4Q13 Book Briefs

These are the books I read from October through December, 2013. My next list of quarterly reading is available by clicking here.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies – Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (2009); Print // I picked this up on recommendation from a Sandra McCracken concert. McEntyre is a curator of words, and this was a joy to read. She argues for the utility, potency, and urgency of words and the preservation of language. An even more important warning cry given the current dominance of texting and social media.

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (1961); Print // After merely skimming the Cliff’s Notes in high school, I’m glad I finally read this modern classic. Well-written with a strong sense of irony and wordplay while presenting gut-wrenching character studies of soldiers in World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It – Matthew Berry (2013); Print // I had such high hopes for this book as a fantasy sports fanatic, but it fell far short. Funny at times and irreverent more often, it is basically the author’s egotistical autobiography interspersed among fantasy sports anecdotes submitted by his fans from around the country.

In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life – Sinclair Ferguson (2007); Kindle // Okay. A collection of Tabletalk and other similar columns that seemed disjointed and only loosely related. If read as separate entities, each chapter is decent on its own merits.

The Mind of the Maker – Dorothy Sayers (1941); Print // Recommended by and borrowed from a friend much smarter than I. Dense and beautifully argued treatment of the artist/writer as analogical to the Trinity. Sayers presents the best earthly analogy of the Trinity I’ve ever come across, as it runs circles around the Bible camp analogies of an egg or the states of water.

Right Ho, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse (1922); Kindle // Romping good time, as Wodehouse always is. I’ve been making more of a concerted effort to incorporate “Right ho” into my regular vocabulary since reading this one.

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (2012); Kindle // Read for discussion group. Intensely personal, Butterfield recounts her “train wreck” conversion not for accolade’s or publicity’s sake, but for God’s glory. Really good in that regard, though strongly worded chapters on exclusive psalmody and homeschooling (though not bad) seemed out of place.

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation – Joel Beeke & William Boekestein (2013); Print // Well done short devotional on the meaning of Christ’s incarnation and its myriad implications. Soaked in Scripture, and it especially evidences the authors’ mastery of the Psalms and their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

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The Christian Fight Song

Hail to the Victors. Victory March. On Brave Old Army. The Aggie War Hymn.

You would probably recognize some of these iconic college fight songs even if you’re not a big sports fan. Fight songs instill pride, confidence, and emotion in fans, uniting fans and players against their foes. Even without Lloyd Carr there as coach, I still get chills when I hear the Michigan marching band play “Hail to the Victors” after a Wolverine touchdown.

But there is one fight song that transcends them all, at least in R.C. Sproul’s eyes:

“In its inception, the Gloria Patri functioned as a type of fight song, a rallying cry for orthodox Christianity. That original function has been lost through the passing of time so that it is now used as a liturgical response. We no longer sense the extraordinary significance of ascribing glory to Christ.”

R.C. explains that in the fourth century, when the Arians were denying the Trinity generally and the divinity of Christ specifically, Arians would sing degrading, insulting songs to Trinitarians across the river. Christians responded with their own fight songs, one of which has lasted to this day as the Gloria Patri. You can listen to a minute-long clip of R.C. explaining the Christian’s fight song here.

How will you sing the Gloria Patri? As a joyless, mindless, rote close to the service, relieved that you can finally go home and watch football? Or as a passionate exclamation of Christ’s eternal glory with the Father and the Spirit?

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:
World without end. Amen.
Orthodox icon of the Council of Nicea

In a similar vein, the Nicene Creed was birthed out of the same controversies denying Christ’s divinity. Blood was shed over this incredibly important time in the church. The Nicene Creed is my favorite creed, and should be said with similar sentiment as the Gloria Patri: with conviction and gusto! A hint of defiance is acceptable as well.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
   Maker of heaven and earth,
   of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
   begotten of the Father before all worlds;
   God of God,
   Light of Light,
   very God of very God;
   begotten, not made,
   being of one substance with the Father,
   by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation,
   came down from heaven,
   and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,
   and was made man;
   and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
   He suffered and was buried;
   and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
   and ascended into heaven,
   and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
   and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead;
   whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
   the Lord and Giver of life;
   who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;
   who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
   who spake by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
   I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
   and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
   and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Overpaid spandex-clad blimps playing catch

Grouchy but almost always right Brit Carl Trueman voices similar observations to mine about the Super Bowl (see below), but much better than I did. Click here to read his whole post. Here’s a snippet:

“How many Christians would never turn out for a Sunday evening worship service because they had their fix on Sunday mornings, but would rearrange all manner of things to make sure they could see the Superbowl? Watching overpaid spandex-clad blimps playing catch, then running for, oh my, at least five seconds and six yards before taking a five minute breather, and as a result trousering too much dosh – or meeting with the living God who gave his Son for us, hearing his word proclaimed, and humbly bowing before him in adoration – not much of a choice is it, really? The spandex and hilarious commercials win every time.”

