The Lure of the Unmanaged World

So my wife and I finally made it out to see “Avatar” tonight, on the last weekend it’s in the theater here. That being the case, if you haven’t seen it, plan to see it, and don’t want to know anything that happens, consider this your *SPOILER ALERT*. I’ll try to refrain from giving away too many plot details, but there was something about it that struck me during a conversation with Heidi on the ride home.

We both agreed that it was better than expected – many of the reviews we’d read led us to believe that it was a shallow “Dances with Wolves” knock off built only to serve as a vehicle for a new graphic technology.

The graphics, of course, were amazing, but it was more than that. It definitely had its annoying parts – the naturist “theology” was downright preachy, and the message of “your culture is bad, and everybody else’s culture is good” really gets old (incidentally, why can’t anybody give Western Civilization an honest, objective look and say, “It has its good points and its bad points.” Why does there have to be a “better” and “worse” culture . . . isn’t the whole ideal of “diversity” simply to highlight and appreciate differences)

But I digress. The conversation I had with my wife on the way home was this: A number of the articles we’d both read talked of viewers who left the movie disappointed . . . disappointed that now they had to return to the “real world” . . . disappointed that they couldn’t stay on Pandora like the story’s hero. She said that didn’t make any sense to her – after all, the nature portrayed in Pandora was much like the nature here in the real world . . . harsh and unforgiving, and at the same time beautiful and rewarding.

I had to laugh, because in some subconscious part of my brain, it made perfect sense to me. I had to put some thought into it to piece it together, but finally I realized it . . . the appeal of Pandora is the appeal of an *unmanaged world.*

Very little about the actual plot of Avatar is especially original, but this particular piece seems to be an archtype of the epic drama genre into which this movie fits. Others in this vein include Braveheart, Gladiator, and yes, Dances with Wolves. It’s also found in classic literature like the Call of the Wild, the Leatherstocking Tales or any James Michener novel. It even made me think of the “Little House on the Prairie” series I read as a child.

The lure of Pandora is the lure of freedom – and of responsibility. From Avatar’s first scene, we are told that life on Pandora is utterly unforgiving. The humans who live there survive because they follow orders. Failure to stick to known areas, failure to follow accepted conventions and procedures, means death. It is a life that is utterly managed – literally down to when, where and how you breathe.

Contrast that with the life of Pandora’s native Na’vi. They too have conventions and rituals, but those conventions and rituals are theirs by choice . . . not by imposition. They too are subject to the harsh realities of nature, but to them those harsh realities are allies, not adversaries. This is true of the examples I mentioned as well – from William Wallace’s refusal to bow to a king, to Pa Ingalls’ need for “elbow room.”

Isn’t this reminiscent of the world we live in? We have laws now to tell us what we can eat, what we can drink, where we can walk. Just the other day I read that they’re now trying to make it illegal for restaurants in New York to cook with salt! The President and his congressional allies seem determined to push through a health care bill chock full of additional managements – who we can see about our illnesses, where we can go for medicine, when we can die. We truly do live a thoroughly managed life. And I, for one, am sick of it. No wonder people wish they could escape this existence for the one portrayed in Avatar – harsh and dangerous as it is.  But in this world where there are not empty places left to be discovered, and where “management” has permeated everyone, everything and every place, there are no frontiers left to escape to.

You know what’s especially interesting to me? I think that our need for this “wanderlust” is one of the ways we reflect the image of God. I have said repeatedly on this page that I believe God created us to be free, but I don’t just mean that in the sense of not being told what to do. I mean it in the sense of being free from the obligations, expectations and duties that come with a managed life.

I recently started reading the Bible from the beginning, trying to read it chronologically as best I can, to gain a picture of the evolving relationship between God and His creation. What I found kind of shocked me.

I have always felt closest to God . . . closest to myself . . . in the solitude of nature – a mountain, a forest, a park – these are the places I hear God’s voice most clearly. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. In James Michener’s “The Source,” one of his characters has a conversation with God about moving into a big city, and God tells him that he won’t be able to hear His voice as clearly from inside the walls. While the conversation, of course, is fictional, I think it speaks to something true.

