Monthly Archives: June 2008

Wavelength 6/28/08

The theme for the June 28, 2008, Wavelength show was “Songs for Kathleen.” My wife Kathleen’s birthday is coming up soon, so I asked her to pick artists to feature for the show. The playlist may be found here.

Kathleen has been a big encouragement in my producing these shows. She is always asking for more blues, so I began the show with an hour of various types of blues. This ranged from Blind Willie Johnson to Koko Taylor to Muddy Waters to Ruth Brown, among others.

I played two cuts each from two of Kathleen special favorites, Bettye Lavette and Ray Charles. Bettye Lavette is a classic rhythm and blues singer who began recording in the 1960s and never quite made it big despite loads of talent. She has made a comeback in recent years and now records for the wonderful Anti label (along with Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Neko Case, et al). Her most recent, very fine, record, is Scene of the Crime. It may be heard in its entirety here.

Ray Charles needs no introduction, of course. My favorite collection of his best is “Ray Charles – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 [DCC]” and His Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.

For the second hour I featured several songs from four of Kathleen’s favorite rock acts–three of which we have been fortunate enough to see in concert. Our favorite Tom Waits record is Mule Variations. The last song on this record is one that Kathleen often talked about using as a benediction in our church service (it hasn’t happened yet, though).

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club have produced several lively, even slightly crazed records of country/punk/rock/gospel. Their most recent record may be their best: Cipher.

For Alejandro Escovedo, I especially recommend A Man Under the Influence and for Patti Smith Gone Again.

The Lamb’s Way of Victory #4

Revelation five is the most important chapter in the book. Here we face the big question of human life–how do we understand God to be working out God’s purposes? The vision of the scroll in the right hand of the “one on the throne” addresses this issue. How will the scroll (which contains the message of the resolution of history) be opened and its contents made manifest? First John fears no one can open the scroll. Then, he is told someone has been found–a great king, intimating a great warrior. But what he sees is the true reality: a lamb that was slain and now stands is the one with true power. This vision at the heart of Revelation, according to my sermon, “How Does God Win?,” makes clear that persevering love, not coercive firepower, reflects the deepest element of God’s power–and serves as our model.

Nicholson Baker. Human Smoke

Nicholson Baker. 567pp. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

To put it mildly, in Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker has produced an amazing book. It was one of the most absorbing 400+ page books I have ever read.

The book is made up of hundreds, probably close to 1,000, short vignettes that trace the events leading up to World War II and its prosecution until the end of 1941 (which, for the U.S., marked our country’s entry into the War).

These vignettes are mostly simple, descriptive statements; only rarely is Baker’s voice apparent. An example of an editorial comment, though, may be found on page 452: A December 10, 1941, Gallup poll had shown that two-thirds of the American population would support the U.S. firebombing Japanese cities in retaliation for Pearl Harbor. “Ten percent—representing twelve million citizens—were wholly opposed. Twelve million people still held to Franklin Roosevelt’s basic principle of civilization: that no man should be punished for the deeds of another. Franklin D. Roosevelt was not one of them.”

As should be obvious (and reviewers have all taken pains to note), the reader should not mistake the objective tone of Baker’s reportage for a merely descriptive intent on his part. Baker clearly has an agenda—though precisely what that agenda is remains for us to discern from the book’s contents. It has no introduction or commentary beyond a very brief “Afterword.” However, by what he includes and excludes, Baker tells a story filtered through his own lenses and reflecting his own concerns. Continue reading

The Doctrine of God

If we take the life and teaching of Jesus as our starting point for the construction of our theological doctrines, the results will be quite a bit different than traditional doctrinal theology. This essay,The Doctrine of God, proposes that Jesus-as-starting-point leads to viewing God as merciful and engaged with human beings–in contrast to views of God as wrathful and “above the fray.”

This essay is the third in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.

The Person of Christ

What would our theology look like if we started with the story of Jesus and sought to shape our theology around Jesus’ own hierarchy of values? In my essay, The Person of Christ, I contrast an approach to Jesus’ identity that centers on the gospels and their story of Jesus life with an approach that centers on official creeds and confessions. I suggest that the latter emphasis all too often leads to a “christological evasion of Jesus” and an approach that separates Christian belief from Jesus’ call to radical discipleship.

This essay is the second in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.

What Is Theology?

What are we doing when we “do theology”? In this essay, “What is Theology?” I argue that our theology has to do with the things in life that we value most. Christian theology should share the hierarchy of values that Jesus embodied–most clearly stated in his call to love God and neighbor. This essay is the first in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.

The Historical Roots of the American Mennonite Church

Though we have many fine histories of the development of the Mennonite churches in North America, it still seems useful to have a thumbnail sketch of the historical developments that led from the original Anabaptist movement in the 16th century to the present main Mennonite denomination in the United States.

My essay, “From Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism to Mennonite Church U.S.A.”, a version of which was published in my book, Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions for the Twenty-First Century, pays special attention to how the tradition has evolved through the years.

The Lamb’s Way of Victory #3

Most futuristic readings of the Book of Revelation base their “hope” on the destructive intervention of God in clearly predicted future events of judgment and punishment–events that born-again Christians will be raptured away from before they happen. In the sermon linked below (part of an on-going series), I critique that view and suggest a different basis for Christian hope.

Jesus’ first coming reveals all we need to know about God and God’s involvement with human beings. Our hope is based on the life-fullness of following Jesus’ path of persevering love in all of life, even unto death.

Sermon #3: “Power in Weakness”

Pacifism With Justice (15)

It is more than a perverse attraction to warfare that makes pacifism unpopular in our contemporary world. The ways we are socialized to see the world themselves mitigate against pacifism. So we need to consider what aspects of the modern worldview in western culture underwrite violence. This is the focus of my essay, “A Pacifist Critique of the Modern Worldview,” which is part of my book in process, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case.

Drawing on writers such as James C. Scott, David Abrams, Richard Tarnas, and Albert Borgmann, I critique this “modern worldview” for its seeing the universe as impersonal, its emphasis on dominating nature, and its rationalism–all factors that actually tend to underwrite violence.

Pacifism With Justice (14)

Christian theology is both part of the problem and part of the solution with regard to violence against children. My essay, “The Theological Roots of Violence Against Children,” which is part of my book in progress, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, addresses this tension.

I suggest that a problematic “logic of retribution” characterizes the theology of evangelical writers such as James Dobson and Millard Erickson. This logic underwrites harsh practices of child discipline that actually teach children to be violent. Drawing on the work of Alice Miller and others, I argue for more peace-oriented approaches to relating to children that are ultimately grounded in biblical theology.