If you catch me talking about faith, you should probably tell me to shut up.

I was driving just a few minutes ago, dropping off a computer to be fixed so I can turn it into a router/firewall, and I turned the radio off. Maybe the season of Lent is burrowing into my psyche or something, but I turned it off and my mind began to wander.

Oddly, I started thinking about faith.

Or, rather, I started thinking about the way I write about faith. How do I represent it? I mean, I’m no theologian or anything like that. I write about theology sometimes, but generally I’m just echoing what a bunch of other people have said to me; I’m just talking about stuff that other people are talking about, stuff that resonates somehow with me.

But I’ve come to a conclusion. Though maybe not a conclusion so much as a place where I don’t really have a conclusion: either way.

Faith is this ridiculously mysterious thing. It doesn’t really make sense; is there any other concept that you can talk about in terms of having been given something and also in terms of having given?

I’m a Calvinist, part of that branch of the Christian faith that defines faith in terms of a gift. It’s something you’re given. And from God’s perspective, that makes a lot of sense, since if God doesn’t control everything, he controls nothing, right?

But on the other hand, in my head, I chose to write this post, and I am responsible for where the letters go and what it means and who reads it and gets all screwed up because I wasn’t half as lucid as I’d like.

Maybe you can wrap your head around that, but I sure can’t.

Then again, it’s so often like that with God, isn’t it? Take scripture. It’s inspired by God, but people got together and said, “It seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit,” and chose a certain number of books and letters while rejecting some others. Take the Trinity, as another example. It’s there in scripture, revealed as a concept but never actually stated as such; three persons in one being, co-existing in eternal harmony. Does that make sense? Yes. But no. You could look–and by all means do–and find ten or twenty more if you wanted.

I really don’t know where to go from here. I guess I don’t really have a way to end this post, except to say the reality of faith is that it lives, no matter how you look at it. But even that’s just another dry statement. It’s boring when you write it down on paper, which is probably why real people tend to be better at showing faith to their neighbors than, say, books and tracts and whatnot. Those things have their place, and have done great things, but real faith isn’t a matter of mere words, is it?

And I guess that means I should stop talking.

Perhaps we haven’t been missing the point as much as just not getting to the end of the stick.

Here I was, all set to watch Mad About You, and settle down for a nice evening of not really thinking about anything. And of course the internet has to come along and spoil it for me.

Having read several books that place the focus of Jesus’ message on redemption not only of souls, but also of creation, I found a review of one of these books that called the author’s formulation of scripture’s message as a “sad substitute for the gospel”.

But is it?

It keeps prompting the question in me that if Jesus came to save souls, great: but what comes after that? What does that look like?

Or, why does salvation have to be this either/or thing between a liberal social gospel (which, I agree, standing alone doesn’t make much sense at all) and the liberation of souls from the devil’s grasp?

Why does it always seem to come down to that?

Scripture says that Jesus came to reconcile all things to himself. All things. Not just human souls, but his creation as well, unless I’m reading that verse completely wrong. Putting it another way, the creator of the world, the Word, comes back in the flesh to re-create things and make them good again, the way they were before the fall.

But what does that look like? I admit, if you’re looking for the end of the world in a decade, if you’re thinking that Jesus is going to–excuse the hyperbole–come down from on high in his spaceship and beam up all the saved people, if you’re expecting everything to just end, if you’re expecting that heaven is the final destination, yeah that makes sense. It makes sense in an individualist sort of framework, where you have a personal relationship with Jesus, who has come to save your soul, so you can eventually end up in heaven, where you will be happy and you and you and you and on and on and on.

If scripture talks that way, I must have missed it, and I’ve been doing my fair share of reading lately. I’ve poked these ideas with a sharp stick, and they bleed true, I think.

For instance, the kingdom has come. It has. Jesus said the end of the world would be in his generation, and the children of Israel saw it come, but they also saw the replacement for their small corner of the earth. They saw the children of Jesus strewn across Asia, and then across the world.

