Friday, December 3, 2010

Everything matters

It matters how it is built. It matters how the electrons are moving through transistor to form gates, final state machines, processors, operation systems and computers for use in industry and in our homes. It matters how the atoms and molecules are holding on to each other to create the taste of pineapple and chocolate. It matters how gravity is holding us in place, and how the speed of light is related to space and time.

Academics matter. Philosophy matters, history matters. Discussions about life, the universe and Douglas Adams matter. Science matters, sociology matters, medicine matters, law matters, computer science matters, yes, even politics matter. At least a little bit. Engineering matters.

It matters if there is an airbag in the car. It matters what energy rating your house has. The quality of the wood; the sharpness of the knife; the accuracy of the pencil; it all matters. How the chair is formed, how hard the mattress is, how many birds you can count on one hand.

It matters how white blood cells and doctors are eager to heal us from terrible diseases. It matters if we wash our hands. It makes a difference if we walk to work, if we take the stairs and where we go hiking. It matters. What we watch on TV, what we buy in the grocery store, what we do for a living.

Who we chose as our friends. Who we chose as our girlfriends and boyfriends. It is actually important. It matters also how we treat our friends. Heck; it matters how we treat our enemies! It matters that we visit grandma. It matters that we say hi on Skype once in a while. Skype matters.

The words we say. The blogs we write, the comments we leave. The conversations we have. Words have matter. As WikiLeaks so eloquently have shown us, words is the most amazing matter. Because words are always more than just words; words are feelings, agendas, love and hatred. Words really matter. But hearts matter even more, for the mouth only speaks what the heart is full of.

Attitude matters. How you dress, what shoes you wear, if you hold your head high when you walk down the street, if you look people in the eyes when you shake their hand. What seat you choose in the bus. What perfume you wear. How much makeup you use. How you do your hair. What tone you use in your voice. How genuine you are when you say you care.

The birds in the sky matters, as do the fish in the sea, the mammals of the earth, the reptiles, the dinosaurs, the bugs, algae, mushrooms, and every tree and every flower. Every star at night, every drop of rain and every ray of sunshine. Everything matters.

You matter.


Can I matter together with you?




Monday, November 15, 2010

Reading Norwegian poems

So, halfway through the semester I decided to take on a new class: Sound recording! It is a really cool class where we get to play around in a really high quality studio, and I already feel like a much better sound engineers than what I was before. The studio is in fact so awesome that it is equipped with a entirely separate power supply from the rest of the building, so that the power drills down in the the wood shop will not disturb our signal! These outlets are yellow, as opposed to the regular white outlets.

Also, we get to use really good microphones and and pre-amps, the recording rooms are super-silent, and so everything is prepared for wonderful recordings. My first real assignment was to read a text in my native language, and then set music to it. Text by Sondre Bratland. Music by Michael W. Smith. Love by Maria.





Michael W. Smith: Freedom
Sondre Bratland: Syng Meg Heim

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Questions

Sometimes, questions are easy to answer. Sometimes, people ask me, “What are the control points of this datapath,” or “Where should we eat?” Actually, that last question can be a challenge, because there is so much that should be factored in to the answers. Not only the taste of the food needs to be taken into account, but also your mood, the time of day, the distance, the price, the atmosphere and everything else. But eventually you find an answer. I like those questions.

Other questions can be harder to answer, but interesting to discuss. Such questions would be, “What is the best programming language,” “What classes should I take next semester” or maybe even something existential such as “How can God be good when the world is so evil?” These are questions with answers that not everybody agrees upon, but we might still say that some answers make more sense than others. I like those questions.

Then there are those tough questions. Those questions we don’t like to hear, and don’t want to answer. Those are questions like “How should I respond to this,” or “What am I going to do with myself?” To have the courage to face these questions and to have a humble and loving spirit in dealing with them, I think is more worth than all knowledge and insight and wisdom and debating technique altogether.

TBA was today. My only answer is, “I don’t know. I really don’t.” (The pictures are from last years' approach. What do you think of them?)
The Tartan: TBA

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New semester and me

I feel like I am in the right place. I started my third semester at Carnegie Mellon this week, after an amazing summer back home in Norway. I thought it would be terrible to leave home. But it was not. It actually feels really good to be here in Pittsburgh right now. I have a mission here, and I feel good about working towards my degree here. I also have a deep conviction that going home is not far away. I will go home. Soon. And it will be wonderful. But right now, my world is here, it is beautiful, and I am at peace.

I am taking four classes this semester. That is not an awful lot, and the classes neither have a reputation of being awfully difficult. That said, three of my classes are required for my major, so I am not falling far behind by this. The four classes I am taking are:

15-123 Effective Programming in C and UNIX
18-240 Structure and Design of Digital Systems
21-127 Concepts of Mathematics
79-350 Early Christianity

The three first classes are all having a pretty slow start, and I expect them to speed up in the coming weeks. They are also classes that are not very interesting to discuss unless the audience is educated in software, logic or mathematics. Hence, the class material I will discuss here on the blog is mostly limited to Early Christianity. So let me tell you about that course:

We are about twenty students taking the class. I don’t know the various flavours of belief we represent, but a fair guess is that most of us are Christians in some sense or another. I know a few of them from before, but they are mostly strangers to me.

Professor Miller is an historian, and the course is teaching us how to look at the Bible from an historian’s perspective. Miller does not, however, impose on us that the historical perspective is the only correct way to read the Bible, though he certainly would argue that it is a valid way to read the Bible; Jesus may or may not be the Christ, but regardless of your answer to that he is also an undeniable historical figure, and the Jesus movement was also a very true and historical movement. And it is this historical aspect of Jesus and the early church that is under the scope of this course.

As for Miller’s own belief, it is hard to tell exactly what it is. I certainly do not think he is not holding the Bible as infallible, as opposed to what many evangelicals do. However, he has a great respect for Jesus, so either he considers him the one and only Christ, or he considers Jesus as one of many “Christ’s”, or he may also just consider him as a great human being.

You see, historians do not take for granted that what is recorded in the gospels is always a true record. A historian is considering the views and belief of the writer as well. So whenever Jesus claims that he is the Messiah, a historian can opt to believe that those claims were written into Jesus’ words later. Written, of course, in the belief that he actually did say those words, but as any historian would tell you: Human memory is closer to what the brain can make sense of than what actually happened.

To accept this premise does not, however, imply that you cannot believe the gospels are inspired, and that what they tell is mostly true. For what I know, Miller himself may very well believe the gospels are inspired and true. If so, he is just more aware of his own beliefs than most of us are.

