Fighting for Grace

Saint Paul, generally considered one of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith, called himself a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners.” I sometimes wonder if he’d still say that if he’d met me.

We’re in a series titled “Fighting for Grace” at church, which looks a lot better on an overhead than “A Study in Galatians,” and also paints a nice picture of the way a Christian should view this doctrinal issue. Too often do we look at grace as some vague construct of theology, some abstract idea that God must be calling upon as an excuse to get us into heaven. It’s a very easy thing to ignore when you’re either not thinking about your spiritual state, or thinking about it a lot.

The way I see it, self-examination is a difficult thing when you’re called be holy, because all you will ever find is a flawed human being in place of that holy creature you dream of being. You see your mistakes, your shortcomings, your failures, and they dwarf your victories. It’s a small comfort than in Romans 7, even Paul shares this perspective for a brief moment – but if Paul had moments like that, who am I to think I will ever get past them?

It’s grace that must be called upon to bring context to these failures and hope to the wretched man. As hard as it is to admit, we must admit that our sins are no worse – and no better – than any other person’s. That cute girl at Bible study? Just as wretched and damned as you, apart from Christ – and so is that jerk you work with and can’t stand. And so is Hitler (because no internet discussion is complete without at least one Hitler reference). The homosexual in the pride parade is in no worse a state of sin than the pious preacher who “borrowed” a few dollars from the offering plate. Sin isn’t about shades of gray, it’s about being either perfect, or imperfect. Holy or not holy. Black or white.

In that context, grace makes sense. It’s the force of spiritual nature that turns black to white, dark to light – it’s a reversal of spiritual polarity, so to speak. You couldn’t be any worse off, and after grace, you couldn’t be any better off. Grace obliterates everything you’ve done and replaces your karmic score with that of Jesus Christ, the perfect savior of mankind and son of God.

But that’s not fair, we spoiled Americans cry out. The idea of free, total salvation for any who accept it, regardless of history or future, regardless of action – a completely equal status before God? Why, that sounds downright communist. I earned this, we cry out, I can be better, just give me more time…

But remove grace from the picture and you’re back in black, shining your keychain flashlight into the night sky and pretending it’s the sun. You’re deluding yourself. All your “good works” are of no greater value than the diapers in the church nursery’s trash can – at least that’s how Isaiah put it, more or less.

Accepting grace means accepting your weakness. Accepting your complete and total lack of power to do anything about your eternal scenario. Accepting your spiritual impotence. Fighting your pride, fighting your sense of self-worth, fighting the messages of the world, fighting the status quo…

Fighting for grace.

Get it now?

SWTOR First Impressions

Warning: Excessive geekery inside. Continue at your own risk.

So a few weeks ago, I picked up Star Wars: The Old Republic after constant poking and prodding from several of my friends to come play it. Having now hit 50 on my Jedi Knight, and having created a couple of alts as played the early levels, I’ll go ahead and submit my thoughts on the game so far.

TOR was hailed, as so many MMO’s are, as a WoW-killer. That’s simply not true. There is no WoW-killer, and there will be no WoW-killer, at least not until Blizzard comes out with WoW 2. It is simply far too good at what it does and has far too established a subscriber base and IP for it to fall to an upstart of the same genre – at least anytime real soon. Now, that said, TOR has what it takes to match WoW’s numbers, if they fix the bugs they have and – here’s the important part – churn out good content at a breakneck pace for the forseeable future. It looks like they have the next few big content patches already mapped out, which is good news, so hopefully they don’t slack on that any time soon.

TOR is, as any new MMO, buggy and far from perfect – but overall, I think it’s the best out of the box MMO I’ve played yet, except perhaps WoW. The reason I give that caveat is that WoW released with the general idea of giving players more freedom, and then reigning in what they needed to – TOR comes out with a deathgrip on the experience. I think WoW had the better philosophy, though both have merits. Let’s explore a little deeper. Continue reading SWTOR First Impressions

SOPA/PIPA – Why is everyone talking about it?

I realized today that there are people who are still unaware of the SOPA and PIPA acts currently trying to make their way through Congress. While it’s hard for me to imagine, apparently there are people who still just watch CNN and so have no idea this exists. To those people, here’s the moral of the story: government does scary things when you are not watching.

People far better at this sort of thing have said everything there is today in all sorts of ways, so rather than discuss the details of what this will do and why you should care, here are some of the more excellent sources I’ve seen:

Now let me tell you why I care.

I believe that the internet is probably the single most game-changing invention in the last hundred years – maybe more. It’s radically changed the way human beings interact with each other, given humanity new access to information and communication that was before undreamed of. The last time there was a game-changer this big, it was Gutenberg and his printing press allowing people access to literature they’d never dreamed of.

