Sunday, December 23, 2007

Review of 300 (the movie)

There is fundamentally something wrong with the world. For whatever reason, humans have always believed--regardless of culture, religion, or location--that we are to be an active part of the solution. Whenever this marring evil is identified or personalized, something must be done and that something is always war.

In 300, the war is against slavery, tyranny, and ingloriousness. The Spartans believe that, at least to some degree, they hold this. They have perpetual peace because they train for perpetual war. The Persians represent hubris, barbarism, and the end of the Spartan way of life--they are the bringers of slavery and tyranny. So the leader of the Spartans, Leonidis, sets out with 300 of his best men to meet the massive Persian army in full combat, to rid Greece of evil and protect freedom.

The overtones to the current American situation in the Middle East, or looking back to the Soviet Union era, are obvious, even if they may not be intentional. You cannot tell a story about a people rising in violence against an enemy that threatens their very way of life in this age without hearing the subtle undercurrents about terrorism, 9/11, or another ruthless Asian regime. If the battle is not engaged, the only outcome will be loss of life, liberty, and property...or so it seems.

As others have said better than myself, war always leads to loss of liberty, no matter what side you are on. Governments never back down and get rid of "emergency measures," nor do they shrink the size of their armies and navies, nor does the propoganda machine ever stop. With victory comes insecurity; there is always some other convining not-like-us group that is waiting in the wings to take the position as king of the hill. Hence perpetual war for perpetual peace. The idea itself that violent conquest leads to peace is itself an old piece of propoganda that in the hands of the powerful becomes a call to honorable war, but in the hands of the powerless is known as crime, rebellion, or treason.

This is not to say, though, that negotiations always (or ever) work. There will always be madmen (and women) who will not listen to reason, or be empathetic, or what have you. There will always be those who have a never-ending thirst for blood. Or power. Or victory. Or security. These people cannot and will not be stopped by force of words alone. Whatever happens to be fundamentally wrong with the world, it is foolish to believe that it will listen to reason. Or that it will agree to your definition of reason to begin with.

In a broken, sinful, violent world, war is inescapable.

I have been a pacifist for a number of years now. I've been called illogical, a coward, looked at as "less than American," and generally ignored. That is because pacifism has been confused with cowardice and compromise. While I do not agree with many things that they said or did, I look to Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and wonder what they would have thought (or what they did think!) of such an assessment. To be a pacifist does not mean the denial of war, but instead a different assessment of how victory is to be accomplished.

The Messiah was supposed to be a great military leader, like Joshua, or David, or Ehud, or... He was supposed to throw off the pagan yoke and crush, with the force of God Himself, all pretentions to Israel's place in God's plan--as Adam, as ruler of the beasts that the pagans had turned themselves into. The war was with the Caesars and once Rome, the embodiment of the Serpent, was torn down, then the sons of God would rule in wisdom, prosperity, and with peace. However, Jesus did not do this. It is not because he had a great love for the Romans--he considered having one of their coins idolatrous and an affront to the true God. It was not because he hated his countrymen--his tears were always to gather the people to himself and to God. It was because he saw that the war being fought (at that time) coldly was the wrong war.

While we were watching 300 I asked Bethany when she thought that the Persians soldiers would start defecting over to the Spartans. She responded that they were slaves. Exactly. A slave is forced to do what they do not because of love or loyalty, but because of compulsion. They do the will of the master, whoever that master might be. I thought that they would see the victories of the Spartans over the Persians (free men versus slaves) as a reason to defect, to become free, and to fight against their old masters. That did not happen in the movie, partly, I surmise, because slaves are given limited vision. They cannot see freedom by changing allegiances, but only freedom through the destruction of the other. This is the doctrine that they are fed by their masters and it is impossible to not believe it. Worse when one master pits two sets of slaves against each other.

The problem wasn't the Romans, just like it isn't the Iraqis, or the Iranians, or any other number of "incarnations of evil." The problem isn't the slaves, it is the masters. Whereas his comtemporaries saw the Romans as the great, gnashing, Danielic beast, Jesus saw them as pawns of that beast, the accuser, the evil one, the first serpent and last dragon, the one known in Hebrew as the satan. Yes, the Romans had to be defeated, but by changing loyalties, not bloodshed. The satan had to be crushed and his weapon is always violence and death. Jesus didn't deny the war, he denied the way it was to be fought and the terms that would be used.

Leonidis, instead, perpetuated the circle of violence. His attack on Persian would necessitate a counter-attack, which would provoke a counter-attack, and so on, until one (or both) groups were decimated to historical and cultural irrelevance. The war would go on in different guises until the whole world was at each others' throats. The battle was won, but the enemy was not disarmed.

Jesus, by submitting to death--to the fulness of God's curse and the full power of Caesar and satan--defeated it, because it had no legal claim on him. He triumped by taking the very weapons out of the hands of the enemy and parading them around as paltry, restoring them to the place of servants to his people instead. That is why martyrdom is honorable; because death is defeated in resurrection--both Jesus' in the past and his peoples' in the future.

So, the pacifist has a toolbox full of weapons at his disposal, but none are carnal or "of this world", instead we fight with the resurrection of Jesus and overcome by resisting to play evil's game. The only lasting victory, or sustainable peace, can be won this way: by overcoming evil with good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Review of Fight Club

(Some spoilers, but it isn't like this is a new book)

Rarely, if ever, when someone reads about the Church in the Bible, do they go out and start churches where they are. Even more rarely if someone "explains" to them what Christianity is "all about". Even more rarely if they have any interaction with Christianity as it is. At least in the United States. I cannot speak for anywhere else.

When men read Fight Club, they start fight clubs. Lincoln, NE, not far from where I grew up, has made them illegal. Persecuted, or rather prosecuted, members for their "subversive activities". Tyler Durden, the "hero" of the story (as author Chuck Palahniuk calls him in the afterword), sets up these churches of masculine salvation and devotes the top members--the true believers--to (de)construct cultural salvation through self-destruction. Whether he meant to or not, the author describes the birth and life of a focussed religion, complete with converts, symbols, and rites, around nihilistic categories. And people, especially men, love it.

Men love it because we have no idea what it means to be a man. Are we tough and aggressive, tender and compassionate, effeminate and passive? This question shows up starkly in the unnamed main character, who cannot figure who he is. Is he his furniture? What others have told him? Even his name? When does a man become a man? Where is that cultural/social threshold that used to have the "trial of endurance", going off in the woods with only a knife to survive, that made one ready to join larger society, no longer the boy, but the responsible man? Now, all you have to do is hit 18 or 21 and you are all that is man. A legal adulthood has never made any boy a man--and we know it. Is it your "right" to drink? Or to vote? Or to smoke cigarettes? If we really think about it, all of these "rights" would never make someone a good citizen, or a good person, or a good man. Just like a marriage license doesn't really make a marriage, and certainly cannot make a marriage good. Or a driver's license doesn't really mean you can drive, and certainly not that you (or I) drive well. But, in the same vein of thought as Seth Godin, we tell ourselves lies that "make" it so for us. We believe that a diploma means we are educated; or our age means that we are an adult; or that our marriage means we are in love. Fight Club reminds men that status doesn't mean anything meaningful. Status changes; nothing is static (interesting how closely related "status" and "static" are). Berger, with his "social construction of reality," really is a nice backdrop to the book. When the myth is exploded or imploded, then the "sacred canopy" comes off, causing fear, alienation, and anarchy. The plot of FC is forcible removal of the sacred canopy, for the good of self and others. That is what it means to be a man--taking off all masks, all delusions, whether sacred or secular. By any and all means necessary and available. It is the changing of the ages, the Novum Ordo Seclorum, that needs to happen, and fast. Imminence is always a part in apocalyptic scenarios.

In the end, though, no one that Tyler Durden liberates becomes free. Including himself. They are tagged as "space monkeys" and "human refuse", part of the plan to make them lose everything so that they have everything, and they end up being just that--expendable and meaningless. Their identities don't get defined by "who they really are" or "who they want to be", but by what Tyler tells them to do and say and be. Their existence, their meaning, is tied up in his existence. When he "dies" at the end of the book, they lose their meaning. But since Tyler has set up a new sacred canopy for them, they don't even need him, since his body (the living narrator) and his memory can carry them on. All they need are his messianic promises to tell them to wait for his second coming out of the loony-bin. The whole point, though, is to not ever rise again from the ashes--to always be the dung heap of the world, God's middle, forgotten children; to be lost in the oneness of destructo-salvation. The old Buddhist dream of attaining Nirvana through the complete loss of individuality.

Apart from its self-conscious coopting of Buddhist and nihilistic elements, FC is a trenchent analysis of modern society. At one point, the phrase (the book is a collection of pithy one-liners at its heart) "Generations working to buy things that they don't need" clarifies what drives most of our modern economy. We make and sell shoddy things to people who don't need them. Apropos since we have commenced this year's Christmas shopping season. We do end up defining ourselves by what we have and what we don't have. Very few of us know what it means to be destitute or even in need. Tyler Durden promises to his disciples that they will know what rock-bottom is, because you have to hit rock-bottom before you can be reborn. He compares it to Jesus on the cross and the resurrection. You have to disown what owns you, but instead of selling all and giving it to the poor, you have to destroy it. Burn it to the ground.

