January 27, 2021

Saturday Ramblings 8.13.11

It’s Saturday the 13th, iMonks. I have no idea if that is good luck, bad luck, or just a day. I tend to think it is just a day, but not just any day. It’s Saturday, the day we do some light housecleaning at the iMonastery. I suppose that is bad luck for those who have to do the sweeping. But you, my fellow iMonks, can relax. We’ll do the cleaning, while you do the rambling.

The mark of the beast is upon us. An epidermal electronic system–a hair-thin device that is applied like a temporary tattoo—can be used for medical purposes, spy operations, and—most importantly—online gaming. No word on how many will be made at first, but rumor has it that it will be somewhere between 665 and 667.

Breaking news from riot-torn England: Christianity in America is a self-help, feel-good religion on the verge of collapse. Next they will tell us that water is wet and Oklahoma is slightly warm in the summer time.

What makes an activity a religion? Could a computer game be considered a religion? That’s the question surrounding Chain World, a game that is played by one person at a time. Interestingly, the second player tried to use the game for personal financial gain. Yep, sounds like a religion to me.

(“Gee, Jeff. Why are you so snarky today?”  Right living, I guess…)

A new version of the Old Testament is being prepared by a group of scholars in Jerusalem. But don’t go to your local bookstore—or even Amazon—to order a copy just yet. In more than 50 years of scholarly effort, these scholars have released only three of the OT books. At this pace the entire OT will not be available for another 200 years.

Skye Jethani nails it again. Take Chaplain Mike’s excellent series on the Bible and this can be the icing on that cake. I so appreciate these men who are helping me to gain a proper perspective of Scripture.

Ruh-roh. A pastor in northwestern Mississippi has gotten in trouble for banning a certain food item from his church’s fellowship hall. See if you can guess what it is before you click on the link. (Did you guess right?)

I am writing this late on Friday night. Once it is posted I will want to make my way to the backyard to watch the Perseids meteor shower. If you missed it, you can read about it and see some pictures on NASA’s site. Meanwhile, the blackest planet ever has recently been discovered. It is 750 light years from earth, and is blacker than coal. This exoplanet reflects only 1 percent of the light that falls on it. I have been thinking of how this illustrates a spiritual principle, but haven’t come up with one yet. Can you?

Back to video games. You can now help shape Catholic thought and even elect the next Pope when playing Vatican Wars. Ok, I have nothing else to say about this. Why should I when I know Martha of Ireland will have something great to say. Take it away, Martha.

And finally, fellow rambler Adam Palmer sent me a story about Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. Seems a group wants them to get married. Children’s Workshop said that they are best friends, not gay lovers. They said that they are just puppets and have no sexual orientation. I love it! But tell me–don’t you think there is something strange about Grover?

Birthday cheers go out this last week to Robert Mitchum; Lucille Ball; Andy Warhol; Stan Freberg; Garrison Keillor; B.J. Thomas; Dustin Hoffman; Connie Stevens; Betty Boop; Deion Sanders; Herbert Hoover; Leo Fender; Joe “Is She Really Going Out With Him” Jackson; Jim Kale (bassist for the Guess Who); Buck Owens; and Skip Caray.

I know of very, very few who are as funny and as clever as Stan Freberg. Oh, he wouldn’t play well today, because 1) he doesn’t use profanity to get a laugh, and 2) you have to actually think when listening to him. This is one of my favorite routines of his. Enjoy.


[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLlTlYfqQV4′]



  1. So much to work with here …

    Christianity in America is a self-help, feel-good religion on the verge of collapse.
    Self-help, yes. Feel-good, maybe. On the verge of collapse, no. Unfortunately.

    A pastor in northwestern Mississippi has gotten in trouble for banning a certain food item from his church’s fellowship hall.
    He’ll change his mind when he sees the attendance drop 40%. And where did this guy learn his pastoral skills, Mussolini Seminary?

