Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Side of Sunday

This month I'll be putting together my official thesis proposal. Right now I'm working with the title "This Side of Sunday: The Natural Theology of GK Chesterton in The Man Who Was Thursday". Part of this title might sound vaguely familiar, as well as familiarly vague! Maybe I'll explain briefly why it is the title of my thesis as well as of this blog.

In The Man Who Was Thursday there is a character who goes by the code name Sunday. Sunday typically refers (in my tradition) to that especially holy day of the week, loosely associated with Sabbath and therefore the Peace of God. When I wrote about life and spirituality for our college newspaper (some of you will remember it as the notoriously badly titled "Phat Papyrii") I used this title to signify that this was church-talk outside of church.

When I use it as a thesis title I am alluding more to the cosmic scope of things as addressed in Chesterton's book. If Sunday is the Peace of God, well, we are currently on the wrong side of it. I mean, we can have the Peace of God, but only a shadow of that reality which we await in the coming of God's Kingdom, the Year of Jubilee, the Sabbath to come. We wait, this side of Sunday.

But Sunday is also a day where we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A past event. And we are past that, looking back. We remember, we try to live in light of, this side of Sunday.

Who knew I meant all that eh? And if you read the book you'll see I mean more. Just say it, I'm crazy aren't I?

Anyway, I kind of like it and I hope I get to keep it. However, who knows how much this thesis will change between now and next March (when it is due).

Incidentally, since my thesis is basically a critical literary-theological reading of Chesterton's best novel, check out this quote I found from GKC himself about the act of literary criticism:

The function of criticism, if it has a legitimate function at all, can only
be one function - that of dealing with the subconscious part of the author's
mind which only the critic can express, and not with the conscious part of the
author's mind, which the author himself can express. Either criticism is no good
at all (a very defensible position) or else criticism means saying about an
author the very things that would have made him jump out of his boots.

If I could make him jump out of his boots I'd be mighty pleased.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Looking back it seems my last several posts have been fairly negative. Well, we aren't out of the woods yet. Thanks for reading along.

At a used book sale the other day a title caught my eye and for a couple bucks I bought The Wounded Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christiain Doctrine of Sin by Andrew Sung Park.

This han thing is pretty interesting.

Han is a Korean word and it is better explained by stories than by definitions. The first chapter of this book is full of stories of the oppressed, the abused, the victimized, and the distraught---all of whom are experiencing han in some way. But Park defines han loosely as "frustrated hope, the collapsed feeling of pain, letting go, resentful bitterness, and the wounded heart." It can be aggressive or passive, conscious or unconscious, individual or collective. It is an almost inexpressible ache.

The crazy thing is that I think I have han.

But I haven't been oppressed. I haven't been abused. I have no good reason to lump myself in with the people of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, or Tiananmen Square and it even feels sort of offensive to them if I pretend to even feel half of what they feel.

I won't downplay the severity of the trauma and repressed anger and frustration which oppressed people must feel. It is unimaginable. But maybe we all have han to some degree. Maybe some of us are more in touch with it than others. Maybe we can even feel han for other people.

Thing is, I feel frustrated hope too. Big time. That's the part of the definition that really resonates with me. Part of me feels like it is part and parcel of being a Christian in the "already but not yet" of the Kingdom of God which we believe in, are trying to live, and long for so much.

Some people are able to live more in the "already", and maybe I'll be one of them some day. I'm sort of jealous of those people.

But I feel like I live in the "not yet". And I'm sort of comfortable there. It is easy to live there. No matter how happy I am and how well I'm doing there is always something going wrong out there that I can think about to bring me down to earth.

But it is hard living there too.

I'm only in chapter two, but I'm resonating at least in part with the stories told in this book and I am somewhat curious, and even a little bit hopeful, of where it is going to take me, based partly upon the title of the book.

I'll let you know.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Detestable Worship

Thanks to those who commented on the last post. If you still want to, go ahead. Not trying to shut it down or anything.

I'm doing a paper right now on "Social Justic and Worship in Isaiah" and I am having trouble writing it because it would just make a lot of sense to type out a couple chapters of Isaiah and hand that in without much extra comment besides an "Amen, so be it, may God have mercy on our souls."

