Saturday, November 11, 2006


Here are some great words from Scott McKnight's blog regarding a definition of manhood. I find these words incredibly refreshing, simple and sensible in contrast to so much of the oppressive and rigid gender stereotyping that seems to be constantly heard in so much of the evangelical community today.

"I think “manhood” is for an individual male — with whatever talents and gifts and context God has granted to that person — to follow Christ in such a way that brings glory to God in relationship to God, self, others (spouses and children included), and the world. When the male follows Christ, we see what genuine “manhood” really is. To follow Christ, to put it in Jesus’ own terms, is to love God and to love others (as the self)."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sermons in Drag

Some food for thought:

How does the non-narrative character of evangelicalism and our almost totally non-narrative, reductive, propositional approach to the Bible, affect our ability to understand and appreciate the importance of the arts and the ways in which they can speak to us. Is this one of the reasons why evangelicals have so little patience with works of art which do not preach and why most of the art we produce is basically dressed up sermons?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ekklesia Conference day 1

I said in my last post that I'd try to blog some about my experience at the Ekklesia Gathering 2006. For those who are unfamiliar with the Ekklesia Gathering, it is the yearly conference of the Ekklesia Project, a network of academics, pastors, and lay people from many different church traditions who are thinking together about what it means to be the church in the world and what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the world. Two particularly distinctive aspects of the Ekklesia Project are their commitment to pacifism and their belief that the Kingdom of God is the primary political loyalty of the Christian rather than the nation-state or any other earthly entity. While I am not a pacifist (I am a just-war adherent), I still think that many Christians in our times, especially in the United States, need to think more clearly and seriously about the relationship between violence and Christianity and about the nature of our loyalties to governments, countries, and other earthly groups.

I attended the gathering with the two pastors from my church, who are both full endorsers of the Ekklesia Project. The theme of this year's gathering was "The Kingdom of Heaven is Like: Imagining Our Life Together in Christ," and focused specifically on the parables of Jesus which deal with this theme. The gathering opened with a worship service, with the opening sermon delivered by the theologian Stanley Hauerwas. I had been excited about hearing him preach, but I confess I found his sermon to be more like a lecture and pretty dry. One intriguing thing he said, was that Jesus himself is the ultimate parable, though I can't remember how he unpacked that idea, unfortunately. An interesting idea for reflection though.

After the opening service came the first plenary session, which was lead by Sam Wells, a Hauerwas protege and author of the book "Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics," which re-envisions ethics in terms of drama and narrative rather than in terms of prescription and proposition. This was my favorite part of the first day. Wells spoke on the parable of the shrewd manager found in Luke 16: 1-9. He rejected conventional understandings of the parable, which he summarized as "Sometimes you have to be crafty." Instead, Wells sees the parable as being about generosity and friendship, and about using our worldly wealth in such a way that when it is gone, we will have formed the kind of friendships that enable us to live without it. This was summed up by the statement "Generosity is the best way we do business." There is more I could say about what he said, but I'll cut it short for now. I bought Well's book, so maybe I'll do a longer entry on him later.

The last part of day one was an open discussion about the practice of fasting as a communal practice. Later in the evening, there was a concert by the musical group The Psalters, whose music is a mixture of many world/folk traditions with a more punk ethos and strong political and spiritual lyrics (you can download some of their stuff for free on their website). Unfortunately, we were all tired and needed to get up early the next day, so we didn't stay for the concert.

There were a lot of good books available and they were all at seriously discounted prices for the convention. I got four books: The formerly mentioned Sam Wells book, "Postmodernism 101" by Heath White, Laura Smit's "Loves Me, Loves Me Not," and a used copy of John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus." So that's pretty much it for day one.

I'll blog later about day two. Peace.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ekklesia Conference

To all the people who check this blog, sorry there hasn't been anything new for a while. I've been feeeling tired and uninspired these days. Today and tomorrow, however, I'm attending the Ekklesia Conference at DePaul University in Chicago. I'll try to blog some about my experience there. Stanley Hauerwas is preaching the opening sermon, so it should be interesting to say the least.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend Shopping Insanity

Today I went to several places in North Shore Suburban Chicago to do some shopping. Everywhere I went it was virtual insanity. Noisy, crowded spaces; crazy traffic; shopping center parking lots whose convoluted layouts seem designed to make the experience of maneuvering through them as chaotic and stressful as possible; long, neverending checkout lines; miles of ugly suburban sprawl and prefab storefronts. The whole experience was thoroughly unpleasant. I couldn't help but think that most of the other people out must feel this way too.

It really makes me wonder. Would most of us, if asked, say that shopping and acquiring material possessions are the good life? Would we say that those are the things that are most important to us, that life is made up of? I would have to guess no. And yet there we all were, thousands upon thousands of us out spending our day off from work wasting our time and money, and subjecting ourselves to completely unenjoyable circumstances. Is it just the fact that living in a major metropolitan area with a population of six million simply dictates this sort of thing as unavoidable? Is it that we all just happen to genuinely need these things and we all just happen to be out on a Saturday getting what we need? I wonder. If we all decided tomorrow to be content with what we already have and only to purchase things we needed, only occasionally buying something new for the pleasure of it, would our lives still be so full of all the chaos, crowds, long lines, and parking lots? I don't know, but I wonder.

Friday, June 09, 2006

My sister's new blog

To everyone who reads this blog,

My sister Jenny has a new blog here. Please check it out. Her first entry is an excellent reflection on consumerism and the culture/fashion/advertising industry, based on her experience of having her son, Nils, participate in a modeling/photography session.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Evangelicals, Literature, and "Pornography"

I recently had one of those unsettling experiences that reminded me of the sometimes ambivalent nature of my relationship with many of my fellow evangelicals. I was driving to work and had just tuned into my local Public Radio station. The news story at that moment concerned a controversy in a local school district in which an evangelical woman, who is a member of the school board, was calling for several books to be removed from the high school's senior English literature curriculum. I tuned in just in time to hear a clip from a broadcast that the woman had done on a well-known local Christian radio station. In the clip, the woman refers to one of the books by name, Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," and refers to it as "pornography." I was stunned. "The Things They Carried" as pornography?

I first became acquainted with "The Things They Carried" back in 1999, when my friend Joe, who was also my co-worker at the time, told me about the book and said I should read it. I got hold of a copy and was quickly hooked, reading the whole book in about two days. The book is a fictionalized account of author Tim O'Brien's experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. I found it to be deeply human, often moving, and something that offered me a glimpse into another person's life and experiences, as well as being incredibly well written and compulsively readable. It also has a fair amount of serious swearing in some parts of it, though my recent skimming through it again did not reveal as much as I thought I might find. It was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and received rave critical reviews from just about everyone on earth.

And here is this evangelical woman referring to the book as "pornography." As I said, I was stunned, in fact even angered. While I understand that many people do not like to read anything with bad language in it, and that it is a legitimate debate about whether or not high school students should be given such material to read, I find the use of the term pornography as a descriptor in this case to be deeply offensive. To call "The Things They Carried" pornography strikes me as not only an abuse of language, but also as ignorant. If this book can be called pornography, then the word has nearly lost any real meaning to me.

And this brings me to the big issue here, which is the attitude that evangelicals often seem to have towards the arts and literature in general. Many of us seem unable to get past the surface aspects of a work which we find discomforting (like the language) to see that there might be any deeper value to the work. I do understand that some works are so vulgar or gross that any value in them is almost completely eclipsed by the bad elements. Many evangelicals, however, seem to want works that never contain anything in them that anyone might find in the least offensive, or that might make us at all uncomfortable. We want sanitized versions of the world that reflect our predetermined ideas of how things ought to be rather than true portrayals of how the world actually is. As a result, much of the art and literature produced by evangelicals is almost completely lacking in any kind of transcendence or serious artistic merit. It is "nice" and non-offensive, but it is also shallow, insipid, and forgettable.

The Bible itself offers a gritty and realistic picture of the world, and records many acts of violence and depravity that are disturbing and shocking (try Judges 3:16-22 or 19:22-30 for a couple good examples). In the case of "The Things They Carried," the book is about soldiers in Vietnam. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the military (which I have) can tell you that vulgar language is frequently the order of the day. In fact, I found "The Things They Carried" to be rather restrained compared to what I heard almost everyday when I was on active duty. (It is hard not to notice the irony here in that many evangelicals are huge supporters of the military and are more than happy to have their children serve. If we are afraid of a few swear words in a book, do we really want to send our children into an environment where they will hear this kind of language day in day out?)

There is probably a lot more to say about this topic, but in the interest of time and keeping this entry a reasonable length I think I'll stop for now. Maybe I'll revisit this topic again. For now, let me close with two thoughts:

First, we evangelicals need to develop a more sophisticated ability to discern what is good and valuable in works of art and literature, even if we find certain aspects of them offensive. If we insist on using terms like "pornography" as blanket descriptors for anything that has aspects we don't like or find offensive, we should not be surprised when the culture at large thinks us to be ignorant, shallow, and immature. We should also not be surprised when people who have artistic abilities, and who wish to make serious works of art and literature, decide to leave our ranks rather than live within the smothering confines of what we deem allowable.

Second, If evangelicals want to complain about the state of today's literature and art, then we first need to be producing art and literature of our own that has serious merit and that makes a serious contribution to our common cultural life. Otherwise, we will simply be known as people who are always ready to protest, ban, or complain, but who make no valuable cultural contributions of our own. This strikes me as not only unattractive, but also as a failure to live out the cultural mandate and to embody the gospel in ways that are winsome and appealing to the culture we live in.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Spending some time outdoors

Yesterday I took about a two-hour walk through the woods at a forest preserve near my house. It was a beautiful day with perfect temperatures and gorgeous blue skies. I had been feeling the need to get out of the house and be outdoors, and my walk in the woods was just what I needed. I took my digital camera along with me and took a bunch of pictures. These are some of my favorites.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Silent Hill : The Triumph of Evil

I went to see the movie Silent Hill last Friday. Big mistake. I confess I have had a thing for certain scary movies, but after this one I've decided to avoid them indefinitely, possibly forever. What attracted me to the movie in the first place was the mystery of it all and the creepy creatures that were shown in the previews. I'm a sucker for a good scary monster; I think it's roughly the same principle that attracts me to dinosaurs, lizards, creepy insects, and the like. I thought that what I would get was a story of a woman facing down legions of evil creatures to rescue her daughter from the forces of darkness. What I got instead was a sickening, satanic revenge fantasy, interspersed by some scenes of horrible and disturbing violence.

The film follows the by now redundant and cliched Hollywood practice of displaying religious believers as fundamentalist fanatics who run around pointing the finger at other people and engaging in acts of inhumane and horrible violence, all the while quoting scripture and blindly assured of their own self-righteousness. The caricature is so gross that at one point I was reminded of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the towns-people are accusing an obviously innocent woman of being a witch. The difference being that in the Python movie it is clearly meant to be a silly and humorous caricature, while this movie actually presents it's religious villains with a straight face. It's like Richard Dawkin's worst nightmare come to life.

What is it with Hollywood's never-ending need to present conservative religious people in the sickest possible light? One can only hope that the caricature is so extreme that most people see it for the sick joke it really is. Unfortunately, in a world where more and more people are almost completely illiterate in serious religious matters, I fear that films like this only serve to further poison people's minds and add to a general aura of confusion and ignorance.

The thing that really bugged me about the film though, aside from its grotesque violence, was the way in which it offered absolutely no sense of redemption for any of it's characters, but instead offered what I can only call the triumph of evil. At the end of the film, the religious fanatics who have tortured, burned and disfigured an innocent young girl are finally given their come-up-ance when the girl, possessed by a demon, is able to wreak her violent revenge upon them all by tearing them to pieces with barbed wire.

This unfortunately reflects a way of thinking that has become all too commonplace in our contemporary culture. This is the belief that those who are the victims of injustice are somehow justified in becoming victimizers themselves in order to get back at those who first victimized them. It is a view in which mercy, grace, and forgiveness are allowed no place whatsoever, and in which victims of injustice are encouraged to see themselves as somehow excused from the tenets of ordinary morality. One example of this is the extreme litigiousness of our culture in which we now feel justified in suing people in order to "make them pay" for any wrong against us, whether accidental or intentional.

Silent Hill takes this even further by suggesting that somehow the evil done to this young girl not only justifies unmitigated hatred and a grotesque and violent revenge, but also that this is accomplished by means of demon possession, basically making Satan into the agent of "justice." This goes beyond even the grotesque caricature of religious fundamentalism and completely inverts the very nature of good and evil. Here, pure evil becomes the dispenser of "justice," though we are given no reason why Satan or the demon possessing this girl should really care about helping to procure justice. In fact, I left the theatre feeling like the young girl was simply victimized twice, first by the religious fanatics, and once again by the demon, who simply used her to accomplish it's own purposes of destroying life and wreaking havoc. One certainly doesn't get the impression that now there will be peace for the girl. Quite the contrary, I left with the feeling that evil had triumphed all the way around.

I usually wouldn't bother to write a review of something I didn't much like, as I prefer to spend my time talking about things I enjoy. Sometimes though, something comes along that's so bad you feel you have to say something about it if just to warn people of how bad it is. That's how strongly I loathe this film. To me, it is truly horrible and represents nothing so much as a victory for evil. My advice is to avoid it at all costs.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nature and Limitations

Today, as I was out working (I wash windows for a living), I was struck by how many bugs were around the windows I was washing. First, I encountered several spiders that had spun these little web sacks along the edges of the window sills (I think they hide in them during the daylight hours). It's nearly impossible to wash the window without knocking them off. Then I encountered a wasp attempting to start a nest in one corner of a window I was trying to wash. Of course, I had to knock it down, but I felt appropriately bad knowing the wasp was only trying to survive in the world (like me). At another store, a strange looking type of fly sat on the sill of several of the windows.

All this got me thinking a little bit about how even in the most highly developed settings, the natural world is always present with us. We can't get away from it, no matter how hard we attempt to live in a completely artificial environment. I think many of us think of nature as something that is "out there" in places like forest preserves and parks. The theologian David Bentley Hart has observed,

Now that we exercise so comprehensive a medical and technological mastery over whole regions of nature at whose mercy our ancestors lived out their lives, we enjoy the unprecedented luxury of being able to render the "natural" at once remote and benign. It is we who summon it, rather than the reverse, and we do so at our pleasure; it dwells with us, not we with it. We are free to sentimentalize or romanticize it, or even weave a veil of empty and unthreatening sanctity around it -- until the moment when disease, age, infirmity, or random violence suddently defeats us, or fire, flood, tempest, volcanic eruption, or earthquake surprises us by vaulting past our defenses. Then nature astonishes and horrifies us with its power, immensity, and sublime indifference.

I think that in a much smaller and less dramatic way, that is what seeing all these insects today reminded me. That no matter how developed and controlled the environment we inhabit, we are still a part of the natural world, we are immersed in it and we cannot get away from it. I think that is good thing to remember, as it reminds us of the limitations of our ability to control everything. I think the illusion of control is something we moderns continually suffer from (I know I do). Of course, I am deeply thankful for many of the ways in which we are able to control nature, as it makes our lives both safer and easier. But I still think we need to be reminded that we cannot exercise total control over our situation.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

My Enneagram

My friend Angela posted this test on her blog, so I followed the link and took the test. Here are my results. They're pretty accurate from what I know about myself and have even given me some useful perspective (thanks Angela!).

Enneagramfree enneagram test

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Things I'm sick of

1.) Below freezing weather.

2.) Working in below freezing weather.

3.) Feeling like my life is going by and I'm missing the boat.

4.) The mean-spirited, impatient, narcissistic, self-important, entitled, clueless suburbanites who populate so much of the Chicagoland area.

5.) People who claim that science and reason have disproven the Bible and/or Christianity.

6.) The continual abuse of the word "fundamentalist" in order to caricature and disenfranchise anyone who takes orthodox Christianity and it's teachings seriously, or who holds a moral or political view that secularist liberals find threatening.

7.) The shallowness and self-important posturing that so frequently passes for serious intellectual engagement or political radicalism these days.

8.) Knee-jerk reactions to anything.

9.) People who accuse other people of being intolerant while being intolerant themselves.

10.) The media.

11.) Trendiness.

12.) The culture industry and the way its marketing schemes influence so much of how we live our lives.

13.) My own disorganization and laziness.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Suffering for Christ

Has anyone else seen this article about an Afghan man who is being persecuted for his faith in Christ? He faces a possible death sentence for having converted from Islam to Christianity. And this in a country that the U. S. has supposedly freed from oppression.

I find particularly interesting the fact that the Afghan judge quoted in the article describes this man's conversion as "an attack on Islam." Exactly how does converting to Christianity constitute an "attack" on Islam?

In any case, this should be a reminder to those of us who are Christians that we are called not to force our beliefs on others, but to be prepared to suffer for the truth and to love our enemies, even though it may not be easy. Those of us who live in places where there is religious freedom (especially in the West) should also remember that many people in the world today suffer because they follow Jesus. Let's remember them, and especially this man, in our prayers.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

free ambient music part II

At the end of my last post, I promised to list any more good internet record labels I discovered. Since then I've discovered several more offering high quality, album length releases entirely FREE. So, without further ado, here's the goods:

Stadtgruen: A netlabel focusing on both ambient and techno music. Offers releases by a large number of artists including lomov, renniac, motionfield, and selffish among a host of others.

OPEN: A self-described "mix-tape netlabel" offering a variety of mix albums in different styles, predominantly but not exclusively electronic. Most of the material for their mixes seems to come from other netlabels, which makes this a good site for discovering labels and music you haven't heard of yet.

Thinner-Autoplate: This seems to be two separate netlabels that share the same webpage. When you go to the homepage, you can click on an icon for either one of the labels (on either side of the top of the page) and it will take to a list of their releases. They focus on ambient and minimal house with dubby elements (their own description). Includes releases by the aforementioned motionfield and lomov.

Eastern Recordings: A netlabel featuring a broad array of styles including house and techno, ambient and experimental, minimal techno, and mixes. I haven't heard any of their releases yet but their site is excellent and has a section of links to other netlabels.

tonAtom: Another great netlabel featuring a ton of releases from what appears to be a broad variety of electronic based styles of music. Includes at least one excellent release of minimalist/ambient by punkteins who also features an excellent track on the realaudio compilation Liquid Times.

It's late at night and I'm sleepy, so I'll stop here for now, but there is more to come in a later entry. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Free ambient/electronic music available on the web

For those who are interested, I thought I'd list several places where I have found some excellent ambient and electronic music available free on the web. Aside from web pages that offer selected downloads, there are numerous internet based record labels that facilitate the release of actual albums and EPs by various artists. Many of them are quite good, and all of them are FREE. Here they are:

Laidback Electronica: has some great melodic, atmospheric ambient/IDM by artists like Seestrings, lomov, and kratarknathrak. Also worth checking out, if you like beatless ambient, is their release "The Journey Towards Ashand" by Ambient Ashand.

Musictrade: Focuses on more experimental and deep ambient. Has released several compilations and a number of projects by an artist who goes by the name Doc.

Realaudio: focuses on several different styles of electronic music including ambient, breakbeat, and techno, as well as offering several mix albums. Releases by artists like Holger Flinsch, Navarro, and the already mentioned lomov. Has a good ambient compilation called "Liquid Times."

Aerotone: A great label for all kinds of melodic, downtempo electronic music. Their latest release is an excellent compilation called "Soundtrack For Your Wedding." Especially great is the track by Cignol, who has several downloads of his own available here.

Epitonic: A virtual feast of many styles of cool music by artists both well known and unknown. Apparently there is nothing new being added to the sight anymore, but you should find plenty of great stuff to keep you occupied for quite a while. Focuses on numerous styles of music, with a strong inclination towards post-rock, but also has a great ambient section. This site focuses more on making people aware of what's out there and offers links to various places where artist's music can be sampled or downloaded. I have found some great ambient/experimental/soundscape albums through this site, such as "Unknown Land Meaning" by Cesare Marilungo, and "The Final Finalist" by Xenoglosia.

Full Code Media: A net label focusing on various kinds of electronic music. Released the above mentioned album by Xenoglosia. I haven't heard any of their other stuff yet.

That's it for now. I'll list more good stuff if I find it. Happy listening! Peace.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Malcom Muggeridge on modern consumerism

Hello everyone. I've been gone for awhile, but have been feeling the need for several days to post something new. I just got a new/used Malcolm Muggeridge book in the mail (Vintage Muggeridge ed. by Geoffrey Barlow) and was reading the first essay from it, "Am I A Christian?" and found this great summation of contemporary consumerism. This is taken from an address Muggeridge gave in 1967, almost 40 years ago, when many Christians hadn't even begun to seriously think about such issues. It's still as relevant as ever. Here it is:

You have in a small area of the world an economic system which only works in so far as it constantly increases its gross national product. This is our golden calf, and year by year it must get bigger. In order that its getting bigger shouldn't create chaos, people must constantly consume more and want more, so that we must dedicate some of our most brilliant talents and a huge proportion of our wealth to making them want what they don't want. It's the most extraordinary state of affairs. At the same time, while this is going on in one part of the world, in another part of the world people are getting poorer and poorer and hungrier and hungrier.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'll be back

To anyone who checks this blog, sorry there hasn't been anything new for a couple of weeks now. I've been spending time doing other things (some worthwhile, some probably not), and haven't had the time, energy, or motivation to write anything here. I will be writing more stuff in the (hopefully not too distant) future though so stay tuned.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

A review/summation of James Dunn's "A New Perspective on Jesus"

If you are interested at all in historical Jesus studies and the issues surrounding them, you will definitely want to consider checking out James Dunn's new book. It's serves as an excellent, succinct, and readable introduction to the basic issues of historical Jesus studies, while offering Dunn's own unique contribution to the discussion. The basic gist of Dunn's book is that much (in fact pretty much all) of the work done by various scholars in search of a "historical" Jesus has failed to take into account some important factors that would have shaped the earliest Jesus traditions. There are two which stand out to me as being the crux of the book's arguments.

First, Dunn argues that Jesus life and teachings made an impact on his disciples that was faith-creating. The first disciples would have remembered Jesus words and actions precisely because of the impact he made on their lives. Therefore, the Jesus tradition as we now have it does not begin with the post-Easter faith of the disciples, but with the initial impact Jesus would have made on the lives of his hearers. As Dunn states, "Only the Jesus whom we can see and hear through the influence he had, through the impact he made on his first disciples, as evidenced by the traditions that they formulated and recalled, only that Jesus is available to the quester." (34)

Second, most questers have failed to seriously take into account the oral nature of the culture Jesus lived and taught in. This is because the quest has been carried out in a literary culture whose basic assumptions about the transmission of knowledge and ideas have been shaped by the printed word. Therefore, most questers have failed to understand the way knowledge is preserved and passed on in an oral culture. Dunn lists five distinctive features of oral tradition, the most important, to my mind, being that of its communal nature.

Given the impact he had on their lives, Jesus disciples would have formed communities gathered around his teachings and actions. These communities would have preserved, recalled, performed and celebrated the teachings and actions of the one who had so impacted their lives. The communal nature of this recollection would serve as a check against any radical innovation, as the community would operate within a "horizon of expectation" concerning what Jesus said and did. The community would be familiar with the teachings and deeds of Jesus, and would recognize anything that did not broadly fit with this tradition. Thus there would be an entire core of material that would be recognized as characteristic of what Jesus actually said and did.

What this means, in short, is that before any of the gospel accounts was ever written down, there was a well attested to, substantial body of material concerning Jesus teachings and actions that would have gone all the way back to the first disciples whose lives were so powerfully impacted by Jesus. It would be these traditions that the Synoptic gospels arose from. Therefore, there is good reason to believe that the traditions found in the synoptic gospels provide us with a reliable account of what Jesus said and did. Variations in details of the different gospels, far from being an insurmountable problem or embarrassment, would simply reflect the different emphasis of those who performed the tradition in varying communities. The recognized core of the tradition would remain the same in every community.

In my opinion, Dunn's book provides an excellent introduction to historical Jesus issues and an excellent argument for the reliability of the gospels that actually makes sense of the gospels as we now have them. It also explains in a simple, common-sensical way why the life and teachings of Jesus would have been preserved at all. Jesus made a faith-creating, life changing impact on those who knew him, an impact that continues to affect the course of human history, even down to the present day. In the words of Dallas Willard, "I think we finally have to say that Jesus' enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to to speak to, to heal and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Great quote of the day

We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway.
--Baptist minister and social activist Will Campbell's summation of the gospel in less than ten words. Taken from David Dark's book The Gospel According To America.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Seinfeld, Fight Club, Walker Percy, and Modern Nihilism

Whenever I've watched Seinfeld, I've always been struck by how deftly it exposes the shallowness of the way so many of us live in the modern world (intentionally or not). I can't help but notice how so many of the ridiculously hilarious plot situations the characters find themselves in seem to arise directly from their own self-centeredness and bad character. For a long time, I failed to make the connection between this fact and the claim that Seinfeld was "a show about nothing." Now, though, I think I get the connection.

The characters on Seinfeld are people whose lives literally are about nothing. At least nothing that matters. Most of the world's population throughout human history has spent its days engaged in activity which was necessary for survival. Huge portions of the world's population still live wondering where their next meal will come from. Meanwhile, blessed with material abundance and life opportunity beyond the wildest dreams of most people who have ever lived, the characters on Seinfeld continually pursue the most superficial and petty of goals.

This raises a question. Is this as good as it gets? Have we finally achieved a state of existence free from the worries of daily survival only to find that there is nothing serious left to live for? Is this what the vast majority of humanity is still looking forward to? To reach a state of wealth, comfort, and security only to find that the only thing left to be concerned about is our own petty schemes and desires? This is the nihilism at the heart of Seinfeld, and by extension, at the heart of modern life.

In the movie "Fight Club," the character of Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) expresses exactly this view. As he sees it, once humanity got beyond the struggle for daily survival, started building a civilization, and asking questions about the meaning of life, everything went bad. The solution? Destroy civilization and return humanity to a primitive state. So Durden starts an underground army with the goal of overthrowing the "developed" world and taking humanity back to the hunter-gatherer state, where we can escape the emptiness and pettiness of modern life.

The 20th century novelist Walker Percy also saw this as the plight of modern people. Percy spent a lifetime chronicling, in both fiction and non-fiction writings, how technologically sophisticated, well-off, comfortable moderns could be among the most unhappy, displaced, poorly adjusted people in history. For Percy, however, the solution to the problem was found in the cosmic scope of the Christian vision of life. In the Christian vision of life we are invited to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and our own small and superficial obsessions. Percy identified this something bigger with the phrase God Jews Jesus Church. This phrase offers a neat summation of the ongoing, continually unfolding narrative of God's work in history that we are invited to become a part of.

So, what is it we're living for? Do our lives testify to something bigger than our own superficial schemes and desires, or are we acting in a show about nothing?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Malcolm Muggeridge, Sex, and The Da Vinci Code

The great and witty Christian writer Malcolm Muggeridge once observed that, in the west, the 20th century's affirmation of being fully human could be found in a revised version of Descartes famous Cogito (I think, therefore I am). According to Muggeridge, the 20th century version could be renamed the Copulo (I have sex , therefore I am) in order to reflect our continual obsession with all things sexual. I believe it was also Muggeridge who made the observation that "sex is the mysticism of materialism."

Just the other day, it occurred to me that Muggeridge, were he still with us, would find the success of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" to be a rather amusing affirmation of his observations. "The Da Vinci Code," of course, claims that ancient Israelite worship included ritual sex as a means of getting in touch with the "sacred feminine," which it identifies with the Shekinah glory (the physical manifestation of God's presence in the holiest part of the Hebrew temple). It wasn't until latter that the mean spirited, pleasure hating, patriarchal misogynists of the early Christian church came along and suppressed this view through political power plays that this original version of Judaism/Christianity was lost. To a culture obsessed with the pursuit of personal pleasure in general and sexual pleasure in particular, this surely reads as good news. "The Da Vinci Code," far from offering something new, is simply a reflection/affirmation/justification of one of our culture's primary values packaged in the form of a novel.

Somewhere, Malcolm Muggeridge is laughing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Back from vacation

Hello everyone (all three people who read this blog). Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year's holiday. I had a great time at home with my family in Virginia. My whole immediate family was together, which is rare these days, since I live in Chicago and one of my two sisters lives in Malaysia. Anyway, It was a restful couple of weeks and it was great to be with them all, especially to see my three lovely nephews. I just got back here yesterday morning and I miss them all so bad it hurts.

I got some great books for Christmas, including John Stackhouse's "Finally Feminist," and also picked up Bem Witherington's "The Problem with Evangelical Theology" at Inklings Bookshop, a local, independantly owned bookstore that I like to support whenever I'm in town. I'm reading through both of these now and will comment on them when I have the time. So far I'm enjoying both of them a lot.

At home over the Christmas holidays.