Friday, May 30, 2008

Today a homeless guy told me he loved me

I hadn't seen Scott (not his real name) in a while. When I ran into him today he gave me a sweaty handshake and a smile. He was obviously not doing as well now as when I last saw him several months ago. At that time he was sober, hopeful and holding down a steady job. Today he was evasive when I asked how he'd been and didn't seem quite himself. The look in the eye, the manner of speaking was different than I remembered. I didn't pry, but then he blurted out something about the devil being the cause of his recent problems (whatever they were). I don't recall my exact response, but whatever it was prompted him to ask me to pray for him. I assured him I would and told him that Jesus had overcome the devil and that his (the devil's) time was short and he couldn't harm us in the end if we were in Christ. That's when Scott fixed his eyes on mine and said "I love you" with absolute sincerity. Rather taken aback, I told Scott I loved him too. He went on to tell me that his brother in New York had sent him an airline ticket and sometime next week he'd be going up there, but that he'd be coming back to West Palm because this is "home".

It dawned on me later I couldn't remember the last time someone other than my wife or an immediate family member told me they loved me. Perhaps I needed that unexpected encounter more than he did. I hope to see Scott again so I can tell him I've indeed been praying for him and share some more words about Jesus. My heart breaks for him and many others like him. Is there anything sadder than a man at the midpoint of his life who's lost everything, with a past full of brokenness and little hope for the future? Was it decisions or circumstances that brought him to this point? Or both? I don't know, but I do know I'd give about anything to see him restored as a flourishing member of society, but more than that a flourishing citizen of the Kingdom of God and recipient of the staggering promises of the Gospel. That is my prayer for Scott.

From head usher to head barista

Church transforms into coffee chain

Introducing...Friday is for film!

Welcome to the debut of Friday is for film! Anything film-related that's been rattling around my head will be fodder for this weekly feature. And any questions, comments or ideas from you, dear readers, are welcome. They may even show up in a future installment.

The "dolly zoom" is a special-effects shot popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1958 film Vertigo. Thus it's sometimes called a "Hitchcock zoom" or "Vertigo zoom". Hitch used it to dramatize Scotty Ferguson's, well, vertigo. The effect is achieved by the simultaneous use of a dolly (basically a wheeled platform for a camera) and a zoom lens (if you have a digital camera you've used one of those). The camera operator pulls the camera away from the subject(s) at the same time he's zooming in, or pushes the camera toward the subject at the same time he's zooming out. The viewer is left with the illusion that the background is receding or coming closer in relation to the foreground. Depending how this shot is used it can come across as cheesy or be an effective way of conveying psychological or emotional disorientation.

Here's a series of "dolly zoom" shots starting with the famous ones from Vertigo. The others are from Jaws, Poltergeist, Goodfellas and The Fellowship of the Ring.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The great school of prayer

Other than the Bible itself, there's not another book I cherish more than Life Together. I recently pulled it off the shelf again and couldn't put it down. I love it for it's brevity, it's simple directness, it's practicality, it's realism, and above all for the devotion to Christ and his Church that shines through every page. I enjoy the paradox of reading this passionate celebration of life in community by a self-described introvert, who found being among people (even his family) a taxing experience. I guess I can relate. For Bonhoeffer reading, singing and praying the psalms were an essential part of common worship, both in the church and the home. They are the answer to the question, "Lord, teach us to pray." The Psalter teaches us the meaning of Christian prayer, what we should pray and how to pray as a fellowship.

The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his Church. Now that Christ is with the Father, the new humanity of Christ, the Body of Christ on earth, continues to pray his prayer to the end of time. This prayer belongs, not to the individual member, but to the whole Body of Christ. Only in the whole Christ does the whole Psalter become a reality, a whole which the individual can never fully comprehend and call his own. That is why the prayer of the psalms belongs in a peculiar way to the fellowship. Even if a verse or a psalm is not one's own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship; so it is quite certainly the prayer of the true Man Jesus Christ and his Body on earth.

In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ's prayer. The Psalter is the great school of prayer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 46-47)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

G.K. Chesterton turns 134

Tomorrow is Gilbert Keith Chesterton's birthday. John Piper celebrates by recommending Orthodoxy.

