Sunday, December 21, 2008

Johnny Cash on a Sunday

I'm veering away from Dylan today to grab a Johnny Cash tune. I have endured 24 hours of frustrated holiday travel and won't reach my destination for another two days. There's nothing like an airport full of frustrated holiday travelers that says merry xmas in quite the same way. And to boot, I returned to my apt in sub zero weather to find my electricity out. On the positive side, I've hung meat in the living room and am making a little extra $$ as a butcher.

But when you can't cry anymore, all you can do is laugh, right? So, here's a Johnny Cash song about misfortune that always makes me laugh. Nobody.

When life seems full
Of clouds and rain
And I'm full
Of nothin' but pain
Who soothes my thumpin', bumpin' brain?

When Wintertime comes
With its snow and sleet
And me with hunger
And cold feet
Who says "Here's two bits, go and eat"?

Well, I ain't never done nothin' to nobody
I ain't never got nothin' from nobody, no time
And until I get something from somebody, sometime
I don't intend to do nothin' for nobody, no time

When Summertime comes
All warm and clear
And my friends see me
Drawin' near
Who says "come on in and have a beer"?

Well one time when things was
Lookin' bright
I started to whittlin' on a stick one night
Who said "Hey! That's dynamite!"?

Mmmm, I ain't never done nothin' to nobody
I ain't never got nothin' from nobody, no time
And until I get something from somebody, sometime
I don't intend to do nothin' for nobody, no time

I ain't never done nothin' to nobody
I ain't never got nothin' from nobody, no time
And until I get something from somebody, sometime
I don't intend to do nothin' for nobody, no time

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

I was watching George Harrison's concert for Bangladesh the other day. It's pretty interesting at several levels. It's Harrison's first big foray as a frontman beyond the fab four. It was the first allstar benefit concert. Eric Clapton plays lead guitar, but he's in the middle of his heroin days and looks near death. You expect him to fall over any minute. And then there's the Dylan set. On the bonus dvd for the concert they talk about the mystery about Dylan's appearance. No one knew for sure if he would show up for sure. Even if he did, no one knew exactly what he'd do or how he would play the songs. Dylan, it seems, likes to play songs in different keys and different time signatures, leaving his bandmates to follow on the fly. But he did show up, and played Just Like a Woman, Blowin in the Wind, and Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. But my favorite part of the dvd is watching Dylan and Harrison rehearse the song that Harrison made more famous, If Not For You. I like this video piece because of Harrison's commentary, but also because the song is so simple. It's stuff like this that made me think I could write songs, good ones. (I was wrong, but the overall point was correct). So, today I'm living with, If Not For You. (My faves are the first and last stanzas).

If not for you,
Babe, I couldn't find the door,
Couldn't even see the floor,
I'd be sad and blue,
If not for you.

If not for you,
Babe, I'd lay awake all night,
Wait for the mornin' light
To shine in through,
But it would not be new,
If not for you.

If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all,
I'd be lost if not for you,
And you know it's true.

If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all,
Oh! What would I do
If not for you.

If not for you,
Winter would have no spring,
Couldn't hear the robin sing,
I just wouldn't have a clue,
Anyway it wouldn't ring true,
If not for you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Believe the Good News, Yet Another

I've been attempting to show that salvation is less a status that you possess and more the manifestation of a new age belonging to God in which you are invited to belong. The death and resurrection is the axial event of this new age, allowing us to see what it is that God is up to and providing a way for us to attend to the world in a way that saves us. "Save" here refers to more than just the forgiveness of our sins. It also involves the overcoming of death and powers that diminish us and distort the world that God has called us to love.

This is bigger than limiting salvation to a theory of atonement. This does not mean it is wrong to develop theories as a way of talking about the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It does mean, however, that we need to develop new ways of talking about salvation that don't rely fully on partial explanations.

My sense is that most of our language related to penal substitutionary atonement has primary roots in the letters of Paul, albeit a fairly narrow reading. So, I want to do some imagination therapy by focusing on Jesus' announcement of the gospel in Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news." Four movements here as I see it. 1. The time is fulfilled, 2. the Kingdom is near, 3. repent, and 4. believe the good news. I am convinced that by attending to these four movements a new way of seeing and speaking can emerge over time. Here's the quick overview.

The time is fulfilled. A new age has dawned, the age of God's future salvation. The status quo is no longer the only game in town. God is acting to pull back the curtain, to reveal, the way the world ordered by his concerns appears. Christian life, in this sense, is learning to tell time, learning how to discern the distorting patterns of this present age which is fading away, and to discern the things that will endure in the age to come. Telling time requires a deep engagment with the world for the sake of the world and God's coming range. This is not a call to huddle on a mountain top somewhere until God pulls us out of the world, but to engage the world more deeply according to the pattern of the emerging age.

The kingdom of God is near. So much to say here. But two things for today. Jesus not only announces the new age, he embodies it. We recognize the kingdom of God by following Jesus, by taking up our cross and following him. But we also know that the Kingdom is near. It is already, but not yet. It is near, not in our possession. We continue to pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done... ."

Repent. The announcement of the kingdom of God is one of life under new management. Regime change. The kingdom is not simply the necessary outcome of the way things are going. It is an alternative future. And we cannot remain the same and belong to God's alternative future. Repent here is not scolding, but opportunity. It is the gracious call of God to align our lives with his coming reign. Repentance is a way of attending to life in belief that God's future kingdom is what is most real. It is repentance that allows something newsworthy to emerge as we learn to see life in a new way.

Believe the good news. It is not always easy to see how God's power is being manifest in the world, how his reign is the one that will ultimately prevail. After all, Mark prefaces Jesus' announcement of the kingdom by reminding us that John the Baptist is shut up in Herod's prison (Mk 1:14). The victory of God is hidden in the cross of Jesus. It is not always easy to believe. We are always tempted to half-measures, to going back to Egypt, to giving the concubine to Abraham, to making our peace with the way things are. Believe the good news!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ministry Maxim, 2

My first month in a fulltime ministry position, a more seasoned minister gave me a maxim that I have tried to follow to this day.

Maxim #2. You can't outpuke a buzzard.

I worked at the time for the "liberal" church in town, and had volunteered our congregation to host an area wide summer youth gathering. The watchdog churches in the area decided that we weren't really a safe place for their teens and so began a public campaign to boycott our time to host. Seriously. We spent an entire morning on the phone with the attack dog at one of these congregations trying to convince him that we were ok. Toward the end of the conversation, a more experienced minister dropped by to see how we were holding up and insisted that we get off the phone with this guy. "My daddy taught me," he said, "that you can't outpuke a buzzard." My dad taught me other colorful phrases, like "that's as slick as eel snot," but this buzzard saying has far more cache in ministry.

There are some conversations in ministry that aren't worth having. In fact, you know you're having one when it doesn't qualify as a conversation. I had a member who for several weeks would meet me Monday mornings as I came into the office to express his concerns about the church, a passive way of saying he had concerns about me. I wasn't preaching enough about heaven, which was code for I wasn't preaching enough about hell. He was afraid we were getting morally soft.

After a few weeks of explaining both my preaching commitments and my theology, it became apparent that this was not really a conversation. I was puking with a buzzard. One morning I asked him if he found these conversations satisfying. I told him I didn't and wasn't really interested in having this conversation anymore and wondered if this was really the kind of relationship he wanted to cultivate with me. He looked stunned, as if I had broken some kind of ministerial obligation to sit and listen to all criticism ad infinitum. We stopped having that conversation, and over time he took me up on my offer to have a different kind of relationship.

One of the hardest things about ministry is the people pleasing side of it. Many of us get into ministry because we're pleasers to begin with, and in a consumer driven society church members pretty much think its our primary job to please them. It's exhausting. It's a prolonged effort at customer relations and it really does not serve the purposes of the gospel. And ultimately the church will break your spirit if you're in it to please, or what amounts to the same thing, to win their approval. And they probably should.

With chronic complainers (aka, puking buzzards), I learned to redirect the conversation. "You know, Fred (the name is changed to protect the guilty), I've noticed that this isn't the first thing you've complained about around here. I'm coming to the conclusion that keeping you happy isn't a reasonable goal. I can't think that this is much fun for you. I know its not pleasant for me. I'm interested in having a different kind of relationship with you."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that this approach is not always received positively. I've been cursed at in church at the end of one of these. But it does keep them from coming back to complain about something else. And in some cases, it has been a turning point in my relationship with them, and them with the church. And trying to please a chronic complainer has never turned them into a happy camper in my experience.

Three caveats here. First, this is not an excuse not to listen, and especially not to listen to criticism. We are always obligated to try to understand the other, which requires genuine, empathetic listening. But there comes a time when these matters are no longer occasions for listening, when what is occuring is no longer a conversation. Buzzard puking.

