Captain Inertia
Friday, March 28, 2003
So, of course I'm frantically busy this week, but I wanted to post one p.s. to this weekend's post on Sexsmith and salvation. (by the way, do you find the name "Sexsmith" salacious? more than one person I know said 'hey, dave, who are you listening to?' and I said 'Ron Sexsmith.' And they said 'oooooh-la-la!'...or do i just have a lot of immature friends?)

I don't think I buy the view of salvation expressed in “God Loves Everyone” (i.e., everybody gets into heaven, no matter what). But I also definitely don't buy the opposite view--that nobody gets into heaven without an explicit faith in Jesus. That view is a big big totem for a lot of conservative evangelicals (and fundamentalists): you don't go to heaven if you don't have Jesus. (That tends to break down, of course, to "you go to hell if you don't have Jesus.") There is some basis in Scripture for this view, and if I were really on the ball, I could cite chapter and verse for you. (Matt Croasmun, where are you when I need you?…relevant passages are “no one comes to the Father but by me,” from John, I believe, and also Peter’s statement from Acts, “There is only one name under heaven by which people are saved.”…uh, right?)

(For an illustration of this view, c.f.e. Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod president Gerald Kieschnick, whose response to the World Trade Center disaster was this (paraphrasing from memory): “the real tragedy about the World Trade Center is that many of the people who died there went to hell, because they didn’t know Jesus.” Kieschnick is actually regarded as a liberal within his denomination.)

I don’t know where that leaves me on the spectrum of belief. In some ways, I think I actually list towards the conservative end a bit because I aspire towards a more nuanced view of salvation than “everybody goes to heaven straightaway.” But I'm also not so sure how hot I am on the idea of anyone being damned eternally, so, uh, I guess I end up back in the penalty box labelled "somewhat theologically aware, but confused."

More on this topic later....WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT! BWA HA HA HA!

Thursday, March 27, 2003
The Onion | Point-Counterpoint: The War On Iraq

Ha ha ha, ha ha ha HA ha ha.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
OK. I wanted to blog about this Sexsmith song because it sorta cuts across a couple of issues I ruminate about a fair bit: 1. who gets into heaven? how are we saved? what, as christians, ought we to believe about that stuff? 2. the difference between the aesthetics of a song and the ethos of a song; 3. issues of how christians of every stripe relate to music, art, and popular culture.

(the great thing about reading my blog is that you get all of the pretentiousness with none of the serious analysis that real intellectuals bring to the table. (sigh))

So, first, the salvation question.

I saw Ron play this song at the Bottom Line in New York a couple months ago, and it really did something to me. It made me happy, and it made me sad, as beautiful songs tend to do--and this song is indeed beautiful, very winsome and a pretty melody. But it also made me nervous. Nervous, because as a Christian I felt like the question of God's love for us is more complicated than Ronnie was making it out to be.

"There are no gates in heaven/everyone gets in." What a wonderful image. I think part of what makes this song so successful as a piece of art, in fact, is that it manages to express, in some way, the idea of the utterness of God’s love for us, the totality of God’s grace. Right? Songs take ideas and enact them, make them more real….I think this song, like other things, does that, makes the idea of God’s love more real. And in a way, the images of God’s love it presents are totally true. God does love us all like a mother loves her son. God’s love for us is unconditional, totally no-strings-attached love. God's love is all-encompassing, and a little bit reckless, so much broader and wider than our (self-centered, self-interested) human loves are or could be that it makes us a little uncomfortable.

And it goes a little further than that—it gets at the idea that God loves us all whether or not we’re a good person (“the killer in his cell”), or even if we’re a person of another faith. I think Christians get a little leery about envisioning God loving a person of another faith—it feels a little bit like superimposing your religious framework on someone who doesn’t share your religion. But I think it’s important to dwell on.

But I still don’t totally buy the picture Ronnie’s presenting here. And it sucks—that is, it sucks to disagree with a picture of such a totally overwhelming love, even though I know that it’s not the love I’m disagreeing with, it’s just the way the love is played out.

In listening to this song, I keep going back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Believe me, if you knew/know people who actually know a lot about Bonhoeffer, you’d know how little I knew about him.) One of his central ideas is the notion that grace is free, but it is not cheap. That is, it comes from God, willy-nilly, and we don’t do anything to deserve it, merit it, but—grace is meaningful because grace costs something. It costs us something, because to respond to it means to change our lives. And it cost Jesus everything, because he died on the cross to bring it to us.

God does indeed love us all, but he loves us like a wife giving her husband a valuable diamond ring. (In the Gospels, the kingdom of heaven is likened to the pearl of great price, the thing that was so valuable that men sold everything they had just to buy it.) If God's love doesn't cost anything, then receiving it is more like receiving a party favor than receiving something precious, something astounding. God's love is not something worthless. And I guess to the extent that that truth is left out of the Sexsmith song, I am compelled to disagree with its message. (That is, disagree with its message even while I'm listening to it endlessly on Kazaa at work and blogging about how "winsome" it is in front of all my friends.)

