A Quick Word

"In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism." -Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

07 November 2011

This crazy life.

Where to begin? I'm now right in the middle of that time of year where no amount of caffeine can accomplish all the things littering my to-do list, and so I decided to write a blog instead of making headway on my homework. In keeping with last entry's stream-of-consciousness format:

Just this past weekend I had an amazing thing happen-- I met NT Wright! For those of you who don't know, NT Wright has had perhaps the most influence of any modern church figure on my recent faith journey-- and the faith journeys of millions more. He manages to bridge the gaps between high and low church, between Evangelical and... well, not Evangelical, between intellectual rigor and honest orthodox faith. And for many of my peers, he represents a breath of fresh scholarly air in the midst of a turbulent and often frustrating American church culture that seems more concerned with politics and the Liberal/Conservative divide than with living the Christian life "...on Earth, as it is in Heaven".

For me, meeting NT Wright was the equivalent of meeting CS Lewis (well... almost).

And you know what? I kind of made a fool of myself.

Of all the things I could have said, the burning questions I could have asked, I instead blurted out my name in a rush of enthusiasm ("Cameron. C-A-M-E-R-O-N.") and the fact that I am an aspirant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, and then something about how I studied in York earlier this year and spent 6 months in England. Overall, not the best I could have hoped for, but it will do to have shook his hand and have him sign a copy of one of his newest books, Simply Jesus.

As far as Ordination is concerned, I'm still awaiting my meeting with a few (a couple?) Diocesan committees. I hope now that my hand has touched NT Wright, they will have no choice but to unanimously throw their support behind me. Or something like that.

Unlike last year, we've yet to see even the slightest hint of snowfall here in Champaign-Urbana. In fact, the weather has remained rather warm all Autumn, and I must admit that though it makes for an easier trek to class, I have reached a point where I miss the frosty chill in the mornings and the always suspended expectation of a fresh blanket of snow.

I'm starting to feel creative again. Hopefully, this will allow for a quick writing of all my current research projects so that I can move on to completing my Bel and the Dragon novella. I've forgotten what it feels like to complete something one cares about.

24 October 2011

Get the wheels turning.

In the spirit of a more stream-of-consciousness blogging style, I give you this:

Life weaves in and out.

My journey toward ordination in the Episcopal Church moves steadily (and encouragingly) onward. The incredible outpouring of support from my home parish has rendered me awestruck; never before have I experienced what it looks like to be a "church family"-- to have people who love you, challenge you, and encourage you while remaining honest about their own struggles and shortcomings-- as I have seen these past months. If I had to choose one word to describe this experience so far, it would be this: affirmation.

I hope this next thought doesn't qualify as a conflict of interest to any Commission on Ministry members, but I have come to a place of openly admitting to myself that I miss Britain rather terribly. For a time, I tried to pretend as though I was getting along with little or no reverse culture shock; but alas, it is not so, and I must now be honest in saying that, months after being back in the US, I would hop back over there in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. It might be hard to keep me away for my PhD.

I've realized the need for a shift in the way I spend my days to avoid feeling like a complete failure of productivity every time I turn my light out to go to sleep. Step one: writing in the reading room of the Main Library. We'll see if this helps.

I always pivot between feeling comfortable sharing my opinions in a public space (like a blog), and feeling like I should just keep things to myself. Surely there must be a balance.

There is perhaps an entire post that should be written on my Confirmation that took place Sept. 25, but now is not the time.

19 September 2011

The Wordpress Cometh.

I really am quite close to making a switch to Wordpress, but only two things hold me back: the fact that I like the layout I've created over here, and that I have no time to make the switch (despite already having had a Wordpress account for nearly 4 years). I've just deleted all the moody, hormonally-driven diatribes over at the Wordpress account (that is to say, all of them), and so you are welcome to check it out at bythepen.wordpress.com. Bland, huh? Exactly. And I'm not sure if I like the whole "By The Pen.: A Life Lived Out In Words" thing. I've changed so much since I started that blog, and this one has evolved with me rather than remain fixed in the strata of internet time. I'll see what I can do with it. If I like the space-- if I can make it homey and inviting-- then this one will drop into oblivion. If not, then this is what you've got, and I'll try to make a point to update more often.

My Confirmation is little over a week away, and I must admit I have not managed to keep up my daily devotion and readings as I had hoped. School has gotten in the way, and I have gotten behind... in everything. On a better note, however, my dad randomly drove down and spent Thursday evening with me, which was certainly welcome. We went to dinner and then went back to his hotel to watch football and talk theology. The following morning, we went to breakfast for a few hours before I had class. Such quality time spent together made up for all the time I have lost in prayer and devotional reading over the past few weeks.

I meet with Bishop Martins on Friday. I can't express how excited I am to get this under way. My Discernment Committee meetings are just about to get started, which means I am finally feeling a sense of progress toward this day that I feel has been so long in the coming-- a day whose genesis I can trace all the way back to 2007. It is sobering when disparate elements of life's narrative come together to provide the perspective necessary to observe the beautiful tapestry it has woven in those times of worry, strife, difficulty, happiness, and perseverance.

Now, back to reading!

Need to motivate? Just caffeinate.

I think I've located the problem with my rampant apathy-- I haven't used my coffeemaker at all this semester. Yet this weekend my family brought with them to Champaign a bag of pumpkin spice coffee from World Market, perhaps marking an end to my coffee maker abstinence...

07 September 2011


Putting it mildly, I'd say I've been rather busy. Putting it honestly, I'd say I haven't had enough hours in the day.

I update here only because I feel the need to let my fingers type, and because it's late and my brain won't really do anything else.

 I'm not sure what's happening to me, but I find that my mind has seemingly turned to cotton inside my head, never bothering to complete thoughts of any substantive length and refusing to make connections between concepts in my seminars and discussion sections. This is either the fault of Twitter, or my allergies have me in a bad, bad fog. I pray it's the latter.

My formal discernment process for ordination has moved rather slowly, though I hope to change this in the coming weeks. As my Confirmation approaches, I have tried to spend a bit more time in prayer and reflection, but I haven't always managed to achieve this goal, as mostly I've been working on interfaith events.

