Posts Tagged ‘culture’

July Books

With getting more situated and settled at our new home and the rest, I have been able to return a bit to my reading.  I am thankful for that.  Here are my brief thoughts (not necessarily a full-blown review) on the books that I completed reading during the month of July.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  Much like Hosseini’s previous book The Kite Runner, this book takes place in Afghanistan.  This alone is a great reason to read these books, as they can give more understanding into the land in which so many of our soldiers continue to fight against the Taliban and radical Muslims.  Of course, these books would not be as popular or worth the reading if the literary elements were not up to par.  In that regard, I very much enjoyed the story and the author’s construction of the plot, characters, and timing.  There were several times I was absolutely captured by one of his descriptions of an event or feeling, most often when he employed the use of metaphor.  The final reason I found this book worthwhile reading stems from my reflection on the religion of Islam, particularly in comparison with Christianity.    I do not know the author’s intent in this regard, though the book seemed to draw a large distinction between radical Islam (especially as practiced by the Taliban) and Islam in general.  Whether there is an apologetic in play or not, I still walked away from the book thankful that the Lord (Yahweh) is merciful and His mercy is displayed through the life & death of Jesus Christ.  This is in stark contrast to Allah who is said to be merciful, but there is no guarantee of that mercy – even if you are faithful in practicing the five pillars of Islam.  In this regard, the radical and the moderate muslim are in the same boat – without assurance of mercy or pardon.  Again, this was more my reflection, rather than something overtly present the book.  For the two previous reason, I would recommend the book, though it takes place in the real fallen world and some elements of plot and character reflect that.

Cult of the AmateurHow blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values by Andrew Keen:  I picked this book up while browsing at the library and decided early on that I would either not actually read it or liked it.  Well, I did read it and liked it to a degree.  The great majority of the book is dedicated to illustrationg how the Web 2.0 is changing our culture and our institutions (e.g. newspapers, reliable news outlets, the arts) and not for the better.  What surprised me was how strongly Keen advocated for values that have seemingly been chucked out the window in our so-called “post-Christian” culture.  Keen spoke of the devaluing of truth and basic morality (such as the idea that stealing is wrong, still) and showed how those values have been disregarded or ignored in our brave new world.  Keen is convincing to a degree, though he never provides a convincing apologetic for how things were in the past or for thsoe values that have been lost.  My major disappointment with the book was with the pittance of recommendations on alternatives or ways to use what we have and improve upon it.  Keen spends a woefully small and last chapter on this topic.  In that way, the book felt like one big complaint with exhibits A-Z.  That said, it was interesting and possibly a cautionary work.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan:  I listened to the audiobook version of this book (compliments of during my commute (all of ten minutes or so) and found much worth thinking upon and much that challenged and/or encouraged.  I appreciated that the audiobook was read by the author – there are any number of audiobooks that I have not listened too because I did not like the voice of the reader.  That was not the case here and it made me confident that the reader’s inflection fit with the author’s intentions – since they are the same.  I think the strength of this book is in the first three chapters where Chan describes who God is and how we tend to relate to Him in the wrong ways or on the wrong plane.  What was lacking for me (a result of listening rather than reading?) was a clear outline or structure to the whole book.  Of course, that may very well be intentional, as the book felt a little like stream of consciousness.  Could also be the result of listening in chunks.  After the first three chapters, Chan spends most of the rest of the book challenging luke-warm Christianity.  Hopefully, Chan was not just preaching to the choir, but reaching some of the scores of cultural Christians that fill our churches.  That is not to say that I wasn’t challenged or that true believers wouldn’t be, but I would hope that the message of the luke warm would reach the luke warm.  I think it should also be noted that Chan was not legalistic, rather presented the love and  grace of God in the Gospel.  Overall, a very good book and my issues may be more related to the context of my reading/listening, rather than the book itself.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly:  It had been a while since I had read a Bosch detective book by Connelly.  As usual, I found this book to be engaging and entertaining.  At the same time, it didn’t really cause me to reflect upon anything more deeply either (Connelly’s books have in the past).  That said, I did enjoy this one just on the basis of it being a good detective story.

