Sunday, April 30, 2006

Happy Anniversary to Us!

As of today, April 30, we have been married 18 years. Just look at those little punks who thought they could keep those momentous, life-changing promises. Wow.

And now look at us--three children, a mortgage, a minivan, one-and-a-half Ph.D.s, and several cross-country moves later.

Last year on our anniversary my mother asked me how many years we had been married. Seventeen, I told her. "Well," she replied, "you're getting there." She and my dad have been married for 57 years. Talk about perspective.

Still, we've lived a lot of life in 18 years. I'm feeling proud, as if this is something we've accomplished, and grateful, because it's not. It's grace.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Festival of Faith & Writing

Last weekend I had the joy of attending Festival 2006 at Calvin. Since I missed the one in 2004 while we were in Britain, I was especially eager to get to this one.

Some highlights:

Since I was a speaker flying in from out of town, I got to stay at the Prince Center. That is the life, my friends. Great room all to myself, excellent service, and you get to hang out with all the famous writers at breakfast because they're staying there, too. The publisher exhibit area as well as many of the sessions are all right there in the building. The Prince Center, I have to admit, has transformed the Festival from a makeshift circus to a classy, organized event.

I finally met several amazing people whom I knew only from e-mail correspondence: Leslie Leyland Fields, Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, and Donna Kehoe just to name a few. Also got to spend some quality time with my editor at Jossey-Bass, Sheryl Fullerton, and her colleague Julianna Gustafson.

Did a session on "the new apologetics" with Donald Miller. It's impossible not to feel old and square next to this guy who is the epitome of hip and cool and has sold a zillion books. But according to audience members, the session came off well. At the very least it was nice for me to meet Donald Miller and to think about interesting developments in the Christian book world.

Saw a number of former students, all grown up now. Sigh. Saw a number of my Calvin colleagues, happily just the same as ever. Sigh.

Got inspired. I was asked to host a session for Julia Kasdorf, whose poetry I had never read. I ordered her books ahead of time and found myself becoming a fan. Reading her work has inspired me to work harder at my poetry and have higher standards. Also got inspired by a workshop on "reality marketing." Time to get more serious about promoting my books.

Speaking of, one of the things I learned was "put your readers to work for you." Word of mouth is the most powerful force in book sales. So if you have read *So Much More* and liked it, would you find a way in the next few weeks to spread the word? Example: review on amazon, tell your pastor, tell your book club, buy it for a friend, send the website URL to someone. Thanks! Note: If you read it and hated it, just keep quiet. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bring Any Name

This quarter, Debra and I have been thoroughly enjoying teaching a class together here at Fuller. The title is "Crafting Language for Worship." We have a lively and engaged group of students, and we're both learning lots ourselves.

This week we're reading Brian Wren's What Language Shall I Borrow as our entry into the topic of God-language. It's a little dated, but very good for our purposes.

As we talk about the virtue of stretching our language for God beyond the boxes we commonly construct, I've wanted the class to sing some of Wren's hymn texts, which were composed precisely to increase linguistic elasticity in our sung prayer. The text he seems to like best is "Bring Many Names." It does, in fact, bring many names: Strong Mother God, Warm Father God, Old Aching God, Young Growing God.

But here's the thing: I find myself skittish about giving it to the class to sing during our worship time. That's because after five minutes of googling some extensive research, I've learned that this particular song has found its widest and most enthusiastic reception in Unitarian Universalist circles. Which leads me to wonder whether Wren's injunction to "bring many names" can be too easily misheard as permission to "bring any name."

I'm not sure the blogosphere is the best place to debate the fittingness or theological merits of this song or Wren's project, but... well, what do you all think?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

That's why we're number one!

All the nations of the earth are, I'm sure, duly impressed with American design engineers, who continue to advance human civilization. Why, our ketchup dispenser technology alone puts us far ahead of other, more backward nations.

But after seeing a commercial on TV last night for the new Oral-B Battery-operated Pulsar Toothbrush, we have to wonder: Maybe it's time to check "improving toothbrushing technology" off the world's to-do list.

I mean -- fifteen patents for this thing? Micro-pulsing? Does it do your taxes, too? You know, a person can simply move his or her hand back and forth with a regular toothbrush. It works fine.

Toothbrush design engineers of the earth, it's time to move on. How about applying your brilliance to solving a few other niggling little problems? Potable water for the world's poor? Cheap, clean energy? Repairing the ozone layer?


Monday, April 17, 2006

Could you not watch with me one night?

Our visit to Joshua Tree National Park was supposed to be a sort of desert-father-inspired Lenten pilgrimage in anticipation of Easter. I suppose it served that purpose in the end, but not exactly in the way we'd thought it would.

The first night we drove to the desert, set up camp in Black Rock Canyon, enjoyed a fire-grilled dinner, sang around the campfire, and watched the full moon rise over the hills surrounding the canyon. After everyone else had gone to bed, Mia and I and my friend Eric went midnight hiking in the hills nearby by the moonlight.

The next day we had a big breakfast and packed for a day hiking among the weird trees and enormous sci-fi-movie-set boulders the park is famous for. We decided to hike up Ryan Mountain, a 1.5 mile trail with a 1,000 foot gain. We got nearly to the top when suddenly dark clouds appeared and began blowing toward us. We started to hustle down the mountain, but got caught in the storm. Icy wind, buckets of rain, and for a short time a bit of sleet. We were drenched and freezing. In the desert. In the middle of the day. Fortunately, we had rain ponchos, which only helped a little but made Philip look like a wee hobbit.

