Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three Candles on the Blog

To a More Serious & Wild BitterSweetLife

About three years ago, this blog came into the world at an inauspicious computer terminal in a public library. Like many newborns, the blog began its life in a meandering, Thoreau-like fashion,
posting nature photographs and musing about caterpillars. In its adolescent year, the blog flirted briefly and flippantly with pop culture (it meant nothing!) before deliberately incorporating some of the elements so ingrained in BitterSweetLife's current ethos: coffee, hoops, and a somewhat creative, experimental way of talking about unchanging, non-negotiable theology.

And so we arrive at birthday number three, and find a blog somewhat tested by time, a blog somewhat seasoned, a blog somewhat changed from what early subscribers knew, but only more sure of what it thinks is true.

Bittersweetness has been a constant thread over the last three years. Sometimes it was reveled in more consciously, thus appearing with greater hit-you-over-the-head obviousness. (If you're relatively new to the blog, you might want to check these classics: Bittersweet What? The Bittersweet Life Unpackaged The Terms of Bittersweetness) But it was always there.

At defining moments like this, it's typical to look back over your shoulder and reflect, and this is especially true when you're dealing in blog years, which count for about a dozen human ones. So then: blogging consistently for three years has not been easy. Some weeks I've had to discipline myself just to write something. Other times I've had to resist the temptation to stay up until 3 a.m. writing the Great American Blog Post. Then there's the times I've had to buy off Lindsay with chocolate and flowers just so she would let me blog that week. But this kind of thing is secondary.

Mostly, I want to write about Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit, and how they have changed the world and are still changing it. This is something I often struggle to do, and as a pastime, it's become more serious and more wild over the last three years.

More serious: because we're all struggling, fighting to the death, to live out our relationship to Jesus with endurance and poise. If we know him, this means believing in him even when it seems that he has pitted the entire shape of our past and future lives against us for purposes of sanctification. If we don't know him, this means trying to consistently live as if death is simply the end of a long, complicated chemical reaction and "love" and "tragedy" are small side effects that happen at various points in the sequence. Either way, it's serious.

More wild: because the more I think about God and repeatedly beg him to give me a look at his glory, even if it's in a rear view mirror, the more I realize that looking at God would be like trying to see the Atlantic through a pinhole. Jesus, the Father, the Spirit--they're a mountain range that dwarfs the universe. This world is a pebble on the way to the trailhead. Yes, God be praised, he's given us the Bible, so we know enough about his character and his ways to fall on our faces and worship. But even so, anything we can say about him will have a cursory, half-cocked feel to it. Our words will catch mere bits and pieces of his perfection. So I think that at the best of times, it takes a courageous wildness to attempt to say things about God, and I'm trying to cultivate that.

Where does this leave the blog? More free and more deliberate, I hope. Sometimes, in a tribute to God's fierce and uncivilized glory, I would like to rip off paragraph-long posts and slap them up without any feelings of guilt. And sometimes, in recognition of the crushing weightiness of God's perfection, I would like to craft painstaking pieces that glisten with intent, they have been so carefully polished. God needs slapdash sentences and premeditated prose, both. I'm trying to learn, because I want to point people to him. And so, all this with his help. Here's the year number four.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Experiencing the humbling effects of marriage

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"I hope you have strong wrists!"

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Long Semester's Dying

Takes Time to Wear Off

I know all 12 of you readers have been nervously tracking the recent posts on this blog, noticing that there haven't actually been any, and wondering if I finally tanked like 99.4% of the world's aspiring bloggers. Now I'm here to tell you that you can breathe deep, eat that bar of dark Godiva chocolate you've been saving for a celebration, and rest assured that BitterSweetLife hasn't gone the way of the
Kansas City Kings.

When the semester finally ground to a choking, gagging halt about ten days ago, I realized I needed to immediately activate a dramatic burnout-recovery plan. To get things started on the right foot, I attended my sister's wedding, a joyous occasion filled with out-of-town family and friends. (Actually, I would have attended the wedding even if there hadn't been therapeutic bonus side effects. But I did appreciate the timing.)

When the weekend was over, I quickly resumed my annual summer job as the nation's most theologically astute lawn care services provider. With the help of my theology-loving iPod, I began to immerse myself in lectures, messages and music that I wanted to listen to--and which were, in fact, immensely encouraging and of immediate use despite their not being academically accredited.

I also stopped drinking coffee for several days, started reading Tolstoy's 800-page novel, Anna Karenina in the evenings, and let prospective blog posts float slowly to the surface of my mind at an unregulated speed, without dangling any hooks or suctioning the pool for "new material." The result?

