Sunday, December 31, 2006

Photos for the New Year

The Shortest of Photo Essays

I would like the new year to look like this (left).
Bright skies, the horizon clearly demarcated, potential obstacles obvious at a glance. And that completes the wishful thinking portion of this post.

In reality, this is more like it. 2006 was a tough year, and 2007, at this point, looks like a murky year. I know there will be challenges to face, decisions to be made, and marathons to run. It's just hard to see exactly what they will be... Will something exciting transpire? Or will I just keep holding the course?

I guess mist has a certain allure - or that's what I'm telling myself. Whatever I may think, I'm walking with a Guide who sees in the dark and holds history in his palm. A little inclement weather doesn't doesn't make him wince.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Christian Quotes for the New Year

I've been looking at my life (and rolling my eyes) as I mull over some resolutions for the new year. Reflection can have a slightly corrosive effect, which should be expected when you are a person dealing by necessity with a sin nature. How does a Christian approach the prospect of a "clean slate?" (And if the slate is a "merely" hypothetical one, I see no reason to discount it - hypothetical fresh starts being the stuff of sanctification.) We need a nuanced perspective. Gung-ho conviviality is to be applauded, but it must be tempered with grit and resiliency.

I haven't settled on my bold declarations just yet, but here are some guiding lights to condition your expectations and guide your resolutions as 2007 threatens, New Year's help from some very wise people (with my amateur commentary).

It was rather splendid to be wearing a blade made in Gondolin for the goblin-wars of which so many songs had sung; and also he had noticed that such weapons made a great impression on goblins that came upon them suddenly.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter. - J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Hobbit

When a journey lies ahead, there's much to be said for simply getting on with it.
No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell. - Flannery O’Connor

Every story has its dragons, and probably every year of life. Dragons should be faced with courage, not whimpering, because dragons eat milquetoast types for breakfast. However, even a brave hobbit has a fighting chance.
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
Valiantly grasping occasions and not cravenly doubting—
Freedom comes only through deeds,
not through thoughts taking wing.
Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action,
trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow;
freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Stages on the Road to Freedom”

It is better to live in the storm, with all its confusion and rushed decisions, than to lie in the storm cellar and wait for things to calm down. (They won't.) Faith coalesces in action.
Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them. - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The unforeseen and unpredictable can be exciting if we have learned to take God more seriously than we take ourselves. When this happens, we have learned the secret of strong humility, of God-blessed swagger.
We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. - C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis

The li
mited alignment of our eyesight and God's sovereign goodness is the source of much bittersweet pain in life. Therefore, we brace ourselves, knowing that the cost of heavenly joy will be earthly sorrow, but that in the end, we will have no lingering regrets. Death, pain and loss have already been defeated, and while "on earth you will have tribulations," things are not always what they seem:
Blessing is at the end of the road. And that which is at the end of the road influences everything that takes place along the road. The end shapes the means. As Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience In the Same Direction

Only a fool would forget the direction and nature of his travel, but we are all fools at one time or another. What a relief it is to remember again what it is we're doing here, and why we keep on moving: "Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."

May your new year and mine be infused with gutsy humility, trust despite our pain, and action in the face of dragons.


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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Faith Like a Child

Simplicity Takes Humility

Aidan James Vanderhorst
How difficult it becomes to be basic, in the way that a child is basic. Each year the distance lengthens but there is still a great Back Then that we can all refer to: Motives were simple and seldom unexpressed. Thoughts tended to be crude but clear. Actions took place without Hamlet-like deliberation. Regret, when it came, was simple—to be sad was to cry. Joy, when it arrived, was plain in a beatific sense. To be happy was to laugh and smile. Trust was instinctual.

Only later in life does living become so veiled, so etched with conflicting emotions, so complicated. We’ve reached the Here & Now, which means, in case you missed it, that we have become older and wiser, but in some ways we have been reduced. We have gotten older and smaller at the same time, and now we are smaller than the three and four-year-olds we were.

Truisms are doubted, not because they have been found false but because they have been found childlike. Sayings like If God doesn’t give me what I want, it’s because he has something better are considered too simple, too purely speculative, to be of much use. Surely it’s like admitting defeat to seize maxims as basic as this. Surely we can see further into God’s purposes. Surely being a Christian doesn’t require trust that leaves so many questions on the table. But the echoes of early days are not entirely gone…

Maybe God’s favorite graces are designed with children in mind. There are reasons to think so, like the fact that God said so when he was down here, and I am starting to think I should believe him. Maybe Jesus wants humble followers and not know-it-alls with smarmy grins.

I’m uncomfortable with the humility it takes to embrace simplicity in faith. Rejoice in all things and Do not worry about tomorrow sound like easy outs. Maybe that is because they are intended to be that way, heavenly escapes so easy that only a child will grasp them, and maybe I am a fool for walking away.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Is Time an Illusion?

No, But It's Not Absolute Either:
Chronos Time vs. Kairos Time, Doing vs. Being

The mythical/biblical categories of chronos time and kairos time stare at us out of scripture, splintery fence slats next to an open door, but we usually miss them. We learn of these created elements through the medium of the Greek language—which adds an ironic, exotic tang to these ever present realities. We mistake them for an elixir, decanted on rare occasions; they were intended more as water.

In their commonsense meanings, the two words vary enough to be at least mildly interesting: Chronos is chronological, or elapsed time—the sequence of moments inevitably slipping by. Kairos is an appointed time, a specified season—time with particularity. So chronos is your life; kairos is your birthday. But there’s more to these types than that.

Living out chronos is the inevitable result of being human and being alive at the same time, but it takes divinity for kairos to occur. Chronos (I’m dropping the italics now) we understand with dizzying clarity. It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day, a hive of methodically buzzing hornets that drives us to distraction. Chronos is often tedious, an unremarkable fence that runs beside the road no matter where we go.

Kairos has less to do with activity and more to do with being. When kairos enters, the lines of chronos blur. When kairos breaks into our existence, by the grace of God, we taste the sweet flavor of concentrated life. We breathe the pure air of self-forgetfulness and remember what we’ve forgotten: that we are creatures in relation to a Creator, that we have eternal names, and that God did not make our souls on a conveyor belt. We step into the shadow of Christ himself, whose arrival and life is the ultimate expression of kairos. Kairos is an opening door.

The alignment of chronos with spatial, sequential action is not absolute, but it becomes more so, I think, as we grow older. For a child, to act is often to forget oneself, and enter kairos. The baby who plays is not carrying out a cold march of the hours. Aidan bounces up and down on my knee, laughing, and I see a human who is freely enjoying the grace of his creation. For children, to run and jump and perform “serious” tasks is often a far cry from the rigid functionality that sets in later, and takes the happy levity out of doing.

One part of growing older—and surely not the best part—is learning to discover sweet moments of kairos in quieter settings. Playing is not as easy as it was; self-forgetfulness is harder to come by. Often it takes a concerted effort to simply be still, stop moving, and embrace the mysterious reality of being a child of God. Kairos, when it comes, is mysterious, like the incarnation; we do not always know how and why it got here—but I think it is hard to miss when it does come. Kairos brings blessing and renewal without full diagnostic specs and we do not complain.

I think it is a worthy goal, if an unattainable one, to aim for a correspondence of chronos and kairos, to act with the brave freedom of a confirmed servant, and make this condition persist over time. This is what it means, at heart, to “be” a poet or to “be” a saint. I look at Jesus, and see the marks of miraculous synthesis everywhere. His actions are at once unrestrained and calm. He possesses full self-knowledge but is not ill at ease. He is omnipotent but remains a child—and these qualities mark all 33 years; they do not emerge on just his good days.

Others have their moments: Peter walks on water, then forgets who and where he is, and falters. David dances before the ark of God, but the cordons of self-focus direct him to Bathsheba. Paul exchanges a visionary experience of undiluted kairos for a thousand miles of dusty roads and beatings, chronos tugging at his heart like gravity. And me? I find kairos in a morning of rare quiet and lose it on the drive to work. Or I catch kairos in the wind on a clear, bright day and forget it is still there when my hike is over.

I wish my life was punctuated with kairos more frequently, and with greater duration. I long to grasp these moments of high reality, and hold on.

Chronos is necessary to this world. A frame is necessary to a painting. But one day chronos will crumble into dust, and kairos will billow to fill all of existence. Then I suspect that we will sympathize with C.S. Lewis’s character Ransom, in Perelandra, who enters the reaches of deep space braced for a cold, bleak wasteland—and finds instead a rich suffusion of beauty and power beyond the limits of earth-bound expectations.

When Christ says, “Well done…enter the joy of your Master,” then chronos will fizzle like a Salvador Dali clock. We will still do things in heaven. We will still have time. But it will be the limitless, malleable, renewing expanse of pure kairos. Decay and loss and dry repetition will give way to mysterious life, the night sky melted by morning.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Renewal

I Don't Just Want To Celebrate, I Want To Be Changed

I'm entering that time of the year when the "priority," or perhaps the "necessity" is to slow down and find the deeper, truer Christmas currents running beneath the tinsel, crowded parking lots and blinking lights. I want to embrace some things that are elusive, that, apart from the renewing presence of Jesus himself, threaten to be lost. I'm looking for strong hope, enduring joy, and wonder, and - as the manic commercial buzz inadvertently reveals at every turn - not even a new Acura or a better painkiller will do it.

