Dispatches from Outland
A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants. Copyright © 2003 Roy M. Jacobsen.

Friday, May 10, 2002  

Bryan Preston has a nice bit about the anthropic principle and "pocket universes." It seems that, when you boil it all down, a great deal of science is driven by theological issues. You'd be hard pressed to get the scientists to admit it, though. Bryan found one. I'd like to provide an snippet here, but you really need to go read the whole thing.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:45 AM

Susanna Cornett adds her thoughts to the thread on faith, suffering and fear.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:32 AM

Thursday, May 09, 2002  

I've been enjoying the comic strip "Zits" this week. Jeremy and all his friends are looking for summer jobs, and they've all decided that the only respectable food service job is working in a coffee shop. I love the name of the place: Fourbucks Coffee. Check out their logo in today's strip.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:21 AM

As I grew up in east-central North Dakota, I became infatuated with the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I remember discovering an old hard-cover edition of Tarzan of the Apes and getting completely wrapped up in the story in a matter of two or three pages. From there, I started searching for other titles; I was fortunate in that Burroughs was undergoing a sort of Renaissance at the time, and all of the Tarzan books, along with his John Carter of Mars series, the Carson of Venus books, and a few others were available in paperback (some with fabulous Frazetta cover art).
Hank Parnell has a piece on The Rehabilitation of Edgar Rice Burroughs that's well worth a look.

[W]hen Ed Burroughs, at the time a pencil-sharpener salesman living in Chicago, sat down to write the first of his many fantastic adventures, there was no such genre as science fiction for him to be pigeonholed into. Contrary to the popular characterization, Burroughs was as well-educated as any man of his day, with an extensive knowledge of classical mythology. This more than anything helps explain his success, in that when he set out to write his fantastic adventures he was, consciously or not, creating myths for the modern scientific age. Familiar motifs of death and rebirth, of epic journeying and the hero's quest underlie his most popular and important works, beginning with Under the Moons of Mars in 1911, better known by its book’s publication title of five years later, A Princess of Mars.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 8:51 AM

James Lileks has a screedy Bleat up on the stupidity of Hamas:

Hamas has proved that it’s not just evil, but stupid. Tactically stupid. They dispatched another suicide bomber while Sharon was in DC, thereby proving to the world what the world should not have needed proof to believe: Hamas will not stop its policy of killing civilians.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 8:28 AM

Wednesday, May 08, 2002  

Bryan Preston offers his thoughts on what he refers to as The Staggering Gods.

Truth is, I'm having a very hard time making any sense, or finding any meaning, in anything lately. I just have a sense, not really of dread or doom, but a sense, very real, that we're on the edge of a momentous time. As I look at the world around me I see a rising tide of chaos unlike anything I've ever seen before. And a quick study of history delivers no parallels--everything, every nation, every institution, seems to be staggered as though surprised by a heavy blow.

It would be very easy to react to this confusing world with fear, and the Church has been party to some of the worst examples of this behavior in the recent past. (Can you say "Y2K"?)
Coincidentally (and remember what I said earlier about coincidence), two of my kids had swimming lessons this evening, and before leaving the house, I picked up a book to read while sitting at the poolside. The book is Bright Days, Dark Nights by Elizabeth Skoglund, and I opened it to where I had bookmarked it some months before. Skoglund was quoting Charles Spurgeon, and this is the passage I read:
Yet “Daniel became the subject of a COMMON INFIRMITY. He was full of fear on one occasion, and therefore, an angel said to him, ‘Fear not.’ I am glad of this, because it teaches us that even the best of men may be subject to very great fears. . . . Those fears on the part of Daniel were not the result of personal trial just then, they came to him indeed, when he had been highly honoured by revelations from God; but his fears sprang from a sight of his Lord, and from a sense of his own unworthiness.
“Perhaps, too, Daniel’s great fears had been awakened by the disclosures that had been made to him of the history of the nations, and especially of his own people. He had a peculiar anxiety for his own people. Did you ever get into that state, and begin to look upon the world, and upon the country, and upon the church, and then fall into a fit of trembling?... Daniel had seen the history of the world for a long period to come, therefore he was full of fear. And are you full of fear too? Well, it is a part of the lot of men whom God greatly loves that they should bear the troubles of the times, that they should be like Christ on the behalf of their age, and should bear the sins of men upon their hearts, and plead concerning them before the living God.
“I think too that Daniel’s sorrow was occasioned partly by the repetition of those words to him: ‘The vision is true, but the time appointed is long.’ It seemed to come over and over to Daniel. ‘The time is long.’ I do not know any trouble that presses more heavily on my heart than that. It seems to be a dreadful long while since God has wrought a miracle—such a while since the church has had any great thing done in the midst of her.”

