CBS Sportsline columnist Gary Parrish gave Jayhawk sophomore Julian Wright some love today. Check out the article and feel good...
Monday, July 31, 2006
I read this mind-catching paragraph in John Piper’s preview of the Desiring God conference (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (blog)) coming up this fall.
Our aim is to call the church to a radical and very old vision of the Man, Jesus Christ—fully God, fully sovereign, fully redeeming by his substitutionary, wrath-absorbing death, fully alive and reigning, fully revealed for our salvation in the inerrant Holy Bible, and fully committed to being preached with human words and beautifully described with doctrinal propositions based on biblical paragraphs. We love Dorothy Sayers old saying, “The Dogma is the Drama.” We think the post-propositional, post-dogmatic, post-authoritative “conversation” is post-relevant and post-saving.
Piper is adept at cramming sentences with meaning, and a master at revealing the essence of “doctrine” as life-giving spiritual reality. His last comment is a slap in the face of the Emergent Church proper (as opposed to “emerging church”), a pretty widely influential organization these days, composed of leaders who tend to downplay the importance of nonnegotiable doctrines in Christianity.
This will be a provocative conference...and you should probably go.
Loosely related to this Christ & Postmodernism topic was a train of thought I had today. Much of what we call modern “apologetics” (an intellectual defense of faith in Christ) is in response to strong feelings mostly undiluted by reason. Example: The world is filled with awful suffering; therefore God cannot exist. This is “higher criticism” applied on the existential level—and as such, it has a powerful force behind it, and is worthy of some respect.
Deep feeling leads easily to strong conviction, and postmodern culture is quick to imply that strength of emotion need not be tempered by logic. In fact, attempts to query or test instinctual surges of passion are often regarded as a form of mental assault, as if emotional authenticity represents a pure form of argument.
The existential rub is that drinking direct from the fountain of strong feeling is like drinking from the local creek. Bacteria and toxins slosh in. Admittedly, removing them from the water might have been “artificial” in some sense—but this artificiality is a type that humans require.
Likewise, reason is a form of “artifice” that has to be installed in our mind-streams. Otherwise we arrive at conclusions that feel natural but are, in reality, aberrant.
This is why I will sometimes find myself talking like this: True, the world is replete with suffering and evil. But don’t you see that the very nature of your question requires the existence of the Being you intend to obliterate? No one would deny the reality of Evil. But without God, we must jettison this category…
In the end, feeling and reason are an excellent task force for Christ, and Jesus is still solvent in postmodern culture. Not that this comes as a surprise.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
I was just rereading Mortimer Adler's very memorable essay, "How to Mark a Book," and couldn't resist posting a few excerpts. I know this blog has become very bookish lately - but I feel no need to apologize for stuff like this. Adler is both brilliant and readable. First off, check out his take on "book ownership."
There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers -- unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books -- a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many -- every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.)
I like the way Adler simultaneously shoots barbs at woodpulp owners and gives book owners a hearty slap on the back. But Adler isn't simplistic in his praise of the dilapidated library. That is, he has conditions. Such as, only I have the right to beat up my books.
If your friend wishes to read your Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, or The Federalist Papers, tell him gently but firmly, to buy a copy. You will lend him your car or your coat -- but your books are as much a part of you as your head or your heart.Heh heh. I remember watching one of my friends pull The Problem of Pain off my shelf and nonchalantly bend the spine in half to read the preface, and me compulsively clenching my fists so that I wouldn't smack him down and rescue Lewis. Oh well. I guess I take a middle course here, because I do occasionally lend books out to people who have submitted to my background checks ("Uh, how are you with books?") or seem to be of general good character. Just last week I (or rather, Lindsay) lent out my annotated copy of Blue Like Jazz and got it back without any injury, and once I even let a friend borrow my prized copy of Phantastes by George MacDonald. But these are the exceptions.
Anyway, Mortimer Adler's essay is a great short read. Give it a look, and feel free to explain your own politics of book lending and marking. If you are brave enough, you could even rate the level of "dilapidation" your library currently enjoys...
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Everybody wants to dabble in child-rearing these days, and I blame Hillary Clinton. Earlier this week when Lindsay walked down to KC’s City Market with Aidan (a few blocks from our apartment), an old-man fruit seller looked at her dubiously. “You brought him out here without any kind of hat?!”
The sky had looked vaguely overcast when Lindsay and Aidan began their journey, and now it was about to start raining—but mothers are supposed to use their innate weather-forecasting abilities to protect their children from dampness of any sort.
Yesterday Lindsay was taking Aidan for a stroll around the block when a middle-aged black man suggested, “Isn’t it kind of hot for her to be outside?” “Actually, I think he will be fine,” Lindsay replied. Not bad. If I’d been there, I would have said, “Does this look to you like a freakin’ village?”
