If you aren't following Indexed, you should be. It's one of the quirkiest Webtoons going.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
No, seriously. Do it. Just f-----g do it.
We haven't watched TV (in terms of broadcast or cable) since 2000. We still watch the occasional movie or series on DVD, but even there we lag way behind (Les watches a bit more than me, thanks to the miracle of an iPod nano and iTunes :o). I can't imagine how we'd get anything done if there were actual TV in the house, Tivo'd or not.
My model for killing my television is my friend Kim. At one point when his boys were growing up he actually took a hammer to the family TV and then there was none for over a decade. Guess what? His boys turned out fine - great, in fact. They are outstanding young men now, making their parents proud. Our children have a little 12" TV with a VHS and DVD player attached, and they have to ask to watch movies on that. Some days I wish they weren't even allowed that. When they're grounded (which in our house means "no electrons" - no computers, stereos, TV, etc.) they end up doing really creative stuff. The piano gets played. Art gets made. Songs get sung. Forts get built. They play.
Chuck has taken a TV break. Dan is thinking about it. And now there's this:
So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.
Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn't know what to do with it at first--hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.
The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we're still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there's an interesting community over here, there's an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs, we can't predict the outputs yet because there's so much complexity.
The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you're going. That's the phase we're in now.
[h.t. Marginal Revolution]
Kill your television. Today. Do something else. Do anything else.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Or is that "Wither the church?" You have to wonder in light of Nathan's excellent post and pointer to a video making the rounds. I can't say it any better than he can so just go read what he has to say and watch the video in that context (or any context you want).
Sunday, April 27, 2008
You ever want to just do something and hit obstacle after obstacle? I have a vision on this thing I'm trying to do (still holding off on blogging directly about it) and have wrestled all weekend because the vision of what I want and the reality of what I can accomplish using the tools I want to use are off. So I have taken a step back to reconsider and regroup. But it sure is frustrating. Correction - it's been a massive pain in the ass, to get real close to what I see in my head and not quite get there.
Ulysses Everett McGill: The treasure is still there boys, believe me.
Delmar O'Donnell: But how'd he know about the treasure?
Ulysses Everett McGill: I don't know Delmar. The blind are reputed to possess sensitivities compensating for their lack of sight, even to the point of developing paranormal psychic powers. Now, clearly seeing into the future would fall into neatly into that category; its not so surprising then that an organism deprived of its earthly vision...
Pete: He said we wouldn't get get it. He said we wouldn't get the treasure we seek on account of our ob-stac-les.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well what the hell does he know, he's just an ignorant old man?
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I have written before about struggling with acting with Christian love at work. It is hard - the hardest thing, I think. While re-reading the monkeysphere essay the other day (which has inexplicably moved since the first time I linked to it just this past week), something in the very last part of the piece really rang true:
That really annoying person you know, the one who's always spouting bullshit, the person who always thinks they're right? Well, the odds are that for somebody else, you're that person.
I know that's true, and to anyone that thinks that...I am sorry. I apologize. It is my fault, and I am working on it. I won't change overnight:
But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.
- Jules Winnfield
Friday, April 25, 2008
Erin tagged me with a "Subversive Blogger Award", which is something started by Jake Bouma. In the "Aw, shucks" manner most of the people getting these seem to respond I have to say I don't consider myself subversive - simply soulfully searching (doncha just love gratuitous alliteration? :o) But as Dr. Zoidberg would say, "What an honor!"
Anyway, the "rules" are:
- If you are tagged, write a post with links to five subversive blogs.
- Link back to this post on JakeBouma.com so people can easily find the origin of the meme.
- Optional: Proudly display the “Subversive Blogger Award” somewhere on your blog (images below) with a link to the post that you wrote.
Brant - doesn't know me from Adam, but he's one of the funniest guys on the Web and the best kind of subversive. Humor brings down many walls. I've lost count of the number of times he's made me laugh out loud while hammering home a Christ-loving truth. And sometimes he just plain stirs things up.
Jeff - we just sorta stumbled upon each other just recently (I don't remember who found who), but I like where Jeff is going and what he's writing along the way. Why, just check this one out from today.
Erika - this woman just absolutely blows me away. Most of us in the alternomissionalemergisphere natter and spout about the need for "living missionally" while Erika and her husband simply do it while raising a family and serving in a church in south central L.A. She humbles me.
Chuck - a small church pastor and his wife in Virginia are trying to live a more sustainable life while being crazy enough to believe Jesus meant what He said about love and peace.
Tina - stretches a lot of us outside our comfort zones while encouraging us to stay focused on what God really wants for us. I am so glad she's returned to blogging!
Thursday, April 24, 2008
- Well, I may have figured out what I am going to be channeling my energies into for a while. Some of you have already heard about it via email and I will write a bit more about it here when I have something to show. I'm going to be cryptic for just a bit longer because I don't like to talk about half-baked ideas (well, at least not in public) until they're two thirds baked. But I did want to pass along that my desire to be creative looks like it is going to be fulfilled.
- Communication is necessary, even if it is futile. That said, it is hard to spend all day in two meetings (one for five hours, one for three) and feel like anything was accomplished. Such was work today.
- I am thinking healthy thoughts while being surrounded by sick people. My wife (hey, honey!), father-in-law and a co-worker (hey, Patrick!) are all fighting or just recovering from three different types of "crud", as my mother would call it. None of which seem fun from what I can tell. It seems awful late in the season for flu, bronchitis and such but with all the weather fluctuations we've had of late maybe everyone's immune systems were caught off guard. I dunno. But I do know I don't want any, thanks.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
We don't watch a lot of TV here and often when we do it's with a late start in the evening thanks to the typical quotidian concerns. So many times we will watch a movie only part of the way through either on purpose or because we dozed off in the middle of it. Following is my list of the top five movies that are great to watch the first third to half of. By that I mean the first part of the movie stands on its own and in some cases is better than watching the whole thing through. These are movies where the first part is so well crafted you can watch it again and again and marvel at how well it tells a story. I do not include movies that are series of vignettes that are easy to put down anywhere. So Slacker, Clerks, True Stories, Pulp Fiction and Meaning of Life are not in the list.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off - I suggest watching either up to the point where they pick Sloan up from school or (better) when it slo-mo's the two guys from the parking garage flying over the hill in the Ferrari with Star Wars music playing in the background. Go to sleep laughing!
Raising Arizona - a "quickie" can be had just by watching the opening monologue up to the credits. A better stopping place is up through the kidnapping.
"You go back in there and get me a baby, Hi!"
Boogie Nights - I love this movie. Love it. [And me a Christian, too! Sorry about that, folks.] It's in my top three films, ever (really). But it can be rather, um, "dark" to watch the whole way through even though I like the ending. So often I will just revel in the first "rising star" part of it. A good stopping point is at the end of the first party at Jack's. A for-certain stopping point is when William H. Macy's character shoots himself - that's when the movie goes dark.
