Friday, December 29, 2006

Rothbard's Law

Murray Rothbard said: "everyone specializes in what he is worst at".

What do you think?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Sociology of the Skating Rink

Once Olivia is old enough to don a pair of Nancy Kerrigans, my wife and I are going to take her ice skating. We went today. I, having been skating a total of 3 times over 24 years, hobbled my way around building confidence. During that time the multitude of youngins chaotically bobbed and weaved around me. I realized that this simple skating rink was the best example of anarcho-capitalism that I could think of--Hayek's "spontaneous social order". Without coercion or even thought, all the individuals on the rink were skating in a sort of order without running into each other (except intentionally) and even helping each other out when a spill occurred. Fascinating.

How is it, though, that preschoolers and younger children can exemplify a social order that adults need a large, bureaucratic State to achieve?

Monday, December 25, 2006

How Bout That!

Interesting stuff you can find on the internet.

Like my Master's Paper.

This is truly scary.

On Manhood

Brett has a nice piece on the man he is and the man he wants to be. I have often thought similar things. One of the perennial struggles in my mind happens to be what exactly a "man" is. What sort of normative things (other than the obvious one) define manhood? How much is "eternally" normative and how much is cultural/social? One of the difficulties of our American society is that we lack good definitions of being a man. Why does the man who is concerned with his appearance and enjoys the company of men (in a non-sexual way) get termed "effeminite" or "metrosexual" or even homosexual? What should men be concerned with in this post-industrial, post-modern, and dying culture? Without any offence to Jason I don't think that the model of John Wayne will get us very far in the 21 century of our Lord.

One thing that I am beginning to be convinced of, at least for myself, is that manhood requires some thought and participation in "citizenship", however exactly that is defined. There is some sort of responsibility for the larger good involved in being a man that exceeds the limits of business and family (but falls short, in my mind, of coercive action). Just some burgeoning thoughts...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Tonight I made a customer (whom, thankfully, I knew) a frosted white mint mocha. The espresso shot was 17 seconds, close to the desired range (one second off, which doesn't make a whole lot of difference). I mixed in the steamed milk and whalla! a great drink.

One problem.

I forget to tamp the espresso.

For those who don't know (and may not even care), tamping is the process whereby the barista compacts the coffee grounds into the filter basket. 30 psi is the recommended pressure, which actually takes forearms the ginormous size of Jason Panella's. Not tamping equals around 0 psi.

The thing is, usually if you undertamp, the coffee comes out bitter, watery, and full of taste-death. Sometimes, even with the perfect tamp, it still happens, depending on the grind level. However, strangely, Italians don't tamp their espresso shots at all. Only (from what I hear) do the Americans and French. (Both also, by the way, usually refer to the drink as expresso, instead of the Italian espresso).

I decided to experiment. I pulled two shots of untamped espresso for myself and for Bethany. She wasn't thrilled about the taste (too watery, too bitter, not smooth enough). I, on the other hand, while still finding the shot a bit watered-down, found the shot both smoother and less bitter. We will stick with the 30psi 18-25 second shots for customer drinks (unless they specify otherwise), but I'll be making mine Italian-style. They did invent espresso after all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Humanities 103

I just finished reading the papers for my HUM 103 course that I taught this semester. The questions that were posed to them were: what, at this point, is your sense of your narrative AND what are your fundamental assumptions about life. I was given the opportunity to share a piece of my narrative in large group before they wrote their papers--having read their papers now, I would have told a different story.

I don't know who said it, but "your calling is where your greatest joy meets the world's deepest hurt." I wrote that as a comment on many of my students' papers. There were many great joys and many deep hurts expressed. Most of all, it makes me question my own wisdom as I comment on the papers and try and lead them in the way of God's Wisdom. Have (or will) I led them down the wrong path? Were my words comforting and encouraging, or mean and disheartening? Will my students take my heartfelt writing to their own hearts, as I've taken each of their stories into mine?

Most of all, these papers force me to pray. My greatest joy is seeing them becoming independent thinkers and leaders in God's world. I can see that to some of them, I have given them reason to trust me with their deep hurts. My calling is to be there for them. In other cultures and other times, teachers stayed with their students (and vice versa) for many years. They grew together and the close intimate relationship that they fostered was able to blossom (or close up tight, as the case may be). With just a semester, that chance seems so fleeting. Can my teaching even be effective if I cannot be with them longer, helping them grow and learn and love and teach others? Hence I pray. It is a bittersweet thing.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Libertarians against Wal-Mart?

I have a love-hate relationship with the megalith grocery/all-stuff store Wal-Mart. I do not like the quality of the product, nor the way that it is presented, but it is the only store in the area that I can afford. Some folks that I have talked to, and I'm sure everyone at, look at my askance when I say that I am a) libertarian (with a little 'l') and b) anti-Wal-Mart. How do these two things go together? Very well, I think.

I certainly do not offer the traditional critique of Wal-Mart on offer: low wages for workers, sex discrimination, and whatever. Many of the usual suspects have (to my mind) not yet been proved. Plus, with wages, that is a matter of contract between employee and employer, subject to determination of skill, competence, and actual need of an employer. So those things, until I hear more conclusive evidence, do not really concern me.

Wal-Mart itself is not the problem. Instead, Wal-Mart is a wonderful symptom of something that should worry libertarians of all stripes a great deal: the loss of self-sufficiency and local self-government. For all its benefits, the modern industrial-global capitalist economy is based four-square on debt. Debt, as R.J. Rushdoony made stunningly (and incredibly presciently) clear in Politics of Guilty and Pity, paves the way for the volume discounter. If you are in debt, your desire for quality over quantity, lastingness over transientness, and local over monetarily cheap declines rapidly. In a debt economy, you have no time or resources for such things. Add to this the fact that new products/ideas on the market tend to be initially more expensive (until demand drives the prices down), does not help local markets or "fair" trade markets. What Wal-Mart represents is the overall societal urge to have more instead of have better. It is the symptom, not the disease.

Libertarians, unfortunately, sometimes seem enamoured with whatever the "market" (which, they rightly contend, is controlled by human action) does, whether or not it actually fits in with their theories. Wal-Mart does provide the valuable service of many consumer goods at decent prices to the largest amount of people possible. But, this is not the only economic factor to count in. Efficiency, which libertarians, especially the Chicago School, are known for touting, is a slippery term. Efficient in regards to what? If the reduction of waste is concerned, then places such as Wal-Mart cannot really be considered efficient. How much product is thrown out? How many man-hours are wasted due to the industrial work environment that saps the strength out of workers and causes them to be unproductive (anyone spending any amount of time in Wal-Mart knows the look that many of the employees have). What about the inefficiency of mass transportation of goods or the genetic altering of goods to "make" them in season all year round?

Self-sufficiency--personal, familial, and neighborhood-local--would seem to be important values to libertarians. Many, alas, are more concerned with national economics and how to change them. This is an important concern, but nothing will change nationally until the local places alleviate the "need" for big government/corporations to provide the basics of human life: food, shelter, health-care, elderly/young care, "jobs", defense, and all the other things that the socialist welfare-warfare "provides".

Maybe if we took the advice of others, traditionally outside of libertarian circles, such as Wendell Berry, we would see the economic and social (two big emphases of libertarians) costs of guiding our principles solely (and reductively) on efficiency.

The future of libertarianism? A see a Dooyeweerdian-Van Tillian libertarianism that emphasizes the equal creation of the one (individualism) and the many (community), that sees that liberty and shalom go together and do not necessarily equal technological progress (although it is a part of the picture), and that combines the virtues of Christ and his people with good economic sense (which, in theory, they possess already).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Reflections a week in

I now understand Keith's absence.

Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea has been open a week today. We have been immeasurably blessed with a large turnout each day as Geneva's finals have been going on. Each day has been hard but good. I understand now, better than before, what exactly goes on in running a business. For starters, working 15 hours with the possibility of not getting any pay at all, is an interesting and disconcerting idea. However, we have been able to connect with many students and even some community members. The hope is that we will be able to connect with more community members as the last of the students leave for Christmas break tomorrow. I also found out that it does not help ones business to drop a dresser drawer on one's toe. Bad...very bad...

At any rate, we are very happy with the way things are going. Stop on in for a cup of coffee, tea, or any of the other drinks we offer (and we offer many!).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Opening Day

We just opened for business officially. Our grand opening is tomorrow, but our so-so opening is today. I've been up since 9 yesterday morning, but the place looks great.


Stop on in for a cup if you are in the area, we'd love to serve you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


BiFC&T opens on Friday. I am so grateful for all the friends (especially this week) who have worked long hours with and for us for literally beans and done so with great joy. I am thankful that the construction worker who hurt himself here is doing better. I am thankful for wonderful employees and a wonderful co-owner. I am thankful that we are almost done with all the little nit-picky things. I am just thankful to God for all the grace He has shown us as we've tried very hard to get this business off the ground.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Opening Soon!

Keep checking the Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea website for opening day announcements. They should pop up at any time now.

