Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Periodically Speaking

In my younger days at the University (lol) I would often spend time browsing the periodicals at the library. I would often come across The New Yorker Magazine, take it down and riffle through the pages. Somehow, I always got stuck on the "Talk of the Town" section and never seemed to get past it. In those days, before I had ever spent much time actually living in a city, I was generally anti city life, as a matter of principle. Coming from a rural background, and a family where my mother was afraid to drive into town on Friday nights because of the traffic -- town being Concord NH, a city of perhaps 30,000 in that time -- I had been raised with a broad distaste for the urban. A visit to Boston was a major undertaking, carrying a frisson of danger and peril from crazy Boston drivers, inscrutable maps and the unwashed mass of humanity driven to life in concrete warrens and asphalt deserts. Now after having lived for several years in Detroit, if I don't prefer urban life, at least I can speak from personal knowledge that it's not as bad as I had been raised to think.

New York is of course the City of all Cities. While for some, like Garrison Keillor, this seemed to make it an object of great fascination, I approached anything to do with that sprawling human hive as vaguely suspect from the start.  Yet I had heard someplace the The New Yorker was a great literary magazine, worthy of attention. So I would open it and begin to read The Talk of the Town column which resides toward the front pages.

Reading it now, with the wider perspective that comes with age and experience, I find some of the items in TOTT to be interesting and engaging. At the time, however, it seemed more of a parochial account of a certain narrow segment (perhaps the stem?) of New York to which I did not relate well. I would read of art openings, charity events, business and social gossip of the highly placed and highly falutin', all taking place on streets and neighborhoods that were names on the page, but not places in my mind. Now I have learned just skim the section, lighting on articles of interest, and letting the rest go. But in my early earnestness I tried to read it all through until I got bogged down and just gave up. Because I stopped there and went no further I really didn't find the excellent articles that lay further in.

Not too long ago I recently rediscovered the New Yorker in a waiting room. I was floored by the writing, and dismayed to think of what all I missed out on. The article that grabbed me was about uncontrollable itching. Yes. You read that right. I have since discovered many other that contain fascinating stories on people and events in a broad cross section of human culture from all over the world. Fascinating and compelling. I have since read many other articles from various issues. I am now a convert to the New Yorker.

I guess that the days when The Grand Periodicals like the New Yorker defined the literary style and direction of our culture are gone. New fiction is comparatively rare in the magazine landscape, limited to those like TNY that have a strong tradition of fiction that they feel they must uphold. Nevertheless, I get the sense that their heart really isn't in it. Most are almost exclusively bent toward writing that is flavored heavily with journalism. It would seem that the news story, in various forms, is the defining literary style of our time. That's not necessarily bad, but I suspect that it ain't what it used to be. Even so, it's still pretty good.

Perhaps I was just too young to appreciate TNY back in the day. I wonder if I just persevered beyond the Talk of the Town to mine the rich lode of full length articles further in if I might have fostered a greater appreciation. After all, I am predisposed.

You see, I love magazines, all kinds, but especially the ones with fewer pictures and lots of text. I like in-depth explorations, broad and beautiful descriptions of people, places, times and events. I like that even the longest articles can be completed in a half hour but the good ones will leave my brain buzzing for days. I like good strong evocative language, and analysis that nudges my noodle toward new perspectives. And I like that sort of thing in large doses. That's the kind of magazine I really like.

But I'm really not that picky. If I had the time and the money, I would subscribe to dozens. New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Harper's, Weekly Standard, Mother Earth News, Mother Jones, Utne Reader, Time, Newsweek, Wired, Inc, Fast Company, National Review, Outdoors, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Christianity Today, First Things, New Oxford Review, just to name a few in no particular order.

And that doesn't even begin to touch the special interest rags on topics like history, martial arts, guns, physical culture and physical training, science, technology, hiking and outdoors, hunting, farming, forestry, and so on.

But for now, I will have to content myself with various free back issues of whatever I can find in waiting rooms and libraries -- occasionally even picking the odd issue out of the mixed paper recycling pile at the local dump. Hey...I'm recycling. You got a problem with that?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Despising the Body and Longing for Resurrection

At some point we began to assume that the life of the body would be the business of grocers and medical doctors, who need take no interest in the spirit, whereas the life of the spirit would be the business of the churches, which would have at best only a negative interest in the body. In the same way we began to see nothing wrong with putting the body - most often somebody else's body, but frequently our own - to a task that insulted the mind and demeaned the spirit...

Divided against each other, body and soul drive each other to extremes of misapprehension and folly. Nothing could be more absurd than to despise the body and yet yearn for its resurrection. In reaction to this supposedly religious attitude, we get, not reverence or respect for the body, but another kind of contempt: the desire to comfort and indulge the body with equal disregard for its health. The "dialogue of body and soul" in our time is being carried on between those who despise the body for the sake of its resurrection and those, diseased by bodily extravagance and lack of exercise, who nevertheless desire longevity above all things. These think that they oppose each other, and yet they could not exist apart. They are locked in a conflict that is really their collaboration in the destruction of soul and body both.

