29 November 2008

Alpha Course Day 8: How Can We Resist Evil?

Dinner: A little better this week. The salad was wilted, but the beef stirfry with onions and mushrooms was nice and tender; a little watery but with good flavour. Non-asians almost always overcook bok-choy, turning it to mush. Dessert was little store-bought ice cream cups with the little wooden scoops again, but also a few mini cupcakes.

Part 1: Sermon

It’s about THE DEVIL!!! Scary!

Wow, most of this sermon uses the Garden of Eden snake and the apple as its basis. I just can’t take this at all seriously.

It started with warning us of the "reality of spiritual warfare" with the forces of Satan, who is in active rebellion against God and leads a multitude of demons who will attempt to turn us away from God.

Gumbel explained that the existence of Satan is reasonable because it makes sense of the evil in the world. And it's also supported by Christian tradition and scripture. And we shouldn't underestimate his power. And that many of us have mistaken views about Satan, either an unhealthy interest like the occult, horoscopes, palm reading, etc, or total disbelief. Wooo. I'm so impressed. (yawn)

His tactics are to blind people to God, tempt people to do wrong, and, most importantly, to cause people to doubt God.

As for doubt, Gumbel claims it's always the starting point, and that Satan's favourite thing to do is to undermine faith in either God's existence or God's power and benevolence.

As for temptation, Gumbel talked about Adam and Eve in the garden. Seriously, what the fuck is that forbidden tree doing there in the first place? And why allow a rebellious angel who wants to ruin your creation into the garden to tempt humans in the first place? Is God a retard?

One more thing: Gumbel pointed out here that temptation is not sin. But what of what Jesus said, ie. whoever is angry with his brother commits murder, and whoever lusts after another woman has committed adultery? I have no strong opinion here, not being a theologian or biblical scholar, but it seems odd to me.

Gumbel then explains that our position is that Christians are on God's side, that Jesus has defeated Satan via the resurrection, and that Christ's disciples have authority over demons. Likewise, Christians are called to fight on God's side against Satan, to "wear the armor of God."

Part 2: Small Groups

I have a confession: I’m starting to have a really hard time participating in the small group discussions, to the point where I haven’t actually asked anything during the past two weeks. The first few weeks I dominated the discussions, introducing topics, challenging the group members, and complaining about the failures in their thought processes. Recently, I really don’t want to talk anymore. Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate just how “out there” the rest of the group members are wrt religion. There is nothing I can say that can get them to change their minds, or even engage in meaningful discussion. That one non-Christian person in the group, who I was promised existed, has yet to make an appearance (I have a hunch who it is, but he has yet to say anything substantial to substantiate that hunch). It’s gotten to the point where I just don’t care about these people; sure, they’re nice, and I’d be happy to call most of them friends, but in this environment, they are lost causes.

Then again, maybe I still DO care, but I’m worried that if I start to talk, my sense of overwhelming frustration with them will manifest itself in a never-ending barrage of screaming insults related to their incredible mental denseness.


This is especially likely given that I’ve already flown off the handle at one of these halfwits before (retreat fight with elder link).

Anyway, back to the discussion. You know, for a discussion about a sermon focused mainly on Satan, nobody really mentioned Satan during the discussion. When they felt they must refer to supernatural evil, they said “evil forces,” but usually, they talked about human failings as evil. This implies to me that most of them really don’t view the devil as theologically necessary; they view evil as a problem of humanity’s failings, not of necessarily an external, supernatural tempter. The exception is that, while they view most evil as purely human, they were all convinced that the occult, evil, satanic powers, existed. Oooooh, fortune tellers are bad, horoscopes are bad, voodoo is bad. And they’re all true, powered by the Devil! Scary.

Bunch of retards. (See the all-caps rant above, which I almost blurted out in the session save for an effort of superhuman will.)

