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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's Wednesday Night

According to the New York Times, "It is possible to have loathed Amélie and still enjoy Pushing Daisies." And it's possible to hate kittens and like 19th century British novels, but if you're really proud of the fact that you hate kittens, there's just something wrong with you.

Mrs. Chaka and I are enjoying our favorite new show tonight. Not enjoying the ads for Private Practice or for the rest of ABC's shows, but you do what you can. I figured that Linus would like this show, but I'm guessing he's already discovered it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What does Ditch Digging have to do with Darfur?

A sidebar advertisement asked me, "Are you making a killing on the market?" Its stark, serious typography told me it wasn't for an investment firm. There were no reassuring tones: no soothing blue, prosperity green, or authoritative gold. I clicked the link, wondering what connection would be made between investments and the loss of human life.

I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that I may be one of the people making the killing.

A few months ago, I was happy to see that my tiny retirement account had grown by a few hundred dollars. The account, left over from my days digging ditches, if you can believe that, is my only investment. I've never taken much interest in it--American Funds tells me they're The right choice for the long term (r) and I take their word for it.

I knew that China's state-run oil company was one of the bad guys in the Darfur genocide, funding the Sudanese government in defiance of the international attempt to isolate it. What I didn't put together was that American Funds of course invests in China National Petroleum (and their subsidiary, PetroChina). Activists have encouraged American Funds and other mutual fund firms to divest from these companies. American Funds' website has a link for their "approach to socially responsible investing."

Short version: Sad deal about the murder and rape thing, but we exist to make money, you know. It says so in the prospectus.

I haven't quite figured out yet whether any of my funds own PetroChina stock (like I said, I haven't paid much attention--I don't know exactly where my paperwork is), but I guess I better act on some of the principles I've talked about in this blog and find out.

A friend's status on facebook was recently "wondering how I can practice an ethic of love towards the people who represent, and knowingly benefit from, the very privileges that make my life more difficult?" It's a good question, but it's one that I don't really have to answer for myself. My much, much smaller irritation lies in discovering how easy it is for me to get enmeshed in new privileges that make others' lives difficult.

World Hunger Day

In the spirit of raising awareness for World Hunger Day, I had my 9-10 Biology classes look at some of the ecological reasons/solutions for global hunger. The more I research, the more I realize that the biggest step we can take toward reducing hunger and uneven food distribution is to stop eating meat (or at least eat significantly less meat). My kids didn't really like to hear that, nor did they enjoy the graphing activity I had them do. Try it out and see if you can do better than they did. Most likely you can.

(please note that the attached is cut and pasted from many forgotten sources. I did the graphs myself, though. I love Excel!)


October 16th, 2007

Hunger in the World

In total, there are about 810 million people suffering from chronic hunger; 770 million live in developing countries and 38 million in developed countries.

Every 3.6 seconds, someone dies of hunger.

Among the deaths from hunger, only 10% die from hunger caused by disasters and war. The rest are mainly due to extreme poverty and chronic hunger.

Children and Hunger

3 of 4 deaths caused by malnutrition are of children below the age of 5.

Every day in the developing world, 30,500 children die of preventable diseases such as diarrhea, respiratory infections or malaria. Malnutrition is associated with more than half of those deaths.

Hunger in Asia

Almost two-thirds (526 million) of the world's hungry people live in developing countries in Asia and the Pacific.

In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Mongolia, more than 33% of the population is undernourished.

Hunger in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost a quarter of the hungry people in developing world, totalling about 180 million.

Hunger in Rich Areas

In the United States, 800,000 households suffer from severe hunger, according to a recent nationwide government survey.

In the United States, 10% of households are hungry, on the edge of hunger, or worried about being hungry.

Causes of Hunger in the World

Uneven Distribution of Resources

Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish.


The poorer you are, the fewer resources you can access. Even though there’s enough food, millions of people cannot afford to buy it.

Uneven Distribution of Land

A small number of rich people own most of the farmland while the poor majority is left to struggle on small plots of farmland.

