by Mary Oliver 
Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.
Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?
Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.
Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.
And I suppose sometime I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.
 Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), 36.
Waking on a Sunday morning - earlier than one should or at least earlier than the previous night might have recommended - feet hit the floor in response to the knock at the door. The feet shuffle across the cold vinyl, the door cracks open, a familiar face peers through the doorframe into the room where a groggy blank stare is returned.
“What time is it?”
“8:15,” said the familiar voice springing from the familiar face of The Mexican.
“I’ll be down in fifteen.”
Socks are applied, then shoes, the rest already still worn from the night before. A bag – the contents including water, bread, notebooks, chocolate, camera, iPod, a magazine — is thrown over a shoulder and the day begins.
The two set out and add a third near the train station. AYT and The Mexican are joined by a tall, long-limbed Englishman, who for the purposes of this story will go by the name Oxford. When the two met Oxford, he was wearing a burgundy wool v-neck sweater over a navy polo, corduroys, a baseball hat which somehow conjured images of the young Castro without bearing a close resemblance, and an almost matching bag — olive-colored with leather fasteners — which once belonged to his grandfather. He stood with his hands on his hips like a field commander studying the battle plans but itching for things to get underway.
One might ask, what rouses this threesome — Oxford, The Mexican, and America’s Young Theologian — early on this Sunday morning in July? Indeed, this is a fitting question. After all, later that day Lance Armstrong would be rolling down that famous Parisian boulevard to a seventh Tour victory, the Swiss and even the Italian Alps are but a stone’s throw away, and if one wakes early enough possibility remains a traveling companion throughout the day. What then is the sirens' call that serenades? The answer is simple. Ed Cooke. Oh, come now, don’t play coy. Don’t pretend that you’re not familiar with the World Memory Championship. Well, for the assuredly small number who have seemingly missed the boat, the World Memory Championship is a competition that tests how quickly one can memorize the order of a deck of cards, how much binary code one can recall, and further feats of mental strength, and Ed, an old pal of Oxford’s from school, was competing. Yes, the memorizing of binary was the sirens' song that lured the threesome from sleep's deep abyss.
Yet, neither stories nor journeys are as regular and predictable as the German train system.
Within minutes the three companions were embarking on a four hour, multiple train, local-train-only extravaganza that would teach them much. First, a primary ontological characteristic of trains was quickly gleaned and will be divulged for free here, namely that “a train is not a train unless it is run for.” Second, Oxford has a latent thang for Avril Lavigne. Once on the train, it wasn’t long before Oxford and AYT began talking music and even a shorter time until AYT was brandishing his iPod. Oxford began to dial his way through what can only be considered the musical backwaters of AYT’s iPod and after finding such delightful lyrics as “it’s labor day and my grandpa just ate seven fucking hotdogs,” he happened upon the musical stylings of Ms. Lavigne. This led to Oxford putting forth several carefully crafted theories:
1) Take a decent producer and a fantasy-worthy young woman and gargling can become music, and music can become good music.
2) The lyrics of several of Avril’s songs seem to intentionally conjure sexual imagery without actually being the subject of the song. See, for example, the song “Things I’ll Never Say” off of Ms. Lavigne’s album Let Go. Oxford maintains that the lyrics, “... / I can say what I want to see / I wanna see you go down on one knee / Marry me today/...,” always sound more like, “I wanna see you go down on me.”
Intentional? A mystery not to be solved here, but they do sound close. After this enlightening conversation, The Mexican and America’s Young Theologian would never look at Oxford the same way, and felt as though a shower was in order.
Several trains later, the trio arrive in Darmstadt and like children going to the circus are filled with expectation. All except The Mexican, who has decided that, memory championship or not, he’d prefer to see Heidelberg. It was clear that the lack of sleep was affecting his judgment given his partiality toward beautiful historic cities over watching grown men memorize binary.
To his delight, however, the last day of the tournament was canceled.
