Paranormal Activity… Or Lack Thereof.

The last couple weeks I have noticed cassette tape strung along the side of the highway while driving to my various appointments. This has brought back numerous memories from my childhood. While growing up in France, individuals would record curses onto tapes and then string them around public places to curse others. This was a practice that was relatively prevalent and being part of a Charismatic household, if ever we came across this we would take the tape home, burn it, and pray that the curse would be broken.

When I was a child I was an avid believer in the charismatic strands of Christianity, having attended a Vineyard Church. I believed in demonstrative experiences of the Holy Spirit and the active existence of angels and demons engaged in spiritual warfare. Believing in such things meant that I believed that Halloween was devil worship, Harry Potter was a witch, and any show and/or movie portraying the demonic was opening the door for such things to enter into my life.

Of course as we all know, Halloween is a time when kids (and adults) enjoy dressing up, partying, and eating lots of candy. It is also a time when the media bombards us with stories about the paranormal. Leading up to Halloween, various channels hold their “fright fest” showing of horror films. There will inevitably be documentaries on “the most haunted places in America,” and of course we will all follow the Ghost Busters as they try to track down and find the paranormal with their thermal cameras and audio recorders.

I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal, mainly because I grew up in a Charismatic setting, yet somehow failed to experience anything I would have labeled as paranormal or supernatural. I was quick to reject any notion that there might be such a thing as the paranormal.

However, as a Christian, I am enticed to believe that there has to be something more out there. Of course I believe in a tri-Omni God, and therefore believe that He is present and active to some degree; although I also tend to lean quite heavily on the Openness side of theology (extreme Arminian if you will). But as far as the existence and activeness of angels and demons, I am at a loss on what to believe. I had an interesting conversation with a close friend some time ago in which I had stated that I did not believe in the existence of the demonic. She immediately, like any good evangelical, quoted the “lost apostle” C.S. Lewis, saying “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” Well that’s nice, how do I argue with that?

People in my childhood church would stand up and pray in tongues, and the same old man would stand up and give the same exact vague interpretation every Sunday. People who were anointed with the gift of Prophecy would also stand and give messages to the body of Christ; once again, these were inevitably the vaguest messages ever, sort of like those Charlatans who read minds.

We also had people come up who needed prayer for healing. I went up practically every Sunday for my lower back and right knee, as I’ve had a number of injuries while playing varsity athletics. I grew up hearing the numerous stories of people getting healed, and even though I never witnessed any of it first hand, I nevertheless helped propagate these stories. And as you can probably guess, I was never healed.

So here I am today. I don’t want to be lackadaisical (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) in regards to the spiritual. If it does exist, it is of the utmost importance. According to Bob Larson, over 50 percent of the world’s population is demonized (not necessarily possessed but under some sort of demonic influence).

But we’ve hit a dead end in the West because supposedly Satan no longer wants to play in the open. He’s convinced us he doesn’t exist. Either that, or we’ve simply come to the realization that he doesn’t exist. Either way, he’s not responding.

I have no real desire to call myself a Cessationist (one who believes that the Apostolic gifts ceased with the 12 apostles), although I guess it’s what I have become by default. I think I’d describe myself as a cautious charismatic. I am not opposed to demonstrative experiences of the supernatural, I have just yet to see anything believable, not in Africa (where I spent my early years), not in Toronto (where the Vineyard movement hit the spot light), and especially not in Kansas City (where the International House of Prayer is located).

Do you have any ghost stories? Healing experiences? Or other spiritual encounters? Please share!

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The Internet: Redeeming the Whatever Generation.

Every once in a while I enjoy digging through my archived editorials, essays, and random notes, not just for narcissistic reasons, but because I enjoy seeing how much I’ve changed. Just the other day, while driving up to Ottawa for work, I was listening to a CBC radio debate on the topic of the Internet. This debate was titled “Is the Internet making us smarter or stupider?” Naturally, as a recent communication student and a former employee of a Social PR firm, I find these sorts of debates fascinating.

