Kyle French

Aug 242015
 

Listening to Writing Excuses on the way home from work today, I had a little mini epiphany.  In TV and Movies today, a lot of the supernatural elements are built on a Catholic mythos.  That is, they visibly depict angels and demons and other supernatural elements (such as the use of crucifixes and holy water) in a way that is generally consistent with the Catholic understanding of how those things actually work.  Not being Catholic, these depictions are really unsatisfying for me.

I was raised in a pentecostal/charismatic background, where the supernatural is considered very real, but things work very differently than what Catholics think.  For instance, in a movie with a pentecostal mythos, there would probably be a scene in which somebody tries to ward away the demon or vampire with drops of holy water.  No effect.  But get some anointing oil out and bam! instant hedge of protection.  It just works differently, and those differences are jarring.  The only think I can think to compare it to would be an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Soldier trying to watch Hurt Locker.  All the inaccuracies drive you nuts!

On the other hand, when I was a kid, I really enjoyed Frank Peretti novels.  I haven’t read much of his in a while, but Peretti started out writing supernatural thrillers based on a charismatic ethos.  It turns out I’m not actually all that in to thrillers, but the supernatural elements for me were gripping, because it was so… accurate, in a way that Hellboy could never hope to be.

So here’s the question:  What movies, books, etc, really grabbed you because the supernatural elements struck you as accurate to what you had been raised to believe?  On the other side, what stories completely knocked you out of the plot because they depicted supernatural elements in an “unrealistic” way?  What one supernatural or spiritual element do they never get right that you wish you could see depicted accurately… at least just once?

Aug 242015
 

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

–Romans 15:2

 

Those of you who know me may know I have an agenda against the glory of God, at least as I’m hearing it talked about in a lot of churches. There’s a tendency to overstate the case.  God is himself intrinsically glorious, and we are to glorify God, in the sense that we should always be acknowledging His glory in our talk and actions.  But a lot of times we use the idea of glory as a way of explaining God’s motivation, and as a key for identifying what our motives should be. And often, this gets in the way of simpler, more accessible objectives.

So looking above at Romans 15:2.  Each of us should always seek to be pleasant to our neighbors.  Why?  For their benefit, to build them up. Should our goal be to glorify God?  Yeah, sure.  But if you aim at God’s glory without looking to our neighbor’s good, I doubt you’ll have much success at hitting either.

I often think that love is a bit like happiness: it’s a byproduct, and can’t be got by aiming directly at it.  So, looking at the cross, I’ve heard it said that as Jesus died, he was thinking first of the glory of God.  Now we can’t know what Jesus didn’t say, but what does scripture say?  “The son of man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

There are lots of ways that Jesus could have given glory to God, in a maximally efficient manner.  Most of the ideas that come to mind involve lightning bolts.  But he came as a servant, and was humbled unto death, for the benefit of people who had made Him their enemies.  This is the apex of glory, but what makes it glorious is His humility and his care, not for himself or for the Father in any direct way, but first for us.  If you say that Jesus came looking for glory, and after a little research settled on saving the world by dying as the best among many options, it cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it?

Similarly, if I come looking for glory (glory for me or for God), and I settle on helping my neighbor as a good way to get it, I suppose it’s as Jesus said, “surely you have received your reward.” There’s a better, more direct way.  Jesus has been good to me, so let me be good to my neighbor.  Why? For his good, to build him up.  My neighbor is in God’s image.  It is good to be good to him.  No other motivation is necessary.

Aug 232015
 

The foundation for the humanities is preaching and synagoguery. Take away the gospel and you have some metaphysics, but no reason for literature and history. You still have the stories people like to tell but no Keystone keeps it altogether.

What I mean is that every narrative has a central point of view or set of values to hold the plot together. No cohesive values means no cohesive narrative: there’s just no human way to even care. But the only way you can have a cohesive narrative that covers all the stories – all of human history and the whole human race – is if you have a single cohesive set of values that are true for all peoples in all places.
The study of the humanities is teasing out of that set of cohesive values. If there is a keystone concept, a singular idea that encompasses all narratives and holds them together, that idea has to be the gospel. If it isn’t the Christian gospel, it must be some other gospel.   If there is no gospel, then we are stuck with that other most basic idea that crowds into all questions of right and wrong, and truth and beauty: “sez who?”
Aug 162015
 
I believe that the preacher has two duties:to teach the people how to read, and to teach the people how to think. By reading, I don’t mean the ability to look at letters and turn them into words and sentences, but the ability to look at words and sentences and understand the context and subtext, to read critically. And by thinking, I don’t mean the ability to think approved thoughts, but the ability to take approved thoughts and evaluate them according to an ultimate standard.
I’m always dismayed when I go to hear a sermon and I hear words being read, but no Reading being done, thoughts being recommended for adoption, but no Thinking bring demonstrated. It does no good to convey truths to a people like a black box, and give them no hope of learning how those truths actually integrate. How then when other preachers come and authoritatively hand out more attractive untruths?
It’s as though a soldier was added to the roster of a military unit, and was subjected every week to his captain and first sergeant demonstrating on his behalf all the skills of a great soldier, but was never trained to perform those skills himself. How then when he deploys? How when he is promoted will he handle increased responsibility?
I don’t remember, growing up, if I was subject to  good preaching on Sunday mornings. I remember a few really good pastors, but I also remember moving a lot. What I did have was a mother who was faithful to teach me doctrine, and recordings of great preaching, and an excellent library. We had lots of theological conversations growing up. We probably had a lot of conversations that no other family would have. I’m always running into situations where a friend learns, as an adult or a reasonably mature Christian, something that was part of normal conversation when I was a kid. (Of course, I’m also always filling in lots of gaps.) My point is that I was taught to read and I was taught to think. Oh boy was I taught!
God has ordained two primary channels for Christian education: the parents and the preacher. Every other role is a supporting role.  And it’s the preacher’s job to train the parents. My mom did her job, and an excellent one. But not every Christian gets an excellent mom. How much more then does the preacher have a heavy responsibility to teach the people every week to do more than just listen?
Aug 052015
 

So, I’m arguing with someone on the internet (because that is apparently what I do with my life) and I keep running across this sort of argument “Science proves that a fetus becomes human when it can survive outside the womb.” Please do not say this. First, science has proved no such thing. But more importantly, the statement itself is confused.

In common language, to be a human is to be a person, and the words are used pretty interchangeably, since everyone instinctively recognizes that to be human is to be a person “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” But when you are discussing medical ethics, the distinction between what is a human and what is a person is precisely the subject under debate, so you have to make careful distinctions.

“Human” is the species. I am a human. My cat is not a human. I did not become human; I have always been a human. If science were to prove that an unborn child can become human, you would have to demonstrate a process whereby two human parents came together, contributed a human ovum and a human sperm, and produced an inhuman embryo. If it is not human, what species can it be?

What is actually under debate is the “personhood” of the unborn. Personhood is an ethical and political category that serves two purposes: to assign to non-human organisms the rights that are normally accorded to humans, or to remove from humans the rights that they would normally have. So, for instance, an animal rights activist might argue for the personhood of dolphins, in order to accord them the rights of life and liberty. You might also argue that, if we ever found intelligent alien life, or elves, that they would be considered persons, even though they were not human. At the other end, when the US constitution was first written, Southern slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of the census. You can see how well that went.

So in the original statement, science has not proved that an embryo becomes human. What the person is really arguing is that an unborn child becomes a person when they can survive outside the womb. It’s a valid position to take, but again, science doesn’t prove it. Science can’t prove it, because personhood is not a scientific category. The ability of a fetus to survive outside the womb is called viability. Medical technology is constantly pushing the boundary of how early viability can be established. So all that “science” can do is reveal the historical data of how early viability has been established.

