Tuesday, August 28, 2007


So what with one thing and another we've been pretty busy. So here is a capsule of the last two weeks:

Cujo sucks.

Ocean's Twelve isn't nearly as bad (so far) as I had previously been led to believe. I'm finishing it tonight.

Gaudy Night and Strong Poison do not, thanks Anon for encouraging me to pick them up again.

Charmed Life is going well.

The Painted Veil, the movie version of the book by W. Somerset Maugham with Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, was really pretty good. For some reason these "British people in the uncouth wilderness of the foreign devil" stories have very similar feels to me. But it was also a well-done story of alienation, love, and forgiveness, a Graham Greene kind of thing.

A Hard Day's Night (original, that is not American) has about 7 good songs on it. No surprise, they're almost all the ones that made the actual movie, except for "Any Time At All", which I think should have been an A side, and the execrable "I'm Happy Just To Dance with You", which is the most phoned-in Beatles song I have ever heard. It's an F side.

In the where have you been all my life department, Radiohead's masterpiece OK Computer. The album is 10 years old now, and people have been telling me for ages that I would love these guys. Ummm, instead of telling me, you could have perhaps strapped me to a chair and slapped on some headphones. That would have spared me a lot of regrets right now. I've been listening to this thing for a week straight, about 3 hours a day. Maybe you remember the first week you heard this album. I had heard tracks from it, of course, without knowing the whole story: "Lucky", "Exit Music (For a Film)", "Karma Police"... I had even played "Karma Police" on the bass once for a party (without getting the key change on the bridge quite right, in hindsight). If you haven't heard it at least once, and you can stand modern/indie rock in the slightest, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

Oh, and I finished a project at work and I've been staying too late this week. And Sarah's Uncle Tim stopped by our house on a cross-country drive. And I'm going to be in Seattle for a week in October (13-21), prior to my sister Kefi's wedding. Congratulations, Kefi! And if anyone is around, we'll make time to see you.

Be well; the magnum opus on heresy is still being written.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I did this weekend

Ok, ok, so there's not a brand new opus on hermeneutics, heresy, and orthodoxy occupying this space. Let me explain why.

I have a 9-80 schedule, so every other Friday is free. This weekend was an off Friday, so Sarah and I decided to go get the dining set we've been dreaming of. To do this, we drove out to a warehouse east of I-25, about half an hour away. We found a great oval table, counter height, with white and blue tile for $100. It had a little crack in one tile and a new base, but hardly anything to worry about. Certainly worth a $150 discount. We got bar stools that swiveled to go with it, rented a truck to drop it all off at our house, then drove home, ready to enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend together.

Or so we thought.

It turned out, when we sat at this so-called counter-height table, that it was just a few inches short of standard. Unfortunately, those were the few inches between the bottom of the table and the tops of my legs. We hadn't found this out before, because we bought the chairs from the showroom area and the table from the clearance area. We have since resolved to measure all our furniture to avoid these kinds of problems.

We agonized over what to do, and eventually we decided that the best course of action was to return this furniture, then spend more for an uncracked version of the table at normal height. So we had to rent another truck, this time from the local Home Depot, to take back the old furniture and to bring home the new furniture. Finally, when I got back, we had no trouble returning the furniture, but every one of our alternate tables was out of stock, even though it was on the floor. It took a few phone calls to get to the table we agreed on. Finally, I got everything back to the Home Depot, crammed it into my car, covered the open trunk with a comforter and wrapped the whole thing up in a shiny pink rope, and drove home.

That was Saturday. I've now driven enough Ford trucks to know that I would prefer not to own one. My stepfather-in-law's Honda Ridgeline totally blew away the F-250 and F-350. Strangely, the F-250 was worse than the F-350. As far as I can tell, it had no shock absorbers at all. In both trucks, I noticed that I had very poor instincts for my speed on the road. I was constantly looking down at the speedometer and going about 15 mph faster than I thought. I think it has something to do with being so much higher off the ground than in my Corolla, learned parallax or something. I didn't hit anyone, only got lost once, and only ran a toll booth once (I paid later).

