January 28, 2009

Ice, Ice Baby

We had an ice storm in Wilmore. I took some pictures:

More here

And of course, pictures from Christmas:

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January 27, 2009

Have Purgatory, Will Travel

Just thought I'd post a quick update about what's going on for us right now., for those interested in such things It's, sadly, a very quick update because in spite of the time available to me to write about what we've been doing, there's very little of substance on which to report.

My life, of late, has revolved around several things, first and foremost of which is applying for jobs. No, I do not have one yet, despite my best efforts. I've applied locally for anything I could think of, and nationally for worship pastor, young-adult pastor, and missions pastor positions at churches (my training qualifies me for all three). Nothing yet, though one or two prospects on the horizon.

This has left me with more time on my hands than I had anticipated, but for some reason, writing has taken a back-seat. I don't know if it's just worrying about my financial and professional futures that has wounded my passion for writing, but I'm thinking that if it plays a part, it's only a part. The other big part of my time lately has been recording, which has likely sapped my writing creativity for its own purposes. My grandparents gave me a cool little gizmo for Christmas that allows me to plug any instrument into my computer via a nifty silver box with dials on it. The other grandparents gave me a microphone and stand, so the possibilities are limited only to what I can play. But then, my wife suggested that I upgrade my Finale notation software so that I can use their sampling technology to write and record music without knowing how to play the instruments (case in point, drums and oboe; I can't play those, but Finale can if I write a part for them).

Together, the three give me pretty much an unlimited vocabulary of recording possibilities, which is pretty cool, since I've only ever recorded one song and that was before my wedding five years ago. For my first project, I decided that I should record a piece I wrote in college that tells the story of John the Baptist. I'm not sure why I wrote the piece in the first place, but suffice it to say, it's probably my best in terms of poetry and interesting sounds. And then my roommate Mike helped write a cool guitar part.

So I've been playing the same song now for two weeks, and it's slowly coming together. I think I'm nearly done with the guitar parts, and the drumset part sounds decent. Now I'm working on an oboe part for it in Finale and maybe some strings. And then vocals. I've never done this before, so it's sort of an exercise in trial-and-error, and lots of frustration with "but why did it do that?!" But it's starting to sound better. Actually, it's pretty sweet, if I say so myself.

But it hasn't kept my mind off of our situation. If you're the praying sort, I'd love it if you'd mention us to God at some point soon. He's been good to us, and hasn't let us down yet, and I keep reminding myself of this, but I'm not going to lie, it's hard. Thanks to those of you that have been praying for us.

And now, the lyrics. Enjoy.

There's a voice in the desert calling out to the wind
Dressed in robes of burlap, telling of the end
of the sin of man in the Father's eyes
He who has ears to hear, then let him hear
Prophesy ...

Water from the Jordan into fire from the Lord
Saved by the mercy of the One who is to come
For the least of the Kingdom is even greater than He
For a dove will be a sign, make straight the way
Prophesy ...

Prepare ye the way, prepare ye the way

Cast aside to prison in a foreign land
Sent to live and die for the Son of Man
Blessed is the one who doesn't fall away
on account of the Son, who is the Lamb
Prophesy ...

January 17, 2009

Economics, part IX: Fair

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

One of my mantras is "when in doubt, question the question." And so I was on my way to pick up some new contacts the other day when a thought struck me: why does it matter whose fault any of this is? The economy, the war, whatever - why does it matter who gets the blame? Then I began asking myself why this particular idea suddenly struck me as odd. I mean, I've lived with it, used it, and been used by it every day of my life; why should the concept of "fair play" strike me as strange?

I think it's because 'fault' or 'blame' makes little difference, practically speaking. Causally, there is no reason to think that there is a connection between the one who causes a problem and the one who fixes (or should fix) it. But in our culture, we use assigned blame as the means to getting a party to enact action - the person who caused the problem should be the one to fix the problem. You probably don't think that's weird, but it's actually somewhat unique to American, or at least Western culture. Let's ask the question - why would we think that a person who screwed something up be any better at fixing it?

