Thursday, July 28, 2005

Geek Humor

I don't want to stop you all from sharing thoughts about rebuking and forgiving, but I want to break up all the serious with a little geek humor.

The Google bit is ethical, and the Unix bit is current events, so this isn't really off topic, right?

Don't Be Evil
Before it went public, one of Google's guiding principles was "don't be evil". Since the IPO, I've been wondering: is google still upholding this principle?

Now, thanks to the Gematriculator, we can see that is indeed Very Good.

This site is certified 95% GOOD by the Gematriculator

Microsoft, on the other hand...

This site is certified 54% EVIL by the Gematriculator

Backstroke of the West
Thanks once again to Reepicheep, that icon of Geek Humor.

Unix Geek Humor
I don't know if anyone else will get it, but this is pretty freakin' hilarious. It begins:

The War on Terror

As viewed from the Bourne shell.

$ cd /middle_east
$ ls
Afghanistan Iraq Libya Saudi_Arabia UAE
Algeria Israel Morrocco Sudan Yemen
Bahrain Jordan Oman Syria
Egypt Kuwait Palestine Tunisia
Iran Lebanon Qatar Turkey

$ cd Afghanistan
$ ls
bin Taliban
$ rm Taliban
rm: Taliban is a directory

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Things That Suck (Post 2)

Thanks for all your advice and encouragement. I think I'm starting to figure this out. I wasn't really even sure which questions to ask before, but I think I'm gonna be naked by the end of this song.


Sorry. Rogue meme. I meant, I think I'm gonna be able to ask some better questions by the end of this post.

Let's return to my previous "Things that Suck" post and consider your advice.


    Seems like a healthy, Christ-like, rebuke is always scriptural.
    Bryan, Kyle, The Sis, Emilyjane, Stu

    But don't try to get revenge.

    Throw in some scripture for good measure.

    Consider whether your actions are likely to make a difference.

    Don't lose your cool.

    Let them know you are sincerely struggling with how to come to terms with the situation and their motives

    Forgive the elders and let God do the work.
    Irina and The Wife

    Keep peace in the church.
    The Wife

    Consider what forgiveness should look like in this situation.
    The Dad

    Aggravate their sexual prejudices.

    Send them poop in a box.
    The Sis

All reasonable advice. But I'm starting to notice something interesting about it. In general, those of you who call for rebuke do not call for forgiveness; those of you who call for forgiveness do not call for rebuke.

Maybe, as Emilyjane suggests, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

As a disciple of Christ, I have an obligation to consider the teachings and character of Jesus as I decide my course of action. And as I consider things, It seems that Jesus rebuked AND forgave. Jesus smacked those darn Pharisees up one side and down the other ("whitewashed tombs, snakes, blind guides") but if our theology is anywhere near correct, he also forgave them.

Rebuke without forgiveness is unacceptable: as Irina and my wife point out, Jesus was nothing if not forgiving. One of the Big Ideas in the Christian faith is that somehow, the life and death of Christ engaged the forgiveness of God.

On the other hand, forgiveness without rebuke is irresponsible. Let's consider what Jesus is doing when he rebukes the Pharisees: He's laying into the religious leaders who are destroying the faith of God's children. The Pharisees have a responsibility to nurture and love the people they serve; instead they're stomping them into the ground.

Splash Damage

The Dad (k-rewx) points out that it is often harder for spouse and family than it is for the "victim.". This is precisely why both forgiveness and rebuke are necessary.

I think this is a good (simple) Christian model of conflict management:

1. The victim's job is to forgive those who hurt him.
2. The church's job is to rebuke those who hurt the victim.

This keeps the victim from pursuing revenge, and also provides an avenue for the correction of the wrongdoer. However, in this situation, I occupy the roles of both Victim and Church. As the son of the victim, I am indirectly harmed: the victim of "splash damage", so to speak. And because of this damage to me, I have a responsibility to forgive. In fact, if there were no damage done to me, there wouldn't be anything for me to forgive. But as the son of the victim, I am not also the victim himself. Therefore, I also have a responsibility to say something about the injustice being perpetrated upon the victim.

This is a very important concept, one that has huge implications for whether we go about pursuing social justice. Sally can forgive Biff for beating her up, but it makes no sense to say that I can forgive Biff for beating Sally up. That was a wrong done by Biff to Sally, and only Sally can forgive it. Rather than forgiving Biff, my job is first of all to protect Sally from any more victimization, and secondly to help Biff see the error of his ways.

In other words, I have a responsibility to turn my own cheek, but never to turn someone else's cheek.

Doing Something

So now I need to try and figure out what this forgivness should look like and what this rebuke should look like. Paul's suggestions are helpful here: don't be pitiful, and try to do something that will be effective.

Regarding a rebuke, I wonder: What makes for an effective rebuke? And what sort of action is a rebuke intended to cause?