As far as the mad rush of the season goes, I'm clocking out. I hope you can do the same. Defy the culture and your own surface instincts to discover what we all really need: A God who was born into our race, lived in poverty and died, not to give us prosperity and self-esteem, but to raise us from the dead and give us the hearts of happy children.

In a perfect world, everyone who's read this blog over the past year would be receiving a C.S. Lewis anthology, some coffee, and a subscription to ESPN Fullcourt in the mail...but this world isn't perfect yet, is it? So instead, I refer you to a post that some of you have enjoyed in the past. Embrace The Christmas We Miss, by the grace of Jesus, and have a very Merry Christmas!


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Friday, December 22, 2006

Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge is a Go

Christmas Comes Early

For you avid college hoops fans, this may come as old news. But it needs to be duly noted, with appropriate rejoicing: Rumors of a Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge, which have been circulating talk shows and internet message boards for roughly the last five years, have now been confirmed.

There will be a Big 12/Pac-10 men’s basketball challenge next season.

“It’s going to happen,” Big 12 associate commissioner John Underwood told the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.

...KU’s game in the first Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge could be the Jayhawks’ return trip to Southern California, which is already on the 2007-08 schedule. Or it could be a matchup against Arizona at Allen Fieldhouse, with KU traveling to Tucson the following year.
The Pac-10 also includes storied teams UCLA and Stanford. This arrangement will make for some great match-ups. I can only hope that the Big 12 will win a majority of their games, as opposed to the Big 10, who gets buffed and glossed every year in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge Waxjob.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Angels Sang & Suspected the Truth

Heaven's Loss Was Our Gain

I wonder if the angels already knew. Certainly they must have guessed? For how else could a man ever leave this dying earth, even if he was the Son of God? The rustics in the fields felt, plain and simple, a fiery terror, and then—miraculous reversal!—a heraldic joy that put wings on their heels, gave them lighter feet than Hermes ever had. Decades of bone-bruising camps and flesh-numbing winds fell away like dirty wool at shearing.

They had burning news, a colossal scoop; they were God-ordained paparazzi of the ancient world. No one before or after them would have a story this big dumped in their ragged laps, and they knew it. Once they brushed the dust off their faces and picked the sandburs from of their beards, the shepherds rushed off.

For the angels it was different.

For once, they stayed behind—or if they traveled overhead, invisible, they were a degree removed from the shortsighted hurry of human joy. The angels could not ignore the corridor of years that stretched away from the Bethlehem epicenter. Did they grasp the fullness of the Father’s plan? Or were they left in the half-light of revelation, baffled by causation and conjecture?

Whatever else they knew, they could not ignore the fact that no one arrives here, in this Vegas of the universe, without paying out more than they can afford. It is a painful understatement to say that No one on earth gets undiluted joy. And now Jesus, who they loved, was here, and in men’s clothing. It could not be taken off without a long day’s dying, without the gradual erosion of a life.

The angels smiled and sang. They rode the wind, they banked over the shepherds, jumping into visibility with a roar, and their joy made the icy pastures a roaring, floodlit stadium. But behind the blazing news was the worshipful, baffled grief of servants who wondered why their Master took this love for Adam’s race to such extremities.

They sang and they smiled. They marveled and whispered, and, quietly, they wept.

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Interview with Andree Seu

I've just discovered that Mindy Withrow has interviewed one of my favorite active writers, Andre Seu. Enlightening stuff, and I was happy to discover that Andree and I have some things in common that surely go beyond mere coincidence...

Have you ever attended (as a student) a writing course or workshop?
No. Unless you count an informal “apprenticeship” under my neighbor Beth. She moved into the house next door about 15 years ago and dropped an exquisite poem in my mailbox on the occasion of Hae Linn’s lost baby tooth. That started a “box” tradition — furtive, midnight exchanges of poems, essays, and short stories across the driveway. She is today a many times over published author...

Check. This is promising.

Do you keep a journal?
No, but I want to start doing that. I think that since it seems my niche in the news magazine is resident thumb-sucker (as opposed to pavement-pounder), it would be beneficial to keep a running record of the things God is whispering to me. You think you will just remember something and then you don’t.

The last couple sentences in that answer express my concerns too. And that line about "resident thumb-sucker?" Exactly!

Have you always wanted to write, or was it an unexpected development in your life?
It was never my goal to be a writer. My debut in the writing world was a providential fluke (to coin a phrase God may only be half pleased with): One day I wrote a little essay for my own amusement and sent it to my brother. He sent it to WORLD and the Lord had mercy on this soon-to-be widow and gave me favor in the eyes of the editor. Easiest job I ever got.