Which reminds me. The title of this blog (and hopefully the spirit of it) was/is inspired by that book.

From uni-versities to plural-versities

I'm taking a break from Pascal and Upton Sinclair to read Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power by J.P. Moreland. The long title should give you an idea of the wide-ranging character of this book. I'm only a quarter of a way in and haven't formed an overall opinion of the book yet, but I found Moreland's chapter on postmodernism very effective. Postmodernism is one of those terms (like evangelical) that's hard to pin down. Moreland describes it as "both a historical, chronological notion and a philosophical ideology."

From my reading and knowledge of the subject I think he's right. It's a reaction to the Enlightenment ideas and ideals (good and bad) that Western society has been built on and it's a philosophy that in various forms and degrees rejects the idea of absolute truth. While I agree with some of postmodernism's critique of modernity, as a Christian I must reject it's stance(s) on truth. To Moreland, the acceptance of postmodern ideas on truth within the church would be nothing less than "intellectual pacifism" and "the easy way out." He's surprisingly tough with those within the Christian community (he mentions the Emerging church and quotes several "Christian postmodernists") that have done so.

Moreland traces the turn to postmodernist ideas within the American university from 1880 to 1930 borrowing from a book by Julie Reuben titled The Making of the Modern University. At one time "spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, and political truth and knowledge were real and on a par with truth and knowledge in other disciplines, including science." But things started to change as science and technology became more specialized, and educators lost confidence that there was a unified source of truth and that knowledge existed in all fields of study. I didn't attend university, but Moreland's description here of the change from uni to plural seems to me to hit the nail on the head.

The realm of religion and values became noncognitive (knowledge is not possible in these domains) and nonfactual (their claims are neither true nor false); the function of religion and ethics is to help people live better lives (whatever that means). The idea that there exists a stable body of knowable truths gave way to the notion that truth changes constantly, that progress, not wisdom, is what matters, and that university education should focus on method and "learning how to think," rather than trying to impart knowledge and wisdom to students, especially outside the empirical sciences. Academic freedom, "open" inquiry, a spirit of skepticism, and specialized research became the central values of American universities.

The abandonment of Christian monotheism from the cognitive domain meant that there was no longer a basis for a unified curriculum. Without a single, rational God, why think that there is a unity to truth, that one discipline should have anything at all to do with another discipline? Thus, uni-versities gave way to plural-versities, and we have lived with fragmentation in our schools ever since the 1930s. No longer did possession of a body of knowledge distinguish college graduates from those without such an education. Instead, the main gift of a college education, besides helping one get a job, was the impression of a vague "scientific attitude," of the mental discipline to "think for oneself," of a spirit of open inquiry, and of an attitude of tolerance for various viewpoints.

J.P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle (pp. 69-70)

Got confessions?

We do. See for yourself at Daily Confession.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's the little things...

Little things comfort us because little things distress us.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (77)

Sydney Pollack (1 July 1934 - 26 May 2008)

This is a shock. Pollack seemed like one of those ageless figures that would always be around...directing here, producing there, even acting. Although Pollack the actor would never be confused with Brando, it was clear he loved the movies. Like many Hollywood figures of his generation he was a product of the great American melting pot of the early 20th century.

Here's The New York Times obit.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (guest review by William Andreassen)

Did you ever revisit your old elementary school, years after you last crossed its thresholds? Remember how small everything seemed? Of course, the dimensions of hallways and doors hadn't changed an inch, but you certainly had. Watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, director Steven Spielberg's follow-up to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which was released 19 years ago, I felt much the same.

Curiously, I ran across the first film, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark on television last week. It, on the other hand, was just as thrilling as I remembered. The plot was filled with fascinating (if not entirely letter perfect accurate) archaeological lore, breathtaking action, and characters who were more than just caricatures.

So, what happened? Too much time passed? Perhaps. Tastes refine a bit? Definitely, but I will always, I suspect, have a place in my heart for these sorts of movies. Yes, the anticipation was white hot for Skull. Undeniably. But, as I've learned, such eagerness can lead to thundering disappointment. What could possibly live up to the expectations? Can you say Episode One? You get the idea. Right, George?

Harrison Ford returns as university professor/archaeologist/executor of impossible escapes Henry Indiana Jones. This time out, it is 1957. The world is a very different place since we last followed Indy's improbable exploits across foreign locales in the 1930s. So is Henry Jones. He's much older, beaten up a bit by the passage of time. "I'm at the point where life has stopping giving and is now taking away" he grouses after he is relieved of his duties at the University. As well, the FBI, CIA, and KGB are all interested in his next move. Gone are the hissable Nazis who lusted for gold and power. Oh, the motives of the villains are basically the same, but now they are Russians, led by Cate Blanchett (clearly enjoying herself) as Irina Spalko, a "scientist" interested in the paranormal, the mystical. She forces/utilizes Indy's knowledge of Mayan languages and history to lead her to the mysterious crystal skulll, and the "knowledge" that it brings. The role is a dream for any actress and her dialect coach. I found myself imitating her sharp brogue afterward. She looks more sadistic than she actually is, but this is essentially a family movie, so opportunities for the more provocative attributes of Irina are left to the imagination.

Some of Irina's cohorts, including a "triple agent", are more interested in the festoons of jewels which seem to adorn every South American cave they visit than the usual coveting of world domination. The other villains are mostly just garden variety minions who fire machine guns and die in creative ways.

But the less said about the plot, the better. As I watched it, I realized that it was paper thin, silly, and weak. It's hard to believe that it took so long to arrive at this script??!! Reportedly, Frank (The Shawshank Redemption) Darabont had knocked it out of the park with his take, but fellow scribe David (Jurassic Park) Koepp won out in the end. Speaking of the end, the finale of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, well, quite visual. The choice to go with a more, um, sci-fi angle was allegedly masterminded by producer George Lucas. This is a shame, but not fatal. I won't reveal what I mean, exactly, but let's say that I was surprised there weren't more terrestrial ideas in the Spielberg/Lucas camp.

Also along is Shia LaBeouf as "Mutt", whose presence in the film thrusts Indy in the middle of this preposterous adventure. He's a James Dean wannabe greaser type, quick with his comb and switchblade, added to the proceedings to bring in the young audience who likely weren't born the first time Ford cracked his patented bullwhip. LaBeouf is very appealing, and this is a well timed follow-up to his success in last summer's Transformers (a surprisingly entertaining popcorn muncher in its own right). Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood, easily the most interesting of the Indy women, though this time she is given very little to do. Mostly, she just looks stunned to actually be there. I was very happy to hear that Spielberg had given her the call, but the script really lets her down. We briefly see some of the spark that once ignited between her and Ford, but it's sadly short lived.

And what about Harrison Ford? Yes, he looks older, but that's integral to the story. One of the few successes of the script is the detailing of how Indy still manages to emerge unscathed from every scrape. Physically, that is. His psyche isn't so sturdy, and Ford plays it well. He's still got the goods. Rather than coasting, he actually puts some juice into it. And why not? After all, it was HIS idea to jumpstart this series after so long.

Several entertaining nods to the previous trilogy are to be found throughout, as well as an amusing line spoken by Ford which directly references that other famous character he played in another well known franchise by Lucas. The action set pieces are fantastic, and reason enough to see the film. One of them very cleverly uses a 50's malt shop as the stage. Another is a sure-to-induce nightmares-in-the-young 'uns scene involving large ants. Lots of them. I also enjoyed the nuclear blast refrigerator scene. Yes, you read that correctly. The chases, fights, and assorted spectacles are so exhilirating that it's easy to forget that Skull is ultimately no Raiders. But, what possibly could be?

-William Andreassen

Honorable Manhood

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hangin' with the cricketers

Believe it or not cricket is big in South Florida. A buddy of mine is captain of a local team and he invited me to come out and see in person the most popular bat and ball sport in the world. I wasn't close enough to the pitch to get any good action shots, but here's some from the between innings break. The social side of amateur cricket is as important as the sporting side!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Who is like the Lord Our God?

