Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: John Burke, Soul Revolution

To really get to the heart of this book, I think you need to understand John Burke's target audience. As I understand it, this book is focusing on two groups of people:

1. People who have never known the healing, transforming, redeeming power of their Creator God, people living lives separate from the God who made them, people seeking hope and comfort and joy in everything but God, and who are becoming desperately aware of the fact that it just doesn't work. Entertainment, sex, booze and drugs, achievements in life, even family - none of those bring true, lasting fulfillment.

2. People who have been "Christians," or at least "church-goers" for some time, but have never been able to figure out how it all transcends Sunday morning. Those who enjoy the company they find at church, the friends, the inspiration from the music and speakers, but who have yet to truly experience the fullness of God's grace and mercy in every facet of their lives. They've gone to classes and tried to read their Bibles. . .but still, life somehow seems incomplete.

Burke writes that Jesus "insisted that God intends for you to live a life that fulfills your deepest desires and transforms you into a life-giving person." The problem, though, is that most people are living lives separated from the God who gives that life. "God wants to meet our deepest needs, but early in life we get wired to meet our needs without God." This is obviously true of those living lives apart from Christ, but often it is true of Christians as well. Most Christians were led into their first steps of faith, and then left with no real understanding of what it means to "abide in Christ." Thus, while they may be "in Christ," their day-to-day lives tend to operate more by the world's methods than God's.

Recognizing this problem, Burke decided to give his church a challenge - he called it the 60/60 Challenge. That challenge is the heart of this book.

In essence, the charge is to spend 60 days conforming every thought to God and his ways. To constantly keep God and his Word in mind, to stay in continual dialogue with God, seeking his will and his desire in each and every situation.

Since even the most devout would have trouble giving every moment over to God, especially in the first weeks of this experiment, Burke suggested that participants buy a watch or timer that beeps every 60 minutes. Thus, at least once an hour, those taking the challenge are reminded to stop whatever they are doing and once again seek the Lord. "Am I pleasing God in this discussion?" "Am I obedient in what my eyes are gazing upon right now?" "Am I behaving in a Godly manner in my relationships with my friends and family right now?" "Is this really how God desires that I treat the drivers around me as I commute to work?"

Over time, Burke postulates, as we slowly seek God on a regular, moment-by-moment basis, God will come to us in new ways, transforming us from the inside out, giving us grace and a deeper knowledge of his love for us, while at the same time using us more and more to be agents of grace and redemption to the world around us.

That is all, essentially, the first part of the book. The second part is an introduction to the basics of victorious Christian living. If you've been living faithfully in Christ for 30 years, if you have a deep, rich, vibrant prayer life, if you gladly serve and love all those around you, if you know God's hand at work deep in your soul, then this is all so much basic review. But for the rest, there is a lot of valuable information here.

Some of the areas Burke covers include
- Prayer (what it is and how to do it)
- How to walk in simple faith and trust as God directs
- How to have healthy relationships (read: conflict resolution)
- Accountability with others
- Spiritual Self-examination
- Overcoming addictions and destructive habits
- Basic spiritual disciplines (Burke calls it a "spiritual workout")
- Service of others
- Money

As he works his way through these various thoughts and ideas, Burke assumes the reader is doing the 60-60 experiment, and thus offers questions for thought and reflection as you go about your day, seeking to hear from, and serve, God.

One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it's grounded in real people's lives. Burke pastors a large church in the Austin area, and he fills the pages of this book with the stories of people he knows in his church and community. This is not simply theory, but scriptural truths proven by the experiences of people who have found true hope and healing, who have overcome addictions and negative thoughts, people who have found success as they have turned their broken lives over to the Lord who heals.

I appreciated the simplicity and honesty of this book. I also appreciated its breadth. He covers a lot of different areas, and gives many, many good ideas to the reader, probably too many to handle at once. But there is ample opportunity for anybody to find something helpful within the pages if Soul Revolution. I would have no trouble recommending this book to anybody who is tired and bored and fed up with trying to manufacture happiness through the world's standards, and who is ready to see if God can't clean up the mess of their lives.

On the other hand, that also ties into the one of the complaints I have for this book. In the end, it becomes awfully myopic, awfully singular, awfully individualistic. One could walk away from this book believing that God's main goal in life is to make me happy and content. That it's all about me. In fact, early on in the book, Burke writes, "[In John 10:10-11] Jesus explained that someone out there wants to destroy your life and rob you of joy - but that someone is not God. The whole reason Jesus came was to lead us into life in all its fullness. That's what motivated him to lay down his life for you - so that you would trust him and follow him into a more fulfilling, life-giving experience than you can ever imagine." I might argue against that a bit, especially when he says "The whole reason. . ." I can think of a few other reasons, such as universal redemption, the defeat of Satan and all the powers of darkness, the overthrow of evil dictators and the uplifting of those trodden down by diabolical systems, feeding of the hungry and freeing of the slaves, even to bring God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. While Jesus truly desires to bring life and freedom to his children, we must be careful that we don't stop there, believing his plan is complete once our own problems are taken care of.

My other complaint is a subtle yet persistent theme across the pages that says, essentially, when we turn our lives fully to Christ everything turns happy again. Depression goes away, financial problems disappear, marriages recover, addictions are defeated, diseases are healed. Of course, I believe all that to be true. The power of Christ overcomes all that is broken, it brings healing and redemption. I have seen people find joy, I have seen relationships restored in Christ, I have seen (metaphorically) the dead rise from their graves. If God wasn't able to do these things, he wouldn't be worth following. But the problem with this book is that it sends the message that all these good things will happen every time to everybody. Perhaps Burke doesn't exactly believe this, but I find no room in the book for those for whom the marriage still falls apart. Or those who don't receive healing for their depression. I know too many fine Christians who still struggle deeply with issues of depression and mental illness, who have cried out for healing and not found it - for whatever reason, God has chosen not to grant healing. But those stories don't exist in Soul Revolution. There doesn't seem to be any room for the idea that God might actually allow people to remain sick, or in financial trouble, that God may not save every marriage. And if you're one of those people, this book may simply cause more pain, guilt, and doubt.

However. . .with those caveats in mind, I still think this is a useful book. I still would recommend it to others. I even found myself challenged at various points throughout the book. If anything, it caused me to stop and consider what we're doing as a church to help people live faithful, daily lives in God's presence, and how we might better in that area. It was a worthwhile read.

If any of you read it, feel free to let me know and I'd love to discuss this book in greater depth with you.

A special thank you to Zondervan Books, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book

Coming next: A Faith and Culture Devotional, by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington

Affirmation of Faith for the Sunday After Christmas

The world is taking down its decorations,

untrimming the trees and undecking the halls.

Christmas-time is fast fading into memory,

we quickly turn our eyes and thoughts to the

coming year. Carols are no longer played,

bell-ringers are silent, the presents all lay

unwrapped, and festivities have come to an end.

And yet – and yet, as the people of God, we do

not forget. We keep our eyes on the Christmas

stable, we scan the skies for signs of another

Christmas star. We still sing in joy and laughter,

for we know that Christmas lives on, because

Christ lives on. What began in Bethlehem

has exploded across the universe, breaking the

bondage of sin and mending the brokenness

of our lives. We continue on in Christmas,

for the Lord Jesus continues to come

into our lives, every single day of the year.

We remain a people who rejoice at his coming;

we remain a people who await his return.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

About a month ago I told Karina, "It would be nice to have a few people over for my birthday this year. Just a few close friends with whom we can sit and have a quiet evening. No big party, nothing special. I'd just like to spend the day with some of the people who are important to me. But. . ." and I emphasized this clearly, "I will not have this turned into an 'over-the-hill' joke. If anybody comes in with "Over-the-hill" stuff, I'm walking out. Because I'm celebrating moving ahead in life, not desperately clinging to any youth that I have left. I only want to focus on the good stuff. So. . .no 'Over-the-hill,' and I mean it."

So, what is then the proper response when the entire church throws a surprise party during and after worship on Sunday, complete with lots of 'Over-the-hill' paraphernalia? When people go to the time and trouble to write (and perform) skits with 'Over-the-hill' themes? When you walk into the fellowship hall and see "Over-the-hill' banners and posters, and most of the gifts are gag gifts related to getting older, and you realize that everyone is wearing black? When the worship service itself is interrupted (twice) to push this thing forward?

