Positive. Encouraging. White. K-LOVE.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

My least favorite radio network.


’Cause without that space, they’ve simply misspelled “clove.”

I stopped listening to radio in the early ’00s, ’cause I got an MP3 player. It wasn’t the iPod I wanted; I finally got one of those in ’04. It was a pocket computer, a Windows PocketPC; imagine a smartphone which wasn’t a phone, or a tablet which was more phone-sized. Among other things, it included a mobile version of Windows Media Player. I also discovered podcasts around that time, and even though I still had dial-up internet at home, I set up my good ol’ Gateway to download a bunch of shows overnight, and I started ripping every CD I owned into Media Player files. Loaded up the SD card and never looked back.

(The pocket computer still works, by the way. I used it till I finally bought an Android tablet. I like to use my technology till it completely dies, or is so obsolete I can’t really use it anymore. Still got my clamshell iBook too. But I digress.)

The last radio stations I regularly listened to was a “nineties and now” station at home, and a Christian pop station at work. ’Cause I was teaching at a Christian school, and some of the bluenoses frowned on the secular stuff. I could only get away with jazz, ’cause they had no clue Louis Armstrong was sky-high on “gage,” as he called it, whenever he sang; or that Miles Davis was half out of his mind on heroin. For that matter, we have no idea how many tabs of Vicodin our favorite Christian artists might’ve been prescribed when they recorded… but again, I digress. Point is, don’t judge.

On my way to work, if I ran out of podcasts, I’d sometimes tune in to preacher radio. And get annoyed when the station was full of cessationists, all of whom preach the impotent gospel of “Christianity isn’t what we do; it’s what we believe. So get your theology straight.” ’Cause when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, Mt 25.31-46 he’s gonna quiz us on the catechism, right? Feh.

Christian pop stations were annoying too. All happy, peppy, but not-at-all-challenging music. Plus that particular station kept promoting itself with the slogan, “Safe for the whole family.” I grew up on Narnia books, so my attitude about Christ is more like that of the Beavers on Aslan in the first one: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

No, the station wasn’t K-LOVE. Which did exist at the time: It broadcast out of Santa Rosa since 1982, changed its name to K-LOVE in ’88, moved to Sacramento in ’93, then to Rocklin in ’02. All this time it was buying translators and piping its signal to other cities, building its network. Northern California, where I live, is its home turf.

The more MP3s I accumulated, the more my interest in broadcast radio shrunk to nothing. By 2006 I didn’t even have a radio. Mom had my boombox—still does, and is welcome to it—and maybe there’s an old FM radio or two in a bin in the garage somewhere. The rare times I bother with radio, it’s an internet station. That’s it. If someone needs to broadcast something over the Emergency Alert System, I’m not gonna hear it. Oh well, so much for the tornado warnings.

But sometimes radio is inflicted upon me. Not just in stores which pipe it over the public address. Way too many of my fellow Christians are listening to K-LOVE. So when I’m at their houses, in their cars, or it’s a church work day and someone other than me is in charge of the music (and thank God, that’s not always the case), guess which radio network we’re tuned into? It’s that, or K-LOVE’s “edgier” sister network Air 1.

Context? Who needs context?

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October
CONTEXT 'k蓱n.t蓻kst noun. Setting of an idea or event: The larger story they’re part of, the circumstances or history behind them, the people to whom they’re said. Without them, the idea is neither fully understood nor clear.
[Contextual k蓹n't蓻ks.t蕛(蓹w).蓹l adjective.]

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” It’s not from the bible, although from time to time someone will claim it totally is, and therefore it’s a divine command. It’s actually from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3. Might not be bible, but Shakespeare’s no slouch either.

Why do people quote it? ’Cause they literally mean it. Don’t borrow; don’t lend. If you don’t borrow money, you won’t go into debt. If you don’t lend money, you don’t have to fret when your friends never repay you. Simple, prudent advice. Words they think we oughta live by.

Okay, so why’d Shakespeare write it?

Well, we don’t give a rip. We know what we mean by it. Don’t borrow; don’t lend. We assume Shakespeare meant the very same thing. It’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

But a Shakespeare scholar, or anyone who’s stayed awake through Hamlet, will recall where it came from: The wily King Claudius’s adviser, Polonius. He says it to his son Laertes, just before he sends the boy off to university. And if they recall anything about Polonius, they’ll realize… it’s actually not good advice. Polonius thought it was, but Polonius was a dunce. Every other thing he advises in the play turns out to be wrong, bad, foolish advice.