Consider the story of Cain and Abel . . . the Bible never tells us exactly what the problem was with Cain’s offering – just that God rejected it. But one of the things I find interesting is the difference between what the two men offered. Abel offered a lamb – the product of a solitary, nomadic life lived as a herder of sheep. Cain offered the produce of a garden – a stationary thing that tied him to a specific spot of land.

Then there was Babel – in his disapproval of such an audacious project, what did God do? He didn’t strike the tower with lightning and leave the project in ruins – he scattered the people who were all gathered in one place . . . and made certain they would never be able to do so again.

Then came Abraham, called from the most populous cities of his day to wander as a bedouin. There was also his nephew, Lot – the scripture speaks with foreboding of his decision to “settle down” in Sodom and Gomorrah, long before the cataclysm that destroys those cities and leaves him hiding in a cave.

And there is God Himself – who told the people of Israel, in exacting detail, to build Him a tent. The opulent temple that followed later was man’s idea, and as He seems to do with so many of our ideas, God’s approach to that one was something along the lines of, “ok, fine, whatever.”

In short, God seems to like visiting us in unmanaged places – in places that are not utopian, but neither are they filled with all the concerns, stresses, obligations, expectations, duties – distractions – that seems so inescapable today.

While the anamistic view in Pandora fails to capture the person that is God . . . a real person with whom we can have a real, fulfilling relationship . . . I think it does, inadvertently, say something about Him that speaks to that empty place in many hearts.

that, I think, is the lure of Pandora.

Random acts of thinking too much . . .

I don’t have the time or inclination to write one of my typical lengthy and involved posts, so I thought I’d share some of the more profound things that I’ve been reading and pondering of late . . .

I promise I hadn’t read this article by one of my favorite columnists, when I wrote my most recent post. But heck, if Peggy Noonan and I are thinking the same thoughts on the same day, I must be doing something right . . .

This captures perfectly the way I feel when I walk into a church service anymore . . .

This is a very interesting essay about MySpace, Facebook, and social strata. I’ve been on MySpace for a while now, but am not terribly impressed with it. I have been enjoying learning Facebook more over the last week or two, and I find it infinitely more useful – but that’s just me. I’ve even started a Facebook group called “So you don’t go to church anymore?” . . . come hang out with us if you happen to find yourself wandering around Facebook. All are welcome – even those who prefer to relate to God in the more traditional setting of a typical local church . . .

Dilbert for President? (Hat tip: Bob Hyatt) As someone who makes a living as a contractor supporting a government agency, I can identify very strongly with Scott Adams’ perspective . . .

As president, I would solve all the world’s problems by creating a reality TV show where think tanks compete for the best solutions to everything from health care to energy policy to immigration. The judges would be experts who help viewers sort the squirrel shit from the caviar, but the final decisions would be made by viewers, just like on American Idol.

I think you can see many problems with this plan. But you have to compare it to the current political process where idiots elect liars to transfer wealth to crooks. How’s that working out for you?

As usual, he has a point . . . but hey, who needs a political system where the people who genuinely make the decisions are the same ones affected by them . . .

For that matter, I could ask the same could be asked of religious system, or an educational system, or a medical system, or a financial system, or . . . need I continue??

. . . did I mention I’m not a huge fan of being controlled by other people? I’m sure this comes as a shock to any regular readers I have left . . .

Happenings . . .

I find myself once again apologizing for having gone so long without posting. It has been an eventful last few weeks. My sister-in-law spent a week in the hospital with a burst appendix (she’s recovering quite nicely now), My wife got raked over the coals by an idiot doctor who doesn’t seem to believe that she’s actually sick, our electricity went (mostly) out (it’s back now), our hot water seems to have died, and my spare time has lately been taken up with creating a new website to highlight my writing (the site will debut soon), and making a foray into the world of short story writing.

It is this last pursuit which, I think, readers of this blog will find most interesting. The story in question is still merely in its conceptualizing stage, but when complete, I will post it here. The main character of this (entirely fictional) short story is Abraham Lincoln . . . or rather, Abraham Lincoln’s portrait on a five dollar bill. It should be complete in the next couple of days.

