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December 2004


What a f***ing incredible movie! I was afraid that because I missed it a few weeks ago when I twice had plans to see it that fell through, that I would miss it. But I took advantage of no friends calling me to hang out tonight to go see it myself. Fantastic.

First off, the script is spectacular. This is some of the best film dialogue in recent memory. It had snap and force and shades of meaning and powerfully painful wit. The overall structure of the story was well done. Scenes from the characters lives jumping over a four year period. The plot was carried out in dialogue.

This is some of the best acting this year. It is, hands down, the best performances yet of Julia Roberts' and Natalie Portman's careers. And probably the best of Clive Owen's. And Jude is spectacular as well, making this his best performance of his many films this year (which reminds me, I didn't write a review of Lemony Snicket after I saw it last Thursday). Julia's best performance before this one was when she guest starred on Law & Order. In both she betrays a subtlety not usually apparent in her acting. Maybe because in both places she is playing a character with a strong dark side and something to hide? Jude has played too much of the pretty boy this year. He isn't quite as pretty in this role, which helps, because sometimes he really is too pretty. Here you aren't quite sure what to make of him. Except that I think in the scene in the doctor's office that Larry (Clive Owen) get's Dan (Jude) right, he's the "romantic hero," meaning that his character is imbued with all the pathos and tragedy of the Western Romantic myth (except that he doesn't die). As such, we are rooting for him, at some level. Though we also know that those mythic loves don't work out (if they even exist at all), and we don't really want them to work out because then we feel inadequate (if Romeo & Juliet do settle down then that's just a shitty story). But the romantic hero runs into conflict with these other characters. Maybe all four are archetypes or stereotypes? Hmm. I think you could spend a pages and pages analyzing the possible interpretations of this film (a sign of great art). Clive Owen's Larry is fierce, but weak, brutish, but with a strangely loving side. And Owen deftly pulls off all of this range, especially with his eyes. My God, it's amazing. And Natalie Portman is perfect in her role. She's clearly not the sweet girl of Garden State, there is a coldness here. And her character speaks the ultimate truth of the film, though you don't realize it until a few scenes later and the movie is over, "I won't lie anymore, and I can't tell you the truth; so I don't love you." Jeez, that's cynical.

The directing is superb. The open sequence -- intoxicating. And you can't take your eyes off of them after that. Throughout the shots are delicately framed. The editing flows seemlessly. He has gotten his actors' timing down perfectly and drawn out these incredible performances. Mike Nichols skill is at its strongest in the scenes that play the men off of each other. When they are communicating via internet in what is clearly a homoerotic encounter and then we cut to their planned meeting in a darkened aquarium. Of course it is all a practical joke, but maybe Nichols has pulled the joke on us. Then, when much, much later in the film, Dan comes to Larry's office, he is sitting, soaking wet, under an aquarium. I laughed (only person in the theatre who got the joke). The scene that follows is maybe the best in the movie, especially the way Nichols shoots it. Larry is at a distance, perfectly attired for the first time, his desk is organized, everything is completely together in the shots of Larry. His brutal realism has clearly won. Dan stands there pacing, wet, his clothes all unkempt, his hair messed up, he's got on his glasses instead of his contacts. The shots of him are not as controlled. You could watch this scene on mute and still get EVERYTHING going on. That's directing.

To top it all off, this is a comedy. That's what the critics said, and I had not gotten that impression from the previews. And for half the movie, I wasn't sure. Is it a dark comedy? Not really. It's more like a comedy of manners. It seemed so Victorian, really. It is mocking us all by holding up the glare of the complexities of human erotic relationships. A church member said that they didn't like the movie because they couldn't identify with the characters. Really? Never had jealousy? Never experienced obsession? Never thought you were the romantic hero? Never cried your eyes out when you've been dumped? Never wanted to manipulate to get someone back or exact your revenge? Never . . . ? Really?

And Natalie Portman gets the last laugh.

Oh, as I write, I keep getting idea after idea of how the movie folds onto itself. See, Natalie Portman's character said early in the film that she'd never had her picture taken professionally before. Had anyone really taken her picture, you wonder? Anna (Julia's) gallery show of her photography is about the stranger. Who really was the stranger?

Okay, you've probably seen where this is heading. Closer, best picture of 2004 that I've seen.

4 1/2 film reels
5 popcorn kernels (but only for us film & literature nerds)

Fantastical Realism?

Sunday through Tuesday, Mom, Revis, and I were trout fishing in SE OK near Broken Bow at Beaver's Bend State Park. We had a lovely time. Monday we were driving around and stopped at a convenience store where I saw the Daily Oklahoman headline about 11,800 being killed by a tidal wave. I bought the paper and read the very in-depth and long account to Mom and Revis while we continued driving around. We were just shocked with each and every detail which seemed to get stranger and stranger. Over the last couple of days I keep catching snippets in newspapers and finally saw some tv this morning. The death toll is now over 70,000. Simply unbelievable. The very first day one person wrote in the paper that the event was "biblical." That's a good description, but to me it reminds me more of something in a Salman Rushdie or Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. But there it would be fantastical, used to make some metaphoric point.