Here are some of those verses. God says:

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1)

Day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own fleshand blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness a will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58)

I guess the only qualification to add is that we aren't a theocracy anymore. We are a church in a society which would be difficult to reform through religious channels the same way that ancient Israel might have been. However, we are responsible for our worship, and I fear for us when we are all words and no action. Not all churches are that way, but we have to ask ourselves, "What about us?"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Creation Care

Warning: this entry is hardly a list of worst movies. I'm getting a bit worked up here. Don't say I didn't warn you and don't read it if you already feel agitated.

There is an interesting debate going on in the States over whether "creation care" should be considered one of the evangelical "projects" along with things such as caring for the poor, opposing abortion, and so on. Dobson took some heat recently for saying it shouldn't be.

Personally I think that creation care is an issue, and Dobson is not wise to say otherwise. But if you go and actually read Dobson's letter (which is actually not from him but from a committee) you see that it isn't that ridiculous. I'm not trying to defend Dobson here. Frankly I think that with the wealth and health of North American evangelicals we can afford to take on a lot of issues at once and don't need to fight over which one gets attention.

But I don't mind that he tries to bring perspective in the midst of all the hype (i.e. "An Inconvenient Truth"). I think what bothers me is the fact that many of the very people who make global warming the #1 issue "for the sake of the next generation" are the ones who support abortion on demand. Dobson would have been wiser to just write an open letter about that. So here's mine. Even if you grant the argument that the fetus is not a human yet, shouldn't you be equally concerned to give him or her a chance to breathe some clean air? How can you lobby for one issue by appealing to our concern for the unborn generation and not do so for the unborn already in the womb?

You know why? Because as inconvenient as it might be to get big business and government and consumers to cut down on waste and emissions and so on for a good cause, it would be way more inconvenient to ask people to take responsibility for what happens when they don't keep their pants zipped up.

Incidentally, I'm not even talking about abstinence here. (As inconvenient a truth as that might be on its own). I realize our society is way past legislated abstinence. But we could at least insist that people take responsibility. Furthermore, let me say that I know abortion is a complex issue and that adoption is problematic. I know that women are raped and need abortions. I know people make mistakes and I feel especially for young women who get into these tough situations and I want them to know that there is grace for them. But I'm not even talking about them. I'm talking about a society that doesn't hold parents responsible. Don't give me this crap about saving the world for the next generation in one case and then not in the other.

"For the sake of the next generation" I could make a movie like Al Gore's and it wouldn't be about ice caps melting, it would be about injecting poison into a womb so we can silently dispose of the unwanted by-product of our sexual liberation.

Parental and societal responsibility. Now there's an inconvenient truth.

Sunday School Answers

Anyone who grew up in church is familiar with what we like to call "Sunday School answers". They are the Christian cliches. We joke about them now. When someone asks a hard question, such as "How does God guide us?", we fumble around for an answer and finally say, "Jeeezus!" It is our Sunday School answer. Even if it is the right answer, its significance tends to be lost because it comes off the tongue without even pausing for a moment in the heart or the brain.

This isn't Sunday School's fault necessarily, it is just human nature. We have just as many cliches outside the church as in. They became cliches for a reason: they are likely true. But they sound like trite platitudes to us, and so give way to newer ideas, fresher language, hipper thoughts.

One Sunday School answer I got particularly tired of in my day is seen in the following scenario. To the question "How do we experience a relationship with God?" we answer, "Read the Bible and pray". Oh my, if there ever was a Sunday School answer, that is it.

But the great thing about cliches is that if you think about it long enough, often you come back to them in a fresh way. This is what is happening to me on this one. The more I think about it and the less I stick to it, the Sunday School answer is ringing truer and truer.

I have a confession to make. Blogs aren't good places for confession, but then again, why should I only share what I'm learning when I'm learning it the easy way? Why not share what I've been learning the hard way too? Let's be honest here. But let me add a disclaimer. What I'm about to tell you? Don't try this at home. Don't imitate me.

