James 2:1-13 (Modern American Version)

James 2 came to mind recently, and I was struck by how much I brushed it off, or thought it did not apply to me (or to our small church). I got to thinking about it, and decided that it wasn’t because it shouldn’t apply, only that the specific context in James’ mind is not in our typical experience, and we thereby miss the message behind it. I decided to re-write a passage from the chapter using language and examples that would perhaps speak more clearly to us (or at least, to heterosexual men–others can see where to change things for themselves. You’ll see what I mean in a moment). I find that re-writing passages in this way can be a useful “shock” mechanism to get ourselves thinking further away from the words of the text, and maybe closer to the meaning of the text. You can see an earlier example of this at my old weblog (though the point there is message through irony rather than message through revision).

First, I’ll show you James 2:1-13 in the ESV:

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The Da Vinci Code

I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code (hereafter TDVC–or maybe I’ll write it out for SEO purposes). It was more or less, given all the fuss, what I’d expected. I thought I’d share some thoughts and reflections. Be warned–I will probably reveal things about the plot that you may not want to know if you are keeping a vow of Da Vinci virginity or something.

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Greece / Prague Travelogue, Part II

(this is a continuation of my recent trip journal…be sure to read part I if you haven’t already)

4-1, 7:30 PM, Athens

So we arrived OK. After a long, cramped ride from Chicago to London, I settled in at British Airways’ executive lounge, where Rachel arrived shortly after I did. It was good to see her, and she looked all pro with her backpack and whatnot. We had a long layover, and boarded our plane to Athens around 9:45 PM. We’d tried to talk about how things were going with us [our relationship] in Heathrow, but I was very tired and kind of annoyed so it didn’t really go anywhere. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get my mind off of “my troubles”–made worse in public places, where there are hundreds of girls for me to be constantly evaluating–not sexually or anything, just… [hmm, this one is kind of hard to explain sensibly…]. So, the peace of airplane solitude was definitely broken.

On the seat in front of us on the flight, there was a young Greek woman, and I realized again how attracted I am to foreign girls. Something about speaking other languages just makes them infinitely more beautiful…I wonder if that’s something that would wear off, if it’s something I should really care about or look for…I don’t know. Is it true mystery or just surface mystery? Probably depends [just like with women in my own culture] on the girl.

Anyway, our flight got in on time, and Rach and I found the bus to Syntagma square alright–10 minutes later, and we were waking up the receptionist at our hostel! The room was small but we were tired, and it was after 4 AM. The next day we slept until about 2 PM, then braved the ancient Athens streets for the first time. I was pretty amazed by how close our place was to the center of everything–the Acropolis, the temples, etc… Rach and I found a grocery store and got a loaf of bread and some chicken salad for lunch. Not quite gyros, but cheap. Then we proceeded to get ourselves lost until dinner, taking in the maze of old streets, the views of the agora [the ancient agora] and the acropolis which promised an enjoyable morrow. [Even though] tired, we decided to walk across town to the Lykebatos hill, on which was a church and some awesome views of just-past-sunset Athens. Food there being too expensive, we walked all the way back to our hostel and ate at an estiatorio [restaurant] next door around 9 PM–the meal, which was excellent, lasted till 11 or so!

This morning, being Saturday, the 1st, we woke up relatively early to go on our walking tour. It was as you’d expect such tours would be–a lot of walking interspersed with some ancient monuments. Being some of the most important ancient monuments in the world, it was an incredible experience. In the space of 15 minutes I’d stood where Socrates had taught, and sat where Paul had preached in the Areopagus. So much history I was overwhelmed by it–but the hundreds of other tourists there didn’t seem to be–talking, laughing, smoking, littering…on the Areopagus, the stone smelled of cheap beer from a recently-broken bottle. It made me angry at humanity, both specifically for littering there, and more generally for creeping with its ugly modernity over and into places which should have been kept holy as monuments to the more important kinds of progress–philosophical and religious, for example.

In my opinion, to be in ancient Athens and to be anything but in awe is to be disrespectful of our own nature–all that God has given us to be. So in that sense I’m actually quite glad I don’t live here–these monuments can thus stay mysterious and far-away, otherworldly. The chattering tourist mob still kind of ruined it for me, but at least my imagination could still conjure up the sights and smells of a bygone era, when people were probably exactly how they were today, in terms of forgetting how to be in awe. Even then, better to have been the pilgrim from a distant village than a desensitized resident of the Acropolis. Well, I’m rambling–I should get Rachel and find a place to eat dinner. Tonight we pack, for tomorrow we leave very early for the boat to Santorini, where we’ll spend the next 3 days!

iPod Culture and the Weight of Consumerism

Since around October, the relentless marketing machine at Apple had been hammering away at the (admittedly thin) walls of my financial restraint such that, a few weeks after Christmas, I decided I absolutely needed a new iPod–a video one. My then-current 60gb iPod, with a color screen and the ability to show photo slideshows just wouldn’t cut it anymore. So when I got back to California, I began once again a charming love-hate relationship with craigslist SF. You see, however much I knew I needed the $399 video iPod, I knew that I should be able to get it cheaper. A few days of monitoring craigslist via keyword RSS confirmed this, and I was flooded with ads for new-in-box video iPods, all between $300 and $380. Of course, a large portion of these are scams, and a larger portion are sold within 25 minutes of being posted (supply of unopened and unwanted iPods was high because of recent gift-exchange-based holidays having occurred, so the prices were pushed very low). Nevertheless, a few days and many failed deal attempts later, I found someone willing to meet me somewhere in the east bay to trade a still-shrinkwrapped 60gb video and agent18 case for a price which, when all was said and done, would save me about $100.

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Vision, Values, and Praxis for a Community of Faith

In my 2005 recap entry, I mentioned that about a year ago, some of us in Palo Alto got together and threw some ideas about forming a spiritual community down on paper. Those ideas remained in that uncollected form during the following year while we began to work through them. A few weeks ago, I had some time and motivation, so I recast them into a short paper–a sort of bare-bones introduction to the kind of community we have been trying to instantiate here. I thought it might be an interesting discussion-starter, or even just an interesting read for some of you. Here it is:

The “Holiday” Season

Two weeks ago in Orlando, amidst a balmy 75-degree sunset, I saw workers at a hotel near Disney putting up a huge, white-lit frame with intricate designs around one huge shiny word: “ICE”. Clearly this very ironic sign was not descriptive of any nearby location or state. Unless they were advertising the effectiveness of their hallway machines.

Today I walked in to Starbucks in San Francisco to use the restroom, and noticed that everything inside was red and green, with white spinning snowflakey thingies. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was playing, and all sorts of “seasonal favorites” were available for purchase. Mention was made in the various wall advertisements of some “spirit” of the season which is supposedly upon us, whether we like it or not.

Well, I don’t like it! Not yet, anyway. What is everyone trying to pull? Is nothing sacred? I’m actually very angry at our culture right now for trying to tell me that the “holiday season” is here (and not for any spiritual reasons). The earlier in the year we put up Christmas decorations, or decorations for any holiday, for that matter, the less meaningful they become. Yes, I want to experience the festivity of the various holidays that are soon to arrive. But I don’t want to be so bombarded with incessant greed-driven reminders that they are going to be here that I lose all sense of excitement over them.

I can’t think of any more effective way to take the excitement and meaning out of Christmas (or any date-based holiday) than by prepping consumers for it two months in advance. Is there a clearer way to say, “We don’t care about the holiday” than by implying, “What we really care about is the money you spend for it. So spend it now and often…there’s only two months left to give us all your cash! Hurry before time is up!” ??

Ugh, it’s disgusting.

Things I Like 10-2005

So that I will not be accused of only making lists of heavy and depressing stuff like doubts, here is installment #1 of “Things I Like”! I have put “10-2005” in the title, which implies but does not do anything like promise that this will be a monthly series. The list is not supposed to be particularly deep, so please do not feel injured that I do not mention our relationship, or Jesus, or anything like that. But do remember that I spend most of my days coding, and so a lot of this will be my inner nerd coming out. Here is the list, in no particular order:

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19th-Century Denmark or 21st-Century America?

What I feel I have been trying to think and articulate the past few days has come to me fully-developed from the mouth of a man who died in the mid-1800s:

…We are what is called a “Christian” nation–but in such a sense that not a single one of us is in the character of the Christianity of the New Testament, any more than I am, who again and again have repeated, and do now repeat, that I am only a poet. The illusion of a Christian nation is due doubtless to the power which number exercises over the imagination. I have not the least doubt that every single individual in the nation will be honest enough with God and with himself to say in solitary conversation, “If I must be candid, I do not deny that I am not a Christian in the New Testament sense; if I must be honest, I do not deny that my life cannot be called an effort in the direction what the New Testament calls Christianity, in the direction of denying myself, renouncing the world, dying from it, etc.; rather the earthly and the temporal become more and more important to me with every year I live.” I have not the least doubt that everyone will, with respect to ten of his acquaintances, let us say, be able to hold fast to the view that they are not Christians in the New Testament sense, and that their lives are not even an effort in the direction of becoming so. But when there are 100,000, one becomes confused.

And:

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The Misfortune of Christendom

Here’s a page from Kierkegaard that really struck me today (which is about every other page, normally…but this one stands fairly well on its own). It’s from Training in Christianity, and it’s section f, entitled, “The misfortune of Christendom”.

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