Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top Five: Things Obama Didn't Talk About

Yes, we did, and I include myself in that yes. I was one of the change voters; not that I think an Obama presidency is going to bring in the millennium, the age of Aquarius, or even "change the way business is done in Washington". But at the very least I felt it was necessary to remove the power of the executive from a political party that took our nation to war on a false casus beli.

Nevertheless I do have some reservations about President-elect Obama, and amidst the deserved congratulations for an excellent campaign and the excitement about electing the first African-American president, I feel it is necessary to express that my support of his agenda is not unqualified. While I disagree with Obama regarding the issues of homosexual marriage and abortion--issues for which, in my opinion, executive power matters less than legislative--I am more concerned about the issues he didn't talk about, or at least didn't communicate to me, during his campaign. It will be interesting to see how he addresses, sidesteps or exacerbates these problems.

Top Five Things Obama Didn't Talk About
  1. How The Economy Will Impact His Promises
  2. Signing Statements
  3. Congress Shifting Its War Powers to the President
  4. Illegal NSA Surveillance
  5. Ending American Imperialism
Is there anything Obama didn't talk about that you hope he'll address? Maybe you're worried he won't? Let us know.

P.s. How do I update my spellchecker with the words "Barack" and "Obama"? "Hussein" is already there.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What Would Jesus Vote?

Jesus, of course, did not live in a liberal democracy, and therefore never cast his vote in an election or on a ballot proposition. But Christians across America will have the opportunity to do so tomorrow and may well wonder if Jesus would have them vote for anything beyond their own self interest. I believe that, although the Bible does not specifically address elections, it does communicate certain responsibilities God expects governments to care for. Based on these, I've identified three things Christians should consider in making their voting decisions.

A Christian vote is a vote for:
  1. Freedom Of Conscience (Dan. 3, Rev. 13) - Issues: freedom of worship, civil liberties, torture, homosexual unions
  2. Just Institutions That Protect Life And Property (Rom. 13:1-7, Amos 5:15, Matt. 22:21) - Issues: defense, peace, abortion, death penalty, handgun control, police, judges, budget, child protection
  3. Care Of And Opportunity For The Disadvantaged (Lev. 19:9-10, Lev. 25) - Issues: welfare, health care, debt relief, environment, workers rights
These three may seem like obvious social goods, but a careful look at the issues may make certain voting decisions less clear to you. For example, voting on homosexual unions one way could threaten freedom of conscience by imposing traditional values on homosexuals, yet voting on the issue the other way could threaten freedom of conscience by imposing secular definitions of homosexual rights on religious organizations. And when voting for a candidate, there's always a gap between what they say they'll do, what that actually want to do, and their ability to implement their agenda or even govern effectively.

Yet this should not cause us to shy away from voting altogether (although actively abstaining may be the right thing to do). Jesus told a parable about a master who give his servants talents, and it was the one who took no risk with his talent that was condemned (Mat. 25:14-30). In democracies around the world God has given Christians the opportunity to vote, and they must thoughtfully consider how they will use that gift, not for their own self-interest, but to help God's "deacon" (Rom 13:4), the government, accomplish its God ordained task in this world.

Is Christ lord of your vote?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Rome Sweet Home

I recently completed a critical book review of Rome Sweet Home for a seminar in church authority. I don't plan to regularly post my academic work here, but I thought this might be of interest. Between Bill Cork and Colin Maclurin there seems to be a Catholic theme in the Adventist blogosphere this week, so I thought I'd chime in, too.

One disclaimer: Please bear in mind that the assignment was to write a critical book review, and that brings out my Adventist bias. I do realize I am not immune from the problems I point out in the authors of Rome Sweet Home.

Scott and Kimberley Hahn were a spiritually motivated, theologically conservative, intellectually brilliant, and strongly anti-Catholic couple who individually converted to Roman Catholicism less than ten years after graduating from a Protestant seminary. This review of Rome Sweet Home, the autobiography of their journey from cradle to Catholic, will critically assess the Hahns’ theological reasons for conversion. Scott Hahn’s covenant theology and its implications for justification by faith and ecclesiology led him to convert before his wife. Kimberly Hahn, who eventually accepted her husband’s reasoning, was able to convert only after overcoming her objections to Marian devotion.

Covenant Theology
Covenant theology is the motif that binds together Scott Hahn’s half of Rome Sweet Home. Hahn first mentions it in the context of his undergrad experience when, having read the Bible several times, he “was convinced that the key to understanding the Bible was the idea of covenant.” One wonders, though, if this theological hermeneutic is more the result of his Young Life mentors, who may well have imparted the basics of covenant theology as they taught him Calvin, and less the outcome of personal study.

Justification by Faith
Hahn’s study of covenants during his M.Div. lead him to conclude that the Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone was unbiblical. He determined that in the biblical sense a covenant was not just a legal transaction but a transaction involving people for the purpose of establishing familial relationships. He concluded the New Covenant establishes us a children in God’s family, partaking of “divine sonship”, which means that sanctification, not just justification, is a part of God’s saving grace.