Look for me to switch back to Wordpress pretty soon-- I'm not a fan of Google's new changes to the Blogger interface, and I don't know how I feel about my blog being sucked into the grand streamlined Google machine that comes in the wake of Google+, especially when one considers that I don't have Google+ in the first place. 

Until then I'll spew my thoughts in here when I get a spare minute.

01 August 2011

Down South.

Since being back in the States I've not had but a few minutes rest, and this blog doesn't stand so high on my list of priorities. Yet I felt rather guilty for not at least saying something in this space, even as I contemplate switching back to a Wordpress account in light of all this Google+ excitement. So I thought I might just word vomit for a second. Here you are:

Despite my lack of writing, I've actually had quite a bit spinning around inside my head begging to get out somehow. Whether it be the stresses of recent debacles in American politics or news on the progress toward ordination, something has been weighing heavy on my mind ever since I touched down at O Hare.

And even now, sitting at my relatives' house in southern MS, I think I'm caught somewhere in between lives. One life will open. The other will close. Either way, I will grow more into myself.

I feel like I have a secret to tell, but I'm not sure what it is.

I need to work on streamlining my online presence. Things are too disparate.

I like not shaving. I think I look awesome with a bit of scruff.

Wedding planning offers no dearth of difficult choices. SO MANY BOUQUETS ON MY BROWSER.

More of this exciting life to come soon...

02 July 2011

Internet finds.

Well, I leave London tomorrow morning, and will arrive in Chicago around dinner time.

Yet I found this article online and thought it worth sharing. I may or may not share my thoughts about it, but I think you all know which parts I disagree with and why.

29 June 2011

Getting ready to go.

I feel like I'm packing my memories into a suitcase.

As the birds chirp outside and the sun falls behind the treeline, casting the chimneys outside my window into silhouette, I sit here at my desk, listening to a lecture and typing this entry while drinking a bottle of Hobgoblin and trying to center myself before my time in England comes to an end. I feel unable to register my place in this story, unable to understand that come this Sunday, I will be in Chicago, sleeping in my own bed, and rediscovering all the clothes I've forgotten about during this past six months. I'll unpack. I'll look through my things. If I'm lucky, I might shed a tear.

On the plane I will pen a long entry in my journal, filling the last twenty or so pages with the wrist-aching ink-spill of my last month in York, my last memories, and my last recollections. I'll sum up. I'll process.

Until then, I'll attend my last Evensong at the Minster tomorrow night and hope to head to the pub afterwards with David and those who I have grown close. I will spend tomorrow in town. I will walk the cobbled streets and the strong stone walls around the city and take pictures of everything I see. I will try to soak it all in and I know I will fail. It will slip through my hand like sand or like water, and I will wish time would slow to a standstill for just long enough to etch the skyline into my memory or burn the beauty of the museum gardens into my mind.

And yet, despite the way my words may sound, I do not lament the end of my time here if for no other reason than I do not think it the end. I feel confident I will return, and that I should look forward to my return home rather than mourn the end of my stay in York. Time's march forward is a necessary part of life. It cannot be avoided.

My time here as a visiting student is over; this chapter has closed. I cannot stay here under these same auspices, as the purpose of this trip has been fulfilled and the next part of my journey takes place at home. I've relished my time here, but I look forward to taking the changes that have transpired within me back to my life in the States, back to normalcy, to resume the narrative after this quick break for rejuvenation and discernment.

And so it is with excitement and gratitude that I turn my attention to coming home, to having traveled (in the words of Bilbo Baggins) "there and back again."

21 June 2011

The end of my stay in God's Own Country.

Well, I made it.

I finished my exams on Friday, handed them in 20 minutes before the due date, and promptly made plans to go to the pub (while still standing at the printer, no less!). After having a few pints, playing some pool, and devouring a delicious meal, I wandered back toward Fulford Rd. with my friend, Philip, who I met through the Minster (and who is a PhD candidate in Nuclear Physics at the univ.). The evening didn't seem to be over, and so Philip produced a bottle of gin and some unopened tonic water, which was the birth of a long and glorious conversation about all sorts of things that lasted well into the night.

I spent Saturday in town, making to Evensong that night, and, exhausted, went to bed (relatively) early.

The following day, Trinity Sunday, I made sure I looked smart and then walked to the Minster earlier than usual in order to make it in time to snag a good seat for David's ordination. The service-- though rather long-- was wonderful, and the party afterwards was great fun. After going through too much champagne, I attended Evensong, got roped into attending choral practice, and then ate a wonderful stew at the House of Trembling Madness before walking back to Fulford with Philip.

I give you this brief (and context-less) rundown of my weekend simply to say that it is because of times like these that I will miss York the most. Spending time with friends in the lantern glow of a pub or having one of the world's most magnificent Gothic cathedrals as the lynchpin of my spiritual life are things that won't travel with me back to the States. I leave them here with a heavy heart.

Because I'm predictable, I expect I'll write an inordinately long post awash in nostalgia reflecting on my time here in York, and I expect I will do this in the coming weeks. But for now I will say only this: I will miss it here.

10 June 2011

One of the reasons I respect +Rowan.

From an article in The Guardian written by Nick Spencer:

The archbishop's controversy rests, instead, on his impressive ability to annoy both ends of the political spectrum. Lefties (or most of them) have cheered his contribution to debates on urban poverty, income inequality, criminal justice, asylum and environment, but booed him on issues of abortion, embryology, sexuality, education and the family.
 Those on the right have, predictably, done the reverse. This should be encouraging, if not actually comforting, for Christians. It underlines the idea that the gospel for which the archbishop is such a prominent ambassador cuts rudely across our narrow political mentalities.

I wish the gospel could "[cut] rudely across" America's "narrow political mentalities," too.

08 June 2011

Like throwing stones into an empty well.

The past couple of weeks have been a blur: studying for an open exam, taking the exam, packing, hiking in the Lake District for a couple of days, coming back, last week of lectures, preparing for a second exam...

I didn't want it to get too quiet over here. In the bits of spare time I've had, I have worked on a couple of new posts that explore some of the ideas swirling around in my head, and I look forward to getting those finished soon.

For now, I can only sit at my desk, unable to process the set of complex emotions brought on by my last weeks in England.

What a glorious time it has been. I could fill pages upon pages with the ways in which this trip has changed me, has, in every way, changed the very course of my life. It was everything I needed it to be, and even more than I wanted it to be. And I wouldn't be surprised if, as I watch the spires of the Minster disappear into the distance as my train heads for London, a tear comes to my eye for the loss of this wonderful life spent among wonderful friends.

That said, I miss home. I miss my friends, my family, my fiance. I miss my bed and my house and Chicago. I miss Nashville. I miss Franklin. I miss U of I, and I miss-- I hesitate to say-- the bustle of life that it brings.

I could (and perhaps will) write a rather long post on the one thing that irks me about England: I grow tired of nighttime conversations slipping inevitably into anti-American tirades filled with contradictions and often-uninformed accusations. My usually substantial reserve of patience has reached about as much as it can take in that regard. In my quest not to seem contentious, I find that I just bottle my frustrations rather than let my views come out. I let wrong be wrong. Perhaps that's the wrong tack to take.

With a dazzling afternoon of reading about the history of the footnote (yes, I'm serious) before me, I suppose I should bring this to a close. Look for something much more interesting in the coming days.

23 May 2011

I'd rather be "enraptured" than simply "raptured."

It perhaps comes as no surprise that I regard anyone who predicts the end of the world as an idiot. Setting aside for a moment the fact that, theologically speaking, I'm not even sure there will be a 'rapture' in the vein of Tim LaHaye, the mere act of prophesying the end times is ridiculous. Jesus wasn't even sure about it. (And, for a Christian, if Jesus wasn't sure about something, then one of us won't be any good, either.)

But I've always wondered: Why do we care so much, anyway? Why does it matter when Christ is coming again? I find that such a preoccupation with future only leads to poor living in the present; it stunts our actions as Christians now. Here. Not in the future, where we have no clue what life will hold, but in the here, the now, this instant-- that's where our focus should remain. Sure, setting goals and preparing for the future are both important tasks, but neither necessitates that we should devote all energies there.

I think about how many resources were wasted in Camping's campaign warning of the imminent return of Christ while children still died of starvation, the poor still suffered, and those ravaged by storms in the southern US still struggled to rebuild. They could have used some attention from the church. But instead, Camping's rapture parade only made it look as if the church cares more about what happens in heaven than what is happening now. I don't agree with that notion, nor do I appreciate it.

In the Bible, when Jesus gives us the Lord's Prayer, he includes the words "...on earth, as it is in heaven." There are whole theologies built around this phrase, and for good reason. These words mean that Christians can't slack off just because we feel our souls are accounted for, nor does it mean our focus should be to care only about making sure everyone elses' soul is also accounted for in the same way; rather, it means we need to consider what it means to make God and his heaven a reality here. How do we accomplish God's work now?

Personally, I could care less about the afterlife. I'm sure it's real great, and as long as I've been living as Christ lived, then I should be fine. I'll get there when I get there. I trust God's got me covered. I believe our eyes should never be more focused on death than on life-- at least, not while we're still alive, anyway.We've got eternity to consider death, but we only have a few short years to consider what it means to really live.

10 May 2011

Under pressure.

I've been encouraged by my progress this past week. Though I"m still struggling with some productivity issues, I've managed to make some significant progress on all of my current writing projects, as well as continue churning out new posts for FLP and keep up (sort of) with my schoolwork at York. But I'm also reminded that progress is still not achievement. I still go to bed at night with the stinging feeling that I should have gotten more done, that I could have gotten more done. And so, as I step into the middle of this week, I make it my goal to go to bed every night knowing I did all I could with the time I had.

I'm still absolutely loving my time in York, and I'm realizing more and more how hard it will be to leave this place. It really does feel like a home to me. Whether running down to the pub for a pint or walking the river into town or strolling through the Museum Gardens on a sunny afternoon, I feel at ease here. And let's not forget the Minster-- that majestic building has been the lynchpin of my life here, anchoring my activities and providing a steady rhythm of quiet reflection throughout my week. The relationships I've made at the Minster have truly enriched not only just my time abroad, but my life in its entirety.

And it is in finding how to achieve a wonderful balance that I find my greatest challenge. I want to feel productive, yes, but I also want to enjoy every moment I have here. And it might sound surprising (or not) that these two goals often conflict. I can't write unless I'm at my laptop, and I can't be outside enjoying town unless I'm not sitting at my laptop. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it before the end of this week.

Looking ahead, I'm trying to plan out the last of my travels. My flatmates have planned a wonderful weekend in the Lake District, which will provide a nice jaunt into the countryside. After that, I'd like to make it back up to Scotland one last time, especially because the Jacobite steam line, voted the best rail journey in the world, is now running for the summer season. Just thinking about all the things I want to see makes me a bit stir crazy. Again, balance. I must achieve balance.

Making lists, writing letters.

09 May 2011

"We have to reflect our times because we live in ugly times."

An excerpt from violinist Joshua Bell's recent interview with Mother Jones, entitled "Joshua Bell's Virtuoso Reality." You can find full interview here.

MJ: My friend, who is a really good violinist, called it [the "Yankee Doodle Variations"] "showy." How many pros could pull it off?
JB: Delivery is everything. Any student could play all of the notes. We like to categorize things into showy things and deep things, you know, and things that are high music—important music—and shallow music. And I think that's dangerous, because there's often a mix of both. For instance, Bruch [Violin Concerto No. 1], the main piece I played, is for me a very profound work. Because it's so lush and so emotional, some people think of it as being corny. They say that about Tchaikovsky's symphonies. If it happens to be popular to the common people, and accessible, it's often thought of as being not great. It's sort of an elitist thing. In art and music, particularly in the 20th century, there was a big period there where for something to be called profound you had to not be able to understand it.
MJ: Is that still the case?
JB: I think it's swinging back a little bit. But composers say, "We have to reflect our times because we live in ugly times." This I think is the most hilarious thing in the world. We live in the least ugly time in history. If you look at back when Beethoven was writing, half the kids were dying, mothers were dying at childbirth, there were more wars going on then than there are now. People wrote the most beautiful things during the ugliest times. I get on a rant about this because I don't need to hear ugliness in music. That's where I go for beauty.

03 May 2011

The internet is ruining my brain.

I've been trying very hard recently to work on things-- to finish my myriad ongoing writing projects, to get my reading done for seminar on Thursday, etc. However, all this has been complicated by the internet, which provides an endless stream of procrastination-friendly activities. It adds fuel to a fire that doesn't need any more encouraging.

Most frustrating of all, I find that all this procrastination has stunted my attention span (yes... just like all those articles I've read for the past few years said it would), and I do not know how to strike a proper balance between online time and off-line time. And while some would say that this balance should not be so difficult to achieve-- and I would typically agree-- my being overseas means that the internet stands as my only form of communication with those back in the States, which in turn means I spend a lot of time on it in order to "stay in the loop."

It doesn't help either that I find myself also churning out posts for FLP, which invariably has also made it hard to focus. Blogs don't produce good writing. They just don't. Short, snappy sentences like those preceding this one would have never come from my fingers just six months ago. I've found I write more in fragments that I used to do, and I've also lost much of my syntactic variety and the ability to string my thoughts together with any sense of elegance. I need to get back in the saddle, I need to write paragraphs longer than three or four sentences, and I need to forget for a time that fragments exist. I need to reclaim my brain from the internet's quick attention-fixes.

My life needs to be more than 140 characters long.

26 April 2011

Easter musings.

Perhaps it's my place in life. Perhaps it's the fact that for the first time I had the opportunity to attend every service in Holy Week. Or, perhaps it's just a function of ancient architecture and strong incense in the thurible. Whatever it is... I've had a really powerful Easter.

Growing up, Easter was always a sort of "second holiday," taking its place in line behind Christmas. I think that's how it is in a lot of evangelically-leaning Protestant churches. Sure, we celebrated Easter, but not nearly to the same extent as we did Christmas. In my family, as often with my church, Christmas begins with the end of Thanksgiving and goes all the way until New Year's Day. It's a sweeping celebration filled with loads of decorations, more Christmas trees than our house can hold, wonderful food, and a celebration of our love for one another. I absolutely LOVE the way my family does Christmas, and I plan on carrying on that tradition in my own family later on.

But Easter never got the same attention. For one, we didn't get much time off for Easter, and so any preparation for it had to be rather rushed. And two, the Easter Bunny just isn't nearly as magnificent as Santa Claus... it's just not. Even our Easter service at church failed to live up to the candlelit extravaganza that was Christmas Eve service. And so, while Easter is, theologically speaking, infinitely more significant than Christmas, I just never saw it that way.

I think that's why this Easter had such a profound impact on me-- it was made important. It was acted out over the course of two weeks with special liturgies and readings and processions. The altars were stripped. The vestments lost their splendor. The songs grew somber. The Archbishop came to preside over services. He washed people's feet. We all lived as the disciples did, confused at what was happening around us. We celebrated baptisms and confirmations, we all renewed our vows of devotion to Christ and the church. We lit candles and sang lamentations. And then--Christos anesti!--we celebrated.

In a culture so far removed from the miracle of Easter, I think that the more liturgical way of observing Holy Week makes more sense. It makes the events told in scripture more immediate, and forces you to truly contemplate them as you actually participate in each part of the story. You engage with the text; you empathize and interact. All of this rises in personal importance as I draw deeper into the discernment process for ordination.

While in Dublin, I began corresponding with my priest back in Champaign, discussing among other things the most pertinent steps I'd need to take when I get home in order to form the necessary committees to begin the ordination process. As it turns out, there are quite a few things on the list to get done, and the alacrity with which we'll have to move to accomplish everything on time does not leave me encouraged. It will be tough. But as this Holy Week has taught me, there's always centering devotional practice, there's always calm to be found, and there's always renewal that comes in the end.

23 April 2011

To nap or not to nap...

I've got a whole afternoon/evening in front of me. The opportunity in theory blazes like the sun. However, I'm lacking any sense of inspiration whatsoever. I don't feel like writing (though I want to), I don't feel like reading, I just feel like napping and whiling the hours away wasting time on Facebook or something. Yeah, I know... it's pitiful.

So, in order to combat this incredible lack of motivation, I am forcing myself to be productive. I'm forcing myself to at least try to write something, even if it is only a blog post.

That said, I really don't have anything more to say. I could update you on my life (and tell you about the really awesome open-air baptism I just attended with Archbishop Sentamu), but I feel that may become a bit long-winded, and I'd probably stumble over my words and dance around things and overall just not tell it properly.

Instead, I'll just leave it here. Perhaps in a few moments I can find it within myself to work diligently on something. Otherwise, look for me on Facebook.

19 April 2011

Ill at ease, or, a longish update in lieu of many shorter ones.

My lack of posts on here is embarrassing! I feel so ashamed, redesigning this space and then not giving it any new material. What a tease. In my defense, I've been incredibly busy the past five weeks-- the first two, I had my fiance and my family come visit me in England, then shortly thereafter I went to Edinburgh for five days, came back to York with one day to wash clothes and repack, and then headed off for Dublin. Travels, travels.

I had a great time-- esp. in Edinburgh (beautiful, magical city!)-- and got to do some pretty amazing things. I've been reading a lot, thinking a lot, getting inspired a lot. Looking forward to seeing where that takes me in the upcoming weeks.

I've set a new goal for myself during my remaining time in England: I'm going to write a novel. Yes, I know what you're thinking... a little ambitious, probably destined for failure, what the heck is he doing. But! I did write a novel in high school, and once I got into a good rhythm it wasn't too difficult. I've grown significantly since then, and my writing has progressed and matured so much that I almost want to write one out of sheer curiosity and comparison. It won't be anything too strenuous-- it's actually an adaptation of sorts, so the outline of the material is already there for me. I just have to flesh it out and get to writing. I'm also, as with my first novel, aiming this one at a middle-grade, YA demographic, so I don't have the pressure of creating the next masterpiece or anything. In fact, my setting this goal is mostly for my own benefit. It's been too long since I last exercised those creative writing muscles, and my brain grows weak as I let them wither.

I was inspired to set this goal while in Edinburgh, drinking a Bailey's and coffee in The Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling scrawled bits of her first few Harry Potter books. Dublin urged me my newly-set goal while I toured the literary sites and read through Joyce's Dubliners in St. Stephen's Green.

Joyce wrote Dubliners when he was about my age. I feel like I can at least spit out the first draft of a children's book in a few months. Get back to my roots.

