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Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Interpretation

In Movies, Theologians, Thought, Writers on June 3, 2008 at 11:40 am

A few weeks ago, a post in which I wrote on gay marriage got quite a bit of traffic and discussion. In the midst of the interactions, some important questions came up pertaining to my use of the Bible as the basis for my thinking.

For instance, escapethedrain wrote in comment #2:

“If you are using the bible to prove your point that homosexuality is wrong, then you also have to include the scripture that says:

(1 Tim. 2:12)
‘Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.’

(Lev 19.18b)
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.’

Do you believe in this as well? I am interested in your response.”

In addition, transientreporter wrote in comment #3:

“Mull over this:

(Deuteronomy 13:7-11)
‘If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or your intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known,gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the LORD, your God…’

The bible is a deeply ugly book.”

I summed up the tensions (see comment #5) as being 1) the use of ancient Scripture (Old and New Testaments) to address modern issues, and 2) the brutality of the Bible. While I’m not sure if the two readers who asked the questions are still reading (thanks for sticking around if you are), I promised to try to address their questions, so I will (though it’s going to take a couple of posts to do it – hang with me).

Let me start with an illustration. As part of the recent build-up to the new Indiana Jones movie (which I’ve still yet to see), Slate ran a review that started with this:

“If some 32nd-century archeologist were to unearth a DVD copy of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount), her first task—after converting the barbaric early digital technology to a more current brain-wave-based viewing system—would be to understand what this object meant to the culture that created it…Though it’s a scholar’s job to shed her 32nd-century prejudices and understand the belief systems of those long dead, our archeologist will have to ask herself: What were these scribes thinking?”

When I read this, I thought immediately of our recent discussion. It’s true: many aspects of the Bible can seem foreign to us because of where we are (or aren’t) historically in relation to them. However, we aren’t being fair to the Scripture (or to any ancient text) if we approach it with our 21st-century prejudices.

For instance, I just finished reading Richard Dawkins‘ book, The God Delusion. Make no mistake, Dawkins is a good writer, but listen for the modern bias in his take (found on page 269 in case anyone’s following along) on the beginning of the Old Testament:

“Begin in Genesis with the well-loved story of Noah, derived from the Babylonian myth of Uta-Napisthim and known from the older mythologies of several cultures. The legend of the animals going into the ark two by two is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children and also, for good measure, the rest of the (presumably blameless) animals as well.”

Dawkins continues:

“Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don’t take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the athiest’s decision, without an absolute foundation.”

Dawkins then dismisses the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 and the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 before starting in on the New Testament and questioning Jesus’ “somewhat dodgy family values” (page 284).

For the record, I agree with Dawkins that, unfortunately, there are plenty of theologians who don’t take Genesis literally any more, but I am not one of them. This doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make me a flaming fundamentalist by default; I do not read Genesis as a science book anymore than I read Song of Songs as a recipe. I read Genesis as narrative and Song of Songs as poetry, for reading either as something they’re not does not respect their genres as literature, which, in my mind, is as big a problem for fundamentalists as a figurative-only reading.

But I digress.

My point is that Dawkins (an evolutionary biologist) gives little to no consideration to the first basic rule of hermeneutics (interpretation) – that is, we have to understand an author’s intent as well as the needs of the author’s first readers to rightly understand the text. Dawkins seems only interested in picking apart the text; likewise, if any reader does not interact with ancient writings beyond their words, then she is not playing by the rules of good exegesis.

So, getting back to the questions above, what was the Apostle Paul’s intent and his audience’s needs that caused him to write about women and submission? What were Moses’ purposes and the needs of the nation (not the state) of Israel that led him to encourage loving one’s neighbor in Leviticus and, at the same time, punish his neighbor so violently if he enticed him to forsake God? We have to try to get as close to these original intents and audiences before we can begin figuring out what (if any) meaning these passages have now.

And that’s where we’ll start tomorrow…

On Nostalgia

In Pop Culture, Writers on March 26, 2008 at 9:57 am

“Nostalgia undermines the ability to make intelligent use of the past. Memory, in contrast, does not idealize the past to condemn the present, but draws hope from the past in order to enrich the present and guide the future.” Christopher Lasch

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Peter De Vries

Listening to Lamott

In Books, Writers on March 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

Last night my nine-year-old and I went to hear author Anne Lamott read from her new book, Grace (Eventually). The setting for the evening was the “sanctuary” of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, and the place was packed with at least 500-600 folks eager to hear Lamott’s random but winsome thoughts about writing, politics, and religion. Judging by their response, she did not disappoint.

I’ve read four of Lamott’s books: Bird by Bird (her book on writing); Blue Shoe (a novel – eh); Operating Instructions (a journal of her son’s first year of life); and Traveling Mercies (her first book on “faith”). I think we have Plan B (more thoughts on faith) somewhere on the shelf, and I’ve read various essays she’s written for Salon over the years.

In other words, I’m a fan.

Lamott makes no bones about her political distaste for all things Republican (especially George Bush and Dick Cheney), but there was almost none of the verbal expletives or berating for which I had prepared my daughter and myself (though I’m no fan, either); when she wasn’t gracious, she was super-clever in making her points, and she found a supportive crowd for her most stinging critiques.

Lamott’s personal story is one of redemption to be sure – single mother battling alcohol addiction finds way back to church and writes her way out of a bad situation. She wears (and shows) the scars of her life admirably in the stories she writes and in the change she lives, and it was fun hearing more of these in her own voice (if you’ve read any of her work, she’s as funny in person as she is in her writing).

And yet, as good as Lamott is on the details of her craft, she glosses over quite a bit when it comes to religion. Jesus “works” for her, yes, but she’s very accommodating to “one mountain, many paths” thinking (or at least she said so last night). Heavily influenced by the feminist movement, liberation theology (read: Christian socialism) and her PCUSA church in Marin County, CA, when asked about the most influential man and woman in her life, Lamott named her politically active parents (both now deceased), though that influence was both for the good (her father) and the bad (her mother). It was both a touching yet bittersweet reflection.

We didn’t stick around for the book sale/signing afterward, but I’ll probably read the new book on grace (eventually). Regardless, what last night confirmed to me was that Lamott still seems to be Lamott, and though I have questions as to what she says she believes, I take much joy in who she is.

Introducing

In Friends, Internet, Westminster, Wildwood, Writers on January 13, 2008 at 6:59 pm

As an unofficial ambassador for the blogosphere, let me introduce you to three new blogs (and the people behind them) worth your reading time in the future:

  • My Life in Sweat Pants – a good friend from my old Navigator days, Leura is a freelance editor and terrific writer (and I say that not just because she chooses to use proper grammar and punctuation on her blog) who writes, “After 14 years at the same job, I’m now a 30-something mom of four kids who suddenly finds herself unemployed and wondering what’s next.” Warm and thoughtful writing.
  • The Golden Dragon – if you’re into the fantasy genre at all, you’ll want to check out what friend and co-worker (we teach together at Westminster), L.B. Graham, is doing online. Soon to finish up his five-book Binding of the Blade fantasy series, L.B. talks about his future publishing plans, as well as shares some personal reflections on writing, faith, and life. Insightful and well-written.
  • Christocentric – friend and former co-worker (we taught together at Wildwood), Matt Heckel, has just written his first of what promises to be many posts of intellectually and philosophically-challenging topics. Matt has his PhD in Reformation Studies from Concordia, so he’s always good for a Luther story as well. Glad to see him blogging, and looking forward to post number two.

Anyway, if you would, pay these folks a visit and tell them Craig sent you. And, of course, if you’re not subscribing to Second Drafts, let me encourage you to do so through Bloglines – it will save you tons of time, and might just change your life.*

(*results vary, depending on degree of blogaholism; check with your doctor for details)

Emerging Evangelicalism?

In Church, Theologians, Writers on December 10, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Rob Bell was featured in Time last week, causing somewhat of a stir among the evangelical faithful that perhaps an heir apparent to the fading Billy Graham is emerging. Bell, of course, is used to “emerging” – he’s founding pastor of Mars Hill Church (which I think I visited once back in the mid-90’s but can’t remember) in Grand Rapids, as well as part of a movement known as the “emerging church” or the “emerging conversation”.

I recently took a weekend class on all this, and one of the most helpful things the speaker (Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey here in St. Louis and member of the Acts 29 Network) did was identify three predominant streams within the emerging movement. (If you’re interested in any of this, you can hear the same opening session I did here.)

According to Patrick, Bell floats on the “emerging conversational stream,” which is “mainly after theological revision by challenging evangelical theology.” Patrick’s other two streams are “emerging attractional,” which is mainly after methodological revision,” and “emerging incarnational,” which is “mainly after structural revision” (think ‘house church’ here).

Patrick’s filling in of the proverbial “lineup cards” was helpful, as I was able to mentally organize some of the names I knew were in the conversation. Regardless of what you call it (or which stream you prefer to float on – I’d be an “emerging attractional” guy myself), the ultimate question is not what the “emergent church” is emerging from, but what is it emerging to?

This is where Bell’s latest press becomes interesting. I’ve not read Sex God, but I have recently read Velvet Elvis. While I know Bell is a dynamic speaker and communicator, I have not heard him speak, and this was the first writing of his I’ve read. I appreciated his tone in presenting his thoughts and ideas, as his writing voice is one of gentle passion and reasonable zeal. I liked the combination.

However, this attractive combination – whether intentionally or unintentionally – provides cover for some ideas that, though sounding good, are more problematic than Bell’s tone implies. It’s not that all of what he writes seems wrong; it’s just not all of it seems right.

I think the biggest problematic area involves Bell’s theology of what and for whom Jesus’ atonement was. In many ways, Bell comes off as a universalist when he states that, “…this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God’. All things, everywhere.” (146) Graham has been accused of similar universalist tendencies as well.

Without more qualification (and written in his gracious tone), Bell’s conclusion that, “Heaven is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for” and “Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for” (146) implies a soteriology having more do with us choosing well and less to do with a Sovereign God’s limited (but completely saving) atonement as taught per the Scriptures (and clarified by the Reformed systematic).

Another area of concern is Bell’s leveling of the authority of “binding and loosing.” In the course of a couple short paragraphs, Bell explains how in ancient times, “…a rabbi would bind certain practices and loose other practices,” and then give his disciples the authority to do the same. He goes on to explain that Jesus followed suit with his disciples, and how we can do the same today (that is, “giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible,” and “somehow God in heaven will be involved.” (50)

The authority Jesus gave the disciples he gave to the apostles (that is, to the twelve), and this authority does not automatically pass down to followers of Christ today, as it was an apostolic responsibility ending with the apostles and the closing of the canon of Scripture, rather than a license to reinterpret Scripture’s meaning over and over through time. I believe there was one meaning intended by the apostles, and it is our goal as disciples coming after them to affirm and adhere to it.

While these (and perhaps a few other smaller) areas were problematic for me, I did think Bell had some good things to say about a variety of things, particularly the unfortunate continuation of the sacred/secular split (85), the significance of the Sabbath (117-118), and true counter-cultural living (163). I wouldn’t say I trust all of his theological insights, but in terms of common sense observation, I think he makes some good points.

Anybody got thoughts on this?

JPod Quotes

In Books, Writers on December 10, 2007 at 2:00 am

Three favorite quotes (among others) from various characters in Douglas Coupland's JPod:

  • "You can't fake creativity, competence, or sexual arousal."
  • "After a week of intense googling, we've started to burn out knowing the answer to everything. God must feel that way all the time. I think people in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless."
  • "It turns out that only twenty percent of human beings have a sense of irony – which means that eighty percent of the world takes everything at face value. I can't imagine anything worse than that. Okay, maybe I can, but imagine reading the morning newspaper and believing it all to be true on some level."

His storylines go nowhere and his characters are all the same, but when it comes to cultural observation wrapped in irony and realism, there's nobody better. I love Douglas Coupland.

Dorothy Sayers on War

In Books, Politics, Writers on October 21, 2007 at 3:57 am

Just finished a little 100-page book titled Creed or Chaos?, a collection of essays written by Dorothy Sayers at the height of World War II. Consider the timeliness of these quotes:

“The people who say that this is a war of economics or of power politics, are only dabbling about on the surface of things. Even those who say it is a war to preserve freedom and justice and faith have gone only halfway to the truth. The real questions is what economics and politics are to be used for; whether freedom and justice and faith have any right to be considered at all; at bottom it is a violent and irreconciable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma.” (28)

“War is a judgment that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe. People who would not revise their ideas voluntarily find themselves compelled to do so by the sheer pressure of the events which these very ideas have served to bring about.” (64)

“Shall we be prepared to take the same attitude to the arts of peace as to the arts of war? I see no reason why we should not sacrifice our convenience and our individual standard of living just as readily for the building of great public works as for the building of ships and tanks – but when the stimulus of fear and anger is removed, shall we be prepared to do any such thing?” (68)

Would it be accurate to say that the majority of us have sacrificed little “convenience” or “individual standard of living” this time around? And how crazy does Sayers’ idea of doing so for something other than war seem? Talk about your whacked out biblical craziness…

David Brooks: “The Odyssey Years”

In Thought, Writers on October 10, 2007 at 6:20 am

My favorite New York Times writer, David Brooks, had an interesting piece Tuesday on a new stage of life he’s calling “the odyssey years”. While I didn’t pay him anything to write it, his is a fantastic endorsement of a certain book I’d shamelessly recommend. But I digress. He writes:

“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.”

Actually, there used to be two: childhood and adulthood. Still, I do think his new categories (odyssey and active retirement) are accurate, and he’s spot on in his analysis of the particular contrast he describes young people experiencing during the first thirty years of their lives:

“You can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods…but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.”

This “less permanent vision” is, of course, fed by postmodernism, which doesn’t really help in figuring life out, at least not by providing any kind of unifying, overarching narrative to fit into and make sense of things. The philosophical shift between modernism and postmodernism is real. Whereas the modern (a la Descartes) said, “I think; therefore, I am,” the postmodern says, “I doubt; therefore, I hope I am.” Try making concrete decisions about life from this particular vantage point – it’s difficult.

I appreciated Brooks’ perspective that people in their twenties are not slackers. My observations have been the same, and I marvel at times how hard-working young people going through this stage of life can be:

“The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.

Brooks’ conclusion is that it’s time to recognize “the odyssey years” as a legitimate stage of life and to call it what it is – an odyssey:

“What we’re seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It’s a phase in which some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.”

I agree, both with the recognition of the stage, as well as with Brooks’ observation that the Church tends to have challenges in dealing with it. The key, however, is that we in the Church don’t ostracize and let alone twenty-somethings until they get life figured out. This was the mentality that fueled the whole separate youth group idea for adolescents back in the fifties and sixties, and I don’t think that’s worked too well, either.

On the contrary, we in the Church need to passionately pursue and include those in this stage of life as part of our congregations, our families, our personal relationships, living out the meta narrative of the Christian story, vividly contrasting its brilliance against the drab background of postmodernism, and making the “odyssey years” the most developmental years in a person’s life, which, I believe, they are.

But you can read the book (or at least the free sample chapter) for more about that…

Who Are the Real Adolescents?

In Thought, Writers on September 6, 2007 at 4:35 am

Columnist Diana West has a new book out that I hope is even half as good as its quotes. The book is called The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization and, while the subtitle is perhaps overdramatic, her thesis is right on. If you read nothing else of this post, at least read this:

“Once, there was a world without teenagers. Literally, ‘teenager,’ the word itself, doesn’t pop into the lexicon much before 1941. That means that for all but this most recent period of history, there were children and adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they didn’t aspire to adolescence. Certainly, men and women didn’t aspire to remain teenagers.

Today, turning thirteen, instead of bringing children closer to an adult world, launches them into a teen universe. And due to the fold our culture has placed on the maturation process, that’s where they’re likely to find the adults. Most of us have grown up – or, at least, grown – into this new kind of adulthood, this perpetual adolescence so much the norm that it’s difficult to recognize it as the profound civilizational shift that it is.”

Ever heard the phrase “thirty is the new twenty” with regard to young adults getting married, having kids, and figuring things out in life? Ever wonder why teenagers try to act like adults while adults often act like teenagers? According to an interview with West, here may be part of the answer:

“The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say ‘cool,’ and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (‘I’m too young to be called ‘mister”) that I was observing in society at large. This led me to make all sorts of connections between the emergence of youth culture in the 1950s, its tantrums in the 1960s, the so-called culture wars that followed, the establishment of multiculturalism, the ascendance of non-judgmentalism and more.”

More than anything, we in society (especially in the Church) need children to grow up into adults and then into real and true parents. This doesn’t only mean physically and literally, but also emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, we have many people in the Church who are adults, but how many act like older and wiser parents who expect and aspire to be (and be viewed as) older and wiser? Again, West is insightful:

“The unprecedented transfer of cultural authority from adults to adolescents over the past half century or so has dire implications for the survival of the Western world. In other words, what I call the death of the grown-up is not just about sophomorically bad music or babyishly dopey movies (although it’s about that as well). Having redirected our natural development away from adulthood and maturity in order to strike the pop-influenced pose of eternally cool youth – ever-open, non-judgmental, self-absorbed, searching for (or just plain lacking) identity – we have fostered a society marked by these same traits, which are usually associated with adolescence.”

I’m ordering the book now.

Original Sin

In Books, Humanity, Writers on January 30, 2007 at 2:00 am

Good quote today concerning original sin from the book, Beyond Identity, by Dick Keyes:

"The original sin is refusal to be and live as a creature and instead to pretend at knowing better than God himself, to set oneself up as the ultimate judge…The original sin is not always expressed in conscious animosity toward God. More often it is a polite relegation of God to irrelevance."

Polite relegation of God to irrelevance. Yep, that about sums it up for me.

The Big Read

In Books, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Writers on January 22, 2007 at 10:30 am

Our little book club at Memorial is taking part in The Big Read, a national effort modeled on successful “city read” programs designed to encourage literary reading by helping communities come together to read and discuss a single book. The selected book is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Lectures, readings, art exhibitions, theater productions, book discussion groups, and film festivals are occurring in a variety of locations throughout St. Louis, all featuring themes and questions that Fahrenheit 451 raises about the power of books and reading.

There are several informal discussions of the book going on on Washington University‘s campus in February, and two discussions will be held at Kemper Art Museum on Sunday Feb. 11 and 18 at 2:00 p.m., followed by a docent led tour of the museum’s new exhibition called Reality Bites: Making Avant-Garde Art in Post Wall Germany.

Our fearless leader, Heidi Kolk, has given us a month to read the book, culminating with a discussion on Sunday evening, February 18th (all are welcome – if you’d like to join us, drop me an email for details). Megan and I are hoping to take part in at least one of the community-sponsored events as well.

To possibly whet your appetite, below is a review I wrote of Fahrenheit 451 when I first read it a couple of years ago. The review is hardly in-depth, but it might give you an idea of the basic story and serve as an encouragement to pick up and read a good book.

With all the publicity generated by Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11, I thought it might be a good idea to read Ray Bradbury’s original book of similar title. Fahrenheit 451 represents the temperature at which paper burns, which is fitting considering Bradbury’s book is about censorship, and I enjoyed the futuristic story (which takes place now, fifty years later from when he originally wrote it) as it bears great and realistic resemblance to our ever-interesting (and complicated) world today.

The story follows one Guy Montag, a “fireman” whose job it is not to put out fires, but to start them in homes whose owners are reportedly hiding books. All seems well and fine to Guy (who has been burning books for ten years) until he has a conversation with Clarisse, a 17-year-old girl who questions him about his present occupation.

This gets Guy asking questions in his head, and at his next fire, he secretly salvages some books as part of his consideration of Clarisse’s inquiries. He then meets a former professor (with no books, there is not much to teach; hence the “former” qualifier) and he relates to Guy that just because books are banned doesn’t mean their content is lost and may one day be reclaimed.

Seeing the literary light, Guy has a drastic change of heart and, in the course of 24 hours, plots to single-handedly rage against the censorship machine, risking his job, relationships, and life to evoke such revolution. The rest of the book details his crusade, his ideas and motives that accompany it, and resolves in a satisfying and hopeful manner as he joins forces with other “book people” to one day create a new beginning from the ashes of censorship.

A bit vague and hodge-podge at the start, Bradbury’s writing style smoothes out to tell a good story at a good pace. While his characters are semi-developed at best, Bradbury’s main idea and overarching themes branching out from it are most interesting, especially when read in the light of the current political climate and clash of government mistrust and freedom of speech.

Comparable to George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 is probably the most believable of these three “doomed future” stories as it does not come across so “futuristic” as it does “future-is-now” in terms of plot and perspective.

Of all three books, Fahrenheit 451 seems most organic in its storytelling, and this perhaps is what makes it more frightening to think that a few generations of bad decisions could very well cast us into a cauldron of censorship, a concept so foreign to us right now that it makes it all the more scary to think about and believe.

Links for the Weekend

In Humanity, Technology, Thought, Writers on August 18, 2006 at 3:38 pm

If all goes well, you probably won’t hear much from me until early next week. Now that my two-week Pastoral Theology intensive ended this morning, I’ve got a couple papers to write, the larger of which is a ten-pager on “whatever aspect of your understanding, personality or character you consider might be most problematic for a diligent and faithful ministry.” Folks around here just call it “the sin paper.” Only ten pages? At least I don’t lack for material.

In addition to the paper writing, I’ll also be finalizing the syllabus for the high school Bible class I’m teaching this fall at Wildwood Christian School. I will (hopefully) post the class assignments here next week, just in case anyone wants to follow along in their own studies through the fall (I’m teaching on the history of the nation of Israel through the Old Testament, so again, no lack for material).

I wanted to share a couple of really great links that, if you’re at all like me in liking things well-done, you’ll appreciate. The first is the Access Foundation‘s list of The Great Books, a mind-blowing bibliography “from the ancient classics to the masterpieces of the 20th century…that are all the introduction you’ll ever need to the ideas, stories, and discoveries that have shaped modern civilization.” Some of the links aren’t as up-to-date as others, but the list of books is impressive. Also check out Mortimer Adler’s Center for the Study of the Great Ideas.

In case you’re preparing to teach any kind of biblical history this fall (in Sunday School, to a class, to your kids – whatever), be sure to check out the Bible Atlas Online, which has over 170 quality full-screen maps of biblical geography available for free download. These are some of the more attractive maps I’ve come across (especially for the price). I downloaded them all.

If you’re a Mac user who also happens to be in school, check out 18-year-old Logan Collins’ site and his free Schoolhouse software. Set up with an iTunes-like interface, Schoolhouse is my new assignment organizer of choice and blows away my pseudo-hack of iCal to achieve a similar (but lacking) set-up. If you download it, leave the guy a donation as he’s just starting school (albeit at KU – “rock chawk chicken hawk”) and he could probably use the money.

By the way, hat tip to Ed for most of these previous links. He’s a surf junkie.

Finally (and following up on some ideas in my previous post), here’s a well-written and insightful article on life management by World Magazine‘s Andree Seu called “Invisible Monkeys: They’re on Our Backs, and Getting Them Off Will Unleash Creativity”. I liked this piece because it presents life management from more of a Christian worldview than most books and gurus do, connecting some dots from the how to the why. (Note: If you’re a magazine subscriber, you can read it for free; if not, you’ll only get the first fourth or so.)

Have a good weekend, everybody. And pages to go before I post…

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.

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.”

Gulp.

(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.)