Hahn’s discovery not only put him at odds with his Calvinist denomination, but also laid the synergist framework that gave him common ground with Catholic soteriology. It is significant that he does not present justification by faith, the key doctrine by which Calvinists distinguish themselves from Catholics, as a major issue during his study of Catholicism. On this point Hahn leaves many questions (e.g. predestination) unanswered, and one may wonder whether he considered the Arminian tradition on this point and how his story may have been different had he joined an Arminian/Wesleyan denomination.

Hahn’s theology of God’s covenant family was a theological hermeneutic with implications for ecclesiology as well. He once told a high school class he was teaching that his ideal church organization “would be like an extended family that covers the world, with different father figures at every level appointed by God to administer his love and his law to his children.” The class realized that Hahn was describing the Roman Catholic Church; he did not.

This story illustrates a weakness in Hahn’s theological method: He often made analogical application of Scripture while harmonizing passages that contradict this application to his theology. Protestants have used covenant theology in this way to justify Sunday as the Christian day of worship against Sabbath as the Jewish day of worship. In the same way, Hahn likely harmonized and, for the purposes of his book, ignored the injunction against having earthly “fathers” in the church (Mat. 23:9) in favor of an analogical application of his covenant theology.

After finding other points on which his interpretation of scripture agreed Catholic theology, Hahn began to question another sola of Protestantism: “Where does Scripture teach sola scriptura?” At issue was the interpretation of Scripture itself. With “twenty-five thousand” Protestant denominations following “the Holy Spirit and the plain meaning of Scripture” Hahn realized that Scripture alone and Scripture interpreting Scripture was not enough to bring God’s covenant family into unity.

Hahn decided that the church must also be involved in communicating God’s Word. It wasn’t enough for the Heavenly Father to speak through his Book, because His erring children were liable to misinterpret or ignore it. The Heavenly Father needed fathers at every rung of the hierarchy, delivering the final and distinct word of authority to which the true children would submit.

Marian Devotion
During the time Scott Hahn was converting and for a few years after his conversion Kimberly Hahn’s story was one of resistance. Although she could not win her arguments with him, she completely closed her mind to the possibility of becoming Catholic and hoped that someone would be able to persuade her husband to turn from his course. It was not until Kimberly Hahn’s father, a Presbyterian minister, advised her to pray a prayer the committed her to following Christ no matter what, that she began to consider her husband’s religion with an open mind.
After committing herself to following Jesus regardless of past loyalties, Kimberley Hahn began a study of Catholic doctrine that led her to similar conclusions as her husband, and she began to feel a strong connection with God during Eucharistic/sacramental worship. From that point the only major theological obstacle to Hahn’s conversion was Catholic Marian devotion.

Veneration and Worship
Apart from feeling marital jealously towards Mary and finding it hard to identify with her as an intercessor, Hahn does not elaborate on her objections except in the context of the Catholic reasons for Marian devotion. That she felt praying the rosary would be offensive to God indicates that her theological issues had to do with what she perceived to be the worship of Mary by Catholics. Hahn knew the arguments regarding the difference between worship and veneration and between prayer and intercession, but it was not until she realized that for Catholics, worship was the sacrifice of the Eucharist, whereas for Protestants it was songs and prayers, that she was able to make a distinction between the veneration and worship of Mary.

Mother of the Church
I believe family covenant theology had an impact on Kimberley Hahn’s acceptance of Marian Devotion. First, Hahn was predisposed to accept her husband’s theology because she understood him, as the father of their family, to be her spiritual leader, who, although he did not force the issue, was nevertheless someone to who’s authority she should submit. Hahn portrays the psychology of her conversion story as resistance followed by acceptance to her husband's spiritual leadership.

Second, within the analogical structure of Scott Hahn’s covenant theology, it was logical that Jesus’ father (God the Father) and mother (Mary) would be her Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In this context, the Communion of Saints is our heavenly and earthly brothers and sisters to whom we may go for intercession, and our earthly father and mother are the Pope (and his bishops and priests) and the Catholic Church, respectively. Viewing Mary as her mother also helped her overcome the objection to the “vain repitions” of the rosary, because, as a nun told her, mothers love to hear their young children say “I love you,” no matter how many times they say it in a day.

Scott and Kimberley Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home is a compelling story told in an engaging manner, and though this review found fault some of their reasoning, the reviewer appreciated both their intellectual and moral honesty. The central and most frequent fallacy in their theological thinking is an analogical application of biblical concepts in a way that contradicts the limitations Scripture itself places on those concepts. This reviewer believes that Hahns’ story would have ended differently had they, when faced with these contradictions, challenged their theological hermeneutic rather than explaining scripture to accommodate their theology.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adventists = Contrarians

Adventists are contrarians. Most Christians go to church on Sunday; Adventists go on Saturday. Most Christians think you go to Heaven or Hell when you die, Adventists believe you go to sleep. We're a conservative denomination that promotes vegetarianism, for goodness sake!

I don't think Adventism is contrarian in principle. It's not as if our pioneers set out to believe or practice the opposite of other Christians. They just believed you shouldn't do what everyone else does just because that's what everyone does.

