Well… the wait is over and now the critics have been released from their respective silences and casting their lasers of this latest outing from Bono and Co. Just to throw my hat into the ring, I will say that after a few listens, the new CD – No Line on the Horizon (NLOTH)- is a very “good” album with some great songs both sonically and lyrically. Yes, I am making the distinction between “good” to “great” in the manner of Jim Collins’ best seller which argues that “good” is the enemy of greatness in our time – whether be in relation to social systems or measuring rock albums. I tend to agree with his summation on this point in respect to NLOTH – in short, NLOTH is a darn good album in respect to current releases and within the U2 canon. That said, taken with the entirety of the U2 canon to this point – I will say that NLOTH hits the mark spot on as U2 continues to flesh out its overture. I have ceased to look at bands with the history of U2 (think: REM, Bruce Springsteen, etc) as isolated moments anymore, but rather as plot points on a long graph. To wit: the three decades that currently frame U2’s career plots like a flatteded version of Gustav Freytag’s Die Technik des Dramas where dramatic movement can be broken into five movements: exposition; rising action; climax, or turning point; falling action; and resolves in a ‘denouement’ or a catastrophe depending on whether we are talking about a comedy or tragedy. For Freytag, how the protagonist (those we are called to identify in the song) ends up tells us whether we have been watching a comedy or tragedy – a comedy is a drama in which the protagonist, or main character, is better off at the end of the story than he or she was at the beginning; a tragedy is the opposite. Ultimately, as with life, we don’t know whether we are in a comedy or tragedy until the story is completed and the curtin falls (you can think of the checklist Will Ferrell’s character Harold Crick was keeping in the Marc Forster film Stranger than Fiction to get a sense of this).

Using Freytag’s typology, I see U2’s newest album, No Line on the Horizon, as part movement of drama where Boy and October represent exposition; Unforgettable Fire and War are the rising action that moves into the climax of Joshua Tree, with the Rattle and Hum film as the visual extension and in some respects falling action of Joshua Tree. And then the falling action of U2, which is not a fall in the sense of failure but in the sense of an unmistakable movement that pushes us into resolution, can be seen in their embrace of experimental new forms in Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop.But what kind of resolution is suggested by All The You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and now No Line on the Horizon? Is this denouement or catastrophe? Comedy or tragedy?