Whether he wanted to or not, Chuck Palahniuk has issued a challenge to the Church. People get excited about finding their humanity by losing through fight clubs. They love the idea of throwing off the shackles of consumerism, modernism, and the anti-masculine culture of the West. They love the idea of fighting for something that gives deeper meaning than corporate America, than education that gives no reason for loyalty to school or to discipline, than families that shatter faster than they form, than churches who don't want to help people but want their checkbooks (and, to tell the truth, any church that passes a 'collection plate' or 'tithe' aroud looks greedy, whether it is or not). I love the idea of fighting something. There is something virile and deeply masculine about fighting, even if it isn't with fists. The Church, however, has not been about fighting--except to whine about how it is losing influence, or dollars, or people to 'the world' (defined Marcionly as whatever the leadership of the church happens to not like at the time). If the dream that is Tyler Durden was ever carried it, it would be an unimaginable nightmare. However, the dream that the Church has played out has been almost as bad: inquisitions, heresy hunts, crusades, the European Reformation wars, and the list could go on. The dream, that of world-wide influence and power through Christendom, has got to be rethought.

Once the Church has a clear, accessible, masculine-affirming story to tell, then we will see men building churches after reading the Bible. And it won't be a moment too soon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Christian as Manager

In his economic commentary on Leviticus, Boundaries and Dominion, Gary North proffers this thesis:
The economic pressure on Jews to move from the farm to the city was basic to Levitical law. The closer a man lived to Israel's holy city, the less time he had to spend on the road. If he had to spend time on the road, he might as well become a traveling salesman. The Israelites were pressured economically by the laws of the festivals and the sacrifices to become a nation of traders. The economic laws of Leviticus also pressured the farmers of Israel to move into the cities. The residents of cities were in turn pressured to become international traders. This does not mean that there were to be no Israelite farmers in Israel, but there can be no doubt that the general thrust of the economic incentives under the Mosaic law's system of costs and benefits was to move God's covenant people off the farms and into the cities. They were to become a nation of manufacturers, shopkeepers, traders, and bankers -- an early version of what England became in the nineteenth century.

His argument revolves around the three required festivals of ancient Israel (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles) and the mandatory journeys required for them during the peak agricultural season. He states that even though he believes the Torah pushes Israel in this direction, that it was never carried out, because (mainly) of sin. He goes on to say that the logical thing for an Israelite farmer far from Jerusalem to do would be to lease his land to Gentiles, since they didn't need to go to the feast. The Israelite and his family would move close to Jerusalem and the agricultural areas would be under the control of those who do not know God and did not care about his creation (North brings up his claim that being agrarian is always tied to paganism--based on the root of the word--hence the modern environmental movement; I think here we have the classic rhetoric North is known for, tossing baby and bathwater down the drain).

While creative, I don't think that this thesis works, but I think it should get Christians thinking about our place in God's world and our place in relationship to those who are not followers of the one true God. I don't think that Israelites would have become absentee landlords, living close to the city, and leaving all their food needs in the hands of Gentiles. Your spiritual enemies having control of your food supply is just as dangerous as your political enemies holding the same power. Controlling one's property from afar is fraught with problems: what would stop a Gentile, who enjoyed his rashers of bacon, from bringing a few swine onto holy land? Not the owner, that's for sure. He's out in the city. Plus, if the land stewardship of the Gentile is poor, it will take a long time to rectify it, if the now practically landless Israelite even cares anymore (his money is coming from his city endeavors, after all). Absenteeism doesn't work economically.

Instead, I think going back to Genesis, the original agricultural book, gives us hints on what situation the Mosaic economy would actually present. Adam, the gardener, was told to tend to the garden and also subdue the beasts, including the beasts of burden. He was, in effect, a manager. The image of beasts, over which Adam is to be ruler, comes up various times in Scripture, eventually being changed to a metaphor of Israel (Adam) and the Gentiles (Beasts) in Daniel 7. Abraham, the father of the faithful who Paul (among others) enjoins us to imitate, does not retire to the city like Lot, but rather manages and directs the affairs of his 300+ non-Abrahamic servants. Going to the city, in fact, is seen as an act of rebellion. These two men, Adam and Abraham, give the model of what the Mosaic law was trying to accomplish: Israelites were to bring Gentiles under their authority by putting them to work, showing them the benefits of the covenant, and training them how to live and work righteously. From there evangelism would spread throughout the globe, taking wise agriculture and wise living along with it. Traveling merchants can only do so much; they are placeless and do not have time for discipleship.

If we transfer this forward, we can start to see how the Christian is to carry this out. The Israelites had inherited the land of Canaan; we have inherited the world. We are supposed to be doing what we do well enough so that we can rise to positions of authority, whether owner or manager or whatever, so that the Gentiles (non-believers) under our care might share in the blessings of a covenantally faithful individual. We train them, manage them, and share our faith-in-action by our work. Christians are supposed to be managers.

This places things in the proper authority structure: God - Jesus - members of the Church - those outside the Church - the non-human world. As North goes on to say later in the book, this relationship is judicial: each one is responsible for each link below themselves on the chain (I should not that this obviously is not an ontological chain). That should inspire quite a bit of humility into Christians: when we mess up, the effects are judicially placed on both our fellow human beings and the non-human creation. We are responsible for the protection and flourishing of them. If we fail, or act evilly towards them, then we feel the consequences and so do they. This, of course, raises the question of how we are to act towards them. Maybe starting with Jesus' reinterpretation of the Mosaic code in Matthew 5-7 is a good start; there is no place for a heavy-handed, coercive, violent relationship towards our fellow human beings, whether they believe in our God or not, or towards the non-human creation. A good manager doesn't demean his charges, but helps them to flourish at work and as human beings.

This also has implications for the Church as a whole and its relationship to the other structures of this world. More on this anon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On Vacation

Bethany and I are mid-week of our vacation to Martha's Vineyard, Mass. For me, vacations are a lot like a Shakespearean tragedy, at least in narrative form. There is the beginning, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the denouement. The difference, hopefully, is that we all won't end up dead due to our character flaws.

Today, for me, was the climax. I have been using this vacation as a time to recenter myself and evaluate the way things are going in my life. This last year has been an incredible time for us, but many bad things have happened. As I tried to express in the last post, my faith has been at a low-ebb. I also (just ask my staff) have been frequently frustrated, angry, and difficult to deal with--not characteristics I'm famous for. I've even said to one of my workers that I'm not the person I want to be. So this vacation couldn't have come at a better time. Today especially.

I took a five-mile walk to rethink many bedrock parts of what I say I believe and what I actually do. The problem, for me, comes down to the Spirit. I'm not sure I have the Spirit, not sure if I would know if I did, and am not sure that I see the Spirit working in the Church today. I ranted, I raved, and I attained at least a little peace. All the percolating thoughts about textual problems, the God-Jesus-Spirit problem, my own lack of distinguishing Christian characteristics, and what my role in God's plan is all seemed to settle. I have questions, but I also have a quest en route now. My explorations will take me back to my roots (working in Hebrew and Greek), through different traditions (especially Orthodox Judaism), and mostly between myself and God.

But now starts the falling action. I want to get back home now. I want to get into the texts, I want to start praying in my called-to-place, I want to start working again. I especially miss being able to make espresso and roast coffee--the Vineyard isn't the best place for a good cup, an ok cup maybe, but not a particularly good one.

I imagine that a vacation should work like a Sabbath. At first, the excitement of not going to work is paramount, leading up to the climax of worship with God's people (the sacrament and the spoken Word), and falling through mealtimes until, right before bed, the urge to work appears strongly again.

I'm glad to finally feel rejuvenated and to have the desire to go back to work, work that I love, work that means something to myself and my community.

Great vacation so far.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Further Thoughts on a Crisis

Over two years ago, I wrote a couple of pieces dealing with my so-called Postmodern Protestant Dilemma, in which I did not come to any sort of suitable conclusion, but left myself with a sense of confusion and befuddlement that has persisted to this day. Since then, I have concentrated heavily on defining what the Church is, how authority works in it, and what my own role in that authority structure is. However, the question of a transcendent standard that legitimizes and authorizes the Church continued to evade me. I mentioned, briefly, in my initial post that the Bible had had its own authority questioned by the higher critics, which effectively took the Bible out of the running for most of the Western Christian world, except for the "provincial" fundamentalists, some compromised and schizophrenic Reformed groups, and the Catholics. Since then I've returned to reading a loose collection of essays by Theodore P. Letis called The Ecclesiastical Text. I had read this sometime before my master's work started but after the conclusion of my undergrad, during which time the amount that I read was probably the highest I ever had, so much of what was read has fallen through my Orwellian memory hole.

Letis' broad thesis (if I understand him correctly) is that lower criticism (text criticism) and higher criticism (the conservatively scorned source, form, etc. German academic tools) are organically linked. If pressure to accept the lower form is bowed to (as B.B. Warfield did), then the higher is not very far behind. Why? Because a text that claims to be authoritative must have a fixed form. A constantly changing sacred text cannot be authoritative because it is never the same text (much like a famous Greek river). Since new "critical" editions of both testaments are constantly appearing, the "authoritative" text of the Church keeps changing. Even if textual variants supposedly do not change doctrines (although the case of John 1:18 should put that myth to rest), the fact that we cannot decide which text is "best" or "most original" destroys any forming authority that the Bible can have in the community of the Church and, therefore, the world.

