Phlebotomic is a blog experiment that seeks to gather multiple perspectives around a common prompt, which is provided weekly.

Last week's prompt was "Beauty"...

This week's prompt is "Path"...

29 January 2009

Victory: Station

I know that we had a recent "mass transit" posting. However, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear "victory" is Victory Station in Dallas.

I hope to someday be able to take a train to a Spurs game in San Antonio and get off at a station right next to the arena. It is a simple wish.

28 January 2009

Victory: an idea whose time has come

What struck me first about the prompt is how “strong” the word was and how open to interpretation a definition of the word could be. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the broadness afforded to me in the “openness” of the topic.

When people think of victory they are inserting the term into their own situation. So, is the “victory” relating to a triumphing in a personal struggle……a business situation……an addictive habit? Or is victory rather, or more fully explained through the victory, or triumphing, of an idea or ideal?

An example: when you quite smoking you say “I’m victorious” (please add a “booyah” in there too, for good measure). So this is a victory, but what kind of victory? I am suggesting that it is a victory of an idea. In this sense, the idea being deliberated by the individual is, “will smoking cut short my life and is the enjoyment of smoking worth it?” I would add that the individual is considering the cost/benefit analysis before following through with his actions.

However the individual is “defeated” then the “enjoyment argument” outweighs the “life cut short argument.” What strikes me most about victory, in this sense, is the zero sum gain. By straight definition if someone/something/some idea is “victorious” someone/something/some idea must be “defeated”. I would suggest this is where we get the “drive” to be victorious as we know the outcome already if we are not.

Additionally, it struck me that “victory” is most commonly declared by someone with certain “point in time biases” that I am not entirely comfortable with. If I may use the example already mentioned, say the person who quits claims victory….fair enough. But what happens when they are “defeated” in 3 years time? How can you claim victory at a point in time if there is a possibility of later being defeated? Please note, this is a clearly defined situation and there are observable inputs, i.e. from the time you quit smoking until you die you wouldn’t be able to claim victory, for certain, over smoking. However, by strict definition you are, in fact, victorious. I would suggest that the “struggle” defines how long the timeframe needs to be in order for an unbiased observer to truly declare victory (or defeat).

To gain some insight from another vantage point we could use the technique I’m going to call “anti” (I believe this technique was used by the Scholastics, it has a good Latin phrase…I just cannot for the life of me remember it), i.e. we cannot define victory properly without also defining it as “not defeat”. So, anything that is “not defeat” would, ergo, be considered a victory.

Applying this concept to my suggestion – victory is defined by way of one idea beating out another – we find that if the person who has been “defeated”, i.e. he hasn’t quit smoking (in the short term), but hasn’t given up on the idea of quitting he has de facto the ability to claim victory as the idea has won the day. I would suggest that the idea of quitting in his mind is “victorious” and by association, he is victorious. This thought, of course, goes slightly “left” if the individual continues to smoke and subsequently dies. However, I would suggest that the idea never truly won…….ahh, I digress.

So, what is in an idea? As I have argued, quite a lot. For good or for ill, an idea can hold sway over one person, an entire nation or even the world.

In any case, I have attached some quotes that ya’ll might find of interest.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”., Oscar Wilde

“To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enables us to shape the process of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm”., F.A. Hayek

“Society has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things”., Ludwig von Mises

Victory: stream of question-ness

What does it look like to have victory?
Who is victorious?
Do you have to write the history books as the victor?
Couldn't you leave that to the defeated?
What responsibility do you have to the defeated?
If you get to make the rules are you the victor?
How many do you need to make to be victorious over an issue?
Is victory fuller or more hollow in a split decision as opposed to a shut-out?
Is total victory more or less victorious than near defeat?
Is defeat victory if the goal was reached?
If the end is victory, what of the means?
Was it shopping victoriously or just shopping?
Is scoreboard all that matters?
Is there a scoreboard in life? Heaven? Hell? Thursday's commute?
What's your score?
Who's keeping it?
Are you winning?
What victory can you claim as yours?
Did you earn it?
When did you claim it?

Do I live my life in degrees of victory or with the reality of Total Victory?

Victory - From the Jaws of Defeat

Over the course of my athletic career, spanning from elementary school through college, I participated in over a thousand sporting events. I have tasted the sweetness of victory, and also drank the bitterness of its counterpart, defeat. I stood tall as my teams won districts, regions, sub-states, and participated in state championships. I have hoisted banners, and hosted NCAA games. If my arithmetic is correct, I have, in basketball, a .800 lifetime winning percentage. Personally, I received the accolades that a fairly accomplished player usually merits, All-Star teams, All-State/Region/District, Player of the Week/Month, All-Tournament etc. All those victories and prizes never really fostered the improvement that perfecting my craft required. They usually just resulted in the growth of my ego and our collective team ego. They also set me (and my teammates) up for some shocking defeats due to lack of preparation or improvement. My most profound lessons were learned in the wake of my most staggering defeats, after failing and losing, and these continue to this day.

I was always told after defeat to hold my head high, as we had given it our all, so we had nothing to be ashamed for nor any reason to lower our gaze. There were many angry nights, wondering what went wrong, why did that happen, and when would it get better. However, I always learned from my defeats. My coaches would show tapes, review the busted plays, missed assignments, lost opportunities to gain an advantage, and other shortfalls that led to the defeat. And from these, we would usually grow as players. In the essence of a phoenix, we would rise from the ashes of our losses, and improve to win. We would practice harder, lift more weight, run just one more lap or sprint, groove our shots with more shooting, and prepare more thoroughly. It was, basically, because of our losses that we were successful. Without those shortfalls and lessons, the improvements would never have been made. Or perhaps my coaches would have tried to show what we needed to do, yet their supplications would have fallen on deaf ears, because we had been winning, so what did we need to learn? But after those tortuous defeats, oftentimes by "lesser" foes, we were hungry, willing, and able to listen, to learn, and to grow.

In my post-athletic life, this truism still is "played out." When I mess up, which is often, this is when my personal growth occurs. God, as my "coach," shows me where I need to shore up my defense, or improve my play making ability, and, because I know my weakness, I am able to listen, to learn, and to grow. He uses His Word, the words of others, the lives of others, and just His still, small voice to show me where I need to grow, and how to do it. But, if I hadn't had the defeat, I would not be ready and prepared for the victories that will be coming. As many have said, at the mountaintop is not where things are growing, it is in the depths of the valleys where growth occurs. I guess the lesson is to not wait for the defeat. Use your time on this earth wisely, and let your growth be constant. Let God show you where you need to grow, where you need to improve, and where His presence needs to be made known, in your life, and the lives of those He puts in your path.

27 January 2009

Victory: Simple and Effective

when i hear the word victory, my mind immediately jumps to thoughts of celebrating a win in a sporting event. i’m sure almost all of us have experienced that type of emotion at some point throughout the course of our lives…hopefully many times. i can still recall that adrenaline rush, that sense of accomplishment, the payoff for the weeks and months of hard work and sacrifice. those moments create memories that we’re sure to remember long after the game is over.

but what about when the games are over…what happens then? when we’ve moved on from that chapter in our lives but the desire to compete and the thirst for winning is still there. how do we quench that thirst?

well, i believe that the victory is still there…but the payoff comes in different forms. it could come as a promotion at work. after months and months of hard work and dedication to your employer, the payoff arrives. or perhaps a college graduation ceremony and diploma is your reward for several (perhaps 13) long years of sacrifice and persistence.

or, what if victory was something much simpler. what if we took joy in the small achievements that make up the larger. how about a simple “thank you”, or a pat on the back for a job well done. i don’t know about you, but i can’t think of many things more gratifying than someone acknowledging the effort. it’s amazing how something so simple (and free) can be so effective.

26 January 2009

Victory: A Moral One

Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
-James Russell Lowell

In sports, we often refer to a moral victory - one in which the accomplishment is not dependent on the final score or who crosses the finish line, but an intangible achievement that is worth celebrating. It could be an athlete who overcame insurmountable odds to just compete in the race, a lackluster team that showed signs of improvement and camaraderie, or a personal achievement in a losing team effort. But you won't find moral victory trophies or hall of fames, yet people still cling to these subjective victories. I'm all for moral victories - finding something positive when one exerts great effort, yet not winning the game or finishing first. BUT, we still need to recognize someone won the game and someone lost. 

