Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Would you come back another time and help us sift the terds out of the cream?"

Surfing through archived clips of the Colbert Report makes me want cable. Here's another one for you. The "oxymoron" evangelical reverend Tony Campolo visited Colbert, and you should check it out. I think he must be one of the few guests to render Colbert speechless.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"In God We Trust...If you don't believe that, you shouldn't spend money."

Athiest Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, visits the Colbert Report. I'm pretty sure amidst all the satire (and hilarity) here, there's a lesson to be learned.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Suggestion for Bill Callahan

I am a Cornhusker fan living in Big Ten country (Minnesota). This means I am totally out-of-touch when it comes to all matters related to Nebraska Cornhusker football (so please forgive me subscribers to the Omaha World Herald). One thing I know remains true though; Husker football is borderline religion for us fans.

It is currently the 3rd quarter of the biggest game of the year, USC, the #1 team in the nation. The score is 42-10, them. They've scored 5 touchdowns unanswered. It has become pretty clear that our defense is greatly over-matched. They are marching all over us. Our blackshirts look pink.

Surfing through ESPN's college recruting website I immediately checked to see if there is any help in Nebraska's immediate future. Nebraska has received commitments from three out of ESPN's top 150 recruits: Blaine Gibbert (#8) from Missouri, ESPN's #1 ranked QB in the country; Jonas Gray (#89) from Michigan, a running back; and Baker Steinkuhker (#114) from Nebraska, an offensive tackle.

Granted, three players does not a recruiting class make, but, speaking as an outsider, living in Big Ten country, only being able to watch about 3 games a year, I have a suggestion for you Coach Callahan. Instead of focusing your recruiting efforts on legitimizing your hallowed West Coast offense, devote a little time on the defensive side of the ball. Restore the tradition of Grant Wistrom, Trev Alberts, Mike Brown, Mike Rucker, et. al. and let's turn those pinkshirts black again. Until you do this, the top tier programs in the country, like USC, Oklahoma and Texas (both from you own conference) will continue to humiliate our beloved Huskers. Remember Coach, defense wins championships and offense sells tickets...except in Nebraska, where defense sells tickets too.

UPDATE (10-08-07): Those blackshirts look pink right about now. Nebraska was routed this weekend, 41-6 by Mizzou giving up 606 total yards.

Door to Door Proselytism

Recently I had a very disturbing encounter with some door-to-door evangelists. They (actually it wasn't so much they as it was she, he just stood behind her) began their spiel by telling me about a bible study they were starting. I was immediately intrigued. I assumed this was a new neighbor who was starting a house church, or something of that sort. If someone in the neighborhood were starting a house church, I would at least want to know about it. So, I turned the porch light on and listened.

She began to tell me how the bible, not man, is the source of truth. She told me about how intellectual their bible study is. Apparently they really dig deep and they only use they King James Version, because that was the first, original version, which makes it much better than all the new versions that have been published recently. This was the first warning sign for me. I wanted to ask her why a translation of the bible published in 1611 was more authoritative than any other version we have today, especially since scholars have discovered other original manuscripts since 1611. Does the use of "thou" make the KJV more authoritative than any other translation? I really doubt it, it's really just a matter of preference. Of course, I didn't say this, I kept my mouth shut.

She also mentioned numerous times her passion for getting back to the model of Christianity presented in the New Testament, and her disdain for denominationalism. If it's not in the New Testament, they weren't gonna do it. She illustrated this by talking about baptism. She told me how she was taught that infant baptism was necessary for salvation and has heard that some denominations teach sprinkling is acceptable, but she quoted scripture after scripture about how immersion is necessary for salvation.