"Before you turn around, you've spent maybe 20, 25, 30 thousand dollars on a movie."
Purple Rain - sure, it's laughably bad in terms of acting and story line. As Joe Bob Briggs would say, "There's way too much plot getting in the way of this movie." That's why you don't actually want to watch the thing all the way through. Catch it while it is setting up the characters and most of the best songs are played. Stop well before it goes all maudlin.
Magnificent Seven - a great guy flick. I usually watch it when Les is out of town. :o) I love the hearse scene at the opening and of course the process of collecting the band of seven gunfighters. You can stop when they reach the Mexican village.
"Now how do you like that. I want him buried, you want him buried and if he could sit up and talk, he'd second the motion. Now that's as unanimous as you can get."
So, am I weird or do you have some movies that you love to watch the first part of over and over?
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
In this country bigger is always better, but I am not so sure. Even as I am trying to figure out worship and fellowship outside of institutional church, I still wonder why most churches are locked into a "church growth" model. Why do churches feel like they have to grow? When is enough enough? Why can't there just be many small churches, each building true community within itself? Is it our capitalist society that does it? Try and find many companies that say, "No thanks - we're big enough!" They're out there, but they're precious few. Since many people have remarked that modern American churches are built on the "corporate" model (including being in fact, corporations) I could see this being a valid explanation. Or maybe it's simply competitive gaming - "Our church is bigger than yours" is akin to saying "We scored more than you in the Convertolympics".
Sure, there are economies of scale but I am suspicious of using that as an answer since we're not called upon to build efficient
factories churches that take unwashed heathen in by the pallet at the loading dock and extrude sparkling new Christians out the baptistery. In fact, any "economics" involved should be more those of microeconomics, hearkening back to the roots of the word "economics":
The term economics comes from the Greek for oikos (house) and nomos (custom or law), hence "rules of the house(hold)."
When one thinks of the first century "churches", which were basically extended households, we can see how "economics" in that sense could apply to intimate gatherings worshiping the Lord. But ultimately we are called to be in community, in fellowship, and frankly, I don't see how you can be "in fellowship" with a large group of people. There is a limit above which "the numbers just don't work". I wonder if that boundary is somewhere near Dunbar's number? It is an estimate of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships"and is estimated to be approximately 150 (with some researchers thinking it may extend up to 300 - but not more than that).
For a funny but definitely NSFW (and also not safe for uptight people who don't like the gratuitous use of naughty words to make a point) explanation of Dunbar's number, see this two page essay about the "monkeysphere" by David Wong. Go give it a read (if you're not an uptight person who doesn't like the gratuitous use of naughty words to make a point). When you're done laughing, I think you'll agree there's something there to think about. And if we want to try to build anything beyond the size of Dunbar's number, Wong's T.R.Y. points at the end of the essay are probably a good start. But ultimately I think "church" should probably be below Dunbar's number, and when it is reached maybe it is time to start a new church?
And while you're at it and I'm feeling provocative, you may want to read David Wong's 10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On. It has been around the blogoverse before, but it's still a good read - at least if you believe in rational discourse with people with whom you disagree.
[And extra points to anyone who gets the really bad pun embedded in the monkeysphere essay and posts it as a comment here first.]
[Long-time friends on my mailing list know that any time I post something with the above subject line it means I'm trying to cause trouble. See Jonathan Swift for the original. This post was triggered by a comment I made on Glenn's post yesterday.]
I think all churches should be charities.
Let me repeat myself.
I think all churches should be charities.
What do I mean by that? Aren't they already? Well, let's look at some definitions of charity, first. Wikipedia defines the virtue of charity as:
In Christian theology charity, or love (agapē), means an unlimited loving-kindness toward all others.
That's cool and we are certainly called to that, but that's not what I am talking about. Or it is what I am talking about but I want to get down to some practical nuts and bolts here because the above is easy to say but hard to practice unless you, um, actually practice it.
A legal definition of charity says:
This is a nonprofit organization providing a public service as defined by the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3).
That covers modern American churches (which are all incorporated as 501(c)(3) entities), but that's really what I am not talking about. Let's return to Wiki again and look at the article on the practice of charity:
In modern usage, the practice of charity means the giving of help to those in need.
The name stems from the most obvious expression of the virtue of charity is giving the objects of it the means they need to survive.
Most forms of charity are concerned with providing food, water, clothing, and shelter, and tending the ill, but other actions may be performed as charity: visiting the imprisoned or the homebound, dowries for poor women, ransoming captives, educating orphans....
Institutions evolved to carry out the labor of assisting the poor, and these institutions are called charities. These include orphanages, food banks, religious orders dedicated to care of the poor, hospitals, organizations that visit the homebound and imprisoned, and many others. Such institutions allow those whose talents do not lend themselves to caring for the poor to enable others to do so, both by providing money for the work and supporting them while they do the work. Institutions can also attempt to more effectively sort out the actually needy from those who fraudulently claim charity. Early Christians particularly recommended the care of the unfortunate to the charge of the local bishop.
Ah, now we're talking. This is where I am going. I want churches, all churches, to be charities first. Not just not-for-profit corporations - I think too many churches are getting tax-exempt status for historical/cultural reasons because they used to be more like charities but now are simply self-perpetuating organizations where most of the money raised is spent on maintaining the institution. No. I want churches, all churches, to be focused on "providing food, water, clothing, and shelter, and tending the ill...visiting the imprisoned or the homebound, dowries for poor women, ransoming captives, educating orphans." Sure, churches do a bit of this and some of that out of the list now, but shouldn't it be their Kingdom focus? Not just sending checks off somewhere to let other people do the actual charity. Not just having outreach programs, a little food pantry, a quarterly or biannual day of helping build a Habitat house. Those are all good things, and can be done in addition to what I am talking about.
Shouldn't the first thing we should be doing with our love is being a light to the world (and the worldly)? Instead of sitting in our buildings, which strikes me as hiding our light under a bushel, shouldn't we be out and engaged? Not to gain new members but to show "an unlimited loving-kindness toward all others"? I believe if we were doing that then the Holy Spirit would more than take care of the new members thing.
"Gee, Jim, isn't that just a works-based theology?", you ask. No, I don't see it that way. I see it as being the outcome of true agapē. I see it as being a true part of the community, not just sitting around and wringing hands and wondering how to do more "outreach" (read as, "get more members" - a true Christian buzzword if ever there was one). I see it as being the right outcome of gathering together to worship God. I believe it is the very thing the Gospels are about - not just waiting around to die and go to Heaven, but to bring and be the Kingdom here, now.
I believe we could then tell whether a church is being effective by rating it on the same sorts of scales that are used to rate "normal" charities - how much money is spent on actually doing something vs. how much is spent on administrative overhead (in which I would include all salaried staff plus physical plant costs, i.e., buildings and their upkeep) and fund raising. "My" church would surely fail.