But there is no fantasy here. This is simply the horror of the real.

Snow Days

I really do promise to get back to the political narrative, but it has taken me a while to figure out what I wanted to say, and then I've had other things I wanted to write about.

Yesterday it snowed in Dallas, which is always fun and funny. And treacherous since no one can drive and they do nothing to treat the roads or bridges.

No one from Texa or Central Oklahoma ever seems to believe me that we had more snow in NE Oklahoma (and also NW Arkansas) and that I learned to drive in winter weather while in high school.

Now NE Oklahoma didn't get as much snow in my childhood and youth as it did in my parents' youth. The grandparents Jones actually owned a horse-drawn sleigh that they had ordered from Philadelphia. They used this sleigh to get around in the winter when roads were otherwise impassible to automobile traffic. My Dad had great memories of riding the sleigh. There was never enough snow in my childhood to use the sleigh, so it sat rotting in the barn.

We didn't get tons of snow in my, but we got more than Central Oklahoma or Texas. Our first snow always came in October (my grandpa says that the latest snow he ever remembers was April 17, 1953). I remember various blizzards through the years, often at Christmas-time (like the gorgeous, but dangerous blizzard of '79). Or the times when we'd get 24 inches of snow in one week and have weeks of snow to play in (like that time the Akers got snowed into our house for a week while moving from Arizona to Kentucky). See, in central Oklahoma or Texas, the snow is usually gone the next day or two days later. In NE Oklahoma it would often stay for a week or two.

And school was usually not cancelled, so even in high school I had to drive. I remember the last day of the fall semester either my junior or senior year when I got to school after a week of snow and ice and the school parking lot was a solid sheet of ice so thick that it wasn't cracking even when the cars drove on it. That was a fun day to park.

We had some gorgeous snow and ice days in Fville. There was a lovely ice storm not long before I moved. Driving up Mt. Sequoyah trough the tunnel of ice-covered trees was glorious.

Phantom of the Opera

Well, a group of us Broadway junkies went yesterday to see the film version of The Phantom of the Opera. Some kept saying, "I like it as theatre better." That goes without being said, but the film version was far superior to what I expected. It is beautifully conceived with spectacular sets, costumes, etc. (much like the show is full of spectacle). I missed the complexity of the staging of some of the musical numbers because in the film they were able to put the characters in different locations and just cut back and forth. It is more fun when they are all on stage together.

Christine was to-die-for gorgeous, and I loved her singing. The Phantom's singing was inadequate in places; his voice just wasn't strong enough. That surprised me, because he wasn't a star, so you think they could have cast someone who could vocally pull off every part of the role. But with Michael Crawford in our memories, that would be difficult for anyone.

I thought that the film was sexier and more romantic than the stage productions I've seen. Part of this is because you can get so much closer to the action with a camera and the acting can be subtler.

Overall, I quite enjoyed it.

3 1/2 film reels
4 1/2 popcorn kernels

. . . the multitudinous assembling of his Word

“. . . the multitudinous assembling of his Word”
Luke 4:14-22
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Royal Lane Baptist Church
25 January 2004

One of the most insightful Christian writers of the late twentieth century and today is John Updike. In novels and short stories since the late 1950's, Updike has explored Protestant life in America in all its complexities. His 1996 novel In the Beauty of the Lilies is the story of four generations of the Wilmot family as they deal with faith and life. The novel opens in New Jersey in 1910 in the home of Clarence Wilmot, Presbyterian minister. These are Updike’s words:

. . . the Reverend Clarence Arthur Wilmot, down in the rectory of the Fourth Presbyterian Church at the corner of Straight Street and Broadway, felt the last particles of his faith leave him. The sensation was distinct – a visceral surrender, a set of dark sparkling bubbles escaping upward.

Rev. Wilmot had been reading the works of the agnostic Robert Ingersoll. Wilmot was an educated, progressive man who read all the skeptical works of 19th century scholarship as Updike describes

the minister had been reading in order to refute it for a perturbed parishoner; from this perceived similarity his thoughts had slipped with quicksilver momentum into the recognition, which he had long withstood, that Ingersoll was quite right: the God of the Pentateuch was an absurd bully, barbarically thundering through a cosmos entirely misconceived. There is no such God, nor should there be. . . . and so it seemed that the invisible vestiges of the faith and the vocation he had struggled for decades to maintain against the grain of the Godless times and his own persistent rationalist suspicions now of their pulverized weightlessness lifted and wafted upstairs too.
It was a ghastly moment, a silent sounding of bottomlessness.

