Thursday, September 28, 2006

Spiritual Jocks?

I'm not sure what to make of this blog's latest #1 search ranking. Maybe it was spurred by BitterSweetLife's rare fusion of theology and hoops? Well, if the shoe fits...



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Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (Book Review)

Flash Review: A Fusion of Theology and Hilarity

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, A+

Orthodoxy should perhaps be known as the masterpiece with a title that has deterred readers ever since publication. But any concern over the book's forbidding tonality melts away somewhere after the third paragraph. G.K. Chesterton is not so much concerned in weaving a dense wall of theology as in vividly illustrating the startling way that faith overshadows every dimension of life.

"Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realize that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we realize that this danger is the root of all drama and romance."

I finally dipped into Gilbert Keith's classic after a period of anticipation (or possibly nervousness) spanning several years. I’d read The Man Who Was Thursday and the Father Brown Mysteries, but was still unprepared for Orthodoxy's ingenuity. If the mind is a think-tank, then some authors merely ruffle the surface. Chesterton thrashes up the depths. He’s an original thinker, mixing doses of hilarity with measures of sheer brilliance. He leaps from theme to theme and metaphor to metaphor with such speed and exuberance it’s sometimes hard to keep up.
"Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them."

I did my best to track with Chesterton, however, and the book proved to be formative. G.K.'s visions of God’s mirth, of the earth as salvaged from a wreck, of the imaginative soul, of the dead endings of mere systems of thought—and the high-spirited mode in which he expresses them—are unique to him. Moreover, the images and truths have stuck with me (as evidenced by how often I quote G.K. on this blog).
"Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.” Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment. For death is distinctly an exciting moment."

In terms of naming Chesterton's "type," the closest I can come is C.S. Lewis, who readily admitted the influence of Chesterton in his own philosophy (as have many other notable thinkers). In light of this, maybe it would be more accurate to put Lewis in the "Chesterton genre?" At any rate, Chesterton cannot really be pigeon-holed, and it's hard to do justice to his writing in a short review.

Looking for a final word? All right: Buy this book immediately; when the package arrives, cancel your engagements for the evening, set a large British tankard at your elbow, and immerse yourself in G.K. Chesterton's wildly imaginative mind, pencil in hand. You won't regret it.

Yes, of course this book is listed on the Master Book List.



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Calling Smart Christians 2

Yesterday I sent up a little post about Christians pursuing education, which provoked some strongly-felt commentary. Rather than add my own comment to the tail of the other comments, I’m publishing my comment as a new post, so that it will gain more exposure, and thus more weight, than the comment you left. Just kidding. Sort of.

But about the education question. I like to think, however vainly, that my situation is slightly unique:

  1. I was home-schooled. [ka-boom]
  2. My parents are brilliant, professorial types (not your typical cross-eyed backwoodsman shack-schoolers who walk with a lurching motion, tobacco and KJ Bible stuffed firmly in their jeans pockets).
  3. I got my BA via an assortment of secular colleges.
  4. Now I’m at seminary.
  5. And I substitute teach at our local high schools.

The educational view from where I stand is…interesting. Here are a few propositions for your consideration.

  1. Education, as suggested by Michael Spencer, is good, because God made this world and thought it was good, and it’s therefore good to know things about this good world. (Note my positive tone here.)
  2. However, education is not a value-neutral proposition. It takes place somewhere and via methods. Therefore we’re discussing not only the quality and breadth of knowledge available, but the context in which this knowledge is imbibed by voracious students hungry to learn. (Heh heh.)
  3. Therefore, I find it a little shortsighted to say, flat out: “secular education is better” or “home schooling is better.” Other issues need to be put on the table.
  4. I.e., some parents are awful teachers and some kids are horrible learners. Some teachers are pitifully ineffective and some learning environments facilitate anything but. Each context has innate weaknesses.
  5. Moreover, as Christians, the glory of Christ and the furtherance of the gospel can’t be divorced from the question of education. Questions of quality and locality need to be sized up within this matrix.

I’m not trying to outline a philosophy of education here, or even say what “I think” people should do. I’m merely pointing out that the question of where/how to get smart is nuanced, not a no-brainer. If someone wants to learn, he/she will. (Ultimately, learning has always been more a question of exertion than location.)




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Rush Limbaugh Quotes G.K. Chesterton

One of my paid informants (the one I pay $200 a day to monitor AM radio broadcasts) just informed me that Rush Limbaugh quoted G.K. Chesterton on the air, spitting out this aphorism from Orthodoxy:

"There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped."

Well done, El Rushbo. Unfortunately, my informant failed to note the context wherein Rush dropped the Chestertonian bombshell. (Maybe I need to up his salary?) Has Rush been reading Chesterton (exciting prospect!)? More likely, did he happen upon this quote, and use it to emphasize one of his talking points? Or perhaps Limbaugh was simply indulging an affinity for another large, brilliant man? I'm hoping one of you can fill me in...