Second, this has to be an expression of genuine concern for the other. The phrase, "I'm wondering if we can try a different kind of relationship" has to be a genuine offer. And its going to be up to you to initiate that.

Third, this works best if everyone in leadership is on the same page. There are elders and other leaders who know that one source of power (a pretty weak source, ultimately) is to be the guy the complainers go to. I'm convinced that a congregation cannot discern the will of God if the congregational ecosystem doesn't sustain dialogue. Criticism has to be allowed, even encouraged, and leaders need to know some of that will come their way. But a culture that honors complaining is another matter, and leaders need a common approach to this dialogue killer.

Finally, anger and defensiveness have to be avoided at all costs. I'm usually pretty good at controlling my anger. I'm horrible at avoiding defensiveness. I'm the buzzard. It's no longer a conversation. Apologize and reschedule.

It is striking to me how many of the ethical admonitions in Scripture have to do with how we speak to each other. Sometimes this includes knowing when not to speak to each other.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

I love road trips. There's a sense of adventure that attaches itself to a tank full of gas and an open road. I used to drive a lot between Abilene, Texas and Dallas. Not the greatest drive in the world. But the past few times I did it, I stayed off the interstate driving back roads through small towns. Very memorable drives. Those old highways make you think anything can happen, that very oddity of the world is just a few paces off the road that cuts through the middle of our lives.

So, for all of those who went over the river and through the woods this week, Dylan's, Highway 61 Revisited, is our Sunday selection, a truly fun song.

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn't give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there's only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol' Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61.

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61.

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren't right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light he says hmm you're right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61.

Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ministry Maxim, 1

I spent 17 years in fulltime congregational ministry. There are no laws for ministry. It is an interpretative art. Wisdom does, however, develop over time around certain themes. These themes, in turn, produce maxims. Maxims admit to perspective and allow for exceptions, but they still provide a certain amount of orienting guidance. I developed a few through the years. Thought I'd share them over the next few weeks.

Maxim #1. The one way to make sure you don't get what you want in ministry is to preach a series on it.

Most ministers work contrary to this all the time. They think the pulpit is the most effective tool for change they have. And it can be, over time, in a fairly indirect way. But its a lousy way to marshall congregational support around an immediate congregational issue, especially if it is a controversial one. There are reasons for this, I think.

For starters, ministers have to understand the symbolic role they play in the congregation, which is another way of saying that they represent a certain power relationship in relation to the congregation. Congregations resist the power of the one over against the many. And they should. They don't do this consciously, mind you, but one expression of power tends to create a counter expression.

I think this resistance is connected to a natural resistance to being "fixed" by the preacher. A congregation refuses to behave. It is not simply the extension of a preacher's fantasies of glory no matter how spiritual or theologically apropriate those fantasies might be. It took me a long time to stop thinking of the congregation as an object to be acted upon, or even manipulated.

I think the congregation should resist a preacher who thinks of the sermon as the primary way to advance the goals of the institution. There should be an independence of the Word from the institution, a very difficult thing to do when the one doing the preaching is also constantly securing his position in relation to insitutional health. I am convinced, however, that instutional health is best served by a non-anxious presence, and that the pulpit best feeds a congregation through a disciplined use of texts over time.

This does not mean that the sermon should never broach the issues facing a congregation. Of course it should, and because the Word of God is relevant, it will. I am simply saying that the starting place of the sermon should nearly always be from a place indepedent of their immediate circumstance. The sermon here is part of creating an ecology of the Word rather than an informational strategy for programmatic change.

We have noted before, new information is typically inadequate in producing change. People don't change much just because they have received new information. Neither do they change much by an appeal to the will, e.g. "try harder, do better." Preaching can help to effect change, but only so far as it helps a congregation tell a new story about itself. And this kind of narrative therapy takes time and care. A sermon, or even a series, can be a powerful moment where momentum around change collects. But this is different than deciding a congregation needs a different style of music and preaching toward that end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gospel, Reign, and Sacrifice

My series, "Believe the Good News," is designed primarily to use biblical definitions of "gospel" to inform our understandings of salvation in a way that we typically gloss. What I'm trying to do is move our understanding of salvation away from a perception that it is only interested in the eternal destiny of an individual. There is good news here, to be sure, but it is not the sole focus of the gospel, and in my view not even the primary one. In moving away from an individual horizon of interpretation, I am also trying to move toward a theological one. That is, salvation is primarily about what God is achieving--his final purposes for all of creation--in which we are invited to participate.

Our participation in God's emerging reign is transformative. It saves us, and saves us together with all creation. This transformation comes by participating in God's established reign, his way of ordering life which is not only about "God and me," but also about a new life with my neighbor. And what I am trying to show is that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the demonstration of this new human ordering. It is not simply a necessary act to assuage God's wrath and grant us a new status before God. It is a way of life, offered to us by God, manifest in the love of Jesus, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit (God's love poured into our hearts). We cannot participate in this way of life without being changed, and without everything around us changing as well.

The question then, pressed by some of you (trouble makers) in the comments section is what to do with the language of atonement and forgiveness.What is this business about the blood of Jesus continually covering our sins? How does that work? Can this be understood in ways other than penal substitutionary atonement?

The short answer is yes. Atonement can be understood in ways different than the way Charles Hodge and Billy Graham and Jimmy Allen, and most of us, have come to know it and express it. But what I don't want to do is replace one totalizing image with another. So, I'm not that interested in formulating another theory for you.

And I want to distinguish here between a picture and a theory. I'm all for pictures of salvation. These open up understanding, are an invitation to greater conceptual clairty, but in an open, playful way (play here in the Gadamerian sense). Theories are meant to limit meaning, to close it down, capture it. And sometimes this is necesary and helpful, especially when in dialogue with a local culture. But we should be clear that this move is always a reduction, a bracketing for the time being.

That said, I do want to say a few things about sacrifice in relation to my larger ambitions. Let's go back to my two horizons if interpretation. The first is individualistic. It is anthropocentric. It is about the eternal status of individuals. The qeustion is, "how does the blood of Jesus do away with my personal guilt?"

The second horizon is theological. What is God accomplishing in relation to the fullness of time? How is God bringing his order to things? The question related to sacrifice is "how does the blood of Jesus introduce a new order?" This is a very different question.

Let me sharpen the distinction. The first horizon is interested in the question of sins. How do I get forgiven for my personal sins? The second horizon is interested in the question of Sin as an organizing power. The question is "how does the death of Jesus overcome the world ordering power of Sin?" Both questions might be legitimate, but the second is by far the greater concern, biblically speaking. I want to push atonement to this second question.

Two more observations for today, and then I have to get some reading done. I think it is absolutely unbiblical to think of forgiveness of individual sins as something God can do only if someone is punished. His holiness is defined in the Old Testament precisely by his capacity to forgive when and where humans can't. We have made holiness about God's sense of justice and have understood justice in a retributive sense (this is wholly Western. We have a lot to learn here from our African brothers and sisters). But time and again in Scripture, God is seen as holy (read different or other) precisely in his ability to forgive. It is true to his nature. The larger issue is how to break the stranglehold that Sin has on human lives and structures the way it orders things.

I think forgiveness of sins is a mark of the new age inaugurated by the the coming of Jesus. It is simply the biproduct of God's establishing his good ordering, and it has to do with Jesus' very coming, not only with his death.. It is precisely the way that sin locks us into self-preoccupation that requires an act that proclaims his forgiving intent. We can only be for and with others truly if we are not self-possessed by guilt and shame. The death of Jesus is not some causative trigger that allows God to forgive. It might be the ultimate sign of his forgiving intentions, a part of the reign established in and with Jesus, but not the exclusive meaning of his death.

At that point, we bring in a larger discussion. How does the death of Jesus overcome Sin? How does it bring a new ordering related to Sin? And why would we refer to it as a sacrifice? Here I do want to refer our question to the work of Mark Heim. Heim, following the work of Rene Girard, shows how the myth of the scapegoat is being reinterpreted throughout the biblical witness. Scapegoating is one way of maintaining social order. It is a violent act that keeps a greater violence at bay. It is a way of maintaining peace at the expense of another, typically the weak. Heim argues that the death of Jesus is precisely a way of God's entering this story as a way to overcome it. Jesus' death is not the ultimate sacrifice, but our salvation from sacrifice. God establishes peace in another way, a way only made visible in the scapegoat death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection. This is a way of overcoming the way human principalities and powers would keep peace.

For a great summary of Heim, I would point you to Richard Beck's blog ( But for now notice that the death of Jesus here is an overcoming of Sin, a way of ordering our life together rooted in violence toward the weak. I want to pick this up at some point again, and talk about the blood of Jesus specifically. (It is primarily a positive image in Scripture, life giving, a transfusion if you will, rather than a shaming kind of thing). But for now (I know I say that a lot), I want us to see that the primary shift I'm making changes the way we talk about everything related to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

(If I believed in this kind of thing, I would say that I just had a providential moment. Lois Malcolm, a theologian here at Luther Seminary, just sat down next to me in the coffee shop where I do most of my studying. She is working on a book on atonement and we had a brief conversation about my project, and therefore, about this blog post. I asked her what she thought of Heim and said she liked the basic direction, but thinks there's a deeper insight to be gained that emphasizes precisely the blood of Jesus and its atoning significance, but not in a psa kind of way. She is sending me a manuscript for an article she just finished and I will summarize it for you when I get it).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Believe the Good News, 6

So, what is the good news?

In the last post we suggested that for both Paul and Jesus (in the synoptic gospels), the good news is the announcement of an event, a dramatic turning of the ages. God's future day of salvation has broken into the present, and it is possible for us to belong to that day now and participate in its reality, even if only partially.

Let me note here two things about this before I move on to another aspect of the gospel. Salvation here belongs to God. It is his realm in which we participate, not a status that we own as our private possession. This is a pretty big distinction, the implications of which would change the way we do a lot of things in Christian practice. Tied to this is the idea that salvation encompasses more than just individuals. Salvation is intended for all of creation. As Paul points out in Romans 8, "for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God." The salvation of God is big, and includes more than just my skinny rear end getting to heaven.

But back to our question, what is the gospel? While both Mark 1:15 and 1 Cor 15 see the gospel as the announcement of an event, they use different language to talk about it. In Mark, Jesus proclaims the "gospel of God," namely the nearness of God's kingdom, or his reign. In 1 Cor 15, the event Paul proclaims as gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Are these two different things?

Let's start on the gospels side of things (and here I mean the synoptics, John's gospel being yet another expression). The kingdom of God is a different way of ordering reality, and specifically it is another way of understanding power. It is a way of establishing order through self-giving, not through the politics of preservation and privilege. The way of the kingdom, the path on which it emerges, is precisely the way of the cross.

Think about this. It is possible to tell the story of Jesus without telling an infancy narrative. Neither Mark or John include one. But it is not possible to tell the story apart from the death and resurection. Several have referred to the gospels as passion stories with introductions. In the case of Mark, the narrative is brisk and spare until we get to Jerusalem for the final episodes in Jesus' life. Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus is going to Jerusalem, that this is the payoff of the story. His death and resurrection is not simply an event on his horizon, it is the event that allows to understand everything he does.

This is why followers are called to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. This way, the way of the last becoming the first, the least becoming the greatest, children being received and the rich sent away empty, is the way that the reign of God becomes visible, manifest in the world. This is not an abdication of power on the part of Jesus. It is the very demonstration of God's redeeming power. Humility is power. It makes things happen and in certain ways: the same for meekness, peacemaking, mourning, etc. The sign that this way of life will endure in the age to come is the resurrection. This is the life that God honors.

So, in the gospels, the kingdom of God and the death and resurrection are inseparably linked. But what about in Paul's account of the gospel? Is the account of Jesus' death and resurrection about a new ordering of reality?

in 1 Cor 15, Paul insists that the gospel he proclaimed is that which they "received, in which they stand, through which they are being saved." That's a lot to claim for the gospel. It is not simply a message for outsiders to "receive." It is also that which allows believers to "stand," a reality in which "they are being saved." This language of "being saved" echoes 1 Cor 1:18, "the word of the cross is foolishness to those who perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God."

Notice, this word (logos) of the cross is defined by Paul as the power of God. It creates a certain kind of world. It is operational. I like the language or Romans 5 where Paul compares the "dominion" of sin and death to the "dominion of grace." We tend to think of grace as simply God's willingness to overlook our shortcomings. But its much bigger than that for Paul. It is an environment, a dominion, a way of ordering the world, through which a whole new human community emerges. The logic of the cross, a script of radical trust in God, allows us to consider others ahead of ourselves, to love one another with deep affection, to contribute to the needs of the saints. These are the actions of those who trust in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead. The fruit of the Spirit are not simply prerequisites for power: they are God's power and the produce a different kind of ordering where faith works itself out in love.

For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus is a continuing event. For those who participate in this event, there is a new creation, a new ordering of God's world established by self-giving love. It is a dominion, a reign, a kingdom.

One last word. It is important that we remember that this reign comes to us from the future. It is done. It is accomplished. There is nothing we can do to extend it, increase its borders, or put it at risk. As such, it is a gift. While it involves a way of life (repent and believe the good news), this is no works salvation. It belongs to God. It is his future. We cannot build it, we can only receive it. This is grace.

Notice here that we have talked about the gospel and salvation without talking about a theory of the atonement. Yet for many people, the gospel is equal to penal substitutionary atonement without remainder. I want to continue to push on this, because it's a big deal. I think without pushing on this, the attempt to become missional churches will falter. We define mission in relation to our understanding of salvation, and a theory of atonement, any theory of the atonement, simply won't get us to missional.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday, After All

This is not guilt. This is sudden inspiration.

I was running on the treadmill this evening and had the ipod on random and Dylan's, The Levee's Gonna Break, came on.

And here's the craziness of inspiration. It took me to the new James Bond movie I saw yesterday. I know, how does that happen? Anyway, here's the thing about the latest Bond movies. They're darker in mood. Don't get me wrong, we're not dealing here with Love in the Age of Cholera or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but this Bond is a bit of a three dimensional character. And this depth comes from love, betrayal and loss. Ok, I admit you still go to see Bond for the action scenes, and this latest movie has amazing ones, but this Bond is so much more interesting than Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore. (I'm exempting Sean Connery from comparison).

So, what does this have to do with Dylan? For Dylan, love is primal. It's connected to the core of life, and therefore is connected to both joy and pain. It is triumph and tragedy. It's both what makes us resilient and fragile. And when you hear Dylan sing about love, you sometimes can't tell when he's singing about human or divine love. Love is akin to grace for Dylan, and, therefore it exists independent of a lover's response. So, in The Levee's Gonna Break, you have life and work and love threatened by the constant dripping of the rain. There are no safe places for life or love, and even the threat of the levee breach is part of what makes it all thick and meaningful.

And I for one will take thick and meaningful over thin and satisfied.

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
Everybody saying this is a day only the Lord could make

Well, I worked on the levee, mama, both night and day
I worked on the levee, mama, both night and day
I got to the river and I threw my clothes away

I paid my time and now I'm good as new,
I paid my time and now I'm as good as new.
They can't take me back unless I want them to

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
Some of these people gonna strip you of all they can take

I can't stop here I ain't ready to unload
I can't stop here I ain't ready to unload
Riches and salvation can be waiting behind the next bend in the road

I picked you up from the gutter and this is the thanks I get
I picked you up from the gutter and this is the thanks I get
You say you want me to quit you, I told you, 'No, not just yet.'

Well, I look in your eyes, I see nobody other than me
I look in your eyes, I see nobody other than me
I see all that I am and all I hope to be

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
Some of these people don't know which road to take

When I'm with you, I forget I was ever blue
When I'm with you, I forget I was ever blue
Without you there's no meaning in anything I do

Some people on the road carrying everything that they own
Some people on the road carrying everything they own
Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones

Put on your cat clothes, mama, put on your evening dress
Put on your cat clothes, mama, put on your evening dress
Few more years of hard work, then there'll be a 1,000 years of happiness

If it keep on raining, the levee gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
I tried to get you to love me, but I won't repeat that mistake

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break
Plenty of cheap stuff out there and still around that you take

I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I ain't got enough room to even raise my head.

Come back, baby, say we never more will part
Come back, baby, say we never more will part
Don't be a stranger with no brain or heart

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break.

Blog Fatigue

No Dylan on a Sunday today, which follows an entire week without posts. And here's the thing: I feel guilty. And this is kind of what I feared most when I started this thing, that if I didn't keep the thing current, it would feel like a burden.

Having said that, it feels worth it to be burdened by it, because I am constantly finding readers, people who are interested in the things I am, some of them ahead of me, some of them with me, some hoping to figure out where this thing is going. So, I'm committed to continuing, you may just have to be patient with me.

It's not like I'm not writing. It's just that my writing is for class and not digestible enough for a general audience. I can't wait to figure out how to say what I'm working on in ways that are intelligible. I have the sense that I am on a frontier, and that's exciting. I'm combining theology, philosophy, and social science methodology in what I think are some unique ways.

