Friday, June 30, 2006


I'm eating up time I should be spending on my thesis right now in order to post on something that I read this morning. Through a rather meandering route of blog surfing (which I won't bother to try to recreate) I ended up reading an article written by a guy named Paul Porter about the recent death of Kyle Lake (a young pastor who was electrocuted while performing a baptism, check out the details here). Go read Porter's article for yourself and make your own determinations, but I feel that I need to say something here, though I'm honestly not sure what.

When I read sentiments like those that Porter expresses I am torn. There is a part of me that wants to be angry. Very, very angry. I want to rip him up, tearing into every single hermeneutical error he commits and laying bare his true intentions for the world to see. I want to make him bleed intellectually, spiritually and (frightening as this is) even physically. Then I take a breath, I reflect on the words of Scripture, and I come to realize that as a follower of Christ I don't get to do these things.

So what's left for me? I suppose that I could write this gentleman a cordial letter of concern, outlining how my opinions differ from his and how I feel that his words might be damaging to the reputation of the Church and Christians everywhere. Unfortunately I have too much experience with these kinds of people. I doubt that my well intended remarks will find a home in the heart of a man so hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of his own personal self-righteousness.

The only thing that I can think to do is say something to everyone else out there, particularly those who do not confess to be Christians. On behalf of the followers of Christ everywhere, I apologize. I am sorry for our cruelty, for our ignorance, for our hatred, for our self-righteousness. I am sorry that we cannot even show love and grace towards each other. I am sorry that, as hard as we try, we continually fail to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel in our actions.

May God forgive us.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ad Nauseam...

I was just checking out an article at Slate (check it out here) about movies that people have watched again and again. None of the films listed there are on my list, but I certainly do have a list. This is one of those things that I think you do or you don't do (watching movies multiple times I mean). I absolutely do this. In some cases I love the story and want to see it again and again. In other cases there may be a particular way that the story is told like the acting or writing or directing. Add to this the fact that I really don't like dead time. Even when I'm cooking or cleaning I prefer to have some kind of background noise on. If I lived in a stand-alone house I might crank up my stereo, but as is I think that might piss my neighbors off unnecessarily. Instead I throw on a movie that I like or, as is far more frequently the case these days, an episode or two of The West Wing (aka The Best Television Program of All Time). I therefore present here, for the first time, my Top Five favorite movies to watch over and over again (find the movie reference in this sentence and win a prize!!).

1. High Fidelity - I have no idea how many times I've seen this movie, but it's a hellofalot! The writing is great, the music is great, it's funny and touching and edgy all at the same time. And if all of this weren't enough...John Cusack ladies and gentlemen!
2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Okay, shut up! This is a great movie and I feel totally justified watching it again and again. Seriously, shut the hell up! Okay fine, the acting is tragically wooden, and Potter fans are the poster children for Nerds Anonymous, but I still love this stuff. The first film in particular is, I think, an excellent translation of Rowling's world onto the big screen. For pure cotton-candy, escape-from-reality fantasy nonsense, you can't beat Potter.
3. The Matrix - This film has the distinction of being both packed full of action and brimming with pop-culture pseudo-philosophy (read here: philosophy without the pain and hassle of actually reading Plato and Aristotle...or, you know, thinking very hard). The Watchowski brothers hit it clear out of the park on the first try, revolutionizing both the special effects industry and the possibilities and potential of ultra-violent action movies as social and political commentary.
4. The Usual Suspects - Best murder-mystery movie ever! The first time I watched this movie I had never heard anything about it. I picked up the one copy that was available at the movie store and watched it in the middle of the night. It almost broke my brain. I still watch it because I like to see the setup for the big plot twist. Plus Kevin Spacey rules.
5. Grosse Pointe Blank - John Cusack takes the top and the bottom of my list. This movie is darkly, deviantly funny. It takes a common Hollywood caricature (the mysterious Hitman) and turns him into an actual person visiting his high-school reunion and feeling angst over the general emptiness of his life. I can't see myself ever getting tired of this one.

