"What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote
in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes
his own self-interest as he sees it... which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses'."
- Robert A. Heinlein

In Roman times, free Bread and Circuses entertained the masses. I hope you find your time
here both entertaining and informative.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Romantic Evening Out

More from the land where they use the C-word on telly, (but only after 9pm, it's not like we're French or anything).

Friday night we got a friend to take the children overnight. This allowed us the opportunity to spend a relaxing evening together, and we decided to make a date of it. So what did we do, but play Laser Tag of course.

The fiancee's church was having a night out playing Laser Quest with another church. So we got to spend the evening running around a dark room lit by black lights and strobes and shooting people. Nothing like a little violence to keep a load of Christians entertained.

We played three rounds. The first was a free for all, which was well wrong, being as thirty or forty people in a small arena just becomes a bloody massacre. The next game was roughly church on church, though the fiancee and I, as well as the pastor and his wife, were loaned out to the other team due to uneven numbers. Our team won.

The last round was guys versus girls. We pretty much avoided each other for this one, though it wasn't completely possible due to the fact that at a certain distance in the dark all you see is the glowing vest of the opponent, and you fire indiscriminately at a group of hostiles, so a bit of inter-relational friendly fire becomes unavoidable, much like the American Air Force has the nasty habit of bombing Canadians every so often. To my credit, she shot me six times to my four, so I like to imagine I managed to salvage some gallantry from the situation.

At the end of the game, the girls had racked up an impressive 345 points to the guy's -175 points. The feminine jubilation was short lived however, as it soon became apparent that the guys had not yet tallied their scores by deactivating their guns. We won, thanks in small part to the my realization that each team had a base which could be tagged for additional points. A few of us managed to fight our way to the women's base and capture it, unbenownst to the ladies, who merely thought it was an exceptionally well-defensible position. Whereupon we sat under the base, shooting it to score and unleash a rather WWII sounding klaxon as often as it recharged. The gross disparity in final scores however could not be laid completely on the doorstep of our additional strategic knowledge, despite the ladies' best efforts to claim unfair circumstances.

It was a most enjoyable evening. Untimately, we spent much of our date night in the dark, getting all hot and sweaty, and with the night's activities leaving us both rather achy in the morning from our exertions. Apparently rather standard for a date, all things considered. Even if it was just Laser Tag.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Glastonbury 1996



One of my mates is in this music video for Higher State of Consciousness, Tweekin' Acid Funk mix by Josh Wink. Set to video filmed by Wink himself at the 1996 Glastonbury Festival.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Reading

Since I've had a bit of time on my hands, I've been rediscovering the art of pleasure reading.

Last week, since I enjoyed Fatherland so much, I read three more books by Robert Harris.

Archangel is a modern thriller centered around the hunt for the lost diary of Joseph Stalin.

Enigma is a fictitious look at Bletchley Park's codebreaking efforts during WWII.

And finally, Pompeii is a great historical novel set in the four days leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius, filled with fascinating technical information on the Roman Aquaducts.

I'm currently reading Every Dead Thing by John Connolly, a spiritual crime thriller. More information on that when I've finished.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A great book...

Just finished reading Fatherland by Robert |Harris. It's an excellent "what if" look at Germany in 1964 had Hitler won. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk like a Buccaneer Day

I wish I knoo who ever created this rubbish excuse fer a "holiday". hold on 'un minute, tar ter the power of wikipedia, I can. john baur an' mark summers, yaouw wankers 'ad be'ah hope ar paths never cooss, or I shall gid yaouw a roight proper walloppen. i fink it's abart as noggen yedded an idae as possible. an excuse fer grownups ter terk loike lung john silvers moy be crack, but really, the point agen? so i've decided ter foight the trend with this "talk loike a brummie" post. We are not chuffed.

Also... Bugger
and... Bollocks

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Yearbook

So I brought my senior PHC yearbook with me to the UK. I have been going through it with various friends.

Invariably, there are several responses:
1) Man, alot of these people look rather odd.

Maybe this is just a reaction to the Hollywood picture of America that most Brits are exposed to, where everyone has perfect teeth and looks somewhat plastic. Then again, alot of the people who went to PHC do look rather odd. Is there a reason that some homeschoolers look like they are the inbred spawn of a bunch of cousins?

2) Damn that guys looks like an alien.

Name removed to protect the guilty. Surprisingly, this same person got the same reaction from everyone who saw the yearbook. Curious.

3) They laughed at our American names. Names like Tobin Duby. And "Randy" got a good chuckle, but that's only because it's the British equivalent of naming your child Horny.

4) You actually have hoedowns?

The image of Americans in plaid clothing and ridiculous hats is just painfully colonial to their eyes. They're right.

5) Where are all the non-white students?

America may be the melting pot, but maybe conservative evangelicalism didn't get the message. Our friend Eva was particularly surprised by how pasty and Wonderbread our student body was. I had to go through and point out that yes, we did have some non-Anglo students.

Pictures



This is what passes as a beach in Birmingham... a pile of sand, some lawnchairs and a giant screen that alternates between the BBC news and ocean scenes. All in the square in front of the Library. It's also a very multicultural area, you can see Sikhs in traditional garb, Muslim women wearing head scarves or the full hijab, and Arab men in their traditional robes, as well as the usual cross-section of Anglo/Celtic peoples.