What now? After placing a few phone calls, Oxford found that Ed was still in Darmstadt. So, The Mexican, Oxford, America’s Young Theologian, Ed – a long haired cognitive psychology graduate student in Paris, and Josh – a free-lance writer from DC doing a piece for Discovery magazine on the World Memory Championship - all hopped a train and an hour later were walking the streets of Heidelberg.
The five found food and a few pitchers of local beer and, though it had started to rain, decided to see the castle which looms over the town.
Ed and AYT walked in the rain discussing Merleau-Ponty and how memory techniques might be applied to philosophical reading/learning. Eventually the five dwindled to three as Ed had to return to Paris and Josh also took his leave. Oxford, The Mexican, and AYT decide to return to the streets of the old-town but via a different path than the stairs that brought them to the castle.
A few minutes pass. Oxford and America's Young Theologian discuss The Streets' song "Don't Mug Youself." Oxford comments that likes the lyrics: "... / And I'm like, honestly it's not like that / You're acting like I'm prancing like a sap / Jumping when she claps and that / ..."
Then in the underbrush somthing appeared.
The Mexican saw it first and drew the others' attention with an exclamation. Quickly AYT and Oxford were scrambling over an embankment to the mouth of an overgrown and seemingly deserted slide. Beyond the first turn where it disappeared into the thistles and weeds, where did this slide go? Was it safe? [If this were a magical tale, the question of whether this was the portal of youth that the three had been seeking would also be a fitting question. Alas...] Oxford and AYT decide that there is only one proper way to find out where a slide goes. On his bag [the magical tale version would note that it was an impenetrable bag made from the shell of a giant land tortoise], Oxford decides to venture down what the rain had turned into a highly-polished metal water slide. He disappears. There is a sound of bear lumbering through a thicket, an unnerving thud, then silence.
"Oxford?," AYT whimpers.
"The bottom is a bit dodgy," Oxford communicates in a pained voice, but then proceeds to persuade AYT that he should join in the lunacy.
AYT zips his protective garment [the magical version would again note that this garment was received by a practitioner of white magic who worked in an old cathedral in Kent] and hands his bag to The Mexican.
The bottom was indeed a 'bit dodgy':
AYT's groan mimicked Oxford's. Mustering all his German, AYT said, "Der Teufel hat einen Kinderspielplatz." Translation: "The Devil has a playground."
The Mexican and AYT had long been working on the thesis that German's try to kill their children via exceedingly unsafe playground equipment. This was the last data point that constitutes proof.
This was "The Chute of the Damned."
Oxford's wrist was bleeding; AYT's butt was soaked, yet each had a wide-stretching grin.
The rain soaked threesome walked stiffly into town, found a Cuban bar in which to dry off and then made their way to their train. [A more detailed yet non-magical account would state that this involved an all out sprint.]
Having missed that which occasioned the journey and from within the peace of exhaustion, The Mexican, Oxford, and America's Young Theologian could rightly ask the question, "What makes for a good memory?"
Interpol officials have a new concern facing them in Europe. A relatively new organization - unofficially designated "the NAFTA Crime Syndicate" - has shown its face in the heart of western Europe.
from l to r:
Mr. Schunke, a.k.a. "The Mexican"; Ms. McMullin, a.k.a "The Crazy Canuck," "The Existential Emasculator," "Jesus."
Until now, the guiding figures, namely, Mr. Schunke ("The Mexican"), Ms. McMullin ("The Crazy Canuck"), and the enigmatic figure known as "America's Young Theologian," have focused their disruptive operations in the United States. However, their impact is now being felt in Germany and other European locations. German President Horst Köhler announced Thursday that he had dissolved the German Parliament and called for early national elections, moving the vote for chancellor up by a year. Speaking on national television on Thursday night, Mr. Köhler agreed with an unusual proposal by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who announced nearly two months ago that he could no longer govern effectively and would seek a new mandate in early elections in response to the unsettling presence of the NAFTA Crime Syndicate. One Interpol official expressed the hope that the trio might be apprehended before they have a chance to disperse to other international locations.
