Sunday, April 17, 2005
The End is all kinds of nigh. Thus reads the back cover of Jason Boyett's Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse: The Official Field Manual for the End of the World
. I wonder if the blurb is a nod to the graffiti in the London cathedral in the fantastic horror movie 28 Days Later
, the graffiti reading "the end is really (expletive) nigh?" Just a question.
At any rate, Boyett's book is a timely one. End-times hype has been the rage among evangelicals for a decade now. There's a lot of confusion on the topic, and it's nice to have a, well, field guide to sort out the varying theologies. It's written with a gentle tongue in the cheek, if perhaps to lighten the mood, what with all the plagues and locusts and bloody oceans. I can't say I blame Boyett for his tone; I've always figured the the end of the world would sound look like downtown Birmingham at one a.m. and sound like this
Therein lies the problem, I think. Eschatology, for all of its confusion and predictions, is important. There is a lot of misunderstanding on the topic, and thus, a great need for clarity. Boyett's book could offer more of it, but nonetheless I think this is a book worth reading.
The book is short (158 pages), divided into six chapters. The first chapter is a very helpful glossary, defining eschatological terms of which I previously had only a passing understanding. Chapters two and three provide a timeline of all manner of prophecies that every major (and a few minor) religions have offered up over the years concerning the apocaplype. The list is pretty extensive, covering a period of roughly four thousand years. Chapter four is a mildly funny look at various candidates for the role of the Anti-Christ. Nominees include, but are not limited to, Mikhail Gorbachv, Saddam Hussein and Bill Gates. Yes, there is the obligatory Windows joke. As their should be.
Chapter five takes a serious though brief look at eschatology. Here Boyett is at his strongest in examining five outlooks on the End Times, including perterism, postmillenialism, amillenialism and the two forms of premillenialism. This is clarifying writing, for a lot of us simply aren't very knowledgable about the various views on this topic. Chapter six concludes the book with a hodge-podge of information. The interview with apocalypse expert Paul Meier is intruiging. The chapter also features two lists of potential end of the world scenarioes, one courtesy of nature, the other of science. Lastly, Boyett tosses up a list of end times of words, mainly for cheesy pop culture phenomenons that deserve all the ridicule and cheap jokes we can muster. Think movies like Left Behind
and Devil's Advocate
One of the blurbs on the inside covers says that Pocket Guide... is "the full-on bathroom book of the century." Is that what Boyett wanted? If so, he has it. This is a fun read and, at times, a very interesting one. Part of me really enjoyed it, but at the same time, part of was thinking that this is a serious topic that should be handled seriously. For those like myself who have not been overly knowledgable about the plethora of opinions on the End Times, it would be nice to have a clear, concise work that explains the differing opinions among Christians. Boyett comes very, very close, but I would argue that he slightly misses the mark.
My final complaint is one I have made before. The book is published by the Relevant Media Group, a company dedicated to making an appeal to my generation, the young to mid twentysomethings. We're seekers, I'm told. They say we're looking for answers and we're not settling for what we've heard before. So they say. At any rate, if that is indeed true, if we are looking for answers, then we need serious
answers. We don't need jokes. We don't need irony. Seinfeld is fine, but if you're going to talk to me about the End of the World, then please do so with a certain level of clarity. Church folks who've seen all the Evangelical hype might find it funny, and I'll admit that I do. The college kid who reads Relevant and was raised in church but isn't sure about Christ, however, may not need ironic jokes and cheap laughs. We need clarity, and while there's a bit of it here, I worry that there may not be enough.
The other day I noticed this post at Mere Comments
concerning the new phenomenon known as the "man date." The post quotes a New York Times piece defining the man date as the following:
Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie Friday Night Lights is a man date, but going to see the [New York] Jets play is definitely not.
I can't even begin to describe how silly this whole thing is. It's a "date" when two guys go eat? Of course it's a date in that two guys might set a time to get together for lunch or dinner. But we all know what's meant. Date means romance. We can't help ourselves, can we? Is this just a gross sexualization of society? Is this the gay-ing of society? I'm not making a statement about gay culture on way or the other, but gay culture has been elevated to some obscene level of prestige that anytime a man acts like something other than a redneck neandrethal, then he's left the burly confines of heterosexuality and is now floating in the ambiguous sea between staight and gay.
Remember the metrosexual
? Certainly there's an excess at work here (dudes wearing makeup? No thanks.), but why in heaven's name do journalists feel the need to slap a label on people with suck reckless care? A straight guy with taste in music or clothes is no longer just a straight man; he's a metrosexual. He's into girls but he now has some gay sensibility. As though only gay men can dress well or appreciate a well-decorated apartment. This "man date" business is no different; two men can't have dinner. They have to have a date. What silly, obnoxious rhetoric.
