Thursday, December 27, 2007

Minnesota is God's Country

In case you had any doubt, research now shows that Minnesota is the most biblical state. In terms of the tax system, that is (you have to read all the way to the bottom to get that tidbit). I was surprised when I moved from Minnesota to Illinois at how comparatively little this state does for the lower classes. I assumed that blue states were ipso facto good places to be poor, so I was surprised that I had to pay Illinois income tax when my wife and I had a combined income of $12,000 one year. There are a lot of other ways that Illinois sticks it to you, from tolls to the fact that you usually have to buy a sticker from your town of residence to put on your car windshield.

Now, the Rev. Josh Hansen will note (if he's reading) that South Dakota is one of the Sinful Six. I look forward to his rejoinder.

Anyway, I think this will have to be my last post for a while so that I can work on a paper I have to turn in next month. I will do my best to return to form as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Archbishop: Jesus Was Never Born (Not)

This article was passed around for scorning purposes at work today (HT: Adam Graber). Now, faithful readers know that the Right Reverend Lord Archbishop Williams is not my favorite thoroughly boring scholar with bushy eyebrows and a neck beard. However, the great injustice that this article does to him arouses my sympathy. Williams is simply debunking the post-biblical legends that have crept up around the nativity story through centuries of (legitimate) artistic depiction. He doesn't say a word, as far as I can tell, about whether the gospel accounts themselves are legendary.

If I ran the Telegraph, Ms. Sophie Borland would be on probation until she could explain the difference between "the nativity" and "a nativity scene." Of course, her article probably drove more traffic to the Telegraph website than any other today, which is probably why I'm not being asked to run the Telegraph. Nonetheless, she should also be required to read Ben Witherington's article in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels about the gospel birth narratives.

Speaking of Witherington, he debunks another element of post-biblical nativity legend here (HT: Jon Schindler).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Does this really count as news? or research?

From the Star-Tribune:

Researchers have found that rural drivers are more complacent when it comes to common safety practices on the road than their urban counterparts, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

I hear tell that researchers in the College of Biological Sciences have also recently discovered that bears crap in the woods.

"The most interesting thing about the research is that people were willing to tell us the truth about their behaviors, Rakauskas said in a university news release Tuesday announcing his findings, "that rural drivers aren't wearing their seat belt and think that drunk driving isn't that dangerous, so education may help prevent crashes for these risk factors.

[By the way, I'm not responsible for the quotation-mark weirdness in that paragraph. That's how it reads in the original.]

Now, I grew up in a small town. I even drove a pick-up. But I was definitely a town kid, not a farm kid. Part of that legacy is that I wear my seatbelt automatically. Also, other than when I worked construction in the summers, I did not generally make eye contact with oncoming drivers and lift my index finger off the steering wheel to acknowledge them as they passed. (I'm surprised that piece of rural driving culture wasn't cited.)

On the other hand, when you drive a lot of places where you don't need a seatbelt (from the garage to the hog shed, on empty gravel roads) you kind of get out of the habit. Also, it's simply not possible to wear a seatbelt when you're driving around shirtless in the summer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Lesser-known Verses

Linus has one of Jesus' less gentle statements up on his blog; I don't know why exactly. You can ask him if you think you'll get a straight answer. Linus's quote occurs in the same passage as one of my favorite enigmatic sayings:

"I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!"

Is he saying that he longs for the day of judgment? Most of the time, God is said to be slow to anger, not eager to punish. I suppose the best answer is that he's longing for his own day of judgment. He knows that the abyss lies ahead of him and he wants to get it over with:

"I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lord please don't let me become a politics news junkie this year

It's probably too late. The race has been getting more exciting in the last couple of weeks. Of course, it was really boring before. I was ignoring all campaign news and debates out of principle before November. In my head at least, there is no campaigning allowed more than a year ahead of time.

I enjoy trying to separate the personality from the policies by taking candidate match quizzes. When both parties are having full out primary campaigns and you've got a dozen candidates to choose from, it should be fairly easy to find someone who you agree with on most of the major issues, right? (By the way, I believe this is the first time since 1952 that no one is running who has already been president or vice-president. Cool, huh?)

The best quizzes allow you to rank how important an issue is to you. This one seems pretty good. Some quizzes are just awful, like this one. In the quiz creator's universe, my position on stem cell research can be summarized as "I don't think it is ok to develop new medicines and treatments, my god says so, or I think they kill babies for it." Also plays annoying music. This one is decent, but they include a lot of candidates who aren't really running. Including Stephen Colbert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Favorite Christmas Song?

Today at my office Christmas party, we sang some of the rarer Christmas songs: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "What Child Is This?" It prompts the question, What is the best Christmas song ever?

The correct answer will be revealed this weekend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Your Life Hack of the Day

First of all, I want to thank Linus for the present. I haven't opened it yet, as Mrs. Chaka still isn't back from work. I assume that Linus is the sender--he's the only one I can think of who would send me something from Jungle Jim's International Market. So if you're reading, Linus, thank you.

Your life hack of the day is this: Premium postcards from the U. S. Postal Service. You can upload your own photo and create a postcard to send out to family and friends. This is way cheaper than ordering photocards at Wal-Mart or mailing Christmas letters, and you don't have to stamp and mail them yourself. There's a fairly tight word limit on the back, but if you don't have four kids to brag about, you'll probably have room to share the important news and wish people Merry Christmas.

