Weekly Meanderings

Our town

Falsani and Paul Simon: “A few years back, Paul Simon released an album titled,Surprise. But for many of his listeners, and for me in an exceptionally personal way, the real surprise came with his 2010 album, So Beautiful or So What. After its relase last spring, I wrote about the album, filled with wondrous stories about God and faith, Jesus and the afterlife, and love in “hard times,” calling it one of the most spiritually powerful albums I’d heard in many years. A few months after my review of the album ran, I got a phone call at home in California one afternoon. It was Simon, whom I’d never met or spoken to before, calling to chat. He’d read what I’d written about the new album and was intrigued by the idea that, perhaps, God might have moved through him in the music without his knowing it.” [And I hope you can escape the Chevy Chase/Paul Simon jingle.]

Good line from Chuck Smith: “Never trade what you do know for what you don’t know.”

Australia and pot: “No, mon, it’s not what you think: Jamaica and The Netherlands may be popular with pot smokers, but according to a new study by the British medical journal The Lancet, high honors go to Australia and New Zealand, where up to 15% of residents between the ages of 15 and 64 used marijuana in 2009 – the latest year for which data is available. That compares with 11% of North Americans, 5.5% of Europeans and 2.5% of Asians.”

The Virtual Abbess ponders how original sin and laziness and relationships work together.

Adam McLane: “One reason youth ministry is flatlining is crappy theology. Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, was recently interviewed by Relevant Magazine about the present reality that youth ministry presents a faith students easily walk away from in college. She was asked, “Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?” Her response:

The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors.

Alex Murashko: “In a surprise decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, justices ruled in favor of church authority Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling and concluding that the federal government should not intervene in the hiring and firing practices of churches.  In one of the most important religious cases disputed in years, also having separation of church and state implications, the high court accepted what is known as a “ministerial exception” to the employment discrimination laws. The ministerial exception allows religious entities to give preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion or require that employees confirm the organization’s religious tenants. It also bars the federal government from examining employment decisions by religious groups for employees with religious duties, such as pastors or ministry leaders.”

Jenell Paris responds to Mark Noll.

Here’s a group of Coloradons heading to NPU for classes next Tuesday!


Speaking of Colorado, Denver, Broncos, Tim Tebow, here’s a good one.

Meanderings in the News

Unprecedented is the right word: “Evangelical Christians in Oregon have developed an unexpected partnership with Portland’s openly gay mayor to mobilize over 26,000 volunteers in an effort to aid in charity activities, from city park renovation to counseling people in need. Kevin Palau, a devout evangelical, was so desperate to fix the notion that his community is taking strident stands on provocative issues, along with other perceived public relations problem that evangelicals face, that he reached out to a highly unlikely partner in Sam Adams, the mayor of one of America’s most progressive and secular cities…. Palau says that his team of volunteers represents the new face of American evangelicalism. “The old model was preaching to the choir, so to speak,” Palau says. Many people in the left-leaning town of Portland were uncomfortable with this unexpected arrangement at first, but now pretty much everyone admits the project is a major success — even though major philosophical differences remain.”

Frida Ghitis on Egypt: “So, what do Islamists really hope to accomplish? Washington doesn’t need to wait for an answer to that question before it starts responding to this uncertain situation. In fact, it can already start helping to shape the future of the Arab world by strongly promoting the ideals it supports. The Egyptian people have not studied democracy the way Americans or Europeans have. President Obama and his counterparts in other liberal democracies should help explain the West’s vision of democratic principles and tolerance. They should talk about how democracy does not just mean majority rule; it also means protection of minorities, equality for women and for people of all religions. It means rule of law and an independent judiciary. The West should make clear that those leaders who help preserve peace and build that vision of society in the emerging Arab democracies will have its support while those who don’t will not have its backing.”

Doctors die gently: “It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.”

Speaking of doctors, bring in Paul Farmer for this one.

Finding something that belongs to God. “Archaeologists digging near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City unearthed a rare find used in the daily work of the ancient Jewish Temple. The small clay seal is inscribed with two words in Aramaic meaning “pure to God.” “This is the first time we got [found] something that belongs to God, belongs to something that came from the temple,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Eli Shukron said. Archaeologists say the seal is the first archaeological evidence of the administrative workings of the Second Temple. That temple was built around 500 B.C. after Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed.”

First chimeric monkey offspring.

Sharon Otterman, Laurie Goodstein: “Pope Benedict XVI named 22 new cardinals on Friday, including Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in a set of appointments that reflected the pope’s reliance on Italians and Vatican insiders at a time when the church’s population base has shifted to the Southern Hemisphere.”

