Friday, December 23, 2011

writing progress, writing year in review

I'm happy to report that part 4 of Batman: the Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire, a series I've been working on for Mockingbird about Batman: the animated series, has picked up a lot of steam.

Just in time for Christmas.

Which means that, once again, I'm tabling it to start spending time with family and to tackle another project that has come up.  I was stoked to have made so much progress this week, finally!  I have some fun stuff about Batman villains that piggy-backs on what I wrote about Mr. Freeze in part 3, "Heart of Ice, Heart of Wrath" but there's nothing like needing eye surgery during a holiday season to set you back!  Still, I'm doing what I can but at the rate I'm going (with another follow up on eye surgery I need to do and some other work)

So part 4 probably has to wait for the New Year but in the mean time, here's a review of what I've written for Mockingbird this year.  Instead of publication order I'm going with the original intended reading order.

The first series to be read describes the historic setting of American cartoons into which Batman: the Animated series began and kicked off what eventually became the DC animated universe or Timm-verse.  So "Chapter 1" is called Cartoon Nostalgia, Cartoon Revolutions

http://www.mbird.com/2011/06/cartoon-nostalgia-cartoon-revolution-part-1-blasts-from-the-past-keep-on-blasting/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/06/cartoon-nostalgia-cartoon-revolution-part-2-let-us-now-praise-famous-toys-transformers-and-beatles/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/06/cartoon-nostalgia-cartoon-revolution-part-3-cartoon-morality-in-transformers/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/07/cartoon-nostalgia-cartoon-revolution-part-4-cold-war-moral-clarity-and-post-cold-war-moral-ambivalence/

"Chapter Two" is in progress, Batman: the Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire

http://www.mbird.com/2011/09/batman-the-agony-of-loss-and-the-madness-of-desire-pt-1/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/10/batman-the-agony-of-loss-and-the-madness-of-desire-pt-2/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/11/batman-the-agony-of-loss-and-the-madness-of-desire-pt-3/

Part 4 is pending, "The Wounds of Discovery".  Parts 5 and 6 will also take time.

"Chapter Three" was the first to get published, Superman: An American Icon at War with (and for) His Own Legacies

http://www.mbird.com/2011/04/superman-an-american-icon-at-war-with-and-for-his-own-legacies-part-1-of-5/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/04/superman-an-american-icon-at-war-with-and-for-his-legacy-part-2/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/04/superman-an-american-icon-at-war-with-and-for-his-legacy-part-3/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/05/superman-an-american-icon-at-war-with-and-for-his-legacy-part-4/
http://www.mbird.com/2011/05/superman-an-american-icon-at-war-with-and-for-his-legacy-part-5/

Chapter One lays out the groundwork of what Reagan era cartoons were like and what some authors have called the "Cold War moral clarity" of cartoons that were often shills for toys.

Chapter Two, of course, lays out themes and storys from Batman: the animated series as an example of one of the first uniquely post-Cold War cartoons that blew up the moral simplification common in Reagan-era cartoons. That's where I'm going with the Batman essays if that wasn't clear to earlier readers and in case you're stumbling on this page having never read the earlier work.

Chapter Three moves on to look at how Bruce Timm and Paul Dini revamped an American pop culture icon.  After dispensing with the viability of Superman-as-Jesus I focus on Superman as an icon of what we want America to be and how Lex Luthor represents the corruption of what American so often is.  I explore how Luthor and Brainiac represent the worst of human and Kryptonian legacies and how Superman can be seen as an American pop icon because he represents a citizen of multiple cultures and a participant in the legacies of more than one race.  The challenges that keep Superman interesting aren't the big monsters he fights or the loss of friends who will generally get raised from the dead in a few issues, the challenges that make Superman interesting are the challenges to warp his moral compass. 

The dangers of "good guys" having their moral compasses corrupted is something I plan to revisit in the Justice League essays in 2012, particularly when I eventually get to the Cadmus arc. "Chapter Four" is intended to be about Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.  I'll leave that at that for now.

