Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sex, drugs and biological sciences.

Wow, it's official: sex is a bad thing

...when compared to asexual reproduction, of course. Didn't you know?

Well yep, it must be true, especially if somebody with a PhD said it.

Actually, there is a fairly amusing article written about it on the Auckland University website. Essentially, the question, "Why Sex?" has puzzled evolutionary biologists for ages now, because - crudely put - sex just takes too much time and energy!

Regardless of your stance on evolution, it still makes for an interesting read, and one with intensely strange implications. The findings show that Yeast reproduce asexually under stress-free and beneficial conditions, but these little Yeastie Beasties actually start getting it on when you starve them out! How odd.
They conclude that sex is undertaken and makes sense under harsh conditions, where "sexual reproduction provides a selective advantage for adaptation to new environments".

So, now for the human implications. Speaking from a Christian perspective we have theistic evolution and creationism to ask questions about. Either way, we can ask, "Why did God make us like that?" (since God either eventually or directly created us the way we are)

Specifically, if asexual reproduction is 'technically' superior, then why did God make us have the requirement of sexual reproduction?

Perhaps, as the Scientist boffins conclude, it makes us more adaptable and able to cope with harsh environments.

Oh dear, now I'm really starting to get interested in this topic. I've just had the thought that humans would only have to cope with such harsh environments in a fallen kosmos...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"The way we do things around here"

If culture is just "the way we do things around here" then maybe that has some pretty weird implications.

If we can decide that a society should believe certain things and act in certain ways, then maybe that shows why controlling the top-down social structures (such as Politics and instituting Laws) is so significant.

People tend to have their opinion swayed by law on what is moral if they have no alternative or independant reference to tell them otherwise. For example, here in New Zealand, I have friends who have expressed that Prostitution must be moral now that it is legal ("decriminalised").

But what about if we think about another level of social structure again - such as the physicality of life itself. Here is a really good example of a new form of experience. It is an online church, with pews, a crypt, little characters that can wave 'Hallelujah' and everything.

For people who go and meet there, is that any less valid than meeting in the building down the road?

It can be said that Language is a sequence of coded grunts that enable two minds to transfer information. It can be said that Culture is the social structure agreed upon by a group of two or more people that enable those people to coexist in a functional & predictable manner.

With the invention of the telephone and the television, distance and time have been disjoined, Linguistically, from presence. Perhaps the internet, computer graphics and image falsification have paved the way for a new Culture like none that have ever been experienced before.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Paper walls

I've been thinking.

I was thinking about where I might live in the next year or two. I was thinking about what I might do when I get there.

Where I live, how I live... all these things are usually so prescribed, aren't they? I mean, for example, many "good" kids grow up pursuing a career somewhat within the realms of expectation of their parents.

My guess is many people, if they live in the same city as their close relatives, even live on the same side of the city (at least here in Auckland - where where you live crudely defines who you are).

People don't usually act in surprising ways, that would be grating against social contract and the implicit fabric of society.

But, really, these expectations are only paper walls, able to be ruptured if one decides to violate them intentionally. Just like a line of police tape only keeps out an honest person, these paper walls only restrict those who let themselves be restricted.

So where can I live? Anywhere.

What will I do when I get there? Anything.

Who is responsible for my choices? I am.

Who do I owe making the right decisions to? God.

Butterflies and Me

I seem to be undertaking a metamorphosis.

It's like I have itchy feet, I want to keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. I realise that I don't fit into the mould defined by my upbringing anymore and I guess I'm testing the waters, trying to see how things pan out.

As I said to a friend, when I finish shedding these layers I'll get to see what I look like.

Maybe I'm more like a Caterpillar who has gone through his term in the crysalis, trying to poke bits of myself past the barrier that has spent so long defining who I am.

Right now I only see a piece of a wing and a piece of an antenna. Some of the colours mottling my wing I'm yet to see, only sheer determination will help me fully come out of the crysalis that has been shielding and protecting me all these years.

I went through a change in my first year at Bible College, I didn't expect to have another one so soon (in my third year). Usually you change slow enough that you don't notice, I don't know why I see it so clearly right now.

A Haiku: "Butterfly"
Her wings flex against
Her cage spun from star-light threads;
Not yet can she fly.

~Iain, 28th March '05

I'm happy with what I see so far, and I hope that when I come out of my own star-light cage I find that God is happy with me too.

Keep me in your thoughts and you shall be in mine.

The Lord of the Rings

I did it. I must now officially be crazy. I just saw all three extended versions of the Lord of the Rings today. Easter Madness took hold, I tell you.

My brain is fried as a result, but I still think the sacrifice was worth it. I got to see the "entire film" as one block. This helped me see some interesting themes more clearly than I had before. I guess if they drive a point home once per film it's easier when you see all three at once.

