Thursday, August 31, 2006

Evidence of My Close Walk with God

A Satirical List for Diagnostic Purposes

  1. For one thing, I can’t wait for Christ to return. My annual income sucks!
  2. I am not inordinately interested in things of small value. I don’t confuse promotions, college sports, new trends in hiking gear, with life’s mere frivolities.
  3. I’m not soft on my sin, which is to say, I don't neglect it. I'm concerned for its health and appearance, and the way it dresses.
  4. I don’t feel any distance from God; I know he’s nearby, as evidenced by these candles and attractive Christian plaques.
  5. My spiritual life is not driven by a sense of duty or obligation. Well, except for reading the Bible, prayer, and church. But other than these exceptions, nada.
  6. I’m definitely not chronically bored and restless. I’ve found that snack food and computer games have helped me to escape boredom (praise God).
  7. It’s a great comfort to me that God hears everything I say and in fact knows what I'll say before I say it. This is a big time-saver.
  8. The final, conclusive proof of my godliness: Not that I’ll step on your toes or make you feel uncomfortable—but sorry, I am going to say “godblessyou” when you sneeze. Yeah, I’m not backing down from the gospel.



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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Your Sick Human Heart

Last week my friend Scott and I were reading the book of Jeremiah, which includes one of the most memorable statements regarding human nature ever penned. If it didn’t come direct from God, most of would be rushing to expunge this “incredibly pessimistic” comment from the book. Liberal humanist types had better grab something solid while they take in this query:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

If any of us said this, we would feel compelled to back up our claims—which would not be all that difficult, given the near-infinite availability of empirical evidence documenting human sinfulness. Not Jeremiah, though. He notes the words—which are God’s—like a good shorthand journalist and moves on. The certainty of direct revelation is something I can only dream about.

However, the verse caused me to think about the way in which even our attempts to be unaffected are affected (“deceitful above all things”). We make a brave show of authenticity. We apply various honest masks in order to “keep it real.”

Not to say it’s always this way. But I have a hard time accounting for this kind of knee-jerk duplicity without hearing statements like the one on Jeremiah. A glance at the front page on any weekdays reveals that humans are very sophisticated when it comes to evilbut why? Here’s an eye-opening assessment from O.H. Mowrer, one-time president of the American Psychological Association:
For several decades, we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus, and proclaimed our liberation from it as epoch-making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense—that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful—is to court the danger of also becoming lost. This danger, is I believe, betokened by the widespread interest in existentialism which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral and ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of self-hood and identity, and with neurotics themselves find ourselves asking, “Who am I? What is my deepest destiny? What does living really mean?”

Again and again, the Bible gets it right. When alternative explanations try to take on the human heart, they falter. Only God’s revelation can begin to explain the elusive reality hinted at by Augustine:
I placed myself behind myself all the time. You took me from behind myself, put me in front of myself. I saw myself and was horrified.

Are we to believe this ingrained, reflexive bias toward deception is simply an educational issue? If this was the case, a mere change of program, a smart course of study, should solve the problem. If only it were so easy. Modern society has been beating its head against the wall of human evil for the last several centuries, searching for the “educational” strategy that will solve this lingering dilemma.

But only a new birth can heal this kind of "sickness."



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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Aidan the Activist

Aidan James Vanderhorst
Aidan and I have invented a new game. At least that’s what I’m calling it.

For some time now Aidan has been joining me at the computer as I slap together my blog posts. He watches me as I enact my pre-blog ritual: staring blankly at the screen, downing a tankard of pitch-black coffee in three gulps, chasing it with a shot of vodka, and then typing, relentlessly pounding the keyboard, publishing my post (on average) about four minutes later. Aidan watches and takes notes.

Not really.
Aidan James

What Aidan does instead is sit on my lap and craftily attempt to sabotage my work. Aidan is extremely handy with his feet (how do you like that?), which makes me afraid that he’ll be a soccer star instead of playing at KU and then in the NBA. But more to the point, he likes to push and kick things with his feet. So as he sits there, helping me type and occasionally offering editorial suggestions, he will deviously move his feet closer and closer to the keyboard. (At this stage in his life, he has the flexibility of a very large frog.)

Aidan James Vanderhorst

Then, after he has inched his toes up to the keyboard, WHAM! he disables it with a sudden kick. Fortunately, It didn’t take long for me to catch onto his little game.

Now our blogging sessions go like this:

Aidan moves his feet up on the keyboard. I push them down. Aidan looks away, then inches his feet towards the keyboard and I push ‘em down. Aidan smiles up at me and lifts his feet onto the—I push them down. Aidan does a little crow (like Peter Pan) and shoves his—I push them down. Aidan spits up (a clever diversion) and slides—I push them down. Aidan twitches his calf muscles—I push them down. Aidan moves—I push them down. I push them down. Push them down, push them down, push them down.

I’m not sure what surprises me more, this kid’s willpower, his persistence, or his strength and agility. I can see an epic struggle for dominion approaching on the horizon.

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Jonathan Edwards, Lions, Beer


This just in from The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University:

I am told that this image is derived from Edwards' beer tankard. It also appears on the JE college tie.

Now you know.

As a fan of Edwards and a guy whose full name means "Lion of God" in Hebrew, I appreciate this news. Also fascinating is the appearance of this stunning crest on Edward's beer tankard. Surely there are implications?



