"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

- The Apostle's Creed
Rob Bell To Work On TV Show With Lost Writer

From Christianity Today:

Rob Bell is reportedly working on a television drama called Stronger with Carlton Cuse, executive producer and screenwriter for the show Lost, according to New York magazine and Deadline.

New York's Vulture site reports that the show will be loosely based on Bell's life story as a musician and eventual founder of his church, Mars Hill Bible Church. The show will feature a musician named Tom Stronger who ends up becoming a benefactor and spiritual guide, the site reports. Josef Adalian writes:
While based on biblical principles, Bell's brand of spirituality is not about hard-core evangelical, fire-and-brimstone teachings. Instead, his goal is to service folks' spiritual needs without the overlay of religious dogma (see also: Oprah). Stronger is similarly expected to explore spiritual themes but without being as on-the-nose as other recent series that have tackled these issues, such as 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel. There's also expected to be a narrative twist to the project that will make it a bit unconventional, but for now, that detail is being kept secret (this show is from a Lost-ie after all).
. . .

The author of controversial Love Wins announced last week that he would leave his church to move to Los Angeles and launch a tour. Shane Hipps will take over preaching at Mars Hill Bible Church in the spring after Bell leaves.

"There are two kinds of grief. One is the grief you feel when someone dies or you find out you have cancer. The other is kind of grief you feel when your child goes off to college," Hipps said in a statement to Christianity Today. "The second grief is mingled with joy, and hope, and gratitude. Our grief is clearly the second kind. Rob is graduating, and we send him with sadness and joy into a big world."

[tip o' the hat to our friend Phil over at Brandywine Books]

If You Hate the New Facebook and are Complaining About It

. . . thank God that your life has so little hardship that a change in a social networking interface can hold your attention.

Also, to commemorate our chronic lack of posting, here's a picture of a monkey.

Essential American Novels

What are the essential American novels?

Thinking of books not just by American authors but that capture a significant aspect of the American experience relative to the author's historical place.

Some candidates:

The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne
Moby Dick by Melville*
Huckleberry Finn by Twain
Intruder in the Dust by Faulkner
To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee
The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck
Blood Meridian by McCarthy
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
The Rabbit Angstrom Novels by Updike
White Noise by DeLillo
American Pastoral by Roth
The New York Trilogy by Auster
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay by Chabon

What would you add? Go.

* I confess to not having read this one but plan to soon.

An Artist's Scolding of the Church

Have you heard of Gungor? Gungor is a Christian band (or, if that bugs you, a band that happens to be Christian :-) that has put together some pretty good music over the past few years. I'm not that familiar with them, but our College and Young Singles ministry contains some young people who are huge fans. I've heard that their concerts are great worship experiences. We've even used some of their songs for our before-teaching worship on Sunday mornings and at our homegroup on Friday nights.

Gungor has a new album out called Ghosts Upon The Earth. Our friend Quaid pointed me to the blog post in which Michael Gungor and his wife Lisa describe the album.

Now, before I excerpt part of it, I have to come clean: while I consider myself fairly current and I have a taste for newer music, if you're under the age of 25 or so, I could be your dad. So keep that in mind. I'm not exactly a hepcat. Plus, I admit that I've had this little yellow warning light going off on my discernment panel in my inner control room for awhile when it comes to Gungor. It's not a siren, just a small warning that now and then goes beeeep. One concern I have is that, while their music is great, I haven't been able to detect a clear Christology in it. That's for what I've listened to, which is certainly not their whole catalog. Of course, I could be wrong. I've been wrong plenty in my lifetime.

So, with that said, I'd be interested in your thoughts on Michael Gungor's notes about his song "Wake Up Sleeper".

This song puts music to that side of Jesus’ message. When Jesus spoke most of his nice, comforting words like “blessed are the poor”… or “don’t worry about tomorrow”, etc., he was primarily talking to a group of people on the underside of power. He was talking to the poor. To those who had fallen short in their weaknesses, Jesus said things like “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

But he wasn’t always so gracious toward those with power and religious authority. He would say “Woe to you Pharisees…you whitewashed tombs…you brood of vipers” and so on. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day worshiped a religious system, a book, or a law more than they did the very Spirit of God. They worshiped their own place and thoughts and understandings of God rather than simply worshiping God. This seemed to infuriate Jesus.