“Okay, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of an idiot. But it’s still sound advice.” Is it? Considering the source, it comes across as way more self-serving and stingy than when people assume it comes from God.

You see the problem. Context is important. We should care where our quotes come from. We might be giving bad advice. Or, when quoting the bible, we might make a divine command out of something which was never meant to be one.

The word became human, and explains God.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

This is the reason he came to us. Not atonement; he could’ve done that invisibly. But to reveal God.

John 1.14-18

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

We Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage, because while it’s in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which might give God feminine qualities tend to give certain macho guys the heebie-jeebies), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh. Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find the idea blasphemous. It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh: He only looked flesh. Peel off his human mask (eww) and there’s God under it. He only looked physical, but he was a spirit with a physical appearance. He only looked real, but he was a mass hallucination which confused the real world. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, a demigod, a new species, a hybrid, an alien.

But he wasn’t. He was human. Yet God.

TXAB’s 2016 Presidential Antichrist Watch.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

Every presidential election year in the United States, we get doomsayers who claim this or that candidate is probably the Beast of Revelation 13, or as popular Christian culture calls it, the Antichrist. Or wannabe prophets claim one of the candidates is Jesus’s personal choice; if he held American citizenship (and I’m surprised one of the parties hasn’t voted him an honorary one by now) he’d totally pick that guy.

Of course none of these folks have any insight, supernatural or not. They’re proclaiming their own personal politics. Some of ’em do it every election. In the process, any such “prophets” unwittingly expose themselves as false ones, even when their favored candidates win. Because God’s will is for Jesus to reign, not some party, nor some politician. Lucky for them, we no longer stone false prophets to death. Man would that be satisfying.

I will point out it’s totally possible to determine which of these contenders might actually be the Beast. Seriously. Because at the end of chapter 13, John stated the Beast’s number is that of a human, and it’s 666. Rv 13.18 Meaning if we know what John meant by “its number”—and we do—we can calculate it.

Ready to find out which of the candidates are devil-spawn? Wait, lemme rephrase that: Ready to find out which of these folks are the ultimate devil-spawn? Well then you’re ready for TXAB’s 2016 Presidential Antichrist Watch.

The 2016 list.

The tricky part was trying all the variants of each candidate’s names. ’Cause Revelation doesn’t offer instructions: It’s not necessarily one’s full name, first ’n last ’n middle ’n maiden. It’s one’s name… which, I figure, could mean any reasonable configuration which adds up to 666. So I tried all the possibilities: Full names, nicknames, Hebrew-equivalent names, initials. Whatever jiggery-pokery got us closest to 666. Because if I didn’t, some conspiracy-theorist would, so I figured I’d beat ’em to the punch. Hey, if any reasonable-enough variant hits 666, maybe we do have something. And maybe not. I’m just the messenger.

Below are the closest results: It’s no coincidence they’re in the 500-700 range, ’cause that’s the range I was aiming for. I included candidates, potential candidates, and drop-outs, just in case. Nope, didn’t include third parties; they don’t win.

REPUBLICANIN HEBREW ALPHABETNUMBER
Jeb Bush 讬讜讞谞谉 讗诇讬住 讘讜砖 (Yochanan [John] Ellis Bush)533
Ben Carson 讘谞讬诪讬谉 住 拽专住讜谉 (Benjamin S. Carson)638
Chris Christie 讻专讬住 讻专讬住讟讬 599
Ted Cruz 专驻讗诇 讗 拽专讜讝 (Rafael E. Cruz)625
Mark Everson 诪讗专拽 讗讜讜专住讜谉 670
Jack Fellure 诇讜讗诇 讙'拽住讜谉 驻讗诇诇讜专 (Lowell Jackson Fellure)633
Carly Fiorina 拽讗专诇讬 驻讬讜专讬谞讛 702
Jim Gilmore 讙'讬讬诪住 住讟讬讜讗专讟 讙讬诇诪讜专 (James Stewart Gilmore)707
Lindsey Graham 诇讬谞讚住讬 讗讜诇讬谉 讙专讛诐 (Lindsey Olin Graham)509
Mike Huckabee 诪讬讻讗诇 讚讬讬诇 讛讗拽讘讬 (Michael Dale Huckabee)273
Bobby Jindal 驻讬讜砖 "讘讜讘讬" 讙'讬谞讚讗诇 (Piyush “Bobby” Jindal)514
John Kasich 讬讜讞谞谉 专 拽讬讬住讬拽 (Yochanan [John] R. Kasich)614
George Pataki 讙'讜专讙' 讗诇诪专 驻讟讗拽讬 (George Elmer Pataki)683
Rand Paul 专谞讚诇 讛讜讜讗专讚 驻讜诇 (Randal Howard Paul)622
Rick Perry 讬注拽讘 专 驻专讬 (Yaqov [James] R. Perry)672
Marco Rubio 诪专拽讜 专讜讘讬讜 570
Rick Santorum 专讬拽 住谞讟讜专讜诐 681
Donald Trump 讚讜谞诇讚 讬讜讞谞谉 讟专讗诪驻 (Donald Yochanan [John] Trump)548
Scott Walker 住拽讜讟 拽讜讜讬谉 讜讜拽专 (Scott Kevin Walker)659

