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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Cup o' Joe Gone Mad

Friday, May 25, 2007

Last week NPH sauntered into a high-end coffeeshop here in town in the middle of the afternoon. Afternoon time is Americano time, but on this day something caught our eye that changed that. The guy behind the counter was talking to another customer about a new drip coffee maker they'd purchased, this $11,000 number that the Specialty Coffee Association of America had called the "Best New Invention" of the year in 2006.

Ever the sucker for a coffee gimmick, we paid $2 for a 16 oz. cup of drip coffee made by the Clover.

Right away the product's claims were vindicated, and they lasted throughout the cup. Combining the technology of a French Press and a Vacuum Pot, the Clover produces a cup of drip coffee that is more clear and subtle than anything else. We've been telling everyone about it since then. Here's a demonstration of how it works:

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:24 AM | link | 2 comments |

Fly Me To The Moon (or LA/Ontario)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NPH is headed to California for a few days next month, and we just found a new airline with which to do travel. After tooling around Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia, we almost accidentally bumped into Express Jet. It's an airline that only began serving our home town in February of this year, and, as the name suggests, all the flights are express--no stops.

Here's a blurb from a news release (ie PR piece) about the airline:
The ExpressJet fleet of 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145XR aircraft are configured with no middle seat, which gives every passenger a seat on the aisle, window or both. ExpressJet branded service will also offer an improved customer experience with valet carry-on bag service and complimentary brand snacks with full meal service options available on longer flights.
In addition, the fare on Express Jet was cheaper than all the other major carriers.

We feel like we've made a discovery.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:08 AM | link | 1 comments |

The Case for Uncertainty

Thursday, May 17, 2007

NPH heard the word this morning from John 16:16-20. In that reading, Jesus tells the disciples something they don't understand, and some of their response is simply to say, "we do not know what he means."

We do not know what he means. It's an explicit admission of something that even the casual reader of the gospels knows, that the disciples don't know what Jesus means. The gospels almost uniformly depict Jesus disciples as confused, mistaken, and misunderstanding of what he is doing.

In most preaching and teaching involving these texts, NPH has heard the disciples' lack of understanding depicted as mental sluggishness, even stupidity. From a detached third person perspective, a perspective that already knows the end of the story, preachers and teachers routinely lampoon the disciples for "not getting it" (winking all the while at those of us who do "get it"). This is a problem, not only for the homiletical hubris it displays, but also because the detached third-person perspective doesn't seem to be the perspective from which the gospel accounts were written. Rarely is there an account of disciple confusion that draws the condemnation or criticism of Jesus in the gospel stories.

Could that be because the writers of the gospels, followers of Jesus all, understood confusion and a lack of understanding to be normative for Christian discipleship? Could it be that the kind of discipleship the gospels depict is supposed to be marked by uncertainty?

NPH thinks so. Although this is a tough sell for Bible believers in North America in the year 2007. Because we have been enslaved to an Enlightenment-derived rationalism that seeks to gain all knowledge, and that, in the process, flattens out all ambiguity and mystery. To such a pursuit, the Bible is a book of "answers" that can simply be applied to one's life with the sure result of health, wealth, and happiness. It's thoroughly technical, as technics and rationalism are close relatives. This rationalism has a lot to do with the kind of following given to someone like the late Jerry Falwell, someone who had the Bible and morality down pat (who "got it") and who's life pursuit was to simply apply extracted Biblical "truth" to modern life.

There's a deep unfaithfulness that can result from that. There's a reduction of the gospel involved, a flattening out of something that is inherently and incomprehensibly mysterious, multivalent, and rich.

Instead, NPH wonders what might a church look like that, with the disciples in John 16, is able to say "we don't know?"
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:17 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Church And The Network

Monday, May 14, 2007

As a pastor, NPH reads a good deal of writing about the state of the church, its current institutional malaise and bright hope for the future. Books like this and blogs like this are only the best expressions of what seems to be the consensus view among protestant church leaders in America: the church has to be less attractional and more missional; it has to stop trying to bring people into the church and start taking the church to people. Alan Roxburgh, featured in the video above, is one of the main proponents of that view.

Here's the realization we're now making, thanks to the Jeff Jarvises of the world: TV has the same problem. Consider this quote from a CBS executive: "We can't expect consumers to come to us. It's arrogant for any media company to assume that."


TV networks are coming to terms with the reality that consumers have gazillions of options when it comes to entertainment content, and fewer and fewer of those options force them to endure advertising. So companies like CBS are shifting their focus from trying to attract viewers to their network and instead trying to get their network content out to where those consumers already are, namely Youtube and other web-based entertainment venues.

Here's NPH's frightening thought: is a "missional" church mindset just the latest example of the church taking a cue from consumer culture? Or is it the other way around?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:30 AM | link | 1 comments |

Coming Soon To A Couch Near You

Comcast COO Steve Burke said last week that his cable company is planning to offer new-release movies via pay-per-view as soon as those movies are theatrically released. Here's the story from Advertising Age.

NPH thinks that anyone surprised by this has their head in the sand. Yet we don't like it. We see it as one more step away from a public life and toward a private one. Not that movie theaters are venues of great public discourse, but they are one of the few remaining places (along with the ballpark and the concert hall) where citizens have to negotiate their fellow citizens as part of the leisure experience. There's value in that, even if the people talking behind you and the cellphone ringing next to you are annoyances.

NPH worries that allowing people to bring the summer blockbuster into their home and skip the crowd at the theater will further erode what little public sensibilities remain.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:00 AM | link | 0 comments |

Being Prayed For. In Tongues

Thursday, May 03, 2007

NPH has written before of the prayer group that meets at the local retirement facility. One of our members lives there, and so from time to time we head over at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning to participate with him and this group of about 8 African-American women (he's white). We always find it edifying, if not a little bit quaint.

Yesterday we returned after over two months of absence. As the leader of the group began to solicit prayer requests, she asked NPH if there's anything he needed prayer for, anything at the church or otherwise. We mentioned some of the prayer concerns that people had shared in worship last Sunday, and that was that. In reality, NPH's mind and spirit are heavily pressed with concerns, but that was not the venue in which to share them. So we kept it formal, professional.

The leader began to pray. It didn't take long before her prayers were a moaning, almost chanting recitation of needs and pleas filled with "Hallelujah's" and other charismatic filler. And when she got 'round to praying for NPH, she explicitly prayed for him personally, making overt mention of "all those things he's keeping to himself."

Then she launched into a fervent tirade of glossolalia. For close-to-a-minute she ranted and pleaded in some kind of tongues language that nobody there could understand, a canting that NPH dare not try to reproduce.

Almost suddenly, the cognitive disassociation that usually marks NPH's participation in group prayer ceased. It's usually the case that we, when praying with others, are painfully aware of people's idiosyncracies and personality traits and the way those are brought to bear on their praying. We're also very conscious of ourself and our own words and inflections.

Yet here was this very strange, even ecstatic, kind of praying going on, yet because NPH was himself the subject he buckled down mentally and forced himself to just participate in it, rather than analyzing it and so distancing himself from it. This woman was praying for us in words that no person could understand, which is the only way that we could have been prayed for in a setting like that. We've got a strong hunch that whatever the pleas and prayers were that were coming out of her mouth, they pertained directly to things that only NPH knows about.

This experience converges with a couple of other things this week that have started to shake loose our otherwise stable arrangement of God and the natural world. There's the young woman we occasionally run into at the local gym, the charismatic who is utterly incapable of small talk and who must talk always and only about God: what God is teaching her, what God is saying to her, what God is doing in the community. We keep listening uncomfortably, nodding and saying, "yeah" and "uh huh" before finding a way to excuse ourself and wish her well. We keep walking away perturbed.

Then there is Jason Byasee's post on Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century. It's about some friends of his who's daughter suddenly got over a milk allergy problem she has had since infancy. Its' cessation coincided quite inexplicably with an occurance at her church youth group, where people laid hands on and prayed for her, that she would be healed. Byasee is flummoxed:
Her parents are not flaky people. They both have doctoral degrees from top flight, internationally recognized universities. They can’t explain her healing. Perhaps she just happened to grow out of her allergy that week. Or perhaps the Spirit worked.
He quotes another friend, a protestant minister, who, hearing the story and Byasee's ambivalence about it, simply said, "Man, we're in the wrong church. Our problem is that we pray without expecting God to do anything."

NPH hears himself addressed in this critique. Yet somehow yesterday's experience worked to create an expectation. Not an expectation that some miraculous intervention would soon be forthcoming, but rather an expectation that God is really listening, that prayer really can be more than the pious and self-aware mutterings of those of us who need to complain, an expectation that prayer actually does something to God and to us (we're stopping short of the oft-repeated mantra that it "changes things").

All of this is a strange convergence of people, thoughts, and incidents that have unsettled us and confused us and comforted us at the same time.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:23 AM | link | 4 comments |

Why NBC Was Right

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

During the unfolding Virginia Tech story two weeks ago, NPH found himself in an argument with his wife and brother-in-law over NBS's decision to air some of the material sent to them by Seung-Hui Cho. Drawing mostly on his affection for Jeff Jarvis, NPH maintained that the network was justified in its decision (though we may not have gone as far as Jarvis, who was pleading with NBC to air all of the material). Journalism's job, we upheld, is to tell the truth to the public and not to sanitize if out of concerns over "what people can handle."

Jarvis can be seen making this exact argument here.

What bothered NPH the most about reaction to NBC's airing of the material was the almost universal assertion that the network was interested primarily in ratings and money. Normally NPH would go there, but in this case it really is a valid question as to whether or not there was a responsibility on the company's part to share with the public the material. Impugning NBC's motives was not helpful.

Today freelance journalist Kevin Sites defends NBC in a column on the Columbia Journalism Review's blog. It's a well-argued piece. A couple of excerpts:

. . . holding back information that is critical to the story, no matter how difficult or disturbing it may be to hear or see, corrupts journalism's ability to report the truth and the public's ability to understand it.
And this:
Some argue that the public need not hear or see the titillating details contained in these videos and photographs, that their only real use is to forensic psychologists and law enforcement officials. But in fact, these clues may be more useful to ordinary people who, by seeing Cho's face, hearing his voice, gaining a visual understanding of what someone who is capable of this kind of violence is like, may be in a better position than law enforcement to spot the early warning signs and prevent another massacre.
And, finally, this:
For those still not convinced that NBC did the right thing, remember, this is the Internet Age. Cho sent his package to NBC, but he could have easily bypassed the mainstream media and posted his videos to YouTube and his photos to MySpace. With the exception of burning the NBC logo onto every photograph and video image to make it seem the package was the result of its own investigative work, NBC handled the material with a sensitivity that wouldn't have happened had it just been uploaded into cyberspace.
The public is actually a participant in the story, as much as news networks and law enforcement officials. What NBC's decision did was to allow citizens, who most certainly have a stake in understanding these types of events, to be a part of figuring out the what and why and how of it all.

Here's hoping that participation bears some fruit. Quickly.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:06 AM | link | 2 comments |