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November 2006

November 27, 2006

This weekend a friend sent an article to myself and to a list of other people. He was outraged at a story that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is no doubt right to be outraged. Here are some excerpts from the story.

Just how far will people go to get their hands on a new PlayStation 3? Just ask KDWB-FM, 101.3’s morning show host Dave Ryan, who on Tuesday morning asked folks if they were willing to give up their baby for 24 hours in exchange for one of Sony’s highly coveted video game consoles. More than a dozen people called to offer up their kids, but only a few realized it was all just a gag.

“We got more calls than we could handle,” said Ryan, who referred to the practical joke as a “social experiment.” “They were lined up willing to turn their kids over to strangers for a freakin’ PlayStation.”

KDWB morning show executive producer Steve “Steve-o” LaTart said he was surprised how many people were interested in the bogus swap, which consisted of handing over your child to LaTart for 24 hours in exchange for a PS3.

“There were a lot of phone calls that we didn’t even get to, and I would say three- quarters of them were serious,” said LaTart.

People with babies of all ages — including a 2-day-old and a 1-week-old — made it on air. One of the more serious sounding calls came from a woman named “Katie,” who agreed to give up her 1-month-old for three days. She wanted to sell the PS3 on eBay to make some extra money for the holidays.

“In a way it’s flattering that we’ve built up 13 years of trust and that’s great … yet at the same time, hey, we thought we knew Kramer too, you just never know,” said Ryan referring to Michael Richards, who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” and his recent racist comments.

After announcing that the contest was a prank, “Katie” called the station and asked “does that mean I don’t get the PlayStation?” She was clearly more than willing to give up her child to get her hands on this year’s top gift. It seemed to her a small price to pay for a Playstation. It’s sick.

And yet for some reason it didn’t surprise me a whole lot. This is the kind of behavior that is only too common in our culture. We live in what is now an voyeuristic, exploitative society. We love to see into other people’s lives and because of technology, this is easier to do than ever before. But there is more. As voyeurism has increased, so has exhibitionism. Countless numbers of people are willing to sell their bodies, souls or children for a fleeting fifteen minutes of fame and a ten thousand dollar paycheck. From world famous celebrities to absolute nobodies, we yearn to be noticed and have been only too willing to sell ourselves. Humiliation is marketed on television and a blurb in People magazine has become adequate payment for having personal problems brought before the world.

We, the consumers, feed this frenzy. When we turn on the television we want to watch celebrities, both new and old, living out their lives before the cameras or learning to dance or cook or crochet. We want to watch families whose spending has spiralled out of control try to fix their broken finances. We want to watch families whose kids are overweight learn how to eat healthy food or adults who are fat lose weight or couples who have forgotten the joys of sex to rediscover intimacy or normal people slurp down blood, guts and bugs. We want to see people learn what not to wear, to see people with rolls on their stomachs get liposuction and funny-looking noses get the perfect Hollywood nose job. We want to escape our own problems by wallowing in other people’s problems which somehow always seem so much worse than our own. We want to see the sad, pathetic, tragic details of their lives, their personalities, their bodies. The more detail we get, the happier we are.

Back in March a web site made public a memo from ABC dealing with the hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Looking to cast a new season, the show’s producers asked network affiliates to look for families who could be on the show. Their wishlist is nauseating.

We are open to any and ALL story ideas and are especially looking for the following:

Extraordinary Mom/Dad recently diagnosed with ALS

Family who has child with PROGERIA (aka “little old man disease”)

Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. (There are 17 known cases in the the U.S.-let me know if one is in your town!) This is where kids cannot feel any physical pain.

Muscular Dystrophy Child - Amazing kid who is changing people’s views about MD

MADD/Drunk Driving - Family turns tragedy into triumph after a losing a child to drunk driving

Family who has multiple children w/ Down Syndrome (either adopted or biological)

Amazing/loved Mom or dad diagnosed w/ melanoma (skin cancer)

Home Invasion - family robbed, house messed up (vandalized) - kids fear safety in their home now.

Victims of hate crime in own home. Family’s house victim of arson or severely vandalized.

It is clear that the show was not seeking these people primarily because they are the most worthy of help, but because they make the best stories. The worse the tragedy, the better the entertainment value.

The problem extends beyond television, for we turn on the computer and visit Youtube which perfectly combines exhibitionism with voyeurism. We excuse what is pornographic or semi-pornographic by pleading humor. We no longer seem to know or care what is outrageous and exploitative. Young girls who lip-sync and dance in their bedrooms become instant celebrities. Car accidents become entertainment, beatings become amusement. We pour out our personal problems on our blogs and complain about ex-girlfriends on MySpace. Even the murder of American soldiers has become entertainment with videos of soldiers having their throats cut make the rounds on the Internet. We visit sites filled with gory photographs or just go all the way and visit one of the millions of pornography sites. It’s out of control. And yet all of these web sites and television shows are just giving us what we ask for.

Reality is no longer reality. Fame is no longer fame. Reality television offers anything but reality, and yet we are drawn to it. The internet offers fleeting, exploitative fame. It is escapism and exploitation. Somehow, it seems, we have come to care about other people’s lives more than our own. We invest ourselves in other people’s problems, other people’s joys, hurts and pains all the while ignoring our own. We escape from our own lives by caring about other people’s.

