Category Archives: Random stuff

“Expanding the borders of your empathy.”

The annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America is this weekend, with the theme, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I was glad to come across an article earlier today about Pastor and Author Rick Warren being one of the featured speakers. A couple years ago, I worked on a project as a web administrator for a think tank, “Reframing the Perceptions of Muslims in America,” that included several of the speakers involved in this conference, including the current president of the ISNA, Ingrid Mattson. Here’s a good interview from a couple years ago with her, “The Face of Islam in America.”

“If religion is not about expanding the borders of your empathy, you might as well write it off,” she says. “Religion is all about extending mercy and caring. If not, it’s just tribalism: Muhammad himself said religion should be the opposite.”

Continue reading “Expanding the borders of your empathy.”


Once again, too much time has elapsed between blog posts. Work has been keeping me really busy for the last month – studio string sessions for artists including Mark Schultz and Dan Hill and music preparation for live shows for Reba McEntire and a concert this past Saturday by the Oak Ridge Boys with the Fort Worth Symphony, for which I printed about 2,500 pages of music. When I’ve had time to write, I’ve used it to finish pieces for the Rabbit Room, like this essay on Mahler’s 6th Symphony and Psalm 88.

Kicking off their 2009 concert series earlier this year, the Nashville Symphony performed Gustav Mahler’s Sixth symphony (and being the Mahler freak that I am, I attended all three performances). Mahler wrote nine symphonies in all – and started a tenth before he died – and after hearing them, it becomes difficult to try to put his genius into words. Of course, one could say that one reason art exists at all, the reason we have symphonies and paintings and jazz and dance, is to express that which we cannot put into words. So maybe it is better to say the same thing about the creators – the sub-creators, as C.S. Lewis called them – and not try to reduce their work to the written word. Still, at times, we search for ways to describe to others the effect art has on us, to explain, to ourselves as much as to our friends, why we were so moved, why we found tears in our eyes or felt our deepest secrets were laid out in the open or saw laid out before us the way we should go.

Click here to read the full essay.

I have several posts I hope to get up here soon, including one about seeing Phish perform an amazing concert at Bonnaroo, joined for three songs by the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, in a concert experience sure to not be surpassed any time soon.

I have a couple books reviews I’m working on as well:

  • David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything – will be posted at the Rabbit Room
  • The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, by Kevin Roose. I picked this up on a Sunday afternoon, intending to read a couple chapters before returning to work, and wasn’t able to put it down until I had read 230 pages. I finished the last 100 pages the next day, and absolutely loved it.
  • The Year I Got Everything I Wanted: A Spiritual Crisis, by Cameron Conant. This is another quick read, a well written story of one year of Cameron’s life with the narrative of Ecclasiastes serving as the thread tying everything together and providing the story arc. It includes lines like this: “It’s easier to forgive someone when they show you how wounded they are.”

    Those reviews will have to wait until later, though, because in the morning I am heading over to a three day conference held here in Nashville, the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme this year is “The Power of Narrative,” and the plenary speakers are Billy Collins (US Poet Laureate, 2001-2003), Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer Prize Winner, 2005), Hubert G. Locke, and Barbara Brown Taylor . There are also several paper and panel sessions offered, seventy-one sessions over the three days in five time slots, including presentations from my friend David Dark and fellow Rabbit Room contributor Jonathan Rogers. Some of the panels I’m planning on attending are:

  • Myron Schirer-Suter, Gordon College, Wenham, MA, Convener: “Der untote Gott/the undead God : Theology, German Literature and Literary Scholarship”

    Gregor Thuswaldner, Gordon College: “God is in the Details: The Question of God in Contemporary German Literature and Literary Scholarship”
    Olaf Berwald, University of North Dakota: “Reading as Self-Surprising Process: Hermeneutic Approaches to Religion in Schelling, Hölderlin, and Schleiermacher”

  • Michael Harbour, North Street Church of Christ, Nacogdoches, TX, Convener: “Hope for Meaning: Hermeneutics After Postmodernism”

    Kevin West, Stephen F. Austin State University: “Following Eco through Woods and Worlds: Meaning and/as Quest”
    Michael Harbour, North Street Church of Christ, Nacogdoches, TX: “Working for a Better Reading through Communities of Informed Judgment”
    Bryan Tarpley, Stephen F. Austin State University: “The Hopeful Midwife: Facing Epistemological Limitations”

  • Julie E. Harris, Harding University, Convener: “God in the Shadows or Amazing Grace?: Searching for God’s Hand in History” (A Peer Reviewed Session)

    Jason Jewell, Faulkner University: “All the World’s a Stage: The Reformed View of History”
    Allen Diles, Harding University: “Christian Historiography & Identifying God’s Hand”
    Jason Fikes, A & M Church of Christ, College Station, TX, Austin Graduate School of Theology: “Historiography in Emergent Church Movement: How Church leaders are using looking at the Past and Shaping what is to Come”

  • Richard Goode, Lipscomb University, Convener: “Case Studies in Questioning the Narratives” (Part II)

    David Dark, Vanderbilt University: “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything”
    Randy Spivey, Disciplinary Counsel, Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee: “Questioning Society’s Criminal Justice Narratives”
    Damien Durr, Vanderbilt Divinity School: Respondent

  • I plan on tweeting (twittering?) throughout the conference on my newly created twitter account,

    “Our stories are all stories of searching…”

    In his book The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, Frederick Buechner includes a letter he wrote for the birth of his grandson, to be read on his twenty-first birthday. Since today, March 8th, is the day I add another candle to the coconut birthday cake, the start of a new year in my life, I pulled Buechner’s book off my bookshelf to re-read his letter. The summation of his words of wisdom is one of the better in-a-nutshell descriptions I’ve heard about the human story.

    “Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.”

    In an essay further into the book, “The Journey Toward Wholeness,” Buechner writes, “Like the majority of humankind I don’t know much about wholeness at first hand… I like to believe that in a disorganized way it is what I am journeying toward, but the most I have to show for my pains is an occasional glimpse of it in certain people…” He goes on to describe the ways we allow ourselves to fragmentize the world we see around us, the ways we become nothing more than reactors. “Sinners are made in the image of God no less than saints,” he writes, and it is a hope of mine that in this next year I will grow closer to seeing the world that way, that somehow, with God’s help, “compassionate love [will] begin to change from a moral exercise into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality.” That I will, in fits and starts, little by little, become whole.

    “The world floods in on all us us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myself. I know just how the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.”

    “Sinners are made in the image of God no less than saints. Even a sparrow fallen dead by the roadside is transparent to holiness. To be whole, I believe, is to see the world like that. To see the world like that, as Jesus saw it, is to be whole. And sometimes I believe that even people like you and me see it like that. Sometimes even in the midst of our confused and broken relationships with ourselves, with each other, with God, we catch glimpses of that holiness and wholeness which, no matter how buried and unrecognized, are still part of who we are.”

    “It is our business, as we journey, to keep our hearts open to the bright-winged presence of the Holy Ghost within us and the Kingdom of God among us until little by little compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise, from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality, which is that the world is holy because God made it and so is every one of us as well. To live as though that reality does not exist is to be a stranger in a world of strangers. To live out of and toward that reality is little by little to become whole.”

    Belief in God is belief in mystery

    I first discovered Tony Woodlief’s blog when he linked to a post I wrote about a year ago. He has a new essay, “OK, Virginia, There’s No Santa Claus. But There Is God” that was in the Wall Street Journal (!) on Thursday that is a good read, with quotes from G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and George McDonald. Here’s my favorite part of the essay:

    Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

    As a parent, I believe (with the older apologists) that it’s essential to preserve a small, inviolate space in the heart of a child, a space where he is free to believe impossibilities. The fantasy writer George MacDonald — author of “The Light Princess” and “The Golden Key” — whom Lewis esteemed as one of his greatest inspirations, suggested that it is only by gazing through magic-tinted eyes that one can see God: “With his divine alchemy,” MacDonald wrote, “he turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries.” The obfuscating spirit of the “commonplace,” meanwhile, is “ever covering the deep and clouding the high.”

