Archive for July, 2007

Punch Up At The Barbers

Friday, July 27th, 2007

I am reading the novel that my good friend JM took as his name for his blog: Jaybercow. It is about a young boy who ends up going for the Christian ministry but isn’t sure if his reasoning is right. Its about a whole lot more than that but that alone should be enough to scare the bejesus out of me.

Maybe my next Triplux list can include modifying our house so it looks like a black hole.

As our neighbours Britain quickly become the most heavily surveillanced population in the world as they fight against something called “terrorism” (cos the world experts on imperialism didn’t know what that was until 2001?!), I found this Australian video that my security expert and amateur classicist friend C sent me pretty hilarious.

Your Correspondent, Walked into the jaws of hell

Where You Learn To Collect Coins!

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

A wee while back Babette shared some of her secrets with us, inspired by PostSecret. PostSecret, by the way, is the website that convinces God not to destroy the web in his righteous wrath.

I still harbour hopes one day of actually having the skill required to make some submissions myself but here are some rejects.

I was born with six fingers on my right hand
The doctors cut the extra one off and disposed of it on my first day.

I’m a 25 year old man
who doesn’t really know how to shave.

At 6 years old, with a bunch of friends, I wrote offensive things about a girl who lived on another road with chalk on a wall.
I still pray that she didn’t see it before it got washed off by rain.

I have an urge to keep flushing the toilet in my new bathroom for no other reason than it is new.

Your Correspondent, Chose the CrapRidder over the Powerflush 4000

What Happens When Zoomy Is Truly Stumped

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Old fashioned correspondence is a rare thing for me to be engaged in but thanks to a Corkonian clown I had the joy of reading a letter written in pen yesterday. Sadly the manky bastard went and got me thinking. In a letter filled with questions he posed a couple of dillys that are even harder, more pressing and more fun than that question which plagues my mind most: will there ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark?

I love a blog written by a brainiac theologian called Scot McKnight. He has a feature often where young questioning spirits come and ask him for advice with various theological or pastoral concerns they might be having. I know it might amaze you but no one except my three year old nephew thinks I am an expert at anything in particular so I don’t get emails like the ones McKnight shares on Jesus Creed. And that nephew of mine thinks I am an expert in aviation because I can make a helicopter noise more convincing than he can.

So pardon me while I verbally process something so complicated that I am at a loss to know how to respond.

I gush about how great my job is about as often as I make cynical comments about the nature of organised Christianity and my role as a minor brainwasher therein. But I had an amazing time one morning last week with a guy in our church who dropped into the office while I was stacking papers into piles or scribbling Ezekiel 23:20 out of all our pew Bibles or something. We had coffee. We watched a Nooma. Then we somehow got into a conversation about the nature of pacifism and whether there was a just war Christians could engage in. Then we drank more coffee and watched Rob Newman’s History Of Oil (which you need to watch if you haven’t seen it already) and then we got down to the serious business of talking about how Christians should buy food.

Seriously, at that moment, our little Presbyterian church was definitely functional as this mystical communio that us Christians talk about. It was brilliant, exhilarating and utterly confusing. Cos what we were talking about was integrity, authenticity, all the stuff that really matters. When oil starts to run out, us rich boys and girls in the West are going to have walk everywhere, or pay immigrants to cycle us places. “Here Pole!”, the bankers of Dublin will cry, “Give me a backser and I’ll pay you some Euromoney so you can buy potato vodka!” We’re also going to struggle to grow enough food to feed us because we have technologised farming to such a stunning extent that it is hardly conceivable for Peader Feirmeoir to grow any crops without oil to make fertiliser, plastic and well, petrol for the combine harvester.

The Chief Corkonian Clown asked a similar set of questions. He has intimate knowledge of the wine industry (we should all have friends who are wine traders I think!) and he was telling me that an average bottle of plonk that we buy in a small supermarket in Ireland for about €6 breaks down to about 50c for the producer at the start of the chain. We all know how bad our very clothes are but there is no real alternative. [RED] is a joke too obvious for me to waste time telling. Edun is only a little bit less unreal. All the other Fair Trade clothes are made by the vast Hippy conspiracy that controls all the tie-dyeing in the world.

So sustainable living is not actually a concept that was invented by the lads who set up Greenpeace. Right at the beginning of Genesis humanity is given the job of tending the garden, naming the animals and generally taking care of things. Down through the centuries Christians called this “stewardship”. It now just so happens that the “Stewardship” party is in government today. They just don’t realise it and call themselves the “Greens“. (If only I could bring myself to emoticon here).

But how do we as Christians deal with the vast and utterly mind boggling flaws in the system that engulfs us. To get all Biblical for a moment, the rulers and authorities of the world are utterly anti-Yahweh in their creation of a global power system totally defined by cash transactions, the bottom line and the decisions of investor share-holders. The actual share-holders in the global community are people and the majority of people don’t have access to the very basics of what we consider necessary. I can’t stand up and preach that we shouldn’t buy from Tesco and Dunnes but we shouldn’t be buying food out of season in huge supermarkets that have the fiscal power to shut down whole societies if they felt like. We shouldn’t be participating in a system where our clothes are made by slaves, shipped by air and sold to us for our convenience. We need to secede but we have no alternative.

Here is where this whole post is going. In this generation we have a real opportunity to, for the first time since the Enlightenment really, to carve out a way of being a Christian that is authentically “Other” from the society around us. It is an opportunity to transcend mere “difference” based on shallow prohibitions and irrelevant rituals. A real counter culture is what we are called to mount and I sense the path to it leads through these huge rocks- the consumption of disposable, slave made products, and the pressing need to craft some sort of environmentally ethical life that is sustainable and not just another lifestyle accessory for easily distracted consumers pursuing their elusive true sense of who they are.

But how do we do that and keep the doors open to everyone? Or let’s be honest, how can we do this and somehow push the doors of the church wide open so they truly are a realistic option for everyone? How can we do this without making more law? How can we do this without distracting us from the main thing? It must always grow from the bottom up, as a natural, organic, holistic expression of the Gospel of grace. But something this big makes me think it has to be built top-down.

I am sorry if what I have written is complete gibberish. I am striving to express ideas that I don’t understand fully enough, don’t have a vocabulary for and don’t really have a practical response to. Yet. But who doesn’t want to have the conversation? I have been reading this blog called Wondering and thinking about how there must be loads of people thinking the same way as me and no doubt thinking better about it.

If it is gibberish, pass it off as the insane ramblings of a maniac. I think I medically qualify for that status now. I ate my last full meal on Saturday evening. Then I got a bad stomach bug and well, I won’t go into it here. It got messy. So today I am back on solids and this is my meal plan for the next 48 hours.

Your Correspondent, Wouldn’t be able to say if ignorance is bliss

A Post 8 Months In The Making

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Why would you be part of a church? Calvin said ethics was really aesthetics. Church is like a grand orchestra. If you hear the melody clearly, the lyrics just stick. If you know the words, you gotta sing along.

Your Correspondent, More proud of this than a million other words

The Herring And The Brine

Friday, July 20th, 2007

The songs reach deeper every time you listen to a Mumblin’ Deaf Ro album. Teragram and I were at his gig last night in town and it left me grinning from ear to ear. I woke up this morning and the chorus line of drowning man was still ringing deliciously in my ears. How someone can pack so much glorious delight into a single hour is beyond me.

You probably don’t know what I am talking about. There were only fifty seats in the theatre last night and I can honestly say that in this case I took no pleasure from being in the Elect of the god of Music by being included in that small, blesséd number. Mumblin’ Deaf Ro deserves a wide, attentive, awestruck hearing but instead Fallout Boy somehow make a living and serve as aural wallpaper for the vast masses of people buying mope-rock by the shitload. Often Zoomtard has mused on the apparent profundity of that most priveliged of dilemmas- how can we believe in a good God when bad things happen. I’ll only take it seriously from now on if it is written in the following form: How can you believe in a good God when Mumblin’ Deaf Ro languishes in obscurity as songs about umbrellas jump off Apple’s virtual shelves?!

The great thing about Ro’s music is that each song basically operates like a condensed short story set to music. The lyrics are astonishingly good. He turns a phrase as good as anyone and I mean anyone. Ro is in the same league for me as Ben Folds or Aimee Mann when it comes to setting the scene with words. Like both those artists, he is a keen observer of the human character and its flaws but it is a warm observation. While the songs on his new album, The Herring And The Brine are sometimes very dark (Trouble Under A Murder Moon is about two sisters implicated in a killing for example), the huge empathy that he brings to his characters means that it is never an oppressive atmosphere created by the tales.

