Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Raising hands

I recently attended a graduation ceremony at which a parent, while closing in prayer, invited those of us who were comfortable with it to raise our hands to bless the graduates as he offered a prayer / blessing. I did not raise my hands.

Before the reformation the church had all the access to God and the people had almost none of it – people didn’t have a direct line to scripture, for example and they certainly had limited access to the sacraments. The only way to get to God, at that time, according to the church, was through the church. The reformation changed much of that and, as Protestants there are now only a few things that we don’t have direct access to. We read and interpret scripture ourselves; we have our own Bible studies. Some of us even write books and articles about worship without being ordained by a church. But there are a few things that the church still owns, those being primarily the sacraments and, at least in my tradition (Reformed) , the act of raising one’s hands while giving the blessing.

I am more than happy to give a blessing to people – and I do, especially in children’s worship as the children leave. I touch them on the shoulder and say “God bless you, Madeline” or something to that effect. I also am happy to read the Aaronic blessing at certain occasions. But the lifting of hands when issuing the blessing, as a representative of the church, has been restricted to those ordained as ministers of the Word. That’s not me.

So, have I put too much weight on this? Was I just being a stick-in-the-mud by not raising my hands? Is this an example of the church becoming less important in the eyes of today’s Christians? Are we just a group of people who get together to sing and praise God rather than a people set apart?

I really would like some feedback on this one.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh

Here’s an old joke:
Q: what do deadheads say when the drugs wear off?
A: Hey, this band sucks!

I’ve never done drugs but I’ve nonetheless been a fan of the Grateful Dead for quite some time. My friend Pete bought the Europe ’72 triple-album when it came out and we were in college and I enjoyed much of what I found there. But it wasn’t until a different friend dragged me along to a show in Denver in ’78 that I really fell in love with the band. What I understood much later when the Dick’s Pick’s series of CDs started being released was that a big part of the fun of the band was the improvisational nature of their music and how the songs shifted from show to show. That meant that when they were on they were really on and when they weren’t they didn’t always do too well. It also lead to them having a reputation of being “sloppy” and of being a band that you either had to “get” or not.

I was always a little uncomfortable with the band’s name and also with their drug-heavy image because, as much as I liked the music, their apparent heavy drug use (especially psychedelics) was something I had a hard time turning a blind eye to. I also thought that if I ever got a chance to meet them I might really dislike them – they were just too emblematic of that whole hippy culture that I sometimes found irritatingly laid back.

Since Jerry Garcia’s death, though, I also found that Phil Lesh – the bass player – had assembled a nice little band which took the concept of group improvisation even further than the Dead had but seemed more rehearsed. I actually liked them better than the dead on many occasions and the concert I took in a few summers ago at Pine Knob in Michigan was one of my all time favorite concerts. Even on tape, the version of “Scarlet Begonias -> Fire on the Mountain” they played that night is amazing. Phil seemed to have escaped the drug-haze of the Dead and appeared to have turned out to be a great player, musician and perhaps even a nice guy. In fact, I actually thought I’d be able to have a really fun converstation with him because he was really focusing in on the stuff I appreciated (ie. The music) and had left behind the stuff I didn’t (ie. Drugs).

So it was with great interest that I picked up his new book, Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead. Lesh has an easy writing style and you can hear his voice as he writes. I actually enjoyed the book quite a bit because of the musical insights. Lesh pulls no punches regarding the band’s drug use and his own bout with alcoholism but does not celebrate it the way Rock Scully’s book about his time as the Dead’s manager does. However, Lesh does credit LSD with opening their minds to a sort of group-think that he claims transcends usual thought. He also talks about music in a religious tone that seems a bit too much. He obviously has a God-shaped hole in him but Lesh has attempted to fill it with music. He celebrates his lengthy marriage to Jill but doesn’t even blink when he talks about the fairly large number of divorces that band members (including Lesh) have experienced. He regrets falling into alcoholism in the late 70’s but doesn’t appear to regret much else. This is the laid-back attitude that gets to me – it’s all cool, unless it’s not, and even when he has to convince Jerry Garcia’s that he has to dump his long-term girlfriend in person he has a hard time assigning any blame to him. By the way, Garcia finally wrote a letter – which was fine with Phil. So much for "in person". I don’t quite see how Lesh can be so focused on how much joy his family has given him and so oblivious to the way that infidelity has plagued so many of the relationships of his close friends.

