The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Friday, October 31, 2003
Another Amazing Providence
I just learned that Mike Yaconelli died yesterday. He was one of the co-founders of the Wittenburg Door, surely one of the finer parts of Christendom of the past fifty years.

To think he died one day before we mark the anniversary of the real Wittenberg door.

Thursday, October 30, 2003
What our Houses Say about Us
I found this quote on The Ooze blog. It is from the book Affluenza:

"Take houses for example. The average size of a new home is now more than double what it was in the 1950s, while families are smaller. LaNita Wacker, who owns Dream House Reality in Seattle, has been selling homes for more than a quarter century. She takes us on a drive through the neighborhoods near her office to explain whats happened.

She shows us houses built during every decade since World War II and describes how they've gotten bigger and bigger. Right after World War II, Wacker points out, 750 square feet was the norm (in Levittown, for example). "Then in the '50s," she says, "they added 200 square feet, so 950 was the norm." By the 60s, 1,100 square feet was typical, and by the '70s, 1350. Now it's 2,300.

LaNita Wacker started selling homes in 1972, "right about the time we moved from a single bath to the demand for a double bath." Two-car garages came in then too, and by the late '80s many homes were being built with three-car garages. That's 600-900 square feet of garage space alone, "as much square footage as an entire family used in the early '50s." Wacker says. "It would house an entire family. But we have aquired a lot of stuff to store."

To drive the point home, Wacker takes us by a huge home with a four car garage. Expensive cars and a boat are parked outside. The owner comes out wondering why LaNita is so interested in his place. "I own Dream House Realty," she says "And yours is a dream house." "It was built to the specifications of charming wife," the man replies with a laugh. "So why four garages?" asks LaNita. "It's probably because of storage," the man replies, explaining that the garages are filled with family possessions. "You never have enough storage so you can never have enough garages," he adds cheerfully. LaNita asks if he has children. "They're gone now," he replies. "It's just me and the wife."

The four-car garage is an exception, no doubt. But everyone expects larger homes now." A master bedroom in the 1950s would be about 130 square feet." explains Wacker, "Now, in even moderately priced homes, you're talking about maybe 300 square feet devoted to the master bedroom."

In recent years more than ever, homes have become a symbol of conspicuous consumption, as beneficiaries of the recent stock market boom and unparalleled economic expansion have begun, in many communities, to buy real estate, bulldoze existing (and perfectly functional) homes and replace them with the megahouses of 10,000 square feet and more. "Starter castles," some have named them. Others call them "Monster Homes."

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
More on Charles Murry's Human Accomplishment book
from the Wall Street Journal

"There is something to this view of the arts, even if Mr. Murray's indictment is too crude and categorical. But more is at work, I suspect, than a loss of metaphysical certitude. When Mr. Murray invokes the "Aristotelian principle" as the measure of artistic greatness--the notion that the highest human pleasures derive from appreciating complexity and refinement--he stands in the tradition of aristocracy and aristocratic connoisseurship. Modern democracy can accommodate such tastes, but it saves its laurels for creations that are energetic, accessible, even vulgar. Surveying today's pop culture, Mr. Murray recognizes that "The Simpsons is wickedly smart." It's more than that, though--it's art for our age."

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Artist's "Monastic" Community in Portland, Oregon
I am in the habit of reading the early "Saturday edition" of the Sunday Oregonian every Saturday evening. (I started this habit reading the early edition of the Sunday New York Times when I lived back east). I especially relish reading the Arts/Books section of the newspapers and the extended articles on local issues.

Well my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I read this article. It was on the front page of the Living section. Its about a quasi-"monastic" community of guys who agree to spend a year living together for community and deliberately working on developing as artists. What a great idea. And its happening right here in Portland.

I have to look these guys up.

Monday, October 27, 2003
Just One Little Way that Christianity Makes a Difference
From an article in the New York Times about Charle's Murray's newest book which has the gall to assert that Western Civilization is the most fully developed/advanced, and that it is now on the verge of decline. What is unique in Murray's approach is that he attempts to use statistical methods to bolster his conclusions.

Here's a quote from the NYT article:

"For Mr. Murray, an agnostic libertarian, Christianity's appeal is largely pragmatic. In his view it provided all the incentives people need to achieve: not only a sense of autonomy and purpose but a coherent vision of what he calls "the transcendental goods" — truth, beauty and the good — as well. A culture lacking such vision tends to produce art that is shallow, vulgar and sterile, he said, describing it as the difference between "Macbeth" and "Kill Bill."

"It's only by being infused with that moral vision that `Macbeth' is `Macbeth,' " he said. "Otherwise it's just people killing each other."

Title of Murray's book is Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Trick Culture
There is a funny line (among many) in Ghostbusters that still makes me chuckle. A little.

The Sigourney Weaver character, who is posessed by a nasty evil spirit, while floating in the air, turns to Bill Murray, and purrs, "Do you waaaant my body." The Bill Murray character, not skipping a beat, replies, "Is that a trick question?"

