Monday, April 30, 2007

Good Teacher, Bad Teacher

I was sitting on the maroon, synthetic leather couch in the teacher's lounge when the phone range. I continued to read P.D. James' The Skull Beneath the Skin, kindly deferring to the Real Teacher who was finishing up her lunch. She picked up the phone.

"Hello. Mmm hmm. Let me see." At this point she paused and stared at me so pointedly I looked up from the murder mystery midway through a very suspenseful paragraph. "No, he's not in here. Sorry." I felt a little honored, since it's not often I'm mistaken for a Real Teacher, even for a few moments in a telephone conversation. But, as it turned out, I hadn't been. After she resumed eating, the Teacher turned and smiled at me. "I told them you weren't in here."

Amazing. Speechless, I inwardly repented of the times I have taken the Real Teachers to task for their cavalier dismissal of us substitutes. "Wow," I said. "That's really kind of you." Everyone knows the fate of substitutes who are asked for by phone in the teacher's lounge: they are routinely deployed to cover an extra class. "Thank a lot!" I said.

Of course, I knew the Main Office wouldn't give up so easily. They are all-seeing when it comes to their subs. They knew where my classroom was. Still, with only three minutes left in my next class, I began to think that the subterfuge of the friendly Teacher had proven effective. And then, in the tear-jerking final moments of Adam Sandler's Big Daddy, that day's assignment (note instances of sarcasm), the phone rang.

"Well, you probably know why I'm calling," said the secretary apologetically.

As I made my way to the extra assignment, sacrificing the "planning time" I typically use for studying Greek verbs or reading murder mysteries, I felt, well, disappointed. A perfectly good scheme had been crushed effortlessly by the powers that be. And then I encountered the second Real Teacher. He did not offer a creative way for me to avoid covering his class.

Instead, what he said was, "Would you come back at 1:05?"

"Sure," I replied. "I'd be happy to go sit in the teacher's lounge for fifteen more minutes, catering to your whimsical sense of timing, while you give your students some parting instructions before you jet. I'm here to serve, after all, and do not need to be treated as a person. Robotic requests work just fine." Actually, I just said the first part. Fifteen minutes later I came back to cover the class, calculating that my time to shine had arrived when the Teacher yelled a few parting instructions at his class and walked out. Upon their Teacher's departure, the class quickly acknowledged a couple of facts, 1) that I was in the room, and, 2) that I was human. We got along great.

Some days the disparity evident in human nature just hits me. And how do you account for it? A bad night's sleep? An irritating student? A rejection of grace? God help us all.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Give Money to Street People?

Michael Spencer, the redoubted iMonk, posed an explosive question--"Should I give money to people on the street who ask for it?"--then noted, a couple days later, "I’ve had to delete more comments from this post than I’ve deleted in 7+ years of writing at Internet Monk." I think this topic is often approached with equal amounts of visceral emotion and raw credulity. Spencer avoids both, as he dishes out some measured advice. This post will be a big help for those of you looking for ways to marry compassion and discernment in your giving.

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Saturday Morning Interlude

Aidan is very punctual about his chores, which consist mostly of waking us up in the morning so we can save money and not plug in our alarm clock. He typically wakes us at 7:00, unless he feels especially diligent, and starts his chore(s) earlier, sometimes as early as 6:00. In return, we give him room and board and our continued amazement at how well he has mastered this task.

This morning, after Aidan finished his chores, we drove to the River Market to meet a couple friends for breakfast at a place called Succotash. The food, served in random plastic and ceramic dishes, was excellent and we had a great time talking in the sun. The coffee was good too--strong and dark. Something interesting: my plastic mug of coffee arrived with a ring of grime around the top lip. I wiped off the dirt with my napkin, not overly deterred. Maybe it was the atmosphere of the place, right on the edge of the City Market. There were tables of egg plants, peppers and avocados, a couple guys putting on a magic show, and a constant stream of foot traffic, all this within fifteen feet of our outdoor table. Wiping dirt off the exterior of the coffee mug somehow seemed a fitting, earthy ritual.

Would it be cool to find dirt on your mug in a coffee shop? Absolutely not. Which just goes to show you, atmosphere can go a long way, as long as you can carry it off.

[The camera batteries are dead, otherwise there would be pictures.]

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Enjoying a down moment before he heads to his next autograph session

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Blue Window View

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Was Jesus a Rebel?

Jesus didn't say, "Be revolutionaries." But in so many words, he said that very thing. Obedience to God in this world implies inevitable revolution--just not a kind that you achieve self-consciously by donating to the right causes and going organic.

Christ's revolution is subsumed by and in service to the will of God, the internal life of Christ operating inside our skin and bones. This is a revolution that flows out of the heart, not imposed by external opinions, which are so easily twisted so that they become the servants of self-righteousness.

On top of this, Christ's revolution has a progressive element in it so subversive that it undercuts the most wide-eyed radicalism you could find in, say, The Village. To be a part of Jesus' protest movement you have to start by waving a white flag. Over yourself. The stylish indignation and angry cynicism, you can just forget about it. You are the root of the problem. The sooner you can surrender your own black heart to God, the sooner he will start changing you, the sooner you will have the potential to really change anything else in the external world.

There is no denying that Jesus was a revolutionary. He just was a rebel of a different kind--a type so different, in fact, that it would be safer to simply call him God, because his revolution is about more than sweaty glaciers and caged chickens. It's universal, and he is turning the world upside down. He is not interested in adding spiritual backing to your agenda. But if you surrender yourself and all your causes to him, he might just have a use for you.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Ravi Zacharias Too Deep?