As "millenials" or "Gen Y" or whatever you want to call a somewhat arbitrary age cohort recently entered the workforce, we heard complaints about this generation's work ethic. They are lazy, spoiled, entitled, and need constant recognition and praise. Many people say they need a pat on the back and a "thank you" just for showing up to the job they are paid to do. This group contends that the organization needs to accommodate their needs rather than the other way around. While I think that the older generation's complaint of the young's work ethic has persisted throughout time, I don't think that this is something we should ignore. Some people explain that this entitlement attitude comes from a childhood filled with "participation" ribbons and trophies, no grades in school, lowered achievement standards. I remember receiving several 6th, 7th, 8th place swimming ribbons - granted they were purple, brown, or black - but I got them anyway because I tried. We gave everyone an "A" or "B" or even avoided giving grades at all to avoid hurting a youngster's self-esteem. Yet when they entered the "real world" they noticed some people didn't get into college, or get a job, or close a business deal, or reach an objective goal - but! Which left them perplexed, agitated, and yes - defeated.
So I propose we promote personal growth, encourage group effort, recognize progress, avoid imposing goals on others, but also not fill our youth with unrealistic visions of a world with blue ribbons and trophies for everyone. Maybe then we can all share a moral victory.   

Victory: Is An Illusion...Or How I Learned to Stop Setting Goals and Love the Mission

I did so poorly in my first year in University that I was forced to take a course called “Studying Skills”, which could have been called, “If you don’t start taking stuff this seriously you are going to be kicked out of school, you idiot.”.

One of the main themes of the course was goal-setting, something that has never been a particular strength of mine. We were told to set reachable goals and then strive for them. Reachable goals? What kind of challenge is that?

The idea was that I could artificially motivate myself to do better by tricking myself into working towards arbitrary benchmarks of success. It was a course in the art of self-manipulation. (Note: Do not Google that phrase.)

In a world where we see the value of dangling the carrot in front of the mule, we contend that, as humans, we must occasionally sneak a bite of the carrot if we are to continue trekking. This is goal-setting. This is our concept of motivation. And, apparently, it is psychologically necessary for humans to perform.

I have always been more of a fan of mission statements than goals. Mission statements are intrinsically unreachable, the equivalent of placing the carrot so far in front of the mule so as to kill any hope that it might really be caught and eaten. They are almost better described as ideals in the sense that they set a course but never a quantifiable destination. They are generally ambiguous and subjective in nature, promising to be “the best in the industry” or pushing to be “a leader in the field”.

I work for a company with the stated mission that we are to “ solve the logistical needs of our customers by moving products where and when they want them better than anyone else.” That is our mission. How can we accomplish that? I would argue that we can’t. We can strive for it, but it is an open-ended idea without timeline or expiration date. The moment we rest on the supposed completion of the mission is the moment that someone else takes advantage of our complacency and becomes better. Hence, we are no longer “better than anyone else”.

Let's take it to the next level. The US State Department’s mission is to “Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community”. Seriously? Is that all? Just a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for everybody? Okay. The mission only extends to the people of America and the "international community". If an alien race arrives on earth, we will not be required to consider them - well, as long as they haven't organized themselves into nation-states thereby giving them inclusion in the "international community"...

I actually love the statement, though, because it sets the bar ridiculously high. It also clearly defines the "Commander’s Intent", the filter with which to make all decisions. The statement is wonderfully difficult in that, like all other missions, it can never be considered fully accomplished.

I walk through life stumbling towards a similarly unreachable mission: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

I can never stand in front of a banner claiming “Mission Accomplished” on that one. I can, however, consistently measure my heart and actions against the mission that I have been called to. I can be reminded of the filter with which I am to view and respond to the world. I can press on, unsatisfied by the artificially-pleasing bites of carrot and unfulfilled by the arbitrary benchmarks that allow me to relax and rest in my pre-disposed mediocrity. Instead, I press on towards the unattainable, knowing that glory is found in the mission itself, not in the accomplishment thereof.

25 January 2009

Victory: Patterns or Completion

To one who has struggled to be the person he or she wanted to be...but has found that after MANY years of struggle that (you) did not possess the ability to overcome within yourself...the phrase "patterns of victory" could became a lifeline. You simply look to each day and hope for something better than the last...maybe longer periods in between defeat...

To quit is to self-determine defeat, but what hope is there to break through? How does one direct energy at the same vained efforts, to reform or to mature, that brought about no change in the past?

It would seem logical that victory would be secured through greater effort, and totally ridiculous that it could ever be achieved through less...and yet that is where I have arrived.

R + R + Q + T = S2

R & R is the formula for victory over the past...
Q & T the formula for victory in the future...

Isaiah 30:15..."In Repentance and Rest is your Salvation; in Quietness and Trust your Strength."

Illogical...yes...and I have no way to explain its power - simply that I have never felt greater peace.

Victory: just do what exactly?

One of the worlds greatest brands is based upon the Greek goddess of victory. Romans called her Victoria, Americans named a forward base in Iraq after the idea, and the achievement of victory has been proclaimed by countless icons throughout history. But what is it, exactly? When is victory actually achieved?

Victory was declared by the Treaty of Ghent between the United States and Great Britain on Christmas Eve, 1814...but for weeks battles continued to rage across the NA continent because communication didn't reach the front lines. The entire Battle of New Orleans was fought post-victory. How odd to find out you fought, possibly picked up battle wounds and "won" a battle in a war that was already over!

Recently departed President George W. Bush was peppered with ridicule for declaring "victory" aboard a US aircraft carrier early into the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign, years before waves of combat casualties subsided. The "head of the snake" had been removed, but the conflict was still in full swing. Was it victory?

D-Day, V-Day, so many claims of victory. Yet, aftershocks of conflict remain...

Paul reassures the young Jesus freaks of Corinth that "Death has lost its victory...God has given us victory over sin and death through Jesus." What does that mean? John the Revelator recorded at his Patmos Retreat Center an apocalyptic Jesus saying that "all who are victorious will sit with me..."

The swoosh people tell us to "just do it," but just do what exactly? Live victoriously? Attempt victory? Live as if the victory is ours?

23 January 2009

Art: Austin Rapid Transit

In my previous life as an Austin-American, I used to daydream about the perfect mass transit system. After a fair bit of research, I settled on monorail as the best option and began reviewing proposed alignment maps from a number of organizations, including the now defunct Austin Monorail Project. I even came up with the perfect branding for the various transit corridors: the BLUEBONNET LINE, the BURNT ORANGE LINE, the GREEN BELT LINE, the RED RIVER LINE, and the YELLOW ROSE LINE. Alas, Capital Metro chose light rail as the preferred transit method (I blame the powerful Light Rail Lobby for this injustice). Despite my initial misgivings, after my daily traffic battle on I-35, I soon warmed to the idea of any form of mass transit. I probably would have voted for a sky-based mass transit system using a series of hydrogen-filled dirigibles - I was that desperate (Oh, the humanity!).

The vote in 2000 was pretty close, but in the end, people of sad, dreamless ambition won the day. Having since moved to San Antonio, I haven’t followed Capital Metro’s new commuter rail initiative that closely, especially since I’m not all that concerned with Leanderites’ ability to enjoy Austin’s charms while failing to pay Austin’s taxes. More recently, I’ve dreamt about high-speed rail service between Texas’ major population centers. I considered stealing the branding from Austin’s downtown bus circuit and christening this rail service the ‘DILLO, in honor of the official state mammal of Texas. However, given the sophomoric humor of graffiti taggers, and the relative ease with which they can convert ‘L’s to ‘D’s, I’ve since reconsidered this branding. Of course, with the death of Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor, it doesn’t appear that high-speed rail is in our immediate future anyway. Turns out it was more of a Shelbyville idea…

22 January 2009

Art: a battle

I work in a poor part of town. I'm in the car a lot. I see a lot of this city that many of the people I know outside of work never see. I love my city. It's still new to me with a lot left to find, but I have found a few things that bring me back from time to time. Sometimes a new one will pop up, and I'll get to feel the thrill of discovery on a grand scale. Other times one I've known for a long time will reveal something new, something I had overlooked.

San Antonio is a city of murals. Many are organized by the community. Some serve as reminders, others teach a lesson, and all reflect the beauty in the artists. Still others are spraypainted on boxcars or street signes by some guy to mark turf. I'm a fan of both artistically... It's when the two cross that I get angry.

One of my favorite murals is on the side of the Friends Mart building on Guadalupe. It shows Native American people in beautifully vivid color. The detail is wonderful. I found a small lizard in the background last month, but I made another discovery that day. Taggers had marked up the mural to "rep their cru". The store had to paint over the tag in generic green before the city fined them, but that brings more attention to the blight. What was once a little slice of beautiful became a reminder of the ugly. I know art is not all about beauty, however, in this case the community spent the time to paint an otherwise average wall, in a poor and downtroden part of town, beautifully.

I'm pro Mural.

For a tour of West Side Murals

21 January 2009

Art: and it's power

Art, whether it’s a painting, photograph, movie, music, book or writing, has power to move. Move to action. Move to tears. Move to worship. Move to remember.

Art is powerful for the artist revealing their work of dedication with passion and vulnerability. But also, for the spectator whose life is often imprinted and changed by the artist’s work.

Like this man…changed by this picture…

Art can give you a glimpse into a world you never knew, stir up hope for things to come, break your heart over things that are, and take you back to wonderful or horrible things that were.

Art reveals. It reveals opposing forces. One side being this world as it is, but shouldn’t be…man struggling, chaos, fighting to survive, desperately pining and searching for something that isn’t found from this world. But, the other side reveals things as they were meant to be…man redeemed, peace, living abundantly, fulfilled and satisfied in being called and known by God.

Art - The Inner Spirit communicates

While in college, I took a philosophy course. Part of our discussion was what was considered "art," and what was not. Our professor basically told us something deemed art by someone considered an "artist" is art. Nothing more, nothing less. So, being the person that I am, I had the following conversation with said professor.

Me - What makes a person an artist?
Prof - An artist is someone who creates.
Me - I create things. Am I an artist?
Prof - No.
Me - Why not? I create stories, poems, essays, and other things.
Prof - You are missing the point.

I guess I was.

So, what is art? As a former literature student, I am supposed to say that it is something that has an aesthetically pleasing and oftentimes challenging aspect and characteristic that communicates with us at a deeper level than our consciousness. I totally agree, yet that is so mysterious. As many people notice, lots of things are considered art. Many things that are what some call obscene or grotesque are labelled art (just search Robert Mapplethorpe or The Body Experiment, but be prepared!!). Pornography is art to some. Yet, art in its truest sense is that communication spirit to spirit. I have been so moved by paintings and sculpture, but I could not put words to the feeling. I have read poems, stories, and novels that express exactly what I have never been able to say, in ways that are totally beautiful. Yet, I cannot tell you why I think so. This is communicating to my Inner Man, my Inner Spirit, my essence. I believe it is soul communication. That part of us that is us. Beyond our mere flesh and bone, synapse and fiber, to that part where we truly lie. The Holy Spirit communicates with us in that area, and art does too. Why? Because God is the One True Artist. Look at our world. It is glorious! It is the finest expression of creativity and communication from the Most High to His subjects. Why does so much art try to mimic and re-create life? Because our world is the perfect manifestation of all the creative power that artists want to possess. God has painted sunsets, sunrises, mountain vistas, desert landscapes, sculpted mighty peaks and deep valleys. He formed oceans, lakes and rivers, glaciers and snowscapes. Just try to imagine. He created the nebulae, comets, and asteroids, planets and stars. That is an artist. And it all speaks to us beyond a shallow visceral level. It penetrates to our true being, our soul.

That is art. Soul to soul communication. Our Inner Spirit communicating to others and with our Creator, the Great Artist.

20 January 2009

Art: Unspeakable

Art says what you can not say.

There is so much to say, so much passion...a unction. Spirit speaking to spirit...

I have nothing more to say...Someone else has already said it all...

19 January 2009

ART: pARTicipate

how easy is it to just go through the motions of life. to live, but not really feel alive? to be in this world, but unable to feel like you’re participating in anything?

why don’t we participate… why do we draw back? perhaps because in order to take part in something, we have to know how we feel about actual issues and circumstances? we have to make a conscience effort to actually do something? perhaps we’d rather someone else do the dirty work for us? maybe there’s ridicule, embarrassment, shame, a fear of failure? why are we so good at making excuses?

aren’t we all called to do, and not just stand by idle while the rest of the world flies by? we all have the ability create, to participate.

yesterday, katy and i started a life group at our house. honestly, neither of us were certain that it was exactly what we wanted to do. we occasionally let our focus slip back to the past, the problems, the failures, which hindered us from looking at the possibilities at hand. we were called to lead, so we led…but with a cautious demeanor. it wasn’t until everyone arrived last night that we realized that we were ready to participate again, fully. We were no longer making excuses…

Art: Throbbing Hearts

In 1984 Ross Bleckner began a body of work incorporating ghostly semitransparent imagery set against dark, spatially illusionistic fields. Through a proliferation of floating urnlike vessels, trophies, garlands, and flowers, the artist created a morbid fin-de-si├Ęcle dream space. The memorial symbols in these works have been widely perceived as a response to the AIDS epidemic and its profound impact on the art world. Bleckner’s subsequent motifs are even more elegiac and directly related to the ravages of AIDS—starry skies; the architecture of basilicas; markings resembling Kaposi’s sarcoma and immunodeficient cells; and a constant suggestion of a glowing, otherworldly light.

Throbbing Hearts maintains the melancholy quality of all Bleckner’s work. The passages of luminous red pigment floating on a silvery gray field suggest the pulsing hearts of the painting’s title. Like other iconic forms in the artist’s work, the heart—traditionally considered the bodily seat of love and faith—is richly evocative. Bleckner’s hearts may be considered metonymic allusions to individual beings. “I have always thought of painting as skin, in a sense holding things back, ’in place,’ existing tensely over that that it represses,” Bleckner said in a 1988 interview. “The painter then X-rays parts that the skin covers and uncovers them. The metaphor is obviously figurative (skin protecting the fragility of that that it conceals) but I want the result to be abstract: it transforms itself in the making from the idea of an organ (like a throbbing close to the chest) into an idea about just throbbing.”

From the Guggenheim Collection.

18 January 2009

Art: Government stay away!

There are rumblings about a Cabinet-level arts position being added by the Obama administration. I guess this began last November when music producer and songwriter Quincy Jones mentioned the idea on a New York radio program.

Can I tell you how bad of an idea I think this is? Let's put aside for the moment that America's founders might be turning over in their graves at the very idea of this surfacing. I'm not really sure how this might fit into their idea of "limited government." (Sigh)

Do we really want our government involved with deciding what is considered "art" and what is not? I for one shudder at the very thought. I realize that some countries have such a position today AND I tend to stay away from half-baked conspiracy theories, but a "Department of Culture" within the U.S. government is too close to another historical footnote...

From this website on German architecture:

"The Reich Culture Chamber had the most certain purpose; it dealt licences to the press, radio, arts, film, literature and music. Thus all aspects of culture could be regulated and have the Nazi stamp on them. This can be referred to as Gleichschaltung; the way that the Nazis tried to control the media."

No thank you. Next idea please.

17 January 2009

Art: mysterious simulation, passionate responses

For about 6 years I took art lessons. I was an aspiring landscape oil painter of an old, classical school. I logged in thousands of hours in the Fjordland Studio with my instructor - learning to mix my own custom mediums, create bristle-color-surface combinations, and tackling endless scene types. The school of painting I was learning was one that intended to capture natural scenes with as much realism as possible while leaving the least evidence of method and brushstroke. It was a game - to mysteriously re-create a natural scene in such a way that the human eye was not distracted by the evidence of our brushes!