Nevertheless, I think Adventism attracts contrarians, because it takes a special personality to go against the flow. The problem comes when those contrarians have children and raise them in Adventist churches, schools, and institutions. Contrarianism is nonsustaining, because the second generation is born with an above average desire to be contrary to the mainstream, which for them is their parents' religion.

The loss of the Adventist converts' second generation is almost guaranteed after their Adventist religious training. Adventist religious training has traditionally focused on imparting reasons the Adventist religion is correct rather than Adventist religious experience. The problem with this is that the primarily cognitive religious training of Adventist young people equips them with intellectual tools they can later use to tear down their faith. Cognitive reasons for faith make no sense without the experience of faith, so when the reasons for faith are divorced from experience of faith, reason ends up being used against faith.

I suggest a twofold solution: (1) That the first generation devote more focus to imparting the experiential as opposed to primarily cognative aspects of their faith. Ellen White was onto something when she talked about Adventist youth needing "experimental" (that's 19th century for experiential) religion.

(2) The first generation should channel the contrarian impulse of the second generation into semper reformanda, the principle that the church should always be in the process of reformation. The first generation is often deceived into thinking that because they have traveled so far against the mainstream there is no farther to go. Adventists have leveled this critique against other protestant denominations, while ignoring the implications for their own. Instead of pretending perfection and leaving the second generation to turn their contrarian impulse against their faith, Adventists should encourage their children to refine, expand, re-express and appropriate their parents' faith.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Half-handed Cloud

It sounds like a really smart Sunday-school class on a sugar high let loose in a music store.

-iTunes album review of We Haven't Just Been Told, We've Been Loved
Half-handed Cloud is my new Friday night favorite. When praise and worship, choir and organ, gospel quartet, and holy hip-hop have lost my musical interest, it's time for HHC, because John Ringhoffer, the man behind the project, takes "Sing a new song to the Lord" into a new dimension. I can only describe the musical genre of HHC in phrases: Juno soundtrack, indie-rock, sound experiment, high school band, and music my wife will only tolerate in small doses.

I was introduced to Half-handed Cloud by my brother-in-law, who knew Ringhoffer from the Seventh-day Adventist community around Chattanooga, TN. Today John lives in a church basement Berkley (except when he's turing with Half-handed Cloud or as the trombonest in Sufjan Stevens' band), where he's the janitor in exchange for his diggs. He does not describe himself as a Seventh-day Adventist, but does attend an Adventist church among others on weekends.

Listening to an HCC album is in some ways like reading the Bible, you will not get everything the first time through, nor the second. The tempo is generally fast, and the lyrics are just as quirky and dense as the music. The 50 second opera, "Pup Tent Noah", is an exception to the fast and dense rule but it's two-line libretto nicely illustrates John's unique take on Bible stories: "If your father's getting naked in the pup / Walk in backwards and cover him up."

From a theological perspective, I see an Adventist influence on the themes addressed in two Half-handed Cloud albums I own, We Haven't Just Been Told, We've Been Loved, and Thy Is a Word, and Feet Need Lamps. Thy Is a Word deals primarily with Old Testament stories--the ones Uncle Arthur didn't tell--that challenge the our notions of God's loving character. And six early tracks on We Haven't Just Been Told are about Sabbath beginning with "Our First Full Day Was Spent In Rest" and including my favorite line: "I got a-rested so I'm free...."

I think what keeps me coming back to HHC is Ringhofer's sensitivity to truth in paradox. His childish vocal stylings render lyrics of profound spiritual meaning; serious yet silly music accompanies his summaries of the most brutal OT tales (e.g. "Everyone Did What Was Right in Their Own Eyes"). There's something essentially real about these juxtapositions that resonates with my own experience of following Christ.

I recommend Half-handed Cloud to anyone who's up for something musically new. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate this music, as John's popularity with the progressive music scene proves, but I find his work is best appreciated in its scriptural context. I myself plan to get some more HHC albums when I'm tired of the ones I have, but so far, that hasn't happened.

Check out this interview John did with with Relevant Magazine.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Interview: Joel Klimkewicz

Joel Klimkewicz is a colleague of mine at the Adventist Theological Seminary, with whom I have enjoyed several classes. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized that he is the former US Marine who had received media coverage (Adventist links are the only ones still up.) a couple years ago for spending time in the brig on account of his non-combatant convictions. After talking with Joel about his experiences, I asked him to do an interview with me for apokalupto, and he agreed.

a: Did you have religious faith when you joined the Marine Corps?

JK: No. I was confirmed in the Lutheran church but wasn't a practicing Lutheran. I believed in God, don't get me wrong. And I would go to church in boot camp to get out of activities--Catholic church, because it was the longest.

a: How did you become a Seventh-day Adventist?

JK: I was scheduled for a deployment in 2002, a scheduled deployment where you float around in the Mediterranean and wait for something to happen. However, due to September 11 we knew we would probably go to Afghanistan or someplace else. But I wanted to get out of this employment to be home for the birth of my child.