 

DEMOCRATIN HEBREW ALPHABETNUMBER
Joe Biden 讬讜住祝 专讜讘讬谞讟 讘讬讬讚谉 (Joseph Robinette Biden)509
Jeff Boss 讙'祝 讘讜住 151
Lincoln Chafee 诇讬谞拽讜诇谉 讚 爪讗驻讬 (Lincoln D. Chafee)461
Hillary Clinton 讛讬诇讗专讬 专 拽诇讬谞讟讜谉 (Hillary R. Clinton)711
Lawrence Lessig 诇讜专谞住 诇住讬讙 449
Martin O’Malley 诪专讟讬谉 讬讜住祝 讗讜诪讗诇讬 (Martin Joseph O’Malley)553
Bernie Sanders 讘专谞讬 住谞讚专住 636
Jim Webb 讬注拽讘 讛谞专讬 讜讜讘 (Yaqov [James] Henry Webb)461
Robby Wells 专讜讘专讟 讜诇住 (Robert Wells)513
Willie Wilson 讜讬诇讬 讜讬诇住讜谉 218

So there we are: None of the candidates appear to hit the relevant number. Now, whether their behavior or policies are Beast-like is a whole other ball of wax.

Back in 2012…

Some years ago I got into a political discussion (seldom a wise idea) with a fan of Pat Robertson. So for fun—hey, maybe I’d hit the magic number and horrify him!—I calculated Robertson’s name. No dice. Oh well.

Out of curiosity I tried a few of the front-runners’ names. Then I plugged in Mitt Romney’s name… and stuff got serious. Well, semi-serious. ’Cause Romney’s full name (Willard Mitt Romney, 讜讬诇讗专讚 诪讬讟 专讜诪谞讬 in Hebrew) came up 616. And I just so happen to know that in a few ancient copies of Revelation, the Beast’s number isn’t 666. It’s that number: 616.

Now, 616 is a textual variant, which means it’s not what the best ancient copies of Revelation have. And since Romney didn’t win the 2012 election, any worries people might’ve had, have (thus far) gone unfounded. Still…

Really, that’s the whole point behind calculating people’s numbers. It’s so Christians can watch out for them. That’s all. It’s not divine determinism: Anyone whose name adds up to 666 is foreordained to be the Beast. Just because your parents didn’t stop by the local Kabbalist to make sure they named you something benign, doesn’t make you the Beast. Being the Beast makes you the Beast.

In other words: Pursuing power instead of surrendering it, lying instead of seeking the truth, being a hypocrite instead of being transparent… basically if you’re in politics at all, you’re a much better match for the Beast than the average citizen who covets none of those things. (Or, better, who follows Jesus.)

I was a little surprised some news outlet didn’t pick up on Romney’s number and have a little fun with it. Then again, maybe they knew all along and squelched it… or maybe that’s just paranoia talking. ’Cause paranoia will come out with all this Beast-talk. Gotta keep our heads, folks.

Recognizing and embracing the light of the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

Light is a metaphor for a lot of different things in the bible. Here, it’s life.

John 1.1-13

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning. The word’s with God. The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God. 3 Everything came to be through him.
Nothing that exists came to be without him. 4 What came to be through him, was life.
Life’s the light of humanity. 5 Light shines in darkness, and darkness can’t get hold of it.

In his first chapter, the author of John (probably John bar Zebedee, “the student Jesus loved”) pins a few metaphors on Jesus. We got word. We got light. And later John the baptist uses lamb. (Or ram; it depends on how meek or badass you wanna make Jesus sound.)

The word created life, and the author quickly started calling life “light” Jn 1.4 then said Jesus is the actual light coming into the world. Jn 1.9 In fact later in this gospel, Jesus made this claim about himself twice: "I'm the light of the world." Jn 8.12, 9.5 He comes to give us life. Abundant life in this age; eternal life in the next.