Regarding forgiveness, I wonder: How do I know when I have sucessfully forgiven someone? What sorts of things can help me forgive? And, to encourage me to do this hard thing, what good is forgiveness? Can't I just be angry? What purpose does it serve?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Two Assertions

1. Management is easy to do poorly and hard to do well.

I base this assertion on my experience, the experiences of Bryan and Paul, and, anecdotally, the general bungling of the Bush administration. (Guess where Dubya got his degree.) But I suppose there might be counterexamples ... anyone have stories about good managers they've known? And what made them good managers?

By the way, thanks for your suggestions about my family's church situation. I'm going to process those ideas for a little while longer, and I'll post about them later.

2. This is going to be an interesting site.

I hope its writers succeed in making themselves heard despite the annoyingly loud rhetoric of those who equate Christianity with conservatism.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Things That Suck

Note to readers who happen to be my parents: you may want to skip this one because it's about dad's job.

To begin, a few salient facts:

1. I grew up in the denomination known as the Churches of Christ.

2. The Church of Christ is a congregational church, which means that in theory, there is no power hierarchy beyond the local church.

3. The Church of Christ has no ecclesiology to speak of. In other words, we don't have a theology that specifically informs the questions of who should lead the church and how. However, our emphasis on naively interpreting the text of the Bible means that we have some vague idea of congregational leadership by elders.

4. In addition to elders, who do their governing for free, our churches generally employ a head minister/pastor/preacher/evangelist and a youth minister.

5. For 20-plus years, my dad has been a pastor/preacher/minster/evangelist for a congregation in my hometown.

6. He's not anymore.

It's this last one that has gotten my goat. Not so much that he's not preaching, but the manner in which he lost his job.

I'll need to explain some more.

The way this elder thing works, every so often somebody, I'm not sure who, gets this great idea that we need more elders. Maybe one died or moved away or something. Then members of the congregation nominate certain people - and by people, I mean men - to be the new elders. By some prestidigitatious process, this list is filtered, and the new candidate elders are presented to the congregation. If anyone has a "scriptural objection" to the new elders, they can present it; otherwise, after some undetermined period has elapsed, the candidate elders become real elders.

Nobody really knows what elders are responsible for, but it seems to have something to do with "shepherding the flock", "hiring and firing", "spending the contribution money", that sort of thing.

Now as you might expect, when new elders come into a congregation, there's a shakeup in the existing power structure. Maybe there are now more conservative elders. Maybe more liberals. And maybe some elders become elders and discover that they don't have as much power in the congregation as they had hoped. Particularly if the church has a pastor who's been there 20 years.

What do you think happens in such a situation?

Well, being the cream of the congregational crop, the new elders behave humbly and wisely. They realize that the pastor has invested almost a quarter of a century of full-time and overtime in this congregation, a long stint in the Churches of Christ. Like good disciples, they listen to, and learn from, the experienced pastor.

Unless, of course, the elders are more concerned with their own ego and power in the congregation. Then things go something like this.

First, the elders shake up congregation. They critizize the pastor, try to dictate his sermons, and make his job a ridiculous pain, trying to get him to leave.

The pastor gets the picture. He starts looking for new employment ... employment in another field, if you please. Enough of these damn church people.

But things don't move quickly enough for the elders. The pastor is so entrenched, they can't fire him without getting the congregation up in arms. Instead, they kindly ask him to resign. Concerned by what will happen to the church if he resists, the pastor writes a letter to the congregation explaining that he is "burnt out" and will be resigning. Effective immediately. No last sermon to his congregation. No fond farewells. No hard-earned retirement.

Finally, the pious elders - who are always concerned for the spiritual health of their congregation - make a deal with the pastor: If your family will keep their traps shut about this business, we'll keep paying your salary for six months. (Of course, the pastor didn't have a contract. After 20-plus years, he thought he could trust those people.)

So the pastor has little choice but to accept all of the elders' demands, continue his job hunt and hope his little congregation holds together. As you might expect, he's going to take a heavy cut in pay, particularly since he's hunting for a job outside his field. He and his wife will probably have to move, which means that she has to find a new job, too. And the people who he would turn to in such a situation - his church - are the people who got him into this mess. In other words, things are pretty crappy.

But that was about six months ago, which means we have some distance from the situation.

It also means the statute of limitations on my ire is about to expire.

So my question for you, good friends, is this: Now that I am no longer restricted from doing anything that might be interpreted as "berating the elders", what should I do?

Should I write the elders a letter? Take out a TV ad? Send a chocolate cake?

Should I try to give the elders some perspective, try to make them feel some shame?

Should I raise some "scriptural objections" to encourage their ouster?

I keep trying to figure out what Jesus would do. Maybe you know.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

From the Episcopal Litany for Ordinations

For those in positions of public trust, that they may serve justice and promote the dignity and freedom of every person,
we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a blessing upon all human labor, and for the right use of the riches of creation, that the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster,
we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected,
we pray to you O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Or, Beyond Figs and Fronds: Fruit Garnishes and Christian Metaphor

For the last few weeks, discussion on Paul's blog has focused on the different meanings we attach to the word "love". One of his readers (not a native English speaker) provided the following insight:

King Solomon's hymn. In the Orthodox Church this hymn is the symbol of Christ's love for His Church which is seen as His own body. The Church is formed by the Christians who are limes of Christ.