Attributed to Wendell Berry but the source is unknown

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Now that's a pushup

I just love watching this.

I would love to be able to do the planche pushup, and the planche to handstand. I'm toying with the idea that if I gave myself 2 years to train for this, I could do it. Why 2 years? To make allowances for the fact that I have a very full life with not a lot of extra time to dedicate to training. I've done some reading but need to do more research about the way to approach it.

It would be wicked cool.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Peace Train

I'm going to totally co-opt this song by Yusuf Islam (nee Cat Stevens). This certainly wasn't what the author intended, but this is what I hear when I listen to this song.

Listen to it. This is a great performance. But, this time, every time he sings the word "peace train," replace your mental image of a train with an image of the resurrected Jesus.

All the hope, all the longing, all the joy that this song encapsulates is not just a misty dream. It is concrete and real and embodied (not personified -- embodied) in the resurrected God-Man called Jesus Christ. His resurrection is just the mighty Locomotive of Life leaving the station, bringing the whole creation along with it, us included, on the way to the World Remade.

Jesus is the Peace Train.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Don't Be Afraid

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”

Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.”

(NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Invited to Participate

[T]he Gospels never say anything like, “Jesus is raised, therefore there is a life after death” (not that many first-century Jews doubted that there was); or, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall go to heaven when we die” (most people believed something like that anyway); or better, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall be raised at the last.”
No: insofar as the [resurrection] is interpreted in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it has a very “this-worldly” meaning, relating to what is happening here and now. “Jesus is raised,” they say, “therefore he is the Messiah; he is the true Lord of the whole world; therefore we, his followers, have a job to do: we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world.”
It is not, “Jesus is raised, therefore look up into the sky and keep looking because one day you will be going there with him.” Many hymns, prayers, and Christian sermons have tried to pull the Easter story in that direction, but the line of thought within the Gospels themselves is, “Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new world has begun, and therefore we, you, and everybody else are invited to be not only beneficiaries of that new world but participants in making it happen.”

From Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened by Craig A. Evans and N. T. Wright, originally posted in Christianity Today’s article Easter, Unedited

Thursday, April 8, 2010


"The resurrection completes the inauguration of God's kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating thet God's kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven."

"The message of Easter is that God's new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you're now invited to belong to it."

— N. T. Wright

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Colonize Earth with the Life of Heaven

“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”

N.T. Wright (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why would they persist?

The historian is bound to face the question: once Jesus had been crucified, why would anyone say that He was Israel's Messiah? 

Nobody said that about Judas the Galilean after his revolt ended in failure in AD 6. Nobody said it of Simon bar-Giora after his death at the end of Titus's triumph in AD 70. Nobody said it about bar-Kochbar after his defeat and death in 135. On the contrary, where messianic movements tried to carry on after the death of their would-be messiah, their most important task was to find another messiah. The fact that the early Christians did not do that but continued against all precedent to regard Jesus Himself as Messiah, despite outstanding alternative candidates such as the righteous, devout, and well-respected James, Jesus' own brother, is evidence that demands an explanation. As with their beliefs about resurrection, they redefined messiahship itself and with it their whole view of the problem that Israel and the world faced and the solution they believed God had provided. They remained at one level a classic jewish messianic movement, owing fierce allegiance to their Messiah and claiming Israel and the whole world in His name. But the mode of that claim and the underlying allegiance itself were drastically redefined. 

The rise of early Christianity, and the shape it took in two central and vital respects, thus presses upon the historian the question for an explanation. The early Christian retained the Jewish belief in resurrection, but both modified it and made it more sharp and precise. They retained the Jewish belief in a coming Messiah but redrew it drastically around Jesus Himself. Why? 

The answer early Christians themselves give for these changes, of course, is that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion.

N.T. Wright "Jesus Resurrection and Christian Origins"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Turning Point

“Without the resurrection there is one way of telling the story; with the resurrection there is a whole other way. Without the resurrection , the story is an unfinished and potentially tragic drama in which Israel can hold on to hope but with an increasing sense that the narrative is spinning out of control.
Without the resurrection, even the story of Jesus is a tragedy, certainly in first-century Jewish terms, as the two on the road to Emmaus knew very well. But with the resurrection there is a new way of telling the entire story. The resurrection isn’t just a surprise happy ending for one person; it is instead the turning point for everything else.
It is the point at which all the old promises can come true at last: the promises of David’s unshakable kingdom; the promises of Israel’s return from the greatest exile of them all; and behind that again, quite explicit in Matthew, Luke, and John, the promise that all the nations will now be blessed through the seed of Abraham.”

–N.T. Wright, "Surprised by Hope" (New York: Harper One, 2008), 236.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Point of the Resurrection

"The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom."

N.T. Wright (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church)