Friday, March 31, 2006

More on that Psychedelic LOST Map

Entertainment Weekly has an interactive look at that crazy map that Locke found in the hatch the other night, with some speculations and such. Unlike some of the other versions floating around the 'net, this one is just the raw image (i.e., without annotations).

Trippy.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

More on Fasting During Lent

For those of you who, like me, might be ignorant of some of the ways Lent is celebrated in other Christian traditions, the Reverend Skip Burzumato provides an explanation of the Anglican tradition of fasting over at Common Grounds. I always appreciate the diverse contributions on that blog, and this is no exception. He succinctly explains why meat is abstained from on Wednesdays and Fridays and includes solid, more general guidelines about the discipline of fasting. The family of one of my students (who attends a PCA church) celebrates Lent in the particular fashion he describes in the article. I have been curious as to where their Protestant tradition originated, and now I know...it's Anglican.

Atlanta Coyotes


Local news:
If you thought that coyotes in Atlanta were an urban legend, an 11Alive News photographer has proven otherwise. Photojournalist Ron Nakfoor recorded video Thursday night of some coyotes wandering along the railroad tracks near the Lenox MARTA station.

From: Caught on Tape: Buckhead Coyotes

For those of you unfamiliar with Atlanta, Buckhead is a fairly affluent section of town, and the MARTA station referenced is right near a large business district (malls, shops, etc).

(Granted, I'm not sure how credible the story is, since it claims that coyotes are "otherwise known as prairie dogs." I think that should be "prairie wolves.")

(Edit: Ah well, it looks like someone did some additional proofreading: it says "prairie wolf" now. Phew!)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mercy 9:3

Sunday night, we joined a caravan of friends and journeyed up to Chattanooga for the Mercy 9:3 Benefit concert, an event to raise funds in support of various organizations providing AIDS relief, especially in Africa. Musically, there was a lot of good stuff going on:

  • Matthew Perryman Jones played a short set, supported by a skilled percussionist, and they sounded great. I'm very excited about MPJ's new album, set to release in just a few weeks.
  • I had never heard of Judd and Maggie, a brother and sister folk-esque duo, but they really impressed me. Both of them were very talented, and Maggie has quite an amazing voice. They are currently touring with ...
  • Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, both of whom played a set during the second half of the evening. I've gushed enough about Derek and Sandra lately, so I'll merely re-state the fact that seeing them solo is always a treat, but seeing them play a show together is wonder-tastic. Sandra announced that she will have a new album releasing this summer, and she played a couple of new songs, including the wonderful -- and appropriate -- "Chattanooga."
  • Dave Barnes closed out the evening and was entertaining, in a very Ritalin-needing kind of way. His bass player was pretty awesome.

  • Overall, it was a great night of music. (The only real disappointment was the absence of Randall Goodgame, who was originally slated to play, but was not able to attend.)

    But of course, the evening was about more than just music. The benefit was actually the senior thesis project of a Belmont student, and speakers from various relief organizations spoke in-between musical acts. The name "Mercy 9:3" was an allusion to John's account of Jesus healing the man born blind. The disciples speculated on the cause of the man's blindness -- specifically, whose sin caused it -- and Jesus responded that "it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." One theme of the benefit was that true mercy is more concerned with showing compassion and relief to those in distress regardless of the circumstances or harmful choices that led to their need. This emphasis is very important for an issue like AIDS, which has a considerable stigma attached to it.

    In between musical acts, representatives from various relief groups spoke about different ways for Christians to help engage the AIDS crisis: Blood/Water Mission, African Leadership, Chattanooga CARES, and the ONE campaign were all represented. Most of them addressed issues involved with providing relief to the horrific conditions in Africa, although one group (see if you can guess which) focused on ministering to local AIDS victims and their families. All of the speakers had encouraging yet convicting things to say. The speaker from ONE, a former Ugandan refugee, was quite impressive and has even addressed the G-8 summit. Derek Webb, during his set, also had some great comments about how the Gospel directly connects to the kind of relief work being promoted at the benefit, especially as a proclamation of the coming Kingdom where there will be no poverty or famine or disease. I appreciated the fact that he carefully set Christian relief work into the context of the finished work of Christ. He flatly condemned the claim that affluent Western Christians face God's judgment for failing to address poverty, countering that notion with the fact that Christ has already perfectly fed the poor on our behalf. Our acts of charity do not win us favor with God -- only Christ can. Rather, the cross has freed us and enabled us by the Spirit to carry out the work of the Kingdom. These comments only confirmed my belief (stated elsewhere) that Derek is laying a much more cohesive and sturdy foundation for Christian social outreach than some other Christian activists. Hopefully, such sound articulations will continue to encourage the faithful to more boldly proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed.