The rain stopped within an hour or two but the wind kept blowing, and when we returned to our camp in the afternoon, our friends' awning and tent had blown some distance away and the entire site was in disarray. We took measure of our resolve, and realized that we did not relish the thought of huddling in the tent all night waiting for the wind to blow us to Oz. So we packed up, went out to eat at a nice cozy restaurant, and drove home.

I guess if we were desert fathers, and surviving in the desert was a sign of our loyalty to the faith and spiritual maturity -- a trial we had to endure in order to prove our worthiness -- then we managed to show what kind of flimsy stuff we were made of. In that, I suppose we are much like Jesus' disciples on the Mount of Olives. Sigh.

Praise God for Easter!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In the Desert

Not lots of blogging lately - too busy living. We spent Sunday with some Santa Barbara friends, preparing for a Monday talk Debra and I gave jointly at Westmont College on Christian principles to help couples negotiate the work-family struggle (title: Changing Diapers, Changing the World).

Then today I presided at the table and delivered a sermon on Christian Unity at All-Seminary chapel at Fuller. Now that these major presentations are finished, we are breathing a sigh of relief. But we'll not be catching up on our blogging, I fear. We are today preparing the family for Easter celebrations. We will be following the example of our fourth-century forefathers by taking a Holy Week pilgrimage into the desert. If there is no blog post on Easter Sunday or Monday, send the park rangers after us. We're not the savviest campers. But we should be easy to find; just look for the vultures.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Just-in-Time Help for the Harried Worship Planner

A while ago, I wrote about the work I was doing on a second volume of the next great Christian publishing franchise: Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship. I am pleased to announce that the second volume is printed and ready to go. Ladies and gentlemen, warm up your credit cards.

It was a long difficult slog pulling it together, but I'm rather pleased how it turned out. The services are not intended, of course, to be borrowed wholesale and used in different congregations exactly as they are. I expect people will use them as jumping off points for their own planning, or glean from these plans particular resources for their own services.

In fact, I think the best feature of this book is the immediate availability of bonus material: sheet music, mp3 files, jpg files and other good stuff -- all free, all available on the web, and featured in this publication. Plan 4, for example, begins with the song "The Lord Be with You," a riff on the traditional Reformed votum. I composed it for use at LOFT, and have given it away regularly when I do worship workshops. One can now download a lead sheet and listen to an Mp3 recording of that song from a supplemental materials page.

The good folks at the CICW were kind enough to host the "supplemental materials" page -- but I've been toying lately with the idea of an entirely separate site that would function as a constantly updated worship resource clearing house. I have in mind a collaborative and interactive blog site where members could solicit help for their own weekly worship planning, and post their latest great worship idea to share with other interested worship wonks. Music, written prayers, artwork, photos, books, links, etc. -- all sorts of resources for the harried but thoughtful worship planner. Easter is coming up - what will you sing other than "Up From the Grave He Arose"? You could go to this site to find ideas for yourself if you're stumped. Or you could go there to create a post telling others about that wonderful Honduran "Alleluia" you found in an obscure songbook.

I think the idea of a blog to help worship planners and leaders has so much promise, in fact, that I'm actively soliciting folks who would be interested in being founding members. Hey worship wonk friends! (or strangers!) - if this sounds like you, drop me a line.

Monday, April 03, 2006


In a creative new campaign, the good people at General Motors are pioneering wiki-advertising. Ordinary web-surfing shlubs -- like you or me -- can pretend to be Madison Avenue creative types, creating commercials for the gas-guzzling SUV, the Tahoe. You get to choose backgrounds, video shots, music, and then input text. It's a contest, as you might expect, with big prizes for the best entries.

Of course, the internet being what it is, there might be a snarky subversive or two out there who have put together ads that don't exactly put the Tahoe in the best light.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ancient-Future Faith

One of my classes this quarter is taking an interesting tack as we are sailing the waters of Liturgical History. We're exploring and testing Robber Webber's thesis, most clearly articulated in his Ancient-Future Faith, that the second, third, and fourth centuries of the Christian church offer the closest cultural parallels to our own time; thus, we may find the best resources for renewing the church's worship today in the worship of the earliest Christians.

One of the ways we're testing that hypothesis is by learning what we know about Christian worship in those early centuries. Lots of work in primary sources, guided by a monster bibliography and Paul Bradshaw's The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship.

What we'll find I'm not yet sure. But what I'm wondering at the outset is whether or not Webber's attempt to find resources from the second, third, and fourth centuries is really because those centuries are the most similar to the twenty-first in the cultural features that matter most. Or perhaps Webber's is another of the many attempts throughout history to find in the supposedly "golden" age of the Church ground and authority for the reforms one wishes to pursue in the present day. But if that's the motivation, we should return to the practices of the earliest church as reflected in Scripture, right? Anyone want to read through Corinthians and offer some suggestions for renewing the church today? Which of the practices found there should we imitate? Widespread dissention? Drunken fights at the Eucharist? Eating meat sacrificed to idols? Incestuous marriage?