The End of Christian America?

Newsweek writes on this topic.  I have some gut level thoughts about the topic in general, but I will hold onto those for the time being.

Google Zeitgeist 2008

+1 to Google for using the word zeitgeist

Go here to see Google’s 2008 Year-End Zeitgeist – basicaly the most popular searches for 2008.  The link will take you to the page for the US, though it is interesting to look at what’s been popular around the world.

October Books

As of writing, I need to complete seven more books to reach my goal for completing 52 books this year.  Here are the books that I completed reading during the month of October.

  • What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
  • When gods Die by C.S. Harris:  These are the first and second books in a new series of a mystery series centering around Sebastian St. Cyr.  These books are set during the Regency period of England and so have an interesting historical/societal/political element that helps to frame the mysteries.  These are well-told stories and each book asks a philosophical question in the midst – these questions from the title of each book.
  • Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Brashears:  Excellent book that seeks to answer twelve critical questions about Jesus.  The book follows Driscoll style that sometimes offends but I think he uses his wit and cutting edge effectively to communicate the Biblical teaching about Jesus and His importance to those who trust Him for salvation.  This would be a very good resource for helping someone who is wrestling with various questions regarding Christ including the Virgin Birth and His Resurrection.
  • Half-Life/Die Already by Mark Steele:  I really liked this book.  I cannot remember where I had heard about it, but I started reading it during a trip to Barnes & Noble.  I ended up spending most of time there sitting in a big comfy chair reading this book…I decided I ought to buy it.  This is a laugh-out-loud memoir of a couple of years of his life that really helped me think through some of my frustrations and wrestle with my jaundiced perspective.  Steele is a Christian and writes as one, but the book is not didactic in nature.  I hope to read Steele’s first book, Flashbang, soon – I found it the used bookstore!
  • Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis:  Great book that really challenged me in several areas about the way I think about church and how church is done.  While I didn’t agree with everything or some thoughts gave me pause, I found the authors to be incredibly humble, Gospel-centered, and biblical.  The subtitle of this book is “A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community”.  After arguing for both from Scripture, Chester and Timmis show how these apply to various areas of ministry and practices of the church.  Very helpful and persuasive and I am inclined to believe that when we miss on one area (gospel or community) we will miss out on the fullness of both – ultimately they are intertwined.  Just found this (Audio/Video from a Total Church Conference), but have no idea when I might be able to listen to some of it.
  • Watchman by Ian Rankin:  I started reading Rankin a few years ago with the Inspector Rebus series books, which tend to be dark in content and feel.  This is a stand alone book, was actually Rankin’s second book to write and this is the American publication of that work.  The writing is not as strong as Rankin’s other works, I think partially due to his attempting to build suspense.  Watchman is essentially a spy novel but the main character is more of an everyday spy than a Jason Bourne type.  Anyway, decent and entertaining read.

Thou Shalt Text?

This blog post is prompted by an article in my local paper last Saturday, though the story originated in St. Louis and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Tim Townsend writes about a new practice that has cropped up in a few churches and in particular this church (Morning Star Church) is profiled.  Unfortunately, I could not find an online version of the article to link to…

So, what is this new practice?  Text messaging questions to the pastor while the pastor is preaching.  In the case of Morning Star, text messages are sent to the worship director who screens them and then sends some to a computer near the pastor.  He then decides what and how to answer the questions.  Here is a snippet from the article:

Mid-sermon texting is a way for pastors to engage their flocks with technology many of them – especially those under 30 – are using every day.  ‘Lot’s of people say this is cool or edgy, but that’s not what it’s about for us,’ Schreinder said [he’s the Senior Pastor at Morning Star].  ‘It’s really about staying true to our mission to meet people where they are.’

I must confess that this raises some issues in my mind, though I am by no means certain about everything that I am thinking in response to this.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Preaching is different from teaching.  Both are communication, but preaching is proclamation of God’s Word.  I believe that we should distinguish between preaching and teaching in the church.  That is not to say that teaching is not an element of preaching, but proclamation must not be lost in the process.  With confidence, faithful preachers can say “thus saith the Lord”.  But for this pastor, he likes moving more towards teaching (“It gives me a little more of a teaching role.  It gets back to Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount, where I picture have a conversation with the people.  With texting, it becomes much more of a dialogue.”).
  • Texting or taking questions from the audience during the preaching event changes the dynamic of communication.  Without disregarding the legitimate questions, as it is impossible to have questions about a given text, we still must let God’s Word be central, rather than our questions.  This practice, I believe, intrudes upon that centrality.
  • Might this practice frustrate those whose questions are not answered?
  • Might this practice, without intending so, subtly encourage people not to continue to wrestle with Scripture on their own?
  • Does this elevate technology over the preaching of God’s Word or at least put them on more equal footing? (I am not against technology or its use in the church; we use sound systems without qualm for example).
  • Personally, the way I preach and think, I am not sure I would be able to respond in the midst of a sermon to a question/text and not lose my focus.  But that’s a personal problem.

These thoughts are not meant to lambast the church or pastor profiled.  Certainly, this is happening in other places and may even become common-place.  The article quotes positively a couple of teenagers and maybe this is the first time they have gotten excited about the sermons.  I am all for people engaging with God’s Word and with the pastor, but is this the right medium for that?  I am inclined to say no.  Any thoughts out there?  Am I merely being reactionary, a Luddite, or without vision?

September Books

September has been a good month for reading, as I completed seven books this month.  This brings me to 37 books completed in 2008 and a little closer to my goal of 52 for the year.  Here are the books I completed reading in September:

  • Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly:  I have been reading Connelly off and on this year and find his series featuring Detective Harry Bosch to be very well written and often thought provoking.  This was a non-Bosch novel and I didn’t find it to be as enjoyable as some of Connelly’s other books – just not up to the usual standard.
  • World Made By Hand by James Kunstler:  I wrote my reflections on this book and The Road here.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Running Scared by Edward Welch:  This was a “blogging the book”/book of the quarter selection, so I have already written extensively on this book throughout this blog.  Great book.
  • Humility:  True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney:  Very good book broken into two main parts.  The first explores the biblical teaching on humility and the danger pride presents to us.  The second part was primarily practical ways that we can cultivate humility in our lives.  This is one of those books that you keep thinking about and will be a good resource both for its teaching and the application.  Thanks Ken.
  • Lost Light by Michael Connelly:  this was a Detective Harry Bosch novel and was more like what I expect from Connelly.
  • The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller:  This is one of the best books I have read in quite awhile.  I read this over the course of several months as we have used it as a basis of discussion in our community group.  Keller provides both an apologetic for Christianity, but also models a winsome approach to apologetics.  The first part of this book addresses common objectives against Christianity and in the second part Keller argues for Christianity.  Well worth reading, regardless of faith background or commitment.

Pop Music: Where bad poetry & bad theology collide

Case #1:  Natasha Bedingfield’s lastest hit single:  “A Pocket Full of Sunshine” – You don’t really have to watch the video, but here it is:

Here are some lyrics:

I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine
I got a love and I know that it’s all mine, oh, oh oh oh
Wish that you could but you ain’t gonna own me
Do anything you can to control me, oh, oh no

Take me away, a secret place
A sweet escape, take me away
Take me away to better days
Take me away, a hiding place

There’s a place that I go that nobody knows
Where the rivers flow and I call it home
And there’s no more lies in the darkness there’s light

Sound a little like a humanistic view of heaven, right?  And it’s certainly understandable to long for another place, given the falleness of this world.  I am reminded of this quotation from C.S. Lewis:  “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity).  But here’s where the lyrics are just bad poetry and bad theology (beyond what is already bad):

And nobody cries, there’s only butterflies

Only butterflies!    Wow, that’s just bad on all levels.  This is the problem with art that has the end of consumerism in mind, as opposed to making good art.  The songwriters needed a word that rhymed with cries and apparently butterflies was all they could come up with.  Thus, giving us a picture of some distant place away from the world where we can be taken to where there are only butterflies.  Look, I like butterflies as much as the next guy, but that’s not what I want to see in heaven or anywhere else.  And by the way, who takes you to this place?  Who takes you away to this “sweet escape.”  If we can’t get there ourselves, then Who?

A few early Olympics reflections

Like many of you, I have enjoyed watching some of the olympics, most especially the swimming competitions at this point.  Here are a few random thoughts/reflections

  • Last night’s 4 x 100 relay had to be one of the most exciting 3+ minutes of sporting competition that I have seen in some time.  Incredible finish!
  • Question:  Why is it necessary to have a group hug after every point scored in volleyball?
  • I notice a trend back to the early olympics tradition of not wearing any clothes while competing.
  • Early contender for best name:  Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon from Thailand who won a gold medal in women’s weightlifting, a “sport” I fail to understand.  Can you imagine filling out the scantron form with that name.

Nothing wrong with that?

Maybe you’ve seen this commercial from Discover – I actually laughed the first time I saw it.  While there is nothing wrong with a company promoting their product and services, the message at the center of this commercial really jumped out at me.  It starts out:  “We’re a nation of consumers…and there’s nothing wrong with that.”  And then were told the real problem is that we don’t have enough space to put all of our cool stuff! And that they can help.

So, here again, we are taught again that we deserve stuff, that life is found in the fulfillment of our wants, and that it is better to receive than give.  No, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Reflections on The Dark Knight

I had an opportunity to see the most popular film of the summer movie season last night with a few friends, The Dark Knight.  Here are a few of my reflections, none earth-shattering.  There aren’t any real spoilers here, but feel free to come back after you’ve seen the movie.  Also, a reminder:  I do not make movie recommendations, only reflections (use your own discernment in consumption of media).

  • The movie is long and intense, though not long-feeling.  Without looking at the time, at one point I thought we were at the end, when in reality there was another hour or so.
  • The special effects and action sequences were very good and served the story-telling, rather than being the whole of the story (like so many movies this day).  We often marvel at special effects, when really we are being short-changed on so many other cinematic fronts.  Less is more (this applies to gore and suspense, as well).
  • The movie was not very comic-book esque, though based on comic books.  In some ways, this makes the movie feel more real and thus effective in drawing us into the movie.
  • The Dark Knight is, well, dark.  Yet, the feel of darkness is not artificially achieved by cinematic techniques.  I think about Batman (1989) and how everything takes place at night and the city is always dark and dingy.  In this version, I appreciated that there was a lot of daylight and many scenes that took place during the day.  This made the real darkness, that which resides in the heart of man, more real and more effective.  Another comparison here might be No Country for Old Men with its almost sepia tone.
  • Though the movie was dark, I did not walk away feeling hollow like I did after watching No Country for Old Me or There Will Be Blood.  There are similarities here for sure, but there was something else at work (heroism? – even if it is conflicted)
  • The dialogue was extremely tight and well written/performed.  I can’t think of any seriously cheesy lines!
  • There were a few places where the dialogue was hard to hear over the score.  I don’t know if this is an individual theater issue or a sound editing issue (No Oscar for you!).
  • I can understand why much has been made about Heath Ledger and his performance – it is hard not seeing him win the Oscar posthumously.  All of the acting performances were well done, but his stands out.
  • More specifically on the Joker, I thought there was something interesting that happened with his character.  Spoiler Alert:  In two different scenes he tells how he got his scars, but the story was different each time.  After hearing the first, it is possible to have some sympathy for the Joker, but after the second, any sympathy is removed and it is hard to know the truth (it may be neither, I don’t know if this is explained in the comic books or not).  The point is:  that is incredibly effective movie-making.  I felt something and then had that yanked away.  Also, it possibly points us to the debate between nature & nurture.
  • A few reflections from a Christian worldview:
    • The movie is accurate: darkness and evil are real and it resides in the hearts of men.
    • A hero is needed in this world, but one that incorruptible (Dent/Two-Face illustrates this).  In this way, we can see Jesus as the ultimate hero.  Jesus also stands in contrast because he is “the light of the world”.
    • Character, integrity, honor all matter and we celebrate these things when we see them.
    • I appreciated the current of hope, even in bleak times, that runs through the movie.  This theme is even the ending point of the movie.  This is a biblical current.
    • Negatively, there possibly a worldview of humanism present – that man is good and can do the right thing (e.g. the ferry dilemna).  While man can do good and the right thing, the God of all grace and good can easily be removed from the picture.  This may be unfair criticism – I will have to think some more on this.

