Thursday, November 30, 2006

Where Mystery & Certainty Collide

At HiFi, my friend OneWay comments on the fact that Doubt is so hot right now. He cites the current catchphrase, "the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty" - and then demonstrates why this line of reasoning falls flat on its face:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

As a matter of fact, if you replace all the occurrences in the Bible of the word "faith" with the word "certainty", I find congruence. The word "doubt"? No way.

Apparently cultural popularity isn't such a great litmus test for biblical theology. Related to the question of what place mystery has in orthodox Christian spirituality, I'm adding these paragraphs from an earlier post dealing with "Mystery vs. Certainty."
God-glorifying joy flows from true knowledge of God—not a hazy, general idea of Godness. God has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us through the Bible. Therefore, the only God-honoring joy that flows from “mystery” stems from a projection of what we do know about God (which may be small or flawed, and thus problematic). This is not to say that the mysterious depths of God are not a catalyst for praise. But we are moved to awe by God's infinite, unfathomable goodness only because we've seen a degree of that goodness revealed—and therefore know that we're looking at a glorious, beautiful God and not an insidious, endlessly wicked monster!

However, postmodern discomfort with certainty can lead us astray when it is directed towards what God has clearly revealed. Therefore, propositions about God must be defended—because joy flows from truth understood. There's a stream of postmodern/emerging thought which is overly eager to apply the “mystery” label or write off divisive doctrinal issues as too “puzzling” or “unclear” to talk about (i.e. Brian McLaren’s hazy position on homosexuality). Stances like this do God a disservice because, quite simply, they do created reality and revelation a disservice. Chronic uncertainty is stylish, but it's not reality-based, and needs to be slapped back.

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Julian Wright: He Shakes, He Bakes, He Illuminates

Just read this interview with KU's Julian Wright. I've been impressed by Wright's Magic Johnson-esque hoops skills ever since he laced 'em up at Kansas last season (which gives me bragging rights over basketball fans across the nation who are just now getting acquainted with Julian on SportsCenter) - now I'm also impressed by his mad interview skills. Here are a couple slices:

Luke Winn: The whole impromptu, players-only clearing-of-the-air session you guys had in your hotel the night before the Florida game is becoming Kansas legend. Can you tell me exactly what you said that evening?

Julian Wright
: It'll need to be censored. Basically we all knew that coach [Self] was frustrated, and we were starting to get frustrated, too. He was on us all the time, and we needed him to be on us, but it got to the point where I could sense a lot of players starting to plant negative seeds, in terms of making small excuses or pointing fingers. And excuses are coach's pet peeve. I just started saying, 'What are we doing? This is not how we can play. How are we going to be good until we start playing the way coach wants us to? He's on us because he knows we can be better.'

I heard a lot of 'Shut-ups' from people, and I later apologized, because I was saying a lot of personal stuff, just to fire them up. It was basically the same stuff that coach says, but maybe in terms that a player could relate to a little more. I was frustrated. Not because people happened to have bad games, but because the way we were playing, there wasn't any zip to us, no passion or energy. I said we shouldn't be stressed out, we should be living for these moments...

LW: What's your taste in music like?...

JW: My iPod has a little bit of everything, over 1,500 songs now. I mostly listen to R&B, though. A little jazz, a little hip-hop. But I'm not a big hip-hop head like a lot of players are. There are just too many songs out there that talk about the same stuff. It gets repetitive. I'm more of a person who appreciates the actual substance of the music, not just the music itself.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Jayhawk great Paul Pierce, but "Ju-Ju" is inching closer to all-time favorite Jayhawk status. This was the best interview with a collegiate athlete I've ever read, bad none. Props to you, Julian Wright: If I was 6'8" and had a healthy back I'd try and emulate your game - both on the court and in front of the mic.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Leaving The Fall (Poem)

baby in fall
Leaving The Fall

The Fall is here
and leaves descend
Like brittle old clichés—
Just do your best,
Don’t sweat the details,
Hard work always pays.
But I am ready for a bonfire—
To see this old-growth orchard
up in flames.

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C.S. Lewis & Postmodernism

With Appearances by Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller

Mark DeVine has a humorous, pointed post up about the postmodern milieu and the continued relevance of great none other than C.S. Lewis. (No doubt DeVine is aware that today is the great man's birthday.)

I was asking myself whether or not to link DeVine's post (I link most of 'em, because he doesn't blog frequently enough, so there's a
scarcity factor) and when I read this paragraph it tipped the balance. I sprinted over to Blogger to push Running Home To Mummy: C.S. Lewis, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Emerging Conversation, Postmodernism and Felt-Relevance. Talk about a loaded title. Read this bit on C.S. Lewis, then go read the whole thing.

