Saturday, March 31, 2007
Jamie has a perceptive C.S. Lewis-inspired post up. She considers Lewis' distinction between contemplation of a thing and direct experience of that thing. They can't both happen at the same time, can they? (No, of course not.) So what does this imply about our relation to God? (Big things.) Surprising application for navel-gazers: We can't contemplate our way to salvation.
Friday, March 30, 2007
I know you're all waiting for your weekend Aidan fix (credit Lindsay for the mad camera skillz)...
It seemed only fair to give Aidan the bigger weapon to make the fight as even as possible.
Aidan especially liked this tunnel, which showed up the hues of his awesome shirt (of which I am very jealous).
Aidan and I relax before beginning the strenuous hike back to our loft building (in the background).
Lindsay snapped this shot while we were right in the middle of a serious theological conversation! Talk about an interruption!
This morning dove was enjoying the coolness of our steel & brick loft building. It was so committed to its siesta that it allowed me to walk up within three feet of it. The bird had its priorities straight.
I was given an iPod for Christmas by Lindsay's parents. Other than raising my self-esteem to a dangerously high level, my iPod has prompted me to check out some new artists, and I've decided to kindly share a few of them with you. To make this interesting, I'm going to limit myself to one descriptive sentence per album. (Exciting, eh?)
Both melodic (ballads) and rhythmic (pseudo-rap), Mat Kearney's voice is a multipurpose tool backed by great production, which explains why this major label debut album was a smash hit. iTunes:
The Crane Wife, by the Decemberists is a wistful, imaginative, retelling of a Chinese folk tale interwoven with stand-alone songs of love and adventure--and it actually works. iTunes:
The Doves are a Brit rock group with more texture and depth than Coldplay; you probably won't hear them playing in a department store anytime soon, and that's a good thing. iTunes:
Bob Dylan is a blues genius with masterful staying power--if you can get past his legendary raspyness, this latest album is amazing. iTunes:
Coincidentally(really), all the CDs I mentioned are male solo artists or all-male bands...next time I do this I'll remedy that. Enjoy.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The Daily Kansan has a solid feel-good post up for Jayhawk fans.
Reason to rejoice # 1: Bill Self isn't going anywhere.
Reason to rejoice # 2: KU will still be loaded next year.
Reading this may just put you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the Final Four. (Assuming that you are a Jayhawk fan, and are therefore cool enough to need therapy in order to enjoy the Final Four.)
Trying Hard to Be Ourselves
When I met up with C.S. Lewis, it was almost too late. I had already spent a double-fistful of years honing a skill we call "self-assertion" on our side of the pond. But Lewis had been there and done that. He brought up the subject more or less in this way: "Be yourself? In God's name, no!" (See God in the Dock, page 286.)
To which I replied, "Well, there goes 20 years of my life. But I think you have a point."
Of course, this exchange took place long, long ago. It definitely happened before last Friday. And since then, I've continued to think about the phantom goodness of self-assertion. What I've discovered is horrifying (or it would be, if I hadn't already given my pride habit the boot).
Consider, for example: Trying hard to be yourself is an inherently self-defeating pastime--like trying hard to make a layup or trying hard to be the life of the party. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. points out, "Much of what we want in the way of happiness, wisdom, and general self-actualization cannot be gotten by trying for it (Not the Way It's Supposed to Be). Why is this so? One reason may be obvious: As the woman who has just dropped $10,000 on psychoanalysis explains, "We don't really know who we are."
Our personalities are rife with facades. We are all sincerely deluded, to varying degrees, about what we are like and how our lives should be shaped. Only God knows what it looks like for us to be ourselves.
Interestingly, personality assessments weigh in very low on God's list of priorities for humans. Rather than telling us to embark on a mystic journey of self-discovery, He orders us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The foremost benefit of obedience is that we discover the inexpressible glory of Christ himself.
A side benefit, becoming ourselves, is mentioned somewhere in the small print. In the end, we will emerge as the full-grown children of God with Christ as our older brother. But we don't get there via self-improvement. God is tricky this way. He keeps narcissists from getting what they want.
This is one reason why "self-assertion" is a bad idea. Like post players trying to be point guards, we end up asserting our imaginary selves, sometimes with disastrous results. Another obvious reason is that our true selves are not really worth asserting. Or, to put it in more hopeful and more accurate language, we do not yet have full access to our true selves, and the selves we do have are not the type of person you would want to meet in a dark alley. The presence of sin in our lives, this evil resident alien, sabotages self-assertion in at least two ways.
A) Sin ensures that the selves we eagerly push on the world are contaminated, lined with faults, delusions and biases like wormy meat. 2) Sin ensures that the parts of us we think are most worth asserting are, more than likely, the parts that we should keep to ourselves, e.g., we work hard to be confident, while in fact we're just being stuck up. Upshot: Love Jesus and be humble.
