24 December 2009

2009: Year in Albums

Favorite albums of 2009:
  1. Yeasayer: All Hour Cymbals*
  2. John Vanderslice: Romanian Names
  3. Iron and Wine: Around the Well
  4. Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
  5. Lou Barlow: Goodnight Unknown
  6. Various: Dark Was the Night
  7. Bifrost Arts: Salvation is Created (A Christmas Record)
  8. The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come
  9. Fanfarlo: Reservoir
*Yeasayer gets an asterisk, because All Hour Cymbals came out in 2007. However, the first I ever heard of them was their track on Dark Was the Night, and they're my favorite "new-to-me" band of this year.

A few late 2008 live/B-side collections that I listened to a lot this year were Belle & Sebastian's The BBC Sessions, Patty Griffin's Live from the Artist's Den, and Bob Dylan's wonderful Tell Tale Signs. In addition, there are a few older records that I finally discovered this year: Jeff Buckley's Grace (1994), Elliott Smith's posthumous From a Basement on the Hill (2004), and the Mountain Goats' Tallahassee (2002).

Not sure how this will work, but I made a sampler from these favorite albums using Rhapsody, which you can probably access here. Enjoy!

2009: Year in Concerts

I hope to remember 2009 as a good year of live music. During the course of this year, I got to see some really outstanding shows:
  • February: Ben Folds at the Durham Performing Arts Center
  • September: Mountain Goats at the Durham Armory; short set, small audience
  • October: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: standing in the third row for the FINAL show at Giants Stadium
  • December: Dave Rawlings Machine at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro
While I'm jealous of my friend Liz, who got to see Patty Griffin and Neko Case in the same week up in Boston, I think I did alright for myself this year.

07 December 2009

Newbigin paper: Finished!

Just finished a term paper for my course on Lesslie Newbigin. I present it here, courtesy of wordle.net.

04 December 2009

Allow myself to introduce myself.

The parallel universe of Facebook has a funny grammar.

29 November 2009

Food Stamp Statistics

"A program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now feeds one in eight adults and one in four children." (NYT)

One interesting thing in this article is the credit it gives the Bush administration for removing the stigma associated with food stamp usage, which they accomplished in part by adopting the language of "nutritional aid" for the program. What I remember about food stamps in the 2000's are the repeated efforts by House Republicans to cut assistance programs like TANF and WIC.

Just think about those numbers. One in eight adults. One in four children.

23 November 2009

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.

Getting back in the saddle with a flurry of posts today, apparently!

I have a professor this semester who has repeatedly expressed an insistence that pastors and worship leaders must know how to speak "in the language of the people, where they are." He generally goes on to say some variation of the following: "When you listen to your people pray, if they immediately revert to the language of the King James Bible, that is a clear signal to you that they are praying to a God who, in their perception, does not know them or have anything to do with them." They are praying, he says, to the God of stained glass windows and "Bible times," but not a God who is living and present today.

This strikes me as entirely wrong. I don't have a whole lot of use for the KJV, but many people do, and it isn't because they believe God is absent. It's because they understand that the Word of God is different from all other words in our society.

Steve linked to an interesting post that calls our attention to Wendell Berry's reasoning for continuing to use the KJV in his books. Following Berry's lead, the writer suggests that "We must learn to express new ideas in old language; then we will not be speaking past each other, but speaking poetry."

By all means, the pastoral responsibility is to help people know that God is with them, that God understands and cares about even the smallest details of their lives. But we have to attend to the balance/tension between God's immanence and God's transcendence. The great pastoral challenge is to be able to speak of the intimate love of God and the personal worth of each person using language that inspires a sense of awe towards the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Expressing new ideas using the "old language" of another era is one way to remind us that these truths are not of our creation; they are spoken by a distinctive Word and have been passed down through faithful generations.

THIS Bible is about justice. Unlike the other Bibles.

People always used to ask Sojourners when they were going to publish a "Sojourners Bible," or a "Justice Bible," or something along those lines. It seemed to me like a thoroughly poor idea: doesn't the idea of a special "Justice Bible" undermine the contention that the regular Bible already is about justice? Are colored inks and bonus materials necessary to make that clear?

Of course, the desire for such a publication comes, in part, as a reaction to the proliferation of niche Bibles of a more conservative evangelical variety. The foremost example of progressives' entrance into this market is last year's Green Bible.

In any event, zealous Sojo fans may finally be getting what they wanted, albeit from another source: The American Bible Society and World Vision have partnered to publish The Poverty and Justice Bible. (Apparently this Bible was first released in summer 2008, but is now being reprinted with a wider distribution.)

I'm sure this will be a helpful resource for some, so that's good. I also think that Sojo could've made a lot of money off of a product like this, and perhaps they still will someday. I still think the best idea (though certainly a production nightmare) would be for Sojo to sell a Jim Wallis-approved "Bible full of holes" for demonstration purposes.

It seems to me that the acceptability of niche-published Bibles highlighting specific biblical themes (or demographic groups) is inversely proportional to our biblical literacy. If we all had more robust habits of studying scripture, we wouldn't need to buy Bibles that use green or orange ink to draw our attention to the "good stuff".

November rolls on

It's been over four weeks since I last posted! I can't claim to have been unbelievably busy during that time, if for no other reason than that I know the next two and a half weeks are going to be the busiest of the semester. But I have been on the road a lot this month: The last three weekends, I've traveled to Lawrence, KS, Dallas, and D.C., respectively. So, while it is sad that this is the first year of my life that I will not celebrate Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my beloved family, I am also relieved beyond words to be staying put in Durham this week.

Heather's parents are coming down, and we have rounded up a half-dozen other friends to share Thanksgiving dinner with us at the Wesley House. This morning Heather special-ordered a local turkey from the Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. We're gearing up for some awesome sweet potato side dishes.

Speaking of sides, I could never have dreamt up something as phenomenal as this.

23 October 2009

Capital Punishment & the Shape of Christian Witness

I wrote an article about the anti-death penalty movement for Duke Divinity's nascent online journal, Confessio. You can read it here.

20 October 2009

What we do to ourselves

I've been a part of some interesting conversations lately surrounding Malcolm Gladwell's latest New Yorker article. In engaging (if graphic) fashion, Gladwell narrates the horrors of dogfighting alongside the emerging body of scientific evidence that playing football can lead to serious brain trauma, early dementia, and death. The shocking thing about football is that the researchers Gladwell profiles don't think it is only the serious, Tebow-caliber concussions that should worry us. It seems that years of "average" blows to the head (by football standards) can cause exactly the sort of brain damage previously associated with serious concussions (and boxing). In short, every offensive and defensive lineman is at risk, as are many other players.

