Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superstar. Super Show.

It's late and I need to sleep. But first: If you live in or near Atlanta, do yourself a big, big favor and go see Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL at the Alliance Theatre before it ends on February 22. I went tonight, and it was amazing. Phenomenal. The acting is perfect. The singing is beyond perfect. The choreography surprising. The overall effect overwhelming.
Jesus Christ Superstar was originally a 70s rock opera, and in the unlikely event that you saw the movie version, you may have found it bordering on the blasphemous. But now it's found its home after being reworked as a (Black) Gospel piece, and except for maybe two lines in the whole thing, it's better than any passion play I've ever seen, and in some ways touched me more deeply than Gibson's Passion of the Christ. You may not like it quite that much, but if you don't go, you'll never know. I know I'm in good company, though: check out the review in the AJC.
And here's the good news about JCS GOSPEL: you may be able to get discount tickets on the day of the show. Just check AtlanTix here any day after 8:00 a.m. for the current day's deals. But even if you have to empty the piggy bank and pay full price, it's worth it.
More info and a couple short videos on the Alliance website here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hair to the Chief

In all the inaugural excitement, you may have missed the Chia Obama. Thankfully, it's not too late to order. Check it out here, then place your order and contribute to the Greening of America.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1 Timothy 2.1-4

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Triumphal Procession

Tomorrow we will inaugurate a new president, and the inauguration will be followed by a parade. You may never have thought about this, but there are several parades in the Bible. For now, let's just look at one:
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him" (2 Cor. 2.14).
For years, I've read the verse and heard perhaps the occasional sermon touching on it. But where does this term "triumphal procession" come from, and what does it really mean?

A while back, I read a novel by Robert Harris entitled Imperium. It takes place in the time of Cicero, Pompey, and Julius Caesar, roughly 50 years before the birth of Christ. From Wikipedia, I learned that a Triumph was "a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly honour the military commander of a notably successful foreign war or campaign and to display the glories of Roman victory....The [parade] route would be lined with cheering crowds who would shower the triumphator with flowers."

Here's a passage from Imperium about Pompey's triumphal return to Rome. It's a bit lengthy, but read it with an eye toward Christ's triumphal procession that Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians. Where do we fit in this parade?

The twenty-ninth duly arrived, and what a day it was! Rome had not seen such a spectacle since the days of Sulla. As I waited by the Triumphal Gate it seemed that everyone had turned out to line the route. First to pass through the gate from the Field of Mars was the entire body of the Senate, including Cicero, walking on foot, led by the consuls and the other magistrates. Then the trumpeters, sounding the fanfares. Then the carriages and litters laden with the spoils of the Spanish war – gold and silver, coin and bullion, weapons, statues, pictures, vases, furniture, precious stones, and tapestries – and wooded models of the cities Pompey had conquered and sacked, and placards with their names, and the names of all the famous men he had killed in battle.

Then the massive, plodding white bulls, destined for sacrifice, with gilded horns hung with ribbons and floral garlands, driven by the slaughtering priests. Then trudging elephants – the heraldic symbol of the Metelli – and lumbering oxcarts bearing cages containing the wild beasts of the Spanish mountains, roaring and tearing at their bars in rage. Then the arms and insignia of the beaten rebels, and then the prisoners themselves, the defeated followers of Sertorius and Perperna, shuffling in chains. Then the crowns and tributes of the allies, borne by the ambassadors of a score of nations. Then the twelve lictors of the imperator, their rods and axes wreathed in laurel.

And now at last, to a tumult of applause from the vast crowd, the four white horses of the imperator’s chariot came trotting through the gate, and there was Pompey himself, in the barrel-shaped, gem-encrusted chariot of the triumphator. He wore a gold-embroidered robe with a flowered tunic. In his right hand he held a laurel bough and in his left a scepter. There was a wreath of Delphic laurel on his head, and his handsome face and muscled body had been painted with red lead, for on this day he truly was the embodiment of Jupiter. Standing beside him was his eight-year-old son, the golden-curled Gnaeus, and behind him a public slave to whisper in his ear that he was only human and all this would pass.

Behind the chariot, riding on a black warhorse, came old Metellus Pius, his leg tightly bandaged, evidence of a wound incurred in battle. Next to him was Scipio, his adopted son – a handsome young fellow of twenty-four: no wonder, I thought, that Lepida preferred him to Cato – and then the legionary commanders, including Aulus Gabinius, followed by all the knights and cavalry, armor glinting in the pale December sun. And finally the legions of Pompey’s infantry, in full marching order, thousands upon thousands of sunburnt veterans, the crash of their tramping boots seeming to shake the very earth, roaring at the top of their voices “Io Triumphe!” and changing hymns to the gods and singing filthy songs about their commander in chief, as they were traditionally permitted to do in this, the hour of his glory.

