Monday, February 26, 2007

"Normal" Pictures

At some undefinable point in the 20th century, it became "normal" to pose for a photograph by smiling big enough to show your teeth and to give the appearance that you are happy. I am not sure who decided this or how it became common knowledge, but I would really like to know. It has not always been like this. I know that in the in 19th century the "normal" pose consisted of a blank stare. When did the switch occur? Who started the revolution?

For some unknown reason, I have always resisted this notion of taking a "normal" picture. Even a majority of my baby pictures feature me sticking my tongue out. To be honest, it is one of my secret joys in life to hear the groans of people realizing that I failed to conform to the norm. It used to be so much more satisfactory before the digital age because then it would be weeks before someone would realize I "ruined" their picture and it was also a lot more permanent because you could not exactly take pictures back. In the digital age, people realize it a lot quicker when they look at that 2.5'' screen. Which is another interesting point - why do people always look at the tiny digital screen immediately after they take a picture? I understand that you want to take a "good" picture, but I think that it is quite comical to see a group of adults cramming around a miniature screen to see a digital image of what you just experienced in real life. Perhaps it is an indication of how vain we all are.

At any rate, I want to be the one who ushers in a new dawn in the era of picture posing. The 19th century was all about blank stares and appearing serious, the 20th century was all about toothy smiles and appearing happy, and I want to be the revolutionary who makes the 21st century all about eyes closed, mouth wide open and appearing mischievously jovial. So join me in this new venture and when you get chastised for failing to take a "normal" picture, simply say that you are.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Duke Chapel Position

Since some of you use this blog to keep up with what I am doing, I thought I would let you know that I recently took an associate position at Duke Chapel. Duke Chapel is located in the center of Duke University. While the Sunday morning worship typically has many visitors, there is also a core group of around 200 families that make up the Congregation at Duke Chapel.

My main responsibilities will be working with the youth, but I will also be involved in aspects of worship as well as other areas of the Chapel life. I am really excited about this. It will be a good opportunity to experience something very different, and the young people I am working with are extremely bright and hungry to learn about God.

I also note that this is a short term assignment. I will only be working there through May. This works out really well because it will allow me to keep my connections with the Church of the Nazarene, specifically a few of the churches in Raleigh.

Friday, February 16, 2007

God in Search of Man

If you are exceptionally perceptive, you have noticed that it has been awhile since I have posted a book review. The reason for this is not a lack of effort, but due to the fact that the book was kicking my butt. Not only is "God In Search of Man" 426 pages, it is also extremely dense.

I love reading because I like getting inside the mind of a genius. In my opinion, there are two type of geniuses when it comes to writing.

1. An author who writes with such clarity and simplicity that you can fool yourself into thinking you could have written the book. These authors make connections and create paths that seem to have always been there, but you just were not able to see them. Henri Nouwen is an excellent example of this type of genius.

2. An author who writes about such complex issues that most of the time you do not even understand what you are reading. However, you know the person is a genius because if you labor over the text, your mind will eventually be lifted above the clouds so that you are able to catch a glimpse of beauty. Abraham Heschel definitely falls into this category.

His book is a magnificent exploration into the identity of God, humans, and Judaism. I do not recall much of what I read, but I will take away two main ideas:

1. God is seeking after humans.
"The Bible speaks not only of man's search for God but also of God's search for man. "Thou dost hunt me like a lion," exclaimed Job (10:16)...It is as if God were unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our seeking Him is not only man's but also His concern, and must not be considered an exclusively human affair. His will is involved in our yearnings. All of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man. Faith in God is a response to God's question."

2. We do not hear the words of God, but rather through the Bible we learn to see the words of God. Thus, we learn about God experientially.
"To sense the presence of God in the Bible, one must learn to be present to God in the Bible. Presence is not a concept, but a situation. To understand love it is not enough to read tales about it. One must be involved in the prophets to understand the prophets. One must be inspired to understand inspiration. Just as we cannot test thinking without thinking, we cannot sense holiness without being holy. Presence is not disclosed to those who are unattached and try to judge, to those who have no power to go beyond the values they cherish; to those who sense the story, not the pathos; the idea, not the realness of God. The Bible is the frontier of the spirit where we must move an live in order to discover and explore. It is open to him who gives himself to it, who lives with it intimately. "

Deep stuff. Definitely one of those books you want to pick up later in life and reread to catch all that you missed the first time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Traffic Etiquette

One of the current challenges I face on a regular basis is dealing with traffic on my commute home from work. A certain point is particularly troublesome - where the 147 meets I-40. This point is troubling because the exit off the 147 to I-40 merges two lanes down to one. On days when the I-40 is moving slow, there can be a back-up on the 147.