In Brazil, more than three-quarters of the land belongs to the richest 1% of the population. The land use often concentrates on agricultural and animal products for export rather than local needs.

Heavy Foreign Debt
To repay the large debts and to purchase imported goods for economic development, governments in indebted countries encourage and sometimes force farmers to grow cash crops or export goods such as flowers, cotton, coffee, and seafood, instead of staple food for the country's own people.

In some debt-ridden countries, the governments have cut spending on social services such as relief food for poor families who are facing starvation.


Wars not only lead to human or financial loss, but also destroy farmland and irrigation facilities, thereby stopping or reducing food production. For instance, armed conflicts in Africa have led to at least 20 million people facing starvation over the past 10 years.

Natural Disasters

Due to environmental degradation, global weather has changed and brought floods and droughts to many parts of the world in recent years.

Environmental Degradation
Due to environmental degradation, the productivity of some poor areas has been reduced. In 1998, more than two million hectares of farmland in China were lost due to soil erosion, desertification, industrial development, uncontrolled urbanization, and natural disasters. Over the past 20 years, the size of deserts has been increasing by 2,460 square kilometers per year.

Food Wastage

Food wastage is quite common in rich societies. To maintain profits, some governments try to uphold high prices by ensuring there is no surplus food supply. Some developed countries deliberately destroy so-called excess supplies of food even though they are still fresh and edible. In 1995, the US destroyed some 43 million tons of food, about 27% of what is available for consumption.

Using Graphs to Understand World Hunger

Using the graph below, answer the following questions:

1. Which region of the world had the highest number of undernourished people in 1969?

2. How many undernourished people did Latin American countries have in 1989?

3. Which region had the biggest increase in undernourished people?

4. Knowing that today there are 810 million people living with chronic hunger, have these regions continued the trends seen in the graph? Explain.

World Hunger and Resource Use

5. From the graph below, which food provides the most protein per acre of land? Which food provides the least?

6. Contrast the protein production of grains and vegetables (producers) and of animal products (consumers).

7. What can this graph teach us about how to solve world hunger?

8. What is shown in the graph below?

9. Which food requires the least amount of water? How much does it require? (include units)

10. Why does beef require so much more water than corn or chicken?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Veritas Caput

If you'll remember from the post before last in this thread, I'm looking back at the earliest interpretations of Mary in Christian thought. The first place to look is obviously Scripture, but I trust the reader is already familiar with most of what Scripture has to say about her. The basic passages, if you want to read them, are Matthew 1-2; Mark 3:20-34; Luke 1-2; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; and in her final appearance, Acts 1:13-14.

In Scripture and in the earliest extrabiblical Christian writings, Mary chiefly shows up as a secondary point in an argument the author is making about Jesus. For example, Paul in Galatians 4:4 emphasizes that Jesus was the Son of God born of a woman. This is the way Mary shows up in the Apostolic Fathers, as the source of Jesus' humanity. Take Ignatius of Antioch:

Under the Divine dispensation, Jesus Christ our God was conceived by Mary of the seed of David and of the Spirit of God.
Or take Irenaeus, writing in the late AD 100s:

To say [Jesus'] appearance was only seeming [i.e., he only appeared to be human] is the same as to say that he took nothing from Mary. He would not have had real flesh and blood, by which he paid the price [of our salvation] unless he had indeed recapitulated in himself the ancient making of Adam.

In these passages, Mary is important because she indicates that Jesus was a real human being. This is a crucial point in how the first Christians made sense of the mysterious horror of Jesus' execution, which they came to see as the central event of religious history. Irenaeus's point about recapitulation takes us right into the heart of that issue. It will require some unpacking, and will shed some more light on Mary's importance, but that will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Christian Organics?

The latest issue of Christianity Today has an article about a suburban family that moved out to rural Illinois to become farmers. Can't find it online, sorry; you'll have to find a hard copy if you're really interested. (You can read about the family on this website, though.) It struck me that the article made much of a religiously motivated organic farming movement, but social justice concerns were not discussed. The movement was tied to a sort of traditionalist, homeschooling attitude and "doing things God's way." It wasn't tied at all to concerns about globalization and the conditions of the people who raise our food on the other side of the world.

