The Weekend Wanderer: 14 May 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


The Life We're Looking For - Andy Crouch“Can We Be Human in Meatspace?” –  Brad East reviews Andy Crouch’s new book, The Life We’re Looking For, in The New Atlantis: “In thinking about technology, three questions are fundamental. What is technology for? What are we for? And how is our answer to the first question related to our answer to the second? Since the Enlightenment, we have come to take for granted that there really is no relation, because we cannot publicly agree on what humans are for. We can answer that question only privately. But technology is public, not private. We create it for common use, ostensibly in the service of the common good. If we cannot broadly agree on what we are for, then how can we reason together about what our technology is for? It appears that we cannot. While the question about human purpose is now cordoned off from public debate, the question about the purpose of technology has vanished altogether. We no longer ask why we are making the latest widget. Its existence is self-justifying. Only listen to a Silicon Valley mogul talk about the newest invention or cutting-edge research. It is a dismal menu of options: the fantastical (immortality, uploading your consciousness to the cloud), the terrifying (digital surveillance, sentient robots), the shallow (streaming videos, the metaverse), the banal (smart thermostats, voice assistants), and the meaningless (‘greater connection,’ ‘enhanced creativity’). The last category alone is damning. We are meant to be connected and creative. Connected how? Creative to what end? A terrorist cell is deeply connected and highly creative. So is a local chapter of the Klan. Indeed, such groups are often among tech’s early adopters. What we need is a recommitment to public argument about purpose, both ours and that of our tools. What we need, further, is a recoupling of our beliefs about the one to our beliefs about the other. What we need, finally, is the resolve to make hard decisions about our technologies. ”


128842“Don’t Ignore Race. Or Alienate White People.” – Monique Duson in Christianity Today review George Yancey’s new book Beyond Racial Division: “For a long time, Americans committed to fighting racism have rallied around the ideals of colorblindness. Both legally and culturally, they have sought to build a society where, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, people are judged not ‘by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ Over time, however, the persistence of racism has raised doubts about the colorblind approach. In response, groups like Black Lives Matter have seized on the rival paradigm of antiracism. Instead of aspiring to colorblindness, its proponents say, we should acknowledge that America is plagued by deep-seated racism—and then take aggressive steps to stamp it out. In Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism, Baylor University sociologist George Yancey seeks a new way forward, one grounded in a vision of healthy interracial communication and community. As Yancey argues, both colorblindness and antiracism result in ‘racial alienation,’ which prevents us from working out our racial issues together in a way that honors the dignity, value, and worth of every individual.”


charlesdefoucauld“Shadowing the Carpenter” – Andreas Knapp in Plough: “I worked for years in an ecclesiastical ministry in Germany, as a university chaplain and as the director of a seminary. But I never really felt at home. An inner restlessness dogged me. For a long time, I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. As time went by, it became clear: I was subconsciously looking for a different life. Finally, in a discussion with a superior, I blurted out, ‘My original goal was to follow Jesus; but in the meantime I’ve turned into a civil servant.’ I shocked myself with the bluntness of that formulation. But it mirrored my disquiet. I had become part of a comfortable social system in which following prevailing norms seemed to count for everything. And yet I was bothered by the fact that I had so little to do with people who were not part of this system – those who were cut out of it. I longed for a simpler life, one lived in solidarity with others; I wanted to share my day-to-day existence with like-minded people. I simultaneously yearned for more silence and more time for prayer. How could I feed the fire of my longing? As I searched for answers, I found inspiration in Charles de Foucauld, whose legacy – his life, faith, and writings – eventually led me to the Little Brothers of the Gospel. What fascinated me most was the way he showed me, step by step, how to live like Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth.”


Ukraine-Children“Faith-based NGOs are helping Ukraine’s children. Now we have to prove it” – Brian Peterson at Religion News Service: “Only six weeks into Ukraine’s invasion by Russian forces, it was reported that nearly two-thirds of the country’s 7.5 million children had been displaced. These numbers are worsening as the conflict ensues and more and more families have to leave behind their homes, schools, belongings and livelihoods. At a time in their lives when routine and familiarity are critical to their development, millions of children in Ukraine have been forced to navigate a situation in which not only their physical safety, but their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing are in jeopardy. We know from research on children in similar situations — it’s estimated that 1 in 4 of the world’s children live in countries affected by armed conflict or disaster — that the effects of trauma from living through conflict are long-lasting and may be transmitted inter-generationally. To that end, it’s critical that support of the world’s most vulnerable children go beyond traditional aid or monetary donations. Holistic care — physical, mental, social and spiritual — is required. While it can come from a wide variety of organizations, faith-based organizations are natural partners in providing holistic care.”


051822niebuhr“Reading The Irony of American History 70 years later” – James K. A. Smith in The Christian Century: “When Reinhold Niebuhr published The Irony of American History in 1952, the United States was a very different place. The cataclysm of World War II was still a fresh wound, even as the postwar economy and reproduction rates were booming. Victors in a clash of good and evil, the United States nonetheless emerged from the war with a terrifying moral stain: this was the country that dropped the atomic bomb. These were the realities most on Niebuhr’s mind when he published the book to widespread acclaim. Indeed, the reception of the book is another reminder of the difference between Niebuhr’s generation and our own. That the musings of a theo­logian and minister on matters foreign and domestic could garner widespread public attention is hard to imagine today. All of this could make Irony a curious relic from the past. And yet, 70 years on, reading the book still feels timely. And in ways he couldn’t have anticipated, Niebuhr’s own blind spots are the reason this book deserves our renewed attention.”bi with his coterie of special students was a familiar feature of Jewish religious practice by the time of Jesus.”


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Awards for 2022”The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the 2022 Christian Book Award winners by categories, including audio books, Bibles, Bible reference works, Bible study, biography & memoir, children, christian living, devotion & gift, faith & culture, ministry resources, and more. Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep was named the book of the year, as well as winning top marks in the “Christian Living” topic area.


Music: Bifrost Arts [feat. Molly Parden], “Psalm 126,” from He Will Not Cry Out: Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 2

The Weekend Wanderer: 7 November 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Brooks - happiness“Are We Trading Our Happiness for Modern Comforts?” – This article by Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic explores an important reality: “One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen….amid these advances in quality of life across the income scale, average happiness is decreasing in the U.S. The General Social Survey, which has been measuring social trends among Americans every one or two years since 1972, shows a long-term, gradual decline in happiness—and rise in unhappiness—from 1988 to the present. There are several possible explanations for this paradox: It could be that people are uninformed about all of this amazing progress, that we can’t perceive progress very well when it occurs over decades, or that we are measuring the wrong indicators of ‘quality of life.’ I suspect the answer is all three. The last idea, however, is especially important to understand in order to improve our own happiness.”


Li-Young LeeLi-Young Lee reads “Changing Places in the Fire” – I needed a break from politics this week, no matter how hard that was to find, so I turned to other things to fill my mind and heart, such as poeetry. Li-Young Lee is a powerful poet who I heard in person while I was an undergraduate student studying literature. This recent poem by Lee plays with the concept of the word/Word through a form of poetic conversation. “There are words, I say, / and there is The Word. / Every word is a fluctuating flame / to a wick that dies. / But The Word, The Word / is a ruling sum and drastic mean, / the standard that travels / without moving.”


iceberg“Spiritual Practices for Public Leadership”  – With his characteristic insight, Andy Crouch offers fine wisdom for spiritual leadership in the public sphere. “Being a public person—someone who is recognized by people who do not actually know us personally—can be a lot like being a cruise ship. We are rewarded for cultivating the parts of our lives that are visible: our talents, our opinions, our appearance. And while the most spectacular cruise ships on the public ocean may be the people we call celebrities, the unique reality of life in the age of social media is that we are almost all public now, publishing a version of our life to gain others’ attention and, we almost always hope, approval.  This kind of life carries with it grave threats to our health, and the safety of those around us. Without spiritual practices to guard against the unique temptations of public life, we will likely drift into narcissism and exploitation. Sooner or later we will hit an iceberg—and the testimony of maritime history is that when a cruise ship meets an iceberg, the iceberg wins.”


Jamie Smith - public art“Attention as Prayer: Public Art in the Pandemic” – “Simone Weil once said that ‘Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.'” Building from this idea, James K. A. Smith takes us along on his morning jog through Grand Rapids to help us recover attention to the beauty around us, specifically in the form of public art in the beauty-drained times of the pandemic.


church-groningen“New Bible translation goes back to capital letters to refer to Him” – Most English Bible translations no longer use capitalized pronouns for God, a move which reflects changes in language over time and perhaps also translation or editing challenges. However, a new Dutch translation of the Bible, while not attempting to become archaic, has reintroduced the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. “The Bible translation most commonly used in Protestant churches in the Netherlands, has been modernised but capital letters have returned to refer to God. The NVB21, which stands for the new Bible translation for the 21st century, has been altered in 12,000 places making it ‘better, sharper and more powerful’, the Dutch Bible association NBG said.”


unlearning“On Unlearning” – Here’s Kirsten Sanders at the Mere Orthodoxy blog: “The problem with Theology done at a critical remove is that we can become untethered from love of God and so untethered from the Other. It is then that we begin talking mostly about ourselves. Even ‘transcendence,’ often referred to, longingly, can be misappropriated as the erotic longing of the soul. This happens slowly, but it begins when the initial orienting love of God is forgotten. Anselm’s ‘where can I find you?’ is based in trust, but it can become a cry of despair.”


Music: Chris Lizotte, “Peace Be With You,” from Long Time Comin’

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

July 4th: 4 Considerations for the Church

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.

  1. Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
  2. We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
  3. Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
  4. Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

nyt - sbc annual convention“Southern Baptist Convention Vows to Address Sex Abuse in Its Churches” – A lot of attention has been given this past week to the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, as they grapple at their annual convention with the appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal within some churches. The New York Times: “Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.” You can read more at Christianity Today with Kate Shellnutt’s “Southern Baptists Vote to Name Abuse as Grounds for Expelling Churches” or at The Atlantic with Jonathan Merrit’s “Southern Baptists’ Midlife Crisis.” It is also worth taking a look at the recent attention in The New York Times given to negligence in dealing with sexual abuse claims at The Village Church, a multisite Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, where Matt Chandler serves as pastor.

 

84323“Questions Skeptics Pose” – Here is Ravi Zacharias outlining and responding to what he says are the nine toughest asked by nonbelievers. “What questions are they asking? Here are the ones I have been asked most often. By developing a clear response to each, we can increase our ability to talk with those who are not Christians. It is important to note that while these are the attacking questions, as the conversation goes on, the questions become kinder and more personal, till one can focus on the Cross and present the gospel in its simplicity and beauty. This has happened in every venue in which I have spoken.”

 

130912030048-02-birmingham-church-bombing-horizontal-large-gallery“To Shape A New World: William Seymour and Black Faith in the Drama of Civil Rights” – Over at The Witness, Dante Stewart offers this helpful two-part historical look at how the Azusa Street revival and William Seymour relates to the civil rights movement and the shaping of of black theology. “Seymour’s impact cannot be understated. Fueled by this Resurrection Power, he indeed embodied what would be Black engagement during Civil Rights: participating with the Spirit in shaping a new world by challenging racist attitudes and social structures, spiritual renewal as foundational to social change, and participating in the Spirit’s work in the creation of the Beloved Community.”

 

20190610T1011-27353-CNS-SYRIAC-SEMAAN-THRIVE_800-675x450“New Syriac Catholic bishop hopes Christianity will thrive again in Iraq” – This news from Iraq, which has been the source of much reporting as an example of the decline of Christianity due to religious violence. “Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope ‘that Christianity will flourish again’ in his homeland. Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination June 7. Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Semaan said, is ‘a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.'”

 

US-REALESTATE-CONSTRUCTION“Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?” – Not necessarily a surprise, since we know that the human heart struggles with contentment, but still worth reading in The Atlantic: “American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015. This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later. But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.”

 

060519jenkinsbrompton“Decline and revival in the Church of England”Philip Jenkins here in The Christian Century on the Church of England, with mention of Holy Trinity Brompton, where I worshipped last summer for a couple of weekends. Jenkins’ reflections offer some interesting thoughts on how this secular age impacts the church and what it might mean for the rise of religious nones, even in the US. “British media regularly re­port the latest surveys of religious faith and activity in that country, and rare is the news that is not deeply depressing. So rapid has been the process of secularization that it hardly seems far-fetched to imagine a near future in which Christian faith in the country would be confined to recent immigrants….The Church of England has long been divided between high and low church factions, between Anglo-Catholic ritualists and evangelicals. During the 1960s, a new force appeared on the scene in the form of a charismatic revival. Over the following decades, that charismatic impulse rose and fell in influence, but it received new infusions of support from the global church repeatedly. At different times, those overseas influences derived from transatlantic revivals, both in the US and in Latin America, but also from new immigrant populations from Africa and the Caribbean. These new influences reshaped many urban parishes, some of which became what an American would easily recognize as evangelical-charismatic megachurches.”

 

Artisanal internet“The Soothing Promise of Our Own Artisanal Internet” – Nitasha Tiku at Wired: “To put our toxic relationship with Big Tech into perspective, critics have compared social media to a lot of bad things. TobaccoCrystal methPollutionCars before seat beltsChemicals before Superfund sites. But the most enduring metaphor is junk food: convenient but empty; engineered to be addictive; makes humans unhealthy and corporations rich. At first, consumers were told to change their diet and #DeleteFacebook to avoid the side effects. But now, two years into the tech backlash, we know that cutting the tech giants out of our lives is impossible. So among some early adopters, the posture is shifting from revolt to retreat.”

 

false-memory“Speak, Memory” – “Julia Shaw’s book The Memory Illusion is a breakthrough in the jurisprudence of memory: the main question posed is not whether our memory is wrong on any given occasion but how wrong. It is thus essential reading for police, lawyers, judges, juries, insurance assessors, journalists … and anyone else who wants to understand why everybody else in the family “remembers” details of your family’s past differently from you. Her book discloses what modern brain science shows about how human memory functions, and where and how it is fallible. The title chosen for the German-language translation of her book—The Treacherous Memory—perhaps sums it all up best.”

Music: Buena Vista Social Club, “La Engañadora,” from Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall (Live).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Elusive Midwestern Identity

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis past May I traveled to a Pastor’s Conference at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, as part of my sabbatical. While there, I had numerous opportunities to answer the question, “Where are you from?” Since most of the attendees were from western Canada or the Pacific Northwest, it was always entertaining to explain where Milwaukee is (‘just north of Chicago’) or what it means to be from the Midwestern region of America. What is the Midwest, anyway, and is it really unique to be from there?

That topic is exactly what Phil Christman explores in his article, “On Being Midwestern: The Burden of Normality,” in the latest edition of The Hedgehog Review.

After my Texas-born wife and I moved to Michigan—an eleven-hour drive in the snow, during which time itself seemed to widen and flatten with the terrain—I found myself pressed into service as an expert on the region where I was born and where I have spent most of my life. “What is the Midwest like?” she asked. “Midwestern history, Midwestern customs, Midwestern cuisine?” I struggled to answer with anything more than clichés: bad weather, hard work, humble people. I knew these were inadequate.

As a lifelong Midwesterner I thoroughly enjoyed Christman’s exploration of the stereotypes, artistic representations, self-deprecating humor, and perceptions of the Midwest. Referencing Fargo, Abraham Lincoln, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, and social commentary over the past one-hundred years, Christman addresses the burdens of life in the Midwest. What burdens, you may ask?

What does it do to people to see themselves as normal? On the one hand, one might adopt a posture of vigilant defense, both internal and external, against anything that might detract from such a fully, finally achieved humanness. On the other hand, a person might feel intense alienation and disgust, which one might project inward—What is wrong with me?—or outward, in a kind of bomb-the-suburbs reflex. A third possibility—a simple, contented being normal—arises often in our culture’s fictions about the Midwest, both the stupid versions (the contented families of old sitcoms) and the more sophisticated ones (Fargo’s Marge Gunderson, that living argument for the value of banal goodness). I have yet to meet any real people who manage it. A species is a bounded set of variations on a template, not an achieved state of being.

Give it a read here.