Fear Of Whales

Archive for January, 2011

My Car

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(This was written on Tuesday and published late in order to ensure that none of my closest friends would feel undervalued for having to hear about this on my blog first.)

I had no idea, not the vaguest hint, yesterday morning as I woke up, I would be saying goodbye to my 1995 Toyota 4Runner

I had been worried about a sore throat that I felt was coming on, which would interfere with my ability to engage at the meeting I was headed to in Lawrence.

But while I was still outside of Topeka I got stuck in the snow, and when I called the tow truck they recommended bringing it to the mechanic. Even when he said those fateful words “I think ya burned our yer tranny” I figured we were talking about an $800-$1000 repair.

It’s a $4,800 repair. on a car worth $2,900. and I have $600 to my name. (minus school dept)

The transmission was the only thing left. I’d had the engine rebuilt, replaced the radiator, kept up with brakes and electronics (that’s just regular maintenance) I just had a CB Radio Installed… I’d been planning to keep it forever, just as long as the transmission held out. But it’s toast.

The care is gone. I’m going through he steps to negotiate selling it for scrap metal. I’m saying goodbye.

The word for this emotion is heartbreak. I can tell because it feels the same as when my past girlfriends have dumped me (maybe worse) my face feels chapped, like it’s been sunburned, my eyes are full of tears.

I feel like it was a member of the family. It was my constant companion since high school, When friends turned their backs on me, excommunicated me, judged me, and abandoned me, my 4Runner was dependable. It was my shelter, my tectum et tempestas the only constant in my often transitional life.

I’d slept in that car when times were hard. It had become my home in a literal sense for several periods during my ownership, and in a very real and figurative sense for the rest of the time. When tensions were high and emotions flared, I always knew I had my car, and I could always drive away.

It was Serenity

It is dead.

She had a full life, We’d traveled all over together. I won’t lament for having neglected to to do ____ while I had it. We’ve done donuts, taken road trips, helped people move, gone off road, and hauled a truckload of candy home for Halloween. She came Urban Camping In San Diego, Helping Homeless folks at Midnight in Downtown LA, taking a girl on a first date to Dateland, and all the way with me to Kansas.

Now I’m starting to ask the hard question of what it means to live without her, and trying not to ask the easy questions like “why, God why?” I’ll probably be without a car for a while. Maybe I’ll get a Motorcycle when I can afford one, maybe someday I’ll get another 4Runner. For now My call is simple:

John Ch 5:8: Jesus Said to him “Get up, take up your pallet and walk”

Written by RyanGaffney

January 28th, 2011 at 12:05 am

Christ’s Alignment

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It’s clear to me where Christ stands on the scale of Alignment he is obviously Neutral Good, The same alignment as Dirty Harry, the same as Spiderman, Luke Skywalker, The Boondock Saints, and The Doctor.

Jesus cares about others more than himself, he is not self seeking, he is not attracted to violence or detriment, he seeks justice and peace. And he does not give a rip what the rules are supposed to be, not according to human standards, not according to any standards but The Father

Christianity is not a Chaotic institution. We don’t seek to overthrow governments and instate theocracy (yet). Our Bible encourages us to “Be subject to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and Jesus himself advocated paying taxes (Mark 12:7 and others) Together these sorts of teachings have been absorbed in america into a generalized teaching to “obey the laws of the land”

But let’s not forget that Jesus was tried and sentenced to capital punishment by governing authorities. That all the first disciples were martyred or fell into serious legal trouble, and that Christianity has been and remains to be illegal in numerous countries throughout the history of the world. Forming a contradiction between out command to “obey the laws of the land” and our command to “go and make disciples of all nations”

So we Christians have modified the teaching into a distortion of its self “Obey the laws of the land except where they directly contradict scripture” which is strange, because Paul never said that. Somebody just made that up to make the teaching work, which is a big theological No No.

It turns out “obey the laws of the land” is not a verse at all… Well it is…(D&C 58:21-22) Written by Joseph Smith and considered essential Latter Day Saints scripture, but it’s not a bible verse (not one that I’ve ever found anyway) and as to Romans 13 it needs to be understood in context; Literary and Historical.

