Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Birkenshaw Tale

I have Jeffrey Kacirk's famous desk calendar on "Forgotten English". Occasionally I try to make up stories using some of the words. Here is an example based on today's word:

Today's Forgotten English: birkenshaw—"a sunny place of all kinds of brushwood—a poet's country. There they roam unseen amang the Birks and yellow broom, and tune their pipes." (John McTaggart, Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1824.)

Example of usage…

Some aged hippies from San Francisco, with backpacks stuffed with all sorts of good stuff, wandered around the birkenshaw of northern Marin county, looking for a nice spot for grooving out on Nature while smoking some of it. Of course, they were wearing Birkenstocks in the birkenshaw, and funky tie-dyed shirts with little leather vests with dangly strings and beads. After a day of grooving in the birkenshaw, they traipsed back to the highway and hopped in their volvos and drove to their favorite Starbucks, back in San Francisco, for some mochas and pastries. The next weekend, the aged hippies returned to their favorite spot in the birkenshaw for another beautiful afternoon of love, peace, and soul. When they arrived, they found their hideout taken over by some deranged bums. One bum pulled a knife on them. Screaming in terror, they fled as fast as their Birkenstocks could carry them.

Moral of story: To paraphrase V.I. Lenin, "One bum with a knife can beat a hundred aged hippies without one."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Little Ecstasy

Harrell's scholarly history, "All Things are Possible", looks like it was written from a secularistic perspective, although in his preface he says he endeavored to be objective and not to make any theological judgements. Well, that doesn't trouble me that much, so long as he presents his history in a coherent manner, lets the principals and events speak for themselves, and refrains from using them as a launching pad for his own philosophical speculations. However, I did wonder just how perceptive Harrell would be when I came across this howler in a quote early in his introductory chapter:
Ecstatic religion, with its emphasis on divine healing and the physical presence of the Holy Spirit, had long filled and important place in the barren emotional lives of the poor.

The italics are mine. Well, as far as I know, all orthodox Pentecostal, or "charismatic", xtians believe that the Holy Ghost is a spirit, the third person of the blessed Trinity, and consequently, he is not a physical being, who has to sneak in through the front door of the church. Yet if someone went strictly by what Harrell wrote, he would mistakenly conclude that Pentecostal xtians thought of the H.G. as being present in the same sense which the pews they were dancing upon or the tambourines they were shaking are present—to wit, as something physical or material.

Nevertheless, I think that Harrell was simply making a semantical error here or using a poor choice of vocabulary. I suspect that by the word physical he really meant something more like the word actual. But his mistake is a little telling and suggests, perhaps, that only the physical and material can ever be actual or real in Harrell's secularistic mindset. Anyhow, I don't think I shall make a big deal about this point.

Now as for "ecstatic religion": Well, it's not just for the "poor", and Harrell seems to have forgotten his xtian history. There was plenty of "ecstatic religion" going on in the past. Some of it was even quite phenomenal. All he needed to do was read up on the history of some of the saints (just one example being saint Teresa of Avila). Pentecostals believe that God has always been interested in spreading some of the ecstasy around, rather than keeping it all confined to just a few, rare individuals (see Numbers 11:29). Anyhow, excuse me for now, but I'd like to get back to playing my tambourine. And when I get going, you should hear it shake and twirl and jingle-jangle. A little ecstasy goes a long way.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Latte-Sipping Po Moes

As I have mentioned some time ago, I am going through Dan Kimball's book "The Emerging Church". Kimball's book has been fascinating, and I wish that somehow I could get Dan and Marva J. Dawn together at the same table and have a conversation with them, for they both seem to share many of the same concerns. I highly recommend Dawn's book "Reaching Out without Dumbing Down".

Kimball has plenty to say, and I could take just about any page I've read so far and lift out something that I could comment about. So far I only have some minor criticisms. Kimball is quite right to point out that we are living in a post-xtian society. The only qualification I would add, and which is one I suspect Kimball would agree with, is that not all parts of the country are equally post-xtian. It depends much on where you are.

