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.