Archive for April, 2007

How I Got Started On The Telly

Monday, April 30th, 2007

This is where we put links
This is a fantastic poster showing where all the American tax dollars went. It is especially fascinating for Irish people in the run up to our General Election since we can breath a sigh of relief that we may have spent €50 million on stupid e-voting machines but we are functionally neutral and so don’t spend money on our army.

The greatest thing that could happen to the tiring Stephen Colbert show is a Democratic President this winter. But the unbelievably clever Meta-Free-Phor-All with Sean Penn is worthy of your time. I adore the computer graphics and Colbert’s answer to the love question.The quiz format reminded me of the great Adam and Joe Show sketch called Quizzlestick. (I could pretty much just show you guys Adam and Joe sketches for the next 11 years because they played such a massive role in my late teeanged life).

In fact I think I am going to do that. Oh you guys will laugh. And then think I am so cool.

I was once involved in a quiz show called Gridlock. The memories have faded so badly now that I really had to sit here and think for a good long while before I recalled the name. For all a-y’all who are Irish, it was the game that took over from Blackboard Jungle with Ray D’Arcy. Blackboard Jungle was this classic version of University Challenge aimed at Irish secondary schools. I got on my school’s team when I was quite young and we won 2 rounds before getting knocked out by the eventual winners from posh private Belvedere College. We were so pissed. It didn’t help when we heard that Belvedere had buzzers set up in their science lab and they practiced three times a week after school with their physics teacher. Its not like we could call them nerds when we had just competed on national tv in a general knowledge quiz in our school uniforms. The only thing more pathetic than an efficient band of nerds is the bitter band of nerds who resent them.

Anyway, the next year, after 600+ episodes, RTE canceled Blackboard Jungle and replaced it with a show called Gridlock. We were heartbroken, thinking that this could be our big year. But we were appeased when we were asked (me and three close nerdlinger friends) to do the screen tests for the new show. What a convoluted mess it was. It was like a cross between Go, Mastermind and that terrifying movie Cube you might have seen five years ago. In the screen tests, me and Andy tore up the screen. We set a record score that was astonishing and to the best of my knowledge stands across all the 22 countries that foolishly bought this quiz show catastrophe. We were the favourites to win. Then we lost in the first round.

This is bad. I mean, you are a nerdy teenager representing your school on national telly and you crash out. What’s more, the show is absolutely shite. Worse again, you just got a new haircut and it looks like you are suffering from late stage HIV on screen with your shaved head and emaciated body. Finally, even though you are from Leixlip, the home of Guiness, you get the question about the nation’s most famous stout wrong. Gridlock was my lived experience of Quiddlesticks. Maybe you should go back and watch it now so you know my pain.

Your Correspondent, A Clever monkey. A future Buddha.

An Old Swiss Man Walked Into The Lab…

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Regarding our mighty fine God and Science Conference last weekend where Dr. Denis Alexander argued against Christian support for the Intelligent Design Movement, even Karl Barth agrees with us;

… familiar with the groaning of all creation, we lend our support to all honest, secular, scientific and historical research; but we dissociate ourselves from every semi-theological interpretation of Nature and of History.

I adore this quote. I am writing it on my wall and learning it off by heart.

Your Correspondent, Against Darwin, and Darwin only have they sinned.

Reflection From Preparation For A Study

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Albert Camus was not a Christian. But he explained the Gospel as follows:

“The Christian solution consisted first in that Jesus Christ experienced suffering; the God-man suffers with patience. Evil and death can no longer then be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of Man only because in its shadows the Divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, lived through to the end, despair included the agony of death. Thus is explained the Lama Sabbachtani and the frightful doubt of Christ in agony.”

When we consider that no pain we endure in this life can be a form of punishment because the wrath of God was poured out (in love) on Christ on the Cross then the Christian begins to open their eyes to a new world. How humbling it is that Jesus had to die for you and so elevated by the knowledge that he was glad to die for you; you can no longer look at people around you in the same way.

