Friday, December 19, 2008

Trains, Personal Space, and Mission

Wherever this is (Asia somewhere apparently), they clearly have very different cultural norms of personal space than we do in America. How nice of the porters to help everyone cram in, though.

Question: What cultural differences (in a place you've either been to or heard about) have seemed most strange to you? Have you gotten over the culture shock to realize how arbitrary some of the things we take for granted are? For instance, I would not want to ride on this train. But our American sense of inviolable personal space is why we all drive planet-killing SUV-tanks instead of carpooling in smaller, more efficient cars, or (horrors!) taking public transportation.

How do we live out the gospel in places or cultures that seem so alien to us? (This doesn't have to be another country; crossing generational, regional, racial, and political lines can be just as difficult.) If the earliest Christians could do it (nearly all Jews who were taught from birth not to mingle with other cultures or people), surely those of us from the American melting pot should be able to, right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Flotsam & Jetsam (& Lagan)

Are Christians at Christmastime like the Comic Book Guy? (via Steve Taylor)

Umm...don't name your kid Adolf Hitler, and maybe you won't have this problem

Postmodernism, comic books, and my favorite author

Vital unanswered questions

Still-President Bush: "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system." Points for honesty, I guess.

Almost-President Obama needs to bring back this pimpin' hat (and yes, that's an ordinary tobacco cigarette):

It's always time for unwarranted police brutality



A few days ago Scot McKnight (over at Jesus Creed) asked, "What are the essentials of the Christian faith?"

"To permit non-essentials to shape our concerns, our relations, and our reputations is, to use the words of Jesus, to "strain gnats." ... What we need is discernment to see again and again what is essential about our faith and to see what is non-essential. This requires a firm grip on the essentials and a loose grip on the non-essentials."

The comments section is always the most fun part of Scot's blog. RJS, who comments and posts there a lot (and is some kind of scientist in real life), posted this brief list, adapted from the historic church creeds, which I promptly stole and tweaked a little:

1. I believe in God, the Creator Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord: in His birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection.

3. I believe in the Holy Spirit as poured out at Pentecost,

4. I believe in the Spirit-filled church as the body of Christ and people of God, and in the communion of saints.

5. I believe that God calls us to total commitment: heart, mind, body, and soul – that this should impact everything we do and every decision we make.

6. I believe that the purpose of the church is to begin to embody the kingdom of God, here, today, in all creation.

7. I believe in judgment and forgiveness.

8. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So what do you think? Remember, we're talking about essentials of Christian belief, not an exhaustive list of all its implications, or even a list of what's most important in Christianity (that's an easy question: Love God, love others). Too many things? Not enough? Is the search for essentials problematic in the first place?

Monday, December 15, 2008

16 things

There's a thing going around Facebook wherein you are supposed to list 16 things about yourself and then pass it on. Well, somehow everybody I know did one, which means peer pressure kicks in and I felt obligated to do it as well. I might as well post it here too. So, here's 16 factoids about yours truly:

1. I am completely incapable of using the defroster on my car windshield. If my windshield is fogged up, I fiddle around with the air conditioner, yet always seem to make it worse. It's one of the many areas in which I'd be lost without Amy.

2. I can type extremely fast. I've been tested at 125 words per minute. I took a typing class in high school and actually learned to use the home row keys and all that sort of thing. It's basically what got me my job.

3. I like to discuss issues to the point that I basically end up debating, particularly with people who are smart, stubborn, and disagree with me. I don't think I'm argumentative, but I like to toss around ideas and argue different sides of a question. Usually I'm contrarian enough that I argue the opposite of whatever the general consensus in the room is, so don't assume I always believe what I'm saying. I find it fun, possibly to the point that other people find it tedious. Oh well.

4. I love movies. If it's a favorite of mine I could watch it probably endlessly. Even if it's not I like to watch things a couple of times. I am definitely not one of those people who gets bored at movies. I was a film minor, and my secret dream profession is film director, so even if a movie sucks I'm paying attention to camera angles and editing stuff. I have never walked out of a movie, except for...

5. Saw IV. Or maybe Saw III. I forget. We left in the first 10 minutes because I couldn't handle it. We had watched the other ones on DVD, and I didn't think it would be that different in the theater, but it was. Somehow my lovely wife's 16 things left out the fact that she loves horror movies.

6. I am a notary. I have an official stamp and I had to swear an oath and everything. Actually, I think I affirmed rather than swore. Let your yes be yes and all that. My commission expires November 4th, 2013, in case you're curious.

7. I grew up in central Florida, and had never lived anywhere else until we moved to Durham. We'll probably end up back in FL at some point. I'll miss the geography. And weather. And seasons. And people.

8. I miss the student schedule. 2 weeks of vacation a year just doesn't go far enough. I think about quitting my job at least once a week. Then I remember what not having a job feels like, and remind myself to stop whining, because I'm not doing this forever. I'll probably go back to school at some point.

9. Speaking of school, I was in the gifted program in elementary and middle school. What I recall of it was basically going to a different classroom a few days a week and learning about the Mayans. And playing Oregon Trail.