The UK recently implemented a far-reaching smoking ban. Not only can you not smoke in any indoor public areas, but that also includes bus stops and train platforms. Right....

BTW, the silly orange knapsack contained the kids lunch for the day, and they were tired, so I got drafted to carry it. The Don King hair was a result of a windy day and roller coasters.

















This was a more or less random English bloke we met in the pub, mugging for the camera with our gay-sian friend Adam. (In Britain, Asian refers to people from South Asia, not Oriental nationas like China and Japan. For example, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, or Sri Lanka.) Another note: Oriental -- as applied to a people group -- is the accepted nomenclature in much of the world for the peoples of East Asia, and carries none of the slightly racist perjorative overtones that the word has in the US. For my American readers, Oriental should only be used to refer to objects, like a vase or rug, and the term Asian applies to peoples from Japan, the Koreas, etc. Sociology lesson complete.






Monday, September 17, 2007

A Bit of the Rugger

So I've been watching the Ruby World Cup of late. Now there is a game. None of the pads and 10 second plays (or complex penalties) of American football. Lots of running, these guys are as as fit as European footballers without all the poncy dancing around a little round ball. For American football fans who love watching a long run back with a couple of well executed laterals, that is the bread and butter of rugby. These guys are fit and built, they can run like receivers and running backs, and block like defensive ends.



No wonder Sebastien Chabal is nicknamed "Attila"

The scrummages are also pretty interesting to watch. Imagine an American football offensive line three guys deep, pushing towards their opposing counterparts in an attempt to gain posession of the ball. Less of the sudden impact and ponderous players, more sturm und drang. They say the hooker (the center man in the front of the line) experiences 3,000 pounds per square inch. Maybe I like it so much because the scrum is rather reminiscent of a Spartan phalanx, an inpenetrable line of players actually playing as a team, locking arms and protecting their territory.

On that subject, we visited Ben and Renee on Saturday. Ben made a wicked hot chili with some peppers he had grown. Then we had a few Guinness and watched 300. An excellent movie. The historical inaccuracies are allowable considering the beautiful visual style (It looks like a comic book), inclusions of historically inspired dialogue: ie; a paraphrase of the exchange between Leonidas' wife and a foreign woman who asked, "how is it that Spartan women are the only ones who rule men?" The Spartan reply? "Yes, for we are the only ones who give birth to men." Really, the movie could have been absolute shite (it's not) and it would have been worth watching, if only for the experience of seeing the Spartan phalanx in action. Man, when your society centers around training men from the age of 7-21, under punishing conditions, you're going to produce some genuine hard-arses.

And for the ladies who don't usually watch macho war movies, two points:
1:) The movie reflects the considerable respect and freedom Spartan women had in their society vis a vis the rest of Greece and other ancient societies.

2:) Lots of buff man candy. (A major selling point for Renee).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Misconceptions

I am thinking of doing a several part piece on common American myths about Britain. Here are a few I have in mind:

British TV is crap (you'll definately get this one if you watch 11 hours of .
Life in the UK is like either Fawlty Towers or Snatch.
The average Briton is a middle class, Stiff Upper lip white guy with a posh accent.
British food is bland and nasty.
In Britain everyone drinks their beer warm.

Feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts you would like addressed. I also plan to do a series on typical British myths about America.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pictures from Alton Towers






We passed this on the way to Alton Towers... At first glance it appeared to be a Chernobyl style nuclear reactor power plant. Turned out to be a farm silo, still cool though.












A picture of the Castle at Alton Towers.



















Another view of the Country House/Castle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I love Sir Richard Branson, and Rollercoasters


View Larger Map

Friday we went to Alton Towers, a major British theme park. Built on a HUUUUGE Tract of land once owned by the Earl of Shrewsbury in Staffordshire, it is an enormous complex including a ruined castle built in the gothic country house style. It is also, incidently, considered one of the most haunted sites in Britain. What's a gothic country estate without a curse?? We had a great time there celebrating cousin Leo's birthday, which mostly consisted of taking the children around to the kiddie rides.

However, my fiancee and I got to ride on Nemesis, the first inverted roller coaster in Europe. It was an incredible ride, appropos for a coaster considered to be the third best in the world. It boasts a drop of over thirty metres, maximum of four g-forces, and a top speed over 80 km/h. We elected to wait a few extra minutes and sit in the very first row, which made the ride even better. The two corkscrews and the zero-g roll were crazy, making it easily the most enjoyable roller coaster ride I've ever had. Oddly enough for a town containing a rollercoaster, the local zoning ordinances prohibit any rides being built above the treeline, so the design team created subterranian ravines and tunnels for the ride to pass through. It was wicked. Pictures from the trip after the jump.

While on the topic, the British writer Shaun Hutson's book Nemesis is a supreme horror novel. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but definately worth the read. Has nothing to do with roller coasters however.

We traveled to and from the park on the train, operated by Virgin trains. Not only was it cheaper and faster than taking the bus, but it was also cleaner and more fun. Yet another of the great things Richard Branson's company (actually, all 350 of them) do in Europe that Americans only familiar with Virgin's airline and record label would be surprised by. Now if only I could find some of his vodka to mix with my Virgin Cola, for the world's first ever supremely alcoholic virgin drink. On a related note, Sir Richard has long been financing maverick aviator Steve Fossett, whose private plane went missing over Nevada today while searching for a location on which to break the land speed record. Our thoughts are with him.

