Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first season of the Christian liturgical year. It is a time of penitence (sometimes even called "Winter Lent") where we look forward to the coming of Christ at Christmas. The traditional color is purple, although Anglican churches allow for the use of blue as an alternative color. One tradition the use of an Advent wreath, which contains four colored candles surrounding one white candle. The first, second, and fourth candles are purple or blue, and the third is pink (purple is the color of penitence, and with pink, you have a combination of purple and the white that represents hope). It starts today and ends December 23rd.

Also, I've decided to start observing the liturgical calendar on this blog. To that end, the letters of "HokiePundit" in the header of this blog will be changed to the appropriate liturgical colors of the season and, if I remember, of any other appropriate days (feast days, All Souls' Day, etc.).

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Anglican vs. Roman Catholic Question

According to the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican orders are invalid, as a break occurred when virtually an entire generation of priests were ordained using the Edward VI ordinal, which Rome regards as invalid. However, Mary became Queen of England in 1553 and reunited the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church. Didn't Rome take action to ensure that the believers in England had access to what it considered a valid priesthood and sacraments? If not, why not?

Furthermore, it has been established that most, and perhaps all, current Anglican clergy have strains of what Rome regards as valid apostolic succession through consecrators of the Old Catholic, Philippine Independent, and even Roman Catholic churches. If this is the case, then what is the reason that the Anglican churches are not accorded the same status as the Eastern Orthodox churches? Sour grapes, if you ask me.


I was just looking over what I'd written on this blog in 2002, and it's much better than what I've written lately. Check some of it out in the "best of" section.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

St. Blogs Delebat Est

The Wikipedia article on St. Blogs Parish has been deleted following the recommendation of a group calling itself "Blogs Under Termination From Us Queers." Now, they seem to be targeting a lot of things along those lines, such as "Canadian Blogosphere," though their main goal appears to be to remove self-promoting, obsolete, and stub articles. However, it's hard to avoid considering the conclusion that the article was terminated out of prejudice. It happened just a few days ago, so I presume no one in St. Blogs has realized this yet.

HokiePundit: your source for yesterday's news, today!

St. Blogs Delebat Est

The Wikipedia article on St. Blogs Parish has been deleted following the recommendation of a group calling itself "Blogs Under Termination From Us Queers." Now, they seem to be targeting a lot of things along those lines, such as "Canadian Blogosphere," though their main goal appears to be to remove self-promoting, obsolete, and stub articles. However, it's hard to avoid considering the conclusion that the article was terminated out of prejudice. It happened just a few days ago, so I presume no one in St. Blogs has realized this yet. HokiePundit: your source for yesterday's news, today

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Those Working Together Don't Always Have the Same Goals

I've done a fair amount of work with urban youth, most of whom were black. I've worked with elementary school kids near Philadelphia, with middle school kids from the Midwest, and high school kids at my field placement for teacher observation. Several people have worked with me at one or more of these places, and a few have even worked with me at all three. However, I don't know if we all actually have the same goal.

You see, I want to work with kids from the city. Part of that is because my dad grew up in the poorest part of New York City, and it was because he was able to visit some family friends in Texas that he realized how much more there was to the world than the slum where he lived. Another part is because I have very little interest in working with either suburban or rural kids; they need help and love, too, but that's not where I am inclined to go. Only four percent of those in teacher certification programs said that they wanted to teach in urban schools; it would seem to be a relatively specialized calling. I don't care if the kids are black, hispanic, white, asian, or what (if we're not going to capitalize "black" or "white," we shouldn't capitalize "Asian" or "Hispanic" when used racially). I listen to very little rap on my own, don't care very much about professional sports, and don't really like playing basketball.

There are other reasons why people work the places where I do. Some people simply like working with and ministering to black people. Others simply want to work with disadvantaged kids, wherever they're from. I don't say that my motivation is any worse or better than those or others I haven't thought about. However, it's important to figure out what your and others' motivations are for doing what you're doing. Tweak one variable of a given place, and one or more of the mindsets will want to work elsewhere.

Quick Request

As I prepare to embark on my professional career, it would probably be best if I were to be known online simply as "HokiePundit," rather than by my given name. If you, for whatever odd reason, need to refer to me on your blog, would you mind using my internet alias rather than my actual name? Thanks, I really appreciate it.

How Best Buy Lost a Loyal Customer

The first Best Buy store in my area, in Springfield, opened when I was in seventh grade, which was either 1994 or 1995. Since then, I have gone out of my way to shop at Best Buy stores ever since, as they have CDs (which Radio Shack, CompUSA, and Circuit City don't have), a physical building (which Amazon and EBay don't), and more technology stuff than Wal-Mart has. I needed a new, portable computer, and so I decided on the Toshiba Satellite A75-S229, which was getting decent reviews. I bought the three-year service plan from Best Buy, and went home to enjoy my purchase.