Anyways, I think this will be an interesting semester, and I am looking forward to all of it. Oh, and I am also hired by the University as a course assistant in 15-110, which is an introductory programming course in Python. Funny thing, though, I have never used Python before! When I took that course, it was taught in Java (see one of the assignments here). Wish me luck :-)


More:
Joseph H. Lynch: Early Christianity: A Brief History

Saturday, June 12, 2010

News and comments

Studies take up a lot of time. Hence, now that I don’t study, time suddenly came back; now I even read the news. However, reading the news is more often than not a depressing exercise:

• Israel killed 9 activists on a ship intending to break their blockade of Gaza. This whole situation is giving me an emotional headache. I refuse to defend either.
• The unions in Norway are striking even more than usual, despite the world economy being as fragile as in hasn’t been since the late 1920’s. I am ashamed of my nation and of my people.
• The light railway for which I work, Bybanen, collided two times in a week. No cake this Friday.

To this, the oil spill back in America is minor. Because, what is so stressful about these news is not the straight facts in and of themselves – it is all the ignorant and at times hateful comments it generates that sucks the life out of me.

Norwegian newspapers online have the habit of allowing comments on their articles, even anonymously. On one hand this is nice, because I can express my thoughts on the subject, which makes me feel like I am contributing something, I feel like my voice is heard. But on the other hand everyone else does the same, and people are in my opinion too spontaneous and courageous when they don’t look the people they are debating in the eye.

For instance, Dagbladet.no has an interesting article about some strange phenomena at a kindergarten, where magnets were flying in the air and smashing into the walls and downto the ground. They first called in some experts in magnetism to examine the area, but they couldn’t find anything. Then they called in the priest, and the frequency with which this thing happened was reduced after he said a prayer of some sort.

I don’t know if this is a clever practical joke or something else; but I am pretty certain the people working in the kindergarten believe what they say they believe. A loud portion of the commenters, however, are certain it is all rubbish, and speak despitefully of anyone open to the possibility of ‘ghosts’ or creatures we can’t normally see or sense. Of course, they could be right in their assumptions. But I am sickened by the arrogance.

Now, it is easy to be sickened by the arrogance of people with whom we disagree. But what we really should be sickened by is our own arrogance. I caught myself being overly upset about the strike: my comment left little sympathy for the unionist viewpoint. Now, I still think someone should really confront the unions (me being the totally wrong person). But I nevertheless shouldn’t have used that one degrading word.

I have come to conclude that in serious debates, there should be no field for comments. Rather, there could be track backs to blog postings and possibilities to write letters to the editor (signed full name). I would surely prefer to have a few of the most thought-through comments representing the entire spectrum of opinions, rather than the way too excessive regurgitation of thoughtless hatred I find today.


Read more:
Dagbladet: - Ting flyr gjennom lufta
bt.no: - Jeg kjørte på gult

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This summer

I don’t plan to write a lengthy blog post this time, but I realize some of you would be interested to know what I’m up to now that CMU has released me of duty for a few months. Hence, here comes a short update on my life.

First and foremost: I am delighted to actually meet my wonderful girlfriend. Skype is a beautiful piece of software; but as any true Electrical and Computer Engineering major can tell you, hardware is much more exciting than software. And truly, she is even more amazing here in the real world.

I also got myself a summer job. I am now working as an “FDV Engineer” at Bybanen AS, a company that runs a newly built light railway in Bergen. The official opening will be on June 22nd, and Her Majesty will herself cut the tape. My over-refined title aside, I am very exited to work here, this was exactly were I dreamed about working before I started my job search. Hence, I decided to just send them a simple application, in case they needed anyone. Amazingly they did, and they hired me even before they met me.

Now I want to do some good work for Bybanen, so they won’t regret that they hired me. This is the work I wanted; now I must put my heart in it. I must be creative, be impulsive, be active. Be curious, but respectful. Not unlike what a good boyfriend should be like.

This summer I hope to learn much more about that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Beautiful faith

- faith that looks like Jesus Christ

(The following text is an edition of my final paper in the Interpretation and Argument class at Carnegie Mellon. The topic for the class was religion and power, and this is my simple attempt to contribute to the discussion. Even though it is written for a Christian audience, I hope it can bring some light to the secular discussion as well. Keep in mind that this text is a result of a young man's reasoning, who himself is slightly hesitant towards some of the conclusions he reaches. So please comment in a friendly tone.)


I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

- Mahatma Gandhi


Abstract
This blog post argues that Christian faith should be understood as trusting that Jesus is Lord, as opposed to a commitment to believe everything in the Bible. To the extent that believers understand their faith otherwise, their faith quickly becomes something ugly that righteously falls under the critique of modern atheists like Richard Dawkins. The paper examines the difference between the two definitions of faith through examples from modern scholars, personal experience and excerpts from the Bible itself. It concludes that faith understood as trusting that Jesus is Lord is how Christians should understand their faith. It also argues that such faith is not ugly, but as beautiful as Jesus himself.

Introduction
Christians should all be able to answer this important question; what does it mean to be Christian? Now, if you ask this question to an unsorted array of Christians, you quickly discover that there is little unity among the answers. But of the many answers you can get, let me draw your attention to two of the answers in particular. One is that being a Christian is to submit to Jesus in humble service to others; the other answer is that being a Christian at its core is about believing in such and such doctrines. These different definitions of being a Christian may of course be phrased in different ways, and to most believers, they both make up a component of their faith; nevertheless, I will argue that there is one answer that is better than the other answers. That would mostly fall into the first category: Being a Christian is to trust that Jesus is Lord.

I think this answer is crucial in order to have a beautiful faith. And already, I find much beauty in the church. Impressive individuals like Mother Teresa for instance, or the homeless ministry ran by Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community here in Pittsburgh; people devoted to follow Jesus’ example of healing the sick and befriending the poor and rejected. Not to mention Jesus himself, who is the rock on which all this is built. (Matt 7)

But unfortunately, Christians are not always that beautiful. For instance, the church has been supporting numerous which-hunts and wars throughout history, and still there are congregations that loudly support such measures, for instance the war on terror; others are caught up in a judgemental state of mind that makes them shout 'sin' as loudly as possible in the face of sinners, and homosexuals in particular. Neither is beautiful. In fact, it was straight out ugly when televangelist Jerry Falwell proclaimed his support for the Iraq war: “You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.”

Of course, the church is made up of man, and man usually is pure in neither spirit nor action. Thus, I will never expect it to be perfect; but I argue the church can still be beautiful, and that a mistaken perception of faith is an important factor why it sometimes is not. The mistake fundamentalist Christians do (apart from discarding Jesus’ teachings about humility in Matt 7) is to make their faith focused on doctrines.

Instead, what beautiful Christians should be focusing on, is hope and confidence in God himself. We should focus on faith as submission to Jesus and trust in God to provide as we follow him. Believe that God’s kingdom is beautiful, and live in hope that it is coming. If faith is to make Jesus king, then faith is as beautiful as Jesus himself.