For our culture, it's a matter of resources; a person who depleted the resources of another should be the one to deplete some of his or her own resources in compensation. We do this in almost every facet of life: in business, in our judicial system, and even in friendships. How many times have you gotten a gift from somebody and felt like you should get them something in return? It's this weird little quirk of our culture coming back to haunt you.

Back to blame, let's say that a friend comes to my house and, by accident, she knocks an expensive vase off a table. Now, our culture says she ought to replace that; she broke it, or at least, she was the cause of its demise, and so she should be the cause of its restoration. But why ought this be the case? What if she is unable to financially afford this replacement? Our culture tends to dictate that the relationship with this friend will be damaged until she offer some sort of compensation (maybe not over a vase, but let's just overgeneralize to make the point); I will not likely trust my friend as much if I follow this path. But why should this be the case? If my friend cannot afford to rebuild the vase or buy a new one, but I can, does it make sense that I feel as though she owes me?

I think our concept of fairness is built, not just on "she should have to pay for it because that's objectively fair," but on "I don't want to pay for it." We like to pass the blame because it makes us feel better about ourselves - it wasn't OUR fault. I want to restore my sense of self-worth at having lost something; when I blame others, I feel more righteous by comparison. Somebody else has to take care of the problem, and I am freed from any responsibility towards fixing it.

The trouble is, the gospel challenges those assumptions to their very core. If Jesus did in fact die on the cross to take our sin "upon his shoulders" (as they say), and we can do nothing to repay him for it, we are left at an empasse, in an awkward situation. It comes down to this: I can't repay God for what He did, and that bothers me. As an American, I have a hard time accepting a gift unconditionally because I feel like I owe something back. In short, this is a point at which the gospel and American culture part ways, and as a community of Christ-followers living within that culture, then, we have to tread lightly when it comes to addressing this issue in our own lives and in the lives of others.

Ultimately, it's about what we value; if I value the vase, the economics of the situation, then of course "fairness" dictates that I make her replace it, no matter what the subsequent consequences to her; once I get my vase back, the issue is no longer important to me. But if I value the relationship, maybe a whole other set of possibilities rises to the surface. Maybe the vase isn't that important after all and doesn't need to be replaced. Or maybe if it is important to me, I ought to replace it myself instead of holding my friend to something she can't afford. Of course, if she can afford to replace it, she is more than welcome to offer that herself, but it ought to come from a sense of giving rather than a sense of obligation.

The bottom line is, how are we living as an alternate economy? Are we living sacrificially, living in a way that honors and serves our neighbors and values the relationships we have? Are we living in a way that honors Jesus and the way He taught and lived himself? Jesus valued people, he valued relationship; by blaming others instead of assuming responsibility despite cause, we are not enacting the economy of heaven. Taking responsibility for the plight of the Other in spite of who they are, what they did, or why they did it is the mark of a Christian - scripture calls it "love." Life is not and never will be "fair," and anyone who sells visions to the contrary is doing just that: selling something. True good comes when we become servants, when we stop using "fairness" as an excuse not to help others. It means putting aside one's pride and one's sense of "fair play," and instead donning the servant's towel and washing the feet of others.

The best economy only comes when we get our hands dirty in the service of others.

(to be continued ...)

January 13, 2009

Finding Jesus

I just had to put this up. Thanks, lolcats!

Survival Rates

Thanks to Dan for this amusing quiz. I suppose my results are moderately accurate, given that I've actually graduated and didn't die. I suppose the question remains, where is there a quiz to tell you your chances of getting a job AFTER seminary?

Visit Going to Seminary for seminary tips and advice.

January 9, 2009

Economics, Part VIII: Freedom

Neo: The Architect told me that if I didn't return to the Source, Zion would be destroyed by midnight tonight.
Oracle: Please ... You and I may not be able to see beyond our own choices, but that man can't see past any choices.
Neo: Why not?
Oracle: He doesn't understand them - he can't. To him they are variables in an equation. One at a time each variable must be solved and countered. That's his purpose: to balance an equation.
Neo: What's your purpose?
Oracle: To unbalance it.

I know, the Matrix trillogy has been done to death, but let's face it, the fact is that freedom is more or less THE theme of the three movies. They also happen to be a personal favorite, and this is my blog. Off we go ...