But there's one more factor to be taken into account: The origins of our pretensions concerning self-hood. Ironically, the twin brother of vain insistency is weak pretending. Both rise from the same source. We are unsure of ourselves--"unstable" or "restless," as Augustine would put it. It happens at birth and as years go by, the world does what it can to make it worse. Ultimately, the cause is spiritual, but the people and circumstances of our lives lend a helping hand. We are "not at home" down here, and it colors everything we do and say.
When we fail to habitually turn to Christ for our stability and rest, this inner awkwardness emerges in viciously divergent forms. We assert ourselves and then we trash ourselves. We put on a brash show and later, we flop in our favorite sins, desperately and weakly. We overcompensate for our insecurity. We think we are all that and we suspect we are fools. Only Christ's grace can get us out of this dilemma.
Where does this leave us? With open eyes, I hope. But God is compassionate; he doesn't intend to keep us in the dark forever. Down here, our role is to obey God, to love and enjoy him like loyal children, and these commands will guide our adventures. But there is hope for our fractured selves. One day, Christ will put us together. C.S. Lewis says it well.
Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? ... The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give yourself up, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. - Mere Christianity
We will find ourselves in the end, but not by self-assertion--which is a chancy inner game of spin the bottle. Instead, as we obey Christ more freely, we will become, with blessed effortlessness, more free to be who we are. In Heaven, there will be no need for self-assertion; we will, simply and joyously, be ourselves. On earth, it is futile and even dangerous; self-assertion is a little devil.
Flashbacks: Mystery & Personality in Heaven
The Mystery of Personality
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Today I fought a battle with languor and lost. It wasn't a pitched battle. Fights with languor never are, which is why we typically lose them. Personally, I prefer sharp pain or attacks of irritation because at least then you have a fighting chance.
Languor is an elusive opponent. Trying to get a close look at him means examining yourself (Am I sick? Has my soul been sucked dry of motivation? Or am I just really, really tired?) and everyone knows that introspection is very conducive to falling asleep. It's an elaborate ambush.
With languor, there's the feeling that your brain is packed in cotton and it takes all the energy you possess to just sit down on the couch and open a book and look at several pages without falling asleep. The room closes in and currents of warm air pick you up and the next thing you know, you wake up an hour later, still drowsy.
And I had big plans for today. It's just not fair. Something has to change tomorrow, or I'll be forced to start in with the Severe Coffee Shock Treatment, which has its own share of nasty side effects.
But all this exertion has made me tired. I'm going to bed.
Tim Keller is that kindly professor who is sympathetic to where you're coming from. He knows that you will probably disagree with his lectures, and he feels for you--but he also knows you're an ignorant youngster who needs to get a handle on the truth in order to graduate.
In a couple articles recently posted on the Resurgence blog, Keller counsels leaders on how to deal with the perennially unpopular and nonnegotiable topics of hell and sin. These are well worth your time.
Teaching Hell in a Tolerant Age: Brimstone for the Broadminded
"People ask, 'What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?' But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In Hope Has Its Reasons, Becky Pippert writes, 'Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.'"
Preaching Immorality in an Amoral Age
Today's preacher must argue against the self-serving pragmatism of postmodernity. The gospel does say that through it you find your life, but that first you must lose your life. I must say to people, "Christ will 'work' for you only if you are true to him whether he works for you or not. You must not come to him because he is fulfilling (though he is) but because he is true."
Tim Keller is thoughtful, discerning and, judging by the ministries of his church in NYC, effective. He also quotes C.S. Lewis in both these articles. :)
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I was already impressed with Cornelius Plantinga's literary flair and theological precision in Not the Way It's Supposed to Be. Now it turns out he deserves additional style points. Check this strong foray into Theology & Hoops:
A basketball forward who does a spin move in the lane and a concert pianist who rips off a fortissimo run in octaves need strength to do these things, but they also need fluidity. They need what we might call powerful relaxation or relaxed power; they need strong fluidity or fluid strength. They are playing, but "playing within themselves." Behind their masterly mix of power and freedom lie hours and hours of painful, sweaty discipline. This is work for play. People who practice spin moves eventually make them part of their game. People who work for years on scales and arpeggios one day begin to play music. - Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It's Supposed to Be : A Breviary of Sin
Plantinga effectively describes the purpose of painful discipline in (spiritual) life and beautifully portrays one end goal of sanctification: "relaxed power, fluid strength." He also pigeonholes the qualities that were totally missing from KU's Elite Eight loss to UCLA.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Learning to Read & Write
I know about Anne Lamott by hearsay only at this point. She is Donald Miller's favorite author and Over the Rhine quote her in the cover notes of their excellent album Ohio. I've also read a couple interviews and articles about her, all of which leaves me with the feeling that she's someone who I want to read first-hand - probably after I finish reading all of C.S. Lewis' books for the second time. Really, that was a compliment. Here are a few quotes to prove it.
Laughter is carbonated holiness. - Plan B
When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. - Bird by Bird
You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. - Operating Instructions
Lamott's glib mix of liberal politics and gospel is off-putting, but there's no arguing with the impact of her writing. Like her apparent understudy, Donald Miller, she has voice. She is trying to write about Jesus in a way that makes truth stick in attention-deficit-plagued minds.
Because of my interest in Lamott, I found this article from Touchstone Magazine very interesting. While appreciating Lamott's abilities, writer David Mills has advice to offer:
Judging from her writing, Lamott seems to be someone who has read and observed a lot, but not actually studied anything. She seems to be the kind of verbally gifted quick study who goes to print long before she should, and what she writes is so enjoyable and breezy and personal and sometimes insightful, offering so much with which some readers can identify, and the content so safely what I call "p.c. with modifications" (that is, essentially inoffensive to the liberal mind but with enough quirks and dissents to make it feel a little racy, ideologically), that a huge number of readers love her work, which keeps her writing...
As gifted as she is, I think Lamott would be a much better writer, meaning deeper and wiser, if she stopped to consider such questions. She could stand on the shoulders of giants, and share with her readers what she sees from there. I suspect she would also be a less popular writer, because the answers to such questions, seen from the giants' shoulders, lead you, eventually, to truths that are not p.c.
I don't know if Lamott will ever see the piece, but there's still benefit. Critiques like this are worth the attention of readers and writers everywhere.
I felt pretty good about my spiritual stature when I realized that I had come to terms with never playing in the NBA. A lifelong dream (well, about two years in high school) had been given up and I was OK. Was this maturity or what?
Then I realized that I still got mad when I spilled coffee on myself while driving. This didn't seem like a very promising indicator, but I doggedly maintained hope that I was fast becoming a Lewis-Augustine-Calvin-like giant of the faith.
And then I got married. Suddenly, all claims re: my maturity were up for grabs...
In his humorously jarring book on sin, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be : A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. outlines the true significance of our reactions to life's little irritations:
We all deal daily with annoyances. The first motorist in a green arrow left-turn lane is often some dreamer who lurches forward like a startled hippo just after the arrow has come and gone. Dental hygienists address older and wiser patients by their first names. We toss sixteen socks into a dryer but get only fifteen back. Such incidents are mere nuisances, and healthy people absorb them like small bursts of extra chlorine in their drinking water. [emphasis mine]
Maybe I haven't arrived quite yet.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
My friend Scott (who is too cool to blog) pointed out to me that Darrin Patrick, The Journey, and their SBC critics just showed up in our local paper, the Kansas City Star. The St. Louis story has made its way to KC. It's always great when the church looks so coherent, mature and serious-minded in print. Positive press like this can only be good for everyone involved.
On a more sincere note, I have a feeling that the mud won't stick to Patrick and The Journey. It doesn't take a whole lot of pointing and clicking to get a perspective on what's going on here.
I knew the media blackout would have to end.
This morning, for about 30 seconds, the world seemed like a promising place to wake up in. It was Sunday, Lindsay and Aidan were nearby, and coffee was a few minutes away. Then it all came flooding back. The darkness, and anger, the 20 missed layups and dunks, the inability to shoot free throws. At times like this, it's good to know Jesus, because what else have you got?
An afternoon spent lying around in my underwear and cussing at the TV was a big help, but I still wasn't ready to speak about The Loss. My heart still wasn't free. Fortunately, when North Carolina lost to Georgetown in overtime this afternoon, I felt something give way. Relief came out of nowhere.
Suddenly, I heard the birds singing outside and noticed that this whole tragedy had hardly fazed Aidan, who was, at that moment, trying to inhale several Cheerios at once while chugging water from his sippy cup. The Tarheels were gone, Roy Williams would not win another NCAA title, and I knew that now was the time to return to the land of the living.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Teddies Will Hit Brick Wall
KU and UCLA will tip off in about five hours and Jason King of the KC Star runs down the matchups player by player and declares that the Jayhawks will be victorious.
So what, you say. Of course King wants KU to win. He lives in Kansas City.
To which I would concede, You may have a point. But if you don't have the home town crowd, what have you got?
I have been delaying this moment as long as possible--the moment when I'll simply have to clench my fists and call the final score of this game. I admit that I'm nervous. My friend Will and I used to write insulting NCAA rhymes deriding each other's teams and scrawl them on each other's bunk beds with Sharpie markers. (This was back in the olden days of ALERT search and rescue.) Will is a die-hard Bruins fan. And he is nervous.
All fans everywhere of either team in this game have excellent reason to be nervous. Nevertheless, scores must be called. This will be an ugly, grind-it-out game with spurts of run & gun athleticism. There will be numerous ties and lead changes. But KU will win it.