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Free Derek Webb CD

Free Derek Webb

Starting on September 1, Christian artist Derek Webb will be giving away his latest album, Mockingbird, for free. Why is he doing this? Apparently he thinks it will promote conversation and reflection, which is especially important for a singer/activist like Webb.

You can
sign up here, or just hit up the site on September 1. If you're new to Derek Webb, here's a sentence description: Musically talented, theologically engaged, politically involved, and most definitely provocative. I haven't heard this particular CD as of yet.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

The Blog Wins!

I'm not sure about the mechanics of all this, but I've been notified that BitterSweetLife won yesterday's Blog of the Day Award. Whoooop! Thanks to my friend Andy for the nomination.

Now, if you feel so led, you can hit up the Blog of the Day site and shamelessly plug nominate your favorite blogs.

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Good Things Come in Pairs…

…has always seemed to me like an adage more or less lacking in support. In my experience, good things typically comes in ones if they come at all. Think about it. If the proverb was really true, then getting married would always be a coin flip. But I digress.

Yesterday, perhaps for the first time, good things did come in pairs. One of our friends gave me an unopened bag of Starbuck’s Kenyan coffee beans. Why? Because the coffee had been a gift to someone in her family, and while her family drinks coffee, they are not “into it enough” to grind up beans.

This strikes me as an excellent reason to give me a bag of coffee beans, and if anyone else is in this position, I’m more than ready to help out. There’s no reason why your unopened bag of gourmet coffee beans should be left on the shelf to slowly disintegrate. And clearly, throwing them out would be equally wasteful. I’ll bail ya.

The second good thing was an authentic menu from “The Eagle and Child,” the Oxford pub frequented by C.S. Lewis and other members of The Inklings. (True to form as writers, Lewis and his fellow authors, couldn’t help renaming the place as “The Bird and Baby.”)

The menu, lushly produced for resale, contains a paragraph on Lewis and the Inklings:

It has been a favorite watering-hole of J.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, as well as other fellow writers. The writers dubbed themselves ‘The Inklings’ and often met for discussion (and argument!) over a pint or two in the Rabbit Room of the pub they called ‘The Bird and Baby.’ Lewis wrote of the ‘golden sessions’ they enjoyed by a blazing fire with their drinks to hand, and the wide ranging nature of their philosophical and literary conversations. On a wall near the bar is a note to the landlord from these men, written in 1949 during one of their convivial meetings – it bears their signatures and states that they have drunk his health.

What good natured chaps!

The menu was presented to me by a couple from church who had just returned from a trip to England—and with the menu came a picture of the half-pint that Mrs. F. had consumed in honor of the hallowed place. Unexpectedly, she said that the beer was tepid and bitter and she had to choke it down… Huh? For the sake of comfortable idealization, I think I’ll let this detail slide. In my imaginings, it's essential that The Inklings be sipping cool, frothy beer, brewed to perfection.

So there you have it. Good things in pairs. I’m not expecting this to necessarily happen again, so I’m trying to maximize my enjoyment. ;)



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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dialogue with Spencer Burke

A couple days ago I noted that an article I'd submitted to Spencer Burke's emerging church site, The Ooze, had finally been posted. I had a little fun with the topic, since about a year had elapsed since I'd submitted my article, and in that interim Spencer Burke had published a fairly controversial book, A Heretic's Guide to Heaven. Now I could add to my literary resume the interesting distinction of being published on "a heretic's website."

To be fair, however, I'm posting this response that Spencer Burke appended to my earlier post (Oozing into the Blogosphere):

Ariel,

Thanks for submitting your article.

TheOOZE is a community site and you will find people, message posts and articles from all points of view. In the last election I think we were one of the only christian venues where real honest and open discussion about the candidates and the issues could be discussed without feeling like you said something wrong (be it too conservative or liberal).

I hope difference in opinion opens the dialogue deeper, wider and richer for all to learn from. Although I am finding that might not be as true as I once assumed...

Got to say I'm favorably impressed by the gracious nature of Spencer's response. I'm a little out to sea regarding the fallacies in his theology, because I haven't read his stuff myself. Moreover, my being in school and having several additional books by C.S. Lewis on my "to-read" list makes it unlikely that I will do so in the near future.

Anyone interested can find a brief overview of his Heretic's Guide to Heaven over at theologian Scott McKnight's blog. Burke's theology does seem problematic. In closing, I'll say again that I appreciate Spencer's humility if not his theological acumen. In an interesting contrast, I've commented on the writing/thoughts of any number of theologically orthodox bloggers without receiving feedback/commentary of any kind in reply. Could there be a lesson there?



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Saturday, August 26, 2006

C.S. Lewis on War

My Theology professor, Dr. Mark DeVine, has a book on C.S. Lewis in the works, so when he posts on Lewis, I tune in. DeVine notes:

C.S. Lewis fought (and amazingly, also wrote poetry) in one of the most uniquely horrific contexts in the history of warfare—the Trenches of World War I...Less than a quarter century later, Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe would attempt the reduction of London to rubble. On the backend of months of air raids over London, Britain would huddle together in shelters, ears cocked toward the Wireless for words of comfort and guidance from this same C.S. Lewis.

