Friday, December 30, 2005

Spiritual Epiphany: Surprising Presence of God

As I’ve been thinking about the meaning of “Epiphany,” I’ve felt myself being pulled steadily toward a somewhat fantastic, epic perspective on the subject.

Instinctively I’ve resisted, because I don’t like to trivialize truth by applying too much gloss. I’d rather begin with the nitty-gritty, the undeniable, the black and white—and if the trail leads to a panoramic, bright-hued vista, and all our heartstrings start humming, well OK. As long as we got there honestly.

But with epiphany, you almost have to start at the overlook. It’s like C.S. Lewis writes:

All day I have been tossed and whirled in a preposterous happiness;
Was it an elf in the blood? Or a bird in the brain? Or even part
Of the cloudily crested, fifty-league-long, loud uplifted wave
Of a journeying angel’s transit roaring over and through my heart?…
…The color of my day was like a peacock’s chest…
Who knows if ever it will come again, now the day closes?
No-one can give me, or take away, that key. All depends
On the elf, the bird or the angel. I doubt if the angel himself
Is free to choose when sudden heaven in man begins or ends.
- C.S Lewis, Poems

How does one “step away” and “gain distance” from something like this? When one encounters God in a direct, irrefutable way, the only way to gain perspective is to step forward bravely and enter the mystery.

And the mystery of epiphany is great.

How do we go about tracing the edges of God-experience? In one sense, we can’t—any more then we can “prepare” ourselves to stumble across a hundred dollar bill in the gutter.

And yet there are questions we could ask. Questions like:

Who experiences epiphany?
What is it like?
How can I get ready? (Or can I?)

Give them some thought; I will too. And with a little luck, we’ll have a meeting of the minds sometime soon.

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Unexpected Melodies

At the top of the heap
By the Christmas tree
Is the present you did not foresee.
Your heart hits high gear
When the object appears
And your mom says, “Well, dear,
It’s quite a surprise,
But we thought it was time
You had something alive.”


Christmas at my parents’ was the context for one of the most startling presentations in recent years. An oblong object was put in front of me (Obviously, too large to be Armand Nicholi’s The Question of God), and I pulled the covering off, then stared in amazement as a yellow canary hopped back and forth in a cage.

I incredulously watched the small bird, and an almost forgotten excitement washed over me. As a kid, I had been the caretaker of a Welsh Corgi, a family of guinea pigs, a series of gerbils, a squirrel, two rabbits, a crow, a cockatiel, two parakeets, various turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards, a tank of fish, and assorted insects. I’d lobbied for a horse, but for some reason my parents didn’t think a horse would fit in our backyard. The plan at the time was (obviously) to be a zoologist.

However, when you live in a downtown loft, you tend to think the days of pets are over. It was quite the surprise to discover I was wrong—and that the old thrill over living, keep-able creation was far from dead.


My canary was pretty quiet for the first couple days at home. Sizing up the loft, probably. He spent the night happily enough, his cage placed beside our yucca. In the daylight, he jumped back and forth in his roomy domicile and chirped. He eyed Lindsay and me inquisitively. He vigorously beaked fresh broccoli and apples. But he didn’t really sing

However, irony strikes when you least expect it. I was working on my talk on Epiphany, taking a look at the bird from time to time. After awhile, I pulled up my media player and pushed play—and as the music piped out of the speakers, the little fellow burst into prolonged warbling. Apparently the melody line in Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” had caught his fancy.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Infantile Remarks and Spiritual Epiphany

We wanted to post this picture, indicating that we’ve enjoyed a merry Christmas and hope that you did too. However, Lindsay wouldn’t want me to put it up without some commentary. So it’s left for me to announce to the blogging world that Lindsay and I are expecting our first child! Yes!

The due date is April 16, which could make it an Easter baby. And the April timeframe also puts the ETA after March Madness, which is really fortunate, because it might be hard for Lindsay to tough it out in the delivery room by herself…

So now you’re in on our big (well, getting bigger) secret.


Posting may be a little thin for the next several days because I’ve been given my annual chance to present a message at our church. I’ll be speaking New Year’s Day on the subject of Epiphany—a topic that relates to some things that I think about and write about pretty frequently (i.e. “Clues”).

What is epiphany? I’m thinking of describing it this way: Epiphany is something we constantly feel, if not in its presence then in its absence. It is something we long to experience—a glimpse of the Rescuer who came and lived on earth, and still lives today, but may not be very visible in this present moment.

Epiphany is a glimpse of God.
Epiphany hinges on Christ’s presence on earth.
Epiphany only comes to children

No doubt I’ll be writing some more on this. Feel free to give your own take on the mysterious topic of spiritual epiphany in a comment. Who knows, maybe you'll get cited in my message. :)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I Explain My Tags Again

Christmas has left me a much happier, relaxed, and indolent person. I’ve been enjoying a vacation from pretty much everything—even blogging. But the blog ban could continue only so long, since I normally blog for the pure creative joy of it (and, of course, to keep myself sane). Blogging, like reading, is something I do constantly because I want to. But since I’ve been away for several days, I thought it best to take an easy route back in. Prepare yourself for a blow-by-blow, pseudo tech post.

