What I'm Doing

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rediscovering Advent

Ever wonder why "the Holidays" are so full of energy and yet so tiresome at the same time? It's because we're missing a season!

As a sort of follow-up to my "Advent, Part I" post, here is a video made by "wezlo," a Baptist pastor up in New Jersey, about Advent.

As a side note, check out his site, CrossPointings.org, where you can find his blog (under the "Musings" menu), and his post on Christdot with this video.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent, Part I

As I seem to say at the beginning of all my posts, it's been a while. I need to post more often.

So, to the point of my post: Advent has begun!

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Advent is the season in the Christian Calendar before Christmas. In the West, Advent lasts for four Sundays, starting with the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30) and ending on Christmas Day. In the East, a similar season is observed, beginning the day after the Feast of St. Philip (November 15), thus lasting 40 days, similar to Lent.

Advent is a time when Christians remember the waiting of the world for the Savior, and also a time when we especially remember that we are awaiting His return. As such, Advent is not so much a joyous season of festivals and celebration, but a somber season of repentance, preparation, and waiting.

In my mind, Advent is like the twilight. The darkness of night is ending, and we are seeing the first hopes of the dawn. During Advent, twilight moves to dawn, and then, on Christmas Day, sunrise as the Light breaks into the World. Another illustration would be to remember that Christmas occurs near the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. In many ancient religions, the Winter Solstice was seen as a triumph of light over darkness, because, up to that day, the days were getting darker (the sun was out less and less), but after the Solstice, the sun begins to be out more and more. (As a side note, this interaction of darkness and light is part of why I think it is silly to dismiss Christmas as merely a Christianizing of a pagan holiday, but that's another topic for another day.)

As I said before, Advent ends on Christmas Day, or, more traditionally, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Actually, perhaps a better way of saying that would be, Advent culminates with the Nativity feast, since that is the destination of the whole season.

Here is where traditional Christian observance is at complete odds with the popular observance of Christmas. In popular culture (including most Protestant churches), the "Christmas season" has taken the place of Advent (although it certainly seems to start earlier every year). In contrast to the somber preparation of Advent, the popular "Christmas season" is a time of parties, feasting, celebration, and, of course, stress. Instead of self-reflection, we are consumed with busyness, making it to this or that party, enduring shopping trips to the mall, singing carols, etc., etc., etc.

Like Advent, the popular "Christmas season" is also moving toward Christmas Day. However, while one might say Advent culminates with Christmas Day, the "Christmas season" merely ends. For many (including myself), we are starting to get sick of Christmas even before Christmas Eve. Christmas Day comes, we celebrate with, perhaps, one last, fatigued bang, and then it's all over. We take down the decorations and (finally) get back to normal life.

The difference here is that, in traditional Christian observance, on Christmas Day, the Christmas season is just beginning. The Church has been preparing for and awaiting the coming of the Lord, and now, finally, He is here, and we can finally celebrate! The Christmas season is a season of celebration, and lasts for the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (January 6). Epiphany, in the West, is the day that the Magi (Wise Men, Three Kings, etc.) visited the infant Christ. In the East, January 6 is referred to as Theophany and commemorates the Baptism of Christ.

Oh, and for those of you who may have wondered what the song, "Twelve Days of Christmas," is all about, since Christmas is only one day, there's the answer: the song is referring to the real Christmas season, which lasts twelve days. Also, according to Snopes.com, contrary to a popular misconception, the song was not used by persecuted Catholics in Reformation England as a secret catechism. Just thought I'd mention that.

So, why don't many Protestants observe Advent? Generally speaking, Protestants, to some degree or another, rejected the Christian Calendar, with its holy days, great feasts, etc. as being merely "the traditions of man," and an unnecessary encumbrance on the individual believer. While many Protestant denominations have retained the days of Christmas and Easter (though removed from the larger context of their relative seasons), the Puritans even went so far as to reject those days, as well.

More recently, however, many Protestant denominations are rediscovering the Christian calendar, and Advent has been experiencing some degree of revival in non-Catholic/-Orthodox churches.

Originally, I planned on writing about why the revival of Advent in Protestant churches is a good thing (and why more should consider it), and offer some suggestions I've heard on how we can integrate Advent into our lives, but this post has gotten long enough already, so I'll try to come back and write a Part II.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fewest Dropped Calls? Riiight...

For some time lately, I've been seeing Cingular's billboards claiming "the leading independent research company has concluded that Cingular has the fewest dropped calls of any wireless carrier." I've suspected that ad to be a load of cow manure since I first saw it: my personal phone carrier is Cingular, and I get dropped (or 'failed' calls, which is another issue) quite a bit. Since I rarely use my work phone (Verizon), I didn't have anything to really compare my Cingular experience with, but something told me that ad had to be wrong (not to mention that, every time a call is dropped, the ad comes to mind as salt in the wound).

