Friday, July 1, 2011

Tennis Since Wimbledon 2003

Since Roger Federer (currently world number 3) won his first Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon 2003), there have been 32 grand slam tournaments (including that Wimbledon, but not including the Wimbledon which is going on right now).  I wanted to look at the numbers over the last 8 years and see the lack of competition that has existed within men’s tennis the last 8 years.  The numbers to the left are the current ATP rankings, and to the right of each name is the number of Grand Slam tournaments that the top 25 players in the world have won during this time (note that in the current Wimbledon, two players on this list, Djokovic and Nadal, will face off in the championship at Wimbledon).

1.  Novak Djokovic 2
2.  Rafael Nadal 10
3.  Roger Federer 16
10.  Andy Roddick 1
21.  Juan Martín del Potro 1

That adds up to 30 of the championships in that time.  The other two Grand Slams were won by the retired players Marat Safin (Australian Open 2005) and Gastón Norberto Gaudio (French Open 2004).  So in the last eight years, 32 championships have been won by 7 players.

Compare that with the four major championships of golf in the last 32 Majors, in which 21 golfers have won a major:

Tiger Woods 6
Phil Mickelson 4
Pádraig Harrington 3
Angel Cabrera 2
Charl Schwartzel 1
Trevor Immelman 1
Zach Johnson 1
Rory McIlroy 1
Graeme McDowell 1
Lucas Glover 1
Geoff Ogilvy 1
Micahel Campbell 1
Retief Goosen 1
Louis Oosthuizen 1
Stewart Cink 1
Todd Hamilton 1
Ben Curtis 1
Martin Kaymer 1
Yang Yong-eun 1
Vijay Singh 1
Shaun Michael 1

So, based on these results, there's a lot less of a competition in tennis today, and while it may be good for fans of Federer and Nadal, I'm not so sure it's good for the sport of tennis.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Karl Barth on Grace

This coming Sunday, I'll be preaching on Romans 6:12-23.  While doing some research, I pulled out my copy of Karl Barth's The Epistle to the Romans and found this wonderful passage:

“Grace is the power of obedience; it is theory and practice, conception and birth; it is the indicative which carries with it a categorical imperative; it is the call, the command, the order, which cannot be disobeyed.  Grace has the force of a downright conclusion; it is knowledge which requires no act of will to translate it into action, as though the will were a second factor side by side with knowledge.  Grace is knowledge of the will of God, and as such it is the willing of the will of God.  Grace is the power of the Resurrection: the knowledge that men are begotten of God, that it moves and rests in Him, and that it is beyond all concrete things, beyond the being and course of this world.  Inasmuch as men have discovered it, Grace is the existence begotten of God, the new man, created and redeemed by God, the man who is righteous before Him and in whom He is well pleased, the man in whom God again discovers Himself, as a father discovers himself in his child.  Of supreme importance, then, is the demand that I, the new man in the power of the resurrection and within the krisis of the transition from death to life, should by faith and under grace—will the will of God.  As the man under grace, I am in a position to hear and understand this demand, for existentially and assuredly I live from God and am what He desires.  By this demand, moreover, I am reminded of that primal Origin by which my existence is affirmed, and I perceive that I—and yet not I—am” (207–208).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Charles Taylor on "Excarnation"

I've grown more and more agitated with the gnostic understandings that many Christians have of humanity and what happens to people when they die.  I recently attended a funeral in which the preacher referred to the persons body as a "shell."

At the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference a week and a half ago, Luke Timothy Johnson helpfully addressed Paul's understanding of the resurrection and the body as seen in 1 Corinthians.  Much of his presentation was very similar to N.T. Wright's work on the matter (see Surprised by Hope or Resurrection and the Son of God).  It's refreshing to hear presentations like Johnson's because I so rarely hear those issues discussed in churches.

Charles Taylor has a very helpful discussion of gnostic or disembodied views of humanity in A Secular Age.  He calls it "excarnation," which he defines as "the steady disembodying of spiritual life, so that it is less and less carried in deeply meaningful bodily forms, and lies more and more 'in the head'" (771).  While I am a person who enjoys reading, thinking, writing, etc., I am more interested in an understanding of theology which is not just in the head, but deals with our embodied lives.  This includes not just service towards others, but worship practices that use our senses our senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.  So, for instance, our practices of the Lord's Supper should not be rationalistic and introspective, but times in which we commune with God and with one another and "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8).  As Taylor says, "Christianity, as the faith of the Incarnate, is denying something essential to itself as long as it remains wedded to forms which excarnate" (771).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Martin Luther on Evil

This morning, I'm working more on my lesson for youth group tonight.  We've been doing a series on Ezekiel, and to help me with preparing my lessons, I've been reading Robert Jenson's commentary on Ezekiel from the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series.  I enjoyed a paragraph I just read in which Jenson comments on how Christians should view evil (especially the comment about Luther):

"Augustine said that evil is the darkness where being has run out; the shadow that lies over our lives is the gloom that deepens as the light dims.  Karl Barth said that evil is what God eternally leaves behind him and that the shadow is the trace of his doing this.  But perhaps the shadow's sheerly negative reality is best acknowledged and exorcized by doing what Martin Luther famously did, throwing things at it" (115).

Monday, March 28, 2011

William Cavanaugh on Production

"As I write this, I stop to look at the clothes I am wearing: my shirt was made in Indonesia, my jeans in Mexico, my shoes in China.  My undershirt, whose label instructs me to 'have a nice day,' was made in Haiti, where a nice day for most people is a day when there is enough food to eat.  Most of us would never deliberately choose our own material comfort over the life of another person.  Most of us do not consciously choose to work others to death for the sake of the lower prices on the things we buy.  But we participate in such an economy because we are detached from the producers, the people who actually make our things.  Not only are the people who make our things often a world away, but we are prevented from learning about where our products come from by a host of roadblocks.  And so we inhabit separate worlds, worlds that have entirely different ways of looking at the material world.  The 'happy meal' toys from McDonalds's that we easily discard reveal nothing of the toil of the malnourished young women who make them.  We spend the equivalent of two days' wages for such women on a cup of coffee for ourselves--without giving it a second thought.  We do so not necessarily because we are greedy and indifferent to the suffering of others, but largely because those others are invisible to us."

William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008), 43.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Naming God"

I love these opening lines from Hauerwas' sermon, "Naming God," which comes from Working with Words.

"'God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt' is the hallmark sentence of Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology.  This elegantly simple but dauntingly deep sentence took Jenson a lifetime of theological reflection to write.  To write such a sentence requires that the grammar of our faith discipline our presumption that we know what we say when we say 'God.'  For it turns out that we are most likely to take God's name in vain when we assume we can know what we say when we say 'God'" (79).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Working with Words"

Yesterday, I received my copy of Stanley Hauerwas' new book Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian, a book I've been looking forward to for months.  I love Hauerwas' opening paragraph:

"In Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir I suggested--or is confessed a better description?--that I write because writing is the only way I know how to think.  That is not quite true.  I am able to write, or I find I feel I have to write, because I read.  Reading is one of the ways I learn how to think.  I am often asked how I have written so much.  The only explanation, and it is not clear to me that it is an explanation, is that my writing is determined by my reading.  Which means that I hope others will write about what I have written about about because they have read what I have read" (ix).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academy Awards Reflections

I won’t reflect on every category, since with a few of them (like Sound Editing or Film Editing) I have no idea how to judge them.  Also, since I can’t read to Screenplays to make a judgment, there’s no point in weighing in.

AMAZING opening montage.  Loved the blending of scenes from some of the years.  I especially enjoyed A.H. winking at Colin Firth, J.F.’s “I loved you in Tron” bit, and the use of Back to the Future.

I feel torn about the Best Supporting Actress Category.  I also liked Amy Adams and Helena Bonham Carter, and I loved Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (who I would have voted for if I was able to).  I can, however, live with Melissa Leo winning the award.  She did a great job in The Fighter.  As an aside, starting off the Academy Awards with an f-bomb; really?

I (ashamed to say) only got to see one of the animated feature films, Toy Story 3, but I still can’t imagine any animated film beating Toy Story 3, so I’m definitely happy with the win.

Christian Bale was amazing in the fighter.  It was pretty impressive that he spent so much time with Dickie and lost so much weight to do the part.  I would give a close second place to Geoffrey Rush, but I still would give my vote to Christian Bale.

Currently, my favorite directors are the Coen brothers, and I’ll always root for them to win, but this year, I’m comfortable with Tom Hooper winning Best Direction.

I’ve seen three of the films for which women were nominated for Best Actress.  While I feel bad for Annette Bening that she lost (again), I’m happy for Natalie Portman.  While Black Swan was at times difficult to watch and I still don’t know if I completely get it, she did put forward an amazing performance.

Again, I’ve seen three of the Best Actor nominated films.  Even though I haven’t seen all five, I can’t imagine anyone else winning this award but Colin Firth.  I loved Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, but Firth put forward an amazing performance.  It’s difficult to do something like act as though you have speech impediment even though you don’t and to do it convincingly.  Ok, he won.  This was one category I would have been upset about if he didn’t win.

I’ve seen nine out of the ten Best Picture Nominees (I haven’t seen 127 Hours).  I have narrowed down my top three to The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and True Grit.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t love any of the other films.  I also loved Toy Story 3, Inception, The Fighter, and Winter’s Bone.  I can appreciate The Kids are All Right and Black Swan, but I wouldn’t have given either film my vote.  I keep on going back and forth on which one of my top three I would vote for.  In the weeks leading up to today, I started to lean more and more toward The King’s Speech.  Spielberg just announcement that The King’s Speech was the winner and Cassandra shook her head in disappointment (she wanted The Social Network to win).

I don’t have many complaints this year, so my reflections are probably pretty boring, but here they are anyway.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Secular Age: Intro

I haven't blogged since November, so I figured I should get back to work on blogging.  In my last post, I made some reading goals for 2011.  So far, I've read the two fiction books on my list, Brothers Karamazov and The Corrections.  I enjoyed them both.  I'm also reading Church Dogmatics along with J.R. Daniel Kirk's reading group (  Due to some recent reading I've done, I've become more and more interested in reading Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.  What pushed me to read it now is I just read on James K.A. Smith's blog ( that he's currently teaching a seminar on A Secular Age.  He made his syllabus available online and also started a blog to go along with the reading of the course (  While I'm a week behind on the class readings, I'm hoping to catch up and read along with his class.  I’m reading the Kindle Edition, so I will be citing location numbers rather than page numbers in my own reflections.

Taylor begins the introduction asking, “What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?”  By “we,” Taylor is referring to those of us who live in the “North Atlantic world” (loc. 31–35).  Taylor then notes that we in the west don’t have a clear understanding of secularity.  He gives three ways in which secularity is characterized:
  1. “The first concentrates on the common institutions and practices—most obviously, but not only, the state.  The difference would then consist in this, that whereas the political organization of all pre-modern societies was in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality, the modern Western state is free from this connection.  Churches are now separate from political structures (with a couple of examples, in Britain and the Scandinavian countries, which are so low-key and undemanding as not really to constitute exceptions).  Religion or its absence is largely a private matter” (loc. 35–40).  Taylor notes that this was until recently the standard view of secularity, which he calls secularity 1.  Secularity 1 is characterized by an understanding of “public spaces” that have been “emptied of God, or of any reference to ultimate reality” (loc. 49).  Secularity 1 contrasts with earlier periods in which “Christ faith laid down authoritative prescriptions, often through the mouths of the clergy” (loc. 52).
  2. Secularity 2 “consists in the falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church” (loc. 58).  Taylor says secularity 2 can be seen in the countries of western Europe—“even those who retain the vestigial of public reference to God in public spaces.”  On the other hand, Taylor notes that while the US was “One of the earliest societies to separate Church and State, it is also the Western society with the highest statistics for religious belief and practice” (loc. 55–60).  Note that Taylor does not just focus on religious belief, but also practice, and later he also discusses experience and search.  Taylor thus understands belief and unbelief as “lived conditions, not just theories or sets of beliefs subscribed to (loc. 145–147).
  3. Taylor then says that he wants to examine the secular in a third sense, “closely related to the second, and not without connection to the first: This would focus on the conditions of belief.  The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.”  In this sense, the US is fully secularized, while most Muslim societies and India would not be, even if church attendance in the US was higher than mosque attendance in Jordan (loc. 60–65).

So, within A Secular Age, Taylor says “the change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”  While Taylor, and myself, see it as inconceivable to abandon faith, many see belief as simply one option among others (loc. 65–71).

Smith notes this on his blog about Taylor’s introduction:

One of the biggest challenges in reading a big book like A Secular Age is keeping track of the argument through the thickets and rabbit trails of such a sprawling account. One way to keep in task, then, is to keep in mind Taylor's quarry--his concern and project. The project is to answer a question that is formulated in a couple of different ways early in the book:
How did we move from a condition where, in Christendom, people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances, in which everyone’s construal shows up as such; and in which moreover, unbelief has become for many the major default option?” (p. 14)
Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (p. 25)
I find Taylor’s three-fold understanding of secularity helpful.  It prevents simplified understandings of secularity.  This introduction helps see the important questions that Taylor wants to answer throughout the book.

The two questions that Taylor raises are important for contemporary people of faith.  Even though I am a devoted Christian and even serve as a minister, why is my default position often unbelief when it concerns the miraculous?  While I disagree with the dualisms of American society that tell me that my faith should be private and separated from my public life, I often do exactly that.  I’m hoping that reading Taylor will help me become more aware of some of these issues and help me see ways in which I can understand belief and unbelief holistically, rather than rationally.