31 January 2008

progressively dreaming theater

There are many opinions as to what defines "progressive rock." A check on the link "Progressive Rock Archives" will give you an idea of what I mean. For me, it's music that is just really great. It's rock music by people who seriously enjoy playing their instruments--not people who are just interested in partying or making money!

Among my favorites in the genre are Rush and Dream Theater. After watching and listening to the DVD "Score," Dream Theater's final concert on their 20th anniversary tour in 2005, I decided to get a copy. It features the Octavarium orchestra, including a brief flute solo by a woman who received an ovation from the fans at Radio City Music Hall. (There's something about progressive rock fans--at least, Dream Theater fans--they have class!)

I think if Jesus were walking around today looking for a band to play in, and I admit some bias here, he would be totally prog!

23 January 2008

fishing for an answer

I watched the movie Antwone Fisher for the fourth or fifth time. Denzel Washington directed and co-starred in it. It was written by Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke, who's to the right of Fisher in the lower photo). Fisher somehow survives a hellish childhood and becomes a great man. Washington directed a film that I really like, although at times, it's a bit too "cheesy" for my taste. But I easily overlook that, and I admit that I have yet to watch it without tears welling up at least once!

I like the images portrayed in it, especially at the beginning and the end--images of a family hoped for and found. I find it very much how I picture the kingdom of God: unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, and release.

But I'm still not quite sure what to make of the pancakes. Do they have a sacramental role? Do they represent that "yes!" in life that lingers just beyond our grasp? As the subject line says, I'm still fishing for an answer.

18 January 2008


The icon is that of Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine's Monastery at Mt. Sinai. One of the first things noticed is how Christ appears to be "two-faced." Some have said this demonstrates the two natures of Christ (human and divine), and some speak of protective and judgmental sides. I've tended to think of the image as having a disfigured face: "Jesus the stroke victim."

In chapter 17 of his autobiography, A Broad Place, Jürgen Moltmann speaks of the disabled. "The sight of disabled people easily upsets the mental equilibrium of the non-disabled, and they shrink back. They do not see the disabled person but only the disability. The result is the 'leper syndrome,' to use the phrase of scientific studies. People who are 'different' are not welcome, but are generally merely put up with, and that destroys their self-confidence." Some believe that the apostle Paul suffered from a physical disfigurement. In Galatians 4:13-14, he says, "You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus."

Moltmann goes on, "The moment we talk about 'disabilities' we are taking as our standard the perfect, the capable, and the beautiful. But that leads us astray. Isn't every disability an endowment of its own kind, too, and one which must be respected? In the community of Jesus, aren't 'disabilities' also 'charismata' of the Holy Spirit? When Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit, he doesn't just name capabilities but the lack of them as well. Not just powers but also weaknesses (2 Cor. 4.7)...When I later entered into discussion with representatives of the Pentecostal movement, they found this idea surprising, but it immediately convinced the people who had children with disabilities."

I'm reminded of a professor at the Assemblies of God college I attended (before I went to an American Baptist seminary and became a Presbyterian minister!). He wrote to the headquarters and inquired about Sunday school material for his autistic son. The reply he received was that they had none. Maybe he was one of those Pentecostal pioneers who saw past the "power" and saw "weaknesses" as charismata (benefits, gifts) of the Spirit.

15 January 2008

an inspiration, in the name of love

It's not a holiday until next Monday, but today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously, I don't want to diminish his memory, but quoting the song by U2 (a year younger than "New Year's Day") shouldn't do too much damage. MLK was the inspiration for these well-known words:
"Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the name of love..."

Okay, King was assassinated in the late afternoon, not the "early morning," of 4 April 1968. "Pride in the Name of Love" is still awesome. But the leadership shown by King is incredibly more awesome still. This is life and death stuff.

11 January 2008

I can't let the cowboys become my false god

People who aren't NFL fans won't understand this. People who aren't Dallas Cowboy fans really won't understand this. This Sunday afternoon, I'll be at the installation service of a Presbyterian minister at the same time that the Dallas Cowboys will be playing the New York Giants in a playoff game. The Cowboys are my favorite NFC team. They've tied their best-ever season record. The Dolphins are my favorite AFC team. They had their worst season ever. (In a shameless bit of self-promotion, see my post on 17 Dec 07, as I celebrate their only win of this year.)

It's a good thing that I will be forced to miss the Dallas game. I don't want to let the Cowboys become my idol. I have to remember that there can actually be better uses of my time during those three hours than watching them play. I should remind myself that 1 John 5:21 warns us, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

Besides, maybe I'll get back in time to see the second half!

06 January 2008

think for yourself!

In her book, The Scent of Jasmine, Patricia McCarthy says this while reflecting on the Baptism of the Lord, which is the Sunday coming up after Epiphany: "Too many times we allow others to influence the course of our actions and just go along with their decisions. To renew our commitment to baptism is to renew our willingness to think for ourselves."

Some people would say that faith requires us to yield our rationality. It requires us to yield to sub-rational impulses. There's no doubt that there's certainly a bomb-throwing, murdering element to faith. But that's not the faith that Christ calls us baptized into. That's the faith of fanaticism, and unfortunately, it's an ideology that is claimed by many to be Christianity. And even short of such murderous ends, there's a twisted sort of faith that excludes and thinks it's better than others who don't hold such a belief.

Still, Jesus approaches John for baptism, despite his reluctance to proceed with the ritual, as recorded in Matthew 3. Jesus shocks the religious and cultural sensibilities by insisting on doing what God wants--no matter how it looks. He sets the example of one who thinks for himself.

01 January 2008

I (we) will begin again

I admit that this is a bit "on the nose," but today always reminds me of "New Year's Day," which is my favorite song from U2's third album, War. (Not that the rest of the album isn't excellent!) Now a quarter century old, "New Year's Day," written during the Cold War, speaks well to our time, during this so-called "war on terror"--a war that, by definition, can never end.

You can hear the conflict in Bono's voice as on the one hand, he cries, "Nothing changes on New Year's Day," but then confidently proclaims, "I will begin again." I love what sets the stage for this: "Under a blood-red sky / A crowd has gathered in black and white / Arms entwined, the chosen few / Newspapers say...it's true, it's true / And we can break through / Though torn in two, we can be one."

We're torn in so many ways, but we are one. And we will begin again, not because we simply decide to do so, but because, as our friend Jürgen Moltmann puts it, "We are living in Advent and are preparing the way for the Coming One."