We read about church membership stagnating or declining. Many denominations are losing members or are trying to figure out how to get more "relevance". There seems to be a never-ending discussion about how to increase fellowship and a sense of community. Well, here's a hint - some of the best community and fellowship I've ever experienced has been when engaged in helping others. Not just with my fellow volunteers but with the people we are trying to help. If I understand agapē at all then that's when I've brushed up against it.
And none of this means I am saying you can't have worship. Where did you read that in the above? But I note in the Gospels that interspersed with praying, fasting and teaching Jesus did a lot of healing and feeding and whatnot. He served others. We all talk about having a servant heart and servant leadership but it has all been warped to mean doing such things inside the [institutional] church and for the [institutional] church alone. I feel we're called to much, much more than that:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Maybe it's time for churches to do just that - sell everything they have and give it to the poor, and then go and follow Jesus.
Wouldn't you like to belong to a church that did that?
Herein endeth the polemic. :o) Fire away.
Monday, April 21, 2008
I have written many times before about how we don't watch TV in the house, by which I mean we don't have cable (well, we have it for broadband, but we don't subscribe to the TV service) and we don't have any antennas hooked up to our two small, soon-to-be-obsolete analog TVs. We still watch the occasional movie or TV series via DVD or VHS tape, but I would say I watch something that way maybe two hours a week, on average, if that. And that has been the way it is in the Lehmer household since 2000.
I used to hypocritically brag about the "no TV" thing and how much time it saved, which I then wasted by surfing the Web every day for a couple of hours. By "surfing" I mean sitting around idly reading the news and clicking through on various "interesting" sites and so on. Like channel surfing except with a 101-key remote. Last year I went on a news sabbatical so that waste of time is gone, and about four or five months ago I switched to a "feeds only" method for using the Web. Now I don't "surf" at all. Sure, I still go to a Web site once in a while if some post links to it and it looks interesting, and I still buy things from Amazon, but I no longer spend time just clicking around. And if I come upon a site that is interesting but doesn't offer a feed I don't go back - really.
Now that I've gotten used to it I love the syndication/subscription model. I look back at all the time I used to waste checking various sites daily (or more). No longer. And I don't use that gained time to then pile on the subscriptions in my reader to waste my time there instead. I am actually pretty ruthless with feeds and if I end up skimming one or ignoring it for a period of time I will usually unsubscribe. The point is not to fill up hours a day with idle reading but to follow only what's interesting and ignore all the rest so there's time to do other things. Because the day is only 24 hours, and there's always stuff to be done.
So, do you still surf? Why? Isn't there something better you could be doing with your time?
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Well, besides the first lawn mowing of the season I worked in my "garden" today (a series of raised planting beds, really). I planted eight lavender plants around the mailbox, six Cayenne chili plants, six Jalapeño chili plants, three Roma tomato plants, Italian parsley, cilantro (coriander), thyme, dill and sweet basil. Most of the perennial herbs I planted last year are coming back, some with a vengeance, with the two rosemary plants being the only ones that are suspect. Missouri is a bit too far north for them and we had a couple of ice storms and really cold stretches and right now they only have a few sickly looking needles. So we'll see. I hope they do make it - everyone in this house loves rosemary. If not, I may plant some in large pots and simply move them indoors this next winter. I am also still looking out for some Habanero chili plants.
The herb garden now contains lavender, oregano, sage, marjoram, chives, dill, basil, thyme, cilantro, Italian parsley, spearmint, peppermint and rosemary (we hope). So I guess now I will be able to make Simon & Garfunkel Chicken. :o) I harvested a bunch of chives, marjoram and mint today because they're already going strong. I love having fresh herbs available. They're really what got me into gardening last year and now I want to do more. I am already thinking of two places in the back yard that have concrete slabs surrounding what used to be horseshoe pits that would be the perfect bases for two more raised beds. Now I just have to figure out what I'd grow in them.
I have lately been telling people I am "struggling with mortality," then quickly say, "Actually, not with death so much as just day-in, day-out existence." Get up. Urinate. Wash hands. Shave. Brush teeth. Shower. Defecate. Wash hands. Get kids ready for school. Remind kids to brush teeth and hair. Get kids to school. Go to work. Work. Go grocery shopping. Make kids do homework. Police sibling fights. Mete out discipline. Wash hands. Cook. Eat. Clean up. Get kids ready for bed. Get ready for bed myself. Repeat daily. Add laundry on the weekends; mowing the yard in the summer. You know the drill. The daily grind. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...
Or to make things more Biblical, how 'bout some Ecclesiastes to cheer us up?
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless."
What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.
I've been here before and the word that summarizes all this is quotidian:
The term "quotidian" derives from the Latin word for "daily" and refers to repetitive daily actions, events or routines — yet in typical usage carries a vaguely negative overtone. "Quotidian" is generally used to convey a sense of the mundane; that is, there is an implication of the 'commonplace' — often in the disparaging sense, and at the very least to indicate that there is nothing unexpected or surprising to be found in things quotidian.
And yet it is the very nature of life that we must find meaning in the quotidian or there is really no meaning at all. Buddhists get this. So did Brother Lawrence. The contemplative Christian orders understand. A few years ago during a similar period I read Kathleen Norris's The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work". I love her work, and as always she had something worthwhile to say that wasn't just the usual take on things. I may not like much poetry but I like how poets view the world. Leafing through that book this morning I notice pages I dog-eared then to remind the future me now of some important truths:
As a human being, Jesus Christ was as subject to the daily as any of us. And I see both the miracle of manna and incarnation of Jesus Christ as scandals. They suggest that God is intimately concerned with our very bodies and their needs, and I doubt that this is really what we want to hear. Our bodies fail us, they grow old, flabby and feeble, and eventually they lead us to the cross. How tempting it is to disdain what God has created, and to retreat into a comfortable gnosticism.
- page 11
The often heard lament, "I have so little time," gives the lie to the delusion that the daily is of little significance. Everyone has exactly the same amount of time, the same twenty-four hours in which many a weary voice has uttered the gospel truth: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Mt 6:34, KJV). But most of us, most of the time, take for granted what is closest to us and is most universal. The daily round of sunrise and sunset, for example, that marks the coming and passing of each day, is no longer a symbol of human hopes, or of God's majesty, but a grind, something we must grit our teeth to endure.
- pages 16-17
Modern psychology does not always know what to make of mystery, but it is in agreement with the psychology of the ancient desert monastics in recognizing that depression is often the flip side of anger. What we perceive as dejection over the futility of life is sometimes greed, which the monastic tradition perceives as rooted in a fear of being vulnerable in a future old age, so that one hoards possessions in the present. But most often our depression is unexpressed anger, and it manifests itself as the sloth of disobedience, a refusal to keep up the daily practices that would keep us in good relationship to God and to each other. For when people allow anger to build up inside, they begin to perform daily tasks resentfully, focusing on others as the source of their troubles. Instead of looking inward to find the true reason for their sadness - with me, it is usually a fear of losing an illusory control - they direct it outward, barreling through the world, impatient and even brutal with those they encounter, especially those who are closest to them. I recognize all of these stages in myself and I know that there are some days when unspecific anger makes me of little use to anyone. The popular faith in "talking it out" is counterproductive; if I bristle with irritability, especially if my anger seems out of proportion to any cause, depression is my real enemy. And talking about it is the last thing I need to do. It either leads me to rant, or it allows self-pity to surface, sending the poison deeper within.
