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.

Geneva 2006


If you want to skip right to the pictures, click here

I just returned from Geneva, Switzerland–a trip I decided to take a mere 3 weeks ago. Every year, my parents have a business trip in late September to some international location (for legal reasons, these meetings have to take place outside the US). Since I graduated high school in 2000 and chose to attend Stanford (a quarter school), I’ve had the good fortune to not be in class during these trips, and thus was able to tag along with my folks. We’ve been to some great places–London (twice), Dublin, Lisbon, and Barcelona (after I graduated). I didn’t go on the 2005 trip, but since my work schedule permitted this year, I was able to go to Geneva. (For a few older blogs of such trips, see here for Lisbon 2002 and here for Barcelona 2004).

These trips are always fun, not least because I’ve gotten to know many of the other attendees, all great people. At times there have even been sons or daughters there like myself, and so there are often young people to hang out with, in addition to spending great time with my parents. My friend Laura was there, of this January’s Bahamas trip fame.

The group dinners are generally quite nice, and so it’s also fun to bring “dress-up” clothes to wear consistently. (I wore my suit this week for the first time since last December, I think). This trip was particularly special for me, however, because it happened that my 24th birthday was during the trip, and I had a wonderful time celebrating it with my parents and some friends, both at a spectacular dinner and later at our pub of choice, over fine cuban cigars and cognac. I certainly couldn’t ask for a better birthday experience, though I did miss my friends from home. As an extra special gift, my parents also let me use some of their airline upgrade coupons, so we all traveled to and from Geneva in business / first class. What luxury!

I spent most of my time in Geneva sleeping, hanging out in our great hotel (the Hotel d’Angleterre), working out or using the sauna, catching up on my reading, or wandering around taking pictures and buying sandwiches using poor French. One tourist highlight was definitely the Patek Philippe museum, which had on exhibit some of the oldest and most complicated watches in the world. The sheer amount of time, love, and skill put into these objects by their craftsmen was literally awing. One complicated mechanical watch we saw had over 1800 unique parts, individually designed and produced and assembled. This watch, like some others in the exhibit, kept track of the time, of course, but also such measurements as the day, the week, the month, the year, the lunar phases, sidereal time, the location of certain stars in the sky, etc… (taking into account leap years, etc..–it’s guaranteed to be accurate for something like 500 years if kept wound).

Life in Geneva appears to be very expensive, and the same was true of souvenirs. Accordingly, the only things I brought back were two beer glasses (one a .5L stein (Cardinal), and the other a Belgian snifter (Leffe)), both procured by my dad, free for the asking from bars. Incidentally, the beer of the trip was hands-down the Belgian Leffe (the blonde variety). It had a light color, a creamy texture, and a strong, sweet taste. It was not overpowering, though, and had a very strong spruce hops aroma which kept the whole thing dynamic and interesting. It probably now ranks in my top 5 beer list.

Well, check out the pictures, and let me know what you think!

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: Movie Follow-up

(If you haven’t yet, read my long, philosophical review of The Da Vinci Code)

I saw the movie a few days ago, and so I thought I’d make a short list of some important ways that it was different than the book:

  • The movie’s plot was less complicated.
  • Langdon was more of a spineless religioid. (In the book, he knew about, and believed, the Priory’s story. In the movie, he calls it a “myth”, tacks “according to the Priory myth” on the end of all his statements, and argues unconvincingly about it with Teabing–using much the same arguments as moviegoers would expect frustrated Christians to use). Ultimately he comes across as having gone on a journey of personal discovery, which is not at all the character of the book.
  • Bezu Fache was more of a religious fanatic, and a forensic dupe (as opposed to the brilliant, hard-as-nails police captain from the novel).
  • Teabing was a much more lively character than I would have assumed from the book.
  • The conclusion, especially regarding Sophie’s family, was far less satisfying.

Apart from the Teabing bit, all of these were disappointments. The one change I really liked about the movie was the part where Robert finds the seal under the sign of the rose in the keystone. It is covered with “mysterious writing” (in reality, just English written reflectedly). In the book, the characters agonize for a long time over its deciphering. But it is quite clearly (there’s a picture in the book) English. In the movie, Robert takes one glance at it and says, “We need a mirror,” as any non-catatonic English-speaker would. So it cleared up one embarrassment.

Now, mostly what I want to talk about is two broader-picture statements which occurred in the movie explicitly but not in the book. As we will see, it’s to Dan Brown’s credit that he didn’t write such laughable dialogue into the novel. (Or if he did, it was done in such a way that I missed it).

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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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Inspiration from Game Design

The list of bloggable topics on my mind is currently very long, and (I am thinking) very good. Prominent on said list are (a) a long discourse on spiritual discipline and its effects, and (b) an explication of a home-brewed, possibly-heretical theology of creation that Nick and I have been kicking around for a little while and are pretty enchanted by, which seeks to resolve intuitions of a good pre-fall state with what evolutionary history says about nature being “red in tooth and claw”–i.e., vicious and cruel–long before humans arrived on the scene. However, something I saw last night on digg inspired me to push these topics yet further back, and that was a demo for an upcoming game by Maxis (creators of all the Sim games–of which the early SimCity and SimCity 2000 were the most groundbreaking, in my opinion–incidentally, you can play SimCity Classic online here if you have a PC).

Now, I want to preface this whole entry with a bit of history, since to many of you it may come as a shock that for most of my life I have considered myself and been considered by others a “gamer”. If you want to skip the history and get to the point, scroll down to “The Reason for this Entry” below.

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2005 In Review

As 2005, a year that has seen many and incredible changes in my life, draws to a close, I thought it appropriate to mention some of the personal highlights, and make observations about these last 365 days from a perspective blessed with hindsight. So now, in hopefully chronological order, here are the things that were important to me since December 31, 2004 (some significant events being censored to protect certain individuals, of course).

Note: if the event which I am describing has been written about previously on one of my weblogs or something similar, I offer a link to that entry, called “read more…”.

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Serenity

On a spur of the moment, I went to see the last showing of Serenity tonight at a local theater. I’d seen previews for it during Batman Begins, and thought, “Oh no, another mediocre sci-fi flick with none-too-great special effects and bad acting.” But since it opened a few days ago, I’ve been hearing nothing but positive things from people whom I trust to know better, so I thought I’d give it a chance.

My conclusion, after seeing it, was that it’s probably the best sci-fi movie I have seen in the theaters, for as long as I can remember. The problem with sci-fi movies is that they’re typically either “sci-fi”, meaning, not sci-fi in spirit, but set in space, so everyone thinks it’s sci-fi, or that they’re sci-fi in spirit, but horribly written and acted or produced.

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