That's the question from a Yahoo searcher, whose quest for knowledge led to this blog. Is Ravi Zacharias too deep?

Good question. Some people think the ocean is too deep. Some also think the mountains are too tall. Other people see the ocean and the mountains as an invitation to dive in and hike up. Which type are you? Your answer will determine the "status" of Ravi Zacharias' mind.

I should point out, though, that if you write off guys like Ravi, you'll have to discount most of the biblical narrative as well, which points to things "which eyes have not seen, neither which have entered into the mind of man"... Deep truths require profound expositors.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chaos in the Little Theater

Another Entry in the Annals of Subbing

As always, I greeted the evil tidings with a cheerful smile. Cover an extra class, after I had already completed my day's work? (technically, the day's work of the teacher for whom I subbing) Sure, no problem, happy to do it. The lesson plans didn't look very promising, though.

[my paraphrase]

I have been sick for a week, but we have a big production coming up, so have the students go through a rehearsal with improvised blocking and without their scripts.

While I am convinced that miracles happen, and that grace is an active force in my own life, I'm not a big believer in random, inexplicable magic swooping down to take over a high school theater class and transform it into a room of concerned, attentive actors who give a shtick. So I wasn't exactly holding my breath.

The class took the news calmly--which they should have, seeing as they didn't intend to do anything about it. A walk-through rehearsal without scripts and with improvised blocking for next week's production? Sure.

Sure, as in that dismissive, half-amused tone that Aidan uses when we ask him to pick up his ball collection. After delivering the ultimatum clearly, I considered my options. Really, there was only one. In the next hour and a half, I made considerable progress in What I Think I Did, pausing to send a handful of good students to the library.

At times I debate, inwardly, about whether I'm being paid too much or too little to do this.

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Creation Has Voice

Update: Having finished this book, I'm awarding Woiwode's artfully written autobiography a strong A. When I "writer" writes his own story, the burden to produce something wonderful is heavy, and Woiwode carries it off with exceptional poise and nuance in What I Think I Did. Highly recommended, especially if you write.

In What I Think I Did, by Larry Woiwode, I just read this:

The patterns of the scribbled multitude of twigs and the matching gaps of designated light in sequence to the movement of the limbs were as much a song as mine. This was the earth, its trees in their multitude of beauty, twigs to branches to trunks, brimming with voices about to break into speech. I was in a grip greater than my mother's hand, and tears of laughter leaped out like the presences I expected to see.

One presence was here, I knew, as I turned with my face raised, in the trees and sky, and in the earth that held me as I turned. The presence had put all this in place to instruct me about myself and the complications of the love I felt for Him.

So the earth has a voice, one which is intended to point us to God and teach us to talk with him in our own, broken language. We walk through creation, feeling as if we're not really alone, perhaps, and we're not. This is the first time I've read Woiwode, and he's good.

Flashbacks: Trees Talk About Eternity & Rest
Mountain Haunting

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Paging Darrin Patrick & The Journey

I debated long and hard about whether or not to use my blog in a somewhat utilitarian, pragmatic, self-serving way...

I shouldn't do it.
But it's your blog.
True, but with great power comes great responsibility.
Thank you, Spiderman. Let's get real here.
But I have a duty to my readers.
As if you ever blog about anything other than what you want to.
Well... you have a point there.

I caved in. I'm writing this post because I want Darrin Patrick or a co-pastor from The Journey to get in touch with me, ideally at my email address, arielj.van [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com. I'm not a total narcissist, though. There are reasons! Such as:

When Darrin Patrick was in Westport, speaking at Mark DeVine's church, Lindsay and I talked with him briefly. Darrin encouraged me to get in touch with via email and arrange to visit The Journey and learn more about Acts 29--something I was far, far from reluctant to do. OK, let's be honest. I emailed within 48 hours. Unfortunately, both the email addresses I got have been bouncing like basketballs on helium.

I want to follow up with The Journey and Acts 29, but short of driving to St. Louis, I don't have any avenues... So if someone reads this who has access to Patrick or Jonathan McIntosh, a co-pastor, please tip 'em off. An urban seminary student interested in church planting is trying to get in touch.

All right, this somewhat utilitarian, pragmatic, self-serving post is now over. ;)

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Searching for Good Espresso

Wanted: A Coffee Shop in North Kansas City

When we lived downtown--I mean, right downtown, in the middle of the hub of Kansas City, inside the greasy little center from which all the road-spokes radiate outward--I was always baffled by how there were no decent local coffee shops around.

True, there was a little bakery/cafe place down the block, but it catered to lunch crowds and closed at two in the afternoon. Also, there was a place in the River Market, about a mile away, but it was subject to strange schedules based on the ebb and flow of Market shoppers. After five years, a Pete's Coffee Shop opened up downtown. It had real coffee shop hours and good coffee and I went there half a dozen times in the three or four months before we moved. Just my luck.

Now we're in North Kansas City, a semi-metropolitan residential zone just outside the urban core (such as it is). We're about eight minutes north of our previous loft. Just outside our building is a street lined with local restaurants, a family-owned hardware store, a couple bakeries, and, you guessed it, no coffee shops.

What is with North Kansas City?

This morning I gave in and drove fifteen minutes to Westport, and the Broadway Cafe, for a real mocha and an atmosphere that wasn't reminiscent of the Price Chopper Starbucks where I'm forced to take my coffee breaks between classes. Seriously, if I had the capital, I'd open a coffee shop here in NKC. But since I'm generally scrounging for the capital to buy a cup of coffee, that dream will have to wait...