Now Kimball lives in Santa Cruz, California, which is a town with a big University of California campus. Considering that the country's educational institutions, its colleges and universities, have been in the tight, iron-fisted grip of the Leftist thinking for years and years now, it's little wonder that Kimball will have run into more than his fair share of young students who have been very successfully indoctrinated educated in progressive thought, tolerance, multiculturalism, and liberating sexual experimentation — and in whatever fashionable stuff the intellectual haut monde of France is exporting nowadays — the propaganda education being provided by assorted Marcusean, Gramscian, and other neo-Marxian college professors. (Then again, they might be getting all this by the time they're in high school.) Now assuming these young students were the only people Kimball ever meets day-to-day, then it's little wonder he might start thinking the whole country was turning into a bunch of latte-sipping Po Moes, heavily in-touch with their inner whatever, dressed in faux dreadlocks and grody threads, who sit around in Starbucks discussing how everything is "all Bush's fault", and how supremely cool Howard Dean and the Dali Lama are. But, really, it's not the case. Not all parts of the country are equally post-xtian. Some parts are more post-xtian than others. Some are less. Some are more. Kimball, I think, happens to be located in one the more post-xtian areas of the country. In contrast, for example, here in Land-In-Between there are probably far more churches per capita than anywhere else I have been before, and nobody has the slightest idea who Derrida is.

Secondly, Kimball makes a great deal out of the distinction between the "Modern" and the "Post-Modern". I think he overblows the dichotomy somewhat — no, maybe he overblows it way too much. If Kimball were to say that Land-In-Between, for example, has more churches because it happens to be more "Modernist", well, it would sound to me like he had committed himself excessively to a simplistic, monotone theory. Furthermore, for every item he points out as being peculiarly "Post-Modern" in character (and supposedly antithetical to "Modern"), well, I think I could dig up dozens of antecedents, going as far back as the early 20th, 19th, and even the 18th Centuries. There was plenty of intellectual ferment back in the 19th Century that had a definite feel about it that is similiar to those things Kimball categorizes as "Post-Modern". For example, one could begin by looking at how Romanticism developed in the 19th Century, and how it entangled itself in everything from art to philosophy to religion to politics. The "upper story leap" that Francis Schaeffer once described has alway been around in some form in "Modernism", even going way back. So, anyhow, I still stand by my contention that "Post-modernism is simply Modernism with more cowbell". The cowbell has always been there; it's just louder nowadays. Kimball seems to hear just it, drowning out the rest of the music. In the end, Sagan and Derrida are simply flip sides of the same secularistic coin, and not everything under the sun is entirely new.

Finally, the one thing I would criticize hotly about the book is some of the dorky graphical artwork that Zondervan, the publisher, decided to use. It was very unfortunate. For the life of me, I can't see how anyone would have liked it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Personally Enough

Taking a walk in neighborhood around sunset is something I do fairly habitually. Usually I take a little digital AM/FM radio and listen to assorted stations. The other day I happened to tune in to a local xtian station and heard some fairly big-name preacher say, in so many words, that he didn't like to call XP his "personal Savior" because using the word "personal" might suggest there was something special about himself, the big-name preacher. Also, at times, whilst I was voyaging upon the vast Blogific Ocean, I have stumbled occasionally across this particular meme elsewhere, this strange "we don't want to call Him personal anymore" idea.

The big-name preacher I heard is unduely alarmed. Believe me, there is no danger of anybody ever thinking there was something special about him, the big-name preacher. Nobody would be that mistaken. So really, he has nothing to worry about. Besides, fussing about the word "personal" seems, to me at least, more like silly quibbling over words.

But let us recall a few things about XP:
  • He personally agonized in the garden of Gethsemene.
  • His closest personal friends abandoned Him in His hour of deepest need. One of them even betrayed Him.
  • He personally endured beatings, insults, and mockery from many of His people's religious rulers, the very ones who should have recognized who He was.
  • He personally endured the horrific scourging inflicted up Him by the Romans.
  • He personally wore a crown of thorns.
  • He was personally condemned to be crucified by the Romans, with the crowds shouting for it. Instead a career criminal was released.
  • He personally carried His cross to Golgotha, until He was so weakened by His ordeal that Romans forced another man to carry it.
  • He personally was nailed to that cross. Cruel spikes were driven through the hands and feet of His blessed person.
  • He personally endured hours of agony and thirst. His mother stood by and watched in horrified helplessness.
  • He personally died, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
  • He was pierced by a Roman spear, and out of His person flowed blood and water. Witnesses personally saw this.
  • They buried His person in a borrowed grave.
  • He personally rose from the dead, on the third day, and in His very person appeared to many of His disciples.
So if someone were to ask me, a wretched sinner such as I, all of this is enough for Him to be my personal Savior.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Runny Mascara

As part of my continuing program of studying the revivals of 20th Century, I am currently plowing through Vinson Synan's lengthy history textbook entitled "The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal". Synan does lay out much of the gory details that histories are supposed to provide — names, places, dates, and who did what, where and when. But unlike Epstein or Blumhofer, Synan does not go about trying to nail things onto a secularistic framework.