Good article on pluralism: “The second criterion is specific to pluralism.  Any view properly describable as pluralism has to hold that something is irreducibly plural.  For example, a view which holds that there are many religions which nonetheless, at base, are all really the same should not count as a pluralist view of religion.  Similarly, a view which holds that there is a wide range of distinct ways of life which deserve to be tolerated is for similar reasons not yet a pluralist view.  Any view that is properly regarded as pluralist needs to do more than recognize the Many; it needs to deny that the Many is reducible to the One.  In other words, pluralism must involve irreducibility.”

Money and aesthetics: “THOUGH individual tastes do differ, the market for art suggests that those who have money generally agree on what is best. The recent authentication of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, for example, magically added several zeroes to the value of a work that had not, physically, changed in any way. Nor is this mere affectation. In the world of wine (regarded as an art form by at least some connoisseurs), being told the price of a bottle affects a drinker’s appreciation of the liquid in the glass in ways that can be detected by a brain scanner. It seems, now, that the same phenomenon applies to music. For serious players of stringed instruments the products of three great violin-makers of Cremona, Nicolo Amati, Giuseppe Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari, have ruled the roost since the 17th century. Their sound in the hands of a master is revered. They sell for millions. And no modern imitation, the story goes, comes close. Unfortunately, however, for those experts who think their judgment unclouded by the Cremonese instruments’ reputations, Claudia Fritz of the University of Paris VI and Joseph Curtin, an American violin-maker, have just applied the rigorous standards of science to the matter. Their conclusion, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that the creations of Cremona are no better than modern instruments, and are sometimes worse.”

But, when we buy table wine, we never look to the top shelf, but neither do we look to the bottom shelf for the 4 buck bottles. Isn’t there a reason why a bottle is only $4?

8 hours, they say, is how much sleep we need, and this link to Cliff Kuang has some cool graphics: “How many times have you told yourself (especially when you’re up at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night): “Eh, it’s just sleep.” Is it just sleep, though? What happens to your health when you’re not sleeping enough? This infographic designed by FFunction for Zeo, a company that makes an electronic “sleep coach,” is less of a real data visualization than a set of illustrated facts. But the facts are pretty gobsmacking. For example, we, as a nation, seem pretty tired all the time: Only 7% of people get eight hours of sleep a night. But the effects of this might be calamitous: Getting less sleep is associated with a 200% rise in cancer, a 100% rise in heart disease, and a 20% rise in the likelihood you’ll be dead in 20 years. Not only will you be less healthy, you’ll be fatter. People who sleep an hour more each day lose 14.3 pounds per year. (?!!).”

Meanderings in Sports

Here’s where this article is wrong. Once a whistle is blown, play stops and anything that happens after that whistle is jeopardized as no longer fair competitive play. (Thus, had it not been blown, perhaps said player would have recovered the ball.) If the whistle blows after the recovery, fine; but if before, no way.

I can’t tell if this is a reprint or something new, but this article about Michael Jordan’s coach who supposedly “cut” Michael … well, it’s a long story that is well worth the read.

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  • Susan N.

    Before I read any further and lose my focused response, I want to shout out a Yes! and Amen!! to the “God Chronicler by Accident” (a/k/a Paul Simon) 🙂

    Recently, I had been considering the prophetic witness of Lady Gaga, partly due to a recommendation for the album ‘Born This Way’ over at Experimental Theology blog, and also because my daughter has been bugging me to download some of Lady Gaga’s music to her iPod. After listening to the CD — which at first was difficult, because LG pushes the envelope with provocative (potentially offensive) lyrics — I can begin to hear deep spiritual truths in many of the words/messages. Do you think that Lady Gaga intended to communicate such a message to a Christian audience?

    What a delightful, thoughtful musician, Paul Simon! I think I *must* have the album ‘So Beautiful or So What.’

    In my church’s tradition, I believe that the explanation for God’s witness to and through the “uninitiated” in faith and religion would be common and/or prevenient grace. That, imho, makes a good case for listening respectfully to voices other than those coming exclusively from within the Church to hear what God may be trying to communicate to our particular generation.

    Lately, I have grown weary of Christian radio on my about town jaunts, and been listening to secular music almost always in the car. It has been wonderful to rediscover many “oldies” that have great meaning to me, and also to be open to some of the new artists. Part of apprehending prophetic witness is, surely, dependent on the ability of the listener to hear and receive it. That’s the way God rolls, if you ask me. There’s something very hopeful about that, to my mind.

  • Susan N.

