Archive for October, 2006

Adorable Dogs Wearing Headphones

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I think there needs to be a round of applause for bank holidays. How excellent has this weekend been? If you are reading this from Norn Iron, let this be another reminder, as if one was needed, that Restoration is a good idea. Restoration seems to me to be a nicer word than assimilation, which is what we are all planning. Home Rule is Rome Rule!

So the long wait has ended and our Messiah is going to return in 2007. By which I mean, the Pixies are getting back together to rehearse new material for an album in January. You can call off the 24 hour prayer meetings.

The Rest Of This Post Is For The God-Botherers
I’ve been having a brief chat over semaphore with a friend of mine from Cork about how Christian organisations sometimes pursue diametrically opposed goals. For example, the Anglican church have a considerable presence in Jerusalem and they seek earnestly to alleviate the suffering there and to bring about a lasting peace settlement. Central to their desires would be that the Palestinian people would have a homeland that is secure and sustainable. Many American dispensationalist organisations (dispensationalism, is believe it or not, an Irish invention that says time is broken down into 7 epochs and God requires a different response from us in each epoch) believe that the political state of Israel and the worldwide population of Jews are central to the “End Times”, which they believe will involve some combination of 7 years of violence concluding with the rise of an Anti-Christ figure a showdown where Jesus gives the Anti-Christ an almighty slap down and then 1000 years of peace. Sometimes the order is back to front, depending on who you are talking to. If the political state of Israel must return to the borders that it held over 2500 years ago when Solomon reigned that means the Palestinians have to pack up and move off. In the sea or Turkey or wherever. Just not where they have been for generations because God doesn’t include them in his plan.

Are you starting to see the difficulties with this?

So the question Jurgenator, my Corkonian ally asks is, how does God view these competing movements since we must take at face value that they are both sincerely working for Him? Does God favour some churches or organisations or charities over others? Here is my stab at an answer. As I once heard a great black American church leader say it, “God is no respector of persons”. By that he meant, all the credentials in the world aren’t going impress God, who invented methyltheobromine and therefore has trumped you. I used to work for a worldwide organisation that historically has been the soil in which the great Christian leaders of our day first blossomed in. It has a remarkable history over the last 80 years of breeding and encouraging the great theologians, church leaders and missionaries of the world, from NT Wright to Tim Keller to well, me of course. But I don’t think God considers that when he looks at what the organisation is doing now. He looks instead at what the organisation is doing now.

I work for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Today, the PCI, at least in my experience, is a vibrant, faithful, risk-taking church that earnestly seeks to do its part in rolling in the Kingdom of God- whether that is in the care of orphans, the relief of 3rd world distress, reconciliation initiatives in Norn Iron, sharing the Gospel in dark godless feckless places where nothing good can come out of like Cork, working with, praying for and helping other churches or through teaching people what the Bible means and who Jesus was; all these things are things we value. Sure, I hope they are convinced in the coming years that environmentalism and the promotion of credible artistic contributions from the Christian community are also important but my point is, the PCI is doing great work. I think God looks at what PCI is doing now. He isn’t saying, “well they spent a large part of the 20th Century fecking around with stupid God-diminishing theology and the rest of it cosying up to sectarian bitterness and violence instead of making a prophetic stand. I’ll leave them to stew for a while until they learn their mistake”.

Now individual members of the Presbyterian church definitely still haven’t woken up to the fact that God calls us to be subversive revolutionaries, not culturally British political activists. God doesn’t look down at someone mistaking Unionism for the Gospel and say, “Well he is working in the PCI and I respect them”. He leaves that guy to his own devices and maybe sends him a message every now and again on his answerphone to wake him up.

So to get back to the Jerusalem issue- the Anglican church has chosen the better part, methinks. God is a reconciling God. He is concerned with how we are living now. There are 2003 references in the Scriptures to social justice. The Palestinian question matters to God. I don’t think you can give the Bible to someone who knows nothing about it and expect them to discern the 7 dispensations. I don’t think that Judaism represents the chosen people of God. To get Biblical for a second, I think Jesus replaces the Temple and the true calling of the people of Israel is to follow Jesus. Those who follow Jesus, according to himself, are the real people of Israel.

But within the Jews for Jesus organisations there are tonnes of people who sincerely follow God and do so with love and grace. God doesn’t ignore anyone who tries to follow him but he isn’t especially impressed with human innovation at the same time. Our ideas of what God wants are unlikely to be better than God’s own ideas about what he wants. So I disagree with the Jurgenator, as strange as that sentence sounds in my mouth. God doesn’t view all organisations and efforts equally. He endorses the work that he is about and he nudges everyone else back on track. No one is ever fully on track and that is why he is always nudging us in prayer or in prophesy, which I think is just as likely to come from Bruce Springsteen or Damien Hirst as it is from that slightly crazy old lady who always dances in church.

The emerging Irish theologian Paul Hewson put it well in his National Prayer Breakfast address. He spent a whole lot of time trying to get God on board with what he was doing. Things only started moving for him when he decided to get behind what God was doing.

Your Correspondent, Filling the trench dug within his heart

Remind Me To Bring In The Washing

Friday, October 27th, 2006

So Bubba Ho-Tep is on right now. I’m gonna blog it. It starts with Elvis lamenting his inability to you know, ready himself, sexually. Elvis, by the way, is not dead but living in a nursing home in Texas.

