Tag Archives: emerging church

On Beowulf and Yoga

After last Friday’s discussion of MoCap, The Uncanny Valley, and 3D filmmaking, I thought it was worth a follow up to discuss my impressions of “Beowulf,” as I saw it in 3D later that very day.

Oh, and I’m going to talk about Yoga, too.

First, Beowulf. Beowulf will go down in history as a film unlike most, in that I loved it and despised it at the same time. I want to go see it again, and I never, ever want to see it again. It’s been a long while since I’ve been so totally transfixed, awed, and downright stupified by the immersion experience of a film… oh, and also hated it.

The look of this movie is done a total injustice by it’s previews, which struck me as only moderately interesting. Visually, the only word that describes Beowulf is “Stunning.” I was wishing they would rewind the opening animated logos for the production companies before the thing even started.

The opening scene is a celebration in the mead hall of King Hroogar, played by Anthony Hopkins. I found myself dashing around the screen, trying to take it all in. The depth of field created by the 3D presentation means that a virtual “prop” like a goblet can be seen in utmost clarity as it reflects the light of a virtual fire roasting a virtual pig.

To get right to one of the questions we posed last Friday, which is, “Do the MoCap characters look better then they did in The Polar Express or Final Fantasy,” and the answer for me is yes and no. For some reason, elderly characters looked “right” to me. Perhaps its the flaws in the skin that make it so.

Anthony Hopkins’ capture is one of the marvels of the film, for my money, leading me to ask the question that Jeremy can perhaps answer, which is, how much, in the brave new world of MoCap, does a great actor influence the final, rendered and realized portrayal? Is Anthony Hopkins just that much more skilled then Ray Winstone, or Robin Wright Penn, that his facial muscles just give more interesting information to the computer?

So, have I painted a picture for you? Remember the first time you saw, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Jurassic Park, or more recently The Return of the King, and you just thought to yourself, “I’ve witnessed something wholly new and groudbreaking?” It’s like that.

So why’d I hate it? Well… first of all, Beowulf is one of the most relentlessly violent, downbeat, depressing films I’ve seen a a long while. The PG-13 rating is totally disingenuous. If this film had been live action, it would have been rated a hard R for violence. Limbs ripped, eyes gouged, chests opened, organs cut out, all in the aforementioned crystalline clarity of digitally projected 3D.

But oh no… it’s not just the gore. It’s just… sad. George McFly’s Grendel is awful to behold, in every way. The cast-off bastard son of a demon witch and a drunkard king, murderer and eventual victim of mutilation and violence. Grendel’s Mother is momentarily sympathetic in her grief over her freshly dead spawn, until that is she gets a whiff of Beowulf’s man-scent or some such thing and then I guess she’s cool… or something. We’re subjected to Beowulf himself, in all his masculine emo discontent.

Bleh!

This film is made for teenage boys, and lowbrow teenage boys at that. Calling it an animated film for adults is a mistake, as butt, dick, boob, and even midget jokes are present in spades. Hey look! Beowulf is naked, and a sword is perfectly placed to cover his junk! Get it? Here it is again!!! GET IT?!?!?!?!? DO YOU EFFING GET IT?!?!!?

Yes. I get it.

Our “Hero” is a one dimensional warrior in a three dimensional world. He’s all balls and no brain, and he pays the price. I cared not what happened to him. In fact, the only character I actually cared about was his sidekick, Wiglaf, played by the wonderful Brendon Gleeson. However, the film is such that, quite literally in the final frame, we are robbed of something resembling a completed story arc for his character.

Even the 3D effects danced on the edge of immaturity.  For every shot that could be described as lyrical, there was a shot that screamed, “Hey!  Look at me!  I’m in 3D!”  Hey, filmmakers!  No more spears in the face, right?

Then there are these two really strange bits of dialog dealing with the spread of Christianity through Europe that left me sort of scratching my head. Odd Line #1 – John Malkovich’s character to Anthony Hopkins early in the film, referring to the priests praying to Odin in the wake of Grendel’s attack:

“Shall we also pray to the new God of the Rome, The Christ?” Interesting, I thought.

Fast forward to the 2nd act of the story, set 20 years later, and outta nowhere comes Odd Line #2 – Beowulf to Brenden Gleeson’s character as a band of marauders attempt to invade Beowulf’s kingdom, something like:

“No heros left in the world, the Christ God has killed them all.”

Huh? What? Is there something you’d like to share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry? Aside: if anyone outside of my immediate family gets that obscure dialog reference, you get a gold star.

Beowulf will not be a runaway hit, because Robert Zemeckis is a boy, and he had new toys, and boys with new toys (even boys who are brilliant filmmakers) do not always the wisest decisions make.

*************************

For some reason, this exercise in masculine excess crossed paths with another train of thought in my head, which is that of Yoga, and they both happened to fall on the same weekend.

I’ve been stagnant in my weight loss for weeks. It’s been terribly frustrating. I up my running. No change. My knees ache and pop. No change. 7 miles. Yes, for those of you who knew me as a cheeseburger snarfing lard-ass, 7 miles. No change.

ARGH!