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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

John Piper Grasps the Obvious


Which is no small task these days, when the topic is Jesus Christ. A couple takes on John Piper's new book, What Jesus Demands from the World:

“Scholars, popularists, and now even novelists are falling over each other today in a blind passion to discover an alternative Jesus to the One so magnificently portrayed in the biblical Gospels. In stark and refreshing contrast John Piper clear-sightedly grasps the obvious—the biblical Jesus is worth living for and dying for.”
- Sinclair Ferguson, Senior Minister, The First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina


“This is a peculiar book. It assumes that the four Gospels are true and unified. It assumes that Jesus not only does things for us but also makes demands of us. And it assumes that Jesus has authority over everyone regardless of their religion, gender, race, income, sexuality, nationality, or culture. You will likely not agree with every point. But you will hear from a Jesus who is more than a soft-spoken, effeminate, marginalized, Galilean hippie-peasant in a dress and has the peculiar notion that he alone is Lord.”
- Mark Driscoll, Pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle

I may have to pick this volume up at Piper's conference (check out the video interviews) this weekend. Am I gloating in the upcoming road trip joy? No comment.

Quotes lifted, with gratitude, from: Between Two Worlds.



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Calling Smart Christians

Michael Spencer (iMonk) has written an excellent post championing the goodness of Christians pursuing rigorous eduction.* I tend to instinctively appreciate the liberal arts, and do what I can to cultivate the infamous "life of the mind," even when it means sneaking out on weak assigned reading. That said, facts like this tend to surprise me:

It almost seems that, for some of my fellow teachers, the whole educational enterprise contains a giant contradiction. Scripture is sufficient, they say, and the Christian with a scriptural truth is sufficient to answer anyone, a la Christian Davids felling academic Goliaths with a single verse.

If this type of thinking sounds eerily familiar, I recommend Spencer's take, which includes ten convincing reasons to pursue solid education, "even" (?) if you love Jesus.

* Update: This phrase formerly read, "education in the Christian context," which I realized could readily be minsconstrued as "Christian schools."



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Bruised Spirits & Bloody Knuckles

Posttraumatic Absentee Father Stress Disorder is not exactly a cultural buzzword. But maybe it should be, if that meant that we would have a more realistic idea of the patterns that are at work in the formation of America's young men. Anthony Bradly has a hard-hitting take over at The Resurgence: Masculinity Gone Wild.



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The Longest Week

I'm sitting here in "my" high school class room, keeping the students in line with an assortment of wide-angle glances, personalized don't mess with me looks, and the occasional "Hey, don't be throwin' stuff!" Outside it's a cold morning, Fall creeping closer all the time. The temperature has been dropping in recent days. In here it's warm and comfortably claustrophobic. I have my thermos mug of coffee, and I'm babysitting my students, pleasantly uninvolved, waiting for the class to end.

I'm also waiting for the week to end. This week is four days old and seven days too long. Check that. Five days too long. On Friday, I'm driving to Minneapolis with three friends to take in this year's Desiring God conference, "The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World." I have a feeling that the 1.75 days we spend in Minneapolis will be formative, given that I (and Lindsay and...Aidan) have a strong desire to bring the reality of Christ to postmodern young people.

I also have the very strong feeling that it will be good to climb in the car and leave the preoccupations of this week behind. I could put it more strongly, but I'll leave it at that. The last three days have not represented a banner period of my life. I'm praying that I'll be able to approach the weekend with a grounded perspective, tap the teaching for all it's worth, and essentially see the conference live up to its over-arching theme: Desiring God.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

KU is Number Two

KU Jayhawk

ESPN
columnist Andy Katz has tagged the Kansas Jayhawks with his number two preseason pick, just below the returning NCAA champs, the Florida Gators. (When the two teams meet on November 25, look out for a huge early-season media fest, not to mention a preview of this year's championship game.)

I was mildly surprised to see another Big 12 team in Katz's top ten - and not one of the typical powerhouses. (Hint: there's a Bill Self connection.)




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Under the World (Poem)


I was looking through old photos and shreds of poetry and I came across what seemed to be a kind of convergence. This poem hints at the fact that only Christ’s light can sweep away the weight of lethargy or ignite the dead wood of a soul “done trying.”

::
Under the World

Letdowns lie thick
at the cellar door;
when I look out,
the hinges scream—
I don’t leave anymore.

Someday perhaps I’ll try again
to push aside the door;
today I fear the harpies
that live above my floor.

Someday perhaps I’ll try again—
but it will take the sun
and it will take the fury
of a mighty rushing wind.



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Get More Blog Traffic

From time to time people ask me for advice on how to attract more readers and generate blog traffic. So far I haven't written up a comprehensive answer, but you can see my short take below. (I also get some questions related to which blog tools and Blogger hacks I use for extra functionality. To this end, I'm developing a list of blogging resources you may choose to explore.)

So let's get to it.