Freytag explains that comedies are characterized by protagonists who are better off at the end of the story (or song) than they were at the beginning, whereas tragedies are characterized by protagonists who are worse off at the end of the story. So using Freytag’s rubric for reading the conclusion, what is the end game for the protagonists that make up the drama of U2’s canon—are we better off at the end or are we worst off?
Now, we haven’t reached the end of U2, especially given their announcement that another album is in the works for 2009, but I argue that No Line’s thematic position on faith, beauty, and love suggests that we are headed toward a comedy.
The first way in which the album (and yes, in the era of digital singles, U2 is one of the few bands still working on a large canvas, telling an albumesque story) appears to reflect a movement toward comedy is its message that liberty is found in faith in God rather than in a certainty about God. From Bono’s call to “get over certainty” in “Stand Up Comedy” to the acknowledgment in “Moment of Surrender” that we are “too smart to be / In the realm of certainty,” the role that faith should play is clearly contrasted to the modernist (and ultimately failing) search after certainty. In this reminder, which frames much of the album, the fact that we find our fulfillment as human beings in a relationship of faith rather than intractable certainty means that we find our hope not in our limited selves, but in the God who created us.The logical place to begin arguing this point in No Line is track six, “Stand Up Comedy,” which with track seven, “FEZ—Being Born,” could be said to represent the climax of the dramatic movement for the album itself. In “Stand Up Comedy,” we are thrust out of “Get on Your Boots” with its pounding refrain, where Bono is seeking mystical union with sound, purgation from this life and union with the ineffable (“Let me in the sound, let me in the sound, let me in the sound”), into a Beatlesque riff drawn from “Helter Skelter” that is a call to get “out from under your beds / C’mon ye people / Stand up for your love.” U2 first covered “Helter Skelter” as the lead in to the film Rattle and Hum, with Bono throwing his arms Christologically wide to the audience. And with the sonic return to the “Helter Skelter” riff in “Stand Up Comedy,” the Edge takes the core of “Helter Skelter” from its cynical minor chords, its tragedy about life’s dead end, to a major resolve as it is reimagined in “Stand Up Comedy.” In the introduction to “Helter Skelter” in Rattle and Hum, U2 declared that “Charles Manson stole this song; we are stealing it back,” and here in “Stand Up Comedy,” they have transformed this riff and the song that surrounds it from tragedy to comedy.
Another pointer that lyrically acknowledges that we are called to a “comedy of life” is that for U2, life is not meant to be lived purely on an imminent sphere. In “Stand Up Comedy,” Bono notes that while winning the “DNA lottery may have left [us] smart,” it doesn’t necessarily affirm our ultimate purpose. This lyrical riff on the “DNA lottery” is a fun spin on the current New Atheism and so-called intelligent-design debates. Bono undercuts all this rhetoric with an acknowledgment that even though we have “won” the planet’s “DNA lottery,” whether by chance or by design, that doesn’t get us to the heart of the matter; Bono sings that we “can stand up for hope, faith and love” as the grand Christian virtues, but perhaps there is more to life than this. As Bono continues the verse, he decries choosing knowledge and will power over faith when he sings, “While I’m getting over certainty / Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.” This double challenge—(1) dropping the search for certainty in favor of faith amid the intelligent design debates and (2) allowing God to, well, be God—becomes the liberating truth for the protagonist of the song. True, we can objectively affirm “hope, faith and love,” but until we actually “stand up” and do something about it—faith in action—we fall back to a “helter skelter” life.
No Line’s focus on beauty and truth represents another sign that U2 is calling us to comedy. In “Get on Your Boots,” U2 indicates that humanity needs to realize our beauty (“You don’t know how beautiful / You don’t know how beautiful you are / You don’t know, and you don’t get it, do you? / You don’t know how beautiful you are”), and in “Stand Up Comedy,” we hear that beauty is the true “dictator of the heart.” Here Bono is echoing a John Keats sentiment from his 1820 “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” which proclaims “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” In true beauty, we are led to the truth of things, and in many respects, we are led to the divine. As a people made “beautiful” (“You don’t know how beautiful you are”), we are also called back to true/truth nature as made in the Imago Dei, the “dictator of the heart.” This is a liminal beauty, something that is not merely of the earth nor fixed in a way that will decay with time. Bono draws this point home by linking this beauty not to an earthen vessel (the grecian urn of Keat’s lament), but to an artistic medium better suited for the comedy that is the human condition: music. In short, Bono calls the listener throughout No Line to see, as in the lyrics from the penultimate track, “Breathe,” that:
We are people borne of sound
The songs are in our eyes
Gonna wear them like a crown
Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I’ve found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it’s all that I found
And I can breathe
Breathe now
By framing the human condition musically (“We are people borne of sound”) rather than imminently (winners of “the DNA lottery”), and by embodying hope, faith, and love rather than purveying some objective doctrine that merely affirms those traits, U2 is calling humanity to a comedic revolution par excellence. As music, we embrace a kenotic release from the fixation of self and are freed from isolation and estrangement. As song, we see ourselves as imminent and transcendent, neither bound to this world nor the world that is yet to come. The protagonist in “Get on Your Boots” kicks at the door of the music (“Let me in the sound”), and this refrain is repeated as a sample in the musical prelude for “FEZ—Being Born,” but as the album begins to close, “Breathe” reminds us that this “sound,” this liminal mystical union with that which never fades and is sustained on the voices of generations, is what we are to the very core. We are beautiful, we are sound, and ultimately, we are loved.
This third truth that underscores the comedy of No Line—that love is the key, both as a musical key and as the turnkey to unlock deep meaning in our lives—is nothing new, nor is it surprising in the context of the U2 canon. And the fact that at one moment Bono sings of the eroticism of lovers and at another moment yearns for the divine agape love that is both ubiquitous and eternal is not to diminish its potency and challenge. For a generation of fans brought up on irony and cynicism, such a claim and profession smacks of a rock star who just doesn’t understand the pain and suffering of the world. That criticism would strike the bull’s-eye if it weren’t aimed at the man who has given a voice and face (with sunglasses, mind you) to poverty in a way that has not been paralleled in recent history. In short, if Bono thinks that love can change the world, who are we to argue? Rather, like his rock-star doppelgänger for social change, John Lennon, Bono is an admirable agent for giving “peace a chance” and remembering that “love is all you need.” To this end, “FEZ—Being Born” and “Breathe” articulate that we must die and be reborn in order to be transformed, in order to love:
Every day I die again, and again I’m reborn
Every day I have to find the courage
To walk out into the street
With arms out
Got a love you can’t defeat
Neither down nor out
There’s nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
Breathe now
This freedom to love requires daily death and rebirth, and it requires a willingness to walk into the world with arms “out” and announce “a love you can’t defeat.” If we are released from the tragedy of the self and embrace the knowledge kenotically with God, we are a song worth singing and a chorus that others can join, and in this key of love, life moves from tragedy to comedy.
As we close the first decade of the twenty-first century, we live in a time of economic uncertainty, interminable war, unstable governments, and a faith that has been shattered by a trust in science and institutions above flesh-and-blood relationships. No Line continues the drama that U2 has been singing about for the last three decades; the album is an elucidation of the prophetic call to life as a comedy that bends back to the days of Boy and War, broke forth into the deserts and stadiums of Joshua Tree, took music into the very heart of technology and consumerism through Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop, and is now pointing us to a life that is found in faith in God rather than certainty about God, telling us that we are beautiful in a way that speaks of a Truth that transcends our current situation, and telling us that we are formed for a “love you can’t defeat.”This life is truly a divine comedy, my friends, and as the lyrics of “Get on your boots” declare:
Here’s where we gotta be
Love and community
Laughter is eternity
If joy is real