DeVine follows up with several of Lewis's "position statements" on war. It should come as no surprise that Lewis's pronouncements on the topic are not your typical whiny "war-is-evil" diatribes. Consider:
War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality . . . in ordinary times only wise men realize it. Now the stupidest of us knows.

Lewis is famous for a reason, and DeVine reps him well. Go get the rest: C.S. Lewis Speaks Today: About War.



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Mystery & Personality in Heaven

White Stone
Revelation is arguably the most cryptic book of the Bible. Some verses seem to create new mysteries while dispelling old ones. Case in point: Revelation 2:17.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Bypassing, for now, the question of hidden manna, I’m compelled to wonder about the implications of this white naming-stone. What will it signify? (Will it be a pebble that we carry or a boulder than we climb?) What are the implications of having a secret name revealed to us, an identity to which only myself and Christ are proxy?

Unavoidable deduction: There will still be mysteries in heaven.
Unavoidable corollary: These mysteries will add to, not detract from, the irrepressible glory of Christ’s country.

The problem of pain is a mystery on earth, and it is not a pleasant one. Why does evil hold such sway in a world created and governed by a loving God? Agony and despair are often the attendants of these questions—and I am convinced this will not be the case in heaven, where we will see history spread out like a tapestry, dark and brilliant threads subsumed by the beauty of the workmanship. In heaven, “Sadness and sorrow will flee away,” and Christ will “wipe away every tear” from the eyes of his people.

I am convinced that heaven will hold conclusive answers to earth’s most painful unknowns. But mystery will not become outdated when Christ “rolls up the skies like a scroll” and shouts to the earth, “RESTART!” Not in the least.

Here we are, meeting with Christ himself, who invests our heavenly life with additional secrecy, as he entrusts us with a white stone and a name—a name which, I can only guess, will reconcile our deepest heart with everything that has transpired in the past and everything we will do and become in the infinitely promising future.

Will each of us have an enduring “mystique” and allurement in heaven? A hidden identity only gradually, indirectly, being revealed? Others, perhaps, will look at us and hazard guesses as to the shape of the key that we've been formed by Christ to be, and speculate about the type of door we were created to unlock.

There may be prevalent uncertainty as to “exactly who she is” or “what he is really capable of.” But the sense of confusion and panic so endemic now, where a person is said to be “finding herself,” or where we say of a friend, concerned, “Who is he?” or of ourselves, “Who am I, really?”—all this will be replaced by the permanent magnetism of enigmatically powerful beings.

There will be no dull people in heaven. Each of Christ’s people, in the meaning-rich kingdom of their Maker, will be intriguing—because personality will take off in the air of heaven: potentialities and possibilities that have been quashed and repressed all our lives will flame with vitality in the realm of Christ. We will walk and speak with God himself, the door with a million billion locks, into which all our keys will fit.

I am speculating here, but I think that the white stone mystery reserved for Christ and me will become most evident to others when I am reflecting the brilliant light of Jesus in some unique way. The candlepower mystery of AJ will gain focus when leaned towards the supernova mystery of Christ.

I wonder, will we have eyes for each other in heaven, or only for Christ, his ultimate story enfolding all our finite narratives? When I consider God’s track record here on earth, I remember that his mind is too deep to graph, much less comprehend. My conclusion: It is hard to say.



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Friday, August 25, 2006

Weekend Photos: Colorado Sepias

Ribbon Falls, ColoradoArch Rocks, Colorado

The weekend is here, and my photographic self is still stuck in Colorado. The photo on the left is of Ribbon Falls en route to Green Lake, and the shot on the right is of Arch Rocks - a destination with great potential for bouldering. (Lindsay took the second shot. She would want me to tell you that.) As I recall, both hiking days had plenty of cloud cover (Arch Rocks less so), which made for fairly balanced, contrasty shots. You can view full-size copies of these shots and other artistic work on my Flickr page.

As well, hit up the Friday Photo group. There's a concerted effort on the part of several bloggers to post photos on Friday that "have some artistic merit."



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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Vanity (Washington) Post

Yesterday I linked to the Washington Post article regarding "dark matter." And today the Washington Post linked to me. (Scroll down and check the "Who's Blogging?" box. Then note what blog heads it up.)

C'mon, man, you say. Get over yourself. These blog links are totally automated. It's not like the Washington Post searches through the blogosphere and hand-picks the best Indie-blogs out there to feature on their site. None of which I deny.

But still.

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The Pacific - Mark Helprin, A+

A Flash Review: Dark Waves, Bright Eyes & Heroism

The Pacific, Mark Helprin
Early this summer, I stumbled across a book of short stories by Mark Helprin, The Pacific. I read one. Then I read the entire volume. As someone who aspires to write short stories, I have deliberately exposed myself to a lot of them—something you should not do without a good reason.

Since a lot of short stories written after the early 1900s make you want to wander through rainy streets, weeping, until you find a quiet alley and drink hemlock, it would be an understatement to say that Helprin’s stories were a welcome change.

In fact, I suspect that the lack of despair in Helprin’s work probably annoys critics to no end, and has prevented his stuff from getting published (so far as I know) in any of the Best Short Stories of ___ [insert year] collections.

