The Speckled Mind

Friday, March 31, 2006

Begin at the Beginning

I just published all of my off-line blog entries from Scotland. For whatever reason, I couldn't get my wireless to work there, so I just had to save them as a word document. But now, for the low, low price of $0, you can read about my adventures in the land of golf and scotch. There's six Episodes, if you want to read them all. For convenience sake, I'll link them here so you can just click rather than scroll:

Episode 1: On Being Tall
Episode 2: Jet-lag part 1
Episode 3: On Pots and Melting
Episode 4: Planes, Trains and Dudes with Funny Accents
Episode 5: Jetlag Part 2
Episode 6: The Conference Eschatology (Last Things) – or – What I Learned that Wasn’t Content Related

Hope you enjoy reading them. I will comment about the actual content of the conference slowly but surely. It's A LOT to process.

Trip to Scotland Episode 6: The Conference Eschatology (Last Things) – or – What I Learned that Wasn’t Content Related (3/30/06)

Well, I’m finally on my way home. There were great times at this conference, and there were frustrating times. I was geographically close enough to Britain to get away with something close to “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What can I say, though? I’m no Dickens. That was quite the thought rabbit trail, right there. I have a feeling it will still make it through the final editing process.

Where was I? Oh, yes—the best and worst of my times at the conference. The ‘worst of times’ moment about this conference was the inevitable posturing of young, overambitious theologians. It seems to be inevitable at these sorts of events. For those of you who care, I would deem this as ‘bad hierarchy’, not to mention profoundly artificial hierarchy. It was pretty obvious that the scholars (professors) who gave papers at the conference were the only ones truly at liberty to assume an air of superiority, yet they seemed the most reluctant to do so. Oh well. A few more arrogant theologians in the world: it’s analogous to another greedy lawyer or two finishing up their J.D.’s. (Sorry, Jessicas)

On the up-side of things, the great majority of those who attended the conference were nice folks—at least the Americans were. I guess the nice U.K.-ers would have to be called nice ‘blokes’. I learned a lot of funny U.K. language ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, speaking of. For instance: I met a gentleman at the conference (an American currently studying at Oxford) who described a linguistic faux pas he had made at a party last year. Having been particularly impressed with the chosen attire of one of his professor’s, this young man chose to compliment the stuffy British lecturer on both his pants and suspenders. All the while, he didn’t realize that, in the U.K., the former is understood to mean underwear and the latter is a term referring to the lingerie straps that hold up a woman’s stockings. Well done.

Probably the second funniest Scottish language episode was on Sunday night. My flatmate, in describing the indigestion caused by our dinner, stated, “It went right down like a fart in a spacesuit, didn’t it?” Yes. Yes it did.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the goods. Probably the best aspect of the conference was the statistically anomalous number of long conversations I had over meals. People really didn’t seem to be in any hurry, preferring instead to truly engage in meaningful community—community that was still in its most infant stage, I might add. This was quite a diverse little group too. Here’s the short list of folks I spent time with—just note how different the backgrounds are:

Gwendolyn—A Canadian who is married with four kids. She will be uprooting her family next year to study the interaction between theatre and theology at St. Andrews.

Scott—A native Californian who attended Trinity for his MA and is now at Oxford studying medieval theology, with a particular emphasis on Thomas Acquinas

Allison—Though originally raised in a non-religious home in the south of Britain, she is now attending the University of Durham, training for full-time ministry in the Church of England.

Eilleen—She began her upper level theological training at Calvin College, but found it to be an oppressive atmosphere when she declared her intention to become an ordained minister. She has since transferred to Princeton and has been studying abroad in the U.K. for the past year.

Gretchen (and her dad, Bob)—She is an undergrad at Wheaton studying systematic theology, but is studying abroad in Edinburgh for this year. Bob was like the coolest over-40 guy there. He went to seminary WAY back in the day, and was attending the conference both to visit his daughter, and to support her interests.