About two years ago I wrote a review of Nicholas Carr’s New York Times best seller The Shallows. As you can deduce from the title, this is a book attempting to make the case that the Internet is making us shallow. My review was titled The Internet: The Redemption of the ‘Whatever Generation’, and as I’m sure you can gather, I, unlike Mr. Carr, was particularly favorable towards these new developments. Though my views have changed on numerous issues–political, social, theological, etc.–this particular topic is one that I think has remained rather consistent. Nevertheless, given the speed at which this form of media is developing, my review is in need of a touch up and perhaps a refocusing.

The radio debate was fair as far as representing the various extremes held by the “experts.” There were those in the Neil Postman tradition, claiming that we are “amusing ourselves to death.” There were also those in the Steven Johnson tradition, maintaining that “Everything Bad is Good for You” and that the Internet is indeed making us smarter. Nicholas Carr claims to find himself in between these extremes, presenting alleged facts that there are changes in the way we think, and that these changes are making us shallow.

As a communication student I have my opinions on why I think that the Postman extreme is wrong and why I think that even Carr’s more balanced views are misguided, however, I would like to focus specifically on the theological ramifications of the changes brought about by the Internet.

I cannot deny that the Internet has and will continue to change us, and already, I think we see some negative impacts, such as an increasingly relativistic view of the Christian faith. I made a brief mention in my first post on how the internet, specifically blogging, can be blamed for this. So we must ask the question that I posed in my editorial, “can the Christian message thrive in this generation or has technology changed our minds in a way that leaves us incapable of comprehending the depth necessary? Will the Great Commission become the Great Omission?”

I responded stating that

“This mode of communication (that is, the Internet) is simply one more means amongst many others preceding it, and like each of its predecessors, the Internet will take on depth. Early visual art as a means of communication had little depth, but with time rough images on canyon walls were followed by intricate frescoes. With one simple stroke of a brush on a blank canvas, artists are able to denote deep philosophical explanations. One thing that is found in every Catholic Church is the 14 Stations of the Cross, the purpose of which is to allow people to make a spiritual pilgrimage through prayer. In a time when Mass was entirely in Latin and illiteracy was not uncommon, these images permitted people to view and understand the process that Jesus went through. Images transmitted a message of salvation and redemption, and visual communication took on depth. When the first people attempted to put their ideas into writing it wasn’t very different. Plato warned people not to put anything in writing; he maintained that it would ruin our minds, change our brains, and essentially make us dumber. Starting out crude, rough, and with little depth, writing quickly took on great depths, as Leon Dumont drew out in one of his essays: ‘Flowing water hollows out a channel for itself which grow broader and deeper; and when it later flows again, it follows the path traced by itself.’ Depth followed as writing became the norm. Now we have millions of books from millions of authors–some are cheap literature used for simple entertainment, but some bear unimaginable depth that scholars still scratch their heads figuring out. Written communication, like image-based communication, took on depth.”

I do think that the internet has taken on depth in many aspects and I do think that it will continue to do so, however, I think at this point that there is an even more compelling argument for why the Internet is not posing a threat to intellectual progress. Historically, the bulk of humanity has not been “well read”. The bulk of humanity has in fact been illiterate. The nature of conversations was not particularly more intellectual prior to the massive expansion of the Internet. True, we can see minor differences, such as decrease in the length of presidential speeches; however, let’s not forget that the Gettysburg address was a mere 272 words! I do not believe that the condensing of rhetoric reflects a decrease in depth.

In my editorial I suggested that “where before media was very much a one way process–the artist, the author, and the television producer fed their ideas to the spectator or scholar–criticism of the observed work was difficult and time consuming. Now that the Internet and the world of social media come into play, individuals can criticize the work of businesses, scholars, and artists. Not only do means exist for the latter to respond to the criticisms, but the situations demands they enter into conversation with individuals. Discourse continues, but this time on a global scale.” One of the most redemptive aspects of the internet is the opportunity it presents to engage with what you are reading.