In my opinion, this hasn’t changed much. Much of the Christian world right now worships the Bible more than it worships God. If you go to the website of a typical protestant, evangelical church right now, there’s a good chance that under the belief section you will come across the Bible before you come across any language about Jesus. You will probably find more theology about what you need to do to go to Heaven than you will about following the teachings of Jesus, or the Kingdom of God, or anything like that.

I feel like much of modern American Christianity should actually change its name to something else, maybe something like Bible-anity. As a whole, we’re rich, we’re arrogant, we’re judgmental and we’re dead inside. Sounds like the Pharisees to me.

This song is a call to repentance, a call to wake up. It’s an invitation to join the poor and the sinner and the broken once again that we may come alive and join with God again.

[Emphasis mine]
So, what do you think of that? Should most of us drop the Christian tag and start calling ourselves "Bible-ians"?

I have to admit this troubles me. I'm wanting to cross-check my opinion on this with some of you. Let me acknowledge first that there is probably some truth to his point. But is it accurate?

For what it's worth, I went to my church's website to see our statement of belief. The first three paragraphs deal with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, before paragraph four, which deals with the Bible. And we're fairly conservative, evangelical and protestant. So maybe we're an outlier?

Secondly, I read every lyric of the new album. There isn't a mention of Jesus anywhere, or much of anything that couldn't be sung in a Unitarian church, even though the whole album deals with spiritual themes. Now, of course, just because you are a Christian and you make music doesn't mean you have to sing about Jesus in every song, or in any song. But if you're going to scold others for not mentioning Jesus prominently enough on their websites . . .

Thirdly, trust me, I know that there are plenty of problems in the American church. But I've never thought that one of them is that we pay too much attention to the Bible.

Finally, I get spooked when people begin talking about the Bible like it's something that is getting between a person and God, especially when it's so easy to create a false god for oneself when sailing the windblown seas without the Bible for a rudder.

I am interested in your thoughts on this, so if you have any, especially if you are a Gungor fan, please leave them in the comments. Thanks.

Marge Simpson and Barbara Bush

Abraham Piper reports: "Soon after The Simpsons debuted, People Magazine quoted Barbara Bush as saying it was one the stupidest things she’d ever seen. Here’s is Marge’s respectful response . . ."

And here is Mrs. Bush’s response:

Dear Marge,

How kind of you to write. I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.

I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family — Lisa, Homer, Bart and Maggie — are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.

Please forgive a loose tongue.


Barbara Bush

P.S. Homer looks like a handsome fella!

Praise The Lord, It's Raining

He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.

- Psalm 107:35

I can't remember the last time it rained in my part of the country. It's raining now. I'm not sure how long this shower will last, but I'm so thankful to see these drops falling!

I think I'm going to go outside and stand in it for awhile.



As a follow up to this post, I found some more Thinklings artifacts from those early, halcyon days.

Jared sent me these scribbled plans for a Thinklings site in February 2003, right around the time the idea of doing a blog was starting to percolate.

For you Millennials, this is a "floppy disk". This contains Jared's first novel, Otherworld. I still have hopes this will someday get published.

From a very early Moot: Jared thoughtfully debunks The Case for Freewill Theism by David Basinger.

Update - I've uploaded some better renderings of the images . . .

A Picture of How the Gospel Cures What the Law Can't

From Sarah Vowell's engaging history of the Puritans, The Wordy Shipmates:

When John Cotton's grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a "needy person" was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,
"Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over." And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.

New U2 Documentary Described as "Transcendent"

EW's Owen Gleiberman reports:

I went to a showing of From the Sky Down, a documentary about U2 directed by Davis Guggen- heim, with more or less one thought in my head: Do I really need to see another U2 documentary? . . . I would probably have skipped the film entirely were it not for the fact that I’ve greatly enjoyed Davis Guggenheim’s work — An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and Waiting for “Superman” (2010), and also, maybe especially, It Might Get Loud (2008), his marvelous ode to rock & roll guitarists. (If you’ve never seen it, you really should.)

