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Archive for December, 2005

Happy New Year — Qohelet Style

31st December 2005

As we enter a new year (for those of us following the Gregorian calendar at least!), I would like to wish readers of Codex all the best in the new year.

One of the biblical books that I read at the beginning of every new year is Ecclesiastes (in the Hebrew Bible known as “Qohelet”). I find that this book helps me set my priorities for the upcoming year.

Now those familiar with the book of Ecclesiastes may be asking yourself what does a book that renders everything as hebel or absurd have to say about personal goals and resolutions for the new year? Well, that’s a good question! Especially considering Ecclesiastes 1:9 which says “History merely repeats itself. It has all be done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” This verse probably rings true to all of us who have ever made a new year’s resolution year after year only to break it by the time February comes around! If everything is hebel or absurd and if we’re caught in this endless cycle, what’s the point of trying to do things different this coming year? Another good question.

Everything for the Qohelet is summed up by the Hebrew word הבל hebel, absurd: “Vanity of vanities, says Qohelet, vanity of vanity! All is vanity!” This word describes what is visible or recognizable, but unsubstantial, momentary, and profitless (Scott); it connotes that which is absurd in the technical sense, what is not the way it is supposed to be (Fox). It is characterized by chasing after the wind: and no one can catch the wind. It is vanity, meaningless, absurd. One commentator has even translated it as “flatulence!”

The rest of the book elaborates on this pessimistic conclusion. In what seems like an endless cycle of negative verdicts everything is considered hebel: righteous living: absurd!; folly: absurd; pleasure: absurd; wealth: absurd; human toil: absurd!; achievement: absurd; justice and honour: absurd! Everything — absolutely everything — that happens under the sun is absurd, a chasing after the wind.

And it is precisely this pessimistic — or perhaps realistic — conclusion that makes Ecclesiastes especially appropriate at this time of year. Eugene Peterson in his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work describes the book of Ecclesiastes as

a John the Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging. [We] read Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that are cloy. It is an exposé and rejection of every pretentious and presumptuous expectation aimed at God…(pp. 155-156).

At this time of year I believe we need to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, we need to reject every pretentious and presumptuous expectation that we might have in our lives in regard to God and our faith. We need to refocus and re-orient ourselves as we begin the new year.

But what exactly does Qohelet mean by his absurd verdict? Are all the things he highlights absurd without qualification? Are they in and of themselves bad?

The key to understanding Qohelet’s verdict is found in his perception of reality. For Qohelet, reality is divided into two realms: one the dwelling place of God, the other the dwelling place of humanity (Eaton, 44). “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before Go. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (5:2). “God is in heaven, you are on earth.” This is an underlying assumption throughout the book. And when Ecclesiastes uses the recurring phrases “under the sun,” “under heaven,” or “on the earth” he is talking about the earthly side of reality apart from God. He is talking about life here in this fallen world alienated from God.

It is life “under the sun” that is absurb; Qohelet is saying that wisdom, wealth, work, or anything that leaves God out of the picture is absurd, a chasing after the wind.

So, Qohelet’s verdict of meaningless is pronounced on life “under the sun.” It condemns an autonomous, self-sufficient wisdom that has no place for God. It condemns wealth that is seen as an end unto itself, rather than a blessing from God that has to be used to further his Kingdom. It condemns work that supplants God as the focus and drive of one’s life.

So, not everything is absurd, only everything that is sought apart from God. If we try to find meaning in wisdom, wealth, or work “under the sun,” that is, apart from God, then our search will be futile.

For all my readers it is my prayer that all that we do in the coming year will not be absurd, a chasing after the wind.

For my Christian readers it is my prayer as we begin a new year that we all will use this time to refocus and re-orient ourselves towards the only true source of meaning — the baby whose birth we just celebrated: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that no matter what resolutions we may make — that when in a year we look back at 2006 that we will find meaning and significance in what we have done, because we have done it in the shadow of the cross.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every person” (12:13).

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Things you would never believe… US Plans to Invade Canada (circa 1935)

31st December 2005

OK, it’s not April Fool’s Day and it was in the Washington Post, but I still find it difficult to believe! According to the aforementioned newspaper (HT Brad Boydston), the United States of America had battle plans produced in the case that they ever need to attack us! The plans are a 94-page document called “Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan — Red,” with the word SECRET stamped on the cover. Here is an excerpt from the article that lays out the plan step-by-step:

First, we send a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, cutting the Canadians off from their British allies.

Then we seize Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, so they freeze in the dark.

