Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top 14 Books of 2010


I'm joining at last the tradition of end-of-year book recommendations. I'm late, I know. Most folks have already published their lists. It's the 29th today and I say it's never too late to share a good book.

Over the past year I have read a few that I found myself wanting to announce on a megaphone: "Read this. And this. And this one is good too. And have you heard of this one? It's great!" Here finally is my chance.

Best TV Novel
Phaedra and I have a file drawer-full of what we call our TV novels. We don't own a TV, so when get the itch to watch TV, we grab a TV novel. (We could grab Hulu or Netflix too, but still. Paper novels tend to win out.) Usually that means something by Michael Crichton or John Grisham or Robert Ludlum. They're quick reads, perfect for plane trips, and if you read two in a row you get a little sick in the stomach because suddenly you feel intensely bored and possibly irritated by the predictable plots.

This year my favorite TV novel has been the Gabriel Allon spy series by Daniel Silva. Not only is Gabriel "the prince of fire," a paid assassin for the Mossad, he's also an art restorer. So not only do you learn, for example, about Nazi activities against Jews during WWII. You also get small lessons in the artwork of Titian and Bellini. How nice is that?

Best Cable TV Novel
You might be surprised by my choice here. Just like cable TV (as, say, HBO) has some of the best writing on television, so certain novels attain a certain cable TV status for me. Mine this year is Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. While a "young adult" series, I found myself captivated by the story of Katniss Everdeen, which Collins sets in a dystopian future in North America.

The précis is this. As punishment for a long-ago rebellion against "the Capitol" (located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains), every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the "Hunger Games." The Games are a televised event where the participants, called "tributes," must fight to the death in a dangerous outdoor arena until only one remains. The third and final novel, Mockinjay, ends in a decidedly un-sentimental manner. I found myself deeply moved by the way Collins depicts the resilience and suffering of teenage kids under a time of war.

Best Work of Literary Fiction
I loved Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Chabon's novel starts in the late 1930s and runs into the 1950s. In it he features two Jewish boys whom he sets in the middle of the Golden Age of comic books, in the shadow of guys like Jack Kirby (creator of Captain America and the Fantastic Four), and Stan Lee (the creator of Spiderman).

I confess Chabon's novel made me cry. I cried at points when the writing was so beautiful it awakened in me a longing for the world to be made right again. I cried because the characters experienced so much grief, un-redeemable loss, yearning for love, creative melodrama, silly yet magical encounters, and equal parts fortune and misfortune. The story followed me into my dreams, robbing me of sleep on occasion. Quite wonderfully, the novel felt like a hybrid of magical realism, comic book zanyness and biblical morality tale. Now it's on to Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Best Theology Book
Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, III.1 and III.2. I didn't get much Barth at Regent College. I don't think Packer was a fan.  It's only now, fifteen years later, that I'm finally being properly introduced to one of the most expansively curious theological minds of the 20th century.

Last spring I joined my theology and arts guys to work through Barth's doctrine of creation, with Jeremy Begbie as our trusty guide. I can't remember when I last read theology that made me smile and want to pray at the same time. Barth helped me to see creation as nothing less than a spilling over of God's grace. Simply fantastic.

Best Book for those who care about the Church's Worship (tie)
In God's Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics, Sam Wells focuses on the way that each part of the "liturgy" forms us ethically.  I cannot more highly recommend this to pastors in Anglican, Catholic and high church Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist and Lutheran traditions. But for those in other traditions, I say, please get a copy. It can only encourage you in the work you're already doing and perhaps inspire you to make connections that you hadn't seen before.

After reading Jamie Smith's Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, two things happened for me. One, I began seeing the industries of culture differently--the mall, the military complex, the government, the cineplex. Smith asserts that each of these industries advances a "liturgy of desire." It's not simply that they shape our thinking or cause us to believe things. It's that they awaken a powerful set of desires in us, desires that often operate under the radar, desires that may unconsciously pull us away from gospel desires.

Two, I regretted not having read it sooner. I had written a paper in the fall of 2009 in which I had explored the way Hope Chapel's liturgical use of visual art had formed the congregation theologically. Smith's thesis confirmed my own observations and provided me with useful analytical tools. Highly recommend it to people who pay attention to culture.