If I'm missing something here, someone please tip me off. This is getting ridiculous.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

"Dad, please. I promise I won't wreck the car..."

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Buy a Gun, Save a Life

I rarely write political commentary here because, frankly, I'm more interested in writing about theology. However, there's no denying that the two entities frequently overlap. Case in point: the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. Virginia Tech was a multifaceted disaster--one which pulls back the curtains on human depravity in a way that Americans still aren't accustomed to. This morning I came across some VT commentary that blends politics and theological insight. Teaser:

What I said to my "concerned" friends that asked was, "I like to collect permissions to do things." I lied. Being freaked out that anyone they knew would take gun training and get a concealed weapons permit, they tacitly agreed to believe that lie. It kept everything smooth and "non-political," which I how a lot of my friends and I like it these days. All part of the little lies we tell because we cannot face reality in the world and in our relationships.

I took pistol training because one day it dawned on me that if I ever actually needed a gun it would be too late to shop.

Read the whole thing to hear Vanderleun (yes, the name is the real reason I'm linking up) develop the point. Living with evil is all the more uncomfortable when human nature becomes politicized. We end up feeling guilty for acting as if people are not to be trusted. Which they aren't.

If I had the cash, I'd buy a gun and take a class as well. We don't live in a perfect world; far from it. As long as I'm living with people who have sin at their centers, some of whom have indulged and promoted that darkness to the point of obsessive instability, buying a gun may be a great way to save a life. Widespread gun control, on the other hand, would only work in a Utopia--which, in case you haven't noticed, is not where we live.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Impertinent Baby Shares Father's Disposition

Aidan goes in for percussion in a big way.

At my parents' house today, he was playing on his xylophone, improvising a jangly little melody and playing to the crowd. Then, without missing a beat, he spun around and started drumming on my dad's glasses with his xylophone sticks. Apparently he favored the percussive surfaces. There's no denying that he's got rhythm.

But still. Beating on your grandfather's glasses? That's not very respectful.

"This kid is a little rascal," I told Lindsay. "I've seen his kind before."

"You are his kind. Of course you've seen his kind before."

Hmm... I can't wait to see how all this develops.

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You May Now Comment Freely

Thanks to Singpolyma, who gave me some help troubleshooting my template, I now have one of my favorite hacks up and running again: Peek-a-boo comments. I've been suffering withdrawal symptoms ever since I moved over to the New Blogger. Singpolyma is the man!

Now you can view comments instantly "on-page" with a single click instead of waiting for a new window to load. Sexy is back.

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Ernest Hemingway & Jesus

I just read this...

While the bombardment was knocking the trench to pieces at Fossalta, he lay very flat and sweated and prayed oh jesus christ get me out of here. Dear jesus please get me out. Christ please please christ. If you'll only keep me from getting killed I'll do anything you say. I believe in you and I'll tell everyone in the world that you are the only one that matters. Please please dear jesus. The shelling moved further up the line. We went to work on the trench and in the morning the sun came up and the day was hot and muggy and cheerful and quiet. The next night back at Mestre he did not tell the girl he went upstairs with at the Villa Rossa about Jesus. And he never told anybody. - Ernest Hemingway, Chapter VII

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Night View from our Eighth Floor Loft

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Evil is Devastating and Boring

Lars Walker comments on the banality of evil and the banality of the Virginia Tech killer who couldn't even come up with an original ending to his life story.

There are heroes and there are villains. Hollywood gets them confused, but there is no arguing which of the two is passe, monotonous, even morally "staid." To live creatively, to go against the trends, one must find virtue. To find virtue, one must find Christ.

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Five Emerging Church Questions with Mark DeVine

I recently tracked down my professor, Dr. Mark DeVine, who will be teaching a class this fall on emerging church issues. Dr. DeVine is a rare breed, in that he's a Southern Baptist with a deep love for the convention, a staunchly Calvinistic theologian, and a sympathetic investigator of the emerging church scene.

An additional paradox adds to his mystique: highly conversational in the classroom, Dr. DeVine is breathtakingly succinct via email (check his site for more elaborate discussion). Here are his answers to Five Questions About Emerging Church, shot toward your waiting brain like tiny, laser-guided bullets.

1) What do you see as a central, redeeming aspect of emerging church?
Its missional and communal emphases.

2) What do you see as a dangerous, negative aspect?
It’s ambiguous hermeneutic and view of the Bible’s nature and authority.

3) Is emerging church a trendy phenomenon or a movement with staying power?
I would be surprised if certain dimensions of emerging church emphases did not exert significant lasting influence in the West generally and in urban ministry particularly.

4) What are some consequences of dismissing the whole EC set of concerns offhand?
Real recovery of Biblical teaching is at work here in helpful corrective ways. Let’s not miss the benefit.

5) What are some consequences of buying in to the EC mindset unconditionally?
New insights, however on target, benefit from serious biblical and historical scrutiny and re-assessment. That goes for emerging as well.

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When Babies Attack

Aidan and I were playing a game. He hit the coffee table three times. I hit the coffee table three times. He hit the futon three times. I hit the futon three times. He hit me three times. I hit me three times--

Wait a minute.

This kid is clever.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Stop staring at my bad hair!"

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Gospel Thoughts from Paul

Paul: Here's the paradigm by which God overcomes our dark natures and brings us home: Sin. Grace. Sin. Grace. More sin. More grace. More sin. More grace...