Next: Dave takes a shower. And at some point, blogs further about this song and interesting questions brought up by it. (err, the song, not the shower.) (although interesting questions can be brought up by showering. But those are for another time.)

Friday, March 21, 2003
Lyrics to a Ron Sexsmith song. This is from his newest album, Cobblestone Runway, which I might pick up:

God loves everyone
Like a mother loves her son
No strings at all

Never want to judge
Who’d never hold a grudge
The word’s been done
God loves everyone

There are no gates in heaven
Everyone gets in
Queer or straight
Souls of every faith

Hell is in our minds
Hell is in this life
And when it’s done
God takes everyone

It’s love is like a wound
Like the air from room to room
It’s surrounds us all
The living and the dead
May we never lose the thread
That bound us all

The killer in his cell
The atheist as well
The pure of heart
And the wild at heart

Are all worthy of its grace
Its written in the face
Of everyone
God loves everyone

There’s no need to be saved
No need to be afraid
‘cause when it’s done
God takes everyone
God loves everyone.

I'm gonna blog in some more detail about my response to this song, Christianity, salvation, and other things, later. But for now--anybody got any thoughts about this one? Like the lyrics? hate them? no response?

Friday, March 14, 2003
Bible study/fellowship group went OK last night. Pastor Phil showed up, which lent something interesting to the discussion. I’m still pretty freaked out by leading—not usually during the study, but during the days leading up to it—but I’m slowly starting to discover that I don’t have to prepare too too much, because the group is lively and willing to tackle big issues and generally there’s not a ton of dead time. To put it in gardening terms, I think my role is going to be a lot more pruning than fertilizing.

I have been really stressed this past week—partly about Bible study and partly about the job hunt. Really stressed: I’ve been eating like nobody’s business, which is usually sign one, and I’ve been biting my fingernails down to the quick, which is sign two. My fingers have been bleeding, and they’ve been hurting, and, yeah, it’s been bad. Monday night I chased my dinner by tearing into a jar of Skippy. (mmmm…skippy…) I didn’t have all of it, but any of it was way more than I needed.

Anyway—you have better things to do than read about me being upset because I had too much peanut butter. The point is that eating (among other things) is a good stress barometer for me…frequently I’ll notice that I’m eating way too much before I realize that I’m very stressed about something. (e.g., the peanut butter) Every night this week, when I found myself going back for a third helping, or craving a mid-afternoon snack even though I wasn’t hungry, I realized that something else was going on.

Co-worker Yannis (the Greek comedian….very goofy and funny guy) had a client who was Russian, very articulate, very intelligent, and she drove him crazy. It all kind of came to a head this week, and he had to sit down with her and lay down the law (as much as a un-degreed social worker can lay down the law). He had to tell her, look, you’re shooting yourself in the foot with your behavior. Every time I try to help you, you do something stupid that thwarts my efforts to do so. The interesting thing about it was a) this woman’s silly behavior was clear to us, along with what she needed to do to fix it; b) it was definitely definitely not clear to her. Because she was living her own life situation, rather than being outside it or reflecting on it, she had no particular insight of what to do to solve her problems, or what her own behavior patterns were that led to her problems in the first place.

That’s me in a nutshell. (Visible effort to avoid making cloying Austin Powers reference.) I’m an excellent analyst of other people’s life situations, but when it comes to figuring out what’s going on in my own emotional (and spiritual) life, I’m pretty much stuck with paying attention to when I eat too much Skippy. That’s my barometer. I still haven’t learned to really listen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Sept. 11: A Campus Reflects

Thiiiiiiis is interesting. Stanley "I'm a conservative, but I'm a pacifist, too!" Hauerwas on September 11th, Christianity, and war.

Hauerwas is a huge figure--a friend of mine at Duke Div said that one's total school experience there pretty much depended on how you reacted to old Stanley--and he's usually a more interesting read than, oh, most theologians. (I'm thinking in particular here of ANYONE whose native language is German.)

There's a lot of interest in here, but I'm not sure I buy all of it. Stanley pretty much argues that being a Christian is being a pacifist, the two are inseparable. The Christian is someone who would 'rather die than kill.'

Even more, though, he argues that being a Christian (and ergo pacifist) doesn't necessitate having an alternate plan to respond to violence, injustice, whatever. So, in other words (in his words, actually), he doesn't need to come up with an alternate 'pacifist' response to attacking Afghanistan, invading Iraq, etc. He sees that question ("if you were president, how would you have responded to 9/11?") as a moral/theological ball--in other words, it's out of the strike zone, he doesn't have to swing at it. He can just ignore it.

And that's the part I don't get. I don't doubt his genuineness in his beliefs, but not having a political response to an event like 9/11 just doesn't make any sense to me. It seems like seceding from the world--fomenting exactly the type of withdrawal from 'the real world' that Christianity's critics frequently accuse it of.