Maybe the best way to describe Ro’s music is that it is like a great musician has set an unpublished collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories to music. In that song, Trouble Under A Murder Moon, there is a glorious line verse:

And so I brought word to the house
The look on my face broke the news
A sigh at the start
Of a family coming loose

Every single song is filled with a plot that unfolds, characters to get to know and beautiful touching folk music. His first album Senor My Friend is probably my favourite Irish album of all time. This, his second album seems to have the same pull for Neuro and I. Every time we listen to it we get more out of it. Yet each time we see him live I feel an urge to gush online in an effort to spread the joy, since as good as the records are, they fail to capture the sincerity and authenticity of the songs played there in the room.

So consider this the gushing.

Your Correspondent, Weighed and found wanting

Voices Escape Singing Sad Sad Songs

Monday, July 16th, 2007

So having spent the evening with my best friends I now get to sit here and drink beer bought by someone else, listen to Clem Snide and share all the cool things I read over the last few days with you. Life is sweet. Yes indeedy.

So let us start with romance. The Möbius strip is probably not considered the stuff of gooey, doe-eyed sentimentality by many people but not many people have an engagement ring that is a diamond encrusted Möbius strip. Neuro has. How cool is that?

I need to give you a few more moments to take that in. No fuck-off look-at-me diamond for my wife. Instead a paradoxical infinite extrapolation of a 2-dimensional shape into 3-D. There is now a method to predict what shape the strip will take which actually might make conveyor belts more efficient. That means you get your very trendy sushi faster and cheaper. That means it should be of interest to you and you can quit mocking me now.

National Geographic have a brilliant (but long loading) simulation of the effects of global warming. This isn’t really funny anymore. We are screwing ourselves pretty badly. Well, at least we are definitely screwing the Tuvaluns. When the Rapture comes or we all die, it seems we will be forgotten by our planet surprisingly rapidly. Within a few generations it will be hard to know who we really were. That is a strangely comforting thought, that the Earth is not going to be ruined by us. We’re just going to be ruined by us. If you feel like really using your time well, you could listen to this shockingly fine sermon about the theology of environmentalism.

There was a great Dilbert blog a while back where Scott Adams asked people to describe their job in one sentence. The thing is that they had to describe their jobs in a similar style to Dogbert, the VP of Marketing who says:

Its my job to spray
paint this turd.

So I thought about this and decided as a staff member of a church, my job is to speak a lot of shit that somehow reaches for the divine.

Either that or pass off the turd that is the church as something God likes. What is it for you?

Before I leave, does anyone actually want to read a Zoomtard where he shares his opinion on the Pope’s latest comments about us non-Romans being not real Christians? I won’t add to the gigabytes already dedicated to it on the web if there isn’t actually anyone in to it that much.

Your Correspondent, Thinks Jurgen has too much ability to piss it away at Brainwashing School, I mean, Bible College

His Faith Was Strong, He Needed Proof

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

If I look appallingly smug over here, worry not, its just that I reconfigured Saturdays to make them rock a little bit more. That is why you had so much fun today. Stop with the applause already. It gets tiresome being met with ovations everywhere I go. My butcher actually dropped a big meat carcasse on the ground in his haste to congratulate me on the perfect mix of reading, music, technical make-wizardry and ice-cream that has constituted my blissful Saturday.

I’m wearing shorts.

I still have a beard.

This is what happens when I am not fretting about preaching the next morning. I remember why Saturdays are so cool. I can’t even be bothered to go watch a movie outside in the city. That has nothing to do with being stood up by Babette. At all.

Instead I’m going to eat heart-destroying food (the butcher gave me the meat cheap cos it had sawdust all over it) and watch a dreadfully brilliant made-for-TV Stephen King adaptation.

If you want the same glee I have enjoyed, I shall share with you some tips:

#1: Get the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. Only kidding! I’d never ram Christianity down your throat like that.

Repent!

#2: Watch the Beastie Boys team up with Elvis Costello

#3: Go visit this great blog I found via Danzan by a Christian writer in Engerland who obviously shares a concern with the environment that is refreshing and inspiring.

#4: Via Boing Boing, check out this astounding prophecy of late American-empire policy in Iran, in comic book form, from 1952. Then go watch Rob Newman’s History of Oil again cos no one took me seriously when I said it was the best stand up comedy show that doubled as a political history lecture I have seen since my dad did his famous An Coillte routine over Christmas about Irish forestry.

My dad doesn’t do stand up comedy. At least intentionally. I am living in a dream world.

#5: You could just read about the Simpsons. Its probably the second best thing to watching it.

