Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm Starting a New Blog

I'm going to move Blessed are the Uncool to the garage for the known future, as I'm starting a new blog with

It's called All Things New: A Conversation about Who We're Becoming. I hope you join me there.

Here's the introductory essay for ATN:

All Things New is about exploring our world with an attitude of big-hearted curiosity. This blog grows out of three distinct spiritual-intellectual turning points in my life.

1. Curiosity

At the age of sixteen, my father taught me the attitude of curiosity. We were in process of relocating to the United States, after several years in Switzerland. Destination? Wisconsin, a quiet state in the north-central part of the country. I was unimpressed. I had hoped for someplace exciting, as defined by an expatriate teenager whose window to America was Hollywood.

“There’s nothing to do in Wisconsin,” I told him. I imagined cheese, harsh winters, and the Green Bay Packers. None very compelling to me. “When we get to Wisconsin,” my dad told me, “you’re going to find people who live there by choice. They’re not captives. Your job is to find out why.”

With that short little instruction, my life was changed. I found tallgrass prairies and persistent ethnic neighborhoods. I found a major American regional dialect shift taking place; I found all kinds of foods I had never previously tasted. In short, I discovered that Wisconsin—and by extension the entire world—had far more treasure to it than I understood as a media-saturated adolescent.

Curiosity is no accident: it is a willingness to remain enchanted by the world, when disenchantment is the natural response. If, as Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen asserts in his small masterpiece A Philosophy of Boredom, boredom “contains a rejection of—or rather detestation of—God and his creation (p. 50),” curiosity is boredom’s inverse. Curiosity and faith are intertwined.

2. Truth Grasped

A few years later, I was studying at the University of Wisconsin, a large and worldly institution dedicated to “ever encourag[ing] that fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found” (the school’s motto). I was genuinely saddened and, well, disenchanted to discover: not all thinkers were interested in finding the truth. Many seemed more interested in critique.

Two thousand years ago a witness to the intellectual climate of Athens saw a similar situation:

All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas (Acts 17:21).

To rephrase in terms of my school, they were more interested in “sifting and winnowing” than in “finding the truth.” They were dedicated to endless, rather than fearless, sifting.

Intellectual maturity, it struck me then and now, involves fearless sifting, followed by fearless grasping of what truth can be grasped. Skepticism, though useful as a tool for sifting and winnowing, can often paralyze the soul.

3. Big-Heartedness

Again a few years later, I was on staff with InterVarsity. An aging lion of the Civil Rights Movement addressed a national staff gathering, with a message of Christian humanism. Years of digging for truth had shown me the empty foundations behind humanisms of all stripes, which I confidently shared with my team during the subsequent debriefing time.

In return I received a stunning rebuke. My team leader bluntly warned me not to “become one of those people,” those critical souls so dedicated to correct doctrine that they miss truth in disguise. She went deeper:

“You have a choice to make here. Every time you choose to criticize, you risk becoming more of a critical person.”

To say that God and God’s truth are bigger than comprehension is not to succumb to cynical relativism. No: it is to balance our search for truth with a willingness to grasp it even when it comes bundled with nonsense.

If the risk of broad curiosity is seduction by untruths, the risk of unbending insistence on orthodoxy is that of becoming an unbending soul.

A Conversation about Who We’re Becoming

Okay, so what? Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish with All Things New: I want to invite you—readers—to join me in this quest. I will unearth treasures—cultural, ecological, theological, and interdisciplinary—and try to share them with you.

I want to hear your thoughtful, big-hearted opinions, and I want you to read others’. Together we might discover something important.

I read a lot of books. I cross cultures daily, in my neighborhood and through my church. I take my kids on field trips to the park. I listen to missionaries’ stories whenever I get a chance. Whenever my toe strikes something worth sharing, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, if you find a treasure of your own, that you want to discuss, let me know; I’ll see what I can do.