See you at the bar.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tea, anyone?

Today began my long tea research project. Actually, "begin" is a misnomer, since I've been interested in the leaves for quite some time and have been doing what can be called "haphazard" research at best. Anyway...

At first, I thought I was limited to only brewing the tea at 200 degrees Fahr. because the little spigot on our drip brewer gives that sort of water. However, green tea leaves burn at 200 degrees. The optimal temp. is 175 degrees Fahr., which causes a slight problem. How to get the temp down in a timely manner? Using a little brain power, though, I figured I could use the espresso machine milk-steaming wand (properly cleaned, of course) to bring filtered cold water to the proper temp. Apart from the hideous noise that this process made, it worked quite well. The green tea tastes perfect. Now I have to figure out if this process will ruin my steam wand (which I doubt it will, but I must ask).

So, if you are in the mood for a properly steeped cup of tea, stop in.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Gideon Strauss, every once in awhile, posts links to friends and acquaintances that draw up lists of their 25 top loves. I've used the concept at Geneva to good effect. It is particularly useful in helping folks to start to think about possible callings, or ways to change the way they are currently pursuing whatever it is they are pursuing. For me, the idea of listing loves has helped to remind me of what I find bedrockly important and some of my own polemic idiosyncracies. However, I think that the list is just a start on the way. My own question, which has grown up out of my reflections of what is important and what is shaloming is: what commitments do I have? Commitment should follow love, otherwise lust will quickly take its place. So what are my top 10 commitments? (I decided ten just to get started...)

I am committed to:
1. A Jewish peasant political and religious rebel who was killed by the powers that be of his day, only to be vindicated as the true power of God by God himself.
2. Living the way marked out by #1, even if it is fitful and sporadic.
3. My wife of three years, who also is passionately in love with #1.
4. My daughter of 8 months, who I pray will find her own story involving #2.
5. Creating an atmosphere of comfort and conviviality in Beaver Falls through providing a welcoming place and a welcoming set of beverages.
6. Creating an atmosphere of tensed leisure for my students to grow, experiment, succeed-and-fail, and ultimately gain the wisdom offered by #1 through #2.
7. Understanding what it means for me to be "truly human" in all my multi-aspectual beingness.
8. Helping in the Spiritual renewal of my home (taken as both my family and my neighborhood/city).
9. Non-violent resistance to all forms of evil, the foremost of tactics being prayer both individual and corporate.
10. Spreading understanding of #1 and ways of doing #2.

This is not nearly all of my commitments and not necessarily in hierarchical order (my wife mentions that I didn't mention friends! Worry not, though, I was thinking of them when I spoke of neighborhoods). But these commitments (and others) give shape to what answers I can question and what questions I can answer. It is, thankfully, a rooted list: God, family, neighborhood, city. I'm sure, though, if I expanded this list, that there would be commitments that I have that are antithetical or contradictory to this list (my occasional commitment to sullen, surly solitude coming quickly to mind). Part of struggling to be truly human in a fallen-in-process-of-redemption world.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Espresso basics

That great and strange resource known as Wikipedia has a nice article, full of interesting information to quiz your local coffeeshop or chain store, about espresso. The list of terms at the end is worth the price of admission. However, there is one sentence that, if you know a bit about coffee roasting, makes no sense:

"Espresso is typically a blend of beans roasted anywhere from very light to very dark." It is good to know the espresso is just "typically" these things, but may sometimes actually be something quite different from coffee. Who knew?

The section on Baristas is particularly interesting. In many parts of Europe being a barista is social equivalent to being a chef. One goes to school or has the trade passed down in the family. Here, obviously, it is a bit different, usually being a entry-level or high school job. We hope, at least in our little corner of the world, to change that. Bethany and I certainly are in it for the long haul and we hope that our employees will get good enough training to eventually run/own a third place wherever they call home. We shall see, I guess. At the very least, I would like to eventually send one of my employees or Bethany or myself to the National and/or World Barista Competition.

Biffity-cat update

The eternally sleeping BiFC&T website has updated pictures in the gallery section. Please ignore the grammatical faux pas on the front page; it was apparently written by those Russians who have been harrassing Jason. Leave him alone! What has he done to you and your proud country that you must torment him so?

Also, I steamed milk for the first time today. Once again, not bad, not great. Always room for improvement. And, yes, we will have Soy on request.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Today I am a man...

...a coffee man.

Our espresso machine, drip airpot brewer, and grinders were installed today. It was one of the most exciting days of my life (with conversion, marriage, baby birth, and a few other things taking justifiable precedence), one that said we were finally there, the day had finally come. Part of our vision of the good life was filled out today, coincidentally right before Thanksgiving.

As I'm sure T.J., Big Al, and Jason can tell you, pulling your first shot of espresso is a rush and a half. I guessed on the tamping pressure (based on seeing other folks do it) using a cheapo plastic tamper (our good ones are in the mail) and pulled a decent first shot. Wow. Never thought that much flavory goodness could actually come out of beans. Truly incredible.

It wasn't the best shot I've ever tasted, but it wasn't the worst. That bodes well, as far as I'm concerned. Here's to the future of coffee in the Beaver Valley!

"Great City. Great People. Great Coffee."--one possible tagline for BiFC&T

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Participational Democracy

I am a part of a small branch of the Reformed tradition known as theonomy. As a whole, the group has gotten the reputation of not liking the idea of democracy. This is based, usually, on RJ Rushdoony's thought that "democracy" sought the lowest common denominator in any situation (if equality is to be had, it is easier to level the high than bring up the low), which would lead to forms of socialism and communism. In this sense, I agree that "democracy" or "mob rule" are bad things. Why? Because vox populi is not vox Dei. The voice of the people could very well be (and often times is) the voice of sin and evil. However, I still believe that a form of democracy grows out of the Christian religion.

I am opening a coffeeshop soon (in the dispensational sense). Part of the concept behind the establishment is that it will, hopefully, function as a "neutral" place for people in this neighborhood/city to meet, mingle, and associate (the three keys of little "l" libertarianism). That is, it (hopefully will be presupposed by the rest of the argument) will enable people both in and out of the kingdom, all of whom share the imago Dei, to collaborate on how to live, work, and play in this corner of God's creation. Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, describes coffeeshops and their ilk as levellers, that is, as class and status relativizers. No matter who you are outside of a shop like that, you are an equal on the inside.

Every man, no matter if he is a follower of Christ or not, is seeking to live the good life in his self, in his family, in his neighborhood, and in his nation. He may have a flawed understanding of what the "good life" is, but he is still working for it. No other man, in my understanding, has the right to force him to conform to a particular vision, unless he has already come under contractual agreement to conform to such (hence the penalties for switching divine loyalties in the Deuteronomy and Hebrews). In a neighborhood gathering place, these ideas and visions can be tried in a comfortable, welcoming space with neighbors. Bad ideas can be rejected, good ones can too. Some will be accepted and tried out, whether it involves having Guy X fix Woman Y's electrical wiring or Woman Q watching Woman O's children for an afternoon. Maybe it will involve a heated political discussion that ends on friendly terms (since no one is host, no one has the right to kick the other "scoundrel" out). This, I believe, is true democracy; one that does not get its legitimization from the polls or ballots, but one that lives on the streets and actually gets things done. It is a truly libertarian vision (in my opinion), since it involves voluntary associations that can be made or broken with little to no community damage. This is the sort of democracy that avoids the "common denominator" problem, since no man has any claim on another to cowtow to his position. A man's claims can be rejected in this sort of setting without rejecting the man himself.

All of this grows out of the idea of the imago Dei. In Richard Middleton's important book The Liberating Image, he argues that ancient cultures such as Babylonia used the idea of imago Dei as a way of demarcating the king as divine representative on earth, with the common run of folk being lesser forms, worthy to be ruled. He argues, rightly I think, that the Bible democratizes that concept--no one man is imago Dei, but since all men are from Adam, all men share the image (same as they share his rebellion). The image finds focus, later on, in the Davidic king, but is more symbolic than actual--even the king is under the law (Deut. 17). In Jesus, the image is again democratized, since every believer is renewed in the image (which was tied to rulership in the beginning). The Church, then, plays the important role of being the ruler, through Christ, of creation by serving the creation, which includes fellow images, whether in Christ or not. In this way, the Bible gives rise to a very subtle, but important form of democracy: every man and woman has responsibility of their own affairs and the right to advocate their vision of community life. They cannot force this vision unless their is a community contract that stipulates so (I think that this is the importance of the neglected ancient act of "covenanting").

This may be part of the reason that so many governments in the past have banned coffeeshops. Too much intelligent thinking by the "common" folk usually leads to a loss of the arbitrary power that elites hold. I'm running a coffeeshop and proud of it.

Monday, November 20, 2006


If you read this post, please leave a comment that says where (city, state) you are reading from. I'm just curious to see where from people read.

Update: 11/21/06

Apparently, I only have two people who read this blog. Thanks to you both!