Theologians speak of God being transcendent ("over all") and immanent ("in all"). To emphasize one over the other is to risk having a caricatured view of God. Psalm 113 presents a nice balance. Verses 4-6 describe God's transcendence ("high above", "seated on high", "looks far down"), verses 7-9 his immanence ("raises the poor", "lifts the needy", "makes", "gives"). The psalmist makes clear the distinction between Creator and creature, even as he praises the LORD for his personal, active involvement in the affairs of men.

Incidentally, Psalm 113 is part of the liturgy for Passover. It's quite possible that this psalm was part of the "hymn" sung by Jesus and the disciples after the Passover meal (see Matt. 26:30 & Mark 14:26).

"Ballad of a Thin Man"

Before I get off the subject of Bob Dylan, here's a clip from Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home. This performance and this period of Dylan's career is startlingly, uncannily recreated by Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There.

Friday, May 23, 2008

McCain's Reverends

Hopefully the McCain/Hagee/Parsley imbroglio will hasten the end of one of the more distasteful aspects of presidential politics -- the very public courting by the candidates of prominent pastors and Christian leaders. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty. No doubt Sen. McCain wasn't well versed on the theology and eschatology of Revs. Hagee and Parsley, and that their views are outside the mainstream of Christian thought when judged by more than the thin slice that is American fundamentalism and dispensationalism of the last 100 years. McCain and his strategists probably thought, "aha, here are two pastors of large 'churches' with large followings that make up an important slice of the electorate that we need to get elected in November. They support Israel and a hard line against the Muslim world. So do we. Let's get them on stage together at a campaign rally and once we're elected we won't have to have anything else to do with them."

Since we shouldn't expect (or want) presidential candidates to be expert enough in these matters to vet the views of such as Hagee or Parsley for their potential political embarrassment, here are two suggestions for avoiding the need for damage control once your "spiritual adviser" has been gone over with a fine tooth comb by the media.

1. Stop the practice of seeking endorsements from pastors and Christian personalities. Period. Robertson, Dobson, Wallis, Jackson, Sharpton...all of 'em.

2. Of course, there's nothing to stop a pastor from coming out with a public endorsement of a candidate. In that case, the candidate should handle it the same way you do when you're sitting at a traffic light and the guy next to you rolls down his window and says, "I like your car." You say "thanks" and when the light turns green go on your way. You don't invite him over for dinner or let him take your car for a spin.

Ready for some escapist fare? I am.

I haven't been to the movies in a long time. Spring and summer is typically the time of year when most of my film viewing is at home. There is one mass market, summer blockbuster I've been looking forward too though -- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opening this weekend.

Rober Ebert has some early reaction to Indy IV.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Piper on Dylan

Monday I posted some thoughts on the Bob Dylan film I'm Not There. Since watching it I've been thinking a lot about Dylan's impact on music and culture. Turns out his music had an impact on a college student named John Piper. I guess if you grew up in the 60's Dylan was hard to miss. Here's an excerpt from the autobiographical section of Don't Waste Your Life.

Bob Dylan was scratching out songs with oblique messages of hope that exploded on the scene precisely because they hinted at a Reality that would not keep us waiting forever. Things would change. Sooner or later the slow would be fast and the first would be last. And it would not be because we were existential masters of our absurd fate. It would come to us. That is what we all felt in the song, "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

The line it is drawn,
the curse it is cast,
The slow one now
Will later be fast.
As the present now
Will later be past,
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last,
For the times they are a-changin'.

It must have riled the existentialists to hear Dylan, perhaps without even knowing it, sweep away their everything-goes relativism with the audacious double "The answer...The answer" in the smash hit, "Blowin' in the Wind."

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must
one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take
till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend,
is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times can a man look up and not see the sky? There is a sky up there to be seen. You may look up ten thousand times and say you don't see it. But that has absolutely no effect on its objective existence. It is there. And one day you will see it. How many times must you look up before you see it? There is an answer. The answer. The answer, my friend, is not yours to invent or create. It will be decided for you. It is outside you. It is real and objective and firm. One day you will hear it. You don't create it. You don't define it. It comes to you, and sooner or later you conform to it-or bow to it.

That is what I heard in Dylan's song, and everything in me said, Yes! There is an Answer with a capital A. To miss it would mean a wasted life. To find it would mean having a unifying Answer to all my questions.

