What is more…

an excercise in getting to the point

Heading to Scotland…

This morning, when I woke up, the first thought that ran through my head was I am going to Scotland today. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong. For weeks, Sarah and I have been preparing for my departure to take place this Sunday–only to find out that my flight doesn’t leave until Monday–i.e. tomorrow. Oh well, I guess thats what we get for buying a monthly calendar that starts the week with Monday, instead of Sunday! Every time we looked at the lower left hand corner of the calendar, we though “thats the Sunday for Scotland” while never realizing that we were looking at the column for Mondays… whoops.

So, tomorrow I leave for Scotland, and I am very excited. What are you doing in Scotland? you may be wondering. Well, a few things. After a direct flight from Philly to Glasgow (how awesome is that?) I will be catching a train to Edinburgh. Once there I will check in at my room at the New College at the University of Edinburgh, the location of the Edinburgh Bavinck Conference.

Some of you more Reformed types might recognize him as one of Abraham Kuyper’s younger contemporaries, who wrote “the” systematic theology of Dutch Neo-Calvinism ( The Reformed Dogmatics ). Most of you won’t recognize him at all, but thats OK. Bavinck is a pretty obscure figure for most people–a fact made painfully clear by the blank stares that I have more than once received after telling someone about this conference. I will just say that he is a figure I admire for his desire to faithfully engage issues of faith and doctrine in his day in a way that is at the same time tenacious, generous, and winsome. His (and Kuyper’s) emphasis on the continuity between God’s purposes for creation and God’s future restoration of that creation (i.e. new creation) lies behind much of what this blog is about.

In May I took a class on Herman Bavinck co-taught by two visiting scholars (John Bolt and George Harinck) and I really enjoyed it. For that class I wrote a paper entitled “To See Darkness, To Hear Silence: St. Augustine, Herman Bavinck and the Incomprehensibility of Evil”  — a revised, shortened version of which I will be delivering at the conference (if you are bored you can read the original here). This will be my first time doing something like this so I’m pretty excited.

And this is not even the BEST part! After the conference, I will take a train back to Glasgow, where I will meet my beautiful bride. At that point, we will immediately set off on a 100-mile hike from Milngavie to Fort William called the West Highland Way.

We will be backpacking the entire way–walking by day, camping by night. The entire trip should take 7 days, at the end of which we will be at the foot of the tallest mountain in Great Britain–Ben Nevis. We will take a full day to summit Ben Nevis before taking a train back to Edinburgh for a day and a half before flying back to the States. Wow, I almost get exhausted just thinking about it.

I really hope that this trip allows Sarah and me the opportunity to absolutely unplug for 10 days, to be completely anonymous in a foreign land, to share an exciting adventure and to make some good memories. Feel free to pray that we make it back in one piece!


Sara Groves Concert

Guest Post written by (the beautiful) Sarah Gauche Pickell 08/08/10.

Travis and I head off to a Sara Groves concert tonight. He’s only been waiting three months for this night to arrive. I’ve been waiting nearly ten years. I’ve seen Sara Groves all over my hometown—her house is just a mile from my parents’. I’ve seen her at Bylerly’s, made her a latte at Caribou on 42 and 11—but tonight, I’ll see hear her music straight from the source.

I first heard Sara Groves in my friend Alex’s burgundy Honda Accord. We were driving to high school one early, cold Minnesota morning. I couldn’t believe that someone with such clarity of voice could have taught at the high school down the street, worshipped at the sister church of where I spent Wednesday nights, and lived a mile away from my little suburban world.

Wonders never cease.

The lyrics of each of her songs, beginning with Conversations, returns snapshots from my memory of moments…

Talking to Leena, and having hard conversations about life and meaning in a Moroccan restaurant in Northampton, Mass.

Running along Mill River on fall morning to Painting Pictures of Egypt, wondering if I really was better off in the desert.

Mulling over what I thought I wanted, and what I ended up getting

Embracing my own journey.

Anticipating my own home going as I sat alone on the Mississippi shore, grieving a very special woman’s death.

Testing a relationship—will I find someone who wants to roll to the middle too?

Looking forward to what joy motherhood may be—in whatever form it takes.

Flotsam, jetsam, falling in love with a man from the sea.

Sharing with a dear friend a song that says far better than I ever could that love is still a worthy cause.

Feeling compelled to share the beauty of life I’ve discovered in very ugly places in the world—I saw what I saw and I can’t erase it.

Fireflies and songs—love surprises, delights, encourage! This life is half as hard and twice as good with Travis.

I came of age to Sara Groves’ music. Some days, I am still coming of age to her words.

This is the power of music. It allows us to say things in a way our spoken words may not accurately convey. It burrows into our hearts: the words running through our heads at the least likely moment. They can be words of truth, of goodness, of grace. Music opens us, reminding us that our hearts are tender, and that tender hearts are good. Her music helps me stay open to all that this life offers, like a lake. Sara Groves’ music, and the stories her songs tell, narrates the Gospel in my everyday life.

