My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 3 of 3)

Down to the final four. And so here they are.

#4: Gillian Welch - Hell Among the Yearlings

Well, I didn't say I couldn't have more than one. Darker and older than Time (the Revelator), this is Gillian at her best, singing songs with names like "The Devil Had a Hold of Me," "Whiskey Girl," "My Morphine," and "I'm Not Afraid to Die." If she had been born thirty years earlier, we be watching movies about her instead of June Carter.

#3: Margot & The Nuclear So & So's - The Dust of Retreat

I found Margot just browsing through emusic one day, and have been listening to their album ever since. Named after a Wes Anderson character, the word I've seen used most often to describe their sound is "chamber pop." They themselves call it "scarf rock." I would call it well crafted and complex songs with literate and sharp songwriting. It's a great album, and it's their debut. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

#2: My Morning Jacket - Z

Reverb heavy pop/rock. What sets MMJ apart is their totally unique sound, effortless passion and Jim James' outstanding voice. I've got some of their older stuff off of emusic, but for this one you're going to need to head over to iTunes. Absolutely beautiful music. Why they aren't on the radio is beyond me.

#1 Sufjan Stevens - Live at Lee's Palace, Toronto, 16 Nov. 2004

Like I said, no one said I couldn't have more than one. I love Sufjan's albums, but somehow this captures him better for me. The sound is great, the crowd engaged but quiet, and he plays songs off of all three of his major albums: Seven Swans, Michigan and Illinois. Highlights: "50 States," which has this great line: "Go to New Hampshire, Missouri too--it's not Virgina, but it'll do"; a subdued version of "Chicago," and an essentially perfect rendition of "Romulous," which is my personal candidate for most underrated Sufjan song ever. This is the album that's kept me company more than any other this year--it's now nearly an old friend, and it's also a free download available here.


My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 2 of 3)

Continuing to post my favorite new (to me) albums of 2006, here's a group of four more-again, in no particular order.

Joseph Arthur - Nuclear Daydream

I first heard about Arthur reading this post on Jeremy Huggins' blog. Seeing that his new album was available for a couple of bucks on emusic, I took the recommendation and downloaded it. I've always really enjoyed singer/songwriter kind of guys, and Arthur manages to be both a smart and skilled writer as well as musician. Read Jeremy's post for more info. I've really enjoyed the album--probably have connected with its lyrical content more than anything else I've heard this year. Hear Arthur's music here, and do yourself a favor and download his album.

Josh Rouse - 1972

All Josh does is make smart and polished acoustic pop. A little too sweet for continual listening, but great in small doses. Music your wife will like. Nashville is probably a better album to start with, but I found that one in 2005, so it wasn't eligible.

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

If I had found Ryan earlier in the year he'd be part of my top four. Amazing. Definitely the artist I'm most excited about getting into in the coming year. Alt-country singer-songwriter, sort of a modern day Gram Parsons, but with a bit more edge. You can download a free Ryan Adams concert here.

Sufjan Stevens-Avalanche

The king of the indie pop just keeps on producing. This is an album of b-sides from Illinois that holds together well in its own right. If you haven't heard Sufjan yet, what're you waiting for? Join emusic now and get Michigan or Illinois. Seeing him live in St. Louis in September was definitely a highlight of the fall. You can download basically that same show performed a few days later in New York right here. Oh, and all the cool kids call him "Soof-jan."


My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 1 of 3)

My take on the whole "Top Albums" concept is a little different than what you'll see on most blogs. I guess I'm emphasizing the "my" part. Not all of these albums were released in the past year--actually most of them weren't. Essentially what I did was go into iTunes, set up a playlist to include all the music I've added since 12/31/05 and then chose those albums which I've really enjoyed over the last year, since discovering them. In other words, they're my top music purchases (or downloads) of the past year. These are the albums that I've found in the last twelve months that have shaped my soundtrack for the year as I've played them in the car, at home and in the library--basically anywhere I use my iPod, which is just about everywhere. It's fun for me to look back and remember all this great music I've been able to find--music gives me a great deal of pleasure and is one of the non-chemical substances I rely on to make it through the pressures of the day-to-day. All of these bands are great--maybe you'll find one of your top albums of 2007 here.

I'll post the albums in three groups, saving my top four albums for the last post. Beyond that, there's not really any sense in ranking them, so I'll just list them in alphabetical order.

Antony and the Johnsons-I Am a Bird Now

I found Antony on Emusic off of a "best of" list for 2005 and quickly fell in love with his passionate and well crafted songs. Most of his music is piano based, though he does use a band as well for a lot of his songs. Antony, who is a great, poetic songwriter, sings in a high falsetto voice that I'm sure is off putting for a lot people, but I think it's really beautiful. If you've heard Rufus Wainwright, you have a pretty good sense of the kind of music Antony performs. Like Wainwright, Antony is also a homosexual. Fine singer and songwriter, though. You can sample his music here, and read his wikipedia article here.

