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October 2004
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December 2004

November 2004

Finding Neverland

A beautiful movie. The cinematography is lovely. Johnny Depp gives a great performance that will likely win him the Oscar. Kate Winslet is quite good as well. I had not read much about her performance, but really think it deserves a lot of recognition. Between that and Eternal Sunshine, she has had some very interesting performances this year. The story is magical and captivating, just like the Peter Pan story itself. And the kids are all marvelous, but especially Peter. He breaks your heart.

4 film reels
3 1/2 popcorn kernels

Opening Up To Our History

The sophomore year at OBU is the year of Western Civ. This is one of humanity's greatest accomplishments (typical, charming, Scott hyperbole employed for literary effect). Western Civ is two six hour courses team-taught by an English and a history prof. In the fall you move from the fall of Rome (the ancient world was covered in the spring semester of Freshman Comp) to the dawning of the modern world. Semester two is Enlightenment on. You study history and read the great works of Western literature in combination; it is fantastic.

In the fall I had the wonderful pairing of Crouch-Farthing. Jim Farthing was one of the creators of Western Civ (along with Bill Mitchell, who was the only person to consistently call me by my first name). My favourite Farthing lecture was on the medieval development of the doctrine of penance. While lecturing on penance, he walked over to Ann Miller and asked to borrow her pencil. She handed it to him. He then took it and soon broke it. He then walked back over to Ann and said, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" She said "yes," and he handed her back the broken pencil. Then after another minute or so he asked what was inadequate in the understanding of forgiveness he had just displayed with Ann? The answer, of course, is that no reparation was made for her loss. He ended up giving Ann a dollar. So, now we all understood the reason for the doctrine of penance, previously an alien idea to us baptists.

That semester I also took Ancient and Medieval Christianity with Slayden Yarbrough. I was very fascinated learning church history, very little of which I had known before. Having these two classes at the same time broadened my understanding of and deepened my appreciation for medieval Christianity and Roman Catholicism in particular.

That December I travelled to Israel and Rome with a group from OBU. Our tour leaders were Dr. Yarbrough and Rick Byargeon (see My Freshman Year); I roomed with Dr. Byargeon. "James," by the way, was on that trip as well. It was a great group. Not only did it include college students, but there was a significant contingent of senior adults from Oklahoma churches travelling with us. They added a lot of fun to the trip.

When we arrived in Israel late at night in late December we were all so enthusiastic. That first night the simplest ruin got us all excited. We were in the land of the Bible! Over the days you remain excited, but you also begin to settle more into the deep rich spiritual experience that you are having.

The second day I stood on Mt. Carmel. Mt. Carmel! Here Elijah had battled the priests of Baal. Here YHWH had sent fire down upon the altar, proving to the people of Israel who was God. I was overwhelmed. But then I realized that the trip was only beginning and that I was soon to walk where Jesus walked.

There is something amazing about doing your morning Bible reading sitting on the beach of the Sea of Galilee.

Or bowing to say the Lord's Prayer in the Chapel of the Beatitudes.

Or walking down the hill on which the multitudes sat listening to Jesus teach, arriving at the Chapel of the Multiplication and celebrating communion at the spot where 5,000 were fed.

Or re-enacting your baptism in the Jordan River.

Or looking at the sycamore in Jericho.

Or walking up the Jericho Road toward Jerusalem.

Or standing on the Mt. of Olives looking out over the city of Jerusalem.

Or walking through the streets of Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall, seeing the inside of the Dome of the Rock, praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" at the Pool of Bethesda, etc., etc., etc.

We ended our two week tour in Rome. Rome is my favourite city in the world. I can't even describe its beauty.

We were there over a Sunday morning. Three of us took the bus to St. Peter's. We got off a block ahead and made the walk up the street to the piazza. It was a cool, clear, lovely morning. We entered the basilica with hundreds of others. The room was alight. The paintings, mosaics, sculptures, etc. were radiant. It was the most beautiful room I had ever entered and to think that heaven will be even more beautiful leaves one overwhelmed. Pope John Paul II was celebrating a baptismal mass, baptizing about fifty beautiful Italian infants. Then I received communion here at the historic seat of the church. Yes, I know it was a violation of Roman Catholic teaching for me to take communion (and I'm usually more sensitive to those things), but this was St. Peter's.

As I swallowed the host, I opened my eyes and looked up. Here was a room full of people from around the world. Here was the Church universal, the Body of Christ. Here was St. Peter's, commemorating the Rock upon whom Christ would build his church. I was also seeing the massive rock at Caesarea Philippi the place where Jesus changed Peter's name, a place I had been standing only a week before. When we walked back out to the piazza I looked up and there on the facade and along the colonnades that surrounded us (almost embracing us) were the statues of Christ, the apostles, and saints of the Church. We were surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses.

And in that moment I felt fully connected to all that had gone before.

On Third Listen

I'm still not sure what I think. First listen was lying on a couch in the youth room (which is of the dark basement variety) with it playing loudly while I read along to the liner notes. I wasn't as impressed by the lyrics as those on All That You Can't Leave Behind. Listen 2 and 3 has been in the office with it playing while I do stuff on the computer. I like the music itself better, though I agree with one of our secretaries who said it sounded kinda retro for U2 and even somewhat commercial.

Who knows what the final judgment will be? I thought All That You Can't Leave Behind was a good album in 2000. After 9/11 it became an amazing album because almost every song spoke to the situation. A year from now what will I think of this album?

I guess I'm disappointed. Knowing who U2 is and what they stand for, I had hoped that their first album after 9/11 and the Iraq War would be more powerful than this.

Am intrigued by the constant use of kneeling imagery, however.


I've never seen the Michael Caine original. But I was very excited when I heard that Jude was going to making this film. He seemed perfect for the role.

Yet, somehow, he didn't pull it off. In order to make a movie like this one about a cad work you need the cad to be lovable. And they really don't do a good enough job of making him lovable, particularly at the beginning. He seems like a complete jerk from the get-go and you really don't care that life goes poorly for the boy.

This film is oddly structured. Some of it is basic style. Throughout the first half there are these prominent billboards displaying words that thematically fit with what is going on in the film at the moment. These billboards are non-existent in the second half. Why? Why were they there in the first place?

The film rejects the classical plot structure typical to films and really based on Aristotle's analysis of plot in the Poetics. I'm not sure why it tried to tell this story in a different way. Did it think the film was more substantive than it was? There is a reason Aristotle (and Frank Capra, et al) tell stories by the classical plot structure. It may at times be predictable and cliche, but it is emotionally satisfying.
I did appreciate that it ended bittersweet and without the sappy sort of resolution that you get in most romantic comedies.

I was very pleased with Susan Sarandon's role. Europeans have long understood that there is a sexuality that women possess that only gets better with age. Americans don't understand this. But in this film we get to see this in Sarandon's performance. She and Jude really click together, and I can only hope that they will perform as an erotic couple in future outings.

However, she delivers what may be one of the stupidest lines I've ever heard in a movie. And given that it is at the moment that functions as a climax for the film, it is even worse. It had us laughing and openly criticizing the line at a point in the film where you are supposed to be empathize with the finally very emotionally wounded Alfie.

This film was probably worth the effort, and there are some really nice, brief moments where the actors get to shine, but it fell short of its aims.

2 film reels
2 popcorn kernels

The Powell Doctrine

In yesterday's New York Times, Mark Danner writes about the Powell Doctrine and how it was not used in analyzing the current war. He laments that the series of questions that compose the Powell Doctrine never seemed to be debated by this administration. These, of course, are the lessons that then General Powell thought the US Military had learned from the experience in Vietnam. Those questions are:

Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?
Have all other nonviolent policy means failed?
Will military force achieve the objective?
At what cost?
Have the gains and risks been anaylzed?
How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?

Danner then analyzes each question. The most telling paragraph is the one on the second question:

Second, had 'all other nonviolent means failed' to disarm Mr. Hussein? Though the president is still fond of declaring, as he did in the first presidential debate, that 'Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming,' the rest of us have perhaps not entered too deeply into the post-factual age not to acknowledge what we now know: that in fact Saddam Hussein did disarm -- and that the international inspectors on the scene, given time and sufficient diplomatic support, would eventually have confirmed this -- just as David Kay, the administration's arms inspector, was able to do in the war's aftermath. As he allowed himself to say in a moment of near-suicidal honesty, in the matter of weapons the Iraqis 'were telling the truth.'

The Freshman Year

So, I went off to Oklahoma Baptist University in August of 1992 as an eighteen year old conservative Southern Baptist preacher boy. I thought I knew quite a bit.

Rick Byargeon was my Intro to Old Testament prof. He always wore suits, except for on test days. He always lectured, but was the best lecturer I ever had. He was a very tough teacher, but very good. His sections always closed first. His tests were very difficult. When asked, "How do we prepare for the test?" He'd say, "Memorize the lecture outlines." And when one of the test questions was something like, "Reproduce the outline for the lecture entitled . . .," you knew he was serious. His final was comprehensive and, therefore, could ask ANYTHING about the Old Testament. One question I remember missing was "Name the sons of Eli." But you left his class knowing a great deal about the Old Testament, and his students loved him.

I have described my freshman year this way. I entered with my worldview built upon a solid foundation and Rick Byargeon, Joe Hall, Don Wester, and others took sledgehammers to it and destroyed it. I then spent a couple of years trying to piece something back together, until I finally realized that I could only build a raft to stay afloat with and that the pieces of that would be constantly changing as well.

I thought I knew the Bible. But that first week of class Dr. Byargeon said that there were two Creation accounts. Yeah, that seems obvious now, but it wasn't then. And Isaiah was probably written by two people? And . . .

In Joe Hall's Honors English class we discussed lots of things about the nature of language, media influence, etc. But, most importantly, we read Don DeLillo's White Noise. Thing changed me.

And stuff kept happening, in class and out of class, to challenge the worldview I entered school with. By spring I had come to accept women in ministry. By spring I had quit compartmentalizing my science and religion and accepted the theory of evolution. I still remember the day when I was driving back to Miami after a philosophy class and argued myself out of a literal Adam & Eve. That scared me at the time!

And life at OBU continued that way. Our sophomore year the administration threatened to kick Sean out of school because he was gay. I remember spending the afternoon mulling it over while pacing my dorm room. Would I help to defend Sean and stand up against the un-Christian actions of the administration or not? I decided then that I could not live with myself if I backed down from defending what I knew to be right. Though I still held very conservative views of homosexuality, I knew that what the school was doing to Sean was not fair and was definitely not the loving grace of Jesus Christ. So, I became an open and public opponent of the administration on this policy, which stance I continued to argue in the years ahead in my roles of student leadership and later as an alum.

Sometime in my sophomore year I remember being in my dorm room listening to Billy Joel's River of Dreams album. I loved the second side best (yes, it was a cassette). It said so many important spiritual things, yet in a postmodern way, I thought. I finally felt at peace with the direction my worldview had taken in the two previous years. I no longer had any anxiety over the loss of my foundation. The raft would be okay.

And, so, I became the resident "liberal" of the religion department, further to the left of any other student (though, oddly, still very much a conservative and MUCH moreso than I am now). But mine was a respected voice even among my peers. A couple of weeks ago at the BGCT two OBU alums that I only vaguely recognized came up to me to thank me for being their philosophy tutor many years ago. The guy is a pastor in a small church in Texas. Wow, I thought. I hadn't even remembered that I tutored philosophy.

So, I hate to hear about the changes currently going on at OBU, because it helped to make me who I am. It made me a "liberal," which is SO funny.

Great New Zogby Poll

Check out this post-election poll that give a FAR different perspective on the election than the immediate exit polls and clearly signal that the Far Right does not have the support it thinks (and I thought) it did.

By the way, check it at my other blog, where I'm doing all my political stuff now.

Preparing for My Favourite Eccentricity

If you've known me for any length of time, you know that my annual Christmas letter is my favourite eccentricity. What you may not know is that throughout the year I'm thinking about how to write about various things that happen. And the last two months I've been mulling over what format this year's letter will take. I usually write it right around or right after Thanksgiving, so I'll be writing soon (one year I did an early draft at the first of November!).

I have decided this morning while on my morning walk that this year's letter will declare that my thirtieth year has been my best. Yes, I'm now going to rank 30 above 25 (the previous champ) and 4 (the previous runner-up).

Now some of you may be thinking that I have finally and completely lost it. You would think that because you've read the long agonizing e-mails, received the late night tear-filled calls, and all the other stuff that has revealed the darker sides of this last year.

But what I realized this morning is that this year I've experienced unparalleled personal growth. I've risked all and despite the year not playing out anywhere near the way I hoped it would have played out, if it had played out that way I'd not have grown. Yeah the high points have been really high and the low points have been really low, but taken together it is a year that didn't destroy me but made me stronger.

Speaking of Nietzsche, his test of a life well-lived was would you live it again with every good, bad, miserable, ecstatic, boring, painful, joyful moment. And I realized this morning that, yes, I would in fact re-live this last year with every moment.

So, thanks for sharing what may not have been the most joy-filled but definitely the best year of my life.

KayBo & Ken Harvey

In high school my main extra curricular activities were speech & debate and quiz bowl. I was president of the speech team and captain of the quiz bowl team. Classic geek stuff. Part of the fun of both was the out-of-town trips, the long rides in cars/buses/suburbans, and the cool conversations we'd get into. Many of those conversations were religious. For example, I remember debating BS, my first speech coach on evolution and creation.

Kay Boman and Ken Harvey were our quiz bowl coaches. KayBo was also my French teacher, and Ken Harvey was physics and chemistry. We were more than just student and teacher, we were friends and mentors. For example, KayBo and I once got into a fight at school where we were screaming at each other. But we handled it as two friends, not as a teacher punishing a student.

KayBo is Episcopalian. While I was in school she began the studying process to become a deacon (which is much more involved and a clergy position in the Episcopal Church). This meant that she and I had lots of religious conversations. KayBo also invited me to come to her church, which I would do especially during Holy Week. Worshipping with the Episcopalians gave me a new perspective on worship and church that has ended up becoming my dominant perspective. Over time, I fell in love with the liturgical calendar. When I was ordained to the ministry at FBC Miami, KayBo and a row of folk from All Saints came to my ordination and gave me a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.

Ken Harvey didn't believe in God. But, as I said at the time, he was the most ethical person I had ever known. He said he lived with an ethical mixture of Taoism and Buddhism. His family lived very simply. Of course when he and KayBo and I would get going, we'd have fantastic conversations on religion, ethics, war (I was with them the night that Operation Desert Storm began), etc.

Thank goodness that these two wonderful teachers took the time to care about educating this conservative Baptist preacher-boy in ways that went beyond their classroom. Though while their student I didn't agree with them, I have come closer to their views on theology, church, worship, inclusivity, and simple living. Thanks be to God.

Quiet Time

Like so many of us growing up in the 80's - 90's Christian sub-culture, I heard a lot about my "quiet time." This was the time you set aside to talk with God -- reading the Bible, praying, journalling, etc. The implication always seemed to be that the more time you spent, the better Christian you were (which reminds me of a funny side story that I'll put later in the post). Early in my teenage years I made it a habit to read my Bible twice a day and to pray for about 30 minutes every night before I went to sleep. There is no tongue-in-cheek sacrcasm about these things. I think they were really, really valuable, I just don't like the culture from which the impetus for them arose.

But by my college days I had quit praying. Oh, I still said prayers here and there, but I didn't feel that they had any efficacy, and I no longer prayed with any earnest. Why had this happened? Because I had had so many "unanswered prayers." I had lost my faith that prayer did anything.

The religious culture I came from emphasized intercessory and petitionary prayer. I was always asking for God to do this or that. Rarely was I asking for myself, but I was constantly asking for God to help so and so, etc. Now I knew all the jazz about "even no answer is an answer" and all that. I knew you were to pray God's will and not your own. Etc. But I reached a point where enough people had died or suffered and where it didn't seem that prayer was doing anything for anybody.

Oddly, my non-praying years accompanied a revival of praying for my mother. She read a lot on prayer and started awakening at five a.m. to pray for hours before work. She became a "prayer warrior." She would speak at conferences, retreats, and all about prayer. (Here's the story). One time when I commented that the amount of praying one did wasn't important, she said "Martin Luther prayed two hours a day." I said, "And Martin Luther supported the slaughtering of innocent peasants in the Peasants Revolt. Praying doesn't seem to have helped him."

While teaching college Sunday school, I once brought Mom in for the two of us to have a dialogue on prayer. It was interesting.

But eventually I began praying again. I'm still not sure exactly when or how it changed. But I think that I came to a new-for-me yet very old awareness about prayer. I began to encounter prayer not just as intercession and petition. Eventually I read Richard Foster's Prayer (given to me by Mom) which talks about so many different types of prayer. He says that prayer is about opening oneself up for God. And I'd later read things like Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God where I'd find out that everything we do can be a prayer to God. And I started meditating and walking labyrinths and such.

And now, once again, prayer is central to who I am and how I live.