Like the DMCA before them, SOPA and PIPA seek to give the American government more and more power and control over what can and cannot happen on the internet. It’s done in the name of “fairness” and “copyright” (an abused term unto itself!) and the phrasing is so poor and permissive you’d think they were trying to upset anyone who’d read the bill. It was written by lobbyists for organizations like the RIAA and MPAA, whose histories show them to be firmly entrenched against progress or free speech, and more than willing to use outright lies to extend their spheres of influence. SOPA and PIPA are two sides of the same ugly coin, and as long as people remain unaware of what is going on, politicians will keep grabbing at power in this arena, because the lobbyists are paying them well to do so.

I have yet to meet someone, even trolls on internet forums, who think SOPA is a good idea. The closest thing I’ve heard to support from anyone outside Washington is, “I hope it will pass so that people get pissed off enough to start a revolution.” I’m a pessimist when it comes to politics, but I don’t want a bloody revolution. I’m not even looking for a candidate to make things better at this point – I’ll gladly settle for someone who won’t make things worse. Stopping SOPA and PIPA are part of that agenda, for me.

For the record, Gingrich and Paul both oppose SOPA.  Romney and Santorum both have given wishy-washy non-answers when asked about it.

Last night’s Republican debate

As seen on Youtube:

Mitt Romney: Looked great, even though I disagreed with him. Nobody touched him, and the moderators gave him softball after softball. Going after him on the contraceptives issue even allowed him to play the “voice of common sense” – something he is the last person on stage to deserve. However… only he could somehow turn the phrase “Constitutionalist” into a slight.

Rick Santorum: Came off as a petty jerk on a couple of occasions. He needs to stop that. Also, he got a nice soundbite on his “Americans don’t believe in ‘class'” bit. Otherwise he kept the “W”-esque party line carefully, and got some great shots in on Obama. I don’t know that he gained many supporters, but I doubt he loses many either.

Ron Paul: Clarified a couple things for me personally, otherwise, nothing surprising. What was surprising was how many attacks were made on him. I wish he’d spoken a bit more clearly, but his points were made, and directly.

Newt Gingrich: Contributed very little of relevance. Seemed more just an example other people used. One thing that I did think was interesting was that he seemed to be the only one to address his local audience primarily over the national one, using specific examples on occasion.

Rick Perry: “I would send troops back into Iraq!” Bye, dude. You were doing alright until that one.

Jon Huntsman: Surprisingly sensible, and funny too. Too bad he’s irrelevant at this point.

The moderators were embarrassingly bad, and didn’t even try to appear neutral or unbiased.

Post-Iowa thoughts

So, Iowa has come and gone, and we have some fairly interesting results, in my opinion. Looks like Santorum and Romney came out essentially dead even with Paul in a close third. As I write this, the winner’s not yet decided, but really, it doesn’t matter in the overall picture. Romney surprised no one, Santorum suprised a lot of people, and Paul did exactly what the polls said he would.

Now, Iowa has a pretty good record of showing who’ll be the nominee historically on the Democratic side  – but on the Republican side, they picked Huckabee (34%) over McCain (13%) in 2008, and Dole (37%) over Bush Sr. (19%) in 1988. They did get Dole right in 1996 and Bush Jr. in 2000, but if we go back further, they were wrong on Reagan as well. So we can’t really say that, at least recently, this is going to make a huge impact on the chances of those top 5 in regards to November’s results.

What it does do, however, is cut the field to five, and the hopeful field to four, since this was Perry’s best-polling state out of the first five. Bachmann and Huntsman are done, though I’m sure Bachmann will squeeze a few more dollars out of her supporters before tapping out, and anyone hoping for Cain to come back can fuggedaboutit. I think the most surprising thing to me is how strong Santorum polled – I suppose he’s the one receiving the majority of the “oh please don’t let it be Mitt” vote. Romney actually pulled the exact same showing as he did last year, which can’t be an encouraging start in his camp, given he has the huge advantage in name recognition and time spent.

But that Ron Paul… he over doubled his result from last year and came dangerously close to taking it. That’s a bit surprising to me, given how hard the media’s tried to ignore the guy. That said, he was polling ahead of both Romney and Santorum yesterday, though by a narrow margin, which means he’s not grabbing much of the undecided vote. He ended up gaining about 1% in the actual vote, where the other two made up about 6% each – that could be a problem for him going forward. Now, he’s currently polling second in New Hampshire, behind a heavily-favored Romney and just ahead of Gingrich – Santorum is only polling at around 3% there right now

Now assuming Paul stays steady, this makes me think that he may hold on to a strong position as he’s still polling top three in the next few states to hit their primaries, where Santorum and Perry are both doing terribly. Unless Santorum sees a big swing in those states soon, I’d expect Romney, Gingrich, and Paul to be the frontrunners by the end of the month – and given the media’s treatment of Paul thus far, that means we’ll be hearing a lot about Gingrich and Romney.

As it is, I’m already starting to consider Paul the least of the available evils – somewhere I didn’t think I’d see myself a few months ago. Oh what interesting times these are.