Anyway, as I said above, I've also been reading a lot. Much of my reading material has come in the way of theological and religious texts, doing work not only on my own possible vocation, but also in a more obtuse way researching for FLP.

About a month ago, I said I wasn't going to comment more than once on the whole "Rob Bell Love Wins" explosion. But now that the book is actually out, and I've actually had a chance to take a look inside it, I figured I'd make just one more statement-- I'll tell you what I hate most about it.

No, it's not the message; I actually think Love Wins counts as Bell's least compelling book  for a number of reasons (and I'm not just saying that to be provocative), and I believe that if it hadn't caused such an uproar before its release, it would have passed rather quietly from the Christian literary scene.  Velvet Elvis and Sex God challenged my thinking and were both engaging and well-written. Love Wins, on the other hand, didn't say anything that Tim Keller hadn't already said much more succinctly in his book The Reason for God.

But the fact that it didn't tell me anything new is not what I disliked about Love Wins, as Bell himself admits that he's not setting out to blaze any new trails with it. What irked me most was the style of it-- everything from the typeface to the typeset. It was written like a compilation of tweets in a godawful Arial/Helvetica mess. I really hope this isn't HarperOne's idea of what kind of books my generation will read. If so, I'm embarrassed and irritated.

Velvet Elvis and Sex God were printed in a similar way, but at least in those books there were actual paragraphs (though I don't recall any indentation), and it seemed, at least to me, more fitting with the material, especially of Sex God, which read like a bit of a theological guidebook or something. I was impressed in Love Wins when I found a paragraph that extended more than three or four lines of text. With a work that attempts to introduce deep theological speculation, I would expect less blurbs and more in-depth explication. The tweet-style of it made his statements and thoughts feel disjointed from one another.

And, to top it off, there's an embarrassing typo in the last sentence of the book ("loves wins"?). The last sentence! The one where, you know, you need as much power as you can get, where you are leaving the reader, where your words have ended and their thinking begins. And there's a typo. Ouch.

I don't agree with everything Bell says in Love Wins, but I do commend him for getting this discussion going again, even if it didn't really turn out to be fruitful and was instead your standard shouting match, let's-see-who-can-yell-loudest ideological melee. And I do love Rob Bell, and look forward to what he does next. I just think that Love Wins, with all of it's hype, came across as a bit disappointing.

I promise to keep this updated more often. I'll use it as a way to keep myself accountable, especially in my writing goals. It can serve as warm up in the morning before I dive in to my more pressing projects. So, even if it's just a little few-sentence explanation of what I've been doing, I'll say something here in this space.

Hold me to it.

16 March 2011

Serious concerns, our future.

"Trying to place the situation on the INES scale is premature, said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University.

'I've been asked to put a number on it a few times and I've resisted,' he said.

Cochran said his concerns transcend nuclear power. 'We've watched Exxon Valdez, the BP oil spill, numerous coal mining accidents, Chernobyl, TMI, now Fukushima, slag ponds, TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) reactors giving way. You have got to ask yourself, how many wake-up calls do you need before you get serious about building a safe, renewable-energy economy?'"
 (Taken from this article.)

12 March 2011


So I finally got around to changing the motif around here. I'm not sure this is the way things are going to stay, as I'm not completely satisfied with it, but it is at least a change-- a change that, I think, better reflects where I am now, not where I was three years ago when I opened this Blogger account. I enjoyed the brooding grays and blacks of my previous design, cerebral and stark. But all that is gone now.

Instead of the Chicago skyline, we now have a whimsical painting I found in the Ashmolean during my trip to Oxford. It better captures how I live now; freer, happier, the world opened up before me with the starry sky above. Sure, it is in some ways a return to the sometimes flowery self-indulgence that marked my adolescent blogs years ago. It's perhaps less "grown-up" than my monochrome skyline and simple, streamlined design. And yet, I find a symbolic significance to the playful painting and the muted greens and creams of this blog's newest iteration.

Sometime near the end of my high school career, I made a WordPress account with the intention of keeping a blog there. It had all the right trappings: an brown, intellectual looking template, a catchy URL, etc. And yet I updated it only sporadically. I realized that it was just a slightly more thoughtful variation on my earlier Xanga account-- something I did not wish to repeat. And so it fell out of favor.

Yet I felt like I wanted some sort of online presence, a place to dump my thoughts. For while I didn't really like blogging or the concept behind it-- giving everyone a platform to whine, moan, and wax seemed dangerous to me-- I realized that my strategy of willful ignorance would not, in the long run, benefit me. Thus, because I couldn't beat 'em, I joined 'em. And now we have this Blogger account.

I have changed so much since my first attempts at keeping a blog. I stand on the cusp of a truly scary and truly exciting time of life; graduate school, vocation, marriage. The real world stands at my door. And so in many ways I feel like that little guy on the boat up there, his face to the sky, searching for the transcendent. In fact, for the brief time I kept that WordPress account, I penned a post that used a ship and sea as a metaphor for my life. Trite, to be sure, but once more pertinent as I look to this next chapter of my life.

We'll see how long this design lasts.

01 March 2011

Love may win in the end, but for now it's animosity.

Within the evangelical protestant blogospheretwitterverse this week, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding Rob Bell's upcoming book Love Wins. I've kept my eye on the debate from a distance, as I have no mind to spit vitriol and Bible verses across the internet. This post will be my only observation.

I love Rob Bell. I respect him, I've paid money to see him speak. I think he's one of the greatest Christian leaders of our day, and he doesn't get enough credit for it. I've also watched the video, edited much like his popular (and brilliant) Nooma series, that discusses the premise of Love Wins. And I think it's great.

Though I have never really respected John Piper (first for his views, second for his spat with NT Wright) this has now given me a third reason not to take him seriously. His comments, as well as the comments of other prominent (and some not so prominent) figures in the evangelical world have caused me great distress. They speak to a contentment with ignorance, to the very blind acceptance and intellectual vacuity that caused me to nearly turn away from the church just over a year ago. Those wounds are still fresh. They still bleed, even as I contemplate a life in ministry to the church.

Rob Bell's intention to examine what heaven and hell really are and how they fit into the concept and assumption of a loving God is an admirable endeavor. He's taking up a deep theological question that has not only occupied the minds of some of history's greatest theologians and exegetes, but also of history's greatest skeptics. To think that we have answered the questions "What does it mean to be saved?" or "What is God like?" in some neat and tidy fashion is ridiculous.