Should either of the two readers care to receive one from the Chakas, please email me your address.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chaka is not hipper-than-thou

Here's a short article about Rob Bell. I know very little about him, just the names of his books, this article, and this video. Go watch it. Go on.

I have one or two quibbles with the content, at the level of "I don't know if that's quite how I would put it." Overall, it's a beautiful production, very cool. I'm glad somebody out there is making stuff like this, because some of us have never been and will never be cool (despite getting slightly more rectangular glasses a couple years ago).

Is "jerk" a theological category?

D. C. Cramer posted this comic on his blog last week:

I've been thinking about the category of "jerk" ever since. As we saunter through life, is God evaluating our "jerkiness" in addition to our practice of love, justice, and mercy? One of my junior high classmates had a tie-dyed t-shirt with what looked like a dictionary definition of "jerk" on the back. Being a compulsive reader, I read it. When I got to definition 4, I ran into the punch line: "People who read the back of other people's t-shirts." So I guess I'm a jerk by at least one person's standards.

I have a feeling that a lot of people read this comic and thought, "Take that, evangelicals! Jerks!" It's a sentiment that seems to be growing in popularity, and one that I'm not certain how to respond to. I guess it's easier for me to interact with criticism about beliefs or practices, but what do you say to someone who calls you a jerk, given that, like my classmate's t-shirt, that's a pretty jerky thing to do in itself.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Less Arcane Post

I apologize to Special K for the allusive nature of the last post. Did the links not send you on a Wikipedia-browsing binge? Wikipedia explains all.

So, dialing down the obscurity a hair, I'll talk about PBS. It's pledge drive time again, and you know what that means: concerts by that long-haired Dutch guy, Placido Domingo, Engelbert Humperdinck. (I would love to see the results of an experiment with sound symbolism that asked speakers of different languages to describe a man named Engelbert Humperdinck, based solely on the sound of his name. What imagery does it conjure for you?)

They don't seem to run Anne of Green Gables during pledge time anymore. The first time I remember being allowed to stay up past midnight was during the Anne of Green Gables marathon. I was very excited. No, we didn't have cable, why do you ask?

So, did I mention it's pledge drive time again? Operators are waiting to take your call. Out of the many things that make me feel obligated to give money (the Salvation Army kettle, missionaries, orphanages, food pantries, people with no gas in their cars), PBS has never managed to pluck the old heart strings and loosen the purse strings. Prospects for the future aren't promising, either, seeing as how I'll eventually have to start contributing to my alma maters (at least the U and Trinity; the University of Edinburgh is on its own). See, I got scholarships from the U, so I have to give back, and I didn't get scholarships from Trinity, so I need to help them build their endowment. So many dollars already spoken for.

Anyway, it's pledge drive time, and one of our local PBS stations ran one of the most enjoyable documentaries I've ever seen: a history of Chicago food. Full title: Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History. The linked site has previews. All the major immigrant communities get a chapter--except for the unconscionable and inexplicable omission of the Luxembourgers.

Friday, December 07, 2007

You know, it's been too long since a bearded man has appeared at the top of this page


That beard (and those eyebrows!) belong to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who believes that the U.S. is a much worse imperialist than Britain ever was. Click on his smiling face to read all about it. I'd like to respond to this belief in a rather British way: i.e., with understatement, indirectness, and of course, ad hominem ridicule.

First, does my Most Reverend and Right Honorable Lord Archbishop have anything to say about his rather dull tome on Arius? Self-described history nerds are on record as saying "One might as well have published a catalog."

Second, as "the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion," has my Most Reverend and Right Honorable Lord Archbishop noticed that the Anglican Communion is not limited to England, but is, in fact, worldwide? Now why is it that a British bishop should be the leader of such a diverse group of people? I suppose somebody has to be in charge. Like the Roman Catholics; their version of the Archbishop of Canterbury--I forget what they call him, but I'm sure my Lord Archbishop runs into him at the big conferences--their version is the bishop of Rome. They say it has to do with the apostle Peter, but one suspects Rome being the capital of the empire had something to do with it.

Third, is my Lord Archbishop acquainted with this Cecil Rhodes fellow?

Fourth, regarding the idea that "violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together," has my Lord Archbishop heard the one about the Partition of India? No? How about the Mandate of Palestine?

Finally, does the beam in my Lord Archbishop's eye bother him much?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Having the Right Enemies

I loved the days of the original Napster. Or as I will call them when narrating my youth to my grandchildren, "the wild and wooly days of the Internet." But they won't understand the word "wooly," in all likelihood. Or the word "Internet," for that matter. I will be as out of it as the 80-year-old woman I talked to who never bought a personal computer because she was waiting for the technology to stabilize. She used a computer as a college student (she attended college after her children had grown), but as she said, "I haven't sat down in front of a terminal in years."

I always say that the music industry got a lot more of my money because of Napster than they would have otherwise. I sample free music, I find out I like an artist, I buy CDs. They should have had me testify before Congress. (Unbelievably, YouTube doesn't have the video of Lars Ulrich testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can read a transcript here, but it's just not the same as watching Orin Hatch launch questions at him like, "What if I buy a CD of the Black Album and make a tape of it to keep in my car? What if I then lend that tape to my wife. . .)

Why am I talking about Napster? Because the Google Books project may meet the same end, alas, or so says this author. Best line:

Google has, as they say, all the right enemies. Anytime the ALA, Microsoft, France, a trade guild, and a bunch of trial lawyers are lined up on one side of an argument, the other side is going to look extremely attractive.
Regarding yesterday's post, the original Napster and Google Books could be filed under "things I will do until the law tells me its wrong."

BTW: apparently Google is mapping Middle Earth.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

There Ought (Not) to Be a Law!

Reading Lileks today reminded me of a line from Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Harvard commencement address. (Not the part about Ed Sullivan. Scroll down to the paragraph that begins "Instapundit noted this ABC story: divorce hurts the planet" and read on from there.)

One of the primary conservative impulses is to resist the urge to outlaw everything that is bad. This is usually defended in libertarian terms, with the freedom of the individual elevated as the highest (or at least, higher) good. But Solzhenitsyn's address suggests a critique from the opposite direction: the urge to outlaw every bad thing correlates with the attitude that whatever is legal is good. Read the whole address here, but the paragraph I'm thinking of is excerpted below:

Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

My question, then, is this: How can we fight the notion that "If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required"?

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Topic!

Things I love about this story:

1) Spain has a king. Descendent of the Sun King, Queen Victoria--all that.

2) He dissed Chavez not only by telling him to shut up, but also by using the familiar "tu" form of the verb instead of the formal "Usted."

3) Chavez's quotes: "fascists are not human. A snake is more human." And "I do not offend by telling the truth." If only, my friend, if only.

Regarding the preceding discussion, I just want to note that Pirate Jimmy brings the discussion back to where it is most relevant in his comment about the church needing to be connected with the world. His argument is basically the argument that the presenter was making at this conference--a Christian author should be unafraid to use the f-bomb, since it demonstrates that you're not out of touch. I disagree, for the reasons cited. As the same presenter said, "Christ has to effect every detail of your life," including whether you practice sexual violence, but not excluding whether you draw power from alluding to sexual violence.

May we each follow our consciences and not despise each other.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why the F-bomb is Sexist Verbal Violence

One of the fundamental principles of modern linguistics is that there is only an arbitrary connection between a word and what it signifies. It is a matter of social convention that the f-bomb means what it means and fudge means “To fit together or adjust in a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner” (OED). So Pirate Jimmy is right to say that the power of the f-bomb is granted by the audience—it is social convention (the word-meaning association and the taboo), not the inherent nature of the word itself, that generates its power.

Yet this fact does nothing to diminish the reality of the f-bomb’s verbal violence. The fact that the word-meaning association is arbitrary means only that it could theoretically be changed; one can imagine a world where it was different. Arbitrariness does not mean that it is in fact in our power to change it. As speakers of English (or any language), we enter into a linguistic world that we had no hand in creating, and which we have almost no power over. Even though the word-meaning association was established arbitrarily, it is now established. I can no more drain the f-bomb of its power in the social sphere than I can abolish racism by willing the n-word to mean “dear brother.”

When a speaker deploys the f-bomb, he invokes a preexisting metaphor, one that depends upon a sexist and violent view of the world. Sometimes he does it because he is sexist and violent; most of the time, he does it simply because the metaphor is taboo, and he lends his words power by violating the taboo.

I can’t say it any better than Octavio Paz, and I offer this clumsy translation (with help from babelfish) of a part of his essay. In some places, I have changed forms of chingar to the equivalent form of the f-bomb.

But the plurality of meanings [of chingar] does not prevent the aggression idea (in all its degrees, from the simple sense of “make uncomfortable” . . . to the senses “to violate,” “to tear” and “to kill”) from always appearing as the ultimate meaning. The verb denotes violence, to leave the self and penetrate another by force. And also, to hurt, to tear, to violate (whether bodies, souls, or objects), to destroy. When something is broken, we say: “se chinga [It’s f---ed up]”. . . . The idea of "to break" and "to open" reappears in almost all the expressions. The word has a tinge of sexuality, but it is not synonymous with the sexual act; it is possible to chingar a woman without having it. And when the sexual act is alluded to, the sense of violation or deceit lends a particular shade to it. The one who [f---s] never does so with the consent of the [f----ed] one. In sum, to chingar is to do violence to another. It is a masculine, active, cruel verb: it stings, it hurts, it tears, it stains. And it causes a bitter, resented satisfaction in the one who does it. The [f---ed] thing is the passive, the inert and open thing, as opposed to that which [f---s], which is active, aggressive and closed. Ching√≥n is the male, the one that opens. The chingada one, the female, the pure passivity, defenseless before the outside. The relation between the two is violent, determined by the cynical power of the first and impotence of the other. The violation idea darkly governs all the meanings.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Religion and Theology Links

My interest in whether corporations act in the role of empires was stimulated by a book called Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. The authors argued that Paul was subtly undermining the Roman Empire in Colossians, and that we should undermine the empires of our time (i.e., the Pentagon and Disney). It was provocative (translation, "annoying but good to ponder").

Anyway, Colossians Remixed relies heavily on N. T. Wright's work. Wright and John Barclay debated whether Paul was intentionally undermining the Roman Empire at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this year. You can listen to the debate here and here. I'm listening to Barclay right now, and he's doing well.

I haven't finished my planned thread on Mary (I know, you can't wait for more). J. I. Packer (a protestant theologian) addresses what we can know about her here.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Oh no he didn't! Wright just dissed the Lutheran "two kingdoms" view, advanced by Rev. Hansen in his most recent post.

More Lamott

Coworker and blogger Jon tells me it's bad form to comment on your own post, so I'm going to pick up the "F-bomba" thread from below in a new post.

Regarding Traveling Mercies, I'm glad to hear that Special K enjoyed it. I enjoyed it too, for the most part. She speaks about things like prayer, baptism, forgiveness, even sanctification in an attractive and authentic voice. On the other hand, around the edges of the book, you get the impression that she doesn't think Jesus has anything to say about her "jumping into bed" (her words) with various boyfriends. Whenever she mentions a boyfriend, she talks about "the man I was in love with at the time," and the relationship is always either dead or dying. For someone who frankly acknowledges her struggle to do God's will in terms of eating, parenting, relating to people who annoy her, the absence of any struggle on this point is striking.

Regarding the f-bomb: I want to reply to Pirate Jimmy's excellent comments, but my lunch break is over, so I'll do that later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The F-bomba

I just finished Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. She annoys me. But she reminds me that I'm supposed to love annoying people. So I guess that's a good thing.

The book was recommended at the publishing conference I went to at the beginning of the month. A presenter was talking about developing books for non-churchgoers, and one of her principles was to "Use the full range of the English language." The example was Lamott's conversion story, in which she feels pursued by Jesus for weeks, and finally surrenders by saying "F--- it. Come on in."

I have to admit, that's one of the best examples of the sinner's prayer I've ever heard.

On the other hand, I have a deep and abiding dislike for the F-bomb. It technically isn't a violation of the third commandment, but it is verbal violence. And very misogynist, dehumanizing verbal violence at that. If you read Spanish, I highly recommend the essay by Octavio Paz, Hijos de la Malinche, in which he discusses the Spanish equivalent, chingar.

If you don't read Spanish, perhaps Special K will summarize the argument.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Excuses and Overlapping Ghettos

So, I've let my posting discipline slide this last week. I blame my Thanksgiving trip to Tulsa--getting ready to leave, leaving, staying, coming back. So my apologies to anyone who checks in regularly. The holiday was hosted by my oldest sister and her husband (who blogs, check him out here).

Another good friend, the Rev. Joshua Jurgen Hansen, just started blogging, partially in order to prove that you can be a neo-conservative Lutheran pastor in the ELCA.

Which brings to mind the Jansenists (but doesn't everything?). As I was driving across Missouri (Home of the Filthiest Public Restrooms in the Lower Forty-eight!), it struck me how the Jansenists are a weird overlap of several elements from my wife and my religious heritage/interests:

French (Mrs. Chaka) Catholic (Chaka) Augustinian (Mrs. Chaka) Glossolaliasts (Chaka). A Jansenist also stands at the fountainhead of modern linguistics (Chaka). They also have Pascal and Racine, so if Mrs. Chaka develops a sudden interest in math or alexandrine verses, I'll know what caused it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beauty on the Verge of Collapse

I've heard (possibly from my wife, the violinist) that a well-made violin is always on the verge of collapsing. The more tension on the body of the instrument, the more beautiful the sound. That's why the best violins have to be so well cared for--they are fragile by virtue of being best.

There's something beautiful about strength as well, but the image of beauty on the verge of collapse is a powerful one to me, especially in a church service. Our worship team's practice was hurried and stressful. One of the leaders had a fever; the piano player (also the pastor) was supposed to be in another meeting at the same time. His pregnant wife is recovering from surgery. One of the singers was assigned a solo introduction for a song that she was unfamiliar with. When she sang it, you could hear the vulnerability in her voice. You wondered if she could hit the high notes. She hit them, but it was like the Spirit picked up her voice and set it down on the note.

It was beautiful, like the people of God.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I was a stranger and you took me in

I've become interested in the virtues of the ancient world; particularly those commanded in Scripture, but also the ones celebrated by the pagans. One of the virtues that really stands out among the Greeks is hospitality, which I recently read about in the book From Achilles to Christ. Of course, when you actually think of hospitality as a moral act, and not just "being nice," it stands out in the Bible too. E.g., Abraham, Lot, various women, some of Jesus' parables, the requirements for elders.

Anyway, let me exhort you:

Exercise hospitality.

Also, let me exhort you:

Accept hospitality. (I partially failed to do this tonight. It comes from being a Minnesotan. In my culture, you're supposed to decline hospitality several times before finally giving in. It is a grave thing in Minnesota to make someone go to any trouble for you. I'm getting better about this, though.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Free Rice, Free Words

I have discovered a website that serves as the perfect complement to my vanity. You can send free rice to hungry people by correctly answering multiple choice vocabulary questions. I was able to make it to vocabulary level 49 after playing for about ten minutes and donating 540 grains. No dictionaries were consulted. Can you beat that? Click the banner above to find out.