My friend C texted me with the text of a billboard in Dublin city.

“The Lord Jesus said, Unless you repent you too will all perish”.

Did he! Really? Where? When? Also what is “repent” and how can people perish. We’re not apples! Billboard Jesus sure doesn’t make much sense. Maybe that cash might have been better spent on micro-finance projects or even some fecking Bibles to throw through people’s windows since that would be at least marginally more productive than random, out-of-context, largely meaningless words expensively hoisted onto the side of a bookmakers on Pearse St.

I had a lot more to say but my intern, the Third K has just shown up on the doorstep for the first time in a month (he was away doing meaningful things and making the world a better brighter place) and that means we have to slouch in front of HORROR!

Here he is with our friend Joel on a London bus. So cute, the two of them. They look like they are extras from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest; the enthusiastic chirpy one we all love (who once went on a rampage and killed his granny) and the sad, quiet one who it turns out is a maths genius. Thanks to that Emory woman for the photo.

Joel and Keith in London

Your Correspondent, Putting the fear of God into your children

Portions For Foxes

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

There are some musicians I don’t think I can get tired of. Jenny Lewis is definitely one. Even without her intriguing back story and her absolutely solar-level hotness, I just adore her voice and lyrics and don’t get annoyed when Neuro forces us to listen to her for hours on end during long car journeys. I do get annoyed when Neuro forces us to sit in the car for hours listening to album after album after popping down to Tesco for some green beans for dinner. Once, the frozen fish had defrosted before she let me out and we ended up eating cream crackers with kidney beans for dinner.

She sings a lot of songs about sex and religion and wealth and all that other stuff that aspiring preachers are meant to eat up, digest and spend a lifetime regurgitating on Sunday mornings. For that reason, I like to bill the church for every minute I spend listening to her. In one song off Rilo Kiley’s best album she sings:

And the talking leads to touching
and the touching leads to sex
and then there is no mystery left

This is also the song where she offers a homage to the Pixies’ Tame at one point by singing “Uh-ha-ha, Uh-ha-ha, Uh-ha-ha”. Homage to the Pixies should have been the title of one of George Orwell’s novels, its that cool an idea.

So not to harp on about the same topic over and over again but Jenny Lewis writes an unusually honest song. I love this chorus line because it captures in an unusually honest way the deceit of the modern preoccupation with sex. Let an old crazy man waffle for a moment but mystery isn’t hidden in knowing someone’s body, it is in knowing that someone. Relating to each other would be a good deal simpler if all you had to do to find out who they were was take their clothes off. I guess we could all go Memento and try to account for ourselves in tattoos. The lack of mystery surrounding sex has become very clear to me on this side of marriage. The genius of marriage done properly isn’t that it serves as a building block for stable families and healthy societies and isn’t even the tax credits. The genius of marriage done properly is that the mystery of an Other can be exhaustively explored. Marriage, done right, is the grandest adventure human beings can engage in.

I’ve seen a few very cool movies over the last week or so. Especially excellent was Rainman which I have been mimicing thanks to the Simpsons for years but have never seen. I can’t help but love Tom Cruise movies. It’s like my fondness for Shakira. It is embarrassing but it is true. Actually, the only thing the Cruise and Shakira have in common is that they are both too short to be considered full human beings. And I definitely don’t like them in the same way. Rainman is brilliant though. Even with the cringey 80s-ness of it all.

I also saw Die Hard 4.0. I came home and ate a lightbulb and punched a hole in a computer monitor and threw clothes pegs at the neighbourhood cats because I wanted so badly to stand up for freedom with some fascist violence. Its the most brainless, trivial, enjoyable, preposterous way to spend two hours. If Transformers captures the same effortless, glorious stupidity then we’ll be winning.

Depressingly, I finally saw Jesus Camp. This is a controversial documentary on the phenomenon of right-wing Pentecostal Christians in the US who are raising their children in a weird brainwashed world of war metaphors, patriotism and anti-intellectualism. Admittedly, it is not a well made documentary. It is a hatchet job with very little integrity. I don’t even really recommend you to watch it in fact, but if you do, know that you will be glued to it like a car-wreck. Except for the hateful Phelps family, there has never been a Christian more ready for a hatchet job, more willing to serve up her head and ask to be chopped.

Your Correspondent, Cool like Kim Deal

My Literary Portrait

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Although the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, as a “Calvinist” church is meant to be a group that chooses you, I very definitely self-selected to be a member myself. I considered the various packages offered: the Catholics had their clever philosophy, the Anglicans would be permissive, there was nothing going on for the Baptists, the Methodists had integrity and I chose the Presbyterian Church because well, they looked like wealthy Methodists.