Then the U.S. Army invades on three fronts — marching from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, charging out of North Dakota to grab the railroad center at Winnipeg, and storming out of the Midwest to capture the strategic nickel mines of Ontario.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy seizes the Great Lakes and blockades Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific ports.

At that point, it’s only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees! Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: “ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL.”

I detect a major weakness in the plans: they haven’t accounted for all of the rednecks living in my province of Alberta who not only have gun racks in their pick-up trucks, but also have guns to put there when necessary!

Bring it on! (Except my good friend Joe Cathey… he has far to many guns to provoke! Nice Joe… Nice Joe…) Just remember what happened last time you invaded us!

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Second Annual Ralphies – First Annual Codex Edition (Best of 2005)

30th December 2005

Welcome to the Second Annual Ralphies — First Annual Codex Edition. Following the example of Ed Cook, a number of bloggers, including Rick Brannan, Joe Cathey, and Loren Rosson, and “Targuman” (a new blog I found through Ed’s), have been compiling their favorite books and films of 2005.

What follows is my own list. While I have tried to honour Ed’s template, I find it difficult to narrow lists like these down to one top pick, so I have includes some runner-ups.

Best NONFICTION BOOK of the year: This is a tough one since I have read quite a few non-fiction books! For books published in 2005, here are my selections. My top choice is Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (Continuum, 2004; Buy from or This work is not in my primary field of research and that is one reason why it would be my top choice since many of the ideas within it were so new to me. I read it in preparation for my popular culture course and found it to be a compelling and convicting expose of the commodification of religion.

A very close runner up from within in one of my primary areas of research is Ulrich Dahmen, Psalmen- und Psalter-Rezeption im Fruehjudentum: Rekonstrucktion, Textbestand, Sturktur und Pragmatik der Psalmen Rolle 11QPsa aus Qumran (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 49; Leiden: Brill, 2003; Buy from or This work is an impressive examination of the so-called Qumran Psalms scroll taking into consideration both literary and textual characteristics of the scroll. I highly recommend it!

Best FICTION BOOK of the year: I typically only read fiction when on holidays. Probably the best fiction work I read this year (but was published a while ago) is Susan Howatch, Scandalous Risks (Fawcett, 1991; Buy from or This is the fourth of Howatch’s Church of England series. I enjoy the intellegent theological discussions in Howatch’s books, among other things.

Runner-ups would include J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic, 2005; Buy from or I enjoy the Harry Potter books, though I am always left with a small sense of dissatisfaction after reading them — I’m not sure what it is, though I wonder if it is the fact that they are based on the school year and therefore like a TV show, you know they will be wrapping up loose ends as the school year nears its end. I also reread Chaim Potok, In the Beginning (Ballantine, 1997; Buy from or I love all of Potok’s books (The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, Davita’s Harp, etc.), but this one I especially appreciate because it narrates the story of David Lurie, a brilliant young Jewish boy who stuns his family and friends by laying aside his Orthodox upbringing and becoming a secular biblical scholar. I love the final exchange between David and his Rebbe (p. 435):

  • Rebbe: “… Are you telling me you will not be an observer of the commandments?”
  • David: “I am not telling the Rebbe that.”
  • Rebbe: “What are you telling me?”
  • David: “I will go wherever the truth leads me. It is secular scholarship, Rebbe; it is not the scholarship of tradition. In secular scholarship there are no boundaries and no permanently fixed views.”
  • Rebbe: “Lurie, if the Torah cannont go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”


Best MOVIE of the year: This is a tough one for me — especially since I taught a religion and popular culture class and consequently watched a few films over the course of the year! In terms of movies released in 2005, my vote for best movie of 2005 would be Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004; IMDB; Buy from or While this film technically came out in 2004, I didn’t watch it until it was released on DVD in 2005. I found this to be a moving/disturbing film about the genocidal atrocities in Rwanda and how the colonial powers contributed to the problems. It is an excellent case study in situational ethics (what would you do if you were in that situation?). It should be seen in tandem with the Canadian documentary based on the autobiography of Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (Peter Raymont, 2004; IMDB; Buy from or

Honorable mention goes to Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDB; Buy from or for a movie that ponders the notion of redemptive violence; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005; IMDB) for a good film adaptation; Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005; IMDB; Buy from or for a captivating movie about the ubiquitious nature of racism; Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDB; Buy from or for a provcative use of eight different actors (playing the same character) in a thought-provoking examination of the moral complexities of abortion.