Friday, May 27, 2005

God’s Precalculus

About 5 years ago I wrote and published a Precalculus textbook that had sales figures that were off the charts. The charts didn’t go that low. Let’s just say that no one has picked up the film rights yet. The arrival of royalty statements are the occasion for laughter at our house – we’d never dreamed that we’d see numbers so low. So it is with only some authority that I can write about a Precalculus book that I just found out about even though it’s been out a few years. The book is Precalculus for Christian Schools by Kathy D. Pilger, Ron Tagliapietra. It’s published by Bob Jones University Press. I have not actually seen the book but it is on Amazon and one of the reviewers there quoted from it. Here are the quotes:

"Carl Friedrich Gauss first proved the fundamental theorem of algebra. There are many fundamental theorems: of arithmetic, calculus, and so on. These are so fundamental that many other theorems are derived from them. In the Bible, there are also fundamentals, without which Christianity would not exist: the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and the inspiration of the Bible, to name a few."

"A line can be described either by its slope (a ratio) or by its inclination (an angle). These terms describe the deviation from the horizontal, but the word inclination also has a non-mathematical meaning. Without Christ, man is inclined to sin. The Word of God should shape our attitudes (inclinations)."

"If you are given the length of two sides and the angle measure opposite one of those sides, you can use the law of sines to solve the triangle. However, this does not always determine a unique triangle. As a result, it is called the ambiguous case. Ambiguous means open to multiple interpretations. Some people say that you can interpret the Bible in any way that you want. However, there is no ambiguity in the Bible."

"A person is eccentric if his behavior deviates from normal. Jesus Christ expects His disciples to be eccentric, since living a Christlike life is not normal in this world (Titus 2:14). Likewise, in mathematics, conic sections are eccentric if they deviate from a circle. Eccentricity is a measure of this deviation. The eccentricity of an ellipse (e) is the ratio of focal distance (c) to the length of the sentimajor axis (a): e = c/a. Since c and a are distances and c < a, the eccentricity of any ellipse is 0 < e < 1.

"The concept of limit can be used to illustrate an important truth. Suppose you lived eighty years and there was no life after death; your life on the earth would be 80/80 = 1 = 100% of your existence. Now, let's assume that your life after death was eighty years long: your earthly life would be 80/160 = 1/2 = 50% of your entire existence. If life after death were 720 years, your life here would be only 80/(80+720) = 0.1 = 10%. Now extend it to eternity: (the limit as x approaches infinity) 80/(80+x) = O. In other words, this life is very insignificant in light of eternity. It is no wonder James said that life is "vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."

I’m tempted to just let the quotes stay there without comment since I’m sure that nearly all of my readers will have the same reaction that I did. However, because I don’t know everyone who reads my blog, let me be clear.

I believe that this is exactly the wrong way to integrate faith with mathematics. I would suggest that this is NOT an example of integrating faith – this is an example of tacking on biblical language in a totally unrelated way to the topic at hand. These examples show that the authors do not believe that Math is ALREADY God’s – they appear to believe that they have to make it God’s by concocting ridiculous connections to religious moral lessons.

In my book I attempted to reflect my faith in the types of topics that we covered and the types of questions we had our students think about – pollution, population, debt, and other things that would lead them to evaluate their place in God’s world. I can’t wait to use these excepts in class as a counter example!

Read another blogger's thoughts here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

More on the emerging church

A few days ago I received this comment from Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church in reference to my blog entries regarding his book. First of all, thanks, Dan, for taking the time to engage in a discussion on this. I’m thrilled that you noticed my blog!

Since some of my readers may not have seen his comment I’ll quote it in its entirety here:

hello --

this is Dan K. - i think you are misreading the intention of what i wrote there. i agree with what you are saying, but that was actually the point of why i wrote that. i was saying that in the modern contemporary church, we DID isolate ourselves and remove any form of liturgy or historical forms of worship. so when i began adding some more mainline traditional expressions of worship things to our worship gathering, i had no idea that other contemporary churches who began rethinking church, were also doing the same. my point was to show how isolated in thinking and disconnected from the "traditional church" most of them are. but we are now rediscovering what others have been doing all along, outside of most megachurches who primarily only use very contemporary expressions of worship.

So, it wasn't to say that we thought we were original, it was to say that we in the contemporary church have been naive and ignored traditional church forms of worship. to my surprise, we discovered others were doing it all along, not that we were saying we were the first to think of it.

make sense?


This puts a different spin on the discussion. I think that part of my problem is the term “vintage worship” that Dan uses throughout the book. I may have not read it carefully enough but I’m not sure that he defines that term anywhere. Coming at this book having read Ancient Future Faith by Robert Webber I saw Kimball’s “vintage worship” as apparently MUCH older than he seems to be indicating in his comment to me. And, frankly, I’m not sure I misread it. His line about being “the first protestants to use candles…” may have been hyperbole and it may have been tongue-in-cheek but that doesn’t indicate a wide knowledge of the more traditional denominationally based churches that have been flourishing in the US for the past decades. (By flourishing, I don’t mean 10,000 members but more like 200 – like the church I attend.)