In the fall of 1987 I started work in the youth department of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. It was an interesting time in America with the advent of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” calling forth a new level of conservatism not only in politics, but in religious life. This was the era of the birth of the ‘megachurch’ – the neo-cathedral movement where Willow Creek and Saddleback moved from church plants in movie theaters to massive, swirling corporations with parking lots bigger than Idaho. University Presbyterian Church (UPC) experienced a similar jump in the 1980’s, but remained a “church” in the fullest sense of the word in large part to its pastor – Rev. Bruce Larson. Under Bruce’s leadership UPC’s membership nearly tripled to 4,400, and the church moved into its new building that includes a large multipurpose wing that was dedicated “Larson Hall” in his memory. But it is not the legacy of growth that Bruce left behind in his decade as senior pastor of University Presbyterian Church from 1980-1990. For those of us who worshipped and work alongside Bruce in those halcyon days of power ties, Preppy Handbooks, and Amy Grant moving to mainstream radio play, Bruce provided a legacy of flesh and blood faith amidst the artifice of church growth where it was depth, not size, that was the measure of ministry. After he ‘retired’ from UPC in 1990 (he made a commitment that someone should not be the pastor of a church longer than a decade and he stuck to it) and then served for five years as the co-pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California – a decision some saw initially as a ‘sell out’ for the mega-church of mega-churches. Rather than celebrate the grandeur of the Garden Grove mega-structure, Bruce came to the Crystal Cathedral to try and draw the church back to being about people – a bold move and certainly counter to the trend of the time. This was the embodiment of Bruce’s focus on ‘relational theology’ – what he termed in his book No Longer Strangers as “a rediscovery of the worth and importance of the individual as over against content, methods, techniques, theories of personality, or ‘the group.’” This was not a focus on individualism and consumerism that was viral in the 1980’s, but the gift of grace each and every person offers to the world by virtue of being created in the image of God. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in 1995 where he loved the land where the mountains meet the sea (he was an avid sailor) and continued to write and reflect on not only what it means to be a faithful Christian, but what it means to be a deep and compassionate human being. Of his 23 books and pastoral commentaries, it is worth noting that Bruce coined the term “The Emerging Church” as the title of one of his books long before the current trend made it into a brand rather than a theology. Bruce passed away on December 15, 2008 at the age of 83 having battled Parkinson’s disease in his latter years.
It would be a crime to delimit his vast legacy to one phrase, but for many folks who had the gift of Bruce’s legacy and ministry as part of their Christian journey, the notion that “Every member a minister” continues to shape what it means to be in ministry. That it is not the unilateral power of investiture from minister to laity that is the task of the clergy – as if what it means to be ordained is to be a divine Pez dispenser . Rather, the church is a collective of gifted, talents, equipped ministers who should be encouraged and released to ministry for and with the world around us. The Pastor as ‘reminder’ of personhood and holiness already present in each and every person forged in the Imago Dei, is the task of ministry over and against programming, marketing, building buildings and counting the numbers of downloads of our sermon.
I still have a tattered copy of No Longer Strangers on my desk at the University, sitting alongside other books that have shaped me over the years. Even as I look at it now with its very dated 1971 ‘mod’ book jacket, I am challenged to think about what it means to the church these days as clergy chase after the latest and greatest programs and technologies to ‘win’ people to their respective pews. Just this year, Bruce’s predecessor Earl Palmer stepped down after over a decade of ministry at UPC. For many, UPC is framed around Earl Palmer’s dynamic teaching from the pulpit with clear and engaging homiletics weaving Greek word study with CS Lewis’ Narnia. To be sure, Earl Palmer’s ministry in the 1990’s engaged people’s minds in powerful ways. But as someone who has watched with great church over two decades both from within and from outside its walls – one could safely say that while Earl reminded UPC of how much smarter and intellectually robust the Gospel is than some people think, Bruce reminded those us who were sitting in that larger sanctuary and walking the hallways of UPC in the crazy days of the 1980’s just how loved we were by an amazing God who cared for us as “unique unrepeatable miracles.”
Quite a legacy that I hope is celebrated in the ministries of those who remember that we are truly “no longer strangers.”

