Tuesday, September 30, 2008

He Got the Answer

This may be the antidote to the video I recently posted. I don't think the video itself is all that good, but the song....it brings back memories.

I remember listening to this a kid, feeling pretty rebellious. 

A) It was rock and roll - the devil's music.
B) It purported to be Christian, which made it even more insidious. 
C) It had "the perfect lay" in the lyrics. Oh my goodness.

I also remember how it gave me a sort of superior feeling, because I had Jesus, and all those problems he lists weren't my problems. They were problems for those unrighteous unwashed over there. The poetry is so vivid and over the top that the point got a little lost on this good clean Christian kid. Of course, we're all looking for the perfect lay, and we all have dirty needles in our purple veins. All of us. 

But you know what? I know better now. More important, I also know that it's OK. Jesus' got the answer.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stop Him before Someone Gets Hurt!

This makes me want to start a punk-metal-goth band, so I can cover this tune properly. My video would involve lots of explosions, people falling from buildings in slow motion, biting the heads of small animals and birds, masks, people wearing wings, screaming incoherently, and faces with black tears painted on them. 

Maybe Ben from 10-4 Good Buddy would direct my video and they could play it during their early worship service at his church. It would be very missional, transformative, and seeker sensitive. 

With friends like this...

A hat tip to Wheat Among Tares and Internet Monk

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Knock it Off!!

I have been threatening for some time to read more Robert Farrar Capon. I have finished Bed and Board, his first book, and am now in the midst of Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace. I am not quite sure what to make of it. I love it, on one hand, and I fear it on the other. This is exactly the response that Capon expects, and exactly the response that most of the book dwells on for much of it's pages.

Essentially, Capon dares to take grace for exactly what it is, straight, no chaser - as you will read in the scond quote. It's bracing and it makes my head swim, and I fear that he is right. That may seem an odd thing to say. So what does that mean? More later, but now a tidbit.

"The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race's perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man's well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for. Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won't be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now."


The reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace -- of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel -- after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps -- suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started...Grace has to be drunk straight boys: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.

(Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace )

Baron Von Moneypants

Apparently, I'm not the only one who sees the irony in Mr. Bush's leaving behind his "first instincts." Jon Stewart says it funnier though.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blabbings of a Part Time Political-Economic Dilettante

Posturing is more important than delivering. Positioning is more important than content. Perception is more important than clarity. Emotion is more important than definition. I’m not complaining about this. I think this is pretty much just what the political weather is made of, especially in a national campaign. It is no use to complain about the weather. The best you can do is dress for it.

All of the above is just as true, if not more so regarding news about the national economy.

What ARE the fundamentals of our economy? Something tells me that securitized mortgage equities are not fundamental. Something tells me that the equities market in general is not fundamental. Influential certainly. But not fundamental. Could economic fundamentals have more to do with things like taking raw materials, adding value to them and selling them at a profit? Like manufacturing for instance. Aside from not being able to borrow money to run their businesses (which is admittedly no small thing) how are the makers of real goods faring these days? Fundamentally sound? The PTPED wants to know.

GWB has got to be pretty discouraged. This whole debacle is what he will be remembered for.

Many formerly Free market ideologues seem to have turned into lifeboat socialists. Suddenly why do all these once rabid free market people look like Christian Scientist parents praying over their dying child. Imagine a CS practitioner of many years suddenly standing up and shouting "Give the kid some antibiotics, for crying out loud!"

If these fair weather free marketeers were true to their ideals, they would admit that this is a natural market correction and must be allowed to run it’s course. Of course, it might kill the child, but that’s natural and that’s how free markets operate. I’m sure there are people out there like that, but I don’t hear them. I'm probably not looking hard enough. Probably because if they are out there, I don't really care. I'm not a total free market freak myself.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that all those people who believe that the only way to go is a heart/lung/liver/kidney transplant, with a complete resection of the intestines, have too much going for them either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

One Buttock Playing

My Friend Ron Jung pointed me toward the TED lectures. What is TED? In the words of the website...
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. More than 200 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted. 

Ron pointed me to one extraordinary talk that I wanted to post. You will understand the title of my post several minutes into watching the video. The video is not short, about 20 minutes, but well worth it. Aside from Zanders main point about the universality of classical music, the passion with which he speaks, the clarity which he brings to the appreciation of first music, and then life itself, is bracing and inspiring.

I will be spending more time over the next several months hanging around with TED.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Burning Sunshine

Okay, having said that I’m not a HUGE fan of HD Thoreau, allow me to quote him yet one more time. I think I shall have to actually READ Walden soon. I will admit that my earlier complaint about HDT is because most of what I have read of his is merely quotes. I have some suspicion that if I actually engaged him in toto of his major works, I might be otherwise disposed toward him.