The demons of last semester are gradually being exorcised. In all probability, things around the blog will probably pick up over the next few weeks. If I get to play basketball in the next several days, you can move that time frame up accordingly.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Running Through Heaven's Tall Grass

While I was mowing lawns today, I thought about running in Heaven. We will sprint on stable, unaching, unbreakable feet, no overpronation or supination, just simple, flawless running. Our perfect feet will pound the turf, straight up and down, the wind in our hair.

I tried to imagine what races will be like in Heaven. (Whether 10ks or 1000ks, there will be no marathons--the word will have no meaning in a world where muscles do not ache and oxygen does not burn the lungs.) All the running events will be races. The only pictures I could think of were of the mythic Greek Olympians, mortals and the occasional sons of gods competing in fierce and epic feats that you could only believe by calling them legends--but we will all be sons of God in Heaven.

I wonder who will win the races? I'm not a 6'5" Kenyan, but I've always been pretty fast, and I wonder what I could do with a millennium or so of training.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Secret of Happiness

For some time I've been inclined to think that a Christian should be able to look at the world with a smiling eye, but that the smile should not be the annoying, "chipper" type that seems to address pain and suffering with the wisdom of a two year old.

The Christian's smile should indicate,
not that he is shallow and naive, but that in the deepest sense, he is in the know. In theory, this sounds good--and it's been my theory for some time, since a sense of adventure and a penchant for wonder are better, after all, then stylish jadedness, jadedness being not much fun after the first week--but sometimes the theory seems to be a theory searching for a basis.

So where does the Christian smile originate?

I think it comes from a realistic view of the ultimate shape of life. For the Christian, the greater part of reality has been explained. We still see "through a glass, darkly," and we don't know everything we would like to, but the huge, gaping questions in our hearts have mostly been answered. And building on what God has revealed to us, we can also say with confidence that Joy, not Pain, will triumph in the end.

There's no question that life is bittersweet, but invincible Joy will overcome all odds. Carried by the immortal, glorious, unkillable Christ, Joy will win out when earth expires--and the Christian knows this now.

That is why he smiles.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Haunting Truth

We've fingered so many truths,
hoping they would lodge
in our heart's fine motor memory,
that we could be writing saintly libraries now
instead of wondering how not to hate
or rage or lust or rampage.

I wonder what it takes
for truth to sink down
through the skin of the cerebrum,
sink down to soul depths
and stay, not merely present,
but active.

And I suspect the answer:
Not more lectures and careful notes
but a life more haunted, willingly,
by the Holy Ghost.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Baby Attacks Ball Without Warning

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Finals Fail to Arouse Fury--But Die Nonetheless

The semester is now officially over, my finals having ground to a halt like a bad '80s covers band taking an intermission. Around this time of year, after dismantling my exams, I always feel like I mistook my calling and should have pursued a career in the FBI or armed forces. This time, however, I walked away from the finals firefight thinking, with conviction, Whatever.

Is this the result of battle fatigue finally catching up with me? Or does it reflect more on the nature of the battles being fought? The latter, I'm sorry to say. This Spring's classes, with one exception, were not the kind that inspired heroic effort. Instead, they were the kind that caused general crankiness and a huge coffee dependency.

But they're over now.

My sister is getting married this weekend, so I now turn my thoughts to much, much, much happier things. Next week I'll start my summer job, which involves a lot of sweat and sunburns, but also provides a cool reservoir of time for contemplation, wherein I can splash, relax, and write stories in my head.

As the outdoors and the mental freedom kick in, there should be an accompanying increase in the vitality of this blog, I hope, which has languished some over the last couple months. We'll see. I'm in decompression mode now, and what with my sister's wedding, probably won't be around the computer for the next few days.

Have a good weekend.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bright Eyes & 2 Slightly Related Notes

Bright Eyes' latest album, Cassadaga, has been out for a couple of weeks now, which means you can buy it now without looking like a feverish groupie. I love Conor Oberst's lyrics (if you swear that there's no truth, who cares/why do you say it like you're right?) and innovative folk rock, if not the angry politics that appear now and then. I'm hoping to pick up a copy to celebrate the demise of my final exams later this week.

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

1. On a slightly related note, I finally got around to listening to the iTunes free single of the week from about a month ago, "The Guide," by Borne, and promptly deleted it. In the course of the song, the new girlfriend wins the appellations: "angel, guiding light, Jesus, savior, all that is love." When idolatry becomes that blatant (not to mention soap-opera-esque) it ceases to be interesting. My idol-factory has advanced beyond that level. Give me a little more nuance, a little more sophistication, and then I'll identify.

2. On another slightly related note (finals make me less, not more, lucid), I was wondering--having just read the psalmist's take on vintage idols--what more evolved forms of idolatry will do to you. Now that I think about it, the fate of the idol worshiper is going to remain the same, even if the idol is living, breathing, feminine. Which is to say, even if your idol is human, you'll end up like the old-school, classic idols of the past--that is, with unseeing eyes, non-hearing ears, non-feeling hands. While it worked out in a spectacular way for the psalmist's parallelism, this threat is ominous for run-of-the-mill idolaters. Borne, are you listening?

