Ch ch ch changes

Back in the day when I was most active in the Christian church as an adult, I also was buying and listening to a lot of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). There were dozens of artists I’d never heard of that I was having a good time getting to know. Some of it was passable entertainment, some of it was actually good in its own right.

After I left the church I also left behind a lot of the music. But there were a handful of artists that I kept in my collection and continued to like — and mostly still do — because whether or not I agreed with their theological stance, I found their music to be worthwhile on its own creative merits. And as I moved from indifferent agnosticism into my current universalism, I regained an appreciation for some (not all) of the lyrics, albeit from a perspective the songwriters might not have intended.

For the most part, the common thread among the artists that I continued to like was that they were older and had some life experience, and wove themes of faith into lyrics that were about the real struggles of life. The other side of the coin, those I liked for a time but didn’t keep going with after, were generally younger people whose songs were simply platitudes with no weight behind them.

In some cases, the artists grew in ways that kept me interested. The young Amy Grant’s work falls generally into that latter category, a kid who grew up in the church, didn’t know any particular hardship or pain, trying to tell us about life. But then she endured a painful divorce, and the scrutiny of a very judgmental fan base as her known friendship with Vince Gill turned into her second marriage, and then her songs became more reserved, introspective and painful. No longer a kid who thinks she has the answers, Amy Grant matured into a woman who’d been through some stuff and had discovered the value in questions.

Amy Grant was an aberration. I continued to like some of her earlier work, despite the lack of life scars that marked her later on. But the album she released in 1997, Behind the Eyes, is a raw and heartbroken work that rips away the veneer of superficial faith (which is what about 90 percent of CCM is), and exposes the rawness of human weakness and pain. It’s a remarkable album, easily the best of her releases. But because of the insular and judgmental nature of much of the CCM audience, it sold poorly.

DC Talk is another aberration. By all rights, I should have left them on the scrap heap when I left the church. Three kids who grew up in Christian homes, went to a Christian college and immediately out of that into CCM stardom as one of the most accoladed CCM groups of all time. They were essentially a CCM boy band. Hard to see where they had any great struggles to overcome, so when they sang about how Jesus brought them out of a past of sin and depravity (“Free At Last”), it was hard to believe they had ever really had such a life. And yet the mix of rock, soul and rap they achieved was so infectious, especially on their latter albums, it was hard not to enjoy a song of theirs when they came up now and then on the iPod.

I did not follow their solo careers after the group split up, though. The magic had been in the blend, and while I did pick up one CD from each member just to see if they were still doing interesting things individually, I had to conclude that they weren’t. Toby McKeehan (TobyMac) sounded the most like old DC Talk, but he was the rapper and his solo work was heavier on the hip-hop than I cared for. Michael Tait’s solo album was a decent enough rock record, but featured nothing that stood out. Kevin Max, the closest thing DC Talk had to avant garde, released an album that I sorta liked but had a hard time digging into.

So I didn’t really pay much attention to any of them for many years. And then recently, I read somewhere that Kevin Max had spoken up in support of Rob Bell, the pastor who recently wrote a book espousing universal salvation (there is no hell) and earning himself the scorn of much of the evangelical community in doing so. And in the Facebook post supporting Bell, Max said “I too am a Unitarian at heart.”

As you can imagine, this intrigued me. So I started looking around for more info and didn’t find much, just a number of web sites repeating the same quote and opining in various ways. I was forced (forced, I tell you) to ‘friend’ the man on Facebook so that I could read his wall posts.

And what I’ve found is a real and likeable person there. Whether or not he’s a UU I don’t know (he does follow UU World magazine on Twitter), but it’s pretty clear he’s been on a long personal and spiritual journey since the DC Talk days, one that is similar to mine in some ways. Whether it started during or after his DC Talk days I don’t know, but I suspect it might have been starting already while the group was going strong.

All this is to say that people grow and change. My life wouldn’t have been significantly poorer had I not heard of the changes with these people, but I think being able to renew my fandom of people I liked a lot at an earlier time of my life in a very different context, and find that they have not been frozen in a time bubble the way others from their industry have been, is a validation for we who are ever on the journey.