I once dabbled in Civil Disobedience, and was nonplussed. I did read the entire volume of his Maine Woods and found it interesting as an historical account of the Maine what was, but not particularly significant beyond that.

But here, I find Thoreau using words that speak powerfully to me. I read this, and I think, “I could get along just fine with Henry. Just fine.”

It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age and in this new country, a value more permanent and universal than that of gold. After all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood. It is as precious to us as it was to our Saxon and Norman ancestors. Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice- once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.*

I actually went searching for this particular passage, which I knew to be one of his, because I have lately noted that his sense of a man’s feeling toward his woodpile correspond closely with mind. I can’t explain it really, but I find great satisfaction and contentment in the act of merely standing to gaze upon my growing wood pile. This is not to mention that pleasure of actually making it grow by cutting, splitting and stacking the wood, nor the delight of planning how to obtain more of it, and determining how best to store it and manage it.

I hope that you note that the pile has grown some since I last posted a photo of it. Please note that. It will make me feel good, like when you say nice things about my kids.

Often, as I have been working on my woodpile, my thoughts have wandered along that lines of what I am really doing with this stuff. In essence I am processing sunshine that has been captured and stored in an organic battery called a tree. The leaves of the tree utilize the energy flowing from the sun, and through a complex chemical process we all study in school, captures that energy within the bonds of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen forming the sugar molecule. Some of those sugar molecules are further treated by flipping around a few hydrogen bonds to create cellulose, which forms the structure of the plant cell wall. Cellulose doesn't taste very good, and we can't digest it to release the energy INSIDE our bodies, as we can with say, maple syrup. But but it still contains a whole lot of stored energy, and with the right apparatus, we can release that energy OUTSIDE our bodies to keep us warm on cold days. The simplest apparatus, of course is a bow drill and a bit of tinder. But since I want to keep the fire INSIDE the house, but not burn it down, this will require something more sophisticated. In addition, I would like to burn it with a certain degree of efficiency so as to wring out as many BTUs as possible for each ounce of wood, and that will require a properly designed, installed and maintained wood stove. I look forward to putting in my first load of wood, firing it up, and feeling that stored up sunshine warming my bones again. Though the snow may drift deep and the frigid winds howl on the long dark nights of midwinter, yet I will bask in my own little tropical oasis, powered by the sun.

Here in the Northeast, most folks heat their house with Heating Oil. It's actually diesel fuel with a special dye and a few additional conditioners. The dye is so that it can be taxed differently from diesel fuel for vehicles, and the conditioners are there so it will work properly in a furnace as opposed to a motor. I just filled the oil tank that runs my furnace. Since I belong to an energy discount coop, it only cost $500 (about $3.12 per gallon at this time). It was already 1/3 full. If I was paying market price, that would have run me over $650 (about $4.15 per gallon). In the depths of winter, I will run through a tank in 3-5 weeks. I recently calculated that if I paid full market price, and heated only with heating oil, I would spend approximately $4800 this year to heat my house. 

Of course, this is still heating with the sun. It's just that that particular sunshine is much much older, and significantly more expensive at this moment in history. And, of course, the connection between me and the billion year old sunshine that is sucked out of the rocks is much weaker than the connection between me and the sunshine from trees grown down the street. If I had an oil well in my backyard, I might feel differently.

Yes. I do indeed feel affection for my woodpile. The more chips, the better.

*From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Do Gooders

Not a HUGE fan of Thoreau. A few quotes, too often repeated, and usually in a manner that suggests that they must contain such wisdom as will answer all questions. Nevertheless, every once in a while I come across something surprising and revealing.

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life...There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. ... Do not ... be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.

From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why I Like the Old Stuff

Scott McKnight on his Jesus Creed blog just asked his readers what they have been observing of the supposed trend toward "ancient-future" worship practices in their churches. On respondant gave a particulary good summary of why traditional liturgies are good. Liked it so much, thought I'd just post it up here. You can read all the comments (as well as the question) here.

