Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Thoughts on the tsunami

I must confess that my initial sadness about the tsunami devastation in the Pacific has been largely replaced with frustration about a number of things. Things like religious opportunists using tragedy as a vehicle for their callous pronouncements of God's judgement or their doomsday-anticipating calls for "wretched urgency." Or pietistic appeals to prayer that neglect to provide any sort of physical relief to those who are suffering. Or quibbling over "how much grief can honestly be shown" to those half a world away. I'm also frustrated by the fact that U.S. media seems to give celebrities affected by the tsunami an amount of coverage comparable to that given to the 100,000+ nameless (at least from the U.S. perspective) dead. Or that the reactions to foreign criticisms of U.S. aid (regardless of whether those criticisms are valid) have often been vengeful statements of "well, how would they like it if we stopped giving altogether!" or "how dare they complain -- don't they know we saved their tails in [insert name of war]!!" The list could go on.

But, following confession, the next step is repentance. So instead of being frustrated, I'm trying to put those energies to better use. I know many out in blogdom have already contributed to any one of the numerous worthwhile charities that are providing disaster relief. But if you haven't, may I commend the following organizations? Each is making efforts to display Christ's love by providing relief to those suffering from the tsunami.
And that's just for starters. So please consider helping out in some way.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas Day has come and gone, and thankfully, I've been able to minimize use of the internet over the long holiday weekend. Which is good, because it means more time was spent with family. Unfortunately for the home reader, though, it means that many blogworthy items were never recorded for posterity. I hope you'll understand.

One cool thing I noticed on Christmas Eve was that little Methodist churches are great for dusting off under-used verses of old hymns. For example, the following verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful" doesn't even appear in the hymnal at our church (maybe it sounds too creed-like?), but it appears in all its glory in the UMC hymnal.
True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;
Very cool. Three cheers for solid yet under-appreciated verses!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Recommended listening

FYI: Starting today, Regent Radio is airing N.T. Wright's 4-part series of messages on "Jesus and the Victory of God." Do check it out. Very excellent stuff on Jesus' ministry and His announcement of the kingdom, among other related topics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Feliz Navidad

There is a Venezuelan family in our apartment complex that we've known almost since the very first day we became a CARES Team. The daughter is fluent in both Spanish and English, and has become a sort of unoffical translator for the office staff, as well as the rest of the apartment community. She and her mother attended my very first English class two years ago, and they've shown up to almost every event we've sponsored since then. We've gotten to know them fairly well, and see them often. The daughter was in Kids' Club up until this year, and even comes some Fridays to help out now that she is in middle school. However, the family has had their share of ups and downs: the youngest child was severely burned about a year ago, but thankfully has since recovered. Recently, they had to downsize to a smaller apartment after some financial difficulty. Just this weekend, their apartment was broken into and they had to move-- the second time they've switched apartments in the past few months.

Around Thanksgiving, the new general manager of our complex, along with the business manager, approached me about helping out this particular family for Christmas. I was surprised and excited that they had initiated the idea.

When I went to ask the family if we could give them presents for Christmas, the mother almost started crying-- and so did I. She said, "El SeƱor le bendice," and I answered in whatever broken Spanish I could muster. It didn't matter, though, because there was an understanding that day that removed all language barriers.

The staff has been raising money over the past month, and today I got to go shopping for the father, mother, 12 year old daughter, and 2 year old son. I have never had so much fun in Target in all my life! Mothers who were frantically shopping for last minute gifts paused to offer me advice. The girl at the cash register couldn't find a price on one particular toy and rang it up as $.99! And Kroger added an extra $20 bucks to the gift card we bought them. I cannot wait to deliver the presents!

The phrase "incarnational ministry" is thrown around so often these days-- but it is the only way I know to describe what we do with Apartment Life. It is sharing in both sorrow and joy-- crying with someone who has lost a loved one, giving a child a consoling hug after a bad day at school, praying with a mother whose lost her job the same week her son was arrested, and rejoicing with gladness at the goodness of God when he provides for those in need.

This is how Christ is made known among the nations-- one family at a time.

more on "Justification"

This post by Peter Leithart is very interesting. The way in which the Reformers used and understood the term "justify" is at odds with the Patristic usage. Yet, as Leithart notes, "the idea seems to be that the Reformers find the patristic usage acceptable, based on the analogy of faith and the overall sense of Scripture. In short, they do not dispute about words, but about the substance of the doctrine of justification."
The Homestar Runner Wiki

(Thanks to my friend Carter, who pointed me towards this goldmine of obsessive fandom.)
Tech ends the football season on a high note.

