Friday, July 29, 2005

Top 10 things a drummer should know

By request -- and I'm not mentioning names -- I've put together a Top 10 Things Every Drummer Should Know But Most Don't list. (The only real answer here is "read music," but that's not very funny so let's just leave that issue in the closet, right next to those library books you never returned in fifth grade).

This is nothing like the Top 10 Most Amazing Things Ever Performed By Musicians list I once put together for my college newspaper (No. 1 was a jazz trumpeter who did not take the cigarette out of his mouth to play). It will have nothing in common with the Top 10 Drummer Jokes of All-Time (No. 1: How can you tell when the drum riser is level? Drool comes out of both sides of the drummer's mouth.). To be honest, I'm really breaking new ground here. Most drummers don't know anything of value, and I'm pretty much the first drummer brave enough to admit this:

10. A pair of plyers is not the ideal tool with which to tune a drum. It can actually destroy your tension rods, and you are likely to destroy your bearing edges with uneven tuning over time. Introduce yourself to a drum key. Then again, we saw you feeling satisfied when you successfully used a saw blade as a hammer, so we're not really surprised. The cuts on your hand most certainly did not add a "cool factor," and the blood splattered on the wall cannot be considered "modern art."

9. Duct tape and pillows are for amateurs. Let me get this straight: You just plunked down $2,000 for a four-piece six-ply maple kit with 2.3mm solid steel rims. The shells are round and made of a highly warm, resonant wood preferred by professionals all around the world. You put tight resonant fiber heads over the top to make this soft wood vibrate, creating a "drum-like" sound when you strike it, sending chills down the spine of every sound engineer because his levels are in perfect harmony (for once in his life). You then apply 40 strips of duct tape and throw your mom's toss pillow in the bass drum, so you can sound just like that garage drummer with the $500 kit?

8. Swiss-cheese "vented" snares are for rich, SoCal punks. Really, there is nothing dynamically special about a vented snare. You're just paying twice the going rate of a good solid wood or titanium shell for someone to punch holes in your otherwise reasonably priced Keller shell. The only people who think there's something special about these snares are tone deaf and clueless.

7. Saran Wrap is ideal when you want a break from the studio. After 60 takes on the same song, it's time for some refreshment. When the producer/Nazi demands another take, whip out the Saran Wrap and crinkle it into the mic. It will send the sound engineer into spasms as his levels pique and he's clueless why. He'll spend three days taking the board apart piece by piece. Meanwhile, you and your bandmates can go out and enjoy the $1.50 left over from the $1 million signing bonus, most of which went right back to the studio to pay for studio time, the sound engineer, and marketing for your lame radio-friendly CD with which you are quickly becoming embarrassed to have your name associated because all your Cobain-inspired songs were ditched and replaced with Diane Warren tunes.

6. The drum shop clerk is not a drumming expert, no matter how much he tells you he is. His job is to get you to buy stuff you don't need. You wouldn't go to Staples and ask a clerk for help with your English homework, would you?

5. X drummer in Y "flavor of the week" band is not the "greatest drummer of all time." You're just 13, have never worked a day in your life, and you still think it's safe to be friends with guitarists. The greatest drummer of all time couldn't get a gig because he didn't know when to turn off the "stuff" and just keep time. The guy who actually holds the title is Robbie Miller. He's 45 and works the graveyard shift at the 7-11 down the street from your house. He's the guy with the weird eyes who's always listening to that brain-cramping jazz-fusion music when you go in to get your Slurpee. If you guess the name of the drummer he's listening to (Tony Williams), I promise he will give you your Slurpee for free. He still can't get a gig, but he will kick your butt in a drum-o-meter contest.

4. Lots of notes impress other drummers. Lots of notes won't get you the gig. Just take it from Robbie Miller, who once auditioned for the Journey gig (they were cool once -- promise) when Steve Smith left. The bandmates thought he was great, told him he sounded just like Tony Williams. Then they gave the gig to the guy who they thought sounded like Ringo, because they actually wanted to sell records.

3. Super Glue is not a medically sound way to repair bloody callouses. I'm pretty sure a doctor told me this once. I can't remember, though. The only thing I can recall from the late 80s and the early 90s is I always had a tube of Super Glue around.

2. Stick twirling is not a drum rudiment. Learning this lesson basically shattered the fantasies of my entire childhood. It was the first thing I wanted to learn from my instructor. He suggested I go to one of these. Or just go here.

1. Less is more, more or less. This is really a drummer's paradox, because to really play like a minimalist drumming master -- master of dynamics, tone, musicianship, and taste -- you first have to study and train like you're going to be the next Buddy Rich. It's all about control, but to be in real control -- four limbs playing independently of each other -- you have to have stretched yourself to absurd lengths. Don't get it? It's OK. We don't need any more working drummers in this business, anyway.

If you still have questions, I suggest heading over to the Drummer Cafe and talking to Bart Elliot. He will wisely guide you out of professional music and into a much saner career choice.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The geneaology of down home cookin'

I had a weird conversation with a co-worker last week. It was weird in the sense she thought I was weird because of the things I consume. She's grossed out by my diet.

Not being particularly wealthy, I tend to eat lunch as cheap as possible. One of the things I've been doing lately is bringing in frozen brussel sprouts and cooking them in the microwave. If that's not going too far, the next part is (for this co-worker): I pour pepper juice over them.

I never really knew how Southern I was until my diet became public knowledge. I grew up in Arizona, but my father's from Alabama. Both sides of my family lay roots in the north-central part of the state. We have a British surname, but legend has it we were bond slaves -- captured and penalized robbers and thieves -- who came to America (Virginia to be exact) with our British masters and promptly stole the name and fled to the American South. Once there, we integrated ourselves by way of marriage into the Cherokee and Choctaw American Indian tribes, and were promptly bounced from membership for excessive drinking and rabble rousing. From there, our histories are murky. Around the turn of the 20th Century, we were either outlaws or preachers. Perhaps a mixture of both.

My parents moved me to Arizona from Alabama in 1971, when I was barely two years old. My mother was born in Arizona. Her parents had moved there from north Birmingham at the end of World War II. Phoenix was (and still very much is) a place you go to start over. If you have nothing, you can usually find something positive there. You probably won't get rich, but there's plenty of cheap land and a reasonable cost of living to be had.

In spite of my strong family ties in Alabama and a prenatal obsession with the University of Alabama football team, I've generally considered Arizona my home. The problem with that is there is no culture in Arizona. I'm among the first generation of Arizonans who could actually claim to have laid roots there. Up until 1970, everybody was from some place else. They lived in Arizona, but "home" was in Chicago or Pennsylvania or some other city/state where people grow up dreaming of leaving.

In Arizona, the architecture is not "adobe," it's "let's build it as cheaply as we possibly can." It just so happens stucco projected onto 2x4 framing and some chicken wire is really cheap, so you have a proliferation of Borg-like, beige/tan, red-tile-roofed, master-planned suburbs that roll across the Sonoran Desert floor like God balled up all of the world's mediocrity and spread it across the I-17/U.S. 60/I-10 corridors.

I digress.

The food in Arizona can be exquisite, but there are no real native dishes. What they call Sonoran-style Mexican food is really a combination of traditional Mexican food, an American deep fryer, and various Baja dishes more prominently found in San Diego. Try the Macayo's baja plate (the baja sauce is a tasty combination of cream cheese and jalapenos, among other things). It's good, just not original. You're out of luck if you're looking for something unique.