There's more, but I have to go back to work.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

My blogging has been pretty lame of late. Sorry about that; work has been crizzity-iz-ay-zee over the past ten days or so, and I've been caught up in its spell. I spent a miserable Thursday morning last week trudging out to Ridgewood, Queens, in the snow (OK, OK, so I took the train, you get the idea) to help a client apply for disability at an office which turned out to be around the corner from her house. Sigh. Things like that take away a ton of your time.

Came home last night and finally told Robin the Roommate that my being around past the expiration of the lease in May was uncertain. He seemed to take it pretty well, all things considered, although he did make one throw-away comment about moving back to the UK that made me feel a twinge of remorse.

It was interesting. Initially, I'd planned on saying something like this to him: "Yeah, I've been thinking about our living situation, and I don't even know if I'm going to be around after May, so you might as well find new living arrangements. Plus, to be totally honest, if I am around, I think I'd be more comfortable living by myself.' What I ended up saying sounded more like this: Yeah, I've been thinking about our living situation, and I'm still totally unsure about whether or not I'll be around, so you're probably better off making your own living arrangements. [ten minutes pass] and yeah, if I do stay here, I might just go on and get a studio...I've been feeling like living by myself for a while now..." Oh-so-subtly, Dave practices the arts of midwestern niceness and conflict avoidance. (sigh) I dunno--I'm glad I didn't hurt Robin's feelings, but part of me knows that I sort of elided the part of the conversation where I told him that I didn't really feel like moving in with him as a roommate all over again, and that I do that in big and small ways all over my life, and sometimes it gets me into trouble.


Via Eve Tushnet's blog, actual rejected lines from Zagat surveys. (Zagat = popular restaurant guide to NY & other cities.) This is hilarious, but it would be much funnier if it actually indicated the restaurants they were talking about!
Monday, March 10, 2003
Audio Pronunciation

Click on this to hear the official Yahoo pronunciation of "No-see-um." Yannis and I spent
about 20 minutes screwing around with this in the office, and it's amazing. The dictionary's
pronunciation of "asshole" or "motherfucker" is pretty unfunny...what's really funny is
hearing it say funny-sounding words like "no-see-um," or "rococo." Only now am I getting
over it.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Hmm. This is the sound of Captain Inertia attempting to a) fix the link to the article I just failed to link to, and b) figure out how to edit my previous blog so that you all don't have to have a not-working link. Also, this is the sound of me hitting my head against the desk. (You can't hear it now, but it sounds like this: thump.)

Interesting article by Eve Tushnet (a Yalie) about the Peter Singer article in the NY Times magazine. Via her very interesting website.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
God, Satan and the Media

Manages to tackle this topic without sounding too condescending. What's interesting is that a) he does acknowledge the gulf between folksy, religious, middle America, and the 'educated, elite, northeastern, secular' groups that tend to be pretty influential in academia and journalism, and b) points out (correctly in my view) that disagreements or no, everybody's got to work together.

Hmm. One of the advantages of linking to lots of articles on your blog and then writing little comments is that a) it makes you look like an intellectual without your having to do a lot of hard work, and b) it turns your procrastination into something you can share with everyone! hah-hah!

Stand Clear of the Doors, or Drop and Give Me 20

Ah, New York.

Everybody jams a door once in a while. If I'm going home to Brooklyn any time after midnight, I will jam doors, sprint through stations, shove people, and kick old ladies in order to get onto a train before the doors close. But that's because after midnight, the trains come really slowly--maybe three times an hour--and if you miss one, you'll end up loitering in a train station, which is never fun. And since the cars are usually half-empty (and half of those people are drunk or crazy), nobody seems to mind.

But there's a whole other breed nowadays--the rush hour door-jammers. These people are, to put it mildly, scum. As far as I can tell, it's usually one person who'll stall the whole train for no reason other than malice, several times in a row. There's nothing more annoying than the "ding-shwoop!" sound of the doors closing and then opening several times in a row. (Err, uh, I mean, several hundred things are more annoying than that, but I'm trying to make a point.) In rush hour, the trains literally come one after another, so jamming the doors to get onto them is kind of pointless, anyway...but that's city living: an up-close and personal encounter with other people's pointlessness.

Monday, March 03, 2003
Nepotism? No Way

This brought a tear to my eye. Check out the last paragraph...
the nothingness creates the somethingness, indeed. He's a philosopher
as well as the world's luckiest man.
Qaeda Leader's Capture Fails to Ease the Grief of 9/11

This one's a doozy. The very little I'm hearing from families echoes the sentiments here--the grief and pain are still there and very, very raw, but the rest of the world has pretty much picked up shop and moved on.

I'm not sure anybody who hasn't gone through it has enough respect for the long, long, tough process that grieving can be.

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