In dogfighting, we can clearly see that the dogs have been taught to trust their masters, only to be thrown into a competition that is very likely to kill them. Gladwell's provocative suggestion is that football is not so different. The article is worth reading (and you can skip the dogfighting sections without losing much of the point).

There are a lot of different things to say about this article, but I'll confine myself to one for now: what do we make of the likelihood that, even if all the long-term dangers of football were known, many men would still choose to play the sport? Kyle Turley, a lineman featured in the article, says as much. We also know that people take risks, or willingly hurt themselves, for all kinds of reasons. Soldiers want to defend ideals or borders. Smokers want to meet immediate felt needs. Football players want fun, glory, education, money.

So where does this bring us? If you guessed Wendell Berry, you're a freak. Hat-tip to Steve for linking to this poem:

by Wendell Berry
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

16 October 2009

Who are these deformed people?

When I was delving into Christian practices of mission and travel over the summer, one of the most helpful resources for me was a Christianity Today interview with Fr. Emmanuel Katongole. In that interview, Emmanuel, who teaches at Duke and led our Pilgrimage to Uganda this summer, said something that really bowled me over: "People looking at Christians should be confused. Who are these people? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Americans? Are they Ugandans?" I'm very challenged by the idea that Christian fellowship ought to baffle onlookers. We're called to be different, not for difference's sake, but because Christ has truly inaugurated a new age in which the former distinctions crumble. In his person, we are all bound to God, and through God, we are bound to one another.

A lot of these thoughts emerge, in much more elegant form than I can render, in an article for The Other Journal by Brian Bantam. Professor Bantam recently finished his Ph.D. at Duke and is now at Seattle Pacific University.
Of course, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to not be of this world, but we cannot take this as a matter of simple obedience. It is a task of de-formation. The church cannot merely ask, "What is to be done?" We must begin by asking, "What in the world are we?" We must discern together how the patterns of this world have become a part of us, how they have made us reflect something very different from Christ. [...] Our vision of what must be done and who it must be done for is always bound to who we perceive as others and who we see as our people.
Although Bantam and Katongole both begin their discussions with racial difference, the language of "de-formation" and identity ("Who or what are these people?") draws my mind immediately back to L'Arche. By committing ourselves to holy friendship with those whom society considers "deformed," the church as a whole may come to be considered "deformed". That is, we will not be conforming to the patterns of this world, which confer personal worth based on physical and intellectual ability.

Sometimes L'Arche has trouble finding houses to occupy, because neighbors and zoning boards aren't always thrilled about having such group homes on otherwise quiet neighborhood streets. "Who are these deformed people?" If only we were faithful enough that onlookers viewed every local congregation with the same wariness.

13 October 2009

We hate inflation AND deflation?

I was shocked to read that Colorado may act to reduce its minimum wage in the near future. Turns out they have a (good) law on the books that ties the minimum wage to the state's cost of living. But recessions mean deflation, and the cost of living in Colorado (and elsewhere) has declined slightly. So, while the prospect of reducing the minimum wage is jarring, it is also fair, at least insofar as the purchasing power of a minimum wage worker is maintained. (Of course, there are several countervailing factors: the rise in unemployment means fewer hours for many workers, and so gross incomes are already falling faster than deflation; also, people making more than the minimum wage are not, in general, having their wages garnished during the recession.)

This reminds me: when the USPS released the "Forever Stamp" in 2007, Slate noted that under a 2006 law, the cost of postage cannot increase at a rate exceeding the inflation rate. So, when the inflation rate is negative, doesn't this mean it's illegal for the cost of a stamp to stay the same, let alone to increase?

09 October 2009

Perspective on the Nobel thing.

"It's normally awarded to someone who has been in their field for some time. Considering that the president is at the beginning of his presidency, his body of work is just beginning."
--Arizona State University spokeswoman Sharon Keeler, explaining in April why the university decided not to award Barack Obama an honorary degree.

05 October 2009

What Government Can Do

The new Ken Burns documentary series is entitled The National Parks: America's Best Idea. After watching the first of the six-part series for free on pbs.org, it occurred to me that on the list of America's Best Ideas, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also ought to rank pretty highly. Yes, it's like sixty years younger than the BBC. Yes, it's a convoluted system, where the public funds a private nonprofit corporation, which in turn funds individual local public television affiliates. Yes, it can be as much a political football as a public asset. But if taxpayer money is going to produce any television, it might as well be the best damn thing to air on TV since the West Wing. I know this isn't an airtight rationale for preserving the CPB, but let's all just take some time to savor the enjoyment of watching beautiful films about our public lands, funded (in part) by our public broadcast venture. It makes me feel good about my country, because, in the words of Sam Seaborn, "I think giving people a vision of government that's more than Social Security checks and debt reduction is good. I think government should be optimistic."

ALH on how we learn about race

The Office of Black Church Studies at Duke started a blog this year. Today there is a new post by Dr. Amy Laura Hall, Professor of Christian Ethics. She takes up some difficult questions about the formation of our racial consciousness, and she does so with her characteristically provocative honesty:
"The good liberals [...] can repeat 'equal' until their faces turn Obama blue, but their kids are watching who comes to dinner."
See the full post here.

01 October 2009

New from Nick Hornby

For my class on "Masculinity and Ministry" last spring, we read Slam! by Nick Hornby. It tells the story of a young teenage boy, an accidental pregnancy, and learning to love a woman and a baby he never expected to have as part of his life. I was reminded of Hornby (and that immensely entertaining, thought-provoking novel) this afternoon when I read a DCist interview with him about his new novel, entitled Juliet, Naked. It sounds similar to his most famous work, High Fidelity, but instead of running an independent music store, the male protagonist runs a website devoted to a single singer-songwriter-turned-recluse. His imagined relationship with the singer and his actual relationship with his girlfriend drive the drama of this story.

As was the case with Flannery: A Life, I am really taken by the cover design of Juliet, Naked. It's a great interpretation of the love triangle formed by the protagonist, his girlfriend, and the musician. Check it out:

27 September 2009

Nineteen couplets on the cost of progress.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, there is a poem by our friend Wendell Berry. It's called "A Speech to the Garden Club of America" and you should read it. You can't top this: "Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens / By going back to school, this time in gardens"

25 September 2009

Not just one disc. Two discs.

I support an organization that does humanitarian work on the US-Mexico border. I really care about their work. But this offer, which I just received via Facebook? Not the most appealing. I wish them well:
Man Makes Music from Border Wall. Avant-guard musician Glenn Weyant plays border security infrastructure as string and percussion instruments, and has recorded it all on a 2-disc set! You can receive this or other goodies by participating in our effort to support the border humanitarian work of [organization].

