How to Live a Creative Life…

December 13, 2011 8:16 pm

Scorsese, to pick a side in an endless argument, is America’s greatest living director. And yet he still can’t make up his damn mind, still gets obsessed, still gets crazed by the same kinds of things that make any creative type nuts. Is he going to get the resources he needs? Will his bosses like what he’s doing? Will they give him another chance on another project? How much of his creative vision will get into this project? How much will the powers that be screw with his vision? When does he say “no” to them? When does he say “yes”? Whom does he trust? And how in the world is he going to get away with doing the work he loves for his whole life?

~Rick Tetzeli, Fast Company, How to Live a Creative Life

The crazed questions and tensions of a creative life, I am looking forward to seeing Hugo… and yes, I am going to see it in 3D and like it.

A Trilogy of Design…

October 15, 2011 12:27 am

So I did not make it out to the Toronto film festival this year, but fortunately for me, I still live near a great city that gets all the coolest films at some great venues (no, not Ann Arbor).

Last week I had the good fortune of seeing Urbanized at the Detroit Film Theater, and meeting the patron saint of modern design documentaries… Gary Hustwit. He kindly encouraged me to watch his other two films (Helvetica and Objectified) on netflix, which I did… the very next day.

  • Objectified
    Objectified
    Director: Plexifilm
  • Helvetica
    Helvetica
    Director: Plexifilm

Watching them all together was a treat, they have a consistent feel… interview based and simple in design, modern even. If viewed in order by starting with Helvetica, then Objectified, and finally Urbanized you would experience an expansive progression that feels like you start off by looking into a microscope that has a macro close-up of an eye chart and you can only make out one letter… and then it slowly zooms out to reveal a poster, then a wall, a room full of modern furniture and appliances, and then an office building with cool open work spaces and great natural lighting, and finally a modern city full of bustling people and efficiently moving transit.

Helvetica is personal and concerned with an internal world of design where a single font selection is obsessed over for an hour and a half. Objectified takes the same sensibility, but moves out of the raw aesthetic of modern design and into a shared space that is complicit with modern business and industrialization. Urbanized then begins to truly look around at other people, spaces, and consider how design affects us human communities.

It is a progression from the pure aesthetic of theoretical lines to the smelly reality of city streets. Objectified did well to play the middle ground whereby design really starts to shape and push back on human life, fonts may be subversive in their presence, but the design of a product (like a chair or a pair of hedge trimmers) can be appreciated or lamented as something substantial in your daily life. The environmentally conscious tail end of Objectified hinted beautifully at everything that was to come in Urbanized… communal responsibility for design. The things we make and the spaces we create affect us and shape our possibilities, opportunities, and most probable path through life.

Urbanized tried to escape the Euro-centric focus of the other two films and perform a more global survey of cities from around the world, I think they succeeded for the most part. The solutions are still built on the premise of modern ideas being the best, and Europe is still the leader in being modern. But the Paris of the midwest, Detroit, got it’s moment to shine in the light of urban farming reclaiming abandoned space. Several scenarios were demonstrated in which city design choices were made to defer to the best for people by democratic standards… if the majority of people in a city use bikes, then we design for that first and then accommodate cars secondly… Detroiters gave applause for these moments of revelation, there are some good ideas already in practice that we could start implementing right away.

I will never choose Helvetica from the font drop down menu again without a feeling of modern bliss and a strange sense of responsibility to use my design powers well.

Livonia Man Watches too many Documentaries…

October 5, 2011 12:07 am

I tend to go on binges when it comes to documentaries. I love them in general, like a box of Nutter Butters that I have forgotten about… they are safe…

…until I am rummaging around in the cupboard and find them… then I am going to empty the box.

It all started with this wonderful gem…

  • We Live In Public
    We Live In Public
    Director: Ondi Timoner

I had heard an interview with the director on NPR about 2 years ago, I put it on a must see list somewhere… and then forgot about it.

Thanks to Netflix’ ever expanding online content smorgasbord, it finally popped up as a suggested film, and the conspicuous consumption began.

