Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Coffee Day

I would be remiss if this blog didn't acknowledge National Coffee Day:
Did you know that coffee dates as far back as the 9th century? It was first discovered in Ethiopia by a goat herder named Kaldi. He noticed the stimulating effects that the coffee berries had on his goats and began to experiment with them.

A century later, coffee began being roasted and traded by Arabs. From there, the beans entered Indian and European markets and the first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475. From there, coffee's popularity grew at an exponential rate.

Today, over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year. It is a world commodity that is second only to oil. To celebrate this historical and important beverage, head to your favorite coffee shop. On National Coffee Day some of your favorite coffee shops will give out free cups of coffee!
I did in fact trek to my favorite coffeehouse today, but they didn't seem to acknowledge this date. So I had to go ahead and pay for my java.

The name of the goat herder is especially interesting to me, as my favorite coffeehouse in St. Louis was called Kaldi's. I certainly recommend it if you're ever in the area.

So a Happy National Coffee Day from Philosophy Over Coffee.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Staycation

Today begins two weeks of vacation time for me. The natural question that people have asked me has been, "So where are you going?" The natural assumption is that, when one goes on vacation, one is actually going somewhere.

That's hard to accomplish with a wife who is not on vacation and is in the middle of a semester of her nurse practitioner program, and a son who is...you know...in need of appropriate toddler-like care. Thus the result is the increasingly popular "staycation," where one doesn't actually go anywhere but just enjoys some time off.

I've taken staycations before, and they've generally been relaxing, save for the couple of times I was called back for a funeral (and we can discuss my boundary issues some other time, thanks). This particular time, I'll have just a little bit of "work" to do. I'll meet with one of Coffeewife's nursing school buddies for whom I'm officiating the wedding later this month, and I'll co-officiate my sister-in-law's wedding.

I've also reserved some time at a local retreat center at which I'll spend some time next spring during my sabbatical. And there'll be coffeehouses and books and walks through the local park and meeting Coffeewife for lunch at her work and Michigan football and hopefully the Tigers in the playoffs.

And I'm planning on playing the part of Mr. Domestic: laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner on the nights that Coffeewife doesn't have class. I figure that there's no excuse for me not to do it, and I'll actually probably enjoy being able to focus solely on that sort of stuff.

So it should be a good couple of weeks.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Equinox Meme

Courtesy of the RevGals:

1. Share a Fall memory. I live about 10 minutes away from the community where I regularly trick-or-treated as a kid. My family lived out in the country at that point, but we'd travel with our neighbors to their grandparents' house and spend Halloween there. I remember always loving going to the houses that went above and beyond in their decorating; that even hosted mini-"haunted houses" in their backyards. I was thinking about this yesterday, and find it interesting how close I live to where those memories happened.

2. Your favorite Fall clothes--(past or present)? Hooded sweatshirts, hands down. I have at least a half dozen.

3. Share a campfire story, song, experience...etc. This past Sunday night, I had confirmed youth and sponsors over to the parsonage for a firepit. We roasted hot dogs and s'mores, and played volleyball and cornhole. I remember that right at 6:00, it started to rain very lightly, and I was about to have a conniption. But it stopped, and we had a great time.

4. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?


5. What changes are you anticipating in your life, your church, family...whatever...as the season changes and winter approaches? The big one is moving into our own house, which will be finished in late October. The latest news is that the drywall is up, which was one of the final huge steps to take. While I eternally loathe the act of moving, I'm excited for this change.

Bonus: What food says "AUTUMN" at your house? Recipes always appreciated. Apple cider. Preferably warm, but cold is fine, too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Driving Past

Before my sophomore year of college, I bought my first car. It was a gold 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse. It had standard transmission, which I hadn't yet really learned, but I was willing to do so for the sake of driving this car...during breaks for a summer college course I was taking, I'd go out and just make loops around the parking lot. It had a sun roof, CD player, and the stick shift had an orange light on the top of it that lit up when you'd turn on the headlights. This may not sound all that exciting, but it was to a 19-year-old kid with his first ride.