24 September 2009

18th Sunday after Pentecost

For the last 21 years, the Wesley Fellowship at Duke has celebrated weekly Eucharist in the basement of Duke Chapel. This has been an important part of my life for the entirety of my time at the University. On September 16, I delivered the homily at that service, using some of the lectionary texts for Sunday, September 20: Proverbs 31:10-31 and James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a. I preached from an outline (which is increasingly becoming my custom) so I don't have a full text version of what I said, but wanted to pass along one portion of the exegesis here.

While Proverbs 31 is clearly about "a capable wife," and has been exploited for that reason, it still contains real truth that can be normative for all of our lives. The text exhorts us all to be in partnership with others, and to let our service be guided by wisdom and seasoned with humility, skill, and savvy. By this reading, an irony emerges: Proverbs 31, beloved text of evangelicals obsessed with gender roles, may be talking about the same thing as James, the patron saint of liberal Christians obsessed with justice and equality. For James says, "Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom." Both texts are describing the Good Life as that in which wisdom, not individual will, is the guiding force. Wisdom is often associated with the Holy Spirit; elsewhere, Paul called Jesus "the power and wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). In other words, to be Christian is to be transformed by our encounter with the triune God. James has already warned us that faith without works is dead; here, he is saying that works without faith -- that is, works not born of divine wisdom -- these works are also, in a sense, dead.

In short, our task is to figure out how to be both Matthew 25 AND Proverbs 31 women and men.

22 September 2009

Infants and the Grace of God

Although it has taken me a long time to stop thinking of blogs principally as a big joke or a passing fad, I have to acknowledge that I really enjoy having a group of friends who are deep thinkers, witty critics, and gifted writers, who are willing to share those gifts with others.

In that spirit, you should read Melissa's brief post on babies and original sin.

I was up in NJ this weekend for my nephew Liam's baptism. The Catholic rite is very clear about naming the cleansing of original sin as one of the primary effects of baptism. Augustine's thought has obviously been preserved through the liturgy and doctrine of this sacrament.

Melissa has identified beautiful imagery of Augustine's in order to point out that babies' theological "meaning" should not be confined strictly to their proving the doctrine of original sin. But what I like about her commentary is that it doesn't necessarily preclude or rebut the doctrine of original sin. In Augustine's thought, both images were true: the self-centered baby with the corrupt will, and the helpless, clinging, loving baby, nourished only by God.

In fact, it may be precisely because of the first image that the second image is so meaningful. If we were not thoroughly corrupted by original sin, then the helpless and dependent baby would not be a fitting metaphor for our spiritual state. If we were not corrupt in this way, we would not be utterly dependent on God's grace; we could save ourselves. So in a sense, the baby clinging to the mother can be seen as just as much of a refutation of Pelagius as is the baby who cries until its physical desires are met.

17 September 2009

It is quite possible to please none of the people all of the time.

Imagine that you and I are trying to come to an agreement about where to go on vacation. Let's say that we've both contributed money to our vacation fund, and we can only choose one place. I want to go to Miami (a southern beach), and you want to go to Chicago (a northern city). Then, in hopes of striking a compromise, I suggest that we go to Louisville instead.

Max Baucus' bill sounds a lot like Louisville.

15 September 2009

It's a long summer.

Here is a sentence I didn't need to read:

"Phillies RHP Pedro Martinez pitched eight scoreless innings yesterday, eliminating the Mets from playoff contention."

06 September 2009

University, Church, Society

In today's NYT Book Review, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust writes that the American university must become more of an incubator for ideas and ideals, and less an instrument in the service of the market, if it is to have any future at all. She casts an inspiring vision for what the academy can contribute to society.

Interestingly, the "transcendent" parts of the university's vocation seem so similar to what was once expected of the Protestant church in this country. I wonder whether the disestablishment of mainline Protestantism in the postwar period, and the separation of churches from the eminent universities they founded, has left us with neither churches nor universities capable of "rais[ing] the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society."

Newbigin on Salvation

"There is an unexamined assumption that we know what we are talking about when we ask such questions as: Will the devout Hindu or Muslim be saved? It is the unexamined concept of salvation which needs to be scrutinized. The whole discussion, if I am not mistaken, is focused on the destiny of the individual's soul after death. But that is not at all the focus of attention in the Bible. Attention is focused on the final event in which God will complete His purpose for all humankind and all creation. The urgent question is not: How shall I be saved? But: How shall God's name be hallowed, His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as in heaven? The focus is on knowing and doing the truth now, so that we may be partakers in the corporate and cosmic consummation at the end. Not only in the Old Testament but also in the New, the commanding vision is not of a way by which I can leave this world for another where I shall be safe, but of the way by which God will come to this world, the way by which God will come to this world to communicate His purpose for the whole creation. Salvation lies in the future for Abraham and Moses and David as much as for me. And being saved means being made part of the company which bears in its life and communicates to the world the secret of what God has in store for His whole creation." -Lesslie Newbigin's 1986 Henry Martyn lectures, Signs Amid the Rubble, p. 71

30 August 2009

Lighting strikes twice, TWICE!

From the August 31 Sports Illustrated cover story, here's something powerful to consider about Usain Bolt's mind-blowing performances at the World Championships two weeks ago:
In the same stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals in front of Hitler in 1936, white German youths painted Bolt's name on their chests and carried Jamaican flags.

29 August 2009

51 years

Today would've been Michael Jackson's 51st birthday. I'll let Google's commemoration be my own:

25 August 2009

Uganda: The Summary Post

The trip began with two nights in Entebbe (at a convent near the airport) and three nights in Kampala. During that time we visited a few places: the Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo, the MCC headquarters, an awesome dance performance by Ndere Troupe, the source of the Nile at Jinja, and a vocational school for girls in Mukono.

Then, on Day 7 we got up before dawn and began the drive to Lira, which is north of Kampala on the way to Gulu. This journey marked the beginning of three full days in northern Uganda, which were the hardest parts of our trip. The region has been the main battleground for the Lord's Resistance Army for most of the last 23 years. You can read more about the LRA and Joseph Kony on the web, but the very brief version is that Kony started a rebel insurgency in 1986, ostensibly to fight against the anti-northern government of President Yoweri Museveni. The LRA has survived by raiding fields and villages for supplies, and by kidnapping children to replenish its ranks of soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. They are notorious for brutalizing the civilian population. By the early part of this decade, virtually all of the 2 million residents of northern Uganda had been forced into Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. The LRA has not been active in Uganda for the last three years or so, having been pushed into the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Here is a story on their most recent activity in DRC.

So. In Lira, we visited the site of perhaps the most infamous episode of the war: the abduction of 139 schoolgirls from St. Mary's Aboke girls' school in 1996. The deputy headmistress, an Italian nun, actually tracked the rebels through the bush, caught up to them the next day, and was able to secure the return of 109 of the girls. Of the remaining 30, five have died in captivity, but many have managed to escape. Remarkably, the last remaining Aboke girl escaped and returned to Uganda just this past May.