I’m glad I listened to my instincts. From the Sky Down looks back at U2′s career through the lens of the band’s single most dramatic transformational moment: the recording of Achtung Baby in 1990-91. Sure, I already knew that that album — a great one — marked U2′s early-’90s reinvention of itself into, ironically enough, a “rock band.” (That’s when Bono started to wear sunglasses, and also when they exchanged the thumping drive of their rhythms for dance grooves, industrial-funk grooves, soft-rock grooves. Simply put, it was when they started to groove.) But From the Sky Down captures how a moment like that one doesn’t just happen. The band members didn’t simply wake up one day and look at each other and say, “Hey, dudes, let’s rebrand!” In fact, Bono and the Edge, by the end of the ’80s, knew that they had pushed their politics, their sound, their stoic po-faced album covers, their indie-band-gone-arena-rock mode as far as it could go, and that they couldn’t just keep doing it anymore.

But what to do instead? From the Sky Down, without being at all overblown about it, presents the recording of Achtung Baby as a moment when the band was trying, in essence, to get from one side of a canyon to another, only they weren’t at all sure that there was a bridge they could walk across, because only the album they hadn’t made yet could be that bridge . . .

The movie is startlingly intimate — and honest — about the fears, the personal and musical tensions, the artistic chaos, the grinding work and discovery that went into the recording of Achtung Baby. It is, quite simply, one of the most transcendent close-up looks at the process of creating rock & roll I’ve ever seen.
I know U2 purists disagree with me, but I think Achtung Baby is their best album, and it's certainly one of the ten best albums by anybody in the last 20 years. Looking forward to the doc.

A Geeky Rant on the Upcoming Superman Reboot (and Comic Book Movies)

Skye Jethani has a neat piece at Out of Ur today reflecting on Leadership Lessons from Superman's Underpants. You should read the whole thing because it's interesting and neat. But I want to pontificate on a point only tangential to his aims.

Commenting on the fanboy rage erupting in the discovery that the new Superman reboot will depict the Man of Steel sans those iconic red undies -- he won't be nekkid, of course, he'll just have the blue jumpsuit that's underneath them -- Jethani writes:

[W]hen Warner Brothers handed the responsibility for penning a new Superman script to Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, the same team behind Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, they wanted to bring the same realism to the Man of Steel they had brought to the Caped Crusader. But the Superman character, unlike Batman, is utterly unrealistic. He’s an alien who can fly, repel bullets, and fire lasers from his eyes. If we are to accept all of that, is it really too much to ask a modern audience to believe Superman would wear red underwear over his pants?
First, I think it's a good thing that Nolan and Goyer are taking over the Superman reigns. Their storytelling chops, cinematic instincts, and mythological depth can give the Superman mythos the gravitas it deserves.

But I honestly think one of the worst things that can happen is if they turn Superman into a brooding, gray-toned Dark Knight-esque mope-athon. The problem with the Superman reboot of a few year's ago was not that it tried to stay colorful and maintain the iconic Superman look/feel, it's that it failed as a movie. It was stupid, campy, poorly acted, and misfired on all cylinders of internal logic. But it did not fail because it wasn't gritty and "realistic." It was a terrible script and was handled by a hamfisted director.

I like the Nolan Batman movies a lot. The second one in particular is a towering cinematic achievement. But as a comic book fan, I still think Spider-Man 2 is the best *comic book movie* of all time. (Although this year's Captain America really wowed me.) To repeat and clarify: I think Nolan's Batman films are better than Raimi's Spider-Man films. The Dark Knight is clearly a better movie than Spider-Man 2. But if I want a movie that captures the wonder, the sparkle, the adventure, the razzmatazz of the days this ten year old couldn't wait to get Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman with his allowance from the spinner rack at Carl's Grocery Store in McAllen, Texas, Spider-Man 2 wins hands down.

And it didn't hurt that it was written by award-winning literary novelist Michael Chabon and directed with frenetic genius by Sam Raimi.

So, you see, Superman reboot honchos, you don't have to turn Superman into an emo kid with seasonal affective disorder or give him a bastard child to hand-wring over or even, God forbid, ditch the red undies, to make a good Superman movie that people will love. You just have to have talented people who will be able to capture the spirit of the Superman mythos. It better have color; it better have life; it better totally buy into the ridiculousness of the Superman premise; it better honor the standard backstory; it better move, baby. If you botch this again, we will hatess you forever, preciousss.

