Thursday, January 31, 2008

Look dude, all I know is the sky turned purple. After that I don't ask questions. Just...make myself a salad and move on.

Let's face it, I grew up watching television, specifically science fiction and fantasy. Things like Star Trek, The X-Files, Batman, Spiderman, Hercules, Twilight Zone, Buck Rogers, The Greatest American Hero, My Favorite Martian, Buffy, Tales from the Crypt, and a whole bunch more I can't think of right now. I simply love episodic fantasy.

Right now, Lost is my favorite. For the last couple of weeks, Mel and I have been watch every episode in preparation for the season premier, which just so happens to be tonight (on ABC, 7:00 ct). To say that I've been looking forward to this would be an understatement. To quote a friend, "I'm chuffed".

Dude, I know how this works. This is gonna end with you and me running through the jungle, screaming and crying. He catches me first because I'm heavy and I get cramps.

I don't exactly know what I like about Lost. What's not to like? The writing is great, the acting is good, the storylines are appropriately credible, and you grow to generally like each and every character - even the bad ones.

Something else I like is the humor. Peppered into this gritty story about plane-crash survivors living on a genuinely freaky island who's previous inhabitants seem to have it out for them are jokes that are legitimately funny. And at the same time, oh so true.

No, John, unfortunately we don't have a code for "There's a man in my closet with a gun to my daughter's head". Although...we obviously should.

Lost also seems to take itself seriously in just the right amounts. Characters aren't afraid of telling each other how stupid their decisions were. The characters are fallible, gritty, and in search of something. Being on the island turns their wandering into a journey.

Two days after I found out I had a fatal tumor on my spine...a spinal surgeon fell out of the sky. And if that's not proof of God, I don't know what is.

Something else I like is that the story is metaphysical. While even the causal watcher can see the "man of science vs man of faith" motif being played out, the more subtle overtones of the debate are also present. The answer between science and faith in real life is tricky and complex; neither is wrong, and neither is right. Lost, at least in my view, plays to this subtlety well. The right questions are always asked at the right time, and the answer is always murky. Sometimes this murkiness leads to violence and anger, sometimes it leads to peace - sometimes it leads to both.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A satirical Christmas reflection

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It was with God in the beginning.

Through it all things were made; without it nothing was made that has been made. In it was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through it all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he only came as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was about to be printed.

It was in the world, and though the world was made through it, the world did not recognize it. It came to that which was its own, but its own did not receive it. Yet to all who received it, to those who believed what they read, it gave the right to become children of God - children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision nor a husbands will, but born of God.

The Word was written on paper, and could be bought in top-grain leather. We have seen it's glory, the glory of its remarkable translation, which came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John testifies about it. He cries out saying, "This is that of whom I said, 'This that comes after me has surpassed me because of its remarkable cross-referencing system.'" From the fullness of it's text we have received one blessing after another. For the law was written down by Moses; grace and truth came through the King James Version only. No one has ever seen God, but we don't need to because we have this awesome book, which sat on the Father's nightstand, and has made Him known.

Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ".

They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you a rep from Zondervan?"
He said, "I am not."
"Are you a Gideon?"
He answered, "No".

Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

John replied in the worlds of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of the one calling the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord'"

Now some of the pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor a rep from Zondervan, nor a Gideon?"

"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know how to read. It is the one that comes after me, the pages of which I am not worthy to thumb through."

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A poem of Hope

Below is a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Starting from my teenage years, I've resonated with this poem in many ways. Lately, it has been on my mind more than usual.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

March 4,1946

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mixtape Lives

After the train wreck that was the last post, I think I need to offer a bit of a corrective and (hopefully) clarification. This post is a bit hastily baked, so be kind. Remember, I'm more of a tortoise than a hare.

I don't think anyone can seriously argue that humans aren't creatures who integrate. By our very nature, we emerge from the pressures of our environment - of our family, community, and culture. We are creatures who define ourselves through relationship with that which is other.

In practical terms, this means that I don't know who I am without the sum of my experiences. I don't know who I am without everything that has happened in my life up until now, including my relationship with you. And, like it or not, you don't know who you are without me. We inform each other, and in so doing make each other who we are. This shouldn't be news to anyone.

These lives that we create with each other are mixtapes, made up of our experiences, relationships, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. Each of our mixtapes are as unique as our faces or our fingerprints, and might even be connected to them. Yet our mixtape never stands alone. No matter how hard I try, songs on my mixtape are your songs, taken from your mixtape, though they are made over in my image. Or, to put it another way, the threads in my life tapestry are lifted from my interaction with others, and arranged as I see fit. And, in turn, others lift songs and threads from me. This is simply the reality of being human.

Which brings me to a quote from Darrell Jadock in 1990:
"The problem here is not that one's worldview or experience influences one's reading of the text, because that is inescapable. The problem is instead that the text is made to conform to the world view or codified experience and thereby loses its integrity and its ability to challenge and confront our present priorities, including even our most noble aspirations."

My argument in Mixtape Letters is that we must strive to uphold the integrity of the thing we are approaching, in order to truly hear what it has to say - to find it's "point".

But once we have the point what should we do?

It seems to me that our inevitable response to the challenge and confrontation the point brings is to enter into a dance of integrating experiences and relationships and points into our own mixtape lives. The dance is not bad, on the contrary. It's just that we need to allow room for someone or something to teach us a new dance, or to correct the dance we're currently dancing. Sometimes we have to listen to another mixtape, as hard as we can, while turning down our own. (In other words, we start with as close to the original point as we can get, and then integrate that point into our own context.)

Sometimes, as I enter the dance of integrating, I find things that are simply incompatible with who I am and what I hold dear. In that case, I might reject the point. In most cases, though, I just reject the parts I don't like, and keep the stuff I do like. There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems to me that I have to be honest with myself about the fact that I just did something to alter the original point as I form it over in my own image.

I believe that God has invited all of creation into this dance since the beginning of time. It is a dance that occurs in the very atoms that make up the universe, and a dance that God, as trinity, dances as well. In fact, His very being is what allows the dance to exist. As time passes away and this universe runs out of the energy to dance, it is also my belief that God will remember my unique but transient mixtape life, and invite me into a different dance - one in which I will get the chance to learn an infinite number of new steps as I dance with the Trinity for eternity.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mixtape Letters

This summer, one of the toys I got was a Zune MP3 player. Like all Microsoft products, it has some problems, but all in all, I really like it. Plus, I got it for cheap, and that makes me happy.

With my Zune came a free two-week subscription to Zune Marketplace, which is basically like all-you-can-eat iTunes. Any songs I downloaded from Zune Marketplace would play as long as I was still subscribed, which after 2 weeks became no-longer-free.

Being the music lover that I am, I started furiously downloading whatever I wanted. A little Billy Joel here, a little Kanye West there. A smidge of Mercy Me, a bunch of Moby. A sample of Fergie, a plateful of Pink. A scoop of U2, a handful of Linkin Park. You get the idea.

But I noticed something interesting. At the end of my time on Zune Pass, I had only downloaded one album intact. For the rest of the material I downloaded, I only had a smattering of individual songs, which I had combined into finely tuned playlists. Basically, I had a bunch of mixtapes that I had cobbled together to satisfy my particular tastes. Screw the artist and the concept of an "album", I want track #4 only, and then I want to put it with track #10 of something completely different. Because, you know, it's all about me.

Some artists, like Radiohead, won't let you download individual tracks, because they view their albums as a cohesive whole. They won't submit to the demands of consumers, which take only what they want, when they want it, and discard the rest. With Radiohead you have to submit to the tapestry they create, rather than the tapestry you, as the consumer, want to create for yourself.

Unfortunately, this same consumeristic mindset invades our faith. All too often we, as Christians, don't read books like Genesis or Matthew as if they are a tapestry of their own, demanding to be read as a cohesive, stand alone whole. Instead, we take particular chapters and verses out, and use them as we please. We read only chapter 3:23-24, or 17:24-28 rather than wrestling with the fact that the whole book means something larger than those verses. We mix them together into playlists that make us feel predictable ways about ourselves, or about God.

All too often, we blur together bible stories until they have no distinctive context. This is especially true at Christmas. The story about Joseph being told to marry Mary? Only in Matthew. The story about Mary being told she would give birth as a virgin? Only in Luke. The story about the Magi following the star and bringing gifts? Only in Matthew. The story about the shepherds seeing angels and coming to worship Jesus? Only in Luke. The idea that the word became flesh and dwelt among us? Only in John. Most Christmas stories, though, are the ultimate mixtape of all these stories crammed together. In fact, I would bet most of us can't even conceive of the Christmas story without the mixtape. We have, in fact, designed our own tapestry.

I recently saw this happening with Genesis as well. Instead of reading Genesis as it's own tapestry, threads and verses from other tapestries were pulled out by preference and applied to particular verses of Genesis. What results is a tapestry of our own making, apart from what a book is actually trying to say. We, in fact, become more interested in our own mixtape letter than an actual Biblical letter. And in so doing, we get caught, once again, in the curse of folk theology.

I wonder, as I interact with christians in my church and at my work, what would happen if we let the confusing parts of Genesis, or of the prophets, or of Matthew actually confuse and disturb us through the unique tapestry they weave, rather than calming ourselves with a well constructed security blanket? What would happen if we looked at the Bible more as an art gallery about God and humanity - with each painting standing alone, yet somehow related to its neighbor- rather than a single smeared image?

What would happen if we ditched the mixtape letters? Can we? Should we?