I could certainly name others, but these were the folks with whom I spent the majority of meal/pub times. Good people—thoroughly unconvinced of self-importance to the point that conversation was second nature. These are the kind of interactions that I think we all crave at a very deep level. These are the kind of people that make a trip worthwhile.

I am writing this during my last 90 minutes of the flight home, and I am certainly ready to be home. Just one thought to leave us all with. During my 8.5 hour flight, I had a chance to listen to Rob Bell’s sermon (again) about being ‘fully present.’ For all of the uproar about what the emergent church folks are/are not saying, this sermon gets right to the heart of things with regard to community. In it, he describes how seldom we actually stop and take the time for people—even our best friends or spouses. Think about it—when was the last time you had coffee with someone and turned your cell phone off? When was the last time you did this without a single worry about what you might be missing by ignoring that convenient little electronic device? When was the last time you made your entire goal in a conversation to communicate the love of Christ by genuinely listening to the other person? When was the last time you reminded yourself, ‘This is the most important person I could possibly be talking with right now’?

Now, this isn’t meant to be a guilt trip, or a ‘let’s all just get along’ session. Rather, it’s coming from two places within me, simultaneously. First, every time I go back and listen to this sermon, something deep within me says, ‘Yes!! This is a better way to live’. Second, this week gave me the privilege of being around a number of people who do this, and do it well. They were mirrors into my own life about the critical importance of exhibiting this behavior in order to foster true community. I trust it will do the same for you.

Trip to Scotland Episode 5: Jetlag Part 2 (3/28/06)

Is there anything more frustrating in the world than jetlag? Really? Anything? I don’t think so. I don’t think so right now at 8:09 a.m., and I certainly didn’t think so this morning at 4:30 a.m. when, despite being completely exhausted, I did nothing but stare at the ceiling as I laid in my bed. That’s the weird part for me. I felt tired. I felt sleepy tired. But instead of sleeping, I just sat there and stared at the ceiling. I just stared, wondering why in the world my eyes weren’t closed.

So, after an hour and a half of exploring the ceiling of someone else’s flat, I decided I might as well get ready for the day. Take a shower, brush me teeth, comb my hair. All the good stuff. After completing my rigorous personal hygiene regimen (*cough*) I figured, as long as I’m awake, and I’m going to be awake for awhile, I should probably get started on my coffee. So, I quietly left the flat at around 7:30 and headed for downtown to collect myself at one of the local coffee shops. What did I find? Nothing opens here until 8:00. It’s crazy. Don’t Scottish people need caffeine early in the morning? What time do these people start work? Apparently not at 8:00.

So, now I’m the crazy guy wandering around the streets of St. Andrews. The only other people awake at this God-forsaken time in the morning are the delivery guys, who are looking at me like I’m crazy for being up this early. AAAAAAAHHHHH! I know I’m crazy! If I had sleep or coffee, I’d be fine. But I’m not fine right now. I’m tired and under-caffeinated. Necessito mas caffeeino, por favor-o.

After aimlessly roaming the streets for half an hour, I finally find a place that’s open. I walk up to the counter and ask for coffee. She asked me four different questions about how I wanted my coffee and what kind of coffee I wanted—all of them in a thick, incomprehensible Scottish accent. I looked at her and said, “Please, I just want some coffee.” I think she got the point. It’s good coffee, too. Well done, my bonny Scottish lass…or something like that.

Trip to Scotland Episode 4: Planes, Trains and Dudes with Funny Accents (3/26/06)

Not knowing the lay of the land in Scotland makes it difficult to get around. Making it even more difficult is the thickness of the Scottish accent. It seems to be more common in the men than the ladies. Whenever I ask for directions, I find myself staring blankly into the face of the respondent as I try desperately to make head or tail of any of the crucial geography that was just imparted to me. My first introduction to this was a conversation between two of the bus drivers right outside the airport. They talked for five minutes—I got only about five words. Ironically, the only five words I understood were, “Ye git wat I’m seyin?”

Oh well.