10. I'm not athletic. Never have been. I've been trying to run in the mornings. It's hard.

11. My favorite candy in the world is Peanut Butter M&Ms. Not Peanut; Peanut Butter.

12. I quit popcorn. That's right. I quit it. I like popcorn, but I would always regret eating it because of the little kernels that get stuck on the back of your throat. It's not worth the trouble, so I quit it.

13. I have a poor memory for people's names, and even things that happened to me, but I have a very good memory for random trivia and information. Consequently, I'm somewhat used to knowing the answers to questions, and it's easy for me to sound authoritative about a topic when someone asks. So sometimes I like to just make stuff up. Just lie and completely bullshit something unbelievable. I can usually only keep it up for a minute or two, and I never let the conversation end without coming clean. Am I using my powers for evil?

14. When I was 10 somebody tricked me into going on a roller coaster for the first time. They lied and said it didn't have any big drops or loops or anything. I've been hooked ever since, although I can only go on a few before the motion sickness gets to me. It was the Mindbender at Six Flags Over Georgia, which I'm sure I would think was quite lame if I went on it now.

15. I have worn glasses since I was 3. Most of that time I had bifocals; I've only fairly recently gone down to unifocals(?) or whatever. Amy sometimes wants me to try contacts, but I feel uncomfortable in public without my glasses on, and not just because I can't see. Psychologically, without them, I feel weird and naked.

16. I have four tattoos, and I want more. You heard right; they are addictive.

Life in Maryland

A legislative commission in Maryland has recommended that the state abolish capital punishment. This report cites several reasons to drop the death penalty, including racial disparity, jurisdictional disparity, substantially higher costs (yes, as opposed to life in prison), detrimental effects on victims' families, the risk of executing an innocent person, and no evidence of deterrence.

There are lots of reasons to be against the death penalty. There is exactly one reason to be for it: believing in the retributive justice of "an eye for an eye". I have little to say to people of non-Christian faiths, or no faith, who support the death penalty for this reason, other than to reiterate all the practical problems with capital punishment (Jews who support capital punishment should read this).

But to my fellow Jesus-followers who support, or are ambivalent about capital punishment, I'd issue this challenge: You have placed your faith in violence and revenge rather than in the Jesus who taught us to forgive our enemies, who flatly rejected "eye for an eye" thinking, and who died to save even (or especially) the worst of us. Who is not willing that any should perish. Who begged for forgiveness for his killers, while they were killing him. Repent.

I hope the state legislature of Maryland listens to this recommendation. Last year New Jersey abolished capital punishment. There is momentum to end this cycle of revenge and violence, even in the South. Let's pray for grace in violent times.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Boss fights are getting too hard these days

You Have to Burn the Rope

(This may not be funny if you don't play videogames, but I thought this was awesome. Stick around for the song at the end.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

Scot on the Third Way between liberal and conservative Christianity

Everybody answer my Christmas movie poll, to the right----->

This game sounds really freaking cool

I wish I could do stuff like this

I like to go to Wikipedia and look at the entries for everyday objects like the spoon. I don't know why.

Ba ha ha

Good King Wenceslas

At church last night we sang "Good King Wenceslas" by John M. Neale. You've probably heard it; it's a pretty traditional Christmas song, despite the fact that it doesn't mention Christmas, or little baby Jesus, or shepherds, or stars, or anything like that. Like me, you probably only know the first few lines:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

But the song actually tells a story about the king, or rather, the duke. Wenceslas was Duke of Bohemia (which is part of the present-day Czech Republic) from 921 to around 935 A.D., when he was killed by his brother. He is considered a martyr, and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. Legend, which I tend to believe unless I have a reason not to, depicts him as a "good king" who traveled around giving to the poor and needy of his kingdom (or dukedom or fiefdom or whatever). And if that's not enough, he was played in a movie by Jonathan Brandis.

So read the rest of the lyrics. The song has several good lessons, and features one of those characteristically low-key Christian miracles. The language is a little baroque, so I'll summarize each verse.

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

It's the day after Christmas, and Wenceslas sees a poor man gathering sticks to make a fire.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

He calls a servant over and finds out where the peasant lives.

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

The duke orders food and logs for a fire, and goes with his servant through the winter to eat with the peasant.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

It's freaking cold, and the servant doesn't think he can go on to feed the poor man, but Wenceslas advises him to walk behind him.

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

The servant walks "in his master's steps", from which miraculous heat emanates. It's not in the song, but presumably they successfully find the poor man and dine with him. One historian wrote in 1119, "But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched."

I really like the idea of a barefoot king wandering around in the snow, giving away his kingdom to the poor and inviting people to walk in his footsteps. So even though on first glance "Good King Wenceslas" seems only vaguely Christmas-y because it mentions snow, I think it's a great song to sing as we celebrate the birth of another barefoot king.

Monday, December 1, 2008


One of my habits when reading a book is to not simply underline or highlight lines or sections I think particularly good or important, but to jot a little note down in the back of what the quote is about and what page it's on. I can usually remember who said something I'm trying to remember, and frequently I can recall what book it's from, but having the notes in the back is easier than flipping through the whole thing.