Literarily Paul has just finished talking about humble service in Christ, and helping your enemies, he moves there to submitting to Rome. And historically Rome is that same government that killed Christ, that persecutes Christians, where Christianity persists to be illegal (or will soon be depending on what year you believe Romans was written)

The teaching in context is not “We are Lawful Good” it’s just not. The teaching is “We’re not Chaotic Good” “We’re not the Zelots, we’re not here to overthrow Rome by force, we’ll just be a redeeming influence even as they kill us” that’s Neutral Good.

but American Christianity has stopped being revolutionary, it’s stopped being subversive, It’s stopped being like the Church in Rome which was Neutral Good while threatening to be Chaotic Good . The Church in Kansas is Lawful Good and is threatening to become Lawful Neutral

And the world already sees us as Lawful Neutral (they don’t value our standard or morality) and as we shift down the scale From Good to Neutral what do you suppose they think we’re turning into?

Let’s fix this.

Written by RyanGaffney

January 26th, 2011 at 12:01 am

Alignment

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Christians don’t like Dungeons & Dragons as a rule.
We generally suspect that it just may possibly be a little bit The Devil.

But since when have I ever payed attention to christian social conventions? I think D&D provides some great fodder for analogies. Since when you boil it down it’s a rulebook for a simple created universe, it can often help us understand our own complicated created universe.

For example, when dealing with a characters allegiance, D&D found that the universe did not work well enough with a dichotomy. It’s not fun enough to create a world full only of “good guys” and “bad guys” so they invented the concept of “alignment”

D&D (3rd edition) measured characters according to 2 axis. Good vs Evil, and Lawful vs Chaotic with the understanding that some characters are neutral on each axis. Good vs Evil, measures how altruistic the character is, vs their willingness to benefit at the expense of others. Lawful vs Chaotic Measures the characters willingness to follow rules vs their propensity to break them. So all together it results in 9 possible alignments.
I’ll go through them here:

Lawful Good: This is the Law Abiding Model Citizen. Exemplified by Superman. He always does what’s right and good, fighting for truth justice and the American way! All the universe’s unimpeachabley moral characters are Lawful Good. They also tend to have perfect teeth and well behaved children

Neutral Good: This character cares about right and wrong, and if a law gets in the way it needs to be broken. Think Dirty Harry Callahan On this one. The first movie (if you haven’t seen it) Features a scene where Harry shoots a bad guy who has a little girl locked up somewhere in the city. The villain was helpless on the floor, but wouldn’t reveal the girls location, so harry stepped on the wound, and tortured him until he revealed her location. (a lawful good character would have had to call an ambulance, and risk letting the girl die)

Chaotic Good: These guys care about others more than themselves, They will fight for what’s right, but they hate rules and break the law at every opportunity and often hope to topple the government. Robin Hood is a perfect epitome of Chaotic Good. In the eyes of the law he is a thief, there is no question about it. But he’s doing what’s right in his own eyes to rob the rich and give to the poor.

Lawful Neutral: These characters often find the business of morality muddy and confusing. Or sometimes they are undereducated and unaware of the larger issues at play. But the law is clear and they will follow it. Most “townspeople” or NPCs will be Lawful Neutral. The infantry of both sides of any war consists of Lawful Neutral folk. To give you an iconic example, I nominate Sherlock Holms (or any famous police officer) It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is good or bad, only if they are guilty or innocent of the crime.

Neutral Neutral: If you just, flat don’t care. You may be neutral neutral. Boba Fett, would be a good example. He’ll work for whoever pays him, do whatever they pay him to do. He really doesn’t care.

Chaotic Neutral: Some characters hate law and order, but not because they want evil to triumph, but just  because they hate law and order (Usually they’re insane) Jack from the Shining is Chaotic Neutral. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. But so is Captain Jack Sparrow he’s more interested in living the life of a pirate than he is in hurting anyone in particular.

Lawful Evil: This may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. Most evil characters end up being Lawful Evil. Adolph Hitler was Lawful Evil, as is just about any evil warlord. The Emperor from Star wars is Lawful, so is the Alliance from Firefly, the sheriff in Robin Hood, and every lawyer

Neutral Evil: Sometimes this is called the “true evil” alignment. They have no qualms about killing their partners or switching sides, and they will mow through anyone they need to to get what they want. but they will not go out of their way to cause mayhem if they see no benefit from it. Dracula is a great example of a Neutral Evil Character.

