Archive for August, 2006

Why Won’t The Good Come Out Of Us?

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Sorry about the prolonged bout of autism I caught during the week when I turned Zoomtard from a theological sketchpad into an incoherent rambling theological weapon, boring you all to death with my sophmoric ideas hatched over prolonged exposure to paint fumes and drinking glasses of milk mixed with white spirits.

S-S-Something From The Comments
Steven took the bait though and asked me a question that amazed me:

If every person starts out with original sin how does one account for babies who are aborted? They can’t make the decision to accept/reject Christ. What happens to them?

What am I? A theological agony aunt? I recommend you write them a strongly worded letter with photocopies of the receipts enclosed and threaten to report them to the ombudsman. Er, no. I recommend you dump them pronto. Then go out to the nearest meat market, drink a lot of beer and follow it up with 3 vodkas in quick succession and then bang the nearest female over the head with a club, drag her home and get that old girlfriend out of your system with 2 minutes of drunken, anonymous passion back at your place. Wait. That was not wise advice. I recommend you ask your priest.

Seriously though, something has gone horribly wrong with modern Christianity if we can ask these kinds of questions without questioning ourselves. Down at heart, below the “I’m simply a Christian” front, I am hardcore enough to know that there is no basis for dreaming up answers to this question because it isn’t even touched on in the Bible. I think that evangelical preoccupation with getting individuals “saved!” probably creates a culture where this question can be asked without a wave of disgust. Babies in the womb are not coveting their neighbours’ goods. They are not sucking their thumb with some Freudian psycho-sexual drama going on inside them. Or let me rephrase those sentences with, “to the best of our knowledge” at the start of them because not only is the question tempting total dreamland speculation far outside the boundaries provided by the Bible, it is tempting a speculation unaided by any empirical knowledge. What does a baby think about? Maybe he is sitting in there thinking about how he would have liked to have stayed a girl. Maybe he is sitting in there singing praises to God for choosing him out of all the infinite hims that could have been chosen and thanking him for the womb to gestate in. Maybe he is sitting in there planning to cause a terror scare by smuggling explosives on to a plane in his nappy. We don’t know.

We know God is love though. We know God cares about babies in wombs. We know that God wants to be reconciled to everyone who has ever lived, regardless of what life they lived. Those lights are probably all that can lead us.

Maybe I am way off base here and I hope Steven will take me up in Tiny Timid Thoughts, but I increasingly think Christianity is not meant to be about individuals. The tradition Steven and I share, Evangelical Christianity, has maybe, perhaps, possibly, please-don’t-kill-me-for-the-heresy, fetishised the role of the individuals’ response to Jesus. Every individual person (who is not in the womb or for other reasons hasn’t got the faculties to respond) must choose or reject the challenge of Jesus. As Sufjan Stevens sings it, “Listen to what He says to you today”. But that listening has to take place in the context of a community, an ekklesia, or in our modern English, a church. All the churches around the world and through time make up the Church and this “Body”, the Church, is the one we should identify with. Little babies get saved. Old men get saved. Self-important bloggers get saved. But that happens through the Church. If we had a little more counter-cultural, New Testament, Acts 2 communal think going on, maybe we’d be better off.

On Popish Ways
Also in a comment, Lucas, who is a brainiac out in UCD, took me to task on my definition of orthodoxy because he felt it excluded Catholics. We’ll skip over that in a sane world, catholic ought to be a synonym for orthodox and get right to the good stuff. The Roman Catholic Church thinks people are saved by Grace, not by works. What that means in a horrible, cutting all the meaning and the beauty out so that you can get a grasp of it in a paragraph, is that you get brought back on good terms with God because of what God does, not you. God loves us because of who he is, not so much who we are. God gives gifts, not wages. God wants to be your father, your friend, your groom, not your boss, tax collector or your boot camp officer. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification By Faith beween the World Lutheran Council and the Vatican doesn’t condemn contraception, gay people being allowed to buy fresh milk or electric guitars being used within 100 yards of a church and so it doesn’t get a huge amount of attention in the media. Still, as Vatican documents go, its a pretty good read. Or so I hear. From people more boring than me who read those things. It lays out how justification by faith is expressed differently from church to church and with differing emphases but we all agree it cannot be by our merits, at all. Ever. Even a little bit.

I don’t read Vatican documents, ok? Enough of that now.

It is good that we have cleared that up because Lucas also took me to task on my view of Catholic readings of Scripture. He thought that authority was invested in the tradition of how Scripture is read in Catholicism. Its a tricky issue, because to be honest, many Catholics, including priests, don’t seem to know where to stand on the issue. But there is a document from the Second Vatican Council called Dei Verbum that deals with the Word of God. We read there that:

This magisterium (that is the Bishops who are the bearers of tradition headed by the Pope) is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.

Scripture, therefore, is the authority. The Cardinals and the Bishops and the priests on the ground interpret Scripture with a very different method to Presbyterians but they don’t make crap up out of the blue. Well, except for the stuff about no women priests, priestly celibacy, no contraception, Papal infallibility and a few other things but that is not for this blog. Those issues are for the blog of an angry Northern Protestant from Antrim who wears t-shirts with Ian Paisley on them. Wait. Shirts with paisley patterns composed of Ian Paisley’s face. No self-respecting Northern Irish Protestant would be seen in something so undignified as a t-shirt.

