December 2006


I have revisited all my posts from this year to remember some of what God taught me (that is my primary purpose for writing this blog, after all). It was a wonderful year, not because my circumstances or wealth or abilities or relationships improved, but because God has been transforming my heart and mind, and because I am falling deeper in love with him. Everything else seems to fade away (including, for example, my recent $900 auto repair bill). Here are some of the highlights of what God taught me this year:

1. Loving my enemies includes, like, not killing them.
2. I am blessed beyond belief. Life is good.
3. I will never be safe or know the future, and that is a grand adventure.
4. There are no Christian politics.
5. There’s no reason for me to insist that nonbelievers follow God’s law. That’s not love; it’s the definition of legalism.
6. Love is more beautiful and powerful than anything.

I’m probably forgetting some major revelations, but: Thank you, God!

I also have some personal requests of God for the coming year:

1. God, fill my heart with genuine compassion for other people.
2. God, destroy the hold that lust has over my heart and mind.
3. God, destroy the grip that music consumption has over my life.
4. God, give me discipline to join your Spirit in transforming me and doing your work.
5. God, train me to hear your voice.
6. God, give me peace about finances, friendships, mystery, and romance.

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David Augsburger’s Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor is a radical presentation of discipleship. In some ways, it builds on the ideas of Mere Discipleship, but it is better written and organized, and therefore also more accessible.

Augsburger argues that we may consider a continuum of monopolar through tripolar spirituality:

Spirituality 1.0
Monopolar spirituality is the inner, subjective search for one’s essential, core humanity and perhaps spiritual oneness with nature. Examples: Buddhism, Hinduism, the new age movement.

Spirituality 1.5
A spirituality of wish-fulfillment: “My god and I fulfill my life.” Examples: personal religion.

Spirituality 2.0
The inner search for one’s true self and an experience of existence before God. As St. Augstine defined it: “To know one’s true self and to know God.” Bipolar spirituality allows us to destroy others through our love for God, as religious duty. Examples: Most of mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Spirituality 2.5
A spirituality that seeks to serve others in response to God’s love. Examples: The best of mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Spirituality 3.0
Tripolar spirituality is one of radical agape for everyone: “I love God only as I love my enemy.” There is no separation between love of self, love of others, and love of God. Examples: Anabaptism, the Catholic worker movement, some variants of Sufi Islam, many emerging churches.

In the Anabaptist tradition, all daily life is an act of worship expressed in seven practices: radical attachment to Jesus, stubborn loyalty to Christian community, tenacious serenity (giving up self-will, the need to survive, and the purpose-driven life), habitual humility, resolute nonviolence, concrete service, and authentic witness. Augsburger devotes a chapter to each of these practices.

But what most interests me is Augsburger’s distinction between Spirituality 2.5 and 3.0. First, he promotes Spirituality 3.0 as superior without making that argument Biblically or philosophically. Second, he writes abstractly about the differences but provides few concrete examples (besides nonviolence) of how a life lived in Spirituality 2.5 looks different than one lived in Spirituality 3.0. And what does it really mean to “love God only as I love my enemy”?

Good grief. Dubai is fucking nuts.

Humor: How to Write Good.

The worst fight scene of all time, from this movie.

Incredibly incompetent TV reporting is funny. For example.

Some guy made his own electromagnetic pistol. Very efficient, and 100% silent.

Evan in Michigan ate for 1$ a day all this November, and kept a daily journal. For December, he’s drawing a cartoon each day (even though he has no skill). Of course, if you haven’t heard the one red paperclip story, that’s far more interesting.

I have considerable respect for Islam, so I’ve wanted to read its Holy Book for a long time, despite its degree of difficulty for the modern American Christian. A while back, I started reading some guide to the Qur’an by a Christian author, but I put it down because I felt cheated and lied to, as when reading my Bob Jones science textbooks at my Christian high school. I had to read Islam’s holy book itself, translated and edited by a Muslim scholar (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

The Qur’an is bizarrely organized, and just as dependent on context as the Bible, so I was happy to read all the annotations and explanations provided for the Western mind by this “Study Qur’an.” The copious footnotes addressed issues of translation, meaning, context, and even current practice. Indeed, if I had money enough to buy books these days, this would make an excellent addition to my bookshelf.

The Qur’an has many passages very similar to those of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and Islam’s God, Allah, bears many similarities to Yahweh. The moralities of these three Abrahamic faiths are very similar. The Qur’an gives similar accounts of creation, Moses, Jesus, etc.

I chose not read the entire thing, because my time is limited. But I did read enough to get a decent impression of the origins of Islamic thought, practice, and culture, and for that I am grateful.

Twentieth century outreach has been largely about “sales pitch” evangelism for “fire insurance” salvation. Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey presents a fresh take. While there are plenty of Biblical examples of “sales pitch” evangelism, it’s exciting to think there might also be a method of evangelism that doesn’t require so much knowledge, skill, and impersonality.

Richardson discusses 7 dichotomies for friendship evangelism vs. sales pitch evangelism:

Collaboration vs. activism. We could watch for what the Holy Spirit is doing in people and collaborate on their discovery of God, rather than carry the burden of making it all happen.

Community vs. individual. We could invite others to belong before they believe. And if they come to believe, then they are already connected to a discipling community.

Friendship vs. agenda. We could come under and alongside people rather than come over them and preach down at them.

Story vs. dogma. The gospel is not a list of facts about Jesus or heaven and hell. It is a beautiful story of very good news!

The outside-the-box Jesus vs. the cliché Jesus. Jesus is surprising and radical, and people have a boring impression of him.

