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Archive for May, 2012

A Review of Why the Christian Right is Wrong

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 27, 2012

Why the Christian Right Is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your FutureWhy the Christian Right Is Wrong: A Minister’s Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future by Robin R. Meyers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow, Robin Meyers is one seriously pissed off individual! I mean, blow your top pissed off. I can dig it, to a degree, because the same things tick me off, but I think he let his passions get the best of him in this literary effort. I think he spends too much time ranting, and not enough time providing plausible alternatives, nor linking the political with the religious. I think he could have done more with that, and should have. I think he owed it to the reader. Indeed, the first third of the book or so is spent Bush bashing. While I hate Bush and while I know this book was written while Bush was still in office, I just had a feeling of been there, done that. I didn’t really learn anything new, and Meyers was just ranting to the choir, in my opinion. I doubt anyone who actually needed to benefit from a topic the title of the book suggests would in fact benefit. They’d just stop reading after 10 pages and say, typical liberal anti-Bush bias — and it is. I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be overly impressed with it. Perhaps another writer could have done a better job of it, I don’t know. Meyers’ polemics just kind of turned me off — even though I feel strongly about many of the same things myself. Frankly, I didn’t feel like this was that much of a “manifesto.” Pity….

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A Review of A New Kind of Christianity

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 25, 2012

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the FaithA New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, all I could say was “Wow!” It blew my mind, mostly in a good way. And it left me with an awful lot to think about.

Countless people have reviewed this book (some rather viciously), so I’m not going to win any awards with some in-depth discussion of the book, but I do want to write about a few things that stood out for me. First of all, the book is based on 10 important questions to be asking these days. The first five are largely theological, and the remaining five are more practical. The 10 questions are:

1. The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
2. The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
3. The God Question: Is God Violent?
4. The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
5. The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
6. The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
7. The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
8. The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of Viewing the Future?
9. The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
10. The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?

The cool thing about this book is that while the author raises – and addresses – these questions, he admits to not having the definitive answers and invites us all to participate in the “conversation.”

The first question is pretty important – what is the overarching storyline of the Bible? Well, he argues that the basic story – as believed and adhered to by most of Western civilization – is mistaken in its belief systems. He asserts the beliefs don’t come from the Bible, but are instead taken from (at the time current) Greco-Roman narratives. I can almost buy that, but it didn’t appear to me that he made a strong case for how this exactly transpired. He just gives us Plato and Aristotle and declares that this is how we have based everything for centuries. Odd. I would like a greater understanding of this theory.

As a result of this theory, there are a number of Christian misconceptions floating around, such as the world was created in a “perfect” state, when in fact, it was “good” – which doesn’t equal perfect. Another component of this reading is a rejection of the “Fall” of mankind. This got a bit confusing for me at times, but if you buy into his theory, it makes sense. He relates it as a “six-line narrative,” comprised of Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Salvation, Heaven, Damnation. This is what we learn in Sunday school and church our entire lives. This is the basis for believing what we believe. And he asserts it’s wrong. McLaren feels that the Bible is really telling us numerous stories of God’s never-ending compassion and forgiveness, seen over and over again throughout the text.

In another chapter, McLaren asserts that Christianity has had a “constitutional” view of the Bible and this should be replaced with viewing the texts in the Bible as a type of “community library.” As I dislike the constitutional view of Christians I know and know of, this appeals to me. Enough with evangelical fundamentalism, say I! Part of this constitutional view of the Bible is its static state of being, as in everything is settled, so do as I say. McLaren instead thinks the Scripture is inviting us to be a part of an ongoing conversation. This is a refreshing outlook to me.