First idea: Many characters were afflicted by loss of hope, believing themselves to be alone and unsupported. This is a lie probably also common to us real people. But, like them, we need to realise that the people that we feel unsupported by might be thinking the same thing about us. It seems to be a vicious cycle, broken only by affirmative action and courage enough to reach out for help. The problem that afflicted the film's characters turned out only to be a product of enemy propaganda and deceit, not a genuine lack of competence or capability to overcome at all.
Some thinking points on this: how does this relate to listening to other people's negativity? How does this relate to 'spiritual deceit' from a Christian perspective?
Summary: Hopelessness was their problem, not powerlessness.

Second idea: Using evil methods for good causes will still produce evil. In the movie, this was clearly the theme surrounding the potential use of the One Ring. What people might have intended to be for good, we were explained repeatedly, the Ring would pervert to evil.
Some thinking points on this: how does this relate to pacifism? How does this relate to personal integrity (in our lives, our jobs etc)?
Summary: The end doesn't always justify the means.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Belligerence 1, Iain 0

I had a conversation with somebody on MSN about my course, "Gospel in a Post-Christian Society."

I wanted to scream, "Stop it! Stop it!" several times and reset my computer.

Luckily, logic prevailed and I didn't.

Here is the abridged version:

James: What are you studying at BCNZ?
Iain: I am taking a paper called "Gospel in a Post christian society" which is about western society, postmodernism and how to reach people in todays culture.
James: Sounds like an interesting course!! So describe how this course teaches you to preach to our society
Iain: We've mainly been learning about the history of modernism and poMo so far rather than the contemporary stuff
James: How do u think we should preach to people like our people in NZ - a post christian society
Iain: I think that question is too big to answer. Kind of like what somebody asked me the other day, "What is the metanarrative of NZ?"
James: Ok well how do u preach to the NZ society?
Iain: I dont think there is any one group that is "the NZ society". Different people live in different sub-communities who like different things and think, act and talk in different ways. Not to mention how we now have many different cultures here in NZ from different ethnic and traditional backgrounds; so the question is too big to answer. I'd look at the group I was reaching and do my best
James: What's one tactic you use when preaching to someone, what's something u might say to them?
Iain: I don't think i have any magic bullet answers that i can give you. "Someone" could be anyone, so again that can't really be answered. I mean, am I talking to a young white west aucklander, or an old ex-Hindu Buddhist war veteran, or a chinese lesbian politician from wellington? You can't systematise reaching people, or how to relate to people. What I say changes based on where I am, who I'm talking to and what I'm trying to say
James: Ok well can you tell me something you've said to someone in a past experience?
Iain: Well what I found useful talking to my friend the other day (who is a person who knows about God but doesn't accept Christ) when he asked me about whether there was one truth, i said:
"At the end of the day God is the ultimate truth. God says all of us are sinners. Not you more than me, or a murderer more than us. We all are. One person can't hold that over another, there is no room for pride. All there is room for is realising that Jesus offers us the way to fix that even though none of us deserve it"
James: Good one!
Iain: He needed to know that I wasn't any better than he was, and we all need saving
James: That is a great thing to use sometimes

[Sarcasm] Phew, yeah! I'm glad I had that one pre-prepared in my 'Outreach Notebook'. [/Sarcasm]

Down with plastic answers, up with listening to needs.

A Poem: "Father"

She pads across the carpet
Of the rasping noise.

She sneaks closer
On her round, bright face.

The figure sleeping soundly doesn't stir,
Except to snuggle up more.

She pounces...
...he wakes,


"What is it?"

"Nothing," she says,
"Except that I love you."

That's all she has to say.
That's all she needs to say.

~Iain 27 March '05

I hope you run into His arms and realise that you only need to say the same, too.

A new communion

Apologies if I offend anyone's sensibilities with this post, but I've just been having a few thoughts.

I was thinking about communion. Today, for the Easter service, we were offered communion. Unusually, I didn't take it.

"Why?" I hear you ask.

Well, to tell you the truth, I felt a little strange about it. I was sitting there thinking about how a Jewish man named Jesus shared his final meal with some friends that he loved dearly, and asked them to think of him when they would later sit down to do the same.

I looked at the little silver bowls of Baguette pieces, the nice shiny glass thimbles of Ribena... and I realised how stupid this all felt. Here were are with our nice separate ingredients that must be what goes into making a good Holy Communion, and probably entirely missing the point.

Where is the love, the actual community remembrance of Christ? Where are the people openly thanking God in front of each other for what Christ has done in their life, telling how God has changed their life? Where is the open invitation to friends and newcomers to share in a time of real joy, thankfulness and communion with each other and with God?