Here's a line I scribbled down in the back of "The Prophets", by Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"There are no proofs for the existence of the God of Abraham. There are only witnesses."

(Rabbi Heschel marched with MLK in Selma, and is one of the most important Jewish theologians of the 20th century. I highly recommend reading him. "The Prophets" is quite thick, but his book on the Sabbath is a quick read.)

Do you have any note-taking strategies when you read a book? I tend to do this more with non-fiction, but sometimes a novel will have a line or section I have to notate in the back. What do you do? Highlighters? Endless dog-eared pages?

The Grinch

Randel called me the Grinch after I posted the Christmas Dance. Well, now I'm feeling like it, because there are people in the park outside my office who are selling wreaths, I think...and caroling. Loudly. And extremely badly.

It sounds like drunken Christmas karaoke. Or like the rejects from American Idol were forcibly infused with the spirit of Christmas, and then trapped in some kind of wintery snowglobe, their only hope for freedom trying to break the glass with their horrible voices.

If only this guy was outside instead...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Capital Punishment 2

Genesis 4:8-15

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."

Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."

But the LORD said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


Peter Gathje:

"The death penalty violates [the] justice of God, because it asserts that some human beings are not redeemable; that some human beings should not be saved from death. The death penalty not only seeks to cut a human being off from physical life; it seeks to impose a spiritual death on the person executed by denying the person the time to change, to convert.

The death penalty would impose a human timetable upon God, by saying if God really wants to save this person, God could. Indeed, God could, but who are we to tell God when and where this is to take place? The death penalty makes the state into God, deciding who is redeemable and who is not. The death penalty violates God's justice in deciding that some people should not be allowed the chance at salvation, at conversion, at change. The death penalty even goes so far as to say, "We want this person to rot in hell" - as if we are to determine who is to be saved and who is not.

The death penalty, then, is not only not God's justice, it is idolatry. And as idolatry, it is the worst form of injustice-it does not give to God what is due to God as God - namely, power over life and death. It is idolatry in that it makes the state into God. It is idolatry in its preaching of a false god - a god of death rather than the God of life. God is a God of life, not a God of death. My God, what is so wrong with us that we so pervert God's Word to make God into a God of death?"


Steven D. Stewart (Prosecuting Attorney for Clark County, Indiana)

"Along with two-thirds of the American public, I believe in capital punishment. I believe that there are some defendants who have earned the ultimate punishment our society has to offer by committing murder with aggravating circumstances present. I believe life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent."


Matthew 5:38-47

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


"One of the great counterarguments death penalty opponents face is the challenge, 'If it were your spouse/child/sibling who was murdered, you'd feel differently.' Never did I feel that that boy's shocked parents, who were losing their son as surely as my parents lost theirs, and who have the added pain of shame, needed to suffer more. An 18-year-old's execution would not give back the dead. Nor would it have given me 'closure', which I regard as a myth - a politician's fiction. Spare me, please, your feel-good vengeance." -- Paul Bosco, whose brother was murdered (son of Antoinette Bosco).


Exodus 20:13

God: Thou shalt not kill.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Just ran to the bank on my lunch break, and all their inside signage featured (besides the usual pictures of old folks sipping tea on their porch or young black couples purchasing their first home) the word solid. As in "Live solid. Bank solid."

Hmm...why the sudden interest in stability and confidence, banking industry? Debt-fueled over-consumption no longer quite as popular as it was last year?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

No fighting

Unbelievably, Halliburton tries to patent patent-trolling (that's where a company that didn't invent something files a patent for an invention somebody else is already using, then suing them for patent infringement, or forcing them to pay to use their own invention. It's basically corporate blackmail.)

The End

Malcolm Gladwell on race and intelligence

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Capital Punishment

"I'm a Christian, I support the death penalty."

When I heard these words earlier in the week, I wanted to scream. I work (as basically a secretary) for a non-profit law firm that defends people on death row through their appeals and other legal processes. The two lawyers I work for in particular do a lot of consulting and training work with lawyers throughout the state who represent people charged with murder. This last week, we held a seminar in Raleigh for lawyers from all over NC, and one of the most interesting things we did was hold mock jury selection with real people from the community. We hired folks through a temp agency to just come and pretend to be prospective jurors on a capital case. They were told to just be themselves and answer any questions as honestly as they could.

Picking a capital jury is interesting. You can't be a juror on a capital case if you would never sentence a murderer to death. You can't be on one if you would always sentence a murderer to death. You have to be someone who thinks the death penalty is appropriate in some cases, but not in others. Consequently, when picking a jury, lawyers who represent the state and the defendant get to ask questions about the prospective jurors' views on the death penalty, among other topics. Right now a slim majority of the country supports the death penalty, and the preference is much higher in the South, so I wasn't surprised that most people were in favor of it. I can and do respectfully disagree with them (I'll explain why shortly). But this one guy...his answer was clear, and unambiguous, and it pissed me the hell off. 

"I'm a Christian, I support the death penalty."