I managed to get on the plane in the Netherlands, land in Edinburgh, buy a bus ticket, make it to the train station, buy a train ticket and get on the correct train. I am now seeing the beautiful Scottish countryside in between Edinburgh and St. Andrews. I simply cannot believe how green the grass is here. No wonder they play so much golf. Another thing the Scots like is, of course, Scotch. I could actually smell it in the air in Edinburgh. Sorta made my stomach turn because I haven’t slept more than an hour in the past day. My body still isn’t quite sure what to make of the seven hours that disappeared into thin air. And speaking of thin air—it’s definitely not here. You can almost swipe it away with your hand. I’ve opted not to do this so far, so as not to look like a complet nutcase. Basically, I’m trying as hard as I can to not look like a silly American. Only one slip-up in that category so far. The train inspector had to tell me to take my feet off of the seat directly across from me. Damn Americans…waltzing into other people’s countries and making a big mess of things. STAY THE COURSE. Anyway…

I’m finally starting to relax though, so that’s a good thing.

Trip to Scotland Episode 3: On Pots and Melting (3/26/06)

I’ve heard it said that the imagery of a melting pot is highly offensive in America (it might be the only thing I learned in my Culture and Ministry class). The idea that each person will supposedly lose his/her identity in favor of something more…generic, has met with resistance. To be honest, it’s not something I think about very much when I’m in Minneapolis. I mean, sure, I live in a part of the city where things are somewhat more racially/ethnically diverse. But really, I mostly hang out with white people, I attend a church full of white people and I work at a school of mostly white people.

As I look around, there is a fascinating level of diversity here in the Amsterdam airport. Young, old, black, white, Asian, Indian. I probably heard ten different languages just on my way from the bathroom to gate D2. What a fun place to watch people. Although, I’ve been careful not to do the Minnesotan ‘smile at everyone you see’ thing—I think it freaks people out.

Anyway, the reason for writing about this is I think it’s a pretty good view of what heaven will be like. What a day—when people of every tribe, tongue and nation gather before the Lamb in worship. We will represent a beautiful spectrum of the Creator’s artistic talent in our diversity, as we find uniformity in our mission of worshipping.

Trip to Scotland Episode 2: Jet-lag part 1 (3/25/06)

The screen at the front of the plane has stopped running episodes of ‘King of Queens’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’ now, in favor of showing the passengers the remaining distance to the Netherlands—an hour and four minutes. Coincidentally, that is about how much sleep I got on the seven-hour flight. The local time in Amsterdam is about 7:00 a.m. That was, by far the fastest night of my life. I’m not sure when I will sleep—maybe on the last leg of the flight from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. I certainly don’t want to fall asleep on the train from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. God knows where I might end up if that happened. Just watch. I’ll wake up in the middle of a field full of sheep. Wouldn’t that be a nice parable?

I’m definitely trusting in God to sustain me for the rest of the day. But I think coffee will be God’s chosen instrument of His faithfulness to me. Even now, I am cradling a cup of (very bad) airline coffee between my sleep-deprived fingers.

Uh, oh. That was the captain speaking…in surprisingly clear English. Time to shut down and stow my portable electronic devices. That is all for now.

Trip to Scotland Episode 1: On Being Tall (3/25/06)

As I fly high above God’s good creation, looking down on what are probably clouds—but might be fields, one thing is for certain: it sucks to be tall. It is taking every last bit of self-control I have—which, compared to the average person is very little—to keep from freaking out in a claustrophobic, nightmarish episode. Or, in the words of my father, I am about to have a small but significant bird. I can picture how that would go….The other two folks in my row, not of yet commending themselves for their warmth and pleasantries, would become even better acquainted with my patented brand of psychosis, as I wave my hands wildly above my head and cry out for some room to stretch my legs. I’ve tried thirteen different ways of sitting, none of which have yet merited anything close to the comfort required for sleep.