Allow me an illuminating example by way of a small tangent:

Under the law of Moses, people could not do work on the sabbath. In fact, nobody could work, not even chickens. That included laying eggs.
So could you eat the egg of a chicken who did the work on the sabbath? No, that would be benefitting from the chicken's work.
So 'they' made a new law, convoluting once more the process and bypassing the spirit of the law in order to follow the letter. They decided that if the chicken had not been PURCHASED in order to be a professional egg-layer, then the egg was an entirely accidental product of the chicken. Therefore you could eat the egg in good conscience.

Now, back to Communion. If we systematise our religion, using good old Modernist Reductionism, then maybe we can squeeze out smaller, more efficient, mass-produced Religious Vitamin Pills that have all the goodness of Jesus in one suckable tablet - but does that seem real to you?

Surely Communion should be more than just the equation [Comm = Read 1 Cor 11:23-26 + Bread + Wine + Prayer]

It's time for lunch, I'm off to share Communion with some of my friends now.

Tired of always being victorious?

Aren't you sick of people always preaching victory to you?

Yes, Christ defeated sin and death on the Cross, but that doesn't mean I won't have a bad day sometimes.

It's a little bit irritating how the Easter message seems to recognise the victorious rising, but relegate's Christ's life to being one destined to die, rather than look at how he lived... or what took him to the point of being able to accept his "cup".

Take the song, "Above all," as an example: (we just sung that in Easter service this morning)

Crucified, laid behind the stone
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me above all

"Lived to die"? Did he? I know he did die, but surely we can't sum his life up with such morbidity that we ignore his earthly ministry in such a wholesale way. Surely his life has something to teach us, and not just his death. (Luckily, some churches use the phrase "lived and died" in place of that line.)

[Off topic: I won't even go into what I think of the line, "and thought of me above all."]

How about this for a little bit of balance:

Philippians 3:10-11 (version unknown)
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Now that speaks volumes. It isn't too often that I've heard a preacher tell me how much s/he wants to suffer and share in Christ's death. All that from a desire to know Christ and to attain his resurrection.

It seems to me that a little understanding of learning how to accept defeat (and yet still have ultimate hope!) might sometimes go a little further than always expecting to "win".

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Irony of Escaping Egoism

Let's have a late-night musing on this idea:

Imagine I have certain standards and boundaries that I use to define who is Christian and who is not; who is in the in crowd and who is in the out crowd. This might very well be the liturgical and denominational structure that my church teaches (as it probably realistically is in many cases). Pretty soon I start to think how cool I am for thinking and acting that way and how cool everyone else isn't.

Of course, then an enlightenment comes along, I have a "Eureka!" moment and all of a sudden I realise how Pharisaical I'm being. All of a sudden I realise the exact "boundary" is hard to define, and more important is that Christ is the centre, and that Christlikeness is the goal. My arbitrary boundaries begin to break down and I judge people less and less. Soon I'm a pretty relaxed guy who has freed-his-mind, so to speak.

Then I start to realise how much cooler all the people like me are than the people who think in terms of all those "boundaries". . .

Friday, March 25, 2005

Creating a legacy

Sometimes it weighs heavily on my mind...

...can you feel it too?

Sometimes life can seem so big. Will I achieve what I want to achieve? Will I be who I want to be?

The weight of greatness lies on my shoulders, but will I be strong enough to carry that burden or will I, like many more before me, sink into the mire of mediocrity?

Should I choose the easy path: spluttering around in the darkness for a moment before fading from the lips of humanity?

Or should I choose another way: fighting, kicking and screaming - burning myself into the minds of history?

In the end, do I really have a choice?

Choose well.

The virtue of life

What would you say was the ideological opposite of a soldier? Would you say it was a pacifist? To tell you the truth, I probably would have until this year.

But the funny thing is, I have recently come to the conclusion that an "ideal" pacifist and an "ideal" soldier do what they do because of the same reason (although most people who have the belief in the existence of one of these two people don't usually find room in their life for the other).

Basically, I'm saying that Pacifist and Soldier are distant cousins, not sworn enemies from either sides of the spectrum.

Allow me to explain:

A Mennonite theologian called Vernard Eller noted, in 'A Theology of Nonresistance', that the "ideal" soldier may go to war as a question of preserving some higher liberty by giving up lesser ones. In the case of dying for king and country, such soldiers "are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to preserve the freedom of living for others, whether those "others" be thought of as the nation, the family back home, or the buddies in the foxhole"
But, I wondered, what if those "others" are no longer distinguished and selected out of a small group but, rather, universalised to include ALL PEOPLE? What if this person who is willing to sacrifice their own life in the protection of the right to live for others will do this not just for their friends, but for their enemies? In the spirit of Luke 6 (particularly vv 27-36) I think that is a reasonable leap of faith to make.