- pages 42-43
I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self. They may be young parents juggling child-rearing and making a living; they may be monks or nuns in a small community who have to wear three or four "hats" because there are more jobs to fill than people to fill them. If they are wise, they treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead, they listen for a sign of God's presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.
- page 70
And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.
- page 86
Time to go brush my teeth, shave and shower, so I can then finish the laundry and mow the lawn. :o)
So, do you struggle with the quotidian?
Saturday, April 19, 2008
It has been a good day, laundry excepted. I helped my friend Sean some this morning with a code problem at his work (which is related to my work), thereby relieving some karmic debt I have built up from all the nights and weekends he's helped me figure out technical issues at work. Then my friend Kim called and we talked for about an hour and a half. This evening I cooked Thai chicken curry and noodles (my own recipe - it came out good) and had a good conversation with Morgann over that and some homemade sangria (hey, I'm a multi-cultural kinda guy). And I'm feeling at peace with my Lord.
Faith, friends, family, food - what more do we need in life?
Friday, April 18, 2008
This morning while writing an email to a friend, I came up with the following. It may not be original, but it's original to me; I don't think I've heard it before, so I'm claiming it:
"If you have to make a pros-and-cons list to decide, then it already sucks."
Meaning the cons have already won. Because if you're making a decision about something important and you're in a place where the choices have you feeling wishy-washy and you don't see an obvious answer then you're either considering the wrong thing, asking the wrong question or deciding at the wrong time. Perhaps you're being forced to. As my friend Jim is fond of saying, "Being an adult is having to make hard choices from limited options with limited data in a limited amount of time and deal with the consequences." And that's true. But I am not talking about that.
What my observation is about is when you have to decide about something that's fundamentally important to you, something life-changing. Look at it this way - do you think anyone would do a pro/con list for choosing whom to marry? No, I think we'd all laugh at that. Yet there are often other decisions just as important that people make up their minds about basically because they weighed out the best. But where's the passion and commitment in that? Look at how many people decide their careers using that process and end up hating what they do.
"Why did you go into accounting?"
"Well, there was a need in the market and I am good with numbers and my parents thought it would get me a job so that's what I picked."
"Are you happy doing it?"
"What, are you kidding? It's a miserable job."
I think one of the things we owe God for the life He gives us is passion. He doesn't want us to just muddle through life making choices because the pros scored "6" vs. the "5" in the cons column.
What do you think? Are there any important choices you're making or have made based on a 6-to-5 outcome? Why?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
What do Andrew Bird, Darrell Brown, Rosanne Cash and Suzanne Vega have in common? They have a blog on the NY Times. And when I say "a blog" I mean all four of them are sharing a blog, writing about writing music. It is fascinating, and each of them is different, completely different, from the others. Highly recommended. [h.t. Paul Krugman]
Recently I re-read Hugh MacLeod's How To Be Creative. If you haven't read that yet go fix it - you have a deficiency in your education that can be corrected in an hour. I passed it along to my 22-year-old artist daughter, too, because I'd like to see her absorb the lessons. Me, too.
I feel something, I don't know what, building inside me and wanting out. I want to create something. I want to make something. Not just more software to help some big company make more money. Maybe not software at all. Or maybe so. I don't know. I am not talking about a career change (I don't think). Just getting some meaning back in life beyond Birth, School, Work, Death.
I've been talking with a couple of friends about exciting projects they're starting and really want to encourage them even if I won't participate myself, because it's their creativity and passion, not mine. I've also been picking at (arguing with, feels like) another friend who is so creative - so much more than I can ever be - to not sell himself short. I would almost sacrifice my own creativity to see his succeed. Almost.
Lots of half-formed ideas, lots of false starts. Something's brewing and I don't know what it is. I don't even know if it will be expressed in a medium or acted out in the world. Some part of me hopes it's the latter. That would be new and different for me. And whatever it is I want it to have meaning. To be a part of my walk with God and not just an ego thing. To have meaning.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
At the end of a long post about various and sundry, Sam relates a question from one of his children that struck and has stuck with me ever since:
“Why do we pray from a list instead of just praying about what we think to pray about?”
And why the special prayer language? Everyone talks about a personal, Father/Abba relationship with God but when it comes to prayer we all revert to KJV Thy-and-Thine verbiage. ('d'ja ever notice that you can belong to the most "The Message"-reading church but when it comes time to recite the Lord's Prayer everyone's right back to the KJV?)
[Sam, the comment from your co-worker reminded me of a favorite saying from someone I used to work with: "Bitter, party of one...your table is ready". Or another friend's, "Get down off that cross - we need the wood." :0) ]
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Here's the tip - ignore every cookbook ever written and grill the steak before slicing it thin and putting it into the sauce. I've been doing this for a while now and it ends up with seconds (and thirds) being requested from 5/6 of the eaters (and anything that you can cook that satisfies 83.333% of the people at the table is something to be repeated :o).
You heard it here first.
Monday, April 14, 2008
For those of you that use iGoogle as your home page you can now add a Christian Buzzword Bingo gadget from yours truly. If you go to my blog (instead of reading it with a reader) you'll see it there in the sidebar, too. I am not totally happy with the format, but most of that is from the limitations of both Google gadgets and the template for my blog (which I had to tweak a little to make it look even close).
- Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth
Sunday, April 13, 2008
So, Gloria got a set of sidewalk chalk from my mom for her birthday and it has been a big hit. Over the past week or so she and her sibs have been using it to draw a road course around the patio for their scooters and bikes, complete with signs, businesses, etc. Tonight I looked out and broke out laughing, calling Morgann over to share in the mirth, because apparently their play world is more dangerous than it looks. I presume the fatality was traffic-caused.
If you can't read it, that's yellow "Caution" tape around the body outline.
Suburbia is more dangerous than it looks! :o)
Well, I have reverted the blog colors back to their original scheme. Nobody who commented was hip with the green-on-yellow format, and some claimed it was harder to read. Since readability was the whole point I brought back the default scheme.
I tend not to worry about visual aesthetics too much, and this is the type of thing that reinforces that. I once commented to some friends that my Website was "stylesheet ready", to which Aaron quipped something like, "Dude, your Website isn't stylesheet ready - you dragged style down an alley and mugged it."
Probably true. :o) I'm a textual kinda guy.