    … don’t you think there is something strange about Grover?
    He’s bipolar, but he’s still a useful and contributing member of society and should be respected as such. I’ve always worried more about Cookie Monster’s eating disorder than Grover’s brain chemical imbalance …

    And between Freberg, Keillor, Hoffman, Ball and Owens, this could be the funniest week of birthdays around. I know I could use the laffs.

  2. Richard McNeeley says

    My guess wasn’t even close on the food ban.

    • I was expecting coffee. I once attended a congregation where the pastors (without telling the parishioners) decided that only decaf would be served on Sunday morning before/between services. It was months before anyone realized it had happened, funny enough. And when someone finally asked about it, the senior pastor’s response was “if you want drugs, go down to Charter Way” (a then-notorious section of town).

      Still makes me laugh. But then, I drink coffee rarely, and decaf even then. I imagine a serious addict would look at it differently.

      • Beulah Land says

        Ha! I was close. I thought biscuits and sausage gravy. Who wouldn’t get in trouble in the South: don’t touch our biscuits and sausage gravy (which I love, having travelled the South). I figured having hi-fat food before church probably made the parishioners sleepy.

      • I would be screwed with my coffee addiction…after all my mail is forwarded to Starbucks!!

    • I wonder what would happen if someone snuck in some fried chicken? Would they be banned from the pot luck or told to leave their chicken outside?

    • My wife and I guessed it on the first try! Thanks, guys. Now I’m going to be craving fried chicken all day.

      • My first guess was donuts…..

        • Mine too. I know folks have been talking about Mississippi’s obesity problem, so I figured it was related to nutritional values.

          Fried chicken is only one of the things that can make you fat! Too little exercise, too many calories taken in as opposed to how many are burned off, medical conditions, etc.

          Fried cicken is not even the worst thing on the menu at most picnics. It actually does have quite a bit of protein, and if it was fried in an appropriate oil (not lard) at the appropriate temperature, it will have only small amounts of fats and transfats. It’s not a low cal treat but it probably beats mac n cheese in nutritionals.

          • I meant low amounts of SATURATED fats and transfats. Clearly fried chicken has a number of grams of fat! And depending on the coating, may have non-trivial amounts of carbs too.

    • First thought was devil’s food cake.

    • I thought it would be either pork (see youtube of Joel Osteen) or doughnuts…

      • I just played the Osteen video, in which he almost persuades me to quit pork.

        Unbelievable. And then he launches into a ban on shellfish, including lobsters, which is where I make my living. Lost my vote for sure.

        Toward the end he does give a plug for “fresh fish…fresh salmon. Grilled fish is some of the best things for us.”

        And then (this is PERFECT) the final clip has him saying, “At our home we tend to eat a lot of chicken…”

        Fried, no doubt.

        • Osteen seems like he’s about two steps away from inviting his congregation on an extended retreat … to Guyana.

        • I also don’t eat pork and shellfish since my conversion. It’s difficult, because I actually like bacon, and ham, and ribs, and sausages and I love crabcakes and shrimp scampi, to say nothing of fish tacos. Sometimes I fall, and I eat them. An important lesson I have learned about this is if I am going to eat tref (unclean) food, it is better to do it outside of my home or prepared and served on disposable items. Otherwise, the cleanup is a PAIN (clearly this was designed to reduce the temptation to eat them…but that was before Reynolds aluminumware and Famous Dave’s.)

        • oh and about the pig. Most pork sold in the States is corn fed.

          • When we were in Central Asia, we had a Muslim rail at us that pork was unclean because pigs ate garbage. My husband just took him over the window of our apartment, where they could see the cows nosing through the toilet paper and tea leaves in a vague hope of finding potato skins.

  3. Jeff, I love this quotation by Jethani in the article you referred us to: “If one has the repair manual, why bother with the expense of a mechanic?” I just got his book With but it may be a little while before I get it read as I have two library books to read. I am looking forward to it though. I know I am going to love his writing.

