Thursday, February 24, 2005

How to Dismantle Chaiastic Structure

so I was talking to my dad about the new U2 album, since I'm gonna give a bit of an introduction to the song "Vertigo" in church on Sunday. Dad recalled that Bono has remarked that the trajectory of the album is from fear to hope. We were looking at the particular tracks, and I posited that the whole album has chaiastic structure. I think the idea works, although at some points its a bit of a stretch. also, those who are literary scholars can verify this for me, but one of the functions of chaistic structure is to focus attention on the thing that's in the center (in this case "all because of you".)
Perhaps I should delineate why I think this works. Here's the track list, with obviously simplified summaries of the songs (I pasted this off a page that links to lyrics, and I left the links, in case you want to see):

Vertigo (3:13) - about the temptations of fame?
Miracle Drug (3:54) - about a friend who has an unusual story
Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own (5:05) - about Bono's father dying
Love and Peace or Else (4:48) - about social justice
City of Blinding Lights (5:46) - about being in love with New York, and interpersonal love
All Because of You (3:34) - "all because of you, I am"
A Man and A Woman (4:27) - about interpersonal love
Crumbs from Your Table (4:59) - about social justice
One Step Closer (3:47) - about Bono's father dying
Original of the Species (4:34) - about human uniqueness
Yahweh (4:22) - about giving up ones own ego to God.

I should explain what chaistic structure is. It means there is content that somehow goes together first and last. The pairing can be by similar meaning or form or word choice, usually in meaning though. and then the second and second-to-last portions also go together, and the third and third-from-last and on and on until you get to the middle thing, which is the focus.
This is pretty common in the bible. The book of Jonah, for example, or the Tower of Babel. No big surprise, then, that U2 might use it as a way to compose a united album.

so there's my latest U2-related brilliance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Terry Eagleton on Dogmatism

I'm reading After Theory by Terry Eagleton for my Senior Seminar. It's a difficult but often amusing book about contemperary cultural and philosophical theory. At least I think that's what he's after. Anyway, I accidentally read chapter two which is never assigned instead of reading the things that actually were assigned for today, but it was a really interesting chapter, so at least there's that. Here's one thing he says, in a paragraph about how there must be some specific belief in any system:

It is true that there are some anglican clerics who seem to reject God, Jesus, the virgin birth, miracles, the ressurection, hell, heaven, the real presence and original sin, but this is because, being gentle, infinitely accepting souls, they do not like to offened anybody by believing anything too uncomfortably specific. They just believe that everybody should be nice to each other. But the alternative to dogmatism is not the assumption that anything goes. (37)

Obviously, this is a pretty serious accusation of the Anglican church, but I think it's an interesting truth he's getting at about belief. As soon as you really stand for something, there's going to be somebody who disagrees with you. By believing anything you are going to make for yourself enemies, or at least opponents. How, then, do we try and acheive peace in a world where the very act of belief breeds dissention? Perhaps modern and postmodern relativism is an attempt to remedy the fact that people think different things and it only creates fighting. As Eagleton cleverly points out, though, relativism can quickly lead to the belief in nothing in particular, which leads to apathy. And that's almost as unhelpful as violent disagreement. In some cases, perhaps worse. The ideal, then, is somewhere in between. I'm unsure where exactly to find it though.

Monday, February 21, 2005

things everyone should be aware of

the new Anne Lamott book, coming soon

the hitchhiker's guide movie featuring Tim from The Office as Arthur Dent

new over the rhine album also coming soon (mp3s at link)

March is going to be a good month.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


my dad's comment on my recent post on technology, and his subsequent post got me thinking more about the intergenerational church. Now, this is a dangerous topic for one whose father makes up a significant percentage of her blog audience and happens to be something of an authority on the subject, but here I go anyway. Chalk it up to the rashness of youth.

younger churches and church members are frequently known to trumpet technology as a way of enhancing worship and community (indeed, I am frequently among them). My dad pointed out, though, that this kind of embracing the possibilities of new technology often alienates older members of the community. Indeed, my church is very tech-savvy and postmodernist-oriented, and it has few members over 50.

But the real issue I want to raise is this: whose responsibility is it to bridge the generation gap? Everyone seems quick to foist the responsibility onto other parties, and to generalize the attitude of "the youth" or "the old people" in less than generous terms. I think the nairobi statement affirms that worshiping together as an expansive body of beleivers - across generations and even across history - is good. But how do we reconcile cultures that are sometimes divided, if you beleive Brian McLaren, along philosophical/cultural lines? This gets even more complex when we realize that I know 20-year-olds who prefer the absolutism of modernist thought, and also postmodern thinkers who want to return to traditions far older and simpler than the ones our grandparents grew up with, and also 50-year-old bloggers, and older people who think about the effective ways to use technology in church.

My postmodern sensibilities suggest that we need to set elements from all these preferences and sensibilities and personality types next to each other, celebrate the diversity and try to learn from the best of everything. But my experience tells me that some people will go to St Nick's antiochian, and some people will go to LaGrave and some people will go to Centrepointe, and we'll all be happy with that, and our various levels of connectedness with history. The "we" I'm imagining don't always attend the same church as each other, and if they all did, it would be way too many people to foster real relationships. So, then, what do we do? I don't know, but I'll think about it some more and let you know. Or maybe my dad will tell you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Christian Music

I'm working on reading this GQ article, which is well-written and entertaining, but long, about the writer's trip to the Creation Festival. I am hesitant to post about something I haven't finished, but the truth is I'll be taking it in stages, and I don't want to forget about this part. Anyway, I stopped paying much attention to the "CCM Establishment" around when I went to college, as far as I can tell. I still have some affection for bands and singers that might be classified CCM, but I'm largely ignorant and I like it that way.

This guy, though, hits the nail on the head why people like me get disillusioned by CCM, and expresses it beautifully:

These were not Christian bands, you see; these were Christian-rock bands. The key to digging this scene lies in that one-syllable distinction. Christian rock is a genre that exists to edify and make money off of evangelical Christians. It's message music for listeners who know the message cold, and, what's more, it operates under a perceived responsibility—one the artists embrace—to "reach people." ... That's Christian rock. A Christian band, on the other hand, is just a band that has more than one Christian in it. U2 is the exemplar, held aloft by believers and nonbelievers alike, but there have been others through the years, bands about which people would say, "Did you know those guys were Christians? I know—it's freaky. They're still fuckin' good, though." The Call was like that; Lone Justice was like that. These days you hear it about indie acts like Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado (or P.O.D. and Evanescence—de gustibus). In most cases, bands like these make a very, very careful effort not to be seen as playing "Christian rock." ...And believe it or not, the Christian-rock establishment sometimes expresses a kind of resigned approval of the way groups like U2 or Switchfoot... take quiet pains to distance themselves from any unambiguous Jesus-loving, recognizing that this is the surest way to connect with the world (you know that's how they refer to us, right? We're "of the world"). So it's possible—and indeed seems likely—that Christian rock is a musical genre, the only one I can think of, that has excellence-proofed itself. (emphasis mine)

Yeah! He's got it totally figured out - Christian music isn't about music at all. It's about selling a message. It's about packaging, and advertising, and making Jesus "appealing". So of course Christian Music Makeover is going to happen. Becuase packaging is what it's all about. And offering a sanatized, spiritualized version of whatever is popular in mass culture.

I'm reminded of Don Miller being suspicious of Christians who are acting like they're trying to sell you Jesus, instead of just be your friend. But of course, it's more complicated than that. Because I think Mr Sullivan experienced real kindness and friendliness from people at Creationfest too. Of course, he hits the implicit ivory-towerness pretty clearly. It's a tension I suppose. But I'm suspicious of this whole christian marketing industry in general. Seems to be going about things the wrong way.

salvific technology

I was intrigued by the content of my “Media and the Public” class yesterday, especially as it applies to blogging. I wrote a post which mysteriously disappeared about it yesterday, so I’ll try and replicate the best parts now.

Professor Shultz was telling us about the way technology is often viewed as salvific – the way new technologies have always been trumpeted as the way to save humanity, either in the humanistic sense or the evangelistic sense. Entire books were written on the way the telegraph would create “The Electric church” and that printing and distribution would make the US wholly Christian.

Of course, these technological advances made some things easier for us, but in other ways created whole new problems. Instead of one united American church, there are schisms everywhere. Communication technology enables small sects to exist across distance, and connect to others like them, but it certainly does little to bring those in the same place together.

Internet technology, I think, will increase that same effect. I think some of the movements within the emergent conversation and other tendencies of the postmodern church will help to remedy this sense – there’s a real focus on the local congregation – on authenticity and relationships. And the democratic, interactive nature of internet publishing gives the possibility of fostering relationships, rather than distancing them (as some of us have seen, sometimes blog posting can breed actual conversation, and sometimes it can inhibit it. I’m typing right now instead of talking to Matt who’s sitting next to me.) Just doing some general thinking about what new technologies add and take away, and what supernatural power we might be assigning something which has no capability to deliver. For more on blogs and the church, see dean’s blog.

Friday, February 11, 2005


this is a revised version of last night's xanga post. because I decided it was good enough for blogspot:

I think I may have acheived my dream of becoming the sort of person who writes in books. It took a certain amount of confidence in my initial response to do something so permanent - mar the book with underlinings, or even a jotted association in the margin. I'm still more of a underliner than jotter, although I've been known to include the occasional ! to denote something particularly exclamation-worthy. I don't know if this will continue or not, though. I tend to start out a book or a semester all underline-crazy and then settle down again toward the end. So maybe this is deceptive.

the reason I wanted to be this sort of person in the first place is because I like the idea that someone could borrow a book from me or pick up something off my shelf and be able to know not only that I have that book, but what I thought of it while I was reading. What seemed important or noteworthy or beautiful or unbeleivable. I like having my voice quietly in the background of the book pointing things out or adding emphasis.

Billy Collins has a fabulous poem about reading books with such notes in them called "Marginalia." He sort of romanticises those margin-writers and I wanted to be one. I would REALLY like to be the girl who writes "pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love." but I'll take what I can get with my little underlinings and things like "echos of Jane Austen" scribbled in the margin, and hope someone wonders what sort of person wrote that brilliant comment. or underlined that irrelevant sentence. It's like a reception history, all in one volume.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


So, Lent has begun. And as some people may have noticed, I tend to be very aware of liturgical (and natural) seasons. So, predictably, I've been reflecting on Lent.

We had to make nail necklaces for the Ash Wednesday service, and it was a dirty affair. We had to wipe the grease and grime off the masonry nails we were using, and even then my hands quickly turned black from the nails and handling the black leather cord, which also left black particles all over the place.

Cindy made some comment about the dirtiness of sin, our own impurity. She was mostly kidding, but there is something about dirt that seems very lenten. Partly about our own lack of cleanliness, but, really, life is dirty affair. Incarnation is dirty, and crucifixion is certainly a mess. I don't want to get too gross here, but much of normal, embodied life is really messy. So I guess the dirt and ashes and dark colors is reminding me of the wonder of the incarnation - God decided to have one of these sloppy weird bodies and hang out with us in the dirt. Wow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Just so the Muse. She first makes men inspired, and then through these inspired ones others share in the enthusiasm, and a chain is formed, for the epic poets, all the good ones, have their excellence, not from art, but are inspired, possessed, and thus they utter all these admirable poems. - Plato in Ion

okay, I'm told a common interpretation of the Ion is that Plato, through Socrates, was making fun of Ion, who is a recitor of poetry. And, really, I would too. Ion seems pretty arrogant and also rather stupid. However, I wonder if there is something to this idea of inspiration. Because many writers talk about their work taking over, or inspiration coming from God. I'm not about to suggest that God inspires all creative work in the same way the Bible is inspired, but I do wonder if the general sort of inspiration isn't similar. I don't think I'd go so far as to say writers are "posessed", but I think there is some divine gift at work in the moment of inspiration.

I'm reminded of Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water. I had hoped to find my copy, but came up emptyhanded, so I'll just have to remember her talking about letting God work through the author and through the work, and the artist being only the vessel. I have experienced this myself, when I get swept up in a poem or other work and then am myself surprised and what is produced.

I also wonder if we shouldn't credit God for intellectual inspriation as well. These moments, in fact, seem more numerous and dramatic in my memory. You know, when you're working on a paper or talking about something or maybe blogging and all of a sudden you make this connection, make the appropriate hand gesture, and get all enthused, and begin typing like crazy? Divine Inspiration?

And then, a related question is this: when we say the bible was inspired do we mean inspired like Plato's divine posession, or like my being swept up in something that is greater than yourself? Or something else?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Review: The Delivery Man

Well, I realize that it's a little late in the game to be reviewing albums that came out months ago, but I received the album for christmas, listened to it a bit, and I am finally beginning to feel like I have a handle on it. So please permit me this long-winded review of an album that hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention.
I should explain that I'm rather a fan of Elvis Costello in general. I think he's brilliant, and I like his voice (both his written voice and the voice in my ear). I'll admit, though, that his writing is often pretty ambiguous, and I have a hard time figuring it out.

Perhaps one of the best articles I've ever read about Costello is David Dark's in Books and Culture after When I Was Cruel came out. David Dark is a writer/critic I respect a lot, and listening to the Delivery Man through the lens (to mix metaphors) of Dark's Everyday Apocalypse has influenced the way I understand it.

Most critics I have found in a quick google search do not focus so much on the meaning of the album. They say things like "Costello is back to the rocking out we know and love. woo!" or "another album of typical Elvis Costello songs... whatev." I was hoping these critics would help me out figuring out what "Button My Lip" is about, and they are either dead wrong or don't even adress it. Lame. So here's what I think about the album:

With a return to raucous rock, Costello also returns to his favorite themes: social criticism, brokenheartedness, loneliness, fame. He also continues his penchant for collaboration, with some initially jarring but later pleasing duets with Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris.

The social critisicm in The Delivery Man isn't as biting and obvious as, say "radio radio" but is indeed still there. "Button My Lip," I have decided, is about the US government limiting free speech (patriot act anyone?) Hint: bits of Bernstein's "America" in the paino. "Either Side of the Same Town" may be about political polarity, although I'm hesitant to make things too US-centric.
Nobody does betrayal like Elvis Costello, and he's got a couple of heart-wrenchers on this album too. "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" and "This Heartshaped Bruise" get to be extra poignant thanks to miss Emmylou.

The Most interesting thread, probably, in this album is the religious one. I haven't seen too much religious thought in Costello's previous work, although perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough. This one, though, throws around references to Jesus, and sometimes speaks in the Apocalyptic mode David Dark is so fond of exposing. "There's a Story in Your Voice" captures the apocalyptic vision pretty well: "There's a story in your voice/both by damage and by choice/tells of promises and pleasure/ and a tale of wine and woe/ the uneasy time to come/ and the long way round we go to get there." Look at that! It's all there! embracing story and the reality of sadness, but also offering radical hope.

And there's references to Jesus on this album too, unusual in Costello's work, as I recall. And certainly interesting. "The Delivery Man" is, I think, also about the delivery of apocalyptic art. "In a certain light he looks like Elvis/ in a certain way he seems like Jesus" the chorus repeats. and the delivery man, I think, repeats (humbly) the word of hope to hurting people. Hmmm....
I'm not real sure what's going on in "Bedlam" yet, but I think it's significant.

Does anyone else have this cd and want to talk about it? It's in general reccomended for Costello fans. Costello albums grow on me and stick with me, and this one is no exception. Plus it's got a disclaimer above the FBI warning that says "this artist does not endorse the following warning, the FBI doesn't have his home phone number and he hopes they don't have yours" How cool is that?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

second thoughts on the art/worship thing

maybe we should not let the truth be so simple. Sometimes we need complex art to contain the mystery that is God and life and the world. I mean, after all, the Bible is not always straightforward and clearly explained. Have you read the book of Habakkuk lately? How about Ezekiel? Jesus' parables are pretty difficult to understand. The sacraments are complex and rich and mysterious.

I think there is no reason for being intentionally obscure, but since God saw fit to give us the Bible in the language of literature and poetry and stories, I think responding by simplification is a poor choice.

This is not to say, however, that the church isn't a place for us all to work toward deeper understanding. If we all sat around talking about how we didn't really get it, that wouldn't do us any good either.

...truth in the sense of fullness, o fthe way things are, can at best be only pointed to by the language of poetry - of metaphor, image, symbol - as it is used in the prophets of the Old Testament and elsewhere. - Frederick Buechner

arts in church

Symposium and post-symposium conversations and thinking have got me pondering about the place of art in the church. And more specifically, the types of art that are appropriate/useful as a part of the congregational worship service.

I went to one session during symposium where they talked about the "pod" system of artists they had at a church in Ontario. These artists got together with one leader who was particularly interested in interpreting the biblical text. Then this group together studied one particular text together, and meditated on it and exegeted it and worked together to come up with some visual artwork that grew out of that passage. This seemed to me a wonderful way to build community by working toward a common goal, and acheive a deeper understanding of the bible and then share that understanding. I wondered if this would work for groups of people working in other creative arts: poets, songwriters, dramatists. I thought of all the times a conversation at a Vespers planning meeting has inspired me to write a poem about those themes or truths that we connected in our conversation.

Then I started thinking about how these different forms of art can work in an actual worship setting. It seems almost easier to enlighten a conversation through a painting than it is through a poem. Perhaps poetry is a dead medium, as some have suggested. I do know that one will enlighten very few by just reading a poem without explination in a regular worship service, as I found out by watching faces as I was reading this particularly thick work (for me) in my home church's christmas eve service.

And then I thought about the way Elmer Yazzie uses his art to illuminate the sermon in churches. He makes the art, and then offers and explination to help us understand what it means. This makes me think of Paul's advice about speaking in tongues (I'm pretty sure this is somewhere in the epistles...): only do it if there is an interpreter, and then only a few at a time, and everyone else listen. Perhaps more obscure creative expressions have a similar place in corporate worship: they are welcome in small doses, when there is an interpretation offered, so everyone can benefit.

Or maybe I'm not giving congregations enough credit. Or maybe I'm not giving art enough credit for its ability to speak to people where they are. After all, artists don't generally like to over-explain their work. I don't know.