We have thus far considered the nature and the endgame of economic systems. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages, yet both tend to work to the same ends, through different means. Why is it, then, that the world continues to turn? Why haven't our economic systems fallen so far into disarray that we're all subjects to a single human power? Given our collective memory of the endless cycle of rise and fall from power, why do we bother to cooperate? The answer, I think, lies in one element in this system that we have not yet considered, an element that makes or breaks the very nature of the system itself, put to good use: choice.

Choice is what gives us our ability to go against the flow, to disregard our "fight or flight" instincts, or to do something contrary to the popular opinion of the society. We can choose to go to the store or to make do with what we have; we can throw the subsequent garbage away or recycle it or even just pitch it out the window. We can wear the popular clothing or we can wear something comfortable; regardless of the pressures placed on us from many sides - society, culture, even the laws of nature - we are still able to choose.

It was C.S. Lewis that said that predestination and free will are the same thing, two sides of the same coin. Actually, to be honest, so far he's the ONLY one who I've ever heard say this. We are hybrid beings, he wrote, born into a world of sin through no fault of our own, yet we are asked to begin making choices that will affect the rest of our own lives, even our own salvation. Our choices have consequences - destinies, as it were - and our destiny presents us with choices to be made which will make or break the path we're on. Choice is to causality like yin is to yang; the one must go with the other. Freedom, then, is our capacity to make choices, our ability to weigh the consequences and choose, however consciously or subconsciously, a course of action based upon what we perceive is the best outcome. This includes our ability to choose a couse of action that might not actually be the best outcome.

Put another way, we are not held to one set of actions. The choices we make change, and indeed, shape the very future that is so uncertain. I can choose to eat a hot dog or to eat something else or even to eat nothing at all. Perhaps I choose to wait for a while and THEN eat something. Either way, the choice is still mine; I can choose to follow the law or I can choose not to. I don't even have to eat if I don't want to (though the fact that I usually want to could tell you something about my waistline).

But in the end, there is another sort of freedom which we do not have, and that is freedom from consequences. This is the "yang" to the "yin" of choice. We are not free of causality as popular culture has led us to believe; we will reap what we sow. I cannot jump from a bridge and then expect not to fall into the river below, gravity being what it is. Every choice sets in motion other events, provides new decisions to be made and eliminates others.

For example, a choice was made a long, long time ago, but human history has reflected this decision ever since. We could talk through the story of Eden at great length, but even if the story is merely metaphor, something happened to distance humanity from its Maker. The author of Genesis records that a couple ate "the fruit" of a tree of knowledge. At some point, our species made a choice that blinded us to the consequences of doing things on our own, without the Creator. We began to think - deceived or not - that maybe there were no consequences. We were wrong.

One reason that the Incarnation is such a miracle is that God did (and does) what no one else could: he interrupted us (as a species) somewhere between cause and effect. We sin, and yet he gives us the chance to avoid the ultimate consequences of those choices, taking the penalties upon himself instead. As a missionary, I usually like to look at the incarnation for the way in which it exemplifies God making himself known and making the effort to relate to us on our own terms - in the flesh, face-to-face, sandle-to-sand. But in another way, in the grand scheme of things, this is not enough by itself. It is a lot, for sure, but it is not the whole picture. The Christian story is one in which the One who was not the cause took the effects; He removevd the consequences of the actions of another and took them upon himself. God, in essence, unbalances the equation; he alone understood the consequences of our choice and took it upon himself to give us back our dignity to choose a path, rather than allowing us to reap the ultimate consequence. The Creator found a loophole in the rules; he took the fall for the Created.

And that changed everything.

(to be continued ...)

January 1, 2009

Feeling Sick

Well, I've been out of commission for a little while, first with a sinus infection, then with a stomach flu (from which I'm still recovering). In lieu of higher thought, here are some amusing articles from The Onion you may enjoy. A new software will age your photos, the NSF has discovered that science is hard, and CalTech physicists successfully split a bill. Also, I heartily recommend The Onion's Our Dumb World, the only atlas you'll ever need.

Also, it's been a little while since I pointed you all in the direction of the pictures, so there may be a few new ones up there you haven't seen. Like this one: