Friday, February 29, 2008

Bobby Knight Joins the Hated Press

I couldn't possibly say this any better than FOX Sports' Kevin Hench:

Oh, joy. The guy who could delight himself with juvenile and profane poetry about the press corps has joined the media. For a guy who occasionally shoots his hunting partners or assaults his beloved sons, I guess this latest spasm of schizophrenia, joining his most despised institution, should come as no surprise. Despite his avowed hatred of the press — or maybe because of it — ESPN has hired Bobby Knight as a studio analyst for the NCAA tournament. Here's hoping His Almighty Blowhardness doesn't take screen time away from the insightful — and, yes, affable — Tom Brennan and Doug Gottlieb.
I've never been one of the people who could justify Knight's puerile behavior with the "tough love" argument--and I do really enjoy Doug Gottlieb's commentary (former OK-State point guard)--so I'm with Kevin Hench, hoping I don't have to see too much of Knight's choleric mug during the tourney.

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The Hobbit Movie Lives On

Peter Chattaway reports that while New Line has been swallowed by Time Warner, The Hobbit movie is safe for now.

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C.S. Lewis Scholars Club: Who's That Knocking At Your Door?

I want in. I want to join the C.S. Lewis Scholars club, and now I have a case--a very small, modest, unassuming case--to crash that crazy party. C.S. Lewis scholars, I know you're out there, probably hanging out in Oxford, smoking your pipes and drinking your pints and exalting in the sheer brilliance of being C.S. Lewis scholars--and I'm appealing to you. Could you ship my membership plaque via expedited mail?

A few of you may remember a post back in 2006 that snidely celebrated the completion of a big essay on C.S. Lewis & the Atonement. Maybe you wrote a similar essay at some point. It's the kind where you read dozens of books and articles, pour days of time and obsessive cogitation into your conclusion, turn it in for a grade and get your paper back with an "A" and "Nice work" scrawled across the top. You snarl, mutter about over-investing, and stuff the essay into your notebook, which you bury in the closet. End of story? Usually, yes...

But on a random tip, about eight months ago, I emailed the essay to Touchstone Magazine: A Journal of Mere Christianity. I read the subtitle and thought, That seems like a good fit for the Lewis essay--which was about the extent of my market research. (OK, I'd actually been reading Touchstone for several months at that point. So give me even less credit for investigative work.) When David Mills, Touchstone's general editor, wrote back and said they might be interested, I rapidly typed an adrenalin-laced note and fired it back.

A little later, Lindsay pointed out that my opening line read, "Dead David." That's great, I thought. He probably dislikes me now and thinks I'm a careless and stupid author, young and disrespectful, not worthy to appear in his esteemed magazine. That's why, twenty minutes later, I still haven't heard back from him.

I've heard that aspiring writers can be a little neurotic where their work is concerned.

Long story short, Touchstone has agreed to publish my article this summer. To be honest, it's a little anticlimactic after eight months, but that's the speed of the publishing industry, apparently: molasses spiked with super glue on a cold day. To make up for the momentary lack of wild elan, I'm occupying myself with questions re: the implications of this little victory.

Questions like, Will this be the first and last time I get paid more than a dollar for my creative writing? And maybe more urgent, Does this mean I am a "C.S. Lewis scholar" now, as opposed to a mere sycophant, of which there are millions? I think I may go ahead and add "C.S. Lewis Scholar" to my business card...

A.J. Vanderhorst
Lawncare Specialist - Substitute Teacher - C.S. Lewis Scholar

Anyway, exciting times on the Lewisian writing front. I'm still waiting for the first big publishing house to get a whiff of my upcoming article and contact me for a book deal. Actually, I'm not. But Touchstone is a step up from Relevant Magazine...and the Midnight Times.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

ESV Literary Study Bible (Review)

Reviewing a Bible is a new thing for me, and initially the concept is a little weird, so let me clarify that I'm assessing the strengths of this particular edition and not assigning a point value to the scriptures. Special revelation: I'm completely in. Consider me a Bible guy through and through. With that out of the way, let's consider the merits of the English Standard Version Literary Study Bible.

First, and briefly: I'm a fan of the ESV translation, which "seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original" (ESV Translation Philosophy). I'm convinced there's a place for more dynamic "thought for thought" translations and paraphrases as well (Eugene Peterson's The Message), but the precise, "word-for-word" approach represented by the ESV is foundational--a wise place to start reading, and a good place to return for clarification.

Second, let me address an issue that is not, strictly speaking, a very deep one, but is somewhat high on my list of "biblical concerns." Call me shallow, but I have low tolerance for BIG! THICK! Bibles that could potentially break your foot if you dropped them. I have especially low tolerance for BIG! THICK! FLOPPY! Bibles. You know the ones I'm talking about, with the weak spines and tissue-thin pages that constantly seem to be throwing up notes, bulletins, bookmarks and long-forgotten family photos.

The emphasis is on helping the reader to recapture the essence of the Bible in a very fundamental sense--as literature, as a long story arc, as a composite of letters and history and poetry and wisdom sayings, all the genres working together.

Typically, these Bibles reach their ultra-thick, floppy status via a combination of poor construction and extensive footnotes, boxes and sidebars that break up the text every few paragraphs. This adds a lot of width to the book, but it also makes it hard to read a page without having your attention diverted a half dozen times to scan devotional insights, translation notes, or details about Egyptian archeology. What you're holding at this point is a pseudo commentary/pseudo Bible, without the full benefits of either.

And now the good news. The Literary Study Bible does not fall in this category. As size goes, it's not a small book, but it's hardcover, well-bound, and solid. I enjoy the tactile feel. I don't have to prop up the spine when opening it. I don't wince when I look at it. This is all helpful.

But the heart of this edition's usefulness is the editorial approach that Leland and Philip Graham Ryken have taken. As the title suggests, their emphasis is on helping the reader to recapture the essence of the Bible in a very fundamental sense--as literature, as a long story arc, as a composite of letters and history and poetry and wisdom sayings, all the genres working together, all with an intended trajectory: forward-moving, written with deliberate intent. The Bible as something you read. The Bible as divinely inspired, Spirit-breathed literature. Something you can understand as an epic, multi-layered account of God's activity. Literature with a discernible plot, inherent to every page. I got kind of carried away there, but you get the idea.

In my experience, this basic sense of the Bible as clear, intentional writing is often lost. Yet it's perhaps the sense most essential to our understanding of God's message TO US--and thus the most crucial to our spiritual health.

The Literary Study Bible attempts to answer basic "plot" questions at regular intervals (typically at the beginning of chapters). Basic but enlightening questions like, Why is Paul saying this here? Why is this story fragment inserted now? What is Matthew trying to communicate about Jesus with this chunk of parables? Where is Isaiah headed with this? How does this passage connect to what's immediately before and after it? What themes and motifs are present and why?

Surprisingly, it's some of these obvious questions that we fail to consider when we read the Bible--or am I the only one who fails to dig in with this kind of rationality? A lot of us have been taught to digest the Bible in discrete particles, without considering the Whats? and Whys? and Hows? that can pull back the curtain and reveal the dramatic continuity in these initially mysterious passages.

The editorial input is succinct, lucid, and well-informed. It's also non-invasive, in that it doesn't attempt to insert apologetic, devotional, archaeological or theological material, except when it's directly tied to the main gist of the author's intent. Consistently, it points the reader directly back to the text in question, but with added understanding. Here's a sample from the introduction to Matthew 4:1-11: The Temptation of Jesus:
It is a convention of storytelling that the hero and other characters along the way are put into situations that test them. In this *temptation story, standing at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, Satan tries to lure Jesus from his innocence. Stories from time immemorial have featured the element of single combat, and that is what we find here. After responding to the literal details of the conflict between Jesus and Satan, we can profitably reflect on the larger symbolic meanings of the respective temptations... At every point as we read the Gospels, we need to remember that they are *hero stories that exist to exalt the protagonist of the story. The temptation story belongs to an esteemed literary and theological tradition known as Christus Victor--Christ the victor over Satan and evil. [Asterisks denote terms that are further explained elsewhere.]

I've been using the Literary Study Bible for several months, and it has heightened my enjoyment and appreciation of what I read. Like any edition, it's only a tool to point us toward the heart of scripture--beautiful truths that God's Spirit inculcates in our hearts. But all ends require means, and as tools go, it's a very good one.

*** The Literary Study Bible gets three of three stars--Don't miss it. And yeah, it's also featured on the Master Book List.

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Iron and Wine and God: Sam Beam's Biblical Imagery

Patrol Magazine's Micah Towery takes issue with Christianity Today's review of Shepherd's Dog, the latest from Iron and Wine (Sam Beam). I think his criticism is a little pointed, but valid. Maybe more interesting is that along the way, Towery shows some insight into Beam's biblically-saturated perspective:

Beam’s agnosticism is very southern in its construction. Flannery O’Connor once described the south as a “Christ-haunted” landscape. In the same way, God haunts Beam’s music. He clearly feels both the presence of God as well as the difficulty of belief, and his ambiguity about belief that makes his portrayal of it so compelling. He is skeptical of it, but also recognizes its complexity (hence, Beam’s gentle mockery of those who talk about a “pocket map to Heaven”).

Shepherd's Dog made my Top Ten Albums of 2007, so I thought I'd pass this on.

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C.S. Lewis Outpaces J.K. Rowling

The Times Online reports that Narnia trumped Harry Potter in a recent poll:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis has been voted the best children’s book of all time.

The Harry Potter stories may top the bestsellers’ lists worldwide, but he and other modern fictional characters could not compete against Lewis’s classic. His story of four siblings who go through a magic wardrobe and enter the once-peaceful world of Narnia has bewitched generations of readers since it was written in 1950.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince comes sixth in the list. It is the only one of J. K. Rowling’s seven novels to make the top 50 all-time favourites.

The poll of 4,000 people aged 16 to 65 was conducted by the charity Booktrust to support its government-backed initiative Bookstart, which provides children with free books.

Despite my appreciation for the Harry Potter books (I read them all last fall, and we just started re-watching the movies in chronological sequence) I'm quite happy about Lewis' continued dominance. And "his" movies are only just starting to roll out, putting his books even more in the public eye. If this poll gets conducted again, 20 years from now, I'm sure the results would vary, but I'd still put my money on Lewis.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Asher--I Mean, Charlie Bit Me

For the few of you who haven't seen this... I feel like I could be getting a glimpse of the future.

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Every home should have a court jester

Posted by Picasa

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The Secret Message of No Country for Old Men

Film critic S.T. unpackages the hidden core of 2007's Best Picture. I haven't seen the movie version of No Country yet, but as a Cormac McCarthy fan, I'm really looking forward to it.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Top Ten Albums of 2007

This has been a long time coming, but I didn't want to rush to judgment just to get my Top Ten Albums of 2007 list out before the new year. Thanks for waiting.

Music may have a more fragile shelf life than books, but I feel pretty safe in saying that we should probably all spot the previous year at least six months before we ditch in as totally out-dated. Haha.

Disclaimer: I'm not a music expert, nor am I trying to represent the American public--just myself--so this post will not draw from all available genres. Up front, I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of hardcore, bubblegum pop, or rap music that isn't made by Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, or their compadres--so don't come after me. Also, I lied: These are actually the Top Twelve Albums of 2007--but that wouldn't sound as catchy, would it? And we're all about surface appearances here...

So then, the countdown:

Top Ten Twelve Albums of 2007

12. Heart Attack Time Machine by Waterdeep. This local, KC-based band rose from the ashes to create a subtle, melodic folk-rock album that showcases Lori Chaffer's wonderful voice while avoiding the overly repetitive jams that used to fill their albums. (OK, I may be slightly biased, but it is a great CD--and I wanted to have a surprise entry.)

11. Reunion Tour by the Weakerthans. They stubbornly refuse to "progress" their throwback musical style, and occasionally a new guitar riff will sound vaguely familiar, but the wildly literate, clever lyrics more than atone.

10. Sky Blue Sky by Wilco. The kings of indie abandon rampant experimentalism to return to the more straightforward, jangly, reflective sound that originally defined them. Good move.

9. The Reminder by Feist. Lilting but plucky vocals deservedly vaulted Feist into the spotlight.

8. Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire. Brooding, enigmatic, symphonic, strident, sometimes opaque--this is an album that not only rewards, but requires, repeated listens.

7. The Story by Brandi Carlile. Carlile's sophomore effort is a folksy, rock-tinged album that highlights the superb songwriting and even more superb voice of a rising star.

6. Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine. Sam Beam's whispered vocals occasionally get lost in the whirling, multi-layered, acoustic harmonies, but his songs are filled with stark, searching images.

5. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter. With poetic/gritty lyrics, catchy/nuanced composition, and a casually expressive voice, Ritter's album is like a good pair of jeans, instantly comfortable.

4. Lifeline by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. Smooth and soulful, with plenty of understated (and sometimes not) don't-mess-with-me edge. In my opinion, Harper's best album yet.

3. Challengers by the New Pornographers. The name is a reference to Jimmy Swaggart's statement that "music is the new pornography"--and gives you a feel for the playfully sly way the uber-skilled band puts their lyrics and lush melodies together.

2. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon. Classic, bluesy rock with driving rhythms and plenty of swagger--perfectly executed--with hooks that don't leave room for weak tracks.

1. In Rainbows by Radiohead. Thom Yorke and company create a spectral, haunting, rock album that makes you want to read Ecclesiastes, muse about where your life is headed, and stare blankly into the middle distance muttering, Wow.

Runners Up

Wincing the Night Away by The Shins

Cease to Begin by Band of Horses

We Walked in Song by The Innocence Mission

Cassadaga by Bright Eyes

Disagree? Any other albums I should have included? Throw in your two cents.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

He Spends Most of His Time in the Tub

Almost as if he expects us to wait on him hand and foot.

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NCAA Championship Wide Open

On Saturday night, then-#1 Memphis lost to then-#2 Tennessee. Which means...what, exactly? Jeff Goodman explains the tourney implications. And yeah, the Jayhawks get mentioned.

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Jason Bourne Film Dynasty Alive & Well

We were prevented from seeing The Bourne Ultimatum in the theater by two deadly assets named Aidan and Asher, so we found ourselves breathlessly waiting for the film to show up on DVD. Seeing it at home didn't cause the same degree of convulsively tensed muscles, hyperventilation, and sudden twitching that the movies usually provoke, but that didn't stop me from enjoying every intense, frenetic minute of it.

I talked about it afterwards with my friend, Matt, and we pretty much saw eye to eye: Yes, the third film upheld the awesome legacy of the Bourne series; no, my sons should probably not watch the films until they were, say, five years old; yes, that rooftop chase scene in Morocco was amazing; no, you didn't feel like Jason Bourne was winning out so effortlessly this time around...

And then, abrupt disagreement.

"Yeah, you could definitely see how the pieces are in place for a fourth movie," said Matt.

"Are you serious?" I said. "There's no way that will happen. Now Bourne knows who he is. They've planted a few clues that point to a happier life for him. He has no one left to kill. And besides, the Bourne films were always going to be a trilogy."

"I'm pretty sure there will be a fourth film," said Matt.

Well, it always hurts to be wrong--I say that based on the seven times that I have been (in the last 24 hours)--but I was completely wrong this time, and I have no regrets.

Matt Damon and Bourne director Paul Greengrass have just agreed to shoot a fourth film. And last night, The Bourne Ultimatum quietly cleaned up three Oscars (editing, sound editing, mixing)--pointing to the jerky, documentary-style cinematography that has come to characterize the Bourne dynasty. Very effectively, in my opinion.

Obviously, this raises questions. What will the next Bourne film be about? Will J.B. return to his home town (Nixon, MO), maybe careening through Kansas City en route? Will we learn what drove Bourne to sign up for "special" CIA duty in the first place? (A choice that has haunted the entire trilogy--uh, first three movies.) Almost certainly, the film will need to further explore Bourne's deeply fragmented personality. But what will this one be called? The Bourne Conspiracy? The Bourne Legacy, as in the fourth Bourne novel?

If the series needs additional star power, Ben Afleck has already expressed strong interest, suggesting that Bourne could be humanized by a sidekick. He describes his vision for the fourth movie (wink, wink):

"I envision the sidekick as being taller, slightly beefier, and having darker hair than Bourne. He may not be the smartest, but he could provide comic relief and would always look out for his best friend."

According to Affleck, the fourth film in the Bourne franchise, which has traditionally taken place in European locales but was most recently set in New York City, needs a refreshing location that would surprise filmgoers, such as gritty South Boston. Just moments after the opening credits, the amnesiac CIA assassin would learn that he grew up there, had an abusive childhood, dropped out of high school, and once worked as a janitor at a local college.

If you need to brush up on your Jason Bourne knowledge, including the water (baptism, rebirth) motif that appears in each film, read this excellent review of Ultimatum.

If the car chases and fights get choreographed on schedule, Bourne4 will show up in 2010.

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What Kind of Wreckage?

He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways. - Habakkuk 3:6
Will God level the mountains with his index finger, like a barista leveling ground espresso? Will he deflate the hills like needle-bitten beach balls? Perhaps he will, but does he ultimately have a different leveling, a different deflating in mind?

I'm going to go with option two. Because God created the earth and liked what he saw, but he didn't create the pride that wrinkles your heart into treacherous back country, distorting the landscape of humility, making your love impassible.

There are peaks and spires that try God's patience like a splinter under the nail, but they're human in nature. It's not Everest that he's fuming at, is what I'm saying. One day God intends to attack the craggy, top-heavy mountains of your heart's topography. For now, he lives with the irritation, because he's patient--but we have his word that every human soul will eventually sprawl full-length in front of him like Babel.

On that day, the arrogant and ego-driven will wish they weren't. We proud people should always be wary of God's metaphors.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Kritik Magazine Online

A promising new ezine is now up. Go take a look at Kritik Magazine. It caters to a collegiate crowd, but the "Career, Culture, Conversation" sections work for a wider audience. I've been impressed with the writing so far. If you want a good laugh, go read the article cryptically titled, "Why Guys Fear the Pretzel."

From the nicely come-uppity "About Us":

If you’re looking for yet another dry compilation of recent news or yawn-inducing music reviews, you came to the wrong place. We’re also not looking to preach to the choir—so if you’re faint-of-heart, either buck up or find a therapist. Kritik Magazine is an acidic and incisive online publication for college students, not the Ladies Home Journal. While a particular story may present multiple viewpoints, our writers will avoid half-hearted attempts to disguise their opinion. They have been commissioned to express their ideas in an unmistakably candid and humorous fashion; we hope you will enjoy reading the resulting content as much as we enjoy writing it.

HT: Timothy Zila.

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I Guess You Would Call This Self-Comforting

Aidan tends to be a little emotionally unhinged right after he wakes up in the morning, and dependent on his favorite foodstuffs to get him going. Can't imagine where he gets this from. This little monologue took place while I was lying on the couch, with Aidan standing over me (weird) six inches away.

Aidan: "Berries! Berries! BERRIES! BERRRIES!..."
[Pauses. Then, as if rehearsing:]
"Don't whine..."
"Don't cry..."
"Just ask."
[Looking me right in the face, with new confidence:]
"Berries, please."

Watching this sequence unfold was enough to snap me out of my catatonic state. I think the pure reasonableness of it was so shocking that it forcefully pummeled the remaining sleep from my body.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

NCAA Basketball & Tournament Buzz

I read a lot of articles about basketball, looking for tips on how to dunk when you're white and 5'8", and while I haven't found the answer to that particular question, I do have a bunch of hoops links to share with the eight of you who love this stuff. Who knows, maybe a few more will hop on the bandwagon and be ready to compete in a bracket pool.

Based on a few reader complaints, I'm widening my coverage linkage to embrace teams outside the Big 12 (that's how much I love you guys). Check 'em:

Nebraska beats K-State
The Cornhuskers used an ingenious trick defense to make POY candidate Michael Beasely a non-factor for most of Wednesday's game, earning a signature win and making me smile very widely. "It was the most embarrassing defensive performance of any team I've coached in 23 years, and I've coached 13 year olds," Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. Oh, that's Big 12 news, isn't it?

Worst. Dunk. Ever.
From Dime Mag. And they may be right. Watch it, it'll make you smile.

Coaches Heating Up Duke-North Carolina Rivalry
It's always fun when Hall of Fame coaches trashtalk--in this case, over who has more injured players, and whether injuries are a legit excuse for losing. FOX: Sure, sometimes Tar Heels coach Roy Williams can go overboard when discussing his players' status. There was no need to mention Quentin Thomas battling the flu the other day. Can't wait for the match-up March 8.

College Basketball Power Rankings
The Big 12 has three in the top 25. I'm not playing favorites here, since the rest of you can tally your own conferences. ;)

Less Talented Duke Teams Still Overhyped
SI makes the call and I clap. I wonder what Dick Vitale would say about this.

Prep for the Huge Memphis-Tennessee Game
I hope to catch this #1 vs. #2 game on Saturday. Grant Wahl: How are Memphis and Tennessee similar? Both like to play fast, harassing defense and hope that their depth and conditioning will eventually wear you down.

Breaking Down the Big 12's Tourney Hopefuls
Reasons why or why not the conference's current top 5 teams will make the Big Dance. Banking on my vast bracketology experience, I think all 5 are in. I'd like to see Baylor make the cut too, which would make 6 B12 teams in.

Tracking the Fab Freshman
A scout weighs in on how the nation's top young talents will make it in the League. The big names appear--Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Michael Beasely, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose--as well as some sleepers. A bunch of conferences are represented here, so we can end the run-down on a happy note.

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Pierced for Our Transgressions by Jeffery, Ovey, Sach (Book Review)

I like to read books that are unabashedly theological. You may not. And let's be honest, that's probably not the only defect in your character. But I've been looking forward to reviewing this book about "penal substitutionary atonement" for some time.

First, a word of definition. "Penal substitutionary atonement" is theological language for what many people regard as the most awful, unbearable aspect of Jesus' death: the fact that he was bloodily executed ("penal") in our place ("substitutionary") to pay for our evil under his Father's just wrath (atonement)--evil that he was completely innocent of.

This understanding of Christ's death grates on contemporary minds for a variety of reasons: How can this be just? How can God "punish himself?" Why couldn't the Father simply "forgive" us, since he is sovereign, after all? How can we consider the cross as anything less that "divine child abuse?" (Steve Chalke) Was Jesus killed against his will? How can we "rejoice" in divine homicide/suicide? Aren't other aspects of what happened to Jesus more important? (his exemplary life, his victory over Satan) Ultimately: Why do some people persist in talking up the bloodiest, most painful aspect of Christianity's bloodiest, most painful scene?

You may not be aware of this, but emotions tend to run high in these discussions. Why? Because the "winners" control the historical and spiritual reality that makes up the epicenter of the Christian faith. What exactly happened on the cross, who carried it out, and why? Answers have to be looked for scripturally, with an eye to human logic and emotions, but not mere human logic and emotions. That's what I feel that this book accomplishes.

In Pierced for Our Transgressions, Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach contend that penal substitutionary atonement represents the heart of the cross and the center of Jesus' mission on earth. They build their case biblically, finding scriptural answers for the questions above. Based on what God reveals in the Bible, what happened on the cross and what was it intended to accomplish?

I was deeply impressed by the book for a variety of reasons. It's well-written and lucid. It's laser-focused on a controversial topic, but it's not contentious. The authors precede with a sense of deliberation and suspense, as if they're investigating a complex crime scene--which in a sense they are. The book is sharply focused, but not narrow, because Jeffery, Ovey and Sach are acutely aware of other position on Christ's death, and they speak to them.

The book is tough-minded (allow me to personify) in that it deals directly with a widely representative, if not exhaustive, series of objections to penal substitutionary atonement--and does so fairly but firmly. The authors don't disparage other perspectives or voices, they attempt to place them in correct alignment with the cross. Often this means taking a concern that has been made of paramount importance (Christ as our role model, for example) and demonstrating that such truths are dependent on the more foundational, scriptural reality.

I opened the book with a pretty thorough biblical backing, but no special study on the topic of the atonement, so I was prepared to read with an open mind. I felt the weight of the questions that the authors tackled. Closing the book, I felt that I'd been taken on an investigative journey that succeeded in being both levelheaded and impassioned. The battle that's being fought over this "theological" issue has implications for every area of life, and is surely one of the most important questions on the table in the 21st century.

Pierced for Our Transgressions
is far more than an opening salvo in this fight. It may well be a defining work, one that defends the heart of the cross while respectfully and thoroughly refuting those who would end up bleeding off the paradoxical glory of what Christ accomplished by dying.

*** I give this book three out of three stars: Don't miss it.

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Eugene Peterson: Prayer is not Plumbing

Had to pass on these sound-bytes from Eugene Peterson on the subject of prayer. They remind me why Peterson is one of my favorite authors...on just about whatever topic he approaches.

Much talk about prayer is like reading books about sex as “plumbing.” It’s boring because it’s not real life.

Prayer is the ability to approach anything and everyone and see/respond to the face of God. It is living in God-responsiveness to the people around you. Prayer discerns the face of God in our Esaus; it sees the ladders to heaven in our Bethels.

These are via iMonk (Michael Spencer), who recently heard Peterson speak in person. Spencer points to Eugene Peterson's Answering God as an excellent book on prayer (have it, haven't yet read it). Another one that doesn't read like a plumbing manual is Telford Work's Ain't Too Proud to Beg (which I reviewed here).

I resisted the temptation there to describe Work's book as another "sexy" book on prayer. But if I had, you'd know what I meant...

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Couch

In the last couple weeks, I've taken the Servants by Design inventory, the Discovery Tools assessment, the DISC Profile Personality Test, the Leadership Traits profile, and an extensive Ministry Profile assessment conducted by my seminary for outgoing students. No, I did not do all this by choice, because, given a choice, I prefer not to be slightly neurotic. It just happened--my classes conspired against me--and now I'm caught in this river of self-knowledge.

I was telling Lindsay, "Life has been kind of surreal lately. I feel like half the time I'm standing outside myself, looking at myself with one raised eyebrow. Me and I feel the same way." Part of the assessment conducted by my seminary involved an interview segment recorded on tape. My interlocutor played a few seconds back, and I had the rare pleasure of hearing my own voice and wondering, "Now who IS that young man? (and what is he hiding?!)"

Part of me wants to just say, "Look, I love basketball, adventure, espresso, books, writing, my family, and Jesus--also, I had a traumatic experience in fourth grade involving a very large water balloon--and I think that explains me sufficiently." Naw, not really. But you know what I'm saying. Or maybe you don't, which might be better. about them Jayhawks?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More NCAA Tournament Advice

[UPDATE:] Here are my 2008 NCAA Tournament Picks.

Those of you who are starting to think about your brackets will probably want to check out Seth Davis' latest March Madness Stock Report. A bunch of Big 12 teams show up. Notably, Seth says to sell your K-State stocks before the freshmen melt in the spotlight, and keep buying KU.

Surprise, surprise.

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Commentary Watch: Hauerwas' Matthew & Hughes' Philippians

Some books take weeks, if not months, to digest, and biblical commentaries fall in that category. Typically, you'd consider commentaries as reference works, cousins to encyclopedias, as opposed to literature. And I'm not exactly eager to review encyclopedias. Fortunately, there are commentaries and there are commentaries. Two in particular have impressed me over the last several weeks: Stanley Hauerwas' Matthew and Kent Hughes' Philippians.

I've got only a year in Greek and Hebrew each, so I'm far from a biblical languages expert, and when I read commentaries, I assess them on a literary level, not a technical one. For better or worse, you won't find me double-checking the cases of Greek verbs to see if the author's discussion was adequate. Don't get me wrong--I'm grateful for scholars who can perform more technical evaluations, but I am not that guy.

Here are some questions I ask when I read a new commentary, followed by some specific notes about Matthew and Philippians.

  1. Does it focus on explaining scripture as scripture?--that is, evaluating passages in a linguistic, literary, historical, cultural, applied way--rather than trying to revise texts or speculate on a "higher" critical level?
  2. Does the author take advantage of additional perspectives? Does he bolster his writing with other authoritative voices (like D.A. Carson, a top NT scholar) or illustrative material (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Wendell Berry, T.S. Eliot)? Does he quote relevant sources?
  3. Finally, can the commentary be read devotionally? Does it inspire biblical worship as well as guide scriptural understanding?
That's where I'm coming from. And both Hauerwas and Hughes fit the bill here, rising to meet my admittedly "popular"-level qualifications. Both do an excellent job keeping first things first, explaining biblical meanings with clarity. Some authors end up stuffily obfuscating the heart of passages with overly technical analysis and terminology--not these men.

Kent Hughes' (Preaching the Word series) takes an expositional approach to Philippians, in that his commentary is essentially a series of thoroughly-developed sermons on the book. He writes pastorally, with a passion for illustration and application honed by his decades of preaching ministry. In particular, I appreciated Hughes' ability to interweave conversational dialog with scholarly explanation. He masterfully unpacks Paul's intentions in Philippians, then teases out the implications for spiritual living. Hughes is a preacher's preacher, and it shows.

Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary series) looks at Matthew through a deliberately theological lens, drawing from the likes of Augustine and Luther, as well as more recent voices like Bonhoeffer and Barth. His insight into the life of Jesus, and the kingdom message that often lies just below the surface of Matthew's messianic account, is consistently penetrating. As well, Hauerwas is simply a good writer, and his commentary fluidly pulls you in. I found myself finishing chapters without realizing how much I'd read.

Based on my criteria, I recommend Kent Hughes' Philippians and Stanley Hauerwas' Matthew highly. They would be valuable for preachers, but their readability makes them accessible for anyone wanting to dig into the Bible on a deeper level. In the "popular" sense--think good, C.S. Lewisian popularizing--Matthew is especially gripping, and I'm looking forward to reading additional books in the Brazos series.

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Ten Clever (and Slightly Badass) Ways to Make Great Coffee

Coffee has come to percolate--that is, permeate--society at almost every level, and that's especially true for people who spend hours a day staring at a monitor. If you're drinking coffee as you read this post, I salute you.

Here are ten coffee upgrades with the potential to transform brackish brew into a bright, aromatic cup.

What you may not realize is that you could turn your joe into JOE by making a few simple changes. Adopt these tricks, and you'll be hacking the average coffee experience. You'll be able to one-up Starbucks in your own kitchen--but precede with caution. Once you exchange that muddy-tasting buzz for a brilliant taste experience, there's no going back.

Here are ten coffee upgrades with the potential to transform brackish brew into a bright, aromatic cup. Some of them are common sense, a few of them will surprise you--but if you drink coffee frequently, they're all cost-effective.

10. Use clean, cold water. This may be as simple as turning your faucet all the way to the right, or as involved as installing a tap filter to deal with your 100-year-old pipes (took me five minutes). Bottled water is another option. Either way, you'll give your coffee a clear medium for self expression.

9. Buy good beans. Folgers is out. Starbucks would be a step up, but why go halfway? For the best results, look for a local company that roasts their own beans, which equates to smaller batches and greater freshness. You'll notice an immediate taste difference--and if you do a head to head comparison with a mass-produced brand, the difference will be dramatic. In KC, a couple of my favorite options are The Roasterie and Broadway Cafe.

8. Grind your own coffee beans. Some of you are scared right now, but you shouldn't be. The fact is, pre-ground beans may save time, but they kill flavor. Buy whole beans, and you'll keep the coffee oils and aromas intact (assuming the beans are recently roasted) until you're ready to brew. If you don't own a grinder, a painless first step would be a little whirlybird type (under $20) like the one I owned for years. But more on this later...

7. Measure your coffee and water. Getting the proportions wrong can result in watery, bland coffee, or a bitter, over-extracted brew. Might as well spend that extra 10 seconds and get the dosage right. Ideal measurements vary slightly depending on your machine (and your tastebuds), but a good ballpark figure for a drip machine is a tablespoon of ground coffee for every 8 ounces of water. For French press, it's more like a teaspoon for every 4 ounces.

6. Wash your coffee maker. With non-astringent soap and water, yes. But every six months or so, you should run a solution like CleanCaf through your machine to deal with grime and buildup. You'd be surprised at the residue that collects inside a coffee machine--or maybe you wouldn't be, if you clean out coffee mugs very often. Flushing with a cleaning solution is inexpensive, and it prevents taste loss and slow brew times due to clogged tubes.

5. Use your coffee within 20 minutes after you grind it. There's a technical, scientific explanation for why ground coffee quickly becomes stale, but I'll spare you the equations. Bottom line: Grind the beans, then get them into your cup, pronto! Why let the flavor dissipate on the warm breezes of your kitchen?

4. Use a quality coffee maker. Go ahead and throw Mr. Coffee in the trash. Higher-end drip coffee machines will do a good job (we like the Cuisinart Brew Central in chrome), but you can make smooth, delicious coffee with a hand-press model for as little as $25. If you want my advice, take a look at the AeroPress (right). An improvement on the "French press" model, the AeroPress is an award-winning little machine that is ingeniously simple and yields great-tasting results. (If you follow the link, be sure to take a look at the rave reviews.)

3. Upgrade your grinder. Until you realize how a grinder affects your coffee experience, shelling out serious money for one sounds like madness. That's why I suggest buying a cheap, push-button model first.
But once you experience the benefits of grinding your own beans, you'll realize that the taste dividends may justify a larger investment. As opposed to whirlybird, hack-a-bean types, burr grinders are made with sharp, opposing burrs that grind with precision and consistency.

The KitchenAid ProLine grinder was my first serious grinder, and I noticed the taste difference immediately--flavors were less muddy, more bright and aromatic. If you're looking for your first burr grinder, you won't regret buying this one: KitchenAid has exceptional customer service, and the grinder is very well designed, built like a tank, easy to use, and looks good on the counter. Excellent resale value as well, if you decide you need to upgrade. (Want to learn more? Here's the CoffeeGeek review that convinced me this was "the one.") To recap: Getting a "real" grinder may earn you the coffee geek label, but you won't mind! It's a quantum leap forward in taste.

2. Experiment with your palate. Dark roasts with strong, chocolately undertones are my personal favorite, and Ethiopia and Costa Rica are my favorite places of origin for beans. But until I started consciously sipping different varieties, "coffee" was just "coffee." So experiment: you'll discover there are a number of controlled factors that effect taste, and you'll like some better than others. Finding your favorites is rewarding.

1. Drink coffee with friends. You might think that I'm copping out on this tip, but I'm not! Sharing a cup affirms the fact that coffee drinking can be more than a physical experience. Grind your best beans, brew a pot, and pour it hot. There's a reason people love to have conversations in coffee shops. Why not create that delicious, caffeine-laced atmosphere in your living room? With the help of these tips, you can. :) There's are good reasons to wear the "coffee snob" label proudly.

[Note: The various caffeinated claims I make in this post can be substantiated on the spectacular, authoritative coffee site, CoffeeGeek. Look out, though, clicking around at CoffeeGeek quickly gets addictive!]

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Snobbery for Everyone

When I started this blog in a public library on a whim three years ago, I had just finished Joseph Epstein's Snobbery--so of course I chose to give him a voluble nod in my first real post. Listen to me chatter happily while I did this new thing called BLOGGING:

So I’m pretty much anti-snob on all fronts, except for book-snobbery, coffee-snobbery, basketball-snobbery, and maybe a few more garden variety counts I’m seems that you could divide all bloggers, somewhat superficially, into two camps: snobs and anti-snobs, in terms of what they say and how they say it. I’m just being up-front about my voting preference.

Nice. Since then, of course, I have reversed my voting preference frequently, whenever the mood took me, in fact, like any good politician.

But if I remember correctly, Epstein admits that one of his pet snubs is reserved for people who didn't attend an Ivy League school. I'm obviously at a disadvantage there, since my undergraduate record is about as spotty as it gets where prestige is concerned: A year at Rockhurst U (private and pricey--too pricey, sadly), two years at Johnson County Community College (the king of jucos), all wrapped up online via Thomas Edison State College (it's in New Jersey). And I'm not exactly earning my graduate degree at Oxford.

So Epstein would no doubt glance at me dismissively, preferring, for example, some blue-blooded gorilla with a degree from Cornell (entrance standards aren't what they were ;). So it goes. But here's the thing. I would probably look at Epstein with a sarcastic grin, thinking, I bet you couldn't even dribble a ball up court, much less make a lay-up.

So maybe we all have our little snobberies. That was going to be the point of this post, before I got carried away with the Ivy League issue. In particular, I'm aware that my book snobbery may be getting out of hand: I want my books to look good. They need to be quality books--that goes without saying. But they also need to be well-dressed.

For example, I was recently thinking about trading in my old set of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy for the newer edition with the covers that don't make Ransom's planets look like something painted by Salvador Dali in his pre-melting days. Is this ridiculous? I don't think so. I prefer to think that I've achieved a kind of holistic literary unity of spirit and body, in that a good book deserves a good cover. Is it possible I'm wrong about this, that I'm just becoming the kind of snob that other people secretly--or openly--laugh at?

No, this is not possible.

But you should probably take a good, hard look at your own life. What kind of a snob are you? Is it harmless? Is it affordable? Will it force you to repurchase books you already own?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Sacrificial Forgiveness: Gladys Staines

Last week, Rodney Olsen carried out an interview with a remarkable woman:

January the 22nd, 1999, is a day forever etched in the memory of Gladys Staines.

It is the day that her husband Graham, along with their young sons, Timothy and Philip, were burnt alive by a group of around 50 Hindu extremists in Orissa, India, where Graham had been working with the poor, especially those with leprosy.

Gladys has an amazing story to tell of how she and her daughter were able to forgive those who killed those they loved. While their forgiveness was offered right away, the healing took a lot longer.

If people became famous for sacrificial forgiveness, Gladys Staines would be a celebrity. Listen to her story here.

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More NCAA Bracket Predictions

[UPDATE:] Here are my 2008 NCAA Tournament Picks.

On last week's NCAA tournament watch, I noted that FOX Sports had six Big 12 teams represented in the season's first bracket. The same is true this week--and the same six teams are listed--but there's been some slippage. I'll list this week's rank in parentheses ( ) and the previous week's in brackets [ ].

Kansas (1) [1] - lost to Texas, otherwise, took care of business.
Texas (2) [3] - moved up, thanks to beating KU in Austin.
Texas A&M (6) [6] - despite a loss to Oklahoma State.
Kansas State (6) [5] - dropped a game to Texas Tech.
Baylor (11) [9] - losses to KU, Oklahoma State, Texas. Tough stretch.
Oklahoma (11) [6] - losses to Texas and bottom-feeder Colorado hurt OK's chances.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Oklahoma falling out of the tourney, possibly to be replaced by their in-state rivals, OK-State. FOX has seven Pac 10 teams making the big dance--which I take as an insult, after the Big 12 split the "Hardwood Challenge" with their West Coast rivals, 7 games to 7. ;) If I had to call it, I'd say both leagues will get six teams in.

Pleasant surprise: The ACC has only four teams listed. Despite Dick Vitale.

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C.S. Lewis in LOST: Link List

In the second episode ("Confirmed Dead") of LOST season four, C.S. Lewis' formidable influence was inserted directly into the show in the form of "Charlotte Staples Lewis." Since then, there's been a steady proliferation of posts and articles discussing what exactly C.S.'s appearance implies for the LOST mythology. Personally, the physical presence of (a) Lewis in the show pushed me further toward LOST geekiness. I mean, now I really care.

So I've been doing a little research, and thought I'd try to compile a "best of" C.S. Lewis and LOST link list. There's a lot of discussion out there, but most of it isn't very substantial, so I'm doing some sorting. No doubt I'll miss some good articles, which is why I'm counting on you to point them out to me. Here's what I've got so far.

  1. Charlotte Lewis on Lostpedia. Straightforward biographical info on Charlotte.
  2. "Narnia Connection Confirmed" on Hollywood Jesus. If you have no clue who C.S. Lewis was, this post has some background along with a few Charlotte tips.
  3. C.S. Lewis Arrives in LOST. My post, documenting Charlotte's entry. No great theories, but some wishful thinking and some good comments.
  4. Charlotte Lewis post on Doc Arzt's LOST blog. The post merely notes Charlotte's splashdown, but the comments have some good stuff (time travel), including speculation that "even other books such as The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce could be of some value to us." Heck yeah, and not just for diagnosing TV shows! As a Lewis fan, I have to chuckle...
  5. The Great Divorce (by C.S. Lewis) theory on Doc Artz's LOST blog. Artz develops some fascinating parallels between the island and the plot of Lewis' classic book. Purgatory undertones.
  6. LOST episode recap from Jeff Jensen. Entertainment Weekly's LOST pundit speculates about a Prince Caspian tie-in and his hunch that Charlotte has been on the island before.
  7. Charlotte Staples Lewis entry at This theory asks whether the island is a world-between-worlds as in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew.
Any other links I should add?

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I Miss My Writer's Block

I tend not to suffer from writer's block, but from the opposite: a lack of writer's block, also known as writer's exposure. When we moved into our new loft last January, I remember admiring the view and soaking in the sunlight that flooded our east-side windows, strong enough to tan you in 20 minutes. The place felt so bright, so healthy, so open... Too open.

"Maybe this is where I'll write my novel," I told my dad expansively. Now I'd amend my prediction slightly. Maybe this is where novels come to die. Aidan and I are in the middle of an arts and crafts project, making a sign out of posterboard to tape to our front door: Daddy's Book, R.I.P.

Sad thing is, I should have known better. My brother-in-law, Scott, warned me about this. He said there are a few things that should never be sacrificed in a marriage, things like open communication, personal integrity, regular date nights, and having your own home office.

Instead, I suffer from the opposite of writer's block--our loft has no real walls--only a living area and several partitions a good yard short of wallhood. Everyone who writes knows that writing is a focused activity. Writers need some separation, the ability to be deliberate, to sometimes bar oneself from the demands of a hungry, poopy, sippy-cup-throwing world. Writer's block.

This is shorthand for an office or a notebook computer. No amount of coffee can dispel the feeling that you're trying to write a serious letter in the middle of an airport terminal run by enthusiastic, over-caffeinated midgets.

Occasionally, I wake up in the morning feeling rested, and think, Today I'm going to write that post I've been thinking about for two weeks. And then I change a couple diapers, hand out some bananas and crackers, make coffee with a great deal of hands-on assistance, watch the first 25 minutes of Finding Nemo for the 47th time, play catch with a basketball, football, and small stuffed lion (simultaneously), subjugate a rogue remote control car, pick up barnyard dominoes three times--and think, Today I'm going to lie on the couch and have that semi-conscious movie marathon I've been thinking about for two weeks.

Like someone said, "You may have to live in a crowd, but you also have to live like it, and you darn well have to eat what they're eating. " Writing ideas run rampant around here, but they tend to get struck by passing traffic. What I need is some writer's block to keep the suckers contained. It's safe to say that our next place of residence will have real walls, multiple real walls, walls that reach to the ceiling, walls that give writer's block a chance.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Lindsay Reveals Superior Insight into Heaven

I forget how exactly this came up. Maybe we were talking about my 80-year-old back or how my knees will sometimes start twitching after I drive past someone to score a layup.

Me: "In Heaven, we'll all be between 18 and 21 years old."
Lindsay: "In Heaven, we'll be like, 'HA, 18 to 21 has nothing on this!' We'll be old in a new way."
Me: ___
Lindsay: [smiles like that dude's wife in the Sonic commercial]
Me: "And young in a new way."
Lindsay: "We'll be like, 'I'm a million years old and loving it!'"

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tim Keller: "A C.S. Lewis for the 21st Century?"

Tim Keller, the founding pastor of NYC's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is releasing an apologetic book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, this week.

Keller's first book since Ministries of Mercy (1997), The Reason for God has already earned some attention, with Newsweek trumpeting Keller as "a C. S. Lewis for the 21st century, a high-profile Christian apologist who can make orthodox belief not just palatable but necessary." The article (go read it) describes Keller's church as well, sketching a man who comes off as a professor/pastor:

Don't let your mind drift, or you will miss the main attraction. At 9:40, the voice you hear reading from the Scriptures changes suddenly; it becomes deeper, more authoritative and coarser, with traces of Pennsylvania and Georgia in the vowels. Look up. The callow junior minister has disappeared. Standing at the microphone is a man more than six feet tall with a shiny bald head and wire-rim spectacles, looking more like a college professor than a megachurch pastor. This is the Rev. Tim Keller, a Manhattan institution, one of those open urban secrets, like your favorite dim sum place, with a following so ardent and so fast-growing that he has never thought to advertise. He rarely speaks to the press. His reticence, though, is about to belong to the past.

I'll be reading Tim Keller's book in the weeks ahead, and thought I'd give you a heads up. Keller has been quick to deflect the C.S. Lewis comparisons, but the fact that he and Lewis can be mentioned in the same sentence is saying quite a bit. Needless to say, The Reason for God is a book I'm looking forward to.

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