Captain Inertia
Monday, April 28, 2003

A friend gently emails to point out I may have gotten my heresies confused. I stand corrected...I think Joseph Arthur's quotation may be reflective of a heresy besides gnosticism. I took a gander at a theological encyclopedia online (who knew there were free theological encyclopedias online?...shoot...) and investigated it myself: here's the entry for gnosticism, and here's the entry for manicheanism, which may have been what I was thinking of. However, let me dig a little bit before I mouth off in the wrong again.

yay for my theologically informed friends.

1. this past weekend: a young man sipping great draughts out of a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. file that one under 'sugar diet.'

2. (my favorite subway sighting of all time): a young man, conservatively dressed, seated on a folding chair on the corner of the F train. He was wearing a red clown nose and reading the New Yorker. I was unsure if he was nuts, lost a bet, or was just doing performance art.
Friday, April 25, 2003
LONG-DELAYED FOLLOW-UP TO POST ON RON SEXSMITH: or, Joseph Arthur, Gnosticism, and whether Jay-Z flirts with Pelagianism

I want to start this post my quoting this Joseph Arthur song:

“The devil is the lord
of this confusing world
where all the wrong dreams come true.”
(from “Blue Lips,” on Redemption’s Son. Go visit Joseph Arthur’s website, if you want; the album’s good.)

Like the Sexsmith song, I sort of have a multi-layered (or, um, contradictory) response to this song. On one hand, I love this song. It’s beautiful, it’s got guitar, it’s in the key of D. What more do you want out of a piece of music? (I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t love “music” per se; I just love the key of D. It’s pretty irrational, I know, but I can guarantee you the first time I listen to an album, most of the songs I like are going to be in D. Anyone got any reasons why this is so?…do, like, the sound vibrations produced by “D” just resonate with me better than C or A or G-flat-minor? Who knows.) Furthermore, I like this lyric. It sort of gets at the essence of what it’s like to live in this world—imperfect, fractured, broken (or ‘sinful’ or ‘fallen’ in more classic theological language).

And yet, on the other hand, I have this very specific (and dweeby/pedantic) reaction to it as well. This kind of statement makes my theological alarm bells go off in much the same way that the Sexsmith song did—because it clashes with orthodox Christian theology. Right? Christians believe that God is the Lord of this world and the next, and that the Devil doesn’t really have any power here or there. The early church had all this trouble with the bad-ass heresy called Gnosticism, which actually taught something like what Joseph Arthur is suggesting—that the Devil is the lord of this world, and God is the ruler of the next world, and God and the Devil are at war, and it’s our job to fight for God. Which doesn’t seem all that radical, until you realize that if the battle between good and evil is still going on, then the redemptive act is taken out of Jesus’ hands on the cross and put right back in your hands.

Yet I feel a sense of embarrassment even typing those words. And it’s a sense of embarrassment that goes way beyond my obvious nerdiness. (I mean, does anyone else listen to, say, Jay-Z and think, “Ah, be careful, Shawn Carter, you’re flirting with a sixth-century heresy known as Pelagianism!” Why do I even HAVE "theological alarm bells"? Why can't I have "hot babe alarm bells"? (sigh)) Seriously, though, besides the nerdiness, I think I also feel a sense of embarrassment because I’m singling out poor Joseph Arthur for bad theology when that obviously wasn’t what he intended in his lyric. Joe wasn’t trying to do theology; he was just trying to do a song. Which brings me to my next point—another obvious one—that art and theology are different languages.

From a strictly theological perspective, the Ron Sexsmith song I talked about a few weeks ago was probably in the no-zone. That is, it basically said everybody gets a ‘get into heaven free’ card, and that’s a point that Christianity has traditionally disagreed with.

But what does that mean? What does that mean for Dave Bruner, sitting in the Bottom Line, watching Ron Sexsmith perform? What were my obligations as a Christian believer? Should I have just gotten up and left? Should I have heckled Ron Sexsmith?: I can see it now: “universalist! You have bad theology! Get off the stage!” (shudder) Or should I have just ignored it? Pretended like it didn’t trip something in my brain?

