Presidential Haiku Prediction 6

11/3/2008, 3:07 pm -- by | No Comments

McCain the crack-up
Going down in a blaze of
SNL glory

On Thought; On Thinking

09/10/2008, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

“If I have a book to serve me as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all.”

Because, frankly, who wants to exert themselves?

I am at that point in life where we\’re supposed to take our beliefs and make them our own. We all have this sense of independent thought, this underlying ethos of self-determined path. I. I. Just the assertion of such bespeaks incredible audacity. I am saying this. It has come from me, and, further, I am worth listening to. I live and breathe and participate in life. I have a voice.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Is this true? It has to be. Who could deny it? Rational, thoughtful consideration of what we\’re doing and why we\’re doing it. Intentionality ”” purposefulness. Are we thinking? Am I thinking? Are you my responsibility? Spinoza said that his happiness was contingent on persuading others to think as he did. If I attempt a thoughtful life, and find it even marginally satisfying, isn\’t encouraging the same in you the least I could do?

Mental exertion. Laborious. So hard to ascend the mountain. Why do it? Why do anything? I mean, really now. Why expend so much energy to rise up out of sensual, physical comfort? Why get out of bed in the morning? Why rip off the cozy comforter and spring up into the spare clear air bare and awake?

Why not?

That\’s the thing about thinking. You begin thinking that thinking is a waste of time; unproductive, nothing to show for it in the end, that sort of thing. But you do it long enough and you realize that without it, nothing else has worth. I got out of bed this morning. I went surfing this morning. I am going to be late to my Intro to Philosophy class if I don\’t finish this soon. I am going to rip off my unexamined blanket of beliefs and plunge into the cold clear water, inky grey-green obsidian glass, and paddle.

Clash of the Titans LXXXVIII: Houghton and Point Loma

08/22/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 7 Comments

In this corner, supporting Point Loma Nazarene University, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, backing Houghton College, is Job!

I\’d hate to disparage another school at the expense of my own, so I think I\’ll let Point Loma Nazarene University\’s merits speak for themselves:

”¢ The ocean. No matter where you stand on campus, the long, limitless horizon beckons, reminding you how insignificant you truly are. There\’s no better way to wake up in the morning. And it never grows old ”” stroll through the campus during any given sunset and you\’re bound to find scores of students staring westward, admiring the freshly painted canvas that fills the sky.

”¢ The location. The campus\’s oceanfront property includes beach access; Ocean, Mission, and Pacific Beaches are all within five miles. Downtown San Diego is just as close. Point Loma itself is an affluent peninsula with a small-town feel, giving a feeling of secluded island living while maintaining a comfortable proximity to all that San Diego has to offer.

”¢ The opportunities. All the travel spiels you\’ve heard about San Diego are true. It includes so much ”” Balboa Park, the Embarcadero, the San Diego Opera, playhouses, professional sports teams, and more. As part of a metropolitan area, the school has worked hard to establish a relationship with the community, creating an excellent platform for internships and networking.

”¢ The academics. From the outstanding nursing program to the renowned science department, the school\’s academic departments have few equals in the private Christian university circuit. Class sizes are almost always well below 40. Professors are knowledgeable and accessible, and they approach education thoroughly and rigorously. When I was a prospective student touring the Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages department, I was impressed with the department head\’s reasoning behind labeling my major as literature. “We don\’t just study literature written in English; we study world literature.” The faculty are on the whole not only experts within their fields, but deeply involved and mindful of their students\’ personal well-being.

”¢ The extracurriculars. The school\’s sports teams consistently rank in the top of their leagues. The intramurals are vibrant and varied, ranging from soccer and basketball to surfing and rugby. The debate team consistently sweeps tournaments. The newspaper provides comprehensive coverage of school and community events every week. The numerous campus ministries devote themselves to the spiritual development of students, the local community, and even further through mission-minded outreaches.

Ӣ The programs. The Fermanian Business Center has instituted myriad programs that use a Christian approach to economic concerns, aiming to help people while making inroads in the business world. The Center for Justice and Reconciliation focuses on poverty and inequality. The Study Abroad Center guides students through international programs in whatever countries they would like to visit.