And then there goes little Jack Lewis all growed up and running home to mummy. The solid traditional Anglican Christianity of his mummy that is. I do declare, the more that boy studied the further his brain and body and heart listed to the right and the less impressed he became with “things new, shiny, and relevant.” Who is this Lewis? Why, its the writer, lover, and interpreter of stories; stories happily laden with nuance and mystery yet without the slightest pinch of that squeamishness regarding the story’s capacity to carry both embedded and in-your-face truth claims even of a propositional sort and meant to be taken as universal and permanent truth claims at that.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All Emerging Church Conversationalists Are Equal...

...But Some Are More Equal Than Others

There's a pattern in the ebb and flow of emerging church conversation that I find unsettling: While the "provocative" and "probingly ambiguous" statements of some authors/speakers are applauded and defended, the rhetoric of others is unapologetically held up for criticism. Eventually, people start to notice.

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Authors Talk: Dillard & Powys, Epstein & Shakespeare, Lewis & MacDonald

As far as subject matter goes, I've been on a kind of books & writing jag lately, which is a little ironic because I haven't been doing that much real writing. At least not in a creative, reflective sense. My excuse is that end-of-semester projects and final essays have been bearing down hard, and I'm ready to be done with it all.

I'm like Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movie. He's faced by the gyrating, cocky, martial-arts swordsman, and pauses, knowing that in all fairness he should pull out his whip for a thrilling hand-to-hand combat sequence. Instead, he pulls out his revolver and shoots the guy. Nice to have a secret weapon.

If only I had a revolver to train on my finals, in place of the usual tactics.
In the meantime, I'm pursuing a thread I started earlier, When Great Authors Talk About Each Other... Here are a few more of my favorite writers-on-writers quotes:

John Cowper Powys said, “We have no reason for denying to the world of plants a certain slow, dim, vague, leisurely semi-consciousness.” He may not be right, but I like his adjectives. - Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Strong character is required to assert one’s true taste. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein makes a distinction between taste and originality. “Taste,” he says, “can be charming but not gripping.” Taste, in his view, “is refinement of sensitivity: but sensitivity does not do anything, it is purely receptive.” He believed that ‘a great creator has no need of taste; his child is born into the world fully formed.’ (Shakespeare, when you think about it, was weak in the line of taste – thank God.) Taste refines and polishes, but creates nothing. Wittgenstein’s own fear was that, as a thinker, he himself had taste merely. - Joseph Epstein, Snobbery

The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. - C.S. Lewis, on George MacDonald's Phantastes
The last quote, by Lewis, is my favorite "writerly commentary" to date. Now I'm thinking that a post calling for great quotations on writing itself may be called for...motivation to tide me over until the semester ends.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Fall Book Stack 2006

Or: What You Should Probably Read This Winter

The tradition here at the blog is to post photos of the new literary arrivals after notable occasions like birthdays and Christmas and (sometimes) semester breaks.

We've had some stellar recruiting book classes in the past, but the Fall 2006 crop looks especially promising. Headlined by several new authors and a few can't-miss titles, Lindsay, Aidan and I have some good reading ahead of us. And who knows what new volumes Christmas may bring? Here's the new arrivals list, moving from top to bottom. Notice that I'm limiting by commentary on each book to one sentence, but I'm allowing multiple commas and, if necessary, semicolons!

The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers - Lindsay's book
We're big Sa
yers fans, and this one is widely regarded as her best Lord Peter mystery story (although Gaudy Night is also right up there).

A Timbered Choir, Wendell Berry - my book
**New author! I've read snatches of Berry's writing in the past, and been intrigued; this book of poetry looks promising.

Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll - my book
Given my appreciation for Driscoll's straight-up approach to truth-telling, and my previous regard for Confessions of a Reformission Rev, this closer look at the theology behind his church planting will be a treat.

The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy - my book
I was deeply impressed (and moved) by my first exposure to McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses, and I'm more than ready for the second book in his Border Trilogy.

Mere Humanity, Donald Williams - Lindsay's book
**New author! I came across this title and immediately knew I would have to buy it for myself Lindsay, as the back cover reads: "...poet, scholar, and teacher...Williams digs into the treasured writings of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien in search of...answers regarding the human condition."

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell - my book
**New author! I'd heard a lot about this science fiction novel which ostensibly weaves together interstellar travel, aliens, an
d searching questions about God while maintaining the integrity of a character-driven story; having read the book over Thanksgiving break, I agree (more later).

Beyond the Shadowlands, Wayne Martindale - my book
The subtitle, "C.S. Lewis on Heaven & Hell" should sufficiently explain my interest in this book by Martindale, a noted Lewis scholar who I've enjoyed before; also, the cover is rea
lly good-looking.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson - Lindsay's book
**New author! I'd read rave reviews about this masterful Pulitzer Prize-winner that is infused with probing Christian spirituality from page 1 to the back cover; Lindsay's alread
y finished it, and she tells me I have to read it.