It's been enough to keep me fairly occupied, which is one reason why my blogging has slacked off. His book covers a vast amount of wide-reaching territory, and it has several contributors. I guess Synan was the presiding editor.

Even though it is jammed packed with the stuff of history (names, dates, etc.), if anything Synan's book is almost too abbreviated, and it easily could have been expanded into several volumes. It would be a very good introductory textbook. With extensive notes in the back, the book has 15 chapters. I've now reached chapter 13, written by David E. Harrel Jr., entitled "Healers and Televangelists After World War II". Unfortunately, nowadays this is what most people immediately think of if someone mentions the word "Pentecostal" — cheesy televangelists with puffy hairdoos, accompanied by lugubrious ladies with runny mascara, perpetually begging for money. In fact, it's just a small portion of the overall picture, although it's the tiny part that has grabbed all the attention.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


At my church the other day, the pastor said that next Sunday he wanted to talk about his “vision” for the future. Oh. I know what that means: building programs. I’ve seen this before several times. His vision will probably be about buying more property or constructing bigger auditoriums. There was a big chunk of land just up the street that they had been interested in, although the owner was still reluctant to sell. It seems that things invariably reach this stage when churches get to a certain size.

Speaking of buildings, what churches have on their properties nowadays are almost always auditoriums of some kind, big or small. Mega-churches, on the other hand, can be small cities almost, stretched out on enormous properties with huge auditoriums, and having wide parking lots, schools, bookstores, and offices, even restaurants and coffee-shacks and businesses on the side. But there is one thing I don’t think you will ever see, and that is cemeteries. Churches no longer take care of burying the dead, and churches don’t have sextons or fossors.

If one looks back in history, it wasn’t always this way. Let’s take Britain for example. Look at some of the old parish churches that dot the English landscape and almost always there was a graveyard situated on the church grounds, usually somewhere in eyesight of the sanctuary. Often one had to pass tombstones on either side of the walkway to get to the main entrance. To go to church on Sunday meant encountering some reminder of our mortality just over your shoulder. You knew that when you died the brethren at your church would take part in arranging your burial beneath consecrated ground. And when your surviving relatives went to church, they would pass by your tombstone and see your name inscribed there, along with your date of birth followed by the date of your death. Back in those days the term “xtian burial” had a very definite meaning, and life was recognized as something fleeting, and our stay in this world as only very temporary.

It seems, especially in the United States—at least everywhere I’ve been—that churches no longer have graveyards located on their properties. Instead we have asphalt parking lots, somewhere to park our massive, shining SUVs. Yet there is nowhere to park your mortal remains as they await the resurrection of the dead. It’s a little strange that things have turned out this way because I thought that the resurrection of the dead was central to the whole xtian Gospel, what our core message revolved around. But going to church no longer has any reminders that we’re all going to die. In fact, the whole messy business of sickness and death has been pushed off to be handled, out of sight, by the medical industry and the funerary professionals, who charge exorbitant prices, the first to ameliorate the suffering, and the second to hide its ravages with clever makeup. No longer do the brothers and sisters of your church take your mortal remains, bathe them, lay them out naked on the table, and lovingly wrap them in shrouds and grave clothes, put them in a coffin, and bury them in the cool green earth. Once death was a serious matter of keen interest to xtians, and it was a community affair for the whole church; burying the dead once was one of the Church’s important ministries. Back when Xnty started, xtians in Rome were even meeting in catacombs, which were vast underground necropolises for burying the dead. Imagine what your worship experience would be like if next to your pew there were sarcophagi, or if the interior of your mega-church was also serving as a large mausoleum. It’s true it wouldn’t be very “seeker sensitive”, but definitely there would be more depth of commitment. The Roman xtians didn’t seem to have a problem evangelizing their neighbors. Somehow they got them to come to church, even though it was located down there with the sepulchers.

What does the word “secularism” mean? Well, the word “secular” originally had as its core meaning the idea of an “age”. In fact, in astronomy the word “secular” is still used in this sense when refering to changes in the parameters of the planetary orbits that shift gradually over long periods of time or “ages”. But “secular” also came to refer to human life as it pertained to this present age or world in contrast to life in the age to come. And nowadays “secularism” really designates the general and pervasive attitude that only life in this present world is all the matters or should ever hold our attention. On the other hand, being a xtian means, or should mean, that one has realized that such an attitude is at its essence erroneous, and that this present life cannot be even properly understood except by reference to the Age that is to come. If we had cemeteries brushing up adjacent to our church auditoriums, would it help to counteract the overwhelming secularism of our ultramundane society? I think it might help. A cemetery is a reminder of the supreme fact that this life comes to an end, which is something most Americans very much like to keep from intruding into their consciousnesses. As the Scriptures say, it is appointed to man once to die, after that the Judgement. So if you can look out the window and see the tombstones as your pastor is preaching about this, I think the truth of it will strike a little more vividly, because you will know that it could just as easily be your tombstone out there that someone will be looking at someday. Imagine what evangelism would be like. Standing in contrast to the mad American scramble to acquire more things, there would be those somber reminders out there in the boneyard you walked past, as you went in through the front door, shook hands with the “greeter” in the foyer, and picked up the Sunday’s bulletin (packed with half a dozen different, multi-colored sheets of paper and what not)—yes, those silent reminders that life is short.

I doubt that I ever will get to vote on the pastor’s vision for the future. Probably things have been decided already, and I am sure the congregation will go along with whatever he has in mind. But there is this large section of vacant land just east of the church parking lot. If I were able to propose a motion for a vote, perhaps I’d suggest that the land be used for a cemetery, instead of a larger auditorium and bigger parking lot. With a little landscaping it would be quite lovely, and we could see it through the eastern windows.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cube and Cathedral

I just recently finished “The Cube and the Cathedral” by George Weigel, which contains his thoughts about what’s happening in today’s post-xtian Europe. It’s a pretty good book and I recommend it, notwithstanding my pessimism about the future of Europe not being changed all that much by it.

Also, I am currently working through the two volumes of William Granger Ryan’s excellent translation of “The Golden Legend” by the 13th Century Dominican monk Jacobus de Voragine. The “Golden Legend” was probably the most widely read book in medieval Europe, second only to the Holy Bible. Ryan’s translation into English is very beautiful. If you see it at the bookstore, buy it up immediately because they don’t publish books like this very often. For anyone seeking a better understanding of Medieval and Renaissance literature, reading “The Golden Legend” is absolutely indispensible.

Furthermore, Marva J. Dawn has written a very worthwhile book entitled “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down—A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time”. Although the book was originally published back in the 1990s, and Dawn tends to write in a somewhat academic manner (she likes to use the word “dialectical” a lot), yet her book is full of so much uncommon good sense and insight. I liked it so much that I am giving it a second reading, and I really wished I could somehow cleverly conspire to get the pastor and the worship leaders at my church to read it as well.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Young Martyr

As I have mentioned earlier, I have been reading Eusebius’ History of the Church. I’ve reached the part where he covers the Great Persecution under Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximin, and indeed it was very horrific. What is curious to me is Eusebius’ attitude about suicide. As far as I can recall, Xtians have always opposed suicide under all circumstances. I did notice however that Eusebius, with no hint of censure on his part, mentioned several cases, in his lengthy accounts of the persecution, where Xtian women committed suicide, often by drowning themselves in a nearby river, rather than endure impending sexual assault at the hands of Roman soldiers, or others, who were acting as tools of the persecution. Eusebius seemed to think that suicide was commendable in this case. While I am not trying to make too much out of this, I did find it curious, and it might provide a different perspective on the well known painting by Paul Delaroche, entitled “The Young Martyr”. In the painting, we have a beautiful young maiden, hands bound, floating dead in the clear water of a river. Although it is late evening, the background being dark, a heavenly light shines down from above upon her, and an aureole is depicted just above her head, an artistic convention indicating a martyr. However, there is no indications of the cause of death, and no apparent wounds are seen anywhere, so presumably the young lady died by drowning. What I wonder is whether in this case the painter Delaroche was harkening back to the incidents mentioned by Eusebius, and thus is implying that the lady chose to drown herself rather than have her chastity assaulted. I really don’t know for sure, but the painting might have such an interpretation.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


While I am ruminating on what direction to take Lunar Skeletons, I have been reading The History of the Church by Eusebius (AD 260-339), who was once a bishop in Caesarea in Palestine back in the days of the Roman Empire. I read The History once before, years ago, but this Christmas I received a gift card to Border's Books, and so I decided, for some reason, to pick up the Penguin Classics edition of G.A. Williamson's translation. Eusebius may sound dry-as-dust, but for me at least, it has been interesting reading.