Hey, their loss. When I opened The Pacific, I was about ready to crumple the pages into bite-sized wads and eat them if I read one more story about a well-meaning protagonist who discovers, in an interesting way, that life is really a nihilistic hell. Fortunately, Helprin eschews this route like a technical climber skirting swampland. He chooses Everest over the Everglades.

Helprin’s writing is keenly bright and ambitious with meaning. Seems that he can’t help himself; his stories swing for the fences every time. He lacks the vacuous moral framework that sends many authors careening (gently, tenderly, vividly, carefully, with structure and pace) through a story to prove that life is meaningless. Helprin is the antithesis to, in Barbara Kingsolver’s words, “stylishly ironic stories about nothing much.”

I’m not saying that Helprin’s stories always have happy endings. But they are filled with purposeful action, sharp with clear intent. The Pacific features women that are really beautiful, battles that are actually worth fighting, and melodies that can break your heart. Helprin’s prose shines because his genius has a moral compass, and it comes as a relief to read stories that do not end in existential anticlimax.

Ultimately, Helprin’s stories in The Pacific ring true because they are true to life’s skeleton and not merely its peripheral sensations. I don’t know much about this guy’s background, but more of his books are on their way to my shelf.

Listed on the Master Book List.



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Christianized Coldplay?


I’m not overly excited about the trend among some Christian musicians to take a successful “secular” band and replicate their sound, injecting “Christian” lyrics. On the other hand, it’s inevitable that influential musicians and bands will have a trickle down effect on up-and-coming artists. Case in point: Earlier this week, Christianity Today featured a piece on the latest Christian wunderkind band, Leeland:

For sure, there are some truly outstanding songs on Leeland's debut, with a sound clearly influenced by the brightest and best of Brit pop/rock. The majestic title track in particular lives up to its name by matching an unbelievably contagious melody worthy of Keane with worshipful lyrics befitting an old-fashioned Baptist revival. Even more powerful is "Tears of the Saints," a prayer for the lost and the sort of anthem that ends up becoming a rallying cry for various ministries (like Natalie Grant's "Held" or Third Day's "Cry Out to Jesus"), delivered with the dramatic build of Coldplay or Snow Patrol. On the more upbeat side is "Reaching," a broken heart's cry to God that resembles the energetic push of Sleeping at Last's Ghosts and U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Seeing as how Coldplay and Keane have already spawned a plethora of sound-alikes (Snow Patrol, Aqualung, Embrace, etc.), maybe it’s a mark of originality to go back to the fountainhead, as it were, and capture for U2 overtones. What do you think?



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Oozing into the Blogosphere

No one could have been more surprised than I was when my piece, Brave Words, appeared on the emerging Christian website, The Ooze. I submitted the article about a year ago, and assumed it had long since been lost in piles of electronic paperwork. But no.

Amazing business, this e-publishing stuff. Note that by allowing my work to appear on The Ooze, I'm not endorsing the views of site creator Spencer Burke, who has recently stated that he is, in effect, a heretic, and offers proof. (I'm reluctant to call a man in this position a liar...although you would hardly expect a heretic to be trustworthy.)

What weird positions this postmodern "emergent" stuff leaves people in. Anyway, go read my article. I submitted it before I knew Spencer was a renegade.



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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bill Self Says, "Bring It On"

KU Jayhawk pic

A recent Wichita Eagle article comments on the fact that half the hoops programs in the Big 12 will have new coaches this fall, and each man is better than his predecessor:

Bill Self can look either way down I-70 or to the north toward Nebraska and know his job just got tougher in recent months.

And that's just fine with the Kansas basketball coach.

A weak Big 12 plays havoc for all concerned when it comes to March Madness.

"The tougher the better for all of us," Self said.

There's no doubt about it being a tougher road through the league.


Self knows he has the star power to plow his way through ten coaches the size of Bob Huggins.



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Desiring God 2006 Conference Selling Out



The Desiring God 2006 (Christ & Postmodernism) Conference blog notes that 2400 people are registered for the conference and it's expected to sell out. SINCE I have been acting as an unpaid conference promoter for the last three months, this doesn't surprise me. Not at all. But if you're thinking about heading to Minneapolis on Sept. 29-Oct. 1, you'd better sign up. The next ten minutes might be a good time frame.



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More Long's Peak Snapshots


Feeling that the initial batch of Long's Peak pictures (below) weren't quite adequate, I'm adding a few more. As well, this latest Colorado trip gave me the incentive to start an account at Flickr where I'll be posting my more artistic shots. You can scan a few in the right sidebar by scrolling down, or go straight to my Flickr page.

Three cheers for photos!






















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Long's Peak Summit Attempt: The Rest of the Story

Long's Peak TrailLong's Peak Sunrise
The pilgrimage began at 4:17 a.m., as acolytes shrouded in stocking caps and windbreakers began their slow trudge up the foothills of the lurking giant. These were the few, the brave, the determined, those who were undeterred by the sign at the trail head that read, "THE MOUNTAINS DON'T CARE!"

Well.
Long's Peak Trail
Mountains of this sort needed to be beaten into submission. One of them in particular.

Long's Peak.


A dozen hours later, rag tag groups of hikers streamed down the mountains in shifts and climbed in their cars. The expedition was over, but had it been a success? Had the defiant peak been humbled? Was Long's Peak brought down a notch?