On Herring And Brine
I went to see Daft Punk last night and it was great fun because it rained and the lights on the stage were nice and they dressed like robots and the song with the dog and his boombox and his broken leg was on and we danced and then it turned into the around-the-world song and it was good.

I can’t really remember it though because I was so out of my head, know what I mean, wha? Mad.

But the night before I saw Mumblin Deaf Ro and Michael Knight along with the 50 people in Dublin who weren’t at Radiohead. Michael Knight is really very good. He sings very witty songs with a piano. That is like serving me tiramasu. I am happy, just with the idea of it. But it was Mumblin’ Deaf Ro we went to see. He played lots of stuff from Senor, My Friend, which I believe is the greatest Irish album you’ve never heard. But he also showcased some new stuff and it was breathtaking.

If I tell you his songs are as beautiful and as satisfying as perfect short-stories, I don’t want you to think that he isn’t a great musician. His songs are marvellous pieces of music. But they are defined by this amazing, unique ability to tell a story. Some lyrics are good, you know, they just work. And some lyrics are witty or smart or touching. And then there is a whole other level where the lyrics are good and witty and smart and touching and they are not just a series of lines collected in groups of 4 to make verses. To say that Mumblin Deaf Ro’s lyrics are great just doesn’t give you the right impression of how deep and great they are. His new album will probably be called Herring and Brine and if you don’t buy a copy for yourself you are an idiot. And to prove it to you, I’ll buy you a copy. So you are warned.

I don’t think he makes videos. Even Mumblin’ Deaf Ro couldn’t make a video as cool as this one from OK Go!

Also, some people who read this blog have English degrees so they will be glad to know (or maybe it will bring back nightmares) that Chaucer has his own blog now.

Your Correspondent, Is Sensitive Like A Stock Market

My Beautiful Bobo

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Note to the reader: The last couple of posts have been ruminations on a theme. Sadly, I haven’t had the skills or patience to express myself concisely and the posts, which deal with what is truly Christian, may alienate the majority of people who drop by Zoomtard who aren’t Christians. You are all better looking than the Christians too, have I told you that lately? Much more stylish too. So if these posts bore you, comment on how boring they are, head off to watch the Daily Ze and come back for more inclusive Zoomtard fare at the weekend. Mea culpa to all of you who are confused, angered or bored by the first post on what is and is not orthodoxy, the second post on the impact of Karl Barth or this post on what is the core of orthodoxy. End note.

I realise that yesterday’s post was marred by a dreadful mistake which left a bitter taste in all your mouths. The three points I used to describe Barth’s preoccupations were really 2 points, since the first point and the third point can’t really be seperated from each other. 1) That God can’t be grasped through human efforts is the canvas on which 3) God has revealed himself to us is painted. Or in other words, 1) says we couldn’t know about God without God telling us and 3) says we couldn’t know about God without God telling us.

I remember reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy once and he said a lot of things. The only man who wrote more words than Karl Barth was GK Chesterton. Anyway, if I remember correctly, he thought that orthodoxy ultimately comes good when we keep a firm hold on the divinity of Jesus. As Bob pointed out, this does imply the Trinity and Resurrection and that implies the Justification By Faith which is the heart of Grace and so on. Maybe if you get any one of the keys that make up Orthodoxy you can deduce the rest of them. But then that might make a mockery of Barth’s 3rd point. We’ll leave that for another day when I am a proper theologian.

Chesterton had some outstanding thoughts in that classic little book. The idea that Jesus was God is the most outstandingly revolutionary claim humans have ever made. There is nothing special about his story if he was just a good man. Good men often get backed into corners. But that God would be backed into a corner is rallying call for all revolutionaries. As I grow older in my faith, I sense more and more that the strangeness of the Gospel is its proudest declartion of its truth. It is too strange to me that a group of Gallilean fishermen would create a god who was incomplete by his omnipotence. It is so strange an idea that it must be true. Who would make it up? What Godlike genius could imagine such things!

Unlike all the other belief systems, Christianity alone has realised that God, to be wholly God, must be a rebel as well as a king. The God of the Christians is alone in having courage added to its arsenal of virtues. I can’t recall Chesterton fully and it is the deepest mystery of all but in the Easter story there is clear implication that the Creator of the Universe (in a way we can’t grasp) went not only through agony, but through doubt. We may be commanded to not tempt God but God tempted himself in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man and in a garden, God tempted God. We are told the skies grew dark on that Friday we ironically call “Good”. It was not a sympathetic darkness from “Mother Nature” that cried out at the injustice of the crucifixtion. It was the darkness of the earth-shattering cry from the Crucified that brought night into the day. That cry confessed that God was forsaken by God.

Chesterton demanded that all the doubters of the world should choose a god from all the beliefs on offer in the marketplace of ideas. They can not find a god who has himself been in doubt. Chesterton went so far as to say, let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one God who ever shared their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed, for an instant to be an atheist.