I'm also working on a paper on contextual missiology, which sounds great (too geeks like me it sounds great). But its frustrating to me because the way we are being asked to conceive the paper runs so counter to my approach in the other class. The assignment assumes that I can define a context in the safe confines of the library. And it assumes that contextualization is something I can achieve through the force of a methodology, like a context will hold still long enough for me to master it, or that theology is this fixed content that just needs to be tweaked for the situation. Ugh.

So, the writing I'm doing is sapping me, and thinking about posting on my blog makes me tired.

But, I have new strings on my guitar these days. And that's luxury. So, give me a few weeks of guitar playing, and I'll see if we can pick up some of these threads.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

I for one am glad that Dylan plugged in and turned the folk world on its ear. I can be a purist, and so understand at one level the outrage felt by the folkies when Dylan went electric. Truth is, however, no single musical idiom could've captured Dylan. His diversity is part of what makes him great, and it has been particularly revealed in his later work. The dark tones of Time Out of Mind, for instance, stand in contrast to the sunny, swinging feel of Love and Theft. Most days I'm more of a Time Out of Mind kinda guy. But today I heard the great little swing song, Bye and Bye, off of Love and Theft, and just knew that this is today's song.

Bye and bye, I'm breathin' a lover's sigh
I'm sittin' on my watch so I can be on time
I'm singin' love's praises with sugar-coated rhyme
Bye and bye, on you I'm casting my eye

I'm paintin' the town - swinging my partner around
I know who I can depend on, I know who to trust
I'm watchin' the roads, I'm studying the dust
I'm paintin' the town, making my last go-round

Well, I'm scufflin' and I'm shufflin' and I'm walkin' on briars
I'm not even acquainted with my own desires

I'm rollin' slow - I'm doing all I know
I'm tellin' myself I found true happiness
That I've still got a dream that hasn't been repossessed
I'm rollin' slow, goin' where the wild roses grow

Well the future for me is already a thing of the past
You were my first love and you will be my last

Papa gone mad, mamma, she's feeling sad
I'm gonna baptize you in fire so you can sin no more
I'm gonna establish my rule through civil war
Gonna make you see just how loyal and true a man can be

Monday, November 10, 2008

Resurrection, Glory, and Post-Election Speech

I was with a group of people from ten different congregations in the Pacific Northwest who are working together on missional transformation. Many of them have found my blog, and a few let me know that they didn't agree with my decision to vote for Obama. There was a look of disappointment in some of their eyes. This is the way of elections. They have a tendency to push us into camps that have fairly exclusive views of the world.

Part of this exclusivism is the result of the use of language in elections. While we may disagree on the right candidate, we have broad agreement that we are glad the commercials, punditry, robocalls, etc, are over. Our elections are a season of debased speech, which cheapens discourse and calls into question the promise of language to convey truth. It is a thin season that will not sustain civil discourse.

I was in class the night of the election. This particular class is dominated by international students and on a break we had an interesting conversation about the US election. The three Koreans in the class all were stunned by the negative campaigning. To them, it's like these otherwise sensible Americans lose it for a season.

So, the post-election question for me is how to speak in a world of debased speech. And we have little choice about the matter. We are a Word faith. We believe that God creates through speaking, and that his work of redemption comes through a Word made flesh. How can we speak in a world that is weary of empty speech?

There is much to say here, but I simply want to point out some things that Paul is doing in 2 Corinthians. On at least three occasions he talks about his conduct in speech related to his experience of the resurrection. In the opening chapter he talks about circumstances in Asia, where he was "utterly, unbearably crushed, " "despaired of life that we might rely on God who raised Jesus from the dead." Just a few verses after the report of his deliverance, he writes about "our boast, the testimony of our conscience, that we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity... ." Paul's experience of deliverance, of the one who raised Jesus from the dead, results in a certain kind of speech.

In the next chapter, Paul explains his travel patterns to the Corinthians through the image of being a captive in Christ's victory procession. Paul is a death and resurrection man, the aroma of Christ "from life to life." Connected to this image of death and resurrection we again find language about speech. "We are not peddler's of God's word like so many, but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God."

Chapter four includes the most striking phrases in which Paul describes his life in terms of the death and resurrection. Paul knows life as "hard pressed, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus might be seen in my mortal flesh...While we live, we are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake so that his life might be seen in us." This chapter begins with a description of speech. "We have renounced the shameful things one hides, we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone... ."

Later in the chapter, Paul quotes from Psalm 116. "In the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with Scripture, 'I believe, therefore, I speak,' we also believe and therefore we speak." What is this spirit of faith? Pslam 116 is a psalm of deliverance. The psalmist rejoices that God has heard his cry for mercy. The chords of death entangled him, the anguish of the grave surrounded him. He was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Yet, God delivered him.

It is in this spirit of faith that Paul dares to speak. It is from the depths of despair that a Christian word emerges. The experience of deliverance form "utterly, unbearably crushed" provide the conditions for authentic Christian speech.

This is no doubt in part because we are speaking of something we know experientially. But it is also undoubtedly a result of the transformation that comes from experiences of deliverance. Things just change. Life has gravity. In fact, I love the language of weight in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul admits that we are hard pressed, echoing back to his experience related in chapter one of being utterly, unbearably crushed. But chapter four ends with Paul saying "our slight momentary affliction is not worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory." I love that image. Glory is substantial. It is not thin applause or easy victory. It is thick with significance. It doesn't just ignore life's circumstances, but admits all details and finds beauty in the midst of them. Glory.

This week has been a tough week for many of my friends and me. Cindy Wilson, a great friend, died suddenly and without warning of meningitis. I have walked around with heaviness all week. My chest feels like someone set an anvil on it. I am not ready yet to claim resurrection, to move to some kind of good that might come out of this (and I certainly won't ever say this happened for a reason, or was part of God's plan). But I don't have to, because God is present in the death of Jesus. I have been invited again to trust the one who raised Jesus from the dead. The eternal weight of glory won't come apart from this, but precisely through this. Glory weighs a ton.

And because this is the glory I long for, my speech won't be glib or easy or flowery about this. Speech connected to the weight of glory doesn't need adornment. It's not triumphalist. It can admit to circumstances. It doesn't paint a smiley face on everything. I remember hearing Bill Cosby talking about laughter. He contrasted the thin laughter of teenage girls to the deep belly laugh of his father. The difference was life experience. It didn't come as easy or as often, but it was far more meaningful and joy producing. It weighed something. And so should Christian speech.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

It's amazing to me that Dylan's grainy, rasping vocals can produce beautiful. But they do. And one of his recent songs that falls into that category for me is Workingman's Blues #2. No one would say that Dylan has a beautiful voice. But it can be set to lyric and melody in such a way that it produces something beautiful. Workingman's Blues is full of the fatigue of people who work for a living. The song mixes both the enobling and diminishing potential of hard work with the desire for love at the end of the day--a desire which can also be enobling and diminishing. And Dylan's voice fits the bill.

There's an evening haze settling over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buying power of the proletariat's gone down
Money's getting shallow and weak

Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory
It's a new path that we trod
They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad

My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf
Come sit down on my knee
You are dearer to me than myself
As you yourself can see

While I'm listening to the steel rails hum
Got both eyes tight shut
Just sitting here trying to keep the hunger from
Creeping it's way into my gut

Meet me at the bottom, don't lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the frontline
Sing a little bit of these workingman's blues

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Great Night

I lived in a sundowner town when I was a small boy. This means that if you were black, you couldn't be within the city limits after sundown. Blacks lived literally across the tracks. I remember inviting a black friend to my 7th birthday party, only to have a kid from church drop the "n" bomb on him. I remember my parents and I going to his little apartment to apologize to his family.

My dad, a preacher, visited every room each week in the small hospital across the street from our house. He was the only white preacher who would pray with the black patients. When the black Baptist church dedicated a new building across the tracks, we were invited to come. As I remember it, we were the only white people there. My parents sang duets to an appreciative crowd. It was a very formative moment.

I remember vividly the day Dr. King was assassinated. I was devastated. He was one of my heroes and I cried when I heard the news. The civil rights movement provided much of the formative emotional backdrop of my life.

I could multiply these stories. Because of the courage of my parents, I have had a wealth of boundary crossing experiences along racial lines. To me, racial unity is a first fruit of the gospel. So, needless to say, beyond the policy promise of an Obama administration, I am ecstatic that we have voted an African-American to the highest office in our land.

Tonight I watched the returns with African friends who are colleagues in my PhD program. They had no words to express what it meant to them that the US would elect an African-American. We witnessed history tonight, a game changer not only for our nation, but for the world community. May God's hand be on Barack Obama.

Believe the Good News, 5

Sorry for the gap in posts here, but I've been otherwise occupied. But if you'll remember...

