Saturday, December 31, 2005

better version of me

I'm not sure how or why this is, but officially, according to the Potter Boy, aka my computer, I have no internet connection at the moment.

Any yet, here I am.

This is a cheat post. It's a dirty cheat post, and a damn dirty lying cheat post at that. It's not written when it's said it's written, and I'll admit to that right up front. I'll admit to it and move on. I'll admit to backposting because I haven't had much luck with the world wide web recently, and didn't have the chance to write my annual year end post at, you know, the end of the year. So I do it later, I admit to it, and then I move on.

Moving on, I've been hating the internet lately. I've been hating it's oodles and oodles of useless knowledge and my inability to get at it. My inability to pick a simple wireless signal. My inability to use any computer other than the Potter Boy to access Al Gore's beautiful invention we call cyberspace.

Cyberspace is such a weird word.

And the internet is stupid lame.

What I really want is a photocopier and some sort of artistic ability. And to be living in 1983. Because if I had all those things (plus paper) I would put out this awesome little 'zine called Wasteland or Argyle Veritas or Tootsie for Golfers. And I would send it out to all 27 people on my mailing list. And then do it again three months later.

Back to the present. And real life. Sort of. I've been reading comic books lately. And maybe, some day, I'll write about why. For now, let me just say that there is something intrinsically noble about the idea of heroes with awesome powers, who, though they have every ability to rob banks and overpower small countries, use what they've been given to help out everyday Joe's and Jane's. I want to believe in a world where normal people with abnormal powers do great things. I want to live there and work there and drink it's water every day.

In the end, it's all fantasy. These things I love are fantasy. Comic books and Star Wars -- The West Wing and Punch Drunk Love. But not in the escape-from-reality because-I- can't-deal-with-it sort of way. But fantasy in that sense which gives us a glimpse into what life could be like if we only let it. A life where we fly to other planets on rickety star ships, and elect presidents whom we trust, and follow the women we love across oceans in distinctive blue suits.

I talked a lot about what I wanted life to be like in my last post. But maybe it's time to stop yearning for what's not there and just simply find it instead. And while Paco's right that I am a big baby-whiner-pants, I don't really want to do big things. I dream of them, sure. But in reality, I just want to live simply -- read books and watch stars -- cancel my cable and cook my dinner. I dream big, but to stay sane, I take very, very small steps. Saving people from speeding trains sure seems nice, but if I had to do it all the time, I'd probably go nuts.

(And strapping the world's problems to giant-huge boulders is probably a lot easier than actually having to deal with each problem individually. Unfortunately, it's not very feasible. For starters, I don't even know where to buy boulder-straps. Menards, maybe?)

I really don't know what I want to do it all these days. Which makes it all the more easier to wish I lived in a time where I had less choices and more responsibility to my extended family of maize and/or soy bean farmers. Waking up to milk the cows at four every morning doesn't sound ideal, but neither does living with the paralyzing fear that every time I buy gas I'm funding terrorist attacks in Iraq. You can see my predicament.

So over the past year I've lived in Wisconsin, wished I lived 1885, and moved to 21st century Chicago instead. My heart is freakin' all over the place, from Iceland to Oregon to Wright Hall. This is the year I officially graduated from college, and the year I officially became an urbanite. I'm another year older, one year less a lover of all things city-like, one year more a lover of things like witches and lunar calendars. One year of struggling to find God in the concrete, and wondering if globalization scares Him as much as it scares me.

In the end, I'm more confused about the world than ever.

All that to say, this is the last day of 2005. The first day of new things. My name is Jonny Rice, I live in Illinois, I want to be happy, I need to be content.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Believing in something for once

There's this scene in Syriana, where a Muslim cleric is talking about the cure for the modern condition. And he lists these things that have failed to make us whole: capitalism, liberal democracy, Christianity. And he's right in some ways. The modern condition, the modern disconnect that we see all around us -- in our advertising and our transactions and our jobs and our lifestyles -- it's not going away; and it's not being soothed by our current understanding of God or democracy or the Koran or whatever else it is we put our faith in. We're still disconnected. We still don't get our place in this new world.

Before Europeans set foot upon the New World, there was no poverty on this continent. There was a multitude of cultures we lump together as "Native Americans," who lived in the bronze age or the stone age or however it is we describe primitive cultures these days, and who worshipped gods we'd never heard of, and had ways of life that seemed strange and alien to us, and took care of their people, and shared their land and their goods and their resources amongst their tribes. And life for them was good, and they understood their relationship to their clan and to their ancestors and to their land.

And it wasn't communism. And it wasn't proto-communism. It had nothing to do with our childish Western ideas of labor and capital and free enterprise and centralized planning. Disregarding everything we learned in social studies and western civ and econ 101, it was their way. And it worked for them. And Adam Smith and Karl Marx could go screw each other for all they cared.

Over the last three centuries, we've learned how to harness steam and electricity and coal and gas and nuclear power. We've built waterways and railroads and highways and transcontinental airlines. We've stretched our imaginations across the frontiers of the West and the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Tranquility. We wondered what was on the dark side of the Moon -- and then we found out. We built bombs to safeguard our way of life, and sent soldiers around the globe to introduce it to others. We invented computers and fast food. ATMs and the auto industry. People Magazine pop culture and Wysteria Lane suburbia.

But we can't figure out how to live with it all. We drink and do drugs in greater numbers than ever before. We kill ourselves with knives and pills and oncoming traffic. We work and we work and we work, then we retire and long for the days when we worked and we worked and we worked. We go to church more often than ever before. We elect presidents who sound more like pastors than politicians. But nothing does the trick. We still send our kids to crappy schools. We still distrust our elected officials. We still spend our money like there's no tomorrow. And then we wake up, and realize that tomorrow is here, and that it scares the living shit out of us.

But the Native Americans, whose land we've turned into a giant strip mall, can't save us now. And the Muslim cleric, who realizes that we're up to our necks in the problems of modernism, doesn't have anything better to offer us -- unless you count blowing up shit as a reasonable solution. The Wealth of Nations and Das Kapital and The Descent of Man offer us little more than platitudes. They can't tell us how to fix our broken hearts and our addled minds.

And our understanding of God -- our understanding of God is so warped and wrapped up in the modern condition that it does nothing for us. Our modern God either loves the free market or hates private property. He lives on in our freedom of speech and dies for our right to bear arms. He offers his grace to suburbia and turns his back on the coasts of southwest Asia. In other words, he's just another capricious son of a bitch sky-god we use to justify whatever it is we need justified in order to sooth our guilty conscience.

That's the kind of God that couldn't find his way out of a wet paper bag, let alone solve the modern condition. He's a paper tiger and a dog with no bite. There's a whole lot of people who're gonna be waiting a very long time for him to answer their prayers. And there's a whole lot of people who're gonna be extremely let down in the end. We reap what we sow, and when we put our faith in a supersized George Bush or Michael ain't gonna end up roses. Mostly, we'll just curse God and die.

Somedays, I just don't know if I'm built for this world. I just want to have calloused hands and a plump wife and a passion for the earth. Concrete jungles and UPCs and Hugo Chavez scare the hell out of me. I don't feel like I'm enough for the 21st century --that there's some part of me that somehow got left on the assembly line, and no one bothered to let me know how to get replacement. I sit up at night and wonder what in the world is going on around me. If any of this makes a lick of sense to the people I pass on my way to work in the morning. Because if it does, throw me a bone here. Cause I've got nothing.

Under the weight of so much bullshit, I just want to crumble. I'm not enough for this world. It makes so little sense that what little sense it does make seems more like fiction than reality. This is more than simply finding my path or my passion or my calling. It's finding a way to function that doesn't make me want to slash my wrists every time I pull into a gas station or send an email or buy a hamburger.

In my heart of hearts, I want to fight crime and have kids and broker peace in the Middle East. I want to plant churches and root up oppression. I want to tie the world's pain to a big fucking boulder and send it hurlting into outer space. Just to be done with it. Once and for all.

I want Jesus to come back and give me that new body he promised me ages and ages ago.

Instead, I keep trudging, figuring out the smaller problems one at a time, hoping that something will start to snowball eventually, all the way to the eschaton.

Or something like that.

And who knows, maybe I'll find my wife and my kids and my farm one of these days. And cake my fingernails with the dust of God's own country. And live life like it was meant to be lived.

And, in my spare time, blow some shit up every once in while.