How Can I Promote My Blog and Attract More Readers?
Phase One: Content

  1. Aim for meaningful, interesting content. Try to avoid rambling or lite-weight pieces that only your mother would (possibly) read.
  2. Play to your strengths. Develop a unique voice. For example, if you're a seminary student who loves NCAA basketball, don't hesitate to post about "theology & hoops..."
  3. Once you've identified a few things you like blogging about, mention them in your blog description and/or personal profile. People will identify your blog with clear topics (i.e. "Christian spirituality" versus "my thoughts on life"), which will encourage them to keep reading.
  4. Post on a consistent basis. Three to five times a week is a good place to start.
  5. Break up your text with photos, pull-quotes, or graphics. Use paragraph breaks to avoid the dense-wall-of-text look.
  6. Scan the Blogger Help section for a variety of hacks and how-tos that will let you customize your blog's unique design.
Phase Two: Traffic
  1. Publicize your blog using directories (see my blog tool list) and search engines (like Google and Yahoo). This means you will have to visit various sites and manually submit your blog address, unless you want to pay someone to do it for you.
  2. Use descriptive titles rather than cute ones. For example, Surprised by Joy - C.S. Lewis may not be as personally gratifying as A Supernaturally Good Autobiography, but people may find it when they search for "C.S. Lewis" in Google. (This isn't a hard and fast rule, just something to keep in mind.)
  3. Comment generously on other blogs. The blogosphere is all about networking and discussion; a side benefit of thoughtful comments on other blogs (hey nice post come c my blog) will be more visitors to your own place.
  4. Interact with your own commenters. If you engage with your visitors, they'll come back. If you ignore them, they probably won't. This especially applies to readers who invest time and gray cells in their comments.
  5. Provide subscription options using email and RSS. If you don't know what RSS is, find out. Then sign up with Feedburner for better subscription options.
  6. Related to RSS: Enable "full content" in Blogger (Settings > Site Feed) so people can read your posts in their feedreaders, and various search engines can pick up your full RSS content.

That's all for now...this list will be expanded on an ongoing basis. One caution: there's little point in blog promotion (phase 2) if your content isn't good. That's why phase 1 comes first. If you have questions or suggestions to improve any of the above, let me know.



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Monday, September 25, 2006

Painful Coffee Break


Today, remembering an earlier post about "blue collar (i.e. coffee) addictions," I knew it was time to adjust my life. I decided to break my long streak of coffee-infused mornings. So when I got up to grab Aidan and situate him on his multicolored, mind-stimulating, genius-creating play mat, I did not remove my coffee bean grinder from the kitchen cabinet.

A few minutes later, when I sat down read several chapters in Romans while watching Aidan attack his play mat, I did not listen to the reassuring sound of coffee percolating. And after I finished Romans 8, I was not greeted by the cheerful beep of my coffeemaker, inviting me to come and get it.

Moreover, when I woke up flat on my back three hours later, I most assuredly had not downed any coffee. But this oversight was quickly remedied; I spent the rest of the day in gainful employment, assisted by my old friend Kenyan Dark. At least for today, the collateral damage incurred by my "coffee break" was too high...

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Ben Folds & Jesus

Forget Keanye West. On his latest CD, Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds released a more authentic Jesus-song (one you would almost expect to see Derek Webb's name on). Here's live video, with the lyrics below.




Folds' interest in Jesus is fairly well documented in his discography. From the angst-ridden "Mess" (but I don't believe in god/so I can't be saved) to the perplexed account of his friend's conversion in "Not the Same" (you gave your life/to jesus christ/...and you were not the same after that), the Christian God seems to hold a fascination for Ben Folds.

"Jesusland," on the latest album, is a critique of Christian subculture, and Folds says as much in a taped interview: He asked himself what Jesus would think if he came to middle America and saw all these people "using his name to sell [stuff]." Folds suggested that the very people who turn Christianity into a commercial racket would fail to give physical help to the real Jesus if he actually showed up (a very biblical concept). This is the premise of the song.

However, imbedded in Folds' critique is a sympathetic treatment of Jesus Christ. Maybe this is why I find myself replaying "Jesusland" and appreciating the message. So far as I can tell, Folds' latest take on Christ conveys a kind of shy admiration (an impression which was reinforced when I listened to Folds' minimalist commentary on the song). Listen yourself and see what you think.

I'm intrigued at the magnetic allure that Jesus Christ has for many artists who don't openly profess to know him, and I can only pray that Ben Folds' interest will progress beyond sentimentality to redemptive knowledge.

Lyrics to "Jesusland":

Take a walk / Out the gate you go and never stop / Past dollar stores and wig shops
A quarter in a cup for every block /And watch the buildings grow / Smaller as you grow

Down the track / Beautiful McMansions on a hill / That overlook a highway
With riverboat casinos and you still / Have yet to see a soul / Jesusland

Town to town / Broadcast to each house / They drop your name
But no one knows your face / Billboards quoting things you never said
You hang your head and pray / For Jesusland

Miles and miles / And the sun's going down / Pulses glow from their homes
You're not alone / Lights come on / As you lay your weary head / On their lawn

Parking lots / Cracked and growing grass / You see it all
From offices to farms / Crosses flying high above the malls
Along the walk / Through Jesusland



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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fall 2006 Book Stack

Book Stack

In the past, I've derived considerable pleasure from posting mug shots of my newly acquired books. As regards birthdays and Christmas, the satisfaction is purely euphoric, while at semester breaks, the joy tends to have a defiant note to it.

At any rate, here is the Class of Fall 2006. We'll see how many of them are keepers; just over a month into the semester, the volumes I've opened seem to be holding their own.