It’s just as well these people don’t about Aidan’s home life, how he drinks about three cappuccinos a day and spends two hours each afternoon honing his jump shot. No doubt we should take a firmer line.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Contrasting The Aeneid with Heaven, Aeneas with Christ
I’ve been reading Virgil’s Aeneid lately, and amid the clashing weapons and the toppling sacrificial bulls, the pantheon of gods is hardly more amazing than the pantheon of heroes.
Aeneas is known for his nobility, Ascanius for his youthful charisma, Turnus for his ability to kill everyone in sight. But you soon lose track of the names. Warrior A is known for his fiery
trash-talking war chants, while Warrior B is known for his precision archery and Warrior C is noted for his remarkable foot speed. Continue through the entire alphabet two or three times, and you have an idea of the titanic battles that unfold in Virgil’s epic.
Not a hero is overlooked—not even when they are dying ignominiously (and stupidly). In fact, no hero can be overlooked in The Aeneid, because wartime mastery shines out in Virgil like whitecaps on a sun-drenched ocean. On the battlefield, a hero cannot hide. He reveals himself simply by being there and doing what warriors do. Kill enough guys and you are clearly a favorite of the gods.
I’ve been thinking that, unlike mythical Italy, earth may not be such a sure revealer of heroism. Soul-making is not so transparent a process as swordsmanship—and souls, not swords, is the industry God is concerned with.
In contrast to The Aeneid, where champions shine for a moment and sink into the oblivion of the underworld, heaven will be the place where many previously unknown conquerors are revealed—and not for just a moment, but for eternity.
I suspect that many legends will be heard for the first time in the next life, because even the best human storytellers have missed the fullness of what passes for glory in the eyes of God—the God who sent his son, not to massacre and plunder, but to be killed himself, and then give life.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
A Flash Review: Impassible Rifts, Inconsolable Desires, & Dragons
The Pilgrim’s Regress is not typically mentioned in the same breath as C.S. Lewis’s “blockbuster” works—The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and the Narnia books—and Regress doesn’t represent Lewis at the top of his game apologetically. Nevertheless, the book can’t be considered less than brilliant.
Pilgrim’s Regress is the first book C.S. Lewis wrote after his conversion to Christianity, and is his attempt to allegorically document the journey he took to reach faith in Christ, looking back over his shoulder, so to speak. Admittedly, Lewis’s prose in this book is sometimes dense in terms of layered meaning—but I have a hard time faulting this type of density! It just means you pause occasionally to ask yourself, What is he implying here?
Lewis presents a vision of the world that has the memorable lines of Narnia, in that it both embodies and transcends temporal reality.
Probably some people have been deterred from the allegory by its tone (whimsically erudite) and references (reflecting a classical education). Despite this, Pilgrim’s Regress is more incisive than its namesake, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In fact, despite the statistical popularity of Bunyan’s book (second only to the Bible in terms of Christian “literature”) I’d give Lewis’s allegory the nod.
The ontological blueprint, or map of meaning, which Lewis presents is both economical and easy on the eye. Each of the cardinal directions (North, South, etc.) has a significance that is simple but allows Lewis to adequately describe the philosophical atmosphere of earth—a realm where asceticism and hedonism clash, while the supernatural exerts a haunting magnetism on either side.
"This sweet Desire cuts across our ordinary distinctions between wanting and having. To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it."
Lewis presents a vision of the world that has the memorable lines of Narnia, in that it both embodies and transcends temporal reality. The terrain of Pilgrim’s Regress—frozen North, swampy South and inexplicable “Grand Canyon”— will be hard to forget. All the more so because I trace the same landscapes with my spirit.
I was also struck by the way that the central themes of Lewis’s thought were present here in allegorical kernel form. The Sehnsucht joy, or inconsolable longing, which Lewis describes so clearly in Surprised by Joy (his autobiography) and other books is present as “Romanticism” in Pilgrim’s Regress. The Afterword is invaluable in tracing this element in the story, and here Lewis clarifies what he wanted to convey (he notes that “Romanticism” has seven meanings other than the one he intends in Regress!):
The experience is one of intense longing...though the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight… This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth. And thus it comes about, that if the desire is long absent, it may itself be desired, and that new desiring becomes a new instance of the original desire, although the subject may not at once recognize the fact and thus cries out for his lost youth of soul at the very moment in which he is being rejuvenated. This sounds complicated, but it is simple when we live it. “Oh to feel as I did then!” we cry; not noticing that even while we say the words the very feeling whose loss we lament is rising again in all its old bitter-sweetness. For this sweet Desire cuts across our ordinary distinctions between wanting and having. To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it. [emphasis mine]
This strand in Lewis’s experience never fails to resonate with me. (Especially when he describes this “intense longing” using “my” terminology!) Another high point for me was Lewis’s depiction of the “Dialectic of Desire,” which describes the process through which he came to Christ. His longings (for something yet undiscovered) led him, blow by blow, from Atheism through Pantheism and various forms of humanistic thought to Christianity. Intriguingly, Lewis suggests, “The dialectic of Desire, faithfully followed, would retrieve all mistakes, head you off from all false paths, and force you not to propound, but to live through, a sort of ontological proof” (The Afterword).
