Tuesday, July 29, 2008

URGENT - Tobacco Vote Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a bill that could:
  1. Help prevent illegal sales of tobacco products to children.
  2. Ban candy-flavored cigarettes and other similar efforts to hook kids.
  3. Prohibit health claims by tobacco companies that are not scientifically proven.
  4. Require tobacco companies to disclose the level of toxins in their products.
  5. Require larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.
If you think that's a good idea, you need to write to your Representative now. Don't have the time? Good news!

Click here, and in under two minutes you can send him or her an email supporting Food and Drug Administration regulation of cigarettes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

National Usury Law?

In an interview with Bill Moyers about the current financial crisis, William Greider, a former Washington Post editor and author of The Soul of Capitalism, said:
Eventually you have to draw very precise boundaries, I think, and restore some structure that says, okay, you can get a return of X on credit cards, but you can't get a return of triple X, right? And that kind of regulation. And that's not easy to draw. It takes a while.

But the first law that would just reassure the public, we're against usury. Muslims are against it. Christians are against it. Jews are against it. And we're going to develop a government laws that prohibited and penalized [sic] these institutions when they get caught doing it.

What Gardener is talking about is the type of pan-religious movement, united around an issue of social morality, that Seventh-day Adventists have tended to avoid for fear it will bring about a universal Sunday law that will force us to compromise Sabbath worship or face persecution. And while I believe that type of end-time scenario will happen, like the people who founded the Adventist Church, I don't believe that is an excuse to not join with other faith groups in public advocacy of moral positions we hold in common. But since our pioneers' involvement with the temperance movement, subsequent generations of Adventists have generally limited their public advocacy to the area religious liberty.

In the same way that Seventh-day Adventists have taken the Sabbath principle and used it to advocate freedom of worship in the public square, I believe we should use the Sabbath principle to advocate freedom from high interest loans for our nations' economies. This will sound strange to many Adventists because we have always placed the Sabbath commandment, together with the three that precede it, under the principle expressed by greatest command "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind" (Matt 22:37). And we have placed the remaining six under the next greatest command, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:39). The first "table" of the law tells us how to love God and the second how to love each other.

In doing this we have overlooked the second part of the Sabbath commandment which obligates us to give those for whose labor we are responsible a day off on Sabbath as well. When combined with the Torah's mandated Sabbatical and Jubilee years; it becomes clear that part of Sabbath keeping includes giving my neighbor the opportunity to be free from endless labor and indebtedness (If you want to know who "my neighbor" is, check out this story). As an Adventist pastor, I can also testify the the biggest impediment to Sabbath worship is Sabbath labor necessitated by the need to pay off the house, car, credit cards, etc.

Yes, we can and should hold debt seminars; and yes, people need to be responsible for their decisions. But the Sabbath command, which straddles both tables of the law, compels us to take it one step further and work to hold financial institutions responsible for their usurious abuses of the public trust. God has made it clear that human government has a role in protecting citizens from exploitative loans. Other faith groups realize this as well, and as a Seventh-day Adventist citizen of a nation where people vote the government into power, I'll gladly join in advocating against the destructive practice of high interest loans.

[Crossposted to Spectrum 7-25-08. Please comment there.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Randomness

Diverse tidbits from internet wanderings:

First off, the Pope sends text messages to his youth group, do u?
Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus — BXVI
(From the Associated Press via Get Religion)
Next, for those of you who are wondering where Marty and Josue from Just Pastors are, Josue's blogging over at TechnoMinistry and Marty's running The Innovative Pastor blog. Here's a couple other pastor blogs I read.
And last but not least, if check out the webpage of a new (yet to be named), ecumenical Bible translation sponsored by the United Methodist Publishing House, you'll see two Adventists on the list of translators. Roy Gane, OT professor at Andrews University and author of the Leviticus, Numbers volume of the NIV Application Commentary series, is working on Leviticus. And Bernard Taylor of Loma Linda University, who was a translator for Oxford University Press' New English Translation of the Septuagint, is working on the additions to Daniel for the Apocrypha.

Monday, July 14, 2008


"Oh, absolutely!"
"Is there anybody else out there who has noticed this adverb has become a substitute for "yes", "sure", and (in Minnesota) "you betcha"? One can hardly get through the day without hearing an "absolutely" launched by some talking head to affirm that a statement proposed by a leading question is, indeed, true. I, for one, have chosen to die on this hill in the grammar battles, refusing to refer to anything as absolute unless I'm sure it is always categorically true. And, more importantly, I have determined never use "absolutely" as anything other than a modifier for a verb, adjective, phrase, clause, or other adverb.

Now that I've got that self-righteous (and nerdy) rant off my chest, on to what's important. The use of "absolutely" in news stories has grown steadily since 2004 (when Google Trends started keeping track of such things). I propose that the rise in the use of "absolutely" indicates a search for absolutes in a postmodern cultural age.