Chaotic Evil: The evil characters from your childhood that are so one dimensionally evil it’s silly are often Chaotic Evil. Think Dr Evil on this one. Lawful and Neutral Characters may justify their actions by appealing to other standards of good, but Chaotic Evil characters know they’re evil and like it that way. They might threaten to blow up the world to get money, but they also might just do it because they want to Mwa Ha Ha Ha Ha

So Now that we’ve been educated about D&D philosophy here’s the question. What alignment is Christ?

What alignment are we called to?

I mean He wasn’t evil right? So that leaves 6. He was probably good but I could hear an argument for Lawful Neutral…
What say you?

Comment me up and I’ll have my answer next week at this time

Written by RyanGaffney

January 19th, 2011 at 12:00 am

Serve God and Die

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“They called me Mr. Fun” said Mick, as he sat there on stage. We all understood what he meant, periodically the community would need something to break the tension or the monotony, a game, or a joke, maybe a song. Mick was the person who the community would turn to, the person they expected that to come from.

But that was a long time ago, way before I joined the team, and Mick’s spot had long been filled by Gamemaster Choe. Now Mick, with his long resume of experience raising kids, and preaching in the iron curtain, took a seat alongside the other responsible adults as one of the respected wise elders of our team.

He was a part of a panel, assembled among us at the last minute when the Keynote speaker fell through, to answer questions and share wisdom. he was just like us once. 30 years ago after he graduated college he joined IV staff, and he’s still here.

I forget the last question of the evening, but I remember the answer. it was something along the lines of “What is one thing you would leave us younger staff with that has benefited you in ministry the most?” The other two panelists had answered, it was up to Mr. Fun to wrap it up.

“Our job on earth, is to serve God,

And then die” Said Mr. Fun

“And retirement… Is after that”

He expanded on the thought a bit, but that was the force of it right there. Everything else just helps that sink in. “Serve God and die”

When you’re finished doing both of those things you’re finished, and not before.

It really is whimsical when you think about it. It’s ironically non-ironic that Mr Fun would have told us. What are you doing? what should you be doing? If you’re not dead.. Guess what? Serve god… and then, when you’re done with that, die.

Amen

Written by RyanGaffney

January 15th, 2011 at 12:57 am

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Did Jesus Exist Part II

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In the last article I introduced the new problem of defending the historicity of Jesus the man. And spent time “setting the goalposts” in such a way that there will be no room for wiggling away from what the evidence shows.

When last we left our heroes I suggested that the case should be so fragile when robbed of it’s precious ambiguity that it would almost fall on it’s own weight, and I proposed in this article to blow it out of the park.

Since evidence abounds, I won’t bore you by defending all of it, only some of my favorite early, non-christian  extra-biblical sources. But just to give us all a sense of the mountain I’m mining from, let’s briefly list off what sources I won’t be using:

The 13 Cannonical Pauline Epistles (Romans, Ephesians…) the Non-Canonical Pauline Epistles (0 Corinthians, the Harsh Letter…) The Cannonical Non-Pauline Epistles (1,2,3 John, 1,2 Peter…) The 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) The Apocryphal Gospels (Thomas, Judas, Mary) The Q Document, The Acts of The Apostles, The Ancient Christian Creeds, Early Church Fathers (Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome…) And everything medieval, no matter how reluctant the source (Toletoth Jesu…)

For our purposes, we will assume that all of these documents, or more accurately, all of these groups of documents are inadmissible. We’ll assume that they are either a part of, or a result of, the most elaborate and ridiculously unnecessary prank in the history of pranks that every early christian was in on, and willing to be martyred to protect.

What else have we got?

Well for starters, There’s Mara Bar Serapion:

For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.

This was written before the year 200 and possibly as early as 73, predating even some biblical books. To my knowledge no scholar anywhere denies the authenticity of the text, but some claim that it does not necessarily refer to Jesus and might refer to some other wise Jewish king murdered just before the decline of Judea…

Well there were of course no kings during that time considering the Romans were occupying them. but just to be super safe let’s do another one. How about Tacitus, the roman historian who between AD 56 and 117 wrote the following:

Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontious Pilatious, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Even Bart Ehrman, counts this passage as confirmation that Jesus existed, and suffered under Pilate. (Ehrman, is probably the worlds leading scholar on the new testament, and disagrees strongly with the claims of Christianity)

Here’s what’s even more interesting. Do you see that little typo up there? The original text had the word Chrestions instead of Christians, as the name of the followers of Christus (the Latin version of the Greek word “Christ”) it appears to have been corrected on the page but the original “e” is visible under ultraviolet light

Now consider this passage from The Twelve Caesars:

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome”

Worthless without Tacitus, This now provides valuable corroboration to the claim that Christ existed, and his followers interacted with Rome in the first century. Both major roman historians of the period confirm it!