Today, I feel vindicated. I came across this post at Mouse Print.org detailing some investigation into Cingular's claims. To summarize:
  • the unnamed "leading independent research company" is a company called Telephia (which I've never heard of, but I've not heard of many research companies, anyway...)
  • Telephia isn't exactly supporting Cingular's claim
  • the claim apparently contradicts reports from two better-known companies: JD Power and Consumer Reports
If nothing else, I know that I'm not the only one who finds Cingular's claim disingenuous. Cingular also has had other issues (including a class action suit filed by former AT&T Wireless customers who felt that Cingular "deceived [them] into paying extra fees and degraded their service" after Cingular acquired that service [ZDNet]), but, then again, other wireless carriers have had problems as well (like Verizon crippling advertised features in certain phones [Wired Blogs]).

I guess we simply must choose the lesser of two weevils...

Friday, September 22, 2006


Wow, it's been a month since I last posted. I've been pretty busy, so I'm throwing up this post just to say, "hey, I'm still alive!"

I've not been very good lately at keeping this blog updated. I would really like to get a post up every week or so. Maybe I should just set a schedule or something. I'll have to look into that.

In other words, I just got my account updated to Blogger Beta! This is great. It will allow me an easier way to modify the appearance of this blog and, most important, Blogger Beta has labels. I've been wanting labels for a while.

Currently, we're waiting for one of my roommates to get home to throw him a surprised birthday party, so this is about all I can post for now. I'll be updating more in the future!

See you, Space Cowboy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God's revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God's people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism, and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation, and the evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism, and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel's story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God's kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: Who gets to narrate the world? "The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future" challenges evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God's acts in history. The narrative of God's kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality, and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.
The rest of the "Call" can be read here: A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

In addition, an interview with Robert Webber, one of the "Conveners" of the Call is here: Together in the Jesus Story

One of my posts on the "backlog" is about the place of story in society. I suppose I'll reserve my own comments for that post. Now that Seth has linked to my blog, I've got a bit more motivation to actually get something worth reading up here...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Enormous Amounts of Material

Time is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of—eh, nevermind.

So, my posting has been sporadic lately—again. It's not that I don't have anything to post about. I've still got a draft of a post on Firefly and "missional Christianity" sitting around, unfinished, on Blogger's servers. And my mind keeps coming back to the post on tradition and Scripture interpretation that I've been meaning to do. Other ideas have floated through my head, generally finding their expressions in a greatly summarized form as comments on other blogs, rather than the posts that I felt they ought to be.

Thing is, I just haven't had the time to sit down and write anything. Between piano lessons/practice, roommates, friends dropping by, my girlfriend, work, and so on, I never seem to have time to just stop. And it's not that I don't enjoy those things; if I didn't, I wouldn't have such a hard time putting them aside for a while and "stopping."

Just about the only time I find that I can really "get away" is either taking a walk alone around Kennesaw Mountain, or going to a coffee shop by myself. Unfortunately, the coffeehouses I know of near me all close around 8 or 9pm on weekdays. That's not a problem, though, when I don't have something I have to do beforehand.

Perhaps I would post here more if 1) I could get into a more regular habit of "stopping and smelling the coffee", and 2) I got a laptop that I could take to the coffeehouse and use to get on the Internet. I'm realizing, though, that no matter how hard I look, I'm not going to "find the time" for this. I need to stop, take a look at my time, how it's being spent, and make the time.

Unfortunately, this will be an uphill battle. It will mean that I will have to say, "no" to hanging out with people sometimes. It will mean that I will have to deal with the fact that some people simply don't understand that taking time to do nothing is just as important to getting things done.

I heard a message on Sabbath rest recently by some guy named J.R. Woodward, in which he pointed out that we have come to a point where we often view a person's value (including our own) in terms of his or her productivity. While this is certainly not an explicit component of most modern attitudes (i.e., it's not obvious), I think we're all probably more guilty than we think. We feel bad if we're not obviously "contributing to society." We often tend to look down on those who are unemployed, because they're not being "productive." We feel guilty if we "didn't get anything useful done today," and we consider such activities as playing video games to be a "waste of time," because we're not "accomplishing anything." Woodward can explain this much better than I can, so, if you want to hear his message (and read some tips on how to make a "Sabbath rest"), check him out here.

And I wrote more than I meant to...there goes my lunch hour...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Circuit City invites wrath of the MPAA by copying DVDs

Fair Use advocates, take notice. Circuit City is apparently putting its neck on the line to provide customers with DVD transfer services. The company is offering a 'DVD video transfer service' that for all intents and purposes is illegal. The company will take commercial DVDs and rip them for use on portable devices for $10 for 1 DVD, $20 for 3 DVDs or $30 for 5 DVDs. That is, until their legal department hears what's happening.
Thus begins the article over at Ars Technica (Circuit City invites wrath of the MPAA by copying DVDs). It goes on to point out that the reason this may fall on the foul side of current copyright law is because of the much-cursed DMCA's prohibition against circumventing copy protection, which would be a necessary part of Circuit City's service.

Personally, I'm not entirely sure what to think of this. On the one hand, Romans 13, and some other passages in Scripture indicate that we ought to submit to the law of the land. Granted, there are some laws all but the most conscientious practically ignore (speed limits, for instance), and an argument could be made regarding enforced law vs. written law (for example, generally, you won't get pulled over for doing 10mph over the posted limit), I suppose. That sort of argument isn't very applicable here, however, since the MPAA and RIAA will take you to court on the slightest evidence that you may have broken the law (even if you're dead!).