(If only our offense could have played this well during the rest of the season!)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Speaking of Narnia

I've decided that reading the Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order (i.e., starting with The Magician's Nephew) is simply not acceptable. I have always preferred the original publication order (i.e., starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and have always read them this way. (I am aware that Lewis himself made the chronological recommendation, albeit in the later years of his life. Yet, he had apparently planned a significant revision to the books which he died before completing.) As for me and my house, we shall always read them in the correct order, even though publishers have uniformly settled on the new-fangled version.

(Plus, the cover art from some of the newer versions is just downright scary!)
As expected, the Return of the King: Extended Edition is pretty sweet. We watched disc 1 last night. The extended and deleted scenes were great and really helped to add continuity and depth, although at least one moment seemed just a wee bit extreme (two words: skull avalanche!). It also has some easter egg goodness, and it even came with a $5/$10 rebate coupon (depending on the version).

I'm glad Peter Jackson has chosen to make these Extended Editions so cool. The whole trilogy had so much potential to go awry, but the films are great. (Tolkien purists may, of course, disagree.)

I can only hope that the planned Narnia film(s) fare as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Public Service

Yesterday, the tollbooth lady hassled me over the validity of my damaged dollar bill, which lacked a decent-sized chunk from one of the corners. (Admittedly, the once-small chunk had grown as a result of my unsuccessful attempt to convince a vending machine to accept it.) I managed to persuade her that it was legal, so I think I'm good. (If the Feds show up at my door, I'll know why.)

In the interest of the public good, I will now cite relevant information from the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing:
What is mutilated currency?

Currency notes which are:

NOT CLEARLY more than one-half of the original note and/or,
in such condition that the value is questionable and special examination is required to determine its value.


Any badly soiled, dirty, defaced, disintegrated, limp, torn, worn, out currency note that is CLEARLY MORE than one-half of the original note, and does not require special examination to determine its value. These notes should be exchanged through your local bank and processed by the Federal Reserve Bank.

"Mutilated currency" must be processed through the Treasury Department to determine its value, etc. But currency damaged through normal wear and tear retains its full value. So the next time you get hassled at the toll plaza, don't worry. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas Time is here ...

For the last five Christmases, Allison and I have had the privilege of hitting the road to see Andrew Peterson's Christmas show. For all but the first year, Andrew has put on a special concert in Nashville with an amazing lineup of special guests. (Past performances have included Alison Krauss and guitarist Ron Block of Union Station fame, Fernando Ortega and Silers Bald.) This year, Andrew's show was at the historic Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Over the years, that performance hall has seen far more than its fair share of phenomenal musicians come through its venerated doors. The location was quite appropriate for the display of talent that Andrew P. assembled for Sunday night.

As with past Nashville shows, the night began with an "In the Round" portion, with Andrew introducing each artist (usually humorously), who then played one or two songs. (The first few acts only got to play one song each. I'm not sure if that was intentional, or due to time constraints.) Here is a brief synopsis:

  • Andrew began the evening by playing "Let There Be Light," which was very appropriate, considering the location, with its references to Chet Atkins and Bill Monroe. Even more appropriate is the theme of the artist, made in the image of His maker, using his gift to sub-create.

  • Jonathan and Amanda Noel, veterans of previous tours with Andrew, performed a song based on the Magnificat.

  • Derek Webb, whom Andrew introduced as a "little man" (apparently after promising not to call him a little man), played "I Want a Broken Heart" from his new (excellent) album.

  • Derek remained standing to sing with wife Sandra McCracken on a gorgeous rendition of her "Age After Age." The song itself is fantastic, but Derek's BGV's push it over the top.

  • Randall Goodgame and wife Amy performed "I Did Not Catch Her Name," which previously appeared on ("a band you may have heard of") Caedmon's Call's Share the Well. It was quite a treat hearing it sung by its writer. The song also appears on Randall's new disc War and Peace, which is phenomenal. Buy yours today.

  • Andrew Osenga was introduced as the newest addition to "a band you may have heard of" -- after Derek "got fired." Andy O. played "High School Band." I must mention that Mr. Osenga has got some serious vocal power.

  • Jill Phillips and husband Andy Gullahorn (there sure were a lot of Andy's that night) performed a new one entitled "Nobody's Got It All Together." Andrew P. also made a crack about Jill not using her husband's last name, remembering halfway through that the Gullahorn family was in attendance.

