Brief Harry Potter Interlude

This is a question I have for Joonna, but you're all welcome to listen in. My family and I have been speculating furiously about the next Harry Potter book, due out on a yet-to-be-announced date that is by definition far too long in the future.

Since we've been talking so much lately about what we think will happen in Book 7, I went back to look at some notes we took during the summer of 2005 when some seminary friends (including our own dear Jana) got together and we had a private symposium on HP. (To read those speculations, go here and scroll down to the post dated Sept. 5, 2005.)

So, Joonna, here's my question: Do you agree with Jana, who believes that the Malfoys are vampires??

All of you brilliant minds are free to comment on our speculations, some of which have already, I'm sorry to say, been declared false by J. K. Rowling in other venues.

Type the rest of your post here.



my update: $847.63*

I'm either doing much less or much more than I planned.

Instead of $100, I'll be spending (approximately) $847.63 on my new "project": My wife Andrea and are expecting a baby, our first child, in June! (The 847.63 figure was at one point the supposed average cost per month of raising a child, and so that's what flashes on the cash register in the Simpsons introduction when Maggie is accidentally scanned; see www.snpp.com/other/papers/gs.paper.html). Call that a cop-out (am I "burying" my $100?), but soon I'll be too sleepy to argue with you.

I was tempted to symbolically put some money toward a writing- or reading-related investment for my child: maybe a complete set of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or John Calvin's Institutes, or at least the Berenstein Bears. But I think I've already learned something from this pregnancy (or maybe I've just learned it from Debra's marvelous book, Great With Child, which has taught me much recently): writing, as a vocation, is secondary to living life itself.

For a while now, I've thought of myself as a writer first and everything else second. (Not necessarily in time and priorities, but in my identity--how I see myself.) I need to do something I've never dreamed of for the last 10 years -- be something else first, and a writer second. Of course, you can never shed the latter, and of course I'll keep writing, and of course if I don't write something about the child (especially about language) I'll feel incomplete. But this child needs me first as a father and only second as a writer; it needs me to approach its crib not with a project, but with the provision of its most basic human needs. My Plan B 'project,' accordingly, reflects a slight reshuffling of my ambitions.

However, I would really like for someone to steal my original idea: take a homeless person to a five-star restaurant. And then write a reflection on FEASTING. What does this feast mean to this person? How *impractical* is it to spend $100 this way, instead of donating it to a soup kitchen? What virtue or vice is there in our notions of what's *practical* in this case (teach someone to fish...) ? What does the Wedding at Cana tell us about Christ's lordship over feasting? (see this sermon MP3) (One person I mentioned this idea to asked if it was nutritionally OK for a homeless person to eat such rich food--I don't know!). Insert references to "beggar's feast," "Babette's Feast," and (careful of any messianic overtones) the extravagant perfume being 'wasted' on Jesus' feet. I really wanted to do this, but right ! now the only food cravings I'm attending to are my wife's. So I'd love to see someone pick it up and run with it.

I'm also delighted to see how Al Hsu's blog is spreading the $100 idea!

And finally, I can't even begin to say how humbled I am by Nick's post and project, and how determined I am to get to Toronto before the baby is born.

It was good to see a few of you at Symposium, and the rest of you remain in my thoughts and prayers.



Lay Up For Yourselves Treasures in Heaven (Nick Overduin)

“Buy Bierma’s book. I’ll even pay for it if you’d like.”

That, in essence, is what I did with my 100 bucks. Almost my entire congregation therefore decided to buy and read the new 2005 book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next, and there was also widespread impact outside the immediate community.

If you like short stories, you can quit now...

However, the longer tale is actually even more interesting.

The author of the revolutionary approach to the upper realms had kindly volunteered, at the conclusion of a 2-week course we both participated in, to come to Toronto some far off day in the future and speak to any people in my congregation who would read his new tome.

My initial reaction was timid and cheap. I immediately worried about how my church could possibly pay for mileage from Grand Rapids to Toronto, for example. Or would there be a speaker’s fee? My congregation is small, about 100 regular worshipers. I did not spontaneously and enthusiastically appreciate the depths of Nathan’s generosity. I was like people often used to say of my dad: “He always sees bears on the road.” We do revert to form, don’t we? A counselor once said to me “The apple never falls too far from the tree.”

Anyways, eventually I said “Sure, I’ll see what I can do to get people interested in your book.” (I had not read it yet. Poor Nathan – I sure took the fun out of his unguarded initiative!)

When I got home I read the book and found it scintillating and insightful, and also formative for world-view. Like an Emily Dickinson poem, it could literally change your general approach to life. I felt it was extremely worthwhile and well-written. I even quoted it at length in a sermon soon afterwards (something about the environment, if I recall correctly).

I had told my congregation that I was going to receive 100 free dollars from my course sponsor to randomly dispense with as I chose. “Does anyone have suggestions?” There was a bit of buzz about this, but not many ideas were generated. Eventually I decided to use my pot to subsidize the purchase of Nathan’s book for any congregant who desired help. Subsidies large and small would be completely confidential, I declared. This monetary backing had the consequence, which I had not fully anticipated, that it magnified in people’s minds the extent to which I was enthusiastic about the book. “Look at that, he’s even throwing money at it.” Even though I stressed it was not actually my own money!

Then, alas, I received the discouraging news that we actually would not be receiving one hundred dollars after all! I contemplated sabotaging the very doctrine of heaven, but decided against that alternative.

Instead I determined, along with my 16 colleagues in the course who were all pursuing projects of their own, to put my own personal money into the equation and replace my lost loot. It was also, in my unique career situation, pastorally important that I not reveal to my congregation that the money supporting my cause was now actually coming out of my own pocket. I felt that this revelation would corrupt the pastor/parishioner relationship and confuse all the normal parish dynamics. People might feel sorry for me. People might feel I was overinvested in an idea. People might worry that Nathan had bribed me to be his publicist. Whatever. I decided that true giving meant just keeping my mouth shut and supporting the project unselfishly. Like many of my classmates, I also seemed to have a sudden miraculous influx of one hundred dollars in my life, due to some ridiculous coincidence (in my case, a publisher remorsefully paid for an article they had posted on a website without my permission). So I genuinely didn’t care about the money. I kept up the pretense that I had been deluged with an unexpected handout.

Lo and behold, 42 people proceeded to order the book!! In such a small place, when you consider multiple readers and extended families, etc., that is basically the whole church. (“Who’s all on your list? O, I see my dad already ordered one, I’ll just read his, thanx”).

It took a long time for all the books to come dribbling in. They arrived at the massive bookstore two or three at a time, because they had to be requisitioned from remote warehouses all over North America. (“It is probably not a very common item” said the bookstore dealer to me with a tinge of embarrassment.) Eventually they got to know me in person, since I was constantly coming back to pick up a few more copies. They were leaving messages on my voice mail and eventually my email. This huge bookstore at a major Toronto intersection now knows the pastor from the church six blocks away. They also suspect his church is a cult that is very interested in heaven, but the pastor swears the book is not what you would think! I encouraged all the sales clerks to read it.

Because I ordered such a large quantity, and because I have a membership card at this store, I got a big reduction in price and cheap shipping. I put it all on my credit card, $647.64, achieving extra Air Mile points as well. (I deserve to keep that perk, I figured.) The final result was $15.20 Canadian per book. I did not feel like fooling around with quarters, dimes, or nickels, so I told my church “Pay me either 15 dollars, 16 dollars, or 20 dollars.” (Sixteen works in Canada because we have “toonies”, which are two-dollar coins.)

Many people paid 20. They wanted to be as nice and carefree as I seemed to be. There were also various people who quietly asked for diverse subsidies, including the total price. (I did not relate any personal disclosures even to the Deacons!)

Honestly? I don’t think I lost a single penny out of my 100 dollar investment.

I have scribbled messy lists all over the place, who paid what-when-where, but I have no desire to total everything up or collate my lists.

I’m a big picture person. I don’t care about details. I’m not like my dad, who always used to see bears on the road.

I used the constant flow of cash as a riotous petty fund. It was really cool to not withdraw any money from the bank for a long time. I paid off the credit card bill like I always do every month (my dad taught me that), and I stopped withdrawing cash. I think I got ahead, actually.

People are still coming up to me and saying “I don’t think I paid you yet”. I am too lazy to confirm. I think some people have paid me twice. (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, declares the Lord.”)

I think that sometimes husbands and wives paid without knowing their partner had already coughed up. I could double-check that, but I prefer to store it as a mental pastoral note. (Visit them some day. Their communication may be off. Vice-versa, they may be really happy and not care too much about details.)

>A long-range benefit is that the congregation has discovered that it likes the idea of book-clubs. We might form a few of those. We might even invite the authors sometimes. Maybe we can even do something for the mileage. A lot of authors live right in Toronto.

Another long-range benefit is that friends and relatives from other cities have now read the book because my parishioners are excited by the practical insights and invigorating perspectives offered by the book. Readers have resonated with the ideas of hope, glory, earthiness, affirmation of urbanity, a cosmic sense of redemption, and many other features. One elderly relative far away, recently bereaved, reportedly was disappointed when she was about half way through because she was only looking for a comforting answer to one single question: Where’s my husband? Nathan writes about that very pastorally after page 122, so she must not have arrived at that section yet, which deals wisely with what theologians have often called “the intermediate state”.

A few visitors who ordered the book have not returned to church in the past four months and have left no contact information. I explained to my council: They may have gone to heaven.

One member of the church told me that an atheist friend of his had read the book because of all the excitement that had been stirred up in our church. Perhaps the visitors who have disappeared from our radar screen will meet the atheist in Moses’ library some day.

Lay up For Yourselves Treasures in Heaven.

I am having only one problem. Nathan hasn’t given me a date yet. He seems very vague about the particulars. Perhaps he is not coming at all. Perhaps it was a scam. More and more parishioners are asking me, “When he is coming?” I tell them honestly, “I don’t know.” I am concerned about the delay of the parousia. Maranatha, “come, dear Nathan.”


The Idea Spreads, from Al Hsu dated 1/26

Friends -
I just found out that several other blogs picked up on my blog's invitation to join us in the $100 project. The Point, which is Prison Fellowship's blog for BreakPoint, calls it "The $100 Challenge": http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2007/01/the_100_challen.html
and then Boundless Line, the blog for Focus on the Family's Boundless.org site, picked up on The Point's post with this one, "The $100 Experiment": http://www.boundlessline.org/2007/01/the_100_experim.html

Pretty wild. And each of these have spurred on further links and blogs with
people's ideas and suggestions.


Al (Haley), look what you started!



Exotic by Albert Haley

I should be working on my book chapter that has to be mailed to France on the 31st. But I don't wanna. Instead, I curled up and finished reading Al Haley's book Exotic. In the spirit of his review of Anita's book, here's some comments on Exotic.

It is one of the most surprising novels I've ever encountered. I especially enjoyed the pic of Al on the back inside cover--he's still our Al, but young, a full head of sandyish straight hair (sorry Al), and best of all--attitude. I love that picture.

Written in the early 80s, the novel is full of echoes and gems that recall the 70s to me--that time of hope, despair, love, hate, honesty, deceit, and a host of other contradictory emotions. The main characters of the book have little to identity with or even like, but I do. Like them, I mean. Butch and Rebecca Miller have few aspirations and many fears to match their primo educational opportunities. But they learn to lean on each other, to love each other, to enlarge their sympathies. Tresh, the sneaky and brilliant drifter who rarely thinks of anyone but himself is also compelling. And the Christian themes and ideas are as sneaky as Tresh himself, but they are there to help the reader make sense of the tumbling plot.

Al's descriptions are really vivid. After reading of a huge crowd gathered to listen to rock and roll, I left the book hot and sweaty, feeling as if I had been fondled and stomped by thousands. After reading of a journey through a dense jungle, I realized that the very tactile experience had again left its impression on me.

There's a scene in the book toward the end in which Butch begins to imagine what he wants to do when he gets out of the jungle and back home. He imagines giving a lecture tour with photos about "The Human-Rights problem in Manaya: A Personal Odyssey." But in his imaginings, he never thinks of the people and helping them,;it's rather about self marketing, appearing in People Magazine, movies, etc. This scene for me encapsulates what makes this book fun and rewarding intellectually. Gradually, the sad human condition of the oppressed and poor is revealed through this book, and gradually the reader realizes that Butch's attitude of indifference or exploitation is our attitude. We'll leave the book, put it down, and go about living in our little Christian world contributing to the devastation of others, all the while we live fairly well. The dedication of the book is to "everyone who visits Manaya this year." Everyone who visits the "Christian" country of Manaya would be anyone off on a self-serving trip or journey (even in the mind) who is oblivious to all the atrocities around them. Hopefully, the visit to Manaya will help wake us all up. But my guess is that we'll just "sleep on it" as Rebecca and Butch do in the epilog.

I won't soon forget this book, nor should I. Thanks Al. I'm so happy that this novel is now a part of me.




An invitation to others to join us

I was inspired by Deb's post to blog about her experience, and as I did so, I realized that one way I can multiply the effect of my $100 is to invite my blog readers to do the same thing and join us in our $100 project. Here's an excerpt from my post:

I'm very impressed with how concrete Deb's project was and the potential impact on young students. I still remember my first published work as a first-grader that appeared in my school district's "literary magazine," a poem that read, "Red is fire. Red is chalk. Red is like a finger talk." This was then followed by my third-grade contribution, when I was aspiring to be an astronaut:

In the solar system there are nine
Planets born at the same time.
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn, still far from the stars.
Uranus, Neptune, Pluto is last,
These are the planets, moving fast.
Of course, now Pluto is being demoted from planethood and other objects are now understood to be part of our system . . . but I find it significant that I still remember these poems, and somehow I've followed my vocational calling into Christian publishing. Anyway, kudos to Deb and her Calvin students for their initiative, and I hope they continue the effort in the future! And I'm still looking for something creative and missional to do with my $100. Any more ideas out there?

Actually, would anybody else be interested in doing this along with me? I was realizing that one simple way that many of the people at Stacey's church multiplied their money was to enlist friends and family members to join them in their effort. I didn't offer an invitation on my last post about this, so let me do that here, with every eye closed, every head bowed - if you, dear blog reader, feel the call of the Holy Spirit to use $100 strategically and intentionally for the sake of the kingdom, take the plunge and join the movement! Take this up as a new year's resolution or challenge. Let me know that you're going to do something along these lines in the next six months or so, and blog about it on your own blog. And invite others to do the same. Let's see what happens!



From Al Haley, dated Jan. 15

I'm deliberately hitting "reply all" as I want to go on record with everyone sitting around our virtual seminar table.
I think what you and your students did with the $100 is truly inspiring. It's exactly in the spirit of our two weeks this summer -- it was creative, it was faithful, it brought people together. It even involved a bit of risk taking.
Those poem excerpts! My compliments to the young poets.
Creating a printed booklet of the poems was the perfect conclusion to the project. For the kids to go home from school and show their parents or caretakers something they're proud of doing can't be beat. And years from now those kids will be adults and perhaps they'll find their work in a box in an attic, their first "publication", and who knows...?
I've lived with my hole in the ground long enough. Since it so happens, I'm teaching a "Christians and Creativity" course, I'm going to take advantage and try to make a comeback from my own four-month failure of the imagination. Our first class meeting is tomorrow and guess what homework assignment no. 1 is? Figure out something for your poor ol' prof to do with his buried money. Maybe one lesson we're learning from this project is that we don't have to generate ideas all by ourselves. We shall see.
Thanks again for the blog post and the shot of encouragement - al
PS: I like the idea of making the blog "open".



From Lyn, dated Dec. 12

Hi, everybody. Hope you are all surviving the end of the year rush in church or academia or whatever. It's been a busy semester for me and I still haven't figured out the blog thing so I'm sending it this way and my apologies for some of you who may get multiple copies. Not much computer savvy in my brain. IF you are interested and need some extra reading material (HAH) my sermons from this fall are on the church website. www.hopechurchrca.org Click on worship services and sermons and scroll down to Aug-Nov 2006. Sermons feel flatter in print than in delivery (at least I hope they are better delivered!) but just wanted to prove to Debra and the money givers that I did something useful out of the seminar. :)
Merry Christmas to everybody ...
Lynn Japinga



My salad would like to meet Johnny Depp

That's one of the wilder poetic lines my hundred dollars produced.

Here's what I did: I obliged my class of poetry-writing students to come up with an idea for how to spend the money. The first suggestions pretty much missed the spirit of the deal: "Let's throw the money at a homeless person. The sheer waste of it would be so poignant." "Let's build a zipline on campus." That's about when I shut down the class discussion and asked people to think about it and e-mail me later.

The next week, two women in the class independently came up with the same idea: to do a poetry workshop at a local elementary school. Now THAT, I thought, could be good.

So I worked with the Service-Learning Center at Calvin and contacted a teacher at the Montessori public school downtown: multi-ethnic student body, good share of at-risk kids, lower socio-economic profile, and not much funding for the arts. My students and I visited the school for two one-hour sessions on separate days. Each of my students worked with two or three fifth-graders. We had lesson plans and everything. After the two sessions, we took the "manuscripts" back to Calvin and turned them into a pretty nifty chapbook. We used the hundred bucks to make plenty of copies for everyone. The copy bill came to $106.25.

When I brought the books to the teachers, they were so entirely thrilled. I suggested that we have a "coffee house" day so the kids could perform their poems for each other, and the teachers loved the idea. They're planning the event for later this month. They're inviting parents, serving cocoa and cookies, asking everyone to wear black turtlenecks and berets.

Honestly, I'm amazed how well this all turned out. My students went into it rather reluctantly. They were scared and uncomfortable, and ever so slightly resentful that I was requiring this of them. I worried too: what if this is all a disaster and my students decide it was a waste of time? And am I really doing service here? Or am I making my students do it, using them as a buffer between me and my own fears?

As it turned out, I did wind up working with the kids myself as one of my students couldn't make it one of the days. And I had a good time. My students did, too. Some of them wound up loving it. Others didn't like it, but had to admit that it was a good thing. Not every fifth grader was into it, but overall they did great. In the end, they just wanted us all to come back again.

Meanwhile, the teachers are so proud and pleased they can't stop thanking me.

So all in all, I'm just humbled. What we did was not that big a deal, but we made a little difference. Maybe, for some kids, an important little difference. Everyone--me and my students and the kids-- came out of this with a new (or renewed) sense that being able to say something in poetry is a kind of power, and that feels good.

I could have done all this without the money. And I probably will do it again, and nag my colleagues to do it, too. But the money got me to bug my students, and they got an idea, and that got us all moving. Spending the money to actually create the books was a smart decision, I'm glad to say. Having something to hold and show others makes it REAL. All of you know the sly pleasure of seeing your words in print.

Here are a couple of the poems I especially liked from our "collection."

Dear Mr. President
by Shanice Alexandra Steele

Dear Mr. President, I have to talk to you.
Dear Mr. President, why can't kids drive?
Dear Mr. President, why can't I go to the stars?
Dear Mr. President, when I get into office I will rule the world.
Dear Mr. President, soon it will be Mrs. President.
Dear Mr. President, can I get a call?
Halla, Mr. President, Halla to all.
(3 weeks later)
Dear Mr. President, why didn't you write me back?

Useless Things
by Jayla Cage

Talent w/o singing
A party w/o dancing
School w/o teachers
Music w/o singers
Boys w/o girls
Hair w/o curls
Soap w/o dove
A heart w/o love



Today I have another thought

Okay. So I posted recently about how pleased I was about the use of my hundred bucks. Today as I prepare the financial report for the organization I donated to, I feel like I copped out. You know? So here was this new organization that I cared about without any funds--it seemed right. But, now, I think it seemed easy.

Now as colleges are sending us memberships and we have a thousand bucks in the bank, I am thinking I took the easy way out. I didn't do "the assignment." Why didn't I send the money to my students in far away lands who are always writing for extra money? Why didn't I give it to my colleague who struggles to make it on one salary? Why didn't I donate it to our food bank? Why didn't I take it to New York with me and give it to a beggar?

Is this the way it always goes? Do we always second guess ourselves and find ourselves unworthy?

But honestly, my hundred bucks isn't going to make any big deal to this organization. Why didn't I buy a bunch of songbooks so that I could host acapella singings at my house? Why not donate it to the barbershop chorus I'm in--we are strapped for funds, and we do lots of good things in the community. Arghghghghghg!

Why do I suddenly feel like Charlie Brown. Why is the Christmas tree I always buy such a runt?

I'll be eager to here what everyone else is up to. I wish this had an alert function so that people would know that someone posted......

Why am I so whiny? Is it because school begins in 4 days?

By the way, I'm reading Al Haley's book Exotic and loving it. Interesting novel so far. I'll write more later when I'm finished.

Your friend--Joonna