Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallow's Eve

Yup, that's my Halloween outfit. Don't I look cute? :) By the way, Amy did a nice job with the makeup, but unfortunately, you can't tell from this picture.

And there's the two of us together -- a young pre-teen girl and her stylish mother (or maybe older sister).

New York pictures

This is me at the top of the Empire State Building. It was extremely cold, my smile notwithstanding.

This is a better view of the city from atop our high perch.

Amy at the Rockefeller Center.

At Times Square. It's feels a little ridiculous to take a picture at a busy city intersection with thousands of people all around you. But we did anyway. You have to purge the tourist instinct from your system. It's just part of the experience.

And, of course, a silly picture with Amy at the American Museum of Natural History. A pretty cool museum. We saw an IMAX film there on the Galapagos Islands, saw some dinosaur bones, saw the world famous Star of India sapphire (500+ carets!), and got a little lost inside the building.

Happy Reformation Day!

Or should I say All Hallows Eve? Or just Halloween? Well, whatever it is, enjoy the day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pop culture update: October

Starting this month, I will try to offer my recommendations for what to watch on TV, see in theaters, and listen on CD. These so-called "updates" will not deal with pop literature, since I have a fair amount of disdain for most popular fiction and because I simply don't have time to fit in leisurely reading with my already full reading load. For those who would like to offer their two-cents on such material, I more than welcome your comments.

What to Watch on TV: The Adam Carolla Project
So I know this might get me in trouble, but I have a serious confession: Adam Carolla and the "Love Line" radio show played a minor but consistent role in my adolescent maturation. On most weeknights, I would have his show with Dr. Drew on in my room while working on trigonometry and AP history. It's a little sad, but nevertheless true. Now, in my graduate education, he is the one person who can sustain my attention to television, outside of Seinfeld and Friends reruns. His new show on TLC is, of course, quite funny. But there's something particularly fascinating about this new "home improvement" experiment. The show is, to put it lightly, a study in incompetence. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and it's almost always due to "human error." What makes this especially intriguing for me is that nothing riles me more than incompetence. Amy can attest to this: I get extremely impatient when anyone does not do a satisfactory job, or at least attempt to do something at a satisfactory level. (I realize the problems inherent in this pet peeve of mine.) But surprisingly I love watching this show. There is something infinitely interesting in watching incompetent people deal with the consequences of their own incompetence. Beyond that, however, there is also a certain level of heart and depth in watching these life-long buddies work through their differences, and seeing the relationship between Adam and his wife. For those who want a very different take on "home improvement," this is for you.

What to See in the Movie Theater: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Is there anything more endearing than the characters of Wallace and Gromit? Answer: no. This movie, though short, is lovable, wonderful, technically superb, and emotionally satisfying. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Ever since Chicken Run, I have waited anxiously for this film to arrive. Now that it has, I am not disappointed.

What to Listen to on CD: Apologies to the Queen by Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade, like last year's great new band, The Arcade Fire, hail from Canada, and are the Canadian equivalent to Modest Mouse. Except for one thing: they're better. Without a doubt, Modest Mouse have established themselves over the years as one of the greatest indie rock bands. And with only their debut album, Wolf Parade do not have the years of experience to prove their worth ... yet. Their first album, taken by itself, is magnificent. While not quite as epic as last year's Funeral, Apologies to the Queen is still a musical and lyrical tour de force. There is hardly a track on the album that does not have the potential to stick in your head for days -- the only exceptions being, possibly, "Fancy Claps" and "Killing Armies," which, while not weak, are not quite as strong as the others. The first song might turn off some listeners because it does sound a little too much like a long-lost Modest Mouse track, but such a reaction quickly dissipates in the sheer joy of hearing great music.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New York recap

New York city was great. That's a rather vague assessment, to be sure, but it's the best I have at the moment. Since this was my first experience of America's version of Paris, London, Moscow, Tokyo, etc., my impression of the city is incredibly limited. I saw two broadway musicals -- more on that later -- ate at some good restaurants, visited the American Museum of Natural History, wandered through some expensive and/or really cool stores, and hailed my first (and second, third, and fourth) taxi. All in all, not a bad way to start.

First, my disappointments. (1) I did not see the Metropolitan Museum of Art as I had intended. That was the one major site that I wanted to visit, but unfortunately, Amy and I were given incorrect information by the concierge at the hotel. He said it was open on Monday morning. Wrong. The art museum is never open on Mondays. As a result, he cost us time, money, and energy walking around the city and through Central Park. Our backup was the AMNH, which was very enjoyable -- but not art. (2) I was unable to see Monty Python's Spamalot, the one broadway show I desperately want to see before I leave the area. Since it only just came out in the past year, I'm pretty sure I will have time to see it in the months to come. (3) The subway is not nearly as useful and expansive as London's underground, which was very disappointing. I was expecting something very similar, in which the subway can take you almost anywhere you want to go in the city. But that is not the case in NY, unfortunately. Stops are generally quite spread out, and some important sections of Manhatten are left untouched. Consequently, I only road the subway once during those four days. (4) While no fault of New York's, the constant rain was a definite low point of the trip.

Highlights? (1) Seeing the city from the top of the Empire State building; (2) seeing two excellent broadway shows--Hairspray and Phantom of the Opera; (3) eating great Thai food and having lunch with Amy at a posh, hip Euro-ecclectic style restaurant before returning home; (4) staying a nice hotel in a very nice location; and (5) having the entire trip paid for by loving, generous grandparents!

My final comment: Staying in London made me feel like I belong in a big city, but staying in New York made me feel like I belong in the suburbs. Now this might be a premature assessment, considering this was my first trip. Nevertheless, the two cities give off very different vibes, and I'm not sure, in the long run, which is the more desireable.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Amy on the coastal trail

Amy on trail
Originally uploaded by DWCongdon.

Here's the back of Amy on the same trail.

Honeymoon Photos

David on trail
Originally uploaded by DWCongdon.

I'm still trying to get this photo thing to work, but here's my first attempt. So this is one of many photos from the honeymoon trip this summer. For those who don't know, Amy and I traveled to the Hawaiian island of Kauai -- The Garden Isle. This photo was taken by Amy while the two of us were hiking along the famous northern coast of the island, which is completely inaccessible by car; you have to hike or take a charter boat. The coast is lined with some of the most spectacular beaches. I'll try to get some pictures up soon, as well as of other parts of the trip.

The Big Apple!

I just finished my Old Testament midterm, and this next week is my fall break. Tonight, Amy's grandparents fly in to Newark airport, and tomorrow we are all taking the train up to New York for the weekend. This is my first time seeing the Big Apple. We plan to see three musicals and whatever other sites we decide to visit. I'm hoping to spend some time at the Met. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Christianity in the South

One of the first couples Amy and I met when we arrived at PTS are from Alabama. They grew up in the Southern Baptist church and attended Samford, a Southern and Baptist version of Wheaton. Over Chinese food last Sunday, he revealed the situation of Christianity as he saw it. Apparently, in Alabama, it is just like the novels. A sizable percentage of people only go to church for the status of the congregation and the recognition by other people in the church and community. He said that many people read magazines and newspapers openly throughout the service, and one of the marks of a good pastor is being able to keep the service from going too long. Services only go for one hour, and yet that is too long for some people. The first time he gave a sermon at his home church, a couple of people told him, "Now you're going to get us all out of here by 12, right?" Their concern was about not having to stay too long, not about him, the sermon, or anything else of substance. The SBC preachers are apparently the best at keeping services short, and they never go past 11:55 am. Only the charismatic traditions go longer.

Amy and I were personally aghast at this. We thought our churches back home were in sad condition! Even if some people weren't paying attention, they at least looked like it out of respect. And almost all the adults participated in some way, and many very enthusiastically. His portrayal of the church situation cannot obviously be applied to the South as a single entity, but I wonder now about the cultural distinctions. Here in the East, churches are mostly quite old and well established, so there is another kind of listlessness about faith here -- the old, crusty, stale kind. It's all rather depressing.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

(Soon to be) Dr. Driver

Daniel Driver married my cousin, Adriel, several years ago. Both of them are Wheaton grads as well as English lit majors. Now, he is studying for his Ph.D at the divinity school at St Andrew's, home of such notable scholars as Trevor Hart and Richard Bauckham. He too has a blog, and I've added a permanent link to his site, which I recommend.

Torrance's Convocation speech

In an earlier post, I gave a brief summary of the opening convocation address given by President Iain Torrance. If anyone is interested in reading it in its entirety, you will find it here.

Truth and Falsehood regarding Christian dogma

Eberhard Jüngel writes in his essay “God - As a Word of Our Language”:
The sole danger [of assertions about God which claim to be true] is that they are only too true and that they can thus easily be misunderstood to the point of not permitting of being proved false under any circumstances. In reply to such misunderstanding it should be stated that only such theological sentences can reasonably claim to be true as really expose themselves to the conflict between true and false and therefore do not in principle exclude the possibility of being falsified.
Do Christian truth claims (i.e., doctrines) require the possibility of being falsified, as Jüngel claims? If so, what are we to make of Roman Catholic truth claims, particularly those that come ex cathedra? Are Protestants any safer from the "sole danger" that Jüngel points out? Is there a slippery slope that begins once we allow doctrine to enter the realm of possibility? Was C. S. Lewis wrong by using the same argument Jüngel makes to explain why he refused to join the Catholic church? Are Protestants wrong for denouncing a doctrine a false? In other words, what happens when two Christian parties both make a truth claim that excludes the other, thus denouncing the opposite side as a "false" claim? Is this appropriate, or not?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Responses to Jüngel

The comment box for this post is a chance for those of you who received articles by Jüngel to express your reactions and thoughts in a dialogue format. What did you find new and/or surprising in Jüngel's work? How was your experience of reading him: too difficult, not difficult enough, provocative, not provocative enough? What did you find helpful for the Christian faith -- whether for yourself or others? What do you think is missing from his work, or what would you like to see him or others write more about? Was there an area or issue that was not as fully developed as you would have liked? (Perhaps I or someone else who has read more might be able to fill in some of those gaps.) In the end, what did you take away from Jüngel? Would you like to read more?

Rainy day blues

Saturday, October 8 was one of the rainiest days in Northeastern US history. The remanents of Tropical Storm Tammy went up along the east coast, dumping record amounts of rain, beginning Friday evening. It rained and rained and rained. Most cities received between 2 and 5 inches, and Allentown, PA exceeded 8 inches of rain.

The best part is that at 9 am on Saturday, Amy and I were outside playing our first official game of flag football. The game itself was rather disappointing. Even though we scored in the first 45 seconds and quickly reached a 16-0 lead, we ended up losing the game, mostly due to some poor defense and a failure to adapt to the changes in tactics by the other team. The final score aside, it was a truly wild experience. I've never been so drenched in my life. It's a miracle we were even able to throw the ball, let alone stay on our feet. Ours was the first game that morning, so I imagine the amount of slick mud increased exponentially with the subsequent games. It was bad enough when we were playing.

Sunday was another long day. Amy was a one-person show: teaching the children at 10, giving the sermon at 11, and all throughout leading the praise music. I have a talented wife. After church Amy and I conduct an English tutoring session with some adults in the church who are relatively new to the country. I really enjoy ESL tutoring, and I hope it's something I can pursue as a ministry in addition to whatever professorial duties I acquire -- assuming I actually make it through a Ph.D program and become a teacher. At the very least, one can hope.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jüngel additions

In the last several days, I discovered (and acquired) two more essays by Eberhard Jüngel. You'll see them listed as "To tell the world about God" (2000) and "The Cross After Postmodernity" (2002). And just so people do not think I am hoarding all these to myself, I am more than willing to send PDF files of specific available essays to those who ask, provided that people do not abuse the copyright. The following are the most readily available, and each of them I recommend highly:

1. "The Christian Understanding of Suffering" (1988) - a brilliant look at suffering in light of the gospel

2. "Toward the Heart of the Matter" (1991) - an autobiographical essay

3. "On the Doctrine of Justification" (1999) - Jüngel's most comprehensive essay, summing up all his major themes

4. "To tell the world about God" (2000) - a heartfelt plea for the church to regain its mission

Just let me know which number you're interested in, and I'll send it your way, provided I have a valid e-mail address.

Devotional thoughts from Eberhard Jüngel

From "On Becoming Truly Human: The Significance of the Reformation Distinction Between Person and Works for the Self-Understanding of Modern Humanity," in Theological Essays II (ed. John Webster):

As person I am, before all my own activities, primarily one who receives, that is, a self who not only receives something but above all receives myself. Even in the elementary activities of life I am directed to receive before I can give and be active. No one can speak by themselves. One must first hear and thus, before sending, first receive. No one can love by themselves. One must first be loved and thus receive love. No one can trust by themselves. One must first find trust in order as a result to go out of oneself in an unfettered way, to forsake oneself, in order to entrust oneself to another. And so human persons will not become truly human by themselves - and certainly not through their own activity. Truly human persons are those who are able to accept themselves, able to receive their being continually anew as a gift. Truly human persons are those who are gifted - not with any special advantages, but - with themselves. [. . .]

[Like] the individual, the human society oriented to achievement must also undergo an elemental interruption, by which we are transposed out of our activities into a very lively, very intensive, indeed highly creative passivity. In a very profound sense, the work week exists from the sabbath rest, from the creative rest in which from being possessors and agents we become beings, beings who rejoice in the astonishing primal fact which never ceases to amaze, namely that we even exist at all rather than not existing. Truly human persons know that they are not to thank for themselves; and for just this reason, the truly human person will be a grateful person.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A weekend of firsts

As the title indicates, this last weekend was full of firsts. On Saturday morning, Amy and I played our very first game of football. Granted, we're playing flag football, and granted it was a pre-season scrimmage -- even so, neither of us would have ever predicted that within a month of starting our lives in Princeton, I would be a wide receiver and Amy would be a linebacker! As one of my very good friends put it, "Hell indeed has frozen over!" The game was rather pathetic on our side, mainly because our defensive team has yet to show up for a practice. Suffice it to say, we lost ... badly. But Amy and I had a lot of fun. This Saturday is our first regular season game. Hopefully I will have better news afterwards.

This weekend was also our first as the official youth ministry/English ministry/childrens ministry pastors at Podowon Korean Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. That sounds like a lot, and that's because it is. Thankfully, however, the size of these groups is rather small, and therefore quite manageable. On the other hand, we are also English tutors for about 10-12 nursing students who need to improve their English skills for hospital work. Altogether, it means Amy and I spend a good deal of time preparing the music (for which we are also solely responsible), sermons, lesson plans, etc.

Which leads me to the other important first: on Sunday I gave my first sermon. Amy says I did well, and my sermon text looks pretty good. So I guess it went all right. I spoke on the call of Abram in Genesis 12 and the corresponding text in Hebrews 11. I even snuck in a passage from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (on the doctrine of reconciliation), particularly on Barth's description of Jesus as the One who travels to the "Far Country" on our behalf. Tying all this together is the theme of moving great distances, which I connected personally to my experiences in traveling across country, including most recently to Princeton. Anyway, I know that no one wants to hear me repeat my sermon, but it was a rather momentous occasion for me.

As a side note, let me express my excitement that for once, Amy and I are serving on a completely egalitarian level in church ministry. I have to say that this excites me more than anything else. I suspect that this week Amy will give the sermon, and she'll probably end up giving most of them for now. After past church experiences, this is truly a breath of fresh air. On the down side, however, we do not have the ability to administer the sacraments, and this means I will probably end up looking for a Saturday night service at a nearby Episcopal church. I simply must have the sacraments on a weekly basis. That aside, this church opportunity is incredible; it's really a gift from God.