For Jared

Tom Brady played really well last night. In fact, he was brilliant. With Peyton Manning out for the season, he is indisputably the best active quarterback in the world right now (and even if Peyton wasn't hurt that would probably still be true).

That hurt to say. But truth hurts.

[That being said, see the reality check in the comments thread]

"At First We Didn't Know What To Call It"

At first we didn't know what to call it, so we called it what happened. "Do you believe what happened?" "They think he died in what happened." It was weeks before we called it 9/11. Sometimes tragedy takes time to find a name.

We were half crazy those days. We were half nuts and didn't know it. The trauma on Tuesday was followed in the middle of Thursday night by a storm, a howling banshee that shook buildings—thunder like a cannonade, lightning tearing through the sky. And then there were the stories. We kept hearing about guys who dug themselves out of the rubble. We'd hear a guy came out of the rubble and said, "There's 20 firemen down there in an air pocket," and we'd all put on the news and it was never true. I will never forget this one: As the first tower went down some guy on the 50th floor grabbed a steel girder that was flying by, and he held on for dear life and it landed on a pile of rubble 30 floors below and he got up, brushed himself off, and walked away. That wasn't true either. The stories whipped through the town like the wind, and people grabbed onto them.

And there were the firemen. They were the heart of it all, the guys who went up the stairs with 50 to 75 pounds of gear and tools on their back. The other people who were there in the towers, they were innocent victims, they went to work that morning and wound up in the middle of a disaster. But the firemen saw the disaster before they went into it, they knew what they were getting into, they made a decision. And a lot of them were scared, you can see it on their faces on the pictures people took in the stairwells. The firemen would be going up one side of the stairs, and the fleeing workers would be going down on the other, right next to them, and they'd call out, "Good luck, son," and, "Thank you, boys."

They were tough men from Queens and Brooklyn and Staten Island, and they had families, wives and kids, and they went up those stairs. Captain Terry Hatton of Rescue 1 got as high as the 83rd floor. That's the last time he was seen.

Three hundred forty-three firemen gave their lives that day. Three hundred forty-three! It was impossible, like everything else.

Many heartbreaking things happened after 9/11 and maybe the worst is that there's no heroic statue to them, no big marking of what they were and what they gave, at the new World Trade Center memorial.

But New York will never get over what they did. They live in a lot of hearts.

They tell us to get over it, they say to move on, and they mean it well: We can't bring an air of tragedy into the future. But I will never get over it. To get over it is to get over the guy who stayed behind on a high floor with his friend who was in a wheelchair. To get over it is to get over the woman by herself with the sign in the darkness: "America You Are Not Alone." To get over it is to get over the guys who ran into the fire and not away from the fire.

You've got to be loyal to pain sometimes to be loyal to the glory that came out of it.
From Peggy Noonan's 9/11 Remembrance.

May God provide special comfort and peace today to those who lost friends and loved ones ten years ago.

Are You Ready For Some Football?

The new NFL season is about to kick off. Any thoughts on who will make it to the Superbowl this year? Leave your predictions in the comments.

God Bless Rich People

I had a meeting yesterday with a fellow in our church who has been unemployed for several months now. His wife now works two jobs, he is on unemployment and daily sending out resumes and appearing for interviews for things he is vastly overqualified for (which, ironically, does not help him get those jobs), and basically just trusting God. If anybody had a reason for envy, this dude's got it. But as we started talking about the economy in general he said something I'll never forget: "I love rich people."

Why? Because he's smart enough to know it's not poor people handing out jobs. My friend was/is a designer of kitchens (mostly cabinetry). In his line of work, it's rich people who bring him into company employ and it's rich people who (typically) remodel their kitchens or build houses with fancy new ones.

In this current election cycle we are hearing more class warfare rhetoric. A lot it boils down to further punishing rich people -- they don't pay enough taxes or what-have-you -- and a lot of it is calculated to stir up envy and resentment. This post from Kevin DeYoung today complements my conversation with my friend yesterday. An excerpt:

I thought it might be worthwhile to think about where private sector jobs come from. Most basically, new jobs come from people with money to spend who want to spend their money on more people. This means:

(1) The employer must have money. He may spend his own money. Or he may borrow money from investors or the bank. But somehow he has to have money.