Letis' answer is to restore, in a postcritical, Brevard-Childs-sort-of-way, the Ecclesiastical (or Byzantine or Textus Recptus, etc.) to the state of authorized text in the Church. (A quick note to say that Letis does not advocate for any certain translation to have inspired authority, such as the KJV, which many Byzantine text fans flock to--God spoke in Hebrew and Greek, not English). This text-type has the advantage of being the official text of the Church from the fourth century onward to the rise of lower criticism in Erasmus. The Reformers, both Lutheran and Calvinian, adopted this text over the Roman Vulgate or the Eastern Septuagint as the authoritative text of the Church. Importantly (and Letis labors this point), this text is not inerrant, that is, it suffers from scribal mistakes. However, it is infallible, it contains the Word of God as spoken by Him in the original languages, or in theological terms, it is verbally inspired. The seventeenth-century Protestant dogmaticians spoke at great length for this textual tradition as the authoritative one; so did the WCF. In my mind, the Ecclesiastical Text has a lot going for it and should be considered by all Church communities for their text.

The ET places doctrinal and practical authority back into the text of the Bible, which the Reformers would argue is its proper place. The Bible has transcendent origins and can, in able hands, be applied at all places and all times (which, it is important to note, does not mean it is a collection of universally-applicable propositions--hopefully the narrative focus of postmodern Christianity has put that colonialist impulse to rest). However, its authority stills owes itself to the human-based Church.

With the "inerrant autograph" theory, ultimate authority resides only with the text: the autographs from the pen of Paul or whoever, carry the inspired text of the Bible. Sounds good, except for the fact that the autographs are lost from history. This is the theory that guides Christian textual criticism, with the (fools?) hope that the original text can be recovered through means of objective scientific reconstruction and emendation. Thank goodness that all human fallibility is taken off of the text! Now the perfect, neutral text can reign supreme in faith and practice. Except for the fact that the scientific fingerprint of man is larger than we even thought, it being dusted by Thomas Kuhn (what a paradigm shifting work that was!). The "critical text", a child of the "inerrant autograph" theory, is a new text, never having been used in the wide history of Church until the advent of the NIV and its descendants. In other words, the "inerrant autograph" theory leaves the Church constantly without an authorized text because the authorized text changes all the time. The Word of God is taken out of the hand of everyday folks and placed squarely in the hands of textual critics and committees, the new, unofficial, priesthood of Protestantism.

To return to the ET, the authority of the text is in the text also, but by means of the Church. This is the text that the Church has agreed through many generations is the text that contains God's Word. When this text took its final shape, though, is long after the inspiration period of the apostles, in the fourth century. If you read my original post on my dilemma, part of the problem is that the Church has been so heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, especially as 'orthodoxy' was being determined in the fourth century. Bart Ehrman, one of the premier Church and text historians today, blew this all open with his book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: 'orthodox' scribes knew how to "turn-a-phrase" to guarantee an orthodox interpretation, just as the heretics knew how. Both groups did it with frequency and much power at stake. Part of the interest for me in ancient christology is how all groups were not just arguing who Jesus was, but what authority Caesar should have in the Church, both sides (to my mind) ignoring the (especially Pauline) evidence that with Jesus, Caesar is unnecessary--but that is another point for another day. So, the ET may not have gotten a pure apostolic sanction either. In other words, no texts that we have can reasonably claim to be the original texts of the apostles and prophets: their faith communities have changed them to fit their needs and agendas. The greatest example of this, to my mind, is the difference in texts between Hebrew Jeremiah and Greek (LXX) Jeremiah. I argued in a term paper once that HJ was the product of the needs of the Babylonian captivity Jews, whereas GJ was the product (most likely) of Jeremiah himself in Egypt and the community there. My conclusions at the time were heavily in favor of the Greek recension, but I have since changed my opinion in favor the Massoretic or Hebrew version. Why? Because, according to Jeremiah!, the Egyptian community was rejected by God for not going into Babylonian captivity, instead returning to their original bondage in Egypt (pardon me for not having the reference on hand). The Babylonian community were the bearers of the Abrahamic promise, so they get the hat tipped in their favor, ecclesiastically at least. The point is that there is no such thing as a pristine text and it is historically arrogant and foolish to try and recover one. Community involvement also throws much of the "critical text" into question, which rests on the assumption that the variants produced by various manuscripts have no taint of theological corruption, except (of course) if the orthodox had their hands on them (which is that case, obviously by now, of the ET).

As a Protestant it pains me to say this, but it seems that the Scripture and "Holy Tradition" are inseparable, at least as far as texts go--interpretation is another matter altogether. The question is, as always, whose "Holy Tradition"? The Catholic Church with its Latin Vulgate tradition, the Eastern Church with its Greek Vulgate, the early Reformed and Protestant with its Hebrew-Greek hybrid and ET, or the modernist Church with its ever-new, never-settled "critical" tradition?

To vote on which text to use is to vote on one's connection to Church history. The modern Church has voted to be completely disconnected and it shows. However, various recent movements have been reversing this trend: the late seventies/early eighties defection to Catholicism, radical orthodoxy, and various "revivals" of ecclesial tradition amongst more conservative Reformed groups. Eventually I think that the textual issue will come to a head in these groups (for the Catholic converts it never was an issue, the Roman Church has stuck by the Vulgate through think-and-thin) and we may see some rejecting of the modernist NIV and its offspring.

As for me, these textual issues leave me in a greater state of disarray than before. I think that the "genesis" of the texts holds the key to offering a stable and long-lasting authority for Protestants and Christians in general. If we could agree what text to use, we might realize that our schizmatic differences are based on interpretation and tradition, bringing us one (admittedly small) step closer to ecumenity. In the end, there is no way of separating the text from its community, so the decision becomes about adherence and allegiance to which community and whether or not the reasons for doing so are legitimate and compelling. Unfortunately, to my mind, there will be no magical cure-all that says "here is the text and there is the community", but instead it will be much more "here is the community and there is the text". So my dilemma to find indisputable divine sanction continues, but isn't this what Church history has been always anyways?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Marketing and the Church

Anyone concerned about the sad state of Christianity in America would do well to read (re-read, archive, and read weekly) one of Seth Godin's recent posts: Thinking About This War\. Go ahead, read it, I'll wait.

What does this have to do with the Church? Everything. The current failure of Christianity in the United States has to do more with marketing than we may ever have previously imagined. Marketing is basically telling a story. Christianity is telling the wrong story.

The current story is about a rampant individualistic existence that does not care for anything outside of oneself, except possibly a deistic god. It is about giving up things that seem like God created them (tobacco, alcohol, dancing, fun) so that you can live it up in heaven some day (doing what, exactly, is not mentioned much--what is mentioned is what happens if you do live like a human...hellfire). The pietistic instinct in dualistic Christianity eventually forces it this way or towards an antinomian "social gospel", like what happened to the mainstream churches in the 19th and 20th centuries.

To folks we live in the world of materialism and "wealth-as-happiness", the constricting story of Christianity doesn't make much sense. It is easy to shrug off, especially since the loudest voices have been the worst representatives (it is hard to maintain that homosexuality is wrong while engaging in homosexual affairs, as the non-Christian world pointed out to the evangelical community recently).

This is not to say that the story Christianity must tell is the one that the world wants to hear. That is just another death-affirming road, just like pietism. Instead, it is time that the true story of the gospel is told: God created the world, evil has infected it, Jesus has come to cure the infection through his work and his people, and God is calling everyone to join in the rebuilding effort. Instead of denying Creation, this view puts it in its proper place. Something is wrong; there are broken families, alcoholism, inner-city and suburban violence, the loss of millions of tons of topsoil every year, and slavery to name a few things. The gospel does not affirm these things, but instead calls them what they are: abberations from what God intended and commands. However, the gospel does not go so far in the other direction to deny Creation by saying that alcohol or aggression or farming or work are wrong. Instead, working within the limits of creatureliness, we in the Church, through the work of Jesus in history and in our lives, try to reestablish God's good purpose in his good Creation. We change structures of injustice so that God's intention for man and for the rest of the world might stand. It does require us to tell a hard story that conflicts with many other stories. But the story is ultimately life-affirming and the Church needs to stand in the role of priest and intercede for the world.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thought of the Day

The best managers balance the equally important task of growing a business as agent of the owner(s) and guiding employees to their full potential as human beings.

Something I aspire to...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Beaver Falls Manifesto: Part 1

One of my employees/friends the other day chided me on having too many dreams. He had been speaking about his cheese obsession (2lbs per week, if I remember correctly). One thing about this area is that because of the hilly terrain, we have a lot of dairies, but no local artisan cheese. In fact, the closest I've seen is either Kraft (who knows where that comes from) or Cabot (Vermont, not exactly across the street). Part of the reason, of course, is the current low demand for local creameries and the ridiculous government intolerance of raw milk. He didn't chide me for the dream of good, local, dependable, and healthy milk, cream, and cheese; I daresay he may even enjoy the thought. He chided me, rather, for having the dreams of a local, independent market (too complex to describe at this time); a local ceramics industry (like the former Beaver Falls/Mayer China company--PA soil is basically all clay as it is); a local, sustainable timber industry (complete with draft horses); more coffeeshops (each with complete microroasting capabilities); and many more things (I can't think of others because I'm tired, not for lack of ideas). The health of any society is it's lack of dependence for necessities (and luxuries) on places far away. A city (or set of cities placed along a river) should be able to provide food, shelter, companionship/recreation, and clothing (the four foundations of culture) from within itself and its surrounding rural areas. The rural areas should be able to receive plenty of manure nutrients, cultural opportunities, and companionship from their dependents, the cities. This sort of urbanist-agrarian thought is what leads to a placed idea for Beaver Falls. It is one thing to be jonesed about an idea, but the practice is where we see if being more concerned about neighbors we can see, rather than GDP, is what makes the world a better place. So, here is the start of the Beaver Falls Manifesto--something I hope to expand in the future as a groundwork for rejuvenation here at home. So far, it will seem a series of disjointed propositions. My apologies for that, I'll give it a slicker look and feel when I can.

