Thursday, July 21, 2005
Mother of Fridays
What's been on my mind this week, you ask? A whole lot of Romans, still, that's what. I'm still wading throught the 2000 pages of required reading.

Friday my 10-page exegesis paper is due.

Friday is my last day with my job.

Friday my family and I drive to New York to spend about 10 days in the Big Apple with my sister who has been staying the week there.

The only firm plans thus far include the Mets/Dodgers game on Sunday afternoon and the Yankees/Twins game on Tuesday evening. There are rumors of a side trip to Boston to see a Sox game as well. If only I could be so lucky. This is my first time to New York, so I'm looking forward to it.

I'll be taking my camera with me, but however will not be posting any further picutres to my flickr site until I have a new job to pay for their premium service. It seems I have maxed out how many pictures I can put there for free.

So tonight my parents arrive in Wilmore along with my brother and his wife. My parents will be meeting Jackie for the first time. I'd probably enjoy the evening much more if I had more of my paper finished. I could be a very long night.

I'll be taking the laptop with me hoping for wifi. It's New York City, for crying out loud.

posted by Peter at 11:24 AM
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Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The Lord God Bird
I swear. Last Sufjan Stevens link.

This one is just too bizarre to not share.

This is from
Independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister were curious about how Stevens writes his songs, which, much like their own work, are filled with stories of places and people. So, they introduced Stevens to the Arkansas town of Brinkley.

Brinkley is a small farming town not far from where the ivory-billed woodpecker recently was rediscovered. News that the bird is not extinct has brought a ray of hope to the residents of Brinkley.

Producers Collison and Meister spoke with people in the town, then shared the interviews with Stevens. He wrote a song about the ivory-bill, known as the "lord god" or "great god" bird because of its breathtaking appearance. Together, they offer a portrait of Brinkley in word and song.

You can listen to the whole NPR segment here from their site and download the NPR exclusive "Lord God Bird" here.

posted by Peter at 4:18 PM
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Monday, July 18, 2005
More Sufjan
This is a little dated, but I discovered an interview with singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens with Relevant Magazine last year upon the release of Seven Swans. Included is a question I never would have dreamed asking...

[RM:] Do you approach your music as a “ministry”—something that you can offer others? Or do you make music because you feel compelled to do so in order to express yourself? Or is it some combination of those?

[SS:] The word “ministry” is so institutional and cold. I wouldn’t touch that word with a stick. But I do believe we are made with particular inclinations, particular gifts. I hardly think we chose these things, but we are not limited to them at all. It is both mysterious and genetic. I think freedom is a bluff. Especially in this country, we pride ourselves on the independence of the mind. But we are so narrow and mechanized. We spend our lives conditioned by society, working in cubicles, zombies at the computer, shopping in strip malls, franchise clothing stores, Starbucks coffee. I’m talking about myself here. We’ve lost our inheritance. We’re so uncreative. We’re Night of the Living Dead. All I’m asking is that we put off all this crappy fashion and get going on what we were made to do. Wake up, you zombies! Do you really want to contribute to the decline of civilization!?

I don't know if I would go so far as to describe the word "ministry" as "institutional and cold," but we each have our contexts. I might say "misused and abused," and certainly in the contexts of the Arts and the Church. It is a word that warrants redeeming.

posted by Peter at 11:17 PM
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Thursday, July 14, 2005
Feel the Illinoise
The latest from Sufjan Stevens is now available for public consumption. Rolling Stone gives it four stars:
On Illinois, he brings the religious feel of Seven Swans to his Fifty States Project, for a sprawling twenty-two-track tour of the Prairie State. It's part Schoolhouse Rock history lesson, part hippie Bible study. It has songs about UFO sightings, prairie fires, the Civil War, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the poet Carl Sandburg and the Cubs.

And the Incarnation. Don't forget Incarnation. You won't find the "I" word in Rolling Stone but that is what you get on the tracks "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL" and "The Seer's Tower."

