Sunday, January 31, 2010

Work: Can't Live With it, Can't Live Without it.

I fear I must be vague in this post since I can technically be fired for posting negative things about my company on the Internet. Let me be clear, I am not being "negative," but some may construe it that way. Let me be even more clear, I think my company is a good company which provides a good, common Grace service to this state. With that caveat, let me explain my dilemma. I may, though it is fortunately unlikely, be placed in a position where I am required to work toward having one of my clients put into what is called a HCTC placement (which is kind of like foster care but it is not a CPS placement) with a homosexual couple.

I genuinely believe that my client will be better off in this placement then where he is currently placed. However, due to the nature of my work, it may be hard for me to continue working with the client without paying some kind of lip service toward the legitimacy of the two men's relationship. I could remain silent about my conviction regarding what marriage really is, but it is possible that my silence will be taken for dissent regarding homosexual relationships and marriage.

I am honestly unsure how I should proceed if my work requires that I pursue this placement. I am just thankful that, for now, it seems like a remote possibility. I am interested to know what anyone reading this would do in my place.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Avatar: Dances With Wolves in Another World - Part 1

I saw the movie Avatar last weekend.
Where to begin?

  • Avatar – the most expensive film ever made, with a budget in the neighborhood of $300 million.
  • Avatar – the film with (perhaps) the most pre-release hype ever.
  • Avatar – the film that reached $500 million in U.S. box office receipts faster than any other film.
  • Avatar – with a world-wide box-office over $1.6 billion

There are LOTS of worldview issues to discuss – probably too many for a single blog post. But first, I want to start with some reviews and general comments about the film – especially for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

In the last couple of weeks, before I ever saw Avatar, I asked two people about it whose opinions about film I respect.

One conversation went something like this:
Friend 1: AMAZING effects. . . [long awkward pause]
Me: And that's about all?
Friend 1: Yea. Weak plot and characters. Too predictable.

The second conversation went something like this:
Friend 2: AMAZING technology. . . [long awkward pause]
Me: And that's about all?
Friend 2: Yea. Weak plot and characters. WAY too formulaic.

It seems that even some professional film reviewers agree. Of course, some were so awed by the special effects – to the point where their rational faculties were impaired – that they couldn't say anything bad about the film. A few others were able to see beyond the hype and the computer-generated world to actually write a balanced review:

  • The narrative would be ho-hum without the spectacle. But what spectacle! Avatar is dizzying, enveloping. . .
    David Edelstein (New York Magazine)
  • For all the grandeur and technical virtuosity of the mythical 3-D universe director Cameron labored for years to perfect, his characters are one-dimensional, rarely saying anything unexpected.
    Claudia Puig (USA Today)
  • Along with the eye-popping visuals in writer-director James Cameron's sci-fi epic, there's also a lot of eye-rollingly silly stuff.
    Joe Neumaier (NY Daily News)
  • If only Cameron, who also wrote the script, had spent as much time on the story as he did the effects he uses to tell it.
    Bill Goodykoontz (AZ Republic)
  • The muscular, coming-atcha visuals trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception, but only up to a point.
    J. Hoberman (Village Voice)
  • As visual spectacle, Avatar is indelible, but as a movie it all but evaporates as you watch it.
    Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)
    [Above reviews excerpted from ]
  • The film has "powerful" visual accomplishments but "flat dialogue" and "obvious characterization."
    Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

(If you've seen the film, feel free to skip past this next part. I want to provide a little context for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film.)

So what's it all about? Without giving too much away, here's a fairly short synopsis of a very long movie (162 minutes – that's 2 hours, 42 minutes!).

Warning! This synopsis may contain plot spoilers.

Synopsis: In the 22nd century, Earth is a dying planet due to the damages caused by (guess who?) humans. Six light-years away is a small moon of the planet Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri star system. The moon's name is Pandora.

People have traveled to Pandora and set up mining facilities and "to get their hands on a substance called (no kidding) Unobtanium" (Keneth Turan, LA Times). Unobtanium is believed to be the cure-all for Earth's ecological problems.

Seriously? Unobtainium? With a budget of $300 million, they couldn't hire writers with any more creativity than that?

The world of Pandora is populated with a race of primitive indigenous human-like creatures called Na'vi, and the natural world is a beautiful rainforest-like environment filled with exotic flora and fauna.

A paralyzed war veteran (Jake) volunteers to take part in the Avatar program on Pandora. At the heart of the Avatar program are two elements:

  • genetically-engineered Avatars, which are hybrids of human and Na'vi DNA.
  • a pod system (similar to the 1999 film The Matrix) where humans are hooked to machines and their minds/personalities/souls are united to the Avatars. The humans remotely control the Avatar hybrids; they are basically human minds in Na'vi bodies. Their human bodies are never in danger, but they are able to safely navigate the planet and interact with the Na'vi.

Jake is (grudgingly) received by the Na'vi leaders. The clan's chief assigns his daughter, Neytiri, the task of training Jake to become one of them. Before very long (Jake's time on Pandora only lasts a little over three months) the two have fallen for each other, even though Neytiri is already spoken for.

"As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people" © 20th Century Fox.

(Now maybe the title of this post makes sense - assuming you saw Dances With Wolves).

"In their race to mine for Pandora's resources, the humans clash with the Na'vi, leading to casualties on both sides"

Long story short: The humans choose to attack in order to obtain the Unobtainium. Jake, Neytiri, and the rest of the Na'vi fight to save their homeland, their culture, and their traditional way of life. And in the end, the good guys win.