I tried everything, but nothing could get me out of this deployment. While at sea the only way I could contact my wife was to use the email service on the ship, and with 3,000 people wanting to use those computers, you had to wait in line a long time. But there was this Bible study in the computer room, so I would go to the Bible study in order to get a computer to email my wife without waiting in line. But after two Bible studies I began to pay attention.

The chaplain teaching, who was an Adventist, was combining history and the Bible, Daniel and Revelation stuff, without mentioning the Adventist church at all. And I was able to look these things up and come to the conclusion that the man was teaching Biblical truth. He wasn't only teaching prophecy but also commitment. And when I committed myself to the Lord I was able to overcome some besetting sins like smoking and drinking. And that's how I became an Adventist.

The first time I was baptized was in the United Arab Emierates, but the night before I was out drinking and partying with my friends. The second time I made a full, wholistic commitment to the Lord and was baptized in the Seyshelles islands.

So I was still on this ship with this Adventist chaplain, and we became good friends.

a: What led you to conclude that you could not take a human life in combat?

JK: It wasn't the teachings of this chaplain, who is not a pacifist in any way.

My wife is a cultural Buddhist from Japan. She observed the changes in my life, and became interested in Adventism. She took Bible studies by correspondence from the Voice of Prophecy in Japan and joined the Adventist church.

Now my family was a new Christian family, and as the spiritual leader of my home, I wanted to be an example to my family. At this time I knew the Iraq war was very close at hand, as we had advance knowledge of that. I also learned that what we'd actually been doing in Africa was establishing relations to get the military a base for bombers--Camp Lemonier.

My church was an Adventist church in a military town, and people were telling me the the historical Adventist position was non-combatancy. I didn't really know anything about that, but at the same time I was reading scripture and concluding that Christian's are citizens of Heaven. And what in combat if I had to kill a fellow Christian?

Plus, before I became a Christian I was an angry person, and I knew that if I took a human life, I would have a guilty conscience and go back to my old way of living. The Holy Spirit was telling me that if I killed someone, it would undo all the positive steps I'd taken since becoming a Christian.

a: What consequences did you face as a result of that decision?

JK: I sought the advice of an Adventist chaplain who didn't fully agree with me but told me I had two options. One was to stay in the military as a non-combatant and the other was to get out of the military as a pacifist. I decided to stay in as a non-combatant, so an investigation was started to determine if my new found belief qualified me for non-combtance.

The investigator told me that I didn't qualify because I re-enlisted after I became an Adventist. But he messed up in that he did not realize that the Adventist church does not prohibit combatant military service. After 18 months I was denied status and ordered to take my weapon to kill human life. Obviously, I had to follow my conscience and told my commander that I respectfully could not obey. I even explained that I would be willing to do any combat oriented task without a weapon, such as clear landmines, a job I was trained to do. Clearing landmines generally does not require a weapon due to the danger of it falling on a mine or seting one off magnetically. My higher ups yelled at me and threatened different things, but I felt that the judgment that God would give me would be worse than what the military could give.

My commanding officer charged me with disobedience of a lawful order, which is usually a non-judicial matter punished with a fine and demotion, that type of thing. But, two months before I would have been out of the Marines, he sent me to a general court martial. General courts martial are usually reserved for serious matters like rapes and murders.

So the Adventist church sent their attorneys and chaplains, and I had a military lawyer. I had the impression that with all these people, how could I loose? The arraignment judge even recommended that it be dismissed, but if a commander wants a court martial, it's their decision. My lawyer fought this issue on the timeline of my conversion, that even though I'd reenlisted as an Adventist, I was still growing in my faith. Therefore, the investigator was wrong in denying my request, because the Adventist church does not prohibit military service.

In military law, the judge rules guilty or not guilty before the attorneys make their full arguments. The judge found me guilty, and then we spent hours with witnesses and arguments to determine the sentence. The prosecutor was trying to get the maximum penalty of 5 years, but the judge sentenced me to loss of pay, 7 months in the brig, and a bad conduct discharge.

Leaving that courtroom was quite an experience. They literally ripped my uniform off me, and that iss a disgrace to all who wear it. It was only by the grace of God that I didn't lash out.

In the brig, I started giving bible studies right away. There was a guy who was baptized with me who was busted for knocking off ATMs and took my presence as a sign that he needed to reform. There was another Adventist in there, and together we started worships on Sabbath

The church meanwhile had started a media campaign. Roscoe Bartlett, who was sitting on a military finance committee also had some meetings with the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Because of their efforts, I got out after four months.

And the Lord blessed me with a very good military appeal lawyer who fought for me at the Clemency and Parole Board which turned my discharge to "general under honorable conditions". The entire time I was going through this appeal process I was doing my undergrad at Southern Adventist University, so when my twins were born prematurely, the military paid the full medical expenses, which were over a million dollars.

a: Do you think that the environment of killing and training to kill impacts ones morality in other areas negatively?

JK: There is some validity to that. In the Marine Corps they would like to pride themselves in their morals. Honor courage and commitment are their core values, and they promote this. Where the immorality comes in is from people who come from dysfunctional lives before they enter the military.