Depth of discourse is not threatened, and furthermore there is the possibility for a greater audience to engage on an intellectual level with the ideas being presented. I would say that we are faced with huge opportunities to get smarter. There will still be individuals that flood the Internet with misinformation, but think about those people in your surroundings and ask yourself if the same individuals that voice their asinine opinions on the Internet didn’t voice them in other ways every single day prior to the Internet.

The Internet is near limitless in its capacity to reach people. Missionaries in remote places are able to blog and Tweet, reaching thousands of people. Theological books don’t form relationships with people, but theologians can by using social media. The Internet can carry and facilitate the message, creating an ambiance of sustained dialogue–something that its written and visual counterparts could not do.

 

Chivalry is Finally Dead.

I recently stumbled across an article by John Puccio on Elite Daily, The Voice of Generation Y, titled “Why Chivalry is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective.” This article was bemoaning the fact that chivalry no longer exists in our society. All I could think was: good. I’m glad chivalry is dead. Chivalry stems from an entirely sexist mentality, i.e. women are not equal, women can’t provide for themselves, they are too fragile and weak and they belong in the home raising children and serving their bread-winning husbands.

John Puccio, who is also the founder of the website datingsagame.com, discussed how he was raised to open doors for his female counterparts, pull out chairs, pay for meals and treat them like “ladies”. He claims that dating is now passé and has been replaced by casual “hook ups” and drinks at the bar, because all men really want is sex, so they skip the fancy “get to know each other” routines of the past and get down and dirty.

He writes that “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.” And that eventually, “women will wise up and start asking for the things that they deserve.” The irony is that women have been asking for the equality they deserve for hundreds of years, and they almost have it, no thanks to sexist males like the author himself.

There is nothing wrong with holding doors, or pulling out chairs, or even paying for dinner, but it’s the intentions behind these actions and what they are insinuating about women that are the real problem.

So I am glad chivalry is dead.

I believe in common courtesy. I believe in holding the door for whoever is walking through it. I believe in pulling out chairs, when the situation calls for it. I believe in helping people carry heavy objects, if they need help. Regardless of their sex.

I am soon to be married, so the question of who picks up the tab will be irrelevant; however, when dating, my fiancée and I always looked at it from a financial stand point. Who had the money? Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was her. It came down to who had picked up the most shifts on the previous pay check, because we both worked for the same minimum wage.

Puccio ends his article by stating that until women start demanding what they deserve, “men are going to get away with putting in the bare minimum and receiving what we ultimately want anyway – sex.” To claim that men are only after sex and that women put out because they really don’t think they deserve any better is asinine to say the least and only goes to further the notion that women are but feeble creatures and we as men need to be the one to take initiatives. Women have a sex drive and should not be shamed for it, and furthermore as equals they can make the decision to engage in whatever activities they want.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the ridiculousness of a man telling women what they want. Men have dictated how women should act and told women what they should want for millions of years. It’s time we listen to what women are saying.

Foresight 20/200

Nope that was not a typo. 20/200 is the level of visual acuity that defines legal blindness.

I just recently got yet another rejection letter. Not that this is anything abnormal. The current economic situation combined with the depreciated value of higher education has made job searching somewhat of a hassle. I have considered about a dozen “entry level” positions that have been offered to applicants with Master’s degrees and even PhD candidates! I don’t know which is sadder, my rejection letters, or those with higher degrees being forced to search for employment in entry level positions. Either way, trying to get hired (in places other than the fast food industry) at this point in time is not the easiest thing.

With each rejection notice I receive comforting messages from my close friends and family. Typically they say something along the lines of “God just has something better in mind for you,” “This is God’s way of directing you. That’s a good thing,” or “there’s something else in store for you.” I appreciate the sentiment behind these messages but I must admit, typically this sort of response just ends up annoying me.

But as a Christian I must find comfort in the fact that God speaks to his people! At least I think He does. Maybe? Sometimes? Most the time he is silent. All is well because God has a plan for his people… but sometimes it involves horrible abuse, trauma and extreme poverty. I don’t know, maybe God speaks and has a plan; maybe God’s plan is for me to use common sense and to fail and succeed on my own. There are compelling arguments on both sides. Otherwise there wouldn’t be such a long lasting tradition within the reformed and the Arminian movements.