OK - enough for now. . . Next post, I'll try to cover the plethora of competing worldview issues.
(I hope I haven't opened a Pandora's box!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Biblical Illiteracy

(Hebrews 4:12 NIV) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Michael J Vlach, identifies nine issues facing the evangelical church. 9 Most Important Issues Facing the Evangelical Church

Each one of these issues certainly has its importance, but on a teaching practitioner level and identifying specifically with Biblical worldview issues, I gravitate to the issue of “Biblical Illiteracy”.

M. J. Vlach points out,

“Other disturbing findings that document an overall lack of knowledge among churchgoing Christians include the following:
-- The most widely known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"-which is not actually in the Bible and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.
-- Less than one out of every ten believers possesses a biblical worldview as the basis for his or her decision-making or behavior.
-- When given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives.
The evangelical movement has traditionally been based on a strong commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but how can it remain strong when biblical illiteracy is becoming the norm?”

Some contributing factors to Biblical illiteracy are:

Replacement literature.

Neglect of sound teacher study.

Lack of teacher orientation.

An overall neglect of a consistent curriculum building concerning: a connection to what has been taught Biblically and what should be taught Biblically and a yearly assessment of progress.
Churches neglecting Bible study.

Biblical literacy should be fostered in our churches from “the cradle to the grave”. We must have a certain systematic order of teaching and training in the Scriptures. No one should be exempt. Each believer should hold their leaders responsible and hold ourselves responsible in making sure we and our posterity is never illiterate.

“In the Bible more than any other book are reviews needful and valuable, Not only does the Bible most require and most repay repeated study, but most of all ought Bible knowledge to be familiar to us. Its words and precepts should rest clear and precise in the thought as the dictates of duty.” John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Liberal Arts

I read the Newsweek article by Jon Meacham, In Defense of the Liberal Arts, which caused me to remember and to be thankful and reflect on my education.
Meachem made several points that I believe important.
1. “Belief in liberal-arts colleges like Sewanee (or other small liberal arts colleges, what ever economic level), however, is about more than sentiment.” Italics mine.
2. “It is just possible, though, that the traditional understanding of the liberal arts may help us in our search for new innovation and new competitiveness. The next chapter of the nation's economic life could well be written not only by engineers but by entrepreneurs who, as products of an apparently disparate education, have formed a habit of mind that enables them to connect ideas that might otherwise have gone unconnected. As Alan Brinkley, the historian and former provost of Columbia, has argued in our pages, liberal education is a crucial element in the creation of wealth, jobs, and, one hopes, a fairer and more just nation.”
3. “We need to make sure that the liberal arts prepare people for a good life, not just the good life.”
The ideas presented by Jon Meacham are good, but remain incomplete to me. I believe in a Christian Liberal Arts education and in my belief I observe, hear and feel the incompleteness of Meachem view. (I am not discounting Jon Meachem points, I believe they are important, but I do believe that they need to be amplified in light of Christian values.) Italics mine. The first and foremost task is to establish and build a Christian Worldview: A systematic philosophy of or insight into the movement and plan of the entire universe. “It's an understanding that Christianity and its values provide a springboard to explore truth in all its dimensions.” This is “the crucial element”. The following are also important: elements.
The historic, evangelical, biblical faith;
Education, not theological indoctrination;
Scholarship which is integrally Christian;
Institutional and individual lifestyles guided by the teaching of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit
Offering a wide range of study and service opportunities;
Reflecting, both in programs and people, the rich mosaic of the body of Christ;
Maturing its students in all dimensions of human development: physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual
Applying biblical principles to society and culture.
There is enough to think about in the above.

“Those of you who share an affinity for small institutions know the power of sentiment at such moments—how the old rooftops remind us of when we were young, and all of that. Arguing the interests of Dartmouth before the Supreme Court, Daniel Webster captured this feeling well: "It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it."”

Eutychus, Gordon College, Class of ‘61

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is Scripture REALLY their authority?

In a telephone survey of 1,002 senior church leaders conducted in October 2008, LifeWay Research discovered some surprising - and conflicting - results. Here's one sample:

"Among pastors who strongly disagree that gay marriage should be legal, 98 percent strongly agree with the statement "Our church considers Scripture to be the authority for our church and our lives." In contrast, among pastors who do not strongly disagree that gay marriage should be legal, 71 percent strongly agree that Scripture is their authority.

Similar differences occur between pro-life and pro-choice pastors. Ninety-seven percent of pro-life pastors, compared to 65 percent of pro-choice pastors, strongly agree with the above statement regarding Scriptural authority. Also, 97 percent of pastors who speak to their church on the unborn several times a year or more strongly agree Scripture is their authority."
So if I understand correctly, some who claim "Scripture is their authority" are diametrically opposed to others who also claim "Scripture is their authority."

Of course, there is always an element of interpretation in the reading of Scripture. We have to consider the human author, the original audience, the historical setting, etc. This is all a part of doing proper exegesis.

But there is a limit. The historical context, for example, can't be used as an excuse for "these verses just don't apply to us today." Some verses have been superseded and don't apply (such as the ceremonial laws) - not because the historical context of the Old Testament is irrelevent to today's "enlightened" readers, but because of the death of Christ on the cross.

Perhaps these differing interpretations are due more to faulty worldviews and differing definitions about just what they mean by "Scripture is their authority." Far too many people (including pastors, it appears) define that phrase to mean "Scripture is my authority in all things related to 'spiritual' matters: prayer, devotions, church matters, etc." Instead of this very myopic understanding of the word "authority," we need to understand Colossians 1:15-20 where Paul teaches about the preeminence of Christ over all things:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Call me crazy, but I take the phrase "all things" to mean "all things." I realize that's a radical - even dangerous - interpretation!