And there you have it...five more reasons to believe that I am, indeed, the biggest nerd you've ever met.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Here's another little tidbit from The Name of the Rose (which I am still slowly, but faithfully, reading...what a great book). This scene takes place in the vast library at the monastery, which our heroes Brothers William and Adso (the narrator) are exploring without permission. They wander across a book containing information concerning unicorns in a room whose purpose is to store books containing only falsehood. I mention it here because just last week I remember chatting with some friends at life group (read here "small group," "Bible study," "church group," etc., for those unfamiliar with the term) about the existence of unicorns and I thought they might appreciate this little excerpt from Umberto Eco (on the off chance they end up wandering about here). Without further ado, the excerpt:

"But why have they also put a book with the unicorn among the falsehoods?" I [Adso] asked.
"Obviously the founders of the library had strange ideas. They must have believed that this book which speaks of fantastic animals and beasts living in distant lands was part of the catalogue of falsehoods spread by the infidels...."
"But is the unicorn a falsehood? It's the sweetest of animals and a noble symbol. It stands for Christ, and for chastity; it can be captured only by setting a virgin in the forest, so that the animal, catching her most chaste odor, will go and lay its head in her lap, offering itself as prey to the hunters' snares."
"So it is said, Adso. But many tend to believe that it's a fable, an invention of the pagans."
"What a disappointment," I said. "I would have liked to encounter one, crossing a wood. Otherwise what's the pleasure of crossing a wood?"
(Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose. Translated by William Weaver; New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983: 315).

I love the fact that it isn't seeing the unicorn that gives Adso pleasure in crossing a wood, it is simply the hope of seeing one. Amen to that.


I just want to throw out a big "attaboy" to Mr. Bill Gates, Mrs. Melinda Gates ("attagirl") and Mr. Warren Buffet. I don't know a lot about corporate or personal philanthropy, and I am by no means an expert on charity and relief organizations. I can, however, count to 30 billion (though it might take me a little while). For those of you who haven't been following along thus far, Warren Buffet has just donated $30 billion (yes, with a "b") to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (check it out at the Washington Post,here). The foundation is involved with a great many humanitarian projects throughout the world, including research into AIDS/HIV as well as other incurable diseases that ravage the developing world. As I said above, I don't know a lot about organized charity but I simply can't see how this gargantuan donation can do anything but help. So to Mr. Buffet and Mr. & Mrs. Gates...Damn good job!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Speaking of Superheroes...and Self-Promotion...

Since we're on the subject of superheroes I just thought I'd provide a link to my own moment of pseudo-heroism from last summer (aided of course by my equally heroic sister and wife). Check it out here...and the water wasn't really all that bad (though I kept my mouth shut pretty tight).

On to Serious Matters...

Since my last few posts have been about trivial matters I thought it might be time to offer my thoughts on something a little more important: who is the better superhero, Superman or Batman? Like all of the most important debates in the world this one has been going on for a very long time. There are strongly held opinions on both sides and I know that emotions run deep. I want to ensure my readers that though I offer my opinion on this issue, I realize that it is merely opinion. For those of you who disagree, I hope that my words here do not create an insurmountable obstacle and that we might still engage in discussion on other less sensitive issues like religion and politics.

And now, to business. I will offer five simple reasons why Batman is a preferable superhero to Superman.

1. Superman is too perfect. He's bullet-proof, he can fly, he has super strength and super speed. I don't understand why this guy ever looses any fight. His only weakness is kryptonite, a glowing green extra-terrestrial rock.
2. Which brings us to our second point. If this was your only weakness, wouldn't you pay a little more attention to it? Maybe develop some kind of technology that would detect kryptonite from a distance, like a kryptonite Geiger counter. This leads me to believe that Superman isn't really all that bright. All brawn...
3. But what of Batman you say? Batman's greatest single quality is his incredible will. This simple man, with no supernatural powers at all, trains himself to combat evil. He is powerful because he is driven.
4. Batman is a little nuts. Some people might list this as a negative point, but I think it's one of the most interesting things about him. Bruce Wayne/Batman is, deep down, kind of psycho. Witnessing his parent's death at such a young age and growing up with a perverse guilt that he was responsible for this tragedy has created a dark and fascinating aspect to this hero's personality. At the end of the day I think it's fantastic that as readers it's not always easy for us to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in Batman stories.
5. My fifth and final point is that Bruce Wayne/Batman is brilliant. Yes he's strong, yes he has money, yes he has determination, but it's his brains that usually save him. Where Superman uses his superpowers, Batman uses his head. The moral of the story? Nobody can actually leap tall buildings in a single bound, so stay in school kids.