I. Beaver Falls (and the surrounding area, it should be assumed from here on out) is worthy of care and pride. The land, sky, and river around it have been created by God who calls us to exercise culture in beautification, production, and conservation of that place. To that end (as well as humans do that task), the cultural expression of the city was founded and itself is worthy of care and pride. It is currently marred by human greed, sloth, and covetousness; but God has called his people, the Church, to be leaders is restoring this world (and all its parts) to their original created purpose and glory.

II. Beaver Falls will never have a chance to attain to that purpose and glory if it (that is, the people who live in/near it and the people who "govern" it) continues its self-destructive behavior of wasteful consumption; production of cheap, disposable goods; and economic/agricultural/cultural dependence on non-local sources. Many seem to view Beaver Falls as incapable of being "better" (whatever that means) than Chippewa, Cranberry, or Pittsburgh because of its present state. However, economic indicators can no longer be the primary means of judgement: health, both human and non-human, must be the deciding factor. Can the way we live here now be sustained into the indefinite future without giving up local independece, knowledge, neighborliness, and "crisis-nimbleness"? If not, why not?

III. A future-orientation is absolutely essential to the rebuilding of this area. If we continue to run by the short-term profit motive, we will exhaust our soil, our air, our water, our animals, and ourselves before future generations can receive the gifts of soil, air, water, animals, and selfhood that has been passed down to us by previous generations. A gift-outlook, one that recognizes that with anything not absolutely owned (and only God owns anything absolutely) responsible care and "acting worthy of the gift" (that is, gratitude in its full sense), is essential for both short-term and long-term prosperity.

IV. Ownership is also necessary. A sense that what we have been given with continue with us through multiple generations is necessary for proper care of anything. Nothing, in the end, is disposable; someone always cleans up. This is not absolute ownership, but neither is it mooching. The principle of usufruct (something should be more valuable health-wise after leaving our care) should be fully enforced as a cultural mandate (not a government one, for it is a cultural concern not definable by the powers that be). Home ownership should be especially encouraged, for it roots a family in a neighborhood where real change is possible. If neighbors are healthy (in the varied ways that can be understood--the word 'salvation' comes from a word meaning health), then we are healthy and safe. Also, the principle of neighborhood increases practical wisdom in ownership, plus adds the benefit of more hands to help in case of emergency and everyday issues that accompany any cultural, human product (such as decay and "human error").

More to Come...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Remembering Old Friends

The world is not the same as it was when I was in high school. It is strange to me to consider that some friends have departed forever, some have disappeared, some stay close--but none geographically, and some have started families.

I've never been good at communicating with those I see infrequently. My neighbors hear from me quite often, as do my geographically-close friends. However, my extended family, friends from Omaha, and others I've met along the way may hear sporadic news, but often there is nary a sound.

That world, the one that existed from 1996-2000, was assumed to be the world. However, as one friend who proceeded me to college said, when you go away you can never come back in the same way. So many close friendships around me disintegrated because people came back "different" from college. Disintegrated not in necessarily a dramatic or hurtful way, rather communication lines ceased and folks drifted apart. I was determined to not let that happen to me. But communication did fail and friends became out of sight, out of mind.

So it was especially poignant to me to see that one person I was extremely close to, but had lost all contact with, was married and had a child. This lady helped me through a dark passage of my life--a time in which my neediness outweighed my ability to give (all the time, though, considering myself to be very humble and self-sacrificial). It was years later that I realized my drain on her, and how unfair that was, but also how it has changed me and effected me in the years since. I am a stronger person because of that friendship, no matter how selfish I was in it. In many ways, the qualities that she brought to the friendship were ones that I found magnified in my wife (whom I'm didn't know at the time of this friendship). One of the difference, of course, is that Bethany is not afraid to give me a (metaphorical) swift kick in the butt so that my selfish tendencies don't overexert themselves. But my friend served as a prescient model for whom God had for me in marriage.

Those we consider indispensible may, in the end, be only momentary players in our lives.

The key, though, is to not let these moments become too inward focussed. In a way, it hurts that I have not been as important in old friends' lives as I thought I would be. But, the same is true I'm sure from their perspective. Life goes on. That is why it cannot be just about me, why my life has to have a broader perspective than my own horizon. That is why I need a story, which I didn't have in high school, to anchor me to reality. The story, as I've come to understand it, encompasses all the small and large things of individual lives and also the seemingly big "world-historical" movements and figures. It connects us to the past, the present, and the future, so that when I am gone awaiting resurrection, the life of the world and my friends and my family goes on. My part in this drama is small and seemingly insignificant, but rooted in the larger story of God's work in the world, it takes on meaning and significance that I could never have dreamed of when I was pouring my soul out (constantly) to my friend back in high school. That story, and all that it contains, is the only connection that will ultimately last between people.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Church and Place

As can probably be seen from the last two posts, I think that the concept of place, or rootedness in a long-lasting local community, has not been sufficiently taken into account with our major abstract and abstracting institutions. Like higher education, the church too has made its identity (not to mention its money) on the belief that every place is the same and so none of them matter.

This has recently become especially poignant to me as my local assembly is losing its pastor of some seven years. His leaving, while completely justified, obviously will be somewhat of a shock to recover from. He has done a good job and is beloved by many. He will be greatly missed, but like all the pastors before him, will eventually be replaced by another. The difficulty is that, in many of the churches I have been a part of, the focus is not on the place where God has called us to live and work, but rather on "the preaching". I, and others in the congregation, am expecting a fairly significant drop-off in attendance numbers to happen following his departure. Many folks go to church to be "fed", but not to feed or learn to feed others outside of the faith. They may even travel far distances, even though many churches in their area could use their gifts and talents to bring healing to their places.

I have named it "The Cult of the Pastor". Part of growing up, whether physically or 'spiritually', is going past the point where you need a teacher. This does not mean that there is no learning going on, but the formal structures of education are meant for children. Part of educational history is that the time of "adolescence" was invented in recent history to prolong young adults from entering into full membership of their communities and society at large. Self-education is a dying art, even among people long out of school. This is especially true, it seems, in Christian circles. How many times has it been said, "My pastor says/believes/teaches thus and so..."? Very little critical thought is expended by many Christians, especially in how to apply God's Word to their everyday lives and their places. We attach ourselves to a teacher, who is supposed to do the learning for us and pour it into our empty heads. Just as that is the road to political tyranny, so religious tyranny cannot be far behind. Unwitting tyrants, often seeing that their "people need them," are worse than usurpers who aren't liked by the people they bully and oppress. Pastors leave or retire, places stay around.

This is not to denigrate the office of eldership or the pastorate. With the level of immaturity that the church suffers, these offices are necessary, but they need--more than ever--to be committed to what they are ordained for. These offices are to prepare the saints, that is the common Christian, for "the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4). And our work is intimately connected to where we are.

In our attempt to escape earth, whether through the Rapture or the transmigration of the soul (otherwise known as "going to heaven when you die"), we have forgotten that God calls us to bring healing to his good-created world. Instead, ministry--pastoral and laity--has become almost exclusively about "salvation" (escape), with possible a little charity tacked on because it seems like the right thing to do. This has led to an empty evangelism, devoid of real, earthly help and real, earthy discipleship. Polishing the brass on a sinking ship has always been and always will be a stupid idea.

What, though, if we reclaimed a robust doctrine of creation and of covenant? One that postulates that God enjoys the world he has created and wishes to see it made whole again under the vice-gerency of humankind? Or that God called Abraham and his seed to set the world to rights? Since we can only act in a small-enough scale to actually effect healing instead of causing more problems (the deficiency of the industrial economy), we must act to set the world to rights in our own cities, neighborhoods, and communities. That the healing must start between the people of God is almost a no-brainer, but the pettiness and selfishness that infects the body of Christ (what a horrific thought) shows that we have a long way to go before we can pontificate on how the outside world should solve its problems.

More later...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

College and Place

Residential education is near bankruptcy. This could be said for many areas, but especially economically. Many colleges, especially Christian ones, are finding it harder and harder to keep up with the demands of maintenance, room allocation, and rising utilities. To raise tuition much higher, though, would effectively kill any chance of solvency--especially for schools with small endowments, or poorly managed ones. With the onslaught of online education, residential collegiate experience may cease to exist. Many are beginning to see that they can get the career training/higher salaries that college offers for a fraction of the price--and can stay close to friends/family, plus start working on their futures right from their very own computers at home (which, invariably, have faster connection speeds) or the local library. Hence the pride that some institutions furtively take in being called "party schools". The residential experience, by itself, does not offer enough any more for many to justify a $100k+ investment that will take years to pay off. Debt, in other words, is killing traditional higher education.