You know, just for fun.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Beatles and Bazaan and Blue Jean Shorts

I have this thing for the Beatles.

One time, when I was in college, Dr. Lance Clark had the HC Comm Dept pay for me to go to Cornerstone. Me and Michele and Brandon and Dave got press passes, and they kind of let you roam where ever you wanted -- you know, back stage and in the press tent and maybe other places that I forget. We borrowed Micah Beckwith's Jimmy and drove along I-80 south of Chicago with absolutely no air conditioning. And it was July. And it was a disaster.

But not the festival. Brandon and I hung out in the press tent as much as possible. We were the only ones who asked Bill Mallonee questions not having to do with that one song he wrote about sexing up his wife. And we were the only ones to ask Starflyer 59 any questions at all in a tent full of journalists -- we sat in the front and basically had a conversation with Jason Martin and that one bass player named Cloud while everyone else dicked around with the reporter-bags and pretended to be interested.


Also, this guy Fuzzy from college was there, too. I remember he liked POD.

Michele and I interviewed Jon and Nick from Unwed Sailor between the giant merch tents, and talked about JPUSA and Fugazi and what it meant to be in a band that didn't sing lyrics. I saw Jon play four different sets that year. One with Nick that was old-school Sailor, one with Ester Drang that was all new material, one with Roadside Monument that might have been the best hardcore show ever, and then one on the mainstage with David Bazaan as Pedro the Lion.

Which brings us back to the Beatles. Almost.

Dave was going through some weird phase at the time (for all I know, he still is) where he would take questions from the audience during his set. People asked about everything -- his cheap-ass guitar, his darker albums, his swearsies and songs about copulating, and his favorite band.

It was the Beatles.

And he did this all in front of thousands of people, who were really just waiting around for Jennifer Knapp and Toby Mac, while he wore these amazing cut-off jean shorts.

Possibly my favorite rock and roll moment of all time.

So from what I can tell, Dave Bazaan and I would be friends. Because A) we both have things for the Beatles; and B) we both have cut-off jean shorts in our closet.

Mine are from camp, where every spring I would take a couple pairs of pants and just cut off the legs right around the knees and wear them all summer long. Because I was poor (as usual) and couldn't afford real shorts, except for that one pair of khaki skate-shorts I bought from Old Navy in 2000 that I currently have on right now.

They're pretty tattered these days, but they have no embarrassing rips or holes, which makes them wearable.

So I wear them.

While listening to "Please Please Me" and "I'll Get You" and "Twist & Shout".

And wishing that Dave Bazaan would just leave Jade Tree and hole up with Jonathon Ford and write music I could actually care about again.


Friday, November 04, 2005

The Heart of the Father

Further Thoughts on the State of the Suburban Church

What makes you feel guilty?

I had a conversation with my brother this week about guilt and conviction. Apparently, David was confronted by someone in his congregation (let's call him Jack) who felt that David's teaching on a Christian's responsibility to assist the poor was a misrepresentation of Scripture. "Jack" said that if David felt convicted to help the poor, that was great. But because Jack didn't feel convicted in that way, he didn't feel it was a universal principle that David ought to be teaching on.

A little bit of background. The church David works for is located in the suburbs of a small metropolitan area. Most of the pastoral staff at his church only feel "led" to equip their congregation with the necessary skills to minister to other suburbanites. David and his wife, however, don't live in the suburbs along with most of the church. They both have experiences teaching in impoverished urban environments, and live in a decidedly low-scale part of town. But it was never their plan. They live where they live because it's what they can afford. And they've worked where they've worked because it's where God presented opportunities for gainful employment. But, as is often the case, God took advantage of their situation, and has been giving David and Wendy a heart for their neighborhood. That's how God works. He makes our plans his plans eventually....if we're open to it. Sometimes, even when we're not.

Back to Jack. Jack's perspective is one held by a good number of suburban Christians. In my last post, I talked a little bit about what drove people to the suburbs in the first place, and those same reasons still apply today. Suburbs are a fenced-off area for those who can afford it, offering safe streets, good schools, low crime rates and easy-access to $4 coffees and Baby Gaps. They get you out of the big-bad city and into a worry-free environment. Or so the story goes.

But the Christian is called to more. Even suburbanites are called by Christ to identify with and offer direct service to the poor and oppressed.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him.... then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' (Matt. 25:31-40)

Jesus continues with strong words for those who ignore the poor: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave me no food..." Scary stuff, indeed.

But Jack still doesn't feel "convicted" about helping the poor. This lack of conviction seems to stem from a post-Holiness/Charismatic condition that paralyzes the Protestant Church of today: The belief that if the Holy Spirit doesn't convict me of something, it's not a problem I have to worry about. Don't feel bad when you hear about thousands of AIDS deaths in Africa? Nothing to worry about. Don't get convicted when you refuse to make eye contact with the guy on the street shaking a cup of change? It's just natural. Don't feel bad about ignoring millions of people on death's door halfway across the globe? Crap luck, but that's life.

This sort of justification for inaction sweeps a large part of the Gospel message neatly under the rug [see older posts on this topic both here and there]. And it completely ignores how we as Christians encounter the risen Christ. While it's true that there is a universal moral law of sorts, "urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong" as C.S. Lewis wrote -- an universal that guides our hearts apart from the knowledge found in Scripture -- it's only in the reading of and reflecting on the revelation of God found in the Bible that we truly encounter Jesus as Lord.

And it's only when we encounter Christ in this way -- when we seek after the heart of Father God just as he did -- that we come to know what it means to be a people marked by love, a people known for their compassion and graciousness despite of our faults as fallen human beings.

Conviction, as the Christian understands it, doesn't come by reflecting on good thoughts or trying to understand the shadowy "will" of the Spirit. Conviction comes through prayerful reflection on the stories and teachings found in the Bible, specifically the teachings and actions of God in Christ Jesus.

Now it's one thing to study the Bible and have knowledge of what the words say. Anybody can do that. The words of the Bible are available in Greek and Hebrew and English and Mandarin for anyone to see and read and comprehend.

But the Christian is equipped with the guidance of the Spirit when approaching Scripture. Not in some syrupy, pseudo-spiritual way, but in a way that opens our meditations on Scripture in ways that are only available to those who seek the Risen Christ. With the guidance of the Spirit we can do more than simply know of Jesus, we encounter the Incarnate Son -- the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us.

No one can expect Jack to ever feel convicted to help the poor if his church never talks about it -- if they never reflect on what it means that God in Christ humbled himself in becoming human, humbled himself to die, humbled himself to being nailed to a wooden post, a death reserved for common criminals. Christ's humiliation on Golgotha was the ultimate example a cross-cultural experience if there ever was one -- the Word made flesh and submitting to death. If we claim to live by Christ's example, if we seek to live a life under the shadow of the cross and the hope of the resurrection, how can we not seek to identify with the situation of those who are different from us?

But it takes time. My brother is a patient man, and knows that rivers don't change direction overnight. Jack needs someone to gradually open up those less-traveled portions of Scripture for him, dust-covered passages from so long a time spent on the shelf suburban bliss. There is a place for the prophetic word in these situations, but there is also the place for Christians pulling Christians alongside themselves with grace and mercy and patience and compassion. The suburban church has long been a stronghold for ignorance. And it take time, decades perhaps, for the Bible to get a good dusting off. But eventually, God makes his plans known, and his desires made public.

Because there will always be someone to preach the Word. Someone to speak the Gospel. Someone to teach how the cross should turn our lives upside down, and someone to testify how the empty tomb should turn our priorities inside out.

And this is how we encounter Christ. Reflecting on the risen Lord, through the revelation of the Bible, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the midst of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Putting away the old man, and putting on a brand new suit, tailor-made just for us. Turning our eyes away from our own selfish desires and reaching out to the hungry and the thirsty and naked and the sick and the oppressed.

In other words, seeking him. And him alone.

Friday, October 28, 2005

So many thoughts about the church, communism, consumerism, Joe McCarthy and suburban America.

It All Starts With Pledges

1954 Congress passed legislation adding the phrase "one nation under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance." Before that, apparently, we were just "indivisible" for purely secular reasons. That is, until the communists started infiltrating every sphere of public life.

At the time, America was at the height of Joseph McCarthy's "Red Scare," and that very same scare is what supposedly prompted Congress to add the phrase.