After Lira, we proceeded to Gulu. This city has been at the center of the war since it began, and is now flooded with NGOs and aid money, making for a very peculiar environment. Here, we were able to meet for two hours with the Roman Catholic Archbishop John Odama. We slept at St. Monica's, a boarding school for formerly abducted girls who have returned from the bush. The school is run by Sister Rosemary, who received a CNN Heroes award in 2007 for her work. (See her tribute video here.)

Our other major activity in Gulu was to visit Sr. Margaret Aceng and the Caritas Counseling Centre. They offer psychological services for trauma survivors. I'll talk more about this place in a separate post.

After Gulu, we headed west toward Murchison Falls. This helped us relax and decompress a little bit, although the transition felt abrupt to me: one day, talking with people who were tortured by pillaging rebels, and the next day, gawking at giraffes and elephants? In any case, we enjoyed the game park, and the falls were amazing.

After leaving the Murchison Falls area, we made our way back towards Entebbe, stopping on Sunday morning for mass at St. Joseph's parish, Katikamu. The parish priest here is the brother of Fr. Emmanuel (our trip leader), and our friends/classmates Tommy and George had been serving as field ed interns there all summer. We had the pleasure of sharing in the farewell celebration for Tommy & George, and got to see how much affection the kids have for them. Very fun.

Our final days included visits to L'Arche Kampala and an AIDS clinic at Mango Hospital, as well as some shopping. We got to have cordials and lunch with Cardinal Wamala. Plus, Heather took me back into the city on our own to have lunch with some Peace Corps friends on our last day. (You can read about Heather's knowledge of transportation modes on her blog.)

23 August 2009

How many is that?

I got invited to this Facebook group tonight: "120,000 Million Members by 12/12/12".

21 August 2009

Englewood Review of Books

At the Ekklesia Project gathering this summer, I came across the Englewood Review of Books for the first time. The Review is a project of Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis. For a sense of what kind of stuff they're reading, see their list of the best books of 2008.

I just entered The Englewood Review’s (@ERBks) Back-to-school contest to win free books. You can enter too: http://bit.ly/MvJJS

Murchison Falls

I know I haven't really posted anything about Uganda, and it was an experience that warrants a few different posts. I need to make the time to do some thinking about which particular experiences I will relate here. In the meantime, here's a video I took at Murchison Falls, a tremendous waterfall on the Nile River in northwestern Uganda.

The Nile River's source is at Jinja, Uganda, where Lake Victoria begins to flow to the northwest. At Murchison Falls, the river pours through a 7 meter-wide gap while plunging about 45 meters. From there, it begins to flow northward, into Sudan. At Khartoum, it meets up with a branch from Ethiopia (the Blue Nile) and continues into Egypt.

08 August 2009

Oh man.

While I was in Uganda, John Darnielle posted this announcement on The Mountain Goats website, revealing the tracklist for a new album to be released October 6. I'm eager to hear it because all the song titles are Bible verses. While Darnielle says the album has not grown out of any religious conversion, it nevertheless contains "twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of." We'll hopefully have a chance to hear him play some of the new material when he performs at the Durham, Be Easy festival on August 21.

18 July 2009

Waste not...

My sweet potato tried to overpower me.

16 July 2009

Cavanaugh on Creation and Economy

I never wrote up any thoughts after the Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago last week, but for starters, the folks at Englewood Review of Books have posted audio of Bill Cavanaugh's plenary lecture here. His work has been important to me since some friends first gave me Torture and Eucharist in 2004, and his presence was really the main reason that I was so interested in attending the conference. I don't think EP made 'official' recordings of the conference, so I was happy to come across these files. He spends the first fifteen minutes narrating the collapse of the derivative-based economy, so if that is still confusing to you, maybe his retelling will help.

Proper 11

I'm preaching again this coming Sunday, which is my final day in Tennessee. The text is Ephesians 2:11-22. This passage is right in my wheelhouse; it's one of the most important declarations of ecclesial unity in the New Testament. If I were Episcopalian, I might just get up in the pulpit, read the passage ten times over, and sit down.

As it stands, I don't feel like I'm in a position to preach about division in somebody else's house. And I am finding that it's a little tough to pull together a message that is about such a fundamental matter as this. To me, it's like trying to preach on John 3:16 or Psalm 23. So this week is an exercise in resisting the temptation to make everything new and innovative.

13 July 2009

Review: Theology and Culture

I just finished a relatively new book by D. Stephen Long entitled Theology and Culture: A Guide to the Discussion. It’s part of a series that Wipf & Stock is publishing on its Cascade imprint. The “Cascade Companions” series endeavors to make accessible to non-Ph.D. level readers the richness of our ecclesial and theological traditions. They’ve already published primers on Augustine and the Desert Fathers (both by Jason Byasee) and a really great overview of Paul’s letters by Michael Gorman. The forthcoming volumes look equally worthwhile.

I really love the idea of this series. I like to think that I’m the kind of person the publisher has in mind. It’s a common experience for me to encounter articles or books that seem provocative and interesting, yet they are difficult to comprehend because they are participating in a conversation with which I am unfamiliar. To identify and read all the prior texts necessary to bring myself up to speed would be an immense task—a graduate degree in itself. But a short, accessible primer on the subject would suit my needs much better.

That’s what I hoped would be the case when I bought Long’s book on theology and culture, and I was mostly satisfied by his effort. Whenever people start using the word “culture,” I tend to shut down, because I don’t know what they mean and I am suspicious that neither do they. Long identifies this ambiguity as one of the fundamental reasons why relating culture and theology is such a difficult project.

Like many Duke students, I have been pretty heavily influenced by Prof. Hauerwas’ criticisms of H. Richard Niebuhr, but I have never read Niebuhr and don’t actually know much about him. While Long is definitely also a critic of Niebuhr, he at least is willing to back the truck up and give an account of what Niebuhr’s arguments were (alongside those of his predecessor Troeltsch and his successor Tillich). This discussion helped me to understand that the critique of Niebuhr (and modern liberalism more broadly) stems not only from modernism’s focus on the individual actor, but also from its assumption that the church’s chief task is to relate itself to the present moment:

“It is a peculiar feature of our modern culture that we are so driven to find characterizations of it and then claim we must be relevant to those characterizations. This may be indebted to H. Richard Niebuhr’s and Paul Tillich’s emphases on ‘culture’ as one of the correlates theology must address if it is to speak to modern people” (62).

It is at this point that Long seems to come closest to addressing the theology/culture conversation that gives me the most trouble. The real reason I wanted to read this group was so that I could feel a little less bewildered when I hear or read someone from the Relevant Magazine/Emergent Village/hip Christianity circles. (I recognize it’s incredibly unfair to lump so many people together. I'm doing so here because they all talk about something called 'culture', whereas I like to pretend no such thing exists.) He doesn’t really bring them in directly, and I’m not sure why. But knowing more about Niebuhr and Tillich helps me to understand a bit more where they might be coming from, so I’m glad for that.

I also really appreciate that Steve Long is the first person I’ve encountered who is willing to venture a definition of “postmodernism”. I hate hearing about postmodernity, because it seems even more slippery than “culture”. He writes, “Postmodern culture is not anything but the recognition that we can now see what ‘modern culture’ was and is, and can begin to recognize its limits, even if in so doing we cannot completely transcend those limits” (87). (As I look at that quotation by itself, it doesn’t look very meaty, but in the book it comes at the end of a lengthy effort at describing and questioning modern culture, so it is actually a pretty satisfying answer.)

My biggest issue with this book is rather trivial, and I imagine has more to do with the publisher than with the author: this book is full of typos. In 112 pages, I found eight such errors: errant or absent punctuation marks, confused homonyms, and outright misspellings. You see that kind of thing from time to time in other books, but never with such frequency that you start marking each one in the margins in order to tally them up and blog about it later.

But, let’s not end on that note. All in all, this is a very helpful book that sets out with modest goals and hits them. If you want to become more able to understand theological engagements with culture, it’s well worth your time to read this short volume. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Palin, baby.

I probably don't have enough readers to do a bona fide caption contest, but feel free to post whatever you want about this photo, in today's NYT:

12 July 2009


I looked at my nightstand yesterday and realized I'm in the middle of five different books right now:
The Eichstaedt book jumped off the shelf at me when I was in a Borders in Chicago over the weekend. Published in February of this year, it seems to be a very thorough and vivid account of the toll of the rebel conflict in northern Uganda, where I will arrive in 11 days.

In addition, I hope to post some kind of a mini-review of Steve Long's book once I am finished with it.

Last week's sermon

I was in Chicago over the weekend, and Chicago told me they want to see my 7/5 sermon. Here it is.

08 July 2009

Trading Places

How's this for a role reversal: Halden digs up John Howard Yoder's critique of Christians who seek to perpetuate the faith through defensive education of our youth. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins is supporting the first atheistic camp for kids in Britain.

Tune in next week, when Christians will begin spending their Sunday morning smoking cigarettes and reading the New York Times Magazine on their Central Park West balconies, while secular humanists flood the airwaves with second-rate music promoting their beliefs.

06 July 2009

Palin Takes Bold Action to Shrink Government

Ironically, it was Friday when we saw this in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

And on Saturday, while the Anvil Shoot was shaking the ground beneath our feet, we came across this political earthquake:

(As an aside, since I am living without internet or television at home, I am not really plugged into 24-hour news like I usually would be. I can't remember the last time when a news story broke and I first found out about it from a printed newspaper.)

Fourth of July on the Frontier

Mom and Dad visited for Independence Day (and Dave's birthday) weekend. On the 4th, we went to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn. The centerpiece of the Museum's Independence Day celebration is an activity called an Anvil Shoot. It's pretty much what it sounds like: they ignite a bunch of gunpowder underneath an anvil. This is apparently a tradition that dates back to the frontier days. The explosion happens around the 0:34 mark in the video. Enjoy.

01 July 2009

Another Honduras photo

This photo is from the first sermon I delivered, on Tuesday night of our week in Honduras. My sermon contrasted the Tower of Babel - what we construct on our own strength, for our own glory - with the Church, where we rely on God and glorify God. The man next to me is Rigo, a translator who is also a local pastor at a Methodist church in Tegucigalpa.

We still don't know why the flag of Israel was hanging in the sanctuary. Nobody wanted to ask.

What do you mean, "Do I stick out in Central America"?

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30 June 2009

Proper 9

I'm preaching this Sunday at our "contemporary" service. The Gospel lesson for this week is Mark 6:1-13: the rejection at Nazareth and the sending of the apostles in mission. I'm still struggling through the early fog of what to say. So far, the only thing that has occurred to me is what NOT to say. The Old Testament lesson, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 tells of David's covenantal installation as king of Israel. What better occasion than the Fourth of July to conflate biblical Israel with the United States? The Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship stands at the ready.

Theolog has their weekly lectionary post up, and Ekklesia Project usually publishes theirs on Wednesday. I'm planning on steering clear of both King David and George Washington, and zeroing in instead on the "virtue" of insulating ourselves from risk and failure. I'm an extremely conservative person in this way, so passages like this week's reading from Mark are a true challenge for me. We'll see what direction the sermon takes. I had to turn in a title to the church office yesterday, so I went with the sufficiently generic, "Go With God."

27 June 2009

Exactly the same, only different.

In a statement declaring that he does not intend to resign, Gov. Mark Sanford compared his story to that of King David. Not the murdering and raping parts of that story, presumably. Just the part where David said he was sorry, and then got to continue being king while everyone else acted as if nothing had ever happened.

26 June 2009

Oh, Flannery!

Consider this the second installment in my irregular series of posts, in which I offer poorly-written, surface-level reviews of new works by and about my favorite people. (#1 was here.)

At the beginning of the summer, I read the new biography of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch. It just jumped off the shelf and into my hand at The Regulator, a favorite independent bookstore in Durham. Give the publisher ten points for the design of the dustjacket; I think it's a great cover. As for the book itself, I found it to be an engaging biography, and it's a real gift to fans of Flannery's work. For me, and I suspect for many, Flannery's appeal begins with her stories, but quickly expands to her person: we enjoy her characters, but are more fascinated by "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South," the literary star confined by lupus to a Georgia farm populated by exotic birds. A detailed biography provides a trove of material about the life she led, and presents it in a more accessible manner than does O'Connor's published correspondence.

From the blurbs on the back of the dustjacket, it sounds as if this is the first serious biography of Flannery. I don't know if that is true or not. But the biggest thing that Gooch, a professor of English at William Patterson University in New Jersey, brings to the table appears to be his tireless research. Having mined the correspondence of more peripheral characters in O'Connor's life, he is able to present quotations that reflect what people in her life thought about her early writings. He has also conducted interviews with her childhood and college schoolmates, capturing recollections of the young Flannery that would otherwise have been lost within a decade or two. He also has placed his hands on some invaluable artifacts, such as a journal of the twelve year old child. (On the cover, she had scrawled a warning: "I know some folks that don't mind their own bisnis." One such person was her teacher, who criticized her poor spelling -- a lifelong battle that interested Flannery very little.)