In other words, Lewis believed that a person wholeheartedly pursuing the deepest fulfillment life could offer would eventually come to Christ. In a sense, I think he was right on this—if only people were this determined and this authentic in their searching. If only desire ran this deep! Perhaps Lewis was coming to terms with the fallible longings of humans when he later wrote, “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak.”
I had better give up on the “high points” now, or this Flash Review will become a literary form of halogen lighting. I’ll only say that the character of Reason, riding her war horse with sword in hand, and the glimpses of Heaven that seep into the novel, are beautiful. Also, this story contains dragons—and that's always in a book's favor.
Ultimately, Lewis was perhaps at his best when he spoke about the presence of “eternity in the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes), and he doesn’t fail to strike this soulful note in Pilgrim’s Regress.
Listed on the Master Book List.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
I've been meaning to take a moment and point you toward my friend Timothy's blog. He currently lives in Germany, and has the admirable distinction of being one of the most voracious student of Theology I know. He's not studying the subject in school (although maybe he should!) but he's more serious about Theology than most seminary students I've met.
I've been following his blog for a couple weeks now, and Brevard Childs, Karl Barth, and Jonathan Edwards are a few of the names that've come up. (I'm still waiting for the definitive treatment of Luther.)
Enough said. Go check out The Mental Stomach of D. Timothy Goering. I particularly enjoyed his recent post about self-reflection.
A few days ago when Iambic asked me what I thought about heaven, I considered writing a post to outline my answer. Then I realized that such a post would be ambitious and lengthy, and it’s best not to attempt that kind of post after a full day of mowing lawns in 90 degree weather. Iambic said:
What do you think we'll be doing in heaven? My particular interest is in the arts: will we be able to read books, watch movies, and go to plays whose strength and power comes from their depiction of sin and/or suffering? Will there be any Hamlet in paradise? I wonder....
I wondered what to do. A) Let the query slide? B) Make a brief and inadequate response? C) Lay out a series of suggestions without explaining the reasoning behind them? D) Or link a previous post that partially covered her questions?
Then I decided to throw in a little of treatment B) as well, while swapping out one word: Make a brief and
Scripturally, heaven will be a “new earth” occupied by people with “new bodies”—I find in these descriptions a very strong indication of physicality. I question the place that some familiar pastimes will have in heaven; i.e., will books be necessary, or will we have more efficient ways of experiencing the art and literature of the past? And in what new light will we view the tragic catharsis of a story like Hamlet? Will movies be scoffed at as “second-hand” experience? Certainly, all new art (and I think there will be much) will be based on a new system of drama—one that hinges upon the infinite nuances of strength and beauty, and their startling effects upon the human psyche.
Heaven will host a civilization of people galvanized to effective industry (all sorts) by a central Light that permeates everything they see and do. Christ will be heaven's ultimate glory, but I think we will learn, conclusively, that he intends for us to glorify him in everything we do—and there will be more to do than singing. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“I seem to hear, like a kind of echo, an answer from beyond the world. “You will have real obligations, and therefore real adventures when you get to my Utopia. But the hardest obligation and the steepest adventure is to get there.”
I see no reason why many current loves may not be reborn in heaven. I, for one, intend to hone my hoops game and finally make the NBA. When I was at the top of my game, I needed six more inches on my vertical to dunk. One of the minor benefits of eternal life will be the luxury of unlimited training time.
You may want to scan the 'Heaven' listing in my del.icio.us index. It's a topic that tends to reemerge here.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Back in June, as I felt the warm undercurrents of summer pulling me toward a bookish ocean, I named a handful of must-reads that would be accompanying me on the trip. Little did I know that a dangerous vortex lay ahead in the form of my now-infamous Summer Class. Fortunately, my sea-course has been gradually corrected. When Lindsay and I went shopping for used books at our local library last weekend, I felt sanguine enough to make some new acquisitions.
If you haven’t guessed already, the sole purpose of this post is to showcase my new books. You never enjoy anything fully until you share it with others, right? Coming up soon is an update on my projected reads. (I’ve finished one and I’m halfway through two more; three guesses as to which the first book I finished was...)
But here are the new faces. Scan ‘em and be glad.
(Helprin's book is also a newcomer.)
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Falling in love is a leap in the dark, a surge of irrational romanticism, a step you’re sure to regret. Love is a palace of existential design, and no one who has thought it over ever goes there. The front door is gaudy but the floor will not hold. Entering houses without foundations is dangerous, and the smart people run for the hills:
I find a fatal flaw
in the logic of love
and went out of my head.
You love a sinking stone
that will never elope
so get used to the lonesome,
girl, you must atone some.