For a few years the art scene was a magnificent journey of mysteries. How do you recreate the lighting, dimensions and vitality of a seaside sunset, crystal clear Alaskan mountain-scape or pastoral field? How do you achieve re-creation without evidence of touch? After awhile I could walk up and diagnose the medium, paint type, brush type and method used on a majority of paintings. There was a thrill to decoding art and nature in tandem! I described the physical world in new terms - Cerulean, Umber, Thalo, Ochre, and Grumbacher Yellow #5.

After an exhibit that effectively stole the joy of painting in lieu of the forced demand to produce quantities and types of pieces, a realization struck me: what an odd pursuit it is to invest enormous amounts of time into simulating reality and re-evoking the passionate response originally felt by a scene experienced in the past. Why do we enjoy and indulge in art so much? What about the (in some ways) silliness of pseudo-photography and emotional replay do we find alluring?

For the artist there's the shadow mission to transmit a personal emotion and perspective through the silent media of the finished piece. For the observer there's a dual experience in discerning the mood and intent of the artist plus the personal, soulical movement evoked.

Why do we enjoy art so much?

Blue: America

On Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as our 44th president, and the latest major realignment of American politics will have begun. Battered by political scandal and accusations of incompetence, the red elephants have lost their hold on the levers of power, and will be replaced by the equally scandalized and incompetent blue donkeys. If it weren’t so familiar, our political system would seem pretty absurd.

Normally, I would preface this post with a disclosure of my background – the biases and political proclivities which underlie and undoubtedly influence my thinking. That I’ve decided not to do so highlights a very important point on the subject: politics makes people crazy. Aristotle called Man a political animal, and given the visceral hatred and baleful passions fomented by Man’s politics, this is an apt description. Be honest – you hate your political enemies, don’t you? We often harbor a deep seated animosity toward our political foes. Personally, I want to destroy my enemies, kill their children, and salt their fields. Metaphorically of course – as civilized men we find more subtle ways to channel this hatred. How else to explain the popularity of Cable News?

Scripture reminds us that God has His own policy initiative aimed at fixing all of America’s problems. It’s called The Kingdom of Heaven, and it reduces poverty, fights crime, strengthens families, brings justice, and ensures the peace – all without adding to the tax burden on America’s small businesses. I think most Christians are aware of this initiative, but they quickly discount it as impractical when girding themselves for a political fight. When the political moonbeams are breaking through, otherwise godly Christians are transformed into werewolvian partisans.

Many have begun to question the fruit borne of Christian political alliances, and there seems to be a hunger to embrace the Kingdom of Heaven rather than any particular political ideology. Shane Claiborne has spoken to this in his recent book, Jesus for President, and the indomitable C.S. Lewis continues to exemplify Christian engagement in the difficult moral questions of the age, without resort to political hackery (Clive’s writings vehemently opposed tyranny and despotism, but saw in most other ideologies elements of moralistic natural law which were in agreement with revelation).

It should be noted that Jesus did not walk the earth during a period of political calm. Palestine was occupied by the Roman Empire; the region seethed under Roman oppression and chafed at the imposition of Hellinistic culture. One of the apostles, Simon The Zealot, appears to have been a Jewish radical bent on the overthrow of Roman rule. Jesus himself was the object of Roman scrutiny, for fear He might incite yet another Jewish rebellion. Suffice it to say, Jesus was undoubtedly aware of political realities on the ground. And yet His politics are limited exclusively to a declaration of the Kingdom of Heaven, a call to repentance, and a promise to forgive sins.

Two particular events concerning the life of Jesus are instructive. First, there is the third temptation of Jesus in the desert, as described in Matthew 4:8-10:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

Have you ever considered that “all the kingdoms of the world” included not only the tribes, kingdoms, countries, and empires of that day, but also the nations which were to come? In other words, have you considered that the United States of America, as a kingdom of the world, is under the power and dominion of Satan? Jesus was offered the ultimate political victory – absolute control over every political system on the Earth. Imagine what He could have done with that! In a word: paradise. There was just one catch – this political victory would require a little devil worship. If Jesus refused to compromise Himself in order to obtain political power, why should we as Christians not follow His example?

The second event concerns Jesus’ interaction with the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” * * * Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

This conversation must have been very distressing to Simon The Zealot, and probably to most of Jesus’ disciples. If Jesus refused to fight His political enemies, but rather offered them the Kingdom of Heaven, why should we as Christians not follow His example?

When I lived for a short time in the UK, I was absolutely enthralled by British politics (I still try to catch C-SPAN broadcasts of Parliament when I’m at the gym, though it is often difficult to convince the staff to change a channel to C-SPAN). The really delicious thing about British politics came from being an outsider – I had no preconceived notions of “good” and “evil,” as they are defined by the natives, and I was free to simply observe people without assigning ideological labels, and subsequently discounting these people based on my own prejudices.

I think our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven gives us that same freedom. As the world around us descends into serious conflicts, contentious disputes, and – let’s be honest – petty squabbling, we can rest in the political stability of Heaven (an eternal, benevolent dictatorship), draw strength from our infallible leader, and share His message of hope and transformation. Now that’s change I can believe in.

15 January 2009

Blue: Code Blue..."There is an eternal perspective that must be considered."

We have various “codes” at the hospital…
Code Red: Smoke or Fire. We shut all the doors and hope it’s nothing serious. Like a patient trying to smoke in his room and catching the alcohol dispenser on fire.
Code Grey: Verbal Assault. Like a 70 year old lady with dementia and a broken leg yelling at me and trying to leave because she thinks we kidnapped her.
Code Purple: Missing Patient. Like my patient who came to the hospital in respiratory distress because he spent his asthma medication money on cocaine. He had to have a tracheotomy to breath. He leaves the floor with his trach tube still in and hours later still hadn’t come back (he finally did the next day).

And then there is the one that makes us all stop for a second, hope it was an accident and that it will quickly be canceled…
Code Blue: Cardiac or Respiratory Arrest. Someone either doesn’t have a pulse or isn’t breathing. A whole team of doctors, residents, nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical assistants quickly come to fight for a life. It’s sobering. It brings perspective. And fortunately, quite often, pulse and breath begin again; they are revived…even brought back to life.

In my short almost three years as a nurse, I’ve learned how the line between life and death cannot be identified, explained or even assumed. I mean this for both physical and spiritual life.

I thankfully have not had a patient pass away in a “code.” But I have had patients on “palliative care,” or comfort care as they pass away. In this case, no code is called. We give pain medicine and comfort the family as their loved one’s breathing becomes sporadic and infrequent. When does death actually occur? We “call it” when there is no heart beat or breath sounds. But, just because a heart is beating does that constitute life? What about their soul? This makes me queenly aware of the spiritual world, of eternity and that this life is so very temporal.

My best friend’s grandmother died earlier this week. Which led to this somber entry. Three Code Blues were called that same day, hence the connection. I’ve been through this myself so I had a little insight, but I couldn’t be there with her. I cried with her over the phone, prayed for her (starting 4 that morning when I woke up thinking about her), and wished I could bear some of this pain for her. The next day I talked to her and was amazed (as I often am) of her great faith and trust in the sovereignty of the Lord. She’s relatively okay and says, “I think there is an eternal perspective that must be considered. I know where she is, and I know I’ll see her again.” I’m comforted that she is at peace and think of how much more I should consider the same perspective…

The apostle Paul spoke of this… “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1&2) Why? So “We do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

And I think too of life? I don’t think it‘s necessarily the presence of a heart beat, but a ordained creation with purpose and abundance. (Psalm 139, John 10:10)

But being born also doesn’t make us truly alive. For death has come to all men by way of sin. (Romans 3:23; 5:12)

So here’s my point….
Life isn’t as we may first perceive it… Beginning with conception and ending with death. True, abundant, purposeful and forgiven life begins with a new birth (John 3,Romans 6:4). Life…from faith in the salvation of Jesus’ righteousness given to us through His sacrificial death and resurrection (Ephesians 2:1-5; Romans 3:22-25). A life that continues for eternity; even after pulse and breath cease. For those who believe this, if we considered an eternal perspective more often, would we, and shouldn’t we be more like a “Code Blue” team for those still dead in sin and darkness?