He wasn't saying, "I'm a Christian, AND ALSO I support the death penalty" or even "I'm a Christian WHO supports the death penalty." There are many Christians who do, and though I think they're incredibly wrong (I'm getting to why), again I can respectfully disagree. No, this guy infuriated me because he was really saying, "I'm a Christian, THEREFORE I support the death penalty. I follow Jesus, therefore I want to kill murderers. I worship the most famous victim of capital punishment in world history, who told his followers to turn the other cheek and not resist evildoers, who declined to exercise the righteous judgment of the law even though he's the only person who could ever have rightfully done so, therefore I advocate putting certain people to death, even though it won't undo any of the terrible things they have done. I believe vengeance is mine (or the state's), despite claiming to worship a Man who is a God who said that vengeance is His."

When I'm talking to friends or family members who support the death penalty, or are unsure, sometimes I stick to practical matters. If I was talking to this guy, for instance, I would talk about the 130 people who have been released from death row after being exonerated. We are human beings creating a human system, that is bound to be flawed, so we should not do anything we cannot undo, I say. We cannot give life to the wrongfully executed, therefore we should not take life. And that is a good reason to abolish the death penalty.

I might talk about the well-documented racial disparity. If you are black and kill a white person, you are much more likely to receive a sentence of death than if you are white and kill a black person, or even if you are black and kill another black person. Our justice system values white lives more than black lives, and that is wrong, and so we should abolish the death penalty. And that's a good reason too.

Or I will address the idea of deterrence. If we kill murderers, the thinking goes, then other people who might commit murder will be less inclined to risk their own lives. That turns out to not be true, I'll say. And there's a good reason; people who commit murders frequently do so under the influence of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or severe emotional stress. Most murders are not the carefully planned out schemes you see on Law & Order. People who commit murder are not doing a cost/benefit analysis on the various punishments they may receive. Deterrence is the main reason people give in favor of the death penalty as good policy. So I'll argue against it. 

Or I could simply point out the other countries that execute people like we do. Here's a sample of the places that carried out executions in 2007: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and Yemen. Oh, and the United States of America. One of these things is not like the others.

But as I think more and more about faith and justice, I think I have to attack the base of the death penalty: the moral and ethical question of it. Never mind whether we can create a fair system of justice that will administer executions (which we can't). Are we morally allowed to kill people who have killed others? Are we morally required to? Under the ethics of most societies through history, yes (although all other Western democracies have banned capital punishment). Under the Constitution of the U.S., sure, at least according to our current Supreme Court. I'm not saying capital punishment isn't American. But under the ethics of Jesus?

Matthew 5:38-47
You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemy. Do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek. Eye for an eye justice doesn't apply anymore. Be perfect as God is perfect. These are the ethics of Jesus. I believe Jesus comes at the question of violence, as he always does, in a way we do not expect. 

Us: Jesus, Murderer X killed someone, he deserves to die!
Jesus: Fine. Who deserves to kill him? Let the person who hasn't sinned be the executioner. 
Us: Well, uh, define "sinned".
Jesus: How about this, if you've ever hated someone or called them a fool, that's the same as murder.
Us: Ok, you got us, Jesus...wait! You haven't sinned! You can be our executioner!
Jesus: Rest assured, I will do all the judging that needs to be done. Vengeance is mine, after all. But follow my example. Put the stone down. Turn the other cheek. Lock people up if you have to. But do not take a life. It's not yours to take.

This is kind of long already. More of this later.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Little-Known Facts About the President-elect

From the Telegraph.

My favorites, with commentary in italics:

• He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics

Spider-Man's motto is that with great power comes great responsibility. You don't get much greater power than President of the United States. Plus, Conan was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a Republican. It's bi-partisan!

• He is left-handed – the sixth post-war president to be left-handed

• He has read every Harry Potter book

Probably with his kids. Which is nice. Plus they're just good books.

• He ate dog meat, snake meat, and roasted grasshopper while living in Indonesia

Margot wouldn't approve of the first one, but it's just badass to eat snake.

• He can speak Spanish

Should come in handy.

• He kept a pet ape called Tata while in Indonesia

Maybe instead of First Puppy, the Obamas can get a First Monkey. Previous presidents have had giraffes and elephants and stuff. I think it was John Adams who kept an alligator in the White House bathroom, so this would just be traditional.

• His favourite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Both excellent. Watch them.

• He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.

• His favourite music includes Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bach and The Fugees

The first three are probably carefully calculated and safely focus-tested preferences. But a president who listens to the Fugees...I think the generational change here is lost in the (however appropriate) hoopla about Obama's race.

• He enjoys playing Scrabble and poker

Me too.

• He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol

Me neither.

• He repaid his student loan only four years ago after signing his book deal

This is why the "Obama is elite" argument was always stupid. A half-black kid with a funny name raised by a single mother who is basically a self-made man could not possibly be more "elite" than the son and grandson of admirals (which is not to disparage John McCain's family). The overwhelming majority of American households carry large debts, so this can only help him identify with normal folks.

• He uses an Apple Mac laptop

President Clinton sent only 2 emails while in office. President Bush, apparently, none. This is more of the generational change--I want a president who knows what MySpace is and can set up his or her own voicemail. How can you set technology policy if you can't program your TV remote?

