Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review :: Englewood Review of Books' Quarterly Print Edition, Vol. 01, Num. 01

In my family, Christmas extends all the way to Epiphany. My wife and I open our gifts to one another on January 6, remembering the gifts the astrologers brought Jesus in Bethlehem. So, Mom and Dad (if you do in fact read this blog), it’s not too late to slip a subscription to Englewood Review of Books’ Quarterly Print Edition in the mail (hint hint).

Joking aside, I highly recommend ERB’s new Quarterly Print Edition, whether as a Christmas gift or as a worthwhile addition to your own reading list.

A wise professor once told me that the first step in writing a good book review is to “read, read, read lots of reviews.” I took his words to heart. I began reading nearly every book review I could lay my hands on--Commonweal, The New York Review of Books, reviews in various academic journals. I like books, and I like even better discovering new, worthwhile books to be reading. This is what good book reviews do, so I found myself enraptured in reviews. (I sound a bit like a librarian mystic.)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve found myself eagerly looking forward to ERB’s weekly email update. It features a number of homegrown reviews, links to books reviewed well elsewhere, and always a bit of poetry. I’ve added any number of books to my Amazon wish list after discovering them as I scrolled through the electronic version.

But a good book review is so much more than marketing and promotion. In fact, it’s much more than even directed reading. I realized this more and more as paged through ERB’s Print Edition, Vol. 01, Num. 01. A good review is in itself literary in some sense; it is itself a contribution to the dialogue.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The November 8s :: Blogs

The November 8s :: Blogs :: The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of November

Monday, December 20, 2010

The October 8s :: Blogs

The October 8s :: Blogs :: The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of October

Friday, December 17, 2010

Update :: "Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question' [part 3]" up!

In the September 8s :: Blogs, I posted the first two installations of Andy Alexis-Baker's series "Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question.'" Today the third installment is up!

"Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question' [part 3]" (Andy Alexis-Baker, Jesus Radicals / October 11, 2010)
For, once there were no church buildings. People normally worshiped out doors. In the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, Abraham met God under an oak tree, and most early Hebrew worship occurred outside of human built structures. And while Jesus certainly visited the temple and synagogues, many of his most memorable stories come from encounters in nature: the temptations in the wilderness, the sermon on the mount, the transfiguration, walking on water, etc. Paul, speaking to those in Athens with their grand temples said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24–25). While in biblical times encountering God in nature was normal, in the modern western world, such things are extremely rare: we worship in enclosed spaces of our own making. Our buildings reinforce notions that God, Christianity, and holiness are not only compartmentalized from nature but quite possibly contrary to one another.
Alexis-Baker goes on to cite examples from the early Christian movement, including the accounts of The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle in India to the archaeological evidence of early Celtic Christian practice.

This is well worth reading, as are the early installments, part 1 and part 2.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The September 8s :: Blogs

The September 8s :: Blogs :: The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of September

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The August 8s :: Blogs

The August 8s :: Blogs - The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of August

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recommendation :: The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight :: Gina Ochsner

Hands down, Gina Ochsner's The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight is the best book I've read all summer. Incredibly beautiful, deeply true, heartbreaking and funny.

Give it a read. (That's all I'll say)

Also: Meghan Young published a stunning review in The Other Journal. This makes for good reading too.
"An Ancient, Unbroken Song: A Review of Gina Ochsner's The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review :: The Red Letters Project :: Book of Matthew

I got excited when I saw that ViralBloggers had a musical interpretation of the words of Christ from Matthew up for review. Me and music go way back, just like me and the Gospel of Matthew. An artist can open up new ways of seeing familiar things. This happened for me my junior year of college with Apt.Core’s Rhythms of Remembrance; the Lord’s Prayer became the beat I live my life to with the song “Kingdom.” I hoped that The Red Letters Project: Book of Matthew would break me open to something new in the same way.
I was excited enough to save the three-disc project for a six hour road trip to visit some friends and their new baby in Evansville, Indiana. There is a lot of artistic space in Jesus’ words in Matthew. As I inserted disc one into my car CD player, I hoped Mario Canido (the artist behind TRLP) would open up the text of Matthew like a prayer candle in a Byzantine monastery.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review :: This House of Sky :: Ivan Doig

If you want to see the country, there's no advice better than that of Peter Jenkins: Go on foot, with your life strapped to your back and, hopefully, a friend and a good camera by your side.  There's no other way to get to know the breadth and depth of the land on a personal basis.