Bob Dylan-Modern Times

Bob. What can I say. Dylan's been my favorite musician for about eight years (Blonde on Blonde-greatest album of the 20th century), so I obviously had to get Modern Times the day it came out. I have to say that so far I don't like it as much as either Time Out of Mind or Love and Theft, though it does continue to grow on me. "Spirit on the Water" is a great track. If you haven't heard Bob Dylan, I can't really explain him to you in a blog post. I'm also not sure where you can go to hear free tracks of his music. Sorry.

Gillian Welch-Time (The Revelator)

I first heard Gillian on A Prairie Home Companion, singing sad songs with an acoustic guitar in a low, somber, understated voice that got under my skin. I finally got around to downloading some (well, all) of her albums this year and am now kicking myself for waiting so long. Until this year, Emmylou Harris was my unquestioned favorite female vocalist. It's neck and neck now. If you like good country music at all, you need to hear this voice. Unbelievable. You can hear (and buy) some of her music at her website. You can also read a New Yorker article on Gillian.

Great Lake Swimmers-Bodies & Minds

Another find off of that Emusic "best of" 2005 list. Amazingly haunting folk-rock. Kind of like the Cowboy Junkies but with a male lead singer (Tony Dekker, like Margot Timmons, also has a beautiful voice). Dekker is also a very solid writer who manages deep emotion without pretension. One reviewer said this about the album: "Tony Dekker's reliable, vaguely liturgical tenor still dominates the vast, barren landscapes of their sound, a fine, if sometimes frosty setting for his intimations about mundane tragedies and transcendental yearnings." Yeah. That sounds about right. You can hear the Great Lake Swimmers here.

One other thing--Antony, Gillian and Great Lake Swimmers can all be downloaded legally off of Emusic for a fraction of the cost of iTunes. If you're interested in a fifty song free trial, just leave a comment or email me and I can send you an invitation.


an old country

This is a great essay by Roger Angell on how America has aged as a country since September 11th, 2001.


Mets 2, Redbirds 0

After the events of yesterday involving first a possible terrorist strike in NY, then a tragic accident, then a tragic accident killing a major league baseball player with a wife and son, the game at Shea tonight seemed nearly anticlimatic. Some would say "baseball doesn't matter at a time like this" or something like that. Of course, that's both true and untrue. No more people died yesterday than any normal day recent American history. Baseball always "matters" (whatever that's supposed to mean) as much as you allow it, regardless of what's going on in the world around you. In any case, Lidle's death combined with the bleak October weather did cast a gray shadow over tonight's game.

Tom Glavine started for the Mets and he breezed through the first three Cardinals batters the same way he went through the rest of the lineup for the next six innings--efficiently, with little drama, and taking full advantage of the extra inches on the outside edge of the plate that the home plate umpire consistently offered him. Even at forty, Glavine is one of the top five or so pitchers of the last twenty years and the Cardinals, the umpire and the crowd all deferred to his experience and skill on this drizzily evening.

The Cardinals starter was Jeff Weaver, a stork-like lanky right hander with curly blond hair pouring out of his red cap and an intense, pacing style on the mound in between pitches. After starting the season in a particularly dreadful manner with the Angels this spring, Jeff was eventually released after being outpitched by his little brother Jered, who is essentially what Jeff Weaver was six years ago--young, talented and highly desired. The Cardinals general manager, Walt Jocketty, who has made a career of snapping up undervalued (mostly veteran) players discarded by other, more hasty teams leaped at the opportunity to sign the elder Weaver, who proceeded to pitch only marginally better for the Cardinals than he had for the Angels. However, in this Cardinal season, marginally better than terrible meant that Weaver was better than two-fifths of the St. Louis staff and that's how found himself starting Game 1 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres. In that game Weaver pitched in and out of trouble, taking advantage of the weaker Padre hitters and an early Pujols homerun to earn the win by pitching five scoreless innings. Tonight, Weaver was much better, pitching what was probably his best game of the year, limiting the Mets to only one hit through five innings on good location and movement on his fastball and consistently staying ahead of hitters due to the generous strike zone. Then, in his third pass through the heart of the powerful New York lineup, Weaver gave the restless Shea crowd exactly what they had waited for: a scratch hit for Paul Lo Duca and then a mistake fastball to Carlos Beltran on a 2-2 count that burst the nervous knot that had formed in the stomachs of about 50,000 Mets fans and resulted in dancing, cheers and the occasional "Let's-Go-Mets" as Beltran rounded the bases.

The Cardinals accepted their loss meekly, the only real trouble coming in the eighth when Mota inexplicably walked David Eckstein on four pitches and then went 3-0 on Preston Wilson with Pujols on deck. After watching Mota throw two fastballs down the middle, Wilson fouled off a couple of good strikes and then decided that swinging at a ball out of the zone might have a better result, finally popping up ball four for the third out and leaving Albert Pujols and the Cardinals's last real shot at victory standing in the on deck circle.

Even though the Cardinals squandered a great opportunity for a 1-0 series lead tonight, they're a long way from being out of this series. The Mets took a must-win game for them tonight. If they lose to Weaver they then face Carpenter and might be down 2-0 going back to St. Louis. Now the Cardinals have a must win game--they simply must take advantage of Carpenter's starts in order to have a chance in this series. Hopefully they can get Maine out of the game by the fifth inning and have a shot at the Mets's bullpen before Wagner comes in, which apparently will only be in the ninth inning when the Mets's have a lead (Chad Bradford was warming up to face Pujols in the eighth when Wilson almost walked!). Let's go, Redbirds.


Cards-Padres roundup

I'm currently watching the Detroit bullpen make the A's batters look silly instead of the Cards-Mets game that was cancelled due to rain. The Cardinals's first round was a pleasure to listen to (games 1-3, all at work) and watch (game 4). Both teams pitched well (the Cardinals's six runs in game 4 was the most either team scored in any game) and the games were generally quick, crisp and well-played. Most post-season series turn on one or two moments where one player comes up with a crucial hit or catch or pitch that redirects the course of a game and ultimately the series, and this one was no different. In my mind, the Cards-Padres series really came down to two moments, the first being in Game 1 when Albert Pujols faced Jake Peavy after Chris Duncan had doubled to start the fourth inning. Thus far, Peavy had cruised through the Cardinals lineup, which is admittedly this season nothing like the powerful series of hitters opposing pitchers had to tip toe through in 2004 and 2005.

Tigers's game update: A couple bloop hits and suddenly the A's aren't looking so silly anymore, as the bases are now loaded for the Big Hurt with two outs, though they are still down three runs. If I'm Jim Leyland I bring in Zumaya. But he still reads the dreaded manager's book, and that book says you stick with your closer in spots like these, even if you have a much better pitcher on the bench. So it's going to be up to Todd Jones. Never mind--Thomas pops up and it's over. I guess the book was right.

Back to Pujols and Peavy. Peavy's on a roll, Pujols is at the plate with a man on and he pops a pitch up behind home that Mike Piazza turns around to chase first in one direction, then another and finally misses it. At this point it became painfully obvious what was going to happen next. You almost felt sorry for Peavy. When the following pitch finally landed in deep center the score was 2-0 and Game 1 was essentially over--Carpenter shut down the Padres and the Cards grabbed the home field advantage they had thrown away over the last 10 days of the season.

The second crucial moment of series came in Game 4. After Carpenter had struggled through an uncharacteristically wild inning, giving up two runs, the Cardinals suddenly faced a daunting problem--their ace was seemingly off his game and they trailed early in a game they had to win in order to avoid traveling back to San Diego and starting Jeff Weaver on three days rest against the Padres's ace in a decisive fifth game. And so, after loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first, Ronnie Belliard stepped in. In late July the Cardinals had dealt Hector Luna for Belliard because the ManRam lookalike was an identical player to Luna expect for being older, slower, and far more expensive and thus was well-suited for "clutch" situations like the one he now found himself in. Not surprisingly, Belliard blooped a two run base hit, tying the game and apparently also restoring Chris Carpenter's command, as the Cardinal ace returned to reel off six scoreless innings. This gave the Cardinals enough time to later execute a scoring swinging and squeeze bunt in succession, thus plating two runs and stretching their lead to four on two hits that together totalled about thirty feet. Somehow, Tim McCarver refrained from using the term "smallball" to describe the Cardinals's combination of skill and luck. Everyone watching was grateful.

It's likely the the Mets-Cards Series will turn on similar moments. Here's hoping we play well enough for Albert Pujols to be the one who determines what happens in those moments. I know, I know this is a shadow of the team that fell short of a World Series championship the last two years. But that won't keep me from pacing and yelling in front of the TV for the next week. Go Cards! Why not? It may as well be our year.


Who's afraid of metanarratives?

This past spring I wrote an extended paper discussing the importance of a controlling narrative in the formation of the human person and how Moses sets up the narrative of the exodus as the controlling narrative for the people in Israel in his instruction to them in the book of Deuteronomy. I read a lot of Michael Polanyi in developing my argument, but I'm now realizing that it would have also have been helpful to interact with Jean-Francois Lyotard. After commenting that the definition of postmodernism is "incredulity toward metanarratives" in his "Postmodern Condition," he later writes (15),

This breaking up of the grand Narratives...leads to what some authors analyze in terms of the dissolution of the social bond and the disintegration of social aggregates into a mass of individual atoms thrown into the absurdity of Brownian motion. Nothing of the kind is happening: this point of view, it seems to me, is haunted by the paradisaic representation of a lost "organic" society...There is no need to resort to some fiction of social origins to establish that language games are the minimum relation required for society to exist: even before he is born, if only by the name he is given, the human child is already positioned as the referent in the story recounted by those around him, in relation to which he will inevitably chart his course.