• He was given the code name "Renegade" by his Secret Service handlers

Well that's just cool

• His specialty as a cook is chili

This aggression shall not stand, man. Barack Obama, I hereby challenge you to a chili cook-off. I await my invitation to the White House.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

1. Donald Miller on going from Reagan Republican to Obama Democrat

2. That was inevitable.

3. A belated happy birthday to Billy Graham; celebrate by reading this remarkably prescient interview from 1981: “I have often denounced the kind of gambling that goes on among speculators in stocks and commodities. Though the exchanges represent legitimate enterprise, some of the business transacted there is motivated by a desire for quick profits.”

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quote 5

Approaching death,
as we think, the death of love,
no distinction
any more suffices to differentiate
the particulars
of place and condition
with which we have been long
All appears
as if seen
wavering through water.
We start awake with a cry
of recognition
but soon the outlines
become again vague.
If we are to understand our time,
we must find the key to it,
not in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries,
but in earlier, wilder
and darker epochs...
So to know, what I have to know
about my own death,
if it be real,
I have to take it apart.

From "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (Book II) by William Carlos Williams. Emphasis mine.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Everybody Freak Out

A Story

This is a story I wrote for a writing class in college. It was when Amy and I had just started dating. I'm posting it on request from Katrina John.


It was pretty obvious that she liked me. The sly way she looked at me out of the corner of her eye, the way we talked in shorthand like old friends almost immediately. Still, sometimes people are just friendly. Did she like me, or did she like me? She was taking the LSAT on Saturday.

“I’m taking the LSAT on Saturday.”
“What’s the LSAT?”
“The test to get into law school. I’m taking it on Saturday and I’m not allowed to study on Friday. I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t know how I’m going to keep from studying.”

You’re not supposed to study the day before a big test. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Besides, if you’re not ready by then, you never will be. So she said. Whatever, it was clearly an opening to ask her out.

“So you’re looking for something to do on Friday?”

So two hours later she called me and said, “Ask me out, idiot!”

Okay, that’s not what happened. I asked her out and she said yes. She liked me. For some reason. She was clearly cooler and more interesting than me in every way. She had spent a semester in England and a month in India doing missions. She had red hair and a nosering and a tattoo and she’s smart as hell and what am I going to do on a date with Amy? Crap! She’s way cooler than me.

My father died when I was twelve. He was diabetic, and he had a heart attack in his sleep, surprising everyone. He was only 41. Ironically he was probably in the best shape of his life. People sometimes assume that my parents got divorced, the way I only talk about my mom. I tend not to talk about my father. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking about it. Then again, maybe it is; if I was comfortable, I would have used “him” in the preceding sentence rather than “it”. Why do I only think or talk about my father in terms of his death and its impact on me? The man was more than that, surely.

I picked Amy up at her indescribably awesome house in my very describably crappy car. The only good thing about my car is that the passenger door only works from the outside, so I always have to get out and open it like I’m a chauffer or someone with manners. I took Amy to the movies. The early, old people movies. We were out of the theater by five and it was disturbingly still bright outside, like we were living in Alaska. Then, brilliantly, I took her to the pet store. I knew she would like the pet store because she has a rat. I’ll repeat: this chick has a pet rat. Why is that so appealing?
The rat’s name is Geoffrey. He’s fat, kind of, in a Will Ferrell way, not a Chris Farley way. He’s extremely friendly and I’m pretty sure he was my first test. Women have tests, you see. There’s the best friend test, the music test, and the all-important animal test. If you’re not ready when the tests come, you never will be. I passed the animal test like it was a Cadillac with its blinker on.
The pet store was fun because it’s the pet store, and it has to be. The fish were pretty, which is half the reason I believe in God. The lizards were lazy and bored with you immediately, like rich teenagers. The dogs were all suitably pitiful, staring at you with the look that says, “You know you don’t want to leave me here in this little box.” And you don’t. So you look back apologetically, saying, “Yes, but I also don’t want to pay my landlord $200 and then feel bad because I’m too busy to take care of you.”

Pet stores are bittersweet in this way.

My father was a minister, which, like being a doctor or government official is a time-consuming profession. He was a good man, and a great father. I think. It disturbs me how truly little I remember about him. You don’t know your parents as people, as Jim or Cynthia or Mary, when you’re a kid. I know my mother now not just as Mom but as Janet. We talk about things like grown-ups, because we are. I never got there with my father, and I never will. I don’t know who he really was, which means I have to figure him out from vague memories and other people’s stories, like an archaeologist trying to describe an entire civilization of people from broken pottery and the shape of their turds.