Today I got us lost on the way back from a park and my whole family trudged along a busy street. Sarah asked me if I was lost. In response, I kept repeating the cross streets where I had parked the car, even though for most of our walk, said streets were not visible. Also, I clogged the garbage disposal with potato skins and had to take apart the tubes under the sink to get it out, soaking the kitchen in the process.

Plus, the last two days included the Colorado Scottish Festival and a Rockies game, neither of which I got to go to.


On the plus side, the potato dish was pretty good. It was Italian potato pie, which basically means baking mashed potatoes for half an hour in the oven. There were a lot of leftovers.

In other news, we started Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci books, with Charmed Life. The front of the paperback says, "If you're mad about Harry, try Diana." There are a lot of echoes of the beginning of Harry Potter in these books: the protagonists lose their parents, one seems to be extra-talented at magic, the other has no talent, both receive portentous fortunes, they ride a train to a castle where an extremely powerful wizard has adopted them... Sarah said to me, this sounds a lot like Harry Potter. And I said, "That's funny. Of course, this was written in 1977."

We also listened to a few of Neil Gaiman's children's stories: "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish", "The Wolves in the Walls", "Cinnamon", and "Crazy Hair". He's one of my favorite authors, so I was glad to finally get around to these.

Back to religion, here's an interesting thought experiment that bounced around in my head the last few years of living in Utah, related to the topic I am mulling over. It requires a little background information.

The Mormons have a highly-organized church structure. One of the things they believe is special about their Christian revelation is the organization of the church, which is, if memory serves, laid out by Jesus himself in the progress of the narrative of the Book of Mormon. At the top of the pyramid is the church President, currently Gordon B. Hinckley. There have been several church Presidents; Joseph Smith was the first one. Next to the President are two close advisers; these three are collectively known as the First Presidency. Next down are the council of apostles, twelve in number. Down the chain it goes, with numbers and roles. I think next are the Seventies, but we're beyond my expertise.

Belonging to a church that contains God's representative on earth in the President, Mormons expect the continuing, progressive revelation of God from the President. This was a practice begun in earnest by Joseph Smith, who received at least dozens (hundreds, maybe) of personal revelations from God. These revelations, and subsequent additions by other church Presidents, are collected in another book in the Mormon scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants. I don't know if the D&C contains anything else.

The process of revelation continues to this day. In 1978, there was a big deal because a new revelation came out declaring blacks eligible for the priesthood, which is basically like church membership in Protestant circles; being barred from the priesthood was basically second-class worshiper status. To find out more about this, Google . For another interesting case study in revelation, learn more about the Mormon stances on polygamy.

To an outsider like myself, this whole thing feels like 1984, and the entrance to Mos Eisley. We have always been at war with Eastasia, polygamy is wrong, blacks aren't the cursed descendants of Cain, these aren't the droids you're looking for. And so on. But it raises interesting questions about the boundaries of heresy and orthodoxy in the Mormon religion. On the one hand, there is established doctrine that can be used as a standard to excommunicate non-conforming members. On the other hand, that doctrine is subject to sudden, violent change.

So, here is that thought experiment, perhaps most relevant to those who have been living in Utah. Is there any revelation that the Mormon President cannot make? Can he (and they are are all old white men) reveal that there are no more revelations from God? Can he reveal that the Book of Mormon is not true or that Joseph Smith was a liar? Can he tell the church that they are all Catholics now? In the balance, which will win: the received doctrine, or the progressive revelation? Could the Mormon President ever be a heretic?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You're really not going to believe this

Okay, if you read that last post, you might be thinking as follows: Suppose, Dan, that I go along with your crazy ideas about not reading too much into the text of the Bible, and I decide not to play cryptic crossword with parallel passages, or impart too much knowingly significant double entendre to the ones that just happen to support my worldview. Tell me, Dan, is anything left of the Bible at all? Is Christian faith possible? I'm glad you asked. Without having the time to go into it tonight, let me just say a quick yes and definitely to that. There are views of inspiration, of the spiritual intervention of God in shaping the Bible, that do not require us to construct Bible codes to divine God's intent (such as we can).