Heterosexuals aren't without blame in this phenomenon. All the old talk about how real men don't do this or do that is nonsense. I like hunting, fishing, football, golf, guns, explosions and red meat. That doesn't make me more straight than I am when I go to an art museum or listen to jazz records. It's just what I do. None of these things say a thing about our identities as straight men. Sensible people, gay or straight, should reject this immature talk. Men having dinner is what it is; it is not a date. A man keeping a clean apartment or shopping at Banana Republic is not a mark of sexuality one way or the other. People are people and these sorts of social stigmas aren't helping anyone.
Lastly, the Touchstone
staff got the following comment from one of their own concerning the man date. Pretty hilarious stuff:
Most of my man dates never get beyond foreplay. We eat beef jerky, engage in some provocative box-score exchanges, and then share meaningful bench-press exploits . . . But we never actually arm wrestle. (Sigh.)
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Lest anyone think I'm putting up a front, the new Bright Eyes record, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
, is really, really great, cheesy leftist rhetoric and all.
I mean really good.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Spring has finally decided to show herself. We Southerners can speak of having a nice spring, but what that really means is roughly one month of temperatures somewhere above sixty degrees, about two and a half weeks of sunshine and fewer than three tornadoes. It's lovely now, but by May the weather will be scorching. And then the humidity. Lord, the humidity. It envelopes you, like the embrace of a large sweaty man, the kind who sits in the outfield bleachers at Wrigley Field, shirtless, reaking of Miller Lite and salty pretzels.
So I here I sit, endowed with a mild redneck tan, the result of an afternoon on the steps of Amelia-Gayle Gorgas Library studying for the accursed GRE and reading Francis Schaeffer. After two stops at the Crimson Cafe and some time spent watching the Masters, I made my triweekly stop at the large corporate bookstore in search of magazines. The catches this time around were National Review
, the Atlantic
. Good reading on all counts, I suppose. Paste
has quickly become one of the few music magazines I can stomach, but it still has its flaws. Its calling card is its willingness to spotlight "signs of life" in culture, which is code for "we'll talk about music made by Christians that doesn't qualify as Christian music." Bands in this category will include the usual suspects: Damien Jurado, Pedro the Lion, Over the Rhine, the Innocence Mission, all longtime personal favorites. The problem here is that Paste
seems only interested in signs
of life without any overarching concern for what those signs might be. Then again, the magazine doesn't pretend to have any overarching worldview or ideology controlling its content, so I suppose it's pointless to complain.
I'll tell you where I will complain. "Christian" publications that seem unwilling to comment on content. I'm speaking primarily of Relevant Magazine
, which is all the rage for all the cool kids in Christian circles these days. When the magazine reviews albums - "progressive culture" they call it; I prefer something simple, like rock and roll - comments are made on the lyrical content. This is as it should be, for rock and roll is a two part art, music and words. The problem is that while Relevant has a more open mind in reviewing "secular" music than most Chrisian publications, the reviews seem to reach the same conclusions as its nonChristian counterparts. Take this online review of the most recent Bright Eyes record
. My major annoyance is with passages like this:
Oberst's lyrics are steeped in political protest, which is not a shock since this past summer and fall he joined luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder on the Vote for Change tour. And while I do not agree with some of his political statements, there’s no denying the passion with which he believes what he believes. He writes and sings with a conviction that most of his peers could only dream of. I've never been one to let political disagreements get in the way of enjoying good art, so I'm not gonna start now.
Now I know Conor Oberst is a leftist songwriter, and I'm comfortable with that. He's not so belligerent that he ruins things for the two or three of us conservatives who buy his records. At the same time, passion only gets you so far. I can be passionate about pink bunnies dancing around my bed, but if they're not real, I'd hope someone would haul me off to the nuthouse. Likewise, if Oberst's political rhetoric doesn't square with reality, someone needs to call him on it. I'm not asking Relevant
to be conservative in the same sense as National Review
, but I am asking for intellectual honesty. There's more to life than passion and emotion; there has to be a line drawn between real and not real. Oh wait, I forget. Relevant is trying to be...um...relevant to the post-modern culture. Absolutes don't matter anymore, apparently. Francis Schaeffer would call this all rubbish. And as a twenty-something pretty well immersed in what Relevant
defines as "progressive culture," I am completely unimpressed by such nonsense. I listen to Bright Eyes and the Shins, but I'll stick to reading First Things
, thank you very much.