Ӣ The events. The school continually draws prominent speakers. Last year alone, the campus hosted Philip Yancey, Francis Collins, Gay Talese, Anchee Min, Jon Foreman, Greg Mortensen, a colloquium of French poets, and the 2008 Kyoto Prize winners.

I think Point Loma\’s advantages speak volumes. However, I will add that the library is open from 7 am to midnight, Monday through Friday, a full hour earlier and later than another school that I know of.

Let us come together, but for a moment, my friends, and speak of heavy things.

Truth, most of you reading this possess a college education, and on top of that, most of you were educated at a Christian college. And you know the usual players, do you not? If not, allow me to roll the credits of our shared context. Wheaton, Westmont, Calvin, and Azusa Pacific. Biola, Grove City, Gordon, Nyack, and Messiah. Bethany, Point Loma, Liberty, Houghton.

A stellar list, no doubt, but one rife with differences — theologically, financially, ideologically, and geographically. But one of those differences is very telling, and it finds its traction at Houghton College — for Houghton is one of the rare (popular and esteemed) Christian colleges that is not nestled in or near a major metropolitan area.

Gordon has Boston, Wheaton has Chicago, and Houghton has… a cornfield.

My friend Kaitlin has made a very convincing argument indeed…for a resort. But I think she has forgotten the purpose of a college: education. While I am certain that Point Loma has professors, donors, and sports teams to give off the appearance of an institute of higher learning, the school is really more interested in its beachfront cachet.

Their literature and website are filled with (mostly) pictures of San Diego’s trappings, the breaking Pacific and the tanned, smiling faces of the collegiately damned. Rare is the promotional shot of a student pondering anything of educational weight, and rarer still is the shot of anything with four walls surrounding it. Again, Point Loma would make a great summer camp (which it is, all fall, winter and spring), but is it an earnest mecca for the education-hungry, worthy of their pilgrimage? I think not.

But ah, Houghton. Remote, yet easy to find (just one exit from the major highway, 14 miles distant), and located in one of the poorest counties east of the Mississippi, Houghton has no city appeal. There are no movie theaters or beaches to frequent. No hotspots, bars, historical sites, or even McDonald’s. Houghton, as a destination, is only worth visiting for its express purpose: educating the young Christians of the future.

I cannot sway you with the impossible amounts of fun I had there, but believe me it was had indeed. I cannot convince you of Houghton’s intrinsic and organic properties, although our thorough separation from the world brought them out all the more. I cannot persuade you of Houghton’s lasting impression on all of its students because many, it’s true, couldn’t take it. Many tested the river that is Houghton only to turn back, stomachs in knots, knees scraped against the boulders of trial, serving to warn others from attempting to ford its rapids.

But this only makes my time on the other bank that much more fulfilling. I could have attended any number of the Jacob tent-dwelling schools — but I cast my lot with Esau, preferring the brambles and winds of a wilderness in a time that should not make us soft and well-recreated, but rather, hardened and mentally-fit.

And all that said — our girls’ basketball team could beat Point Loma’s men’s soccer team.


Clash of the Titans LXXXVI: The Olympic Games

08/8/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 4 Comments

In this corner, opposing the Olympics, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, supporting them, is Steve!

An honest, dispassionate evaluation of the Olympics, stripped of hype and emotionalism, will garner little more than distaste and disillusionment. “The Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles,” declares the International Olympic Committee website. And yet the Olympic Games have been fraught with scandal, politicization, and shamefully extravagant spending. Those are, I suppose, universal principles, but perhaps not the ones the IOC means to evoke.

The 1952 Olympics, highly charged with Cold War hostilities, did little more than inflame already tense relations. “There were many more pressures on American athletes because of the Russians,” said U.S. decathlon winner Bob Mathias. “They were in a sense the real enemy. You just loved to beat ”˜em. You just had to beat ”˜em. . . . This feeling was strong down through the entire team.”

The 1976 Olympics resulted in financial ruin for host city Quebec. The debt they incurred took decades to pay off. The Nazis, during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, hoped to establish their country as a superpower by exhibiting their superiority. China\’s goals are much the same this year in Beijing.