To do is to be. (Descartes)
To be is to do. (Voltaire)
Do be do be do. (Sinatra)
- old joke
Over the past week I've been absorbing SYDWTGTCA into my life. It hasn't all been roses on the newfound Christ-loving relational front. Les and I had a brief but intense fight about nothing, really - just combined stress loads (we're fine - we fight once every six months whether we need it or not). I have upset each of the youngest three at least once and am trying to get out of the "stern Dad" mode while still making sure they grow up with some sense of self-discipline (and finished homework :o). I am still having problems figuring out how to deal with all the issues at work, which continues to be my biggest stumbling block right now. On the plus side, my 22 year old daughter and I are finally having some very real communication and I think it's going to help her and help us help her. And I really feel like I am opening up and being more aware of the people around me. I have a sense of...I don't know...Anticipation. Expectation. Readiness. And I feel calmly excited about it, if that makes sense at all.
But here's the first thing I've noticed in the aftermath of reading that book - I am having to detox from an overwhelming desire to do something. To practice something. To start a program. To volunteer more. To learn something new. To read yet another theology book. All of those can be good things in the right context. But they don't make me any more valid or loved in God's eyes. Grace is grace. Faith is faith. Saved is saved. Loved is loved. I didn't do any one of those things. They were all given to me. Many times we want to respond to grace by trying to formalize and control it. But God is wild and He won't be chained by His own creatures, even if we are created in His image.
SYDWTGTCA discusses this phenomenon and I can see why now. It is innate to human nature. It is also what we're taught to do by the institutional church. So I am purposefully staying away from Christian busy-ness and concentrating on just being me for a bit. Not what I think people want me to be, but me. Because then I can be the husband, father, grandfather, son, son-in-law, brother-in-law, nephew, cousin, co-worker and friend God wants me to be, with whomever He chooses to throw in my path.
There's a reason we want to hide behind doing. Doing is easy. It's just crossing things off a check list. It's also distracting. It keeps us from having to worry about relationships with God or each other because we can point to our programs and plans and talk about what we're doing and not notice what we are, how we are being. We must be good if we're doing good, right? Wrong. Brant just wrote an excellent list of things we can do that won't keep us out of Hell. I found myself in quite a few of the list items. In fact, it was uncanny enough to be uncomfortable and even welled up a bit of anger. But that was just the defense mechanisms talking where I wanted to point and say "But look at all I do!" Which is forgetting grace, as always. And I believe Brant's point.
Being is hard. It requires presence. Attention. Openness. Vulnerability. For example, consider the following two questions. Which is the harder to answer?
What are you going to do?
What are you going to be?
What do you do?
Who are you?
It may be crass but it also serves my point to mention that using the word "do" in terms of relationships is always unsavory and implies either a loveless sex act or else some form of con or scam. There's a world of difference between "I want to do her" and "I want to be with her". We say "I want to be in love", not "I want to do love". The expression is "Let's be friends!", not "Let's do friendship!"
So why do so many Christians want to "do fellowship"? Perhaps because it's easier to put down a list of tasks on a checklist and mark them off - "Went to church...check. Went to church barbecue...check. Went to small group meeting...check. Committed fellowship in the name of God...check." That's much more organized and controllable than "Cried with friend over their loss. Played with the children so long that homework didn't get done. Laughed with parents over old family stories until it hurt. Talked with my wife about her dreams and fears. Made a new friend." You would never say "Check" after any of those. It would trivialize them and make a relationship into a thing, a task. Instead, you would perhaps talk about them all together as a description of a very good week spent being in love with others.
Which is what we are called by God to be. Not to do. To be. In love. With others.
So...Who are you? What are you going to be?
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Two good posts tonight:
- Check out Glenn quoting Reggie McNeal (who I have never heard of before - I don't swim among SBC members much, although two of my closest friends are just that). My favorite? "The church in North America is not like the Pharisees—we are the Pharisees, and Jesus does not like Pharisees." c.f., this little thing I wrote last year that got some limited notice.
- ASBO Jesus keeps up the good work:
[If you don't cook or don't like to cook, read no further - and I feel really sorry for you.]
I don't use cookbooks like most people do. I
never very rarely cook a recipe straight out of one. As I've written before, "I rarely use cookbooks except when trying something for the first time, and even then I won't slavishly follow a recipe. Instead, I will usually read three or four recipes for the same dish, note what is similar and what is different between them, and then go and do my own thing anyway."
That said, I love to read cookbooks. I read them for inspiration ("You can mix that with that? That sounds good!"). I read them to learn new techniques. I read them to learn about different cuisines. I read them because I like the voice of the author that comes through. I know that cooking shows are now all the rage, but I've missed that whole thing since we don't watch TV. So I've seen some of the new generation of famous cooking personalities at my parents' house but haven't really felt moved to buy anything by any of them yet. I don't have anything against TV chefs - mine are just from a past generation. Julia Child. Jeff Smith. Justin Wilson. I can even remember watching Graham Kerr with my mom when I was really young.
Anyway, here is a list of my favorite cookbook authors:
- Jeff Smith - I would have to say my favorite cookbook author was Jeff Smith. I own three of his cookbooks and am always on the lookout for more. My favorite, by far, is The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother. Just a wonderful, wonderful book full of all kinds of yummy and palette-stretching recipes. I also have The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome and just picked up The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, which I've been reading off and on for the past week and is what inspired this post.
- Julia Child - I don't have the canonical Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I do have The Way to Cook and I love this cookbook. The recipes in it are simple, wonderful and and "just work". That's really all I ask from any cookbook (which is why I don't like the dreadful Joy of Cooking). Julia was a lot of fun to watch and she's fun to read.
- Meta Givens - my mother had a Givens cookbook given to her when she was a young bride (married at 16), and I have a copy, too, because it's the cookbook I remember from Mom's kitchen. The spine is held together with duct tape. If you want good old-fashioned Midwest cooking, Meta Givens is for you. She's also really good about assuming nothing - more than one person has talked about Givens walking you through how to boil water. We all just assumed our moms knew how to cook forever. I think in many cases "forever" started under the tutelage of Meta Givens.
- Anna Thomas - I was a vegetarian for about three to four years in the mid-to-late 1980s. Not a vegan, mind you - I couldn't live without cheese, for one, and I'd still eat some seafood from time to time. I often toy with going back to being mostly a vegetarian, but I think I would face a revolt from the rest of the household, except for Gloria, the "youngest" (by a minute). She's really not that into meat. Me? I like it, I just don't think it's that good for me or the world (and then there's the price - $9.99/lb. for rib eye? Yikes!) Anyway, my dinners were never boring during those years thanks to Anna's The Vegetarian Epicure and The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two. I still cook recipes out of these books now. It looks like she has a new book out - cool. If you are thinking of "going vegetarian" or know someone who is, buy them these books!
- Madhur Jaffrey - her Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking is a fun romp through everything "Eastern", from the Middle East to Japan. I like her stories about various recipes and cuisines. The ingredients can be somewhat hard to get, though.
