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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Spook Country

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Spook Country is only the third of William Gibson’s novels that I have read. The first—and, I have to say, best—was Pattern Recognition. Spook Country shares with it the same sense of incipient danger amidst a cultural malaise spiked with a curious hope. It also shares the wealthy and enigmatic Hubertus Bigend. If you’ve read and liked Pattern Recognition, you will like Spook Country. I highly recommend it.

Some of the claims in the book are too bizarre to be true, yet they are. For example, one character tells the protagonist, Hollis Henry, that a staggering $12 billion was sent to Iraq and distributed without any oversight or monetary controls. This was true; you can read about it here. One shipment consisted of shrinked-wrapped hundred dollar bills totaling over $2 billion. That’s nearly a ton of currency. The money was not US taxpayer funds; it was seized Iraqi assets, so it belonged to the Iraqis. Nevertheless, you can imagine the potential for abuse and corruption with that much money flowing freely into a war zone. If you can’t, Gibson can.

Like other books by Gibson, Spook Country requires careful reading and attention. Gibson seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of recent—and not so recent—popular culture. His characters are comfortable with Google, GPS systems, and Internet-enabled phones. Comfortable but also distrustful. The book follows three characters whose stories seem at first unrelated. The switch from one story to another was disorienting at first, but quickly took on a rythmn of it s own. It was a fascinating and satisfying read.

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Inauguration Blues

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So the inauguration was only a few hours old and Lincoln’s bible was still warm from Obama’s touch, when I received this email in my inbox. It’s the same stale issues in the same strident tone: abortion, gays in the military, same-sex marriage, activist judges, eroding values. Don’t get me wrong. These are all important issues worthy of discussion. But for Focus on the Family, they are also hot-buttons, guaranteed to provoke a response from the faithful.

Obama delivered a stirring speech. He called for Americans to put aside “petty grievances” and work together to solve huge, intractable problems. He called for sacrifice and hard work and unity of purpose. It’s hard to imagine better values for building a nation or a family. Of course, none of that matters because he favors the right to abortion, rights for gays, and is relentlessly liberal.

I admit I’m skeptical. I didn’t vote for Obama. It’s possible his smooth talk and high-sounding phrases will be nothing more. It’s possible he’s just another politician who knows how to work the crowd. I think, at least for the time being, Obama means what he says. I think that’s a hopeful sign, even though he is a liberal Democrat.

I’ve never seen so many people get so excited about anything before. The spirit was infectious. I very nearly got excited myself.

So why the blues? Because the Christian right is so predicatably Christian and so predictably right.

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Building or Advancing

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What is the mission of the church? Are we to build the church or advance the kingdom?

I submit that in the West we have focused on building the church and nearly forgotten about advancing the kingdom. We now have every conceivable kind of church to cater to the wants and needs of every conceivable kind of consum—er—Christian. A church focused on building is a church focused on itself. We have a customer-centric model of service. Our aim is to please our members, to equip them with the latest tools, to build them up and make them strong. How are we different from the YMCA? Only in our emphasis on the spiritual instead of the physical.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with building the church. In fact, it is essential to the mission of the church that its members be spiritually fit and strong. But building the church is not the church’s mission. We are like an army that drills and trains but never goes into battle. We tell one another stories about the glory days when friendships forged in battle were resilient and unbreakable. But we ourselves settle for campfire camaraderie: singing songs together, chatting on Facebook, and keeping up a tough-guy pretense. We don’t actually fight; that would be un-Christlike. We admire fighters, the heroes of old who fought and died to secure for us a peaceful and comfortable existence with like-minded acquaintances.

The mission of the church, spelled out for us by our commander, is to make disciples of all nations. The first Christians understood that God had chosen people in every ethnos—nation. There mission was to find those people and recruit them. That’s why Luke writes that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” The first Christians did not try to persuade everyone; they tried to persuade the chosen. Their message was the same as Jesus’ message: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.” The proof they offered in support of this wild claim was wilder still. They claimed that someone had risen from the dead. To those who believed them, they offered instruction in becoming a citizen of a new kingdom. They taught followers not to hold grudges, to be generous with their possessions, to put reconciliation with a brother ahead of sacrifice to God, to love unconditionally, to pray for their enemies. Simply put, they transformed the world.

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