Watching Somebody Love


“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Donald Miller Blue Like Jazz

The other day I caught one of the screenings of Blue Like Jazz in DC. While walking back to the metro, one of my friends mentioned a quote from the movie (as well as the book) and commented on how the idea was rushed in the film (or at least not given the time or thought that the quote might’ve deserved). It was set up on Donald’s inability to love jazz music until he saw how much his father appreciated it. He also related it to seeing Penny’s love for Jesus stir a passion in her for the people of Kashmir, India. While Miller’s use of “sometimes” obviously implies that he is not making a general all-encompassing statement, it is worth looking into a little further.

Miller’s examples start out with one key factor, he had some aversion to both jazz, and Jesus (at least at that period of life). So this phrase will not apply to someone who tries ice cream as a child and immediately loves it. However ice cream can serve as an example. I’d argue that in order to truly love something, you have to understand it. Also, in understanding it, you must know how to love it.

Understanding: If I am going to truly love ice cream, I’ll need to at least know why it is lovable. It is lovable in part because it is edible, sweet, flavorful, cold, and creamy (at least not a solid). If I claim to love ice cream because I enjoy its hot temperature, I am not describing ice cream accurately, and am probably talking about something entirely different. Ice cream is also intended for consumption by its creators. If you like ice cream because you enjoy throwing it at a wall, you are not fulfilling the purpose that the creators intended, and you are making it something quite different.

Know How to love: If I understand it, I also must know how to appreciate it and love it. I cannot enjoy the flavors, texture, or sugar if I receive a bowl of ice cream and flush it down a toilet. I might enjoy looking at it swirl and disappear but I am not enjoying ice cream. Rather I am enjoying an odd form of visual stimulation. I can only enjoy ice cream, if I am able to take in the properties that make ice cream, ice cream. I do this by eating it. Which, is also how I understand it!

So what does all this have to do with the quote above? Sometimes we don’t know how to love something properly. We may not know enough about it, and need someone to help us understand the object of love, as well as how to love it.

Your hypothetical friend is a Shakespeare fan, you… not so much. It is hard to get past the language, the plots aren’t quite your thing, and the issues rarely seem relevant to you. You notice that your friend reads the plays, reads literature about the plays, and will often view a play like “Merchant of Venice” multiple over the course of years. You eventually ask your friend, why do you like those stories so much?

The person will probably not tell you that they love Shakespeare’s stories, he only had about six originals. He or she will probably point out the rich literary tradition that he drew upon. Or the person will mention the complexity he added by throwing in a character whose name correlates with a person from Ovid’s Metamorphosis or Greek mythology. The individual might also mention Shakespeare’s ability to write a character’s personal thoughts into a play (a skill and element of storytelling which most screenwriters today avoid like the plague). A true Shakespeare fan will also mention the double entendre in his storytelling. Shakespeare had a remarkable ability for writing plays that simultaneously challenged and maintained the status quo, allowing him to subtly insult a monarch to his face while keeping his head attached to his body. Or, the Shakespeare fan could mention the variety of issues the Bard raises, such as race, homosexuality, hypocrisy, antisemitism, and feminism/misogyny. Then, the fact that the plays are left so open, that the tone or vocal inflection of an actor/actress could drastically alter the play’s message on any of the above topics. This is why your hypothetical friend loves Shakespeare.

His love of Shakespeare also shows you how to love it as well. You don’t just sit back and read, you pursue an understanding. I will never gain appreciation for some of the hints Shakespeare drops with names unless I do some work on Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I will miss some elements he intended if I don’t strengthen my knowledge of his influences. Also, I can miss out on some of the discussion if I choose not to research his production company. If I ignored that, I would be hopelessly unaware that his actors were all male. Knowing that fact alone adds some more puzzles to the story, As You Like It. Where Rosalind, in pursuit of Orlando, dresses up as a male named Ganymede (a character in Greek mythology with some homoerotic overtones) in order to make him the perfect suitor. In doing this, one of the other female characters falls in love with Ganymede. While we cannot make judgments as to his intention, when we picture the play as it would have been presented, it causes us to think even more.