And what do you do when it's the people you love and respect who are making all this happen?

You enjoy it, that's what you do. You enjoy the love and appreciation from people who, well, love and appreciate you. You enjoy the cake and the potluck and the folk musicians in the corner - you even grab your mandolin and sit in for a few.

And you consider yourself fortunate to be in such a good place, surrounded by some amazing people.

And in your heart you resolve to prove just how wrong they all are with that "over-the-hill" bit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Technology hates me

A year ago I put together a marvelous multi-media Christmas experience for use in our Christmas Eve service. While John Doan's ethereal, majestic "O Come, O Come" played over the sound system, the words of Isaiah 9 ever-so-slowly were to scroll across the screen, thus marrying the musical longing for deliverance to the text promising that deliverence in the form of a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And it was set to move methodically, with long pauses, allowing people to meditate deeply on these ancient words.

In an artistic flourish, I used some really cool fonts that, I thought, helped bring out the richness and power of the texts. And so I copied the powerpoint onto a thumb drive, ran it upstairs to our video tech, explained how it worked, and ran back down.

It didn't occur to me that none of those fancy fonts were supported by the computer upstairs.

And so, instead of the Word of God slowly appearing and dissolving on the screen, instead there appeared a series of boxes. And weird symbols. And hieroglyphics. Which really ruined the mood.

(You might remember this incident - it was at this moment that I calmly went to the microphone and began reading Isaiah 9, to try to bring some order back to the assembly. Only, as I read, my contact lens popped out into the darkened sanctuary, and I spent the rest of the night blind in one eye. Which, coincidentally, is how I spent this service, since my eye is still healing from surgery.)

This year I decided to try the same multi-media experience - after all, it never got its fair play last year - but I made sure it worked. Everything was in Times New Roman font. And the video tech and I ran through it together a couple times prior to the show, just to make sure it was working. And it was. Yeah.

And so we reached the spot in the program where the multi-media experience was to take place. The music began. The fist slide went up, the words scrolled beautifully across the screen. "Behold, those living in the shadow of darkness have seen a great light. . ." And then the screen went dark. Which it was supposed to, as a dramatic pause.

But it stayed dark, longer than I thought it was supposed to.

I glanced up into the balcony. . .to see our video tech and her husband frantically pressing buttons on the projector, pulling on cords, and generally fiddling with things.

And the music played beautifully on, the people sat in darkness, and the screen stayed blank. Until the VERY end, when suddenly "The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this" appeared.

Turns out that our projector had chosen that very moment in the service to overheat and turn off, and it took the upstairs people the length of the song to get it back on again.

Now. . .what are the odds of that? The projector NEVER overheats and turns off. I hardly EVER use powerpoint as part of our services. And yet 2 years in a row, on Christmas Eve, things have gone disastrously wrong right in the middle of the same portion of the service. Right when things are supposed to be contemplative and meditative and richly textured, when people are supposed to be drawn into the messianic prophecy from Isaiah - right at that point they are left confused, instead.

It is technology that hates me? Or is God trying to say something?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Studying near a fast food place? Watch Out!

A professor from Azusa Pacific just released a study showing that students who go to schools near fast food outlets are much more likely to be obese than students at other schools.

"They also found that students whose schools were located near-fast food restaurants eat fewer servings of vegetables and fruits, and drink far more soda than students at schools not located near fast-food restaurants."

One more thing to consider if you have a choice between schools.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Post-op follow-up #4

I had my fourth post-op appointment with Dr. Rotkis today. All continues to heal nicely. I'm down to only one eye-drop (the steroid) and dropping the other (the infection fighter).

In addition, he removed a couple of the stitches today. That was an experience. First, he applied the local anesthetic to the eyeball. Then he poked around with a tiny slicer thing. Then he went in with some little tweezers and began yanking. At least once I actually felt the little string pulling through the cornea. It only stung a bit, but the concept itself was sickening enough.

Ah, well. All is well and good on the road to recovery. Praise the Lord and thanks to good doctors.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Aargh! What just happened?

I just downloaded a free Christmas CD from an alternative Christian band. Unzipped the file into a new folder I created in my "my music" folder. Opened up Windows Media Player. . .and all my music files and playlists have disappeared. Not from the computer, just from the Media Player program - and now I can't get Media Player to recognize any of those files on the computer, so I can't play all my glorious Christmas Music on here. . .let alone all that other music.

What just happened? How do I fix it? Somebody Help Me!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


19 hearty souls braved the snow and ice in order to get to church this morning. Some even walked over the icy roads, duking it out with crazy drivers along the way. So we had a nice, intimate service, using the morning liturgy from Celtic Daily Prayer, reading the liturgy texts for the day, singing some Christmas carols and praying over the needs of the church.

Plus we drank a lot of hot coffee.

In the spirit of neighborly cheer we had the James' and the Robert's over for soup and bread and fellowship for the afternoon; while we enjoyed the good company inside, snow poured down outside, continuing to leave everything in a state of breathless wonder. The view outside our living room window would make everyone jealous.

It's been snowing all afternoon; another 6 inches is expected by the morning. A snow princess now stands to welcome all in front of our church.

All in all, a very good day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lakebay people are Hearty People, so the show will go on

In spite of the foot of snow outside, we're not canceling church tomorrow. Since it's a 5-minute walk for me, I really have no excuse not to be there. But. . .

I have given my official pastoral permission for anybody else to stay home, safe and warm. I don't want to encourage anybody to head out early in the morning, putting themselves in danger just to come keep me company. I have no doubt 5 or so others will come, and that we'll sing some carols and read some scriptures and worship God and drink a lot of coffee. But for those who have to drive far, or down (or up) steep hills - STAY HOME! Unless you have a Jeep. Then, as I can personally attest, it's actually kinda fun out there.

For those staying home, I encourage you to spend some personal or family time with the Lord - what a wonderful opportunity to 'cozy up with God,' having some truly quiet time in prayer and scripture.

If you need a suggestion, these are the lectionary texts for tomorrow:

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

Stay tuned for further word on our Christmas Eve Service. . .

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A brief word for the scoffers

It is common for non-northwesterners to scoff at us Puget Sound dwellers and the way we respond to snow. For much of the country (think Chicago, New York, Denver), life goes on after the snow; whereas here in Seattle (as it is in Portland), the slightest dusting of snow paralyzes the cities. Schools close, the government shuts down, buses stop running. Cars are abandoned on the freeways and side streets, trash isn't picked up, everyone stays home or wishes they had.

"Ha!" say those who live elsewhere. "A bunch of ninnies who can't handle a little snow!"

If you find yourself in that crowd, let me explain a couple things.

1. Hills. Steep hills. Seattle has a lot of them. And a lot of roads that go up and down them. Chicago, Denver, Calgary. . .all those snowy cities are flat. But Seattle has virtually no flat ground. If you're not going up, then you're going down. Flat snow compacts under your tires while you go merrily on your way. But on hills, it becomes like little ball bearings under your tires, causing you to lose control and slam into things. That's not bad driving, that's gravity.

2. Temperature. It never really gets that cold in Seattle. It always hovers around the freezing point. Which means things begin to melt, then freeze again. During the day all that snow warms up and turns to slush, and then at night it freezes as a solid sheen of ice. It's not the snow that's a problem, it's the ice underneath. And if you take all this ice and put it on the hills mentioned in #1, it creates real problems. You hit ice, you lose all hope of control. Again, that's not bad driving, that's gravity.

3. It's not a big enough problem to make it an issue. If you live in a place where it snows 6 months out of the year, you have chains or snow tires or studs. If you live in Seattle, where it snows one or two days a year (if you're lucky) you're just not going to put that much time and money into buying chains and snow tires and studs.

4. Californians. They're the ones who move up here and then have no clue how to drive in the snow. Seriously. Or the midwesterners who assume that they can handle snow because they used to drive in Nebraska in the snow, but who don't take into consideration #1 and 2.

So quit your scoffing. It's probably all so much jealousy, anyway, since you all wish you could live here.