In desperation, Friday morning I followed Erica to the Yoga class at our local gym. I had tried Yoga before in a class setting a few months ago, and I made it about 10 minutes before I bailed. Feeling like a clumsy pig on ice is not my idea of weight-loss recreation. This time, I was desperate. I knew that I simply was not going to finish losing this weight the same way I started, and I was determined to see it through. I stuffed the mental protests from my conservative evangelical upbringing, took off my shoes, aligned my chakras, and went for it.

I loved it. By the end of the hour, I could feel every muscle in my body. The next morning, I REALLY felt every muscle in my body. They felt elongated. I felt as if I had been tested, and passed, albeit with a fair amount of sweating and near-falling. For anyone who thinks that Yoga is for hippies and soccer moms, I’d like to challenge you hold a Warrior 2 pose (considered basic, FYI) for 30 seconds and see how macho you feel.

Yesterday, Monday, I went again, by myself. This time, I wore longer shorts and a looser shirt so that I wouldn’t worry about revealing my junk to the instructor. (I didn’t have a conveniently placed CG sword handy, you see.) I came earlier, so that I could stretch my muscles instead of leaping right in like I had before.

I sat on my little mat for 5 minutes listening to the ludicrous plinky-plunky music and relaxed and prayed. It was the first time in awhile that I had taken 5 minutes to just pray when I wasn’t in immediate need of something, I’m ashamed to say. I think I had forgotten how powerful Jesus is, because He came to meet me in the group classroom at 24 Hour Fitness in Thousand Oaks. He’s cool like that.

Somewhere in between my prayer and the beginning of the class, two young college-aged Beowulfs walked in the room, swords a-clanging, if you know what I mean. They had clearly come upstairs after spending some time lifting weights and ravishing maidens. Their gym shoes squeaked in the erstwhile quiet, and their “Whispers” were audible to all. One of them was clearly dragging the other, who was mocking the whole endeavor. “It’s not as easy as you think…” was the last thing I heard before the instructor started talking to us about finding our center and becoming one with the earth.

“This is going to be awesome,” I thought to myself.

Sure enough, even as I experienced a phenomenal growth from one session to the next in terms of balance and flexibility, our young Beowulfs grunted, strained, squeaked, and cursed their way through the session. I think the rest of us were blessed with a delightful mixture of pity and smugness. No one grew discernibly agitated at them for their disruption, even though the instructor had to spend a majority of her time correcting their poses so they didn’t tear a hamstring. I think they were actually trying, which is always an endearing quality.

They made me feel like I was Madonna. I was centered over the earth. I was balanced in my space., or some crap like that.

Yoga is teaching me something, but I don’t know what. I don’t care that the teacher is a new age, post-modern, post-Oprah, fortune-cookie philosopher. I don’t care. Her spine is straight and she has an appropriate amount of body fat. She can touch her toes.

My spine is still bent at the top from all those years of carrying around a hundred extra pounds. I can see my toes now, but I can’t touch them. My right shoulder is slightly higher than my left. I’m a mess.

I’m reversing two decades of poor physical decisions, and I don’t care that a Hindu meditation art is going to play a part in that process. Jesus is cool like that. When she says find your “self,” I think, “Find who God made you to be.” When she does the relaxation thing at the end and gives a quasi-space-age-sermonette about not letting your family negatively impact your energy over the holiday season, I think, “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” and, “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies.” When she starts talking about modified plank pose, I think to myself, “Oh, the burning!”

You get the idea.

Dear readers, I don’t really have a way to link these experiences together for you in anything resembling a coherent thought, but they’re all connected in some sort of ironic, existential, spiritual cluster – eff.

Weekly Goat Report: 1 Goat!

Well, kids, it’s time for the weekly Goat report here on Addison Road. We finally got our first sale through Operation Christmas Goat. That makes a total of $0.80 raised so far, which Gretchen and I will round up to $75, or one goat.

One goat down, 99 to go. That sounds like a parable.

update: if you’re on facebook, you can join the group. Invite your friends, help promote this thing!

Informed Moviegoing

It’s been months since I submitted anything regarding Films or moviegoing for general consumption and discussion here at Addy, but Hollywood and Christendom are again locked in an epic battle of ideas and I cannot resist.

But before I go there, I think I need to talk about Informed Moviegoing.

See… I know a lot about going to the movies. I’ve never written a screenplay, never acted on camera, never sat in an editing bay, never composed a score. I am not in “The Biz.” I am, however, a regularly overzealous hobbyist when it comes to actually going to movies, pondering them, discussing them, and coming to something like an opinion about them both before and after actually seeing them.

Last night, Erica and I caught a late show of American Gangster. I knew I wanted to see it. Aside from Denzel, I am a big fat Russell Crowe fanboy. Aside from the often visually beautiful direction of Ridley Scott, is the fact that the screenplay was written by the great Steven Zaillian, whose work ranges from engrossingly entertaining, (Gangs of New York and The Interpreter) to downright brilliant. (Schlinder’s List, Awakenings, and, made a film in 1993 that may the greatest film you’ve never seen: Searching For Bobby Fischer)

A few weeks ago we caught Michael Clayton, which is a terrific film. The primary reason I wanted to see it was because it was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, whose screenplays for all three Bourne movies have been master clinics on how to write suspense in the 21st century.