I also had an interesting talk with Sarah about whether or not it is right to take these positions on marriage and the Bible when so many other people disagree with you. Are you crazy? I think she felt better to get that out there, not in so many words. I guess this is a question that can challenge any Christian thinking. Is it important to be right, in the doctrinal sense? Does right in the doctrinal sense mean right with God? And if not, what good is it? As a related issue, how can we tell Christian orthodoxy from Christian heresy? Are you a heretic? And if so, what should you do about it?

I hope to get to these questions this week, so berate me if I am being slow.

But now for something completely different. Long-time readers of this blog will have heard ad nauseam about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its related spinoff show Angel. It took Sarah and I most of a year to watch them all. Once, under the weather, we did 8 episodes in a day. Well, a few days ago, having no Harry Potter to read and no obvious substitutes (yet; we are taking a trip to the library soon) without much discussion, Sarah and I decided to start watching them again. 3 episodes down, 251 to go.



Well, I'm reminded of Dorothy L Sayers on Dante's Divine Comedy. She said, more or less, "Once I cracked the book, all my prejudices were dispelled. I read it as fast as I could. When I came up for air, I looked around and saw nothing better to read out there. So, I started it again as breathlessly as the first time."

Except for The Simpsons, which pile on to the DVR about three times a day (and some of the newer episodes are getting pretty good again), there's nothing better to watch this summer than Buffy and Angel. Period. Ok, ok, so Season 1 is pretty hokey-fenokee and everybody looks so young. But it's the best.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Love and marriage

When I hear those words, I immediately think of two things. The first is Frank Sinatra singing the theme song to Married with Children. I've actually been to that fountain in Chicago, incidentally. It was a math trip. The other one is a Woody Allen movie called "Love and Death", which is a parody of Scandinavian existentialist films.

Jen asked me to expand upon my funny reaction to the lines "Head of household" and "Spouse" in the nursery check-in form at the megachurch I attended two Sundays ago:

What feelings did that line ignite in you and why? Let's hear the heated theological debate.

Ok, you asked for it.

As a recap, those lines were for the names of the parents of the child. There was an unspoken premise, obvious to me, that under "head of household", one was supposed to write the father's name, and that left the mother for "spouse". Leaving aside all the alternative family arrangements this ignores (grandparents, nannies, unmarried couples, divorcees all come to mind), I didn't want to just leave that values system sitting there. Plus, I was irked at having to give my information for a one-time visit, like I said. I put myself as spouse, and Sarah as head of household.

So here we go. I've thought about this a lot, in the context of living in Utah, in the context of having evangelical friends, in the context of my own marriage and how I want to spend the next fifty years. I thought about it before I got married, and now that I'm married, I spend less time thinking about it and more time trying to live it.

Caveat lector; this is one of those religious things that divides people along lines of opinion. You can see a civil example here.

As I said once on Vince's blog, I think that one mode of reading the Bible, as a philosophical premise source-book, in order to learn what to believe, is like building elaborate sand castles. The architecture of these belief systems may be thrilling to behold, even beautiful, but they tend not to survive their tidal contacts with the ocean of life.

I say it that way because it happened to me in college. When I became a Christian, it was first as a sort of theologist, and life started washing that away almost immediately. I had a gay roommate in the spring of 1999, and my other roommate decided to become a Christian in the vein of Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar (bugaboos of a liberal stripe, to fundamentalists such as myself; I still don't like them and the mockery they made of criticism, but that's another digression). I was having trouble deciding how to live, struggling with how to talk to and deal with my roommate. I started from the position that I didn't agree with what he was doing, how he was living (it turned out I was actually saying, who he was), but I could live with him anyway. I told him words to that effect, and it got really chilly. My liberal roommate threatened to move out, I think, and then I took some long walks around campus trying to figure out if I should just move out. I figured out that I was the third wheel. I read my little green-plastic-covered Gideon bible as I walked, but not the verses on homosexuality... I think it was the book of John.

I went back to the dorm, and somewhere in there, my gay roommate had left me a poem he had written about being gay, about being rejected by his parents, but learning to find himself beautiful anyway. As someone who writes things that rhyme, I just couldn't ignore this. He got through to me. I think I understood what was so wrong with the way I had been acting. I pasted words on top of that man I didn't know, then got all righteous about my own labels. So I tried to explain. I said I loved him, and I meant it, and I apologized, I think, and gave him a hug. Looking back, I don't know whether he understood too, or just thought I was weird. But I might be misremembering; we might have cried and had a moment. My liberal roommate later said that I really came through there; he might have said it was strengthening his faith. We were all good for the rest of the semester. The next year, the gay guy moved to a house and my other roommate moved in with his best friend.

Appendix, none of this is in my diary and the UW deleted most of my email (although I may have saved some of it in an archive I recently recovered), but I'm pretty sure I still have the poem in my things. It's been a long-term project of mine to go through my papers, so I may find it sooner or later.

I tell this story because I am aware that the New Testament says things that turn into admonitions and strictures against homosexuality when read by the American evangelical subculture. The fact that they're almost all don't-do-it commandments suggests a certain attitude toward homosexuals as well: a spirit of righteousness and judgment. Thus, the fire-and-brimstone signage, the counter-parades, the angry Christians on your TV set, the obsession with dog-whistle political issues instead of the war in Iraq. This is playing word games with the Bible. (Another short take on this, a couple years old.)

I forget where I read that Christians misidentify the Bible with the Word (probably because the Bible has so many words in it). I think Karl Barth said something to that effect. I don't think it makes me un-Christian to agree, or to point out in addition that we are not supposed to follow what the Bible says. The Bible does not have a little tag on it with the words "DRINK ME". Instead it tells the story of a man; he is the one who says "Drink me."

This is a lot of preamble for a pretty short thesis: I consider the argument "'Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, love your wives' is a prescription for stratified gender roles in Christian marriages" to be based on word games with the Bible. One reads the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, and so much is implied. One reads the passage in Ephesians that the husband is head of the wife, and so much is implied. And so on. And faced with all this circumstantial evidence, the combined weight of implications, how could one not be persuaded to the roles worldview? Well, something fishy is going on here. It is not hard to find differing views on this evidence; see Vince in that discussion I linked to earlier, or the first Google hit for "husband is the head of the wife": The Husband is Head of the Wife?, which is one more fascinating take on the subject by a Greek Orthodox guy. It's hard to call fascinating ideas a dime a dozen, so let's just say it doesn't stop there.

If one reads the life of the Word, one sees a different portrait emerging. This is my take, Christians can be free to disagree. As the Greek Orthodox guy says, Jesus did not come to us in order to fall into stereotypes or prescribe them for other people. He blew them apart every chance he got. The Samaritan, the centurion, the woman with a bleeding problem, the children, the sinners, the poor, the sick, the prostitutes. He told a tax collector to come and he told farmers to stay behind. What he did come to do was not to be served, but to serve, and to offer himself. There is nothing male or female about that; that is for everyone who would follow him. Remember who will be greatest in heaven; is that person a boy or a girl?

One thought I have as I reread Ephesians 5 is that in the middle of Paul talking about how the husband is like the head and the wife is like the body, he quotes Genesis:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

Before Descartes laid his thumb on the globe and spun, we believed, among other things, in a unity of mind and body. Christians say now that we are body, mind, and spirit, or some equivalent; I just read a passage in John Michael Talbot's book that this idea is pervasive throughout all of Christianity, and in the Eastern religions he is interested in as well. Why does Paul bring up this idea in the middle of talking about the head and body? Maybe it's to point out that in marriage, man and woman are to be growing so close to each other that you cannot tell where one ends and the other one begins. Or, to put it another way, the goal of marriage is to end gender roles, not preserve them.