"Chapter Five" is going to include, among other things, a polemic against Joseph Campbell's monomyth and particularly how Christians lazily appropriate it in apolegetic or "cultural engagement" settings.  I'm going to take some time to tackle that and along the way I hope to distinguish between what I consider to be actual pop mythology and what I consider to be the merchandizing of the monomyth.  But all that is, you may have suspected by now, going to have to wait until no earlier than some time in 2012. 

Meanwhile, as an end-of-year review of what I've written for Mockingbird I figure this post will provide a summary and suggested reading order for what I've managed to publish so far. 

In completely unrelated news I am also still tackling the project of getting my first guitar sonata published.  I hope to publish a few more compositions in the future but the main thing is finalizing the steps to getting the Guitar Sonata in F minor published.  I'm slowly making preparations to film/record excerpts from my nearly complete 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar. 

Some of the other things I've written this year may be of interest, such as a series I began over at From Bitter Waters to Sweet and then expanded slightly over on The Wartburg Watch, where I discuss my concerns about Mark Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2011/11/11/an-insiders-perspective-on-mark-driscoll-and-the-song-of-songs-hallelujah/
http://thewartburgwatch.com/2011/11/14/alternatives-to-mark-driscolls-pornogrification-of-the-song-of-songs/
http://thewartburgwatch.com/2011/11/16/mark-driscoll-versus-scripture-analysis-of-song-of-solmon/
http://thewartburgwatch.com/2011/12/12/mark-driscoll-sos-and-lake-of-fire-guest-post/

It took me months of study, background research, and laying out my thoughts but I did also finally blog this month about the "I see things" video clip of Driscoll that made the rounds on the blogosphere earlier this year. 

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/12/mark-driscoll-i-see-things.html
http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/12/aesthetics-of-plausibility-spiritual.html

Keep in mind I undertook both of these writing projects intending to provide some constructive criticism and information, not to embark on some blanket slash and burn projects. I trust I've been pretty clear about this already but it never hurts to keep being clear. Just because I raise the subject here of how Driscoll's "I see things" video follows the script of recovered memory therapy methods that have been debunked as of decades ago doesn't mean I'm interested in demonizing people. I'm more interested in discussing difficulties in statements and positions when I believe they are important rather than attacking people as people.

As I attempted to show at some length both cessationists and charismatics are too beholden to battles about ecclesiology and custom in 20th and 21st century church practice to pay attention to what OT and NT passages actually describe about the nature of prophets and prophetic activity, particularly with respect to Deuteronomy 16-18 as a prescriptive legal and judicial framework within the prescribed Israelite theocratic monarchy. Even a reference to Hellenistic literature can establish that prophets were frequently understood to play the role of policy advisor and established critic when necessary.  Prophets could be considered, at times, to be the equivalent of the "fourth estate".  But I've rambled enough about that already.

A few more pingbacks while I'm at it, though long-time readers will probably have seen this stuff already.  This link below was a lengthy writing session in which I built up to an essay about evangelicals that proposed "We have the same ethics because we worship the same idols".  In light of the article in Relevant Fearsome Tycoon recently linked to that stated 80% of American evangelicals ages 18-29 have admitted to premarital sex while evangelicals debate whether or not pastors should be unmarried I'm not sure I could have picked a better year to write this series tagged below.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/inspired%20by%20a%20BHT%20discussion

That evangelicals can't imagine being fully human without some active sex life means they're not really "that" different from the world.  And why would they?  They either invent more rules to imagine they have better ethics than "worldly" people or they just follow their impulses and bone whomever and justify it. 

Which sort of naturally leads thematically to this post:

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/07/roy-baumeister-disposability-of-men-and.html

Where I note that if you're a virgin and past 30 both believers and non-believers tend to think you're some loser who is not really fully human. There are a variety of ways in which single guys past 30 can react to this and many of those ways are, to put it mildly, less than healthy. I'm not discounting myself from that group for that matter.

