Friday, August 29, 2003
IF PATIENCE STARTED A BAND, I'D BE HER BIGGEST FAN
(None of this is re-inventing the wheel, so I apologize, but it’s my blog, and you’re my prisoner, so neh!)
It never ceases to amaze me to visit blogs where people fill up comments boxes arguing with each other back and forth about religious issues. It never ceases to amaze because I’m not sure if these people are actually expecting to win each other over to their opinion, or if it just makes them feel good to have a good argument or put someone in their place. Frequently these debates become so rancorous on both sides that it’s hard for me to believe any good is being accomplished at all. (If you look at some of the comments boxes at, say, Mark Shea’s blog (and I like Mark’s blog) you’ll see what I mean.)
The internet, obviously, offers unparalleled opportunities for communication (I mean, where else would you be reading about my views on evangelism? The name of this blog is “Captain Inertia” and you’re reading my views on evangelism! Ha!). But reading blogs has convinced me of two things—first, those opportunities for evangelism are tremendously important, and second, Christians must constantly be asking themselves: what kind of communication is going on here? Am I modeling kindness, compassion, love, charity in debate? Or am I modeling dogmatism, narrow-mindedness, irritability? Do I respond with thankfulness and openness when someone expresses curiosity about Christianity, or do I respond like someone who’s protecting a system of beliefs? Am I spoiling for a fight? Am I sharpening my rhetorical daggers ahead of time and waiting for someone to throw them at?
I think, for instance, the relationship between Camassia (who’s a seeker but hasn’t yet become Christian) and Telford Work, which began over the internet but has grown into a real full-fledged friendship, is an absolutely incredible example of the best kind of relational evangelism.
Christianity is, I believe, intellectually tenable, and it’s a shame to present it any other way. But, y’know, as the old saw goes, it’s not what you say as much as how you say it. Having had a series of intense conversations with Yannis the Trusty Greek about faith and belief, I’ve started to get convinced that what’s important is not convincing the person that Christianity is ‘true’ or that their own personal beliefs are wrong. Frequently, this is impossible anyway. Rather, I’m becoming convinced that what’s important is helping the person prepare for belief, move slowly towards being the kind of person who can believe. (In that way, it reminds me of this Q&A from Telford Work’s website where he talks about interpretation of Scripture. In it, he talks about growing into an understanding of the Bible as truly God’s word, and giving oneself enough time and patience to make that journey.)
If there’s anything that studying AA has convinced me, it’s that people are not nearly as unique or novel as they believe themselves to be. I haven’t attended an AA meeting, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve heard that when people speak at AA meetings, it’s a litany of the same four or five things: anxiety, nervousness, ‘why can’t I just drink in moderation? Why do I have to abstain?’, laziness, pride, a desire for control, sex, sex, sex, etc. Yet an essential part of participating in Alcoholics Anonymous is everybody, even the old-timers, working with the newly-sober alcoholic to hold onto their sobriety—and it’s something they commit to doing even if the person comes up with every hackneyed objection or lame excuse for why they don’t really belong in AA and they’re not really an alcoholic and yadda yadda yadda.
Engaging non-Christians about Christianity is, or ought to be, the same song in a different key. If you engage people who are unchurched or on the fringes of the church, you frequently get the same ten objections to Christianity over and over: “How can God exist when there’s so much evil in the world?” “The church teaches that non-Christians go to hell, and I don’t buy it.” “The church is full of nothing but hypocrites.” “the Bible is made up.” (God bless faithful Catholics, who must hear nothing but questions about sex all the live-long day.) This can and sometimes is irritating, but it’s also a huge opportunity. It’s irritating because it demonstrates that the old perceptions and misperceptions continue to endure about Christianity; frequently it also indicates that the person is onto a question so important that it’ll never really go away. It also means that we Christians must be prepared to answer these questions, and to bear with the questions (and the questioner) with patience and forbearance and compassion.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
Interesting article from Christianity Today's Weblog--an interview with George Barna. Sit-up-straight-in-surprise quote: "It's hard to see what difference a person's faith makes when you actually observe how a born-again Christian lives."
BACK AT THE HOMESTEAD, WHERE THE AIR MAKES YOU CHOKE
Sigh. We have several clients at my agency who, surprise surprise, are now disabled with lung ailments they contracted working at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. If the White House did pressure the EPA to say Lower Manhattan was safer than it was...boy. They have a lot to account for.
MARK PRIOR: "I'M INCREDIBLY GOOD AT MY JOB."
Thursday, August 21, 2003
SILVER AND GOLD
Went out for Indian food and Italian ice on Sunday with my old-school friend Natalia and her friend Jonathan. Over chicken Madras (mmm...chicken Madras...) we stumbled into an interesting conversation. It went like this:
Jonathan went to NYU Law School. He graduated last year, and one of things he's interested in is torts (torts = mass-injury claims). He mentioned that he'd studied, f'r instance, the Agent Orange case ( = hundreds of thousands of Vietnam vets suing chemical companies because of cancer caused by a defoliant used during the war). Something clinks in my head (probably a memory of this article), and I say, "Well, if you studied the Agent Orange case, you must know about Kenneth Feinberg and the Victim's Compensation Fund for 9/11."
And Jonathan says, "Well, actually, I took a class that was taught by Kenneth Feinberg. And we spent a whole day talking about nothing but the VCF."
Cue fascinating discussion. Jonathan (and Natalia, who knows way more about the law than someone who hasn't yet begun law school should) basically brought a lawyer's perspective to things, noting that the way the VCF is organized and run is pretty consistent with the way mass tort cases get run in other areas. But they disagreed on the way it ought to be--Jonathan, who's basically a free-marketeer, seemed to think that the Fund was correct to compensate people based on their income, even if that meant that rich people got more money than poor people, while Natalia, who's a raving socialist, I mean, uh, liberal, thought that it was a huge inequity to compensate rich people more than poor people.
But here's the thing that interested me, and seemed to me the most important point: the whole fact that the VCF exists at all tells us two interesting things about American or Western society.
First, I think it shows how when Americans try to lead with their heart, they end up leading with their pocketbook. (That maybe sounds too cynical, but I think it's what happened in this case.) There was such an incredible outpouring of love and support in the days after 9/11, which was great, but a great deal of it took the form of purely financial compensation. Lost a family member, get $50,000. Lost your job, get $5,000. And now, almost two years out after the disaster, the victims of 9/11 have basically been left by the side of the road. No one's thinking about them. No one's paying attention to them. The agency at which I work, which had its roof punctured by debris from 9/11, will be in the office, working, this year on September 11th. No one really admitted or focused on the fact that grief takes its own time-table, and it's more than a month or a year or 18 months. The families who lost their loved ones are still grieving, and it's a real tragedy that there's so little tangible emotional and spiritual support available to them. (Indeed, I think it's because everybody responded to 9/11 in terms of money that so many families get caught up in how much cash they're going to receive--$5.5 mil or $6 mil? how much? When your grief is endless, but the only way you know how to express grief is through cash, no amount of money is enough, of course.)
Second, I think it showcases this American mentality that when bad things happen, someone is responsible and must be held accountable. Preferably legally accountable. Right? Someone hits you with their car, you sue; someone screws up your tooth extraction, you sue; you get hit by lightning, you sue. Maybe I'm exaggerating the litigiousness of American society, but I hope not by that much. The VCF was set up as an alternative to lawsuits--lawsuits against the government, against the airlines, against whoever. (Indeed, the legislation that created the VCF is a subset of the airline bailout legislation that the government passed in the days after 9/11.) You can sue if you want to, or you can accept the money from the VCF, but in either case, you're either exercising your right to legal remedy, or taking a substantial amount of money in recognition of your right to seek a legal remedy even if you don't. Now, obviously, in some cases when wrongs have been committed seeking a legal remedy is the right and proper thing to do, and I don't criticize those who have chosen to do so in individual cases when it seemed right. But I think on a whole, people have this mentality that every wrong is redressable, and every wrong is redressable legally. And that is just not the case.
Saudi terrorists, armed with nothing more than box cutters, commandeered two passenger jets and flew them into some of the biggest office buildings in New York. The buildings collapsed, killing thousands. What can we do about that? Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It's a fait accompli. And I think that's the elephant in the room here--our collective powerlessness in the face of all those dead people. If your 24-year old bond trader son, the light of your life and the apple of your eye, was murdered on 9/11, what can you do to right that wrong? Sue Osama bin Laden? Sue Saudi Arabia?
There's a lot I disagree with in this piece by Stanley Hauerwas about 9/11, but there's some I agree with, too. Especially the idea that the most right and proper response to 9/11 is awed and humble silence, and trying to acknowledge that we have been wounded, and deeply, and that wherever we go from here we can't undo that.
YOU ARE FREE, YOU ARE FREE, YOU ARE FREE
I met this lady's son at Yale--he was in Trumbull with me, and was Dave Nussbaum's little sib. At the time, I didn't know anything about his mother, of course. It was only when I saw an article in the Times last year about Chesa winning a Rhodes scholarship that I realized his background was a little unusual.
What challenges this guy must have had growing up. Kinda puts things in perspective for me a bit.
Monday, August 18, 2003
BEAT ON THE BRAT WITH A BASEBALL BAT
(Note to those from Illinois/Wisconsin: the fourth word in that headline should be pronounced like the sausage, not the irritating child.)
Cubs trade for this guy. Sounds like fun.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO ABOUT THE TENETS OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM--AT LEAST IT'S AN ETHOS
Real Live Preacher on the virtues of that strange, wonderful movie, the Big Lebowski. I watched the movie myself yesterday (courtesy of my roommates) and thought much the same thing.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
JUDAS ISCARIOT CARRYING JOHN WILKES BOOTH
Fascinating article in Christianity Today on the significance of the small-group movement in early Methodism. Note the similarity to AA and similar twelve-step groups.
(Extra cool-points to anyone who can identify the song from which this blog's headline comes.)
I WANT TO SEE ME, STARING RIGHT BACK AT ME:
Click here to see the guy from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who attends my Bible study, who ended up with his picture in the NY Times. Michael Korte: lucky bastard.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
FIELDS OF FLOWERS AND FAC-FAC-FAC'TRY FLOORS
Work is boooooooring today. I've placed between five and ten crank calls to Yannis' desk, using my desk phone, my cell phone, and, in one particularly genius stroke, calling myself from my cell phone at my desk phone, pretending to have a conversation with someone who wasn't there, and then transferring the call to Yannis' desk like there was someone who wanted to talk to him. When it comes to procrastination and wasting time, I have no peer.
I think my problem is this: I have no focus. I have the attention span of a 17-year old high school junior who's really really waiting to get out of government class so he can go home and play PlayStation. Without wanting to resort to whining too much, my real problem in life is choosing to stick with the things that are really rewarding (and therefore hard) instead of dropping them to work with the things that are less rewarding (but lots easier). The OK maybe crowds out the truly good in my life a little more than it should. sigh.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
ADJUDICATION OF A DISPUTE BETWEEN BROTHER AND SISTER, PART III:
In the matter of whether Ramon Martinez will make an adequate replacement for injured Cubs' second-basemen Mark Grudzielanek:
Dave said: nah, Martinez is a dog.
Elizabeth said: nah, he's OK!
Verdict: Inconclusive. (There may be a controversy over my rendering this as an 'inconclusive' verdict rather than 'Elizabeth is right,' but bear with me.) Martinez does have a higher average OBP and slugging percentage, but Grudzielanek has a higher batting average. Also, Martinez has never played more than 130 games in a season, while Grudz has been a workhorse, playing over 100 games steadily for the past several seasons. I think ya gotta call this one a wash.
ADJUDICATION OF A DISPUTE BETWEEN BROTHER AND SISTER, PART II:
In the matter of by whom "You're the Inspiration" was sung,
David said: It was a Peter Cetera solo hit in the 80s.
Elizabeth said: No, it was a hit for Chicago before Peter left to pursue his 'solo career.'
Verdict: Elizabeth is right.
Dave takes some consolation in the fact that PC was responsible for a bunch of solo hits, including "Glory of Love" and "Next Time I Fall," featuring, of course, Amy Grant. Dave also takes consolation in the fact that his own website isn't as pathetic as the PC fansite.
ADJUDICATION OF A DISPUTE BETWEEN BROTHER AND SISTER, PART I:
In the matter of the meaning of the word "yeoman,"
David said: yeoman's primary use refers to a seaman or shipmate.
Elizabeth said: yeoman's primary use does NOT refer to a seaman or shipmate, but some other use instead.
the verdict: Elizabeth is right.
WTC DISASTER LINKED TO SMALLER BIRTH WEIGHT
If this is true, it wouldn't surprise me. Anecdotally we hear a ton, every day, about people who were exposed for a period of time (sometimes just a few hours) to dust and smoke from the WTC site and now have all kinds of health problems. Sometimes their health problems are bad enough to put them out of work.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
I'M THE FACE
See if this doesn't interest you. According to this guy, who I think was also profiled in the New Yorker a couple months ago, the seven human emotions which register in our facial muscles are: anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and happiness. Make of that what you will, optimists and pessimists.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
LOOK HERE, IN MY WALLET, THAT'S HER
Best part of the wedding (which was great): Alynna's uncle Rick getting up to speak during the wedding ceremony and saying, in his distinctive Forrest-Gump-after-a-few-beers drawl: "Hi, I'm Uncle Rick, and nobody ever knows what I'm going to do or say."