On the issue of Orthodoxy, I think I will take my provisional stand at this point: if you preach Christ crucified, I will embrace you as my brother or sister. If you believe that the Ever Living God lived as a man so as to die for you, then I call that Orthodoxy. There is no thought more correct in that whole marketplace of ideas we have built.

Your Correspondent, He Hit Three Pople On The Drive Over Here And He Has No Insurance

Have You Time For A Long Story?

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Don’t ever leave me free to spend a few hours browsing the web with no responsibilities. Word vomits like this are the inevitable result. In the previous entry I wrote about orthodoxy, inspired by the Corkonian clown Bob. He had written about Karl Barth. To understand Barth’s impact on the Christian world, we have to tell a story.

Let me bring you up to speed as quickly and as easily as I can. For a very long time, theologians didn’t do a very good job of thinking for themselves. Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean they just repeated the clerics’ line over and over. They went the other way after a very influential man called Feuerbach wrote a book that undermind a lot of the traditional ideas held about the Gospel. Rather than read the book, you could just read some pop song lyrics like Save Me, by Dave Matthews. I don’t think the DMB formed a little impromptu theological seminar before writing that song but the effects of this theological movement have filtered down so thoroughly that we all have the ideas hibernating somewhere in the back of our big empty heads. So this movement can loosely be called liberal theology. That doesn’t mean that they were interested in writing theology that spoke into people’s rights for self determination. It has no connection with liberal politics. Interestingly, liberal theology historically fed into the most socially repressive societies. Liberal theology was liberal with the central tenets of Christianity as it had been expressed over the previous 1800 years. And once this movement started rolling it rolled up everything in its path, miraculously (of course they didn’t believe in miracles) gathering all the moss in the theology world. Liberal theology became all the theology there was really.

And then after World War I a new movement arose led by a witty, verbose Swiss man called Karl Barth.

BRUNNER V BARTH, a t-shirt created by my genius friend in one of his inspired Final Year Project tangents.

This Barth guy wrote a lot. I think it was about 12000 words a day, on an average day. And he’d write while listening to Mozart (He said: “It may be that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure.”) because you can’t dare write about the Creator God without revelling in the creative abilities he has bestowed on us. This Barth lad was thoroughly schooled in the Liberal theological methods and saw their failings firsthand in the destiny assumptions that Germans held in the First World War. So when his time to shine came round he delivered a series of fatal blows to liberal theology as it was then known (it got back up and in the last few years NT Wright has been hitting it to death again in different ways). I am in no way entitled to have an opinion on the key aspects of Barth’s thought. But I will paint a very vague outline of what he said that was so marvellous.

Three things might set up the conversation right. Barth remembered that God was so very different from man that any efforts to portray him systematically or any theological project to map his dimensions was bound to fail. Humanity can only think about God in human terms. Our reasoning is never going to work up to God of its own accord. God can’t be fit inside a box created by his creations.

Barth understood that Christianity is not friends with the world but is at war with it. The Christian is a subversive, dangerous contagion in society that, living properly, should be totally distrusted by the powers that be. The call of Christ is a revolutionary one. The Kingdom of God is a time when God is King of the world, not capital or lust or power and Christians are the resistance movement seeking to liberate the world from these imperialists. Barth stood firmly with any Christians who felt that their faith could not be a private thing but had to be expressed in action- political, creative, every kind of action that expresses solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the lame, the sinners and the untouchables, with everyone in their brokeness. Barth’s most famous catch phrase is that the modern Christian should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. The Bible is to remind us of the redemption song God is singing and the newspaper is to remind us of the battle we have to fight today.

Finally, Barth was all about the Word of God. It is madly complex. It took him 14 volumes to work it out and he never got them finished, but for Barth, God has revealed himself to humanity, ultimately, when he Himself came as Jesus the Christ, who was a man who cut wood very nicely in Palestine. The Bible is the account of this revelation. And if you can’t base your arguments from these strange and wonderful 66 books then your argument is worthless. So now you are caught up. Barth was the David who killed the liberal theological Goliath with a stone made up of (for our purposes) 3 parts: God’s awesomeness, our enemy-of-every-state status, and the fact that we only know about God because he has revealed himself to us.

Heresy-hunting quickly becomes a heresy. Knocking out the million-word work of Barth’s life because he doesn’t read Scripture the same way Francis Schaeffer does is probably closer to heterodox (those loony dissident ideas) than I’d ever like to be. Ah well. My brain is hot. Your eyes are sad. Life goes on even though some people are wrong. Thankfully, you and I are never in that category.

Your Correspondent, Infatuated Only With Himself

Meat Is Murder. Delicious Murder.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

I have recently stumbled upon some very fine Irish bloggers who happen to be Christians. Welcome Bob and Steven to the game, children. That’s right. Wedgie them gently the first time. Blogs have been removed from my blogroll today. In one case it is just the gentleman owner of the site is too busy to update over the last 5 or 6 months. In the other case, the guru behind another site has reverted to just taking photos of himself. As fascinating as that would be if I didn’t know him, I do know him and see him every week and he rarely changes.

I have a tendency to get obsessed with strangers’ photos. My house is covered with photos of strangers that I take while travelling. Or hiding in bushes. Don’t judge me until you see my collages.