Let me say that I have no intention of ever buying a Toshiba product again. It didn't take long for the computer to begin overheating and automatically shut down (it's got a Pentium 4 instead of a Pentium M). Toshiba's technical support was non-existant, but with the help of an online forum, I settled on simply sticking the nozzle of a can of compressed air into one vent in the back and blasting what turned out to be a cloud of dust into my living room. Since then, a regular ene...blast has kept it from overheating.

Unfortunately, the problems haven't stopped. The power supply is loose, and so it takes a fair amount of jiggling to get a good connection. That's not reasonable. I took the computer into the Springfield Best Buy and they told me that my AC adapter was fine, but that they needed to ship my computer off to their technical support people (it seems that the Geek Squad can't tighten a few screws, and I can't without voiding my warranty). Several weeks I got my computer back...and I still had problems with the power supply. I looked more closely at the AC adapter, and the bit that goes into the computer is, well, loose. Great diagnosis, Springfield Best Buy.

I took my adapter into the Springfield Best Buy, figuring that they could send it off so it could be fixed. Indeed, they could. I asked if they had some power supply I could use in the meantime, as a laptop without a power cord is pretty useless. Apparently they don't. You see, I spoke with some Geek Squad members and even the manager, and it turns out that they don't have any cords in the entire store which fit my computer. Furthermore, they can't just loan them out. Furthermore, it's standard operating procedure not to take power cords from unsold products. If I wanted, though, I could spend $100+ and buy another power cord. After a short independent investigation, I determined that:
1. The Toshiba computers they have in stock use the same adapter my computer uses.
2. The adapters they have may or may not work on a Toshiba Satellite A75.

I then informed staff that I had been going out of my way to shop at Best Buy for the past ten years, that they had either misdiagnosed the problem or failed to properly repair my computer, and that I fully intended to buy about $3000 worth of electronics (a laptop, a digital projector, and peripherals) within a year, and enquired as to how they were prepared to take care of a customer in need of support. I was basically told that there was nothing that they could do, although plainly there was.

According to my mom, Circuit City has always treated her right. Hopefully they'll treat me and my $3000 right, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Your Daily Five Iron Frenzy

"Crowds recoil, demand our survival;
Fists in the air, mouths caked with saliva.
But you are the one, the spark that was spawned
Who picks up the pieces and passes it on."

-See the Flames Begin to Crawl, from The End is Near

The End is Near was FIF's last studio album, recorded after they'd decided to break up at the end of the year after doing one last tour (entitled the "Winners Never Quit Tour"). A lot of the songs on this album deal with that situation, including this one, which talks about the end of the band and charges the fans to carry on its spirit. There are a lot of ways you could define the spirit of FIF, but they would probably be happy with a description which included words like "faithful," "goofy," and "non-conformist." You could very easily describe them as being both extremely reverent and wildly irreverant so long as you knew what you meant. The fans very much wanted the band to stay together, but FIF's heart just wasn't in it any more. Instead of wanting to be led by the band, the song challenges them to take what they value in the band and apply it to the world.

At the same time, the image comes to my head of the crowd calling for Pilate to have Jesus crucified. People like me called for the God of the universe to be humiliated and murdered and they called for a group they saw as being faithful and relevant to continue to lead them. Is this a sign that we've misplaced our priorities or a sign that we've finally started to get a clue?

I don't know. I ask a lot more questions than I provide answers. I'm tempted to think that it's a good sign. At the same time, perhaps the band breaking up was a good decision, as it took the fans, who seem to be seeking after God's will, and commissioned them to no longer be followers but to be leaders.

Your Daily C.S. Lewis

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. "
-[I can't find a source]

This is one of the hardest things for me to do as a Christian. It's so easy for me to fall prey to thinking "this thing seems good, and it's not a big thing; why shouldn't I have it?" Am I really willing to trust God? I'd like to have a meaningful job where I can really help people, a loving and fun marriage, to raise a family, and to be seen as a good Christian and true believer by those around me so that they'll seek after God. That said, I'm at least theoretically willing to give up any of those things if God wants them. However, how easy is it to say "Lord, I will remain single for the rest of my life" or "Father, I'm willing to work in this place even though it's not even close to being my dream job" when faced with a devastatingly attractive girl or the job opportunity of a lifetime? Do I really trust that, assuming God's will for me is marriage, that he'll provide a good wife for me if I forgo the chance to date a solid Christian girl I know? Do I really trust that God will use me and keep me encouraged in my task, whether it's what my own imperfect reasoning would desire or not?