When this happens, I immediately move into the left lane (knowing the right lane ends) because it makes sense to me to get out of the lane that is ending. If everyone merged into the proper lane as soon as they were able, it seems to me that traffic would move faster.

However, you always have "those people" who fly ahead in the open lane and then merge at the last possible instance, causing a momentary stop to the procession. I have always loathed "those people" and I can honestly say that I have never done this in my life. Additionally, whenever this topic comes up in conversation, everyone shares these feelings with me. I have never met someone who admitted to being "that person" who merges at the last possible moment. This means that I am either acquainted with people who are just like me or I am acquainted with a bunch of liars.

Whenever I find myself in this situation, I have one of two reactions. 1) I sit in the slow moving lane and think bad thoughts about the cars whizzing by, especially if that car happens to be a BMW or a Lexus. 2) If I am feeling especially bold, I will move to block the open lane and drive with traffic in the slow lane, laughing like a little school girl as the cars behind me honk with rage.

Well, yesterday I was stuck in this scenario and I was using reaction #1. But then, the thought came to me: Why is it so wrong to drive in the open lane? I do not think that this is against the law. Applying the moral philosophy of Kant's "Categorical Imperative", the result would simply be the other lane would be log-jammed. If half of the people started using the other lane and then merged at the last second, perhaps traffic would move faster. Maybe the people in the fast lane are not a bunch of selfish low life's, but a small minority of people who actually use their brain and resist being herded like cattle.

As I sat there, I began to question whether or not I have been a sucker all of these years. I am sure that is what the people in the other lane are thinking about all of us losers in the backed-up lane. It is a strange feeling to have a strong belief that you have blindly held as long as you can remember start to be questioned and maybe even crumble before your very eyes.

To bring this pointless story to a conclusion, I did end up just staying in the slow lane. But, I have been questioning whether or not I will be the type of person who lives in the fast lane. Perhaps you have some thoughts that can help me decide on the matter.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Have you ever noticed how obsessed our society is with the weather? This seems so strange to me because finding out the weather is as easy as stepping outside, and predicting the weather is as simple as thinking tomorrow will be pretty similar today with perhaps some possibility of precipitation. And yet we have entire television stations devoted to the weather, and the "weather" section takes up a major chunk of all local news.

Which brings me to my next point - I despise local tv weather people. I despise all local news people because they are so full of cheese, but I especially dislike the weather people. The news anchors all sit around that desk so smug and pretending to be friends. When it comes time for the weather, they all pretend that what the weatherperson is about to say actually affects their lives. "Well Bill, do you have any good news for us today?" "I wish I did Monica, but things are going to be a little rough for awhile (weather people always use negative adjectives to describe a forecast that is not sunny and warm)." They then spend the next 7-9 minutes talking about all of these graphs and charts that basically say that tomorrow will be pretty similar to today, but next week holds the possibility of being different although there is no way of knowing for sure. And how many times have you watched the weather and the predictions end up being totally wrong. Weather people have a knack for getting the public all worked up over chances of rain or snow or extreme temperatures, and it seems that all too often not much happens. Perhaps weather people have a little intelligence based on the fact that they have chosen a profession where they can be dead wrong much of the time and it is perfectly acceptable.

While we are on the subject of weather, it also annoys me how much I find myself slipping into conversations with other people concerning the weather. Whenever I talk to people that I really have nothing in common with, I often let the words "How about this weather?" slip out of my mouth. Every time I do this, I secretly wish that I was alone so I could punch myself in the stomach. Am I that boring of a person that talking about the weather is the most interesting subject I can think of to discuss? Are we that shallow of a society that our only point of commonality is something beyond our control that only externally affects us?