    Wow, the Meanderings are a goldmine this week; so much to ponder and reflect on. Thank you, and God bless you (Scot and Kris) for faithfully putting these links up each Saturday morning.

    One final comment from me, on the article ‘How Doctors Die.’ I was most closely involved in my maternal grandmother’s end-of-life care. She was in poor health for at least the last 10 years of her life. But, she had a strong will to live, and survived 7 years of hemodialysis on top of a host of other health issues, in her 80’s.

    In her last year of life, we were able to have a few moments of clear, honest conversation about the looming subject of death. She was afraid of letting go of this life, however poor the quality, for a couple of reasons. One of which was unresolved relational conflicts. I am grateful that I was in a position at that time to facilitate a mending of the relationship between my grandma and my mom. That helped both of them. In my own relationship with Grandma, I felt that she was worried, deep down, about me. Being able to tell her, “Don’t worry about me. I will always be O:K, Grandma, because I have faith in One who will always be with me,” seemed to help her. Also, she wanted to hear that her life had mattered so much to me, and that I had learned valuable lessons from her.

    Soon after that conversation with her in the hospital, Grandma consented to ending hemodialysis treatment and entering hospice care. My mom and I were both with her (as well as my daughter) when she died, and it was my mom who gave Grandma the spoken blessing, “It’s O:K to go now.”

    Medicine, health, and ultimately, dying, are so much more than just the physical aspect. Our culture is not very well-educated or comfortable (even Christian culture, I’m afraid) with the art of dying well. For that matter, I guess not even the art of living well! Our experiences with hospice care were wonderful. What a blessing it was at a very difficult time.


  • Scot, I also thought the article on how doctors die was profound — so much in line with what I have come to believe over the past few years. As a result of that article, I got new paperwork going to ensure my wishes are known. The “DNR” tatoo was especially interesting.

    …and, as always, thanks for supporting my wee blogging efforts, brother 8)

  • Grateful, Scot.

  • Jason Lee

    Sigh … Paris’ reaction to Noll sounds like sour grapes. She also sets up a straw man with the image of “building a tower” vs. her “salt of the earth” idea of evangelicals out there dispersed in academia. The problem is that evangelicals aren’t out there in academia as salt of the earth in any sort of influential way (in the macro sense). They’re absent in the core places of cultural influence. Hunter is right when, in his book TO CHANGE THE WORLD, he points out that evangelicals ignore the issue of symbolic capital. Paris also seems to ignore this issue. Sure, service etc… is good and noble. But the problem of evangelicals’ lack of achievement in areas such as academia and lack of symbolic capital won’t be wished away. Evangelicals’ neglect of culture-producing cores in America’s institutional structures will mean that they and their children will only have themselves to blame as they become slaves to the waves of culture that they had not hand in guiding.

  • Luke Allison

    I’ve worked in a megachurch youth ministry for the past 7 years. We have consistently sought to teach a “big” God and a “roaring lion” Jesus who effectively engages the heart and creates an “epistemology of love” in the being of the students.

    What I’ve found is this: some students follow Jesus. Some don’t.
    Hmmmm…sounds familiar.

    I’m a fan of Powell and Andrew Root, and I especially appreciate Kenda Creasey Dean. But….I’m just not all that alarmed by the notion that “youth ministry is flatlining”. That actually makes me happy, because youth ministry as a construct to entertain and address the made-up notion of adolescence can’t die soon enough in my opinion.

    Some students just won’t give a crap about anything meaningful until they’re in their late twenties.
    Some won’t care ever.

    So much of the rhetoric on this subject is overblown and sensational, though. Youth “advocates” particularly love to crow about the forgotten and neglected students they find themselves dealing with. Really? Are they forgotten and neglected like young people in Sudan are forgotten and neglected? It’s all relative, of course, but I get a little tired of hearing about “youth problems” as though there’s a particularly virulent strain of them RIGHT NOW that hasn’t been there for the past thirty years or so.
    Young people always feel alienated at times. Always feel misunderstood. Always feel unloved. Always feel hopeless. Always feel forgotten by loved ones. I felt all these things too.

    I believe we have to get better at navigating the stages of faith development and helping students to traverse them. That is boring, plodding work. I’m not sure that people who spend the majority of their time analyzing, studying, observing, and writing are going to be great at it.

  • EricG

    The article on dying needs to be more balanced; sometimes it is right to take radical steps to live longer. I was told 15 months ago, at age 38, that I have late-stage cancer and had only a 4% chance of survival, even if I went through very damaging chemo and radical surgery. As a father of 2, I decided that the odds didn’t matter and I needed to try.

    Since then, I’ve become part of a “cancer community” of others with similar type and stage of cancer, and have had numerous friends who had to consider the same decisions I made for themselves. About half decided not to fight it — even though they are also relatively young, and some have kids. I guess I can understand those decisions, but they also make me feel uncomfortable. The bad news oncologists share, with their survival statistics, often become self-fulfilling predictions. People are told they have little chance, so they don’t take that chance, and the prediction comes true.

    The article also overgeneralizes — quite a few well known docs have taken difficult steps to fight their own cancer, despite the odds.

    As for me, treatments went much better than expected. I had no evidence of disease for a while and even returned to an (almost) normal life. Recently it looks like my cancer has probably returned, but I wouldn’t give up the time I have had with my family.

    I do appreciate the article’s suggestion, however, that at some point people have to know when to give up. Our society avoids discussion of death like, well, the plague. Sometimes people do need to come to grips with the fact that death is inevitable, which is ok.

  • RJS

    We continue to pray for you Eric.

  • scotmcknight

    EricG, I’m saddened to hear this, will continue to pray, and will say again that your fight is evident in your comment. Thanks.

  • scotmcknight

    Jason, when I read Paris’ article here’s what went on in my mind:

    Yes, lots to agree with here.
    This shows that evangelicalism is essentially populist.
    Evangelicalism is pietistic and activistic.

    The vision of Carl Henry and Mark Noll appeals to some in evangelicalism but not the movement as a whole.

  • RJS


    I see both some of what you see in Paris’s article and some of what Jason sees. There seems to be some real cynicism toward the academy and intellectual life in her article. Great things are happening at small colleges in general and small Christian colleges in particular. But she paints research university faculty with a rather negative (and inaccurate) brush.

  • I’m thankful for the mention, Scot. Youth ministry isn’t dying. But we do need new ideas to break out of the 3-5% mentality and truly penetrate culture.

  • nathan

    Paris’ article rubbed me wrong.

    Noll’s call speaks to the glaring weakness of the tradition and needs to be addressed.

    And I’m deeply suspicious of the essentially “classist” anxieties with this “salt of the earth” nonsense.

    The majority report in the tradition is always going to veer toward Paris’ ideas…we don’t need anyone whining for “equal time” or “balance” for that view. It seems evangelicals tire of criticism, but the answer isn’t to double down on our weakness, but to do the actual work of changing. Until then I pray Noll and other voices keep the up the sustained call to change coming. It’s a rebuke we deserve.

  • Jason Lee

    “The vision of Carl Henry and Mark Noll appeals to some in evangelicalism but not the movement as a whole.”

    … will this be on evangelicalism’s epitaph.

    I say this in a friendly way Scot. You as well as I know that evangelicalism’s populism serve it in many ways and its many self-sacrificing members are amazing. Paris highlights many of these well-known things. But this isn’t the problem. Its anti-intellectualism, this has got to stop. Paris’ article doesn’t help us much there … sounded to me like more burying of the head in the sand. Evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism is simply not workable (nor faithful in my opinion) … it leaves it wide open to being colonized by whoever is willing to do the hard work of cultural production. We no doubt already see this in action.

  • Praying, EricG, that your faith in Father’s love upholds and sustains you for as many moments as you have left with your family and friends — I am trusting with you, grateful that our trust is not in vain, but anchored in the faithfulness of our Creator and King. Blessings to you, brother, as you journey into the unknown … you are most certainly not alone.

  • scotmcknight

    Jason, I agree 100% and that is why I said what you quoted and why I said it is pietistic — pietism was and often remains anti-intellectual or at least suspicious of the intellectual life.

  • Susan N.

    EricG, may God renew your strength, body and spirit, and grant you healing and wholeness. May each day with your family be filled with “kairos” moments of love and deep, lasting joy. I’m so sorry that cancer has touched your life; I hate that disease. ~Peace~

  • RJS


    I saw something a little more in the article, and this is what bothered me about it. It isn’t just pietism with distrust of intellectualism, but a very cynical view of intellectuals and professors in general. Yes, it is fairly typical of american evangelicalism at the “lay” level (i.e. non academic), but Paris is not the average lay person or pastor. She is a Christian scholar. Cynicism is toxic and needs to be consciously resisted.

  • EricG

    Thanks everybody

  • DRT

    EricG, thanks for your courage. Please continue to share it, I find that inspirational. And God, bless EricG.

  • Jason Lee


    Paris’ article may suggest cynicism toward intellectuals and professors combined with simply not understanding symbolic capital and how macro-level cultural influence works. In fact, the latter may support the former.