And so we’re off to hear her with good friends, a sweet little baby, and some peanut butter M&Ms for the drive.

Twitter Discipleship…

via Scot McKnight.

The Awful German Language…

In the late 1870s Mark Twain, having achieved major acclaim in the United States and abroad, set off on a walking trip through Europe with his friend Joseph Twichell. The account of his trip was later published under the title A Tramp Abroad. I recently came across the appendix to this volume, entitled “The Awful German Language.” During his trip, apparently, Twain found himself the victim of critiques from the European “high society.” He was simply a “popular” artist in the eyes of many Europeans in both senses of the word. As a result, he spent much of his time attempting to broaden his horizons by learning French and German language and culture. (The French he got, the German was more difficult). I am currently taking a summer German course at the university and so I was naturally interested. Twain does not disappoint (do yourself a favor, especially if you have ever tried to learn German, and read the entire essay here). As my friend Nate so eloquently and accurately stated “If you don’t laugh at this — you’re a bag of hammers.”

Here are a few of the highlights:

“German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head—so as to reverse the construction—but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.”

“Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means IT, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six—and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.”

“Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorize those variations, and see how soon he will be elected.”

“I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.”

“I wish to submit the following local item, from a Mannheim journal, by way of illustration [of German compound words]:’In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno’clock Night, the inthistownstandingtavern called ‘The Wagoner’ was downburnt. When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork’s Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But when the bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest itself caught Fire, straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-Stork into the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread.'”

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.”

Jesus is the Victor…

“In the resurrection of Jesus Christ the claim is made, according to the New Testament, that God’s victory in man’s favour in the person if his Son has already been won. Easter is indeed the great pledge of our hope, but simultaneously this future is already present in the Easter message. It is the proclamation of a victory already won. The war is at an end–even though here and there troops are still shooting, because they have not heard anything yet about the capitulation. The game is won, even though the player can still play a few further moves. Actually he is already mated. The clock has run down, even though the pendulum still swings a few times this way and that. It is in the interim space that we are living: the old is past, behold it has all become new. The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse of death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them any more. If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humourless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one thing is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor. A seriousness that would look back past this, like Lot’s wife, is not Christian seriousness. It may be burning behind–and truly it is burning–but we are invited and summoned to take seriously the victory of God’s glory in this man Jesus and to be joyful in Him. Then we may live in thankfulness and not in fear”

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (122-123)


As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been learning alot of words for the GRE. I have noticed (a) that there are many words that signify very specific things, which you would never have expected to have their own word, and (b) some of the ETS/Barron/Princeton Review definitions are funny/interesting to me. Some examples:

Words that mean one thing… and the exact opposite (e.g. cleave = to break apart, or to hold tightly together. Or, sanction = to make legal, or to impose punishments upon)

Words that sound alike, but mean exactly the opposite (timorous = fearful, temerity = fearlessness)

Definitions that have a low view of clergy (salacious = lascivious, lustful i.e. a salacious monk; or, pontifical = pertaining to a bishop or pope; pretentious or pompous)

Words that don’t really need to exist (avuncular = of or like an uncle)

Definitions that make me laugh (academic = not practical or directly useful; bohemian = unconventional (in an artistic way))

Definition that scares me (gerontocracy = rule by the elderly…  I’ve been to Sun City West, many elderly should not be driving, let alone ruling)

There’s a word for that? (rebus = representation of words in the form of symbols, i.e. R U coming over L8er??)

Random (cow = to intimidate… they don’t seem that intimidating to me)

Free Rice…

I have been spending my days studying for the GRE lately–trying to learn basic math concepts (again) and not-so-basic vocabulary. A friend told me about this cool website called http://www.freerice.com . Basically, for each question that you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. What a great way to promote learning, help fight poverty and starvation and (hopefully) boost my GRE score (obviously their highest priority).

Check it out.

Reading With Our Spines…

I’ve recently been reading James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable. Smith reflects upon Christian formation and education from a Reformed perspective, and yet he significantly shifts the center of gravity away from talk about world-views, beliefs and ideas to a more Augustinian account of the importance of loves. Given my recent fascination with Augustine, this is scratching me where I itch, so to speak.

One of his critiques of world-view speak is that it ignores the relationship between our embodiment and the formation of our loves toward certain ends (teloi). In particular, Smith argues that our “vision of the good life” is more often formed by affective, unconscious (or subconscious) means, rather than by cognitive means. In everyday speak, this means that it is the stories and images that we encounter every day that affect us at the gut level that really form us. “Stories seep into us–and stay there and haunt us–more than a report on facts” (58). Or, in the words of a former teacher of mine, “facts are inert, what matters is imagination.”

Smith offers an example of this in the process of reading good literature:

“Given this role of the imagination, we might suggest that liturgy is like literature: it gets hold of us through the body. In that connection, consider Vladimir Nabokov’s comment on reading Dicken’s Bleak House: “All we have to do when reading Bleak House is to relax and let our spines take over. Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle. Let us be proud of our being vertebrates, for we are vertebrates tipped at the head with a divine flame. The brain only continues the spine: the wick really goes through the whole length of the candle. If we are not capable of enjoying that shiver, if we cannot enjoy literature, then let us give up the whole thing and concentrate on our comics, our videos, our books-of-the-week. but I think Dickens will prove stronger.” (Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature [New York: Harvest, 2002], 56)

Nabokov doesn’t mention it directly, but he could very well have commented on the antithesis of the mode of reading literature and the way we engage the world through the medium of the internet. I know and love the shiver that he mentions, and while I have certainly felt that shiver while watching a good film, I have never experienced it while reading a blog post, tweet, or facebook status update — although increasingly I am spending more time doing that. It makes me think hard about the quantity/quality distinction when it comes to digesting new information. I must remember to spend time reading good literature, or just not reading at all and thinking and praying, so that my thoughts can focus and come from a deeper place. The problem with the internet is its tendency toward shallowness (and its tendency to make us shallow, not just emotionally but also intellectually – so argues Nicholas Carr’s new book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains). I can already see this in my own habits of reading the first few lines of many blog posts each day without actually reading a single one through to the end.

About Smith’s point generally, I wholeheartedly agree with his [Augustinian] analysis of human formation and am excited to see what he does with it (although he is particularly applying it to the context of Christian education, a form of education about which I am particularly skeptical). I think the church must constantly be attentive to the importance of imagination, desires, and embodiment on human formation, not just in the realm of Christian education, but also in the realm of gospel proclamation and cultural engagement.

This Does Not Bode Well…

I recently came across this graph at Pileus. It shows the relative growth of different types of employees in higher education institutions. As you can see that of all of the types of employees, the least amount of growth has been in the category of “Full-time tenure/tenure track faculty.” The author of that post was particularly concerned with the growth of “full-time non-faculty professionals” and the increased bureaucratic function that they hold, signaling large amounts of resources that do not result in teaching or learning.

As one who aspires to enter the academic realm and actually get a job, the more troubling comparison for me is the difference between the relatively slow growth of tenure-track faculty and the much higher growth of “full-time non-tenure-track faculty” and the “part-time faculty.” These positions are held by adjunct and assistant professors who have no promise of future employment (and therefore stability) and who are payed significantly less than tenured professors (not quite slave-labor… thats what doctoral students do).

There is no shortage of academic bloggers complaining about the broken academic system and the lack of job prospects, so this probably wont be news to most. But the truth is that it is getting harder and harder to get a job as a professor. My guess is that more and more people are getting more and more education because they do not know what they want to do with their life and because they believe that more education equals more opportunity (and conveniently, more time to discover what they are passionate about). The problem is that the effect of this is that more and more education doesn’t seem to lead to more and more opportunities… at least not opportunities that make money (but let’s be honest, if money were someone’s highest priority, seminary probably wouldn’t be the way to go anyway!).  Even for those hoping to go into ministry, the prospects are looking noticeably slim (at least for mainliners out there).

The good news of all of this is that it does force you to think about what you are doing, and why you are doing it. If I am doing what I am doing in order to give myself a passport to privilege, or simply to get a cushy job, I may want to rethink what I am doing. But if I am doing what I am doing because I love it, and because I am passionate about it, and because it is meaningful to me, then maybe (MAYBE) it is worth all the rigamarole.

Christian Hipsterdom…

Brett McCracken, one of my favorite bloggers (The Search), has a book coming out in August on the relationship between being “cool” and being “Christian.” It looks to be pretty interesting, considering the endless ebb and flow of trends and taboos within the bounds of the Christian cultural matrix.

The website for the book has a cool quiz you can take to find out your CHQ (Christian Hipster Quotient). Before taking the test I assumed that I would probably have a high CHQ (I mean, c’mon, I blog and tweet, whats hipper than that?). But then about halfway through the test I began to think that maybe my CHQ would be very low (I love VanAuken’s Severe Mercy, but is it more theologically significant than The Imitation of Christ? No way). Anyway, here are my results…

Your CHQ (Christian Hipster Quotient): 81/100 – High CHQ. You are a pretty progressive, stylish, hipster-leaning Christian, even while you could easily feel at home in a decidedly un-hip non-denominational church. you are conservative on some issues and liberal on others, and sometimes you grow weary or trendy “alt-Christianity.” But make no mistake: You are a Christian hipster to at least some degree.”

So there it is. I do feel at home in “un-hip non-denominational churches,” and I am “conservative on some issues and liberal on others.” So in that way it is pretty spot-on. On the website he also has different types of Christian hipsters (I am probably the “bookish intellectual” but if I had more money I would surely be the “monied yuppy“). If I were to categorize myself I would say that I am an interested observer of Christian hipsterdom–I think it is fascinating, and I feel pretty ambivalent toward most of the trends, most of which I hopefully dont get too caught up in. But who knows.

I wonder what Jesus would have scored?