Not the Way it's Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. - my book
**New author! Although I'm intimately acquainted with the subject, this is the type of theological book that will hold an alluring mystique until I dig in; the subtitle is "A Breviary of Sin."

Indelible Ink, Scott Larsen, ed. - our book
It's hard to pass on a book about books when it features some of your favorite authors; Indelible presents people like Ravi Zacharias, John Stott and Walter Wangerin "discussing the books that shaped their faith."

That's all...for now. If you're thinking about adding some of these titles to
your book stack, do me a favor and buy them via the links in this post - that way I get a (little) cut, which may just make it possible for me to buy Aidan that illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings that he keeps asking for. Happy reading!

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Jayhawks Beat Florida

For those of you who missed the scintillating, NCAA Tournament-esque game last night, here's a great write-up by ESPN's Andy Katz. The Jayhawks beat the defending national champions, the Florida Gators 82-80 in overtime and my voice is still hoarse from yelling.

KU is Final Four material if they can duplicate this kind of poise and tenacity in March.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Weekend Photo: Family Shadows

We took this shot when we travel to Weston State Park on my birthday, earlier this month.

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When Great Authors Talk About Each Other...

...Everyone wins. At least I think so. A little while ago I posted Flannery O'Connor's remarks regarding a couple of C.S. Lewis's books, then I found a script/hack that lets people add their own links directly to the body of a blog post - and I decided to experiment.

Of course, I need you to play along! Do you have a favorite quote, from a respected author/thinker, in which he/she comments on another author? (Or perhaps you'd like to scramble and find a new one.) If so, please add a link to your quote below; you'll probably want to post the quotation on your blog.

Now, go ahead and link up! And if you would, leave a comment explaining/justifying your quotation. I'll link "my" quote to get things started.

I'm curious if anyone will link to my favorite C.S. Lewis quote regarding another author...

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Flannery O'Connor on C.S. Lewis

As a guy who loves discovering new quotes from great authors, it's an added bonus when I find great authors talking about each other. Here's an amusingly candid remark from Flannery O'Connor on C.S. Lewis.

This book of C.S. Lewis on prayer is a good one but I don't like to pray any better for reading it. I also just read one of his called Miracles, which is very fine. Deceptively simple. You really need to read every sentence twice. Go among the biblical scholars, says he, as a sheep among wolves. - "Habit of Being"

I wonder what Lewis would have said about O'Connor.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

God's Roundabout Plans for Your Life

This morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee with an old friend - Tim of Infinite Regression. Tim's originally from Kansas City, and he and his wife are in town for Thanksgiving. We exchanged snapshots of our current mental landscapes, discovered some common themes (such as a divine murkiness covering the future), and ended the morning with a wonderfully eclectic activity that nicely symbolizes our respective states in life - wandering through the shelves of a used bookstore.

What could be more random, and yet more purposeful and comforting, in a roundabout way, than rummaging through stacks of well-thumbed contemporary and antiquarian books? Walking through life is a little this way - God is up to something with each of us, but he takes his sweet time showing his hand. Instead, we get the picture in bits and pieces, a line here, a paragraph there, searching for God's will in unexpected places. We turn a corner and understand a new piece of the mystery. We get our marching orders one stanza at a time.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

C.S. Lewis Describes Thanksgiving

Good news: life’s current pleasures are not intended to be ultimately satisfying. Better still: Earth’s best gifts point heavenward. C.S. Lewis explains the relieved and expectant joy that results:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others do the same. - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, emphasis mine

Here's a truth to provoke lingering grins: Our joy need neither be naïve or put on in order to be genuine. Earthly joys are, of course, pleasurable, but there are better things coming. Have a happy Thanksgiving—without illusions!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Real Thanksgiving? I Have My Reason...

Genuine Gratitude Requires a Person

Grateful Aidan
The reason that real gratefulness often flows from our hearts at the speed of thick mud is that we base our gratitude on the interesting features of the gifts rather than the infinite quality of the Giver. Jesus understood this better than anyone, since the typical responses to his miracles were bucolic wide eyes and gum-deep smiles, an insatiable hunger for the sensational and a neurotic passion for free health care.

When Christ healed ten lepers one day, nine ran off to the village market, eager to get back into Galilean politics now that their skin was no longer falling off in chunks. Only one man returned to thank Christ for the healing; just one man in ten realized that the wonder was not his new skin but the God-man who had fixed it. Jesus was the wonder. Standing next to Christ, even the glory of a glowing epidermis dimmed.

Gratitude requires a personal object—and if thankfulness is to be deep and enduring, it must be pinned to Someone better than a changeful, error-prone human friend, good intentions aside.