Residential colleges need, quickly, to rethink their very foundations. Since more and more are choosing to stay closer to home, or to save their room/board fees to rent an apartment where they want to live/work, I think it would be wise for residential institutions to put their best foot forward in this very instance: place.

Residential colleges, part of the Enlightenment fabric, have bought whole-heartedly into the idea that place does not matter. There is very little study of the places where colleges are located, since every place has been (for a long time) assumed to be just like any other place. Some institutions even perpetuate a hatred (usually implicit, sometimes not) of the place they are located--religious institutions, with their dualistic hatred of Creation, are particularly prone to this. Many offer majors in fields that have no economic footing in the surrounding area (within, say, 50 miles), implicitly offering the opportunity to "escape" the surrounding landscape. Why?

Part of the American heritage, for better or worse, is that when the going gets tough, the tough leave. Whether for reasons of economic or religious oppression, many have left their long-established homes for an American restart. This, of course, is not a bad thing: immigration, legal or otherwise, has been an important and formative part of U.S. history. However, when transplanting places, the dominant attitude has been to scorn any thought of the older place--note the perennial efforts of career politicians to limit any other languages than English in public discourse, despite the fact that the United States has no official language. Immigrants are often looked down upon for bringing some of their customs and culture with them, being viewed as "un-American" or being asked why they didn't just stay where they were, the assumption being that the smaller, more familial aspects of their culture is what was the problem, instead of overbearing political and religious (that is to say, abstract) systems.

This translates, very easily, into our own hatred of the local. The grass is greener elsewhere, so why not go there? It creates a perpetual homelessness, physically and spiritually. So why go to school to learn how to bring wisdom (that is what education is after all, right?) and healing to your place, when you could much more easily learn how to run the system that brings immediate gratification, even if your children will have to pick up the bill? (On another note, this may be why our culture is in the sexual/abortion state it is in: sex is immediately gratifying, children run the risk of never being gratifying, but instead end up like ourselves.

Internet education, for all the positive possibilities I think it has, plays right into this culture. Place, ultimately, is an unnecessary inconvenience easily overcome by the application of technology. In fact, the place you want can be easily created by developing an avatar, or a persona as a blogger. Residential colleges, especially Christian ones, have the possibility, not yet explored, to resist this dangerous and deathly cultural trend. These colleges can be about the health, well-being, and prosperity of the communities that surround them, both human and non-human. The residence halls can become places where human life flourishes, instead of diminishes in a drunken and pseudo-erotic stupor. The town-and-gown clashes must cease, with the (often) arrogant institutions of "higher" learning not working in a top-down way to "improve" the locale, but instead working with and, most urgently, for the local population to give educated answers to pressing local questions, whether they are scientific, artistic, or cultural/religious. This does not mean, however, that institutions should change their century-long alliance with the federal government to a just-as-corrupt-or-corruptible local government. Instead it means working with the actual people to bring education to all those around who would make the own lawns greener, instead of always coveting their neighbors. Do this, and higher education will live and possibly flourish in ways that are mutually beneficial to their communities, refuse this and in ten years (or less) we will see residential higher education become a dusty footnote in the educational history of America, read online and usually skimmed over.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Liturgy

The American religious heritage, by and large, is anti-liturgical. Not just non-liturgical, but against it. As far as I can tell, this has deep roots not only in the (especially) Scots-Irish Presbyterian past of the nation, but also in the early political turmoil of secession from Britain. I think that this is why both Anglicans and Roman Catholics had a harder time finding acceptance in the "New World" than Presbyterians. The liturgy of both those "high" churches was indelibly linked to their politics. Anglicans = head of church is king of England, whom (as you might recall from history class) was not a favorite to early Americans. Catholics = head of church is Pope, another obvious connection due to the decidedly Protestant flavor of America (to this day even). Many Protestants reacted so strongly against these liturgical traditions as to deny any liturgy at all. However, just like the Campbellite movement, which claimed "No Creed but Christ" follows their own formalized statements of faith, non-liturgical Christians follow their own liturgies. A liturgy is technically nothing more than an order of service in a formalized worship setting. So whether it is the "Our Father" or "3 hymns and a sermon", it is still a liturgy. If we are going to meet together to worship, we are going to have a liturgy, implicitly or explicitly. Liturgy is an inescapable concept. In other words, it isn't a question of "liturgy or no liturgy", but what, or rather whose, liturgy it is. Here is where the political background of the Presbyterian reaction to liturgical traditions shines the strongest. It has to do with what exactly, apart from the technical understanding, liturgy is.

I've become more and more convinced over the past couple of years that humans attain knowledge through stories. I cannot here defend the idea, but there is plenty of good reading out about it nowadays. Our actions tell stories, have backgrounds that explain them, and subvert or clarify larger stories that others tell. This is what story-telling looks like at an individual level. However, once individuals come together as groups, they start to tell similar stories (or vice versa--I'm not intending to start a "chicken-egg paradox" here). These founding myths, or worldviews, color how people relate to each other. There are always those elders, who are well versed in the traditional stories, who have power in the community precisely because they tell the "authorized" versions of the stories. Hence the clash of Jesus with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests--an unaccredited upstart retelling Israel's story not centered around Torah, but around himself! The book of John basically seems to revolve around this story-telling clash, hence the judicial feel of the book. But to return to the point, the story-tellers of any group rule that group. Liturgy, conceived as the weekly (or preferably daily in the family setting) retelling of God's story, is intimately connected to power. What version of God's story are they telling? Is it the "authorized" version, the "orthodox" version? In other words, who is telling the story and why do they have the right to tell it (II Corinthians is taken up with whether Paul was an authorized story-teller)?

To return briefly to the political climate, if the American people, recently freed from British rule, submit to British liturgy, what does that say about this people? The British would still rule. If Protestant people, separated by the Reformation gulf, returned to Catholic liturgy, what does that say about this people? The Reformation would be over. Interestingly enough, because of the secularization of the American Protestant tradition, nationalist politics has controlled the liturgy ever since--the main mantra, of course, being "religion is a private affair, with no place in the public square" (it even rhymes).

However, this story, the story of God's dealings with the world, is too important to just be left in the hands of others, no matter how well intentioned they might be. Ephesians 4 has an interesting passage in which it says that some are called to be pastors, teachers, evangelists (traveling story-tellers), etc. so that the people of the church might do the ministry. "Ministry" has never been intended to be relegated to a professional class. It is the bread-and-butter of the everyday Christian, not just those who hold a "degree". What if the American political story was changed? What if someone were to say that the American Revolution was anti-Christian (and, therefore, morally wrong)? Wouldn't that person run the risk of being labelled as "un-American" (leniently) or even suffering physical harm (severely)? Why? Because they are messing with the founding story, what gives this country its legitimization, not just for existence, but to continue its course in the present and future.

How about if someone told the story of God that synthesized pagan philosophical beliefs with the very Jewish roots of Christianity? What if they changed the story from God saving his creation from ruin-by-sin to say that God's intention was to take his people out of created reality (presumably to become ontologically one with the uncreated) and destroy this creation? Needless to say, those who control the story control the Church.

Stories give meaning, purpose meaning, to our lives. Our communities live on stories, but what stories are they and who is telling them? More importantly, possibly, what legitimizes someone as being an "authorized" story-teller, whether you want to call them apostle, elder, pastor, evangelist, or heretic?

This is what gives liturgy its power. The story of God is retold weekly in worship services all across the world. It is a story that deals with very historical events, from the creation of the world through the call of Abraham and on to the death, resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus. Even so, it has great applicability today and all Christians should be concerned with the story they are hearing. Is it the true story or an imitation? And how would we know the difference?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Christological Confessions

I've been studying christology intensively for about 7 or 8 years now. It is a hard subject, since most statements made both by popular writers and even scholars are shallow, content-empty, or closetly heretical. Also, if the party line (whatever the individual heresy hunter defines that line as--it is frustratingly flexible) is not toed (or towed), then you are liable to come under some sort of judgement, whether personal or ecclesial. Thankfully, I've had good friends come along side me during this journey who have been patient and attentive, while still holding to their own views. To all of you, many thanks, especially as I went through the whole spectrum of both 'orthodox' and 'heretical' views (those words are especially tricky to define, and impossible to enforce).

At its base, who Jesus is is simple. Jesus is the human being anointed by God to be the means by which he would set the world to rights. However, from here either speculation or nuance usually takes over. I remember when I first started this study how I balked at speculation (and still do). I read in a premier church history that the Fathers had based their doctrine of the Logos (the 'word' from John 1) on a Greek, mostly Platonic, understanding. In other words, due to what I surmised as the anti-semitism of the post-apostolic church, the Fathers effectively threw out the Old Testament in order to co-opt pagan Plato (this is a gross oversimplification, I realize). I opted to go the way of nuance instead, even though I didn't know it.

Christology becomes nuanced when the themes and images of the Bible start to be allowed to play through the interpretations of Jesus offered by the apostles and other New Testament writers. You have Incarnational imagery, which is a broad category, encompassing Logos ("the word became flesh"), Torah ("I am the way..." see my second post on this blog), and Temple ("dwelt/tabernacled among us" "the fulness of God dwelling in him", etc.). You have Davidic imagery ("Son of David" and "Son of God"--meaning the king of Israel, the one who represents Israel, who early in Exodus is called the "son of God"), this encompasses the Messianic themes ("Son of Man", the Servant from Isaiah). You have, as NT Wright points out in his The Climax of the Covenant, Incorporative themes: (Jesus sums up Israel's destiny by taking the Torah's curse, the new people of God--made up of Jews and Gentiles--act as the resurrection body of Jesus on earth, so to speak of them is to speak of what "Jesus continued to do and teach", also note how Temple themes work so well with ecclesiology). Lastly, you have Agency themes: Jesus having the role of God himself, which is what led to later developments in Trinitarian thought. Jesus did what God said he himself would do. All of these things are interconnected. It is difficult for me to separate them into these "neat" categories. It is much like a tapestry, beautifully woven to lead to worship and imitation.