A few weeks later Rev. Wilmot is preaching on hell. A dying member of the congregation had requested a sermon on hell, not having heard that many in recent years. While preaching, Wilmot loses his voice – literally. He is not able to speak the words that he no longer believes. He cannot make it through the rituals of the liturgy. No longer can Clarence be a vessel for the word of God, he has become “a silent sounding of bottomlessness.”

Updike then reveals to us the consequences of Clarence’s loss of faith. He quits the ministry but doesn’t realize that he is unsuited for any other kind of work. He ends up as an encyclopedia salesman, and isn’t any good at that. His family’s financial status declines dramatically. Eventually Clarence falls ill and dies a broken man.

Updike’s story then moves to the next generation with Clarence’s son Teddy as the central figure. Each of the three succeeding generations must deal with the consequences of Clarence’s lost faith. Teddy lacks drive and the ability to make much of his life. Essie, the granddaughter, becomes a movie star, but her life is filled with ephemera as she seeks transcendence and immortality in sex and stardom. The great-grandson, Clark, is a damaged human being, who has wasted his life in sex, drugs, and failed careers. He finally takes up with a mountain cult which is stockpiling weapons as they await the Reckoning. The novel ends in a scene straight from the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. The cult has set fire to its compound while it is being assaulted by federal law enforcement. The leader of the cult is killing all the members. Clark makes it possible for the women and children to escape, before losing his own life. The final lines of the novel are:

scared they're going to be shot, then stepping into the open, squinting, blinking as if just waking up, carrying or holding on to the hands of their children, too many to count. The children.

Mark Buchanan, writing in Christianity Today, says of the ending:

The children. It takes four generations for Clarence's lapse of faith to come fully to roost. Ironically, Clarence had adopted just one creed: "Don't harm anyone." Updike suggests that Clarence's apostasy——losing his religion——was his worst violation of that creed. For what will become of his children?

Updike’s novel is a powerful story about how the loss of faith, the loss of God’s word, tragically affects a man and his descendants. The characters of the three descendants are not developed within the faith, within the community of the church. They have not practiced what it means to be a Christian. Their journeys lack the discipline that comes with Christian spiritual development. In their lives there is a bottomless silence. And that bottomless silence results from the absence of the joyful surprise of the good news of God’s word. Updike’s In the Beauty of the Lilies is a negative example of what our text from Luke is a positive example – how the word from God can surprise and amaze us and fill our lives with meaning and hope.

Let’s look at the text from Luke. The first thing that we notice is Luke’s transition, setting up a new section of the book. Earlier chapters have dealt with the nativity, baptism, and temptations. Now Jesus has returned to Galilee to preach. We learn a handful of things in these opening verses. First, he is filled with the power of the Spirit. This is a recurring theme for Luke both in the Gospel and in the Book of Acts. Second, Jesus’ fame is spreading quickly. Third, that Jesus is teaching in synagogues; he is identifying with his religious heritage and sees his movement as movement within Judaism. Finally, he is being positively received.

Now Luke has Jesus coming to Nazareth. You might think that this is the start of Jesus’ public ministry, since Luke has given us no other stories before. But Luke has done something different than either Mark or Matthew, he has taken this story from Nazareth and moved it to the beginning of his Gospel not because it is early in the ministry of Jesus but because it gives a key insight into Jesus’ ministry. We know it is not an early episode because the summary tells us that Jesus has already preached through Galilee and is already famous when he returns home. Indeed, Luke tells us this story of Jesus’ ministry first because of the emphasis that Luke wants to make.

Jesus enters the synagogue and reads from Isaiah 61 & 58. It is a Suffering Servant Song, a prophecy of the coming Messiah. It is a message of liberation and radical social change. These themes of liberation and social change are key to the Gospel of Luke. It is in Luke’s gospel that we get many of the stories of the women around Jesus. Already in this gospel there have been the stories of Elisabeth, Mary, and Anna. Luke has common shepherds coming to the birthplace of Jesus. And he’s already written about themes of liberation in the Magnificat, that beautiful song of Mary. Also, there has been the radical preaching of John the Baptist, who embodies the message of the Old Testament prophets.

After reading this text from Isaiah, Jesus sits and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” You will notice that in the Gospel of Luke that these are the first words of the adult Jesus that are not quotations of scripture. This is important in interpreting the whole book of Luke. The first words of Jesus are words that identify him with the prophetic tradition of redemption, liberation, and radical change.

How does the congregation respond to Jesus? “All spoke well of him and were amazed.” It is only later in the story, and actually in next Sunday’s gospel text, that the crowd turns on Jesus and seeks to throw him off the cliff. They are not offended that he claims that the messianic age has begun. They only get offended later when he tells them that they will receive no special privileges in his kingdom and that that kingdom will be inclusive of non-Jews.

But what interests me today is not the message of inclusion, liberation, or social change. Yes, those themes are central to this text, to the Gospel of Luke, to our understanding of Christ, and to our way of life at Royal Lane. What I want to focus on is that this congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth was amazed by a word from God.