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How To Write Fiction (Wink)

I read this quote from Larry Woiwode over at Between Two Worlds, and liked it so much that I lifted the whole thing:

"Some readers by now are looking for my theory of the way to produce Christian art or write Christian fiction, since theories are what people believe govern the world. They don't, and I have none. I am working out my aesthetics (and perhaps salvation) with each book--with this one--and each book poses unique problems. But I can assure you that you will not begin to form your own aesthetics or way or writing unless you first belong to a church that teaches you fellowship and unity within Christ, and then begin to see writing as your daily humble job within that community. . . .

"The time has come for Christian artists in their communities to begin building that City on a hill again,and I hope that one young student, or even a middle-aged one, will understand what I'm saying and perhaps at this moment sense the stirrings or a first novel. If that student takes scripture seriously, he should know that the more he immerses himself in a particular communion and comes to understandthe ways in which each person within it is essential, the more distinctive and original his writing will be. And I hope that some young woman has begun to visualize her lifework, a shining series of interlocking narratives that will provide the material to repair some of the buildings of the centuries-old tradition of Christian writing. These were left unfinished when the writers of my generation turned aside to imitate our culture rather than turning first to the community that always should be available in Christ."

Gotta say, I feel like going off and starting/restarting a novel now. Instead, I must study Greek verb conjugations. (Which is also a worthy enterprise.)



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Friday, September 22, 2006

G.K. Chesterton Sighting

Over at A Mile from the Beach, Andy has reopened G.K. Chesterton's classic, Orthodoxy:

Having gone back last night and begun to re-read Chesterton's Orthodoxy, I am struck by the overarching self-deprecation of this writer in the first chapter.

Andy backs up his observation with some great quotes from the first chapter of Orthdoxy, quotes which point up G.K. Chesterton's rare combination of brilliance and humility.




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You're Supposed to be Perfect

perfect mountain view

When you get up Monday morning, there are some things you'd rather not think about. Like the fact that God orders us to embrace perfection. As Jesus suggested:

"You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father
is perfect."
(Matthew 5:48)

A lot of us would fail to see why this is good news. Fortunately, the command stems from God's innate personality, not ours. I'm perfect, God says. Flawless and free in every way. You be that way too. And in a sense, every fiber of me wants to say, "OK, God. All right, I will!" If only I could.

Who hasn't felt the awkward desire in his own heart? Sure, I'm ready to stop struggling with the same old thing. It sounds great. To live up to the ideals I secretly cultivate? I'm raising my hand. Pick me, God. I'm eager to be someone I never have been. To be someone perfect. I sense that God's perfection means something powerful, compelling and complete. People who could be, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "possible gods and goddesses."

It's a bittersweet thing to look at the mysterious person in my mind's eye, the person who, somehow, could only be known as "me." But a "me" that is seemingly beyond my ability to realize. It's into this self-conscious, reluctantly-articulated inadequacy that Christ reaches when he says, Be perfect. And when I am most honest, I must admit I am no stranger to this longing. But does the story end there, in a dead-end alley?

Well, if Jesus was actually God, and not a first century variety of our twenty-first century psychopath, then no. Perfection is not a standoff between me and my angry delusions. There's something else. Another man in the fight, arbiting between me and my inertia, the incredible heaviness of my being. Because the perfection that Christ commands, he also empowers. As the apostle Paul said:
I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

This isn't an isolated suggestion in the gospels. It's a central tenet of Jesus' message; those he calls, he "glorifies" (Romans 8:30). Today, in the middle of lay-offs, managerial tirades, spilled coffee, car wrecks, whatever, Christ's people are gradually growing into the perfection he envisions for us. Why? Because he has intended it, predestined it, if you will--and what he intends inevitably comes to pass. How? Because Jesus is the one doing the work, crafting us, shaping us, pouring us into a mold that he made when he walked the earth.

We're slowly filling his shoes. Steadily filling them out. We're gradually growing into these salvation clothes that right now flop about our shoulders like an XL T-shirt on a two-year-old.

I think our deepest true desires--for clean brightness, glorious freedom, a personality fully realized--Jesus commands us to grasp. And rightly so, since he was the fully integrated human, the complete man. He calls us to be like him, aficionados of true life, and then he takes the burden of authorship upon Himself. Do it, he says. And then, if we submit, he sets about doing it for us. Perfection is Christ's command and his work. The artistry of eternity waits upon our assent.



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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Texture of Life



There’s something I like about the “feel” of life. And it can’t be the pure ecstasy of it. Life’s not a draught of bubbly champagne. It’s not even a drink of clear, cold spring water. No, it’s more like a sip from relatively murky puddle with floating grass and dirt-specks.

But that’s the feel of life—rough, even raw. Sometimes abrasive. You grab life by the horns and bleed on the rough edges. Life is a tapestry, sure, but the bright-hued yard has barbed wire running through the middle. You can’t sleep on life. It’s too real.

You walk along for awhile, then life shoots you an elbow in the eye and trips you up. You get back up, and awhile later life throws you again and kicks you in the teeth for good measure. So you get back up, ready for the next onslaught, because if you don’t, something worse might get you while you’re down. The bull may gore you. The semi-truck might nail you. You might go over the falls. Because that’s another fact about life—it keeps moving. And the only answer is to try and keep up.

Life is a yard stick, a measuring rod, passing implicit judgment on us all, even if we try and opt out. We can’t get away.