It is continually humbling to realize how often you fail short of your ideals. That doesn't mean that those ideals shouldn't be pursued, but it's good to know where you stand.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I Went One-for-Four in My Votes...

Ravenwood's got a good wrap-up of the recent Virginia elections for Governor, Lt. Gov., Attorney General, and Delegate, plus in Northern Virginia the issue of whether to borrow another quarter-billion dollars for "education" purposes. If we count that, I probably went one-for-five. C'est la vie.

Your Daily Five Iron Frenzy

"Despite our selfish selves,
Despite all loss of hope,
Despite our lack of faith,
Despite our stony hearts,
Despite the waning moon,
Despite the ebbing tide
Of how we think this world should be,
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

It's not about us. Well, in a way it is, but it's not about what we want. It's about what's true and what's good and right. Even if the earth itself were to crumble and fall away, our lives were to crash and burn, and all people were to turn against us, God is still good, merciful, and just and worthy of our undying and heartfelt praise.

Your Daily C.S. Lewis

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. but he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

We often look to Christ for safety. Pascal's Wager argues that the expected payoff from believing in God is greater than the expected payoff for not believing. Many people have what is sometimes referred to as "fire insurance," with the idea that at the very least, they won't end up going to hell. There's a long tradition of this in the world, with people being baptized as infants, confirmed as adolescents, and then not doing anything involving Christianity until they're old and afraid of dying (variations on this include getting baptized on one's deathbed). I wouldn't presume to judge those who choose to believe based on this reasoning. What I will, say, though, is that I think faith in Christ is something more radical and dangerous than we are usually taught. Christ said that He came not to bring peace to the earth, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). In the West, we are raised to see Christianity as something part of our culture. If we go to church, then we call ourselves Christians and call our children Christians as well. Again, I'm not saying this isn't true. I just think it's kind of a minimalist approach (and, to be sure, if the minimum weren't all that was required, it wouldn't be the minimum).

One of the misconceptions which has come from the Reformation, however, is the idea that anything above the minimum is an attempt to earn salvation. That's not it at all. St. James the Less wrote that deeds are very necessary for believers (James 2:20). I don't intend to get into a discussion of the role works play in salvation; I'm just stating that they don't earn it. Because many Protestants have such a horror of works-based salvation, they discount the importance of ministry, especially what the Roman Catholic Church calls "corporal works of mercy," such as visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. The modern American Evangelical movement has been criticized for not doing enough to ease everyday suffering, instead concentrating on preaching the Gospel.

We're called to do both. St. Francis of Assisi famously said that we should "preach the Gospel ceaselessly; if necessary, use words." We may even be called to die for our faith. This martyrdom may not be something as well thought-of as being beheaded for refusing to recant our beliefs. It may be something as undignified as drowning while saving others (as Arland D. Williams, jr. did; I don't know whether or not he was a believer) or being lost to history's memory. Our faith is safe; the One in whom we trust is the most dangerous and powerful thing in the universe. We are well-protected.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Rebuke for My Weak Faith

TS O'Rama relates a story about St. Francis of Assisi, reminiscent of Elijah and the priests of Baal.

It also reminded me of what Donald Sensing wrote as we began our invasion of Afghanistan:

"Julia Ward Howe wrote, "As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make them free." I am imagining, I'm just imagining, invading Afghanistan with about ten thousand in the first wave. They'll all probably die. So we'll send another ten thousand and they may die, too. But I volunteer. I will go in the first wave.

"We may die, but we will not kill. We will not be armed with weapons of war, but with implements of peace. We will carry Bibles. We will preach the Gospel of the peace and love of Jesus Christ. We will baptize and consecrate and share the Eucharist. We will heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, care for orphans, and liberate the women.

"We'll be hungry, cold, tired and thirsty. They will hunt us down and bomb us. They will capture us and line us up against a wall. They will hang us.

"But we will bless in Christ's name those who curse us, and we will do good to those who hate us. And with our dying breaths we will say, "We are disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the call of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. Receive grace and mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!"

"Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate . . . even life itself, cannot be my disciple." Are there 9,999 other Christians who will go, also? Or shall only murderous fanatics be willing to give up their lives for their god?

"Any takers?"

I'm confused and conflicted about this issue and many others. I want to do what's right, but not only do I not always know what is the correct response, I'm often afraid to do it. Am I really willing to give everything, including my life, for my faith, or am I merely willing to give what I think I can spare (if that)?