Don’t leave me no phone number there.
- “Gone for Good,” The Shins
That’s how things stand without Christ on the playing field. In the natural setting, no one is worthy of my love nor am I worthy to be loved by anyone. No criminal of the heart is really adorable, and this is what we are. Everyone will break your heart, given the chance, and the beautiful will do it a little faster.
Without Christ, all love is irrational—admirable but insane. Nevertheless, our leanings to love unreservedly and whole-heartedly reveal that we were meant to love, and that we were meant to love perfectly at that. The unlikely conclusion: We were intended to love perfect beings and be loved by them in return. Only Jesus gives this picture the tincture of reality.
Christ restores the logic of love, because he reanimates scarred hearts with compassion and reinvests dirty lives with purity. Christ pays off the criminal debts we accumulate through self-centered living, and provokes a massive reversal in our lives: instability to wholeness, emptiness to wealth.
This is the power of the cross: disintegrating lives are salvaged from sin and death and set on a transformative course that leads to life. The blood of Jesus sweeps through a black and cancerous heart and makes it good. Outside of Christ we are bent and unstable. In Christ we are being made perfect. Thus, only Jesus restores the logic of love.
We turn to the God who is eternally beautiful, glorious, and trustworthy, and find our souls restored. Jesus is the first and final lover, and when we embrace him, Christ in us assures us that love is not a losing wager.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The love of God cannot be adequately researched online or in an armchair. The fact that you are reading about it now only implies that you won’t understand it if this is the only place you find it.
Gaining the knowledge of God’s love requires power. And not the power of the microprocessor or even of the IQ. The exploration of Christ’s love is a kind of knowing not available to minds in intellectual isolation. Only in a community of faith can you discover “the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18) of the love of God.
In other words, tapping this divine affection is a spiritually sinewy business, and not a pursuit that can be entered alone. Navigating Christ’s “lovingkindness” is a team game—because as we investigate it, we also begin to embody it. No one can measure it by herself, because the effects are inner-outer, arcing out and flooding in. Christ pours out his love within his church, and it calls for both digestion and expression.
Love is a lofy peak in the multifaceted character of God. As we long to measure the depths and heights of the heavenly Everest, an earth-defying giant with hidden roots, we understand that to approach the mystery alone will result in disorientation.
We are meant to see the heights reflected in the eyes and voices of our friends. As John said about his master, Jesus, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). This was the way in which the mystery appeared—in flesh and blood—in and through Jesus. And now in and through Jesus's followers.
Christ’s love is the founding mystery of the world, and it is known only in relationship. It is hard to be saved if you are by yourself. And it is hard to aid someone else if you are alone. We find ourselves driven into community to know the love of God.
Everybody loves spirituality. It’s more popular than caffeine or iPods. Spirituality has the same allure as “fashion”—until we get specific. It’s at that point that the prep kid thumbs his nose at the frat boy, and the Goth sneers at her neighbor’s cheerleader get-up.
Likewise, the soft category of spirituality has a billion happy advocates—but Christian spirituality has just a few.
In Eugene Peterson’s introductory volume to “spiritual theology,” Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, he makes a series of distinctions that have been and will continue to be central to the identity of this “spiritual” blog.
At this time in our history, “spirituality” seems to be the term of choice to refer to this vast and intricate web of “livingness…” I am quite content to work in this field of spirituality with whatever is given me, however vague and fuzzy. But I am also interested in providing as much clarity and focus as I am able by identifying life, all of life, as God-derived, God-sustained, and God-blessed: “I walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 116:9).
So, by labeling this blog “spiritual,” I’ve put BitterSweetLife in the middle of a huge, amorphous, waterway of vying “spiritualities.” And like Peterson, I’m happy enough to do this, because it opens up a level of conversation. An ambiguous spirituality is all right with me—at first—because almost as soon as I begin talking (i.e. you begin reading), preconceptions and generalities will start flying loose like mud off a bike wheel.
This goes to say that, as an arbiter of Christian spirituality, I can’t get away from the fact that part of my job is to debunk and (even) excoriate other “brands” that mistakenly assume All Truths Are Created Equal. How does this happen? How do I get to this exclusive point of specific spirituality? More quickly than you might think.
Jesus is the name that keeps us attentive to the God-defined, God-revealed life. The amorphous limpness so often associated with “spirituality” is given skeleton, sinews, definition, shape, and energy by the term “Jesus.” Jesus is the personal name of a person who lived at a datable time in an actual land that has mountains we can still climb, wildflowers that can be photographed, cities in which we can still buy dates and pomegranates, and water which we can drink and in which we can be baptized. As such the name counters the abstraction that plagues “spirituality.”
And so, while I’m eager to engage in conversation with any and all “spiritual” persuasions, my conversation will inevitably involve a limiting of options, a criticism of naïve assumptions. I couldn’t get away from this even if I wanted to.
I’m reminded of all this when I get invitations from other advocates of spirituality who mistakenly assume we’re all in the same boat. We’re on the same river, yes—we all live in reality—but we’re cutting the waves in different directions.
In the next couple weeks, you may see some “spiritual” reviews (by request) which will include, as inherent to BitterSweetLife and the Christian faith, critique as well as dialogue.
Consider it a consequence of engaging with reality.
Friday, July 21, 2006
- Christian perfume ( "It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: 'What's that you're wearing?' " Hobbs said. "Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They've opened the door, and now they're going to get it.")
- Stuffed animals wearing "Jesus Loves You" T-shirts
- Camouflage baseball caps with red crosses
- Golf balls with John 3:16 printed on them ("a great golf ball with a greater purpose")
- Christian health clubs
- Christian insurance agencies
- Christian tree trimmers (who advertise in Christian business directories)
- Christian gangsta rap
- Christian shoot-'em-up video games
- Christian sweatbands
- Christian playing cards
- Christian scrapbook supplies
- Christian children's pajamas
- Life of Faith dolls (like American Girl, expect "the dolls come clutching Bibles; their stories, sprinkled with Scripture, describe how the girls find sustenance in their faith")
- Scripture Candy
This is disgusting. It's almost enough for me to create some Christian signage and go do some Christian protesting. Check out Taylor's commentary for a thorough critique.
In an effort to get away from my typically urban weekend photos, I found this relic from a trip to the Kansas City Zoo. I had to situate myself so the trees shielded my camera from the glaring sunlight. Oh yeah - getting the leopard to growl at the camera was also a bit of a challenge. Wriggling my fingers near his mouth did the trick. Of course, in the days since, going through life with nine fingers has presented its own set of challenges...
Black & White rendition
See also Joe's photo and Steve's photo.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I’m still not back to 100% health, but I found this old editorial I wrote during my tenure as Editor-in-Chief at Johnson County Community College (Overland Park, Kansas). This would have been my sophomore year of college, about six years ago… Despite my better judgment, I’m posting the piece almost in its entirety. This was the final editorial I wrote for the Campus Ledger.
…Going to classes here and editing a newspaper have given me more than my fill of life lessons. Several can be summarized briefly:
- Good friends are hard to find. When speaking to people, the key is sometimes hearing what they’re saying and not what they’re telling you; with good friends, the two elements are the same.
- Real education is training to live! Learning is having active tools placed in our hands (minds), not receiving temporary info-fixes.
- Schoolwork is not real work, people. Unfortunately, the next crop of McDonald’s All-Americans, college students who have brilliantly developed the ability to boil greasy fries at McDonald’s, are already in the wings.
However, the deepest lesson I am taking from my experience here is this: There is nothing so beautiful or unique or true that it cannot be obscured by self-deception. The few precious things in life are victimized by many popular trends: lazy reasoning, greedy self-justification, purely functionalist explanations or too much to drink.
Nothing is so dangerous to life-direction and a fulfilled and joyful existence as the hideous popular assumption that all beliefs and practices are equally “good.”
Somehow, in the ensuing shuffle, things are lost that we didn’t mean to throw away: Integrity. Hope. Patriotism. Completely pure sex.
Some things really are better and more wonderful, folks. Some things are truly more worthless and dark. Neither all religions nor all mental states are created equal. Life is not a level playing field.
It’s far better to go through life fully awake than in a drunken stupor. It seems ironic that someone could even point this out, and be making a point, but the irony is a reality.
Under the banner of “tolerance,” wherein every viewpoint and behavior is equally valid, one could assert that an alcoholic or drug-induced reality has genuine social worth and desirability. And, in the name of “tolerance,” we would have to nod and say, “That’s right.”
If we are honest, we will have to admit, as one of the first modern thinkers suggested, that without the conscious process of seeking truth and beauty, we may as well be governed by a dog. Who’s to say that a dog’s social idioms might not suit us better than some of the ones we currently enjoy?
In the name of tolerance, we assume the right to organize and evaluate every framework of knowledge…but in that same name, we have no right to evaluate anything. We say that everything is equal, and at the same time try to discover what is best.
We want to be arbiters of “good” itself, but in doing so, we destroy any basis for ever finding it. So much is lost. So much is ruined, as in the name of tolerance, we destroy any chance that we will ever find truth or beauty, and suddenly the excellent is no better than the filth.
This knowledge touches deeply every area of life.
The popular campus culture is in some ways worth much less than the can you may recycle. Twenty years from now, many students will regret wasted time, wasted effort, drugs and promiscuous sex. Some already do.
There will be tears over one-night stands and carelessly developed addictions, accepted because such a lifestyle was “equally valid.” There will be tears over virginity and personal integrity, thrown away because such a lifestyle was “equally worthless.”
There is nothing so beautiful or unique or true that it cannot be obscured by self-deception.
Thank God that pain and fragmentary questions can be silenced and resolved into peace through Jesus Christ.
We don’t do things just to have something to do. We do things because they are helpful or detrimental, good or evil, and there is always a difference. Don’t forget that.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
(Blogger Down for Repairs)
In an ironic turn of events, 100 degree weather combined with a cold/flu bug has temporarily incapacitated this blogger. He doesn’t feel up to writing a prolonged post, so he is defaulting to the more modest role of Link Promoter...
WORLD magazine’s latest issue features an interview with Stephen J. Nichols, author of a new book, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards's Vision of Living in Between. Combine the topic of heaven with the theology of Jonathan Edwards, and this book is already eyeing its place on my shelf.
In the course of the interview, Nichols points of the centrality of pleasure in the Christian faith, notes that “heaven is something that starts now” (see my post on Heaven, the “priorlife”), takes a swing at the stupid prosperity gospel, quotes C.S. Lewis, and throws in a sports analogy for good measure—all to the end of explaining Edwards’ thought. Nice work!
Here’s an excerpt:
WORLD: So why, in Edwards's time and our own, has Christianity been saddled with the reputation of being anti-pleasure?
SJN: Some of it's a caricature, but some of it's deserved. Christians often stumble when talking about pleasure. We tend to talk about what we're against. For instance, we tout sexual abstinence when we should also be touting the pleasures of sex in marriage. We tend to be, or at least appear to be, uncomfortable in this world, which is tragically ironic since this world belongs to our Father. On a deeper level, we should also be challenging contemporary society's redefinition of happiness from a life of virtue to the rather vacuous self-centered and self-absorbed life. My pleasure isn't only about me; pleasure is more than what makes me happy.
After you scan the whole interview, you may conclude the book is also a must-read.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Over at HiFi, my man Oneway has ended an extended silence with an outburst of freestyle rhyme:
...The Truth can’t be bound up within a thick book
He comes across your face more like a left hook.
Ask Saul of Tarsus
He dropped like a carcass
God shook his whole frame...
Go read the rest. Considering that Oneway claims to have grabbed these lines out of thin air this a.m., maybe I should raise my expectations for the morning drive to work.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Assignments from my class last week are still hovering around like horse flies, waiting to be summarily slapped down and crushed under my sneakered foot. In the meantime, the increased irritant of 100 degree weather (no metaphor) has driven me to seek solace in a nearby oasis (back to metaphor): The Pilgrim’s Regress, by C.S. Lewis.
At last, a little wish-fulfillment is taking place.
While I've heard bits and pieces of Regress, I hadn't realized the intricacy and depth of Lewis's allegory. For example, I wasn't aware that the book featured a brief retelling of The Garden account from Genesis:
Up to this time the country had been full of a certain fruit which the Landlord had planted for the refreshment of himself and his children…but it is very strong and only those who are mountain-bred ought to eat it, for only they can digest it properly… But now that there were to be men in the land, the Landlord was afraid that they might do themselves an injury… So he decided that it was best to be frank with the young people, and when he found a great big mountain-apple tree growing in the very center of the farm he said, “So much the better. If they are to learn sense, they may as well learn it from the beginning: and if they will not, there’s no help for it.”
And scan this blurb from Lewis’s pernicious “Mr. Sensible” (who could also be tagged, “Mr. Tolerance”):
“Sense is easy, Reason is hard. Sense knows where to stop with gracious inconsistency, while Reason slavishly follows an abstract logic whither she knows not. The one seeks comfort and finds it, the other seeks truth and is still seeking.”
Lewis is already exerting a soothing, rejuvenating effect on my mind. I'm hoping to get to some more substantial posts soon...
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Read the next several sentences before you discount this one as madness: Having the mind of God might be slightly like having the mind of the guy I just passed on the street.
Or, for that matter, like having Lindsay’s mind. Or our next door neighbor’s. Not that this would be all that helpful. If mental taps could be conducted quickly and easily, we would all find ourselves with an even bigger load of orphaned information.
What am I saying? Well, knowledge leads to ability—but knowledge is not actual ability, per say. Intelligence leads to aptitude, but the reflexes must still be trained. Technique must be fleshed out.
For example, anyone who found themselves in possession of my mind would discover they grasped, technically, how to shoot a high-percentage jump shot with excellent backspin (it’s all about follow-through). But they would still have to spend hours on the blacktop in order to add the fade-away J to their game.
Likewise, someone who tapped Lindsay’s mind would gain an instant understanding of proper vocal technique. But would they instantly possess her mad singing ability? Not likely.
In a similar way, I think, the mind of Christ, which is handed down to his followers (1 Corinthians 2:16), is something we grow into. Tactical knowledge can only take us so far—the real change appears through discipline and practice: prayer, immersion in the Bible, active service, accountability, etc., all empowered by God. We work hard in order to become like Christ, and exploit the gift he’s given us. Slowly, a basic understanding of Jesus’ heart expands into an embodiment of it.
People go to amazing lengths in order to improve their tennis games. We spend our weekends frivolously on golf and gourmet cookery—but we think that knowing God should be a snap—easier than scrap-booking or staying up with fads.
In reality, getting the mind of Christ is Christianity 101. The rest of life is required for incarnation—and thus, for graduation.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Recovering from my week-long class means catching up on some of my favorite blogs - and, in this case, encouraging you to go have a read as well.
John B. of Blog Meridian outlines the similarities between Fight Club, the movie, and "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," the jarring short story by Flannery O'Connor. The common thread? Two protagonists who are committed to living authentically, no matter the darkness of the implications. John writes:
The Misfit and Tyler Durden, in their own ways seek to live an authentic life. They speak a similar language out of a similar desire to live outside of/beyond the need for Something that transcends their respective messy selves.
This post is provocative, and well worth a read. What does it look like when we look for transcendence, but only on our own terms? (A person who balks at the inevitability of faith in this life finds that the only alternative is nihilistic...)
This photo could be interpreted as an allegory to my week-long class. Peering at the real world through a shady but inflexible grid... But that would be silly, right?
Indulging my weakness for parking garage photos, I took this one this morning in an effort to shake off the tedium of the past week. The photo shoot was a good start, but it will probably take some more sleep, some C.S. Lewis, and some pick-up basketball, before I consider myself restored to health.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Spammers apparently think their route to infamy is coolness-by-association.
Over the last couple days I've been experimenting with a new comments hack that required me to disable word-verification on comments. Net result: 43 spam comments in about 24 hours. I've deleted most of 'em, but if you subscribe to this blog's comment feed (you probably should), you maybe noticed the ones that escaped.
Be assured the little pests are being hunted down and destroyed. Comment verification is back on, and comment scripts are running smoothly. So talk freely; begin a discussion - this Indie-blog is back on track.
I just stumbled across a new blog, Iambic Admonit, that I have to describe as "delightful." I don't toss that adjective out very often, so consider it a sign of pleased respect. And then go read this post on C.S. Lewis's Oxford stamping grounds, complete with photos and dialogue: Through the Wardrobe. It's a treat.
I've got to get over to Oxford one of these days.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Here's an '06-'07 Jayhawk basketball rundown for you mad NCAA hoops fans to chew on while I am enduring my last class session tomorrow. ESPN has started taking preemptive stabs at next season, and their predictions are pretty far-flung. If you're a Big 12 fan you'll dig this article. And if you're a KU fan, you'll really dig it.
Good times are shooting toward us, and from here the backspin looks excellent. July is a good time to start prepping for November.
I know what the dog feels like as he sprawls on the floor, warm air currents swirling past. He is too hot to stir a muscle. Inactivity is his only defense against a muggy death.
Now and then he raises his head and a spark of intelligence glimmers briefly in his eye—he fetches down a piece of the droning monologue that wheels past, and chews on it quietly, careful to avoid unwarranted exertion…
The dog is more interested in lapping up water than in the kitsch of the information age surrounding him. The room is stuffy and he is sleepy. Sleepy and thirsty. Where is the lawn? Where are the open fields?
He wants to go outside but he knows that he must wait until the door is opened by the master—outspoken and animated and large—the master has his own agenda for the dog; this is training school. And truly, these are the dog days of learning.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Maybe you remember my stated intention to read Mark Driscoll’s new book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. (among other things). My Summer Reading Plan encountered an unexpected setback when several massive books fell on my head (about 1500 pages at last count). I’ve been nursing my wounds for the past week, and I’m not back to full health yet.
During this fiasco, Christianity Today featured an interview with Driscoll that upped my interest in his book still more. Here are some juicy excerpts.
>> The major blind spot of megachurches is that they tend to be very effeminate with aesthetics, music, and preaching perfectly tailored for moms. Manly men are repelled by this, and many of the men who find it appealing are the types to sing prom songs to Jesus and learn about their feelings while sitting in a seafoam green chair drinking herbal tea—the spiritual equivalent of Richard Simmons...
>> The two hot theologies today are Reformed and emerging. Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent. Emerging theology offers obscurity, with a neutered God who would not say an unkind word to us, did not crush Jesus for our sins, and would not send anyone to hell.
And my personal favorite:
>> I have thousands of books in my library and lean most heavily on dead guys for theology and modern stand-up comedians for preaching tips. In the end, I am an old-school, Jesus-loving Bible-thumper with a penchant for the portrait of Jesus in Revelation as an ultimate fighter with a tattoo down his leg.
The interview points up Driscoll’s aggressive approach to theology and doing church. He doesn’t pull any punches, and people will tend to love him or hate him for it. There is probably room for some nuanced differences, but I am liking this guy.
Monday, July 10, 2006
A potential downside of blogging is that it could “pull you away from real life.” However, I’m not overly concerned about this, since most hobbies pose the same danger—given that real life is not what we typically make it out to be: the car, the job, the house, etc.
Real life is about engagement, first with God, and then with anyone and everyone nearby. I’m convinced that someone who walks closely with Christ will tend “naturally” (supernaturally, really) to be involved in the lives of other people. Of course, there is the nagging problem of our sin nature to deal with.
But Christ is stronger than sin. Walk with Jesus, and you find yourself walking with other people, and wishing that you could when you find yourself isolated.
Also worth noting, though, is that a bias for engagement doesn’t rule out the “sessions of sweet, silent thought” (Shakespeare) that even Jesus found necessary for the health of his soul. This typically paradoxical: We Christians must have a penchant for relationship, knowing that our spiritual vitality ultimately depends on “solitary” pleasure in the presence of God.
Sweet solitude with Christ precludes real community with anyone else.
And now, here’s the post that kicked off this one: Camille’s Introversion (which sounds good to me).
At age eighteen, in the middle of a gorgeous summer, I realized I was supposed to savor the glory of God. This was slightly perplexing. Summer—that I knew how to enjoy. Blacktop hoops, hanging with friends, working hard and playing in the sun. Enjoying summer is elementary; enjoying God seemed advanced. To enjoy divine glory was the goal. But how did one “get at” God?
I labored under the modern conception of “facts” as miscellaneous details piled in a game box, a kind of sterile trivia. The average fact is highly irrelevant to life.
I believed in Christ. I loved him. I knew he was powerful, merciful, perfect—“glorious.” But to “taste” that glory? To apprehend it in a more experiential way? I wanted something I could wade in, or taste, or inhale. I wanted tangibility.
My senses—the senses I used to enjoy other things, like Gatorade™ and lakes—balked at the concept of savoring God. I found myself fighting an instinctual disconnect. Tasting God seemed like smelling colors. Somehow, I knew this wasn’t the case, but I struggled to get past it.
I saw that Christ’s glory—the glory that satisfied like miraculous H20, if you could get a drink—was centered in the truth of his character. And since I had no immediate, sensory experience with Christ, I would have to apprehend that truth mentally, at least at first.
This took awhile to soak in.
I labored under the modern conception of “facts” as miscellaneous details piled in a game box, a kind of sterile trivia. The average fact is highly irrelevant to life. Since when do congruent angles move hearts? Since when do people weep for joy over the evening news? In this info-bit context, I struggled to bridge the gap between God-“facts” and some kind of experiential “glory.”
I found myself returning to an ironic place—the land of relevant truth. The grass hadn’t looked this green since I’d abandoned my tricycle, and the sky shone like it had from the jungle gym.
How could “information” about Christ translate into tasted goodness, flavor in the soul, fiery and sweet? It had to enter through the mind, apparently—but first I had to let Truth reemerge. My preconceptions had obscured it, relegated it to list form. But stripped of its newspaper wrappings, truth shone with its own unrivaled glory. It was beautiful indeed, but on its own terms. Today, if I found truth lounging in the Sports section or promenading on the Morning Show, I would feel betrayed.
For the truth, I discovered, was not temporarily helpful or momentarily entertaining. It was not “interesting,” thank God. I was pleased to discover that truth defied the casual slickness of FYI, and I was elated to realize that Dan Rather and People Magazine never featured it. This ultimate, soul-filling truth defied the sophistry of pundits, periodicals, columnists and clinics. Truth was the home I lived in, not the phone book where I was listed. The truth surrounded me. I walked in it, breathed it, climbed up through it. The truth had everything to do with me, and I had everything to do with it.
Therefore, after an interval of some years, I found myself returning to an ironic place—the land of relevant truth. The grass hadn’t looked this green since I’d abandoned my tricycle, and the sky shone like it had from the jungle gym. With amazement, I watched the tedium of the information age fade.
I was developing an amateurish custom of stumbling on the truth; that summer it was furthered, by happy accident, and I forced myself to keep on going. I sensed that something waited up ahead—a Truth too big for daily slices; a mind that words could hardly sketch; a Fact that defied all “facts.”
That Fact seemed radiant as stars and hard as bone. Smash all the decade’s information to bits, assemble it as a mosaic, and what would I find? A puzzle that could occupy me for five lifetimes but bore me in five minutes. Journey toward this great Fact for 80 years, and what would I discover? Glory.
Glory himself, in his original and mysterious and non-dictionary sense. A Being so multi-faceted, so huge, so deep, that I could only brush at the surface of him—and be transformed anyway. A mere taste, a partial apprehension, would color my character. A 12-ounce drink would enliven me for a lifetime, and after that…? An oasis, a great revealing.
I was learning that truth was phenomenal and not merely empirical. It possessed a primal energy and magnetism, it walked the earth. It could be met and tasted after all.
Related post: Show Us Jesus (How do we "see the unseen?")