How then should we respond when we are filled with fear?
I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you--
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121

By the way, the Skoglund book is available here:
Bright Days, Dark Nights: With Charles Spurgeon in Triumph over Emotional Pain
Bright Days, Dark Nights: With Charles Spurgeon in Triumph over Emotional Pain

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:28 PM

Mark Butterworth has some comments on my notes on The Spirit of the Disciplines. He says that:

Dogmatism and doctrinalism is both church preserving and faith killing. Creeds and formal constitutions preserve organized bodies and institutions, but destroy reliance on Truth (God) in the long run. Doctrinalism becomes a substitute for thinking about Truth (God).

I think I'd amend that second sentence to say "Creeds and formal constitutions preserve organized bodies and institutions, but can destroy reliance on Truth..." I think that knowledge of sound doctrine (aka orthodoxy) is of vital importance to maintaining a strong faith. But the knowledge must go hand-in-hand with the relationship, and the relationship takes effort.

Perhaps an analogy (and this is off the top of my head, so keep your expectations down): I know a great deal about my wife: her birth date, her favorite kinds of music, her taste in clothing, etc. I could commit this knowledge to an "Encyclopedia of My Wife," and others could use such a document to learn a great many facts about my wife. But even with much time spent in study, memorizing all the bits of trivia about her, those people would not have the intimacy with my wife that I have. That only comes through time spent together, in relationship with each other, doing things together, talking and listening.

Some thoughts at the end of a busy day...

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:05 PM

"The Best Of All Possible Worlds" Department:
Tony Woodlief muses on the why of suffering, and notes:

We have some need, especially American Christians, it seems, to see the scales balanced in our lifetimes, to see every hurt counterweighted by good. But the scales only seem capable of balance if it's not your body, your marriage, your child lying broken on the tray. The truth is that the Bible we look to for proof that God is the Great Accountant says exactly the opposite, that in this life there will be suffering for many, and that it won't always make sense:"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the Lord.

Coincidentally (and no, I don't believe in coincidence), Mark Butterworth rails against "Panglossism", that is:
...the tiresome sentimentality and naiveté of people always insisting "God will make something good come of this." As if that settles it. All's well. No worries, mate. God will make everything fine.

Except it doesn't work that way. Suffering is not do-over, make up for, we're wiser now.

I'm with Shakespeare on this, "he jests at scars that never felt a wound."

(By the way, "Panglossism" is my word, not his.)
Update: I know I already did a Song of the Day, but the song Ribbons and Bows by Daniel Amos seems appropriate for this topic. Actually, large chunks of Mr. Buechner's Dream are applicable.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 1:13 PM

Speaking of Christianity Today, I would be remiss if I didn't add a permalink to their fine weblog. So I did. Get off my case, already!

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 12:45 PM

"Are You Steamed Yet?" Department: ChristianityToday.com reports that three Ethiopian Christians were flogged 80 times each, and then deported. Their crime? Practicing their faith, and then smuggling a letter out of prison describing their treatment.

Officials beat and kicked them before suspending them with chains and flogging them, and Saudi authorities denied them medical care for back wounds.
"Our bodies are wounded, swollen, terribly bruised, and with great pain," Baharu Mengistu, Tinsaie Gizachew, and Gebeyehu Tefera wrote to Washington, D.C.–based International Christian Concern and other agencies.
"Baharu's kidney may have been damaged, and he is passing blood with his urine," they wrote. "When we reported to the prison hospital for treatment, we were slapped and told to come back after we were dead. It seems as if we were brought [here] to be tortured and tormented to death."

The article suggests that "protests of Saudi Arabia's violation of international standards for human rights (imprisonment, torture, and death for practicing non-Islamic faith) should be directed to Congress, the U.S. State Department, and Saudi officials" and lists the addresses of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, and Prince Saud Al-Faisal.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 12:37 PM

Song of the Day: When Everyone Wore Hats by Daniel Amos.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:55 AM

"Who Has This Kind Of Time On Their Hands?" Department: Periodic Table by Theodore Gray

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:16 AM

Tuesday, May 07, 2002  

Israeli Attack Kills More Than 15

Someone explain to me one more time why Israel is supposed to "negotiate" with someone who has never recanted his stated desire to eliminate Israel.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 4:57 PM

Song of the Day: Fifth Avenue Breakdown by Randy Stonehill. (I'm into oldies this week for some reason.)