(2)The employer must believe that spending his money on new employees will be good for his business. We may wish that employers hired people just cuz. But that’s not the way the world works. When employers want to be charitable they give to church or to their alma mater. But with their business they know they need to make money. Consequently, they hire new workers only when they believe that paying more people will eventually be offset by making more money.

(3) The employer must be willing to take a risk. Very few new hires are sure things. Employers don’t know exactly what they are getting with their new employees. More important, they don’t know what will happen with their profits. They follow trends and track receipts and keep money in reserve, but in the end every expansion of business is a risk.

(4) The employer must be somewhat confident in his projection of the future. Yes, risk is inevitable. But shrewd businesses look to minimize risk. They want to know what their taxes will be, whether existing laws will be fairly enforced, what regulations will be like, what’s happening with their competitors, what’s happening with the prices of things they need to buy, what’s happening with markets overseas. There are a thousand things they’d like to know. They can’t know them all. But the more predictable their future looks, the more apt they will be to take risks.
This is just basic economics. The rest is good too.

As we near voting time, let's consider tuning out the rhetoric that would have us either punishing the rich or the poor and think logically, not emotionally or resentfully about taxes, jobs, and economics. Let's not hate our neighbor because he has what we want. We may end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

Small Talk Advice from Lemony Snicket

From the "Series of Unfortunate Events" Series, book #11 - "The Grim Grotto"

When you are invited to dine, particularly with people you do not know very well, it always helps to have a conversational opener, a phrase which here means "an interesting sentence to say out loud in order to get people talking."

Although lately it has become more and more difficult to attend dinner parties without the evening ending in gunfire or tapioca, I keep a list of good and bad conversational openers in my commonplace book in order to avoid awkward pauses at the dinner table.

"Who would like to see an assortment of photographs taken while I was on vacation?" for instance, is a very poor conversational opener, because it is likely to make your fellow diners shudder instead of talk, whereas good conversational openers are sentences such as "What would drive a man to commit arson?," " Why do so many stories of true love end in tragedy and despair?," and "Madame diLustro, I believe I've discovered your true identity!," all of which are likely to provoke discussions, arguments, and accusations, thus making the dinner party much more entertaining.

So there you go. What conversational openers would you put in your commonplace book that are sure to make for an interesting evening (if a bit controversial)? Please make suggestions under comments.

Here's a few of mine:

"I don't know about you, but I'm thinking about a nose job."

"Did anybody here have trouble finding matching socks today?"

"Can you tell me if my nose hair trimmer was working before I left the house in a hurry to come here?"

"You look just like someone who beat me up once."

"The last time I saw a necklace like that was the night before someone stole it from my grandmother."

"Why are soda cans measured in ounces while large bottles are measured in liters?"

"What celebrity do you most look like?"

"I think it would make for a great evening if we all ate our spaghetti with our elbows. Who's with me?"

"If I ran for president would you vote for me?"

You get the idea...Now let me hear yours...

Saruman Makes a Last Attempt to Weasel His Way out of Orthanc

Pointing Back at Me

Tomorrow is our pastor's last Sunday at church. He has answered a call from another church in another state. It saddens me; I've gained a lot from his Biblically sound preaching.

It's interesting that this has caused me a good amount of cognitive dissonance. A month or so ago my father in law mentioned that there had been someone sitting on the front row at church, taking notes. "I'll bet he's from a church that's going to call [our pastor's first name]."

I remember thinking that that was kind of crass. I wanted to give that guy (I hadn't noticed him during the service) a piece of my mind. Who did he think he was, sneaking around, taking notes on our pastor?

It's pretty funny that I thought that, because I did the exact same thing six years ago. I was on the pastor search team that called our pastor to our church. I remember flying to another state, and attending a service at his then-church. I took notes. After the service I surreptitiously found him - we had already talked and he knew I was coming - and arranged a place for him and his family to meet me for lunch.

I remember having a really good lunch conversation. A month or so later we called him as our pastor. Keep in mind that we only approached pastoral candidates that had sent us their resumes and expressed interest. I think this is the common practice, and to do anything else would be unethical.

This happens all the time. Most experienced pastors in evangelical churches have been called away from other churches by pastor search teams.

So why does it bother me that it just happened to us?