Now they need to make a national televised gameshow.

HT: Former fellow Hebrew student D. C. Cramer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Touch and the Sacred

Some religious words are safe to talk about in our society, while others are poisonous. "Sacred" is one of the safe ones, I think. "Holy" is probably poisonous. The two terms are nearly synonymous, however; so when I say that the television show Pushing Daisies is bringing back the sacredness of touch, understand that I really mean holiness (but sacredness just sounds hipper).

The show, if you haven't seen it, has a simple concept. The main character, Ned, has the power to awaken the dead with a touch. If he touches the reanimated person (or animal) again, however, he/she/it dies forever. If he reanimates someone for more than a minute, someone else nearby dies. Well, maybe the concept isn't simple, but the rules are.

The main story arc, though, is simple. Ned reanimated his childhood crush Charlotte in order to solve her murder, and kept her alive. Ned and Charlotte are in love, but cannot touch, or she will die again.

If you know your fairy tales, and if you know your Chesterton, you recognize this theme: all the world hangs on an arbitrary rule. You must not violate that which is sacred. The arbitrariness of the sacred, it's solemn disregard of reasons, makes it offensive to the modern mentality. I doubt very much whether the postmodern mentality is much better at absorbing it. But it suffuses the premodern mind, in fairy tale, in folklore, in religion.

At the close of tonight's episode, Charlotte doubts whether the two of them can go on loving each other without touch. She references "needs" that they both are leaving unfulfilled. I wish I had access to Ned's exact response. It was along the lines of "We all wake up each morning with a long list of things we 'need.' We don't ever get all of them. Maybe some things are more important than those 'needs.' Maybe all I need is you."

Take note: primetime network television show admits that sexual fulfillment may not be the highest good.

Of course, since it still is a primetime network television show, they compensate by letting the camera linger on every female cast member's prominent cleavage.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Easier Map Quiz

Ok, that last one was a little hard, so here's a softball. Where is the location pictured above?

And for a bonus, what structure was built four years later to "top" (as in "out-do") the structure in the picture?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Cooking Bible

I love our 1964 version of Joy of Cooking (in the picture above, our version is the fifth from the top). I don't think a single recipe in it calls for "a can of X." It's almost like the supermarket was thought of as a passing fad. The detailed articles on entertaining, techniques, herbs, and seasonal cooking have a certain literary elegance (I like to think of it as elegance, not pretensiousness). The index is introduced with these words:

"Knowledge," said Dr. Johnson, "is of two kinds. We know a subject as our own, or we know where we can find information on it."

This cookbook introduces you to vital controversies which you have never considered:

In some households, arguments rage every Thanksgiving as to whether a cock or a hen turkey is to grace the board. The butcher might settle most of these disputes, since he invariably charges more for the latter.

Lest you think this an 800-page Stepford Wife handbook, I should let you know that it also has a delightful section on how to cook game such as opossum, bear, woodchuck, and squirrel (with skinning illustrations!).

By the way, the answer to the Google Maps quiz is the biggest religious destination in the world (click here for the solution). The cloud in the center consists of pilgrims running around that big box. What's the box? This.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Immanuel: an oratorio

The wife and I went to a performance of Messiah tonight. I'd never heard the whole thing before (I guess technically I still haven't, since they cut about a dozen of the 40-some sections). It was cool to hear the progression from one biblical text to another. It gave me an idea, though; an idea that, like any good idea I have, has been thought of 7,000 times before.

Here's the idea: an oratorio about the biblical concept of "God with us." It would trace the troubled history of this promise from the intimacy of the Garden, to the terrifying encounter at Sinai, through the Tabernacle and the Temple; the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7; the departure of God's presence in Ezekiel and the horrible consequences in Lamentations; the promise of his return in Isaiah 40 and Haggai; the promise of God's Spirit in Joel; the Incarnation in the Gospels; the establishment of the Church as God's Temple in Acts and the Epistles; and finally, the coming of the Son of Man and the New Heaven and New Earth.

I imagine it would be best to start the story in media res, perhaps with Isaiah 7, and flash back to earlier moments. A major objective would be to demonstrate through music and text that God and people don't just casually inhabit the same space. Everyone else in the world seems to know this, but the Christian and post-Christian West needs to relearn that it is a dangerous thing to have a god in your midst. A big highlight (or lowlight, I guess) at the end of the second movement would be the despair at the end of Lamentations:

You, LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.

Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?

Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return;
renew our days as of old

unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure. -- Lamentations 5:19-22, TNIV

Then, softly and sweetly, Isaiah 40 would begin the healing.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Google Maps Quiz

I love Google Maps and the declassified satellite photos that make them possible (it possible?). Well, I guess I mean aerial photos. Can you identify the world landmark pictured above? (Click the pic to see a larger image.)

Hint: It this were a movie, that little cloud in the center would be rotating slowly.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Does Might Make Right?

That's a question that Ehrman poses in response to God's answer from the whirlwind (see previous post). According to Kohlberg, we all start out believing that might makes right--you're in the wrong if you're caught. As we mature, we recognize that there are higher laws than might. We begin separating the two, realizing that might often acts in selfish ways, ways that are certainly wrong by standards such as "the collective good" or the Golden Rule.

