Saturday, June 07, 2003

Blogspotters unite!

Around the end of last year, I was getting so fed up with Blogger that I half-seriously made a New Year's resolution to move to Movable Type. Obviously, I didn't follow through on that, because I gathered that Movable Type a) costs money and b) requires technical expertise that I don't have, at least to start it up.

Well, a recent development may address both of these concerns. Dean Esmay has gotten so fed up with the defective links and comments on his favorite Blogspot sites that he's offered to move people to MT for free. He's moved nine people in the last three days. The movers still have to pay $15 for the domain and $5 a month for the hosting fee, but Dean's services are free.

In the comments, Tony of Trojan Horseshoes has a suggestion for making it even cheaper:
I know that one MT installation can support multiple Blogs. Some people may even want to go in together, which would lower the costs even more, and make you need to do fewer installs.

They would have to share a domain name though, but could have a unique first part of the domain name.

This is how Dodd has Blogfodder setup. Multiple blogs all on one MT install, and each of us has a different url, in the format of

Since I'm painfully in debt right now (just had to get a new cooling system on my car -- yeesh), I find this idea very appealing. I know I've seen other Blogspotters I read grumbling a lot lately, especially those with comments. I'm thinking of something like this: if I get, say, two other people to share the domain, I could pay under my name and they could each send me $15 to cover their share of the start-up plus the first six months of hosting. If they want to stay on after that they can send $10 for another six months. Something like that, but it's negotiable.

Is anybody interested? Just think -- working archives, functioning permalinks, comments that don't disappear! Woohoo!

Friday, June 06, 2003

Hating for fun and profit

Charles Murtaugh says some uninvited guests showed up at Harvard's graduation:
On one side of the street was a group of about ten people (including three or four little kids) carrying anti-gay signs, and on the other a larger group of counterprotesters with signs reading "No Hate in Cambridge" and the like. At first I thought it was business as usual, but a closer look at the first group revealed that these weren't your ordinary rightwing protesters.

First, their signs had bright day-glo color schemes, and the language was almost self-parodic, e.g. "God Hates Fags," "No Dyke Weddings," and, over a photo of Alan Dershowitz, "Fag Alan." Second, they were apparently not a one-issue interest group: one sign, in bright rainbow letters, read "Thank God for Sept. 11," and another said something like, "God Destroyed the WTC." Two of the picketers were dragging American flags behind them, so that their compatriots could tread on them.

Apparently this production comes courtesy of legendary hatemonger Fred Phelps (much as I dislike Michael Moore, the episode of his short-lived "Awful Truth" show when he counter-picketed Phelps with a busload of drag queens and leatherboys was absolutely wonderful), who has recently targeted graduation ceremonies to host his little publicity stunts. I knew he didn't like gays, but the anti-Americanism was new to me. Who does he expect to win over, anyway? Honestly, between the bizarrely cheerful signs and the over-the-top rhetoric, I thought I might be witnessing a staged event for a "Trigger Happy TV"-type show. I waited for a bunch of giant rabbits to come out and pummel the picketers, but they were sadly not forthcoming. The other possibility that ran through my head is that Phelps himself is some sort of sleeper agent for People for the American Way.

Actually, the reportage on Phelps reveals that he hates just about everything. The anti-gay thing is just the most publicized of his hates, and one of the newer ones. By the time he started doing that in the 1980s, he'd already pissed off enough people that the Southern Baptists tried to throw him out of his church, the ABA disbarred him, and three of his children left him, telling frightening stories of abuse. In his hometown of Topeka he's known for sending abusive letters to local officials, accusing them of weird sex acts. In other words, he's a complete fruitcake.

He also doesn't particularly care about winning people over. His congregation basically consists of his own large family intermarried with a few other clans. He's one of those tiny-remnant guys -- the more he's hated, the more righteous he thinks he is. And on his own website, which I will not link to, he responds to the point Charles makes by saying, "Who cares?" Really, Phelps would be an irrelevant figure if he did not live in the media age. He knows how to be in the right places and say such offensive things that he's made himself a public figure despite his lack of a following.

I've said here before that I doubt that anyone is all evil, but in Phelps the good qualities are hard to spot. But in a way I hope he gets to heaven. I think he'll be in for a shock when he sees who else is there.
Happy birthday ...

... to my favorite brother-in-law! OK, so I only have one, but even if I had more he'd probably still be my favorite. The only trouble is, I can never remember exactly what day the birthday is -- the sixth? the eighth? So pardon me if I'm off. But anyway, I know you read the blog, so I hope you have a good time whatever day it is. Your present will probably be late, but it'll get there soon ...