I am always quietly proud of the influence my little adopted corner of Christianity has had on the world at large. I am always fascinated to see how we are depicted in culture. A PhD could be written on the mis-representation of the Puritans but well, not by me. And probably not read by you. Here are some literary portraits of us Presbyterians I’ve came across recently:

“I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half crazy notions on these subjects… Heaven have Mercy on us all- Presbyterians and Pagans alike- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending”

– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“Not that Edmund is profligate, but really, he’s one of the least morally concerned boys I’ve ever known. I was very startled when he began to question me- in all earnestness- about such hazy concerns as Sin and Forgiveness. He’s thinking of going into the Church, I just know it. Perhaps that girl has something to do with it, do you suppose?…. Is she a Catholic?”

“I think she’s Presbyterian,” I said…. “A Presbyterian? Really?” he said, dismayed… well whatever one thinks of the Roman Church, it is a worthy and powerful foe. I could accept that sort of conversion with grace. But I shall be very disappointed indeed if we lose him to the Presbyterians.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Your Correspondent, Issuing unwarranted high-fives.

My Enemies Are Men Like Me

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

So my overworking continued this week. I remember vaguely what my wife looks like and I seem to recall a room in my house where there is a sofa and a tv and an xbox where I used to watch movies. The major question Zoomtard is asking is whether he is really cut out for all this loving people and caring for their wellbeing that goes with leading churches. He hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he sends pleading text messages to The Boss crying out for him to come home but well, there was a moment on Thursday morning when he realised he had written “HELP!” on the shower door without noticing it.

Seriously though, as hard as I find some parts of it, I am loving the pastoral side to my role as King Of The Church. I spent the first part of the week running away from the rain while doing outreach (Christianese for brainwashing) amongst kids in socially disadvantaged parts of a midland town. This meant I spent a lot of time with my new intern (who I really should introduce someday on Zoomtard) and four students from Seattle who came to help. Here is us, proving we are insoluble:


Can I get some credit for my contextualisation by the way? Thats me wearing a soccer jersey underneath that hoodie. No Shakespeare quotes on my clothing as I try to reach out to children for me. No siree! I’ve learned that lesson well. When it stopped raining and we went home and reflected on the week I realised I would like to drain all the lead from my pencil, so to speak, and never have children. They are sticky, loud and jumpy. They also ask stupid questions and are entertained by really dumb things like chanting songs and games so easy you barely have to learn them and puzzles so easy that I could answer them all. Basically, I am renewing my efforts to ruin my fertility by standing beside the microwave with no trousers on for at least 15 minutes a day.

When I wasn’t racing around back roads I was writing my next sermon. The easiest part of the job turns out to be finding things to say on Sunday mornings. The hardest part of that then is whittling it down to having interesting things to say. An old guy I really respect once said that preaching is logic set on fire. I have gotten to the point where my preaching is when the congregation want to set themselves on fire. I’ll get there in the end.

I got to do a lot of admin work this week too (everyone say “OH YEAH!”). While sending letters and stamping forms and reorganising folders I was listening to live gigs provided by NPR. There are some astonishing concerts here to listen to in their entirety and unedited. I especially recommend the Nellie McKay gig which I listened to three times in a row on Thursday.

Another smart musician you probably don’t know about but I have fortuitously stumbled upon is Derek Webb. As he says himself, he is in a niche within a niche, considering he is a Christian musician who writes country/folk/Americana style songs that are profoundly theological and thought-provoking. Remember that one of Zoomtard’s catchphrases is robbed from CS Lewis, that modern Christian music is like 6th rate poetry set to 7th rate music. Webb is the antidote to this. He is also a man of integrity and imagination. He gave away 80000 copies of his second-to-last album Mockingbird for free to download. All he asked was that you sent an email to five friends explaining why you like him. His theory is that people want to download music for free or basically free so musicians have to deal with that. He is working to find ways to deal with that. His next idea is noisetrade. Go watch the video, its a fascinating idea. His latest album comes with a graphic novel by the way. You have to love the creativity. Go love it, fool.

In all of June I updated every working day. I think the blog suffered as a result so I am going back to intermittent postings. Not as intermittent as Babette, but not as regular as it has been.

Your Correspondent, Didn’t expect that last sentence to make you cry