Update: 11/23/06

Apparently, I am a jerk. Thanks to all of you (more than two!) that read this blog!

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Servant

Right now I'm investigating the relationship between the Servant passages in Isaiah (chaps. 40-55) and Philippians 2. In Phil. 2, there is a part that says "he took on the morphe (form in classical Greek, status/rank/position in Koine/NT Greek) of a servant", which can be taken as a reference to the Isaianic servant. NT Wright brought this to my attention through his book, The Climax of the Covenant.

The way I'm going about it is to read the Isaiah passage non-Christologically. That is, I'm not reading it looking for possible references to Jesus. This is hard to do for a Christian raised in American exegetical circles, where everything is a reference either to the cross, the resurrection, or the second coming. In any case, I'm trying to read the passage as it would have been read when it was written, so that from there I might make some New Testament applications and, possibly, shed some light on the challenging Philippians 2 passage.

My first observations are that this passage (in Isaiah) is a poetic retelling of the whole story of Israel up to this point. You have God's calling of Israel to be His people, His promise of covenant blessing (which includes Israel's place as head of the nations), you have copious references to their failure to be God's light to the Gentiles, and you have constant reaffirmations of Israel's predestined role to fulfill God's purposes of bringing justice and shalom to the whole earth. All of this is set, at least the early chapters (I've only read to chap. 47 so far), in the context of an anti-idolatry trial, where YHWH God effectively steps from the dock to the judge's seat against the pagan gods. In the larger context, even, these false gods are primarily (but not exclusively) the pagan gods of Babylon who were to carry the servant away in exile (the even larger context starts in chap. 39 where Hezekiah foolishly shows all of Judah's treasures to the Babylonian emissaries).

Secondly, the use of imagery and themes from the Exodus is prevalent. The Servant is to be delivered from exile through another Exodus, so that "he" can complete "his" work.

Thirdly, I am interested in a provocative and potentially important (Christologically-speaking) passage in chap. 43. It reads "Fear not, for I am with you: I will bring your descendants from the east...[and all four directions--an image of the end of Exile]...everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him." Who is called by the Name of YHWH God! Who shares/is His glory! All of this predicated of the servant/people of Israel. I must read more...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

You can never go home again...

There is some truth in the phrase that makes the title of this entry. Leaving home and coming back you are a different person. Hopefully you are wiser and more mature. Not always though...but that isn't what this post is about.

Even though I'm not a Starbucks fan, I'll still drink their coffee on occasion. Coffee, despite its caffeine content, is a relaxing pasttime. I prefer, chain store wise, Caribou Coffee: it tastes better. However, after today, I don't know if I can ever drink at either place again.

In preparation for the grand opening of BiFC&T, we visited a friend of ours down in Indiana, PA at his small coffeeshop/roastery named The Commonplace Coffeeshop. (For reference sake, Big Al works there.) At this place, Bethany, Jason, and I tasted different, custom-made espresso blends in both straight and latte form. Why? Because this shop is providing our espresso blend. Our regular coffee will be provided by Grounds for Change, but our espresso is oh so local and fresh (and still fair trade organic).

I can never have a latte not made with The Commonplace's beans, ever again. I know Bethany concurs and I have a feeling that Jason will give us a hearty "Amen!" Wow. The smoothest, richest, tastiest latte I have ever imbibed. This latte kicked sand in the eyes of the big coffee boys...and then stole their girl. I cannot go home, at least not to the big chain guys, again. I'm pleased to say that one of the three blends we tried today will be featured as the original BiFC&T blend.

And I think we have an opening date. Look for announcements soon at a blog near you.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Town

Good ol' Wikipedia has an article about Beaver Falls. Mostly demographic stuff (some of which is depressing), some pop culture stuff (such as Mr. Belvdere--does anyone have the graphic from the show's opener that shows him holding a sign that says "Beaver Falls or bust"?), and other things too. There is one sentence, though, that I wish the mavens at Wiki would attend to:

"the city has suffered a goodly amount of economic malaise lately due to the decline in the steel-making capacity in the Pittsburgh region where Beaver Falls is situated"

Goodly? I feel that the same person who wrote this also wrote Jason a inclusive love letter recently. Goodly?


Update: 11/14/2006

Jason has changed the "goodly". Thanks!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Incarnational Language

One must be cautious when critiqueing those who have gone before...

I just finished reading Athanasius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God. I could say a lot of things, good and bad, about this slim little read, but I'll keep my comments brief here. (On a side note, the introduction by CS Lewis is invaluable.)

In my earlier post, On Language, I spoke about how I thought it was "sloppy" to speak of the incarnation in terms of the "Son of God" or "Christ" becoming flesh or incarnate. This is true, if for no other reason than the only text which has any mention of "becoming flesh" is John 1:14--it speaks of the Word, not the "Son of God", not the "Christ", becoming flesh. I posited that this may be a slight difference, but it is a difference all the same (by the way, I don't think it is a slight difference, but it is beyond the scope of these remarks to argue for it here). Athanasius avoids that error, at least in the title of his book. However, there is one expansion on that original post that I need to make. Athanasius, and later (and possibly earlier) Christian tradition, speaks of the Word "taking on a body". He also speaks at length about how the Word could not die, but the body that the Word took could--in other words, the Word did not die in the crucifixion, just the body, but it was joined enough (see the later Chalcedon creed) to make the atonement effectual. The Athanasian creed even states: "One [nature], not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God." Here's my thoughts...

The text in John 1:14 reads: kai o logon sarx egeneto (that is, and the word became flesh). It does not say the word "took on a body." The key word is egeneto or "became". The word's root is ginomai, which means (according to "1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 2a) of events 3) to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage 3a) of men appearing in public 4) to be made, finished 4a) of miracles, to be performed, wrought 5) to become, be made". (Obviously, some of these options in the semantic range cannot work, such as "come into existence", since John 1:1 says that the Word was before it was flesh.)

I must admit to being a bit puzzled by this. Why would Athanasius take such pains to say (repeatedly) that the Word of God (or his preferred phrase, God the Word) took on a body, but not the plain meaning of the word in both Greek and Latin (Latin is incarne, enfleshing, same meaning as sarx egeneto)? The larger question, I think, is what exactly does "egeneto" mean in this context? Does it mean "became" and if so, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean "to come upon the stage" as in "the Word came into the world as flesh"? Once again, what exactly would that mean? Is John 1 about the incarnation proper (the first Christmas, if you will) or about Jesus' baptism, since John the Baptist keeps popping his head up through the poem? (This is an ancient debate, I am learning.)

Whatever John meant by this pregnant phrase (pardon the incarnational pun), at the least I think that every Christian should be careful about the way we speak concerning our Lord. Having read deeply in christological studies of various levels of historical orthodoxy, one thing is very clear: language matters. People have been put to death over literal iotas and for arguing the the use of one word is preferable over another. Language matters.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Good theological blogging

Most of what I write on this blog theologically is woefully underexplicated and supported. However, that is half because I cannot stop speaking tongue-in-cheek and half because I don't want to face the full implications of what I think. However, there are blogs that do a good, credible job of working through tough theological issues that are beyond my purvue. One of my friends from college and church, Ian Graves, has been doing such work, especially his recent work on eschatology. You can find his blog, Strange Nation, here. I'll be adding a link to his blog on my sidebar soon, also.

Qere Ketiv

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Local Comedy

I think that Jason will also post about this, but I thought I'd try to beat him to it.

We all went to see Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time tonight at a local coffee shop. It is a serial radio-style comedy set in the early 1940s in Beaver County. Very funny. Very insightful and witty commentary about this area, without being crass or "put-downy". Usually when people poke fun at Beaver County, they intend to say "This place (for whatever reason) sucks" (sorry Keith!). These folks were able to balance light criticism with genuine affection for this place. Much recommended--they have PodCasts of their first three seasons.

One of their members recommended that we have poetry slams at BiFC&T.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Economics of the Cup

Keith Martel, here and here, has been having an interesting and important back and forth concerning free refills of coffee at coffeeshops. I thought I'd throw my two cents in (hey, I thought these were free refills), since supposedly I'm supposed to know more about this topic. There are three points that I think need to be brought up: (1) what are we paying for in a cup (2) the americano versus drip debate (3) waste. I don't intend these comments to be taken as a pro-con of free refills, but more as important background considerations to the debate.