Stay tuned . . .

Memeries . . . (Part 2)

In my last post, I responded to one meme with which my dear wife tagged me some time ago. The time has now come to respond to another with which she tagged me last week, “Five Things I Dig about Jesus.” Without much further ado, here they are:

1. The guy wasn’t much for convention, tradition or ceremony, and He didn’t think too highly of people who held themselves up as the spiritual authorities of their day. Neither do I, so I dig that.

2. He actually cared, truly cared, about people – in a way most folks only pretend to. And because he cared, he actually bothered to understand them, rather than merely passing judgment. He dealt with people individually, as people, rather than according to a strict set of rules. I dislike thinking in categories and boxes, and I especially dislike it when people put other people in categories and boxes and then think they know them. So I dig that.

3. He was radically unconventional. When none of the worldviews of the day captured the essence of what He knew to be true, He created a new one. Since it’s been a longstanding, deep-seated dream of mine to create a new and unique branch of philosophy (Christian Libertarianism? Optimistic Existentialism? Theistic Objectivism?* . . . something of that sort. . . . ) I dig that.

4. He put a lot more stock in intentions and motivations than He did in actual behaviors. Since I think what we do matters a heckuva lot less than why we do it, I dig that.

5. He wasn’t afraid to mix with “the wrong sort,” and he didn’t mind telling somebody to “go to hell” when the conversation called for it. Since I like a lot of people who are supposedly “the wrong sort,” and since I think a lot of “the right sort” need to be told to go to hell a lot more often, I dig that.

And now, once again, it is incumbent upon me to tag another five people with this meme. I hearby tag . . .

1. Leeann Walker – Because I wanted to tag her on the other meme, and couldn’t, because I was tardy in posting it and Kelly beat me to it.

2. Stephanie Dosch – Because Heidi didn’t tag her on this one, I get to.

3. Mike Woods – Because I tagged his wife on the other meme, and didn’t want him to feel left out.

4. Mr. Nobody’s Understudy – Because she always has very interesting thoughts on Jesus and I’d like to hear more of them.

5. Luke White – Because he always has very interesting thoughts on pretty much anything.


* Note: I realize all three of these terms might seem to be oxymorons, but since I’m somewhat of a paradox myself, I’m�OK with that.

Memeries . . . (Part 1)

I apologize for the dearth in posting of late. I have been working diligently on a number of projects, including a revamp of my wife’s website for her violin studio, and a new website of my own designed to test the waters in the world of freelance writing. Given that web development is a hobby for me, rather than a job, these projects have necessarily taken up a large amount of my free time in recent days.

All that to say, I haven’t had much time for writing – or for thinking about new things to write.

This being the case, I’m going to take a break from my normal, philosophical fare and deal with a couple things I’ve been delinquent on in recent days. My wife tagged me with a couple of “memes” that have been circulating the blogosphere of late, and it is well past time for me to respond.

Seven Odd Things 

The first of these memes asks individuals to list seven random facts or habits about themselves. So, without further ado, here are seven odd things about me you probably never cared to know . . .


1. Vocational Awesomeness

I recently rode in a helicopter for the first time . . . it was an Indiana National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk very similar to this one. Heck, for all I know, it might have been this one.


UH-60 Blackhawk


What was I doing in Indiana, you ask? I was pretending that somebody had just nuked the city of Indianapolis. Now why would anybody want to do that . . . ?


2. Ecclesiastical Oddity

Those of you who have read much of my writing know that I recently bid the local church farewell in favor of a more flexible, personal and intimate relationship with God than such a structured setting can provide. You may not, however, know that when I first did so, I resigned from the church I was attending at the time with a 24-page letter of resignation, complete with an executive summary and footnotes.

. . . hey . . . they said these factoids were supposed to be odd . . .


3. Origin of the Theses

I got my start blogging in the closed community of bloggers at, which fit very well with my libertarian sensibilities. Each member pays a monthly fee (then $6, now $10) in order to post as many blogs as they wish on any number of topics. Writers are then paid a few pennies per click on their articles, and readers’ subscription fees are dispensed to those whose content they enjoy, according to how many times they read those writers’ stories. All very fair and equitable. I quit because I was managing a total of six blogs on different topics, posting on each of them multiple times per day, and I quite simply got burned out.

I earned a total of $60 in about 9 months of blogging.


4. A Few Notes

I don’t just write words, I write music as well – and have since I was a kid. I have not, however, tried my hand at actual composing for quite some time. Most of these days I just sit down at the piano or violin and play whatever I feel like, without writing any of it down. My most recent composition became the official hymn of my alma mater, Patrick Henry College nearly seven years ago. While deep and meaningful, it was slow and dragging, and as far as I know, has not been sung there for years. I doubt most of those currently attending even know Patrick Henry College has an “official hymn.”

My most recent arrangement, on the other hand, was much better received. I arranged “Gathering of the Clans” from the movie Braveheart for string quartet and uilleann pipes to be played during the groomsmen’s procession at our wedding. It was all very wonderful and I felt quite manly and warriorlike striding up the aisle to that particular piece.


5. Fun with the Fleet

I once got to tour an Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine, the Henry M. Jackson.

It was the second time such a sub had ever been opened to the public. They checked each of us for documentation verifying our U.S. citizenship (and accepted a driver’s license as proof – this was before September 11th). I was not allowed to take my camera on board. In the control room they had all the speed and depth gauges covered up so we could not even estimate how fast or deep she was capable of going.

As a side note, these modern day “boomers” have a lot more room than their slightly less modern cousins, like this one, which I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting a couple times.


6. Early Erstwhile Employment Efforts

My first job was a paper route. My sister and I delivered approximately 70 papers every morning for three years straight with only a couple family vacations off. That is not the odd part. This is. My second job was standing out in a parking lot directing traffic at an amusement park, rain or shine. I’m not entirely sure this was a step up from the paper route – although when they needed extra people inside the park they sometimes dragged me in to help police the water rides, assist backstage with the stunt show, or make sure little kids didn’t stick things (like fingers, for example) into the shark tank.


7. Gamboling, Gallivanting and Globetrotting Galore

I’ve never been outside the country for anything other than work – though I did thoroughly enjoy both my trips abroad. My first trip outside the U.S. was to Mexico in 1997, with a church group travelling to Calle Doce, Sonora to build a home for a pastor and his family whom we were supporting.

As a side note, it is very satisfying to construct a brick building entirely by hand. It is even more satisfying to stick one’s entire body into a barrel full of cold water intended for mixing cement, in the middle of a 120 degree afternoon.

My second trip was even more fun – I travelled to Bonn, Germany to heckle the United Nations . . . seriously.

It was 2001, and the Six Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was convening. If that’s too much of a mouthful, the words “Kyoto Protocol” might mean more to you. This bunch was the group that wrote said protocol, which purports to fix global warming by sending the economy of the U.S. and a couple other industrialized nations back into approximately the stone age.

Needless to say, there are those of us who don’t relish a return to the time when one’s primary mode of transportation ran on fodder. I and a bunch of my fellow Patrick Henry College Students joined a group going over to protest the treaty. We flew from Washington, D.C. to London, and from there to Brussels, Belgium – meeting with think tanks, scientists and others of like mind at each stop along the way. From Brussels we took a tour bus into Germany.

The highlight of this particular trip was when I talked the leaders of the group into letting me answer a challenge from Greenpeace! to hold a public, media-moderated debate over the Kyoto Protocol. The group leader didn’t want to participate, since he saw it as a stunt on the part of Greenpeace! designed to embarrass us – which it probably was.

I was probably the most prepared of the students on the trip, due to the fact that the professor who led the PHC delegation had asked me to complete an extra credit research assignment preparing all kinds of briefing materials for him in order to make sure he was as prepared as possible, several weeks before the trip. As he was getting his preparation, so was I, though I did not yet know it.

I led a team of three against three of the Greenpeace! students . . . and found out our team of two undergrad government majors and one business major was going up against their team of three graduate students in environmental sciences.

Surprisingly enough, they utterly failed to wipe the floor with us. This was either due to our l33t debating skillz, or due to the fact that the Protocol they were defending makes no sense.

Bonus points: We later found an online journal entry from one of the other Greenpeace! students who had observed the debate, which talked about how her side had “held their own against the conservatives.”

So there you have it . . . seven odd things which together paint a picture of Michael Daniels: World traveller, slayer of sacred cows, connoisseur of all things military, and writer of all things . . . well . . . written.

Now, I am supposed to tag five seven people to continue this meme. I hereby tag:

1.* Leeann Walker – because it’s been a long time, and I miss talking with her, and I hope she finds this and reads it.

2. Lynette Woods – because I’m sure this good friend has some interesting stories to tell.

3. David Hayward – because anybody with a blog called “The Naked Pastor” must have some odd things in his background.

4. Wayne Jacobsen – because I’d love to hear what someone so unconventional thinks is “odd.”

5. Chris Sligh – Yes, I watch American Idol, Yes, I do mean that Chris Sligh. Yes, he does have a blog, and yes, I do read it. 

6. Glenn Reynolds – because I like his take on many things, and hey, if he should ever happen to see this, I could use the traffic . . .

7. Fred Thompson – because I like his style.

* Upon further reflection, I recall that Leeann was already tagged on this particular meme by our friend Kelly, and so should not be expected to post on it again. In her place, I therefore tag Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Because he has a blog. And because he should therefore expect to fulfill the same obligations as the rest of us in the blogosphere, namely, taking a break from his nation’s nuclear program to tell us odd factoids about himself – like what exactly it feels like to be the Islamic version of John the Baptist.


Part two of this series – also known as “Five things I Dig about Jesus” – soon to come . . .


My dear wife wrote a post this evening on the importance of regret. While this sounds counterintuitive at first, it’s quite a fascinating concept to explore. She and I worked very hard during the course of our dating relationship, and particularly when beginning to plan our wedding, to capture as best we could each of the many dreams we had for this relationship (and this wedding), in order to be able to enter our married life together with no regrets.

It is perhaps needless to say that life intervened. We do have some things we regret . . . little things, it might seem, but regrets none the less. And as her post points out, that’s ok . . . even necessary . . . in order to live a truly authentic life. As she says:

“Only when you can admit that your life isn’t perfect, that it’s full of “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”, and you name your regrets and live with them honestly, can you fully inhabit the life you have instead of trying to pretend that you’re living in the life you wished for.”

She says it much better than I could. Go read her post.

I Don’t Believe in Pastors

Much has been said and written, in the time since Christ’s ministry on earth, of the supposed office of “pastor.” Unfortunately, a great deal of this writing has been crafted from pure and simple speculation. More of it is grounded in isogesis: the time-honored art of reading into scripture whatever you want it to say. The simple fact is that the word is mentioned once in the English New Testament, and that one mention does not even attempt to define what constitutes a “pastor.” Any definition given to this English word is purely a man-made invention. I hope, in writing this post to draw the reader into what has been, for me, a fascinating examination of the term, its history and the way it has been misused and abused throughout time, and even to this day.

The Greek word “poimen” is used in scripture 17 times. Of these, the King James version translates 16 as “shepherd” and one time as “pastor.”

Notably, all 16 instances where the word is translated “shepherd” refer either to literal shepherds (such as those who came to worship Christ at his birth) or to Christ himself.

The sole exception is Ephesians 4:11 – “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of description around that word, does there? No definition of a “pastoral office”?
Let us see if we can parse the word a bit, and determine whether there is any support at all for the modern day pastor that rules the pulpits of our churches.

The verb “poimaino,” derived from the noun “poimen,” is used eleven times in scripture. In seven of these instances, it is translated as “feed” (a duty with which any shepherd would be quite familiar, having to ensure that his flock was always well fed.)

Those who wish to support the position of an authoritarian pastor will be quick, I am sure, to realize that the other four are translated, “rule.” But two things ensure that this does not give pastors the authority to rule over churches.