I'm sorry to not be able to resolve this post satisfactorily, but perhaps the best ending would be the Flannery O'Connor quote of

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." (via Amy Welborn)

I Got Confused Today

I was sitting in our student union today, playing a quick game on my laptop (notebook, whatever...), and I overheard the conversation of two girls sitting nearby. They were (and are still) white, and were talking about and making fun of African-American (I think in this context, the term is appropriate) names, such as Shaniqua, LaFawndah, and D'Quell. Near the end of their conversation, they actually brought up someone I knew, though not all that well. His first name is a pretty standard one, like John or William, but his middle name is latinized patriotic and his last name is almost standard, but has a variation I've never seen before.

I wasn't sure what to do. Should I go talk to these girls whom I don't know, or what? In the end, I decided to simply pray that God would make them more aware of other cultures and less mocking of other people. I need that too, sometimes.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Kobayashi Maru Christianity

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we learn about a training scenario used by Starfleet Academy to learn more about the character of their cadets. The premise is that a helpless Federation vessel has gotten crippled inside the neutral zone and your ship is the only one capable of rescuing it. To do so, however, involves violating the neutral zone and possibly sparking a war with the Klingons. If the cadet decides to enter the neutral zone, an overwhelming force of enemy ships appears and the cadet's ship is destroyed, along with the Kobayashi Maru. It is a no-win scenario, and the objective is simply to make the best decision possible in a world of bad alternatives.

What would I do in such a scenario? I don't know.

However, I was reminded of that scenario as I was thinking about a lot of the things I've been learning. I've taken two courses in American environmental history, and the main thing I took away from them was the idea that no matter what course of action was pursued, ethical problems were present. Let's use American Indians as an example. They did not overwork the land, and as a result many of them often starved to death over the winter if the year's crop had been especially bad. They thus avoided overpopulation, and likely could have kept farming the same land indefinitely using their methods of agriculture. It is also thought that due to smaller population densities, a lower level of trade, and what James Loewen calls the "decontamination chamber" of passing through the Arctic, American Indians were remarkably healthy due to their lack of major diseases. However, this meant that they were left out of what could be called an arms race between germs and antibodies in Europe, so that when plagues such as smallpox and the Black Death were inadvertantly introduced to the New World, mortality rates as high as 98% nearly annihilated the native populations. When the Pilgrim Separatists arrived in Plymouth, one reason they were able to prosper was that the spot where they built their settlement had been an Indian settlement only a few years before, complete with cleared fields and even buried stores of seeds (Squanto was the sole survivor of this town, called Patuxet, due to his having been kidnapped and sent to Europe prior to the spread of the disease). Similar things have occurred in Africa. With the arrival of European medicine, population rates have surpassed the ability of traditional farming methods to sustain the increased population.

Several problems are posed by this. The first is that of the J-shaped curve, which is what Thomas Malthus feared: that when a population surpasses the ability of the land to sustain it (and that ability can be increased by huge amounts through technology, which Malthus failed to take into account), the result is not a mild correction to just below the carrying capacity, but rather a massive "die-off," with a huge number of deaths. This is essentially what happened to the American Indians and may very soon happen with Africans, with disease resistance instead of food production as the limiting factor. Another problem is that of morality: is it better to allow some to die of preventable causes and preserve resources you or your descendants will need, or to spend whatever is necessary to save as many people today as is possible? In other words, should we sacrifice the future for the present? If there is a middle position, how do we find it?

As a Christian, several things come to mind. In Genesis, God tells Adam that the land will be cursed to him and that he must work the land with sweat to make it bear fruit. I think there are many, many applications of this, but one of them is that we can't "win" using our own means. In I Corinthians 10:13, we are told that there are no temptations which we cannot bear, and that God will always provide a way out. When He is anointed my Mary Magdalene, He says that the poor will always be with us, indicating, again, that we can't solve the world's problems.

Thus, we as Christians have an interesting problem before us. Mark Shea calls the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, the "Stupid Party" and the "Evil Party," largely based on their views on abortion. It's hard to disagree. What I've come to decide is that the Republicans are the "second-best" option for Christians. While the Democrats offer a way of doing things which is more similar to the Christian way, they lack God in their plan and fail to realize that they can't possibly hope to truly effect the changes they seek. The Republicans offer better "results," promoting law n' order, defense, and "family values." The problem is that, once again, God isn't in it, and so there's a strain of Machiavellianism there. It is not the religious right, but the technocrats who control the GOP. Although Fox News is actually populist, rather than conservative, it serves as a good example. Which is more evident: news stories about religion and crucifixes, or red, white, and blue and graphics over almost every inch of the screen? What has happened is that instead of being the Good Samaritan, willing to help a stranger, even an enemy, in need of aid, we prefer to chip in a few bucks to fund a highway patrol tasked with dealing with those in trouble on the road. The Republicans vow to oppose abortion, find ways to reduce taxes so citizens have more to spend on their families, and protect religion (whether or not this is blowing smoke is questionable, but it's at least ostensibly true). Thus, a veneer of Christian sentiment is present. Given that the Democratic candidate often advocates positions openly hostile to our faith, the GOP becomes the default.