The next summer, I drove down to Cincinnati to see my first Dave Matthews Band concert with She-Who-Would-Eventually-Be-Coffeewife. As I was looking for the street to her house, I lingered too long on a sign that I'd passed, and when I turned back to the front I realized that I was about to be in the next car's trunk. The front of my car folded like an accordian, and I spent my summer earnings getting it fixed.

The car never seemed to be the same after that. The next few years I would need to replace the clutch and fix the brakes several times. The novelty stick shift eventually broke. The gas cap door snapped off in my hand during a winter day and I had to get a locking cap. The summer before seminary I again dumped all my earnings into it, and by the time I got to St. Louis it had already become a shell of it's former awesomeness. I eventually donated it to the Salvation Army, who had to come tow it out of the parking lot because it no longer ran.

This car has turned up in my dreams the past few nights. Along with it has come snippets of memories of days' past, mostly of college and some of the notable spots from that season of my life. I'm inclined to believe that these dreams are somehow tied to the beginning of fall, a time when students arrive or return, triggering something in my subconscious to relive those days.

But the constant has been the car. It's been ever-present no matter what else I've been reliving. But I guess I need some way of getting around. And for that, a working version of my first four-wheeled symbol of independence is perfect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Day of Fall

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." ~George Eliot

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading The First Paul. I've been distracted by other matters lately and haven't been reading too much of it. It doesn't help that the authors have launched into some familiar points and themes, and it's not holding my interest simply because I've heard this stuff from them before. I have been intrigued by their discussion of Paul's declaration that death is the final enemy to overcome. They discuss this in the context of Christ's death, which was violent, vs. death in our society being something that we can put further and further off thanks to modern technology. The suggestion is that, in that time and place, death was more of a "constant companion" due not only to Roman oppression, but the threat of disease and a shorter life span in general. They conclude that Paul may have had violent, oppressive death in mind more than death in general when he wrote about the final enemy to be overcome. It's an interesting point regardless, but I'm not fully convinced that that was what Paul had in mind.

One of the things that has distracted me from The First Paul has been Thomas Keating's Invitation to Love, which I'm reading for a book discussion. Keating draws on some elements of psychology--particularly human mental development--to explore the role of contemplative prayer in that development. I didn't really start liking this book until the fourth chapter. There's something about Keating's writing style that irritates me...I contrast him with Thomas Merton, who is more flowing and has a more poetic quality, while Keating seems very buttoned-down and prosaic. If you're writing a book on spiritual discipline, I tend to think that your writing should "seem" spiritual. The psychological element probably necessitates Keating's style, but it just seems very dry for long stretches. By the fourth chapter, he seems to finally start rolling on some things, including exploring the variety of factors that contribute to one's sense of self, and how contemplative prayer can help heighten that awareness. I have a way to go yet, so maybe by the end I'll have a different opinion, especially considering that he hasn't yet described the actual discipline.

The season finale of True Blood was this past Sunday. I really thought that this season was much stronger than the first...characters were more established and the actors seemed more sure of themselves (and their accents). The stories were better as well, and there was more consistent movement forward, as opposed to last season which seemed to drag and drag and drag. I thought that until this last episode, where the Bad Guy was defeated about 25 minutes in, and then they had another 25 minutes to meander around with short scenes of characters just winding down from earlier events. We didn't need such a long epilogue. Seriously. Anyway, it did set up some things for the next season.

This week I picked up Ingrid Michaelson's new album, Be OK [Actually, it's not her newest. I just thought it was. - ed.]. She's really ratcheted up her folk side on this one. Many of the songs are very stripped-down, including covers of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Can't Help Falling in Love," and an acoustic version of "Way I Am." It took me a second listen to appreciate this one...I'm not crazy about the covers, as she does that "pause before singing the next line and then because she paused she has to still fit it in" thing. You know that thing? That thing doesn't work when you do it this often. All in all, it is a good, mellow album.

