Flotsam and jetsam (8/8)


Good Reads

  • Advice to Young Scholars:   In the end, what matters is not winning approval or gaining celebrity. Your mission and vocation is to seek the truth and to speak the truth as God gives you to grasp it. (First Things)
  • Why I Accept Mark Driscoll’s Apology…And You Should Too:  When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still. We must refuse to create lose-lose situations for each other where one is damned if they apologize and damned if they don’t. (Jonathan Merritt)
  • China Plans Its Own ‘Christian Theology’:  China says it may try to create a theology based on Christianity – that integrates the religion with Chinese culture and is compatible with the country’s socialist beliefs. (BBC)
  • Cultural Disintegration and the Revival of a Moral Imagination:  Such a conversion and revival of the moral imagination must begin with the church of Jesus Christ. As Peter reminds us, judgment always begins at the household of God. So what would such a revival of a robustly Christian moral imagination look like? (Canon and Culture)

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Roller Skates and Pearly Gates: Children’s Music as Theological Formation

The songs we sing have the power to shape us in important ways. They run through our minds when we’re not paying attention, subtly shaping our thoughts and guiding our imaginations.

And recently there’s been a rise in awareness about how important this is for the corporate worship of God’s people. After all, if we’re going to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18), it’s probably a good idea to make sure we’re doing it well. So there’s a lot of talk about how worship shapes us, how important it is for worship leaders to be theologically aware, and how we need to pay attention to the lyrics of our worship songs.

But I wonder if we’re paying as much attention to the songs our kids sing.

I recently ran across a quote from Karl Barth on the powerful and influential role that children’s music played in his own development. According to him, they were “the textbook from which I received my first theological instruction…in a form appropriate for my immature years” (from Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts [Wipf and Stock, 2005], p. 8).

How often do we think of our children’s songs as a theological textbook for young minds?

[This is the beginning of my latest post over at Pastors Today. Head over there to read the rest, and let me know what you think.]

A Day in the Life of a Writer/Student

I like to read books about writing, probably because so much of my work involves writing in some form or another. And I’ve discovered that the writing life and the academic life have a lot in common.

Done For The Day

So I particularly appreciated this description of a writer’s day from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (Black Irish Entertainment, 2012). It nicely captures the daily grind of academic research, the importance of getting up every morning and punching the clock even when you don’t feel like it, and that all-important sense of satisfaction that comes at the end of a long and only marginally productive day of hard work.

Whenever you’re working on a writing project of any kind, whether it’s a research paper or a book, come back to this and be reminded that (1) it’s a grind, (2) you’re not alone in the fear and frustration you feel, and (3) get up and till the field anyway, you’ll be glad when the harvest comes in.

I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.

I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.

I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.

What’s important is the work. That’s the game I have to suit up for. That’s the field on which I have to leave everything I’ve got.

Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.

The sun isn’t up yet; it’s cold; the fields are sopping. Brambles scratch my ankles, branches snap back in my face. The hill is a sonofabitch but what can you do? Set one foot in front of another and keep climbing.

An hour passes. I’m warmer now, the pace has got my blood going. the years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know ho two shut up and keep humping. Thi sis a great asset because it’s human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession. My bitching self is receding now. The instincts are taking over. Another hour passes. I turn the cordner of a thicket and there he is: the nice fat hare I knew would show up if I just kept plugging.

Home from the hill, I thank the immortals and offer up their portion of the kill. They brought it to me; they deserve their share. I am grateful.

I joke with my kids beside the fire. They’re happy; the old man has brought home the bacon. The old lady’s happy; she’s cooking it up. I’m happy; I’ve earned my keep on the planet, at least for this day.

Reistance is not a factor now. I don’t think of the ing and I don’t think of the office. The tensions that drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.

I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself.

The War of Art, p. 67


Flotsam and jetsam (8/6)

pocket elves

Good Reads

  • Well To Start With, Your Last Theologian Was A Idiot: Theologians and pastors, whether in person or in print, ought to bear this in mind when explaining doctrine. Explain sympathetically what previous teachers or traditions were trying to do….Explain doctrines and differences in such a way that your listeners focus their attention on the subject matter rather than the personalities. (Fred Sanders)
  • The Evangelical Persecution Complex:  If evangelicals want to have a persuasive voice in a pluralist society, a voice that can defend Christians from serious persecution, then we must be able to discern accurately when we are truly victims of oppression—and when this victimization is only imagined. (The Atlantic)
  • Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate: For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  • Go Ahead, Say the Wrong Thing:  When we create lists of things never to say or publicly rebuke people over what amount to trifling missteps in their language, do we not often do out of a sense of pride: that we, not they, know the right words; that we, not they, are righteous in our indignation, even if their intentions were innocuous? (Hermeneutics)

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This Year’s Back to School Series: Tips from the Writers Guild

back to school academics education teaching teacher teach learning study studyingLast August I ran some posts in a “Back to School” series focusing on things like making some “New Year” resolutions (part 1 and part 2), starting the new school year well (Don’t Start the Year with a Cat on Your Head), keeping your teacher happy the right way (6 Ways to Your Teacher’s Heart), and writing good papers (How to Destory Your Research Paper in One Simple Step). I had intended to write a few more, but that’s as far as we got.