In answer to T #10, for me it is not so much that I find particular parts of the liturgy attractive (although I do), it is the actual structure of the service, which is determined by tradition. The serivce is meant to build anticipation toward the focal point of the service which is the Eucharist and it will always be the Eucharist, not whatever worship leaders wish to highlight. I also like the idea that Anglicans around the world are reading those same scriptures, saying the same prayers, exploring the same themes and that I am tied into that larger body of Christ. I like the way the service is centred on Christ, rather than on the “worship leaders”. I like the fact that the set selection of scripture determines what the speaker will speak on, rather than the speaker determining what scripture he/she will used to prove his/her point. In that vein, I like the way we move through the whole bible rather than concentrating on certain parts and that each service has something from the OT, the NT, the Psalms and the Gospels, in which preeminence, signalled through a variety of rites, is given to the Gospels. The message is that Jesus is the lens through which we view scripture. I like the fact that the sermon is short (and in my experience so far, offered with humility) so that the thought is centred on prayer and scripture, rather than the notions of the rector. I like the hymns which are drawn from 1,000 years of music. I like that each week we say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. I like how the prayers of the people are part of a cycle so that our intercessions are broadened beyond our own needs, our own community, our own church. I like the fact that a couple of times a year we pray in our cycle for each of the local evangelical churches even though they seem to view us as not really Christian. I like the way we think individually about our errors in a period of silence but then pray communally for forgiveness. I like the way all of this directs our focus to the Eucharist. So that having contemplated Jesus’ words, prayed for forgiveness, extended the hand of love and friendship to our fellows we quietly wait in line, like lost, weary traveller’s glimsping the lights of home, anticipating our turn at the Lord’s table where the celebrant will place a piece of bread in our palm, touch us and say quietly, “Christ’s body, broken for you” and bring the cup to our lips and say, “Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

Jesus on a Stick

Recently discovered a site that offers cartoons that correspond to the scripture passages offered in the Lectionary. Presumably the Revised Common Lectionary, since the cartoonist is a Lutheran pastor. And then there is the name. Agnus Day. Get it?

Cartoons that follow the lectionary. Gotta love that. Is this a great country or what?

This particular one is pretty funny. I think it will will be especially meaningful to my friends who are Jehovah's Witnesses. If you don't get the joke, ask your local neighborhood JW if they will explain it to you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Death of a Squirrel

I killed a squirrel today.

While working on my woodpile, I turned around to find a very damaged squirrel standing in front of me. Most of the skin had been ripped off one hind leg and a portion of his back. The tail was mangled badly. Most worrisome was the fact that it did not run from me. It did not seem to fear me at all. It actually walked past me, ignoring me, focused on going wherever it was going. It didn't run, it just walked. Not even really limping. It didn't seem dazed really, just gamely walking forward, and I was just one more thing to get past.

Very un-squirrel like behavior. 

My best guess is that it was hit by a car, and just wanted to get home to either recover, or die. It was clearly in tremendous pain, but trying to move through it. My first thought was to let nature take it's course. Some predator would find it soon, or it would die on it's own. Then I thought better of it. My youngest daughter was with me, and she had seen the poor creature. We talked for just a second as I explained that I was going to kill the squirrel so that it would not suffer any longer. It would not survive on it's own. I told her to go up into the house. She asked why? I said, "Because I don't want you to see me do it."

As she walked into the house, I selected a good thick oak branch from my woodpile. Making sure she was safely gone, I walked up behind the squirrel and dispatched it with a good solid blow to the head. It wasn't pleasant, but it was the right thing to do. I disposed of the body in the woods, and went to see how my girl was doing. She was with her mom, telling the story. She asked what I had done and I explained it and asked how she felt about it. She said that she was a little sad, but that is was good that the squirrel wasn't hurting anymore. I was a little surprised at her equanimity. I will be listening for other thoughts to come out in the next few days. 

So why do I write this on my blog? Mostly because I don't bludgeon living creatures to death on a regular basis - this makes it at least somewhat noteworthy. It occurred to me how fragile and also how stubborn life is. This squirrel was hit by a car, and yet crawled several hundred yards in an attempt to reach safety and rest. That's stubborn. 

Yet, it was a quick job to kill it when it came down to it. I know it would not be so quick with an uninjured squirrel. I'm not sure I could get one if I tried, except with a gun. But it was small, and vulnerable and fragile. Such death occurs all around us all day long. I normally carry on oblivious. Not today.

John McCain, You Old Fox

Whatever I think of Sarah Palin, the reactions on all sides have been most entertaining. Reporters, pundits, commentators, bloggers and blabbers have been just buzzing. Me too now. It’s so much fun because she turns over so many expectations. She is so many things that she SHOULD not be. But…she is.

And this is why I think McCain has shown himself to be extraordinarily shrewd and bold politician. In selecting her, from what I understand somewhat against his inclinations, he has earned his maverick moniker.

Personally, I like her. I’m not sure how she will actually fare in office. I suspect she will do just fine. I suspect that she has a lot of work to do before her debate with Biden, and I suspect that she will do it. Biden better watch out. If he wins, then he gets the rap for beating up a girl. If he loses, then he just got beat up by a girl. I suspect that she is a girl with a very large baseball bat tucked behind her back and she knows how to use it. I guess we will see.

And then there is the whole feminist vs. at-home mom angle. Conservatives are just as stymied by this one as the liberals are. It’s great that she doesn’t kill her children before they are born, but shouldn’t she stay at home with them until they grow up? It’s great that she is a powerful role model of successful female leadership, but does she have to keep having babies like that? It’s really fun to watch everyone going around scratching their heads.

Here’s some of the things I’ve been picking up on about her.

Bill Whittle ( eject!eject!eject!)

Hat tip to Assistant Village Idiot for pointing me to this. An excellent explication about why conservatives can actually get excited about the Republican presidential ticket. One of the more cogent political analyses I have read.

Many conservatives were arguing that it would be better to sit this one out, and let the country go to hell, so that we could send the Republican party a message and re-emerge from the ashes in 2012 with “the next Reagan.” I pointed out that there were two problems with this theory: 

First, you may not like the fact that Grandma smokes in bed, and you may indeed want to get her attention. But if that message consists of letting her set the bed, the house and the grandchildren on fire, perhaps there was a better way to “send a message.” Second, it pained me to point out that there was no “next Reagan.” Ronald Reagan was on the political scene for almost two decades before he became President. Who was waiting in the wings to magically fill this role? No one.

Read the whole thing here.

James Fallow (jamesfallows.TheAtlantic.com)

I generally like Fallows writing, although he comes across here as a little nasal, if not exactly whiny. Even so, he does make one pretty good observation about the way the Palin family was presented during the speech. I remember thinking, as I watched, that they are really putting a strong spotlight on those kids. Fallows points out with greater clarity what I only felt in my gut.

Barack Obama has used his family as a prop from time to time -- most recently, bringing the charming girls onto the stage at the end of his convention speech. That's life in politics; everybody does it to some degree.Very few politicians do it as all-out as Sarah Palin just did, from citing the disabilities of her youngest child as part of her resume to including the shotgun groom of her elder daughter. I can't recall any spectacle comparable to Baby Trig being passed from Cindy McCain, to Trig's 7-year-old sister, to Palin herself when she ended the speech. Her husband looks charming, I have to say. From this point on it will be hard for her to declare anything about her personal or family life out-of-bounds.

Read the whole thing here.

Doug Wilson (Blog and Mablog)

Wilson despises McCain, and he is very much of the sit this one out crowd that Whittle talked about. As a great proponent of the Federal Vision in Christian Theology, he has very strong opinions about the roles of men and women in society. His blog has many many items this month about Palin, but his pro/con posting is probably the most complete and compelling. This quote is one of the best parts, from Pro point number 6.

6. File this next one under the heading of "husbands of accomplished babes." I speak as an expert here. Feminism is not the only heterodox gender-idea we have to deal with. There is a significant stream within conservative Christian circles that is more Muslim than Christian. In my writing on family, I have called this error masculinism, the counterpart to feminism. This selection of Sarah Palin enables us to address that problem. The Bible does not teach that a woman's place is in the home. It teaches that a woman's priority is the home. If a woman accomplishes a great deal outside the home without surrendering the priority of the home, there is nothing whatever unbiblical about it. Many people have assumed that Nancy and I are homers simply because we don't apologize for the apostle Paul's teaching on headship and submission in marriagae. But while we believe and practice and teach everything the apostle ever wrote on this subject, my wife has taught outside the home, written a textbook, taught at conferences, written other books, and all while managing the home in a spectacular fashion. My daughters are both very accomplished women, as is my daughter-in-law, and I welcome the opportunity for genuine conservatives to reject the ditch on both sides of this gender road.
Read the whole thing here.

Gail Collins (NYTimes.com)

This column is humorous for Gail’s pitiful attempts to whine about McCain and Palin. She is grasping at straws and probably swiping a more than a few straw men.

John McCain is not actually running for president. He’s running for Senate majority leader. All his passion is directed at defects in the legislative process. He’s been a military man or a senator for virtually all of his adult life, and listening to him talk, you get the definite impression that the two great threats of the 21st century are Islamic extremism and the appropriations committee.

“When I’m president, the first earmark, pork-barrel bill that comes across my desk — I will veto it!” he announced right off the bat. “You will know their names!”

McCain hates, hates, hates earmarking — the Congressional habit of sticking appropriations for special back-home projects in the budget without going through the normal priority-setting process. He talks about it with an enthusiasm that he never manages to summon for the economy, health care or education.

Earmarks are indeed a bad thing. If you ever become a U.S. senator, please dedicate yourself to getting rid of them. But for the chief executive of the country, they’re about as critical a problem as the overlong Christmas shopping season.

Read the whole thing here.

There’s more out there and more to come. McCain was pretty foxy to make this selection. We’ll see where it leads.