All this goes to show that gratitude requires a person, and ultimately, an infallible person. The nine lepers who ran away saw past gratitude; for them, physical healing was the ultimate end—and so they found no necessity for thanks. But this was incoherent, for by its very nature, gratitude is a personal sensation, and one woven into the shape of the world. No one ever says thank you to a gift, save for the very young (or those who have taken relativistic thought to its ultimate conclusions, and hum tunes in praise of Beer, Sex, and the Lottery).

No one opens a birthday gift and says, “O, thank you, Spalding!” as if the basketball, in its grippy orange glory, had hitchhiked his way to the front door. Neither do cognizant people seriously sing the anthem, “Red, red wine,” as if the wine could help being red, or being alcoholic. Basketball, wine, books, coffee: despite the beauty of their personalities, these products do not manufacture themselves. Gratitude requires a personal object—and if thankfulness is to be deep and enduring, it must be pinned to Someone better than a changeful, error-prone human friend, good intentions aside.

I am singling out “gratitude,” but this argument holds true for all the sensations in life that are really beautiful and good. Peace, love, joy, wonder—sought as ends unto themselves, they shrivel up and become unobtainable. Repentance is this way too—and it is worth mentioning specifically because, in my experience, repentance often leads to the laugh-out-loud relief of praise.

Like gratitude, repentance needs a personal object—and in the causality of Christ, we should become deeply grateful to the One before whom we repent. We cannot grovel before a list of our sins and beg forgiveness from ourselves, but we may kneel before Christ, and he responds. He forgives and soothes, and the ensuing freedom bubbles over in gratitude. In this way repentance often paves the way for thanksgiving, as we see over and over again in David’s psalms.

So, Thanksgiving is here. But is it really? The strength of our joy will depend upon whom our gratitude is aimed at—so aim it at Jesus. And if necessary, repent to clear the airwaves for your praise. Otherwise, “Thanksgiving” is merely a cultural construct even stupider than “Turkey Day.”

We had better thank Christ. Direct your contrition and gratitude to Jesus, and your heart will feel his magnetism. Direct it anywhere else, and you have all the soul-authenticity of a former leper streaking it for the grocery store.

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Bill Self Gives Thanks

Jayhawk Basketball
Once again, the connection between theology and basketball is made plain:

It’s safe to say that Kansas coach Bill Self will fold his hands in prayer before Thursday’s turkey dinner and give thanks for many things — his family, his health and the speedy recovery of Alexander Kaun.

You can't deny it: an integrated Christian life means praying about everything! In the past, I've frequently prayed about my basketball game, although for some reason, God hasn't answered my requests regarding the NBA draft.

The Jayhawks will face a stiff test over the weekend, playing Ball State on Friday before going up against defending national champion Florida on Saturday. Hopefully I'll be giving thanks after these games...

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The New (Emerging) Elitism?

Youth-Snobbery & Emerging-Snobbery Should be Called Out

Matt Chandler
has a great post up over at the Resurgence blog. In it he recounts his initial cooler-than-thou approach to ministry, the period of awakening when he discovered he was an idiot, and his subsequent alliances, for the sake of the gospel, even with people who eschew the very thought of cultural cool:

It's a strange thing to wake up and find out you are the very thing you hated and rebelled against to begin with. Judging men not by the content of their souls but by how they dress, talk and drink. I was expected when I came to know Jesus to wear a suit on Sunday, part my hair on the side and then hairspray it down, quit drinking completely and learn to speak "Christianese" fluently. If I did those things I was welcomed and loved if not, I was the outcast. I find it heartbreaking that I have tendencies to do the same to others. The expectations have changed, it's not a suit it's an un-tucked shirt, it's not your hair parted down the side it's messy hair that you spent 15 minutes making look messy. But it's the same madness, the same judgments, and the same sin that plagued my fathers before me. We think our methods are the methods instead of a method.

Matt's humorous story is very perceptive, and I think there are applications to be made on a couple of levels. The first one is the obvious, connect-the-dot, point: Young Christian leaders should be wary of vindictively "turning the tables" on those who have enforced a version of cultural Christianity in the past. The second application is more abstract (I'm reading between the lines to get it): Participants in the current theological embodiment of cool, the "emerging conversation," need to exercise a similar humility. Caricature and condescending talk sneak in all too easily when "your side" supposedly has dibs on the street cred.

As I look around American Evangelicism and try to get my bearings, I find myself floating in one of the theological streams labeled these days as "emerging" - I'm convinced that orthodox, biblical truth needs to be expressed and lived out in culturally relevant ways. As I continue to think and talk about church, and eventually get a shot at doing church myself, I need to remember that my generation does not hold a monopoly on the elements in the emerging conversation that seem most appealing.

