Archive for June, 2007

If It Doesn’t Happen In Church It Can’t Be Praise?

Friday, June 15th, 2007

I first saw this video last year at the Willow Creek conference. It made a very big impact on me.

You probably think it cheesy:

While it is obvious that Bono is praising God, the 60,000 people packed into the arena are praising Bono. That’s a weird one isn’t it? Still and all, very very cool.

Your Correspondent, Not going to lead worship on Sunday for a while

May You. Read. This. Entry…. Fully.

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

I am off to hear Rob Bell speak about the Peacemaking tonight. That should be interesting. And stressful. Because of the small talk afterwards.

Here is a Nooma to watch if you are envious. Or bemused.

Your Correspondent, Is Raising His Ebenezer

Girls That Sing Songs They Wrote III

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

So having introduced you to or reminded you of the song writing chops regularly exhibited by Nellie McKay and Aimee Mann, I thought the next y-chromosomeless-person I would roll out as evidence that women are as capable as men when it comes to writing songs should be Tori Amos. Mostly because my friend Dave is sort of weirdly obsessed with her.

So Tori Amos is the daughter of a Methodist minister who was a child prodigy. She must be one of the most distinctive and unique musicians who has managed to secure widespread and long-term commercial appeal. The video I chose from YouTube does a good job of demonstrating just how unusual she sounds. Her reliance on the piano, her voice and the themes she works with mean that a computer could predict that Zoomtard would fall in love with her. She writes songs about everything and anything; religion, sexuality, politics, and she does amazing cover versions. Lots of her music is candidly autobiographical but in recent years her albums have become more explicitly concept-driven and she occupies characters and roles and writes from those perspectives.

Basically, Tori Amos is an idiosyncratic songwriter so you might not like her. No one could claim she is anything but a marvelously talented musician, vocalist and songwriter. Plus, yesterday a friend of mine reminded me of how she was great teenaged ennui music. How many times did I listen to Silent All These Years and feel like I was the only person who ever felt that way. Many times. How embarrassing is that? Well lets just say that I am glad that this blog is still semi-anonymous.

Tori Amos, remixing This Old Man and then segueing into Putting the Damage On and Caught A Lite Sneeze:

And more vintage and provocative, God:

Your Correspondent, In the end, he found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts

Did You Make That Up Yourself?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

I am sitting in a sun room with a great old friend having spent the rest of the day with a bunch of students from around the world. Its great to spend time in the student world again. I can’t say I yearn for student work because I do love my new job but today has definitely reminded me of why I was so passionate about my old job.

One of the things that strikes you when you spend time with these guys is just how smart they are. Over lunch there were dozens of bright, educated young Christians talking about all kinds of things from whether Munich is a cool city or boring right through to the deep questions of how to relate to the world at large in an authentic fashion.

You have no idea of how encouraging this was to me. I became a Christian and very soon after realised that there is an underbelly in the church that encourages people to turn their brains off and gve up thinking. This is the kind of faith that fuels the righteous indignation of sceptics around the world; faith that says I believe, therefore I need not think. It is not faith and reason working in harmony. It is faith stamping on harmony and making it bleed and cry out for its mommy.

If the Christian community in Ireland really wants to make a redemptive contribution to society at large, we desperately need more expert thinkers and more pressingly, we need all our brothers and sisters to be freed up and encouraged to become life-long thinkers. There is no way we can embrace Jesus, from whom all truth finds its source and not embrace the pursuit of truth. Not all of us are called to be university professors, in the same way that not all of us are called to be sculptors or potters (some of us are though). Still, not thinking for a living doesn’t mean we can get away with not being intellectual.

Really, when we encourage the view of “well that may be all well and good but I am content with the simple answer” on any given vexed question we are not avoiding an intellectual response, we are just making a bad intellectual response. There is a whole ideology hidden behind the appeal to “simple faith”. It is an intellectual system that seeks to be dominant over deeper, fuller treatments of whatever question is being discussed. You are not opting out of any cereberal response. You are opting for a lazy response.

As an outworking of this, Christians should refrain from talking about some people as “an intellectual” as if intellectual was a distinctive label that applied to them or even worse, a badge of honour for them to wear. It is as absurd as Christians talking about their brothers and sisters talking about people as being “a faithful believer” or a “charitable person”. These ought to come for free when you use the term “Christian” to describe them. In fact, the Beatitudes assure us that they do come for free. Believers are Christians. Christians express their belief in love, including charity. Christians love the Lord their God with all their Mind and so are intellectuals.