John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life (Crossway, 2003)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A snapshot

The May/June issue of Modern Reformation just arrived in my mailbox. It's on the new spiritualities, which are actually recycled heresy and syncretisms, some of them many centuries old. What does the "new spirituality" look like? iTunes provides a snapshot of the American landscape. As of 5:00 today here are the top ten podcasts in the category Religion & Spirituality.

1.'s Spirit Channel
2. Oprah's Soul Series Webcast
3. "A New Earth" After Show with Elizabeth Lesser
4. Joel Osteen Audio Podcast
5. Joyce Meyer Radio Podcast
6. Joel Osteen Video Podcast
7. Meditation Oasis - Mary & Richard Maddux
8. Let My People Think - Ravi Zacharias
9. Desiring God Sermon Audio - John Piper
10. North Point Ministries - Andy Stanley

Heard on NPR this morning...

"It's often been said, as Kentucky goes, so goes the nation."

Hillary Clinton (May 20, 2008)

No offense to my friends from Kentucky, but...really?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Herrmann and Hitchcock

It's impossible to think about Alfred Hitchcock's classic films of the late 50's/early 60's without thinking of Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was a classical composer who just happened to write for the movies. In addition to his collaborations with Hitch he compiled a magnificent list of credits beginning with Citizen Kane and ending with Taxi Driver! Arguably Herrmann's best work was on Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo. Jack Sullivan writes in The Wall Street Journal on the 50th anniversary of cinema's greatest score.

Here's Bernard Herrmann (playing the conductor) in the Royal Albert Hall sequence that ends Hitchcock's 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. There's an amusing shot at the 8:05 mark of Herrmann framed between two cymbals poised to crash. I can almost hear the Master of Suspense chortling.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Preaching the Psalms

The Psalms are not preached (or sung) nearly enough these days. So I've been eagerly listening to these:

Mark Dever on Psalm 14

Robert Godfrey on Psalm 91

I'm Not There

I finally caught up on home video with another of the 2007 fourth quarter releases that I wanted to see, but that slipped in and out of local theaters before I had the chance -- Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan-inspired film I'm Not There. It's a miracle. A series of inconceivable sequences (until one sees them, then they seem inevitable) which cohere into a fragmentary, yet coherent piece of cinema, with all that the Greek origin of that descriptor entails. Kinesis: kinetic, movement. Haynes uses a variety of tools, techniques, styles, pace, influences, lens, film stocks, palettes, moods, and a wildly diverse cast. Funny thing is, it works. The spirit of this country, 20th-century America in all it's glory and shame, pulses through this film. Evocative shots of boxcars snaking thru sun-dappled countryside and cool blue sequences of urban emotional disintegration are juxtaposed with news footage of Kennedy and LBJ and MLK and Nixon and Napalm. It's a world of hipsters and hobos, poets and preachers, sinners and saints. Haynes uses the biography and music of one man as a canvas to compose a tone poem on several decades of American history.

I'm largely ignorant of the details of Bob Dylan's life and not an afficionado of his music, although I enjoy it. The soundtrack is infectious. At times I'm Not There plays like a surreal musical, at other times like a concert film. To me "Dylan" is more of an idea than a real person, which may be why I responded so strongly to Haynes' impressionistic treatment. The main conceit of I'm Not There is using six actors to riff on seven evolutions of Dylan's career and persona -- most audaciously Cate Blanchett as the most recognizable Bob Dylan a/k/a Jude Quinn: the chain-smoking, pill-popping, wise-cracking Dylan of the mid-60s who became an American pop icon and hope of a disaffected generation before nearly self-destructing.

Blanchett gives a great performance (imagine having Galadriel and Bob Dylan on the same resume!), but so does young Marcus Carl Franklin as Woody Guthrie, a boxcar-hopping folk singer of uncertain origin. Christian Bale is Jack Rollins, the angry singer of protest songs turned born-again Christian minister (Haynes truthfully recreates the 70's era Vineyard Church in southern California where Dylan attended Bible studies and reportedly accepted Jesus into his heart). Heath Ledger reminded me of how he was such a strong screen presence playing a fictional movie star Robbie Clark. The "Dylan's" are rounded out by Ben Whishaw, playing rebel poet Arthur Rimbaud and Richard Gere as Billy the Kid. My favorite performance may have been Bruce Greenwood in his role as a British journalist intent on shattering the Dylan facade. Many of the film's best lines come during his confrontations with Blanchett.