Maybe I'm coming off as down-and-out or pessimistic (or maybe just clich├ęd and stupid), but that’s not really where I’m coming from. Thankfully, some of the swift currents of life are pleasurable, pulling us toward something greater, unseen. And miraculously, even painful breakdowns may somehow push us toward the same huge purpose…looming deep and wide, behind each muttered “Why?” or silent “How?”

I credit God for the changeful, rough-hewn nature of this life. I can’t explain my experience in terms of biological units interacting with a chemical interface. That’s not sufficient. But life, despite its inscrutability, is a fittingly porous element for revelation. Through it Christ reveals the plot to those entrenched in the rough material of his unfolding story.

And true to its medium, when this Christ-story grabs you, you can't just walk away. Call it a fringe benefit of reality's texture.



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Reality Can be a Downer

I am guessing that this was a disappointing Google search:

Date: 20 September
Time: 04:10:20 PM
Search Engine: www.google.ca
Search Term: humans are born good
Link: http://bittersweetblue.blogspot.com/2006/08/your-sick-human-heart.html

(Gleaned from this blog's Statcounter analysis.)



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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Subscribe to BitterSweetLife



What, you want to read this blog on a regular basis? Excellent.

Unfortunately, I just gave away my last “I [heart] BitterSweetLife” T-shirt, so you’ll have to settle for my admiration, combined with the fact that I keep subscription costs to a bare minimum. In fact, for a brief time, you can sign up absolutely free. Well, OK, it's always free. But still.

All that remains is for you to choose your subscription flavor:

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* If you're wondering how a feed-reader can deliver all your favorite internet content in one place and save you time, here's my ten-second explanation of RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”). RSS is a painless way to grab "syndicated content," in this case, BitterSweetLife content. When you subscribe to an RSS "feed," the writing, photos, links, etc., in that feed are sent to your "feedreader," where you access them. Your degree of appreciation for RSS will probably depend on how many blogs & news sources you follow. If you regularly visit a bunch of sites by "physically" (ha) going there and scrolling around, getting all your favorite news in one place can be a big time-saver. Of course, it's also just cool.



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String Theory Jocks, Macro Evolution Jerks

The latest edition of WIRED magazine had a fascinating interview piece with Lee Smolin, a theoretician who challenges String Theory, the swank "theory of everything" championed in recent years by Brian Greene. I'm always intrigued when Physics merge with transcendent reality, and so I've been interested in String Theory for some time. However, this piece also provides what I think is a remarkable parallel to the current Intelligent Design vs. Evolution debate. Check this excerpt, then go read the rest.

WIRED: Yet you essentially accuse string theorists of being the jocks of theoretical physics. Smolin: A lot of people are frustrated that this community that styles itself as dominant – and is dominant in many places in the US – is uninterested in other good work. Look, when we have quantum gravity meetings, we try to invite a representative from each of the major opposing theories, including string theory. It's not that we're so very moral; it's just what you do. But at the annual international string theory meeting, they've never done this.

I should note, to avoid confusion, that the analogy breaks down after a certain point. Stephen Jay Gould ("We are here because one type of fish had a particular fin anatomy") never possessed the hipster aura of Brian Greene.



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Mark Driscoll & Mars Hill: 10 Year Mark

I seem to have fallen into the habit of posting Mark Driscoll updates and links, so here's the latest, a Driscoll piece where he reflects on the last decade of life at Mars Hill Church in Seattle:

We're not a perfect people and this is not a perfect church led by perfect men. But we worship the perfect Jesus and He promises to make everything perfect in its time. These seasons are the means by which He sanctifies us to be more like Him if we lean into them with gladness and trust that God is loving and works out all things for our good and His glory.

Driscoll comments on the flack he's been taking lately, and the current challenges facing him and his fellow leaders at Mars Hill. I'm looking forward to hearing this guy speak in just over a week at the Desiring God conference.



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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Pope, Islam & Irony

I don't typically post news commentary on BitterSweetLife, feeling as I do that the demand for newsblogs/political blogs has been pretty fully exploited. However, we at BitterSweetLife are big fans of irony in all its forms, and this means, pertaining to the newsblogging embargo, that there are exceptions.

This is to say that I am caving in to peer pressure and commenting on the recent
Pope vs. Muslims fiasco. Here's a quick summary to get you up to speed.

Pope (at a recent media day/authoritative pronouncement): In this ancient document, a Muslim says that Islam promotes religious murder. Murder is morally wrong.
Muslims
(in varied and sundry locations): Islam is not violent! How dare you invoke that stereotype?! Rise up, fellow Muslims, and kill the infidel dog!!

It strikes me that this is a very interesting way, on the Islamic side, of disproving a stereotype. I can only conclude that:
  1. Islam is not a religion that is familiar with irony.
  2. Up until this week, Muslims had been living under the assumption that the Pope prayed to Allah in his closet.
  3. Religion A and religion B can't "both" be your favorite when they dramatically disagree.
  4. All this Islamic shock and outrage stems from a belated introduction to reality 101. (See point 4.)
  5. The Pope's pseudo-apology (Um, I'm sorry you reacted that way) was as unnecessary as it was unconvincing. His original take was demonstrably right on.
And that concludes this blog's first news post. I admit that I'm a little concerned about threats on my life, which is why I bought a very large, non-pacifist German shepherd before writing this piece. I'm out.