Here's the official line: Public servants were stuck in a game of one-upmanship, trying to outdo each other in their fidelity to God and country in the wake of McCarthy's attacks on the Godless communists. J. Edgar Hoover encouraged parents to make sure their children were active church-goers, "since communists are anti-God." President Eisenhower described himself as the "most intensely religious man I know," and declared: "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, most basic, expression of Americanism." The very next year, not to be outdone, Congress added the phrase "In God We Trust" to all American currency.

Or Maybe It All Starts With Churches

During the 1950s church membership soared. Less than half of the adult population in the U.S. belonged to churches before WWII. By the end of 1959, some 65% held church memberships. It's easy to make the popular connection that strong anti-communist sentiments by a few public figures led to an upsurge in church membership. Just as political figures were trying to prove their "Americanism" by putting God at the forefront, Americans were proving their patriotism by joining churches in startling numbers.

Religious conviction was nothing new to most Americans, but in an era where McCarthy was "outing" public figures like John Steinbeck and General George Marshall as communists, it seemed like public church membership was the only way to "prove" private religious beliefs. Joining a church was really about the only way to say, "Hey, I'm no Communist."

But hold on a minute. While it's easy to say that the Red Scare led to a post-war surge in public church attendance, other factors ought to be taken into consideration.

While McCarthy's witch-hunt lasted for roughly four years (from early 1950 until December of 1954 when he was cited for contempt by the Senate), the church boom found its start in the immediate events following World War II.

Or Maybe What It Really Starts With Is Housing Booms

After the war, over 20 percent of the population moved to a new residence each year. Soldiers back from the front used their popularity and prestige to secure new jobs and promotions, many using the new GI Bill to go back to school and earn degrees on the government's tab. Large corporations, which had been heavily regulated before and during the war, used their newfound freedoms by moving jobs across the country at a dizzying rate.

At the same time, Americans witnessed the invention of the suburb. WWII saw an influx of African-Americans moving to the city looking for work, mostly in the booming defense-industries of the North and West. When GI's came back from the war, some found their old neighborhoods completely changed. The suburban phenomenon created a new neighborhood for Anglo-GIs to settle: the Crab-Grass Frontier.

Early suburbs were attractive to GIs because already affordable prices were made even more attractive by low-interest home loans to WWII vets per the GI Bill. Access to jobs in the city was made possible when the federal government invested millions of dollars on 75,000 miles worth of new highways. Car production soared from 2 million in 1946 to 8 million in 1955. Suddenly, suburbs sprang up everyone, attracting even more young families away from the changing urban landscape.

Mass migrations made it difficult for middle-class Americans to find a sense of place and set down permanent roots. A post-WWII quest for community ensued. These new suburban families were more likely than other American to be "joiners," finding community in civic organizations, gardening clubs, bridge clubs, athletic associations and so on.

But most importantly, they flocked to churches. Which brings us back to the beginning. Remember, less than half of the adult population in the U.S. belonged to churches before WWII. By the end of 1959, some 65% held church memberships.

Fittingly, It Really Starts With Buying Tons Of Worthless Crap

WWII also saw Americans on the homefront ration common goods in order to strengthen the war effort. American industry reached new levels of productivity, hiring millions of women and minorities to keep pace with war-time demand. The U.S. came out of WWII the strongest and most efficient industrial nation in the world. The wars in Europe and Asia had devastated those countries' economies, leaving America's industries to fill the post-war void.

With so much capital flowing through the country in the immediate years following the war, and with an American society that had finally found its way out of the Great Depression and a war of self-sacrifice, Americans were ready to spend. And boy did they ever spend. New homes, cars, refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, etc., etc., etc.

Marketers, ever watchful of consumer tastes, created the modern advertising culture in order to tap into the spending spree. Instead of simply marketing products people needed, they created a new consumer demand for products that had once been available only for the affluent. Keeping up with the Jones' was now an essential component of the American Dream. By 1970, with only 6 percent of the world's population, Americans produced and consumed 2/3 of the world's goods.

And It Starts With Churches Trying To Get In On The Action

Churches applied the same marketing techniques to bring in new parishioners. Billboards, print media, television and radio advertised upbeat, optimistic messages for an upbeat, optimistic era. The Protestant Council of New York City urged its members to "project" messages of "love, joy, courage, hope, faith, trust in God, goodwill. Generally avoid condemnation, criticism, controversy. In a very real sense, we are 'selling' religion, the good news of the Gospel."

Chief progenitor of this message was the popular minister Norman Vincent Peale, author of the widely popular book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

"Flush out all depressing, negative, and tired thoughts," Peale wrote. "Start thinking faith, enthusiasm and joy." As long as one followed this advice, you could become "a more popular, esteemed, and well-liked individual." Just the kind of person who would thrive in the new corporate world and suburban community!

Where Does It Start Again? Oh, That's Right! Evangelicalism!!!

It's fitting that modern evangelical theology found its birth in the setting of the 1950s. C.F. Henry's rise to fame came during the late 40s and early 50s, capped off by being named founding editor of Christianity Today (the flagship publication of the new evangelicalism) in 1956.

This new evangelicalism was fundamentalist in theology, but with a greater appreciation for social and cultural dimensions of the Gospel than the old fundamentalists had been. As suburban churches were booming, the new evangelical theology was as well. By no coincidence, many of those new churches happened to be ones founded by evangelicals. And these new evangelicals, with a passion for Christianizing the social order, eventually saw an opportunity to do so through politics. So even though it would take some 40 odd years for evangelicals to coalesce around the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the Red Scare was most likely the first great "social movement" of the new evangelicalism.

America in the 50s was on the fast track towards being dominated by a new, optimistic, conservative evangelical culture. It just didn't know it yet.

So for modern evangelicals (who have only historically existed since the years following WWII), phrases like "In God We Trust" and "One Nation Under God" are foundational to American principles -- because for them, "American principles" were only set forth about 50 years ago, in their initial rise to political power during the great Red Scare. McCarthy's witch-hunt wasn't what put butts in the pews, those butts were there just in time to egg McCarthy on.

That McCarthy went too far denouncing one freedom-loving-American-too-many might have set the new movement back before it even got started. But by 1968, this "Silent Majority" sent the hard-nosed conservative Richard Nixon to the White House for two consecutive terms. And by 1980, they were silent no longer after finding public figures, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who could voice their concerns.

What Was I Talking About? Oh, Who Cares....

Today, with the absence of a communist party to oppose (and a Joe McCarthy to wage war on their behalf), evangelicals mostly just sneer at the far left and bicker amongst themselves. Bringing us to this past week, when evangelical infighting forced one of their own to remove her name for consideration to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Welcome to the top of the food chain, where most of the time, we just feed on ourselves.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tom Delay Goes To Jail

But he was out in 30 minutes, no sweat.

In case you missed the hoo-ha, Delay had been indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges, for taking $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions and doling it out to Republicans running for the Texas state legislature.

The reason corporations couldn't just give it right to the Republicans is because Texas campaign finance laws prohibit direct corporate contributions to candidates. Delay is accused of taking the money, "cleaning it up," then handing it around to his friends in Texas.

Delay's indictment in Texas on September 28th caused him to step down as majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, but for now, he still holds his seat in Washington. He'll make his court appearance today in Austin.

Oh, politics...I'm back!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Old blogs, new blogs, borrowed blogs, blue blogs!

In the spirit of reprints, here is the mother of them all. My Wal-Mart blog. In case you missed it, from fall 2004 to spring 2005 I worked at Wal-Mart for a while. The blog had remained a secret until now. So without further ado, here is an account of my travels.

I even have a fan!

Oh, Wal-Mart....

Friday, October 14, 2005

The one that should have led to rumors about me going crazy, but didn't.

Written with much frustration, after deciding I couldn't be the moral conscious of anyone -- specifically my college. Also, one of the first times I started sounding like Anne Lamott. The Dave Eggers bits would come later.

How am I not myself?


I've decided that enough is enough. You don't need me to lend what little wisdom I have, bleeding from the ears as it were, as if I had anything of great importance to say. You don't need me to coax, yell or cajole you into action. You don't need my cynicism, my optimism, my witty rejoinders on faith and culture. What you really need, I can't give.

