Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sympo '08: what I will remember

While I expected to post a few intellectual chewing points, I must admit that the things I’ve been pondering from this year’s symposium have been more visceral. While I certainly have had some interesting and useful intellectual moments, I am sitting in the airport now thinking about what it means to come back to a place that was home, and the ways intense experiences make you feel close to people.

After emailing for months, trying to plan an alternative, interactive, multisensory worship service with others in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Glasgow, we finally met together for a stirring music rehearsal, and hours of final decisions and details to transform a lecture hall into a place of worship. It was odd and wonderful to find myself joking around while tying yarn on dowels with these new friends. At one point, everyone busted out their favorite Stanley Hauerwas story. Only at a worship conference. After our service on Friday, we had a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon in the same space, and Doug mentioned that you don’t think of a room in the same way after you’ve made it into a place for worship. I don’t know when I will visit the commons lecture hall again, but I think I will remember standing in a dim corner, watching images light up a sheet hung from the ceiling, leading singing.

I also spent most of the first day in Grand Rapids in a strange time warp, visiting places and seeing people who had been my everyday life, but aren't anymore, and have changed, just as I have. It was beautiful to realize that I was welcomed and loved, and to also see how we all grow and change. I was proud to be able to bring back some of the things I’ve learned in grad school, and to offer something back to the community that helped me grow so much when I was in college.

I hope to also comment on some of my intellectual thoughts, but I must admit that I’m a bit behind preparing for class. It was worth it, but I need to get back to real life eventually.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama at Ebenezer Baptist

I'm breaking my own rule and posting twice on one day to suggest that you all read or watch Barack Obama's speech at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta yesterday. It's a great bit of oratory, and a good example of why I am so excited about Obama for president. Here's an excerpt:

For most of this country's history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man's inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays - on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

In the whole speech, Obama underscores themes of communal action for justice using the examples of the Civil Rights movement and Jericho (he has drawn on Joshua before, in Selma). He talks about compassion, conviction and the need for all of us to work together - as a community - to make a better life for everyone. He calls all of us to expand moments of personal compassion and connection into social action. Inspiring.

Desert Island Discs: Transatlanticism

I’m taking another break from reading, because it’s been ages since I posted a desert island pick, and Morgan just did one, which reminded me.

I was thinking “what do I love that I haven’t covered?” and then I remembered Transatlanticism. I’m a big fan of Ben Gibbard’s songwriting and voice. Some people that I know say they like his songs better in cover versions, because they don’t find his voice appealing. I disagree. While I do have a deep love for the Iron and Wine version of “Such Great Heights,” I love the Postal Service too. In fact, I thought for a bit about choosing a Postal Service album instead, but I’m not always in the mood for all the beeps and boops. Transatlanticism, on the other hand, I love most of the time. I love the way the instrumentation makes the songs seem stark and alien. I love the way Gibbard’s lyrics take you by surprise sometimes, like “the glove compartment is inaccurately named/ and everybody knows it” or “do they collide?/ I ask and you smile./ With my feet on the dash/ The world doesn't matter.” I think his delivery has just the right amount of emotional weight.

Sometimes the words in combination with the stark arrangements do make the songs achingly sad. I remember when I first got into this album it was a Christmas break and I was reading a sad novel, Hey Nostradamus. Fortunately, I was emotionally stable at the time, because sometimes the repetition of “I need you so much closer” can make me feel really sad. But artistic sad, a kind of sad that is beautiful, so I don't mind. And the whole song “Passenger Seat” makes me feel so wistful, especially the last stanza, and the solo piano ending.

All this intense emotion can push Death Cab songs over the edge into overwrought. Sometimes “Tiny Vessels” strikes me that way. I’m willing to take the occasional overstep, though, if it produces one “Passenger Seat” every once in a while. That song is emotional perfection.

Past Reviews:

Neon Bible
Why Should the Fire Die
Achtung Baby

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blogging Sympo '08: Preview

I’m getting really excited about attending (and presenting at) worship symposium next weekend. I’m part of a panel about media in postmodern/emerging worship. I think it has a few more buzzwords in the title. Anyway, the other people on the panel are pretty great, so that will be a good time. I’ve also been involved in planning a worship service long distance, which has been a challenge, but I can’t wait to help lead the service on Friday.

As part of my preparation (and to avoid school work) I read through my blog posts from the last time I was at Symposium, three years ago. I usually think that I’ve come so far in the last 3 years as an adult and as a thinker, but reading these posts reminds me how the stuff I thought about my last year at Calvin are in many ways trajectories I’m still thinking about and developing. Here are the posts:

Creeds and Prayers


All of Life

It’s my plan (for now anyway) to try to steal a few moments to blog while I’m in Grand Rapids this time, too. Promising posts is always dangerous, so I won’t, but those are my intentions.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

thoughts from the first week of class

Our first day of class with Dr Condit last Thursday was inspirational in a lot of ways. A lot of the ideas we talked about in class (and will this semester) have serious significance for a religious perspective. This week Dr Condit explained her general purpose/framework for the class, and we discussed part of Walter Ong’s The Presence of the Word. Celeste was explaining the way the entire intellectual tradition (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Derrida etc) is obsessed with figuring out the meaning of things. What if our central question was not “what do words mean” (especially now that Derrida has demonstrated that meaning is never static)? What if instead, we asked “What do words do” and “How do they relate us to each other?”

This change of orientation, I think, would also transform the way we approach Christianity, the Bible, and worship. Instead of interrogating the Bible for rules, we would ask how it relates us to God and its characters and each other. Instead of expecting to “get something out” of a church service, we would arrive expecting to DO something, to enact a relationship. If Christianity was presented not as a set of propositions we assent to for salvation, but instead as a set of relationships that we appreciate, and try to fulfill, how would it change the way we live? How would it change the way we talked to others about faith?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Public Scholarship, Celebrity Politics

My friend and colleague Becky Kuehl recently did a tv interview about celebrity endorsements in politics. You can watch it here. I'm posting this partly to brag about how cool my friends are, but also to add to the discussion I've been doing here about the primary. I think Becky is right that people are quick to dismiss endorsements by Oprah or Chuck Norris, but I think what they do is create novelty in a media environment where attention is at a premium. They give voters who are overwhelmed by the amount of information about candidates a way to remember one, and a suggestion for who to examine more closely. Although nobody would say "I'll vote for whoever Oprah says" the fact remains that most people are underinformed and apathetic. If a celebrity they trust endorses someone, perhaps it will motivate them to learn more.

Anyway, Becky said some smart stuff on tv. Way to go, Becky!