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Hit the pause button

You know how I said back here that I hadn't had a good cry yet? Well, I went on not having one, until last night. Whatever the reason, it came out. I'm still a little wobbly today, so I'm not up for a real post.

The historical-Jesus discussion is generating some interest, so I hope to continue that in a day or two. Tom over at Disputations has a comment on the subject, which was picked up by Mark Shea and his bevy of commenters. (Scroll down to the post titled "Proposition" -- republish your archives, Mark!)

T.S. O'Rama also emailed me a quote from Flannery O'Connor:
It's in the nature of the Church to survive all crises - in however battered a fashion...Everything has to operate first on the literal level...I suppose what bothers us so much about writing about the return of modern people to a sense of the Holy Spirit is that the religious sense seems to be bred out of them in the kind of society we've lived in since the eighteenth century. And it's bred out of them double quick now by the religious substitutes for religion. There's nowhere to latch on to, in the characters or the audience. If there were in the public just a slight sense of ordinary theology (much less crisis theology), if they only believed at least that God has the power to do certain things. THere is no sense of the power of God that could produce the Incarnation and the Resurrection. They are all so busy explaining away the virgin birth and such things, reducing everything to human proportions that in time they lose even the sense of the human itself, what they were aiming to reduce everything to.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Chapter 1: In search of the protoplasmic Jesus

I mentioned a couple days ago that Telford and I are blogging through a book about the historical Jesus, and today is the maiden launch, so to speak. This will be a more structured than previous discussions, which had a way of getting out of control (mostly because of me, alas). The deal is: we each read a chapter, post about it without looking at each other's blogs, and then make a single response to each post. Telford's responses, I assume, will be in my comments, but since Clutter has no comments I'll have to respond to him here.

Anyway, the book consists of alternating chapters by two scholars: Marcus Borg, a member of the controversially liberal Jesus Seminar, and N.T. Wright, a traditionalist. The first chapter is Borg's.

Borg lays out the backdrop of his viewpoint. He is a believer, but he takes some of the Gospels' events to be historical and some to be metaphorical. His view of the evidence is that the earliest NT author was Paul; the earliest of the Gospels was Mark, which dated to about 70 C.E.; Matthew and Luke, from slightly later, both drew on a source document, a list of sayings, called Q; and the Gospel of John was later still, and largely metaphorical.

All this I've heard before, it being a pretty common view among Bible scholars. He does make an interesting claim that I hadn't seen before, which is that we should make a distinction between the incarnated Jesus who walked, talked and died 2000 years ago (or the "protoplasmic Jesus") and the "living Jesus," the divine being who rose up and lives today. He says that growing up he blurred them together, but he now sees this as a mistake:
But note what happened: I lost the historical Jesus as a credible huan being. A person who knows himself to be the divinely begotten Son of God (and even the second person of the Trinity) and who has divine knowledge and power is not a real human being. Because he is more than human, he is not fully human ... When we emphasize his divinity at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being he was.

Less obvious but equally important, I also lost the living risen Christ as a figure of the present. Because I had uncritically identified the divine Jesus with the human Jesus, Jesus as a divine figure became a figure of the past. He was here for a while, but not anymore. For thirty years, more or less, Jesus a divine being walked the earth. The, after he had been raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven, where he is now at the right hand of God. He will come again someday -- but in the meantime, he is not here. Jesus had become for me a divine figure of the past, not a figure of the present.

I know what he means. I've had problems with both of those things myself. This is the ancient argument about how much Jesus was human and how much divine, and how to reconcile the two. In another book Telford loaned me a few months ago, the author went through various theories on this and finally settled on, "Jesus was fully divine and fully human." Which seemed to work for him, but to me it's about as helpful as pointing out that the mome raths outgrabe. It's a grammatical sentence, but that doesn't mean it makes sense.

Later, Borg also writes about the worldview he comes from:
Modernity is dominated by a secular worldview. This image of reality began to emerge in the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the birth of modern science. Sometimes called the Newtonian worldview or simply the modern worldview, it sees what is real as the world of matter and energy, space and time; and it sees the universe as a closed system of cause and effect, operating in accord with natural laws ...

Like all worldviews, it functions in our minds almost unconsciously, affecting what we think possible and what we pay attention to. It is especially corrosive of religion. It reduces reality to the spactime world of matter and energy, thereby making the notion of God problematic and doubtful. It reduces truth to factuality, either scientifically verifiable or historically reliable facts.

This worldview is also the one from which I come, though I don't know that I see it quite the way that he does. In my earlier series of posts about the historicity of Jesus I remarked that when I speak of a "scientific" way of looking at things it's not primarily based on the idea that the universe is governed by natural laws. That's part of it, but it's not the most important part to me, and it's not reason, to my mind, to categorically rule out God. This is partly because I don't, in fact, necessarily, see spiritual truth as coming down to historically reliable facts; in fact, I went in to this sort of assuming that Christianity was not in that realm, but Telford keeps insisting that it is.