Tom Long writes,

A local product, Joseph’s son Jesus, was home for the weekend and was allowed to read the lesson from the prophets and to preach the sermon. The congregation knew him well, remembered him as a little boy, was no doubt proud of the reports that had filtered down from Capernaum and other towns about his success as a preacher, teacher, and wonder worker. So they settled in to hear what this articulate young man would say. What were they expecting? A sermon? Yes. A word from the Lord?

Tom Long’s implication is that that was not what they were expecting. A word from the Lord is disruptive, demands response, it changes things, it is news, and it cuts us sharper than a two-edged sword.

Jesus was telling them news that rocked their world. Tom Long writes,

This was not just a sabbath sermon. This was a word from the Lord. News. God come close, become present. Now. In your life. The world was now changed, the word was present in all its demanding fulness, and you could fight it or follow it, but you couldn’t ignore it.

Today, that’s what stands out in this story for me. The amazing, surprise of hearing the word of God. It is an epiphany, which is why this text comes during our season of Epiphany. This story from Luke reminds us that the word of God can invade our lives when least expected and startle us. At first it startles these folks with joyful amazement and later it startles them with anger and resentment. The word of God can do that to us. It can elevate and cut deep and often both at the same time. But it is true that it often surprises.

You see, despite the fact that we are people of faith, we get used to the fact that we aren’t surprised by the content of our religion or our faith. We come every Sunday and Wednesday and hear the words that we are used to hearing. We go about our daily lives and are dulled by the routine busy-ness of them. Even though we believe that God speaks to us through the Spirit and its manifestations in scripture, the church, nature, etc., we just aren’t usually prepared for it or looking for it. And so when we do get a word from God, it often catches us by surprise.

I think that Updike’s novel is illustrative. The characters have become used to their lives the way they are. They are not looking for a word from God. They seem to miss God’s speaking to them. These characters reveal how the absence of God’s word, that bottomless silence, can tragically affect us. I think Updike is trying to warn us contemporary Americans that we are possibly headed down a tragic path because we have lost something essential.

This past weekend the youth and some adults participated in our annual Mid-Winter Retreat. The theme was Reconcile. We talked about being reconciled to God, to other people, and to creation as a whole. Our worship strongly emphasized finding God in other people and in the created world. We were conveying to the youth that in their daily lives they need to be attuned to the presence and the voice of God in the world around them. And then what actions they need to take in response to that presence and voice of God.

That’s one significant reason that any of us Christians gather together. We are learning from each other what is necessary for this adventurous journey that is the Christian life. It is a life that requires discipline and practice, and we’ve got to learn these things, they don’t come naturally for us. And we learn them together and from others who have already walked this road ahead of us. One thing that we must practice and get better at is hearing the word of God. How is God present to us each day? Is it in the trees outside? The laughter of a child? The faithful example of Shirley Bohannan delivering meals on wheels? The hymns you sing to yourself while driving in your car? The words you read for your daily devotional? Yes, it all these and many more. God’s word comes to us in abundant ways.

Today, every day, the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. Today, every day, God’s word is spoken and interrupts our lives. We must learn to listen for it and be ready for it. And be ready to respond to it by changing our lives to lives of obedience to God. We run the risk of being like the characters Updike describes, those lacking the word of God. These are, ultimately, characters who lack a full sense of joy and beauty and adventure.

I want to end with one other piece of literature that illustrates being attuned to God’s word. It comes from one of my very favorite poets Wendell Berry. Berry is a Kentucky farmer who is an essayist and poet. Berry has spent his life disciplined by the land and attuned to how it speaks and in it he repeatedly encounters God. Wendell Berry is a model for each of us in how to learn to live searching for the presence of God in our everyday lives. The poem I want to quote from is entitled Meditation in the Spring Rain. It is too long to read it all right now. So, let me summarize it and then read the final lines.

Berry has been walking through the fields during a rain, listening to the water. While doing so, he remembers the story of crazy old Mrs. Gaines, a story from his grandmother’s childhood. Mrs. Gaines wondered the town singing about “One Lord, one Faith, and one Cornbread.” The town would sometimes lock her up when they got too worried about her safety, but they usually let her go free. Let’s us pick up Wendell Berry’s own words:

When her poor wandering head broke the confines
of all any of them knew, they put her in a cage.
But I am glad to know it was a commodious cage,
not cramped up. And I am glad to know
that other times the town left her free
to be as she was in it, and to go her way.
May it abide a poet with as much grace!
For I too am perhaps a little mad,
standing here wet in the drizzle, listening
to the clashing syllables of the water. Surely
there is a great Word being put together here.
I begin to hear it gather in the opening
of the flowers and the leafing-out of the trees,
in the growth of bird nests in the crotches
of the branches, in the settling of the dead
leaves into the ground, in the whittling
of beetle and grub, in my thoughts
moving the hill’s flesh. . . .
I think the maker is here, creating his hill
as it will be, out of what it was.
The thickets, I say, send up their praise
at dawn! One Lord, one Faith, and one Cornbread
forever! But hush. Wait. Be still
as the dead and the unborn in whose silence
that old one walked, muttering and singing,
followed by the children.
For a time there
I turned away from the words I knew, and was lost.
For a time I was lost and free, speechless
in the multitudinous assembling of his Word.

Let us pray:

God of grace and beauty. Let us be aware of how the absence of your word can lead to the bottomless silence of shallow lives. May we be people with eyes open and ears tuned to the assembling of your word. Amen.

The Word Was Made Flesh

Four years ago I decided to do something new for Christmas for my family. Those in my family who are crafty or artistic will often give a gift that is the fruit of their labor. One fruit of my labor is my sermons and prayers as a part of Christian worship. I began collecting an annual that was a selection of some sermons and prayers to give. As I printed this year's annual I thought that I'd like to post some of those sermons that I preached before I began the blog. So, over the next few days I will post those. They are longer than my average post, so I wanted to warn you. Here is the first:

The Word Was Made Flesh
John 1:1-18
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Royal Lane Baptist Church
28 December 2003

Let’s travel together to the ancient world. You might imagine that we are going to Bethlehem, but we are not. Let’s travel on from that familiar sight. Instead of settling down at the inn or beside the manger or in the shepherds’ fields, let’s take flight across the Judean wilderness. Let’s pass over and beyond those barren hills into the emptiness of the Sinai peninsula and the great sand desert. Let’s keep moving and cross the Red Sea and head north to the delta of the Nile River. Let’s enter the city of Alexandria, that great city on the coast, built by Alexander the Great, the most Greek city in Egypt. There, near the sea, stands that glorious ancient monument, the Library of Alexandria. Together let’s enter its hallowed walls and come into its rooms of learning. Here is a well-ordered world. The stately columns of the Greek architecture inspire us with a sense of stability and decorum. Sitting here we can understand the world; we can plumb its mysteries and bring order to its chaos. It is early in the second century of the Common Era and we open a newly arrived volume and read

[Typepad obviously can't read Greek letters] En arch hn o logos, kai o logos hn pros ton qeon, kai qeos hn o logos.

In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and was divine. We read on that all things came into being through the Logos and that the Logos would enlighten all people.

We nod in agreement, because these words are familiar to us, they resonate with centuries of the best philosophical learning. And we recall some things from the tradition.

Six hundred years before, Heraclitus took this common term logos that means “word,” “reason,” “statement,” “reckoning,” “account,” and used it metaphysically. Heraclitus asserted that the cosmos is governed by a firelike Logos, a divine force that produces the order and pattern discernible in the flux of nature. He believed that this force is similar to human reason and that human reason itself partook of the divine Logos.

A couple of centuries after Heraclitus, a group called the Stoics conceived the Logos as a rational divine power that orders and directs the universe; it is identified with God, nature, and fate. The Logos is “present everywhere.” Through the faculty of reason, all human beings share in the divine reason. Stoic ethics stresses the rule “Follow were the Logos leads.”

Sitting in second century Alexandria, we would also recall that great Jewish thinker Philo, who taught in this very city just a century before. Philo had used the concept of the Logos in his effort to synthesize the Jewish tradition with the works of Plato. According to Philo, the Logos is a mediating principle between God and the world and can be understood as God’s Word or the Divine Wisdom, which is immanent in the world.

All these thoughts run through our heads. Here is a text that agrees with the best wisdom of our time. It is a philosophical text, speaking of a well-ordered world and one made so by divine reason.

But then someone reads on and we are astonished.

The Alexandrian students of the second century who may have read the Gospel of John would have been astonished. The whole of their philosophical tradition, confirmed in the opening sentences of the Gospel is wrenched apart in the remaining words. Into this majestic text the vulgarities of fleshy, human existence invade.

These gospel words are among the most radical ever uttered. Because they tell us this great divine Logos became flesh, became a particular human being. I can’t emphasize enough how this would have flown in the face of centuries of received wisdom. The Logos is divine and orderly and rational. But this author is telling us that the Logos became flesh? It became a human being? It was a baby? But babies wet themselves and throw up and have runny noses. This isn’t order and wisdom. And everyone knows that the crying of babes is far from rational.

Here is the heresy of heresies, the Logos became flesh!

Much is made of the fact that Jesus did not live up to the expectations of his Jewish contemporaries who believed the Messiah would come in power and glory. Not enough is made of the fact that this life also upset the understanding of the intellectuals of the ancient world. They were used to goodness and truth being found in what was beautiful and noble. And the beautiful and noble were well-ordered and rational. Their architecture was formal and symmetrical. Their cities were laid out according to well-thought out plans. They were themselves elites who valued the civilization they had created.

And here come the Christians saying such vulgar things. The Christians emphasized the poor and the uneducated and the powerless. They elevated women and outcasts. They glorified the body, even celebrating it during a ceremony called the Eucharist. And the greatest affront of all was that the divine wisdom was incarnate not in Caesar Augustus but in a Jewish peasant who had no power and was executed in the backwater of the Empire.