Yet if we believe that there is such a thing as "right" at all, at the end of all things, what is right without might? We see right suffer undeservedly and the wicked prosper. What, then, makes the right right? What is right drained of any power other than to make you feel superior to your neighbor?

The Christian conviction is that in God, might and right are as they should be: perfectly united, with neither logically prior to the other. We exercise might unrightly because we are not as we should be. But our confidence is in the one who judges justly, who is qualified to evaluate all our acts and intentions and render cosmic order.

The sufferer looks to God for vindication--she looks to God to make things right, not just to tell her that she is right. The sufferer looks to God for her example, for she sees God himself enter our suffering, experience death unjustly, and experience vindication in the resurrection. That is why the resurrection is the hope of the righteous; if in this life only we have hope, then we are the most pitiful people on earth. Here, right is trampled by might. But it is not so with God. And it is not so at the end of all things.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I think I might be a steampunk

This is awesome.

On a completely different note, Stanley Fish reviews two books about the existence of God here. Both of these books' central arguments are really good ones: that is, the problem of suffering is a really good reason not to believe in God, and the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a really good reason to believe in God. Ultimately, I think the problem of suffering and the solution to suffering require us to move beyond dispassionate reason and think with our imaginations and our empathies. My imagination is persuaded by God's speech from the whirlwind at the end of Job. Others' imaginations recoil from the lordship in that speech.

Things that Should Not Be Separated

Some people delight in pointing out that the Bible is "grittier" or "more raw" than people commonly perceive it to be. They point to the irony of teaching "Noah and the Ark" to children, for example, given the fact that nearly the entire human population dies a horrible death in this story. I recently heard someone argue that such Bible stories aren't children's stories, that they "aren't fairy tales."

Let's smash some false dichotomies, shall we?

False Dichotomy 1: Fairy tales are mutually exclusive with violence.

As anyone who has read Grimm's Fairy Tales knows, the closer a fairy tale is to its original form, the more violent it is likely to be. G. K. Chesterton is the best writer about fairy tales that I have encountered. The best use of your time at this point is to stop reading me entirely and read this instead. (By the way, modern fairy tales that stay true to the nongratuitous violence that is integral to the genre include That Hideous Strength and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.)

Now, the reason that False Dichotomy 1 has arisen is because of an earlier mistake, mentioned in the opening paragraph of Chesterton's essay linked to above:

False Dichotomy 2: Children's stories are (or rather, should be) mutually exclusive with violence.

This is the more controversial point, so I should have more of an argument on this one. My argument, which will not satisfy everyone, is that the violence in fairy tales (and in the Bible) is not inappropriate for children, because it is not gratuitous. It is not present in the story for its own sake, because the authors were violent or delighted in violence. It is not an affectation, designed to titillate the senses (like obscenities such as the Saw movies) or to acquire credibility as "gritty" and "raw". The drownings and beatings and murders of fairy tales are necessary and unobtrusive elements of the story that serve the main theme: "If one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided."

From all I've heard, children growing up surrounded by real acts of violence are permanently damaged. But real violence is not story violence; I imagine, though I can cite no data, that story violence is processed differently by the child's mind. (In narrated form, at least--movie violence is a different story, since children don't separate movies from reality very well before a certain age.)

All this is to say: don't freak out. Keep teaching Noah and the Ark to kids. They like the animals, you can teach them about God's promise symbolized by the rainbow, and the deaths of thousands (which aren't even narrated in Genesis!) won't imprint them for violence.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A full day with a funny ending

Well, I had a busy day at a publishing conference. I'm exhausted, so I won't write about it tonight, but it stimulated some interesting thoughts. Just before heading to bed, I found this delightful image in my facebook inbox. Thank you, Jon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Power and the Kingdom of God

My in-laws home in Wisconsin is a house of reading. My father-in-law is retired and reads voraciously (his specialty is 19th century British novels--in the last two years I believe he's read all of Austen, most of Dickens, as well as most of Anthony Trollope and Wilkie Collins). When I'm here, I usually take time to read their issue of Christianity Today. The November issue has a number of articles that resonated on the same frequency in my mind: the theme of Power and the Kingdom of God. (None of which seem to be online yet. Rrrrgh.)

The cover story is about doing "business as mission": setting up for-profit companies that provide jobs and Christian witness in places where both are lacking. My gut reaction was unease; Business people are trained to make money, not do missions. That reaction was chastised in a related article, which complained about how theologically trained people develop a reflex rejection of people who make money. The same point came up in an article about the "Evangelical Elite" and in Philip Yancey's final editorial.

Guilty as charged, I guess.

I want to be careful on this blog (and more importantly, in my spirit) that I don't look down on business people. The business world never appealed to me; my temperament (INTJ, if your curious) as much as anything else has pushed me into academic and theological interests. Of course, my temptation is to tell myself that some kind of inherent moral superiority sets me apart from crass, mundane things like making money.

The biblical critique of money needs to be heard. But it should be seen as broader than a critique of business people. It's a critique of the exercise of power in the Kingdom of God, and I'm probably as hungry for power as any godless capitalist (just less skillful at getting it).

I'm trying to figure out how to end this post by making myself look good, but I guess that's falling into the old trap again, so I'll end here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Destination: Cheeseland

Mrs. Chaka and I will be in Wisconsin tonight and tomorrow to celebrate her birthday. No time to post, since we're trying to get there before 8:00 pm, and we get to sit in Chicago traffic for several hours. Thank goodness for Focus on the Family Radio Theater.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Funny Farm Bill

I should be careful what I say, since a good chunk of my relatives make their living from farming and are probably (make that "certainly") more informed about the Farm Bill than I am. Nevertheless, I'm going to sin boldly here and say that this sounds ridiculous. Apparently the biggest crisis in the American farming economy is that the government subsidizes fatty products more than healthy products. That's why we don't eat well, not the fact that McDonald's tastes better than salad. (And I say that as someone who has a salad every day for lunch. That's right. Every day.)

Special K may be in favor of this plan, since it might increase the cost of meat and thus reduce meat consumption. Unfortunately for the Majority World, the total bill increases subsidies overall and will probably do nothing to reduce competition from artificially cheap U.S. goods. So overall impact on hungry people: probably negative.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Raise your Steins to Dr. Martin!

I was going to blog some more about Mary, but I've been reminded that it's Reformation Day. Luther was not anti-Mary, by any means, but take this as an affirmation of my protestantness:

The Reformation Polka
to be sung to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law,
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa,
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, and Augustinian! Oh...

Chorus: Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication.
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation.
Papal bulls, indulgences and transubstantiation.

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints' Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face.” Oh…


They love my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror,
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand.
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…


Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting ‘Jeorg’ as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…


Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…


HT: Dr. Scott Manetsch via Joel Norman Van Loon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tainted Mutual Funds

Following up my earlier post about the Save Darfur campaign, I wanted to report on what I found out about my investments. I was able to use a website run by the Sudan Divestment Taskforce to see whether my mutual funds invest in the companies targeted for divestment.

Irritatingly, about 70% of my retirement money is in "tainted" funds. (I know, it's not as irritating as actually being killed for belonging to the wrong people group, but still.) As a public service announcement, allow me to tell all three of you that the following American Funds mutual funds are invested in corporations that are financing genocide:

  • EuroPacific Growth Fund
  • New World Fund
  • Capital World Growth and Income Fund
  • Fundamental Investors

I’ve decided to put my retirement withholdings in some funds that aren’t linked to these “tainted” companies, such as:

  • SMALLCAP World Fund
  • The Growth Fund of America
  • Washington Mutual Investors Fund
  • The Income Fund of America
  • American Balanced Fund
Unfortunately, by shifting to those funds, my portfolio is becoming less diverse--more tied to American companies at the expense of international companies. (Still, by way of comparison, this is less unfortunate than being raped by mujahedeen.)

So, if you have mutual funds, I hope you can put this info to use. Even if you don't have any, you can still sign a petition.

Monday, October 29, 2007

All I have to say about a certain wizard

China Doll invited comment on certain statements recently made about a certain wizard. I have had no desire to say anything on the topic. But happily, I found much of what I have been thinking conveniently summarized in the New York Times. Unfortunately, since I read the article this morning, it's disappeared behind the Times's registration fence.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Just in Time for Halloween....

My wife asked me to go to a Halloween party as JFK, since she wanted to go as Jackie O. Now, I don't look anything like JFK, but I can throw on a blue suit and a skinny tie. This plan has required me to do something drastic, however.

I am now beardless. And this means I get weird looks from the wife all day long, since she's not used to actually seeing my face.

Friday, October 26, 2007


After months and months of applications, Mrs. Chaka has been offered a job! She's started to get a little stir crazy, so it will be great for her to get out of the apartment. This is the company she's working for; they seem like nice people.

I'm in such a good mood that I won't even respond to China Doll's rude and presumptuous accusations below. Except to say that I am, of course, fascinated by bilingualism and welcome her contributions, however boring she may think they are.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where Am I?

Since when did this become the blog of Chaka? I thought he had his own blog? A blog which hasn't been updated since my return to the States. Sure, this is an interactive space in which we can all insert our opinions, thoughts and questions. But he's taking over! Whether or not I have anything interesting to say, I will not let you take over this blog Mr. M.W.! If I have to I too can start posting my superbly boring thesis paper bibliography. How much do you want to know about bilingual literacy?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Mary My Mother?

Yesterday's extremely bland post made the obvious observation that Mary was a disciple of her son. But is she particularly outstanding among all of Jesus' disciples?

She was a witness of more crucial events in salvation history than most--the only witness to the incarnation, for one thing. Then she also witnessed the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost. The apostles are outstanding among Jesus' disciples; they are also witnesses of the resurrection--but they received a commission from Jesus for this task. Did Mary receive any commission?

The Gospel of John seems to narrate a commission for Mary. At the cross, Jesus installs Mary as the mother of the beloved disciple (John 19:25-27). Two fourth-century Church Fathers, Ambrose and Augustine, see more in this episode, however. They interpret it as Jesus installing Mary as the mother of all the atoned. As John is given to Mary as son, so are all who believe.