BTW, while writing this post I was drinking Bulmer's Original Cider. The Brits are crazy about their hard apple beverages.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Back

I know I've neglected this lately, the last several months were very hectic for me.

However, as I sit here in the UK drinking my luncheon beer (what a great custom), I've resolved to try to post at least 5 times a week, even if it's just a few short lines.

I just got back from Birmingham, I went into town to do some food shopping at the fine market in town. I know, how domestic of me. I also visited the Central library for the second time, I found a great book there in the stacks that you just can't find in the US.

I flew in earlier this month. I watched Fracture on the plane, those little TV screens in the back of your seats are great, no editing as is typical of airline films. I had a ten hour layover in Dublin. When in Ireland.... so yeah I bought a daysaver bus pass, and went into Dublin City Centre. I walked around for a couple of hours waiting for the pubs to open... which doesn't happen until ten thirty in the morning. While enjoying a few proper pints of Guinness in a pub, I met a charming Irish lady who sat and chatted with me for about an hour. An American accent opens many doors. For future reference she gave me the names of a few small pubs that have grandfathered licences allowing them to open at 7:30 AM for the dock workers.

When flying from Dublin to Birmingham later that night, apparently the flight crew assumed all their passengers were EU citizens. I had to track down a steward and explained that I needed a landing card. This provoked some consternation among the Aer Lingus staff, who otherwise were the picture of polite service. And they even did the flight announcements in English and Gaelic. My request prompted a confab of about three stewardesses, who rummaged around and found what they "thought was the right card," under the coffee maker I think.

Turns out I shouldn't have been worried. I landed in Brum and disembarked. I collected my luggage, and proceeded on . Unlike my last trip, there was no sign of a passport control officer. Usually they grill non-EU citizens thus: "How long are you staying, " "why are you here," "where are you staying," "how much money do you have with you?" Not this time. I think they assumed anyone flying in from Dublin was cool. I proceeded on through the door for "Her Majesty's Customs - No Declaration" where i passed two Customs officials rifling a gentleman's bag (surprise, he looked Middle Eastern). They seemed little concerned with a Yank, and I carried on. Maybe it was because I was wearing my typical "please don't cavity search me Mr. TSA man" suit. You can get away with practically anything if you shave and wear a suit. I expected to see some Customs presence at least pretending to care who they were letting into their country, so imagine my surprise when I passed through another door to find myself in the lobby of the airport. I warndered around for a minute, hoping there was someone I could point out the error to. "Really, I wouldn't let myself into a country without a few peremptory questions." No joy.

I am still somewhat bewildered, and trying to dodge a group of excitable Asians, when my peripheral vision screams "Danger Will Robinson, you're being blindsided." I know Birmingham has a high crime rate, but surely they don't have muggings in the airport itself. Sure enough, next minute I'm tackled by my fiance and the kids. She explains that she's traveled across Europe and never been asked to show a passport. I really don't know what their security blokes are thinking. The kids had drawn a lovely welcome back card for me.

We get outside, and I'm still gobsmacked by the lack of security, maybe I'm just used to the adinistrative paranoia of American airline security, designed almost entirely to reassure the unwitting populace that everything is under control. But get this, the taxi queue outside is empty... deserted in fact. Obviously in the wake of the Glasgow incident, the Brits are more concerned about people driving near their airports than who's entering the country.

Instead, taxis have to park in short term parking. Thankfully we had met a great cab driver the last time I was here, and he was already on his way. I can't judge whether it's an appropriate security measure, but good lord they must be raking in enormous parking revenues.

More when I get a chance. To all my readers in the land where Senators solicit anonymous sex in men's toilets, I hope you are enjoying the madness. For now this temporary expatriate has to finish his beer.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Anonymous, this is for you....

I say what I mean clearly and concisely, and you still willfully misunderstand me. Fine. Civility be damned.... Here's what I really think.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Consise History of Christianity

Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with certain common terms used in Christian circles. For the un-heathen readers, you may have grown up familiar with phrases and jargon but not completely understand them beyond what you learned from your parents in church. And so I present to you Everything You Wanted To Know About Christianity.

"Some people in America are scared silly of Christianity, but many of the most frightened know very little about it. They throw around terms like fundamentalist and evangelical with very little knowledge of their meaning, and this is before they enter the dark thicket of Preterists, Amillennialists, Prelapsarian Arminian Claims Adjusters, etc."

Here, then, is a handy reference guide to some of the key terms, concepts and groups.

Premillennialism: This is the belief among some Christians that ever since January 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillennialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while amillennialists believe that in this context "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

Rapture: This was a No. 1 hit in 1980 for Blondie (No. 5 in the UK), from the otherwise underwhelming Autoamerican album. Many Christians now concede that the then-pioneering use of rap in the song sounds a little lame in retrospect. In their bestselling series of books about the song, Left Behind (Parallel Lines), Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye defend the rap verse's hip references to Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, and maintain that when Jesus returns, all believers will be united in accepting that Blondie's cover of "The Tide Is High" is better than the original.

Pope: The pope is the president of Christianity. He is elected every four years by the Congress of Cardinals, which is divided into the Senate and the Holy House of Representatives. As president, the pope can veto important pieces of legislation, which he tends to do. The pope is also magical and cannot be seen with the naked eye except for one hour on Christmas Eve every year.