We’ve got space telescopes and Mars rovers and they’re still worried about the demonic forces involved in freakin’ horoscopes. Hell, I even heard one priest count Magic 8-Balls among the tools of demonic evil. I see at least one tool, but it sure as hell ain’t the 8-Ball.

I have become convinced that a comprehensive course about understanding science and how it impacts modern life must be taught in our highschools. Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World should be required reading for everybody, lest we get stuck with a large percentage of our population still living in the dark ages.

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26 November 2008

God's Facebook Page

God is borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrred lol

You wrote on Adam's Wall

"yo man, hows it hangin?"

Adam wrote on your Wall

"kinda lonely. nbd. maybe make somthing
I can stick this thing between my legs in?
I think I want to do that"

Read the rest at God's Facebook Wall

If link doesn't work, go here:

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24 November 2008

Alpha Retreat : Wha' Happened?

An integral part of the Alpha Course is the weekend retreat. During this, everyone participating in the course spends a weekend together at a bible camp, watching sermons by Alpha headman Nicky Gumbel - all having to do with the Holy Spirit, having large group discussions, eating, playing games, etc. In this post, I'll write about what exactly went on over the weekend. I'll write about the contents of each video and the discussions (plus my fight with the church elder) in other posts.

It should be noted that not all Alpha programs actually go away for their weekend. Some are lame - well, lamer than others - and don't actually go anywhere, instead spending the whole weekend at the church where their Alpha is normally held. Also, not everyone in our group was able to go. I almost didn't, just because the thought of spending a whole weekend with all the god-bots disturbed me.

(As an aside, have you ever noticed that, once you take them out of regular, secular society, these god-bot people cease to speak of "thinking" about a problem, and instead "pray" about their problems. Ie. they are perfectly normal most of the time, but surround them with other church people and they turn all religiousy.)

The bible camp where the Alpha Course retreat was held was located near Bancroft, Ontario, so we headed out after work (actually I skipped out half an hour early). I had never driven out that way before, and it was dark and rainy, but we still made it there in good time, in about 2:55.

The camp was located about 8 km outside town in some backwoods area at the end of some really narrow, windy roads. The were pretty big, having come into possession of over 400 acres in the area around town, and in the summer time have canoes, a beach, hiking trails, etc. We were given our room assignment, my wife and I together in a room that turned out to be quite nice, like a new but low-end hotel. Unfortunately, like the old Christian houses that I noted before, the decor was decidedly grannyish. One interesting feature was that the doors could only be locked while you were in your room; when not in your room, the door would be left unlocked. This left us susceptible to lame pranks from our group leader who thinks she is funnier than she actually is. We got a very fake-looking rat in our bathroom, another person for earthworms in the shower, another person got a plastic snake in her bed, except she wasn't the one who found it; her boyfriend discovered it and he's terrified of snakes. That at least went well.

There were a handful of different "motels" as they called them, each built at a different time. Ours was the nice new one. The married couples and the single women were housed there. Another one housed the single guys. Later on we heard from a guy in our group that their building was horrible and he gave us a tour. It was really old and rundown, with a bathroom coated in mildew, small, flat, musty beds, and it smelled like my grandfather's old cottage. Pretty gross. Glad I was married.

The place had other facilities in addition to the lodgings: a lounge/presentation room, a dining hall, a large chapel, and a gym.

After settling in on Friday night, we headed back to the group area for the introductory video. They were very disorganized and technologically impaired, and we ended up watching 20 minutes of the wrong video before my wife noticed the error.

After the video, we were introduced to the church elder who would be helping out with the weekend by leading discussions and prayers and by introducing each video. He was actually not officially a church elder, as the church has a term limit that he has already far exceeded, so I guess he's an elder emeritus or something. He was a friendly old bearded guy and I had been told by both my wife and the group leader that he'd be a good guy to talk to about all my theological questions that I'd stumped them on, as he was much older, knowledgable, and wiser. Little did I know I'd be having a big fight with him, and that the Christian version of "wise" just means spouting the same old crap as every other Christian but more eloquently.

After meeting the elder, we were all called to introduce ourselves by giving our stories of why we were here. I said that I was only here because my wife had "strongly encouraged" me to be here. That drew a hearty laugh from everyone else.

Around 10:00 pm, the official part of the night ended. A large group of this went to play floor hockey in the gym. My wife and I play in a league, and we completely dominated all the other chumps there, who weren't as athletic or skilled. After each scoring 5 goals in the first 10 minutes (no one else scored any), we stopped counting goals or trying so hard, at least until players on our team started to leave due to fatigue, putting us down by 3 players. We played for over 3 hours and I ended up losing a lot of skin from my hands due to the old, frayed wooden sticks, and needed to bandage them up the rest of the weekend. I would have slept well due to fatigue except the thermostats in the rooms seemed to be nonfunctional and the heater was on full-blast the whole night.

Waking up late after a night of little sleep, we made it late to breakfast. Mmmm, bacon.

After breakfast, we had the first of the weekend sermons about the Holy Spirit, called "Who is the Holy Spirit?" I noticed that it wasn't just me who slept through large portions of it. We had a brief break, then head right into weekend sermon #2, called "What does the Holy Spirit Do?"

We then broke for a big group discussion in the chapel involving all the Alpha participants, about 40 people. The discussion was lead by the elder. Man, it was an unpleasantly long hour discussing nothing of much importance. I believe it was supposed to be discussing the sermons, but it only did that barely.

We then had lunch, which was a nice roast chicken breast with sweet potato fries with greek salad. Food was looking good. Dessert was just cookies.

We had a couple of free hours after lunch before the afternoon sermon. We just walked around the grounds a little and played ping pong. The afternoon sermon, weekend sermon #3, was called "How Can I Be Filled with the Spirit?" I think this is where there was supposed speaking in tongues or other bodily manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but nothing ever happened.

After the sermon was dinner, which was a rather poor roast beef with a bun meant to simulate yorkshire pudding and a salad that was very wilted and unpleastant. Dessert was just mint-chocolate chip ice cream. Food quality took a nose-dive with this meal.

After dinner, we took a nap due to excruciating fatigue. We ended up being half an hour late for Fun Night, which was an evening of games lead by the group leader, and including pictionary, cherades, a few other things I can't remember. It was fun, but not great.

After fun night was a free evening of snacks and just hanging out. It was during this time that my wife volunteered me to go speak with the elder, which I will discuss later. Right now, I'll just say that I got very pissed-off at his intellectual dishonesty and frustrated at his self-assured ignorance.

After I had cooled-off a bit and hung out a bit, we played more ping pong and went to bed, ensuring that we opened the window first so we wouldn't roast overnight.

The last morning, we were again late to breakfast, which was disappointing. The only thing worth eating were freshly made cinnamon buns, which they took away entirely too early so they could package them up and try to sell them to us. Way to stay classy.

We had a brief group discussion, which was essentially a way for the elder to recap his points of view from the previous day's discussion. Then we had one more video sermon, actually the last sermon from the Alpha Course, "How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life." Aka, more fluff.

We had lunch, which were sandwich wraps in the style of fajitas. Also known as a way for them to use up the leftover chicken and beef from the previous meals. Again, way to stay classy. Then it was time to leave.

Damn, it snowed. About 10 cm. And I forgot my snow brush.

Some nice guy cleaned the snow off our car for us and I was out of there as fast as I could go.

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21 November 2008

A new 5 things meme

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve been tagged by one of these. Thanks Carlo.

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:

1. Invading my brother’s Computer and Business Communications class during my 4th period spare while the teacher was away to play euchre.
2. Being overly-immersed in Baldur’s Gate.
3. Becoming a slower competitive swimmer than I was the year previous.
4. Enjoying all the freedoms and privileges associated with driving a crappy 1984 Nissan Micra with the muffler dragging on the ground.
5. Seriously slacking off during my last year of highschool, thus ensuring that I would not receive a scholarship from any credible university (though the University of Western Ontario still offered me several thousand dollars).