Thoughts from The Radical Reformission
I celebrated the end of my midterms by finishing a book I started before the semester began: Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll. Previously, I'd read Confessions of a Reformation Rev., which was basically an autobiographical sequel to Radical, putting flesh and bones on the concepts Driscoll spells out here.
I like his framework. With Driscoll, ideology is basically welded to practice with a blowtorch--he's desperate to marry sound thinking to strong action. As such, he comes across as a blue collar theologian/sociologist. He's a student of culture and theology, but you don't get the impression that this is because:
A) He has a lot of extra time on his hands, B) he enjoys sitting in Starbucks reading academic tomes, or C) he was forced to do it in grad school. In other words, Driscoll is the best kind of student. He has a passion for intellectual discovery and an equal passion for making uses of what he finds out--in gritty, hyperbole-ridden, sometimes-bombastic, Luther-like ways.
I like this, and think there's much to be admired in Driscoll's thoughtful audacity. This isn't a real review, but I wanted to consolidate a few of my thoughts and toss out some quotes. What do you think about Driscoll's takes on...
Christians and Culture
One of the underlying keys to reformission is knowing that neither the freedom of Christ nor our freedom in Christ is intended to permit us to dance as close to sin as possible without crossing the line. But both are intended to permit us to dance as close to sinners as possible by crossing the lines that unnecessarily separate the people God has found from those he is still seeking. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 39-40
Flipping through a phone book once, I saw one church advertising itself as "Separated" and "Reaching Out to Seattle," presumably much like a boxer reaches out to an opponent with a jab. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 141
Some critics of scripture have argued that the differences between the Gospels are contradictions. This could not be farther from the truth. The four gospels simply are similar to your local nightly news. The first three gospels are like local network television affiliates for ABC, NBC, and CBS, which generally report the same stories with some variation in eyewitness accounts and details... John, on the other hands, is more like one of the national cable television newscasts--such as CNN--which have stories that are rarely found on the local nightly news.
- Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 57
Isn't it odd that we are apparently becoming a nation of attractive people who sit at home alone at night with our pets, watching television shows about relationships and taking medication for the depression brought on by our loneliness? Meanwhile, our neighbors, whom we do not know, are spending their evenings in much the same way. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 82
Even a cursory reading of the book of Ecclesiastes shows that culture is a stationary bike that each generation climbs on in hopes of getting somewhere only to die and fall off so that the new young stud can take his turn peddling and, like a fool, make pronouncements about his progress. We would be wise to see postmodernity as simply the new guy on the old bike and not mistake cultural change for kingdom progress. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 161
Postmodern culture is not something we should ignore, oppose, or embrace; rather, it is simply another culture that we should seek to redeem and transform by the power of the gospel. Indeed, culture is an old whore, and modernity and postmodernity are simply her old and new dresses. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 161
Ministry & Sinning (Making Mistakes) Boldly
The problem with my pastoral job is that I don't really know what I'm doing. So I read every book I can find and cling to the Bible like a kid who can't swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean. The principles I've shared with you in this book are things I've discovered while messing up, since I have a tendency to find landmines by stepping on them. - Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission, 183
Intriguing thing about Driscoll: he connects with thousands of thoroughly "postmodern" young people while being thoroughly skeptical about postmodernism himself. I continue to think Driscoll is worth listening to. Radical Reformission is a fast, engaging read, but it's anything but trite.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Update: Words w/ Verve now has its own site, including an online portfolio.
Looking for dynamic prose with a bit of an edge? Can do. Or maybe you’re in the market for a more formal, classic style? Not a problem.
I’m a linguaphile with a strong journalism and communications background, and I can tailor my writing to your tone and content. I earned my B.A. in English, emphasizing Journalism with stops as Reporter and Editor-in-Chief at Johnson County Community College and a summer workshop with WORLD magazine. Since then, I've written commercial online copy, generated ad headlines and television ad concepts, and created print brochures and flyers.
More recently, I’ve been published by Relevant Magazine Online, The Midwesterner, and other publications. Corporate clients include Mettler Athletic and Child Health Corporation of America. I also blog compulsively—just because I can.
Let me help you tell your story the way you want it told. Express the identity of your company; capture the personality of an employee; portray the truth of your situation. Clear, vivid language is the goal: Words w/ Verve.
Contact me with any and all questions. 100% custom copy, full proofreading and editing available. Free project quotes. See my selected copywriting portfolio here.
Glossy Production Meets Solid Content
I was recently sent a review copy of InTransit, a resource from Threads - Lifeway's young adult imprint. InTransit, by Mike Harder, is essentially an out-of-the-box Bible study that combines multimedia with very accessible written content. The resource is designed to tackle the question that everyone asks when they're young, and most of us continue to ask at regular intervals: Why is nothing really great happening right now and what am I supposed to be doing with my life?