These people come from all over the country, and get discipline in the military. Where their lives used to have no structure, they now have structure. So they become disciplined drunks, drug users, etc. So I don't think the training that they receive to kill impacts their morality so much as it makes them more disciplined about the lifestyle they already had.

a: What is your position with regard to pacifism today?

JK: I don't consider myself a pacifist. I think pacifism itself is somewhat of a naive position. It's a good idea in the ideal sense, but unfortunately we have sin. And since we have sin we need doctors and lawyers, and also police and military. However, I believe that God's last day church has a more specific and bigger purpose to accomplish which is to preach the gospel to the whole word. And we do this because we know that He's coming and in order to fulfill our mission as disciples. This is bigger than the mission some have to carry arms.

a: Are preaching the gospel and carrying arms mutually exclusive missions?

I'm hesitant to give the answer because if you're in a position of chaplaincy that's something you can't say, however it seems that without the military perhaps the Gospel would not freely go to many parts of the world. I think scripture clearly portrays that God uses nations to judge other nations, however that doesn't necessarily mean that his believers have to carry arms and do the judging. In fact our battle is not with flesh and blood; it is with principalities, a task that often takes more courage than pulling a trigger. Many have lost their lives in defense of the Gospel.

a: In your opinion, how could Adventist pastors and church leaders better address the issue of military service with their young people?

JK: You would advise Adventists to really pray and search scripture and their own conscience. I personally believe that Adventist religious convictions will be compromised in the military. Really, any sincere religious conviction will be problematic in the military. Because of the nature of the military mission, any conviction you have plays second fiddle to the mission of the military. That's in the oath you take, that your primary duty will be to protect and defend the constitution of the United States.

a: Do you know anything about how many Adventists are serving in the military?

JK: According to the Military Endorser to the Seventh-day Adventist church I was told that there are over 6,000 Adventist combatants serving in the US military and 56,000 SDA combatants worldwide?

a: Don't these numbers say we aren't doing a good enough job upholding our historic position? What advice would you give pastors, parents, or youth workers who want to do something about it?

The problem is that the church is not educating people on alternatives or on the historic position of the church. If you go to the Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) website, it's recommended that a young person consider non-combatancy. But from Vietnam up until recently it hasn't been an issue.

There is a movement to educate our young people. ACM is working on a video to be circulated to our churches and schools. I'm in the video, and so are others who've had conflicts of conscience in the military. It's almost impossible to educate people without taking a position, so the church needs to be more clear with it's recommendation.

It may be impossible to achieve, but on our universities, when undergrads are confronted by a military recruiter who is allowed to roam freely on our campuses it supports the idea that the military is a viable career option for Adventists, especially in a bad economy when other job options are limited. So I'd like to see that changed.

The military was good for me. I would not be a disciplined student if not for the military. It was also good to be a part of such a unified organization, although that unity is often imposed by force. But we can offer alternatives to this. And we could adopt some of their methods like physical fitness, teamwork exercises, and bible boot camps to instill discipline, to achieve a level unity with our youth.

a: What are your plans for future ministry, and are you planning to be involved in these issues in the future?

JK: At present I'm sponsored [at the Adventist Theological Seminary] by the Florida Conference, so I'm going to fulfill my obligations as pastor in the Florida Conference. I'm open to any invitation to speak on these matters, and I've given my testimony in several churches. Now that I'm not active duty I'm able to speak freely.

a: When you join the military do you give up your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?

JK: When you join the military you have limited first amendment rights. For example, you cannot criticize the Commander in Chief, and that means the President.

a: Do you see military chaplaincy in your future?

JK: I'm not convinced that Adventism should do away with service of military chaplains. I think that military chaplaincy serves an important role. One of the unfortunate reasons why we have chaplains is because of abuses that happen to people of faith. One of the roles of the chaplain is to be an advocate for people of faith.

And if it wasn't for a chaplain I wouldn't be an Adventist Christian. Chaplains are able to reach young people who are in desperate need of salvation. The unfortunate thing is that many Christian chaplains see their job as a paycheck and forget the call to make disciples. As an Adventist chaplain I don't think your job is to make non-combatants. I think your job, first and foremost, is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Daniel had to go to Babylon, and to win some of these people we have to go to Babylon.

If the lord has military chaplaincy in my future, I'm certainly open to that option.

After our interview, Joel sent me the following statment.
I must say that I respect our nation's military and those who are able to serve in a combatant role without compromise of conscience. I don't claim to have all the answers for those who are unsure. I believe a sincere search of God's will and much dialogue with fellow believers will bring about a better understanding of the complex nature of this dilemma. I do know from experience that when God gives a conviction he will provide the strength and courage to stand for it, not so much for self-edification but because He knows the impact it will have on those who are unbelievers, skeptics, or those who are simply sitting on the fence.

I could share several stories, but one seems relevant for this discussion. A few weeks ago a high ranking leader from my former command gave me a late night unexpected phone call. He wanted to apologize for standing against me and explained that he wishes he had made the same choice. He now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the things he saw and did in combat. He is looking for away to rid himself of that guilt and looking to the Lord for that peace.

