Sunday, October 27, 2013

Leonard Cohen Playlist

This is the playlist for Leonard Cohen at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on March 22, 2013.

  1. Dance Me to the End of Love
  2. The Future
  3. Bird on a Wire
  4. Everybody Knows
  5. Guitar Solo
  6. Who By Fire
  7. The Darkness
  8. Ain't No Cure for Love
  9. Amen
  10. Come Healing (Back Up)
  11. Democracy is Coming to the USA
  12. A Thousand Kisses Deep (Spoken)
  13. Anthem
  14. ********INTERMISSION******* 
  15. Tower of Song
  16. Suzanne
  17. Heart With No Companion
  18. Waiting for the Miracle to Come
  19. Show Me the Place
  20. Anyhow
  21. Lover Come Back to Me
  22. Alexandra Leaving (Sharon Robinson)
  23. I'm Your Man
  24. Hallelujah
  25. Take This Waltz
  26. *****Encores*******
  27. So Long Marianne
  28. Going Home
  29. First We Take Manhattan
  30. ********2nd Encore********
  31. Famous Blue Raincoat
  32. If It Be Your Will
  33. Closing Time

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

News was released today that Dallas Willard's body died today. He was an author, teacher, philosopher, speaker, and source of much wisdom for contemporary Christians.

If asked to name the ten books besides the Bible that had the greatest impact on my life, I would not get to my second hand before mentioning Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines. (Others, in no particular order include George MacDonald's Sir Gibbie and Hope of the Gospel, Martyn Lloyd-Jones's Spiritual Depression, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Jacques Ellul's Reason for Being, Tzvetan Todorov's Literature and Its Theorists; Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators mystery series, Jim Aparo's Batman run, and Deborah Tannen's Please Understand Me).

As is true of any book that makes it on such a list, Spirit's effect was a combination of content and timing. One of the Zorro films had a line about how when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. That's the glory of books. I read a smattering of Willard while I was in college (mid to late 80s) but it wasn't until I found myself as a postgraduate teaching in a fundamentalist environment that I really begun to gravitate towards Renovare, which at the time was heavily influenced by both Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. The notion that there were alternate approaches to Christianity besides fundamentalism (and/or American political conservatism) was something I intuitively knew but had never had outlined. Willard's assertions--particularly that Americans shied away from the disciplines not out of some righteous, protective zeal for "grace alone" but because they did not believe that transformation was genuinely possible and hence preferred "gospels of sin management" [I know, that's from a different book] to genuine discipleship--struck me as true. More importantly, he was one of the few Christian thinkers or writers who didn't merely critiqued the modern landscape but offered practical, helpful, suggestions for action.

From his books I learned that disciplines were not just for zealots and saints, were not marks of an extreme lifestyle, but were tools for working out your own salvation in fear and trembling. From Willard's instructions I've begun to learn not to despise the little steps as they are the foundation for broader changes. I've learned to be more honest about what I see in my own life and the world around me, less fearful that each failure punctures the illusion of progress and perfection upon which so much fundamentalism rests its claims for superior righteousness (and, hence, truth). I've learned that doing something poorly  is better than doing nothing that can't be done perfectly. I've learned that discipleship means not just being more righteous--though it does mean that--but also more aware of your own brokenness. Most of all, I've learned that nothing fuels hope more than change, however small, and that the source of so much of our despair is not that God has abandoned us but that we find it harder to see him when we won't or can't be present in our relationship with him. I've learned other things from Dallas Willard, though I might not yet be able to articulate them or even know what they are.

In Emergenetics terms he helped my "yellow" conceptualize God and the New Testament in ways that made sense and my "green" understand that there were and are concrete steps that I could take to improve my understanding. I thank God for Dallas Willard and pray that his work would earn him a "well done good and faithful servant" when God fulfills his promise sealed in Jesus for the resurrection of the body.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goodbye, Galaxy

I've quoted this before, and I will again, I'm sure. Azar Nafisi once said that leaving a place involves mourning (not just sadness) because you lose a part of your past, you mourn for the person you once were but will not be again.

The Galaxy Theater closed its doors this evening, and despite having a stack of papers to grade, courses to prep, ancillary duties to perform, I could not take one last evening to pay my respects. Cindy and I went to see Marjane Satrapi's Chicken With Plums, an appropriately wistful and nostalgic film to mark the end of an era.