Without realising this we fall back on the great human Karmic pathway believing that if you are a good person, good things should happen to you and if you are a bad person, bad things should happen to you. But that is not the way things are. There are indeed two kinds of people in the world but both suffer. The first group base their lives on things that are not God and when suffering comes it takes away the foundations and they become sadder and madder and well, badder. The source of their joy is taken away- that is the form their suffering takes.

But the second group, fully expect the suffering coming their way. They try to build a life where God is the source. The joy in their life comes from the fact that this God-man Camus describes is their God-man. When suffering comes, they know it is not the vengeful action of a petty fabricated god. When suffering comes it can make them better and better and well, more like gods. The source of joy cannot be taken away. The Gospel is not a get-out-of-suffering pass. Jesus did not suffer so that we would not suffer. As Tim Keller puts it, “Jesus Christ suffered not that we might not suffer but so that when we suffer we can become more like him”.

Your Correspondent, Pleading with you that you realise your real name is Jedidiah.

The Vivian Girls Are Visited In the Night by Saint Dargarius and his Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

In my old job I had to train with my English colleagues fairly often. StephB was one of those colleagues who I really liked but well, without being mean, I didn’t really enjoy visiting these training courses. For one thing, the money was stupid and the British have an old rich woman protecting their rights in place of a constitution. I mean, at least a poor woman is more likely to be on the look out for the alienated and power-less, lads! Anti-Britishness aside, the atmosphere in this sister organisation was one that sometimes felt a little smothering to me. There were quite a few of them who were the kind to get up and read Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (784 pages) over breakfast. This did actually happen once with Sam.

Anyway, NT Wright wrote an article this week that is very long and very fascinating in a Church of England website that shed light for me on why I found things tough with our fair brethren across the Irish Sea. The article is about, wait for it, substitutionary atonement. Substitutionary atonement is a really core part of what Christianity is. How can I put it? It is the idea that Jesus lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died. Its not really a part of Christianity you can reject and still understand the point of Christianity and so there has been a lot of talk about it in recent years.

Wright gets straight into the debate though, which was beyond him for the last few years as he you know, redefined the terrain of New Testament theology, and if you are a Christian and nerd enough to fancy 13,000 words on this topic then clear out an hour and read away. If you are not these things, then get distracted over here. In the article, I think Wright alludes to and then finally captures the divisive and shallow arguments that take place within evangelical Christianity over this issue and I would like to think that this is the end of Steve Chalke’s name being dragged through the mud. For those of you who don’t know, Steve Chalke is a nice Englishman who had his photo on the back of my wife’s teeanged youth Bible. That is all you need to know because the scurrilous attacks against him were a load of old bollix (from the latin meaning a waste of breath).

Did your geography teacher ever amuse and amaze your class by reading that old excerpt from a women’s magazine of the 1950s where advice is given about how to treat your husband? Its all gems like “wear a bow in your hair and put on a touch of lipstick” or “don’t bother him with your silly concerns, rub his feet and ask him about his busy day instead”. I love that document (not enough to do a google search for you though) but this set of predictions from 1900 about what life in the year 2000 will be like from The Ladies Home Journal surely tops it. I remember 2000. The e-commerce boom made my meaningless work unimaginably valuable and me and my two friends went traveling all around Europe while Neuro moved house to the countryside. Most animals were not yet exterminated, save for collections in menageries.

Quite independent of Babette’s commendation, we went to see the Lives of Others two nights ago and you need to do as we did. It is one of those astonishing, breathtaking, thought provoking, touching, heart-rending, peaches of a movie. Its unmissable. You hear me? Well book the tickets then.

One of the reasons I love the Bible so much is because, well, it maps on to reality. Christians talk about sin sometimes in terms that can let you, average Joe or Joan think that it just means stuff we do to have fun when we’re naked. But Paul always talks about sin as if it is a very real thing that traps us. Its not just simply things we do but at times, to paraphrase Wright in the article above, it seems to be a movement, an agent, almost equivalent to the satan.

Well the lasting thing I took from The Lives Of Others is just how true this is. East Germany, like all the Soviet satellites was repressive in a way Irish folks can’t begin to imagine but what this means is that individual humans did their job to fashion a State in a perpetual state of fear. These men and women obviously inflicted great harm on their victims with this sin but their sin trapped them too. The movie is a superb portrait then of this systematic evil, this sin that seems to transcend the individual sins that serve as its components and grows and morphs into its twisted sin-organism. Singanism. Every character is trapped by it but grace breaks free and starts setting others free. Its the willingness of one man to neither embrace the system nor utterly repudiate the people who are trapped inside of it that sets the whole plot moving.

Its also realistic because even this one man’s efforts aren’t enough to win out, at the end of the day.

I loved it. I hope I have made sense here. I am off to make pasta over there. See you later.

Your Correspondent, An aural idiot.

The Science And God Conference Compressed

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

In this entry of Zoomtard, our noble hero regales his beloved Internets with thrilling tales of sitting in small storage rooms, stacking books and eating sandwiches with egg in them….

The Science and God conference was held on Saturday and surprisingly it went off without nary a hitch. Well, there was a dreadful screw up with lunch but I spent all of lunch desperately trying to sell theology books so I sent Teragram off to get me a sandwich and she came back with an egg monstrosity. I ate it instead of throwing it back in her face and rubbing the yolk in her hair like she deserved because I was savouring the opportunity to shame her in public on the internet. How’d you like it now you egg-endorsing mankbag!? Eh?

Over 300 people came from North and South. I met people like Bob and Steven and sold lots of books. But sadly I spent most of the day up in a little box above the auditorium watching the talks on a tiny tv screen and recording everything for future downloads. This was quite a difficult job though because we don’t have any recording equipment so I was just transcribing the words of the speakers, translating them into data to form a .wav, performing the required conversion on them to allow them to be read as .mp3 files and then saving them out of Microsoft Word. If you want an idea of how complex this was, try to open an mp3 in Word. I dare ya.

I think a good time was had by most. I think it was a little more technical than I would have hoped. I had a couple of friends just scratching their heads a lot of the time. I could see them through my amazing camera with 28x optical zoom. I could practically see the big question marks above their heads as they sat there thinking, “What is a genotype and how is that different from or similar to a phenotype?!”

Round about these parts we like to call diet coke “death on a stick”. If you haven’t tasted diet coke then you don’t know what I mean. But if you have tasted diet coke, then you do know what I mean. Why is diet pepsi so much better than diet coke? That was a mystery until I watched this superb 17 minutes with Malcolm Gladwell that explained it to me. You should watch it because it is fascinating and witty and profound because it also teaches us that diversity is a good good thing.

Your Correspondent, A Web Evangelist saving you from enjoying the Internet

Alister McGrath and Denis Alexander Recordings

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Well the God and Science Conference turned out to be a grand success. Prof. McGrath talked about the flaws in Richard Dawkins’ philosophy of religion and Dr. Alexander addressed the question of Intelligent Design. We have the audio from the event up and available here:

Downloadable mp3s of Prof. Alister McGrath and Dr. Denis Alexander’s talks from the Maynooth God and Science Conference, 2007.

Your Correspondent, Unintelligibly designed.

A Heart Just Can’t Contain All Of That Empty Space

Friday, April 20th, 2007

A whole week of daily updates. Obviously something strange is going on in my life. I have a killer headache today which is making me consider taking naps anytime I don’t have to do anything. Listening to other people is a pain in the behind. It might be the crappy bands I had to listen to after Funzo finished last night. Funzo is what Liam McDermott has been calling the band recently. You know how you go to Guns N Roses gigs these days and its just Axl Rose and session musicians? And no one minds because although you miss Slash a little bit you are there to see Axl? I think it is gonna be like that with Funzo. Stig is handsome and all and damn can he sing but ultimately, he is as replaceable as a top-hat wearing lead guitarist who inspired a generation to love rock music.

Some people might think it over the top to compare Funzo who are just starting out with Guns N Roses but well, I happen to know things about the future.