Which brings me to what I think is the biggest christological insight: what God did in Jesus, he intends to do in the renewed human race. The glorified man Jesus is the prototype, or new Adam, of what the human race is supposed to become. I think you can go so far and say that this was God's plan all along, but that might be more speculative. That is the genius of Incorporative christology: Jesus was filled with the Spirit, so should/will we. Jesus was delivered from the clutch of death, same eventually for us. Jesus glorified in his physicality, so also we. Obviously, though, as the book of Hebrews might point out: he is preeminent because he is the pathbreaker, the author and finisher, and great high priest. The renewed humanity is "of the Messiah" and will always be known that way. In other words, even Incorporative christology allows for demarcation. The many (the people of God) are not collapsed into the one (Jesus), even though the link between them is hard to fully define. Same with classical trinitarian thought according to the council of Chalcedon.

"I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son..."

Monday, July 16, 2007

The End of History

The end of history has been the end-goal for the Christian Church almost since its inception. I say 'almost' because neither Jesus nor any of the apostles believed in it in the way we do. All that rich, eschatological language is metaphoric for very this-worldly events. I can't say more about that here, but there is plenty of good scholarly work about apocalyptic language and how the proper meaning of it has often been left behind.

When the Bible speaks of the "new age" or the "new heavens and new earth" it isn't imagining a place where there is no time. Being time-bound is part of our creatureliness, to transcend time (which doesn't make much sense anyway) would mean to no longer be human, but instead to be God (who has never been bound by time). Ah, here's the rub! Athanasius said it best in his On the Incarnation of the Word of God: "God became man, so that man might become God." Under the influence of pagan thought, as the Church steadily came under once the apostles were out of the way, the Church gradually lost touch of what the New Creation was to be about and why it is important that we are, and remain, human. Nowadays this translates to popular preachers and laity hoping for the end of existence as we know it--becoming disembodied souls who are eternal. In other words, to be as God.

However, being time-bound is a good part of being a creature. Our finiteness allows us to develop and mature, to become more conformed to the image of the Son of God. We need the ability to look back upon the past and not know all the details of the future. Otherwise, we are not human. The point of the incarnation, the resurrection, the ascension, and the parousia is to make us more, not less, human. What, then, does the Bible look forward to when this age fully ends and the next one finally supercedes it?

Not the end of history, the end of time, but the end of death. The structure of time is not corrupted by the Rebellion, but rather the direction that it takes. Instead of time being a blessing to mankind, time in which to laugh, love, build, plant, and harvest; it is instead a curse, a looking forward to its end in our individual lives. Instead of growth, there is decay. Is this time's fault? No, it is the curse of death. Death is the ultimate dehumanizer. When we die, we effectively become sub-human. That is why there is so much emphasis on resurrection in Scripture. Not the transcending of time or finitude, but instead transcending the ultimate limit of death, so that our humanness can flourish and God's good created world can finally prosper.

--To Anna and Paul--

Friday, June 22, 2007

College and Calling

One of the great unanswered questions of our time:

What is college for?

Students, being that they don't have years of experience thinking deeply about what their education actually does for them, usually don't have the opportunity to answer this with hindsight. Educators, being that they do have those supposed years of experience, never answer it clearly or anywhere near satisfactorily. For that, education is hard. What education, at the end of the day, does for one person it may not do for another. I remember an instance, early in my Master's program of Higher Education, having a particularly astute teacher facilitate this exercise:

He asked us if we enjoyed college. Most everyone did, enthusiastically so. He asked us what part of college was the best overall. Most everyone answered the relationships or community or activities. Not one person in memory answered academics. Lastly, he asked us whether or not everyone should go to college. Unanimously, no one said college was for everyone. I hope you notice the disconnect here.

College is good, especially for the development of lasting relationships. But not everyone should go to college. I ruminate on this experience constantly. Especially since $85,000+ is a lot to pay for developing relationships (which, interestingly enough, can also be done for free, just like learning).

My dream for higher education, probably never to be realized, is that it would be used for two things:
1) A student who knows (with job prospects already found) what general field they want/need to study for their specific career and goes after that training full force.
2) A student who has been doing their calling for some time and wants further advanced and up-to-date training in that field.

One caveat and two important things to note. Caveat: calling does not equal occupation. Two things: (1) college as it is today isn't necessary for either of these two things and (2) 'liberal arts' education isn't necessarily part of the curriculum.

The first thing noted has to do with the fact that all formal education isn't necessarily about learning, but about certification. That is what a degree is: a publicly attested certification of some level of skill, whether learned or BSed. The second thing noted may seem a little strange. I am a believer in a well-rounded, liberal (freedom-giving) education. If careerism is all that we train/educate for, then we are denying the essential humanness of ourselves and our students.

The reason that higher education does not necessarily need a 'liberal arts' component is two-fold. (1) Whether teachers admit it or not, all learning, even the technical stuff is interdisciplinary. If your teachers don't teach their discipline listening to other fields such as the hard sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and business, they have failed you as teachers. Switch to different professors or different schools. (2) If your education hasn't prepared you for living as a free human being by the time you are 18, then a liberal arts education is going to do very little for you. Needless to say, a bulk of responsibility is on the student to use their education, not just believe everything teacher says (I did mention that 'liberal' education is about freedom, didn't I?)

Part of being a free human being, from my point of view, is having a purpose. I've seen too many students coming into and leaving college with no real sense of what they are about, and I don't mean just career-wise. Many of them have no real connection to a place or a tradition or a home. Without that, no sense of calling, real yes-it-includes-occupation-but-is-so-much-more-than-that, Steve Garberian calling can happen. It is ridiculous for parents and students to spend so much money and time on certification when the student doesn't have a clear sense of calling. It is ridiculous to assume that you will find your calling in the strict bubble of the educational system (how many people outside of your age group do you have real, genuine interaction with each week?), separated from family, home, work, and place?

Part of this train of thought is brought on by a conversation I had earlier today with a friend who went to school with me. We both, for all intents and purposes, are outside of academe. Neither of us totally, but most of our lives is not spent as teachers, but as independent business people and regular folks. Neither of us regret our studies, but neither of us are in the fields in which we spent so much labor, sweat, time, and money. With a little foresight, and maybe some guidance from the informal teachers in our lives who really know us, could have saved us much time and energy. An internship here, a book to read there, a heart-to-heart about what is really important in life. Someone to tell us that being in college is much more about status than education (if you don't believe that, it is because the fact is taken for granted in middle class America).

Honestly, I want to go back to college now. Not because I need to, but because with my callings in urban renewal, business, the interdisciplinary work of coffee (surprisingly so), I have much to learn. However, I'll be doing most of that learning through independent reading and by having conversations with people who are living their lives, who are passionate about what they are doing, whether that is educating, laboring, running a business, raising a family, caring for those in need, or just relaxing a bit by biking the country.

In the end, I think that our educational system is fundamentally flawed. Why is it that we keep students in school for more and more years to learn less and less? Longer hours, more homework, longer school years haven't produced the social salvation that has been promised for decades. It is time that we rethink how and why we do schooling and why it is so disconnected from learning.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Religious Individualism

I wrote, not too long ago, about change. As it is a persistent question bearing directly upon spirituality, I have wanted to address it further.

I consider myself to be a modified individualist, that is, I believe that I am created as an individual and have a divinely-created sphere in which I have been given authority. I am self-governed, where most of the importance governance of my life happens. There are areas within that sphere in which the State and Church cannot legislate, prosecute, or ban. This does not mean, though, that I believe myself to be autonomous or atomistic. I can never be autonomous, because I am a creature under the authority of God--nothing can change that and I do not wish for it to be changed anyway. Also, I am a communitied individual (here's the modified part): I live in a genetic family, with my wife, in a neighborhood, within a nation, part of creation. All of these things bear down on the questions I can ask and the answers that are possible. However, this does not make me parochial, part of being an individual in the midst of other individuals is that if I want peace and prosperity, I must look outside myself to the wisdom, idiosyncracies, and faults of others. Humans are both one and many, both being equally created, equally ultimate, and equally good. Throwing them out of balance by being atomistic or borg-ish perverts God's good creation. However, I don't believe them to be in dialectic tension; instead they are to work together in harmony, which I believe only happens as individuals are joined to the body of Christ (the metaphor itself being a wonderful example of the one-and-many).

Acknowledging that I have a sphere of self-governance is a good thing. There are aspects of my being that, from my human point of view, are under my control. I have chosen to ask Bethany to marry me (her choice, at this point, of course bears upon the questions I could ask and the answers that could be received). I have chosen to write this blog post. In other words, no immediately coercive force has determined my life. One of those aspects, if you read the Torah, is my choice of sin or not sin. However, I've noticed that when I try and excise certain sins out of my life, they persist and even get worse. The two questions that invariably pop into my head are: do I really want to not sin [and] am I one of God's people after all? Both, however, while not being bad self-reflective questions in-and-of-themselves, are missing the point.