Yeah… I decided to cull together a top 8 list (eight years into the 21st century gives you 8 tracks, dear reader) of this year of Dongles (digital downloads) that make my iTouch wiggle with delight. These are 8 dongles that I downloaded (or uploaded if I actually bought the CD rather than iTunes purchase) plus an extra mention at the end. Here they are in no particular order:

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop) I will admit that I am late to the party with these guys, but what a great mellow return of the Byrds/CSNY/Simon and Garfunkel harmonies in a post-grunge era. This is a CD/dongle to chill to in the long wet winters of the Pacific Northwest, which probably explains why KEXP (90.3 FM in Seattle or http://www.kexp.org/ for the planet) choose it to top their 2008 list.

Company of Thieves, Ordinary Riches I believe this CD was released first in 2007 but resurfaced in 2008. I first heard their single “Oscar Wilde” and loved it on first listen with its chorus “I am my own devil/ and I make this world a Hell” – a chorus refrain that I think both Augustine and John Calvin would applaud. One reviewer compared them to a mash up of Neil Young and Fiona Apple… not a bad mix, eh?

She and Him, Vol. 1 If there is a selection on this list that I expect to garner abuse about, it is probably this one. Granted, the idea of Zooey Deschanel (of Will Farrell’s “Elf” and SciFi channel’s “Tin Man” fame) and M. Ward joining together for a CD smites of the sad, sad run of actresses trying to become singers. Heck… it works this time. Paste Magazine was willing to go with this retro vibe project as their top CD of 2008 and it is a winner.

Dustin Kensrue, Please Come Home (Equal Vision)- this is another one that came out in 2007 but only got to my iTouch in 2008. I never thought Kensrue’s band Thrice was anything special, but his two solo projects – Please Come Home and his Christmas Cd released this year – have taken a page directly out of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker CD and run with it (I wouldn’t be surprised if Kensrue had Heartbreaker playing in the sound room during the mixing…). Nice stripped down alt.country vibe complete with Cormac McCarthy raw lyrics yet spiced with hope in the midst of blood and death.

Flobots, Fight with Tools (Universal) – what do you do when you are a Denver-based hip-hop act that incorporates radical elements into your music – string sections, banjos, and optimism? You come out with a kickin’ CD in 2008 that really punches a hole in both your earbuds and your mind. Hard-driving from the opening track, the Flobots challenge the status quo of hip hop that sees social change as only possible through violence and fueled by anger. Here is a message (prophetic at that) of world revolution bought through critical reflection, challenging the status quo, giving up consumerism, and learning to listen to our brothers and sisters again. This is a challenging, powerful band worth paying attention to.

The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (Vagrant) – I became a big, BIG fan of the Hold Steady a couple of years back with the release of Boys and Girls in America. One reviewer notes that their classic bar-room aesthetic is the mash up of Springsteen’s lyrics with Thin Lizzy’s driving big open chords. Craig Finn, the lead singer, is not afraid to peel back the facade of suburban America (“Constructive Summer”; “One for the Cutters”) and show the dark side writ large. And yet, amidst all the punch and roll of the muscular guitar riffs there is a heart and hope for redemption that bleeds through. And as they sing on the opening track – ‘their songs are sing-along songs’. True that!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! (Anti -) – The fact that Nick Cave and Tom Waits now share a record label (Anti- records) is to know the address of the coming apocalypse. If the bomb drops, you want to be at Anti – since these guys are the ones chosen by God to sing the songs as the world burns to the ground. Nick Cave has both a disfigured beauty and simple-minded lament that few singer/songwriters have today. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is not his best album, but by industry standards he could drop a water glass into a garbage compactor and still make my top 10. Like Boatman’s Call and Murder Ballads, this CD centers around themes of sinning beyond the reach of redemption and living in the reality of death and destruction with a heart that hopes for love. It is the pain of longing yet the reality of living that strains the protagonist Southern preacher in the title track as well as “We Call Upon the Author” and “Today’s Lesson.” The man is dark like an espresso shot that refuses cream… biting and burning in all the right ways…