I'm Not There is far from a perfect film. It's too messy for that. Pickpocket is a perfect film. Vertigo is a perfect film. It doesn't have the aesthetic qualities that I value most, or at least they don't predominate. Austerity, focus, strength of theme and beauty of form. But it's probably not fair to compare a film like this to those classics, or a hundred others I could cite. They inhabit different universes. Yet there's something of austerity and focus and classical form within I'm Not There, and as I mentioned before, there's a unity somewhere within the dazzling diversity of this kaleidoscopic piece waiting to be discovered. This is a film about Bob Dylan, but watching it felt more like listening to John Coltrane play sax. I think Haynes has created a piece of visual improvisation.

I'm Not There is available in a fine 2-disc DVD presentation. The image quality couldn't be better -- essential for a movie that alternates between oversaturated color sequences and various shades of black and white. A friend let me borrow his copy from Netflix, but I'll be purchasing this one eventually.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Myanmar: a way to help

Since news of the Myanmar cyclone broke, I've been keeping my eyes and ears open for a way to help. As you probably know, efforts to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis have been hamstrung by the wicked, repressive government there. This looks like a good option.

HT: The Heidelblog

Friday, May 16, 2008

Driven to distraction

The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is distraction, yet that is the greatest of our wretchednesses. Because that is what mainly prevents us from thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to damnation. Without it we should be bored, and boredom would force us to search for a firmer way out, but distraction entertains us and leads us imperceptibly to death.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (33)

Obama and the right to life

The National Catholic Register examines Barack Obama's positions on the unborn, "accidental" infants and Terri Schiavo.

HT: Looking Closer

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Break and pour (for one time use only)

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

Mark 14:3

The account of Jesus' anointing by "a woman" at Bethany in Mark 14 is one of the most beautiful in all the gospels (see also Matthew 26, Luke 7 and John 12). John identifies the woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, although his account differs from the synoptics and it's possible that these incidents don't all involve the same woman. Whatever the case, I'm attracted to this woman's act of scandalous extravagance, even though it goes against the grain of my thrifty nature. I might have been among those scolding her for being wasteful! But she caught a glimpse of Jesus' true worth that the others missed. She recognized that Jesus isn't the means to an end, he is the end. She was like the man who sells all he has to acquire the "pearl of great value."

The Reformation Study Bible provides some helpful context that emphasizes the costly, unique nature of this act of sacrifice. The fact that she broke the flask is especially significant. Not only was she annointing Jesus' body for burial, she was painting a picture of the ultimate costly, one-time sacrifice made at the cross a short time later.

pure nard. A rare perfume made from the root of a plant grown in the Himalayas. Its value of "three hundred denarii" (v. 5) was roughly equivalent to a year's wages.

broke the flask. To prevent loss, amounts suitable for a single application where sealed into flasks that were then broken at the neck at the time of use. According to John 12:3, the flask contained twelve ounces of perfume.

John's account also tells us that "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." It must have been an intense sensory experience for all those in Simon's house that day. It was an act impossible to ignore. It provoked strong reactions and revealed much about the hearts of those provoked. To Jesus it was "a beautiful thing" that would be remembered "wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world." Imagine the oil running down the head of Jesus -- our Prophet, Priest and King -- dripping onto his beard and robe, just as described in Psalm 133.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brooks on "The Neural Buddhists"

David Brooks makes the case that the biggest enemy of orthodox Christianity isn't naturalistic atheism, it's the growing marriage between science and mysticism. He concludes:

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.

Sounds like an advertisement for this week's edition of the White Horse Inn.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Middle Way

Shannon and I have been vacationing with her parents on the Gulf coast of Florida. Longboat Key to be exact. Thus the paucity of recent blog activity. Vacationing at the sea inevitably brings to mind the much quoted lines from C.S Lewis: "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (The Weight of Glory). I was also reminded that one can be literally at the sea and still miss the glory of God all around us and his manifold gifts. By a happy coincidence the Bible reading plan I use had me in Psalm 104 which made a nice counterpoint to walks on the beach, especially vv. 24-30.