Amy is the first romantic interest I’ve had to get to know from the ground up. She is, without exaggerating, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. “Interesting” sounds like it’s not quite a compliment, like it’s a fallback word for when you want to say something honest but not unkind about someone or something you don’t like. That isn’t the case here. She’s bloody fascinating and that’s all there is to it. She talks in funny voices and smiles like a child is passionate about important causes. When we got out of the pet store and went to eat it was only like 5:45. It was official: this was an old-people date.
Or it would have been apart from the fact that we went to a Thai restaurant. I don’t think old people eat Thai food. Except, of course, old people in Thailand. The food was good but I wasn’t very hungry, it being a first date and all. We talked really well. That sounds dumb when you say it out loud. “We’re good at talking.” But it’s true. She is, challengingly, direct. We were talking casually the way people talk who are getting to know each other. Then there was kind of a long silence, what people who use clich├ęs like to call a pregnant pause. She leaned in, tiny smile like she was going to tell me a secret, and asked, “So what are your thoughts?”

Unspoken rest of the sentence: about us.

If I remember my father only vaguely, I remember his death with startling clarity. It was Sunday afternoon and he was taking a nap. I don’t know what I was doing, but I remember sitting on the couch listening to my mother explain to my brother and I that he apparently had a heart attack and was dead. I was twelve and wearing silk boxer shorts with the Tazmanian Devil on them. We went to a neighbor’s house because for some reason they make you leave when someone dies in your house. It was Sunday so we were supposed to go to church, supposed to like you’re supposed to brush your teeth. There wasn’t church that night. People rather quickly found out what happened, and came to us and said the sorts of things people say when someone dies and you are left. I went outside, and sat on a trampoline, somehow knowing silence is the best response to tragedy.

Amy had asked me a question, one that required an answer. My thoughts about Amy include, but are not limited to, the following: I like her, and I like being around her. We get along well together, and the more I know about her, the more I want to know. That was my answer and I think it’s a good one. She seemed to agree. I asked the waitress for a box for my uneaten food. We left and I still can’t believe this incredible girl smiles at me when I tell her I like her.
We went back to her place. It’s a big awesome house and her roommates are funny and nice and it’s just a great place to hang out, warm like a fireplace hearth that makes you want to stay there and maybe take a nap. We sat and talked of many things. I don’t remember any of them specifically, but sometimes those are the best conversations, the ones you get lost in like an old city.

Sometimes not having a father is like not having a circus tent, and sometimes it’s like not having a lung. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, not anymore, not having grown up used to the fact that my dad is dead, like a tree that long ago adapted to a fence or a post and is okay with the weird shape it’s in. Sometimes, though, I am unmistakably aware of the void, of the fact that I have questions I can’t ask the man who gave me half my DNA. I don’t know who my father really was, and more damning, I don’t know what he thought of me. What he would have thought. It does no good to say, Of course he would have loved you, been proud of you. I know this. But he’s not here to say it. I am forever waiting for the approval of a dead man.

It was pretty obvious that she liked me, but I knew for sure when she ate my leftovers. I accidentally left the box of Thai food in her refrigerator, and she totally ate it. Even the part of me that is insecure cannot deny the fact that you don’t eat someone else’s leftovers unless you’re comfortable enough with them. She didn’t even really apologize, just told me my food was gone. It was strangely intimate.
I had left at some strange early time, like 9:45. She had the LSAT the next day, which gave me a perfect opportunity to call her and ask how it went.

So I did.

My father is dead. I know that has shaped who I am and will continue to. I wonder if I’ll be a good husband, a good father, a good man. My father is dead and I am mostly left wondering. I wonder who I really am. I wonder about my past and my future.

I wonder what Amy’s doing right now.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

1. Richard Dawkins is an incredible sourpuss

2. new face for the placemat

3. psychology and decision-making

4. everything you take for granted was new and scary at some point

5. rock on, Richard Land

6. don’t be like this

Everybody Read This

Scot McKnight on why the problem is the problem. That is, our gospel is too weak because the problem our good news addresses isn't big enough. You should read the whole thing, but to sum up, Scot points out that the biblical gospel addresses 4 problems:

1. A problem with God: fear.
2. A problem with Self: shame.
3. A problem with Others: enmity.
4. A problem with the World: exploitation/irresponsibility.

We've usually focused on just the first problem, with maybe a few jabs at the second. "The Gospel" usually means getting right with God (entirely thought of in legal terms) so you can be whisked away from the evil world. This is what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management. It's good, but not good enough, and certainly not the robust gospel found in the Scriptures.

(Things I did not say: that Jesus didn't die for your sins, that a penal substitution theory of the atonement is wrong, that evangelical Christianity is bad, or that evangelizing is wrong.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

I'm consolidating all the random stuff I post into one entry a day.

1. Whiteboard pong

2. Rest in peace

3. Prayer for the President-Elect

4. Crazy Paper Heart Gears

5. Cool wildlife cameratrap photography

6. Run free, tiny horse

Not Holograms

Everyone on CNN was crapping their pants last night talking about their "holograms". Sorry, nope. Not a hologram. Wolf Blitzer was NOT actually looking at anything. It's like the scrimmage line they put on the field for football games. You see it at home on television. There's nothing actually on the grass at all.


Not a hologram:

Here's what actually happened. I'm not saying it isn't also cool, but it isn't as cool as an actual holodeck-style image in real space. And it's definitely made infinitely lamer by Wolf Blitzer pretending it's a real hologram. It's also completely stupid that they made it look flickery and indistinct to trick everybody into thinking it's like Star Wars, even though they could easily have made it look as clear as the weatherman in front of his computer-generated map. Which is basically what this is.


fail owned pwned pictures

This basically sums up how I feel about fasting. I suck at it. I've actually never successfully fasted for more than like 8 hours. Seriously. Jesus fasted for 40 days and I always end up in a McDonald's parking lot at midnight.

Does anybody have any stories about fasting (good or bad)?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It's Barack.

Things I'm glad about:

1. My kids will grow up in a country that already elected a black president.
2. I believe our new president will govern by hope, not fear. I don't believe that makes me naive.
3. We're done with Baby Boomer presidents, and hopefully we'll soon be done with the stranglehold of the 1960's on our politics.
4. John McCain's concession speech was genuine, respectful, and inspiring. Class act.
5. We will have an intelligent president, who is committed to bipartisanship. Plus the State of the Union speech won't be boring, I think.
6. Less war. Less death penalty. Less poverty. Less torture. More life.

Things I'm concerned about:

1. He is inexperienced. I think he'll learn quick, but he'll need all the help he can get.
2. Abortion. I really would have loved to add this to number five above. Yes, I voted for Obama in spite of this. Yes, I would do it again. But it's still tough.
3. 1 party control of Congress and the presidency. It may be necessary as a kind of chemotherapy for the last 8 years, but I think balance in D.C. is good.

What I hope for:

1. McCainiacs don't think it's Armageddon. Obamans don't think it's the Second Coming. Politics matter, but only Jesus can save us.
2. I'd like to see more than the usual token Republicans in Obama's cabinet. Chuck Hagel, Colin Powell maybe. If McCain wants to ease into retirement, make him head of the VA or something.
3. We all, as a nation, need to learn fiscal responsibility. And by all I mean all.
4. We can move past the bitter divisions we've seen recently. I hope we can learn to have honest and respectful conversations with people who disagree with us. Our church small group was pretty evenly split, and I have friends with a huge variety of conflicting beliefs. But I feel like I'm alone, and that too many of us are living in the echo chamber of Fox News or MSNBC.

I'll reformulate the John Wayne quote from before: I did vote for him, and he's my president, and I hope (and pray) he does a good job.

The "Prosperity Gospel" is Neither

Rod Dreher over at Beliefnet is generally more conservative than I am, but I think he's right on the money, as it were, with this post about the prosperity gospel's effects on the banking crisis. He quotes a Time article:

While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California Riverside, he realized that Prosperity's central promise -- that God would "make a way" for poor people to enjoy the better things in life -- had developed an additional, toxic expression during sub-prime boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe "God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house." The results, he says, "were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers."

Does God promise that he'll provide all your needs? Yes. Does God promise that we'll all get to live in our own fancy houses with laundry rooms and a 2-car garage? Not so much.

Quote 4

"I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job."

John Wayne, on learning that John F. Kennedy was elected president rather than his own choice, Richard Nixon. Hopefully a reaction we can all share if the person we didn't vote for wins.

Crazy Statues

I like crazy statues. Some of them are anatomically correct, so be warned. (Thanks Ekers.)

Talkin' 'Bout Politics

And thus begins my day of obsessively reading the news. Go vote, if you haven't.

[Update: According to my poll, Barack Obama should win the election. If you're a McCainiac, though, take heart. A nonscientific, unrepresentative poll of 9 people means absolutely nothing. Unless Obama does win, in which case I predicted it all along.]

Monday, November 3, 2008

Things You Learn From Wikipedia

Reginald VelJohnson, who played Carl Winslow on Family Matters, went to high school with future CIA director George Tenet and future porn star Ron Jeremy.

Which got me thinking about Family Matters. It's supposed to be based in reality. Carl is a cop, the Winslows live in a normal house in Chicago, and yet Steve Urkel makes his own clone, and then turns it into a sexier version of himself named Stefan Urquelle. How did Stefan get by in the real world? He has no Social Security number. No birth certificate. How does he find work?

How does he adjust socially? Presumably he has all of Steve's memories, and yet his own distinct personality. He doesn't have parents. He has no past, no real family. He must feel like an imposter, particularly since Laura eventually chooses Steve over him. What kind of psychological problems would he develop? Would he go insane? Would he try to eliminate Steve and take his place?

And if he does, isn't he perfectly positioned to ruin Steve's life? They share identical DNA, yet Stefan Urquelle isn't in the system, Steve is. Stefan Urquelle doesn't officially exist. He can kill and rape with impunity, not caring what evidence he leaves behind, because the blame will all be pinned on his progenitor and nemesis, Steve Urkel. And when Steve breaks out of prison, finally tracking Stefan down in his seedy lair in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum, Stefan will just laugh wickedly, adjust the awkward glasses he has carved for himself out of animal bones, and nasally taunt, "Did I do that?"

And now I have to write a script for a bizarrely dark and twisted spinoff of Family Matters, in which Steve Urkel's evil clone comes back to ruin his life. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Somebody want to tell me what universe we're living in?

Esquire has a piece on white supremacists who support Obama.