So I give what I can -- namely whatever I have left over at the end of the day. Banging my head against metaphorical walls (and occasionally quite solid ones); clinging tight as to cut off the blood to my fingers, keeping hold of all my best and guilt-ridden secrets. Splicing together hackneyed sentence fragments as if I could actually create something worth your five minutes. It’s Sunday night at the Rice family household. And that means break out the leftovers.

There is something that I am proud of. Over the last year or so I have finally become comfortable with my neuroses. I can finally rejoice in the fact that I am messed up. That I don't have it all together.

That I love Jesus. This is true, true, true. But that I say quite the nastiest things to him in my most vulnerable moments. That I directed words to the face of Christ that I would never imagine uttering to another human being. These things make me shudder.

I can't imagine how he feels when I do this. So of course, I don't. Ignorance is....well, ignorance. Instead I direct these terrible thoughts at my subconscious -- which eerily looks, acts and sounds like Burt Reynolds. Hint for life: It's much easier to direct God-related anger at Burt Reynolds. And sometimes, I convince myself that I don't even have to feel guilty about it.

I really don't want to have it all together. At least, not anytime soon. Granted. St. Paul calls us out and challenges us to strive for holiness; that is, living as Christ lived. And I want that. But sometimes it's amusing to find great satisfaction in brilliant fake conversations that I hold only in my mind; or screaming at stray cats as if they were actually there; or praying to God at least once a month that when I wake up in the morning I have the uncanny ability to pick up any musical instrument by ear in a matter of seconds. These things are important – let’s not kid ourselves.

I can’t get over the fact that even though life refuses to let me in on even a glimpse at my future [Would one little peek do so much damage? I've seen Back to the Future. I know how to handle these things], I keep on trudging. With big boots on. Ones that keep me firmly anchored in the muck and mire of my own shortcomings, yes. But it's through those shortcomings and neuroses that I see Jesus work the most. And I’ll never really go nuts, because God gives gifts. And such wonderful, wonderful gifts.

Like I passion to write. I need to write. And write and write and write. Books for kids. Books about kids. Books for kids about kids. Books for grownups. Books about grownups (but never just about grownups). Books about faith. And grace. And discipleship. And ducks and trees and night skies and Monte Rivero and Phil Simms and Jackson Browne and peanut butter pie. Most definitely peanut butter pie.

And those moments when reality collapses on itself and transcends itself for just a moment. And you know you can do anything. And fight for what is just. And love those who seem unlovable. And take the world by the wrist and drag it kicking and screaming all the way to its room. And slam the door and say, “World, until you calm down, and apologize to your sister, you will not leave this house. Do you hear me?”

Oh good golly. That’s what I want to write about.

And I think I can do these things only because I don’t understand why I act like I act. Or why I love like I love (or most often, fail to love). Or why I just cannot develop an appetite for mushrooms. Or why I can’t seem to get over this incredible crush I had Shannon Brindley the summer before fifth grade. (I don’t think you realize how perfect this girl was for me....)

The romantic in me knows there’s such a thing as kismet. But that stronger empiricist occasionally beats him to a bloddy pulp with a baseball bat. Yes, it would be nice if my mind were prettier. But it would also be nice if Bon Jovi perished with much pain and screaming in a horrendous fireworks accident. Deal with it.

So I tend to wallow sometimes. “Woe is me! Why can’t things just fall into place?” I read Carl Sandburg. I feel better. I watch romantic comedies. I feel worse. Sometimes laughing helps. Sometimes screaming helps more. It depends.

We argue. We fume. We let pride get its way. We imagine. We dream. We fail as often as we succeed. We say wonderful things. We say vicious things. We can’t seem to hold life together as it bursts at the seams from so much stress and pressure.

"It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." I know it was dark that night. There was oppression and tears and tax collectors and cheap whores for miles around in Judea. And then a miracle happened. And wherever there is oppression and tears, madmen with bombs, and seemingly sane men who feel indestructible because they have even more bombs, Jesus is born.

So we digress. We click our heels. And when that fails to work, we swear at the stars, sigh impatiently, cluck at the neighbors, reach for friends, pray prayers of "help" and "please", shudder at the thought that there might never be a response, wipe the crumbs from our mouths, and listen to the hum of streetlight, thinking, “Tomorrow, I think I may walk to the grocery store.”


p.s. This was printed not long before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and might contain my first subtle swipe of dissatisfaction with G.W. Bush. Did you spot it? It's like a game! But with no prizes....only an awesome war that everybody wants to just go away!

Shoo, war! Shoo!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Michael Moore and Immediate Thoughts Following His Films

So many things to write about in the here and now, yet I'm still posting reprints? What a jackass, I know. But just a couple more, I promise. This one was written in a Borders in Billings, MT, just a few minutes after I saw Fahrenheit 911. So oooooold. But I wanted it up here again. Because it was a turning point for this blog, when I decided that important things were worth writing about; even if my friends, scattered here and there and everywhere, didn't agree with me.


Back to the Future III was on TBS the other day, and while cleaning the house, I caught the last half an hour or so. I joined in right before Doc takes his one shot of Whiskey and passes out on the bar room floor. My favorite line from the movie comes later in the scene: "Joey, let's make some wake-up juice!" (Side-note: I did a Google search on the line, because I'm a geek, and only found one hit for the line. That's kind of sad [in more ways than one].) Anyways, the "juice" does the trick, and Doc sobers up right quick.

Confession: I'm a wuss, and I've never been real drunk. For the most part, I don't like alcohol much. Red wine tastes a bit like vinegar poured through dirty socks, and most beer smells like urine, and tastes like armpit sweat. These are just my opinions, so you don't have to agree. So even though I've never been a raging alcoholic, today I learned what it feels like to sober up. Just about fifteen minutes ago, I got done watching Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore's documentary about September 11, homeland security, and the war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and abroad. And all I can say at this point is that it was, if nothing else, sobering.

Let's get the BS out of the way upfront. Moore's documentary is not journalism (it barely even pretends to be objective). It's incredibly biased, narrated by the author -- rather than a detached, observant third party; and Moore leans heavily on emotional pathos rather than argumentative, persuasive fact telling in order to make his case. His documentaries are more left-leaning propaganda than reasoned, articulate accounts of the state of affairs in Flint, Columbine, Iraq, or wherever else he might be shooting. They have to be consumed with discernment and judged only after a thorough examination of the facts in question. But damn if this guy isn't persuasive.

I don't want to talk too much about the content of the documentary. Just to say that Fahrenheit 911 has high points and low points, moments where I wanted to yell obscenities at Moore for distorting facts, and moments where I almost stood up and shouted, "Amen!" If anything, this film has gumption. It also has courage, and it intentions are pure. If it screws things up, it s because its director is just another messed up human. Moore might be totally off base at times, and he might beat certain things to death that should never have been beaten in the first place. But it cannot be said that Moore is not passionate, and it cannot be argued the he is not righteous in his cause. Because, completely factual or not, his cause is righteous. Fahrenheit 9/11 is about many things, but its mostly about patriotism. Maybe not my brand of patriotism, and maybe not yours, but it is about patriotism nonetheless.

If you have friends or relatives in the armed services, whether in Iraq or anywhere else around the world, please go see this film. If you care about the world community's view of Western Christianity, as our soldiers (whether Christian or not) represent the American church to countries who have zero contact with your little country parish, please, go see this film. If you plan to cast a vote, ever again, at any point in the rest of your life, for any publicly held position of government authority, please, [here is where I beg] please go see this film. You don't have to agree with Moore; you can even hate and taunt him with belittling names, drawing malicious little doodles on his face in print adds, mocking his every word. But you at least have to hear what he has to say before you can begin to criticize. Because what he has to say is sobering, and it is just.

I could be writing about Back to the Future III right now, because, to be honest, I really love it. It takes me back to 4th grade, when things were simpler because Iraq was invading other countries for oil, and Don Mattingly was the greatest baseball player God had ever breathed into existence. But I can't just write about the exploits of Doc Brown and Marty McFly all the time, because it wouldn't be right. We've got to talk about what's important sometimes, and we've got to figure out what's best for our nation, simply put because we're called to: "And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindly, and to walk humbly with your God?"

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work." That last verse from Titus is especially poignant, because things have changed since Paul's day. The People are the rulers now, and the public servants we elect answer to us. We're the boss, and it's up to us to exercise an informed opinion. And if our servants in public office fail to submit to the will of the People, it's up to the People to set things straight. It's what we're called to.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Pop Music Manifesto

This one was my very first livejournal entry, posted about a year ago now. Initially, I had hoped to make my LJ a music-only blog. That lasted maybe two weeks, until I realized I couldn't really write about music. What follows was my opening salvo in a very short war. It's still real fun to read though.