To this an old Japanese Proverb with profound truth applies, “Kokai saki ni tatasu.” Simply stated, "Regret is in the past not in the future." The choices we make today determine our future, hence the reason to submit your choices to the approval of God (Prov. 16:9).
For if you have an interest in these issues, check out the Should I Fight? conference to be held Nov. 6-9 in Oshawa, ON.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poem: Present

If ones blog isn't the place to inflict ones B-grade poetry on the word, I don't know what is. And in that spirit I present a poem I composed during a retreat with my Spiritual Formation class. After a day spent largely in silent meditation and prayer, we were asked to create a joyful response in an artistic medium to the revelation of God we received that day.
by David Hamstra

Here I am.
Where are You?
The thought just occurred to me.
I haven't heard you lately.

I'm over here.
Why are You there?
You said You'd be with me.
And I need your help quickly.

I am way up here.
Hey, You're way back there.
That doesn't concern me.
I'm in too big a hurry.

I'm still back here.
You're going where?
I don't think that's for me.
To be honest it's scary.

Here am I,
Followin' You.
It seems the place for me
Is where I follow you closely.
"If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him" (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship) (cf. Luke 9:23).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Church Documentary

Stained Glass: Hollywood Blvd. Trailer

Melody George at the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church has written and directed a documentary about the formation of her congregation's "Missional Action Teams". Having followed online the escapades of Hollywood's pastor, Ryan Bell, for some time, I can say you won't ever look at church life the same way once you watch this film. I don't think I'm overreaching when I say that, based on what I've seen so far, this documentary gives the viewer an unprecedented, fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the intimate details of the transformation of an Adventist congregation.

[UPDATE 8-27-08: Pastor Bell asked me to remove a link to the first episode with was not completed nor released to the public. I found it by accident and have removed the link as he requested. If you happen to have the link or the video, please respect his wishes.]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Top Five: Childbirth And The Second Coming

Antonin David Jan Hamstra

I know it's been done before, but, being a new father, I can't resist. Here's a list of some ways that pregnancy and childbirth is like unto the second coming of Christ.
  1. Just when you think it's finally about to happen, you enter a new stage of waiting.
  2. While you're waiting, you have work to do.
  3. Things are going to get more intense and painful before it's over.
  4. It's the end of the world as you know it, and the beginning of another.
  5. He comes to be lord of your life.
What I did not expect was the feeling that my son completely belongs in my life, as if he were always a part of our family. I feel deep gratitude to God for the gifts of life and procreation and to my wife for bearing and delivering our son. I have done nothing to deserve this grace, and now it owns me.

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?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Podcast: How To Think About Science

There was a day when the church was the epistemic authority--the institution that told intellectuals how to think and the limits of what could be known as well as instructing the masses in what was true and false. But the Enlightenment shattered the foundations of theological authority as the Reformers exposed the church's abuses of authority and philosophers generated new methods of knowing that called the church's truth claims into question. And it's those modern methods of knowing and the institution that supports them that we now call "science".

How To Think About Science is a CBC Podcast that explores the institutions and methods of science. Science is the epistemic authority of our day, yet reformers are questioning the ways its authority is used and philosophers are questioning the basic assumptions that support its method. How To Think About Science is the only medium I know of (Someone, correct me if I'm wrong.) that collects the disparate voices challenging the authority of science and places them together in the context of an epistemological revolution.

This revolution coincides with the cultural and philosophical movement known as postmodernism and could be identified with it. Like postmodernism, it's not exactly clear what it will become and what the next epistemic authority will be. But if you'll indulge me going out on a limb and playing prophet, I'd say that the next epistemic authority will resemble a Wiki and its method will be something one could label "collective phenomenology".

But please, don't quote me on that in twenty years (unless I'm right).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blog: Caricatures of Adventists

If you feel the need to enjoy a holy chuckle this Sabbath, check out the cartoons at Caricatures of Adventists. If you shun levity on the Lord's Day, click the link and meditate on portraits produced by an amazing, anonymous, Adventist artist and the informative mini-bios that accompany them. This one's my favorite.

Update [10-29-09]: apokalupto media: Prophecy Chart Interview

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How To Talk About Hanging Out On The Couch

I recently got the DVD of the Red Books play about Ellen White. It's a great play, and I highly recommend it...except for one part that made me cringe. It wasn't the part where the angry man uses Ellen White's quotes to put the kibosh on her fun, nor the scene where scholars are shooting each other with books. No; it was the part where an actor attempted to mimic a Canadian accent.

As a person who has a very sensitive ear for accents, I believe that if you can't do an accent right, you shouldn't do it at all. And having spent some time in Canada, I know what the Canadian accent sounds like. So, America, when you get the urge to do a Canadian accent, take the following advice in the spirit in which it was offered, and stop embarrassing yourself before an audience of 33.3 million Canadians.

