27 September 2008

Simone White

College towns - not only do they offer interesting programming on NPR, but they also usually have a student-run station. In Athens, we have WUOG, which features music of every genre, most of it "underground" or "indie".

On Tuesday, they played White's song "Roses Are Not Red", a moody little piece that would seem at home in a smokey blues lounge. Unfortunately, there is no official video for this song, so I have linked to the Last.FM page.

White does, though, have a YouTube page. Her music videos are low-budget and minimalistic - a nice change of pace, if I do say so myself. Below is the title track from her new album I Am the Man.

Rock on.

24 September 2008

Sin Boldly (But Believe in Christ More Boldly Still): Thoughts on Evangelism

I regret to inform you of an unfortunate truth: Many Christians attempt to use guilt as an evangelical tool. Notably, UGA's "Tate preachers" stand in the courtyard of the student center and announce to the campus God's hatred of drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and, in some of the more entertaining cases, "weak-kneed pencil-necked men" and educated women.

Many lower-key evangelism styles operate under the same methods. While never explicitly stated, the logical conclusion of this style, even sans-picket-signs, is, "If you have doubt or still sin, then you are obviously not a good enough Christian to earn God's grace."

Which is absolutely ludicrous.

First, we do not "earn God's grace". It is grace because it impossible to earn. Our sins were paid for by the death of the Son of God. You can never earn something bought at so high a cost. Yes, the acceptance of grace costs us our lives, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. But even this surrender does not "earn" grace, but instead helps us to fully embrace it. Likewise, Bonhoeffer also reminds us of Luther's famous saying, "Sin, and sin boldly; but more boldly still believe in Christ and rejoice in him." Bonhoeffer cautions us, "[D]on't try to become what you are not." For the very second we try to claim that we can achieve perfection on our own accord, we instead claim a state of arrogance and, in this state of arrogance, reject the very grace that makes us perfect.

For example, if I claim that, after becoming a Christian, I ceased to ever give in to angry thoughts, I would be a liar and a braggart. Granted, acceptance of and discipleship to the Risen Christ will lead to a more peaceful state of mind. Over time, as I begin to walk with the Lord and draw more closely to Him, my mindset is changed. But, to be blatantly (and boldly) honest, I still get angry over small things. At my worst, I am an angry person - at my best, I am a sinner redeemed through the blood shed on the Cross.

And I would go so far as to state that only through openness about our shortcomings that Christians will ever shed the image of hypocrisy that so plagues us today.

Secondly, doubt does not negate faith. Only through doubt is faith truly faith. For the very instant you remove all doubt, faith - the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1) – is no longer faith and enters the realm of the empirical. People do not have faith in the existence of coffee cups*; cups are proven daily to exist through direct observation and interaction. God, though, exists beyond our senses and our understanding, known only through faith. To claim a complete understanding and knowledge of God either A) claims the impossible - a finite being understanding an infinite deity, or B) limits God. Christians should do neither. Indeed, doubt strengthens faith. Instead of dismissing doubts as unfounded or false, true faith confronts doubts; it struggles with them and forces the faithful to depend more heavily on God.

In order to encourage and cultivate faith, we must also radically change the field of apologetics, as well as recognize that the sole use of apologetic arguments do not constitute evangelism. As I was once told at an FCA camp, "You cannot argue someone to Christ. If someone is convinced by scientific arguments alone, they can just as easily be convinced by counter-arguments." We can no longer devote ourselves to "proving God". Instead, we should focus on finding Him, walking with Him, and loving Him.

Love - now there's a concept. If instead of making everyone feel guilty about not being perfect, perhaps we could show them God's love. If God is love, then to show love is to show God. If we were to focus on relationships and servanthood, if we were to relate our own stories of God's love...well, wouldn't that be something?

Rock on.

*Even David Hume, the father of modern skepticism, was willing to accept empirical evidence - though he did acknowledge a faith in empiricism. This, though, is better suited for discourse concerning the "New Atheism".

Post Script: I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to my friend Suzanne. Without her editing...well, something about weak verbs, "this" not modifying anything, and comma splices.

15 September 2008

Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman is incredibly well-known, even if you don't know him by name. He's most famous for his work with Tim Burton. Elfman has, to the best of my knowledge, scored every Burton movie with the exceptions of Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd.

Elfman is also responsible for the now-famous opening piece on The Simpsons.

His filmography is extensive and includes work with Sam Raimi and, alledgedly, the forthcoming remake of horror-classic The Wolf-Man.

Elfman's music can best be summed up as a season - Autumn. The dark nature is best accompanied by a chilly, clear night with light cloud cover and a deep, misty wood.

To hear one of his lesser-known compositions, check out the video in this post, featuring the score from Black Beauty.

In 2006, Elfman branched out from movies, penning Serenada Schizophrana, his first major compostion not to be written as a soundtrack, though it was later featured in the IMAX movie Deep Sea 3D. Below is the track "I Forget" - the only track with vocals, all of which are in Spanish.

Rock on.

Danse Macabre and the Beauty of the Resurrection

When I lived in Germany, my parents took me to some of the most famous cathedrals of western Europe - Notre-Dame de Paris, Koelner Dom, and St. Peter's Basilica to name a few. Many of the late gothic cathedrals featured scenes of the final judgment above the doors, and skulls and skeletons were common inside the sanctuary. It was this dark imagery that kept my elementary-schooler self entertained (it was also at this point that I loved Vincent van Gogh because he cut off his ear). I can proudly say that I now find the beauty of these cathedrals outside of their grotesque nature, but the scenes have stayed with me over the past ten to fourteen years.

One of the more interesting things about both judgment scenes ad the medieval "danse macabre" is its reflection of the basic aspect of life: All are alike in death. Kings, bishops, and peasants - all will die. The lifecycle - birth and death - is perhaps the one thing that unites all of humanity. It is the one thing that you cannot forget. God tells Ezekiel to go before the King of Tyre and say,
Will you then say, 'I am a god,'
in the presence of those who will kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you. - Ezekiel 28:9*

No matter how important you are, no matter what you do, you will die. It is part of being human. No matter how famous or plain you are, you are still all too human.

It is in this, the most basic aspect of life, then, that we see something truly extraordinary in the person of Christ - something that allows him to, in the hands of those who slay him, say "I am." As a man, Jesus both was born and died, but not under normal circumstances, for Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, thereby born of a virgin, and was resurrected from the dead. And it is in these two exceptional claims that we see something interesting about Christ - he is most obviously human, if he can be born and killed, but he is so much more. The biological laws, in the end, fail to constrain his divinity.

And it is by clinging to the risen Christ, Son of the Living God, that when it comes time for us to dance with Death, that we can go willingly and secure in the faith that we to will be risen by the One who beat Death. It is by accepting Christ's victory over the physical that Death no longer becomes an end to be feared, but instead is a beginning to be embraced. It is security in the goodness of God that allows us to celebrate at a funeral. it is the knowledge that a better world is on the other side that gives us the courage to follow the example of our Lord and willingly lay down our lives for those around us.

But most of all, it is this very trait that separates Christ from the rest of us, but that allows us to draw close to him.

Rock on.

*Perhaps it is a sign of my short attention span and tendency to ramble, but this post was inspired by reading Ezekiel 27 and 28.

Photo: From Hans Holbein the Younger's woodcut series The Dance of Death. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

A Problem from Hell: A Brief History of Genocide in the Twentieth Century

In light of recent events in Sudan, I thought it might be fitting to take a look back at all of the times the US and other western nations vowed "Never Again" only to turn our backs as soon as the promise required any real action.

It was my freshman year of college and I had just finished reading An Ordinary Man, Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography. Sitting in my dorm lobby, I flipped through his list of recommended books - when the man who saved over a thousand lives during one of the most violent massacres of our time tells you to look into a book, you listen. In this list, Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide is called "an indictment of the West's tendency to fold in the face of evil."

Without hesitation, I went to a bookstore and grabbed a copy. Decade by decade, Powers lists the genocides of the twentieth century, charting the complacency of the US throughout, citing government memos, many of which urge a willful ignorance of the slaughters.