Finally, I have to give special mention to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDB). I liked the film, though in order to really appreciate it I will have to see it again since I went with my kids and ended up spending most of my time answering questions from my four-and-a-half year old son! (Q; What is that? A: That’s a faun. Q: Why? A: Uh, because it is. Q: Why? A: Because C.S. Lewis drew upon classical mythology in his writings. Q: Is the faun a bad guy? A: Well, not really, he does bad stuff but then turns good. Q: So he’s a good guy? A: Yes. etc. ad naseum!)

Best CD of the year: This is a no-brainer! U2′s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the best CD of the year (Buy from or I think that with this CD, U2 has returned to their roots (not that I didn’t like all of their music in between!). Sad to say that was the only CD that I purchased in 2005. I actually had my CD collection stolen from my office early in the year and I have been replacing what I lost by downloading them as mp3s since I tend to listen to music only when at my computer (and I can always burn a CD if I want one).

Song of the year: “Yahweh” from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This is a catchy and intriguing song. It’s a prayer for Yahweh to intervene, to transform the singer: “Take this shirt / Polyester white trash made in nowhere / take this shirt / and make it clean, clean. Take this soul / Stranded in some skin and bones / Take this soul / and make it sing…. Take this heart / And make it break.” But it’s also a lament, questioning why God is not acting: “Yahweh, tell me now / Why the dark before the dawn?” At any rate, I am impressed that U2 included a song called “Yahweh” on their CD.

A close runner up would be “Crumbs from your table.” When I first heard this song I loved it. But then I watched the DVD that came with the CD and listened to Larry Mullen note how he was so drunk when they wrote that song that he doesn’t even remember writing it! Talk about a downer! But then I read a great blog entry on this song from Spera In Deo where he relays an interview with Bono about the song that redeems the song in my eyes. Here is an excerpt:

About the Crumbs song, he [Bono] told the story of the Irish nun, Sister Ann, who’s story broke his heart. She lives and works near a sewer and brings in people who live in horrific conditions. When he visited her, he saw people who were sleeping “three to a bed.” I had previously thought the song was about Bush’s promised–then rescinded–offer of $15b in Africa aid. But it turns out it is really (also?) about this nun and how some people in the world await crumbs to fall from the feast table of American Christianity (You speak of signs and wonders / But I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table).

Once again, brilliant! Well, that’s all she wrote, so I’ll see you at next year’s Ralphies!

Posted in Best Of, Film, music, Personal, Popular Culture, Ralphies, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch 5 – Special Kitschmas Holiday Edition

27th December 2005

It’s has been a while since I posted an edition of “Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch,” so I thought a special holiday edition would be appropriate! Now, you may be thinking that Christmas may be an easy target for a kitsch piece — and you’re right! During the holiday season kitsch is king — so much so that Christmas kitsch has even elicited its own name: Kitschmas! But here I will try not to settle for the easy targets, the commonplace pieces of Christmas kitsch available at any big box store like inflatable Santas or animated reindeer. Instead, I will try to bring you some truly bizzare Christmas fare. As you will see, an appropriate theme for this issue is the nativity scene. The nativity is truly a kitsch-magnet. It boggles the mind to think of all of the kitschy nativity scenes available in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Previous installments of my “Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch,” may be found here. Take special note of volume 4, the “What is Kitsch?” volume. Knock yourself out!

The Inflatable Christmas

Inflatable Christmas decorations seem to be all the rage this year and baby Jesus is not exempt. There are a number of inflatable nativity scenes on the market; here are some highlights.

Outdoor Inflatable Nativity #1
This nativity scene will certainly get the neighbours talking! Joseph looks like the nephilim of old and Mary looks appropriately iconic for a woman who just experienced natural childbirth in a stable! I’m not sure who those kids are supposed to be… shepherds perhaps?

Outdoor Inflatable Nativity #2
If you thought the last inflatable nativity scene was impresive, just look at this one — it even comes with its own stable! (sorry, lowing animals are not included) To top it off, this giant 9 foot nativity inflatable includes lights for a stunning nighttime display!

The only real question I have is what did Santa do with Joseph? Did he get Yukon Corleone to knock him off? (Bonus if you can identify the pop culture allusion!) This beauty is still available from Bronners.

Massive Inlatable Jesus
The last two inflatables are dwarfed by this massive inflatable Jesus. This would be the sure way to attract attention! I imagine the theme of this vinyl-coated nylon marvel is something like “Jesus loves the little children.”

This inflatable comes from my native home town of Edmonton (see here). It almost looks as if kids could use Jesus’ lap as a trampoline — lap dance anyone? (OK, sorry, that was entirely uncalled for!)

Techno Jesus Nativities

Moving from the massive to the techno, who knew fibre optics and nativity scenes would make such a good team… kind of like peanut butter and jelly! There are two sets vying for your hard earned cash:

Fiber Optic Nativity Set #1
The miracle of Christmas is displayed in this exquisitely crafted poly resin, fiber optic creche. This Nativity contains transparent fibers that continually change through a virtual rainbow of colors. Lights surround the wooden stable, golden halos on Mary and Joseph and the crib of the Christ child. The complete set contains the manger with the holy family and moveable shepherd, sheep, mule, camel, ox and faux grass and straw.

Unfortuantly, it has been discontinued (see here). Too bad, so sad!

Fibre Optic Nativity Set #2
This colorful 14 inch fiber optic nativity is a must have for your Christmas décor. Exquisitely crafted from porcelain and masterfully accented with hand painted details, this beautiful nativity contains transparent fibers that continuously change through a rainbow of colors.

This one almost looks like a mix between a nativity scene and a scene from the little mermaid — at least the halos look like shells to me!

Thomas Kinkade Nativity Tree
OK, so this one doesn’t have fibre optics, but it does have lights and music! If you can believe it, this precious item is the first-ever illuminated nativity scene Christmas tree decoration!

From the description: “This illuminated tabletop decorated Christmas tree lights up at the touch of a switch and also plays Silent Night. Given the time-intensive handcrafting involved in this Hawthorne Village exclusive, demand could rapidly exceed availability. Be one of the first to get this unique Christmas decoration and gift idea.” OK, I’ll be right on it!

From Bad to Worse…

In my books the following examples of Christmas kitsch take the proverbial cake.

Nativity Kitchen Timer
How did Joseph get to Bethlehem just in time for Mary to give birth on Christmas Day? He relied on his trusty Nativity Kitchen Timer, of course! Only $9.99 plus postage.

Originally from My Beloved Gifts, this treat doesn’t appear to be available anymore. (HT Ship of Fools)

Nativity Belt Buckle
Talk about the “Bible belt” (haha). Now you can take the nativity with you wherever you go! Just remember to let it out a few notches before Christmas dinner!

Naked Troll Nativity
OK, these naked dolls are kind of creepy IMHO! I’m not sure why anyone would want naked troll dolls in the first place (except for Mimi Bobeck on the Drew Carey Show), let alone naked troll nativity dolls!

I’m just thankful that the Joseph doll is not anatomically correct!

If trolls aren’t your thing, then perhaps you will like this hobbit nativity scene:

Pooping Next to Baby Jesus?
OK, most nativity scenes have Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, shepherds, some animals, an angel or two, and perhaps some wise men (although they were there much later!). I guess in the Catalonia region of Spain, nativity scenes also have an object called a caganer. The caganer is a figurine representing a peasant (or at times famous people) who is squatting in the corner of the stable, trousers dropped, taking a poop!

Lest we be offended, this figure is not meant to be disrespectful. In Catalan culture the peasant represents a hope for fertility in the coming year (for more about the tradition, see here) and finding the caganer is a fun game, especially for children.

If you’re interested in adding this to your Christmas traditions (I wonder what my wife would think if I tried to add one to our nativity scene?), check out for some interesting caganer, including the one pictured above, which is supposed to be George W. Bush.

Jesus’ Flogging Lights

If you didn’t think that Mel Gibson’s flogging of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ was a bit overdone, then you will probably want to get your very own flogging of Jesus Christmas light display for next year. Just think of the money you will save if you use LED lights!

The Twelve Days of Kitschmas

If this sort of stuff tickles your funny bone, you will want to check out the “Twelve Days of Kitschmas” over at Ship of Fools. This is their annual roundup of truly covetable gifts for Kitschmas, though they are not necessarily Christmas kitsch. They also have an interesting read about kitsch and true religion in their Christ vs. kitsch feature you may want to check out. In addition, Going Jesus has a cavalcade of nativity scenes that is worth taking a gander at (and where I got some of the above).

Posted in Humour, Jesus Junk & Christian Kitsch | 2 Comments »

Merry Christmas

24th December 2005

I would like to wish all of my readers a merry Christmas (and if you don’t observe Christmas, I wish you a happy holiday season!). Since I will be busy the next couple days cooking Christmas dinner for my extended family (turkey with all the trimmings, cranberry meatballs, cranberry apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert), I figure I should take the time this morning for a short Christmas meditation.

As Christians it can be difficult not to let all of the good things associated with Christmas distract us from what we would consider to be the “true” meaning of Christmas, i.e., the birth of Jesus Christ.