And there we have it, why Batman is a better superhero than Superman. Again I hope that this does not cause any serious rifts between me and my readers, and I also hope that I do not create painful clashes between family members or longtime friends over this issue. If any of these terrible things do occur, please forgive me but know that on this most vital of issues I felt that it was particularly important that I speak my mind.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Death to the Beast...

On the CBC's news website I came across this article by Rachel Giese about professional celebrity watcher Mario Lavandeira, aka Perez Hilton. You'll note that I haven't provided a link to Lavandeira's celebrity watching blog. If you want to go look around there, sacrificing your higher brain function on the altar of dumbass useless famous person gossip, be my guest, but I'm not willing to be an accomplice in the cold-blooded murder of your mind. This guy's job is actually commenting on the lives of people who are famous. This involves, to quote Giese, "just enough snarkiness to entertain bored cubicle drones and bitter stargazers, but not so much as to question the construction of celebrity itself."

Now, I feel that I can be legitimately condescending to stupidity like this, but the fact of the matter is that this kind of celebrity culture commentary exists because we let it. Lavandeira's website receives as many as 600,000 hits per day. He is clearly providing a commodity that the public wants to consume. Consequently my complaint is not really with him or his website (as incredibly stupid and insipid as it may be) complaint is with all of us who feed the beast from which parasites like Lavandeira in turn receive their sustenance.

I'm not ripping on people who have been captured by the celebrity-gossip monster. I've gotten sucked in by this nonsense myself, and a lot of truly good people who I genuinely like invest serious amounts of their time in the lives of famous people they've never met. Actually that's not really true, we don't invest ourselves in the lives of people we haven't met, we invest ourselves in characters invented by the modern media machine who have little if any resemblance to actual human beings. That being said I would like to make a proposal.

I propose that we stop caring about these virtual people called celebrities and start caring about ourselves and the actual people around us. How you say? Read a book, watch a good movie, learn to cook, buy a dog, go on a date, kiss someone you love, write a novel (even a bad one), go to school, go to Church (or maybe try going to synagogue this week), learn a language, visit a place you've never been (perhaps in the city in which you live), go have a beer with a friend, listen to music, make music, build short, live your own life. I think that if we all start learning to do this more something stunning will happen. We will come to realize that our real lives are actually far more interesting than the virtual lives of "famous people."

And maybe, just maybe, if we're really lucky, the beast and all of its parasitic hangers on will slowly but surely begin to die.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On Nothing At All...

Sorry about the lax blogging lately. It's not that I've been away or busy or anything, I just haven't been inspired to write anything. I actually don't even have anything that I want to say now, but I thought "Hey, maybe I'll go type a post and see what comes out." ....hmmmm.....hmmmmmm.......well, this isn't working out to be nearly as creative and interesting as I thought it might.

Here's something. I was over at Doug's blog the other day (check him out on the sidebar) and ran across a post about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have, over the last little while, begun to appreciate this parable as one of the stranger and more complex parables of the Gospels (though by no means the most...parable of the talents anyone?). We think that the PotGS is know, love your neighbor, show mercy, blah, blah, blah. This is, however, far from the truth. It's really a far more writerly parable than it appears at first glance (writerly=intentionally complicated, i.e. a work written to be deciphered by writers not just Roland Barthes).

The story of the PotGS begins with a scribe asking Jesus about the way to heaven (how's this for a typically human question..."Jesus, how is that I might save mine own ass using religion?") and Jesus' response is that the scribe must love God and his neighbor. "But who is my neighbor?" is the classic cop-out answer. Then comes the parable. We all know the story, so I won't paraphrase. At the end of the parable the Samaritan outsider is the hero of the story and has clearly shown mercy to the injured man. Then Jesus asks, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" (Lk. 10:36 NRSV). The scribe answers that it was "the one who showed him mercy" to which Jesus replies "Go and do likewise" (Lk. 10:37 NRSV).

The simplest, first level response is to read this as a story about being nice to people. But wait...what was the original question again? "Who is my neighbor?" "The one who showed him mercy." Does this mean that we are to love those who show us mercy?

But wait again! "The one who showed him mercy"..."go and do likewise." Does this mean we are to go and show mercy?

But wait again!! The Samaritan is a social, religious and political outsider, the quintessential Other. Does this mean we are to love the one we most want to hate?

I would argue that all of these readings (and perhaps many others) are completely legitimate and equally present in this text. It is far too tempting for us to fall into one-dimensional, simplistic readings of a given story. Though I don't think that the interpretive options for a given text are completely open-ended, which is to say infinite, I would argue that the number of legitimate interpretations is indeterminate. Though there are boundaries that we can set around meaning, boundaries that include syntax, context, semantics (though this one is rather complicated), even psychology, these boundary markers are (I think) set wider than many of us would be comfortable with. What most people, particularly most modernist Christians (both liberals and conservatives), want is a single, authoritative meaning. If you're one of those people I don't know what to tell you. Tough luck. At some point we all need to learn to live in the interpretive, hermeneutical joy of indeterminate meaning.

Or you could simply ignore me completely as the title for this post claims that I am writing about nothing at all.

Friday, June 16, 2006


G.K. Chesterson once said that "the world will not perish due to a lack of wonders, but only due to a lack of wonder." That quote always makes me think of my good friend Derek Selinger (there's a link to his website on the sidebar). Derek is, believe it or not, a professional magician. Jinny and I just checked out his show again tonight and, as always, it was wonder-filled.

I will never forget the first time that I saw Derek do magic. I was a freshman at Canadian Bible College and Derek was working there as the Dean of Men (he was just a hobby magician back then). Derek came in to the dorms one night to hang out and part of the schtick he used to get to know the guys better was to do card tricks. That night he only got part of the way through one trick. The reason for this is because...well it's because I'm kind of a nob. As he was progressing through the trick I piped up (the first words I ever said to the guy mind you) "Hey I know how you're doing that...." This would have been bad enough in and of itself, but I then proceeded to elaborate on precisely how it was that the trick worked. In my defense I didn't really mean to ruin the moment, I was just proud of myself for having worked out the puzzle. Derek looked at me for a second, dropped his cards in his magic case, closed the case up and walked straight out of the room.

The lesson that I learned that day was about politeness. It took me a couple more years and some great conversations with Derek to fully grasp the degree to which my attitude that night towards magic, and to some degree the world in general, was detrimental. I thought, as a great many people do, that magic tricks were puzzles and that knowing how the puzzle operates is the point. Now I realize that I never again want to know how the puzzle works. I don't want the illusion ruined for me because, though I know that the laws of physics dictate that gravity cannot really be defied and objects cannot really appear out of nowhere at all, the tricks themselves aren't what make Derek's art magic.

The magic of what Derek does occurs in the space between action and response, in that mystical domain where logic dares not tread and the imagination dances free-form, playing in between the categories and domains of our minds. This is the place where poetry flows from, where metaphor rules supreme and where the most critically minded person hopes before she doubts. Let me put it another way. This is where your smile comes from.

So, to Derek and Cicilia and all of you everywhere who dance instead of walking and sing instead of talking, thanks.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Just read my first real dose of Jaques Derrida. Ouch. Can't really feel my brain right now. I am happy to say, however, that I understood at least two whole paragraphs, as well as (I think) several disjointed sentences here and there (the article was roughly 15pgs long). For those of you who think that this is a poor showing I invite you to have a go at anything written by this father of deconstruction and postmodern thought. For those of you who have read some Derrida, my post title should give a hint concerning the content of the paragraph that I did understand. My brain is getting more and more nimble, yet paradoxically more and more tired with every passing day. I really need to find the core of this thesis so that I can start writing it soon. Well, on to Ricoeur (whose name I can't even spell right consistently). Cheers all.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Out Into the World...