Not getting any help from my Arizona experience, I've had to dwell on my family's past to measure what it is I'm supposed to be living up to. It's mostly forgettable. The legacy of my family name is not one of hope, but one of murder and treachery. I have no great stories to tell, in spite of the best myth-spinning efforts of my uncles (they once attempted to convince me I was a descendant of Blue Beard).

So my mother's Alabama-flavored, Southern-style cooking deeply influenced me. "Soul food," as it's known to some, led me into an entirely different perspective on culture. Buttermilk and cornbread, an out-of-the-garden dinner (lima beans, green beans, butter beans, black-eyed peas stewed with a hamhock, squash, fresh tomato, with a bowl of chicken and dumplings), egg custard pie, or homemade (with corn starch) deep-fried chicken ... this is my heritage. This is what I'm supposed to pass on to my children.

My children will become heart doctors, of course.

Around the Blogosphere

There's some good non-PyroManiac related blogging out there if you can find it. Here's some help:

Heidi Metcalf has been doing a series on sex trafficking in the Third World at Common Grounds Online. This is not something to read over morning coffee. It's something that requires a time for prayer, because it will crush your heart as the heinous sin of men is revealed in her expose: Sex and Labor Sells; Would You Sell Your Daughter?; Where is God Amidst Human Trafficking; and A Theology of Hope in the Face of Evil. If you're having difficulty coming to grips with the depravity of man, there should be no doubt after reading these articles. Side note: This is not meant to condemn the Third World. All are depraved, even those who pay their taxes, wave their American flags, and vote Republican. Sometimes, especially those who pay their taxes, wave their American flags, and vote Republican.

Bob at Mr. Standfast and Brad at Broken Messenger have been blogging about the fullness of God -- more Bob than Brad, who has also been working really hard to get through some timeless and eternally valuable stuff. Bob has one of the more entertaining blog rolls. He lists his God Blogs by Bible verse. By his assessment, I am a Col 3:2 blogger. As I mentioned to him the other day, I'm thankful he didn't consider me a Gal 5:12 blogger. I personally think I'm more of a Num 22:29-30 blogger: Sometimes I'm Balaam, sometimes I'm the donkey.

Mike at Eternal Perspectives confesses he is a blogaholic. He then goes on to announce a commitment to a few number of blogs he will read and more personal and targeted blog posts. No more blog waving for Mike. As ashift in the sand this blog can often be, I'm guessing The Gad(d)about is not going to be a regular stop. However, I promise to always check out Mike's stuff, because he always has something interesting to say. And Mike, really, there's not going to seminary in heaven, right?

Adrian Warnock is challenging his readers to work through Galations and answer some preacherly type questions. I would, Adrian, but I'd just end up repeating what Luther already said.

What this blog is, ain't

I think every blogger goes through some sort of identity crisis, and some more than others. I'm no different from anyone else. I've been agonizing over the direction I would take The Gad(d)about now that I've established I can write regular entries without much labor.

As I said elsewhere, this blog is self-serving. I write it for my own satisfaction. I write it to seek fellowship with agreeable people. I don't have any grand designs on ministry through blogging, although I support those people who do. I don't have any delusions of grandeur this will become the great American outpost of evangelism, although I encourage others who have that vision. I am not fit to criticize, preach, teach, exegete, or otherwise serve the illusion that I am on par with the other clear-minded Christian preachers, teachers, thinkers, and writers I link to.

What I am is a Christian journalist who lives in California with my wife and my Mac laptop (which we refer to as our baby), loves college football and pro basketball, and has a penchant for attempting to crowbar a salty sense of humor into places you would not think it would fit. By design, that is what I intend for this blog to be. Nothing more, nothing less.

My blog does not define me. I define my blog.

I've received e-mail recently that takes aim at what I do here. Why do I write about "Stupid People?" Why do I write so glibly in an era that requires sobriety? Why don't I blog more about my personal spiritual journey that drew some readers in the first place? If I have to write about "worldy" stuff, why don't I start another blog to "separate the wheat from the chaff?"

First, I'm not a farmer. That whole wheat/chaff analogy wears thin when you consider Jesus wept, but he also must've laughed, although the Bible is relatively silent on the subject. The Bible says Jesus was a carpenter who hung out with fishermen. Let's set this straight in lay speak: Jesus was a construction worker who hung out with sailors, hookers, and Roman accountants. He drank wine -- not grape juice -- and was known to attend parties. Clearly, as Jesus knew he was going to die a horribly painful (but necessary) death, he still understood the benefits of real fellowship. It can make a burden easier to bear.

I do not mean to paint Jesus in worldly light. He did not party like the American sense of the word. He wasn't careless or provocative, and he certainly was not a fool. We're talking about true sinless perfection, complete with abundant grace from heaven. He's still the same man who twisted the religious hypocrites into the ground with his wisdom, healed, loved, and defended the poor and sick, lashed through the vendors in the temple courtyard, spent 40 days in the desert in pursuit of God, and the Man who went willingly to the cross to become the curse so that we might be free of the curse. His model of action and zealous pursuit of the Father's will surely does require a serious mind and a humble heart. What I'm saying is if Jesus could approach his friends and those He ministered to with a general ease of spirit without betraying the cause to end all causes, that's the model I'm shooting for. I want to drawn a line in the sand between the righteous, red-hot anger of God and the false outrage that comes with man-created religiosity. There are occasions where I believe God wants to speak through me with force, but without that inspiration, I'm going to continue to interact with this world in the way that communicates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, genteleness, and self-control. As hard as it is for some to believe, sometimes that occurs as I'm writing about college football or drums, always through the filter of my faith in God and obedience to the word of God.

This is all relevant to my thoughts this week as I ponder whether I should break the Gad(d)about up into pieces or topics. That may still happen down the road if the traffic continues to increase, but for now, this will remain the "blog with many branches," recording the thoughts and musings of a Christian who -- contrary to popular opinions -- still lives in this world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The basis of my theology

Not kidding, my first introduction to classical theology -- theology that can only be studied while listening to classical violins and violas -- was via the Wittenburg Door. It was sort of like being trained for NASCAR by playing MarioKart for Nintendo.

It was 16 years ago this month when a 28-year-old pastor with no wife or girlfriend took me, a 20-year-old wanna-be know-it-all, into his back office so he could have someone with which to share a pithy Top 10 list called "Top 10 Signs Your Son Is Turning Into A Methodist."

While it was painfully clear my pastor needed a girlfriend, I've been hooked on the Door ever since. It took me another 12 years to find a suitable wife. That magazine should come with a warning label.

If you don't quite get the appeal of the Door, or if you are totally alien to the "World's Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine," click through the links. If you want to be able to speak to me on my level, you should study these terms.

I'm still anxiously awaiting when my first ever submission to the magazine will be published. I'm told it may be the next issue, but probably by the end of the year. That's the kind of treatment us writers get for signing zero-net contracts. In the meantime, check out this. It looks like something right up Michael Spencer's alley.

Blog list update

The Big List of Blogs got a little bit bigger (or maybe just a bit longer). Among other things, I've added a few bloggers I interact with, a few bloggers I read on a regular basis, and I've introduced a reference section for authors I've read (or at least seen reference a bazillion times around the blogosphere).