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Doctor Who linking

I have been thinking for several weeks about what I wanted to say about the now-complete season of Doctor Who (which was the first season if you start with Steven Moffat’s takeover as showrunner from Russell T. Davies, the fifth if you count from the show’s revival after 16 years away, or the 31st if you count from the 1963 debut.)

And really, I can’t say anything more insightful, revealing or thought provoking than the team over at Behind The Sofa. So just click over there and dig into their meaty reviews.

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Cracks in Time and Space

Many years ago, long before he became a writer — and now, executive producer — of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat wrote a Doctor Who story for an anthology of fan fiction. The story, called “Continuity Errors,” involved the Doctor using his time-travel technology to mess with a librarian’s personal history, manipulating it to serve his own ends. She figures it out by noticing how some events in her life don’t quite jibe with others. Continuity errors.

Now that he’s the man in charge, his first full season seems to be playing with a similar idea. The Doctor probably isn’t responsible, given that he’s as in the dark about it as anyone. But there are a number of “continuity errors” between reality as the Doctor has experienced it and reality as his new human companions remember it.

It came to a head in the third episode of the season, “Victory of the Daleks.” Amy Pond, who would have been somewhere in her teens when massive armies of Daleks invaded Earth in the Season Four two-parter “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” remembers nothing about it. (It’s not mentioned in the episode, but it was only a few years earlier that Daleks and Cybermen both had invaded the Earth in “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday,” the Season Two climax. Presumably she doesn’t remember that either, as she has no idea what Daleks are.)

This revelation gets the Doctor’s mind working. He recalls the duck pond from his first adventure with Amy — a duck pond that never has any ducks. In that first episode, “The Eleventh Hour,” he asks her why it’s called a duck pond. More troubling, he mentions the events of “The Next Doctor,” one of the four specials that ushered David Tennant out and Matt Smith in — a giant cyber-king trampling Victorian London like a steampunk King Kong — and marvels that nobody seemed to have remembered it, as certainly it would have been written about at the time and preserved in history books.

So far (I’m on the American schedule for episodes which is about three weeks behind the UK), other discontinuities in memory have not been explicitly discussed since, but the strange crack in space and time that first appeared in the premiere continues to show up in most episodes. We learned in “The Time of Angels” that if you fall into the crack, you disappear from existence and indeed, never existed at all, so no one will remember you. The Doctor traced the origin of the crack to some sort of temporal upheaval on June 26, 2010 — Amy’s planned wedding day. (And also the date that the final episode of the season will be shown in the UK.)

Another apparent mistake that’s being widely discussed occurs in that two-parter. The Doctor loses his tweed jacket, and at one point leaves the room, leaving Amy with her eyes closed against the weeping angels. (It makes sense if you know the show.) Then, while the camera stays on her, he is beside her again, urging her to remember something he told her when she was seven. He has his jacket on. Is this a continuity error, or a subtle clue that things aren’t what they seem?

One more point: When the Doctor first meets Amy, she’s a little girl, the seven-year-old Amelia. He leaves for what he expects to be a five-minute jump into the future just to stabilize the TARDIS, but is gone for 12 years. Then, after vanquishing the enemy of that story, disappears for another two years. Amy’s wedding day is in June 2010, which means that their first meeting, 14 years prior, was in 1996 — well before the adventures of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and the crack was already at work.

Moffat has given himself a way to do pretty much anything with the recent continuity of the show.

Another theory that some fans are discussing is the possibility that everything that’s happening this season is the Doctor’s regeneration-induced dream. We know the Time Lords need some recovery time after they regenerate (regeneration in modern Doctor Who is apparently a lot more traumatic than it was in the classic series.) After Christopher Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant, he spent most of his first episode unconscious. Tennant’s Doctor was beginning to crack up a bit toward the end of his run … in “The Waters of Mars” he angrily saved people he knew were supposed to die, only to have them die on him anyway. But for a moment he was unnervingly megalomaniacal, the “Time Lord Triumphant.” And in the next — and final, for Tennant — outing, “The End of Time” parts one and two, he broke down in tears while confessing to Wilf how “I tried to do some things that went wrong.” And he seemed to have actually contemplated, later on, letting Wilf die in the radiation chamber rather than saving him, with a speech about Wilf’s relative puniness and insignificance compared to the Time Lord — uncharacteristically self-pitying and selfish.

So he was not in the best state of mind when he regenerated into Matt Smith, and the regeneration energy when he did was so powerful it crashed the TARDIS into Amelia’s garden 14 years in the past. Perhaps, some fans speculate, the Doctor is lying unconscious, fever-dreaming all this, and the crack that appears is the real world trying to break through.

I have no idea, and that’s exciting. Russell T. Davies did a marvelous job revitalizing Doctor Who into a serious science-fantasy show for today, and told or supervised some really beautiful and compelling stories duing his tenure. But with the season, for the first time, I am truly baffled by the clues Moffat’s giving us, and have no idea where this is all going to end up when the season draws to a close.

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Why Image-ning Muhammad Provokes Muslim Outrage ?

Perhaps because Muhammad, is like Santa Claus, a real association, misinterpreted with good intentions and then exploited and warped by a greedy and worldy ambition — which dissonances are now deeply felt among Muslims and deeply shaming in ways that — because unlike Santa Claus in which apostasy results on only in mild winter shunning in the vicinity of impressionable children  — apostasy or conversion from Islam is ruled out, on pain of death.  The problem cannot be articulated or dealt with — except though expressing an ever-expanding and inchoate rage.

BUT all the same … Happy Draw Muhammad Day!

So much fun —  you get two for  the price of one !

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician with a Muslim bounty on her head, has written of the deep damage that is done by the fearful reaction to the “informal fatwas” of Muslim kooks and extremists — under the principle of substituting in place of the rule of law,  Islam’s “commanding right and prohibiting wrong” and encouraging the imposition of death on those who are seen as wrong.

Lacking the basic Christian attitude of humility in personally accepting a fundamentally sinful human nature, this self-aggrandizing tendency within Islam allows the zealous believer to enlarge and satisfy his  own ego — supposing himself to be the willing instrument of a vengeful god.  It is enticing to the worst aspects of human depravity, and lacking any possibility of self-restraint, as it claims divine warrant.   To this danger,  Islam — as a system of thought–  is utterly blind.

This blindness is the only way to understand things like a man trying to actively champion a view of a “moderate and peaceful”  Islam in New York — then grotesquely evaporating his own arguments — by beheading his wife.   Theo Van Gogh, by American standards a fairly limp lefty,   was stabbed to death in the most liberal nation in Europe — with a note impaled into his chest with the knife identifying him as a enemy of Islam, for whom death was the punishment.   Hirsi Ali  — and Salman Rushdie,  both had to go into hiding with permanent security details to avoid a similar fate.   And now, a cartoon satire whose invective knows no limits, and has lampooned the foolishness of every religion on the planet — barring only those they happen not to have heard about — yet submits to censor under the deadly demands of Islam.

Hirsi Ali’s proposal is to draw and publish Muhammad’s image  everywhere and as much as possible so to diminish the risk to any one target — and thus rebate the force of the Muslims fringe’s attacks  through the sheer mass  of the image’s presence.  It is an intriguing and worthy suggestion.   But image — though never real — yet speaks to a finite reality.  This  begs the question what does the negation of an image speak to?  The negation of that existence, perhaps?

My more subversive attack is to ask the simple question “BUT WHY?”   WHY should there be no images of Muhammad? Why does one not ask this question?  Why the prohibition ?

The Q’uran states in Sura 42:11 that nothing is like God — seemingly contrary to the statement of Genesis that man is made in God’s image.   An image of a man cannot be idolatry — unless one identifies that man with God — which would be blasphemy.   Christianity turns that on its head; God takes Man as an image of Himself, rather than men making images of God.    But,  since Islam is so adamant that Muhammad was merely a man, then why the prohibition on images of him and why the outrage?

If the man now called Muhammad actually existed — there should have been images of him somewhere — heck, everywhere  — even imagined ones.   There are countless images of Jesus of Nazareth attesting to his human reality and existence as Man — and as the quintessential Image of God on earth, it is entirely appropriate from a Christian perspective that there should be.  Confucius has many images.  So does Gautama Buddha.   These men are seemingly historically attested and we have images of them.