While I was away I read Presbyterianism's Unique Gift: Ordained Lay Elders by Harry Hassall. By God's grace I'll soon be ordained an elder at our church and one of our former elders, who's also something of a mentor, gave me the book to read in preparation. Written as a textbook, it's a good introduction to the Reformed faith and the middle way "via media" of Presbyterianism. While all Protestants are heirs of the Reformation, Hassall lays out the view of three distinct reformations. The first reformation of Luther, was a conservative reformation that birthed Lutheranism and Anglicanism. The second reformation of Calvin and Zwingli was more extensive than Luther's and resulted in Presbyterianism/Calvinism. And then there was a radical third reformation led by the Anabaptists which rejected anything remotely resembling Catholicism, especially infant baptism, covenant theology and "Churchianity". All Protestant churches can trace their lineage back to one of these three streams of the Reformation. Although some, like my Methodist friends, mix prominent elements of all three.

Hassall shares an effective, if quaint, analogy to illustrate the three reformations. I offer it more in the way of education than advocacy. Whatever your persuasion, Christians should be familiar with the heritage that makes us what we are: Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Here are "three ways of cleaning out one's sock drawer."

The Anglican/Episcopal/Lutheran way is to open the sock drawer, perhaps half way, peek in, pull out those few obvious misfits and wornouts and quickly place them in the rubbish bin; one may then review the reformation, pronounce it "done," close the drawer, and go about other tasks. This is reformation modestly done!

The Presbyterian/Reformed/Calvinist, on the other hand, moves to the task with dispatch and determination, completely removing the sock drawer, turning it totally upside down on the bed; this reformer places a new paper liner in the drawer and then meticulously selects only the best and most useable socks in pairs to return to this "thoroughgoingly reformed" drawer, leaving all "questionables" out for immediate discard; the job has been done; only those items of which there is no doubt have been allowed to remain. This job has been well-reformed!

Finally, the Anabaptist/Baptist/Church of Christ approaches the same task with little enthusiasm; the reformer opens the sock drawer and with disgust on his face he calls a neighbor and together they haul the entire chest of drawers out of the house to the alley for city trash to pick up, for in that sock drawer there was little to reform and a great deal to discard!

I spent most of my life a product of the third way, flirted with the first, and am now happily part of the "middle way". Perhaps it's only a coincidence that the second approach is also the one I'd use to clean out my sock drawer, and my t-shirt drawer, and my sweater drawer...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Her children rise up and call her blessed

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
   you have given me the heritage of
          those who fear your name.

Psalm 61

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More good stuff from Pastor T.

Thabiti Anyabwile cautions pastors to be careful how you build because "whatever you do to build the church is what you'll have to do to keep the church." He writes:

So here's a plea. Please, please Lord build your church on "boring" preaching and "regular" personalities owned and fired by your Holy Spirit, so that your people will find excitement and emotion that comes from the truth and their affections will rest on You rather than the earthen vessel that proclaims your Name.

Amen to that! And may those of us in the pews stop valuing feelings and entertainment over the ordinary means of grace.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pray and act for the people of Myanmar

Even in the midst of the fun and joys of life it's impossible not to be shaken when you read news like this.

Radiohead in West Palm Beach (5 May 2008)

My impression of America? It's just too exciting to dismiss or overly praise. I find it really distressing when British bands come to America and return home and they're disparaging about Americans, as if you can dismiss the whole country. There are cities I love and would happily live in. There's too much variation to describe it, I think. Overall, it's a buzz. It's the best thing you can do, to tour America as a band.

- Jonny Greenwood

That was from a 1997 interview back when Jonny and his mates were dealing with the weight of being called "the saviors of rock and roll" in the wake of the critical acclaim and success of OK Computer. Thankfully, they survived the near emotional and professional break-ups of the late 90's to fashion a series of stellar albums (each uniquely great) and find a happy equilibrium between recording, touring and life. The critics may no longer refer to Radiohead as saviors, but that's just as well. To the fans they're simply the best and most consistently interesting band of the last decade.