We have seen from both Paul and Jesus (via the gospel of Mark) brief statements about what constitutes gospel. And we have noticed that for both, the gospel is the announcement of an event. In 1 Cor 15, Paul describes that event as the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Mark 1:15, Jesus announces that event as the coming near of the Kingdom of God. At first glance, these announcements don't seem to be exactly the same. And I want to honor that distance a bit, let each have their own unique claim to the definition of gospel. We would find neither of these emphases in the Gospel of John. The diversity of the New Testament is part of its genius, and also part of what makes what Christians bring "good news."

While these statements are not exactly the same, neither are they opposed to one another. And in fact, they carry many shared commitments. I will argue in a later post (its not like I have a plan here, but the nature of a blog is bite-sized portions and so there's always left-overs) that the announcement of the Kingdom in the synoptic gospels necessarily points us to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul's emphasis. But first, I want us to notice the eschatological dimensions that Jesus and Paul share.

in Mark 1:14-15, Jesus comes proclaiming the gospel of God, and the first bit of that gospel is "the time is fulfilled." This is an announcement of a dramatic turning of the ages. The great day of God's salvation is coming into view. Now we can see a world not given to us by the reign of Herod or Caesar or even Moses. This is a world not given to us by the principalities and powers of this age, but a world according to the ultimate purposes of God. With the announcement of the fullness of time, it is possible in the present age to participate in the realities of the age to come when God's reign will be complete and fully enjoyed.

It is this perspective, that the coming of Jesus marks a dramatic turn of the ages, that may hold the diverse literature of the NT together more than any other. For Paul, the eschatological announcement is not so much in the language of the Kingdom of God, but the new creation. Christians for Paul are "those upon whom the end of the ages has fallen" (2 Cor 10:11). As Richard Hays puts it, "(Paul) believes himself, along with his churches, to stand in a privileged moment in which the random clutter of past texts and experiences assumes a configuration of eschatological significance, because all has been ordered by God to proclaim the gospel to those who read what Paul writes" (Echoes of Scripture in Paul, 165).

We see this sense of eschatological privilege in other NT texts as well. The familiar opening words of Hebrews tell us that God spoke previously in many and various ways, "but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son" (1:2). Or, we read in 1 Peter about the salvation now being revealed specifically to us, "things in which angels long to look" (1:12). The coming of Jesus has inaugurated a new age.

And this new age is not simply the logical outcome of everything that has gone before. It is not simply a matter of human enlightenment, the God-inspired culmination of the best of humanity. This new age is an alternative to the one offered by the principalities and powers of this age. It is an invasion from the future, a dramatic reordering of life. The Kingdom of God is about a reign, a way of life, an alternative to the status quo. Jesus' announcement of the fullness of time bears the possibility of life under new management, of regime change, of a changing of all the labels. The first will be last, and the last first. The hungry will be filled, and the satisfied sent away.

Because our life is always negotiated in relation to powers, the effective reign of God can only come in God's power, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. Salvation is the offer of God to belong to his future reign, and to live in it now through the power of the Spirit.

This announcement is not always easy to believe. Mark let's us know that Jesus makes his announcement of God's Kingdom in the backwaters of Galilee (not in Jerusalem or Rome) while John the Baptist is shut up in Herod's prison. It takes a different way of seeing to discern the presence of the Kingdom. After all, the victory of God is hidden in the death of a peasant on a shameful Roman cross. And we cannot recognize the way of God's alternative future if our lives are facing in the opposite direction. This is why Jesus' announcement of the good news includes the words "repent and believe the good news."

All this to say, eschatology is an essential aspect of anything that passes for gospel in the New Testament. It is at the heart of both Jesus and Paul's notions of the gospel. The gospel is the announcement of a dramatic turn of the ages, and we have the opportunity in light of that announcement to belong to God's glorious future. The implications of this are numerous. At the very least, we have a dynamic sense of salvation. It is not simply a status, but an ordering, an unfolding, a way of life. We have salvation as a participation in the life and pusposes of God.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

The greatest lyrics ever. Dylan knows mad, crazy love.

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rollin' sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Picture of Grace

I was sitting outside drinking coffee in my local neighborhood recently. There was music playing and people were milling about. I noticed a large shirtless man in a kilt standing across the street dancing to the music--all by himself. Large shirtless men in kilts tend to grab one's attention. And it was like the combination of the attire and the wild, erratic dancing created about a 30 foot forcefield around him. Everyone walked a wide circle around him.

It reminded me of a scene I witnessed in Boston a few years ago. I had gone to Harvard for a workshop on case teaching and was spending this hot summer evening walking the streets of Cambridge. There was a rock and roll band playing in a large triangular island where three streets came together just above a subway entrance. I got there for the first chord of Born to Be Wild. They were good and so I stayed to listen.

A large young man in a dirty t-shirt and cut-off jeans moved right in front of the band and began dancing wildly. We were collectively embarrassed or ashamed or something, because all the air seemed to get sucked right out of the place. It was a buzz killer and I could tell the band was disturbed. People began to leave.

Just then a gorgeous young woman in a short, white summer dress and long tanned legs took off her shoes and began to dance with him. Not just around him, or at the same time as him. But with him. It was one of the most striking things I have ever seen in my life. And soon, the whole place was dancing. The band plowed right into Brown Sugar and the place went going crazy. (I of course, being very Church of Christ, did not dance, but I did tap my feet a little, and I smiled broadly at the entire scene. Ok, I danced a little, but I was keeping it real). And while the transformative figure of the evening was the young woman, the star was the wild young man. People began imitating his wild dancing. He was beside himself with joy and it was contagious. It's one of the happiest moments of my life. And its times like that make me believe that things can change, that transformation is possible, and that there's a Holy Spirit at work in the world. Grace.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dylan on a Monday

I traveled most of the day yesterday and then spent six hours in a training session. So, no time to live with Dylan yesterday. But today, I'm spending a little time thinking about work and dignity and meaning. There are unredeemed places where work is choked by principalities and powers, when work is just one damned thing after another. But it doesn't have to be that way. And today I'm thankful that my world is one of possibility. I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.

I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.
No, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.
Well, I wake in the morning,
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane.
It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.

I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
No, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
Well, he hands you a nickel,
He hands you a dime,
He asks you with a grin
If you're havin' a good time,
Then he fines you every time you slam the door.
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Disclosing Truth: Some Preliminary Ideas

OK, bear with me here. Let me try some ideas out on you. If they don't make sense to you, don't take it personally. I'm not sure they make sense to me either. And I'm not sure where to begin (beginnings are so important in an argument).

But let's start with Martin Heidegger (I know, collective moan). Heidegger was a German philosopher who wrote a very important book, Being and Time, in 1927 (let's put aside for the moment that he later supported the National Socialist Party. I hate when that happens. In the words of Indiana Jones, "Nazis! I hate Nazis!"). Part of the importance of this book is that he challenged the way the Western philosophical tradition has thought of being going all the way back to the Greeks (we call a theory of being an ontology). Before Heidegger, Western notions of being or reality might be described as substantialist. (I know, I asked you to bear with me. This is what I meant). By this, people like Aristotle meant that the first things to talk about when describing being are substances. Qualities or relations follow after first discovering the essence of a substance.

By the time this ontology reaches a guy like Descartes, being is defined primarily in relation to subjects and objects (and this primarily in spatial, not temporal categories, but that won't be on the test). The rational, doubting subject becomes the center of ontology. What's the one thing Descartes couldn't doubt? The fact that he was doubting. Ergo, "I think, therefore, I am."

After Descartes, the question for philosophers is how is the subject related to the object--through reason or experience? Philosophers like John Locke and Immanuel Kant go different directions here, but they both start with a substantialist ontology. And if you think this is a simply an exercise in theoretical speculation, the way most of us think about our faith is totally substantialist. Trust me for now. You have skin in this game. I may come back to this in a later post.

Ok, here's the payoff (have you already gone back to watching Desperate Housewives?). If you think of reality in terms of subjects and objects, then truth usually gets thought of as an object waiting to be discovered. It is this self-contained little geography, this already defined continent of ideas or facts. We dis-cover it.

But Heidegger challenged all of that. For Heidegger there was something that preceded the knowing subject--being itself, what he called Da-sein (there-to be). Heidegger thought that once you split the world into subjects and objects, it was difficult truly to get at being. We are not simply rational subjects making sense of the characteristics or properties of objects. We don't stand at arms length from being, examining it. We are entangled in it. Being happens to us. We interpret our lives as they unfold. We know things through taking care, through empathy or being with, not just through detachment and empirical observation. Da-sein is not simply what we know about. It's what we know with.