And still it falls - the current view outside my office window

That's about 5 inches of snow, and still it falls. A few minutes ago somebody drove by on a snowmobile.

My commute this morning: a 5 minute walk through the silent, snow-shrouded woods, alone with the falling flakes and my thoughts. I love this place.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This year's list of Dan's Essential Christmas Albums

That's right, kids. I said "albums." Some of you might remember those things, from before the days you 'downloaded' all those songs off the 'interwebs.'

In no particular order. . .

1. Andrew Peterson: Behold the Lamb of God - The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ
- Especially good are "Matthew's Begats," "It Came to Pass," and "Labor of Love."
2. The Chieftains: The Bells of Dublin
- Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" is one of the highlights here.
3. Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Do they make Christmas albums better than this?
4. The Carpenters: Christmas Portrait
- Takes me back to gathering with the family at my aunt and uncle's house on Bainbridge Island, back in the day. And, of course, "Merry Christmas Darling" is an all-time favorite.
5. Diana Krall: Christmas Songs
- To add some jazz sophistication into the mix
6. John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
- 'cause, you know, it's got both John Denver AND the Muppets.
7. George Winston: December
- In my top three, I'm sure. This album got me through some cold, lonely days on the Canadian prairies.
8. Kenny Loggins: December
- This album grows more on me every year.
9. Harry Connick jr.: Harry for the Holidays
10. Michael W. Smith: It's a Wonderful Christmas
- Poke around this blog long enough and you'll notice I've talked about this album plenty of times. Simply put, it's a solid soundtrack to the holidays.
11. John Rutter (with the Cambridge Singers): The John Rutter Christmas Album
- Classical yet modern, simple yet elegent. A few Rutter songs have become some of my favorite carols, including "Candlelight Carol" and "Angel's Carol."
12. Mindy Smith: My Holiday
- To add a slightly country flavor into the mix
13. David Willcocks and the Kings College Choir: Noel: Christmas at King's College
- A Christmas Eve Necessity
14. Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas (vol. 1-5)
- I did a review on this last month. Go read that.
15. Thomas Moore: The Soul of Christmas - A Celtic Music Celebration
- I picked this up for a buck out of the used CD bin at Rhino Records. One of the best bucks I've ever spent. Ever. Highlights include "Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree," "In the Blead Midwinter," and "Christ Child's Lullaby."
16. St. Olaf Choir: A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway
- This one is slowly making it's way upward on my favorites list.
17. Steve Tyrell: This Time of the Year
- For the Christmas Party Soundtrack
18. Sara McLachlan: Wintersong
- I think I would describe this album as "Delicious" - like hot chocolate on a snowy day.
19. John Doan: Wrapped in White - Visions of Christmas Past
- In my top 2 Christmas albums all-time. Seeing him live last year only makes it more enjoyable. His take on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is beyond exquisite.
20. Brass Mosaic: A Brass Christmas
- What could sound more like Christmas than brass instruments playing ancient and favorite carols?

So how many of those do you own? What albums would you add?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Rip-off of Following Advent

Here's how it's supposed to go.

First comes the 4+ weeks of Advent, a time of slowing, of cleansing, of deep-thinking, a time to be still and quiet, a time to contemplate the deep mysteries of the Incarnation and the hope of the 2nd Coming. A time to cease and desist from extravagant activities, a time to look silently inward, seeking holiness in the midst of a darkening winter.

Then, beginning December 25, 12 solid days of Christmas. Almost two weeks of celebrating Christ's birth, of excitement and joy and raucous wonder that the Lord has come to us.

Get it? Advent - the time of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," then Christmas - the time of "Joy to the World."

But our culture does it backward. 4+ months of garish Christmas displays in the stores and Marts of the land, many weeks of garlands and trees and Bing Crosby and Liquor and laughter, an extended time of frivolity leading up to December 25, and then. . .

It's over in an instant. All except the "returning merchandise to the mall-a-thon." We wake up on December 26, look around at the decorations and say "Is that still up?" All the Christmas music disappears from the airwaves, the Christmas specials gone from the television. And should you appear to still be in a Christmas mood on, say, January 3, people will look at you funny. "Dude - it's already New Years!"

Which means those of us who choose to do it the right way tend to get ripped off. We come through Advent and wake up on Christmas, ready to begin the celebration, just when the world is saying "nope - had enough of that."

See, I'm trying hard this year to stay in Advent and not get to Christmas too soon. I'd prefer to not be mugged by all the mall displays, I'm seeking music that is reflective, I'm reading books and articles that make me think slowly and deeply. Yes, we're probably going to watch Elf tomorrow night, and I've got the Harry Connick jr. Christmas CD on, so it's not like a total fast. But, overall, I'm not allowing myself to jump into Christmas hyperdrive yet.

And yet, I know how it's going to be. I'm going to be all ready to jump into the Christmas season just when the rest of you will be taking down your trees and removing the boughs of holly from the halls. Those of us who follow Advent. . .well, we may just feel a little cheated that everybody else peeked into the present box before it was time.

So, just so you know, I'm still going to be celebrating Christmas for a couple weeks yet, right up to Epiphany, with perhaps a short break for my birthday in there. I may just wish you a Merry Christmas well into 2009. Because once Advent is over, I plan on being plumb full of Christmas cheer. I can feel it building up already, and it's going to take some time to work it all out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back on the Right Side

Way back when, I played in a lot of groups. Jazz bands, orchestras, bands, quintets, etc. More often than not, when I found myself at a concert, I wasn't in the audience. I was the one (or one of the ones) making the music, while everybody else sat and (hopefully) enjoyed. But I knew what side of the fence I was on - the participant side, not the audience side.

Then we left California, and I never really found another group in which to play. Aside from the occasional wedding, my musical talents were given to leading the church in worship. Whenever I found myself at a concert, I was on the other side of the fence, sitting in the audience.

Then we had a kid and moved to California. Still no groups in which to play, plus hardly any time to practice. You can't practice the trumpet when the baby is awake - they need your attention. But you can't practice when the baby is asleep, or they won't be asleep very long.

All these years later, and all these concerts, and always on the outside of the fence. Always in the audience. Always enjoying somebody else's talent. I'd almost forgotten what "that side" felt like.

Until last night. When, about 3 minutes before 7:00, I had the sudden rush of realization that I was back in the orchestra pit. That I wasn't sitting out front, looking into the orchestra - I was on the inside, looking out. When the string section took off I wasn't merely an on-looker, I was a participant. And it was. . .amazing. It felt like coming home again. I had forgotten the rush of being on task, of knowing there's an audience and if you screw up. . .but knowing you won't screw up, and they'll love it, and as the Haydn 101 rolls along you're part of the group making it happen. I felt alive in ways I hadn't for a long, long time. Mostly, it felt right. And I can't wait for the next time around.

And, please don't take this the wrong way, because it's not meant to be boastful, but I'd forgotten how good I actually was at this. That this is what I studied in college, that this was what I'd spent countless hours practicing for - to nail that high G-sharp in the third movement of the 101. To sit snugly below the lead, pulling that harmony in just right. That this isn't just something I kinda sorta know how to do, but it's maybe one of the things I do best. And that's a pretty breathless thought, to rediscover something so powerful and excellent within you.

But don't worry - I'm not quitting my day job to tour with Tower of Power. If I had to guess, all this is only going to strengthen the ministry to which I'm called. For whatever reason, God has seen fit to reopen this door, and I'll gladly walk through to see what he's got in mind.

Friday, December 12, 2008

George W Bush and the Bible

By now, it's all over the news that Pres. Bush admitted he doesn't believe the Bible is "literally true." And that he thinks most religions pray to the same God.

And this nugget, regarding the Christian Scriptures: "but I do think that the New Testament for example is … has got … You know, the important lesson is ‘God sent a son.'"

Seriously. . .one of the most powerful men in the world, the leader of the Free world, the man with his fingers on the nuke buttons, the man making policy decisions that literally affect millions of people. . .and this is the depth of his thinking? He doesn't even have the capacity to sort through the various theories regarding the origins of life?

"I think evolution can — you’re getting me way out of my lane here. I’m just a simple president. But it’s, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don’t think it’s incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."

I honestly believe most of the students who graduated last year's confirmation class could come up with something better than that. I don't mean to be offensive here, but is this the best he can do? The Pope can publish encyclicals regarding faith and science, and our president says "I'm way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president."

So the question - is he really this slow? Or is he still trying to play the politician, pandering to Christians and non-Christians alike? Is he really a simple president? Or does he just play one on television?

Granted, we don't expect our presidents to be theologians. But we do expect them to be (and sound) intelligent - right? But look at it this way: one of the largest bases of support for the Republican Party has been the Christians in America, and, more specifically, Evangelical Christians. And yet when asked about one of the most basic, fundamental doctrines in Christianity, the President replied with "the New Testament for example is … has got … You know, the important lesson is ‘God sent a son.'" Hooray. At least he paid attention to all those Christmas cards we sent him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

For your holiday listening pleasure

Folk Alley has their holiday music stream going now.

You can listen to it online here.

On the left column, scroll over "music" and then click on "listen." You'll see the link to the holiday stream pop up over there in the middle.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Book Review: Atonement for a Sinless Society

First, let me get this out of the way. This is a heavy book. It is a deep book. It's a book that makes you think. It's not easy Saturday afternoon reading. It's the kind of book that makes your head hurt. It begins like a freight train exploding out of a tunnel, and never lets up. So reader, beware. This one takes time.

On the other hand, it's a very important and necessary book, adding a much-needed voice into the 21st Century atonement discussion. It stands up there with Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement and Joel Green and Mark Baker's Recovering the Scandal of the Cross in calling the church to rethink the message of the cross of Christ in a multicultural, multilingual, postmodern, postChristian society.

Mann begins by making this somewhat startling claim: sin is dead. Or, to put it another way, we live in a 'sinless' society. But before you instantly write him off as a heretic, understand his reasoning.

"Sin has been caricatured, a tool for advertisers to suggest that a product is good and pleasurable. Far from being something to be avoided, sin is now part and parcel of the human desire that drives consumerist mentalities."

There is something deeper here, however, than simply a consumer-driven mindset. In actuality, sin is first and foremost a relational concept; sin is something we do against another, be it another person, or God. And both of those categories - the other, God - have all but disappeared from our thinking. Whether or not there is a God, belief in God has been waning for some time now; in addition, even many who would claim belief in God certainly live their lives as if God didn't exist. But even more, the postmodern self is an isolated self. In a world of I-pods and My-space, in a world lacking in deep relationship and community and familial relationships, in a world in which human beings have been reduced to consumers of products, people have lost any sense of "others." And, thus, "We live in a 'sinless' society because without the 'Other' there are no subjects to have wronged."

Even worse, where any concept of 'sin' exists it does so within the context of being 'sinned against,' rather than being a sinner. In other words, the 20th Century Therapeutic culture has successfully convinced people that "it's not your fault." We're all victims, be it of our parents, the institutions around us, or strangers in our world. ". . .the only obligation the client has is to his or her own self-realization, something deemed achievable without the 'Other', who is more likely to be perceived as the cause of traumas rather than the answer to them."

Now, astute readers may argue that Mann is discussing perception here more than reality, but that's exactly the point. Mann is not so concerned with the ontological nature of sin as he is the missional question of how we share the gospel of Christ. And for hundreds of years, that message has gone something like this:

1. You're sinner
2. You're guilty before God
3. The penalty of that guilt is death
4. Christ died in your place

However. . .when we attempt to tell this story today, people stop tracking right there at point 1. Since the people of this culture live in a 'sinless' society, any message beginning with concepts of sin and guilt will fall on deaf ears. Back in the day of big revivals and Four Spiritual Laws, people got this - they understood it. I've sinned. I've hurt others. I've hurt God and broken his laws. But today, people are more apt to protest "Wait! I'm the victim here!" And thus they never will stick around long enough to hear the message of the Gospel.

At the heart of Mann's work, though, is the understanding that, even as concepts of "sin" and "guilt" have passed away from our consciousness, people are no happier, nor fulfilled, than before. In fact, the utter isolation and separation that marks the lives of many people is just as miserable and painful as were earlier feelings of guilt and sin.

The new story goes something like this:

the post-industrialized self is able to push away the sins of moral misdemeanor. . .the intensity of emphasis placed upon the self has generated a chronic, internalized dis-ease, typically labeled 'shame'. . .shame has so consumed some, however, that they have taken on the identity of a shamed person and can only relate to themselves and to others as such."

In this new world, individuals still seek intimacy with other humans, but no longer out of a desire to know another; instead, "the self is primarily looking to satisfy its own need." There is a deep hunger for self-realization, and a latent understanding that relating to others is a necessary step to that self-realization. However, in the end, it's always about project "I." And, "once the 'Other' discovers that the agenda in relating is always 'I,' the person becomes disillusioned, cynical about relationships and the real reasons for social interaction."

And where this all leads:

"Thus a vicious cycle ensues: we long for intimacy, to have a deep sense of connectedness with ourselves and with 'Others.' However, the project of self-realization ultimately pushes the 'Other' away. Alone, the project of self-realization collapses in on itself, laying the seedbed for chronic shame to grow. . .With such fears the chronically shamed person hides behind masks, never truly connecting with others, never satisfying his or her need for intimate, mutual, undistorted relating - and so always falling short of what it means to be a human being, created in the image of the relational, Trinitarian God revealed in the Bible."

In other words: our society is awash in deep-seated feelings of shame, desiring above all else to share in mutual relationships, and yet knowing that, should they open up to the 'Other,' they will be rejected for being less-than perfect, less-than acceptable. For being a Loser, for being Lame, for being Stupid. Think of it this way: the images young people portray are all the images of who they want to be - cool, hip, sophisticated, partiers, fun, sexy - and so they present themselves on their facebook pages, their myspace profiles. Yet behind those stories lie their real selves, desperately seeking affection and unconditional love and acceptance; in fact, they desire Eden, where Adam and Eve were "naked yet had no shame." But there is no getting there, because of this reality: to be exposed is to be shamed, for none will truly love them and accept them as they need.

Shame, then, becomes the over-arching story for all postmoderns. "What becomes obvious is that she fears being exposed. . .for who she really is - a chronically shamed person, a self trying to live an unexposed life, fearful that others will 'notice' her and see the true self rather than the ideal. The self has a sense that it is defective and has a basic flaw that ensures its unacceptability and rejection by those whom it loves."

The ultimate result of all of this is a serious distortion in any and every relationship - their relationships with others, their relationship with God, and even their relationship with themselves.

It is at this very point that we can begin to discuss atonement. What people seek most of all is mutual, accepting relationship - someone who will love and accept them as they really are. And, at its most basic level, this is the story of Jesus and the cross.

Mann spends significant time expounding on the narrative surrounding the cross, bringing it to bear on our own narrative. Our experience is this: often, people will say they are "for" us; and yet, just when we need them most, they turn from us. This rejection feeds right into our psyche of shame. Jesus, on the other hand, said he was "for" us and then proved it. His "real" self lived out the "ideal" self which he presented to the world. In more common parlance, his "talk" was proven by his "walk." Not only did he say "greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends"; he went out and actually did it - he gave up his life for his friends, rather than run away in self-protection.

Mann makes much of this issue of "ontological coherence" - the idea of being complete and true and coherent, even at our deepest levels. As humans, we lack this kind of coherence. Our "ideal" self is never matched by our "real" self. And this is the heart of our shame, why we never reveal our "real" self." Jesus, on the other hand, was completely true to himself. And the cross was the proof of that. He certainly made a lot of promises; had he turned and walked away from the cross, he would have proven that his "true" self was just like ours - a sad shadow of the "ideal." Instead, when faced with the option of allowing himself to be killed, or running away and saving himself, Jesus chose the former, and thus proved that his word can be trusted. His love and acceptance can be trusted. And here we begin to overcome the power of shame.

In fact, it is on the other side of that cross, at the resurrection, that the possibility of new, undistorted life begins. Having proved that his love conquered even death itself, Jesus invited all to enter into this new life he had begun.

"Rather paradoxically, Jesus' pursuit of death in actuality becomes the pursuit of life. The postmodern fears that, in living for the 'Other,' we die to ourselves. At the cross, Jesus subverts this rationale. Living for the 'Other' (even unto death) leads us from a place of isolation, alienation and meaningless insufficiency as a human being to a coherent ontology and to a place of mutual, undistorted, unpolluted relating - to a life that conquers emotional, spiritual and (almost inexplicably) physical death."

Now, I've almost completely ignored one of the major tenets of Mann's work, which is that, to the postmodern, fact is nothing and narrative is everything. One can confront postmoderns with the Fact of sin and guilt, or with the Fact of shame and fear, but it will continue to slide off. Postmodern people define their reality (much as premoderns did) via story and narrative. Thus, the counter to the narrative of shame is not the Fact of the cross, but the Story of Christ, living a life of love and truth, sharing meals with the outcast and the shamed, dying himself as the most shamed and yet returning with continued love and acceptance.

As an example of this at work, Mann counterposes the stories of Jesus and Judas at the last supper, and in so doing presents Judas in a new and, I believe, refreshing light.

For too long, Judas has been caricaturized as the conniving, greedy, satan-filled villain of the story. The truth is, the scriptures leave plenty of room to discuss the final motives for his actions. Perhaps he was simply greedy, or making a play for power. On the other hand, does he not fit this description, penned by Stephen Pattison and quoted by Mann?

Some shamed people lack a sense of personal worth and value. This means that they may act compliantly and in such a way as to attract approval from outside themselves rather than being concerned to do the right thing or what is best for others. The need to be acceptable may also cause shamed people to lie or be dishonest.

Mann recognizes that we may never fully know what Judas was up to. But that's not the issue. The fact is, Judas easily becomes the recognizable figure to the post-modern self, seeking value and worth in the absence of true relationship. "The post-industrialized self reads the story of Judas and recognizes someone traumatized by the dis-ease of chronic shame."

Point of fact: while the reader often focuses solely on Judas the betrayer, it is usually missed that the other disciples are all betraying Jesus, and each other, at the same time. Each is left to ask "Is it I who will betray you?" To add to the pain, note that nobody followed Judas out of the room as he left to make his final bargain. "Surely the disciples could feel the distress that must have come over Jesus as he watched one of his closest friends depart. Still, for whatever reason, there was no attempt to stop him, no one willing to inquire after his welfare. He was left to his own devices, to disappear from their lives into the darkness." To top it all off, in Luke's telling of the story, "even as the door closes behind Judas, an argument breaks out as to who is the closest to Jesus, the most loyal friend, the truest companion and therefore the most important in the kingdom." All are self-serving, all seeking after their own gain.

When told this way, the postmodern reader will quickly identify. This hodgepodge group, all self-serving and self-seeking, all presenting their ideal self - "I will never betray you, Jesus" - while at the same time living the reality of their true self - focused only on their own gain.

And Judas plays one final role - he displays for us the ultimate response to complete personal breakdown. The pain of the fracture between ideal and reality becomes too strong, and Judas kills himself. He can no longer endure the isolation, the loneliness, the incoherence, and death - non-identity - becomes preferable to carrying on.

Jesus, however, plays the counter-story, the story that gives us hope.

To frame Jesus once more with the narrative of Judas: both Judas and Jesus die on trees away from human relating. Though both, it may be suggested, are 'offerings', only one is efficacious. Judas does not restore his own relationships, or those of anyone else, through his death because he dies in the absence of mutual, unpolluted relating. His death represents his life, and the life of all who suffer the same absence - and that includes the postmodern self. . .Jesus' death, however, takes on this non-relatedness, this non-being, by making way for the possibility of a restoration of relationship - resurrection, even. . .

The cross. . .is not a place of judgment for the inadequacies and insufficiencies of human relating. Indeed, it is a place of acceptance, of embracing the human condition. Atonement is the presence of the 'Other' without condemnation.

So, then, what do we do? As the postmodern self is define by narrative, and that a painful, broken narrative, the answer is to tell a new (old) narrative - the narrative of Jesus, who died as he lived - seeking open, honest, mutual intimacy with those around him, and who destroyed even the final barrier, death itself, thus opening up the door for the rest of us to live lives of mutual, undistorted relationships.

Mann sketches out one primary method of telling that story - the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist. Mann suggests we recast the liturgy of the Lord's Supper, so often told as a story of guilt, wrath, and forgiveness. Instead, the same story can be told as a story of broken lives posturing for self-gratitude while at the same time full of shame and loathing, and the one at the center who sees beyond all that and loves and accepts anyway. This story, re-enacted and lived whenever the church gathers around the table, tells the atoning work of Christ in ways that will sink in and reach a culture that knows its shame but knows nothing of guilt.

There is so much more here, so many other directions this book moves, so many powerful nuggets, but this review is too long already. Congratulations if you're still here. Obviously, I was impressed with the book, and am still wrestling with many of its questions and implications. I need to set it down for a bit and let my brain stew on it, before cracking it once again and seeking how to apply it in my life. As I said earlier, it's a heavy book, but a book for which I am very grateful. It's truly one of the most important books on the atonement that I've read in a couple years. I only hope this review has done it justice.


Next Up: Soul Revolution, by John Burke

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sorry for the silence

It's not Advent reflection or anything. It was just a long weekend, and now most of the family, including myself, are sick with head colds.

Friday, December 05, 2008

More Holiday Fun at the Capitol

Washington's 2008 holiday display, which we discussed a few days ago, is turning into a circus.

Last night, somebody stole the sign erected by the Freedom from Religion folks, a sign which declared that all religion is "myth and superstition." This morning, that sign showed up at a local country-music radio station. Whether this was simply a prank or a political statement remains to be seen.

In the meantime, a number of different Christians have chosen to go public with their sense of being offended about the atheist sign. On Sunday a group is holding a "pro-faith" rally at the capitol, and Ken Hutcherson is trying to put up a new sign, declaring that "atheism is a myth and superstition. . ."

Somehow, the whole thing feels to me like two rival high schools in the days leading up to their football game. Whoever stole the sign is an idiot, for sure, but all the posturing and taking offense and everything else (you knew Bill O'Reilly and Fox news got into the act, too, right?) is just so much wasted noise.

After all, proof that Messiah had come (which is what Christmas is all about, anyway) is not in signs and sound bites. Proof of Messiah is when Christians love their enemies and work for peace, when the poor are fed and the lonely are loved and the sick are cared for and the lame are walking and the blind seeing and God's people are worshiping together. Perhaps if we spent less time being offended and more time doing the work of Messiah, we wouldn't need signs and rallies.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Local Legend Passes On

There's a market about 5 miles north of here, an independent grocery store where the locals shop and go to meet their neighbors. It's called Peninsula Market, but all the old-timers call it "Walt's" I kept looking for a sign there that said "Walt's," but could never seem to locate it. Then they told me, "Walt's the guy who used to own it, before he sold it 5 years ago." Walt was famous out here - famous for his work in the community, at the market, famous for his generosity and caring spirit for all who came into his life's sphere. Just the other day one of the locals told me, " as a kid, getting a job at Walt's was the best job you could get. To get a job there was a great thing." So even though it hasn't been "Walt's" for 1/2 a decade, to most, it's still "Walt's."

I never got to meet Walt. He moved into an Alzheimer's unit 5 years ago or so, and many assumed he had passed away shortly after that. In actuality, Walt was drifting slowly from this life to the next. He died last Wednesday, on the eve of Thanksgiving. I was called on Saturday, asking if I would do the memorial service, as he (and his family) wasn't really associated with any particular church.

So here at the end I get to meet, and say goodbye to, a legend in the community. In one sense, I enjoy these funerals, because I get to meet so many old-timers, who know the hidden stories of the Key Peninsula community, who remember "way back when," and for a moment I get to feel like I'm a part of it. Mostly, I consider it an honor to stand up and speak for one who was so well-known and well-loved out here. Walt was a good man. Would that there were more of him in our world.

The service is Saturday, 12/6, at 2:00 p.m., at Haven of Rest in Gig Harbor, off Highway 16, overlooking the Harbor, the Tacoma Narrows, and, if the weather cooperates, Mt. Rainier.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The price we pay for art

Last night I attended my third rehearsal with the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra. And while we were all inside the Peninsula High School band room enjoying Haydn and Mozart and Gypsy Violin, while we were enjoying the wondrous gift of making beautiful music come alive. . .

Somebody broke into my Jeep out in the parking lot and stole the CD player.

Which, if you're keeping count, is the 4th CD player to be stolen out of the Jeep.

If you've been with me long enough, you may remember the trials and travails of Jeep ownership in Turlock, where I had the first three pilfered. In fact, you may remember those 6 months we lived in the apartment, where no less than 14 times I walked out in the morning to discover somebody had been rifling through the Jeep in the middle of the night. Eventually I stopped leaving anything in there of any value, so any would-be thieves simply wasted their time poking around in there. But still I'd come out to find the glove compartment open, the center console askew, the side door open. Then we moved to our house, and nary a trouble until the month before we moved to Washington, when, one last time, they broke in and stole the stereo.

Since moving up here, I had stopped thinking about it. Yes, if I was in downtown Seattle or Tacoma I'd remove the faceplate, but out here where we live? In Gig Harbor? I never even considered it. So last night, when I arrived at rehearsal, it didn't even pop into my mind to remove the faceplate and take it with me.

Now all that's left are the familiar bundle of wires and broken plastic, the calls to make to the police and insurance. . .and some of those old feelings resurfacing.

I'll admit. I prayed that God would break the legs of whoever did this. But only in such a way as to convince them of their wrong and bring them to repentence.

Merry Christmas and Bah Humbug.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Advent Song I want to sing someday

Seriously. . .one of my all-time favorites.

And this is another one.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Or, One of These Things is Not Like the Other)

In the name of inclusiveness and free speech, the Washington State Capitol has three displays up for the holiday season - all paid for and set up by non-government people or groups.

The first is the expected: the Nativity Scene. The second is becoming more visible in our culture: a menorah.

The third is the one raising both cheers and consternation from the locals: a sign set up by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Now, understand this. The folks at the FFR have as much right to voice their opinion in public as anybody else. The state can't choose favorites, allowing one group to set up shop while leaving the other out in the cold. Personally, while I disagree with the folks at the FFR over foundational worldview issues, and while I won't hesitate to say that I believe their atheism is wrong (since, as you know, I'm pretty certain there is a God), I believe that in America the FFR has the right to publicly declare their belief that they do not, in fact, believe there is a God. So count me among those who don't really care that the FFR set up their sign.

Except for this - This is the content of the sign:

Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Which is not the same as simply stating "Hey! We don't believe in God!" See, they've gone beyond "I" language and turned instead to judgmental language - the very same thing they claim they're tired of religious people doing to them. The other two displays are artistic symbols and representations of deeply-held religious sentiments. Both are positive: there is Life here! There is Hope here!

Whereas the FFR folks have essentially set up a combative, over-and-against signpost, a denigrating, insulting, "we're better than everybody else," snide, pompous sign. A sign that essentially tells 95% of the world that they are feeble-minded sheep, mindlessly following empty books and boorish leaders.

So, I ask you. In the end, which is actually more offensive? The Christian and Jewish displays, or the "we're offended by you all" display from the FFR people? Which better fits the theme of "human love and goodwill toward all?" Which of these three is not like the others?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An incomplete itemized list of things for which I am thankful

- I have two beautiful, healthy, sweet, exuberant daughters
- My parents raised me well
- I have the best job in the world. (subset: I suspect I work for the best church in the world)
- My eye surgery went well, and I'm well on the road to recovery
- The people around me appreciate me
- There is food in the pantry (and the fridge and the freezer, and in my stomach, as well)
- There's a car in the driveway (with gas in it)
- I'm surrounded by beauty - quiet bays, soaring mountains, whispering oaks, bald eagles, sea otters, sparrows, deer, ferrets
- My newly-acquired position in the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, which is re-awakening a long-dormant passion for symphonic trumpet playing
- My ongoing position in the Lakebay Community Church worship team, which gives space for my idiotic passion for the mandolin
- I get paid to hang out with God, study his Word, pray, and think deeply
- I also get paid to hang out with a lot of really cool people
- I get to watch God (and God's people) work in the lives of others
- I've been through hard times, and I can confess today that God has turned those trials into gold.
- all my blog friends, twitter friends, and facebook friends who stay in touch as the days go by
- I get to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my brother and his family, my sister, and Karina and our two kids
- The Roberts' just gave us some fresh-pressed apple cider
- This Sunday we get to begin singing Advent music
- When I stopped at Steamers the other day, the muzak was Bing Crosby Christmas music
- The testimony of faithfulness I see in the lives of the people around me, some of whom are suffering greatly these days. You who deal with pain and yet get up every morning and do the things needing to be done - you inspire me.
- In a conversation today I was reminded to be thankful for the last church, who paid my way through seminary so I'm not saddled with a ton of debt.
- The way Clara says "Hey Dad - I love you!" at random moments.
- The way I can see Olivia trying really hard to please her mother and I
- A godly family heritage stretching back many generations - even to the Mayflower and before.
- Friends who disagree and thus stretch me to think harder and deeper about important life issues.
- A warm, dry bed on cold, rainy nights
- Fresh drinking water (did you know millions of people around the world don't have access to fresh water for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.? Go watch that video below)
- Firewood that needs chopping
- The way God loves me.

A good reminder before the weekend

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How did that hapoen?

I filled up the car today at the Arco in Gig Harbor. Gas was $1.799. We weren't completely empty, but still filled up for less than $20.

Never thought I'd see that again.

It's almost like getting an end-of-year raise, or an early Christmas bonus.

Friday, November 21, 2008

But to end the week on a happier note

Shad dropped off a CD the other day. And introduced me to Alli Rogers. And I am very grateful. Except that now I have another Christmas CD I need to buy.

Go check her out - you can hear a lot of the music just by going to her website. I think you'll like it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Hate AOL

I used to be a loyal AOL customer. Had an AOL address. Used AOL as my homepage. But I gradually grew tired of them.

I know, it's trendy to hate on AOL, but that's not the reason I disliked them. What did it for me was the celebrity-rag AOL front page. Every time I went online, Britney Spears was staring at me. Or Justin Timberlake. Or Cameron Diaz. AOL's front page was attempting to be a "news and information" portal, but it seemed the only news they thought I wanted was entertainment news. I emailed customer service, asking them if I could set my preferences to "literature" or "science" or "anything not related to pop culture," but nope. I was stuck with what I got.

So I took advantage of free internet access through my place of employment, switched to gmail, cancelled AOL, and never looked back.

Except that I kept Instant Messenger. Enough of the youth group kids did AIM that it seemed worth keeping, especially since it was free and relatively unobtrusive.

I still have AIM on my computer, and every once in awhile I'll see a former youth group member on there and we'll chat for a moment or two. But other than that, AOL is out of my life.

This morning, I got a "you need to upgrade AIM" message. And dutifully I clicked the "upgrade" button. I de-clicked all the options, like "make AOL your home page, your default search engine, the beneficiary on your life insurance, etc." Just trying to upgrade AIM, that's all I needed.

Once it was loaded, it restarted my Firefox browser. And guess what?

They've taken over. The first thing I see is this monstrous, black-trimmed AIM box taking up the right 1/4th of my screen. But even worse, my browser went right to the AOL homepage, where I was confronted with - guess who? - Britney Spears. and Paris Hilton. and "The Hills cast pics." and "Did your fav hottie get snubbed?" It's like opening up my latest edition of Harpers to discover it's been taken over by Entertainment Weekly. And to top it all of, there, crowding the top of my browser, is the AOL task bar that I had chosen NOT to install.

It's like the antichrist has invaded my computer.

With a little work I got AIM to close, and I removed the task bar. But I turned off the computer, rebooted, reopened firefox, and once again, the AIM Dashboard (read: AOL homepage) popped back up.

Seriously, this is why people grew to hate AOL in the first place - they don't respect the boundaries of their customers. No wonder they're going under. I just hope I can purge this computer of their insidious presence. Anybody know of a liturgy for computer exorcisms out there I can use?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A new endeavor in my life

Last summer I met a cello player. We had gathered with some mutual friends for a Creative Music Night. Everybody brought a song to sing or play or share, simply to experience the joy of communal music-making. While there was a lot of good music shared, it turned out that Grant, the cello player, and I were the two classically-trained musicians in the group. Which gave us some sort of connection.

Grant told me he played in a local orchestra, and that they were looking for more brass players, and he encouraged me to audition. Which got me thinking about 'way back when,' when I was involved in a few orchestras and brass ensembles. And got me thinking how much I missed those days.

Now I run into Grant almost every Tuesday when he brings his kids to a dance class here at the church. And he's been bugging me to join the orchestra. So shortly before the eye surgery, I began to practice a lot more regularly. Then, the week after surgery, I began to practice again, trying to get my chops back in shape. The first few days were hairy, but it's all been coming back.

Last night I auditioned for the open trumpet position with the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra.

The audition lasted all of 10 minutes. Play a major scale, a minor scale, an excerpt from a technical piece, an excerpt from a melodic piece, and some brief sightreading.

Then the director took me out into the hall.

"Welcome to the orchestra! Let me introduce you around!"

Not that I was overly nervous, but it had been awhile since I'd auditioned for anything, and it's been over a decade since I've done any serious orchestral playing. So I wasn't exactly certain I'd make it.

But I am now the official 2nd-chair trumpet player of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra.

Following the audition I sat through my first rehearsal with the group. It was exciting, fun, a little weird to be back in the saddle after so many years off. But after about 10 minutes, it simply felt natural again. And the people were friendly and welcoming. It was a blessing to look across the room and see Grant over there, just so it didn't feel like a room full of strangers. But I had four or five go out of their way to say "hi" and welcome me in. So I'm looking forward to becoming a regular part of the group.

Our next concert is Friday, December 12, if anybody's interested. We're doing the Haydn 101 (the Clock), Three German Dances by Mozart, and a couple other pieces. Come if you like music, or come if you like me. Either way, should be a good time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time for Christmas Music

Christmas is a big deal to me. Probably my favorite time of year. And Christmas music is a big part of that. Every year I buy a Christmas album or two, and quite often those albums go a long way in defining that particular Christmas.

Sometimes I'm disappointed. I've purchased my share of Christmas albums that haven't made it into my extended playlist. Picked up some that just didn't cut it. There are those that, try as I might, I just couldn't bring myself to like. Carolyn Arends' Christmas: An Irrational Season comes to mind (made all the more disappointing because I love the album title so much). As does Kathy Mattea's Joy for Christmas Day. Last year's great disappointment was Selah's Rose of Bethlehem, although to their credit, I think I kept three songs from this CD in my music collection before donating it to the church library.

But more often than not, I've found myself delighted, especially at the unexpected finds. Last year's gems were Michael W. Smith's It's a Wonderful Christmas, and Mindy Smith's My Holiday. Over the last couple years I've also picked up Diana Krall's Christmas Songs, John Doan's Wrapped in White, and the John Rutter Christmas Album. And a lot more. But we'll probably get to that later, with some kind of top-ten list in another week or two.

The point here is that I found this year's Christmas album last week. I hadn't even gone shopping for it; I just happened to be in Borders, and it just happened to catch my eye. I actually bought it more for Karina than me, since she's a fan, but I've already grown to love it.

It's Songs for Christmas, by Sufjan Stevens.

Songs for Christmas is a veritable wonderland of Christmas music. Not just one CD, but five make up this box set of Sufjan's take on Christmas. Plus a lot of bonus materials: a singalong book complete with chord charts, a poster of Sufjan, a few Christmas stories and even a Christmas cartoon are all included. It's like getting a box from grandma with a whole bunch of presents inside. You certainly feel you got your money's worth.

As to the music itself: The set is the culmination of five years' worth of recordings. Every year from 2001 to 2006 Sufjan recorded a Christmas EP for his family and friends. This set pulls those five recordings together into one package, made available for the general public.

If you know Sufjan's work, then you generally know what to expect from this collection. Deep, rich, complex music set against fun, explosive, chaotic renderings. Some people might simply chalk it all up as "random," and they'd be right. Except that Sufjan has a solid core that guides and forms all he does, giving the music a soul and a center, even if it feels like it's been thrown into a blender and pureed for five minutes.

You get the classics here: "Silent Night," "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming," "I Saw Three Ships," "O Holy Night," and "Joy to the World." You also get some non-Christmas tunes, such as "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and "Holy, Holy, Holy," - both of them sensitive, fresh, yet powerful arrangements. But then you also get some soon-to-be classics as only Sufjan could deliver, such as "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever," "Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" and "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved it!)."

Backing up those songs is an eclectic mix of instrumentation, including plentiful banjo and glockenspiel. He gets his electronic mix in there, but allows the "real" instruments to carry most of the weight. As to the vocals - this is everything that afor-mentioned Selah album wasn't. It's simple, it's out-of-tune, it's prone to come in too early or hold on too long. In other words, it's not studio singers perfected by electronics; instead it's a bunch of friends sitting in a living room having a sing-along, inviting the rest of us in. At times it sounds like a frat party that's carried on just a tad too long, and now the egg-nog filled guys are stumbling out into the snow to carol the sorority sisters next door. And that's a good thing. It's fun, it's human, it's got a soul to it so much lacking in the rest of the studio-driven CDs sitting on the store shelves.

And yet. . .and this is the key to a Christmas album for me. It's the album I'd love to have playing in the background on Christmas Eve, once the candlelight service is over and the kids are in bed, and Karina and I are sharing a cup while sitting on the couch dreaming of snowfall outside. It's restful, it's soul-ful, it carries you away to simple places and glorious times, reminding you that, since the Light has come into the world, we can smile and rejoice and make merry and be glad. Maybe that's it; ultimately, it's a very happy album. It's a hopeful album. It's a good album.

One caveat: If you really, really loved that afor-mentioned Selah album, you probably wouldn't appreciate the subtlety of Sufjan. I get that. He's certainly not for everybody. I know a lot of people who would scratch their heads at this album. I understand that. It will probably never sell as many copies as, say, Mariah Carey's Christmas Album (which I wouldn't listen to, even if you paid me. . .). I accept that. (Of course, if you think Mariah Carey's Christmas album is actually good Christmas music, then we have nothing further to discuss)

I'm just saying that I really like Songs for Christmas. And that it's going to help define Christmas 2008 for us, and probably years beyond. So go support your independent musicians, take a risk, leave behind music the studios want you to buy, and add some truly great music to your collection. That would be a good thing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And now, over to the sports desk

This has got to be the most depressing sports' year in the history of Seattle.

By my count, since August 30, when both UW and WSU kicked off the college football season, there have been 12 weekends' worth of football played involving the Huskies, the Cougars, and the Seahawks. As of today, 10 of those weekends have ended with nary a win between the three teams. One weekend the Hawks and Cougars both won; another the Hawks pulled off a win. Other than that, 10 weekends where Washington's finest took the field and all left in defeat.

For most of those September weekends, the Mariners were also finishing the most odious season possible. And, as has been well documented, the NBA kicked off the 08-09 season last month, with Seattle's team playing down in OKC.

I'm glad I don't live and breathe sports; this would be a tough year to take.

At least everybody is picking the Husky men's basketball team to do well this year. . .oh, wait. They got creamed by Portland last night. Never mind.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Bibles

I own a lot of Bibles. A couple dozen, probably. Some I've purchased over the years, but most have been given to me - Bibles my parents gave me, my Ordination Bible, the Bible I was given when I was installed as pastor at Lakebay Community Church.

Two particular bibles have caught my attention lately. I was at Borders yesterday and picked up a copy of The Voice: New Testament, a brand-new translation by the Ecclesia Bible Society. I've only had a few spare moments between then and now to poke around inside, but so far I like what I'm finding.

As to the translation, those behind this interpretation have made a conscious effort to present the Bible as story, in a way that will connect with a world steeped in narrative . In other words, the concern of the translators was the tendency of most Bible translations to come across rather academically, and thus sometimes rather stilted, losing the broad sweep of action and dialogue that is supposed to carry the reader along. In order to achieve a different telling, the publishers used not only academics and people with "Dr." in front of their name, but also poets and story-tellers and musicians and artists and pastors. While maintaining fidelity to the original texts (as much as we have them), they sought to translate in ways that sing and resonate in the ears of 21st-Century people. In essence, their hope is to reclaim books that were written as stories, shared around campfires and along dusty roads, stories that lay deep within the hearts of God's people, but that have all-too-often become the battlegrounds of textual critics and classical academics.

Much thought went into the layout. One of the changes The Voice brings is to present the text in screenplay format. Thus, instead of "And then Jesus said. . .and then Mary said. . .and then they all said. . ." you get:

Jesus: Go get some food.
Disciples: Where are we going to get food?
Jesus: Why don't you try that Burger King over there.

(note: I just made that part up to give you an example. Nowhere in The Voice does Jesus talk about Burger King)

Also, within the text, the translators have included points of clarification to help the reader track the story. This is both an interesting addition and a minor irritation.

For instance, in Matthew 8, the story of the healing of the demon-possessed men, you read this:

"A way off - though still visible, not to mention odoriferous - was a large herd of pigs, eating.
Demons: If You cast us out of the bodies of these two men, do send us into that herd of pigs!
Jesus: Very well then, go!
And the demons flew out of the bodies of the two flailing men, they set upon the pigs, and every last pig rushed over a steep bank into the sea and drowned. The pig herders (totally undone, as you can imagine) took off. . ."

You can see how they do it - the normal text is a fairly faithful translation of the Greek texts, while the italicized portion are NOT part of the original text, but added to help make better sense of the story. One can see the danger - when you put the added part right in line with the text, it's easy to confuse what is the inspired Word of God and what is human interpolation. At the same time. . .last Wednesday I taught the middle school girls' Bible Study (Karina usually does, but she was in Mexico at the moment), and a couple of those girls have never cracked a Bible before this fall. Have never been in church before. Missed out on my Confirmation Class. And thus were generally interested but clueless about all that was going on. And I can see where this Bible would be the perfect Bible for them, helping them see and understand the bigger picture, and what's underlying the action. Much of what the above text does reflects exactly what I did in that Bible study - explain the history, the thoughts and feelings, helping them to visualize the action, the sights and sounds and smells of the story as it went along. So I'm not overly troubled by what the translators have chosen to do here. As to the irritation: sometimes when I'm teaching I enjoy the more nebulous nature of the original text, as that gives the class room for discussion. "What's going on here? Why do you think Jesus said that? What do you suppose they looked like?" Those are all good ways to further dialogue in the classroom, filling in the blanks. When translators fill in those blanks, as the NLT also does fairly often, it can dampen discussion. After all, the answers are all right there in the text now. Nothing left to toy with, to discern, to debate or wonder about. Thus, as with the NLT, sometimes what makes for good public or private reading doesn't always do as well as a basis for teaching.

In addition to the in-line added commentary, The Voice includes more extensive thoughts as the text goes along, still in-line with the text but bracketed off in boxes. More often than not (insofar as I've seen, anyway), these tend to be summary-type statements, or devotional, personal statements. For instance, following the above story of demons and pigs is the following 'thought in a box': "Some people recognized that Jesus was powerful, but they wanted nothing to do with His kind of power. As in this case, it cost them dearly."

In the end, I think this Bible may be the answer to all those people who say to me "I've never read a Bible, and I don't know where to start." Just looking at how the page is laid out: two simple columns, easy-to-read font, script-style dialogue, basic "helps" along the way - it invites the reader in. Also, like most novels, it doesn't contain pictures and charts and diagrams and timelines and all those extras you find in so many other Bibles. Just the text, with basic book introductions. Even the chapter and verse numbers are minimalized so as to not interrupt the flow. It seems to me to be a lot less overwhelming than your typical Bible. Finally, the copy I picked up, with woven cloth and leather cover, still carries a dignity about it, still seems to offer respect to the text within, which is not the case with so many Bibles printed today (see Kid's bibles, Youth Bibles, Teen Bibles, Postmodern Cynical Bibles. . .).

I am looking forward to spending more time with this Bible in the days to come. If you're interested in it, you can check out more at their website (see above). You can even download a copy of the Gospel of John for free, just to get a feel for how it reads.

Last May I ordered a copy of The Books of The Bible, which is not a new translation but a new arrangement of the Bible. Published by the International Bible Society, The Books of the Bible is a specialty version of the popular TNIV, the translation I use in my own personal study and preaching.

Two things stand out about TBOTB, and both relate to the overall layout of the text. First, the publishers chose to order the books in ways that make more logical sense, or that stand truer to their original intent. Many people don't understand the rather haphazard way in which the order of books within the Bible was created; nor do we see how the disordered manner of book listings interrupts the overall flow of the Bible.

For instance, Luke and Acts were really intended to be Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of the Christian story, compiled by Luke. Vol. 1 tells the story of Jesus, Vol. 2 tells the story of the early church. But both were written by the same author and meant to flow together. However, early on the church shoved John in between Luke and Acts, since Luke structurally parrallels Matthew and Mark while John is just so, well, John-like. But when John broke up Luke and Acts, the reader lost the drama of reading Luke's epochal story beginning with the earliest inkling of the Messiah and ending with the Church spreading to Rome and beyond.

Thus, the publishers tried with TBOTB to restore a semblence of historical order and original intent, meaning the books of this Bible aren't necessarily in the same order as the books in your Bible. Luke and Acts are put back together, and followed by all the Pauline epistles. Matthew, being the most Jewish of the gospels, is placed right before Hebrews and James. Mark was a disciple of Peter, and much of the gospel of Mark probably came from the memories of Peter, so the gospel of Mark is placed just before 1 and 2 Peter. John is placed right before 1, 2, and 3 John. And so it goes.

In addition, in attempting to read as closely as possible to the originals, chapter and verse numbers have been eliminated from the text itself, and placed along the bottom of the pages. Yes, that makes it difficult when the pastor says "Turn to Joshua 4:5," it makes it difficult when you're attempting to look up a specific verse. I get that. But it also allows the reader to see the Bible as it was, whole sections and thoughts, a long developing train leading toward monumental conclusions, rather than a series of disconnected verses divided by random chapter and verse numbers.

TBOTB does even less with commentary and "helps" than The Voice. In fact, there is no commentary in TBOTB, save for a few short book introductions. And all footnotes have been changed to endnotes, so as not to clutter each page. In fact, rather than columns, each page is a gingle column of text, laid out in paragraphs, with poetry inset slightly from the margin to call attention to its form. It is one of the simplest layouts I've seen - simply the naked text on the page.

As to its uses, I find it primarily helpful in devotional reading, when I'm not so concerned about chapter and verse, wanting instead to be lost in the continual waves of the text. It's a little like floating in the ocean vs. a small pool, as the boundaries have been removed and it's a little less obvious where things start and where they stop. Which is a lot like real life, when you stop to think about it. I've also found that it can be helpful even in sermon prep, and Bible Study background work; again, in that you're allowed to see the long, logical development, or the extended songs of praise, you're much more aware of the broader context when all that context isn't bracketed off by chapter and verse numbers, and when that context isn't lost in the chorus of footnotes and Helps and graphs and charts. Thus the true voice of the Word stands out alone, instead of in chorus with all those other things we've added in over the years.

One little confession: I gave TBOTB to all our confirmation students this year as their Confirmation Bibles. The truth is, most have pretty decent study Bibles already. And I wanted something that might stick with them over the years, not a Teen Bible they'd put away in four more years. They might end up being just a little confused by this Bible. At the same time, I have the feeling it's one they'll come back to in later years, once they've grown up a bit and want to come back and take another look at this Book, this Holy Word. I told them I didn't really expect to see them using this Bible in church, mostly because it's tough to follow along when I say "here in chapter 6 verse 3." But for their personal time, their devotional time, when they're sitting around looking for something to read. . .just maybe they'll pick this one up, and see in it the Bible as it's supposed to be. God's Word, unencumbered by all that extra weight.