This would make this 'enlightened' soldier a soldier no longer, but instead a Pacifist. Such a Pacifist, dare I say a "true" pacifist, isn't simply avoiding war for selfish reasons (much like a blood-thirsty or psychotic soldier engaging in war is also doing so selfishly). This Pacifist would be engaging in the war process, but would be doing so as an active and life-preserving force equally as willing to lay down his life for his cause as any "ideal" soldier would be for theirs. This would make both "ideal" soldier and pacifist borne of the same virtue, only this 'true' pacifist is willing to protect all life with his own, and not just some as in the case of the soldier. Seeing this, the two aren't opposite ends of the spectrum at all, and this probably provides room for some pretty healthy dialogue.

A Poem: "Truth"

And I took a trip far away from here, to a place that never slept. There I saw a young child, boy or girl I did not know.
"What is your name, child?" I asked.
The child answered, "My name is 'Creativity'."
"But," I replied, "I shall not call you that. To me, your name shall be called 'Truth'."
And I watched this child grow and change and age. Like the sun dancing off water, Truth played before my eyes; always brilliant, but always shifting. The child aged, became an adult, then died and was reborn.
"My name is Truth," the child said to me, "and I am not alone."
But I dared not look for others, for I loved my child so.
"You are mine," I told the smiling child, "I do not need another."

~ Iain, 23rd Feb '05

Belief and Practice

Have you ever wondered whether there was any point in thinking so much?

I tried to explain to somebody the other day how there was no real value or meaning without the existance of God... waving my arms, explaining quotes from Bertrand Russell and Sartre... and I even quoted Ecclesiastes chapter 9.

So she looks at me and says, "It's all just theory, nobody lives like that."


Don't they?

Well, on the one hand, I guess they don't. People don't walk around the place unconcerned with life, figuring nothing has meaning or value in what they say or do.

We create our meaning, often, don't we? So maybe people DO live like that after all - isn't that what living selfishly is all about? Saying, "to hell with the universe, I'm going to carve out a life that matters to me!"

Maybe, underneath it all, people do live like there isn't any ultimate meaning, only they don't know it or stay at that stage for long.

So quickly into the vacuum comes our desires and the need for security; the need to build up a life to escape the terror of living on the edge of nothing.

Marx said that religion is the opiate of the people, I say that denial is the opiate of the atheist.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Theology is Biography

"Theology is Biography," somebody once said. What did they mean?

Basically, the theology that somebody creates for their own life has to address their specific questions, their specific needs and must also encorporate their own story, history and identity.

That's why my blog looks different and tackles different challenges than a Christian journal written by, for example, an African.

So, I say sneaking in my true topic, what about Feminist Theology?

Well, if theology is biography, then feminist theology (true feminism, not male-hating neo-feminism) is merely a theology that encorporates the female identity and experience into its expression, provides answers for female needs, and celebrates the feminine story (personally and biblically).

So am I a feminist? Well, I'm a male, so of course not. Sorry, being serious now, of course I am a feminist! I believe that females have the right, under God, to have their story heard and their needs met as any male does.

But lets not call it feminism shall we, lets call it Egalitarianism (people don't have the same hang-ups with that word).

Everybody is wrong?

I was just thinking about truth statements the other day.

Being a Christian, I'd like to believe that there is some core truth that the universe can cling to, which ultimately defies the extreme claims of a truly postmodern mindset where truth is totally decentralised.

That is to say, God is Truth, therefore truth - at least at some ultimate level - must exist.

But that brings me to the point of this post. It is all very well to say truth exists, but how does that work out in practice? As Christians, we can't even stick to the one denomination. I've been thinking alot about Anabaptism recently (more posts on this anon), but of course your average Anabaptist would probably be pooh-poohed by your average Calvinist. So who is right?

Clearly, neither is totally right, and we could only know which bits in our belief were right if in fact we ourselves were correct anyway. So that would make the argument indeterminate and pointless since, on any single point, we both might be spouting rubbish anyway.
[Philosophical Jargonification: epistemological subjectivity makes competing truth-claims unresolvable]

So what can we do? Have faith I guess, and plough on with the best of intentions, making sure our eyes are on Christ.

I'd like to conclude that this means we can then say, "who cares?" about differences, but nobody would agree with me on that. Probably not even me.

But I'd rather be wrong and fight injustices than be wrong and be passive.

The start of something beautiful

Hi there!

Welcome to the blog of a poet, a philosopher, a theologian and a comedian.

This blog will form an online record of my mental journey throughout my third year studying a theology degree at the Bible College of New Zealand.

I'm doing two papers that will form my thoughts in this blog. One of them, called "Gospel in a Post-Christian Society" requires me to write a journal. This way seems as postmodern as any other, and much less able to be lost in my room than pieces of paper.
The other is called "Cultural Anthropology" and, since I'm doing Samoan cultural-studies fieldwork this year, I'll be adding some of my various thoughts on culture, people, pluralism and the like.

I think you'll find that they intersect nicely. How hip.

Enjoy :)