I don't think this is a terribly convincing argument. It's another word game about what may or may not be implied by the chance inclusion of a quotation in a letter whose main subject is obviously other things, hatched by my view of the context, which may disagree with yours. But my point is not to argue, really; I merely think that it's plausible to read these passages this way. Also, my conclusion may not be as complex as the gender-roles word game, but it uses the same hermeneutical approach with opposite results. This does not say much about who is right, but it does say something about the shortcomings of this manner of reading.

You might say Joseph Smith and the Mormons took this kind of reading to the logical extreme when they read the stories of the patriarchs taking multiple wives, and resurrected polygamy. The fact that they oops, got it wrong (they would say, followed the inscrutable, changing will of God), is one of those chapters in Mormon history that has to be read to be believed. To this day, Mormons believe that there will be polygamy in heaven, as men progress to become Father Gods and their wives progress to becoming Mother Gods, eternally giving birth, populating new worlds with their spirit children. Now those are some gender roles in marriage! In fact, there was some to-do when some feminist Mormons sought to formally worship the Mother God who had birthed them onto Earth with the approval of the LDS church... this did not go over well, to say the least.

So, if you don't have roles in marriage, what do you have? If there's one thing I've learned in my Christian journey, it's that there are things you believe because they sound correct to you, and there are things you believe because you lived them yourself. (Aside: watch the show Thirty Days.) When I had a gay roommate, there was a war in me between these two kinds of beliefs. I went through a similar struggle before I married Sarah. We talked about this stuff, and I read books about it, both sides; eventually, I decided that given two plausible ways to go on this roles stuff, to head for equality within marriage, almost on instinct. Later, I wondered if I'd really gotten it right, but I have never regretted that decision. I decided if I ever did have to explain it, I would say that you might be able to win an argument that gender roles in marriage are Christian and important, but that wouldn't be the same thing as me being ready to live that belief anyway. I have been a person willing to change who I am for what I am convinced is right, but convincing is a matter of conviction, not just A implies B, QED.

Equality in marriage is simple to me; it means knowing who we are as people, and treating each other like the gifts from God we know each other to be. Someone is good at math (me), someone is good at finances (her), someone is going to work (me), someone is raising our son (her), someone is addicted to video games (me), someone loves to take pictures and blog into the wee hours (her). What equality in marriage means to me is that it could easily have been the other way around. I don't get the final say in decisions, we just have to agree, or compromise. She is not the nurturer, I am not the leader; each of us acts in those capacities at different times. At least, we're supposed to. I see my failures in marriage not as a consequence of my failure to conform to a role, but as personal failures.

Past my bedtime.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Churcharama, and digressions

Sarah and I have been attending metro Denver churches, hoping to find a new home where we can meet other young parents and grow up for a while. We've been sort of careful about it. We've used a list from Denver Theological Seminary, checked out churches online, tried to check for small groups and family ministries like women's studies and Mothers of Preschoolers. We are trying to avoid churches that are loosey goosey on the Bible, but also trying to avoid extra-denominational places, along with fire and brimstone kinds of places. It's time to grow. Two, three hundred people in the Sunday service seems about right.

Two weeks ago we screwed the whole thing up.