Still later in the book, he deals with the nature of God, and this reminds me of Rob Bell’s Love Wins in a way (a book I like very much). Basically, if you go by the six-line constitutional way of viewing the world, one could see God as a mean spirited, punishing god, one not worthy of belief or worship. With a new kind of Christianity, in this case with a redemptive community library narrative to go on, it’s foolish to view God as a god who tortures most of humanity forever in “infinite eternal conscious torment” (ECT). Now that makes a lot of sense to me. Why would God create a world with many billions of people and send the vast majority of them to an eternal conscious torment for the few varied sins they commit during their brief and finite period of existence on Earth? It literally makes no sense to me.

McLaren goes on to discuss many other important issues, all in a radical way of viewing things (to me) that I found appealing. He argues that contemporary Christians are “fundasexualists” in their overt hatred of homosexuals, among others, and reminds us that Jesus forgave the adulteress, sought out and mingled with the outcasts of society, and based his world vision on loving inclusiveness. A refreshing look at things from my perspective.

I enjoyed all of the chapters with the possible exception of the last one – on translating our quest into action – where I think he falters a little bit and makes some assumptions that don’t necessarily need to be conveyed as they are. Still, as he starts and ends the book by writing, he’s not producing definitive answers to these questions. He’s merely starting conversations in calling for a radical rethinking of Christianity, Jesus, God, and the Bible.

In reading through reviews on Goodreads and ones found Googling the author, it’s amazing to me how many people hate McLaren. The vitriol is something else. And it’s all coming from “loving” evangelical/fundamentalist Christians – some of the very people he describes in this book, and some of the very people we need to move away from. Some of the best things he’s called are a false prophet and a heretic. Nice to be able to sit in judgment there, isn’t it? It’s amazing to me how contemporary conservative Christianity is filled with hate – hatred of others who do not espouse the same beliefs that they do, who don’t vote the same way, who – quite frankly – may be trying to lead a life set by Jesus’ example of loving others. These Christians just don’t get it and they probably never will. They have too much invested in the Greco-Roman worldview of life to consider alternatives or change. It’s truly sad. I’m giving this book five out of five stars. I think it’s an amazing book that can be life altering, and it’s made me re-think a lot of things that I wish I had re-thought many years ago. Nice job Mr. McLaren.

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A Review of Love Jesus, Hate Church

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 25, 2012

Love Jesus, Hate Church: How to Survive in Church - Or Die Trying!Love Jesus, Hate Church: How to Survive in Church – Or Die Trying! by Steve McCranie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Can’t finish it. Wanted to, but can’t. Thought the book had a great premise, and I was very eager to read it. It’s even possible the author made some good points. However, these were really overshadowed for me by his writing style. He is so flippant! He’s smug, he’s smarmy — he’s kind of an asshole. I was really disappointed. Moreover, perhaps because he has a lot of baggage, he rants — with some authenticity — but doesn’t provide much in the way of solutions. I frankly thought this was a book that needed to be written — but by someone else, a better writer perhaps. This author needed to go back to college and take a couple of writing classes, as well as a rhetoric class. Oh, one other thing that irritated me was the fact that at every possible opportunity, he injected the title of his book into the text — and bolded it. Man, that was annoying! Page after page of bolded book title interspersed with the text. Wow. The publisher should have exercised better editorial control. Largely a disappointment.

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Van Halen Cancelled!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 22, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Van Halen — the original Van Halen with David Lee Roth — since the late ’70s. Likewise for my girlfriend. We’ve both wanted to see them in concert for a very long time, but for some years now have assumed it to be a lost cause due to their breakup back in the mid-’80s. So imagine our delight when Van Halen reunited recently (with David Lee Roth), produced a new studio album, and announced a huge tour in support of the album. (Let me just say, the new album rocks. Eddie just SHREDS the guitar!) When I learned the group was going to be performing in Knoxville, my former hometown that’s two hours up the road from us this coming August, I immediately decided to get us a pair of tickets. You only live once, right, and this would be a dream come true. When the tickets went on pre-sale, I logged on and got two of the remaining best ones available — which truthfully weren’t in an ideal section, but oh well — for a pretty steep price, IMO. But that didn’t matter. We had tickets and we were finally going to see Van Halen in concert this coming August!