First, you need to know that the accent you are trying to imitate is the Central and Western English Canadian accent, which is different than the Francophone, Maritime, and Newfoundland English Canadian accents. Second, although most Canadians hardly ever use the word "eh", it is most often used to soften the impact of a statement that could otherwise be offensive (pronounced oh'-fen-siv) by turning it into a question. And if you use it like that, you won't sound like a total idiot, eh?

Finally, there is the issue of [deep breath] "aboot". This is where most Americans have a grossly distorted notion of the phenomenon known to linguists as Canadian Raising. What that means, in technical terms, is when Canadians pronounce "out" they use a diphthong, a combination of two vowel sounds; whereas when Americans say "aboot", they use only one vowel sound.

So, to do a Canadian "out" correctly you need to make one vowel sound for the "o", slide into another for the "u", finish with a hard "t" (not a "d"). The easiest way to learn it is to start by saying "oat", next quickly flick the pitch of your voice up so that the "oh" sound becomes an "oo" sound at the end. Now make it sound smooth and natural (don't over-doooo it), and soon you'll be able to talk about hanging out on the couch with Bob and Doug like a real Canadian!

If you want, you can also sprinkle in a little Canadian vocabulary, and you're on your way to devastating your neighbours to the north with your wit and humour.
  • Toque (pronounced 'took)=knit winter cap
  • Boost=jump start
  • Chesterfield=couch, sofa
  • Cutlery=sliverware
  • Runners=running shoes, sneekers
  • Washroom=bathroom
  • Gasbar=gas station
  • The Great One=Wayne Gretzky

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Like Children

I have observed something about children. Their perspective on personal tragedy is different than adults. And this observation has taught me something about my journey with God.

For a child events like falling down on a hard surface, not getting to play with a desired toy, or being sent to bed while others stay up are major tragedies. They wail, shed tears, and loudly protest the situation. Yet, sooner or later, they allow their parents to comfort them and then proceed with life as if nothing had happened.

Now, what makes the difference between the parents' reaction to the emotionally negative event vis a vis the child's? The difference is time. The parents' life-experience has given them a broader perspective on this type of event.

They know what the child does not: That these experiences are to be expected, that the pain does not last forever, that life will go on, and that better times will come. This does not lessen the emotional content of the child's tragedy in the parents' eyes; they still sympathize with their child and wish the child didn't have that experience. But because they can frame this event in a broader context, they are able to offer comfort to their child.

Of course, the parents have tragedies of their own that their children are not yet old enough to fully comprehend: foreclosures, layoffs, mental illness, chronic illness, and death. The question is Who comforts the adult during these times? Who is able to guide us through the experience of death as one who has been there before? (You probably know where this is headed.)

God's time is different than our time, and that gives Him an eternal perspective on the tragedies of our life. He's been through greater tragedy than we can comprehend. Can any one of us claim to fully grasp the significance of famine, genocide, the fall of Lucifer, sin, or the Cross? (Perhaps this is why Christians sometimes talk so glibly about hell.)

So he picks us up, hugs us, tells us it will be OK, wipes away our tears, and releases us into an eternal life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poem: Losing WSUI

Just back from another road trip, I caught a poem on The Writer's Almanac this morning that encapsulates my frequency modulated expeditions as a motorist who listens to low power, non-commercial radio.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seminary: Prayer Services

One of the great thing about being in seminary is the opportunity to pray with your classmates. You see people stopping together for a quick chat with God all the time, or at least more than you do in WalMart. There's also a short prayer service in the chapel every day that begins when my morning class ends, and it's a great way to receive spiritual power, bless others, and fight the temptation of intellectualism that haunts us seminarians.

Sometimes I wonder whether I would attend prayer services like these if I wasn't a pastor, who has to run prayer meetings, or a seminarian, who has easy access to them. I pray that I would.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I Learned From Sid Meier's Civilization

One of my favorite Christmas presents as a boy was the computer game, Civilization. It's a turn based strategy game that lets you pretend to be the supreme ruler of a world civilization for 6000 years of its development (talk about a narcissistic head trip). I've wasted hours with that game and its subsequent iterations, but I did learn one important lesson from it:

If you plan to win today, you will loose tomorrow.

When most novice players begin a game of Civilization they immediately focus on building military units to take out their nearest neighbor. And when they succeed, at great military and economic cost; they find they've opened Pandora's box, because the neighbor of their neighbor has been spending money on technology, has more advanced units, and is not happy with whoever took out their ally. So next time the defeated player, having learned the wrong lesson, focuses on technology to the detriment of their military, and is quickly defeated by a militaristic neighbor who has built hordes of less advanced units.

Success in Civilization depends on patience, taking the long view, and a willingness to be less successful today in order position yourself to be more successful in the future. The mistake that novice players make is perceiving themselves as the only change agent in the game world. They believe that the word stands still as they make and execute their plans, that the world will not respond proactively to what they do, and their their actions will only cause the effects they intended.

In my observation, the church often acts in the world like a novice Civilization player. It found something that worked yesterday, rushes to get thousands of converts with it; wonders what went wrong, and then tries the exact opposite; all the while paying little heed to its changing environment and the long view of things. This is especially disturbing to me in light of the fact that the church claims to know from prophecy what the end will look like, because the best Civilization players have the end in mind from the beginning.

I don't know what to do about this, but here's are a couple of scriptures that might point us in the right direction.
From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the temper of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. (1 Chronicles 12:32, NLT)
So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8, NKJV)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rick Steves' Iran

Rick Steves is my travel guru from back when I read his seminal Europe Through The Back Door before my first Europe trip as teenager. It basically showed me how to make my way through countries where I didn't speak the language and have fun doing it. But it was only recently that I discovered he has a blog (who doesn't these days), where he invites you to "Hitch an online ride with Rick".

Rick took a trip to Iran recently--yes, the same Iran that made McCain a karaoke superstar--and blogged his experience there. Given the current geopolitical situation and Rick's inter-cultural acumen, this series of posts is a great place to get some perspective. If you read nothing else, you have to check out this post: "Death to Israel...Death to Traffic".

Friday, June 13, 2008


[An image of the official Seventh-day Adventist logo was removed at the request of the Office of General Counsel.]

An excerpt from my conference's weekly announcement email:
UPDATED SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST LOGO It now includes the registered trademark ® symbol. Update your stationary, business cards, newsletterheads, church bulletins, and other printed items. Use the ® after the first use of the word "Adventist" in a document. Adventist Church Connect websites have been updated. Contact to download the updated logos.

There you have it. My "identity" as an Adventist has been trademarked. Why would I want to be a part of a worldwide movement when I can sport a global brand?

Sarcasm aside, what I see here is the culmination of a long, misguided attempt on the part of the General Conference (GC) Communication Department* to control the meaning of the name "Adventist" from the top down. There's an history of legal action around this issue (some of it justified) that isn't necessary to rehash here. My point is that there are two major problems with this strategy.
  1. They're defending a brand that has minimal market penetration as if it had major market penetration. A 2003 a study found that only 56% of North Americans had heard of the Adventist Church, and of those one sixth knew nothing about it beyond that fact it was a religion. My point is that at a time when we need all the viral marketing help we can get, we're actually banning websites that aren't run by the church bureaucracy from having the word "Adventist" in their title (e.g. Sabbath Pulpit "formerly the Adventist Pulpit").
  2. For a communication department* that is reputed to be emergent and postmodern and [insert hip label here] this a very unclassy move. In a generation that is over-advertised and suspicious of religious institutions, that little ® screams, "Join us, so we can get your money!" Seriously, that ® is going to do more damage to our image than the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church ever could.

Now I don't want this to be an anti-Ray screed. I think his department has done a lot of good things lately. But it seems to me, from where I sit, that Mr. Dabrowski has some 'splainin' to do; and I am open to that explanation.

(There are two possible responses that will mean something significant to me: (1) Ray Dabrowski comments on this blog and offers an explanation, or (2) I get a communication from the GC asking me to remove the official logo.)

*It has now become clear that this decision did not originate with the Communication Department, but with the Office of General Counsel, directed by Robert Kyte (see the comments).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Euthanos - A Good Death

Today, I'm attending the funeral of a 92 year old woman. Until a week and a half ago, when she went to the hospital, she had full independence. After the doctors had tested her, they said she had cancer. Eight days later, after saying goodbye to her children and grandchildren, she was dead.

I consider this to be a good death, as I have watched others endure painful battles with cancer for years, battles that could not be won. Yet the concept of a good death seems to be an oxymoron. How can we consider the end of a life to be a good thing?

May I suggest that the quality of a death is defined by the quality of the life it ends--the things that the living being is able to attend to before death, the amount of pain that attends life, the meaning that the life gives to its death, etc. Of course, life is to be preferred to death. Yet, in this world, we all must say goodbye for the last time, and the way we go about doing that is important.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

...And We're Back

Tonight I'm starting a new chapter of apokalupto. As you can see, it's been almost two years since I signed off, and a lot's happened during that time. So instead of writing two lengthy paragraphs to fill you in on those happenings, I'll just make a brief two point list with three sentences per item.
  1. Just Pastors is no more. Pastors easily get distracted too busy, and so our blog went the way of all things under the sun. If you're looking for pastoral tips and tools, check out Georgia Grown.
  2. I am now a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. That's right; I'm now in the backyard of my home and native land, Minnesota. But Michigan's almost as nice.
Now why would I want to restart my blog in the midst of my seminary education; don't they give me enough papers to write? Well, I'll have you know that my workload is now less than when I was a pastor. But apart from that, here's a list summarizing my reasons for reviving apokalupto.
  1. I keep coming across things (news items, ideas, media, etc.) that I really, really want to blog about. I know it's selfish, but aren't all great writers narcissists?
  2. I would like to give theology undergrads and pastoral interns an sense of what to expect from their seminary experience. This is especially for Adventist pastors in North American, the majority of whom have or will study at Andrews University. I know that this has been done before, but someone has to take up the mantle.
So there you have my two part vision for apokalupto: (1) the same old eclectic content with (2) a new focus on seminary life. Hope you like it. Stay tuned.

And don't forget to comment.