Stay tuned for part II...

Friday, November 04, 2005

About a Song

One of my favorite bands is Five Iron Frenzy, a Christian ska band whose songs were too full of references to God for the mainstream stations and too full of sarcasm for the Christian ones. Relient K has managed to be slightly more subtle and less acerbic, and being of the more enduring genre of pop-punk, they've achieved success on both kinds of radio. FIF did manage to release quite a few albums, though, with each having a facetious name. Starting with Upbeats and Beatdowns, they followed with Our Newest Album Ever and Quantity is Job 1 (an EP of eight songs). They then released a live album, Proof that the Youth are Revolting, recorded at Cornerstone '99. All the Hype that Money Can Buy and FIF 2: Electric Boogaloo came after this. Announcing that they were amicably breaking up at the end of 2003, they released their final studio album, The End is Near, which they later combined with the recording of their final concert and called the result The End is Here.

The band itself was talented, and able to do everything from pure ska to reggae to swing, plus occasional covers of Tom Jones and Electric Light Orchestra. They were self-deprecating, with the song Where's Micah? about their guitar player's chronic absenteeism and The Untimely Death of Brad which addressed online rumors of the death of their trumpet player (who gets some choice parts in the song). The lyrics were often very funny, and often very poignant. Songs like Dandelions and Cannonball were great analogies, and A Flowery Song used Doxology as its chorus.

However, perhaps their greatest song came from Our Newest Album Ever. It was the last track on that album, the last track on Proof that the Youth are Revolting, the last track on The End is Here, and the chorus of it was used on the last track of The End is Near. They always ended their show with this song. The song is Every New Day, and is absolutely beautiful. When I die, I wouldn't mind having this song played at my funeral, and if I have a tombstone, I might very well consider having the chorus inscribed. Here is the end of the song:

"Man vs. himself,
Man vs. machine,
Man vs. the world,
Mankind vs. me!
The struggles go on,
The wisdom I lack,
The burdens keep piling
Up on my back.
So hard to breathe,
To take the next step.
The mountain is high,
I wait in the depths.
Yearning for Grace,
And hoping for peace,
Dear God...

Healing hands of God have mercy on our unclean souls once again
Jesus Christ, Light of the World, burning bright within our hearts forever
Freedom means love without condition, without a beginning or an end
Here's my heart, let it be forever Yours
Only You can make every new day seem so new."

On The End is Here, you can hear Reese Roper, the lead singer, getting increasingly choked up as the concert goes on. Fans have flown in from all over the country and even from abroad for the very last show. Most bands end up breaking up suddenly, and so there's not much warning. This was different. Everyone there knew the words to the songs and sang along. You could feel the love between the fans and the band, and could tell what a bittersweet occasion it was for everyone. After the penultimate song, the crowd chants "F-I-F!" over and over. This song was introduced with the words "This is our last song. You guys know what this song is. We always play it last, it's called Every New Day." The guitar begins strumming ever-so-slightly slower than usual, and the song begins. Listening to the instruments, it's obvious that they're trying to drag it out just a tiny bit to squeeze a precious few seconds more out of their very last song as a band. The horns are giving absolutely everything they have; I've been in a situation like that a few times, and you can tell by the way they hit the accents extra hard and are obviously playing as loud as they possibly can without disrupting the music or making sour notes. To Reese's vocals, there's a weird sensation, like fuzz. I listened closely, and it's the sound of hundreds of fans singing along. At the beginning of the bridge, there's an instrumental part. Reese speaks during this, saying "you are not alone" three times, and then adds "I love you guys." By the time they get to that last verse, nothing is being held back. The guitars are perfect, and Reese is doing things with his voice which he never attempted on the other albums. He won't have to sing the next day; he can afford to go for the extra octave. As the instruments close out, he keeps repeating "hallelujah" in time with the music. Finally, the song ends with the last guitar slowly dying out. The crowd doesn't demand an encore, but simply chants "Thank You" over and over.

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