Pitchfork also features the album among their best new music:
Stevens dutifully celebrates and indicts all the appropriate landmarks, isolating the highest and lowest points in Illinois history, but at its best, the album makes America feel very small and very real: A boy crying in a van, a girl with bone cancer, stepmothers, parades, bandstands, presidents, UFOs, cream of wheat, trains after dark, a serial killer, Bible study.

posted by Peter at 1:16 PM
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005
The Romans Road
Thought perhaps I might share some nuggets from what I'm learning in my Romans class this week...

  • I'm no good with lectures. The longer, the worse. I'm a shameless product of Generation X, so give me my visual bells and whistles every 30 seconds. Otherwise my mind is off wondering how it is I left my cup of coffee up in my room and it will be cold by the time break comes and I wish that person sitting next to me would quit shifting in his seat every 2 minutes and maybe I won't apply for that UPS job right away and maybe I'll check my email for the fifteenth time today.

  • Shall we start with some semantics. Romans is not a book. It is a letter. And we can go one step further and say that Paul brilliantly utilizes the strategy of deliberative rhetoric. This is a speech, and Romans was meant to be read aloud in the public gathering. Paul is a master of rhetoric. Romans is unique among Paul's letters in the New Testament. It's the only letter written to a faith community that Paul did not start. Paul, at this point, has not been to Rome. So how do you talk to people you know and know you by reputation only?

  • In Greco-Roman culture, how you died was the great revelation of your character. Thus, the idea of a crucified messiah (much less submitting one's life to one) is not only ridiculous, but downright offensive.

  • The biggest issue that Paul is addressing to the Romans is race relations. Roman imperialsim and anti-Semitism reign in the capital city. In AD 49, Emperor Claudius had gotten so fed up with the feuding factions between the Jewish and Gentile Christians, he kicked them all out of the city. Paul writes them a couple of years later after the death of Claudius and the Christians have returned, much to the social disadvantage of the Jewish Christians. Supercession theology--that God has forsaken the Jews and replaced them with the Gentiles as his favored children--permeates the church. Sounds not unlike some current Protestant theology. When Paul says, "Salvation is for the Jew first," this is a big deal, and chapters 9-11 are central to Paul's argument.

  • The existence of house churches with no central authority structure, reinforced a tendency to fragmentation and dissension. In the same chapter which mentions different house churches, we find an exhortation against divisions and dissensions (16:17-19). Paul is not a fan of having no central authority in the church. The Roman churches had no megachurch mentality. They were practical. However many people could fit in the house, that's how many could come to the meeting.

  • Dr. Ben has been interjecting his lectures with scenes from the 1981 TV miniseries "Peter and Paul." While the production values leave much to be desired, I'm fascinated with seeing the stories of the infant church dramatized. It has a notable cast with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Paul ("I once knew a Pharisee, I ate a pig in front of him with some milk and a nice hassidic red wine - ss ss ss ssttttt" Alan quips to me via IM), and Gimli the dwarf as Silas. One scene in particular stands out to me--the first Jerusalem Council. At stake here is whether the Gentiles must first become Jews, that is, be circumcised and submit to the Mosaic Law, before they can be Christians. We can thank Paul's bull-headedness at this assembly that we don't have to memorize the book of Leviticus word for word today. Paul addresses the church leaders, "You want to keep this for yourselves. Jesus told us to give it away freely."

  • That's plenty to muse on for one day. Perhaps some more nuggets tomorrow.

    posted by Peter at 11:12 PM
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    Quotable: The path
    From Arlen Hanson, Thoughts On the Way to the Abbey:
    Bottom line for me is that I have found the path that I should be on, and wish to devote increasing amounts of my time and energy to seriously and intentionally living it out. I'm not suggesting that that is not what many others wish as well, I'm just saying...well, I'll only accuse myself here and no one else: I talk too much about theoretical stuff that may or may not be all that important in the grand scheme of things, and live too little.

    Amen and amen. May we sojourners all find the paths that we should be on. Shalom.

    posted by Peter at 1:28 PM
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    Tuesday, July 12, 2005
    Oooh, shiny object
    You see what happens Larry? This is what happens, Larry. This what happens when I get 8 hours a day in front a computer with an internet connection.

    I get distracted by all sorts of shiny objects.

    Like a Flickr photosite set up by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros while they tour.

    Like segment on PBS over the weekend on the "emerging church." And the ensuing blog commentary. Haven't watched the RealPlayer clip yet, as that would be just too distracting in class.

    A choice soundbyte from Brian McLaren:
    More and more of us are feeling that if we have a version of the Christian faith that does not make us the kind of people that make this a better world, we really want no part of it.

    Furthermore, reporter Amy Lawton observes,
    There are also questions about the extent to which the emerging church conversation will push out beyond a white middle-class movement to become truly diverse and global, and whether it will have a lasting spiritual impact.

    Begging the question, does the non-white, middle-class world need the "Emerging Church"? Probably, most likely, definitely not. If Philip Jenkins is right, then the rest of the world is far removed from the hangups of we authoritarian-challenged, dillusioned, middle-class, white evangelicals have with institutional Christianity.

    Like an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education where someone gets their stuffy tweed jacket all in a twist over bloggers:
    What is it with job seekers who also write blogs? Our recent faculty search at Quaint Old College resulted in a number of bloggers among our semifinalists. Those candidates looked good enough on paper to merit a phone interview, after which they were still being seriously considered for an on-campus interview.

    That's when the committee took a look at their online activity.

    Thankfully, yours truly can hide behind a curtain of several thousand imposters.

    Like this speech that Andy Crouch gave at the Christy Awards for Christian fiction:
    Laptops are an extraordinary technological achievement, with integrated circuits that incorporate millions of transistors into a $2000, 6-pound package with more computing power than used to fit in several climate-controlled rooms. And the main way people use their laptops on airplanes is . . . to play solitaire.

    But wait, it gets better...
    This is a constant Christian temptation. We are prone to create our Christian virtual reality—I’m sure that right here at the International Christian Retail Show you’ll be able to meet good-hearted folks creating Christian video games. Isn’t that appealing? A world, suitably tweaked and put at your disposal for your entertainment, where Christianity actually works! Just obey the Christian rules and you win the game. A world where prayers are always answered! A world where sin doesn’t weave itself so tightly around even our best efforts! It is so tempting to strategically simplify, to create a fictional reality in which things just seem to work better than they do in this world.

    But to do that is to deny the Incarnation—to deny that God became real in this world, in this very world where God does not seem real to many people much of the time. To create Christian virtual reality is to choose escape and seclusion and thus become entirely irrelevant to the heart of the gospel, which is God entering into this very world in order to liberate it from its captivity to itself.

    Later, Crouch relates a story of a recent trip to Africa where he encountered that most disruptive character of the Christian virtual reality--the beggar:
    But I remember those eyes and that smile, I remember them all the more vividly because I never looked directly at him. And I wonder what he had for me. I know, of course, that Jesus told a story in which the Son of Man comes to the nations in just such a distressing disguise. But I don’t know that this man was Jesus. In fact I’m aware even as I tell you this story that we share a predisposition to moralize from it, to turn it into a hyper-spiritualized encounter that assists our Christian virtual reality. The Christian-virtual-reality way of telling this story would be to make this man into, if not Jesus, at least an angel, because there are a lot of black angels in white stories. And yet to do that is to make him into a prop in our Christian Holodeck, to make him into a moving closing illustration in my pious banquet address—an address for which I am being handsomely paid, I should add, and for which he, in his role as the Other from Deepest Africa, will receive nothing, meaning that even to countenance such a spiritualization of the story is to deepen the distance between him and me.

    To construct our own comfortable, virtual-reality in the guise of Christianity is such a great temptation. I'm still trying to get that all to sink in.

    exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo

    posted by Peter at 11:07 AM
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    Quotable: Health & Wealth
    Since it is the case that Americans make up less than 15% of the world's population and yet we consume over 60% of the world's resources, and having things like obesity and heart disease caused by obesity as leading causes of death, what preachers in our country really ought to be stressing instead of a prosperity Gospel is a Gospel of simplifying one's lifestyle, as Jesus' early followers did, and generous giving to others, taking care of the least, last and the lost. What a country does with its most vulnerable and weakest members of its society most reveals that nation's character...

    It is hard for me to imagine Jesus encouraging anyone to live in luxury while there are people starving right in our own nation. How is this a good witness to the world? I can't imagine any real Christian rationale for luxury cars, SUVs, luxry houses, luxury clothes etc. The basic Christian principle is simple--- another person's necessities should take priority over my luxuries.

    --Ben Witherington

    posted by Peter at 8:56 AM
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    Monday, July 11, 2005
    I suck at the office
    I really suck at the office. And it has nothing to do with a creepy boss wearing suspenders peering over my shoulder, holding a coffee mug, "Hey Peter, what's happening?"

    Rubbing shoulders with the good folks at VBCC last fall, I was exposed to the Liturgy of the Hours, also sometimes called the daily office.

    I find myself echoing Kyle's sentiments:
    In praying the Office, I'm being trained to quit trying to "get something out of" my reading of Scripture. It is a regular, daily practice, to be engaged in whether I feel like it or not. The Scripture reads me, and I sit with it, (often with my friends as well) whether I'm in the mood for it or not. When it's done, I can trust that this is indeed part of being transformed by the renewing of my mind, whether I "feel" transformed or not.

    I like the rhythm. I like the reminder that prayer and God's Word are bigger than me and what I'm feeling today. The Psalms are so rich in language and emotion and theology. But I can't seem to find a rhythm. I'll pray the morning and forget the evening. I'll pray the evening and forget the morning. I'll do three mornings in a row and my book will get buried under a stack of things and I'll forget for weeks at a time. Then I have to humbly ask what week we're on.

    I like the idea of submitting to a spiritual rhythm. I really do. I like the idea of a lot of things. Doing is quite something else, though. Really submitting, ah, there's the rub. If a discipline were easy, though, I'm sure it wouldn't be worth it in the end. And at the end of the day, it's not about reading the perfect script. I think it's more about being on the road towards perfection. I think that's what those Christians mean by "sanctification."

    Bryan has many excellent resources for the Office.

    Lord make haste to help me.

    And I'm in class all this week. Exegesis of Romans. Lectures from 8 am to 5 pm.

    Lord make haste to help me with that, too.

    posted by Peter at 11:36 PM
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    Friday, July 08, 2005
    Today I applied for a "ministry" job.

    (Sssh, don't tell Alan.)

    According to the add, applicant "Must be cool and neat."

    Now by "neat," I'm not really sure if this means "clean and orderly" or "generally terrific and spiffy."

    Either way, I hope I'm not too over-qualified on these counts.

    posted by Peter at 1:28 AM
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    Mmmm... this is yummy:
    Paul's use of rhetoric reminds us that he desired to be a part of a larger world than many of his Jewish Christian contemporaries who were dragged kicking and screaming into a cosmopolitan church. It reminds us that Paul valued a good deal of Greco-Roman culture.

    Paul believed in sifting culture, not merely criticizing it. His faith was not world-negating but world-transforming. His model was not the Amish-style enclave but an aggressive approach aiming to take every thought captive for Christ. We would do well to ponder this approach in an age when anathemas rather than engagement, critique and persuasion seem to be the usual conservative Christian approach to the larger society (Witherington 127).

    I can only imagine the torches and pitchforks that would come out if I were to climb into a pulpit Sunday morning and proclaim, "I value American culture."

    posted by Peter at 1:20 AM
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    Thursday, July 07, 2005
    Open Hand
    Narrator: I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete.
    Tyler Durden: Shit man, now it's all gone.

    Fight Club

    I had the perfect job. For the last year I've worked satelitte, part-time proofreading. The perfect school-job. I made my own hours. The pay was very good.

    Stewardship has been on my brain lately. I don't really know why. Last week, I pasted 10 monastic vows on my door. At the top of the list is "Simplicity: A frugal and focused life." It's such a pretty thought.

    I lost my job today.

    Corporate investors. Sales down. Bottom line. Budget cuts. Part-timers are to be phased out by mid-July.

    I'd be lying if I said that didn't freak me out.

    It's the thing I'm sick to death of thinking about now. But it's the one thing I can't stop thinking about. My mind keeps trying to play out fifteen scenarios all at once.

    I know that God is bigger. I know this news doesn't shock the Big Guy. I know Who my source is. Still, that doesn't take away the sting of disappointment. It doesn't make the letting go any easier. I've held this job for nearly two years, and it's the first where I truly loved what I did and the people I worked with. I'll miss that. A lot. I didn't plan on staying there forever, but I couldn't have asked for a better situation during school.

    Now it's gone. We never hold anything forever. I've had to learn lessons of open-handedness before, and it seems whatever it is--people, jobs, stuff--letting it go just doesn't seem natural.

    I don't want to let go.

    And now simplicity becomes more than just a pretty thought.

    posted by Peter at 12:33 AM
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    Strange and beautiful
    Joe has a brand new snazzy redesign of his music blog Each Note Secure.

    He also has posted his interview with Matt Hales, a.k.a. Aqualung, from last week when Mr. Hales was in town...

    Well, what I need is some space, time, and ideally a piano. Although that is really only part of the process. There is a whole other part that happens in my head. I tend to start things off at the piano, but it doesn’t go very far, I let them kind of incubate in my head for awhile. So, at times, the tour bus can be a perfect environment in the process because I cannot write, so I’m forced to let that incubation period continue. And then ill get home and the songs that have been incubating will usually get finished quickly.

    Previously, Joe had this to say about Aqualung's latest release Strange & Beautiful...

    I think if Chris Martin ever decided to do a solo album and stick with “Yellow” type songs, it would sound alot like this. Maybe it’s the British affinity between the two, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly meant as compliment, at least in this instance.

    posted by Peter at 12:30 AM
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    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    The fireworks, pt. V
    Originally uploaded by PedroBlanco.
    In light of the our celebration of our country this week, I found this quote from my reading apropos:
    People in the present-day Western world are heirs of the Enlightenment and see the world in two ways that are fundamentally different from the view of Paul and others in the first-century Mediterranean world...

    Freedom is defined largely in negative terms as the absence of constraint, having the ability to choose one thing rather than another, to move and speak and write 'freely,' that is, as one chooses...

    The world Paul inhabited saw things very differently... In Paul's world, one was always 'obedient' to someone and 'bound' to some authority which one 'served.' The only question was which higher power did one serve...

    Freedom in this view is defined not so much in terms of freedom of choice as in terms of the degree of authority/value/power offered by the one served. Freedom of spirit mattered more than freedom of choice. Thus, philophers called the freedom to engage in vice no freedom at all, but a kind of bondage. Persons so obsessed with pleaseure or possessions or power that they are driven to the compulsive indulgence of such passions are obviously controlled by their addictions and are not free in any meaningful sense. In contrast, a person might be the slave of the emperor, or merely the house servant of a merchant, yet because of virtue and self-control might be regarded as fully human and genuinely free (Johnson 107, 108).

    Happy Independence Day.

    posted by Peter at 7:28 PM
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    Friday, July 01, 2005
    Over the Rhine

    The lawn
    Originally uploaded by PedroBlanco.
    Found out Wednesday afternoon about a free concert by Over the Rhine at Waterfront Park in Louisville that night. Kinda makes up for the fiasco I went through trying and failing to get tickets to their CD release party a few months back.

    Two concerts in one week. I could get used to this. Summer rocks.

    We arrived five minutes before they took the stage and found a piece of lawn front and center.

    I took pictures.

    posted by Peter at 12:13 AM
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