It also doesn’t help that the sun is bright and cheery at 50,000 feet…or however high we are flying. I am not sure of our exact elevation because the only part of the captain’s schpiel that resembled comprehensible speech was in German, or some other nonsensical, non-English language. I bet the guy is saying things like, “Americans are so stupid…they don’t even know what I’m saying right now.” Also, the person in front of me felt it would be a good idea to recline her seat as far back as she could—just shy of the rivets dislodging from their sockets in a glorious 4th of July precursor. In order to even type this, I’m forced to let my laptop teeter awkwardly on the edge of my seat tray, as I forcefully lodge it between the seat in front of me and my belly. For once, my belly takes one for the team.

You know, it’s not all bad though. I’m listening to ‘Takk’ by Sigur Ros, and it is soothing me in a profound way. When I hear certain songs, it is as if my body exhales my soul. The beauty of the art causes me to heave a sigh of contentment so deep that, before I know it, my soul is just hovering in front of my face, making me wonder at what a strange, unfamiliar creature it is. It slowly turns, but always stares at me. I see it from every angle, but it always looks the same. Then, the moment passes, the song ends and thin air becomes thinner by its vanishing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Over The Pond and Through The Kilts

Saturday, at 1:30 pm, I will be flying over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life. It's not that I'm nervous. I mean, people do this every day, right? And it's not like I'll be crossing the Bermuda Triangle...or wearing Bermuda shorts.

I'd say they're a worse wardrobe selection than a kilt.

Can I just say how much I love that picture? Either that guy's underwear (which they call "pants" in Scotland) are hilarious, or that guy isn't wearing anything under that kilt. I'm guessing it's the latter.

Anyway, I digress. The reason I will be headed to the land of haggis and scotch is for a conference. St. Andrews University will be hosting a "Theology, Imagination and the Arts Colloquium" from March 27-29.

I basically couldn't be more excited about this. Anyone who has been around me knows that the integration of theology and the arts has long been a passion of mine. How can we do theology within the context of the arts in a way that is faithful both to God's character and to the creative/imaginitive potential of his creation? So often, the church has erred on the side of the former and relegated the latter to the back seat...if not the trunk. Our Creator is an amazingly creative artist--don't forget to look around and realize that! It would seem that those who are being conformed to the image of the Son would have the greatest potentiality to reflect the artistry of the Father/Creator. Why have we fallen so short of this task, and what is the path to reclaiming our call? I hope this conference will help provide answers to these questions (and more!). Here is the lineup of speakers.

1. Professor Richard Bauckham, University of St Andrews: ‘Eternity in a Lilypond: Claude Monet's Nymphéas’

2. Dr Anna Williams, University of Cambridge: ‘Time and space: suggestions from paradise’

3. ProfessorPaul Fiddes, University of Oxford: ‘Patterns of hope and images of eternity: listening to Shakespeare, Blake and T.S. Eliot’

4. Dr Daniel Chua, King's College, University of London: ‘Echoes of hope: or how time travels in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and Beethoven's Fidelio’

5. Dr Patricia Bruininks, Hendrix College, Arkansas: ‘Positive affect toward the future: understanding the process, sources, and temporal nature of hope’

6. Professor Trevor Hart, University of St Andrews: ‘Nothing is impossible! eucatastrophic consolations in theology and literature’

7. Jeremy Begbie, University of St. Andrews: Closing address

I'm familiar with about half the folks on this list. I know for a fact that Begbie, Hart and Bauckham are terriffic. I will try to post updates frequently to let you all in on the experience. Please keep me in your prayers!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Smile! We're pretty!

Well, at least Jess is. So, I'm still trying to figure out this photo hosting thing. This is us before going to a fancy-shmancy lawschool shindig. Why did this beautiful woman agree to marry me? Still trying to figure that out. In the meantime, please don't clue her in about who I really am.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Iowa Sucks.

We all know this, and we've been over it before. The whole reason the Mississippi river flows south is that--you guessed it--Iowa sucks.

The particular aspect of Iowa's suckiness that has me on edge today is their loss to Northwestern State University. I had picked Iowa to go to the Sweet 16. I guess that will teach me to depend on something as sucky as Iowa. Did I mention that Iowa sucks?