I won’t delve too deep at this point into which of these traditions I think is more theologically accurate. What I will say is that regardless of which tradition is most to your liking, God does not necessarily have anything good in store for you on this earth regardless of how faithful you’ve been.

Now before you burn me at the stake, hear me out for just one second.

Job’s afflictions were entirely God’s doing. In fact, Job even tells his wife “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Too often we like to pick and choose what we deem is from God and what is not. The Reformed tradition does a good job of not attributing only the good to God.

In one extreme view, God’s plan for you is to drag you through a life of extreme poverty and sickness so that you may be like the blind man whom Jesus healed in John 9. The disciples ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” and Jesus responds in the following verse that, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Thankfully for him the works of God found him; not everyone is so lucky.

In the other extreme, the open theologians such as Wolterstorff also come face to face with the fact that God does not prevent suffering one bit. They won’t blame God for the pain. They attribute the suffering of this world to such things as free will and humanity’s sinful nature. Open theologians can’t explain why God doesn’t do anything, why he remains silent, but they can’t bring themselves to attribute the hurt to God.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Knowingly or unknowingly we adhere to the theology of Luis De Molina who reconciles the providence of God with human free will. For those like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, this is an intellectual stance adopted subsequent to years of contemplation and biblical research. But for most of us, it’s a question of practicality. It is because we like to feel in control of our decisions, but we also like the comfort of believing that God does indeed have a plan for us, and a good one.

So now that I have rambled off some big names and pretended that I know something about each of these traditions, I will end with the fact that regardless of the tradition you believe in, I have come to find that there is very little guarantee of finding any comfort. Furthermore we as temporal beings can and/or will never know the nature of our respective fates—at least not until they happen. Is there a “greater purpose” behind each and every one of my rejection notices? Perhaps I may end up in a fantastic position doing the work that God planned for me to do. But maybe I didn’t get the jobs simply because more qualified individuals applied.

Either way, attributing my failures to God, whether He orchestrated them or not, does not make me feel any better, and sometimes it even makes me a little annoyed with Him.

We can speculate all we want about what is God’s doing and what is not; what was random and what was fate. In the end though, we remain blind until after it has happened.

In the words of my lovely fiancée, “After we’re old and gray, it will all make sense.” At least I hope so.

 

Certainty: a Christian Fallacy?

I’ve been thinking a lot about doubt recently. Doubt about my religious beliefs, my political ideologies, even about my ability to succeed professionally, given our current economic situation and impending financial doom. However, my soon to be step-mother-in-law pointed out an important issue with my “introductory” blog post. She messaged me saying “I think you may repeat your self-doubts too much… I like your humility, and believe it, but you probably only need to say it once, or others might doubt you too.” She has a point that obviously pertains to my blog and desire to retain readership, but this point should also be extended to pastors, teachers, and leaders who are being drawn into this trend of “constant open dialogue” that has developed subsequent to the increased popularity of blogging.

I recently graduated from Houghton College with a BA in communications and a minor in philosophy. For my senior seminar thesis I focused on how communication technology influences and shapes philosophical thought. The development of blogs is, in my opinion, directly to blame/thank (depending on your view) for the change in how we dialogue about and think of what were previously held as absolute truths. Blogging takes us from the concrete and unchanging statements of the printed text into a continuous open and ever changing dialogue.  This is a dangerous sector for theologians who are both exploring the inherent truths of the Christian faith and preaching those truths to the general public.

About a year and a half ago I wrote an editorial for the Houghton Star titled “Certainty: a Christian Fallacy.” This editorial was a response to an individual who argued that influential people (in this case upperclassmen influencing underclassmen), needed to be extremely cautious in what views they voiced because it could cause people to stumble. My article essentially argued that doubt was a necessary component of faith and therefore it was crucial for us to come face to face with views directly opposing our own, because if truth is absolute then these opposing views should ultimately serve to reinforce our own position. So to his warning against “loosing ourselves in other’s beliefs” I simply responded, “there is no such risk. The only risk is refusing to admit that we have no such thing as certainty.” I believed that the beliefs of others could not jeopardize truth; on the contrary, they could only serve to legitimize it. Much of my editorial was based on John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt: A Parable, and views upheld by Dr. Polkinghorne, a physicist-turned-priest.

