Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Episode One: The Magic Eightball Commentary

first episode was really fun to shoot. it was the one where i took the most liberties with the characters... from here on out, largely the Reformers will be speaking words that they wrote themselves in their various debates they had between them.

Some explanation of the episode:

the reformers match up like this: Erasmus modern counterpart is the Anglican, Luther is the Lutheran, and Calvin and Zwingli are UCC.

Zwingli is an iconoclast and that's why he likes the library (unadorned Bauhaus/International style) and takes down the picture of Christ that Erasmus hangs up.

Luther posted the 95 which was very famous. Zwingli had his own list which was 63 aspects of what he thought was the Christian religion. Calvin read all of these, including other works by Erasmus and the Brethren reformers, and encorporated and debated all of their concepts in his Institutes which is a massive work that he constantly worked on. So after Calvin gets the superior parchment and pen (he stole from the Lutheran) he will constantly be working and writing and only looking up to synthesize debates other reformers are having.

I really enjoyed what the actors brought to the script, i wish i had more film training to capture their energy and work, but think this final cut has more pluses and is pretty close to what i had in my mind. Luther's famous "By Satan's Smokey Ass" phrase (that i got the most comments about) was adlibbed by the actor Jim Siburt, who also suggested the ending song by the Super Furry Animals which i love!

Episode Two is coming up next! Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Reformation: the sitcom, episode 1, The Magic Eightball parts 1 & 2. Commentary on Thursday! enjoy!

Part One:

Part Two:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Entertaining Theology

I absolutely LOVE Barry Taylor's "Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy." I love it so much that I'm thinking of just submitting this book when it comes to putting in my ordination papers... but i don't think that will fly with my future committee.

here are some great quotes that Barry uses to introduce his chapters that I will use to speak about this wonderful book:

"...At the very cry from the cross: the cry which confesses that God was forsaken by God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods... they will not find another god who has himself been in revolt... They will find only one religion which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist." -G.K. Chesterson: Orthodoxy

Taylor talks about a re-encoding of the message. Taking artistic license, risking and endeavoring to take new routes with stories that have so long been closed to new meanings. No longer can the theological connection point for Christianity be "You are a sinner who will die in your sins unless you repent. You must be born again." Taylor asks "Is it really the only connection with God through the Jesus story? I think not, though I think it is A connection to Christianity and has been the dominant mode of connection in the church post-Reformation." (page 198).

This approach means no pre-packaged dogmas, doctrines, or resting on old answers. Nor is it throwing out all the dogmas, doctrines or old answers. It is a wide net that Taylor is casting... or actually, asking others to cast. It is a multi-disciplinary approach to life that seeks to encapsulate and make room for people "at the foot of the cross... even atheists." It is keeping Christus Victor right alongside all the other forms of atonement and inventing new ones or not having atonement at all! All of these are possibilities depending on context.

"Poetry will reach a superior dignity, it will become in the end what it was in the beginning---- the teacher of humanity." Friedrich Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology

Taylor constantly uses pop culture to talk about his spiritual outlook. He is quite wise to point out the difference between the movies Stigmata and the Exorcist. He then uses movies and art and poetry to classify 4 movements and expressions of spirituality in the world: 1. Zen Culture 2. The Next Enlightenment 3. Retrolution and 4. Resistant Communities. here are some brief descriptions:

Zen Culture: a "westernized Asian Thought" is being seen through the growing popularity of Anime, ancient wisdom, and use of imagery in movies. Think THE MATRIX here, where it is a blend of Christianity, Gnostic, and Mystic western thought mixed with Tao, Buddhist, Zen, and Kung-Fu eastern notions. Much like the music that's produced by Washington D.C.'s own Thievery Corporation:

Next Enlightenment: Rational Mystics Taylor terms them. Books like The Celestine Prophecy and the Golden Compass are about finding ways to connect to the divine and trusting one's self to do that without the traditional support structures of formalized religion. This approach is all about the WHOLE PROCESS of things and emphasizes community, relationality, and level playing field... there is a "serious concern for their inner lives with a strong penchant for social activism, including a commitment to a sustainable future." but Taylor notes that it's equally important to see their dislikes and those are "social inequality, intolerance, and the Religious Right." U2 would be the biggest band in the strain, but then you get Springsteen, Saves the Day, and the Flobots here as well. Here's one of my fave songs by Switchfoot:

Retrolution: Postmodern Gothic, a blend of ancient and modern.. like what we find in The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, and Donnie Darko. These stories "explore the old and a little under the surface deal with the new; past literary forms and present concerns exist side by side." The is also an element of mystery and shock value and no guarantee for happy endings. Think spirituality ala Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. can't count the amount of social and religious imagery found in my fave Manson video (not to mention the cheerleader like chant within it, i LOVE this song!):

Resistant Communities: the religious right, street preachers, and the like. Jerry Falwell style, that is directly engaged and obsessed with "the other". This community has a desire which is commoditized and the motivating factor is fear. The Left Behind Series would be an example here. Of course my bias is showing here... not Taylors.. because i'm rather sick of these communities and i deal with them all the time. they want to rest of "old answers" yet ignore that the answers they're coming up with are new permutations of old things... there is many positive aspects to these communities, it's not all bad.. and there's even some good music coming out of it... well it's been awhile, but here's what I remember being "cool" when i listened to "Christian Music":

I highly recommend this book! I'm all about it! I feel that it perfectly articulates many of the crazy thoughts zooming around in my head. I hope you'll check it out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Sermon and a Project

I worked for the last year as an intern at Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Mountville PA. The pastor there, Pastor Nancy, is awesome and we had a great time. I have a life-long mentor and friend here. She has started her own blog, quite awhile ago, and i neglected to promote it. Well, here's a great sermon by her talking about faith.
My fave. quote is "Faith is a person’s or group’s way of moving into the force field of life. It is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives."

Julia O'Brien is the prof of Old Testament here at LTS. She has started a new program on her blog called "Reading the Bible as an Adult." The jist of it is "This project helps readers from differing backgrounds engage the Bible as grown-ups: showing them how to read carefully, pointing out the human dynamics of the text, and providing questions that invite discussion about the dynamics of the stories and the realities of people's lives." Check it out here, i think it's extremely facinating.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Walk by Faith

American Idol judge Simon Cowell is also the creator of a show called Britain’s Got Talent. He wasn’t having a good day at auditions this past April. “God this is horrible.” He said before the show went to break. When it came back from commercial, Simon was greeted by a middle-aged lady who looked… well, like nothing special. Susan Boyle looked homely and she’s from nowhere special. Simon immediately dismissed her, but since he had to talk to her, he punctuated all his questions with eye rolls, shrugs, and a body-language that said “Oh please.”

How many of you have heard Susan Boyle sing? Was it what you were expecting? [Watch the video here]

Susan sang. The crowd went NUTS for her singing and the judges just stared at the song bird that landed on the stage. Simon… well not just Simon, everyone was expecting failure. It’s the oldest sin in the show-biz book, judging a book by its cover.

In today’s scripture we hear one of Paul’s greatest pieces of wisdom, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Susan Boyle is the embodiment of this phrase. She showed a sexist, ageist, fashion-concerned world what it means to live by faith. In her short 90 second performance, she offered a one woman antidote to all the cynicism that had engulfed the world during this recession. She wasn’t a greedy banker, or corrupt politician. She wasn’t in this for fame or fortune. She had no interest in being another celebrity or raking in piles of cash. She had spent her entire life dreaming of being a professional singer and she had faith that she could do it despite being the full-time care-taker of her mother, despite not looking the way the world expects, despite never going 60 miles from her hometown; Susan had a gift and she had confidence in this gift. She knew it would take her places beyond her wildest dreams. She walks by faith.

We’re steeped in a world that loves what it sees. We are in a world that lives almost exclusively by sight. My college degree was in advertising, so I was set to make my career selling things to you all by sight alone. Doctors Michael Brower and Warren Leon state that “The average American is exposed to about 3000 advertising messages a day, and globally corporations spend over $620 billion each year to make their products seem desirable and to get us to buy them.”

Living by sight means that you have to have the new product, wear the deodorant that gets you the girls, but make sure that you’re wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, and completely defining yourself by appearance. If the world was like advertising would have you believe, then one paper towel can hold a bowling ball. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris. Household cleaning products hold the key to personal fulfillment. Medieval peasants would have perfectly straight teeth. And if you buy this SUV, you can take it off-road, it will never get dirty, and you’ll never drive in traffic, ever.

Living by sight is SO limited because we so often get it wrong. We misunderstand or misinterpret things which are right in front of us and get too concerned with just staying on the surface of what we know. Here are some examples:

In the year 100, Roman engineer Julius Sextus stated “Inventions have long since reached their limit and I see no hope for future developments.”

In 1893 a journalist wrote “Law will be simplified over the next century. Lawyers will have diminished and their fees will have vastly been curtailed.

In 1895, a teacher wrote to a father of one of his students that this student… this Albert Einstein “will never amount to anything.”

In 1949, a computer scientist stated that “It appears we have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology.

The head of the patent office in the 1960s wanted to close up shop because everything had already been invented.

I could go on and on. The world is chock full of examples of living by sight.
So how does this concern you? When you pick up your paper or watch the news, it’s easy to fall into despair. Shootings at the holocaust museum, global warming, war, famine, bail outs, company layoffs, the list goes on and on. Paul is seeking to remind us of where we get our purpose and direction from. Sight, Paul argues, is the surface layer; faith is the insight that gets below the surface to goodness, truth, and love.

However, living by faith and sight can be done at the same time. Sight and insight operate together as they do in looking at a painting, where we see not only the forms and colors of the scene but also its beauty. To see beauty, it takes insight. It’s easy to see the beauty in the Hollywood actor or actress, much harder to see it in Susan Boyle or our neighbors. That takes insight. Beauty is something which cannot be measured or completely understood, but we know it when we see it through our insight, through our 6th sense which is our faith.

Walking by faith does not mean that we walk entirely in the dark by a kind of blind trust. It doesn’t mean taking what the bible says, what authorities say, what institutions say literally and unchallenged. A struggle takes place. An interested investigation launched. Remember Doubting Thomas?

There will be times when we have to walk by the light of our faith with only the memory of the insights that were once clear to us. Walking by faith doesn’t mean that once you have an insight, that’s the final and absolute truth… no. We as Christians believe in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit moves and guides and changes and challenges us and provides us with new insights… some of which contradict the old.

Walking by faith is asking questions and questioning the answers. This form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But science fails to address such important human concerns as sorrow and joy, suffering and love.
Walking by faith doesn’t mean you’re standing still. Resting on old answers. When we walk by faith we follow the Spirit and Christ. Jesus walked the walk.
He was born out of wedlock. He hung out with the wrong crowd. He was from some backwoods town and couldn’t possibly amount to anything. He was put to death in his culture’s most shameful way and yet here we are 2,000 years later still talking about him, calling him the Son of God.

Walking by faith takes a lot of courage and effort and many just don’t want to do it. But there is power in it. It is a power that the world doesn’t really understand, not really, because there’s no guarantee. In fact, it actually looks like losing. The power of walking by faith is a paradox; it’s power that looks like weakness. More than that, it is not guaranteed to stop all evildoers. It might, of course, touch and soften their hearts. It enables you to recognize God’s power positively at work in the world.

This way of living comes at a price. It can leave us with the sense that we don’t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing than we’d ever realized before. This humble way of living shows us that there are many more angles by which to examine life than we ever imagined. As the ancient rabbis said, “Those who say they know are much further away from the answer than those who say that they don’t know.”