Is that all?

No, That’s not all, but that’s enough.

During this time in history, experts predict that there were probably hundreds of claims to messiahship in Jerusalem, among the people who didn’t believe Jesus was the real deal, he would hardly have been considered notable, and yet he apparently is…

It’s almost like something was going on here…

Wouldn’t you like to learn what?

Written by RyanGaffney

January 11th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Did Jesus Even Exist?

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The answer is “Of course he did, don’t be silly”

Nonetheless it’s become popular for semi-learned skeptics to deny even the historical existence of Jesus, just for fun.

I say “just for fun” because it’s not important in their mind that Jesus didn’t exist. They don’t care, what’s important to them is that you can’t prove that Jesus existed, and that’s ridiculous, so you are obviously an ignorant brainwashed religious fool… It’s a sort of a test, you see.

And armchair apologists play right into it when they memorize proofs verbatim from Lee Strobel about things like the reliability of scripture and the Case for Miracles while holding very few cards on the obvious things because nobody in their right mind would deny something like that.

The good news though is that if you can defend the historical existence of Jesus, you have the opportunity to impress a skeptic who’s not at all expecting you to meet their challenge. Often these people will have read one website about how Jesus may not ever have existed, and how the silly xtians can’t even prove that much, and then walked away satisfied that Christianity had been thoroughly debunked, without bothering to learn that they could challenge us to prove some much harder things if they wanted to.

So let’s do that shall we? Let’s get a good defense going for the historical Jesus, so we don’t end up embarrassing ourselves when the time comes.

There are 3 base assumptions of the critics that I want to address first, to help us have a nice clean discussion and don’t  end up subtly misunderstanding one another. All of these statements are trueish And in order to speak accurately we need to be able to parse the truth from the fiction, and agree with clarification.

There are no contemporary records of Jesus’ life

This is technically true, The historians who wrote about Jesus did so in retrospect, after his death. There are no newspapers from 31 AD recording the Wedding at Cana or anything. But it’s also misleading. I’d much prefer to say “No contemporary records of Jesus’ life have been preserved.” usually the skeptic will make it sound very problematic by saying something like “I’m supposed to believe that this guy was running around performing miracles and nobody wrote anything about it until almost a century later?” and you want to correct them by saying something like “I’m sure lots of people wrote stuff about it, but none of what they said was copied over and over and preserved in monasteries for 2000 years, or hidden in airtight jars, or carved into stone, so we don’t have it anymore. What we do have is good  historical evidence just like any other character in antiquity.”

There’s another implicit assumption hidden within this statement: that contemporary evidence is something we should expect from someone who lived 2000 years ago. That’s not the case. We learn about Socrates from Plato, about Alexander the Great from Plutarch, about Julius Caesar from Suetonius. All of them writing after the deaths of their topic people.

This is how it is done.

…Of course most of us believe there were some surviving documents written by eye-witnesses, the problem is just that those eye witnesses converted and their writings were included in the bible. Which brings us to our second assumption

You can’t use the Bible, that’s circular reasoning!

Once again, like Santa Clause, this is true and not true. many Christians, when confronted with this or any issue for the first time will start spouting the first defense that comes to their mind, and often those defenses are biblical and circular. Since most articulate atheists have heard and seen this happen over and over, they are used to responding to the word “Bible” with a knee jerk reaction of “Circular Reasoning!” because 99% of the time they’re right.

However, since the bible is old, even if it were not reliable as the word of God it would be useful to teach us about the time in which it was written, just as the Qur’an, Bhagavat Gita, And Enûma Eliš are.

It’s important to understand the subtle of the difference between using the New Testament as a inerrant text to prove itself true, versus using it as a series of documents from the 1st century which give us historical clues. It will be critical when the time comes to defend something hard (like the resurrection)

In this case however, you can knock this one fairly out of the park without ever mentioning the Bible, And you might as well since it’ll score you brownie points and save your argument from appearing circular (even if it isn’t) When you do, you’ll no doubt run head first into assumption #3

The Historical Jesus is different from the Jesus of the Bible

This is true of course, In the sense that proving Jesus was a man that existed is very different from proving that Jesus died for your sins. But it’s very false and unfair to take for granted out the outset of the argument that the Jesus that existed is not the one that died for sins. He might be, he might not be, you think he was, they think he wasn’t, that’s the argument!