As in all conversations, humility is vital, and snobbery should be called out.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Church, Starbucks & Community Erosion

While I'm grateful to Starbucks for raising the bar where gourmet coffee is concerned, I'm always baffled by people who seem to fawn over Starbucks like it's a small, cuddly animal instead of a sprawling global conglomerate. I'm also baffled by people who say "Oh, Starbucks is my faaaavorite!" as if this is tantamount to making a strong statement about personal identity. Come to think of it, I'm also baffled when people walk into a Starbucks and--but I digress.

There's a fascinating article up at Our of Ur called Burned by Branding; what churches can learn from the anti-Starbucks movement. At least, it's fascinating to me, but [honest disclaimer] I've always been a local coffee shop guy myself. Anyway:

Believe it or not, not everyone loves Starbucks. The Wall Street Journal’s Janet Adamy has written about the growing resistance the Seattle-based coffee cartel is facing in many communities. The issue—Starbucks ignores local culture in favor of maintaining its brand-identity...

New Starbucks stores are opening that do not reflect its well-established corporate identity. They are trying to personalize their stores to resemble local cafés that fit in with the community. One Starbucks in Denver has even abandoned the green mermaid logo of the brand.

The lesson—people don’t necessarily want to be connected to a massive corporate identity. An increasing number want to identify with local, accessible, and human-scaled institutions. My own experience affirms this. I am writing this post in a local coffee shop. At 8am there is not an empty table in the house. This is where community happens in my town. Directly across the street is a Starbucks. That store sees a steady stream of people pass through to get their morning fix. But the tables are empty. It isn’t a place people gather, converse, or write blog posts.

Fascinating stuff. And the implications for church, which you may be able to guess at, are fascinating too...feel free to discuss.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Thrill of the Chaste Gets Luther's Approval

The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn Eden
"I Can Do No Other"

In a spectacular one-sentence review, Martin Luther has placed his stamp of approval on a new book by Dawn Eden, The Thrill of the Chaste:

This frank, funny, and frightening tale of sex in the city by a journalist, rock-trivia maven, and Christian convert may be the perfect Christmas gift for that ungrateful teenager of yours who stays out till all hours of the night supposedly at some "concert" when in fact she's probably doing YOU KNOW WHAT in some motel out by the airport to the sounds of Satan's cackle as it echoes down the lonely gray highways of a life thrown away because of some idiot in a Kurt Cobain T-shirt and a car he paid for by selling smack to crippled kids in the parking lot of St. Jude's Children's Hospital! Damn him! Damn him to hell!

Not one to mince words, Martin Luther. But he's been known to have a good eye for books. And this one apparently packs a punch. Of The Thrill of the Chaste, an Amazon reviewer notes:
In brief, this is not your typical Christian self-help book or dating guide... With ease, Dawn blows John Eldredge out of the water and kisses Joshua Harris goodbye. Dawn makes the case for chastity, and she proves it.

Not being a woman (or single), I doubt I'll be able to construct a plausible excuse to read this book (although I'm working on it.) But those who fall into one or both of those categories might want to take a look.

** Isn't Martin Luther dead? And is her name really "Dawn Eden?" I really can't answer either of those questions. ;) I've been meaning to introduce Martin Luther for awhile, though.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Christian Mysticism? Escaping to God's Presence

Christian Mysticism: escaping to God
"Mysticism" is a slippery word for Christians to use, but I'm not sure I have a better one for what Jim Elliot describes below. Makes me want to leave downtown for a quieter place, walk out of urban Kansas City and climb a nearby hill, scan the horizon for traces of God, listen closely so I don't miss a syllable of any message he might give me...

I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious, to stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God-what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead them through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose finger ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into his eyes—ah then, not stars nor children shall matter, only Himself.

This is not the language of a casual encounter with God over cereal and the morning paper. I think every Christian needs a little mysticism to get him through Final Exams and Semester-Ending Projects, let alone Life. Here's hoping we all spend more time alone on hilltops, listening for God's voice, and feeling our hearts expand when we sense, like Moses and Jim Elliot, a still-but-towering presence.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Missing the Grand Canyon (Weekend Photo)

Grand Canyon View

I pulled this photo out of the archives and found myself wishing that we could jump in the car and escape to the Grand Canyon. It's that time in the semester... The final onslaught of papers and projects (some of them lacking clear justification for existence) leave me with a sense of wonder that feels like it's been hit in the teeth one too many times, blithe curiosity on its last legs...

Isn't this something the Grand Canyon could help cure? Or maybe Christmas break? Or maybe a mug of strong, dark-- What's that? You say just do the work? Get it over with and stop whining?

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Mark Driscoll Clarifies, Scot McKnight Applauds


: At Between Two Worlds, Justin Taylor has gone on the record commending Mark Driscoll for his "mature and measured" response to criticism. Good to see another "mainstream" Evangelical voice weighing in. (And nice knowing you, Justin. ;)


As you have probably noticed, I've been following the recent media explosion concerning Mark Driscoll's mean-spirited hobby of saying things that hurt people's feelings (note sarcasm). Specifically, I noted that Scot McKnight had posted an "open letter" on his blog, thereby opening Driscoll up to general critique.

