Not a Dinner Party


Thoughts, Musings and Opinions about Theology, Politics, and Life in Seminary.

You’re gonna wanna…

Check out my new blog, which is more “short form,” but nonetheless still contains various commentary on articles, videos, events and items of interest. Plus the occasional longer blog entry. You will now find my internets home here: Sorry to have neglected you for so long, sweet WordPress blog.

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I still have a lot to say…

…and it will soon start appearing here again. It’s been a tough year, but all the more reason to start writing, no?

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Settlers of Catan Post, Afterward: We took it and Ran With It


Remember the facebook conversation I posted earlier about Settlers of Catan? No? Well, Brian Buell and I each worked on an article for our friend Fitz at Patrol, and it become this fun item:

Here is my original:

Last Saturday night we had our friends Kirk and Rachel over for dessert and drinks (and the Madmen premiere). After looking at our bookshelves for several minutes, Rachel said, “I love The Brothers K!” My husband, George looked at me and smiled. Only weeks before, we had had a spirited disagreement about Sufjan Stevens and Conor Oberst that came to include The Brothers K, a novel by David James Duncan, and encompassed a wide range of artists, musicians, authors and activities. George’s thesis was as follows: Christians in our age group (20s-30s) have predictable tastes, while at the same time often believing that they alone have stumbled upon something unique in secular culture; something that is not stereotypically “Christian”.

For everything that George cited, I had a defense: younger women in general like Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes (though I do not); David James Duncan is not a Christian; Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger has as many Buddhist references as Christian; Sufjan Stevens is critically acclaimed outside of the Christian world, too—he was on NPR! While these things are true—Christians surely are not the only fans of Franny and Zooey, nor the only ones who bought Sufjan Stevens’ albums—it is also true that, since having this conversation, The Brothers K, David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) Conor Oberst, and John Irving’s Prayer for Owen Meany have all come up organically in conversations with friends at Regent College, in Vancouver, B.C., where I attend seminary. Regent College, much like Gordon College, my alma mater, is made up of young, hip, educated Christians with surprisingly similar “unique” tastes.

And then came the “Settlers of Catan” discussion on facebook: a fellow-Gordon College alumni wrote: “I think someone should write an article about Settler’s of Catan and its role in Christian culture” for his status update, and 19 comments ensued. Scanning my news feed on an overcast Vancouver morning, this made me laugh out loud. Settlers of Catan is a well-designed board game produced by a German company, which has inexplicably caught on like wildfire among young Christians. There were rumblings in my last year at Gordon (2005), where friends would bring the game over to my house, hoping to hook a few new players, but by the following year, it was a bonafide phenomenon. I was serving as a teacher in China, with a Christian organization, where we were placed in teams and sent to schools throughout the country. But there was one thing every far-flung team had in common: they all got together to play “Settlers,” as it was affectionately called. At least one teacher brought the board game to our organization’s annual conference in Thailand, and when we got together with nearby teams in Beijing, there was sure to be a game of Settlers.

Needless to say, the lists of “Stuff ______’s Like” have been done and done again. Not surprisingly, there is already a list of “Stuff Christians Like,” whose creator—also not surprisingly—already has a book deal. However, the great success, the genius of the “Stuff White People Like” website was the nerve it hit: we all thought we were the only ones who liked Mos Def, watched Arrested Development or read the New Yorker. To me, then, an analogous list for Christians would be one that, likewise, hit a nerve: the things in non-Christian or “secular” culture that we think resist stereotyping or pigeon-holing, because they are not overtly Christian, but which, it turns out, are beloved by thousands of other young(er) Christians. Here is my version of this list, which I predict that Patrol Readers will be able to—albeit uncomfortably—identify with:

1.    Settlers of Catan
2.    2. David James Duncan, especially, The Brothers K
3.    John Irving, especially A Prayer for Owen Meany
4.    Social and/or sophisticated or exotic forms of smoking: the occasional American Spirit cigarette, pipes, cloves, cigars or hookahs
5.    U2/Bono (although this may be too obvious)
6.    Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
7.    Indie singer/songwriters Rosie Thomas, Damien Jurado, David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion), Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst
8.    Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor
9.    Mafia, the game
10.    (Certain) fantasy series: Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter
11.    Web comics, especially the philosophical “xkcd
12.    Skilled or learned group dancing: Swing dancing (in the 1990s) and Salsa dancing (2000s)
13.    Paste Magazine
14.    Princess Bride childhood nostalgia