(1) Jason and Keith have an interesting interchange in the comments section of Keith's post about the cost going into a cup of coffee. The specific numbers and there accuracy isn't my concern. The thing that does concern me, however, is what numbers need to be added to the analysis. Jason and Keith's breakdown is good enough as far as it goes, but as a business owner, the overriding concern in pricing is not necessarily profit, but place. Each cup of coffee sold provides for our inventory, our labor costs, our tax costs (which are huge and ever growing), our mortgage on the property, the utilities, the care and improvement of the shop/property, the ability to buy more varietals of beans/leaves (for tea, that is--we're not that kind of coffeeshop), debt payments (hey, coffee doesn't grow on trees, at least not in Beaver Falls), and a modest profit to (a) eventually train and skill more people and more locations possibly and (b) get something for the work we put in. Our primary concern is our place and only secondary (if even that) on pure profit. The thing that most consumers or customers or whatever you want to call them don't realize is that every penny they spend on a product isn't for that product: it is for a place. Every time we go to the grocery store, we are supporting the farms and factories and places that the grocer does business with. That is the vital importance of farm markets: our monetary influence goes farther when it is passed between neighbors you, by constraints of space and time, have to share the same geographical area. Every cup of coffee bought at a coffeeshop supports some farmers instead of others (which is very significant concerning some of the social dilemmas that Fair Trade is causing in Latin America and elsewhere); some paper companies and some forests and not others; some corporations and not others. Everytime you buy something, you aren't supporting an abstract product, but a real, concrete place.

(2) Many of my friends prefer the Cafe Americano to any other espresso drink. It is relatively simple (since it doesn't involve the art of steaming milk), but easy to mess up. It is a shot (or two) of espresso mixed in with hot water to make whatever size drink you order. Basically, it is a strong cup of coffee. Most espresso consultants that we have run into have recommended offering the Americano to customers when they order drip coffee. There are a variety of reasons for this. Some are economic (you can sell an Americano at a higher price than a drip cup for less materials cost), some are quality based. Frankly, coffee through an espresso machine--if done correctly--tastes better than drip coffee. The extraction and pressure and saturation and heat time of the espresso machine allow for more favor and less burn to come through in the cup (although, it must be said, most espresso bars burn their espresso so badly or over-extract that the differences are minimal--ideally, though...). So, theoretically, an Americano is going to taste better than a cup of drip. Plus, an Americano doesn't sit in an airpot (or on a burner *shudder*) becoming rancid and tepid and over heated. The difficulty with this in the free refill debate is that each Americano requires barista attention, whereas the drip can be ignored and only requires one period of attention for a large quantity of brew. I've never seen any coffeeshop offer free Americano refills. You are paying for an art and a skill, not just for a caffeine buzz.

(3) This leads into the third problem: waste. Jason and Keith bring this up and rightly so. No coffeer worth his grounds will want to see good coffee (or coffe that you had a hand in preparing) wasted, whether by staleness or the infamous airpot dump out. If he puts up with it, it rends his heart a little bit each time a drop goes down the drain. So what to do :43 minutes after the brew has been made, when the coffee is on a quick, downward slide to viscous sludge? The point is to avoid the problem entirely. This can be done with free refills. However, the owner (and the place) misses that profit from that cup, even though it is good community relations. Keith brings up an interesting point, though, that the PR might be more profitable than the lost cup cost. For most business owners, that would require a pretty dramatic paradigm shift. Since it is largely unprovable, it remains in the entrepenuerial space of "risk." Thankfully, that is a quality that defines entrepenuers. What about what the Little Italian says? 10 cent or 20 cent refills? Is that a good compromise? I'm not sure at this point, but from the ledger it looks a whole lot better than 0 cents.

As of right now, I don't think that BiFC&T has come to a decision concerning the whole issue of refills. We want to be a community place, we want to do well, and we want to do good. Thanks to all involved for helping us think through these issues. And, Keith, bring in your own mug or we will supply you with one in the store. We plan on using real mugs for our in-store customers. Maybe I'll even give you a discount or a refill!

Bottoms up.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


One of my favorite questions, which ultimately may not have a absolute answer, is "what does it mean to be truly human?" Having a growing baby and being an undergrad professor puts a poignancy on the question, also. One of the things that I am beginning to see as essential to being fully human is embracing the limits that time places on us. I mean this in the sort of "meta" sense of birth-infancy-childhood-adulthood-elderhood-death. Each stage, of course, brings its own limits and freedoms, many of which I cannot begin to imagine as my earlier (and belated) stage of adulthoood.

However, in our society (and I would argue it is ultimately a product of our dirty dualisms), we tend to stick to childhood, or that made-up developmental stage, adolescence. What, though, does it mean to be an adult? In this article, the author contrasts the difference between childhood and adulthood, arguing that our society is one of "Big Babies." I don't disagree. I know that I also I am still stuck, in significant ways, in childhood. As a consequence, I still am somewhat deformed as a human. Thankfully, developmental sluggishness isn't a permanent situation.

What does Bywater list as the "essential" traits of any adult?
Don't be affronted Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about 'inappropriateness') is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance

Mistrust anything catchy, whether it's the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding ('New Labour'). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves

Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice

We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation

Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?

Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don't have any. We don't want to be in their boat

Suspect administration Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it's meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators - the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers - means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude

Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don't want to look like a teenager for ever

Never do business with a company offering 'solutions' as in 'ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting' (chairs) and 'Post Office mailing solutions' (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide

Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting 'not fair' is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don't fear seriousness. Babies aren't allowed to be serious

Watch our language. Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father's waders shouting 'I'm the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo' and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called 'Tony Blair's Respect Tsar'?

Hide Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time

Eat it up There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements

Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words 'ordinary people'

In other words, to be an adult is to be independent and free through responsibility and discipline. It is to be interdependent with others in a non-coersive manner, but never to be "dependent" like a baby/child is. The whole point, if I understand Bywater and the Christian tradition correctly, is that humans will eventually move (if they take the duty of adulthood upon themselves) into elderhood, that is, mature leadership of the next generation to help them to adulthood. And spoil their children.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Joys of Sunday

I would call this post "The Joys of Sabbath" except for the debate surrounding whether Sunday is the "Sabbath" or whether any day is still binding as a day of rest. Whatever...

I went for a walk tonight, partly to clear my head, partly to run an errand. During the walk I was able to reflect on this past week and look forward to this coming one. These walks, rare as they may be, are an integral part of my pattern. Without them, come Monday I am a mess. I'm unfocussed, tired, and disheveled. They are, in a significant way, my recreation--which is significant since they happen on the only day in which Christians get together to worship.

As I was walking, I noticed that I had a joy that I hadn't had before (that's a lot of hads). The houses that I walked by belonged to people I knew, some that I love, and some that I tolerate to the best of my ability. Most of the households that I knew were Christian households. The streets were not empty either; many of those households were walking to an evening service that our church was facilitating. There was only one or two cars that I noticed in the entire trip. Like so many people, some of who I know, most of whom I don't or can't know, this place is home.

Wendell Berry, somewhere in his vast corpus, talks of how farmers on Sundays often walk their lands, not to work them, but to be with them and enjoy them. I have a postage stamp plot of land in my yard, but I often walk around my house to take stock: see what's leaking, what's in need of repair, and what is beautiful and blooming. My walk tonight was similar. I walked my neighborhood and took stock. I realized that my dreams of having a self-sufficient community(ies) here in Beaver Falls may not be the dreams of my neighbors. I know of at least one who's dreams are in big construction in a the big city. I know of others who would do anything to get out of here, for whatever reason. But I also know that many people came to my door this week looking for applications and there was a light in their eyes because they could walk to work. What an exhilirating experience. It opened my eyes to see that this area is in the grips of a faulty business mentality: go where the money is. Maybe some of my neighbors have dreams of elsewhere, where the grass is greener and so are the bills, but others of my neighbors, maybe not articulately, want this place to be their home. More humane, more hospitable, more inhabitable, more coherent and cohesive.

All of this is significant because of the day. Whether or not Sunday should be called "Sabbath" or not, it still is the day of the resurrection. At least part of the resurrection was to give us the ability and responsiblity, through the holy Spirit, to proclaim to our neighbors and neighborhoods that Jesus makes this place more humane, more hospitable, more inhabitable, more coherent and cohesive, more like the home it was always intended to be.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Teacher as Husband: Part I

A fellow teacher and I got into a bit of a row today concerning the way that students act in large-group lecture settings. I was disturbed by a lack of comportment that I saw in a number of students (but, it must be stated, by no means all). A few select students were talking...loudly...and across the room others were sleeping. I brought up to my co-worker that this bothers me. She responded (I'm paraphrasing here to the best of my understanding) that I press the students too much on behavior issues. She said that at their age level they shouldn't be expected to listen for an hour to a lecturer. I disagree with all of this.

We are a culture of sound-bytes and 3:50 radio songs. Our collective cultural attention span is "measured in nanoseconds" (from the movie Baseketball). This is one place that I believe the college must stand against the overarching culture. Education is not Matrix-style plug-in and fill your head sort of stuff. It requires, as I've said before, discipline. At 18-22, when in previous stages of our culture the young would have been married, started their trades, and be raising children, we look for no such thing. Instead, we don't expect them "to listen for an hour to a lecturer" at least respectfully, if not attentively. Indeed, we don't expect our students to do much more than (have their parents) sign our paychecks and our administrators' paychecks. It makes selling snake-oil seem an honorable profession.

