Because life is a series of edits


In Technology on July 19, 2006 at 3:22 pm

Can any of you blogosphere friends leave a comment (with brief descriptions and links) as to your favorite podcasts? Topic does not matter. I’d like to step into this brave new (for me) world without wasting half a day trying to figure out what’s worth listening to. Many thanks.

The Perfect Person to Play God?

In Thought on July 19, 2006 at 11:20 am

The website, Contact Music, posted this little story quoting a British tabloid that movie star Samuel L. Jackson will “voice God” in a new audio recording of the Bible. Apparently Jackson has already finished recording a CD set of the New Testament (to be released in September ’06), and a box set of the Old Testament is due out in ’07. What was interesting to me was this comment from a source working on the project: “Scores of other black actors, musicians, and athletes will also figure, but Samuel was deemed to be the perfect person to play God.”

Now I know the source was probably speaking purely in audio production terms, but it got me thinking as to why one might think of Samuel L. as “the perfect person to play God?” Granted, Sam’s got a distinct voice and is usually liked in most of what he does (though I could have done without his stiff performance in Star Wars 1-3), but doesn’t the quote seem to imply Sam brings something more than just vocal ability to the role? In other words, why didn’t the source say, “Samuel was deemed to have the perfect voice to play God?”

It seems to me a good illustration of how much we’ve reduced God to being on our same anthropological level. Our view of God (or is it our view of ourselves?) is really messed up, so much so that we often confuse the two. But why? Though Psalm 8 does record God making man “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” our idea should be that this gap is at least as significant as the one between you and an ant, if not much, much greater.

Theologically speaking, our presuming to be equal partners with God resonates with our American egalitarian tendencies, seemingly elevating our role and importance in the universe and putting us on more of a level playing field with the God who created it. This, we reason, is good for both parties, as it conceivably helps our spiritual self-esteem while painting God as more approachable and personal than perhaps otherwise thought.

Anthropologically speaking, this view of equality appeals to humanity’s need to feel wanted, not to mention our American values of charting our own course and being able to make up for previous mistakes (i.e. the Fall) by working our way back to some position of influence. But biblically and traditionally speaking, our culture holds a higher view of man and a lower view of God than it can or should, at least when compared to the past 5,000 years of Christian orthodoxy and teaching on our human nature.

We may indeed be in partnership with God – and it may have been at his initiation and invitation – but we are not equal with him, as we stand in debt to his perfection and holiness because of our sin and need for redemption. While God freely provided such redemption in the saving work of Christ, this redemption does not restore us to a level equal with God, but rather only to that of our initial humanity in Adam, who, even as a “perfect” partner with God, was still quite subject to him in the Garden.

That said, I imagine Samuel L. Jackson playing God will sound good (I just wish the word “sucka” was in the Old Testament, because no one says it like Samuel L.)…just as Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God was amusing in Bruce Almighty…just as Alanis Morissette’s silent (and more feminine) interpretation of God was “interesting” in Dogma.

But let’s not confuse a person with the Person. Nobody’s that good of an actor.

Dern, It’s Hot

In Places & Spaces, Thought on July 17, 2006 at 1:23 pm

We’re supposed to be in the upper-90’s to low-hundreds most of the week here in St. Louis, and I confess there’s little I want to do other than stay inside somewhere and chill. Feeling my sluggish tendencies this morning, I made myself go with Megan to our YMCA to do something physical for an hour, but that’s about it (and even that was in air-conditioning).

I’ve been paying attention to the temperature and its effects a little more this summer, partly because I’m “feeling it” more than I used to (no longer living in Colorado Springs at 6,200-ft. makes the humidity that much stickier), and partly because the high temperatures have been in the news with Al Gore and company and their global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which I haven’t seen (but want to).

Another of the reasons I’ve been thinking about the weather lately is this story from a few weeks ago on research postulating that one of the “drivers of the obesity tsunami” in America as “air conditioning, which establishes a comfortable temperature zone. In temperatures above this zone, people eat less. The rise in number of air-conditioned homes in the United States virtually mirrors the increase in the US obesity rate.”

Experientially, I would certainly affirm the theory – I don’t eat nearly as much when I’m hot, and I’ve wondered if maybe we ought to turn off the AC and turn on the fans for the sake of my waistline. My African friends in Uganda (where it’s warm/hot year-round) only eat twice a day (and less when they do) because of the heat, and they are all quite thin and trim.

What do you think? Anything to this idea? If so, does it motivate you to do anything different in your lifestyle, or are you content as long as you’re cool this summer?

The Irrelevance of Relevance

In Books, Humanity, Writers on July 14, 2006 at 10:02 am

I’d always heard about (and wanted to read for some time) Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, a book about Nouwen’s life and ministry working with the mentally handicapped after being a priest, as well as a professor at Harvard.

Why the move? Nouwen writes:

“After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues…I woke up one day with the realization that I was living in a very dark place and that the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death…Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger.” (20)

So, he moved to L’Arche, a faith-based community founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964 “to bring together people, some with developmental disabilities and some without, who choose to share their lives by living together.” Nouwen describes the transition as “from the best and brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.” (22)

In the book, Nouwen struggles with his own sense and desire for relevance:

“Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment. In a way, it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again. Relationships, connections, reputations could no longer be counted on.” (28)

In a one-year-past kind of way, I resonate with Nouwen’s experience, remembering back to our first summer here at Covenant and being, for the most part, unknown to so many. Gone were the twelve years of ministry and memories with The Navigators; in their place were fears of what others might think of me (or perhaps more honestly, fears of whether people would even think of me at all). I went through this crisis of anonymity for most of the summer, reliving it with every new introduction. It was awful and yet needed, as I realized how so much of who I was could (still) be wrapped up in other people’s perspectives of who I was. It was junior high all over again, and I had made the mistake of believing I had graduated.

For me, the challenge of relevance has everything to do with the fact that I think I can and should be relevant to the world. This, I suppose, drives my quest to read, to think, to write, to learn. These are all good things in and of themselves, but they become drudgery when I feel I don’t do them enough – read enough, think enough, write enough, learn enough. This “enough” factor should be a diagnostic for me that I’m moving from a healthy to an unhealthy perspective of myself and who God has created and redeemed me to be, namely his child.

As Nouwen chronicles his experience with those at L’Arche, it’s obvious how impacted he was by the acceptance of those in the community and also how little his relevance to them or others counted. Perhaps this is what handicapped people can teach us – that we who are consumed by the quest for relevance are the ones who are sadly but truly handicapped:

“The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” (30)

I’m grateful for men like Nouwen who have gone before me in the process and had the courage to share their experience with others. The book is a short one (a booklet, really – only 107 small pages), and a helpful, reflective read that might help see the irrelevance of relevance.

Bellying Up to the Genius Bar

In Technology on July 12, 2006 at 8:39 am

When we first moved to St. Louis, we were excited about all the city had to offer (see St. Louis links on the sidebar). But, when we found out we were only 12 minutes away from an Apple Store, we were downright giddy (and you’ve not seen giddy until you’ve seen me giddy).

Last night, Megan‘s iBook was acting a little sick (felt warm to the touch, start-up cough, etc.). This never happens (it’s a Mac, remember?), but as I also had a question about the battery life on my iBook, we thought it best to take them in to see the Genius on-call at the Genius Bar.

I was not disappointed. Chris was super-personable and more than qualified to run some tests and diagnose the problem with Megan’s Mac. In the process, I enjoyed asking a few questions and getting to know him a bit, hearing about his wife and their three-year-old daughter, Eva, and learning how he came to work for Apple. We had a good time.

So what was the problem with the Mac? Humorously, it basically amounts to my wife being a digital junkie who has more songs in her iTunes and more pictures in her iPhoto than a 12-inch iBook can be expected to hold. (She says she can quit anytime, but she’s on a 48-hour “download watch” nonetheless.) As for my battery, Chris suggested simply recalibrating it by running it all the way down and then charging it all the way back up and all should be fine.

I love working with people who know what they’re doing. Hats off to Apple for making such great products and to Chris for being so incredibly qualified to keep them running well.

(Funny aside: As I was waiting outside the Apple Store for my 8 p.m. appointment, I pulled out my iBook to email Megan that I was about to talk to someone about her computer. It never occurred to me – until afterward – that she couldn’t have checked the email I sent her as I had her computer with me. Maybe I’m the one who needs checked out/kept under surveillance.)

Meet Edward Abbey

In Writers on July 5, 2006 at 10:24 pm

Just got my copy of Orion magazine today and spent some quality time with it this evening. Of particular enjoyment was a collection of unpublished letters written by the late Edward Abbey (think Wendell Berry with a mean streak), about whom the editors write:

“Hands down, no one did more to inspire, entertain, refresh, and invigorate eco-activists and environmental defenders in the latter half of the twentieth century than Edward Abbey.”

I don’t consider myself much of an “eco-activist” nor an “environmental defender,” but being a farm kid (and a Christian), I want to love God’s creation more than I already do. After all, as Abbey writes (pre-1990, mind you):

“The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”


(Note: I also like Abbey’s writing because he uses the semicolon a lot. Regardless of your personal opinion/use of God’s greatest gift to punctuation, be sure to read Abbey’s letters addressed to Karen Evans and Barry Lopez. Thought-provoking.)