McKnight hoped that giving "Rose" (a female Seattle pastor) a forum to air her grievances would encourage "Mark Driscoll and the leaders at Mars Hill to gather together with the many concerned in Seattle to converse and, to the degree possible, to seek the face of God in reconciliation." I didn't see the wisdom in this a day ago, and I still don't - but since my initial reaction, both Driscoll and McKnight have posted again on the topic. Mark Driscoll's post aimed to clarify his original intent in talking about pastors' wives:

What I did not mean to communicate was anything regarding the Haggards, particularly Mrs. Haggard. She is not to blame for the sin of her husband.

What I did mean to communicate is that most pastors I know who have fallen did so with a heterosexual adulterous relationship, often with someone they were close to in their church. In addition, as I met with many of these fallen pastors and their wives, I saw a common theme emerge: most of the marriages had serious troubles that included a lack of emotional, spiritual, and, subsequently, physical intimacy.

This communique earned McKnight's praise:
I was delighted to see that Mark Driscoll has publicly responded on his blog to recent concerns about his intent in his posts about Ted Haggard. I believe his letter clarifies his intent; and I applaud the rhetorical tone of his most recent post. Keep it up brother.

I'm happy that this interaction has taken place (despite the fifty-some anti-Driscoll comments that have been attached to McKnight's post). I'm happy for a couple reasons.
  1. Driscoll has explained and clarified his original intent, and done so without apparent rancor. This was a praiseworthy accomplishment under the circumstances. Moreover, Driscoll didn't back off from his original stance on women in ministry/pastor's wives.
  2. McKnight has commended Driscoll for what was, essentially, a humble retrenching of his original position. This appears to be (I'm reading between the lines) a revision of McKnight's earlier goal, which was to bring Mark and Rose together in a kissy-faced moment of ecumenical agreement that any PR person would love.
This seems as good a resolution to the situation as I could have hoped for, despite the proliferation of unhappy comments over at Jesus Creed.

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Passionate Patience

The Pugnacity Required for Tranquility

I don't think any of us ever attain the oblivious "patience" of a mountain tolerating hikers on its extremities. Tribulations do not bounce off us like BBS off an anvil. Rather, it's the fingers closing on the throttle, knuckles white with precision-concentration, as we see the enemy on the radar screen again. We throw ourselves into patience like a barrel roll. We will not give in so easily at the mere show of disruptive force.

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold - but this merely causes us to be decisive in our prayer and trusting. The turbulent disintegration of careful plans (or "human decency") only makes us hunker down more comfortably in the cockpit. By God's grace, this is one plane that won't be shot down. Patience will win out.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Driscoll Debate Sideline

Justin Tayler notes that some "thorough-going rotters," as C.S. Lewis would say, get a free pass theologically, while others (read: Mark Driscoll) get taken to task for the tone of their orthodoxy. I'm reading between the lines, but I thought this was a useful sideline to the current Driscoll outcry.

I don't often link to "bad theology" articles in order to bash them, but I'm making an exception here. It is rare for a writer to be this honest about the functional sovereignty of his own mind in determining the object of his worship. In other words, Bart Campolo is an idolater of the first-order. (Something tells me, though, that there won't be any "protests" planned against his views.)

So why isn't Bart's church getting protested? Where are the open letters to Bart? Just a little chocolate for cogitation.

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Prayer as the First, Best Plan

Prayer & Action
Can You Pray As You Take the Plunge?

I came across this quotation from O. Hallesby:

Wherever we go, we meet people who are in need of something. If the Spirit could give us that open eye of love which sees both visible and invisible needs, everything we saw would give rise to prayer.

Obviously, I like Hallesby’s statement because he mentions the “visible” and “invisible” in the same breath, which is music to the ears of someone who likes to write about ultimate reality. But the quote also made me feel uncomfortable, because, honestly, I don’t think this way. Or maybe I do think this way, but that’s just the problem. Thought has to be united with action to have any real solvency. I suspect that in the realm of thought-action, where reflexes crackle and decisions are made in an instant, Hallesby’s argument is somewhat alien to the way I usually work.

I consider, for example, a typical substitute teaching scenario, where I have my eye on a trouble student who is doing everything he can to change the classroom into a kind of personal Comedy Central. When the joker cues up his latest attempt at improvisation, several options spring to mind.
  1. Freeze him with a cold stare.
  2. Hand him a detention slip and rasp, “Start filling this out.”
  3. Yell out his name with a threatening inflection.
  4. Walk slowly over and “tower” over him (more of a metaphysical towering, given my average height)…
So where does prayer appear on this list? The fact that it’s missing is not good, because Hallesby has Jesus as his backer on this—Jesus, who “did nothing on [his] own initiative,” but only after conferring with his Father. This means that my typical mode of operation is at odds with Christ’s. Well, no great shock there - but the impetus for change is undeniable.

God, help me live in the light of heaven, where the only really effective action is suffused with life-giving prayer.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Open Season on Mark Driscoll

Scot McKnight Facilitates a Driscoll Roast

Mark Driscoll and the Kansas Jayhawks have one thing in common (other than their penchant for pulling out gritty wins) - they both know what it feels like to have a large bull's-eye on their backs. Driscoll, not having the invincibility of a mythic creature, will need a very broad back to absorb the latest salvo. (End of Jayhawk commentary, for now.)

As implied, Driscoll is definitely no stranger to flack - but I find the most recent barrage a little unsettling. Today, Scot McKnight posted an open letter from Rose, an ordained WA minister, on his well-heeled blog, Jesus Creed. The letter is lengthy, but Rose essentially takes issue with a recent Driscoll article in which he critiqued the Episcopalian church. She suggests that Driscoll's theology is flawed and his tone is "unhealthy, vitriolic, abrasive, unchristian, and uncharitable." Rose eventually closes on this note:

As a woman, an ordained minister and fully committed follower of Jesus that has been offended by you, are you willing to sit down and converse? I would appreciate a public response to this letter. You get to choose. I hope as a reformed street-fighter, which you have referred to yourself as, that you are able to find a way to be a part of the conversation. We await your response.
Scot McKnight's stated intent, in giving Rose's letter a huge audience, is as follows:
I urge Mark Driscoll and the leaders at Mars Hill to gather together with the many concerned in Seattle to converse and, to the degree possible, to seek the face of God in reconciliation.
To which I respond, Hmmm. I don't much care for this sequence of events; more specifically, I don't much care for McKnight's posting of this letter. I experienced a slightly surreal feeling as I read it, which was only exacerbated by the 60-some anti-Driscoll comments that were quickly appended. Why am I not down with this? For the following reasons.
  1. Giving Rose a public forum to express her unhappiness with Driscoll is probably not going to bring Driscoll to the kitchen table for a charitable chat over green tea. A personal phone call or email from McKnight would have gone much further toward this end, I think. (Perhaps this was done?)
  2. Posting Rose's letter feels like a power play to apply "political" pressure to Driscoll, so that he will conciliate in some way. As such, it's more coercive than persuasive, and will probably not lead to reconciliation.
  3. McKnight has not published similar "open letters" critiquing other controversial "emerging church" figures, such as Brian McLaren. This is merely circumstantial evidence, but it reads like a double standard.
  4. Rose's concerns are not only with the form of Driscoll's rhetoric ("vitriolic, abrasive," etc.) but also its content. Mark Driscoll will not back down from his conservative theological stance on women-as-pastors, so in this sense, a group hug will not solve the problem.
There's a fine line between strong, incisive, communication and unnecessary bluntness that makes people turn red. Driscoll knows both sides of the line (as do a lot of leaders), but it's important to remember that Jesus ticked off a lot of people. The gospel has that effect, as does biblical theology.

Question being: Is the glory of Christ the prime objective in what is being said? If so, some people should be angry. Thus, making people feel good is not the primary objective of a counter-cultural Christian leader. Some people will be livid when the truth hits them over the head. The question is not, How can I avoid offending anyone? The question is
, for Driscoll and the rest of us, Are the right people getting angry?

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To Tip...or Not to Tip?

Thabiti is offering a courageous alternative to the "tip generously" approach that is supposedly the fall-back plan of all socially responsible Christians. An excerpt:

The current system of tipping is built, in part, on an ethic of shame and guilt. People who do not tip “generously” are in danger of the wagging finger, disapproving look, and apparently of religious profiling and scuttle-butt in the Applebee’s kitchen. It’s interesting to me that we think the name of Christ is brought into disrepute because of tipping. Isn’t the Christian the counter-cultural agent in society? Isn’t the Christian the bearer of news even when they don’t have tip money?

Apparently he's taking some flack for it...but I think Thabiti makes some good points. Three cheers for a more nuanced look at the "Christians & Tipping" question.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Good Monsters (Review) - Jars of Clay

Flash Review: Can You Rock the Gospel?

Jars of Clay, Good Monsters
Like all questions that bank on not-so-infallible human ability, the answer has to be qualified. Can you rock the gospel? Some nay-sayers would suggest that such a thing is intrinsically impossible—rock music as a medium of communication does not exactly lend itself to deep reflection. However, my answer is slightly more optimistic. Can you rock the gospel?

Yeah, but only if you’re good.

