27 April 2009

Alpha Course Day 10: Does God Heal Today?

Dinner: Really really mild chili, to which I added a lot of crushed chilies. Side salad. Coffee cake. Pretty plain day for food, actually. At least it was edible.

Part 1: Sermon

Gumbel starts with a long story about a powerful session of faith healing at his church in Brompton. An American preacher named John Wimber came in. He was loud and boisterous and un-British; Gumbel claimed to be suspicious of him, as he was too obnoxious for the restrained British types in the church.

Google searching reveals nothing substantial in the way of skeptical criticism of Wimber's healing act. No allegations he's like Peter Popoff. That isn't to say that there isn't any criticism of Wimber, but all of it is from other Christians who disagree with some or all of his hyper-charismatic views (calling him a charlatan and a blasphemer). From their articles, I can't really tell if they think Wimber's manifestations of the gifts of the spirit (ie. healings) are real (but demonic) or phony.

Of course, it can be very hard to debunk the specifics of each claim when the faith healers themselves, who claim to help heal thousands of people, tend to avoid giving out names and dates. The fact is, even many Christians have seen Wimber in action and have not been impressed.

Some (who are also critical of Alpha) attack Wimber for being too influenced by the New Age movement.

If you have 30 minutes, here's a video of John Wimber in action. Action starts at around 2:50. Note his use of "words of knowledge," which are what Wimber calls the supernatural epiphanies he receives from God regarding each ailment in the audience: pictures, sympathy pain, words, etc.

Anyway, Wimber was also, in his pre-ministry career, a producer and occasional keyboardist for the Righteous Brothers, who went on to record a few songs that made it to the soundtrack of the movie Ghost. Food for thought.

Importantly, Gumbel's accounts of the healings were like a damned infomercial. First is the disclaimer: man is healed mainly through modern medicine, in fact, nearly all healings are due to medicine. There are very few miracles, he says, and that, when you pray for healing, healing doesn't always - or even usually - happen. Only then does Gumbel go on to talk about his parish's experiences with Wimber, and how in every case, he was able to both identify and heal - Every. Single. Ailment. - in the room. It's almost sickening.

After this long sales pitch, Gumbel goes to explain that healing is in the bible both in the Old Testament and the New.

The New is where most of the focus is. Apparently, 25% of the Gospels focus on Jesus's healing works. There is also mention that much of the time healing is preceded by anointing the sick with olive oil. What is that about? Does God need someone to be greasy in order to heal them? Kind of nonsensical. Anyway, Gumbel also explains that when we pray for healing it is not us that heals the sick, it is God. So this comes right back to the silliness of praying for a specific outcome: either God's a dick who wants you to beg, or your prayer isn't really doing anything since God's going to heal or not heal depending on his wishes, not yours.

Gumbel explained that until the redemption of our bodies after the 2nd coming of Jesus, not everyone will be healed. Right now, God's just teasing us with only occasional healing. This segment of the sermon was full of fanciful descriptions of how wonderful everything will be once Jesus returns.

Even the work of modern faith healers are held to be biblically supported, as the disciples are commanded by Jesus to go out and heal. There are a couple of funny implications to this. First, the bible makes it seem that healing is almost guaranteed if the prayer is righteous enough. So any real pastor of disciple should be able to heal a consistently high percentage of the time, not this rare healing stuff. Secondly, the bible says that the healing of the sick is intended by God to be evidence of his power and the coming of the Kingdom of God. If healing as supposed to be evidence for the skeptical, then why aren't scientific studies into the effectiveness of prayer healing effective?

He also says that if you pray and the victim is not healed it's not due to you having not enough faith, despite what the bible implies. He finishes with an odd call to persevere: “The reason I go on praying is not so much that I've seen masses of people healed, but because Jesus commanded us to do it. And that's why I would go on doing it even if NO ONE was healed”

I guess the theme of today's sermon is 'mixed messages.'

Part 2: NOT Small Groups

There was no small groups time after this sermon. Instead, there was a special healing session. Lights were turned low and some crappy Christian soft pop music was put on in the background. Little enclosures (resourcefully made out of cubicle walls and dividers) were set up. The group leaders each sat behind each one and every person who wanted to be prayed over due to an ailment could go join one of the group leaders within the enclosure and pray about their ailment. Many people, I'd hazard a guess of about 60%, partook in the private healing sessions, including my wife for a minor skin ailment.

The next week, no one came running in proclaiming that they were healed. I know my wife's problems haven't improved at all.

I'm not surprised.

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25 April 2009

Like a rotten egg

The weather is getting better and that means gardening. With my wife out of town for work, that means I have to do it. The nice old couple who sold us the house told us we had to spray certain trees and bushes with this 2-in-1 protective formula that you have to mix from two separate bottles yourself. One is just a sulphur solution, ripe with the smell of rotten eggs. The other is some chemical that I didn't bother reading up on too much.

So I'm mixing up the concoction in a bucket, 2 parts sulphur to 1 part the other stuff, and it occurs to me that I have no funnel and no ready to go spray bottle. I have to cannibalize a half-empty bottle of Fantastik and make a funnel out of junk mail and Scotch tape. So I get large quantities of the sulphur and chemical mixture everywhere and the spray bottle is leaking all over my hands. I decide to read the label on the side of the sulphur bottle. It says: if ingested, induce vomiting. "Good to know," I think to myself. It also says that it's okay to be sprayed on any deciduous tree. After spraying my Japanese maple, I decide to read the label of the bottle of the mystery chemical: if ingest, do NOT induce vomiting. Goody. It also says: Do not use on Japanese maple.

So I probably just killed my tree and I stink like sulphur and have likely poisoned myself since I can't induce vomiting nor suppress it. And, you know, I don't think it matters because it's great BBQ weather right now and I feel pretty damn good. I decided to get reacquainted with an old friend, otherwise known as reading outside soaking up enough sun to get skin cancer, which I did a lot back in grad school (the reading, not the getting skin cancer part) but haven't had much time to do since starting work. I would probably go to the waterfront to read and bring a chair and sun myself except that the waterfront doesn't have beer.

No longer concerned with stinking of sulphur and poisoning myself with gardening chemicals, I am content to poison myself in other ways. Alcohol-related ways. So I'm now sitting in the backyard sucking back a couple of Grolsches, BBQing up some pork chops for lunch, and reading a popular history book that seems unduly concerned with emphasizing just how gay Alexander the Great was. Aside from being flaming gay (or at least strongly bi), Alexander was a notoriously hard drinker and I'd like to think that the great man would strongly approve of my afternoon plans. So crack open the BEvERage of your choice and enjoy that sunshine.


20 April 2009

How does God fare on the Ten Commandments?

I was recently at an Easter church service with my wife. On a typical Easter, the typical pastor will say typical things about why we need salvation. This guy was typical. So what did he say?

Succinctly, he posed the rhetorical question, 'Why do we need salvation?' His answer, 'Because we fall short of the glory of God, silly.'

We all fail, we all sin. And how do we sin? At the very least, look at the 10 Commandments (the popular one, not the actual one). He will guarantee that we in the audience have broke at least one of them (hopefully not murder, hehehe - actually, this shows that they can tell that not all sins are created equal, even though they say that to God, any sin = 100% evil). Therefore, we are sinners and cannot approach God's perfection.

Is this fair, though? Is God really perfect compared to us using just the 10 Commandments as a guide?

I don't think so.

Firstly, many of the commandments just don't apply to God. For instance (1) have no God before me and (2) no idols. These make no sense since God knows for sure there are no other gods nor does he need to pray. Also (5) honour thy father and thy mother makes no sense as God has no father and mother (though good ol' Jesus does honour his father, so good on him, though his father is also himself. (3), which is to not wrongfully use the name of God, also makes no sense if you are God. I suppose God could steal from people (8), but that really doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.

So right away, half of the Ten Commandments are not applicable to God, so he's on a relative easy street compared to humans.

What about the rest?

(4) Keeping the Sabbath holy? Well, God did set the standard by resting during the creation in Genesis. However, I'd classify God's work as listening to and responding to all those prayers on Sunday. Perhaps, though, Sabbathing only strictly means taking one day in seven to rest and pray, as I've heard some pastors say. Does that mean God doesn't respond to prayers one day a week? That would result in some messed up Christians, eh? Partial PASS.

I don't recall God bearing false witness against his neighbour (9). Not sure. God does lie and trick to a certain extent, but spreading lies about people? I'll give it a PASS, unless one of you provides a better example.

(10), which is to not covet anything belonging to a neighbour. Well, he wants sacrifices in the OT, but I'm not sure if he covets them in the strict sense of the word. He's also a jealous god, wanting the attention and prayers of the humans to himself, but again, this isn't really a possession he wants. God does want 10% of your money, though. Partial PASS.

How about (7) adultery? Well, was Mary married before God impregnated her? That's unclear but I say FAIL for putting it really damn close.

(6) Murder? You bet - turning people into pillars of salt, destroying towns, flooding the earth, killing the first born of Egypt. Massive, massive FAIL.

So, by my count, God himself is only actually passable on three of the Ten Commandments - and even then, only barely - and he even gets to bail on five of them. What chance does a human have?


01 April 2009

King Aardvark has been Kidnapped!

No, this is not an April Fool's joke. Well, it could be, but it would require my mom to have a better sense of humour than I give her credit for.

Here is the email I received from my mom this morning:

Hi KA:

I dreamt last night that you have been kidnapped. Please email me back ASAP that you are not.

Love, mom

This is worrisome. She's usually a practical person who wouldn't care about such irrational fears. I had to email her back and tell her that I had was fine.

If I had been thinking more clearly I could have made some money out of this. I need it.

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