5 things on my to do list today:

1. Organize/put away/throw-out all the crap sitting in my garage from when we moved into our new house back in May (note: this has been on to do list for a very long time).
2. Buy alcohol.
3. Write an environmental assessment report for a bridge project and design a pedestrian bridge (instead, I am writing blog posts).
4. Document my ongoing trials and tribulations regarding the Alpha Course that I’m currently involved in.
5. Antagonize more church elders.

5 snacks I love:

1. Nachos.
2. Ice cream.
3. Crispers.
4. Chocolate.
5. Do cows classify as a snack?

5 things I would do if I were a Millionare:

1. Quit my job (after getting my P.Eng licence). Ah, retirement.
2. Get a PhD just so I could walk around calling myself “Doctor.”
3. Buy a Porsche/Jaguar/BMW.
4. Pay speeding tickets for the above.
5. Move the hell out of the Durham region. Seriously, what a boring place.

5 places I have lived:

1. My dad’s run-down, flooded, insect infested old home.
2. A big, grey university residence.
3. My first apartment: a dark, dank, tiny basement crap-hole.
4. My wife’s (then fiancée’s) family’s student rental property that I’m sure is below any standard of housing acceptable in this country.
5. A nice apartment mired by the location: next door to a trailer park and close enough to the train tracks that you could hit a passing freight train with a rock from my back porch.

5 jobs I've had:

1. Busser/server at a really crappy, by hicks-for hicks banquet facility.
2. Instructor for my university’s elementary school enrichment mini courses.
3. Ministry of Transportation engineering student seat warmer (seriously, I was a waste of taxpayer money while I was supposed to be learning bridge engineering).
4. TA.
5. Structural design engineer-in-training. I do bridges now, but for the first 1.5 years I mainly designed sewage treatment plants.

(2) People I'll tag:

1. CL Hanson
2. Heathen Mike


19 November 2008

Alpha Course Day 7: How Does God Guide Us?

Dinner: I think they’ve just stopped trying. Dinner today was a completely insufficient quantity of store-bought egg rolls (they ran out before everybody got one), a watery stirfry, and rice. Dessert was little store-bought ice cream cups with the little wooden scoops.

Part 1: Sermon

This talked all about how God guides his followers. Relevant information includes:
1) That God promised to guide his followers in scripture.
2) God has a plan for our lives, and he’ll guide us as soon as we’re ready to be lead (humble and all that jazz).
3) That we need to consult God – by praying, of course - before making major decisions.

As for the actual methods God uses to guide people are:
1) Commands found in the bible. Note that these are more general instructions
2) Compelling spirit. Ie. You suddenly feel like you should do a particular thing that you may not have felt like you should do before, especially if you’ve been praying about it. However, Gumbel also allows for other, more obvious and supernatural compellings, such as prophesy, dreams and visions, angelic visitations, and the audible voice of God. Spooky.
3) Common sense. I fail to see how this is God guiding.
4) Counsel of saints. Ie. Gumbel thinks it’s very important to listen to the advice of Christians who have gone before.
5) Circumstantial signs. This is explained as God nudging probability to show you something, or to open new doors and close old ones. Gumbel also warns that sometimes God wants us to persevere despite circumstances, which in my view seriously compromised circumstantial signs as a form of communication. However, it remains that this is the big guiding method that everyone in the group talked about and that Gumbel focuses on in all of his stories. I’ll discuss a bunch of his circumstantial stories now.

Gumbel lead off the sermon with a story about the founding of the British suicide counseling hotline, the Samaritans. So goes the story, a busy country vicar had the idea for the Samaritans but was unable to pursue it because he was too busy. So he prayed that God would make available to him the services of a less busy urban vicar to institute this program. A little while later HE suddenly got offered a transfer to a less busy city vicar job. So he took this as a sign and accepted the job, thus enabling him to start the Samaritans. He then wanted to get an easy to remember, somewhat meaningful phone number, so he thought of one and set about trying to acquire it from its current owner. So he called the phone company from his near derelict new church and asked if he could get it. The phone operator then asked him what his current phone number was, so he scraped the dust off the old phone and saw that the old city church already had the number that he wanted. He took this as a big deal, that God had this plan for him long before he himself had thought of it.

Gumbel told another story of a Christian friend of his who was getting serious with his non-believing girlfriend but wanted strongly for her to turn Christian before they could get married. He prayed that she’d become Christian before the end of the school term. The day came and she was still undecided, so they set off on a drive together with her giving out random directions until they suddenly found themselves at a church graveyard with row upon row of crosses. She took it as a sign and became Christian just before midnight.

Gumbel also spoke of many instances where he was thinking about a particular problem he had, when, suddenly and repeatedly, he’d be bombarded with many similar bible passages addressing the problem.

Of course, I think all these coincidences are just that: coincidences. Any extra meaning is put there by the person’s own mind. For instance, my dad was considering buying a cool early ‘80s Jaguar sedan. I had never paid much mind to this particular model of car before, but once he mentioned it, I was seeing them everywhere. A friend of mine had the exact same circumstantial experience when he was thinking of buying a new (different model of) car himself.

I have also been thinking of a problem, and then suddenly find myself bombarded with tv shows, magazine articles, quotes, etc, that have to do with that problem. Thing is, my problems where this occurs aren’t theological, moral, or even usually personal; mostly, they’re about some sort of trivial knowledge. It’s just that because I’ve been thinking about these problems, I take special note of stumbling upon items addressing the issue. There is no guidance from on high.

Hell, there are even atheist coincidences.

Part 2: Small Groups

Whoa, boy, lots and lots of circumstantial signs here. And way too much discussion of foot fungus as a sign. And too many mentions of watching Oprah (this also involved foot fungus; hence the talking of foot fungus as a sign by some of the people). One guy even made business decisions based on the circumstantial guidance of foot funguses. It was loopy.

Some guys didn’t buy that God would guide through coincidence, as there is just too much uncertainty and randomness there. Most, however, thought coincidences were undisputable proof of God’s guidance. Thus, most of the discussion was just people telling stories about their coincidences.

That everything happens for a reason and that coincidences are always more than just coincidences are unassailable facts to these people, and, indeed, many people, regardless of religion. I doubt that I would have been able to change any minds here, so I held my tongue.

We had run overtime and there wasn’t much time for discussion anyway.

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18 November 2008

Alpha Retreat teaser

I just returned from the Alpha Course weekend retreat which focused on the Holy Spirit. The retreat took place at a bible camp near Bancroft , Ontario , and a little over 40 of us from the Alpha Course attended. I’ll have a full report later (after I post about day 7), but for now I’ll give you a little summary of how it went down.

1) Discussions. The whole weekend was full of video sermons and discussions all focusing on one thing: the Holy Spirit. Holy crap, did I get sick of them going on and on about this piece of theological fluff.

2) Manifestations of the Holy Spirit (eg. Speaking in tongues). Sadly lacking.

3) Food. I kept hearing about how “amazing” the food was going to be from those who had gone to these retreats in previous years. While the food turned out to be okay, pretty good at times, it was far from amazing.

4) Accommodation. Accommodations were surprisingly good for a camp, kind of like a low-end but clean hotel. At least it was for couples and single women. Single men got old, dirty, cramped rooms that smelled like my grandfather’s cottage.

5) Free Time Activities. The camp had a pretty decent gym with ping pong, basketball, and floor hockey. In the rec floor hockey league than my wife and I play in, we’re both solid but not outstanding players. Compared to the inexperienced and not particularly athletic Alpha Course clientele attending the camp, we were like hockey gods. GODS, I say.

That’s about it. It was only a so-so weekend, with good people, okay food, and kind of boring and inconsequential discussions.

Oh, I also got into a giant (verbal) fight with a church elder, but I’m sure none of you would care to hear about that ;-)

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14 November 2008

Alpha Course Day 6: How and Why Should I Read the Bible?

Sorry I’m very late. Over a week late, actually (it'll only get worse since this weekend is the Alpha retreat - three sermons, a large group discussion, and a whole weekend of Christ stuff and eating). I blame the cold that I had that I thought went away until it punched me in the face and took me out of commission for a few days. I don’t know if it’s the illness or just general intellectual fatigue (teh stoopid has burned me out), but I let them off really easy today (too easy), despite the fact the group leader was itchin’ for a fight.

Dinner: Mmmmmmmm, sloppy joes. Dessert: Fresh fruit on yogurt with chocolaty bits on top.

Part 1: Sermon

The sermon today was on reading the bible. Gumbel’s main thrust was that it is of supreme importance to read the bible because it’s really precious. He illustrated this with a story about his youthful, newly Christian self smuggling bibles into communist Russia and the joy that these new bibles brought to the oppressed Christians there.

It’s the most popular book in regards to book sales on a yearly basis (though I would question how many of those bibles are actually read). It’s the most powerful book, in that Christians believe it’s a manual for life (and death), and it also serves as form of communication with God.

Strangely, Gumbel veered way off target early in the sermon to talk briefly about the bible and science. According to him, the bible tells us of God’s creation, and science allows us to explore even more of that creation which is not covered in the book. Because this is how it is, science and theology are not in conflict; rather, theology is like “the queen of sciences.” This argument is wrong. First, theology is not a science, let alone queen of them – the methods are very different, since theology is based on authority whereas science is based on experiment and observation. However, it would still be possible that science and theology wouldn’t be in conflict so long as the bible actually agreed with the findings of science. It does not on many levels; therefore, there IS conflict. Unfortunately, since the sermon was actually supposed to be about reading the bible and not about science vs. theology, I completely let this slide during the group discussion. Sigh. I blame my lax brain on still being sick.

Somewhere around here, he quoted Albert Einstein, who said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind," in order to again show that science and religion are the same. It seems like a weird quote for Einstein, a lapsed Jew, to make, but there it is. While it sounds good to Gumbel, I doubt that what Einstein really meant with this quote is what Gumbel hopes it means.

Interestingly, in his explanation for what the bible is, he says it was “inspired by God” but “he didn’t dictate,” meaning that the bible is fully the work of humans – 100% work of man and 100% inspired by God.1 To explain this, he used the example of the famous British architect Christopher Wren. Wren, in the role of God in this analogy, “built” St. Paul ’s Cathedral, yet didn’t actually do any of the manual labour himself, since he was the architect. I think this analogy is horrible because architects dictate all the damn time, and the way things are built better damn well agree with what they say or else there’s trouble, but I’m just an engineer, so what do I know?

Gumbel also acknowledged that there are “historical and moral difficulties” in the bible. Strangely, he didn’t actually address what we’re to think about them. He gave one example of a historical difficulty (Luke 3:1-2), but showed that this was one historical difficulty that was solved (the gist was that one dude was mentioned as existed during the wrong time period, but subsequent textual findings discovered that another dude with the same name existed during the correct time period). As for moral difficulties, he mentioned the problem of suffering, but didn’t come to reconciliation about it. His summary about “difficulties” is that “We either abandon our faith or we wrestle with the problems. Therefore the bible is the supreme authority.” WTF? Seriously, he went straight from glossing over serious problems with the bible’s reliability to proclaiming it as the supreme authority in a single breath.

After this, Gumbel spent a great deal of time on the “relationship” aspect of reading the bible. He said it’s like “a love letter from God.” I wrote the word “CREEPY” in my course manual. My wife thought I was weird for thinking this way. Anyway, Gumbel’s point is that you have to live like the bible says, not just read and memorize, so in that, I have no disagreement. Except that this was done by AJ Jacobs in his book The Year of Living Biblically, and it did not go over that well.

Gumbel finished with suggestions on how to read the bible effectively. I guess because your average Christian is practically illiterate doesn’t actually read the bible. There sure are a lot of unread/partially read bibles out there.

Part 2: Small Groups

I don’t know if it’s the illness or just general intellectual fatigue (the stoopid has burned me out), but I let them off really easy today, despite the fact the group leader was itchin’ for a fight. As I mentioned, I didn’t fight them about science vs. the bible because I didn’t feel like it was relevant to the “how to read the bible” thing. I also completely forgot to ask them if they were biblical literalists or anything like that. Sorry, I dropped the ball.

The good news is that the lawyer guy brought up the topic of the various non-canonical gospels, like the Gospels of Judas, Thomas, and Mary. He seemed quite curious and not at all dismissive about them. The group leader answered this challenge by saying that the early church councils who decided on the New Testament canon must be correct because they prayed very hard to God and he guided their selections. I said “WTF? What the hell does that mean in real life?” So she tried to explain herself by essentially going on and on and on repeating herself about God guiding decisions for about 5 minutes. I gave up.

I also brought up the difficulties raised in translating and copying the bible (a few things I picked up from Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus). Sadly, the blind faith crowd reared its ugly head again. According to one girl, translation errors “don’t matter because I know the bible’s true."

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a crazy viewpoint. Say I had an engineering drawing, it’s professionally done up, signed and sealed by some other professional engineer, looks all official and stuff. Looks good. However, it’s pretty damn old by some engineering company I’d never heard of. And I have strong reason to believe that the drawings originally had columns but they seem to have been removed by a later draftsman. And I have no idea if the rebar is supposed to be 25 mm diameter at 300 mm spacing or 15 mm diameter at 600 mm spacing. And the height of a wall is clearly wrong. I damn well wouldn’t sweep these issues under the rug or say “it doesn’t matter because the drawing is sealed and signed.” Those are serious issues. FAITH DOESN'T SOLVE THOSE PROBLEMS.

Finally, we readdressed the African tribal issue from many weeks ago. Amazingly, one girl changed her mind back to our original position that says you only get to heaven through accepting Jesus, and that the tribals are screwed, even going so far as to have a serious disagreement with one of the more “feelings-oriented” girls in the group who had been arguing for more subjective entry standards for those who haven’t had a chance to learn about Jesus.

1 You know, whenever a believer says that God can do anything within the realms of logic so he CAN’T make 2 + 2 = 5, I get a little headachy, since believers usually take great pride in beating the dead horse that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 and 100% + 100% = 100%.

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13 November 2008

Alpha Course Day 5: Additional Prayer Journal Stuff

I forgot to add a few words about Nicky Gumbel's prayer journal. In his Alpha sermon, he recommends that everyone keep a prayer journal. That way you can record all the stuff you pray for and you can "tick" off every prayer that comes true. He says that you'll be amazed how many more ticks than not ticks you will have, and it will convince you of the power of prayer.

Funny, for I've heard that for most people it generally follows that the more of a longshot the prayer is, the more unlikely it is to be fulfilled, and for most people when all prayers, probable and improbable, are taken into account, perhaps 50-50 is the best way of putting it, ie. It’s no different than luck.

Remember all the hubbub about scientific studies testing the effects of prayer on heart surgery patients? And remember how those studies showed that prayer had no effect? And remember how all the religious apologists said that you can’t put God to the test in that way? Well, so much for not putting God to the test in all those prayer-health studies. These prayer journals could easily be viewed as a very rudimentary prayer study, and Gumbel says that they do work.

Does God only answer the prayers of people who won’t publish in a scientific journal? If so, what a bastard, eh?

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06 November 2008

Alpha Course Day 5: How and Why Should I Pray?