All that to say… typically I know more about upcoming movies than the average joe. I grew up reading the Los Angeles Times Calendar section. Every morning. I read, and re-read Roger Ebert’s books. In High School, my Former Young Republican father took me to a weekly UCLA extension course where a film would be screened, usually ahead of it’s release, and then a moderated discussion with one of the filmmakers would follow. It was on one of these evenings, when I was 15 years old, that I challenged screenwriter Callie Khouri as to what would motivate Thelma to engage in a one night stand with Brad Pitt’s drifter boy toy, a scant 24 hours after her attempted rape and the subsequent murder of her would-be rapist. Aaaah the innocence of youth.

It was walking out of American Gangster that we saw a poster for the upcoming film The Golden Compass. “That looks… interesting.” Erica says. She’s leery of the fantasy genre, as a rule. “I got some email about that movie… what’s the deal?”

The deal, my friends, hearkening back to the first paragraph, is that The Golden Compass is slated to be the center of another controversy between Hollywood and Christian folks, just in time for the holidays!

I have never read the books, so I am but a simple messenger relaying information here. The Golden Compass is the first in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman is a former Oxford professor and children’s author and is also, brace yourselves: a noted atheist.

His Dark Materials has been described in the media as the anti-Narnia. It’s a children’s story filled with adventure, mystery, magic, moral dilemmas, good and evil and allegory and all the trimmings, but the allegory points to a world where the church is evil, God imprisons ghosts, and Polar Bears sound like Ian McKellan.

So the culture war is on! The Catholic League is protesting. Focus on the Family is going to put the evangelicals on alert. Even Snopes, the Urban Myth Debunking website, confirms that the story is anti-Christian, and to top it all off, your Aunt from Kentucky will send you an email about it that she got from this other lady at her church.

Hey everybody! Remember The DaVinci Code? Anybody? Came out like… oh 18 months ago? No? Well, You mean to say you vaguely remember it… you mean, yeah, you caught it that one time on the airplane or on TBS or something. Remember how it was like, the greatest threat to Christendom, like, ummm, ever?

You don’t? Know why?

Because it sucked. It was so boring and awful that a scant year and a half later, the only person who gives two shits about it is Tom Hanks’ CPA, and he only cares because he’s paid to.

May I again make a case for not getting our panties in a collective twist over this?

Get all informed about going to movies, I’m all about that. Make a choice based on what you read, and how it strikes you. Go on IMDB and check out the director, the writer, the source material. Have you enjoyed their work in the past? Do you want to spend another 2 hours with them?

Don’t be a lamb. Don’t go see it because it has cool looking effects. Don’t not go see it because your pastor told you not to. Please don’t believe that if you support or boycott this movie that it has a damn thing to do with God’s Kingdom or Jesus getting glorified or not. It’s. A. Movie.

Most movies that you see are created by people who believe that the Christian world view and belief systems are arcane and oppressive. Learn from them, or tune them out. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that by skipping this one, that you’ve somehow remained ideologically unstained.

Go see the movie and deconstruct it with your atheist friends. Do I even have an atheist friend? Do they care about this movie one bit? Do they care what I think of this movie? Are they watching me to see what I think or say about it? Am I being evangelized by this movie? How does that feel?

Avoid the movie all together and go hear some good live music. Or drink wine with friends at the Getty. Or grab your kids and start The Hobbit and thank God for Christ-follower JRR Tolkien and his ability to weave allegory with such a deft hand that it speaks into the minds of people of all creeds.

Just don’t get your panties in a twist. Please.

Seize Him, And Make Him King

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Seize Him series

  1. Seize Him and Make Him King
  2. Inappropriate Zeal
  3. Seize Him, And Make Him King

The service went pretty well this morning. I had a few people come up afterward and take issue with the message, but I think they were, for the most part, reacting to what they thought I was implying, not what I actually said.

Thank you for your help, as always. For those interested, here’s the audio:

Sermon Audio: October 21, 2007

And, if you’d like to follow along, here’s the manuscript. Tons of spelling errors, I know. Oh well.

Sermon Manuscript: Seize Him and Make Him King

Previous in series: Inappropriate Zeal

Inappropriate Zeal

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Seize Him series

  1. Seize Him and Make Him King
  2. Inappropriate Zeal
  3. Seize Him, And Make Him King

I don’t think I’m going to even get past this fist verse for Sunday. The phrase “seize him and make him king” just keeps tripping me up. I’m sorting through what motivated the crowds, what they’re intent was, in part to get at Melody’s question about where they went. It’s hard to sustain a mob whose expectations aren’t being met.

wonder bread

Matthew Henry makes the comment that the motivating passion, the zeal, isn’t in itself bad, it’s just wildly misdirected. These people are experiencing a problem, one with political dimensions, and they see Jesus as a potential rallying point to solve the problem. Nothing inherently wrong with that, except for their misunderstanding of Jesus’ power and purpose.