The Pogues, The Very Best of the Pogues – Fair enough… putting a “best of” collection on a top 8 list is pretty lame, especially since the CD was first released in 2001, so sue me! Basically, the “very best” collection was an import for US buyers till this year when they re-released it in early 2008 as a dongle on iTunes and amazon.com. Lead singer Shane MacGowan sings like he has been in too many bar fights (which may be true) but is still one of the best examples of Celt rock. Fans of HBO’s series “The Wire” will of course recognize “The Body of an American” which played at the wake of every fallen police officer. The collection is strong and it is great to have these gems of an oft-forgotten band ready for download stateside.

Lastly, one honorable mention to round off 2008…

High School Musical 3: Graduation Year (Disney) – try as hard as you might to get all emo and high brow, but the HSM trinity could very well be the best thing to happen to Disney since Goofy and the Tea Cups ride. If we all just ‘got our head in the game’ and realized that ‘we are all in this together’, perhaps… yes, perhaps… we could admit that we too are ‘breakin’ free’…

I got the news that many of you have been following for a few weeks – chances at Emergent Village beginning with the stepping down of Tony Jones as National Coordinator. For those who get the Emergent podcasts, the latest posting was a retrospective conference call between Tony, Brian McLaren and a few other ‘founders’ of the movement speaking of the early days ten years ago (has Emergent really been around that long?) and what has brought them to this point. Needless to say, one of the parts of the dialogue I found most enlightening is just how difficult it is for these now-leaders and former-outsiders to even dialogue given the temptation to admit that they have indeed become the very things they critiqued and challenged – the big “B”… a “brand.”

As the Emergent ‘brand’ has evolved through numerous publishing contracts with Youth Specialities, Zondervan, Baker and Abingdon (Tony and Brian muse on the podcast about these publishing relationships and the impact it has had in making the movement what it is) there was no mention (and I assume deep resistance to this assertion) that rather than the fear of becoming an institution (something the speakers go to great lengths to state was never their intention and ultimately the reason for the changes in Emergent Village) the one thing no one addressed was what has really happened – emergent is a ‘brand’ par excellence. In a time when Christian publishing and its various channel marketing venues such as National Youth Workers Convention needed a shot in the arm, “emergent” provided the right mix – edgey yet dependent on the past (think: long tail marketing) yet retrofited for the future – cool book covers, old classics (read: public domain properties that are free to publish like Creeds) with new intros.

So – what comes next? Time will tell i suppose and I am sure that the various publishing houses are scrambling to find out.

Don’t worry though… the viral marketing will find you before you find it…

In 2000, the election of George W Bush arrived in tandem with another momentous introduction to the 21st century American lexicon: the phrase “the tipping point.” Malcolm Gladwell’s little book – The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – was published in 2000 and the title phrase took off as a cultural meme.

In Gladwell’s wee book, he notes that change in social systems (which he calls ‘social epidemics’) occurs vis-à-vis the nexus of three agents of change – what he terms “the law of the few”; “the stickiness factor”; and “the power of context”:

1. The Law of the Few: “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills.” Gladwell describes these people in the following ways: (1) Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” Gladwell cites the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” trivia game as examples of ‘connectors’. (2) Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. (3) Persuaders, who are essentially salespeople or charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills that influence others.

2. The Stickiness Factor: the specific content of a message that makes it memorable and have impact. Examples include the Nike “Just Do It” campaign, Philip Yancey’s use of “What’s So Amazing…” as the suffix to his numerous books, and Rick Warren’s phrase “Purpose Driven Life.”

3. The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” He looks at the evangelist John Wesley as an example of being in the right place at the right time.