When a radio station offers to trade children for a Playstation 3, it does not surprise me that people are willing to accept the offer. We live in a strange new reality where tragedy can reap generous monetary rewards and personal problems can be marketed and sold. And even if there is no financial compensation, fleeting fame seems an adequate reward for exposing even the most humiliating, intimate details. We live in a society where it makes perfect sense to give up a child for 24 hours in order to get ahold of a new Playstation.

November 27, 2006

Monday November 27, 2006

Worship: Bob Kauflin answers a question about candles in worship services.

Books: Audubon Press is offering a great deal on the MacArthur Commentary series. You can save 35% on individual volumes or 50% on the set (that’s just $311.87 and free shipping for 25 volumes).

Blogging: Phil Johnson sets a new standard for lethargy with his DIY Blogspotting. So if you’ve ever wanted to be spotted by TeamPyro, simply write about them and add yourself to the post.

Technology: On Thursday Amazon offered XBox 360’s for $100. The result? Amazon went down for fifteen minutes and the 1000 Xbox’s sold out in 29 seconds. And yes, I tried (quite unsuccessfully) to nab one of them.

November 26, 2006

I wrote a couple of days ago about poetry and its power in communicating. I do love poetry in general, but certain poems stand out. And there is one that I love more than all others. I thought I’d share it with you today, though I suspect most are already familiar with it. It is John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud.” Donne lived from 1572 to 1631 and was a prolific poet. He also coined a couple of immortal phrases that are in use today (“No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”) While his Holy Sonnets remain widely read, certainly none of his works are more popular or more beautiful than this, his masterpiece (as with most poetry, it is best read aloud):

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

November 25, 2006

War is terrible. It’s an understatement, I know, and something that is almost too obvious to bother saying. Yet the horrors of war can only really be understood, it seems, by those who have been involved in them. In the annals of warfare, few battles have been more brutal than the battle of Iwo Jima. Those who survived this battle were changed forever. James Bradley’s father was one of those survivors. But he was more. He was one of the six men who have been immortalized in what quickly became the world’s most famous and most reproduced photograph. The image of six men raising a flag over Iwo Jima became a national symbol and a rallying point during what was a long and costly war. The six men who raised this flag were lauded as heroes, but the three who walked off the island were reluctant to accept this fame. John Bradley, James’ father, went on to live a long and productive life, but never spoke of the battle. Though his actions in the battle earned him a Navy Cross, he never considered himself a hero.

November 24, 2006

While I was slurping down lunch today I spent a few minutes playing with LibraryThing’s “Unsuggestion” feature. For those who have no idea what I am talking about, LibraryThing is a neat little site that allows you to catalog your books. Or as the site says, “LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.” I began using the service in September of last year and since then have cataloged all of my new books through it (I have yet to add a lot of older books that don’t have ISBN numbers handy). You can see my list here.

One of LibraryThing’s fun features is “LibrarySuggester.” Using this tool, you can input the name of a book and the program will search through other people’s libraries and determine what other similar books you may enjoy. For example, inputting Sprouls’s Chosen by God reveals that 148 LibraryThing users have that book in their library. It then provides these suggestions based on other books in those same libraries: The holiness of God by Sproul, Bondage of the Will by Luther, Evangelism and the sovereignty of God by Packer, Desiring God by Piper, and so on. While not a flawless system, it does tend to provide solid suggestions.

A related feature is the “Unsuggester” which “takes ‘people who like this also like that’ and turns it on its head. It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest.” Now the most popular books in LibraryThing are by J.K. Rowling. In fact, the six most-owned books are all from the Harry Potter series. I thought it would be interesting to run her books through the Unsuggester to see who the program would come up with. I was not at all surprised to see that the Anti-Rowling is none other than John Piper. The top two unsuggestions (and three of the top seven) all belong to Piper. The Dangerous Duty of Delight ranks first with Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ coming second and The Justification of God falling seventh. So if you own books by Rowling, chances are that you do not own books by Piper.

I laughed to see that the top two unsuggestions for Bill Clinton’s My Life are none other than Calvin’s Institutes and Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (which, I suppose, means that Christian hedonism does not inspire people to admire those who adhere to the real thing).

Anyways, just something that amused me while I ate my lunch. Please return to your regularly scheduled programming.

November 24, 2006

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about words. This must sound fascinating, I know, so congratulations if you have even made it to the second sentence of this article! With this being an unofficial holiday in the United States (and National Sleep-in Day, or something like that) I don’t expect too many people to visit my blog anyways. Still, for the benefit of myself and anyone else who cares to read it, here is a glimpse into something I have been considering recently.