Gooch also tells the stories of several occasions on which Flannery was invited to read her stories to small literary gatherings, usually in the homes of friends. These mostly came later in her career; as a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her intense southern drawl caused her to ask other students to read her stories for her.

I recently came across a recording of Flannery reading one of her most alarming stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find". (Access it here.) I think the recording is from a television broadcast, but I'm not sure. In any case, it's the only time I have ever heard her voice, and if you're interested, it's worth downloading and listening to. Curiously (and supporting the TV-show hypothesis), she changes the N-word when it appears in the story. (She had once grown angry when one of her surrogate readers made the same change during a reading in Iowa.) Also, if you're following along at home, note that there is a short interruption in the recording early on in the story (from bottom of p. 118 to bottom of p. 119 in "The Complete Stories").

25 June 2009

Surveyor in a strange land

One of the most interesting aspects of our recent trip to Honduras was taking part in a community needs assessment. The Methodist missionary who works on health issues in Danli developed this four-page survey in conjunction with the municipal health board. Members of our group paired up with members of the Methodist church and went to different neighborhoods, administering the survey door-to-door. The questions deal with community life (What are the disadvantages of living in your community? What, if any, services does the government provide to this community?); nutrition (What foods do you eat most frequently? How do you store them?); and health (When someone in the family is ill, where do you go? Are there insect problems in or around the house?).

Clearly, this was never going to be a scientific survey. Over five days, we collected maybe 300 or 400 surveys in a city of 100,000. The responses vary wildly, reflecting both actual differences and differences in the way questions were interpreted. Furthermore, I don't think the surveys will tell anybody much that they didn't already know. If people don't have running water or electricity, those are the biggest thing they desire. Every community could use additional sources of work. The people who live by the dump would prefer not to live by the dump. The people who live in the flood-channels of the river would prefer not to live there, but at least they can live there for free.

These excursions were eye-opening for us North Americans, but interestingly, they seemed at times to be eye-opening for the congregants we accompanied, too. I found that really striking, and increasingly I am believing that that was the real objective of the survey project. The city government is not going to see the survey report and say, "Well, now that we finally know the people want water that won't make them sick, let's get to it!" But by involving the church members in investigating the problems, and in visiting people poorer than themselves, the missionary has achieved a big first step: she has eight or ten church members who are invested in improving living conditions in Danli, and who are asking, "Why not?"

We got to see the wheels start turning on this during a debriefing conversation one afternoon. People were throwing around a lot of ideas about water solutions might be brought to a neighborhood we'd visited, but they weren't gaining any traction because that's a big capital project. It takes a lot of other people to invest in and execute such a plan. Then the discussion turned to some more basic health and hygeine practices. A few noted how there were great differences in cleanliness from house to house, and that these differences didn't necessarily correspond to how much money the family had, or even the type of home. Then, before they settled into a resigned critique of people who don't keep a clean house, the missionary said, "If I could help you to receive training as health educators, would you be interested in returning to some of these places, and helping people to make simple changes that would improve the health of their families?" And now they're off and running.

I think I loved this part of our trip because we learned a ton, and contributed almost nothing. I spent three days with the same partner, a young woman named Karina, and mostly my job was to carry the vitamins. But here was a genuine opportunity for us to travel to another country and meet people as they really exist: not at a clinic or construction site, not just at a church service, but at their homes on an average day. The question I'm really turning over right now is whether this kind of experience is necessary for meaningful personal interaction and transformation. In other words, do we have to look for less concretely productive projects for U.S. mission teams if we want them to have more transformative experiences? Does the labor get in the way of the learning?

Also, God willing, this will be the only time I have to wear a turquoise mission team t-shirt in the airport.

18 June 2009

Grace in Sickness

"Two weeks ago, none of us probably imagined we'd be gathered here today for the purpose we have." With these words, my senior pastor began the funeral of a beloved church member who passed away suddenly about a week after I arrived in Tennessee. During the course of the funeral, an interesting refrain kept popping up: "He was taken from us suddenly, but that's probably the way he would've wanted it. Always looking out for others, he wouldn't have wanted his loved ones to be burdened by a long illness." It was always said with great tact, and never meant to minimize the sadness of his passing. But we all seemed to be invited to find some consolation in his swift death.

In a 1956 letter, Flannery O'Connor wrote, "Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." O'Connor, who herself died of lupus at age 39, could not be accused of any naive romanticization of illness. At the same time, O'Connor was abnormal. Her stories drew their power from the peculiar light in which she viewed human experience and suffering. Many of her characters found their salvation in death (although it is interesting, in light of her quotation about sickness, to note that most of these saving deaths were sudden; she rarely portrayed sickness).

I fully believe that profound spiritual transformation can happen during illness and at the deathbed. Heather has been writing some great stuff on this, from her perspective at Hospice Africa in Kampala. But I suspect that most of us would have a hard time agreeing with O'Connor that sickness before death represents one of God's mercies. With friends whose parents have died after long illnesses, and with an aunt just beginning her own battle against cancer, I don't exactly feel like they're getting the good end of the deal. I envy the man whose passing is quick and peaceful.

The medieval study of the ars moriendi generally viewed the Good Death as one that involved minimal suffering, but sufficient time to prepare the soul, get one's affairs in order, and say goodbye. In other words, you have to know that the end is coming. Who doesn't want that? Yet, as she always tends to do, Flannery O'Connor haunts me. Her observation pulls back the veil on the ars moriendi, and asks a dangerous question: When we say that we desire God's mercy, do we mean it? Or do we actually desire only a small dose of God's mercy - just enough to wake us
up, and let us get things in order?

16 June 2009

Wise guy

Here is the best answer anyone gave to one of our community assessment questions in Honduras:

Q: How often do you eat eggs?
A: Well, it depends on the chicken.

I traveled 1000 miles north, and ended up in the Deep South.

We returned from Honduras late Sunday night. It was a really wonderful, interesting trip: I had fun seeing the city of Danli, got to meet a lot of interesting people from both Honduras and the United States, and also did some good thinking about international short-term missions work.

The most interesting thing we got to do was to help with a community needs assessment: a four-page questionnaire regarding the health, nutrition, and quality of life of a household. We accompanied local church members in going door-to-door in a few different neighborhoods. It was really a unique experience to get to visit people in their homes, to see what their life is like, and to have an excuse to ask them lots of personal questions. You don't get that kind of interaction when you stay put in a centralized location (e.g. a medical clinic or construction site).

I expect I'll write some more about the community assessment work as it relates to broader questions of short-term missions towards the end of this week.

04 June 2009

Going to Honduras

On Saturday at 3:30 am, I will be leaving from the church parking lot with a group headed to Honduras. We'll be in the town of Danli, which is a mercifully short distance east of Tegucigalpa, on a pretty major-looking road.