Long's Peak KeyholeLiterally speaking, No. But in a figurate sense, most definitely. On Friday, August 11, a select band of adventurers conquered the Peak. Details? You say you want details? The pictures will have to tell the tale.

Disturbance on the trail
In the boulderfield













Long's Peak Narrows
Long's Peak Summit
Long's Peak Homestretch













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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Scientists Discover Spirituality

From Cranach, the blog of Gene Edward Veith:

::

Scientists have proven the existence of dark matter. Get this description:
The researchers said yesterday that visible and detectible matter -- the atoms in everything from gases to elephants and stars -- makes up only 5 percent of the matter in the universe. Another estimated 20 percent is subatomic dark matter, which has no discernible qualities except the ability to create gravitational fields and pass through any object without leaving a trace. The rest, they said, is the even more mysterious dark energy, which fills empty space with a force that appears to negate gravity and push the universe to expand ever faster.

So 95% of the universe is some kind of reality that can not be seen, can pass through perceivable matter, and has great power. Could this be better called "spiritual matter"?

::

I always think it's cool when science finds a way to accomodate a universally suspected reality.



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Candlelight Pizza & Jerry Falwell

Lindsay made spicy gourmet pizza tonight, and we ate by candlelight, chasing the feast with several cylindrical bottles of fermented, fruity liquid that was assuredly not Welch's grape juice.* School started back up today, and some kind of celebration was necessary to ease the transition.

I used to jump into classes with a thud each fall, my eyes dilated like Bambi on Prozac. Now, after a few years of experience, I ease into the new semester more gradually, like a Brazilian at a Polar Bear Swim. No need to get overly excited. No need to rush. Just sit back, let the synapses do their thing, and let things ride...at least for the first day.

2006's first day was made all the more interesting by a guest appearance from Jerry Falwell of "gays-and-feminists-are-to-blame-for-911" fame. Falwell was the featured speaker at convocation, and the building was at capacity. All I'd known previously about Falwell was based on his media miscues, so I came in wary. Here's my quick take on Falwell's convocation appearance.

  • Falwell is a large man. Three hundred plus pounds large, or, as Kevin Spacey says in The Usual Suspects, "He was Orca [large]." - points
  • Falwell displayed an unexpected capacity (given his media track record) to dish out smiling barbs: "I happen to believe in the premillenium, pretribulation coming of Christ for all his church, but I don't break fellowship with those who are wrong." + points
"All Baptists without Christ will die and go to hell, and all Presbyterians and all Pentecostals, and all Muslims and all Buddhists, and all talk show hosts." - Jerry Falwell to Phil Donahue
  • Falwell indulged in some all too predictable back-then-ism, noting that "we didn't have" iPods, cell phones, the internet, MS Word, and the one year Bible "back then." - points
  • Falwell explained that in the first couple years at Liberty University, before it was accredited, he and the other three faculty members were forced to "bribe" students to enroll by paying their way to Israel (year one) and England (year two). If only my faculty had been so desperate. + points
  • Falwell failed to draw from the Bible during his talk on "What is a Christian College?" - except for an off-the-cuff reference to a scripture reading earlier in the service. - points
  • Falwell's talk featured three clear foci: the Message, Mission, and Vision (all unique) of a Christian College. Clarity in a convocation speaker is to be applauded. + points
  • Falwell followed up these points with multiple calls to action, attempting to galvanize the student body through exhortation and stories of small beginnings. However, he failed to weave in the fact that the bravest initiatives can go far wrong without the guiding power of the Holy Spirit. - points
All told, Falwell put on a better showing than I expected. It's been the kind of day that holds your attention.

* Quantities exaggerated for effect.



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Monday, August 21, 2006

Ravi Zacharias Writes Like C.S. Lewis


One of my favorite contemporary authors, Ravi Zacharias, scored a quick review of his recent autobiography, Walking from East to West, from decorated scholar and apologist J.P. Moreland. Noting the narrative structure of the book, Moreland writes:
This is storytelling in the fashion of C. S. Lewis: rational argumentation expressed in narrative. Read Walking from East to West and give thanks for Zacharias and the God who resides in the shadows.

This book was already a must-read (waiting on my shelf with all the patience of a cagey intellectual), but the C.S. Lewis reference bumps it up to the category of must-read-within-two-months. If you're not familiar with Ravi's work, you're most definitely missing out. (Original link from Justin Taylor.)




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Creation is God’s Attack Dog

Physicality Plays a Sinister Role in My Journey to Faith

Junk yard dog Posted by Picasa

In the gospel of Mark, the disciples and Jesus sail out on the Sea of Galilee, and before you know it, the ocean takes on a life of its own and makes the disciples look like bratty kids. Apparently a little squall with sixteen-foot waves came up, and Jesus’ entourage was suddenly shaking him awake, yelling, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to die?” (When the disciples told their wives the story later, the waves became twenty-four-footers with sharks swimming in them
but the women didn't buy it.)

As I thought about this story yesterday, I considered disbelievingly the way that weather reveals our lack of faith again and again. Humidity undermines my self-control like—well, like a cloud of stagnant air so thick you can hardly breath it. Humidity accompanied by heat makes me seriously question the value of patience as a stratagem. And if you add mud in the eye or sneak attacks by mosquitoes, my faith threatens to go on strike.