One of the difficulties of being a Reformed Christian is that, by and large, we don't believe in the Holy Spirit. Beside believe in God's absolute sovereignty, we often work that "Protestant Work Ethic" into what is classically called sanctification. In other words, we don't work for our salvation, but we sure as hell make ourselves morally pure. Or we get the State to do it for us (Prohibition, anyone?). However, this religious individualism always ends up in a bad conscience. Just as in salvation, we cannot change our spots or the color of our skin, nor can we change the way we act. However, unlike salvation, God isn't the only actor. In our change towards being more human, God's Holy Spirit gives us the ability and power to change, sometimes seemingly in spite of us.

Not only the Holy Spirit, though, but also the rest of the body of Christ. If a part is sick, the whole body is affected and the whole body is needing to administer the cure. Does a member of the body sin? Confession to other members, rebuke (if necessary), and reconciliation through others is necessary for any long term change. Yes, the change starts between God and myself, but others are a part of my long-term growth into true humanity.

That is why I've grown impatient lately with my own attempts to change (and my public vows to do so). If I'm going to be public, it needs to be as one who is seeking restoration, not as a lone-gunner for Jesus who doesn't need anyone else on this road. Unfortunately, in a religious tradition nourished on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, it is hard to get around the inherent (and dangerous) atomism of the Protestant heritage.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


He who has knowledge spares his words: a man of understanding is of a calm breath. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace: he shuts his lips, "Perceptive!" (Proverbs 17:27-28, WAV)

...let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' 'no'. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37, NKJV)

One of the classic Christian disciplines is silence. By far, it is the hardest to practice for me. Fasting, relatively easy--just stop eating (doesn't mean it happens much). Study, never stops. Prayer, strangely connected to silence, is probably the next hardest but I find myself praying much more than not talking.

I've been meditating on silence for quite some time. The connection in Scripture between control of the tongue and righteousness/justice has always intrigued me, but not just in an intellectual way; it has touched the very core of my being. There is a saying of Jesus where he speaks about every idle word coming under the judgement of God. As usual, Jesus means something a little bit deeper (but not esoteric): if idle words come under judgement, how much more those words spoken intentionally. In other words, let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and your 'no' mean 'no.' There was a time in my life when I was known for eloquent, lengthy prayers, especially in public. However, as I've grown more knowledgeable of the way language works and is used, I've come to see that most folks (including myself) who are verbose, whether politician or preacher, layman or lawyer, usually mean half of what they say and don't understand the other half. That is why, as of late, I've become so disillusioned with religious language. Too many people have used the language of God-is-on-our-side for rational assent. I've longed many times to hear our leaders, both political and spiritual, to just shut up. That is why the 'yes' and 'no' passage is so important: every word we speak should be treated as a vow. How do we know if God is on our side?

Add to this the times that the Bible speaks about not taking rash vows. All the more reason to drop the dressing from words and speak plainly. However, there is power in language, especially if you can make someone believe something and help them create a symbolic universe based on words (linguists and sociologists agree that this is the formative-normative nature of language). "Us v. Them" is the most powerful set of words that I know of, and also the most dangerous.

But, what am I saying? That is exactly the question. I can complain about those in power till I'm blue in the face, but the log will remain in my own eye. In other words, until I'm silent, who can I expect anyone else to be--especially those whose job it is to talk!
There is a passage in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline in which he speaks about justifying our actions. Really, it is the reason that I wanted to write this post. It is amazing how often I try and give my actions a little different spin with words because the action is either ambiguous or may really reveal my intentions. Silence disciplines, then, not only the tongue, but the whole body, as James says. If I were to let my actions speak for themselves, Francis of Assisi-style, I would need to be much more intentional with how I act. Silence leads not only to purity and clarity of words, but purity and clarity of action.

Such is the discipline of silence.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Narcissism of Hate

Currently Reading: Blue Like Jazz

As I said to a friend the other day, I'm theologically arrogant. It comes with being a junkie. I read big, important books with lots of footnotes. I rarely read fiction and even more rarely do I read the more "popular-level" books like Blue Like Jazz. However, strangely enough, I've always enjoyed and learned a lot from books like Jazz, or Ragamuffin Gospel, or (gasp) Sacred Romance, or even (double-gasp-don't-tell-Byron-Borger) Wild at Heart.

Jazz itself is a particularly insightful book for me. Don Miller and I seem to share some of the same concerns about religion and the Church and about ourselves. Both of us are "influential" people in our circles, but neither of us feel particularly comfortable with the role, possibly for different reasons. He is, in many ways, a contrarian, which I can identify with (although not too much, otherwise it wouldn't be very contrarian of me).

Anyway, Miller points out something of great significance to me. The greatest lie that he used to believe is that life was a story about him. It is ridiculous how profound that is. If only I, for a second, would stop living life for myself (with a thin veneer of altruism), what could be different? Or, better yet, what couldn't be different? I expect to wrestle with this for some time. Hopefully for the better. The thing I've noticed today, though, is how insufferably selfish I have been (and my wife can corroborate that, especially after my silly, childish temper tantrum earlier). Why is it that when a sin is pointed out, the ability to not do that thing diminishes, at least initially? But that isn't the point today.

The most obvious response to my selfishness is humility. Humility before God, before my family and friends, and before anyone else that I have dealings with. The easiest way to do this, it seems, is to be self-deprecative or self-hating. Blaming myself for everything, making fun of myself, beating myself up for things that aren't my concern or my fault or even remotely my responsibility...and doing it publicly. What I'm realizing (even though this is an old realization, that doesn't mean I've applied it) is that this form of "humility" is another, more insidious form of pride and narcissism. When I become focussed on myself in hate or bitterness or whatever, nothing about my selfishness changes. I haven't become humble before God or others or even myself. I've become so certain that the problems of the world rest so solely on my shoulders that I've forgotten about that Jesus fellow or God's sovereign love or even other human beings in this world. I'm focussed on me and how irredeemable I am. Publicly. Here's the real catch.

Repentance, the few times that I've actually had a true form of it, was mostly private. If I needed to repent of something that I did to someone other than God, then it was public, but in a limited fashion (I make it a point to try and not offend large groups of people). Most of the time, though, it is spent in actual silence before God--not just lip silence, but mind silence. Job put his finger over his lips when he repented, a sign of absolute silence. True repentance, for me, involves the same. It does no good to flaunt repentance, to talk about it publicly. When that happens, it is all show and nothing has really changed about me, except that I very selfishly believe I'm less selfish.

This hateful Narcissism, strangely, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though I'm not feeling particularly self-hating at this moment, I'd like to keep the next set of things in the first person. I believe I am unlovable for whatever reason (I've done something terrible, I'm not attractive, I'm a failure at this-that-or-the-other-thing). This changes the way I think, speak, and act. I think, speak, and act in unlovable ways: maybe I act completely (and obnoxiously) dependent on others, maybe I act like a spoiled child, maybe I turn into a hollow, angry shell, and the list could go on. This irritates people and they start to not love me (for which, as a self-hater, I don't blame them, but secretly hate them for it). I end up believing that I am unloved. If I am unloved, if must be because I'm unlovable. And so on.

I don't think that this attitude is a product necessarily of the theological tradition I'm a part of. However, when the first tenet of your religious system is that you are total depraved (even after redemption), it is hard to not be down on yourself. It led me to question, along with another book I was reading--Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross by Hans Boersma--the concept of the sin nature. The phrase itself isn't in the Bible, instead it is a translation of the Greek word for flesh. Paul, the main user of the term it seems, doesn't mean to separate the physical body out as evil (otherwise he would have used the term 'body'), but "flesh" sort of as the total system of sin that currently comprises a part of our being. So, you may be thinking, I believe in sin nature. Yes and no. I don't have a problem with the 'sin' part, but the 'nature' part. Saying something is 'natural' is tantamount to saying it is inevitable. There is no way to escape nature. I could no more stop being a male than I could change my skin color (I realize that there is surgery for the former, but being physically a male through a scalpel doesn't really make you male, it makes you deviant). In Christian thought, something natural is the way God created it. In other words, if we have a sin nature, we cannot ever escape sin, for to be human is to be sinful. What a terrifying thought. If such is the case, even the traditional interpretation of the virgin birth (having a body specially created outside of the normal sexual union keeps Christ free from original sin) doesn't do it. Just being a human makes Jesus sinful. Well, the ancient heresy of docetism isn't far behind...and if you look at mainstream Christology, it is alive and well on planet earth. Once again, a terrifying thought.

In the words (or book title) of one of the Plantingas, this isn't the way it's supposed to be. If we believe the Bible, then it isn't until at least a day after man is created that he becomes a sinner. He wasn't created that way. It wasn't until after God finished creating man (that is, after he created both man and woman, androgeny wasn't the intention) that he and she decided to rebel. Man wasn't created with a sin nature, nor is it 'natural' for him to sin. Sin is an historical aberration from God's intention. That doesn't mean I believe in perfectionism, though.

I am an American. I was born in America, I live in America, and I will probably die in America. A formative part of my identity is guided by the history, geography, and worldview of America. I could not, tomorrow, wake up and say "I am now a citizen of Poland." (Not just because I don't look Polish, either). It isn't my choice to be American, I was born that way. However, that doesn't make it 'natural' that I am American. It is an historical thing. If I went through the proper processi, red-tape, and cultural emigration I could become Polish. Even though I was born American, I could live Polish. Sin is the same way (note: I'm not saying that being American is the same as being a sinner, all analogies break down eventually).