When did I get so old? I'm watching golf. I need a tattoo to balance this out.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
It's been terribly quiet around here. I do apologize for that. This week has been busy and next week will be worse. I promise to have at least one update over the weekend, and hopefully a review of Jason Boyett's new book.
In the meantime, let me say that it's been raining cats and dogs in Dixie as of late. I believe I could handle living in Seattle or Portland, because we've had all this rain and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I just need some Bean Boots
, and I'll be good to go.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
I have this appreciation for simplicity that seems like such a contradiction. I like nice meals, nice coffee, snazzy clothes and sleek sunglasses, but more than anything I prefer the solitude of a piano and a quiet room. Over the Rhine must understand my feelings, because the new record, Drunkard's Prayer
, is the cure for what ails my modern heart. The sounds are simple, little more than piano and guitar. One saxophone, very quiet and delicate. The lyrics are romantic without being silly, passionate without being lewd and honest without being blunt.
I am usually quite good at defining genres; I know jazz and blues and country and punk and postpunk and emo and indie and six different forms of metal, but Over the Rhine leaves me confused. This is not quite jazz, nor is it truly country, but this is no mere pop band. This is a husband and wife in love with music and with each other. Drunkard's Prayer
is clearly a glimpse of their own passions and disappointments and joys and sorrows. This is story-telling at it's finest, true romance that soars and whispers at every opportunity. My one caveat is the song "Spark," a delicate plea for peace that, while respectful, is high on rhetoric and low on reality.
Whatever my political differences might be, Karin Bernquist and Linford Detweiler have created a fine record. It is easily the best one I've heard this year. Not that I've heard many new records. It's too hard to keep up, really. I find myself more interested in listening to old Irish folk tunes or revisiting the Belle & Sebastian back catalog. I don't want to buy the new Arcade Fire record
; I want to buy Cannonball Adderly
. I know there are a lot of things on which I should concentrate, but it's too easy to stick with what works. It's like literature. I know I need to read Moby Dick
and The Brothers Kamarazov
. Charlotte Simmons has been sitting on a table stand beside my favorite chair for three months now, but you better know I've read a whole lot about college basketball in that time. Movies are the same; I've wandered aimlessly through Blockbuster amid the teeming crowds of happy collegiate couples on Friday night, only to return to the warm confines of Christmas Vacation
or Lord of the Rings
. We always return to the comfortable, no matter how important it might be to explore the unknown. That's why I've never seen Casablanca
I'm not sure what any of that has to do with the Pope's death. I cannot appreciate him in the same manner of my Catholic friends, but I can be thankful that within Catholicism, John Paul II helped stem the tide against the bankruptcy of theological liberalism. Likewise I am thankful that he stood with President Reagan, Lady Thatcher and others such as Solzhenitsyn in the fight against Communism. It would be callous to join Christopher Hitchens
in criticizing John Paul's political shortcomings. Of course I don't fully agree with Hitch as it concerns this sort of thing. Was the Pontiff wrong? On a few (albeit important) issues, sure, but the man has died. Criticism, if it is to be offered, can wait. Right now, as when Ronald Reagan died, criticisms should be held. Of course Hitchens will not be alone in this critique. It won't believe before the Andrew Sullivans of the world begin to gripe about the Pope's unwillingness to budge on matters of homosexuality, celibacy and radical feminism. I'm more inclined to agree with Mark Roberts
; whatever my own theological disagreements are with the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope got a whole lot more right than he got wrong, and we had better hope and pray that a good man takes his place. If not, we evangelicals may find ourselves wishing for a time when theology concerning Mary was our chief concern.
In the meantime, the Southern spring has set in with a vengeance. Yesterday was grotesquely humid. The afternoon was full of thunderstorms and last night was cold and today was windy enough to make driving maddeningly difficult. I know that winter is brutal up north, but at least the seasons are clearly defined. Down here the only thing we on which we can depend is a wretched humidity from late May to late September. Outside of those months, all bets are off. Flip-flops serve as well as wool socks in winter, and springtime is likely to be met with snow flurries and frozen rosebuds.
One final thing before I return to basketball (Go Carolina!) and GRE preparation. I was suffering through Shepard Smith's horrid coverage of the Pope's death on Fox when the President and the First Lady walked into St. Matthew's Cathedral. Of course the President is not a Catholic, but is there any doubt that his presence was a sincere and heartfelt homage to a man he greatly revered? W. will no doubt continue to confound his opponents, but the rest of us understand his generosity, humility and grace.
