Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Eric Peters Release Day

Today is release day for Scarce, the new album from Eric Peters. Unfortunately, if you did not take advantage of the pre-order discount, it is now too late to rake in the savings. However, even at full price, Scarce is worth every penny -- and then some! It certainly is a great album, and you should buy your "copy" (aka multiple copies for self, friends and family) today.

Plus, be sure to check out the newly-renovated Eric Peters website.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Transfiguration

(Sufjan Stevens)

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,
the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision 'till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice. Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Turn your ear.
Lost in the cloud, a voice. Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Son of God!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Triple Word Score

Last night, we played a rousing game of Scrabble with some good friends. It had been a long while since I'd played America's favorite board game, even the travel version, and it was the first time in recent memory in which the group used up every single letter. We all got lucky at the end with words like "ti" and "za," expecially me, because my last two letters were a "V" and the dreaded "X," which I picked up last from the pile. At one point, I almost had a "vex" but my spot was stolen from me by a fellow player. Thankfully, I was able to finish off using "ex" and "vas" which I never even knew were actual words until I tried them last night. All our words were verified by Kennan's official Scrabble Dictionary so everything was perfectly legal. Just look at this beautiful board! (Yes, I am a nerd who is not ashamed to post about playing board games!)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Following Austen

A fellow Jane Austen fan took a trip to England last summer to visit the places connected with that famous female author, and is slowly posting bits and pieces of her story on her blog.

I find her stories utterly fascinating and am looking forward to reading the archives. So far, I've discovered that Jane's brothers attended St. John's College, Oxford, which I wish I'd known when I lived and studied there for almost two months during the summer of 2001. I did love St. John's garden, and I even had a favorite tree that I would often sit in, curled up with a book (sometimes something by Austen herself), during a free afternoon. Oh, the looks I received from visitors!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Four Spirits

Yesterday, while driving in the rain from Geneva, Alabama, north to Atlanta, I listened to NPR. I mostly listen only during long lonely car rides when both music and recorded lectures start getting old. Anyway, a blurb about Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth's visit yesterday to Birmingham to rally in favor of Phillips High School as a historical landmark caught my attention. It reminded me that I've been meaning to review a novel I read recently. And it also left me time to reflect.

You may be wondering, "Who is Fred Shuttlesworth?" Well, he's a lesser-known and highly-respected Civil Rights leader, a preacher who spent the early years of the movement suffering for the cause of equality amid bombings, riots, and firehoses in the Magic City of Birmingham.

I first encountered this living legend at a memorial service on the 37th anniversary of the September 15, 1963, bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, in which the lives of four little girls were brutally extinguished. I was covering the service for the school paper, as well as for credit for a course entitled "Civil Rights and Justice." But I hope I might have gone anyway, if only to hear the man preach. Rev. Shuttlesworth struck me first as a powerful speaker, but what held my attention was his faithfulness to proclaim true unity and equality in Christ alone. His unique experiences provided a strong witness to his theology of suffering and the cross. You can read more about his life online in this book review or you may want to check out the book itself.

Though he is not a central character of Sena Jeter Nashlund's loosely historical novel Four Spirits, Reverend Shuttlesworth figures prominently during the first half of the book. He also serves as a motivating force for many of the characters who continue to fight for equal rights because of his influence. His interplay among the varied voices Naslund presents provides one of the many reasons I would endorse Four Spirits as a must-read for anyone interested in the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. He is figured prominently and accurately as a fiery champion of the local working-class black people, set against King's more refined influence among the national media.

The book itself comprises the viewpoints of a diverse cast of characters, from a fierce single black mother buoyed by the momentous events swirling around her to an almost stereotypically cruel member of the KKK. However, the events of the novel are most often seen through the eyes of Stella, a white student at Birmingham-Southern College, who feels caught up in the pulse of the movement despite her quiet nature. Along with Stella, the reader grieves at the death of JFK and mourns the loss of civil rights protestors. From her vantange point atop Vulcan she is oblivious to Bull Connor's brutal attacks, though other characters offer a portrait of the protests in harsh detail. Naslund focuses in and out of scenes with telescopic precision, weaving stories of both fictional and historical events from the perspectives of participants, spectators, and agitators. Most notably, she magnifies the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing so that the murder of four innocent girls resonates throughout the novel.

Though I only lived in Birmingham for four years, I know the streets, the monuments, the buildings featured in Four Spirits. I only saw the aftermath, of course: the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum has replaced Bull Connor's firetrucks and the 16th Street church appears solid once more. However, because of my experience growing up in lower Alabama, even twenty to thirty years after the events portrayed here, I still felt the tension, the heated emotion, and the injustice that remains because of individuals' refusal to be blind to skin color. My personal connections only served to heighten my reading experience, as I tried to imagine Birmingham's landmarks in their 1960's guise.

However, what affected me the most was the historic connection in Nashlund's novel between two colleges-- Birmingham-Southern, my (and Nashlund's) alma mater, and Miles, a historically black college less than 5 miles away. In the 1960's, students from both colleges taught together at an integrated night school, in a dangerous experiment in racial reconciliation.

In a parallel encounter, while I was a student at 'Southern in the late 90's, our InterVarsity chapter partnered with students from Miles in ministry and service, and that intercollegiate relationship continues to flourish to this day. In reading this novel, I not only encountered a unique perspective on Birmingham's history, I also discovered my place within that same, ongoing narrative. Though we are told to study history lest we are doomed to repeat it, sometimes, history repeats itself in order to continue a narrative that wasn't yet finished. I pray the current students at Miles and BSC would continue to build bridges of reconciliation between the two campuses so that "Bombingham" may remain a thing of the past.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

$12-1500 is a mighty nice price for a possum, don't you know?

A thread on the derekwebb board brought up memories of old bands, and so I went in search of Andy Cloninger, half of the duo that once was Dog Named David. If you've never heard their music, you should. And check out Andy's new stuff. Most importantly, the pictures on his website are AWESOMELY hilarious, including the one to the left.

What Does a Worship Leader Do?

Bob Kauflin is currently in the midst of a series of reflections defining the role of worship leaders in churches. I've enjoyed the series so far, but Part 12 has some really good thoughts on the great need for worship services to be structured with a central and explicit focus on the redemptive work of Christ. It should be obvious, but it is absolutely vital. Good stuff.

No Kidding

So, I was reading through an environmental assessment of an apartment building, and a couple of shower heads tested a little higher for lead than is comfortable. The consultants who performed the testing wrote:

"[consultant] recommends that these shower heads be replaced as soon as possible and that all the residents be advised not to drink water from the shower ports."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Banjo Update

Practice is coming along pretty well, but I realize that I'm in need of a role model to help shape my development.

There are some obvious choices:

There is, of course, my original inspiration:

Some are far, far beyond my technical level:

But for now, I think this is about my speed:

Monday, February 20, 2006


Thankfully, Team Redd seems to have survived our bout with the flu. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure if I had a weaker form of Allison's flu or just a yucky cold.) Since neither of us felt like doing much productive, we ended up watching a bunch of movies over the last week. Here's my take, for what it's worth:

March of the Penguins - Who knew that penguins could be so entertaining? Despite the depressingly-desolate Antarctic setting, this documentary actually has some fairly emotional moments. Plus, Morgan Freeman has the perfect voice for narrating.

Coach Carter - This high school basketball film was decent, mainly due to Samuel L. Jackson's role as the title character. The movie had some very good emphases on the importance of discipline and respect, but the mixed messages on individualism and the portrayal of higher education as a cure-all left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Godfather - How did I manage to get this far through life without seeing this in its entirety? I'll tell you one thing: I'm going to be extra careful at toll plazas from now on.

The Thin Blue Line - I always enjoy the documentary work of Errol Morris, and this one is no exception. Providing a sobering look at the handling of a Texas murder case, this film actually helped to exonerate a man wrongly convicted of capital murder.

We also re-watched Castaway on TV. I still think Wilson should have been nominated for some kind of supporting role.

In music news, I obtained a pre-release copy of the new Caedmon's Call album, In the Company of Angels II: The World Will Sing. I might write some more about this later, but I can't deny that I was more than a little disappointed. This is not to say that it is horrible: not at all, for the album contains some good stuff. But, given the title, I was actually expecting a bit more "world" influence, especially since this album comes on the heels of Share the Well. But alas, it is not so.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Marva Dawn on Regent Radio

This week Regent Radio has a four-part series of lectures by Marva Dawn on "The Pastor and the Prophetic Ministry of Jesus" (from the 2004 Regent Pastor's Conference). The first part (which played yesterday) had a lot of good stuff on the need for Christians to be a prophetic voice, especially in an increasingly commodified society. Good stuff.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Sad to say, Team Redd has been battling off the forces of influenza lately. Unfortunately, Allison seems to have borne the brunt of it. This made for a fairly uneventful (and somewhat phlegm-y) Valentine's Day, although an ice cream treat seems to have helped us both. That, and high dosages of vitamin-power.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It Was Arrested Development

A moment of silence is in order, as the two-hour "season [aka series] finale" of Arrested Development aired on Friday night. Unlike many of my past favorite shows (*cough* X-Files *cough*), AD ended on a very high note. The conclusion was FANTASTIC, albeit bittersweet. There's a faint glint of hope that the show might get picked up on cable, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thank goodness for DVD.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Move Over, Sufjan!

Amidst my forays into poetry (assuming a very generous definition of the term) and determining how Derek Webb wants me to vote (just kidding), I've neglected to brag about something very cool: Allison got me the best Christmas present ever -- a banjo!

We actually didn't pick it up until mid-January, since our local music store was delayed in receiving a shipment of beginner-level banjos. (I'm not exactly sure from where they were getting the banjos, as the term "shipment" made me think they were being smuggled from South America, or at least from Appalachia. Either way, the goods eventually arrived.) In God's Providence, when we went to check them out, the store also had a higher-quality used banjo in the store (tucked away in a back room, actually). So we ended up getting a pretty good bargain. I've been having a lot of fun with it, although the banjo is a beastly instrument to learn. But I'm slowly getting the hang of it!

I am a little concerned, though. The friendly clerk at the music store warned me about the stereotypical banjo player: they have a reputation for being pretty carefree and a bit too laid-back. Apparently, the store has had a running problem with lining-up banjo teachers for lessons. Without fail, the instructors ended up being a tad flaky and totally unreliable, sometimes not even bothering to show up for class. Anyway, I guess the clerk felt he had to do his duty and give me proper disclosure before selling me my banjo. At least I didn't have to sign a waiver.

I hope to write more about my banjo-playing in the future. That is, if I feel like it. Or maybe not. Whatever, man.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Derek Webb and God's Politics -- Part 3

Derek Webb's album Mockingbird has a deliberate focus on the outworking of the Christian Gospel into areas of social concern, such as politics, poverty and war (see Part 1). Derek has oft-referenced Jim Wallis' book God's Politics as a major influence for the album; however, as I mentioned previously (see Part 2), I don't think Wallis makes a firm case for Christian action in his book. Not only does his misuse of Scripture lay a shaky foundation, but his proposals for action too often seem to invite the Church's dependence on the State. On the other hand, Derek's songs and public statements point to a much more solid framework from which to mobilize a Christian response to the same issues.

Whereas Wallis appeals to a nebulous "wisdom of the prophets," Derek proclaims:
my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom
Derek firmly roots Christian ethics in the Gospel proclamation that Christ is Lord over all; furthermore, he argues that Christ has set us free from sin through the cross so that we might use that freedom to do the work of His kingdom. Jesus' commands, as well as the canonical teachings of the prophets, have authority because He is the resurrected King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not because of some fuzzy notion of sagely wisdom.

At the very end of Matthew's gospel, the resurrected Christ proclaims, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." The fact of His sovereign rule is the basis for commissioning the disciples to go into the world to make more disciples, baptizing them into the Triune name. However, the Great Commission is not merely about getting people to assent to true propositions about forgiveness through Christ (i.e., "putting sentences into their heads"), because Jesus also instructs his followers that their new disciples should be taught "to observe all that I have commanded you." That "all" is the full-orbed kingdom life proclaimed both by Jesus and by the written Word of God to which He attests. Finally, Jesus promises, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Not only does Jesus possess the kingly authority to reign over His people, He also empowers them (by His Spirit) to obey all that He has commanded and to expand His kingdom.

So what exactly has Christ instructed? I don't think one can seriously study the Gospels and not notice the attention that Jesus gives to those relegated to the lower rungs of society, whether on the basis of poverty, race, leprosy, etc. Sadly, I've encountered attempts to blunt the force of such passages by way of exegetical shenanigans. For example, the parable of the sheep and goats often becomes a battleground for discussing the issue of sola fide. But too often, such discussions (as important as they are) can end up obscuring the passage's main thrust on how to treat "the least of these." Similarly, as I mentioned in the previous installment, some Christians employ Jesus' statement that "the poor you will always have with you" as an excuse to downplay the Church's response to poverty (i.e., "well, this problem is always going to be around no matter what we do, so what's the use in trying to fix it?"). However, the opposite appears true: this passage actually highlights the fact that the Church will always have the poor around to serve. As I've encountered a number of Reformed-ish folks employing a deficient interpretation of this passage, I think it is appropriate to consult Calvin:
Again, when he says that the poor will always be with us, we infer from it, that if many are in poverty, this does not arise from accident, but that, by a fixed purpose, God presents to us those on whom our charity may be exercised. (Harmony of the Gospels)

The exercise of Christian compassion to the poor (or others in need) is by God's design, because it displays His own love to the world. In recent concerts, Derek has stated that Christian charitable work is part of the Gospel announcement, because it proclaims a coming kingdom where God has made all things right. When Christians feed the poor or strive for peace, they declare a kingdom where there will be no hunger or strife. When Christians struggle to overcome racial and cultural prejudices, they announce a kingdom where all are truly one in Christ. Unfortunately, the eschatological weight of such statements is lost when we narrowly define the Gospel in terms of "what must we do to be saved?" I understand what those narrow definitions of the Gospel are trying to preserve, and Christians should be quite clear that no one will be saved because of their works of charity. But if the Gospel really is the good news about King Jesus and the coming of His kingdom, then we must declare what that kingdom looks like. In the end, there is no need to bifurcate "evangelism" and "works of mercy" because both are rolled into that Kingdom announcement. Christ's death and resurrection provide forgiveness of sins for the believer, but they also provide redemption from the effects of the Fall. Christian acts of charity and peacemaking are the Spirit-empowered outworkings of restoration.

Of course, none of this prescribes what form these restorative actions take. Obviously, the work of local churches and Christian organizations in directly meeting the needs (physical and spiritual) of the "least of these" cannot be encouraged enough. But what of larger-scale approaches, such as governmental policies advocated by Jim Wallis? I would humbly submit that Christians should be wary when advocating such actions, while admitting that the issue of how Christians should relate to the government is a complex one, with these posts merely grazing the surface. Christians can agree that all governments are empowered to protect citizens from harm and exploitation. Furthermore, it only seems reasonable that believers -- especially in a democratic republic -- should participate in the system at many levels to ensure that the government is doing its God-ordained job. However, Christians should not be so naive as to expect an ostensibly secular state (like the U.S.) to govern in accordance with Christian values. The more prudent course might be for churches to shift the focus away from grasping the political reins and onto proclaiming the Gospel and demonstrating the love of Christ to those in need. How much glory would be given to Christ if the government ended up cutting most public assistance programs because churches were already meeting those needs?

Granted, these suggestions are not nearly as well-defined as those proposed by Jim Wallis, but the complexity of these issues tends to rule out easy answers. Instead of demanding "a new law," Christians must exercise patience and wisdom in addressing social issues. At first glance, massive top-down solutions, such as government programs, may appear to provide faster results than the slow-and-steady expansion of isolated acts of compassion. But history shows that Christians have been able to transform whole societies by consistent proclamation of the Gospel in word and action, without the benefit of political might. Perhaps the best advice is for individual Christians and congregations to faithfully proclaim the kingdom and show grace in a myriad of seemingly-insignificant ways, all the while trusting God to weave these isolated acts together into something much greater.

Yet Another Haiku for Lunchtime

Monthly team luncheon
Budget stymies Steak and Ale:
Neither's an option

(I think that's the last one for awhile. All apologies to Andy Gullahorn. And many thanks to the Vogons for all their inspiration.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Another Haiku for Lunchtime

Wife's fragrant chicken
Pungent workplace curio
I must guard my meal

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Haiku for Lunchtime

Breakroom deposit
Enigmatic birthday cake
Do I dare to eat?

Al Mohler on "The Recovery of Authentic Worship"

Al Mohler has begun a three-part series of commentary on worship, and if the first post is any indication, it will be pretty good.

The Whole Earth Is Full of His Glory: The Recovery of Authentic Worship, Part One

(Tip o' the hat to the BHT.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Georgia Groundhog Predicts Early Spring

Chew on that, Punxsutawney Phil!

It is worth noting that General Beauregard, according to his owner, has allegedly missed only one prediction in his career -- and that ended up being the year of a record-setting blizzard.

It's also worth noting once again that, per the article, Beau has received an honorary degree from the University [sic] of Georgia. [insert joke here]

iMonk Reviews Wright

Michael Spencer gives a glowing recommendation to N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, the second installment of his Christian Origins series.

(To my regret, I did not persevere with the book when I first attempted it several years back. But my goal for this year is to read all three published volumes of the series. We'll see how that goes!)