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10/30/2005

REMEMBERING KYLE LAKE

(Picured: UBC Lead Pastor Kyle Lake, UBC Community Pastor Ben Dudley, Lead Worshipper David Crowder celebrating UBC's tenth anniversary recently)


University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas lost a pastor and friend today. Kyle Lake, father of three, died this morning baptizing in UBC's morning service, welcoming people into the Kingdom of Heaven. Seems appropriate to me. My greatest memory of Kyle was him teaching me how to tell others about Jesus. He couldn't have been more than nineteen and I was just a couple years younger, in the youth group of FIrst Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas where we both grew up. His enthusiasm for talking about Jesus and his knowledge of scripture inspired me. I'd never seen anyone so close to me in years so far ahead spiritually, so brave and wise. We younger kids worshiped Kyle, the good looking soccer player everyone wanted to be, standing before us not to draw attention to himself - though there was plenty to admire - but to focus our desires on Christ. He pointed us in the right direction, a life of building Heaven on earth, and then left town headed in that direction himself, eventually pastoring University Baptist Church in Waco.

He leaves behind an amazing Mother and Father who showered Kyle and his brothers and sister with love and sound teaching and made him the man he became. He leaves behind a wife willing to put up with a pastoring husband and his congregation and the demands it must have made on them both, willing to sacrifice for the purpose Kyle and she were made for. He leaves behind three small children who will no doubt remember their father as a playmate, corrector, protector and teacher and will hopefully be told the stories of his life lived well for the rest of their lives. He leaves behind a congregation of students who, if they listened and watched closely and imitated well, are closer to the image and walk of Christ for having their lives crossing paths with Kyle's. He leaves behind many friends and fellow ministers in the emergent church movement who should now do their best to love and learn and communicate and serve as well as Kyle did.

We know today that Kyle is seeing God clearly now, face to face, his view unobstructed by the haze of this life. He's missing none of us. He's lacking nothing. His days are infinite and his heart whole. His tears gone. His hope realized. His company is a crowd that will only grow with time, a multitude of men and women lead to citizenship in Heaven by his words and laughter, random stories and worshipful listening, prayers and preaching of thirty-three years spent well.

We'll miss Kyle. He'll leave a hole in many lives. So we mourn that death exists, robs, surprises and perplexes. We mourn children without a father and a wife who'll sleep alone, parents who couldn't have imagined they'd bury a child.

We believe God though. We know that His plan has always included Kyle's death and that it plays a key role, somehow, in bringing fame to Himself, bringing the image of God into greater focus and putting our lives under examination in light of our mortality. God is up to something. Always. And He is keeping His promise to Kyle tonight, the promise of an eternal home, a lasting peace, a crown to lay at the feet of Jesus, a place to worship and delve deeper into the vast knowledge and love of Jesus. So we celebrate. This is not the end of Kyle's life, merely a transition to life at it's fullest, without boundaries and body and cares and fears. Kyle is home.

And I'm reminded, losing a friend I'd lost touch with and never got to know as much I wanted to, not to waste people and minutes and skills. I'm seeing life more clearly tonight, in light of mortality, reawakened to eternal perspective. The things I fear seem smaller, the people I aim to please seem less worthy of pleasing, and the time seems short and weighty, purposed from sunup to sundown. The bedtime ritual went by more slowly this evening, in technicolor, slow motion, every sentence prayed by tiny lips reveled in, every stroke of small hands across my beard filled with contentment and comfort. I hugged and kissed my wife harder, longer, noticing how she smells and talks and feels. Staring her in the eyes, telling her more often than usual what she means to me and how much better life is with her for me, not with cliches but with new words that on any other day she'd laugh off as cheesy or strange but today they mean more to both of us. Hundreds of names have filled my head, people I need to talk to, calls I need to make, needs I need to meet and prayers that will be prayed. The first prayer is that the newness of life that this taste of death has brought many of us will last longer than the funeral flowers, that we'll live fearlessly and focussed - that we will live like Kyle seemed to years ago teaching me about Jesus and teaching me how to introduce others to Him.

10/28/2005

CIVIC RELIGION

“There have been times when Christians have made effective use of the rhetoric of American civil religion to advance goals deeply rooted in the Gospel. However, civic religion is just as likely to lead Americans into thinking of the United States as the biblical city on the hill (which it is not), to equate American values with Christian virtues (which they are not), and to see loyalty to the American Republic as obedience to God's kingdom (when in fact these loyalties can and sometimes do conflict).”

~H. Jefferson Powell, Professor of Law and Divinity, Duke University


Originally posted by Jason Jenkins (Duke Divinity student/comedy genius, picture inset)) here. Parenthetical comments are Professor Powell's.

UNDERNEATH JACK AND JILL

Charlie Peacock plunges beneath the surface of "Jack and Jill" in his book NEW WAY TO BE HUMAN and sees things under the obvious that most of us wouldn't:

"What if 'Jack and Jill' is about

1. the partnership of male and female in the day-to-day needs of life?
2. the admission of human need (water), and how, in this world, meeting needs is often very difficult, dangerous work?
3. the topography of life where there are hills and valleys, and sometimes you climb a hill just to fall back down again?
4. the fact that human actions with the best of intentions for the purest of needs can still end in tragedy?
5. the ineptitude of men, and how they drag women down with them? (Just kidding, I think.)

What if 'Jack and Jill' is about all this (and more), and it is about two people traveling to get water and having an accident?"

ANd this has me thinking. What if the tales on the evening news - wars, robberies, dogs up for adoption, city council meetings - have a layer of meaning I'm not seeing as well? What if under the every day dramas and muted minutia tell us something about each other, life together, who we are and what we want and need and we're just not seeing it, not reading deeply enough, not squinting hard enough at what's underneath it all? What if?

And I'm wondering as I read Charlie's words again with you about how it is that some (like Charlie Peacock and English teachers in general) are able to see the layers of meaning in familiar words and experiences that many of the rest of us just don't even catch a hint of. How is it that Jack and Jill's fumbling antics on an imaginary hillside can communicate so many somethings other than the obvious to one person and be nothing but a child's rhyme to the masses? How do we, you and I, get under the skin of everyday conversations, songs, books, people and experiences to see the bones and muscles of meaning underneath? Is that even worth doing?

10/26/2005

ON THE COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE

Excerpts from Rolling Stone's interview this week with Bono:

Q:What role did religion play in your childhood?

A:I knew that we were different on our street because my mother was Protestant. And that she'd married a Catholic. At a time of strong sectarian feeling in the country, I knew that was special. We didn't go to the neighborhood schools -- we got on a bus. I picked up the courage they had to have had to follow through on their love.

Q:Did you feel religious when you went to church?

A:Even then I prayed more outside of the church than inside. It gets back to the songs I was listening to; to me, they were prayers. "How many roads must a man walk down?" That wasn't a rhetorical question to me. It was addressed to God. It's a question I wanted to know the answer to, and I'm wondering, who do I ask that to? I'm not gonna ask a schoolteacher. When John Lennon sings, "Oh, my love/For the first time in my life/My eyes are wide open" -- these songs have an intimacy for me that's not just between people, I realize now, not just sexual intimacy. A spiritual intimacy.

Q:Who is God to you at that point in your life?

A:I don't know. I would rarely be asking these questions inside the church. I see lovely nice people hanging out in a church. Occasionally, when I'm singing a hymn like . . . oh, if I can think of a good one . . . oh, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" or "Be Thou My Vision," something would stir inside of me. But, basically, religion left me cold.

Q:Your early songs are about being confused, about trying to find spirituality at an age when most anybody else your age would be writing about girls and trouble.

A:Yeah. We sorta did it the other way around.

Q:You skipped "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and you went right . . .

A:. . . Into the mystic. Van Morrison would be the inverse, in terms of the journey. It's this turbulent period at fifteen, sixteen, and the electrical storms that come at that age...

Q:You never saw rock & roll -- the so-called devil's music -- as incompatible with religion?

Look at the people who have formed my imagination. Bob Dylan. Nineteen seventy-six -- he's going through similar stuff. You buy Patti Smith: Horses -- "Jesus died for somebody's sins/But not mine . . ." And she turns Van Morrison's "Gloria" into liturgy. She's wrestling with these demons -- Catholicism in her case. Right the way through to Wave, where she's talking to the pope.

The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues, on one hand -- running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy -- running towards. And later you came to analyze it and figure it out.

The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There's David singing, "Oh, God -- where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?" And you go, this is the blues.

Both deal with the relationship with God. That's really it. I've since realized that anger with God is very valid. We wrote a song about that on the Pop album -- people were confused by it -- "Wake Up Dead Man": "Jesus, help me/I'm alone in this world/And a fucked-up world it is, too/Tell me, tell me the story /The one about eternity/And the way it's all gonna be/Wake up, dead man."

Q:Soon after starting the band you joined a Bible-study group -- you and Larry and Edge -- called the Shalom. What brought that on?

A:We were doing street theater in Dublin, and we met some people who were madder than us. They were a kind of inner-city group living life like it was the first century A.D.

They were expectant of signs and wonders; lived a kind of early-church religion. It was a commune. People who had cash shared it. They were passionate, and they were funny, and they seemed to have no material desires...