Ah, those limes of Christ.

As I read this, I experienced a flannelgraph vision: Flannelgraph Jesus standing next to a flannelgraph lime tree, tending his limes, keeping the good limes, and throwing the bad limes into the fire.

Flannelgraph Jesus wearing an apron, putting the limes through trials and tribulations so that they might be mushed into the perfect key lime pie.

The flannelgraph faithful singing a flannelgraph hymn, handing out limes and coconuts, encouraging the poor and destitute: "You put the lime in the coconut, drink them both together! Put the lime in the coconut ... then you'll feel better!"

This, of course, I found freaking hilarious. But then I started to wonder what our Orthodox friends would think of my amusement. Heretical? Possibly. Irreverent? Definitely.

And then I started to wonder again ... what's reverence? And what good is it, anyway?

Let's look at a biblical example from Job. For fun, we'll use the King James.

Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Job's wife is obviously encouraging her husband to commit an irreverent act so that God (apparently short on mercy, but stocked up on wrath) will kill him and end his misery. So now you tell me: What's wrong with the advice of Job's wife? Is it the suggestion that Job be irreverent? Is it her bent toward suicide? What?

Bonus question: What the heck is Job talking about when he says we should quietly receive evil at the hand of God?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Burnt Burger Extravaganza!

I spent a few minutes of my Independence Day sitting on the grass next to a softball field, eating a hamburger. The hamburgers and softball were both part of my church's annual Independence Day Softball Game and Fireworks-Watching Extravaganza, which I must say is one of our best social events of the year. The only one better is the Abilene Idol Karaoke Fest, which is nothing less than spectacular. The singing and softball aren't so great - in fact they're often amusingly bad - but both events manage to unite the two main socioeconomic groups in our congregation, and that, in a word, is spectacular.

My church is sometimes called an inner-city church, although Abilene really doesn't have an inner city. It just has a few poor neighborhoods that most of the churches in the city try to ignore, and the people who live in those neighborhoods are the ones we pay attention to.

We also attract lots of students from one of the local Christian universities; I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because they read the Bible in one of their courses and realize that the church at large is doing a crummy job of caring for the poor. Maybe it's because we're fairly free-and-easy about our doctrine; maybe it's because we expect our members to actually do something other than sit in a pew. Maybe it's because we have a darn good preacher.

Whatever the reason, we've ended up with these two major groups in our church: "community people", who come from the socioeconomically depressed neigborhoods around Abilene, and "college people", who are going to the local university and, on the whole, come from middle and upper-class families. As you might expect, bridging this gap is difficult, and always a work in progress. But it's a work that needs to continue.

A few weeks ago, I asked the following question:

Is there significant racism in the Christian church?

I got a few interesting responses, including this comment from Paul:

As to prejudice in the church, the only thing I have to note in my limited church-going experience is that the churches I've happened to belong to or visit have been basically all black or all white.

As Paul implies, this is not racism per se, and it does not prove that most church members are racially prejudiced. The segregation of the American church could be a historical accident, or it could even be that certain cultures prefer certain forms of worship.

But integrating our churches racially and socioeconomically is much more important than simply teaching people the errors that arise from racial prejudice: As my preacher uncle recently reminded me, one of the church's main tasks is to model a peaceable kingdom to the rest of the world. Where the world is bigoted, the church must show acceptance. Where the world is merciless, the church must show mercy. And where the world is frenetic, the church must show peace.

So practically, it doesn't really matter whether the segregated church or its members can be called "racist". What matters is that the church is continuing to allow a kind of segregation that Jesus disdained. (Consider how Samaritans are treated throughout the gospels.) Not only does this segregation make the church less than unified, it also makes Christians look ridiculous to the outside world, ultimately diluting their witness to the power of Jesus.

Friday, July 01, 2005

About me

Not much to say, today. Maybe I should just make a

by Stephen Dobyns

The Nazi within me thinks it's time to take charge.
The world's a mess; people are crazy.
The Nazi within me wants windows shut tight,
new locks put on the doors. There's too much
fresh air, too much coming and going.
The Nazi within me wants more respect. He wants
the only TV camera, the only bank account,
the only really pretty girl. The Nazi within me
wants to be boss of traffic and traffic lights.
People drive too fast; they take up too much space.
The Nazi within me thinks people are getting away
with murder. He wants to be the boss of murder.
He wants to be the boss of bananas, boss of white bread.
The Nazi within me wants uniforms for everyone.
He wants them to wash their hands, sit up straight,
pay strict attention. He wants to make certain
they say yes when he says yes, no when he says no.
He imagines everybody sitting in straight chairs,
people all over the world sitting in straight chairs.
Are you ready? he asks them. They say they are ready.
Are you ready to be happy? he asks them. They say
they are ready to be happy. The Nazi within me wants
everyone to be happy but not too happy and definitely
not noisy. No singing, no dancing, no carrying on.