Even though the bible’s not a series of codes for clever Christians to crack, various Christians insist “light” means the same thing everywhere, and manage to mix up “Life’s the light of humanity” in verse 4, with “God is light.” 1Jn 1.5 You know, just like they mix up Jesus-God’s-word with the-bible-God’s-word. They’ll try to mash the “truth” they find in 1 John together with “life” (and let’s not forget way, Jn 14.6) and hit frapp茅. Any excuse to make the Light as clear as mud.

Synchrobloggery.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

Sometimes you just wanna know what other people think about the same topic.

Really, this is a story, not a non-sequitur: Back in 2007 my mother took a college course on Christian apologetics.

Since I’m the seminarian in the family, Mom kept picking my brain. And I’m really not the brain you wanna pick. Thanks to my Fundamentalist upbringing, I spent years studying apologetics… and trying it out on Dad, who’s atheist. Then I spent a few more years inflicting it on various other pagan skeptics. After some years working with real evangelists, who share the gospel instead of arguing it, I came to a rather heterodox view of apologetics.

Bluntly, apologetics are cessationists’ thoroughly inadequate substitute for testimonies. You don’t tell people about what God’s done in your life, ’cause as far as you believe, all his acts are theological, spiritual, invisible, and largely hypothetical. You don’t talk about what he’s shown you through your faithful obedience, ’cause you’ve not done a lot of that either. Don’t bother to develop any fruits of the Spirit. Instead, indulge one of the more self-gratifying works of the flesh: Argue. Verbally tear those pagans a new one.

You give ’em logical arguments for the existence of God. Explanations why the bible is historical and believable. Reasons the resurrection has to have happened. Ideas to believe, rather than a Person worth believing in. And most useless of all, reasons why evolution isn’t true—which tells pagans faster than any T-shirt slogan, “I don’t believe in science, and am therefore an idiot. Trust nothing else which comes out of my mouth.”

If you object to that characterization, I’ll deal with you later.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of use for apologetics. From the sound of it, neither did Mom’s professor: He was only teaching the class because somebody had to; it was a required course if you sought ordination. When Mom started sharing some of my conclusions in class, and revealed where she got ’em from, he decided maybe he and I oughta become “friends,” as they call ’em, on Facebook. His name’s John. Blame him for getting me into synchroblogging.

Why we gotta have freedom of expression.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

And in this age, we have Blog Action Days.


I’m participating in the Blog Action Day thingy, an attempt to get bloggers and their readers to focus on a particular worthy issue. This year it’s #RaiseYourVoice, an attempt to speak up on behalf of journalists, photographers, bloggers, writers, and pretty much everyone who’s not allowed to speak up for themselves.

In the United States, freedom of expression is pretty much the content of our Constitution’s first amendment: A guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, the press, and to petition government.

Among us Christians, freedom of expression is a tricky thing. Because not every Christian is agreed we have freedom of expression. Or should have.

I know many a Christian who’s outraged, outraged, by some of the stuff on television. It’s just filthy. So, they tell anyone who’ll listen, they got rid of their TV. They threw it right out. They don’t watch it anymore.

…Well okay, they watch stuff on the Blu-ray player. And off Netflix. And sometimes they’ll reconnect the cable for sports. And they’ve downloaded every episode of Little House on the Prarie from Amazon, but watching old TV doesn’t count as “watching TV,” does it?…

Anyway. Some things, many of us Christians insist, shouldn’t be so freely expressed. “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth” Ep 4.29 and “Touch not the unclean thing” 2Co 6.17 and all that. We practice self-control, or at least we fake it really well. So others should practice self-control. And if they can’t, maybe we oughta pass some laws. Or, if doing so bothers our sense of libertarianism, we can just do as we usually do: Boycott them, boycott their sponsors, boycott their business partners, shout ’em down, hack their websites, slander ’em widely, and otherwise try to ruin them. ’Cause it’s our duty as good citizens and devout Christians.

But when other people do all that stuff to us—why, we’re being persecuted.

It’s a blind spot. A big black hole of a blind spot, where the inconsistency falls in and gets squashed into a singularity: “Those are entirely different things. They’re promoting evil. We’re promoting Jesus. (And our politics, which are Jesus-approved, so they’re part of the package.) Evil needs to be fought. And it’s evil to fight us, ’cause we’re on God’s side.”

So when I talk to my fellow Christians about freedom of expression, they’re all for it—for us. Not so much for others.