I am sure you have seen the following commercial by now but because I am always about a year or two behind all trends, I will offer it up to you. The Beauty Myth is a scourge. Hopefully ads like this will tackle it, even if there is something worryingly broken about us relying on the beauty industry to relieve the oppression created by the beauty industry.

In the movie, a kleptomaniac old lady has just been bitten by a giant bug who forced her out of her bed and didn’t die when she walloped it repeatedly with a walking stick. This is not so difficult to understand when you remember that the bug was owned by a ghoulish old farmer monster thing. So far, I have to admit that this nursing home is not going to be the ideal place to send Neuro’s parents when I want to get the money from the trust fund early.

Michael J Fox is an icon of my childhood. I can distinctly remember as a 6 year old boy desperately wanting to be as cool as Marty McFly. I admit it, I really wanted to be the dork he played in Family Ties. I am not really the kind of guy who likes reading biographies of celebrities but for some reason we ended up buying Lucky Man and it shocked us. It was a brilliant read, honest, interesting, not ghost-written, painful account of his early-onset Parkinsons disease. Judging from his biography, Fox is the most famous advocate of embryonic stem cell research since other notable victims like say, John Paul II were unlikely to support that kind of experimentation. There is a constitutional ammendment proposed in Missouri and Fox has made a quite compelling ad encouraging people to oppose it.

This is a quite brilliant movie by the way. Elvis swapped identities with an Elvis impersonator to try and get some space and calm. But the Elvis impersonator lived drink and drugs even more than the real Elvis and died, leaving the real Elvis trapped as a two-bit Ersatz Pressley. His best friend in the nursing home was JFK.

Women were throwing themselves at me because they thought I was Elvis. Except I was Elvis.

JFK was “killed” by the CIA and dyed black and sent to the nursing home. Devious baxtards. Elvis just tussled with the cockroach and toasted it with a lamp.

So Fox makes just about as great a case as one can make in 30 seconds but some other people, including JC himself, have come back with a response. It all makes very interesting watching.

I would say that this is an untypically reasonable debate for American politics. Hey! I’ve never been to America but I trust my Guardian-reading, Irish Times-imbibing opinion is accurate when I state that all American political debate consists of a legalist fundamentalist calling a dull-minded liberal “godless” while the “liberal” goes along with invasion policies. Of course, I am kidding. I would never let the Irish Times pass my eyes. That sub-Troskyite rag belongs in its own circle of hell. I am being distracted by the movie. Kemosabe is ambushing the old folks while they have breakfast. JFK is feaked out because Lyndon Johnson is coming to finish him off. Anywho, the debate is brought back to its natural gutter level by Rush Limbaugh, right-wing shock-jock idiot who has claimed Fox intentionally held off his meds so his shaking would be worse.

Elvis got his mojo back. The old rascal.

Its really shocking to see Limbaugh mimic Fox so brutally. Even after all that has gone before, the cynicism is jaw dropping. Limbaugh is the kind of guy who has made a career out of winning, regardless of the cost. He is not medically trained. He has no basis to declare that Fox was exploiting his illness for political gain. While Limbaugh is not a doctor, he does know more than his fair share about inflating symptoms for malicious purposes. In June he had to make a deal with Californian police because of his addiction related prespcription fraud. Hypocrisy is obviously not something that is just native to evangelical Christianity! (Zing!)

It turns out that the late President Lyndon Johnson is not out to kill JFK. Instead, it seems an Egyptian mummy is sucking the little, tiny souls of the OAPs in the nursing homes and killing them. But a pensioners’ soul is shrunk with age and so the loo-roller needs to kill someone every night. JFK and Elvis decide to go to ask not what their nursing home can do for them but ask what they can do for their nursing home and go to war instead of letting some mummy’s lips “suck the life out of their arsehole”. If you haven’t ordered this dvd already you are not even worthy to be called toilet water decoration.

The nature of blogging, of the internet, of mass media, is that we try and address issues as monumentally huge as embryonic stem cell research in 60 second bites. But thankfully, there are some people who have taken the time to digest the issues at hand and make them comprehensible. We call these people ethical philosophers. My wife could be one of those but she is really turned off by the sex and the drugs and the philosopher worship so instead she is a glorified PA. But she dealt with a connected area once and you should read it. You will never have any doubts ever again and really, isn’t that the way to live? Completely and totally sure you are right in every possible way.

The mummy disguised himself as tree bark! That indignity should never be threatened on JFK’s bum. No!

Even though I am married and therefore incapable of sexual sin, there are some members of the opposite sex who I quite fancy. Now that I work for the Presbyterian church I have to pretend I don’t fancy Michael Stipe anymore. But one lady I have a great big crush on is Nellie McKay. Her first album is among my top ten albums ever and it turns out (but don’t tell my wife who also fancies her because it will ruin the surprise!) she has a new album called Pretty Little Head. She had to fight with evil big corporation Sony to get the rights to this album back so now she joins Aimee Mann in our venerated Hall Of Subversive Anti-Hegemony Fame. She isn’t for everyone, but she is for me. Check out this video and see if she is for you.

I hate it when mummys punch me! Fight the good fight Elvis. He isn’t a zombie. You can take him!

I will let you in on my writing method for Zoomtard. I make a coffee or a tea. I sit down. I try to remember the cool things I have found and the things I thought which I thought were thought-worthy. Avid readers, if they exist, will understand why my posts can be so damned long since I just write them, publish them and edit the typos that I can find and leave it at that. But between now and Christmas, to provide you with a better, fresher, long lasting, less rubbery tasting Zoomtard experience, I am going to try and cap my entries. Still, I am not giving up the Smartypants principle that has guided me since the beginning. Posts should be 1000 words long at least. At least!

But not 20,000, you’ll be glad to read.

In the 6 months since the (Red) Campaign was launched it has brought in £10 million. That is not a large amount in the grand scheme of things but is more than private corporate donations managed to scrounge up for AIDS and debt in Africa over the last 4 years. Go consume to make the world a better place. That is almost as freaky as Dove telling us not to be lured in by the unrealistic ideal of beauty. Still, God has a sense of humour about saving the world so the tactic might work. In my final YouTube of the day, here is a cool ad by, which just proves that if you want to be cool like George Clooney, in the General Election next year there are even more pressing concerns than that bypass around your home town or whether or not private hospitals should get tax relief.

The movie has ended. All is well. Except JFK and Kemosabe are dead. Also, Neuro and I booked a holiday. Yay! LMNOP is a blog I found recently which is just delightful. You will agree. Alot of pleasant sugar energy will be squandered over the coming months because of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion. Dawkins is a better read, better funded mirror image of Ken Ham or Kent Hovind. The great sociologist and literary critic Terry Eagleton takes him to town and calls him on his shit.

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right.

I notice that Dawkins is called an author on his website, which is more accurate than calling him a scientist. Move him out to propagandist and I think we’ll have a deal. For the record lads, Genesis 1-3 is not a scientific account of the creation of the space-time universe. Science however, can’t say anything about the question of God, delusion, illusion or just a book filled with his confusion.

Your Correspondent, Wrote the scuttling theme tune to your life

I Just Can’t Give Up Without A Fight

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

So I missed the amazing Stigmund, who performed alongside his preternaturally gifted brother Liam in a famous Dublin city venue on Monday night. Their family have been redubbed the Osmonds by Neuro and I, on account of their musical tendencies, extremist religious belief and repeated references from Family Guy. I had a big-deal work meeting. Work is very inconvenient that way. I still have made time in my packed schedule to apply a liberal dose of guilt to YellowSnow for not updating her blog (guilt is the currency us Christians trade in, after all!) and to host Hot Anorak. He has started theological training and all of a sudden he is making jokes where the punchlines are, “So I guess he just wants to be Brethren after all!” It fills me with glee, but in an evil mastermind grooming his apprentice kind of way. In a “who knew sucking the sanity out of someone and replacing it with considerations on the hypostases and arguments in favour of a teleological historiagraphy could be such fun” way.

Neuro got a new job. And then yesterday she was offered another one. Then someone rang her up and asked her to go into business with them. Then her new boss told her she was a revelation. And then, live on national radio, after weighing into a discussion on the ethical implications on graciousness, she got the last word over the head of philosophy at UCD and Sean Moncrieff spontaneously declared, “Neuro! I think you rock!” Also, I am not making any of this up. So its about time that the rest of the country cottoned onto my pretty little secret- the overwhelming superiority of my wife. She is better than everyone and she knows it. Its just convenient you all know it now too.

You fill in the Foucault
It will come as a shock to you all that there are some people who don’t particularly feel an urge to discuss weighty things like philosophy and purpose and beauty and God and the fortunes of Manchester City with me. But these crazy people do exist. Most commonly, its nothing personal. They just don’t want to talk about these things at all, with anyone, neither a know-nothing know-it-all on the street or a humble professional with a listening ear and a handsome face like, for example, myself. You probably have come across these loons. They say things like, “I don’t mind what others believe. I live and let live”.

This sounds really tolerant but that sentiment kind of worries me. Not in a, “oh no there are polar bears on this desert island we’ve been stranded on” way but in a, “logic alert!” way. Please don’t mention the logical difficulties with believing God lived as a Jewish carpenter in Palestine once because that will ruin my train of thought. Its fragile like a little flower shooting at the start of spring or the spider’s poison-dispatching tentacle thing. Very fragile, very pretty and very painful.

Behind the “your view of truth has no impact on me” philosophy there are two issues that cause my annoyance. The first is the self-conceit involved in the position and the second is the intolerance that flows from it. They are some big ass claims that I am making so let me try to explain.

Ideas matter. What you believe is the biggest indicator of how you will act. Not, mind, what you say you believe but what you actually believe. If you don’t believe anything about God or meaning or purpose or Man City, you haven’t avoided belief. You just believe that no solution you are currently aware of is convincing. Agnosticism therefore, even atheism, is its own belief system and not the absence of belief. There is no possibility of absence of belief. Now inasmuch as you have beliefs, you believe these beliefs to be true. If we agree that when one declares that they don’t believe anything they are stating a belief, then it is small and neccessary to step to see that you believe your belief to be right.

Are we tracking here? Everyone believes something. Even people who claim they don’t believe anything. Everyone believes their beliefs are right.