Three observations:

  1. They’re still wide-eyed from the free meal. A little wonder, a little bread, and the thought that this guy might have a way out of the endless cycle of sowing, tilling, reaping, and baking. That’d be enough to whip up a mob anytime, anywhere. Imagine if Obama kicked off his stump speeches by filling up every gas tank in the parking lot from a miraculous never-ending fuel truck. It wouldn’t be too long before a mob formed up to seize him and make him king. This crowd is acting out of passion and appetite, with a healthy dose of wonder.
  2. The perspective of the crowd is limited to immediate, political solutions. They’re oppressed by the Romans. They’re oppressed by their own priesthood. They’re oppressed by their own leaders, who have colluded with the occupiers to preserve their own power. The thing I find interesting is that the political solution they seek would be a good thing! An independent Israel, one with a restored priesthood, economic viability, and person freedom , this seems like a goal that would fit with Christ’s stated values. So Jesus passes up this good thing because it’s not the most important thing, right now, for him. The people mobbing to seize him can only see the immediate, political reality, and so they diminish the totality of what their messiah has come to do.
  3. They misunderstand the Kingdom of God. Any kingdom with Christ at the head (or at least with Christ as the mascot) is the Kingdom of God, right? Apparently not. Christ resists being seized and placed at the head of some kingdoms, no matter how much we may think he belongs there.

An interesting side note, for all you Left Behind fans out there; the mob of Israelites seem to be suffering from bad end-times theology. Both in their formal rabbinical teaching, and in the populist imagination of the time, there was a highly articulated and detailed picture of what the messiah would look like. This was their end-times prophecy, their expectation of exactly what would occur before the re-establishment of David’s eternal throne. As a result, every time they saw something that looked close, they rose up and declared that person Messiah. The masses, in their ignorance and zeal, did a great deal of violence to the population of Israel in the name of their own end-times prophetic understanding.

I find some disturbing parallels between how 1st Century Jews read Daniel’s revelation, and other prophetic works, and how some in the Evangelical church read John’s Revelation. That kind of step-by-step, precise narrative interpretation seems inappropriate to the text, and can lead to actions that are contrary to the purposes of God.

But, for those who like that kind of thing, here’s a handy timeline you can print out and post on your fridge.

Previous in series: Seize Him and Make Him King

Next in series: Seize Him, And Make Him King

Jesus O’Christ

Posts in the Emerging Church Comics series

  1. Brian McLaren and Nordic Jesus
  2. Purpose Productions Presents …
  3. Bono and Nordic Jesus
  4. The Emergent 23rd
  5. www.EmergentOrNot.com
  6. The PoMo Architecture Review
  7. The Emergent Tom Cruise
  8. Emerging “C” Movement?
  9. Jesus O’Christ

I’m doing sermon prep for this sunday (post coming later!), and I ran across this image of Christ. It struck me as very funny, funny enough to resurrect the Emerging Church Comics. So, here you go:

Jesus O’Christ

Previous in series: Emerging “C” Movement?

Grind

I want to wake up tomorrow morning, and walk up a mountain alone, to sit alone on a ledge of rock and sing prayers. I want a few moments of simple worship, without having to worry about logistics, scheduling, team rotations, audio signal chains, or lyric slides.

There’s a particularly good ledge on the John Muir trail, up above Courtright Reservoir. It drops off about a thousand feet beneath you, and the wind sheers straight into your face, rattling the branches of the pine trees behind you. You can see the peaks and valleys of the High Sierra stretch out in front of you, reflected in the waters of the lake. I remember sitting there when I was 18 with a group of friends, sharing a canteen while my brother read out loud from Psalm 104. These were Boy Scouts, and not youth group kind either, the shoot and cook meat and swear and sweat kind, but nobody uninterrupted him or mocked his sincerity, because it seemed so appropriate to the moment. I would like to go back there tomorrow. Well, this morning, now, since midnight passed a while ago.

It seems more and more … inappropriate I think is the right word, how much complexity we’ve introduced into our gatherings. I’d like to play hooky tomorrow, and spend some time on my own, but I’ve already printed the charts, swapped out the audio snake, and coordinated the players.

Oh well. Maybe some other week.

Addison Road Informal Focus Group, Round 1

Hypothetically, let’s say we’re naming a church congregation. It’s tied to a university, so there will be an on-campus gathering, but there will also be a location in a high end retail area. There are 5 names in the running. Contribute your untailored thoughts.

Adytum Mission
The Ark
Table 412/ Table Four Twelve
The Narthex
abbey west

ok, go.

Podcast Readings

I’m taking off for about 3 weeks on Sunday, and I’m down to just a few days of readings in reserve for The Bible Podcast. Anybody have an extra 15 minutes sometime today or tomorrow to help me out by reading a chapter? I’d love to get back up to 20 chapter readings in the buffer, and I think we can do that over the next two days if some of you can help me out.

Here’s what you need to have:

  1. A decent microphone. It doesn’t need to be a $5,000 vintage tube mic, in fact even a borrowed SM58 works fine if you stay a few inches away from it. I’m just trying to avoid people using their internal laptop mic.
  2. A relatively quiet spot to record. Your living room or bedroom is probably fine, unless they’re ripping up the concrete on your front sidewalk.
  3. A reasonably pleasant speaking voice. Non-American accents are a huge plus!
  4. An internet connection. Well, duh. You’re reading this somehow, right?

If you can help out, please drop me an email, put “bible podcast” in the subject line, and let me know. I’ll reply with a chapter for you to read, and a link to the text of the New English Translation online for you to read from. Read the chapter, bounce it to mp3, and email it back.