Like I said earlier it’s not important to most skeptics that Jesus didn’t exist, only that you can’t prove he did. It’s already pretty obvious from the fact that Christianity began in the first place that there is some human person upon whom the legend is based. Peter James and John hung out with somebody before they became radicals, certainty.

So when backed into a corner they’ll often grant this for you, and then explain that “what they really meant” was that you can’t prove the Historical Jesus is anything like the Biblical Jesus. You can’t prove he turned water into wine, or preached the sermon on the mount, or anything!

The Historical Jesus may or may have been named Jesus, he may or may not have been from Nazereth, he may or may not have died on the cross. And you’re going to have to prove each of these things individually from extra-biblical contemporary sources or else admit to them that “You can’t prove that your Jesus even existed”

This is of course not, in any way shape or form what they “really meant” to start with. So to avoid this, you’ll need to establish very clearly at the outset what it is they do mean. Set the goalposts before you kick or you’ll find them moving on you.

And if they say at the beginning “What I mean by Jesus existed is that he existed as described in the Bible, and did everything the Bible said he did” then you should humbly admit “You’re right, I can’t prove that everything in the Bible is true, You need to believe the Bible before you believe the healing of the lepers. What I can prove was that Jesus was a guy. And then later, we can move on to his claims being true, and the resurrection, and eventually come back around to the Bible”

More probably though, if you ask them as the beginning “What do you mean by ‘Jesus never existed'” They’ll say something like “You can’t prove Paul didn’t just make the whole thing up” Which is a much fairer thesis. Or if I were to put it in my terms “There was actually a person upon whom the gospels were based”

Once you’ve clarified those things, and done so winsomely and articulately, you should find that the problem is ready to crumble all on it’s own. You could blow on the case for the historicity of Jesus and it would fall over in your favor.

So let’s drop a train on it shall we?

Stay tuned for the next article

Written by RyanGaffney

January 8th, 2011 at 12:16 am

Storage Unit II

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I wrote previously about my thoughts as I moved my few worldly possessions into a storage unit. I want to take a post and talk about the conclusion to those thoughts

At the time I questioned the impulse to keep things and wondered if I might be being materialistic. On the other hand I thought I might be finally getting a permanent home shortly, and didn’t want to do anything rash. Here’s how the story ends.

I was right. After I arrived in Kansas I was offered a fully furnished private basement apartment. All of my fear of perpetual transition, and my willingness to live as a vagabond were proved unwarranted and unnecessary.

But I was also right that I was being materialistic. There’s very little doubt in my mind now what I should have done “sell everything and follow”

I’d keep what I used daily to live, a few changes of clothes, and a couple irreplaceable things like my grandfathers stamp collection, nothing that wouldn’t fit in the back of my car.

I know that sounds radical. That’s because it is. But I don’t think it’s radical in a bad way

At the time I was willing to leave everything, but I thought that would mean giving up hope of a home as a “place to put stuff”. And I thought doing that… pushed it. I wanted to be sure that God had called me to that before I became another weird Christian who was glorifying homelessness for no reason in particular.

What I never considered in this ridiculously overzealous hyper intellectualized brain of mine was the possibility that God might provide.

That perhaps I wouldn’t need dishes, not because I’d never get my own kitchen, but because there would be an old couple in Kansas that would give me dishes.

I’m still learning the voice of God, and I’m confident now that impulse was it. If I’d listened to it I’d have saved $140 in storage payments made money instead. It would have taken me no more time then moving 3 times did, and caught the attention of people in Cali, probably helping our fundraising efforts (I know I’d me more likely to support a missionary if I happened to know he sold everything to give)

As it stands I still have a reasonably happy ending. God’s good, I’m home and this way I get to keep my stuff. But I have way more than I need, and I believe there are blessings I’m missing out on because I failed to trust.

Here’s to doing better next time!

May you listen to the righteous impulses you don’t yet understand in your lives.

Written by RyanGaffney

January 4th, 2011 at 4:59 pm