We drove the back way to Cherry Hills Community Church. We took a road called Wildcat Reserve Parkway. I believe it does actually pass by a wildcat reserve, but we haven't explored all the parks (of which there are many) in the area. I knew the way, because the day before we had gone swimming at one of the Highlands Ranch Rec Centers. These are free to residents of Highlands Ranch, and we had heard that this one had an indoor pool for kids. The pool was very cool, with all kinds of fountains and slides, wading, a spa, and one wavy loop with a slow current that tugs you around. The loop was also the only place I came close to putting Alex underwater. I was holding him up, as was his flotation vest, in the little river. Going around a curve, the undertow pulled my feet off the bottom and I got dunked. As I fell, I pushed Alex's butt up with my hand, trying to keep him up for Sarah, who was behind us. I lost him for a second, got my balance and spun around to look. Sarah had him ok. She told me that when I pushed him up and let go, he looked surprised, but he started kicking and kept himself afloat for a second. To me, this bodes well for his future, both in the water and in overall survival. Anyhow, this pool was a little way down the right hand of an intersection on Wildcat Reserve, and this church was a little way down the left.

We turned onto Fairview and saw traffic cones taking out a lane, and a cop parked in the middle of the road. We wondered what was going on until we got to the cop, who... waved us in to the church parking lot. Oh. We got a sinking feeling. They have to control the traffic for the Sunday service? And there they were, hundreds of cars driving around. I can't say they were driving around a church building. Instead, they were crossing over into the embassy of what was, and still remains, a foreign country to me.

The complex, campus, whatever term you prefer, sprawled out on a hillside. At first, we didn't know which door to enter because crowds were going towards a few different entrances. We lucked out and found a sort of atrium that the church used as a greeting area. To the left was a concierge with information. To the right was the child check-in area.

We went to get Alex signed up for the nursery. As a first-time child, we had to give up some personal information to get registered. It didn't help that the man attending us said, we'll get him right in the database, so he'll be good to go next week. I have been a little more wary of this lately. I mean, the weekend before I started work I went to our local haircut place to get spruced up for my first day. They asked for my name, then they asked me for my phone number. For some reason, this brought me up short. I had never been to a barber shop that needed my phone number. My name, yes, my money, yes, my repeat customer punch-card, sure. But my phone number? So I said, "I would prefer not to." This completely flustered the receptionist. She literally did not know what to do next. She had to ask one of the stylists, who said, use the phone number for the house. Even so, the stylist had to come over and help the receptionist click through her menus. Finally, I was all set, and the receptionist told me the wait would be fifteen minutes. Just enough time to get groceries, I thought, so I told her I'd be right back.

Half an hour later or so, I walked back in, ready for my haircut, and sat down. The receptionist chose that moment to vacuum up nothing from the floor right in front me. Then the stylist, busy with another customer, said, you were already on the list, right? I said, that's right, ready to wait. When it was my turn for a haircut, the stylist asked me what I wanted. I said that I just wanted it nice for my new job, and I hadn't been in a while, so I'd like it shorter. For the rest of the haircut, the stylist didn't say one word. She sprayed my hair with the water bottle for so long that my head was freezing, then she cut my hair practically without using her comb. I didn't figure it out till later, but she left a wing on one of my sideburns, and barely touched the sides, which have since begun to poof out. Needless to say, they've lost my business, but the more interesting point is that they were willing act affronted and mess with me because I wouldn't give them my personal information. There is such a thing as privacy, and you've got to start somewhere.

So I was really stuck, checking Alex into the nursery. I already knew, without even seeing the service or the nursery or much but the parking lot that we would never be back, yet I had to give out my information again. This was a situation that called for a little protest, but what? On the form I found it, two lines not marked "Parent A" and "Parent B", but instead, "Head of household" and "Spouse". For me, that little line created all kinds of feelings, basically a heated theological debate, which I proceeded to win with permanent ink: I marked Sarah as head of household, and myself as spouse. Alex was tagged with a serial number and the last four digits of our phone number were marked on his tag. During the service, the man said, if we were needed in the nursery our digits would be flashed under the screens. Screens? but we had no time to think about it then. We took Alex off to the nurseries.