Take care to distinguish between externals and internals. Question your snap judgments and check to see if they hold water. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck externally, internally that duck may think it’s a flying tiger or a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That frog maybe a prince in disguise. Just like Susan Boyle who looks as plain as the day is long, but inside has the voice of an angel. Jesus, who looked like a backwoods carpenter well he’s divine. He’s the way, the truth, and the light. AMEN.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What governs my theological thinking?

“You want to know who I really am, yeah so do I.” –“See You” by Saves the Day

I had to write a "prolegomena" for my paper for doctrine. This gives the reader some background for what is to come next. I did my paper on the doctrine of the church, which i'll post parts of here in the near future. Before that, i thought i'd share this little diddy about how and why i think:

Personal experience is the start which is tempered by logic, reason, and testing these private moments against other people’s experience. For me, that is largely what religion does for me most naturally. Scripture is a tried and true measuring stick as well as a challenger to any notions I think I’ve landed on. The irrational fullness of life taught me never to discard anything. Even when it goes against all our theories, odds are, we need to reconsider these theories anyway. I try not to hold on too tightly to any notion.

This is, of course, disquieting and I’m never certain whether the compass is pointing true or not, but security and certitude does not lead to discoveries. My life has been one of constant change and challenge and my theology and thinking reflect this. I come out of a Jesuit, natural theology with a healthy amount of Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma. This is what I’m always measuring against and reacting too. I still feel like I’m learning to be a Protestant and that I’m young enough that I still can’t say what exact ideas govern my thinking.

What it consistently boils down to is context, mystery, revelation, and praxis. Context is everything. I must be humble enough to say “I don’t know” in any given context, yet strive to find the extreme points and find the middle path (predestined or free will? Yes! Horrible sinners or rational, transcendent beings? Yes!). I must rely on God for revelation, which means I must be out experiencing the world as revelation only comes through experience. And I must put all things into practice because theory without practice is pointless and practice without theory is thoughtless. All of these are intermingled, like concentric circles or better yet, four in one. I don’t know how they’re all in there, but they are!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Trip to Ohio

this past weekend, Kate and I took Eve for her first trip to the land of our birth. the land of the bobcats, O-H-I-O! It was both great and bizarre to be in the place where i grew up with my kid.

Kate's sisters threw a "welcome Eve" shower/party/shin-dig and a ton of our friends and family showed up, including our DC friends who moved to Cincy, our C-bus crew, and Kate's aunt from San Fran! it was such a great time! the food was great (Sweet Baby Ray's Pulled Pork, YUM!), the weather perfect, and the conversations were great. i can't think of a better way to spend a saturday.

I was asked "So what was the greatest revelation/change since becoming a parent?" this comment really struck me and i had the following things to say:

1. I have a stake in things. I need to recycle more, keep healthy, and work to preserve the world and make it a better place for my kids to grow up.

2. I am no longer just me. and i never was "just" me. we have the idea that we can be individuals without contact with others, but i can't describe myself without talking about a relationship. I am a husband, friend, brother, son, and now FATHER. i used to fear this last title because of how my own father operated. but now i love this title! my identity is no longer just about me, it's about what type of person i am to my child as well as my friends and family. my identity is corporate, it always was, but now this concept is more of a reality.

we all are in community and relation with one another. i think that a balance needs to be struck between total individual (as this can result in an inflated ego, a sense of isolation leading to depression, or a skewed view of reality) and total community (as this can result in anxiety and a general laziness that "someone will take care of it, "I" don't have to do anything cause there is no "I").