If and when I work up the gumption to play with tables in, I may reformat the whole thing and add some more links. Until then, the Big List of Blogs remains my very select choice of links.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fo-neh-ticks 4 foo-uhls

Way back in J-school, we learned important college learnin' like how to write inverted pyramids to make sure the most important thing was at the top and the least important thing was at the bottom. For example, all the things in the unwritten EASTCOASTLIBERALMEDIAELITE rule book should be at the top -- the supreme righteousness of liberals/Marxists, Republican hypocrisy, etc. At the bottom (if at all) should be things that show EASTCOASTLIBERALMEDIAELITE in poor light.

Not really, but I wanted to make sure y'all are paying attention.

In one of my classes, which was aimed primarily at broadcast majors (basically everyone with good hair who flunked out of the ultra-easy marketing college), we learned about teleprompter technology and how to write phonetically so people who could barely read or write could at least sound like they knew what they were talking about.

For example, instead of putting "Uzbekistan" on the teleprompter, the news reader would see "Ooze-BECK-uh-stan." It was the worst kind of phonetic gymnastics getting people to pronounce foreign countries they couldn't place on a map. Me, being the smarmy print journalist who was minoring in either political science or economics (I never did make up my mind), would mock the broadcast tools by dumbing down the copy to the point they couldn't read it at all. Actually, I would just turn it into my native Alabama redneck-ese. It was a hoot, even if I was the only one laughing.

Here's a Gad(d)about revision of lede in a recent CNN article:
Luhn-done, Ayn-guhland (CNN) -- Poh-leece have uh-dent-uh-fahd tuh-oo of the fower suh-spay-ects thu-ay bo-leeve war BEE-hand luw-ast week's fay-ailed baw-um uh-tayacks on Luhn-done train-sat see-stome.

What was particularly funny is they labored so hard to understand what they were reading (a big mistake in broadcast news), they read it slower than my country cousins spoke. So they sounded really dumb. (Side note: Southern drawls are not the sign of stupidity, but that doesn't stop me from using this kind of stereotype against self-important Yankees).

I was chuckling to myself this morning while watching a local newscaster, a young, blond, white-bread suburbanite who embarassed all white-bread suburbanites (such as myself) while attempting to pronounce the word "Mexica," in reference to a story on the history of Mesoamerica. The term is not pronounced "Mex-ick-uh." He made it worse: "Mex-ee-kuh," in a patronizing attempt at sounding ethnic. I think white-bread boy needs to stick with his Taco Bell-influenced Mexican dialect and leave the ethnicity to people who are ethnic. It is "Meh-shee-kuh." You can find more on the great Meh-shee-kuh on any study of May-sow-uh-mair-uh-kuh.

Around the Theogosphere

I'm busy, busy, busy today, but I wanted to catch up everyone on interesting things being written on the God Blogs the last few days.

First up are Brian at Sycamore and Dan at Cerulean Sanctum. As far as I can tell, they're the only ones who answered the call for my quote meme, which should speak volumes about my pull around here. Brian appeared happy to just experience his first meme tagging, while Dan complains I am keeping him from finishing his great American novel.

Dan further passes the blame to Jared of The Thinklings fame for exacerbating his writer's block. Message to Dan: The perfect cure for writer's block is to imagine the deadline is right now and you will starve if you do not meet the deadline. Nothing like a little heart-stopping panic to get a writer out of the blocks. I envy those people who can write on a schedule. I have to wait on inspiration before filling a page. Unfortunately, my muse is too often the "Muse of Mediocrity" and her companion, "The Muse of Just Get Anything On the Page So We Don't Get Fired." So maybe I'm not the best writer to give advice.

Phillip Johnson perceived my passing reference to him in a post about Harry Potter to be an actual request to respond. Phillip, I was merely admiring the potential for a serious blog storm for the ages, but I appreciate your insight. Typical of professional editors, Phillip proves again and again he should be writing his own words, not doctoring others'. Typical of hack writers, I prove again and again I should be doing something more productive, like digging ditches, but I fancy air conditioning far too much. As long as I can keep at least one employer fooled ... The Pyro did not respond to my quote meme tag, so I will assume he was "irritated" by it and ignored it. With him, in that situation, it's always better to be ignored than to be the subject of a public flaming. Here's a picture of Phillip writing a column. Malcontents and BHT members beware.

On a totally different note, John at Blogotional really likes what iMonk wrote on 1 Corinthians 14. John thinks Michael Spencer practiced good exegesis in his call for orderly worship, and criticism of certain charismatics. I think it's a good piece, too, although I think it also reveals Spencer's apprehension with Charismatics. By relationship, I think it reinforces John's. The piece is a bit confusing, because Spencer seems to be speaking to "seeker sensitive" churches. The seeker movement, by definition, is not charismatic in methodology, and many aren't even charismatic in theology. Some are earnestly cessational. I think the confusion is with the use of a modern worship band. Perhaps Spencer is stretching this out to point out the need not to downplay the gospel? That would be a good point, but again, I think this might be part of a misunderstanding. My perception is he meant his aim at the influence of John Wimber, who promoted signs and gifts and a powerful tool for evangelism, and was a leading member of the church growth movement in the 70s and 80s. Wimber was at one point a proponent of charismatic-style services as a means towards church growth, although I don't believe he ever envisioned the kind of crass marketing-driven systematics in church today. He was a pragmatist, not a marketer. As much as Wimber promoted the use of gifts, and as weird as it might have appeared to onlookers of various Vineyard churches while Wimber was alive, I do not recall Wimber ever promoting or encouraging weirdness. Quite the opposite. He preached about being natural in the charismata and not be weird. Furthermore, "Power Evangelism" was for use outside of the church doors. I'd be interested in a discussion with these intelligent fellows if they are agreeable to one. As a reader, I sometimes feel a disconnect with these two excellent bloggers, because I feel my own faith is being misrepresented. I'm open to criticism, I just want to make sure -- if I am a target, however unintentional -- the criticism is accurate and not based on over-generalized bias.

Rick at The Truth In Dark Times finally debuted his thoughts on worldliness. He has been withholding it and praying on it for some time because he didn't want to be misunderstood. Someone not familiar with Rick or someone who's never had any interaction with him might construe his opinions as legalistic. I've interacted with the man enough to witness his personal humility and the sobriety with which he conducts his faith. At the same time, he takes the Word very seriously, a characteristic worthy of appreciation alone. Take a stroll over to his blog and post a comment or two. It should be an interesting discussion as this series unfolds.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Stupid People (Serial No. 2)

This is the second in a running series on people who live life through the narcissistic prism of modern stupidity. You can find the first in the series here. Absolutely no effort has been made to hide the real identities of characters involved in the writing of this column. Animals were probably injured and, later, cooked over an open fire and eaten with malicious intent.

Sam the Sociopathic Sports Nut

Chances are you probably have not seen Sam in some years. He's been forming a permanent cast of buttock cheeks into his sofa ever since he bought the satellite dish and the extended sport channel package. If you have seen his pale face, it was probably at the convenience store while he was making a dash for more beer at halftime. Or perhaps you caught a glimpse of him rushing to the site of the draft for one of his 28 fantasy baseball leagues.

Unlike Fred the Frustrated Weekend Jock, Sam refuses to actually participate in the traditional American sports he worships. Recreational participation in softball leagues and pick-up basketball games are not "pure enough" competition for Sam, although some suggest it's because Sam has never been adept as an athlete. If his past were retold with the unadulterated truth, not only did he not start for his high school football team, he never made it past the first cut. He can get his clogged arteries pumping for more esoteric interpretations, though -- whiffle ball league, for example.