I believe this is a must see film for everyone in our moment of online content creation, especially with the current frenzy of all things “social media”. Josh Harris is the focus of the doc, but his experiments and life play out as a case study into everything we are about to try. Josh is a tech savvy web entrepreneur from the late 90s boom. He practically invented online chat, youtube style video content, and was always trying to find the edge of the envelope with social media experimentation, and then lick it.

He launched this site called, PSEUDO.com, back in 1994… ya, that’s like 2 years before anyone even cared about the internet. It was worth 50 million in 1998 and worth nothing in 2001, after the dot com bust. I guess the site is kept up for posterity sake, and it looks like someone is trying to use it to hock music now.

Anyway, I am sure we will relive many more PSEUDO.com busts in the coming years… but the really interesting part of the film for me was the actual “We Live in Public” underground captive community experiment.

Basically he took a bunch of volunteers into a strange subterranean wonderland that existed at the exact intersection of 1984 and A Brave New World. Privacy was completely eradicated and everyone who entered the compound was subjected to 24 hour video surveillance in which all aspects of their live’s where broadcast to everyone else’s quarters via a closed circuit television system. It soon became a den of wild fornication, all variety of drug use, and eventual psychological breakdowns. I think all of that did not surprise me so much as the existence of a fully furnished gun range in the basement where the inhabitants could go to blow off a few rounds with an AK if they had a bad day in the rat tunnels. It has to be seen to be believed…

Not to be out done, when the grand experiment was finally shut down by the cops, Josh fired it up again… this time on himself and the intimacy of his girl friend. If the experiment went awry with 50 people, maybe it would have better results with just 2. Cameras were installed everywhere and the couple lived their lives online and in performance to an audience of chat users. Just as strange, but even more creepy… mostly because it felt so close to what we now live with in many respects and hinted in the direction of where the brave new social media technologists would like to take us.

More, more, more of your life revealed online and broadcasted to everyone.

Josh was an accurate futurist in that he was pretty good at predicting how technology would interface with our social behavior, call it inspiring or call it a prescient warning… I do believe this is a film that everyone who is “living online” should watch.

I have done a lot of hanging out with the tech-media entrepreneur folks over the past few years. I am one of them, and often times find myself having to dig deep and believe in myself and my projects in order to push things forward and get another website or short film made and out the door. But it is biographies like Josh’s that make me pause every once in a while and look around at all the activity with some questions about direction.

What is success?

Where are we going?

What will be the cost of getting there?

What are we giving up along the way?

The last tech conference I went to, TEDxDetroit, featured a slightly different collection of technologists than the Josh Harris of the late 90s fare. Most of the folks I met there are quite conscious of social justice responsibilities and build it into their game plan from the get go. Pretty much everyone seems to want to take the Google adage of “Don’t Be Evil” to the next level and actually attempt to do good in some explicit form.

One booth vendor at the conference was showcasing a new web browser tool that tried to help you stay away from websites that make you feel bad… but you still find yourself there all the time anyway.

My Mental Space.com gives you a tool for wrangling all of the tools we use online and rate them. Basically it is a big like button that you can put on everything and over time you will know where you should not go because it does not have good karma with you. There was even a way to get another person in the notification loop if you go to websites that you know are bad for you.

Anyway, it was encouraging to see someone at least admitting that people are getting waylaid by all the screen time and demands for social media engagement. Our ability to focus is a precious natural resource that is being depleted rapidly.

This is something that we are starting to recognize in many other realms from sub prime mortgages to carbon credits… there are a lot of convoluted things we can try, but sometimes less is just less and that is why it is better.

And on that note, I probably watched too many documentaries last week… I learned just how screwed the economy is and just how much corn is in everything… things are not looking good.

  • I.O.U.S.A.
    I.O.U.S.A.
    Director: Patrick Creadon
  • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
    The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
    Director: Morgan Spurlock
  • Food, Inc.
    Food, Inc.
    Director: Robert Kenner
  • Tapped
    Tapped
    Director: Stephanie Soechtig
  • Floored
    Floored
    Director: James Allen Smith

Be brief, Be blunt, Be gone…

September 24, 2011 6:31 pm

Literary confessors are contemptible, like beggars who exhibit their sores for money, but not so contemptible as the public that buys their books.