- Jennifer Brennan - I don't know what I like about her The Original Thai Cookbook better - the recipes or the deep cultural and historical background! I see Google Books has another of her cookbooks online.
- Diana Kennedy - I love Mexican food. I really think I was a Mexican in a past life. As an experiment I once ate Mexican food for nine days in a row, and my reaction on the ninth day was, "Refried beans again! Yum!" And I meant it. If I had to pick only one cuisine on which to live the rest of my life, I'd say "South of the border it is!" and be happy. And Diana's The Cuisines of Mexico could very well be the only Mexican cookbook I would ever need.
- Marion Flexner - I have a "thing" for good, ol' fashioned Southern and Midwestern 'merican cooking. Especially recipes from the first half of the 20th century full of everything that we now know is bad for you (but still tastes oh, so good!) I picked up Mrs. Flexner's Cocktail-Supper Cookbook used somewhere and love the period it evokes. For one, it's a cookbook for cocktail parties. Gee, when was the last time you were at one of those? For another, the recipes and menus are great. And for a third, Marion had a sense of humor and hospitality that shines through. And with that, I will close with one of her recipes for a cocktail, because it shows all of what I am talking about (and remember - this is supposed to be a "light" drink!)
Broom Sedge Cocktail (12 servings)
Once when my husband and I were in Williamsburg, Kentucky, visiting a fabulous native son, the late Judge H. H. Tye, (also author of a local column, Broom Sedge Philosophy), the "Jedge's" wife served this cocktail. The guests all raved about it, but not the host. He insisted it didn't have enough "critter" in it. But there are occasions when you want a before-supper cocktail without too much kick. I recommend this one named for a wise and witty gentleman of the old school.
4 cocktail glasses orange juice
2 cocktail glasses grenandine
6 cocktail glasses gin
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sugar to taste
Mix all ingredients and let mellow in the refrigerator until very cold. Chill the glasses and serving pitcher or cocktail shaker, stir or shake, and serve at once. If you are in a hurry you can chill this in a blender with 3 cubes of ice, crushed.
Who do you like talking to you in your kitchen? Are you into Rachel Ray and Jamie Oliver? Or do you have some classic "old timers" who still speak to you?
Friday, April 11, 2008
[The masses have spoken. Disregard this post.]
I have been experimenting with a new color scheme on my desktops both at home and at work and now am trying it out on this blog. If you're reading this through a feed you won't notice, but otherwise you're seeing Blogger's Minima Lefty Stretch template (my other blog uses Minima Stretch just to be different - the only difference between the two being whether the sidebar is on the left or the right) with the default background set to a pale yellow (#ffffcc for those of you who know what that means) and the main text set to green (#006600). I chose this combination not from chance but because there's a dated but still interesting study that shows that this color combination combined with a serif font like the one used in this template provides the best response time for recognizing words. I also find it gentler to read and can read online for much longer periods of time without eye strain. Weirdly enough, long before the study came out I used to use yellow legal pad tablets with green pens. Some of that just being because green is my favorite color, but some was because I found the color combination easy to read. I may or may not keep this scheme. Let me know what you think.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
[This is a follow up on my "I don't get Twitter" posts - the first two are here and here.]
Hugh MacLeod over at Gaping Void (who I used as an example in the second post of why some people may find Twitter useful) deleted his Twitter account, and here's why:
It's no big deal. I liked Twitter. But I found it too easy.
I think my time would be better spent drawing cartoons and writing books.
I am suspicious of just linking to stuff I agree with as proof of my point, but that makes sense to me. There are lots of things in life worth doing that can be corrupted if we take the "too easy" path. One cool thing I've noticed about blogging is that people get better at writing as they go...Well, those who have something to say, care about quality and post regularly (read as, "Have a blog worth reading"), anyway. I can see how Twitter would undermine that.
I started reading Hugh's blog because I like his cartoons. I stay because even though I am not that interested in marketing he writes well and I enjoy his take on things. I'm even intrigued about west Texas now, thanks to him. Go check out Gaping Void.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
I've been fighting weight gain for a while now. My employer makes way too much free food available, I'm the cook at home and therefore cook what I like to eat, and I've been lacking motivation to exercise since I don't backpack, snow shoe and climb any more. But today's ASBO Jesus hits me where it hurts and just might have given me what I need:
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The following is just a conglomeration of stuff that is all related in one way or another to what's been happening in my life since I posted about reading So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore. No real rhyme nor reason for posting them all together. No real reason for the title and format, either, except it made me smile. Only the old-timers reading this will get it (maybe).
When I told Les about my reaction to reading the book last week, I broke it to her gently because I didn't want to just run her over with my enthusiasm, since that would obviously come across as scary ("Honey - I just read this book in one day and it has changed my life!", he blurted with glassy, shining eyes... :o). But she's known about all of my struggles and questions with institutional church all along, so I don't think it came as a big surprise to her. Her very first reaction, though, was, "But I want the kids to stay in school!" Let me explain.
Our children go to a parochial school affiliated with the denomination Les grew up in. It is also the school Les and her sibs went to, and her mother before her. So there's a lot of family history there. The kids only just got to start attending this year, fulfilling a dream for Les. "Our" church (for obvious reasons I feel uncomfortable now applying a possessive pronoun to the word "church" when talking about institutional church) pays a large portion of the tuition for the kids, in exchange for regular attendance and tithing (the amounts involved mean that our tithe basically pays for the tuition - but paying your church is tax-deductible; parochial school tuition is not).
So immediately Les jumped from her husband thinking about not being a part of any institutional church to worrying about whether a specific institutional church would continue to subsidize the children's education. That is understandable, and I expected something of the sort. And I am not minimizing her worry about it - this is important to her, and I love her and respect her and support her and what she cares about.
Chris posted today about the book and how it affected him, but in the end decided he will continue to go to his church while trying to enact some of the lessons from the book within it and within his life. That's good. As I commented to him, "[O]ne of the points the book made is everyone is on different journeys and different points in their journey. So it's cool that you and I might have different reactions to the book. It isn't even whether you're 'ready' for it or not - God's plan for you is different than His plan for me."
Let me be clear right here - So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore had a huge impact on me. It caused a lot of festering problems I was having to be brought to light and showed me what I could do about them that was constructive, loving and most importantly centered on Jesus. But that doesn't necessarily mean I think it's a one-size-fits-all prescription for everyone. If you still want to be "in church", good for you! I have no problems with you if you don't have problems with institutional church. We can still talk about God and share friendship. If Jesus had wanted us to all wear uniforms there'd be design patterns in the Bible for them. Instead, we each get to be on a journey toward and with God that is our own. Hopefully we can remember to love and respect and listen to people whose path is different than ours.