In as much as you believe your belief to be right, you must believe those who disagree with you are wrong. Now only the very troubled in society believe the things they believe in stark black and white terms. Most of us, (and we should endeavour, I think to be this way) believe in a greyscale. But the place you position yourself on the grid of belief is inevitably in opposition to other points. A Buddhist can’t say with integrity that they believe what they believe and don’t mind if me, the Christian, disagrees. The Buddhist is likely an atheist. Supreme significance is found in the state of Nirvana. The Christian believes God is the source of all things. Supreme significance is found in relationship with Him. These are not complementary states. As strongly as the Buddhist believes Buddhism, he or she must to some degree wish to engage me on my wrong ideas. If ideas matter then they are compelled by love to engage with me charitably on the conflict between our worldviews.

The same holds for the agnostic and the scientologist and the materialist. In believing what they believe, they are compelled to some relative degree in accordance with their personal convictions to engage the Christian or the Muslim or the Jew or the Sikh on the points of non-congruence. When we advance the idea that our beliefs are private and not for sharing, we are deceiving ourselves and if we follow it logically, offending our neighbour. If you have the truth, even a slice half-glimpsed of it, people need to hear it. If you don’t have the truth, indeed if the truth is that there is no truth or not enough data on Truth to make a decision, then those who are wrong and think they have found what they are looking for need to be compassionately let in on their mistake.

Call all this a heartfelt, early morning plea for constant dialogue.

The second claim I made was that intolerance flows from the privatised belief system. That must seem crazy since most people begin holding the position because they are looking for some tolerance in an area of human discourse that is so often dominated by sociopathic fundamentalists. But if a large number of people say something like, “I don’t believe anything. I don’t mind if you do but I am not interested in it” then the outworking of this is that there will be a lot of people with beliefs unable to give them full expression. The public space for discourse about these Big Ideas is reduced and reduced until everyone’s belief system has been, like the non-interested people’s, privatised. This is actually what uncecked secularism will lead to. Privatised faith is not tolerated faith, but abandoned faith. Privatised faith is completely opposed to the 5 pillars of Islam or the 2 Commandments of Jesus. You can’t be a Muslim privately. The idea you can be a private Christian is a heresy. If we intend to be tolerant, we have to let people express their faith fully. You deceive yourself if you believe your agnosticism is not at the very fulcrum of every decision you make. It is not just a private belief but a belief that expresses itself publicly, indirectly, in every big move you make.

The Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed a perfect prison in 1791. The building would consist of a circular array of inward-pointing cells. Solid walls between the cells would stop any communication between prisoners. A small window at the back of the cell would let in a little light. At the centre of the ring of cells stood a huge observation tower called the panopticon. From this “all seeing place”, guards, hidden behind shutters that made them invisible to prisoners, could observe every moment of every life held captive in the prison. Its a brilliant illustration for what happens when we privatise faith out of a desire to be tolerant. “I have my truth but please don’t tell me yours” ends up with all the different worldviews kept from mixing with each other and under the thumb of the ever vigilant secular age which tells them that their belief systems cause division and prejudice. The self-appointed guards of tolerance end up being the greatest inflictors of intolerance.

Irony, you damned uninvited guest and enemy of humanity!

I am the luckiest. In my life, I had more great men mentor me than anyone could ever hope for. Starting with my dad, continuing on to a guy who now lives in Wexford, the two guys who I call boss now and a lad from Coleraine via Tokyo who you all should know as Jaybercrow. It is impossible to communicate to you how cool and great a guy Jaybercrow is but maybe when he comes back from nerding it up in Canadia we’ll throw a big Furiousthinkers welcome home shindig and invite you. Then you’ll see.

Oh yes. You will see.

But Jaybercorw wrote a post yesterday about the futility of theology, that most dangerous of extreme sports that everyone should read. Read it. Digest it. Absorb it. Live by it. It reassures me that my new working slogan is sensible, “We’re all heretics and Jesus is where its at”.

Your Correspondent, Doesn’t believe in wealth but you should see where he lives

Drive Carefully. Sleep Well.

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

So my wife started working today. In a real job. Where she wasn’t set the task of making witty t-shirts up or reading the census from 1911. On the train in she sat beside a pensioner who was listening to Christina Aguilera mp3s on her mobile phone. Things sure have changed in the four months she was unemployed, taking a rest. Have you ever seen True Lies? I suspect I am Jamie Lee Curtis to her Arnie. She keeps making up fantastical stories about hours spent photocopying and answering phones. I know that can’t be the reality of work in real jobs. If work for the church is one bungee jump followed by impromptu, emergency tracheostomies, surely in the Secular city, work is a fascinating white-water ride. Or is that tracheostomys? Jaybercrow probably will know but he seems to be too busy losing his faith and reading Bruggemann to entertain us with his tales of Canadia.

I was back up in Norn Iron last week at one of their 3rd level educational institutions. It wasn’t Queens, which according to me, means it wasn’t a real university. I think the Ulster University is a step below a typical Irish Institute of Technology. If that opinion offends you, go hassle Jaybercrow because he told me to say it. (LOLZ!) I was under the impression that they only taught Flat-Earthism, Creationism and Early Protestant Reformers And Their Victorious Routing Of Catholics On The Battlefield but it turns out that they do have a few real degrees like Egg-Technology and Agitation Therapy. Agitation therapy is what they do instead of counselling in Northern Ireland. When you speak to a Norn Irish counsellor, their accent is quite, well, agitating. Eventually you get so agitated by the therapy sessions that it brings your other issues into perspective. Your abandonment issues and your God-complex and your erectile dysfunction just disappear. Very promising research going on.