14 January 2009

Blue: A Colour

This is not gonna be deep.

I have a wool sweater that I've been wearing over a white t-shirt consistently for the past, oh, maybe 2 weeks. The sweater is blue. Different shades of blue, actually. If I stand straight up with my arms at my sides, the shade goes from very dark blue at the bottom, to a gradually lighter blue in the middle across my chest and upper arms, back to a very dark blue at the top.

When I wear this sweater while talking with someone, and when the topic of favorite color happens to come up--both of these conditions must happen syncronically or it will not work--most people guess that my favorite colour is blue (That's right. I spelled color with a "u" in the distinctly British style. Well, it was next to the word blue, which also contains a "u", and I didn't want that "u" to feel like the only one. He was already a bit down to begin with.).

"Wrong," I say. "My favorite color is brown."

Why do most people assume that people are wearing their favorite colors all the time? (Notice that this time, both favorite and colors are spelled in the distinctly American style, as opposed to favourite colours. Well, I didn't want any American readers to feel I was being prejudiced.)

I can see at least 2 clear reasons for NOT wearing your favorite color:

1) Different colors for different seasons/moods/occasions. The amount of boredom that would result from wearing the same color every day is unable to be exhaustively expounded upon here in words, and so I will give it a number, or rather, create a formula: 10^i where i represents the number of days in a row you wear the same colour (On a side note, that would put me at 10^14 on the colour blue; which means I've gotta lay off it for quite some time, as I've recently given rise to quite a bit of boredom in the world.).

2) We, as a people, cannot possibly make it THAT easy for others to defeat us in the what's-your-favorite-color guessing game. Let's stick together! Let's no one allow the enemy a foothold in this matter! (Isn't that what Paul says?) In fact, let's not even one of us look upon our friends with an envious eye when THEY are wearing our favourite colours, lest we should be found out and doggled by the enemy! (Don't bother looking up the word doggled in the dictionary or on Wikipedia. You'll find it neither in its current form nor in some alternate British spelling. I've just made it up. Yeah? So what? I've made up a word. Shakespeare did it all the time. "But we don't know what it means," you snivel. Well, of course you know what it means! Just look at the context and it'll come to you easily! You're a native English-speaker, for crying out loud! My apologies for any non-native English-speakers who may be reading this. In case you are having any trouble, I've included an official definition for doggled on Wikipedia for your convenience.)

The point is: mix up your colores every once in a while.

13 January 2009

Blue: The Depth of Beauty

Ever heard of The Mariana Trench?

The Mariana Trench is this area in the North Pacific Ocean where the ocean floor just sort of opens up - almost the underwater inverse of a mountain. The ocean's deepest point is part of the Trench, the 36,201 foot deep "Challenger Deep". Challenger Deep is so deep that you could take the tallest peak in the world, Mount Everest, turn it upside down, and drop it into the trench...and still have 7,000 feet before you would have filled the trench to the surface.

36,000 feet is unfathomably deep to me. It is seven miles under water. It is the equivalent of a jetliner's cruising altitude - only it's underwater. It is really, really (really) deep.

And somehow, incredibly, there is life that far down in the ocean. The Mariana Trench sustains a healthy population of sole, shrimp, and flounder and Challenger Deep itself hosts at least 432 different types of creautures. Under 36,000 feet of the blackest blue, there is life.

Blue is the persistence of life.

Blue is the depth of creation.

12 January 2009

Blue: What Typically Goes Unseen

today was a long day. honestly, it's been a long year too, thus far. so tonight, i came home and desired to do pracically nothing. do you ever have those nights when you just wish to do nothing, because you know it's exactly what you need? tonight was one of those nights!

i have built a fire in the chiminea, and i'm sitting outside...a man, his dog, and his fire. as i sit, i desire to focus on nothing...and i guess that's exactly what's happening. only, nothing turns into turns into blocking out everything else that was going on in world, and instead focusing in on that which i've been missing.

i'm sitting here, and i hear dogs barking off in the distance. i see blinking lights of airplanes traveling on to their destinations. i hear cars buzzing by into nowhere. i feel the chill on my hands as i type this word, and this word, and this word. i sit, still, and stare into the fire. i feel the heat against my legs. i see the flames, the blazing orange tips reaching down to the scorching blue. i hear...i feel...i see...

there seems to be something so simple, so primitive, so silly, so natural, to build fire and stare into it. as if looking at the blaze long enough will somehow lead to clearer vision, to a clearer focus. what is this orange and blue flame trying to say to me? i sit here now, soaking in the sounds and the heat, stoking the flames and writing this, and i can't think of a better way to refocus and look for that which typically goes unseen.

Blue: Like Jazz

Some of you have probably already read "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller.

If you are between the ages of 18-40, Miller's work will be particularly relevant and enlightening. This book will reintroduce you to the spiritual and will help you find your own voice in an age of abject spiritual conformity. I cannot stress enough that you need to read "Blue Like Jazz."

"Sting has this song where he says that he is alone on an island and puts a message in a bottle and throws it into the ocean, only to wake the next morning and have a hundred million bottles washed upon his shore. He sings "I guess I'm not alone at being alone," and I think that sums up how I feel about Blue Like Jazz. It feels like I thought I was alone but woke up one morning to discover nothing could be further from the truth." - Donald Miller

Also, For those of you who have issues with your fathers, I think you will find Miller's "To Own a Dragon" particularly good.

Blue: Subjectivity

Well now...this is interesting...
According to a Google search of definitions on the web, "blue" could mean anything from being "suggestive of sexual impropriety" to "morally rigorous and strict"
Sure, I know, context comes into play, and non-verbal communication at times...blah, blah...but really...what's up?
What happened to the good old days when blue was simply a color? we use a color to describe a I get that...but which mood? We may use it to describe a brand of moral code...but opposites??!! 
This will quickly become meaningless let me just is what it is, if it is to have any meaning at all. The word blue is unimportant in this context...but when we cross the line to say that moral code is subjective...or worse yet that truth is...i get lost in the endless waves of rationalization and justification. Couldn't it be that truth is not subjective...but simply that our understanding of truth is. Why do we have to explain whether truth is "truth" or "capital 'T' truth"?!
Someone told me once that "you shouldn't pass on your convictions to others, just let them discover their own"...I figured they just passed on conviction by saying so...
Someone else tells me that I am wrong to believe that there is only one God...that truth is in the mind of the holder...who am I to think I am right?! I wonder...what makes the "content" of their statement "truth"? I am not looking win an arguement so that I can feel like I am life is hanging in the balance...if someone has the inside line on truth...I want to listen!! I have only found one so one has convinced me more thoroughly than Christ.

Sheesh...round and round we one wants an absolute...oh...wait a minute...except in physics! I tried that one in high school...truth was absolute there. Oh yeah...and in mathematics as well....i argued hard - and lost every time...

So...what makes me blue, is the fact that people all over the word will unplug themselves from their life source through ignorance, pride, guilt, apathy...etc...when love and grace is all they need to understand...

Which Blue?  Which one do you think?

Blue - the vast expanses and Memphis tunes

Well, this is my first ever attempt at writing a blog post. I have read many, wanted to create my own, and now my often disjointed and enigmatic and always eclectic thoughts will be laid bare for all to read. That is a very scary yet freeing thought. I hope I can add something worthwhile to this fellowship. Thanks for the opportunity to bleed. Anyway, on to the prompt.

