Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cleaning the Basement

My mom is making me go through the boxes of stuff in our basement – books, notes, paper trails from my years of schooling and other activities.  I thought a lot about how much fun I had at various times of my life, how much I’ve learned since then, typical sentimental stuff.  I also thought about how things serve as tactile reminders of what we were.  For me, it is mostly paper.  But I imagine for others it’s more object-based.

It turns out I was funny and awkward before, kind of like I am now, only in a younger sort of way.  It’s fun to see my writing develop through my education.  When I was a kid I started novels in notebooks.  I have several of them stowed in the basement for me to read later.  None were finished.  This is an artifact of my nerdy adolescence.  Is it any surprise that this same person is now a compulsive blogger and graduate student, with delusions of poetry fame?

It was also interesting to think about how much technology has changed recently.  I have so many things archived on floppy disc and photographic paper.  And even more just printed on paper, written by hand.  What will my children have to store in my basement?  A few cds or a memory key with some photos and school work (complete with powerpoint)?  What does it mean that our history is becoming less and less tactile?  It’s not that big of a deal for my hypothetical biographers; so what if we lose all record of what happened to me in the year 2005?  But on a larger scale, I wonder if it will matter to all of us.  What kind of archives will future historians use to figure out how our lives were.  Blogs?  Email archives?  Online photo albums?  Will the abundance of public information about the everyday make it impossible to conclude what is banal and what is of note?  Perhaps this is the responsibility of the academy – to sift through the present and find themes and events that will be important to the future.  Like me, paging through my high school journals and placing them carefully in the “keep” box, and putting my biology notes lovingly in the garbage bag.  I’ll leave it to my biographers to cull through the reams I left and find a few key quotes to include in their book.  Or more likely to an older, less sentimental me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

And Dwelt Among Us

I was sitting at Centrepointe today during the sermon and listening and thinking about distance and presence.  I thought about these people sitting around me who I hadn’t seen in five months, and how at home and welcome I felt anyway.  I thought about all the people I had reunited with already since coming home, and about being with my family, and how no number of emails or IM conversations is quite the same as being physically with people.

Derrida talks about how language is built on absence – you write something down, and send it away or leave it and then somebody else gets it and reads it and you’re not there and they weren’t there when you wrote it and it may or may not mean the same thing to the reader as it does to writer.  Language in itself creates space between people – we must assume an imaginary presence in order to function at all.  But this assumed presence that’s really absence means that everything is built on this shifty ground of absence.

And in this world of absence, of distance, of loneliness, the Word becomes Flesh.  God becomes one of us – God With Us.  God stops being absent – God becomes so intimately, humanely present that he is born – he grows inside a woman and then arrives in a cave in Bethlehem with a man and a woman and blood and flesh and dirt.  He became a person who can touch and hug and bleed and die.  This is imminence, this is presence, this is Christ.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On DA Carson on Emergent Church

Matt directed me to this DA Carson article, which is one of the best summary/critiques of the Emergent Church conversation/movement/whatever that I have encountered.  Carson summarizes some of the main books and thinkers in the movement and the general gestalt of the whole thing.  

One of his best thoughts, I think, is when he points out that most of this is a clear reaction against “seeker sensitive” and “megachurch” models of Christianity.  Much of the literature (although certainly not all of it) tends to ignore the more traditional churches that aren’t doing some of the things they are reacting against.  He points this out particularly with Dan Kimball, when he says “some of his suggestions—such as insistence that sermons should be theocentric and not anthropocentric, that they should not insult the intelligence of the hearers, that instruction in the Word should go on throughout the week and not be confined to public services on Sunday, and what we should aim for in kingdom living, one could easily find in Reformed exhortations.”  Indeed.

I also think Carson’s suggestion for a closer examination of the assumptions about postmodern culture that underlie the emergent movement is right on.  A rigorous look at what, who and which ideas we mean when we say “postmodern” is important.  Some thinkers, most notably Grenz and some others involved in Radical Orthodoxy are doing good work in this area, the trouble is much of this is too complex or esoteric for the laity.  But, as Carson says, “the difficulty of the task… cannot exempt us from making an attempt.”  I hope to continue in this vein here and elsewhere.

Carson’s most important concern is this: “Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new Emergent Church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?”  And I imagine some might suggest that most of modern Protestantism is equally submerged in the culture of Western Philosophy – based in Plato and Descartes.  The Platonic tradition, I would argue, is not inherently holier than the Sophistic one.  The truth often lies between two extremes, and swinging too far toward relativism is also a concern.  But I wonder if we need the sophistic pole, particularly in the present culture, where the Christianity that gets the most press is dogmatically Cartesian.

I think Carson’s concerns are important, and I think he would agree with me that these are warnings for an imperfect vision, in hopes that we get closer to the truth.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Becky’s recent post (and our related conversations about going home and growing up and how much we’ve learned and changed over the semester) reminded me of a poem I had been working on. And since ideas bouncing around between blogs and through comments is one of my favorite things about weblogging, I thought I’d post it here. See also my July post anticipating some of these thoughts too. Critiques, comments, or further discussion invited:

I have become intertwined with this place

It is almost as if the pavement
presses back against my foot
in a more friendly way, now
that we know each other.
As if the swing of my hips
has learned to match the
quirks of this sidewalk.

I wonder if my last place will
still recognize me when I return.
If the rhythms of its staircases
will re-enter my legs,
if the gentle curves of its streets
still fit the steps my car and I
dance together, hands, feet,
wheels in sync.

I wonder if it will fold me back
Like a missing page or lost coin.
Or if it will pull away,
Curious of this familiar new
Our reunion simultaneously
awkward and expected,
like an adolescence.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Derrida on Jesus as Deconstruction

I just discovered a passage of a conversation with Jacques Derrida from 2001 which was recently published, and it both helps me a lot with my current project and points out that Derrida himself (among others) may be a step ahead of me.  Derrida, here, seems to affirm an open theist view and also points out the paradox and deconstruction inherent in Biblical Text and the person of Christ.  

“We usually identify God with the almighty, that is, with absolute power.  I’m trying now in seminars and in texts, by following a political thread, to deconstruct, so to speak, the onto-theological heritage of the political concept of sovereignty, without abandoning the unconditionality of gifts, of hospitality, and so on.  That means that some unconditionality might be associated, not with power, but with weakness, with powerlessness.  Now some would say this is still Christian.  There is in Jesus Christ some weakness, some vulnerability, some powerlessness, but there you see that the powerlessness, of course, is also a sign of the almighty.” (from a Roundtable Discussion with Derrida in Augustine and Postmodernism 2005.  page 41)

Perhaps Derrida doesn’t undermine biblical hermeneutics as much as I thought.  Perhaps he actually illuminates it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

blogs and academics

I was directed to this slate article by blogora.

The article talks about how young professors who blog might be hurt inn their tenure hopes because the academic establishment looks down on blogging as an activity for faculty.  This makes me a little distressed about my own future as a grad student and faculty member.  However, I am fully aware that my blog is subject to google searches of my name and invite that audience, at least for now.  Perhaps when I’m on the job market I will find it wise to post a little less frequently and not be very subversive.

For now, though, I see blogging as a responsibility for my academic life, rather than a detractor from it.  First, I’m interested in studying the ways communication changes because of technology and I think participant observation is a good way to find out things.  Second, I think academics spend way too much time talking amongst themselves and the important ideas and discussions never get to real people or practitioners of the very things they are studying, and I think that’s a shame.  Blogging is one way of giving the benefits of one’s education to a more general audience.  And the discussion sometimes directly benefits my work.  Some of the conversation in the previous post about Derrida and the Bible is going to help me in my paper project about Derrida and Christianity.  And it got me really excited to learn more so I can post again and contribute more.

Also, I imagine the terrain on this issue will shift a fair amount in the next 5 years, as technology changes the way we deal with technology and the way we use it.  It will be interesting to see long-term the way technology impacts academia (as well as everything else).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Derrida and Biblical Hermeneutics

I’ve been reading Derrida for my Rhet Theory class, and working on a potential paper about Christian engagement with Derrida.  (disclaimer: I plan to read a lot more and I might later find out that the stuff I’m saying here is obvious and/or wrong.  Hopefully I’ll think of more interesting things soon.)  The idea I have been trying to understand today is diffĂ©rance.  As far as I can tell, it is about the distance between the author, the text, and the reader.  The lacuna of absence, the semantic slippage that necessarily occurs in any use of language because of inherent ambiguity.  According to Derrida this leads to openness of meaning and possibility.  Possibility for new understandings, including new understandings of old texts, as well as possibilities of misunderstandings – we cannot assume that what we express will deliver the same thought or feeling to our hearers or readers, but this gives way to a fecundity of language as well as an imprecision.