One of the things yarr! has been thinking about recently is Orthodoxy and I will rudely barge in on his thoughts and rob them to make an entry that you’ll all think is astounding. Or at least not a total waste of your time. Until you finish the entry and go to the loo and then reassess your life and try to estimate how many hours a week you waste at your browser. Then you’ll hate my entry and my journal and you’ll hate me and my father for siring me. But you’ll still come back. I know you will. Because when it gets right down to it, I am a better use of your time than Emmerdale or WoW or your crying baby or any of the other things seeking to distract you.

Orthodoxy means correct thinking. Bob got thinking about orthodoxy because as he read the great theologian Karl Barth he realised there were problems in the ideas that a writer and artist called Francis Schaeffer had. Schaeffer didn’t like Barth and one of the big reasons is because Barth did not believe the Bible is inerrant. One shouldn’t be surprised nor dismayed that there are so many tiny debates raging in theology. Theologians did give rise to the idiom about how many angels can dance on a pinhead after all. What should surprise and dismay you is how fiercely these debates can rage. Inerrancy is one of the fierce debates. Inerrantists believe that the Bible is without error. The primary problem with this, for me, is that the Bible is read by people who are filled with errors. (We could have a theological in-joke here with an alternative to the “tree falls in a forest and no one hears it” riddle with “a book without error that is never read is…”) The Bible doesn’t come in the form of a manual or a FAQ or a catechism. It is almost entirely narrative and so you can only get the right answers by asking the right questions. Inerrancy seems to me to be an irrelevant battlefield destined for pitiful failure or at best, phyrric victory. It should definitely not be considered a litmus test for orthodoxy.

Bob asks this question, can we be orthodox even if we are not inerrantist? “Not inerrantist” is not the same as errantist, by the way. There is the position I hold, which I think is the majority, which believes the Bible is divinely inspired as originally given and is the supreme authority in all matters of faith. For what that authority amounts to, consult the last entry. For what sense there is in declaring something which we’ll never see (the original manuscripts) as being divinely inspired, refer to the chapter entitled “Christian faith” in your family’s handbook of Major Psychological Conditions. So what is orthodoxy? And who decides it?

The organisation I work for (for another 8 days) has played a huge role in the development of the evangelical churches in the 20th Century. It has sought Christian unity around the core truths that make up orthodoxy, so that lots of Christians from wildly diverse backgrounds would come and work together without fighting all the time about whether our stained glass windows should depict blood transfusions. Theoretically, like. Or other such insanity. They utilised a distinction that has proven hugely profitable to allow this to happen. This solution has huge faults but it was essential for the mission to begin, nevermind see completion. What cleverer men than you will ever meet, like John Stott, did was to differentiate between the really key truths that all Christians shared. These posts marked out the smallest set of Christian belief that was common to everyone. The real heart of the issue. We call these (it turns out there are 11) truths the primary issues.

Secondary issues aren’t unimportant issues. Whether you baptise babies or wait until people are adults is a huge question for all Christians to answer. But no one has a basis for saying that their view of baptism is the only view permitted by the Bible. That makes it secondary. These 11 points are: Trinity, God’s soverignity, the Bible (as outlined above), the fall, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, resurrection, the Holy Spirit as our source of regeneration, faith alone for salvation, the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, the church and the future return of Jesus. Whether you are a member of a bible-bashing Baptist church or attend services at your laidback, broad Anglican parish church or are a member of the Ukrainian Uniate church offering allegiance to Rome, every Christian agrees with these things. I think this is orthodoxy. That which has been and continues to be believed as the essential doctrines of Christianity.

I believe women and men are equally gifted and called by the Holy Spirit for service in the church. I know some crazy fools who deny this. But they believe in the Trinity and the Resurrection of Christ as the first-fruits and so on doxologically until the end of the world. So I don’t deny that they are Christians and instead I put my arm around them and say, “Father Reilly, you crazy fool, you’re lucky you don’t get married in heaven because all the women will be angry at you for a long long time”. Equally idiotic people think that the universe is about 14 billion years old and the differentiation in all species, including, homo sapiens, can be explained increasingly well by the theory of evolution. (I know! Insane! Maybe the world is round too you maniacs!) Thankfully most of those righteous souls who deny the evidence and insist on (a new) reading Genesis 1 as if it is making a scientific argument are happy to bow their heads and pray with me. My rejection of 6 Day Creationism shouldn’t mean to them that I am not a Christian.

Theology is an inherently historical project. In a few years, when I become a real theologian, I will be sitting on top of 2000 years of collected thought that I must engage with, learn from and critique. Orthodoxy should be defined in this light- what has been common and core for Christians at all times across the generations. It turns out that (although we should never draw a line under the answer and set it in stone) these key (or primary) issues are recognisable. You probably even know them off by heart. We learnt them as children in primary school. Refresh your memory and consider the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed as the mark of orthodoxy.