But if cross-country backpacking isn't for you, Greyhound is a good second. Maybe crowded, usually behind schedule, often hot, cramped, prone to arguments and the occasional fistfight, Greyhound pushes travel up in your face (and in your nostrils). It's a journey not simply through miles and landscape but through people, the ones who get on and off at each stop for a smoke and chance to stretch out their legs.

I've just returned from a few weeks by bus, a pilgrimage to my birthplace to help my family reroof their secondhand farmhouse. As the bus moved me from the treed hills of Wisconsin through the cornfields of Minnesota and the stark, unending sky of North Dakota, I completed another journey: Ivan Doig's memoir, This House of Sky. My dad lent me the book with a high recommendations two years ago, and I first peeled back its cover somewhere in eastern Montana, that time by car, as we drove home. Two summers later, the time had come to see Doig through to the end.

I'm glad I did. Making the rounds of White Sulphur Springs' bars and cafes with Doig, riding miles of potholed highways in the Smith River valley, fighting the windblown drifts high in the Big Belt Mountains--these are all pieces of life, memories and stories I share with Doig. These people, these places, this way of life brings me home.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The July 8s :: Blogs

The July 8s :: Blogs - The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of July

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review :: The Power and the Glory :: Graham Greene

In the last few weeks Cindy has read two novels about what happens when the world falls apart: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. She enjoyed both, I think. At the very least she's inspired me to give each book a read.

Her reading has also made me reappraise the book I've been reading, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. Like a good novel should, The Power and the Glory tells a good story--the story of the last priest in a province of revolutionary Mexico in where all the church have been forcibly shut down. The priest is all too human, crippled by alcohol and by fear, both yearning for and cowering from his inevitable capture by the red-shirt authorities. Greene writes beautifully. And, as one might expect of a Graham Greene novel, the hard question of faith--why believe?--emerges subtly in the texture of characters and events. The story is worth reading as a story.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When Your Worlds Collide . . .

Tall Skinny Kiwi pointed me to this community in Skopje. Longtime readers know that I spent some time in Skopje. Seven very good months with very good people (drinking a lot of tursko kafe).

Since I returned to the States, I've stumbled into a simpler way of following Jesus, a way that leads into the flesh-and-blood, dollars-and-cents realities of making sure poor people have housing, hungry people get food, and that my kitchen table always has a few open chairs around it ready for anyone who needs some conversation and a cup of coffee (good American filter kafe).

Glasnost is a community in Skopje, proclaiming Jesus' good news both by telling the Jesus stories in worship and by getting themselves dirty meeting concrete needs in their city. They run a kindergarten for Roma kids. They missionally teach jujitsu. I know little else about the community. God is good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 20 - Yahweh is Looking for a Faithful People

Living Water Community Church - Sunday Worship
1 Kings 17 - “Yahweh is Looking for a Faithful People”

Yahweh loves with a loyal love. Yahweh provides for our needs. Yahweh alone provides for our needs. Yahweh is true and reliable. Yahweh alone is reliable, dependable, worthy of our trust. When Yahweh says something will happen, it happens. Yahweh loves with a loyal and faithful love.

Israel and its king did not believe these things. One hundred years after David, Israel denied every one of these claims. They did not believe that Yahweh was loyal, faithful, true, reliable, dependable, loving. Israel did not believe Yahweh was sufficient. Ahab, Israel’s king, did not believe Yahweh was sufficient.

When I was growing up, I had a story book about Elijah. Elijah being fed by ravens, Elijah and the jar of oil, Elijah on Mount Carmel, Elijah and the fiery chariot. My mom would sit on the bed with me and let me turn the pages while she read. I had other Bible story books--they were in a series, thin and paperback: Samson and the Philistines, David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lions’ Den. These stories were simply told with matching simple, colorful illustrations. I would turn the pages and learn the moral or find an example to imitate in each story.

The moral of the stories we’ve  heard this morning is that God is the one who is control and the one who provides for us. Elijah and also the Sidonian widow are wonderful examples to imitate, heroes of faith. This is what my childhood storybook said.

But we can hear more in these stories when we listen to them in context. The storybook moral of David and Goliath, for instance, was that when we trust in God, no one (however big) can stand against us. When we read the story in the unfolding history of 1 Samuel, however, we find that the contest is less about David versus Goliath and more about the question of who will be God’s chosen shepherd-king-protector of the people--David who completely depends on Yahweh or Saul who is a tall and strong warrior. No one can stand against us when we trust in Yahweh, but the real threat is Saul, not some Philistine giant.

In the same way, we need to hear these Elijah stories as part of a larger story about how God’s people move from theocratic rule under Samuel to exile in the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. The moral of that bigger story is a theme that shows up over and over again in each of the intervening narratives: Yahweh’s people must depend on Yahweh alone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review :: Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions :: Dan Brennan

Lately I've been thinking about love, beauty, and limits. We know that there is no limit to beauty (God is unendingly beautiful). But beauty, as always a manifestation of love, exists because of limits, within limits. My life is beautiful not when I can escape from my workaday schedule, not when I ignore the demands of friends and lovers, not only when I attempt the superhuman. In other days I might call the interplay of beauty and limits balance (that is, before the term was emptied of meaning by the abuse of pop psychology).

There's another theory of beauty: beauty as excess, beauty as transgression. Sometimes this aesthetics claims a corner on the market for beauty as transcendent, but I won't buy into this monopoly. Beauty is what we make of our limitations, not just our escape from them. Phrased differently, we see beauty when we see the truth of our limitations, see them in a different light, see them in light of the resurrection.

One way of describing Dan Brennan's Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship between Men and Women is to say it locates friendship (specifically cross-sex friendships) within these competing dynamics of beauty.  On the first page Brennan writes,
This book makes a simple claim: stories of paired cross-sex friendship love are journeys toward communion with God and our neighbor in the Christian story. In the new creation, men and women are not limited to stark contrasts where we must choose between romantic passion in marriage or inappropriate sex/infidelity. Chaste, but powerfully close friendships between the sexes stir our curiosity and resist formulaic gender roles in marriage, friendship, and society.
Beautiful cross-sex relationships, he argues, should not be bounded by the aesthetic ideology of excess. Relational beauty, it turns out, is a matter of balance, not sheerly of orgasm or roses and candy hearts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The May 8s :: Blogs

The May 8s :: Blogs - The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of May

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review :: Start Here :: Alex Harris & Brett Harris

I was twenty-one once. It seems like a long time ago, but it was only a handful (or two) of years ago. When I was twenty-one, I felt bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, befuddled by the responsibility of adulthood, that immense weight of making one's way in the world.

Alex and Brett Harris are twenty-one. (They are also, in fact, twin brothers and the younger siblings of Josh Harris--yes, that Josh Harris.) At twenty-one, they stand as my spiritual mentors of the moment. I find Start Here, their book, a challenge, the straight talk and the practical how-to suggestions to follow Jesus doing hard things in a big and often-overwhelming world.

Admittedly, I'm not their target audience. The Rebelution is about "a teenage rebellion against low expectations," not about guys pushing thirty finally owning up to Jesus' call to real world discipleship. Alex and Brett started when they were sixteen to inspire fellow teenagers to Do Hard Things (incidentally the title of their first book, published when they were nineteen).

In Start Here, Alex and Brett speak often of the "myth of adolescence," the lie that "the teen years are a time to goof off and have fun before 'real life' starts." It's this critical edge that catches me. They pick up on the insidious lies so big and institutionalized that most of us spend our teens and our twenties wandering around within their borders without even knowing these lies stretch out around us. Alex and Brett have seen something else, of Jesus and the kingdom life he brings, and up against it they can name the cardboard cutout substitutions we cling to.

Start Here takes up the practical and pastoral fall out of teens trying to Do Hard Things (a book I haven't read but hope to soon). Alex and Brett weave easygoing advice around stories, emails, and forum posts (from by real live teens doing hard things. They walk through the challenges of where to start, what to do when things get hard, what to do with success, and how to maintain healthy relationships (with friends, family, and God) while doing hard things. These are, in honesty, questions I ask a lot. Where do I even start? Okay, so what now? How can I keep up this pace without having my marriage [friendships, spiritual life, fill in the blank] fall apart? Alex and Brett offer good advice, advice that I'm personally taking to heart.

