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The Road Goes On

Friday, July 15, 2005 at 8:38 AM

sorting hat

Want to Get Sorted?
I'm a Ravenclaw!

(courtesy, The Ivy Bush)

Who creates all these quizzes? (Does anyone actually score as a Slytherin? Do they admit it?)

My wife and I bought The Half-blood Prince last Sunday and we both finished it within the week. I re-read The Order of the Phoenix (book 5) while I waited my turn. I had forgotten a lot about the last book -- the longest, and most frustrating (for the reader and Harry) of the series.

My take? Good stuff -- if you're already a fan. I think you either respond pretty strongly to the characters and world Rowling's created (especially the characters!) or you don't. I doubt Harry Potter will attain classic status, but there's an innocent fun about it all that I really enjoy -- not that these last few books haven't been dark in their own way; it's just that Rowling obviously cares and enjoys writing these immensely. The moral framework is so straighforwardly about responsibility, discernment and goodness -- that's what I find so refreshing.

Thursday, July 07, 2005 at 3:49 PM

Not again . . . .

Lord, have mercy.

How horribly ironic that this morning's attacks came right after I wrote about our recent addiction to a TV show driven by various terrorist threats.

I'm in shock, and very sad. It's easy to say or think: "I need to be praying for everyone directly impacted by these attacks." It's much harder to quiet myself enough to do so.

I spent six months in London in the Spring of 1998 -- one of the best times of my life. John Britt, a retired, semi-deaf widower (and one of the most unforgettable characters I've ever met) graciously opened up his little home to me, even offering to take me siteseeing on weekends in his car, so we could venture further out into the countryside than most tourists. He was an anglophile's dream: a quirky, slightly eccentric older gentleman always wanting to be the charming and witty companion. My British friends closer to my age all got a kick out of him, too. He was a relic, in many ways. He would say things like, "Cheerio!" in all sincerity, and would at times feel the urge to give the bartender at the pub a pound or two, saying "and one for yourself . . " I was fascinated to hear his stories of the Blitz -- the last time London withstood an attack of this magnitude.

He's the first image that comes to mind when I think of London. Next is Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in Covent Garden and all my friends there (many of whom no longer live in London, but I'm still going to try and find out if they're alright).

All this is to say, even though it's an ocean away, my personal and emotional ties to London are much greater than to New York, and today's events hit home in a different way than the TV images of the catasrophe there four years ago.

I have yet to watch any footage; I've just listened to the radio. But I did see this:

King's Cross station is not only where aspiring witches and wizards catch the train to Hogwarts (at platform 9 3/4, I believe), I walked through the area in the center of this map nearly each day going to and from work. It was about a 3-4 mile trek, but I loved it. There were so many alternate routes and interesting things to see on each of them.

This is not a time to be preachy (in the pejorative sense), but ever since 9-11 these words have held my attention. It would be a mistake to leap directly from them to a Christian theory of statecraft and a detailed counter-terrorist policy, but by no means is that because Jesus' concern was with individuals and their internal dispositions.

Luke 6
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

You can call it a self-loathing liberal guilt complex if you like, but I hear Jesus' woes addressed to me. And I hear them not merely as curses against the haves in the name of the have-nots. I hear them as a realistic assessment of the way the world works.

So the question is, will I be among those who are willing to listen? What will that mean? What kind of witness will give others the chance to hear this call as an invitation to life, to the father's reward, instead of utter foolishness?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005 at 9:13 PM

You're going to have to trust me . . . .

Forty-Eight hours of my life that I'll never get back . . . .

I admit it. My wife and I have watched the DVDs of Seasons One and Two of "24" in the last three weeks.

I haven't lounged in front of the TV this much in a long time. And I generally maintain an attitude of smug superiority toward prime-time TV, making this a pretty humbling confession.

In our defense:
No doubt, it's an extremely violent show, particularly for network TV. As an almost-convinced pacifist, I have to at least wonder if watching a parade of killings and violent interrogations can be merely mindless diversion. So I can understand the inspriation for Camassia's recent reflections on playing Risk with Mennonites.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 at 2:33 PM

Book by Book

I’m s-l-o-w-l-y working my way through reviews of books I’ve read since Christmas. My plan – and I still hope to head this direction – was to blog summaries and responses to much of what I read (usually about three books at once).

It’s not a natural habit for me. I enjoy reading for its own sake and I often convince myself that even when I don’t do the hard work of summarizing and responding in words, the book has become a part of the ongoing conversation in my head and I’ll remember enough to return if needed. I can think of at least one seminary course in which my grade was slightly lower, not because I didn’t read (it was historical theology, I loved the stuff), but because I would only grudgingly write the required daily reading reports and often blew them off.

I no longer think that’s good enough. I want to ensure that I don’t simply consume books for an aesthetic buzz or to lift my thoughts out of everyday anxieties and ambiguities through abstract reflection. More importantly, too much non-stop reading without engagement and response on my part is detrimental to my spiritual and mental health. For someone who loves words and aspires to be reflective and purposeful, I’m a terrible journaler and an excruciatingly slow writer.

So, here’s what I want to comment on before returning to grad school for the first time in two years next month:

  • Eric Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and Christian Faith

  • Albert Borgmann, Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology

  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

  • J.H. Yoder, The Jewish Christian-Schism Revisited

  • Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer

  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr. Ethics and Witness (Systematic Theology Vols. I, III)

  • Brad Kallenberg, Ethics as Grammar

  • Chris Anderson, Teaching as Believing: Faith in the University

  • C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (I’m just finishing something like my 8th read through the entire series. This time I’m reading them in chronological (not publication) order.

  • I'm not sure who, if anyone, checks this blog anymore. If you're reading this, and you have any words of wisdom on developing a discipline of regular writing, let me know (and yes, I have read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird).

    Friday, June 03, 2005 at 9:31 AM

    Wise Guys

    Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has an interesting and funny column on vanity. He starts off quoting Ecclesiastes, but then spends most of his time talking about hair, taking some funny shots at notable 'dos within the Baptist world.

    Best pithy summary of the differences between strands in the Biblical Wisdom Literature:

    Proverbs: "The Early Bird Gets the Worm"

    Job/Ecclesiastes: "Ah, but the second mouse gets the cheese . . . ." (to be said with the same Yiddish accent Eddie Murphy used at the end of Coming to America (or did Arsenio play that guy?). Link

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005 at 4:38 PM

    Regime Change

    HoustonChronicle.com - Baylor's interim chief hopes to heal the wounds

    Yesterday was Robert Sloan's last day as President of Baylor University. After a bitter and divisive last few years, he resigned back in February.

    I've written about this whole deal elsewhere, believing that Sloan's controversial attempt to make Baylor a legitimate top-tier research university thoroughly grounded in Christian convictions is an important story worth watching -- even if you otherwise wouldn't have any interest in the fortunes of a Baptist school in Waco, TX.

    I still have greatly mixed feelings. I can see the argument that a lot of this mess has been caused by relationally tone-deaf ideologues who've run over people in the service of noble ideals. Yet on the other side, I simply hear people for whom Christian convictions really don't mean anything other than being nice and preserving the status quo.

    How do you strike the balance between wanting a community, congregation, etc. to have a healthy sense of defining (and true!) convictions and not running roughshod over people in the name of those convictions?

    Garry Wills has argued that Robert E. Lee is the prime example of one who, when forced with a difficult decision, chose community over principle: better to remain loyal to one's own (staying with Virginia) than cut yourself off from the roots that nourish you (accepting leadership of the Union Army). Do I love Baylor enough to accept that the Texas Baptist old guard for the time being still makes up the majority of Baylor's constituency -- even if that means that the primary theological stance of the institution (to the extent there is one) will be a negative one: "We're not mean, intolerant, in-your-face fundies . . . that's our unifying confession." Link

    Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 4:27 PM

    Soldiers of Christ I (Harpers.org)

    Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer investigates one of the lesser-known power-centers of conservative evangelicalism for the May issue of Harper's. It's a lengthy close-up of Colorado Springs' New Life Church and Pastor Ted Haggard (also current president of the National Association of Evangelicals).

    Yes, Sharlet is no unbiased observer, but I know the world he's describing, even though it's been a while since I've really been a part of it -- and he pretty much hits the mark.

    Re-acquainting myself with this wing of the American church really stretches my commitment to ecumenism. Even though I'm by affiliation a low-church protestant I really do feel a closer spiritual kinship with folks on the opposite end of the Christian spectrum and even members of other religions than this wing of American Christianity. I say that with deep regret.

    I also think I'm realizing that the biggest source of my discomfort with much of the praise & worship musical genre is its close affiliation with churches like this.

    Here's a section:

    In Pastor Ted’s book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. “I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don’t want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless ‘worthwhile’ projects.” By “worthwhile projects” Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It’s not that he opposes these; it’s just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than “moral values”—it needs customer value.

    New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, “like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society.” They like the stimulation of a new brand. “Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?” Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home, you felt a “secret little thrill,” as excited questions ran through your mind: “Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath fresher?” This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time “to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry.” Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member’s abilities and tastes.

    . . . Free-market economics is a “truth” Ted says he learned in his first job in professional Christendom, as a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe. Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of Christianity. He means Protestantism in particular; Catholics, he said, “constantly look back.” He went on: “And the nations dominated by Catholicism look back. They don’t tend to create our greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic nations aren’t shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past, the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don’t tend to be the ones that go to universities and become our research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of civilizations.”

    So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus Islam. “My fear,” he says, “is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state.”

    And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly counterpart. “I teach a strong ideology of the use of power,” he says, “of military might, as a public service.” He is for preemptive war, because he believes the Bible’s exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive paradigm, and he is for ferocious war, because “the Bible’s bloody. There’s a lot about blood.”

    I realize Sharlet seized upon particularly juicy quotes that Haggard would no doubt soften or place in a more palatable context. My bigger problem is the shallow historical optimism and neophilia. If (as the article says earlier), Haggard is a big fan of Tom Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he seems to have no grasp of what "Olive Trees" are (those things and traditions that touch the deepest needs of human lives and cultures that seem threatened by globalism/hyper-capitalism/modernity) and why so many are willing to do just about anything to prevent their extinction. Link

    at 10:26 AM

    Take a Look

    I've added some new links to the blogroll:

  • Musings of an Emergent Postmodern Negro: I discovered Anthony and his blog via Steve at Harbinger.

    You can read Anthony's quick sketch of his spiritual and theological pilgrimage in the comments to this post at another interesting new blog. We seem to come at things from a very similar perspective: we both have academic backgrounds in history and we've both been drawn into the emergent/radical-orthodoxy/post-liberal theological orbit in part by reading books on Christian mission (Newbigin, for my part; David Bosch, for his) and historical studies of Jesus.

    I doubt Anthony wants to become the African-American voice in the emergent "conversation", but I'll join all those who are tremendously thankful to have a dialogue partner in these discussions who comes out of the black church tradition.

  • The Parish. I don't really know all that much about this guy, but I'm looking forward to reading more because 1) He's a good writer and extremely theologically literate, and 2) He's from Oklahoma City, a city I know and love very well, even though I haven't lived there too much since my early years (I just spent the weekend there, as a matter of fact). It greatly encourages me to hear thoughts like his coming from OKC.

  • The Stumbling Runner is a friend who says a great deal in his beautifully written reflections on life and ministry. He has a solid grasp on how and why narrative, metaphor and artistic description can capture things that can't be expressed otherwise. (I think the metaphors are used to preserve some online anonymity, as well.)

    I should mention that I have also have a history with Spring . She has meant a lot to me and I continue to keep up with her, but our relationship was not as intimate as the one TSR had.