Not all distractions at this time of the year are good. In particular I’m thinking about the frenzied consumerism associated with the Christmas holiday season. For many Christmas represents a religion of consumerism that reinforces the “ethic of consumption” and ultimately has little to do with the birth of Christ. Movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street” support its mythology; Santa Claus serves as its chief icon; gift-giving and shopping supply its rituals. Together, these symbols inculcate consumer-oriented values that are, in my opinion, less than Christian.

Even within the church I don’t think we realize the full significance of Christmas because we focus too much on a romantic and idealized version of the Christmas story: Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and not finding any place to stay the night, end up giving birth to baby Jesus in a manger, etc. This quaint and romantic idea is epitomized in the Christmas carol, “Away in a manger.”

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where
He lay The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

But there is nothing quaint or romantic about the Christmas story as told in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Luke’s story highlights how when Jesus was born, how he came to the dregs of society — to the poor, to the outcasts. Jesus was born in a peasant home or perhaps even a cave for animals and was placed in a dirty animal feeding trough. Then to top it off his “healthy beginnings” visit was made by a bunch of filthy lowly shepherds — outcasts of society.

Matthew’s story isn’t a whole lot better! Matthew doesn’t say much about Jesus’ birth, but he does recount how when Jesus is a toddler he was visited by some astrologers who recognized him as a future king. While this was nice and I’m sure Mary and Joseph appreciated the gifts they brought (I doubt if Jesus did… not much fun a two year old can have with gold, frankinsese, or myrrh!), the astrologers also alerted Herod to the existence of a potential challenge to his power — which made Mary and Joseph and Jesus flee to Egypt (anyone who has ever taken a two-year old on a long driving trip knows what fun they must have had along the way!)

Thus, the Christmas story isn’t quaint or romantic. And I think that we have to work hard to make sure it doesn’t become so familiar that it looses its power for us!

The true mystery of Christmas is the paradox of divine condescension; God accommodating Godself; God becoming human.

The Father sends the Son.
The Word became flesh.
God was in Christ.

God came to save us not in his full glory as God but rather as a human; God came as a baby crying in his mother’s arms, a baby that required feeding and changing, a baby that was entirely and hopelessly dependent on others. God hid his glory, he limited himself. Remaining one with and equal to God, he took the form of a slave. By becoming one with us, he was able to share our sorrows, bear our burdens, and ultimately die a criminals death and atone for our sins and unite us to God.

That is the real meaning of Christmas, and it’s my prayer for all of us that this Christmas season, as we get together with friends and family, as we buy presents, as we eat turkeys and hams, as we do all these good things, it’s my prayer that we would also realize that there is much more to Christmas than meets the eye and that the miracle of Christmas is not how much turkey you can eat, but it is that God so loved the world that he was willing to take on human flesh and enter this world as a helpless baby… a helpless baby that would one day die a criminal’s death on behalf of us all.

Merry Christmas!

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New Email List for Biblical Studies: biblicalia

22nd December 2005

Kevin Edgecomb has created a new email list for those interested in discussing academic biblical studies called biblicalia. This list is a companion piece to his relatively new blog biblicalia.

For more information about this new discussion list you can read Kevin’s blog entry here; or you can sign-up directly at Yahoo!.

Another good — and at times controversial — email list for those interested in discussing the academic study of the Bible is the Biblical Studies list moderated by Jim West.

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Syntactical Searches in the Hebrew Bible with Logos

22nd December 2005

The Logos Bible Software Blog has an interesting post on performing syntactical searches in the Hebrew Bible with their Andersen�Forbes Analyzed Text of the Hebrew Bible (A-F) database. Unfortuantly, A-F is only currently available as part of their Logos 3.0 beta version (and I am not sure I want to install a beta version!). Here is the link:


It is quite exciting to see a number of new syntactical tools for study of the Hebrew Bible. Now there is not only the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible for Logos (see my blog post here), there is this new Andersenâ€?Forbes database. טוב מ×?ד

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Blogiquette: Taming the Tongue (On Blogs)

22nd December 2005

Ben Witherington offers some excellent guidance on blog posting etiquette (“blogiquette” anyone? How’s that for a neologism!). He proffers a rudimentary set of rules for bloggers to consider before they post: On Speaking Privately in Public — on Blogs

Here is an excerpt where he states his premise:

Doubtless most of us have been there. You are stuck in an airport waiting for a flight, and at least four or five private conversations are going on around you. Now its one thing when the other person is there and you are talking to them. That’s all fine. But suppose you are in a quiet space, like some airports have set up for laptop users and the like— and someone breaks out the cellphone and begins talking at the top of his or her voice? This is having a private conversation in public, in a manner that is rude and obnoxious, ignoring and being oblivious to the fact that there are others around who might not want to hear what is being said. Though we have all endured this in one form or another, we now have a new form of public rudeness of this sort– on blogs.