This same idea of ambiguity and necessary distance between author, text and audience is problematic for fundamentalist biblical hermeneutics – it means that language (including (especially?) Biblical text) necessarily means different things to different people at different times.  It means that perhaps the bumper sticker “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” does not really settle it at all.  Because how do we know that what God meant is what God said and that we understand it the same way?  Is there even a correct way to understand it?  

Does Derrida free Christians to interact with Biblical text in new and different ways because of the possibility built into language? or does it only mean we are doomed to misinterpretation until the New Earth?  I prefer to think about it in terms of the former, although there is a sense of the latter as well (especially when I hear some pretty crazy stuff).  I know plenty of Christians who avoid the question altogether and that is why they are so scared of postmodernism – it undermines their very epistemology.  Perhaps this is how “postmodern” became a dirty word in the church until recently (thanks to the likes of Grenz, McLaren, etc).  It all certainly raises new questions: if we are following a text that is necessarily ambiguous, how, then, do we choose to read it?  Why would God choose to use a language that is so slippery to tell us things in the first place?  Perhaps God, with Derrida, revels in the diversity, the possibility, the diffĂ©rance the text allows…

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lexical Curiosity: Platonic

I’ve had a troubling question floating in the back of my mind for several days now: why do we use the same word to mean having to do with the ideas of Plato as we do to mean a friendship with no romantic or sensual intentions? What does a Platonic friendship have to do with Platonic dialogues?

Well, I got frustrated and looked it up in the OED, an excellent resource for these sorts of etymological dilemmas. And I found the answer. Evidently, the term “platonic love” has been in use for centuries, and it was originally meant “to denote the kind of interest in young men with which Socrates was credited: cf. the last few pages of Plato's Symposium.”

So there you have it. The idea of platonic friendship, evidently, comes from Plato. Well, I’m sure people had them before Plato. But that’s why we call it what we do. I feel better already, knowing I won’t be arguing for a more aristotelian friendship with some of my friends and acquaintances.

Friday, November 04, 2005

blogs in the news

A recent survey (covered in a number of news sources, see USA Today version here) makes the ground-breaking observation that teenagers use blogs not as a public forum so much as a social tool.  This comes as no surprise to me, as I began blogging in this manner a number of years ago.  Such is the advantage of being my age I suppose.  I know about teen life because it wasn’t so long ago I was one (if a nerdy and not particularly popular one).  If only I knew this kind of material was noteworthy. I really need to start publishing this stuff someplace other than my blog with it’s ~15 faithful readers, because it seems that the news thinks these observations are interesting.

I think what is most interesting about this new information, though, is the ubiquity of teen blogs.  When I started keeping a xanga about 4 years ago there were only a few people I knew who kept blogs.  I thought it was a little bit nerdy and kept it low-key (although I will admit that, like most writers, I have delusions of grandeur and huge audiences from time to time).  Having an online presence was unusual and probably geeky at the time.  Now, college freshman are weird who DON’T have online identities in xanga or facebook or myspace or something.  Online society is an integral part of young society, and this has changed in a matter of only a few years.

This presents a problem for new media scholarship (which I have been considering): how do you make any meaningful generalizations that will not be obsolete by the time they go through a review process and arrive in published form?  I think there are things that remain the same, but the internet changes at such a quick pace, it seems there are always new examples and new challenges to any theory of online communication.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thoughts for Reformation Day

On October 31, 488 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Little did he know, I imagine, the cultural craziness that was about to ensue, or the tradition of church schisms that would continue for the next 500 years plus (to be perfectly fair, the east-west schism had happened hundreds of years before that anyway, so somebody else really started it).

We mention the Protestant Reformation a lot in my Rhetorical Theory class, and it seems that the reformation has something to do with the history of ideas.  It was clearly grounded in what was going on culturally at the time – the Guttenburg press enabled the reformation as well as the development of democratic ideas.  Luther’s idea of the Priesthood of All Beleivers either led to or was influenced by the individualistic turn in thought at that time.  My colleagues in the Rhetoric of Science tell me that Dr Lessl believes the Protestant reformation led to the development of Science.  I had no idea before recently how interrelated all these events are.

So what has the reformation given us, and what has it left us with?  It lead to some necessary changes within the Catholic church in Europe, and undermined the hegemony of church officials, which was being abused plenty.  It began a tradition of criticizing the church and, unintentionally, of division within the church.  I think the criticism is a proud tradition – we need sincere voices of dissent.  I wonder if the constant division, sectarianism, dogmatism and defensiveness is a necessary side effect of an atmosphere that allows for dissent.  I’m sure Luther would be appalled at the sorts of Protestant-Catholic fighting that has been going on since the Reformation, the entirely un-christian tribalism that even leads to war and terrorism in extreme cases.  Must Reform lead to fighting?  How do we change a bad system while acting in love?  Can we be both prophets for change and voices of unity?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Don't Sell Me Your Christianity

When I was in grade school I hated when we were supposed to sell stuff. My parents hated it too. I hated the way I felt like I was manipulating people into buying overpriced things they didn’t need. I hated feeling like a failure because I didn’t sell enough cheese and sausages. I hate when people try and sell me stuff too – I don’t like to feel manipulated, and I don’t like the guilty feeling when I’ve obviously disappointed someone. When I see people selling things aggressively, I try and avoid them.

Last night I was downtown, and somebody tried to sell me Christianity. Which is a nice enough thing to be offering, but you see, I already have one. I don’t mean to sound arrogant here – I know that I am not the perfect Christian by any means. But this person made me feel uncomfortable immediately with her aggressive style and the way she didn’t give up. And she also made me feel looked down upon, as though she was better than me because she was proselytizing on the street, while I was looking for a fun place to hang out with my friends for a few hours. Even though I answered all her questions in the affirmative (yes I have a church home, yes I have a personal realitionship with Jesus), she still yelled something derogatory after us about “walking away from other Christians.” We avoided that corner after that.

The encounter bothered me, and continues to bother me. I was so turned off by these people who were trying to invite people to their church and share their faith. Even though I am already predisposed to like Christianity, even though I have a home church already. And part of it, I’m sure, was that I knew this girl wasn’t going to get what she wanted out of me. Maybe I should have challenged her to a Bible Knowledge contest or something. But really I just wanted to spend some time with my friends and not be bothered. And the thing that really bothers me about the whole situation is that if MY reaction was so negative, what must it be like for the people they were actually targeting? Is “street witnessing” really an effective witness at all? Can you hand out invitations to religion on a street corner like invitations to try a new restaurant? It seems to me that Christianity is about a lot more than anything you can commodify and advertise one evening on the street. But if Christians are behaving like this, how are other people to know that it isn’t?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bible in High School Curriculum?

I think “name the allusion” is a fun and informative game when one is trying to understand a text, as I told my students. Various things about my training (such as my Jazz Vespers background which was a big game of interconnected texts) makes me think that allusions are important and meaningful. That allusions intend to invoke something about the original text that is cited, and that is why they are used. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that when Martin Luther King quotes the prophet Amos he wants to invoke the authority of the prophet. What happens, then, when an audience doesn’t know an allusion?

This is why I have a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on my shelf, and why there is a group publishing a textbook that teaches the Bible in High Schools, which I read about in this NRO article. The bible is the most frequently referenced work in western literature (and rhetoric) and many students don’t know the Philistines from the Philippians.

I may just be an intertextuality nerd, but I do think that a firm grip on the history of ideas and literature is essential to really understanding any text. Familiarity with the Bible seems especially crucial because all the connotations that immediately come with an invocation of it. If people are claiming the authority of a sacred text, this seems a pretty significant rhetorical move. However, I am a graduate student in rhetoric, is this a level of understanding that High School students need? Perhaps not. But I would argue that a basic familiarity with the Bible and classical mythology is more important than an encounter with Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, which shows up in most High School curriculums. I suppose it depends on what one thinks is the function of a High School education. If it is basic knowledge for life, maybe Bible should be included, especially in the current political climate, where a command of biblical text is a powerful rhetorical tool.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Who Holds Its Pillars Firm

This is a different Psalm 75 poem from the one in the psalmfest, but it’s been floating in my head for a few days. It’s similar to a poem from last month, but sometimes poets get obsessed with things and write a lot about them. (for the ease of the reader, here is the text of psalm 75, NIV)

Who Holds Its Pillars Firm
(Psalm 75:3)

I am one of earth’s people, trembling.
It is I who sits alone in the dark, afraid
to visit tomorrow, knowing that I am
imperfect, and ill-equipped.
Out of desperation
I reach for the grace of God.

But my quaking is nothing, compared
to the earth and all its people. I
read of thousands gone, like flowers
blown over by the wind, when the
earth half a world away makes
its groaning more violent.

Are you the one tapping the earth,
causing its shivers? Or are you the
one who picks up a few and brings
them to safer ground? How do you
chose which pillars to hold?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

modes of communication

Okay, I have been thinking over the past few months how the mode of communication attaches meaning to it. I’ve been meaning to post about it forever, and conversations with friends and in classes helped nuance my ideas. So here’s what I’m thinking: the advent of cell phones, email, IM etc change the meaning of the initial contact, and change the way we think about relational communication. I’ve been thinking mainly about letters vs email and the change in phone significance between cell phones and telephones.

The first issue I’ve been thinking about is cost. With letters and long distance calls on a landline, there is a small but significant cost to the person who chooses to initiate the conversation. When I send a letter to a friend it costs me $0.37 ($0.80 if they are in another country). A small price, but a price nonetheless. Receiving a letter in the mail, then, has inherent value over an email because it cost the writer something besides the time to type an email and the thought to send it. Long distance phone calls work in much the same way. Receiving a long distance phone call used to be like receiving a gift. The caller thought it was important enough to speak to you that they were willing to spend money on it. Because of the way cell phones are billed, this is different. It costs me the same to place a call as to receive it, so the significance of receiving a long distance call is significantly less in the cell phone era. I’m still parsing out what this means for relationships (especially long-distance ones), their significance and their maintenance. I know that if it weren’t for free email, IM, “in” calling, and nights and weekends I’d have lost touch with many people that I am glad to stay in touch with, but does the ease of contact make it somehow less significant?

Another change with the advent of cell phones is this: I now call people instead of places. Before cell phones one had to know where someone was in order to get a hold of that person. One also had the chance of talking to any one of a number of people present at a particular place. Now, if I want to leave a message for someone, I just call his or her cell regardless of time or place. If they are unavailable, I assume I will just be able to leave a voicemail, which my friend will receive when it is convenient. This is certainly more reliable and convenient form of communication, but it also detaches us a bit from place. When our contact-ability does not depend on location, does this make us less aware of the significance of a particular place?

Does all this technology that eases our communication make place and distance less significant? Or does it just make us believe that physical space is less significant? Is this good or bad?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Collision Or (3+4=7) Reviewed

If I had to review the new David Crowder Band album in one word, the word would be this: brilliant.  A few more and I might throw in: daring, beautiful, postmodern.  Since it’s my blog and I get as many words as I want, I’ll elaborate.

The band’s website helps me a little in understanding the cd, although the work itself gives a careful listener plenty of hints.  The website lists us some themes: an eschatological statement regarding death, mortality, good and evil, the second coming, the raising of the dead, oppression, deliverance, hope, bluegrass music, hiroshima, springtime, the quiet waiting that comes just before the loudest sound ever.

I think the real key to understanding A Collision is to view it as a whole.  There are individual parts that are gorgeous or rockin’ on their own and would stand outside the cd: O God Where Are You Now, Do Not Move, and Our Happy Home are among my favorites.  There’s some songs that will work in a worship service just as there were on previous Crowder albums: Come and Listen and Wholly Yours seem particularly apt for this.  But what’s really creative and interesting about A Collision is the way they weave things together.  The little tracks with blips of things to come or things past are the big hints to the throughlines of the album.  Although I think the biggest hint is the interview at the end mixed with the Lark Ascending.  It’s not so great if you’re listening to the cd in the background, but it is a little bit profound.  “why do you keep mentioning the year these people died?” “but most of the time I don’t feel like the Lark.”

For me the piece is mostly about the mystery of death and life.  It questions and marvels and sings and sits quietly.  It’s fantastic, but you have to be willing to think and listen carefully, because it’s unusual.  But I am swiftly falling in love with it, even as I am still trying to figure it out.  (If you want to talk about it with me more, I’m up for that).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

classical radio and nostalgia

The 12 years I played violin in orchestras gave me a lot of things.  Not the least of them reasonable skill with the violin.  Also things like a sense of identity in adolescent years when that was hard to come by, good friendships, some of which I still maintain, and a free trip to Florida.  One benefit I certainly wasn’t expecting when I signed up at the wise age of 9 is something that I’ve really appreciated of late.  What I mean is a familiarity with a number of classical pieces.  Evidently the symphonic corpus is such that my 7-or-so years of playing legitimate orchestra music mean that if I keep my radio tuned to NPR classical I’ll run into an old friend (or enemy) fairly frequently.  Maybe it’s the sentimentalism I have mentioned in the past, but there is something comforting and perhaps beautiful about hearing a familiar passage and trying to remember exactly what it is and when I played it.  It’s like running into someone you haven’t seen in a while, or visiting a place you used to spend a lot of time at.  There’s a jolt of recognition, and then a frantic (often unsuccessful) mental search for the significance of it all.  And sometimes it catapults me mentally into an orchestra retreat near Lake Michigan, or a Youth Orchestra rehearsal with Mr Piipo telling us “you play like a grandma” and “that is Ludwig Von Cute.”  Or a snowy February afternoon in the Calvin rehearsal room, exchanging gossip with my stand partner in between movements.  And all these travels are happening as I’m waiting for a stoplight on Broad Street humming along with the second violin part of Mozart.

For similar thoughts about books, see another recent post.  I guess I am sentimental.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Conservation in America...

To Conserve Gas, President Calls for Less Driving - New York Times

That's right, kids. The President wants us to conserve gas. And not becasue global climate change caused by our irresponsible energy use probably leads to outrageous weather. Not even because it's our responsibility as global citizens to try and curb our own destructive behavior. No, not for any of these reasons. Why, then, should we avoid unneccesary driving? to save our economy.

Now, I'm in general a fan of more people having money, but this seems so backward and selfish when there are concerns that involve all the citizens of earth for the rest of time (at least until the New Earth) which the Bush administration doesn't seem to care about. After all, we don't want to disrupt an "american way of life."

I normally try and avoid political rants on this blog, since it rarely leads to enlightening discussion, but I had to point this out.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


My dad posted about blessing today, and my comment got a little overgrown, I thought it was more appropriate here:

One of the many wonderful things about my WA experience was my opportunity to give the blessing at the end of Vespers every week:

May God's goodness be yours
and well and seven times well may you spend your lives.
May you be an isle in the sea;
May you be a hill on the shore;
May you be a staff to the weak;
May you be a star in the darkness.
May the Love Christ Jesus gave fill every heart for you.
May the Love Christ Jesus gave fill you for everyone.

and whenever I recite it, even now, I can hear the way Nathan used to say it the year before me and the way Matt used to say it before that. I can see the faces of the faithful vesperers, sitting in the dim light of the cave, sometimes with the reflections of the candles, looking at me, often with a sense of appreciation or even affection. It was like the moment we were all ready for, that we couldn’t leave without. It was one constant in our changing liturgy, and I won't easily forget the way people received it as a gift. It was almost sacramental in the way Father Ron suggests in his comment on Dad’s blog. Not that I consider myself qualified to administer a sacrament, or even a blessing. But somehow through God’s grace, I sat on that stool every Thursday night, took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a moment, and did it with remarkable peace and a joy. And I meant it. That experience has lead me to savor the moment of blessing when I am in any congregation, as a divine gift for a community. Both a sending out for service and a reminder that we do nothing through our own strength.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I’m working on a paper for my Comm Theory class in which I am explicating the term “congregation.”  The assignment is, basically, to delineate exactly what I mean by congregation.  It’s been a challenging paper, and it has me asking some interesting questions.  

First: who counts as being a part of a congregation?  Am I a part of the congregation at 14th Street, which I haven’t attended regularly since I started College, but where I am still a member?  How about at Centrepointe, where I never became a member, but participated in the congregational life for 3 years?  What about now that I’m gone?  What about Athens First where I’ve been attending for, oh, four weeks or so?  In some sense, I think congregations are (and must be) inclusive.  It’s anybody who wants to be and even some people who don’t.  When you’re planning a worship service, it’s whoever’s sitting in the pews: faithful members, first time visitors, adolescents whose parents made them come.

The next question I’m trying to tease out in this paper is this: what does it mean to be a part of a congregational community?  What are our obligations to each other?  What is our role in worship?  Sometimes, I think, the people-in-the-pews congregation are symbolic representatives of the whole congregation or even the church universal.  The confession of sin and assurance of pardon goes for everybody, not just the people sitting there.  When the congregation makes promises in the liturgy of baptism, it is less that the actual persons standing there (often including out-of-town relatives, visitors, people who may never come back….) are promising to uphold the family, it is that we are speaking on behalf of the whole community, or of that families future communities, if they move someplace else.

So it turns out that what constitutes a congregation and a religious community is more complex than I had first guessed.  But it is an exciting project to figure it out, too.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard reviewed

Because of my Dad’s enthusiasm, I’ve been listening to the new McCartney cd.  Dad says it lacks the usual McCartney cheesiness and bigification, and for the post part, he’s right.  It has a disproportionate amount of the sorts of things I like about McCartney: pretty melodies, simple, catchy arrangements.  This album is much more simple and emotional that most of McCartney’s solo stuff.  There is a sense of intimacy and authenticity in much of it that is part of many of my favorite McCartney songs (Hey Jude, Calico Skies, Junk, Silly Love Songs…)

So, by and large, I approve of it.  I don’t know if it will replace Flaming Pie as my longstanding favorite McCartney solo work (well, relatively longstanding).  And there are a few moments where I think he misses the mark.  Here are some of my highlights and lowlights:

My favorite song on the whole cd is “English Tea.”  But that’s probably because I am a sucker for anything with a good string party. And because it makes me think of PG Wodehouse.  But it is a charming little song and a great string part.  Other great, subtle tunes include “Follow Me,” “At the Mercy,” and “Too Much Rain.”

“A Certain Softness” is something I think I might like coming from somebody else, but I just don’t think I can handle it from Sir Paul.  It’s very latin-influenced, which in general I like, but it just seems like a bastardized Enrique Iglesias cover in this context.  So I guess this song is screaming for somebody else to cover it.  “Promise to You Girl” sounds like it belongs on a Queen Album and I can’t really handle it either.  Maybe if he didn’t have the Bohemian Rhapsodie vocal harmonies I wouldn’t feel that way, but it’s not a standout regardless.

So I guess I’ll see how this one lasts over time.  I like it, as McCartney albums go.  And he is indeed one of the best songwriters of all time.  It’s not stunning like some of the other things I’ve been listening to, but it might be one that grows on you over time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

new poem

This poem has been floating around my head recently.  It’s not perfect, but I thought I’d toss it out there anyway.

Untitled (September 2005)

The newspaper cries tears of ink,
in photos of empty shoes, broken railings
and broken levees.  It speaks desperation
between quotation marks.

Tears seem precisely the wrong response.
Why add even a few drops to flooded streets
of New Orleans or to the running Tigris,
that holds centuries of tears beneath the willows.

My eyes, ostentatiously dry, read
here and there.  I am overwhelmed
but helpless.  I put my bills in collection
plates and raise my weak voice in a song
of solidarity.  I remember another
song that seems to sing alongside us,
as we want to sing alongside others:
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?

We follow the psalmist
all the way to his conclusion:
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

And I wonder if my quiet trust,
my casual reading, and our brief song
mean enough or anything.
But I don’t know how to mean more.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

You Know You're in Grad School When...

My friend Becky posted a list of experiences that verify our identity as Speech Comm grad students. I've been keeping my own list which has most of the events from hers (since, indeed, I was there for nearly all of them), but I have a few to add:

  • You make jokes that include things like “does this qualify as semantic noise” or “do we need to explicate that term?”
  • The most exciting moment of your day was when you finally finished that long reading.
  • Whenever you watch a movie you 1) analyze it rhetorically in your head and 2) look for clips to show your students to demonstrate some point.
  • You are sitting around waiting for something to happen, and the killing-time discussion begins with “let’s talk pedagogy.”

More to come, I'm sure.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Has Katrina saved US media?

Today I read this BBC news article that suggests US media has finally got their teeth back after years of being kind to the Bush Administration. Could the government response to hurricane Katrina be the impotice that leads journalism to return to being a voice of dissent?

The author points out that large US media outlets are under the influence of the same corporate bodies that support politicians, and in the current cultural-economic climate, money is power. So much power, it seems, that it controls who gets a voice, or at least whose voices get the best amplification. So will moral indignation be enough to force media outlets to speak out? Are administrative mistakes serious enough to ignite this kind of attitude change?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Uses of Blogging

The formation of the Comm Dawg Blawg has lead me to more thinking about the purposes and functions and possibilities of blogs, primarily because of some of the insightful posts of my colleagues on that very topic.

My dad posted a while ago about a conversation I had with Dr Laura Smit this summer.  She apparently had learned about our little cadre of bloggers that formed around the WA office (indeed, many of our individual blogs formed IN the WAffice).  She asked her question this way “so if you and these people hang around together all the time in this office, why do you feel the need also to blog to each other?”

I didn’t answer the question well at the time, but (as my dad explained too) here’s my answer now: although it was primarily to each other, we also want the fruits of our conversations to be available to those who were not there at the time.  There were plenty of times that just a few of us would have an interesting conversation, and then others would be able to read about it and join in.  Also, it allowed our face-to-face conversations to be deeper.  Sometimes we would link to articles or write about things a little more complex than you might generally bring up over a peanut butter sandwich or in between planning a worship service, but since we had the opportunity to read each other’s thoughts expressed more concisely, we were better able to discuss these ideas in person.  So in some ways, blogging improved our face-to-face conversations, which was a big benefit, and probably lead to the formation of thorubos, which was also really cool.  Now, of course, these people are far away from me, and reading each other’s blogs gives us some continuation of that personal-intellectual relationship.  I also posted about this experience by way of explanation a few months ago.

So, now there is a new group blog for my new intellectual community.  I think we are still discovering what it will be, but given my past experience, I’m excited about the possibilities.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


one of the graduate students in my department started a blog for all of us to post intellectual professional things on. So readers of this blog may or may not be interested therein.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Friends in Pages

This morning I visited “Sundays at the Morton” church, but because I gave myself way too much extra time to find it and park, I found myself with half an hour of extra time downtown Athens.  Fortunately, the Morton theatre is across the street from a wonderful coffee shop, so I proceeded to get myself a cup of Earl Grey and settle down at a table and browse the books that lined the windowsill.  In between a number of unfamiliar titles I discovered a stained copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed.  Perfect!  I had never read this book, but heard good things about it, and Lewis’ name in the sea of unfamiliar (and, indeed, in the city of not-very-familiar) was like running into someone you know at an event when you’re expecting to be all alone and awkward about it.

I soon found myself absorbed in Lewis’ writing: conversational, confessional, honest.  Something about Lewis as a writer (how could I not trust someone who lead me through Narnia at age 10?) and the tone of this particular book was just what I needed, even though grief was not particularly on my mind.  The book was companionable, and it felt authentic.

This got me thinking (again) about the way confessional writing works.  It seems mysterious and dangerous and powerful the way reading has the ability to make us feel we know someone we have never met, and the way familiar writing (both in tone and in repeated reading) can give you the sense of hominess, and perhaps intimacy.  I have a friend who reads Traveling Mercies to calm herself down when she’s upset.  What about reading has such a tight hold on our emotions?

This effect seems dangerous too.   I had a conversation with Craig today about blogging creating a strange relationship when you feel you know someone just from reading their blog, but your real relationship isn’t as intimate as your knowledge of that person might suggest.  This has always been an issue with confessional writing, but blogging seems to make it more immediate (and more widely experienced).  How do we, as both readers and writers, embrace the power of confessional writing and avoid the strangeness?  Can we?  Is it worth it anyway?  I guess my continued writing would indicate that I think it is.  But how do we negotiate these issues?

Laity Sunday

I was surfing church websites (like I do) and I learned that the methodist church has a particular week in the year called Laity Sunday. I had never heard of this, but since I knew what Laity was, I had a basic idea, and did some more research to figure out the purpose of Laity Sunday. As far as I can tell, this week gives Methodist Churches extra motivation to allow lay-persons in their congregation to lead worship. The implication, it seems, being that the lay-gifts for worship leadership are perhaps being overlooked on all other Sundays, which bothers me a bit.

Perhaps my reading of a few websites is unfairly generalizing. It could also be that the week is meant to highlight and celebrate the lay-gifts that are already in use in the church. It just seems the reccomendations the previously linked website offers should be implemented more than once a year. "Churches use the gifts of the body to set the worship style." for example. What a great idea! For all the time!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Toiling in Obscurity

Somebody (I forget who) said this to me once about higher education: "you just keep on knowing more and more about less and less until eventually you know absolutely everything about nothing."

I was talking about this issue today with some friends. A few of us expressed concern about specializing within our specific feilds. I, for one, feel a little bit of anxiety about choosing a specific area and then getting that label for the rest of my academic career. As I put it to Becky,
"we're worried about committing to being a ____ scholar for our entire lives." Even for a semester or a few years I feel ill equipped to select a topic to study enough to speak with authority on.

One reassuring thing my dad often reminds me, though, is that just because you do one thing now, it doesn't keep you from working on other stuff in the future, and his scholarship is a prime example. This releives my thesis anxiety a little, but not entirely. It's a daunting task to pick something that will be original and fruitful and interesting and supply me with the minimum number of nervous breakdowns.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I read this Banner-Herald article today about a task force that recently reported on making UGA more rigorous for undergrads. One of the most interesting reccomendations, I thought, was this one:

One of the most important recommendations in the report is the seemingly simple change of adding pluses and minuses to grades, Morehead said. With a plus-minus system, students are more motivated to bring a B up to a B+, even after it's no longer possible to change a B to an A, he explained.

Now, I was sort of surprised when I found out that they didn't have pluses and minuses here in the grading. This article has got me thinking about grades in general, and the way they affect our performance (and self-concept) and what something like a + or - can do to influence perception. Obviously, I am a pretty good student (they don't let just anybody into graduate school) so my perception of grading is different than a lot of other people's. We'll just say I really relate to the part of Traveling Mercies when Anne Lamott writes "I was thirty-five when I discovered that B-plus was a reall good grade."

So what difference does it make in our understanding of performance and evaluation? Would I have slacked more in undergrad if I knew 91% would still get me an A? (not likely, I'm not that math-conscious) Will my students be less motivated to improve if they think there's no way their B could mosey up to a B+ or even an A-? Or do the larger grade divisions make people less aware of grades and more focused on learning (haha.. yeah right)? It seems strange to me that one of the best ways to get UGA students to try harder is to bait them with a + or a -, but if we concede that grades are the primary motivator for students, I think making them a little easier to influence might not hurt.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Church Searching

My lack of recent posting is mainly because I’ve been pretty busy with orientation and stuff here, and although I’ve been thinking a lot, it’s not about the kinds of issues you post about on the internet. At least not the kind I post about on the internet. Issues of identity and personal philosophy and many less esoteric things like navigation and scheduling (my new friend Craig has posted a wonderful reflection about physical and academic navigation, actually).

Here’s a question I’m willing to share and offer for discussion though: what is important to me in a church? This is, obviously, not simply an academic exercise as I leave a church I was very involved in, and already miss after only one Sunday away. But it’s also a chance for me to see some different churches and learn from others and also make some more decisions about who I will be here.

For me, the primary thing is really community. I want to go a place that the members really know each other, love each other, and take care of each other. This is really what kept me coming back to both my other churches, and everything else sort of takes a backseat to a welcoming, thriving community. As a twenty-something single person, I’m interested in a place that has a reasonable community of young single people (not a dating service, mind you, but a community), but also a variety of people in different stages of life. I want a church that is thoughtful about their liturgy – that makes all the pieces of their worship service meaningful, intellectually and emotionally. It's important to me to go to a place that values the contributions of diverse people - regardless of gender, age, social class, gifts, etc. As I've noted before, I'm particularly sensitive to the gender thing. Related to that, I'd like a church that's somewhat socially progressive.

After that there are a few things I would like that are less important and less universal. I want a place that values worship from many traditions and sources. I would like to play improvisational violin with a pretty good worship band. I want deep relationships, but not too much commitment. Someplace near my home would be nice (sorry CP-ers, I won’t commute to GR). But as you can tell from my opening requests, I could end up at some very different types of congregations. Last week I visited a Presbyterian church that I thought was pretty good. This week I’m thinking of trying a church whose website reminds me of Centrepointe’s. Stay tuned, I guess, for how my lofty ideals play out in real life.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

second-language dialect?

I was reading Nathan Bierma's On Language column today (he also blogs about language on the Calvin Linguistics blog), and I have a question. The article is about the dialect that is developing in China called China English. This is a grammatical dialect of English which is becoming a standard english in China. What I am wondering, though, is can you have a standard dialect that has no native speakers? It just seems a little odd to me. What is the purpose of learning a second language that you can speak with other people who share your first language? Perhaps it is easier to all speak China English when conversing with people who speak different dialects of Chinese. Does anyone have insight on this topic?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

thoughts on place

As I prepare to move to Georgia for graduate studies in about a week, it seems that the universe is banging me over the head with the significance of place. At COCE I heard a paper about how Georgian author Janisse Ray’s work is uniquely grounded in the south – in the land and the culture. Kathi passed me a note during the presentation asking if the Midwest, like the south, had a narrative. And that got me thinking. How has spending the last 16 years in West Michigan formed me? What does it mean to live in this place, and to spend time away from it?

Matt posted recently about people in our generation having a sense of home that is much more based in relationships than in place, and to a certain extent I agree with him. I define myself first as a part of these relationships. Relationships that began in a specific place, but can (and in some cases already have) continue across distance. I still feel rather attached, though, to specific places. Many of them are important to me because of the events that happened there, but also because of the familiarity. I know the best beaches, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and some of the quirky history in Holland.

In the seminar on Friday one of the participants asked “how do we exegete a place?” And that discussion reminded me that our places - the land, the city, the weather, the predominant culture - all do still influence who we are, how we think, and even the way we relate to God. I’m not sure what this will mean when I really move AWAY for the first time. I know it means I will grow up and change some. I think it means, too, that I’ll bring some of that as-yet-undefined West Michigan sensibility to a new place and a new community. I imagine my life sometimes like a post-modern novel, where the not-clearly-related experiences of my life are placed unexpectedly next to each other and forced into conversation. I’m excited to hear what they say.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Types of Blogs Revisited

My previous three categories of blogs have been useful to me and to others in talking about the function and style of blogs. After some discussion with my dad, I’ve decided to refine my original categories and present this still incomplete but more complex schema. Some of the categories are the same, some are new, and some are just renamed. So here are five common types of blogs:

  • Diary blogs: these weblogs function like a personal journal for writers to air all their dirty laundry. They post to vent, celebrate, whine and swoon. These are frequently marked by disregard to conventions of spelling and grammar, use of internet abbreviations and emoticons, dramatic, personal, sometimes gossipy content. Reading this sort of blog feels deceptively like one has an actual relationship with the blogger. Some of the most scandalous blogs fall into this category.

  • Christmas Card blogs: These bloggers use blogs primarily as a way to keep up with friends they might not corresond with personally very often. These are like the annual christmas letter my family sends to people, just a generic response to the question "what's going on with you?" As such, these bloggers are more aware of the public-ness of a blog, and are not as personal as diary bloggers. My xanga site most often belongs in this category.

  • Commentary Blogs: Formerly called “literary blogs” these are similar to an editorial column or essay series. The writer writes about whatever he or she is thinking about or interested in. The quality of writing is often higher, and posts are often well-thought-out and sometimes even revised before posting. It’s more about the writer’s intellectual life than personal life, but it is still very related to the identity of the writer. I aim for this kind of blog with my blogspot.

  • Single-topic blogs: These are blogs that cover one writer’s (or several collaborators’) opinions or observations about a focused subject. This could be a number of things – politics, worship, language, entertainment, etc. They sometimes follow a specific subcategory of their topic (instances of unnecessary quotation marks or the phrase “a whole nother” for example). They are often unabashedly biased; in fact, it’s part of their charm.

  • News blogs: These are blogs that are used primarily to post updates and/or links about specific topics, with little or no commentary. Professional groups and entertainers’ websites often use this style.
Of course there is more in the blogosphere to consider, so this schema isn’t comprehensive. For example, what about blogs of artistic expression? How are blogs with multiple contributors different? What is the effect of comments? More to come later, perhaps.

More Imaganitive Reading for Creative Preaching

I've posted more about that seminar I'm blogging over at the CICW blog. They can be found there by looking or by following these links:

A River Runs Through It
Children's Literature

Monday, July 11, 2005

Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching

By some unforseen stroke of providence, I was asked to visit and blog about Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching (one of the Seminars in Christian Scholarship) for the Institute. The following post will also appear on their blog:

Today was the first day of the seminar on Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching, hosted by Neil Plantinga Jr with Hulitt Gloer and Scott Hoezee. As a stealth blogger for CICW, I sat in on their opening hour.

“Welcome,” Professor Plantinga opened the session saying, “to three weeks of bliss.”

I sensed the anticipation among the participants, who introduced themselves and expressed their hopes for the seminar. Many participants are excited about an opportunity to unite two loves: reading and preaching. They are hoping to improve their preaching, to broaden their reading, and, as one participant put it, to receive “an infusion of prophetic imagination.”

As I perused the reading list, my own anticipation grew. I saw a few unfamiliar names surrounded by some of my favorites: Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, Otherwise by Jane Kenyon, a number of young-adult books including Gary Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Silence by Shusako Endo, and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, among others.

The central question of this seminar, Professor Plantinga explained, is “what is the preacher getting from this literature?” He hoped these works would “tune our ears” to exceptional use of language. They would also be looking for “statable insights into the human condition.” It seems that they will be looking for ways to bring the richness from literature more often into sermons; to add to the artfulness, accessibility, and concreteness of sermons by infusing them with literature.

There is much to anticipate in this seminar – with a great reading list, and thoughtful participants, I can’t wait to see what more I can overhear of what is sure to be exciting and thought-provoking discussion. Perhaps “three weeks of bliss” is only mild hyperbole, with such an enriching task ahead.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

cell phone etiquette

After reading about the explosions in London, I was intrigued by a NY Times article about Cell Phone Etiquette. The article is generally well-written, and addresses workplaces as the new battleground over what is and isn't appropriate use of a cell phone. I found it shocking the number of places people were willing to take calls - during meetings, while being treated at a doctor's office, while lecturing a class or leading a seminar. I agree that there are borderline situations, like driving in a car, or waiting for a table at a restaurant, but it seems to me these are situations where it is blatantly rude to ignore the immediate context for a phone call - isn't that why they come with voicemail?

I've avoided having a cell phone so far, mainly because of the expense, and free access to landlines most of the time. There have been times, though, that a cell phone would have been useful. Cell phones make it easier to contact people when you're en route to see them, going to be a little late, or even when you just have a few moments in between activities. They make it easier to check messages when it is convenient, and eliminate the need to take messages for others on a shared landline - a sometimes difficult responsibility. I appreciate the accessibility that cell phones give my often-transient friends.

But I wish people would be more responsible in their cell-phone use. I wish people would remember to turn their phones off at inapropriate times (I'm reminded of Kent's suggestion at the passport worship service that we all prepare ourselves for the cell phone that will inevitably go off. One did). It seems that there are a lot of times when the person in front of you should take priority over the person calling. As I look ahead one month I realize I'll have to turn my own aversion to poor cell etiquette into personal fastidiousness when I purchase my first cell phone plan. I'm still hashing out what is and isn't acceptable behavior. I know that nextel 2-way is almost always the most obnoxious thing I have ever heard, and answering a cell in class (especially one you are teaching) is almost never apropriate. Perhaps my readers (and maybe my callers) can help me determine what is and isn't good use of a new media.

Friday, July 01, 2005

"innapropriate quotation marks"

Kent and I were talking about linguistics blogs yesterday, and I've decided to start my own, cataloguing the innapropriate use of quotation marks. I'm sure all five people who enjoy playing the whole nother game will also appreciate the quotation marks game.

Monday, June 27, 2005

weird hymns

I spent the weekend in Jekyll Island Georgia for the Conference on Communication and the Environment (about which I hope to blog more later) but I first need to tell you-all about the church service we went to on Sunday morning. Jekyll Island has a number of denominations, Kathi and I chose to go to the 8:30 episcopalian service because of the convenient timing. We were by far the youngest people in the place, (we knew things were gonna be interesting when the vicar began the service saying "it's good to see you all alive and well") It was traditional anglican liturgy, straight from the prayer book and the lectionary I assume, but we sang this really weird hymn, which left me in the pew feeling a little bit horrified and whose lyrics I found online to share with you all:

They cast their nets in Galilee just of the hills of brown;
such happy simple folk before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful,and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,homeless in Patmos died.
Peter who hauled the teaming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.

Yet let us pray for just one thing the marvelous peace of God.

So, um, I didn't know quite what to do with that one. It made a bit more sense when the gospel reading for the day followed, but still, it deals with some tough ideas in a trite and inadequate way. This seems some weird mix of the "family values" christianity that just wants everything G-rated (contented peaceful fishermen) and Mel Gibson brutalism without much explination. I know the hymn didn't leave me thinking the peace of God made any sense at all. And maybe it doesn't, but it seems like something we can't just sing to a jaunty tune and then say "thanks be to God," sit down, and hear a loosely related homily. There's more to life in Christ than "strife closed in the sod" right? I mean, I guess that's part of it, but... wow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Barbara Brown Taylor has written a lovely piece about the Sabbath for Christian Century. Those who know me or who pay attention probably know that I'm a fan of keeping Sabbath, although my observance isn't as strict or as consistant as Taylor's seems to be. She has a beautiful way of putting things, and a compelling suggestion: that we all observe Sabbath as a community as a form of resistance. I especially like this part:

If we paid as much attention to Leviticus 25 as we do to Leviticus 18, then we might discover that God is at least as interested in economics as in sex.

and this: One day each week I lived as if all my work were done. I lived as if the kingdom had come and when I did the kingdom came, for 25 hours at least.

I love the idea of one day a week being a sort of imperfect incarnatin of the kingdom that is already-not yet here.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Why Men Hate Going to Church"

I noticed this article in the GR Press today, and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. The author is writing mainly from a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Now, I am neither a man nor a person who hates going to church, which is why I am hoping to get some insight from my friends and readers on this article.

This article seems to resonate with some of the ideas that are coming out of the Promise Keepers movement and John Eldridge's writing. And some of it, I think, has merit. I think it is true that much of contemporary christianity is taking the edge off of Jesus and off of God. Being a Christian becomes about being nice and meek and non-controversial - family-friendly even. And I think these authors are right to say that this is misconstruing the Bible and the christian life - the calls to justice and radical dissent from culture are everywhere in the Bible, and it is by no means a clean, sweet, suburban story either. I wonder, though, if talking about this tendency in gender terms is doing us all a disservice - perhaps it's not so much "emmasculating" Jesus and scripture as it is de-humanizing. I understand that there are gender differences, inherant and socialized, but being a woman isn't as sanitized as some of this work would make one believe.

The other thing that bothers me about this article in particular and similar work is their apparant definition of what it is to be masculine. This sentence in particular got to me today: "While men who are good singers and teachers are thriving in the classroom model of church, more masculine men are left looking for something else to do." So, apparantly, the arts and communication are un-masculine? The article goes on to point to things like a car-fixing ministry which sounds wonderful (I could use that sort of help) but I think dividing gifts into male and female so clearly is dangerous.

So I'm still not sure exactly what to think. I understand that some of these gender ideas are imbedded in our culture whether I like it or not, and the church needs to respond, but I wonder if the church should be the place where we discuss what's really "masculine" or "feminine" and what's a strange caricature. I think there's a trouble the church needs to deal with in a different way - a more countercultural way - when I read things like "The fruits of the Spirit that Jesus upholds in the gospels -- gentleness and humility, for example -- are not things to brag about on a job resume. " Is this really how it is?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Women in Church Office

I've been in the academic bubble (and ecumenical conversations) for so long, I had forgotten what the general deal is with the CRC (my denomination) and women, but was reminded of it again because it came up at synod this year.

I have considered myself a feminist since I was about 10 years old, and this issue, ten years ago, was important to me. I thought it was outrageous that the church would stop people from church leadership simply because of their gender, and I continue to be amazed at the slow speed with which our denomination changes. I was blessed to see the first women elders installed at our church when I was old enough to understand the significance, but seriously, what is taking so long? When many other denominations moved to allow women to have positions of leadership (including clergy) long ago, why is the CRC still dragging its feet with silly distinctions (ie women can be a synodical deputy, but not a delegate), and distrust? In my own theology and ethics it has long been a presupposition that some women are gifted with leadership, and of course should be allowed to exercise that. I guess I'm just surprised that so many do not hold that presupposition.

For a while I thought I might go into ordained ministry. I think the call to academia was pretty clear, at least for now. I guess God saved me from the hurt and headaches but also the glory of being a ground-breaker. But especially as someone who thinks about church leadership a lot, I have nothing but appreciation and respect for the women who have followed their gifts into ministry, in spite of silly obstacles. It's not an easy job for anyone, and if your authority is considered suspect, that's even tougher.

I think its time for the CRC to move ahead on this more than we already have, but it seems I am not really in touch with the denomination as a whole. I'm glad they took more small steps this week, but I don't think they went far enough. And I also think that the church body as a whole needs to change their minds and call women pastors, and leaders.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

death of the album?

I was listening to the new Coldplay Album on itunes in the office today, and I found out that I inadvertently listened to the songs in the wrong order. This is not a huge event in my life, by any means, but it did bring to mind some of the thoughts I’ve been having about the form of an album. I am a big fan of listening to an entire album, in the order the artist put the songs. I figure that thought went into what songs got on and the order they are in. Also, one song from a particular artist is not usually enough for me – I want to spend some time with an artist, even if they’re just in the background. This is why I don’t listen to a lot of mixes, and why I don’t do shuffle and why I feel guilty about wanting an ipod.

I wonder if the popularity of ipod (especially ipod shuffle) and the ability to buy one song at a time, soon the idea of an album as a whole work will go out the window, and the concept album (one of my favorite ideas) will also be a thing of the past. I think this would be sad. I like the way songs work together in an arc. I like the way it lasts about an hour. I like noticing particular structural details. There are other things I like about buying cds too. I like the trip to the store and holding the thing in your hands, and looking at the art and reading the liner notes. I love liner notes. I sure hope with the coolness and convenience of itunes, we don’t loose the things that are cool about whole albums.

Maybe I’m just a sentimental nerd (well, surely I am, but maybe this idea is particularly over the top). I am aware that a good mix cd (or playlist) is an art, and there are some mix cds I love dearly and DO listen to. So probably the shuffle music culture and the album music culture can coexist in, uh, harmony. But that’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


So I’ve been trying to make up for the incomplete reading of Gilead that I did when it was assigned for class and reading it sincerely this summer. It’s one of those books I have to read slow (which explains why I didn’t do it justice during the semester) it’s the same thing with Annie Dillard. Anyway, one thing I like about it is the way every sentence seems to glisten with intention. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is what the book says about visions. The narrator keeps coming back to a sort of every day moment of sharing a biscuit with his father in the ruins of a church that was struck by lightning. He says “it seems to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment” (96) and “I truly believe it is a waste and ingratitude not to honor such things as visions, whether you yourself happen to have seen them or not” (97). So I’ve been wondering what those visions are for me – what are those moments. And whether it is something inherent in the moment or the way we think about it afterwards that makes it so defining.

Well, I haven’t settled on any major life visions, but lots of small moments of profundity. Or at least of joy or grace or awareness. How postmodern of me, I suppose. And some of the moments are that because I wrote about them later. So maybe the writing is what makes them important. For example, today I had a moment when I was walking home from getting my dinner. Here’s the poem:

walking home with Chinese takeout
warm through the bag in my hands
in the sunny early-summer heat
I feel the first drops of
is that rain or am I only imagining
the cool drops touching
my shoulders soft like
the way he looks at me sometimes
or like blessing falling surprise
out of the sky

so was it a moment because it was, or because I thought about it and then wrote about it? I’m leaning toward the latter, but there was something in the rain and the sunshine or I wouldn’t have written about it in the first place. Does God give us the vision, or the attitude to look for the vision?

Monday, May 23, 2005

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It's a whole nother picture! Featuring Matt, Bethany, Professor Vandenbosch, Kristin, and Kent.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

sex on the thorubos blog

I think we should use our thorubos group blog more, so I made my post about Lauren Winner's Real Sex: the Naked Truth About Chastity there. I'm hoping to make that blog into a hopping place for discussion, especially in the absense of face-to-face discussion when many of us scatter across the world after graduation. It won't be the same as a chat over some brie or apples and dip or a van ride to rescue a stranded thorubos-er. But, then, what would?

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I had a realization when I was talking to Joyce about my adventures (and misadventures) in procuring bread to use for LOFT communion tomorrow. I had to call a few places, drive farther than I really needed to because I called the wrong D&W, just to get the right kind of bread to break for the sacrament. She asked "isn't it just bread?" and I explained that it had to look right and be break-able and not taste funny (I find it disconcerting when the Body of Christ broken for me is unexpectedly sourdough or dill or something). She said now she's going to be thinking about this conversation when she's trying to take communion tomorrow.

I thought about that some more (I felt a little bad) and realized that I like that the sacrament is so connected with normal life. That somehow me running all over town and asking around to find the right thing and trying to carry all of it into the chapel at once and find a place for it in the kitchen is a part of it. It's God's Grace in the middle of our daily life. Of our eating and drinking and community, most explicitly. But also in our running errands and preparing for worship and trying to show God's Grace to others. Sacraments are supposed to show us God's grace in our everyday lives, remind us that God's grace is already in our everyday lives. Today that found me in an unexpected way.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Art as Gift

I'm perusing Alan Jacobs' A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love for my lit theory exam later today, and I came across the idea of art (specifically literature) as a gift:

In other words, to think of a book as a thing is to commodify it in ways that deny it human significance: Conversely, to think of it as a gift, as a human activity, may create confusion - How can a book be a person?...(78)

I think a lot of the time I read and write as if it were a gift. Like the author wants to give me something she has discovered, like a child coming inside with a carefully selected dandelion, or a friend returning from a trip with a necklace or a trinket. Sometimes it's more like my mom giving me luggage for my birthday: "here's something I really think you will need." And a lot of the time I really do need it (my mom and some authors are wise like that).

And when I write, sometimes at least (when it's good?) I want to make it worth giving. I try and think as far as I can to somehow reach something that's going to be worth something. Like I am saying to any potential reader "isn't this nice?" or "here is something useful" or both simultaneously, if I'm really lucky.

Of course, not all gifts are thoughtful, or useful, or elegant. Sometimes a gift has more strings attatched than you would really like to receive. And sometimes that is the way with literature, too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

a poem for the end of the year

I wrote this poem for a Jazz Vespers service we had a few weeks ago, but it's relevant for right now, I feel.

The Present

I can be sentimental.
Nostalgic even.
Holding moments in my fist
knowing even now that I am crushing
them into a dust of fuzzy memories,
inside jokes that no one else gets, vague grins
and murmurs of “those were the days”.

I’ll wake up one day
and wonder whatever happened
to the person who I am sitting beside today,
talking about hopes and dreams, or telling jokes,
or explaining the virtues
of her favorite coffee shop.

And I wish there was a way to hang on to
the beauty of now, collect
moments like seashells, stored in a
wooden box on top of my dresser.
Somewhere safe where they
won’t disappear. With all the other
things that meant something to me once.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Legislating Morality

So apparantly a Texas legislator has decided that the best way to deal with increasing sexuallity in high schools is through lawmaking. Now, I'm sure that sexuality in cheerleading routines is a problem, but is this really the way to deal with it?
I really wonder if legislators wouldn't be better off spending their time trying to find ways to keep their constituents healthy, and fed, and stop trying to fix moral problems in high school cheerleading squads by making uninforceable laws. If they are interested in the moral training of students, maybe they could fund the schools better, and get people to mentor these girls instead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

language and inclusion

I had an interesting discussion last night with my roommates about the use of jargon in writing. Sonya was reading a book for class that used a lot of philisophical jargon - things like "praxis oriented theory." She was navigating it fine, but complaining because there was some difficult language. From what Natalie labeled a marxist perspective, she argued that using big or unusual words in your writing only serves to exclude those with smaller vocabularies from reading your work. This creates a literate elite and keeps those less educated from accessing the ideas of ones writing. Sonya was advocating an extreme inclusivity - writing as simply as possible. I mostly argued in defense of big words, party because I like them, and partly to argue. I'm still thinking about it, though, today.

What does it accomplish to use unusual words and write more complicated sentences? I think it lets language push the limits of what it can do. Reminds us of the richness of shades of meaning we have access to, and exposes us to unusual words that are beautiful and fun to say. Like perspicuity! Also, using a large vocabulary and less common grammatical structures is a way to show your command of the language and your education, it's a way to gain respect and establish authority, especially when you are writing as someone who is educated in a certain area. It also demonstrates a level of respect for your audience as educated, intelligent people with access to a dictionary.

On the other hand, writing inpenetrable academic prose really just guarantees that aproximately 3 people will read your work and only because they're writing on something similar. If you have something to say, saying it in a difficult to understand manner will not help get the word out, and if your thing doesn't matter, why write it in the first place? And it does take a greater command of the subject (and of the language) to translate your thoughts into something that someone who is not an expert (or a college grad) can access.

Of course, as an educated person who talks to other educated people a lot, using big words is a fun game, or sometimes I'm not sure what language is normal and what's jargon. So how does one reconcile a love of language and perhaps too much education with a desire to write hospitably? Where is the balence between accesibility and complexity?

Monday, April 18, 2005

writing and prayer

For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. - from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I've been reading this book for senior seminar and underlining more than is probably healthy.

This particular quote struck me, because it resonated with my experience, both as a general writer and compulsive journaler (and lets face it, blogger) and as one who writes for worship sometimes. Writing is similar to prayer for me in a lot of ways. Both are simultaneously solitary and communal. Especially when I write with a particular audience in mind, I have a sense of their presence, of anticipating a reaction. But sometimes I just write for the writing of it, and that's not lonely either. If I go too long without writing something I get restless and moody, and the same goes for prayer. Often they follow each other.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but it seemed so profound when I read it. Maybe carefully crafted writing can function as prayer, the same way knitting a hat or taking a walk can be. At least sometimes. What's that Madeline L'engle said about all good art being religious art?

Monday, April 04, 2005

linguistic nitpicking

okay, how come "each other" is two words instead of one? I always want to type eachother, but microsoft word gently reminds me that, indeed, that is not a word. But I think it should be. After all, "myself" and "yourself" get to be one word. Why not "each other." is our individualistic english-speaking culture scorning the togetherness of eachother?

I propose a crusade to make eachother into a legitimate single word. If enough of us do it in print, does it become no longer wrong? How does one go about changing a convention of spelling?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I was directed to this website today, and I've got to admit I'm a little enchanted. The idea is you register a book, and then give it away or trade it or sell it or leave it somewhere, with a number in it and a note, and you write a journal thing about it, so that future reader/finders also go online and write about it, and you can see what happens to your book and all experience the joy of reading together with strangers. It seems rahter romantic. In much the way the whole marginalia thing captures my imagination, which I posted about a while ago.
And it wouldn't take much to make a very sentimental movie about the idea. Unless it was some horribly unromantic book. "I knew we would fall in love when I found her name in my used copy of 'a modest proposal', complete with underlining."

Friday, April 01, 2005

the untimely end of Dinosaur Comics

Imagine my dismay as this morning I click one of my few but quality webcomic bookmarks, and discover that the webpage no longer contains daily dinosaur comics - in my opinion a brilliant plan for webcomic writing. It contains a new venture by same author, Ryan North. And though softer world 2 does have the potential to be quirky and clever, I miss T-rex already. I suppose you can only go so far with a silly concept like having a comic with the same pictures every time.

update: imagine my chagrin when I remember that it is april fool's day, and I have been, indeed, fooled. I can be really gullible sometimes.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Of Psalm 59, wind and hope

I've been dealing with Psalm 59 today, trying to come up with something to enter in the contest for the psalm fest. (I have a beginning of something. I hesitated to blog about it at all, because I don't want to somehow taint the competition, but I decided this was worth it). Anyway, I read Psalm 59 a number of times today, trying to figure out what's going on, how I can enter into the psalm and understand it, what I could possibly bring to such apparantly reasonable anger from MY experience. And I'm having a tough time. But the angle I did find has to do with the movement of the psalmist in the psalm from fear and finger-pointing toward confidence in God and security in his (her?) own position as a child of God. It is as though just invoking God in what is a terrible, inescapable situation is enough to give the Psalmist hope.

Tonight at thorubos Gary Schmidt came to talk with us about his book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and he told us a story - a jewish folk story - about a man in Warsaw in the jewish ghetto who takes God to trial before the rabbi. He charges God with not keeping his promises to his people. While the trial is going on this man is outside waiting, and a warm wind comes and surrounds him. And it is the presence of God. And even though the guilty verdict comes through, this presence is enough of an affirmation for him. God's presence brings hope even in horrible dispair. Schmidt used this idea in the way the sea breeze plays and comforts and sometimes represents the presence of God in his novel. And I wonder if it's the same presence that seems to sooth the psalmist in Psalm 59.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

holy week

I've been trying to think of something profound to write about Holy Week since before Palm Sunday. And I don't have much. In Plan B Anne Lamott writes: I don't have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday school, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you're talking.

She captures some of my feeling. I don't have the temperment for Good Friday. I don't know what to do with the violence, the sudden changes in people's attitudes, the confusing and disconnected feeling of some of the passion week stories. But there are themes there that I obsess about year-round: lament and sadness, even when there is hope, the incarnation, absolute love.

I guess I'm intimidated by the extremity of Holy Week. The dispair, the betrayal, the cruelty all seem too much. And the astounding hope is equally inconceiveable. I have a hard time comprehending the momentousness of the events we are remembering. So perhaps my inability to say much says something about the weight of the week. Of Christ's sacrifice and of His astonishing ressurection. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Religion in Academe

Gideon Strauss alerted me to an article by Stanley Fish that suggests that religion is going to be the next big thing in Academics. This is great news for people like me!
Unfortunately, I can't access the article since I don't subscribe to the chronicle of higher education. you need a subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education to read his links (Calvin College provides its students access, which I used) but Strauss quotes extensively, so I get the general idea without too much effort.

I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the next few years. A greater tolerance (and even hunger) for religious commitment in academic work would be good news for me, as I try and bring the skills I learned at Calvin and in my involvement with church into a more public sphere.

My lit theory professor, Dr Ingraffia, beleives that theorising from a Christian perspective has long been undervalued and ignored in academics, and perhaps things are changing. How might this effect the way things are taught at public universities? How might this trend influence the way the church as a whole does academics, art, politics and public life? Perhaps it would just give those who have been integrating all along more attention.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I was shocked and saddened to read that Stan Grenz passed away this weekend. I had an opportunity to briefly meet him during the Symposium this January, and I was impressed with his intelligence and depth as well as his approachability. These same characteristics came through in his writing, which made reading his Primer on Postmodernism a joy (which is a true acheivement for such an elusive and academic topic).

Brian MacLaren has written this tribute to him, and others who knew him and his work far better than I have written about him as well. He will surely be missed.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

literature and explanations

Dialogue (that is, the Calvin art/literary magazine) came out recently, and I had some poems in it. My favorite part is the way my poem about giving blood is opposite an image about the crucifixion. Good editorial choice, dialogue. Look at the way the context is making the meaning! How postmodern!

I was given the opportunity to make an artist statement, which after much thought and anguish, I declined. I beleive in artists making their work clear to more people, and in helping people out with understanding their work. But I also beleive in respecting the intelligence of your audience. The thing that finally clinched it was that I asked myself "what could I say that would further illuminate the poems I wrote?" and I couldn't think of anything. I already said what I wanted to say in the most elegant way I could.

And I wonder how much writing about writing really does accomplish, but then there's a lot of writing about literature that I love and that really does help me understand people's works. And literary theory. So all meta-writing isn't foolishness, but what makes it useful? I'm not sure.

The Gospel According to America

well, apparantly David Dark is way ahead of me. No big surprise, I guess.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Apocalyptic Pacificsm

As mentioned before, thorubos last weekend discussed John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. I do not claim to fully understand Yoder's position, and I am still processing what he means and what I think of that, but here's one thought, anyway. (be sure to look at the sites of other thorubos-ers for more discussion of themes in the book.)

I have also been all about David Dark's Everyday Apocalypse of late. I'm a big fan of Mr Dark, and his idea of apocalyptic art. Apocalyptic, basically, tells us the truth about ourselves and our situation as sinful people. It subverts the powers of consumerism and selfishness in our culture. It offers surprising hope - the hope that comes from standing against those powers and affirming humanity. I think this is a great idea, and most of my favorite art is apocalyptic.

My friend Scott pointed out, though, when he read the book, that Dark doesn't spend much time applying this idea of apocalyptic beyond aesthetics. If apocalyptic art is in concert with the Bible (and I think it is) then it should inspire us to live in an apocalyptic way. I think that Yoder is trying to offer a model of apocalyptic living. Yoder presents Jesus life as that same kind of apocalyptic - turning our expectations on their heads:

Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him.

So maybe Yoder's idea of being radically pacifist - generous and selfless and nonviolent - is in concert with the shape of the Gospel that David Dark and many artists have pointed to. Maybe it's a part of living apocalyptically, of being salt and light. It seems crazy, but I think that's the point.

Monday, March 07, 2005

more meta-blogging

it's everywhere! See recent NY Times article about religious blogs. the ones they highlight seem much more confessional and less discursive than ours, but some of the discussion seems to apply to those blogs I write and read. This sentence particularly: For many, it is a way to get their beliefs into the public square and, with people who comment on their postings, wrestle with the issues of the day.

I did more metablogging on my xanga, in response to my brothers post.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

What's the deal with thorubos?

The possibility of a wider audience than I had been imagining (thanks mostly to the friendly attention of Mr Strauss) and a conversation with James in the car yesterday about hospitality in a public forum have inspired me to do a post to explain thorubos, which many of us have alluded to, and might also in the future. Indeed, thorubos members have their own designation in my sidebar.

Once upon a time, it was interim at Calvin. I was taking one class that was very little outside work, and the same was true, to a greater degree, for my friend Kent. We share an office with 8 other worship apprentices, and found ourselves for those three weeks hanging out quite a bit in the afternoons, just talking about stuff like theology and philosophy and emergent church and reading blogs and posting in our own. Our friend Matt was taking no classes, and came by our office a fair amount as well. Some of the other Worship Apprentices were there for some of this stuff, as were our mentors, Paul and Cindy. Anyway, one day Kent observed that we tend to read the same books at different times. We should just read the same book at the same time as each other and then we could all talk about it at once. I thought that seemed like an exciting idea, and ideas began to form as we talked about who might be interested in such a venture with us. Emails flew. We wound up with a group mostly of current and former WAs and a few others interested in this idea. We decided to be both pretentious and silly and call the group Thorubos, the greek word for uproar (this was Kent and Sarah's idea).

So, the basic idea is that we get together once a month or so, having done our best to read a book, and talk about it. And it's been wonderful to spend some intentional time with some people I really like and respect who are smarter than I am and talking about difficult issues. Last night Dean graciously hosted us in Zeeland and we talked about The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. I'm surely not done thinking about it. Kent has posted something, as has James, about last night's conversation. I might come up with more idea-specific thoughts later.