OK, that's all for now.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

God Doesn't Hate You

He Wants to Raise You From the Dead

new beginningWhen I was a teenager, I frequently asked God, “How could you let this happen to me?” Since then, I’ve learned a few things, like how to vary my diction. “God, what’s going on here?” “How come nothing’s working out right now?” “Why does my life suck so much?”

To which God replies, “Because I’ll do whatever it takes to make you grow.”

(Ah-ha moment: Hey! Maybe that’s why I have all these problems!)

I keep thinking that if we could just get this one truth, life would resolve itself into a beautiful mosaic and we would stop asking stupid questions like If God’s so smart, then why did he give me this ugly car?

(Hey! I know the answer! It’s because the world crumbled in the Garden and now God has to hurt us in order to heal us.)

Precisely, my self-referential friend. God has been placed in the unenviable position of carrying out open heart/reconstructive/brain/cosmetic-surgery on the entire world, and the world doesn’t know what’s going on. Also, the surgery is going on without anesthetic. No wonder we sometimes think God hates us and is trying to kill us.

In reality, he’s just trying to raise us from the dead.

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Atheism is Like Driving at Night with Sunglasses

Part three of the Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens debate is now up at CT. This Christianity vs. Atheism exchange is as enlightening as anything you could buy on the subject, not to mention very entertaining, as Wilson persists in capping off his arguments with metaphors and one-liners.

I am quite prepared to cheerfully grant (and not for the sake of the argument) that you are my intellectual superior. But our discussion is not about who has more horsepower under his intellectual hood—the point of discussion is whether your superior car is on the right road. A fast car can be a real detriment on a dark night when the bridge is out. And you insist on continuing to wear the sunglasses of atheism.

Go get it. And if you're coming to this debate late, here are the first two parts: 1 2

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When Spouses Think Alike...

They Lose Money

From a live eBay listing:

Product is brand new and unopened. Husband bought while wife was out of town and she bought it while she was gone to surprise him.

You can't make this stuff up. And you don't have to. Lindsay and I get each other the same gifts at least a couple times a year, it seems like.

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Jayhawks Will Be OK in 2007-2008

And that's assuming that Brandon Rush, as well as Julian Wright, is gone, says Bill Self.

Things tend to be OK when you have three all-star guards coming back, two of whom will play in The League.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Screwtape Letter Reversed

My younger brother Peter recently read The Screwtape Letters and then wrote a reverse-Screwtape-letter, that is, a letter from an angelic being to one of his agents. It is possible that Peter created this letter because he was inspired with irrepressible wonder at the thought of supernatural communiques being sent and received all around us, no less on the divine side than on the diabolical. It is also possible that this was the result of a school assignment. Whatever the case, the resulting combination of theology + imagination + Lewis + Peter is exactly the kind of thing I can't help linking. Here are a few lines from Screwtape Reversed:

If the mortals can be taught this truth that is so often hidden from them by Satan’s emissaries, that they have not done anything to deserve anything from Him, nor can they do anything that would instigate Him to give them anything, many battles we fight today for them would be easier. Unfortunately Satan constantly causes them to forget this reality and convinces them that they have done something to make Him love them. His love is unexplainable; it does not come from anything that anyone can do. He loves them when they fall, when they obey, when they are in His will, and when they are out of it.
You'll enjoy the whole thing.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

In Which Aidan & I Shop for Mother's Day Gifts

Aidan and I drove away to look for Mother's Day presents. We drove so fast that we only had time for one Waterdeep song on the way to the store.

At the store, we found a ball and some graham crackers. Then we found some Kenyan coffee and a nice Zinfandel.

Suddenly, we realized that we weren't really shopping for Lindsay, we were just projecting our own consumerist desires onto this opportunity called "Mother's Day." It was a sobering realization. We were so embarrassed that, with penitential bravado, we walked down the cosmetics aisle. Nothing really caught our eye, though, since the women on the packaging looked like Delilah dressed for prom night.

Finally, we settled on a live flower plant. No cut flowers for Lindsay, she deserves better! Aidan pointed out that a "Mum" is a lot like a "Mom," and that settled it. Furthermore, I pointed out that a "Miniature Mum" was pretty appropriate as well. Aidan chuckled.

After finding a couple accessories to compliment Mom's Mums, we stood in line to make our purchases. A middle-aged clerk tried to flirt with Aidan, but he quietly averted his gaze, pretending to smell the flowers. Nice dodge. Then my debit card cleared, and we were out of there, mission complete!

