Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Just Snacktime Before we have Coffee Downstairs

My church is in the middle of a four week series on Communion. The readings and sermons and prayers all will focus around communion, with the purpose of exploring it's meaning and how Christ meets us in the bread and the cup. Best of all, we are celebrating the feast every Sunday for four Sundays in a row. I never really understood the once a month thing. If it were up to me it would be every Sunday 52 weeks a year. Talk about being fundamentalist -- that just seems fundamental to me.

I came across this interesting post at the blog "2 Ages Verging" on why Evangelicals don't get the sacraments. Ryan Cordle posits that it has much to do with the fact that evangelicals don't seem to want to face up to death. He might have something there except that most evangelicals don't make any connection with death and the eucharist. It may be true the Ev's are dense about death, but if there is no connection between death and the sacraments, then it seems unlikely that this is what causes evangelicals to miss the point.

Worth reading anyways.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Short Takes September 09

A few random quick observations:

Walking through Boston Commons yesterday and received an insight into why Hollywood movie productions cost in the millions. Several large party tents were set up for cast and crew to prep for scenes, and presumably for extras to hang out, etc. Each of these enormous white tents (the kind used for outdoor wedding receptions) was service by an enourmous portable air conditioning unit. Air conditioned tents. In Boston in September on a day that maybe topped out at 70 degrees. Not saying that's a bad thing, may explain some things.

Reading a collection of Jack London's short stories. We've all read To Build a Fire -- it's in every high school American Lit anthology. I am struck by the muscularity of his prose. It is not spare and telegraphic like Hemingway's. It is extraordinarily rich, with almost painful attention to moment by moment detail. Highly descriptive, using the whole range of all the parts of speech. But it is not flowery or fluffy. It fairly pounds you over the head, but in the most fascinating and engaging way. Very american. He should get more attention than Hemingway. It's much better stuff. (with the possible exception of H's The Big Two Hearted River -- his only short that I really liked).

Took the kids up Mt. Major on Sunday. It's a nice 4 hour hike up and back if you take your time. About 1.5 miles up. About 3 miles going down the back way. Went up it barefoot. I tell you what, that gets people's attention. Some are impressed. Others decidedly not so much -- they seem to think it's a little loopy. It certainly changes one's gait and the way one walk. I spent much more attention and energy on where to place my feet. It was a good experiment which I will probably repeat. I need to toughen up my feet more, or get some moccasin-like shoes. I have my eyes on something call Vibram FiveFingers. Gotta save up my dough first.

My wife is involved in a "bible study" at the home school co-op with which we are involved. Something for the parents to do while the kids are in their classes. It's put out by Focus on the Family with backing of such luminaries as Os Guinness and RC Sproul. It is about TRUTH! I looked through the first chapter notes. I have no quarrel with it, but I mentioned that it really holds no interest for me for the simple reason that I have very little interest anymore in arguing with anyone. The conversation turned to time she recently spent with a neighbor who has led a tough life -- let's just say one that is fairly overflowing with humanity. As a result, her speech and conduct is broad and coarse. Even so we both know her and like her. As the Bride described their weekend to me and we talked we agreed that telling this woman where she was wrong would be useless at best, and more likely completely counterproductive. What she needs is not truth, but love. It is conceivable that love and grace would open the door to truth, but that love and grace would have to come first. Yeah. I'm pretty much done arguing with people.

Some other books I'm reading or have read recently:
Evangelical is not Enough by Thomas Howard
Tehanu by Ursula LeGuin
Small Strong Congregations by Kennon Callahan
The Shack by William Young
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rice and Vampyres

Vampires are trendy.

150 years ago, I imagine very few people had any concept of "vampire." The concept existed in folklore of many cultures, but doesn't seem to have been a strong motif. In the beginning of the 19th century, some writers began using the folkloric material continuing in fits and starts until Bram Stoker writes the quintessential vampire novel, Dracula at the end of the century. It is quite a powerful and beautiful work by the way, and one I recommend. From that point vampire is ushered into the popular imagination. From there, it was mostly the work of movies, radio and television -- mass media -- to take the vampire and defang it. In spite of Nosferatu, the Hollywood vampire soon became a symbol of camp and mockery. As the world left behind it's belief in good and evil, especially of any kind of supernatural good or evil, the mills of Hollywood mashed and rehashed the legend of the Dracul until it was more of a joke than anything else. Certainly by the time I was growing up, no one really shivered in horror at the thought of the blood drinking undead. There have been many appearances of vampires in popular entertainment, mostly using it as a convenient plot device, like time travel, to bring conflict and suspense to a story. Dark Shadows, Night Stalker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Need I say more?