At a wee battle of the bands yesterday, Funzo wiped the floor with the opposition so bad that you would actually be embarrassed if you were the parents of the other competitors. I can never quite remember the songs and the order they were sung in but I think yesterday was the best yet. In part, surely, this is because Liam looked reasonably un-nervous.

We only stuck around for the second band. They were like a Franz Monkeys tribute act who were singing the songs of The Killers. It was as predictable as the calls a radio show gets when it discusses sex offenders. It was not good. Hence headache town.

Funzo by the way, is a Simpsons reference. When the toy company have used the Springfield Elementary school as the basis for their prototyping a new best-selling toy they look for a name. Lisa jadedly suggests Funzo and they jump on the idea. Soon everywhere you turn its FUNZO FUNZO FUNZO!

The point of this entry
I met a Christian a few nights ago. He grew up in Eastern Europe and was very definitely not one of those guys who “simply became a Christian because he was brought up one”. He eventually started going out with a girl and things got pretty serious and he was pretty committed to her but it all fell apart, as these things sometimes do and he ended up practically bankrupted by the way she left him. He was heartbroken. He actually put it this way, “I was broken. I was broke. I was broken.” He might not be fluent in English but I thought there are few who could do a better job.

In the grips of this depression he got caught in one of those cycles of descent that happen just when you don’t want them to. He drank heavily since he felt awful. Drinking heavily he used drugs more often. Dependency became an issue and to fund it he began to deal. And slowly depression became ordinary and he was left in a rut of drinking and selling and using and generally feeling pretty miserable. He hid the situation from his family, which always interested him because he couldn’t explain to himself why it was so important that they thought he was out working an ordinary job.

Anyway, one day he stumbled across a children’s introduction to the Bible. This was not the Bible. It was like the stories of the Bible told in simple terms with lots of pictures and insets that explained things clearly. It was aimed at young teenagers and over the course of six weeks he read the two volumes and he had to deal with the nagging feeling that he was not just wasting his life but he was angering God by the way he lived. The Ten Commandments kept coming back to him and he couldn’t shake them. As much as he wanted to say that he was only hurting himself, he deep down felt convicted of the fact that he was hurting a God he would not yet even agree to believe in.

Such a weird situation for him to be in.

He got talking to a friend once and he found out that he had faith. His friend invited him to a Bible study but my new friend turned the offer down assuming that the group that was hosting the study must be a cult. There are many cults and negative sects at work in Eastern Europe (those Campus Crusade guys in Croatia for example 😉 ). He expected to be inundated with calls and invitations from this guy now that he had revealed he was wrestling with these big questions. But the days turned into weeks and weeks passed and not once did the guy turn up at his door or slip flyers into the postbox or hassle him if they crossed paths. “What kind of cult is this that respects you when you say no?” thought my friend. And with that he decided to drop in on them someday.

Long story shorter, a long long process began that brought this gentleman to faith. Over the course of years, with small steps he became and more and more convinced of things. He went to seminary to study and that was another stage in the journey until after quite a very long time he really felt comfortable saying he had faith in this Jesus character.

It is a cool story, especially as he tells it in his halting English. There are nine people in his church back home so coming to Ireland was a tough decision and he hopes to return in a few years and buy a house and settle down in his home country. Two things are interesting to me. The first is that Christians have big arguments about what translation is best (“If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for me….!” style silliness) and yet God is able to work with a little story book for 14 year olds. Surely this story reminds me that while the NRSV and the TNIV and the Message are my preferences, that is just what they are. Preferences. They all tell the story. Don’t be narrow and blind about them.

The second thing that got me thinking was that this guy came to faith ultimately because the evangelism he encountered was deeply respectful of where he was. When he said no, his acquaintance took that no seriously. When he said maybe, his acquaintance welcomed him with open arms. When after a few years he really really said yes, his acquaintance had already proven that he liked and loved him. It is essential that “sharing the Gospel” is just that. Sharing Good News. This should be a loving thing, not a stressing thing, nor a pressurising thing, nor a disrespectful thing.

MESSI!

I’m off to sleep ahead of my big fat conference. I hope to have mp3s of the talks available by Monday and I will link to them then. Maybe photos too if I am organised!