However, there is a larger dilemma here. Supposedly, the young come to our classrooms as "adults" or, that insipid phrase, "young adults". My fellow teacher believes that treating them like adults is a must. Granted and agreed with. The way we treat them like adults is the issue. Do we let them do whatever they want to, talk to them if we must, but really let them develop at their own pace (and complain when things don't turn out for the best)? Or, do we expect and require a measure of self-discipline and sacrifice in their lives that betokens what real, outside of the sheltered academic world, adult life is like? I vote for the latter (thanks Jason), even if it means I have to be a hard-nose sometimes.

What, then, is my responsibility in all of this? I realize, at the start, that I am asking for something that I did not ask of myself back at the start of college. So how can I ask it now of others who may not have thought about these things either? I think I have a start to this in an interesting metaphor: the teacher as husband (or husbandman).

A husband cares for and tends to his charges, whether they be a wife and family or plants/animals. I will, for the sake of clarity, stay with the plant metaphor. A good husbandman cares for the plants by creating a shaloming environment for them: he facilitates a place suitable for proper, healthy, and abundant growth. This requires many things, as any plant-lover will tell you. More to the point of the incident above, though, some plants require stakes tied to them so they can grow strong (hopefully eventually strong enough to support themselves), some require pruning--even extensively between seasons, and some require to be weeded out. The last two, for what are obvious reasons to me, are the hardest. Pruning is hard work that oftentimes seems to damage the plant more than help it...and sometimes this is the case. Other times, though, that extensive pruning can produce beautiful and productive plants that do well what they were created to do. It is a risk that every teacher takes and each time with each student is a gamble. The difficult part for the Christian professor, though, is that you are pruning someone for whom Christ died, at least potentially. That is a humbling thought and one filled with a good sort of terror. This, I think, is part of the reason that colleges have so much trouble with teachers who are committed only to research or some aspect other than teaching (not to say that the other aspects, research especially, are not important, but if you are hired as a teacher, then that should prioritize things for you). Pruning, unfortunately, can sometimes kill a plant too. I had a student in the last couple of years who was bright and did good work. I graded him as his work demanded, but still encouraged him concerning his talents and his improvement over the course of the course. However, at the end, he dropped out of school. He said he couldn't "cut it". On my own end, I thought that to be nonsense: he was a fine student with a bright future. Whatever all the factors that went into his decision, I can't help but think that the class he had with me was one of them. The forest lost a good tree that day, but I am happy to say that he is contented with where he is at now.

The last on the list of husbandly duties that I've brought up today is by far the one that requires most care. Pruning is a delicate art, to be sure, but its consequences can be wonderful. Weeding, however, always is initially destructive. At least, that is, to the plant being weeded. How do we judge which plants to weed though? We don't want to make the wrong choice, because this student may be one for whom Christ died. Academic weeding, that is, weeding students out based on ability to handle the work, is one way of doing it. However, this also is fraught with perils. What about remedial work? Do we reject that right out? What about learning disabilities or family/life issues? What about burnout of otherwise good students? What about growth in maturity and competence? If, however, no weeding is to take place, the structure of the university will have to change. It would either have to cater to the lowest common denominator or become a place where learning could take place without the pressure (economic or social) to do it in four/five years.

A husband's work is hard and full of dangers to both the husband and the husbanded. May God grant us grace to do the work and be worked upon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quick Thoughts

1. The official BiFC&T site is up and running, although still heavily under construction. Check it out, especially if you have an RSS feed! (If the site is capable of that...)

2. Daniel 7 a possible background piece to Philippians 2? "One like the son of man"//"coming in the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man", the exaltation/kingship motifs found in both passages, etc.

3. Ezekiel 37-40ish the background of I Corinthians 12-14? The resurrected bodies of Israel being animated by the Spirit//The "body of Christ" being given Spiritual gifts, the Temple of the Lord being eschatologically rebuilt//Paul's metaphor of Christians being the "Temple of the Holy Spirit"//Jesus as the New Temple, etc.

That's all for tonight!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fathers and Sons

In this month's issue of First Things there is an article by R.R. Reno called "The Return of the Fathers" (unfortunately not online). It deals with many things, but the main gist of the article is about how patristic studies (study of the Church Fathers) is resurging in all Christian traditions and what it and they can teach us today. My own history of the Fathers is a little different...

I am at heart a sceptic. I love tradition, I say, but at heart I am your classical Protestant: I fear what tradition can do and so I avoid traditional tradition. I even avoid much Reformed tradition just because it is tradition. In some ways, I treat tradition academically: I love it until it affects me. At that point I chafe and squirm and become very quiet, lest I upset the keepers of the tradition.

Part of this was occasioned by my limited study of Church history. I read, in a well-regarded history, that the Church Fathers adopted "Logos Christology" because of the resonances it had with Greek philosophy. Being at that point a nascent Van Tillian/Dooyeweerdian, I was beginning to grow uneasy with all things Greek (and I still am that way). How could I reconcile this "pagan" orthodoxy with the Bible, I thought? In good scholarly fashion, then, I have dutifully ignored and despised the Church Fathers, losing respect for any writer that uses them in their arguments (after all, I thought, they used those absolutely goofy allegorical arguments!), and steadily separating me from over 2000 years of history and continuity in the development of my religion.

However, due to an unfortunate incident in which my theological doubts were flouted in front of my academic chair (without my consent, nonetheless), I decided that the time has finally come. I can no longer ignore or despise these vast repositories of wisdom and faith--not for myself or for my students. I can no longer despise what I do not know, even if they have made mistakes along the way that may have set our mutual religion off track (as if I haven't!).

One of the things that Reno brings up in the article is how Irenaeus could name his teachers in succession down to the apostles. This is a very ancient and respected technique of "degreeing" that parallels, and in many ways surpasses, our way of granting degrees to undergrads. Do we do it based on the legacy of knowledge passed on? No, we do it by State decree. The much more Jewish way, since the "apostolic succession" model has significance tie-ins with rabbinic styles, does not guarantee that the knowledge will be right, but it does guarantee that some responsibility will have to be taken over the knowledge. This isn't a big lecture hall full of ultimately faceless students, but a one to one meeting of the minds (in a teacher-student, father-son proverbs-like format) that has consequences for both lives: reputations, future of the teaching heritage, and the communion of saints.

First on the list: Athansius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Story of BiFC&T

Thanks to Gideon Strauss, my wife was asking to write a brief history of BiFC&T for the magazine Comment. I may be biased, but I think the article is fantasgreat. You can find it here. Go Bethany!

On another note, today was the exact opposite sort of day from the "College and Maturity" post. Today was a day that was good, and shaloming, to be a teacher. My class and I had, I think, the best discussion yet. All of the students were engaged and many of them participated in a good, rousing discussion of culture, religion, and truth. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Due to Keith's blog I got reconnected to reading Derek Melleby's blog about college transition. He has a provocative study linked here that substantiates some of my last post. The top ten list is worth the look, if nothing else. Plus, think about Keith's latest entry that speaks of how we prepare our students ecclesially to fail in college at the things that really matter. If we start off wrong, I can't help but wonder how we can even hope that things will turn out all right. As one of my least favorite philosophers (Richard Rorty) put it:
It seems to me if you’re not [moral] by the time you’re eighteen, it’s probably too late. I don’t think that sociopaths who enter the university are corrigible by any measures that the academy might adopt. If the family, the community, the church, and the like, haven’t made you a relatively decent member of society, haven’t given you a conscience that stops you from cheating the customers, administering date rape drugs, or doing a lot of things we hope our eighteen year olds won’t do, the university won’t either. The academy can’t take on the job of straightening you out, of creating the conscience that the rest of the culture didn’t manage to produce during your first eighteen years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College and Maturity

I would almost feel criminal to say this: the collegiate system that we have in place today is not working. I would feel criminal because I am stealing your time. Everyone involved in higher education knows that this is true to some degree or another. Part of the issue, I think, is that colleges don't know what they are to be about. They want to be all things to all students. Think of the gradiose promises made (not always explicitly): jobs, money, a spouse (or a lot of sex, at least), "education", beauty, self-fulfillment, and maturity. The last one, I think, is the most devious (no way I spelled that right). When students get out of college, we consider them "adults." From my own experience and from the way I see many students acting (not all, mind you) this is just not the case. We are graduating students who cannot discerningly read, argue anything past ad hominems (once again disregard spelling), or spell. Nor do we graduate disciplined people able to handle their affairs without state, church, or further familial assistance (the vast amounts of debt money required to become "adults" doesn't help either). The funny thing is that they just spent 3-7 years in a discipline.

Part of this, of course, is the students' responsibility. If you are at college, or are going to college, you need to consider how you are using your time. I did not use mine wisely at college, better than some I'd like to think, but that is not for me to decide. One of the questions that unfortunately gets posed too late at the institution I teach for is: why are you here at college? Many, of course, would say to get a job or a better job. For some, this will happen: if you major in business, engineering, or go do graduate work in the sciences. Getting a job isn't a bad thing by any means and jobs in other fields are to be found, but you'd better distance yourself from your contemporaries if you hope to actually get a good job. That extra time not spent in class (a typical week has 144 hours in it, plus a day of rest--typical class time is 15-20 hours, not exactly strenuous) could better be spent doing something like writing trenchant movie or music reviews that get you noticed by people in the field. Both of these gentlemen are an inspiration to me from their hard work at cultural discernment and criticism, something I am woefully inadequate at.

In other words, book learning and sitting half awake in a lecture can only get you so far. There comes a day of reckoning when all that "learning" comes to call: when you need to move out and move on. Your professors can't learn this stuff for you, nor should you rely on them to spoon feed it to you. If you aren't in the library reading up on as much outside information concerning your discipline as you can, you are putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Those that like to (somewhat elitistly, it is for sure) think of themselves as the "best and the brightest" act like it: they work hard for it.

The greatest disadvantage that our collegiate system is forcing on students is the idea of "talent." True, some people seem more created for the sciences. All that means is that the "non-gifted" student needs to work harder and smarter at it--and then tell their future employers or future customers or future whatevers about it! If our students knew that the key to getting ahead academically is to burn the midnight oil, then we would see some truly gifted (albeit tired) students. It wouldn't hurt, however, if when they are having trouble, they came to their professors or classmates that have gone before them for help. So many students labor in a rigid isolation that keeps them from seeing how communities pass on and enhance learning. So little work in the world is done in a vacuum, except vacuum mechanics 101.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Local sustainable agriculture project

From The New Farm, a near-by college is trying some interesting sustainable things with brewpubs! Find it here. Next time I'm up in the Slippery Rock area, I'll have to stop by.

Why is it that the Christian colleges aren't taking up the call to develop healthy agricultural options a la Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson? Why is it that I live in a heavily agricultural and industrial area, but neither agricultural sciences/arts or industrial sciences/arts are taught there?


Friday, October 06, 2006

Extra Special BiFC&T Update! (take 2)

The video had to be taken down because whenever someone loaded the page, it would start. Since I want to blog about other things every once and awhile, I opted to take it down and replace it with this. Enjoy!

Opening date announcement coming soon...

And now for something completely different...

The ultimate Theonomy poster.

hat tip to Purgatorio

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Pornographic Mind

I remember reading somewhere that the business of pornography is based off of customer dissatisfaction. In a lot of ways, our modern way-of-being-in-the-world is based on that same sort of discontent. Aside from the stereotypical materialism critiques, which end up being entirely too caricatured (pardon the spelling), the use of visual and auditory images in our advertising and commercials (yes, Virginia, there is a difference) ends up producing the same sort of discontent. However, this problem is endemic to the human condition: we are born and die discontentedly.

The question is what sort of discontent, wintered or not, should we have? Is it, as Augustine puts it, that we have no rest until we find our rest in God? If so, what exactly does it mean to "rest in God"? Does it mean to have our pie-in-the-sky salvation, which has no earthly effect or affection? Is it a mystical release from this too sullied world into the beautific vision of God? The only way to solve the problem of discontent in that instance (and I'm not arguing that that is what Augustine thought, I really have no idea) is to die and "shuffle off this mortal coil." This seems similar to something that C.S. Lewis is supposed to have said about the human discontent. Something about how we long for another world, for heaven as it were.

This isn't the sort of discontent that I think is right or wise. It tends to forsake this oh-so material world for the ethereal, the mystical, the mumbo jumbo. It leaves this world to the pornographers, whose vision of the good life is something much more "material" and ultimately leads to social hell on earth. If we Christians view escape from this world as our joy and calling, we share the same mind as the pornographers, to see the world go to hell for our pleasure. We share the responsibility, we share the judgement.

The most important (and least pornographic) phrase in Scripture dealing with our discontent is this: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Greek text has it, in my mind, more emphatically: as in heaven even upon the earth. Heaven and earth, as can be seen in Genesis 1, are separated ontologically. Heaven and earth, as can be seen in Genesis 3, are separated ethically. Our discontent arises from this disjunction--the human person longs for the ethical unity between heaven and earth, for things to be the way they should, for wrongs to be righted, justice maintained, and peace (shalom) to fill all kinds of relationships. The Christian longing isn't to leave earth for heaven, but that heaven might break forth over the earth, unifying and transforming it in the process, what Paul calls 'reconciliation'.

When we think of the 'good life', the standard of what we think "heaven on earth" might be like is expressed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Craft and Humanness

One of the things I realized from my upper-middle class background was the dehumanizing effects that come from separating our lives neatly (ala Sim City) into industrial, commercial, and residential zones. I really like living above a coffeeshop and next to a pharmacy, apart from the fact that they both carry drugs, albeit legal.

An issue that I have had to deal with throughout my whole life has been that of craftsmanship. My father is a whittler, so he is a craftsman, but he never wants to make money off of it. My mother is a sew-er, so she is a craftswomen, but always does it for gifts. Neither of them have made their living as craftsmen. There is a detectable bias in my family against making your money that way, even though (or maybe because) they came from craft-centered families. I remember how disappointed my mom was when I said I wanted to learn carpentry--she just couldn't understand why a 'smart' kid like me would want to learn that. I couldn't support a family on a carpenter's wages, she told me, as if I was completely jettisoning my academic guild training (the discipline of which she didn't fiscally care for either, it might be added). Possibly these are corrolary reasons as to why I'm not much of a carpenter (and, oddly enough, not much of an academic either).

I've been oddly drawn, again and again, to the trades and crafts. There is a sense of autocracy (self-rule) that comes with being able to cook your own food, maintain (and even sometimes improve) your own house/car/whatever, help your neighbors with skill, and save on paying some high-flautin' professional to come bale you out (although that is still necessary sometimes). That contrarian, decentralist independence has always appealed to me. It also gives you a measure of control against salesmen, who are always telling me that my life is not (and cannot be) good enough, because I do not use whatever ultimately disposable and culturally insignificant product they are hocking.

I read an article yesterday that really jazzed me up concerning this periennial topic again. It can be found here, called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Also, Wendell Berry wrote an essay a long time ago that has always been a comfort and a joy to read, called The Joy of Sales Resistance, although I do not like the formatting that they use for the essay. The first article, especially, does a good job of speaking how craftsmanship is exactly what we want in science: a good hard look at things that goes beyond just what will make it sell to a deeper intimacy with all Creation, although he wouldn't use those words.

Monday, October 02, 2006

BiFC&T Update

Remember it is pronounced "BiFCAT".

Well, construction proceeds apace. I wasn't able to get anything done on the house this weekend, due to a nasty bug I picked up somewhere (I blame the schools...). However, today our storage wall is being constructed, where we will have first class merchandise for you to buy, related, of course, to coffee and tea.

Tonight consists of me frantically trying to finish a doorway's drywall (not going to be finished, I can tell you that!) and tacking 5 inch baseboard back onto the walls in preparation for...refinishing the floors! The dust is supposed to start tomorrow, although I think that some more drywally type stuff will have to happen beforehand. My wife and I are considering a hotel for the week, or, to put it more accurately, my wife and my baby are considering a hotel and my dog and I are considering lung cancer.

Theoretically, this Thursday we will pick up our pastry case, so that our beloved customers can have such treats as danishes, kolaches, bagels, quiches, pies, etc. along with their favorite quasi-adult beverages (coffee has never been real popular with the under 15 crowd).

We got some samples this week from Choice Teas in the loose leaf varieties. The hardest thing will be to get Americans to try and have tea the way it should be: loose! They like it any which way but loose. Paradigm shifts take time.

More next week!

Update later in the day: I started the finishing on the drywall, but the mud is taking a lot longer to dry than I thought. No baseboard tacked up, whenever I wanted to do it the baby was asleep. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reflections a Decade In

I became a Christian in September of 1994, 12 years ago (sorry about the misnomer in the title). Today's sermon and Keith's blog got me thinking about where I'm at a dozen years later.

Life is certainly different...

...although not completely in good ways.

When I was a new Christian, I was totally assured. I knew what I believed and had reasons why. It wasn't until I got my first hit of exegetical theology that I started to doubt things and test things and fret over my status (a) as a orthodox church member (b) as a Christian. My first experience was in a Sunday School class in an Omaha CMA church, where the teacher (whose name I cannot recall) told us that the story of Balaam in Numbers was the first time in history one ass spoke to another. The next week, for reasons I couldn't understand at the time, he apologized for his remarks. He also introduced me to eschatology, which was, as he put it, the study of "S"s. The eschatology was dispensational premillennialism, which I held from 1994 till about 1998, when I became a postmillennialist for a short period, and then in 1999 through 2002 I was a "full" preterist. All of these positions (except for the last, but its status changes in ecclesial circles everyday) are considered orthodox. I studied and "approved" them all, until my faith in preterism was shaken by a combination of anti-dualist Dutch theology and NT Wright's work on the resurrection. Now I find it hard to say anything at any time. This isn't even going into my deeper, more intense, more painful Christological studies which have been with me ever since I picked up a small book by Wright (quite by Calvinist chance) called "The Challenge of Jesus".