Snide, libertine observer: But if grace is so overwhelming, I think I'll take advantage by getting drunk, sleeping around, and then taking morning after prayers. Can you stop me?

Paul: Of course I can. No one cheats on the one they love. And if you don't love Jesus, grace does not apply. Those who trust Christ have been legally freed from sin. So if you go on whoring, or even step up your pace, you're not revealing your theological foxiness--you're just showing that death still calls the shots, you're still dancing sin's jig, and you don't know Christ at all. In other words, if you go on willfully dying, you haven't found beautiful life. Get it?


Paul: Now I would like to talk about how The Law is no longer our evil nemesis--that is, "evil" in the sense that it revealed the evil inside us, not that The Law was evil itself. Let's face it: The Law had good qualities, and in fact was given to us expressly by God--but it wasn't much of a wife. Or rather, The Law was simply the kind of woman who shows you what a sorry excuse for a man you really are. And she was right.

When The Law called you out, you found yourself living up to all her accusations. She read you like a book, and pointed out the disgustingly monotonous and smutty storyline. She was sympathetic, but you couldn't change. This is why the liberation of grace that Jesus brings is profoundly good news...

Snide, legalist observer: What, no law? People will start drinking and smoking and making out in public! We're just supposed to sin promiscuously, now that this Jesus has arrived?

Paul: Not a chance. Think about this: You're a slave to whomever you obey. Your life reveals your loyalties. If you really gave over to grace, you are now free from knee-jerk sinning. You should be excited about this new possibility of not sinning, instead of grubbing in the dirt for your splintery old crutch, The Law. All you'll find is that The Law will give you splinters, and your darkness will continue to bleed out.

Jesus Christ is different--he doesn't just reveal your blood type (sinful), he changes it (justified). Leave the crutch where it fell. If you humbly receive the grace of God, your stability will live inside you, changing you from the inside out. Slavery to God's glorious Spirit is far better than domination by the well-meaning Law.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Honestly, Dad, I've become convinced that pants are overrated..."

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BitterSweetLife Likes to Think

This blog is a Thinking Blog, or so I have been told. Personally, as I look at this blog, it strikes me as a coffee-swilling hoopster blog with intellectual tendencies perhaps marred by a love for smack talk. But may I never be accused of putting anyone, let along my own offspring blog, in a box. If Jay and John both think that BitterSweetLife is a Thinking Blog, I will definitely go along. Moreover, I will play the game and point you onward to FIVE MORE Thinking Blogs.

1. The Preacher: theologically-inclined genius writes poems, literary sketches and cultural commentary. And he's funny!
2. Internet Monk: often inflammatory, sometimes cynical, always thoughtful.
3. Luther at the Movies: ridiculously brilliant, over-the-top film bluster.
4. Six O'Clock Vintage: artistically-inclined young braniac with a passion for cultural justice.
5. Chronicles of Vash: vivid saga of a smart South African journalist (although they really are "chronicles" in the sense that posts are kind of bimonthly "events" not unlike a new episode of Lost...)

I could, of course, go on listing Thinking Blogs because virtually all the blogs I read are Thinking Blogs (and I won't release the names of the stupid ones). So know that if you weren't mentioned, it's not necessarily from lack of merit. Think on.

Note: This whole thing started here. If the Thinking Blogs I tagged want to play along, they can 1) use the little graphic above, 2) link the site of origin, 3) link here, 4) and name 5 more Thinking Blogs. Enjoy all this cogitation.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

The Best Church Website in the World Lives in My City

And you thought Kansas City, Missouri wasn't cool. (Or maybe it was I who thought that? Or maybe the question never came up, which could imply the worst of all fates for KC, MO in the eyes of the culturally savvy: indifference? Or maybe I'm just having fun with parentheses.)

According to the Top Ten Church Websites List that appeared on the front page of Digg, the coolest church website in the world resides right here in my backyard. (That is, if a website that lives on an anonymous server and exists only in cyberspace can be said to hold residence in any particular city.)

But check out Revolution Church's site. Admittedly, it is pretty cool. If the church is as committed and evangelistic as the site is interactive and fascinating, this must be quite a church. I admit curiosity...

Side note: It should come as no surprise that Mars Hill, the church where Mark Driscoll pastors, also makes the Top Ten List. My question is, where's the Desiring God site, which contains about 13 years worth of free sermon audio by John Piper?

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"Please Be My Valentine," Says God?

Charles, a.k.a. The Preacher, has a vividly imaginative post up in which he draws out the implications of theology that downplays God's sovereignty in favor of radical human choice--namely, that Jehovah becomes a weepy deity begging for a prom date.

For a guy who supposedly dislikes Mark Driscoll, Charles comes across pretty strong here. Great post.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Not a bad riff for a warm-up"

We went to an Easter morning service at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS, where we're helping out with a church plant. Aidan liked the bass player.

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Good Works & Blessed Ignorance

God Keeps You In the Dark Because of Your Big Head

Quick thought: God often accomplishes his most resounding successes using people who are not aware of the impact they are having. (If you want to put this premise to the test, read a few of the great missionary biographies; it's instructive how many of them were saddened by the way that their lives weren't having much of an effect.) Why does God work this way?

I suspect it's because if we knew that God was using our lives for purposes greater than eating a lot of dark chocolate, most of us would immediately get a big head and begin to screw things up. Note that I said "most of us," which allows for the very likely fact that God is using you in a big way and you don't have a big head. I'm always ready to give credit to you readers.