What did you think of this movie?

You might also read this review of the movie from Christianity Today.

Quick Hitter: Advertising & Children

There was a new segment on the nightly news tonight that grabbed my attention, even though it told me things I already knew.  The same information can be read here, but this tells you all you need to know (from the article):

Food and beverage companies spent $1.6 billion in 2006 on advertising aimed at children, a study released Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission found, often combining ploys from TV to toys to the Internet to push kids to plead “Please Mom, buy me that! Please! Please!”

Here are the two things I already knew: 1)that advertisers spend that much targeting our children and 2)it works. How you ask? I have two children. We hear from them all the time about the things they see and want.  Of course, we should we remember that we are the parents and the “buck” should stop with us.

One more thing:  I got tired of hearing our children constantly saying “I want that” after seeing a commercial for a new toy or gadget geared towards kids (blendy pens, moon sand, etc…).  So, we made a rule…the kids cannot say “I want that”; they have to say “I like that”.  We still hear that a lot, but you wouldn’t believe how different it sounds.  It also means that we aren’t constantly saying “sorry, you can’t have that” or words to that effect.

Mondegreen: misheard song lyrics

Mondegreen is a new entry in Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.   Below is a description of mondegreen from an AP article.  You can read the whole thing here (the article describes a number of the 100 or so new words from our American lexicon that have been added to the dictionary).

And then there’s “mondegreen.” In a category of its own, it describes words mistaken for other words. A mondegreen most often comes from misunderstood phrases or lyrics.

It comes from an old Scottish ballad in which the lyric “laid him on the green” has been confused over time with “Lady Mondegreen.”

Among the best-known modern examples: “There’s a bathroom on the right” in place of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “There’s a bad moon on the rise” and “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” in place of “kiss the sky” in the 1967 Jimi Hendrix classic “Purple Haze.”

Even Sokolowski, a word expert by trade, has a favorite mondegreen: “Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” as sung by the Beatles in 1967, made obvious sense to the preteen Peanuts comic fan as “Lucy in the sky with Linus.”

Merriam-Webster’s editors were so amused by the mondegreen concept that they plan to ask people to submit their favorites on the publishing company’s Web site.”

In honor of this word being officially recognized, I share with you my mondegreens (not quite sure of the plural of mondegreen).

  • From the Flashdance theme song “What a Feeling”:  I heard “take your pants off and make it happen” Actual lyrics:  “take your passion and make it happen”.
  • From Steve Winwood’s song “Higher Love”:  I heard “bake me a pie of love” –  Actual lyrics:  “bring me a higher love.”  Apparently I was completely unaware of the song title or was unmoved by it.

Anybody like to share a mondegreen?

Odds and Ends – 6/28/08

Once again bringing you a few of the odds and ends from around the web:

Read about the success of the University of Georgia’s athletics programs this year (including national championships in Equestrian, Men’s Tennis, and Gymnastics; and a near miss in baseball and great finish in football).

Read Mashable’s 30+ Must have Updated Firefox 3 Extensions.  I am liking the new Firefox 3 so far.

Read about the largest membership decline for the PCUSA in nearly 30 years (say around when the PCA was established).  In unrelated news, read about a retired PCUSA minister officiating a gay wedding in California and read about the recent PCUSA General Assembly changing the Heidelberg Confession.

Read about kids protesting high gas prices after their mother cancels cable.

Read NY Times article on American religious tolerance – no surprise here, although the results among evangelicals/Protestants may be.

Read about a guy named God Lucky Harris arrested near a church selling cocaine.  News agencies have enjoyed this one.