What about if Orthodoxy was not so much about what we thought but how we thought? I am no big fan of Brian McLaren’s thoughts (he might appreciate how I love the reasons for his thoughts) but maybe he has some valuable thoughts about orthodoxy when he says, that his orthodoxy, “Generous orthodoxy”, means not just reaching correct conclusions about issues but requires “right processes to keep on reaching new and better conclusions”. I can’t tell you what his point means, but I can tell you I like it (that could be a t-shirt slogan for the Emergent Church) when the final sentence in his book reads,

And so for this reason also, the adventure of generous orthodoxy is always unfinished and

Check out the “Note For The Curious” at the end of this Wikipedia article. The guy who did that is one of my best friends. I know. You want to be me. I might let you touch me.

Your Correspondent, Doesn’t know his claret from his beaujolais

I’d Slap Them Upside The Head

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Why do people on Judge Judy interrupt the Judge? Like when THE Judy is loading a whole bunch of crap on the defendant, why does the defendant’s witness pipe up and say, “Hey! You are wrong. That is a lie!” Don’t tell the Judge they are lying. Even if you are a lawyer. And if you are not a lawyer, just shut up there for a moment.

Is this really stuff that people need to be taught?

Your Correspondent, Didn’t Know Daytime TV Existed.

Don’t Let Them Tell You The Future Is Electric

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

I vacated my busy life and all the cares of the world this week to retreat to Wexford with Neuro and her childhood best friend. It was great. We didn’t have tv or the internet or a dishwasher. It was like travelling back in time to 1998. How did people manage to live back then? We did have text messages though so I didn’t stop my harassment campaign of that weatherman on TV3. Too jolly sir!

There are beaches in Wexford, which is good for a Zoomtard since he forgets how much he loves the sea when he lives all landlocked in Maynooth. I could wander along a beach looking moodily out into the distance all day long. In fact, my dream job would be to star in Home And Away as a disenchanted teenager trying to reform their character now they’ve been sent down to Summer Bay after getting into trouble with the law in “the city”. Then I would get paid to walk moodily along the beach looking out in to the distance.

What I spent my time doing was reading. I read Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy (more of that some other time) and the latest edition of the Atlantic Monthly and I’m halfway through my big NT Wright book and I even read newspapers. I read the Irish Times. It is amazing what rural people have time to do. But it would have been better for my brain to be watching Dr. Phil and Veronica Mars. No doubt about it. I hate the Irish Times.

So for those of you who aren’t theology nerds, or even Christians (why not! Christians have THEOLOGY! How sexy is that? Too sexy for you it seems), I should explain why I love this NT Wright fellow. He is the Bishop of Durham. That is, I think, the Vice-Vice President of Anglicanism. So if there was a 24-esque thriller made about the Church of England, then Tom Wright would be the one pulling the strings in the assasinate-the-President-for-economic-gain intruige. He is also an amazing public speaker. But what you will really love about Tom Wright is his writing. He has an astounding gift for making the most complex and weighty issues seem simple. He can make theology page-turnable. The man can make deconstructionism seem page-turnable. He writes in two categories. Heavy, academic theology is published under the austere NT Wright title and more popular, mainstream works are published under Tom Wright, which is surely the name of the man down the road you could borrow a lawnmower from. Do I need to point out (again) that he is a New Testament theologian called NT Wright? How can he be wrong? (I disagree with him on a bunch of things, by the way, Mr. Heresy Police)

He is the foremost New Testament scholar today. In the last ten years he has actually revolutionised the whole sphere of investigation with his titanic Christian Origins series. I am reading the first of these books, The New Testament and the People of God at the moment. He spends the first 100+ pages laying out his assumptions and challenging all the initial skepticisms you will bring to any study that claims to be academically rigorous while still arguing that God became a Palestinian carpenter. Oh how sweet these pages are! Maybe I am a sick freak but he made me laugh out loud a number of times as he went to battle with some of the failings of the last 200 years of theology and some of the fancies of postmodern rhetoric.

By now you are all shouting “SKIP TO THE END!” at your monitors so I will. Down in Wexford, I read a breathtaking passage just hidden away in a few paragraphs. It wasn’t the topic of the book. He didn’t highlight it with stars all around the text. It was just a step he had to make to get where he wanted to go in his argument. And I am going to share it with you now, you lucky lucky people. Christians believe that the Bible has the authority of God. This is a strange and difficult concept to deal with and a very long discussion to explain why we started to believe something so apparently crazy. Although I call myself “simply Christian” (thanks NT!), I move in largely evangelical circles and the evangelicals have spent the last 200 years or so trying to justify the apparently mental things they believe by writing out cleverly worded lists and producing books with 1,267 reasons to believe and making up statements we should all sign to prove we are all card-carrying evangelicals. Then they spend €4000 buying a top of the range laser printer and laminating machine to make the cards we should carry and they might make one that says “Homeless” and give it to the guy who sleeps outside the door of the office so that he knows we really do love him. Us Evangelicals sometimes forget to actually love people while we tell them the truth.

Anyway, Wright has to touch on the authority of Scripture to make a larger point about the New Testament and he says maybe instead of demanding things like “Scripture is Truth” or other forumlas that don’t actually mean anything, we should follow the Bible’s example and tell a story. Imagine we discover a new Shakespeare play. The excitement is huge. The scholars open on the first page and they start reading it and even before they have it performed they know that this is The Bard’s masterpiece. It is enthralling and captivating and it hurtles along at just the right pace and as they come to the end of the 4th Act this comic tragedy has already become their favourite work. But then they turn the page to the final act and there is only one word, “And….” That is all there is.