Nothing is so sacred in life to Sam that can't be described with an aptly applied sports metaphor. A desperate moment is "fourth and long." An easy solution is a "slam dunk." Any important occasion probably begins with "bottom of the ninth and two out ..." Oddly, sports metaphors can't be applied to sports. War, in all its inhumanities, is more commonly referenced.

Sam has more icons than the Catholic Church, his house adorned with team colors and pictures of coaches and athletes with religious fervor. You might say he is a man of great faith, because he "knows" of his teams' ultimate superiority in spite of the fact they haven't sniffed the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl or a World Series since the turn of the century. The 20th century. His favorite coach's post-game comments are as spiritually fulfilling as any sermon. Question the tactics of his coach or the ability of his team and he will become as sanctimoniously defensive as a street-corner zealot. The success of his team isn't just enjoyable, it defines him. His team's success is his success. His favorite players achievements are his achievements.

His passion for sports should not be construed as a lack of intelligence. To the contrary, Sam is practically a mathematician considering his expertise in Sabremetrics and the NBA salary cap. He might not remember a single geometric theorem from high school and he barely passed statistics in college, but he can instantly recall what Don Mattingly hit against lefties with two outs and runners in scoring position during night games.

Good luck attempting to contact Sam. He won't answer the phone or come to door except for that one weekend in late October when professional sports take a short breather and his favorite college football team has a bye. It would be unfair to criticize Sam, now in his early thirties, for not having a girlfriend because he's never attempted to have a girlfriend. He's only recently left his mother's basement. You can catch him at all hours one of the 200 sports message boards he has bookmarked on his web browser, where he is likely regaling other self-imposed shut-ins with his encyclopedic knowledge of sports minutiae.

In 20 years, when Sam suffers a fatal cardiac arrest, no one will know for days. Surely, though, there will be at least one person who has the wisdom to have this message engraved on his tombstone:

"He only went six innings, but that's good enough for the win."

Quote meme

My new friend David Tufte at voluntaryXchange, a Utah economist, has tagged me for a quote meme. The topic is "Quotes that were so good you had to write them down to keep them forever." I have thousands stored away -- a writer lives for the brilliance of other writers, so we might someday paraphrase them in hopes of copying their brilliance. Picking a few is difficult. I will attempt to parse the best out in this Top 10 (and I'm just vain enough to quote myself):

10. Golf is an endless stream of pressed, pleated pants. - Matthew Self, lede in a 2002 FanBoy column about the Phoenix Open.

9. America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. - Oscar Wilde

8. Pol Pot killed one point seven million Cambodians, died under house arrest, well done there. Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, aged seventy-two, well done indeed. And the reason we let them get away with it is they killed their own people. And we're sort of fine with that. Hitler killed people next door. Oh, stupid man. After a couple of years we won't stand for that, will we? - Eddie Izzard

7. Guido Nazo is Nazo Guido. - lede in George S. Kaufman's review of debut of tenor Guido Nazo.

6. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you an automobile. -Billy Sunday

5. "Hey guys, let's try some of my songs." - Dave Grohl, from his Top 10 signs a band is about to fire the drummer.

4. Nature is by and large to be found outdoors, a location where, it cannot be argued, there are never enough comfortable chairs. - Fran Lebowitz

3. I'm told your play is full of single entendre. - George S. Kaufman to a stunned playwright.

2.If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.- Dorothy Parker

1. My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher. - Socrates

Anyone else who wants to participate is welcome to assume they are tagged (and please do trackback). Specifically, I'd like to tag Dan at Cerulean Sanctum, John at Scotwise, Adrian Warnock, David at Jolly Blogger, James White and the Pyro himself, Phillip Johnson. That should be a good and diverse mix of hardy readers to illuminate us with their acquired wisdom.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My last word on Harry Potter

For someone who professes he will be lightly blogging, Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has excelled at stirring up a hornet's nest on a few posts this past week Dan's latest rant about Harry Potter books has drawn attention from around the blogosphere, including the beer-swilling theologues over at Boar's Head Tavern. (Dan, I've got your back if the betrunkene Eber attack). David Wayne at JollyBlogger weighed in, although I don't think he's yet caught Dan's diatribe. Now all we need is for Adrian Warnock and Phillip Johnson to weigh in and we have the conditions for the perfect blogstorm.

Dan, a writer and professed aficionado on fantasy literature, has grave concerns about Harry Potter's impact on children in a culture that is far more open to paganism than in our recent modernistic past:
We cannot afford to be naive. If Harry Potter had hit the scene in the 1940s, I believe his impact would have been negligible compared with today. But given that the environment into which he's flown is primed for his brand of Neo-paganism, I believe the influence of Rowling's books is far more dangerous. While some might claim that I'm cutting my own throat as a writer of speculative fiction, I can't keep silent while a generation's defense against Neo-pagan thought is being systematically disabled by what many Christians consider a harmless story.
I am inclined to agree with him to the extent that Western thought has definitely moved towards the East and begun to adopt the possibility of spiritual things. While the hedonism of the 20th Century was based on nihilism, spiritual significance was rarely assigned to it. Today, people are more likely to conform a religion around less-than-Christian morals rather than reject religion outright or confess a lack of morality. It's far more dangerous to the Church, because it can sometimes look like Christianity -- but without the Word and without the Spirit.

It's difficult for me to swallow all of Dan's argument because I do not perceive a pagan agenda from J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. When I watch the movies (I've yet to read the books), I see strong metaphors about children in a technological age, both simple and complex moral ideas, and an authority structure that is proper for children. Harry is respectful of the right people and suspicious of the right people. He suffers his neglectful uncle and aunt with grace. He and his friends are loyal to each other while being fairly graceful to those who offend them. There is good and evil, and good is definitely championed.

The problematic part of this fantastical universe is it exists within the auspices of witchcraft, something the Bible defines as explicitly evil. It is not just a world of witchcraft, but one steeped into occult references and imagery as real and vivid as any you could find outside of a the realm of fantasy. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there is a literal example of divination of the spirits I found startling close in resemblance to demonic possession. It was not referenced in that light, rather, it proved useful to Harry because the person divining the spirits foretold the future. The Bible has some very strong words about witchcraft and those who practice it (Exodus 22:18; Deut. 18:10-11; 1 Sam 23; Gal. 5:19-20; Rev. 21:8). That moment of divination was exactly what God condemned (and still does).

So do we toss out Potter and keep The Chronicles of Narnia, a classic work of fantasy that also references the occult and even has a witch for a character? C.S. Lewis was explicitly Christian in his work, and God's truth is constantly reflected against the failings of the occult. Rowling has no such bindings, and seems content to let imagination run free without any reflection on the spiritual implications of her work. To her, witchcraft is a harmless fictional device because it has no real power outside of fantasy.

I can see the danger of which Dan writes, and I can assume potential harm to readers whose fantasies might be allowed to run with Harry and carry over into the real world. We should not desensitize our children to the occult or witchcraft. We should not downplay it.

I know where to draw the line in my own life, and I see Harry Potter's world as a good metaphor with some general redeeming value. I will not be led into endorsing witchcraft. So when I read, it is of no greater or lesser value than the rest of the secular entertainment I consume -- music, movies, fiction, even the news media I work in and rely on. Much of this has references to things that have nothing in common with God. For example, I watch the TV show Friends. It's one of the funniest shows the last 20 years, but we're talking about six young people who have premarital affairs, live together outside of wedlock, and confirm little of my Christian values. If I let their values affect mine, I would be accountable to God. But their values don't affect mine, and I can laugh at that parts that do not offend my values or mores.

What I get out of watching Friends and the Harry Potter movies is not morality or spirituality. I get diversion. Potter movies do not cause me to think about witchcraft, rather, about what must be great difficulties of children who grow up in such a fantastical real world of technology that has as much evil as good. These are not items that I know are consciously sacrificed to idols. So while I take the liberty (1 Corinthians 8) of watching Harry Potter movies (and perhaps reading the books down the road), I do not want to stumble anyone. Neither do I have any children, so I don't want to endorse this book for your children. If you find this evil, by all means, avoid it. Don't let your children read it. Forgive me if my taking of this freedom has caused you to stumble into judgment or bitterness, because that would be my own true failing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Greatest Sports Moments I Saw (stolen meme)

The offerings
Kevin Drum's Political Animal
Daniel W. Drezner
the key monk
Overtaken By Events
The Bemusement Park
Unqualified Offerings
I'm a lurker over at voluntaryXchange, who does a great job keeping an eye on the latest on the FLDS scandal. However, I have to participate in this meme, without permission. It's too tempting.

1. Chargers/Dolphins, 1982 AFC Playoffs. It helps (really, it hurts) that I was a brand spankin' new 13-year-old Dolphins fan in Arizona. Maybe the only one at the time. For the life of me, why did David Woodley ever see game action when Don Strock was standing on the sidelines? My mother, an avid football hater, got sucked into this game like so much space dust to a black hole. We were all exhausted by the second OT. Then the flea-flicker. It's one of those games where you wouldn't have to apologize for wetting your pants. Or worse. Just don't leave the TV.

2. Celtics/Suns, 1976, Shot Heard Round the World. Triple OT in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Widely considered the greatest NBA game ever played. We had just moved to Phoenix and became Suns fans that year. Good news/bad news for any team upon whose bandwagon I suddenly jump. That game was awesome but the series was deflating. It took the Suns 17 years to recover from that one.

3. ASU Sun Devils football, entire 1996 season. Jake Plummer was an amazing improvisational college quarterback. He excelled at two things: Digging a big hole in the first half with interceptions, fumbles, and mistakes; some how climbing out of the hole over 20 times in his career, including 7 4th quarter comebacks. Well, three of the most amazing I've ever seen were during this (very nearly almost) perfect season. The one that had me screaming until the cops showed up at the door was a 28-7 halftime reversal at UCLA. ASU won 42-34. ASU took the lead when freshman (!) tailback J.R. Redmond takes the pitch on a sweep then throws sidearm across the field to wide open (165 lbs.) Jake Plummer, who snaked his way through seven Bruins defenders for a 16-yard TD catch. Plummer was a stunning passer under pressure, and most of his 275 yards came between halfway through the third quarter until halfway through the fourth quarter. I will never, ever forget this season, including Jake's miraculous TD scramble in the same Rose Bowl Stadium against Ohio State. Too bad he didn't play CB. OSU turned the tables in the last 1:30. heavy sigh

4. Kirk Gibson's home run. I had been a Dodgers fan for five years. Orel was my hero. I thought Gibson was a punk, but no one ever doubted his toughness. I was working as a night clerk and had snuck in a TV to watch this game. A few years later the O'Malley's sold the team, Lasorda retired, and I was allowed to gracefully change my allegiances to the hometown expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. Three years later ...

5. Arizona/New York, Game 7, World Series. I worked this game for the Arizona Republic's website, of which I was then gainfully employed. I was also a die-hard, from-the-ground-up D-Backs fan. Never have I ever felt such sporting euphoria. Literally got a nose bleed. Then I went down to the street level to watch stupid drunk D-Backs fans beat up stupid drunk Yankees fans. Everything was put in perspective in a hurry.

On Modern Worship Songs

I've taken more than a few trips around my favorite blogs the past week and I'm noticing a harsher tone from some about modern worship. There seem to be some in the conservative camps that see a disconnect between modern worship and the broader (in their view, historical) definition of worship -- total devotion that plays out in our lives every day.

First, part of me suspects this is a rash rebuttal to what was first a rash proposition in their churches to move from traditional hymnals to modern worship. That's a blanket statement to be sure, but I sense that tone in some. If I were in a traditional church and it made the switch solely for the church growth demographic benefits, I'd make some noise about that, too. That doesn't give a reason to condemn modern worship outright, however.

As someone deeply invested in modern worship, I'm also a bit offended (but not seriously injured) by the notion that modern worship is always about mindless yammering, that there is no theological underpinning, and the whole modern worship movement is ultimately self-serving. To me, this is an opinion from someone who either hasn't been paying attention or someone who has really heard all the wrong songs.

Personally, I am in favor of all methodology for corporate worship that glorifies God. I can't believe this is even a debate in the 21st Century Church. If we can agree David stole worship styles from pagans, I really don't see where style has any relevance on substance. If we can agree the early and mid-20th Century Church dramatically changed musical styles from the Church-ordained "Holy Threes" to beer-mug swinging bar room pleasers, where can we establish a historical methodology? (If you're not clear what I mean, put an imaginary beer mug in the air and sing any old hymn while swinging the mug from left to right)

There are plenty of songs with which I take issue with on theological grounds, and not all of them are modern. Is God really glorified with "Bringing In the Sheaves?" Or how about the post-Civil War inspired "Onward, Christian Soldiers?" These are the songs of my childhood church, and I can honestly say they did nothing to lead me to a better relationship to God. There are also plenty of old hymns I still hold dear, likely including some my critics might assume I don't even know or think less of them because they're old.

I think there are a lot of assumptions being made about modern worshipers, particularly assumptions made about charismatics. All I can say is my experience has not been about being emotional or vacuous. The full definition of worship -- obedience, submission, servitude -- has been taught from the pulpit of my modern worshiping churches. I hope some day we can put this away and focus on serving God's kingdom together!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Brits love Marx

When it comes to philosophers, the Brits most admire Marx. No, not Groucho. They love Karl. According to Dr. Alister McFarquhar of the Adam Smith Institute, 28 percent of Brits polled said Marx was tops in their books. David Hume, last of the great British empiricists, finished second. As a Christian, I don't find this as disconcerting as others who might lead you to believe it as necessary.

Marx was a brilliant man whom I always felt was misinterpreted. He predicted change, but his followers assumed it was a call for change. He disdained State order, yet it is those who favor the State who best reflect his thinking. Marx saw capitalism as a requisite (but ultimately unstable) part of an evolving State, but his followers thrive in tearing it down. About the only thing Marx and modern Marxists have in common is atheism. I'm not sure those who most admire Marx are following Marx as much as they are buying into the neo-Marxists that expanded on his writings.

People often pit Adam Smith against Marx. While that seems logical given the congruency in the timeline of discussion on capitalism and the competing paradigms, I'm not sure the writings of the two men could actually have a true discussion. They don't mingle well because they are on two very different wave lengths. Marx was a political scientist who worked in formulas for arguments. Smith was more of a philosopher who worked in historical evidence for arguments. In hindsight, Marx was reflective and detached while Smith was the man of action.