Still reading The Name of the Rose, which really is a fabulous book. The main characters in the tale are Brothers William and Adso, a wise, insightful monk and his young apprentice (who also narrates the tale). I just finished up a chapter in which William and the abbot of the monastery in which our heroes are investigating a murder have been speaking about the political strife in the surrounding world and the evils taking place in the monastery itself. The chapter closes with a fascinating little exchange between William and Adso.

"Then we are living in a place abandoned by God, " I [Adso] said, disheartened.
"Have you found any places where God would have felt at home?" William asked me, looking down from his great height.
Then he sent me to rest. As I lay on my pallet, I concluded that my father should not have sent me out into the world, which was more complicated than I had thought. I was learning too many things.
(Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose. Translated by William Weaver; New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983: 155).

Adso's reflections resonate with me rather deeply some days. After two years of graduate level theological education I tend to liken my current level of reflection to swimming in very deep water. I feel that I am a strong swimmer, but at some point the only way to test your mettle is with the real thing. This means, of course, that you need to swim in water so deep that it is entirely likely that you might drown. That, I think, is the feeling Adso is communicating with his statement that he is "learning too many things." A person in our cultural milieu might respond that it is impossible to learn too much about anything for learning is an ethically neutral behavior. Adso knows that in reality things are otherwise.

All learning is the product of discourse, which is to say an exchange of thought between acting subjects. As post-structuralist, and in particular ideological, criticism tells us, all discourse is by nature rhetoric as well. There is no disinterested exchange precisely because an exchange requires subjects and subjects (as opposed to objects) cannot be disinterested (at least I don't think they can). When you learn you learn from a person with an agenda or through an experience that helps to shape your agenda. I am not implying that we are blank pages upon which the prejudices of our forbears are written in pristine ink. I would say that as learners we are as interested (that is to say prejudiced) as our teachers. The result of the learning process is an infinitely complex interchange between discourses in which nobody comes out unchanged.

Learning, the pursuit of knowledge, is an ethical activity and of this we must be aware. I'm not sure this awareness will save those of us foolish/brave/arrogant/passionate enough to plunge into waters that are so deep, but then, if we do drown, at least our demise will be our own damn fault. Be cautious, my friends, before venturing out into the world in search of that coveted thing called Truth. You may, like Adso (and me some days), come to the painful realization that you are learning too many things.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mr. Darkside...

I've been a little negative lately (talking about death, calling people idiots, etc.) so let's try something a little out of character...positivity!

Chillin out in Elbow Valley for the next few days. Jin and I are housesitting/babysitting at my uncle's place. How is it that we're babysitting my cousins you ask? Well, my uncle Kel (Mom's brother) is the youngest in his family by a good deal and he got married a fair bit later in his life than my Mom. The result is that his son and daughter are still in grade school. That means that when my aunt and uncle go away, Jin and I get to hang out in their house (read here not "bungalow" but "3000 sq. ft. mansionesque home") and play with the kids. How is that being positive? Well, first of all I'm not being negative, but there's more...

I was just wandering about on other blogs/websites and ran across a post by my friend Erin at her site where she was reflecting on the beauty of nature, the joy of marriage and the grace of God. Very good stuff (though very old as well...for shame Erin, get updating). It made me think of the wonderfully beautiful landscape out here on the edge of Calgary, the amazingly refreshing rain today and the simple joy and grace that can be found in reflecting on God's creation.

So raise a glass of whatever it is you're drinking tonight and offer a silent prayer of thanks for grace, beauty and every opportunity we get to enjoy them both. Blessings.

**bonus points to the first to recognize the veiled pop-culture reference in the title**

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Apathy, Atrophy and the End of the World...