Thanks to a certain megachurch pastor posting a wildly ill-advised request on Facebook I ended up writing these posts:
http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/07/mark-driscoll-william-wallace-ii-and.html
http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/07/mark-driscoll-william-wallace-ii-and_14.html

They are dubbed parts 267 and 268 respectively of Mark Driscoll's William Wallace II days.  I want to make sure to note, though, that I did appreciate Driscoll using his celebrity pastor status to ask Mars Hill to donate food to the Salvation Army Port Angeles corps food pantry. 

http://www.christianpost.com/news/mars-hill-church-donates-11-tons-of-food-to-replace-stolen-goods-59499/

I'm in a position to know enough about Mars Hill and the Salvation Army Northwest division to confirm that this was a legit story.  If times weren't so rough for the Sallie during the recession as a whole I'd still have my old job.  My year in review may include a variety of critical reactions to junk Driscoll says but I'm making it clear here that there's stuff Mars Hill does and has done that I am willing to get behind.  I hope Mars Hillians continue to give to places like the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission and other organizations. 

Obviously this is a wind-up for 2011 and I'm not sure I'm likely to blog here until 2012. I've taken stock of all this writing in 2011 because writing has been one of the things that's kept me going while I hunt for normal, steady employment.  If I have written things that have inspired people to think about some things or entertain them I have accomplished my goal.  If not, well, I kept myself busy and had some fun!  I hope you enjoy the stuff I've written if you haven't been reading it and if you don't read it, well, hey, thanks for visiting anyway.

Happy holidays until I end up back here. 

HT Wartburg: Whither YRR?

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2011/12/22/is-the-sun-setting-on-yrr-aka-new-calvinism/
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/12/20/whither-yrr/

DeYoung mentions three challenges he believes face the young, restless and Reformed.  Ecclesiology, missiology, and sanctification.

YRR ecclesiology may be thin because since so many of them are evangelical they retain the committment to pragmatism that they think they have shaken off because they don't see themselves as seeker-sensitive.  Those that actually have roots in Baptist or Presbyterian ecclesiology have the advantage of not having to reinvent the wheel, which is not something the non-denominational or parachurch institutions have.  It's easy for a pastor who is in his twenties to dismiss denominations as old hat but a multi-site church that has ten campuses in three states is still functionally a denomination even if it's just one pastor whose sermon is preached live at one campus and then shipped out via DVD to video venues where everyone else in the church gets the same sermon a week later. By the time that pastor is in his forties and more than ten thousand people attend the campuses he's basically got a denomination on his hands if the church doesn't die a slow or quick miserable death after he passes on. 

Missiology would seem like something YRR's should have slam-dunked but this would only be true of what YRR's were pretty sure they'd have slam-dunked by now.  Now it's something like a decade later.  No slam dunk.  Surprise.  Two kingdom theology and transformational models are never likely to agree. 

The old cliche from the Mars Hill days would be these two things are in "tension" and need to be held together without letting go of either.  But, to borrow yet another Mars Hill cliche, the three pound fallen brain can't keep these things together indefinitely and so one of the two will at length (and not much length!) become more appealing than the other.  Despite Mars Hill's formal repudiation of theonomistic ideals the whole "redeeming culture" meme runs straight along a path in which it is proposed that eventually enough Christians can get "upstream" to "influence culture".  It's no wonder liberal Seattle secularists see this as nothing more than a more covert or guerrila version of culture war.  That's because that's what it essentially is.   They're not nearly as dumb as you may think they are, guys.  :)

And then there's sanctification. I have written at length about my suspicion that the real appeal of the young, restless Reformed camp is that they promise young men something, specifically young men.  For people with a more conventional "evangelical" or fundamentalist or Wesleyan background the promise in the neo-Calvinist movement takes on a particular sales pitch.  Drinking with Luther and Calvin, for instance. Mark Driscoll's Peasant Princess series.  Smoking cigars and talking about theology and stuff like that.  Young men have gotten a kind of meta-textual promise through the neo-Calvinist movement that they can drink, smoke, and seek to get laid (in holy matrimony of course) and it's all good.  In fact it's God's design for them. 

The neo-Calvinists think the sales pitch is how solid they are on doctrine but after ten years and witnessing how incoherent things can actually be amongst the YRR's, as even Kevin DeYoung has noted by now, I would suggest the time has been more than ripe to point out that the strongest appeal the YRR movement has had, now that it's advocates are probably closer to middle-age, is a cultural or social sales pitch more than some kind of doctrinal or ecclesiological coherence.  Living as I have in Seattle I think that Driscoll probably exemplifies this best in my neck of the woods.  Driscoll can attempt to split the difference between definite atonement and unlimited atonement by saying that the atonement covers the entirety of creation yet has salvific effects only for the elect and Reformed folks will say he's trying to cheat his way out of committing to the L in the TULIP.  I don't see it as being that cut and dried because in a case where I may surprise a handful of people, I think Driscoll has been right to say that we can't pin down the atonement to having a single function. 

But the sales pitch Driscoll has explicitly tied himself to in the last fifteen years is "get the young men" and that whole "sex with the wife once a day" line from the "banned" video can be seen as  merely a single case in a long sequence of sales pitches.  The idea is to make Christianity relevant to young men and what better way to make it relevant to young men than to make an appeal that being a Christian doesn't mean you have to stop being a dude.  You don't have to be some chickafied evanjellyfish, you can drink, smoke, and get laid once you find the right girl and seal the deal and lead her like you're supposed to.  Along the way several wheels will get reinvented but that's okay because this is about a new movement that is getting to the real deal. 

Having once more firmly identified myself as YRR and now being more vanilla Presbyterian I would suggest that one of the core questions YRR's need to ask themselves now that they're closer to forty than thiry is what the real sales pitch has been all these years.  I'm not so sure the sales pitch has really been "Reformed" at all.  I'm not sure the sales pitch has even been Calvinist soteriology.  It might be something else and to the extent that people like MacArthur have identified that sales pitch as having a certain cultural cache rather than a coherent approach to doctrine MacArthur may continue to do these guys a favor by not taking them as seriously as they take themselves.  Not that I'm a MacArthur fan at all (see the rest of this blog) but MacArthur's stance against some of the poster boys of the YRR team and some of their stunts can still be appreciated.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HT: D. G. Hart on the death of Hitchens

http://oldlife.org/2011/12/admirable-atheists/

Atheists work like there's no tomorrow because for them, of course, the understanding is that there is no tomorrow.  If time destroys all legacies you'd best work as hard, as long, and as fast as you can to shore up whatever you can, not just for the sake of having what you made last a little bit longer but also because your work is what you have.  There is nothing better than to enjoy one's work one finds to do. 

All work and all skill in work spring from man's envy of his neighbor per Ecclesiastes 4:4.  Ecclesiastes lays out succinctly what can drive an atheist to keep working, but not just an atheist.  It's not "just" an atheist who does all his or her work and skill acquisition out of envy of one's neighbor.  So it's not a huge surprise atheists have a great incentive to work both for work as a pleasure in itself and as a testament to the work.  John Lennon used to say that the goal was to beat Elvis and then after the Beatles bested Elvis in charts a new goal had to be found.  For people who are into the Beatles envy is a major reason the Beatles did what they did.  Of course it might be useful to distinguish between envy that is purely covetous and an envy that has some genuine admiration in it.  But I feel too lazy, heh, to bother with such distinctions in this post. I have places to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bad art and the tortured beauty of the cross? How "tortured" now?

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/12/21/bad-art-and-the-tortured-beauty-of-the-cross/

Bad art encourages escapism among Christians. Good art, epitomized by the Psalms, helps us long for the new creation even as we learn to love all God's creatures.

Preliminary thought, I cannot shake Greg Thornberry's visual and vocal resemblance to Andy Dick.


As I listen to this discussion .... I think the word these guys are looking for is "twee". A great deal of "Christian" creative output that is self-consciously described as such is utterly twee. 


Perhaps atheists could ask what the difference between "escapism" and "long for the new creation even as we learn to love all God's creatures" is. Wouldn't it seem that an atheist or any non-Christian could see that as the ultimate distinction without a difference?

Here's the thing that has me cautious about Gospel Coalition guys talking about "the tortured beauty of the cross"--how can we know this isn't just a rhetorical flourish?  I mean, talking about the sense of lostness conveyed by Radiohead songs?  This is a band that been around for more than two decades.  They're sort of Pinkfloyd rebooted with a few more touches from Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra and maybe a bit from, I dunno, the Ramones.  The thing is that, as others have pointed out more succinctly than I could, hipster Christianity is still usually two decades off from whatever all other hipsters are doing.  I haven't exactly set out to be a hipster and I don't know if it's a goal or anti-goal, but it just seems to me that if you're shooting for music that somehow portrays some "tortured beauty of the cross" and wondering why evangelicals haven't gotten that ...

It's one thing to diagnose the problem, it's another thing to provide an alternative, let alone a viable solution.  Saying people should read Flannery O'Connor is neither an alternative nor a solution for the same reason that reading Dostoevsky is neither an alternative nor a solution so far as evangelicalism goes.  A Catholic author and an Orthodox author are not necessarily indicative of what an "evangelical" would write.  C. S. Lewis can't really count, either, because he was a lay Anglican with some ideas that no American evangelicals would necessarily get behind on closer inspection.  It'e easy for evangelicals to complain about the lack of artistic viability, let alone greatness, evangelicals have. 

But perhaps that is the real problem, that there are sets of evangelicals who think the problem is that evangelicals aren't making great art.  It's still what we're against rather than what we're for. Well, if we grant that because it's true, what's the solution?  Merely to have evangelicals aspire to make "great" art?  What constitutes great art?  Furthermore, even if we agreed on what that was within evangelicalism, what's the incentive?  Let me be awfully blunt, particularly since I'm a job-seeker, who would dish out the money that would make that great, properly evangelical art, music, or literature?  It's not there.  People will spend money on Thomas Kinkad paintings and movies like Fireproof among evangelicals becasue that is, apparently, what they want to bankroll. Evangelicals pretend they want to capture the tortured beauty of the cross but a lot of what constitutes meditating on the tortured beauty of the cross are sermons that jump from the cross to the third use of the law, or the second use (I guess) to point out how impossible it is to please God which is why Jesus had to. 

Bear in mind I'm not making some beef with the third use of the law.  I'm Presbyterian, not Lutheran. The Torah was, when we take it at face value, given AFTER THE EXODUS.  The trite Lutheran distinction of Law coming before Gospel stumbles at the most obvious point in Israelite narrative.  Yes, the Torah came before Christ, we'll all agree on that, but I'm Presbyterian so, uh, I'm not going to say that Law/Gospel distinction makes any sense except across covenants.  Within the Torah the situation is reversed, grace is given by creating anything at all, then a simple law is given.  That simple law is disobeyed and off we go.  So it's not necessarily wrong to preach a biblical text that says "This is how you should behave."  We want to keep touching on those.  The problem may be the temptation to transform narratives into exercises in the third use of the law.  Thus some preacher will transform Nehemiah into some shill for a building project even in cases where Nehemiah pretty well explains to us that he botched something or displays some character flaws.

And in the young, restless Reformed group I was part of for a while it was common to dismiss David is essentially coming off like a whiny, self-centered emo boy.  If the psalms as a whole and the psalms of lament in particular are dismissed by, say, the worship pastor at Mars Hill church as whiny emo-boy (and if you don't believe me go download his sermons covering psalms where he explains what his view was) then how sure could I be that evangelicals are going to go all the way to a whole sermon on, say, Psalm 88.  That'll preach.  Or Psalm 137?  Blessed be  the one who kills your babies by dashing them against a stone.  That text is so difficult and unappealing to modern sensibilities it is why I made myself set it to music. 

