Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Robbie Burns Day

I spent the past weekend in Guelph, Ontario--a university town near my old stomping grounds in southern Ontario. It'd been years since I'd been there, and in coming back I was struck by what I'd never noticed before (the blindness of familiarity): the city is a veritable paean to Edinburgh and all things Scottish--street names, building names, architectural echoes, all pointed back to Scotland. This found me awash in memories of Embro, the village of my youth (so named as a garbled abbreviation of Edin-borough) with its Highland Games (every July 1), Knox Presbyterian Church, the Highland Restaurant, and a phonebook awash in Murrays, MacDonalds, MacKays, Mathesons, Bruces, and Burns'.

This put me in the mood to remember Robbie Burns Day (and to wistfully remember one of our most delightful evenings in England when we celebrated "Rabbie Burns Supper" with Maggie, Gordon and their friends in Yorkshire). So, in honor of the Bard and my fightin' Scots heritage:

There'll Never Be Peace Till Jamie Comes Hame

By Robert Burns

By yon Castle wa', at the close of the day,
I heard a man sing, tho' his head it was grey:
And as he was singing, the tears doon came,--
There'll never be peace till Jamie comes hame.

The Church is in ruins, the State is in jars,
Delusions, oppressions, and murderous wars,
We dare na weel say't, but we ken wha's to blame,--
There'll never be peace till Jamie comes hame.

My seven braw sons for Jamie drew sword,
But now I greet round their green beds in the yerd;
It brak the sweet heart o' my faithful and dame,--
There'll never be peace till Jamie comes hame.

Now life is a burden that bows me down,
Sin' I tint my bairns, and he tint his crown;
But till my last moments my words are the same,--
There'll never be peace till Jamie comes hame.

[And if you have opportunity today, find a few moments to listen to Nickel Creek's charmed rendition of "Sweet Afton."]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Calvinism for the 21st Century

Registration is now open for Dordt College's upcoming conference, Calvinism for the 21st Century, April 8-10, 2010.

Launching from Calvin's 500th birthday, the conference considers the future of Calvinism and will feature several plenary speakers such as Jim Skillen, Vincent Bacote, Julia Stronks, and myself, along with an array of papers in parallel sessions from an interdisciplinary collection of scholars and practitioners (full schedule should be posted soon). Register early.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reviews and Interviews: DTK Around the Web

My latest book, Desiring the Kingdom, has been generating some discussion and garnering a bit of attention over the past couple of weeks. I'm grateful for these engagements as they've helped me pinpoint some lacunae in my account, and exchanges have provided a welcome opportunity to make some clarifications. So readers might be interested in following up on some of these since they function as "supplements" to the book, in a way. Here's a sampling:

Reviews and E-interviews
  • The most recent issue of the Christian Scholar's Review (Winter 2010) features a review symposium on Desiring the Kingdom, including a response from me entitled, "From Christian Scholarship to Christian Education." This was a very rich exchange for me. Unfortunately, the full text is not available online, but you might check local libraries.
  • Evangelical wunderkind Matthew Anderson wrote a robust review of the book at Evangel, one of the blogs over at First Things (which generated a little exchange with Francis Beckwith which I hope might continue in other places). And they were kind enough to let me write a brief response there as well. (Agent Smith responding to Mr. Anderson! ;-) And now Mr. Anderson has just posted a reply to my response.
  • And Trevin Wax, the blogger behind Kingdom People, conducted an e-interview with me that helped us address some concerns and issues.
Finally, it was a great honor to have an astute reader and bibliophile like Byron Borger name Desiring the Kingdom as his choice for "Most Important Book of the Year" over at Hearts & Minds.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Giving to Haiti

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, to which I regularly point folks here at Fors Clavigera, quickly established a site for donating to aid in rescue and recovery in Haiti. Please give. The CRWRC has longtime connections in Haiti, strong relationships on the ground, and can leverage local, indigenous leaders to show mercy from the ground up.

And over the past years, our children's middle school has also developed a close relationship with the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty. It was heartbreaking to hear our two youngest come home with stories about children they knew of in Haiti who died in the quake, especially as they waited for news to trickle in over the last couple of days. Giving seems so cheap in these circumstances, but it is something.

Let us, above all, pray and work against those principalities and powers that so unjustly distribute resources in our world--against the demons of poverty (which are legion) and the devils of our own selishness and comfort that quietly concentrate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many.