Modern pop music is in a state of disarray. Between MTV fashion-is-music flavor-of-the-week; VH1 safe-house of the over-the-hill major-label-elite; freeware file-sharing distribution debates, corporately-funded across-the-board uninspired-monotony, and underground hyper-nostalgic hearken-back to days of hipster yore; I have nothing left. I can't stand Clear Channel's rape of the airwaves, can't stand the elitist attitudes of the indie rock/underground scene, can't find an artist that doesn't just rip off someone else who came before them (and probably did it ten times better).

This unregulated music media industry where bigger-than-life corporations monopolize record labels, radio stations, music venues and distribution centers, makes for one sorry state of pop music. Even in the Information Age, new and exciting stuff gets harder to find, and stands little chance of continued existence if artists fail to bow to the pressure of their own commercial interests. In order to live (and oftentimes live comfortably), commerce supercedes art. And good music dies with it.

I hate the scene. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please, go back to your Nickleback-utopia and thank your lucky stars. If you do, I don't need to really explain it. What good is a subculture if it's just as homogeneous as pop culture? What good are those fucking retarded wallet-chains, black t-shirts, studded belts, and buddy holly glasses when you can't pick out one scenster from another? Why wear the Che Guevara shirt when you don't have a clue who the man actually was? And don't you dare have that vintage Clash poster hanging up in your room if you're just another run-of-the-mill Hot Topic capitalist-consumer. A good friend of mine once told me that he thought it impossible to truly be a Buddhist and live in America. I think the same idea could apply to punk rock. I hate the scene.

Why do I like Denison Witmer so much? Because Jacksone Browne has sucked since 1976. Why can't I get enough of the current garage rock revival? Because popular rock'n'roll has pretty much sucked in recent years, and I can't time travel back to the 60s and see the Rolling Stones before they imploded, churning out faux-disco hits and continuing to tour even though they haven't had an original thought since Richard Nixon was president. The only genre to truly have broken any ground in the last ten years is the rap scene, yet as we speak the hip-hop generation grows stale due to over-exposed crass-commercialization (reference retread rhymes from 50-Cent and the recent precipitous decline of the fabulous Roots band). As soon as executives get ahold of something, it crumbles to dust under the weight of its own marketing strategy -- which in general, is to flood the market with whatever pap it is they're peddling (until the market gets sick of it), making as much money as possible in as short a time as possible. Then rinse, repeat, and the cycle begins again.

I am the industry's bitch, and am as much to blame for the sorry state of affairs as they are. Music as art, music as newness and innovation, music as rebellion, is going extinct because of me.

The last album I heard that made me want to weep in public by just thinking about it was the Ágætis Byrjun. And even then, it was only new because of my general lack of knowledge concerning 20th Century avant-garde. Can we even create new things anymore? Will there ever be another Ray Charles, another Little Richard, another Lennon/McCartney or Lou Reed? Not if things keep to the course they seem to be following.

Stop whining about it. What you say doesn't matter. What you download doesn't matter. What you fucking write on the fucking internet does not matter one fucking iota. The revolution will not be blogged. It will be bought. What matters is what you purchase, or what you refuse to purchase. But alone, even that doesn't matter. Revolution cannot happen when a half-dozen people boycott the local Sam Goody. What we need is an army.

So I give up. I can't continue buying modern pop music, grumbling half-heartedly about all this crap until the day I die. I want to be moved. I want pop music to matter. I want it to influence public policy, not in a "oh-yeah-Sheryl-Crow-is-against-human-rights-violitions-in-Bosnia" kind of way, but in a "Woody Guthrie brought to light the plight of 1930s Dust-Bowl refugees with just a voice and a guitar" kind of way. Modern pop music is in a state of disarray. Let's just cut our losses and let it die. In the meantime, I'm going to advocate a return to pop music's roots. Even though my money will still find it's way to EMI, BMG, or Sony Music, I won't be spending it on new releases. I'm gonna buy, beg, borrow, and steal the old stuff. And find out what used to matter. What still matters. What might matter in years to come.

So let's go back to the beginning, when rock music meant rebellion. When good music was popular because it was different and revolutionary, not because MTV, Clear Channel, Pitchfork and Paste say it's good. The following is an account of one spoiled American's travels into rock-n-roll's rich, dynamic past. I might still be a consumer, but I refuse to buy like a typical 24-year-old. Pete Seeger and Bo Diddley can be the shit again. Not because Rolling Stone tells me so, but because I say so. Because we say so.

It begins.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The one about God and Time and subtle excuses for my constant disregard of clocks

This was written in Montana, when I first started a nifty little book called A Sideways Look At Time by one Jay Griffths. Miss Griffiths writes like Brennan Manning, if Mr. Manning were a postmodern feminist and hated Christianity. 1.5 years later, I am still on page 253 (of about 400), but that says nothing of the quality of her work -- just of my inability to consistently finish books not written for children.


Into The Void

Time is a funny thing. This past year has been flying by (yes, I still measure years from September-August), and I just don't get it. In school, I had all these false measuring sticks in the form of deadlines for papers, exams, and holidays. When I had an impending project due, time just seemed to drag mericilessly. The five years I spent at college seemed equal in length to the previous 18, spent mostly creating fictional sports teams with only my baseball card collection and an over-active imagination.

But now, post-college, things are just breezing by; events flash by like street lamps from car windows. I can barely hold onto moments before they become memories. I hope this isn't how life after school is like, because I'll be wearing diapers again in no time.

Time is such a fluid measurement, and so subject to wherever we happen to be when we take notice of it. Before global Westernization, cultures had very different ways of telling time (and some still do). Most of these relied on nature based measurements for time: the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the cycle of seasons and yearly changes in plant life and animal migration.

Like good modernists, we've "scienitificied" (a new word!) these measurements, so that sunset happens at a different "time" every night. Sunset is now an event, not an actual time of day. The second is a precise measurement that now has something to do with atomic oscillation (don't ask me). As little as two hundred years ago, we barely used for the second. Now it's what drives our work, our competitions, our entertainment, our everything.

That God Guy Is Always Showing Up Late To Meetings

I wonder what God thinks of all this. Sure, theologically speaking, God "invented" the 7-day week, but before that.... Were there heavenly weeks? Did it matter? Will it matter in eternity? Funny questions, sure. But as far as the present goes, how does God relate to our sense of time?

We often talk about God being outside of time and space, as if he were cut off from the limitations that they present. God is bigger than space, because all the matter and empty space in the universe could not contain him. God is bigger than time, because he existed before it existed; he exists eternally in spite of it; and he will continue to exist after it (if there is an "after it"). But I think we're missing something when we talk about God and time in this manner. Mainly, God probably doesn't experience time and space like we do, because he doesn't understand them like we do.

Think of how children understand time. Seconds, minutes, hours, even weeks and months don't mean much to a child. They experience everything in the eternal now; concepts of past and future are hard for them to grasp. Five minutes from now might as well be five days from now in their convoluted yet beautiful sense of logic.

Now, if you're okay with me doing this, let's suppose (just for a second) that Christ's love for the little ones extended to their understanding of time, as well as faith. Remember, for eternity past God the Son never worried about time. But as a human, people were constantly demanding for his presence at a certain time and a certain place. Adding to the urgency was his own sense of mortality and impending death that would come to fruition not three years into his public ministry. Jesus, come heal my son before he dies. Jesus, come sit with these publicans before tax season. Jesus, come talk to these prostitutes before the next night passes. Jesus, meet me here tonight so that my fellow Pharisees don't find out who I'm meeting with. Jesus, come die before Passover. Even the Trinity could not escape giving time-based commands to the Son. Excluding all the other difficulties that came with God becoming man, this alone would have been enough to drive any normal person insane.

Christ might have related to children quite a bit on this level. They ignored time because it didn't exist in a concrete sense to them. They cared little for it, and never expected to care for it either. Let's suppose, once again, that this is just a little glimpse into how God views time. Maybe God doesn't so much exist outside of time, than he just doesn't understand time like we do.

Can't Fight The Fever or Why Doesn't Anybody Really Understand Me?