What Lyotard seems to be arguing is that even though postmoderns do act as those who are suspicious of controlling narratives, it remains an inescapable part of being human that we are shaped and conditioned by those stories into which we are born and we eventually accept as our own. Incredulity is not the same as separation.


Crabs and fish

I can feel the summer waning--fall classes start on Thursday. So, a poem for summer. I'm posting this because I miss poetry and don't know how to get back into that world, and this is the best I can do-post old poems on my blog.

Crabs and fish

We caught crabs the way the Indians who first called
the river Rappahannock must have—two boys, a piece of meat on a string,
one long-handled net. You had to be careful
of your shadow. Crabs could see you coming.

When we snared one, we danced; blue shelled crab
trapped on the pier under the net, scuttling sideways,
in circles, jagged pincers snapping at our toes.
You had to grab hard from behind. You couldn’t let go.

When I was seven, and James five, Gramps took
us to the middle of the river to teach us to fish.
Handling the blind and slippery worms, he showed us
how to stitch the hook through one end and then the other.

Sunday mornings at the river were the only times
we didn’t go to church. It wasn’t even mentioned.
During summer, the boat’s metal bottom burned our bare feet.
If the fish weren’t biting, Gramps would spend hours

sitting with one foot hanging over the side, leaning
forward, right hand pulling the line, trying to explain
how to tell, with your lead sinker, oyster bottom from mud.
I didn’t really know. Sometimes I just pretended.


who's afraid of postmodernism? (pt ii)

Click here for my first post on this book.

James Smith opens the introduction to Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by attempting to place himself (as many writers do on various topics) in the middle of what he sees as two opposing evangelical perspectives on post-modernism: critique (Smith names Carson, Colson and Erickson as proponents of this view) and unquestioning acceptance (here he names McLaren and Webber). Rather, Smith asserts that he intends to employ a "Schaefferian strategy," meaning that he plans to consider postmodernism as a philosophical system rather than cultural reality, and to argue his case in popular terms as much as possible. It also means, it appears, that Smith intends to offer an appreiciative critique of postmodern philosophy--to weigh it carefully and consider whether parts of it at least might be of use to the church instead of dismissing it all out of hand or accepting it all without question.

I haven't read enough of Carson or McLaren on the topic of PM to evaluate whether Smith's analysis of their approachs to PM is on target. I imagine he's painting with a fairly broad brush here (probably intentionally so, his book hardly has the scope to go into the nuances of Carson or McLaren's positions) but in general I appreciate his sentiment. This Kuyperian approach (i.e. believing that all truth is God's truth and test PM to see carries any value before dismissing it) seems to me to be right on target. Of course it remains to be seen if Smith will indeed carry it out.

In order to consider the value of PM thought, Smith tells us here that he has structured his book around three statements by three of the most prominent PM philosophers.

Derrida - "There is nothing outside the text (il n'y a pas hors-texte)"

Lyotard - PM is "incredulity toward metanarratives"

Foucault - "Power is knowledge"

So far, so good. It seems best to interact with the words of PM guys themselves. I'll take his word that these three statements are representative of PM thought. At first glance these statements seem opposed to traditional Christian thought--challenging the authority of scripture, the nature of truth, etc. But Smith suggests that these statements, and the larger thoughts that stand behind them, may actually illuminate and encourage the church in its worship, theology and practice. Interesting. We'll have to see where this goes.

Smith then goes on to begin to link PM thought and "radical orthodoxy" - one of the new theological movements coming out of Britain, which has John Milbank at its center, advancing a compelling vision for the church that is worth quoting at length. Smith writes:

I want to advocate a shift from modern Christianity to a postmodern church, one akin to the paradigm shift experienced by Neo [in the Matrix]. My point here is confessional: as attested in the Apostles' Creed, I believe in the holy catholic church, and I believe that the very notion of the holy catholic church undoes the modern individualism that plagues contemporary evangelicalism. Indeed, we would do well to recover a much-maligned formula: "There is no salvation outside the church." This doesn't mean that a particular ecclesial body is the dispenser of grace or the arbiter of salvation; rather, there simply is no Christianity apart from the body of Christ, which is the church. The body is the New Testament's organic model of community that counters the modern emphasis on the individual. The church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery or emotional satisfaction. The church is the site where God renews and transforms us--a place where the practices of being the body of Christ forms us into the image of the Son.

Thus far, I'm comfortable with where Smith seems to be headed. I'm not sure if postmodernism really has a lot to offer the church, but I trust him enough to hear him out. The best aspect of the book so far is Smith's tone (which is positive and hopeful without being naive) as well as his vision for the church, which resonates a great deal with my own ideas of what the church should be. Next up: Smith's chapter on Derrida's statement that "there is nothing outside the text." Any comments are welcome.


Today's sign of the apocalypse:

Albert Pujols and his wife appear on Focus on the Family.

From the episode description:

"Like many kids in the Dominican Republic, Albert had a dream; and that dream was to play professional baseball. Today, you'll see a side of a major leaguer who despite fame, fortune, and MVP status remains true to his family, marriage, and his faith in Christ. Dr. James Dobson discusses things that matter with St. Louis Cardinal Slugger, Albert Pujols and his wife Dee Dee."

There's no incipient gnosticism in there, really. I promise.

All kidding aside, I think Albert's faith is great--and if you can put up with Dobson, the interview gives a good picture of Bert in his off the field life. I'd still love him even if he wasn't a believer, but it seems like Albert does do his best to honor God, etc. Can't complain about that.


who's afraid of postmodernism?

Over the next week or so, I'm hoping to blog my way through James Smith's new book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? My desire to read the book is really a convergence of several different interests. For one, James Smith is one of the American writers involved in a theological conversation termed Radical Orthodoxy -- something I've heard bits and pieces about but haven't really been able to look into in any detail. (Interesting sidenote--Ami and I both had classes with John Milbank's wife, Alison, in the literature department while they were teaching at Virginia. At the time I had no idea who her husband was. She was one of the kindest professors I knew at UVA).
In addition to this, I don't really feel that I've thought or read about postmodernism (in the philosophic, not cultural sense) in any kind of systematic way, though I have a great deal of interest in reading postmodern thinkers as I share their concern (because of Polanyi and Newbigin) regarding the enlightenment assumptions about epistemic certainty and "objective truth." So my purpose in reading Smith is to both gain some familiarity with Radical Orthodoxy (which I understand to be based on a fairly sympathetic reading of postmodern thinkers) and to begin to consider how postmodernism might converge with and help develop the epistemological convictions I've come to hold by reading Michael Polanyi and others.

Finally, Peter Leithart calls the book both "very fine" and "lucid," which makes it all the more appealing.


Israel's True King

For friends/family that weren't able to attend the evening service on 8/13 at Providence, here's a link to download a mp3 of my sermon that evening on Mark 6:30-44. Right-click on the link and select "Save As" to download. If the link stops working, just let me know by leaving a comment.


Liturgical piety (and knowledge)

Shookfoil recently posed this question to me: If you were going to write a book on Liturgical Piety, what chapters and
subjects would you include?

Though there are many directions one could go with such a book, there's no doubt in my mind what the topic of one of the first chapters should be: an epistemological framework which affirms the value and necessity of non-propositional knowledge--which is of course the primary kind of knowledge that one gains from participation in the church's liturgy.

In my mind, the reason why many evangelicals turn up their nose at a "high church" or structured liturgy is that it seems so meaningless from the perspective of their modernistic frameworks. Give me my forty-five minute sermon, thank you very much. But there's more to learning than information transfer. And so the problem is fundamentally epistemological--for a modernistic epistemology either dismisses completely or essentially minimizes those kinds of knowledge which are unarticulatable.

But the kind of knowledge formed from participation in a structured liturgy (that is, in a weekly service where the sacramental meal, not the preached word, is the center point of the service) is most fundamentally "skill" knowledge--a way-of-being in the world. In the liturgy, the posture and ritual actions and words we make and speak toward God and each other gradually come to inform and shape our posture and words and actions during the other parts of our lives. (This shaping process, in my mind, is what "liturgical piety" means). In this sense, liturgical knowledge is more similar in type to something like knowing how to ride a bike than to knowing that George Washington was the first president of the United States. And unless this type of knowledge is acknowledged and valued, there's not much point in talking about it.

An interesting book that seems to argue among many of these same lines: Worship As Meaning, by Graham Hughes.


Hezbollah, etc.

It's good news whenever an armed conflict in the Middle East (or anywhere else) finally begins to wind down. Hopefully both sides will actually follow through with the cease fire that's been proposed. Of course it's difficult to imagine real lasting peace between Israel and the various groups that oppose their nation. Hopefully this pause in the fighting will last for a while.