The attitude displayed by those who denounce Bell as anti-Christian don't help anyone. An attitude like this brings to mind a few Copeland lyrics: "No one really wins this time." No one. Christians who only denounce don't answer these sorts of questions because, well, they don't ask them. But questions need to be asked, and they discussion needs to be healthy and civil. Because whether you like it or not, asking "Why can you be such a good person [like Gandhi, the example in the video] and still be damned to hell?" is a valid and pertinent question. Even CS Lewis posed it rather indirectly with his work The Great Divorce.

One has to think systematically; if you say that the only way to get to heaven is by praying a prayer to accept Christ into your heart, then what do you do with the billions throughout time who have not even heard of Christ, God, etc.? What happens to them?

I'm interested to read the book for myself. Because, unlike Justin Taylor's overblown "Rob Bell: Universalist?" post, I want to see what Bell really says. I don't think it will be a universalist claim. Rob Bell is too collected and thoughtful for that.

UPDATE: Here's an article I found on CNN's "belief" blog about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell's new book. The most embarrassing part? Justin Taylor hasn't even read the book. Seriously?

23 February 2011

Sage advice, hazelnut scones.

Earlier this week, I had the wonderful opportunity to have coffee with the canon theologian of York Minster, the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Draper. I had wanted to talk with him-- about ordination, about the church, about England-- not just because he was someone important, but because he was from New Jersey. Yes, the New Jersey of Princeton, sprawling NY suburbs, and Snooki. Delighted to find a fellow American, especially one who had lived in the UK for many years, I was eager to chat.

He suggested coffee, and, not one to EVER turn down coffee, I accepted.

We discussed all manner of things, not the least of which being my current vocational trajectory. His advice matched his godlike, James-Earl-Jones voice-- it was deliberate, wise, and tempered with empathy. He had a way of addressing my questions and concerns without actually answering anything outright. Instead of adjudicating my dilemmas, he offered anecdotes, lessons. I appreciated this.

We plan on meeting again soon (his idea) to continue this discussion. For my part, I am simply thankful for his time, and to have such a wonderful resource for helping me decipher my oftentimes needlessly complex manners of thinking.

On an unrelated note, I'm contemplating a redesign of this blog space; it feels time to redecorate after two years of the black-and-white Chicago skyline to better reflect my life now rather than my life from freshman year. A lot has changed. (Thankfully.)

18 February 2011

Friday night merlot.

I've been thinking a lot lately. Despite my busy schedule, I've managed to build in a significant amount of reflection and introspection. In fact, my entire trip to Oxford last weekend was for the purpose of mulling things over in a place that held some sense of significance (both spiritual and intellectual) for me. I remember many nights wistfully dreaming of those spires, wondering what they actually looked like, wondering if the city and university really were as great as I thought. As it turns out, they are.

Mostly for my own benefit, I will try to describe the journey of my inner-life as it has been the past couple of weeks. I promise to try to make it as interesting as possible as I lead you on the most aesthetically sublime vacation of my life. And so we begin...

I headed out last Thursday on a train bound for London. After navigating my way on the underground-- a skill I've grown quite good at-- to St. Paul's Cathedral, I ducked under my umbrella to avoid the rain and hurried over to my hostel. I got settled and, with the rain deterring any travel on foot, I decided to buy a ticket and tour St. Paul's, which stood just across the street. The iconic domed structure seemed out of place on Ludgate Hill, as office buildings, swanky restaurants, and hip clothing stores have sprung up around it, almost choking it. It feels as if it should have at least a bit of surrounding green space, or at least a larger paved courtyard. Paternoster square doesn't seem sufficient.

Pleased to be out of the rain, I made my way inside and was almost overwhelmed by the beauty. The aesthetic appeal is much different than that of York Minster. The Minster feels ancient and sacred, almost mysterious. Christopher Wren's design, by contrast, feels nearly new, gleaming in the pomp and splendor of Empire, of royal ceremonies and brazen nationalism. I've never seen anything so gorgeous as the mosaics adorning the ceilings of St. Paul's. And I didn't know how to feel seeing the magnificent towering statues of statesmen and military leaders sitting so prominently within a church. It's one thing for a monarch to be buried in a church beneath an elaborate monument, yet another for Lord Horatio Nelson to be commemorated by a two-story marble statue situated above his enormous sarcophagus. The marble statue commemorating Dr. Johnson was especially hilarious-- they had stuck his rather awkward overweight head and neck onto a toga-wearing body of ideal proportion and beauty. I suppose I'd prefer people remember me as looking like a god, too.

I climbed up to the famous "whispering gallery," where I admired the remarkable paintings that adorn the inside of the dome. Then, in a fit of curiosity, climbed about 450 steps all the way to the very top of the dome to find a most commanding view of London. This breathtaking view was dampened a bit by the steady rain and the fact that the clouds impeded my visibility. Nonetheless, it was as awe-inspiring as the rest of the cathedral., all at once drawing attention to the splendor of London.

Wet and cold, I climbed back down and walked around the back of the quire, where I found the memorial to the great poet John Donne. I paid my respects and quoted a few lines of his "Batter my heart, three-person'd God..."  before finally wrenching my gaze from his thoughtful expression and slowly walking to the high altar. It was sometime during this experience-- climbing to the top of the dome and back again, standing where John Donne lays buried-- I began to think. I began to think hard.

I approached the high altar with quiet reverence. Though bursting with gold leaf, sumptuous dark wood, and overwhelmingly ornate carvings, the space managed to remain tasteful rather than gaudy. I could hear a choir singing somewhere in the distance, and the hair bristled on my neck. This was a sacred place, a holy place. I impulsively crossed myself. It was here that I asked in my mind: What does this mean to me?
Under the high altar, St. Paul's.
 Did I think, as Keats said, that there was truth contained in this beauty, or was I simply responding to aesthetic experience? Did I think God really lived and breathed in this space? For someone who is seriously working to discern a possible call to the priesthood-- and soberly realizing that a decision on graduate programs looms only months down the road--questions like these are paramount. And yet, I found I could not answer them. I remember returning to John Donne's memorial before descending into the undercroft for the second part of my tour and staring at it, silently pleading, for some sort of answer. I longed to speak with him, to ask him if he had ever felt this way, thinking that an answer from John Donne would somehow put my mind to rest.

But the more that I wrestled with the questions that spun inside my head, the more I felt they were insignificant; I felt as though I were making too big a deal of it all. I wanted to read something terribly profound into my own life, my own story, and perhaps the reason I couldn't grasp any answers was because there weren't any there. I wanted to take something transcendent from this space, to feel like I am a participant in something truly weighty, but couldn't get past the fact that, behind me, there were groups of tourists being chastised for taking photographs when they weren't supposed to. And here this most crucial of questions came to the front of my mind: Does it even matter? Does anyone really care about this? What am I deciding? It became clear that this was more than a simple career choice. This was a deep, deep commitment.

I left St. Paul's feeling thoughtful, and returned there the next morning for prayer.

Oxford proved important in its own right. I had written in my journal the night before while at dinner at a pub on Fleet Street, trying to put myself in the right mindset for my trip to Lewis' grave. I expected this to be some sort of revelatory moment-- a glorious epiphany that would solve all my dilemmas regarding my vocation. (Don't ask me how it would do this, because I really don't know.) Yet I arrived at Kilns Lane nearly an hour later than I had hoped, and thus felt quite rushed. It was 3:00. I had to meet someone at The Kilns at 4:00. My plans for a relaxing stroll to Shotover hill seemed, well, shot, so I walked over to Trinity Parish Church, figuring it was more important that I pay respects to Warnie and Jack's grave than hike up a muddy hill.

The tiny church was idyllic. It sat in the cleft of a gentle valley, at the end of a narrow, winding road lined with pretty houses. The area around the church itself was surprisingly wooded, and so serene. After accidentally wandering amongst random grave markers, I heeded the signs on the parish gate and found the Lewis' marker-- a large marble slab-- situated beneath an ancient tree. Bright flower buds carpeted the grass around the grave, as if knowing that a brilliant mind lay beneath, the radiance of Lewis' legacy causing them to grow. I thought that if there were a time for tears, they should flow now. But they didn't. In fact, aside from solemnity and reverence, I felt no swell of emotion.

All was profoundly still. I waited for almost fifteen minutes before I made my way back down the footpath to Shotover. While walking the paths, I passed a pond with a stone bench tucked into an embankment. Lewis and Tolkien used to sit on this bench overlooking the pond, smoking and talking about life. I imagined those conversations, and once again found myself longing for them to be there so that I could talk to them, have them answer my questions. It was like my moment in front of Donne's memorial. Why didn't I think I could answer anything for myself? I turned and walked through the gate to The Kilns.

Touring the house was surreal, and I won't spend time describing it. (Though I will say that your perception of someone you admire changes when you see the spaces in which they lived, worked, and, in Lewis' case, died. They become more human. More real.) After a good pint and a filling dinner, I went back to my B&B and watched TV (something I haven't gotten to do in Britain) before going to bed.

Touring the colleges provided its share of memorable experiences, namely of the aesthetic variety. It got to a point where I felt like I needed to look at something plain just to cleanse my palate before viewing another room with intricate fan vaulting. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful time, and the day full of sunlit trails and quiet quads gave me more time to dwell on those questions that had been occupying my mind. I took a much-needed time to journal while enjoying a meal in the Eagle and Child before heading back to my room to catch Top Gear and go to sleep.

Sir John Polkinghorne, the Templeton-winning physicist, gave the sermon. That's why I went to Magdalen on Sunday morning. The small chapel, lit only by the flicker of candles, felt more like something out of Lord of the Rings than a church in which I should be attending service-- and I mean that in the best way. It was, like so many places I'd gotten to experience on this trip, absolutely gorgeous. And though it was cool to see Dr. Polkinghorne speak, I was hit with the same odd expectation of receiving an answer to all my questions that I had expected from Donne, Lewis, and others.

Addison's Walk
After a delicious lunch at Magdalen, I was shown the way to Addison's Walk by a man I had met at my table. It was on this drizzly walk that I felt I made the most progress in considering my vocation. And though I'm reluctant to attribute significance and meaning to symbols to which they are not due, I must say that it seems coincidental that I should get so much from strolling down Addison's Walk, when this is the same path that Lewis walked with Tolkien and Dyson the night he became convinced of the veracity of his Christian faith. In a very real way, that one walk down this dirt path altered Christianity in the 20th century and literally changed the world.

To be fair, I didn't expect anything like this to happen as I walked down Addison's Walk, but I was hoping that a little of that energy still hung in the air somewhere for me to absorb.

I reflected on what it was that finally clenched it for Lewis-- the thing that made God make sense. For him, it was all about myth, and how myth became fact in the life of Jesus Christ. I knew that this would not be the thing that did it for me. In fact, I'd say that myth is the thing I need to stay perhaps farthest from. Instead of answers, my walk only yielded more questions. Yet it didn't discourage me this time. I realized that though one thing clicked into place in Lewis' mind, this one thing was actually the product and culmination of years and years of growth. In many modern stories of Lewis, I think evangelicals try to spin this moment on Addison's walk as a conversion experience, but I believe Lewis himself remarked that he felt he never had one. I walk a similar path (mind the pun) in that I don't think I'm going to have everything simply answered in one stroke while staring broodingly out over the English countryside or something. Instead I think it will come gradually until one day it fits; I know what I am to do and I feel a sense of conviction behind it.

Until then, this question remains: What am I deciding? Is it my faith? Is it a choice between one degree or another? Whether or not I can or am willing to endure the ups and downs that come with a vocation in the church? Teaching? What? Because it's definitely not as simple as just choosing a job. Or perhaps, choosing a job in itself, if you think about it, is just this hard.

05 February 2011

Keeping busy.

Sorry for the lapse in updating (I feel like I'm always saying that) but I've been rather busy. I pulled an all-nighter last Sunday, and that threw me off for the remainder of the week. I didn't go out this week except to try my hand at trivia night at the Lighthorseman on Thursday night. Our team, comprised of Rahma, James, Tom, Sarah, and I, fared much better than the previous week's debacle but still did not manage to win-- not even a raffle. I guess luck wasn't with us. (Though James did have a sterling performance answering a good many of the questions correctly.)