Faith is doctrine
One of the most compelling works on the significance of assumptions about faith is in Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God. She describes two different ways to understand faith, namely mythos and logos. The two words did in the old Greek tradition use to represent two different forms of knowledge, she explains, one that concerned itself with practical issues and the improvement and development of those (logos), and one that was more in the psychological sphere of competence (mythos). The distinctive merit of mythos was that “people had to enter the warren of their own minds and fight their personal demons,” and it was not meant to be understood literally. However, she continues, since the early modern period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mythos has been reduced to something that is not true at all. She concludes that this disparage of mythos has “resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism.”

It seems, then, like religion today has become caught up in a logos understanding of their faith, even though there is little defence for such a position in the academic sphere. But within the religious sphere of Christianity, many argue that the word of the Bible is supposed to be interpreted literally. The most prominent example of this is creationism, which is based on a literal interpretation of Genesis:

We believe in creation, first of all, not because of scientific evidence, but because of our faith in Jesus Christ and in His Word the Bible. The Lord Jesus is revealed in the Bible to be the Creator of all things (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:1-3), and He is for Christians the Lord of all and the Head over all things, including science (Acts 10:36, Ephesians 1:22). Our Head has said something about science in John 5:45-47, namely this: If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we must believe Moses' writings. What did Moses write about first of all? He wrote about the creation of all things by God. So we judge science by the Bible and not the other way around. "We walk by faith, not by sight." (I Corinthians 5:7)
Creation-Science Research Center

Such logos interpretation of the Bible in many Christian communities is also what critics like Richard Dawkins assume, discarding any mythos understanding of religion as a “lonely creek.” In fact, this assumption is at the very core of Dawkins argument: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.” To him, faith is this mental exercise in believing something factual one really has no reason to believe, and it is represented by stubbornness and arrogance, deafness to reason. Dawkins does not recognize anything beautiful about that, and subsequently discards faith as evil altogether.

Faith is life
In response, Christians thinkers like Harvey Cox are developing theologies that hardly have any doctrines at all. Cox describes faith as a hope and trust in God to just work, as opposed to belief, which he describes as certainty of details and factualities. Like the priest Unamuno suggested, “you don’t have to believe in God to pray.” Cox strongly emphasise faith (mythos) over belief (logos), even to the point where he subtly questions the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus as factual events. And even if that might be reading too much into Cox’ words, at the very least the factual components of those events appears less important to him, as they seemingly deal with belief rather than faith.

We find a similar interpretation by Gene Robinson, a practicing gay bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire. He does not attribute authority to the Bible as much as he attributes authority to God and Jesus himself. “The Bible is the best and most trustworthy witness to [Jesus' life, death and resurrection], but it neither replaces Jesus as the Word [of God] nor takes precedence over Christ's continuing action in the world through the Holy Spirit.” Of course, Robinson is forced to such an interpretation in order to practice homosexuality with a pure conscience. But also the morally far more conservative bishop N. T. Wright writes along the same lines:

The regular views of scripture and its authority which we find not only outside but also inside evangelicalism fail to do justice to what the Bible actually is – a book, an ancient book, an ancient narrative book. They function by tuning that book into something else, and by implying thereby that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book. This is a low doctrine of inspiration, whatever heights are claimed for it and whatever words beginning with ‘in-’ are used to label it.
Wright, Nicholas Thomas

Wright continues to explain how the Bible has the authority of a story – an unfinished play where we are currently in the process of playing out the last act. The authority lies in that we should stay true to the preceding acts of the story. “Appeal could always be made,” he explains, “to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material.” Clearly, Wright is here not preaching anything close to an ‘unquestionable’ faith. Rather, Wright and Robinson, as well as Cox, Armstrong and many others, are all arguing that faith primarily is about living. And living is all about asking questions, like, ‘what do we do now?’

There are in other words influential scholars that prove Dawkins terribly wrong in his assumption that unquestionable doctrine is the only sizeable form of faith we find in Christianity today.

The role of doctrine
Of course, most Christians have some form of basic doctrine that is important to them, including myself. It is for instance difficult to make Jesus Lord if you think Jesus was just an ordinary man with a good heart. It is easy to make an ordinary man with a good heart an inspiration or a hero, even though you may think he is insane. But it is quite different to make him Lord. So to have such faith, it is very helpful to intellectually believe that Jesus actually is God, in a very objective sense. And if not with an absolute certainty, at least consider it plausible and hope that it is the case.

This doctrine, if you will, is of course important to the believer. But neither this is a question of creed as much as it is a question of living. In its most basic form, this is a part of trusting that Jesus is Lord. This trust, or acknowledgment if you like, does not always come with an absolute historical certainty, but it should always come with confidence in the forgiveness of sins and a subsequent change in behaviour for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, the creed of Jesus’ Lordship itself is nothing more than empty words if not a result of trusting that Jesus is Lord. You can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ as much as you want, but if you don’t trust it – that is, with your life – it is all useless. To insist on the creed of Jesus’ Lordship while not living it is actually straight out hypocrisy. It is like proclaiming that everyone should be warm and well fed without giving as much as a penny to those cold and hungry.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
James 2:14-19 (TNIV)

The core of faith ought not to be creeds and doctrines but a confidence that Jesus is Lord. The core of faith is not ‘works’ and being nice to other people either; but the core of faith should be to trust that Jesus is Lord. I will examine more closely what this trust looks like.

Faith is trusting that Jesus is Lord
What is trust? Let me explain what I mean by using an example from the infantry. A soldier must trust his fellow soldiers to cover him as he advances to the next pit. He trusts that his brothers in arms are shooting at the enemy – and not at him. He also trusts that they in fact do shoot at the enemy, so he is ‘covered’ when he moves. He is hence giving his life at the mercy and skill of his team. This is trust.

Similarly, to trust in Jesus is to have a sense that Jesus forgives your sins and watches over you. To use the analogy of a soldier, trusting Jesus is to move forward to the next pit with confidence. It is to live with the assurance that he is covering you so that the forces of Hell can’t get you. To further capture the sense of Jesus’ Lordship, you can expand the analogy to make Jesus your squad leader. The squad leader is active in giving cover, while he also gives instructions on where to move forward.

Of course, Jesus’ way of warfare is quite different from that of a worldly war. As Jesus tells his followers to move forward, he only has one command: to love. That is how the Kingdom of God fights, that is how the Kingdom of God is different from this world (John 18:36). Listen to Jesus’ command:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.
John 15:9-13 (TNIV)

To trust that Jesus is Lord, then, is to have confidence in and live as though Jesus was your squad leader. It is always looking to Jesus when wondering where to move forward next. It is to trust that he protects you. It is to be a follower of Christ, manifesting Christ’s character in the world, laying our lives down in humble service. Like Claiborne and Haw sees it in their Jesus for President, a “Christian came to refer to those disciples who saw themselves as ‘little Christs,’ people who were literally the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus alive in the world.” In short, to make Jesus Lord is to follow his example, and to trust he is Lord is to trust that he is covering us. This is the core of faith.