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Monday, September 18, 2006

Basketball & Grace

Basketball Hoop
Yesterday was cool and crisp, and Aidan and I packed Lindsay and our basketball into the car and drove over to my parents' house to play some hoops. At least that's what Aidan thought. As he sat on my lap, steering, he bounced up and down as if to embody his question: "Can I play, Dad? Can I play? Can I play?"

Now don't get me wrong. Aidan dribbles like nobody's business. But it's at moments like that, when you have to tell your six-month-old that he needs to sit this one out, that you realize how hard it is to be a parent. I told Aidan that he lacked the interior presence he needed to bang with big men, and that he would need to wait awhile, at least until he was three. He frowned and pulled up his basketball socks to
his knees, old-school like, as if to say he had the necessary savvy. I sighed and handed him to Lindsay, suggesting with a subtle glance that he be returned to his car seat before the non-violent protest stage was over.

BasketballSibling games at my parents' place go back a long way. Originally, they were a kind of ego-builder for my brother Johnny and me, as we happily mowed down our two younger brothers and my dad, week after week, while the littlest bro, Peter, would watch from the porch and cry because he was only three feet tall.

This state of affairs could not go on indefinitely, though. Daniel and Paul, the two middle brothers, put on weight and became legitimate players. Then all my
brothers started secretly eating Creatine on their cereal and corresponding with Balco, and they got taller than me. Things got competitive, and I had to watch hours of Jacque Vaughn and Paul Pierce footage in order to tune up my game.

These days, all five brothers and my dad suit up, and the games are harder to call. Which is to say, I have to break a serious sweat and shoot fall-away jumpers in order to retain my scoring title. Being the best is hard work.

But on to the central question of this post. Is basketball a means of grace? It is the unswerving contention of this blog that the answer is YES (especially on beautiful Fall days with NCAA hoops around the corner). As Eric Liddell said, "God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure."

Not that I'm the basketball equivalent of Liddell (Michael Jordan is 6'5" and I don't break six feet), but I don't have to be for the analogy to hold true, and neither do you: grace flows out of the grippy orange sphere, the hydrogen-rich H20, the sound of my jump shots ripping home. Has God made basketball a means of grace? Well, do nets swish? Do kicks lace up? Does Rock Chalk?
Did God love basketball enough to make the world a globe?

Fo' sure.



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Endurance Blogging

Given that blogging is an activity that is difficult to really do well over the long haul (especially since it seesaws between compulsion and discipline) I thought I'd link you to Michael Spencer's excellent what-I've-learned post. Here's the intro:

I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years (November will be the 5th anniversary of IM). In that time, I’ve developed a philosophy of blogging, mainly by paying attention to excellence in the blogosphere and considering how my own gifts and abilities can be used through this incredible tool. I believe I’ve learned a few things, and I hope my blogging has been a good example to other writers of how an ordinary person can blog usefully.

Strong insights follow.



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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hoops & Theology, You Dig?

KU Jayhawks Basketball
As BitterSweetLife exploded into the blogosphere, I quickly realized that there was a gaping vacuum to be filled. Where were the blogs catering to that uber cool niche group, basketball players who love theology? Or, to put it differently, theologians who love hoops and smack talk?

I soon discovered that there was no such blog, and you can imagine my feelings. Disbelief. Shock. Chagrin and Outrage. But I quickly realized there was something I could do to help. That's right.

Welcome to the Hoops splash page of BitterSweetLife, the only blog in existence that unabashedly embraces the complimentary disciplines of Basketball & Theology. An ancient African wise man used to relate how he caught glimpses of Saint Augustine lacing up his high tops before trips to inner-city Hippo. We may not have Augustine's killer cross-over, but surely he's worthy of our emulation.

Here are a few select posts to help you explore BitterSweetLife's passionate relationship with basketball, the sport of theologians.

Hoop Dreams
My all-time favorite hoops post.

A Place Where I Can Hoop
One of my slice-of-life basketball posts.

The Blog Lands a Shoe Deal
No kidding. Adidas, if you must know.

God Sends Darrell Arthur to the Jayhawks
A representative sample of my KU Jayhawks basketball coverage.

Metaphysics & Basketball
I outline some of the intriguing parallels between life and hoops.

Do Your Trashtalking Out Loud
A quick primer on how to spit out solid smack talk.

Here's a list of my most recent Basketball posts (dynamically updated).



Finally, here is the searchable index of all my hoops-related posts. Now go kick it on your local court, either before or after reading The Confessions.



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Friday, September 15, 2006

The Mark Driscoll Beat Goes On

Salon.com currently features a lengthy piece on a preacher who is "a stocky, square-headed figure ...with a leather cord around his thick neck." While appreciating the calm, unbiased tone of the commentary, one can't help wondering: Who is this squat ziggurat of a man?

Well, it's none other than Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and more recently of blog-discussion fame here at BitterSweetLife. Here are a few more excerpts from the remarkably objective, level-handed piece (which is, of course, what we have come to expect from Salon.com).