Well, they’re currently on tour, and I’ve seen a set list of their stuff, and it looks pretty good. It should be a good concert. Or more accurately, would have been! See, I got an email recently telling me Van Halen had “postponed” their Knoxville concert, but that the tickets would be honored at a later show. I was horrified. This show was going to be on a Saturday night, which meant we didn’t have to take any vacation time. We could go up to Knoxville, hang out with some friends, see the show, and get back in time to start the new week. So I did a little digging. Turns out the band cancelled 31 shows, all after June 26th, I believe. And Rolling Stone reported it was cause they hate each other and are fighting bitterly. About what, who knows? And that just pisses me off! They had bad blood — well, David and the rest of the group — for all of these years, and then they reunite and everything sounds fine and dandy and they release this great album and start touring and reviews are good, and then this…? WTF??? Surely they’ve had plenty of time to work out their differences. Otherwise why would they have gotten back together? And if they’re so pissed at each other, why aren’t they cancelling ALL of their shows, effective immediately??? Why are they playing til June 26th and THEN cancelling everything after that? It makes no sense. And my girlfriend and I are especially ticked that as longtime fans, we’ve waited decades — literally — to see this show, paid out $200 for tickets (which is a lot, in my opinion), and this is what we get? Crapped on? Seriously? How about a little respect for the long suffering fans? How about honoring your commitments? How about getting past your differences and pulling off a great return? So, I’m not asking for a refund — for now — but I don’t have high hopes that this actually has been postponed. I fear it more likely has been cancelled and that’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

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A Review of I’m Fine With God — It’s Christians I Can’t Stand

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 21, 2012

I'm Fine with God... It's Christians I Can't Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual TruthI’m Fine with God… It’s Christians I Can’t Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual Truth by Bruce Bickel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished this fine book and must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. First of all though, the authors identify themselves as Christians, so don’t get too worked up before you know this fact. A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book state they don’t know who the intended audience is. Man, that blows my mind! I am most certainly of the intended audience. For years — for decades — I have been saying the title to this book literally over and over again to whoever will listen. It’s not about God — it’s about his idiot representatives, or at least the majority of them! Talk about driving people away from God….

The authors of this book cover Christians who
* impose their morality on others
* are paranoid
* think they are correctly right and everyone else is wrongly left
* think science is the enemy
* are convinced God wants them to be rich
* fixate on the end of the world
* make lousy movies
* don’t know what they believe
* think they have a monopoly on truth
* give Christ a bad name.

Wow, that covers a whole lot of people, doesn’t it? The chapters that especially spoke to me were on the getting rich quick Christians (prosperity Christians) and the anti-science Christians, because these two drive me nuts more than most of the others. I guess I could lump in the ones that believe they have a monopoly on truth too. I wish some Christians could lighten up, not be such assholes, get a clue, etc., et al. This book really spoke to me, and it spoke some real truths to me as well. (It didn’t hurt to see Pat Robertson get taken down a notch. LOL!) There are so many people out there — avowed Christians — who I would love to give this book to, but I know deep down that if I did, I would be met with Christian hostility, and that saddens me. Cause sometimes you have to look in the mirror and even though it hurts, it’s often best to do.

One passage toward the end of the book stuck out for me. It said, “If Christians are going to restore the perception of Christ as he is portrayed in the New Testament, we need to be more thoughtful about our faith. Instead if spending our time lashing out at the culture …, we should put our time to better use by trying to conform ourselves to God.” That’s a powerful statement, and I think it’s right on. Frankly, society as a whole could benefit from America’s Christians reading this book all together, and ultimately acting on what they read. Finally, the only reason I’m giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that I think each chapter could have been more in depth than they were. This book was clearly intended for the TV generation of those with short attention spans. Other than that, I was happy I read it.