Well, it is St. Patrick's day--which is really a day for merriment. So, to combat the gloom and honor the good people of Ireland, I thought I'd compose a limerick:

Iowa sucks, it is true
Atlant bracket is screwed
A three-pointer lofted
A jersey torn off-ted
Now I am pulling for Duke

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stand Up And Be Counted!

So...there's a basketball tournament starting tomorrow. A big one. Even those like me, who didn't pay much (read 'any') attention to NCAA men's basketball during the regular season are now 'experts'.

I'm pulling for Gonzaga. I know nothing about them.

Let's face it, this is about the most fun you're gonna have watching sports this year. It doesn't matter if you have a team in the tournament or not. It really doesn't even matter if you're interested in basketball. This year, when you see #10 Seton Hall pulling away from #2 Tennessee in the last two minutes of the second round, you'll be on the edge of your couch, whether you have a vested interest in the game or not.

Don't spill your soda.

And though a team like #16 Southern is playing against #1 Duke, and they have no chance of winning the basketball game, they are still winners. They made it to (arguably) the country's most beloved sporting event. What can I say, it's all about the love of the game--there really are no losers with March Madness.

Oh, except businesses. They're gonna lose plenty.

Because the good folks at NCAA sports are kind enough to make the games available on line for free, no one needs to work on Thursday or Friday...even while they're at work. The estimates I saw placed the losses in worker production somewhere between $1.3 and $4.0 BILLION DOLLARS.

That's right, I said Billion.

This led to an interesting conversation between my brother and I. How exactly do they measure that statistic? Do they walk in to businesses (in the presence of bosses and all) and ask, "Who here is going to watch baskeball games on their computer instead of working?"

"Jones? Yes. Good."

"Phillips? You too, good. Thank you."

"Anyone else?"

"Jones and Phillips, how much do you make? Hmmm...excellent. Thank you."

Maybe they went around to thousands of businesses asking those questions. Or...maybe Bill Gates is just gonna take it easy this Thursday and Friday.

Mr Gates, I salute you. If for only a day, we are exactly alike.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Best Quote Yet

Well, my culture and ministry class still sucks. A lot. But I just wanted to share one last out of context quote, spoken directly from the professors mouth:

"You don't need this class."

I couldn't have said it better myself. I wonder when I will be refunded for 10 weeks of wasted time and effort. Bwah.

Oooh--one more, because he just said it:

"This is adult material."

Very funny given the "quality" of films shown in the class. Bwah again...

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Friday, March 10, 2006

When Heresy is Funny...

PC's suck. We all know this. I once operated one of these evil machines, but then I saw the light. I was brought from death into life when I got my mac. God bless the good people at mac and the products they produce. May they live long and prosper. To speak ill of the mac is heretical...unless it's this funny. Props to Roger for unearthing this gem. Enjoy!

There are a couple of bad words in this...if you're easily offended, please don't watch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Whitewashed Tombs?

Well, I haven't written a "Christians are hypocrites" post in awhile, so I suppose it's time to do so. Please note at the get-go: I include myself in this category of self-righteous, hypocritical, agenda-laden folks for whom Christ died.

Yesterday, I was in mourning. I witnessed the passing of a childhood hero. As I stated in the previous post, Puck was the player everyone on my little league team wanted to be. Even the Brewer fans were likely to imitate Puck when they stepped into the batter's box. There was just something special about the way that guy played the game--a hard worker on the field, a model off the field.

A model off the field, you ask? Yeah. That's what I said. An often overlooked fact is that, besides taking a vested interest in the Minneapolis community in various ways, Kirby's celebrity 8 ball pool tournament raised over 4 million dollars for Children's Heartlink.

Four Million Dollars. Not to mention his quarter million dollar endowment to the University of Minnesota. The guy was generous, as well as being a motivator for many young African Americans that (in Kirby's words), "You can do anything."

I know he wasn't always a model citizen. Kirby made some grave mistakes in his private life. Cheating on his wife, abusing his wife. There were other things. The man definitely had some personal problems. I'm not interested in debating the truth of these things at the moment.