Hmm. So maybe our stories aren't quite so congruent... I will have to craft my own route to bookish fame and fortune. ;)

Hat tip to Brandywine Books.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

C.S. Lewis Quotes on Christmas

I want to post some original Christmas musings if time allows, but for now, you'll have to content yourselves with some Christmas thoughts from C.S. Lewis. (Which is kind of like telling the guy looking for a wall poster that he'll need to be content with a Van Gogh.) Enjoy the rich profundity herein:

I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children. - Letters to an American Lady

Not quite what you were expecting, eh? I'm sorry to have to break it like this, but I had to find some way to tell you loyal readers not to expect any presents this year. I do find it a relief that Lewis felt the same way about Christmas as I do, and as most all of us do, if we live in the North American ghetto of Xbox-carrying Santa.

However, keep in mind that C.S. Lewis glowingly portrayed Santa Claus Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He arrives on the scene in Narnia just as the ice is beginning to thaw, and gives amazing presents to three of the Pevensie children (for extra points, name them, and explain why one Pevensie was excluded...)
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn. – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

So Lewis certainly wasn't immune to the joy of a heartily celebrated C
hristmas, so long as the jollity was for the right reasons.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Check the New Header

I finally got around to working up a new header graphic. How's it look?

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Original Sin, P.D. James (Book Review)

James' Expose of Ancestral Evil Nets a Coveted A
Original Sin by P.D. James
Whenever I talk about P.D. James' mystery writing it's at the risk of sounding redundant. Nevertheless, the Master Book List is growling to be fed, and intellectual honesty compels me to keep telling you about great books when I read them. I know, I know, you can never repay me, can't thank me enough, etc. But it's almost Christmas after all. Think of it as a gift under your e-tree. (Ba-duh-bum!) And now, as I hear voices pleading with me to get on with it, for the review.

If someone asked me why I routinely read at least one
P.D. James mystery book a semester (while they last), I would try to describe James’s pin-point characterizations, the Dickensian way she sweeps large sections of society and history into her novels, her unflinching snapshots of human depravity, the bittersweet magnetism of Adam Dalgliesh, her main protagonist, and the Christian worldview which informs all of this.

I would throw in, by way of added incentive, the fact that James writes suspenseful page-turners that keep you awake when you should be studying Greek—and that this very fact can preserve your sanity—but I still wouldn’t feel like I had done her justice.Cover Her Face by P.D. James

In the end, I would probably just tell you to start with the first Adam Dalgliesh mystery, and later I would email you a couple paragraphs of James’s prose, with the idea that showing is better than telling. Look at the way that transcendent gratitude assails a detective on the balcony of her loft apartment:
She would wake in the morning to the cry of gulls and step out into this cool white emptiness. Standing now she felt an extraordinary impulse which had visited her before and which she thought must be as close as she could ever get to a religious experience. She was possessed by a need, almost physical in its intensity, to pray, to praise, to say thank you, without knowing to whom, to shout with a joy that was deeper than the joy she felt in her own physical well-being and achievements or even in the beauty of the physical world. - Original Sin, 115

See how sobriety sneaks into religious chit-chat:
“There were a dozen different religions among the children at Ancroft Comprehensive. We seemed always to be celebrating some kind of feast or ceremony. Usually it required making a noise and dressing up. The official line was that all religions were equally important. I must say that the result was to leave me with the conviction that they were equally unimportant. I suppose if you don’t teach religion with conviction it becomes just one more boring subject. Perhaps I’m a natural pagan. I don’t go in for this emphasis on sin, suffering and judgement. If I had a God I’d like Him to be intelligent, cheerful and amusing.”
He said: “I doubt whether you’d find him much of a comfort when they herded you into the gas chambers. You might prefer a god of vengeance.” - Original Sin, 232

Since this post was ostensibly a review of Original Sin, I should mention a few specifics. As you might guess, central to James storyline is the way that ancestral sin continues to ravage the lives of later generations, and the reality that hidden evils are not allowed to remain hidden (“Be sure your sins will find you out”). Of course, ancient skeletons emerging from family closets are the stock in trade of most mystery writers—but few to none bring the shattering futility of revenge and human “justice” to light like P.D. James. This book nets a strong A grade.

Original Sin finds Adam Dalgliesh playing a quieter role; James doesn’t spare her protagonists the effects of realism, and Dalgliesh is aging. His character appears almost monolithic in the way that his supporting cast moves to accommodate him. Full allowance is made for both Dalgliesh’s genius and his eccentricities, and I came away wondering what it will take to jolt him from a well-worn path of solitude, cynicism, and self-sufficiency.

No doubt James has an answer.

Is it listed on the Master Book List, you wonder? Verily. This review also reclines, in edited form, in the Christian Book Lounge.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

This Kid Moves Fast (Weekend Photos)

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Writing Like Madeleine L'Engle

A Lesson in Literary Conviction
from the Author of A Wrinkle in Time

Coming off a knock-down, drag-out battle with my final exams, I picked up Walking On Water, Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L'Engle. It's a kind of therapy. This is from page 36:

We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually. Yet another reason why [A Wrinkle in Time] was so often rejected is that there are many words in it which would never be found on a controlled vocabulary list for the age-group of the ten-to-fourteen-year-old. Tesseract, for instance. It's a real word, and one essential for the story.