When I read the prompt, the things that immediately popped up were the sky and the ocean. Two vast expanses that have created a sense of wonder and awe in mankind since our creation. I am sure we have all felt the smallness looking up at the clear blue of a summer day, and realizing that beyond what we can see is our galaxy, then others, on into the ever expanding universe. Or the feeling of standing on the shore looking out toward the horizon and realizing how tiny we are compared to the enormousness of the azure water. Two reminders of how small, frail, weak and needy we are. I always watch birds and fish with envy, as they can move so effortlessly through the expanse of the air or water, cutting and flowing through the blueness with a gracefulness that even the most highly tuned athlete cannot match. This forces me to realize my own limitations, as for all we are as men, we cannot do what these creatures can. At the same time of showing our limitations and paucity of strength, the sky and ocean also show the power of God, and how He has provided and bestows so much to us. We are so tiny and small, yet He cares for us, blesses us with so much, and allows us to come into His presence. How totally amazing is He! From the sky comes warmth, light, and the end result of weather, and from the sea comes the first part of the weather, food, and the ability to maintain our planet's climate where we can survive (for now, but that is another post for another day). Both are representative of God's vastness and strength and our weakness, yet also show His caring nature that we derive all of what makes us survive from these two "blues." We can use these as a means of travel, to connect worldwide as a total community of believers. These are what connect us together, just as the love of God and Christ His Son link us.

Also, as a former Memphis inhabitant, "blue" brings up visions of Beale Street, with musicians laying bare their soul. Todd Agnew has a song, "On a Corner in Memphis," about how real people are when they sing a secular song, especially a blues song, and how they "lay down their pride, showing us their story, or at least their side." And yet, in church, or in small group, or with an accountability partner, we put up a facade of perfection, and hide the raw, visceral truth of our struggles, doubts, and fears. We hide our failures and worries, too consumed with our putting up our front of being normal and okay. We are frightened of being rejected or of being ridiculed or of being real. His point is that if we all dropped the facade, and were real with each other, true growth and community could and would happen. What if we all realized that we are all broken, and only through transparency and openness can we truly represent Christ to each other and to the world? "What if Sunday School was on Saturday night, on a Corner in Memphis?" What would happen? I hope one day we can all see........

Blue: how do you see the world?

Blue evoked a plethora of pathways for me to consider...3 years ago my bride took me to see the Blue Man Group for my birthday. That was certainly an experience. Then there's the soulical question of the 'tension' of seeing Christ-followers wrestle with depression and the host of inquiries that can raise. I thought also of the "collaboration cube" we use in staff meetings where the person offering up a dream-stage or raw-form concept is said to be "speaking in Blue Sky" mode. Pictures of Eeyore came to mind but I couldn't bear to write about a Winnie the Pooh character.

Then, my lovely wife said I should consider the guy who was Blue, lived in a blue house, blue world, drove a blue car because he would die if it was any other way.

"What the heck?" you might be thinking. I totally agree. Or, agreed, until I watched this video:

Bizarre? Certainly. Freakishly 1980s in style? Probably. Shockingly non-Sharrow-istic? Most definitely.

How often do we align ourselves to so many "hills to die on" that our vision is skewed as if we were wearing special colored glasses? We are so easily partisan, denominational, and context-centric that we scarcely can afford to see the day in front of us for what it is.

In the funky "blue" song, the main character is said to "die if the the anything was green...cuz everything in his mind is blue, since he has nobody he listens to..."

Certainly absolute objectivity is fairly unattainable for any person. Yet, there's something to be said for Paul's seemingly singular attachment - "I consider everything as rubbish except this ONE thing - Christ." It's not that positions and stands are to be insulted or discouraged, but an openness...really a freshness of vision for each day and situation. "What insight might I gain by this interaction? What blind spot is this situation challenging me on? What discovery lies ahead in this otherwise monotonously routine day? What's the real, root issue at play in this situation that may not be apparent by the presentation of symptoms?"

What allegiances are coloring your lenses? What spectrum bandwidth are you isolated to?

*this is an ode to the loss of Indigo from the spectrum listing. R.I.P. O great Roy G Biv...

Tension: A Parable from the Strings

If anyone out there plays a string instrument, you know about tension in the musical sense.
On a guitar of 6 strings, each string is specially crafted to unique specifications, made to endure a certain amount of tension when stretched across the neck of the guitar. 1) The strings normally stretch from the head--where they can be tuned--to the bridge, where they connect to the body of the guitar. 2) As long as each string keeps within the confines of its specified tension-zone, in other words, as long as it doesn't pass its own tension-barrier, the string will not break from overstretching. 3) If the strings don't have enough tension, however, there is no sound, no voice, no music. 4) Each string is made to work together with the tensions of its 5 sister strings. If you buy a pack of strings of one tension-family, let's say, and then one string breaks, and you try to replace it with a string from another tension-family, there are a few possible problems that may result. One is that the one new string, no matter how hard you try, will always be just slightly out of tune with the other 5 strings. One other long-term problem is that, if the tensions are too different, it could result in the slow distortion of the shape of the neck of the guitar. 5) If you leave any less than 6 strings--but more than none--on the neck at the proper tension for a prolonged period of time, let's say a few months, there is also the possibility of long-term damage to the neck.

Let's now look at this as a parable.
1) The head of the guitar is the Lord, the Head to which we are all connected, and the place where we can all be tuned. The neck and the strings and the body are a small community, connected to the Head. Let's consider the 6 strings as representative of 6 relationships of 6 people in this community.

2) If our relationship with the Head consists all of our effort and morality and stress, we soon break under the tension and cease to do what we were made for, making music--for a time.

3) If we are too loose and don't cling to the Head, if we don't hold fast to Him, we are limp, dead weight. And we cannot make music. We are not in a place of tight relationship with the Head.

4) Each person has a relationship with the Head and with each other. These relationships are not mutually exclusive. If I am out of relationship with the Head, I am out of tune with the others. If I'm out of tune with the others, then we are not as harmonious, melodious, loving, sacrificing, or whatever, as we were designed to be when we were packaged and placed together.

Moreover, being out of sync long-term may cause serious distortion, which may then require a long recovery period.

5) If one member of our community is missing, out of play for some time, or relationally absent, then we may all suffer.

08 January 2009

Tension: The Sexual Kind

I recently read a short booklet on the topic of sexual purity written by Marc Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church. As I am curious to see how Google's AdSense technology will handle this titillating topic, I'd like to present a short review. If you want to read the booklet for yourself, you may do so here. I am simply too puritanical (or is it victorian?) to use certain charged words in my post, so I will employ the euphemisms Philosophy and Math - difficult subjects with which men throughout the ages have obsessed, and godly men have often struggled. If you haven't guessed what Philosophy and Math refer to, please talk to your parents after school.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that Mars Hill appears to be one of those newfangled "emergent" churches that the kids are so crazy about these days (though it should be noted that Driscoll rejects this label). A lot of folks would probably characterize the church as theologically conservative and culturally liberal. Defining the term "emergent" is like trying to nail jell-o to the wall, so I have no idea whether everything coming out of Mars Hill is spiritually reliable or not. All I can tell you is that this booklet was drenched in Scripture and nothing screamed "heresy!"

In the first three chapters, Driscoll outlines God's view of human sexuality and provides a lot of examples where the idolatry and disobedience of God's people was either related to sexual immorality, or described euphemistically in sexual terms (God gets especially cheeky in Ezekiel 23... it's enough to make the whole Bible Belt blush). I think his conclusions are spot on:
However, throughout history men have been prone to obey the letter of the law on these matters, while violating the spirit. The spirit of these scriptures forbidding sinful sexual practices includes the sins of the mind where men amass a harem rivaling Solomon's but only in their imaginations.
* * *
[S]exual sins are not "out there" in the media, strip club, or gal with low-rise jeans and hi-rise thong. Truly, the problem is "in you." It is from the sinfulness of your heart that lust and sin proceed like sewage from a culvert. This is the painful, unvarnished truth.
In Chapter 4, Driscoll addresses the sinfulness of Philosophy and notes that the Philosopher degrades not only himself but the object of his study. There's a thought-provoking story about a young woman who was abused as a child and grew up thinking she was so filthy that she actively took part in her own degradation, even becoming a Philosophy Star. It wasn't until Jesus pulled her from the muck and mire that she understood her worth in Christ. The author wonders at the men in his church who rent Philosophy videos - possibly her own - and then stand next to her in worship oblivious to her tragic past.