These persons should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
If any member of the public has any information about one of the wanted persons, they should not contact the General Secretariat directly, but contact the police in the place where the person has been located or identified.
An official Interpol Wanted Fugitives list is maintained on the Interpol website. This information may be copied and distributed. However, it must be clearly stated that this list represents a very small proportion of the full list - only those notices approved for public dissemination appear on the web site. Any unauthorised alteration of any portion of Interpol Wanted Fugitives notices is considered as a violation and subject to legal prosecution.
Let It Die
Release Date: April 2005
"Canadian singer Leslie Feist has served as a guest vocalist for Norwegian folkies Kings of Convenience, Toronto power-pop troupe Broken Social Scene...[b]ut her unruly resume hardly prepares you for the emotionally rich, softy sensual music on her major label debut."
Set Yourself on Fire
Release Date: March 2005
"Sure, you can still hear the mark of Beulah, the Smiths, New Order, Broken Social Scene and Super Furry Animals in their songs. But the group has never been as confident with their marriage of lush, exuberant dreampop and dark, clever lyrics as they are here."
"Chips And Dip"
Album: Love Ways (EP)
The Magnetic Fields
"Long Vermont Roads"
Album: Old Enough To Know Better - 15 Years Of Merge Records (Disc 1)
"I Love My Jean"
Album: I Love My Jean
The Aislers Set
"The Way To Market Station"
Album: The Last Match
Read the whole review by Stephen M. Barr...
Read the article...
Against one of three backrests,
each a cone-producing obelisk that
together a triangular pavilion form,
I sit on the edge of a park in
the protected spaces created by
the trees’ shield-bearing forward guard.
The unclouded arrows of the sun now blunted.
The bike path residents roll on fantastic machines.
I decide to keep my root-bound posture until
within the steady flow, riders float in
the likeness of every woman I’ve loved.
Summer play is as long as the day
And lists are difficult to exhaust.
As the quiver empties, the game becomes
finding ever looser approximations,
so as to head toward home.
Daniel R. Morehead
for they will be soothed."
+ + +
I often feel burdened by the company of Christians, by certain attitudes often embodied by them. The particular attitudes to which I refer seem at least gestured toward by the script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
GOD: Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! Oh, don't grovel! If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people groveling.
GOD: And don't apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it's "sorry this" and "forgive me that" and "I'm not worthy". What are you doing now!?
ARTHUR: I'm averting my eyes, oh Lord.
GOD: Well, don't. It's like those miserable Psalms -- they're so depressing. Now knock it off!
What I object to is when Christians are insufficiently celebratory, and possess certain beliefs about sin which result in carrying themselves in a manner which seems to express, "I'm really quite dreadful but the one thing I've got going for me is that God loves me." Both of these seem to connect to overly negative beliefs about creation (or one could say our possession of insufficient practices which help us to celebrate creation and therefore ourselves as part of that creation) and the attendant soteriology which seeks to pry Christians out of this world and push them toward the next.
Why do I bring this up? Affirming mourning in itself is not something I wish to do, though Matthew 5:4 seems to push in that direction. Note that I only said that it seems to. The beatitudes are hermeneutically interesting since they are aphoristic; they are short pronouncements without much contextual packaging. So they beg a lot of questions. What is the nature of the honor/blessedness/happiness of those who mourn? Does this extol mourning at all times? Comforted/soothed? In what way? What's the appropriate way to mourn, in what manner, about what things, to what extent? Is it simply a statement about how God relates to those who mourn without a call to adopt that mourning as a mode of being? Is it eschatological? I could continue pumping out question after question for a long while. Some of them I could as quickly give a reasoned response, but the sheer openness of the possibilities of interpretation seem staggering. Even the manner in which one reads this text in relation to other biblical texts seems endless. This is not to say that every mode of doing so would be equally helpful, but
...the notion of texts having properties that can be mined by anyone using the appropriate method is deeply problematic on philosophical grounds…Once these problems are recognized it becomes clear that the question of unity and diversity within scripture is not a single question. Rather, the question can be asked in a variety of different ways and it must be connected to the ends and purposes for which one interprets scripture. 