Easy as pie!

mobile update: full disclosure

mobile update: full disclosure

I think that this whole thing, this whole twitter, last.fm, myspace, xanga, podcast, youtube, meebo, friendster, del.icio.us, icq, instant messenger, wordpress, flickr, mobile blogging, stickam, facebook thing is all really just about one thing.

The search for social connection is the search for meaning.

Pick a person 15 to 25 years old. Anywhere in the country, any city, any school. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not. You can find their favorite movies, what books they’ve read, who they’re dating, where they live, what music they’re listening to, how they did in their classes this semester, what major they’re thinking of taking next, what they did over spring break (with pictures!) their room number, their cell-phone number, and most of the time, exactly where they are and what they’re doing right now. Right. Now. Does that sound creepy? It should sound creepy.

You don’t have to go looking; they’re already broadcasting it for you. They’ve put it all down in easily scannable, pre-formatted columns. You can get it delivered to your morning email. It’s a flood of full disclosure, a blow by blow account of every single thing that happens, every single day.

They update facebook every 15 minutes with accounts of what they’re doing. They text their twitter account with book titles and bowel movements. They stare into a tiny webcam, and openly divulge the intimate details of friends and lovers. Then they upload it to a server, where the link gets passed around faster than a business card and a fake lunch invitation at NAMM.

The flood of self-disclosure is epic.

This is what I think. We took away the meta-narratives, the structures that gave significance to the mundane actions of life. We told them that there was no reliable test for truth, and they believed us. We told them that good and bad had no meaning apart from what we decided they should mean, and they believed us. We told them that the dust between their fingers was the end of the world, the full substance of reality, and even though they knew it had to be a lie, they believed it. We stripped away everything that gave purpose, structure, dignity, and value to life, and left them nothing but doubt. They are grasping for meaning in a world where we have left them none.

And they, and we, all of us, found ourselves on Descartes stoop, listening to him lecture on the one true thing; if everything else is false, if the world and its tenants are the elaborate deceits of a cruel demon, then one true thing would still remain. Cogito ergo sum,

“I ponder. I exist.”

And we fling this one true thing out into the world, to listen for echoes. We strain to hear the shouts of others in this dark wood, to find comfort in the fact that, if we are lost, we are at least lost together. We spit out the running dialog of our ponderings, because they are the only evidence we have that something real exists.

And every time someone hears, and responds, that ephemeral tendril is drawn between us, between the thinker and the listener, and it gives meaning to both. The connection is meaning. We may not know what is true, or good, or real, we may doubt everything and anything, we may doubt even the words that we hear from the person we listen to, but the meaning isn’t in the words. It’s in the speaking and hearing. The connection is the meaning. The validation of existence is the meaning. Thin, fleeting, fragile, impossible to parse, yet it is still meaning.

Because it is so thin, and so fleeting, it takes quite a lot of it to matter.

William H. Auden was one of the great poets of the last century, maybe one of the greatest poets of the English language who ever wrote. In his poem “September 1, 1939“, written on the occasion of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Auden writes about the futility of modern life, in its relentless and ever-failing pursuit of meaning.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

In this same poem, Auden asperses love as a great deceit, saying that it is not enough for a person to be loved; what a person really wants it to be the only person loved. To be at the center of the connecting tendrils of meaning. To fling every act of disclosure out into the world, and to have it lauded and embraced, and not only that, but to be lauded and embraced while everyone else is ignored. If love is the escape from the meaningless existence, then it cannot be the kind of vacuous, self-embracing love borne out by massive self-disclosure.

What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

But Auden holds out some hope. He hangs it on two words. The search for meaning ends in despair if the the goal is to be “loved alone”. If existence is to have meaning, it can’t be because of a flood of disclosure, or the apoplectic grasping of echoes to the exclusion of others. Instead,

We must love one another, or die.

Very Advanced

We just gave Sophia her first computer.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Michael, your daughter is clearly very advanced, a tribute to her Mother’s fine genetic material and persistent tutelage; why on earth did you wait until she was almost 2 years old to provide her with her own laptop?”

An excellent question, one that is easily answered – we were waiting for someone to give us one for free.

I was foraging through a back closet in the music office last week, and pulled out a dusty old Dell laptop that had clearly gone unused for a very long time. Donna, the office administrator, said, “Take it! The thing is so riddled with viruses and spyware that we can’t even get it to boot up anymore. Just make sure you use it for something School of Music related.” If anyone asks, we’re using it as a tutoring tool for a future School of Music student.

I got it home, and it turned out that the computer only had one virus on it. I immediately set about uninstalling the offending software, and replacing it with something more suitable for use by human beings.

edubuntu

I installed a free operating system on it, a version of Linux called edubuntu. It’s part of the Ubuntu project; a group of programmers who are working to make Linux just as easy to install and use as Windows or OSX.  Based on my experience, they’ve nailed it! Installing edubuntu took exactly 4 steps. I downloaded a disk image from their server, burned it to a CD, popped it in the drive of the Dell, and powered up. From there, the installation was almost identical to what you would experience if you were installing XP or OSX. A series of splash screens popped open, asking you if you wanted to run edubuntu side-by-side with XP, or if you wanted to completely reformat the hard-drive and start over. I decided to keep XP on the drive, just in case I ever needed it … like, if I was ever curious to know what a computer virus looked like, or something like that. Because I have no experience with anything like that. You know. Because I use a Mac. And Macs don’t have …. ok, now even I’m sick of it.