    I didn’t guess right on the banned food. I thought maybe he would ban pork as a reaching out to orthodox Jewish folks and Islamic folks.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Skye Jethani’s Huffington Post article is about as good a thing as I’ve read outside of IMonk – this guy hit a home run on the contemporary christian church in America and how the Bible is used and misused these days by so many of our churches. Living in the southeast US the HP is not the most venerated news outlet and many here would not have expected this and most (speaking of evangelicals in general) will not be so pleased if/when they read it since it shows a very glaring weakness among evangelicals – especially the middle-upper middle class suburban mega church types. I definitely need to check this guy’s writing a bit more – very nice suprise.

      • Thanks, TGFK!

        I found my husband outside to read him the entire article, it so well sums up my concerns about the mis-use of a written document by some fundies and southern Baptists. It REALLY looks like the words in a book are being worshipped, and that you cannot know or love God unless you can quote verbatim AND know the “zip code” of every word that you speak.

        And, considering the paucity of followers who have any idea what nuances and subtle changes occured during translation into English (and deciding what books were orthodox and which got pitched out), I am concerned about devotion to the Bible in the absence of any tradition or true understanding of what a phrase might have meant in THAT language during THAT period of time.

        To run with the owner’s manual analogy, we have folks relying on a manual written in Serbo-Croation, edited by the Communist Party, translated into French and then into English. Might be hard to rebuild your engine with this, in the absence of a trained mechanic and/or someone with access to the Serbo-Croation text prior to its edit. JMHO.

  4. For the last 26 years, I’ve known that comedy routine because my husband recited it for me. I’d never heard the original — it really is great, and oddly prophetic. Thanks, Jeff.

  5. I think it is time for me to take a trip to Bojangles today.. (Fried Chicken eatery here in the Southeast) *licking my chops* 🙂

  6. David Cornwell says

    “The mark of the beast is upon us. An epidermal electronic system-–a hair-thin device that is applied like a temporary tattoo—”

    Just wait. Doctor’s will be under secret orders to do this soon after birth, another “necessary procedure” for the well being of the new arrival. Then it will connected to that BIG computer, deep deep deep underground in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (or wherever it REALLY is). One advantage will come in the future– that computer will channel the Voice of God to future candidates for President.

  7. ” ‘He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’ Wrapped up in our selves and preoccupied with working out our salvation, we defeat our purpose…John Stuart Mill observes: ‘Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness … Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way.’ ”

    Baber absolutely nailed it. This is why seeker-sensitive churches which try to correct their fatal tailspin by emphasizing pietism will still find themselves hurling toward the ground. They haven’t broke out of the viscous cycle of the self turned in upon itself, which was Luther’s definition of sin. Pietism and seeker-sensitivity are both based in law – mostly man-made Pharisaic laws and principles.

    Grace frees us from ourselves. Life becomes more than our neurosis and self-fulfillment. This is partially why it bothers me when churches base their evangelism upon Maslow’s hierarchy: meet “needs” before you give them the good news. But there is the good news: lose yourself and you will find life. You are free of the burden of self to love God for who He is and not for what he gives. You are free to love your neighbor for who he or she is – the image of the living God – and not as a ring in the ladder to your own personal success.

  8. The author of the Guardian article is a Michael Spencer wannabee. Michael’s article “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” is still a good prophecy, and because he knew what he was talking about.

    I do like this quote from the Guardian, though: “In the US, Christianity has been absorbed into a syncretic mishmash of self-help programmes and therapies, new age products and scraps of eastern religions.”

    Problem is, author Harriet Baber sees only one side of US Christianity while completely missing the more powerful evangelical-fundamentalist branches. But, they too may collapse after all. See Michael’s article for that.

  9. One more Mike says

    Thanks for pointing to the Jethani piece and the work of the Bible project. While going through some personal archives this week I ran across a quote I wrote down somewhere, sometime, attributed to the Talmud: “It is not yours to complete the work, neither is it yours not to take up.” The project wont be completed for 200 years and the original members have all died. The people doing the work now will be long dead when it’s “finished”. The Bible project members have/had no concept of the Bible as a technical manual/rule book for living, but as a constant unfolding and revelation of Gods relationship with his people. This point of view is anachronism in a world of instant gratification and answers. It’s the way monks think. Even some IMonks!