Yet the kingdom hasn’t come, not really, not the full thing, has it? Jesus isn’t reigning on earth yet. Things aren’t good here. We don’t have our new heaven and new earth. We still have entropy, and microevolution, and death, and suffering, and war.

So what do we do in the meantime? Is the kingdom this sort of inward-focused blessing machine for the people behind the walls, or is it maybe a blessing to all nations? Do we have a responsibility just to ourselves, or to the whole world?

Does this include helping the poor? Yes. Does this include saving the environment? I think so. Does this involve saving souls? Absolutely.

See, I can’t separate the two things in my head. Saved people do good things. It’s true. Sometimes they do bad things–I do bad things, for crying out loud, all the time–but in general Christians, real Christians, are a blessing to those around them. If you’re saved, doesn’t that mean the default position is feeding hungry people? If you’ve been redeemed, doesn’t that lead to a life of compassion?

Maybe the whole point is not just getting to some place where we all have a personal transformation and that’s it. Maybe the point is God’s glory, Jesus’ glory. And maybe, just maybe, he’s more glorified when we seek to redeem not only the souls of people, but everything, or anything at all.

Why don’t people design sane backends to things?

Programs like SQLite are available for anyone to use in the backend of their program, like for instance Mozilla Thunderbird. Why, then, are we not able to store our data in a sane format like an SQL database? Why must we have these legacy things still clinging to the undersides of our applications?

On my Ubuntu box (which, for home use, is pretty much all I use) Amarok runs an SQLite database. I’ve never had a problem with the database. Never. I’m sure it’s possible, but contrast that with my constantly-disappearing and -corrupting iTunes library.

Why, in this age of awesome computer firepower, are we not making things sanely?

If you attack a windmill with a lance and win, people will still think you’re a fruitcake.

I know a guy who does things that I just don’t get. Crazy things. Stuff you hear about and have one of those surreal moments where you feel like you’ve stepped into Fraggle Rock or something. This guy does it all in the name of spirituality, in the name of orthodoxy, in the name of Christ, and yet his balance is so far off he’s walking sideways.

How do you get there?

How do you become a crazy person?

I mean, I understand mental problems, but how does a person go from being a rational and fairly normal guy with regular opinions and regular questions to taking this wild tangent and heading off to who knows where?

Most of you who know me will tell me I’m a pretty odd guy most of the time (and those of you who don’t get my humour, doubly so), but I don’t believe the sky is pink or that aliens are farming us for meat by gradually reducing our numbers or that George Bush somehow masterminded 9/11. I’m not a nutbar.

But I think I could be.

I mean, I think I could one day wake up and find myself the champion of something that doesn’t really make any sense, some stupid crusade in the name of something good, some Quixotic quest to rid the world of windmills. That’s the best case scenario. But what if I were so enraptured by this thing that I was doing or so deeply wrapped in it that I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to wake up? If I were the idiot, the circus freak so freaky that the other freaks freak out? If I were on the train to wherever everyone else is going, with everyone wondering, “When is this crazy guy going to get off?”

How would you take me back from this place?

I’ll tell you how I’d get me out of there. Or how I’d try: I’d try to convince myself that community is important and get me involved in a community full of good, level thinkers, the type of people that keep the boat from veering too wildly. I would try to get me into a community, and watch my opinions change over time, watch me come back from the brink.

Or else I would kick me out. Declare myself persona non grata. I wouldn’t be afraid to do this, either. The last thing the world, the church, your family, your friends, and you need are more morons making the whole thing look like a zoo.

Maybe what I’m trying to say is that people go batty when you leave them alone. Because being alone is like being in the dark.

Fungus grows in the dark, and mushrooms.

And the people you find jousting lamp standards are often that exact thing: closed off from the real world, and left to redefine their world into whatever they choose, and finally unable to tell fantasy from reality or opinion from fact or a windmill from a giant. You can slap them upside the head with scripture but it won’t help; there’s a fog in there.

I remember reading The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and being struck–though I hated the book; oh, was it awful–by the metaphor of dwarves sitting in a dark stable, unable to see what was around them. Finally, presented with a great feast, they react like it’s manure and cattle feed.

