(Originally Posted 10/12/2009)
A few weeks ago I decided to put my money where my theological mouth was and attended a service at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, founded by “Pastor” Joel Osteen. For those not in the know, Lakewood is a church that preaches a version of what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.” This “theology,” boiled down, posits that material possessions are blessings from God, and are to be cherished and held on to.
From the abundance of sarcastic quotation marks in that last paragraph, you can probably guess that I don’t subsrcibe to this particular philosophy. In short, I think it is dangerous and insidious. It is, at best, only the half truth; at worst, it is the exact opposite of the gospel. Let me explain:
(Originally Posted 9/12/2010)
I wanted to write a little about David Foster Wallace. Sunday was the 2nd anniversary of his death, and that had me thinking about the man and his work. After about five false starts on this blog post, I realize my feelings aren’t quite fully formed enough for a coherent, proper entry. So instead, I figured I would just post some of his own words, in the hopes that you may be able to see why I love his work and miss him very much. Here, then, is a full transcript of a commencement address DFW gave in 2005. I think it is a very good first step into his style, themes, and mannerisms.
Greetings, Thanks, and Congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish.
December 2, 2004
Dr. John Lyden
Ask any of my students in History of Christianity this term, and they will tell you, I love heresy. Let me clarify that: I don’t mean that I love heresies themselves, but I love to talk about heresy. And heaven help the student that doesn’t know the difference between Ebionitism and Arianism or Monophysitism and Docetism, come test time. I suppose it’s that I think it’s important to know what views the church rejected, in order to know what Christian doctrine really teaches. Certainly, one could argue that its not very politically correct to be labeling views as heresies today, in that we are to be non-judgmental and tolerant and accepting of all views, whatever they may be…but I would argue that we still need standards for the truth, and there will always be a relevance in the notion of heresy, in the necessity to judge certain things as in contradiction with Christian faith, due to their incoherence with the essential Christian message as rendered in the Bible and as interpreted in Church tradition. Certainly, we can argue about what is heretical, and I don’t promote persecuting heretics, but we can’t entirely dismiss the concept as an antique from the past.
With this in mind, I would like to attack a new heresy that is gaining many converts these days, and you might be surprised that this can be viewed as a heresy: it’s the belief in the rapture, a belief at the very center of the Left Behind books, which have sold millions of copies and which have greatly influenced the views of Christians and non-Christians alike, about the nature of the last judgment and the events leading up to it. In this view, which might seem to be supported by passages such as the Gospel reading for this week, God will remove the faithful from the horrible events that precede the second coming by “rapturing” them out of the world, and they will simply disappear, as the bumper sticker puts it: “in case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” (or unwomaned, presumably, in some cases.) In the Left Behind books, all the events narrated take place after this rapture, so that those left behind need to decide whose side they are on, Christ’s, or the Anti-Christ. This culminates in the most recent book in a final battle in which Christ himself appears and destroys the wicked who oppose him in particularly spectacular ways.