Other inevitable consequences of the Olympics, both present and past: championing an ethos of winning at all costs, even if the costs include a foreshortened childhood or lifelong physical effects; xenophobia, especially if Americans win less and economically threatening countries win more; poor stewardship of both environmental and social resources.

Moreover, the Olympic Games throw into sharp relief the drastic differences in advantages of rich and poor countries. Between the commercial sponsors and the unavoidably constant testing of the human body to see how far it can go, the Olympics are practically just a giant, corporately backed, international science experiment.

To truly embody the spirit the IOC wishes to spread throughout the world, athletes should compete on a purely individual level, regardless of their nations of birth. By forgoing nationalistic divisions, the IOC might do much in the way of their cherished unity. Furthermore, the Games should be completely privatized. As Stephen Hugh-Jones wrote in More Intelligent Life, “If private sector companies choose to sponsor the Olympics, that\’s up to them. But why on earth hurl public funds at these tarnished saturnalia?”

I love the Olympic Games. In ’06, I watched as much as I could, filling up old videotapes with hours of skiing, skating, and the euphonious luge. I studied with the Games in the background, the hum of competition spurring me on to a more perfect knowledge of the UCC.

I freely admit that the Games suffer from corruption and waste, just like any organization of their massive size. I’m not wild about how the IOC rewarded a horribly repressive government with the honor of hosting them this year. And I understand that, as symbols go, the Games are incredibly expensive and frequently ineffective.

Yet I love them still. Here’s why.

As a universal, guileless language, sports are uniquely positioned to change the world. Take ping-pong diplomacy. Before Nixon could go to China, a hippie named Glenn Cowan had to board the wrong bus at the world championships in Japan; there he struck up an unlikely friendship with China’s best player. Mao saw pictures of the two exchanging gifts (in violation of Chinese policy), and suddenly the U.S. team was invited to China: the first non-Communist Americans to visit in 20 years. The tour was a grand success — tearing down stereotypes and clearing out Vietnam-era mistrust. 10 days after the team left, Nixon was formally invited to Beijing.

Governments only get away with things when people aren’t paying attention. Say what you will about the Games, but the world, billions strong, will be watching. And what will they see there? Each other. The Games are run by simpering bureaucrats, but Olympic athletes remain the most accurate representation of a nation’s people. Nations are ruled by a privileged few; the United Nations is full of diplomats, politicians, and (worst of all) lawyers. But Olympians are ordinary people — folks like you and me — with world-class talent. And inspiring stories: in 2000, Lopez Lomong, the American flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, was a Sudanese boy in flight from genocide, catching his first glimpse of the Olympics on a black-and-white TV at a Kenyan refugee camp.

Eight years later, he carries our flag. He runs for us.

Human beings are made to play, made to compete. Just as capitalism harnesses our fallen nature for our economic benefit, sports allow us to divert our natural passion and aggression — even (gasp!) nationalism — into productive channels. Sports improve the body while they train the mind — to work together with others, to move gracefully through space, to demand more of ourselves than we ever dreamed possible. And in a world where truth seems all too elusive, where postmodernism rips at the foundations of belief, sports offer exactly what we crave: standards and objectivity, doled out by the hands of a clock and the numbers on a scoreboard.

Yes. The Games are expensive. But they are also useful, inspiring, fun — and part of what makes us uniquely human.

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I Like Lichen

07/29/2008, 11:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

I like lichen. I really do. We have a spectacular variety that thrives in the upper altitudes of southern California, a lime green sort that appears on the maroon bark of manzanita bushes, nestled in the whimsical grey whorls of the branches. During summer hikes it greets me from the trail, bursting bright and unexpected in the dusty desert forest that is the San Jacinto Mountains.