But for the rest of us (i.e., those who don't read this blog and me), this seems like a kind of sorry state of affairs, given the natural human desire for recognition. Is it wrong to want to know that you're doing a good job? No, it's not--the wrongness creeps in when the desire to render good service morphs into the desire to see your name on a flashing marquee because you're the spiritual equivalent of James Dean reincarnated--young, devilishly good-looking, and so convinced of your value to humanity that God is forced to remove you early.

It's this little scene in your life that God preemptively observes (eternally sees the potential for) and says, I don't think so. In the economy of grace, it's better to be ignorant that stuck on yourself.

I'm not necessarily saying that if you're depressed and and convinced that you're an underachiever, everything's cool and God's secretly happy with you. The possibility does exist. But a safer application would be to say, Don't pin your value to a chart graphing "the awesome results of my life." Not only will the chart fluctuate too much to help your resume very much, but your confidence will have all the steadiness of earthworms navigating sidewalks after a thunderstorm (I saw some recently).

And besides all that, God demands that you place your trust in him, and derive your worth from the fact that you are a child of God for whom Christ died and who will one day reign eternally with Jesus over the New Heaven and Earth while basking in his resurrection glory.

Upshot: Crucify your ego and earnestly obey Jesus because God loves you. He expects you to do good works since you're acquainted with his Son, but he doesn't intend for you to track them with bar graphs and become a big-headed kahuna also known as a Pharisee. However, because you are likely to do this very thing, he may not let you see the impact of your life for awhile.

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Syntactic Pain

I haven't seen this kind of atrocious mangling and violence since...since...well, at least not since I taught high school yesterday.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

When You Look This Good, Humility is Dispensable! (Weekend Photo)

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Out the Window and Through the Trees to Freedom (Weekend Photo)

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The Truth About Subbing Is Revealed

I walked into the teacher's lounge and decided to extend the right hand of fellowship to a new substitute.

"How's it going today?" (The right hand is figurative in our profession; for reasons known only to themselves and the Center for Disease Control, teachers seldom shake hands.)

"Pretty well. And it's even better since I have just one class left." I affirmed these excellent sentiments and quickly co-opted the newer microwave for my lunch. Had he asked, I would have revealed that I was having a pretty good day as well, having just spent the last hour and a half of my "planning period" reading in the library.

A minute later another subbing compadre walked in and I extended a warm welcome. "Class going well today?" This sub and I go back a little ways, which explains the disarmingly honest reply that followed.

"Well...we had a meltdown in the last block. He and I were in there together [indicating the other sub] and we had to send four students out to the office. They were wild when they came in and they didn't get any better." I expressed appropriate feelings of sympathy. We've all been there.

I wondered how the first sub felt after having the secret about his Class From Hell rudely disclosed. I guess that always having "a good day" is another piece of standard protocol in the subbing profession. We rarely shake hands and we always have good days. Hmmm.

Maybe this profession isn't as honorable and praiseworthy as I make it out to be (or at least pretend to make it out to be). Apparently we subs are just like other people, only more so. We're accomplished liars: Ask us how we're doing, and even if the last class required riot control with fire hoses, we'll smile and say things are going fine.

Well, it must end.

From here on out, all attempts to disguise and gloss over the seamy side of subbing will be be jettisoned. No more cover-ups! No more accomodating smiles! The world needs to know that this subbing thing is not all grins. We need the freedom to speak our minds, to tell people how bad things really are! The Sub Liberation Movement starts here.

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Adventures in Facebook

This blog now appears on Facebook. Or I do, anyway--as the blog's representative. I've got to say the coolest feature so far (other than being able to send your friends "gifts," like a mug of Irish ale on Saint Patrick's day) is the Home screen. It's cool to see a snapshot of interrelated lives, all functioning in separate spheres while simultaneously overlapping.

The "groups" are fascinating, too. I recently realized that coolness in Facebook is partly a function of how many groups you are a part of. And if the groups have creative, esoteric names, all the better. (Currently, I am not very cool.) Yesterday I found a group called Calvinism: The Group That Chooses You. I almost joined; then, at the last second, I pulled away and became a member of Admirers of C.S. Lewis instead. So apparently the Calvinism group did not choose me on this go-round--but you have to admire the title.

Something else I've noticed is that some people collect "friends" on Facebook like they're stockpiling for an upcoming shortage. Anyone who claims to have over 500 friends is a little suspect, in my (Face)book. I'm saying this to let you know that only the first 500 of you readers will be allowed to hang with me in Facebook. 500 friends? A little shady, but OK. Still, you have to draw a line somewhere.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Reality is Paradoxical & Joy Must Be Searched For

I've been slowly rebuilding our computer's hard drive. Functionality is almost back to 100%. Downside: We lost three months of pictures and some essays. Upside: Now the computer runs faster.

Meanwhile, Aidan is convinced that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He keeps falling over his plastic tractor or his plastic piano or his colossal plastic-console/toy-with
-electronic tunes,-volume
control,-blinking lights,
-and-a-can-opener as he rushes off on urgent errands.

He'll run toward the kitchen, where a bag of chips has just been opened, only to stumble over Toy A and fall down with a surprised look on his face. He does not understand curved trajectories. He will not admit any obstacle to prevent his pursuit of food and balls. He tries to walk over a stuffed lion, Noah's Ark and three books on his way to the living room and falls down, crying, at the unfairness of it all.

Aidan is suffering acutely from a condition known as being one year old. As I watched him try to walk through a CD tower a few minutes ago, I asked myself how I could make some use of this stuff on the blog. There had to be parallels.