Heidegger challenges substantialist notions of truth that he terms "derivative." From this point of view, we have truth when there is an agreement of a proposition with its object (I know, I know, hang with me here). But for Heidegger, if you move away from a substantialist ontology truth is defined as a being-true. It is not simply a proposition that you can separate from the rest of life. Truth is not so much discovered as disclosed through what Heidgger refers to as attunement, understanding, and discourse. Truth here is messier to get at, but in the end possesses more angles of reference than a substantialist notion of truth.

Now clearly, when we talk about truth, we tend to think of it as the Greeks did. But I wonder if this is the way the Bible talks about it. Before we even get to a notion of truth, let's think about our notion of God. Remember, it was the Greeks who defined God as a set of attributes (a substantialist perspective), i.e. omnipotent, omiscient, omnipresent. God is a distant object in Greek metaphysics. So much so that God could not be thought of as suffering, or even being affected by human life (we call this the impassability of God). Most of the early creeds, in my opinion, had a stake at protecting God the Father from the suffering of the Son to satisfy a Greek sensibility.

God here can become an impersonal force. Not so much a judge, but a judgment. But what if God were less a set of attributes, and more a community of persons tied together in suffering love. What if God's way with us was less as total subject (judging), and more as suffering companion (empathizing).

If the latter is the case, then the conditions of possibility for our knowledge of God and the truth would come through caring, suffering companionship with others. Truth would not simply be a deposit of doctrine somewhere, but the knowledge that comes from our taking care in the world through participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This truth is something revealed, somthing disclosed, something discerned, something practical, and something provisional.

Ok, one last observation. What if salvation is not an object we possess, but a being-true. What if salvation were not only a fixed object, a status, a theory or abstraction. What if salvation consists also in a being saved, in a disclosing, in a revealing, a transformation with others. This, I believe is a far more biblical way of understanding salvation.

I'm not saying that Heidegger got it all right. What he did, however, was pull back the curtain on our massive investment in a substantialist ontology and suggest that there are other ways to get at this business of being. I'm still in the what-if stage with all of this. I have questions about all of this. Heidgger would invite us to do theology without a metaphysics. I like that. Is it completely possible? He invites us away from idealism and materialism with his phenomenological approach. Is it stout enough? But it is promising enough for me to put some weight on it and see, to see what it discloses.

(And for those of you with some PMC, Pat Keifert interest, you might be able to see now why Pat's book is called, We Are Here Now).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

Dylan made his way onto the national music scene during a time of great social dislocation. It was an axial time, a time for tipping one way or another, and Dylan was the day's poet laureate.

No matter what happens in 16 days with regard to the election, we are all in for a change. There is no way we can confront together the challenges we face without change. I watched Colin Powell endorse Obama this morning. This is a time strong enough to shift allegiances. The times they are a changing.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Support for Obama

At the risk of losing friends of this blog, I want to say a few words about why I intend to vote for Obama in November. I'm not trying to convince anyone to vote one way or another. And I don't ultimately trust in any political party or human government. I have pledged my allegiance to the reign of God. I serve the future day of God's shalom, and that is bigger than any national or political identity. (I guess I'm wiritng mostly because some of my Christian friends find it totally inconceivable that I could vote this way).

Having said that, I tend to line up more with Democrats than Republicans, not all the time, but much of the time. And it has to do less with the specifics of particular issues than it does an overall picture of what it means to be human in God's world. Specifically, it has to do with what it means to be a person.

So, here it is. We tend to think of persons in terms that we inherited from the Enlightenment. I think notions of what it means to be human that found expression during the Enlightenment are severely flawed. What do I mean by this? Many Enlightenment perspectives view the person as a radically autonomous individual, or subject. It's what Charles Taylor calls the buffered self. It's what philosophy refers to as the turn to the subject. It's what the Bible, in my opinion, calls sin. There are a lot of different ways to describe it, but it tends to define the world as a series of autonomous objects and subjects. The individual is primarily a self-consciousness, radically free, able through common sense to see things as they actually are. Truth is an object in this scheme, it exists independent of observation and is to be uncovered, not disclosed. And the individual is the final arbiter in these matters. I think all of this is wrong.

This tends to drop a cluster bomb full of polarities or dualisms--subject-object, public-private, theory-praxis--always a bad idea when thinking about reality in a world created by one God. And it places the individual as an autonomous actor at the center of this reality, a radical free agent. What is best for the individual, therefore, is best for everyone. Enlightened self-interest is the way to deliver a society that works for all.

This is the opposite of what passes as good theology for me. Personhood is not defined through autonomy or through self-consciousness, but precisely through relatedness, through community. And the individual is not simply a blank slate freely choosing in situations characterized by freedom. There are things that precede our acts of interpretation that are given to us, that we do not simply choose and are largely unaware of. The bible refers to this as principalities and powers. Heidegger referred to this as thrownness, Gadamer as fore-grounding. There is always a pre-understanding that enables us to understand. We are not simply acting upon reality, but are always a consequence of that reality that preceeds us.

Because of all of this, I'm interested in understandings of reality that begin with otherness, where otherness isn't defined as threat, but as opportunity for real community and genuine discovery of meaning. I believe otherness, not the unfettered conscience of the individual, is the precondition for both personhood and truth.

So when someone divides the world into good guys and bad guys, when the perspective of the other is diminished, when a candidate accuses the other as not being like us (both do it, but it's been pronounced on the Republican side in my opinion) when enemies are persons to vilify and not speak to, we move further from the possibilities of the Kingdom of God.

The Republican philosophy tends to be more committed to a social vision rooted in the autonomous individual. I tend not to be impressed by their arguments. Even if this vision of the world "works," which I don't think it does, it still isn't in line with the perspectives of the Kingdom.

I want to begin with an understanding of reality that is defined by community. Society is not just a collection of individuals who create a social compact. We are inescapably relational and communal, and we find our true personhood when we act not out of self-interest but out of the interest of the whole. And the test here is related to the plight of the poor. Discernment of the good in the Kingdom of God is always about mercy, and that is often defined in economic terms in the Bible. The question is not so much, am I better off than I was four years ago? The question is, are the poor better off? Are children in poverty better off? Are the mentally ill better off? Are the elderly better off?

You should know that both Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olberman turn my stomach, that both Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken are big fat idiots in my book. This is not primarily because of where they stand on the issues, but because they treat otherness as dangerous. They are community killers. And there are politicians in both parties who are absolutely clueless in this regard.

I'm anticipating that some of you will want to know how in the world I can vote for a pro-choice candidate. I am anti-abortion, though I'm not sure where legal definitions should begin (historically speaking, the church has varied widely on this issue through the centuries) and what to do with cases like the health of the mother and rape and incest which makes this terribly difficult to legislate. Here I understand McCain's frustration expressed in the last debate. The health of the mother seems to make this impossible to address from a legislative standpoint. But I think he's wrong to characterize this as a radical position on abortion.

I'm not a one issue voter (you can't isolate abortion from economic or health care issues in my opinion), and I'm fairly cynical that the Republicans are really serious about it as a public policy issue. They've had all the branches of government for the better part of the last decade and have done virtually nothing. I've read that abortions are more frequent today than they were during the Clinton years, and I don't find this surprising. I don't think this is about personal choice (I am not in that sense pro-choice which assumes the sovreignty of the autonomous individual), but neither is this simply a problem of personal morality either (which likewise assumes individual autonomy). I am for a culture of life, but this would also include issues like the death penalty and war and torture for me, and there are no candidates or parties that have a monopoly on these issues.

Here's my final point. Obama has two things I like that I think are necessary given the mess we're in. I'm convinced he's not an ideologue (I know this is disputable, but he's simply not a black and white thinker). He's a pragmatist and he runs a tight ship. He's out campaigned both the Clinton machine and the Republican juggernaut that has dominated presidential politics the past 16 years. He's disciplined and will get things done. And he's a brilliant orator, and in times of massive social dislocation the poets are the ones who lead. When Hillary says, all he's done is make a great speech, she diminishes the power of a great speech. It's true, as McCain points out that oratory can simply gloss things, but its also true there is no transformation apart from new images, apart from language that moves past previous limit-expressions. We believe, after all, that God creates through his Word. It's the poet-prophets who deliver Israel, not the kings.

I've been disappointed with Senator Obama at points during the campaign. I am under no illusions that either candidate will usher in the Kingdom of God. But I will vote in a few weeks, and I am voting for Barack Obama.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Believe the Good News, 4

Ok, I've been pretty hard on penal substitutionary atonement the past few posts. And I know some of you have read these posts (sheesh, I'm actually assuming people read these) and think, what other way of looking at this is there? I am guessing that both of you who read my blog might think this because that's the reaction I often get from angry students who wish they heard some of this a bit sooner in life.

I'm tempted here to pile on a bit more, to unpack the ways psa as the only thing that passes for gospel distorts our notions of God. Like, for instance this unbiblical notion that the only way God can forgive is for someone to be punished--and with capital punishment no less.

But, let's let that alone, at least for now, and begin to explore what alternatives might look like. I've been exploring for a long time different ways to say this. Here's one way. Salvation is less a transaction, and more participation in an event. It is less a set of ideas to be believed and more a story in which to participate. It is more than just a change of status, but the offer of participation in a God-empowered way of life.

You'll notice the repetition of the word participation here. Participation, for my money, is the key word to describe the primary way the Bible talks about salvation. There are various benefits to this participation, including forgiveness of sins. Salvation is a multi-faceted thing. Beyond the language of participation, these facets have to be described or explained by way of pictures--metaphors and images, even theories (e.g. justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification).

Some authors who have noticed the limitations of psa have suggested that the correction is to simply use more metaphors or theories. Some even suggest using one image to kind of govern the others, for instance reconciliation. To me this misses the point. The images or pictures are always partial and contextual. There is no complete set of pictures that exhausts the meaning of salvation for all time and in all places. But salvation always involves participation in the life of God.

Remember, the two passages we noted in an earlier post (Mark 1:15, 1 Cor 15) that define gospel do so as the announcement of an event. Neither provides an explanation of the meaning of that event, a reticence associated also with early Christian creeds. But what would it mean to say that salvation is a participation in this event?

Notice Paul's pervasive use of participation language. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me." Or, "I want to know Christ, the power of his rising, share in his sufferings, conform to his death so that somehow I might obtain resurrection from the dead." Or, "But we have this treasure in clay jars...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus might also be made visible in our mortal flesh." 

These kinds of statements could be multiplied and represent, I think, Paul's notion of the "word of the cross"--a logic, or mind, that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as a script for Christian life. "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). This also accounts for Paul's language concerning baptism, a joining or participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's big stuff, and its all over the place.

The event announced in Mark 1:15 is the nearness of the kingdom of God. I want to spend more time looking at this event in future posts, but let's just say that the death and resurrection of Jesus functions centrally here as well. And the call of the kingdom is a call to participate in this event, "take up your cross and follow me."

Ok, we've dipped our toe into the water. We've pulled on a thread, and it has shown some initial promise. Let's see how far this thing might go. But I need to read Gadamer for class on Wednesday, so this will have to wait.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

I have spent the past four days in Portland, OR. It is home. It is my spiritual geography, the place where my heart says "Amen" to earth, sky, water, and other assorted neighbors of God's good creation. The minute I step off the airplane into the concourse at PDX, I can feel the anxious weight of my life dissolve. That's pretty great.

I leave today with a heavy heart. I like Minneapolis a lot, but its not Portland. And there are other geographies that have been harsh, places that diminish me, where I am out of my natural habitat and life is a struggle. And I stayed too long.

So, what other Dylan song can you live in when you feel like that but "Mississippi."

Got nothing for you, I had nothing before
Don't even have anything for myself anymore
Sky full of fire, pain pourin' down
Nothing you can sell me, I'll see you around

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Family that Blogs Together

My son, Josh started a blog this week ( My wife, Nancy posted twice to her blog this week ( It seems we have become a blogging family. It is not surprising for Loves to write. That side of the family features people who write for a living, who are very good at it. In relation to the family gene pool, I'm a hack. But the Loves make their way through the world with words. Anyway, you should check out their blogs. Josh is a very thoughtful writer and a dead serious Christian (he wrote perhaps the best undergrad student paper for one of my courses I have had the privilege to read. But, I'm his dad. You should decide for yourself). Nancy has a poet's heart, knows beauty when she sees it, and as a graphic artist her blog is just way too pretty. It's not fair.

I am struck, however, by the image of us each with our own personal computers blogging away in worlds of our own creation. Blogging together is different than joining a bowling league or working together on a pine derby race car. (Can you see me in a bowling league? I can wear the shoes, but I don't think I can do the shirts). As many have pointed out, we live in a culture where being and doing together is increasingly disembodied. I hope the family that blogs together is one that stays together.

This whole blogging thing has been surprising to me. I met four friends last night from my junior high basketball team that I hadn't seen since I moved from Portland in 1975. They found me by googling me, and one of them told me last night he had found my blog. Some of you who regularly comment are long time friends, but some of you I've never met. But the kind of interaction we have here puts you already in the friend category. And you may feel the same about me. (But as many will tell you, I'm much easier to get along with online than in person. We might not be friends any other way).

So, I'm thankful for this new world and cautious about it at the same time. Christians are people who find their relationship with God in water, bread, and wine. At our truest, we are an embodied, participatory faith. This type of interaction bears a certain gnostic temptation, to be minds or digital spirits and not bodies. It might be possible to love my blog world, but not the people right in front of me (This could indeed be true for me). May God bless our togetherness for his purposes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Believe the Good News, 3

Lets do a little archaeology today. Let's do a little digging around this theory of atonement we have identified, penal substitutionary atonement (psa). In my first post, I suggested that psa in the form we know it is only about 150 years old. There are much older theories of atonement (Christus Victor, moral theory, recaptiulation theory, theosis), and even ways of talking about salvation that do not require a theory (the primary way the Bible talks about it in my opinion). So, what is the history of psa?

(While my sources here are numerous, a good place to get after this is in Joel Green and Mark Baker's book, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross).

Certainly, there are biblical pieces that are gathered up along the way into what eventually becomes psa. The Bible talks about the wrath of God. The Bible talks about the forgiveness of sins. The Bible talks about sin as transgression. New Testament writers refer to Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, and even as taking our place. PSA has been built with biblical components, but they've been put together in a way that the Bible doesn't.

For instance, is the wrath of God related to my individual sin? Is it God's wrath that is "satisfied" by the death of Jesus? Can God only forgive if someone is killed? Is personal guilt and justice as retribution the best way to understand the relationship between God and humankind? PSA assumes a "yes" answer to these questions, but these aren't necessary connections. The fact that Christians did not put them this way for a long time is exhibit "A".

So, how did these strands begin to be woven together? It's complicated, but I want to identify four movements. The first movement I want to associate with Augustine (354-430). Augustine set the course for much of the subsequent theology of the West. Through his involvement in defending the church in two doctrinal controversies (Pelagian and Donatist: there will be no quiz), he strengthened the roll of the church as the dispenser of salvation through an elaboration of the sacraments. He also developed what became known as a "psychological" explanation for the Trinity. The Trinity and the interior of the individual were in some way analagous. I know this is all very complicated, but the point is that Augustine did much to individualize salvation. The focus of salvation became less on the ultimate purposes of God at the end of history, and more on the status of an invidual understood psychologically.

Phew. I know that's thick, but let's just say that the phrase "I accepted Jesus into my heart" wouldn't have emerged apart from the moves made by Augustine.

Our second move is related to Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). Anselm moved the focus of satisfaction from the Devil to God. In other words, before Anselm Christians thought of Jesus' death as satisfying Satan's rightful hold on humanity. We were in bondage to the Devil. Jesus' death was the ransom that freed us from his rightful claim on us. Anselm suggested instead that it was God's sense of honor that was being satisfied by the death of Jesus. This is a huge move in the development of satisfaction theories of the atonement. Note here, however, that is God's honor, not his sense of justice, that requires satisfaction.

For our third move, we look at Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther is known for the central place that justification by faith through grace played in his understanding of the gospel. Since Luther, Protestants have read Romans and the rest of the New Testament through this lens. The major metaphor for salvation in the popular Christian imagination became a legal one--justification. Luther's own journey toward sola fidei (faith alone) was intensely personal. He struggled mightily with his own personal standing before God. For those of us Protestants who have read the NT since Luther, the issue of our personal legal standing before God has become almost the exclusive way in which salvation is understood. Still, with Luther we do not have psa.

Our final move could be represented by many. We will simply point to Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Hodge was an influential theologian at Princeton. He was one of the authors of the The Fundamentals and his multi-volume systematic theology was widely read. A major portion of Hodge's work was devoted to substitutionary atonement. For Hodge, the issue in salvation was satisfying God's wrath related to his sense of justice. Salvation was a legal issue, our rightful standing before God as judge. Jesus' death satisfies the wrath of God and allows us to be judged innocent. Hodge keeps Anselm's focus on God as the one requiring satisfaction, but shifts the issue from honor to justice.

This shift is not surprising. It's in the water for Hodge. It coincides with the rise of Western legal theory. It fits well notions of personal morality and responsibility that develop after the "turn to the subject" in philosophy. Hodge's exhaustive treatment of this theme carried the day and we can scarcely think of any of these issues differently.