The physical world has magical properties of spiritual revelation: I stub my toe and my heart stumbles out of its shack, cussing. I lose my breakfast and my spiritual cool. Thus, faith in myself becomes a laughable proposition to a guy who can hardly control his rage against inanimate objects.

I think the physical world has a task to perform in relation to our journey toward faith in Christ. Many people, including myself, have pointed out the attractional properties of creation. This is when someone sees a mountain, or a fiddler crab, and realize there must be a God. But creation has other duties as well—like making sweat run down my face like lava from Mount Vesuvius, spitting mud in my eye, and stubbing my toes in various creative ways.

I believe, and I say it with confidence, that physical creation is not only attractional but tyrannical—creation is God’s attack dog. C.S. Lewis noted that, "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world," and I think I would add that, "Weather is God's pit bull to terrify a smug world." “Sic em,” says God, “until they stop behaving like pompous jerks, and realize their hearts are too small and brittle to support a hungry gnat, let alone a healthy soul.”

Thus Jesus sleeps on the Sea of Galilee while we fume and shake, and when he wakes, he looks at the waves and says, “What? No faith?” And we wince. The waves do their work, or the humidity does it, and we realize that no one takes up this walk of faith in Christ at their own volition. It takes a fire or a storm.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.” I think this fire is a slow roast that chases us, sweating and reluctant, out of ourselves and into Jesus. As on the Sea of Galilee, the weather that exposes self-faith as stupid and dry reveals Christ-faith as sweet and profoundly transformative. It cannot be denied, though, that for the guy hoping for a carefree day on the lake, the route to faith is always embarrassing.



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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Earth Is Dying Happy


Fall crept through my nostrils like silver smoke and haunted me again today. There was an aura in the air of something dying that should die, something broken eroding away, a decrepitude that would be eclipsed and transformed by death.

What should I call this sensation? Good death?

This happens to me every year when Summer starts sliding into fall, a subtle kind of Sehnsucht longing. An inaudible siren, just woodsmoke in the air.

::

I see dead leaves
In thriving grass—
Autumn falls on Summer,
Crushing the hazy warmth
With sweet decay,
And I see in the pattern
Of dwindling fire,
Of welcome passage,
A world that is happily
Passing away.

::

Finally we'll follow, and I think that in the end, we will not mourn but rather celebrate earth’s first and final birthday.



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Planetary Mystery: God’s Love

There’s a lot to love and a lot to hate in this world.

Statistically, there’s more to hate, since acts of lust, crimes of passion, and leanings toward vindictiveness far outweigh deeds of virtue and kindness.

In other words, God isn’t lifting his glass (a wineglass, not a grape juice glass) adoringly to the world and saying, “Here’s looking at you, kids”—or rather, he is, but not because of our irresistible good looks.

How come God “so loved the world?” This is one mystery the Bible doesn’t answer, other than to gently posit the facts as they stand: “God is love.” He loves us because that’s the way he is. Huh?

Supernatural reality, taken at face value, only becomes more mind-blowing.



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Friday, August 18, 2006

Weekend Photo: Sunrise from the Tundra

Long's Peak Sunrise
I took this - where else? - last week on the trail to Long's Peak. In the low light, all I could do was hope the colors came through, which they did - almost. In the next day or so I'll let up with the suspense and let you know whether we made it to the top.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Still More Hot Links: A&E Edition


I've got this backlog of posts that I've been meaning to link to, and they're starting to clutter up my bloglines folder, since I use the "keep as new" function to prevent myself from forgetting about them. Well, time for some frivolous linking to good stuff. I'm unifying these highlight posts around an Arts & Entertainment theme.

::

Some of you will recall my love for P.D. James mystery stories? Well, her lone science fiction work, Children of Men, doesn't feature my favorite protagonist, Adam Dalgliesh, but it is being made into a major motion picture. Gene Edward Veith, formerly the Culture editor for WORLD magazine, notes:

In [Children of Men], the human race becomes infertile. No more children can be conceived or born. The world is just waiting to die out. The novel, which also takes on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, is a pro-life classic. And now it is being made into a movie, by a top-flight director and with a top-flight cast...

View the trailer here. Optimistically speaking, can an Adam Dalgliesh film be far behind?

While I'm on the topic of promising movies, I should also note that my ambitions to write a screen play for the medieval epic, Beowulf, have been crushed. The American release, starring Anthony Hopkins, is due in 2007. I can only hope this attempt will be a horrible flop...but Hopkins hasn't signed on for too many of those. Darn.

::

Awhile ago I was impressed by James Harleman's review of the film Fight Club, and commented on the logical nihilism that is an outworking of the materialistic (atheistic) worldview. Since then the topic has been developed further, first by Lynn, who continued the discussion, in effect, and then by Tim, who commented on the teen fight clubs that are springing up around the nation. (Surprise! apparently ideas have consequences.)

The original Fight Club post is a thing of the past, but James Harleman proved he's not a one-trick-pony with his more recent post on the enduring impact of the original Man in Black, Johnny Cash:
I hope people don't bob their heads to the plucky guitar strings of American V and only hear nostalgia. It's my fervent hope that Cash's technological ghost might prick some ears and be a tool the Holy Spirit uses to open some eyes, while Saint Johnny rests with Jesus and is finally the Man in White. I can only imagine that when he opened his new eyes to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" his autonomic and sheepish response was "Hello. I'm Johnny Cash."