I think Kimball is right that many (dare I say “most”?) leaders in contemporary mega-churches have isolated themselves from the larger, more historical church to their detriment. Many seem to have a sense of history that goes back no further than Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. It is ironic (although Brian McLaren would say absolutely predictable) that the most successful churches in terms of numbers had thrown off the very things that would allow them to connect with the next generation of young people.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Beatles

I’ve been watching The Beatles Anthology DVD over the past couple of weeks and that has reminded me to listen to The White Album (actually named The Beatles) on my commute. What a wonderful album this is! I remember back in 1968 when, as a high school freshman, I got this album and was absolutely astonished at the way that the Beatles had once again morphed from the psychedelic Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper summer-of-love house band to produce this wonderful eclectic collection of songs. I remember that some reviewer said that this album proved it was clear that Lennon-McCartney were the most accomplished songwriters since Strauss.

The things that really stick out on this album, aside from how many amazing songs are on it, is that the styles that the Beatles go through range from 40’s jazz standards (“Honey Pie”) to a send-up of late 60’s British Blues (“Yer Blues”) to a Beach Boys tribute (“Back in the USSR”) and every where in between ending with a syrupy string-laden finale (“Good Night”).

My main reason for writing this entry is that I am aware that a number of my readers are in their early 20’s (you know who you are) and some of them may not have grown up in a house that exposed them to the classics. If this is an album with which you are not familiar, get it and listen repeatedly until you realize why it’s so great.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Death by Meeting

I also recently finished reading Death by Meeting : A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business by Patrick Lencioni. Since I'll be taking over as chair of the Education Department in a few weeks I thought it would be wise to read a little about leadership. This book is written as a "fable" followed by a section in which Lencioni explains his plan for making meetings more productive and less boring.

First of all, I found the fable part of the book very easy reading and it sparked quite a few thoughts and conversations with people. Just the title of the book alone was a conversation starter! It got me thinking about meetings and caused me to wonder why I often try to avoid them. They are usually with people I enjoy being with and are almost always about things that are important to me. So why so I so often try to think up ways to skip them?

I think it is partly because I have other things to do and I don't consider meeting productive. Also, I tend to work quickly and I can't control the pace of a meeting - it takes me longer to do something in a meeting than it does on my own. I forget that the result of collaboration is usually a lot better than the result of solo work.

But back to the book itself - by the time I got finished with Lencioni's fable I had pretty much digested his wisdom on the issue and found the explanation part of the book to be redundant and boring.

I did get a least a couple of good ideas out of the book though, one I hope to use with the Education Department's administrative assistants as soon as I start - I ran the idea past them and they liked it a lot. If that idea proves as useful as it might be then the time and money spent on the book will be well worth it!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More on The Emerging Church

Here are some follow-up thoughts on The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball. I'm about half-way through the book now and it's really starting to bug me. The problem I have is similar to what I noticed in converstations with a young couple who were worship leaders of a church in California - they seem to have no sense that the world of the church is bigger than their little mega-church world. Dan Kimball writes that he thought he was the first protestant to use candles in church until he ran into a few other emergant church people who had to. WHAT? Does he really think that no other protestants have used candles?

He also thinks that some of his innovations of using "vintage worship" all went away when Willow Creek and Saddleback came into being. He is ignoring the whole part of the church who have stayed somewhat "traditional" while being responsive to changes in culture.

I'm not suggesting that those "traditional" churches have it all together but Kimball acts like they don't exist.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball

I'm presently reading The Emerging Church and have a number of thoughts about how post-moderns and moderns connect (or, rather, often don't) and I realize that even though I think I'm a pretty cool guy for someone my age I really incredibly modern. I like to think that I have a bit of "post" in me because I listen to cool stuff and read cool things and hang out with younger people but I'm a pretty modern guy under all that alleged postiness. So I'm trying to get a look inside the emerging church to see if I have a place in it or if I'd be better at more of a thoroughly modern place.

One thing in this book that jumped out at me yesterday was that if all the non-church-going people in the US were turned into one nation it would be the fifth largest nation in the world and the largest English-speaking nation in the world. (Who can name the other four? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?) So we have a huge mission field right here on our doorstep. I'm not sure where I'm going with this but I've been thinking about it a lot for the past 24 hours.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


Yet another sign that too many people confuse a certain political stance with faith.

I was going to write more but realized that I was speechless.

Monday, May 02, 2005

More from Bono in Conversation

Here is another of my favorite quotes from the new Bono book. (see my last post for the link)

Bono: I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond (sighs) in allowing myself to be transforrmed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try and live this love. Now, that’s not so easy.

Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn’t so “peace and love.”

Bono: There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access to a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross. (200)