In honor of my dear high school geography teacher, a first-year newlywed fresh from Azusa Pacific University, who got really excited when she noticed the screen shots from Pride and Prejudice adorning my binder and made a valiant effort for the rest of the semester to discuss period movies with me before class, I\’d like to make an orthoepical aside. One day, reading from her prepared PowerPoint on the flora and fauna of some country or another in her wonted dutiful, indifferent tone, my teacher ended her litany of native species with a tentative, “and, um, ”˜litchen.\’”

I sat in the darkened, map-lined classroom and felt sad. Being a 16-year-old senior in a class of freshmen, I wasn\’t exactly sure where I stood. Could I correct her without making her look stupid? Her hold was already so shaky; it was all she could do to keep the delinquent who sat in front of me from falling asleep on his desk every day. Already in that short sole semester I spent at a public high school, I had caught my art history teacher writing “ascetic” instead of “aesthetic” on the board during vocabulary time, and my English teacher wavering over the spelling of “judgment.” In the latter instance, the entire class insisted it should have been “judgement,” against my solitary steadfast adherence to the former, a disagreement that was only resolved when a couple of girls found a dictionary in the back of the room and vindicated me (the extra “e” is a British form, one never used in the United States, a fact I quickly apprised my teacher of lest I appear less than knowledgeable on the point).

I decided to keep quiet. That any of the thirty-something ninth graders in the room, assuming any were paying attention, now thought that “litchen” was kosher, gnawed at me, but I told myself I needed to consider my teacher\’s well-being. I can say it now, though, without any repercussion: it\’s pronounced “liken,” with a long “i” sound and a hard “k,” coming from the Greek “leichen.” Just remember: I like lichen.

Bible Discussion — Esther 1-2

06/25/2008, 12:30 pm -- by | No Comments

This week, starts a brand new book by discussing the first two chapters of Esther!

Genesis: 1-4 | 5-9 | 10-14 | 15-18 | 19-22 | 23-26
27-29 | 30-32 | 33-36 | 37-39 | 40-43 | 44-46 | 47-50
Exodus: 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-11 | 12-14 | 15-18
19-22 | 23-26 | 27-30 | 31-34 | 35-40
Romans: Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7 | Ch. 8 (I)
Ch. 8 (II) | Ch. 9 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15-16
Luke: 1:1-38 | 1:39-2:40 | 2:41-3:38 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15 | 16-17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24

The Greek word “diaspora,” used to describe the scattering of the Jews in the Old Testament, carries with it the idea of being sown like seeds. Here is a wonderful example of God powerfully using two of his people who were carefully planted in the right place while in captivity.

Esther was really Mordecai\’s cousin, not his niece, which made me wonder why he didn\’t marry her. I mean, Jewish law was weird that way anyway”¦

Mordecai and Hadassah (Esther) were of the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest brother of the twelve. Once again, God uses the least to bring about salvation.

The men believed it would only take one action of the queen to cause a rebellion throughout the nation.

When I heard the story as a kid, I always pictured some kind of beauty contest with everyone assembled, lasting maybe a day or two. I didn\’t realize it was more of a private audition, stretched out over years. A 12-month beauty treatment?!

The feast at the beginning of the book was in the third year of the King\’s reign, but Esther didn\’t appear before him until his seventh year.

Xerxes\’ palace is described in ornate detail, from the colors of the curtains to the “mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble.”

Josh: Kings of Babylon
Steve: The Word of Memucan; Seven Eunuchs
Connie: Thus Prepared
Erin: India to Cush
Chloe: Vashti
David: Hegai, Keeper of The Women

Continued here!

One Hundred Words (12)

06/2/2008, 9:00 am -- by | No Comments

“Live in the sunshine,
Swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity.”

Flipping through, of all things, my sister\’s CosmoGirl, I found a few lines of Emerson, and it made me really happy. Between the senseless fashion (if the captions below the photos of what “works” and what doesn\’t were switched, would anyone know the difference?) and the uncomfortable boy-lust (they fall so easily into swooning over underage celebrities ”” what does it say about the adults who write this stuff?), I discovered a captivating example of the immediacy of words.

See? Poetry is not completely irrelevant.


Clash of the Titans LXXXIII: Rap Music

05/30/2008, 11:00 am -- by | 2 Comments

In this corner, opposing rap music, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, supporting rap music, is Mike!

While the phrase “rap music” may not necessarily be an oxymoron, the genre and the ethos of the culture it perpetuates directly contradicts many of the values dear to the consumers of mainstream media who would champion it.

Rap music, and most notably gangsta rap, is powered fundamentally by provocative content. Divorcing the form from its content divests the music of its force and intent. In 1997, Dr. Dre attempted to tone down his message. “I have kids and wanted to get away from the ”˜b—–s and ho\’s\’ and the violence,” he said. But the resulting album generated less than half of his usual revenue. “I had to come back to the real. Back to the gangsta,” he said.