This really isn't that surprising, I guess. The organics movement gets a lot more traction out of the idea that food raised this way is better for you, rather than being better for anybody else. One wouldn't necessarily expect the discourse to change when the organic farmers are self-avowedly Christian.

Understand that I'm not looking down on CT or these farmers for not talking about globalization. If they asked me to establish that there really was something for them to be concerned about, I don't know how convincing I would be.

On the other hand, Books and Culture had an almost throw-away statement at the end of one of their reviews that advocated eating locally. This review I was able to find online, thus redeeming my status as a blogger. An interesting read.

Friday, October 12, 2007

It's Even Later

Had a great time tonight at an improv performance. I narrowly avoided being chosen as a "volunteer" from the audience. In my desperation to avoid the gaze of the actor who was recruiting audience members, I stared at Mrs. Chaka, who was seated to my left. I must have been sending the message "pick her! pick her!" because she was the one chosen to participate. She had fun and did a good job, so I'm glad it was her. I don't like performing without lots of notice and preparation--I'm too obsessed with what people think of me.

Since I have stumbled into a self-revelatory mood, let's exploit this for a quick end to this post. What is a character flaw that you would like to erase from your personality? The one I'm thinking of for myself is my tendency to see all events and interactions in terms of how it will effect what people think of me. Caring what people think keeps you on your toes and makes you look considerate and conscientious and all that, but it doesn't make for very strong character when choosing what is right really counts. So I would like very much to convince myself that "it's not always about you."

How about you?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's Late

. . . so I'm going to take the easy way out and post a bit of bibliography on the topic at hand. I find that a lot of writings about Mary all sound the same, because they are drawn into the typical Catholics vs. Protestants talking points that I'm trying to avoid. There are a few books that I want to recommend, however:

The most helpful book I've encountered on the topic is

Hilda C. Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion. Volume I: From the Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963.

This work simply presents extracts of Christian writings about Mary in chronological order, so you can read for yourself what was said about her in the early centuries of the church. This is the resource one needs in order to be guided by the Vincentian Canon.

A shorter book that covers the place of Mary from the first century up to the present is Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

If you really want to read a Catholic and Protestant hashing out their competing views, an enjoyable, irenic example is

Dwight Longnecker and David Gustafson. Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003.

This one is actually kind of cool theological mash-up, the authors (one Catholic, one Prod) having been college classmates at Bob Jones University. As good a book as any to give you an example of the circles you can argue through about this topic.

Scot McKnight has a book out on Mary that I haven't read yet. I read his article in Christianity Today and was underwhelmed, so I haven't been eager to pick it up. McKnight seems keen to prove that Mary was a lot feistier than we have all been led to believe, but his arguments ring hollow for me. I can understand why we would like her to be feisty--a radical, subversive Mary is much more interesting--but I think McKnight's presentation is overstated. "Well-behaved women rarely make history," they say, but Mary may well be a counterexample. (Click the link to see the wide range of merchandise you can purchase to declare that sentiment. Note what the first example is an apron. Deliberate irony? You can also get the slogan on a thong, which I think is not quite the sort of bad behavior the saying has in mind.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Better movies through Rains

Lileks snippet of the day:

There is no movie on earth that cannot benefit from the presence of Claude Rains. If I could redo the Star Wars sequel I would have made Yoda look like him and sound like him. Shocked. Shocked am I to gambling find here.
I concur, although I think the syntax needs to be Yoda'd up some more. Shocked I am gambling to find here. Shocked here am I gambling to find. There's probably at least one language where that order is allowed.

Speaking of ways to improve the Star Wars prequels, I've got some ideas of my own. If only intellectual property laws allowed, some spectacular fan-written remakes could be made. (And I could have all the music I want. Whose idea was intellectual property, anyway? Ah, les frances.)

The fundamental problem with the prequels is, of course, that the multiple "payoff" moments failed to, well, pay off. Anakin's final turn to the Dark Side? Psychologically ridiculous. His physical transformation into Vader? All I remember is the cheesy Noooooooooo! The Jedi
completely whiff the Sith threat and get cut down from behind, and the only pathos comes from the slo-mo and John Williams's soundtrack. The romance: less chemistry than my wife and I had the first time we dated (if you were around, you remember). The dialog: a ninth-grader could have written it (heck, I could have written it).

Where was I going with this? Oh, so my main idea is to increase the tragedy of the Jedi by having them reject a genuine offer from rebel systems to oppose the Sith. If that sounds familiar, it's because Count Dooku made a bogus offer along those lines in the second movie. You have in these systems the seed of what eventually becomes the rebel alliance, maybe even some figures that show up in the original movies. The tragedy is that the Jedi join the proto-Imperial forces in hunting these rebels down and destroy their best hope of defeating the Sith.

You have any ideas? What would you change about the movies? Anything's fair game, plot, casting, set design, characterization. Just don't say anything against Jar-Jar Binks. I love Jar-Jar Binks.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Not the Usual Approach to Mary

One of my coworkers today remarked on the impossibility of critiquing an individual, isolated point of Catholic doctrine. You simply can't start addressing one point without getting pulled into a conversation with the whole structure. This is true for just about any doctrine, but a lot of Protestants discover this fact of interdenominational dialogue when they take issue with Catholic teaching and practice about Mary.

For this reason, I don't want to approach the topic of Mary in the typical, Catholics-over-there-Us-over-here sort of way. Another reason to avoid this approach is the fact that Catholics don't have a monopoly on Mary. U.S. Protestants perceive Mary as "Catholic," but she has significant roles to play in the Eastern Orthodox churches, and even several protestant groups (such as Lutherans and Anglicans).

As a U.S. Protestant (albeit with some Catholic upbringing), my encounter with the Mary of these other traditions challenges me to broaden my religious thoughts and practices (simply because other traditions say and do more about Mary than my own). My task is to evaluate whether and in what ways it is right for me to broaden them.

Two principles will hopefully guide my process of evaluating. One is the principle to rely first and finally on what the Bible has to say on the topic. However, since all traditions generally point to the Bible to support their beliefs and practices regarding Mary, it is helpful to add a second principle: My interpretation of the Bible should be guided by how it is interpreted among the earliest and broadest commentators (what might be called the Vincentian Canon).

Ok, them's the ground rules. Let's see if I can follow them.

Monday, October 08, 2007

False Advertising in Ewan McGregor Movies

Soooo.... The wife went on a minor Ewan McGregor kick this week and got three of his lesser-known movies from the library. Now, I like McGregor as much as the next guy, but I warned her that his UK movies are a load of Turkish Delight. (That's rhyming slang, not an allusion to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

The two UK movies, Brassed Off and Little Voice, proved me correct. Both billed as comedies; total number of laffs between them: -1.6. They shared the same writer/director, a number of the same actors, and the same coarse, depressing view of working class British life in the 80s (It was Margaret Bloody Thatcher's fault! Why oh why didn't God strike her down! Instead he took John Lennon! [I'm paraphrasing, but just barely] It's enough to make a clown go hang himself.)

As Mrs. Chaka pointed out, the advertising copy on the back of Brassed Off's case had nothing to do with the actual movie contained therein. I've taken the liberty of graying out the inaccurate parts:

This delightfully entertaining comedy treat features hot screen stars Ewan McGregor and sexy Tara Fitzgerald. It's the critically acclaimed story about two old friends -- and ex-lovers -- whose surprise reunion turns their lives... and the lives of everyone else in town... hilariously upside down!

I hate to break it to you, kids, but the movie is about coal miners. Coal miners and their coal miners' band, and their coal miners' coal pit that gets shut down by the eeeevil Tory party. The romance is a sub-plot. But, you try to sell a movie about coal miners and brass bands, and you don't sell any movies.

Of Little Voice, let nothing be said.

A much better movie, with a much smaller dose of cover falsification, was Miss Potter. Mrs. Chaka insists that this movie be praised for it's good, clean story, for which it does deserve credit. Renee Zellweger at her least annoying. The Great Scot was great, as usual. However, there was a slight discrepancy between Ewan McGregor as pictured on the cover (see above) and how he actually appeared in the film:

Hmmm.... Something is missing from that cover picture, but what, what? He looks ... younger somehow on the cover, and less ... prickly.

Has it come to this? Are the fine mustaches of the Edwardian period to be hushed up, airbrushed out, for fear of driving away young female movie-goers in terror? As a member of the mustache-American community, I object to this censorship.

What does a bushy mustache say to you? Creepy loser, or gallant young gentleman? British imperialist pig or Zapatista? Nietzsche or Lew Wallace?

P.S.: This made me think of Pirate Jimmy, though I don't know if he's into Tool.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

My Favorite Luxembourgish Archbishop

The wife and I entered a brave new world today. We picked up developed photos for the first time in about a year. We generally distrust Walgreen's, having been burned by their low-quality work in the past, but they are just about the cheapest. We even got a photo CD (we're still on film cameras, so electronic pictures are a big deal to us)!

The bright sunshine in Belgium, WI at the Luxembourg Festival made for some good pics. The gentleman second from the left is the Archbishop of Luxembourg, Fernand Franck. There aren't very many Luxembourgish celebrities, so he's about as big a name as you could get, outside the Grand Duke and his family, of course. (Wikipedia sez that upon becoming Grand Duke, Henri "relinquished the styling 'by the Grace of God'" before his titles. Not sure what that means, but I suppose no humility is better than false humility.)

The liturgy and the homily had a number of good things to say about Mary, as she is the patroness of Luxembourg. Marian devotion doesn't creep me out like it does a lot of Protestants; although, some news stories suggest that more Protestants are open to it than ever. Mary is especially attractive to postmodern/emergent types, who are drawn to the fact that she is venerated in wide swaths of the Church, and has been since quite early in the Christian era. Being able to hold up a female role model for faith makes them happy, too.

I have a few thoughts on the topic. They are rambling and jargony, as you've come to expect, but I think I'll share them next week anyway.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Enough Stalling!

Well, I've been delaying any sort of conclusion to my thread about local eating, mostly because I don't have any grand pronouncements to make at the end of it. I appeal to you, the readers, to give me guidance. Here is the lay of the land as I see it:

When I pursue the best interests of my household, I am led to shopping habits that are common to the lower classes throughout the industrialized world: namely, I get my groceries (and other necessities) from international discount chains like Aldi. The products that Aldi does a poor job of delivering (like produce), I get from a small ethnic grocery store nearby. But the local-ness of the store and the small size of the chain doesn't eliminate international corporations from the pipeline. The produce is still raised far away--as far as I know, under conditions for those who raise it that I would not wish on myself.

A side note here: Special K doesn't think I'm a wacko at all for expecting continuity between colonial conditions and corporate conditions. She does me a kindness, but I think such expectations are outside of the norm for most of our fellow citizens. And I am constantly confronted with my genuine ignorance of what conditions working for a corporation overseas are like, an ignorance that makes me hesitant to speak absolutely on the topic. It also makes me hesitant to act, which suits me fine--I'm quite afraid to have to act on these thoughts.

My fear stems from the radical change (and radical sacrifice) that seems to be demanded if I apply biblical counsel to these thoughts. Although the Wisdom tradition of the Bible seems satisfied with my pursuit of savings, that tradition is situated within larger concerns about justice and sacrifice. It is wise for me to seek the benefit of my household. But who is in my household?

You tell me, reader. Are the people who grow my food members of my household? If so, how do I seek their benefit?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bible is Foremost among Books to be Studied

I've had a lot of exposure to the Bible in the course of my life, especially in the last four years. It's a rare day that I'm not reading the biblical text or reading someone else's analysis of the text. (That's not bragging, by the way--it has more to do with my job than with my discipline.) Sometimes I read a paragraph in a commentary that just "clunks" against the side of my head--it manages only to state the obvious, or recite a vague and hackneyed harmonization. At times like this, I feel the force of Pirate Jimmy's question below: Is the Bible overanalyzed? Has too much ink been spilled for too many years over a corpus of a few hundred pages?