I think that Christians have responded, and do respond, to art in all of those ways. Some try to ignore/do away with art that seems at cross purposes with them theologically (think of the protesters outside of “Life of Brian”). Some Christians just ignore the difference and pretend there’s no conflict between “Money Ain’t a Thing” and “You cannot serve God and mammon.” And, more recently, I think some people try not to engage the secular world and retreat into a Christian bubble—Christian friends, Christian music, Christian books, etc., etc. (Obviously, this particular tactic is also big business for Christian music publishers, book publishers, magazines, etc., which probably fuels the whole thing.) Obviously, though, none of those answers work for me, because I think none of them work for the church.

Christians have never lived in a world where the people producing great artwork were icons of moral probity and Christian orthodoxy. Literature: Joyce, Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway. Art: Pollock, Michaelangelo. Music: the Rolling Stones, Mozart, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, David Bowie, um, everybody. I mean, if we put all of those people on the blacklist for Christian consumption, because they either led lives that were immoral or produced works which sprung out of or advocated a non-Christian world view, we a) deny the church some of the finest art out there and b) end up cutting ourselves off from fruitful dialogue with the non-Christian world. (I think some Christians might argue that both a) and b) aren’t really valid reasons to engage artwork that doesn’t come from a Christian perspective, but, uh, I think they’re wrong.)

As Eve Tushnet’s neato blog pointed out some months ago (I’m paraphrasing here; any goofs are mine), there’s a difference between ethos and aesthetics in artwork. In other words, there’s a difference between the first principles that underlie a work of art (ethos), and the way the artist goes about expressing those in his art (aesthetics). And it’s possible to enjoy and appreciate the aesthetics while not signing on to the ethos underneath. Hemingway, for instance, had some first principles I disagree with fiercely: no God exists, etc. (Cool story: Hemingway, apparently, was such a big atheist that he was given to saying the Lord's Prayer with the Spanish "Nada" inserted in lieu of all the nouns. "Our Nada who art in Nada, Nada be thy name..." Cool but sad.) Atheist though his first principles may have been, I can’t deny the level of skill he applies to expressing them. Ditto for Ron Sexsmith, the Rolling Stones, W.B. Yeats, et al.

The trouble, however, is that distinguishing between the skill of an artist and the worldview of an artist, and appreciating one while disagreeing with the other, requires a great deal of attention and intentionality. It can be a lot of work. You have to keep one eye on the messages you’re receiving from artwork (pop culture, high culture, yadda yadda) and another on the messages you’re getting from God and the church, and note where they differ.

I started out wanting to write a short note about Joseph Arthur and I ended rambling on for two single-spaced pages on Word. Sorry. Sorry if this is pretentious, or worse yet, obvious. It makes me feel better to get it out.

Yesterday, I was riding the F train home from the city, and a very fat man boarded the train. In one hand, he carried a VCR. In the other, he carried two bags of food from McDonalds. He then sat down and, putting the VCR in his lap, ate his Big Mac on the train. Ah, New York.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Workplace has been wild and wooly of late. Yesterday being a particularly unproductive instance. The day featured the following:

1. Co-worker getting miffed at another co-worker for telling him that meeting on Wednesday was mandatory and that he had to attend. (The meeting was supposed to be complete with cake and ice cream for his benefit; he, not knowing, opted to stay in Brooklyn and work on some other cases, much, natch, to our dismay.) This matter dragged on all morning until, mercifully, he got the joke when we produced said cake and ice cream and feted his birthday.

2. this same co-worker allowing another co-worker to smell his armpit.

3. this same co-worker announcing, in a not really called-for way, that he "made love every night."

4. this same co-worker, and me, putting scotch tape all over another co-worker who was taking a nap.

You don't think we'd be a little more productive if we had on-site supervision, do you?
Monday, April 21, 2003
Joy Kim's blog is also nice.

Additionally, Brian and Lauren's blog is also nice.

Matt and Hannah are lame and do not have a blog. However, this is where Matt wants to go to school.

Ah, the thrill of victory. I am a link-creating wiz. Thank you.
Yo. Let's try this:

Eve Tushnet's blog is nice.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Fan Attacks Umpire During Game in Chicago

People wonder why I'm a Cubs fan, and not a Sox fan....
Tuesday, April 15, 2003

from Saturday.

wake up. i'm in david slade's grandmother's house in scott, arkansas. coffee. get in the car with sebastian, matt quin, amelia (david's girlfriend), and matt beachboard. david slade is not there; he's working. drive. amelia sits on people's laps in the back seat. read 'wired' magazine during the drive to little rock. drive to the river market in downtown little rock; sit outside at a table in the sun. buy an orange for 35 cents from a vendor. eat it with my fingers and feel sticky. talk about the war. drive.

go to a record store. browse. find the single for 'can't touch this' by mc hammer....on vinyl. debate buying other albums. walk to pizza joint down the block. purchase pizza and soda. sit in the sun. talk about star wars; matt b. can't identify the name of the creatures you ride on on hoth ("tauntauns"). still no david. drive.

drive to matt beachboard's house in west little rock. it's a nice house, a big house. sit in his living room and read the wall street journal ("hedge funds: good idea in a bad market?"). watch sebastian and matt play pool. drive.

go see david at work. he works at u.s. pizza co.; he's wearing a shirt that says 'us pizza' and has an american flag. drive to a state park with david, amelia, sebastian, and matt beechboard. lose matt quin somewhere along the way.

sit in the park. drink corona. goof around. talk smack. play that game with bottled beer where you try to smack the top of the other person's beer with your bottle of beer. chase around sebastian. attempt to play soccer with a belly full of food and beer. laugh. make fun of the frat boy 30 feet away playing john mayer songs on his acoustic guitar. sebastian hits me in the arm, and i chase him, and on a dead run over totally flat terrain, i wipe out, falling all over the place. drive.

drive to vietnamese restaurant for food. eat. eat beef with basil and mint, and rice paper that feels like gauze. argue about michael moore ("bowling for columbine"). feel some unasked questions lingering. feel a bit of an outsider. drive.

drive to david's friend collins' parents' house in little rock. really nice house. sit and watch tv in his parents' living room. cubs won today. yes. check out what's on comedy central: crank yankers (muppets making crank calls) and south park. collins' parents come home. everybody leaves. drive.

passive entertainment is in the offing. drive to blockbuster. amelia and matt sit in the front and passenger seats of david's car, smoking parliaments and talking, while the rest of us head inside to find a movie. take too long to find a movie. settle on 'croupier.' drive.

drive back to scott, while listening to young mc on tape. (yes, 'bust a move,' that young mc.) the album is about as good as you'd expect: 'bust a move,' plus nine other songs that are not good. fall into silence. david's scattered attempts to start conversation don't go anywhere.

get back to scott. look for a second at the impossible-seeming moon hanging overhead, unhidden by buildings, clouds, or streetlamps. watch the cars drive by on the highway.

sladey and amelia opt out of the movie, pleading exhaustion. sounds like the best thing i've heard all day. bed.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Republicans Want Terror Law Made Permanent

Hey, everybody.

Sorry the blog has been so inactive lately. I know what an important part it is of a person's day to procrastinate by checking other people's blogs (big ups, Joy Kim and Brian & Lauren!), so it pains me to deprive you all of that resource. I'm going to be back and on the attack soon as I get back from Arkansas, next Monday. I promise.

Two things:

1. Cubs have a 4-3 record. It snowed yesterday at Wrigley Field. yippee.
2. Canucks play the St. Louis Blues first round in the playoffs, starting tomorrow. Sheesh.

(For those of you not in the know, I agreed to become a Vancouver Canucks [hockey] fan, in exchange for my college roommate Nussbaum becoming a Chicago Cubs fan. Needless to say, the Canucks have been to the playoffs once since then, and the Cubbies have gone through three managers in as many seasons. I think I got the
better end of the deal.)

Yeah, everyone seems to give the edge to the Nucks, but this does not bode well. We could either lose outright to the Bluies, or, just as bad, we could win in like seven games and emerge so banged up and exhausted that we go straight out in round two. Sigh. I'll keep you posted....somewhere in Palo Alto, Nussbaum is vibrating with anticipation.

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