However justified Israel may have felt in pursuing their invasion and bombing of Lebanon, it's hard for me see how an aggressive policy really helps their long term goals of peace and prosperity. In the short term Hezbollah may have been damaged, but in the long run they've probably been strengthened in their own, more sinister agenda, as this article argues. Not that I'm blaming Israel for defending itself and its citizens...though I wonder if there was a way for Israel to both effectively defend itself and not kill innocent Lebanese. The whole situation there (and with the Palestinians) is a very tangled web, and has little hope of unraveling without a real advance of the gospel in that part of the world. Indeed, I'm very confident in saying that it's not a problem America is going to solve anytime soon (or ever).



I'm in the middle of preparing my first "real" (i.e. non-classroom) sermon and realizing how conflicted my view of homiletics actually is.

I've been taught a certain way of preaching here at Covenant and I'm not even sure if it's a good way in general for scripture to be communicated, not to mention if it's a good way for me in particular to communicate scripture.

Turns out it's one thing to think you know what a passage means and another to articulate it.


Why blog?

It’s a good question.

Paul Graham (British blogger) has a good answer:

I think what most bloggers are doing is thinking out loud.

It’s a little misleading to talk of “putting things into words,” because that implies the ideas come first. In fact, expressing thoughts creates them. And especially expressing thoughts to other people, even people you don’t know. So I think the reason many people like blogging is that they like the thinking it causes.

The relationship between ideas and words is an odd one, and perhaps isn’t possibly understood in any kind of complete way. But it does seem that there is a difference between an idea or image or memory that merely resides in our heads and one that is articulated in language. Blogging is just another avenue of that articulation.


New Cardinals

One of the best things about intensely following a baseball team over a season is “getting to know” its players. Obviously I don’t really know any of the members of the St. Louis Cardinals…my relationship with them is based on their appearance, demeanor, radio descriptions, performance on the field, etc. That said, it’s always fun when there’s new year and new players to develop affection for. Some of my favorite new guys this year:

Chris Duncan–Sure, he’s the pitching coach’s son, but it’s always nice when Tony gives a young guy a legitimate shot and he performs well. Personally I think Young Dunc looks like a bumbling idiot most of the time on the field, with his height, build, thick gold chain, mighty Casey swing from the heels and running forward then back to catch a routine fly ball. But he’s a lovable kind of guy. And he’s got a real power stroke, something that’s always fun to watch.

Anthony Reyes–Probably my favorite young player. Talented, a little cocky and distinctive fashion. Actually the stockings are a little scary, what with the not so distant memories of the implosion of the last pitcher who pulled his red socks up his calves. But Reyes is fun to watch pitch, with good movement on his fastball and a great changeup. Here’s to hoping that TLR and old Dunc let him actually try to strike guys out once in a while.

Hector Luna–Oh wait…never mind.

Adam Wainwright–Descended from a long line of wagon makers, I’m just hoping Adam actually gets to throw that wicked breaking pitch in the first inning sometime next season. Tall, lanky, talented–if he gets a shot Wainwright could definitely be the best thing to come out of the J. D. Drew trade (although Marquis, King, Bigbie and Miles haven’t set the bar too high).

Jeff Weaver
–I really want to like him, anyway. He’s got good stuff, which is more than can be said for half the Cardinals’ staff. Could be another great Jocketty trade. We’ll see in the next two months. The strikeouts against the Reds are encouraging.

New Cardinals I don’t have that much affection for:

Tyler Johnson
–Blah. Another LOOGY for TLR to play with. Not much to see here.

John of the Incarnation–What an ugly swing. He’s better than I thought he’d be, but I didn’t think he’d very good. Actually pretty good defensively and better power than expected. If only the man took a walk once ever homestand or so.

Aaron Miles–I’ve had it with Tony’s obession with scrappy middle infielders who are slighty better players than he was at that age. If only Hector had gotten the playing time that Miles did. He’s obviously much better at pinch-hitting, just ask Brad Lidge.

Ricardo Rincon
–Now that was a good investment.

Sidney Ponson–See Ricardo Rincon.

Scott Spezio–Again, better than I thought he would be. If we win the division and the Stros don’t make the playoffs, it might have to be traced back to the solo shot he hit off Lidge in July that led to Albert’s winning homer. The bright red soul patch on the other hand…that’s what’s keeping me from really liking the guy.



In another life, I’m a father/husband who leads morning prayer with his family every day. I don’t think there’s any spiritual area I’d like to grow in more. In reality, I have no idea how to get to that place.

If I ever get to be that guy, the Reformed Liturgics Institute seems to be a great resource.


Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

One book I neglected to include on my summer reading log was Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. If you operate in Christian circles, I'm sure this is a book you've heard about. My (mostly positive) review was just posted at Writers Read. In all, it's a great (though not unflawed) book--an especially helpful resource to work through with someone who's new to or curious about the faith.