Of course, the saga turned out well for L'Engle, who saw Wrinkle not only get published, but go on to become a Newbery Medal winner and earn an enduring place in American children's (and adult) literature. But going in, she couldn't have known that success waited on the far side of a non-compromise. This is what you call strength of lexical conviction.

Would any of you adopt this strategy if you had multiple publishing houses pleading with you to make your writing "communicate better to a wider audience?" The latter half of that sentence doesn't apply to me (at this point ;) in my career, but this is something I'm turning over. The question should also be viewed in light of G.K. Chesterton's counter-perspective:
Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable… The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word “damn” than in the word “degeneration.

So then, put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring author. Then ask, Is "tesseract" worth it? I await your opinions.

Cross-posted on The Vocabulary Reclamation Project.

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Christmas Darkness

When Steve pointed me to Touchstone Magazine, A Journal of Mere Christianity (emphasis mine!), I was considerable excited to find out that they publish some of their articles online. When I read this piece on the darkness inherent to Christmas, the shadowy undercurrents that we typically forget, I knew instantly that a new find had been made.

There are constant reminders of this darkness, if one has ears to hear them, running through the great liturgy of our Christmas carols, with their memorable evocations of bleak midwinter, snow on snow, sad and lonely plains, the curse, the half-spent night. The spooky and antiseptically sterile depiction of winter in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and its cinematic adaptations is, in that sense, very close to the spirit of the older carols, and to the biblical account of the matter—much closer than the hearty merriment of rosy-cheeked seasonal songs like “Sleigh Ride” or “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”

Go read this piece. The truth of Christmas is dark before it shines.

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Stop Trying So Hard to Look Good

I found a new blog.

...I believe that to avoid hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness one should not try over-hard to look saintly (the great saints rarely do), nor am I being facetious in saying that while we should attempt for the glory and the dread fear of God to be good, we should never try to appear so damn good that anyone who, as a result of coming to know us better, is put in danger of losing his faith.

This distinction between being and seeming is invaluable, I think. Image-mongering is especially destructive among those who claim to follow Christ; at the same time, the church needs exemplary leaders worthy of emulation. Is there tension here? What do you think?

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Over. Done. Finis.

I have committed double murder. Again.

I'm allowing myself this garbage post to say that my finals are over. I encountered the last two of them back to back in a dimly lit classroom today, and now they lie on the cheaply carpeted floor, so cold, so...lifeless.

They slump there prostrate, riddled with correct answers. Who will remember them, now they are gone? Who will tenderly tell their stories, recalling in quiet tones their shattered dreams for a place of their own, for wives and children, for the future? Who will keep these finals from becoming just another statistic?


May these exams Rot In Peace.

I've retreated from the scene of the execution battle to the safety of my own home, where I'm treating myself for symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mostly this means lying on the couch and thinking about nothing, drinking liquids other than coffee. The faces of the victims flash before my eyes, but already the regret is fading. Soon I will feel nothing. And then...sleep. Sleep, and a real post.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Time to Break Up All this Solid Text

Earlier, I took a break from the compulsive inhalation of Greek verbs and New Testament 1 vocab for a round of spirited calisthenics with Aidan. After we'd raced around the block a few times and done some jumping jacks and push-ups, we slumped in the hallway, catching our breath.

I was able to beat Aidan in the footraces - his ten inch legs put him at a disadvantage there. The jumping jacks were non-competitive. I'm not sure what to say about the pushups, though, except that when your arms are that short, it's hardly fair. Aidan could touch his nose to the ground three times in the time it took me to bend my elbows. But he'll get bigger. I won't let him beat me for long.

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Introduction to P.D. James

Discover P.D. James via the Books, the Movie, or the Podcast

Judging from the number of posts I've written about her, one of this blog's purposes for existence is to introduce new readers to P.D. James. But now there are other media forms available, so I'm making a quick attempt to introduce James to new listeners and viewers. Justin Taylor gives commentary on a very promising podcast, some articles on James, Children of Men, the new movie based on James' novel, and of course, her books. Go get it.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

G.K. Chesterton on Christmas

I don't think anyone, alive or dead, has taught me more about heartfelt gratitude than G.K. Chesterton. Few men can say more in fewer words. I present to you, G.K. Chesterton on Christmas:

If my children wake up on Christmas morning and have someone to thank for putting candy in their stocking, have I no one to thank for putting two feet in mine? - Orthodoxy

Talk about a breath-taking Christmas dinner toast (from his dull-sounding but amazingly brilliant masterpiece, Orthodoxy)... Thanks to Iambic for making me go dig for this quote. And thanks to G.K. Chesterton for his rapier-like powers of thankful expression. And thanks to God for putting two feet in my Adidas, worn with socks, not stockings, for the record.

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Under the Gun

My exams have me under the gun right now. Or so they think. Little do they know I'm about to pull a Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, James Bond-type maneuver (ever noticed a pattern with the names of super-agents?). Turn the situation inside out. Give my exams a little surprise.

They'll never know what hit them.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

God's Mysterious Plan for Your Life

Sometimes the trajectory of life eludes me. I know it’s there. I even “know,” banking on God’s sovereignty, that I’m on the right track because I haven’t openly defied God or pulled a break & run stunt like Jonah, boarding a plane to escape an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent Creator. No dice - and, to be honest, no great draw. What's the point?

While it’s good to be somewhat scared of God, we’re assured that he doesn’t play games with his people, dangling his “will” in front of them like a piƱata, then jerking it away when we take a blind swing. That’s a relief, a theological caveat that I often lean on: 1. There is a plan. 2. God is not grinning and hiding it from me.

Maybe what I’m looking for is the appropriate metaphor. I believe that my life, that each of our lives, is a ray, with a discrete starting point and an infinitely extending direction of travel. We know where we began and we know, vaguely, since the beauties of Heaven are beyond our ability to comprehend, where we are headed. It’s the part in between that gets me.

Is the road covered in fog? Have the lights gone out on the interstate? Is the ray of my life passing through the hollow center of a cylinder?

It’s a comfort to me that at twelve years of age, Jesus was foiled in his attempt to start doing his Father’s work—and Jesus had what you call foresight. Likewise, I think that David was probably taken off guard by all the years he spent running for his life in the wilderness. Moses spent four decades herding sheep around mountains with non-incendiary shrubbery. Paul spent several years out in the desert doing we’re not sure what. I’m not saying that I’m in good company, which would imply that I’m tight with Jesus, Moses and the boys, but I find the pattern of mysterious lag-time in these heroic lives very comforting.

It’s enough for me to consider the two poles of my life, a couple of dots on a map with crowded topography, and acknowledge that they will be connected. I can't supply mileage, exits, or ETA. Just know that, via the enigmatic grace of God, I’ll get there.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Urban Blues & Greens (Weekend Photo)

Urban Blues & Greens
The subdued sky gave this brick building, somebody's corporate HQ, an aura that seemed almost nautical...or reminiscent of the trees, grass and Missouri River tributaries it displaced. This is about as close as you get to urban pastoral - or city idyllic, or downtown sylvan, or Arcadian Kansas City.

Excuse my playing with words.

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Weekend Slices

Here are a few conversations recently overheard in my part of the blogosphere...Extra points if you can name the authors before you click over (eminently possible in a couple cases).

I don't question the devotion of anyone who says she loves Christ intensely, whatever language she uses to express it. But I have little patience for taking biblical metaphors too far and giving one's relationship with God an air of irreverent chumminess. Somehow, the scenario in which "his princess" shaves her legs for a date with Jesus seems to leave little room for fear of God.

Do atheists give their lives to the poor for the love of Christ? I am sure some atheists do serve others and have a desire to help, but my experience reflects that many others do not. There are plenty of bad examples from Christians and non-Christians alike, but the list of atheists who have sacrificially given their lives to the poor is shorter than that of French war victories.
It wasn’t a moment that called for Kleenex, but Kansas coach Bill Self couldn’t help but get sentimental earlier this week when talking about his memories of Kemper Arena.
“Be ye separate” and “Go ye into all the world” are not new commands, and neither is the church’s struggle to satisfy both. Wendell Berry’s spiritual retreat to Henry County Kentucky after his stint at Stanford has entered its fifth decade. I don’t expect him to give up the blue skies and the manure anytime soon. But must we view Berry’s half-century in the sticks as self-serving retreat from responsibility?

As William Blake said about his midterms, “I will not cease from mental fight.” That’s me in a nutshell. This is no longer an exercise in skylarking; at the end of the day, it will be me or the damnable exams left standing.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Social Commentary

This is just a quick blogkeeping note.

I've started using a Blogger hack that enables comment notification. What's that exactly, you wonder? Not to be condescending (which means to talk down to someone), but comment notification is that basic element in blogging life which encourages people to keep talking to each other. In other words, You leave a comment. I notice your witty remark and comment back. You get a note saying that your comment has been responded to... And so on and so forth.

Why do I mention this? Because comment notification is useless to you unless you do one simple thing: add your email to your Blogger profile. If you're looking for a testimonial about the dangers/safety of doing so, I can offer one.

I've had my email address in my Blogger profile for going on three years and have suffered no adverse effects - no spam, deleterious remarks, threatening emails, etc.

There you have it. So if you want to benefit from the increased interactivity of comment notification, add your email. Otherwise, disregard this message...