A couple months ago, I broke out tags here on the blog—to the delight of a few techie insiders. Most of you were unmoved, however. But is still pulling its weight, an ingenious system that I use to index everything I write, and make it navigable. (If you haven’t already noticed, has made its presence felt here; check out the link at the top of the sidebar, the “My Categories” menu further down, and the “Filed in” tags that appear under each post. is ubiquitous.)

Back when I implemented, I set about explaining the “tags,” or labels, that I use to file my posts—and I made it about half-way through. I’m not sure if anyone is anxiously waiting for the sequel to I Explain My Tags, but here it comes, ready or not.

You’ll probably want to thank me later, so I’m saying in advance, Don’t mention it. No one salivates over the Table of Contents, but what would you do without it? I mean, other than read random posts on a semi-weekly basis. (Just kidding.)

:: Continued from I Explain My Tags ::

In the Bittersweet equation, joy is subversive and appears in strange places. It also gets the last laugh.

Lifeview posts tend to present a big-picture snapshot of life, aiming for an over-arching idea or metaphor. They often urge us to get our heads screwed on straight.

My wife refuses to write her own posts, so I generally have to write them for her. So far, she still likes me.

Paradox is at the heart of bittersweetness. Essentially, I argue that believable paradox is the test of every wanna-be religion or worldview. Can system x account for the nuanced, mysterious texture of life down here, and the way that we experience our joy and pain, good and evil, all jumbled together? (Bittersweetness can.)

BitterSweetLife is a good-natured blog with aspirations to profundity. With disarming candor, the blog admits that philosophy is not its area of expertise, but it occasionally ventures into speculation that is more philosophic in nature than anything else.

I take pictures. The idea is, you look at the photos, and then try to find fitting words of appreciation. (BitterSweetLife began as a photoblog.)

While I would never claim to be a “poet,” I do write the occasional poem. Usually they illustrate an aspect of bittersweetness. What more can I say? Lindsay likes them.

Some posts are driven by a thorny issue or compelling point of inquiry. This is especially the case in the Blogger Limelight series, which invite community participation.

Before I took up English, I spent a year of my life in Pre-Med. The fascination with Biology (and Physics) is still with me, although now it’s purely a hobby. “Science” is a catch-all tag for topics (i.e. the human brain, evolution, unseen dimensions) that are generically scientific.

Inherent to any discipline (i.e. Microbiology, Forensics, Philosophy, Theology) is a certain amount of speculation in advance of the facts. It’s unavoidable. We try to fill the holes of the unknown with the bricks of the discovered. I think it’s only honest to admit when I’m doing it.

My life is not extremely eventful, so I’ll often try to recount a fairly pedestrian incident in a way that makes it seem significant and exciting. Hey, it’s the least I can do for you readers. ;)

Despite accusations to the contrary, I’m definitely not one of the many techies running around loose in cyberspace. If I was, I would be making a lot more money than I am now. But sometimes I write a post that deals with code or tools (like that even I can understand.

When technical upgrades arrive at BitterSweetLife, or when popularity spikes again, I’m not one to withhold the good news.

Sometimes I get in a strange mood and begin writing about writing. Often, it’s self-diagnostic, since I’m trying to finally figure out how to write good. You didn’t actually think this tag would apply to every post, did you?


And now my tags are fully explained. The way has been paved for more entries in the BitterSweet catalog. Now go and do some tagging of your own.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Health

Christmas can restore mystery and sanity

It seems only right to post one more time before Christmas arrives.

You should know that I faced my final exams bravely, and fought well. I did not emerge unscathed, but the doctors say I will recover. Particularly, it is the mental wounds that will need to heal. The contingencies of "study" and "must-know-content" will have to be wiped away through a treatment of rest and resolve. I need to forget, and then to press on. I must gain distance from my scribbled essay notes, then journey into a climate that can only be called mysterious.

I am told that the Ghost that haunts this season will help my recovery, if I am quiet and alert. Prayer, I am told, is the key to sight. It will open the hidden door of Christmas, and I will walk through, and contemplate the beauty at the heart of the story. The noise will fade, and I will see Christ.

I hope you see him too, this year. Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Christmas We Miss

"You are the God who works wonders…" Psalm 77, The Bible

Christmas is wonder-filled. There’s the confetti-snow, jingling bells and posturing Hollywood stars, not to mention the Staple's Commercials and Polar animation. Then there’s the real vintage stuff, Bing Crosby, that Kringle guy, and the little kid and his BB gun.
But this is not wonder.

Crazed by genuine Trivial Pursuit, our society goes berserk this time of year:
Here, have a new Care Bear,™ try on this GAP™ sweater with matching scarf and nose ring. Desperate shoppers, linked by a common bond of frustration, tell each other wordlessly, This is madness.

And it is. But so what? Beneath a veneer of Sponge Bob™ and the correct vocabulary one should use to describe this season, Christmas is still about wonder.