Over the weekend, I came down with an annoying and persistent cold, so I ended up hunkering down on the couch watch TV the whole weekend…which was pretty much what I planned on doing the whole weekend anyway, so being sick was no real loss. However, I wasn’t fully healed and energetic by this Tuesday’s Alpha Course. I went, but was not my normal combative self. Then again, perhaps my lack of combativeness was due to the letdown from my frustrations last week. Regardless, here comes Day 5’s blog

Dinner: Surprisingly, they made fajitas. Not good fajitas, mind you – by far not enough meat – but still acceptable given the venue. Nice smoky beans and rice, too. Dessert: Personal angel food cakes with lots of fresh fruit and ice cream. Kudos to the cook for two weeks of enjoyable food.

Part 1: Sermon

No names were dropped this week, though Billy Graham was involved in one of Gumbel’s storys. Strangely, Gumbel used Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions” of stars comment (though he left it unattributed) to say how awesome God was. The gist was that God created all the stars and things in the heavens for us during a single day in Genesis, so, yes; God has time to deal with every single one of our prayers.

For the most part, the sermon just covered the basics of how to pray. Gumbel stated that it is important to pray because prayer is two-way communication with God. We should ensure our prayers deal with four topics (Gumbel calls it "A.C.T.S"): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Gumbel said that we’re supposed to pray to God “through Jesus” whatever the hell that means. (Though didn’t Jesus say to pray using the Lord’s prayer, which doesn’t refer to Jesus himself at all?) He made this clear with a weird statement that we have "no right to speak directly to God." Huh?

He also tried to answer why God doesn’t appear to answer all prayers. Possibly you are praying for something that is morally wrong. Sometimes God has a different plan for you that is better than your plans (Gumbel assures that God always makes better plans than you). But often it is because you have a mental barrier in your faith, such as committing a sin that you fail to recognize and ask forgiveness for, or not trusting in God to answer your prayer in the best way.

Gumbel also stated how prayer was the most important thing you can do. Oh, how I wish more Christians lived like this (and just sat at home praying instead of screwing with science education, human rights, etc).

Part 2: Small Groups

I wasn’t very combative this day, as I was battling a cold, and for the most part the discussion stuck the plain prayer – what people like to pray for, what they were struggling with that could prevent them from having communications with God, etc – so I generally didn’t say much or challenge anything today. There are of course things I could have said, but I suspect they wouldn’t have much impact in the discussion we were having. For some good questions and comments about prayer, check out Ebon Musings.

We discussed the convolutedness of who we are supposed to pray to. Many group members didn't like what Gumbel said about not having a right to speak directly to God. Do we have to pray to Jesus, as the sermon stated? Or is it to both, either by simply interchanging “God” and “Jesus” at random, or via praying to God, but ending the prayer with “we pray this in Jesus’ name,” as many pastors do? Or is it just to God, as many of our worried group members pray, and how the Lord’s Prayer, as given by Jesus in the Gospels, says?

To end the discussion, the group leader lead a prayer according to what was talked about it the sermon.

Let me fill you in on one aspect of Christian prayer I have learned over the years that was reinforced here. To pray properly, you have to absolutely ensure that you say “God” or “Lord” or “Father” or “Lord God” or “Father God” or “Heavenly Father” or even “Lord Heavenly Father God” a lot. In general, every sentence should start with one of these, every sentence should end with one of these, and there should be one of these in the vicinity of most commas. It is really, really annoying.

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02 November 2008

The Alpha Course is Even Further Pissing Me Off

During our Alpha Course discussion groups, it bothers me that we start talking about one specific topic and it goes completely off the rails.

We typically start discussing a topic using bible quotes or arguing history or something more meaty of that nature. Then, one of the other group members will start talking about emotions and how their feelings guide their beliefs, and many other group members start jumping in and doing the same. Usually by about minute #2 of the derailment the other group members are talking about some other topic entirely. And they go on and on and on and before you know it, 10 minutes have passed and I've completely forgotten what the hell we were supposed to be discussing.

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