It took about 30 minutes to install, and this is on an old laptop with 256 MB of RAM. The great thing about the installation, and this was the big problem with Linux that the Ubuntu folks have solved beautifully,  is that it comes with default drivers for almost any computer configuration. You pop in just the single disk, it searches out what hardware you have on your computer, and automatically installs the correct drivers to make it work.

So, by that evening, my daughter had her first computer setup and running. Linux makes it very simple to control what individual users are allowed to do with the computer, so her user account has no internet access at all, and no ability to delete any files on the computer.

Edubuntu comes pre-installed with a whole suite of educational games. The simplest ones are just about at her level – hit a letter on the keyboard, it pops up with a flashcard of the letter, says it out loud, along with something that starts with that letter. “A – Angelfish!” and “K – Kangaroo!” are her favorites. From there, it goes all the way up to a full Office clone – word processing, powerpoint, spreadsheets, anything she would need to write her 8th-grade thesis on the viability of quantum position biasing at non-zero temperatures.

All free. Free as in speech. Free as in beer. That’s the amazing thing about all of this – the open-source movement has managed to thrive by replacing profit motive with community motive. Every piece of software that is running on my daughter’s new computer, from the basic drivers to the operating system to the educational games, was written by someone, and then released free into the wild. They have no expectation of making any money from my use of their software. Not only that, but they’ve invested time into making sure that non-geeky people can actually use it. You don’t have to be an initiate into the Cult of the Compiler in order to benefit from their work.

There are some serious implications here for the emerging church, I think. Somebody should get around to writing that post.

Sophia now walks around the house pointing to all the laptops, saying “Daddy ‘puter, Momma ‘puter, Phia ‘puter!” usually followed by a hands-up “Hooray!”  I love that my daughter’s first experience with computers will be with open-source. I love that she will grow up thinking that Linux is a real, viable option. I love that she has a laptop that she can make her own, and if she spills juice on it, no harm no foul. And I love that at 22 months, she knows which button to push to make the computer say “Kangaroo!”

The Words of Institution

I’m in the middle of reading 1 Corinthians right now for The Bible Podcast. This morning I recorded myself reading 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul smacks the church in Corinth upside the head for their mishandling of, well, pretty much everything. But in this chapter, mostly communion.

It’s the chapter that the famous “Words of Institution” come from …

The Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For every time you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In the middle of recording myself reading that chapter, I had a sudden vivid memory of the last time I had said those words out loud.

Our pastor Doug was out of town, it was toward the end of summer, I think, and he had asked me to preach. It wasn’t the first time I had given the message, but it was the first time that it had landed on Communion Sunday, which we celebrate on the first Sunday of every month.

I come from the low church tradition, Baptist and later Evangelical Free. We didn’t have much in the way of ritual, or liturgy. We believed strongly in the priesthood of all believers, in the personal dimension of each person’s relationship with Christ, in the primacy of the preached word, and our corporate worship was constructed along those lines. We celebrated baptisms with great fervor, because baptism meant conversion. We observed communion, but it seemed more out of obligation than any great sense of purpose or meaning.

That might be too harsh. Let me leave it this way – we were never taught to understand the value of ritual itself, how to find meaning in the repetition of words or actions.

When Pope John Paul II died, the funeral was televised live in the middle of the night here in LA. I was just coming home from a gig, and flipped on the TV to unwind. I watched, transfixed, as the BBC newsperson explained the meaning of every movement, every word, each act in the unfolding drama. Everything had purpose, everything was a symbol and a reenactment. As the choir sang songs composed 800 years ago, as the cardinals recited prayers written 1600 years ago, I had a profound sense of standing in the stream of history.

I had been raised in a tradition that viewed ritual as “dead acts”, a lifeless repetition of habit in the place of real worship, by people who didn’t have the Holy Spirit in them. But there was nothing lifeless about what I saw that night. It was made alive in the people who reenacted it, step for step. It had the breath of the Holy Spirit in it, from first note to final prayer.

I watched the whole thing. When I finally shut off the TV and crawled into bed, I lay awake for a while, thinking about what it means to be connected to 2,000 years of Christ’s People.

Rituals are reenactments of the sacred themes of life. Placing the ring on the finger, going under the water, eating the bread and wine, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, they are all reenactments of true themes.

And in each ritual, there is a part to play. The bride and groom play the roles of Christ and Church, the child in soaking white robes is Good Friday and Easter, the leader and the congregation reciting the creeds become Prophet and Israel.

And on Sunday morning, when I raised the bread, and broke it, and spoke out loud the words of institution, “This is my body, and it is for you,” I become suddenly, manifestly aware of my role in the ritual.

It is Christ who lifts bread, and breaks it. It is Christ who drinks the wine. It is Christ who feeds his people, and who proclaims their unity. And in this reenactment, this remembrance, I was standing in his place for that congregation, that day, in that place.

The words caught in my throat that morning. I’m glad that they did. I would not like to be the sort of person who suddenly pictures himself in Christ’s sandals, and keeps right on going. The words caught in my throat, and I felt tears gathering in my eyes. I felt the crushing weight of my own dark soul, made evident in the glare of that moment.