The play Doubt can be summed up by the quote “doubt can be a bond as powerful as certainty.” The basic premise of the play involves a nun who is so caught up in her certainty that her priest is a pedophile that she ruins his life, the lives of their students, and her relationship with God. Her inability to doubt her beliefs thwarts her ability to know the truth.

A few years ago, Dr. Polkinghorne was the focus of a fascinating article titled “Why Certainty in God is Overrated” in which he compares his belief in God to beliefs in quarks. Quarks are elementary particles that are fundamental constituents of matter. Though no one has actually seen quarks, no educated physicist would ever think of denying their existence. Polkinghorne states that “We don’t believe in quarks because we’ve seen them. We believe in quarks because the theories that have quarks in them work.” Similarly, we believe in God because the theories that have God in them work.

So I argued that doubt was a crucial element of our faith, and naturally I had all the great Christian thinkers to back me up. C.S. Lewis states “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.” Similarly Chesterton writes, “What is worth Believing is worth questioning.”

I still buy into parts of this argument. I do still enjoy watching the play and movie rendition of Doubt (and not just for Meryl Streep). I also believe that Lewis and Chesterton have valuable points. However, I have been rethinking my views on doubt for a number of reasons.

First of all, the whole concept of doubt and uncertainty in this context is too postmodern and relativistic (when taken to the extremes that I was calling for). It is one thing to examine faith; it is another thing to suspend judgment and remain in a constant state of “perhaps” and “maybes.”

Secondly, the concept of “open dialogue,” when adopted by people in leadership roles, is too big of a risk. The Bible states that teachers will be judged harsher than others, a warning that should be taken more seriously by leaders who adopt these positions of uncertainty and constant open dialogue.

And lastly, two thousand years of Christian teachings have held to a few basic fundamental truths that define Orthodox Christianity. Either we can throw them away and no longer call ourselves Christians, or we can abide by them and remain in the faith. But this trend of suspending all beliefs while still attempting to remain part of long standing tradition is illogical and detrimental to the faith as a whole.

There is absolute truth (bear in mind that this is not a piece of apologetics; it is geared towards those professing the Christian faith). The Bible teaches that there are absolutes. Our faith is more than a theory proposed by our forefathers suggesting the philosophical probability of metaphysical forces. It is a revelation. It is ok to not uphold this view, but given the nature of the posited view there is really no room for open dialogue (suspending judgment) amongst teachers on matters agreed on by the Church Universal as being fundamental to the Christian Faith. For more on this consider reading Chesterton’s Essay Orthodoxy.

The nature of open dialogue, in the context of this post, is a trend begun by emergent Christians. It is groups of intellectuals who are merely conversing about theological beliefs but not professing any beliefs in any concrete way. Kevin Deyoung addresses the dangers of engaging in such open dialogues in his book Why we’re not Emergent (by two guys who should be) stating that “it’s one thing for a high school student to be in process with his theology. It’s another thing for adults to write books and speak around the world about their musings and misgivings.”

Don’t get me wrong, we should dialogue about the “hard questions,” and we definitely should not avoid the tensions in our faith, but Kevin hits the nail on the head by pointing out the fact that when you sell thousands of books and retain a serious readership on your blog you are no longer just a conversation partner, you are a teacher.

Do pastors, teachers, and leaders still have their doubts? Of course! As long as we live on this earth we will have questions and doubts. But engaging on such broad platforms and voicing those doubts in such an open manner is not a position people in leadership should or can take.

So I will conclude with the recognition that we don’t know everything. We should question our faith. We should express our views with humility. But we should not adopt a state of constant open dialogue, uncertainty and doubt. “Maybe” is not the new “yes.”

Philosophical inquiries, Theological speculations, Political disputes! Oh My!

I have resisted blogging for quite some time now for a few reasons. First of all, I would like to think that what I do and say should impact the world around me. Secondly, I fear that my voice would be but a murmur amongst the millions of other voices out there. I’m also afraid of becoming complacent. Lastly, I am skeptical that the Internet can really foster a suitable environment for intellectual dialogue.

I begin this endeavor fully aware that what I write may never reach or impact anybody, and I most likely will never become more than a small murmur in the multitude of blogs that exist. However, regardless of the Internet’s atmospheric inadequacy, this is nevertheless where dialogue has shifted to, and as someone who firmly believes in open discourse I can no longer avoid this platform.

I think it is probably appropriate for me to introduce myself and give a brief overview of who I am and what I hope to accomplish through writing this blog. My name is Andy Nelson. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Congo, a war torn third world nation with an extremely corrupt government; France, a middle class socialist society; and South Dallas, a segregated, gang infested, liberal fraction of a right wing capitalist state. This exposure to diverse cultures has successfully enriched my personal growth and maturity while simultaneously leaving me in a state of disarray vis a vis the world we live in.

Similarly, my spiritual life has gone through the ringer. Throughout my life, I have been exposed to a slew of different denominations. My parents, coming from Gideon and Baptist backgrounds, joined the inter-denominational mission organization Wycliffe Bible Translators. The first four years of my life were spent in a non-denominational Congolese Church. This was quite the Charismatic experience, as I’m sure you can imagine (although I must confess, given my young age, I do not remember much of this experience. Nevertheless I have been impacted by the stories of my siblings and parents). After this, we moved to France, where I was put in a private Catholic school for the following eleven years. I attended Catechism. I was taught that the Saints would intercede for me. I went to confession. I partook in the Holy Communion. Also in France I attended an Assemblies of God church with my family, in which, though perhaps not explicitly but most definitely implicitly, proof of my salvation was contingent on my ability to speak some indiscernible gibberish dialect. Around this time, my parents became intrigued by what was happening in Toronto. John Arnott prayed his famous prayer “come Holy Spirit, come;” And thus began the infamous Toronto Blessing. After this, my family joined the Vineyard movement, a neo-charismatic movement stemming out of the Calvary Chapel. After I moved back to the States, some close friends of the family invited me to attend the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. This is a charismatic non-denominational “mission” organization that emphasizes post-tribulational premillenialism. Led by a former Kansas City Prophet, Mike Bickle, the movement focuses on the end times. And last but not least, I most recently graduated from Houghton College, which is a private Liberal Arts institution in the Wesleyan tradition.

I fully anticipate pontificating in further posts on the theological accuracies and inaccuracies of these various belief systems, and the logical cogency of these political ideologies, so for the time being all this is simply to give you an idea of the blessing and frustration of having witnessed such a variety of cultures, politics, and theological views. It has left me with extensive confusion. One biblical truth that defines my state perfectly is found in the existential prose of King Solomon when he writes in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

I find myself becoming envious of those with prepackaged ideologies. So much simplicity lies in ignorance. This is not intended to sound elitist; rather, it is an attempt to bemoan the place in which my exposure has left me.

As I write I don’t expect to answer any questions. I don’t anticipate revealing any obscure truths. I don’t predict that I will shed any light on any subject. I don’t even think that my pontificating will necessarily lend to greater enlightenment for anybody. But I by no means think that any of it is in vain. This is a place for me to process my personal thoughts, appreciate feedback of those wiser and those not so wise, although I will never tell you which one I think you are. This is merely intended to be a place where I will converse and invite others to enter into broader conversations that are happening online.

It has taken me quite some time to finally go forward with writing on such a broad and public platform, as I do not wish to become just one more querulous voice, but neither do I wish to be complacent in the face of all the un-redemptive suffering around me, to be quiet in the face of all the unanswered questions, and to close my eyes in the face of all the injustices.

Though millennia of philosophical inquiries, theological speculations, political dispute, and social movements have lent to little improvements, remaining outside the conversation is no longer an option.

Thus concludes my first post. Comments are welcome.