Determination? No, too easy. And that would be forcing the analogy, anyway, since we don't really want to applaud what Aidan is doing and, despite what's taught in some pc, happy-clappy elementary school curriculums, none of us will be able to "beat every obstacle and always win" as we achieve our dreams through a mixture of positive thinking and chipper grins. So the pursue your dreams at all costs line wasn't flying.

Then it occurred to me that most of us keep on doing what Aidan is doing right now, but in different, creative ways. We let our lives be dominated by our line of vision. We think that what our eyes see tells the whole story, and, as a result, we make "simple, natural" choices that are actually stupid.

There's a certain logic to thinking that buying new clothes brings security, that shacking up means pleasure, that verbally blasting someone will defuse your seething anger. It's the two-points-straight-line logic that Aidan lives by. It's simple and absurd and most of us use it by default unless we try hard not to.

If only life really was as straightforward as Aidan believes. But cause and effect are devious. God has arranged the universe so that ultimate joy and pleasure are found in paradoxical ways, and he does it for our good. There are seen and unseen things, an earth that has arrived and a Home we are still hoping for. Faith is the key that unlocks this mystery.

The Why of it may be sticky, since where God is concerned we are not mind-readers, but we are faced with a life where the invisible vies with our physicality for attention, where molecules are sometimes transformed by radiant spiritual power. There are beer bottles and asphalt and angels and demons, all in the same story. Why isn't everything located on the same plane of existence? Why are unseen things invaluable? Why do we need faith to live paradoxically satisfying lives in soil/spirit composite universe? You'll like this: Because God likes it this way and thinks it's better.

But back to my central metaphor. Aidan does not yet suspect that worship is the key to eternal joy. He doesn't know that your life can be driven by any one of a hundred things and you'll fail to really enjoy any one of them until you pursue Something Else first. He is still stumbling over blocks on his way to the kitchen, let alone stumbling over girls on his way to happiness. As soon as he can say a few more words besides "ball" and "cracker" we'll start trying to adjust his perspective...

Reality is more nuanced than connect-the-dots, but Aidan doesn't know that yet. Do we? I'm not sure any of us to ever learn it without a miracle of grace. And we may not ever know it fully and surely, with the certainty of golden conviction, until the day when hidden and seen converge, and Christ looks us in the face.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Escaping Pornography

Rodney Olsen has a post up in which he not only assesses the devastating effects of pornography, but extends hope that there are avenues of escape.

The sad truth is that with this issue touching more and more people, there will be some people reading this post who right now feel hopelessly trapped by pornography. One of the main things that the porn industry relies on is the fact that it's a dirty little secret. Those who consume porn don't usually tell others about it so they find it difficult to get good help... Reach out to someone you can trust and get help to be free from the grasp of pornography. Let's together decide that today is the day that where we draw a line in the sand and say 'no more'.

The full post includes an audio interview with the Principal of Morling College in New South Wales, who says that pornography is the issue that comes up most frequently when he counsels students. I suspect that this is pretty representative.

Tellingly, Christians are willing to be "open" about a select spectrum of sins, but porn typically isn't one of them. Implication: Someone has a nice gig going, since shining light into dark corners is necessary if we want to taste freedom.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Computer Returns to Semblance of Life

About a week ago, my computer initiated a hidden program called MS Hari-Kari and ripped open its partitioned hard drive with a sharp-edged system error, erasing all data. Both C and D were transformed into tabula rasas. This explains why I haven't been posting much for the last several days.

While feeling sympathy for the rare pathology that has taken over Gracie's (our PC's) previously healthy microchip, it's only with great moral striving that I've restrained myself from beating on her CPU with my fists. A lobotomy is not a remedy for suicide, I keep reminding myself.

It's just too bad that all this had to go down when it did. There were more posts on the way. They would have been very profound and they would probably have changed your life. Instead, I was reinstalling iTunes and Firefox wondering how many pictures of Aidan had been vaporized.

I have my plans and God has his and he's not waiting on anyone to transform the blogosphere, let alone the world. I like it a lot, but blogging is incidental to God's plan for world domination. I'm saying this to let you know that I'm trying to get back online, but, if wisdom prevails, I won't be treating it like a national emergency.

After all, I live in Missouri. This is more on a state level.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Life, Death & Jesus

"The one who saves his life will lose it. The one who loses his life will save it."

Once again, I'm struck by Jesus' total disregard for religious pleasantries. It's not hard to see why many people hated and feared him. His presence was like rigor mortis to control freaks of any and all degree--I've spent enough time on the control bandwagon to know. Only by abandoning self-righteousness could you make friends with Jesus.

Christ had a word for safe and miserly living: Death. And he had a word for trusting and risky obedience: Life. He interrogated those around him with his words and by his very presence:

Is your life so worthless that you clutch it so tightly? Your white-knuckle grip reveals your beggarly soul.

Pry open your clenched fists and give yourself to God. Only God can save a life. Maybe some of those watching told themselves that Jesus was just putting on a good show. Perhaps they saw this strong, authoritative, unflinching man, and called his freedom "autonomy," eager to write him off. Of course, they were wrong.

On Good Friday, Jesus was about to remove that escape as well. He would leave no doubt that Death comes before Life as Winter precedes the Spring.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Final Drink

I drank the magic coffee.

My veins stretched themselves out like rubber bands, snapped to attention, then relaxed into florescent health. The tired, unhealthy flush faded from my face and the lines on my forehead filled themselves in. I sensed that my skin was glowing.

The coffee was boiling hot with cool, mysterious undercurrents. It tasted like...not Kenyan. Not Costa Rican. But definitely exotic. It flashed through my system in moments and left no residue, a restorative cocktail. A shocking elixir. What was in this stuff? Elastin? Good bacteria? Was it coffee at all?

I felt the crunchy cartilage in my knees grow smooth and silver and the sagging vertebrae in my back jumped to their old places like all-star gymnasts. I bent down and touched my toes. Easy. I ran to the closet and opened my toolbox and grabbed my old yellow tape measure. Clumsily, but with growing excitement, I measured my vertical. Thirty-nine--No, fifty-one inches. Not only were my old ups back--I had added a foot of pure verticality, and enough hang time to put a dollar on top of the backboard and then make change.

After I had stopped jumping up and down in the living room, I yelled for Lindsay. The reverberations made me jump (again). My voice had a steady, liquid quality. In fact, the sore-throat raspyness I had grown accustomed to was gone. I tried humming. Wow. I sang a few lines of Coldplay. Incredible. "Lindsay! Lindsay! Come in here and try this coffee."

"What's going on, honey?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you! Just get in here." She laughed.
"OK, I'm coming. This had better be good."

As Lindsay walked through the doorway, I woke up and saw that she was already lying next to me and it was 5:45 and I would need to get up in half an hour. My vision was fuzzy, my back hurt and my face was flushed with some kind of flu bug. I reached for the magic coffee--but it was gone. The digital alarm clock stared at me balefully, an inadequate substitute. I sighed and lay back down. It was just a dream, and yet not.

There is no magic coffee on earth, but make no mistake, I'll be getting some one of these days.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Promise: A Love Poem (Really)

Charles has written a beautiful poem. It's about sleeping with his wife. Steel your nerves and go read it.

I thought about stealing it and telling Lindsay that I wrote it for her, which might be one way of getting even with Charles for the comment he left on this post. But if I steal the poem, then this post (which you are currently reading) would be kind of incriminating. If it disappears, you'll know why. In that case, just pretend you never saw it, and explain to your friends that you accidentally stumbled upon Charles' poem while doing a random Google search. Or maybe you can come up with a better story.

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For some time I've been coaxing my family members to sally forth into the blogosphere. But no one did. At least, no one did until recently. Now, my youngest brother Peter has a post up that I really enjoyed.

Peter takes an honest look at his heart and God's faithfulness and makes some refreshing observations about grace. Posts like this aren't easy to write, because they come from a place of vulnerability and because spiritual intimacy with Christ is often hard to capture in words. Having said that, go read this post: a break in the silence and an opening of my heart.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

SBC & Emerging Church Fight On

I hope you like reading about this stuff.

Emerging church, Acts 29, alcohol, Darrin Patrick and Southern Baptist in-fighting politics have been cropping up a lot here lately, and I'm about to dive in again. I blame some of it on KU's failure to win the NCAA championship, which has forced me to think about things other than basketball recently. Also, you could say I take a proprietary interest, since I'm a "Southern Baptist" by academic adoption (I am now about two years old in SBC years).

Anyway, The Pathway's latest article on emerging church issues takes a more moderate approach to Darrin Patrick and his church, The Journey, as well as backing away from previous ad hominem attacks on Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's my previous overview: Emerging Church Controversy in the SBC.)

I applaud the calculated movement away from libel. Unfortunately, the good people at
The Pathway failed to notice that someone named Roger Moran had secretly grafted several over-the-top paragraphs of divisive rhetoric onto the very end of the "article." Too bad the copy editor didn't catch it, since it pulled down the integrity of the piece. Check for yourselves: Alcohol, Acts 29 and the SBC.

Probably the most eye-opening article I came across (article, in the non-North Korean sense of the word) was this story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It provides some background on Roger Moran and his politics as well as commentary from Darrin Patrick:

The Rev. Darrin Patrick, pastor of the emerging church in St. Louis called The Journey, says Moran's kind of theology is only driving away young Christian leaders.

"When you're stricter than God about what he commands and permits, younger pastors are not going to play ball," Patrick said. "They're not going to take one for the denomination."

Reading this piece is helpful in bringing the actual shape of the SBC/Emerging Church controversy into focus. Ingrained denominational preferences, not biblical theology, are what is driving this brouhaha.

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Book Buzz: Sin, Gospel, Comics

Lindsay is reading Blue Like Jazz. As of yesterday, she reported, “I’m still deciding whether to like Donald Miller or not.” How well I remember that feeling. I tried to persuade her to write a review when she finishes, but she demurred. Maybe she’ll change her mind before the book is over, though. For example, I’m pretty sure she hasn’t reached the Don Rabbit comics yet.

I finished Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., a couple days ago. This book is masterful, as you may have guessed from the quote-dropping that’s been going on here lately. Cornelius (Alvin Plantinga’s little brother) diagnoses sin with Puritan-like vigor, but exchanges the elephantine prose of, say, John Owen, for a lucid and gripping style. A review is probably forthcoming. Hint: A+

I just opened Tell the Truth by Will Metzger and experienced the rare buzz of excitement that means I’m probably about to read two A+ books in a row. Opening paragraph:

Have you ever been stymied by evangelism? Do you feel you are tossed between two unacceptable alternatives and can’t find your niche? On the one side you see Christians who have great rapport with others but don’t say much about Jesus Christ. On the other side are those who are always “giving out the gospel” but seem to know nothing about genuine friendship. The frustration of bumping into these two extremes in Christian circles is very real.