The first is that each of the four times the word is translated “rule” is again referring to Christ. It is true that the duties of a shepherd can be said to be “ruling” over his flock, but the context of these passages in scripture seem to indicate that this is a duty Christ jealously guards for himself.

How, though, do we know it is not a mere mistranslation of the word, and that God in fact does intent pastors to be “rulers”? We know this conclusively from one of the last conversations recorded between Jesus and Peter.

In John 21, Christ three times asks Peter to take special care for his people. But what, precisely, does he ask of Peter? In English, it simply reads like three separate requests to “feed my sheep.”

The Greek, however, tells a different story. First, Christ uses the word “bosko,” which is translated “feed” and is specifically derived from a root that means “to nourish.” He then switches to “poimaino,” and finally back to “bosko.” Nowhere is it indicated that the “ruling” or “governing” functions of the word are in any way meant to apply to this situation. It is clear that he is asking Peter to shepherd his flock, not to rule it.

So we have one instance of one person being given special “shepherding” duty. We have another instance where the English translators chose to translate the word “shepherd” as “pastor” instead. It seems pretty clear that among the gifts Christ gave to his church are those specifically gifted with the ability of “shepherding,” but does that really mean that there is a special office created for that purpose? Future posts here will examine the same question with regard to other so-called “offices” in the church, but particularly in terms of “pastors,” does such an office even exist in scripture?

It seems clear that the only basis for this office is a misreading (or at the very least a very selective isogetical reading) of Ephesians 4:11. What does the term “pastor” (or “shepherd,” if you prefer) mean in this situation? It seems to have garnered to it authority to rule and govern and subjugate others to one’s teaching, but such authority is not evident in the passage, or indeed in Scripture. Why does it not simply mean “one who nourishes”? Why does it not simply mean “One who points on the right path”?

“But Mike,” you might say, “do not modern day pastors do these things?”

I would answer that certainly some do . . . but I would also respond with a question of my own.

Why do we need a special office to do these things? Do not we do them for each other, all the time?

But no, instead we have created a special office that conflates the functions of “evangelist” “shepherd” and “teacher” – sometimes with the apostle and the prophet thrown in.

Such a position, certainly, is not found in scripture.

There is one more thing to note. It is apparent from these verses that Christ intends to have believers fulfill some functions for each other analogous to the roles a shepherd fulfills for his flock. But lest there be any doubt remaining over whether those roles are encompassed in a special office, let me leave you with a final verse.

Christ speaks, in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, about the construction and composition of his kingdom. In this passage, he uses the sheep-based analogy extensively. He speaks of sheep that know their shepherd’s voice. He speaks of robbers and strangers and thieves. He refers to himself as the “good shepherd,” and to the fact that He would give his life for his sheep.

He also introduces a concept that would have been foreign to his Jewish audience, but would have been comforting to John’s universal one: The concept of other sheep “not of this fold” (i.e., Gentiles) that must be brought into it. Finally, at the end of verse 16, he says “and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

One shepherd.

Not multiple pastors in cities all around the world

One shepherd.


Now there is an exciting concept – an almighty God who personally cares about my spiritual nourishment, rather than a Pastor who chides me for not showing up every Sunday.


I want to be perfectly clear here, that I am in no way impuning any specific person who happens to be employed as a pastor by writing this post.

I have been profoundly influenced by pastors in my life – most especially by the pastor who performed my wedding ceremony. Two of the best friends I ever had are currently studying and hoping to serve in a pastoral capacity. There is no doubt in my mind that God works through pastors, in some instances . . .

. . . my only point is this: God works through pastors, and through those who have voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of the pastoral office. But that does not mean that the office itself was created by God. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that it was not. God has used Pastors mightily . . . just as he has used Presidents, professors, and other teaching and governing positions created by men.

God works in the lives of those under pastoral authority. I can say this conclusively because he worked in my life while I was still voluntarily under the authority of pastors.

I can also conclusively state that God can work just as well . . . in my case, better . . . without a pastor interceding between us.

That is all. Thank you for reading.