The nurseries were divided by age, as in all the churches we've visited. Here the difference was that there were maybe eight, maybe a dozen nurseries, divided up by age groups of two or three months each. That is, Alex was placed in a nursery for children born in September and October 2004 only. Think a little about how many staff and children this implies (a hundred kids? more? under three or four), and you'll get an idea of the scale of the thing. I glanced out the sliding door of the nursery as we handed Alex off to the nice young man, who was explaining about the emergency paging system again. There was a Big Toy, a little playground out back of this (and presumably, every) nursery. We dropped him off and headed for the service itself.

We got lost on the way to the service and had to consult a map. Again, the traffic was no help because people were going about equally both up and down the hall. Finally, we arrived in the worship center, which again was enormous. It reminded me of a theater. It had a balcony, of course. Greeters were stationed across the expanse as you walked in, impossible to avoid. Ushers at the door handed out full-color brochures. Later, they would guide people into open seats. Sarah and I sat on the end of the next-to-last row, in the middle, by the door.

The theater atmosphere continued inside. The band was already singing as we found our seats. Where to start? The room is perhaps best thought of as a quarter of pie, with the stage at the point. We were seated at the bottom edge of the crust, near the tin... The stage was enormous, like the stage on Austin City Limits, or any other theater you care to imagine. There were two enormous big screens to either side of the stage, and five slightly smaller big screens arrayed around at balcony height. These screens displayed various members of the band as they sang and played, panning, fading, and zooming in a manner reminiscent, for me, of PBS concerts. The lyrics to the songs we sang (all of them Christian praise choruses that we all knew quite well) were displayed, not on an overhead, but as subtitles placed gracefully on the screens without obscuring the musicians.

There were thirteen people in the band: five singers, a pianist on a grand, a drummer, a bassist, a lead guitarist on a flying V, a saxophonist, a guy on acoustic, a guy on a synthesizer, and a guy on the violin. They sang with palpable emotion. On the stage itself were two columns, where the lights and shadows of concert lighting played, and a gigantic screen in the center, behind it all, made screen-saverish patterns like the ones that play behind the singers on American Idol. And I started thinking the word "staged", a word which still captures almost everything I took away from the production. A few other things stood out to me about the music. The guy on lead guitar had these amazing solos, which were technically breathtaking, but not, perhaps, setting the mood. On the song "You're All I Want", the lead singer started singing the lines of the verses before us, while we sang the regular tune behind her. The effect was not unlike the echoes of a gospel chorus, which again was technically cool, but it occurred to me later that we the church, like the other four singers on stage, had metamorphosed into her backups. Of course, no matter what the song, the band was turned up so high that it was not possible to hear yourself or the congregation singing. And perhaps most important, everyone clapped after every song, and it felt like a rock show.

The sermon was not much better. For some reason, there was a rug onstage for the pastor to pace on as he delivered his talk. It was about the apostle Paul seizing his moment. I was hoping for great things, I guess, as this was the most Christian part of the show, but here, as exemplar, was the takeaway point, in gigantic words on the big screens: "Jesus calls us from something, for something." This, I thought to myself, was the problem with preaching to such a wide audience: the lowest common denominator. And after the sermon, the people all clapped. And at the end of the service, it was the biggest ovation of all.

Sarah told everyone afterwards what I said to her as we hurried past the luxury cars to our little Corolla and got out of there: "I don't know about you, but we're not going back." We talked about it for most of the rest of the day, but we already agreed about that.

We've had better luck our other weeks, with two fine churches in Bethany Evangelical Free Church, and Valley View Christian Church. We are hoping that we have many to choose from; time will tell.

In other news, I've also started work in what is basically a locked-down facility. I've been enjoying work, but there are aspects of it that are a little surreal. And I almost forgot, but Sarah and I finished the Harry Potter saga. Without spoilers, let me just say that JK Rowling deserves your money and your eyeballs glued to her pages, and I'll leave it at that. Buy them, read them, give them out. We now need something new to read together, so feel free to suggest something.

I miss you, friends, and I hope you're having a happy, fulfilling time wherever you are.