But even as the vampire seemed stalled in either black capes or mindless minions of darkness, Anne Rice reinvented the vampire completely with her group of novels that became knows as The Vampire Chronicles. First released in the early 1970's, the core of these stories dwelt in three volumes. Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire LeStat, and Queen of the Damned. I did not discover these until the late 1990's, when I was approaching 40 years of age, and they completely entranced me on several levels. I will come back to this in a bit.

Now as if out of the blue we have Twilight and True Blood, and suddenly vampires are sexier and more hip than ever. I'm not necessarily saying this is bad...I haven't really paid much attention to either one. I just find it fascinating that vampires have suddenly taken on a certain fashionability.

Now Doug Wilson weighs in on why all this hubbub about vampires is bad because it makes light of evil. If a vampire is a symbol of evil then of course we should “honor the symbol” and stop making it all sexy and stuff. Well far be it from me to dare to disagree with Mr. Wilson, who could effortlessly dismember me with his tongue alone, never mind his pen. Far be it from me indeed, but I think he is really missing some pretty big chunks of what we might call “the point.”

Symbols can certainly be enduring, but are seldom static and are constantly subject to re-imagining or even re-purposing. Witness the Christmas Tree, the Easter Egg, and even the cross itself. What is the literary purpose of the vampire as symbol? It is, I think, more complex than an initial cursory look might suggest.

I’ll be coming back to this, in particular to discuss the work of Anne Rice along these lines, and in particular to look at how her work has now transformed into a truly fascinating re-imagining of the gospel stories. She no longer writes vampire books because the process of writing them, and exploring the deeper themes suggested actually led her out of her self proclaimed atheism and back to Jesus and to His church. That’s a fascinating story.

So why am I getting all worked up about this? Mostly because I have found the work of Anne Rice, so easily dismissed because it is about vampires, to have been profoundly influential. Early on I detected in her writing a seeking and searching for truth, and discerned her direction and pointing toward Jesus. I am most gratified that I was right, and I am enjoying watching her publishing her journey, both in essay format and in her fiction.

Look here to read about it and we’ll talk more later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

There's Reform, and Then There's REFORM!

I've tried to write about this several times, but the whole expanse of it just seems to get away from me. Rather than write a full and reasoned treatise, here are just a few observations.

I think that the whole idea of Health Insurance may be completely wrong. Insurance is for disasters, not for bills. With life insurance, the payout is at least predictable based on the policy your purchase, so the actuaries can figure out the pricing accordingly. Medical bills are notoriously unpredictable, so huge margins must be built in.
  • Imagine sending the bill for your brake work or your oil changes to your auto insurance company. That's not what insurance is for. Insurance is for crashes. Repair insurance is available, but we call it an extended warranty. Most financial advisors will tell you it's a bad deal. Insurance is for crashes. For repairs, you plan, save or use your credit card.

  • Health insurance makes the insurance company the customer, not the patient. The money comes from the insurance company, so the medical provider is much more interested in doing things that make the insurance companies happy. This has to skew things.

  • Making the government the insurer really won't help this. It doesn't matter if the government does a good job of it or not. The concept is skewed from the get go.

So it seems to me that Health Care reform -- real reform -- is not about deciding who insures who. It should be about getting rid of insurance altogether and finding other ways to finance medical expenses.

This isn't all my idea. I was kind of thinking about this, but in a very fuzzy and undefined way, and then I read David Goldhill's article in The Atlantic Monthly called How American Health Care Killed My Father. Not sure I see all his solutions, but I think they are much closer to real reform than what is going on now.

One Possible Response to 9/11

I've been thinking a lot lately about carrying a gun.

This would involve some expense, a lot of training and practice, a definite adjustment in lifestyle and habits, and a some amount of legal work to secure the appropriate permits and government permissions.

I would also involve a certain amount of explaining. Not all the time, since the idea of concealed carry is that it is concealed. Most people should have no idea that you are carrying a weapon. Nevertheless, I would expect that many of my friends and acquaintances would be somewhat put off if they did know. And some of them might react very strongly against it.

And that's fine. I have my reasons. I am purposely not going to make a defense of carrying a gun here in this post, although I might later. If you are interested in learning any variety of reasons why an American citizen might want to go about armed, you can simply google about and you will find many many essays on why it ought to be considered not only a right, but a responsibility. Some of it is pretty gassy stuff, full of dramatic hamfisted emotional appeals and proclamation, but a lot of it is worth considering.