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Movie Reviews from Martin Luther

Martin Luther has a couple solid movie reviews up. One review covers Darren Aronofsky 's The Fountain, a movie I've thought about seeing, if only for its eclectic metaphysical weirdness. But Luther notes that there may be good questions being asked...

Is Aronofsky saying that we must all finally accept death as a part of life, which finally releases us to the great All that is Life, so that we become part of the ground which gives life to the tree which buds into fruit which is eaten by birds which are sold at Pet World? (I added that last part.)

Luther's second burst of off-the-cuff commentary focuses on a film I won't waste my time on, but includes a very interesting list of "authoritative" pronouncements on "the real Jesus."

Here is a quick review of what other "authorities" have concluded about the Jesus who Paul, the early Church, the Vatican, and Fox News have kept hidden in a vault somewhere:

Jesus was a woman.
Jesus was a space alien and is buried in Japan.
Jesus visited India
and is buried in Kashmir
Jesus was a Buddhist.
Jesus was a Muslim.
Jesus was a Mormon.
Jesus was a magician.
Jesus was a Gnostic.
Jesus was the son of Mary and a Roman soldier.
Jesus never existed.
Jesus was never executed.
Jesus was married and had children.
Jesus was a mere Mediterranean peasant.
Jesus was insane.

Anything and everything except, of course, that:
Jesus was the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the messiah of Israel, the savior of the world.

Only missing is a blurb from Richard Dawkins stating that Jesus is a delusion sustained only by simple-minded idiots whose intelligence has been hijacked by the forces of Evolution and DNA, and thus should not, in Dawkins' schema, be held accountable for their stupidity (notice my editorial license). Enjoy the reviews.

It's kind of ridiculous, the pleasure it gives me to say, "Martin Luther" and "movie reviews" in the same sentence.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Read C.S. Lewis. Do it Now.
Oh, and Read Mark DeVine Too.

I think Mark DeVine may have finally hit his stride in the blogosphere. By my count he's churned out four posts in the last four days. That's four posts laced with Emerging Church, Theology, C.S. Lewis, and the perfectly understated DeVine wit that occasionally causes foolhardy students to turn red in the face and jerk awkwardly in their seats. (Not me, of course - never me.) It's no wonder that I link DeVine's stuff all the time, and now I'm linking this masterful post on why C.S. Lewis's writing tends to slip down through the cracks in our egos and echo in our minds and hearts for years:

Very often I pause when reading Lewis and let the book drop to my lap or I turn from the open book to gaze out the window to savor what has just happened. Lewis has captured in words some personal experience I have known and has nailed it so exactly that to simply read past it would be unseemly, ungrateful. I do not think I am alone in this.

No, you're not.
Accurate description of our deepest often most elusive experiences weakens our defenses against instruction and leaves us docile. And the next thing you know, we not only allow but thank someone for using the word “wicked,” even if we are the offender.

Ka-ching. This is only one of the reasons that Lewis should be required reading in all seminaries. Aspiring pastors and leaders, ostensibly learning to dole out this very kind of moral instruction, should learn from a master of the craft. Can you inform a person that he is a "greedy swine" in a way that makes him chuckle and nod in agreement? Didn't think so. READ C.S. LEWIS!!

But if I were you, I'd also read DeVine's blog on a regular basis. Of course, don't tell him I sent you. Obviously I wouldn't ask that of you. Whatever you do, don't mention that "Ariel Vanderhorst sent me here." Don't say anything like "Ariel told me to come read this." And above all, don't mention that "Ariel links a lot of your posts and sends traffic to your blog." Everyone knows that kind of servility is way, way beneath me.

Got the message?

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It Is Finished - Almost

The semester, that is. All that remains to be ruthlessly destroyed in a staccato burst of academic firepower are three final exams next week. This semester has not been overly kind to me, and I will show no mercy.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell (Review), A-

Flash Review: Even in Space, God’s Sovereignty is Two-Edged

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Genre: Science fiction with strong theological themes
Grade: A-

“In this world you will have tribulations,” said Jesus. Emilio Sandoz, the central figure in Mary Doria Russell’s
The Sparrow, would expand Christ’s statement to include other planets. In a story with vivid alien landscapes and humorous characterization, Russell’s dark central theme stands out in stark relief: Loving God wholeheartedly does not make you immune to suffering—quite the opposite.

Russell uses her first novel to explore a theme that has plagued every human since Adam. If God is all-powerful and good, why do bad things happen? More to the point, Why do they happen to me? The Sparrow adds more weight to the question (if that’s possible) by creating a Job-like dimension, that is: Why does God seemingly destroy those who have “screwed up their courage to the sticking point,” as it were, and trusted him without reservation?