To be more precise, the use of "absolutely" is one of the signals of our transition into what, for lack of a better term, has been called a post-postmodern age. In an article Ministry (June 2008), philosopher-pastor Aleksandar S. Santrac wrote about three tenets of post-postmodernism: (1) performatism [see above picture], (2) new transcendency, and (3) new utopia. It is the third point that involves our discussion, because the "new utopia" involves a rejection of anything-goes postmodernism, which had previously rejected all utopian ideals as dangerous tools of oppression.

It looks like the radical tolerance of postmodernism was only able to survive as long as there was an intolerant edifice of modernism to tear down. But for postmoderns, the edifice did eventually fall, and they had to confront an age where anything could happen and tolerance itself was dangerous. Or, as Santrac puts it, "After September 11, everything becomes possible, and humanity has no ground of hope or "anchor" of historical certainty."

Could it be that the stunning realization that we have no certainty left at all would drive my generation out of our deconstruction and irony to search for it again?


Tolerance is out. Transcendence is in. This opens a new set of spaces for the Christianity to operate in, as well as dangers to be avoided.

What possibilities or pitfalls do you see in the new cultural shift?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review: WALL-E

Do thinking machines enhance our humanity or rob us of it? While those of us who benefit from our computerized society may choose to ignore this existential question, the very existence of Pixar, the animation studio whose movies contain nothing but images wrought with thinking machines, depends on the answer. And in their latest animated feature, WALL-E, Pixar has confronted this question and answered it with an unambiguous, "Yes."

WALL-E, if you haven't figured it out yet, is a robot--a robot who has the most pointless job in the universe, compacting mountains of trash on a deserted planet Earth. Since WALL-E appears to be the last of his kind, we don't know how long he has been at his programmed destiny, but somewhere along the way he has developed a penchant for collecting human artifacts. One of his favorites is a VCR of the movie Hello, Dolly!, which he enjoys watching before he powers down for the night.

This is one of the few shots of non-animated footage incorporated into the film. As we see WALL-E longingly gazing at the romantic couples, wondering if he, too, could hold hands; we also get a glimpse of the animators at Pixar, longing to attain to the artistic value and humanity of classic, live-action filmmaking. The fact the we even consider a robot to be a "he" and interpret his emotions--though no discernible words are spoken during this first portion of the film--as "pining" or "lonely" shows that Pixar can and has created great art.

[Spoiler Alert]

WALL-E's recongition of the possibility of love begins a journey that will see him transcend the limitations of his designated function and become, ultimately, human. Meanwhile, in outer space, humanity is waiting on a starship for earth to return to normal. It was their over-consumption that made their home uninhabitable.

On the spaceship, every person's needs and desires are satisfied by a flawless fleet of robots--food, clothing, transportation, communication, entertainment--every ones experience is mediated through an electronic matrix that does the thinking (and the doing) for them. It would appear that WALL-E is not the only one in the universe with a pointless existence, that is, unless you consider endless consumption to be a valid purpose for life. Humanity has gladly allowed the thinking machines they built to strip them of intimacy, passion, creativity, and everything that makes them human, including their bodies.

[End Spoilers]

By removing the need for live, human bodies before the lens, or live, human fingers on the animator's brush; do computer animated films become a less human art form? One could also ask if Hollywood casting directors have lost touch with something important about humanity when they turn away highly skilled actors because their bodies don't have the right look? Or whether the factory process of hand-drawn animation, where hundreds of animators produce cells like robots, is inherently more artistic than computer generated images?

With WALL-E, computer animation has self-consciously declared that it is an art form to be taken seriously. As the closing-credit sequence, which tours us through a history of visual art, demonstrates, computers are just one in a long line of tools what humanity has used to express itself. And each new tool presents us with an ethical question of how to use it.

Will we use computers as a tool to extend our passion, intimacy, and creativity, or will we limit them to an escapist substitute for true humanity? Pixar has made up their mind on which course to follow and is blazing the trail. In the process, they have created a masterpiece.

[After you see the film, I recommend listening to this fascinating interview with the director of WALL-E, Andrew Stanton.]

Monday, July 07, 2008

Parody: Andrews

I need to exorcise an earworm, and the only way to do that is to pass it on.

"Rehab", by Amy Winehouse, is an autobiographical track in which she enumerates her reasons for not entering a rehabilitation program for drinking. I love this song for its classic, big-band sound and Amy's profound vocals; I hate it for the way it makes self-destructive thoughts sound so cool. But in that, perhaps, it has something to teach us of the nature of that good-old concept known as sin.

Anyhow, a parody came to mind, perhaps autobiographical in nature, lampooning the sometimes anti-academic mindset of Adventist ministerial interns.
by David Hamstra

They tried to make me go to Andrews;
I said no, no, no.
Yes I'm on track, but when I come back
You won't know, know, know.

I ain’t got the time.
And if my President thinks I'm fine...
He’s tried to make me go to Andrews;
I won't go, go, go.

I’d rather stay at home and pray.
I ain’t got 27 months.
'Cause there’s nothing, nothing you can teach me.
That I can't learn from Mrs. E. G. White.