What does concern me is why so many Christians I talked with yesterday were interested in discussing these latter, ugly aspects of Kirby's private life rather than the former. The discussions I had yesterday generally went something like this:

Me: I'm really bummed about the Kirby thing. He was a childhood hero of mine.

Christian: I just can't respect a man who did all of those things. I could never look at him the same way again...I don't know if it's right to have a guy like Kirby as a hero.

What is wrong with us? Why are we so intent on pointing out other people's flaws? I am absolutely ticked about this. Do we even consider the fact that the guy was getting his life cleaned up? How about the possibility that the guy (for all we know) could have been truly repentant for his actions--which, by the way, is what Tanya implies in the Star Tribune this morning. What gives us the right, as Christians, to speak so ill of someone when their body has hardly cooled in the casket? Does the thought of tactfulness even enter the consciousness of Christians with regard to these things? Or are we justified in taking pot-shots at a guy the day after his death?

But there's something that concerns me more than the lack of civility and tact. Have we forgotten that we are saved by grace? Have we forgotten that there was nothing special about us?


God wasn't sitting up in heaven thinking, "Oh, I really need Tim on my team. I haven't seen him do anything wrong in weeks." Geez. It was more like, "Look at that filthy, despicable, self-righteous, angry, putrid, sorry excuse for My image down there. My Son died for him."

I'm so tired of this judgmental attitude amongst Christians. It seems like our greatest concern with the world is that they are sinful. OF COURSE THEY'RE SINFUL. That's why they need Jesus. Us trying to put verbal bandaids of condemnation on their oozing wounds of sin isn't going to work. What they need is a Healer. They need the Great Physician. If you are one of those Christians who has not been leaving room for the judgment of the Lord, especially with regard to non-Christian behavior, repent now. I have been, and you need to do the same.

And, lest you doubt my Biblical support for saying these things, I encourage you to peruse 1 Corinthians 5, particularly the end. Paul spends most of that chapter talking about our duty to keep those within the church accountable for their behavior. But then at the end, he almost laughs at those who want to hold those outside the church to the same standard.

Christians, let's get over ourselves and get on mission.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sad Passing of a Hero

Well, I'm really bummed. Kirby Puckett was a hero...a childhood idol, really. If there is one baseball player I wanted to be like when I was a kid, it was Puck.

There are certain moments that you never forget. Our generation will never forget where they were when the news of 9/11 hit. My parents generation will never forget when and how the news of JFK's assassination hit them. First man on the moon, first round the world flight...

Me? Game 6 of the '91 series. Kirby robbed Ron Gant and hit a homerun in the 11th to send it to game 7. "We'll see ya tomorrow night." And we did. We saw the Twins triumph over the (still) evil Braves, snagging their second series in four years' time. And Puck was our hero. **Sigh**

A few days ago, Jessica looked at me with great concern in her eyes and pondered the possible retirement of her childhood hero (Brett Favre). Enjoy his heroics while you can, my dear. Life moves too quick.

Rest in peace, Kirby. You brought me joy.

Friday, March 03, 2006

New Olympic Event?

You know what's weird? Afghanistan. Really weird. What you're looking at is three men playing a traditional Afghani game called Buzkashi. You can read up on the game , but you probably don't need to. The goal is simple--be the first horseman to carry a beheaded, dead goat across the oponent's goal line--no, seriously.

The written, official rules are as follows:

Ok, I'm done.

There really are no "official rules" to the game, but there are some unwritten, universally understood rules rules. These include:

- No tying the dead goat to your saddle
- No striking your oponent's hand while trying to steal the dead goat
- No tripping your opponent's horse with a rope to gain progress with the dead goat

After a day or two a winner of the match is announced, at which point a no-holds barred, bare-back horse race commences. Commonly the racers will plot one another's death as a part of the festivities.

And you thought curling was weird.

In other sporting news, the Twins prevailed over the Red Sox in the spring training opener. Four scoreless innings were pitched (two by Santana and two by Silva). Three homeruns were hit (one each by Hunter, Mauer and Ford). I'm predicting a good year, friends. GO TWINS!!