I also listened to Joe Henry's Civilians this week, which was my first time listening to any of his music. Henry very much reminds me of Dylan, down to the voice. He pulls from a variety of styles including folk, blues, and country. I simply freaking loved this album, and there isn't much else that I feel like writing about it at the moment.

I hadn't been to the Mad Priest's place in such a long time that I'd forgotten how brilliant he is.

From around the web, here are a bunch of cats doing stupid things:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jesus Weeps

I've been giving thanks for changing leaves, for the chill in the air, for the gradual disappearance of all traces of summer. I relish the ideas of long sleeves and Halloween decorations. I wish that October was looming larger on the chronological horizon than it currently is, but I take some solace in the signs of its arrival.

I come home from the church to reheat some leftover pizza. My mom watches Coffeeson on Wednesdays, and the two of them were preparing for lunch of their own when I walked in the door. As I wait for the oven to heat up, I sit to check e-mail and read a few pieces on Michigan's expectations for the rest of the season. Tate Forcier appears in the corner of the newest Sports Illustrated. He's clearly established himself. I smile to myself, thankful that that particular aspect of fall is shaping up pretty well this time around.

I'm pulled away by something my mom says. She mentions that the pastor of my former/home church has a funeral tomorrow. I ask who, and she mentions a name that I recognize but can't quite place. "He was married a couple years ago...I think [Pastor] had done it."

"Who'd he marry?"

When she gives the bride's name, I figure it out. He was the groom in the very first wedding I'd helped officiate during my two-month stint at my hometown church. I hadn't been ordained at the time, so an ordained colleague had been called in to handle the official parts.

I start to remember things about that weekend. I didn't know this couple; that weekend was the only time we'd ever met. During the rehearsal, he'd worn a black t-shirt with a tuxedo printed on the front. After we'd finished running through the ceremony, he'd taken a moment to thank everyone for being a part of this special moment in their lives. The bride was of Laotian descent, and I'd met the U.S. Ambassador to Laos at the reception, which I thought was pretty cool.

Just over five years later, the groom had shot himself. It's a tragic ending no matter how you slice it. The only time I'd ever met this person was during one of the happiest moments of his life. I sit with this the rest of the afternoon, and I have some thoughts of stopping by calling hours. Would they remember me? Would it make a difference? And why exactly was I thinking of going?

I come home from the church, done for the day. My sermon, based on the unconventional Wisdom of Solomon text that the lectionary includes, is imperfect but functional. There will probably be more tweaking. The wicked person lies in wait for the righteous man, saying, "he is inconvenient to us...let us test his resolve and his faith." The miserable one wants to spread his misery around. I find it relevant to our modern age and the cynicism that has made itself known time and time again.

Could we possibly imagine a different kind of world? Could we possibly dare to envision a society that isn't based on inequality, on misery, on marginalizing those who do dream of a more hopeful reality?

When I get home, I flip open the laptop and click on Street Prophets. One of the top stories brings further news of tragedy:
ANDERSON, S.C. — Friends of a 39-year-old South Carolina man are trying to figure out why he never reached out for help before dying broke and alone in a zipped-up tent on the banks of a lake.

Bright but reclusive Civil War buff David Condon lost his job at a local museum and fell behind on his rent.

Sometime in early July he disappeared. On Labor Day weekend, a group of college kids vacationing at a condo complex a few hundred yards from his tent peeked inside and found his body. The local coroner says he died of pneumonia, made worse by malnutrition. He was dehydrated and had lost 50 pounds in a few months.