Hipster culture is what sweetens the proverbial Kool-Aid, which parishioners here seem to gulp by the gallon. This is a land where housewives cradle babies in tattooed arms, where young men balance responsibilities as breadwinners in their families and lead guitarists in their local rock bands, and where biblical orthodoxy rules as strictly as in Hasidism or Opus Dei...

Accountability and community is ballasted by intricately organized cells -- gender-isolated support groups that form a social life as warm and tight as swaddling clothes, or weekly coed sermon studies and family dinner parties that provide further insulation against the secular world...

Driscoll and his Mars Hills followers epitomize the mounting evangelical youth movement in America. Within this movement lies something as old as America itself, and as terrifying and alluring as anything Orwell predicted; something that is at once political, emotional, deeply anti-intellectual, and more galvanized than you can imagine.

(You can read the highly-quotable article in its entirety by clicking on Salon's sponsor button.) I suspect that, for Driscoll, ticking off pc media types is becoming part of the day's work. Meanwhile, in another part of the blogosphere, Thabiti posts a thoughtful piece on why he, for one, likes Mark Driscoll. Commenting on the Salon.com piece:
The panic throughout the socially liberal and Seattle area blogosphere was seismic. It was so hot in Washington state that the fog and rain actually lifted for a few hours. Long enough to see in the bright light of the face of Christ... that even when dressed in tattys and piercings, Christian discipleship is diametrically opposed to the ways of the world.

What's fascinating, I think, is that feminist/liberal media types and theologians probably fear and hate what Driscoll represents for some of the same factors that Thabiti notes in his defense. This, to me, is very, very interesting. I'd like to comment more, but I'm lacking the time right now... Perhaps you'll add some commentary yourselves?

To cap off this Driscoll update (as it has become), here's a post from Mark Driscoll himself, in which he utilizes a highly-publicized father-son rift (between Chuck Smith Sr. and Jr.) to illustrate some very telling differences between Emergent and Orthodox theology, Modern and Postmodern culture. (In his own, inimitable, "anti-intellectual" way, of course! [note dry tone of voice]) Driscoll offers some suggestions for reconciliation, and the "real time" example makes this assessment very eye-opening.



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Powered by Coffee


There are a lot of posts on this blog. Even I am surprised at how they keep appearing. People sometimes ask me how I write all this stuff, and I say, "Well, mostly I just make it up."
"Oh. Really?"
"Yeah."

This is not strictly true, though. Apart from the hours I spend in copious research, reflection, and, of course, prayer, there is one other factor...


Coffee.

Espresso, java, joe, they are this blog's board members, and it seems only right to acknowledge their generosity and sound counsel with a few of BitterSweetLife's more important Coffee posts:

Coffee with God
Could I really meet God at the cafe?

Grace Like Coffee and Sleep
I pick up on some of Espresso's latent potential for spiritual metaphors.

A Sip in Time Saves Mind
From time to time, friends have surprised me by giving me gourmet coffee beans. (This is a trend I would like to encourage.)

Mo & Abram's Cafe
A poem based on the stories of Moses, Abraham, and espresso.

Extra Security to Stop Me
How hard could it be to palm some a steaming hot mocha and get away?


As a reader service, here are the blog's latest posts on the topic (dynamically updated).



Finally, here's a searchable index of all posts involving coffee. Enjoy the buzz.



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Weekend Photos: Aidan Represents


Aidan was telling me that he thought he was due to make an appearance on the blog. And, as always, I complied with his wishes.

That was a joke.

But I do try to comply with his more reasonable demands. Admittedly, his affinity for Ralph Lauren clothing
does push the limits a little. But he's still young. Eventually he'll learn that glitter isn't everything. (The little prep!)




Filed in:



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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Prosperity Gospel for the Rest of Us

Having linked a fittingly scathing post on Joyce Meyer's brand of the prosperity gospel yesterday, I'd like to follow up with the necessary counter-balance, provided by Carl Trueman:

What always challenges me about prosperity doctrine is that many of us who repudiate it in theory still practice it in reality. Every time we suffer a minor setback and are tempted to curse God in our hearts, that's practical prosperity doctrine. Every time we measure our success by the size of our churches, or the near-eschatological importance of our conferences by the number of attendees and the calibre of the speakers, or our self-worth by the Reformed megastar names we can drop in conversation, we make ourselves vulnerable to accusations that we too are committed to a form of the prosperity doctrine, more subtle and all the more deadly precisely because of that subtlety.



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Sunlight in the Classroom

My olive-green WW2 army jacket had been lying in the sun for three hours, and when I picked it up, it hung on my arm—electrons happily buzzingsmelling like Summer-Autumn. I needed the warmth. I put it on.

In the classroom, the yellow sun streamed out of the jacket, off my skin, radiating into the room, dispersing into the cold, filtered air as we sat down to take a 20-question quiz over 200 pages of required reading.



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BitterSweetLife Tag Index

Check out this clickable, visual map of this blog's major topics:




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Quick Missiology Quiz

"Overheard" at Seminary

This quick Missiology quiz is for Christians who read their Bibles on a more than semi-annual basis. " True or False:

"50 of 52 conversions [to belief in Christ] in the New Testament occurred between strangers." [i.e., a Christian shared about Jesus with a stranger and that stranger believed.]