MORE BRIEFLY ...

Best Book on the Holy Spirit

For all the times I have been frustrated with the way churches depersonalize and demote the third Person of the Trinity (as a sweet little dove--sweet? little? docile? No. Biblical, yes, but surely our biblical imaginations can do better than that), I am grateful for the way that Catholic theologian Thomas Weinandy rescues us (especially in the Western Tradition) from a poor conceptualization of the Spirit. Even if it's hard to get ahold of, it's a very fine book: The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity.

Best Book of Sermons
With this collection of Andrewes' sermons, we find florid but gorgeous writing: Ninety-Six Sermons by the Right Honorable and Reverence Father in God, Lancelot Andrewes, Sometime Lord Bishop of Winchester, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841).

Best History Book (or rather book about the study of history)
Rowan Williams' Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church. In this compact book by the archbishop we discover an impassioned plea to allow the strangeness of history to become familiar again and the familiar to become strange.

Best Theological Anthropology Book
David Ford is one of the most lucid theological writers living today. He is always a pleasure to read. Self and Salvation: Being Transformed is no exception.

Best Book on Contemporary Worship Music
The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship, edited by Robert Wood and Brian Walrath. This is a critical but not mean-spirited or sloppy reading of contemporary worship music. I've read plenty this year. Too many fail because they adopt a snobbish approach, which methodologically warps their vision.

Best Book on Musical Instruments
It's always great to be able to see the bird's eye view of a thing. David W. Music's Instruments in Church: A Collection of Source Documents is just such a book. It's expensive, so you may want to read it in the library, but for all you pastors and music ministers, this is a great reminder that there is very little new under the sun. (I wonder if the author finds his last name fortuitous or unfortuitous.)

Best Book on Art and the Church (yes, you guessed it!)
For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, edited by yours truly and including the very fine essays by Andy Crouch, John Witvliet, Eugene Peterson, Lauren Winner, Barbara Nicolosi, Joshua Banner, Jeremy Begbie and myself. It's the book I wished I'd had when I served my first internship as an "arts pastor" in 1996. It's only a beginning of course. More will need to be written. But it's a beginning I'm pleased and proud to have been a part of. (And this was nice too.)

Best “Poem in defence of the decent ornaments of Christ Church, Oxon, occasioned by a Banbury brother, who called them Idolatries”: Parnassus Biceps (1656).

And with this little snippet from a poem written during a turbulent time for the arts in the Church of England, I end my favorite books list.

‘Tis onely some base niggard Heresie
To think Religion loves deformity.
Glory did never make God the lesse,
Neither can beauty defile holinesse.

Christ Church, Oxford: "Hope, Love, Faith"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Christmas Pictured

My nieces Bronwyn and Skye.

Nonna reading a story to the grandchildren.

My father playing his beloved accordion.

The Warner family jumping high into the sky.

My sweet niece Skye.

The women.

The men.

Phaedra reading *One Wintry Night* to Bronwyn.

The kids trying desperately to coordinate their jump.

My Italian grandfather telling Christine about the first time he set eyes on her as a baby.

My mother playing excerpt from Bach's Prelude in C from the Well Tempered Clavichord. 

My sister Stephanie with her boys.

Phaedra displaying the Scotty Dog tin tea set.

Cormac planting a kiss on his mother's cheek.

Reaching for a kiss ourselves.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Eschatologically Merry Christmas!" and other awkward greetings


"Just a hurried line . . . to tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly "Xmas" racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, 'Oh Lor'! They bring religion into everything. Look--they're dragging it even into Christmas now!'" -- 
C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady (Dec. 29, 1958)


I thought I knew how I was going to write this reflection. It was going to be a straightforward curmudgeonly rant against Christmas Americana. It was going to be juicy and I had a kitchen block of rhetorical knives ready to go. For starters: I resent the Macy's-zation of Christmas. I grind my teeth on Andy Williams' song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I cring when I hear mash-ups of "Rudolph" and "Hark the Herald," as I did this morning, and the only thing worse, of course, is if it were mashed threefold with Evie Tornquist's "Come on ring those bells." (I like Evie, mind you, just not a mash-up of Evie.) And I rue the loss of Advent in so many churches.

Then I rummaged around the internet and realized my rant was going to be a massive cliche. John Wilson via the WSJ via David Neff via Andy Crouch via Facebook confirmed that fact.

I thought I could pull out the "More people commit suicide and succumb to despair while warring households shatter" argument. Another rummaging of the internet and a quick visit to snopes crushed that hope.

Then I found a choice quote by my favorite non-Christian philosopher. LA Laker coach Phil Jackson  recently lamented the fact that his team was slated to play the Miami Heat on Christmas Day. He said, "It's like Christian holidays don't mean anything to them anymore. We just go out and play and entertain the TV. It's really weird." I thought, "Stick it to them, Phil." Then ESPN sports writer Mark Kreidler soured my joy with a cynical read of Jackson. Kreidler's conclusion was frigidly simple:

"For the record, the NBA is determinedly agnostic when it comes to holy days, holidays and any other days you can name. The league schedules basketball games on Christmas Day because the television ratings are tremendous. That's it."

The only bullet left in my six-shooter was the mean letter C: commercialization. It was obvious, right? We hate it. We hate what it does to Christmas and how easily it ruins the reason for the season? We might as well put up Santa Claus on a cross, right, because at least then we would get to experience a truly satisfying religious symbol of a man who lays down his life for the naughty and nice? Regrettably I found things again less than simple. The answer to the question, "We all hate it, right?" is Yes and No and Heck yeah and Who gives a crap and "What the what?".

(A "What the what?" sampler: "Christianity and its total disregard for self to the benefit of others is the sole cause for the success of the U.S. economy and, by extension, the economic health of the entire world.")

What was there left to say? That Coca Cola had mugged the real Saint Nicholas, dragged him into a creepy Astro minivan with no windows and locked him up in a warehouse on the outskirts of Atlanta, only to replace him with a fat doppelgänger and an alternate myth that would rule American civic religion during the last month of the Gregorian calendar? Maybe. But that's already been said.

So here I am sitting in my parent's "locutorium," enjoying a warm fire, a cup of Earl Grey tea, while Phaedra and dad pay a visit to Chuy's, wondering why I'm still feeling out of sorts. I think the answer is this.

If words have meaning only in context, then the greeting "Merry Christmas" makes sense only in a certain context, and Macy's, Andy Williams, Coca Cola and, I hate to say this, a lot of churches get the context wrong. To call this time of the year the most wonderful and to repeatedly greet each other with the phrase "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Christmas" is less a sociological inaccuracy (as far as stress levels go) than a simply confusing statement for your average American. Most wonderful in relation to what? "Parties, marshmallow-roastings, scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago," as Andy Williams sings of it?

Merry or happy with respect to what? For the record, I love the way my family celebrates Christmas. In many ways it's quite wonderful. We laugh a lot and we eat enough Italian foods and drinks, starting on Dec. 23 and running into New Year's Eve, to certify as a merry event with the National Italian American Foundation.

Two things are potentially confusing, I think, and with this I'll bring my reflection to a close, as I focus less on "Christmas Americana" and more on the experience of faithful Christians who attend their churches during the month of December.

One, without Advent the experience of "happiness" during the run-up to Christmas can easily become an emotionally contrived experience. The church traditionally and wisely has recognized that we need Advent. If we are going to know what to do with Christmas, then we need to know how Christmas relates to things before and after it. The Incarnation arrives with prophetic forerunners and, as Buechner might say it, with subsequent experiences of tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. As the "little Lent" where we intentionally give our minds and hearts to the practices of simplicity, quiet, and repentance and recall the threefold coming of Christ, Advent helps us to "learn" happiness in relation to the kind of happiness the Scriptures represent. We learn this kind of happiness over time.


God knows we can't simply "turn on" happiness. We resent that kind of pressure. We have to learn happiness, and if the Scriptures teach us anything, it is that happiness comes frequently accompanied by sadness. So Advent is this really beautiful way to train our emotions in the biblical rhythms of ordinate happiness and sadness. When Christmas arrives, as it will tomorrow, we've each had a chance to pay attention within the context of communal worship to the condition of our own hearts. With the Holy Spirit's help we can offer the best of our heart's praise, sometimes choosing to joy in the birth of Christ despite the melancholy mix of emotions that swirl inside us at this time of the year (as they do for me with certain sadnesses that have lingered longer than I ever thought they ever would).