    My favorite post that Tony has written recently is this one, Deconstructing the sola, a topic that I’ve been planning on bogging about soon, probably after the first of the year.

    Blogging award for the Rabbit Room has just posted their list of the top ten artists blogs of 2008. Shaun’s is #1 on the list (and deservedly so – he’s the reason I started blogging.) #3 is Jason Gray’s blog. And at #6 is none other than the Rabbit Room. Although I have to add, their blurb is incorrect. It says the RR features “not one, but three artists sharing their hearts through writing.” Actually, that would be five singers, a visual artist, two pastors, three writers, and myself. Still, anything that gets more people going to the Rabbit Room is great.

    Inclement Travel

    A friend of mine, Taylor, a high school history teacher, has just started up a new blog about traveling. He’s planning on blogging about travel tips, stories from his own adventures, and whatever else comes out on the page.

    Growing up, my family did a lot of traveling. We had three big trips that we took, mom and dad and the five kids packed in a van. When I was eight years old, we drove from Chattanooga, Tennessee, up to Juneau, Alaska (wrecking the van in Saskatchewan, Canada, along the way, where it took us a week to get it fixed up enough to continue our trip), and we also took a trip up the east coast, all the way to Niagara Falls, and another trip out west, to the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert and other notable sites. And during the 16 months I lived in Argentina, I was able to do a good bit of traveling. So it’s something I really enjoy. My younger sister and her new husband are in Israel right now, and I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and seeing their pictures.

    On the “about” page of Taylor’s blog, he tells us,

    “I believe that travel is one half education and one half luxury (no matter how much you spend). I don’t believe that travel should be only for the wealthy, nor should it be only the adventurous. Travel should be something that you are comfortable with, because it is your money, and often a lot of it goes into your travels. Whether going to the Middle East to see great holy sites, or rather just taking a weekend road trip, there should be some selfishness in your travel.

    Now before I go on, please note that one key to being a good traveler is being unselfish, but as you prepare, plan, and pay, you need to take note of the things that you want to do and see. Though it is rather commonsensical, it is your trip, and you need to at least make your voice heard.

    On the other side of that thought, though you want to be heard, you don’t want to shout. Make a list before you travel with a group, and even yourself, of things that you want to see. Rank them in order, and have the attitude that if I get to see one of these things, than my trip has been interesting and successful. Remember, no one place or attraction makes or breaks any trip.

    As you read, be sure to take notes of some of the main points. However, don’t forget, these are mere suggestions, because after all… it’s your trip.”

    Good tips. I’ve added his blog to my link list, and look forward to reading his stories. Here’s the link for you to check it out:

    VeggieTales – Silly Songs with Larry

    It had been a couple of years since I’d seen any of the VeggieTales videos, but last night I drove down to Franklin to see the premier of their newest video, Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry’s Big River Rescue, at Franklin’s Movies in the Park. I went because the “Silly Songs with Larry” segment featured the fun song The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo, the second “silly song” written by some friends of mine, Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame. You can see their last “silly song,” Monkey, on youtube here. The new DVD doesn’t come out for a couple of weeks, but there is a brief clip of The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo in the trailer at their website.


    Yesterday afternoon, I made the two hour trip over to Chattanooga to help my brother and his wife move. They moved from a rental house in Harrison, TN, to an apartment closer to work and other activities, and it will be good for them, not least for the money they’ll save in gas. But I’m going to miss their house, at the end of a long gravel driveway, surrounded by woods, and the cookouts we had on their back porch on cool summer evenings. When I’m visiting them, like last night, their last night in the house, after everyone else is in bed, I love to walk up and down the driveway. The only sound you can hear out here is that of gravel crunching underfoot, over the ever present hum of crickets in the surrounding woods and the occasional dog bark or owl hoot off in the distance. It’s a welcome relief from walks in my neighborhood, where the high pitched squeals from the train yard a quarter mile away provide an almost constant soundtrack, and the sirens from the fire station across the street split the night air several times an hour. I relish the opportunity to get away from man-made noise, and wish I had the chance to do so more often.