Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sans Sleep, Sans Humor...Sans Everything

Asher Wyatt Vanderhorst
A Wild, Desperate Post, To Be Taken Lightly

Math classes are the worst, because there is so little to joke about. "Am I a math teacher? No, but I took Algebra in high school." "If you have questions, let me know, but I probably won't be able to help you." "Why am I teaching this class? Because they were really desperate."

I get a few chuckles, because some of the kids are kind. But really, it's not very funny. I need more ammo. I need an English or Comm Arts class, where I can throw up a wall of verbal flack to disguise and guard my post-baby state: relieved, happy, and very very tired. I am grinding the gears. I am running on fumes. I am running on empty. I need a sign made that I can wear on my back: Fragile: Banter with care.

It's true. In the days since Asher's birth, I have not been able to come up with the witty repartee which students have come to expect from me.

Student: "Mr. V, are you drinking vodka in class?"
Me: "Uh...no. Those are plastic bottles of water. And they're not mine."

Student: "Hey Mr. V.! You wouldn't actually confiscate my phone, would you? You couldn't take a phone away from someone wearing boots as stylish as these!"
Me: "Uh...just don't answer it in class."

Student: "What's up, Mr. V? You're the cool gangsta teacher."
Me: "Uh...gangsta?"

Student: "Hey, who is teaching this class today?"
Real Teacher, loitering in the room while ignoring my presence: "Well, today you have--a sub."
Me: "_____"

[wanting to say something that would express appropriate disdain, combined with dismissive humor, at being treated as a nameless object]

Towards the end of today's Math classes, I had pooled enough energy to make an effort.
Student: "Mr. V., in that class last block, did you happen to see a silver makeup bag? I think I left it in the room."
Me: "A kind of large silver bag? Left on the floor by your chair?"
Student: "Yes."
Me: "I didn't see it."
Student: "Are you just saying that so I'll kill myself?"
Me: "Actually, I did see it. I saw it and I took it. But I'm sorry, I already sold it."
Student: "You sold it to buy drugs, didn't you?"
Me: "Yes, I did."

And you wouldn't believe how much it cost me, even this half-hearted, stop-gap attempt. As the student left the room, I collapsed in my chair, shaking like a leaf and gasping for breath. How long can this continue?

How long must I jerk myself awake with coffee in the morning, like a sleeper stepping into an icy shower? How long must I have bloodshot eyes which I explain temporarily by saying it is Halloween? How long must I think about naps in the same breath as Ethiopian Fair Trade coffee, Christmas, and the Final Four? HOW LONG?

OK, it's 8:35 p.m. so this discussion can be continued later. I'm going to bed for the first 45 minute shift.

[Photo caption: ONE of these men is well-rested and mentally sharp.]



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Great "Christian Music"

Very good post up at The Search listing, humbly, the "best Christian albums of all time," with an appropriate disclaimer:

Yes, it is ridiculous that there is such a thing as “Christian music.” I am totally of the mind that the contemporary Christian music industry is something that never should have existed, and that most of its output has, in fact, been utterly forgettable. That said, however, I must admit that not ALL of so-called “Christian” music (and in my definition, it’s basically any music made with Christian spirituality in mind or in heart) is horrific bilge.

If I were to create such a list, I think it would feature the same artists (almost) but not necessarily the same albums. (Switch out Seven Swans for Chicago!) My one criticism is that if you include U2--not a strictly "Christian" band--than you have to, have to, have something by Bob Dylan; I'd suggest Slow Train Coming. But this effort gets a hearty appreciative nod.

If you're into this stuff, see also this older post on "popular" music for "theologians" (both terms used fairly loosely).

Now I need to write a music post.



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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When No Other Name Will Do

After a Triple-Nightmare, Multiple-Milk-Aspiration, REM-Destroying Night

Lindsay: "Well, you seem like you're feeling better today."
Me: "I'm just investing more energy in my joyful facade."
Lindsay: "You're such a--a smart alice."
Me: "Smart alice?"
Lindsay: "I couldn't decide what to call you."
Me: "______"
Lindsay: "But you really are sometimes."



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Preparing for liftoff.

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Stealing the Books of the Dead

Once or twice a semester, unsolicited boxes of books appear on tables in an entry area at my campus. These books are orphans--discarded by their owners for reasons unknown. Sometimes the reasons are pretty obvious though, such as when all the books are 50-year-old paperbacks. But since the occupants of my campus are seminary students, all of whom can read, and many of whom are incurable optimists, these book dumps always create some excitement. Students gather around the tables, eagerly picking through the neglected tomes. Such was the scene today.

Having already completed my perfunctory assessment (50-year-old paperbacks with two exceptions, one of which I grabbed) I was cramming for a quiz as other students rifled through the books with a kind of morbid, understated excitement.

"These have probably been picked through pretty thoroughly."
"Who was he, anyway."
"I heard that he died at that big church up north--got trampled at a youth group concert."
"Too bad. You know, if someone really had his act together, he could sell these on eBay."
"No one would buy these, they're too dated."