In Christian circles, I think it's wrong to demonize Marx while elevating Smith to sainthood. Neither worked to serve the Gospel, and there are elements of both that reflect the nature of Christianity. In Marxism, we find a communal spirit that we see in the Early Church. In Smith's view of capitalism, we see a need for personal responsibility as well as a need for charity from those who have that can be found throughout the Bible. However, I would not deem Wealth of Nations or Theory of Moral Sentiments as strong Christian philosophical work. Far from it. Smith made wholesale assumptions in man's "innate moral sense," a belief in conflict with Christianity -- at least in Reformed thinking. In America, Smith's philosophy has been taken to extremes -- greed is absolutely good (because it expands the economy, which distributes wealth) -- that strip away at the foundation of the Church's social conscience. This is not to impugn capitalism or to express favor with Marxism, but in our patriotic zeal, we often forget the need to balance our worldly ideologies with the Bible.

Friday, July 15, 2005

It's that time of year

If I seem a bit distracted in the coming months, this is why. Apologies to God, my wife, and diligent readers of this blog who have come to expect much more of me. College football has always been my favorite distraction, although I confess it sometimes does not bring out the best in me, particularly when we play these guys. I'll obstain from writing something about God smiting our enemies ... I mean, they have to live in Tucson, of all places.

Seminary ware

Talk about insufficient grace -- this t-shirt company has no shirts my size.

Clinging to real hope

1 Cor 12
9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Worrying always results in sin. We tend to think that a little anxiety and worry are simply an indication of how wise we really are, yet it is actually a much better indication of just how wicked we are. Fretting rises from our determination to have our own way. Our Lord never worried and was never anxious, because His purpose was never to accomplish His own plans but to fulfil God’s plans. Fretting is wickedness for a child of God.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
It's funny how sometimes, when we pray out of great need and God does not respond the way we think He ought to, we look for explanations. Maybe there is a hidden blessing and I am ignoring it. Today, I find no explanations, no hidden blessings, just burden. I have been humbled enough times these past few months I am approaching Paul, wishing to boast in my weakness. I never really appreciated Paul's message until now. I am tired, life has become extraordinarily difficult, and I have no answers to multiple dilemmas. Have I not "earned" a reprieve? Why do the wicked prosper while I, one who has gone to great lengths to avoid the temptations of greed and deception, continue to wallow in financial hardship?

Still, in my head and my heart I know my struggles are nothing to this world. Though I see great need in my life, I am a relatively wealthy man in light of abject poverty in this world. Though I see malady, I am a relatively healthy man in light of great sickness and disease in this world. Though I cry out of need, I know I wasted what little I had when I had it, and I did nothing to ease others' financial burdens, not even a little. God continues to bless me, even though I view it dimly (perhaps callously) through the pain of my flesh. I still do not hunger. I still have protection from the elements. I still have a bed to sleep in and a wife who willingly shares my burdens.

I once boasted of my own contentment, but I am discovering I was not content at all, just blinded to how much God had blessed me and got me to this point with much grace. Now I am in a position of discontent. As much as I crave the comfort of knowing tomorrow will not be more difficult than today, that my cup will not be empty next week, all I have left is hope. Hope that God will provide, hope that God will take care of me, hope that God will keep me from defiling myself and others as I work through these problems.

Hope was a much easier thing to have when I was not encumbered by daily struggle. I work hard, I strive to honor God. I never looked at what I had as a great blessing, but rather, the fruits of my labor. Hope came easy because God's blessing on my house was bountiful. Was it a false hope? Perhaps. I pray for more of God's hope now, to be filled with His joy and peace and contentment, not the imitation the comforts of this world might offer. What a fool I have been, and I pray for his merciful forgiveness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

When can I call myself a man?

Brian Colmery has quickly become one of my favorite posters. He's honest and humble, the kind of refreshing personality in seminary you hope joins your church leadership real soon.

He has written an interesting blog entry that, for lack of a better explanation, asks the question when he can call himself a man.

I think Brian, at 24.5, has made the same mistake I made at his age. I guess I still make this mistake. Maybe all of you followed this path. I kept waiting for that moment when I felt grown-up. I'm 36 and married now and I'm still waiting for the day when I think new music is too loud and video games are for people half my age.

This would be more disconcerting if I was irresponsible. To the contrary, I've had to be Mr. Responsibility out of necessity the last two years. This is in great contrast to the previous 34 years of my life in which I totally failed to acknowledge responsibility. I would suggest if you're placing value on the right things, eventually God challenges you to live out your values and you make sacrificial decisions that lead some people to think of you as ultra-responsible (and others to think of you as crazy). I look back and still can't see how, if I cared for my wife and our minimal quality of life, I could have made any other decisions. For the moment, I'm calling it God's magnificent work in me. If you had believed my father when I was 17, you would not believe I was capable of such things.

Still, I don't look in the mirror and think of myself as a man, at least not like I think of my father or thought of my grandfather. I don't see myself as that authoritative, masculine figure younger men should look up to. When I get around a group of 20-somethings, I find myself fitting in rather than feeling out of place. Sure, there are moments (such as this one) where I resort to the "when I was your age" reference, but I still don't feel displaced.

I lack manly skills. My father could eyeball his way through a blueprint to construct a housing structure that would outlive him. He could fix the plumbing, change the oil in the car, and kill the spider in the bathtub for my mother all in a Saturday afternoon. My grandfather was a machinist, mechanic, and master fisherman. I have none of those skills. I grew up in a different era. I grew up in front of computer screen. How I was taught to define a man and the man I've become are two very different things.

To be fair to Brian's specific question, he's not comparing himself to mere men, which is a great credit to him. He's got that angst going about whether or not he's progressed as the person God wants him to be. My experience, though somewhat limited, is that's a very good place to be. Quite often it's God nudging us into the next level of growth, which is endless (until God ceases to breathe life into me). This understanding is why I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I've reached manhood, because in God's eyes, I will always be His child in the maturation process.

God's process of maturing me has gone something like this since I got out of high school:

- Deeper revelation -- about my own sin and God's perfect nature
- Transformation with an awesome outpouring of God's grace
- Contentment for a time
- Angst/dissatisfaction/questions about my maturity
- Repeat steps 1 through 4, as God sees fit

If it sounds like a wash-and-rinse cycle, that's not a bad analogy. There have been smaller periods of change, but I'm thinking about the big ones where I can recall marking distinct milestones in behavior and an increase in faith. I've gone through this at least four times since I became a legal adult. I don't know if this is God's way for everyone. I just know I've reached 36 in a much better spiritual state than I was at 26 and I'm light years ahead of where I was at 16. Death becomes less threatening by the day, although I am learning to embrace every opportunity to exalt God since I'm still breathing and (by the grace of God) serving some purpose for His kingdom on this planet. Even in the most difficult moments, God has given me contentment that I am exactly where I should be at that given moment.

It may not be manhood as the secular world sees it, but I think that might be the price of putting greater value on spiritual maturity over all other things. I may never know how to fix my own broken-down car, but I have faith God can repair my soul, and have hope He will continue to do so all the days of my life. When the day of judgment comes, I'm counting on this understanding to bear God's favor.

Monday, July 11, 2005

It had to happen eventually

The Lark News reports a mega-church has taken control of the state of Idaho, turning it into an "evangelical Utah."

Long break continues

My long break from blogging is on indefinite status. Work and stuff getting in the way. I'm writing this week's editorial, a rare offering from my paper. Check out the "big lost of blogs" for much better commentary this week.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More on Christian media/fiction

David's latest post at JollyBlogger was timely and topical for me. He quotes from a speech given by Steve Garber at the Jonathan Edwards Institute about Hollywood director Tom Shadyac.

I know a little about Shadyac and his traditional Catholic background. Now I don't agree with Shadyac and his Catholic theology, and I think some of the movie was a little too Catholic for me. However, I was stunned by the subject matter of Bruce Almighty, in which the main character, played by Jim Carrey, lives out a very literal interpretation of God's irresistible will. It also portrays salvation beginning at total surrender. I loved the movie. In the midst of an absurd (and potentially blasphemous) storyline, it actually preached a message of humility and servitude. It takes awhile to get there, but it's worth watching the whole movie.

Shadyac was actually persecuted a little for some of the content with this movie. For example, the couple in the movie was not married. In an interview with Christian Spotlight, Shadyac responds:

Well, Bruce wasn't really grown up. You know, we don't start perfect people in movies, we start with imperfect people and then they have to go on a journey. I mean, let's pick up our Bibles and find out how many people cohabitated and did imperfect things. There is shadow in the movie that helps the light be more light.

And we're not espousing any lifestyle, we're not trying to tell people how to live outright, we're telling a story. Bruce wasn't grown up enough to appreciate anything in his life. I think when you get married you have to appreciate your life and the partner that you're with. Bruce wasn't mature enough for that yet. It was a big step for him and that's why the movie ended up where it ended up. You can't have the end of the story without the beginning. [Laughing] Do you forgive me?

This was my point in my post yesterday: As Christians writing in a secular world, you can have characters entertaining bad lifestyles without endorsing them -- as long as you bring them around to God's way of thinking. I see this throughout the Bible. Clearly, Samson was defiantly disobedient in taking up with Delilah, and it led him into further sin. The Bible doesn't apologize for him, it simply tells his story in which he was ultimately redeemed.

Another complaint about Bruce Almighty was Bruce's rage against God, his many tirades which were seen as blasphemous. Shadyac surprises me, again, with his innate understanding of the Word:

Well, I answer with Elijah, Jonah, and Job. And I answer it with my understanding of what God seeks with all of us, which is relationship. Relationship demands honesty. And while I don't think we're ever to live in our anger and our rage, to express it is to express a step along the journey.

Bruce raged at God, and a few weeks later he got a chance to see how silly and self-indulgent that was. But had he not raged, had he not been honest, who knows whether he could have take the steps that he did.

Again, I think this is proper use of human fallibility in a movie that is ultimately about redemption. While raging against God is not advisable (I'd be looking for thunderbolts from heaven), it is a common response to people who have unreasonable expectations from God. In fact, it's very common in our capitalist culture in which we are told God has blessed America and His blessing is revealed in the stuff and personal accomplishments we acquire.

I would probably write the screenplay for a movie like Bruce Almighty differently. Mine would be much more evangelical and I would not shy away from the "dogma" of Jesus and the cross. But in terms of a Biblical message delivered to a secular world, Bruce Almighty is a mighty leap forwards. It's the kind of message of sacrifice and surrender and humility I would hope to relate in my own works of fiction.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Song for the day

Was dwelling on Adrian Warnock's post and, I don't really know why, but it lead me back to thanking God for the Cross. We all deserve to die, yet He chose to save us by dying to the Cross Himself. When the world is crumbling around us, we still have hope in that which leads to eternal life. I've been playing (and singing with) this Brenton Brown worship song all day long:

Even when we turned our backs on You
In wickedness and lies suppressed Your truth
Even then You showed Your love for us
Giving up Your life upon the Cross

Jesus thank You for the Cross
For the blood that sets us free
The crimson stain of all our sin
Washed away in Your mercy

Enemies of God with no excuse
Knowing what was right we turned from You
Given up to sin condemned to die
Even then You chose to give us life

Everyone of us deserves to die
But You save all who hope
In Your great love

Where is the compassion

Our president, George Bush, responded to the London bombings by telling the remaining gathering at the G8 Summit that, "the war on terror goes on."

With 37 people dead among over 700 casualties, I hoped our leader's first words would have been to offer some kind of comfort to the victims' families about America's care and concern for them. Count me among the disappointed.

British bombings

When Americans suffered attacks at 9/11, I was moved by the deep sense of loss shared by our British "cousins." They're outpouring of concern was one of a family member, not just some friendly people in some distant country across the Atlantic. I'd like to return the sentiment today. The bombings in London today are an attack on all free countries, and my prayers are with the families of the 700 injured today. I stand with the UK today in mourning. This may as well have been an attack on my family. I am outraged at the lack of respect for innocent life by the attackers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Christians in the media

Dan posted about his frustrations about trying to write Christian fiction for a secular audience. One of his respondents, Becky, mentioned a site called Faith In Fiction, and I tripped on over there to see what others are writing about.

First, I can sympathize with Dan on a certain level. I've never tried to market my works of fiction, but I know how hard it is to write something that might reach a larger audience -- not for more money, but to have an impact in the same manner of C.S. Lewis. Not that either Dan or I are capable of matching such a timeless author's ability. More than anything, it makes you appreciate just how brilliant the author was.

The current discussion at Faith In Fiction is over what kind of culture and language to use in a Christian work of fiction. It doesn't surprise me this is an issue, but it's sort of disappointing that we, as Christians, are still thinking at this level. It's the same question I see Christians, writers and non-writers alike, struggling with: How do I engage a culture without embracing things that offend my faith?

I'm a journalist. As such, I've never had a fictional work published. (Let the jokes ensue). But if I ever do publish a fictional work, I will write about real people, real situations, real culture. I'm not going to hold back the language or situations to appease a Christian audience. Christians are fallible, and I want to portray Christians in their fallible state. I'm not going to censor bad language, although I might find unique ways to write around some of the most offensive stuff. I'm not going to alter bad behavior, although I might search for unique ways to describe it.

I don't write this to stumble anyone. However, if I'm going to write about authentic Christian people, I have to include their warts. My warts.

The fears that people will misinterpret bad behavior as Christian living are hollow. If am I writing in proper light, a reader will understand "this is a Christian behaving badly" and "this is a Christian gracefully living in obedience." What's more important is people can relate to these characters, and if anyone can remember how they acted before they became Christian, they should be able to note that non-Christians do a very poor job acting like Christians. They should also be able to note that obedience and maturity did not come overnight. Furthermore, I've never met a Christian who is absolutely good, so to write characters this way is to diminish a reader's ability to sustain their disbelief.

It strikes me that Christians are afraid to be transparent to the world, as if we have to show some kind of "we have it all together" image. What a crock. We would be selling them a false gospel if this is what people believe before coming to know Christ. If anything, my life has been taken apart and put back together one hundred times by God since I became a Christian. I have never known so much turmoil and trouble since I chose the more difficult path of following Christ. I'm not always graceful or humble about it, either. I gripe and complain like the Hebrews did in the desert. I bitch and moan. I threaten to give up and go back to enslavement. I am generally as stiff-necked, and I often have to be dragged into God's direction like a donkey on strike.

Many Christians embrace the culture in ways that they shouldn't. Am I not allowed to write about them? Do we not welcome these people back once they find correction in their hearts and their lives? Is there not room to write characters like this?

If we want to take the Gospel to the world in our fiction, we first need to be honest with ourselves about what we are, not just what we're about. When we start to reflect ourselves in our literature, when we can be transparent -- showing what's best and what's reality -- I think we'll start to see more Christian literature being taken seriously by the secular world.

As Dennis Miller says, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Death to my cynicism, oh Lord

People think when you become a journalist, you hand in your Bible, curse God, and join the campaign to defame the Church and all its people. I can assure you that's not the case.

What Christian journalists do acquire is much more evil: Cynicism.

Cynicism is en vogue these days. I watch VH1. There's more pith in the jibes of those commentators than an African greenhouse. There's nothing so sacred that can't be deconstructed with a carper's wit.

Cynicism is often confused with skepticism. A skeptic is simply waiting for evidence. A cynic cannot be convinced under any circumstances, because the world is inherently bad and there is no solution. To a cynic, there is no good (or God) except in those who embrace the absence of goodness (or a good God). There are many professed believers in the industry, but I doubt many have had the wisdom to attempt to reconcile their cynicism with their faith (and discover the conflict). The world just isn't that demanding. Sadly, our churches aren't, either.

I entered journalism with the intent of one day becoming a columnist and speaking a truth I did not see in my morning newspaper(s) as a youth. I wanted to become Paul of the 21st Century. I wanted to become a forceful writer who compelled readers with God's wisdom and truth.

Somehow I've been spit back out of the mouth of the newsroom and I often view the world with the eyes of someone who's been blinded by hypocrites, liars, thieves, and scoundrels. That is what the newsroom sees every day. To us, these are not evil people set aside from the rest of the world, these people represent the only world that can be known. Journalists develop a worldview based on this, and it accounts for our instinctive distrust of anyone espousing strong opinions of anything. Journalists start the day with the single assumption that everyone in the world is up to no good, and it's our job to reveal the darkness in everyone, to affirm the newsroom worldview.

This practice is called "seeking to uncover the truth."

You might say this is also a Christian worldview, but Christians still look through the hopeful prism of Christ. Journalists have no hope, and not even a prism. We only see darkness. I realized how harmful this was to my faith about five years ago, and made the decision to abandon my career at the metro newspaper I worked at three years ago in June. I knew it would be difficult to match my income (indeed, it's been cut in half), but I also knew if I intended to maintain my walk with God, I had to put away such a bleak influence on my vision.

I am still in journalism, but small newspapers are much more befitting someone of faith. You are allowed to be optimistic. Harsh skepticism is saved for politicians. The rest of the world is relatively safe from the poison pen.

However, it's a hard habit to break. I find myself falling into that trap short of a healthier alternative. When times are bleak, instead of relying on God, I find myself preparing for disaster. This was true recently when my wife and I were facing the reality of being low-income people in an economy that has quickly out-paced our earnings. With my wife on disability after major back surgery, all the bills I had danced around for 12 months had caught up with us.

At nearly the zero hour, a member of our church body put two and two together (our phone was disconnected, we politely declined outings that required us to spend money) and began to investigate a potential need. We weren't keeping it secret, but we weren't broadcasting it over the PA system, either. He asked, we told him, but we didn't want to burden anyone with our struggles, either. As much as we were in need, we had grown up middle-class, and people in the middle-class don't have a right to take from God's coffers or God's people. He quickly corrected our thinking. I wasn't really in position to debate.

About six hours after the investigation I had a sizeable check, double what we had asked God to provide for us (somehow, some way). When I prayed, I imagined us finding an old lottery ticket with some value, or state disability discovering an error in our favor and dropping a check on us at the last second (it happened once before when we really needed it). Instead, God sent his servant to look for us. We did not ask, but our church delivered for us anyway because their hearts were attentive to our needs.

It was hard for me to take the check but I knew I could not deny it. It was hard for me to take that check not just because it hurt my pride, but because it cut right through my cynic's view of the Church: hardened hearts, inattentive, lacking servants, selfish. It was hard for me to take that check because it forced me to confront my own hardened heart, my own lack of giving when I had money in my pocket. Boy, have I been looking the wrong direction when I went to criticize God's people. I should've been looking the mirror.

My worldview has taken a big hit because of this. My cynicism is in the process of bleeding to death, because it's been cut right to the core by a merciful act from a group people who owed me nothing, and did so in the name of the God we all proclaim for our own.

All I have left is a prayer: Death to my cynicism, Lord. Help me serve like I've been served. Help me be an attentive servant like the man who first came to my aid in an attempt to serve you.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Blogging is not journalism

I'm now about eight days behind from my last Friday's blogger challenge. I'm getting there, but I have to weigh in on the MSM animosity before I lose the fire of my opinion.

Since first discovering blogs last year, I have seen these opinions fronted as if they were an inevitable reality:

- Mainstream Media is dying
- Blogs empower regular people whose voices are not represented by the MSM
- Blogs or a future likeness will someday rule the world.

I would just like to point out some facts that are somehow left out of said arguments:

- MSM is not dying, it's consolidating. One small newspaper is sure death, but 50 small newspapers with legions of underpaid, overworked journalists make for a nice regular dividend for thousands of investors.
- Blogs empower people as long as other bloggers are reading. I don't know many non-bloggers who even read or know what a blog is.
- Bloggers that become popular don't remain "sola bloga" for long. They join the MSM in some fashion (see Simmons, Bill).

This does not look like a media revolution to me. While blogging may someday take on more importance, right now it remains a blip on the radar compared to the stretch of influence by billion-dollar media giants. My former employer, Gannett, doesn't blink in purchasing $400 million newspapers. I don't think I threaten them.

A bigger beef I have with this argument is the notion that what we do here in the blogosphere represents some kind of journalism. Ahem.

Joke all you want about inaccurate journalism and the liars who make up the industry, the mainstream media as a group is overwhelmingly obsessed with the facts and the truth. You may have some beef with a self-righteous columnist or big-haired TV personality, but the average newspaper reporter is more sold-out on accuracy than a person in the same position 100 years ago. They didn't even have a full concept of fairness or accuracy in newspapers 100 years ago.

Bloggers? This is not journalism. This is column writing with the occasional reference to the truth. And where do bloggers go for truth? Mainstream media and online newspapers.

How ironic.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Drum geek extra

Dan's got me thinking drums again, and that inevitably leads me to Vinnie Colaiuta. I remember I had this QuickTime clip from the solo at the end of the first Buddy Rich Memorial concert. This is the one where Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, and Vinnie play the root beat to Gadd's "Crazy Army" while "trading fours" between the three. To this day, it is the most amazing drum solo I've ever seen.

You can view a 9-second clip of Vinnie here.

Technical note: The impressive part of this solo is Vinnie resists the urge to throw in double-pedal notes. This is clearly a display of geek-technique for the cameras and and the audience. These are the patented "hands-to-right-foot" volleys Vinnie stole from Tony Williams (and perhaps much of the phrasing style from Terry Bozzio). When Vinnie is playing the "Vinnie stuff," it sounds remarkably like this most of the time. However, as a "Vinnie-head," I can tell the exchange between the left-hand and right foot falls a little flat, creating something of a slight flamming effect. Only a drummer would notice, though. =)


Friday, July 01, 2005

Just in case you haven't heard

Brad at Broken Messenger successfully brought life into his world. I'm guessing his wife had a little more to do with it, but congrats to both of them, anyway. Paul Michael is a bouncing baby boy.

The All-American Pan-Tribulational Amillennealist Roast

Dan at Cerulean Sanctum thought I needed a spanking for my lethargic attitude on eschatology.

For the record, Cerulean is the derivative of the Latin word caeruleus, meaning dark blue. Sanctum is the Latin word for sanctuary. Together I'm sure they refer to something heady and personal to Dan. To me, it means somebody was smart enough to learn a "dead language," so I should pay attention to what they have to say.