So, on the one hand, I'm doubtful as to whether it is right for a Christian to support Circuit City's lawbreaking in this case.

On the other hand, I've developed a certain distaste for the RIAA and MPAA (to put it mildly), and there's a part of me who really wants to root for anyone with the guts to defy the RIAA and MPAA. Considering that these companies are currently abusing our nation's court system and laws, and using tactics one would normally associate with the mafia ("We've got some dirt on you, and we're willing to destroy you; however, for a certain amount of money, we can make this go away..."—see the first definition of shakedown), it's hard not to root for their enemies.

I suppose it's a sort of "Robin Hood" syndrome. Yes, Robin Hood was a thief. This is often overlooked, however, because he is more remembered for standing up to the "big guys," in defense of the oppressed poor. In this context, the RIAA and MPAA are Prince John, and those who have the ability—and guts—to stand up to Little John (by taking their lawsuits to court rather than paying the offered settlement, etc.) are Robin Hood and his merry men. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any King Richard out there right now, about to return from the Crusades and set everything right.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Free Tech Support: Purchase Not Required?

I just read a recent Ars Technica article (link) that highlights a little-discussed area where software piracy drains a company's resources: support. To pull a paragraph from the article,
Within three hours of the release of Ritual's SiN Episodes Emergence, the game was pirated and up on the 'Net; releasing it on Steam had little effect on piracy, at least initially. When a bug in the game was discovered, Ritual patched it and released the update via Steam... and that update was applied to the game slyly, in the background. Users who had paid for the game received the update. Those who had pirated the game didn't, but that didn't stop them from complaining to customer support.
The article goes on to quote Michael Russell, Ritual's QA Manager, describing how one guy who called in was using his friend's legitimate copy of the game to check his own settings in order to try and ensure he was giving the "right answers" to questions about his configuration. This was so that he could hide the fact that he was using an illegitimate copy of the game.

I guess I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised at the audacity of these people. "I don't feel like paying for your software, but I expect you to spend your time (time you could be using to help a legitimate customer) to help me use it, anyway." Granted, the people mentioned at the end, who have been sold counterfeit software, get a pass, since they likely didn't realize the software was counterfeit. But when you are consciously attempting to hide the fact that your software is illegitimate, why do you feel that it's okay to call the company you ripped off and expect them to support your installation?

I'm sure the RIAA and MPAA would love if people would do this for them:

Non-Customer: Hello, [recording company]? Yes, I'm having some trouble here. I made some copies of a friend's CD's, but the DRM protection you included on the originals messed up my copy. Can you help me get a good copy?
Recording Company: Sure, just give me your name and address, and we'll have our legal department contact you right away.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Kristen and I, while hanging out with some friends, went to Barnes & Noble last Saturday. While there, Kristen found a juggling set containing 3 juggling balls and a book on juggling. Remembering that I had expressed an interest in juggling before, she decided to buy the set for me.

So, I've been practicing a lot the past few days. I'm at the point now where I can juggle 3 balls, but only for a few throws. Also, my arms are tired. However, much progress has already been made. Expect to see me at the local park in a week, asking for money while amazing you with my ability to hit myself in the face while attempting to juggle various objects. My last trick, I've already figured, will be my attempt at juggling knives. After I try that once or twice, I will probably be forced into retirement.

In other news, John Carmack's mobile game, Orcs & Elves, has finally become available from Cingular for my phone. For what seemed like forever (a few months), it was only available via Verizon. I've been waiting for this game since I played his first mobile game, Doom RPG. I've not finished Doom yet, so maybe I'll try to finish that before getting into O&E. John Carmack is a genius, and if he can do for mobile gaming what he did for PC gaming, there will be some good things coming before too long. Of course, there will be a lot of technology-laden, crappy clones as well, but that's how things go.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Assurance and Salvation: My Story

I read a post earlier today by the Internet Monk called Sinning? Saved?, in which he says:
There is no doubt that the trust in outward means in many hyper-evangelistic environments winds up animating those who are, in fact, spiritually dead. Often they are deceived and may be entirely without faith in Christ. They are animated, not with spiritual life, but with one of its many imitations. We must place no trust in aisle walking or sinner’s prayers. Be concerned for one thing only: Does this person trust Jesus Christ as Lord to save, right now? Are they willing to rely, in every way that God asks, upon Christ as all-sufficient and all-satisfying?

Not one of us repents perfectly. None of us are saved by repentance or remain saved by persistence in repentance. Yet, Jesus called upon believers to “repent and believe the Good News.” To repent is to change one’s mind, orientation and “true north” from sin and self to Christ. This change of mind, if it is the work of the Spirit, will be evidenced in a change in life. That change will come from a knowledge of one’s one sinfulness rather than attempts at being righteous, and the works of righteousness will be the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. They may be unobservable, but they are real. They are not faith itself- for we are saved by faith alone- but they are vitally connected to faith. True faith does not ever exist alone, but brings along repentance, confession and evangelical obedience as companions. [emphasis his]
The statement in bold is, I think, the key to the whole question, in addition to the statement, "No one repents perfectly." I also like his definition of repentence, but that can be a topic for another post. For now, I want to focus on the question of assurance. I don't here intend to give any sort of great theological argument on the topic—I'm currently not sure whether I even still hold to "once saved, always saved" or not. Perhaps I can explore the issue in that manner in yet another post.