A second reason we need Advent to show us what to do with Christmas and with ourselves is that it reminds us that things make best sense in the context of a narrative. (For those who care, Alasdair MacIntyre sits over my shoulder at this moment.) I'll put my point this way.

When we say "merry Christmas," we need always to think Zechariah/Elizabeth/Mary/Joseph/JohntheBaptist/Shepherds/citizensofBethlehem/Jesus. We need to let them help us determine the meaning of the word "merry," and trust me, they each tasted merriness acutely.

Zechariah? Merry because he was given a son at last, a son he could really be proud of. Sad because he did not get to see his son grow up and become a man.

Elizabeth? Merry because in her old age she was delivered from the epithet "the old barren one"(Luke 1:36). Sad because her son was destined to live a hard, lonely life, from which she could not protect him.

Mary? Merry because the Son of the Most High was born of her by the power of the Spirit. Sad because a sword would pierce her soul on his account, over and over.

Joseph? Merry because he was chosen to be Jesus' surrogate father. Sad because the shame surrounding the suspicious conditions of Jesus' birth would continue to haunt the family (Luke 3:23).

John the Baptist? Merry because he was chosen to be the forerunner of the Lord. Sad because even at the end of his life, in prison, he struggled with doubt.

The Shepherds? Merry because they were chosen to receive the first announcement of Christ's birth? Sad, well, because they had to go back to their socially "lowly" jobs.

Citizens of Bethlehem? Merry because they were the privileged citizens who welcomed God himself into their village. Sad because all boys two years and younger were slaughtered on his account.

Jesus? Merry because of the joy set before him, he endures the cross and swallows death whole. Sad because of the hard-heartedness that surrounds him on every side.

Jesus, of course, rises triumphant over death, so we should make merry over that event and we do at Easter, and he breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples to become a sign of the kingdom on earth, so that too is an occasion for merriness, and look at all that God has done through his people since the day of Pentecost, and that equally much should give us pause to make merry. And we do. We rejoice in the Lord always. The twelve days of Christmas on which we remember the Incarnation is a feast after all. On it we have every permission to make riotous merriment.  Our merriment, however, shall always be qualified by Advent and by Lent and by every broken piece of our lives. We won't know the undiluted merriment of the Triune God until the eschaton.

So while it might embarrass Phaedra if I turned to every checker at Target and enthusiastically announced, "Eschatologically Merry Christmas!", it would be accurate, I think, and I might try it out for next year. For now, as I anticipate our transition into 2011, I'm going to start practicing other awkward phrases like, "Merry Eighth Day of Christmas!" and "Happy Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord!"

If I'm lucky, Phaedra and I will one day find a group of friends to celebrate the twelve feasting days of Christmas properly--with much merriment.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Gospel Coalition, David Maine and "Magnolia": Recs for pastors

Edd Blott, good man that he is, filmed me while Chicago church-planter Aaron Youngren fired the questions. Aaron asked me what art I would recommend to pastors as a way for them to understand both how art "works" and what might be going on in our contemporary culture. I recommended two easys: David Maine's novels and Paul Thomas Anderson's movie Magnolia. Easys, right.

As with the last time I recommended this movie (around 2002, I believe, and I got in trouble for it then), I might get in trouble for this too. All I'll say for now is that both of these artworks open up very complicated artistic, missional, pastoral and theological questions--complicated and complex.

Be that as it may, here is the video courtesy of The Gospel Coalition. Many thanks to all at TGC for taking risks on artists. It does not go un-noticed. Thanks to Edd and Aaron too, fabulous gentlemen both.

(If the video appears kattywompus, you might have to click on it to go straight to YouTube or you can click on the Gospel Coalition link and watch it there too.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Liturgical Arts and the Formation of Virtue: Part 1


The following are thoughts that I've been chewing on all semester long. In this essay I discuss liturgical art, by which I mean art employed in the context of corporate worship, Sam Wells' book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, William Cavanaugh's book Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, and the question of how the liturgical arts might form virtue in our congregations. While this essay may feel technical at points, my hope is that its ideas are helpful to pastors and artists alike. It is also a sort of prologue to ideas that I explored throughout the autumn.

All art included in this entry hung at one time on the walls of Hope Chapel. I only become more deeply grateful to the artists at Hope Chapel as the years put distance between me and my experience there.

INTRODUCTION
The church where I served for eight years in Austin hung art in the sanctuary that explicitly sought to correspond to the “liturgical calendar.” Two things were unusual about this practice, and two questions nag me still. The first unusual thing is that Hope Chapel is an independent church, broadly situated in the stream of evangelical Pentecostalism. By itself this is not an unusual fact. But the moment Hope Chapel adopted the liturgical calendar, its independent status, I would like to suggest, was both challenged and reconfigured.

In the liturgical art that hung on the wall, changing as it did with the passing of “seasons,” from Advent all the way through to Ordinary Time, the “ancient” tugged at Hope Chapel’s tendencies towards a contemporaneous orientation, while the regularity of the “traditional” pulled against a strong penchant for spontaneity. The second unusual thing is that the art hung in the sanctuary space—not in the foyer, not in the educational wing or in a separate gallery. While perhaps not unusual for some denominations, it took a long while for some (though by no means all) at Hope Chapel to get used to all this art bearing down on them on all sides, Sunday after Sunday.

The two questions that nag me are these. First, was Hope Chapel merely engaged in the consumption of liturgical art? Was this another example of non-denominational Protestants cherry-picking a practice from an established tradition, without accepting any of the demanding responsibility that comes with shepherding such a practice? And second, whatever intentions I may have carried as the arts pastor at Hope Chapel, how would I go about discerning whether the liturgical art formed people theologically in the way that I had hoped from the outset?

In Sam Wells’ Improvisation I once again enter the territory of these questions. In this brief essay I wish to summarize the contents of the book and then raise a few critical observations. I will focus my comments on the relationship between liturgical practices and virtue formation. The question of the relationship between virtue ethics and the liturgical arts will have to remain beyond the scope of this essay. If this essay has an argument it is that much more needs to said than we find in the pages of Improvisation to determine how liturgical practices actually (not only theoretically) form people.

SUMMARY
In his introduction, Wells argues that the disciplines and practices of improvisation “resemble the disciplines and practices of Christian ethics sufficiently closely that a detailed treatment may be highly illuminating” (17). A few definitions will be helpful here. With respect to ethics, Wells writes that “Ethics is not about using power, restoring former glory, or fulfilling individual freedom: it is about imitating God, following Christ, being formed by the Spirit to become friends with God” (31). With respect to improvisation, Wells describes it as a matter of steeping oneself years “in a tradition so that the body is so soaked in practices and perceptions that it trusts itself in community to do the obvious thing” (17, cf. 12).


If the Christian story is a drama, which Wells believes we are right to see it as, then ethics is performance and the practices of the church play a fundamental role, while improvisation, not repetition or interpretation, offers us an excellent way to understand how this works in practice (59, 65). Improvisation, Wells explains, is as inevitable as it is scriptural and ecclesial. It is not about being original but obvious, it is not about being excessively serious but playful, and it is certainly not about being clever but rather taking “the same things for granted” (68).

What does this have to do with corporate worship? 
“For Christians,” Wells writes, “the principal practice by which the moral imagination is formed, the principal form of discipleship training, is worship” (82). In worship, he continues, “Christians seek in the power of the Spirit to be conformed to the image of Christ—to act like him, think like him, be like him” (84). Worship does not just happen. Or rather our formation into the image of Christ through worship does not happen spontaneously or effortlessly. “Worship is a habit, but like all good habits, one that comes about through moral effort” (85).

Through our regular and disciplined participation in things such as the proclamation of Scripture or prayer, in baptism and the Eucharist, in the giving of peace and in the sending of people out into the world the church learns, over time, how to be like Christ. As Wells delineates it, repeated practices lead to the development of skill, while skill in due time turns into habit and habit develops instinct, which is “a pattern of unconscious behavior that reveals a deep element of character” (24; cf. the similar notion of disponibilité, 80-81). Corporate worship, for Wells, is “the definitive setting for the embodiment of good habits” (152). Worship in this sense is essential to the formation of virtue.