Now Radiohead are doing it again -- touring America as a band -- and the In Rainbows tour debuted earlier tonight right here in West Palm Beach. This was my second Radiohead show. I saw them the last time they played WPB in October 2003 not thinking I'd ever get the chance again. Tonight was another fantastic show! The crowd was pumped and enthusiastic as they took the stage around 9:00 and played for close to two hours. Our seats were excellent, but not close enough to get really good pictures. I have included a few of the better ones.

Here's tonight's setlist and some comments.

1. All I Need
2. Bodysnatchers
3. There There
4. Reckoner (I love watching Ed play the tambourine on this one.)

5. The Gloaming
6. Morning Bell
7. Nude (Definitely the most atmospherically beautiful moment of the evening. Thom nailed it.)
8. How to Disappear Completely
9. 15 Steps (this one had everybody on their feet)
10. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (The only evidence of opening night hiccups came here. Apparently Thom didn't like the ending so he gestured to Ed and Jonny to keep their guitars on and they did an impromptu repeat of the coda. Thom: "We didn't practice this enough.")
11. Idioteque (Insanely fun as always.)
12. Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was (One of the surprising additions. Very nice!)
13. Where I End and You Begin
14. Airbag
15. Everything In It's Right Place (This was the final encore of the 2003 show.)
16. National Anthem (The crowd was really into this one. The lighting and video effects were amazing and Jonny was doing his thing with the radio.)
17. Videotape

First Encore

18. Optimistic (Thom: "This is an oldish one.")
19. Just (This one had everybody singing along to the chorus with Jonny on the attack.)
20. Faust Arp (Ed, Colin & Phil left the stage. Thom and Jonny teamed up to do a pretty acoustic version.)

21. Exit Music (Another homerun. Featured some cool effects by Jonny.)
22. Bangers & Mash (The highlight of the evening for me with Thom on drum and Jonny ripping off some of the best guitar of the evening. It seemed like most of the crowd didn't know this one, but I was dancing like a maniac. Thom introduced it with the most dialogue of the evening. "We just spent three days in Miami Beach. What's going on there? Some kind of reconstruction. For once I was proud to be white, pale and English!" If you've been there you know what he means.)

Second Encore

23. House of Cards
24. Street Spirit

One positive and negative comparison to the 2003 WPB show. On the positive side, the video display they're using this tour is fabulous. It's a multi-paneled horizontal display behind the stage that seamlessly integrates with the lighting. Much more interesting than the standard giant screens on either side of the stage. On the negative side the sound mix wasn't as good tonight as in 2003. Granted, it may have had more to do with the venue or where we were sitting. It did seem to get dialed in better as the show went on though.

Radiohead proved again tonight that they're still on top of their game. It's something to watch them seemlessly mix and match instruments and styles. If you're going to see them on this tour you won't be disappointed. Thankyou guys for coming to West Palm!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Charles Ryder meets his match

Here's a funny clip from the classic adaptation of my favorite novel -- Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I await with trepidation the Miramax film version coming to theaters this summer. Judging from the trailer it's a dumbed down, sensationalistic treatment. Ugh! For this viewer, Jeremy Irons will always be the face and voice of Charles Ryder. Likewise for the rest of the fabulous cast that made watching those 11 episodes on Masterpiece Theatre such a memorable experience. Et in Arcadio ego.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The natural, ordinary good

Nothing is more widespread than good things: the only question is to recognize them; and they are certainly natural and within our grasp, and even known by everyone. But we do not know how to recognize them. This is universal. It is not in extraordinary and unusual things that excellence in whatever field is to be found. We make an effort to reach up to them and we fall away. More often we should stoop. The best books are those which the people who read them believe they could have written. Nature, which alone is good, is familiar and available to everyone.

Blaise Pascal, The Art of Persuasion

Emanuel's story

Emanuel McMiller on "My Life, My World, My Truth".

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Stein on TBN

For the record, I like Ben Stein and I'm sympathetic to what he's trying to accomplish with Expelled. But comments like these are unfortunate and don't help his cause.

HT: Looking Closer

Families and missions

The May issue of the Global Prayer Digest asks a provocative question.

Will American Families Help or Hinder Reaching the Unreached in North America?