Bible: The Bible was written by God as a merchandising tie-in to his blockbuster film The Ten Commandments: Each book of the Bible is named after a person who features prominently in it--for example, the book of Numbers is named after Herschel Nmnbers, who invented numerals. The Bible was so successful that God wrote a sequel, Bible II: On to Rome, now generally called the New Testament. Protestants believe that the Bible is literally true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist, while Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.

Catholics: Catholics are the New York Yankees of Christianity. They are the biggest and wealthiest team, and their owner is intensely controversial (this makes St. Francis of Assisi the Derek Jeter of Catholicism: discuss). Catholics all wear matching uniforms and are divided into "parishes" or "squadrons" to make choosing softball teams easier. Catholics are rigidly controlled by a hidebound hierarchy that starts with priests on the bottom and priests' housekeepers on the top. Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, eat meat or refrain from worshiping statues.

Orthodox: For many years, American scholars believed that the Orthodox were--like leprechauns, unicorns and liberal Republicans--purely the product of the fanciful imaginations of medieval writers. Recent evidence leads us to tentatively conclude, however, that Eastern Orthodoxy may have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million adherents. Protestants tend to see the Orthodox as "Catholics with beards," while Catholics confess to a haunting sense that they themselves are simply "Orthodox without beards."

Protestant Reformation: This is the name historians give to a major labor dispute that erupted in Germany in 1517 when a group of monks hammered a proposed union contract to the door of the pope's house, requesting a 95 percent pay raise. The pope refused to negotiate with the monks union until it agreed to pay to have the door fixed, and the result was the world's longest-running strike. For nearly 500 years, a huge number of Christians have been on strike from being Catholic, saying they are "justified" in their work stoppage because the pope won't expand the number of indulgences they get per year. Currently, the matter is in arbitration.

Calvinism: This theory was worked out by the French theologian and fashion designer John Calvin Klein, who argued that some people are predestined to be glamorous while others are doomed to be plain. America was founded by Calvinists, who sought to establish a country where they could pursue their belief that buckled hats were fashionable.

Fundamentalism: The belief that basic elements of play--like passing, ball handling and defense--are the essential building blocks of a winning basketball team. The fundamentalists formulated their doctrine in the 1980s against the showy, heretical play of Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. Leading fundamentalist institutions include Bob Jones University and Syracuse. Larry Brown's failure to get the Knicks into the playoffs has been seen as a major setback for the cause of fundamentalism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

RIP Mr. Falwell

To those who were offended by my GTalk tag line, an explanation. To those who didn't see it, here's your opportunity to get offended. It went something like this: "Jerry's Falwell's death was a punishment, not just on Jerry Falwell, but on the church that tolerated him...."

Now, I'm not trying to be overly harsh, however I don't have any taboo about speaking ill of the dead or not confronting the views of a fellow Christian, however well meaning. Nor did I really mean that his death was his punishment. Hello, all people die eventually, and orthodox Christian teaching is that disease and death are the natural consequence of all human sin. But that's as far as I'm willing to take the judgment correlation.

The tag was a satirical comment, playing off Falwell's appalling comments assigning blame for the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, saying "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Now, as some of my friends have pointed out, maybe I'm not being fair. Isn't everyone entitled to a mistake or two? Sure they are. My question is this: at what point does a man compromise his position on a number of issues to the point that, while we may acknowledge he accomplished great things, we cannot wholeheartedly endorse him, even upon his death?

Falwell supported segregation, saying "When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line," and "I do question the sincerity and non-violent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.... who are known to have left wing associations."

He opposed sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, calling Archbishop Tutu a phony.

He said "AIDs is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.'

To sum up, I'd welcome my readers to give me examples of milestones in Falwell's career. However, I will not put on a sad face and wear a mourning band for a man I did not respect while he lived. I may be harsh, but I am no hypocrite.

If you think I'm mean, just think; I could have done this:
http://www.tmz.com/2007/05/15/jerry-falwell-1933-2007/

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Moving Out, Moving On

So I'm moving to Florida for the time being. Some thoughts on my recent trip to the UK are in the works though (don't expect anything too personal, if you're looking for typical blog fare you had better email me.) Just some comments on culture from the land where asking someone for a fag is normal, people smoke weed in the parks, faggots come with chips and peas in a restaurant, and everyone wants to know my opinion about the War in Iraq. So look for it once I get settled.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

Jack's Confused Sense of Rejection

An expanded essay inspired by a previous blog post. Please go check it out, and if you have a blog, I'd appreciate a mention. Thanks.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Judge a Shop by its Contents

While visiting sister and brother-in-law this week, I made the rounds of used book shops. At the end of the weekend, after finding a traditional German sausage maker and an Italian bakery which felt like a time warp to the 1940s in all the good ways, my family was at a small upscale Italian pastry shop. While they were enjoying gelato, I was checking out the shops in the area. One in particular looked like the sort of place that you could offload some merchandise with few questions asked. Among the VCRs and collection of DVDs, some still marked from a library or video rental, there were several shelves overflowing with books. Most were the typical fare of pulp fiction, Clancy and Steele paperbacks stacked two or three deep with no apparent order. While digging through the piles, I did find a couple that were interesting. I wished I had the time to sort through the dreck and find all the forgotten treasures you could see poking out here and there. Next to a copy of Animal Farm (which I promptly picked out and dedicated to Professor Boxer), was The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis. Jackpot. It was labeled "$3". I took it up to the proprietor of the place, the kind of guy you wouldn't look at twice if he was sitting on a stoop with a bottle in a paper bag, with a Styrofoam cup for change.

Enboldened by the literary scores I'd made that week, I asked if he'd take two dollars. He looked at the book and said "Sure. Anyone who reads C. S. Lewis is ok by me." I replied that I doubted he sold much of the sort. "Not really. As you can see I devote real estate to books out of principle, not because they sell." I paid him, thanked him and left.

Here's a list of what else I picked up at other shops over the weekend:
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra
  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Fear and Trembling (an absolutely beautiful copy which promptly replaced my worn Dover edition picked up for Boxer's philosophy class)
  • The Book of War
  • Teeth of the Tiger
  • The Cuckoo's Egg
  • Augustine's Sermons to the People
  • The Second Oldest Profession (as honorable as the first)
  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
  • Parliament of Whores
  • Grimm's Faery Tales
  • My Secret War (by Kim Philby)
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Peloponnesian Wars
  • Years of Upheaval (The lady at one shop threw this in for free, completing my set of Kissinger's Memoirs)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

When people ask me what denomination I consider myself, I usually tell them "I'm an Anglican who currently attends a Bapto-costal church." For purposes of this discussion, my church considers itself Baptocostal because they have Baptist doctrine and drums in worship.

A bit of a condtradiction don't you think? As an Anglican I find myself most blessed when in a church that has strong doctrine, sound tradition and a liturgial worship style. However, there are no good Anglican churches nearby, so I fellowship with my family.

Why do I go to a church where I often feel uncomfortable? Because I believe that the Scriptural mandate to fellowship with believers carries no caveat "if you find it comfortable or like the people in your church." That's not to say that I dislike anyone in my church, but I have to admit, after tasting the joys of a traditional faith, there is much in the large-e Evangelical movement that rubs me the wrong way. Why do I attend? Because we're commanded to fellowship with the local body of believers: http://relevantmagazine.com/god_article.php?id=7301

Now, what is Anglican? Most people think it's just Catholic-Lite, "More Doctrine.... Less Guilt... More Doctrine... Less Guilt."

It's a Protestant (maybe even Reformed) doctrine with a liturgical worship style, a church tradition and hierarchy that avoids splitting over whether women wear pants or what color carpet to have, and uses real wine in Communion. Catholic but not so Mary.

Now often people think that a liturgical style is "vain repetition." Every church has a liturgy in some form, no matter how informal it is, whether they call it a mass, a liturgy or a bulletin.

Now Evangelicals or 'fundies' often say that the Anglican church is based on the traditions of man. Yes, there is a traditional element. To quote: "It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word."

In my opinion, I'd rather have church traditions that have stood the test of time, rather than modernist manufactured traditions such as those that dominate the fundamentalist American church. My priest wears vestments that show a respect for God. Your Baptist preacher wears a suit and tie no matter how hot it is in the summer, out of respect for God. My church has a tradition of holding communion at every worship service, yours does it once a quarter. My church asks people to kneel out of reverance during prayer. Your church only lets people kneel when they're facing such a serious personal crisis that they must come to the altar. Kneel in the pews at a Baptist church as I do and you get strange looks. Yes the Anglican church has its traditions. But what of the mainstream evangelical traditions? WWJD, revival meetings, the prayer of Jabez, Joshua Harris, and many more.

If you have questions, read the Catechism and Articles of Faith in the Book of Common Prayer. I doubt most Protestants will find much cause for concern.

Now, many people have heard little about the American Branch of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church of the US (ECUSA), outside the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson (an open practicing homosexual), and the election of Katherine Jeffers-Schori as Episcopal Archbishop. This leads to many people thinking it's "the gay church." Yes, the Anglican Communion is in the midst of a crisis approaching schism over the issue, as the Archbishop of Canterbury put a moratorium on gay ordinations and marriages and the ECUSA broke it. Traditional-Episcopalians have been departing the ECUSA and seeking to align with the worldwide Anglican communion to preserve vital doctrine. However, the Anglican Communion is doing all it can to reconcile differences without compromising doctrine, and there is hope that this can succeed. The traditional minority in the US remain steadfastly committed to the doctrines of the faith regardless of the outcome, whether schism or healing and unity.

So I'm not Catholic, I'm not pro-gay-marriage (though I am pro-gay in the way that I am pro-all human being created in the image of God). I am a Mere Christian. I don't ask you to genuflect when you prayer, but don't burn me at the stake if I cross myself. Thanks.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Gluttony: Being the First in a Seven Part Series on the Deadly Sins

“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on a stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?..... There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest in their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”

Some heady thoughts from the fifth chapter of the third book of Mere Christianity. Lewis is of course making a point about the unhealthy cultural attitude towards sex, but I want to reverse the analogy and deduce the inverse. Lewis claims here that our attitude towards food could become just as corrupted as that toward sexual expression. And as we know, the sins most comfortable to us are often the ones we must remain on guard against. How many Christians preach sexual chastity but think nothing of unchaste indulgence in the pleasures of food? I touched on this briefly in a previous essay, asking how many fat Baptist preachers (yes, it’s a generalization, but one that experience has proven accurate) inveigh against the evils of even moderate indulgence in tobacco or alcohol, railing that it defiles the temple, but who are poisoning their bodies with an excessive and unhealthy diet.

Now, this is a difficult topic to broach, because in our society some things are acceptable to condemn people for, while other character flaws are socially protected. If you doubt my premise, consider this: how often is it considered normal to personally confront a smoker about their “filthy” habit, but if someone addresses overeating, which I shall herein refer to as gluttony, we are insensitive to people whose metabolisms or stressors predispose them to obesity? Understand that I am not condemning those who eat any more than I condemn those who smoke or drink. All can be done in moderation, and they can also be indulged in to excess.

Let us first understand what we are talking about: Gluttony, properly understood, is expecting more of food that it can offer. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a proper Christmas repast, even if we overindulge a bit on that occasion. No, gluttony is a far more insidious vice. It consists of using food as a panacea for stress, for depression, becoming dependent on food to lift our spirits. To quote Church Father Thomas Aquinas: "Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire... leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists." This is a vital distinction. Not all those who are overweight are gluttons, men like Chesterton and Luther, “giants side to side,” spring first to mind. Nor are those like myself who possess a rapid metabolism immune from the influences of the vice. You may be, for whatever reasons, prone to being larger, but if you have a proper emphasis on the spiritual, and do not use food for more than it was intended, you may not be a glutton. If you are slender but eat for purely sensual pleasure, or deny yourself without reason, you may well be gluttonous. Like many failings in the church, we overlook the dangers of gluttony by looking at things in and of themselves, when we should rather take a systematic approach to how everything in our lives affects our spirituality.

From First Corinthians 11, When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

In the early church gluttony was divisive and separated the church. Today, it unites us, but it is still as dangerous to our moral state.

If I may beg the reader’s indulgence while I engage in a bit of speculation: Food has become a central pillar of church fellowship. Churches, especially of the evangelical variety, eat together almost every time they gather. And it is not just a simple meal of fellowship. We have fattening foods and coffee (ahh caffeine, the ignored social drug of choice in the Church) after worship, we hold potlucks on any pretext, men’s groups hold prayer breakfasts during which there is little prayer and much breakfast. Obesity is set to over take smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in this country, and yet the church comfortably gorges itself at the table of fellowship, smugly content that we don’t destroy our bodies with liquor or nicotine. If the aforementioned pastors are concerned about the state of our bodies, they would realize that comparatively, gluttony is a far wider-reaching sin in the church than smoking.

So far we have established what gluttony is, and that it is a serious sin in the church. Gluttony and materialism are linked, and western society, and the American church specifically, are in thrall to materialism. So how can we correct our gluttony? I would suggest a few systematic approaches, leaving issues like dieting and exercise (asceticism perhaps) to the more educated than I. First we must become more concerned with those who have less than us. If we are mindful that there are many poor and homeless among us who are dying for want of a decent meal, if we are truly moved to compassion, not just pity, by news reports on the plight of those in Africa, in sum if we consider others before ourselves, we will go a long way toward correcting our own over indulgence.

Now if overeating is gluttony, so too can be an artificial show of deprivation. We are liberated, Peter’s vision opens up to us the opportunity to enjoy a good Delmonico on occasion. If we choose to eat not just moderately, but modestly, we must beware the temptation to another sin, that of Pride. I do not want the reader to exchange a smug confidence that we do are not drunkards or smokers with an equally arrogant and hypocritical confidence that we are not gluttons.

In everything we must remember that Christ is more concerned with our spiritual well being than the purely physical. Gluttony, drunkenness, or drug abuse are sins not purely because they are physical, but because they take the place of a proper emphasis on the spiritual. When it comes to the physical virtues, we must remember Colossians chapter 2:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

It is clear that the indulgence of the flesh has at its root an improper emphasis on the spiritual. It is not that we overemphasize the physical, but rather we denigrate the spiritual and allow our natural appetites to fill the void left by an unspiritual life. If we construct a moral code, as much of the Evangelical church has, based on a laundry list of physical dos and don’ts, then we miss the mark. The key to appropriate and moderate indulgence in the things of the flesh is to have a proper conception of the spiritual. If we give the best to God of our soul, and focus on the spiritual virtues as primary, we will naturally bring our natural appetites in line with a moderate enjoyment of the physical things God created for our pleasure. Hold fast to the Head, which is Christ, and our whole body will be properly nourished, and we will not rely on food to satisfy ourselves.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Solicitation of Topics

Ok Readers: I would like to know what topics (religious or cultural preferably) you would like me to turn my ascerbic wit, cutting insight, biting sarcasm, deep perspective and all around supreme modesty on next. Consider it a jump start for my muse. I'm in the midst of a writing project, and I often find that short essays help me to regroup and recharge in between writing and editing on a larger project. So, if you read this blog at all, and I presume you do because you're the audience of this post, please comment with a few suggestions. Thanks.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Conversations with a Pharisee

Ok, this topic won't leave me alone. My friend Eric recently pointed me to this blog. Cut through the dreck, and this is the conversation that emerged. I'lll use Courier for the blogger's comments, and Times for my reply, and different colors.

This next part of my post is just my opinion. I’m really sorry if you get offended at what I’m about to say but remember that it’s only my opinion. Please don't think that I'm judging anyone by writing what you are about to read. That was and still isn't my intention for writing this post at all. If anything I wrote this post to help others because I don't wish to see anyone hurt themselves or others with their actions. If you happen to smoke and/or drink I don't think any less of you. Please remember to keep in mind that this is only my OPINION and nothing else.

I don’t see why people smoke and drink. First, I’m going to talk about smoking. Why do people do it? Do they not know that they are killing themselves and the people around them? In my opinion people who smoke are potential murderers. Not only are they murderers but they kill their victims very slowly and painfully. My roommate smokes a pipe like a chimney when he goes camping. When I tell him that it’s hurting him and those around him his response is, “but I don’t inhale it.” There is this little thing called mouth cancer that is just as deadly as lung cancer. Plus the more you don’t inhale the more other people inhale, which in my opinion is worse than inhaling yourself because you are harming other innocent people. Paul says in First Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (NASB) He also says it in First Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (NASB) Below are three lists of facts that I obtained from the American Lung Association. The first one is facts about smoking, the second about secondhand smoke, and the third about smokeless tobacco. Please take a look at them. My Mom worked at the American Lung Association for seven or eight years. During that time I lived with two sets of pig lungs. One pair was normal and the other was treated by scientists to simulate what a smokers lungs would look like. Needless to say, I know how bad any type of smoking is for you and for those around you.

Cigarette smoking has been identified as the most important source of preventable morbidity and premature mortality worldwide.

Secondhand smoke, also know as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It is involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers, lingers in the air hours after cigarettes have been extinguished and can cause or exacerbate a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma.


The second thing I’m going to talk about is drinking. My view on drinking is different than my view on smoking. I’m not opposed to drinking wine that is if it is in moderation. The Bible isn’t even against drinking wine in moderation. Jesus even drunk wine (John 2:1-11 Matthew 27:34,48, NASB) The Bible is opposed of getting drunk. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” (NASB) Paul says in First Timothy 5:23 to, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (NASB) Personally, I’m never going to drink because there is a history of alcoholism in my family and I frankly don’t understand why people willing drink alcohol when they could just choose water instead. It’s a lot cheaper and it won’t ever give you a buzz. You can’t get drunk off of drinking water. Although I’m not against drinking wine I am, however against drinking beer and whisky. Wine has some healing properties and is normally only drunk at certain times and special occasions. Beer doesn’t. In my opinion, people who drink beer and whisky drink it just to get drunk. What other reason do people drink beer and whisky? Plus, I heard that beer and whisky tastes disgusting. My roommate says that he’s going to start drinking as soon as he turns twenty-one. I’m not. I view it as a waste of money. I can put my money to better things than alcohol, like things that can help me in my ministry.

Well I believe that’s enough ranting and raving for one night. I guess I should probably stop typing and get off here and go to bed. I hope you have a great week! Your Brother in Christ, Matthew Smith

Alright Reader, you still with me? Incensed, I dashed off this response. Yes, I know I'm harsh. So was John the Baptist. A book I read just the other day said "I could not believe in a God who did not kick over tables."

Well, Eric pulled me into this one. Lest you think I am just throwing questions at you, I'd like your response. You obviously are passionate enough about your views to devote quite a bit of page to them, so a bit more responding to my criticisms shouldn't be out of order.

Nice post. You don't think less of me or many great Christian smoking theologians (spurgeon, lewis, tolkien, sproul, barth, bach, etc), but we're potential murderers. Somehow I disbelieve the first statement along with the second. To quote Spurgeon: "Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night. If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, 'Thou shalt not smoke,' I am ready to keep it; but I haven't found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it's as much as I can do to keep them; and I've no desire to make them into eleven or twelve."

To continue with Spurgeon: "There is growing up in society a Pharisaic system which adds to the commands of God the precepts of men; to that system I will not yield for an hour. The preservation of my liberty may bring upon me the upbraidings of many good men, and the sneers of the self-righteous; but I shall endure both with serenity so long as I feel clear in my conscience before God."

Now, I'm not calling you a pharisee personally, but if the den fits, well then viper slither into it.

Let's look at a few inconvenient facts you left out.

Drinking beer does have the same health effects of wine, just possibly one of them in smaller quantities. Before you jump on this, if you have a small headache, which is better, an Advil or a Codeine? Did you know that red wine is more beneficial than white? Would you condemn a white wine drinker as only wanting to get drunk?? Beer also protects bone mineral density. There are also highly potent anti-oxidant properties of xanthohumol, a major hop flavonoid

In fact: a flurry of independent research since those initial reports on red wine's health benefits surfaced a dozen years ago finds that alcohol in general provides a number of health benefits when consumed in moderation, and that beer might be the healthiest beverage of them all.

So I drink Guinness and Glenlivet to get drunk do I? Do you know how much a bottle of Glenlivet costs? At least forty dollars and up. That's fine wine territory. People buy Busch lite or Vodka to get drunk, not top shelf single malt 12 year aged Scotch whisky. You know, maybe this is an example of people with no knowledge of what they speak who should keep their comments to what they do know. Did you know Martin Luther was an esteemed beer brewer? Maybe you can argue this one with him in heaven. "I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it." C.S. Lewis hosted Beer and Beowulf nights with his graduate students. But hey, in Luke 7:33-35 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, `He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." So I guess I'm in good company, call me an Christ drunkards together. Please.

Psalm 104 tells us that "GOD made wine that maketh glad the heart of man". We read in Proverbs 31:6&7 "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more" and in Ecclesiastes 9:7 "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do." and in Ecclesiastes 10:19 "A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry"

The Rev Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, was the first to distil Bourbon in 1789
Monks created champagne. Monks brewed beer. Monks brought the technique to make whisky to Scotland (thank God).

As far as drinking wine at certain occasions: Did you know that the health benefits of drinking red wine are associated with having A GLASS A DAY? You write: Plus, I heard that beer and whisky tastes disgusting... Way to go with the wild association. I heard there are mutant crocodiles in the NY subways. I know people who find cola and indeed all sodas disgusting. I know someone who hates the taste of coffee. I even have one friend who can't stand the taste of water. Does this give us any evidence for or against those drinks, some of which I'm sure you drink? Oh, and if you don't think you can get drunk off water, you obviously have never heard of water intoxication.

Ok, mouth cancer: It is much less likely to get mouth cancer from smoking than lung cancer. Also, it's much more treatable and is not a death sentence. Did you know that eating barbecued foods and well done meat HIGHLY increases your risk of colon cancer?

Do you drink caffeine containing beverages? Some people think this is abusing your temple?

If your friend smokes while camping, I imagine you're outdoors. Just how much smoke do you actually inhale, compared to spending the night in a smoke filled bar (I know, a place a Christian would never set foot in.) I'm sure you're not at any risk from the occasional camping trip with your chimney puffing friend. And, if I'm a potential murderer, shouldn't I minimize the exposure of others by filtering such smoke through my lungs first?

Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit: Mind if I ask your Body Mass Index? Mine's 18.6 I have healthy blood pressure and heart rates, lower than even healthy averages. Gluttony, you know, one of the seven deadly sins, (smoking and drinking are not listed), afflicts hudnreds if not thousands of pastors who use the Temple argument to inveigh against drinking and smoking. Physician heal thyself. In fact, obesity is set to overtake smoking as the number one preventable health problem in America. Sorry if that threatens your mom's job.

If you really want to help people, why not write a blog post exhorting people to moderation in drinking or smoking if they choose to do so??

Since anyone can rip bible passages out of context, here's a nice chunk for you to chew on: Colossians 2, beginning at verse 16: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV)

Puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head. Pretty strong condemnation of you, by God, for judging me over questions of drink. So you're twenty. You couldn't even legally drink if you wanted to. Do you feel enpowered to comment and pass judgment on all sorts of things with which you have no experience, or just the punching bags of straw men arguments the Church has attempted to get you to accept blindly "Christians dont' do?" Are you an expert on foreign affairs or tax law as well? Does a few Bible verses give you the answer to those as well? Come back when you've read some substantive theology about the things of God, when you're a little older, when maybe gasp you've tried a few good beers and one struck you as not disgusting (oh the temptation), frankly, when you're more mature and maybe we can have a civil conversation about these things as well. Sorry if there is too much Scripture quoted here to overload your Sunday School rhetoric. Keep the Faith (just learn it better while you're at it, and maybe focus on the spiritual over the physical).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Religious? Litigious??



Ok, so comments have died down and I figure it's about time I up the shock value of my blog just a bit. Remember, this is about Free Speech and a picture of the kind of world we will live in if some Christianists get their utopia of a theocratic nation. It's not about gay rights, but about Christians repressing thought and controversy that makes them uncomfortable. I also find it relevant as a blogger who frequently uses parody as a rhetorical tool. So on that note:

First Cease and Desist Letter

Response to the Cease and Desist Order

Monday, January 15, 2007

Just Another Day Off Work...

For many people, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is just another day off work. For some, it remains the abomination of Lee-Jackson-King Day. So, on that note, I urge you to read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

If we could recapture just a bit of Dr. King's vision, we would be motivated to do more for our fellow man, no matter his country, beliefs or ethnicity. On that, a short poem by an Irishman named Paul.

One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come, he to justify
One man to overthrow

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed on an empty beach.
One man betrayed with a kiss

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

(nobody like you...)

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander. - US Holocaust Memorial

On January 3, 2006, 18-year-old Nazanin was sentenced to death for murder by court in Iran after she reportedly admitted fatally stabbing one of three men who attempted to rape her and her 16-year-old niece in a park in Karaj (a suburb of Tehran) in March 2005. She was seventeen at the time. Her sentence is subject to review by the Court of Appeal, and if upheld, to confirmation by the Supreme Court.

According to reports in the Iranian newspaper E’temaad, Nazanin told the court that three men had approached her and her niece, forced them to the ground and attempted to rape them. Seeking to defend her niece and herself, Nazanin stabbed one man in the hand with a knife that she possessed. As the men continued their attack, she stabbed another of the men in the chest, which eventually caused his death. She reportedly told the court “I wanted to defend myself and my niece. I did not want to kill that boy. At the heat of the moment I did not know what to do because no one came to our help”. She was nevertheless sentenced to the maximum punishment possible under the law, death by hanging.

Dr. Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Thoreau: "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."

Read and sign the Save Nazanin Petition:

*UPDATE* News from the Retrial

"After much discussions, the four judges unanimously determined that the lower court decision in January of 2006 was wrong and Nazanin killing the would-be rapist was not intentional."

Now, the political philosopher in me says the judges should have said it doesn't matter whether the killing was intentional or not. But I've watched enough Law and Order to know a win is a win, no matter how it's cloaked.

Let us not be complacent as the Germans who ignored the smell of the crematoria. Let us not be indifferent as the West to the plight of Rwandaa. Let us not ignore the plight of those who need our help. Let our voices cry out to God and the State so the blood of our innocent brethren has a voice. Do not rest in complacency, indifference, and ignorace. Because if we do, one day we shall be the ones facing injustice and no one will hear us.