The Galaxy Theater reopened right about the time I arrived in North Carolina to start work at Campbell, so it has felt like a constant in my life. When I first arrived, I had never been to the Toronto Film Festival, not yet written a review for Christianity Today. My personal film history was a bit more conventional. I spent some time trying to remember the films I had seen over the years at the Galaxy: Shut Up and Sing!, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Honeydripper, Being Elmo, Slumdog Millionaire, A Separation, Bright Star, Offside, Made in Dagenham, Bride and Prejudice, Cheri, Tamara Drewe, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Wendy and Lucy, Lorna's Silence. I saw a special presentation of Kieslowski's Blue. I had a glorious summer of watching the World Cup (free!) on the early afternoon screens. Often times I had seen a film in Toronto and could not wait to share it with friends or family, knowing the Galaxy was perhaps their best/only chance to see it as I had on the big screen. It was at the Galaxy Theater that I first had Chai Tea and discovered I liked it, first saw a Bollywood film (Jodha Akbar?), and expanded my horizons.

The Galaxy Theater enriched my many small businesses can say that. 

It will be missed.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Season of Silence on Social Media--Any Lessons Learned?

About four months ago, I wrote the following note on Facebook:

It happened again yesterday.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve composed these thoughts over several days so that “yesterday” no longer refers to the same day, because it happens every day now.
Someone, a friend or casual acquaintance, posted something on Facebook that was a little bit inflammatory, a little bit aggressive. Or, to be more accurate, someone shared something that someone else had said. Someone else commented in an aggressive manner, raising the ante or leveling counter accusations. Sometimes these are from conservatives and the comments are from liberals tired of misinformation, obstructionism, or hypocrisy. More often they are from liberals (simply because I am connected to more liberals on FB, not b/c they do it more often), and the responses/come backs are from conservatives tired of exaggerations, distortions…other forms of hypocrisy. Sometimes my response is initial pleasure that someone has noticed a similar hypocrisy that I have, followed by irritation and frustration that there seems no quarter where people are measured, fair, impartial and using those observations to arrive at considered judgments and invite others to do the same. Sometimes I have that initial feeling right off the bat. Always, always, I’m left feeling that “I can’t wait for the election to be over.”
Really, though, in the last three years, I’ve noticed less and less of a respite between elections. There is no offseason any more, maybe there never was. The day after an election, before an inauguration, there begins the process of undercutting as a strategy to position for the next one. Is this unique to the current president and the current opposition? I don’t think so.
So, yeah, so what? What are the options…join in or remain silent.
I’ve learned a little about silence in the last five-ten years. That’s not a modest understatement; I’m trying to be precise. I’ve learn something, but it’s been actually a very small glimmer of what I need to learn. What little I have learned has been in the context of and fumbling practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. I was introduced to the concept of spiritual disciplines through Richard Foster’s seminal CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE; though it was not until reading Dallas Willard’s SPIRIT OF THE DISCIPLINES that I felt I understood at least in part their purpose and role in our lives. That was extended through Foster’s SPIRITUAL FORMATION WORKBOOK that gave me a foundational understanding of the disciplines as spiritual exercises…the first time in my adult life that I thought of devotional practice not exclusively in terms of Bible study and natural, organic Christian maturity but also in terms of homework and exercises designed to strengthen or fan into flame the graces that God has empowered the believer to practice.
“Silence” is not listed as one of the chapters in Foster’s CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE but he has much to say about it:
Quoting Bonhoeffer he reminds us: “Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and his own follies.”
Of the purpose of silence he says (98-99): “Control rather than no noise is the key to silence [….] Thomas a Kempis writes, ‘It is easier to be silent altogether than speak with moderation.’”
Very few of us have that control (to speak with moderation). I don’t. The discipline of silence is (or can be) a means to an end. By voluntarily imposing silence upon ourselves, we try to create a space where we can see how much speech, rather than truth, is used to try to gain control, have our way. Just as fasting from food makes us conscious of how much more than we realize our appetites influence our mood, attitude, and behavior, so too fasting from words can make us conscious of how much we rely on words to try to acquire, maintain, or oppose power.
In rudimentary attempts at the discipline of silence I’ve notice a few things.
1) It is almost always a harder discipline than we think. It shouldn’t be that hard to refrain from speech about something (or at all) for a proscribed period of time. After all, that isn’t even self-denial, it is just delay. But inevitably something comes up that makes us feel like, “This is an exceptional case that requires me to speak now.” Certainly there can be in this history of the world instances where our silence can have grave consequences for others and justice demands that we not withhold information. But how often in day to day life is that the case? More often it is we ourselves who benefit from our words, feeling better about ourselves (or our cause) for having spoken.
2) It makes us (or me, anyway) more sensitive to honesty. There are some people who are pathological liars, but I’m talking about something deeper than falsifying the truth. I think if we could step outside ourselves periodically, we would be shocked at how much and how often we exaggerate, shade the truth, or use words to create inferences that are greater or lesser than what a simple articulation of the truth would communicate. We justify this by saying it is necessary because “everyone does it” and “it is understood and so not really a lie” and “it’s not as though I’m lying…if they take it the wrong way [i.e. in the way I want them to take it] it’s ultimately in service of the truth.” When you are silent you feel (I’m tempted to write you are) powerless—and you long, ache for someone to speak the truth that you see and know.
Foster writes: “Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.” I have found those words to be true in my experience.
Anyways, that is a preface to say this. Here is my discipline of Silence for the second half of the year. I am going to strive/resolve to hold silence in all public forums about politics and the American presidential election. Nor will I “share” posts that others have made on FB on this topic.
There remains just a brief couple of words to be said about what, based on past experience, I do and do not expect to (or hope will) happen as a result of this discipline:
1) I do not expect others’ behavior will change much or at all. One aspect of most disciplines is that they are humbling. You may have grandiose and/or unrealistic scenarios where others notice and are inspired by your example. Spiritual disciplines are not tactical decency or indirect manipulation. In my experience with silence, others are simply happy to have the floor unopposed so that they can reiterate their own claims.
2) I do not expect that others will take up my cause (or the cause of me). One of the more humbling aspects of the discipline of silence is that it makes you realize how dispensable you are. The temptation to use words to defend or justify oneself (or one’s position) is so strong in part because it is fueled by the fear that nobody else will. Yet the reality of using words is that even if people do join your cause or affirm your words, it is never enough.
3) I do expect I will learn something. Most likely, and most frustratingly (in the past), it may very well be that I am little different from those whose practice I find the most annoying. That’s usually revealed in the more honest examinations of one’s own response to the question, “Why is it so hard (to not post this on FB, to not “share,” to not write the catty comment on someone else’s catty observation…)?”
4) I do hope I may get some better sense of guidance or leading from God about how to vote. This probably sounds like a vain hope…possibly a counter-intuitive one. Foster writes: “To listen to others quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God. Let me repeat that. Foster writes: “To listen to others quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God” (121). If this hope is to find fruition, I doubt it will be because my own silence allows me to hear the wisdom of some others. Nearly all of what I see in public, social discourse about politics is knowing, willful exaggeration and distortion for the purpose of self-justification and rationalizations of one's own actions (that are often out of ignorance, fear, prejudice, or self-inerest). Being silent may not, probably will not, give me more insight because I value others’ pontifications and judgments more than my own. But it may turn my attention from poking holes in those justifications (or offering up my own) and towards that which is being said by He who needs not justify Himself and would (and does) speak to me when I am prepared to listen (but will rarely, unless I’m in severe danger, shout above my own voice in order to get my attention).
May God grant us all light to see and wisdom to discern.
I almost made it. I voted early in North Carolina, so my election season was over. Since then, I'm reflecting on what I've seen (and heard). It hasn't been pretty.