Faith is beautiful
Now that we have established what is our core of faith, the other aspects of faith, though still valid, becomes more secondary. So even though faith understood as believing everything in the Bible is still present, it is not the core. So also interpreting every little thing in the Bible is neither our primary concern. For instance, there is a discussion on in which situations the Bible condemns abortion, opinions ranging from 'always' to 'never.' And sure, there might be a correct answer to that. But finding that answer is no longer our primary concern, much less insisting on the truth to whatever answer we end up with. Rather, our primary concern is trusting that Jesus is Lord. And Jesus is fully beautiful.

If the primary concern of faith is to believe everything in the Bible, then surely a believer will emphasize the inconsistencies he finds between scripture and the world. If his primary concern is to believe in the Bible, it quickly becomes important for him how Genesis should be interpreted. If his conclusion is creationism, then of course he will emphasise this in his life (or he might reach the same conclusion, but subsequently abandon faith completely because it does not make sense to him). And when a Bible-emphasizing believer reads that homosexuality is a sin, of course he emphasises this in his life, even if he has no such tendencies himself. But what is beautiful about that? Nothing is beautiful about being certain of other people’s sin. Nothing.

A relevant example would be the Manhattan Declaration, published On November 20, 2009. It has of today over 430 000 signatures. These signers are all stating that their faith compels them to fight politically for the sanctity of life, the institution of marriage and religious liberty. It seems that the major concern of the declaration is to impose the moral truths they derive from scripture onto society as a whole. But what is beautiful about that?

In the Manhattan Declaration, the signers even explicitly state that they “set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture (...).” Then is not their faith primarily about believing in the Bible? That is not a beautiful faith! That is a faith concerned with the kingdoms of the world; it has little to do with the kingdom in which Jesus is Lord.

I say, we should rather make our primary concern to trust that Jesus is Lord. Then we become as beautiful as Jesus himself. If our faith is primarily concerned with living in the Kingdom of God, then our faith is beautiful. Faith is beautiful if it looks like Jesus Christ, refusing to throw the first stone and turning the other cheek. Faith is beautiful if it looks like Jesus Christ, washing the feet of his disciples. Faith is beautiful if it looks like Jesus Christ, dying for the very people who crucify him... Faith is beautiful indeed if it looks like Jesus Christ. And that is exactly what faith should look like.

Conclusion
Faith can have many different aspects to it, and it is hard to separate one part of faith entirely from another, even though scholars like Cox and Armstrong suggests this is both recommendable and possible. At least I can agree it makes a big difference what we make the core of our faith – the difference between trust in Jesus and belief in the Bible is overwhelming, even as it can be reasonably argued that you cannot have one without the other.

When a trust that Jesus is Lord is the very centre of faith, faith makes people beautiful and gives peace at heart, and it opens the text of the Bible for honest discussion. If, on the other hand, the text in the Bible itself is the most important thing in faith, then being aware of certain “biblical truths” suddenly becomes equally important to making Jesus Lord. That makes it is easy to push Jesus slightly aside in favour of defending the other truths of the Bible. Faith is not all beautiful anymore, and the road to the ugly faith in Dawkins’ analysis is short.

But faith is supposed to be pure and beautiful. Faith is supposed to look like Jesus Christ himself, the one in which we trust as Lord. That is the kind of faith I want to seek for my life, and which I hope everyone will seek with me. If we would all grow in such faith, I cannot believe other than that the church will grow to become the beautiful bride Jesus desires. The church will not be perfect until the day when the Kingdom of God has fully come; but it will still be beautiful.



Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10 (TNIV)




Read more:
Creation-Science Research Center: The Basics Explained
Richard Dawkins: Man vs. God (Wall Street Journal)
Jerry Falwell: Wikiquotes
Mahatma Gandhi: Wikiquotes
The Manhattan Declaration: A call of Christian conscience
N. T. Wright: How can the Bible be authoritative?

Other literature:
Karen Armstrong: The Case for God
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw: Jesus for President
Harvey Cox: The Future of Faith
Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
Gene Robinson: In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God
The Bible: Today's New International Version

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unity and disagreement

When I was in the army, there was only one Christian fellowship in the garrison where I was stationed. The official Norwegian Lutheran church ran a chapel, and a Lutheran priest was employed by the military to hold service every week, which was all Lutheran psalms and liturgy. However, many of the young soldiers that attended the church, like myself, were not Lutheran at all. We were Baptists, Roman Catholics, followers of different protestant traditions, and non-denominational Christians. Yet, we all shared the same bread and wine, we all sung the same songs, and we all ate the same waffles. It was beautiful.

Many of the best discussions I’ve had were in the discussion group in that chapel. The discussion group was open for everybody, and many that showed up weren’t Christians at all, but adhered to different spiritualities, to quasi-philosophical agnosticism, or even atheism. Much to learn and much waffles to consume. I really got to know a lot of good hearts in those discussions. Honest hearts. We were not united in beliefs, far from so; but in mutual respect we built something as rare as a unity in heart. It was not a perfect heart; but I believe we were headed in the right direction. Those of us who simultaneously were intentional in seeking Jesus’ heart, were amazed how these discussions brought such light to our quest. Or at least I was.

I fell in love with unity.

So I was distressed when the Catholic Church didn’t want to share in communion with me. And as I left the army and moved to Pittsburgh, I was heartbroken to find that the Lutheran church, which I had come to love so much, didn’t want to share communion with me unless I was Lutheran, or at least something close. I probably could have passed the “test,” but then what I loved about the church was lost. On top of this, in a non-denominational church of the faith-movement I visited, they didn’t allow undergraduates to share in communion. Nowhere, it seemed, did they acknowledge me. I was rejected.

Mark 14:17-25 (NIV)
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"

"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."


Look at it: Even Judas Iscariot was allowed in communion. Man, if Judas Iscariot was allowed communion, then who should not be? And imagine the atmosphere at the table. Everybody is suspicious towards everybody. So much tension... Is it Peter that is going to betray Jesus? After all, Jesus called him Satan just a few chapters ago. Is it Simon the revolutionary zealot? Or Matthew the tax collector? It surely is not I, is it? Suspicion. Mistrust. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. Because Jesus himself is what communion is about. It is not about the agreements between those who partake in it. Rather, communion is about looking past the disagreement in style, looking past disagreement in politics, and looking past disagreement in doctrine. Even looking past our suspicion that the other partakers are betraying Christ and his ideals. It is about looking past the dust and focusing everything on Christ himself. That is communion. That it is beautiful.

In the last weeks, I have realized this is difficult. You know those fundamentalist Christians that just make you so ashamed of your faith? Like when televangelist Jerry Falwell in October 2004 boldly proclaimed his support of the Iraq war: “You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops and I am for the President — chase them all over the world, if it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” How can I invite such a man to communion with me? Can I partake in communion with him? Really? Fact is I can’t stand the man, by knowing nothing more than that very quote. I just can’t. He repulses me, and I am highly suspicious he is betraying Jesus big-time. I do not want to be associated with that man. At all.