Deliberately geared for a small group context, the six sessions feature audio tracks and video clips as a way to get things moving. The "leader kit," which I received, includes additional material (cool email header graphics, discussion questions, good "how-to" articles). On the quantity count, InTransit scores. It's also nicely produced.
If this study was a college kid, it would be one good-looking hipster. Lifeway clearly sunk some coin into production - which is admirable in a resource that's aimed at a younger crowd. However, I immediately found myself wondering, "Will this be another shiny item with the staying power of bubblegum?"
I felt a slight sense of dread (ok, "curiosity" is more like it) as I ripped off the shrink-wrap and began flipping through the enclosed handbook. I plugged in the CD. I hit up the Threads site (which looks a little like an early Relevant Online clone). Then I breathed a sigh of relief.
If InTransit has a downside, it's probably that author Mike Harder uses the word "stuff" too many times, which is a forgivable error. I appreciated the study's strong biblical grounding--centered on the lives of Joseph, David, and Jesus--which prevents the sessions from getting the introverted-church-therapy feel that small groups can easily take on. The content is solid and nuanced, stepping around potential land mines (e.g., "Screw waiting! Get your best life now").
"Waiting" is a subjective and emotionally-charged subject, which makes it hard to tackle but impossible to avoid. I like the approach that Mike Harder and InTransit bring, combining sensitivity with theological weight. The music tracks, video, and website don't hurt either, framing the discussion effectively for a 20 to 30-something audience.
Threads is a young imprint, but I like what they're doing so far.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Jayhawks almost just killed me. SIU's dogged defense hit them like a wrecking ball and it took them about 35 minutes to figure out how to counteract it: Drive into the paint and hit the defense in the teeth. Mario Chalmers acted as life support for the disoriented KU offense in the last few minutes as I experienced all the symptoms of March Madness.
Thready pulse, racing heart, sweaty palms. I almost died.
At first, I felt slightly embarrassed since I called for an 18 point win. On second thought, I'm just happy to be (vicariously) alive.
Gunshots. Anger. The screams of the dying. Once again, academic violence has broken out, and now that the firefight is over, I feel the freedom to do things I usually don't do, like post short posts. Very short posts.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The World Takes an Unexpected Twist
Jesus brought his glory down here and set it loose among us, knowing full well that it would force us to confront the real shape of the world, which would force us in turn to see the real nature of God—to be jarred and horrified and amazed and overjoyed, and then to do the supernatural thing, and repent.
People who had spent their lives categorizing “righteousness” and sorting people into “clean” and “dirty” baskets were suddenly faced with the thing itself. God in person. Jesus on earth. Divine Law in radiant, abrasive human form.
Many of them preferred their religious micromanagement businesses and hurried away from Jesus to write venomous articles denouncing his frequenting of sports bars, and add a few more notches to the holy sticks they used to beat on people who “didn’t measure up” in any one of about a hundred ways.
Meanwhile, the angels were weeping and laughing right along with the people who knew that Christ could really heal their fractured lives. When Jesus lived and died and lived again, all heaven broke loose. It was wild, it was messy. As the Pharisees pointed out, it was totally unfair.
But mercy is never fair. It was the world-wide fourth of July, and perjurers and thieves and adulterers and murderers everywhere threw their sins into the cross and cheered.
Related post: Glowing Fragments - What do you get when Heaven & Earth collide?
And Now For Something Totally Different...
As a kind of public service, I like to introduce people to strong written material that should weigh in just slightly lower than this blog on your list of Things To Read. Here's the latest.
I just discovered Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression, and this magazine looks promising. Check this article from the editor to get a feel for Relief's approach. Smart and gritty.
Next, read this hilarious, off-the-wall (but nevertheless brilliant) First Things article from Anthony Sacramone in which he takes The Universe to task.
Finally, if you're in the mood for a provocative, startling piece, read Ben Merkle's article, "Beer". I love Credenda Agenda, and this article from a back issue has got to be a favorite with Mark Driscoll. If you've never heard of Credenda Agenda, a more gentle intro may be this piece from their current issue, "In Defense of Wind Grasping." It's a serious-but-whimsical expose of the real nature of the world. (How's that for a modest goal? :)
We're a day away from KU's Sweet Sixteen match-up with Southern Illinois, in which I'm calling for the Jayhawks to beat these dogs (the Salukies) by 18. Some Kansas Basketball news worth mentioning:
Danny Manning, the amazing college player who led the 1988 Jayhawks ("Danny and the Miracles") to their championship, has been tagged as the replacement for assistant coach Tim Jankovich, who was just hired on as head coach at Illinois State. This is a brilliant move by Bill Self. You simply can't go wrong in adding a guy like Manning to your recruiting and coaching staff. The guy is pure class, he's a hoops legend, he can still wax most of the current players in pick-up games, and he clearly brings some theological jones to the (scorer's) table.
This just in from CBSSportsline.com. The Jayhawks are really, really good. (CBS applauds this fact with an impressive mixed metaphor, "Rolling on all Cylinders.) Thanks for noticing, fellows.
Finally, attempting to contribute to "the important field of Basketball & Theology," Tim engages in some musings re: the Jayhawks:
Chalmers and Wright—the whole team really—play with this assertive nonchalance that assumes greatness without getting trapped in hubris. It seems akin to the natural effortlessness with which new Christians share their faith. With something so important at hand of course inexperience shouldn’t hold one back, right?Time to get primed for the game.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Or: Seeing Glory in a Fish Story (Luke 5)
Clearly, this will be an adjustment, since what I usually see in fish stories is good ol' boys with beer guts and enough equipment to open a floating tackle shop. Fortunately, in this story there are no funky-smelling bait boxes, no tricked-out bass boats, just a couple brawny brothers sailing through choppy water.
It had been a long night, because Peter and Andrew had successfully discovered every fish-less sector of the sea, and they had done all this without the benefit of coffee. At the moment Jesus yelled at them, they were not feeling like men who would turn the world on its head. They were just ticked off and wanting sleep.
Jesus was on the shore, teaching, and he began his relationship with Peter by commandeering his boat, which was a not-so-subtle way of pointing out who would be top dog from there on out. A few minutes later, after he finished his sermon, Jesus built on his preliminary cockiness by telling Peter how to do his job. "Hey Peter, try fishing the other side." Peter: "Of the lake?" Jesus: "No, of the boat." The amazing thing? Peter listened.
We can pause here and observe that there was something about Christ that demanded not just respect, but obedience. It was remarkable that Peter and Andrew didn't douse this presumptuous young teacher in salt water. It was more remarkable that they allowed him to seize their boat and order them around. Charisma? Jesus had a convincingly powerful glory.
He also had a complication-causing glory. After Peter and Andrew took Jesus' fishing advice (against all odds) and found a swarm of fish swimming in their nets (against all odds again) they were faced with a further problem: What to do with all these fish?
The good thing was that Peter and Andrew would be able to pay the rent for several months and feed their families unlimited fish sandwiches. The bad side was that they were surrounded by hundreds of highly motivated, scaly fish who were starting to rip the nets apart and sink the boat. Jesus' blessings caused complications. Peter and Andrew hastily called in some extra help, and they got the sinking boat to shore.
We can pause again now, and observe that, in a sense, it's no wonder that people called Jesus a trouble-maker. He brought blessing into people's lives and then left them to deal with the consequences--to sink or swim under the weight of unexpected healing or forgiveness...or fish. Most people couldn't handle this kind of shocking, undiluted blessing and the trouble it caused.
And now the story gets really interesting. Upon arriving back on the beach, Peter was struck by the fact that Jesus was more than a wise young man with a prescience about sea creatures. He was so disconcerted by Christ's presence that he--what do you think?
A) Said, "I thought I was a real fisherman, but you, Jesus, are the Master," B) Shook Jesus' hand with a bashful appreciation, C) Offered to make Jesus his business partner with a 50/50 cut, D) fell on his face at Christ's feet, pleading with him to go away?
If you answered D, then you've hit upon another aspect of Christ's glory. Words completely fail at this point, but we could haltingly call it an alien, contagious glory. Jesus' holiness must have washed over the shore that day. His purity and strong integrity reflected the lives of those around him like a disco ball with x-ray properties. No wonder Peter groveled.
Picture Jesus standing at the shoreline. He stays and lets his holiness be felt, lets his weight of glory lean... "Leave me alone, I'm rotten to the core," pleads Peter. Andrew and the other men stand dumbfounded. But Jesus takes a further step: He pulls Peter to his feet, like Jack Bauer treating a criminal gently. "Don't be afraid," says Jesus. "From now on you will be catching men."
Peter will be an evangelist. The sinner will cast gospel nets. Consider Peter's future life. It reads like Man Bites Dog: Sinner Catches Men. And this type of reversal reveals the contagious glory of Christ, the kind that makes a dirty, bare-knuckle, loud-mouth fisherman (I see Peter as a kind of Irish/Jew) into a contra mundum witness. From that day forward, Peter begins carrying a transforming message because he had been and was being transformed.
Consider the convincingly powerful, complication causing, alien, contagious glory of Jesus. And this is just a snapshot, what we can notice in five minutes from a fish story by the sea.
Thanks to my dad, John Vanderhorst, for inspiring this post with his message, A Great Catch.