Your Correspondent, Using The Law To Nag

Here Is Your King

Monday, October 16th, 2006

So the Zoomtardage has been thin on the ground recently. Don’t blame me. Maybe my favourite Dublin blogs like Planet Potato, Stigmund, Angry French Belle and Yellow Snow are to blame since they’ve all seemed to pack it in. I caught the lacklustre off them. And don’t even talk to me about my wife, Neuro, who hasn’t told one joke since she stopped writing her blog. I didn’t marry her for crap like devotion and attention and support. It was the one-liners, impersonations and most importantly, the huge trust fund that served as bait for this hellish trap. HELLISH TRAP! Neither was Bob’s comment tango the cause of the Zoomtard delay. As intimidating as it is for someone to take what is written here seriously, it actually encourages me to write more. However, stupid stupid work place with all its demands on my time has been the reason for the gap in posting. It’s been busy down at the old God-exchange.

Scaling The Summit
There is a church in Illinois that is supremely well known called Willow Creek. The guy who founded Willow Creek is called Bill Hybels. Bill Hybels is a legend. Bill Hybels is the kind of guy who bungee jumps without the bungee just to prove he is harder than his sons. Bill Hybels is one side of modern evangelical Christianity’s personality. Its yang if you will to clever old Eugene Peterson’s ying. Peterson likes harpsichord music and early translations of Beowulf. Hybels likes books by Jim Collins and probably that tv show with Alan Sugar. Anyway, Willow Creek have this Global Summit conference every year. Its like a conference, but more challenging and I guess that is why they call it a summit. Work packed me off and sent me to the Global Summit where I got to hear Jim Collins explain how to lead people when you can’t encourage them with a pay cheque, the brilliant Ashish Nanda slowly unfold the wisdom of grooming new staff from within your organisation (encouraging to me, the local boy made good, who became a Christian in the church he now helps to lead) and got to hear Bono talk at length about his passion for the Scriptures and how his frustration with churches has turned into something kind of like awe once they understood how the AIDS crisis was a Kingdom of God issue.

This was one hell of a mind blowing conference. Sorry, summit. Everyone else was great, even though I had heard Hybels say most of what he had said before because Zoomtard is one well-connected fellow. And because he attended a Hybels training day in March. But just like the EAI conference at the end of last month, what was really encouraging was that the focus was not on making converts to Christianity. These men and women were concerned with the already here and still on-its-way arrival of the Kingdom of God. People who become disciples of Jesus are a natural outworking of the advancing Kingdom but numbers are not the point. Transformation is. Christians ended slavery. Christians have won the victories against racial hatred in our age. But still I think of Christian and I think judgemental and bigoted and self-interested and self-righteous. Then I stop looking in the mirror and think of other Christians and think much the same thing. This discrepancy is because for every Martin Luther King or Bill Hybels there seem to be a dozen Christians fighting over who has the most perfect doctrine or who is the most at fault or concerned with getting people to “tick a box for Jesus” rather than become agents in the biggest subversive cell in the world. Its still a sleeper cell but the more I come into contact with the work of people as diverse as Tom Wright, Mark Greene, Bono or Bill Hybels, I think it can be roused from its slumber.

The Troubling Art of Being Northern Irish
I was in Norn Iron last week, I was in Norn Iron last night and I have to be back in Norn Iron on Thursday for a talk I am giving. It just seems rude to me that they haven’t welcomed my constant visits with reunification. Never forget the equation of Irish Nationalism folks, 26 + 6 = 1. Last night, the church went on a road trip to a Presbyterian church who wanted to know about this new fangled idea of a church in the Republic of Ireland. As if people in the Republic would be interested in something like God. “Sure all they do down there is shout at each other in funny, cute accents and have babies and eat coal.” I am being unfair for my own amusement. Shame on me.

The church that welcomed us were actually brilliant. Everyone in the church looks forward to these road trips immensely because the banter in the cars going up and down is great and because we are always welcomed like the long lost wing of the family now returned. Stepping inside the porch yesterday was like visiting a girlfriend’s granny for the first time and being welcomed as if you were Kofi Annan, George Clooney and Padre Pio all wrapped up in one dashing figure. (These Presbyterian ladies probably don’t know who Padre Pio is though) We talked about what we are doing and why we think it matters and we sang some songs in Irish (first time ever in that church!) and answered some of their excellent questions (the people in this church were on the ball).

But at the end, over tea and coffee and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, one of our number was told by one of their number that she thought we were anti-Catholic. Anti-Catholic!? Hearing about this on the way home irrationally annoyed me and the aggrivation lingers this morning. How could you think we were anti-Catholic? For the love of all that is Roman, I set up a training conference at a Catholic seminary so that Protestant students from this girl’s college could understand Catholicism better and relate to their Catholic brothers and sisters. I am doing my MA in theology under a Catholic priest. I hope to start a Divinity degree next year at a Catholic seminary. My sister is a Catholic theologian. My parents are practicing Catholics. I am a baptised, communed and confirmed Catholic. One of my “constellation” (Bill Hybels-ese for the group of people who inform and inspire you) is a Catholic philosopher. And the partial list I have offered in my defence could be presented by any of the seven people who visited that church last night.