Your Correspondent, His love-letters look longer since he increases the margins

Comparative Religion In 17 Steps

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

So the continuing decline of Zoomtard can be revealed at the start, let us take a moment and listen to biblical reggae.

That sounds bad doesn’t it. Biblical reggae makes you think of Christian rock or latex clothing. You are thinking that these are things that should never have come into existence and if a good all-powerful Being did exist S/He/It would destroy it rather than let it ruin our happiness. But as uncool as it is to say it, I am a fan of Matisyahu. In the key of Byron, let us consider how mighty fine a song this is and how very classy a video too.

I Mistakenly Thought This Would Be Interesting
I have been toying with the idea of posting on Islam for the last few weeks. Like many people I went on a crash course on Islam in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks but last week I was in one of my favourite places in the world, the Chester Beatty Library and I remembered something that I wish I could string together with other things to make something profound. I can’t though. So instead I’ll make a Zoomtard out of it.

I can’t tell you exactly how Jewish Christianity is (64.6%?) but I think I could make a good argument that Christianity, while being something very different to Judaism, can only be understood as grown in Hebrew soil. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism seems to be worshipping this God-fellow called YHWH. This will be terribly politically incorrect but I don’t think that is the case. There are similarities between Allah and YHWH. Both create, both claim to be one, both rule, both reveal themselves to humanity, both judge and both forgive. But this apparent similarity masks a profound difference in the entities that we are meant to be worshiping.

Jews and Christians argue God creates with his Word and his Spirit, but Muslims say there is no Spirit involved. Christians believe God rules everything in co-operation with his Creation but Muslims say he rules despotically. God for Christianity reveals himself through nature, prophets and his own incarnation but Muslims utterly refuse to consider an incarnated God. God judges perfectly for the Christians but for Muslims he judges capriciously. For Christianity God offers forgiveness through his own sacrifice but in Islam, Allah forgives capriciously only those he chooses to forgive. Most fundamentally, while both belief systems claim that God is One, for Muslims Allah is One numerically which is fundamentally different to the Christian concept that God is One organically.

God is One for us in the sense that God is a unity formed by a perfectly loving relationship between three inter-dependent persons. God is simply One for Islam. Now this poses some difficulties down the line, for example, the Koran is said to be eternally existent on tablets that sit by the throne of Allah and if they are eternal that means they were never created but that surely calls into question the supremacy of Allah. Another difficulty is the 99 names of Allah in the Koran, of which 47 of these descriptions of Allah require either a physical or personal object (eg “The Merciful” and “The Compassionate” both require objects of mercy and compassion) to become sensible. Mental gymnastics won’t do to resolve the problem of eternal attributes being dependent upon non-eternal creations.

Don’t read this Zoomtard wrong, it is not meant as some kind of an attack on the Muslim doctrine of God but the badly organised thoughts of a guy who is struggling to put reasons together to justify his ever-growing belief that the Trinity is the most basic belief of Christianity. Christians often hear objections to faith along the lines of “How can you believe in that silly story about a bearded man in the sky?!” Of course, it seems to simple to reassure them that we don’t believe that at all (leaving the question of whether or not it is inherently silly to say, Islamic apologists). What we believe is that God is a relationship between three people who love each other utterly. It is not just rhetoric when we claim that God is love. It is not simply feel-good religious-speak when we say that we were made for Others. The Trinitarian God enters his creation, enters into relationship with his people and being made in his image we can have positive knowledge of him. God doesn’t live distant from us. He is the least distant person about because he is always busy enjoying the Other: the other Trinitarian partners, us, alien versions of us maybe (!), all the little animals that dance around the place eating each other with vigour.

The God of Christianity and the God of Judaism seem to me to be the same thing. If you accept that Jesus is who he says he is then you are implicitly admitting the God of the Jews as your God. I don’t think that relationship extends to Islam because the Trinity is there in the Old Testament, just hidden in the shadows until Jesus and the New Testament shone the light in for us. But Allah is shaped to conflict with Trinity from beginning to end.

I have no idea what the implications of this are. It doesn’t really impinge on your life in any way so I guess you squandered this time reading me when you could have been reading about gory details from the Virginia shootings. Sorry about that. It helped me straighten my thoughts out though so thanks for that.

The Hugo Chavez Bits Were Best

Teragram
and co introduced me to the excellent work of Rob Newman yesterday. Make 47 minutes free and sit down to watch his History Of Oil which is the kind of education I can deal with: education in the form of jokes. For all the budding preacher-types out there, why aren’t sermons sometimes delivered in this style. The obvious answer that none of us are talented enough to pull it off is already registered in the data banks but has anyone got any more thoughts on this. This video is superb folks. Watch it. Deeply thought-provoking and very amusing.

Your Correspondent, Crusading a campus near you soon

Do You Need A Husband To Make You Complete?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

This is gorgeous. My wife is not as big a fan of Feist as I am but she is convinced that although the albums are practically unknown in our day, our kids will love the Feist. Like the Pixies. Mark her words for the future. This song appeals to everyone in a way that “better” songs won’t. Or at least that is what she thinks and in this case, as in so many others, she is right.

Will Ferrell movies are things that I certainly approve of. But there is a certain sameness creeping in which is why it is useful to have the Will Ferrell movie generator at hand to predict the next time Ben Stiller is making a cameo appearance as a zany historian or plastics engineer with ninja skill.

I am thinking a lot about the issues of Creation, Evolution and Creationism this week, understandably, in the run up to the conference. I would love to end the dominance of the term Creationist by Creation Scientists. All Christians, all theists, even all deists are Creationists in that they believe God created the universe. What we call Creationism ought really to be called something else, maybe Frabricationism, since they really believe God made the universe in one instant go with no process like evolution at work. This is a way of course of calling them something other than insane (just kidding!) (maybe!).

This book looks like it might be an interesting contribution to the issue, Creation As Science. At least until I make the final contribution with the supreme book on the topic called “Listen To Me You Fools!”

Calvin College is a seminary that runs a fascinating festival every two years (I think) called Faith and Music. Two weeks ago, Sufjan Stevens did a gig as part of the conference on campus but back in 2005 he was a workshop leader talking about the creative process and writing thematically. This is a cool piece of Sufjanalia and you can access the talk here.

Seeing as I am co-hosting a conference which deals with the views popularised by the King of New Atheism, Richard Dawkins, this debate between his Prince, Sam Harris and Rick Warren (who is a pastor of a megachurch who wrote the 20 million + selling “Purpose Driven Life”) caught my attention. Warren, like one of the Zoomtard Heroes, Bill Hybels, doesn’t get much love in Christian circles, in part because he talks in a way that everyone can understand him and not in a way that shows off how clever he is (I’m not looking at anyone in particular, like say E. Peterson or F. Buechner or NTW or…). In this debate though, I think he fairly kicks Harris’ ass around the court.

Your Correspondent, Merely interested in pretty frocks and dollys.

All These Links Must Belong Somewhere

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

And you are being lied to now. This promises to be a Zoomtard update but its really just a link wrap up. No original ideas here.

One of my best friends is Stigmund and he is a marketing graduate who has spent much of the last decade defending advertising from the unthinking idea that marketing something is bad in and of itself. One of his foes is the mayor of Sao Paulo who has banned all advertising from the city. (I had always thought Sao Paulo was the biggest city in the world but this article says it only has 11 million people).

Jesus loves you. Disney doesn’t love him.

This is a pretty astonishing video from Harvard of the internal life of a cell. Nerdy as can be but stunning. I. Understood. None. Of. It.

My wife loves Back to the Future and so should really love this page filled with Back To The Future trivia. She hates careless, self-obsessed people who get in the way in public life and this article explains why her pet hate exists.

Don’t know what to buy me as a birthday gift in November? Stop panicking now!. Buy me a Good Versus Evil Foosball table.

For those of you who thought that Nickleback were useless hacks, here is scientific proof. They release effectively the same song every few years.

Your Correspondent, Struggling with continence