After 10 minutes of listening to her talk (without one mention of Jesus) it became pretty clear that she wasn't very interested in me. She was more interested in selling her version of Christianity, even though she apparently abhors denominationalism. After nodding incessantly (I'm a good active listener), I was finally able to jump in and let her know that I was a Christian and that we were on the same team. This apparently wasn't good enough for her. She wanted to know how I felt about baptism. I told her I believed that it was a symbolic act that represents a turning of one's heart towards God, and thus a change of behavior. She then asked what church I go to and what denomination that church was affiliated with. When I answered, she responded with, "That's what I thought. That's what Baptists believe about baptism (She never asked if I was a baptist, by the way). But it's not in the bible. You should read your bible and see what it says."

I was stunned. At this point it was pretty clear these two were not interested in sharing God's love with the East side, but were instead selling theology, and proselytism. So, gloves off, I asked them, "This is an issue [baptism] worth dividing over, isn't it? I just told you I'm a Christian. I don't doubt your faith. But you continue to question mine over the fact that I have a different belief about baptism. Should we be causing division in the church over issues of doctrine?" She had a lot of answers that I don't remember. This is where my active listening stopped.

She continued to argue her point. I asked her to leave. I'm guessing no one from my neighborhood will be attending their bible study. And sadly, if I were to ever host a bible study, my neighbors probably would't attend that either.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Twins Should Turn Young Pitchers Into Atkins

The Twins weakness at third base is no secret. The Nick Punto experiment failed miserably, with his quest to end the season above the Mendoza line quickly becoming a farce. The organization will be spending the rest of the season evaluating the former SEC batting champion, Brian Buscher, a Rule 5 draft pick out of the San Francisco Giants organization. So far he has been solid, but nothing spectacular, which is pretty consistent with all the scouting reports I’ve read on him that state he has very little upside.

The Twins need to be very sure on their decision with Buscher entering the 2008 season. If they aren’t, they should pursue Colorado Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins, a player who could threaten .300-30-100 every season. He is currently making $400,000. but is due a salary jump to about $4 mil. next year due to arbitration. Nevertheless, he is not eligible for free agency until 2010, so the Twins would control him for two years, and would have those two years to negotiate a long-term contract that extends beyond his first few years of free agency, like they did with Joe Mauer, and unfortunately failed to do with Justin Morneau.

The Twins could also afford Atkins. It would not surprise me if their most recent offer to Tori Hunter for 3 years, $45 mil. was their final offer. Torii turned it down and is looking for a contract more in the J.D. Drew range, 5 yrs./$70 mil. Some even believe he will be the number one center fielder to hit the free agent market this summer, ahead of Andruw Jones. Certainly the Twins can allocate some of those unspent funds toward a contract with their new third baseman. Atkins will probably ask for David Wright money, 6 yrs./$55 mil.

Why would the Rockies do this? Many reasons, all interrelated. The Rockies have Todd Helton’s albatross of a contract to deal with, which pays him between 16 and 23 million dollars per year through 2012. Thus, they cannot move Atkins to first base to make room for Ian Stewart, who according to Baseball America is the #2 prospect left in the Rockies’ minor league system (after 2007 promotions) and #46 prospect in all of baseball. However, that ranking shrinks to #22, if one removes players from that list who are currently in the big leagues, or who have spent significant time in the majors this year, players like Hunter Pence, Ryan Braun, Yovanni Gallardo, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Troy Tulowitzki.

How would the Twins acquire Atkins? With their pitching of course. The Rockies organizational weakness has been pitching (although it's getting better), and that is the Twins’ strength. A pitcher from the quartet of Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and Glen Perkins would probably intrigue the Rockies, though they’d probably demand Garza, the highest ranked pitching prospect in the Twins organization (they wanted Ervin Santana and another prospect from the Angels earlier this summer). Would new Twins G.M. Bill Smith pull the trigger?

In this league, and especially this small-market, the answer to that question always comes down to pitching? What about Johan Santana’s contract? Can Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey be relied upon to give the Twins quality innings as #3 and #4 starters? And, how is Francisco Liriano’s recovery coming?

The answers to these questions will decide if Garret Atkins, or a 3rd baseman of his caliber, will be manning the hot corner for the Twins next season. Whatever the Twins do, they need to do it quickly because time is running out. The most valuable assets in the organization, young pitchers, are probably losing their luster to prospective buyers so it's time to make a decision, hold for good or sell?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Homosexuality in the Bible, Part Two: the Holiness Code.