Case in point: “Dead Man” from the new album by Jars of Clay,
Good Monsters. You should really listen to the song, but here are some of the lyrics:

January 1, I’ve got a lot of things on my mind
I’m looking at my body through a new spy satellite
Try to lift a finger but I don’t think I can make the call
So tell me if I move ‘cause I can’t feel anything at all

So carry me
I’m just a dead man
Lying on the carpet
Can’t find a heartbeat
Make me breathe
I want to be a new man
Tired of the old one
Out with the old plan

I’d argue that the rhythm and hooks of this song add emphasis to the reality of the “ghost in the machine...”
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? - Romans 7:21, 24

Our fallen natures wreak havoc with our good intentions until Christ picks our spirits up off "the carpet." So, can real gospel truth be embedded in a serious rock song? Can you rock the gospel?*

Yes. But only if you're capable of fusing music with theology like Jars of Clay.

* I am not saying...
We don't need preaching anymore!
Forget church, get this Jars album!
If someone heard this song, they wouldn't have to read the Bible!

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Jayhawks Will Make Final Four

One game into the Jayhawks' regular season, I have a good feeling about this team. Those of you who watched KU demolish a solid Northern Arizona team may know why. I have decided to make my feelings public. KU will appear in the Final Four in 2007, where I can only hope they will defeat Roy Williams' much-ballyhooed team. Details to follow...

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bunny Rabbits to Pastor Episcopalian Churches

I don't normally get into "denominational" church news for the simple reason that it bores me. But Mark Driscoll's recent commentary on Episcopalian "bad theology" broke through the usual wall of irrelevance...

In related news, the testosterone levels of male Americans has dropped significantly in the past twenty years. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that "While a man's testosterone level will fall steadily as he ages, the researchers observed a speedier decline in average testosterone levels than would have been expected with aging alone."

All of this has led this blogger to speculate that if Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God’s men. When asked for their perspective, some bunny rabbits simply said that they have been discriminated against long enough and that people need to "Get over it."

I'm not even Episcopalian, and this is still funny! ;)

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Julio Cortazar: Blow-Up & Other Stories, A

Flash Review: Julio Cortazar Suspects Ultimate Reality

Julio Cortazar short stories
A little while ago I finished Julio Cortazar’s sterling book of short stories, Blow-Up and Other Stories. (Nothing like clarity in a title.) I’ve been a Cortazar enthusiast ever since I read his 1.5-page masterpiece, “A Continuity of Parks” in my undergrad Intro to Fiction class, and experienced the sensation of my mind being gently turned inside out like a wrinkled, gray sock.

Cortazar blends startling strands of magical realism with sharp psychological insight and an imagination wild enough for any jungle—and I flat out loved this book. But reviewing a book of short stories is hard. Rather than try to give an assessment of the totality of the fifteen distinctive stories in Blow-Up, I’ve decided to comment on the short story that originally yanked me into Cortazar’s world: “A Continuity of Parks.” Hopefully this will serve notice that you should get this book and read it.

“A Continuity of Parks” is a title designed to lull to reader to sleep even before the story begins. It works. Who would guess that under the environmentally-conscious-sounding title, peril, deception and betrayal lurk? You’re drawn into the detached world of the protagonist, a strangely intellectual man who owns a large estate. When he begins to read an action-suspense novel, you are submerged in the plot as well, caught up in a story within a story. Cortazar’s use of vivid emotional words is adroit and cunning.

Somehow it becomes hard to tell where the character’s life leaves off and the novel begins; details in the “novel” sound oddly familiar—and they should. It’s because they describe the protagonist’s world, where he is secluded in his velvet armchair as the sun is fast going down. When a murderer bounds up a silent stairway and story morphs into story, we nervously glance over our shoulders. The account juts suddenly into our living rooms. With just one page of words, Cortazar has challenged not only the limits of interpretation, but also the certainty of our personal safety.

Not sure that you’re ready for brain surgery under the scalpel of Cortazar’s short stories? Remember, it’s in a good cause: the cause of reality. Everyone needs to be reminded, in C.S. Lewis’s words, of “the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.” I think Cortazar gets it. Or at least he suspects. As he writes in “The Pursuer”:

…Johnny obsessed by something that his intelligence was not equal to comprehending, but which floats slowly into his music, caresses his skin, perhaps is readying for an unpredictable leap which we will never understand.

And again:
…a poor devil like me with more plagues than the devil under his skin had enough awareness to feel that everything was like a jelly, that everything was very shaky everywhere, you only had to concentrate a little, feel a little, be quiet for a little bit, to find the holes.

Chalk one up for Julio Cortazar and his “magical, terrifying and ecstatic” writing. Now do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in a Cortazar short story. Life isn't as flat, as dry, or as simple as it seems.

Yeah, yeah, it's on the Master Book List.

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