Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Lazy Wednesdays

Written from the mid-point break in my night class...

I noticed the phenomenon of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday blending into one day this past fall. Two months into the new year, Wednesdays tend to feel like wasted days.

Not sure what's going on. I'm learning in class...when not spaced out or otherwise distracted. Same concerns as earlier (large classes impede relationship and learning).

Work's decent; today i edited two papers and talked through a spanish newscast, and i know that there's value in the work, as well as in the interactions. i enjoyed the time with students, although i find that editing is something i have to do on my own, with an explanation afterwards (rather than talking through the paper line-by-line...which takes much longer).

It's not that i'm rushing all over the place; had two free hours this afternoon and early evening, and i've taken the time to slow myself down, instead of forcing a full schedule. Silence, prayer, reading (Psalm 73 has me...), riding the bike, all stuff i enjoy, regenerative activity, and i'll be able to veg when i get home, so it's not from a lack of rest or vitality.

Just worn-out right now, and it feels like i'm wearing myself out for nothing.
That said, i'll get up again tomorrow morning, and keep at it...this too shall pass.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Coffee Shop Phenomenon

Here's what crossed my mind while walking back from the java filling station, a small coffee shop in pasadena, on the corner of colorado and marengo. Visited for the first time today, and will go back...good stuff.

Here's what i thought:
We humans live in this cycle of action, reflection, and perception (which can all occur in a split-second, or over a prolonged period of time). Our patterns of life, habits, and routines play key roles in shaping our perceptions of reality, which influence our future actions. This is illustrated in the coffee shop phenomenon.

Within a two mile radius with endpoints at my house and my gym, i can think of at least eight coffee shops, and i'm sure that there're more that i know of. Yet what's the first option when talking about getting coffee with somebody? Almost invariably, Starbucks is mentioned within the first minute or two of the conversation, because it's the one we see, or have been trained to see.

Questions for reflection:
Disclaimer: I've began to think through these and have made some links and connections, but it's not reflected here. So the implications and questions may make a lot more sense to me than to anyone else. Still, open season on the comments.

How do we learn to see beyond the ingrained?

What is a small-business owner to do in the face of the hegemony of Starbucks?

For a corporation, they're fairly-humane...akin to America...not too bad for a superpower, but certainly, CERTAINLY, not without flaws and inconsistencies. do the mom-and-pops stay afloat and thrive? What do we see?

Mid-Morning Thought

Here's a hunch: the bulk of the time guys get in trouble, it's because of our mouths, our fists, or our genitals.

I'm just saying.


Profound thoughts cross my mind on a regular basis, either through my own doing or simply because i'm in grad school, and can't help but be stimulated.

My first thoughts today...they weren't that profound:

'wow, that bathroom light is really bright.'

'i'm pretty groggy and don't want to get out of bed. maybe if someone were to hit me upside the head with a baseball bat, that'd get me, scratch that. intense pain associated with baseball bat walloping wouldn't be worth it.'

on that note, good morning.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

My Sentiments Exactly...

Also passing through my hands of late has been John Drane's The McDonaldization of the Church, another helpful book. I appreciate his cultural analysis, his application of Ritzer's McDonaldization thesis to the church, and his creative proposals for Christian practice, centered around bodily expressive worship, prophetic use of drama and clowning, and storytelling. Worship is a concern of the book, and Drane suggests that "meaningful worship is what very many people today are looking for (163)," yet in its place, churches tend to offer up a pre-packaged worship service, devoid of meaning or integrity (at least through the eyes of many persons). The book asks the questions of 'how did we get here?' and 'where do we want to go?', and merits at least a quick read.

That's not why i'm posting.

What first grabbed my attention was the first page of the book, where John brought out the proliferation of buzzwords surrounding 'postmodernism' among Christians. I've observed (and participated in, regretfully, to sum up 2002) this phenomenon, and got sick of hearing it about two months after arriving at Fuller, ESPECIALLY when the catch-all term didn't seem to have any meaning...but it sounds cool, hip, and erudite, and besides, everybody uses it. About eight months ago, i opened a systematics presentation on missional church ecclesiology by addressing the 'whole postmodern thing' and letting the cat out of the bag: we don't know what we're talking about. What's going on? IMO, we use words to make ourselves feel as if we 'get' something we don't understand, and I find in John Drane a kindred spirit.

Throughout the 1990s, Christian analysts and church strategists have invested a good deal of time and energy in the effort to understand what has variously been called postmodernism, postmodernity, and (my own preference) post-modernity. But what do we mean, and what difference is all our analysis and speculation actually making to the work and witness of the Church in the world? As I have listened to both academics and church leaders expounding ever more complex definitions of the nature of the cultural change which, quite clearly, is a reality, I have often asked myself whether we really know what we are talking about. Are our efforts at cultural analysis truly describing what is there in any objective sense at all, or are we merely deluding ourselves with the thought that, if we are able to name a thing, we can also be in control of it, and therefore it becomes less of a threat to our familiar systems and lifestyles? (The McDonaldization of the Church 1-2)

Ben Meyer and his big words

I skimmed Ben Meyer's The Aims of Jesus on Thursday, and found it worthy of more focused attention (as has NT Wright, who draws heavily on Meyer's critical realism in his works). Meyer's historiography and his method are among his lasting contributions to historical Jesus studies, and his work (mediated through Wright and James Dunn) played a pivotal role in getting me out of a phenomenological cul-de-sac two years prior.