There are many days in which I want to say "I love the Lord Jesus and that is all that matters." But I always need another hit, another high followed by depressing lows. Some days I can ignore the impulses totally; most days I find myself doing lines of Psalms. But I find everyday that this love-hate relationship with theology and the Bible often clouds the real issues: am I a more God-glorifying Christian now than I was when I first started? Or are those cymbals and gongs going off in the background? If I know every jot and tittle of the Scriptures, but ignore my neighbor, am I really loving God? But how can I truly love my neighbor without first knowing the Scriptures?

One of my friends who is Eastern Orthodox was shown me that many E.O. prayers have the phrase "Lord have mercy" interspersed throughout. I find myself using that phrase more and more each day.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sacred spaces and places

I was reading a chapter out of a book by James Jordan (the title of which I cannot remember off hand). The chapter was called "God's Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism". Jordan always has a good, healthy mixture of things that I think are absolutely insightful and right on the money and things that I think are absolutely goofy and unfounded. He is unlike most scholars in that regard: his errors (as I see them) aren't cushioned behind clever rhetoric meant to make you think one thing when he is saying another. He's obvious proud of all he writes and thinks, even if he changes his mind later (of which he freely admits).

One of the things he brings up in this chapter is about how it is easier to bring a "stranger" (an unbeliever) into your house for meal evangelism than it is to do door-to-door methods. He looks on it this way: your house (if you are a Christian) is sacred space belonging to the Lord God, since your house (everything you have) is dedicated to God. An unbeliever's house is dedicated, consciously or not, to some other god/idol/demon. The spiritual warfare is more intense when you don't have home-field advantage, but relatively easier when you are in a place consecrated by God's creative Spirit.

What about "neutral ground" though? Many people think of places like coffeeshoops, bars, shopping malls, etc. However, if we believe the gospel, there are no "neutral" spaces in the world. All spaces and places are the scenes of Spiritual conflict, where the people of God are to be pressing the crown rights of Jesus the Messiah. Every coffeeshop, mall, or whatever is dedicated, whether consciously or not, to some divinity, whether it is a "secular" deity such as positivistic rationalism or a "religious" deity such as modern pantheism. It gives me impetus to be praying for the visitors, outsiders, and strangers who visit my coffeeshop, that they may catch a glimpse of God's recreative activities through Jesus and his people.

Makes me want to reread Zechariah 14.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Problem with Libertarians

I'm a little "l" libertarian. That means that I believe some different things from big "L" Libertarians (the Party members and die-hard dittoheads). I do not believe that political freedom is the be-all end-all of human existence. I think that it is a by-product of a righteous citizenry who wish to glorify God in their endeavors. That is the main difference, but boy, is it a big one.

One of the problems that crops up is that many libertarians (big and little) start sliding towards libertinism, that is, the lack of moral restraint. An example is here. The author cavalierly disregards composting as barbaric and shows no sense of having been given a gift by his Creator, for which he is responsible in using. It always interests me when the people who are supposed the most committed to efficiency are extremely wasteful--and poke fun at those trying to be efficient (I'm refering to the creational efficiency of composting, especially).

Those who believe that having uncoerced freedom of choice over their own affairs, those of their families, and those of their neighborhoods, should be the most responsible, thrifty, grateful people around. Otherwise, since others see a need that must be filled, they will be someone--government or thug--to fill the need that could be meet by the individual/family/neighborhood. Does he not realize that his misuse of the garbage disposal means higher taxes because of increased water treatment needed in his area? Or is he working with a well and septic system (highly unlikely)?

I'm trying my best (and failing often) to live a life that incarnates the true libertarian virtues: thrify, charity, hospitality, responsibility, peace-making, love for neighbor, gratitude to man and God, etc. But how can a movement or ideology or whatever ever expect liberty when it acts so immaturely?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Religious Objectivity

This really shows the youth and immaturity of my faith. Recently, I was comforted by the fact that my salvation is not based on anything I do--it is based on historical events that transpired about 2000 years ago over which I had no control or input. That is incredibly freeing.

The second part of this came today as I read Rainbows for a Fallen World by Cal Seerveld:

God is the focus of a man or woman's life who is freed from the divisive finagling of sin. You do things not to improve yourself, but to make God happy. You sweat not to save the "souls" of people, but to bring the lives of individual men and women, families, institutional leaders, society, under the convicting rule of the Word of God. You work in this world not to make it a better place to live in, but to have it demonstrate the wisdom and glory of God. From God and through God and to God let all things be done for ever and ever, amen--that's that! Followers of Christ live for God's sake. That means they live utterly in response to his Word, according to the ordinances of his creative, structuring Word, enlightened by the inscripturated, God-breathed Word testifying that in Jesus Christ are hid all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom.

This changes everything.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Beaver Falls Coffee Blog

Due to the fact that poor ol' Jason P. is getting pounded in the comments section of his blog concerning "BiFC&T" (pronounced "bifcat"), I thought I might take the brunt of the questions on myself...I am, after all, co-owner of the Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company. This blog won't be the official coffee blog, but until that appears, this site (and my wife's proposed site and Jason's site) will have to do.

So, when are we opening?

Well, we finally squared away the last of our needed funding for our espresso machine, so that should be ordered and installed within the next two weeks. The major thing that we are waiting on is the cabinets for the bar. Painfully waiting. In the meantime, though, local construction wizards Townsend Construction & Engineering (note the use of the "&" (pronounced "&") in Beaver Falls based businesses) are making good progress on the site. We are almost ready to drywall the bathroom, build the bar area (after I finish drywalling the ceiling, yikes!), and paint/tile/refinish floors.

Much of the bureaucratic paperwork is squared away, but it is plentiful. Bethany is getting it done, though, as always with a lot of class and fortitude.

So, when are we opening?

Questions, questions, questions! Our provisional timeline is about 3 weeks, hopefully by Geneva's homecoming, but there are no guarantees. I repeat: there are no guarantees about start date right now. When I know, you will know. Pray that it will happen sooner than later. Pray that our busy lives will not be too overloaded (they've never been "just loaded" as it is, but it can get overwhelming). Pray that our business will help those in impoverished Third World countries and the local community. Just pray.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On Language

HERESY ALERT: If you freak out when hearing doubts and criticisms of a Christian who struggles with things faith related, please stop reading.

Today in Assembly we recited the Nicene Creed. There is a part in it, and it is common amongst theological talk, that seems to say that the "Son of God" was "incarnate". Often times you hear pastors and preachers talk about the "eternally begotten Son of God becoming incarnate" in/as Jesus Christ. I heard Tony Campolo speak earlier this year at the Jubilee Conference about a being called "Christ" becoming incarnate in a separate being called "Jesus". I wonder though...

In John 1:14, it says not "the Son of God was made flesh" or "Christ was made flesh", but "the Word was made flesh" "made flesh" being the base of our word "incarnate". Maybe, in the large scheme of Trinitarian thought, that is a minor difference. Granted. However, shouldn't our language about God, the Persons in the Trinity, the Messiah, the Spirit, etc. be precise? Don't we just court error by being this sloppy, if I may be so bold, with our language?

Precise language is the key to communication, it may also guard us from tri-theism, which is a common accusation hurled at Trinitarians. Many trinitarians, also, seem to hold tri-theism as it is, possibly because of their use of language? I've heard people, in prayers, mix Jesus and the Father together as one undifferentiated being, which orthodox Trinitarians will tell you is not proper or orthodox.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Recently I've noticed the need of neighbors. I'm hanging a drywall ceiling in the room that is to be the barroom in the coffeeshop. The sheets are 14 feet long, which makes them a little wobbly and hard to handle. I used to have a renter that would help me with question. However, he happily was married a couple of weeks ago and is doing newlywed stuff. This means his time is limited, understandably. So, when my wife and I went to hang the ceiling, we found we needed our old Amish-style (with power tools) community back. It is quite an adjustment. I'm sure things will go back to the way they were eventually, but it made me thoughtful about the joys and trials of close community. I am definitely thankful for my neighbors, but I find that I cannot help them as often as they need and they cannot help me as often as I need (which is a lot!).

On another neighborly note, my wife, Jason P., and I went to a local comedy group's show last night. Bethany and I both remarked that we were glad that there were local ways to entertain ourselves, instead of the usual bolster of L. Ron Hubbard's coffers at the box office. I hope to find more of this sort of thing and also to make my own entertainment closer to home (the show was 25 minutes away). It was very fun, though. Have you talked to your doctor about Bilosec?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Withdrawals of a Theological Junkie

There may be some question, although nobody has asked me about it, as to why this blog is no longer called "Mutterings" and is now "Withdrawals". My interests, as always, are shifting. I'd like to think that they are becoming well-rounded. I'm not so much interested in the technical aspects of exegesis or theology, as I am in the whole story (of which the small stuff makes an invaluable and inescapable part). I'm on the quest to becoming "truly human". In some ways, that means that I have to do a little withdraw from my former discipline-specific self--especially as this year is a strange transistion from the academy to the larger community for me (only took seven years!). The time has come to realize that I am not an expert on the Bible, but am an amateur in the true sense. I love reading the Bible, I love reading theology, I love thinking about what this world would be like if we all were faithful to God (especially if I could make that jump). Some withdrawals have to happen here and they are painful, they rock what I thought I was going to be and who I am now.