Sometimes you need to see someone love something, particularly how someone loves something to love it. Usually this involves seeing what the object really is, and we rarely will understand something full on our own. If, like Don, you grew up seeing Jesus as a white, middle-class, Republican who fully endorsed Reagan’s supply-side economics who only cared about people after they died… you might have an aversion to Him. It might take someone actually following Jesus (John 14:15), who is caring for the people both physically and spiritually to show you what loving Jesus looks like.


Favorite Reads of 2011


Yes I am trading thoughtful (or merely time-consuming for me) posts for an end of the year book list. It’s not a top ten, and I do not have a “read of the year.” These are the books that lingered in my mind past the initial reading and were the ones I couldn’t put down.

Fear and Trembling: Soren Kierkegaard

– From his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of faith. He examines Abraham’s obedience and willingness to sacrifice Isaac as a tool to explore the internal process of making an obedient decision out of faith. Here he deploys his famous analogy of the Knight of Infinite Resignation vs. the Knight of Faith. Making the topic more interesting, Kierkegaard’s seems to use his analysis as a way of coming to grips with his own personal failure of letting his beloved, Regine Olson, slip through his fingers.

Resurrection of the Son of God: NT Wright

– The third installment in Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God Series packs a punch for anyone interested in studying the topic of Resurrection and/or afterlife. He takes us culture by culture, thinker by thinker, philosophy by philosophy, examining what each people group thought of in terms of resurrection, afterlife, death, etc. Wright does this to set up a historical understanding of the concept in order to fully comprehend what Christians meant when they used the term in the New Testament. He then proceeds to argue that the best explanation for these Christian writings and the Christian movement, was a historical bodily Resurrection. This book is also helpful because Wright accurately critiques the all-too common unbiblical Platonic and Cartesian views of heaven present in many evangelical churches today. A “must-read” if you’re ready for 750 pages on the topic.

Exclusion and Embrace: Miroslav Volf

– Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace might be my book of the year. The book explores ideas of conflict, conflict resolution, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, and evil all in relation to the cross. He skillfully critiques modernity and postmodernity’s attempts at deciding what we’re supposed to do with evil and atrocities in the world in favor of a Biblical view. An excellent read and a good way to brush up on post-modern thinking.

Evil and the Justice of God: NT Wright

-Yes another NT Wright book made my list. This book is highly influenced by Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace but more directly tries to answer the “Problem of Evil.” He attempts to present a Biblical Model and answer that is both enlightening and challenging. Wright’s handling of the problem will not satisfy all, but is a refreshing departure from the usual defenses and arguments presented in favor of Christianity. Like Wright’s other material, he astutely emphasizes the complete meta-narrative of scripture enabling us to see the problem, and the picture more clearly.

Generous Justice: Tim Keller

– Tim Keller released an excellent little book on the topic of justice. This was one of the more refreshing reads as Keller is an unashamed evangelical whose passion for evangelism and social justice are evident in all his writing. He effectively articulates God’s concern for the poor, making any theology omitting the poor, fallacious theology. Many books that address the issue of social justice come from the perspective of a more liberal-minded theology, Keller breaks that trend providing a breath of fresh air for those who feel that evangelicalism in the United States lacks passion in that arena. A short, but great read.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: Richard Bauckham

– An excellent read in the field of Biblical Studies regarding eyewitness testimony in the ancient world and specifically in the Gospels. While the book’s scope is broad, my favorite sections are Bauckham demonstrates the Bible’s internal textual evidence regarding the witnesses behind particular stories. His section on the eyewitness testimony of women in the Gospel of Luke is of particular interest.

I had other good reads this year, but these are the highlights.

In an effort to protect myself from Theological McCarthyism, I offer this disclaimer.  While I would highly recommend any of these books, I do not endorse all the ideas conveyed by the authors.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Hunger Games trilogy: heck, I started the books and couldn’t put them down.


Invective: 30 Rock vs. Fox


In popular and semi worthless news today, Alec Baldwin and Michelle Malkin (fox news correspondence and conservative blogger) engaged in a twitter feud regarding the controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. I encourage reading the above link as well as Huffington Post’s coverage with a slight warning that the language contains four-letter words, racial epithets, and sexual slurs (Huffington Post refuses to post the worst on their page and links it to another page). I hope that most people will read the fight and ultimately share my disgust with both parties. While we could discuss a plethora of topics regarding this fight, I’d like to share a few pertinent thoughts on the situation.

First, is both individuals elevate their personalities and sometimes party over the actual issue. While Baldwin appears to sincerely oppose the death penalty in this situation, his rhetoric ultimately places the focus on himself and the right wingers he dislikes, but not towards the supposed plight of Troy Davis. His tweets regarding Bush, Cheney, Malkin, and “hateful right wingers” make it appear that he is merely using Troy Davis as a way to bash conservative figures. I believe that Baldwin’s assumed side (the anti-death penalty stance, not the twitter-rage) on this issue has some valid and important points that must arise in common discussion, but he made a mockery of his own view. By tweeting outrage, he reduced a noteworthy news story and ethical dilemma to a soundbite-filled,  trivial, tabloid-style feud. Now people know more about the fight than the actual trial, and ironically know who Michelle Malkin is (I assume for most people, Alec is more of a household name).  Mr. Baldwin may have true passion for this issue, but creating conservative targets to release ad hominem invective upon does nothing but trivialize the issue. He also loosely throws in the usual conservative is a fascist shtick. He is merely imitating the paranoid-apocalypse is coming-conservatives that use the terms socialism and communism loosely for every democrat that supports welfare but using fascism in its place. For those that actually endured a fascist reign, please don’t insult them with a very loose misapplication of the word.

Michelle Malkin is not an innocent either. Here is an issue where she probably could have done everyone a favor and turned her smart phone off. She carried along a feud and participated in a fight that was dirty from the beginning. There really was nothing for her to gain (I guess with exception of the semi-fame that comes as a result of this incident?) unless she dreamt of dueling the evil liberal Alec Baldwin in a medium so ripe for debate that no more than 140 characters are allowed per statement. She then proceeds to drag the victim of the initial murder into her sound bite arguments. However, at this point in the “debate” everyone is so angry that her use of the murder victim just polarised the situation even more. No, bringing up the initial murder victim in the case should not cause any polarization, but in her line of thinking, she essentially tells Baldwin and any of his subsequent followers that they do not care about the initial victim or the family. This is a handy technique to use, especially when the opposing party is on a verbal rampage. She probably knows (I hope) that people against the death penalty are not inherently anti-justice and pro-murder.  Intentionally misunderstanding a group like that just adds fuel to the fire and sparks more wasteful invective. In the end, Malkin does a pretty good job of making a name for herself while unintentionally making light of a serious issue in need of deeper discussion. In saying this, I have more sympathy for her considering Baldwin’s “twitter campaign” against her led to extremely racist and sexually derogatory language. That was inexcusable and if I were Baldwin, I would be embarrassed that my “tolerant” followers would be so eager to hate.

You might ask why I would write about  a worthless “pissing contest” between two talking heads. I acknowledge their fight because it is very similar to the same invective I see in use every day. Only this time, the argument is not between Jane and John, but between a politically active actor, and a conservative Fox News correspondent and blogger. In arguments and disagreements we have to play a certain way otherwise cooler heads will never prevail (assuming we actually want to discuss and not merely engage in a shouting match. One cannot write off someone because they feel that the individual is intellectually inferior. One cannot write someone off because they feel that he or she is unpatriotic. No! In a disagreement you must:

  • acknowledge and be able to present your opponent’s case in the best possible light so that he or she would recognize it as his or her own.
  • not force a conclusion you have made based on their premises upon them. This holds true even if you believe that their premises logically lead to the conclusion you see (ex. If a person is anti-death penalty, do not label them as anti-justice and pro-murder. It is okay to debate are person and lead him or her to that conclusion, but you cannot force it on the person as inherently his or her view)
  • not force a stereotypical association with a person and/or his position (ex. There is a common perception that Conservative Evangelicals are all pro-life, yet support the death penalty. Many use this tactic to prove hypocrisy and disregard anything else the person says. Other than the fact that the statement above is not necessarily true, it is a weak use of argument to begin with)
  • give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. (By this, believe that the person actually wants to make the world a better place. Building an argument against anything less really isn’t worth your time anyways. If you believe that people who are pro-death penalty just want to vengefully kill people, your arguments will ignore the bigger issues and remain unconvincing to anyone that holds an opinion slightly different from your own.)
  • Don’t assume intellectual superiority. There’s always someone smarter.

There is definitely more advice out there, but I think this is a starting point. Unfortunately I doubt that we’ll actually attain levelheaded conversation on a large-scale. Right now, we have people spouting off on twitter and on tv, getting publicity over two dead men.


#36


A quiet Friday night lent itself to the introspection that accompanies boredom. Unfortunately it was a little to difficult to read, I tried recording a bit but the product was depressing. So, I had time and thoughts to myself. I thought about writing a little bit last night, but I am so happy that I didn’t. This morning I picked us Pascal’s Pensee’s and came across note #36. He said it better than I,

Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself. So who does not see it apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future?

But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction. Then they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion. (Pascal’s Pensee’s p. 8)

This amazing, somewhat depressing little nugget seemed to pinpoint my own pondering as well as the thoughts of a few friends. In the midst of work, our interests, and our business we can sometimes achieve this incredible sense of introspective boredom. In these times, nothing seems to satisfy.  No activity, or hobby quenches our thirst for a sign of life, or significance. Or we realize that we have placed our significance into something, or someone (in Pascal’s mind a diversion) that cannot bear the weight of such a great burden. In this case, we either come to our senses, or are painfully let down.

It’d be easy to go into a discussion on what our focus should be, or what should hold the thrust of our desires. I think Lewis’ Weight of Glory or Augustine’s disordered love theory sufficiently covers that, but for many of us who acknowledge the content covered in those works, we’re still stuck in a state of boredom. I think this is where society can grab hold.

Many people in my generation have either read or viewed at least one book in the Harry Potter series. Here we have a protagonist destined for greatness, the Chosen One. From a young age he has purpose and possesses major significance. He matters to the people who are good, and he matters to those who are evil as they wish him dead. Harry Potter is not an extra either, he will not merely set something in motion or assist. Harry will decide the fate of all those around him as well. However, one does not have to watch or read Harry Potter to catch this storyline. Countless stories give a character some purpose, some goal to achieve where the character must take risks and gamble with his or her life. Also, literature is set up in a way that every aspect of the individual’s life is leading up to some greater moment. Harry Potter does not merely go to 7-11 to get a Slurpee. He purchases a Slurpee and discovers an ancient secret that will help him overthrow the one whom I am forbid to type. Our trips do not usually have this apparent meaning.

Our daily lives do not reflect the importance that literary and film heroes have. We obviously can recognize that there is a fantastical element, and know we will not fight some wizard or monster in a climactic moment. Yet, we feed our minds with excitement and live in routine.  However, our routine juxtaposed with the reality that our world has more problems and possesses greater evils than that which we view on film. One can just view the current pictures of Somalian refugees to reel in nausea. We really can look into our own cities, our own neighborhoods, even our own families to see pain. Or you can just view the questions we still have to answer. Are we alone in the universe? Can we find a cure for cancer? Are we killing the planet?  So we feed our minds with excitement from entertainment, still see a world, sometimes a family in need, and then look at ourselves. We ask the questions, “what am I doing?” We set up a comparison with those that we view. Sometimes the people are real. The man quoted above, Pascal, invented the syringe, hydraulic press, helped with the study of probability, provided an extensive study on what is now “Pascal’s triangle” (the Chinese and Islamic peoples had used this about 500 prior, but his was the first Western study), was a mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He only lived for 39 years and was sick the whole time. Some of his key inventions were already in place by age 18. My accomplishments pale in comparison.

No, I shouldn’t make the comparison. His circumstances and mine, and Harry Potter’s for that matter are quite different. Yet I think the comparisons will always be there. We see excitement from movies, books, stories, and take everything in. However, when the dust settles and we look at ourselves, it isn’t always pleasant. What have I done? What can I do? Should I take a risk? Is there a risk in not taking a risk? Sure. Even when we answer these questions, we might have just created another diversion for ourselves. Ultimately, I believe that God is the one that holds everything together and our significance should be rooted in Him. And yes, everything is vain apart from that. Our desires need to be retooled at times and redirected. Yet, even with that in mind we are still confronted with those questions. Who will we be?


Fragments on Heroism


Hopefully you’re somewhat like me in that you have heroes; figures that you look up to and occasionally reflect upon. As I ask the usual existential questions of, “why am I here?’ “What is my purpose?”  It is easy to desire a grand purpose similar to those I admire. I look at Bonhoeffer, King Jr., Wilberforce,  and think of how much they accomplished with the time they possessed. Other than the depressing question, “what have I done in comparison?” I examine these individuals to ask myself, “why are they my heroes? And What in particular makes them heroic?” On a simple level, what separates them from the crowd? Or if we want to probe deeper intrinsically, would I have been able to do the same thing? Do I already have what it takes?

Heroes are heroic partially because they are doing something that the majority is not.  The above mentioned “personal heroes” fought the norm in their respective societies. Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazi Party, King against segregationists, and Wilberforce against Parliament (particularly those in support of the slave trade). On the surface, generally everyone recognizes the accomplishments of these individuals, but I believe that we rush over the stories too quickly. Bonhoeffer’s rejection of the Reich Church (the official church of Germany), signing of the Barmen Declaration, his voicing direct opposition towards Nazi Germany is too well-known, making the sacrifice seem rather easy. Since we are on the other side of history, we know that the holocaust was wrong. We also know that most of the world finds the very idea horrific and probably don’t know anyone personally who would support a second holocaust. So, if we were alive back in 1936 in Germany, we would be against it too! … right? Would we? I’m not so sure.

Germany was recovering from an embarrassing defeat and surrender agreements from WWI that many, including Bonhoeffer, viewed as miserable, humiliating, and excessive. So, here comes along a political figure that somehow seems to embody German pride. He recognizes that inflation is high, he knows that families are struggling to survive, but he also has an idea of how to get out of this mess. This man can restore the fatherland to its former glory. He does spout off some terrible rhetoric at times, but all politicians manage to do that at some point. Plus, this man seems to bring hope to your family and neighbors that you haven’t seen in ages. He seems a bit crazy, but some of his policies make sense. We all know that in times of economic hardship, pocket books tend to outweigh social issues.

You start to notice that it isn’t just your friends and neighbors that have hope, but your professors and colleagues at the university. Your country is starting to recover! You don’t have to carry a wheelbarrow full of cash around to by a single loaf of bread. Dignity is starting to return. The dignity that the French and English robbed from you.

Things are going well, but things start to get a little stranger. The new leader convinces the official church of Germany to align their views with his. Something is not quite right. His rhetoric was a bit off, but he was stepping in places that he clearly shouldn’t. The new leader says some crazy things, takes some issues inappropriately too far, but everyone seems to like it. You notice that your professors, pastors, friends, neighbors are all in support. All of these individuals can’t be wrong… right? You start to wonder if it is actually you that is thinking incorrectly. The country is in the best shape it’s been in years, how could your suspicions hold any validity? No matter how many times you try to dissuade yourself of the skepticism directed towards this new leader and political party, you can’t. He clearly crosses a line, unfortunately you are the only one who sees it.

Here comes a new line of thinking. Your conviction, while unpopular, is still the one you’re sticking with, but you now have a choice. Will you be vocal or will you stay quiet? Will your voice reach anyone? Or will your voice drown in a vast sea of opposition? Will you lose friends? Will you lose the respect of your family? Will your colleagues despise you? The only question that you know the answer to is the one that reads, “will my voice, if heard, cost me dearly?” Yes.