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:41 AM

Book Notes Department: My notes on Chapter 2 of

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God Changes Lives
The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God Changes Lives

Chapter 2: Making Theology of the Disciplines Practical
There is much tension between the perfection of 1 John 3:9-10 and the sinful reality of most Christians' lives. We believe we should be Christ-like, yet we don't see it as a real possibility.

How do we go about following Jesus, in practical and precise terms? "How can we be like him not as a pose or by constant grinding effort, but with the ease and power he had--flowing from the inner depths, acting with quiet force from the innermost mind and soul of the Christ who has become a real part of us?" (p. 14)

We need to develop and implement methods for interacting with God to fulfill the divine intent: 1) proclaiming the gospel, making disciples, and 2) developing those disciples. Of late, we've been pretty good at #1, but neglecful of #2. "[W]e can only describe the phrase 'teaching them to do all things whatsoever I have commanded you,' as the Great Omission from the Great Comission of Matthew 28: 19-20." (p. 15)

We have lost any realistic, specific sense of what it means "to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)

We are witnessing a revival of interest in the "disciplines for the spiritual life." In Willard's experience: "Seventeen years of ministerial efforts in a wide range of denominational settings had made it clear to me that what Christians were normally told to do, the standard advice to churchgoers, was not advancing them spiritually." (p. 18) We've been told to attend church, give time and money, pray, read the Bible, do good, and witness. These are good things, but are they enough to do us enough good?

The problem isn't lack of effort, either, or unwillingness (at least on the part of the "steady, longtime faithful devotees").

Spiritual disciplines make use of the bodily aspect of human personality. (See Romans 12:1 on "offering our bodies.") True character transformation is begun and continued by the grace of God, but action is indispensible.

The problem with the bumper sticker "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" is that, while it is technically correct, it "nullifies serious effort toward spiritual growth." (p. 23) The only requirement for being a Christian is believing the correct things about Jesus. Saving faith has become mere mental assent to correct doctrine. Also, while the Bible is professed to be highly regarded, it seems to have little or no functional authority.

"The disciplines promised to give our lives a form that would serve as a receptacle for the substance of the Christ-life in God's present kingdom." (p. 24) Following Christ is "at least as big a challenge as playing the violin or jogging."

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 7:03 AM

Monday, May 06, 2002  

Christina Hoff Sommers weighs in on balance on campuses. In case you had any doubts, there isn't any.

As the 2000 election made plain, the United States is pretty evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. Yet conservative scholars have effectively been marginalized, silenced, and rendered invisible on most campuses. This problem began in the late '80s and has become much worse in recent years. Most students can now go through four years of college without encountering a scholar of pronounced conservative views.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 11:10 AM

Song of the Day: Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2. (Lyrics and info can be found at U2.com. I tried to figure out how to link directly to the lyrics, but they use all kinds of javascript stuff to obfuscate the direct link. Hey, it's their song, and their site.)

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:52 AM

Marc has a nice little meditation on celibacy over at Spudlets. One bit that really caught my eye was this:

The world tends to look at bodies as disposable, so why bother with purity and holiness: try it you'll like it, and if it doesn't kill you, try it again. Besides the concept of treating your body as a temple, I would also add another underlying theme from the New Testament: what controls you? Whom do you serve? If you're not serving the Lord, then you are on your own.

Yeah. "What controls you? Whom do you serve?" Very good questions. (By the way, you can find the Mark Byron article he refers to here. It's another good read, and Mark's blog is gaining a permalink here.)

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 10:28 AM

Sunday, May 05, 2002  

Spudlets lists me under "Other Good Bloggers." Oh, pshaw! You're making me blush.

Seriously, Marc is off to a good start with his blog. Seems like we all have to take a bit of time to shake things out, figure out just what in the world our blog is going to be about, and get into a groove. But I like what I see thus far with Spudlets. (And I like that name.)

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:54 PM

Country Keepers by Gary Petersen has added me as a permalink! Two can play at that game. Take that!

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:44 PM

Thanks to Mark Butterworth over at Sunny Days in Heaven for his kind mention of my notes and comments on The Spirit of the Disciplines. I, too, have noted the dichotomy between those of the "activist" bent, and those of the "spiritual" bent. Seems to me that the twain should meet somehow. I hope my notes on Willard's book, and the ensuing discussion, can help us all bring them closer.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:43 PM
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