The reason this irritated me so much is not, of course, because there is any hint of truth in it or that the girl in question was in any way malicious in her accusation. But what annoyed me was that you just can’t win with Northern Irish Christianity. We didn’t say anything that could be interpreted as anti-Catholic last night but because we didn’t begin with a preamble whereby we stated that Catholics are Christians too, she feared we in the group, (maybe the majority group) in evangelical circles who don’t have that simple truth as a foundation stone. We have a pretty lovely little patch of land we call home here in Dublin’s suburbs. We meet with and pray with and work with the Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy regularly. They are our friends. It is taken as a given that we are all brothers and sisters through Jesus. It doesn’t need stating. But we go to a similar nice place on the edge of Belfast and because we don’t state it is taken as a given that we are the opposite.

It is a Catch 22 though. We didn’t go there to start a theological dispute. If I had begun my input with, “Vatican II is amongst the most exciting developments of the 20th Century and I advise you all to investigate the writings of Chiara Lubich…” then there might well have been outrage from hardliners in the congregation.

I am an ecumenicist. That is a word that is misunderstood everywhere. By that word, I mean to declare that I believe all churches are in error. I believe that Presbyterians should work with Baptists and Pentecostals and Anglicans and Orthodox and Catholics, not because I have hope that those other churches can be reformed, but because I have the even bolder hope that my own denomination can be reformed. I believe Christians of all persuasions should pray together, work together and live together because if we are rigourous, Presbyterianism, Catholicism, Anabaptism and any other -ism you care to mention is a heresy. We are all simply Christian. We all have sinfully wrong ideas about God and he accepts us anyway.

In Northern Ireland, true inter-Christian relationships are a long way off because you still have to declare yourself one one side or another. I guess the problem is that sides still exist. It would be such a frustrating situation to live in if you had to navigate through icebergs of hardliner exclusivists on one side and softheaded uniformists on the other. It seems as anachronistic as placing an iceberg slalom course on a motorway. We have work to do together, we have direction and momentum. Navigating around big cold blocks of frozen water probably isn’t the safest way to go about things.

The Epilogue
There was a moment of Dave-genius on the drive home last night. You’ve heard the urban myth about the philosphy student who sat down to his end-of-year paper to read the question, “Why?”? He simply writes, “Why not?” and then leaves the exam hall and gets a 1:1. Dave told the follow on story of the Christian philosophy student who when faced with the same question wrote, “Jesus.”. The student failed, but then got a million euros when he sued the college for discrimination. Classic.

Classic like Breathing Earth, a site that charts carbon emmissions, births and deaths around the globe and these thoughts from Malcolm Gladwell on child prodigys and why they often are just mediocre when they grow up. I intend to be an OAP-prodigy. I am going to win the Tour De France at the age of 70, at my first go.

Your Correspondent, Come and listen to what he has done.

The Brevity Offered By Linkage

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

Photo blogs can be even worse than theological sketchpads. Don’t worry though. I’ve found a good one for you: Bluejake.

From a Subversive Influence, here is an interestingly subversive politco-theological pondering. I wonder if its got anything to it.

Neuro is suspicious of Nooma. All the more reason for you to go check them out seeing as most things that seem cool that Neuro is suspicious of turn out to be really evil. Like when Furbies turned out to have peanuts in them and all those people died of anabolic reactions. Neuro never liked Furbies. Decry it while you still get cred for it. Go check out the Dust episode here, which is one of the videos Zoomtard wholeheartedly stands over.

A Zoomtard Competition
The Atlantic asked this month, in its section on words for things that need words, what we should call the territory that exists between our earphones while we listen to our iPods on the bus.

Does the barrier erected by headphones have a name? As a semipermanent resident of this tiny country, I often wonder.

Answers on the back of a postcard. The prize is a guided tour of your soul. Suggestions must be shorter than a typical Bob Heffernan comment.

Your Correspondent, A Film by Zoomtard

My Name Is Zoomtard, I’m Curry In The Whale

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

So I had an eventful weekend. There was a concert and a conference and a baptism and then I started a mini-craze about a Croatian theologian. What can I say? My infectious enthusiasm has made them all sick. If you all remember last week I was telling you about the wonderous cacophony made by the band Duke Special and the unique opportunity you have to enjoy it in the privacy and comfort of your own home buy purchasing some CDs. Well I went to see Duke Special last Friday night and I was blown away. Even Neuro would have been blown away and she punches me when I sing Duke Special lyrics. Ask Stigmund, who was also there and can also testify to the terrific, thrilling dramatic experience that was Duke Special live. They had people in the audience who played along with them. Planted in the audience! And they played along with cheese graters and whisks! And they all were in costume! And one was a geography teacher and another was a Boy’s Brigade member. A Boy’s Brigade member!

Born Again Christians Have Holy Love In
After the excitement in the Sugar Club I got up with no small amount of dread to attend the National Conference of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland at UCD. There comes a point in every Christian’s life when they’ve really got to ask themselves, “Am I ready to go small talk again?” Especially when you spent two (amazing) years working for an organisation that had four conferences a year. At least. Plus, the theme for EAI this year was “Out of the Ghetto”. For me, being in “the ghetto” (not a literal ghetto for evangelicals that you haven’t heard about in Coolock or somewhere but a state of mind where evangelical Christians bind together in a holy huddle to protect them from the bad people in the outside world who don’t wear What Would Jesus Do? bracelets) is not like an addiction. Getting out of it is not a long process where recognition of the problem is the first step. Getting out of the ghetto simply involves being normal and not spending all your time involved in Christian things around other Christians who reinforce all the crazy ideas you hold until you can’t understand any longer why they seem so crazy to other people. However, in their foolishness, the advisory committee that consisted of people like Dr. Patrick Mitchel and Sean Mullan didn’t feel a need to consult Dublin’s 14th most read Christian blogger.