Monday, March 19, 2007
C.S. Lewis’ Pictures of Heaven & Hell
Under the auspices of “assigned reading,” I’ve been forced to get through some real dogs. At the moment, with much groaning and rolling of the eyes, I’m laboriously working my way through The Great Divorce. Not! The reading list for the C.S. Lewis class I’m currently taking goes a long way toward atoning for some very dry, provincial books from the past.
The Great Divorce is one of my all-time favorite Lewis books. It’s a slim allegory filled with jaw-dropping truths and vivid imagery—all set in a deceptively simple narrative framework. Some of the central strains of Lewis’ thought—desire, joy, the weight of human choice—appear with devastating effect. I won’t describe the plot other than to say that one of Lewis’ goals was to demonstrate that Heaven and Hell were diametrically opposed to each other; the story-arc of our lives lead inevitably to one or the other.
Thus, the two sides of eternity figure prominently in Lewis’ myth. But despite his incomparable imagination and writing ability, Lewis didn’t feel that he could do justice to the realities of Heaven and Hell. He attempted to portray only “the outside edges” of these realms, hinting at their realities while hoping to avoid “factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.” This approach is similar to his descriptions of Aslan’s Country in the Narnia books, and the results are similarly splendid.
Lewis’ genius emerges here. Others have tried to deal with Heaven full-on and approach Hell’s horror in a more categorical manner. But this is like approaching a cumulus cloud with a tape measure. While such approaches will always falter, Lewis’ more modest aims result in pictures that resonate in the heart and, to the extent it’s possible, reveal.
This book gets an A+, hands down. Here are a few of Lewis’ pictures—but to get the full effect, you have to read the story.
I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street. Evening was just closing in and it was raining. I had been wandering for hours in similar mean streets, always in the rain and always in evening twilight. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1
I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got ‘out’ in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 20
Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of flesh. Some were bearded but no one in that company struck me as being of any particular age. One gets glimpses, even in our country, of that which is ageless—heavy thought in the face of an infant, and frolic childhood in that of a very old man. Here it was all like that. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 23-24
You know it: it’s on the Master Book List.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Hoops & Theology, You Dig?
One thing I've noticed about the Basketball & Theology concentration this blog pioneers: few can really pull it off. This isn't to say they don't try.
As an example in this category, consider R. Sherman's recent effort, an enthusiastic but error-riddled piece that was founded on an incorrect understanding of God's will re: the Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns in the NCAA. Sad to say, USC erased the Longhorns from the tourney today and the integrity of Sherman's post suffered accordingly. And this from a guy who broke into the blogosphere with the sterling C.S. Lewis & Basketball series! Disappointing (but very, very funny).
But on to the good news. I just came across this solid Hoops & Theology post from Blake White. Ironically, Blake was also rooting for Texas today, but he managed to avoid the serious errors that Sherman stumbled into. Instead, he comments on common grace and its relation to basketball (a key factor in God's enjoyment of KU). Well done, Blake. Perhaps you could offer some correctional advice to Mr. Sherman?
As the Jayhawks gear up for the Elite Eight, having thumped Kentucky, it's only right to recognize these recent efforts. If there are others out there making inroads in this Basketball & Theology field, be sure and let me know. Rock chalk.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Those following the current SBC/emerging church controversy, or those simply interested in bringing the gospel to people who live in culture (note dry tone of voice), might want to scan this article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's an article in the true "article" sense of the word, so expect some actual investigative journalism. The piece explains the rationale behind The Journey's approach to culture (and beer) and chronicles some of the church's history, including this eye-opener:
After [Darrin] Patrick received his master's of divinity at Midwest Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, his church there agreed to pay his salary for three years so Patrick and his wife, Amie, could start The Journey.
The couple didn't know anyone in St. Louis, so Patrick spent months trawling open-mike nights in Soulard for musicians and approaching strangers in coffeehouses to ask if they'd like to come to church in his basement.
That's strategy with spine.
Rodney Olsen, who hosts what must be a pretty sweet Aussie radio show, has posted an interview he conducted with Michael Frost. Frost is the author of Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture and co-authored The Shape of Things to Come with Alan Hirsch. I'm pretty "keen" to look at both these books, so the interview serves as a solid introduction to Frost's thought. Recommended.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Once again, Aidan seizes the weekend photo slot. It's pretty much a monopoly at this point, and Lindsay has been trying to negotiate an anti-trust agreement. But unless I go out on a photo shoot or Lindsay gives me some strong material, it's hard to see the situation changing anytime soon. I refuse to be dictated to. I will simply post the best photos I have on hand. Period.
Enjoy the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Against my better judgment, I've posted one of my brackets on Facebook, where it is available for public ridicule now that most of my projected upsets failed to happen. But I did call that Xavier (#9 over #8) win! Ha!
KU wins tonight by 15.
Charles has an excellent post up. With trademark humor, he pithily explains why hypothetical situations are a very silly way to go about exploring truth and reality.
You are standing at a train switch and a train is hurtling down the track. Sitting astride the right-hand track is a car containing five children. Tied to the left-hand track is your wife. The switch is currently set so that the train will go to the right. You have only seconds to act before the train is past the switch. What do you do? (Also, how could a kind and loving God ordain such a situation to occur.)
**Update: Here's a measured look at emerging church & the SBC from my professor, Dr. Mark DeVine. Well worth your time if you're concerned with these questions.As a student at MBTS, I regard my adopted denomination with a curiosity that occasionally reaches the level of bafflement. Yesterday the bafflement was accompanied by rising blood pressure. I think it's best to put the disclaimer at the front end of posts like this one, so there you have it. Now, on to fair and balanced commentary!
The latest edition of the Southern Baptist Convention's newspaper, The Pathway, has an article on the "emerging church" within the SBC. However, to be fair to investigative journalists everywhere (with the exception of those in North Korea) I probably shouldn't refer to it as an "article."
The purported goal of this piece is to call young pastors to task for unexamined concessions to culture and ambiguous, Brian McLaren-esque theology. There is nothing wrong with this goal. Such caution may even be helpful. The problem comes in the unsubstantiated, pretentious and potentially libelous content of the "article"--which is essentially a mud-slinging fest dignified with a national platform. In case you haven't heard...
Assertion: The "Emerging/Emergent Church Movement" is "one of the most dangerous and deceptive movements" to ever infiltrate the SBC.
Reality: The so-called "Emerging Church Movement" is so large, diverse, and decentralized that it can hardly be called a "movement." An equivalent phrase might be "Churches Interested in Culture." The Emergent Church, on the other hand, is a more tightly knit group with problematic theology. Linking the two is confusing and unhelpful.
Implication: Guys like Darrin Patrick of The Journey are beer-swilling young hotheads who embrace "ambiguous theology" and encourage people to watch evil, violent R-rated movies.
Reality: Men like Darrin Patrick are committed to sound biblical theology and cultural contextualization. Like Jesus, they don't think that culture and truth are necessarily incompatible. Patrick is, in fact, a teetotaler, but he is up-front about the fact that the church needs to be where people are, even if that's inside bars, and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with beer.
Insinuation: Mark Driscoll is a profanity-spewing theological pretender who throws alcohol-soaked lingerie parties for his Seattle congregation.
Reality: As a Calvinist pastor and committed husband and father, Mark Driscoll is a strong advocate for chastity and has publicly made a break with his "cussing pastor" days. At Mars Hill, his church is "theologically conservative but culturally liberal." This does not, however, involve strip-tease shows, as the even slightest journalistic initiative would reveal.
I'll end my summary here. I recognize a need to be compassionate toward the people who create caricatures like the ones presented in this article, and more compassionate still toward those who are taken in by them. I suspect there's a lot of fear at play in this so-called debate--fear of change, fear of cultural immersion, fear of bad theology, fear of alcohol. Some of these fears are understandable.
However, I think those whose names are being dragged through the mud are even more deserving of compassion. Guys like Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer and the ministries they represent (The Journey, Mars Hill Church, Acts 29) deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, given their track records and passion for the gospel.
The ignorance and muckraking on display in diatribes like the Pathway piece are absolutely not conducive to Christian unity. Instead, they contribute to the kind of knee-jerk factionalism that Paul rebuked in the Corinthian church.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Let's not get carried away here, goes the typical refrain. Look around you. People are dying of AIDS and genocide, there's a puddle of oil under your car, and if you're not careful, your next check is going to bounce. Positive pronouncements are a nice gesture, but let's keep it real.
There's definitely something to this. Physical reality gives us all plenty to think about, and there's no doubt that it's easier to just watch TV. Personally, keeping it real makes me think about playing pick-up ball on asphalt, sweating a lot, writing angst-filled posts about waiting and confusion, and maybe getting a tattoo. Could there be something I'm missing here?
Well, yes. (That was a metaphorical question, which means that you were supposed to know the answer.) It occurs to me that we're being ripped off every time we let ourselves believe that what strikes our retinas is the highest grade of Reality available. Raw physicality. The rap music of the universe. We think it's the bottom line, but it's not.
What would it really mean to keep it real? The question haunts me. I know I'm physically biased, but the older, wiser strands of my mind remember that the real identity of the universe is shrouded in invisibility. Spirit is older and stronger than atoms. Surrounding us is an unseen reality--mysterious, terrifying, and ultimately hopeful.
Conclusion? Don't give the nod to a bottom line reality that's merely crude, loud, and in your face. Authenticity is a more elusive, more profound and more beautiful pursuit. Try to live to the rhythms of the unseen but world-ruling Jesus. Know it or not, this world is haunted by him--and so are you. So keep it real.