Cindy then posted about what she thinks her church is going to need to survive. From what she's been blogging it appears she's been wrestling with what to say for a while now, and even whether to say it at all. I admire her courage for finally writing what's been on her mind to someone in her church (and hey, he asked! Like I always say, "Don't ask if you don't want to hear my answer!" :o). I wish I had that kind of courage - it might have either stopped or short-circuited some of my own struggles over the past year. I made a few attempts at doing something similar with a couple of different people in the church, but it never really went anywhere. My fault, I am sure. Anyway, Cindy wrote:
I think the church-centered christian life (as opposed to a Christ centered christian life) that american protestantism has created in the last few generations is what is killing the church in america. and the new generations see it for what it is- empty activity that does little besides sustain itself for more empty activity. not that nothing good happens in local churches; far from it. but the abiding culture of complacency we've allowed to take over so overshadows the true mission of God's people that we risk losing it all.
we need corporate worship, we need corporate teaching, we need fellowship. But, we also need to get the heck out of the church building and live lives that show we care about somebody in addition to the people we worship with. we must address this corporate addiction to church that we ourselves have created. call it a church intervention, maybe. and if we succeed, the withdrawals will be ugly, angry, and very messy. If we don't succeed, thousands of local churches just like ours will be gone in 20 years or less. I'm not even sure if that isn't what should happen.
I think that earns Cindy real points for honesty. Bravo! And as I look at the denomination with which I am still officially affiliated, I could say the same thing. They've lost ca. 400,000 members since the 1970s. That's about a 15% drop in membership during a time when the U.S. population grew by almost 50%. Something is wrong there, and it's not something that can be cured by yet another new program. "If we just get the right combination of CCM, PowerPoint and small groups, we'll stop hemorrhaging members!" seems to be the only way people within institutional church can think. My father-in-law is an elder in another church of the same denomination, and he has told me they are constantly looking for some new program to turn things around. I haven't tried to tell him that another course or set of small groups or committee or any other "gimmick" isn't going to solve the problem. Cindy's statement (which echoes Chris's thoughts) that, "we also need to get the heck out of the church building and live lives that show we care about somebody in addition to the people we worship with" just might, however.
And good luck with that. Remember, "Intrasystem goals come first."
In probably the biggest coincidence of all, "my" (awkward possessive pronoun) pastor emailed me yesterday right about the time I posted my long asynchroblog rant/screed/love-note. He had reached out to me some time before Easter saying he was slammed with the Eastertide season and all its duties but had noticed my absence and would be following up with me. Yesterday he did the following up part. He was very nice about it - no scolding, just a "worried about you and where you've been" message. I like the man a lot. It is certainly not his fault I am where I am at, even though there have been times when I have held him up as an example in my head of "what is wrong with the system". That's not fair to him, at all. He's never been anything but gracious and kind to me. Even now I have no reason to believe he'll change and suddenly be cruel to me, and would be severely disappointed if he did.
In my reply I gave various reasons about why I haven't been coming to church, then cut to the chase and talked a bit about the struggles I've been having. In the end I wrote, "But my problem is that every time I've thought about talking to you about it all I've thought it would end up in conflict, and I just so don't want to go there. I like you and respect you and appreciate the help you've given me, so I just have avoided church and you because of it."
It will be interesting to see what he replies. While I am not drawn to returning to institutional church as we know it, that doesn't mean I think the people within it are evil or mistaken - they are simply on their paths and I am on mine. I also think we each have things we can learn from the others, so it is to my detriment if I suddenly bar myself from talking with someone simply because they're still "part of the system". If we all stopped talking to each other, that will make it worse and even more, I believe it would be unbiblical in the extreme. So we'll see. If we have a talk, I'll let you know.
That's it. I have no grand over-arching observation to tidy it all up with here. It's been an interesting five days (yikes! only five?) since I finished the book, and it's certainly been an interesting 24 hours since yesterday's post (which generated the most comments of anything I've ever written). I am filled with amazement and joy with all the good discussion I've had here and on other blogs since then. Thanks to you all for listening and sharing. I appreciate it.
Monday, April 7, 2008
I don't like most poetry. I admit that to my shame. Billy Collins, sure (thanks to Garrison Keillor). And
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's William Morris's The Haystack in the Flood still moves me - one of the few things that did when I was in "Vicky Lit" (Victorian literature) class in college, something I took solely because of the prof who taught it (the same professor who reigned over the Freshman Honors English class Les and I first met in).
And I love haiku
The constraint liberates me
Freedom within chains
But today my apathist friend sent me a link to the following (and this was before I had posted). While the original post talks about it being a good poem for Good Friday, I think it's a good poem, period.
Another cross for Golgotha Hill?
How I hate making crosses;
Cruel, torturing things.
But you can't say "No" to Rome.
And the price they pay
And the time they give -
Can't do a craftsman's job.
Rough hewn timber,
Splinters, lumps of bark!
And just a couple of nails
And some binding
To fix the beam.
"Only needs to be strong enough to hold a man",
"And wood soft enough to take the nails".
Punishment or sacrifice, what do they care?
So long as they get their picking!
Aye, aye, aye
In these days, in this town -
Who'd be a
- Denis Carter, March 1985
[I don't want any of the following to come across as negative - it's a trait I am working on weaning myself away from. I am a cynical, sarcastic, jaded, negative person by nature, and I hate it. I don't want to get into pointless arguments any more because it just brings out the worst in me, which is why I've shut off comments a few times recently and will probably just ignore any negative comments I get from now on. Now I want to be something else. I want to be positive, loving, giving and carefree. I want to be in fellowship with people on a journey with Jesus. I want to be a friend. Care to come along? Good. Welcome. Warning: I am not sure the following makes any sense whatsoever. So if it doesn't, oh, well. Sorry about that! :o) ]
What a difference a week makes.
One week ago Glenn posted about running a synchroblog today on "revolutionaries" and I thought I would have something interesting to say about that. One week ago I was reading Pagan Christianity? and was planning my own synchroblog review of it along with Jeff because we were having a fascinating email conversation about our different takes on the book (at the time I liked it but he was having problems with it). Now I probably won't even finish it because I have no need to and the last time I tried to pick it up a few days ago I found it irritating and pointless. A little over a week ago I was briefly excited about something new coming to Jeff City and then within 24 hours despaired about it and realized it wasn't going to work for me (firm, committed, classical Arminian that I am - there's an aborted blog post I wrote shortly after that which I will probably never publish now on how I am a heretic).
And then everything changed.
Now? Anyone who cares may have noticed that right after reading So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore my blogging volume declined. That has been on purpose. I am sure it will return Real Soon Now, but really some of it has just evaporated because I am processing that book and what it means and one of the things I think it means is that too much navel-gazing over theology, whether you're "in church" or "out of it", "reactionary" or "revolutionary", "orthodox" or "emergent", is just plain bullshit. And I am one of the worst bullshitters of all time. I can intellectualize anything and substitute that for the real thing. There is a huge part of me that would rather read and write about something than do that thing. This time I would like that to be different. So I want to read and write and talk about Christ a lot less, and try to follow Him a lot more.