While I certainly take Gladwell’s thesis and see it is appeal, I think it ultimately strips away the possibility that other forces are also at work in the world, that not everything comes about simply because we have willed it into being or that following his three step model will get us from point A to point B. Life is more often than not framed by what I call “the cumulative effect.” The cumulative effect is the nexus point of human agency both individual and communal (past, present and future) coupled with divine providence whereby life happens not necessarily because of our effort, but because God and the communion of saints (Hebrews 11 and 12) have some skin in the game as well. This is a hard pill to swallow at times and makes the humanist project a bit more difficult to swallow if taken as an enlightenment project – the individual vs. the world mentality. However, life is rarely the culmination of just our labors be they good or ill. Sometimes… well… stuff happens.

I will track on this them later but would love some feedback on this – do you see or experience life more as a series of ‘tipping points’ or the result of the ‘cumulative effect’?

Last weekend I had the opportunity to listen to Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and professor at Eastern University, speak on the role social justice should play in our upcoming election. For those who have heard Ron speak, he is a disarming public figure in the classic rumpled tweed look one expects from our Ivy League public intellectuals akin to the typology of the tenured professorial version of Peter Falk (the perfect trinity of Columbo, the Grandfather in The Princess Bride and the fallen angel in Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire.) Two of his recent books that riff on Mark Nolls’ ‘Scandal of the Evangelical Mind’ title- ‘The Scandal of Evangelical Politics‘ and ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience’ – both raise important issues that once November 5th comes around, we will all need to be aware of and willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Another great piece worth diving into is the thoughtful and provocative ESA magazine PRISM. Great reflective pieces that get at current issues.

In the most recent issue of PRISM, Ron Sider in an article entitled “McCain or Obama?” lays out nine issues that he sees as crucial questions to consider as one approaches the voting booth on Nov. 4th (the hyperlink for the article is for a pdf file you can download – share it with friends this week!).

These nine issues are:

1. Environment

2. Family

3. Healthcare

4. Human rights

5. International affairs/peacemaking

6. Poverty/economic justice

7. Racial justice

8. Religious freedom

9. Sanctity of Life

In the article, Sider reminds us that “if we ask what the Bible says God cares about, the implications for our political agenda become obvious: We must be pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-creation care, pro-racial justice and pro-peacemaking.” He goes on to assert that “if you agree that a “biblically balanced agenda” is important, then you will not allow one issue to trump all others. That is not to deny that in some years, certain issues are in play in ways that others are not. But it is surely good news that more and more evangelicals seek to let the full range of God’s concern shape their politics.”

As we all go into this important act of citizenship in the next week, it is my prayer that we heed Sider’s words and address each of these issues well and go into the voting booth with a sense of a ‘completely pro-life’ agenda – not merely a view of life that begins at conception and ends at birth.

BTW – we have added a new widget to TheologyKungFu that links you to some tunes to listen to during your reading and commenting on TheologyKungFu postings. This week’s song – as an anthem for your voting discernment – is track 3 from Ten Years After’s album ‘A Space in Time’ – “I’d Love to Change the World”. This is a great anthem to get you into the mode of revolution in the voting booth!!!
You can play to song for free here on TheologyKungFu – just press ‘play’ on the widget and enjoy!

One of the realities of the cyberage is the fact that what we write online stains cyberspace forever and, in the words of those great sages of AAA format FM in the 1970’s, Chicago, on track 2 of ‘Chicago 18’ entitled ‘Forever’ – “forever is a long, long time.” Their is a collective myth among the cyberfiends of this age that, akin to Las Vegas, what is deleted on the web, stays deleted on the web. Not true. Storehouses of cybertrash populate the servers across this land with electronic signatures that can be awakened with a mere flick of the switch. This is not only in relation to blogs such as this one, but sound files such as Mp3’s and video feeds long though of as going the way of the dinosaur find themselves alive again on the web in the strangest places.

Case in point: from 1992 to 1998 I worked in Campus Ministries and had occasion to teach and preach for different functions at the university that I worked for. These events were often taped on cassette tapes in the event that students would need to listen to them as part of either their chapel requirements or for a class. I left the university to go on to do my graduate school in Scotland and was gone for 6 years. Upon returning to the University in a faculty position, I had come to discover that these archive recordings, something I assumed had turned to dust in a cardboard box, had been made into digital recordings and now available for anyone to download via iTunes! Imagine my shock to hear students had not only downloaded these very old sermons and lectures, but had passed them on to others.