It can be a beautiful thing to have such clarity right before you eat at the Lord’s table.

stained glass communionI finished the words of institution, and the elders distributed the bread and cup throughout the congregation. They returned, and knelt on the front step of the platform to receive their own portion. I handed bread and wine to these men and women, years ahead of me in faith and dignity, any one of whom would have been a more fitting representative of Christ that morning.

But the ritual doesn’t depend on the worth of the players. The proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of grace, the unity of all believers, these are the beautiful truths that the ritual proclaims. Maybe it’s better to have someone in the role at the head of the table who no one would mistake for the real thing.

And so, when I ate the bread, and when I drank the cup, the entire congregation did too. And I was with them, again, eating at the same table, receiving the same grace.

That morning, as I moved through the scenes of the play, and followed the motions, as I spoke the words of Christ by way of Paul, and played the part of Christ to his people in that place, I was doing two things.

I was remembering Christ.

And I was remembering his people, that great cloud of witnesses who, for 2000 years, have used this ritual to make present the mystery of grace.

The Rage of Amos

I’m reading through Amos right now in The Bible Podcast – I don’t think I’ve ever used “Mr. Angry Voice” so much in one sitting than reading through those 9 little chapters. You know that thing that God does where he gives himself different names depending on which aspect of his nature he wants to express? Yeah, in Amos, he calls himself “The God Who Commands Armies”, and he has his rage on, for sure.

Amos almost seems hesitant to be the messenger of such doom. He keeps interjecting the phrase “The Lord God is Speaking”, like you would if you were telling someone about the David Duke’s political platform, and as you got the section on racial purity, you kept saying, “Now, this is HIM speaking, not me! I want no part in this!”

Except that Amos has a brilliant moment of courage, when King Jereboam of Israel and Amaziah the priest accuse him of undermining the social fabric of Israel. They assume that he is a prophet for hire (a courtly profession, like a royal adviser, in the Ancient Near East), and they try tell him to move his business south, to Judah, where they go in for that sort of fundamentalism crap. Amos replies, “You think this was part of my career plan? I was not a prophet by profession – I was a shepherd, and a farmer. God ripped me away from my flocks and fields, and sent me here as his mouthpiece. (7:10-17) God does not bring down his hand of justice without warning. When a lion roars, everyone quakes in fear. God has spoken … who can possibly refuse to prophecy? (3:7-8)” (I pulled that second part out of an earlier section, but I think it’s certainly part of Amos’ same line of thought about his vocation as a prophet).

So, why is God raging? What great sin has Israel committed, for which God is bringing the Assyrians and Babylonians to lead them away with fishhooks in their mouth? The Old Testament gives plenty of reasons, and every prophet that God sent brought them fresh reminders of new ways that they had violated the terms of their lease agreement on the land. In Amos, though, the voice is singular in it’s implication.

the poor

Israel has abandoned her poor.

“They sold the innocent for a few pieces of silver, and they traded the needy for a new pair of sandals. They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor, they push the destitute away.” (2:7-8)

“Listen, you painted pigs, in Prada and Hermès, living on the coast of Malibu! You oppress the poor; you crush the needy. You whine to your husbands to up the credit limit on your cards, you lunch at Spago and spa at Amadeus, but the time is coming when you will be carried away in a rusted out shopping cart, through the rubble of your gated homes” (4:1-3)

“You hate anyone who speaks the truth to you, anyone who rules justly in your public courts. You levied taxes on the poor, to take away their food and their livelihood, and you used it to build houses of ornate stonework, and vineyards of fine grapes. You will enjoy neither.” (5:10-11)

“Woe to those who live in ease in Zion, to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria … They lie on beds decorated with ivory, the sprawl out on their couches. They eat choice lamb, and the best calves, they sing songs all day, they drink the best wine, and they soothe themselves in fine oils. Israel is in ruins, and they don’t care.” (6:3-6)

It turns out that undermining the social fabric of Israel was exactly what Amos was up to.

spare change

Shameless Blog Promotion, Part XXII

Addison Road got some big ups this week at Next Wave Magazine, one of the main online publications for the emerging church. The editor over there, Bob, included two of Addy’s past posts in the January issue. One is the first of The Dementape Letters and the second is one of Michael’s hilarious and pointed Purpose Productions Comics.

If you’ve just clicked over from Next Wave, welcome to the Road House! Glad to have you. Grab a beverage and hang awhile. If you’re a longtime reader, check out Next Wave and vote in the article polls for our features. (You can find the polls on the right-hand side of the page. If we find out you voted “Ugh, please, don’t print articles like this again!,” expect a visit from Vinnie the Kneecap.)

“My Lover is Mine” and she has freakin’ nipples!