It reminded me of that moment in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge observes his own funeral:
‘No,’ said a great fat man with a monstrous chin,’ I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s dead.’
‘When did he die.’ inquired another.
‘Last night, I believe.’
‘Why, what was the matter with him.’ asked a third, taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very large snuffbox. ‘I thought he’d never die.’
‘God knows,’ said the first, with a yawn.

Seriously, put out the books, and the seminary students descend like vultures. Is someone watching on hidden camera, chuckling wryly at how easily we are controlled? If so, we don't really mind. Free books--that's the important thing. And today I defied the odds and picked up a copy of Faulkner's The Reivers--you don't know how rare it is to find classic literature at these events...

My hope is that these are the book collections of failed, maverick pastors who were eventually cast out of Southern Baptist life for teaching strange doctrines of youth group ministry that banked heavily on bad Christian music and the Left Behind series. That's the only way to explain some of their libraries.



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Monday, October 29, 2007

Thank you, the massage was excellent.

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What if Your Blog Was a Book?

I was toying with this idea over the weekend: blogs in book form. Lindsay and I decided we would like to make some more money, just for a change of pace, and then Aidan pointed out that if I cut and pasted a bunch of blog posts into MS Word and sent the document to a publisher (with some minor edits, like replacing :)s with equivalent words) it would probably be a smash hit.

Actually, none of that happened--except for the part about us wanting more money--but I was entertaining myself and Lindsay (to a lesser degree) by trying to come up with titles that would be somewhat representative of this blog.

For example: Glowing Ruins--Profound but Earthy Observations about Reality, Illusion, and the State of the World.

Or: Fallen DNA: The Tragic Story of my Lost NBA Career

Or: My Blood Type is Coffee, Doctor: A Frivolous Tale of Addiction

In the same spirit of silliness, I invite you to create a title that encapsulates your own blog, or that of someone else. Another example, this time for Justin Tayler's blog, Between Two Worlds: Sovereign Blurbs: An Annotated Bibliography of Conservative Calvinists I Have Met Over the Years. Or Musings from the Hinterland: Clever Yellow Attorney: In Defense of Life, Hiking, and MU Hoops Mediocrity. And I could go on...but maybe you will.

This could be an opportunity for accolades, backhanded compliments, or clever hyperbole, as the mood seizes you. Any takers?



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Saturday, October 27, 2007

I cannot move my arms. But I would kill you if I could.

By no means am I making any insinuations about the respective personalities of Aidan (shown here, in a retro shot) and Asher. Just consider the two photos as similar in setting, theme, and composition. Remarkably similar, but with one glaring difference...

I could get into this compare-and-contrast thing if I let myself.

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Moving Discipleship Out of the Church

iMonk has a thought-provoking post up about discipleship. He raises some excellent questions and makes some needed points. I italicized some that I think urgently need to be asked, answered, and absorbed in new, less-than-"traditional" ways.

How does discipleship relate to the church? Is participating in church programs the way a person expresses discipleship? If I am a serious follower of Jesus, will I be spending more time at church? Will church activities be the measurement of discipleship?

Are church programs the place where disciples are formed? What are the true place and value of spiritual disciplines? If a person is saved and going to heaven, why do things like prayer and Bible study matter?

My experience taught me that it was questions like these, questions about the value and place of discipleship, that remained unanswered for many people. Their involvement in the church not only did not further the practices that fostered discipleship, it often replaced those practices, or provided a context for conceiving of a kind of discipleship that was removed from the world.

One other observation. I believe that discipleship occurs as much in the unstructured and informal as in the structured and planned. Efforts to “produce” or “create” mentoring relationships via sign up lists and programs are effective only as much as they create an atmosphere where the informal and spontaneous work of the Spirit can occur...

This creates particular kinds of problems for those who do not function well in informal settings, but it also should cause us to reconsider the evaluative propaganda most churches use to demonstrate, through numbers, that discipleship is occurring.

What suggestions would you make to help move discipleship "out of" the church subculture and into the real world?--with the implication that only then is real discipleship taking place.



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Disambiguation: We Do Not Alliterate Our Children

When a friend of ours, Steve, pointed out that "Ariel, Aidan, and Asher" looks suspiciously like a pattern, I realized that a public statement needed to be made.

So: Alliteration in writing is good (if you do it subtly, suitably and sparingly...). Alliteration in children is bad. When your kids are a few years older, they will point out what you were somehow unable to see at the time: it is cheesy. So Lindsay and I want you to know that the recurring A-letters in the males of our family were coincidental, not intentional. Aidan and Asher have already been informed. And now you know. We did not alliterate our children, as if they were mere nouns to be toyed with.

While I'm on this topic, I may as well bring up a related blight in the world of children's names: Cutesy-Pants Assonance. Since you probably don't know what assonance is--and if you did, we would wonder about you--I'll give a few examples.

"These are the kids, Wayne, Jane, and Lane!"
"Meet the fam: Meera, Deedra, and Shakeera."
"I'd like to introduce Jim, Kim and Tim."

There are a lot of warning labels you could attach to small children (feel free to suggest your own), but one of mine would be: Do Not Alliterate This Child! or equally important Do Not Assonate This Child! (The Word Itself and the Fact that I Just Created a Verb Form to Express it Should Tip You Off!)

All right. I feel that I've adequately cleared Lindsay and myself of any verbal wrong-doing.



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Friday, October 26, 2007

Heaven is for Realists


In many ways, Heaven is exactly the opposite of what it's assumed to be. It's a doctrine that caters to pragmatists and stark realists.

Some people argue that Heaven is a warm, fuzzy blanket for the emotionally unstable, but don't believe them--they haven't noticed what life is actually like down here. We live in a murky soup where people die and "ultimate" desires never satisfy--and all the same, we keep looking for life, real life, in every new face, around every corner. There's only one way this makes sense.

Truth is, our lives are taken away by Jesus' absence (and we sense the hollowness), but only he can give them back. ("For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." - Matthew 16:25) Christ brings the painful realization that earth is an astringent, half-empty place to live, and we're fools if we try to satisfy ourselves down here. Life on earth is an asset that does not appreciate; but Jesus is the happy light we sense beyond our shadows. We grasp his golden eternity by stepping away from our pyrite obsolescence.

That's why Heaven is for scarred fighters and inveterate realists. Heaven is the north star we navigate by, the birth we anticipate, the horizon we approach. Heaven is the strength-instilling drink we sip now and expect to swig later.

We learn about Heaven from Jesus--the bright, clear reality that's greater than anything we see. Heaven is, in our experience, too good to be true. That's why only the most audacious realists believe in it.



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Bread-Stealing Baby


The film speed wasn't high enough to catch him in the act (bread-handed). But he knows that we know...it's just a matter of time until we can build a case.

Photo credit: Sarah



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United We Suck

Posted by Picasa I know, I know, when you read the title you thought it was about MU basketball...



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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Seven Facts About Me That Only My Mom Knows

OK, Lindsay Knows Too, But That Would Ruin the Title

Manna
, at Out of the East, has tagged me, demanding that I reveal seven strange facts about myself (just 7?). Not only is Manna a friend of the family, she's also a phenomenally talented artist--and so I will cede to her request. However, my blog tells me that he's tired of running around the blogosphere trying to tag other blogs (it interrupts his pickup hoops games) and so I'll respect his feelings on that count.

Seven Weird, Random, Strange (or Unknown) Facts About Me

  1. I played center on my junior high basketball team. That was before my growth spurt abruptly ended.
  2. While I was age 12, I had 17 pet garter snakes as pets. At the same time.
  3. All the books in our apartment are color-coded. Aesthetically, it's so much better--and it's easy to find the book you want, too.
  4. I can cross my big toe and my second toe, like crossing your fingers. Effortlessly. Whenever I want.
  5. When I walk into a room and size people up, I think: I could handle him in a one-on-one hoops game . And him. And him...
  6. I was briefly recruited by the FBI.
  7. My favorite coffee-growing regions are Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Tuscany. (And my birthday is November 8--consider that a bonus random fact.)
If you think your random facts can compete with mine, which I seriously, seriously doubt, trot 'em out and link 'em in the comments. I dare you.



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I am at peace. Also, I cannot move my arms.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Argument in Favor of Theological Fighting

No one in the church likes fighting these days--unless they are "moral majority" throwbacks, Mark Driscoll groupies, or theologians who love basketball. (Caveat: They could also be theologians who, being in all other respects at the precise, dead-center, bull's eye of God's will, should like basketball.)

Anyway, it's hard to pick a theological fight in this season of global tolerance. Ideas, which are innately hierarchical in their importance, are elevated to a bland equality. Some people embrace the four-fold way and others prefer margaritas. It's all good.

As far as fighting goes, you almost have to do it in a back-handed way. Gone are the days of the Church Councils when leaders girded up their loins with a kind of relish and waded into serious biblical skirmishes while the world waited, holding its breath, for the outcome. In Emergent circles, for example, fighting is a dirty word. Better that we should all disagree about things like hell and homosexuality rather than talk about them out loud--which would cause [gulp] disagreement.

For my part, I like fighting. Or a kind of fighting. I like verbal confrontations where people freely air their opinions, defend them vigorously, and walk away friends. The ideas involved, not the personalities, are up for debate. So snide remarks and straw men conflagrations are outlawed, but biblical truth, in its bright bluntness and shadowed nuance, is invited to make an appearance.

I realize that what the church calls "doctrine" (Sola Scriptura--"scripture alone"--and the Westminster Catechism, for example) typically rise out of theological disputes. Various people argue that these origins cast doctrine in a dubious light. ("Doctrine divides!") As you could probably guess, I couldn't disagree more. And I'm willing to fight you about it.

It's not as if the differences (between Luther and Rome, for example) weren't there before their confrontation. They simply hadn't yet been stumbled upon. Once the sharply contrasting theologies became evident, disagreement was inevitable. This is just one example, but I think it's indicative of a universal pattern.

We fight over important things--whether they are mythic treasure hoards, beautiful women, or the divine revelation of Christ. As far as doctrine is concerned, occasional outbursts of disagreement should not be considered a stigma. It's just the way vital truths emerge and are recognized as vital. We fought, and we fight, because they are important.



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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Yo Pops"

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Widescreen Sunrise


Aidan and I have seen quite a few of these.

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Grading the Graders: Wired Students Test Professors

Student Pollsters Are Relentless, Uncompromising, Subtle

No one ever said professorship was easy. And that's especially true now, when every classroom is filled with pollsters.

As wired as everyone is these days, if you sit in the back of a classroom, you can tell when the lecture starts dragging by the number of people who quietly launch Amazon or eBay or Lark News. MacBooks and Dell Inspirons are silent, effective ballot boxes. (In my case, the equivalent is less subtle: notes jotted in the margins of my retro special edition, collegiate-ruled Mead notebook.) Many a professor receives the passive censure of the blogosphere or (worst of all) desktop solitaire. They suspect, but are helpless--anchored at the front of the classroom.

I'm not saying this is right or wrong, mind you. (Situational ethics, anyone?) Just engaging in some cultural observation. And in other breaking news...

Baby's Arrival Interrupts Planned Class Schedule

Today I finally caught up with one of my alleged professors in a class I am allegedly taking this semester, and have these insights to offer to young, aspiring educators--many of whom read this blog. Let's get right to the lesson.

How To Provoke Respect Disbelief & Compliance Rage in Your Students

  1. When informed that the student has a new baby, appear dubious. Avoid eye conduct. Say something along the lines of "...so why did you miss the exam again? Oh, your wife had a baby?" The student should have considered your syllabus before his child was conceived.
  2. By no means show interest in the child's arrival. Do NOT: ask the baby's gender, inquire as to health, name, or basketball IQ. This would compromise the professor-student distance.
  3. When the student asks to make up an exam or quiz, give him the opportunity--but with great reluctance. "Right now" or "tomorrow" are good time-frames. Making up work is a privilege, and the student should be made to appreciate this.
  4. Address the student as if he is a sneaky high school kid, intent on avoiding work. After all, most students are "called" to ministry once they realize that it is an indoor job not requiring heavy lifting. Warn the student that "if this happens again" (presumably with a different mother) you will not be so lenient.
  5. Inform the student that he should have "planned ahead" and turned in his work a week early. The arrival of a baby should not have prevented his assignment from reaching your desk.
  6. Do not inform the student of additional work that has been assigned in his absence. If he's in grad school, he's smart enough to make educated guesses.
  7. In summary, a good rule of thumb: Don't appear interested in your student, his offspring, or his life outside the classroom. He ought to be completely absorbed in his studies, pursuing holiness and good form under your tutelage.
You can't make this stuff up. That is, allegedly you can't make this stuff up. And allegedly, everything this professor says from here on out will be marked with a Barry Bonds-style asterisk. Just one more semester, then it's up, up and away to the real world...



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Monday, October 22, 2007

We Shall Create Order Out of Chaos

I think I can predict confidently that the next week will be spent trying to induce our family life to produce order. Order on demand. Order on our schedule. Inducing is a tricky business, since the catalysts are not organic, and drinking that much coffee at once can have unexpected side effects. However, we have no choice but to plunge ruthlessly ahead.

Asher is doing very well. He possesses a quiet strength, only raising his voice for occasional emphasis. At his checkup today, we found out that he's grown 3/4 of an inch and 1/2 of a pound--in a mere four days! Do we have a shooting guard or a small forward on our hands? Obviously I can't tell yet, at least not until next week. On the sleep front, Asher has indicated his preference as "undecided." We're holding our breath.

Aidan is doing very well too--at the moment. He's had some rough patches, though, such as last night when he screamed like he was dying for about fifteen minutes, trying to keep sleep at bay with an assault of pure, vitriolic noise. Our neighbors came over to check if we were burning him with cigarette butts. "No, he's just really angry because he doesn't want to go to sleep." We love Aidan very, very much--and we are taking steps to lower his blood pressure and find him a slot on the junior boxing circuit. Bedtime sedation may also be an option. Just kidding.

Lindsay is also doing well, other than the usual postpartum exhaustion, pain, and half-humorous-half-serious second-guessing ("Honey, do you think that we really need more than two?") that is to be expected in these cases. Honestly, she's doing very well, and I'm the proud husband. Since Aidan arrived via C-section, Asher was her first "real" labor, and she's come through like a winner: tired, but very sweet and brave, and snapping a lot of pictures. (I love you, baby.)

In addition to such carryings on--when I'm not wrestling with the boys--I'm trying to get some work done to pay for this little circus, keep up with assigned reading (!), learn to sleep in three hour stretches, and remind myself that there's a parallel universe called graduate school--and I will be going there repeatedly in the days ahead, sitting in classes, and turning in lengthy assignments. Man oh man.

However, I want you to know that I do think of this blog occasionally, and have plans for its continued life. It's in these moments that I cathartically post a flurry of baby photos. It feels good. And if I post these photos on a kind of regular basis, it may help me feel as if I am inducing order.

(If you don't like baby photos, I apologize. Of course, if you're in that boat, you should ask yourself: How can I not like pictures of kids as good looking, colorful and wild as these ones? What does this mean for my dating/family/married life? How can I acquire a better personality? Etc.?)

Good thing we know the God who created order, willy-nilly, ex nihilo, out of chaos, no?



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Mad Skillz Take Hard Work! (part 4)


After his 3-hour workout, Aidan is frequently exhausted and feels the need for an unusually long nap. "A few times I even puked into the trash can," he admits. "But it's all worth it. There's no question that this will pay off down the road. Everyone talks about hard work and sweat, but so few players really put in the time. Other kids are off playing with elmos and eating crackers--I'm developing my left-handed layup. I know all this work will eventually put me in a really good position. Could you toss me my milk bottle?"

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Mad Skillz Take Hard Work! (part 3)


Eventually, Aidan moves on to dribbling drills, like this crossover. "At this point, my crossover move could break the ankles of, say, a five-year-old," he says modestly. "I still haven't mastered my between-the-legs move, but I'm working on it."

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Mad Skillz Take Hard Work! (part 2)


After warming up, Aidan moves on to finger exercises. "By rapidly tapping the ball back and forth between my fingers, I develop quickness and dexterity," he explains. "What do I call this exercise? Good question...'tapping the ball back and forth,' I guess." He grins. "I know, nice title."

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Mad Skillz Take Hard Work! (part 1)


Every morning, Aidan begins his basketball training regimen by working out with this medicine ball. "The ball flattened me the first few times I tried this," he admits.

"Eventually, though, my wrists and fingers developed enough tensile strength to do this exercise--which will really pay off on breakaway dunk attempts."

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Soliloquy with a Duck

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Books in the Sidebar

Exciting technical-bibliophile update: With the help of LibraryThing I figured out how to add the covers of books I'm currently reading to my sidebar. So now, instead of checking out random books from my library (as exciting as that was) you can now be informed of exactly what I am reading--complete with expected date of completion, notes I have recently scribbled in the margins, and a quick prediction as to whether the book will land in A territory. Actually, all you can see is the covers. But not being a pure-blooded geek, I'm pretty happy about that.

I would be up for some coordinated reading, though, if anyone's interested in the same books I am... (Coordinated reading is similar to coordinated swimming, except there is no water, you participate fully clothed--unless on the beach--and the outcome is smart book discussion instead of lame human patterns. Coffee may be substituted for water if desired.) I'll be happy to link anyone who's reading and blogging about my "current" titles.



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Soliloquy with a Goose

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

I Believe in Age

And I'm looking youth-in-diapers in the eye. In fact, that might even help. Just kidding.

Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age. - Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos

I like this quote from Sayers because it stresses a truth that is totally lost in the youth & beauty cult that is America. In Christ's economy, to grow older may very well be to grow more beautiful. At first this takes place "merely" in your spirit, and then, in a blinding flash at Jesus' return, the body will catch up. The tireless sanctifying work of Jesus will burst outward as we become, in a whole new sense, "spiritual."

At that moment we'll realize that to think of mere atoms as permanent was to play a child's game. All the time we were worrying about health care and IRAs, the spiritual was the truly eternal, invincible, indefatigable thing. "Physical" is a mere subset of spiritual--and I'm sure that week-long basketball games in heaven will bear this out.

So to believe in "youth" down here is hopelessly nostalgic. To believe in age, in the eternal sense, is to embrace not only wisdom but strength, beauty, and the perfection of Jesus--eventually unfolding in a new world of divine opportunity.



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Friday, October 19, 2007

"Family, friends, I appreciate your coming out today"

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Nap # 486


Lindsay interrupted her nap to document ours.



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Back in the Crib


We brought Asher home yesterday and now everyone is lying around exhausted. Healthy, but exhausted. Aidan even took an unusually long morning nap after complaining about it for an unusually short period of time.

Posting will be light for awhile, but I do have some stuff headed your way. Is any of that stuff comprised of baby photos? Of course not, absolutely not. Since when do I post baby photos here?

Have a great weekend.



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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This Wonderful Universe

Bet you can't guess who said this.

I cannot be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.

To put it in context, Evolution vs. Intelligent Design is an interesting debate. But whatever your persuasion about how this wonderful universe started rolling, let alone took off its training wheels, don't be a dog...



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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tiny, Sleepy, Breaking News

Baby 2.0 Has Arrived. And He's Down With It.

After putting his parents through a long, sleepless night, Asher Wyatt showed up Tuesday afternoon at 2:47. He was actually two days overdue, tipping the scales at 6 pounds, 9.9 ounces and outweighing his preemie brother Aidan by a good two pounds and change. He measures 19 inches long--three inches longer than Aidan--which may qualify him for the shooting guard position on the family hoops team. Appropriately, his name means "happy warrior."


Not only did Asher dwarf his older brother's entrance, but he chose an entirely new path in life, acting as if he was actually happy to enter this brave new world as opposed to screaming as if his tonsils were being removed.

He protested mildly when the nurses toweled him off with extra enthusiasm, understanding, of course, that the special treatment was partly his fault for being so good-looking.

Upon being placed in his mother's arms, he explained briefly how glad he was to finally be breathing air.

Aidan was eager to meet his younger bro, but I had warned Asher not to take any trash, and he stared Aidan down with an unbelievable game face before breaking into a grin. Aidan was deeply impressed.

As we posed for a family photo, Asher exuded aww-shucks humility while Aidan betrayed some anxiety that his days of single-handedly ruling the crib were over. As no doubt they are.

Everyone's healthy--thanks for your prayers!



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Monday, October 15, 2007

UnChristian by David Kinnaman (Book Review), B+

Church: Guess Why America is Giving You Dirty Looks?

America's growing malaise with regard to Christianity is no secret, unless you've been living inside a hermetically-sealed subculture where the drive through at MacDonald's passes for living "in not of" the world. But you probably didn't know how pervasive and specified those ill feelings were. Now, thanks to David Kinnaman, you can.

I'm not being sarcastic. Reading UnChristian is like walking into a closed-door staff meeting to find out why exactly people have been giving you those mean looks. The clarification hurts but it's very helpful.

The findings in UnChristian are the result of extensive polling by the Barna Group. Want a snapshot? Large slices of the American population, ages 16 to 29, view Christianity as "antihomosexual," "judgmental," "hypocritical," "too involved in politics," "sheltered," and "insensitive to others"--with some interesting variations. Can it be true? Are we really this awful? By and large, yes.

Kinnaman takes a blow-by-blow look at the descriptors, analyzes the stats, and makes suggestions for corrective action that are largely circumspect and wise. He avoids cultural posturing and points out that Christians will never be popular, but ought to be giving offense for the right reasons. We need to choose our battles, learn the culture, and put money and muscle behind our good intentions.

A variety of contributors weigh in with short essays at the end of each chapter--among my favorites are Andy Crouch, Mark Batterson, Mike Foster, and Jonalyn Fincher. Their contributions aren't substantive, but the variety of voices adds to the book's rounded perspective. Brian McLaren appears briefly, but says nothing controversial, settling for merely ambiguous.

The book's weakness is probably its individualistic emphasis. Kinnaman's vision is for the church to fix its "image problem" via real, personal change. What he doesn't really address is how current, institutionalize forms of church may be inadequate to the task. However, UnChristian is an much-needed diagnosis tool for the flailing American church and I recommend it. Solid B+. If the writing style had been stronger, it would have vaulted into A range.



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Evidence that Prayer is More than Emo

I'm not sure it's possible to grow up in or near North American Christianity without adopting the idea that prayer is the venting of our raw emotions to God. And, based on a lot of scripture, I think that prayer has to include this, since Jesus is the only one who knows us exhaustively and is capable of carrying everything that hurts us.

But in a very narcissistic culture fixated with emotional honesty, maybe we lose the fact that our prayers should also reflect the character of God and not just our own:

If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own hearts. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer



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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sufjan Stevens the Author

Little known fact: Sufjan Stevens's first love was/is writing...although you could have reached this conclusion from his remarkable lyrics. From an excellent Smithsonian article.

After graduation, Stevens went to New York City, where he worked as a designer for a publisher and took night classes in writing at the New School for Social Research. "I took workshops and went to readings and basically tried to network and get to know as many agents and publishers as I could because I was really fixated on getting published. I just felt like the music was a distraction, that it had gotten me nowhere."

Then he recorded Michigan and became famous. But now...
Because I had lived my life with so many goals and so many aspirations and so many plans, and I've come to the realization that I no longer need to create that kind of structure. That I don't need to be so goal-driven. So right now I'm just taking the year to write and to work on a lot of other projects, and to maybe go back to fiction writing."

HT: Kevin Cawley.



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UnChristian Quotes on Grace

Over the last week I've been reading a unique book. UnChristian, by David Kinnaman, is an attempt to identify and quantify the negative perceptions that outsiders have about Christians. Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group and used extensive polling data to form his conclusions.

A review is on the way, but I thought I'd throw out some quotes to whet your appetite. UnChristian also features brief how-to-fix-the-church responses from Christian leaders, including the ones below. (You can assume that the anonymous guy I quote last is not one of those leaders.) So, UnChristian grace quotes. Feel free to respond.

Porn stars or preachers, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t mean a rip to God. We are all his children, and we are all in need of this stunningly beautiful thing called grace. - Mike Foster, UnChristian, 203

Christianity’s main export has been co-opted by nonbelievers. Forgiveness, compassion, and second chances are common occurrences as demonstrated by several recent high-profile cases. Whether it is a movie star’s addictions, a beauty queen’s indiscretions, or a run-in with the law, grace seems to be flourishing in the secular arena. A quick trip to rehab or a heartfelt apology is payment enough in secular society. When Donald Trump becomes the poster boy for second chances and the church is viewed as a place of judgment…we have a serious problem. - Mike Foster, UnChristian, 202

I think many of the judgmental people we know are trembling, guilty, sick. I was. I couldn’t extend grace because my own reserve was so low. What did I know of grace? Sure, it was my middle name, but I didn’t really need it. It was for those other people who slip up all the time. [My husband] taught me that we cannot give out something we’ve never received. – Jonalyn Fincher, UnChristian, 204
“Yeah, I know what you mean about stereotypes. When I see a person who is tattooed or pierced up, I try not to judge them based simply on their outward appearance. I realize that their appearance is probably just a symptom.” - dude left anonymous for obvious reasons, UnChristian, 187
Question: Based on your experience, how common do you think that last perspective is among believers? Nontraditional/alternative appearance = symptom of deeper problems?



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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Six Guys, One Basketball Game, 61 Emails

Early this week I emailed a some friends about playing hoops this weekend. The result, five days later? Sixty-one emails, most of them trash talk. Here are a few examples:

When you hit the ground, and you are not sure what happened..... It was me that set the pick. - Philllip AKA "Brick Wall"

The rims are 10'. Not that it matters. You will not score! - Brian

You might see if they have a girl's ball for Ricky and Ariel to play with. - Phillip

Cool that there's already some oneupmanship going on--I hate beating people who have low self esteem. - Ariel

At one point, Jason observed:
Just so everyone knows, there are over 40 responses, mostly trash talk, so it will be interesting to see what actually DOES happen on Saturday.

More smack ensued.

The chaos ended almost appropriately when our game got rained out today. Now no one will be called to account for their outrageous smack, at least not until next week.

I just want to say: You men were each part of something very pure, very beautiful, and very aggressive-compulsive. I salute each of you and want you to know that I’ll buy consolation Gatorade for everyone who’s not on my team next week. Or herbal tea, or pink lemonade, whatever.



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The Luminous Dusk by Dale Allison (Book Review), A

Beautiful, Rigorous Essays on Finding God Despite Chaos

Given that the books on my shelves, and therefore the books that show up on the Master Book List, have been subjected to background checks and their IDs checked at the door, I don't frequently get blindsided by great new authors.

I'm not saying that great new authors aren't out there, just that I usually hear about them long before I read their books. That's why Dale Allison's The Luminous Dusk came as a surprise--like a triple-shot Americano when you were just expecting coffee.

The world in which we live draws us away from God, and we must fight to regain the raw elements needed to encounter him: silence (internal and external), a willingness to reflect, a love for The Book, a love for reading, an instinct to push our imaginations toward the beautiful unseen.

My copy is so marked up with notes that I hardly know where to start this review. (And this being a blog, I can say that out loud. That's the beauty of blogging. You can be uncompromisingly, casually honest, about books anyway, and even include annoyingly long parenthetical notes which would not fly if you were being paid--at a per-word rate--for succinct clarity. You can also delay your explanation of a book's content until the third or fourth paragraph if you want, which is a real faux pas for a "review.")

How about Allison's voice? I'd label him a scholar par excellence--with a very strong imagination. These two qualities are combined far less frequently than we would all like, and Allison simultaneously rocks two boats: the dry academic barge and the wildly creative skiff. They can be built into one vessel and still float, he suggests.

Allison weaves historical, literary and anecdotal evidence into his theology as if he can't help himself, and he does it brilliantly. Consider:
In the dark film The Third Man, Orson Welles's evil character looks from atop a giant Ferris wheel at the human specks below and comments that from his perspective they are small and many and accordingly worthless, so killing them would be no crime. Massive urbanization tends to breed analogous sentiments, which is perhaps one reason why murder rates are so high in the cities: there people are less valued. We need only call to mind Jack the Ripper's East End London. (13)

Ultimately, Allison's thesis seeps into the reader and becomes undeniable: The world in which we live draws us away from God, and we must fight to regain the raw elements needed to encounter him: silence (internal and external), a willingness to reflect, a love for The Book, a love for reading, an instinct to push our imaginations toward the beautiful unseen. That's the gist of the expertly-sketched theology in The Luminous Dusk. But Allison's book does much more than suggest we're living in a fledgling dystopia. He works to instill a love for what we lack. There's a sadness to his writing at times that may kindle a corresponding sorrow--and "kindle" is an appropriate word because there's a sorrow that leads to repentance, and repentance leads to spiritual life, a regaining of things lost.

The Luminous Dusk is a demanding book, but not necessarily a difficult read. Don't expect to scan it quickly. Dale Allison's chapters work as stand-alone essays as well as successive chapters in his story. There are a handful of chapters that don't share the depth and brilliance of the others, which is the only thing that keeps Dusk from the magisterial A+ level.



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DeCourcy: Jayhawks Will Make Final Four


In an article titled, "Eight Indisputable Realities About the Upcoming Season" (nice), Mike DeCourcy has this to say about the 2007-2008 Kansas basketball squad.

Kansas is not going away. The first preseason yearbook I picked up (not ours, trust me) had KU ranked eighth. I had to check the front cover again to make sure this wasn't a football book. Eighth? That's a joke. I'm not guaranteeing Kansas makes the Final Four, but if they don't, they'll have more victories than just about anyone else that misses.

The Jayhawks' loss of Julian Wright to the NBA draft opens a job for Darrell Arthur, who, frankly, is better. This team has issues, such as whether Sherron Collins will get himself into peak condition and whether Arthur will be featured as he should be on offense. But they're the kind of issues that will decide whether the team contends for the national title.

I'm not sure I agree with DeCourcy's assessment that Darrell Arthur is better than Julian Wright, although Arthur may very well be a better scorer and could become a more consistent college player. JuJu was kind of erratic at KU, but he has an incredible skill set, as he'll prove in the NBA.

Update: And here's more on Darrell Arthur from the KC Star. Bill Self describes his play over the summer:
“It was the best I’ve ever seen him look, and he wasn’t shooting the ball,” Self said. “He’s always based his performance on getting the ball in the basket. I do think he has become more whole. He’s still going to clip off shots, but last year, per minute, he was right up there with the national leaders.”
And Brandon Rush counters:
“Don’t listen to [Arthur talking about passing more],” Rush said. “He still likes to shoot every time he touches it. I don’t have a problem with that at all. Half the time it’s going to go in.”
Of course the truth lies somewhere in between. Arthur needs to know when to throw the ball back out to KU's very capable guards, but he also needs to be a consistently strong scoring presence in the paint this year for the Jayhawks to advance.



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Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead Changes the Recording Industry?

The Search has some insightful analysis of Radiohead's recent online release/giveaway of their album, In Rainbows. Here's the first way (of five) in which Radiohead's move was "pure and utter genius":

1) Giving the album away via download has no distribution costs. Thus, any goodwill payment (and people have largely been paying SOMETHING, if only a pound or two) is nearly pure profit. No record label to siphon away profits, no physical goods to ship. It’s a transaction directly between Radiohead and consumer, and early numbers show it’s paying off… big time. Cutting out the middleman is the exchange of the future.

Check out the whole article. Based on the numerous hours I have spent studying the music industry via my iPod, I agree. If you haven't already, you can go download Radiohead's album for whatever you think it's worth.



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"Dad, I think I found a portal to another world!"

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Still Life with Aidan

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Breaking News

New article up at Relevant online: Cynicism Criticism. I'm still trying to get them to pay me for this stuff, but check out my mug shot at the top of the piece. It's worth something.

Meanwhile, in the news-that-surprises-no-one category, the Kansas Jayhawks (basketball) have been picked to win the Big 12. If you're tired of reading bad news all the time, here's your chance to go scan something that is really wholesome and good for the soul. If you haven't read a hoops preview of the conference yet, here's a solid overview from ESPN. At KU, Midnight Madness happens tomorrow night--one of the most electric celebrations of college hoops (and simultaneously a really great recruiting tool) in the nation.



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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Throw that book!"

Aidan spoke his first imperative sentence yesterday. Although he spends most of his time telling us what to do, I guess he was commanding himself in this case. I would be a little more excited about his language genius if he hadn't been speaking with reference to one of the "daddy books."



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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Most Dangerous Game

Do Not Try To Steal It. Do Not Ask Someone to Steal it For You. Just Pay Up.

I've been thinking recently about the way that Hollywood is a misinformation mill, a lie factory, constantly deceiving us about the nature of the world and the way things really are.

For example, quick question: What's the hardest thing to steal? What item/place poses the greatest danger & challenge to a would-be thief?

Already, the knee-jerk Hollywood answers are rolling out.

A bank? C'mon.
A casino vault? Please.
That high-tech lab in the original Mission Impossible? Nice try.
A very-high-security prison where the guards are armed with semi-automatics and hate living things? Impressive effort, but no.

Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest that these are merely cleverly designed fabrications. The reality, while much less dramatic, might very well change the way you view the world, your bank account, and your life. What's the hardest thing to steal? The answer is...

Espresso. A 2% milk, double-shot, very hot Cafe Mocha, if you want detail.

Just think about it. To steal your espresso, you would have to plan the raid during operating hours. None of this creeping in under cover of darkness stuff. And you would have to ensure that the employees were, in fact, present!--to run the espresso machine! This poses a huge problem for any would-be thief, possibly an insurmountable one. Are you really going to get good espresso while holding a gun to the barrista's head? And for how long would you have to brandish your weapon--in public, nonetheless?

The alternative is equally troubling. First, train yourself in the rare art of pulling great shots of espresso, familiarize yourself with the establishment of your choice, and immobilize all the employees present so that you can vault over the counter to brew and steal your mocha undisturbed. Aside from the obvious inconvenience and containment issues, there is the fact that coffee shops are typically staffed by very likable, often very attractive people. Usually they are elderly and friendly, or gregarious and middle-aged, or young and helpful--in no case are they the type of people that you can cap off and feel like you've done the world a favor. There is a heightened moral rub, if you will.

Would-be espresso thieves, good luck.

Is there something I'm missing? No, there is not. Great espresso is the world's most difficult substance to steal, which says a lot about its innate value. Don't argue with me. Stop asking yourself if you're paying too much for your coffee beverages. Instead, ask yourself if you can handle a venti mocha with four shots of The Truth.



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"I have found water! I will now immerse myself in it as much as is physically possible."



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