Wednesday, March 31, 2004

And while I'm at it, here's Al Jazeera on things in Kuwait.
A slightly broader view, geographically speaking, here.
Just got an interesting email. I won't reproduce it, since I have an inherent distrust of passed around emails, but let me ask you this: what group of people might turn out in droves to see a film which has been controversial due to the claim that it is anti-semitic?

Here's a fairly neutral take on what I'm talking about.
Just anecdotally I can confirm this article. The kids in our church youth group seem more familiar with 70's songs than with songs written since 2000.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Another thought on The Passion. It seems my bible is missing the verse everyone is talking about where it says that all of Jesus physical sufferings were tiny compared to the pain of separation from God. I guess I need to look harder.

Let me expound that just a bit. The sufferings Jesus experienced physically WERE the sufferings of God's abandonment. God rules the world. God was perfectly capable of stopping all that happened. If Jesus suffered, that meant that God the Father decided to let him suffer. If your child starts to drown and sees you with the power to save him, the act of drowning and the pain of abandonment are not two separate things, rather they go together. This is why the gospels (and, of course, the film) showed Jesus being mocked. If he was really God's chosen son, then obviously he couldn't be taken away and crucified. This could tie in to discussions of how honor claims worked in mediterranean culture, but I'll leave that alone for now.

Surely I'm not the only person who realizes this.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

And speaking of missions, here's Todd discussing a missionary unknown to me until just now.
Not including worship and Sunday School I spent 4 hours in meetings at church today, but they were all well spent I think. We had another mission training meeting, which included some interesting homework. We are supposed to listen to a type of music we don't like until our next meeting (in 3 weeks) and attend a church service of another ethnicity, either african-american, hispanic, or asian. Should be interesting. We also picked up, I think, a sixth member for our team, which I think would be great since it would balance out the gents and the ladies going. Some good prayer time as well. We are trying to get our fund raising letters w completed this week so we can start sending them out soon. As an aside, I would love to be able to talk to some of you readers about supporting me on this trip. The ministry in Ukraine seems to be amazingly effective. we keep getting reports from last year about continued bible study attendance and baptisms and church memberships based on the work of last summer's teams, not to mention church plants.

One of the things we are trying to figur out now is where we would like to spend a couple of decompression days after our work in Lviv. My friend Jamie and I would love to spend the time in Kiev, since we have friends there now, but some of the others on the team would rather head somewhere a bit further west. Perhaps Prague or Munich or Lisbon. It's possible we might split the group after our work and do both. We'll have to see.

The second meeting was with the youth parents and youth leaders, me being one of the latter. In the fall there was a meeting with the parents which I did not attend, but was from all reports a bit rocky. This meeting went very smoothly. Most of it was getting feedback from parents on what they thought their kids biggest needs were and related questions. Was all very positive and inspiring to me to see the parents really hoping fervently that God would do something in their kids lives, especially at a time when the kids don't want to listen to their parents quite so much.

Also encouraging today was seeing 30 new members added to our church, five of them by baptisms sone this morning. 25 of these were kids who finished the communicants class. I do not, by conviction, especially like the whole 2 level membership system, but it's what we have and I'm thrilled to see the kids stepping up to full church membership as it is available to them.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Ah, memories.
I think this article is a wonderful microcosm of how much our country has changed in the last 150 years. It should be studied by high school and college history classes.

First, people 150 years ago literally lined up for free land. Very few people now think of land itself as a productive resource.

Second, the motivation for giving the land away is amazingly different. Whereas before our country wanted to expand it's effective territory, now the idea is to bring in tax revenues for schools. Of course this would just be a matter of shuffling money from one district to another. There is no net gain implied anywhere, no particular purpose acheived.

Third, the proposed costs and benefits for the recipients is markedly different. In the 19th century pioneers wanted to start their own businesses and farms and work for themselves. Now people wonder where the "jobs" will come from. I suppose people think they magically come down from the skies. Business is now something that is bestowed on people rather than created by them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A great review of my favorite filmaker.
This little article on 20th century music hanging out at the cinema got me thinking just a little. First, I thought it was already known to everyone who thinks about music that Hollywood is the only place where composers can actually earn a living. Doesn't take any special genius to come to that conclusion. I had a couple of other thoughts though.

First, concert hall style music is dying slowly. I don't care to argue that Hollywood is responsible for this, though of course if people spend their time at the cinema, they aren't spending it at the symphony. I prefer to think it is the combination of the (also slow) death of music education generally, especially regarding older music, and changing tastes.

I guess that is in fact my other thought. I think the first time I came accross the idea that tastes, in music and other things, have changed from trickle-down to bottom-up was in a fascinating book I read in college, not for a class, but just cuz it was on the "new book" shelf in the library and looked interesting. I suppose things in our culture have moved along that axis ever further since 1987, with the growth of prison inspired fashions and music and so forth. I don't remember if I linked to the article before about the death of the classical recording industry. Very little new recording is being done now. Sometimes in the certain contexts I hear people speak of a market being "saturated", usually by people who have never studied economics at all. I think the term really should only apply when the populace has decided they don't need any more of a product, that they no longer value it. We have not reached this point yet in things like films, computers, video games, (thankfully) books, or a variety of other things you could name. It seems we may have gotten there with concert hall music though.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

On Dutch Courage

"The Dutch reputation for hard drinking went bak to at least the early sixteenth century, when Lodovico Giucciardini noted it as 'Abnormal.'" One of the marvelous books I've read lately was Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches. It provides a lengthly look at Dutch culture in the 17th century. Since Moriah had asked about the origin of "Dutch Courage", I figured I'd share a little. One of the tensions of the culture in that time was between the official church preaching on moderation and, in the case of alcohol, abstinence, and the prevalence of overindulgence in food, alcohol and tobacco on the part of the population generally.

For example, in 1613 there were around 518 alehouses in Amsterdam, one for every 200 people. All these references, BTW, are from the book, pages 189-220. The named phrase itself was apparently common throughout Europe as a description of how the Dutch strengthened their spirits in the navy, though rendering themselves "riotous, brawling and incontinent on land. At Oxford in 1675 it was reported with barely disguised disdain that the great admiral (Cornelis) Tromp, the scourge of the ocean and terror of the taverns, had succumbed so completely to Oxford porter that he had to be trundled back to his lodgings in a wheelbarrow." (p 190)

A great little quote on smoking pipes, apparently popular at the time: " . . . A Hollander without a pipe is a national impossibility, akin to a town without a house, a stage without actors, a spring without flowers. If a Hollander should be bereft of his pipe of tobacco he could not blissfully enter heaven." (p 198)

Most commercial deals at the time were apparently being negotiated in taverns and sealed with a tankard of ale. Toasts were important social rites. Painter Jan Steen showed the celebration of Prince William III with a toast written in the foregroud

"To the health of Nassau's little boss
In the one hand the sword, in the other the glass"
[it rhymes in Dutch]

Much more of this, and many other things (Drowning cells!) can be found in the book, as can plenty of pictures. Check it out sometime.
I suppose any faithful account of giving birth is bound to be a bit vulgar, so be warned. We, and by we I mean my wife, will also be looking forward to this part.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Looks like being a Roman Catholic has never been easier.
Contest update. I'm moving into phase two of the book contest, the purchasing phase. I have 2 books in hand and one in the mail (I think--I had to order it from a small shop in England). My plan at this point is to get the first five and read them and pick a round one finalist, then get the remainder and do the same. This way I won't have to compare all of the books to each other. I'll try to review each one as I read it though.
A real challenge for those who love games. Do stay for the credits IF you manage to finish this extremely difficult quest.
Good thoughts on blogging and media bias from the inimitable Jay Rosen.
I think Todd says this pretty well. Now if I could just get him to use a readable font . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I'm surprised that Frank was the first to think this one up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I've heard lots of stories of things kids will do to get attention from uncaring parents, but I honestly never imagined this.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I was very pleased this evening by two things. One, I got an email from my extraordinary friend Todd Grainger with the title line "my name is Todd and I'm a blogger." If you scroll down to the first post on his new blog you will get a very small idea of Todd's abilities and interests. Seems to be focussing on the episcopal issues for now. Certainly a bit more measured than a certain conservative journal located in the midwest.

