The Holy Observer Resurrected

In a move reminiscent of Christ himself, my favorite e-zine, The Holy Observer, is back! This is Christian satire and parody at its finest. Perfectly irreverent and hilarious, they put their finger on everything that makes us cringe about Christians and their culture.

A few years ago, the site went down without any explanation, so in their own tradition I wrote up a fake news article about what had happened. I never got around to posting it, but now is the perfect occasion. Looks like I may have been wrong!

Anyway, here it is:

PLYMOUTH, MI – Marcus Crosby, founder of the online newspaper The Holy Observer, was discovered dead in his apartment early this afternoon. While local authorities have not released any autopsy data as of yet,the police officer who responded to an anonymous tip and found Crosby (himself speaking on condition of anonymity) informed us that it looks as though Crosby had been dead quite some time, possibly weeks.

Suicide appears to have been ruled out, since Crosby suffered a number of massive blows to the head with some large, flat object that was removed from the scene of the crime. Our anonymous source also said that there were curious gold dust sparkles left in the impressions made in Crosby’s skull, which may be meaningful evidence for the crime scene investigators.

While authorities are calling it murder, Crosby was indeed known to be somewhat of a recluse; we spoke with one of the tenants in his apartment building, who said that Crosby would often stay in his apartment for days, working on articles for his Internet newspaper, and only leaving to go for a jog around the nearby park from time to time.

When asked about The Holy Observer, Crosby’s neighbor replied:

“Yeah, I knew he worked on that paper. What I couldn’t figure out is how he could write so many news interviews without ever leaving his apartment! Maybe he always took the red-eye. Anyway, I haven’t read [the news site] much myself, but I know it wasn’t really popular with some folks, you know, the Fundamentalists and all. I bet you that’s who’s done him in; now I come to think of it, isn’t the Fundamentalist Threat Level at “High” or something these days? Crosby must have been a ripe target…he obviously didn’t take the right precautions.”

Crosby’s neighbor left off speculation there, but continued to say that he wasn’t too worried about himself or his daughter, as they went to a nearby mega-church and were doing a good job at pretending to be “regular Christians”.

“It’s just not worth it these days not to believe, what with the religious and political climate in this country, and so many Fundamentalist leaders willing to call for assassinations at the drop of a hat! It’s crazy–they must not be reading their Hezekiah very closely! Aren’t we supposed to observe the news of the Lord?”

A homeless woman who had been spending the nights in the park across from Crosby’s apartment proved to be a valuable resource for local authorities. While they were initially inclined to regard her as delusional, due to her reports of “glorious silver laptops” appearing under nearby trees when no one was looking, she has provided the only sliver of a lead they have. Apparently, earlier in the week, she was woken by the sound of a door closing and looked across the street to see someone run down the stairs from Crosby’s apartment, jump into a white 15-passenger van, and drive off.

She said she took no notice of the event because she thought it was Crosby himself leaving. Crosby did not own a vehicle, however, and so law enforcement believes this woman might have caught a glimpse of the killer and getaway vehicle. Initial reports also indicate that the vehicle was not entirely nondescript, but appeared to be a professional service vehicle of some kind, as there was a phrase written across the length of it. Despite prodding from police psychologists, however, the homeless woman has not been able to remember the words, though she has said that it was not a delivery van, such as FedEx, and instead looked like a passenger vehicle.

Crosby’s next-of-kin are not known, nor is it known whether there were collaborators on his website project, which evidence indicates he was preparing to update with a new issue of The Holy Observer. Unfortunately, his Apple laptop was destroyed, and authorities have found only sketch-drafts of the to-be-published articles. They are now perusing them in the hopes of finding some incriminating evidence the killer might have been trying to prevent being published.

Authorities are also scouring The Holy Observer online (which has been left unchanged since the end of 2004) for clues, and are hoping to add a few names to the suspect list, since Crosby was in the habit of making public vitriolic and/or ignorant feedback e-mails and then commenting on them. We were informed that the most promising lead is one “Carol”, who said that Crosby was a “blight on [the information] highway”, and who might have a grudge against Crosby and The Holy Observer, or other motives for revenge.

A team of analysts has reportedly been set to a somewhat different task–discovering if there are any others who worked on The Holy Observer–with the goal of warning them of and protecting them against similar attacks. Plymouth police chief Frank Cassano has received special confirmation from the FBI that they will be invited to accept the asylum of the US Witness Protection Program, which has a high degree of success in potentially-serial cases like this one.

For now, readers are advised to be aware that the Christian Fundamentalist Threat Level is indeed at orange, or “High”, and to restrict activities which might bring attention from the Religious Right. Furthermore, if you have any information regarding this crime or anyone connected to The Holy Observer, you are asked to please contact Chief Cassano.

Books et al., on Facebook

One of the reasons I’ve been forced to maintain blog silence recently is that I’ve been spending a lot of my free time working on several Facebook apps. As most people around the web now seem to have heard, Facebook has recently opened up their social networking site to allow third-party developers (like myself) to create little widgets for people to add to their profiles.

I’ve so far created a suite of 4 of these mini applications, which allow Facebook users to show off what they’re reading (or listening to, or watching, or playing) and interact with friends in each of those spheres. The apps are called Books, CDs, Video Games, and DVDs, respectively. It would be great if you checked these out and added them to your profile! With close to 35,000 total users so far, it’s possible for me to run a small business based on the apps, which would be fun. I’d love your help.

Just for fun, here’s a screenshot of some Books functionality:

HopeRuns.org

I haven’t come out of blog hiding in a very long time, it seems. I have many, many things to share. And many things that are just past sharing.

But this deserves special notice: Today, we at HopeRuns (the non-profit the friends of mine started in Kenya while I was there) released a brand new website, which I designed! I think it turned out pretty well, but take a look yourself, and check things out:

Gratuitous screenshot:

Oh, something else deserves special notice: it’s my 100th blog on Teleios! Decidedly not that many for almost 2 years, but whatever. Still, a lot has been written…

Tumaini Kids Weblog

A few weeks ago, Claire and Lara (and therefore me by some kind of implication, I hope) started a weblog with the kids here at Tumaini (the orphanage where I’m “volunteering” in Kenya). I haven’t personally had time to give a decent entry on Kenya or Tumaini itself, which is an amazing place, and full of amazing kids. So I’m happy to be able to point you to their weblog, to get some idea of the craziness that goes on here!

Tumaini Kids Weblog

As a note of celebration, Claire and Lara just found out that the blog has been given Blogspot’s Blog of Note award! We’re hoping the guaranteed publicity that comes along with the high-profile link will lead to greater support for the kids here. I’d love for you to check out the weblog, read some of the (alternately hilarious and heart-breaking) entries, and leave comments for the kids (who are understandably amazed that people from the US would care to talk to them).

I leave Kenya for the States in just about a week; some retrospective articles are forthcoming, though they will probably wait till I’m back in the “developed” world!

Twitter

Unfortunately, this is not a real entry. It is just a small note to say that I have finally joined the Twitter bandwagon. There is only one way to join a bandwagon, and that is with gusto! So while I have not had time to write a good report on Kenya yet, I have been doing some small Twitter updates.

You can see my updates and sign up to follow them at http://twitter.com/jlipps!

Basically, Twitter is a micro-blogging service using the web, mobile phones, and IM as equal media. People write short (usually less than 140 characters) updates, which are then sent immediately to interested parties (your group of friends, for example) via whichever communication channel they desire. I’m not sure how useful it is, but given the mobile slant, it’s an interesting experiment in instant/anywhere publication. Check it out, and see for yourself.

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.

Recording Spree Over: New Album Complete!