Another successful Mother's Day was literally in the bag.

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Wisdom is Waiting for You to Get Ears

"Wisdom is in the presence of a man with understanding,” says the proverb, “but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” The author is implying that the Fool could have a similarly intimate friendship with Wisdom if he could break the vicious cycle of his self-involvement.

If he would stop scanning billboards, checking out the women in passing cars, and skipping through radio channels looking for songs by
Beyoncé, the Fool might notice that the truth about life was nearby—maybe even as near as the passenger seat. In other words, Wisdom is saying to the Fool, If you waste your days chasing fashions, getting drunk, and cultivating celebrity lusts, I won’t be held accountable for your pathetic end. Just so you know: I’ve been energetically trying to get your attention for the last 20 years.

This is bad news for fools.

And, without making unnecessary insinuations, it could also be bad news for us. Proverbs describes Wisdom like a companion who is always there, but unseen, the invisible friend who is really invisible (and inaudible) only because you ignore her. Isaiah describes something similar when he writes about a Voice who speaks from behind you, acting like a magical guide, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

I would like to have a Voice like this, backing me up, better than a combat expert, because only rarely do I face the prospect of a fist fight while I am constantly wondering what to do, which decision to make, at this particular stretch of minutes in my life. The thing is, though, Proverbs and Isaiah seem to be suggesting that Wisdom, this Voice, actually has my back as I speak. Apparently this is the kind of presence you stare at so long that you no longer see or hear it.

It gets worse. I think this was the kind of disability that Jesus was at such pains to heal, all the while hinting that if you couldn’t hear what he was saying when he spoke, couldn’t see the heart of his miracles, you were already a goner. “If you can hear what I’m saying, then hear me,” Jesus said. “If you can see what I’m doing, then, for God’s sake, see it.”

Fact 1: As Jesus walked through Galilee and Samaria and down the streets in Jerusalem, the truth about everything was staring those people in the face.
Fact 2: As indicated by Proverbs and Isaiah and the Gospels, the truth is still staring us in the face.

No arcane knowledge or smart ass intelligence is required to see it. Quite the opposite. As I think about it, the application shapes up this way: Fall on my face and pray to God to forgive my arrogance and fix my eyes and ears, fix my head, so I can see the terrible beauty of the created world and run to get in step with the music, the rattle and hum, of Christ’s advancing kingdom. My emerging definition of a fool: someone who stubbornly won't look at what is in front of him, for example, in Jeremiah 29:11.

We all know more about the shape of this world than we let on. Most of us have a better avenue into the heart of Wisdom than our lives imply. And Christ, the Wisdom of the universe, the Oracle graciously revealed in a startling book, is standing at our shoulders, waiting.

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A Writing Career? Are You Sure?

Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos is a book that almost defies description. The L.A. Times Book Review called it "a mock self-help book designed not to help but to provoke; a chapbook to inveigle us into thinking about who we are and how we got into this mess." I can't really improve on that, and I particularly like the fact that the reviewer said "inveigle," which is good for an honorary membership in the Vocabulary Reclamation Project. I would only add that, however deliberately elusive Percy is--you feel as if he's hunting you, circling your personality like a tiger, assessing its vulnerabilities--his insight into the vacuity of the human soul is scalpel-sharp, perhaps frightening.

I say this only to introduce a quote that I found on page 147.

The painter and the sculptor are the Catholics of art, the writer is the Protestant. The former have the sacramentals, the concrete intermediaries between themselves and creation--the paint, the brushes, the fruit, the bowl, the table, the model, the mountain, the handling and muscling of clay. The writer is the Protestant. He works along in a room as bare as a Quaker meeting house with nothing between him and his art but a Scripto pencil, like God's finger touching Adam. It is harder on the nerves.

Immediately following this paragraph is a brief explanatory section titled, WHY WRITERS DRINK. It's enough to make you stop reading and lean back in bed, staring at the ceiling, for at least five minutes.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

"Now you can stop asking, 'Who's the man?'"

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Wilson Punches Hitchens

The second round of the Douglas Wilson/Christopher Hitchens debate is up at Christianity Today. Wilson lands a blow:

So I am not saying you have to believe in the supernatural in order to live as a responsible citizen. I am saying you have to believe in the supernatural in order to be able to give a rational and coherent account of why you believe yourself obligated to live this way. In order to prove me wrong here, you must do more than employ words like "casuistry" or "evasions"—you simply need to provide that rational account. Given atheism, objective morality follows … how?

Highly recommended.

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Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis

Late last year, I used a method C.S. Lewis disclosed in The Screwtape Letters to get him a message at his current residence, asking him for some writing tips. As everyone knows, in his life on earth, Lewis took seriously all the letters he received, viewing requests for advice as a significant part of his ministry. Turns out he still maintains this perspective, although with considerably less strain on his mind and body, since he now has unlimited time to deal with fan mail.

I posted part of Lewis' reply to my letter as C.S. Lewis' Top Five Tips for Writing Well. And they were the "top five," because I posted those five tips first. Now, however, it's time to further explore Lewis' advice to aspiring writers (which applies as well to aspiring preachers, songwriters, poets--in fact, to anyone who uses language with intent).

So, why write like C.S. Lewis? Well, Lewis had a knack for expressing profound truths in a gripping but clear way that made people laugh, cry, think and remember. He took nuanced truths and made them understandable without stripping them of their beauty. Let's see what he had to say to people who wanted to follow in his footsteps...

  1. Turn off the Radio.

  2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.

  3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You shd. hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.

  4. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about . . .)

  5. Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn't, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know -- the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn't the same in his.

  6. When you give up a bit of work don't (unless it is hopelessly bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my best work, or what I think my best, is the re-writing of things begun and abandoned years earlier.

  7. Don't use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.

  8. Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use."
Interestingly, these suggestions emphasize the environment surrounding the writer, while the earlier advice from Lewis focused more on the writing task itself. I find #2 thought-provoking...does this really mean I should give up WORLD and Wired and Touchstone, not to mention And how about #4, the "abuse" of which represents a significant industry today?


This just in: It turns out that when Lewis answered my letter, he was plagiarizing himself! The supposedly "personal" note he sent me also appears in his Collected Letters, Volume III, pp. 1108-1109.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

God's Comfort is Better Than Ours

We've all heard those phrases that parents use with their children to convey that they, the parents, are laid back and down with this whole parent-child relationship. "Hey Buddy, we don't do that." But at times the veneer wears a little thin. "Hey Buddy, we don't do that!" Or breaks down entirely. "HEY BUDDY! WE DON'T DO THAT!"

I can't wait to wake up one day and discover that I've developed my own little catchphrases. If I'm lucky, Aidan will nip them in the bud. I was just thinking, though, how happy I am that God doesn't resort to trite repartee to keep up appearances with his children.

Can you imagine if the revelation that God sent us was on par with human "wisdom?" What if, in response to Job's suffering, God appeared and told him, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?"

Or when Joseph was languishing in prison, God sent him a message: "Never give up on your dreams."

Or when Jacob was sleeping with his head on a rock, concerned for his future, God's angel told him, "Just visualize success."

Or when Adam and Eve stood outside the gates of Eden, God said, "Keep your chins up, things could be worse."

As I begin to learn the nuances of parenting, I'm freshly overjoyed that God's words of consolation to us are truly divine (and much better than what I typically tell Aidan).

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Considering the shape of things to come and also what's for lunch

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We Poor, Helpless Wretches

I was catching up on disappointing Spiderman 3 news at Wired, when an author's blurb made me laugh:

Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps...

I think I found this funny because it made me think about the way that some people use their "disadvantaged" status to make other people (who are not as "disadvantaged") shut up and pay more attention to them--when in fact we are all disadvantaged, simply by virtue of being born in this world where naked, ignorant infancy is the necessary prelude to a life of instinctive, sophisticated sinning. That's probably not what Lore was getting at, but nevertheless...

Glory in your disadvantaged status today, than glory even more in the fact that Jesus came down here and died to do something about it.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mystery of the Invisible

For a committed naturalist, the 19th century author Guy de Maupassant convincingly smuggles the supernatural into his writing. I wonder if he really thought he could write off transcendent reality merely by calling it "invisible."

Everything around us, everything we see without looking, everything we brush past without knowing it, everything we touch without feeling it, everything we encounter without distinguishing it--everything exerts rapid, surprising, and inexplicable effects on us, on our organs, and, through them, on our ideas and even on our hearts.

How profound it is--that mystery of the Invisible! - Guy de Maupassant, The Entity

Explanatory note: As I look for creative ways to lessen the pain of studying for my Finals, I'm scanning the ranks of unread short stories on my shelves.

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Christianity vs. Atheism Debate

Christianity Today is publishing a blow-by-blow debate between atheist Christopher Hitchens and author/apologist Douglas Wilson. I've enjoyed Wilson's writing for some time in Credenda Agenda, and I recommend this debate highly for its cordiality and rollicking tone (thanks to Wilson). Check it:

P. G. Wodehouse once said that some minds are like soup in a poor restaurant—better left unstirred. I am afraid that I find myself sympathizing with him as I consider atheism. I had been minding my own business on this subject for a number of years when I saw Sam Harris's book on the desk of a colleague, and that led to my book in response, not to mention a review of Richard Dawkins's most recent book, and now a series of responses to your God is Not Great, all culminating in this exchange. I am afraid that my problem is this: The more I stir the bowl, the more certain fumes, mystery meats, and questions keep floating to the surface.

You have to give Wilson a lot of credit for quoting Wodehouse in a theological debate. Chestertonesque.

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God the Father Knows You Like the Back of His Hand

If you read Psalm 139 like a college textbook, the first and last sentences in the chapter would still be disconcerting: "O Lord, you have searched me and known me... See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way."

Based on these two verses, our Father's Big Brother-like moral omniscience might be intriguing enough to provoke a complete read, the kind college students usually reserve for the sports page. And if a slow, contemplative read of Psalm 139 did ensue? It would be hard to gauge the quality and degree of the reaction that might follow.

American culture in the 21st century is marked by a pervasive feeling of alone-ness, although this is probably true of most cultures in most centuries. C.S. Lewis wrote, "We read to know we're not alone," and if this is true, then reading Psalm 139 slowly might conceivably be more disquieting than reading a mind-bender like Cortazar's A Continuity of Parks.

In Continuity, we discover that a killer may be stalking us. In Psalm 139, we discover that a mysterious and powerful deity has been shadowing us for every hour of our waking lives and has, in fact, involved himself in the creation of our DNA, the rhythms of our REM sleep and the events of our supposedly secret getaways. Which is worse?

I find God's expertise on the subject of me to be terrifying. There's no question that it is inescapable, and, to a degree, unbearable. It remains that way until I come to terms with the nature of God's insider watchfulness over our lives: He is the Father, and a Father unlike any we have ever had. This infinitely involved Father represents a new kind of parent: all power coupled with immense compassion. He doesn't need us, has no desire to control us, and certainly has nothing to gain from vicariously living through us. He has everything to give and nothing to gain.

Within this context, "I knew you in the womb and made plans" has the sound of the ultimate verbal trump card. Coming from a God who loves me with inexplicable tenderness, watching me learn to walk through the world with keen, parental attention, it is hard to pretend his plans for me don't matter, much less that I can escape them. If God knit my DNA together like yarn, I will probably not be be able to pull a fast one.

The greater question, though, is Why would I want to? There are moments, and they are becoming more frequent, when I am certain that this is the kind of Father we have all been wanting our entire lives.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Irresistable Offer

"Would you like some ice cream?" said Lindsay, at 2:00 in the afternoon.

"Yes. Why wouldn't I?" I said.

Aidan was taking a nap. There are a short list of things a man can never turn down, and ice cream is up there around #2.

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My Copywriting: Now Even More "Professional"

A Favorite Online Writing Contract Goes Live

This blog definitely hasn't been a huge money-maker, which is OK, because we love it anyway, in the same way (loosely) that we'll love Aidan even if he doesn't become a famous basketball player.

has brought in the occasional writing job, though, and probably my favorite project, Mettler Athletic, just went online. This allows me to add a live link from my Copywriting page, as well as brag about it a little here. I love how the site looks: sharp graphics, intuitive navigation, and, if I do say so myself, crisp copy with some athletic swagger.

Anyone else need copywriting done? Send me a note. As soon as I get my Final Exams out of the way, I'll be available to launch another Words w/ Verve project.

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Murderous Cloudburst

The clouds were machine-gunning the pavement as I ran down the sidewalk to the car. My route was a straight shot, seventy-five yards through billowing sheets of artillery, without cover, and I died the death of a thousand firing squads, riddled with iron-gray liquid bullets. When I finally reached the car, I had to stand in a 4-inch pond as I struggled with the keys. The rain took advantage of the standing target and shot me through the eye and in the cranium, repeatedly, execution-style. It was only my skin's resistance to osmosis (one characteristic that distinguishes us from earthworms) that prevented the storm from fulfilling its murderous intent.

I could hardly believe my "luck" (proof that God is sympathetic to the charms of a good mocha) when I pulled up in front of the coffee shop and discerned, through the steaming windshield, that the best street parking place was wide open. I pulled in, jumped out, and ran to the doorway of the Broadway Cafe, where I was halted momentarily by a lady struggling with her umbrella. "Not that it helped at all anyway," she said. But by that time we were inside the door, the rain lashing vindictively against the picture windows, and it made no difference. We were safe and warm, if not dry, inhaling delicious Arabica coffee fumes instead of misted, inner-city water.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Jesus in a Pink Dress

What's worse than the devil in a blue dress? You know it.

Anthony Bradley has penned a couple fascinating posts. I like the tony setting: a failed church become bar & music joint. I like Bradley's tone: wry, pointed, bewilderment. And I like his themes: Jesus' identity, the meaning of freedom, and cultural engagement--guided, apparently, by an ear for reggae.

Jesus in a Pink Dress Overlooking the Grateful Dead
Jesus in a Pink Dress, Part 2

Both are good, but I like part 2 a little more.