~W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

  • The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays
    The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays
    Author: W. H. Auden

When I read this, I immediately had a few thoughts… one of further admiration for Auden, followed by the bloggers guilt as the great finger of accusation turned from pointing at some abstract idea that is contemptible to my regular specific behavior. The format of the blog is especially prone to fits of confessional writing, most of which is composed of piles of worthless drivel that should be saved for a personal diary… only to be discovered years later with the relief that no one else ever had to read the pile of shoddy self analysis and whining.

(I will just try to obliviously sidestep the laughable irony of confessing my over-confessing)

And then I thought about Augustine and his confessions. It is a work that has proven well worthy of the introspective investment that Augustine originally put into it. Upon reading it, this theologically packed self diagnosis and memoir quickly became one of my all time favorites destined for many rereads. Augustine’s confessions are honest, sincere, and quickly escaping himself and turning out to consider theology, history, metaphysics, and even science… its end is never merely self examination.

Our sufferings and weaknesses, in so far as they are personal, our sufferings, our weaknesses, are of no literary interest whatsoever. They are only interesting in so far as we can see them as typical of the human condition. A suffering, a weakness, which cannot be expressed as an aphorism should not be mentioned.

The same rules apply to self-examination as apply to confession to a priest: be brief, be blunt, be gone. Be brief, be blunt, forget. The scrupuland is a nasty specimen.

~W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

A friend of mine recently mentioned his enjoyment of Ayn Rand’s Altas Shrugged, not so much for the writing and story, but more for the value of the ideas it presents around the great American virtue of hard work. I watched a documentary about Rand, and I was skeptical of her greatness… mostly because she was so convinced of it. Here is a person who had written thousand’s of pages of self examination and always came up with about the same revelation, “I am a genius and pretty great at what I do”….

There’s nothing of any importance except how well you do your work.

~Atlas Shrugged

  • Ayn Rand Box Set: Atlas Shrugged/ The Fountainhead
    Ayn Rand Box Set: Atlas Shrugged/ The Fountainhead
    Author: Ayn Rand

Her stories are full of people who accomplish something hard to do, like building a successful railroad. The characters are conflicted by the pressures of modern society and self doubt, but the heroes always find a way to carry on and “geterdone”. They are not primarily about themselves, they are about their work. And in that, I am starting to see and appreciate her virtue. She was a doer… even if she was a doer of only her own words… she was still a doer. Holding up and considering yourself to be worthless is not any better than having great pride…

He who despises himself, nevertheless esteems himself as a self-despiser.

~Nietzsche

Neither Rand or Nietzsche had time for the self-flagellation of the pious, usually a religious person.

Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading.

~W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

The proud person is too good for his environment. Instead, they retreat inward, spiraling into an eternal condemnation, they endlessly comb through the details of themselves; whether beautiful or ugly… but probably just banal.

This is neither brief or blunt, and there is no escape…

…sounds very much like hell.

My Visioneering…

September 16, 2011 1:12 am

Every once in a while I watch a film that truly seems to capture a vision of life that is much like my own (actually it is happening quite often lately).

I not only identify with it, it is my own story… I feel like I am living it right now. When the primary character looks just like you in an uncanny way… the experience moves from engaging to creepy.

Happy Jeffers morning to you too…

  • Visioneers
    Visioneers
    Director: Jared Drake

Visioneering wide

Visioneering close

There could be a new service industry here for film makers, buy someone a film experience of their life… their current life fictionally retold while they are still living it.

Metaphors are easy to overlook, and caricatures can be dismissed… but when someone looks just like you and even has your mannerisms… it starts to get under your skin a bit.

I guess that is why Hearst disliked Citizen Kane so much… the film may have been, at least partially, accurate to his life… that is to say, a bit too close to home.

…that the world of men as it exists today is a bureaucracy. This is an obvious truth, of course, though it is also one of the ignorance of which causes great suffering.” To survive in such a world, he continues, requires “the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breath, so to speak, without air… It is the key to modern life. if you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

If you are accepting, in other words, of a static condition of solitude and purposelessness, if you can live in such state, having thereby accomplished your own dehumanization, then you’re well suited to life in a bureaucratic age. You’re at once alone and yet not alone, certain only of death and taxes, but still, like others, you can’t help but hope that life is more.