The great American feast day

We were driving home from our niece’s baptism Sunday, talking about how the Super Bowl has taken over as the primary American religious celebration. It’s a day when so many idols of the nation converge in a celebration akin to pagan feast days of yore. Here are some of the things we thought of that are worshiped so heavily in America that find their climax with the Super Bowl. Reflecting on things like this is an interesting cultural exercise.

-Football: definitely one of the biggest idols of American culture (finger is pointed at me, especially), and Super Bowl Sunday looms even larger when one’s team is involved. I wonder how the homeless in each respective city feel toward football each year when they are hidden or shuttled away so that the city can look perfect for the television cameras.

-Entertainment: The Super Bowl is as much about the entertainment as it is about the game. Starting with the two weeks of pre-game hype to the excess pageantry of the game, it’s the pinnacle of entertainment. The fact that Dallas’ new stadium boasts two 60-yard high definition screens is just one testament to this. It’s also ironic that the Black Eyed Peas didn’t help the entertainment factor this year.

-Consumerism: This one is too easy. $3 million for thirty seconds of air time? Corporations aren’t paying that money to entertain, they’re paying that because they know it’s effective. Players changing into tacky championship garb before the clock runs out? Sales gimmick. Think the Super Bowl MVP really needs a new car? Just another marketing tactic.

-The Individual: Regular season games are bad enough, but in the Super Bowl this is taken to sickening heights. Every first down, every sack, every yard, and every tackle garners another “I am the center of the universe” celebration. Also, quarterbacks especially are elevated to god-like status by fans and the media, especially when they win.

-Gluttony: Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving for food consumption. Antacid sales shoot up 20 percent the day after the Super Bowl. Bad beer and junk food commercials are the norm.

-Sex: From godaddy.com to who knows what else, sex sells year after year. I didn’t see any ads this year, so I have no idea how they scored on the skin meter. But at least neither of the teams had cheerleaders, right?

-Winning: Is winning the Super Bowl really the ultimate prize for players and coaches and fans? Do they legitimately feel more fulfilled in the days, weeks, months afterward? What does it profit the Super Bowl winners if they gain the whole world, but lose their own soul?

-Celebrity: Even the cult of personality is on display at the Super Bowl. From Fergie’s awkward duet with an elderly Slash to the even more awkward A-rod feeding, celebrity gossip fodder was in abundance, and Americans eat it up.

-Finally, each year the Super Bowl (and every other more minor “feast” of regular season games) falls on the Christian’s feast day: The Lord’s Day.

I don’t intentionally mean to ignore the possible positives that might be involved, like competition, opportunities for fellowship, etc. We were, after all, graciously hosted for the game this year (thanks, Kayes!), and had nutritious, delicious, and non gluttonous food.

Information Overload

Church: The Hallway and the Rooms. Mike Horton offers more insightful thoughts on the Piper/Warren controversy as well as the shortcomings of the “young, restless, reformed” movement being a movement.

Theology: Peter Liethart on The Long View: qualifications, clarifications, and helpful arguments about the postmillennial position.

Hymns: Is It Accurate to Say That God Died on the Cross? R.C. Sproul has some interesting points for those of you who may have hesitations with singing “And Can It Be.”

Books: Seven Basic and Brief Points for Writers.

Sports: Great video of spontaneous rain-delay theatrics by two college baseball teams.

Food: Yes, I’m a couponer. As such, I subscribe to couponing blogs. We are also conscious about not eating too much processed food, so I found this article interesting and helpful: Real Food on a Budget.

Games: Amazing life-size Settlers game, which debuted at Burning Man.

Photography: Free fundamentals of digital photography online course.

2010 MLB Predictions

First, two quick links for your viewing pleasure. The first is to a video of one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen in baseball, and it happened on opening day this year: Mark Buehrle’s gem. Second is especially for those who love to hate the Yankees and their capitalistic ways: Jeter, Posada, and Rivera set the record for most consecutive seasons played together (plus, the Yanks have 15 homegrown players on their opening day roster, nothing to sneeze at). Now that that’s out of the way, here are my predictions.

