this week's reading

Read two books this week (vacation - isn't it great!). I just finished 2005's Pulitzer prizewinning novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I followed that with Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller's "nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality." When I finished the first and started the latter, it was like hearing a performance of Verdi's Aida and then walking into a Willie Nelson concert. Both good, but very different!

Here's my take on each book: ...read more »

sound and fury over wiretaps

Be sure to read the Wall Street Journal's editorial about the hot desert winds blowing from the mouth of so many senators (Russ Feingold and Jack Reed, among others) this winter about "secret" wiretaps conducted by the NSA and authorized by the president.

Far from being the long-hoped for scandal that brings Bush down, this appears to be a kerfuffle of underwhelming proportions:

...in a previous FISA case (U.S. v. Truong), a federal "court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue [our emphasis], held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information." And further that "we take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power." ...read more »

the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe

We went to see Narnia Friday night. Okay, so you've probably read lots of reviews by now, with everyone giving their take on it. Well, here's mine, and it may be different than some of the critics you've read. Here's why. A friend of mine had this to say: "It was okay, but I was disappointed at how lame some of it was. I was caught up [overwhelmed] by the Lord of the Rings, but I laughed out loud at points in Narnia."

Here's an easily forgotten but crucial presupposition: Narnia is a kid's world and should be understood through that lens. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, both orthodox Christian writers, put their fantasy worlds to paper in very different ways. Tolkien created a massive epic set in Middle Earth, spending the better part of his productive life working out the languages, mythology, history, maps, genealogies, poetry, literature, and characters. That is an adult's world that an eight year old might think rather boring. What's more, the redemptive themes are a little more complex and easy to miss. Lewis, on the other hand, gives us a bedtime chronicle, a dream world where fauns have tea, horses talk, lions rule, ice witches seduce with Turkish delight, arriving at all of it through the back of a wardrobe full of mothballed fur coats. ...read more »

national propagandist radio?

I will preface these comments by saying that I listen regularly to National Public Radio, and because I grew up listening to NPR and believe that it should be ideologically balanced (not neutral - that's impossible with human editors), I want to see it improve. Currently however, there is not much to praise in that media monolith.

When was the last time you heard a Daniel Schorr editorial that was NOT summarized thus: "I do not like George W. Bush. I do not like him in the White House, I do not like him, he's a louse. I do not like him on attack, I do not like him in Iraq." It's the same editorial, re-worked every week to sound different. He can barely disguise his pervasive hatred of the president beneath the veneer of respectability he retains from years of fine work. The veneer is wearing thin, though, and I find myself at a loss for an answer every week when I ask myself, "What new information is being communicated in this piece?" ...read more »

the "real" silent night

Apparently, we are all victims of a terrible conspiracy. Yes, that's right, we've been taught the wrong melody to Silent Night! I had heard the "real" last melody line of the song before, when sung in German ("Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!"). But it never registered that there was a story behind this two-note difference, until I ran across this slightly bizarre account of why we sing a different version of the melody than the Germans and Austrians do. Wierd...

narnia opens

Last midnight, the much-anticipated opening of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe drew Narniaphiles around the country, including our associate pastor, I'm told. Check out this Village Voice piece, which is not uncomplimentary of Phil Anschutz and other Christians interested in quality film productions. Barbara Nicolosi of Act One, a Christian actors' and writers' group, is quoted:

"The idea of religious people acquiring media and artistic expertise is chilling to the secular left. I suppose they imagine that we will be as unfair and propagandistic with cultural power as they have been. But I pray we won't be. We have to answer to God for how we treat people."

I'm hoping to get to the show this weekend or next. ...read more »

the man in black

Check out this article, in Touchstone by Russell Moore on Johnny Cash, who succeeded in a way most "Christian artists" don't because they're so kitschy in their strain to be cool:

"Cash always seemed to connect. When other Christian celebrities tried to down-play sin and condemnation in favor of upbeat messages about how much better life is with Jesus, Cash sang about the tyranny of guilt and the certainty of coming judgment. An angst-ridden youth culture may not have fully comprehended guilt, but they understood pain. And, somehow, they sensed Cash was for real."

bigger and better

Ever play this game in high school or youth group (or like me, as an adult)? Well, a Canadian guy is doing a worldwide game of "Bigger and Better"; the trading pool is wide and fast as the internet. He started with a little red paperclip, and plans to trade up to a new house. Check the progress.

again? ...so soon?