Is that what it’s like to be one of the crazies? To be in all points sane but at the same time at all points twisted and backwards? To be a loony? To be one of those people whose opinions might as well be mental problems for all the good they’re doing?

Installing Internet Explorer 7 versus Firefox 2: a personal journey.

Computer: AMD Dual Core 3.0GHZ something or other. 2 GB Ram. 7200RPM HD. Windows XP SP2, fully patched. AVG Antivirus. Windows Defender. Pretty clean install, only been running for about six months with very light usage.

Install Time

FF2: 40 seconds.
IE7: 11 minutes.

Successful?

FF2: Yes. Within minutes I had started it up and installed a new theme and a couple extensions.
IE7: No. IE7 told me that the install was “not successful”, but gave me no reasons. It suggested I restart my computer. Again.

Ease of Install

FF2: Opened the binary package. Selected the default options and agreed to the license. It installed with no errors.
IE7: Opened the binary package. Agreed to the license. Took 30 seconds to “validate my computer”. Asked me if I wanted to install a “malicious software removal tool” and the “latest updates”. Took five minutes to download and run those thing. Six minutes after that, the install exited and told me it wasn’t successful.

What I did after installing

FF2: Went to the Mozilla Add-on site, installed a few extensions and a new theme, and wrote this blog post.
IE7: Opened Firefox 2 to look at Microsoft’s suggestions on why the install hadn’t worked, which amounted to, “The gnomes did it. Beware gnomes.” I can’t find any cogent reason why the install failed. I can’t find any way to work around it. I can’t be arsed to continue on with this.

What I would have found if the install had gone right

FF2: Looks the same with a few tweaks under the hood, such as in-line spelling. Seems slightly faster than the last FF release.
IE7: Clone of FF1, except with a confusing new interface (why couldn’t they at least use the “ribbon” concept of Office?), and lots of buttons conveniently hidden around the screen, all of which do various different things, some of which even I don’t understand. No internal spell-checker. No internal add-on mechanism (that I can see). Options are labyrinthine. Oddly, it takes about as much time to open IE7 as it does to open FF2.

Why did I upgrade?

FF2: Because I like Firefox and I heard about the inline spellchecker, which basically sold me on it. Now, if someone would write an extension that could sync dictionaries between computers using nothing but my Gmail account, I’d pay them $100.
IE7: Because Internet Explorer 6 has been the bane of my IT existence for the last three, maybe four years. Nothing could possibly be worse than IE6, so when I heard IE7 had a “data broker” and sandboxed security and whatnot, it wasn’t a matter of whether to install it, but a matter of how quickly could I get it done and hopefully save myself a lot of headaches.

Why did I write this?

Because I am a satisfied Firefox user. Though I suppose if IE7 had actually installed properly, I might have been a satisfied IE7-on-the-side user. I guess we’ll never know.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Morality

Have you ever wondered why Christians are so concerned with morality? What is it about Christians that makes them care so much about doing things a certain way?

By this point you might be expecting me to go off on some sort of liberal screed; instead I’d like to surprise you by saying that it’s obvious why we’re concerned with morality, and even more than that, it’s a good thing we’re concerned with morality.

But I think morality isn’t quite the right word for it; or if it is the right word, it feels much colder than it should. It’s problematic that there aren’t many other good words to describe morality, isn’t it? When I hear the word, I think of a certain moral code, a certain way of doing things, a certain subset of things defined as right, and a certain narrowness of opinion.

Morality doesn’t speak to motivation, though, does it? It’s like describing a piece of music without understanding the intentions of its author or talking about an Olympic event without considering why the competition’s happening in the first place.

We should invent a new word for that or seek to redeem the word or something, because Christian morality, it seems to me, isn’t something that takes place in a vacuum; it’s something that is part of a larger picture or something that needs to be viewed within a certain context.

Imagine God ripped out of the world: imagine being an atheist. If there’s no point to the universe, if there’s no context in which the universe takes place, it’s a pretty mean place. Animals dying and killing and being broken down by even smaller animals until their atoms are part of something entirely different, maybe a plant or an airplane or your baby brother, until the animal is forgotten and all trace of it removed from the earth; then you find out the animal is in fact you, and this is what’s going to happen to you, and you don’t much like it at all so you build a giant statue in what will one day become a desert, and one day Percy Bysse Shelley comes along and writes a poem about you, only it turns out that he’s just telling you how you’ve been forgotten despite your statue (which is also gradually being destroyed by erosion), not to mention that he’s gotten your name entirely wrong and you’re completely and utterly dead. That’s a pretty mean world, wouldn’t you say? Mean, pointless, and spirit-crushing. That’s what the world becomes if you divorce it from eternity, and from God, and from redemption, and from re-creation, and from Jesus.

Morality, as it turns out, seems the same way. It can be divorced from the context in which it was created, but it becomes this method of keeping people in check, like a straight-jacket or a jail cell. Imagine someone coming along a reading Psalm 119 and hearing David be all like, “I love this law, and I read it all the time, and I’ve started memorizing this passage here”, and on and on and on; David is clearly off his nut, as laws aren’t thing you delight in, or that you memorize (can you imagine memorizing Ontario’s traffic code?). They’re things you try to circumvent and try to push as far as you can, because you’re looking at it outside of its framework.

Imagine morality inside your friendships for a minute. Do you steal from your friends? No, unless you’re like the worst friend ever. Do you routinely beat them up? One would hope not. But by don’t you do those things? Not because you subscribe to a set of rules that you’ve agreed on and signed, but because you love your friends. You don’t do certain things to your neighbors because you love your neighbor.

All of that–and I can’t see an exception, really–is in the context of loving God. Jesus came, he did something wonderful, and your response is not only faith, but the things that naturally flow out of faith, those things scripture calls good works.

Sure, you can divorce these concepts from Jesus, and in some place at the back of most people’s minds there’s this place that defined a certain moral code, but why would you want to? Maybe it’ll restrain some evil in the world or something, but at what cost?

I personally feel that a lot of our Christan brothers have got things backwards. Sure, a country that doesn’t marry gays is in a better place than one that does, but what does that mean to the unchurched and nonchristians? Nothing. Why should it? Try forcing that view on them, and outside of the context of Jesus, you have a mean system of morality that denigrates people and calls all sorts of things “bad” without providing the very redemption from those things that Jesus offers.

Maybe I’m just talking to myself here–after all, I don’t enough fingers to count the times I’ve stolen from Jesus, or beat him up, or whatever–and maybe I’m not making much sense. But it looks like it works, doesn’t it? Can you imagine a world blanketed in Christians? Can you imagine an America as a nation of Christians instead of a so-called Christian nation? Can you imagine a Canada that says, “We do this because we love Jesus.”?

Bullets for a Monday.

  • It’s an 80 magnum. It shoots through schools.
  • On Saturday me and some friends decided–in view of the forecast–to go to a local church instead of Living Water. The sermon was about sex, definitely an interesting choice of topics, and highly reminiscent of Mars Hill’s “Good Sex/Bad Sex” series. Not only that, it was just a plain good sermon. The weather on the other hand was clear and sunny, leading me to believe that Brian Hill of 680 News is in fact “Lyin’ Hill”, which is what I shall call him from now on. But plans had been set, and it was good to see Mike (the nonchristian) visiting a church (any church).
  • Oy, it’s hard to get up these mornings. Knowing that the only thing to greet me on the way out is going to be my own breath frozen in my mouth: it’s a difficult thing to muster up enough willpower to throw the blankets aside.
  • Wikis quickly become disorganised
  • Do you find Robusta makes for much worse coffee breath than Arabica?
  • Philip Glass’ “Heroes” Symphony is bothering me this morning. I mean, I know he’s rooted in minimalism, but this seems neither minimalist or contemporary classical, both of which I enjoy very much. “Heroes” seems to take its cues from minimalism and try to apply that ethos to pop music and score it all as a big symphony. Yet it still very much ends up sounding like a very long, very boring version of itself repeating the same rhythm twenty-two-hundred times. Compare this to, say, his “Low” symphony, or “Anima Mundi”, both of which I enjoy greatly.
  • The work, it does pile up. I must go now.