As I was saying, I have been thinking a lot about words. Now I love words. They have always fascinated me. Many years ago, while I was still in high school, I studied Latin not so I could learn the language, or not primarily anyways, but so I could learn more about the source of so many English words. The teacher, one of these types who was no doubt over-qualified to be teaching entry-level high school Latin, really brought the dead language to life. He succeeded in making us not only learn the language but also in making us enjoy learning it. How did he do that? He proved to us that Latin is not truly dead and gone, but in fact, is still in common use. One ongoing task throughout the year was for all his students to collect Latin words and phrases we found in books, newspapers and magazines. We were to collect all these examples and at the end of the year, part of our grade was based on how many of these we found. The more of the language we learned, the more Latin we found. As our eyes were opened to the language, suddenly we saw it all around us - in print, in law, in theology, in advertising, and just about everywhere else. And of course we also saw it in our own language and in other languages we studied. Latin brought English and French to life in a fresh way. The study of this dead language helped undergird my study of other languages and gave me a greater love and appreciation for my own language. It made me appreciate many of the words that I use every day. A few years later I studied Greek and in this case the teacher expended little effort in tracing the Greek language to the English language. For that very reason, I’m sure, I never loved Greek in the way I loved Latin.

As I’ve thought about words, I’ve thought about the power of words used in poetry (and song, for what is song but verse set to music?). While I love prose and spend some time out of every day engaged in creating it, there is something about poetry that grabs my soul. There is quality in poetry that allows so much to be said in so few words. So often I can hold onto a line of a word or a poem in a way that just is not possible with prose. A memorable piece of prose may be several sentences or paragraphs. A memorable piece of poetry may be only a few scant words. And yet often the poetry seems to say so much more. John Wain said “Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.” Something in poetry just stirs the soul in a way prose cannot, just as there is a beauty inherent in dancing that is missing in walking.

I am no musician. I have little skill in differentiating between music that is good and music that is poor. There are certain musical patterns that appeal to me, certain styles of music, but more often than not, I react to the words of a song more than the music. Of course by its very nature, poetry can sometimes be difficult to understand or unravel, and it seems that there is even some subjectivity in poetry that sometimes allows people to interpret it as they wish.

Just recently I’ve purchased a few new albums and was thinking about some of the lines that really stood out above the rest in those albums. In one of these the songwriter sings about heaven and hell, reflecting on what hell really is. “Even heaven is hell if somehow You were not there” is what he sings in the chorus. There is a great truth in those few words. Even if the song does not represent great poetry, it still uses just a few words to convey the important truth that heaven would not be heaven if God were not there. This reminded me immediately of something John Piper wrote in God is the Gospel: “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

Another album has twelve songs each with many words, and yet two lines have stood out above the others. In one song the songwriter says, quite simply, “I’m free cause you’re holding me down.” He sees that true freedom is found when God extends His grace and holds a person down. Freedom is not found in a lack of rules, but in following God’s rules. Another line in another song says “It’s a long way down for me to lay here at your feet / I’m a self-made man / Knock me down.” Again, the songwriter expresses dependence on God, realizing that he needs God’s restraining power in keeping him from being a self-made man, a self-obsessed man. So few words and yet they spoke to me so powerfully. I could say the same in the form of prose, but it would take so many more words. I expect that some who read this will also be impressed with those words while others will think nothing of them. Again, that seems to be the nature of poetry. Each of us can react differently to it. A particular verse can stir the hearts of some while leaving the hearts of others cold.

It was Robert Frost who said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Or again, “A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness…It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.” Poetry somehow conveys emotion so well. And yet because of the subjective nature of poetry, it may always mean more to the author than to the reader. Emotion can be conveyed, but not necessarily that lump in the throat, that sense of wrong.

In any case, I’ve wondered over the past weeks if I should begin to dedicate some time to poetry as well as prose. Impressed by the power of poetry and the careful use of words it requires, I am compelled to try my hand at it. There was a time in my life when I felt more conflicted and when I wrote poetry (mostly really bad poetry). But it has been a long time. I wonder how it would change me and what the results would be. Because of the raw emotion of poetry I don’t know that I could ever share it with anyone, for it would no doubt be deeply personal. And yet I can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t be therapeutic, if it couldn’t be worship, if it couldn’t be powerful in my life. I may just have to give it a try.

November 24, 2006

Friday November 24, 2006

Birth: Congratulations to my friend Julian on the birth of his first child, Susannah Lynn (and thanks, Julian, for finally posting some pictures).

Du Jour: If you don’t read Josh Harris’ blog, now is a good time to start. He is in Japan and writing interesting reports on his time there. Did you know they have “women only” trains? Neither did Josh until he realized he was the only man on a particular train…

Theology: Adrian’s last Piper Friday dealt with a talk given by John Piper about Charles Simeon.

Personal: I have just about one week left until I turn thirty. Is there anything I really need to get out of the way while I’m still in my twenties?

November 23, 2006

1581347863.jpg“As a husband, I know it is my responsibility to pray for my wife. Often, though, I do not know the words to use, and I end up feeling that my prayers for her could be more effective. From marriage counseling and pastoral experience, I have met many men who share the same concern. The average Christian man does not know how to pray for his wife. Unfortunately, when we do not know how to pray, we end up not praying at all.”

Because of this concern, Mark Weathers, co-pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina, decided to write a book—a 31-day study guide—to help men learn to pray for their wives. How To Pray For Your Wife follows through the well-known words of the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, providing 31 brief meditations and prayer suggestions.