My recent weeks in Orlando were excellent, though not very relaxing. Between intense meetings at Teleios World Domination HQ (we’re meeting resistance in certain parts of eastern Europe), and non-stop work on the new album, I got 2-3 hours less sleep per night than my normal. (There was also the fantastic celebration of my dad’s 50th birthday party, attended by close family and the uncorking of a very expensive bottle of wine which was a good bit older than I was. Not to mention the less-meaningful but more-rowdy celebration of Cinco de Mayo). The result, at least on the music side, was a brand new 6-song EP that sounds incredible. The performance, production, everything is stellar. My brother David was in charge of the engineering, mixing, production, and mastering, and he is becoming very talented at all of the above.


Working on an improv synth solo for So Talk About It at 3am

I have a strong desire to share all our new songs with everyone here, but a few things remain to be worked out. First, I don’t have an “official” CD–David does, and he’s in Africa for a month. Second, I’m not naive enough to think that the mix I have will be final. We usually go through rounds of tweaking, and, while things sound excellent, there’re always one or two minor changes to make. Third, the album has no title. Fourth, the album has no artwork. I’d like all of these things to be present before I unveil everything officially. So just hold tight for now! I’ll probably break down and put one or two up here anyway, since the only reason I feel secure is that I am validated by my peers.

Speaking of being validated by my peers, let’s go on a tangent: those of you who are e4 weblog owners or frequenters might have noticed that I have added trackback capability to the e4 weblogs. Trackbacks are a cool example of the way the web is supposed to work–now, when you write entries, e4 will check out any links you make, and attempt to send a trackback ping to that site. If the site is trackback-enabled, it’ll accept the ping, and people who visit it will see that your entry references the page! Likewise all the weblogs here are now trackback-enabled, so anyone can send pings from Movable Type, WordPress, or wherever. Let’s just hope for no horrible spam!

(For you e4 bloggers, you can play with the trackback preferences at your weblog config page)

Well, I am now officially back in California for a while, so hopefully I’ll have time to write some more reflective posts soon. Ciao!

Back from Whitney / Into Spareroom Studios

You should all be relieved to hear that Dan and I did not die on Mt Whitney. Though the summit attempt was a good deal more difficult than it was supposed to be, due to weather. In fact, on our way up the last 1,000 ft or so, our group kicked off a couple small avalanches, causing the team leader to declare emphatically that conditions were very unsafe. Things were so bad, we descended immediately, packed up camp (at 12,000 ft) as quickly as possible, and rushed all the way down the mountain. So unfortunately, we did not summit Mt Whitney. I did get this great picture of it during a short lull in the rogue winter storm that hit us:

It should be said also that we did have an excellent time, were in great physical condition (we rocked the climb and the altitude) and health for the duration, and got back a day early, safe and sound. These are all good things, and the whole experience was overwhelmingly positive. I’m sure Dan and I will be writing a full trip report to post at Summit Whitney, so I’ll post here when that happens. At that time we should have a number of awesome pictures, too.

About a day after I got back from Whitney, I left for Florida to be at work and with family for a week and a half or so. Since my brother David has gotten in to Duke law school and will be moving to Durham pretty shortly, we decided that Splendour Hyaline (which consists of the two of us) needed to make a new record, and fast. So apart from work, we’re pretty much in the studio (Spareroom Studios, that is). So far things are going great–we’re planning on releasing a 5 or 6 song EP. The recording quality we’re getting, both mechanically and in terms of performance, is light years beyond our previous attempts, so definitely stay tuned; we might post some unofficial mixes here or at our myspace page.

On another music-related note, you’ll notice a new sidebar on my blog, which consists of recently-played tracks from iTunes. All e4 blogs now have the ability to get data from last.fm if you have a last.fm username and some implementation of AudioScrobbler (downloads here for all platforms). If you’ve never heard of last.fm, you should check it out–it’s a cool web application that tracks your music listening and gives you cool statistics about it, suggests new artists, and connects you with people with similar taste. All that is to say, if I’ve been listening to iTunes recently (and had an internet connection), you should now be able to see that info on my blog! (If you also have an e4 blog, just go to the weblog config page and put in your last.fm username to take advantage of this feature too).