It took half the morning for them all to pass, the procession winding through the streets toward the Forum, where, according to tradition, as Pompey ascended the steps of the Capitol to sacrifice before the Temple of Jupiter, his most eminent prisoners were lowered into the depths of the Carcer and garroted – for what could be more fitting than that the day which ended the military authority of the conqueror should also end the lives of the conquered?

This is most likely the picture Paul had in mind when he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. As glorious as it is, I'm guessing Christ's triumphal procession will put Pompey's - and Obama's - to shame . . . and nobody will be whispering in His ear that He is only human and all this will pass.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Barack's New Bling

Click here for a full size view of the second picture.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Overheard Last Night in a Certain Discipleship Group

"When I use the Bible to dismantle my own bullshit, it works really well. When I use it to demolish others', it doesn't work well at all."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christian Books are Stupid. Don't Read Them.

Well, some of them are stupid, and you'd be better off reading something else. You've got to wonder sometimes what certain authors and their publishers were thinking when they came up with certain books. For example, take this [edited] book description that I read in a recent missions-oriented newsletter:

NEW AND UNIQUE CHURCH PLANTING BOOK -- [The Book in Question] was recently published by [Some Publisher]. Author [John Doe], Director of the Church Planting Center at [Some Seminary], challenges missionaries across the globe to consider Barnabas as a model for healthy church planting teams. The Factors include: Walks with the Lord; Maintains an Outstanding Character; Serves the Local Church; Remains Faithful to the Call; Shares the Gospel Regularly; Raises Up Leaders; Encourages with Speech and Actions; Responds Appropriately to Conflict. A guide is also provided to assist team leaders in evaluating potential team members. This work is available through Amazon.
OK, now here's the question: Aside from wondering why Barnabas in particular would be considered a church planting pioneer and model, what is it about the list that we learn about church planters? Namely, that they should be mature Christians who share their faith and help others grow. Hmmm. Shouldn't that be true of every Christian? So, based on the description given, what does this book add to our understanding of anything, besides nothing? Does the author just need to sell some books so he can put his kids through college?

Better to read Kierkegaard. Agree with him or not, at least he had something to say.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My 2009 Reading Plan

Now that I've reviewed my favorite books of 2008 (here and here), I guess the next thing to do is preview my plans for 2009.

In the coming year, I want to be intentional about balancing out the kinds of books I read. These are the "food groups" I want to include in my literary diet:
  • Literature. Fiction by serious writers, such as Camus, Solzhenitsyn, Flannery O'Connor, and the like.
  • New Non-Fiction. Defined more or less as something published in my lifetime by authors who are still alive. Can be either "Christian" or "secular."
  • Old Non-Fiction. Also known as non-fiction that isn't new. This category is important to me, because of a thought C.S. Lewis brought out in one of his essays about why we should read "old" books: "Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."
  • C.S. Lewis and Friends. I want to keep working through the Lewis canon and get to some books by his brother Warnie, his wife Joy, and his friend Charles Williams.
  • John Wesley. I bought his complete works in 14 volumes several years ago but am only about 10% of the way through it.
  • Novels. Defined, I suppose, as modern fiction written for a mass audience. This category isn't necessarily a priority, but it does make long airplane flights pass more quickly.

My idea is to rotate through the first 5 categories until the year is over, sprinking in the novels when appropriate. Between each book I'll catch up on the periodicals I receive. I'll also read the Bible most days, but I won't read through the Bible this year (I do that in even-numbered years).

So there you have it. I'm now accountable.

After 2009, I want to start into Calvin and Luther, but there's plenty of time yet to figure that out.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gilead. My Favorite Book of 2008.