That said, it turns out I have a lot to say. :o)
I know now that I don't need a house church nor a small church nor a startup church nor any other kind of community that is arranged and organized by man. I don't need a new program, a 12-week study course or a committee. I do need friendship, fellowship and community, and the funny thing is how I've started recognizing how that happens and has been happening in my life all along, without any help from humans but a lot of help from God. Friendship. Real, honest friendship. That's all any of us need. And not "friendship to then get together to build this organizational thing in our own image", because that isn't friendship. That's substituting activity, busy-ness, for community. So what I am praying for now is to be open to friendship as people cross my path every day. Open at work. Open at home. Open when I am at the store. Open, open, open. I want to be paying attention when He places people in my path with whom I am to share part of our walk together with Christ, for Christ and about Christ. That's all.
For example, for the past few months I've had more real spiritual help while wrestling with all this from a friend who's a self-proclaimed "apathist" (he doesn't know or care whether God exists and if God exists believes that God doesn't necessarily know or care about him, either). This friend has said some things to me during my struggles that really have hit me as the Spirit talking, even though my friend would deny it (but hey, we can all be used for God's purposes, and I think the Spirit has a great sense of humor :o). At my lowest depths of wondering whether Christianity had anything in it for me (as opposed to Christ - I haven't lost sight of Him at all) this friend was giving me good insights, reminding me of things he had read about Christianity and following Jesus that were good and and that I needed to remember.
There I was in the midst of a deep spiritual crisis that no one outside of my blogsphere and closest friends knew about (certainly not "my" church), and my apathist friend was the one pointing me back to basic Christian fundamentals. Because he's my friend and not just someone trying to make sure I live my life the "right" way as he sees it. So as a friend he knows what I have stated is important to me (following Christ) and was trying to help me, not some image in his head about what he would have me do. And through that I've been moved closer to God. Huh. Similarly, when I try to help him I try and make sure to not throw God in his face. He knows what I believe, he accepts it when I say I'll pray for him, but he's not buying and that's fine. I can't force God on him and that's not my job, anyway. Friendship is my job, so I try and give him what he needs, not what I think he needs.
I am not a revolutionary. I am not trying to form something else to replace church. I don't want to come up with a program of my own. I don't want to help start one, either. I don't want to swap one man-made institution with another. I am not trying to reform "the Church". It doesn't want nor need my help. I wish the people in institutional Christianity well. They are trying to do what they think is good and right just like I am.
I am not trying to upset the tables in the temple...I am just not interested in the temple any more.
It hit me that by defining ourselves as "not in the institutional church", it still allows the institutional church to define us, only as its negative image (in a photographic sense). The interesting thing about So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore is that it makes precisely the same argument as Pagan Christianity?, except it makes it in a mild, friendly, loving way without a single Christian buzzword. Whereas I'd say probably 50% of the terms in Christian Buzzword Bingo have come straight out of my reading of Pagan Christianity? In railing against the church and all its pagan practices including that of the creation of a paid professional clergy class it uses the highly technical language of institutional Christianity and systematic theology to do it. Who, then, has co-opted whom? Pagan Christianity? wants us to see how the church has been taken over by pagan (especially ancient Greek) philosophy and practice but then uses the very language of "the church" (actually, of professional theologians) to do it. Hmmm...
We all have heard about how the new battleground in political messaging is "framing". Well, anyone who is trying to break free of institutional church and yet still uses the language of the institutional church to frame the discussion has already lost. By allowing institutional church to control the vocabulary we allow it to control our entire thought processes about God and Jesus. Yet Jesus Himself spoke very simply and told very simple stories. So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore tells a very simple story, too. It uses everyday language almost as a way to help us break out of the brainwashing. "Look, you can talk about Christ and His purpose in our life without code words!" And once you break free of the code words a lot of other edifices built with them come tumbling down, too. I find myself standing around now and wondering, "Just what in hell [word used exactly] is everybody talking about?" On the other hand, my Bible reading has become really enjoyable again. Someone should come out with a Bible translation entitled, Simple Language for Simple People. That would sum it up perfectly.
My favorite line in Dogma is when the angel Loki (Matt Damon) exclaims, "Jesus Christ! I just wanted go home!" The wonderful thing about that scene is he says it in a way culturally recognizable as using Jesus's name as a swear word. But it's meant as a prayer and I know Kevin Smith intended it to be seen that way. Sometimes I think we want to dress up for God when we're talking to Him, to put "church clothes" on even our very words, when what He wants is for us to be in relationship with Him. And that means during the bad times as well as good we should talk to Him honestly and tell Him how we feel. Sometimes I feel like swearing when I am hurting or need help. God knows me. He knows my heart. If I "dress up" my words when talking to Him then He knows I am not being myself - I am not being honest with Him. And it's impossible to have a real relationship when one of the people in it is being dishonest. That's what I think theology in general does - it gets in the way of us having a relationship with God by making our very language dishonest.
Jesus Christ! I just want to follow you!
Have I mentioned my depression has lifted? The situation causing it is still there even as I type this (and boy, has it been bad today) and I am still unhappy about it, but it doesn't preoccupy me now - it just sucks and that's that. Life's not all a bed of roses. But the suckitude isn't pulling me down with it. I am not weighted down by it any more. Instead I have taken some steps to fix it and am certain one way or another things will change and life will move on. I've dumped a bunch of it in God's lap and asked for help. But another huge and distracting part of dropping the burden was letting go all my thoughts and worries about institutional church and "what should I do about it?" that happened to come to a head at the same time. I don't have to worry about that any more. Now I just have to worry about how I can be who God wants me to be, and that very much includes being a friend to others.
So I can't take part in Glenn's synchroblog because I can't answer his questions. The questions don't even really make much sense to me now. I mean, I see how they make sense if one is trapped in the institutional church or conversely is trapped in thinking that we have to free ourselves from that, but both of those are still defining and framing the discussion in artificial, theological, non-relational terms. Hence the title of this blog post (which won't make any sense if you haven't seen The Matrix). But even that's wrong, because it still implies a tension between my beliefs against someone else's. There is no tension. There is only friendship.
I have been thinking a lot lately about a song we used to sing in the contemporary church service we used to go to.
I am free
I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free
The song's fun to sing, but I always thought it was ironic because we'd be singing about being free, complete with a PowerPoint picture on the screen of a girl running carefree through a field, while we all stood there as stoned as Lot's wife, or perhaps forcing little head bobs and staged hand movements in the way we WASPs do when we want to show we really are hip and with it and digging the music (an outside observer would have to wonder if they'd stumbled into some church for re-animated zombies). I daren't think what might have happened if someone had actually danced in the aisle. But my point here isn't to make fun of that - I enjoyed singing the song as much as the next zombie. My point is how liberating the lyrics actually are, how much they point to the Truth and how that Truth really can't be lived in a box of artificiality.
I am free
I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free
Hey, friend - wanna come along?