While I respond positively to this idea, Wells’ last statement raises a few questions for me.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Original Christmas Art at Affordable Prices--Si, Señor!


Dear friends, my wife, the lovely Phaedra Jean, has officially opened an Etsy shop.

Never heard of Etsy? Neither had I until she said to me one day, "I love Etsy!" I figured at the moment that it had to do with a) naturopathetic medicine, b) a British cartoon character or c) art. Or maybe she was just sneezing. No, she was talking about a site that features original, handmade or vintage art. It's gorgeousness everywhere, trust me.

But the point of this blog is not to point you to everywhere but to somewhere, and that somewhere is The Ambrosium. Isn't that a nice word? As she describes it, it is "an Etsy shop full of beautiful devotional objects to enrich your contemplative life."  I want to recommend her site for two reasons, one salutary, one pragmatic.

You've probably noticed two things these days. One, it's Christmas. Technically of course it isn't, it's Advent, that brief spell of time in the church's life where we practice a "little lent." Crazy, huh? A "little lent"? Yes, and so very liberating. Our lovely American market thinks otherwise. Most likely, secondly, you're experiencing the most gargantuan, multi-sensory pounding of stimuli.

But before I digress into an homage to Neil Postman, let me say that one of the things that rarely happens around Christmas is the opportunity to buy and receive original art. (I'll assume this is a good thing.) Usually it's too expensive, and that's where the lovely Phaedra Jean comes in. Her work is beautiful, affordable and a potential aid to the deepening of your experience of Christ's Incarnation. This is the salutary reason you might consider buying (and giving) it.


The pragmatic reason is this. Working on a PhD (or ThD, as the case may be) is usually not a lucrative enterprise. Some folks get rich while sitting in the library ten hours a day. I am not one of them. This then is Phaedra's way to generate income in our season of graduate school life. (I'm doing my part in other ways.) Prices in her Etsy shop range from $10 to $90 and include things like hand-drawn ornaments, elegantly simple Christmas cards, prints and Encaustic crosses. (Encaustic? The term from the Latin encausticus, borrowed from the Greek enkaustikos, which peels apart to form the word en + kaiein: "to burn in." What burns? you ask. Beeswax, lots and lots of deliciously smelling beeswax.)

So the younger Taylor household warmly invites you to consider doing your Christmas shopping through The Ambrosium. If you’ve already finished your shopping, perhaps you can pass along the info to your friends and family--and to Oprah too. And to the Pope. And to Bono. If you needed more convincing, below are the Top Ten reasons for buying something from The Ambrosium this Christmas season.

Thank you for reading this far. We appreciate it. Remember, you can click on the photographs for larger versions.

Finally, I pray that your Advent is filled with at least one moment where you taste again the reason-defying, merriness-rehauling mystery of the Second Person of the Triune Godhead burrowing himself into the womb of a teenage gal in the backwoods of nowhere a long time ago, but now risen, ascended and seated at the right hand of the Father, from whom the Spirit proceeds to bring about the work of Christ to make all things new, the empirical data notwithstanding, perhaps, but still worth clinging to as a truth that sets us free in a way our hearts badly crave.

(That was a long sentence. Wow. I believe it, though.)

TOP TEN REASONS TO VISIT THE AMBROSIUM


1. You care about art being a vibrant part of the church's life, and you want David to finish his degree so that he can help that happen.

2. You are cheering on small businesses who are trying to make a go of things in the worst economy in recent memory.

3. You are in love with anything gold.

4. You value giving your family and friends one-of-a kind things that will last hundreds of years (literally).

5. You don’t want to go to the mall.

6. You’re tired of looking for crosses and finding the same old thing everywhere (the same artistic rendition of crosses, that is, not the cross itself, even if it is the "old rugged" cross).

7. You’re desperately searching for Christmas ornaments that have something to do with Jesus.

8. You think wax is the best substance in the galaxy and want as much of it in your house as possible.

9. You want David and Phaedra to be able to pay their rent.

10. You love beauty.