I don't say that intending to sound smug or superior. I'm sure I have been or will be as annoying to others as some have been to me. It was only by being intentional to abstain altogether that I've mustered any kind of ability to avoid some of the worst excesses that were pretty noticeable to me. As mentioned above, being silent, hard as it is, is easier than mastering one's speech.

Some of my observations? Very little--next to none--of what my friends have to say about politics was well meaning, engagement oriented or particularly open. I'm tempted to write that very little was sincere. That's half right. I think people meant it sincerely when they expressed their indignation or contempt for the other party and its followers. I don't think they meant it when they said a question was actual and not rhetorical (such as, "How could a Christian vote for ...... ? I really want to know.)

I'm not a single-issue voter, and I've always been a bit of a process/integrity guy. I had and have more faith in people keeping to the rules and going through a process than those who simply make claims of policy. That makes this a hard election for me, because doing things the "right" way, whether in debate, discussion, or methodology is a scant concern. Results matter.

In such a culture, truth is a huge casualty. If I judged by my Facebook for the last four months I would be hard pressed to argue that Christians knew and took seriously the admonitions to tell the truth and not bear false witness. To the extent they did/do there seemed to be a buying into the notion that gimmicks designed to obscure or evade the truth were fine so long as they had some frame (however implausible) that would allow the speaker to claim that it was technically not an outright lie, however misleading it might be. This happened over and over again, about dates of plants closing, simple algebra, whether the president used the words "act of terror," etc. It's been depressing. Both sides do it. One side (in my opinion) did it more and more blatantly, but "My lies are less egregious than theirs" is hardly an endorsement. Voters (okay, this voter) found it increasingly hard to vote based on policy issues when, particularly in one side, I felt like I had to make educated guesses based on conflicting statements about what the policy was (or might be).