Refer to Part One for background on this series of posts.

Before I begin part two of this series I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a theologian, nor am I a bible scholar (not that those of you who know me were wondering). I am simply reporting on the discussion that took place at Ekklesia regarding homosexuality in the bible. I cannot claim any of the especially insightful hermeneutics for my own, but must credit them to Clarence Bass. If I wasn’t clear about this in the original post, which after rereading it I don’t believe I was, it’s just because I’m a crappy writer, and had a lot to say. Please, bear with me.

In part one, I asked the question, “Was Homosexuality the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?” I believe the answer to this question is no when taking a holistic view of scripture. In part two I will address the other Old Testament references to homosexuality, both of which occur in the section of Leviticus known as the Holiness Code.

The word Leviticus has been translated as “Law of Priests” or “Instructions for Priests.” Basically it’s an instruction manual for the Priests of ancient Israel on how God wanted to differentiate the Israelites from the surrounding cultures (Canaanites, Philistines, Moabites, etc.). The chapters have different themes, from rituals of sacrifice to dietary laws. The two verses we are concerned with fall within the Holiness Code (Chapters 17-26). These nine chapters are called the Holiness Code because of how frequently the word holy is used.

Chapter eighteen of the holiness code refers to sexual behavior. Verse twenty-two is relevant to the topic at hand, homosexuality. I’ve bolded it below.
6 " 'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
7 " 'Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
8 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
9 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
10 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you.
11 " 'Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
12 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative.
13 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative.
14 " 'Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
15 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her.
16 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother.
17 " 'Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
18 " 'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
19 " 'Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
20 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her.
21 " 'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed [a] to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
22 " 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
23 " 'Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
24 " 'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
29 " 'Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. 30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.' "
Homosexuality is also mentioned in Leviticus 20: 13. I’ve included the three verses before and after for context.
10 " 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
11 " 'If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 " 'If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
13 " 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
14 " 'If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
15 " 'If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
16 " 'If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
If one approaches the bible seeking permission or allowance for homosexual behavior, these verses are very difficult to deal with because these verses are pretty straightforward. One who takes the bible seriously, knows that you cannot just take scripture and bend it for purpose of convenience. If we look at verse 22, in chapter 18, notice that it is sandwiched between many sexual prohibitions that we would regard as no-brainers today: don’t have sex with animals, don’t have sex with various family members, and don’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife, to name a few. These make sense right? So why would we just ignore verse twenty-two, “'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman…”? Out of convenience? Because it would be politically incorrect? I’m pretty sure this is not a reliable method for interpreting scripture.

That said, I don’t believe these scriptures apply today. The key lies in the context. The holiness code is part of the larger set of laws God gives to Moses at Mt. Sinai for His chosen people, the Israelites, in order to distinguish them from the surrounding nations at Canaan (Palestine). These laws were given to a certain people, at a certain time, for a certain reason. Included in these laws were some pretty strange commands. For instance, Israelites were unable to wear mixed fabrics; women were to declare publicly when they were menstruating (sort of like the Scarlet Letter); and as we saw in the verses cited above, the death penalty was required for a variety of sexual acts. Now, why do Christians who cite Old Testament Law as proof that homosexuality is a sin, ignore these laws? It’s seems illogical to follow one part of the law (homosexuality is a sin) but ignore the other parts (mixed fabric, etc.).

Because the Old Testament law given to Moses was contextual we have to interpret it in such a manner. It was a covenant for Israel, given for a specific time, for a specific place, Canaan. Christians today, do not fall under this Mosaic, Old Testament covenant, but under a New Covenant established by the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, whatever the Old Testament Law has to say about homosexuality is irrelevant for Christians today.

It is clear then, that after looking at Sodom and Gomorrah and the Holiness Code, we need to turn our attention to the New Testament for more guidance on what the bible has to say about homosexuality.