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A Review of The Crack in Space

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 20, 2012

The Crack in SpaceThe Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not one of Dick’s better books, but still an interesting read and, occasionally, a fun one at that. I found it a bit shocking that in the 1960s, Dick was writing about issues that are very relevant today, such as abortion, a black president, etc. Before either was possible, in other words. The book is about a parallel earth, and our attempts to populate it with 70 million bibs, or people who had been frozen due to overpopulation. Most of them are black. As far as a standard Dick novel, I thought it moved a little slowly, and there were some things I wasn’t happy with. For instance, there were far too many characters to keep track of — it seemed like dozens! I kept getting them all mixed up. Then some would just disappear from the text, never to be heard from again (Myra Sands). It can be a bit confusing. Additionally, Dick usually throws a few more wrenches into his works than he did in this one, leaving us with the alternate earth and not much more. I kept waiting for standard PKD surprises to knock me over, but that rarely happened. Still, even though this isn’t one of his stronger works, I’m giving it a solid 4 out of 5 stars, as I think most anything Dick writes is better than the best that most other authors publish….

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A Review of The Forever War

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 17, 2012

The Forever WarThe Forever War by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Winner of both the Hugo & Nebula Awards, this proved to be an interesting book for me. It’s military sci fi, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not my favorite sub-genre either. Still, this didn’t go overboard, in my opinion, so that was nice. It’s about a kid drafted into an interplanetary war who, due to technology issues, ages at a rate so slow in his hyperspace jumps that centuries pass by on Earth. Meanwhile, not much is known about the aliens he’s doing battle with, and indeed, the book pays little attention to them. What interested me more about the book was Haldeman’s descriptions of his vision of Earth’s progress in the future, or lack thereof; of the changes made in society and even humanity. Where one would think positive progress is made over time, we learn that’s not necessarily the case.

Written by a Vietnam vet during the Vietnam war, there’s some occasional social commentary to be gleaned from the book, but it’s mild. One odd thing to me, though, was that women aren’t always treated overly well. When our protagonist, Mandella, is drafted, he finds that the integrated army personnel sleeps together, as in sexually and with multiple partners, and in fact, the female military members are legally obliged to be sexual partners to the men. So in essence, they’re whores. That bothered me a lot. But if you can get past that, the women are otherwise treated well, and there is a love interest in the book, which I found mildly surprising.

I was bothered by some things that took place in the last section of the book, but I don’t want to give away spoilers, so you can decide for yourself. I will say that I loved the ending, the way things were tied up so neatly, and I was actually touched by it. Good job, Haldeman.

Overall, even though I’m just giving this book a 4 out of 5 stars (some of it’s rather dated, and he was way off in terms of envisioning some technology advances), I think it’s well worth the read and I heartily recommend it to anyone out there who is not only a sci fi lover, but a reader who enjoys military books, some action, some cultural commentary, etc. Worth the time to read, and at 280 pages, it’s easy to get through. Good book!

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A Review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2012

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedLove Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second time I’ve read Rob Bell’s Love Wins, and I’ve got to say it’s one of the more remarkable books I’ve ever read! Whether you agree with him or not (and many people do not), he asks a lot of good, legitimate questions — some I never thought to ask and some I was afraid to ask — and puts issues on the table that are very worthy of discussion. What exactly is heaven? And hell? What does God’s love really mean? How do we get to heaven, if there is such a place? Etc., etc. I’ve had “issues” with God and traditional (evangelical) Christianity most of my life, so I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to read a self-described evangelical ask some of the questions being asked in this book and stating some of the things that are stated. It has given me a new way of looking at things. It has given me a sense of hope. What more can you ask for in a book?

I want to mention just a few passages from the book that really struck me:

“Now, back to those church websites, the ones that declare that ultimately billions of people will spend eternity apart from God, while others will be with God in heaven forever.

Is history tragic?
Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth?
Is our future uncertain,
or will God take care of us?
Are we safe?
Are we secure?
Or are we on our own?”

(p 102)

Later:

“Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, ‘Sorry, too late?’ Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door, apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in, only to hear God say through the keyhole: ‘Door’s locked. Sorry. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late.'”

(p 108)

Still later, about God sentencing a well loved child of his to eternal damnation:

“If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.

Love one moment, vicious the next.
Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.

Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?”

(p 174)

More:

“…when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do.”

(p 183)

It’s this last quote that particularly speaks to me, because when I look at mainstream Christianity, I see the type of Christian he describes here. “Loving” until they find out you don’t see things the same way they do. Hostile and nasty when you let people know, for instance, that you’re actually a Democrat in a Republican, evangelical church. I remember when I first heard of Fred Phelps, and his now infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. This was back in the mid ’90s, long before they were protesting military funerals. They had just started a new website called godhatesfags.com. It made me sick to my stomach. No matter what you think about what happened to the inhabitants of Sodom, all people are God’s children created in his image. God loves us all. (Except perhaps Fred Phelps. Just kidding.) It’s the toxic, ultra-conservative Christian who is ruining things for people like myself all through America and the rest of the world, and when you Google Rob Bell’s name, you find plenty of websites by so-called Christians doing exactly what Bell describes here — creating toxicity in calling Bell a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and the anti-Christ and numerous other idiotic things merely because they disagree with his theology. Well, who made THEIR theology the right one, huh???

OK, I got off target. I guess I’ll wrap up by saying I think everyone out there would benefit by reading this book, again, whether you agree with Bell or not. It simply raises a lot of interesting and legitimate questions, and its basic premise is one everyone could use and perhaps needs — in the end, love wins.

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A Review of Jesus Wants to Save Christians

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2012

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in ExileJesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an interesting read, and fairly different from Bell’s Velvet Elvis & Love Wins. It’s more straight theology & less personal anecdote. He states early that he’ll be taking a “New Exodus” approach in this book, which sets some people off pretty vehemently. For me, I don’t have a problem with it. Indeed, I found it rather enlightening. Bell tells us that Jesus wants us to concern ourselves with the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor, etc., and that much of the church is missing the point. He consistently uses scripture to back up his assertions. Here’s one quote I particularly liked:

A church’s authority comes from somewhere else — it comes from how we’ve been broken open and poured out, not from how well we’ve pursued power & lobbied & organized ourselves to triumph. This is why when Christians organize politically & start flexing that muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus.

Jesus’ followers at that point are claiming to be the voice of God, but they are speaking the language of Caesar & using the methods of Rome, & for millions of us it has the stench of Solomon.

Rob Bell, Jesus Wants To Save Christians

I just love Rob Bell and his books. He singlehandedly makes me want to return to the church and live the kind of life I think Jesus would want from me. He’s a true inspiration. Indeed, I’m re-reading Love Wins just to get a better understanding of what God wants from us, with us, and for us. I think this is my least “favorite” book of Bell’s I’ve read, but it’s still quite good and very much worth reading.

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Who’s The Smart Ass?

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 12, 2012

OK, so just who’s the smart ass? Some roofing schmuck came  to our door at lunch today and rang the doorbell. We have a no soliciting sign on our front door. I opened the door and he started a spiel about our needing a new roof, etc. I interrupted and pointing at the sign, said no soliciting. He replied that he wasn’t soliciting. I said, “Yes you are. Please leave.” His response? “OK smart ass!” He then stomped away muttering curse words. Nice. I love door to door salespeople. We have that sign for a reason. They hit us every day here. Yeesh! We’re not in a wealthy area! We’re in a nice, diverse middle class residential neighborhood, but I swear, it seems like people hit our house every freakin’ day and it’s driving me nuts! I’m almost scared to answer the door anymore. I find it highly annoying and anxiety provoking. I guess I need to invest in a pit bull, right? (OK, not really, but I’m getting desperate…)

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