But pause for a moment. Is it not sad how I have made myself such a demonized image of Falwell? I most certainly am doing the man injustice. What do I really know about his heart? Well, nothing. I am still suspicious, sure, and I do not expect to agree with him in much. I am allowed to disagree; I am allowed to be suspicious. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. (though sharing with Falwell truly is a tough reputational sacrifice)

What do you say: Jehovah’s Witness claims that Jesus is just one of several expressions of God. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Hard core Calvinists claims that God does not love everybody. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Are they not worshipping a different God altogether?

Should we draw a line?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives the book of Mormon equal weight as the Bible. The Adventist church is obsessed with the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. The Catholic churches pray to saints. Churches of the faith-movement emphasise emotional experiences. Some churches show signs with “God hates fags.” Some churches do that. Some churches do this. Churches disagree on everything, even on Jesus himself. And the churches are allowed to disagree. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless.

Say we actually draw a line. That man is allowed communion, this man is not. That man is one of us true Christians, this man is not. By doing so, are we not making ourselves judges? Jesus himself, the only one righteous to judge, did not.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a good discussion. I am all for confronting views such as “we should blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” It was trough discussion (which surely was heated at times) that we gained this rare unity in the army chapel. It was through honest struggles with challenging questions we shed light on our path to a kingdom heart. But even as we usually ended up disagreeing at some point, we shared the waffles nevertheless.

How much more, then, should the church be able to share communion, we who all are intentionally seeking the heart of Christ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tetris







Move left - left arrow
Move right - right arrow
Move down - down arrow
Rotate - up arrow

Pause - p
Restart - r

Warm thanks to David Kosbie for teaching me this, and for providing JComponents and stuff that are too advanced for me right now.

(If you don't get it to work, try double-clicking inside the applet. If it still doesn't work, switch browser. If it still doesn't work, download the game to your computer (link below). If it still doesn't work, download java and try all this again. If it still doesn't work, buy a Mac)

More:
kosbie.net: Tetris
Play offline: Download Tetris

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beauty and justice

So what is all this talk about beauty? Isn’t it equally important to be just, and doesn’t justice look rough sometimes? Ok, justice may look rough sometimes. And justice may be good and necessary. It makes sense for a good God to exercise justice. But even God, which he himself is fully just, have problems making justice beautiful. You see, justice is hard and painful, and only has losers. (I think this is because justice only is required because of sin and ugliness in the first place.) Hence, justice is good and necessary, but not beautiful.

But justice is straight out ugly if the judge is guilty. We call it hypocrisy, and society righteously despises it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What has faith got to do with it?

I’ve now submitted my synthesis paper in my class on religion and power. My previous paper in this class was a summary of one of Dawkins’ chapters from The God Delusion, and you can read that in its entirety here on this blog. Sadly, you say, I will not publish my synthesis paper here. Let me explain why.

I am simply not at peace with distributing the synthesis paper as it is right now. It is not so much the style issues I am worried about, nor do I worry about my academic analysis of the positions I am synthesising; it is not the quality of the paper I am concerned with. But frankly, I am not sure if I am being totally honest; I am not sure if I am fair, because I searched for what I wanted to find, I dug, and I found it. I need to feel more solid ground beneath my feet before you can all read it.

Nevertheless, I’ll give you the short version of my thoughts, without all the quotes and different authors and positions and that jazz. It is like the paper without the academic evidence. And only dealing with the Christian case. And more personal. In short, a more sincere heartsong. So, what has faith got to do with it?

But wait! What has faith got to do with what? Well, with religion and power of course. More precisely, what is faith, and how does your answer to that question affect your view on the relationship between the church and political institutions? For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the church to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the church could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

In my personal Christian terminology, the body of all believers is referred to as “the body of Christ,” so in my mind, the church and the body of Christ is equivalent. Therefore, I’ll start off by substituting the word “church” in the hypothetical sentences above:

For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the body of Christ to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the body of Christ could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

I mean, are these two Christians really part of the same body? They may have a somewhat similar vision of the future world, but they are headed in two profoundly different directions to get there. It seems to me as though there are two bodies of Christ, then. (So I’d love to ask, which of these bodies looks the most like Jesus? But I won’t really emphasise that question, it’s slightly off the point.)

This black and white analysis is of course not accurate at all. And neither is my next assumption, namely that faith is either factual doctrines, or hope and confidence. Of course, to most believers, faith is both hope, confidence and doctrines. But for the sake of the argument, bear with me.

Faith is many times depicted as knowing something for certain without really knowing it. For instance, young earth creationists argue that we should teach creationism in schools because that is what Genisis seems to suggest (at least by the literal interpretation these guys pledge to). They are pretty certain this literal interpretation is about what happened back then, so they rule out guided evolution and Big Bang as scientific non-sense. You see, to them, faith is to take the Bible seriously – and by seriously, they mean literally. Faith has become this exercise to believe in something they really have no reason to believe, the Bible aside. The same can be said for moral truths; “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that homosexuality is sin,” and “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that abortion is murder” etc. In this version of faith, to take the bible seriously has become to believe in certain historical and moral doctrines.

My guess is that most young Christians today that vote against homosexual marriages do so because it is part of their moral doctrine, not because they are homophobic.

The other version of faith is described as hope and confidence. In this version of faith, doctrines are less important, and having faith is really more about living in the hope and confidence that God will provide. This is the kind of faith we find when people are “taking a step in faith” and do something even when they cannot predict the outcome; sometimes they even have little to fall back on. Such faith can make a believer change his career plans, humble himself to ask for forgiveness in difficult situations, pray for random people on the street or open his house to strangers; this faith is confident that God forgives the past, and is living in hope for a world were God reigns and the lion sleeps with the lamb.

To me, it seems like the two faces of faith have little in common. Can they really be the same thing? Some even argue they are completely distinct. I can only examine myself, and find that I probably have a little of both. But, and this is the main point of the entire blog post, I strive to emphasise hope and confidence, because that is where the beauty in faith is found. What is beautiful about being certain the world was created 6000 years ago? Nothing! What is beautiful about being certain homosexuality is sin? Nothing, nothing, nothing is beautiful about being certain of other people’s sin! Nothing!

Being aware of your own sins, on the other hand, is quite useful. You need to acknowledge your sin if you want to be cleansed and beautified. That is what repentance is all about! But the process of beautification is first and foremost a fight with your own demons. As Jesus so wisely put it, “first take the plank out of your own eye.” This is why I believe there are so many moral guidelines in the Bible; not because being certain of the truth to them is a point in itself, but because we in the process of beautification sometimes need to be remained of what we are up against. And so can we struggle with were we find ourselves.

This focus on hope and confidence - life - of faith, also has another particular merit to it worth of mention: It allows for a much more honest discussion of the Bible, without shaking the foundation of faith. For instance, if someone has difficulties reconciling the creation story of the Bible with their scientific worldview, this can now be discussed without putting their entire faith at stake. If someone struggles with the passages condemning homosexuality, now at least it doesn’t shake their foundation of faith.