View Larger Map

While we're there, we will be working through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission to conduct an eye clinic as well as a community needs assessment. For the eye clinic, we are bringing an $11,000 piece of equipment called an autorefractometer, and 1200 pairs of donated eyeglasses that were collected by the Lions Club.

I've also been warned that I might have to preach while we are there. Because I'm, you know, the pastor.

29 May 2009

Arriving late to the party.

I posted a little while ago about the general trajectory of my FTE ministry project. In my subsequent reading on the topic this summer, I’ve already come across a few books that are much more in line with my thinking than I anticipated finding. Take, for example, this passage from Randy Maddox’s chapter in The Poor and the People Called Methodists, edited by Richard Heitzenrater:

Wesley assumed that consistent and faithful social action must be grounded in such communal spiritual formation. The tendency to counterpoise concern for spiritual formation against concern for social service and activism, which his twentieth-century heirs appropriated from their culture, has inclined them to overlook this connection. Thus recent works calling for a recovery of Wesley’s ministry to and with the poor devote little attention to the spiritual formation that Wesley believed empowers and inclines one to be involved in this ministry. […] Meanwhile books calling for a recovery of Wesley’s spirituality devote little attention to the formative role he assigned to works of mercy. […] My goal in this essay is to clarify the more integral connection that Wesley was convinced existed between one’s sanctification […] and one’s involvement with the poor.

Well, if you want a good summation of an awesome insight I thought I’d discovered in March regarding the relevance of early Methodist practice to contemporary mission programs, there it is, in a paper Maddox presented in October 1999. I guess it’s good news that my thinking on this topic isn’t totally wrong. But at the same time, people don’t give you grants so that you can regurgitate the decade-old published positions of your own professors. Good thing I’ve got a few months to keep digging on this one.

On this topic, I am also lined up to present to one of our adult Sunday School classes on “Methodist Charity in Wesley’s England” at the end of June, so that gives me a more concrete deadline by which to make sure I’ve learned the basics well.

Now it feels like the future.

I talked to Heather in Uganda on Thursday, and it was amazing. Of course, part of the amazement is in talking to the person I love. But I won’t trouble you with reading all about that. I was amazed by the technological marvel taking place.

(I will now begin speaking like an octogenarian.)

I had set up a Skype account. But, I don’t have internet at my house in Tennessee. And not wanted to try to have phone conversations from a table in the corner of the local Panera, I was at a loss as to how to call Heather at a cheap rate. But this week I discovered that by using Skype’s special “Skype To Go” service, I can place a call from my cell phone to hers for a paltry 15 cents a minute. How? As best I can figure, it works something like this: I call a number in my home area code (in New Jersey), which connects me to a Skype computer there; their VoIP network connects the call to Uganda; from there, another local call is placed, from some computer to Heather’s cell phone. Since the only traditional “phoning” being done is local calls on either end, all I have to pay for is Skype’s regular VoIP charge. Remarkable.

You know how I found out about this? I asked The Google.

Other People's Stuff

(Note: due to somewhat inconsistent internet access, blog posts might come in fits and spurts this summer.)

So the church has made available to me the unoccupied condo of a local missionary couple that is out of the country. It’s very nice to have my own place, and there is more than enough space for my needs.

It is interesting, however, that the house is pretty much full of their stuff. Now, I have not and will not go rummaging through where I shouldn’t. But some of the stuff lying around and hanging on the walls is pretty unique. Much of it appears to have been collected in their other mission fields, which, as far as I can tell, included a lot of time in and Alaska-like place, a possible stint near Seattle, and maybe time in an Eastern European locale (Latvia?).

For example, look at this intense corkscrew I found, made out of some sort of tusk:

Exhibit B is a commemorative plate, which commemorates a time that Davy Crockett murdered an Indian.

In fairness, the Crockett plate wasn’t exactly displayed front and center; it was stashed on top of the fridge. But the real coup—the reason (in addition to giving me a free place to stay) why these folks will always be top-notch in my book—is what I found by the television: the first three seasons of The West Wing. It’s one of my greatest pleasures.

22 May 2009

The road not taken

I just drove from New Jersey to Durham. My record for this drive is just under 8 hours. Sadly, today was my worst trip ever. The traffic just south of DC was as bad as any I've ever seen there, which is actually rather normal on a holiday weekend. But with no end in sight, I decided to chart my own course and drive around it, venturing into the Virginian hinterland.

Apparently a huge mistake.

The tough thing about detours is, you never know how the traffic would've turned out if you'd stayed on I-95. But, I am pretty sure that the trip wouldn't have taken TWELVE HOURS if I had stayed on the interstate.

That's right, it took me twelve hours. I tried to recreate my route here. I probably would've been better off leaving my house at 1:00 pm. Or taking a four hour nap at the Manassas battlefield. Or just driving straight from NJ to my final destination, Knoxville. That's only an 11 hour trip. But I didn't want to be in the car for that long in one day, so I drove to Durham instead.

13 May 2009


I don't really do record reviews (I leave that to John), but I just listened for the first time to Townes, Steve Earle's new release. Earle covers 15 songs of his friend and mentor, Townes Van Zandt. Earle once famously said, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." While I don't know how to begin comparing Townes and Dylan, it's fair to say that Townes Van Zandt wrote some stunning songs, and he deserves more listening than he probably gets today.

I first started listening to some of his music thanks to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who have covered a few of his songs, including Pancho & Lefty and White Freight Liner Blues. (The latter is on the duo's wonderful live DVD.) Over time, I really fell in love with Rear View Mirror, a live collection that Townes released in 1993, only four years before his death.

So, after only one listen, I'd say that Steve Earle's effort is really worthwhile. (This is why I don't write music reviews.) Earle's label, New West records, has a free download of "To Live is to Fly" available here (download should start automatically). Enjoy.

12 May 2009

Found in the library

I came across this while browsing in the Div School library stacks during finals week. It's the title page of a book on capital punishment. Can you imagine how bad it feels to be building an academic career for a few decades until a children's book turns your otherwise normal name into a huge joke?

08 May 2009

Where Have You Gone, Dom DiMaggio? (We're looking for your brother.)

Former baseball great Dom DiMaggio passed away this morning. If the Times' headline isn't ironic, I don't know what is:

I guess he died in his (already dead) brother's shadow, too. 

In fairness, the opening sentence of the obituary refers to him as "one of the finest center fielders of his era though he played in the shadow of his brother Joe, the Yankee icon." But the editors could have chosen "One of Era's Finest Center Fielders" for the headline. As it stands, it feels a little bit like, "Dom DiMaggio Dies; Mother Always Preferred Joe".

Or this: "Dom DiMaggio Dies; Life Goal Was to Outlive Dom DeLuise"

06 May 2009

Facebook nostalgia

Yesterday, my sister gave birth to a son. I helped the family out with proclaiming the news by posting a baby picture on my brother-in-law's Facebook wall. Which got me to thinking about how rapidly Facebook has moved from novelty, to usefulness, to indispensibility.

I got on Facebook before most of my friends. The networking site came to Duke in early 2004, during my last semester of college. Back then only a handful of campuses had Facebook networks, and Facebook was a long way from being a verb. In fact, it wasn't called "Facebook" at all: it was Thefacebook.com. I first found out about it from an article in the school newspaper. Check out that article for a sense of initial reactions to the site. I remember setting up my profile, and thinking, "This is boring. Why did I just do that?" If we had only known.

03 May 2009

Summer 2009

Now that I'm finally clear of all my term papers, I have a moment to update you on my summer plans. Through a Ministry Fellowship grant from FTE, I'll be spending my summer investigating models of congregational mission work. Specifically, my interest is in how to overcome the false division that exists in many churches, in which "mission" work is what we do to help others while discipleship and formation are the things we do to further our own spiritual journeys. In my own experience, and I think throughout much of Christian history (especially within Wesleyanism), works of mercy and engagement with the world have been integral to faith formation. I'm hoping this summer to dig into this idea a little more.

To that end, here's what I have lined up:
May 24-July 19, I'll be working as an intern at a Methodist church near Knoxville, TN.
June 5-15, Mission trip to Honduras with the church
July 9-11, Ekklesia Project conference, Chicago
July 22-August 5, Duke Divinity pilgrimage to northern Uganda
August 16-19, FTE Ministry Fellows gathering

Then it'll already be time to get underway with the Fall semester. I'm really looking forward to all of this, and hope to be posting reflections about ministry experiences (like last summer) as well as occasional snippets about my thinking regarding the role of missions in the local church. If you've got a good reading suggestion on that topic, I'm all ears.

29 April 2009

When it comes to moderates, GOP Ex-Specter-ates!

You may know that I love puns. I particularly love it when the entire media tries to use the same pun. So thanks to Marc Ambinder for compiling today's headlines regarding Sen. Arlen Specter's switching parties.

28 April 2009

Finals week

I know I've been pretty quiet here for a while. I'm working hard, trying to wrap up the semester. Hard to believe that I am 2/3 of the way finished with seminary.

This semester I had the mixed blessing of studying the gospel of Mark under a professor who has written a two-volume commentary on Mark. I found it very difficult to put together a term paper that I felt okay turning in, knowing that he has published over 1200 pages about Mark (not counting all the articles he's written).

But, I did turn something in. Rather than telling you about my paper, I decided to give you a visual digest using Wordle:

Wordle: TermPaper

26 April 2009

I was not aware of that.

You really only need to watch the first 40 seconds of this to get a sense of what the whole speech is like. Shout out to Portland for Blumenauer's rebuttal at the end of the clip.

14 April 2009

The foolish man bought an imported car...

I think it's fair to say that most of us, after Hurricane Katrina, would've been uncomfortable with someone using Jesus' words from Matthew 7:24-27 to chastise people for choosing to live in a flood-prone area. After all, the "rock" that Jesus describes is obedience to his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount; "sand" is disobedience. While it may be common sense to build your house in a safe location, doing so is not an injunction from Christ.

So what are we to think when the President compares our derivative-based economy to a house built upon sand, and calls on us to "build our house upon a rock" by saving more, consuming less, and exporting more? It may be a metaphor that makes sense to people, but it reminds me that making a metaphor out of Jesus' metaphor usually results in associating Jesus' authority with something he didn't say.

06 April 2009

Methodist Manna

I was surprised to discover today that for some reason, Cokesbury is selling off volumes of the Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley for $15 apiece (they usually cost $50). These are the authoritative scholarly versions of Wesley's sermons (4 vols.), letters (2 vols.), journals & diaries (6 vols.), and other works. For more on the Wesley Works Project, see here.

31 March 2009

26 March 2009

"We mocked, but took"

by John Updike
December 22, 2008

Why go to Sunday school, though surlily,
and not believe a bit of what was taught?
The desert shepherds in their scratchy robes
undoubtedly existed, and Israel's defeats--
the Temple in its sacredness destroyed
by Babylon and Rome. Yet Jews kept faith
and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites,
from table to table as Christians mocked.

We mocked, but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely--magnificent, that "surely"--
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my life, my life, forever.

(Published in The New Yorker, 3/16/09)

23 March 2009

To the class of 2010...

I don't remember volunteering, but somehow I have been invited to serve on the University's advisory committee that will help select the commencement speaker for graduation in 2010. We have a meeting next week, when we will discuss criteria for selecting a speaker, and throw around some names. So ... anybody have any advice or suggestions? Bear in mind that this person will be addressing ALL the graduates: undergrad, law, medicine, divinity, business, environment, engineering, et cetera. If you have any tips for me, feel free to let me know in the comments, or by email if you have it.

21 March 2009

This Hard Land

Generally, I don't think Springsteen gives very good interviews. He's kind of a weird guy, although that only occasionally comes across on stage. It's when he starts talking that you realize he's a little shifty, he maintains a soul patch even when not on tour, and in conversation he kind of talks like .... well, like a Bruce Springsteen song.

So I was really pleased by his interview on The Daily Show last week, which was funny, engaging, and not really awkward at all. I especially loved this: 
“We’ve had an enormous moral, spiritual, and economic collapse. People come to storytellers when times are like that. Our band was built from the beginning for hard times.”

Watch the whole interview here:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Bruce Springsteen - Interview
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor

20 March 2009

Obama "rolls" joke down metaphorical "lane", "knocks down" no "pins"

Obama's been taking a lot of (well-deserved) criticism today for his comment on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Thursday night. While discussing his infamously poor bowling performance during the campaign, he said, "It was like the Special Olympics or something." Sarah Palin had every reason to lay into him, and she did issue a strong statement, but it doesn't seem opportunistic or self-aggrandizing. In fact, I think this sentence is rather fitting: "This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world." So far, the reaction from Gov. David Patterson, who is probably the highest-ranking elected official with a physical disability in America, has been minimal, though that is his right, too.

In addition to the genuine outrage and disappointment, this episode has also given us the opportunity to note that Obama would probably finish in the middle of the pack at Special Olympics bowling (and this guy is ready to prove it). Perhaps most gratifying have been the numerous bowling puns that have found their way into the headlines today. And without any apparent irony, this small British entertainment magazine decided to entitle their article, "Prez scores low with lame remark on Leno". Lame, indeed.