It doesn't look like my schedule will clear up any time soon. I've got articles to write for FLP, two scholarship applications going, revising two pieces of criticism to submit to an undergraduate journal, attending an interfaith event in London hosted by the Three Faiths Forum on Thursday, heading to Oxford on Friday, seeing all I can until Monday, and making it back to York in time for my lecture at 4:15PM.

I can't wait for Oxford. More to come.

28 January 2011

The world is a bizarre place.

I have a friend studying in Cairo right now. I'm worried about her, thinking about her. It's funny how world affairs get real when your not so far from them. (Pic taken from MotherJones.com)

But I'm encouraged so much by this, a tweet, quoting Al Jazeera's live news coverage: "Egyptian Christians told Egyptian Muslims 'we will protect you while you are praying.'" Powerful.

21 January 2011

My life abroad, the arrival.

A congested highway, black skies, and a glistening tarmac-- these were my first glimpses of the UK. I landed at Heathrow in the early morning on Friday, Jan. 7th, exhilarated and exhausted. I had not slept on the the plane-- which meant I hadn't slept all night-- and wouldn't get a chance to sleep again until I arrived in York that evening. My plane, a United flight overflowing with University of Evansville students, emptied rather quickly, and it wasn't long before I found myself navigating the corridors of Heathrow alone. I made my way to baggage claim, found my luggage, and then, a bit nervous, navigated the stern faces that were supposed to grant me my entry visa. With the exception of a few disagreements with the Underground ticket machine, I managed to make it through rather smoothly. And, less than an hour after departing the plane, I found myself sitting with my luggage on the tube bound for King's Cross.

This is when I started feeling American: I took up too much room, everyone else knew what they were doing,  and I had a hard time not laughing whenever the automated (yet very polite) lady's voice said that I was on the Piccadilly line bound for "Cockfosters." (Why on earth would you name a place "Cockfosters?") Upon arriving at King's Cross, I noticed that people moved quickly, mechanically. London moves fast-- much faster even than Chicago-- and I found it easy to feel like an impediment. Business people crowded around me, some conversing, many reading books or newspapers, and everyone not really minding my obtrusively gargantuan suitcases.

My first meal was a McDonald's quarter-pounder with cheese. I was already missing home. After I had severely burnt my tongue drinking cheap coffee, re-read nearly all of Sin and Syntax, and stared out at the rain for four hours, my train was finally ready to board. I got on, exhausted and hungry, sitting across the table from a clean, well-dressed business man. I dozed off a number of times once I realized the sad fact that the English countryside from London to York is actually rather ugly. It looked like a grassier version of Illinois, which did nothing to raise my spirits, and by the time we pulled into the train station at York, I felt a bit like boarding a plane headed back to O Hare.

But then through the fog of fatigue and dampened spirits came the slight whispers of excitement. I'd made it to York, and the metal and glass vaulting of the train platforms looked to my weary self like the most beautiful things I had ever seen. After queuing for a taxi, I took a black cab up to the University. If I failed now to mention how far the cab driver's disposition went to lifting my spirits, I would do the man a great disservice; he was a very kind old man, who did his best to make me feel welcome in York. As we drove along, I marveled out the window (despite the heavy rain and darkening skies) at the beauty of the ancient city walls, the quaint shops and roundabouts that took us up the hill to Heslington and the University. He waited for me while I picked up my keys and then took me to my residence off campus, making sure I got in safely before he drove away.

The first person I met was Chris, who helped me carry my luggage up the stairs to my room, and who then talked to me about York and where to find the Vodaphone store. He was a great a guy, and proved his patience over the next few days by always answering the doorbell when I rang. (They initially messed up my keys and only gave me a key to my room, not to the front door of the residence.) His kindness encouraged me. After talking for a bit, I walked down to the Sainsbury's Local for a cheap deli sandwich and then collapsed into bed. I had arrived. My time in England had begun.

20 January 2011

We interrupt this programming...

I'll take a quick break from my "What I've been doing in England" series to bring you this article from the Huffington Post.

Students can't write? They can't think critically? Sounds to me as if they could use more than just an expensive vocational degree, and-- dare I say?-- to take a bit more Humanities courses, where things like writing ability and critical analysis are crucial to success.

Then again, one could just as easily say that the framework exists for the student to obtain and demonstrate proficiency in both of these areas, no matter their major, but that society prizes earning potential and resume builders over knowledge for knowledge's sake.

There are may ways to view this article and the data it presents, and each of them ignite a passionate response from me.

Any thoughts?

19 January 2011

My life abroad, an introduction.

Anyone who knows me, and knows me well, knows that I possess somewhat of an unhealthy interest in the UK. I have, sometimes to a fault, considered England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland as some sort of romantic ideal-- pastoral landscapes, deep history, the roots of some kind of personal sublimity. And so now that I find myself here, I don't know how to react.

I've settled in. Having been here nearly two weeks, my life has started to take on a natural rhythm. I've met new people-- friends I felt like I've known for much longer than I have-- and begun to understand and adjust to the culture here in York. Through these adjustment I have noticed many differences between my experience here and my experience in the States. In some ways, my being here has lived up to the expectations I had for it, and in others it has felt somewhat underwhelming. Turns out, England is a real place, with real people who really live their lives. It's not Harry Potter or some Dickensian dream. It's not perhaps what I anticipated. But it is wonderful. And I don't think that my six months here will be enough; I won't be surprised when, come July, I don't really want to leave. Make no mistake, I love America, and have actually become prouder of my American identity as a result of being here. Yet this is a place I could be happy living for the rest of my life. It just feels... right.

In the next few posts (and those beyond), I'll provide updates of my life in York, giving my observations, thoughts, and experiences so that all of you can know what I'm up to. It will be nice for me as well, getting the opportunity to process some of my thoughts via this blog while also writing for an audience back home. It will feel like writing letters, and will give me a welcome connection to everyone back in the States. And so it begins...

13 January 2011

Big day today.

Lot's of exciting news! Part of the reason I have been absent from this blog the past few weeks is because of my work for this:

Faith Line Protestants, a blog for evangelicals and interfaith cooperation that I co-founded with Greg Damhorst.

We launched today with a co-written article for the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog! Be sure to check that out as well.

More to come later on my time in York. In the meantime, soak up FLP's current content!