AND, here is Brian’s original, on his blog:

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The Myth of the Edenic 1950s

OR It’s All Connected: Mad Men, Woodstock, John Piper, Baby Boomers, Feminism, Racism, Revisionism

I am going to attempt my mammoth posting on the topic above, if that topic makes any sense to you (or to me, for that madmenmatter). It may be a little muddled and circuitous, but bear with me. As some of you may be aware, George and I have recently gotten into the series: “Mad Men”. If you are aware of this, it is probably because I tend to share at great length about cable shows I am addicted to into (think: The Wire). Anyway, in addition to the wonderful acting, beautiful cinematography and photography, masterfully tight plot, character development and levels of tension unparalleled in a TV show, I have–above all–been struck by one thing: how f’d the 1950s were. Now, before anyone corrects me, I know that the show takes place in the 1960s. However, it takes place (so far) during the early 1960s (1960-1963), and a major focus of the show  is the looming uncertainty and sense of foreboding experienced by characters and institutions that came to maturity, started families, etc. in the 1950s as their world began to undergo a major shift. So, the mentality of the show and its characters is largely one of the 1950s–a mentality that is actually heightened in the face of a perceived threat. This (how totally f’d the 50s seemed in this show) was funny to me, because one is always hearing about how things have essentially gone to shit (why do I bother to censor “f***” but not “shit”? a matter of degree, I guess) in the intervening years, with the social movements of the 1960s fingered as the culprits. Needless to say, I am not the first person to notice this about the show. In Alessandra Stanley’s Review in the Times, she opens with this observation:

Retrospective winks at past ignorance are what makes “Mad Men” so funny and, at times, so chilling.

“Mad Men” mocks and celebrates forbidden vices, the drinking, smoking and promiscuity that in the advertising business of the 1960s flowed heedlessly, without health warnings or the sour taint of political incorrectness. From the start, the show has mined hindsight for wicked humor: a child playing dangerously with a dry-cleaning bag is chided only for messing up the clothes inside; a pastoral family picnic ends with the mom tossing the entire basket of trash onto lush, pristine park grounds; the presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon is marketed as a young, handsome Navy hero.

Even more than in the first two years, this new season, which begins on Sunday on AMC, stresses the less amusing side of that innocence, leading viewers to look back, aghast at, and enthralled by, a world so familiar and so primitive. Characters on “Mad Men” struggle in shame and secrecy with the very things that today are openly, incessantly boasted and blogged about: humble roots, broken homes, homosexuality, unwed motherhood, caring for senile parents. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today is the Lord’s Day (unless you are a Seventh Day Adventist, Jewish or Muslim), so I thought I would postpone my “Christian and Conservative Idealization of the 1950s in View of ‘Madmen'” post and write about why church is so difficult, and why committing to a church is so difficult.

As you might be aware, I am a woman; as you might also be aware, I trend left, politically speaking (OK, “trend left” is a bit of an understatement). As well, I am an evangelical, and tend to be orthodox in my theology, meaning I still think it’s important to adhere to the Creeds–Nicene and Apostles’, mainly. You would not think, at first, that these three pieces of information–gender, politics, orthodoxy–would necessarily make the question of church difficult. And it doesn’t always: plenty of women attend churches that are “complementarian” or belong to denominations that do not ordain women–in fact, many women are very vocal defenders of these policies, especially those associated with the SBC, the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, the PCA, Mars Hill or CBMW; plenty of liberals keep their mouths shut and attend conservative churches, or don’t see politics as a priority outside of the voting booth; some evangelicals are perfectly fine attending less-than-orthodox churches because they value belonging to a neighborhood perish or prioritize high church liturgy or the centrality of the weekly Eucharist over teaching or belief statements.

For me, though, as well as for some kindred spirits in my life, these factors significantly complicate decisions about where to attend church. Here is how it usually goes: I look for a church in which Jesus Christ is central, and in which the gospel is preached. In the United States and Canada, unfortunately, this weeds out a lot of churches. Then I move to secondary considerations, regarding worship: theologically meaningful worship (hymns are a plus!); in-depth, intelligent, theologically sound preaching; regular (hopefully weekly) Eucharist/communion; reverence for and centrality of the Word of God; some use of liturgy or orders of worship; and efforts to include beauty and sensory experiences into worship.

Worship is foundational, to me, and I believe that it should not be about what “feels good” to us but what is honoring to God; at the same time, we have to be able to enter into it in an authentic manner. I think that several things help me/us to do this: liturgy, because within set forms and prayers we are released from our perpetual self-consciousness; conscious openness to the Holy Spirit; engaging different parts of our selves–I am drawn into worship through words, while others might be drawn in through incense, icons, or music; the Eucharist, because it was instituted by Christ, has been present since the Church’s inception, and unites us with Communion of Saints, past and present; and preaching rooted in Scripture.

At this point I often encounter my first problem: most evangelical, “theologically orthodox” churches consist of a whitewashed church or warehouse, a few worship songs (with loud guitars and drums), extemporaneous prayer (“Lord, I just want…”) and a sermon by a charismatic preacher in jeans (with a powerpoint!). There is nothing wrong with this, in terms of the gospel still being preached, and people praising God, but I feel a longing for something deeper and more substantive, that is connected with the rich history of the Church universal. I often feel that this leaves me with two options (I am aware of non-denominational and emergent churches trying to create church from the best of all traditions, but I think this “picking and choosing” can be a bit dangerous), as I do believe in the necessity of denominational structures: Anglican or Presbyterian. This, subsequently, gives rise to new problems, specifically the conservative vs. mainline issue.

Right now, this issue is thought of as a code for “the gay thing”, which is tragic, because I think that this caricatures the very real and very complex questions at hand, and focuses the entire conversation around the fate of a particular group. Many of the mainline churches have, for various reasons, adopted a kind of gospel of niceness and inclusivity. For the gospel to be nice and inclusive, though, this involves a lot of watering-down of belief, and for me, this has always “begged the question” (wrong use of phrase, I know): what’s the point? If Jesus didn’t really die for us and was not raised as the first fruit of what is to come, we are basically finding artificial ways to give meaning to our lives, which to me is a waste of time: why not be honest and join a humanist community center or something? There are ways to create meaning in life without pretending it is based upon something that you have watered down so much that there is nothing to actually believe in. My point is, in aiming to become a socially acceptable, influential civil institution, the mainline churches mostly focus on doing good work in society (not a bad thing at all) while being vaguely spiritual and trying not to offend anyone by claiming exclusivity of doctrine or belief system (or anything else).

There are exceptions, of course–West Side Presbyterian, Christ Church of Hamilton-Wenham, Church of the Advent, University Presbyterian, to name a few, and these churches make a strong argument for continuing as witnesses in their denominations. This is a good thing, but these churches are tough to find.

So, because I get frustrated with not being able to at least start on the same page with the basics, i.e. who Jesus was, I move to the more theologically conservative forms of these two denominations, and here we run into the other two problems. Read the rest of this entry »

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Settlers of Catan and a Funny Facebook Thread (including mild ripping off of “Stuff ____ People Like” concept)

Brian Buell

Brian Buell I think someone should write an article about Settler’s of Catan and its role in Christian culture.

Scott Hwang
Scott Hwang

Like how it keeps people from graduating from Christian Colleges or…?
3 hours ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Scottie! Get up here. 7!
2 hours ago
Paul Fombelle
Paul Fombelle

well…. your negative influence of Settler’s has spread to AZ. You are slowly going to cripple our economy. I better warn Obama. You might get some sort of funding to stop playing it.
2 hours ago
Catie Porter
Catie Porter

speaking of lost time have you tried
2 hours ago
Alanna Linden
Alanna Linden

You can also buy “Settlers of Canaan” if you want a more spiritualized version to justify the time eaten up by the game.
2 hours ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

HAHAHAHA…there are certain things that catch on in Christian culture for NO APPARENT REASON and Christians seem totally unaware that this is the case or that they are the only ones who are obsessed with _____. Settlers is definitely one of these things. When I was in China with a Christian org EVERYBODY loved Settlers and played it CONSTANTLY; it was a social staple when teams got together. In Mass., all Gordon graduates love Settlers; at Regent they play Settlers. It has always boggled the mind, esp as I’ve never played it so I don’t understand the allure. I am going to make a list of similar phenomena and will get back to you.
about an hour ago · Delete
Nicholas Stephen Munn
Nicholas Stephen Munn

that and the princess bride… perhaps comparing the two to see how christian trends develop…
about an hour ago
Nick Addivinola
Nick Addivinola

Not sure of the Christian connection(s) but certainly appreciate it as an interesting game. Who knew that my friends and I were playing such a religious game all this time.
58 minutes ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

OK, am still working on it (thanks Nicholas Stephen Munn for adding an important one):
1. Settlers of Catan
2. Princess Bride
3. The Brothers K/David James Duncan
4. smoking pipes
5. U2/Bono
6. Damien Jurado/David Bazan/Sufjan Stevens/Pedro the Lion/Rosie Thomas
7. xkcd
8. the game “Mafia”
9. Paste Magazine
10. Flannery O’Connor
11. Lord of the Rings/Narnia
12. Franny and Zooey and other non Catcher Salinger
13. Swing Dancing (90s) and/or Salsa Dancing (2000s)
14. Harry Potter
15. Conner Oberst
16. LOST
17. post-modernism

I am sure that there are more of these, but basically this list is: “‘secular’ things that Christians think they are cool and original for liking but are not/think are not ‘Christian’ things to like, but actually are,” if that makes sense.

36 minutes ago · Delete
Nicholas Stephen Munn
Nicholas Stephen Munn

36 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Oh geez, I just suggested the brothers k to someone this afternoon…
33 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Have you ever met my friend, fitz?
32 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

I gotta think lost is more universal.
29 minutes ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

i know, that’s what George says. He also says post-modernism shouldn’t be on there, but here were a couple of my criteria: What is something that Christians from Gordon, ELIC (my China org) and Regent unfailingly get together to do? (watch LOST, play Settlers) or What is something Christians think they are edgy or “culturally relevant” or intellectual for talking about? (postmodernism, xkcd, etc).
25 minutes ago · Delete

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Thoughts on Distraction

There are several things that I have been wanting to write about, but have been unable to shake a recent bout of laziness. Here are some things that I have wanted to write about, so I make sure that I don’t forget, when the time comes, which, hopefully, is soon: the ideal church; issues of exclusion and who is in or out in our churches; marriage and various books about it; youth in China, etc. So, expect some posts about these things soon, and feel free to remind me, if necessary. Tonight, however, I was especially moved by a sermon that I heard at St. John’s, Shaugnessy (I know, it’s a somewhat controversial church–but it’s where I’ve felt the most at home since starting at Regent). The text was Matthew 6:5-14, and the sermon was on the second line in the Lord’s Prayer: …hallowed be your [thy] name. I thought that Aaron Roberts did a wonderful job of taking four words and unfolding a deeper truth. His point was, essentially, that to ask–to request of God–that His name would be hallowed or “made holy” is to ask that He be at the center of the individual’s life, as He is at the center of the universe, holding it together as Creator and Sustainer, and as we were built for Him to be in us. Aaron noted–drawing on Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death–that anything else that we might place at the center of our lives will be unable to reciprocate our love or devotion and will be incapable of ever forgiving us. To ask that God’s name be hallowed is to ask that He hold his rightful place in our lives and in the world.

imageDB.cgiAaron gave us a few minutes at the end of his sermon to ask the Holy Spirit to show us the things that occupy the place of primacy in our hearts and lives. He repeated/suggested things like: spouses, marriage, money, career, ambition, etc. But, as I knelt there, and as the Spirit worked, I realized that none of these were quite applicable for me: rather than any one defining thing commanding my devotion, there is, instead, a bundle of small and trivial things, which I rely on to provide me with a few seconds of relief from challenges, thoughts, intensity, fear, etc. The incredible irony here is that I came to faith at a very young age (12) because I had suddenly realized–with great horror–at around age 10, that every adult around me was distracting themselves from the reality of death and dying. Maybe this is not true; there may be plenty of adults that are at peace with their mortality. At the same time, I looked around me and saw everyone busy trying to give their lives meaning and direction, filling every spare minute with hobbies, activities, plans for the future, etc. While, to them, it may have seemed totally innocent and well-intentioned, I wondered what would happen if they stopped their gardening, do-gooding, reading, drinking, planning or cause-crusading and faced the reality that in decades (or days) they would die? It then struck me that these hobbies, activities, causes and plans were compulsively undertaken, with one thing proceeding immediately after the last, so that no one would ever have to stop and look into the great darkness; the void. Interestingly, there is a book about this, which I have yet to read (embarrassingly), but that was recommended to me by another student at Gordon when I read an essay on this subject to an advanced composition class. Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, wrote The Denial of Death in 1974, which similarly asserted that our lives and life choices are largely motivated by our desperate need to avoid thinking about or facing death. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here I am, still existing.

Hello “blogosphere”,

I just wanted to say that I continue to be committed to working through issues, telling stories, and sharing thoughts here on the internets, but I have been on a bit of an unexpected hiatus, due to going through a pretty hellish couple of months (its personal, and this time I am keeping it to myself), and now finishing the work for a Regent summer course I took 6 weeks ago. Regent has many wonderful spring and summer courses, in which many important things are taught and learned, but one thing I’ve learned is that you may have 6 weeks to complete the course after the end of actual classes, but I (and most people I know here) will somehow wait until the weekend before to finish the major paper or project. Unbelievable. I’m totally depraved, how about you?

Sooo…just be aware that, following the due date (Monday) and a long post-due-date nap, I will return to writing long-winded blogs about controversial and/or personal subjects. Already have some ideas!

In the meantime, hope everyone is having a great summer.

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Mark Noll and Soong-Chan Rah

I am very interested in Mark Noll’s new book about World Christianity and Soong-Chan Rah’s about American Christianity, with a focus on ethnic churches. I am particularly interested because of a) the Anglican communion issues and b) working at a Chinese Christian org last year, with ties to thriving and vibrant Chinese churches. More on this later.

Also, Mark Noll loves hymns, and so do I.

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On disclosure, discernment and Christian privacy.

Since I’ve started “blogging” again (quotes because I still don’t accept that this is a real word, and certainly not yet a verb), I have been thinking about the concept of sharing/over-sharing/appropriate online conduct/disclosure. Concurrently, I have been thinking about the Christian tendency to TALK a lot about vulnerability, strength in weakness, openness, and brokenness, while at the same time often ghettoizing, condescending to, and dismissing those who actually claim these attributes. I have been thinking about this because it has always been a challenge for me to walk the fragile line between sharing too much or too little. One of the reasons that this is an issue for me is that my life has been fraught with much difficulty, which does—when spoken of—result in judgment on the part of others, which often leads to a kind of demotion or dismissal, ESPECIALLY in the church, PARTICULARLY the evangelical church. Thus, since I have been doing better, and have been more “successful”, in the conventional sense, I have been more reticent to let anyone know that there have ever been any problems, lest doors are again closed to me, and people again see me as one less able to take on responsibility; a broken, dysfunctional person who needs “help”. No one wants to be looked upon this way, and it is only natural to launch a preemptive strike against this possibility by developing total opacity.

At the same time, what is the good of life experience if you are not using it to encourage and minister to others who are going through similar difficulties; to let hurting people know they are not alone? To let the world know that following Jesus does not mean being perfect? And so, there is a fine balance, with an attendant moral obligation to use our lives to serve and love others—to be a light, as we are called to be. Further, following Jesus is supposed to be costly. If we are stepping out on a limb because we believe that sharing our trials and how we have learned from them will minister to someone, then this may be the priority, over and against the priority of ambition or self-preservation.

Another facet of the discussion is the extent to which we can repress or alter our identities. While we are not defined by our “issues,” past (or present) dysfunction, or failures, we are also not persons apart from our personal history. Our personal histories inform who we are in the present; this is an inescapable fact. And so, to pretend that we have not struggled, sinned, erred, despaired, raged, etc. in the past, because we are worried that we will be seen negatively in the present is to repress the self, which will always come back to—pardon the expression—bite you in the ass.

Here I want to address—hopefully without “over-sharing”—the implications of this challenge as they apply to mental illness in the church, and in the world at large. I am not even going to ADDRESS the view that mental illness is a result of sin, or if you just prayed hard enough you would be fine, or that medication is a weakness/un-Christian, etc etc etc. These attitudes are both wrong and dangerous. What I do want to deal with is: what is the role of the mentally ill person—whether the illness is clinical or chronic; from postpartum depression to schizophrenia—in the church, and what is the role of Christian community in regard to the mentally ill person? Should people who are stabilized through treatment but have suffered from mental illness be allowed in church leadership? Should someone who is depressed be a pastor? Should these (hypothetical) people share their experience, or keep quiet in the interest of being reliable and appearing stable in the service of others? Read the rest of this entry »

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June 2022