Some Christians aren’t charitable. We think of that as a problem. We encourage people into accountability groups to encourage them. Yet other Christians are proud to declare themselves as not intellectual and we kind of are impressed by their “straightforward faith”. I don’t think this is a healthy thing or a positive thing. I think. If they disagree, they think. But we can do nothing without that thought process. We can’t avoid being intellectual.

Let us not take pride in the sharpness of our intellect. Definitely let us not take pride in how we are not intellectual. Instead, lets encourage each other to be like these students, striving to apply their faith to real life and make a contribution that increases freedom instead of slavery.

Your Correspondent, When he grows up, he wants to be a principal or a caterpillar.

The Strange Phenomenon Of Bible Bashing Reversed

Monday, June 11th, 2007

So in real life (IRL), you can’t really be friends with Neuro and me for long before you realise we’re Christians. This was the case even before I started working for Church Inc. or before that, the rag-tag team of underdogs trying to change the world. This is usually achieved without having to wear acronymistic wristbands or cultivating a noble beard, donning a man-dress and putting on a pair of Nike Air Jerusalem. Its just you know, something that comes up.

Back in the halcyon undergrad days, we found that all of the new college buddies we made would be fascinated by the fact that we had relatively recently given up the default secular humanistic deism of modern Ireland and embrace what for all intents and purposes appeared to be foolish mutant Judaism. It was great fun. As we got to know people, they got to know us and we got to have superb conversations. Up all night wrestling with what really matters conversations.

Now those days are gone and surely this post is an excercise in end-of-a-busy week sentimentalising for a quiter time when I could stay up all night and just miss lectures. But over the last year we really have noticed a shift in the way that we were viewed. I always worked off the assumption that new people I met and befriended thought about Christians the way I thought about them before I met any. You’re thinking the same thing. Rod and Todd. Smashing stereotypes is always fun and most people love to see their less-cherished stereotypes crushed in the context of a blossoming friendship.

Back in the day, our faith wasn’t a hindrance to making new friends. It wasn’t an incentive either, but like a bit of garnishing on the side of your burger, it gave you a little more to chew on.

Recently people have become really quite hostile. Maybe its the New Atheism rising in prominence and bringing anyone educated enough to have a degree but lazy enough to never think in silence for a while along with it (maybe thats a wee tiny little mean generalisation there…). Or maybe its just that people’s beliefs have solidified and their stereotype of Christian has moved from “Aren’t they confusing?” to “Aren’t they weird?” Or maybe its just that Neuro and I aren’t as much fun anymore.

Stop laughing now. It wasn’t that ludicrous.

Its damn annoying though. Many scenes could be brought forward as evidence but I remember meeting one friend of a friend fairly recently. By all reports, this fellow was jolly good fun, a real decent sport, don’tchya know. So I was looking forward to meeting him. In the pub he seemed cool. Then we went for a late coffee and he started in on how stupid it was to believe in Leviticus. Type “Leviticus stupid” into Google and you get 191,000 responses. But folks, when dealing with a 3400 year old sacred text that serves as, if nothing more, a fascinating insight into a desert-dwelling civilisation, reading a page on the Internet probably won’t do. Let’s just bypass the easy accusation of the anti-semitic undertones in declaring a large chunk of the Books of Moses “stupid” since there was obviously no such malice there.

But consider the situation reversed. Instead of the guy knowing he was in a group where a handful of the 7 or 8 are Christians, he was in a group where a handful were Muslim. There is no way in hell he would begin to lay into the most dubious suras of the Koran. (Of course, in a very real way, his attack on Leviticus was also an attack Islam.)

What he was doing was just plainly rude. I read Leviticus first when I picked up the Bible. I knew there were crazy laws in it about fabrics and shellfish and I wanted to have a reason to deny the experiences I was having. Ultimately I didn’t find one. I have come to adore the book of Leviticus. A whole twenty minutes reading webpages about it and you still wouldn’t know as much as me about it. But in that kind of social context, neither Neuro nor I wanted to give the guy an intellectual slap-down. We don’t want to be assholes. We definitely don’t want to be assholes ranting about the Bible. That is the worst kind of asshole.

So instead we kind of laughed. And we kind of felt guilty for not standing up to him. And we kind of felt angry that someone could be so rude to us. And we kind of felt sorry that someone could be so dismissive of something that even if you never believed “in it”, it is still amongst the most fascinating stuff you can ever think and talk about.

Do other Christians notice this shift since college? If not, maybe its that I am a full-time Christian that is bringing the hostility.

I’d love a way of dealing with it, disarming people, quietly reassuring them that we are not out to brainwash them, haraungue them, judge them or speak in tongues over them. Instead we’d just like to go for a coffee after seeing the band without being treated obnxiously, in a weird inverted example of the Christian stereotype. We are meant to be the ones hijaacking otherwise socially pleasant situations with irrational, dogmatic statements about Holy Texts. Stop taking our jobs, goshdarnit!

Your Correspondent, Has a lobbyist in the devil but found salvation in a rebel.

A Tiny Robbed Reflection

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Its funny really. For the next few days I’ll non-stop be either living out in action or proclaiming in word the gracious love of God. I will tell people that they cannot and need not earn the love of God but that God loves them. To do this I will be working so hard that life will be moving pretty fast and I won’t get a chance to stop and look around once in awhile. In fact, I’ll be working so hard it will look and could easily slip into me earning the approval of others while I preach that the only One that counts already loves you more than you can imagine.

That my friends, is hypocrisy. I am a hypocrite.

Just need to get that off my stressed, sweaty chest while I wait for a phone call that frankly, is holding up my whole day.

I am reminded of a bit written by Don Miller. I am comforted by it. It is presented as true. Soldiers were performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from some enemy occupied territory. They were trapped in a perpetually dark room, surrounded by their filth. When the team of soldiers managed to storm the room, the hostages didn’t know who they were. So even though the soliders were calling them to follow, they refused. They were terrified. They had been tortured and isolated and abused for so long that they couldn’t take the risk of even hoping that liberation could arrive.

The soldiers didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have time to load these hostages one by one on their backs and ferry them to the waiting choppers. Then one of the soldiers had a bright idea. He laid down his gun. He took off his protective gear. Then he lay down beside one of the hostages, curled up beside them, actually touching them. He slowly put his arms around them.

No prison guard would do this. No, this soldier proved he was one of them, a friend to the hostages. He stayed like this for a while until he had the attention of every hostage and then he softly whispered, “We are here to rescue you. Will you follow us?” He got to his feet and one of the hostages did the same. Then another, then another, until they were all ready to move. The soldiers completed their mission, saving all the hostages, losing none of them.

All of our lives are marked by, over-shadowed even, by some kind of prison. Many of these are self-made. For me, busyness is my hostage-taker. These next few days will probably be a whole lot more bearable, meaningful and indeed effective, if I can just remember the liberator I’m meant to be following.

Your Correspondent, Gets sentimental this time of day

This Entry Was Brought To You By Coffee And Tiramasu

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Fascinating series of photoshopped images where people kiss themselves. I feel funny, in a good way. But not in a good way.

Probably the most accurate piece of theology I have ever seen, at least in the form of a flow-diagram explaining Armageddon with regular appearances by Bruce Willis, Bruce Campbell and Bruce, the gay horseman of the Apocalypse.

Over the last few months there have been lots of Christian -v- Atheist debates. Sam Harris and Rev. Rick Warren probably scored a draw. Prof. Dawkins was beaten by Prof. McGrath. In the most recent one, Christopher Hitchens has taken a really quite serious battering by Dr. Doug Wilson. No atheist gave up their faith though. No Christian lost theirs. So maybe these debates aren’t that big a deal and a conversation would be better? That having been said, Wilson, (who is a startling thinker) came up with an astounding response to the Hitchens “God isn’t great” argument and The Hitch was left ignoring questions and making rash generalisations. His brother, Peter, is a Christian and he reviews the book here, again bringing out points that the New Atheism would like left in the dark.

Do you remember the first time someone told you the Bible can’t be trusted because its compilation was like a game of chinese whispers? No? Neither do I, actually. (If you do remember, do tell in the comments, especially you lurkers!) I still believed it for years however. It somehow just slipped in as a self evident truism that the stories of Jesus for example, could never be accurate. Sometime later the first belief was embellished with the idea that the Gospels were written a very very very very long time after Jesus and so that was further proof of their unreliability.

I have come to believe the that Bible, especially the New Testament, including the Gospels, are the most reliable ancient documents you could hope to find. I have many reasons for believing this. In fact, I sometimes dream that one day I might get paid by a real university (and not just the University of Hargania that my Corkonian friend made up) to study things like this. But this year, one of the most major books I have read was Richard Bauckham’s compelling Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Most of you probably don’t have the kind of lifestyles where you get to sit in a comfy chair in your huge office and read 500 pages of history so this interview with the author should be a good replacement. It will definitely cause the whisper of chinese whispers to put up or shut up. If you are a little more interested, the brilliant Chris Tilling did an extensive review of the book.

I saw Driving Lessons yesterday, upon the advice of Teragram and I really enjoyed it. It is one of those nicely observed humble British movies you can’t help but love because it isn’t trying to wow you. Julie Andrews is classic in it. Its also got some deadly scenes of church life that cut a little bit too close to the bone. Sadly, it is one to add to the canon of movies where Christians are depicted as crazed, angry, inhuman maniacs with the likes of The Virgin Suicides, Misery and Edward Scissorhands (to sample a few). It also has a Sufjan-heavy soundtrack. Go watch it you goon!

Your Correspondent, Destroying every bet he has made

About The Feminism, But With The Robots Too

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I spent the weekend away from my computer and survived. Well, actually, I had my computer and spent the weekend playing Civ IV on it but I was away from the internet and totally believed myself as I wrote that first sentence. How deluded I am!

Here is a Nooma called Noise. Go watch it. Then book tickets to hear Rob Bell speak about what Jesus really meant.

Here is a classy interview with Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, one of Zoomtard’s most favourite books ever. He’s a funny guy.

Summer is coming and so we’ll be calling Shotgun. This is a helpful reminder of the rules. I’m looking at you, you car-seat-thief.

If Blue Like Jazz is one of my favourite books, The Shining is one of Neuro’s favourite movies and the only thing made by Kubrick she won’t spit on. Kubrick, by the way, used to live in my hometown. He owned a big house there in the 70s it seems that was later owned by one of the most obnoxious architects to ever scar Dublin as a response to some childhood trauma. Here is a documentary for you film lovers with procrastinating-positive jobs about The Shin-ning, as the Simpsons dubbed it.

I have my summer reading planned (getting down to those early church fathers if all goes well) but maybe you don’t. Who better to help you decide than the writers you inevitably love… All of those authors look the way I imagined, especially Foer and Eugenides.

Still bored? Go fold some paper.

Once people find out that I am a spiritual guru worthy of adulation, they ask me what God is like. Now that Betamaxnomates lives in Japan he will rue the days when he never asked me, since God Hates Japan. If Douglas Coupland says it, it must be true. Why hasn’t there been a Douglas Coupland novel adapted for the screen yet? When can I see Girlfriend In A Coma in a cinema with the apocolypse and ghosts and the ski-slope sex? When? That movie has probably been released in Japan already.

Your Correspondent, The reason you won’t get a promotion this year

Its Not An Imaginary Friend If Its Just Yourself

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Perhaps I am peculiar but I have realised over the past few years that there is pretty much a non-stop internal monologue going on inside my head about the Big Questions. When I say non-stop I don’t mean it runs 24 hours a day since I sleep 7 hours a day and at least 30 minutes of that takes the form of weird recurring dreams about potato salad that make the parts of me below my belly button feel odd. Maybe that is too much information but what I mean to say is that by non-stop I mean every week, practically every day, reading the newspaper or traveling on the train and seeing advertisements or listening to moany narcissistic music, the Big Questions jump up and I have a conversation with myself about them.

I had a little epiphany in one such self-chat. I became convinced at the age of 17 that my assumptions about the world was wrong. Brought up on a steady diet of Spielberg movies that I adore and tv shows that I probably don’t really care for, I believed in the power of the individual to affect change. At the heart of this belief lay a firm faith in the internal goodness of the human being. At 17 I realised that history was one big lesson in the fact that given a choice between a difficult good and an easy bad, most of the people, most of the time, take the easy option. Then they try to write history to make the easy option look like the good one.

In Christianity we call this Original Sin. People get caught up in this and they start focusing on the sin part. The key to understanding the idea, which as GK Chesterton said, is the only empirically provable tenet of theology, is to focus on the original part. When I was a child I thought like a child and believed people were naturally good and that societal factors were the starting-cause for the evil that people did. When I became a man I put away childish things and faced up to the darkness inside me and concluded in that case that there must at least be twilight inside all of you.

Then I had my epiphany that what we call society is nothing but a group of people bound together. I could go back to the child I was and explain it so much more simply and with less torturous self examination. Society, I said, was what caused people to go wrong and end up evil, or at least morally ambiguous. Society, I would now say, is made up of people who cause other people to go wrong and end up evil, or at least morally ambiguous. We are the problem. Projecting it on to some object like society doesn’t free us from the obligation to take a good hard look at the darkness in the world and try to figure out why its here, who let it in and who lets it run wild.

So that little self-chat was more illuminating and exciting than most of the chats I have with other people. None of you can compare to my witty and sparkling company so I am going to spend a lot more time sitting on my own from now on.

Your Correspondent, Extremely loud and incredibly close.

It Seems, You Believe In Me

Monday, June 4th, 2007

I had a fairly idyllic childhood with two parents who were in love and loved me and plenty of siblings to slag the shithead out of me before I was out of primary school. Life only ever reached a dramatic high once, for about 18 hours one summer when the roof of our house literally fell in under attack from wasps. Thats a story for another day however. A story from the past. A tale to tell to awed faces who wonder how I ever got over the trauma.

But over it I am. Or at least I now have a basis for my delusion because I am now to be known as Zoomtard the Wasp Killer.

Wasp Killer, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

That is me there, wearing lots of clothes late on a summer night to reduce the skin space for the wasps to attack after I waged chemical warfare on their little factory of evil that is technically called a “nest”. The Factory of Evil and Poison was in that shed in the background. Now its just a mass grave site. It was close hand to sting combat but with that little can of dreadfully potent solvent I protected my territory and vanquished the enemy. I was Alpha Male. At least for a few minutes until my wife asked me to make her a cup of tea.

Hippies, Mountain Men and Church Signs
Stig wrote recently about Christiania, the hippy commune in Denmark. He was a little sceptical of it. The government in Denmark is slowly narrowing the legislative space in which the community can exist. In a nice Orwellian touch, they call this process “normalisation”. There is a great article here in the [London] Independent about it. Wife-unit, being an ethical genius, likes to talk about negative and positive freedoms. When I read the article about Christiania I realised they are revelling in an entirely negative freedom. Their rules all consist of “NO….”. Fair play to them for what they have achieved but surely a good first step to creating a new way of doing community is to begin with positive freedom, “Thou shall…”

Stig is going to Bolivia for the summer and Stig is the second best footballer I know (there is a Presbyterian minister who is probably a better tackler…) so Stig and you should read about the absolutely brilliant political campaign being waged by the President of his new home-country after FIFA banned international soccer matches above 8000 feet. (The main city in Bolivia, La Paz, can no longer therefore host soccer matches…)

A pretty interesting cultural history of church signs in America.

Zoomtard chooses a college
I have been following the disagreements at Wycliffe College, an Anglican training centre in Oxford University fairly closely over the last few weeks (I had been harbouring thoughts about applying to study there). This article by Giles Fraser, where the evangelical Christians who run Wycliffe are condemned for “peddle the techniques of Christian salesmanship” and we are told that what they believe is “not faith, but fanaticism” is a fascinating example to me of how liberals Christians can be so damn fundamentalist. You have to break the message of Christianity for it to say nothing about judgement. I may disagree with Christians who think that only men can be church leaders but they are well grounded in their belief, theologically and historically. I may have problems with some of the things that are advanced by the folks at Wycliffe but I recognise their sincere faith and their passion. The least one can do is engage with them instead of just writing them off.

I find it especially interesting that Fraser thinks the Anglican malaise is a by-product of Christians who actually have the confidence to believe in Christianity. Everyone else can see clearly that its the Anglicans who want to be atheists who are causing the crisis in self confidence. Their identity problems are projected on the church at large. Its the folks like Alister McGrath, NT Wright and Elaine Storkey who best exemplify the strengths of historical Anglican faith, staying true to themselves and yet still being in dialogue with others. All of them are key figures in Wycliffe’s recent history.

Some Evolutionary Thoughts
The remarkable David Heddle has a post on the flaws of Intelligent Design that I wish I could write. The Onion satirises the kind of empty-headed “compromise” that many Christians come to on origin theories. A number of Republican candidates for the US Presidency do not believe evolution. Sam Brownback is one (President Brownback?) and he explains himself in the NY Times here. Its actually fairly good (for meaningless waffle 😉 ) and well, can you imagine Dubya penning a NY Times editorial?

Your Correspondent, Made a dog and a cat kiss