My bad attitude went fleeing out of the door when the first speaker got up. Mark Greene, the head of the most excellent London Institute of Contemporary Christianity spoke on the topic of Moving The Church Into The World and it was breathtaking. It was brilliantly presented, practical, deeply thought-through, Biblical and done so that you didn’t feel like a failure as he laid out the sad state of the church and how badly we are equipping our congregations for real life. I loved it. I loved the whole day, even if Greene was the outstanding performer for me (although if Sean Mullan had been first instead of last, in the graveyard shift of 4pm I am sure people would have been equally in awe of what he had to say). The thing that got me at the conference was how we seem to be focusing on the Kingdom of God. There wasn’t any hint that the church’s mission was to go and make more Christians. Or to go and annoy people about morality. The church’s mission is to live the Gospel and so bring about a revolution in people’s lives that will hopefully involve relationships with Jesus but won’t be dependent on that. The vision was big enough to get anyone excited. It was a shame you weren’t there. I’ll invite you next time. You probably won’t get to hear me speak that time though.

The Dove Didn’t Come Out In the Photos
Straight after the EAI conference I went into town to do something I had never done before. I attended an adult baptism. I had never been to one before because, and I’m about to get controversial here, but I think they are wrong with a capital W. A capital W that is in flames and is very spiky and that may growl menacingly as you approach it. Zoomtard readers, it is time to come out to you. I am a paedobaptist and I am proud. I am a paedobaptist and I think I am right.

The courting of Christian controversy aside, I made a friend a few years ago in Trinity who was on a kind of spiritual quest. We used to get together every month or so to talk about God and meaning and history and knowing and all that good stuff. Over the summer, and don’t blame me because I wasn’t even in the country, he became a Christian. This rocks hugely and he has been having a great time switching his degree to Theology and Biblical Studies (you don’t have to do this when you become a Christian by the way, it is optional) and well, being all Christian. I don’t know what that involves either but he does seem to be very happy. So it was his adult baptism, his public declaration of being right with God and I have to admit, the service was amazing. It was humbling. God’s presence was in the room. I thought I would be going with my good theology as a kind of peacemaker between the rude people asking for the gift of baptism a second time and an angry God who is still put out that they took so long to thank him for the gift. It turns out there might have been a slight miscalculation in my theology and it seems God doesn’t agree to just follow a system we might devise.

By the way, a bird just hit the window. Here I am planning the next paragraph and boom, it hits the glass doors. Don’t worry though, it was ok. No animals were harmed in the writing of this Zoomtard.

Back On His High Horse
If you are new to this website, I should let you in on its subtitle, which “A theological skeptchpad”. Zoomtard is fascinated by a lot of things but his chief concerns are theology and the Bible. He gets unreasonably excited by both. He has spent the last seven years becoming more and more convinced that the Bible really is unlike any other book, that its plot is a grand project planned and executed by God and that entering into the plot contained in its pages somehow can enter you into the actual plot which is taking place all around us.

If you understand this, then you can maybe grasp just how apoplectic his rage can be when he hears young Earth Creationists take the introduction to this grand plot and pass it off as science. As if God would begin the story with a meditation on how you build a story. Reading Alan Reynolds’ Reading The Bible For The Love Of God has been a step for me in my maturation process that will allow me to discuss this topic with Creation Scientists without ripping their head off and stuffing cottage cheese down their neck and to talk with other people, sane people, without scaring them with my vein popping intensity.

I have had people ask me whether I think Genesis is true. By that they usually mean Genesis 1-3 since it does stretch for 50 chapters. I always answer, “YES! Absolutely.” They then tend to presume that I am obviously an idiot because no one can take that text (which they may or may not have actually read) seriously because “modern science” had disproved it. What they are really trying to ask when they ask me the question is whether I think Genesis 1-3 is true in terms of contemporary historical investigation. The answer to that question would always for me be “Its a moot point. If you push me to say things that are of no relevance, then no.” I would be more kind than that though. You understand I am just trying to act big in front of you?

Genesis 1-3 was never meant to be a historically factual account of the beginnings of humankind or the mechanics of the start of the space-time universe. If you believe it to be true in that sense you are believing something that could not have been intended by the initial tellers of the story or the people millennia later who wrote it down in the form we have it today. The reason I get so annoyed with Creation Scientists is that you can believe it to be historically and factually accurate and still miss the point of the story. In my experience, reading the story that way increases the chance that you’ll miss what is actually being said.

Genesis 1-3 is profoundly true to human experience. Reading it and understanding it for the first time literally rocked my world. It is true in my life to a depth that Dostoevsky or Orwell could never plumb. This is not a truth like a historical statement of fact or a theory of physics but it is the truth we have to grasp if we are going to grasp the big arching plot that God has written us into as characters. Reynolds is really helpful at this point. There would be no difficulty raised by readers if I claimed World War II ended in 1945AD. Unless you were Muslim, in which case the war ended in 1324AH. He presents another scenario, one where he suggest war is a terrible thing. On this point, there would be a lot of discussion. Thoughtful would be made about the potential benefits that come from war and the occassional neccessity of war. At the end though, we would come to the conclusion that war is indeed a terrible thing.