Imagine yourself alone. You stand on a windswept hilltop, far from city lights, and anchor yourself in the center of a shadowed silence. Only the wind sighs, tugging at your coat, and then—flick—a solitary star winks on in the night. You watch it hover, draw closer, then bank like a silent helicopter and float away, westward, like an animal asking you to follow. The star hums a melody that you feel rather than hear. Since when are stars happy?


A recent song runs, “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy…” But what of the wonders within our galaxy? What if we forget, for the moment, the Milky Way and distant nebula, and consider the living Truth that intersected with earth? Christ’s proximate, earthbound miracle is enough to stun the senses.


Imagine the journey’s end. The star had its way with you; really, who could have denied that celestial invitation? And now, how can you explain the illogical warmth of this night, like invisible fire flaring from icy cobblestones? A golden light illuminates each face in the drafty shack. You feel forced to silence by the awful air of mystery; are there ghosts here?—or rather, those hidden beings, angels—are they nearby? And yet, you must speak! Breathing in is like sipping wine, a heady, bubbling, joy. You look down at the child and irrepressible buoyancy collides with epic significance, melding like a bittersweet fragrance. So you open your mouth, and wonder what will come out. Laughter? A sob? Whatever you said then, it was somehow fitting, and, like the air, golden


“Such knowledge is too high, I cannot grasp it”(Psalm 139:6), admitted the psalmist of God’s presence everywhere. What would he have said of the God who entered our world? And not merely to ghost through it, taking a look around—but a God who submitted to our corrupt social systems, breathed air sweeping off a mountain lake, and shouted down those who wanted him dead? A God whose mere birth was a threat to the establishment—his nativity as good as his own death warrant?


You step outside, returning to courtyard air. Somewhere, a dog barks. Overhead hangs a satisfied star, eloquent in its silence. Inside, a hungry child sparks wonder with his cries. Inside, where just moments ago laughter had welled up and tears had fallen into freezing air—there had been an unanswerable question: Why? And now the question remains. It always will, you think, all the more beautiful for its irrationality. Why is he here? What reason can there be?—and still, He Was.


“I wonder as I wander,” penned songwriter John Niles, and his words are fitting.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.
For poor, ornery people
like you and like I
I wonder as I wander
Out under the sky.

Christmas, for me, bears kinship with one of Frost’s “winter” poems, and the forest that seems to call him with a mysterious voice, deeper-than-sound…
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

In a similar way, Christmas calls to me—silently, ceaselessly. The mystery of Christmas can swallow a person whole. How can one confront this true story? I may as well ask the unfathomable question, Why did Christ come down? "Well, because He loves us." Yes, but why? An unbearably sweet secret. And so there is enough wonder in Christmas to satisfy our senses, more than enough. In fact, there is too much wonder, like brushing at a grey-blue sky with my fingertips. How can we reply, then, to a gift greater than earth and sky?

Two millennia ago, foreign nobles replied as best they could, following an unseasonable star hundreds of miles. Leaving sweeping dunes behind, they sloshed at last through city muck, carrying a king’s ransom. And
then what did they do? The only thing they could—they and a few more, Joseph and Mary, shepherds, other nearby lives; they did what they could.

Worshipped. Worshipped and

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Crux of Christmas

Christ: Not just the first syllable, but the center

My slavery to final exams continues, but tomorrow it will end. At that time I plan on posting something substantial, along with doing other things, like having a life again. In the meantime, I’m sharing two of my favorite quotes about Jesus Christ. These are the sort I like to just read and contemplate. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread of something that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
- G.K. Chesterton

He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of god. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms. His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine. No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break, his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell. He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism he has all of our stark realists soundly beaten. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples feet, yet masterfully he strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in his eyes. He saved others, yet at the last himself he did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.
- James Stewart, Scottish theologian

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Objective Christmas Beauty

I’ve been spending my days playing music by John Rutter and Windham Hill, and looking wistfully out the window. I sip hot drinks and try to gloss over the fact that I’m spending the days leading up to Christmas studying for my final exams. I hope I never have to deal with an academic schedule like this again; as worthwhile as it is to learn about the origins of the crusades, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Emperor Charlemagne, and other assorted artifacts of pre-Reformation history, there are things I’d rather be thinking about. Like Christ himself.

As it is, I’m posting some pictures to help dispel my frustration. I went out and took these on my seminary grounds after my second-to-last exam yesterday. Photography is a good way of emphasizing that this time of year, and what it stands for, really is objectively wonderful, even if I’m not particularly free to savor it yet. By Thursday at 12:30, however, I'll have gained my freedom.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Found: One Dead Exam

I just ran into my Theology 1 Final in a small classroom and shot it dead. Of course, it's better not to make statements like this because they beg to be eaten later. But my essay felt good, solid A-caliber. Earlier in the semester, I wrote a research paper that dealt with the exam's central topic - Process Theology - and it definitely helped.

Process Theology, and the Whiteheadian system that spawned it, have been fairly presented and then debunked with scathing irony. Now I have just one exam left (on Thursday, ridiculously enough). Bear with me while I celebrate.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mysterious Answers to Prayer

Are you in the Blogger Limelight?