Frei rightly notes that:
Where does this leave us methodologically and how does this relate to Matthew 5:4?
It is doubtful that any scheme for reading texts, and narrative texts in particular, and biblical narrative texts even more specifically, can serve globally and foundationally, so that the reading of biblical material would simply be a regional instance of the universal procedure. 
In my Meditation on Matthew 5:3, I commented, "We need more readings of Scripture not less, and the attempt to reify a particular reading or to scientifically establish what the text 'means' stems from disregarding the importance of interpretive communities for determining what readings are to be preferred and the notion that interpretation is always a political activity."
The theoretical task compatible with the literal reading of the gospel narratives is that of describing how and in what context it functions...[E]stablished or ‘plain’ readings are warranted by their agreement with a religious community’s rules for reading its sacred text. 
These rules are related to the life of a particular community. Or saying the same in a slightly different manner:
I do not wish to reduce interpretation to its various other determinants. Rather, I wish to argue that theological convictions, ecclesial practices, and communal and social concerns should shape and be shaped by biblical interpretation. 
Christian tradition provides numerous voices which can help us read our scriptures. I'll shortly be turning to the Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas for help with Matthew 5:4. I think a helpful analogy of how interpretation might go forward methodologically is that of common law which originally developed under the auspices of the adversarial system in historical England from judicial decisions that were based in tradition, custom, and precedent. This sort of adversarial system can come together with the notion that "Christians will need to engage scripture in the recognition that they will disagree with each other...the absence of such arguments would be a sign of a community’s ill health." 
During the 13th century the Latin church experienced a revival of interest in the Fathers, with many Eastern texts being translated from Greek to Latin for the first time, and thereby becoming available to a wider public. Pope Urban IV commissioned Thomas Aquinas to compile the Catena (the Latin term for an anthology) in a bid to make readily available to the academic public an orthodox patristic commentary on the Gospels.
The Catena Aurea, or Golden Chain, on Matthew 5:4 reads like this:
I view what Thomas is up to in the Catena Aurea as not altogether different from what Foucault's The History of Sexuality does in its charting a genealogy of power as it relates to sexuality. In this genealogical conception of interpretation which connects links in a chain, a single cluster of links - such as those of the so-called historical-critical method - cannot be allowed to overdetermine the others. Of course there are pronounced differences between Thomas and Foucault, namely Thomas is here merely listing what the authors wrote in bullet-point fashion. He lacks a narrative description of how the terms 'blessed,' 'mourning,' 'comforted,' and the supplied term 'sin' might change and be variously appropriated by the different authors to different ends. I'm using the comparison tentatively and merely to evoke a conception of a mode of interpretation. Still, one notices that those voices from the tradition that Thomas has selected and ordered do have a narrative thread that runs through them.
5:4. "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted."
Ambrose: When you have done thus much, attained both poverty and meekness, remember that you are a sinner, mourn your sins, as He proceeds, "Blessed are they that mourn." And it is suitable that the third blessing should be of those that mourn for sin, for it is the Trinity that forgives sin.
Hilary: Those that mourn, that is, not loss of kindred, affronts, or losses, but who weep for past sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: And they who weep for their own sins are blessed, but much more so who weep for others’ sins; so should all teachers do.
Jerome: For the mourning here meant is not for the dead by common course of nature, but for the dead in sins, and vices. Thus Samuel mourned for Saul, thus the Apostle Paul mourned for those who had not performed penance after
Pseudo-Chrys.: The "comfort" of mourners is the ceasing of their mourning; they then who mourn their own sins shall be consoled when they have received remittance thereof.
Chrys.: And though it were enough for such to receive pardon, yet He rests not His mercy only there, but makes them partakers of many comforts both here and hereafter. God's mercies are always greater than our troubles.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But they also who mourn for others' sin shall be comforted, inasmuch as they shall own God’s providence in that worldly generation, understanding that they who had perished were not of God, out of whose hand none can snatch. For these leaving to mourn, they shall be comforted in their own blessedness.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 2: Otherwise; mourning is sorrow for the loss of what is dear; but those that are turned to God lose the things that they held dear in this world; and as they have now no longer any joy in such things as before they had joy in, their sorrow may not be healed till there is formed within them a love of eternal things. They shall then be comforted by the Holy Spirit, who is therefore chiefly called, The Paraclete, that is, “Comforter;’ so that for the loss of their temporal joys, they shall gain eternal joys.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: Or, by mourning, two kinds of sorrow are intended; one for the miseries of this world, one for lack of heavenly things; so Caleb’s daughter asked both “the upper and the lower springs.” This kind of mourning none have but the poor and the meek, who as not loving the world acknowledge themselves miserable, and therefore desire heaven. Suitably, therefore, consolation is promised to them that mourn, that he who has sorrow at this present may have joy hereafter. But the reward of the mourner is greater than that of the poor or the meek, for “to rejoice” in the kingdom is more than to have it, or to possess it; for many things we possess in sorrow.
Chrys.: We may remark that this blessing is given not simply, but with great force and emphasis; it is not simply, ‘who have grief,’ but “who mourn.” And indeed this command is the sum of all philosophy. For if they who mourn for the death of children or kinsfolk, throughout all that season of their sorrow, are touched with no other desires, as of money, or honour, burn not with envy, feel not wrongs, nor are open to any other vicious passion, but are solely given up to their grief; much more ought they, who mourn their own sins in such manner as they ought to mourn for them, to shew this higher philosophy.
They all take the 'mourning' of Matthew 5:4 to be talking about mourning one's sins; comfort generally is the "ceasing of their mourning; they then who mourn their own sins shall be consoled when they have received remittance thereof." God "rests not [God's] mercy only there, but makes them partakers of many comforts both here and hereafter. God's mercies are always greater than our troubles," and the Holy Spirit is referenced as the Comforter. One could view such interpretive precedence as cases in the tradition of common law, cases that constitute a tradition but which can be revisited and even overturned.
I started by expressing a distaste for attitudes sometimes embodied by Christians, what seems like a certain groveling existence which I'd like to argue mourns sin, but fails to celebrate either the goodness of creation (and one's self as participating in that creation) or of one's virtue. Of course, I know plenty outside the church who would find the call for Christians to mourn their sins to be an appropriate one. This might manifest itself in being less dogmatic (since traditional notions of sin include the notion of not being able to name one's limitation/sin adequately and therefore one must be open to revision), walking with less swagger and adopting a more teachable demeanor in the recognition that God's comfort does not come from being argumentatively invulnerable, but as God's response to particular kind of mourning...
[All of this, of course, begs a more comprehensive elucidation of sin and the manner in which it functions within the Christian religion.]
[The photo comes from a small chapel in Gegenbach, Germany which graphically depicts the various beatitudes from Matthew. The chapel was a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.]
 Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998), 19.
 Hans W. Frei, “The ‘Literal Reading’ of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition: Does It Stretch or Will It Break?” in The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity ed. Peter Ochs (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 70.
 Ibid, 75.
 Fowl, 60.
 Fowl, 87.
To Dan, a wise and wonderful friend -The book ends with Nouwen speaking with a handicapped member of the L'Arche community after returning from a speaking engagement which they attended together.
In the confident hope that God is not yet done with you.
As we landed, I said to Bill, "Bill, thanks so much for coming with me. It was a wonderful trip, and what we did, we did together in Jesus' name." And I really meant it. The most meaningful thing from the book for me was the lovely parallel between the inscribed first page and the manner in which Nouwen finished, and Nouwen's reflection on the disciples being sent out by Jesus in pairs. My friends regularly show me what love and patience means and people like Dave continually turn my eyes to Christ and fill me with gratitude that I've never traveled alone.