Images of Muhammad are prohibited (where this prohibition is given is not clear, the Q’uran does not contain it).   There are stories — but no images.   Since the prohibition on idolatry reaches only to God — this tends to identify Muhammad with attribute or privilege appropriate to God alone — that graven images of God not be made.    A graven image of a man is not theologically suspect — but the prohibition on making the image of one man, even a supposed prophet among men, is very curious and highly problematic.

Theologically speaking, imagining is  man’s link to God.  Genesis tells us that Man is not a god — and fell in wanting be like one by his own effort — but Man is created in the Imago Dei — in the image of God.  As God imagines so does He create.   He imagined us  out of nothing and we are.  We imagine ourselves from what we are to what we may become  — all manner of human beings doing all manner of things – because we imagine them and make them real.  Thus, we are made in God’s image — as co-makers or co-creators — of ourselves and of the world.  We are sub-creators, as Tolkien would say.

There is a subversive (for Islam)  thesis in linguistic circles that the Koran was the result of an Arabic effort to translate a Syriac Christian lectionary,  with many additions and glosses.  The Koran is therefore, under this reading, not a primary revelation of God but a derivative work of a Christian liturgical  aid  — corrupted by misunderstanding, historical ignorance, and a later worldly ambition put in written form almost two hundred years later founded on the secular uses of religious fervor  — ultimately forming the basis for a conquering cult of personality in the name of one  “Muhammad” — the faceless prophet.

The question is begged — without any image of him, with the earliest biography of him more than a hundred and fifty years after his era, of which no copies survive, with all the variant editions of the Koran rounded up and burned at the two hundred year mark —  are we confident that Mohammad even existed ?  No images ?  None ?  Not even covert ones ?  Is it imaginable that humans being would so studiously refrain from imagining the image of such an important person, whose name is part of the formual of salvation according to their belief ?  Why penalize it so — after all he was just a man, right ?  Unless of course he was nothing at all but a name on the page, or perhaps not even a name  … perhaps just a word  —  M*H*M*D the Arabic ( or Syriac) passive participle “be praised.”  If identifying a man —  it is not a name  — but a title or epithet.

My subversive thesis:  The name “Muhammad” is not actually a name.   The word appears only four times in the Q’uran.  In Classical Arabic, it has no diacritical marks at all — which leaves the word ambiguous as written.   As read it is the passive participle of H*M*D “praised” which can be an adjective or an adjectival noun, ” the praised one.”   If not a title or epithet it may simply be a formula of the Syriac Christian lectionary — the passive participle “praised” or  “be praised” as in ” … praised be he.”  The passive participle  in Classical Arabic is used without a fixed syntactic role.   It is not inflected for person — so there is no way to internally determine to what or whom the word refers in context.  The manner or operation of the modifier is not definite — other than it relates to the subject of the sentence.   Thus, the minimal diagrammatic of the term M*H*M*D is  “praised be [the subject of this utterance]”  OR  [the subject of the utterance] be praised”

The word M*H*M*D appears only four times in the Koran  (Tr. — Abdullah Yusuf Ali) :

3:144 Muhammad is no more than a messenger: many Were the messengers that passed away before him.  If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.

“(If )no more than a messenger [be praised],  many were the messengers that passed away before him — died or were slain. Will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.

33:44 Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.

[Praised be] not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.


47:2 But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to  Muhammad – for it is the Truth from their Lord,- He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.

But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to [be praised]  – for it is the Truth from their Lord,- He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.


48:29 Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Torah and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward.

[Praised be] the messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Torah; and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward.

Read in this manner the word M*H*M*D no longer is a name of a mere man but a word referring to the “subject of the utterance”  —  which in many respects now seems to echo the identity of , well, not to put too fine a point on it,

— Jesus —

In each of these is a specific Christian reference.  “The Angel of the Lord” (“the Messenger of Allah”) is often read in the Old Testament from a very early date in Christian thought to refer to the pre-Incarnate Logos appearing to guide Israel .   In Christian teaching, Jesus is the Prophet who was slain — but who has has NOT passed away, as distinguished in the text.  The ‘Seal of the Prophets’ echoes the declaration of the two Great Commandments, in which are contained all of “the Law and the Prophets”, as does the  reference to the text being in after the likeness of both the Torah and the Gospels — with the mustard seed parable tagged on, to boot.   The combination of believing and doing good works echoes James 2:17, 26.  The “Revelation sent down to be praised — as the Truth from the Lord” is the pure orthodox doctrine of the Logos.  Muslims themselves point the use of the root H*M*D or “Ahmad”  “the praised one” which in Greek is periklutos, which they try to read as Paraclete — as referring to the Holy Spirit, which in the passage in which Jesus supposedly announces the future mission of “Ahmad”  — under their own  premise — simply renders it a restatement of The Gospel of John  and the mission of the Holy Spirit.