The feedback on the series was quite positive, so I’m experimenting with making it a regular August feature. But this year we’re going to try something a little different. Over the last few months I’ve read a number of books about writing. Some focused more on the skill of writing and others more on the attitudes/tasks behind successful writing. But with all of them I noticed something interesting: the advice for being a good writer looks a lot like the advice for being a good student. So this year’s Back to School series is going to focus on lessons that we can learn as students from those who are, or strive to be, professional writers. We’ll be drawing on books like Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, among others.

I’ll update this page as further posts become available. Enjoy!

How to Be a Professional Student

Done For The DayNo, I don’t mean the kind of “professional” student who never graduates, either because they love school or because they fear the world outside of school. What I’m talking about here isn’t about how long it takes you to finish school but about how professionally you approach your education. If you want to thrive as a student, you can’t approach your education like a hobby or like that list of chores that you may get to when you feel like it. Your education is your job, even — or better, especially – if you have more than one. So approach it that way.

I was thinking about this when I ran across the following excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles. The book actually focuses on the challenges of being a writer in today’s world, but many of the lessons apply to students at every level. And that certainly holds with this appeal for writers to approach their writing professionally.

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

dogs and cats

Good Reads

  • A Twee Saint for the Internet:  A marketing campaign to celebrate Ignatius of Loyola’s feast day creates a remarkable intersection of pop culture, digital media, and spiritual recruitment. (The Atlantic)
  • Rock Star Pastors Lose Their Luster:  One of the problems with celebrity pastors is that it’s very difficult to draw a line between advancing the gospel and advancing the preacher. When a famous pastor grows his audience and fame, doesn’t this mean that more people are hearing his saving message about Christ? OnFaith)
  • Naughty Nuns, Flatulent Monks, and Other Surprises of Sacred Medieval Manuscripts: Flipping through an illustrated manuscript from the 13th century, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jesus loved a good fart joke. That’s because the margins of these handmade devotional books were filled with imagery depicting everything from scatological humor to mythical beasts to sexually explicit satire. (Collectors Weekly)
  • Responding to Five Trends in Youth Morality: Let me be clear — I’ll be the first to admit that some values or morals are relative. They change from culture to culture, person to person, and era to era. But in our desire to be progressive, I’m concerned we’ve discarded some timeless morals in the name of progress. (Growing Leaders)

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Top Posts for June & July

top fiveI neglected to list the top posts for June, so here are the top posts from the last couple of months. Enjoy!

Flotsam and jetsam (8/1)

unstable ladder

Good Reads

  • The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Interview with Charles Marsh:  And anyway, they’re drinking their beers and smoking their cigars, and they’re singing, “Go Down, Moses.” The discovery that many of the same songs and spirituals that inundated and energized the black freedom struggle in the South 20-something years later were in the 1930s at the heart of the German church resistance movement that Bonhoeffer led was just wonderful. (Religion & Politics)
  • When Bullying Becomes Spiritual Warfare:  If Christian parents are to better serve as advocates for their children, they may consider bullying as both a psychological event and a form of spiritual warfare. (Hermeneutics)
  • The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet:  While the dramatic collapses of trust in the institutional authority of the Church following the exposure and scrutiny of cases of abuse may receive the most attention, there are other ways—albeit slower and more gradual—in which this trust is being eroded. Perhaps the most significant of these in my experience has been our greater exposure to Church leaders and their thinking. (Alastair Roberts)
  • There Is Nothing Modern about Euthanasia:  But in the 100 years that euthanasia has been a matter for public policy debate, technology has driven the conversation much less than people assume. Euthanasia advocacy has waxed and waned according to changes in politics and culture, not medicine. (The Centre for Independent Studies)

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/30)


Good Reads

  • Bibliotheca: What’s the Point of Making the Bible More Beautiful?  All of that time, money, and effort could be put towards something more practical and necessary, like translating the Bible into a language that doesn’t have it yet or printing thousands of cheap copies to hand out for free. Such statements may contain wisdom, but they also gloss over the ministry that aesthetics and beauty can have, i.e., creating transcendental experiences that shake us from this world’s mundanity and point towards God. (Christ and Pop Culture)
  • The Next Chapter for Christian Publishing:  Working with my family’s Christian literary agency and law firm, Yates & Yates, I’ve witnessed some of the obstacles and opportunities in today’s ever-changing book market. While the industry looks different in the 21st century, many authors who have adapted to the new era find Christian publishing remains alive and well. (Hermeneutics)
  • Moving in and Moving On:   Cohabitation is fundamentally ambiguous In fact, that is part—but just part—of why I believe it has become so popular. Sure, there are many cohabiting couples for whom living together was understood as a step-up in commitment, but, on average, research shows it is not associated with an increase in dedication to one’s partner. (Family Studies)
  • I Lie about My Teaching: Any honest discussion between teachers must begin with the understanding that each of us mingles the good with the bad. One student may experience the epiphany of a lifetime, while her neighbor drifts quietly off to sleep. In the classroom, it’s never pure gold or pure tin; we’re all muddled alloys. (The Atlantic)

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