But probably the larger reason is that, while it's true that the general scientific mindset is rooted in the Enlightenment, the universe that science shows me today looks very different from the cozy clocklike world of the eighteenth century. As you go out into the farthest reaches of space or the minuscule realm of molecular physics, things get very strange indeed, and often mysterious. The shift from Newtonian physics to relativity theory is probably the most famous example: the model went from something sensible and mechanical to something counterintuitive and bizarre.

That example points up the basic reason behind this: the laws of nature were not handed down to people like the Ten Commandments to Moses. They're things we have to deduce for ourselves, by observation. And as our observations expand and change, so does our understanding of the rules.

I can't help thinking of the Infinite Improbability Drive in Douglas Adams sci-fi satire The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Whenever it was turned on, bizarre things would happen -- whales and bowls of petunias appearing in deep space, for instance. When one character protests that's impossible, he gets the answer, "No, it's just highly improbable."

So anyway, I think one of the features of a scientific mindset is to give the cosmos room to be strange, and to surprise me.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Entertainment value

So Tom started the game of captioning these pictures, the other Tom picked it up, and now I must make my contribution:

1. "While you're down there, could you look around for my contact lens?"

2. "So... tell me again why you're drawing a picture of Saddam Hussein?"

3. "You know, I understand every tongue of every nation, but I still don't get postmodern writing."

4. "Actually, that inflatable organ sounds pretty good."

UPDATE: The KairosGuy has more.
Let love rule

I thought I had a sweet church story yesterday, but this takes the cake.

(Via Making Light.)

Monday, June 02, 2003


Christian Assembly has grown a lot in the last few years, and one effect of this is parking chaos. The lot is too small and involves some hairpin turns, and on Sunday morning it threatens to turn into a free-for-all. So there's an attendant, a man I know only by his name-tag -- Chris -- who directs everybody to the right spot when they drive in.

A couple months ago Chris started pestering me about my brakelight. One of them had apparently burnt out. So almost every time he saw me, he would tell me to get it fixed -- or if he didn't see the car, ask me if I'd fixed it.

I got pretty annoyed about this. Like most women, I don't really understand cars, and the prospect of getting anything fixed means taking it to the shop and putting myself in the care of mechanics who have an interest in parting me from my money, which I don't have much of these days. Worse, earlier this year I got sideswiped, and I figured if I took the car in they'd try to get me to repair the body damage and part me from even more money. It was one of those things I knew I had to deal with sometime, but it was low on the priority list. So I wished Chris would just leave me alone.

Yesterday morning I showed up for the 9 a.m. service, parked, and walked past Chris. He greated me, but mercifully didn't ask about my brake light.

After the service I hung around late to talk to Telford, and so when I went back to my car I was almost the only person in the lot. I climbed inside and put my key in the ignition, when suddenly I saw Chris outside my window, looking at me.

Reluctantly, I rolled down the window.

"Look," he said, "if you'll buy a bulb for your tail-light, I'll put it in for you."

I said nothing. I wasn't expecting this.

"Because it really worries me to see somebody with a tail-light broken," he went on. "If you put on your turn signal, no one can see it. So if you go to the Auto Zone down there and get a bulb, will you let me put it in?"

"You'll do that?" I said finally.

"Yeah," he said. "I just have to take the bulb out so we can see what kind it is."

I opened the trunk and he pulled off the panel to uncover the bulbs. Looking at it, I could see how simple the setup was. Hell, I could have done it, if I'd known.

I went off to the store to buy a matching set of bulbs. On the way over, I thought about what he said about the turn signal. Suddenly it hit me: That's why I got sideswiped. It had happened when I'd been trying to turn right. I was signaling, but the other car had scraped past me. Maybe the right signal light was already out.

I took the new bulbs back and sat in the car, stepping on the brake, while he worked in the back. After he'd fixed the right side, he reappeared at the door with another bulb in his hand.

"Can I have the other one?" he asked.

"You're replacing both of them?"

"Yeah. I just saw that your other brake light is burned out too."

He finished up, and I shook his hand and thanked him emphatically, and drove off.

It's a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive. The people who wax nostalgic about the close community ties of a small town, and those who remember the gossiping, nosy neighbors, are seeing two sides of the same phenomenon. And the church, like a village within a big city, has the same dynamics. I've always been very protective of the boundaries around myself, and I don't expect people to understand me, so I don't like strangers telling me what to do. But I suppose that sometimes when somebody says they just want to help, they really do just want to help. I have Chris' little selfless act to remind me of that.