Finally, I argue this approach makes one less inclined to fight politically, for two reasons: The first being precisely that moral and historical truths are more ambiguous and open to discussion. To clarify: You may of course still argue this and that politically, but you are more hesitant to attribute these opinions to Jesus and his body of believers. The second reason is this: if faith is to give up life to be fully beautiful in hope and confidence that God provides, then you have all these planks to fight before you would even think of the sawdusts of those other people. You still have a moral and factual platform, sure; but exactly what that looks like is not a question you care too much to answer. “Rather,” you say, “ask what is the most beautiful thing to do right now.”


Read more:
Warrior of Agape: Why Dawkins is so hostile

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skydive

"Do one thing every day that scares you"
- Mary Schmich

Christian is this amazing guy that I don't really hang out with that much, but every now and then he invites me to do crazy stuff. Last semester, I stayed over at his uncle's house in NYC for Thanksgiving (which resulted in this video). Back then he invited me only a few days before break. Late last night he again invited me to impulsive action, this time to go Skydiving. Much fun :-)

I probably won't make a habit out of Skydiving, though, (expensive and environmentally questionable as it is,) but I hope to make a habit out of acting on impulse. I hope to make a habit of trying new things, make a habit of creating stories. Not always the most crazy stories, not necessarily the stories that everyone are talking about - the point of the story is not to be told, but to be lived. It is about staying alive.

By the way, this was an impulse my rationality considered pretty safe, despite my body's hesitance. Let me assure you, I do not think seeking a kick for it's own sake has a higher purpose - that would be stupid. So, yes, I think some skydivers are stupid. They are stupid when they do crazy stuff they can't possibly consider safe. I do not, however, think those many divers who discover beauty in the skies are stupid, as they simply jump to appreciate that. For them, it is not all about the kick anymore - it is about enjoying fresh air, the sun, the clouds, a magnificent view and an extra dimension of movement.

"Only skydivers know why the birds sing"
- Unknown

Read more:
Our host: Skydive PA

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A beautiful break

The snow lay heavy as Spring break reached Pittsburgh. Luckily, I and the 14 other students who were travelling with “Carnegie Mellon Alternative Break” had no reason to care: We were going to the north-western Dominican Republic to volunteer for the organization Orphanage Outreach.

My heroes from Carnegie Mellon
Orphanage Outreach (OO) is organizing western volunteers to serve in two different orphanages, local schools and an English institute. Carnegie Mellon, among other groups of voluenteers, was going to stay at the newer of the two orphanages for a week, in Jaibon (a small village along a highway of dirt connecting the major city Santiago and the town of Monte Cristi located at the north coast almost next to the Haitian boarder). “This is it.”

Volunteers improving the facilities one small step at a timeAs opposed to countries like Norway and the US, “newer” is not always better, bigger and more shiny. While in the west we tend to complete buildings and facilities before we “open” them to be worn down, Dominicans use what they have even though it is not yet complete. In fact, using is not so much a process of tearing as it is a process of building. It was beautiful to see how OO adapted to this culture, teaching us how to build one block at a time and appreciate small steps of improvement. “Poco a poco.”

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

–— Edward Everett Hale


Spring break is volunteer season, so quite high numbers of beautiful people eager to serve was available to OO that week. About 250. In comparison, the Jaibon orphanage was at the time housing 27 kids. It was obvious that numbers were out of proportion – so OO asked the local schools if they’d like some “Americanas” to teach English to the kids. The schools were incredibly enthusiastic, since English educators – as valuable and appreciated as they are – are a rarity in the area. It turned out 250 volunteers wasn’t nearly enough to fill all the requests from the schools. Kids from the Jaibon orphanageBut it was still beautiful how OO served their community not by imposing some outside idea on them, but by assisting the community with competence the community were calling for. “Serve, don’t help.”

OO has the same attitude towards the orphanages – which are not ran and organised by OO, but supported by OO. Beautiful local Dominicans run the orphanages, and OO was careful to respect their ideals and the principles by which they ran them. The application of this attitude included an over average strict dress code and a ban against any non-Christian music. But it was beautiful, precisely because of these sacrifices. “It’s not about you.”

Our group was sent to teach 6th and 8th graders in one of the schools not affiliated with the orphanage. I hoped the kids would know some English to start with, especially since these were pretty high levels. But no. Me knowing no Spanish whatsoever, except “gracias” and “la factura, por favor,” I was going to hang out with kids speaking only Spanish for a week. Luckily, fun is a language of its own, and we could play volleyball, catch, frisbee and something that vaguely reminds us of football (a beautiful sport you play with your feet, in case there was any doubt) without any worries as far as language was concerned. The kids even made me play baseball with them, which must have been pretty entertaining, judging by the laugh I received as I waved seemingly purposeless with the bat (I was actually trying to hit the ball, but I’m not sure how well I managed to communicate that message). “Communicate love.”

But anyhow, our mission was to teach English. With my teaching group of fellow CMU students, we planned out some ideas for how to communicate with the class using body language, games and drawings. And with three of five team members above an intermediate level of Spanish fluency, we all found a useful role to play. Even when we split up into groups and I was alone with the kids, I did fine – the kids indeed got the message, because they really tried to get the message. OO says you do not need to know Spanish to communicate love. I found you neither need to know Spanish to communicate English. It was cool to see how excited many of the kids, especially my group of 8th-graders, were to learn. Students from other classes would even listen in on the teaching from the open windows; it was beautiful to see that we made a difference. “Acknowledge yourself.”


This is just a small fraction of what I experienced. I could have dedicated pages to every one of the ten, I must say beautiful, principles Orphanage Outreach is run by. They were all means by which OO was trying to fulfill its stated goal for the week: “Release the Hero within.” And so they did; OO facilitated heroism in the volunteers, the volunteers inspired heroism in the kids, and we all supported and cherished the heroism of those running the orphanage. And as we were fundraising for the trip, we also released the hero in everyone who chose to support us financially or with food or school supplies. I got many new heroes during this trip.

Now we hope to bring that sunshine from Jaibon to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. At the very least, we successfully brought the actual weather with us, because now summer is almost all over the place here in Pittsburgh; little is left of the thick winter coat we left behind. But more importantly, we want to inspire new generations of Alternative Breakers and spread the Alternative Break mindset across campus – ultimately releasing the heroes within many more.




Read more:
OO: Orphanage Outreach
Carnegie Mellon: Alternative Break
YouTube: Happiness in the Jaibon schools (DR)
veoh: Nathan and Liana's video
Our awesome trip leader: Nathan Frank

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Dawkins is so hostile

This is my summary of Richard Dawkins’ chapter “What is wrong with religion? Why so hostile” from The God Delusion. The summary was my first major assignment in Interp, a writing class which in my case focuses on religion and power. But even before you read the summary, let me tell you what I think of Dawkins' argument: I think some of his reasoning is valid, and worth giving some attention. However, being an insider of faith myself, I completely disagree with his generalized assumptions about the nature of faith, and can not agree with Dawkin's conclusion. I'll limit my critique to that for now.