“Call me Pastor.”

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Three years ago I got into a conversation with some guy at a Starbucks. It’s usually in coffeehouses such conversations take place; I’m in them so often. (I’m in one now as I write this.) He asked my name. I gave it. He gave his name as “Pastor Todd”—although Todd isn’t actually his first name, ’cause I changed it for this story, ’cause he’s not gonna look good.

Todd struck up a conversation with me, quickly found out I’m Christian, and we got to talking about our common beliefs. Like most people, he assumed since I’m not clergy, I must know nothing about theology. Which is a really na茂ve assumption, ’cause there are a lot of dangerously overeducated laymen like me around. Something I learned back in my journalism days: Never underestimate people. But never overestimate ’em either. Find out who they really are.

There are a lot of dangerously undereducated clergy around too. It just so happened Todd is among them. He tried to instruct me in certain areas he clearly knew little about. I expressed doubt, ’cause scripture. Todd tried to correct me, ’cause earnestness. I didn’t fret about it, ’cause Todd wasn’t wandering into heresy. But Todd got more and more anxious, ’cause certain folks believe anyone who disagrees with them is heretic—and think it their duty to rescue us from hell, so he just had to get through to me. I think I kinda ruined his day.

To my point: At some point I addressed him by his given name, which as far as you know is “Todd.” He corrected me there, too.

HE. “It’s Pastor Todd.”
ME. “I’m sorry. Your first name is ‘Pastor’? Or it’s ‘Pastor-Todd’?”
HE. “Pastor’s my title.”
ME. “Oh. But you aren’t my pastor. No offense.”
HE. “Still I’m a pastor, ordained by God. I should be addressed by that title.”

Introducing the Book Pile.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

There’s this well-known pastor in my denomination. I’ve heard him preach, and found it impressive. When I found out he had a blog, I decided to subscribe to it. At the time it was mostly things he’d discovered in the process of writing his sermons, and the occasional rant about his politics. But two years ago it turned into nothing but book reviews.

Y’see, once your blog starts racking up the viewers, book publishers find out about it, and start offering you books for review. They hope your readers might wanna become their readers. And they’re not wrong; I’ve come across some really interesting books through some of my favorite blogs. So when they contacted me, I figured why not.

But lest you worry, Christ Almighty! is not gonna turn into a book blog, like that pastor’s site did. He began with books on Christian discipleship, branched into novels (and his novels aren’t my cup of tea), and doesn’t bother to write about Jesus anymore. I really need to unsubscribe from his blog sometime.

I’ll keep it to once a month. (Less often, if I haven’t found anything good.) No, not every book was sent to me for review, ’cause I’m gonna include the books I get on my own, and liked enough to let you know about. And no, not every book is gonna get a four-star review, ’cause if publishers send me something I don’t care for, I’ll say so. Too many bloggers seem to take the attitude of, “If you can’t say anything nice, be really vague or they’ll stop sending you books”—forgetting that if they send you nothing but crap, maybe you kinda want them to stop sending you books.

On hearing from God. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

Too many Christians use “God told me” as a way to tell people, “So the discussion’s over.”

In this story I’m gonna bounce around in time a bit. Bear with me.


So much easier to hear God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Ten years ago. My pastor and I were discussing church stuff, as we did. We were chatting about the reasons why people join or leave a church. I casually mentioned that when there’s no obvious reason to quit a church (i.e. abusive people, leaders who won’t lead, heretic teachers, false prophets running wild, it’s a cult, etc.) people have no business leaving unless God tells them it’s okay.

“You know,” he blurted out, “in 20 years I’ve never heard a person say ‘God told me’ as much as you do.”

Yeah, it was a bad habit I was in. I’ve since got out of it.

No, not because God wasn’t really talking to me. Nor because he’s stopped. He still does. I just don’t point it out as often. Because people get the wrong idea, like my pastor did.

See, in his experience, Christians tend to use the line “God told me” for two reasons, both bad. The most obvious one is they’re showing off. “Look at me! God talks to me. Lemme tell you what he said.” They’re like name-droppers who wanna let everyone know they know celebrities, or important people, as if this makes them important too. As if God doesn’t talk to every Christian (though not all of us are listening). Now, I knew God talks to everyone, so I wasn’t saying “God told me” because I believed he was talking to me more than others. I wasn’t trying to show off. But if that’s what it looked like, best I stopped it. So I did.

The other, bigger problem are those Christians who say “God told me” in order to end a conversation. ’Cause God, they believe, gets the final word.