So I was really bored today. I had nothing planned, no work to do, no idea about how to spend my day. The reason for this is that I, like so many other Christians and biblical scholars, thought that the world was going to end yesterday. Come on, the calendar date was 666, how could that not signal the end of the world. So, here's to end of the world apathy...what the hell am I supposed to do with a day that I had planned to spend watching the last judgment?

I hate the American media. It's possible that I hate the Canadian media as well, but I don't remember seeing any nonsense about the end of the world or the Apocalypse (I will save my annoyance for the popular use of this word for another day) on any Canadian news outlets so I'm letting them off the hook for the day. To all of the American media outlets that carried any story, any story at all, about the world ending or the mark of the beast yesterday I have only one thing to say. Your brain is like a muscle, if you never use it, it will eventually atrophy and all you'll have left is a useless lump of crap between your ears. Idiots.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


How's that for a cheery post title? Watched a bit of The Return of the King today while I was eating lunch and then Jin and I rented Aeon Flux this evening. Death is a pretty notable theme in both films, though perhaps more a sub-theme in ROTK.

My favorite bit of both Tolkien's book and the movie adaptation is when Theoden and the Riders of Rohan charge the army laying siege to Minas Tirith (how is it even possible to talk about this story without sounding like a huge nerd?). As Theoden and his men charge into battle they cry "Death!". I love this scene. For some reason the idea of a group of courageous warriors charging towards certain death on principle alone really gets to me. Setting aside questions of the validity of war and the entirely legitimate postcolonial critiques of Tolkien's presentation of his villains, I think that there is something here concerning the nature of mortality that we need to remember. Tolkein is reminding us that there are worse things in the world than dying. Indeed death, under the right circumstances, is a noble thing.

Then there's Aeon Flux which was a good deal better than I expected it to be (granted my expectations were pretty low). What surprised me was the strong message concerning the importance of human mortality. The essential theme of the film was that as humans we need to die, otherwise our lives will lack both meaning and morality. Again, setting aside questions concerning the ultra-violent nature of such films, I think that this movie is making an important point. Death creates ultimate consequence which helps to challenge us to explore the meaning of our fleeting lives and to live in a way that honours that meaning.

This sentiment is also echoed in the Christian story. Death is not merely a punishment in the primeval history, it is also the means by which humanity is protected from eternal corruption. I have frequently heard Christian pastors claim that Christians will never die, but will merely shed this body and live on as spiritual beings in heaven. This ain't the way the story goes (at least as I read it). We all die. What Christianity promises is not simply immortality but a mortal life, death, and then resurrection unto eternal life (check out 1 Cor. 15).

Moral of the story: death is about good-ish? Okay death scares the hell out of me, but there's one good thing that it does. It keeps me (and all of us I think) honest. The fact that all of this is guaranteed to end reminds me that it's worth something in the first place. So, here's to's a sonofabitch, but it sure makes life worth living.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Toys...or Nerd Boy Strikes Again

Went out and got season five of The West Wing on DVD today. Seriously, is this not the best television program of all time? I'm stoked about the upcomming Sorkin drama Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip. Brad Whitford and Matt Perry with Tommy Schlamme directing and Aaron Sorkin could this be bad?

I also recently got some fun mail order stuff, and this is where I really start to sound like a nerd. My very own (non-electronic) copy of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia along with J.J. Collins' The Bible After Babel showed up a little while ago. I know what you're thinking, How could even a semi-serious student of the Hebrew Bible (and I hope I'm more than semi-serious by now) not have his own BHS until just recently? Well, I do have an electronic version that came with my Gramcord software (sans critical apparatus and Massorah) and there are a few copies at the seminary library that I've been using regularly. None of those are good excuses, but that's how life goes.

Next up on my shopping list is Theologies of Resistance in Daniel, the Apocalypse of Weeks, the Book of Dreams, and the Testament of Moses by Dr. Anathea Portier-Young. It took me a little while to find this particular dissertation, but it's on the way now. Woohoo!

Like I said...nerd.