Monday, December 25, 2006

All is Calm, All is Bright

Like a stone cast in a still river
Pushing the ripples out forever
Redemption rips through the fabric of time
In the cry of a tiny babe (Bruce Cockburn)

God bless us every one.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Book Review

Second Coming Attractions, by David Prill.

This book takes place in the Christian entertainment industry, and follows the struggles of a family-friendly, Christian film company trying to keep up with changing times and tastes. It is a satirical look at the Christian subculture by one who is clearly not a part of it -- this is not a "Christian" book in the sense that neither Prill nor the publishers are part of the evangelical world. It is not a "CBA" book, to use the industry jargon.

As satire, it exaggerates the eccentricities of the Christian sub-culture, and is certainly not an accurate portrayal. But for what it is, it is intriguing -- I think it often good to get a fresh "outsider's" perspective on the little world we inhabit. I don't have enough free time in my life to be able to spend all of it reading things that I already know, or otherwise agree wtih. Art is to be challenging, and some books that I read, I read to be challenged.

I enjoyed this book until a very uncalled-for scene late in the novel that turns the Christians from lovable weirdos to dangerous weirdos. It's a shame, because the work is otherwise a very worthwhile read, if you don't mind your own community's shortcomings being pointed out.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More Than an Icon

This is a work of mine that was published in my church's advent devotional:

There is a 14-inch statuette on my mantle that has been in family since my parents visited Brazil nearly 50 years ago. It’s a statue of Mary, holding her newborn babe. At this time of year you may think that is not unusual; plenty of people display similar pieces of art for the holidays. But this statue is not surrounded by Joseph and donkeys and angels and shepherds. And it doesn’t get put away in early January. Mary retains her place of honor in our house all year round.

I love Mary.

She is my favorite character in the Bible, and there is no close second. There are times I wish I were a Catholic so I could even more open in my respect and admiration for Our Lord’s mother. Mary speaks to me of faith, trust, and belief. My own character pales in light of hers.

Consider the arc of her faith walk. As a young woman, she has a powerful encounter with God that changes her life, and then never doubts what happened. Every moment of her life seems to flow with the will of God. I like to think that if I had had such a powerful experience, I would have responded the same way. Yet I have had a personal encounter with the King, and his Holy Spirit lives within me, supposedly beating in time with my own heart. And still I question, still I waver, still I doubt.

As the events at Cana show, Mary did not always understand what Jesus was doing, but she never doubted His authority: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Is there a better summation of what it means to be a follower of Christ?

In so many ways, Mary is my model. She received Christ in a way that transformed her as completely and radically as I hope my own encounter with Christ will one day transform me.

I love Mary.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Book Review

The City of God, by Saint Augustine.

This tome is considered a classic work of theology, and as I read it I understand why. So much of what we think of as orthodoxy derives directly from this work, and is really the template for Christian apologetics. In this case, much of what Saint Augustine is arguing against is the Roman gods (Zeus and that bunch), and so is not directly applicable today. But the idea of taking on the "gods of the age" and comparing the truth of their claims to the truth of Jesus taught the Church how to face the claims of the false gods that have arisen to challenge Christ in the 1600 years since.

The work is much longer and more academic than The Confessions, the other great literary contribution of Saint Augustine. That is the template of the spiritual biography, and is probably the place to start with Saint Augustine.

I am not recommending that others read this (it is long, and some parts are not applicable and others are dry), but it is important work, and we should know that it is an important work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


In the spirit of the season, I wanted to post what I am thankful to God for:

* my wife and daughter, and the unconditional love (and grace) they show me
* my job, which is almost literally a "one of a kind" opporutnity for me
* the Church in general, and my local church in particular
* all of the good books I have read, and the ones I hope to read in the future
* my health, and that of my family

I like my life, but am looking forward to the next one

Monday, November 20, 2006

Book Review

The Suburban Christian, by Albert Hsu. Intriguing little book about finding (and bringing) Christianity to the suburbs. Hsu points out that suburbs have always existed, but their growth in modern America makes them a stronger influence than ever before.

There is a long history of urban Christianity, as well as country/wilderness/small town Christianity, but it is the suburbs where people are moving, as well as some of the biggest churches. He gives some thought-provoking ideas about how to forge community in these areas, where garage doors close us off from neighbors in a way that front porches used to bring us closer to our neighbors.

I am a suburban Christian myself, and am weighing some of the suggestions Hsu makes regarding how to behave Christianly in this setting, in terms of: shopping, work, neighbors, etc . . .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Plagairizing Pastors?

Do not underestimate the front page of Wall Street Journal as a source for fascinating articles on religious/spiritual/church things.

Today (Nov. 15) had another really interesting article -- this about the debate over pastors delivering other pastor's sermons as their own, and including the wide range of positions on the issue. Now as a writer and as a professor, I admit that my bias is in favor of attribution -- crediting the souce from which you get an idea or a story or an interpretation -- anything less than that is a violation of professional ethics and/or copyright law. I will also mention that my pastor (a former lawyer and university professor) practices attribution, mentioning the author and the book from which he gets concepts, facts, etc . . .

Another pastor in my denomination who I respect is quoted in this article as saying that pastors should feel free to use whatever truth they find, wherever they find it, and that attirbution can get in the way of the flow and point of a sermon. The arguement is that as long as the work is not printed, then copyright has not been violated. But with sermons being sold on CD, I wonder about that legal analysis.

But to me, legality is not the key issue, it is honesty. It is OK for pastor to not have an "original" idea every week, but if they are using resources, they should mention the resources they are using. Again I recognize my bias, but I have trouble seeing the other side of the argument.

But I also think that attribution models pastoral humility. In a setting where we have seen the "pastor as rock star" mentality -- and the excesses and moral trouble that comes along with that mentality -- I think a pastor pointing out that he is not the font of all new wisdom is a very good thing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How Do You Be A Neighbor?

Again, the Wall Street Journal comes through with a fascinating article. On today's (10/31/06) front page, the Halloween-themed feature is about Rev. Phil Wyman, a minister in Salem, Mass -- yes, of witch fame. Salem, of course is a large wiccan-New Age hotspot, and Wyman set out to engage in "friendship evangelism" with this community, who seemed to respect and appreciate his approach, which included a confession of the church's past sins and a tongue-in-cheek "Psalm Reading" booth at a local Halloween gathering.

The response from the community was positive, including on e wiccan who is quoted as saying, "Sure, he wants to convert you. But he does it in a way that respects you." That seems a powerful testimony to me.

Unfortunately, his denomination did not see things that way. One is quoted as saying that Wyman was "too familiar, too cozy, too amicable with that community." He was brought up on charges on being "abberant," and was removed from his pastorate.

We need to engage culture, and not in a "we versus them" mentality. There are probably details I don't know, but the handling of this case disappoints me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Giving Wisely

To those who are not readers of the Wall Street Journal, it may be surprising to learn that they are a great source for feature articles on things of faith. Today (10/30/06) they had an article on Wall Watchers, a small organization that investigates how ministries and churches handle their money. The guts of the article addressed Wall Watcher's concerns with a specific national ministry, which changed their structure a little bit after being made aware of Wall Watcher's concerns about the handling of a property-tax issue. Anyway, I have a financial background, so issues of handling money rightly speak to me, and this organization seemed very sound.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What The Church Does

I found this in the notes for a theology class a friend of mine is taking. It is a memory device for recalling the historical ministries of the church. I thought it was pretty clever, as well as interesting.

"The SS Witness and the 4 Ships:"


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The Call
My personal top 10 album list would have 2 by The Call. Both "Reconciled" and "Let The Day Begin" are classic albums that combine an astute and intelligent spirituality with driving, straight-ahead rock and roll. Michael Been, the frontman for the band, is a Christian and has always written his songs from the perspective of a believer dealing with the realities of living in the modern world. They never appeared on "Christian radio" because they were actually on real labels, Elektra and MCA, and never positioned themselves as a "Christian band." But I encourage you to check them out if you never have.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Our Messy Lord

We can not expect God to fit into our boxes, or to meet our standards. God is the great paradigm-breaker, but we can only experience that characteristic of Him if we are open to changing our own paradigm. This is a definite situation where we can only recieve from God when we are ready to recieve from God. The encouragement is to let Him out of whatever box you have Him in, whatever pretty decorative frame you are holding Him in, whatever human standard you are Holding him to. Set Him free, let Him out, release Him. Let Him be God.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Book Review

Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell (Zondervan, 2006). This book recounts the spiritual journey of Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. His take is that a post-modern world requires a post-modern approach to faith, perhaps more open and flexible than we were taught was appropriate.

Bell is an advocate of taking faith seriously nd saking difficult questions. The book explains his desire for this church to live with passion and conviction, and he seems to have cobbled together of life of awe, honesty, passion, and an appreciation for the mystery of the Christian faith.

Bell and Mars Hill are similar to (and may choose to identify with) the Emerging Church movement, as described in many books, including Barna's Revolution. I have Barna on my bookshelf, and plan to get to it within the month, so my comments are based not on actually reading that book, but by reading a lot about it.

Back to Velvet Elvis. I appreciate Bell's vulnerability, and his struggles with doubt and understanding Scripture -- I resonate with anyone who has "worked out their salvation with fear and trembling." The weakness in the book is in taking what he has found valuable in his own and his church's walk, and assuming that all (American, at least) beleivers and churches need to make the same changes he has. It is a very American Christian attitude to believe that works for you and your church have to be applied to everyone and every church -- and I have found that that just isn't the case.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


The church is the earthly community of God, built by Christ and dwelling under his headship. Christ selected 12 followers, building a community in parallel to Israel. This community offered healing, which built a community of hope, and in some cases, a restoration to societal acceptance.

We are described as light, which is a communal element. We are described in terms of communal imagery, vine and branch, sheep and shepherd.

And when this veil of tears is cast away once and for all, we enter into the ultimate communal relationship with Christ, that of bride and groom.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Kingdom Is Us

This sounds like it comes from the Vineyard, perhaps John Wimber or Bert Waggoner:

We are the People and Sign of the Kingdom,
the Agent and Instrument of the Kingdom.
We are Witnesses to and Custodians of the Kingdom.
We were Created by the Kingdom,
and we are the eschatological Goal of the Kingdom.
It is God;s design that a Church of the Kingdom,
by the Kingdom, and for the Kingdom
shall not perish from the earth.

Friday, September 22, 2006

(more) Theologizing

Continuing to ponder the theological intricacies of salvation and the atonement, as per the previous post:

On grace: As a natural implication of the doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement, Calvinists also teach that the elect cannot resist His call, and that the Call can only be responded to with repentance and faith. As an implication of their theology, Arminians teach that grace may be made ineffectual by our lack of response. Again the notion of "wasted" grace pops up.

On perseverance: The Calvinist belief in eternal security makes sense given their belief presented above that grace cannot be resisted. Arminians belief that God provides grace for any emergency of faith, though it can be neglected by some to their eternal peril.

I confess that I love thinking about this stuff, and how one doctrinal point has to lead to another. At this point in my theological development, I lean a little bit toward the Arminian view of the world. I tend to have a "free will" bias in my thinking, a view that Jacob Arminius evidently shared.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I have been studying some works of systematic theology, and am attempting to process it. Thus, here is a little soteriology -- or theology of the atonement and salvation. Although there is massive agreement among Christians about soteriology, there are intricacies I enjoy pondering. These are my current understandings of the 17th Century debate between Reformed (Calvinist) and Remonstrant (Arminian) theology.

On the depravity of man: These seem pretty similar to me, so I'm sure I'm missing some subtlety. Reformed theology teaches that every aspect of human nature has been affected to some degree, so that we are totally dependent on Grace to seek God or do good. Remonstrant theology proposes that we posess a natural inability to do good apart from God's grace.

On election: Here is where the theology of free will starts to differentiate between the two "sides." Reformed theology teaches that God in His sovereignty predestines some fallen people to be saved, while Arminians believe that election is conditional, based on God's foreknowledge (but not His causing of us to act one way or another) of who would continue to believe in Christ.

On atonement: This is a big one. Calvinist theology proposes a limited atonement, in which the work of the cross was performed noly for those he elects/predestines, so none of the blood is "wasted" on others. Arminians beleive in universal atonement, limited only by the number of people who put their faith in Christ.

This is enough for now: I need to really ponder on whether there was any "wasted" blood at Calvary. That is heavy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Movie Review

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005; TYPO -- originally typed 1995. sorry for the confusion), PG-13.

One of the first (THE first?) movies to come from Act One, the latest and best-organized effort to get Christians into Hollywood to make mainstream (i.e., no "christian celebrities," no altar call moments, not designed for the Christian bookstore direct-to-video set) movies that tackle issues of faith.

I enjoyed this movie a lot -- the casting, design, script, effects were all top-notch. I am not a fan of horror films, and this one isn't really one, despite the name and the marketing of it when it was in theatres. First, it is a courtroom drama -- Emily died during the exorcism, and the priest is on trial; second, it is an inelligent debate on the role of the spiritual in the modern world; and third, a horror film. The flashbacks of Emily's possession and exorcism are intense and frightening, but not gory -- the only blood is Emily's stigmata.

Again, this is not a movie for the Church basement, but is an intelligent, fair and balanced movie that at the very least should be one that encourages discussion, maybe even debate.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Flip Side of Forgiveness

The images of Jesus as judge can be frightening, the thought that we will stand before him and the video of our life will be played back before Him, so He can render proper judgement upon us.

But is this love? Wouldn't love just forgive, and not judge? This might tickle the ears of some, but one forgive ONLY if they can judge. A jury must have the option of finding guilt for a finding of innocence to be valid. An athlete must face the possibility of defeat for victory to have meaning. And Jesus must be our judge; it's the only way he offer us forgiveness.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Struggle and Sin

It has taken too long for me to rightly develop a theology of struggle. I have spent too many years equating the two, assuming that my struggles themselves were sinful. But I am slowly (and I hope not too late) understanding that life has two great teachers, the Holy Spirt and struggle. The writer of Hebrews points out (5:8) that even though Jesus was "a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered."

A lesson of Jesus' humanity is that he was in the same spiritual situation as me -- fully human. But when he was led (Matthew 4:1-11) by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, he did so without sin -- being tempted is not a sin. He was tempted, absolutley tempted as I am, but he showed me that through the Spirit, resistance is possible. I need to take this truth and bury it deep inside me.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Summer's Gone

The cycles of God's creation just keep moving along their appointed paths. The moon and stars dance, the seasons march on, we live and we die, yet God remains the same and His works remain in tact.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Movie Review

The Second Chance (2006, PG-13). I am usually not a fan of Christian "celebrities" taking their name to a different area and expecting their "celebrity status" to bring fans, and I have also been critical of Christian movie-makers grabbing for any "celebrity" they can cast, seemingly regardless of acting ability. So you can imagine my groan when I saw that Michael W. Smith was the lead of a big-screen Christian production.

But two factors tempered my dread: One, the fact that a number of musicians had made the transfer to the big screen (from Dwight Yoakam to DMX and Ice-T); and Two, the presence of Steve Taylor. With only one little career hiccup -- involvement in my least favorite worship song of all time -- Taylor has been on the cutting edge of the Christian arts world for nearly twenty years. His music and video work has consistently been top-notch.

Which brings me back to The Second Chance. The movie revolves around the relationship of a mega-church and its inner-city outreach, which was the original home of the church before it went to the suburbs. Class, race, church responsibility, it's all addressed.

I have to say that it was quite good. Taylor's script was crisp, there were no "cringe moments" and the parts that were supposed to be funny actually were -- this doesn't always happen in Evnagelical cinema, and I credit this to Taylor's presence. The acting -- even Smith's -- was above average.

I'll probably watch this again, and will certainly pay attention to whatever Taylor gets involved in next.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Weakness Turned To Strength (Heb. 11:34)

God appears to put a high value on weakness, and on the weak (1 Cor 1:27; 2 Cor 12:9-10). In order to understand why / how this is so, we must first have a clear understanding of the word.

According to a dictionary, WEAKNESS is "A part of your emotional / physical / intellectual makeup that appears in the natural to hinder you from accomplishing a given task." In this context, weakness is not the same as sin -- this understanding is critical, although sometimes we use the words almost as synonyms. But to God sin and weakness are almost antonyms -- He hates sin, but He loves weakness. Why would God feel this way about my weakness -- I certainly don't!!

A weakness can be a stronghold for the enemy, but only if you are ashamed of it, you hide it, or deny it -- in some way keep it to yourself. An acknowledged weakness that is brought to the Lord can not be a stronghold -- If you are not holding on to something, there is nothing for the enemy to hold on to, either.

The presence of God is a safe place to be vulnerable, and a safe place to acknowledge weakness -- so He can turn that to a strength.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Art: for the church AND from the church

This is based on my response on a discussion board on

We need to understand that there are definitely two tracks in the American Evangelical church, in terms of music, books, and movies: 1) Artistic efforts "of the church, by the church, for the church," that we probably should not foist on the world due to their preachiness and objective lack of quality, or at least not be offended/defensive when our non-Christian friends point out their preachiness and objective lack of quality. I have plenty of books & music (and have rented lots of movies) in this category; This is what we mostly find in the "christian" industries here: christian bookstores, CCM radio, christian movies

and 2) Artistic efforts that attempt to speak to the broader culture. These will tend to be less preachy, more overtly artistic, perhaps more symbolic in their language / imagery. These are the works most likely to be criticized by the Western Church, as they might not fit our narrow definition of art that is "Christian." I am a fan of much of this stuff, too. This is space where a number of disillusioned musicians dwell -- I won't name them, because they might not agree with that characterization.

Fans of Category 1 tend to be dismissive and judgmental towards fans of Category 2 . . . . . and vice versa. This is the problem -- we need to be supportive of both, or at least recognize that both can be valid. I personally enjoy both of these types of expressions, I believe both have their places, let's just make sure we know in a particular case which one we're talking about so we can properly adjudge it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Truly God, Truly Man

The great thing about being part of a living church, one that extends two millennia into the past is that many of the hard issues have already been thought through, prayed over, discussed and debated. We are not static in our theological understanding, but we miss out on a great heritage if we think only about what God is "doing today." My ring-sister who so loves Oswald Chambers understands that we can learn from those who came before.

An issue that the early church grappled with was the nature of Jesus, and the early fathers faced a number of heresies about this issue. The extremes were Doceticism, a theology that denied the humanity of Christ, and Adoptionism, which denied the deity of Christ. Between these extremes lay a range of theologies that tried to solve the Man/God dilemma.

In 451, the Council of Chalcedon addressed the issues and decreed what we have come to receive today as orthodoxy: "We with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; and we do this without confusing, transmuting, or dividing these two natures into separate categories, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person, our Lord Jesus Christ."

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Glory of Being Human

We know from the Scriptures that all of Creation glorifies God. We have all had that experience of feeling God's presence in the summer breeze, in the flittering butterfly, or in the brightness of the night sky. But all of these parts of God's Creation worship the Lord just by being themselves. Stars, sunsets, rainbows, waterfalls, all of these things are passive glorifiers of God, but our free will enables us to actively glorify God. The waves never have the temptation of not crashing into the rocky beach, the rainbow never considers not appearing after a spring rain. But we as humans are unique in that we can choose to worship God, we can become active glorifiers of the Lord.

The results of worship are available only to humanity. Drawing near to God, receiveing His protection, entering into intense relationship with Him, these are all benefits that only humans can receive. Is this a piece of what the angels "long to look into?" I thank God that he made me human!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Review

End of the Spear (2006). Based on the real-life story of the Saints, the first missionaries to make contact with one of the most violent cultures on record, the Waodani of Ecuador. First contact is bloody, but perseverance and steadfastness allow the second generation of missionaries to become accepted in the tribe, their message to be received, and the culture of the Waodani to be changed.

Dramatic, emotional, a good story well presented and well acted. Both of my thumbs are up.

I have to mention the dust-up relating to casting in the movie that became public just as it was set to be released theatrically. Some Christian leaders advised their flocks to avoid the movie, and there was even a e-mail campaign proposing a boycott of the film.

What a shame. I am in the camp that Christian movie-makers need to seek the best quality scripts, cast, crew, etc . . . and not necessarily limit their pool of talent to evangelical Christians. It's not fair to complain that the world ignores our artistic efforts (music, books, movies) if we don't respect the output enough ourselves to attempt to compete in terms of style and quality. Message can't be an excuse for poor execution.

Christian entertainment intended only for Christians can be schlocky and cheaply-made for all I care -- I partake in some of that myself, I'm not a snob. But if the intent of a work is to reach beyond our enclave, we have to stretch ourselves to make sure the end product exceeds the standards so that it will at least get a listen by the world. Or if we can't do that individually, then we need to support those that try.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Believe

Is there a difference between what I "believe" and what I "know" in terms of my faith walk? What does it mean to say that "I believe" in God? Is it just He is invisible that makes my "knowing" him "believing" in Him? Or is it a matter of the quantity of faith -- is believing just a lesser version of knowing? I don't know.

And how does the phrase "I believe in God" correlate with phrases such as "I believe in higher education" or "I believe in fastening my seat belt?" The syntax of those sentences are identical, but the implications of them are radically different. These are not statements about the existence of the item in question -- does anyone not think higher education or seat belts actually exist? -- but are statements about the quality/efficacy of the items in question. But the statement "I believe in God" is slippery, because is can be a statement about the existence of the item in question (God) but can also be a statement about the characteristics of the item in question (God).

When others say "I believe in higher education" or "I believe in seat belts," I have a pretty good idea of what they mean, but when someone says "I believe in God," I have no idea what they mean. That phrase has become so amorphous that it can mean a million different things. How do I know what I mean when I say it?

Is it simply a limitation of language? Or is something more subtle, some limitation of our understanding of the very concept of God?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Report

Terri Blackstock likes 4-book series, and I like some of her 4-book series; I had read a total of six books of hers, including the entirety of her Newpointe 911 series. At least I thought it was the entirety of the series. But it turns out that she was so moved by the bravery of police, EMTs, and firefighters on 9/11 that she was moved to write a fifth. Also drawing on the WorldCom financial scandal, Line of Fire revisits the emergency workers of Newpointe, LA. Blackstock is consistently becoming a better writer in this genre, finally shaking off the detritus of her romance-writing past. Her thriller/suspense works are becoming better and better.

Monday, August 07, 2006


The thought struck me when I took Communion yesterday of the eternal place that the Lord has in our lives. "Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me . . . For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." In this single act, the past, present and future all come together in the person of Jesus. We take Communion in the present, whereby we procaim the events of the Cross which occurred at a particular moment in the past, and will do so until He comes at a particular moment in the future.

I know that God is outside of time . . . but only rarely do I get a glimpse of exactly what that means. That is the guts of the message "The Kingdom of God is here" -- in this life, in our little existence, we get glimpses of the life to come, times and places where God's Kingdom intersects with our world.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Christian by faith, not by genre

That's a phrase attributed to Jon Foreman of Switchfoot in the book Body Piercing Saved My Life. I have never been a fan of using the word "christian" as an adjective, especially when applied to the arts. What is a "christian song" or "christian poem" or "christian story" anyway? I have never been satisfied with any of the supposed answers to questions of this sort -- like the principle that "christian radio" can play covers of U2 songs by "christian bands," but not the originals by U2. So Foreman says that they (Switchfoot) are a christian band by their faith, not by the genre of music they play. I like that, I like it a lot.

So am I a "christian professor?" Or a "christian novelist?" No, I don't think so.

I'm a Christian.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

I am not one that puts a lot of stock in our constructs of time. Of course days, weeks, seasons and years were all established by God, but what about months -- aren't these man-made constructs? I am also not a fan of considering the "first" of anything more significant than any other day -- first of the year, first of the month, etc ... don't even get me going on News Years Resolutions!

But in our modern fast-paced, Day-Timer, list-of-things-to-do world, any chance to turn the calendar page and begin a fresh clean period of time matters. I just don't buy it for myself.

That being said, Happy August! It sounds likes it's gonna be a hot one.

Monday, July 31, 2006

I Believe In . . .

I have recently felt myself drawn to ancient aspects of our faith, and I have decided to spend time meditating on the great statement of Christian belief, the Apostle's Creed. There is so much depth in each phrase of this that I imagine this project will take some time. To remind you of the core of historical, orthodox Christian belief, here is an English version of the Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descened into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
From where He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe inthe Holy Spirit,
The Holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

There is power in those words.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Movie Review

GONE (2002)

First things first, this is not a bad flick, and not just "for a Christian movie," which unfortunately is still a legitimate thing to say. Different take on the Rapture, not an "epic" on the scale of Left Behind or Omega Code. This is a smaller, more personal take, and I prefer that myself, not being totally on-board with the LaHaye-style "Timetable" approach to the Last Things. Decent production values, nice locations, great final scene, all the things you want to see in an independent film, except for . . . . the acting.

Why do Christian filmmakers think C-level (or worse) celebrities bring more to a production than actual, professional, talented unknowns? This movie falls squarely into that category, and it is even worse than Stephen Baldwin, Kirk Cameron, or Gary Busey. This movie "stars" Joel Klug and Dirk Been . . . yes, from "Survivor." That's what I said: "Survivor."

In the commentary on the DVD, the director seemed like a serious guy, but I can't believe he had a casting call, had auditions and screen tests, and decided that these two guys were the best "actors" for the job. My proof: In the four years since, the 2 men have appeared in a total of one other film. What was this guy thinking?

There are plenty of struggling, talented, hard-working, Christian actors out there, right? There have to be. Or did the minimal amount of "celebrity" these two bring to the movie improve its chances of being made and seen in the Christian marketplace? I would like to think better of my family than that, but . . . {sigh} . . . I don't know.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Book Report

Body Piercing Saved My Life, Andrew Beaujou. Beaujou is a secular journalist who spent more than a year in the Christian rock scene, attending GMA week, some festivals, talking to Christian rock journalists, performers, executives, etc . . . and ended up producing an intersting, often sympathetic portrayal of an industry balancing ministry and profits, creativity and lyrical purity, passion and quality.

He hits the key points in the history of Chrsitian rock: Larry Norman to Keith Green to Amy Grant to Stryper to DC Talk to Switchfoot. The lack of even a mention of Undercover or The Choir is a shame, especially as both of these artists had "run-ins" with the industry and could have added to the book.

If you like an outsider's view of these things and think that there are some problems with Christian industry, I would recommend this. If you are in the evangelical subculture and don't like being challenged or criticized, you should probably let this one pass.

Among the intersting points and/or quotes, some of which I may write about soon:
* The absolute excising (whitewashing?) from the history of the movement/industry of people who have fallen out of favor.

* "Christian bookstores are the gatekeepers of the industry."

* " . . . passion over quality" and "a distinct lack of self-editing."

* The state of worship music . . . . Deadheads . . . . "Jesus is my girlfriend"

* Controversy has a negative effect on album sales.

* Sex does not sell.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hello Linden-Villians!

Glad to be a part of the ring! Looks like a fine bunch of peeps I am associating with.

If you found me through the Ring, welcome and glad to have you. Please read, and feel free to comment.

The Church and Art

The story goes of the young Protestant and Catholic boys who became friends. One day, the Protestant is showing his Catholic friend around his church. When they walk into the sanctuary, the Catholic exclaims, "Oh, no! You've been robbed!" Seeing no stained glass, no statues, no art of any kind on the walls, what else was he to think?

In the United States, the Protestant movement traces its history to Luther, but in reality our roots are grounded instead in Plymouth. We are not at all European in our view of art and the arts, but are strict Puritans. The bare white walls, the plain sanctuary, the complete suspicion of any nonconformist artistic expression all reveal a severe loss for us. The young Catholic boy was right. As Protestants, we have been robbed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Am I Jealous?

I really don't sense that in myself, but we are always the last to notice these things in ourselves, right? Specks and Logs.

A writer friend of mine, through a serendipitous series of events, has made contact with an agent who is preparing to offer her a contract of some kind next month. I am worried for her, because I don't know the agent, his experience is more in sports than literary representation, and . . . . {here's the hard one to say} . . . . I don't think her work is ready for publication.

I mean, my work is closer to being ready, right? So shouldn't I have an agent first?

I don't think I'm totally jealous . . . maybe just MOSTLY jealous . . .

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I am intrigued by what happens to us after death. The New Testament seems to view the afterlife a particular way, different that the Old Testament, and the differences between the two are worth noting. The concept that has my attention now is that of Sheol, which is often translated as "Hell," but which has a fundamentally different meaning than the word that means "Hell" in the New Testament.

Sheol is "the place of the dead," and there is this notion that it is a waiting place. This is different from the image one has of death in the New Testament, where "first there is death, then comes the judgment." There is no place for waiting in the New Testament view, although Jesus refers to Sheol in its Old Testament sense in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

God is outside of time, so the notion of a chronology, either here or in death, is a construct that is essentially man-made. The wonderful thing about God is that "His ways are not ours," and His thoughts are as far above ours "as the Heavens are above the Earth." That is quite a distance. We are not even close. But God gave us minds and wants us to understand Him, so it is worth pondering these hard questions.I am thinking about this a lot, and expect to write more about it soon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book Report: "Emerging" and "Revolution"

These are the hot topics among those of us who think about church. I take it that Barna's "Revolution," which I have not read, is about the growing tendency of people who are hurt in/by church to either leave altogether and take a "just me and God, no need for church" attitude, or to start new hierarchy-less, home-based groups.

"Emerging Churches," which I have read, is a semi-academic study of 50 of these communities in the UK and US. I wish the book questioned these folk a little more, instead of just presenting "their side," but that is also one of the stregnths: it uses a lot of the ir own words, from their blogs and websites, in addition to author interviews, to give us insight into what is going on.

Now I do need to admit my inherent bias. My particular denomination is mentioned quite often in the book, often negatively, mostly inaccurately -- or at least in an out of date manner. One of the leading sources in the book is a man who was high up in my denomination and left, so he has an ax or two to grind. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

I doubt these churches will ever become a major force, but the questions they raise about the hierarchical, professional church are legitimate.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another Cornerstone I Missed!

This makes about 20 Cornerstones that I have not attended -- I am counting every one that has happened since I heard of Cornerstone. The grand-daddy of Christian festivals, Cornerstone is an important event that gives place to Christian performers and artists and "just people" of all kinds. All the glorious, crazy, insane, bizarre diversity of the Body is on display here -- all except me.

Maybe next year?

Friday, June 30, 2006

I Love Restoration!

We moved to a new city about 7 years ago, and found a church home group almost immediately. The leader was smart, passionate, loved debate (which was good because we disagreed a lot!) and the group had a measure of community that I found attractive.

Well about 3 years into it, the leader got hurt by the church -- I think it was largely his fault, but that is neither here nore there. I actually see a lit of myself in him, and understand his feelings of being slighted, as I have at times, as well. My reaction has always been to pray for forgiveness and realize my sin, but his . . . . well, his was to leave the church.

And he didn't just leave the church, he started his own thing -- which included pulling about half the group with him. He became founder/leader/pastor of a group of disaffected believers who wanted to restore first-century, home church koinania.

I ran across him a few times over the next few years, and he was shocked that I was still with the church, as it had so many obvious problems, etc . . . he was very negative, and I had a hard time speaking with him at all, because it always came around to this subject and him hammering my church and pastor.

Well, I saw him in passing a month or so ago, and struck up a conversation. I didn't mention church, for fear of being pounded . . . but he has stopped his thing and joined church again; although not in the same body as before, he is in a church plant from that body. We chatted about five minutes, he talked about working through his issues and his pain, and I left smiling.

I ran across him again a week or so later at a social event, and we takled about 90 minutes, and it was good. He is still an iconoclast, which I respect, but he recognizes the value of church, which I also respect.

I love restoration.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Book Report: Disappointing

I just finished up Behind The Stories, by Diane Eble, a collection of profiles of modern Christian authors. The bibliographies are incomplete, the interviews are all too similar, and there is not even the hint of an "edge" in any of these authors. I can't believe this represents the full swath of the Christian authorial experience.

If it is . . . . I am in serious trouble.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What Exactly Am I Protesting?

I have never been one given to identifying myself as a "label," whether that label be conservative, evangelical, mainline, fundamentalist, charismatic, whatever . . . and I have a little in common with all of those labels and many more.

I called myself a Christian, that's for sure, but the only other label I accepted was "Protestant." But now I am re-thinking that one, too.

Luther and the reformers were Protestant, because they were protesting the catholic Church as the spiritual and temporal power of the day. They protested, so they were Protestant. Made sense.

But I didn't protest indulgences, or any other corruption of taht day. That is not my battle, and I am just beginning to realize that.

I am not a Protestant.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Music: More Retro Stuff

I'm still going through my old tapes, and in deciding which to keep and which to toss, I ran across a few with sentimental meaning for me. I became a Christian during my freshman eyar at college, answering an altar call at a concert, as a matter of fact. I fell into the CCM scene pretty quickly, and it was probably over spring break that I bought my first Christian tapes. It was at Heaven and Earth in Laurel, Maryland, and those four tapes were: Steve Taylor--I Want To Be A Clone; Steve Camp--Shake Me To Wake Me; Jerusalem--Volume 1; and Fireworks--Sightseeing At Night. I am keeping these four, for as long as humanly possible.

Of course, in the many years since then, some memories have begun to fade and harden, so it may not have been those 4 tapes, that store, or even that city . . . but this is the story I have told for years, and until proven otherwise, I choose to still believe it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Passion" is #1

According to a story on Yahoo!, coming from Entertainment Weekly!

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" ranks as the most controversial film of all time, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The magazine ranks the 25 films that have most shocked, disgusted and divided moviegoers, in its June 16 issue, on newsstands Monday.

EW writes that Gibson's grisly depiction of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion ignited "a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history." Despite or to some degree, because of the religious uproar, the 2004 film grossed over $370 million at the U.S box office."


Monday, May 29, 2006

Un. Be. Leave. A. Bull.

Since the eighties (and probably before), Christian radio of the commercial variety has been largely sponsored by what I always thought of as borderline-crackpot vitamins, herbs, and supplements. Since the New Age movement claims close kinship to these products, their presence on low-rent AM Christian radio always struck me as odd, but it was fringe, so I could ignore it.

But it turns out that Pat Robertson is in on the games, too. You know all about his world record-breaking leg lifts, but the protein shake is not the only product. There are pancakes, too!

I didn't do this -- so why am I ashamed?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Third Testament?

We take it as a matter of faith that the Old and New Testaments contain the whole of the general revelation of God. The Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the wide range of other self-described revelations are not considered to be by Christians. Certainly the content is an issue, but also the concept. I believe that no other book has come along that has contained the words of God, but does that mean that no book could? I am sure that the Hebrews believed that their Scriptures contained the whole of God's revelation, but then the New Testament works came along at the time of Christ. But will God decide to intervene that clearly again in human history?Either at, or before, the final days? And will there be a written revelation of any kind? Or even . . . could there be?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Peaceful Protest

The range of possible responses to the upcoming DaVinci Code movie range from discussion groups, boycotts, prayer vigils, etc . . .

The response that I am engaging in is the Peaceful Protest -- I don't know where I first heard this from, but I like it. The concept is that buying a movie ticket is a "vote" for the movie and sends producers the message that this is the kind of movie we want to see. But how do we send the message that DVC is not the kind of movie we want to see? By buying a ticket . . . to another movie.

The concept is to go to another movie (Hoot and Over The Hedge are considered the most "family friendly" alternatives) on opening weekend, to cast votes in another direction.

I like it, and encourage others to join me.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Music: I'm in a retro mood

I have been going through my 300 old tapes under the bed lately, because I (aided by some serendipitous browsing at the library by my 14-year-old daughter) have been transferring my old casettes to CD's. Neither car has a casette player, one of the boomboxes casette doesn't work, etc . . . So like many, we turned into a CD-listening family. And untila bout two weeks ago, I had no clue what to do about my tapes, except -- to my wife's annoyance -- keep them. But not I can CD-ify them, so have been working on that as a spring/summer project.

Well, I ran across one last night that I was kind of dreading listening to again, because I really liked this guy, bought about 5 albums, went to a concert or two, but he has disapeared from the CCM and Christian Rock scene after an ugly attempt to "cross over;" Anyway, I thought the music would not hold up, that I'd be disappointed, blah blah blah, but I went ahead anyway and listened to a couple of old Mylon LeFevre albums.

Let's be honest about Mylon; the LOOK UP project did not work (it is not even available on the website store, though I did not dig through every page), and shortly thereafter he headed into worship leading and a teaching ministry, disappearing by his own choice from my radar screen -- until digging under my bed last night for music between Justus and the Level Heads. There this tape was.

You know what? Sheep in Wolves' Clothing and Crack the Sky still hold up as fun musical experiences. They are definitely 80s albums, you can't hide that, and the theological depth is not on the scale of The Choir or Rez or DA, but for what they are trying to be, they succeed. Straightforward, Southern gospel rock that even after twenty years made me smile again.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An Inordinate Fondness For Beetles

This is an expression that a famous evolutionist coined in determining what God must be like. He answered, that based on his obervations of the material world, God must have "an inordinate fondness for beetles." The statement purports to place man in his proper context by showing the wide variety of beetles. It is meant to be a statement that calls into question God's role in Creation. I think the statement points out God's creative whimsy. I am very comfortable with the statement, and what it ways for God and us. It reminds me that not a single bird can fall to the earth without His knowing. Similarly, not a single beetle was designed without his care.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Called, Chosen, Invited, and Welcomed

These are all New Testament words that are used to describe the overtures that God makes to man. I am not a scholar of the original languages, and make no claim to be, but it seems that there are fundamental differences in these terms that may be significant. "Many are called, but few are chosen" is one of the most intiguing passages in the Scriptures, and I think it is significant as an indicator of God's and our separate and distinct roles in salvation. Then we run across Luke 19:5, where Jesus interacts with Zaccheus. In this case, Jesus clearly announces his intention to relate to Zaccheus, who responds by "welcoming" him to his home. Was he called, chosen, or invited . . . what was Jesus' role in this interaction, and what was Zaccheus'? Then we get into predestination and free will, and my mind explodes . . .

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


It has been pointed out to me that Cornerstone Magazine has ceased publication, and it has been suggested that maybe I should stop linking to it. I don't think I am gong to take that advice.

You see, the vibe of C-Stone Mag is similar to what I am trying to convey here, so the link sends a message about this blog. And don't forget that there are some valuable archives at the site, as well as links to the fest and other important sites and info.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Lego Church

You have probably seen this amazing site, but if not, here is a link. Pretty good recreation of a Crystal Cathedral -style church, made out of, yes, those little plastic block you remember from childhood.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Movie Review: Peretti on DVD

The Visitation is one of my favorite Frank Peretti novels; I always thought it was under-rated, more subtle than some of his other works. Anyway, it got made into a movie starring Edward Furlong and Randy Travis, and was just released on DVD.

Let's say at the outset that Christian movies have made a huge leap from the days of the church basement. Scripts, actors, budgets -- they are all better than they used to be. So the problem when reviewing a Christian movie is . . . . what do you compare it to? Not every movie has Narnia's budget or Mel Gibson's personal backing, so those are not fair comparisons.

But to the movie at hand. The Visitation compares favorably to old church movies and to low-budget independent-type films. The subtlety was lost in translation from book to film, as was some of the drama. I do not remember the specifics of the book, so I can't say how close it stuck to the original, but it the movie did seem a bit predictable, and I don't remember the book being that way.

Next up -- the Steve Taylor/Michael W Smith movie.

Friday, March 03, 2006

My Catholic Teacher

Scott Hahn is a former presbyterian who "Poped" about 15 years ago and has become a leading lay apologist for the Catholic church. I am a Catholic-friendly Protestant and find his works interesting. There are some assumptions and conclusions I can't go along with, but there are many areas of commonality that I would not have expected, as well as areas of faith and practice that speak strongly to me.

His works that I have read are: Hail, Holy Queen, about Mary, who I absolutely love; The Lamb's Supper, which ties the Mass to the Book of Revelation; and Lord Have Mercy, a work on confession.

There are about 10 more, many of which I expect to read in the next few years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Narnia vs. Harry

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has now passed at least two of the Harry Potter movies in domestic box office, and has a good shot of edging out the third.

This bodes well for the future; we'll get some more Narnias, and maybe some others, too. We just have to support the good ones -- even if they aren't designed to be blockbusters.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Books: Hard-Boiled Christian Detective Fiction

This series is a few years old, but I just found them -- I speak of W.E. (or Wally, depending on which edition you have) Davis' Gil Beckman detective series. Beckman is a wise-cracking former cop who works security at a California amusement park, with the typical hot-and-cold relationships with the local cops whenever tragedies strike at the park. He is also a widower, so his sensitive side is never far from the surface.

The books are pretty funny, most of the violent action is off-screen, and they are a pretty quick read.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Observing Another's Grief

I just sat down and read CS Lewis' A Grief Observed -- I had not read it before, and specifically sought it out, it being about 3 months after my mother's death. I did not go through any of the doubt and questioning that Lewis did, but walking with him through his processing of joy's death did touch me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Book Review: A New Blackstock series

I enjoy Terri Blackstock's novels -- this is the sixth I've read -- seven if you count The Heart Reader, which was publiched anonymously but was pretty bad IMHO, so I prefer not to count it as a Blackstock book.

Anyway, that brings me to Last Light: A Restoration Novel -- I guess Restoration is the series. The premise is similar to the TV series Dark Angel: all computerized/electronic items just stop working. What I like about this is that it is more of a SF setting, as opposed to their being a spiritual explanation or some bizarre electronic rapture.

The story takes place in a suburb in the South, and there is a mystery, racial tensions, disaffected teens, and some spiritual growth.

Not bad at all.