Mother Mary? This is the part where Protestants are supposed to recoil in horror. It's actually not that much of a stretch. The New Testament calls Abraham the father of all who believe, because believers follow in his footsteps in trusting God (Gal 3:6-7). Like Abraham, Mary believed God, and God blessed the entire world through her seed. If he can be called father, might she not be called mother?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mary the Disciple

Some passages of Scripture seem to emphasize Mary's lack of understanding and even opposition to Christ's ministry (Mark 3:20-35). But the Gospel narratives as a whole and the Church Fathers understand Mary as one of the disciples. Jesus continually points to his identity outside his human family: son of the God of the temple (Luke 2:49); son and brother of those who do the will of God (Mark 3:35). At the end of his life, however, his physical mother is clearly spiritually related to him as well. The Gospel of John explicitly places the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross, while the other Gospels seem to indicate she is there, among the women who followed Jesus from Galilee and supported him. The beginning of Acts includes Mary among the disciples of Jesus waiting for the Holy Spirit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

These lyrics apparently don't exist on the internet, so I'm doing my part to add to the universal knowledge base. A meaningful song to me, from the defunct Minneapolis band Pegtop.


What would I give to be pure in heart
And pure in flesh and bone?
What would I give
To be pure in heart?
I'd give everything I own.

I'd rid my whole house of the demons of lust
And open the windows of trust.
And out of those windows
All fear will have flown,
And I'd give everything I own.

What would I give for the words of God
To come tumbling from the throne?
What would I give
for the words of God?
I'd give everything I own.

I'd open my hand and they'd roll right in.
When I'd open my mouth, they'd roll out again.
They'd uproot the weeds
Of the deeds I have sown,
And I'd give everything I own.

What would I give for my children's strength
On the day they stand alone?
I mean what would I give
For their strength to stand firm?
I'd give everything I own.

I've wasted my live in accomplishing things,
Ignoring the giver of wings.
Lord, teach them to fly
To the foot of your throne
And I'll give everything I own.

All I've accomplished
And the titles I hold
My passions, positions, possessions and gold,
To God they must look like a thimble of foam--
And it's everything I own.
Dirty rags is all I own.

So I stand before God
With my truckload of hay.
He just laughs, but says, "There is still a way."
Because "Father, forgive," are the words Jesus moaned.
He gave everything he owned.
When he gave everything he owned.

What would I give to be pure in heart?
For the known to be unknown?
I mean what would I give to be . . . born again?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Library Geekiness

So Mrs. Chaka and I went to a Librarian's conference yesterday. Quick show of hands: how many of you are surprised? How many books did we come home with? The person who answers closest to the correct number will receive a single kudo.

Most of the books we obtained were for a theological library to be started in Liberia. As part of the conference, we were learning about software that can be used to make an electronic catalog. The goal is to get started cataloging the books here in the States, but to do it in a way that will be helpful as the library grows and presumably integrates with other libraries in Africa. I keep thinking that there ought to be freeware that does this. There are sites that let you build an electronic library (LibraryThing, Google Books) and some fairly cheap software, but none of these options use the standard database fields for real libraries.

I always wondered why Library Science was a master's degree. I'm beginning to get an idea; librarians are plumbing depths of geekiness hitherto unimagined by your very geeky narrator. Database management, that distant shore of nerddom on which I have never desired to land, looms large on the horizon.

I'm most disappointed in Google Books. I mean, two years ago, it wasn't possible for me to read the entire contents of copyright-expired books, scanned and searchable, without any cost to myself. But I'm over the wonder and amazement of that, Google. Now I'm wondering why you haven't included all of the MARC records with all of your books. Let's get the lead out, ok?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sorry for your service interruption

Sorry there was no post last night. The wife and I had guests until late. I did dream that I was blogging about Jean-Paul Satre still being alive and being a secret Harry Potter fan.

Speaking of HP, I found it amusing that the most recent issue of Books and Culture insisted (in separate reviews) that Harry Potter isn't a Christ figure, but Harry Crick from Stranger than Fiction is. (Yes, I know the character is called Harold in the movie; I did that intentionally to draw the two into comparison. BC, are you reading?)

Since no one seems to be able to say exactly what a Christ figure is, I would say that both characters are Christ-follower figures. Even if they don't match up point-by-point to Jesus, they both follow in the footsteps of Christ by "becoming obedient unto death--and, more significantly, they are both restored to life because of their obedience (not to give the plot away). I found both Harrys very moving presentations of this story, which Paul argues is the normative story for all Christians (Phil 2:1-11).

How often do you think about your death? I've been trying to think about my own more often--or rather, think about it in the right way. In the past, I would sometimes get preoccupied imagining elaborate scenarios in which I was about to be killed. These fits of morbid imagination were always depressing--I wanted to fantasize that I could fight back like the hero in a movie, but for some reason, I knew that doing so would be foolish. I'm no extraordinary fighter; odds are if someone wanted to kill me, they could. Encountering these characters (particularly Harry Potter) who walk to death with calmness, with resolution, has changed the course of these imaginings.

I have always understood cognitively that I have nothing to fear from death. I think it is instructive, however, that it took these works of imagination to convince a part of me that was true. It says something about the value of art as an aid to spiritual growth.