~First Things, a review of The Pale King

Breathing without air… I don’t think that is where I am living in this exact moment (I still like doing stuff), but I know I have been there… and I would not be surprised if I end up there again some day soon.

Modern life is enervating through a special sort of disconnected cruelty that you unwittingly become complicit in. Is it just a matter of soldiering on… becoming immune to the boredom?

Well, if you find yourself in a season of visioneering, perhaps.

One-Time Empathy For Sale…

September 8, 2011 9:53 pm

Make one gift

Make one gift now and we’ll never ask for another donation again.

~Smiletrain

Sorting through my junk mail pile tonight, I was actually struck and stopped by this postcard… strangely, its offer was for me.

We will give you relief, one avenue of escape from the onslaught of knowledge about the suffering out there in this great big world… one place that you can buy your way out of first world middle class guilt.

Forget how we got your address in the first place, it’s too late now… now you know… and you know that for $250 you could permanently fix a person’s disfigurement.

We can add it up for you in cups of coffee, sandwiches, phone bills; however you want to quantify the guilt that you now must live with. Or you can encourage that callous sensibility that says… out of sight out of mind, haven’t thought about Haiti in at least a month… tossing out one more scrap of junk mail will be a piece of cake.

A philanthropy blog was quick to pick up on the new marketing tactic and provide the inside scoop on how effective the campaign is.

In fact, he told me, the “one gift” offer, as the solicitation is called, proved so effective in 2008 tests that it’s now used in all of Smile Train’s mailings to recruit donors. He declined to provide specific figures but says the appeal is a “significant improvement” over the charity’s previous approach to winning new donors.

~The Chronicle of Philanthropy

I can’t blame them for the tactic, it makes perfect sense. They got me cornered as a relatively well to do westerner with expendable cash reserves. I could afford to buy my way out of this guilt trip for $250, that would be about 5 months of my morning coffee habit.

There it is, I could even sacrifice one thing I love to give someone else something they need… instead of putting it on my credit card and going further into debt.

See, that’s the thing… I don’t really have real money. It is a nag that never gives up nagging, I have a steady income, but it is all accounted for and then some by a mortgage and a leftover school loan that I will probably be paying off for another 20 years. I used to have a 401k, but then I happened by 2008… and like so many, the rest is a depleted history.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it.

~Proverbs 3:27

One thing I have demonstrated over and over again is that I have the power to go into debt… now a budget that I stick too… that’s another story.

But that is all a bunch of excuses, I afford all sorts of daily luxuries in the form of books, movies, food, and air conditioning that could certainly take care of a good few cleft palate surgeries every year. But I usually don’t give to the charities, well… I do sometimes, but I say usually because I feel that I am aware of at least 500 of them (today alone)… all more worthy of my coffee money than I am.

“Empathy burnout” it’s called, and the modern marketing machines are well aware that the new globalized guilt conscience, powered by ambitious millennials with free time on their hands (because they don’t know how to work) and the social media explosion, could be reaching its saturation point.

Everyone knows about the woe’s of everyone, how do you choose who you are going to help?

We are supposed to help others out of our abundance, which we have, but still America can no longer afford to send mail and the national debt is now over 14 trillion dollars. We have an abundance? Still, we live better than most… and we get to carry our debt whereas most countries just get crushed by it.

It’s like we are all bent over carrying some huge treasure chest on our backs, and occasionally we can reach out with one free hand and give someone who has fallen down a hand up instead of shutting our eyes and just stepping on them. We still got the legs for this situation, but it is crushing our spirits nonetheless…

Who can fault a savvy marketing company with a plan to help children get a much needed surgery? For sure, if we all gave up on Starbucks and Ikea we could redirect our funds and probably solve a good number of hankering world problems.

I just watched “The God’s Must be Crazy” for the first time in my adult life. It was an amazing film, funny and profound… but first very funny.

  • The Gods Must Be Crazy
    The Gods Must Be Crazy
    Director: Jamie Uys

I identified perfectly well with the Andrew Steyn character and his hopeless yet faithful clunker of a vehicle, I too must put rocks under my tires to keep my truck from rolling away. I also identified with the female lead that left the big city to try to do some practical good out in the bush… in search of simple fulfilling work that is not all caught up in the quagmire of modern life.

And then you have the bush man Xi and the mysterious gift from the gods, a coke bottle. I love this movie most of all because it depicts African’s that do not need my help. In fact, I probably could use their help in trying to figure out a way to live that had less needs and made more sense out of the daily opportunities afforded to all humans. Well beyond the relief that one could experience in the “one time gift”, this movie offers the vision of people that are perfectly happy without my money or assistance. If I gave them anything at all, there is a good chance that I could foul up the whole works and ruin what exists as a very good way of life.

The quote escapes me at the moment, but I remember reading a Lewis quote in which he characterizes women as being better fitted for charity since they naturally see the way to help others by getting involved where as men naturally see the need to respect people by leaving them alone.

This is the true freedom that every globally aware westerner will be longing for… the freedom to let things and other people be.

But no, they must all be vaccinated and evangelized…. so we go to help. As we should I suppose, but if they don’t need coke bottles; chances are there are many other things they don’t need as well.

So we settle on some simple ideas; Coke bottles, clean water, health (requires fixing the cleft lip and palate), freedom from oppression, and Jesus… more and more in that order.

The Coke bottle serves mostly as a humorous MacGuffin to move the plot along… but I think all of the critiques that are made on the double edged nature of modern technology is right on. They get the Coke bottle, but do not use it for its intended purpose… indeed it has outlived its intended purpose as soon as it arrives. It could be a musical instrument, but it works just as well as a bludgeoning weapon. It could be a food processor, but it works so well that everyone wants it and again it becomes a source of strife and not solace. The hero in the movie has a truck, but it is always broken and needs lots of attention. There are bandits with guns, but they use them to fight a war that nobody is capable of winning. Plenty of fun commentary on modern technology and its arbitrary uselessness as compared to an agreed way of life that is enjoyable to live out in community, albeit with limitations.

The Coke bottle introduces a problem, the solution is not more bottles for these people… the solution is to destroy it, much like Frodo and the Lord of the Rings.

The strange thing we live with now, is that we have seen the promise of technology fulfilled. There really seem to be very few problems that we could not fix with enough smart people and a ton of money. Some day there will be a civil rights movement for the cloning rights of the poor, they deserve a second and third chance at life as much as the rich.

I read recently that Bill Gates wants to solve malaria by killing off all of the mosquitoes… but what about their rights, maybe the universe is more about mosquitoes than humans in the end?

Now that is where my empathy ends, kill them all Bill, kill every last one of them…

So it Goes…

August 30, 2011 10:00 pm

The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was a this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. there was only one eye-hole through which he could look, and welded to that eye-hole were six feet of pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy’s miseries in the metaphor. he was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe. He didn’t even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.

The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped-went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say the himself, “That’s Life.”

~Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

  • Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973: Cat's Cradle / God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater / Slaughterhouse-Five / Breakfast of Champions / Stories (Library of America, No. 216)
    Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973: Cat’s Cradle / God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater / Slaughterhouse-Five / Breakfast of Champions / Stories (Library of America, No. 216)
    Author: Kurt Vonnegut

I do love being surprised. I picked up this book, recalling it from popular mention, read the back cover that said something about it being an account of the bombing of Dresden… and set it aside for a good while to read other books that were more “interesting”.

Well, I finally got around to it… and this was the most fun I have had in a day of reading in quite some time. I am a sucker for satire, the surreal, science fiction, unrestrained humor, and any investigation into the great mysteries of the universe. I did not expect this war memoir to contain much of any of these… let alone all of them wrapped together into such a fun package.

The above description was designed to compare an earthlings perspective to that of a Tralfamadorian, aliens who natively inhabit the 4th dimension. I have read much theological work, that is usually quite boring, attempt to explain away (or worse yet, justify) the tragedies that take place in the world and history as being part of God’s omniscient master plan that sees all of time as a great eternal now. This apologetic work helps dodge around all sorts of difficulties… like the ever nagging question…

Why pray if God already knows what I am going to pray for or not?

C.S. Lewis described this situation as a 2D peg board of events (some of which are your prayers) that God looks down on and then he weaves his providence between all of them like a great thread of continuous meaning and purpose. This metaphorical abstraction may help to clear up some of the apparent inconsistencies in the classical view of God’s nature, but it does very little to help you deal with the emotional impact of not being God and still having bunches of raging questions… or at least hurt feelings about the apparent injustices of being a finite being trapped in space and time.

In some strange way, it is much easier to accept not being a Tralfamadorian than it is not being on par with the Almighty.

The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy.
So it goes.

While Billy was recuperating in a hospital in Vermont, his wife died accidentally of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
So it goes.

~Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

The refrain of “So it goes.” every time a death is mentioned seems like something that should come off with a hollow cynicism… but for me, it quickly escaped that and became rather a solemn reaffirmation of being human. We will all die as humans, that’s part of being a human… like not being able to see in 4 dimensions or understand wars.

Accepting it is something most of us will have to do over and over again as we are bombarded by the daily news, loved ones pass away, and we enter into old age ourselves. Life will still contain mysteries, friendship, humor, interest, novelty, and humor… did I mention humor; we might as well get used to it.

So it goes.

Extenuating nothing…

August 25, 2011 11:32 pm

Think not about thy sin so as to make it either less or greater in thine own eyes. Bring it to Jesus and let Him show thee how vile a thing it is. And leave it to Him to judge thee, sure that he will judge thee justly; extenuating nothing, for He hath to cleanse thee utterly; and yet forgetting no smallest excuse that may cover the amazement of thy guilt or witness for thee than not with open eyes didst though do the deed… But again, I say, let it be Christ that excuseth thee. He will do it to more purpose than though, and will not wrong thy soul by excusing thee a hair too much.

~George MacDonald, Silence Before the Judge

  • George MacDonald
    George MacDonald
    Author: C. S. Lewis

Disillusioned Self-Love…

August 18, 2011 10:54 pm

Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus— not love for Jesus Himself.

~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

  • My Utmost For His Highest: Limited PB Edition
    My Utmost For His Highest: Limited PB Edition
    Author: Oswald Chambers

This is perhaps the heart of the sad, yet pious person. So tricky, worshiping your ability to do the right things for all the right reasons is still an idolatry. Such introspection rarely occurs at the intentional level, when we are on the couch we are so focused on our pimples that we fail to see the expression on our faces. But in moments of lived relationships where you are failing despite all of your righteousness, it does tend to become evident. At least that’s how it works for me…

The rich young ruler went away from Jesus speechless with sorrow, having nothing to say in response to Jesus’ words. He had no doubt about what Jesus had said or what it meant, and it produced in him a sorrow with no words with which to respond. Have you ever been there? Has God’s Word ever come to you, pointing out an area of your life, requiring you to yield it to Him? Maybe He has pointed out certain personal qualities, desires, and interests, or possibly relationships of your heart and mind. If so, then you have often been speechless with sorrow. The Lord will not go after you, and He will not plead with you. But every time He meets you at the place where He has pointed, He will simply repeat His words, saying, “If you really mean what you say, these are the conditions.”

“Sell all that you have . . .” (Luke 18:22). In other words, rid yourself before God of everything that might be considered a possession until you are a mere conscious human being standing before Him, and then give God that. That is where the battle is truly fought— in the realm of your will before God. Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Jesus Himself? If so, you are likely to hear one of His harsh and unyielding statements that will produce sorrow in you. What Jesus says is difficult— it is only easy when it is heard by those who have His nature in them. Beware of allowing anything to soften the hard words of Jesus Christ.

I can be so rich in my own poverty, or in the awareness of the fact that I am nobody, that I will never be a disciple of Jesus. Or I can be so rich in the awareness that I am somebody that I will never be a disciple. Am I willing to be destitute and poor even in my sense of awareness of my destitution and poverty? If not, that is why I become discouraged. Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus— not love for Jesus Himself.

~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

  • My Utmost For His Highest: Limited PB Edition
    My Utmost For His Highest: Limited PB Edition
    Author: Oswald Chambers

Atheists, Anti-theists, and Humanists…

August 2, 2011 7:35 am

I have nothing against Christianity. I wish more Christians practiced it.

~John Scalzi, Whatever: Leviticans

  • Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008
    Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008
    Author: John Scalzi

Well, I can assure you John… we are trying, much to our own frustrations.

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

~G.K. Chesterton

I am really enjoying a whole new genre of publication, the random blog compilation. The advent of the blog, if it has done nothing else, has cataloged a good ten years now of random thoughts from the collective consciousness of mankind. Some of it is beautiful poetry I am sure… but mostly I would believe it is sardonic rants about anything and everything. I have probably contributed a few myself…

On occasion people ask me what, exactly, it is I have against Christianity, inasmuch as I seem to rail against it quite a bit. My general response is: I have nothing against Christianity. I wish more Christians practiced it. The famous bumper sticker says “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but I often wonder just how often they check in with Christ about that last one. I look at the picture I included with the last entry, the one with the kid protesting the gay marriages in San Francisco, wearing the shirt that has “homo” written on it with a circle and slash through the word, and I try to find some of Christ’s teachings in that. As you might imagine, I’m finding very little.

If that kid were hit by a bus and got to meet Christ shortly thereafter, I do imagine the conversation would be a sorrowful one, as the homo-negating young man would have to try to reconcile his shirt with the admonition to love others as one loves one’s self. I would imagine at the end of that conversation, the young man would be looking to see if Christ were holding a lever, and if there were a trap door under the young man’s feet.

~John Scalzi, Whatever: Leviticans

I am not sure if John is a full fledged atheist, I gather that he leans that way. I totally agree with him, and I would think most Christians do as well… its just hard for us to get over ourselves each day and not mess things up. I think I was about 15 maybe when DC Talk laid out this scratchy quote right before the track of “What if I Stumble”.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

~Brennan Manning

We did not listen to this on the way to an abortion clinic with pictures of dead fetuses on our picket signs, no… it was more like a trip to Cedar Point in a church van. At some point that day, it would serve as reinforcement for an object lesson in living out the Christian life by not cutting in line or stealing a wheel chair and pretending you were a cripple just to get on the Magnum a half hour quicker than everybody else.

But its almost too easy to pick on the Christians wearing inflammatory sloganeering gear… they are just such a loud little handful of the greater population of Christians at the moment and through history. I know we will never live down the crusades, but come on… does’nt Mother Teresa count for anything on our history books?

I have rarely considered the overall influence of Christianity and or theism in general as a net bad effect on humanity and the course of history. For all the crap I have waded through within church communities, I still usually have a moment where I realize I am the biggest turd around and the church is actually helping me become a better person, at least think about others, and (if I am willing) respond in grace and compassion to others. If there is anything I am tempted by it is the softer intellectual atheism that does not really deal with personal character so much as it does abstract demands for evidence and proof about the existence of God and specifically the Judeo-Christian story of the universe.

I recently watched a documentary collection of interviews with some modern atheists. They talk about letting go of any faith in God and belief in the supernatural as a sort of relief in letting go of all that awkward stuff that just didn’t help them get on with enjoying life. They see a belief in God as an extra variable in a platonic equation for goodness that has already been solved.

Later on in some of the interviews, Colin went on to clarify that he is actually an Anti-Theist in that he believes that the belief in God is harmful to people. It is a delusion that has all sorts of ill side effects. Now, he and his interviewer did concede that it may be a good moral help for people who need the idea of God to help them get along with morality, its like a booster shot that gets you up in the morning to live a good life… but eventually we will out grow it.

So where John Scalzi finds Christians irritating and maddening, Colin McGinn would pretty much have pity on us. We are just not smart enough to figure out that we do not need God, or like Nietzsche… we are not brave enough to let him go and get on with the reality that there is no grand personality out there that wants to know us intimately… face it and get on with your life… the sooner the better.

But I think this sort of hard boiled atheism and anti-theism does not really work for most people with some sort of emotional pulse. Everyone is still grasping for something that could fit under that wonderfully amorphous word of “spiritual”. God is dead, nature is inspiring, but people… me, you, and together… the grand US… now that is something!

This in an inspiring story…

…but…

I have to admit that I am getting a little bit jaded to the utopian dreams of tech entrepreneurs that are convinced we will all experience a global nirvana as soon as we can get a cell phone and twitter account in the hands of every living man, woman, and child.

I am very much a humanist, I am human and I like humans. I like what we are, do, and create. And I am a technologist, I enjoy making things that are complex. People and their thoughts are more interesting to me than just about anything. But,… when I try to think about just us, working on the internet… trying to make connections, even creating really great art or rescuing children from typhoid… when I just think about us and what we do… my world starts to get really cold, yes lonely… and yes… somehow incomplete.

The Church of Today…

July 24, 2011 11:01 pm

The point of the book of Acts isn’t the early church. The point is the God who is at work in and through the early church to change the world. When we take the Bible seriously, we are taking God seriously. We believe that the same God who was at work then is at work now. The same God in the same kinds of ways. The goal is not to be a “New Testament church.” That makes the New Testament church the authority. The authority is God who is acting in and through those people at that time and now these people at this time.

The point is to ask, what is God up to here, now?

What in the world is God doing today?

How should we respond?

~Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

  • Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
    Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
    Author: Rob Bell

In the past few years of post baptist bible church isolation I have met a lot of different people with different views of how church ought to be, and what you should expect from a church community. More often than not, when we have somehow transcended the political debate of the moment, the conversation usually arrives at some vague discussion of the “early church” as it first appeared in the written record of the book of Acts as a model of church behavior.

One of my best friends is a huge fan of the book of Acts, and he is always recounting to me the strange stories and events of this eventful first century testament. It is strange, exciting, and even conforming to have some written record of how it all went down when the church had these mythic figures empowered by God, walking the streets and leaving a wake of miraculous events wherever they went.

But it is different from my life experiences in the church (even ones that claimed they expected everything in Acts to happen to them), and when I stop to consider it, I am usually left saying… no I don’t believe that the same God who was at work then is at work now… it just seems really different… crap, does that may me a sub-par christian now?

I think if most churches truly held themselves up to the eventful standards of the book of Acts, they would be quite disappointed with themselves and eventually with God. Is anyone in our church empowered by God, with enough force to have his mere shadow be enough to cure cancer as it falls on the congregation members? My churches were usually lucky if they could conduct a civil board meeting and decide on whether or not they were going to black top the parking lot again this year or wait till the next.

What’s wrong with us?

Do we not pray enough?

Believe hard enough?

Serve the poor enough?

Why are we not getting the same outputs for our inputs?

Why do I have to do metaphysical gymnastics to perceive the miraculous?

Is it just the church in the west, there are great stories coming from Africa right?

If God is the same, and the results are always to be expected… then the following formula should work right?

(faithful people) X God = Big Obvious Miracles

There are always stories, but pretty much all of the modern day stories do not hold up to the craziness of the book of Acts. I think most churches and pastors who want this are left feeling pretty inadequate and usually end up writing books about why miracles don’t always happen or how to look for miracles where you don’t usually expect to find them.

What would the church do without the book of Acts to compare ourselves too?

What would we expect?

What would we hope for?

What would we have to report?

After reading his latest book of controversy on heaven and hell not being what most modern evangelicals think it is, I decided to give Bell a go on some of his early work that I had passed up. I am a questioner by nature, and I was immediately put at ease with his honest questioning tone.

Central to the Christian experience is the art of questioning God. Not belligerent, arrogant questions that have no respect for our maker, but naked, honest vulnerable, raw questions, arising out of th awe that comes from engaging the living God.

This type of questioning frees us. Frees us from having to have it all figured out. Frees us from having answers to everything. Frees us from always having o be right. It allows us to have moments when we come to the end of our ability to comprehend. Moments when the silence is enough.

~Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

I like where Bell is going with this, it’s okay to be different now… change is good… and well, if nothing else, inevitable. When you hold on to the best of the past and bring it into the present, its still going to look different, because we are different.

On Difficulties…

July 21, 2011 7:16 pm

If often seems to those in earnest about the right as if all things conspired to prevent their progress. This, of course, is but an appearance, arising in part from this, that the pilgrim must be headed back from the side-paths into which he is constantly wandering.

~George MacDonald, Difficulties

  • George MacDonald
    George MacDonald
    Author: C. S. Lewis