Harleman blends cultural savvy with to-the-point takes. I really like this guy, and encourage you to take in the whole post.

::

OK, final link. No A&E collection would be complete without some C.S. Lewis, and Iambic has a beautiful take on Lewis's myth, Till We Have Faces. Her observations are profound, and if you 1) enjoy Lewis or 2) have heard of this book, you'll really enjoy her reflections.

::

All right: having tossed out superlative A&E posts like confetti, I'm out.



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Mark Driscoll Nails Kanye West


As a guy who was skeptical about Kanye West's self-ascribed holiness even before Relevant Magazine publically repented of their kissy-faced endorsement of him, this short piece by Mark Driscoll caught my eye: Kanye West Wants to be Jesus When He Grows Up.

Driscoll comments on Kanye's Rolling Stone debut, in which the modest rapper suggested that a really fresh revision of the Bible would somehow weave him in as God's own storyteller:

Nearly everyone who crosses over the manic line thinks they are Jesus Christ. Why? Because even if you are as lost as Dick Cheney in the brush, deep down we all know that Jesus is the most supreme person who has ever lived and the Bible is the most supreme book that has ever been written. Therefore, likely without even knowing it, Kanye’s desire to be like Jesus is in some ways a twisted honor to achieve the one thing he never can—glory.

That rat-tat-tat sound you hear is another round of acerbic truth pounding home. You may want to grab the whole article.



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Mark Driscoll – Masculinity & Art

Mark Driscoll book











Believe it or not, I’m still reading Mark Driscoll’s
Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and really enjoying it. Driscoll tends to be provocative even when he’s making a fairly uncontested (to me) point, say that finger-painting while channeling the inner child is not a very manly activity. Sometimes Driscoll’s penchant for the cutting one-liner can lead to overstatement, which is hilarious at times, but also slightly misleading.

Specifically I’m thinking about Driscoll’s various takes on the topic of masculinity in the church, as opposed to “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” (Christianity Today interview).

Scan his nicely dramatized apprehension on page 71:

…I agreed to cancel a Sunday church service to let some of our long-haired public radio types take us outside to do a large joint art project they had proposed. They gave each of us a large chunk of paper on which to paint something that symbolized our personality, which they would then string together as a large mural highlighting the different personalities in our church… I feared ending up with a church of chickified arty dudes drinking herbal tea and standing around talking about their feelings, as illustrated by their finger painting.

Alright, we get it: Driscoll, “a truck-driving jock who watches a lot of Ultimate Fighting,” is not interested in tapping his touchy-feelyness. We could ask why he couldn’t have “subverted” this apparently “chickified,” artsy mural by painting a picture of a gun—or better yet, some guy in Ultimate Fighting get-up, whatever that looks like. But we give him the benefit of the doubt.

Then page 83 rolls around, and Driscoll describes the church’s newly-acquired building:
We also got to paint the classrooms, set up our nursery rooms, leave our sound system set up, hang paintings on the walls, and use the beautiful classic church sanctuary with wooden pews and wooden arches as a lovely space for a dark, arty evening service by candlelight.

Slow down! After torching painting as girly just a dozen pages earlier, now Driscoll is extolling the virtues of the new church/art-space. Moreover, Driscoll also mentions that one of the founding values of the church was “beauty”—a virtue with deep feminine roots, I would say. Something needs to give here.

What gives, I think, is Driscoll’s habitual use of sarcasm and overstatement. I like his emphasis on masculinity, because I think a lot of Christian guys have been covertly trained to be soft-spoken wusses. However, loudly beating the Man-drum can lead to some misunderstanding, as was demonstrated a few years ago by John Eldredge’s book, Wild At Heart. Suddenly there were bunches of guys running around gruffly muttering “I’m wildatheart, you should be wildatheart, is he wildatheart?” and screaming about guns and brotherhood, as if volume implied toughness. It got old, and I concluded that even though Eldredge had come valid things to say, it would be easy to malign him via his “converts.”

The same could be true if you read Driscoll’s masculinity rants with an overly literal eye. It’s essential to remember that while Driscoll is beating on insipid, tea-sipping wussiness, he’s also extolling beauty and art, and pointing to the glory of Christ, which encompasses mercy, sympathy, and even gentleness—while to this point it has not included (shudder) Ultimate Fighting.



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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oswald Chambers in the Morning

Rocky Mountain Sunrise from Long's Peak Trail
Oswald Chambers was not known for his postmodern open-mindedness, which was probably why his website (Oswald Answers Your Questions) never took off. Despite his fairly dogmatic approach to truths of every kind, sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that he got it right.

Take this quote I read shortly after arriving home from Colorado:

Specific times and places and communion with God go together. It is by no haphazard chance that in every age men have risen early to pray. The first thing that marks decline in the spiritual life is our relationship to the early morning.

I almost had the feeling that the ghost of Oswald had been trudging up the trail to Long’s Peak at my side. The mountains had exonerated his over-the-top pronouncement, as it were. What do you think about his premise?