The second bit if news is that I am now, finally, a member of the piano technicians guild. This entitles me to pay dues I think.
Unformed Thoughts on Israel and the Nations and the New Covenant

As I continue to think on the subjects of war and politics and biblical theology, I think I've come to this conclusion. The Old Covenant distinction between Israel and the nations is erased by the new covenant. As far as our understanding of salvation and the church this is relatively uncontroversial (though a few disagree entirely). But as far as the applicability of the whole of the Old Testament to modern life, I think there is a whole lot that could be said. Or, more honestly, many questions raised. The old covenant had a lot to say about politics. Does this now apply to the church (primarily? exclusively?) or to the various nations? Or does it apply to anyone or anything? It strikes me as odd that I've been thinking, on and off, about questions of the applicablility of the OT laws since I first read the theonomists back in college (and, to be sure some before that), but I don't feel especially closer to "the final answer".

My thinking right now is that the christian ruler (at any level and at any place) should simutaneously study the laws of Israel for wisdom about ruling, AND not identify with Israel as a special people/place/polity. This should also apply to the non-christian ruler, but they would be unlikely to listen to the church mostly.

As for the church, she should preach to the rulers and subjects faithfully from the whole of scripture, just as the prophets before. It is not up to the church to get results. It is up to the church to be faithful, and above all patient. Consider what Isaiah says to Egypt (30:15):

For this is what the master, the Lord, the sovereign king of Israel says:

“If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered;

if you calmly trusted in me you would find strength,

but you are unwilling." (NET bible)

We can preach to our nations and to each other and to ourselves. We just can't think that our nation is special in God's eyes, at least not any more than the next nation. I suppose I need to study Isaiah further on these things.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

This is something I have been struggling with lately. I agree wholeheartedly, but it seems to put some distance between me and my more evangelical friends.

I have heard innumerable testimonies in which people speak of Jesus coming into their lives — how Christ become part of their individual stories. However, the more I have thought about it, this is the wrong angle of approach. We should be speaking more about how we become part of God's story in Christ, how we entered into His life.

If such an approach was taken the Church would become absolutely central to our testimonies, because the Church is the place where we are drawn into God's story in Christ. When we spoke of our salvation we would be speaking about the life that we have been made part of in the Church. When we spoke of the definitive aspect of our salvation we would be thinking more in terms of Baptism than in terms of our first sense of personal faith. The life of the Church, expressed particularly in Baptism and the Lord's Supper, is the reality to which our faith runs. It is in the Church that we become participants of the life and faith of Christ and members of His body. In Baptism we are baptized into Christ's death; in the Supper we are assimilated into His body. Salvation cannot be separated from ministry; to be saved is to be made a minister in Christ's body. Salvation makes us extrospective people — members of each other.

To the degree that our testimonies are merely introspective individual biographies they are not true testimonies to salvation, for salvation is precisely that which saves the individual from the tyranny of his own story by making him part of the great story of God in Christ. Only as part of this larger story can we tell our own personal (as opposed to individual) stories as stories of forgiveness, liberation, justification and sanctification.
[Alan] Wolfe's purported message for the second audience is that because of their desire to please and their need to fill pews, they have become so comfortable in the surrounding culture that they ought to abandon any claims to being "resident aliens." Taking issue with what he hears Stanley Hauerwas telling American Christians, Wolfe says to them, "I would urge you instead to take pride in your flexibility and adaptability" in transforming faith to fit society.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

For the guy who loves gadgets, no matter how inane.
I take this story as encouraging all around, though I suspect it won't mean much in the short term. I really, really, really hate the Chechnya war.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

From Frank:* Iraq now has a constitution. All they need now is strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma and they'll be ready to go.
I've been thinking it might be time again to do a little auto-bio for those who don't know me in person. I never know when somebody might stop by here, and I usually find it something of an annoyance to read a new blog and not be able to find out anything about the blogger. So here's me:

I was born and raised in suburban Detroit ("where the weak are killed and eaten" as local t-shirts say), the middle child of Victor and Carol Baxter. Dad was and is a programmer with the IRS Detroit data center. Mom mostly helped raise us at home and has worked as a librarian among other things. My older brother, Scott, is pursuing graduate studies at Purdue currently.

I attended Houghton College from 1986-1990, where I met some wonderful professors and friends. I had been raised as a baptist, and Houghton is a wesleyan school, so I naturally became a prebyterian. This does make sense once you know that I have a strong contrarian streak. During my time at Houghton I picked up interests in history, economics, New Testament studies, music and literature, just to name the larger ones.

After college I struggled to find work (I'm not sure this struggle is near over yet) and spent time at McDonald's, a financial services company and a large regional retail store. I also attended Oakland Hills Community Church, where I learned a lot about what it means and looks like to participate in a church. Some marvelous folks there helped shape my character and see my weaknesses and strengths much better. One of these folks was Doug Vos, who taught me an enormous amount about entrepreneurship and character. Once you start down the road of seeing the links between jobs and slavery, it's hard to look back.

In 1995 I started my own cleaning and janitorial business. I can't say that I was very good at this, but I did find some success for a time. A large part of my business became a single janitorial contract with a medium sized company where one of my church friends worked. About the time that contract started, my college buddy Kirk Nelson began trying to talk me into moving to North Carolina. I visited him a couple of times, but told him it would be unlikely as I had this fairly lucrative contract now and was hoping to firmly establish my business. As it turned out, I lost my contract in the spring of 1996. I was devasted, especially since that was over 70% of my income. After taking some time to recover it occured to me that I no longer had my strongest reason to stay in Michigan. I told Kirk that if he could find me a place to stay, I would move down. I did this in July of 1996.

The next few months were among the most fun and exciting of my life. I quickly became involved in a new, large church. My friends there were very social and we had a lot of card games that went into the early morning hours. I attempted to re-establish my business, and learned that sometimes God listens to me when I pray hard enough. It's hard to say that last part in any sort of fancy way, but that was one of the bisggest lessons of my life and it took a lot of desperation to learn it.

In the fall of 1997 my church sponsored a square dance at the Fred Astaire School of Dance (sorry, they don't seem to have a website) and it was there that I first met my wife. I took a while before I asked her out, but once I did I was pleased to discover that we had a number of friends in common. Eventually we married in October of 1998. It has taken from then until late last year to pay off all of our accumulated debts, so we are now able to start doing some saving, which is good considering our expectant state.

In late 1999 I started studying the art of piano tuning and repair and began to pursue that career in 2000. I have found it difficult so far to build up my client list, but progress has been fairly steady. I'm able to do a lot of reading and study during my non-work times, especially during times where I'm stuck away from home between appointments. My main areas of study/interest have been New Testament studies with a particular interest in the historical/social context of the NT, ethics (by which I mean the works of Stan Hauerwas) and just a large variety of other stuff that strikes me as interesting, as well as (good) novels of various kinds.

Some of my recent activities have been leading a men's singing group at church, helping serve the children's choir (also at church), teaching a Sunday School class on the context of the New Testament, taking a mission trip to Kiev, Ukraine, and working with the high schoolers, again at church. I will, God willing, be leading a team back to Ukraine in July. (For John and Alexandra: looks like we'll be going to Lviv, and I'm not sure if we'll make it to Kiev, but I'll try to see if we can arrange it.)

Anything big I left out or that you might be curious about?
I have a feeling I won't be able to talk Lenise into this one.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Thanks to the corner for pointing out this enormously wrongheaded article.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Two announcements, not necessarily of the same order of importance. One is that my wife now thinks she is entitled to her own blog. The other is that we are now expecting a child. The dates are a little fuzzy as yet; perhaps early October.
A very good intro to Honor and Shame can be found here. Also here, a good compare and contrast with current western notions here, and of course (I should have known) here is Jerome Neyrey himself on honor and shame in John's passion narrative.

Friday, March 05, 2004

One thought on The Passion of the Christ. I was following some of the discussion here (incidentally, one of my fav sites for just good ald fashioned arguing) about the depiction of Jesus suffering in the film and its meaning. However, the debate about the extent of physical/spiritual pain Jesus experienced seems to me to miss one of the more important things shown both in the gospel accounts as well as in Gibson's movie. That would be shame/dishonor. For ancient peoples the suffering of complete loss of honor was, without a doubt, the single worst thing that could happen. Honor is, for those who don't remember earlier discussions on this, a socially acknowledged claim to worth. In the passion story, the mocking, the beating and ultimately the killing of Jesus were done to destroy his "honor rating" so to speak. This could be demonstrated in virtually any event in the passion story, but one coming to mind right now is the taunt of Jesus on the cross, "If you are the son of god, why don't you come down?" This taunt is an attempt at repudiating Jesus claims about himself. Also, suffering a shameful death was, quite literally, the ultimate evil that could befall someone since there was no chance of that person regaining his or her honor.

For further reading, let me suggest Jerome Neyrey's fine book, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew.
A good quote from the marginal revolution blog on the subject of driving conventions:

3. A 1903 Baedeker Guide wrote the following:"The rule of the road varies in different parts of Italy. In Rome and its vicinity the rule is the same as in England i.e. keep to the left in meeting, to the right in overtaking vehicles. In most other districts, however, this rule is reversed."

I would add to this that all Italian drivers from 1903 are now dead as far as I know. Coincidence?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Since I'm a youth volunteer at church, I suppose I should have already noticed our relatively nifty website.
Got this in my bulk mailbox today:

Dear user of "" mailing system,

Our antivirus software has detected a large ammount of viruses
from your email account, you may use our free anti-virus tool to
clean up
your computer software.

For further details see the attach.

The Management,
The team

Hmmmm, should I open the .pif file attached?? I think I'll take a huge risk and not open it, but thanks for the warning.
As Dave Barry might say, I'm far too tasteful to ever link to something like this.
Not long ago I purchased the book Christian Theism and Moral Philosophy, ed. Michael Beaty, Carlton Fisher, and Mark Nelson, reason for which purchase was that Dr Fisher was one of my professors at Houghton and I have some interest in moral philosophy. Some of the essays in the book are just terrific. J H Yoder's "Walk and Word: Alternatives to Methodologism" is highly readable despite its title, plus I had read it in another form earlier so this wa my second shot at it. The article "A Consequentialist Ethical Theory" by James Keller was an amazing example, from my perspective, of how to argue as a christian for a moral theory. I don't know if I'm wiling to accept his conclusion, but the way he went about the article was pleasing in and of itself. Also, and I'm not done with this one, the entry "Norms of Loving" by J L A Garcia contains this gem:

Contrast this [those who want to call christians to new and higher standards] with the permissive thrust of some contemporary writing in religious ethics. Where Christian ethics needs to stand boldly as a sign of contradiction to this age's image of itself as rational, compassionate, and progressive, there is a sad tendency among such writers in religious ethics to snivel before these very idols. Such thinkers strain to find within Christianity resources with which to loose the moral bonds that still sometimes constrain those who thirst for the blood of the retarded, the unborn, and the hopeless; who hunger for the bodies of the children of Lesbos and Sodom; who spit at any church that dares offer them God's forgiveness for the sins in which they take perverse pride.

This I would call an example of truthful speaking.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I mentioned the Houghton College choir event below. If you want to hear about half of one of the most beautiful new choral pieces they did, it's available here. This is not, however, the Houghton group performing. Info on the piece is printed on the page.

Just as an aside, it seems that Nebraska really has an extraordinary wealth of good music. The Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum is based in Omaha (they recorded my all time favorite choral music CD), plus Wahoo is the birthplace of my personal favorite american composer.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Read below then click here.

I am convinced that no single author has influenced my life so much in recent years as Stanley Hauerwas. The link above is to a recent lecture at Calvin College on the subject of Bonhoeffer and truthful speech. I've learned throughout my life that almost no one will read a book on my recommendation, but I figure maybe something aural and free and available at your convenience will fare a little better. It seems that Hauerwas has been studying Bonfoeffer lately for a book (amazon says it is coming out in April or so), which comes as a pleasant surprise to me. I had read Bonhoeffer's Ethics before I started digesting Hauerwas and found them opposed, in my mind at least, on the subject of the Christian's duties towards the state. If you want to explore that subject futher you will in fact have to read Ethics and then something like The Peaceable Kingdom. In any event, this lecture above is terrific. It takes about an hour. You would do well to "sacrifice" your favorite tv show or movie night or something and listen to this. Things get pretty colorful at the Q&A at the end, so stay tuned for that.

Do me a favor and just mention in a comment if you do in fact listen to this. Would be happy to have some discussion too, but would rather just know that you've heard this.