So, in a very simplified way, that's the archaeology of psa. Let me say here that just because its a fairly recent theory doesn't mean its wrong. This is the way of theology. The church is always making sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus in light of its own cultural raw materials. Theology is always improvisational in that sense. The problem is making psa more than one expression of how Christians have understood salvation. To make something partial or imcomplete stand in for the whole distorts all the elements of the theory involved. The character of God, the meaning of Jesus' death, the human condition, and the scope of salvation are all distorted if this is the one way the gospel is understood.

There are real problems with psa. And as a script for church life--worship, evangelism, fellowship--it's severely limited. Again, the good news is that we've got options.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dylan on a Sunday

My son, Josh, is here with us this weekend. I haven't seen him since he graduated from college in May. It's so great to actually have him in the same room, touch him, hug him. And, conversations ranging from micros to the Trailblazers to theology to future ecclesiologies to guitars to bands. Great stuff.

It wasn't long ago that he was into all things Ninja Turtles. When he saw an ad for the first movie on tv, he came running into our room, "Daddy, daddy, its coming to a theater near us!" That was just yesterday.

So, the Dylan song today is Forever Young (which Rod Stewart nearly ruined).

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Believe the Good News, 2

I went to hear the great Shawn Colvin last night. It made me want to be a better guitar player. It made me want to play a better guitar as well (her Martin had such an amazing tone. Don't get me wrong, I love my Breedlove, but it has to be so great to play a high end guitar from one the great brands--Martin, Taylor, Breedlove, Gibson).

The evening also brought several opportunities to think about the gospel. Shawn Colvin's songs are up to their neck in the messines of the world. Her own life story is marked by drug use, mental illness, and homelessness. Her songs stick to the ribs of the world. They mean something. And none of them are about guilt.

For Colvin, the human condition revolves around the issue of emptiness. Her songs are about the difficulty of finding and maintaining identity. One of my favorite Colvin songs is "If I Were Brave." Two of the verses use the word "saved" in relation to emptiness.

"But I have this funny ache and it's burning in my chest
And it spreads just like a fire inside my body
Is it something God left out in my spirit or my flesh
Would I be saved if I were brave and had a baby

And what the hell is this? Who made this bloody mess?
And someone always answers like a martyr
Is it something you should know, did you never do your best
Would you be saved if you were brave and just tried harder"

Penal substitutionary atonement isn't exactly on point when it comes to the actual details of Colvin's life. And my experience is that most people don't have guilt as their presenting life issue. We might wish that were different, especially since that tends to be the only human problem our version of the gospel answers. Fortunately, however, the gospel addresses a far broader set of human concerns.

My last observation from last night has to do with the venue. We saw her in the The Dakota, an intimate jazz club in downtown Minneapolis. The audience sits at tables and can order food and drinks before, during, and after the concert. Nancy and I sat at a table for four and found ourselves with a couple about our age who had lived in Minnesota for a long time. We admitted that we were newcomers and even temporary residents of the area. They were curious about the temporary part and I let on how I had gone back to school. At that point, I left the table to find a restroom.

When I got back, my identity as a seminary student had been revealed and the woman at the table was confessing her agnostic/Buddhist perspectives. Great. Now we're in for an awkward evening.

It turned out, however, to be a great conversation. He was a lapsed Catholic, she a former Lutheran. They asked me about my program and were parituclarly curious about the research I would be doing with congregations. I would cautiously tell them what I was doing, and they would want more detail. Finally, I let it out of the bag, I wanted to address the relationship between views of salvation and congregational practice by way of imagination. Deal breaker, right.

No, the conversation went deeper. They wanted to know how I was going to address soteriological imagination. Seriously, they were interested. I explained to them my read on penal substitutionary atonement. They recognized the theory, though with a little fuzziness, and were puzzled by the notion that Christian salvation could be conceived of in different ways. This was simply the only way they had encountered it. They were shocked that this theory was of a recent vintage. This was clearly a part of Christianity that bothered them and they were definitely interested that the Christian story could be understood differently.

So, I kid you not, we had an energizing conversation about eschatology, the Kingdom of God, and the end of scapegoating. I kept thinking each new subject would lead to the end of the conversation, but it kept deepening and their enthusiasm kept growing. Who knew?

The night was rich with possibilities for the gospel, but poor with regards to the relevance of penal substitutionary atonement. It was a great night.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Genius, Not so Fast!

I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to music. Actually, that's been less true lately. I can't read philosophy and theology with Lenny Kravitz in my ears the way I can with something less strenous like biblical studies. Heidegger and U2 simply cannot be in your head at the same time. But, in my normal life, I am always listening to something. My life definitely has a soundtrack.

Listening got even more interesting with the advent of iTunes. It made playlists, the true art of listening to music, an almost daily possibility. There were two levels to iTunes playlists the way I saw it. The first was to group songs together and put them on random so that you never quite knew how these songs that went together thematically or musically might come together in new combinations. This is fun, but does not require a lot of skill. The deeper magic for which I reserve the category "playlist genius" comes not only through grouping songs, but by putting them in just the right order. Ah, this is something that requires taste, sense, a poetic sensibility. Each song discloses possibility in opening and closing that requires the previous song and reccommends the next. And a true artist doesn't just string together obvious combinations, but finds unique points of contact that allows music to cross genre and era in a combination never dreamed of.

When iTunes let you share your playlist with users on the same network, my hidden gift came into the open. I'm not much of a theologian, and my contributions are not nearly so auspicious as my colleagues in publishing and lecturing, but my peers had to admit I put together one awesome playlist (are you kidding me, only two of them knew that iTunes even existed, but the staff noticed and appreciated that I made their days a little brighter). Who else would think to put Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, and David Gray back-to-back? Well, ok, maybe others would as well. I'm just saying, I was good at it.

The latest version of iTunes has a feature called, get this, Genius. And this feature is a playlist feature. You simply let Genius have access to all your music, and then you pick one song and Genius creates a playlist based on that one song.

I was skeptical to say the least. I ran it through its paces. And I have to admit, it's pretty good. It would be one thing if it simply grouped music together based on some broad categories, but it seems to know the difference between Pearl Jam's "Yellow Ledbetter" and "Jeremy." Those two songs produced two totally different playlists. Sheesh, I could be out of business. And here's the kicker, it does it in an instant. The loving care that I took placing each song in just the right place took hours sometimes. This pulls songs together in a nano-second. Is this yet another instance of technology eclisping the human? Say it ain't so.

Ok, it ain't so. Genius has its limits. It tends not to cross genres and if you start with an older song (say the 70's), it tends to stay in that era. It would, for instance, be more likely to put Yellow Brick Road with a Zeppelin classic than a Wolfmother song. Some genius.

But it is also all teleology, and just in case you were wondering, I'm all about the eschatology. The difference is that teleology sees the end from the perspective of the beginning. The beginning has a certain momentum that simply works its way out. Eschatology, on the other hand, is an overthrow of the way things are. It is an invasion of the end on the middle, the last things determining things in between. iTunes Genius is determined only by the beginning. It is teleological.

So, when I'm bored--more properly, really, really bored--I like to take two songs that don't seem to belong together and see if I can get from one place to another. Can Genius do that? So, the last few days (I hope none of my profs read this), I spent a little time (about 2 hours total, I think) trying to start with the Elvis Costello classic, Shipbuilding, and ending with the new Kings of Leon song, Crawl. That's a pretty big gap to traverse. Then, to check my work, I compared it to what Genius came up with.

I'm not one to brag, but let's just say that I don't need a label to. . . you know. I'll spare you all the details, but there are some moves I'm proud of in there. I went from Elvis to Fiona Apple to Spoon to Beck to Liz Phair. From there I was home free. So, for fun in the middle I went from The Racontuers to David Bowie to INXS to Jet. I know, huh. But my favorite move was somehow getting a Weepies song within four of the Kings of Leon payoff. That's a Weepies song in the midst of a rock and roll buildup, a ramp up to Southern Rock no less. A Weepies song, sandwiched right between Tom Petty and Wilco! The Weepies! From Jack, to Suicide Blonde (perfect transition), to Kamera. Thank you, very much.

How did Genius do? Well, we both had Fiona Apple, Beck, and Liz Phair, but they were not the right songs to put with Shipbuilding (any half way informed PhD student wishing he were a music critic could see that). And I admit that I wish I had gone with Suzanne Vega's, Frank and Ava (what was I thinking). But the rest of the list is either predictable or uninspired. I know you'll have to take my word for all of this. But I think I've proven two things. First, for some things you still need a real human. And second, it's not so much where you begin that makes it worthwhile, but knowing where it ends.