What do you think?



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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy, A+

Flash Review: Sagebrush, Blood & Conscience

Newsweek described Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece as “a modern-day Western full of horses and gunplay and romance.” Fair enough. This characterization could be misleading, however, if “Western” makes you think of Clint Eastwood or The Three Amigos. All the Pretty Horses is framed with absolute conviction in the context of Texas and Mexico, but all ties to spaghetti Westerns, whoopin’ and hollerin,’ end there.

McCarthy’s saga is a haunting book with more in common with Ernest Hemingway than Zane Grey. The scenes are vivid, the writing is tough and beautiful, the plotting and pace are perfect. The central characters grab at your loyalty insistently and don’t let go. John Grady, whose personality serves as an epic and a morality play in its own right, earned more emotional rapport with me than any book-character in recent memory.

He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.

I felt a sense of loss when I closed this book. (The good news is that it’s part one in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.) To make an unfair comparison, All the Pretty Horses is what Cold Mountain absolutely failed to be: A poetic-but-gritty adventure, told with a strong voice, and conveying the lingering splendor of a cold, clear sunrise.

Listed on the Master Book List.



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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mark Moore Debunks Joyce Meyer & Christian Celebs

I just read my first Mark Moore post, over at The Resurgence, and he's got theological moxie and an excellent instinct for smack that needs to be developed. Check this:

That’s when it hit me. She was here. Joyce Meyer, the queen of charismania was here. I moved into the store to discover several hundred people, mostly women, waiting in line to get her autograph. As they stood in line they discussed how “anointed" she was while clutching her books, posters, and bobble head dolls. Strangely, there were a few men in line as well. Most of them had just come from the Thomas Kinkade section where they were looking for a new picture to put above their aquarium.

I'm linking this post because Moore skewers a brand of American Churchianity that I really hate, the saccharine-sweet "Jesus-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for
-your-life-that-involves-good-self-esteem-and-a-new-Caddie" variety. As she sprints toward the prosperity gospel, Joyce Meyer conveniently jettisons the human propensity for sin - which in turn relegates Christ's death on the cross to a nice, if theatrical, gesture.



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The Sincerity of Sufjan Stevens


Since I'm still developing my own CD-reviewing jones, I don't hesitate to link solid music reviews when I find 'em. Case in point: John B. over at Blog Meridian just posted a penetrating, reflective piece on the enigmatic Sufjan Stevens' most recent album, Illinoise. Quick excerpt:

Stevens...is "charmingly militant"--and (unless I'm really missing the boat) his enemy is [the music industry's typical] cynical irony. He puts it on display at the very surface, then sings songs whose very reason for existing is precisely to undercut that ironic surface by forcing us to say, The only way this song can work is if he is in earnest.

John makes a strong argument for Stevens' subtle sincerity, and comments on my two favorite songs on Illinoise, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." ("may be the bravest song I've ever heard anywhere in pop music"), and "Casimir Pulaski Day" ("acknowledges both that God does not always answer our prayers, no matter how heartfelt and sincere, and that He nevertheless remains this world's sovereign").

Great stuff, John.



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Out, Out, Damn’d Culture Spot!

As some of you know, I’m taking classes this semester at a nearby institution of higher learning. Or I am allegedly taking classes, since none of you can actually verify that I am a student, that I appear regularly in a classroom, or that I am not just making this up.

One of my alleged classes has spent the past month allegedly covering “Philosophy & Theology” in one of my favorite biblical areas of focus. In reality, or in what is allegedly reality, we have spent the last month defining “culture.” What IS culture? What are the LEVELS of culture? How do cultures DIFFER?

I won’t regale you with any of the things we are allegedly learning for fear that you will fail to be regaled.

Allegedly, I feel like I’m back in undergrad Sociology. If you sense a certain tension in my writing, this class I am allegedly taking could be a contributing factor.



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Monday, September 11, 2006

Why is Life Bittersweet? What is This Blog About?


I’m glad you asked.

Here’s my short answer, followed by a trio of posts that will help you get the bittersweet picture.

Why is Life Bittersweet?
For me, bittersweetness materialized one day as I was trying to get an understanding of how my life could be so screwed up—and still there were these sudden moments of joy, lodged in my soul like glowing splinters. Why did they coexist? The conditions of my life have been somewhat adverse (all lives are this way), but Beauty inexorably asserted itself, even when conditions seemed darkest. Why? In my mind and heart, the reality of bittersweetness began to coalesce. I realized that life is nuanced, and we ignore the nuances at our peril.

What is This Blog About?
BitterSweetLife features my takes on life through a "duo-tone lens"—a perspective that notes the bitter and the sweet, how they merge, what it implies, and how it all points back to Jesus Christ... Mixed in you'll find hoops talk, satire, occasional poetry, photos, book discussions, and (running through it all), coffee.

Want to hear more? Try these:

Bittersweet What?
The infamous first post on BitterSweetLife.

The Bittersweet Life Unpackaged
Perhaps the blog’s definitive statement.

The Terms of Bittersweetness
What does it mean to say something is “bittersweet?”

Here are the latest posts on the topic (dynamically updated):



Finally, you could take a look at all the posts I've written that pertain to "bittersweetness" (a searchable index).



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