For now, I want to speak of my personal experience with the idea of assurance.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, where the idea of "100% assurance" was often stressed. The call would often go like this: "Are you 100% certain that, were you to die tonight, you'd go to heaven? You say you're 99% sure, but is that 1% a chance you'd be willing to take for eternity?"

Of course, through most of high school, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to heaven. As I understood it, I was saved. My spiritual life was pretty much nonexistant, and, by my actions, no one would have suspected me of being a Christian, but I was saved, so it didn't matter. At the time that I now consider my conversion, I thought I was just "re-dedicating my life." It was around that time, when I started taking Christianity seriously, that I began to find that Jesus expected obedience from those who claimed to be his disciples.

After that time, I began to follow Christ as best I could. Everyone at school noted a change in my life. As one friend later said to me (as a compliment), "You started to get more religious last summer, but then, in the fall, it's like you just went overboard."

However, some months later, as the initial fire of zealousness began to wane, I found myself in a bit of a bind. I don't know what, exactly, brought this on—though I'm sure the settling down of that initial zealousness was a part of it—but I began to have doubts about my salvation. I would try to push them aside, looking to my conversion as evidence that I was, in fact, "saved," but the doubts persisted until I couldn't ignore them.

I eventually found myself in despair, not knowing what to do. I remember one evening that I stayed up late praying, fearing that I might die in my sleep and enter into eternity only to discover that I had, in fact, been wrong and was lost. Was 1% of doubt a chance worth taking? I was sure it wasn't, but I didn't know what to do about it.

I remembered being taught at church that Satan wouldn't make us doubt our salvation, because that tended to draw us closer to Christ and make us trust Him more. That made sense, I thought. My mom said that she thought it was Satan trying to immobilize me with doubt. That made sense, too. Niether of those ideas, however, were helping me. No matter what I did or thought, I couldn't shake that doubt that my faith wasn't, in fact, real.

I wavered between two courses of action: either I wasn't actually "saved," and I needed to be converted for real, or I was truly "saved," and I just needed to remember that I had nothing to worry about. Niether of these courses were working out. Then, after some days, a new course of action came to mind.

I finally said to myself, "I'm doing no one any good by sitting here in my despair. I don't have an answer to this right now, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about that. The only thing I can do is get up, serve Christ as best I can, and trust Him that I will be saved in the end, so that is what I will do."

I wasn't sure whether this was the "theologically correct" thing to do—I certainly don't remember this being presented as an option at church—but it was the only option I had, and I took it. To be honest, I don't think I've ever really settled that question, and my doubts have haunted me with it from time to time, but, instead, I am simply striving to commit myself to Christ each day, and, each day, to trust him to save me, not only from hell in the next life, but from my sins in this life.

I have received help about that question since then. Through Charles Spurgeon's devotional ("Morning and Evening") and sermons, I was reminded that I'm not supposed to focus on my faith, for it is not faith that saves us, but Christ. Often, we find ourselves trusting in our faith rather than trusting in Christ, and then doubts occur when we fear that our faith is insufficient. In Brother Lawrence's book, "The Practice of the Presence of God," I was encouraged by Brother Lawrence's testimony of having a similar experience, being riddled with doubt and fear of hell, and his coming to a similar conclusion that I did: simply entrusting himself to Christ, and serving him now as best he can. In talking with some Eastern Orthodox friends, I have learned that, apparently, they also hold a similar view. I have talked with some within my own tradition who have expressed similar concepts, as well. If I am in error in this, at least I know I have company.

So, this is how I have, for myself, reconciled the idea of "faith alone" and the Scriptural commands to obedience. So long as I am trusting and following Christ as best I can, I trust that He will make up whatever I lack, for "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory" (Matthew 12:20, ESV). I make my prayer the same as the father of the demoniac in Mark 9: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" If and when I stray, which I tend to find myself doing a distressing amount of, I strive to return to Christ as soon as possible, remembering that "the Lord is...longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, KJV).

So, that's where I stand today: a sinner, still learning to repent, still learning to trust in Christ alone for salvation, both in this life, and in the next. I'm not sure that I would recommend this course to everyone, but this is my story. I do hope that, somehow, this will serve as an encouragement to someone out there to keep in the race.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independance Day

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July. Yay for freedom and stuff that blows up!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Some Thoughts From My Dominican Republic Trip

Finally, I'm getting around to posting some thoughts I took away from the Dominican Republic Trip and Kosmos conference. Here they are, neatly organized for the sake of anyone who might read this:

Of course, the main thing that anyone says when they've returned from a third-world country is "It was so sad how poor the people were," or something along those lines. To be honest, I left the Dominican Republic wondering whether this attitude isn't, to some degree, cultural hubris. The questions on my mind as we went through the villages was, "Would these people be considered poor in this culture?" and "What is poverty?"

As an example of this idea, I recalled a story I heard from a missionary in another country who had made some comment about someone being poor, and the person she was talking to responded, "They're not poor; they've got a house over their heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear." In the USA, they might still be considered poor, but in that country, they were doing just fine. Given that, as I've heard, even many homeless in the USA are better off than people in other countries, I wonder if we may have a very skewed idea of poverty.