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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Hot Links



As mentioned, I have this short stack of blogs and posts I've been intending to link. One of these admirable blogs is Verashni's The Chronicles of Vash. I've been following Verashni's writing for awhile, and a couple of recent posts pushed her stuff to the top of the pile...

Writers (or wanna-be writers) should take a look at The Write Stuff: "Everyone is an expert at throwing things out on paper (or screen) these days, but that's not writing any more than my juvenile scribbles are art."

Chase that post with
What's Your Flavor, where Verashni takes a stab at the human bent toward "labeling" as it emerges in the context of race: "Once you label me, you negate me.”.. Nonetheless, humanity’s taxonomical fixation has been around forever: from Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden to Aristotle’s attempts at categorising all of nature, right up to the here and now."

Solid stuff from an up-and-coming journalist.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Mountains Diagnose the Human Condition

AJ looks at the Keyhole

Anyone who is even slightly self-aware comes away from a trip to the Mountains feeling as if a doorway of some kind has been opened. Typically, in my experience, the portal reflects an otherworldly glory that seems to be in short supply down in the flatlands. Something about the mist and the thin air and the hugeness of the peaks makes the human condition seem secondary and causes the unseen to rise with haunting life.

I've written about this before, though.

The energy that drives a person be first to the top is one of the more subversive and surprising of impulses.

On this latest trip, the mountains were transcendently bittersweet as always, but they also reflected human nature in a fascinating light. Have you ever considered that among the more unchanging elements of a trail are the human responses to it? Admittedly, the eight-mile (one way) path to Long's Peak, with its thrilling 14,000-foot altitude gain and numerous opportunities for sudden death, hasn't changed much in the seven years since I last climbed it. But I can't imagine that the emotions of the hikers have changed all that much either.

For example, there will always be a handful of people hauling themselves up vertical inclines at a deceptively measured pace, glancing furtively over their shoulders. The unexpected desire to be up front and stay there emerges in the most modest of psyches. (Believe me, I know.) The energy that drives a person be first to the top is one of the more subversive and surprising of impulses. Why? Because it's painful to indulge, the rewards are limited, and it appears in the most unexpected places.
When you cross the rocky saddle between Long's and Battle Mountain, and see the infamous half mile Boulder Field stretched out in front of you, adrenalin starts pumping.

When I tried to line out a simple explanation for the phenomenon, the best answer I could give was "glory." Mountains reveal that most of us, even unknown to ourselves, want to get some - even if we wouldn't put it in those terms. When there is no one in front of me on the trail, and everyone else has to look over my shoulder to see the top...there is something very good about the scenario. Something that, in my experience, runs a little deeper than the ego, although I'm not saying that organ is totally inactive at high altitudes.

Another observation had to do with the way new bursts of energy appeared when we encountered changes in terrain. The first couple miles of the Long's Peak trail (which you traverse with flashlights, having started the hike at 4 a.m.) run through vertical stacks of aspens. When you reach the tundra zone, and watch the first glimmer of dawn splash over the treetops, the glow is also internal. And when you cross the rocky saddle between Long's and Battle Mountain, and see the infamous half mile Boulder Field stretched out in front of you, adrenalin starts pumping.

I was struck by the fact that novelty strikes a deep chord in the human heart. The scenery changes and the heart jumps - and not just that - apparently the calves get a boost as well. In consumer culture, the Athenian obsession with "something new" gives novelty a bad rap, and deservedly so. But hiking through changing mountain zones, it became obvious that the desire for fluctuating beauty is not purely cheap and artificial.

I've been debating how much to say on these topics, and how carefully to draw out the main gist of this post. Bittersweet protocol tends to be understated, though, and I guess I won't deviate from it now. So draw out the implications yourselves. That's right. This is the end.

I'll just say that the light mountains shine on our hearts points up Heaven in striking contrast.



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New DSL and New Blogger Beta

I finally convinced Lindsay that a fast internet connection was more important than air conditioning, and today we had DSL activated. It seems like the best of omens that "coincidentally" Blogger also announced it's new Blogger Beta platform today, which features some serious upgrades (several of which I incorporated here months ago using various involved hacks).

When happenings like this converge, it can only mean good things.



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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back from the Mountains

Aidan looks up

We are back. We were back late Saturday night, but now it’s official. The Colorado trip was a headlong splash into wood smoke and rock dust and alpine air. Now we’re catching our breath, and it’s hard to know where to turn, blogwise.

I could write my memoirs of the trip, including thoughts on what Mountains reveal about human nature (with accompanying photos). The Long’s Peak summit attempt would figure prominently.

Also on tap are a half-dozen great posts I’ve been meaning to link, including additional words on the nihilistic existentialism of Fight Club, and a gritty piece on race relations from someone in the know.

Making a strong push for BitterSweetLife’s first tabloid-style entry is the incredibly egocentric French teenager who’s been staying with my parents for the last month, free of charge. He almost warrants a post of his own.

On top of this is the Mark Driscoll discussion that’s been smoldering on the blog recently, and a slew of other spiritual/theological topics I’ve been waiting to take a swing at. In this stack of fire-starters is one paper labeled, “Are Most Christian Guys Wusses? How To Be ‘Manly?’”

I’ll be getting to some of this soon. You can cast your vote if you want, but no guarantees. Walking through flat, humid Missouri country again is giving me a slight feeling of vertigo.

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