Blogging Thomas Merton

I'm trying a little experiment over at What I'm Reading: blogging my way through Thomas Merton's classic, The Seven Storey Mountain, which was my meditative holiday reading. I have this sense that one day I'll look back on the season spent reading it as pivotal in my pilgrimage, so I'm combing back through it and highlighting some favorite passages and themes as both an exercise and homage. I hope Fors Clavigera readers might consider following along.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I'm Listening To: The Charlie Poole Project

Sometimes we don't know what we like. Our tastes operate at a visceral level that often elude articulation. On one level, we "know" what we like, what delights us; but on another level we're often unable to say what we "know" in this sense. (And herein lies one of the functions of good criticism: a wise critic gives us the words to name and articulate our tastes.)

And sometimes we're just not honest with ourselves. We feel constrained to like something--that we ought to like something. Socialization is also a socialization in taste, with all the associated pressures, constraints, and prejudices. And so we might also convince ourselves that we don't like something because we "shouldn't."

I've been thinking about these sorts of dynamics in relation to my musical tastes, largely because I've had a revelation of taste--and perhaps a new realization of self-honesty. It's simply this: the sound of a banjo makes my heart sing, and the sawing of a fiddle can capture my soul from almost any distraction. The pluck-pluck of a simple upright bass and the whine of a harmonica combine into a visceral tug on both body and soul. Combined, these sounds have an uncanny way of making me feel at home. (I chalk this up to my Scots-Canadian heritage whose Celtic proclivities seem to resonate with the Scots-Irish folk who played these instruments in the hills of West Virginia, the Appalachian Mountains, and the North Carolina Piedmont.)

For a long time, I thought this meant I liked "country" music--so you can sort of imagine my hesitancy to admit this to myself (given my critique of country music). But slowly I've come to this realization: what I really love is bluegrass and what is now sometimes described as "American roots music," which informs those streams of folk with which I resonate.

Part of this dawning realization, for me, was hearing a wonderful conversation with Loudon Wainwright III on his latest 2-disc collection, High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. This is Wainwright's homage to Charlie Poole, a North Carolina rambler who epitomized the cotton mill bands of the 1920s and 30s.

Is it possible to wear out a CD? 'Cause I'm lovin' this.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

T.R. Reid on Healthcare @ The January Series

Yesterday kicked-off Calvin College's annual January Series--three weeks of free, noontime lectures by a wide variety of authors and experts. Over its two decades it has become a Grand Rapids institution--the brightness of a little liberal arts education crammed into the dreariness of west Michigan winter. And anyone in the world can listen live on the web.

This year's series started with a bang: journalist T.R. Reid speaking on "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care," also the title of his bestselling book. (You can listen to the archive online.) Reid's work is everything Michael Moore's is not. Based on several years of international exploration of different healthcare systems around the world, Reid summarizes a taxonomy of 4 different models--and then points out that all 4 are operative in the United States. So if you have employer-based insurance, you live in Germany; if you have Medicare, you live in Canada; if you're a Vet, you live in Britain; and if you're none of those, you live in Angola or Nepal.

His core question isn't whether we could have universal healthcare in the U.S., but why don't we? Definitely worth a listen, and the book is worth reading.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2009 Englewood Honor Books

I'm very honored that Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation has been selected as "Theology Book of the Year" for 2009 by the Englewood Review of Books. You can read their review of the book (from the October issue) here. But also checkout their wonderful array of Honor Books, including poetry, biography, and fiction.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Rick Warren's 900-ft. Jesus?

A couple of weeks ago, over at The Immanent Frame, I was asked to comment on Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article which drew connections between the prosperity gospel and the subprime mortgage catastrophe. At that time, I suggested the following:

So prosperity preachers are easy targets for blame—and they certainly deserve that. But what about the sort of low-grade, soft-sell gospel of prosperity that is part of “mainstream” evangelicalism? While folks like Rick Warren are quick to denounce the heresy of treating God like a cosmic bubble-gum machine, run-of-the-mill suburban evangelicals are complicit with a consumerism and fixation on property that operates under-the-radar, as it were. While mainstream megapastors aren’t promising Bentleys for faith, they generally extol a vision of the “good life” that has 4 bedrooms and a 3-car garage, with an SUV in the drive. (If you really want to know what evangelicals value, stroll the parking lot at Saddleback Church—and then ask folks where they live.) This is why evangelicals have been so easily assimilated to the American ideal of economic growth and personal prosperity (an American gospel that is certainly not just the property of Republicans).

In other words, while Osteen and his ilk might be denounced by evangelicals, I do wonder if his gospel of prosperity differs by degree, rather than in kind.

Now this morning we have the "good news" that Rick Warren's urgent appeal for $900,000 actually brought in much more: $2.4 million!

Why do I find myself thinking about a 900-foot Jesus?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Top Reads 2009: Recap (and "Bonus Tracks")

Over at What I'm Reading, I've now completed the retrospective of my Top Reads for 2009. And I've just added an "Honorable Mention" in each category as a kind of "bonus track." The categories are: