Monday, October 31, 2011

Bow tie guy costume [Bryan]

Apparently, there is now a bow-tie guy Halloween costume. You can buy it for $40 through Party City. I am outraged. I am not a costume, I am a person.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This is how bad things are [Bryan]

According to independent analyses, President Obama's job plan would create up to 1.9 [million] jobs and grow the economy by 2% (see here). It is endorsed by a broad majority of economists (see here) and many business leaders (see here). It would help rebuild our crumbling roads and other infrastructure. It is really, really important. It is also a moderate, bipartisan, centrist bill, with mostly old Republican ideas (see here). Every major provision is overwhelmingly popular, even among staunch Republican voters (see here). According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Obama's bill would increase revenue and actually cut the deficit by $3 billion over ten years (source). In sum, it cuts the deficit while at the same time giving the economy a real boost.

So, what is happening with the bill? The good news is that it has majority support in the Senate. Unfortunately, the bill was just filibustered by a unified Republican minority and their conservative allies, seemingly bent on either destroying Obama or preserving slightly lower tax rates for millionaires. They blocked it procedurally, in other words, and won't even let it come up for discussion. Unbelievable.

Democracy simply cannot survive if every bill can be stopped by 40 senators who are so intent on ensuring that a president doesn't see any success that they undercut their own ideas. Nowhere in the Constitution does it demand, or allow for, a super-majority requirement to pass legislation. But this is what things have come to. This is not good news for our country. Not good at all.

Total cuteness [Bryan]

A quick note from the world of fatherhood. Nothing is cuter than a two-year-old trying to dance the Macarena. That is all.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Are Christians Christian? [Bryan]

A dialogue dedicated to Rev. Jeffers.

Christian friend (CF): Hey Bryan. Quick question: Are Mormon's Christian. I don't think they are.

Me: I suppose the answer depends on what you mean by "Christian."

CF: Isn't it obvious. It is a simple question. Just answer it.

Me: No, it's not obvious. People mean different things by "Christian." Sometimes, a Christian is someone who attempts to live the teachings, and imitate the example, of the Jesus described in the New Testament. In contrast to this "moral" understanding of Christian, the term is also used to refer to a belief or set of beliefs. The answer to your question is different depending on what you mean by "Christian."

CF: Well, I think you are a decent guy. You may be a Christian in what you call the moral sense. I don't want to judge that. But that is not what I'm asking about.

Me: You are too kind. I'm not sure I'm even particularly Christian even in this moral sense. The New Testament makes some incredible demands: losing yourself completely, selling all that you have and giving it to the poor, renouncing the world, loving you enemies, turning the other cheek, and so forth. I'm not sure I've done any of this to any great extent. I live a relatively wealthy, comfortable, self-centered life, a life squarely in the world. Am I Christian in a moral sense? Probably not. The best that can be said is that, on good days, I'm trying to be.

CF: Well, whatever, I'm mostly talking about Christianity as a particular set of beliefs.

Me: But doesn't "Christian" just mean somebody who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ? If so, then Mormons are Christians.

CF: It is not just that. "Christianity" refers to an interconnected set of beliefs about Jesus and his relationship to God. For the Christian, for example, God is completely transcendent, creator of all that is, and Jesus, his Son, is one in substance with God the Father.

Me: Why are those beliefs central to being Christian? None of that is taught clearly in the New Testament. Isn't this all just peripheral stuff?

CF: No. These beliefs are central to what it means for Jesus to be divine. Since Mormons deny the traditional Trinity, they are really saying that Jesus is not connected in the right way to the transcendent God. Jesus cannot be divine, under Mormon beliefs, because he is not really one with God. The Mormon beliefs about God are closer to, say, Zeus and Greek polytheism, than they are to the traditional God of Christianity. These beliefs about God are problematic, to say the least.

Me: That last statement about Zeus is unfair, but I suppose I can see what you mean. It is true that Mormons reject transcendence. For Mormons, God is squarely in the universe, not standing apart from it. It is also true that Mormons reject your version of creation and your version of the Trinity. We believe God and Jesus are one, but not in a metaphysical sense. They are one in a social sense of sharing the same characteristics and of being on the same team, so to speak. I suppose, then, if we use your technical definition of Christianity, then it is true the Mormons are not "Christians." But I, for one, wouldn't really want to be part of that club. For example, I really like the idea that the Trinity is social rather than metaphysical, that bonds between beings are achievements created through acts of love rather than existing as engrained features of some unchanging ontological reality. But, again, why should we accept this technical understanding of the term "Christian"? That definition seems contestable.

CF: Because, over time, this is what "Christian" has come to mean. It would be like someone who didn't believe the Mormon story of the Restoration, but who still liked the Book of Mormon, trying to be called a "true Mormon." Your Book of Mormon is interconnected to beliefs about your Restoration, which is interconnected with your labels. Beliefs are important and they are interconnected. You can't just start making up definitions for people who just believe a piece here and there.

Me: My problem, I suppose, is not what you mean when you say "Mormons aren't Christians." Rather, it is what other people hear when you say it. When Mormons hear this, they either hear it as a moral insult (Mormons are not good people), or they hear it as denying that they believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, which to them is so obviously false that they can't even comprehend why you would say such a thing. Moreover, it is misleading to outsiders since most of them are not theologians. They hear "not Christians" and they think "don't believe in Jesus." This is particularly interesting because folk-Christian belief, that is, the belief of everyday churchgoers, is actually often closer to Mormonism than it is to your technical Christianity. Large swaths of Christians, under this definition, are not really "Christian" either. They don't get the theological details right.

CF: That is a good point, I guess. If we restrict the term "Christian" to exacting technical beliefs about theology, then even many Christians are not Christians. Perhaps they themselves, though, do not have to have these right beliefs. Perhaps it is enough if they belong to institutions, their churches, that profess to have these right beliefs.

Me: Don't you see, though, how lifeless your definition of Christian then becomes? A Christian is now someone "belonging to an institutions that accepts the proper technical theological beliefs about God and Jesus."

CF: Hmmmm, that does some lifeless. Perhaps we should just give up this labeling game altogether?

Me: Perhaps. I think, however, the idea of a "Christian" might still do some work, but you have to go back to the moral sense. A Christian is not really something somebody is. The requirements are simply too demanding, too life altering. It is something somebody tries to be. Are Mormons Christians, then? Some are, perhaps, but most are not. Are Christians Christians? Some are, maybe, but most are not. Being Christians is a direction, not a status; it is a aspiration, not a label; it is a path, not a destination.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Calamity Song [Bryan]

Interesting video from the Decemberists that my brother alerted me to. They use their great song, "Calamity Song," as the soundtrack for a scene from David Foster Wallace's book Infinite Jest.

This almost made me want to read Infinite Jest. Then I remembered that it was 1200 pages of tiny text, and decided against it yet again.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Scripture [Bryan]

It is not often that I can announce on this blog the discovery of new scripture. I really cannot say enough, though, about the inspired nature of Francis Mallmann's cookbook, Seven Fires. I know I've blogged about this before, but, my gosh, that guy is brilliant. This is how disciples are created. I would literally follow this guy anywhere, desperately grabbing any crumbs of culinary wisdom falling from his lips (Hark, the master speaks!). The philosophy of the book is fairly easy to understand: you take simple ingredients and then you slightly char them and burn them, usually over a wood fire or in a hot skillet. It is powerful idea.

Consider the following recipe. You take some sweet potatoes and boil them with bay leaves, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. You then take the potatoes out, smash them, and put them on a hot, buttery skillet. You sprinkle them with fresh thyme and honey, and cook them until slightly charred on both sides. The result? Absolute Transcendence. And it only uses six or so very common ingredients.

Consider another recipe. You peel some oranges and cut them in half. You then cover the face of the orange halves with sugar and fresh rosemary. You heat up a skillet and throw some sugar in it. When the sugar starts to melt, you put in the oranges face down, cooking the oranges until slightly charred, with the juices and sugars caramelizing. You take the oranges out and serve them with yogurt or ice cream, pouring the heavenly pan remnants over the top. The complex flavors that come out of this process are remarkable.

And so it goes: charred tomatoes, charred sweet potato strips, potato dominoes, bricklayer steaks, dulce de leche crepes, and so froth, each recipe better than the last. If you read and ponder this book, you too will gain a testimony of it.

Here I am cooking some skirt steaks "a la vara," as per Mallmann's instructions. The meat is skewered on a stick and placed next to a wood fire. After that, it is nothing but the meat, salt, fire, and wood smoke. This is primal cooking at its best. (Ellie said I smelled like a sexy caveman.)

Here is an arugula salad, with burnt carrots, garlic chips, charred goat cheese, and parsley. Yummy.