Archive for the ‘number twenty’ Category

The Boundries of Cultural Engagement

April 11, 2007

When I was in the ninth grade I wanted to be cool. So, I bought the coolest album I could- Pearl Jam’s Ten. Everyone in high school seemed to love them. They sounded good, and it wasn’t like I had to reflect too hard on the lyrics that you couldn’t catch most of the word too anyway. It was about being cool. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but my Dad (a pastor) decided that we should sit down and listen and read the lyrics together. At first this seemed even cooler, seeing as how my first experience of rock music was the Simon & Garfunkel my Dad recorded off the radio during his college days. But as we read the lyrics of songs like “Evenflow” and “Jeremy” I began to realize that this was disturbing stuff- painful and emotional songs about child abuse. My dad didn’t make me burn the CD’s or throw them out, he merely pointed out that there was a massive disconnect between my own life and experience and the music I was listening to. I came to the realization that I wouldn’t be listening to Pearl Jam anymore (My junior year of college I returned to them with more mature questions). I had to recognize my own limitations.

What I have come to realize is that while a Reformed view allows Christians the freedom to really engage and ask good questions of culture, it also places on us the responsibility of know where the boundaries are. Even before the Fall, God had told Adam and Eve the limits that they were under, not as slaves to God, but so that they could find their identity and flourish in their relationship with God, rather than being deceived by thinking of themselves as god. This has become clearer, or rather more muddled, after the fall, where we now see the world “through a glass darkly.” In a world with real goodness and real evil, we must come to realize what our boundaries are so that we are pursuing faithfulness, rather than running into ruin.

What we need is a community of conversation- a space where we can learn and grow in maturity and discernment. To be human is to be a creature in God’s world, and we flourish most when we live inside the limits that God’s grace provides. Engaging culture is not a free for all in which we celebrate every created thing as art, rather it is a careful process in which we work out our faith with “fear and trembling,” trying to discern the complexities of an originally good creation that we have screwed up by mistaking grace for irresponsible freedom. Engaging culture will involve developing appropriate gestures in response to culture; these gestures then shape our posture toward culture. Andy Crouch (Culture Makers, 2007) lists “condemnation, critique, consumption, and copying” as possible Christian responses to different things in culture. While each of these responses are appropriate for different things, we should not allow one of them to become the dominating response. Rather, within the limits of God’s world we have to become creators and cultivators of culture- to truly be salt and light in the world.



Terry Thomas’ Playlist

March 22, 2007

Alias: Terry Thomas
Major: Philosophy
Year: Fifteenth

Richard Mouw — Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (2004)

March 22, 2007
I am Dutch and a Calvinist (more specifically a neo-Calvinist). The obligatory joke here is that God decided this before the beginning of the world. Words like “Calvinism” make people feel uncomfortable; people are suddenly confronted with theological conversations that seem to mean everything and nothing at the same time. Lucky for us, in contemporary times getting burned at the stake for small distinctions is unlikely. But we also shouldn’t be lazy when it comes to knowing what we believe about the “ultimate things.”

Mouw takes his book title from a scene from the Paul Schrader film, Hardcore. This film focuses on a Dutch Reformed man from Grand Rapids who goes to LA in search of his daughter, who has run away while attending a Christian youth conference. He ends up in the Las Vegas airport with a prostitute who has a lead on where his daughter might be. They have a brief conversation about their beliefs in which he can only manage to say that he believes in TULIP—the five points of Calvinism. The film suggests that in the emerging postmodern world, TULIP is a shabby antique of a theology.

Mouw has written this small book (127 pages) to show that the Calvinist heritage does indeed speak to a diverse and pluralistic culture. Using clear and concise language, he gives a brief explanation of the five points of Calvinism, and then goes on to apply them to contemporary conversations about God’s sovereignty, the basis for cultural renewal and evangelism. Mouw is always reiterating the need for humility and compassion along side of conviction, in order to change the stereotype of Calvinism as an arrogant view that can be used as a pedestal and hammer—or in the case of South Africa, apartheid. For all of its downsides, Mouw also points out the valuable contributions that Calvinism has made to thoughtful Christianity, and a Christian engagement with culture and the public sphere.

I recommend reading this book, you might be surprised to find that God had you listed a Calvinist the whole time.


A First Hand Look

March 22, 2007

Too often we define the city of New Orleans, by the devastating affects of hurricane Katrina. My perception was proved wrong, after returning to New Orleans for the second time on the spring break missions trips.

The people of New Orleans are filled with a spirit of hope, and a commitment to rebuilding their lives and communities. They are not defined by the storm, but rather by their incredible culture, and their perseverance to embrace change and continue the progress being made.

There still is a huge need for volunteers, so if you are interested in volunteering and visiting a unique culture Google Trinity Christian Community, Hollygrove, New Orleans. Or email me at


Spike Lee — When the Levees Broke (2006)

March 22, 2007
In this 4 hour documentary, made for HBO, Spike Lee investigates the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Lee looks at all the angles: the natural, social, governmental, and human disaster that Katrina created in its wake and aftermath. It is an eye opening film, and tries to ask more questions than it is able to resolve about the stakes and impact that Katrina had and has on the lives of those who were born, raised and continue to call New Orleans home.

The documentary starts with the events leading up to the storm, and the government’s failure early on. The second part focuses more on the media, and the good and bad that resulted from information on a mass scale. Lee does a good job of weaving together the big picture with the lives of individuals and the personal stories that those at the center tell about their experience. This film made me realize the filter and blinders that I have as a person who has never been to the southeastern US, and the difficulty of discerning the info-glut of CNN and the Internet.

The best insight of the film is not that we have a race problem in America (which is true, and may be the reason Crash won best picture immediately following Katrina), but rather the film points out the integral nature of human relationships that are mediated by social institutions. A personal disruption of your everyday life can be traumatic, but this can be exponentially damaging when social structures also start to fail in helping people recover a sense of normalcy and meaning. We all want personal freedom, and often times we overlook our intimate connection to the reality of a social world, involving a massive web of relationships. What we need is a politics that takes into account the reality of both.


Dave Eggers — What is the What (2006)

March 22, 2007
In his latest novel, Dave Eggers undertakes a bold task, presenting a lightly fictionalized account of Sudanese refuge Valentino Achak Deng. Fortunately, Eggers proves himself to be up to the task.

Deng’s wild, tragic journey across Sudan and into refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya is framed around a tale of suffering induced in the one place Deng should allegedly feel safe–the United States. He tells his life story to the audience while lying on the floor of his own apartment, bound and gagged by robbers claiming to teach him a valuable lesson.

The stories of Deng’s hardships in both his native Africa and in America become a compelling–if emotionally draining–yarn in Eggers’ hands. He manages to mix in a measure of lightness into the heavy meditations on death and torment, keeping the book from becoming unbearable.

Eggers successfully presents a picture of the very real suffering of individuals in war-torn Sudan, and he does it without hitting a strident or preachy note. His honesty and earnestness give this novelized autobiography an unimpeachably authoritative voice. “Read this” isn’t quite strong enough a request.


Modest Mouse — We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)

March 22, 2007
Modest Mouse are an unlikely success story–quirky band on a tiny label, gains a following, gets picked up on a large label, has a hit record, doesn’t alter sound too much in the process, still together after nearly 15 years.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank–their fifth full-length album–shows the band tweaking their approach, if only slightly. While the lyrics are hued with nautical tones, the music is a juggling act between the radio-friendly (“Dashboard”), the challenging-yet-hummable (“Fire It Up”), and a few riveting tunes that might only appeal to the adventurous (“Spitting Venom”).

But even with the addition of legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to the line-up, We Were Dead… is missing a lot of bite. It’s a good album, with brine-soaked instrumentation and bluntly introspective lyrics. But as good as it is, the band could’ve done a little better.


Hellogoodbye — Zobies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! (2006)

March 22, 2007
So here’s the thing about whipped cream: it’s very difficult to develop a strong reaction to it, either positive or negative. Sometimes that added bit of white froth makes an otherwise mundane hot drink just perfect. Other times, the bit of additional sweetness is cloying and unnecessary. But ultimately, the cream is just a bit of white foam, and not really worth getting worked up over.

Hello Goodbye has created a bit of whipped cream with their album, Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! As the title lets on, it seems that these guys had a lot of fun creating these songs. The album is light fare, full of bright-eyed love songs, exploding with positivity and optimism. The electronic music buoys the tracks along quite nicely, keeping the pace bubbly and discouraging the listener from looking at the generic lyrics too closely. Ultimately the album is sugary fluff, pleasant enough to listen to, but not filling or deeply satisfying.


Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

March 22, 2007
Going back to the ’90s for a TV show that didn’t even air a complete season isn’t always the best idea, but in some rare occasions it’s worth it. Freak & Geeks is the reason I came up with that ridiculous sentence in the first place.

Freaks & Geeks is about teen angst and whole lot more. The show centers around Lindsay and Sam Weir, two high school kids who fall into two specific categories in their high school: the freaks and the geeks (yeah, that only happens in high school). Their two parents, Harold and Jean, stereotypically cannot understand either of their kids, yet at times are just what they need (Harold: “She’s hanging with a bad crowd. She’s lying and cheating and next thing you know, she’s Patty Hearst with a gun to our heads”).

The topics range everywhere from friendship to just trying to fit in (Lindsay: “All my new friends think I’m a goody-two-shoe and all my old friends think I’m throwing my life away. What am I supposed to do?”), but no matter what the show covers, there’s bound to be something hilarious in every episode, and something very descriptive about life even beyond the high school years.

The show was canceled for who-knows-what-reason (TV shows I watch have a habit of doing that), but you can pick up the complete first season on DVD from Netflix or from the store.


300 (2007)

March 22, 2007

This film is about originality of dialogue and story structure–OK, I can’t say that with a straight face. This film could not be further from it. Most of the lines are cliches and or slightly plagiarized from other works (there are actual clips from Gladiator in this film!…almost). However, this film is a cgi marvel, allowing the viewer to enter into a fantastical ancient culture, where gods, men and wild beasts struggle for survival and honor.

Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City, Batman: the Dark Knight Returns), Zach Snyder adapted and directs this film about the Persian/Greek battle at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. The Spartan warriors are the inspiration of this film about the human struggle for honor and courage in the face of death. One of the films best qualities is its take on the religious structure of the time, with the Persian King Xerxes speaking and acting like a god among men. The visuals are stunning and the blood flies, splatters, and many other verbs. The sub-plot of family in Sparta actually gets in the way of the action-packed bloodbath. This is a film where you get a little history-lite and learn not to take yourself too seriously.


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