So, with great gratitude to Ms. Power, here is a list of six distinct cases of genocide and six distinct failures of humanity.
  1. Armenia - During the early days of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire faced both enemies on the front lines and from abroad. Within the Armenian population, a small group of rebels, backed by czarist Russia, began fighting against the Ottoman government. As tends to happen in these situations, the government turned on the entire group of people, forcibly evicting Armenians from their homes and sending them, on foot, into the deserts of the Middle East. During this forced exodus, women were raped and entire families were killed. Notably, the Allies did condemn these "crimes against humanity and civilization" and the concept of "race murder" first came into being. To this day, the Turkish government refuses to recognize the Ottoman massacre of the Armenian population as "genocide".
  2. The Holocaust - World War II is the defining event of the twentieth century. And during Hitler's campaign of destruction, the world would not (and perhaps could not) bring itself to the realization that the Nazi government was leading a mass extermination of Jews, Africans, the Roma people, the handicapped, and anyone deemed to be a lower class of human. Given the tremendous amount of study devoted to this bleak period of history, I will cut discussion of this event short.* The resulting Nuremberg Trials came to set the path for acting on genocide: Wait until after the fact, then arrest a few perpetrators for show.
  3. Cambodia - Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge led a campaign of extermination against their own culture. Targeting all who were educated, wealthy, or connected in anyway to the pre-communist government, "reeducation" (read: torture) and mass killings were used to return the nation to an agrarian society. The US, in an attempt to maintain relations with China, was soft on the Cambodian government. Just as the US started to put pressure on the Khmer Rouge to stop the killing, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The West immediately condemned the invasion and sided with Cambodia. Noam Chomsky has stated that the reports of "killing fields" are anti-communist propaganda.
  4. Iraq - During the war with Iran and before the war with Kuwait, Saddam Hussein targeted the whipping boy of the Middle East - the Kurds. The Kurds, allegedly supported by the Iranian government, used the war as a distraction and attempted to gain independence from the Ba'athist government of Iraq. Saddam Hussein, along with other top officials, ordered attacks using chemical and conventional weapons on Kurdish villages, arrests and torture, and mass deportations. Following the invasion of Kuwait, the Kurds once again used the resulting war as a distraction, and were once again put down brutally. The Ba'athist regime also targeted other non-Sunni non-Arabic populations for oppression.
  5. Serbia/Bosnia/Kosovo** - Following Bosnian independence, Serbs living in Bosnia, backed by the Serbian government, took up arms and attempted to gain control of the new state. In so doing, the targeted Bosnian Muslims, deporting families, indiscriminatly bombing villages, raping women, and butchering men. After NATO and UN intervention, the Serbian government began to target ethnic Albanian seperatists in the region of Kosovo, using the same tactics used in Bosnia. It is worth noting that even with the UN and NATO presence, the war in Bosnia did not immediately cease - 1995 saw the massacre of Srebrenica. Many of the perpetrators remain at large and the region remains volatile today.
  6. Rwanda - Following years of Hutu rule and Tutsi rebellion (the distinction between the two "races" was made by Belgium colonists), the assassination of the Hutu president*** plunged the nation into a power vacuum in which Tutsis and "moderate" Hutus were killed. Within a hundred days, between 800,000 and one million people were killed. Europeans in the country were evacuated. After ten UN peacekeepers were killed, the UN mission was drastically downsized. The US avoided involvment by claiming that the goings-on were only "acts of genocide", not genocide itself. France sided with the perpetrators. The rest of the world ignored it.
This list fails to completely describe the attrocities of the twentieth century - a total number of lives lost to genocide is impossible to give. Many of the names of those killed are lost to history, known only but to God. And of the small number of people who stood up to do something, an even smaller number are named in the history books.

And it is because of these people that we do not know that we must act. It is because of these people that we will never know that we must act. It is because of these people that we were not allowed to know that we must act.

Never again will we watch Armenians die. Never again will we watch the "non-Aryan" die. Never again will we watch the Cambodians die. Never again will we watch the Kurds die. Never again will we watch the Bosnians and Albanians die. Never again will be watch the Rwandans die.

Never again will we say "Never again" only to never act.

Rock on.

*It is worth noting that while Power does not mention it, there is a very strong case for applying the term "genocide" to the Japanese action in the Pacific; namely, the attempt to destroy the native cultures of any and all conquered lands, most famously Korea and China, but let us also not forget the plight of the people of the Philippines and Pacific islands. Much like the government of Turkey, the Japanese government still refuses to admit any wrongdoing during this time.

**The situation in the Balkans is so incredibly complex and took place over such a long period of time (nearly a decade) that it recieves three fully devoted chapters in A Problem from Hell.

***The president was negotiating an end to the war with Tutsi RPF rebels. The assassination was blamed on the Tutsi, but some believe it was done by Hutu nationalists angry with the president and aiming to start a massacre.

Post Script: There are many excellent books about the problem of genocide, and I encourage you to do further research. But beyond that, I ask that you write your Representatives, Senators, and the President and encourage them to do research as well, looking not only into the problems in Sudan, but the Congo as well.

Photo: Poster distributed by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East during the Armenian genocide. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

12 September 2008

New Discovery from the Depths of the Interweb Tubes!

I recently found out about a photographer in Antartica who has been doing time-lapse work. And setting most of it to Danny Elfman.


He also keeps a blog and has managed to, in only six videos, ignite my oft-hidden desire to visit Antarctica. He also-also posts his pictures to another website (and it has some great shots of the Southern Lights).

So my real question is: How do I get to spend a winter in Antarctica? Well, summer, but there it's winter...you know, that little opposite season thing. Or maybe I could just settle for Alaska?

Rock on.

11 September 2008

It's Official

I, as of thirty seconds ago, have a new fear.


Because 18-wheelers weren't scary enough already.

Of course, I also have a fear that I won't finish my pape - I mean "In-Class Assessment" - on time. Which raises questions about why I'm checking the news and posting to my blog instead of writing about Alice Walker.

And perhaps further questions can be raised about why my first post in a week is so short - though this question has an answer: I'm still trying to find my pace for the semester. Balancing class, CCF, IC, and homework has left me exhausted. At some point, I hope to actually follow through on my resolutions for the blog.

Weekends maybe?

Anyway, back to my writing...class writing...assessment.


01 September 2008


An anonymous tipster has pointed out that Alu (mentioned in my last post) is now on YouTube.


The best way I can think of to describe Alu is some combination of gypsy alt rock. Or, as mentioned in my previous post, "Alice in Wonderland in hell".
This is "Circus Cosmos" off her album Lobotomy Sessions.

Rock on.

Post Script: NPR's Echoes is one of the best programs on radio today. I've been turned on to several groups, including Alu, through them. Check your local affiliate's listings.