Thursday, June 30, 2011

U2 360° in Miami

Last night Shannon and I attended the U2 show at Dolphins Stadium. We'd originally bought tickets 2 1/2 years ago for the original date in July 2010 which had to be cancelled when frontman Bono injured his back. As he noted last night -- some of us in attendance were two years younger when we bought our tickets, and in our case, had two less kids. Well, I'm glad we held onto our tickets all this time. It was worth it, despite the ordeal that attending an event with 70,000 of your closest friends entails. Suffice to say we didn't get home til 2am.

The most striking thing about this tour is the massive stage set-up dubbed "The Claw". It's design was inspired by the Theme Building at LAX.

It's a clever concept because it allows the typical apparatus of stadium shows (sound gear, lighting, video screens) to be suspended in the air above the stage thus affording unobstructed views from any vantage point. Band members have said that when they're on the stage the giant edifice above and around them is virtually invisible. The sheer geography of the thing is quite amazing. It evoked for me the image of the mother ship from Close Encounters. One almost expected the thing to lift off. Last night they played to this imagery by taking the stage to David Bowie's "Space Oddity" -- Ground control to Major Tom/Take your protein pills and put your helmet on. The show also features a message from space from Commander Mark Kelly of the International Space Station which introduces "Beautiful Day".

Shannon -- who's actually the biggest U2 fan at our house and I told her she should write her own review -- hit the nail on the head when she said during the ride home that the show was less about music and setlists than it was about the total experience. Once U2 took the stage it was like getting on a train with Bono as the conductor. You just sit back and enjoy the ride. All that's been said about this band's ability to make a stadium seem intimate is true. One can see the huge amount of planning that goes into a U2 stadium show, while still leaving room for Bono's spontaneity and eagerness to take chances on stage. For more on that see the article I linked to a while back: Mega-church Services: Like Going to a U2 Concert?

As one would expect the audience was very diverse. In our section there were parents with children, folks old enough to be grandparents -- and everything in between. The Spanish-speaking contingent was in the majority and Bono played to that throughout the evening. Indeed Miami is the crossroads of North and South America and the Caribbean. I'm sure most of the 70,000+ came to experience a great rock and roll show, have fun, and maybe take home some inspiration. If so, they weren't disappointed. For those with ears to hear there was a greater message embedded in the pop star atmospherics and the calls for peace, love and understanding. It came in the form of visual symbolism that was impossible to miss, and lyrics like these.

Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You were acting like it was the end of the world

I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You said you'd wait till the end of the world. . .

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. . .

It would be nice to think that the throngs leaving Dolphin Stadium last night will reflect on that message when the euphoria of spending two hours with the biggest band in the world wears off.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Bunyan on law and gospel

This is an excellent description of the relation of the law to the gospel -- from Bunyan's book All Loves Excelling.

The law is a servant, both first and last, to the gospel (Rom 10:3-4). When the law is made a lord, it destroys, and when its dictates and commands are dependent upon for life, then it is for sure made a lord and savior.

What happens when the law becomes uppermost in the life of a believer? For one thing, it makes the enemy of our soul very happy. . .

. . . there is nothing that Satan desires more than that the law abides in the conscience of an awakened Christian, and there to take the place of Christ, and faith. For Satan knows that if this happens, the veil is presently drawn over the face of the soul, and the heart darkened as to the knowledge of Christ, and being darkened, the man is driven to despair of mercy or is put upon to work for life (2 Cor 3:13-15).

This is a great word for pastors and teachers too. The law must be preached and taught, but always as a servant to the gospel. Law without gospel results in despair and/or moralistic religion. Here's the attitude to have. . .

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Philippians 3

Bunyan quotes via The Reformed Reader

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When repentance is impossible

I've been wrestling with the warning passages of Hebrews 5 and 6 in preparation for teaching them in Sunday School. In particular 6:4-6. . .

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Does this passage teach that genuine Christians can lose their salvation? As a believer in the Calvinist doctrine of the preservation of the saints (the P in TULIP) I want to quickly answer no, but that wouldn't do this text justice. As I said, I'm still wrestling with the text -- and various commentaries on it -- but herewith a few thoughts.

- To see this as merely a hypothetical scenario put forward to scare the original readers would be to trivialize the seriousness of the warning.

- The language used in verses 4 & 5 is of a piece with language used in the rest of the New Testament to describe conversion i.e. enlightenment, tasting the good things of God, sharing in the Spirit. The writer seems to be describing a genuine experience of conversion.

- He isn't speaking here of believers who have fallen into sin, or who have doubts, or who've grown lukewarm (though this is a dangerous state to be in), but of people who've become outright opponents of Christ and his gospel. They have become like those who crucified Jesus.

- Before applying this warning to our own context we should view it in light of its original context. If, as is likely, Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians, then the apostasy described would have been forsaking The Way and returning to Judaism.

Going on to verses 7 and 8 we find a familiar metaphor. . .