His best friend, Craig Drennon, saw no sign Condon was having money problems or spiraling into despair when the two got together nearly every week to drink beers and play backgammon.
The poster, Asbury Park, adds his/her own observations:
What happened to Condon is about as authentically American an ending in 2009 as one can have, dying homeless, hungry, & mentally & physically wasted at the edge of a wealthy society that extolls self-reliance over all other personal qualities, advertises "a dollar & a dream," begrudges providing basic health care to all its citizens & won't even crack down on a financial industry that rewards failure with multi-million dollar bonuses.
I start wondering about the connection here between my Wisdom of Solomon text and this story; whether a man dying alone, broke, and hungry in a tent would have anything to say to the wicked person described in the passage who find people trying to change the former's situation to be "a burden" and "inconvenient." I try to imagine this man's embarrassment; his reluctance to share his situation with his friends. I think about trying to hold it together myself in such a situation.

My reflections on the news of the day are interrupted by the sounds of Coffeeson waking up from his nap. He's still tired when I pick him up; all he wants to do is lay his head on my shoulder, to take his time waking up. After what I've heard about, I'm content to hold him, knowing that he won't be able to avoid life's harder moments. He'll know loss, he'll experience humanity's unfairness and cruelty, he'll wrestle with questions of where hope and reassurance can be found in a world that includes these darker moments. And I pray that he'll be able to envision and work for a better world in the midst of it all.

I sit down with Coffeeson on my lap, and he nestles in, still not quite ready to awake fully. On Monday, I'd spent an hour and a half rocking him while he slept. To be honest, I was annoyed that I wasn't able to do something else: couldn't read a book, couldn't relax on the couch, couldn't take a nap myself.

Today, I'm not in a hurry. Take as long as you like.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The College Football Weekend That Was

On Saturday afternoon around 4:00 p.m., my family and I began the drive home from my in-laws' house in Cincinnati. We had breezed in to town for 24 hours or so for my sister-in-law's wedding shower. It's about a 3 1/2-hour drive, and given that Michigan and Notre Dame began playing at 3:30, I knew that I would miss the entire thing.

My brother and I call each other a couple times every fall Saturday afternoon to issue quick thoughts on Michigan's performance. Last Saturday during the first half of the Western Michigan game, it mostly consisted of comments like, "Hey, isn't it nice to watch a football team really play football again?" This past Saturday, I would need to rely on him for every update, every score and, hopefully, eventual news of a Wolverine win.

Leading up to the game, that last part was not a sure thing by any means. Even though Michigan had begun the season in strong fashion, they're still young with questionable depth at some spots. On the other hand, as much crap as Charlie Weis gets, he'd be returning a veteran team with some excellent playmakers. This wouldn't be an easy afternoon either way.

But the statement that Michigan could make with a win would go a long way in getting the huge monkey off their collective backs. It was one thing to beat up on a MAC team, though even that was not an easy, surefire thing last year. It would be another to beat Notre Dame. So I drove, my ears listening for my cell's ringtone amidst the sounds of Elmo's World on the DVD player. Back and forth, back and forth...with each score, with each new lead, I wondered...would a moral victory be enough? If Michigan merely kept it close, would I be able to feel good about that? After all, this was still a rebuilding time, and even a close game would signal an ability to at least hang with tougher teams. They'd probably still be able to get out of September 3-1.

No. I wasn't going to let myself settle for that. Under Carr, I would've settled for that. His impact on the Michigan culture in his latter years apparently was such that moral victories and close losses would be okay. And I'd bought into it, even after 2008, even this early in the new season. Yeah, sure, a close game with Notre Dame. We would've all been happy with that. It'd be a sign of progress. Except I didn't really believe it any more. Michigan had to win this game. Not only that, but they were GOING TO WIN. Yes, I'm telling you, I thought that. I was waiting for the phone call from my brother that would bring news of a new Michigan lead, the final lead of the game. And then my phone rang...

"Forcier threw to Mathews for a touchdown with 11 seconds to go."