Russell brings this motif to life by convincingly describing experiences that most people, if they have attempted to know God at all, will readily (perhaps with a startled sense of recognition) grasp:

“Things kept happening, just like God was really there, making it all happen. And I heard myself saying Deus vult…but it still seemed like some kind of huge joke. And then one night, I just let myself consider the possibility that this is what it seems to be. That something extraordinary is happening. That God has something in mind for me. Besides sewer lines, I mean…”

“You know what’s the most terrifying thing about admitting that you’re in love?” she asked him. “You are just naked. You put yourself in harm’s way and lay down all your defenses. No clothes, no weapons. Nowhere to hide. Completely vulnerable. The only thing that makes it tolerable is to believe the other person loves you back and that you can truth him not to hurt you.”

He looked at her, astounded. “Yes. Exactly. That’s how it feels, when I let myself believe. Like I am falling in love and like I am naked before God. And it is terrifying… But it is starting to feel like I am being rude and ungrateful… To keep on doubting. That God loves me. Personally… Does that sound arrogant? Or just crazy? To think that God loves me.”

The Sparrow portrays Emilio Sandoz’s attempt to take God at his word and rest in the full implications of sovereignty: That a painful, repressed life has been molded according to God’s hidden purpose; that God’s love is strong, and can be trusted; that God will not betray us if we love him in return.

But what happens to such questions when faith is shaken, demolished? If not a sparrow can fall without God’s permission, why do good people drop like flies? Why does God shatter us in return for our trust? Is the universe a tragedy, a comedy, or a farce?

Mary Doria Russell engagingly gives these queries human form. It’s a tribute to her writing ability that her the central theme of her futuristic novel is not carried by the elements of space travel and aliens, much less hijacked by them. The dialogue is occasionally unbelievable, erring on the side of levity (thus the A-), but as Russell’s first novel, The Sparrow succeeds memorably, infusing science fiction with strongly-felt theology.

** Readers should be aware that The Sparrow contains strong sexual themes; they are not explicit or subversive; they are, however, integral to the plot. And in case you're wondering, this one is on the Master Book List.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Urban Christianity - Urban Missions

Jesus in the City
Urban beauty
Part of me would like to pack up and leave for Northern Colorado, or even Wyoming, which my friend Matt says is a backward state even though he grew up there. Part of me really would. But I seem destined to live in the city and look for God’s glory seeping through cracks in graffitied walls, reflected in a mosaic of broken glass—and really, life is like this anyway. I guess in a way, the agrarian dream of rolling hills and a happy blue creek in every backyard died with Eden. Instead, we have to look more closely for God’s handprints at the scene of this crime, the Fall.

God doesn’t walk with us in the cool of the evening anymore, or maybe he does—but you have to pick out his voice from the hum and drone of traffic and the loud voices of people leaving the bars. God still speaks, but in our current world, his voice comes through over the static. We are surprised by shards of vision, sharp pieces of awe and wonder that break the surface of our souls when we least expect it.

Jesus lives in the cities these days, where life is complicated, and all the sweetness you could ever hope for in life is mixed together with pain. Beautiful artwork emerges slowly, quietly in this urban wreckage, but Christ is here, so we know that in the end the debris will fade away, the rubble of lives will be cleared off. People will be put back together. I don’t know just when this will take place but I’d like to be here to see it happen.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Is Mark Driscoll Emerging Church?

New Dynamic in the Conversation: "I'm More Emerging Than You Are"

When Mark DeVine picked up the current authoritative volume on Emerging Church, as endorsed by Scot McKnight, he was in for a surprise:

The first cold water to hit my face was the contention that Mars Hill Church, pastored by Mark Driscoll, does not meet the criteria for authentic emerging communities (Gibbs/Bolger identify 3 core patterns and 6 optional patterns). Gibbs and Bolger recognize Mars Hill as a Gen-X church, aimed at a cultural and demographic slice of a given community. Mars Hill, like its “conservative Baptist, seeker, new-paradigm, purpose-driven predecessors; only the surface techniques changed(p. 30)”- they remain essentially modern.

This is puzzling, because...
If Mars Hill in Seattle, Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, and The Journey in St. Louis are being found relevant by hundreds and thousands of urban twenty-somethings today; that’s Generation Y and younger, nicht wahr? And what does that say about the emerging assessment of what is relevant and what is not? Like Bultmann and especially Paul Tillich, once you set yourself up as the prophetic perceivers of current and future felt-relevance, don’t the numbers matter then? What is wrong with these Gen-Y’s who we are told (unlike the Gen-Xers) are thoroughly postmodern. Why can’t they see that Mars Hill, Redeemer, and The Journey are irrelevant to them! Frustrating.

I haven't read Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger, but the prospect of setting up parameters around "emerging church" proper seems like a problematic one, given the movement's porous nature. Also, as DeVine points out: When "relevance" is your justification for existence, assigning outsider status to guys like Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller is an unusual call.

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