Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fragments and Links 3: Blogs, Television and Other Random Thoughts...

From time to time I like to post fragmentary ideas that are not extensive enough for their own posts and links that I have found helpful or fun. I can’t think of anyone who would find every one of these entries interesting. But I think most of you will get into some of them. I encourage skimming and skipping.

I would like to recommend a recent post by my friend Joel. Joel lives in Tennessee and decided to take a road trip one day to ‘the world’s largest 10 commandments.’ He brings his characteristic dry wit and eye for tactile detail to the outing. It is a deeply enjoyable bit of prose. Here is my favorite excerpt: “The prayer mountain also included the Witness Tree, which was, as the sign explains, destroyed by lightning (an act of God?) after it was designated to be the Witness Tree” You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t know Stacy…I don’t even remember how I happened on her blog…but I HIGHLY recommend her brief guide to sabotaging a Sunday school white elephant gift exchange. I can almost guarantee that you will laugh out loud.

My brother, Nic, has been writing on the topic of contentment and ‘what life consists of’ lately. I think this idea ‘manly domesticity’ is a resource men of my generation simply were not provided. I think Nic is building something of real value here (and here).

…daylight – a blog I have started following, pointed me to this exchange:

Some guy is whining about Kimball’s thriving church in Santa Cruz. This is a tune I have heard with disturbingly frequency since I started perusing blogs…’anyone who has a big church must have sold out, only misisonal house churches are biblical.’ The discussion goes back and forth. Kimball gets involved. And then Tim Keller joins in. There are 3 things I love about this exchange:

1. Keller lays the smack down. “What I am wary of is lifting up just one of the models as ‘the wave of the future’ as some in the missional church movement seem to be doing.”[1] I could not agree more. I will post on this in more detail later but ‘biblical ecclesiology’ is intentionally underspecified. God intended freedom.
2. Keller posts at 6:27 am and calls it “late-night reverie” Even when you take the max continental time change into account…Keller[2] is sticking up for Kimball on a blog around 3:26 am. That is pretty cool.
3. After Keller’s quote a guy named Andy Rowell, who must have been as surprised as me to see Keller weigh in on a blog, joins in with this: “At first I was wondering whether Tim Keller’s comment was really him or an impersonator–you know Deutero-Keller[3]. But then I pulled out my tools–used for determining whether Paul or one of his students Deutero-Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles–and you will be glad to know that by comparing word choice and theology with widely attested Keller writings, I was able to determine that indeed that it is highly plausible that Keller left the comment above.” This is the hardest I have laughed in weeks…if that makes me a nerd, so be it.

This, of course, reminds me of the brilliant xkcd cartoon.

It recently occurred[4] to me that Adam (the first one, you know, back in Genesis) was a scientist. He did biological taxonomy[5] before he got into gardening. Does that make science 'the world's oldest profession'?

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village church in Dallas said, during his sermon on Luke 12, that there are 2103 verses in our scriptures that address the poor and the oppressed. It seems to me that is something like 2090 more than address homosexuality. It also seems to me that the Bible is authoritative not only in its content but also in its emphasis. I have no response to the $73 million that was spent in support of prop 8 except ‘I am really, really sorry.’[6]

I have been enjoying the TED website. TED is an ideas conference sponsored by NPR that takes place in California each year. I often dump several of the free talk MP3s onto my player with audio books, good sermons and philosophy/theology lectures. I think James Howard Kunstler’s has been my favorite so far.

It’s bombastic and overstated[7], but I really agree that, as a culture, religious and non-religious people have been united in the idea that the aesthetic value of our built environment does not really matter[8]. We are architectural pragmatists and it has left us with places not worth caring about. The two biggest mistakes Buffalo ever made were putting the Bills in Orchard Park and UB in Amherst. When you could buy huge tracks of downtown for a song, they decided to put their cultural assets in the suburbs and so their urban renewal has not remotely kept pace with those in Pittsburg, Cleveland or other rust belt communities...except for Detroit. Our built environments impact our humanness and our spiritual vitality. Why do you think the New Jerusalem is so AWESOME. Because the built environment matters.

My favorite song right now is ‘Passing Afternoon’ by Iron and Wine

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days

Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

There are things we can't recall, blind as night that finds us all

Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe

Sometimes, with the windows closed, she'll sit and think of me
But she'll mend his tattered clothes and they'll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

I love the use of the seasons and the details of life as the markers and metaphors for mortality. It is beautiful and heartbreaking…in the best possible way.

Hall and Oats were on the Daily Show a little while ago, which reminds me…when I was a kid I thought they were a band called Hallin' Oats (as in what a trucker does).

So I am preaching and hanging out at our Church’s on campus ministry. It has been a blast. I have found the students to be refreshing, authentic and creative…here is the best example yet of the later:“

…Freedom indeed.” Just a quality effort by Nic, Cory, Joey, Frank and Gary.

The guys were riffing off of the Youtube legends Barats and Barreta who have put together a number of transcendent shorts. Here is one of their recent masterpieces. The Bible in under a minute:.

…boring genealogy… Outstanding

I was listening to a Dricoll MP3 the other day and was shocked to hear him say "I find most preachers are introverts." At first I didn’t believe him, but then I realized that the hypothesis held up empirically against my data set. And it makes sense. Even thought preaching is a deeply public act, if you follow standard rules of thumb (1 hour of prep for each minute of preaching…which is about what it takes for me) the vast majority of your time is spent alone.

I am reading Augustine’s City of God with a few guys. The 1000 page tome is dominating much of my discretionary reading time, which means this blog will be the ‘beneficiary’ of a steady diet of Augustine quotes. So let’s start with this one from Book III that startled me since I had always heard how anti-woman Augustine was:

"In the period between the first and second Punic wars, the law called Lex Voconia was passed, forbidding the appointment of a woman, even an only daughter, as heir. I can not quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law.”

And here is a talk I gave on Augustine at my brother’s church:

I, like most of the people I share a generation with, hate to be thought of as simple or unsophisticated. So it is with not-insignificant shame that I confess that my favorite show on television right now is 'Chuck'. If you gave up on Chuck after the campy pilot or just thought the set up seemed ridiculous, I recommend giving season 2 a shot online (for example, on The characters are extremely fun and the love story has a legitimate obstacle, allowing the relationship to grow in a gradual and organic manner.

Speaking of pilots, they tend to be a poor convention. A pilot has to do lot of exposition and back story and tend to be uncharacteristic of what the show will actually be like. The pilot for Chuck, for example, came off campy and preposterous because they just had to do too much too fast.

This reminds me of one of my classic rants that I have trotted out a couple times recently. I feel like the ideal narrative arc tends to be between 15 and 30 hours for visual media. A movie tends to be too short to really build character and revel in dialog. But by the time you get a couple seasons into a television series, you have to undo some of the stuff you have done (e.g. break up couples, diminish previous achievements, etc) in order to maintain narrative tension. So, I think that one to two seasons is the ideal narrative length for visual media. For example, Band of Brothers was only one season and there was no hint of artificial plot twists to keep the story moving forward. Unfortunately, the holy grail of syndication is not available until a show has run for 4 seasons, forcing the creative class to stretch their premise thin so they can make the 'real' money in syndication.

Even the best television show of all times (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) dropped off between seasons 3 and 4. While seasons 4 through 7 are better than almost any thing else on television right now, they did not hold up to the dramatic quality of the first 3 seasons.

If it seems like I have a lot to say about TV for someone who doesn't have one, the Netflx/online streaming technologies has healed me of my cinematic snobbery[9]. I realized that some of the best stories we are generating are on the small screen. I just want more control over quality and supply, so these newer technologies protect me from my addictive personality.

I have seen some disturbing junk marketed to Christians in my time…ruthless profiteering off Jesus, his message and his people.[10] But I can’t remember a more disturbing product than this.[11] If you don’t get the ‘joke’ consider yourself fortunate. So, I can’t help but wonder, shouldn’t the interpretation come on the back or in a matching ‘I’m with stupid’ sort of set.

In the unlikely event that you were interested in my actual research, the citation and abstract for my latest paper is online: Here.

My next post will likely be on The Decemberists. But until then, the most entertaining interview I have read in some time was this brief exchange with Colin Meloy’s wife Carson Ellis. Here is the highlight:

SM: T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and William Blake have all separately asked you tothe upcoming prom. Who gets to pin the corsage?
CE: C.S. Lewis, but I might get drunk and leave with William Blake....

SM: Please compose a short poem or haiku about whatever you'd like.
CE:Ode to C.S. Lewis'
Neath crepe paper ornaments
We talked all night
You brought me punch
And by candlelight
We talked about Narnia
I said I always felt for Edmund
But William Blake was a wonderful dancer
He said, "Let's take a walk"
I swooned in answer
But O white witch!
I never saw him again
And lost my chance with you, sweet C.S.

[1] If Keller came on this blog and smacked me around like that (all be it, in his characteristic winsome and gentle fashion), I think I’d cry.
[2] Who might be twice my age.
[3] A reference to Deutro-isaiah or Deutro-Paul…the critical biblical theory that a number of biblical texts were written not by the claimed author but by a student keeping the teacher’s name. There is a suspect method to determine if it is the actual author or an imposter by comparing the style to known writing samples of the hypothesized author.
[4] While reading Donald Miller’s ‘Searching for God Knows What’
[5] God gave him the task of naming all of the animals before he created eve. The picture books depict this as a relatively trivial task, but Miller suggests that it would have been monumental.
[6] I have written two complete blogs about prop 8 (explaining my ‘no’ vote and making general commentary) but have not posted them because I can not seem to write on this topic without getting angry and bitter.
[7] I find his peak oil stuff overstated and alarmist but his stuff on the built environment, suburbia, and human density is spot on.
[8] It is a hilarious that this is sponsored by BMW.
[9] For years I refused to get a TV because I asserted that film was the preeminent artistic media of our generation.
[10] I just studied the passage where Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple this morning. I don’t get the idea this is the kind of stuff he would be happy about.
[11] My reference for this is Mork’s Pragmatic Eclectic blog…but it recently disappeared so I can’t provide a link.


Corrie said...

Speaking of "fake pastors," I just discovered "fakerickwarren," "fakepastormark," and "faketimkeller" on twitter. Hilarious.

Joel said...

The whole Prop 8 thing still leaves me angry and bitter, too, even after I wrote about it.

I'm glad you enjoyed my Giant Commandments Road Trip. I always worry that I'm not treating religious things with enough seriousness and reverence, but it was too hard to be serious at a place where you could climb up Golgotha and get a photo of yourself next to the cross. This weekend I'm thinking of going to see the World Trade Center made of scrap metal, which is 20-30 minutes away.

Also, I greatly enjoyed the first season of "Chuck", but then I think it came on at the same time as something else I like and I had to make one of those tough choices that people without TiVo face.

Ford said...

Glad to see your comments on Prop. 8. In FL we had Amendment 2, which was similar. My arguments against this Amendment can be found here:
(some scrolling down is required)

I'd be interested to read what you've written on this topic.

Also loved the Deutero-Keller bit. I needed a laugh today.

nic gibson said...

I know Andy Rowell. He's a ThD student at Duke and I talked with him for a couple hours while there. He did a Div at Regent I think. he is a pretty cool guy. Small world huh?