Not that I'm denying that actual poverty exists, either in the USA or abroad. Neither am I denying that we ought to help those who are "less fortunate." I think compassion for the poor is not only a good thing, but something Christians are commanded to have. The problem that I have is with the idea that the American lifestyle is, or ought to be, the norm for the whole world.

As far as what ought to be the "norm," the measure by which we determine poverty, I don't yet know.

Being Missional
Obviously, this being a missions conference, we talked a lot about missions—particularly, overseas missions. The whole point of the conference was to expose people to the idea of career missions. I was happy, however, to hear some of the speakers make a point to say that missions begins at home. Not everyone is called to go to some other place to be a missionary; we are all missionaies within our respective spheres of influence.

This week reminded me that I need to be a more faithful witness for Christ. What this means is that, first of all, obviously, I need to be willing to share the Gospel whenever I get the chance. This seems like a pretty basic thing, but it's really amazing how, for some reason, it can be scary at times to speak about Jesus in a reverent manner. Very often, I know I have kept silence when I should have spoken in some manner. God have mercy on me.

Secondly, I need to take to heart the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." I need to be one in whom others see Christ. This only comes with being conformed to His image, which is difficult to do at times, because of that annoying call to die. Nevertheless, it is what I must do—what I really want to do. I need to be conformed to Christ's image, so that my life may serve as a testimony to His love, holiness, etc. God, give me grace.

Thirdly, I need to get out of the saltshaker, so to speak. It's kind of hard to be a missionary who doesn't really encounter people who have yet to believe. It's kind of hard to bring the light of Christ into the darkness when we won't leave the torch. It's kind of hard for salt to season the meat if the salt won't leave the shaker. I saw a neat illustration of this idea in the pilot episode of Firefly the other day, which I'll expand upon more in another post.

Patriotism and a Global Perspective
The idea of patriotism and having a global perspective came up a few times in conversation during the week, and there were a couple things I noticed:

One thing that a number of people mentioned at our "reflection time" at the end of the week was how it was surprising to run into some Dominicans and discover that they're not only already Christians, but rather passionate Christians. The discussion then turned to how we so often associate "missionary" with "white American," and how wrong of an idea that is (I've heard South Korea sends out more missionaries than the USA). I was reminded of a bumper sticker a friend of mine once had on her car that said, "God is not an American."

Christianity itself is a cross-cultural religion. Certainly, some churches have become "nationalized" over time, and that may not necessarily be wrong, but what is wrong is when we begin to associate "Christian" with "American" or "British" or "Germain" or "Russian" or whatever else.

At the same time, however, I have been bothered a bit by the almost anti-American sentiments I've heard some Christians express. It's interesting that people I've met from other countries tend to be rather proud of their homelands, yet we often seem almost ashamed we're Americans.

Now, I'm not one to withhold criticisms of our Nation, our society, etc., but I do so not because I'm ashamed of our country, or because it's fashionable to criticize our country, but because I care about our country and our society. For all it's failings, this is a great country. Do I hold our nation up as an exemplar for every nation, everywhere? Certainly not. But am I glad that I was born and raised in America? Yes, I am.

Contentment and Gratitude
Finally, I learned a little about contentment and gratitude. On this trip, there were a number of things to complain about. Hotel service wasn't too great at the resort, the conference schedule was so packed, there was almost no time to rest. The list goes on and on. Then, one day, in my devotional, I read Jesus saying that the Father makes the sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.

As I thought on that passage, I was reminded that everything I have, even the very fact that I exist, is by the grace of God. I did not deserve to be created, and I did not deserve to be born. As another parable Jesus told says, a servent is not rewarded because he did what was commanded, so Jesus taught us, when we have done all that has been commanded of us, to say, "I am an unprofitable servant, for I have only done that which was commanded of me."

If I am to say this when I've kept all Christ's commandments, what am I to say when I have failed? And, so, I have done nothing to deserve existance. I exist, breathe, move, live, eat, and drink, and all other things, by the free grace of God. If I truly believe that, then my life should be one of gratitude.

So, those are some of my thoughts from the trip. And, now, I must get into bed.

Dominican Republic Posts

I've been a bit busy this week, as well as feeling a little under the weather, so I've not gotten a chance to post my thoughts from the trip. As a bit of an appetizer, though, I have uploaded some photos from my digital camera (all the photos on this blog were taken with my cell phone) to flickr, which you can see here.

Also, for those who weren't following my blog while I was on the trip, here's a list of all my posts (oldest on the top, newest on the bottom):

At the Airport
Breakfast on Saturday Morning
Schedule for the Week
Sunday Morning Worship
Playing Chess at the Airport
More Luggage
Dinner With Our Pastor
First Morning of the Conference
Visiting a Dominican Village
Tuesday Evening
Visiting Some Apartments
Thursday in Another Village
Reflection Time
Dinner on Friday
Catalina Island

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Dominican Republic Trip

If you've been following my blog, you'll have noticed a couple things. First of all, I've been updating at an abnormal frequency the past week. Secondly, all these posts include photos of a trip to the Dominican Republic. So, here's a bit of an explanation:

Why I Was In the D.R.
I was in the Dominican Republic for the Kosmos conference. Kosmos is, as the promotional materials say, "a missions conference on the mission field." It was put on by my church in conjunction with SCORE International, a missions organization that has a facility (including a hotel and clinic) in Juan Dolio, a town near Santo Domingo. The idea for the conference is that each day will begin and end with preaching, speakers, etc., and, in the middle of the day, everyone goes out to "the field" to work with missionaries in surrounding villages. While evangelism is certainly an important part of the activities of this conference, the main thrust is exposing young people to missions, hoping to inspire (i.e., God would call) some to missions in some capacity.