Chris Anderson, in an article in Wired Magazine that later become a book, coined the phrase “the long tail” which asserts that the web has kept alive a lot of content that would have died ages ago – these staggering cyber zombies of old sermons and lectures from a cassette tape era are given a new life as digital vampires waiting to populate an iPod near you! it is a strange thing to listen to a long dead version of yourself speak with passion about ideas and references that no longer energize nor concern my current faith orbit. Additionally, hearing rather confessional declarations born in a time of pain that is made current with digital clarity reminds me that I can no longer assume distance from my past selves nor the questions they have asked me. Augustine in Confessions states rather clearly in Book X that our lives are only memory in the end – a constant retrieval of the past in order to order the future. Perhaps I just need to get over it and welcome the companionship of the ancient selves who have visit me online from time to time. Hmmm… perhaps I am beginning to understand something of Scrooge’s dread in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol… Maybe Tiny Tim was listening to his iPod there in the corner by the fire…

One of the realities of the cyberage is the fact that what we write online stains cyberspace forever and, in the words of those great sages of AAA format FM in the 1970’s, Chicago, on track 2 of ‘Chicago 18’ entitled ‘Forever’ – “forever is a long, long time.” Their is a collective myth among the cyberfiends of this age that, akin to Las Vegas, what is deleted on the web, stays deleted on the web. Not true. Storehouses of cybertrash populate the servers across this land with electronic signatures that can be awakened with a mere flick of the switch. This is not only in relation to blogs such as this one, but sound files such as Mp3’s and video feeds long though of as going the way of the dinosaur find themselves alive again on the web in the strangest places.

Case in point: from 1992 to 1998 I worked in Campus Ministries and had occasion to teach and preach for different functions at the university that I worked for. These events were often taped on cassette tapes in the event that students would need to listen to them as part of either their chapel requirements or for a class. I left the university to go on to do my graduate school in Scotland and was gone for 6 years. Upon returning to the University in a faculty position, I had come to discover that these archive recordings, something I assumed had turned to dust in a cardboard box, had been made into digital recordings and now available for anyone to download via iTunes! Imagine my shock to hear students had not only downloaded these very old sermons and lectures, but had passed them on to others.

Chris Anderson, in an article in Wired Magazine that later become a book, coined the phrase “the long tail” which asserts that the web has kept alive a lot of content that would have died ages ago – these staggering cyber zombies of old sermons and lectures from a cassette tape era are given a new life as digital vampires waiting to populate an iPod near you! it is a strange thing to listen to a long dead version of yourself speak with passion about ideas and references that no longer energize nor concern my current faith orbit. Additionally, hearing rather confessional declarations born in a time of pain that is made current with digital clarity reminds me that I can no longer assume distance from my past selves nor the questions they have asked me. Augustine in Confessions states rather clearly in Book X that our lives are only memory in the end – a constant retrieval of the past in order to order the future. Perhaps I just need to get over it and welcome the companionship of the ancient selves who have visit me online from time to time. Hmmm… perhaps I am beginning to understand something of Scrooge’s dread in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol… Maybe Tiny Tim was listening to his iPod there in the corner by the fire…

Last night I read the girls Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” and was once again astounded at how good (and timely) a tale it is. One of the books I keep threatening to write is “The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss” – something of a pet project I have toyed around with for a couple of years. Don’t know when I would take it on, but I think it is a winner if done right. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) began his career as a political cartoonist and captured much of the WWII paranoia both playfully and artfully. As the story goes, Life magazine published a report on children’s illiteracy in its May 1954 issue, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Geisel’s publisher at the time was taken by this report and made up a list of 348 words he felt were important and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. This book was a tour de force—the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers. These books achieved significant international success and remain very popular and many argued ended the world of Dick and Jane and announced the reign of the Cat.

The number of children whose political and moral foundations have been influenced by Geisel’s books such as the Lorax(the environmentalist’s mantra in Technicolor); The Sneetches on Beaches (a fantastic treatise on the relationship of prejudice and commerce found in “The Sneetches and other Stories”); The Cat in the Hat (which raises the all important ethical question ‘what would you do if your Mother asked you?’), The Cat in the Hat Came Back (a blatant node toward McCarthyism with its fear of the “pink stain” overtaking the world); and Horton Hears a Who (which is one of the most Christocentric – and dare I say kenotic – nods in children’s literature) is staggering. Two things I am always reminded by in the Dr. Seuss canon: (1) language always gives way to meaning, and (2) surrealism is the place of deep meaning and belief more than realism. On the account of language giving way to meaning, any reader of Dr. Seuss will celebrate the use of seemingly non-words that convey meaning. Geisel wrote most of his books in a poetic form called anapestic tetrameter, which is a poetic meter employed by many poets of the English literary canon. One example is this line from Yertle the Turtle: “And today the Great Yertle, that marvelous he/ is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.” Anapestic tetrameter consists of four rhythmic units, anapests, each composed of two weak beats followed by one strong beat; often, the first weak syllable is omitted, or an additional weak syllable is added at the end. This use of meter with its sing song cadence – with the employment of weak syllables pulling on strong beats – pulls the reader along and anticipates the sound of the word coming down the pike but is often realized in a word that is both strange and yet contextually meaningful. What occurs for the reader in this cadence is a willingness to accept the strange and odd as the fulfillment of the rhyme and creates for beauty as something suprizing.