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"And when you're done in there, please vacuum your bedroom"

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Fiction Can Change Your Life

And It Should

G.K. Chesterton
would tell you this, since he was the one who noticed that mathematicians, not poets, were the ones who went insane. C.S. Lewis, of course, would add his endorsement, since he came to the realization that a series of children's stories would best convey the theological truths that Britain was dying for. Tolkien would have agreed, although his methods were more oblique. And today, people like P.D. James and Frederick Buechner and Walker Percy are providing additional evidence.

There are many reasons that stories resonate with us. Probably the most central one, that people inextricably overlook, is that life is a story. Life is not a closed system or a syllogism or theorem. So if we limit ourselves to books, educational models and ways of thinking that treat life as a stack of color-coded index cards, we are going to miss something. Essentially, what we will miss is the shape of life itself.

Without imagination, without the child-like ability to treat life as a story that is not yet over, we are not more mature and in tune with reality, but less so. I can't help thinking that a life without imagination is a life out of touch, because the greater part of reality is unseen. A textbook is not the best place to learn about powerful, invisible beings. It would be like trying to size up a cumulus cloud with a yardstick.

This is just one reason that I spend time reading fiction when final exams start invading my personal space. Academic testing is necessary, but it has a way of skewing reality and making me myopic. One more reason why fiction can, and should, change your life. Left to itself, a life cordoned with unyielding logic will make your existence a tunnel, and, quite possibly, break your heart.

Fiction leads us away from the pasty illumination of florescent lighting and the artificial air that blasts from cooling vents. Fiction helps us to get outside, away from what is urgent and into what is vital. Fiction leads us to what escapes us, "the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live" (Lewis).

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Friday, May 04, 2007

30-Foot Tree, 8 Stories Up

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Are We At Home Here?

I was sitting at the metal table across from the community center's football-field-sized parking lot, all nine stories of our refurbished-factory-loft building piled above me. The street lights bounced off the asphalt in the dusk and power lines ran through the trees that sporadically leaned by the street. Then a series of warm, nasal chords vibrated in the air, an unnatural sound in this concrete prairie.

Two Canada Geese swept over the parking lot asphalt, thirty feet up, gliding through puddles of light. I wondered if they felt like aliens. But they flew past the power lines and disappeared, their conversation unaffected by the urban provincialism. Two creatures so out of place, but unperturbed. But then--who is really out of place? Who is truly at home? Perhaps home is more a matter of created time and place and less one of constructed artifice.

We are all more or less at home as we allow ourselves to be, as we recall, and cling to, the rationale of our appearance here and our purpose for being on this sphere. Do geese have better memories?

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Mark Driscoll, Moderated

I've been up front about my appreciation of Mark Driscoll in the past. Over the last week, though, I came across a couple unexpected Driscoll-related items.

1) A sober reflection from Mark Driscoll on the narrative approach to preaching, its pros and cons, that doesn't contain a single reference to Jesus as a "marginalized Galilean peasant in a dress." For me, this was Driscoll in a new vein, as far as tone and content go, and very insightful.
2) Criticism of Driscoll that I agree with. Jared of The Thinklings and iMonk both offer friendly critique that I think is both accurate and necessary. Check 'em: Trading One Caricature for Another and Riffs: 4:30:07: Daily Sex With Pastor Mark
Feel free to let me know what you think.

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"Look out or the velocity will suck you away!"

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Books Stage Imaginative Rescue

A very unfortunate side effect of some kinds of education is to lobotomize the creative lobe of your brain. Sometime ago this semester, I awoke from a trance to see a professor hovering above me, about to tamp down on a wedge held firmly against my forehead. Obviously, I felt panic. Panic, and a strong instinct for survival. I jumped up, shoved the professor out of the way (he stumbled and tripped over his white lab coat), and ran wildly toward the library. So to speak.

Maybe it's this feeling of imagination being eroded that has shaped my reading in the last several weeks. I've explained the phenomenon of the Dalgliesh Point before: I reach a moment in the semester when something in me cracks and I compulsively read one of P.D. James spectacular murder mysteries. That's been well-documented.

But in the last couple weeks I've read two P.D. James books. I've also read a book by Larry Woiwode, What I Think I Did, that has renewed my desire to write, deliberately and creatively. Having finished these books, I've started a memoir by Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey, looking for more artistic inspiration. To offset the ambiguous title, consider Buechner's book an exercise in personal, "sanctified imagination," as C.S. Lewis says. I'm also re-reading Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz.

The benefit for you? A shotgun burst of book ratings which may (possibly) be followed by more detailed reviews. Hey, if these books can rescue my imagination from an aggressively pedestrian semester, they may be worth your attention. Note that a couple books have received the coveted A+ grade.