No scholar is arrogant enough to take up and write the definitive final act of this play so instead they bring in the best Shakespearian actors in the world. People just as capable as Kenneth Brannagh without being so annoying or ginger. These thespians have spent their whole lives performing these plays and they know Shakespeare’s work inside out. They’ve experienced it. They’ve walked it through until it is second nature. So they gather this conference of the best of the best and they set them the challenge of poring over the first 4 Acts. They are to take as long as they need to read and study and learn and love the text. They are to drown themselves in the plot and smother themselves in the characters and then when they come to perform it, they are to improvise the 5th Act. They must know the first 4 Acts inside-out so that the 5th Act that is in their hands is coherent and compatible and that the ending is satisfying. If this Shakespeare play was found and if you were a Shakespearian actor, it would be the most exciting challenge in the world to live this play out until its end.

Scripture is authoritative in this way. There are 4 Acts in the Bible: Creation. Fall. Israel. Jesus. Now the commissioner of Scripture, God himself, has commissioned Christians to finish the play. Everything we need to know about the kind of ending this play is going to have is right there in the first Acts. There has never been a better set-up climax because Jesus has left us with so many pointers as to the direction we are going in. More than that, Christians have the Holy Spirit as a guide, dwelling in us and permeating everything we do to keep us on track. Our job is not to withdraw into the Bible and live as 2nd Temple Jews lived. Our job is not to see the Bible stories repeated in our day. Our job is not to spend our time declaring that those stories are true. Are job is to finish the story and in so doing, substantiating everything that has gone before.

“How does the Bible serve as an authority for Christians?” is a much better discussion to have than “The Bible is authoritative”. It is neccessarily applied instead of abstract. Finishing this 5th Act is a life I can get excited about. Its a life you can get excited about.

I have to go to a wedding today. My colleague who I have spent the last 2 years working with has up and got herself married to a delightful Canadian polymath. I was in a weird situation last night where I had three of my old colleagues in the kitchen hanging out (up from Cork and down from Belfast they were availing of the discount Zoomtard Hostel rates) and my new boss down from Christianity HQ was in my living room. It was like a hilarious sticom where a guy decides to date two girls on the same night. In my old job room they were all talking about drugs and jazz and other cutting edge zeitgeistey finger on the pulse kind of things and in my new job room we were talking about post-modernity and community links and reconciliation studies. For a moment I wondered why I was leaving the hip old job where I could go to the cinema and call it work for the new job where people (theoretically) depend on me to help them through the hardest and toughest moments life will throw at them. Then I remembered the photos in that envelope in my new boss’ filing cabinet and my heart fell.

No. I’m kidding folks. Seriously. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland are not blackmailing me in to working for them. Seriously. Ok?

Your Correspondent, Fell For The Promise Of A Life With A Purpose

To Write Love On Her Arms

Monday, August 14th, 2006

I Bet You Five Are Not Alive That Do Not Know His Name
So because I’m the kind of guy you want to be, I saw Citizen Kane in the cinema this week. How sweet is that? I love the IFI. I don’t care that you think it is a den of pretention and wanky European film that replace plot with “erotic symbology”. It sells food and beer at reasonably reasonable prices and shows some class movies. I think my compadré Janovich put it best when he summed up Citizen Kane as the most pop-culture reference laden 2 hours he ever had. Every episodes of the Simpsons needs Citizen Kane to be understood.

Then I got thinking about how much fodder there is for Douglas Coupland or Chuck Planhiuk-style navel gazing about how we consume cultural artefacts to feed the consumption of cultural artefacts. We watch the Simpsons and that encourages us to watch Citizen Kane and that encourages us to re-watch the Simpsons. Our art is product, man. Our creative expression is commodity. Then after my sub-Adorno waffle, I could kick in with some Christian waffle from Jim Wallis or Brian McLaren or someone like him who would point out that in all of this I was the watcher, the receiver, the passive servant. What I really need to do is cross modulate across redefined paradigms to actualise my Christian faith in interactive intertextual modes of creativity. Then I would realise I had written a whole paragraph deconstructing my first paragraph and now I was truly the paragon of post-modernity: Mimi Smartypants.

By the way, I didn’t see this scene in the movie.

The Brain Work-out
I’ve been reading NT Wright again. I know that it makes the Zoomtardage incomprehensible and I apologise to you, the reader. I have embarked on the most ambitious reading plan of my beautiful, marvel packed life. I am planning to read the 2nd and 3rd great Wright works and then Calvin’s Institutes (one must if one is working for the Presbies) and then I hope to read all those words written down by Martin Luther King. So get used to me writing tiny fragments other people can understand inside huge tracts of words only I can grasp. Remember that Zoomtard was called A Theological Sketchpad.

Here is one such sketch. There have been times when I offer my amateur opinion on the merits of the New Testament as a historical document and it is met by the response, “Well, you would say that since you are a Christian”. The assumption behind this response is that there might be some band of people who can assess historical questions from a pure or neutral point of view. No such people exist. This has been one of the major strands running through all of the Enlightenment era. We have squandered a lot of time trying to free history from the chains of the pre-modern mind which confused myth and history, imagination and real events. The real myth is that this pre-modern mind which didn’t have the wherewithall to distinguish reality from fiction ever existed. All fiction finds its source in reality, (which is why truth is stranger than fiction, since “fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it”- G.K. Chesterton) yet the pre-modern mind could still figure out what was myth and what was just literature. When people imagine that there is such a thing as a neutral viewpoint from which to examine history, they are buying into this great myth. The reason the myth lasted for so long was that it was disguised as objectivity.

When I tell Neuro that the bad weather won’t last, maybe it is because I am an optimist. Maybe it is because I saw an accurate weather report. When a mathematician tells you that 2 + 2 = 4, it would be preposterous to dismiss his proposal with, “You only say that because you are a mathematician”. There are some areas where being a Christian should entitle you to a hearing on matters of Christianity. A clear example of this is the historical arguments in favour of belief. For most people to become believers of Jesus, they must be convinced to some degree by the historical arguments. Few would dispute that all historical texts, before they are anything else, are evidence for the circumstances in and for which they were composed. If someone is a Christian, it (should) means that they have investigated the evidence for Christianity and found it compelling or even convincing. They are no more biased towards the evidence as someone who believes that God is a figment of our imagination or that Christianity is made irrelevant by the obvious truth of Rael.

The Christian perspective on historical sources shouldn’t be discarded. Instead it should be evaluated by the same means as any other historian. How much of the data is included in the proposed solution? How coherent is the system proposed? How does the proposed system fit in with what we know from other disciplines? These are the questions that need to be asked. Trying to measure who is more affected by bias is a mythical game pursued only by those, ironically, biased towards Enlightenment Naturalism.

Unloading The Chips From My Shoulder
There is a Christian writer who has a lot of influence within the circles I move called John Eldredge. He wrote a book called Wild At Heart that encouraged the kind of retrograde masculinity that smells like Burt Reynolds’ armpits. Then he wrote this book called Captivating that had certain colleagues of mine in raptures. Its all about how women are beautiful dainty things with clearly defined roles and nicely subservient roles at that. It is a mystery to me that people could study Jesus and then think that tablecloths have something to do with womanhood, but then there is all kinds of crazy in the drinking water of churches.

I have neither the skill nor the patience to disassemble the flaws in Eldredge’s girly book. Maybe I can do it for Wild At Heart some time. But thankfully, Agnieszka Tennant has done my work for me in this month’s Christianity Today. If Wylie is reading, you must click on that link. Eldredge is wrong. If God has a more interesting plan for men than that they mimic late 20th Century mid-Western American ideas of what masculinity is then you can be darned sure he has something better in store for women than that they all tick the boxes of what passes for a placid, prettifying presence in the same era. The first and final lines of that article are true gems.

Your Correspondent, maybe he’s not brutal, he just does brutal things.

I’m Just Sitting In Your Bedroom With A Shotgun

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

The Cardboard Mansion
Many of you know Zoomtard is in the process of changing his job. Up until now, Zoomtard has either been a waffling post-grad student or a coffee-consuming smooth talking student-worker-person but at the end of the month he is to be elevated to the position of Presbyterian Pope. I know many of you are unaware that such a position exists but it turns out that Presbyterianism is a lot like Freemasonry. That is why so many Freemasons are Presbyterians.

Alongside a lot of great things that encouraged me to apply for this new job there are a lot of great things that come with the job that weren’t part of our decision making process. One of them is that the job comes with a house. Well, it isn’t so much a house as a mansion. A cardboard mansion. So my wife-unit and I now live in a house designed to hold a family of eight and all their staff. It sounds cool doesn’t it? It is too. Cool in the way that now you have to calculate whether you really want that cup of tea because it is a very long walk to the other side of our cavernous kitchen.

The house is in a certain state of disrepair. Maybe it isn’t so much disrepair at this stage as neglect. The house is like a feral child. It may not yet be very sick but its lifestyle has left it wobbling on the edge of chronic pain. An example of the house’s chronic pain is the leaking under-the-stairs loo. We thought that the sewage smell was just naturally occurring in a house owned by a church when we first moved in but it seems that actually, there is a plumbing issue in the hallway. No lost sleep for us however. We can get someone in to fix it and the church will take care of it. So I rang up the plumbers and they said they could do it and it would take this long and it would cost so much. Then I asked them if there were, like, any extra services they could throw in because I like to spend money. It turns out, they have a barbershop squadron that sings in perfect harmony, while they fix your poo escape valves. It is 150% more expensive but people, that is why you have to tithe!

Since most of the readers of Zoomtard are friends of Zoomtard, consider yourself invited to our house-warming party that will take place once we have the house in order. So keep a Friday clear in 2008. If you don’t know Zoomtard and want to meet Stigmund, then email me and you will be invited as well. I’ll introduce you to Stigmund and he will probably marry you. He is in Spain right now, probably marrying someone. I miss him.

I make jokes about the house as a defence mechanism. If anyone can offer me sage advice on how I can go to sleep knowing the resources that are solidifying in property equity when what most of the world needs now is liquidity, cashflow and a big stream of ever-rolling 1st world money, then I’d appreciate it. One thing I would not appreciate as a house-warming gift is a “What Would Jesus Do?” welcome mat. I think it is clear that he would kill me. He’d topple this cardboard edifice around my ears.

Featuring the Fat Guy from Ellen as a Lovesick Teenager
In movie watching news, I saw an absolute classic 80’s teen movie during the week. It is called Better Off Dead. It is not a John Hughes movie but it should be noted it was written and directed by a man called Savage. Savage Steve Holland is making Shredderman next year, according to IMDB. I can’t wait. Better Off Dead deserves a place alongside Pretty In Pink and Breakfast Club as a classic 80’s teen movie. Firstly, it features John Cusack. Secondly, it has a number of musical montage scenes (sing it with me: “We’re gonna need a montage / Ooh, it takes a montage / Show a lot of things happening at once / Remind everyone of what’s going on / In every shot, show a little improvement / To show it all would take too long / That’s called a montage!”). Thirdly, it features a French exchange student who is pretty, permed, brilliant at baseball (!) and a skilled motor mechanic. Do I need to go on? I think I do. Fourthly it has an animated sequence with hamburgers doing guitar solos and falling in love. Finally it has a tangential plot about newspaper boys with homicidal debt collection techniques. The film’s finale involves winning a ski race down a deathly mountain on one ski. Textbook classic 80’s teen climax.

You probably should buy it on DVD and VHS, just in case one or the other breaks.

Does This Even Make Sense?
Since I am changing jobs I have been getting more invites to speak at university Christian Unions than is usual. When it was my job to do it, no one really wanted me. Now I am donning my big secret Pope hat, I am the bee-knees. Even in Norn Iron, a land I spend about 18% of my time mocking. This is cool. In fact, it is almost a dream come true that Northern Irish Christians would listen to me and let me maybe influence how they do things and view things so I have been quietly taking these engagements very seriously. In both of the cases, I have been asked to speak on evangelism. For the non-Christians out there, that is a technical word for forcing the Bible down people’s throat. For the Christians who haven’t been infected by evangelese yet, that is a jargon phrase for sharing your faith. Evangelism is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life but it is also simultaneously, the easiest to get badly wrong and the most intimidating to start. Wait. If it was easy to get it wrong it would logically follow that it would be intimidating. Scratch that last sentence and bear with me as I verbally process.

Anyway, let me roll out a brainflash of an idea I had in the shower this morning on you and the theologically gifted amongst you can critique at your leisure, either next time you see me or in the preferred mode of the voodoo doll with a pin in its head. Christianity, pardon the cliché, is all about love. It argues that human beings are creatures uniquely capable of and deeply yearning for love. Christianity comes along and says that the first step is to love God and out of that flows a renewed energy and willingness to love others. (I know the real first step is that God loves us and out of that flows a reconciled ability to love him but lay off me- this is a rough thought) But if we think about the Christian life as a journey (a good Biblical metaphor for the Northerners) then as we walk this journey, with the right foot we seek to love God and from that we step out with our left foot to love others. All that is involved in loving God could be termed as Praise. This is the singing and the praying and the dancing and thinking and even the essential angry ranting at and of and about God that makes up the Christian life. All that is involved in loving others could be termed Mission. Mission takes the form of giving and sacrificing and contributing and sharing and enjoying other people. Evangelism is not some aspect of the Christian life out on its own but is just one piece (a crucial piece) in the mosaic we call Mission which is just one half of the whole.

If Praise takes place on your knees, then Mission takes place on your feet and both of them wrapped up together could be termed Worship, where worship means giving worth to. So the Christian life would be made up of loving God and loving others so that our lives would be a testimony to the worth of God, the goodness of God, the radical, ironic, parental loveliness of God. In this little schema of the Christian life, Evangelism is no longer this thing we are commanded to do every now and again, but like prayerfulness or generosity, it becomes part of who we are. It is no longer a question of a task that must be completed but a question of integrity. In friendship, we increasingly share of ourselves as intimacy increases. It is selfish or even dishonest to keep large parts of who you are from others and so evangelism is just the honest, authentic sharing of your life, which is a faith-drenched life, with your friends.

Evangelism is a word that doesn’t feature in the Bible at all. In the Bible, people become Christians in a myriad of ways. Many come through hearing the Word preached. Others come to be Christians because of a personal encounter with Jesus. A few even become Christians through miracles. But is rare that someone becomes a Christian without the context of a personal relationship with other Christians. Evangelism shouldn’t be a bad word. In a healthy church it shouldn’t even be a word that is used independent of words like prayer and love and generosity. It shouldn’t be a sales pitch or a manipulation. It mostly shouldn’t even be a conversation where you “explain the Gospel”. Evangelism should be nothing more than living your Christian life with passion and integrity and loving your friends the same way. The Grace of Jesus spills out of Christians in relationship just as easily as it does in musical praise.

Ah, there is a lot more to say but no more attention span to say it to you with. I am off to eat lunch, make out with my poster of Ally Sheedy and dismantle the Room of Mirrors in the East Wing.

Your Correspondent, Huddled in a corner, eating his hair