I used to read the One Year Bible. Seven years in a row I think. Then last June I stalled out. It is almost June again and whenever I go back to it I'm still in June. So, clearly, I haven't been doing very well. Of course, I'm in seminary, so I'm reading the Bible. But there is nothing like soaking in it like a bath, day after day. You don't really notice it every day but over time you notice that your story and The Story are intersecting in very good ways. You are challenged, encouraged, provoked, formed, and brought to questioning and wonder before God by His own Word.

Believe me, I know. Partly because of those seven years. But now because of this last bad one. Regarding Bible reading I have to say one thing: I miss it. I say this with all sincerity, as one yelling from the bottom of a pit for others to watch out that they don't fall in as well. I also share it with those in the pit with me: "We've got to get out of here."

Yes, the Bible is hard to understand sometimes. You think you get it all overnight? In one lifetime? In 2000 years of church history? Of course not. But you can get the jist of it and you can get it and get it and get it over again and most of all as you read it it reads you back and its Story shapes your own. The Sunday School answer is right.

And prayer. What can I say about prayer? Those who know me well know that my prayer life is about as good as my sense of smell (I have bad sinus problems. My brother thinks I have an extra set of teeth in my nasal cavity). I often admit that "I don't smell so good" and I also must confess that "I don't pray so good" either. Again, don't try this at home.

I just find it so hard to ask for stuff. I pray every day in natural and embarassingly down to earth ways, saying things in all sincerity like "God help me" and "God have mercy on us all" but I have a hard time interceding. Most of my prayers are submissions. Submitting to God. But even this I do with embarassing irregularity. The last ten years or so I'd pray while journalling, and God would speak to me. Not every day in clear ways, of course. Not in audible words, of course. But over time I could tell, as I submitted, God spoke. God directed. You see this looking back. It is pretty awesome.

And again, I miss it.

At seminary I have become more and more convinced that the secret (if there is one) to Christianity is living by Word and Spirit. One without the other is bad news. You can't make an idol of the written word (because it ends up being an idol of your own interpretation of it) and you can't just go willy-nilly thinking that you have a monopoly on listening to the Spirit (because it becomes hard to convince people like me that it isn't just bad pizza talking). The Spirit speaks with the Word and the Word speaks with the Spirit.

The amazing thing is, God speaks. Amazing.

How do we hear?

Read the Bible and pray. Sorry. That's just the way it is. Of course it has to be real. You really have to enter into it. It isn't some magic ritual. But it is how God does his relationship with us.

But the Sunday School answer is true. And that speaks of the third thing we need. We need the church. We need a place which keeps bringing us back to Word and Spirit, because in years like the one I'm having, we know we won't come on our own.

We need the Sunday School answers. They are true. Let 'em sit in your brain and on your heart for awhile. Better yet, try 'em. Try them for a year, but not as rote. Enter into them with God for real. You'll see. He is living and active. Present to us in Word and Spirit and active in the Church.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Dozen Worst Movies I've Ever Seen

A friend's blog inspired me to try to dream up my top 100 movies. As I tried to think about all the great movies I've seen, I found it easier to name the bad ones. So I've compiled a list here. A word about rationale. I decided movies like "Air Bud" or "Joe Dirt" would be too obvious. We all know what we're getting when we watch those movies. The following dozen movies actually have a fan base. They are actually supposed to be good, but for the life of me I don't know why. I'm sure some will disagree with me, this is all my personal opinion, and certainly sometimes you just see a movie on the wrong night. But still, as I look back I have to say that it feels like these twelve flicks stole about 24 hours of my life from me.

1. Armageddon

This was so overdone I couldn't believe my eyes. I was laughing most of the way through at the melodrama. When the theatre erupted in applause at the movie's climax I couldn't believe my ears. Worst movie ever.

2. Wild Wild West

The typical buddy movie, except awful. Trying too hard, and failing miserably. Our living room was packed with people to watch this movie and we ALL fell asleep. I'm not even joking. We all awoke grumpy, knowing we had just wasted a couple hours of our lives we'd never get back.

3. Seabiscuit

This movie, I just don't get it, was so popular and yet I found it so typical and boring. Perhaps it would help if I liked horses, or horse racing, but even then I'm not sure I could have gotten past the awful scenes, like the one pictured left, where Toby is clearly riding a broom stick with a horse head on it.

4. Matrix Reloaded

I enjoyed the first one, although not as much as everyone else. But this one was the same stuff "reloaded", only more confusing and more ridiculous. It got old for me really fast. The scene depicted here, with Keanu fighting hundreds of Andersons, was just stupid. I figure if I want to watch a video game I'll go hang out with my cousins. At least I can do that for free.

5. Jurassic Park III

I figure I owed it to the JP series to see number 3, but I regret it. It almost appeared as if they spliced it together from scenes from the first two. I hear this movie had no script. I believe it. Sam Neill was exposed for his horrible acting, which almost ruined the first one.

6. Mission Impossible 2

Oh man, what a let down. Instead of a spy movie we got the typical action fare. It was like Cruise was Stallone or Schwartzenegger all of a sudden. Worse yet, Van Damme or Chan. I couldn't wait for this crap to end.

7. The Santa Clause 2

I think Christmas movies are some of the worst ever made. It is such easy money for people. In December if it is red and green it sells. The first one was passable, but this one was awful. The only time I laughed was when we turned the commentary on and heard how seriously the director took this "film". No offense, I know that there is a market for the "Hallmark movie genre" and if you like it that's fine. But let's not pretend its more than it is. For me it was a snoozer, and it cheapened an already cheap holiday even more.

8. Cheaper by the Dozen

There are a lot of family movies that could probably make this list, but most of them I don't watch. Let this one stand in for them all. The jokes are all cliche and the stereotypes are mind numbing. I only hope that people who are on the fence about having kids don't see this movie. It will only reinforce their ridiculous fears.

9. Face/Off

What is the director's name? Woo? Whoever he is I can't stand how he makes movies. I know some of my friends and family really love the slow motion sweat dripping or cape furling in the wind, but I personally find it hard to take. Especially when it is Nicolas Cage. Other than "The Family Man" I think he has nearly ruined every movie he's been in.

10. The Last Castle

I generally like the prison movie genre, but this one was brutal. It was just so obvious and overdone. It almost ruins the genre.

11. Big Daddy

I liked the early Adam Sandler stuff, and then they became formulaic and I hated them. He has come through lately with different stuff, but in there were some real stinkers. Mr. Deeds was a doozy as well, but Big Daddy gave me ZERO laughs, and more than a few regrets.

12. Sister Act 2

Years ago my family all went to this movie together in the theatre and I fell asleep in the first 20 minutes. How I lasted that long I don't recall. I think for a particular target audience it has a certan appeal, but I am clearly not one of that group.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Authenticity and Establishment

I wrote a paper in the summer which touched on some themes that came up again in class today. As I was looking back at it I rememberd how important this research paper was for me as I wrestled with, as the subtitle of the paper called it, Perpetual Tensions in Evangelical History. If this is God's church, why so many disputes, tensions, disagreements, failures, etc...?
In my review of major episodes of church history within my stream of it (evangelicalism) I discovered not only further reason for discouragement, but encouragement as well. I found what I thought might be a better place to put my hope.

Historical review aside, here is the intro and conclusion of that paper:

When Martin Luther sought reform within the established Church he opened the floodgates for the individual experience of salvation by grace through faith and set a precedent for perpetual tension in what would become Protestant Evangelicalism. Although these tensions indicate a struggle between freedom and authority, evangelical history has shown that they spring from essential human needs for both authenticity and establishment.

As Christians seek an authentic faith they pose new questions and embrace fresh expressions of worship. As they seek communion with one another they challenge previously polished answers and confront genuinely held preferences for tradition. These tensions test church unity and threaten its witness to the world, but have also led to some of the most redemptive moments in evangelical history. God has certainly shown His faithfulness and grace to the church through the centuries.

The study of the perpetual tensions throughout evangelical history leads to the recognition of some recurrent themes. Some common pitfalls in the ironing out of these tensions jump out from the pages of history. Mistaken assumptions are like a cancer that destroys understanding. What cuts against the grain is often mistaken as naive or rebellious and the establishment is often assumed to be ignorant or oppressive.

As deadly as such assumptions can be, they are even more deadly when they turn out to be right. Excesses of enthusiasm and stubbornness of tradition only serve to galvanize the misgivings of others. All it takes is one person to provide fodder for detractors, especially when battle lines have been drawn. Too often sides are hastily taken, a monopoly on the truth is claimed, the opponent is demonized, and false antitheses are the rhetoric of the day. Add to these the pitfalls of each person’s pride and selfishness and it is a tribute to the grace and faithfulness of God that the church is still around.

As evangelicalism heightened the value of each person’s experience of salvation the question became not whether one would accept the church but whether the church would accept them. When tradition that was meant to keep the faith alive no longer conveys the same emotion or seems to answer current questions, tensions of authenticity and establishment rise to the surface. The dilemma in all of this is that the two are so intertwined. A healthy establishment provides an anchor for spiritual and intellectual experimentation and authentic individual expression provides the life that sustains the health of the church.

In this light the tensions of authenticity and establishment appear as opportunities rather than obstacles. The most redemptive approach, then, is a deep commitment to the Church that includes an almost unrelenting propensity towards dialogue rather than division. The most admirable figures to emerge in evangelical history are those who exemplify the biblical injunction to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15 NIV).

The pendulum swings in Christianity can be discouraging, and it may be debatable whether entropy or progression is being experienced at any given time, but it is clear that the Church is always moving. In fact, when one takes into account the faithfulness, grace, and power of God there is reason to recognize tension as perpetual not only in the sense of repetition but also in terms of motion. Although the temptation is to give credit for the progression of the church to one group or another, it is evident that the working out of tensions–not any one cause of them–that is key to the growth of the Church.

The crux of Christianity continues to be the cross of Christ and the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18) History has shown that when evangelicals embrace their tensions with humble honesty and commitment to one another the love and truth of Christ is more fully known not only despite the inevitable tensions but through them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blogs and Happyness

I must tell my readers (however many of you there may be, anywhere from 3 to 30 but probably no more than that based on what I'd assume to be a completely artificial reader to commenter ratio of 1 out of every 10 people) about a few blogs that have been inspiring me lately. You'll find them all in my links to the right, but let me just sing their praises for a moment.

First of all, Matthew W's blog is always an interesting place for me to go explore the worlds of film, music, books and art that are beyond the usual fare but are potentially great discoveries of his that he has been kind enough to share. I have also been finding his blog at times thought-provoking, at times humourous, and at other times just curious. Always something there.

Secondly, I have to heartily recommend John Stackhouse. I've done this before, but I have come to highly respect this writer's thoughtful style and theological approach. His most recent post, which among other things defends his use of the word "wuss" in a challenge to the president of a Southern Baptist Seminary, is priceless.

Thirdly, my most recent discovery is that of Colin T (actually, he found me) , whose last few posts have raised my eyebrows not a few times. I hope he keeps it up, he's got some good writing skills, some great perspectives, and it would seem a lot of good stuff to say.

I should also mention the addition of Mike K's blog. It tends to be all over the place, which is one of the things I enjoy about (it besides its author). He is a long time friend and a real good guy, even though he is a Man U fan.

I am trying to keep my links down only to those (besides family blogs) that I visit regularly, so I recommend them all, but I did want to mention these in particular because they've been getting me thinking a lot lately.

On another topic, I also want to say how hard I found it to rate the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. On the one hand I found it inspiring to watch this character's persistence in the face of overwhelming odds. I also enjoy Will Smith and thought he did pretty good. I liked the tone of the film-making and the feeling it gave me of the struggle of the life it portrayed. On the other hand, however, it was frustratingly capitalistic in its ideals, and it climaxed happiness in a way I found incredibly disappointing.

Maybe I read it wrong, I mean, I suppose it portrayed capitalism well and showed what it takes to actually make it in this society. But it seemed to say this was an inherently good thing, and that all anyone had to do was pull themselves up by their boot straps and they'd be okay. I'm not sure that is true.

Truthfully I'm not exactly sure what this movie was saying, but it gave the impression it was trying to say something of substance, and in my opinion it failed to deliver. Worth watching all the same.