What you are left with is an unsubstantiated argument that personhood should be established according to the functionality of human organism’s lungs. This strikes me as an extremely tenuous argument.

Jul 262015
 

“So his mutual commitment with Takver, their relationship, had remained thoroughly alive during their four years’ separation. They had both suffered from it, and suffered a good deal, but it had not occurred to either of them to escape the suffering by denying the commitment.

“For after all, he thought now, lying in the warmth of Takver’s sleep, it was joy they were both after—the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.”

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Jul 212015
 

Knowledge would be specific facts or procedures – hard reliable data. Understanding would be the ability to assemble knowledge into a cohesive interworking structure. What’s interesting is that you might think that understanding can only be developed upon a base of knowledge, but in reality they tend to float freely. You can’t get understanding without first working closely with a lot of base facts, but a generalized understanding can be transferred over to a new knowledge base and anticipate information you haven’t acquired yet, and so pick it up faster. It also scales upward: understanding at one level can be evaluated as a kind of knowledge in order to achieve a higher level of understanding. So knowledge is more foundational, but understanding is more desirable.

ON THE OTHER HAND, nothing can be more frustrating than a conversation in which knowledge and understanding don’t match up. Understanding that ain’t so is much harder to fix than when what you know ain’t so. So when a person with superior understanding (or supposed superior understanding) comes into contact with someone who has a more shallow understanding and a hard grip on the facts…! Let’s just say nobody is going home happy.

… I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me-
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,…

Jul 212015
 

Assumptions are so hard to identify. They only seem to become evident when they run into one another.

I’m starting to think of assumptions as something like subatomic particles. You know they’re out there, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what they are, but you can’t really see them clearly enough to prove what they are until you get something worked up with a lot of energy and ram it into something else in such a way as to create an underground explosion at high cost to the government.

Jul 112015
 

Just got done watching Home. It was surprisingly good. I felt like they were aiming for a high B movie, and kinda failed. Lots of happy tears. I only really had one problem: This is a movie in which a girl is searching frantically for her mom in a time when every human being on earth has been displaced. Dude. Where is Dad?

Jul 082015
 

So he worked.
He lost weight; he walked light on the earth.  Lack of physical labor, lack of variety of occupation, lack of social and sexual intercourse, none of these appeared to him as lacks, but as freedom.  He was the free man: he could do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it for as long as he wanted to do it.  And he did it.  He worked.  He work/played.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

I saw a piece of a TV show today, in which a talk show host was asked by someone in the audience how to explain to her 10 year old son what sex was like.  Oh, my!  What a show he put on, rhapsodizing over how it was literally the most wonderful thing in the world.  I have to admit I was kind of surprised.  Here was an man in his late forties, apparently successful, who seemed not to know anything at all.

I’m a married man.  I have four children. I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience.  Sex has been a lurking bogey for most of my life, either the act or the niggling desire.  I have to say it has not fulfilled as advertised.  And I don’t meant that I’ve had some sort of disappointing experience. But my love for my wife is wider than just the right sort of caress.  Our kids are small: a long walk alone in a quiet park is a far grander experience together (and far more rare and costly!) than an evening alone in the bedroom.

But moving beyond interpersonal relations, sex is just too narrow to be the final all-consuming joy.  John Stuart Mill was right when he broke with Jeremy Bentham and said that there were different tiers of pleasure, and that the pleasures of the mind and the spirit were to be valued on a qualitatively higher level than the pleasures of the body.  As Paul said, physical (er…) exercise is of some value, but godliness…!

I shouldn’t be surprised.  I know.  But honestly, it saddens me to think that so many people are manacled to the idea that desire, especially sexual desire, is identity.  I suppose that most people go through a phase around puberty where that feels like it’s true. But they used to learn differently, by culture and experience, so that an adult who talked that way was an obvious embarrassment to himself. Not so any longer.