“Muhammad” seems in this reading simply a title, the title of the nameless and faceless prophet of the Koran — unless it refers to Jesus.   “Muhammad” is not a prophet of God;  “Muhammad” the illiterate prophet whose  ‘book’ millions revere is not even a dead false prophet of God.

“Muhammad” may simply be a mistake in reading — an honest, too zealous, illiterate’s  mistake — taken way, way, way, too far…

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Wisdom From Hank

I was listening to some comedy from Henry Rollins when I caught something I’d never noticed before in the bit. The immediate context was the Ku Klux Klan insisting on using its freedom of speech to hold marches, but the applicabilityof this gem is broad.

He said: A coward hides behind freedom. A courageous person stands in front of freedom and defends it for others.

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You Will Be Upgraded

While we await the next series of Doctor Who to begin, I’ve been considering the nature of evil as Doctor Who, and other science fiction stories, often depict it.

A common thread among many of the antagonist aliens is conformity. How often do we see that evil seeks to make everyone alike and eliminate those


that are different? The Daleks cry “exterminate!” and vaporize non-Daleks. The Cybermen seek to “upgrade” humans (turn them into cybermen) or else “delete” (kill) them. In the two-part episode that ended David Tennant’s marvelous four-year run, his enemy The Master turned all humans into replicas of himself.

Outside of Doctor Who, consider the Borg of Star Trek, who “assimilate” other species. Or consider IT, the controlling brain of A Wrinkle In Time, which had made the people on the planet Camazotz into automatons that it controlled.

As an observation, Doctor Who established a theme of the connection of forced uniformity and evil early on, less than 20 years after the end of World War II. The Daleks were intentionally and obviously Nazi analogues.

Citing a childhood spent in Wales during World War II, [Dalek creator Terry] Nation has said that he modeled the impersonal and unstoppable Daleks after the Nazis, seeing them as embodying “the unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you.”

In the real world, the first step toward evil is often depersonalization. It is an us vs. them mentality, deliberately cultivated. A group of “us” who sees “them” as inherently inferior or threatening can do terrible things — think of the burning of heretics by religious authority, or the lynching of blacks by the Ku Klux Klan.


Conformity works by building an “us” and drilling into the individuals who comprise it the importance of relinquishing some degree of their individuality in favor of the good of the whole. Then it needs a “them” other people who are non-personal, or at best, inferior. If people believe that Muslim = America-hating terrorist, the quiet Muslim family down the block has every reason to be nervous. If the native inhabitants of a land are “savages,” it’s easier to rationalize why it’s right to displace them and take their land. Propaganda depends on encouraging precisely the same kind of bigotry that, in most contexts, civilized people reject. The enemy — “they” — are all the same, and all against us. To the extent that this keeps a nation energized in a necessary war, such as WWII, it may be necessary, but it’s very easy for it to boil over into interpersonal relationships. Watching how many of my fellow Americans blithely condemn all Muslims today, I wonder how my grandparents’ generation treated Japanese-Americans who were never their enemies even in the height of the war. (They interred some of them).

Sometimes the “us” is largely imaginary. If a man believes that women are little more than objects for sexual gratification — and therefore fair game for exploitation and rape — he may imagine that most other men hold the same attitude.

In our science-fiction stories, we can see the consequence of this kind of thinking played out to an extreme degree. They’re exciting stories, and when done well, very satisifying fiction. But they’re effective precisely because they reflect a very real aspect of humanity.

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Way late …

Hope for the future of civilization,  miraculously appears  and crashes headlong into the flank of  the crypto-communist fifth-column apparatchikii horde…


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