3. Different Priorities. I love my single and no-offspring friends, but our concerns aren't the same anymore. that's okay, that diversity is what makes life interesting! but many ideas, concerns, or stances on issues, i just don't have or hold any more.

that's about it. the trip home also caused me to look through some ol' high school poetry and writings. man, what a collection of self-righteous pissings! i was angry! but that's what happens when you're out of place in a community and not using what is in front of you. i was frustrated by the smallness of my hometown, but i now see the beauty and gifts that experience has given me.

it was a busy weekend. it was a reflective weekend. it was a weekend at the first of the month and that means CANTON FIRST FRIDAY!!! My sister-in-law is in charge of this event, which is part block party part gallery hop. it is outstanding. Lancaster has a first friday as well, but it is nothing compared to the shin-dig Canton puts on. There were the Budweiser Clydesdales, musicians left and right, wonderful art and photography, a slew of diverse peoples (GREAT people-watching!), and the Society for Creative Anachronisms beating the crap out of each other with their home-made swords. it was AWESOME! oh! not to mention that every Saturday after 1st friday there is Scared Scriptless which is a "Who's Line is it Any Way?!" style impromptu comedy show. Downtown Canton is the place to be.

so there's my plug, where's my $50 Sarah? ;-)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

John Calvin

John Calvin was not a man who inspired immediate confidence in those who first met him (Steinmetz 3). He was a slight man, shy and bookish, never robust and plagued by illness (Steinmetz 3). He is a man of order and peace born into a world of conflict (Parker 9). He was conservative by nature, by upbringing, by conviction, and his theology as so old-fashioned it seemed a novelty (Parker 9). He called himself a “lover of shaded paths and retired groves” as well as “merely a man among the common people” (Parker 9, 17). He also thought of himself as a “God frustrated Scholar” meaning that his plans had been set aside to do God’s will (Gerrish 152).

He had an unbelievable list of physical ailments, an inexhaustible work ethic, and he was sharp-tongued and short-tempered (Gerrish 152). He was irritable and difficult because of these circumstances yet those who were his friends testified to the deep affection and unfailing concern he showed them and to any who turned for him for help (Gerrish 153). Calvin has been chiefly defined as a rigid and systematic bureaucrat and theologian. However, Calvin’s concerns are not motivated by systematic but through pastoral concern (Barrett). He is a practical theologian who juxtaposes themes and leaves them be; he is able to hold together dialectical tensions as theology only makes sense in living and NOT on paper (Barrett).

Calvin will be a shy, thinker, usually at the back of the group, listening. He’s not loud nor have the ego like Luther or Zwingli, not super charming or witty like Erasmus. He will speak in imagistic and metaphoric language and comment on the other reformers actions under his breath. He is best described as the character “Crab Man” from My Name Is Earl. Incredibly profound and insightful, but largely misinterpreted by those around him. He is frustrated by this but keeps trusting that things will work out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ulrich Zwingli

Zwingli’s character is the hardest to figure out. Many see Zwingli as a variant or deviant from Martin Luther; yet viewed as a student of humanism who departed from Erasmus; and further still the one who set up events for Calvin as Zurich flowed directly into Geneva (Aland 96; Stephens 1). He is best viewed as a reformer, patriot, rejecter of scholastic theology and a humanist (Stephens 12). He loved the classics and took delight in the literature and philosophy of Ancient Greece (Stephens 15). He saw both Luther and Erasmus as lifted up by God. With Erasmus he shared a Platonist view of body and soul, a Biblical and Christ-centered faith, valued inward piety, yet disagreed on issues of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will (Stephens 17). Luther he saw as articulating beliefs that he already had and noted that both Luther and Erasmus played their part in learning what true religion was (Stephens 21).

He was a scholar, musician, orator, loving father and husband, he had no personal ambition, he lacks Calvin’s mind and vanity, and is more conscious of social obligation than Luther (Potter 418). He was a man of action, what he learned from his studies he used. He was always approachable, ready to help, and constantly encouraging. He is best defined as fearless, self-confident, and self-reliant (Potter 417). His reputation as a stern, stolid reformer is counterbalanced by the fact that he had an excellent sense of humor and used satiric fables, spoofing, and puns in his writings. (Schmidt-Clausing ix) He was more conscious of social obligations than Luther and he genuinely believed that the masses would accept a government guided by God’s word and this belief led him to tirelessly promoted assistance to the poor.