Driscoll transitions to a discussion of Philosophy's endgame in Chapter 5, i.e., Math. There's a lot of scriptural support for his Mathematical warning, and he ends with a rather racy Q&A. I liked Chapter 6 because Discoll didn't just focus on the DONT'S of purity, but rather set the DONT'S against the DO'S. Christian men are the glory of God, and salvation has freed them from bondage to Philosophy and Math so that they can demonstrate this glory to mankind. The author quotes from a Greek philosopher (an actual philosopher, not a "Philosopher Star") who reported as follows on the sexual purity of the first-century Church:
They do not commit adultery or immorality... Their wives, O king, are as pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest. Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hopes of recompense that is to come in another world.
Chapter 7 contains another racy Q&A, while Chapter 8 references a transcript of James Dobson's interview with Ted Bundy hours before Bundy's execution. Bundy grew up in a Christian home with godly parents and allegedly went from exposure to softcore Philosophy to serial killing in a relatively short lifespan. Slippery slope indeed. Driscoll ends this final chapter as follows:
In closing, sin leads to death. Jesus died for your sins. You are in a war. Be a man. Put your sin to death.
The booklet also contains several appendices which address prostitution and sex slavery, the purpose of which is to remind the reader that our sin grievously affects others.

I don't think there's anything new or surprising in this booklet for the somewhat mature believer.  I certainly don't want to harp on sexual purity to the exclusion of all else - and trust me, I've been in soul draining Bible studies and accountability relationships obsessed almost exclusively with this topic (in fact I think I led such a study at one point) - but it's still good to be reminded of these truths from time to time.

07 January 2009

Tension: A Cornucopia

hyperTENSION: thanks to genetics, i’m one of millions of americans who suffer from hypertension, or as it’s commonly referred to, high blood pressure. that was quite a sobering truth i realized a couple years ago as a 27 year old, rather healthy and active individual. moderately speaking, it doesn’t seem to matter what i do or try to change (diet, exercise, etc.), i will most likely be on medication for the rest of my life. funny how even though we choose most our own paths, some are already chosen for us.

TENSION headache: according to research, over 10 million people a year visit a doctor or emergency room because if headaches. tension headaches are the most common form. several factors causing these annoying little pains are: stress, sleep deprivation, bad posture, irregular meal time, eyestrain, and caffeine withdrawal. it’s funny how we all get these headaches, but it seems that we bring them upon ourselves (see common symptoms above). so, why do we treat our bodies the way we do? do we sometimes feel indestructible? are we lazy? are we up too late at night reading this blog or watching home improvement reruns? are we hunched over our desks all day at work, causing our spine to resemble a question mark? have we allowed our lives to become too busy, consumed, that we have lost the ability to unwind and de-stress?

TENSION (physics): please bear with me…i know i just wrote the word physics, but i promise no quadratic formulas or having to solve for X involved here. tension as it applies to physics is simple: it’s the pulling of an object. in the world of architecture and engineering, tension is a fairly common term. (so are the phrases reTENSION pond and deTENSION pond, but we won’t get into those two, because i still don’t know the difference.) basically, tension is necessary to hold structures together. Without tension, there is no bond.

so, i’ve established several different uses, emotions and forces invoked from the single word, tension, but what does all this mean? i’m sure you’re asking yourself why did i just ramble on for the past 3 paragraphs…i promise i have a point… at least i think i do. allow tension to be the input and resolution to be the outcome. tension can cause pain and turmoil when not addressed correctly…but it can also be the glue that holds us all together. tension in our lives is inevitable…it’s present amongst friendships, work associates, social issues, monetary concerns, it's everywhere. tension keeps us stressed, but it also keeps us going. tension takes us to a jumping point..

06 January 2009

Tension: Latent Hostility

I wonder sometimes what agape looks like. What would unity within diversity look and feel like. For the most part it seems that we are more willing to accept various degrees of tension, underlying / latent hostility or frustration, and somehow justify our feelings, and assume that we live relatively loving lives. Relative to what though?

If we are commanded to love each other...and if the Creator of the Universe deems that possible... how do we accomplish this? Have we? 

Maybe in this instance dependence is maturity. Maybe it is impossible for us to do this on our own. Maybe it is more a matter of surrender than discipline. Maybe it will require a position of rest, not having a full view of the future or what wrongs we will endure...we simply rest in the knowledge that He is alive and working in us to will and to act according to His purpose, to His essence: Love.

Maybe it is possible, and we just haven't experienced it yet...

Tension: Or How I’d Rather Write about Distension

Tension doesn’t worry me.

Distension worries me gravely.

Distension is the "expansion or swelling up from within", which is the opposite of the external, pulling forces that are the source of tension. Ever heard of a “distended” belly? You know the look. A starving African child with a portruding belly looks solemnly into the camera as the voiceover pleads with you to sponsor a child – "before it’s too late". That is the picture of distension.

Thinking about those children, I am reminded of our own distended lives. We live an existence that is bursting at the seams, mainly due to pressure from within. We are quick to blame exterior forces for all of our ills, but they are only clever scapegoats.

The truth remains that we are becoming distended due to our own collective will. We are cultural multi-taskers, drive-thru addicts, and Crackberry fiends. We are also temporal cause-junkies, whether the flavor of the day is an election or climate change, Tibet or Darfur. We are evolving into a state of constant awareness, a state that often finds us so “aware” of everything that we are unable to properly focus on (or actually accomplish) anything.

Somewhat illogically, our lives become distended not because they are too full. Rather, our distension stems from the fact that all of our cause-chasing and facebooking, all of our pretending to be important or appear impactful, leaves our lives empty and devoid of real substance.

(In looking for the “right” picture of a distended belly, I ran across a devastating display of photographs of starving children. Just Google “starving child Africa” and click on images. I cannot sit back and accept such horrors… My next web stop was the site of the WFP. It is a good day to fill someone else’s cup.)

05 January 2009

Tension: Integrative Thinking

Being able to hold opposing ideas in the mind simultaneously is a skill to be practiced. However, I am convinced that this mental tension results in better ideas. While it is easy to settle (especially with our Western mindset) for a simple "black or white" choice, I have great respect for the visionaries who are able to see out beyond the current idea horizon. These rare individuals are able to generate altogether better option "C's" to help us solve previously difficult problems.

Many great leaders possess this skill. I tend to agree with Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School at the University of Toronto, that this "integrative thinking" is a skill that can be honed. When faced with a problem we need to resist the urge to be defensive. This is difficult as the Socratic Method of which many of us are subconscious products is essentially a debate of ideas (with an implied winner and loser). Instead, ask questions like:

Are there causal relationships I am missing?
Are all the options truly mutually exclusive?
Are there pieces of each option that can be salvaged as part of another idea?
What are the trade-offs of the alternatives?

Can we move beyond the expected to create novel solutions to problems both small and great?

"Whenever you face a decision between two options, don’t think that your job is to choose; think that your job is to create a better option. " –Roger Martin

Tension: delight in the paradoxes, go for the 3 points

I despise relational tension - that fog-like awkwardness that consumes a room when two or more people have unresolved stuff. It's like walking into a room of people and seeing an ex-whatever and suddenly the entire social scene becomes a funky dance of avoidance. Workplaces can become the set for novella-quality soap operas when this is permitted to advance unmitigated.

Religious, philosophical, theological, personal and truth (epistemological) tension, however, is fantastic. I get stoked when I see someone tied up looking at 2, 3 or 16 things that don't seem to fit together the way they had expected. Tension! Yay! Why? Not because i have some social variety of latent maniacal tendencies, but because I believe God designed the world and reveals Himself in a series of intentional paradoxes. The God of the universe seems to delight in mystery plays and enigmatic truths that are so simple that they confound the most intellectual of people.

The hazard of tension (and subsequent reason why so many people loathe unresolved tension) is the outcome possibilities and probabilities. In tension, a number of outcome categories exist:

(1) Breakage. The rubber band snaps, ricocheting fragments around the room and creating shrapnel injury to bystanders. Bang! Ouch! This can mean torn families, warring nations, split church communities, schisms resulting in adversarial denominations and a host of other ills.

(2) Stretching. Sustained tension often times reveals the elastic potential of an object. As the poles suspending an object refuse to surrender, the object begins to elongate and discover new frontiers of being formerly thought impossible. Realizing that 2 passages of Scripture are unavoidably clear and yet creating friction with my world view can require me to go back to the drawing board of what I've assumed to be true about something if I'm not willing to discard Scripture.