Start Here also tugs at the youth pastor parts of my heart (I generally try to keep those heart parts segregated off from the rest of my heart because jr. highers are rambunctious and tend to make a mess). Start Here is written for teenagers, and it's a book they would read. Plus, it has good group discussion questions in an appendix. I plan to use this (along with Do Hard Things) as youth curriculum in the coming years.

Alex and Brett write a practical, pastoral, spiritual, challenging book. But they do right from a particular cultural vantage point. They are keenly socially attuned, relating stories of teens crocheting hundreds of hats for orphans or raising money to drill wells for villages in Africa. But some of the stories bear a particular political and cultural bent (starting a petition to censor sexual art on display at a high school; holding an anti-abortion event; etc.; many of the stories take place in Texas). All in all, though, their cultural interpretations of what God wants done in the world does not overwhelm or even taint the strong and clear challenge they offer to those of us stuck in adolescence.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Christocentrism vs. Christology

Stumbling toward an anti-theology . . .

When we compare the Christocentric Anabaptist approach with the Reformers' methodology, we can appreciate the distinctive nature of the Anabaptists' approach. The Reformers' hermeneutics can faily be described, explicitly or implicitly, as Christological. Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God to humankind, and his death, resurrection, and ascension are God's central acts in history. The biblical message was that through these events salvation was available to those who would believe. The whole of Scripture testified to this central truth. With this Anabaptists heartily agreed. However, the Reformers' emphasis was less on Jesus himself and more on his salvific acts and the doctrine of justification by faith. In this sense, we might describe the Reformers' hermeneutics as soteriological: their understanding of salvation provided the hermeneutical key to Scripture
Anabaptist hermeneutics, however, were not only Christological but Christocentric in the sense of focusing on Jesus himself instead of on a doctrine describing the effects of his redeeming work. For Anabaptists, he was not only their redeemer but also the example they were to imitate and the teacher they were to learn from. Their Christocentrism was tied more firmly to the human Jesus than was the Reformers' Christological approach, and their interpretations of the rest of Scripture were significantly different as a result, making their hermeneutics distinctive in the Reformation context. . . .
Luther's main interest was in Christ as redeemer and the doctrine of justification by faith. He subordinated the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus to a minor role, even suggesting that to know nothing of these would not be a catastrophic loss. For Anabaptists, such a divorce between the human Jesus and the Christ of faith was untenable. To them, Luther's approach might have been Christological but it was not Christocentric, and they felt it dishonoured Christ. They feared the Reformers had lost sight of Jesus as a person and were left only with a theological principle. (Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 84-85) 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Love and Metaphor

The lover speaks out of a keen awareness of the power of figurative language to break open closed frames of reference and make us see things with a shock of new recognition. (Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, 193)
(Alter may be writing about the speaker of Songs 1, but can anyone blame us for feeling for the outer limits of what sort of lover this may be?)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Psychology of Stuff (from's Thomas Rogers posted an interview with Randy O. Frost, one of the authors of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. Frost, while providing a compassionate exposé of the beauty and neuroses of compulsive hoarders, strikes on an attitude in American culture that seems much more pervasive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K. A. Smith)

I've just read through the first 182 pages of the 230 pages in James K. A. Smith's 2009 Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. This pages are well worth the read, and I'm looking forward to finishing the last chapter and a half over the weekend. Very well done.

In Desiring the Kingdom Smith (who also coordinates the Church and Pomo blog) puts the Body back into the Church, or, perhaps better put, put the Church back into embodied experience. The years following the Reformation and the Enlightenment witnessed a seismic fracture in the life and practice of Christians. Somewhere (Scholasticism? Protestant Orthodoxy? Pietism?) the Church entered in on a long out-of-body experience; faith became about the mind's beliefs rather than a full-bodied discipleship after Jesus. Desiring the Kingdom first problematizes this breakage and then proposes practices that can re-anchor faith in the body.

Toward the end of the Introduction, Smith briefly summarizes the project of Desiring the Kingdom:
Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly--who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. We are to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship--through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine. (32-33)
I like reading Smith. Desiring the Kingdom is approachable; it's funny. Smith sneaks in jabs and oneliners--referencing Old Navy fashion faux-pas and R.E.M. lyrics. Excurses on 1990s films (Moulin Rouge being the best) and the Catholic modern novel (I'm convince to pick up a copy of Walker Percy's Love In the Ruins) give the book a pleasant topography.

Perhaps more importantly than style, Smith parallels the way embodied liturgy ("faith as a form of life," 134) shapes Christian desire within the church with the way embodied practices without the church (what we might call secular liturgies) shape desire. The mall, the cinema, the university--what is the vision of the kingdom (the good life) that these want us to want?

Smith maintains that Desiring the Kingdom can be understood as a "theology of culture" (ecclesial and otherwise) that
-Understands human persons as embodied actors rather than merely thinking things
-Prioritizes practices rather than ideas as the site of challenge and resistance.
-Looks at cultural practices and institutions through the lens of worship or liturgy.
-Retains a robust sense of antithesis without being simply "anti-cultural." (35)
In short, the last time I was this excited about a book was when I read Nathan Kerr's Christ, History, and Apocalyptic (with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age previous to that, itself preceded by Graham Ward's Cities of God). Desiring the Kingdom is a book I plan read and re-read. Very well done.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mother's Day Movement

via Tall Skinny Kiwi and The Work of the People

A radical interpretation (in other words, getting at the root) of Mother's Day and its origins. This is good stuff.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith

This book from the Anabaptist Network looks to be well worth a read (if only Amazon would ship me one by mistake . . .).

A review by Alan Kreider over at Jesus Radicals sums up the force of the book:
The book is both modest in tone (we don’t have all the answers; we need other Christian traditions) and bold in content. The heart of book is an exposition of the “bare essentials” of Anabaptism, the seven core convictions that have emerged from lengthy conversations among members of the Anabaptist Network. I reproduce them below in a shortened form because they serve as a taster for the book. If you resonate with these convictions and are interested in a clear, earthy, undefensive discussion of them, and think that Anabaptism might have something to contribute to followers of Jesus today,The Naked Anabaptist could be an important book.

The Core Convictions of the Anabaptist Network (UK)

  1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord.
  2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation.
  3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian.
  4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness.
  5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship.
  6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected.
  7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.
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Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28 - The True Light Was Coming into the World

Living Water Community Church - Sunday Worship
Jn 12.12-19 - “The True Light Was Coming into the World”

This morning I want to look at Palm Sunday in light of the whole story of John’s Gospel. But before we do that, I want us to become a little more involved in the drama. So we’re going to do a little call-and-response. Stand up, and repeat after me:

Hosanna! Hosanna!
Hosanna! Hosanna!
Blessed is the coming one! Blessed is the coming one!
The one who come in the name of the Lord! The one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the king of Israel! Blessed is the king of Israel!
Hosanna! Hosanna!

Now everyone can take a seat.

The second paragraph of Jn reads:

The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him--those who believe in his name--to these he has given the right to become God’s children. (Jn 1.9-12)

This is how John begins his Gospel story of Jesus’ life. Why does he begin this way, with these words? More importantly for us today, what do these words have to do with the story we’re celebrating today, with the Palm Sunday crowds going to meet Jesus as he comes to Jerusalem?

The world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. Jesus, who John calls the true light, was coming into the world. But the people living in our world, they refuse Jesus. They don’t welcome him; they turn him away. How does this fit with the crowd waving palm fronds on the road to Jerusalem?

I should admit: Palm Sunday’s always left me a bit confused. The church spends the six weeks before Palm Sunday identifying with Jesus’ approach to the cross, during Lent. We find ways to simplify our lives, to leave room to reflect on them; we fast; we mourn as the tragic shadow of the cross stretches out over us. But then, just before the end of this quiet season, there’s Palm Sunday--and we’re out singing in the streets, breaking out the party favors, shouting down the house. It’s only five days later when we’re back to mourning and contemplation as Jesus dies on a cross. Palm Sunday doesn’t seem to fit very well.

The world did not recognize him.
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