AL East:
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox (Wild Card)
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central:
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

AL West:
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland A’s

NL East:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals

NL Central:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card)
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Houston Astros

NL West:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Fransisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

AL Champion: New York Yankees
NL Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
World Series Champion: New York Yankees

AL MVP: Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay)
NL MVP: Prince Fielder (Milwaukee)
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Seattle)
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay (Philadelphia)
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen (Chicago)
NL Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox (Atlanta)

Book Review: The Reason for Sports

The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto was written by Ted Kluck (ESPN, ESPN.com, Sports Spectrum, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church) in 2009. It is a difficult book to review, as it is a collection of essays loosely joined together around certain themes. I enjoyed the book and found it captivating, witty, and insightful. Instead of offering a full-blown review, I thought I would summarize the book and offer a couple reactionary thoughts, which are appropriate given the books’ conversational essay style.

Kluck writes about many topics, including Mike Tyson and Tony Dungy; steroids; sin, apologies, and forgiveness; sex; race; and bad sports movies. His hope in writing the book is “that Christians would begin to develop a theology of sports” (p. 15). While he does not explicitly lay out a broad theology of sports, he touches on several specific issues in sports and discusses how Christians can or should think about them. “How do we worship God with this part of our lives? How do sports help us to grow in sanctification? How do we think theologically about the myriad of moral dilemmas in sports?” In loosely answering these questions, Kluck embraces sports and wants Christians to embrace them while thinking about them critically.

I definitely agree with Kluck’s entertaining and provoking discussion of so-called Christian athletes compared to non-Christian ones. I, for one, find it easier to root for either the athlete who blatantly and publicly sins but repents, or the athlete who may be a Christian but who puts his nose to the grindstone and does not draw unnecessary attention to himself or to his Cosmic Genie. I don’t think it’s a good witness for guys to point skyward after throwing a touchdown pass or kneeling after reaching the endzone. Why don’t they do that after throwing an interception or striking out? After scoring a touchdown, I’d much rather have a Christian athlete give the ref the ball and jog quickly to the sidelines without drawing unneeded (and shallow) attention to himself.

Similarly, I, like Kluck, find it easier to root for a hard-working, quiet believer like Mariano Rivera than an outspoken professing believer who is enamored by money and garners no respect from fans or teammates like J.D. Drew. I even have a hard time rooting for a Christian glamor boy, feel-good story like a Kurt Warner or Tim Tebow. Further, to me, Michael Phelps, who exhibited genuine remorse for his pot-smoking incident, is easier to cheer for than Christian Andy Pettitte, who did not show a hint of genuine repentance (read: tried to justify it) for using performance enhancing drugs. Just because one points to the sky after throwing a touchdown pass and the other etches Bible verses in his eye black does not mean I, as a fellow Christian, must root for them. I don’t feel compelled to cheer for the supposed Christian athlete just like I don’t feel compelled to fawn over – or even support – every so-called Christian artist who produces terrible music. I respect the abilities of Warner and Tebow, and am glad they are on the “good side,” but don’t feel compelled to cheer for them just because they are Christian. Kluck’s treatment of this touchy subject is excellent.

One gaping hole in the book is the lack of treatment on Christian athletes’ and fans’ observance of the Lord’s Day. I would love to read a discussion from Kurt Warner justifying his working on the Lord’s Day, but I know I will never get it. That’s why stories like the Scottish rugby player or Eric Liddell are so refreshing. Kluck only mentions the Sabbath in passing, and the way in which he did seemed hollow. In his chapter on fantasy football, he relates how he had to get over his addiction to fantasy sports because managing his team on Sundays seemed like work. While I wholeheartedly agree with this (and have eliminated fantasy football and other football watching from the Lord’s Day), Kluck never mentions the Christian athletes working during their games on Sundays, nor the millions of Christians who watch hours of football each Lord’s Day.

“What we have done, unwittingly, is to take something fun and escapist (football on television) and turn it into ‘work’ on the Sabbath, by making it more realistic…It has also made Sunday feel like a workday. In essence, I am like an NFL general manager, scoping the injury list, and scouring other teams’ rosters…”

While his conclusion is right, he is overlooking a major premise by accepting that something “fun and escapist” (football) is an acceptable activity on the Lord’s Day, not to mention the fact that the players we are watching on TV are working. I’m not convinced that watching hours of professional football – no matter how many Christians are playing – is keeping the Sabbath holy (though there may be some exceptions to the rule). I think it will take a huge but necessary cutting off of entertainment and sports on Sundays for Christians to wake up to this reality, and to devote the Lord’s Day back to the Lord.

Otherwise, I liked the book. It is entertaining, witty, and interesting. One minor gripe is that he uses a form of the phrase “lantern-jawed” at least one million times throughout the book. But he makes up for this by making fun of the myriad Christian titles with “manifesto” in the title. I’d recommend it to any sports fan.