What does it look like?

When I was about 22 or so, a friend asked me, “How do you believe? How do you become a Christian?” When I was done answering, I think it was apparent to both of us that I just didn’t have a clue. Sure, we covered getting answers and finding facts and accepting propositions and stuff like that, but at the end of the day there was always this huge chasm between knowing what’s this and that and believing this and that.

I imagine it’s much like finding your perfect mate and not falling in love with him or her. Your friends might tell you that you two were made for eachother, and on some level you might see that this piece of your puzzle matches his, or this aspect of your personality is complimentary to hers, but on another level (if you don’t feel that way) your instincts tell you that knowing all that isn’t exactly the same as wanting to spend the rest of your life together.

Of course, some people don’t experience relationships like that. Some of you will inhabit love like part of an equation, and that’s fine. We all have different ways of experiencing reality.

Faith is the same, I think. Faith isn’t an exercise you perform or an equation that you balance or really anything like that. It seems to me that faith is like making a friend, in a way. You read scripture, you find Jesus and meet him, and you decide something; either you decide that you’d like to spend the rest of your life getting to know him, or you don’t.

Some things follow after that, says holy scripture. Your life is changed. You act differently. You experience reality in a new way. Or to put it more tangibly, you love God, and you love your neighbor, neither of which are terribly difficult concepts to wrap your head around.

Maybe that’s the problem with the whole faith thing. It’s just too simple. I sometimes think, “If a ten year old can do this, doesn’t that make it simplistic and unrealistic?” I’m a fan of not demonising complexity. I usually say, “Complexity is not a vice.” Yet, some things are simple, gut-level things while at the same time becoming mind-bendingly difficult to wrap your head around when you think about them. Maybe it’s because the heart is better at grasping some things and the head better at others: I don’t know.

I like systematic theology and thought experiments and balancing equations. I really do. They are all useful in their own way, in their own sphere. But you don’t have to balance an equation (2 + 2 = 4) to understand reality, any more than you have to understand five areas of doctrine to have reality refreshed for you. Or to put another way, the theology of meeting Jesus is simply a matter of reading a book and deciding whether or not to follow the guy you read about from cover to cover.

Or to put it yet another way, understanding that Jesus is alive, that he’s still around, and that he’ll take you if you want it. Think of all the people Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven!” to who were like, “Wait, what?” You don’t even have to go that far, I don’t think. You can find out all those things afterwards. Jesus comes first, always. You don’t really have to know you’re forgiven, that you’re changed, that you’re new. It happens, and you can figure out the wherefores and whatnots later.

It makes me wonder about how I’m going to teach my children about Jesus. I’ve thought about it for a few days now; if I ever pump out (or, hopefully, if my wife ever pumps out) some of the little ones, I think I’d like to tell them early on that Jesus is essentially like me. He’s like dad, except he doesn’t suck at being a dad. Having a dad is — I’ve found out — one of those gut-level things and sometimes a very painful kicked-in-the-gut-level thing.

My kids don’t have to understand my salary and worldview to get that I’m their dad. Yeah, they’re going to grow up and want to know about how to compile a program from source and how to change the oil in the car and what exactly why I don’t want them listening to pop music, but before all that, I’m their dad. If they can understand that, they can understand enough about Jesus and God and all that stuff to relate to him in a way that makes sense.

Sure, I’d like to raise a brood of little Calvinists, but to be honest that follows after raising a brood of little Christians who don’t start learning ass-backwards. I don’t know much, but I know that.

I’d like to go back and tell my friend what I’m saying now, that becoming a Christian is sort of like getting married or having a dad, and not much at all like playing chess or deciding between quantum mechanics and string theory. I’d like to tell him that Jesus changes your life, and all you need to do is read the book and meet the man and meet the God.