It is hard to remember that Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather he came to make us disciples, citizens of your new age, a kingdom of surprise. That we live in the end times is surely the basis for our conviction that [God has] given us all the time we need to respond...with "small acts of beauty and tenderness," which Jean Vanier tells us, if done with humility and confidence "will bring unity to the world and break the chain of violence." So we pray give us humility that we may remember that the work we do today, the work we do every day, is false and pretentious if it fails to serve those who day in and day out are your small gestures of beauty and tenderness. 
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 101.
 Stanley Hauerwas, "September 11, 2001: A Pacifist Response." http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/mmedia/features/911site/hauerwas.html
Here's a picture of the crowd prior to the arrival of the riders:
Here's a picture of the route looking towards the finish line:
Then the stage leaders show up:
Thought this was Lance...but who really knows:
The Tour combines a lot of different experiences: lining up for a parade (complete with promotional vehicles that come through and throw not-so-gummy gummy bears at one's head), professional sporting event (with the requisite beer consumption - except the beer is much better than Bud), and a backyard barbecue. Not bad. After the race is over and the beer cups have been returned for the €.50 refund, the only think to do is to head toward town, listen to some outdoor concerts, and take a cue from the statues:
The Forgotten Arm
Release Date: May 2005
The Believer - Various Artists
The Believer June 2005 Music Issue
Release Date: June 2005
"I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You"
Album: Closing Time
"If I Laugh"
Album: Teaser and the Firecat
"Gotta Get Up (Demo Version)"
Album: Nilsson Schmilsson (Remastered)
"Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)"
Album: Greatest Hits
I really like the single from Cat Stevens and love Tom Waits' "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You."
I saw Aimee Mann at the Zelt Musik Festival in Freiburg on June 29th, hence the interest in her new album. I'll post a picture or two if I ever get pictures from the Swedish girl with whom I went. It was a relatively small venue, with good seats, and Aimee played a good set comprised largely of songs from the new album. I definitely was that guy who yelled out, "Aimee, we love you," at the beginning of the second encore. Aimee, who had taken her place at the keyboard, chuckled at the first voice heard during the concert and replied, "Well, thank you, it's nice to be loved."
The Forgotton Arm is a concept album, a story of love and heartbreak between a drug-addict boxer and a girl from a small town that wants to escape her life. I enjoy it.
The Believer puts out a music issue every summer which includes a CD. I don't have a subscription but generally pick up a copy. Being in Germany delayed my reception of the issue, but all is well now that I have it. This year's CD is made up of "Excellent Bands Covering Excellent Bands." I particularly enjoy The Decemberists take on Joanna Newsom's "Bridges & Balloons," Spoon's cover of the Yo La Tengo song "Decora," and the way CocoRosie brings a happy pop edge to Damien Jurado's "Ohio." Find a newsstand that carries The Believer and you've found a good newsstand. Then buy the June/July issue! You'll also want to listen to Cynthia G. Mason's empathetic interpretation of "Suprise, AZ" by Richard Buckner.
Last (and least), I got The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" because it's been running through my head.
This reflection by Pastor John Ames, found in Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead, suggests that Protestants should consider beauty just as essential to Christian life and understanding as those other medieval transcendentals, truth and goodness. Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar has written powerfully on the significance of theological aesthetics, but for Protestants beauty remains a marginal category.
That is our loss, especially as we suffer from enough moral judgmentalism from both the right and the left to last several lifetimes. What might it mean to live as if God's reactions were aesthetic rather than morally judgmental? How might this shape our own reactions?
Read the rest...
Biographical note: L. Gregory Jones is a former professor of America's Young Theologian.
+ + +
The whole time America's Young Theologian was walking to TC's Tattoo Circle these two lines from The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" were running through his head. [It should be noted that AYT is aware that the abbreviation AYT can be read as 'a whitey' which is entirely fitting for this story. This story should also explain why the Offspring single made it here.]
Flanked by Mr. Schunke, a.k.a. "The Mexican", and Jeni, a.k.a. "The Minnesota Bruiser," AYT shows up to his appointment on time. AYT greets TC (seen below), who apparently knows something about tattoos.
Things progress quickly and soon America's Young Theologian is in the chair.
With the tracing done, TC gets down to work (and AYT's smile becomes less pronounced).
While TC is working, Jeni works the camera and Mr. Schunke acts as a translator for more difficult German phrases. People seem to ask whether getting a tattoo hurts. An appropriate response might be that it feels like what it is. AYT remembers thinking, "Is that all?" when informed that TC was finished with a quarter of the tattoo; in addition, at three points AYT desired to leap from the chair and put his running shoes to use.
Meanwhile, through a door in the back of the studio music can be heard. It's someone covering Johnny Cash. TC encourages Jeni to go say hello and tell the mystery musician that she's from America. She walks through the door and linguistically freezes. She utters a strange introductory phrase, "Ja, Johnny Cash ist super." She shifts awkwardly, and walks out. Two points for cultural immersion.
By this point, TC is finishing his work...
An hour after entering, it is finished. TC gets some gauze and "The Mexican" teaches him how to say the word in English.
America's Young Theologian...pretty fly (for a white guy).
"How honored are those who are poor before God,
for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them."
+ + +
I don't like writing the type of thing that I am about to write. I don't like reading Scripture amongst other theologians or biblical scholars. I find it difficult to listen (even in church) to the Scriptures without engaging in the same kind of mental accusation which makes me shy away from writing or reading publicly. What am I talking about? It seems that already - by translating the first of the beatitudes from the gospel according to Matthew - I will have caused a few hairs to bristle. After all, there's no relative clause in the Greek, "How honored" is not nearly as common as "blessed" or even "happy," and what happened to the dative "in Spirit," one might ask. You'll grow tired waiting for an answer. We need more readings of Scripture not less, and the attempt to reify a particular reading or to scientifically establish what the text "means" stems from disregarding the importance of interpretive communities for determining what readings are to be preferred and the notion that interpretation is always a political activity.
Poor in spirit? Poor before you, Lord? Is this a safe thing to affirm? You know I think an eschatological kingdom to be a hopeful notion, but don't think God or Christianity an answer to the question of my reality after death. If it were, this verse would produce an immediate concern in me for I could take it as disclosing a requirement for getting myself on the guest list at some heavenly hotel. Realities beyond this life are necessarily speculative, and it is interesting that those least adept in speculative reasoning find such a speculative Christian telos to be the most compelling orienting principle for Christianity. "Poor in spirit" raises a Nietzschean fear in me. While Feuerbach thought religion a projection of our highest ideals, desires, etc., Nietzsche thought Christianity creates space for all that is worst in humanity, a validation of a weak, servile, insipid powerlessness. Doesn't the affirmation of being poor before God diminish a recognition of our power to will things to be different? Nietzsche cannot be simply dismissed without feeling the weight of his critique. It has considerable heft. But this eschatological concern cannot be what Christianity is about, if for no other reason than it is too much about me. Isn't worshiping God as the telos of creation (and therefore humanity) equally speculative making our lives inadequately connected to concrete existence such that Nietzsche's critique stands? Perhaps. Christianity has resources for dealing with this. A God who is preeminently known through a particular concrete life, that of Jesus of Nazareth, and a concrete community/tradition. Sacraments - visible signs of an invisible grace. Notions of merit/virtue, whereby God's counting the virtuous activity/striving of persons as meritorious is grace.
Lord, may our poverty before you free us to dispense with the pretension that our lives are our own such that we might risk a full and costly engagement with the realities that story our lives. Amen.
[The photo comes from a small chapel in Gegenbach, Germany which graphically depicts the various beatitudes from Matthew. The chapel was a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.]
...and welcoming the morning in a crowded Freiburg club to international hits and old school tunes like Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise," Spin Doctor's "Two Princes," and Beck's "Looser." One of my friends here is Canadian.
Today I woke up at noon, read a book - The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotton Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart, talked to some friends in the States, went out to dinner with a new friend here in Germany, and returned home to finish the aforementioned book while listening to The Concretes' self-titled album. Both the book and the music were gifts. The inscription on the book reads "If you enjoy our friendship half as much as I, you enjoy it very much. Same goes for the book." Perhaps I did enjoy the book half as much as the person who gave it to me, but I did enjoy it very much. The book is the authors' rediscovery of the piano and an exploration of the way in which it draws him into life and the life of his Parisian quartier. I think it's a great example of how our desires involve us in life's theater - one of the reasons I study desire. At points the book seemed to border on musical tedium, but perhaps that is because the piano is not a passion of mine, not a desire that has been refined. "Human beings, as Augustine saw as clearly as anyone, begin with desires; it requires training to shape our desires, but no training is required merely to have them." Regardless of one's appreciation for the intricacies of the piano, its history, its magic, the book is quite lovely.
Whether sharing the presence of a friend, conversation, or things loved by a friend - books, music, etc. - friends are one of life's greatest blessings. It was nice to have a lazy day in Freiburg to repose in the continual blessings which are my friends.
 Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches, Christians Among the Virtues: Theological Conversations with Ancient and Modern Ethics (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 131.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you therefore to exercise a certain patience with respect to the relations between theory and practice. Such a request may be justified because in a situation like the present - one about which I do not entertain the slightest illusion, and nor would I wish to encourage any illusions in you - whether it will be possible ever again to achieve a valid form of practice may well depend on not demanding that every idea should immediately produce its own legitimating document explaining its own practical use.
The situation may well demand instead that we resist the call of practicality with all our might in order ruthlessly to follow through an idea and its logical implications so as to see where it may lead. I would even say that this ruthlessness, the power of resistance that is inherent in the idea itself and that prevents it from letting itself be directly manipulated for any instrumental purposes whatsoever, this theoretical ruthlessness contains - if you will allow me this paradox - a practical element within itself.
Today, practice - and I do not hesitate to express this in an extreme way - has made great inroads into theory, in other words, into the realm of new thought in which right behaviour can be reformulated. This idea is not as paradoxical and irritating as it may sound, for in the final analysis thinking is itself a form of behaviour. In its origins thinking is no more than the form in which we have attempted to master our environment and come to terms with it - testing reality is the name given by analytical psychology to this function of the ego and of thought - and it is perfectly possible that in certain situations practice will be referred back to theory far more frequently than at other times and in other situations. At any rate, it does no harm to air this question.
It is no accident that the celebrated unity of theory and practice implied by Marxian theory and then developed above all by Lenin should have finally degenerated in [Stalinist] dialectical materialism to a kind of blind dogma whose sole function is to eliminate theoretical thinking altogether. This provides an object lesson in the transformation of practicism into irrationalism, and hence, too, for the transformation of this practicism into a repressive and oppressive practice. That alone might well be a sufficient reason to give us pause and not to be in such haste to rely on the famous unity of theory and practice in the belief that it is guaranteed and that it holds good for every time and place. For otherwise you will find yourself in the position of what Americans call a joiner, that is to say, a man who always has to join in, who has to have a cause for which he can fight.
Such a person is driven by his sheer enthusiasm for the idea that something or other must be done and some movement has to be joined about which he is deluded enough to believe that it will bring about significant changes. And ultimately, this enthusiasm drives him into a kind of hostility towards mind that necessarily negates a genuine unity of theory and practice." 
 Theodor Adorno, Problems of Moral Philosophy (Standford, CA: Stanford UP, 2001), 4-5.