Thursday, February 08, 2007

Spring Lineup

The title of this post is meant to conjure up good feelings about baseball season's rapid approach. My Red Sox have a new lineup, and with the exception of JD Drew I am excited about it. I am going to be complaining about Drew all summer (and hopefully deep into the fall), so just get used to it.

And here is my own fall lineup.

>The Radical Reformation: A seminary in church history focusing on those people I now count as my forefathers and mothers. A very helpful course, for any Anabaptist theologian has to meander through a highly variegated garden of potential historical sources.

>Contemporary Systematic Theology: Here we are asking the basic questions. Method. What key assumptions drive a theology forward or hold it back? Only those who take up the task after Barth and Tillich are covered here, which makes it a wild and wooly experience.

>20th Century Catholic Renascence: Just keeping tabs on what the Vatican has been up to the last 100 years. Did you know they have been producing a windfall of terrific literature to complement the renewal in theology? I'll tell you all about it after I pass the class.

>And our departmental colloqium is reading Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov and The Underground Man are two absolutely stunning pieces of literature. I have been thoroughly unsettled since picking them up. Few authors have been able to capture their audience's attention and expose their most guarded and hidden assumptions.

Let's hope I can survive it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


How has my New Year been? I'll give you a run-down
>Got snowed-in while visiting family in Denver. Never seen 30 inches of snow in my life. Hope to never see it again.
>Got to see my newest nephew, Jack. Adorable.
>Michigan loses to USC, Oklahoma loses to Boise, Ohio St loses to Florida, New England loses to India-no-place. I am no longer a football fan. Until next season.
>Boston Red Sox sign JD Drew. I weep bitterly. They are under review this season as my favorite baseball team.
>Spring semester has begun as I pull my first all-nighter of graduate school. When we did 'em at undegrad, it was because we secretly wanted to. I did it this week because there was no other way...
>Started attending a bi-lingual Mennonite house church. Started wondering why I hadn't done so until now.
>Movies watched: Casino Royale is my favorite Bond movie of all time. Children of Men is the most uncomfortable movie of all time. The Sixth Sense is the worst movie of all time. (Just threw that last one in there for spite.)

Any questions?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Not Dead Yet

Hmmm. Where to begin.

First, I am not sure that I have killed anything (yet). I am still blogging , and I still use a telephone. So I do not think we need to abandon all technology (yet). There are certainly proper and improper usage for things such as cell phones. I think I am approaching an acceptable practice of blogging both here and at our communal page. I do not know how to use a cell phone properly, most likely because I have a general aversion to telephones.

Second, I am arguing from a position of weakness here. I do not know how to go forward. I am not sitting here waiting for someone to ask me "How do I go on?" so I can tell them all they need to know. I would very much like to know that myself. I am merely pointing out that modern "conveniences" often warp the very thing they are intended to preserve. I seriously doubt that this is a very innovative claim, and I know it is not very constructive.

Third, I am not advocating a "minimalist" approach to community. We need not pare away every single thing that is not a perfect representation of what relations are meant to be. If we did so, we would certainly be very alone. We would do well to be cautious in how we use our tools, how we approach our neighbor, and how we interact with our friends. This does not mean that "incidental" contact is time wasted. It is just hard to be anything other than "incidental" if we do not take care to be intentional.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Incidental Contact

I hate telephones. I really hate cell phones. And I also have grown to despise blogs.

Now, I can explain why.

Ok, Ok, these wonders of technology are not the tools of the devil. I certainly do overstate my case very often. (It's called hyperbole, and it should be #14 on my list of improper online speech) I do have a telephone, a cell phone (it's prepaid), and a blog (duh). So it's not the tools themselves that I hate. It is the improper use of these tools that make me ill. Allow me to explain why these communication devices are pernicious influences on you and me.

When we use telephones, cell phones, and blogs, we are often using them to communicate with people we already know. These established relationships are maintained through the contact these tools provide. Phones and cell phones are great because they make "keeping in touch" more convenient. Cell phones make it ridiculously easy to call somebody literally anytime. They have a cell, you have a cell. You can call while standing in line, walking home from class, stuck in traffic, etc. And this is precisely where the problem begins.

On the one hand, all I need to do to talk to you is pull the phone out of my pocket. How nice. On the other had, all I need to do to talk to you is pull the phone out of my pocket. How incidental. I don't need to go out of my way to make contact. I don't need to set aside time out of my otherwise busy day. If you are not there, it's no big deal. If you don't call me back, I am not waiting by the phone anyway. I am just doing what I was already doing. Our personal contact was not anything important. It was merely incidental to who I am and what I am already doing.

I recently realized that blogs also make our online contact incidental to who we are as persons. Instead of actually going out of my way to contact you, to speak directly to you and hear from you in return, I can just blog whatever I am thinking about. If you happen to stumble across it, you and I renew our incidental relationship. I blog when I want, and you read when you want. Nothing essential to our lives is taking place here. It's all incidental.

Human beings are not things that have relationships. Humans are those relationships. We are defined by our human relationships. There is no "me" without my wife, mother and father, siblings, other family members, and friends, even colleagues. When we think there is a "me" that stands above these defining relationships, we are in for trouble. The last thing I need is encouragement to make contact with the people most important to me seem "incidental" to what "I" was doing. So, that is why I do not carry a cell phone.

