I’m Dreaming of a Blog Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve!

At this time of year, the blog is usually full of ruminations on the birth of Christ (like this entry) or self-pity wallowings (like this rather plaintive entry or this poem from last year). But right now I have neither the time nor energy to be deeply profound nor (believe it or not) deeply self-centered.

So I thought I’d share, as rather paltry gifts, a few links to things I’ve loved recently; you may find them interesting!

First, for anyone who like me has been completely annoyed by (what I am calling) the “Dawkins Meme” of recent months, I want to give this article–a review of Dawkins’ new book by Terry Eagleton (who’s not, I don’t think, a Christian). The problem with Dawkins is not that he’s wrong–if we were to quantify beliefs, I’d probably agree with more of his than your average fundamentalist Christian–though certainly some basic ones differ. The problem is, as Eagleton says, his unwillingness to see surfacely-nuanced differences in “religious” systems that actually have huge under-the-hood ramifications.

Second, to all and sundry, I want to gift two podcasts done by St Paul’s Theological Centre in London, which happen to be interviews with NT Wright. The first podcast is on gnosticism, and the second podcast is on, among other things, “apocalypse”. I would go so far as to make the second one mandatory listening for any thoughtful Christian; it’s that good.

I have to admit, of course, that I’m drinking the NT Wright Kool-Aid at the moment. I’ve been reading his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, and am almost done with the second (long) volume, on Jesus. It’s been one of the most groundbreaking works I’ve read in a while. Last year I read some Kierkegaard and reflected that he had done more than anyone to re-affirm my love of Scripture as something worth remaining conversant with. Now, I’d say the same thing about NT Wright; I feel that I’ve been given a whole new (and better) way of reading the gospels (and much of the Old Testament). It seems as though I was dealing with something two-dimensional, and now the text has sprung to life amidst a vibrant and colorful context. My exegeses of almost every parable and saying of Jesus have been subtly, if not fundamentally, alered, and many things now just make sense that were opaque before.

This isn’t to say that Wright is correct on all his points (though as a novice in historical studies it’s hard for me to launch a critique), but rather that the overall story he is weaving answers, it seems, more questions than any other view I’ve come across. It has the result, of course, of turning much conventional “Christian” (particularly western fundamentalist) wisdom on its head–a result I’m amenable to in any case. So, if you are a Christian who cares about the content of your beliefs and whether or not they make sense, read these books.

Third and finally, I have a gift for lovers of language learning. I recently discovered that the iTunes music store has many language-learning podcasts available for free download. I found one for German that has 100 lessons, each ~15 minutes long. That’s essentially a 25-hour language course, free! I discovered these podcasts from a very helpful list of language-learning podcasts. From what it looks like, iTunes has a lot more that didn’t make this list, so I’m sure further exploration would be fruitful.

So again, I wish all of you a very happy Christmas, focused indeed on reflection on the having-already-come of the Messiah, and the having-already-been-inaugurated of the Kingdom of God. I leave you, therefore, with this excerpt from an article by CS Lewis (one that my family reads every Christmas Eve), which pretty much sums up my feelings about this time of year:

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.

Futurebeer, NT Wright, and Frisbee Hype

Some random notes:

First, in trying to assist Nyffy with his desire to one day become the Brewmaster of Heaven, a contingent of my friends spent some time this last weekend brewing a batch of Futurebeer:


The current state of Futurebeer

Futurebeer is beer, after a while. It is not yet, however. It’s that same mysterious “already but not yet” we find with the kingdom of God. Anyway, it was fun to go through a process involving (mostly) natural ingredients that will culminate in pure enjoyment after a period of care and waiting. Being a creative person who works mostly with digital or musical media, I was very glad to work with actual substances to create a product. It’s sort of like the joy I have found in cooking nice meals, only greater due to the extended period of time involved in the process.

Second, I received in the mail from Amazon the first three books in NT Wright’s massive “Question of God” undertaking, beginning with The New Testament and the People of God. After hearing much about these works and reading some other stuff of Wright’s, I’m very excited to go on an extended journey of engagement with history, theology, and literary criticism on issues surrounding the origins of Christianity. Thankfully, I’ve finished Alister McGrath’s likewise-authoritative critical-realism-inspired trilogy on scientific theology, so I now have room for another expedition. You will no doubt be hearing various thoughts on the books here, which is why I thought I’d give forewarning. As a bit of a taste, here’s a paragraph from the introduction:

The New Testament has not been around as long as the land of Israel, but in other ways there are remarkable parallels. It is a small book, smaller than anybody else’s holy book, small enough to be read through in a day or two. But it has had an importance belied by its slim appearance. It has again and again been a battleground for warring armies. Sometimes they have come to plunder its streasures for their own use, or to annex bits of its territory as part of a larger empire in need of a few extra strategic mountains, especially holy ones. Somestimes they have come to fight their private battles on neutral territory, finding in the debates about a book or a passage a convenient place to stage a war which is really between two worldviews or philosophies, themselves comparatively unrelated to the New Testament and its concerns. There are many places whose fragile beauty has been trampled by heavy-footed exegetes in search of a Greek root, a quick sermon, or a political slogan. And yet it has remained a powerful and evocative book, full of delicacy and majesty, tears and laughter.

What ought one to do with the New Testament? We may take it for granted that it will be no good trying to prevent its still being used as a battleground. No border fences would be strong enough to keep out the philosophers, the philologists, the politicians and the casual tourists; nor should we erect them if they were. There are many who have come to pilfer and have stayed to be pilgrims. To place all or part of this book within a sacred enclosure would be to invite a dominical rebuke: my house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations. Past attempts to keep it for one group only–the take-over bids by the scholars and the pietists, the fundamentalists and the armchair social workers–have ended with unseemly battles, the equivalent of the sad struggle for the control of Holy Places in the land of israel. This book is a book of wisdom for all peoples, but we have made it a den of scholarship, or of a narrow, hard and exclusive piety.

Inspiring, no?

Third, I am going to Switzerland next week. I would like to get a good digital SLR camera before then. Anyone have one they want to sell? Or any recommendations?

Fourth, I wanted to upload something to YouTube, but only have 3 or 4 home videos on my computer. Only one happened to be appropriately flattering of myself, and since the purpose of the Internet is for people to upload flattering things, I chose to throw it in to the churning mill. It’s from last year in Costa Rica when Justin turned on the camera and told me to go catch a frisbee in the ocean. You can see the video here. After uploading I found many videos of real ultimate frisbee layouts, which were much more impressive. So watch those too.

Until next time, this has been your beer, academic theology, travel, and sports update. Cheers.

Lame Catch-up Entry, Summer 2006

Well, this is the longest hiatus I’ve ever had on this blog so far, but I won’t say it’s without reason. Still, there are many times I wish I’d had the space to catalogue some thoughts. The best I can do now is give a list of the sort of things I’ve been up to over the past months (with pictures!). Hopefully you’ll find some of it interesting.

In roughly chronological order:

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The Da Vinci Code

I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code (hereafter TDVC–or maybe I’ll write it out for SEO purposes). It was more or less, given all the fuss, what I’d expected. I thought I’d share some thoughts and reflections. Be warned–I will probably reveal things about the plot that you may not want to know if you are keeping a vow of Da Vinci virginity or something.

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Farewell to Kierkegaard (for now)

Well, almost a year after I started, I’ve finished the Kierkegaard Anthology which has been fueling my imagination (and my weblog entries) recently. As I look back on the small but important bits I read of his writings, I believe they will have a lasting impact, and be one of the ways in which I remember developing over the past year. The last piece which the editor included was The Unchangeableness of God, a sermon Kierkegaard gave which was published close to the end of his life, somewhat contemporary with his more scalding critiques of Christendom.

I want to leave you, my good reader who has valiantly suffered through my musings on Kierkegaard, with something he said near the end of the address, and which I think is what Kierkegaard himself would have wanted us to remember maybe more than anything else in his massive corpus:

Imagine a solitary wayfarer, a desert wanderer. Almost burned by the heat of the sun, languishing with thirst, he finds a spring. O refreshing coolness! Now God be praised, he says–and yet it was merely a spring he found; what then must not he say who found God!

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19th-Century Denmark or 21st-Century America?

What I feel I have been trying to think and articulate the past few days has come to me fully-developed from the mouth of a man who died in the mid-1800s:

…We are what is called a “Christian” nation–but in such a sense that not a single one of us is in the character of the Christianity of the New Testament, any more than I am, who again and again have repeated, and do now repeat, that I am only a poet. The illusion of a Christian nation is due doubtless to the power which number exercises over the imagination. I have not the least doubt that every single individual in the nation will be honest enough with God and with himself to say in solitary conversation, “If I must be candid, I do not deny that I am not a Christian in the New Testament sense; if I must be honest, I do not deny that my life cannot be called an effort in the direction what the New Testament calls Christianity, in the direction of denying myself, renouncing the world, dying from it, etc.; rather the earthly and the temporal become more and more important to me with every year I live.” I have not the least doubt that everyone will, with respect to ten of his acquaintances, let us say, be able to hold fast to the view that they are not Christians in the New Testament sense, and that their lives are not even an effort in the direction of becoming so. But when there are 100,000, one becomes confused.

And:

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The Narrow Way

Kierkegaard speaks to my deepest self when he says:

The simple man who humbly confesses himself to be a sinner–himself personally (the individual)–does not at all need to become aware of all the difficulties which emerge when one is neither simple nor humble. But when this is lacking, this humble consciousness of being personally a sinner (the individual)–yea, if such a one possessed all human wisdom and shrewdness along with all human talents, it would profit him little. Christianity shall in a degree corresponding to his superiority erect itself against him and transform itself into madness and terror, until he learns either to give up Christianity, or else by the help of what is very far remote from scientific propaedeutic, apologetic, &c., that is, by the help of the torments of a contrite heart (just in proportion to his need of it) learns to enter by the narrow way, through the consciousness of sin, into Christianity.

A camel passing through the eye of the needle, indeed! It is so clear–am I not rich in every imaginable way?

Christ offended the rich young ruler when he told him to sell all his possessions… Kierkegaard’s point is that it was very natural and reasonable for him to be offended while the disciples were not when Christ called them.

Assuming I am even able to recognize the offense in my case (which is a point in favor of the rich young ruler–he knew what Christ meant for him), what will I do? Will it be the offense that moves me (“Go, sell all your possessions”) and sends me away, as it did the young ruler? Or will it be the invitation (“…and come follow me.”) that moves me and draws me in? It seems that being a Christian just is getting over the offense somehow, having faith in spite of it–and the richer/wiser we are, the more easily we are offended, therefore the harder it is to have faith.

For me, I hope it is the invitation I ultimately embrace, in spite of the offense. But I am realizing I cannot take this process for granted, neither its outcome!

Here I am, beginning finally to uncover my weakness, to see that I am truly weak; I am in awe of it!

The Misfortune of Christendom

Here’s a page from Kierkegaard that really struck me today (which is about every other page, normally…but this one stands fairly well on its own). It’s from Training in Christianity, and it’s section f, entitled, “The misfortune of Christendom”.

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