(3) Stalemate Neutrality. If an object is not elastic but also unrelenting under the pressure, an object just remains in a stalemate of tension. It's awkward, embarrassing and can seem pointless - but it's honest. There are these 2 points, I can't let go of either but can seem to stretch any further so I'm stuck. It's one of the most honest places to be.

I love tension because it forces an impasse of response. You can let go of whatever is creating opposing tension (this is how you get well-intentioned but myopic theology, platforms and mobs). You can let the tension of the poles paralyze you. Or, you can go for the 3 point field goal and seek after how to balance the paradox and exist in unifying harmony.

Then tension advances further and you begin thinking about triangulation. It's like a principle GPS schematic - if Truth A, Truth B, and Truth C are all Truths, then where does that place me without violating one of them? It's reverse-engineering your location or the necessary "resolution" of tension points.

A great sadness i have is the life missed and harmed by a mass avoidance of tension. Rather than address a lifestyle (overspending, lethargic non-contribution, anger, x-aholic tirades, etc.) contradiction to professed worldview, we move fast enough to try and not face the tension crying out. We "don't like to think about those things because it makes my mind hurt" and so claim simplicity when really allowing our sailboat to be cast about by the winds of haphazardly formed theology, worldviews and sentiment in our sails. We realize it might be sketchy to really face the goalposts and kick between those 2 points so we punt and hope to land on our feet next quarter.

God is love and yet unapologetically holy, just, righteous and prone to wrath against the rebellion of man. We are brilliant, imageo dei, have dominion over Creation...yet fragile, selfish, ruthless and despicable. We profess love of God and people but are outdone by pagans, desire to know more about God but live in a 20:1 ratio of media:holiness pursuits. Our life is a paradox, Creation is a Paradox...Tension is the sandbox of discovery. If, of course, we are really ready to discover the answers. Sometimes the light is more piercing than the darkness and we quietly retreat back into the shadows and hit the snooze button a few more times.

04 January 2009

Resolution: A little Less Pessimism

As an adolescent in a sea of Matts and Matthews (and even the occasional Mateo), it became necessary to choose a nickname in order to cleave out some semblance of personhood. As my friends and I were studying Koine Greek at the time - and were apparently oblivious to the nerdiness of it all - we chose Greek names. I became Cairo, the aural analogue of the Greek word for "joyful." And it's been downhill ever since.

I'm not exactly sure when I became a perennial pessimist, but "joyful" has always been more of a goal than a reality. I have never had difficulty accepting the total depravity of man - what amazes me is that there's anything worth redeeming there in the first place. If I were the Almighty, I would have bathed the globe in fire and been done with it a long time ago. I'm pretty much the photo-negative of Joel Osteen, given my firm belief in the poverty gospel and the power of negative thinking. I tend to see the worst in people, probably because I've seen what people are capable of, even those who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

The current financial crisis has been particularly instructive as the detritus from years of orgiastic greed and whorish materialism has finally begun to float to the top of our corrupt financial system. The whole country was caught up in giant housing Ponzi scheme, and even Christians were lusting after their granite countertop idols. And now it's all come crashing down. Hallelujah.

Pessimism is pretty comfortable actually, as it tends to insulate you from disappointment and make the pain in your life, if not absent, at least unsurprising. The problem with this comfort is that God calls us to be joyful, and even lists "joy" as one of the fruits of the Spirit which should characterize a Christian in Galatians 5:22-23. And so I resolve to be a little less pessimistic this year (outright joy will have to wait until 2010).

A great place to start might be a reading of Ecclesiastes. Solomon had some serious joy problems, and spent much of his life in the elusive pursuit of lasting joy, proving that even the very wise can be manic depressive (Yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory... had prozac). After experiencing everything under the sun, the Teacher concludes:
"fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Focusing exclusively on the brokenness of the world - the sin, the violence, the injustice - leads to despair. I once thought that optimists were simply naive, that they hadn't yet received a proper introduction to the ways of the world, or perhaps had chosen to simply overlook the brokenness. But it's possible to observe the brokenness and remain optimistic about God's plan for it all. I think my pessimism is deeply rooted in a sense of helplessness: the wicked prosper, the righteous are oppressed, the world is broken, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

But in the end, He will bring every act to judgement (even those I wasn't aware of). That is an incredibly comforting thought. This promise of ultimate justice really frees us to spend less time obsessing over the ways sinful men destroy the world and more time looking for ways redeemed men may bless it. I regret that I've emphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Though it shocks me to write it, I'm actually somewhat optimistic about God's plans for me in 2009. I eagerly anticipate the new relationships God will give me, the opportunities for spiritual conversations at work, and even a mission of sorts that He's recently laid on my heart. I'll still probably read a lot about the economic collapse, the failure of global capitalism, and the fall of Western civilization, but I'll do so with a little less pessimism.

Resolution: To will the ONE thing

From the beginning of Soren Kierkegard's classic "Purity of Heart Is to Will the One Thing":

"Father in heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing."

I resolve to will the one thing (with foreknowledge that I will most certainly and consistently fail). Loving the LORD daily with all one's heart, all one's soul, and with all one's might is a monumental task. Rabbi Yeshua's further admonition to love my neighbor as myself adds a relational component to the challenge. May He grant us grace as we daily practice willing the one thing.

03 January 2009

Resolution: Failure is an Opportunity to Hear His Voice

Well, what the word "resolution" brought to my mind was 1) how quickly I make them 2) how quickly I break them.

I am also reminded of an experience I had just about 2 weeks ago. I was having one of my many frustrated conversations with our Lord through the medium of singing and playing the guitar--mostly because I find it difficult to speak openly and honestly other ways. And I was telling Him, "Lord, so many people live a great portion of their lives on this earth as Your children, and yet they only live with half, or at least less than the whole, of their hearts. I don't want to live like that. If my life is going to be like that, Lord, than just kill me now and take me up, because anything less is just a waste of Your time."

Then, I just felt like the appropriate response was to shave my head. I can't tell you exactly why. Sometimes people shave their heads to signify vows they've taken. This wasn't exactly a vow. It wasn't even really a clearly defined resolution. It was just a desire that I was expressing, and maybe this was the way to mark the occasion.

Well, I took my electric razor with me into the bathroom and began to shave my head. The only thing was, half-way through the process my razor ran out of electricity. Plus, I had to go meet somebody for lunch just a half an hour from the time my razor spazzed out on me. So, I left the job half done, put on a beanie, and went to go meet my friend. I left the beanie on all day.

The next morning, I got up and spent some time talking with the Lord.
"Mark, why won't you take off your beanie when you go outside?" He said.
"Because I'll look like an idiot. People will laugh at me," I replied.
"What if you'd shaved your whole head? Would you be afraid to take off the beanie then?"
"No," I said.
"Well, why not?"
"Because, even though it'd draw attention and look a bit strange--as most people with shaved heads here in this country are criminals--it wouldn't be as strange as a half-shaved head. If I finished the job, at least people would recognize I have made a total committment to a completely shaved head. People would see me only as a bit strange, not as a fool."

And then I remembered what He said in Luke:
"If any one of you wants to build a house, won't he first consider all the materials he needs and see whether he has everything necessary to finish it? Otherwise, he'll start building and have to stop before he's finished. Then, people will say, 'Look! This man started to build a house but isn't able to finish it!'"

I recharged my electric razor and finished the job I'd started.

Sometimes, however well intentioned we may be, we can make resolutions too hastily and end up failing to live up to them, which can bring embarassment, discouragement and even sometimes a sense of self-loathing. But, thank the Name that He sees our resolutions in light of the truth, and when we don't follow through He takes advantage of the opportunity to speak to us and teach us. Peter said he'd follow Him unto death, and in fact all the students said the same thing. And what happened? Peter denied Him three times and all the others forsook Him and fled. But, actually, the Lord knew the truth of the situation--Peter and the students' weakness. And what was His response? A loving reacceptance, an overlooking of the failure to keep one's word, and new strength through His Spirit for the future.
"He is mindful that we are but dust." -Psalm 103