But it got a little too intense, as it always does; it became a bit of a holy huddle. And these people -- who are full of inspirational teaching and great ideas -- they pretended that our dress, the way we looked, didn't bother them. But very soon it appeared that was not the case. They started asking questions about the music we were listening to. Why are you wearing earrings? Why do you have a mohawk?...

Q:What draws you so deeply to Martin Luther King?

A:So now -- cut to 1980. Irish rock group, who've been through the fire of a certain kind of revival, a Christian-type revival, go to America. Turn on the TV the night you arrive, and there's all these people talking from the Scriptures. But they're quite obviously raving lunatics.

Suddenly you go, what's this? And you change the channel. There's another one. You change the channel, and there's another secondhand-car salesman. You think, oh, my God. But their words sound so similar . . . to the words out of our mouths.

So what happens? You learn to shut up. You say, whoa, what's this going on? You go oddly still and quiet. If you talk like this around here, people will think you're one of those. And you realize that these are the traders -- as in t-r-a-d-e-r-s -- in the temple.

Until you get to the black church, and you see that they have similar ideas. But their religion seems to be involved in social justice; the fight for equality. And a Rolling Stone journalist, Jim Henke, who has believed in you more than anyone up to this point, hands you a book called Let the Trumpet Sound -- which is the biography of Dr. King. And it just changes your life.

Even though I'm a believer, I still find it really hard to be around other believers: They make me nervous, they make me twitch. I sorta watch my back. Except when I'm with the black church. I feel relaxed, feel at home; my kids -- I can take them there; there's singing, there's music.

Q:What is your religious belief today? What is your concept of God?

A:If I could put it simply, I would say that I believe there's a force of love and logic in the world, a force of love and logic behind the universe. And I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in "straw poverty"; i.e., the story of Christ makes sense to me.

Q:How does it make sense?

A:As an artist, I see the poetry of it. It's so brilliant. That this scale of creation, and the unfathomable universe, should describe itself in such vulnerability, as a child. That is mind-blowing to me. I guess that would make me a Christian. Although I don't use the label, because it is so very hard to live up to. I feel like I'm the worst example of it, so I just kinda keep my mouth shut...

Q:How big an influence is the Bible on your songwriting? How much do you draw on its imagery, its ideas?

A:It sustains me.

Q:As a belief, or as a literary thing?

A:As a belief. These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like such a dickhead. I'm the sort of character who's got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I'm going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it's sort of underpinning for me.

I don't read it as a historical book. I don't read it as, "Well, that's good advice." I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It's a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you're in. It seems to do that for me.

Q:You're saying it's a living thing?

A:It's a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is self-described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you're at, if you're still enough. I'm writing a poem at the moment called "The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress." I'm not sure I'm the best advertisement for this stuff.

Q:What do you think of the evangelical movement that we see in the United States now?

A:I'm wary of faith outside of actions. I'm wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.

Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn't believe it. It almost ruined it for me -- 'cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS.

I've started to see this community as a real resource in America...

(Excerpted from RS 986, November 3, 2005) Read more here. Or better yet, buy the magazine. This is the longest most in-depth interview I've ever read in Rolling Stone and well worth the read. Much to think about on music, life, faith and family.

10/25/2005

ROB BELL ON BIG JESUS

An excerpt from a beliefnet interview with "Velvet Elvis" author Rob Bell:

QUESTION: You talk in the book about the "big Jesus." Tell me about the big Jesus that you know and how that differs from "small" or "smaller Jesus" or even "eentsy, beentsy, microscopic, teeny, weeny, little Jesus" out there.

ANSWER: For many people the message of Jesus was presented as an individual message of salvation for their own individual sin: "Jesus died for you." I affirm that wholeheartedly, but in the scriptures, its scope goes in the opposite direction. It begins with the Jesus who dies on the cross and rises from the dead. But as the New Testament progresses, you have writers saying that "by his shed blood he is reconciling everything in heaven and on earth." Peter says in Acts, "He will return to restore everything."

So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals. It is the reconciliation of all things. It is the putting back together of the whole universe how God originally intended it to be. One way to look at it is that the message is an invitation into God’s giant, global universal purposes that "I" actually get to be a part of.

I’m trying to get the focus where the first Christians seem to have had the focus. It is easy for it to become a very selfish thing—"look what I’ve got"—as opposed to "by the grace of God look at this amazing thing that he’s been inviting people into for thousands of years." And that is quite an awe-inspiring, amazing thing.

IN LIGHT OF THIS, A QUESTION FOR YOU, SHLOG READER: When someone first told you about this Jesus person and what he came to do, why He died on a cross, came to earth in the first place etc, how much of the focus was placed on YOU and how much was placed on ALL THINGS? How much emphasis was on YOUR decision and YOUR need and YOUR eternity and how much was EVERYTHING ELSE talked about, life here and now and everywhere? Have you mostly thought about "salvation" as a "personal relationship with Jesus" OR as a rescue for all of creation OR as a combination of the two OR as something totally different? How big is Jesus to you? Why do you think this way?