Needless to say, we need more Seuss these days in the political arena – a creation of a world that is fantastic and compelling, filled with soft syllables pushed by strong beats and open the space for the new, the strange and the faithful to enter anew.

I just rounded off ten days in Japan and am now writing whilst looking out on the garden from my room in the Ryokan we are staying at in Kyoto. Sitting on the tatami mat, I am taken yet again with the careful attention – mindfulness if you will – of each rock, bush, tree, and walking stone. Nestled against the wall is a small stone shrine covered with small bits of moss and dripping wet from the rain. It is quiet here even with the morning traffic building on the street down the block. As with most cross-cultural journeys, it is the little things you remember – the smell of the taxi, the rain on the face of Buddha, the taste of Macha tea in the morning, the clash of Kimonos and neo-Punk fashions crossing a street together, the din of voices speaking a language you don’t understand yet somehow learn to trust, the small acts of hospitality that make each day more like a collection of miracles than mere site-seeing. Yes, there are the pictures of the sites we visited, but the memories of the people and the experience of what it means to be “other” that will be bubbling underneath as we return to the States.

One of my disappointments on this trip was finding a tea cup. I had been looking in a number of stores for a tea cup to bring back to the office at SPU and never found the right one. Part of the Chado ceremony (the way of tea) is to find the right cup for your guests – picking the right one that speaks to who that person is. I had thought that finding “the right cup” would be a nice spiritual exercise during my time here. I looked in a number of shops – large department stores and small country pottery shops in the mountains and nothing jumped out at me. This morning as I walked to the bakery to pick up some macha scones (my new favorite) I passed a small rack of items on the curb for sale – each items for 100 yen (about one US dollar). The assortment of a hodge podge of Japan in miniature – old 45 singles of pop singers long past their sell-by date, beat up bric-a-brac of horses and warriors in Samurai attire, wooden spoons and mismatched chopsticks. Tucked in the back was a set of tea cups – a mismatched set of five in a small wooden box. These five tea cups are not shining examples of artistic design – I certainly saw some stunning pieces of work during our time here. But they were ‘real’ in all the ways the Velveteen Rabbit was real – a bit rough around the edges, dusty and rained on, and basically still present in the world despite the neglect of others. Needless to say, these were the tea cups I was looking for but only now ‘saw’ with my own eyes. I knocked on the door to pay the shop owner for the tea cups. He smiled at me as I handed him the 100 yen and I swear there was a twinkle in his eye as if to say “it is about time you came for these – they have been waiting for you.” Heidegger wrote in the “Origin of a Work of Art” in a reflection on a pair of old shoes painted by Vincent Van Gogh that the viewer’s responsibility is to consider a variety of questions about the shoes, asking not only about form and matter—what are the shoes made of?—but bestowing the piece with life by asking of purpose—what are the shoes for? Next, Heidegger writes of art’s ability to set up an active struggle between “earth-ing” and “world-ing” the objects that we behold. “World-ing,” is a notion that means “being,” is a passive entity. “Earth-ing” means “realized existence,” and is an active repose to reality. The world simply occurs while the earth actively exists. Both are necessary components for an artwork to function, each serving unique purposes. As I beheld these mundane teacups, they were both world-ing and earth-ing and trying to surmount its counterpart: the earth is unable to be fully revealed or explained and attempts to draw the world into itself; the world, more open and unhidden, tries to overcome the secreted earth. The existence of truth is a product of this struggle–the process of art (or in my case finding the tea cups finding me)–taking place within the artwork as it struggles to world and earth itself.

Perhaps this was the twinkle in the shop keepers eye this morning – knowing that these tea cups, as they are emptied and filled in the years to come, will be changing my world in ways I have yet to consider. Perhaps he was glad to just get rid of the tea cups. None the less, the journey to the tea cup is often more than we realize…