But I'm happy at the same time. Maybe my tunnel-vision will have its cure.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To Wit

Tonight, as part of our exercises, the Humanities 103 class watched the Emma Thompson movie, Wit. It was an interesting movie, classified by many as "tear-jerker". For me it brought up a lot of questions. The main character is an English PhD, who in light of her cancer, struggles to understand the meaning of what she has done with her life. On top of this, she compares her attitudes towards students with the attitudes of the industrial medics towards her. That alone made the movie for me. It has been on my mind lately, especially as I am doing a bit of research on coffee, which is the poster boy for "social-conscious" issues today.

The reason that this is interesting is that the dichotomy is played out rather well in the movie. She wants to be treated as a full human by the doctors, however they cannot seem to treat her like anything more than a condition or a datum. She recognizes through this that she has often treated her students the same way, which is (quite frankly) easy to do with 19 year olds. What does this have to do with coffee?

Two of the largest social issues today are the two black liquids that captivate us: oil and coffee (which is often roasted and brewed to match oil). Many people will raise a big fuss about either of these two commodities but will nary turn an eye towards the larger agricultural or moral or industrial or familial crises that form/deform American life. Why? Why does (seemingly) no one care about the massive, almost irreplacable, loss of topsoil from America's heartland (and my original home)? What about the problem of actually figuring out how family dynamics are supposed to work in God's economy, instead of settling for stereotyped relationships? Granted, there are people who are passionately concerned about these things, but not that many and not that vocal.

Part of the answer (a good academic wiggle maneuver--never claim to solve the problem until you have tenure and then don't worry about publishing it because they can't fire you) is that these two liquids are our addiction. There are many who would be racked with debilitating headaches everyday without coffee or oil. There are many who would not be able to work without them or get to work without them (in all its varied meanings). In other words, without these two ultimately unnecessary things (man lived a long time without knowledge or addiction to either of these), American, and quite possibly global, society stops running. Could it go on? With great effort, yes. Maybe we would need a couple of days to stay in bed since our moods would be quite menstrual, but yes.

We aren't addicted to topsoil. We aren't addicted to family life. Addictions, so far as I can tell, are always dangerous and more than often deadly. Would the coffee crisis and the sustainability issues it raises be such a problem if we limited or (forbid!) abstained from its consumption? Would our current difficulties in the Middle East and Central America and Alaska be as pressing or as volatile if we walked more places (including to the local coffeeshop)? Could it be that our various cultural addictions lie as roots, maybe not the tap root, to some of our other domestic, natural, and international problems?

This is even stranger to me considering I'm about a month away to opening a coffeeshop.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Maybe it has been the lack of time. Maybe it has been the baby, the coffeeshop (about a month or so from opening), maybe the new role as professor, maybe the lack of time discipline. But I haven't been here.

Maybe it has been a lack of things to say. I, frankly, struggle to reconcile some of my theological proclivities with my outright actions. Try mixing Calvinism, theonomy, anarchism, New Perspectivism, a scepticism towards "orthodoxy", libertarianism, localism, a heavily-modified agrarianism, an even more heavily modified Ludditism (I am, after all, using the internet), and a younger brother attitude.

Part of it may be that I don't want to make anyone mad. This may also explain why for the last couple of years I've held most friends (if not all, with the possible exception of my wife) at arms length or lengther with what I really think and believe. Either I waffle (always a noble choice) or I give up caring (again, the noble choices continue). There are days when I want to shout, "Shut up! You're wrong, I'm right, deal and move on!" However, for those who know me, it is a rare and frightful (mostly for me) day when that happens.

Here's the strange thing, though. Whenever my friend base was largely nominal or non-Christian, I was much more strident. Sometimes I didn't care what they thought, sometimes I had genuine concern to win their hearts and minds to Jesus. Around Christians it is much harder to express doubt over doctrine or the way we do things. Why? One, I'm afraid of being right and the consequences that brings. Two, I'm afraid of being wrong and the consequences that brings. Three, I'm afraid of knowing that I'm wrong but being obstinant. There are so many times when I have to use vagaries so as to not arouse suspicion of the authorities or even my equals.

In the wise words of Jason P., maybe I should just stick to the coffee business.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Middle East and All That

I'm not a big fan of politics. Especially "big" politics at (say) the national level. I'm especially not a fan of when the Church or evangelical community back national wars that negatively affect Christians. Regardless of what you think about the war in Iraq, if you are a Christian and care about your brothers in Christ, you should read this article:

The End of Christianity in Iraq

His opinion is anti-war, but even if he was pro-war the problem remains the same. The same goes for the Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon conflict. Many Christian neighborhoods have been targeted and destroyed by Israeli missiles. The Christians don't like Hezbollah any more than Israel does. Why aren't we talking or putting up a fuss about this, especially in prayer? Some native Israelies are against their country's actions:

Morality Is Not on Our Side

Christians should really rethink their ties and affinities for Israel. This doesn't mean being anti-Semitic, either. Israel is a modern secular State (just like France or the United States of America) and should not get a pass to do whatever they want. Neither, for that matter, should Iran or Hezbollah or Syria. Christians, however, shouldn't be supporting any of them, since they all hate the Christian God--but Evangelical support of Israel has never been stronger (or, consequently, more blind).

I don't mean to soap-box. Please consider your brothers and sisters in Christ before national politics or eschatological schemes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

The day has finally come...

To all and sundry:

My firstborn, Olivia Corrine, was born this last Tuesday, March 14th. She weighs in at 7lbs. 15oz. and is 21 inches long.

She is truly a neat creature of God who, I'm sure, will provoke much blogging.

Peace to all.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fair Trade

As a future (Lord willing) coffee purveyor, I constantly think about what sort of 'thing' I am offering to the public for sale. I don't want to sell a product straight from the hands of Mr. Third-World Dictator, nor from any violent revolutionaries. For the most part, I like Fair Trade coffee and what (symbolically) it stands for. In this postmodern world, though, symbols and their realities don't always mesh:

Absolution in Your Cup

Really, it goes back, I think (and the article points this out) that as 'consumers' of coffee, we should avoid being propagandized. The difficulty, though, is that we as 'consumers' are trained to not ask questions, but to believe Big Brother (whether government, church, or business). How many of us know the owners of our 'local' grocery stores? Our dairy producers? Our butchers (if we even have them!)? Chris Farley put it best when, in Tommy Boy, he talked about taking a dump in a box and slapping a guarantee on it. If the guarantee is all we are after, not the quality of the beans, the flavor, the roast, the brew, the individual farm families, then we will end up with a cup of crap.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Rethinking Calling and Vocation

As a GA at Geneva College, I work with Bible 300, a class focussed around worldview, culture, and calling. The students just finished with a section on vocation. One of the emphases of the unit is that calling is determined not by your station in life (what your father/mother does), but by your God-given gifts and talents. For some reason, in many students' minds this translates into: whatever makes you happy is what your calling is. Whatever you are talented at is what you are called to do. On further reflection, though, I'm not sure if this is the best standard to set up for students. Not that this is necessarily what is being taught, but it is what a large majority of students is coming away from the class with.

What if:
--you love something that you are not immediately 'talented'/'gifted' in?
--your talents have only been tried in one field, so that you don't know the various ways of vocational service?
--you don't have any dominant 'talents' or 'gifts'?

More so than these is the lack of a sense of place. Since I've graduated college my interests have changed. So have my wife's. She was a music business major. She loves music, she is starting a business. However, the further study of music is not her concern anymore. While in college, it was because of the possibility of going anywhere (place-less-ness) after college. Now, though, that she is rooted in Beaver Falls, her options there are limited. Not only that, but her sense of 'home' and 'place' are influencing her interests. She suddenly has a strong desire to know more about sociology, especially the New Urbanism and Localism. Her study of it isn't driven by grades, or necessarily monetary reward (even though this study is connected to our business), but by love of where she is and the desire to make an impact here in Beaver Falls. As students we both lacked this sense of place. In fact, I would set forth that this 'homelessness' that many collegiate students have paralyzes them in their choice of major and future career. Talents and gifts only matter when they are connected with a venue to use them: a home, a neighborhood, a place. Not only that, the place must be concrete, it must be local. Serving a nation is just abstract enough to mean nothing, same with serving the Church. Serving a neighborhood or a city or a countryside or a church does have meaning, since it is not a reified abstraction.

All of this, of course, has led me to wonder whether or not it is a good idea to start college at 17/18, when (in our culture) very few really have found their calling(s). I would be especially interested to hear what Derek would think, since he has started a new and important work with CPYU. More on this topic as it develops.