Monthly Archives: May 2006

Where It’s At

I’ve pasted the preface in its current condition into the extended portion of this entry. I wish I’d gotten to this point sooner, so that I could have improved it in conversation with the sophisticated and critical readers who bother to read this weblog, but such wit as I can marshal under the best of circumstances abandoned me over the last few stress-filled weeks. My publishers may indulge a few last-minute changes, if you spot errors or infelicities that can be remedied with relatively little bother — but for the most part, this is what we end up with, for better or worse.

Now, on to Saturday’s sermon and Sunday’s da Vinci Code presentation. I can tell you this much: I will be near-comatose through the all-day faculty meeting we have on Monday.

Anyway, this is where it’s at so far. I’ll keep updating the version in the “extended” entry till it’s finally done.
Continue reading Where It’s At


Margaret’s helping, but I’m not making enough progress; concerned note from editor today. My brain, however, is intractably stuck; I have no publishable ideas. Will advise when further along.


I should be scribbling away on my preface-essay (and Saturday’s sermon), so for now, I’ll offer mostly just these links:

Zoe Williams of the Guardian explains, “No, it’s not ironic.”

The falcons are back in Evanston.

Elvis Costello’s list of 500 essential albums — I’m chuffed to observe how consistently his taste matches mine, though I’m not patient and well-informed enough to know and appreciate the full jazz and “classical” repertoires he cites.

This will be handy for some people who use YouTube and Google Video, where I spent some time watching old-school music videos yesterday.

Oh, and we went to see that movie yesterday; it was better, we thought, than the book — though still intensely problematic in numerous ways.

No Popular Culture

The church gets lots of advice about what it ought to be like, how it ought to change. Sometimes this advice actually helps clarify a problem, or brings to light a problem where the church hadn’t perceived anything wrong. Much of the time, though, these suggestions come from who have problems of their own to work out, who project them onto the church and tell us how to make the world better by conforming to their expectations.

Somewhere between “helpful” and “neurotic” lies the terrain on which people (very often church people) insist that the church’s leadership should immerse itself more fully in popular culture. On this suggestion, I wish to register a forceful dissent.

I may be kvetching because I’ve become a cantankerous old codger (thereby attaining a lifetime ambition), but I pretend to myself that I have plausible reasons for objecting. For instance, I don’t believe in “popular culture,” at least not as a definable field from which the church is significantly absent. Popular culture manifestly includes both The da Vinci Code and Left Behind, Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart, The Simpsons and 50 Cent and Prairie Home Companion and Keith Urban. I have a hard time believing that the blanket term “popular culture” does much productive work in identifying all these, especially in conjunction with the notion that church people neglect all of them.

When I hear this suggestion, context often suggests two more precise implications for the proposal. The less laudable reduces to the complaint that “the church doesn’t pay enough attention to the kind of popular culture I like.” So a homilist may scold me for not being sufficiently in touch with popular culture because I don’t watch TV or attend many movies — although I listen to rock’n’roll constantly, and spend recreational hours playing online games.

The more responsible version of the complaint entails (though I’ve never not usually heard this point made explicitly) that the church’s engagement with popular culture rarely escapes a stupefying aye-or-nay binarism. For a while, I heard abundant sermons about The Lion King, none of which raised the theologically- and culturally-critical questions that the movie raised. Instead, as best I recall (and I did try to suppress these memories), they drew facile comparisons between the characters in the movie with characters in the gospels, and noted with facile satisfaction the similarity of the young lion’s spiritual journey to Jesus’ (or ours).

If the church were a more congenial ecology for learning and critical reflection, the “popular culture” topos might bring to the surface more interesting issues: what shall we say about earnest disciples of Jesus who enjoy listening to songs with persistently misogynistic themes, or how we should negotiate the complications of Christian involvement with technology. If you’re just going to bash or endorse an ill-defined glob of under-examined cultural phenomena, though, I’d rather turn my iPod on or go play Warcraft.

(Later: I edited my remarks above to reflect that fact that I have indeed encountered people who work critically at the convergence and divergence of the church with popular culture — I just wasn’t thinking of them as the focal subjects of my crankiness at the time. Mary and Dylan come to mind as people who don’t just trade in glib binary alternatives, and Mary nominates Kathy Tanner and I invoke the Archbishop of Canterbury. As I acknowledge in my comment below, I had in mind a string of tedious sermons and sententious columns, rather than the diligent analysis characteristic of scholars such as Mary. My bad.)

Shorts Day

The ether has enveloped and consumed the post on which Steve proclaimed his antipathy to pants (the closest I can come to finding it is Krista’s post alluding to it and this post of Steve’s that evokes a conversation on the topic), but just as Steve regretfully marks the passing of summer by noting the first day of fall on which he’s compelled to wear trousers, so I (more congenially disposed toward long pants) mark the dawn of summer by announcing that today, for the first time, I’ve put on my comfortable cargo shorts.

Just Thinking

Isn’t all change “exact change”? How would you get hold of an “approximately thirty cents” piece? And if someone handed you one, how would you make change? “Let’s see: roughly sixty-five cents minus thirty-four cents makes just about thirty-one cents. Sorry — I have a somewhere-around-seventy-nine cent piece, but all I have for small change is exact amounts.”

Brought to you by the “recently spent thirty hours driving, many of them on toll roads” department.

Invest Now

Margaret and I agree that when we read something such as this, we wish we could invest in the futures market on writers. We feel utterly certain that Steve will catch the attention of an alert agent or publisher, and that he’ll sell an ample share of books — if only we could get in on the ground floor!

For Now

It’s not that the end of the academic year looms ominously over me just now — the end will be a much-needed respite. But between now and then lies a gauntlet of exams, papers, meetings, interviews, writing, editing, and miscellaneous other obligations.

I’ll write about the da Vinci Code movie as soon as I see it, preparatory to a series of church talks about the subject. I’ll post the preface to my book as soon as that is written. I’ll get around to lots of things I’ve been putting off; but for now, I really really need the break that will come when the end-of-year faculty meeting closes on June 5 (even though I have two three more committee meetings later in the week, and will have to submit grades right around then). (OK, so maybe the target date is a little later in June. Sigh.)

Home Again Home Again

Well, he really did graduate!

Bachelor Nate

We had a great time — Nate found terrific restaurants for us both dinners we spent in Rochester (we ate at Veneto on Saturday evening, at King of Siam on the way home), and introduced us to sundry professors, friends, and Laura.

If I were to go into detail about the weekend, I would just maunder on boastfully about my terrific son, so I’ll allow you to take that as read. Further evidence in my Flickr gallery.

So although we spent twenty-four of the last thirty hours folded up into the car driving to and from Rochester, we feel wonderful, proud, and excited about Nate’s prospects in the University of Michigan’s Ph.D. program in music theory. Hats off!

Road Trip

We’re setting out for Rochester this afternoon, to play the part of admiring family at Nate’s graduation. Right now we’re busy getting into our roles; should we be the young, cool parents (“I thought she was your sister, Nate!” or the overinvested, embarrassingly loud family, or the some other variation on the theme? We have thirteen hours in the car to figure that out.

But we’re not sure how much connectivity we can count on away from home, so although there’ll be pictures at the end of the process, there may not be much bloggage. And of course (rolls eyes) the comments will be wearisomely clogged with junk when I get back.