10/24/2005

FROM THE ROAD: CLINTON, TN

So my schedule was a little more full than I'd remembered this weekend. First I played Columbia, SC (Jammin Java), then Apex, NC (a benefit concert in a field beside a church - I played on a tractor trailer, yee haw), and then Sunday in Clinton, TN at Second Baptist Church (played in two morning services, taught College Sunday School, and then a show that night).

It was a long weekend. Between shows Brian drove well over 1000 miles while listening to the Astros lose two games of the World Series. Those losses, combined with very low attendance at our first two shows, made for two days of low morale. Expectations were set by promoters and by us and when they weren't met, in spite of great people met along the way and beautiful scenery at every mile, we were disappointed. Expectations are dangerous that way.

But on the third day there were no expectations. I'd forgotten all about the Clinton, TN show on Sunday. And what I walked into were two packed, alive, smiling crowds on Sunday morning followed by eager listeners and great conversations in the College class I taught. And Sunday night's show there was jammed to capacity with all ages, tons of college students, and more fun than I remember having making music in a long long time. No expectations made for one of the best days we've had in a while.

Thanks to everyone at Second Baptist in Clinton, TN - especially the leaders and students of Encounter. Your joy is contagious. Thanks for infecting me.

10/21/2005

FROM THE ROAD: COLUMBIA, SC

Story and pics after the show tonight In Columbia, SC:

Jammin Java -8 pm -$8 advance and $10 at the door


Tomorrow night I'm in Apex, NC at Salem Baptist Church at 6PM. The concert is for Hurricane Relief.

10/20/2005

PAGES AND PAGES

I'm making a list of books I want to read, not in any particular amount of time, but just read...sometime, anytime. Most of these deal with the Jewish Middle Eastern roots of Christianity - since Christianity is a Middle Eastern Jewish faith. Teaching through Genesis right now has been very difficult since, growing up Baptist, I've been taught next to nothing about the Jewish faith or the Old Testament. I think I'm missing a lot because of that. So here's what I'm planning on reading one day. What's on your list? What would you recommend?

Walking The Bible : A Journey By Land Through
The Five Books Of Moses ( Bruce Feiler )

Jewish Spirituality, A Brief Introduction For
Christians ( Lawrence Kushner )

Excavating Jesus : Beneath The Stones, Behind
The Texts ( Crossan And Reed )

Understanding The Difficult Words Of Jesus : New
Insights From A Hebraic Perspective
( Bivin And Blizzard )

Jewish Sources In Early Christianity
( David Fleusser )

The Bible As It Was ( James L. Kugel )

The Source ( James Michner )

Slaves, Women And Homosexuals : Exploring
The Hermeneutics Of Culture Analysis
( William J. Webb )

Our Father Abraham : Jewish Roots Of The
Christian Faith ( Marvin Williams )

Following Jesus : Biblical Reflections On
Discipleship ( N.T. Wright )

For All God's Worth : True Worship And The Calling
Of The Church ( N.T. Wright )

The Jews In The Time Of Jesus : An Introduction
( Stephen Wylen )

Jesus The Jewish Theologian ( Brad Young )

$100 LAPTOP

"The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. To achieve this goal, a new, non-profit association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), has been created. The initiative was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte, Lab chairman and co-founder, at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005"

More here.

10/18/2005

GOOD AND BAD NAKED

When a voluptuous blonde with extensions sauntered toward me after a show two years ago I had no idea I was about to learn something. Her breasts sat high enough to threaten air flow, her heels elevated her to over six feet, and her glittered nails stabbed out of long tight sleeves like diamond studded knives. She stretched out her slender hand, broke into a blinding bleached smile, wrapped her other arm around my shoulders and leaned in close for a picture. She smelled good. I signed her CD and answered her questions while something inside me radioed for help, "SOS, something's not right here. Be afraid." And I was.

She handed me her business card. "Stripper for Jesus" it said in large glittery letters that matched her nails and heels and belt. "Paul said that after you find Jesus you should go on with the way of life you were in before so you can spread the Good News to those people you hung out with before you got saved. If you're a plumber you should keep being a plumber you know? Well, I was a stripper so I'm putting it to good use," she explained.

I stood spellbound, my head aimed in her direction but my eyes occasionally casually searching the room for a hidden camera or a giggling friend peaking out from behind a fern in a corner, taking the whole awkward scene in with great pleasure.