Now hold on. I'm not saying we get something God can't, I'm just suggesting that we experience time in such a way, that God really has no use for it. Think about it, we wouldn't say that God knows what it's like to pinch a candy bar from the local grocier, because we hold to the belief that God has never done such a thing. We also wouldn't say that God knows what it's like to physically consummate a marriage, because God's never been married, let alone had a girlfriend. Couldn't we also say that God doesn't get our understanding of time because he doesn't understand time like we do? Maybe?

I don't know. Whatever you feel, I think it's interesting to try to understand that God doesn't really exist apart from time as much as he understands time in a radically different way than we do. If we met someone who existed from all eternity past (and guess what, we have), we'd probably think his way of going about things crazy and impractical (maybe even unjust or unfair?). God is outside of time, not because he physically resides outside of its sphere, but because he probably "gets" time in ways that we cannot even fathom.

God and time? To be frank, who cares? I'm pretty sure he doesn't. (God that is, not frank.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The one that led to those nasty rumors that I might be going crazy.

Preface #1 (Sept 05)

This post could get real confusing, real fast. Mostly because this preface is actually the first of two prefaces. The second preface was the original preface when this first found its way into print about 3 years ago. Hopefully the bold faced subtitles will keep things in order. If not, just ignore this whole event.

Preface #2 (Oct 02)

I am convinced of two things.

One, I will fail miserably. I will say what I don't want to say. I will do things that horrify me. I will act like the asshole that I am.

I will open my mouth when nothing needs to be said, and I will remain silent when words are absolutely necessary. I will try to follow the plans God has for me, but end up destroying his amazing designs with marvelous beauty and attention to the smallest of details.

I will ruin it all. And the harder I try not to, the harder I will fall.

Two, God will not fail me. No matter how ruinous and utterly non-sensical I make his plans, He will not give up.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will pick me up every time, bandage my wounds, dust me off, and point me in the right direction. All the while with a smile on his lips as leans in and whispers in my ear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

And it's all I can do not to break down and quit the game every time I fall. Because I don't deserve the second chance. Or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth one either.

Last year, I thought about what success meant as far as the Great Commission was concerned. Are we as the Body of Jesus Christ winning or losing? How do you even quantify such a question? I also thought a lot about what it meant to be an evangelical Christian. What are the "boundaries" of evangelicalism? One day, during class with Luke Fetters, I started scribbling on my handout. Let me warn you first -- I was angry. Angry at Christians for not taking evangelism seriously. Angry at myself for not taking Christ's commission seriously. And this is what I came up with:

The Actual Body Proper (May 02)

We have failed.

We are forming and molding young minds to be a step above lukewarm lights to a nation that has heard the Gospel once, twice, thrice and again. A Gospel of Jerry Falwell bigotry, Binny Hinn 17-bedroom prosperity theology, Pat Robertson cozy up to Communist China, James Dobson right wing political fury.

While we preach a "Christ-less" Gospel to our own native tribe, letting out lights shine on dimmed battery, half-assed evangelical in-fighting, other tribes are dying. Dying to hear of a king who would die rather than rule. A king who serves. A king who weeps for his people.

We have failed.

We no longer understand what the Gospel of Christ is or the power of the grace which undergirds His story. Our Intro to Religion classes barely scratch the surface of the width and depth and breadth of the grace of Jehovah Jireh.

Our professors have known and experienced what the power of Christ can do -- what the call of Christ entails. But they can't be too honest about it because he might alienate the young saints of their class. They can't help us understand our faith because our churches have failed to teach us the reality of very God we claim as Sovereign Lord.

To be sovereign means to have control. But we live like we despise God's mighty hand over our lives, if we even recognize his right to our lives at all. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. But we can't seem to give up the physical things that bring us comfort. Not that, Lord. No, not that.

Is he Lord? Do we recognize his right as our Creator to own us if he so wills? No. We chafe at the thought because we are independent to the very selfish my-welfare-is-the-only-fare part of our Western, junkfood, instantaneous gratification core.

We might as well tell Christ to fuck off, because we're already flipping Him the finger with the way we live our lives.

We have failed.

Go ye into all the world.

This isn't a specific calling to specific individuals. It is a command to the body of Christ. God is going to call you to an area on this earth of his where the Gospel must be preached. It might be to North America. It might be to China. It might be to Kenya. It might be to Katmandu. If you don't feel called to a certain geography, a certain culture, or a certain field of work, get down on your stiff-knecked knees and pray for soft eyes and a weeping heart.

I have failed.

My lackluster Christianity has impacted not as nearly many people as I have been given the opportunity to impact for the kingdom of Christ. And even if that is false modesty and pride disguised as humility, it is still a colossal failure.

I am called to be a raging light to a lost and dying world. I am called to shine like the stars. Failure cannot be an option with the kingdom of God on the line.

Christ is seen in the midst of the gathered community. How well do you think Christ can be seen today?

Postscript #1 (Oct 02)

And that's what I wrote. And I know that somewhere I actually believe it. But not enough. Not nearly enough.

Yet all the while, he wipes away my tears, bends down to scoop me up, and whispers into my ear, "Well done, though good and faithful servant."

And I just don't deserve it. But I have to respond. That's all my actions are -- a pathetic yet earnest response to the grace he's shown me and the faith he's instilled in my heart.

Postscript #2 (Sep 05)

That life seems so far away these days. Work and bills and politics and theology seem to envelop the passion I used to have for telling people about the radical philosophy of the man/God called Jesus. Will I get back there? Who knows. But I do know this. He still wipes my tears, and he still scoops me up, and he still whispers sweet somethings into my ear.

And I still don't deserve it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The one about Conservatism and being Christian

I followed up on this post a year-and-a-half later with a four-parter on Christians and poverty that I might repost a little later. It's my first basic thoughts while coming to grips with being conservative yet loving the social gospel. It's never going to be on easy needle to thread....but it's worth it.

Plus, I love b/w pics of old people.


Some Thoughts On Conservative Christians & Social Change

It's time to throw off the belief that politics play little influence on the whole of our worldview. While we might not be able to put it into poli-speech, our views on the nature of humanity (harmartiology specifically) involuntarily affect who we vote for when election time comes around.

Conservatives, Liberals, David Bowie

Let's say, for just a moment, that we can easily define liberalism and conservativism (humor me). We're going to ignore the Bush/Democratic-of-the-week definitions, and stick to the underlying assumptions behind the views.

It's safe to say that conservativism is built upon a belief in a moral order ordained by a Creator and a resistance to change and progress, especially for the sake of change itself, or if change goes against said moral order. Man is a noble, yet fallen creature, and will remain that way indefinintely (government provides law and order, keeping man in check). There are also some libertarian leanings to consider, such as keeping that evil empire we call The State as small as possible, which we should also note.

On the other side, liberalism has a God more akin to the deist view, or maybe the Enlightenment god of Reason, the obtuse Watchmaker in the sky. Man is seen as essentially good, able to bring about a utopian heaven on earth through proper education and constant restructuring of society. Change is not only good, but it is needed on a day-to-day basis.

In some ways, the Democratic/Republican split is still divided by these distinctions. Especially when it comes to Christians who are involved in the political process. Liberal Christians who don't believe in an actual "Fall" are usually Democrats seeking progress -- a sort of postmillennialism put to a political agenda. Christian Conservatives who do believe that humanity is basically bad news are usually Republicans who are resistant to great change, especially social change. Social programs are exercises in futility to them because sin and corruption cannot be overcome by a "benevolent" State. For example, Republicans generally don't have the same urgency as Democrats possess to save Social Security and Medicare. The Right would rather see it "wither on the tree," run out of funding, and let the market (rather than government) take over.

Righting Old Wrongs, Like Super-Hereos, Only Without Spandex

But can a Christian be theologically conservative and socially liberal? It does seem an odd combination (although Reinhold Niebuhr did his best to pull it off in the first half of the 20th century). If one appeals to the prophetic tradition of the OT in conjunction with the social revolution Jesus personified in the Gospels, it's not hard to make a case (not the time or place to do here, but maybe something to think about for later). The most glaring problem is that it makes for strange bedfellows. Conservatives with a cautious view of human nature in tandem with liberals and their exalted view of humanity -- united for social justice.