This “gangsta” culture, however, is merely a poor and potentially detrimental caricature of urban life. Spike Lee, in the film “Bamboozled,” satirized the portrayal of African Americans in contemporary media, arguing that rap propagates the harmful stereotypes that most would want to see eradicated. Performers such as rap artists, he contended, play into mainstream prejudices, glorifying the ghetto lifestyle at the expense of the people they purport to represent.

Byron Hurt, who directed a film that identified the misogyny and skewed masculinity inherent to the genre, would agree. “We need to have artists second-guess creating lyrics that are anti-woman in the same way that they would second-guess writing something that is anti-Semitic,” Hurt said.

Rap music gives many consumers a false sense of familiarity, a fake compassion. Said Hank Shocklee, a prominent producer in the rap industry and half of rap ensemble Public Enemy: “If you\’re a suburban white kid and you want to find out what life is like for a black city teenager, you buy a record by N.W.A. It\’s like going to an amusement park and getting on a roller coaster ride ”” records are safe, they\’re controlled fear, and you always have the choice of turning it off. That\’s why nobody takes a train up to 125th Street and gets out and starts walking around. Because then you\’re not in control anymore: it\’s a whole other ball game.”

By creating the conception of such a blatant and unfounded racial divide, rap music denies consumers the opportunity to discover for themselves how few differences actually exist between seemingly disparate people. Journalist David Samuels sees in rap music “a voyeurism and tolerance of racism in which black and white are both complicit.” Somehow, he said, the deviant behavior characteristic of the culture seems appropriate or even acceptable. “The values it instills find their ultimate expression in the ease with which we watch young black men killing each other: in movies, on records, and on the streets of cities and towns across the country.”

Rap music essentially undermines the entire endeavor to recognize the equality of all, regardless of racial, gender, or socioeconomic differences. Unless the genre, and the culture associated with it, undergoes a thorough overhaul, it should be thoroughly avoided.

I luv rap music
Always have, and I always will
There’s no other kinda music in the world
makes me feel quite as chill

“I Luv Rap Music” — DC Talk

I love rap music too. First, because it says something. When I was growing up, rap was symbolic of all that was wrong with the world, all that had gone haywire. Dutifully, I avoided it through my adolescence. But then I discovered it — Public Enemy. Arrested Development. And I found music that unapologetically said something. It wasn’t like country music, a paean to an old way of life that could never return; it wasn’t like pop, all painted and gummy; it was real, it was about issues, it was about life. Of course, much rap says nothing worth saying; but when you have heard rap that speaks to the black community about issues especially important to that community in a language that naturally rises from that community — then you have heard music with meaning.

I also love rap from a professional perspective. Preachers and rappers both make their living with words. Each of us has a stock of standard stories to draw upon and our professional reputations are staked upon being able to tell those stories well, using communication appropriate to our community. Some of the most clever wordplay and arresting language is used — regrettably — not in the pulpit, but behind the microphone. As a preacher, rappers actually give me something to look up to as there is such focus on the moment of communication and communicating in a memorable way.

Finally, I love rap because it brings this suburban white male into contact with a culture that is different from my own. I don’t mean to romanticize gangsta rap; I recognize that much of it is not pure artistic response to harsh realities but created by and for a listening market. But listening to it — even the worst of it — keeps me connected to an urban society different from my own.

At times, contact with that different culture challenges me to change and ask provocative questions; for instance, we should ask why inner-city America is still overwhelmingly religious while the suburbs are increasingly secular, if not atheistic. That challenges me, makes me think about what is deficient about the brand of Christianity I practice. At other times, contact with that different culture challenges me to think about how I can address deficiencies and needs in that culture, even coming from outside of it.

Regardless, it does me well to listen to rap because it takes me outside of what I know and challenges me to think differently.


Surfing Demystified

05/29/2008, 1:00 pm -- by | No Comments

I surf. Or, I have surfed. That is, I can balance, most of the time, atop a board while a wave sends me toward shore.

Californians really do surf. Many people here have a board or two sitting in the garage, and while most aren\’t privileged enough to paddle out every morning, it\’s not too hard to make it to the beach at least a couple of times every summer. If you\’re a student at Point Loma Nazarene University like I am — especially if you\’re a boy down in Young Hall, literally just hundreds of feet from beach access — the waves can be hard to resist. I hate to say it, but catching one really is like being on top of the world.

Paddling out is the hardest part. After wrapping the Velcro strap around your ankle, you grab the board and start wading into the water. When you\’re about waist-high, you wriggle onto your belly, stretch your legs out flat, and begin paddling. The waves that looked disappointingly small from shore suddenly tower over your head, but you have to brace yourself and press through them. Salty foam in your nose is part of the experience.

The sets of waves seem never-ending; just when you\’ve crested one, another spills over right behind it. But if you paddle long enough, and if you\’re not caught in a rip current or out on a particularly brutal day, eventually you\’ll find yourself out past the breakers. At this point you can position yourself, straddling the board, and sit upright. The water swells gently here, allowing you to float effortlessly. Even if you never catch anything, you at least have the pleasure of looking like a surfer to the people strolling out along the pier or sitting on the shore. Most of surfing, after all, is just waiting for the right wave.

If you\’re on a longboard, you\’ll be able to ride almost anything that comes in. Longboards are large and buoyant; the bigger the board, the easier it is to ride. Smaller boards make for faster, slicing rides, but only if you can catch a wave first. After you\’ve spotted a decent wave, you turn your board so that you face the shore. Throwing glances over your shoulder to time yourself, you lie down once again, and resume paddling. By creating momentum, you will be able to move into the wave, allowing it to propel you. As soon as the wave rises behind you, you pop up, positioning your favored front leg forward and leaning back slightly, crouching to maintain your balance. And if you\’ve done it right, you\’re up.

The surface is like permeable glass, solid and yet completely formless. You glide easily on a wave constant and somehow constantly changing. Who would have thought you could go so fast powered by nothing more than water? The beach stretches long and bright before you, the sky sunny and domed above, the sandy floor distantly visible below you in the watery green-blue depths.

And that\’s just longboard riding. Shooting through a barrel on a shortboard is another story, one I\’m not quite experienced enough to tell. But, as I think most surfers would tell you, that\’s not really what surfing is about.

Surfing is the horizon. Surfing is the simple elements of air and water, sky and sea. It is complete immersion in endless pulsing life, tidal rhythm and ocean breath, salt and sand and sun. Drifting with the currents, subject to the subtle indictment of that sharp limitless line, you begin to understand how insignificant we really are.

One Hundred Words (6)

05/22/2008, 2:30 pm -- by | 1 Comment

In the spirit of Proverbs 10:19, our newest regular feature will be a series of posts of 100 words — or fewer. Comments under ten words!

The days are invariably warm cloudless blue, the doming unmarred sky curving above, when a smudge appears over a mountain ridge. Growing, the plumes engulf the horizon in hazy, faintly menacing, gray. The fear comes, though, only when the tiny line of fire pierces through, eating the hillside.

When I heard “Grapevine Fires,” on Death Cab for Cutie\’s recent Narrow Stairs, I heard the inevitability and helplessness that the California wildfires kindle, the searching circumspection. And the carefully resigned hope. We instinctively know it is “only a matter of time.” But we still believe that “everything would be all right.”


Bweinh! Soundtrack — Switchfoot

04/12/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

This article is the latest in a Bweinh! series on inspiring songs or songwriters. You can access the first ten soundtrack entries here!

When my family moved to southern California, I scanned the radio stations in my new town for weeks, unable to find one that suited the late 90s adult contemporary tastes I had developed during a childhood in Cleveland. I thought I\’d have to give up music altogether, until my Sunday School teacher introduced me to the local contemporary Christian station.

My parents had never set definite parameters on what my sisters and I could listen to, but I was in sixth grade, and for me contemporary Christian music was pretty much the greatest thing that had ever happened. Now I could put a stamp of acceptability, a certificate of religious sanitation, a “fit for consumption” on something else.

The first CD I ever bought was Learning to Breathe, Switchfoot\’s third release. From the odd ceramic echo on “Dare You to Move” to the retreating footsteps at the end of “Living is Simple,” I adored it. I listened to it when I did homework, right before I went to bed, when I was reading, and of course, on the radio. I internalized it, memorized every word. That their Christianity wasn\’t glaringly obvious on every track bothered me at first. Unlike most of the CCM stuff my favorite station played, Switchfoot\’s lyrics were woefully low in Christianese. But then I noticed that they mentioned God on “Love is the Movement,” and decided that was acceptable enough.

I saw Switchfoot that summer, my first concert ever. It was at dusk, on the lawn of a Bible college, a venue that, I decided, cemented them as adequately Christian. When they played a stripped-down version of “Let That Be Enough,” I was captivated. The song became my personal anthem, the soundtrack to many of the difficult situations an earnest, shrinking middle school kid could get herself into:

Let me know that You hear me
Let me know Your touch
Let me know that You love me
And let that be enough

As I grew older, the “Truth” fish eating the “Darwin” fish bumper decal wasn\’t as funny to me; the “A bread crumb and fish” sweatshirt, styled like Abercrombie and Fitch\’s logo, moved to the back of my closet. It slowly dawned on me that the strict diet of CCM I\’d resigned myself to looked a lot like legalism. I tentatively began to listen to music that hadn\’t come from Christian labels. I got a little older, and soon considered the entire industry merely a phase of my awkward adolescence.

And then a few months ago, Jon Foreman came to my campus. I have to admit I almost didn\’t go to see him; I guess I didn’t expect him to be any more insightful than I was back when I sat in my bedroom alone, slightly scandalized at the band\’s references to St. Augustine and Julian of Norwich (aren\’t Christians just supposed to sing about the Bible?). I guess being so quick to judge just goes to show how much more insightful I\’ve become since then.

He played a few songs and answered a few questions, and there was that same voice. He spoke right to me, right where I was, just as he always has. “You go to church, you go to the bar on the corner ”” you find hurting people. I think sometimes there\’s this misperception that the Christian and the one at the bar are looking for different things.”

I got a picture with him afterwards, you know, for my middle school self. I still know every word on that CD.

Why We Believe, Vol. 9

03/28/2008, 9:00 am -- by | 16 Comments

Please welcome our newest Bweinh!tributor — Kaitlin! Hers is the latest post in our testimony series.

I am a reader. This is appropriate, since I am also a literature major. Through books, I relate to the world. I take the commonality of the human condition as a given ”” we are all essentially the same; we all want essentially the same things in life. So when other humans have painstakingly distilled their own lives and beliefs into a finely crafted text, I think it only right that I take a sip.

And so I have tried to taste widely and conscientiously. At times I have spit out bitter mouthfuls of bad philosophy, or set down lukewarm cups of tepid thought. But occasionally I find a refreshing glass of clear, lucid wisdom.

I have often wondered whether it would be intellectually reasonable of me to assume the mantle of Christianity as so many others have, adhering to it unquestioningly, merely out of tradition. And then I found that G.K. Chesterton had already thought of this. “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” If we truly are all the same, why couldn\’t the answer that Pascal or Aquinas or Luther or any other of the millions of thinkers throughout Christian history had found be the same one to satisfy my own yearning?

But what about those who hadn\’t accepted this explanation? One of the most condemning objections to Christianity from its inception has been the “problem of pain,” as C.S. Lewis described it. We\’ve all asked these questions. If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world? How could a truly good God allow such horrendous things to happen?

Lewis contends that for God to create a world in which there is both freedom and the absence of suffering would be inherently contradictory. “It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets with an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Feodor Dostoevsky explored this theme in The Brothers Karamazov. One character, Ivan, imagines Jesus returning to earth in Spain during the Inquisition. There, the Grand Inquisitor accuses Christ of allowing suffering by refusing to dominate humans. He refused to cajole belief by enticing followers with stones turned to bread. He refused to force belief by throwing himself off of the temple. He refused to demand belief by assuming control of the kingdoms of the world through bowing down. “Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings forever. Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide.”

Do you know what these works tasted like? They retained the flavor of another book I had read, one that had told me that behind all these words, there was the Word. There is little that has become more true to me than that I must work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. I want to understand what I believe, that I may indeed always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks me, a reason for the hope that I have.