Q: How do you know when your prayers are answered?
A: When nothing happens!

Oswald Chambers seems to be saying something similar to this very thing when he writes:

If God is taking us into the understanding that prayer is for the glorifying of His Father, He will give us the first sign of His intimacy—silence. The devil calls it unanswered prayer.

On the surface, this is perplexing.

The most fitting response I can make to Oswald Chambers’ assertion is to say, There are silences and there are silences. Otherwise, we are left with the nonsensical concept that if we want God’s answers to prayer, we can get them now—without praying. Silence that is broken by prayer and then resumes hardly seems consequential. But what if there are different kinds of silence?

When I was a youngster, I would lounge around on humid August days, listening to the radio, shooting free throws in our driveway, doing whatever—until I exhausted all conceivable recreational possibilities. Then I might go flop down in the grass and wait for something, anything, to happen. It would be hot, boring, and—besides the occasional car or friend approaching—it would be quiet. This is one kind of silence: the silence of nothing happening.

The other kind has been described in various ways. Chaim Potock touches on it in The Gift of Asher Lev:
How velvety the silence, how feather-soft the stillness of calmly anticipated astonishments!

We’ve all felt something like this. An expectant quiet emerges, a silence that is merely the veneer for fascinating activity—the precursor to a gasp or an exclamation. I feel it as a kind of hushed drama on cold winter nights, when I walk outside and see snowflakes spiraling out of a moonlit sky. All around me, something is happening. Or something has just happened, or is about to. In the delicious air of excitement, distinctions like these run together.

A silence of this second kind is rare, and it creates something else: an internal quiet. As C.S. Lewis says, “There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places.” Real, holistic quiet, then, is all the more desirable. Sometimes it takes a very big thing or a very surprising event to trick us into observing it.

This is why prayer to GOD can end in silence. When Christ approaches, his presence makes words and questions of secondary importance. We prayed for one thing—maybe we asked a single, desperate question—and we find ourselves getting something unexpected in return.

We may find ourselves standing in a kind of spiritually-created vacuum, with the constant questions of life extracted. In their place is something we are not accustomed to. Mysterious, huge, a charged stillness. Perhaps we sense great spaces stretching away, but the expanse is listening. It is linked to our heartbeat. There is a gigantic meaning in the absence of speech, but we are not sure yet what it is. If we wait, and listen, and trust, we will learn the secret meaning. In the meantime, we are tempted to simply call it “silence.”

Sometimes, silence is just the way we describe a nearby God when we have not yet learned to see him.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

End of the Campaign

After all the hoopla generated around here by the 2005 Weblogs Awards, I feel the need to bring the story to a fitting conclusion. As many of you know, BitterSweetLife was a definite dark horse contestant at first. That was before readers began pulling their weight. Once you all started voting (you did vote, right?), this blog rapidly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Other finalists struggled to suppress their feelings of concern and panic as they sensed BitterSweetLife jetting up from behind.

In the end, several early leaders were eclipsed by this blog. Others were given serious scares. Throughout the campaign (which I conducted with mixed feelings), I held out a top five finish as the ending par excellence. And you almost did it.

In the final hours of voting, the gap between BitterSweetLife and the eventual fifth-place winner was whittled from an imposing 50 votes to a mere 26. There wasn't quite enough fuel in the tank to close the gap - but I'm content. Number 6 out of 15 is a respectable finish, and fairly fitting for an Indie style spirituality blog that will never go mainstream.

Besides, BitterSweetLife picked up assets other than e-votes. This blog made some new friends and got closer to some old ones. A few new readers jumped on the bandwagon (it's more like a Radio Flyer) and some previously unknown readers stepped forward to be counted. All told, the Weblogs Awards gave me a chance to meet some cool new people and be amazed, once more, that you all really read this stuff. Not to mention that campaigning, despite the dubious joys of shameless self-promotion, was a welcome diversion from my final term papers.

A big Thank You goes out to everyone involved! And for anyone who is struggling to find a sense of closure, remember, there's always next year.

:: Campaign Contributors ::

Semicolon (originally nominated this blog!)
Diary of an Indolent
Jay Adkins Blog
Ninja Poodles
Relevant Magazine
Chasing the Wind
The Vocabulary Reclamation Project

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Inaudible Answers to Prayer? (Blogger Limelight)

Sometimes you read something that makes you pause and examine your assumptions about spiritual experience. I had one of these moments yesterday when I read this quote by Oswald Chambers:

If God is taking us into the understanding that prayer is for the glorifying of His Father, He will give us the first sign of His intimacy—silence. The devil calls it unanswered prayer.

My initial reaction was direct and visceral. Chambers was giving in to a penchant for overstatement—and he was wrong. To say that “silence” is a reasonable answer to prayer seems to come dangerously close to incoherency. But for some reason, however, Chambers' assertion stuck with me.

That’s why I’m offering the above quote as a Blogger Limelight topic. (If you’re wondering how Blogger Limelight works to provoke thought, discussion, and extra blog traffic, read the Blogger Limelight explanation.)