Maybe recency has something to do with it, since I read this book in November and finished another of the author's books only two days ago, a parallel novel to Gilead told from a different point of view. It's not just recency, however, that makes this book my favorite.
Someone else likes this book, too. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics' Circle Award. A London Times columnist has called Marilynne Robinson "the world's best writer of prose," adding, "I'm not saying you're actually dead if you haven't read Marilynne Robinson, but I honestly couldn't say you're fully alive."
Fully alive. An ironic way to talk about a quiet book that starts and ends in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, rarely wanders far from the front porch, and includes a cast of characters that would comfortably fit in a minivan. If minivans had existed in the 1950s.
Gilead is ... What is Gilead? For being such a short book, it's difficult to summarize. Transgression, forgiveness, generations, sin, mortality, love, light, water, touch ... Any statement about this book would beg for more context and detail. But here's a try:
Rev. John Ames (Congregationalist and Calvinist) is in his 70s and slowly dying of a heart ailment. His first wife died young. He married his second wife only a few years ago; she's much younger and they now have a seven-year old son. Ames doesn't expect to be around to see the boy grow up, so he's decided to write the family history and share as much of himself as a 50s-era Midwestern minister can bring himself to do.
The book, then, is Ames's memoir to his son. And it is much, much more. It is a beautiful testament of a man who has learned to live in the gentle rhythms of grace. A man who has steeped himself in the Bible and theology and life and come out on the other side wise and humble and a little bit funny.
There's so much to say about this book, but everything feels inadequate. Gilead is a book to read slowly and savor. It's not a book of plot, though there is a plot of sorts; rather, it is a book of character, told with style and with prose that simply amazes. Although not a "Christian" book, it is perhaps as Christian as any book you could read - and if you're not a Christian, you may not "get" it. And yet it is never preachy, never ponderous. Rather, this is luminous spirituality, the kind that draws us and leaves us thinking, "I'd like to be like this man. Perhaps I can."
Toward the end of the book, Ames writes, "Grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways." Through Robinson's magnificent writing, I see grace in new ways. Perhaps you will, too.
You can read (slowly, please!) the first several pages here. Read, then place your order.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Favorite Books of 2008

David posted his favorite books for 2008, so I guess I may as well do the same.

First, here are all the books I read last year, listed alphabetically by author. This doesn't include newspapers, magazines, or restroom graffiti:

  1. Anonymous - The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way
  2. Bauby, Jean-Dominique - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  3. Brother Lawrence - The Practice of the Presence of God
  4. Bruce, A.B. - The Training of the Twelve
  5. Coleman, Robert - Des Meisters Plan der Evangelisation
  6. Coleman, Robert - The Master Plan of Evangelism (3rd? 4th? reading)
  7. Coupland, Douglas - All Families are Psychotic
  8. Dorsett, Lyle - A Love Observed: Joy Davidman's Life & Marriage to C.S. Lewis
  9. D'Souza, Tony - Whiteman
  10. Gaines, James - Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment
  11. Gresham, Douglas - Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis
  12. Harris, Robert - Enigma
  13. Harris, Robert - Fatherland
  14. Henry, Marguerite - White Stallion of Lipizza
  15. Hopko, Thomas - Christian Faith And Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections
  16. Iweala, Uzodinma - Beasts of No Nation
  17. Kolakowski, Leszek - Metaphysical Horror
  18. Neighbour, Randall - A Pocket Guide to Coaching Small Groups
  19. Lewis, C.S. - A Grief Observed (2nd reading)
  20. Lewis, C.S. - The Problem of Pain
  21. Long, Jimmy - Emerging Hope: A Strategy for Reaching Postmodern Generations
  22. Machiavelli, Niccolo - The Prince
  23. Nouwen, Henri - Beloved
  24. Nouwen, Henri - Can You Drink the Cup?
  25. Nouwen, Henri - In the Name of Jesus
  26. Pollan, Michael - In Defense of Food
  27. Reich, Christopher - Rules of Deception
  28. Rice, Anne - Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
  29. Rice, Anne - Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
  30. Richards, Jay (ed.) - Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition
  31. Robinson, Marilynne - Gilead
  32. Salinger, J.D. - Franny and Zooey
  33. Sayer, George - Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis
  34. Scazzero, Peter - Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
  35. Skinner, Betty Lee - With Integrity of Heart and Skillful Hand
  36. Tarnas, Richard - The Passion of the Western Mind (2nd reading)
  37. Thigpen, Paul (ed.) - My Daily Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition 20-Minute Daily Readings

9,441 pages. Seems like I ought to be a lot smarter, wiser, and more Godly than I am after all that. What's that verse about always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth?

In any case, here are my five favorites. I won't call them "best," because a book might be "best" for a particular purpose, but still not my favorite. And I won't include the Bible, because it's the obvious best and favorite. Of the 36 that remain, my faves as of this particular moment are:

  • #6 Coleman - A classic is a classic is a classic. Profound principles in a compact package.
  • #21 Long - Super insights into pomo people and times, and how to minister in this culture.
  • #28-29 Rice - Miraculously uncheesy imaginings about the days of Jesus before his ministry.
  • #31 Robinson - Transcendently beautiful Pulitzer-prize winning novel of forgiveness and transformation.
  • #36 Tarnas - A history of philosophy that reads like a novel and makes sense of the mess.
And the favorite among the favorites? That will have to wait for another post.