I will portray Zwingli as a smart yet fiery blend. He has Erasmus’ wit (and sometimes charm) and Luther’s boisterousness. A running joke will be the view of Zwingli as an iconoclast as he will be constantly trying to smash windows and take down art. He will be opinionated yet flexible. The modern equivalent would be a Lewis Black or Stephen Colbert.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Martin Luther

Luther is complex! He’s superstitious due to his growing up a son of a miner and evidenced in his “storm-experience” where he promised St. Anne that he would become a monk (McDonough 83). He was a Catholic Friar, Early Catholic Reformer, and then a mature Protestant reformer and in these views there also lies the polemicist, the doctor and professor, poet and musician, and simple man with human failings (McDonough 63). He was always conscious of himself as a sinner, and not just a fallen one, but essentially a nihilist in his view of human ability. He seems impulsive, obstinate, rash and subjective—not because he was intentionally ego-centric, selfish, or biased, but because of his framework of Law-Gospel and God’s grace (McDonough 65).

Luther was the most reviled and hated person of his age yet at the same time, the most beloved and revered (Paulson 208). He was like a man who was reaching out in the dark and found a rope, and then was startled to hear a bell clanging (Cranz 83). Luther found out what a revolution it was to have Jesus Christ on your mind at all times and finding out that this causes all hell to break loose. Luther was not a mystic, he thought that the news came not from within but from outside, that this news was an announcement not a riddle about what God has done namely that Christ promise of forgiveness was the only way sinners were made right with God (Paulson 207).

Luther will be portrayed as a loud, yet humorous man; the first to speak yet surprised at others interpretations of his words. He will be larger-than-life yet be a sensitive soul. He will react first and reflect later. His modern equivalent would be Archie Bunker, gruff yet loveable.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a "pure" Latin style and enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists." He has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists." Erasmus lived through the Reformation period and he consistently criticized some contemporary popular Christian beliefs. In relation to clerical abuses in the Church, Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within. He also held to Catholic doctrines such as that of free will, which some Protestant Reformers rejected in favor of the doctrine of predestination. His middle road disappointed and even angered many Protestants, such as Martin Luther, as well as conservative Catholics. He died in Basel in 1536 and was buried in the formerly Catholic cathedral there, recently converted to a Reformed church.

Described as having quizzical blue eyes and yellow hair and his manner was “polished and affable, and charming” (Spitz 65). He was a “curious little man and one never knew how one stood with him” (Spitz 65). He can fit in anywhere as he was described as no duplicitous but able to see the positive good in the views of those around him (Spitz 66). He was sensitive to his environment and open to immediate impressions, able to speak with whoever was in front of him. (Spitz 65).

However, Erasmus was a bit of a paradox as well. As charming as he could be he could also be condescending, petty, cruel and cutting in controversy (Spitz 68). He had enormous perseverance and drive and loved the ascetic and carefully regulated life but love amenities and was something of a hypochondriac (Spitz 66). He was a citizen of the world-common yet stranger to all and a self described “heretic to both sides” (Spitz 68).

He was moderate and didn’t like extremes, valuing simplicity, inwardness, spirituality, and was Christ centric, yet he scorned monks and had contempt for scholastic doctors (Spitz 70, 73). Good manners and civility are among his top qualities but he also harbored anti-Semitic thoughts, discriminated against women, and would not have embraced multiculturalism or sanctioned a diversity of lifestyles (Rummel 108). Luther called him an “eel no one can grasp” and Thomas Martin Lindsay stated that Erasmus had the “ability of a cuddlefish to conceal himself and his real opinions” (Rummel 107).

He will be represented as a charming yet snide observer. He will largely be making his point through sarcasm and one-liners, all the while retaining his poise. Johan Huizinga observed that Erasmus was “at his most brilliant and profound when he was being humorous in an ironic way” and that is what I intend to focus on (Rummel 106). His modern equivalent would be a Jerry Seinfeld or Jon Stewart.