    New Wright Audio

    N.T. Wright, from the European Leaders' Conference 2006.

    Jesus, The Cross and the Power of God
    Jesus and the Kingdom of God

    (Thanks to the N.T. Wright Page.)

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Lessons Learned

    One important lesson I learned during my sister's wedding this past weekend: make every effort to avoid cracking your right thumbnail an hour prior to playing a set of classical guitar music in front of a few hundred family members, friends and strangers. A second, but equally-important lesson: fingernail glue combined with clear nail polish can work wonders in a bind. (Let's keep the bit about the nail polish between you and me, though. Deal?)

    Other than that slight bit of drama, the wedding was great. My sister looked beautiful and radiant with joy. Her new husband is such a great guy and a welcome addition to the family. (I know the bride is supposed to be the focus, but I must mention that Allison looked quite lovely in her bridesmaid dress. And if you'll pardon the digression, why can married ladies be referred to as "matrons of honor" but never "bridesmatrons"? I don't get it.) And most importantly, the wedding service was truly a celebration of God's goodness to us through Christ, working actively in the lives of two people He has called together in marriage.

    Another lesson I learned, this one from the after-rehearsal dinner: if you are going to play music with a bunch of folks, it's always good to learn the song more than five minutes prior to hitting the stage. The dinner was held at the Hank Williams Museum (in Montgomery), which actually has a cool meeting/reception area upstairs, complete with a stage. My sister and (now) brother-in-law were in a rock band in college, and they all re-united for a few songs during the after-rehearsal festivities. Who was I to deny their request to come onstage and play guitar on a few country songs, in honor of the hallowed halls in which we stood? It was a lot of fun.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    The Medium of Blogging and MySpacing

    Tim Gallant has some great -- and convicting -- thoughts on both the challenges brought by the internet media and the seriousness with which Christians should address them.

    Prayer and Punctuation

    Alastair has "Some Thoughts On Prayer," and they are pretty good.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Stuff and Such

    Business lunches aren't always the most enjoyable, but any meeting is made better when catered by Fat Matt's Rib Shack. That meeting was yesterday, but I'm still thinking about the ribs. Oh yeah.

    Things have been a bit crazy around these parts, with a funeral last weekend and my sister's wedding this coming weekend. Lots of conflicting emotions, plus a fair amount of driving to and from the Heart of Dixie.

    Funerals usually aren't a lot of fun, but the service for Allison's Uncle Joe has really resonated with me over the last few days. I had only known Joe for a few years, and definitely not in any deep and meaningful way. Nonetheless, I was highly encouraged by his life, as recounted by his pastor during the funeral service. Joe served his church and others in countless ways, and the pastor commended him as an example of faithfulness. I think the reason why this message has lingered in my mind is that Joe was commended for his faithfulness in the "small things," such as cleaning the church sanctuary week in and week out, serving as a church greeter or accompanying the pastor on innumerable visitations. Joe showed great dedication towards many jobs that are often seen as insignificant or even undesirable.

    In many ways, this kind of dependability is counter-cultural, because our society tends to value whatever is big, efficient and implemented on a large scale, all the while snubbing things having little perceivable impact. This pragmatic perspective tends to reduce actions and pursuits into mere means that have little if any integrity beyond the ends towards which they are aimed. It's especially frustrating whenever churches and individual Christians (myself included) adopt these attitudes. Make no mistake: God often calls both churches and individuals to "great things," as defined in terms of size, visibility and impact. But God also works in the humble faithfulness of His people, even in the "mundane" details. It's a shame whenever such small-scale displays of obedience are disparaged. And, although I have no way to validate this belief, I have a hunch that God uses the amalgamation of small acts of obedience to accomplish far more sustained good than the less frequent dramatic "big" actions (although these certainly glorify God, as well!). Hearing about Uncle Joe's consistent faithfulness was a great exhortation to keep my eyes on the specific tasks already before me and not to be distracted by the greener pastures elsewhere.

    Oh, and to tie this all together: BBQ ribs, like most Southern soul food, have their origins with plantation slaves (and other poor folk), who received the leftovers after their masters took the choice cuts of all the meat. Nevertheless, the slaves were able to take these unwanted and usually undesirable parts of meat and put them to good use in creating a style of cooking tasty food that has endured throughout the years and has been enjoyed by countless many. There's probably a parable in there somewhere.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Grief

    Always and everywhere it is a hard thing to lose a relative to death. Both of my grandmothers have passed away in the last four years. I lost an adopted Atlanta grandfather last November. And now, as of yesterday morning, my Uncle Joe has gone on to be with the Lord.

    Everyone keeps asking me how I am. "Fine," I answer. But who can really say? Death hits hard. It is the last enemy. And so we grieve.

    But it is a right and good and joyful thing to give thanks and praise in all times and seasons to our Lord and Savior. Therefore, I am thankful that my uncle is no longer suffering from the cancer that took his life.

    I am also thankful for his unique life: the faith he was given, his interest in genealogy that took him to Paris to find our ancestor's name in Notre Dame Cathedral, his love of Confederate history, his too-big heart. He will be missed.

    The funeral is on Friday, and so we will be driving to Alabama to celebrate his life in Christ-- as well as to mourn. "For everything there is a season..."

    I know some of our "real life" friends read this blog. And if you do, you may know I have been planning to walk in a local Relay for Life in May, and have told stories to my students about my relatives who have suffered from cancer, including my uncle Joe. My mom is a cancer survivor. I know many, many friends who have relatives affected by cancer. If you are one of those people who feel like you absolutely must do something tangible, I would ask that you make a donation to the American Cancer Society using this website. Thanks.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Weekend (Film) Recap



    Why did we wait so long to see Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit? (Although, I guess I have only myself to blame, since Allison has been wanting to see it for awhile.) I haven't laughed that hard or consistently in a long time. What a great film.

    We also re-watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, freshly released to DVD. I think I'm going to need a few more viewings to decide whether it or Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the Potter films.

    Of course, this weekend we mainly enjoyed the Atlanta weather, which was sunny and 80 degrees. I just hope it doesn't turn out to be a False Spring.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Lent for the Liturgically-Challenged

    In the comments for this post, Kennan writes:
    For those of us who grew up in liturgically-challenged Protestant churches in the States, I'd be interested to know of a good source for information on the lenten season. Why no meat on Fridays (particularly when some scholars would suggest a Thursday or even Wednesday crucifiction might have been more likely)? Why fast one thing? What does it all mean?

    Rather than simply not caring to observe the church year, I think that many Baptist-type protestants in the States (myself included) have never been made aware of why these observances can be a meaningful part of the Christian walk. Following the tradition without knowing what it means is not something I have ever found beneficial.

    These are some great questions, so here are some of Team Redd's (belated) thoughts on Lent, in no way comprehensive or authoritative. And a disclaimer: both of us grew up in the Methodist tradition, which acknowledges Lent but doesn't always promote strict observance. So, many of these thoughts are still works in progress.

    1
    First and foremost, observance of Lent is not commanded by the Scriptures. As a result, Christians cannot have their consciences bound to honor the season or to follow any of the specific observances associated with it.

    2
    On the other hand, as with many Christian traditions, there is much benefit to be found in observing Lent, as well as the church year in general. As a voluntary observance, Lent can be a useful time for building faith and discipline. But as Kennan notes, observance without understanding is rarely beneficial. So those who would endeavor to observe Lent (in whatever form) would do well to learn why the season is observed, what it is, and (perhaps just as importantly) what it is not. Lenten observances that are uninformed or superstitious threaten to instill, as the Apostle Paul might say, practices that "have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

    3
    Christians have been observing the season of Lent for almost 2000 years in some form (although the specific practices have developed and diversified over the centuries). By observing Lent, we demonstrate our connection to the faithful who have gone before us, and we offer a reminder that Christ's Church extends throughout history and across the entire globe. Those who would write-off Lent with nothing more than a casual "that sounds pretty Roman Catholic to me!" impoverish themselves by their unfamiliarity with their spiritual ancestors.

    4
    The Scriptures speak to a broad range of human experiences, and the church year attempts to address the whole spectrum. As individuals, we naturally tend to gravitate to elements corresponding to our own affinities, but following the church year helps us avoid the neglect of the broader range of attitudes and responses. Lent helps us focus on self-control, discipline and patience.

    5
    Self-control, discipline and patience are ever-diminishing qualities in an affluent society fixated on instant gratification. Lent serves as a much-needed corrective to a very negative aspect of the surrounding culture.

    6
    The corrective should never be seen as an end in itself. Growing in our sanctification should cause us to focus more clearly on our Lord. Fasting is a prominent part of Lent because it is meant to help us more clearly identify our need for God. Self-denial can easily become a source of pride and arrogance when misused, but when used properly, it can help to amplify our understanding of our dependence on God's gracious provision in all areas of life.

    7
    The idea of giving up something for Lent is an attempt to keep Christ as our sole object of worship. Lent shouldn't be about giving up something "bad" (e.g., cursing, gossip, etc.) for 40 days, because we should already be striving to rid ourselves of those things. Instead, Lenten fasting should be about preventing good things from turning into idols. As John Piper would argue, fasting (in general) is a weapon at our disposal to keep God's good gifts from supplanting Him as the sole object of our devotion.

    8
    Sundays should not be included in the 40 days of Lent. Although some traditions do include Sundays (most notably the Eastern church), the prevailing position views the Lord's Day as always a day of celebration of Christ's victory over sin and death.

    9
    Lent is not merely a period of privation and denial. The positive aspects of the season should include an increased focus on prayer, service/charity to others, and reading of the Scriptures. Granted, these activities should be part and parcel of the Christian life, anyway, but Lent should serve to intensify obedience in these areas.

    10
    Most importantly, Lent is a season of preparation for celebrating Easter. Obviously, Christians should celebrate Christ's resurrection every day, from every worship service to every devotional time to every act of love and obedience -- in every waking hour. But Easter is a time for focusing our attention on the most crucial event in history -- the act without which our faith would be in vain. Lent is a preparatory time to amplify our celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Day.

    There's much more that could be said, but I'll simply defer to those who have already said it better.

    For further reading:

    "Keeping a Holy Lent" (from Trinity Presbyterian Church in NY)
    "All About Lent!" (from churchyear.net)
    A Hunger for God (by John Piper, on fasting in general)

    For He's a Challies Good Fellow


    Just wanted to plug the blog of Tim Challies, who (in addition to his steady stream of great posts) seemingly always has great contests and cool giveaways via his site. Team Redd was fortunate to snag a copy of Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, which we've been wanting to read for some time. The book (hardcover, no less) showed up in the mail this week, and we're pretty pumped.

    PS Sorry about the cheesy subject line.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    BSC Responds

    This morning, I turned on the TV to see BSC's Norton Campus Center, with the eponymous Edwards Belltower in the background, broadcast on Good Morning America: "the college is waking up this morning with questions." Who isn't? It was incredibly surreal to see my college campus center on national television.

    Yesterday, in response to the arrest of two arsonists on campus, BSC sent out a press release. In an age where reconciliation and redemption are so often forgotten, I was proud of this statement:
    "The entire community of Birmingham-Southern College—students, faculty, and staff—pledges to aid in the rebuilding of these lost churches through our resources and our labor. Together we’ll stand as a reminder of the strength of communities that transcend the differences of religion and place, as well as the effects of mindless cruelty."

    One of the reasons I chose to go to BSC was the college's emphasis on serving the community. I'm hoping that some of the widespread press will focus on the efforts of the college to help rebuild the churches. In fact, if I was a betting person, I'd put money down that someone at the school had already been planning to send a team to help with the rebuilding projects before they knew that any BSC students were involved in the arsons. That's just the way most of the students, faculty and staff are wired-- they seek to help where help is needed.

    And for Mary, who asked below if there was a motive-- the only thing they've said so far is that it was a joke that got out of hand; however, these biographical articles shed some light on their personalities (and some of the reporter's descriptions make me laugh). Who could've forseen ten years ago that the media would be quoting blogs for research? At least there are some quotes from people who actually knew the boys in real life. If I were them, I would delete any facebook/myspace/blog sites I had immediately.

    I hope that Moseley, et al don't get off somehow as misunderstood. Serving time in jail hopefully will wake them up to the seriousness of their actions. Multiple communities have lost their central meeting place because of a couple of late-night detructive sprees. Growing up in a small town, I experienced the power of the local church's influence in the community. Perhaps because they didn't grow up in a rural area, they didn't realize this, but I still can't understand what kind of person would return to more churches and start more fires in order to selfishly cover their tracks. A very confused person, I imagine. I join with others in praying for the boys and their families, as well as those affected by the fires.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    BSC in the news

    Sadly, my little-known alma mater made the national news today not because of any outstanding accolades, but because two of the three church arsonists in AL were BSC students.

    Sometimes I just don't understand how supposedly "bright" people can do such stupid things. I'm sure someone in the media will pick up that BSC is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and draw some crazy conclusions. But really, what kind of "joke" is it to burn down a group of Baptist churches?

    And though, thankfully, this is not as serious as the UNC incident (no one was hurt), I echo Kristen when I say that our world is indeed a very broken place.

    Deep Thoughts, by Lemony Snicket

    A man of my acquaintance once wrote a poem called "The Road Less Traveled," describing a journey he took through the woods along a path most travelers never used. The poet found that the road less traveled was peaceful but quite lonely, and he was probably a bit nervous as he went along, because if anything happened on the road less traveled, the other travelers would be on the road more frequently traveled and so couldn't hear him as he cried for help. Sure enough, that poet is now dead.
    The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10)

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    The Simpsons Come Alive?

    "Makers of the hit cartoon The Simpsons have a filmed the show's opening titles using real actors."

    This clip is pretty cool, actually, with a lot of attention given to reproducing the animated version down to the most minute details.

    Edit: The clip is no longer available from The Sun link above, but you can find it over at YouTube. (Thanks to richard for the heads-up.)

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    The McPassion

    I'm pretty sure there's only one word that even comes close to describing this:

    Sacri-licious.

    (Thanks to Allison for bringing this to my attention.)

    In the Morning in the Winter Shade



    Today is Casimir Pulaski Day. Be sure to celebrate appropriately.

    (Note: For the sake of accuracy, the Sufjan lyric should actually read "On the first [Monday] of March on the holiday.")

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Ash Wednesday

    A professor once asked us to list three poets we would like to study if we could spend all our life reviewing and analyzing their body of literary work. T.S. Eliot was at the top of my list.

    Here, appropriately for today, is an excerpt from part III of "Ash Wednesday," one of my favorites. You may want to read the entire poem here, and note the repetitions and rhythm of the whole. I will be puzzling through this poem for years--I see something new upon each read.


    At the first turning of the second stair
    I turned and saw below
    The same shape twisted on the banister
    Under the vapour in the fetid air
    Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
    The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

    At the second turning of the second stair
    I left them twisting, turning below;
    There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
    Damp, jagged, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
    Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

    At the first turning of the third stair
    Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
    And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
    The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
    Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
    Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
    Lilac and brown hair;
    Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
    Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
    Climbing the third stair.

    Lord, I am not worthy
    Lord, I am not worthy
    but speak the word only.


    --T.S. Eliot

    Lenten Public Service Announcement

    If you are going to observe Lent (a practice I would generally recommend, but that's another topic), please remember the instructions Jesus gave about fasting:

    And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    An example of how NOT to observe Lent with the above mindset? Repeatedly remind your co-workers that "I can't eat meat today," regardless of whether the conversation is about Lent, lunch options or food in general.

    End transmission.