The Prologue of John’s Gospel is no less radical today, even though its words are familiar and despite the fact that we don’t share the intellectual biases of the ancient Greeks and Romans. But look at what the text does say. The Logos gives the power to all to become the children of God. It is a divine flesh that dwells among us.

This fall I read Bernard McGinn’s The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, which is now considered the standard work on the late thirteenth century German. John 1 was central to the teaching of Meister Eckhart. For him, the “Word taking on flesh is not a past event we look back to in order to attain salvation, but rather is an everlasting present” event. God continues to become human and humanity continues to become God.

Eckhart wrote, “It would be of little value for me that ‘the Word was made flesh’ for man in Christ as a person distinct from me, unless he was also made flesh for me personally so that I too might be God’s son.” There is a sense in which God becomes flesh in the entire creation. As Eckhart said, “The Word universally and naturally becomes flesh in every work of nature and art.” But mostly importantly “God’s intention in sending his Son was that ‘[humanity] may become by the grace of adoption what the Son is by nature.’”

Eckhart teaches that the birth of Christ is on-going, that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is born anew in believers. Eckhart based this on his reading of John 1. He thought that the word becoming flesh was an on-going experience. God continually chooses to place divinity in the flesh, which elevates and exalts the body. In this way the incarnation is relevant to us as we seek to embody Christ in our lives.

Going back to St. Irenaeus the Christian doctrine of the incarnation has been expressed in the phrase “God became man so that man might become God.” This formulation continues through the development of orthodoxy in Athanasius and Augustine and was common in Medieval understanding of Christian theology.

What could this traditional understanding mean; it sounds so alien to our ears?

It does not mean that we can become the transcendent Creator. It does not mean that we become little gods. What it does mean is that God’s kingdom has invaded this world. That divine image that each of us possesses is alight with the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Our humanity is awakened. Whatever our state, we now are able to achieve our full potential as human beings. It doesn’t matter your race, your sex, your orientation, your economic status, your family history, your education, your physical beauty or lack thereof. You have received the right and the power to believe and become a child of God. You are the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High.

The full revelation of God in human form came in the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ. But the Word continues to become flesh. We each carry the Holy Spirit within our flesh. We are God’s embodiment. Actually the totality of Christ’s Church is his Body. Have you ever realized that when the gospel says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” that it wasn’t only speaking of an historical event but was speaking of the here and now? The Word is still flesh and is still among us. And we are it!

The Prologue to the Gospel of John was an affront to the elites of ancient Rome and it is an affront to the elites of all times and all places. For ours is not an elitist faith. Ours is an inclusive faith. Ours is a faith that lives in the world and works in the world to create a better life. The Greek and Roman elites built their well-ordered cities walled off from the “barbarians” and the outcasts; they didn’t want to pollute themselves with the world. That’s as contrary to the message of the Gospel as something could be. It is our task to physically enter the world and be the presence of God. We Christians reject the notion that the perfect world can be created in isolation; our vision of the future is the redemption of the world.

So, it’s Christmas and it’s time to get to work! Jesus Christ was born! Jesus Christ is born today! And he’s born in us, all of us. And now go and live like Jesus lived, for you are the Logos, the Divine Wisdom. Go and change the world!

Annual Youth Christmas Gift

For the third year I am giving a compilation cd to all my youth as their Christmas gift from me. I first did it in 2002 because I had collected a lot of music that year (finally could afford to buy cds), had really gotten into listening to a wider range of new things, and felt it was a a great year in music. Last year was such a sucky year in music, that I didn't think I could fill a cd with enough meaningful music, so I did a compilation of some of my favourite music from throughout my life. This year there was a small handful of albums that I really liked, so I did a cd of music from this year, it jusn't isn't as varied as the last two cds. Here, for your perusal, is the list of music on "Some of Scott's Favourite Music 2004."

1) "I Shall Not Be Moved" by Johnny Cash -- This was on the spectacular posthumous release My Mother's Hymn Book. All these old gospel hymns emphasize the hope in the resurrection and the eschaton (the last days). The music of the poor often seems to look forward to the kingdom and use that language and symbolism. This particular one really moved me :) because of its assurance that we can make it through the difficulties of life.

2) "Hospital Bed" by Ben Kweller -- I picked up On My Way in April and saw Ben Kweller at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September. These are pop songs with profound lyrics and great music. This is one that's great to sing along to while driving.

3) "Make It All Okay" by R. E. M. -- The new R. E. M. album, Around the Sun, depressed me when I first heard it, especially this song. Not only does it express pain resulting from a break-up, but it also has religious implications.

4) "Not Even Stevie Nicks . . ." by Calexico -- I heard them perform at ACL and immediately went and bought the cd. Feast of Wire is my second favourite album of the year. There are three of their songs on this compilation cd, and all of them sound different. I think that Calexico sounds different from anyone else I've heard.