I laughed an ecstatic, maniacal laugh. My faith had held up. This was truly a statement win, the first big win for the RichRod era, bigger than last year's Wisconsin game. It had featured a young quarterback cool under pressure and a coach whose regime was starting to produce wonderful, exciting results. The ghosts of the late Carr era were being continually exorcised, and the burdens put upon the program the entire off-season, all the lingering questions after 2008 and ridiculous accusations about practice hours, were beginning to give way.

There was another football game that was played on Saturday night. It was the marquee game of the day, the rematch between Ohio State and USC. The Buckeyes had plenty of their own questions and burdens and ghosts heading into this game, and the atmosphere that I witnessed in the Horseshoe was evidence enough that they were determined to answer them all. The fans were ridiculously loud, the Trojans seemed off during the first half. Perhaps Matt Barkley was rattled more than his pre-game interviews had suggested. By the end of the first half, USC had mustered a measly field goal to tie the game, and I was getting too sleepy to watch much more.

During the halftime report, I was able to see the Forcier-Mathews play for the first time. It was the very first thing that they talked about. I smiled contently as I further rode the joy of the day. And even though it looked like Ohio State was going to finally answer their critics, it didn't matter to me nearly as much as the celebration at the Big House.

I woke up on Sunday morning and turned on Sportscenter. It was a few minutes in, but once again all I saw were winged helmets, Mathews again catching Forcier's pass, 108,000 Michigan fans going crazy. The commentators talked about the amazing comeback, in particular praising the level-headedness of a freshman quarterback in such a situation. And they used that as the segway to USC/OSU, where it was shown that Barkley had eventually calmed down enough to lead the Trojans to a 18-15 win. This after a high snap to the USC kicker for a safety, among other boneheaded miscues. No, the Buckeyes had still lost.

After last year's OSU/USC game, I posed a question to my Buckeye readership: "Do you think that Jim Tressel's days as head coach are numbered?" At that time, there didn't seem to be much worry. But now, it seems as if that worm is turning:
When I watched the game live, I was struck by what I considered poor playcalling and mediocre execution. But after watching the game again in detail, going over replays and studying all the players, I'm convinced the situation in Columbus is nearly hopeless. For all the talk of Tressel's buttoned-down, conservative approach, and how his teams don't make mistakes, the most basic and fundamental errors permeated throughout Ohio State's offensive plan like cancer in its late stages, and the only conclusion I could draw from this game is that Tressel -- whatever he may be as a motivator, a recruiter, a teacher of technique or as a disciplinarian -- is not up to the challenge of leading his team past others that equal his in talent. He is not good enough of a tactician to win against the national elite who, unlike practically everyone he schemes against in his conference, have the talent to match Ohio State's, and those are the only games where coaching really matters. With his facilities, talent, and resources, winning the Big Ten is not the test.

Look at the numbers. Ohio State's failure to beat a quality opponent since defeating Michigan to punch a ticket to the national championship game in 2006, Tressel's teams have been outclassed, outsmarted, outplayed and outprepared in every big game they've played.
This article was not written by a Buckeye fan. But I found it through a Buckeye fan friend on Facebook who declared himself "off the Tressel bandwagon." I truly wonder what lies in store for that program in the next few years, especially due to the so-called Team Up North finding a new swagger. Things are changing, and there seem to be some doubts rising about whether the Buckeyes in their current incarnation will be able to keep up.

Regardless, I wore my Michigan tie to church that morning. Nobody said a word.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Recharging

Sometimes, a blogger needs a little bit of time to recharge his or her creative batteries. I believe that I have hit one of those points once again.

Check back in a week or so.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading The First Paul, the latest joint work by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The title plays off their previous books, The Last Week and The First Christmas...perhaps eventually people will be able to buy them as a boxed set. I almost expect a treatment of Revelation next. Anyway, Borg and Crossan set out to analyze the 13 letters attributed to Paul in an effort to reclaim Paul's context and theology. They divide these letters into three categories, and provide a comparison of the views contained therein. So we end up with the radical Paul, who was anti-slavery and anti-patriarchy, the conservative "Paul" who began to acquiesce to dominant cultural views of such things, and the reactionary "Paul" who completely contradicted the radical (read: authentic) Paul. Paul is presented as one who went against the cultural norms and helped spread a message of an alternative community and an alternative Lord, at which point we get Borg and Crossan's explanation of "Caesar is Lord" vs. "Jesus is Lord" and Rome's "peace through victory" vs. Christ's "peace through justice," which will be familiar territory for those who have read or heard these guys' stuff before.

I've been on an Audioslave kick lately. I think I'm still trying to erase the memory of that Chris Cornell album that I heard a few weeks ago. But mostly it was because I heard "Like a Stone" on the radio and thought, "Hey, I should listen to more Audioslave."

I also checked out an album this week by Future Bible Heroes entitled Eternal Youth. I had no idea what to expect, so I popped it into the van's CD player with anticipation. Then, halfway through the first song, I angrily thought to myself, "Okay, this retro-'80s crap needs to stop." Who was it who first said, "Hey man, remember Casio keyboards? People should totally start using those again"? The album became more tolerable as I continued to listen. I went ahead and took a peek at some Amazon reviews, where nearly everyone mentioned Stephen Merritt, a guy who co-wrote a lot of the songs and who is involved in a couple other groups, and I should have seen it coming: a lot of the reviewers said some variation of, "This isn't his best work. If you really want to see what he can do, listen to [blah blah blah]." Man, I always pick the wrong one.

In college, I watched a lot of Cartoon Network. A group of us especially loved the Cartoon Cartoons, such as Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory. I'm not sure that they show these any more. At any rate, this is one of my favorite episodes of Dexter's Laboratory, "Dexter and Computress Get Mandark," which is based on the narration of a 6-year-old. Enjoy:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

All in.

Note: I wrote this before the Detroit Free Press published its curiously-timed report about alleged violations committed by the program.  Since then, the more I've been reading about the activities possibly cited as "violations" and the shoddy work that the two "journalists" responsible put into it, the less concerned I've been about it.  So while I personally am feeling more at ease than when I initially heard about it, I still worry about how this will affect the season.  And mostly, it pisses me off that some people seem to be working so hard to sabotage Coach Rodriguez.

"When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing." - Bo Schembechler

This Saturday, college football begins a new season.

For the Michigan Wolverines, it will begin at 3:30 against Western Michigan University, a team that many say shouldn't be taken lightly.

Nowadays, I don't think Michigan will be taking anyone lightly. Exhibit A: The Horror that opened the 2007 season. Exhibit B: the first ever Wolverine loss to a MAC team last season when they faced Toledo.

That's been the story of the past few seasons: disappointment. Heartbreak. Rebuilding. Three seasons ago, Michigan was contending for a national title. Two seasons ago, they perhaps believed their own hype too much and got pantsed in their very first game. Last season, barely anything went right under a new coach implementing a new philosophy with a patchwork bunch of guys who 1) had rarely, if ever seen the field, 2) were Carr recruits who just weren't buying in, 3) were injured. A big comeback win over Wisconsin and a secured Little Brown Jug was all they had to show for it by late November. That's to say nothing of all the wrong kinds of history that was made: a snapped bowl streak, snapped winning streaks over Penn State and Sparty, Toledo, the longest losing streak ever to You Know Who, and the worst record in half a century.

And yet here we are, at the cusp of a brand new year, and so many things have changed. Many starters return on offense, now with more experience and a full off-season to practice and condition. Quarterbacks, while true freshmen, have arrived who know how to run the system. The running game features a lot of depth, including a senior determined to make up for 2008. Defense, while starting many newcomers, will feature an acclaimed defensive end who will find his way into your backfield and eat you. The entire team is said to be noticeably more fit and beastly. And I'm willing to bet that they're angry.

Angry over how everything went last year.