What do I do now with this blog?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rules for My Online Speech

As I and a few trusted companions venture forth on a collaborative blog, I find myself in need of setting up a few ground-rules for my online speech. It seems that the Internet can easily lead one down the path of misunderstanding. The scariest part is that many people go down that path willingly. Here are a few rules I am cooking up to prevent you from misunderstanding me, but also these rules will prevent me from forgetting what I am doing here in the first place.

1) No questions can asked of a reader with an answer already in mind. Hypothetical questions notwithstanding, to ask a question merely in order to correct the response of the answerer is highly inappropriate.
2) Posing a question as a pretext for a soapbox is all wrong.
3) Unnecessary technical jargon will be avoided unless the term is thoroughly explained. Assuming that the audience knows what I am referring to is not allowed.
4) "You got your hair cut today" Statements of fact intended to avoid the conversation that needs to take place are unacceptable.
5) Red herrings smell very poor. Off-topic pronouncements are not allowed.
6) Triangulation in a debate is in poor taste. Making questionable associations between the opposed party and a distasteful third party in order to short-cut the actual debate is sick and wrong. Just because politicians do it does not make it right.
7) The "rhetoric of excess" is not an acceptable tactic. Taking a valid point and over-extending it in order to short-circuit actual conversation is a poor move. Ex: "The Church needs to engage society in order to transform it." "Yes, because society is so sick and messed up" Nothing good can come of this.
8) Ad hominen (which I must now explain, see #3). Responding to an argument with a personal attack is rude and counter-productive.
9) Attributing an unecessary label in order to undermine an otherwise positive statement.
Ex: "The female pilot who landed the plane did a good job." What, should we be surprised?
10) No point is too small to be appreciated, nor is any point too large to be undermined.
11) Playing the devil's advocate in secret, adopting a contrary position just to argue a point and feel vindicated by the attention, is to be avoided.
12) Nobody wins when someone just gives up trying to be understood. Conceding an argument verbally without being entirely convinced destroys community rather than preserves it.

Some of these rules will be more helpful, some were just for fun. I do, however, pledge to honor these rules. You can hold me to it (please).

This is a very rough draft in need of both editing and suggestions. To be continued...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Mere Proposal

Seeing that an idea has arisen that may be worth pursuing, a recommendation may be in order regarding a suitable opening discourse. Here is my modest recommendation. Since there are no rules established yet for the communal blogging endeavor found here, I did not want to sully up our blank slate. So, I give my idea here first to measure general opinion.

It would be useful for me to discuss my desire for a new approach to blogging, and perhaps it will help everyone else to get a handle on their own hopes and expectations.

I believe that the blog is a microcosm of what we have become as victims of post-modernity. We have become private minds living life almost entirely within our own heads. We have lost faith in our ability to adequately explain anything, up to and including giving an explanation for our own thoughts. We are walking, talking mysteries to ourselves.

The blog's very structure illustrates this quite clearly. The main body of text is where I expound on my latest big idea, tell of my recent exploits, relate my present existential crises, etc. The comments, instead of providing actual discourse, are buried beneath a link and do not appear as "commentary" to my text. Instead, comments are tools provided for the passersby to provide a weak recognition that I am, in fact, thinking. Whether I am thinking rationally or not is of no real importance. The links I provide serve to point out the fact that I do know people who may be rational, but I am not addressing them in my text at all (or at least rarely).

In short, the blog functions as a long, dark well in which I may shout as often and as loud as I choose. But nothing useful will ever return from the bottom of the well. I will only hear my own voice, and it will be unintelligible even to me.

How can we ever become better friends? spouses? ministers? students? scholars? musicians? writers? siblings? parents? when our chief interaction partner is our own mind?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Let Us Blog Together

While pondering many things (like the nature of theology, the purpose of blogging, my closest friends, my chosen career path) I read the following article. I found it in a former colleague's blog. It is an interesting critique of Blogs themselves, and may indeed be a way to bring the aforementioned list of ponderables together into something approaching a unity.

The gist of the article is as follows: blogs are inherently limited in their capacity for sustained reflection and interaction among thoughful readers. We have all noticed it before but have perhaps not been quite so articulate (or maybe its just me who is slow). Blogs are supposed to facilitate interaction between readers and author via the "comments" section. However, as anyone who visits any blog regularly can attest, very little actual interaction takes place in the comments section. People may read the comments or even leave a small note. But, if one hopes for a reply or a clarification as a result of the content of a comment, one hopes in vain. A new post is the typical reason people check back later, not an actual conversation or engagement (or even sustained encouragement).

So, as one of my blogging friends has hinted, something new may be in order. It has been suggested (by Clint) that some type of collaborative blogging may be more useful on multiple levels. I suggest one blog, jointly edited by a few people with common intention, that deals with one topic at a time for a sufficient period allowing for helpful, collaborative action to occur in the blogosphere (one month?). Each editor in turn selects a topic (or two) and each contributor can then interact on their own time over the period. Or, a story can be offered followed by critique and discussion and reflection. Or a recent significant (personal?) event can be discussed. (Or we could discuss sermon ideas? Work-related issues? Family? ...)

It is only an idea, and I am not sure if it will work. What I do know is that if YOU are interested and do not respond (in the inadequate comments section) nothing will happen. I promise to spend the rest of the month (at least) on this discussion. I hope to read some comments and/or blog posts on the topic soon.