Then there's my Republican/NRA/"Growing Kids God's Way"/Southern Baptist friend who, with equally admirable intentions, gets dressed in the dark so that she won't tempt her husband needlessly. She listens only to the bible on CD, teaches her kids that other four year olds who hit do so because they need Jesus, has to find a way to interject "Jesus" blatantly into every conversation and situation and believes that if a conversation or situation cannot be Jesus-ed then it shouldn't be participated in in the first place. If there is not an obvious and intended "Christian message" to a night of fun or a movie or a book she wants no part of it.

The stripper believes Jesus sets no limits for Christians because all things are pure to the pure. My Baptist friend seems to think that some things are plastered with bold faced "THIS IS A JESUS THING" labels and that only those things are safe and everything else is dangerous. If you can't read the label just avoid it, better to be safe than sorry - she says. One lives in a world without walls, the other in a world without windows.

And I see the stripper and the Baptist both when I look back upon my life - or even back upon the last few days. We probably all do. And then, realizing I have both of these people taking turns at the wheel inside my psyche, I'm driven to decide which one to hand the keys to. Which one is good and which is bad? Which should I let take over?

Then I think about being naked. I think about men with pockets full of ones sitting at darkened tables masturbating to nakedness. I think about the fertilizer nakedness in that place douses onto the seeds of reckless infidelity and base self-centeredness in every human heart present. Then I think of my honeymoon, of any night of my married life for that matter, my wife able to stand unashamed and naked before me, me before her, of how sex in that place feels like holy communion, rapturous, selfless and soul intertwining.

Then I think about Halloween. Every year evangelicals fight about it on my message board and at my concerts. The question is inevitably asked, "Shaun, is Halloween bad?" And I think that's a bit like asking if naked is bad. Depends why you're naked doesn't it? In the words of the great prophet Jerry Seinfeld "There's good naked and there's bad naked." Isn't that true?

We need walls sure, but we also need windows. The question I'm asking myself isn't whether Halloween or anything else is good or bad, but rather I'm asking "Do I have enough windows in my life to keep my faith from growing mold and dying" and "Where did this wall come from exactly?"

10/17/2005

DUST

The following is an excerpt from VELVET ELVIS by ROB BELL of MARS HILL BIBLE CHURCH in Grand Rapids. I like the implications of this passage for the modern church, the reminder that these words are to us pastor types to invest in disciples, to let someone follow behind us closely enough to get dusty. I haven't read the book yet, only pieces like this one. Have you? If so, what'd you think?

--------------------------------

One of the earliest sages of the Mishnah, Yose ben Yoezer, said, "Cover yourself with the dust of their feet."

This idea of being covered in the dust of your rabbi came from something everybody had seen. A rabbi comes to town and right behind him would be this group of students doing their best to keep up with rabbi as he went about teaching from one place to another. By the end of a day of walking in the dirt directly behind your rabbi, you would have the dust from his feet all over you.

And that was a good thing.

So at the age of thirty, when a rabbi generally began his public teaching and training of disciples, we find Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee. "He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen."

They are fishermen because they weren't good enough. They didn't make the cut.

Jesus calls the not-good-enoughs and, as the story continues, "at once they left their nets and followed him."

This is strange, isn't it? Why do they just drop their nets? And those Christian movies don't help. Jesus is usually wearing a white bath robe with a light blue beauty pageant sash and he has blow dried hair.

And he's Swedish.

But given the first-century context, it's clear what's going on here. Can you imagine what this must have been like-to have a rabbi say, "Come, follow me"?

To have a rabbi say: "YOU can be like ME."

Of course you would drop your nets.

10/14/2005

CHINESE CHURCH PERSECUTION

House Church Pastor and Evangelist Arrested in Henan
October 4, 2005

From China Aid Association
Midland, Texas (CAA, 10-4-2005)—Mr. Ma Shulei, a full time house church evangelist, was arrested in Mianchi County, Sanmenxia City, Henan Province, along with his 58-year-old father, Mr. Ma Yinzhou, who is a house church pastor.

On September 26, 2005, Mr. Ma Shulei returned home from Yunnan Province to visit his father. Someone immediately reported this information to the police. When the police arrived, Mr. Ma Shulei was not at home. Therefore, the police arrested his father Pastor Ma Yinzhou, and forced him to reveal his son’s whereabouts. To save his father, Mr. Ma Shulei turned himself in October 2. However, his father was not released and both are now in police custody.

In 2002, Mr. Ma Shulei and his father were detained in Beijing for more than 40 days after a church leader’s meeting was raided by the police. Later they were put on probation and ordered to report to the police every five days. Instead of following the probation order, Mr. Ma Shulei went into Yunnan Province as a house church missionary. Mr. Ma Shulei graduated from a Chinese seminary in Myanmar in 2002.

“To hold the father in order to arrest the son is certainly a very harsh tactic to use against two innocent individuals.” said Bob Fu, “We urge the Chinese government to immediately release Pastor Ma and his son.”

Voice Of The Martyrs would like you to write a polite letter of protest on the behalf of Mr. Ma Shulei and Mr. Ma Yinzhou. Send to:

Embassy of the People's Republic of China
Zhou Wenzhong, Ambassador
2300 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: (202) 328-2500
Fax: (202) 588-0032

10/13/2005

BURNLOUNGE

FROM BILLBOARD MAGAZINE: Startup digital music company BurnLounge wants to democratize the music retail business.

The Web-based service provides the music library, e-commerce tools and business management software for virtually anyone to own and operate their own digital download store. The company's founders hope to recruit everyday music fans, allowing each to decide which acts they want to feature and promote, as a sort of digital guerrilla marketing
play.

"It's the reincarnation of the corner record store," BurnLounge president/COO and co-founder Ryan Dadd says. "This whole concept is about the next generation of retail. It's about marketing to affinity groups, to people with shared interests."

BurnLounge is essentially a digital store franchise. Regardless of operator, each store has the same look and feel, and all carry the BurnLounge brand. All also have access to the same music library, pricing and transaction system, powered by partner Loudeye.

What sets each BurnLounge store apart is the programming that the individual operator chooses. The service lets users decide which bands or songs to feature on the home page and each genre page, as well as create and promote customized playlists.

It also provides a host of digital marketing tools. These include an instant messaging application that supports all popular IM communities (such as AOL, MSN Messenger and Yahoo; chat rooms; and message boards), DVD presentations, posters, letterheads, gift cards and a quarterly promotional magazine.

"In the music business, we've always known that personal referrals and relationships lead to sales," says Stephen Murray, BurnLounge president of entertainment and co-founder. "The problem is there's been no way to quantifiably track that transaction."

That, he promises, is possible with BurnLounge. The company hopes to capitalize on this by marketing the service to artists and their managers, fan clubs, street-team marketing groups, labels, music retailers and others with a large audience of music fans. Radio personality Rick Dees is one, and he is an investor in the company.

BurnLounge offers these companies its top-level Music Mogul service, which allows them to set up their own digital music service as well as operate an online chain of stores. Music Mogul operators invite others to open franchises under their oversight via the Affiliate level of the service. These affiliate members then invite individuals to open their own personalized stores...

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To learn more check out BurnLounge.com's beta site and this promotional video

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What remains to be clarified is whether or not independent artists outside the five major label system will be sold on BurnLounge sites. If so, then this could go a long way to replacing major label distribution channels as the downloadable single continues to increase in popularity. And why would I, the consumer, want to buy music from a BurnLounge site and not from iTunes? Will I have to find a BurnLounge affiliated site that sells the songs I'm looking for? If so, why not shop at iTunes where almost every major label song I want is all in one place? What are your thoughts? Great way to make some money and purchase music OR redundant and more complicated version of iTunes?

10/12/2005

SCARY

Her front yard looks like the Grim Reaper's carnival set up shop. Tomb stones litter the flower beds. Gargoyles bask in black lighting. A ten foot spider crouches guarding against sidewalk riff raff. An undead woman in rotted wedding regalia laughs maniacally at the front door while fog machines seethe a low haze of dread across the lawn.

She's scary. She's my neighbor - a woman in her late thirties who looks like any other mother of boys driving a mini van to the elementary school twice daily and dropping by Kroger for ten items or less every few days. But this mom looks forward to Halloween. It's her Christmas, she exaplins. After the first week of October, as soon as her yard begins crawling with plastic ghouls of all manifestations, people start to wonder "Who ARE these people living among us?"

She's an accomplished author, that's who. She's written book adaptations of some very frightening films, examples of which I won't list here for fear of blowing her cover and drawing fans to our otherwise sleepy neighborhood. Her biggest claim to fame is, however, a series of original books about a vampire slayer - a very sexually rambunctious vampire slayer. In the one chapter I was brave enough to peak at (I scare easily) a woman woke up in a dungeon chained to a bulging hunk of a man, wondering if she'd had too much to drink the night before or if something more sinister had taken place since her last memory of consciousness. In less than a page the sleeping stranger she's tethered too awakes, is of course gorgeous, and predictably amorous. He crawls on top of her and paragraphs of odd dialogue about vampires, werewolves and assassins ensue, made uncomfortable by constant internally monologued sexual fantasies from both characters. Of course the two characters consummate their new "friendship" and embark on an unholy sinister adventure and I'm left wondering A) Why am I still reading this? and B) Who ARE these people living among us? Again, she's scary.

I'm living next door to the Danielle Steele of the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. I imagine her fans to be a certain group of guys I knew in high school. I imagine them believing vampires were real back then. They probably worshipped the devil, wearing black as a kind of warning shot, to ward off the rest of us. They put curses on the homes of strict teachers and sacrificed farm animals and such. They probably talked to Satan, heard him talk back and hated all things beautiful and innocent - I imagine. And this imagination of mine kept me from getting closer to my neighbor than a wave from the mailbox and a smile. She's scary - feeding demonic sex crazed wackos page after page of encouragement every day like she does.

But then my kids asked if they could cross the street and stroll through her tomb stones and corpses and how could I refuse? That's when she came outside and we actually met, laughed, talked a long time - her in a "I'm Evil" t-shirt (black of course) and me in a "Relevant Magazine" shirt (white of course). We talked long enough that the hazer in her bushes ran out of juice and then the fog began to clear.

She's known apparently for quite some time about what I do too. "I live across the street from a guy who sings songs about God for Christians," she may have blogged in the past. "I knew people in high school who listened to that crap. They'd skip our dances and look mortified when I'd cuss or walk around campus with my hand in my boyfriend's back pocket. I imagined them talking about angels and what Jesus would major in at College or what the new Queen record says if you play it backward. They had slumber parties at which the souls of damned class mates were "lifted up", and G-rated movies were consumed while wearing footy pajamas before turning in no later than 9."

Now that we're friends though I've learned she need not use her imagination to picture one of my fans. She doesn't have to lean on foggy high school memories of Christians. Her sister is one - an angel seeing, doily decorating, ceramic figurine collecting, George Bush voting, speaking in tongues, slain in the spirit, charting the end times, boycott Disney and Ellen and the Teletubbies, "don't say geez", church twice a week, Jesus fished, until-you-stop-writing-those-kinds-of-books-don't-come-to-our-house-for-Christmas Christian...who loves my music and hates her.

Now that's scary. Or, sadly, that's what the scary are sometimes made of.

10/07/2005

JUST LIKE LAST SUMMER

FROM THE BOOK ABOUT THE BEATITUDES (THE CHAPTER ON MEEKNESS)...

I went to youth camp a few times when I was fifteen or sixteen. It was a week of swimming and hiking and daily gatherings in an outdoor ampitheatre to hear songs and sermons about God. The sermons usually came from a traveling preacher, a professional speaker, who passionately delivered to us the same words every year. With the same results. The gist of his message was how much God loved us and how we should not sleep around or do drugs. The connection between the two – sex and drugs and God’s love – was hard for me to make out.

At some point in his sermon though, there was a compelling brutal retelling of Jesus’ dramatic death on the cross for my sins. It was riveting. The preacher would cry when he told it. We’d cry too. And then one by one we’d trickle out of our seats, as the piano was lightly tinkered, weave our arms around each other and form a massive sweaty pile of remorse at the front of the stage.

One girl in the crowd prayed to “receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.” Then the other hundred of us in the weeping huddle would “rededicate” our lives to Jesus. We filled out cards, white cards, with tiny pencils, making our formal commitment by checking the “rededication” box.

The cheerleader swore she’d eat lunch with those below her social status at school this year - members of the chess team or trombone players - and she’d stop putting out to the quarterback and the linebacker and the point guard and the captain of the swim team. The computer geek promised to stop masturbating to downloaded pictures of Vanna White and stop lusting after the cheerleader and hating the quarterback and the linebacker and the point guard and the captain of the swim team. All of us in the sobbing huddle said these kinds of things. “I’ll be better,” we promised ourselves, God and whoever read those cards.

And we meant it. Just like we did last Summer.

10/02/2005

KURT VONNEGUT ON THE BEATITUDES (AND A LOT OF OTHER STUFF)

KURT VONNEGUT (Author: "Slaughterhouse Five") IS BEATING HIS PULPIT OVER AT INTHESETIMES.COM. CURRENTLY 81 YEARS-OLD, HIS ENTIRE RANT IS WORTH READING, WORTH DISAGREEING AND AGREEING WITH (IN THAT ORDER PROBABLY), AND WORTH A GOOD LAUGH A TIME OR TWO AS WELL. KNOWN FOR HIS NON-LINEAR A.D.D. STYLE OF WRITING, MR.VONNEGUT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT FANS OF HIS SCATTERED RAMBLINGS WITH THIS PIECE. ENJOY AN EXCERPT BELOW ON THE BEATITUDES:

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

10/01/2005

LOFTY FROM THE LIMPING

I got the big V on Friday. Today I'm strung out on Percocet, bag of frozen peas where no frozen peas have gone before, lap top next to me and I'm making final outlines and plans for tomorrow's big trip. I'm going on a sabbatical - me, my drugs, my peas and two suitcases of books.

I taught the beatitudes to the folks at IKON a year and a half ago and became obsessed with these eight diminutive hand grenade blessings Jesus lobbed into the souls of curiosity seekers and followers gathered on a hillside two thousand years. "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek..." Deceptively simple. Counterintuitive and peculiar. Only God could write such blasphemy. "Blessed are those who make peace, who are persecuted..."

I was so undone and inspired that I wrote eleven songs and recorded one more for WHITE FLAG, an album reflecting on these axioms from the Sermon on the Mount. Teaching and singing them didn't shake the obsession for understanding and communicating them though. I've continued to read and wrestle and now have screens of notes and a head full of stories and observations too large for verses and chorus or thirty minute discourses.

So I'm heading to a cabin in the woods for a week to download all that I've learned about the beatitudes into book form. The hope is that this material will be enjoyable and challenging to read, as comforting and controversial as the day they were spoken. I hope this book is used to provoke more study and conversation by those who read it and that disciples are forged from mere believers.

But that seems a bit lofty for me right now. Right now, waddling about the house like a half-retarded penguin, with pillow hair and scraggly beard, bad breath and melting produce between my legs, I feel incredibly ordinary - or even less. And while that once discouraged me from picking up a guitar or singing for strangers, I've now learned that the ordinary - the less than ordinary even - when infused with Divine direction and passion and power, can accomplish the lofty: the limping can leap. And so I have this tingle in me tonight that is either a side effect of heavy medication or anticipation of and confidence in what God can and might just say through me this week. This is the final full brain dump of hours of study, prayer, inspiration and questioning surrounding the beatitudes.

No matter how good or not good this book ends up being, it just feels good to tingle again like I did years ago sitting scared on my garage floor working out the chorus of Should I Tell Them. It feels good to feel too small for the occasion - to feel the weight of the opportunity before me, to be fearful, to try anyway, to be alone pondering and carefully joyfully painting God with a new kind of brush.

See you when I return in about a week - hopefully with a finished book and a thawed...you know.

JUST WAR PART 7: JUS AD BELLUM & JUS IN BELLO

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
JUST WAR PART 1: THE TIMES OF AUGUSTINE
JUST WAR PART 2: THE THEORY OF AUGUSTINE
JUST WAR PART 3: AQUINAS BUILDS
JUST WAR PART 4: UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Crusades)
JUST WAR PART 5: UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Natural Law)
JUST WAR PART 6: CHIVALRY

Once these major contributions to Just War thinking by warriors (knights) and the Church (Augustine and Aquinas) were made and largely accepted among Catholics of the Middle Ages, the tradition of Just War was taught as having two components: the right to go to war and the right conduct of war. These were labeled in Latin as "jus ad bellum" and "jus in bello."

The criteria of jus ad bellum were:
1.War had to be declared by a "legitimate" authority.
2.War had to be declared with right intention, for a just cause
3.War had to be the last resort.

These criteria limited war somewhat but also made it possible, though exceptional, for a just war to exist. A just war had to meet these criteria. Most wars, because of the severe requirements of these criteria, were viewed as unjust. In addition to meeting the criteria of jus ad bellum, a war had to meet the requirements of jus in bello, further decreasing the possibility of a war being deemed "just".

The criteria of jus in bello were:
1.The immediate objective of force couldn't be to kill but to restrain.
2.Soldiers who surrendered could not be killed.
3.Non-combatants (civilians, the unarmed) could not to be attacked directly.
4.Indiscriminate force and weaponry could not be used (indiscriminate meaning without a specific limited target)
5.Unnecessary suffering was prohibited.

"While in a formal or technical sense this doctrine is essentially medieval and Catholic, in more loose and diffuse terms it remains to this day the dominant military ethos of the Western world."(1) Those are the words of an ethicist in the 1960's, a time when these criteria influenced our thinking on war but obviously did not reign supreme over it. Something must have changed in our understanding of these criteria, between their authoring in the Middle Ages, when wars declared "just" were exceptions, and the twentieth century, when just wars were often waged by and approved of by the majority of American Evangelical Christians as "just".

For now it suffices to point out that in time the criteria for just war has obviously loosened, losing much of the original restriction of force found in the jus ad bellum and jus in bello. These criteria evolved in some way allowing for the killing of "non-combatants" and use of "indiscriminate force" at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example. What I'll contend in my next post on Just War is that the evolution or erosion of these criteria is not a modern American phenomena but instead began shortly after the ink dried on the words "jus in bello" and "jus ad bellum." It began when Christopher Columbus brought war to the Americas in the sixteenth century.

SOURCES:
1. Paul Peachy, "New Ethical Possibility," Interpretation 19 (January 1965): 26-27