It's human nature to give more credence to statements that confirm what we think we already know, so it was hardly surprising but still disheartening to watch how easily and glibly partisans dismissed questions or problems, inconsistencies or backtracks, confident that the other guy had been caught in a lie but their guy was always, only, tricked and distorted by the media.

But I'm not even mostly concerned with outright fabrications or the increasing inability of people I otherwise respect to make distinctions between spin and substantive claims...I'm concerned about a process that by its very nature requires politicians to speak in code, to find ways of insinuating what they think and will do without actually saying it so that they can't be held accountable for their words. How can truth not be a victim in such an environment.

Let me cite a few examples, and I pick them not because of which side was in the right or wrong. In the Vice Presidential debate, Joe Biden opined that an important reason to vote for his ticket would be because of Supreme Court nominees. Did voters want more judges like those appointed by Barack Obama or like those appointed by Republicans who wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade? Paul Ryan asked if there was a "litmus test" for judges and Biden said "no," just that the judges were fair.

Raise your hand if you believe that. Anyone? Oh, I can believe well enough that nobody on the record, in front of witnesses, asked a potential nominee what his or her position was on Roe v. Wade. But there are all sorts of ways of asking the question without making it explicit. All sorts of ways of "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean." The statement that there was no litmus test may be true under a strict parsing of what is meant by that term, but, really, if there is no litmus test, what was the point of Biden bringing it up in the first place? Wasn't he in effect saying, "Vote for us, because we'll protect Roe v. Wade and they will appoint judges to strike it down." That's fine, you can make an appeal like that, but you can't turn around and say, "But we have no way of guaranteeing a judge will do that because we don't ask."

If you prefer another example with the roles reversed, in the third presidential debate Mitt Romney dismissed President Obama's foreign policy by saying, "We can't kill our way out of this mess." As an anti-war person, that got my attention. Not five minutes later, in response to the President saying some foreign policy matter was complex, Romney stated that his foreign policy would be "simple." He would, he said, "Well, my strategy’s pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture." ( It is hard, I think, to take candidates seriously if they don't take us seriously or the truth seriously. And it's hard to take supporters of either candidate seriously when they refuse to acknowledge the fundamental deficiencies of their candidates at any given point. How can one have a sustained discussion of the merits when we as voters have become the opposite of the girl in the story of the emperor with no clothes.

Having been (or tried to be) silent for four months, I've found I want a lot of things. Campaign finance reform. Abolishing the electoral college. Insist that third parties be included in a number of debates proportional to the percentage of states for which they are on the ballot. What I don't want is more people to listen to me or engage me on Facebook. I didn't say a word and you somehow managed to figure out who to vote for just fine. I don't think anything I could have said would have convinced 99.9% of you to give your own allegiances a second thought, that the minute I had said something all gears would go into motion to think about how to rebut our counter.

Am I wrong?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies, and Orioles Statistics

I don't remember my father reciting too many proverbs when I was growing up, but I recall one of his favorites being the old saw that "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." 

Statistics, in other words, are not lies, but they can be manipulated in order to create false impressions. Statistics come with the illusion of objectivity, but their meaning is subjective, because they most be placed in a context in order to be interpreted.

I bring this up because the Baltimore Orioles have stayed in the playoff hunt long enough to get my attention. Part of why I haven't paid much attention is that I have been reassured, seemingly every day since the beginning of the season, that their success to date is a statistical anomaly that can't possibly continue. 

One of my firm beliefs is that we tend to accept evidence as evidence more easily when it confirms what we already believe.  The Baltimore Orioles have not been in first place this late in the season since 1997. Most of my students were three or four years old at that time. I did not have a Ph.D. and was living in Illinois. I had never heard of Barack Obama or Osama Bin Laden. I did not own a cell phone. Almost all of my computer work was saved on 3 1/2 inch "discs." Brady Anderson was coming off a 50 home run season, and (yes, this was a long time ago...) nothing seemed particularly suspicious about that sudden increase of power. So, yes, of course, the Orioles would fade. They always do. (By "always" I mean, well in the last 15 years...)

Read enough baseball articles about the Orioles and you will be assaulted with two statistics, over and over. First, the Orioles have a negative run differential, meaning that over the course of the season, their opponents have scored more runs than they have. That usually means you lose more games than you win, unless, perchance, you win a LOT of close games and lose a lot of blowouts. Oh, surprise, statistic number 2..the Orioles have been very successful in close games, on pace to set a record for the best winning percentage in 1 run games. They also lost a couple of games early in the season by ten runs or more. 