------------------------


Religious faith makes people dangerous. At least according to Richard Dawkins, a biological theorist most famous for his militant standpoints against religion. His satirical style and unpolished language makes it clear that he has no interest in negotiation; this is war, and the goal is to eliminate. However, Dawkins’ is quick to assure us he is not dangerous, like militant fundamentalists using bombs, beheading, stoning burning or crucifixion. Nonetheless is there reason to be hostile, and armed with a belt of sharp-tipped words, Dawkins explains why.

Religion has consequences. Consequences, as we will see, are important to Dawkins, and it is the consequences that ultimately make religion dangerous. For one thing, religion can suppress bright individuals who are too intelligent not to see the head-on collision between their faith and the real world. But what is worse, religion makes certain people violent and dangerous to others, as their absolutist unquestioning views of moral cause them to take judgement in their own hands and largely ignore laws set forth by society. What happens when such fundamentalists themselves come to political power cause Dawkins even darker nightmares.

One could of course argue that it is these fundamentalists that are dangerous, and not religion itself. However, Dawkins rejects such a notion, and points to the virtue of faith that is so prominent in religious practice. “Faith is an evil,” he upholds, “because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.” (p. 308) Further, faith is what fundamentalism is built upon; as Dawkins defines it, fundamentalism is to know something is true because it is written in a holy book. Unquestionable. Not a product of reasoning. Faith.

As long as faith is at the core of religion, then, religion itself must be evil.

Consequences
A word for the corresponding unreasonable firmness in one’s moral believes is “absolutism.” An absolutist does not discuss whether something is good or bad. As long as his holy book says something is bad, then bad it is. End of discussion. This is the attitude Dawkins finds among pro-life supporters and those who oppose rights for homosexuals. More specifically, absolutists fail to consider consequences when making moral judgements.

In the case of homosexuality, Dawkins points out how it is an “unmistakable trademark of the faith-based moralizer (...) to care passionately about what other people do (or even think) in private.” (p. 289) To Dawkins, what happens in private has no moral component to it. As long as it does not hurt anyone, who cares? Who is there to care? Absolutists, on the other hand, do not care if anyone gets hurt. In fact, what makes moral and immoral to them has no grounds in their own reasoning at all, but is solely based on what their holy book tells them.

This view is even more evident when it comes to abortion. While Dawkins do recognize that there exist arguments against abortion grounded in reasoning, such arguments tend not to be frequently used by the major pro-life groups (all of which are deeply religious). Rather, their argument usually goes like, ‘since the embryo is a human being, we must not under any circumstances kill it. That would be wrong according to the book.’ Seemingly relevant consequences are not considered – such as how much suffering the intervention or non-intervention would cause.

At least the quasi-consequentialism that is breed by such unbalanced views of worth has caused some disturbing acts of ‘moralism’ – such as the murder of Dr Britton, who worked on an abortion clinic. The murderer, Paul Hill, proudly reported his crime to the police, and smiled as he was preparing for his martyrdom and heavenly reward. Now, most people would call Paul Hill and his equals for psychopaths. But Dawkins views them differently: “They are not psychotic; they are religious idealists who, by their own lights, are rational. They perceive their acts to be good (...) because they have been brought up, from the cradle, to have total and unquestioning faith.” (p. 304) Faith, then, is to blame.

Faith
Dawkins emphasize that faith is powerful. When for instance a suicide bomber decides to pull the trigger and blow himself up – then he actually believes that paradise awaits. When Reverend Jerry Falwell proclaims that AIDS is a punishment from God to a society that tolerates homosexuals, he says so because he actually believes it, or when Paul Hill kills doctors, he actually believe he is doing good. “They actually believe what they say they believe” (p. 304) is the simple explanation of dangerous fundamentalism, yet so difficult to grasp for non-believers.

The London bombings is a prime example. Media tries to explain the attack with bad political leadership and social issues within the communities in which these well educated terrorists circulated, but eloquently avoid discussing their religion. To Dawkins, it is absurd not to blame religion – there is no other reason why one would do what they did. No social benefit to be claimed in this life. A pregnant widow and discredit to their community is what inevitably would be the result, which the terrorists in question must have anticipated if they ever made such considerations. What good is that? “Only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people,” (p. 303) Dawkins subsequently declares.

Conclusion
Dawkins does not argue that all morals set forth by religions are bad. He neither explicitly claims that anyone who is seriously religious will turn out like the bad cases of fundamentalism that he describes. In fact, unquestioning faith does not seemingly have any damaging consequences if the moral one happens to believe is correct and good. But bad things quickly start to happen when what one has unquestionable faith in is wicked – it is straight out a problem when belief in some screwed up moral becomes a virtue of faith.

The core problem with religion, then, is not its moral doctrines per se (though they can sometimes be frightening enough) but the notion that these moral doctrines are unquestionable. The problem is religious faith. That is what makes the people dangerous. If religion then harms the human process of developing sane ethics, well, Dawkins concludes it should be fought.


Read more:
RichardDawkins.net: The God Delusion

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pjeff



On behalf of Pjeff and myself, I want to express our most sincere thanks to everyone who embraced us in this new and strange land. We also wants to thank Delirious? for playing "Waiting for the Summer" over and over again.

Pjeff and I also deeply apologize to all who for various reasons didn't make it into this montage. It turns out the camera didn't always do what the I thought it did, and so some of those hugs are only immortalized in Pjeff's memory. But what is worse, not all of you has yet had a chance to hug Pjeff at all. Which really is too bad, because

- we love you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book of Eli and The Road

I hesitated slightly when some friends invited me to watch this movie called "Book of Eli" in the theater. But when I saw this poster, I understood I was at the right place:


As those of you who read my previous blog post would know, this is almost exactly what my Interp class is about. But even more striking to me as I watched the move, was the similarity to a book I just read: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

So, was the movie any good?

Well, Book of Eli was at least very interesting. It was well produced, and the story was both solid and had a nice twist to it. The plot itself was that, after the apocalypse, man blamed what had happened on religion, and burned all religious literature they could find. There is only one copy of the Bible left, as far as we know, and this copy is in the possession of our hero Eli. Eli has this calling to go west, but few people can be trusted on his journey; especially not the character Carnegie, who also is one of the few who survived the apocalypse (which was 30 years ago). Carnegie is seeking for the Bible, because he is convinced that it will give him power (whatever he has in mind by that).

It is a very dark movie. It does not have much faith in humanity, and the few moments that made you smile were humorous, not bright or beautiful. Now, I like tragedies; but the sadness of this movie is more of a resigned form, so it does not make you emotional, nor does it upset you. Oh, and it is still American enough to have a happy ending.