Summer update

My last two summers in St. Louis were dominated, in turn, by Greek and Hebrew--learning paradigms and vocabulary, translating, etc. The summer of 2006, in contrast, has mostly consisted of reading novels, chasing after our now-crawling and suddenly willful son, and lazy nights drinking/smoking in the deck or yard--sometimes accompanied by wife or dog or friends, sometimes alone, often with Mike Shannon and John Rooney in the background.

Reading list over the last six weeks or so:

A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean (Fly-fishing brothers)
Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy (Apocalyptic lapsed-catholic fantasy adventure story)
Embers, Sandor Marai (Hungarian translated into English)
The Last Best League, Jim Collins (Amateur summer Cape Cod baseball league)
Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler (Pseudo-spiritual family drama)
The Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright (historical context of Jesus)
Child of my Heart, Alice McDermott (Sad coming-of-age story)

All excellent books--I would recommend any of them, depending on your interests. The N.T. Wright book was especially enlightening--sort of a popular version of his Jesus and the Victory of God. Wright's arguments are compelling and helpful--he is a master of stripping away our cultural assumptions about Jesus and revealing his life, death and resurrection for the radical and climatic event in history that it was.


Believing and Belonging

The project I most invested myself in this past semester was an idependent study focusing on the importance of narrative in the Christian life. The fruit of that study was a paper (called "Believing and Belonging") studying the ways in Moses uses the narrative of the exodus in the formation of the people of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy and then positing implications for how that pattern might inform the Church's use of its own narrative of redemption.

As Christians, we live in a community that is shaped by a story, and as we mature in the faith, we discover that our own story is a simply a chapter in the one we find in the scriptures. I am firmly convinced that to live as a follower of Christ in his world is to allow his story to pattern our lives as it shapes us in our participation in the body of Christ through our communal, sacramental and gathered worship.

The paper, which also relies heavily on the insights of Michael Polanyi, can be downloaded here. (Right-click on the link and click on "save as..." to download).

Edit: Apparently the link wasn't working earlier. I believe it is up and running now. If you're still having problems, leave a comment and I'll email it to you.


an easter narrative and the meaning of life

Ami's out celebrating a friend's birthday over ice cream and I'm home with little boy sitting on the deck and enjoying the night air (the boy's in the bed). I should be reading 2 Kings.

Baseball's a couple of weeks into its season and so far hasn't been without drama or surprise. The Cardinals game on Sunday against the Reds was an instant classic--a great story of one player who just wouldn't let his team lose despite their best efforts to the contrary. I watched Juan-got-no-glove-or-bat err the game away with frustration, but of course he was just setting the stage for baseball's best hitting pitcher to get on base with a single up the middle so that baseball's best hitter could take one swing, throw his hands in the air, flip his bat and stutter step to first, watching his third homerun of the day curve just a few feet right of the left field foul pole and send everyone home happy. New life right out of the death of a ballgame, and on Easter no less. How 'bout that?

Studies continue to well and keep me busy, not that I'm complaining. There's something about constant hard work interrupted by one day of rest every seven days that's helpful and right.

My thesis paper is developing--there's four weeks to go and twelve pages are done, most of them not half bad.

Just finished a group exegetical paper on 2 Sam 11 (David and Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite) which is fascinating passage when you look at it closely, especially in the Hebrew. I'm sure I've spent 40+ hours on that chapter in the past week and I still get the feeling the surface is only being scratched. From a strictly literary point of view, I'm more and more convinced that the Hebrew Scriptures can go toe to toe with the best of Homer and Virgil and come out on top every time. Books by two Jewish scholars, Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg, have helped a me great deal and I recommend them highly ("Art of Bibical Narrative" and "Poetics of Biblical Narrative"). Alter's is more accessible.

Another pleasure: Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Alamanac" is now available as a daily podcast through itunes, which means I can listen to Garrison tell stories and read a poem every day on the way to school. That's a pretty good way to start the day, even if it is in the middle of the daily knucklehead St. Louis traffic jam.

The other day in my intro to counseling class our professor asked something like "how would you explain the meaning of life"? I couldn't think of a good summary at the time, but I was a little frustrated with the answers of my classmates, which were mostly of the "love God a lot" variety. I think I have an answer now: To enjoy God's good creation as much as possible all the days of my life and join with him in working for the renewal of all things, believing that all the best of what there is in this world is only a shadow of its reality in the new earth that is to come.


Season Preview

In honor of opening day, I thought I'd post a few thoughts about each division.

American League East: For something like the last five years, the AL East has stacked up NY, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. While there's been a fair amount of shakeup in the divison since last season, I don't really expect things to change this year. New York's lineup is overwhelmingly good, and Joe Torre isn't wasting his time with guys like Tony Womack. Obviously, there are a lot of questions about the rotation, but I'm guessing the starters will stay healthy enough to pull out the divison. Boston will challenge, but when Mark Loretta is your best hitting infielder, you know you're in trouble--the Red Sox will settle for the Wild Card (again). Toronto will be better, but not nearly as much better as spending $100 million should have made them. Baltimore and Tampa will be Baltimore and Tampa.

American League Central: Top to bottom, the best divison in baseball. It might be a year too early still, but my hunch is that the dynasty in Cleveland will begin this year. Hafner, Sizemore, Martinez, Peralta-that's a pretty good core, and there's enough pitching to get them to the divison title. Chicago will finish a close second and miss the playoffs-they're good, but this is a tough division and the White Sox bullpen, a strength last year, is looking like it may have a lot of question marks. The Twins will beat out the Tigers for third, and the Royals will be the worst team in the AL by a long shot.

American League West: Oakland looks solid in all aspects of the game, and their overall balance and superior starting pitching should be enough to win the division. The Angels are still a great team, but Vlad won't be able to carry the offense by himself this year. Texas will score a lot of runs and give up almost as many, and Seattle fans will enjoy watching Felix Hernandez imitate Doc Gooden (the last time a pitcher this young was this good) and not much else.

In the playoffs, Cleveland will beat Boston in 4, and Oakland will finally beat New York to set up an A's/Indians ALCS, which Oakland will win.

MVP: Travis Hafner
Cy Young: Barry Zito
ROY: Ian Kinsler

National League East: Honestly, I have no idea who will win the NL East. The Braves, Mets and Phillies will be close all year. Ultimately, if the Mets' pitchers stay healthy, I think they'll pull it out. Atlanta will finish second (missing their pitching coach) with the Wild Card, and the Phillies third. A Triple-A Florida team will beat out the gloriously mismanaged Nationals, who were better off when they were owned by no one.

National League Central: The easiest division race to call--unless Albert goes down, the Cards should cruise to another title here. The Brewers will beat out the Cubs and Stros for second, and Cincinnati will continue to evolve into the Texas Rangers of the National League. Pittsburgh will make Royals fans feel better about themselves.

National League West: Another crapshoot divison. I'll go with San Diego in a close one over LA and San Fran. The most exciting event in the NL west will be when Barry Bonds breaks Babe Ruth's record on the road and has objects thrown on the field at him. Probably needles. Arizona should have their own dynasty in a couple years but not in 2006. The Rockies will continue to hope that maybe, just maybe Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook will be a couple of guys who can pitch in Colorado. They will be disappointed.

Playoffs: Cardinals over the Braves, Mets over San Diego. In the NLCS, Pujols takes Wagner deep in game 7 to clinch the series. In the world series, Dan Haren and Kiko Calero pitch lights out, Mulder gets shelled and the A's win in six.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols
Cy Young: Jake Peavy
ROY: Prince Fielder


spring break update

Spring Break always seems to arrive a little too late and fly by far too fast, leaving not much semester and a lot of work still to do.

My foremost project continues to be a thesis paper on the use of narrative in Deuteronomy. I've started writing it even though I'm not yet sure all the paths my arguments my travel down, because I've realized that I'm not the kind to perfectly outline my thoughts and then put them into prose. Somehow the paper writing process is the thing that frees me to think in new ways, in directions that I couldn't if I was still just reading and doing research. So the paper has begun.

The outline goes something like this so far:

Thesis: Our believing (i.e. acting, knowing) is shaped by our belonging (cf. Polanyi, PK)

A. Our Belonging = our worldview/tradition/fundamental assumptions imparted to us by our culture

B. Worldviews are narrative in structure/authoritative narratives shape our view of the world (cf. Wright, many others)

C. In Deut., Moses shapes the belonging and worldview of the people at least in part by use of the story of the Exodus. (this, as far as I can tell, is my original contribution)

1. By authoritatively telling it--i.e. give the authoritative version of the Exodus in summary statements
2. By setting the story of the Exodus as an authority:

A. to compel their ethical action
B. to compel their graditude
C. to shape their identity

3. By setting up ritual recitation and enactment of the story (Deut 6 & 26)

D. Conclusions for the church's use of its own narrative of deliverance?


the quest for certainty

"After three centuries of a quest for, if not an assurance of, certainty we must contritely confess that we in the Western world have lived by nothing more substantial than hope, recognizing nevertheless that hope has always been rewarded by unexpected knowledge and that speech, made bold by hope, has always disclosed to us more than we could explicitly anticipate and than we can ever fully say."

--William Poteat reflecting on the epistemology of Michael Polanyi

Our knowledge of all things has always been uncertain--it has always been founded on hope. But hope does not put us to shame. Our words are fumblings towards a reality we can hardly conceive of or imagine, much less speak of with absolute authority. But hope does not put us to shame.

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates
eXTReMe Tracker Get Firefox!