The Bible has been subject to more study than any other corpus in human history, I imagine, so if anything has the right to be called "overanalyzed," surely the Bible does. Of course, if I understand the background of Pirate Jimmy's question correctly, it's born out of seeing people try to dig meaning out of the Bible that just isn't there. I think we can all agree that such things happen. I would distinguish, however, between bad analysis of the Bible, which is plentiful, and overanalysis of the Bible. I'm not discouraged from continuing to study the Bible simply because a lot of people do it poorly. Just because people take a lot of bad photos of the Eiffel Tower doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.

The truth is, the Bible is the foremost of all books to be studied. God is at work in our world, buying it back and recreating it bit by bit. He has several hands doing this work, including the world itself and the group of people whom he has already bought back and begun to recreate (that is, the Church). The Bible is both a record of his past work (written by his people across thousands of years) and another, ever present hand in his present work. It has the right, not merely on account of sentiment and tradition, to be called the Word of God.

One of the little features of life that confirms this is the fact that, in my experience, even bad analyses of the Bible are often transformative. It's an encouragement to humility for those of us who pride ourselves on knowing what a good or bad analysis looks like: Sometimes God uses that lousy exegesis to do genuine redemptive work. It doesn't mean that I shoot for lousy exegesis; but it does tell me that God is still speaking.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

How Deep is Your Love?

As I mentioned yesterday, Daniel Miller theorizes that shopping, particularly grocery shopping, can be understood as an objectification of love. What do you think? Is it appropriate to see purchases as a means of conveying love? Or is this the lie peddled by jewelry stores--prove your love by plunking down some cash?

Miller argues that our romanticized culture is unique in resisting the mediation of our love for others through commodities. I think that the problem isn't so much that we can't think of mediating our love through commodities; the problem is that we only think of dramatic purchases as demonstrations of love. We don't have a category for love expressed in mundane activities like buying bananas and cans of soup.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tieing the Threads Together

Pirate Jimmy asks a provocative question below, which essentially requires me to justify my life's work. I can envision a series of posts to address the question, which is a good one, but I'll start by saying Yes. And No. It depends.

There, left myself plenty of room to take that any direction I want.

Since I don't quite know what corner of my answer to start with at this point, I'm going to pull this thread into the earlier thread and talk about the impact of the Bible on groceries and ethics. A British scholar named Daniel Miller has written several books and articles studying grocery shopping as a cultural phenomenon. One of his brilliant insights is the fact that he sees grocery shopping not as some mundane, amoral task, but as an act of objectifying our love for others. The shopper, in the vast majority of cases a woman shopping for members of her family, concretizes her abstract love for them with the purchasing decisions she makes. Given this interpretation of grocery shopping as love in action, so to speak, the Bible has a lot to say on the topic.

For example, the provisioner of a household demonstrates her love for her household by working for their benefit. Saving is a central concern of grocery shopping; the unspoken central imperative of the practice seems to be "Save money." The Bible is in part consistent with this understanding of love-as-saving. In contemporary Christian culture, it is referred to as "stewardship" and seen as a countercultural practice. It has its roots in the Wisdom tradition of Scripture (a cross-cultural tradition); for example, the Wise Woman spoken of in Proverbs 31 could be seen as an ideal shopper, exemplifying this practice of loving her household (and fearing the Lord!) by basically acting like a capitalist.

Rereading this post, I see I'm going to have to take a deep breath and go about this more slowly. Where I'm going with this is a presentation of some of the tensions that Scripture presents us as we think about how to shop for groceries in the fear of the Lord. But I'm descending into jargon at the moment, so I will withdraw for the moment and pick this up tomorrow.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I'm going to make a statement. I'm pretty sure it will generate some discussion amongst this group. I'd like to read your thoughts on it, so here it is:
I believe the bible is over-analyzed. Do you agree, disagree, or other?

Cattle With Divine Power

HOLY COW! You're posting!