, when the congregation is asked to share their joys and concerns, a considerable number of people consistently take the worship leader up on the offer. Although I've never kept a formal tally, I'd say that it's not all unusual for a dozen or more people to raise their hands and share what they would like to have prayer about. I have never seen a congregation where people are so fully able to trust and be open about those things in their lives that are hard, or that they are struggling with, or those sometimes seemingly little things that they'd just like to say "thanks" for.

This sense of community, demonstrated in how readily people are willing to share these elements of their lives with one another, is a large part of why I decided to join Knox. I wish I could say that I've found it that easy to participate myself. It's not that I never have--I was certainly looking to have prayer before my recent trip to Montreat, and during another time recently when a member of the church in which I grew up passed away suddenly. But there is definitely a sense in which I feel... I'm not sure if "unworthy" is the right word or not. I'm thankful for the fact that I can't point to many serious tragedies in my own life recently. This is certainly not the case for a lot of other people, both at Knox and elsewhere. But I'm also definitely in need of prayer for various reasons that are important to me, yet seem somehow too insignificant to mention during that time. Things like my continuing vocational search, for example. Things that have actually been true for a long time, and there's not a particular crisis or significant event that brings these things up now (although I will say that my time in Montreat has demonstrated to me that I'm not quite ready to "let go" of my search for church ministry work just yet!). And how dare I complain about my current job when there are those in the congregation who've just lost theirs, or who've had a serious accident, or who have a family member that is near death or has recently died? I'm lucky to have the job I have, even if it's not (and those I work with already know this) what I consider God's ultimate call on my life for employment.

Truth be told, this is more my problem than that of those with whom I worship. To the extent that I have gotten to know these people, I know that they are sympathetic and caring people, who would take no offense at my honesty about whatever struggles I'm dealing with. I'm sure it's also true that there are many others in the congregation who also have needs who have not yet felt comfortable sharing those needs publicly. It is at this point that I can only affirm what I know to be true even if I don't always feel the truth of it: God cares about our needs, big and little, and not only wants us to share them with God, but also with God's people. I hope, perhaps bit by bit, to grow more comfortable with this truth as I continue life with this community.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Skids (Reissue)

Skids Robot ModeIt's Generation One time again! Unlike the other times I've reviewed G1 figures in the past, this one isn't technically from the '80s, but rather is a more recent reissue of a figure from that period. This particular specimen, Skids, is a Japanese reissue, which is notable because Skids never actually got a "normal" release in Japan back in the '80s, having only ever been released as part of a multi-pack with two other figures (both which had also never been released in Japan previously, although one got another release in just another couple of years over there), so the "reissue" was actually the first time that Japanese fans could ever buy Skids on his own.

A lot of fans don't remember Skids. He barely ever appeared in the cartoon, and is arguably the rarest of all the Autobot cars released in the first two years of the toyline. He did, however, have a memorable run in a couple of issues of the Marvel comic. Indeed, he's one of very few Autobot cars to get an issue devoted almost entirely to him. Those fans who do remember Skids apparently only remember him on the basis of this scene, which somehow manages to get mentioned almost anytime the subject of Skids comes up.... (And people wonder why male comic book fans have such a bad reputation....)

Skids Vehicle ModeFans also tend to be confused about the actual size and nature of Skids' vehicle mode. The picture linked above clearly shows Skids as the size of a minivan. But Skids isn't intended to be a minivan, but rather is a Honda City Turbo, a vehicle that never saw wide release in the United States. It's far more comparable in size to a station wagon than to a minivan. But when one considers that scale always has been wildly variable in the Transformers line, it can perhaps be forgiven that Americans who (mostly) had never seen a City Turbo before would see Skids' general shape and assume that he turned into a larger vehicle.

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