5) "Kite Song" by Patty Griffin -- I listened to this album while browsing at CD World in Addison and had to have it. I had never listened to Patty Griffin before, which is my huge loss. Impossible Dream is my favourite album of 2004. This song is exquisite.

6) "I Need You Back" by Ben Kweller -- If you've ever been dumped, you identify with this song.

7) "High on a Mountain Top" by Loretta Lynn -- Lorretta's Jack White produced album was marvelous. This is my favourite song from the album, because it is so much fun.

8) "The World at Large" by Modest Mouse -- I really like this song a lot. Too bad when I saw them live they stank. I guess they'll be a one hit wonder?

9) "Wanderlust" by R. E. M. -- One of the few songs from their album where the music is more upbeat. The more I listen to this album, the more it grows on me. After my first encounter with it, I didn't listen to it much for about a month or so, but have gotten back to listening to it and developing some real favourites.

10) "Wishbones" by Slaid Cleaves -- I also picked up this album at CD World. I really liked the sound. Besides this track, there are other really good ones, but it is the only one that made the final cut of this compilation. Cleaves voice is almost hypnotic. This song begins plaintive but then the tempo picks up and you move along with it.

11) "Rowing Song" by Patty Griffin -- Her music is just lovely. And her words speak deeply to me.

12) "In the Garden" by Johnny Cash -- Makes me feel like I'm sitting in the small, old, white, rural church in Narcissa, OK that my grandparents belonged to. And it gives me hope.

13) "I Wanted to Be Wrong" by R. E. M. -- Continuing the sorrowful theme of the rest of the album, though this one also looks beyond personal relationships to the larger social and political situation. I like the phrase "milk and honey congregations" in the section about how those who have it well off. He even gets in a dig about America not working with its allies.

14) "Sunken Waltz" by Calexico -- This seemed very much like a Woody Guthrie song to me. Like the line "called a last fair deal with an American seal and coporate handshakes." This song also makes me think of Marty.

15) "Original of the Species" by U2 -- I'm still not sure what I think of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I like it more than I did at first, but other than it being good background music while driving, I haven't really been touched by any of the songs. This one has come closest. I wanted more political rhetoric, like the two songs before. Some have explained (including Bono) that the album is political because of its focus on personal relationships. In that case, then, almost every song on this compilation of mine is a political song. And I do get that, but it still isn't what I had hoped for from U2. Just now as I listened to this song, I think I liked it the most I've liked it.

16) "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies" by Johnny Cash -- Every one of the songs on this album speaks powerfully to me. And hearing them sung so simply and with Cash's very aged and weathered voice gives them even more power.

17) "Van Lear Rose" by Loretta Lynn -- Can't you hear the love Loretta has for her parents in this? And Jack White's production is spectacular. She sounds so amazing on this album; no where near her age. Unbelievable that she wasn't nominated for album of the year.

18) "The One You Love" by Rufus Wainwright -- Rufus has been a favourite for three years now, since Julie Vire got me hooked. The two best songs from the album ("Art Teacher" and "Gay Messiah") I didn't put on this compilation because I wasn't sure they were appropriate for everyone I give this cd to as a Christmas gift (particularly the middle school kids). Rufus has such a unique style. This album, Want Two, came with a DVD of a concert and that was great to watch.

19) "On My Way" by Ben Kweller -- This sounds more like a folk song than his other pop songs.

20) "Across the Wire" by Calexico -- See? Now who else is making music that sounds like this? And in person it really rocks.

21) "Do Lord" by Johnny Cash -- This is a prayer, but it is full of assurance. Cash knows that God does remember him and that he is about to go home. What a blessing!

22) "When It Don't Come Easy" by Patty Griffin -- The song that meant the most to me all year.

Okay, there it is.


The last few days I just haven't had anything to blog about. I keep trying to think of something to write about, but nothing comes to mind. Partly, I think, this is because I've been enjoying living life the last few days and haven't had time to sit around and blog, though I have been trying to check in on others and post comments.

This time of year is not busy for me, in the sense of work busy, of planning and executing the programs that are my responsibility. But I am not home much in this season. I'm spending time with youth who are out of school and college kids who are home. Going to Christmas parties. Etc.

I have an alternate identity. E. Beaux Wooten. That's my name when I'm functioning as the fourth Wooten child. And the last couple of days I've been playing that role a lot as Barrett got home from college and yesterday we all went to the airport to pick up Brittany as she returned from her semester in Salzburg (there were six folk there for Brittany and a handful for our other friend Becky). And last night was the annual Von Wooten Family Christmas Party and Carol Sing, which is a blast. We had lots of food and lots of beverages and lots of singing with lots of friends.

See, family is so important to me that I have accumulated surrogate families everywhere I've gone. They always just seem to develop naturally. In Shawnee the family was my friends, the various groups of friends. There were those who gathered for Friends every Thursday in the second season. Or those who did Thanksgiving together for three years (centering around Ann & Jackie & my roommates). Or those who partied almost every week at my Louisa St. house. I also had my adopted grandmother from church, Christine Reynolds.

In Fville my surrogate families included the Frys, the Wardlows, and the Meadors. Mary Jane Haley was something of a surrogate grandma. David Breckenridge was like a big brother.

And all my youth have been my kids, in some form or fashion. I think it was Matt Levy who I was talking to recently about my desire for children, when he said, "But you have lots of kids."

I like collecting families.


Just got home from seeing Kinsey. It mostly follows some of the standard formula of a biopic, though its subject matter makes it startlingly different in places. I thought Peter Sarsgaard gave the best performance of the film. I really liked both Laura Linney and Liam Neeson (but then one usually does).

Of course, with a movie like this, one is more drawn to discussing the subject matter than the film qua film. One is reminded of how repressed our society still is. I have teenagers asking the "stupid" questions that folk are asking Kinsey at the beginning of the film. And this year Texas adopted health textbooks that have no real sex education whatsoever.

Some folk would look at our society and say that it quite sexually liberated, even pornographic. But I think they are wrong. Yes, it is more liberated than in Kinsey's day (and he played an important role in that). But I think (and something similar is stated at one point in the film) that a sexually repressive society is a pornographic society. Because that which is taboo is something that one can become obsessed with. And because then when a figure wants to breakout of or flaunt the taboo, they exploit sexuality (Brittany Spears, for instance).

What is needed is a positive, healthy view of sexuality that celebrates it so that people need be neither repressed nor go to the other extreme. I debate this often within the circles of youth ministry, where I have very good friends and colleagues who disagree. They think my views are more likely to lead to inappropriate behaviour and I think theres are.

Of course, I may be wrong. But I also know that the church has a long history of sexual repression. Many people are messed up about sex, and it is the church who messed them up.

Back in June I posted a sermon that I had preached on this topic.

As for the film:
3 film reels
3 1/2 popcorn kernels

The 1992 Election

As the country geared up for the election campaign, I was pleased, as a Bush supporter. In the spring of '91 he had the highest approval ratings of any president in history. He had been quite successful in foreign policy. Domestic policy had suffered, but largely because the Democrat Congress had obstructed even having discussion of the various bills the administration had proposed. He had compromised with the Democrats in order to keep the government from being shut down and had gone back on his pledge not to raise taxes. It was unclear how that would affect him. Would it be viewed as not fulfilling a promise or as having the wisdom to work with the other party and find compromise?

None of the big name Democrats ran. At one point Lloyd Bentsen even said he'd be the sacrificial lamb nominee if the party needed it, since everyone assumed Bush would win. And most of the Democrats who did run were not well known or were early in their careers. I did like the economic conservatism and social progressivism of Paul Tsongas, but everyone knew he wouldn't get the nomination.

I had first seen Bill Clinton at the 1988 Democrat Convention when he delivered the speech nominating Michael Dukakis. It was an overly long and boring speech. He was such a butt of jokes afterwards, the Johnny Carson invited him to come on the Tonight Show, where he came across as much more engaging than he had at the convention. He seemed like such a longshot for the nomination in '92. A governor from Arkansas? Then after the affair scandal, you thought he'd be eliminated as quickly as Gary Hart in '88. But, no. Bill and Hillary went on 60 Minutes for the interview that saved his political career. Hillary in that interview saved Bill's career. I remember liking her more than him from that moment on.

When Ross Perot began to make his noise in his interviews with Larry King, it seemed like something exciting might be happening. We needed someone standing up and talking straight and telling both parties that the budget deficit was out of control. Then the grassroots campaign for recruiting Ross to run began and there were petitions to get him on the ballot (I signed the Oklahoma petition).

Though big Bush supporter, I did listen to what the other two were saying. But, when it came down to it, I liked Bush better and also thought that the country and world needed him leading the international community at this crucial time. I still regret that his leadership wasn't there in the years ahead. I'm convinced that more would have been done to address the violence in the Balkans earlier.

I was a freshman at OBU that fall and it was a nasty campaign season there. The Democrats had their cars keyed, nasty notes left for them, threatening messages on their voice mail, etc. I was friends with many of them and was appalled at the treatment. I was a lot more partisan myself back then, but never was personal with it. In our dorm window Matt Cox and I had our Bush-Quayle '92 sign hanging and an American flag cover the whole window. On election night when Clinton was declared the winner, we got up and changed the flag to fly upside down, which is the official symbol of the nation in distress (lots of folk don't know that). That caused something of a stir.

So many folk on the right mourned that election (much like Kerry supporters did this year). But I did like the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm that the Clinton folk brought. I just thought that they were horribly inexperienced and ill-prepared. And the many stumbles in those early months (really, throughout the first two years) demonstrate that.