What do you make of Chambers' statement? Do you violently disagree? Or does his assertion contain some truth? If so, how much—a few grains, or a whole sackful? At the bottom of this is the question of what we actually should expect, experientially, when we pray to God the Father.

Any thoughts? Mine are percolating…


Wondering how this works?

1. Write a post on the above topic.
2. Link back (see code below) with the button.
3. Leave a comment so others can read your take.

Voila, instant Limelight.

Here's the code you'll need to link back.

<a href=""><img src="" border="0" alt="Are you in the Blogger Limelight?" title="Are you in the Blogger Limelight?"/></a>

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

A World Beyond Time and Study Breaks

Heaven: A World Beyond Time

Today I was thinking about how inconvenient it is that we have to take recesses. From anything. The human machine is not a very efficient one.

I’ve been studying for my History of Christianity final, and after several hours of outlining and reading, I had to break up the monotony. (I fled to my usual refuge in times of academic pain: P.D. James.)

I had to deal with the reality that a change of pace is necessary to the continued porosity of my brain, not to mention my general outlook. After you’ve outlined eight or so full-length essay questions which may or may not be on the final, your perspective on life is not what it should be. It’s for this reason that trivial things like foosball and one liners exist. We need them to make the weighty aspects of life (like basketball and essays) more bearable.

The funny thing is, I can imagine a life where breaks are not necessary, and where doing the same, serious thing for a long period of time is not only possible, but exciting. For example, I could see myself settling down and writing a novel in one sitting. Why not? If my back didn’t start aching, and apartment-claustrophobia didn’t set in, writing my first book might be accomplished in, say, 4 months? (I’m a fast writer.) Not only would the style be seamless, the writing would probably get better and come easier as it went along.

Or think of something more active. Like basketball. I could easily see myself playing basketball for two or three weeks at a time. During week one, as I shook off the rust, I would settle for simple chest passes and mid-range jump shots. Week two would see me stepping back to nail threes and slashing inside for lay-ups as I regained my inside-outside game. I’d also drop some shiny dimes. By week three I would be doing whatever I wanted, bouncing passes off opposing players—the dominant, complete player, that I occasionally am for ten-minute stretches. After three weeks or so, there would have been so many highlight-reel plays compiled that all of the players would want to grab some icy drinks and talk trash for awhile. Say another seven to ten days.

By that time, I might be in the mood to kick back and do a little reading. I would lay in a supply of dark coffee beans, and get started on my reading list. The Brothers Karamazov (for the second time) would go down first, followed by the rest of Augustine’s Confessions (I’ve only read the first two “books”). Next I’d devour For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway, and then George MacDonald’s Curdie books to get my spirits back up. In the interests of more contemporary literature, I’d finally get around to reading Ravi Zacharias’ The Real Face of Atheism and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. For about 8 days, the only sound would be the regular flipping of pages, interrupted every several hours by the noise of coffee beans getting ground up.

By then, Lindsay and I would want to get out of the house. We would pack a few things and go hiking for a couple years, hitting the Himalayas, the Rockies, the Outback, and maybe the Amazon jungle for good measure.

Yeah, I’d have many uses for a more efficient human being. What becomes obvious is that time would have to become more efficient as well. There would have to be more of it. Unlimited supplies, actually. If I had the ability to function flawlessly, I would need eternity to do it in. Eighty years or so would be a laughable tenure for an indestructible, indefatigable body.

As final exams reveal the cracks in my powers of concentration, the appeal of heaven is growing all the time. No more restrictions on how long we can do worthwhile things. No more “stepping away” from dense theology to “unwind” with an action / adventure movie. No more unwinding at all. When we move from one pastime to the next, we will do so because we are ready. Finally, we will have bodies that can pursue really good things indefinitely.

When I arrive in heaven, maybe I will spend a century or so just starting to get acquainted with Jesus. More likely, whatever else I do, the “getting acquainted” phase will be going on all the time. That will never really end.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Narnia Review and the Final Blog Battle

As I begin my painstaking climb toward Final Exam readiness, I thought I'd toss a couple links your way.

First, here's a perceptive take on the recent Narnia film, offered by Oneway at HiFi. His review is right on, and pretty refreshing. I think you'll like it.

And second, the 2005 Weblogs Awards battle has reached its final stage. There's a substantial but bridgeable gap between BitterSweetLife and the next contestant. It's conceivable that your last-ditch voting efforts will give this blog a highly sought after top five finish. Regardless of the final tally, thanks for all the support. It's been fun.

And now, back to the books...

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What We Are Like - Knowing Ourselves on the Spiritual Journey

People and dialogue described in the above picture are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The other day, when I was ostensibly researching a dreaded 20-page paper, I stumbled across an article which, in the moment, seemed much more interesting. I printed it out, read it with some fascination, and then dangled it, carrot-like, on my coffee table until the moment when I would finish my real assignment.

As you have probably guessed, that moment has arrived. It’s time to celebrate. In a Christian Century article titled “A Strange Silence,” writer Richard A. Busch makes the following observation:

“Someone will introduce himself using the language of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—as an introvert or extrovert, a feeler or thinker, a sensor or intuitive. Faces light up. Most people understand this shorthand interpretive language, and respond by declaring their own personality type.”