Didn’t get a lot in class,
But I know it don’t come in a "C" pass.

They’re tryin' to make me go to Andrews;
I said no, no, no.
Yes I'm on track, but when I come back
You won't know, know, know.

I ain't got the time.
And if my President thinks I'm fine...
He’s tried to make me go to Andrews,
I won't go, go, go.

The man said, why do you think you here?
I said, I got no idea.
I'm gonna', I'm gonna' loose my focus,
So I always keep a Bible near.

Said, I just think you’re distressed.
Miss ministry? Yeah maybe.
Then go test.

They're tryin' to make me go to Andrews;
I said no, no, no.
Yes I'm on track, but when I come back
You won't know, know, know

I don’t ever wanna preach again.
I just, Ooo, I just need a friend.
I'm not gonna spend 2 years.
Have everyone think that I'm on the mend.

It’s not just my pride.
It’s just 'til these fears have died.

They’re tryin' to make me go to Andrews;
I said no, no, no.
Yes I'm on track, but when I come back,
You won't know, know, know.

I ain't got the time.
And if my President thinks I'm fine...
He’s trying to make me go to Andrews;
I won't go, go, go.
Get over yourself! Seminary is good for you; seriously. So far all my classes--all four of them--have been great.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I'm A Patriot

I'm a patriot...
  • When I'm proud of America's ideals.
  • When I love America enough to say when it's gone wrong.
  • When I cheer on the Men's National Team.
  • When I remember that America's not the only country with good ideas.
  • When I support the troops.
  • When I travel to all 50 states to know how my country looks, smells, feels, and talks.
  • When I travel abroad and tell people "I live in Canada, but I'm an American."
  • When I realize that as a citizen of The World, I have global responsibility for how I use my vote.
  • When I understand that as a citizen of Heaven, I must use my vote and influence to keep the institutions of church and state separate.
  • When I support an man for president who doesn't always wear Old Glory on his lapel.
  • When U.S. consular officials send me to the front of a very long line, because, well, just because I'm an American.
I won't be going to the fireworks tonight, not because I'm unpatriotic nor because I think it's wrong to enjoy fireworks on the Sabbath. I just don't want to interrupt the day when I celebrate the Kingdom of God with the celebration of a Kingdom of this World. I'm guessing they'll still have fireworks next year.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hitchens On Boardwatering

For those who aren't familiar his work, Christopher Hitchens is a conservative writer who supports of the occupation of Iraq and the (endless) War on Terror in general. Hitchens recently submitted himself to the "enhanced interrogation technique" known as waterboarding. His verdict: "Believe Me, It's Torture".

I'm a single issue voter in this election, and that issue is torture. Politically that's an easy place to be, because I believe both candidates are against torture. McCain has been tortured, and it seems that everyone who's been tortured doesn't want America practicing it. But, McCain's consituancy is more pro-torture than Obama's, which means I vote Obama (more on that later).

I believe that torture/cruelty is a watershed issue, because what we allow our military to do to non-citizens abroad will eventually come home (Revelation 13 stuff, as we Adventists say). If you don't believe that's necessarily true, read or watch or listen to something by Philip Zimbardo or Naomi Wolf. If you think that torture is necessary to defend America, well, read all of Hitchens' article, but also check out McClatchy's eight-month investigation, Guantanamo: Beyond the law.

Now, if you want to do something to help correct America's course, I recommend joining the National Religious Campeign Against Torture. Torture is a moral issue, and Christians have an obligation to oppose it.

[Crossposted to the Spectrum blog on 7-6-08. Please comment there.]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Seminary: Justice Sermons

Two out of the three times I have attended church at Pioneer Memorial Cathedral this year I have been treated to sermons by Old Testment professors that dealt with justice issues. The first was by Roy Gane, the text was Micah 6:8, and his emphasis on the social aspect of justice caused a couple hearty amens to pass my lips and into the hallowed hall. The second, by Jacques Doukhan on the "Hiddeness of God" in Isaiah elaborated three reasons why God "hides" his "face".
  1. He hides His face because of Who He Is. - His name (He will be who He will be) cannot be pronounced because He cannot be named. God is hidden because he is a mystery. He hides so that we will not think we have nothing left to learn of Him.
  2. He hides His face because of our sins. - In Isaiah two sins are emphasized: oppression of the weak and deception. Religious people decieve themselves when they think their fancy worship means they can neglect the poor and marginalized. They think (See point 1) that God is in the beautiful worship of the powerful, when he is actually hiding among the poor and ugly.
  3. He hides His face so that we will seek Him. We take for granted that which comes easily. If God did not hide we might not look for Him. He hides so that He may be found (See point 2).
So I wonder, Is God at Pioneer Memorial, among the movers and shakers, the crisp suits and beautiful dresses, the fantastic organ and polished worship team; or is he hiding someplace less obvious? I have been facing the choice of whether to attend a cutting edge church on campus or join a friend who ministering in what I affectionately call America's smallest ghetto, Benton Harbor. Where do you think I will find God?