I was born is the status of sin, sometimes called being 'in Adam'. It wasn't my choice, but that doesn't mean I'm not responsible for it (just like I was born a Warren, not by choice, but I still have responsibilities to that name and family). Being born in something, or having the status of something, gives guidelines as to what questions can be asked, what answers can be given, and what ways are acceptable (or possible) to live. Being in the status of 'sin' questions, answers, and dictates certain things. If I stay in that status, I will more and more conform to the questions, answers, and dictates of that status. I will become epistemologically self-conscious. This is part of maturation. Have you ever noticed how children ask questions that our thought-systems cannot even handle, but seem decidedly profound? I think that is because they are not epistemologically self-conscious. Their thought process has not been fully formed, so they don't know what rules to follow intellectually. Maybe that is why Jesus told us to be 'like children'?

So, the more and more I stay in the status of 'sin', the more and more of a sinner I become. I think sin, I speak sin, I act sin. It isn't till I'm transported/emigrate to another status, another kingdom (if you will) that the status changes. Instead of being 'in Adam', I can be 'in Christ'. If I am in Christ, then I cannot be in Adam at the same time. If this is true, then the very defining characteristic of being 'in Adam', sin, no longer holds status power over me. I have a new status, that of righteous. However, since I didn't get my membership transferred until late in the game, as it were, I still have a lot of habits and thought-processi that are epistemologically closer to sin than to Christ. In other words, I still sin...often.

However, to get back to my original point, just because I sin while being a Christian does not mean it is 'natural'. It means that I haven't become epistemologically self-conscious as a Christian (known classically as sanctification leading to glorification). I still sin because sin is what I know, the status-kingdom of sin surrounds me and calls to me constantly to not remember the bad things about it and revel in all the 'good' things about it. Just because I am a Christian doesn't mean that I'm not constantly under the influence of sin. However, I am in a community of other ex-sinners who want to be more in Christ than in Adam (most of the time, at least).

Here, in some ways at least, is the antidote to self-hating narcissism (is there really any other form of narcissism?). Evil is not the way I am created, even if I act that way and others around me act that way. I, instead, was created in the image of God and am being restored to that status after a long absence. Only through Jesus, though, can this restoration happen, since I need my transferring papers, which he secured on the cross. Otherwise, I never would have even known about any other status than sin. The most comforting thing about this is that even if I do continue to think, speak, and act as in sin, Jesus is patient to help me, mould me, and change me more and more into his image.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Espresso Culture in Beaver County

When many folks think of espresso, the first thing that comes to mind may be the sterilized, middle-class, faux third place atmosphere of a St*rbucks or just a bunch of snarky, "artist-types"--either behind the bar or at the tables--who may talk a big game about their own liberally-minded activities, but are really just the same ol' stereotypical Seattle yuppies that have, effectively, defined espresso culture in America. That is why, reading Seth Godin's blog recently, I began to ponder comments made to me about my work here in Beaver Falls, Beaver County, PA. Seth says:

Craig writes in with a story about a Dyson vacuum:

I have a question for you about buying decisions.

A while back I upgraded my Dyson vacuum cleaner when I got a great deal on the latest model. I had been using my old one for about 5 years or so but it was still in perfect working order. I had even replaced a couple of attachments for it via the Dyson website.
I gave my old Dyson to a friend. She had never used a Dyson before and she loved it. So much so that the very next day her own vacuum cleaner was put outside ready for the refuge collection!

But here’s the thing: a few months later the Dyson I gave her stopped working (not sure why, that thing was indestructible) so she decided to buy a new vacuum. Even though the vacuum I gave her was the best she had ever used, she didn’t buy a Dyson.

I was amazed how someone could love a product so much but replace it with an inferior product. I don’t think it was about cost because I told her where she could get an excellent deal on a new Dyson.

This just doesn’t make sense to me so I thought I’d ask if you had any thoughts as to why this happens?

My take: Craig’s friend didn’t see herself as the kind of person who would buy a Dyson. Sure, she might use one, especially if it was free. But buying a weird, fancy-looking vacuum is an act of self-expression as much as it’s a way to clean your floors. And the act of buying one didn’t match the way his friend saw herself.

So many of the products and services we use are now about our identity. Many small businesses, for example, won’t hire a coach or a consultant because, “that’s not the kind of organization we are.” Wineries understand that the pricing of a bottle of wine is more important than its label or the wine inside. The price is the first thing that most people consider when they order or shop for wine. Not because of perceived value, but because of identity.

Other than the fact that I've had nasty experiences with Dyson (never, ever buy their handheld vacuum), the post intrigues me. Many folks that I've talked to, both from and outside of the area, are always surprised by the presence of a coffeeshop in Beaver Falls (except, they say, because of the college). Things such as "The people there wouldn't care about espresso, just a cup of coffee" or "You're going to have a hard time talking people there into caring about quality". Maybe these things are true, but I don't think so in the end. Yes, Beaver County, and especially Beaver Falls, are blue-collar places. However, that is exactly the sort of fertile soil that an artisan-based culture can thrive in, along with a vibrant, re-thought espresso culture.

First, some un-education:

1) Espresso is not synonymous with yuppies or the consumerist culture. Espresso originated in Italy, where many folks in Beaver County can, with great joy, trace their roots. Espresso in Italy is associated not with the up-and-up, but with everyday life, whether you are a baker, a factory-worker, or a cubicle-dweller. Espresso, instead of being a symbol of the bourgeois, is a symbol of the varied and diverse sorts of people that make up every place.

2) Coffeeshops are not synonymous with those either. A coffeeshop, if being true to its historical roots, is a leveler--and has been persecuted throughout history as being too "democratic". Coffeeshops are places of relaxation, debate, bravado, humility, and artistry. Coffeeshops are places of humanity. And they smell great too.

With that in mind, it is easy for me to see why espresso culture, rightly conceived, can be so successful in this place. We want to be a welcoming, hospitable place where collegiate, businesser, laborer, home-maker, retired, and young can meet, mingle, and become a strong, democratic local community. All of the problems that people see within Beaver County, could be addressed by that sort of community. But this is another topic for another day.

A place with the mindset of hard work, thrift, and a history of (somewhat suppressed) artisanry is ripe for a full-orbed, healthy espresso culture. A culture that encourages hard work, thrift, quality, humanness, scale, and community. I'll drink to that.

Friday, May 25, 2007


A recurring question in my life, ever since (at least) high school:

Why, when we know of personality issues that need to change, do we not change them?

A related question:

Why, when we know that God has freed us from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus, do we continue to sin?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Customer Service is Dead

Two incidents from today:

1) I received a shipment from one of our suppliers today. Noticing that the product was not the right size, I called the company. The woman on the phone told me it would be at least a week before it could be rectified (even though their company driver had just left). She then proceeded to tell me that I agreed on two separate occasions to the smaller size, in an angry and aggressive voice. I tried my best to calm her down, admitting that possibly the mistake was mine (I learned later that they had called to verify the size change the day before but were greeted with questions marks from my employees--so much for "double-checking"). Even if the problem was my fault, the way that it was handled on their end left a sour taste in my mouth. Customer satisfaction is the most important part of business. Even if it is the customer's fault, trying to maintain a relationship is much more important than pride-of-being-right. Her pride has, quite possibly, lost her a potentially lucrative account. Not to mention that if something is wrong, you should go out of your way to make it right, not "It'll be a week" for it to travel 25 minutes from the warehouse. What that says to me is: "You are not important as a customer. Our system is much more important." However, without customers nobody pays for the system.

2) I called a newly opening banquest facility to try and get our catering side of business on their rolodex. Allow me to write out the entire conversation.

"Welcome to ... Food Service and ... Banquet Center. Please press "1" for an alphabetical list of employees or "2" to dial their extension directly."

I have no idea who I am calling. There is no contact information past the initial phone number. I press "1".

"Dial "1" for John, "2" for Larry, "3" for Monica"

Names have been changed to protect the forgetful. I press "1".

"Hello, this is John, what can I do for you today?"
"Hi, my name is Russ Warren and I'm looking for a way to get in contact with the ... Banquet Facility."
"Let me see if I can get them to help you."

At this point, I'm put on hold, wondering who exactly "them" is, because if "them" was option 2 or 3, I would have the ability to call back later if they weren't there. But what if, horror, it wasn't someone on the automated list? I couldn't only wait and hope.

And wait and hope.

And wait and hope.

And wait.

And wait.

And, after almost 10 minutes on a muzak-less hold (not even a reassuring voice telling me that my call was very important but obviously ignorable) I hung up. Obviously, the banquet facility has no desire to have anyone rent it. They had no idea what I was going to ask for, so I may have, for all they knew, wanted to rent it out every Thursday for a year. That would have been a great contract. However, such was not the case. They didn't care about me or any other potential customer. Any business that doesn't have a human initially pick up the phone to talk to me already has shown me contempt. The difficulty here, though, is different from incident 1. They will get by just fine without my catering services (although they need to redo their phones so that folks can get in touch with them in the first place), however I am out of a potentially profitable rolodex because they don't care to take care of people.

Customer service, RIP 2007.