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the process of analyzing ourselves seems to hold a magnetic attraction. We like to identify ourselves as this type or that variety of human (or color or animal as the case may be). Judging by a lot of posts, this feeling may be especially pronounced among bloggers.

But regardless of whether bloggers are bigger narcissists than everyone else, I’ve always found the phenomenon of self-assessment revealing. That’s why the language we use to describe ourselves is so interesting.

The “AHA” moment in Busch’s article comes when you realize he is describing a group of Christians—pastors in fact—who tell their stories using vocabularies with a “professional, ecclesiastical, or psychological flavor.” The people whom we would most expect to have holistic, integrated spiritual lives are given to classifying themselves in secular terms.

Why is it that we stress outward doing dimensions over the inward being dimensions when we try to describe what we are like? Talking this way seems ironic; what if enterprising Arctic explorers were to define themselves according to the brands of their parkas? Suppose you met Admiral Perry on an iceberg and asked him what kind of a guy he was:

“Greetings, sir.”
“Hello, young man. Watch the icy crevice on your right.”
“Thanks. What are you doing out here, sir? What kind of a person braves sub-zero temperatures, risking his life to explore these glacial wastelands?”
“Well, I’m a North Face™ man myself.”

The picture would be somewhat incongruous. In a similar way, we tend to sidestep the heart of the identity question when we classify ourselves with buzzwords that make for easy pigeonholing. We hit superficial high points and miss the crucial truths.

Obviously, the language of our culture isn’t designed to express life’s spiritual realities. But an older, truer way of thinking about ourselves, and thereby talking about ourselves, is available. Check out the “self assessment” offered by Paul the theologian:
Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, The Message paraphrase).

This would seem to be a step beyond "extroverted.”

Considering that we are on a spiritual journey toward Christ, what kind of humans are we? What are we really like? And, to bring the issue to a head, what language do you use to qualitatively describe yourself—your personality, your “type,” and most crucially, your experience of life with God?

Is your relationship with Christ in good standing, on probation, or nonexistent? Is the connection strong or weak? Have you heard his voice in recent days? Is there a vital element gone strangely missing?

If we really want to talk about what we are like, the language of personal theology needs to be revived. Where might we find words to help crack the mystery of our personalities? Hint: There are clues in a timeless book.

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Kansas Jayhawks Get First Solid Win

Writing a KU Hoops Post for Phog Blog is a task that demands considerable focus and erudition.

Those of you cool enough to follow NCAA hoops, and Kansas Jayhawk Basketball in particular, may want to take a look at my latest Phog Blog post. I analyze KU's recent win over Cal and attribute it to a surprising source; I also go on briefly about how Brandon Rush could emerge as a Paul Pierce-like, do-everything player, if he can ever put two solid halves together.


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Monday, December 12, 2005

Soothing Urban Blizzard Pictures

I didn’t get called to substitute teach this morning, and so I spent the day completing a 20-page research paper. End of story, right? Just about. I’d like to write something thought provoking and substantial, but I’m afraid of what continued literary effort might do to me. Therefore, since the idea of posting vacuous content is clearly unthinkable, I am slapping up several peaceful, soothing pictures that I took a couple days ago after the Kansas City Blizzard of 2005. Hope you like 'em.

Oh, and I have to say this—thanks to your continued efforts to stuff the ballot box (which is legal in the Weblogs Awards)—BitterSweetLife has moved decisively into sixth place. This blog has actually eclipsed a previous leader. This was unquestionably thanks, in part, to a thoughtful endorsement from young Mimahbean. However, the next contestant is 59 votes ahead. Go get him.

Ok, back to calming urban blizzard pictures.

The night after the Kansas City Blizzard was a good one to be inside, behind solid brick walls, heaters blasting defiantly at the sub-zero world outdoors. But what's this? A shivering figures stands in the snowy alley. Every few moments he stops chafing his hands together for warmth, raises a small, boxy silver object and...takes a picture.

In the eerie, iridescent glow that followed the Kansas City Blizzard, familiar objects take on strange, ghostly hues. Who knows what might lurk above that steel-blue fire escape?

As the shivering, camera-carrying figure watches in mute fascination, a shard of moon comes out from behind a skeletal tree. Simultaneously, the security lamps adorning the old iron fire escape burst into greenish luminescence. With a choking cry, the young photographer flees inside. In the wake of the spectral Kansas City Blizzard, this is no fit night for man or beast.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

BitterSweetLife's Net Worth Explodes

Imagine my surprise when I made my biannual visit to BlogShares to check up on BitterSweetLife, and discovered that a large Floridian sea mammal had bought up most of my shares. Check out the press release:

BitterSweetLife was the subject of much speculation when analysts at several firms were heard to be very positive about it's recent performance. It's share price rose from B$169.77 to B$271.64. Much of the hype was said to originate from Manatee Ventures whose Gospel (artefact) was said to be involved.

Manatee Ventures declined to comment on the recent speculation.

Manatee, I do not know who you are, but I thank you. Of course, thanks is probably the wrong response here; Manatee, I applaud your sound business sense and your affinity for all that is swank and right in this world.

In the exuberant haze that followed the above announcement (and with the expectation of $$ flow from BitterSweetLife’s accelerating net worth) I went shopping and bought some shares in a few of my favorite blogs (those which were readily findable at Blogshares). As a result, I am now part owner of several of your blogs, including…

Infinite Regression
327 Market
Blog Meridian
Phog Blog (of course, I am a "staff writer" here)

I suppose I should admit that these blogs were selling for bargain prices; I now expect you to start linking and writing like crazy so I can turn a tidy profit. If any more of you are involved in this BlogShares racket, let me know so I can go engage in some more speculation.

Oh yeah, and GO VOTE FOR BITTERSWEETLIFE IN THE 2005 WEBLOGS AWARDS. I don’t think I’ve said that yet today. Thanks to your efforts, a top five finish is starting to look doable.

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Thwarted Dreams of Violence

When I started suiting up to go play rugby today, Lindsay pointed out that the wind was “blowing like mad” and I should probably stay home where it was warm and there wasn’t eight inches of frozen slush coating the ground. If only I had listened to her, I could have avoided the horrendous disaster that followed.

OK, not really. But isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when you fail to take your wife’s advice? As it turned out, I should have followed her advice—but not because of the awfulness that ensued.

Instead of simultaneously rupturing a hamstring and shattering my femur on a goal line drive, I arrived at the field and found out that most all my fellow players had chosen this particular snowy, freezing day to get all industrious and go write papers. The nerve of some people.

So instead of playing rugby, I went by Price Chopper and bought some milk and half and half. And now here I am, writing a paper of my own.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

BitterSweet Endorsements


I am a conscientious voter, and I made my way to the polls last night surrounded by armed security guards. When I defiantly cast my vote, and the insta-update flashed up on the screen, I was impressed by the progress you all had made. The gap between BitterSweetLife and the political blogs that lead the pack was steadily closing. A fifth-place finish seemed almost within reach.

Are more ambitious goals conceivable? Clearly. But a magical ending depends on the endorsements of brave and enlightened people at sites like...

  • Jay Adkins Blog - A fellow KC native and all round good guy, and also a contestant in the Weblogs Awards - vote for him here)
  • Chasing the Wind - "Nonsense, news, and faith. Mostly nonsense." You've got to appreciate Michael's humility.
  • Ninja Poodles - One of BitterSweetLife's most vocal and spirited supporters! (As well, Belinda raises poodles, and is obviously deserving of a "most eclectic" award.)
  • Relevant Magazine - A hipster faith/culture mag where I occasionally get stuff published.

Go on. You know you want to add your blog to that list. ;) In the meantime, Keep Up The Good Votes.

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Phantom Music Post

I am in the middle of something very surreal. In my experience, once you have been tagged with a writing assignment, it doesn’t go away until you complete it. That’s why, for over a week now, I’ve been mulling over the project pinned to me by John B. of Blog Meridian. It had something to do with choosing several “favorite songs” and then—and then what?

I’m not sure what I was supposed to do with the favorites, or precisely how many of them I was supposed to pick. In fact, I’m making up the rules as I go along, because the original post is gone! (Or at least very cleverly hidden.) But I feel bound by honor to go on and complete this piece.

I tend to take “best of” lists too seriously, in this case trying to embody the very best of all that music has conveyed to us in the last several decades. Finally, I gave up, played a few albums that have been enjoying favored status lately, and took a few notes.

Now I am able to offer this definitive list of songs that will impoverish your life if they are not part of it. I have decided to list five.

“Hurt,” American IV: The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash

If anything, Cash’s shadowy, half-sung, half-spoken rendition adds weight to the original. His voice is raspy with age, and I can never hear this song without being moved to hope for a redemption beyond pain and loss.

“Faith Enough,” Who We Are Instead, Jars of Clay

The Jars penned a bittersweet ballad in this one, and the paradox of our crazy-lovely world gets me every time. No doubt I’m also influenced by the fact that I am still torn up over Ernest Hemingway’s
A Farewell to Arms, which I finished mere days ago, and from which the Jars pull the quote that inspires this song: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

“Ballad in Plain Red,” I See Things Upside Down, Derek Webb

The Screwtape Letters with an ear for irony, and you get this remarkable song where the devil happily critiques 21st century Churchianity.

just keep selling truth in candy bars
on billboards and backs of cars
truth without context, my favorite of all my crimes

Right on. And the song’s creepiness is only exceeded by its catchiness.

“Reconstruction Site,” Reconstruction Site, The Weakerthans

Ridiculously strong metaphors, dry humor and a certain wistfulness make The Weakerthans a band that gets a lot of playing time around here. The hard part was deciding which song to list. Finally, I settled on the title track from their latest album,
Reconstruction Site. Check out the verve:
I’m lost. I’m afraid. A frayed rope tying down a leaky boat to the roof of a car on the road in the dark, and it’s snowing. If I’m more, then it means less. Last call for happiness. I’m your dress near the back of your knees and your slip is showing.

And in conclusion:
Buy me a shiny new machine that runs on lies and gasoline, and all those batteries we stole from smoke-alarms, and disassembles my despair. It never took me anywhere. It never once bought me a drink.

How can you not love these guys?

“Nightswimming,” In Time, R.E.M.

I had to include something from a band that could arguably be considered “classic.” (Go on and debate if R.E.M. qualifies.) I’ve always liked the longing for simple things expressed in this one—watching a full moon, swimming at night, a childhood that seems far off. Lilting piano work brings out a haunting beauty. This is one rare set of lyrics, in fact, “the only song we’ve ever written where the lyrics came first” (Peter Buck). With good reason.

That completes my phantom music meme. According the rules which I am making up, I don’t have to tag anyone else with it right now. Go give the songs a listen.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Vote, Fight, Win!


Is this what it feels like to be a politician?

BitterSweetLife has taken some strides forward today in the 2005 Weblogs Awards. Loyal reader support has fueled the push. Getting endorsed by Relevant Magazine definitely helped. And hopefully, more endorsements are on the way - yours might be one of them.

That’s right, in the spirit of all-out political aggression, I’m looking for more people who are willing to drive voters to the polls so this blog can win!

If you find that you have it in your heart to post a quick endorsement (with a link to the voting page), be sure and let me know so I can link back to you. Here’s the direct link to my category:

After BitterSweetLife pulls off the come-from-behind win, we’ll all gather at my place for a colossal barbecue…


As long as we're immersed in this political blog frenzy, here are a couple hard-working high-school students who can also use your vote. Check out the Rebelution.

(And don't worry, normal content won't be interrupted for long...just until this blog wins. ;)

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Battle for Blog Supremacy

So, against my better judgment, I've been getting slightly involved in this 2005 Weblogs Awards thing. I've been scouting the opposition a little, counting up the number of staff who contribute to the blogs out in front, and tallying their areas of interest.

In my category, three of the top four blogs are conservative political blogs, which is cool as far as it goes. If you're going to lose, you may as well do it for a good cause. I also noticed that the top vote-getters are engaging in plenty of high-spirited self-promotion on their own sites, which frankly, put my own shameless self-promotion efforts to shame. To try and close the shameless self-promotion gap, I added a banner in the sidebar, but I'm afraid that (as in KU's most recent loss to date) this may be a case of too little too late.

Total domination seems to be pretty much out of reach, but I'm hoping to salvage a middle-of-the-road finish. There are fifteen finalists, and I'm currently hanging around at seventh place. If I finish above tenth, I'll be ecstatic. Obviously, a last place finish would be very embarrassing. Of course, if each of you readers were to vote religiously every 24 hours for the next week, who knows what might happen?

Here's the link you're frantically searching for: Go Vote For BitterSweetLife!

Let's make this magical... ;)

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Spiritual Prayer, Victory in Winter

Spiritual prayer - God says we can ask
Downtown Kansas City has been transformed into this wintry wilderness. If you don't believe that, then just think of climbing a snowfield as a metaphor for completing a very difficult essay.

There are downsides to having a foot of snow fall on your city in just over eight hours. Like when you drive home from work and the ten minute trip takes you 45 minutes. But there are benefits too, like getting snowed in the next day and finishing the research paper that has haunted your life for the past month.

That’s right. My scintillating essay, The Validity of Petitionary Prayer in Three Models of Providence; The Search for a God We Can Take Seriously is now complete. YES! Since I know you are dying to read the paper, here’s a quick excerpt.

Nearly everyone prays. In practice, asking God for specific provisions and outcomes is so ingrained a spiritual reflex that it is difficult to conceive of “prayer” without it. This sterling fact, a derivation of the idea that there are no atheists in foxholes, creates an atmosphere of religious expectation sure to be exploited by any God who can. Any God who can; appearances aside, the phrase is not so much flippant as analytic: Is God able to hear and respond to our requests? Can he be expected to do so? The answer depends on who you ask.

In the course of the paper, I examine three theological systems (the Semi-Deist Model, Process Theology, and Karl Barth’s work) and disparage two of them as inadequate because they don’t let us ask God for help. We humans are ultimately very simple in our hopes for prayer:
William James, attempting to debunk petitionary prayer, suggested stingingly that to ask God for specific amounts of money (as in George Muller’s case) or ask him to help you win a violent battle (as in the case of Robert Lyde, an English sailor) was extraordinarily narrow-minded, “crass” and "primitive." Ironically, a God who could win a bloody skirmish is just the type that most people would prefer to pray to; and if I can ask God for money, I will take him seriously.

We want to believe that God can intervene and help us, and the Bible says this is a reasonable—essential, actually—expectation. The Creator is able to give aid to his creation.

At the moment, I am very appreciative of this fact. Now that I’ve finished this paper, I will start praying for God to help me write my fourth and last one.


Like what you see? Go vote for BitterSweetLife in the 2005 Weblog Awards.

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife