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Slice of life: October, November, December

When I started the “slice of life” thing in September, my plan was to make it a periodically recurring motif, something to force me to blog at least once a month about what the normal day-to-day has been serving up. But it’s now clear that even that was too lofty a goal for me, as the 48-day hiatus since my last blog entry will attest.

Sorry, folks. I could probably come up with some B.S. excuse about how I haven’t had time to blog on account of how busy we’ve been, blah, blah, whine, whine, etc. But when you think about it, the craziness of everyday life should be a reason to blog, not an excuse not to, right? So in that vein, I give you not one, not two, but three months’ worth of “slices of life”. Instead of breaking it down month by month, I’m just going to make it one big, gluttonous “slice”, so to speak. Imagine the year 2009 is one large apple pie, and you’re about to inhale an entire quarter of that thing in one sitting. Are you ready for this?

•••

Our house is feeling more like home every day. We ditched the mealtime practice of cramming our six bodies around our tiny kitchen table, in favor of a nice big 10-seater with sleeve extensions from Ikea. It’s long and narrow, so sitting at the head seat makes me feel kind of like a family patriarch about to pray the blessing over Thanksgiving dinner, and Drea and Tom and Renata and Hayden and Jack are all my grandkids. Come children, let’s join hands…

Renata’s dad Charlie has generously agreed to help us convert half our garage into a bedroom for Jolie. The work is still in progress, but we’ve managed to install a door, wall, and most of the floor so far. It’s fun seeing her little room come together, and Drea is especially anxious to start the “nesting” process (which, I’m sorry to report, will include a light pink shade on one or more of the walls. I tried, people.)

•••

We’ve spent quite a bit of time on the road recently, which I of course am quite keen on. Drea and I embarked on a “babymoon” to Florida — a last hurrah of sorts before the little whippersnapper’s grand arrival. We had a fantastic (albeit uncharacteristically ad-libbed) time celebrating the end of life as we know it! You can get the whole scoop here on our family blog.

Over Thanksgiving, my whole family piled into my aunt’s 8-passenger van and headed up to the Poconos for a long weekend of goofing off, playing games and hanging around northeast PA, including Scranton! (Fans of The Office might be interested to know that there is a real Steamtown Mall in Scranton, although it’s incredibly lame except for an out-of-this-world crêpe stand in the food court.) We toured a coal mine (more entertaining than it sounds) and spent some time in the charming town of Jim Thorpe.

Drea and I are excited to take yet another mini-getaway (I’m addicted to these things!) this weekend to New York to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. It was supposed to be my surprise Christmas gift to her, but I blew it! She asked me to give her a hint that she wouldn’t be able to figure out, but that would temporarily satiate her curiosity. The hint I gave her was “R.C.M.H.” and she guessed “Radio City Music Hall” immediately. We both kicked ourselves and sulked for a little bit, but we soon got over it. However, after underestimating both Drea’s clue-decoding talent and my own overwhelming stupidity for giving her such an easy clue, we both vowed to keep all future surprises for each other under stealth secrecy, no exceptions. 🙂

•••

Holiday music-wise, I’ve been enjoying Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas this year. Recorded over the course of five Christmases as five separate EPs and now available as a box set, it’s full of innovative, folksy takes on both well-known and obscure Christmas carols, as well as some colorful original tracks, including “What Child Is This, Anyway?”, “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”, and “Get Behind Me, Santa!”.

I also feel compelled to mention that Bob Dylan released a Christmas album this year. I’m a big Dylan fan, but am quite unsure how to feel about this. I haven’t heard the album (besides the samples on Amazon), but something tells me Christmas music might not be his forte. And that something is Washington Post staff writer Chris Richards, who offers this observation in his review: “[Dylan’s version of] ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ sounds like a reason to bolt the doors…As ever, chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost is nipping at your nose — but this time, the man behind the microphone sounds as if he’s trying to dislodge a piece of tinsel from his throat.” My curiosity is piqued, to say the least.

Christmas at the AckerJanes is fun this year — devouring gargantuan waffle breakfasts on the weekends, watching Elf, making fun of Renata’s affinity for the Hanson Christmas album, and pooling both families’ Christmas ornaments together on one tree. As I type, Drea is stuffing our Christmas cards into envelopes as Sara Groves sings “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in the background. It’s a good moment, and “Glory to God in the highest” seems a fitting expression of gratitude — for the friends and family we send cards to, for the little Ackermann kicking away, for peace and good will to men.

Merry Christmas to all!

Filed under: Blogging, Family, Funny, Music, Slice of life, Travel

Slice of life: September

Brief reflections on life right now…

Drea and I have gone public with the pregnancy, ushering in a season of “whoa” for me. For some reason, having people know about it and asking questions has made me aware (as if for the first time) that we’re actually having a kid. Hoooooly crap. We can’t wait to find out the gender in a few weeks. If we have a girl, Drea wants to paint her room light pink. I’m more partial towards a “gender-neutral” tone. Maybe a poll can settle our debate once and for all. What do you think?

•••

In other news, we finally moved into our new house with the Janes a few weeks ago. So far it’s been great, but it also means I’ve had to step up my handyman skills a little bit. We bought a power drill from Home Depot, which Tom and I have been using to install blinds. Turns out installing blinds is a fairly meticulous process requiring a degree of measuring accuracy that surpasses — as I learned the hard way — “eyeballing it”.

We’ve enjoyed making our new place our own, as suggested by the photos Drea uploaded to our family blog yesterday. After a year of not having our own kitchen, this is actually one of my favorite things about our house. Gall-darnit, I even like doing the dishes at night. (We’ll see how long this lasts.)

•••

We joined a few of our life group pals on Sunday night to see a Derek Webb/Sandra McCracken show at Jammin’ Java. We learned upon arriving that it was a standing show, but we got in early enough to snag some dining area seats. Sandra McCracken’s opening segment was pitch-perfect. (We actually ran into her and her kids at Starbucks before the show, which was fun.) Derek Webb was outstanding as well, playing through his entire new record — the gutsy marriage of folk-rock and trippy electronica that is Stockholm Syndrome. Particularly enjoyable was when technical difficulties on stage forced him to scale back to just an acoustic guitar, playing old Caedmon’s Call tunes and one unexpected treat — Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin”.

•••

So, that’s life right now. In the absence of a decent closing remark, I’ll leave you to marvel at the fast food order-taking skills of a certain King Burger employee…

Filed under: Family, Funny, Marriage, Music, Slice of life, , , ,

Book review: “Religion Saves”

I first heard of Mark Driscoll in Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. (Miller playfully referred to him as “Mark the Cussing Pastor”.) While I hear he’s toned his language down a bit, Driscoll is still a famously outspoken and controversial pastor and author. His church, Mars Hill, is a “theologically conservative and culturally liberal” congregation in Seattle. Driscoll also co-founded the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting group.

When I heard through our blog friend Kate McDonald that LitFuse Publicity Group was doing a “blog tour” of Driscoll’s new book Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions, I decided to hop on board. I love reading and exchanging thoughts on books, and I figured this would be a fun way to share my thoughts, and to find out a little more about Driscoll.

Religion Saves is essentially a series of loosely related sermons in written format. Driscoll tackles nine of the most frequent questions asked by Christians today — ranging from predestination to birth control to the emerging church — and devotes one chapter of the book to answering (or at least providing insights to) each question. While he ties the nine questions together with the theme of the misconception that “religion saves”, the chapters obviously cover a wide range of topics and could easily be read independently of one another.

Before we dig in, I have to say that I had a hard time writing this review. To begin with, the book’s configuration as a series of mini-expositions on various topics makes it difficult to discuss as a whole. (As such, I’ll attempt to reflect briefly on each chapter.) Secondly, I have mixed opinions of Driscoll and his views; I found much to heartily agree with and much to humbly disagree with in this book. And thirdly, I don’t claim expertise on any of these topics, so I share my thoughts with that disclaimer.

•••

Question 9: Birth control. Extremely helpful as an introduction to the different kinds of birth control, and their implications for the Christian belief in human life’s sanctity. I think Driscoll employs unflinching directness and gracious tolerance where each is appropriate.

Question 8: Humor. Easily (and fittingly) the funniest chapter in the book. Driscoll is a master of understatement and witty sarcasm, as evidenced by his indiscriminate jabs. (Nobody is exempt; he makes fun of liberal environmentalists, redneck NASCAR fans, goody two-shoed homeschoolers, and guys with bad breath.) He also draws interesting insights on humor in the Bible, and its place in the Christian life and even the pulpit. I agree with Driscoll in that given our common state as sinners, we all need to take ourselves less seriously and learn to laugh at each other’s (and our own) shortcomings.

Question 7: Predestination. Essentially a defense of Calvinist/Reformed theology, with surprising generosity toward Arminians. A useful introduction, but I still remain unconvinced of either “side” of this issue as an essential Christian doctrine. I believe both in God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved, and in our free will in either accepting or rejecting Him. I only consider this a contradiction in the sense that the coexistence of predestination and free will is too large and complex an idea for me to get my mind around. The presence of both entities in Scripture and in my personal experience makes possible my faith that God’s design is cosmically perfect in its inclusion of both, however imperfect my understanding of it makes it seem.

Question 6: Grace. Driscoll presents this as the most difficult Christian doctrine for him to accept. (I’m the same way; the idea of a perfect God extending grace to a people who are chronically ungrateful for it is beyond me.) It’s a beautiful discussion of the word “grace” itself, as Driscoll highlights the multitude of different types of grace that God sends our way. If we ever erroneously perceive grace only as God’s initial forgiveness of our sin, Driscoll helps us to see that this is only one of many heaps of undeserved blessings for every stage of life and faith.

Question 5: Sexual Sin. A hard look at the perversion of sex that characterizes our culture. While he doesn’t mince words about the sinfulness of some of our practices, Driscoll spends considerable time on the psychology, and even spirituality, of sex. He sheds light on the root problem of sin that causes sexaul perversion, as opposed to reverting to the near-hysterical rebuking and callous judgement typical of many Christian leaders when discussing sexual sin. There are worthwhile insights to be found here, ones I hadn’t previously considered.

Question 4: Faith and Works. In addressing the delicate interplay of faith, works, and salvation, Driscoll echoes J. I. Packer’s discussion of the doctrine of regeneration — that is, we are saved not by good works, but for good works. In this light, it makes even more sense that you can’t have one without the other.

Question 3: Dating. I’m married, so pshh, I don’t need to read this. (Teachable heart fail.) I actually learned a lot from this chapter. The history Driscoll provides on dating/courtship over the last hundred years is helpful. When we hear grievances against the dating practices of “these young people nowadays”, it’s usually from older folks who wish things could be like they uesd to. Driscoll’s relative youth might remove suspicion of generational arrogance as he implores his fellow young people to date wisely. He’s old-fashioned on this topic, and I’m with him. (Yes, the male should pursue the female. Yes, he should be clear in stating his intentions to her.) He also mentions the opposite dangers of legalism and free license in the context of dating, which is helpful as well.

Question 2: The Emerging Church. This was the chapter I was most intrigued to read. Turns out it’s one of the most helpful conservative perspectives on the emerging church I’ve come across. Namely, it’s even-handed and fair — dispensing praise and deep concern where each is due. Because of Driscoll’s previous involvement with emergent leaders like Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren in the 1990’s, we can infer that he has enough personal experience to draw informed conclusions. His commentary is well-researched and organized, and especially helpful in its differentiation between missional/house churches and emerging churches.

Question 1: The Regulative Principle. I had no idea what the regulative principle was until I read this chapter. Turns out its about worship — specifically, Driscoll says, about “how we should worship the God of the Bible”. He introduces us to two prevailing schools of thought regarding Christian worship: the “green light” normative principle (“worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands and may include others so long as Scripture does not prohibit them”) and the “red light” regulative principle (“worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands or that are a good and necessary implication of a biblical text, but nothing more”), and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each. He tells us a little about how his church, Mars Hill, worships — specifically their urban location, missional philosophy, inclusion of technology and social media in their services, and value placed on faithfulness to Scripture. He closes the chapter with a plea for unity in this area, recognizing that whichever of the camps you’re in is less important than doing what the Bible says, and not doing what it prohibits.

•••

Driscoll’s style and general point of view are unique, hard to categorize, and will probably offend just about everybody at some point or another. Conservative evangelicals won’t like his cynical jabs at Christian subculture; progressives and emergents won’t like his traditional Calvinist leanings or inerrant view of Scripture. He writes provocatively and to-the-point, which is refreshing in a sense; there are no trite, churchy clichés to be found here. His tone could be percieved as flippant or self-righteous if not for his frequent admission of his own sin. This is also refreshing, and lends legitimacy-bolstering sincerity to many of his arguments.

My main gripe about this book is its general ambience. We’re all familiar with the comparison of human brain types: left vs. right, objective vs. subjective, rational vs. creative. I would assert that engaging both types is useful and beneficial to Christian faith, and particularly Christian instruction. After all, what good is knowing doctrine without allowing yourself to be moved by it? Conversely, what good is the emotional awareness of a Higher Being without knowing anything about Him? Thinking about Religion Saves in this context makes me realize it is a very left-brained book. It’s full of propositions and assertions to be accepted or rejected. The goal seems to be to educate and persuade, not necessarily to stir or inspire. If both left- and right-brained approaches are worthwhile, the latter is noticeably and regrettably absent. While I think Driscoll makes some good points, I can’t say that this book was a particularly enjoyable read. I just didn’t find his writing style particularly engaging; at times it felt a bit like reading a textbook.

Admittedly, I may be asking the unreasonable; I’m not exactly sure what a right-brained approach to this book would look like, given its stated intent to address specific questions in an organized and systematic way. It is what it is. Your satisfaction with the things you learn or experience in this book will depend on your expectations. If you’re looking for a page-turner or something to appreciate for its literary value, this wouldn’t be my first choice. But I think anyone wishing simply to learn more about these specific topics will find this book helpful.

* Be sure to read other people’s reactions to Religion Saves on the blog tour at LitFuse!

Filed under: Books, Current issues, Faith, Funny, ,

What happens when you and your spouse’s names are similar on Facebook…

Picture 1

Filed under: Funny