Meyer's book focuses upon Jesus' intentions, and he suggests that Jesus did foresee the events leading to his death and intended to charge them with meaning, linked to the restoration of Israel. Within scholarly circles, such a suggestion was seen as off-limits; we had no access into Jesus' self-consciousness, only to the earliest Christian communities, sharply divided from their founding figure on this point. I held this position as recently as 2004, and found my cynicism to be pretty paralyzing; i could call anyone out and criticize them, finding flawed presuppositions in all approaches that actually said anything, but didn't really have anything constructive to offer. Not really a good camp to inhabit. I no longer live there, having found Meyer and his followers to be invaluable guides who present a plausible strategy for understanding Jesus' intentions without attempting to psychoanalyze themselves across the historical divide.

I hadn't read The Aims of Jesus until this week, but found myself nearly weeping with joy while reading his description of Jesus' life; Meyer highlights some of Jesus' really attractive characteristics and life-patterns, which connect closely to my hopes for the church. Good stuff.

One laugh-out-loud moment that accompanied my reading: had to go to the dictionary twice, once for 'plenipotentiary,' and the second time for 'pellucid.' The meaning of the latter word? Easy to understand.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Get Rich

Continuing the theme of Friday Night Movie Posts, I watched Get Rich or Die Tryin' this past week, starring Curtis Jackson (AKA 50 Cent) in a semi-autobiographical role, alongside Terrence Howard and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Jackson didn't get an Oscar nomination for his performance, and critical reviews were about as universally negative as Brokeback's were positive.

I liked it.

No, 50 didn't show much range, or much emotion, but given the life his character lives, that made a lot of sense to me. Pain and trauma tend to sap emotions, and even our passions can come off as listless; i can understand and relate to that, if only in a small way. Now if the script was written with that factor in the background, or if Jim Sheridan (In America) tailored his direction to the actor's limitations, another question altogether.

Other appreciated elements: in my eyes, the film didn't glamourize the gangster lifestyle, and while i'm not sure i can judge it as realistic or not, i would render a verdict of plausible.

There's also some truth in one of the closing lines: "I've been looking for my father all my life; I realized I was looking for myself. I felt like I was walking away from the old me, and a new me was being born."

Original and jaw-dropping? No.
Communicative, and worth hearing? Yes, especially for young guys such as myself, and it's a line with a bit of theological import. So was the tagline 'at the end of the day, what will you hang onto?', which i'd rephrase: 'what in life is worth going after?'

A film I'll be watching over and over again? No.
A film I'll pull off the shelves for bad movie night? No. That honor goes to Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, although Sam Jackson's upcoming Snakes on a Plane just might qualify.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Mountain

Watched Brokeback today, and it shattered a long-standing prejudice against Heath Ledger movies. Not that i'm going to seek out a copy of the Order, but it's not hard to comprehend why he got a best actor nom for his performance. Really good: he took in the part and made the role his own.

As for the film, stellar acting, direction, and writing combined to create a powerful representation of a relationship between two persons, and the best words i can use to describe it are authentic, and true-to-life, capturing the complexities and tensions that are Jack and Ennis' lives. I'm usually not one for westerns or love stories, but this one's good. While I've been impacted by Crash after both theater and home video viewings, right now, Brokeback Mountain is my best picture of the year.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Other Historical Frustrations

Well, i'm in class, and i didn't do the rewrite. So i'll live with a B for the first paper. While attempting to rewrite, i found myself writing an entirely different paper, looking at my initial conclusions and saying 'wow,' surprised that the grade was so high given my utter disregard for the process of historical research and the existence of primary sources.

Comparing the work i'm doing right now with the last graduate paper i wrote on church history, a study of Irenaeus and Hippolytus' arguments against docetism, I wonder if my mind has atrophied over the past two years, or if i've actually become less disciplined in my studies during grad school, which is quite possible. The patristic paper was focused, well-documented, and pointed, and the professor's comments were quite flattering. I did spend the bulk of the quarter working on it, and put in quite a bit of effort, as well as rewrites, which would be a good practice to incorporate. My tendency is to submit a first draft as a final paper, and it's worked out alright up to this point. Now the bar's being raised...time to aim higher and work with something other than a deadline in mind.

Another moment for the diary...

Got some post today.
It was addressed to Mr. Dork.
I put it in the bin.

Fierce Polemic

One of the most entertaining parts of reading church history is reading the ways in which people rip one another in argument (the early heresiologists are particularly fun). Came across these words from John Wesley about Leibniz:

So poor a writer have I seldom read, either as to sentiment or temper. In sentiment he is a thorough fatalist... And his temper is just suitable to his sentiments. He is haughty, self-conceited, sour, impatient of contradiction, and holds his opponent in utter contempt (Frederick Dreyer, The Genesis of Methodism, 80).

At some point, I've got to find a way to work that into a polemical piece. Just need some willing adversaries.

I'm currently reading for Global Evangelical Movement, attempting a rewrite of a paper on the break between Wesley and the Moravians over quietism; as i see it, Wesley split from the Moravians because he believed that their doctrines led to inactivity, rather than a working out of their faith in action. The first paper came back a B, and i can see why: it wasn't very focused, and i jumped a bit too quickly to the present, conjecturing and offering suggestions without analyzing any of the primary source material. I've done a bit more of that this week, and it's been beneficial; even if i don't submit a rewrite, i'm aware of how to up my game when doing historical study, both in this class and in the future.

The class has been great, if frustrating, and our professor's philosophy of education, 'with much knowledge comes much sorrow,' is being borne out. This weekend's reading and reflection dealt with the modernist/fundamentalist controversy, and the tendencies towards infighting and division within the church just piss me off. In fact, i'm getting a bit steamed thinking about this, an indicator that i should probably turn back to the Wesley rewrite...may blog more later.