But let me get back to the tortured beauty of the cross.  It's interesting that Orthodox and Catholics have come up with stuff that deals with this.  In the case of the Polish Catholic composer Penderecki he very bluntly and literally used every avant garde technique at his disposal to create a 70-80 minute long musical depiction of Christ on the Cross, the passion according to St. Luke.  He also did it to flip a great big old unidigital salute to the Soviets, which just makes the Lukaspassion five times more awesome than it already would have been!  There's nothing like making a masterpiece of avante garde music and making it a massive expression of Christian faith to galvanize fellow Poles and stick to the Russians, eh?  No, seriously, if you can handle the Lukaspassion it's worth listening to.  There is music that really explores the tortured beauty of the cross. 

I know some folks get into Good Friday and try to cram all their meditation on the cross in there but there are other services and opportunities.  Any one amongst evangelicals want to try anything connected to Maundy Thursday?  Holy Saturday?  No?  You'd think that just with Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark was the Night ... "we Protestants could lay claim to a truly amazing piece of folk art reflecting on Christ in the tomb.  This sort of art and music and song and literature is already out there ... but at the risk of being deliberately polemical I'm not entirely sure a bunch of white guys at the Gospel Coalition may know about it if the talking points are how bad Thomas Kinkad is or how Radiohead expresses lostness.  Not all of us got on the Radiohead bandwagon. 

In summary (as if I'd been clearly articulating these points before), if evangelicals make so much junk there are probably two basic reasons for this.  The first is simply that the big money in evangelicalism has decided, with its money, what kind of art, music, and literature it wants to back up. 

And even if the big money were going to other stuff this leads naturally to the second point, evangelicals seem to have lost a context for having any use for this "great art" even if they were interested in funding it.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that evangelicals will never sanction art for the sake of art.  It's true that in earlier epochs art for the sake of art was not necessary but art for the sake of established convention still worked within the parameters of expectations in patronage.  The blunt form of this is that you work for the resources you have, not the ones you wish you had.  Stuff like Crystal Cathedral sinking in the whole putting on Christmas paegants could have been avoided if that relatively simple precept was kept in mind ... or maybe not.

The second reason there's frequently a lack of a context for evangelicals to dump good money into good art (as opposed to expecting brilliant artists, musicians, and writers to just do everything for free as a part of their membership agreement) is liturgical context.  J. S. Bach could write all those amazing cantatas not just because someone was paying him good money to write that stuff but because there was an actual context for which the stuff could be performed.  If you want more variety in evangelical productivity try, I don't know, paying attention to the liturgical year?  Don't just fixate on Good Friday where you can shoe-gaze about your sin.  There's also Pentecost.  Some churches tackle Advent but that may just be trendy now. It's not like Epiphany isn't an option either. 

If megachurches grow in anything like an idiom and axiom of "if you build it they will come" then perhaps merely competent evangelical creative production can return if evangelicals provide a liturgical context and a financial incentive for competent artists, writers, and musicians to actually do something.  The problem of bad evangelical art is never going to be solved merely by preachers comparing notes on how bad this or that thing is.  Some of those preachers and their church boards will have to actually drum up some money and then go pay actual artists, writers, and musicians to come up with what they consider to be great art.  Then they will have to see who would be willing to work within the constraints they impose for the money they offer.  They might begin to rethink how certain they are about what they know about great verses bad art in evangelicalism.   They might end up funding something wonderful ... or it may become a new variation on the observations of Eric Cartman in "Christian Rock Hard".

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'll throw in a link to First Things' review of D. G. Hart's latest book

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/12/unconservative-evangelicals

Thanks to city library systems being what they are I'm reading the book now but have not collected my thoughts on it sufficiently enough to blog about it.  I find the basic premise of the book, that evangelicals in American have never actually been conservative to be oddly intriguing and plausible.  The most interesting chapter by far for me has been the one called "The Search for a Usable Past". 

Slate: Posner on Gingrich's critique of judicial supremacy

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2011/12/newt_gingrich_and_the_supreme_court_the_liberal_scholars_who_support_his_critique_on_judicial_supremacy_.single.html

Not a ton of comments at this point, except to say that in some discussions out in blog-land I've expressed some reservations about a judicial basis for reversing Roe v. Wade because it seems the initial problem was judicial supremacy.  Not everyone agrees with that and I don't expect everyone to agree with that, but it's interesting to note that there are liberals as well as conservatives who have somehow managed to agree that the judicial branch constitutes a court that is, at the risk of a silly pun, just a little too supreme.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hey, who doesn't yearn for an Alvin & the Chipmunks trilogy?

http://www.avclub.com/articles/david-cross-calls-alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrec,66562/

This one was flying under the radard for a while but, lo and behold, here we get another chipmunk movie.  The sqweakquel was not the final sqweak. 

another link to Mockingbird: American Nones and a new way of being religious

http://www.mbird.com/2011/12/american-nones-and-a-new-way-of-being-religious/#comments

Just a link will suffice here for this post today.

Celebrity deaths, Hitchens and Havel

I have no need to note in any detail the passing of polemicist and atheist Christopher Hitchens.  There is nothing of significance to add to what has been said and will be said about the journalist.  I do, however, wish to link to Anne Applebaum's remarks on the passing of Vaclav Havel

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2011/12/vaclav_havel_dead_the_czech_leader_s_greatest_achievement_was_an_essay_the_power_of_the_powerless_.html

It might be an utterly rhetorical question to ask whether Hitchens or Havel did more to articulate a foundation from which to defy totalitarianism in the last forty years.  It might also be unfair but a polemicist has no need to consider what is, strictly speaking, fair.  Applebaum spells out at the end of her essay what distinguished Havel from others who took a stance against totalitarianism.  Anyone can adopt the stance of a dissident who wants to tear down the old.  Toppling an old regime is not the same as establishing institutions and symbols to replace it.  What you are for and how you work toward it is ultimately more important than what you're against and how you work against that. 

It may well be that a decade from now Hitchens will be a name remembered only by journalists and Havel's name will be almost entirely unknown.  I most clearly remember, at this point, that Hitchens went out of his way to write against the Salvation Army and his piece about why women aren't funny.  I know, as a former journalism student I should probably remember other, more salient polemics from Hitchens after all these years but those are the ones that stick.  I'm willing to guess that there are more than a few women who are funny enough to prove Hitchens wrong.  I'm also willing to guess that the Salvation Army, whatever Hitchens found wrong with them, have still probably done more to help people than Hitchens did.  A food pantry is still a food pantry even if it was run by religious people. 

Hitchens has enough people remembering him now that he's dead.  Consider Havel for a while instead. Besides, Hitchens was just contrarian enough that were he alive now he might have said that the passing of Havel might be more important to consider than his own passing. 

Michael Card on Job as interrupted lament; Jerram Barrs on Paul's despair of life itself

http://www.sbts.edu/resources/lectures/icw/worshiping-the-god-who-takes-everything-away/

http://graceseattle.org/Barrs112011.mp3

Michael Card's presentation discusses Job as a narrative in which Job attempts to offer a lament to God and is interrupted by his friends who correct what they are sure are his bad theology and sinful motives. The more earnestly and adamantly Job attempts to make his lament the more his friends intervene and declare his theology and character to be displeasing to God.  Eventually the argument devolves completely and Job stops lamenting and takes a stand about his case.  God shows up and Job retracts his case, then God declares that Job was in the right over against his friends.  I simplify quite a bit, I admit, but that's a thumbnail sketch of what is really quite a long book and a long presentation on the book.

Card's observation about the interrupted lament has stuck with me and I have wanted to write about it for some time.  Christians are enjoined to rejuice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep and how does a Christian discern when those times appear?  To put it more directly, if less obviously, who can know how long one should weep with those who weep?  There is a temptation or a testing in which one may want to discern whether or not one's weeping is a sign of either godly or ungodly sorrow, which was the test that Job's friends completely failed.  I cannot possibly improve upon an observation a friend of mine made about Job, that the book's message for believers is a warning that the right theology applied at the wrong time to the wrong person for the wrong reason is still bad theology.  My friend didn't put right theology in scare quotes.  We should be careful to avoid belittling the suffering of others simply because they do not express their grief or anger or despair in a way that we believe fails to adequately express proper theology. It's not that we have no concern at all about proper theology but that we recognize there are moments in which a person is only able to pray in terms of Psalm 88.

The lament Job raised which his friends interrupted was to curse the day of his birth.  Job had lost his children, his possessions, and his physical health.  His wife urged him to "bless God" and die.  Job refused to do this but he was willing to curse the day of his birth and it was in response to this his friends began to correct him.  Job had not descended to the point of being willing to end his life himself but it would not be a huge intuitive leap to say he had, nonetheless, despaired of life itself. 

Paul was not unfamiliar with what it was like to despair of life itself, as he explained to the Christians in Corinth in 2 Corinthians. If no less a believer than Paul could despair of life itself we should not imagine that we are weak Christians if we, too, face moments when we despair of life itself.  We should not consider ourselves giants of the faith, strong in our perserverance, if we have never despaired of life itself.  The apostle warned that if we think we stand we should take heed lest we fall. 

So if you haven't despaired of life itself yet, well, give it time, it will probably happen at some point.  It is not coincidental that Paul, in 2 Corinthians, opens with a thanks to the God of all comfort who comforts us in our distress so that we may comfort each other with the comfort with which we ourselves our comforted.  Christ Himself cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" from the cross.  Christ Himself asked that the suffering of the cross be taken from Him, if possible. 

I thought I had more to write about these things than I have actually written about.  Well, such is life.  At least I can link to the two presentations again.

Give $25 or more and get a free copy of the Driscoll's book Real Marriage ...

http://blog.marshill.com/2011/11/22/give-25-get-a-copy-of-the-real-marriage-book/
http://theresurgence.com/2011/07/29/win-a-free-advance-copy-of-real-marriage
http://www.acts29network.org/acts-29-blog/support-gods-work-in-acts-29-and-get-a-free-copy-of-real-marriage/

I admit the first thought that sprung to mind was that this brought back memories of relatives watching TBN and seeing those ads.

With a love-gift of X or more you get this wonderful gift free!

With a gift of the retail purchase price of the book or more you get the book ... free.  Actually the listed retail price is a bit closer to $22 but throw in sales tax (which Washington and many other states have) and you get closer to $25. 

Of course there's more than one megachurch pastor around with a book about marriage and sex coming out at the top of 2012

http://thesexperiment.com/

There's even some comparable celebrity pastor endorsements.  Steven Furtick's endorsement catches my eye for its strangely imaginative take that most teaching and preaching on marriage and sex is somehow not getting the job done.  We've got more than one book out there that tells us we'll get the truth about marriage and sex.  That's true.  It's also not the first time evangelicals will have fielded these topics.  The Furtick endorsement would seem to imagine that American Christians have not actually had James Dobson or Focus on the Family available as a resource for, oh, the last three decades or more.  Married Christians in America have arguably had no shortage of resources to consult.  I'm not suggesting they should have less resources, either, by the way. 

It's just weird seeing this promotional campaign in light of what we used to hear from Mark a decade ago.  There weren't supposed to be things like a website named after Pastor Mark, let alone a domain name like Pastor Mark TV.  There wasn't supposed to be this institutional thing where the odds of you ever seeing the pastor through any medium other than a huge screen were about the same as bumping into a local politician.  I can still remember when the plan was to break off churches into assemblies no greater than 120 per group because above that size things would be too impersonal. 

Well, if Mars Hill is planning all this expansion maybe they could throw in a little by way of funds to revive Zack Hubert's re:Greek website, too?  That was a pretty cool website.