I think the interchange captures nicely what we are dealing with when we encounter (hopefully not engage) the non-Christian culture that is all around us. At times non-Christian culture is downright beautiful (as was pointed out by R C Sproul Jr in a recent Razorpoint article). But underneath the real beauty (which is surely due to God's common grace), there often lies a profound, nasty evil core. Sometimes the core is inyourface, sometimes it is very subtle, or mixed with enough truth to be really dangerous.

I certainly listen to non-Christian music, watch non-Christian movies and view non_Christian art. And I even enjoy much of it. But I also find that what used to be funny or beautiful to me, as I have matured in Christ, is no longer so.(Ghostbusters is a case in point; as is the Far Side.)

I guess what I am trying to say is that we (at the very least), need to think twice before we bite, and take the time to thoroughly taste what's in our mouth before we swallow.

Monday, October 20, 2003
Here is a nice homage to Christopher Dawson at Christianculture.com site by Ben House. Dawson was a staunch apologist for the idea of Christendom. His Roman Catholicism made his notion of Christendom a bit ecclessiocentric for my reformed taste, but he is nevertheless very important and he is seminal reading on the topic along with Henry Van Til and Richard Niebuhr.

Friday, October 17, 2003
Can You Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God?
Yes you can! In fact you (and I) must. (Meditation from John Piper provided by ChristianCounterCulture.com).

I start almost every day with a nice tall glass of orange juice. I need to take this to heart.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
I just learned that Neil Postman died last Saturday. Maybe we should honor his eloquent life by turning off our television sets for a week. Unless you read his books and have done that already.

The Original Post-Modernist?
I suppose by now you have heard about Terry Teachout's recent post on the loss of "middle brow culture" (via Gideon Strauss). For Teachout the opitome of middle brow culture was the "really big" Ed Sullivan Show, which not only featured hottest pop singers and vaudeville acts, but opera singers and classical musicians.

This got me thinking. With all its different acts juxtoposed together and placed on a more or less even platform, Sullivan's variety format was original Postmodern medium. Ed was way ahead of his time.

Could this be the reason why the David Letterman Show is in the Ed Sullivan Theatre?

(A Native Tourist factoid: when we were first married we lived two blocks west of the Ed Sullivan Theatre on the corner of 53rd Streen and Ninth Avenue.)

Friday, October 10, 2003
Kitchens, not Kitsch
This article about some art installations caught my eye. The artist is a Mennonite as far as I can tell.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
The Problem with 'Relevancy'

"I do not think for a moment that the church should aspire to become irrelevant. There is always a need for Christians to speak the gospel into their own context. Rather, my concern is with the ever‑present danger of over contextualizing. Consider what happens to a church that is always trying to appeal to an increasingly post‑Christian culture. Almost inevitably, the church itself becomes post‑Christian. This is what happened to the liberal church during the twentieth century, and it is what is happening to the evangelical church right now. As James Montgomery Boice has argued, evangelicals are accepting the world's wisdom, embracing the world's theology, adopting the world's agenda, and employing the world's methods. In theology a revision of evangelical doctrine is now underway that seeks to bring Christianity more in line with postmodern thought.' The obvious difficulty is that in a post‑Christian culture, a church that tries too hard to be "relevant" may in the process lose its very identity as the church. Rather than confronting the world, the church gets co‑opted by it. It no longer stands a city on a hill, but sinks to the level of the surrounding culture."

--from an excerpt of Philip Ryken's City on a Hill

Tuesday, October 07, 2003
A Painting for October

-- Season of October: The potato gatherers, 1878 by Jules Bastien-Lepage

I saw this painting in Portland as part of an exhibit of works from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. It is about six feet square and is marvelously painted. See large image of the painting.

Monday, October 06, 2003
A Poem for October

These are the days when Birds come back--
A very few--a Bird or two--
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old--old sophistries of June--
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee--
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear--
And softly thro' the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh Sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze--
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake--
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

-- Emily Dickinson (first published as "October" in 1864)

Friday, October 03, 2003
Extreme Culture

"But there is a wholeness to this living out of Christian conviction, a humanity, even a beauty capable of surprising even the most hardened unbeliever. And it is to this godly extremism that I wish to summon you graduates today. The challenge for you, I believe, will not be that you are too extreme, but that you are not extreme enough. And your failure will likely be that you are extreme at only certain points and not at all of them. What I summon you to today is a life of comprehensive extremism."

--excerpt from a commencement address by Rob Rayburn, Pastor of Faith PCA in Tacoma

Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Now Here's a Concept

"Psalm Drummers is a world wide network of drummers and percussionists who use drumming to create unity and influence change. Our core values are rooted in Christian Faith, and biblical teaching and our activities include, organising teams to serve at events, hosting prayer and worship gatherings, performance, training, drum circles and work in the community. For thousands of years people have used drums to announce the coming of man. Psalm Drummers use the drum to announce God’s coming."

See their site. Hear them in action.