  10. I really enjoyed the Skye Jethani link. I think when we read the bible just as an instruction manual or rule book, we suck the life out of it.

  11. Looks like Jerry Falwell is due an apology. We all thought he was making a mountain out of a molehill when he complained about Tinky-Winky being a stealth gay icon indoctrinating the tiny tots – and here we have a petition for Ernie and Bert to get married as a good example of non-heteronormativity?

    As for Vatican Wars – thanks, Jeff, you give me all the fun reviews! I get the impression the inventors are not exactly cradle Catholics? 🙂 Now, as if it mattered, a review based on five minutes’ playing the game:

    Bad points:

    (1) Facebook. Or rather, it’s a Facebook game, which means they want to have you shilling for points (or gold pieces in this instance) by annoying all your ‘friends’ into joining and/or spending real money to purchase said game tokens. Well, they can forget about trying that on this miserly misanthropist, for a start!

    (2) Teams split into conservative vs. liberal factions – okay, roughly accurate. But Templars versus Crusaders? Not getting the notion here – they should have gone for, oh, something like the Magisterium versus the Sensus Fidelium – or, for real fun, Sedevacantists versus Spirit of Vatican II 😉

    (3) VERY limited range of ‘dogma’ – and those they picked are not all dogmas; one (clerical celibacy) is a discipline, and there’s a mid-range in between ‘priests can’/’priests can’t’ marry – priests could be permitted to marry, but should they? (which is my view, by the bye). Abortion and contraception – yes, doctrines. Women’s ordination – not gonna happen. Gay marriage – ditto. As I said, the reason I think the makers of this game are not RCs is because they have the notion that the Pope can change certain doctrines at will – which he can’t, sorry, guys, not unless he’s fallen into raving heresy. So he cannot change the Church’s position from ‘abortion is murder’ to ‘a woman’s right to choose’.

    (4) Moving on from that last bit – if I took this game seriously, then I could never be elected Pope, despite what they say. That is, playing as a conservative, and a female, I don’t (obviously) accept women’s ordination and hence cannot put myself forward to be elected Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. However, given that getting ordained, performing other liturgical duties that necessitate the clerical state, and working towards being Pope are the goal of the game, and involve gaining the points necessary to win, that means that one whole avenue is blocked off from me.

    Oddly enough, I could (technically) be a cardinal – even in the lay state and even as a woman! Cardinal is more an office of state and has no necessity for ordaination attached to it.

    Good points:
    (1) It would seem that our side – the Templars, the conservatives – are currently winning! Even though the current ‘Pope’ is a progressive 🙁

    (2) I won my first debate! Granted, this is due to completely random stats rolling, but still – I beat the ungodly! 😉

    (3) The pictures of saints that you can purchase is a good and extensive one, even if poorly sorted (should be alphabetical order, at least).

    As a ten-minute coffee break timewaster, it’s fun. As anything approaching how the Vatican (which, please ladies and gentlemen, is NOT synonymous with the Catholic Church) works – for the love of St. Dymphna, patroness of the mentally ill, do not take this as the Catechism!

    • Speaking of Bert and Ernie…this reminds me of the Broadway show Avenue Q. It was a Tony Award winning show (which I never saw BTW…) But in the piece belwo you have 2 puppets singing about “If you were gay…”


      Did Falwell ever discuss this show? Especially after the fuss about the tele-tubbies and all other aspects of culture?

      • It “came out” (pun intended!) after his death.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I have heard of Avenue Q — a parody of Sesame Street. Its most famous song “The Internet is for Porn” has been all over YouTube for years, including lotsa mash-up music videos (including a couple World of Warcraft machinima). Funniest thing is, it’s one of those catchy “earworm” tunes. Once you hear it, you find yourself singing the chorus in your head when you least expect it.