And a black separatist who supports McCain.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


You know those ideas you have, that if somebody worked out the kinks, would make a lot of sense? The ones that you never have the time, energy, or wherewithal to put into practice? Like Kramer's idea to put a rubber liner inside oil tankers, for instance.

Well, today I discovered a website where you can post those ideas, or comment on them. Here it is.

That's all.


are clearly very important.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Are you a swing voter?

I am. At least according to this handy tool. I scored 100 out of a possible 100. I guess that's what I get for being a white, male, 18-29 year old with a college degree who identifies as Protestant and lives in North Carolina.

(I picked Protestant because that was the closest, inasmuch as Protestant means "Christian but not Roman Catholic", although I'd probably describe myself as post-protestant or trans-denominational or generously orthodox, or something trendy-sounding like that)

I promise I'll write less about politics after next week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I am registered to vote, but I do not have a political party. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I'm what's called an independent. I'm not alone, apparently. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the rapidly growing numbers of independents, and how they tend to be fiscally conservative, national-security hawks, and socially liberal.

Then again, maybe I am alone, since I'm basically the exact opposite of all that.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jesus for President

I recommend this book.

But if Jesus did run, here's what he might face:


Teddy Roosevelt is the only president I know of who sometimes goes by only 2 initials: TR. Our other initial presidents use all three: LBJ, JFK, FDR. But TR doesn't need three initials. He's that badass. He probably only needs two initials because another Roosevelt (I think they were second cousins or something) came along. Otherwise we'd just know him as R. (crude humor, be forewarned) recently listed him as our most badass president:

Checking Teddy Roosevelt's resume is like reading a How-To guide on ass-kicking manliness. He was a cattle rancher, a deputy sheriff, an explorer, a police commissioner, the assistant Secretary of the Navy, the governor of New York, and a war hero. Out of all of his jobs, hobbies and passions, Roosevelt always had a special spot in his heart for unadulterated violence. In 1898, Roosevelt formed the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as the Rough Riders. Most people already know of the Rough Riders and their historic charge up San Juan Hill, but few know that, since their horses had to be left behind, the Riders made this charge entirely on foot. ... Greatest Display of Badassedry: While campaigning for a third term, Roosevelt was shot by a madman and, instead of treating the wound, delivered his campaign speech with the bleeding, undressed bullet hole in his chest.

And yet, despite his extreme toughness, the lovable Teddy bear is named after him.

Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest person to become president, and the first American to win the Nobel Prize (for negotiating peace between the Russians and the Japanese). He's the only dude with glasses on Mount Rushmore. He was also, being a man of his time, racist, and a bit of a war-monger (Manifest Destiny and all that). He was a Republican who took on corporations and conserved more land for parks and wildlife preserves than all his predecessors combined. He put Abraham Lincoln on the penny (I stole all this trivia from Wikipedia). He had a pretty sweet mustache.

He was also a firm believer in the progressive income tax. Timothy Noah recently wrote this article about this fact: believing that 'the richer you are, the more tax you should pay' does not make one socialist/communist/un-American. He quotes the dead prez himself:

We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. … The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

Noah points out some statistics that should make us think hard about the state of the world and the dangers of pure capitalism:

Today, the income gap between the top 0.01 percent of families in the United States and the bottom 90 percent is greater than it was in T.R.'s day. The last time it was anywhere near so great was in 1929. The top marginal income-tax rate, meanwhile, is near its historic low in the late 1920s. Those of you seeking a cause to the current financial meltdown may draw your own conclusions.

Everybody grumbles about paying taxes, myself included. But when given the choice, I don't think any of us would rather live in a world without public roads, police, firefighters, education, and agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (something else for which we can thank TR). So let's render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, render to God what is God's (something far more important than tax policy) and let's not mind rendering more than than those who have less than us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quote 3

Abbot Anastasius had a book written on very fine parchment which was worth eighteen pence, and had in it both the Old and New Testaments in full. Once a certain brother came to visit him, and seeing the book made off with it. So that day when Abbot Anastasius went to read his book, and found that it was gone, he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send after him to inquire about it for fear that the brother might add perjury to theft.

Well, the brother went down into the nearby city in order to sell the book. And the price he asked was sixteen pence. The buyer said: Give me the book that I may find out whether it is worth that much. With that, the buyer took the book to the holy Anastasius and said: Father, take a look at this book, please, and tell me whether you think I ought to buy it for sixteen pence. Abbot Anastasius said: Yes, it is a fine book, it is worth that much.

So the buyer went back to the brother and said: Here is your money. I showed the book to Abbot Anastasius and he said it is a fine book and worth at least sixteen pence. But the brother asked: Was that all he said? Did he make any other remarks?

No, said the buyer, he did not say another word.

Well, said the brother, I have changed my mind and I don't want to sell this book after all. Then he hastened to Abbot Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his book, but the Abbot would not accept it, saying: Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it.

But the brother said: If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace. After that the brother dwelt with Abbot Anastasius for the rest of his life.

from "The Wisdom of the Desert", a book of sayings of desert monks, compiled by Thomas Merton