The first observation, which appears to be obviously true is actually only relatively true. The second of the statements is far more open to debate but as much as it is true, it is always true. It is a qualitative statement about human values. Reynolds goes on to give four statements:

  • 2 + 2 = 4
  • I love you
  • Babe Ruth hit 619 home runs in his Major League career
  • I love you too
  • Statements 1 and 3 are different in nature from statements 2 and 4. We can verify 1 and 3. We can check them out and make sure they are true. You or I could both do it just as well as each other. But statements 2 and 4 cannot be proved. Especially by people outside of the interaction. They cannot be proven but they

    can be much “truer” for the meaningful living of life than the so called factual statements.

    The Bible generally and Genesis 1-3 especially is concerned with statements of 2 and 4. As is our poetry and our literature, our plays and our movies, our music and our art. When we try to explain why we are here, a much deeper question than how, we have to move outside of the realms of empiricism. We can experiment to verify that you are a child’s parent. We cannot experiment our way to verification of your parenthood of that child, the love and devotion and passion and sacrifice that arrived for free when this baby turned up. Real life is lived outside the binary of black and white but there is more truth in the grey.

    The Errata
    Zoomtard is beginning his actual career as a person who preaches on Sunday. He now works for a church and Sunday is the first time he preaches as a churchman. Everyone is welcome, there is no list at the door, entrance is free, as is the tea, coffee and Grace. Feel free to come.

    Some fascinating linkage for you in the form of Genetic Sexual Attraction and Personal Kyoto.

    Your Correspondent, Amazing how this grace helps me rebound

    Parables For The Emerging Conversation

    Monday, October 2nd, 2006

    I am reading, simultaneously alongside my boss, Pete Rollins‘ How [Not] To Speak Of God. Although it is an amazing title for a book, it so far has left with me with the same impression as all the books I have read about the Emerging Church. That is, there is something here in the attitude (the generous orthodoxy) and in the goal (freeing Christ from Christianity) that I love but it just isn’t radical enough. If our church has become an obstacle, putting tradition between us and Jesus and if our language now fails to reach our Age, then the solution cannot be to try and be Christians without Church (capital C Church, that is) and to just buy the terms of our culture wholesale. The terms Jesus uses can’t be mapped on to any particular culture’s if they are to still challenge and shock.

    So as the Emerging Guys love speaking in parables, I thought I’d share my parody parable with you. It is a parable for the Emerging church, which I call the Parable of the third Prodigal. You know the main actor. He is a father you got to know as a child when you learnt the story of how his second son said, “I wish you were dead!” and ran off to Amsterdam and squandered the family wealth on whores and drugs until life beat him up as life is wont to do and he returned, looking for a job as a mail clerk in the family business. His father would have none of it and instead, shocking everyone, especially the boardroom executives, he embraced his son back into the family fold and spent a fortune on a huge party to celebrate his return. His first born didn’t like this at all. He wished his father was dead as well but he either didn’t have the guts or he was too smart to say it. He toiled away in the accounts department filing boring tax form after boring tax form with due diligence. No one was as sickened as him by his father’s shameful lack of pride in taking the rebel back into the fold.

    That is where the story ended in primary school, but it turns out there was a third son. He was a late blessing for the father and he really did lavish all the attention and love in the world on him. But we know this father from the story. He never spoilt the child. He was always available and eager to laugh and play with his youngest boy but he taught him of the proud heritage he was to inherit. He made sure the boy knew the story of his family. He had seen first hand how the path of self-discovery had ended in disaster for his middle brother and the path of self-righteousness had ended in disaster for his oldest brother. Most importantly, he had seen the lengths his father would go to to bring both boys back into his embrace.

    But soon after coming of age, this youngest son went and bought an iBook. He downloaded a copy of Foucault read by Christopher Walken (oh if such a thing existed!) on iTunes and he soon surprised everyone by asserting that his father had gone missing. The boy said he had searched everywhere and his dad was nowhere to be found. When his older brothers told him where they had last seen him he scoffed and said that in this day and age no one could take such claims seriously. Sometimes the father even sought him out and called his name but the boy was too busy tending to his MySpace forums to heed the call.

    Then one day, the father broke into his son’s room, grabbed the iBook and smashed into pieces. The boy was stunned for a moment. Then he said, “Of course! I understand! We will never be able to meet with him because all of our efforts are constrained by our non-fatherness. (He would have written that “a/-F(f)atherness”). Even our most beautiful words cannot describe the beauty of our father!” But he paid no heed to his father, who went away ignored.

    If you don’t like this parable, I should point out now that it is because one of the following statements are true:

  • You are too narrow minded and constrained by your conservative system of beliefs to appreciate the subtlety.
  • You are locked inside a modernist viewpoint that demands every truth statement to take the form of an empirical result and so you can’t appreciate the subtlety.
  • Glad we got that sorted out. Although I always struggled with the man, I have to admit that Ian Paisley’s blog is disappointingly sectarian, even for me.

    Also, look up “clintonian” in the dictionary. After this now renowned interview it will read: adj– to be so good that you actually cause earthquakes everywhere you go.

    Your Correspondent, speculates that God did make us in corresponding shapes