This sounds promising, and all indications are that the book deserves a better cover. Metzger will be making further appearances here soon. And there you have it. This week's book buzz* features can't-miss books by Plantinga and Metzger and a stylishly-jotted bestseller that cashes in on today's cultural interest in spirituality.

* The phrase, "this week's book buzz" in no way implies that "book buzz" will be a weekly feature on this blog. On the other hand, it doesn't imply the opposite either. Basically, I just liked the sound of the phrase. In the parlance of the academic elite, "Book buzz" will appear as frequently as I judge advantageous to the noetic salubriousness of you readers, which means when I feel like it. But at least you just learned a couple new words.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Pros & Cons of the Emerging Church

A Crash Course at the Speed of Light


1. Emerging Church is hard to understand. “The Emerging Church” is such a diverse and decentralized group of people, practices, churches and ideas, that it is by nature ambiguous and difficult to classify with precision. This means that thinking and discernment are required to navigate—and thinking and discernment for the sake of the gospel are rarely without benefit. So emerging church can be a clever bait & switch scheme that forces people to think about theology and ecclesiology when they thought they were just going to be cool.

2. Emerging Church people are good-looking. Which is to say, they typically are tuned in to culture and know how to dress themselves. Given the church’s ability to turn out people who wear stone-washed jeans and weird T-shirts, this should be considered a good thingespecially given Jesus' example of living inside a culture in order to redeem it. I say it tongue-in-cheek, but the fact remains: my track record for picking out “emerging types” based on their apparel remains high.

3. Emerging Church is “cutting edge.” This means that many of its emphases are an attempt to engage theologically with dilemmas and needs the church is experiencing in the 21st century. For example: “Incarnational, missional living” is a corrective to the “missions only happens overseas” mentality. Spirituality in highly relational contexts is an attempt to correct the consumerist, Hypermart Church indulgences of the past couple decades. So emerging church is self-consciously trying to deal with very necessary issues.

4. Emerging Church puts a high value on relationship and conversation. Many Christians have grown tired of hearing messages that arrive via a sound system from the safety of a bunker-like podium, and postmodern culture distrusts truth that has the smell of plastic wrap on it, so the strong thrust to talk about the Bible and Jesus while simultaneously displaying the communal life of Christ is very needed and highly biblical. I pride myself in being able to say all of that in one sentence.

5. Emerging Church attracts church planters. Because of the emphasis on understanding culture and living like Christ inside it, emerging church is an intellectual breeding ground for theologians who want to do more than write scholarly treatises. Such church planters may be uniquely qualified to penetrate diverse communities with the gospel because they are committed to the wider call of missionary living—above and beyond denominational traditions. This means that a church planted in urban Saint Louis, for example, may not look like a rural Southern Baptist church with Sunday suit-and-ties and Wednesday pot-luck dinners. After they’ve planted their churches, such men will be able to turn around and write scholarly treatises from a place of battle-tested experience.

1. Emerging Church is hard to understand. A large percentage of the human race instinctively reacts with fear and outrage to what they don’t understand. Thus, some folks will stampede like buffalo or attack like musk oxen at the faintest whiff of “Emerging/Emergent Church.” Burning a candle or having communion more than once a month may be enough to set them off. Such behavior may be paranoid, but tracking the numerous manifestations and streams of emerging church is enough to baffle trained theologians, so in a way, it’s hard to blame the confused lay person.

2. Emerging church people can be snobs. Like in the way they dress, for example, or with their technology, or the music they listen to. Some of us suspect that we really are better than you—or at least cooler, and that a high hip factor is prerequisite to your ministry bearing any fruit. I, of course, do certainly not think this, and I'm sure that everyone who reads this is equally in the clear where snobbery (i.e., pride) is concerned. We are so beyond that. In fact, I pride myself on my anti-snobbery attitude.

3. Emerging Church is "cutting edge." This means that it appeals to the Athenian in all of us, “always searching for something new.” Also, since emerging church is largely shaped by felt needs and concerns within the postmodern milieu, it has a tendency to be reactionary, which can give it a whiny tone. Like The Purpose Driven Church or last year’s clothing styles, the quality of emerging church thinking will appear somewhere down the road, and in the meantime, some people are just here for the party. Or because they're ticked off.

4. Emerging Church puts a high value on relationships and conversation. Unfortunately, when taken to extremes, “keeping dialogue alive” can have a dampening effect on truth. Like when the conversation is between a lesbian activist and a weak-kneed Christian, for example. Our doctrinal positions should not determine the limits of our friendships (look at Jesus!) but neither should our friendships compromise our doctrinal positions. Sometimes this means we may have to shelve our “conversations” when we reach the awkward silence that indicates antagonistic convictions. If this does happen, it’s OK. Sometimes, Jesus stopped talking and walked.

5. “Emerging Church” sounds a lot like “Emergent Church.” Don’t look for an accompanying pro side to this item, because I wasn't creative enough to find one. Emergent Church, the ecclesiological sprouts of the Emergent Village root, is often plagued by faulty theology that’s too willing to bend over backwards and slur its speech in order to accommodate the culture. It’s too bad that the terminology is nearly interchangeable.

What, you think I left something out? Of course I did, this post is less than two pages long! What, you think that some of the strengths of emerging church are also its weaknesses? Good call. Please add your thoughts in the comments.

By way of disclaimer, I should add that I am not a tenured professor, do not own a really prestigious theological webring, and don't have any books published. I'm just an amateur (student) talking about emerging church the way I see it and having a good time in the process.

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