Now the interesting thing to me about how these statistics are used is how they reinforce contrary assumptions. Those who focus on the run differential keep say, "The record moving forward will reflect what they ARE (which is masked by the anomaly of their past record)..a team that gets outscored." I'm reminded not for the first time of Bill Parcells's famous quip that "you are what your record says you are." Rather than believe that the record is indicative of what they are and the run differential an anomaly, pundits assert the opposite. Fine, but why? Isn't the true scientific method to try to use data to understand what is rather than to cherry pick the statistics that support your theory and explain away the evidence that doesn't? 

Conversely, the record in one run games is considered to be an anomaly...they can't keep it up because history shows that they couldn't actually be what the statistics say they isn't possible that they are that good at 1 run games. Eventually they will revert to the mean...

There is clustering in statistics, but reverting to an average assumes that all other things are the same. A baseball season is a long time. Statistically it is very uncommon for a team, any team, to not have at least one five game losing streak over the course of the season. The New York Yankees have not. Yet in one reason column where the columnist asserts that the Orioles must inevitable move back to average, the Yankees' statistical anomaly is given as evidence that they are really good and why they should hold on to win the division. There is not an assumption that they must, inevitably, return to the average because the columnist begins with an assertion that they are not average and uses the statistic as evidence.

As anyone who has bought stock knows, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Some of the players who contributed to that run differential are no longer with the team. Why, if we are extrapolating statistics, are we extrapolating the statistics of pitchers who aren't playing? Why not extrapolate statistics since the all star break, or over a three year period? 

I once wrote a paper that forced me to research the term "chaos theory." I was surprised to find that the most common form of chaos theory didn't hold that things were random, just that some systems were so complex that they could not be predicted, and anything that cannot be predicted has an appearance of (is indistinguishable from) randomness. We don't like to thing we can't predict, and we know that sports are not random, so statistics give us the illusion that we have found a meaningful pattern. Usually we have, but that pattern is part of a complex system that makes using it to predict the future a much more iffy proposition.

None of this is to say the Orioles are a lock to go to the playoffs. Plenty of teams not named "Mets" have blown bigger leads than 1.5 games with 27 to play. Just that if they do fail to make the playoffs, all the statisticians will crow and say, "I knew it" and if they do make the playoffs the same statisticans will not admit that stats are meaningless, they will simply look harder for other statistics to (seemingly) explain the fact that they won games they were not expected to win.

In a famous essay Stanley Fish opined that when people said of literature that a text "can't" mean something, that's just a lazy way of saying that nobody has constructed a convincing argument for that interpretation." Someone might claim that William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" can't sustain an interpretation that Faulkner believed he was a reincarnated Eskimo, but let a scholar find an authenticated letter demonstrating that Faulkner believed he was an Eskimo, and you better believe that scholars would all of a sudden find things in the text that suddenly appeared to be consistent with what they (now) knew to be true. Let the Orioles make the playoffs and see how many arguments will be made that they "can't" and how convincing the statistics are used to support that belief. Sadly, we don't learn to look at statistics with a modicum of suspicion, we don't learn. Let the Orioles make the playoffs and we will comb over the same data and pull out those examples that now point to what we believe to be true...

Sunday, September 02, 2012

It's been awhile...

I haven't posted anything in All Things Ken in over two years. Why?

The majority of my posts are/were film related, but I've created a separate online magazine, 1More Film Blog ( to deal with film stuff.

Also, Facebook continues to proliferate, but as any Facebook fan knows, the wall there is hard(er) to tag and search, so it occurs to me to go ahead and use the Blogger tool for public posts that I want to remain searchable. Stuff I can archive and find more readily. So I'll be posting stuff a bit more here, maybe...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Cheaper" By the Bundle

What's wrong with this picture?

I'm used to kvetching about the (mis)use of language in a post-literate society, but as an English major by training (and trade), I'm not used to having to do the math for people.

Then again, I remember an article I read some years back about "weasel" words and phrases in advertising. It brought up the issue of unfinished or ungrounded comparisons--a typical trick in advertising. It suggested that whenever you see or hear an ad with a comparative--quieter, faster, cheaper--you train yourself to finish it by adding "than what?"

Great gifts are "cheaper" by the bundle. But getting a bundle of four doesn't make them cheaper by unit or overall than getting a bundle of two. Cheaper than buying each of the four books individually, I guess. Not cheaper than if you had bought all four books in sets of two by two, though.