Yet… this is the very climate where a hero must speak.


The Ultimate Cure for the Workplace Blues


I know you’ve seen it. There’s the guy who walks around with his head held high, enjoying almost every second at the office. When he has lunch with the boss, he acts as if he just received an award from the UN Security Council (not sure how good that would actually feel). You also notice that his trips to the water cooler are quite eventful. He never comes back with a mere cup of water, he comes back with the organization’s secrets that determine the life and death of the very company you work for. Lastly, when he returns from a business meaning, it seems as if he diffused a bomb located two stories below your office that was somehow attached to ten American children trapped in a North Korean prison.  Every second is meaningful, every email drastic, and every interaction a top secret meeting.

I know that you want this optimistic outlook as well! And trust me, it is not from Oprah’s Seven Step Plan to happiness, it is from the ways of Double “O” Seven.

It is the Action Hero Lifestyle. Every day is a mission, each mission a day… that is… if you so choose to accept!

Action Hero Lifestyle Benefits (Potential Side effects in italics)

Renewed sense of heroic self worth

(appearance of an arrogant nature)  

Activities have a renewed sense of importance

(People will start claiming that you are getting in their way and avoid you)

Renewed confidence in secretive knowledge

(People may stop telling you important information)

Every female becomes a possible love interest

(Sexual harassment charges may be filed against you)

Cool looking buildings become Headquarters/Home Base

(Possible arrests for trespassing)

Renewed Sense of Verbal wit and skill when in confrontations

(Black Eye)

Confidence that everything will work out in your favor regardless of the odds

(Possible firing)

 

 

 

 


Anecdotes and Misguided Motives


Three weeks before finals, I sat in the very back row of my class wondering if I should’ve said something to the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row. She was pretty, athletic,  kind, and a smart girl to top it off (or I guess as kind and as smart as you can gather from class participation). Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as moving to the front of the class to start conversation. I sat in the back row the first day, and the Prof made sure we had the same seats each time (I tried moving to one of the seats next to the girl sitting two spots from the door in the front row; it didn’t work). Time was winding down, so I had to make a move.

What move though? It was a little late to start small talk walking away from class. That works at the beginning of the semester when you have a few weeks to move from “that professor is so boring” to “you goin to that basketball game tonight?” I had to overcome this conundrum and come up with a plan, I had to find the in-between phase of “boring professors and basketball games!”

I organized a Finals Study group that would meet a few times to cram before the test, with, you guessed it, the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row.  However, a one on one study group would probably not fly right away, so I needed a strategy. I wanted to socialize but also needed to study a bit too. Luckily (and unluckily a the same time) the professor taught by use of the Socratic Method, which made hand picking a study group to accompany  the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row a much easier task. I only had two real qualifications. Group members would have to (a) actually study and (b) not provide competition.  So this turned into a group of girls and one other engaged guy. Everything was set up perfectly, we’d study and take a few breaks so I could steal a couple of conversations with the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row.

The study group actually went better than I had planned. The few times we met we were actually able to study, and I began a little friendship with the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row. Everything was going as planned and I was fairly confident in my chances so it was time for a bold move.

On Sunday I saw her standing with a small group of friends in the Student Union. I casually walked up and commented a little bit about our impending test and then asked her if she would join me for an off-campus dinner (a big deal for a college like mine). It was at that moment that I noticed the guy standing behind her, turn around and then put an arm around her. He then informed me that he was taking the girl who sat two spots from the door in the front row to dinner. Unsure as to the best way to make the situation less awkward, I introduced myself, shook his hand, and walked away.

Yes, ultimately my purest motives and smoothest abilities were not on display for this series of events. Thankfully, it is an easy anecdote to laugh at in hindsight (although I only told this to one of my roommates 5 months after it happened… I guess I was more embarrassed than I remember). So, what is the moral of the story?

Talk about the boring professor on week one… the story ends a little better.