It's this belief in man's essential goodness that puts off many conservative Christians from the Democratic Party. We're suspicious of it, and rightfully so. The past 100 years haven't justified liberalism in many ways; things seem to be getting worse around the world, though generally better at home. WWI and WWII put the utopian liberal ideal on life support. Since that time conservatism has flourished in both power and intellect. Republicans have held the White House 15 of the last 23 years. The eight years of a Democratic White House under Clinton were "marred" by a liberal move to the center (a restructuring closer to the Right). Clinton was a moderate Democratic who "stole" many Republican ideas in order to lock down moderate swing voters who could have gone either way. (Does anyone remember "the era of big government is over?")

Conservatives have held onto a majority in the nation because the world is such a screwed up place, and we are terribly, terribly afraid of it.

This makes it incredibly hard for a conservative Christian to break conservative ranks on social policy and jump over to the "7 political steps to a better you" bandwagon. We know that man is fallen, but we hold fast to the belief that Scripture advocates social justice. Not egalitarianism, mind you; that would have been anathema to the NT writers, but a society that looks after the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned, by sacrificing our own right to peace and comfort.

Bush doesn't seem to hold a very high view of the above sentiment. Or if he does, he doesn't think it's the State's responsibility, but the Church's. The problem is, the Church is failing the poor to a tune of 14 million children in need of proper health care, some 34.6 million Americans living in poverty (if you're wondering how the govt defines poverty), and a wholesale rejection of the single-mother culture (it should be noted that there are more ways to be widowed than by death these days). And that's just in the United States.

Are We Men Or Are We Marxists?

So who picks up the slack? If the Church refuses to do its job, can the State step in? It already has in numerous ways through Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Food Steps, Free and Reduced Lunch Programs, Head Start, etc. But how far should the State be allowed to go? Maybe that's the real question. Can a conservative Christian push the State to take care of the poor without resorting to shades of Marxism? Or maybe, to put it another way, what does liberty really mean to the conservative who also happens to be a Christian?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Reprints: The one about Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley - His Best (The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection) [1955-1966]

Listening to Bo Diddley is like experiencing the construction of a parking garage's very foundation. It’s huge, expansive, like miles of steel supports and concrete slabs. It’s electric, anchoring gigajoules of thunder and lightning, striking at will, completely aware of the destruction it leaves in its wake.

And Bo Diddley does thunder. Growling, he's no Rico Suave, rolling his “r’”s; instead he booms along with these incredible drum beats and rhythms, daring us to challenge him, prowling around the women folk, the alpha-male of rock and roll. You know the Bo Diddley beat: bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp. Don Swoden calls it “booty rock,” meant to assist in the shaking up one’s hips, not something to listen to during moments of somberness or sobriety. It’s this beat that ushered in the era of rock music, owing to African percussion, by way of New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. It has those touches of the Bayou and the mighty Mississippi, the bastard child of the Dark Continent, Latin America, and frontier Frenchmen, but anchored in the blues of the city, fuzzy and electric, found upriver in that great midwestern mecca called Chicago. Weirdly enough, Diddley, influenced by the mighty Muddy Waters, found his first B-side, “I’m a Man,” cheekily (and soulfully) ripped off by Waters’ just two months later on Mr. Muddy’s own “Mannish Boy.”

This perhaps, shows the fence Bo Diddley straddled as a musician. With one foot in the blues -- the real blues, not some weirdzo Jonny Lang homage -- and another foot in rock and roll, teetering between the old and new. Diddley exploded, positioning himself far above the chart successes of fellow Chess label mates Waters and John Lee Hooker, but not quite reaching the heights of quintessential teenage rocker Chuck Berry, who also got his start with Chess. But Diddley's riffs are second to none, understated, yet all over the place, drenched in pre-Purple Haze fuzziness and tremolo guitar machine-shop noise. This is the kind of music that could only be invented in the age of the automobile. Not just because of it’s aural connotations, but because of how good it feels playing in the car with the windows down (top back, preferably, if at all possible), making it nearly inconceivable for most of us to even consider long car trips without music as our most faithful companion.

Sadly, Diddley is most known for his Nike commercials with Bo Jackson in the late 80s. But screw that, Bo Diddley played a freaking square guitar, he let his ineffable rhythms power his music to such incredible heights, places where the oxygen thins and the stars burn your eyes, inducing strange epileptic-like dances that could only find their source from black voices prior to Elvis Presley. Speaking of which, perhaps Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll, but Diddley was rock’s much cooler, older uncle, the kind that gives minors their first cans of Bud Light on summer fishing trips. Elvis might have had the voice of a black man and that ready made look for white-bread American television, but Diddley had that other-worldly beat, that fuzzy guitar, that turns average American joes and janes into putty; lifeless and ready to be formed into something new, something like hands in the air, shaking, fingers outstretched or pulled into fists, feet moving like fire, blue with heat and furry.

This is Bo Diddley: The man who launched a thousand rock revolutions, from Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, to the New York Dolls, the Clash and thousands of nameless garage rock gods and goddesses. This wasn’t the blues, wasn’t R&B, and most certainly wasn’t Gospel, though it felt like each one at times. No, this was something new. Something that made preachers rail and politicians quake. This was a voice heavy with contradictions, full of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and dripping with the sweet joys of liquor and fornication. This was rock and roll. And America was about to be turned inside out.

Songs to download: “Bo Diddley”; “Pretty Thing”; "Mona (a/k/a I Need You Baby)"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Reprints: The one about magic

I wrote this sometime over the summer of 2000. It was the only summer during school that I didn't head back to Michindoh to work; so I read and wrote alot. It got printed in a newspaper once. But I didn't get famous.

Anyway, here it is.


What color is magic?

I'm going to admit something really embarrassing right off the bat: I really like the movie Sleepless in Seattle. I know, maybe I'm gay in every way except for the fact that I don't like boys. But I think everyone likes it, on some level, whether they’re willing to admit it not. Sure, there might be that odd duck that’s so punk rock they hate Tom Hanks and all he stands for. But come on, the movie has magic.

That’s right. Magic. Not a word I use lightly, mind you. For anything to be truly magical it's got to inspire an audience's sense of wonder. But wonder comes in all shapes and sizes. For the Romantics, wonder was found in the countryside. Woody Allen, however, finds it in the hustle and bustle of the city. Different strokes, you know?

For a musician it might be found in a simple melody or crashing dissonance. For a physicist, wonder might be best experienced theorizing about geodesics and space-time curvatures.

Good art oftentimes just exudes wonder. Movies are no exception. There are some that you walk out of just feeling clean and refreshed. Tolkien called it “recovery" -- when art acts as a sort a window washer for the soul -- “So that things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity." And let's not limit that to a strict definition of "Fantasy." Punch Drunk Love is fantasy. So are Amelie and The Life Aqautic and Sleepless in Seattle. And the myths we experience within the confines of these films help us to look at our world in a new way -- a refreshed way.

Because they employ magic. Because they are magical.

[By the way, there are some movies that only some people will enjoy, and then there are good movies that everyone should enjoy, but some people are too stubborn and obstinate to enjoy, which is really quite ridiculous because the really good movies don’t require certain levels of testosterone or estrogen or intelligence or dullness in order for one to enjoy them – they are just simply good.]

That being said, we all find magic and wonder in different places, above or below, to the side or the centre, within or without.

I might find those little pencil shavings left in the sharpener magical, while you might prefer the simplicity of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or that moment in your favorite song when you seem to forget how to breathe (but in the best possible way, mind you).

Magic comes in many different colors. The trick is, finding the color that answers the question for you.

So what color is magic? Only you can decide that for yourself. Don’t get too concrete or analytical, though. Just go with what feels right. I tend to think of it in terms of green. Maybe for you, it’s a nice brick red, but don’t be afraid to recognize magic when it’s electric orange every second Tuesday of the week (or what have you). Trust me, it’s not something you want to miss.

But don’t think that magic can only be seen; use your others senses, too. Smell it. Touch it. Taste it. Listen for it.

P.S. If you’re having a hard time finding a place to start, 5:09 in the morning is a good place to start.

P.P.S. And when I say morning, I mean night.

P.P.P.S. And when I say night, I mean staying up so late that you go to bed when the birds start chirping.

Unfortunately, magic is a very misused and much maligned word. People today just don't know what magic is. Especially in the Christian community.

Why is it that some Christians flinch when they hear the word magic? Why do some of some of us get that dirty feeling like someone just swore in front of their mother? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has less to do with the Holy Spirit than we would like to admit. We have been conditioned, rather, to equate magic with witchcraft. And the devil couldn’t be happier.

Magic has little to do with hocus-pocus jibber-jabber, pink potions, and the ability to grow tomatoes the size hubcaps. Magic is all around us. You know that feeling when you see a magician make something disappear or pull a quarter out of your ear? That’s magic – awe and wonder at what we cannot explain or comprehend.

Magic then, cannot simply be equated with the occult. That’s what we’re led to believe because of weird-ass magicians (or is it illusionists?) like David Blain and his cronies, when that feeling of awe is mixed with downright horror while he levitates street pedestrians on Times Square. That's no more magic than pornography is love. It's a corruption of wide-eyed wonder, plain and simple.

The best thing about wonder is the literally thousands of ways God has given us to awe in his creation and works of his created. The smell of a baseball mit, held close to your face. The sight of a full moon, on a cold, crisp night. The roar of the ocean, the feel of old paperback pages, the taste of just about anything after skipping lunch to get out of work early. Maybe none of these things do it for you; but as for me and my house, they make my toes tingle.

And wonder. Quite simply, it comes from enjoying God’s wonderful (and wonder-filled) creation. God wants us to enjoy him. Creation isn't simply for his pleasure, but for ours, too.

This is why wonder is so powerful. Why it can make your head spin and your fingers numb. Because it's a gift from God. I think, deep down, even the staunchest of atheists knows that there is something transcendent about this world. In that way, whether we realize or not, we are all participants in the Sacrament of the Earth, drinking deeply from the Cup of Creation, a community of God's children bound by our love for the land.

God wants us to enjoy His creation, and in turn, enjoy Him. "What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

We do this in worship. Not simply catchy songs or even heart-felt words, but a continuous state of mind where God is simply enjoyed. A.W. Tozer defined that state of mind as the “fear of God.” Trembling not in terror, but in awe of the splendor of the world in which we live.

“When we come into this sweet relationship,” Tozer writes, “we are beginning to learn astonished reverence, breathless adoration, awesome fascination, lofty admiration of the attributes of God and something of the breathless silence that we know when God is near.”

Call it what you will. The fear of God, worship, wonder, adoration, reverence, awe – it is our dumfounded response to the infinite grace of our father.

And that very same grace is magical.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Reprints 2005


I guess I'm going to start trying to blog again. I forget I had things to say once, and also I forget just how I said them. In honor of my forgetfulness, I think my immediate goal will be to reprint things written for the internet and/or real people. Nothing new. Just old stuff pretending to be new news.

But because I'm lazy, let's not start until tomorrow.

Oh yeah, and I'm almost done with these flamin' stars.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Adventures in HTML

Since Jake is watching football all day long, I decided to fool around with my template. After like, 400 hours, this is all I've been able to come up with. Half of me thinks the stars are awesome; the other half can't believe how ridiculous it will look when I start blogging about Real Things of Great Importance again.

Regardless, I'm so rad.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Don't Call It A Comeback! ....Okay, Call It A Comeback

I have the internet in my house once more. News at 11.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I grow tired of the library

And I am this far away {makes hand gesture as if to pinch something with the tips of his thumb and pointer finger} from breaking down and spending more money than I have in order to get the internet in my apartment.

Yet, (un)fortunately, I cut up my credit cards before moving to Chicago.

Take that Wells Fargo!


Monday, August 01, 2005

The Great Commoner

William Jennings Bryan, at the Democratic National Convention in 1896:

We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.....

Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between "the idle holders of idle capital" and "the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country"; and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of "the idle holders of idle capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses"? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them....

...You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Why don't politicians talk like this anymore?

[It should be noted that Bryan lost to William McKinley the general election. Twice.]

Monday, July 25, 2005

O Pioneers!

Three things that make me happy:

1) My old, worn copy of the The Hobbit
2) Over the Rhine's Doggy Album
3) When people call Asia "the Orient"

(Is number three an okay thing to like these days? I sure hope so...)

Three things that make me sad:

1) Certain deceased persons in the Harry Potter world
2) Certain girls, living in other states, with boyfriends that are not me
3) Certain kids, in Montana, whom I can't visit due to my sudden attempts to "act responsible"

And yay, a seventh thing that is abominable to the LORD thy God:

7) Two straight days with no warm/hot water in my apartment building -- cold showers, like Haiti, only less exotic.

And we are stronger because of it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Intonation comes to my doorstep.

This is my advice column today, because I have got tons of advice to dispense.

1. Listen Carefully -- Because music sounds much better this way.

2. Hold Open Doors -- This applies to everyone, regardless of gender, for both the door holder and the door holdee. It's just nice. And unlike other nice things, it's totally free.

3. Eat Sandwiches -- There is no better culinary invention than the sandwich. Except maybe the taco. But that's it.

4. Ride Trains -- Better than cars. Not quite as good as walking. Equal to rickshaws.

5. Read Harry Potter -- Because Christ figures with lightening bolt scars and no regard for the rules should totally rock your world.

Also, be wise like serpents, gentle like lambs, and don't ever eat eagles. That's about the most evil thing I can come up with. And only sick bastards would do it.

So don't.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Of Pirates And Their Swarthy Ways

This is what is going on.

At work we have pirated copies of films still in the theatre, playing all day long in the break room provided for our rest and relaxation. Even though the Supreme Court just weighed in (once again) on how wrong and illegal our activities are, still, we remain criminals. Or maybe the act of watching the pirated movie isn't actually illegal. Maybe it's just the actual downloading of said movies that is a crime. Regardless, last week it was Cinderella Man. Today it was Batman. Tomorrow I'm hoping for Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

And while I'm on the topic, I think it's been a pretty dumb move on the part of the film studios to call the act of downloading films "pirating." Let's face it: pirates are awesome. Everyone of sound mind and judgment wants to be one. And by allowing us to "pirate" movies, our dreams come true in beautiful reality. We are pirates now, and strong. Because of this, we probably will not stop anytime soon.

And finally, for those friends who studied at Huntington College, stop by Midwest Mindset for recent conversations involving Dr. Sanders, the (lower-case) catholic Church, and wicked-depressing xanga wars involving Christians who don't understand Christ. We crave voices besides ours, or at least ears to hear. For we are tired, and need new blood. Also, we might be egomaniacs.

Thank you for your time.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


This is a test. Because my blog is losing all sense of physical cohesion. Kind of like my body in high school after I quit all organized sports.

Monday, June 20, 2005

All I can say is, thank God I'm not Emergent...

You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Reformed Evangelical




Classical Liberal




Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I had a dream last night where I made out with Shara Sieminski.

And I can't even remember how to spell her name.


You know that statement -- "God made dirt so dirt don't hurt?" I was thinking about that today and how wonderfully profound it is and how I wish it were absolutely true and applied to everything there that is in life. Like church. Or lions. And maybe really hot pizza.

Oh well.

There is some sort of argument going on over at the periodical desk in the library right now. Only it is a library argument so the people arguing are polite and speak in hushed tones. This is why books are better than sports bars.

The end.

Friday, June 10, 2005

au coin du monde

Recent events have led me to the following conclusions:

- Seinfeld is funny, even though I haven't felt so for the longest time. I was incorrect, and intend to rectify my error by watching it as often as possible. (Subcategory: must watch Curb Your Enthusiasm as well.)

- Nick Hornby has a new novel. This is good news.

- This whole Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes thing really really freaks me out. Free the girl. Let go and let God. (I have no idea what that means.)

- Soy ice cream is much better than I imagined it would be.

- I watched ten minutes of basketball last night, which was ten minutes too many. Phoenix vs. Miami = Excitement! San Antonio vs. Detroit = Doldrums-Fest 2005. Sorry Spurs and Pistons fans, but you have horribly boring basketball teams.

- Tom Waits and Jesus are somehow related.

- Cutting fruit is something I am only average at. But since it's what I do at Whole Foods for 8 hours every day, I feel like I am making great strides in becoming real-sweet/totally-awesome at it.

(note: photo courtesy of

Sunday, June 05, 2005

It's a joke! An adult joke! For us -- adults!

I am moving to Chicago today, because honestly, I have nothing else better to do. I'm a little bit nervous, and a little bit excited. I start work at Whole Foods tomorrow, and pray to God I figure out how to get there on the train without arriving late. Also, my roommates watch too much reality tv. Other than that they are very nice.

Okay, I'm gonna go pretend that I'm city folk now.