Ash & Aly, you guys DOMINATE! Just got your Christmas gift today and was near blown away by the sheer beauty and understated–yet mesmerizing–sensuality of the poetry and images (omg–Cerise, you married to dat boy???). Bring on the Benjies, baby, that’s all I’m saying, one author to another! You a big tymer now…every couple getting married in Christendom gots to have dis book, tru dat? I mean, not enough badonkadonk butt or Osca Maya for my personal taste, but we makin’ good progress, brother and sister! I mean, like, isn’t Regal a Christian publisher? (And all this time Paul and I have been wasting our time on these painful legit tomes. Sigh.) I mean, like, aren’t those REAL NIPPLES I see? I’d love to have been on the discussions around that editorial round table! :-)

Okay, all kidding (and ghetto language that you’ll be shocked to know isn’t my first language) aside, I was moved and incredibly encouraged that a book like this could actually be published by and marketed without excuse or even some “hey-they’ve-got-the-predictably-subnormal-IQs-let’s-just-obfuscate” to the Christian community. Does this mean we’re making progress? Does this mean maybe I don’t have to evolve to the house church thing after all? Does this mean that my frazzled Sunday School teacher from 50 years ago is finally going to stop telling me that the Song of Solomon was all a metaphor (and we could just skip over it because it was so confusing)?

And when does the sequel come out. Cause, dang, my homie and me, we pretty much used up allsa pages da firstus nite. I’m just saying…

Baller status with this one, kids! Big do dap kudos!

Love, Teri

p.s. Can this blog count as my thank you card?

p.p.s. I got one word for the picture on the back of the dust cover: RAWR! Can I have a copy to frame for my refrigerator collection of Chad and Erica’s incredibly cool homies?

One Thousand Sets of Ears

In September of 2005, I started a little side project called The Bible Podcast. The idea is pretty simple. I flip on a microphone, and record myself reading a chapter a day from the bible. Then, I upload it to a website where people can download it and listen. Then, sometimes, other people record themselves reading chapters, and I upload them. The website is www.thebiblepodcast.org, if you want to check it out.

Today, this little side project passed a major milestone. It passed 1,000 daily subscribers – people who set iTunes to go fetch the podcasts every single day. In fact, it pretty much blew right through that number, from 800 or so on Monday, to 900 on Tuesday, and today, I logged on to see this:

1216

I’m a numbers guy. I love seeing the numbers creep higher and higher, and to break them down in as many ways as possible. Things like:

25hits9minutes

get me all fancy up with my bad self. I go to the site and refresh the statistics every few hours to see how much bandwidth people are burning through. In December, the server spit out 300 gigs of data. In January, it’s been burning at a rate of about 30 gigs per day. Matthew 11, which was just posted yesterday, has been downloaded 1500 times.

I know that these kinds of numbers are hardly a blip on the radar for the big dogs in the new media, but in the little world of podcasts about the bible, it’s a pretty big deal.

If you search for the words “Bible” and “Podcast”, the site comes up as #1 on Yahoo, and #3 on Google. It you search the iTunes podcast directory for the word “bible”, it’s the first podcast listed.

Gretchen has a theory about the rapid acceleration of subscribers. She thinks everybody got an iPod for Christmas, and then they made a New Year’s resolution to read the bible more. So, they go poking around in iTunes for a way to get their daily bread in tastee little no-hassle packages, like a Twinkee. I think Gretchen is pretty smart.

So, I’m a numbers guy, but I love reading emails from people who listen. There’s a Catholic priest who lives in the northern most tip of Japan, who sat around listening to the Gospel of John with a family who had just lost their young wife and mother. They just put it on repeat and listened over and over again.

There are students in South America who get together to listen to the podcast, and read along with the text, in order to improve their English. Thing about how scary that is, for just a second. You might be walking through Brazil someday and bump into some kid who speaks English with a Mike Lee accent.

There’s a guy who is fairly agnostic about God, but was curious about the bible, so he subscribed to see what all the fuss was about. His email was hilarious. He just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed it, and concluded by saying, “Please don’t send me any tracts or religious crap.” I was tempted to forward him every Chick tract in one ginormous email, but I restrained myself.

tbp_logoThere are the people who want to argue about the translation that I’m using (New English Translation, pretty good, in my humble opinion), or they take issue with the fact that I let Catholics into the club (sheesh), or they are upset that I’m reading the Bible “Out of Order” (I’m guessing they think the thing was handed down out of Heaven in a neatly stacked set of galleys, ready for publishing). I get an equal number of emails from people who love the bumper music, and can’t stand the bumper music. I smile a little bit, because I think there are people who just love to pick a fight, and they like it even more if they can call it “contending for the faith once delivered”. Mostly, I just hit “delete” on those. Life’s too short.

A few have just floored me. There are people in countries that block access to sites having anything to do with the bible, but they are able to subscribe to a podcast feed. They listen. Two people have approached me about expanding the podcast into other languages that will reach areas where it is dangerous to distribute bibles. One wants to do a version in Farsi, the language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Another wants to do a version in Mandarin Chinese. We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m hopeful that this will come together.

So, the Story of God advances. 500 years ago, they burned the bones of those who suggested that the Bible could be read and understood by the common people in their own language. Today, a 12-year-old kid in Taiwan can log on to iTunes, and download it.

15 Hymns: Do You Hear What I Hear

My friends, I can’t tell you how wonderful this little experiment has been. I love the music, and I love that you all buy into these kinds of ideas. Thank you all for being a little bit of sanity in the midst of the Christmas madness.

The Dailies sent this in last night, to cap off the 15 Hymns run. Have a merry Christmas everyone, and I’ll see you all on the other side.

dailies_DoYouHear.mp3


photo by orange beard