Yep, that's what most everyone is saying. Carrie and I are expecting our third little one next summer. Man-child or woman-child, we don't know yet. We'll try to clue everyone in when we know in a couple of months. As for the name, forget about knowing ahead of time. We'll be lucky if we know...

the new Peron?

Hugo Chavez, demagogue strongman of Venezuela, is thumbing his nose at the Bush Administration and U.S. oil companies by working a "deal" to provide discounted oil (for heating, etc.) to the poor of Massachusetts. Citgo Corp. is wholly owned by Petroleos de Venezuela SA, and is the outlet providing this aid to the state of Kerry and Kennedy.

This "petro-diplomacy" is disingenuous at multiple levels. First, are there no poor in Venezuela that could benefit from investment from the state oil revenues? Second, why go around U.S. aid programs to work directly with two nonprofits, one of which is headed by Joseph P. Kennedy II (nephew of Edward Kennedy (D-Mass)), and just help Massachusetts consumers? ...read more »

walk the line

Went last night with Tom Gibbs, our pastor, to see Walk the Line, the biopic of Johnny Cash's young and foolish years. The movie picks some significant scenes from his childhood before plopping the viewer into 1950's Germany, where as a lonely Air Force recruit, "J.R." wrote some of his early songs. The movie follows as he is signed with Sun Records in Memphis, hits it big, and meets June Carter, the fascinating forbidden fruit. Johnny dove into every impulse he had, including alcohol, drugs, arrogance, extramarital sex, love, anger. He is brought low by his meth addiction, and after being arrested, collapsing on stage, family embarassments, and the departure of his first wife, he is converted. June Carter (after her own failed marriages) and her family "rehabilitate" Johnny, and soon he is clean, sober, and playing concerts in Folsom and San Quentin prisons. ...read more »

revenue or righteousness?

Proverbs 16:8 (ESV)
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.

I was thinking this week about the business ethics of medicine. I'm rotating with a group of private practice vascular surgeons. I mean, the kind that make mid-six figures. I've gotten to see the ins and outs of the practice. The little squabbles with partners. Interactions with referring physicians, pharma and equipment vendors, and patients. A few observations:

Unproven therapy I heard of one small group of major stockholders in a medical device company which sells atherectomy catheters. In case this sounds obscure, consider that atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, affects millions of Americans. And the same plaques blocking arteries to the heart also block abdominal and leg arteries, making the potential market for these devices enormous. Well, there are no good trials of this device yet, comparing it with best medical management or surgical bypass, and the device is not FDA approved for use in the "peripheral vasculature", i.e. the legs. Well, some of these physician stockholders happen to give expert "lectures" espousing the benefits of this device. Apart from being abysmal medical ethics, this is, in fact, illegal. ...read more »

birthday with tim and manu

Yep, they were all there. But not exactly for ME...I celebrated my birthday at the SBC Center tuesday night, as Carrie took me to see Tim, Manu, Tony and the boys stick it to the Atlanta Hawks, 103-79. They started out slow, but regained the lead by the half, and were able to play the second string by game's end.

I bought the tickets on the cheap at StubHub.com. When we got to the stadium, we splurged and loaded up on concession hot dogs, popcorn, drinks, and M&M's ($23.50 in all!!!) Tuesday night happened to be Military Appreciation Night, with a canned speech by USAF General Looney at halftime, and a stirring tribute to veterans of this and previous wars on the big center court screens. We stayed for the whole game (unlike I was raised to do, leaving along with everyone else with five minutes left), and afterward Carrie and I enjoyed a warm mocha at our neighborhood Starbuck's. Our friends Bart and Denesha were kind enough to keep the kids. ...read more »

christianity and contemporary culture conference

Yes, that's the cumbersome title (beginning all with C's) of Redeemer Presbyterian's yearly lecture series. It ran Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday morning, and Jerram Barrs of Covenant Theological Seminary spoke. Saturday night's talk featured the best venue - the Radius Cafe near the Municipal Auditorium. One of the burdens but also opportunities of a "homeless" church is being able to move around to different locations for things like this.

Anyway, Jerram Barrs' lectures can be heard at Redeemer's website.

footballing II

Ok, so some of the guys took issue with my calling us "one of the worst teams in the lowest league." We won our indoor match last night, 9-8, making us, in my estimation, a mediocre team in the lowest league, in 4th place. That may be enough to get us a playoff spot, though...we'll see.

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