  12. So Bert and Ernie arn’t going to get married? Darn!!! It’s stories like this that make me miss the gifted dialogue and teachings of Jerry Falwell. Oh…Pat Robertson…? Or John Mac Arthur…? Or John Piper (maybe…) where are you when you are most needed?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s not just Ernie & Bert. There’s this thing called “slashfic”, where fanwriters go into great and erotic detail about homosexual relationships between two same-sex lead characters in any sort of fictional media. Probably indulging their own fantasies. Kirk-slash-Spock (the original Slash), Cagney-slash-Lacey, Starsky-slash-Hutch, Baloo-slash-Kit, Fifi-slash-Babs-slash-Shirley, you know the drill. In the “shipping” fanfics that swirl around the latest version of My Little Pony, tomboy pegasus Rainbow Dash ought to be renamed “Rainbow Slash” because she’s been Slashed with literally EVERY mare in Ponyville.

      And you know the only two groups outside of actual Slashies who take Slash seriously? Gay Pride Activists and Born-Again Christians, who have totally opposite ways of taking it seriously.

  13. The Skye Jethani article was fabulous; thanks for the link.

    I was raised on Stan Freberg…oh my, that’s how I learned world/US history:) Then, passed him down to my children–good humor, and have to be semi-intelligent to get it….which is why it is so great!

    Bert and Ernie….really?

    Just glad to be back in internet-receiving range again; it’s been a long summer without IMonk:(

  14. I saw the Christianity Today article “God Has a Wonderful Plan for your Body”. Speaking of “syncretic mishmash”, it begins by summarizing mohler’s and MacAurther’s rants against yoga, But then the article addresses dualism which diminishes our care for the body. The following quote is gold:

    “Christians readily respond with a ‘Jesus approved’ version. When dieting became the rage, Christian dieting shortly followed. As yoga gained popularity, Christian yoga started up. And as the sexual revolution unfurled its banners, Christians sought scriptural warrants for indulging the pleasures of the flesh.”

    What concerns me is that evangelicals do not understand what gnosticism is. It is a view that the flesh is evil and that we should focus on the spiritual. But gnosticism also teaches if you focus on the spiritual, your flesh is free to do whatever it wants. Christian views on sex in particular seem to fall into this – christianizing sexual obsession.

    The article then makes several references to “Theology of the Body” by the Blessed John Paul II. The article concludes, “There is a higher good than even pleasure, and that is the mutual relationship of love.” This is very encouraging and a path leading beyond syncretic mishmash.

  15. “This exoplanet reflects only 1 percent of the light that falls on it. I have been thinking of how this illustrates a spiritual principle, but haven’t come up with one yet. Can you?”

    Evangelicals, with their high views of the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture, are like dark exoplanets. God shines the light of his word upon them and all that is reflected are biblical diet plans.

  16. Also on the subject of “syncretic mishmash”, I was flipping through the TV channels this morning in time to catch Jack van Impe go off on Rick Warren for allegedly teaching Chrislam. I am no fan of Warren, but this allegation appears absolutely ridiculous, all too much like Piper going after Rob Bell. I think we are seeing the witch hunt begin to fix blame for the inevitable evangelical collapse. This is not the self-criticism that the faith community needs to right the ship; this is a cannon pointed squarely at the deck.

  17. A pastor in northwestern Mississippi has gotten in trouble for banning a certain food item from his church’s fellowship hall.

    Anyone remember Gwen Shamblin and the Weigh-Down Workshop? That started out as a “lose weight for God”
    program and ended up a full blown cult. Not that something like that could ever happen again. Of course not, we Evangelicals learn from our mistakes…

    • Actually it always was a cult. Sort of.

      My wife went through the program and permanently lost about 40 pounds. But after a while she noticed that GS only talked about the Old Testament. And as this gradually was noticed by others GS basically refused to talk about Jesus. And she gradually faded into her private strange church in Nashville. But not after being on Larry King.

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