Oh, and, while some of the groups stayed at the SCORE hotel, the conference itself was held at the "Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton" resort, where most of the people (including us) stayed (except, on the first and last nights my group stayed in the SCORE hotel).

I went on this trip because our former college pastor, who is now working in the missions department of the church and who I have lunch with every Tuesday, encouraged me to go, along with some other people from my church. I had wanted to do something worthwhile with my vacation time (not that lounging on the beach in Hawaii isn't worthwhile, but I don't think I'd be doing that, anyway), and this was right here. Being the kind of guy I am, I figured, "What the heck?" and decided to go. Oh, of course, this was after praying for direction and not receiving an answer. That never seems to work, anyway...

What I Did In the D.R.
The first few days of the trip, my church's group served as staff for the conference. We were split into two teams, one smaller group that went to the airport to meet incoming groups and get them onto the buses back to the hotels, and the rest to get the groups registered at the hotel and orientated for the conference. The first day, I was on the group that stayed at the hotel, and ended up watching the luggage. The second day, I went to the airport and ended up watching the luggage truck. The third day, I watched luggage at the hotel again.

The conference started Monday night. Once the conference started, my group was no longer staff, but just normal attendees. The schedule was very packed, and there wasn't much time for anything but listening to speakers, eating at appropriate times, and going to "ministry time". Oh, and sleep at night. That lack of time was the most common complaint, and one which will be fixed for the next Kosmos conference (this was the very first one).

The conference schedule basically consisted of 4 speakers in the morning, lunch, "ministry time" (when we go out to work with the missionaries), dinner, and a speaker in the evening. The conference ran until Friday evening. On Tuesday and Thursday, my group visited some villages around the area. On Wednesday, we visited some apartment buildings.

On Saturday, most of my group flew home. However, some of us (including me), had to wait until Sunday. So, Saturday, we checked out of the resort and moved back to the SCORE hotel. We then took the morning and went to Catalina Island, which is supposed to be, basically, some nice, resort island or something. I'll give that experience its own section. Afterward, we just enjoyed the evening at the SCORE hotel. Sunday, we had a church service with some others at the hotel, then went to the airport, did the normal airport thing, got on a plane (I picked up some duty-free coffee beans at the airport), and then went through all the crap one must go through to get into the USA.

Catalina Island
Our excursion to Catalina Island was very interesting, and I think it deserves its own section. We traveled about an hour or so to La Romana to get on a boat that would ferry us out to the island. Our bus was supposed to return at 5pm to pick us up, I believe.

We went out on the boat, and, as we approached an undeveloped part of the island, the boat stopped so people could snorkel. Then, we made our way around to the beach. As we approached the docks, we got pelted with rain so heavy, you could hardly see. After a few minutes, the rain let up, and we got to chill out for a bit. I believe there was a bit of rain off-and-on throughout the time we were on the island, and the sky was ominously gray the whole time. We had lunch, hung out for a bit, but before we actually got to get into the water, they announced the boats were getting ready to head out.

So, we had to leave early (I suppose this was due to the ominous clouds). As we pulled out, the heavy storms hit again, and didn't let up even when we got back to La Romana. Since we were back early, we stood huddled under some trees for an hour trying not to get any wetter than we already were (well, the wetter we were, the colder we were) while we waited for our transportation. It was really a good time, with a group of good-humored people. As Johnny (the aforementioned former college pastor, who was there with his wife and two of his sons) said, "At least it wasn't sunny and boring."

On the way back, the streets of La Romana were flooded. Most people seemed to just be standing around inside the shops, a few wading through the streets. On the bus, we were getting cold, so we opened some windows. A few minutes later, a number of young adults, teens, etc. started swarming the bus begging for money. The bus driver finally told us to close the windows, which we kept closed the rest of the ride. Once we got out of the flooded area, we came upon an intersection where traffic was being rerouted around a block because there was a car on fire. This car was really burning. I hope no one was hurt.

We eventually made it back to the SCORE hotel, and dried off. It was definately an experience.

I was going to post some thoughts I had over the past week, but I've run out of time for now. I guess I can do that in a later post. For now, it's bedtime.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Catalina Island

My last late post. On Saturday, most of our group went home. Those of who were staying until Sunday went out to Catalina Island for the first part of the day. In the photo, some of the group went snorkeling. Once we got out to the island, it started raining. A lot. The ferry ended us leaving early, so we ended up waiting in the rain for our ride back to the hotel. It was fun, though.

Dinner On Friday

This is a few days late, sorry. I've been busy. On Friday evening a small group of us went to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. It was a great time with great conversation. I can't remember a lot of the conversation now, but we discussed everything from politics to postmodernism and the emerging church.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Reflection Time

Today was the last day of the conference. As such, instead of ministry time, we had reflection time. Each church group met together and shared any insights we had over the week. We got off subject for a little bit, and I probably talked too much, as usual. I need to learn to talk less. We did get back on track, though, and had a good time.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thursday in Another Village

Today, we visited another village. The photo is the home of a local convert. I didn't catch the whole story, but as I understand it, his house burned down (?) some time ago, and a Baptist church from Santo Domingo helped him rebuild. When the missionaries came, he and his family believed and were baptised. Now, he's planning to build a church in the village.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Visiting Some Apartments

Today, we visited some apartments in a somewhat better off area. The homes here were a vast improvement over the village. I don't think there people would be considered poor, but the village probably would be. The people were very nice and even invited us inside. We got to talk with some, and handed out tracts.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Tuesday Evening

Tonight, Johnny Hunt spoke as a keynote speaker. He spoke on the four lepers in 1 Kings 7, and how we who have the Good News of God's provision should not be silent about it; rather, we should proclaim it. The photo above is Johnny, Janet (his wife), and Kelly, a friend from church. Also, Anna, from Columbia, who lost her first husband in the jungles while doing mission work, shared her story.

Visiting a Dominican Village

Today, we visited a local village where missionaries a trying to start a church. This is some of our people playing a game with some local children. It was an interesting time; I enjoyed it. One thing I wonder: would there people consider themselves poor? Is our calling them poor just cultural arrogance? I think it's a question worth asking.

First Morning of the Conference

We just had our first two speakers this morning. Johnny Hunt gave a short devotional on God's provisions for us when we obey Him. Then, Carrie McDonnell told us her story, how she became a missionary, and ultimately lost her husband and nearly lost her own life in Iraq. We also had our first breakout session, though I can't remember the speaker's name. He spoke on Hell, and saving people from it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dinner with Our Pastor

Tonight, we had dinner with Johnny Hunt, our pastor. He will be speaking tomorrow evening. I forget who is speaking tonight, though.

More Luggage

More groups coming go today. This time, I've returned to watching luggage at the hotel. This is the last day of receiving groups; the conference starts tonight. In other news, good signal has been hard to find today, so I've not been able to check email. I can use the hotel's Internet connection for $5/half an hour, so I may do that he I get time.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Playing Chess at the Airport

At the airport, Jonathan and I were giving the task of watching the luggage on the truck. This got a little boring, so I pulled out my chess set and we played a couple games. Finally, I'm finding more people to play chess with.

Sunday Morning Worship

UPDATE: Ron Bishop is the president of SCORE International, not just the D.R. facility.

This morning we had a small worship service before starting the day. Ron Bishop, director of the SCORE facility in the DR spoke about God wanting to scatter His people around the world to spread the Gospel.

Now, we're about to eat lunch and my group is going to meet other churches at the airport.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Schedule for the Week

I'm not sure if this is readable, but this is the conference schedule for the week.

Breakfast on Saturday Morning

Here we're eating breakfast at the SCORE hotel, and getting ready to move to the Hilton where we'll be staying the rest of the week. This hotel's pretty nice, but everything except the rooms is outside. The DR is really humid.

Friday, June 16, 2006

At the Airport

We just arrived in Dominican Republic. The flight was good and on time, and I'm happy to find I still have Internet access on my phone. Here's everyone loading our luggage onto the buses that will take us to the hotel.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Energy Drinks: The Phenomenon

In high school, my brother did some news anchoring for his school's weekly news show. Check out this humorous segment he and his co-anchor did on energy drinks:

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Melted Head

This is what happens when you put a marshmallow peep's head in the microwave.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Poem for Good Friday

(It's not quite finished, but I thought I'd share it, anyway.)

The sky grows black,
Dark as night,
For on a Cross,
Hangs the Light.
I weep to look
at the sight;
How can this be?
This isn't right!

This King came down
to His own.
In Heaven left
He his throne,
They would believe,
Had they known;
Their hearts were dead,
Hard as stone.

So now my King
Hangs to die,
Beneath a dark and
Solemn sky.
"It is finished!"
Is His cry.
And I am weeping,
Why, why, why?

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Random Thoughts About Music

I just finished watching a fansub of an anime series called Macross Zero. From what I've understood of what I've seen in the different Macross series, a common theme is the power of music. In this series, the music is a part of an ancient creation myth that includes a prophecy of the destruction of the world. One of the characters, a priestess, is devoted to the "Song of Creation," and, whenever she sings it, the whole island seems to come alive. This song of creation is, apparently, sung by all living things. The other song is the "Song of Destruction," which has the power to destroy creation.

Anyway, watching this series got me thinking about music. Specifically, I was thinking about its signifigance. Music, somehow, seems to have the ability to bypass barriers of logic and reason and speak directly to the heart. It almost seems that music is the language of the soul. Emotions and feelings that cannot be described in words can be shared by a simple melody. As the saying goes, music calms the wild beast. In Scripture, David played on his harp, and calmed King Saul's raging madness. In Greek mythology, the Sirens' song lured sailors to a watery grave. Today, movie soundtracks provide an emotional connection to the events of the movie (seriously, try watching the dramatic scene in a movie without the music soundtrack and see if it's quite as emotional—although, true, sometimes, the emphasis is accomplished by silencing the music). When I was playing in the orchestra at my church, I began to notice a connection between certain parts of the music and the reactions of the congregation. A crescendo into a key change to a higher key would generally get people on their feet and hands raised, for instance (if paired with the right chords, apparently).

More personally, I find playing an instrument to be almost therapeutic. Sometimes, the playing slows me down, and helps me to relax and think. Sometimes, playing music just takes me to another world. Sometimes, my music is the only way I can express myself. This is, I suppose, why, when I play my own music, it's always something slightly different: each time I play it, circumstances around and within me are different.

I'm also reminded of the creation myths in both C.S. Lewis's Narnia series and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. In The Magician's Nephew, Lewis writes of the creation of Narnia:
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful nosie he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.


Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn't come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand. thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
And so on, until the Singer of the First Voice is revealed as a great Lion. Where the characters of the story had been standing (if that's the right word) in Nothing, Aslan literally sings Narnia into being.

I don't have The Silmarillion at hand to quote from, but in that story, Tolkien records that Iluvatar first begets the Ainur, and proceeds to lead them in a Great Music. The greatest of the Ainur, Melkor, begins to attempt to alter the harmony of the Great Music. The discord introduced by Melkor leads many of the other Ainur into similar discord. However, rather than allowing his Music to be ruined, Illuvatar works this discord into the Music, making it even more beautiful and deep. Once this music is accomplished, Illuvatar reveals to the Ainur that they had just sung the history of Middle Earth, and then forms the Universe after the music that was sung.

Finally, I started reading a book recently called Music in the Medieval World. The first chapter of the book discusses the Jewish origins of Christian liturgical music. According to the author of this book,
For the Jews, music had always held a major position in worship. As in many religions, music seems to have been considered as a kind of language peculiarly appropriate to communicate with God, for it was a manner of communication completely out of the ordinary interchange between human beings.
Personally, I think there is something deeper to the importance of music in communicating with God than its just being different from how we talk to one another. It seems that music is something deeper, something more spiritual, something more universal among all of mankind (but not limited to mankind).

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about a show he had seen on String Theory. To quote the Wikipedia article, "The basic idea is that the fundamental constituents of reality are strings of energy of the Planck length (about 10-35 m) which vibrate at resonant specific frequencies." The focus of our discussion was on the seeming similarity of this to sound. If I understand correctly, tonal sets in music are built around "resonant specific frequencies."

I may be smoking a lot of crack here (and almost certainly evidencing a complete misunderstanding of string theory), but I'll put this up for discussion: is it possible that music is sort of an echo of the voice of God in creation?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Location is Everything

New Activity

If anyone is actually reading this blog, you may have noticed that, after a full month and a half of no posting, two posts appeared yesterday. Well, in addition to planning to start posting here again, I got internet service on my cell phone. Yesterday, I was testing out the "mobile blogging" feature of Blogger. This is very cool; I can now take a photo of something, send it to Blogger, and it will get posted! Cool, huh? Expect to see more of this. I already have a place or two in mind that needs to be photographed. I will try to stop by one on my way home from work today.

The only downside is that the plan I chose to start with for internet access gives me 1MB of data transfer for free, and, after that, it costs $.01/KB. Since I just got this new toy, I've been playing around with it a lot the past couple days. That single MB has been used. Now, for every MB I use, it will, by my calculations, cost me $10.24. Oh, well. I may upgrade to a better plan eventually, but, for now, I just want to see if it would be worth it.

In addition to the photo-posts, I'm going to be trying to keep this blog updated more often with thoughts, interesting quotes on stuff I've read, and other things. And, maybe people will actually read this, and maybe I'll be able to get good discussions going in the comments.

Well, my lunch break is almost over, so, back to work.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Testing Blogger from My Cell Phone

It snowed at work a few weeks ago. I'm just testing out Blogger's mobile feature.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Record Label Takes Stand Against RIAA

From Ars Technica,
In a twist on the old tale of the RIAA suing teenagers for downloading music, Nettwerk Records (Canada) has offered to pay the legal bills of one family who has vowed to challenge the RIAA in court. The Gruebels, a US family, are accused by the RIAA of downloading a whole host of songs, including works by various Nettwerk artists. The label has offered to foot the bill for Chicago lawyer Charles Mudd Jr., who will defend the family in court and has already argued several cases on this issue. Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk, explained in a statement that he does not see how lawsuits help the industry, the artist, or the consumer.
In addition, the label has stated that they will even pay the fee the RIAA is demanding if the family loses the case.

This is very cool. If would be even better if more labels saw things this way, and could start to rack up some pressure against the Big Five and the RIAA. Of course, there's always the hope that what we're seeing is the death throes of the RIAA, and either they will learn to adapt to the new economy or eventually die out.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Dearth of Posts

Yes, I'm still alive. I've been rather busy lately, so I've not really had time to read, or to really think about what I've read. I'm thinking I probably need to set aside maybe an hour or more whenever I can spare it as a quiet time, where I seperate myself from distractions, and just sit down with some books or articles and a journal. Then I can simply read, think, and write down what I think. Not only will I have more to write about, it will help me improve and grow myself.

So, basically, this is an "I'm still alive" post. That's all I have right now.