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

One hears echoes of the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13, Mark 4 & Luke 8) and Jesus's teaching on the vine and the fruit in John 15:1-6. I look at the case of Judas. Here is someone who fits the description of someone who had experienced Jesus -- at least partially -- as the light of the world (enlightenment) and tasted the bread of life, even casting out demons along with the rest of the twelve. Yet in the end he was irretrievably lost -- unable to repent.

So, does this text disprove "once saved always saved"? In light of the totality of scripture I don't believe it does. Nevertheless it's a sobering warning that a great start is no guarantee that we'll finish the race. Sin and spiritual sluggishness (see Hebrews 5) can have such a hardening effect that we reach a state where repentance becomes impossible. Here's a helpful and sobering quote from F.F. Bruce:

God has pledged Himself to pardon all who truly repent, but Scripture and experience alike suggest that it is possible for human beings to arrive at a state of heart and life where they can no longer repent.

Hebrews gives us the biblical definition of faith as hope plus perseverance. Calvinists and Arminians can agree that a life of fruit-bearing perseverance is the validation that our initial faith in Christ was genuine. 2 Peter 1:10 reminds us to be be diligent in making our calling and election sure and in Hebrews 12:1-2 we read these stirring words.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Incidentally, my friend Paul Copan points out that classical Arminianism does not definitely teach that a genuine Christian can lose his or her salvation. Quoting from the Fifth Article of the Remonstrants of 1618:

But for the question whether [Christians] are not able through sloth or negligence to forsake the beginning of their life in Christ, to embrace again this present world, to depart from the holy doctrine once delivered to them, to lose their good conscience and to neglect grace -- this must be the subject of more exact inquiry in the Holy Scriptures, before we can teach it with full confidence of our mind.

Arminians of more recent vintage who teach an "easy un-believism" are departing from their own tradition.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A toast to law and order

Regent College professor of theology (and Vancouverite) John Stackhouse has some good words in response to the disgraceful hooliganism on the streets of Vancouver after the hometown team was defeated in the Stanley Cup finals. He reminds us that when law and order breaks down human flourishing is not possible. Without it things that should be lovely and fun (like hockey) turn into something ugly and dangerous.

Here's his conclusion:

Here, then, is a toast to everyone who works today and every day to build and maintain spaces in which others can grow and develop and produce. Here’s to the good directors, the good managers, the good supervisors, the good shift leaders. Here’s to the good parents, the good teachers, the good caregivers, the good counselors.

Here’s to the good legislators and good bosses who make good laws that set out the framework in which shalom can be pursued best. And here’s to the good cops, and the good judges, and the good referees who enforce those laws, and who thereby provide the order the rest of us need to flourish.

How much better would the NHL playoffs had been if the referees had ensured that the best players could play their best? How much better would our workplaces be, our families be, and indeed our churches be, if those in charge of law and order made good rules and then enforced them well?

Law and order aren’t everything, of course. They’re nowhere near our chief values. But without them, there is only frustration, waste, and devastation, whether in the hockey rink or on the streets of Vancouver, let alone in the abusive home, church, school, business, or society. “Letting the players play” is simple moral cowardice. Step up, referees. And the rest of us, with our craning necks and cellphone cameras, too.

I'll drink to that!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A voice from Warrendale

Last year I wrote a review of Warrendale, the 1967 documentary by Allan King about the home for troubled children of the same name. In it I wondered out loud what became of the children of Warrendale.

Did the children of Warrendale grow up to be well-adjusted adults with kids of their own? They would be retirement age now. Possibly spending winters in Florida like thousands of other Canadian snowbirds. Hard to believe, but possible.

Well, turns out, some of them did. Sincere thanks to Sharon Turple Gataiance -- a resident of Warrendale when the film was made -- who posted this reminiscence. Her memories shed light on some of the questions the film raises.

As a resident of House One at Warrendale,at the time that this film was made, I too have wondered how some of the other children have fared.
You question why these children were there. At the time that this film was made, the powers that were had decided that all childhood mental and emotional problems stemmed from their home environment.
In my case,at 14, I was bored at school, started skipping it and got caught shoplifting. Instead of sending me to reform school, the court sent me to Warrendale. I'm sure that they thought that they had my best interested at heart. But, personally, when I was put in the same environment as children with autism, schizophrenia and those that had grown up in foster care, and was told that we're all alike, well, yes, there was some anger and acting out. Even at 14 I knew that there was a big difference.
As far as I could see, holding and bottle feeding were not right. I guess that some of the children needed the attention but was this the way?
And the poor parents, being brought in for regular meetings and told that the reason that their children were autistic or schizophrenic was because they hadn't raised them properly. "These children didn't need drugs, no, they just needed someone to hold them and love them."
This was the alternative to electric shock treatments at that time so I guess that I was lucky to miss that.
At the time, I didn't know why the practices at Warrendale weren't good, just that they weren't. In my own simple way I quietly put as many sticks in the spokes as I could.
At the age of 16, I was discharged from 'John Brown's' care. Not because I had been 'cured', but that I was "untreatable and was disrupting the other children's treatment".
Imagine, thrown out as "untreatable". I repeat that with a sense of pride. This might sound silly to those that didn't go through it, but, it was a hell of an accomplishment to have survived relatively unscathed.
I have worried about the one's that I left behind. I hope that they're alright. I haven't forgotten them, they were one of the most important parts of my life.
I'm a grandmother now, worked at McMaster University for 30 years and yes I do vacation in Florida every year.
Thank you for giving me a forum on which to voice this. It's the first time that I've been able to write about it.
Sharon Turple Gataiance