Good news about God’s kingdom vs. good news about the afterlife. Salvation allows us to be active in God’s Kingdom today, not just “get out of hell.”

Journey vs. event. Becoming a follower of Jesus is a daily process of death and formation, not an event.

There’s a lot more, too. The book is compact, practical, and easy to read. Highly recommended!

I have been informed that people have invented a holiday to be celebrated every December 25th. It’s something about impoverished white people living in the Middle East, flying reindeer, a diminutive dentist, and a bearded fat guy who tries to squeeze down chimneys and eat your cookies. People come up with the craziest shit. But apparently it is customary for me to greet you a certain way on this holiday:

Merry Christmas!

With that out of the way, let me point you to something more sensible. I came home from a family party last night. I was tired and ready to crash, but I stumbled upon a video podcast for TED, a conference in which scores of brilliant people from different fields share their ingenious and often surprising ideas very powerfully and succinctly. You can view all the episodes here. There are excellent presentations on statistics, hoaxes, medical inventions, space flight, arctic adventures, foreign aid, curing agining, happiness, choice, spagetti sauce, crack dealing, multiverses, vaginas, romance, universal access to all human knowledge, third world solutions, music, religion, global warming, holistic community development, life coaching, global development, inspired education, the most exciting innovation in computer interfaces I have ever seen, and more. I never did get to sleep last night. But I’m not tired. I’m totally energized. Without caffeine pills this time. My drug is knowledge.

There is now so much music being written and released each year that even with the thousands of catalogs and “critics” on the Internet it’s impossible to keep track of it all. And jazz and classical musics are so poorly covered and marketed that I probably haven’t heard any of my to-be favorites of those genres from this year yet. But I did listen to several hundred rock albums this year.

Unfortunately, no masterpieces were recorded this year, and rock continued its plummet from the last creative season of its history: the mid-late 90s. (2006 was worse than 2005, which was worse than 2004, which was worse than 2003, etc.) Nonetheless, here are my favorite rock albums from 2006 (roughly 7/10 rating). I will add titles as I continue to listen.
 
 
 
Carla Bozulich – Evangelista
To quote Scaruffi, these are not songs, but Diamanda Galas-esque “screams, whispers and moans that wander through the inner maze of the psyche”, with the accompaniment of digital noise and the Godspeed You Black Emperor! instrumentalists commune. It is a desperate sonic representation of schizophrenia, loneliness, and hope, and perhaps today’s spiritual cousin of (and an improvement upon) Catherine Ribeiro‘s albums from the late 60s and early 70s.
 
 
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
Most artists that burst onto the music scene with a sound as original and powerful as Young Liars (2003) steadily shed their creativity and conform to more pop music clichés with each new release. This is called “refining their sound” as if it’s a good thing. But so far, TV on the Radio have instead pushed the outer boundaries of their music with each album, and Return to Cookie Mountain is their most daring and successful work yet, an unlikely marriage of doo-wop, shoegaze, ambient and post-grunge.
 
 
 
Need to hear: Barnyard Drama – I’m a Navvy, Feuermusik – Goodbye, Lucille, Svarte Grenier – Knive, Fred Frith – Snakes and Ladders

Overrated but good: The Liars – Drum’s Not Dead, Keith Fullerton Whitman – Lisbon, Joanna Newsom – Ys, Scott Walker – Drift, Beirut – Gulag Orkestar, Built to Spill – You in Reverse, Serena-Maneesh – Serena-Maneesh, Zukanican – Horse Republic

Overrated and mediocre/bad shortlist: Bob Dylan – Modern Times, Ali Farka Toure – Savane, Ghostface Killah – Fishscale, Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies, The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America, Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped, Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye, Grizzly Bear – Yellow House, The Knife – Silent Shout, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones, Muse – Black Holes and Revelations, Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere, The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth, Thom Yorke – The Eraser, The Killers – Sam’s Town, Christina Carter – Electrice, The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Tool – 10,000 Days, Islands – Return to the Sea, Mogwai – Mr. Beast, Justin Timberlake – FutureSex / LoveSounds, Guillemots – Through the Windowpane, Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit, The Thermals – The Body The Blood The Machine, Boris – Pink, Comets on Fire – Avatar, Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror, I’m From Barcelona – Let Me Introduce My Friends, Clint Mansell – The Fountain, Benoit Pioulard – Precis, Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds, The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics, Spank Rock – Yoyoyoyoyo, Man Man – Six Demon Bag, Brightblack Morning Light – Brightblack Morning Light, Film School – Film School, Beck – The Information, She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge, Ricardo Villalobos – Fizheuer Zieheuer, The Residents – Tweedles, The Mars Volta – Amputechture, The Fiery Furnaces – Fiery Tea, Charalambides – A Vintage Burden, Mission of Burma – The Obliterati, Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche, Bardo Pond – Ticket Crystals, Valley of Ashes – Cavehill Hunters’ Attrition, Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury, Girl Talk – Night Ripper, Herbet – Scale, Hot Chip – The Warning, The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine, Tom Waits – Orphans Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, Geoff Mullen – Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns, Mastodon – Blood Mountain, Sparklehorse – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, Loscil – Plume, The Necks – Chemist, Clogs – Lantern, The Ascent of Everest – How Lonely Sits the City, Autopsia – The Berlin Requiem, My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade, Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers, The Rapture – Pieces of the People We Love, Let Airplanes Circle Overhead – Let Airplanes Circle Overhead, Park Attack – Half Past Human, Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain, Emily Haines – Knives Don’t Have Your Back

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