The Road is similar in that both stories take place is this unexplained post-apocalyptic world were most people are evil and survive by exploiting traces of the old world. Also, both heroes have this urge to reach the sea, and they mostly travel by foot through a devastated North American continent. So, apart from the differences in story-line, they are in my opinion identical. This despite that religious references are far more subtile in The Road, and there being far more explosions in Book of Eli.

So then, what am I left with after being subject to these two stories? Truth is, I dunno, and it bothers me.


More:
IMDB: Book of Eli
Watch trailer: Book of Eli
NY Times: The Road (the book)
Watch trailer: The Road (the movie)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Religion and Power

Today I had my fist day of classes in the new semester, and I got my first assignments. In one of my classes, Interpretation and Argument, we focus on the topic “religion and power.” And the first assignment in this class was to reflect on that topic. What does religion mean to me? What does religion have to do with power? So, I figured I might as well use the opportunity to write a blog post.

But before I give my thoughts on that, let me tell you about the class and about me. We are twenty-something students in the class, and we have very different religions and beliefs. There were some Christians, a few Hindus, one Muslim, some atheists, a half-Jew and a bunch of agnostics. Fewer than I expected seemed to have strong feelings about the topic, but I am at least one of them. I write from the perspective of a sincere follower of Jesus Christ who has experienced various Christian fellowships, including a fellowship following the Lutheran tradition, a Pentecostal church, a military church, non-denominational contemporary churches and a Presbyterian church. I have even participated in a few Roman Catholic masses during the international military pilgrimage to Lourdes. This was one of our priests:


Many of those churches I listed are afraid of the word religion. Religion is a word that has so much shit on it that Christians do not want to use it about themselves. Greg Boyd, pastor in the non-denominational Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote the book “Repenting of Religion,” whose title pretty much capture the notion that Christianity and religion are two different things. This does of course not make much sense to an outsider, and it neither does to me. Is not a religion simply a set of beliefs one is holding? And do not Christians hold a certain set of beliefs? So, then, why are Christians so afraid of religion?

One plausible answer is that Christians accept the premise that religion is a significant reason why there is, has been and will be war and conflict. Yet, they do not in any way see how their own faith and life could have such implications, and thus they conclude the two must be different things. Subsequently, they redefine religion not to be the holding of certain beliefs, but to rather to be about confining blindly to the more or less political institutions that sometimes surround these beliefs.

From the movie about the temple knight ArnWe are left, then, with two questions – does a certain set of beliefs, let us call it a religion, always or in some cases affiliate with power? Power, that is political power, is power granted through means of violence, such as police and military. And if beliefs themselves do not imply use of political power, does the institutions that surround such beliefs, like churches and denominations (let’s call that for religion too), still make this affiliation inevitable?

My intuition is, not necessarily. However, it is always a possibility that someone with intentions of political power can use such institutions for their purposes if they are given prominent positions in the fellowship. These intentions of power can appear to be good in the eyes of churchgoers, such as an intention to pass laws against abortion and gay marriage. However, the intention of law-passing itself may not be a part of the original beliefs. In those cases, it clearly must be the institutions that cause the affiliation to power. That form of religious practice is what Greg Boyd and others are repulsed by so much that they want to escape the term completely.

But, if the church is careful not to let such intentions of power render in their fellowship, then they are still holding a certain set of beliefs, yes of course, but they are not affiliating with political power. In fact, they may even do the opposite, searching to serve people rather than to control them. Or, and this may sound like a way too stereochristian cliché, but it is kind of beautiful: Lifting people up rather than pushing them down.

If that is still religion, then I cannot think religion and power are always affiliated.


More:
Amazon: Repenting of Religion by Greg Boyd
Woodland Hills Church: The Bridge (online community)
My instructor Kari Lundgren's site: Religious Rhetorics

Monday, January 4, 2010

Friends in eros

One of my fellow warriors once posted a note about her love life on Facebook. Not too personal, nor too general. Interesting and profound, but not specific, at least not for an uninformed person like myself. Inspired by that and other notes, this is my first take on the matter. However, I will (of course) write in the perspective of a guy.

To be clear, the love life in question is for once not the agape love to which this blog is devoted. Rather, it is the kind of love that occurs when a boy flirts with a girl, or when a woman kisses her man. It is the love that in greek is called by “eros,” at least so I think. Native Greeks or scholars in New Testament linguistics can probably elaborate the nuances to the word, but I wouldn’t know or care too much about it. You get the idea. It is that girlfriend/boyfriend thing.

So then, what does it mean to have a girlfriend? First, I think most agree that being a boyfriend is a temporary state. You are not meant to be just a boyfriend forever. There is a purpose to that state outside of itself. So, and I hope this doesn’t cause too much headache to grasp, if I choose to be someone’s boyfriend, I do not intend for that to be the final state of our relationship. And neither do I intend for us to break up at some point in the foreseeable future. No, the intent of going out with someone is to examine if we can grow to become husband and wife. If not always spelled out with writings on the wall, it is clear to me that this is the direction the boyfriend-arrow is pointing.

Thus, it would make sense to find out how a husband and wife should relate to each other, since that is were we are headed. I strongly believe, from observing my own and other families and couples, that a happy family is one in which the husband and wife not only have a passionate eros love for each other, that is they desire each other, but were they also are best friends. It can and will cause a lot of stress if your best opposite sex friend is outside of your marriage. All sorts of awkward situations will occur, and eros is not always as reliable and faithful as one can wish. There will be pain and heartache.

That is why I think it is a good thing if you know your girlfriend well, from even before you ever thought of being with her. If she was a good friend to you before, the chances of you becoming bestest friends with a little common effort are quite high. This can sure be achieved with some random girl, but those chances are far more - yes - random.

At the same time, it strikes me this can be somewhat dangerous. You do not want to lose a good friend – especially not one of your best friends – just because some stupid coupling attempt went wrong, do you? No, of course you don’t. And can things go wrong? Well, I guess. However, when the worst heartache is over with, I know many who have overcome and still are close friends. In the two cases I have in mind, they took a break for six months or so. Then, when the eros deficiencies were fading, they could again be those good friends, happy to work together and again inviting each other over for dinner. I wouldn’t know how much it would take to become “besties” again, though. But that one spot is reserved for that special one anyways, right?

Urban dictionary definition of “besties:”

Friends who have each other's backs, look out for each other, spend lots of time together, and are just really good friends. They have inside jokes together, they go to the park and swing on swing sets, get ice cream, go to the beach, go to concerts, go bowling, and basically any activity that they like doing together as friends.

Does this strike you as your perfect girlfriend, or what? Only, you can also hold her hand.

Read more:
Urban dictionary: Besties
Btw, I'd also like: Newfoundland
or, maybe a: Papillon
or something in between: Shetland Sheepdog

Oh, as I recall now, my previous official take on the matter was a song I wrote and recorded in 2005, "Jentesangen" (The Girl Song)