Friday, April 01, 2005
I've had a terribly long day. I've driven a few hundred miles, stomping through rural Alabama just to have some people sign some papers. I'm tired. I've been up since six a.m., and it's now early Friday morning. I want to be in bed, sound asleep listening to the rain pound the pavement outside my window.
I can't sleep. Not yet. I am simply too angry. I am still livid. I first heard of Terri Schiavo's death on the Glen Beck show this morning, sitting in my car. I was putting cream cheese on a bagel from Panera Bread Company. My coffee was starting to cool. It was rainy and grey and I was hungry.
Terri Schiavo was hungry. For two whole weeks. I've had a lot happen in my life since Terri's feeding tube was removed. I had friends coming into town that fateful afternoon, and my rooommate and his girlfriend and I were cleaning the apartment like crazy. The past two weeks have been a blur for me, but not for the Schindlers. In all I've done since that day, Terri's family has had to watch her starve to death. Time only flies when you're having fun. For the Schindlers and their loved ones, time has been, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, a storm in which they have been lost for the last fifteen years.
I'm angry not just because the media blew it. Not just because these smart aleck namby-pampy know-it-alls at ABC, CNN, NBC, PBS, NPR or whatever acronym you can create decided that playing cute political games with the Republicans was more important than telling the ever-loving truth. It was more fun for Judy Woodruff to take a cheap shot at Jeb or George Bush than it was to tell the whole world that a bone scan revealed that Terri had multiple fractures throughout her body, while her loving husband blamed a therapist but never called for an investigation. I'm angry because some commentators are too cynical to understand that maybe, just once, other pundits really did care about Terri Schiavo. I'm angry because normally reasonable people cared nothing about the facts in the case. I'm angry because the polls were crooked, and since the media was lying through their rotten teeth, the public is still clueless about what really happened down in Florida. I'm angry because a suggestion that Christian political leaders like Jeb Bush owed something to a higher law were met with scoffing. I'm angry that we have come to worship at the alter of the judiciary, unquestioning anything said from a man or woman in a black robe. It's like a bad Lord of the Rings nightmare.
And I'm really, really, really angry that the best we could do - we who supported Terri's right to life and food and water and some blessed due process in our oh-so hallowed courts - was to send up Randall Terry and Jesse Jackson to defend her poor family. Every right-wing Christian leader in America, Catholic and Protestant, has used this tragedy as an opportunity to rail about a runaway judiciary and the perverted worldview that has affected our culture. Rightfully so, but where we these people? I may think them loons in every other aspect of their lives, but God bless Randall Terry and Jesse Jackson. Whatever faults we may find with these men, and Lord knows it may take a while to list them all out, at least they had the courage to step up to the plate. My prayers are with Jerry Falwell right now, but where was James Dobson? Where were Richard Land and Al Mohler and every other leader of the Southern Baptist Convention? I've been to the Southern Baptist Convention a number of times. I know what goes on, and I've applauded, and will continue to applaud the call to a Christian presence in our culture. Euthanasia has been decried at ever SBC meeting for twenty years. It will be mentioned again this summer, likely with Terri Schavio's name, but not one SBC leader could leave their office for a day or two and stand up for this woman. But I'm sure you'll all hear about it on Sunday. What about Richard John Neuhaus or John Piper or Ravi Zacharias? Where were the Catholic bishops who threatened to deny Communion to John Kerry? This is shameful. The Christian Right is ridiculed in the mainstream press, and while Terri's Fight is about more than PR, we should be embarrassed that we abandoned the Schindler family to be consoled by two of the more polarizing figures in American politics. Ralph Nader took the time to issue two press releases, but we can't find one - not one! - respectable and noted Christian leader to go stand with the Schindler family and say "we support you"? Shame on us!
We can't be content to show up at the polls every two years or call our Congressman or write out cute blog posts for our friends and family to gawk at. At some point the rubber must meet the road, and we must be willing to demonstrate that we care about these matters in a real, tangible way. A woman was murdered over the last two weeks, and our leaders took a walk.
There was an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip wherein Calvin ponders the idea of modern, realistic superheroes. Hobbes coolly suggests that the heroes could attend council meetings and write letters to the editor. As Hobbes yells, "Quick! To the bat-fax!," Calvin begins to see the problem. The same is true of us. I rebuke all calls for violence and disorder, but until we are willing - as sane, rational Christians - to stand in the streets and rebuke the Fred Phelps of the world while we rebuke the perverse and maddening culture that starved Terri Schiavo to death, then we can blame no one but ourselves.