Let the grass die

Here in Palm Beach County we're in the middle of an extreme drought of historic proportions. I count this as another example of the recent extreme weather events happening all over the globe. And you thought warnings about climate change could be ignored since they came from (in Rush Limbaugh's memorable jargon) "environmentalist wackos." It's gotten so bad that West Palm Beach, the city where I live, could run out of water in less than two months.

It's not as if we haven't been warned. For years observers have warned about the danger posed to South Florida's fragile water supply by over-development, over-consumption and over-irrigation. Now nature is striking back, and she can be a bitch.

It's easy to ignore the warnings when rainfall is plentiful. Just as it's easy to ignore the warnings about too many gas-guzzling vehicles and over-reliance on fossil fuels when gas prices are low. Unfortunately, I think the decades-long party we Americans have been having is over -- in a lot of respects. Welcome to the new normal.

I'm hoping some good will come out of this drought by permanently changing our paradigm of water usage. And as much as I hate the high gas prices, if they cause us to think twice about the way we use our automobiles, they could be a good thing in the long run. For one thing I'd like to see us get over our fetish for green lawns and green golf courses (no offense to you golfers out there). If the grass can't survive on what nature provides then it should be left to die. Plant native vegetation, instead of vegetation that needs massive amounts of watering to keep it alive. Irrigation for cosmetic purposes (which accounts for half of the water usage in South Florida!) is a massive waste of a precious resource.

Just my two cents. Take it for what it's worth.

Photo by Brandon Kruse of The Palm Beach Post

Ben's baptism

I'm belatedly posting some photos from our second son Benjamin's baptism on March 20. Thanks to our dear friends Bill & Sonia for stealing these shots. They definitely capture the moment.

And here's a recent pic of our happy, easygoing Baby Ben. . .

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jung on the movies

"The cinema makes it possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion, and desirousness which must be repressed in a humanitarian ordering of life."

- Carl Jung

Quote via Michael Sragow

Once again on health care

Ezra Klein restates the obvious:

Republicans have a plan that has been tried repeatedly but that has never worked. Democrats have a plan that might work in theory, but it is untested at the scale they’ll need for it to work in practice. And both parties are too scared to talk about the only plan that has worked. . . .

Everyone knows — or should know — that the United States spends much more than any other country on health care. But the Kaiser Family Foundation broke that spending down into two parts, the government’s share and the private sector’s share (both measured as a percentage of total gross domestic product), then compared the results with figures from 12 other countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And here’s the shocker: Our government spends more on health care than the governments of Japan, Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Canada or Switzerland.

Think about that for a minute. Canada has a single-payer health-care system. The government is the only insurer of any note. The United Kingdom has a socialized system, in which the government is not only the sole insurer of note but also employs most of the doctors and nurses and runs most of the hospitals. And yet, measured as a share of the economy, our government health-care system is the largest of the bunch.

And it’s worse than that: Atop our giant government health-care sector, we have an even more giant private health-care sector. Altogether, we’re spending about 16 percent of the GDP on health care. No other country even tops 12 percent. Which means we’ve got the worst of both worlds: huge government and high costs.

This is where a “serious conversation” on health-care costs would start — with what has worked, and what we can learn from it. Instead, it’s where our conversation about health-care costs never quite goes.

Go, Vermont, go!

Something to make your ears smile

If you enjoy eclectic music check out this mix from Colin Greenwood of Radiohead, here presenting some of his favorite records on FM 87.7 London.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

On being thankful for the small things (Bonhoeffer)

As promised I'm back from a 2-week family vacation road trip -- though "family vacation" is an oxymoron when the family includes a toddler and an infant. Nevertheless a good time was had by all and I found time for a little reading, which included Life Together, a book I've read many times and quoted here often. No matter how many times I read it Life Together surprises me with its depth of insight. Here is some wisdom from chapter one on community.

Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. . . . If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer goes on to warn pastors, especially, against complaining to God about their congregations. Anyone who's in church leadership knows how easy it can be to become disillusioned. When a pastor or zealous church member becomes the accuser of the congregation he's set his own ideals and "wish dreams" (Bonhoeffer's phrase) up against the divine reality of Christian community. Instead of complaining he should be interceding for the brethren with an awareness of his own sin and weakness. Bonhoeffer reminds us that what seems weak or insignificant is often where Christ is most fully present -- "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor. 1:27)

What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

Quotes from pp. 29-30 of this edition