Death in Holy Orders - P.D. James, A+
What I Think I Did - Larry Woiwode, A+
The Skull Beneath the Skin - P.D. James, A
The Sacred Journey - Frederick Buechner, A (may move up)
Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller, B+ (see the old review... although I'm enjoying this book more the second time around)

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's Sherron Collins in 2007-2008's Luke Winn has the Jayhawks in his top five in the upcoming basketball season, provided that Sherron Collins steps up.

...the most interesting storyline will be the progression of Collins from auxiliary frosh to sophomore star. Is he ready to become a 13- or 14-point-a-game scorer, like Rush was, or will Collins take over games and regularly drop 20? If the latter happens, KU can contend.

Other Big 12 teams in Winn's "power 16" are Texas and Texas A&M with Kansas State as a runner-up.

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Do You Understand Eternal Life?

"And this is eternal life," said Jesus, "that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." In terms of a "metaphysical definition" of the afterlife (or priorlife, as I like to call it), this may be the closest thing we have from Someone who knows. Jesus said this as he prayed to his Father, the disciples listening. If they were anything like us, his sentence may have been mind-bending.

They would have realized, for example, that eternal life represents more than infinite elapsed time that would reduce us to shrunken heads with withered sticks for limbs. Instead, eternal life in its essence has a relational focus: friendship with the unimaginably deep persons of the trinity. "Knowing the true God" is a goal that defies a long weekend or a spiritual retreat, and those who follow Jesus would acknowledge this. But we don't necessarily realize that a lifetime or a thousand years are equally inadequate. So in light of knowing the Father and Jesus, eternal life is extremely practical.

Unfortunately, we tend to pick up on "eternal" and downplay "life," emptying the phrase of the greater part of its meaning. Sure, "eternal" is a long time. But "life" is, at the very least, the antithesis of protracted tedium. The way the concept of "eternal" trips us up betrays the fact that we're more familiar with the 60-hour work week than with any deep experience of vitality.

Time--the mysterious way it both bores us and confines us--we think we understand. Life--the fact that we have hardly grasped it, and only haltingly understand its relational center--this reality still eludes us.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mark DeVine & the Mangling of Emerging Church

More SBC & Emerging Church Craziness with an Appearance by Acts 29

When Dr. Mark DeVine headed to Jefferson City a couple weeks ago, little did he know that his
research on emerging church issues would be hijacked and deliberately misinterpreted in order to bolster a culturally-fearful, politically-driven "church" agenda.

DeVine attended the meeting at the request of the Missouri Baptist Convention. His purported task: Help key leaders get up to speed on the emerging church in order to halt the misinformation and knee-jerk reactions that have characterized much interaction between SBC and emerging church thought recently. Unfortunately, viewed in hindsight, the committee meeting was merely an attempt to add a scholarly endorsement to another episode of head-in-the-sand decision making (link to Pathway article).

At this time, crime scene investigators are examining oral and written evidence to ascertain who exactly will be charged with perjury and to what extent. Actually, I made that up. But if the context were different...

When I read the above Pathway article, which wildly misrepresents DeVine's position, I was confused about what had actually happened in this closed-doors committee meeting. Apparently, so were scores of other people, who have been stuffing notes into DeVine's e-mailbox. Turns out that confusion was the only rationale response--one which DeVine shares.

Here's my abbreviated transcript for those of you who don't have time to read all the background.

Setting: Committee meeting in Jefferson City.
DeVine: So while I have cautions about some streams of the very diverse phenomenon labeled "emerging church," there are other elements that I applaud. For example, some churches combine a devotion to biblical authority and historical orthodoxy with a willingness to enter culture and bring Jesus to lost people. One example of this is a church planting network, Acts 29, which has experienced dramatic success in evangelizing urban populations--the very demographic that Southern Baptist churches usually fail to reach.
Committee leader: Thank you for your very helpful research. Now, based on what you have said, we will ban all Missouri churches from working with Acts 29 in the future.

My synopsis doesn't do justice to the weirdness. In the next few weeks, we can look forward to (yet another) incisive, clarifying article from Dr. DeVine, because he is a professor with backbone who doesn't like having his words mangled. This piece will likely appear in the offending Pathway. This means that The Pathway may, for the first time, feature a balanced perspective on emerging church and its place within the Southern Baptist convention, which may cause cardiac arrest in some circles. It's also possible that we'll see a retraction or two appear in print, if the people involved repent of their political maneuvering.

Bizarre, all of this. The shock is still wearing off for me. (In a few days I may read this post and wonder why it's so shrill.) Maybe I'm naive, but manipulation, fear-mongering and word games are completely alien to anything I would call "church."

Update: Here's a post on the topic from Scott Thomas of Acts 29.

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