Witherington provides some excellent rules of thumb to consider before you click the “publish post” button. That being said, the analogy between overhearing a private conversation in public breaks down since blogs are not really public in the same way as a conversation in a public place. While anyone may read a blog, to do so they have to decide to go to URL to read it. If you don’t like what someone says in their blog, you can just not go there.

Nonetheless, an excellent post for all to consider.

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The Mother of All U2 Quizzes: 30 Questions for those who have ears to hear

22nd December 2005

David Buckna, a freelance writer who produces a regular column entitled The Pop Gospel, has put together a tough quiz on the Irish Rock Band U2 — a band that I have been known to listen to on occasion (on my final exam for my religion and popular culture class I had the following true/false question: “The instructor kind of likes the Irish rock band U2.” Most students circled false and wrote in “he LOVES U2″ or the like).

This quiz is a tough one, however. I passed by the skin of my teeth! (16 out of 30!) I feel like my membership in the U2 fan club was just revoked!

If you think you know anything about U2, I challenege you to try it and post your results in the comments. (The following is reproduced from the ASSIST News Service.)

The Questions

  1. In what year did U2 release its first album, “Boy”?
  2. According to Beth Maynard, co-editor of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, what musical pairing on “Boy” was “U2′s very first foray into leading listeners musically through an experience of sin and redemption”?
  3. This member of U2 told journalist Terry Mattingly in 1982:”I really believe Christ is like a sword that divides the world, and it’s time we get into line and let people know where we stand. You know, to much of the world, even the mention of the name Jesus Christ is like someone scratching their nails across a chalkboard.” Who said it?
  4. This 1983 song ends: “The real battle just begun/To claim the victory Jesus won/On…” Name the song.
  5. The song “40″ is directly based on what Old Testament scriptures?
  6. From “Pride (In The Name of Love): “Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride”. To whom does this refer?
  7. What U2 album title is a subtle reference to the cross of Christ?
  8. In the “Rattle and Hum” documentary (1988), U2 holds up traffic by performing an impromptu version of a Dylan song on a flatbed truck. Name the song.
  9. While in New York City, U2 visited Harlem and sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with a church choir. Name the choir.
  10. From “God Part II”: “Heard a singer on the radio/Late last night/Says he’s gonna kick the darkness/Til it bleeds daylight./I, I believe in love.” Who’s the singer Bono is referring to?
  11. In this 1989 book Bono remarks: “You know the Christ I read about in the Gospels is steel not straw.” Name the book.
  12. This song on “Achtung, Baby” (1991) includes the lyric: “If you want to kiss the sky/Better learn how to kneel”. Name the song.
  13. At the 1993 Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival, Willie Williams–U2′s show designer–phoned Bono from the main stage. Williams asked Bono if he had anything he wanted to say to the audience. What was Bono’s reply?
  14. What book by C.S. Lewis was the inspiration for Bono’s onstage “devilish” persona, MacPhisto, during the ZooTV tour?
  15. This U2 tour programme contains an image of an angel holding a sign on which Psalm 34:7 is printed: “THE ANGEL OF THE LORD ENCAMPETH AROUND ABOUT THEM THAT FEAR HIM AND DELIVERETH THEM.” What tour was the programme from?
  16. This song includes the lyric: “Lookin’ for to fill that God shaped hole”. Name it.
  17. BBC host Chris Evans once asked Bono what he’d sing if it was the last song of the last show. What song did Bono pick?
  18. On the album cover of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2000) what scripture is visible on the airport gate-sign?
  19. From: “Beautiful Day”: “See the bird with the leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colours came out”. According to Genesis 8, what type of bird was it?
  20. What U2 song was played to Joey Ramone on his deathbed?
  21. The London Sunday Times Magazine (Sept. 29/01) mentions that Bono and Noel Gallagher (from the band Oasis) had a long conversation about faith. A few days after the conversation, Bono sent a package to Gallagher and his girlfriend Sara that included a book by Philip Yancey. Name the book.
  22. In a 2002 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, what did Bono call “the new leprosy”?
  23. In the foreword to this 2003 book, Eugene H. Peterson (Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.) writes: “Is U2 a prophetic voice? I rather think so. And many of my friends think so. If they [U2] do not explicitly proclaim the Kingdom, they certainly prepare the way for that proclamation in much the same way as John the Baptist prepared the way for the kerygma of Jesus.” Name the book.
  24. According to Darleen Pryds (a professor at the Franciscan School of Theology) this U2 song “is played at GenXer funerals and GenXer weddings.” Name the song.
  25. In May 2004, what Illinois pastor visited U2 in their Dublin studio, and at the band’s request led “a time of prayer for them, their families and the [How to Dismantle] CD project”?
  26. In June 2004, Bono reportedly asked singer Michael W. Smith: “Do you know how to dismantle an atomic bomb?”. When Michael said “no”, Bono answered his own question with what answer?
  27. Bono told Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times):”We can be in the middle of the worst gig in our lives, but when we go into that song, everything changes….The audience is on its feet, singing along with every word. It’s like God suddenly walks through the room. It’s the point where craft ends and spirit begins. How else do you explain it?” Name the song.
  28. What song on “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” (2004) uses the Hebrew word for God?
  29. The back cover of this 2005 book includes a quote from Bono: “The Left mocks the Right, the Right knows it’s right. Two ugly traits. How far should we go to try and understand each other’s point of view? Maybe the distance grace covered on the cross is a clue.” Name the book.
  30. In March 2005, this U2 member told George Varga (San Diego Union-Tribune):”…on this record in particular, [How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb] we really complete the journey from fear to faith, and that’s sort of the way the running order on the record goes, from ‘Vertigo’ through to ‘Yahweh.’” Who said it?


Here are answers, don’t cheat!

  1. 1980. One of the most notable songs on the album is “I Will Follow”. The chorus: “If you walk away, walk away/I walk away, walk away/I will follow” is reminiscent of Ruth 1:16: “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
  2. “An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart”. Maynard continues: “The sin portion of the pair, ‘An Cat Dubh,’ has an attractiveness-of-evil theme that fits with ‘Vertigo.’….The redemptive portion of the pair, ‘Into the Heart,’ is about rebirth, about becoming an innocent child again. HTDAAB: ‘I’m at the door of the place I started out from and I want back inside.’ Enough said.” More…
  3. The Edge, in CCM Magazine, August 1982, p.24. Revelation 1:16-18: “In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”
  4. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, from the album “War” (1983)
  5. Psalm 40: Bono begins: “I waited patiently for the Lord/He inclined and heard my cry/He brought me up out of the pit/Out of the miry clay/I will sing, sing a new song/I will sing, sing a new song…” However the next line, “How long to sing this song”, was adapted from Psalm 6:3.
  6. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). On April 4, 1968, while King stood on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers, he was assassinated. More…
  7. “The Joshua Tree” (1987). Joshua is an anglicanization of the Hebrew name for Jesus ["Yeshua"] and for centuries the word “tree” has been a term used to describe the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified.
  8. “All Along the Watchtower”. In 1968 Jimi Hendrix recorded what is considered by many to be the most notable cover.
  9. The New Voices Of Freedom, who had recorded their own version. When U2 heard it, they arranged to sing it with the choir in their Harlem church. This led to the performance in Madison Square Garden seen in the “Rattle and Hum” documentary.
  10. Bruce Cockburn, who sings on “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”: “When you’re lovers in a dangerous time/Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime/But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight/When you’re lovers in a dangerous time”–from the album, Stealing Fire (1984) More…
  11. “U2: Three Chords and the Truth” (p. 142)
  12. “Mysterious Ways”. A letter writer to BC Christian Info (Feb. 1992) comments: “Perhaps the best lyric is from ‘Mysterious Ways’…and is the triumphant Christian epitaph of the sixties Man-Is-Wonderful-Drugs-Will-Set-Us-Free ethos. Jimi Hendrix, bless him, wrote the exemplary lyric of the psychedelic age, ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.’ To which absolutely no one else but Bono could reply: ‘If you want to kiss the sky…Better learn how to kneel. On your knees, boy!’”
  13. “Tell them: ‘Everything you know is right.’” And the Greenbelt crowd erupted. ZooTV exposed the postmodern media as a constant flashing of slogans; one of them was: ‘Everything you know is wrong.’ Willie Williams publishes U2 tour diaries here
  14. The Screwtape Letters (1942), a series of letters from Screwtape, an experienced devil, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter on his first assignment. Tony Bowden and Jennifer Stewart write in “U2′s Mysterious Ways“: “Bono’s ‘Satan’ persona, MacPhisto, has probably raised more Christian hackles than anything else U2 have ever done, with most Christians failing to understand what Bono is up to. In an interview with a prominent Irish paper earlier this year Bono commented that the whole concept of the MacPhisto character was one of mockery – taking his idea from the adage ‘mock the devil and he will flee from you.’ Such irony and tongue-in-cheek humour is common throughout the work of the band and is a very effective way of bringing people to think about the good and evil in the world. Bono mocks to make his point — and this point is transferred to thousands of people with an effectiveness that preachers can only dream about.” U2′s animated video, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, shows Bono crossing a street reading a book. In the background one sees a speeding car headed for him. Bono is knocked to the ground and the book flies out of his hand. A close-up of the book’s cover shows it to be The Screwtape Letters.
  15. PopMart (1997). Psalm 34:7 is followed by the artist’s own words: “TO HAVE PEACE IN THIS WORLD IS TO MAKE PEACE WITH GOD, FOR HE CAN SAVE THIS WHOLE WORLD FROM SIN.” More…
  16. “Mofo”. “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus” –Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, 1623-1662). From Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions, written in A.D. 397 to 401: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”
  17. “Amazing Grace”, lyrics by John Newton (Olney Hymns, 1779).
  18. J33-3 (Jeremiah 33:3) “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Bono told Rolling Stone (January 18/01): “It was done like a piece of graffiti — It’s known as ‘God’s telephone number’.”
  19. A dove. Genesis 8:10-11: “[Noah] waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”
  20. “In A Little While”. On the DVD “Elevation 2001 – U2 Live From Boston” Bono introduces the song: “When we started out we were, I guess, 15, 16, Larry was 14, still is. Ah, the Ramones were the band, and ah, without The Ramones it’s hard to imagine that we…we would have felt like we felt about, you know, joinin’ a band and all. So this is a song that Joey Ramone loved. They played it to him while he was lying in his hospital bed a couple of months back. It was the last song that Joey Ramone heard in his life here, and…that’s an amazing thing for somebody who grew up as a fan of Joey Ramone, I can tell you that. Anyway, Joey turned this song about a hangover into a gospel song I think, ’cause that’s the way I always hear it now…through Joey Ramone’s ears.”
  21. What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997). From the song “Grace”: “What once was hurt/What once was friction/What left a mark/No longer stings/Because Grace makes beauty/Out of ugly things”
  22. AIDS. Bono commented: “Christ’s example is being demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy, which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here. If it wakes up to what’s really going on in the rest of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn’t, it will be irrelevant.” More…
  23. Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog (Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard, editors, Cowley Publications, 2003).
  24. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Pryds writes: “Couples who have the song played at their weddings boldly shatter all of our easy assumptions about romantic love and happily-ever-after, by using this song to declare their deeper search for God. And friends and families, preparing to bury their young people, choose this song to be sung at funerals as a reminder that the search and struggle of the deceased is finally over.” (in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, p. 102)
  25. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Hybels is on Time magazine’s list of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” (Feb. 7/05)
  26. “With love…with love.” Bono and Michael both attended the launch of The One Campaign in Philadelphia.
  27. “Where the Streets Have No Name” More…
  28. “Yahweh”. The chorus: “Yahweh, Yahweh/Always pain before a child is born/Yahweh, Yahweh/Still I’m waiting for the dawn.” Kenneth Tanner writes on “‘Yahweh’ is a postmodern Christmas hymn. It looks in hope to the birth of Christ (‘always pain before a child is born’) as it presses home a question the Father’s long-awaited gift evokes in honest souls: ‘Why the dark before the dawn?’” Yahweh is one of the most important names for God in the Old Testament, from the verb, “to be,” meaning simply but profoundly, “I am who I am”. The Hebrew word “Yhwh” was the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). And from the New Testament: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Bono: “The title’s an ancient name that’s not meant to be spoken. I got around it by singing it. I hope I don’t offend anyone.”
  29. The Politics of God: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (2005) by Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine.
  30. Adam Clayton: “We see it as a more joyous and up record. I mean, there’s always a degree of introspection and melancholy to what we do. The other end of the spectrum is there is also joy and celebration. And on this record, in particular, we really complete the journey from fear to faith, and that’s sort of the way the running order on the record goes, from ‘Vertigo’ through to ‘Yahweh.’ So ‘Vertigo’ is an expression of vulnerability, I guess, and by the time you get through to ‘Yahweh,’ it’s an expression of faith.”

So how did you do? Let me know in the comments!

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Another one bites the dust…

21st December 2005

At my wife’s beckoning, I had to take a quick break from my marking (have I mentioned how much I love marking…) to clear the corpse of a mouse from a trap. Mouse number three has felt the cold hard steel of my expandable trigger mouse trap.

This infuses the traditional “T’was the Night before Christmas” poem with new meaning: “all through the house not a creature was stirring living, not even a mouse”!

Stay tuned for some more mouse facts as soon as I finish grading… the end is nigh!

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