I'm mostly throwing this up to see what anyone else thinks about it. Especially as a christian, to many it will just rub the wrong way. Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Are we citizens, or are we subjects? Should this make a difference in our conduct?
  • Self defense is a legal construct. Does it have any biblical basis? In what circumstances?
  • On what basis could a Christian ever consider doing violence to another human? Especially since our Great Example seems to have raised victimhood to a moral imperative. Or is this a misunderstanding?

Any comments?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Knocked on My Can by a Ton of Bricks

I am seldom sick. When I am, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. Toward the end of August I got a bit of a taste of what it’s like to be really sick. I was completely knocked on my can for at least 10 days, and I’m still not quite 100%.

It all started in the beginning of the month when my youngest mysteriously came down with some cold-like thing including general misery and a barking cough. Instead of coming out of it in a few days, as is usual, it hung around for her for almost 2 weeks. So after 2 weeks of barking and spewing, it was no wonder when the oldest also was stricken. Not quite as much misery, but lots of coughing. I bugged out for 4 days, heading to Denver on a business trip. I returned home on a Thursday and kept working through Friday afternoon, although in retrospect, I could feel something coming on.

Friday afternoon it dropped on me like a ton of bricks. My fever spiked up to almost 104. I was racked with pain in every muscle in my body, and a remarkable number of places that aren’t muscles. This kept up all through the weekend, with a brief respite Sunday morning, and then slammed me to the mat again late Sunday afternoon. I was taking all the usual over the counter medicines but nothing made a dent. Then in desperation – exhausted from lack of sleep and in amazing pain, I took some hydrocodone (Tylenol with codeine) that I had left over from a minor surgical procedure some time ago. For the surgery, I didn’t really need it. Now, ironically, I most certainly did. I gotta tell you, I LOVE that stuff. When you really need it, the right medicine is the best thing in the world.

I could literally feel the pain ebbing away, and my body relaxing. Suddenly the fever broke and I started sweating profusely. I mean profusely – like running off my body in trickles. It was wonderful. I slept like a baby, only waking at midnight to pop two more pills.

I kept up this regimen for a few days. Did I mention that all through this time I was also coughing? Racking spasming coughs that at times were so bad I almost couldn’t breathe. I had to go to my knees so that I wouldn’t throw my back out from my coughing fit. Even now, my neck is stiff because I think I kinked something in there during one of my monumental hacks. Even as the fever abated, the coughing continued. I tried to work the following Tuesday, and stumbled my way through a training program, but on the way home my fever spiked again and I clearly needed some medical intervention. I was at the doctor’s office the next day and was diagnosed with pneumonia. This is the third time I have had to deal with pneumonia. I should have recognized it without the doctor’s help. Azithromycin did the trick and put me back on track, but it took a few days still before the coughing really began to fade. I’m still coughing up the occasional slug, but they aren’t the dark foreboding green the originally were, nor are they so abundant. God bless antibiotics. They get a bad rap, but as I said, when you need it the right medicine is glorious.

My wife was a beautiful angelic nurse to me through this. And then as I was coming out of it, her coughing got worse and she also was found to have pneumonia. We are such a sharing family! She skipped the flu part, thank goodness, but it even now struggling with the tiredness that comes from not being able to take full breaths. It’s a sluggish feeling from not having enough oxygen. I’m still struggling with that a little, although I can breathe deeply now without tossing up a lung.

As a result of this I lost 10 days and a solid week of income when I can least afford it. I am self-employed and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Any opportunity to finish the summer with a nice hike in perfect weather was lost. Time I would have rather spent with my girls went down the drain. Our 23rd wedding anniversary was an afterthought, as we both just felt glad to be alive. I shed about 12 pounds in a week as I had no appetite for the first 6 days and ate very little – but I wouldn’t recommend the plan. It’s a little harsh. The feeling of helplessness and even occasionally some fear that this was more than just a passing treatable sickness is memorable. I don’t care to repeat this again anytime soon. Sickness just hollows out your life. I am more than ever grateful for good health. It’s a tough way to be reminded.

Here's what else I was reminded of...the care and concern of neighbors and friends. Our church family kept track of us, provided meals and other kinds of support. Neighbors checked in and helped how they could. We had to go through it ourselves, but it was good to know that we were not completely alone. Someone outside our house actually cared, even helping take care of our poor orphan children who pretty much had to fend for themselves for 3 or 4 days when both of us were pretty much out of commission. Community ain't now joke. It's a cliche term, but it exists and it's as real as breathing. If you ain't got it, get some.