Angry over everything that the media has been saying about them.

Angry over the jeering from Columbus, East Lansing, South Bend, and University Park.

Angry that many aren't giving them much of a chance this year, either.

Angry that their head coach constantly has to deal with so freaking many detractors within their own freaking fanbase.

This is still a young team, and there are still plenty of concerns heading into this new season. But this isn't the same team as last year. I anticipate this season with cautious optimism, unable to shake recent embarrassments and knowing current worries, but also knowing that it will not turn out the same way. Whether they go 6-6, 7-5, 8-4, or just plain shock the world, it will not turn out the same.

I'm taking Bo's advice, and I'm going to keep believing. I can do no other.

I'm all in.

Go Blue.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Vintage POC: Sometimes I Get Tired, Too

I wrote this entry nearly two years ago. These are feelings that recur from time to time, most recently perhaps when John Piper shared his tornado theology. But it was an entry at Internet Monk that really brought this entry back into my consciousness. I get what he's saying, even if I need to keep sitting with the material for a while. For some, the feelings in this entry naturally lead to what iMonk describes. For others, like me, I find ways to keep going because I find the truths that Jesus shares to transcend all the stupid crap that Christians do.

Greg doesn't have a lot of energy right now. He's gone through a "faith detox" sort of thing lately, where he now declares that he's not a Christian if being a Christian means adhering to what he sees as a ridiculous series of statements. From what I read from him, he's been a longtime critic of most church practices that take away from the essence of discipleship; that needlessly pile on or cater to the whims of a comfortable, consumerist middle-class lifestyle. More recently, he's gotten dissatisfied with beliefs in substitutionary atonement, the Bible as infallible God-bestowed document (which includes accounts of genocide, slavery, divine pettiness, etc.). It's not that he just recently gave up these things...he gave them up quite a while ago. He's gotten tired of arguing for broader thinking on these themes, and finally gave up.

(Understand that I mean "gave up" in a burned-out sort of way, and not in any sort of way that sought an easier path.)

This quote struck me in just the right way:
Just driving by a church makes me weary.
Yes, out of three paragraphs, this one sentence struck me. Because sometimes I feel like that, too.

It's only rarely that it's my own church that makes me weary, though. I live right next to it, and every once in a while I look over at it and sigh. This is mainly an "I live right next door to where I work" sort of thing, though, and less a discontented sigh at everything that is wrong with Christianity and the haplessly broken institution that strives to embody what Jesus really wanted.

But sometimes a sigh does escape my lips for those reasons. I could pass by any church and that would happen. Sometimes it is the church I serve, sometimes not. I'll sigh at the huge non-denominational church that promotes mudpits and carnivals for its youth, that causes reactions of both jealousy and disgust from my membership, that won't give us heathen mainliners the time of day. I'll sigh at the small rural church that keeps promoting it's old-timey cornfield religion. I'll sigh in the middle of Christian bookstores promoting Bible Sudoku and Christian shoes(!). I'll sigh as I happen to overhear two women in Borders decrying a contemporized play adaptation of The Screwtape Letters that apparently addresses sexual temptation in too graphic a manner, and wonder why people think "Christian art" is only supposed to be fluffy and banal.

It's in moments like this that I feel tired, if not even tempted to just throw it all out. Why bother with the divisions, the strong desire to live in one's favorite heyday, the marketing of spiritual pap, the oversensitivity? Why bother with the theological arguments, the sometimes crusty hymns, the flareups over administrivia, the striving to get this, that, or the other demographic interested in some aspect of church life?

I sigh, and then I arrive at my destination. I talk to the young woman with lung cancer interested in baptism. I visit the older woman who can't seem to put life back together after her husband of 50+ years died. I talk to a couple senior high kids about faith themes contained in an episode of The Simpsons over Doritos and soda.

I go to these places and I realize that there's still hope. And I realize that I've got some energy left to do this Christianity thing after all.