  • Andy Gullahorn played "Holy Flakes," a whimsical number about an enterprising grocery store manager who markets a cereal "endorsed" by John Paul II himself. Gullahorn's immense guitar skill is matched only by his wonderful songwriting talent and his ability to deliver humor in an extremely deadpan manner.

  • Phil Madeira, accomplished and legendary studio musician, played a song about his guardian angel -- the ghost of Johnny Cash. He also performed a bittersweet yet hopeful song about his first Christmas without his wife.

  • Buddy Miller, who played back-up during Phil's songs, played a couple of tunes in place of wife Julie, who was scheduled to appear but was prevented by illness. In honor of his wife, he played two of her songs, the second of which ("All My Tears") was written as a response to the death of the great Mark Heard. I was unfamiliar with the Millers' work, but I was thoroughly floored by Buddy's passion, in both singing and guitar playing.

  • Pierce Pettis, who is absolutely one of my favorite songwriters, played a couple of songs in between his humorous mutterings and ramblings. ("I'm glad to see that you're happy to be here tonight. I'm here to put an end to that.") He expressed his weariness with most contemporary celebrations of the Christmas season, wondering why anyone would want to record yet another Christmas album ("Present company excluded.") He also noted the many extrabiblical ways in which Christmas is celebrated ("manger displays featuring Frosty adoring the Christ-child") and the state of most Christmas music these days ("stuff like ... Madonna and Ice T singing 'Little Drummer Boy'"). More seriously, he lamented the loss of Advent as a season of anticipation. He played the somber yet hopeful "If It Wasn't For the Night," which he co-wrote with David Wilcox (who I hope will end up on the roster for next year!). He also performed "Miriam," about the Hebrew mother of Jesus, as contrasted with the Westernized version appearing in popular tradition.

  • Phil Keaggy. I'm not sure what to say about this amazing little guy. He's definitely one of the world's best guitarists. He's also really impressive live, since he lays down looping tracks on his guitar to create a one-man band. I've seen many other artists do the same kind of thing, but Keaggy does it best. From our seats, we were amused to see several of the other artists peering from backstage to witness the fretwork pyrotechnics.

After a brief intermission, Andrew and friends returned to perform Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew's Christmas album, in its entirety. If you do not have this album, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you aren't familiar with Andrew's music, I will forgive your ignorance this once and humbly request that you give him a try. During the intermission, reflecting on how awesome the Round was, I actually wondered how much I was going to enjoy the Christmas performance. As many times as I've heard it and seen it live, I was actually afraid that it might be a bit of a let down this time. What was I thinking? It truly was amazing, and Andy pulled out all the stops this year. The sheer talent in the backing band is more than enough to inspire awe:
  • Phil M. on accordian and lap steel
  • Phil K. on lead electric guitar
  • A string quartet (led by Marcus Myers, of Silers Bald fame)
  • Garrett Buell, of "a band you may have heard of," on drums
  • Andrew O. on guitars and one of the most enormous pedal/effects boards I've ever seen
  • Kyle Reeder on banjo and mandolin
  • Steve Hindalong, producer and former member of The Choir, on percussion
  • The incomparable Ben Shive on piano, organ, and dulcimer
  • and the legendary Gabe Scott on guitars and dulcimer
And of course, the actual vocalists were great, with Andy trading out lead vocal duties with Randall, Derek, Jill and Pierce. And BGV's galore. As Andy noted, even if he hadn't been there, the remaining ensemble could have put on a remarkable show. I remember five years ago, when I heard that Andy was trying to finish up this crazy/cool idea of doing a Christmas show with all original material, telling the story of Christ, beginning in the Old Testament and culminating in His birth. It has been quite a privilege to see it unfold over these years, and I can only hope that these Nashville shows continue to be an annual Christmas tradition.

Friday, December 10, 2004

pretty niiiiice

Randall Goodgame's website has received a facelift, to coincide with the release of his new album War and Peace. I cannot wait to get my hands on this one. Also, the website promises to have some great things in store:
I'll be updating the site every week for the next year with new pictures, journals, free live show downloads, studio recordings that didn't make the record, and other fun stuff like that. Or let's say this...if Strongbad has answered an email that week (, I'll be comitted to putting something new up on the site - I'm planning on bringing my camera out on the road and taking pictures of the crowd, so be sure to comb your hair:)
What a commitment! Be sure to check it out (no seriously, check it out!) often. And buy that album.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"Excuse me, where would I get a book?"

We all know it, but it is still sad to see in print.

Kids just don't know how to find trusted sources, to do library research. I remember a debate we had with our high school teachers on whether or not we could use online magazine articles as references. These days, I've heard kids are attempting to use blogs as reliable sources!

Although the article lists a myriad of college professors as "experts" (including a few from GT), I also noticed they quoted Dr. Rog, my old Leadership Studies prof at BSC, who is now Dean of Students at Rollins:

"It's a paradox to some that so many young Americans can be so accepting of online information whose origin is unclear.

Skepticism ... is part of their lives, yet they tend to believe things fairly readily because it appears on the Internet," said Roger Casey, who studies youths and pop culture at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

School's out for Christmas!

Today I finished my second semester of graduate school: 2 education courses, an 18th Cent. Brit Lit course (woo-hoo! Jane Austen for course credit!), a course on Special Ed for all Teachers, and a 6-week middle school practicum.

Phew! I'm glad that's over.

I get a whole month off before I start the spring semester: a 15-week high school practicum and 2 classes -- IT and a Psych course.

Now I get on to more urgent tasks, like: cleaning and organizing the apartment before our guests come next week, writing Christmas cards, a long-overdue dentist appointment, planning our apartment complex's Holiday Open House and soliciting vendors for prizes for said event, reading all those books I've been looking at longingly all semester, baking holiday goodies, and of course, blogging. I have a couple of posts saved up...

A Vote for Zoe is a Vote for...Dog!

Make Gaines' sisters' pup Small Dog of the Week!

Turn that lead into a landslide here. Zoe the Dog. Isn't she adorable?

(I know, I know, it stinks 'cause to vote you have to sign up to an e-mail list.) Well, just use your g-mail account like I did. Then, you can cancel the newsletter. If that doesn't get the e-mails out of your box, it won't matter, b/c you have so much stinkin' storage!

(Gaines' edit: Maybe this picture will help convince you to do the right thing.)

Dude, where's my grant money?

A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word "dude," contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, skaters, slackers and teenagers.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

mischief management

Once again, I am faced with the task of finding the best way to "deal with" the Watchtower publications that occasionally end up in the office break room.

Choices, choices.

Update (12/8/04) -- Well, it looks like someone beat me to the punch on this one, between the time I got here this morning (when the offending material was still on the break room table) and 9 am (when I observed said material in the trash can). In addition to figuring out who left the materials, I now am curious who in the office would be annoyed enough to chunk them. (I have a feeling the suspect pool for the latter is much, much greater.)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

"At least there's basketball season"

The above phrase is often muttered by disenchanted GA Tech fans after a less-than-satisfying football season. This year, however, there is quite a ring of truth to it. As is evidenced by Tech's 87-49 clobbering of UGA. This win is pretty sweet, in light of the heartbreaking football loss to the Dawgs last weekend, as well as the overtime b-ball loss against them last season. We've definitely got a good chance of repeating our NCAA tourney fortunes this year. Hopefully, with one more win than last year.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

In Against Christianity, Peter Leithart (borrowing argumentation from Philip Rieff) describes how, historically, cultures have had a sociological "priesthood" that marks out and maintains the boundaries of which behaviors are permitted and which are prohibited. This role was fulfilled by the actual priesthood of the Christian Church for centuries, but they have gradually surrendered their authority. In contemporary post-Christian society, no priestly class has arisen to maintain these barriers; rather, an "anti-culture" has developed in which the lack of a social priesthood is celebrated, replaced by a non-moral world where all virtues derive from within the individual.

Unfortunately, as Leithart laments, not only has the Church lost its position as a priesthood for the surrounding culture, but she has also failed to maintain a priesthood within her own society, preferring to adopt the prevailing "anti-culture." He writes:
Where are the priests? Who is manning the boundaries?

And the answer is that this dimension of pastoral ministry has all but evaporated. Pastors see themselves as proponents of Christianity, teaching "religious" things or assisting people on their personal spiritual journeys. Pastors have lost any sense that they are overseers of a new city and that they therefore have responsibilities for governance.

In part, this is an effect of the degeneration of the notion of pastoral vocation. If the tension between duty and desire has lost its existential edge in the twenty-first century, it is not because desire has become more vigorous. Instead, the tension has eased because duty has been collapsed into desire. Since Hume, moderns have been forbidden to derive an "ought" from an "is," but it has become second nature to derive an "ought" from a "feels." The consequences lie strewn on the surface of today's social landscape, too obvious to require enumeration.
Historically, a pastoral candidate's desires often had little to do with the Church's call to serve in pastoral office. Far from seeking out positions of leadership, the greatest of the church fathers resisted with all their strength. Augustine had to be dragged into the cathedral for his ordination to the bishopric of Hippo. When he was a deacon, John Chrystostom made a pact with a friend that they would enter the priesthood together, but when the friend went forward John was nowhere to be found. Martin of Tours was carried from his cell and conducted to his ordination under guard. Gregory the Great, so we are told by his earliest biographer, fled from Rome to hide in the woods when rumors began to circulate that he was being considered for bishop. A humble anchorite saw in a vision where Gregory was hiding, and the Romans trooped out to bring him back for ordination. Calvin was persuaded to remain in Geneva only because Farel's warnings made leaving even more terrifying then staying. So common was such resistance to ordination that as late as the nineteenth century the patriarchs-elect of Alexandria were led to their ordination wearing shackles.

In the modern church, calling has been reduced to little more than a strong desire to hold a position of ecclesiastical leadership. The terror of responsibility for the Church described by many of the leading pastoral writers of earlier centuries is seldom expressed during ordination exams. Candidates with even slight reservations about entering the ministry are treated with more than a little suspicion.

This dramatic shift in the Church's understanding of calling is part and parcel of what David F. Wells has identified as the professionalization of the clergy, the reduction of ministry to technical and managerial competence. Pastoral ministry, Wells charges, has been detached from its theological moorings, and has become another career option for the upwardly mobile "helping professional." One might well recoil from a duty imposed by divine vocation; but one aggressively markets oneself for a career. It is no accident that so many pastors disdain the clerical collar, which is, after all, the collar of the slave.

The Church will find herself in a healthier, if more intense and serious, condition when pastoral candidates begin again to appear for their ordination exams wearing chains.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Happy Birthday, Erin!

In honor of my youngest sister-in-law's tremendous artistic talent, I give her the gift of decorating her own cake!

Enjoy! We hope you've had (and are having) a very awesome birthday!

World on Fire

I think this video idea is extremely cool.

It would be nice if Christian artists could think in this direction, especially those CCM record companies who make all those videos that no one sees. I mean, really, who watches them? (Where do they even broadcast them?)

Notice the scripture verse on the house of the single mother in Ghana:
Psalm 118:5-12

Notice the lyrics as well:
Hearts break hearts mend love still hurts
Visions clash planes crash still theres talk of
saving souls still colds closing in on us

"Let's just put sentences into their heads. That's the gospel." What about mercy, justice? Feeding widows and orphans? If the world is picking up on this incongruity between what the church says and what it does, why can't we?

I think, if the world's on fire, then Christ quenched the blaze on the cross, and we, the church, are called to help put out the last of the flames...
Apparently Launchcast has added some new artists and albums to their repertoire over the last week or so. Over the past couple of days, I've really enjoyed listening to Counting Crows, Burlap to Cashmere, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Guns N'Roses and David Wilcox's Big Horizon.

Apparently, I'm well on my way to having a "Fanatic" rating level.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Methodist jury convicts lesbian minister

Good job, United Methodist Church (in which I was baptized and raised). Of course, the problem of lesbian pastors would be a non-issue if you stopped ordaining women.

how appropriate

During my daily commutes this week, I've been listening to a series of N.T. Wright lectures on "Creation and New Creation in the New Testament." (Courtesy of Regent Radio.) They are quite good, as expected. Perhaps these lectures have raised my awareness, but I've been more prone to notice the fixation on "heaven as our home" within pop Christian-speak. Departed saints are "going home." This world is "not my home." Christ will one day come "to take me home." And so on. And of course, the New Testament does employ the language of "home" to describe being with the Lord after death, ("we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.") especially in contrast to the current fallen state of creation. But as usually employed by Evangelicals, the language of "home" becomes a spiritual reality that is completely divorced from our current existence. "Going home" acts as code for the total escape from the corrupt, evil world. This misused language (and the attitude the fuels it) sadly neglects God's promise to redeem the creation completely from sin's corruption. Our ultimate "home" is the new heaven and new earth, which (in some translations) Peter refers to as "the home of righteousness." Although altered and redeemed, the new heaven and earth are not a complete discontinuity from the original creation.

As it so happens, the following entry at Societas Christiana addresses a similar concern. As Tim Enloe notes, much current Evangelical thought on both the current creation and the afterlife echoes a dualism more at home within paganism than within the pages of Scripture.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Lessons learned

When sending a document to another department for review and comment, never forget to keep a backup copy for yourself.