The Weekend Wanderer: 20 May 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, 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.

134638“Died: Tim Keller, New York City Pastor Who Modeled Winsome Witness” – Daniel Silliman in Christianity Today: “Tim Keller, a New York City pastor who ministered to young urban professionals and in the process became a leading example for how a winsome Christian witness could win a hearing for the gospel even in unlikely places, died on Friday at age 72—three years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Keller planted and grew a Reformed evangelical congregation in Manhattan; launched a church planting network; cofounded The Gospel Coalition; and wrote multiple best-selling books about God, the gospel, and the Christian life. Everywhere he went, he preached sin and grace. ‘The gospel is this,’ Keller said time and again: ‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ Keller was frequently accused—especially in later years—of cultural accommodation. He rejected culture-war antagonism and the “own the libs” approach to evangelism, and people accused him of putting too much emphasis on relevance and watering down or even betraying the truth of Christianity out of a misplaced desire for social acceptance. But a frequent theme throughout his preaching and teaching was idolatry. Keller maintained that people are broken and they know that. But they haven’t grasped that only Jesus can really fix them. Only God’s grace can satisfy their deepest longings.”

Hosanna Wong“‘There are many worlds in me’: Asian American Christians reject conformity” – Kathryn Post at Religion News Service: “In her poem ‘I Have a New Name,’ spoken-word artist Hosanna Wong boldly lists the names God calls her in Scripture: Friend, chosen, greatly loved. But when she first released her bravura anthem of acceptance in 2017, it was under a pseudonym. ‘Early on, a handful of leaders told me that my background might stand in the way of me being effective in the places and spaces I felt called to,’ Wong, 33, told Religion News Service in a recent interview. ‘So they suggested that I don’t go by the last name “Wong.”‘ After performing for most of her career as ‘Hosanna Poetry,’ Wong, 33, now records under her own name. She’s one of several Asian American Christian leaders who have rejected the mold that others tried to force them into, forging a more expansive faith that acknowledges the rich dimensions of their identity. But being open about who you are isn’t easy when you’ve been ‘shape shifting,’ as Wong put it, from an early age. Growing up in San Francisco in the 1990s, Wong felt most at home serving alongside her dad at his Christian outreach ministry for people living without homes and battling addiction. ‘We had outdoor services two to three days a week. People brought their alcohol bottles, people brought their needles. That’s how I learned church,’ said Wong, whose father was a former gang member who battled heroin addiction. ‘That’s where I learned that Jesus could save anyone’s soul and redeem anyone’s story … and that’s also where I learned the art of spoken word poetry.'”

052023-voices-word-play-therapy“The Word became relationship” – Samuel Wells in The Christian Century: “Fawlty Towers is getting a reboot. If you’ve seen the original series, you’ll know it’s one joke stretched out over 12 episodes. John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty is the proprietor of an undistinguished hotel in the seaside town of Torquay. He’s surrounded by foolish people—some of his staff, several of his guests—but he has to find a way to contain his barely suppressed rage enough to be polite to his guests and communicate with his staff. His attempts and failures to do so constitute the endless cycle of wild flailing and ultimately explosive violence that make the series agonizing, hilarious, and gripping viewing. But what if it weren’t a comedy? What if Fawlty Towers were actually a profound portrayal of human life, in which communication is largely impossible and conventions of civility are always on the point of snapping, whereupon violence inevitably ensues? Think about what it’s like to try to communicate with a relentless puppy that just won’t calm down, a youth group that won’t listen to instructions, a terrorist who won’t be reasonable, or a roommate who’s like a brick wall. In all these situations, violence lurks just beneath the surface. Words aren’t helping. You’re perilously close to a place beyond words. Civilization is about learning ways to resolve tension and conflict without violence. But sometimes the best of us can teeter toward becoming profoundly uncivilized. Which is why some of the most moving stories are about how two people can make a journey from a standoff of frustrated and scarcely suppressed violence to a relationship of genuine peace. Virginia Axline was a primary school teacher in 1940s Ohio who went back to college and studied with psychologist Carl Rogers. She developed the practice of child-centered play therapy, which offers warm, nonjudgmental acceptance to children and patiently allows them to find their own solutions at their own pace.”

mkc-peace-footwashing“Inspired by footwashing, Ethiopian turns rebel fighters toward peace” – Meserete Kristos Church News in Anabaptist News: “A demonstration of humility through footwashing in an Ethiopian peacebuilding training inspired one man to persuade more than 600 rebel fighters to turn from their violent ways. Meserete Kristos Church, the Anabaptist church in Ethiopia, has been engaged in peacebuilding efforts in Benishangul-Gumuz Region, home to ethnic-based violence and rebels fighting the government. Trainings have included activities based on community dialogue and reconciliation, as well as humility. In one such training, MKC director of peacebuilding Mekonnen Gemeda demonstrated humility’s importance in building peace in communities torn apart by ethnic violence. He asked for two volunteers, a Muslim and a Christian, and informed them he would wash their feet. Many participants did not believe he would do it until they saw it. One of the volunteers was Dergu Belena. He was from a Gumuz ethnic group, which initiated armed conflict against the government and killed people from other local ethnic groups. After the training, Belena went to the district government administration and asked for a gun with bullets. The administrator asked him why he wanted to get a gun. He told him, ‘I am cleansed from my past wrong thoughts and ready to be an ambassador of peace in my community.'”

Thomas Merton house“The mystery of Thomas Merton’s death—and the witness of America magazine’s poetry editor” – James T. Keane in America: “In last week’s column I wrote about John Moffitt, the America poetry editor from 1963 to 1987 who was a disciple of Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda for many years, and of Moffitt’s correspondence with another disciple of Vedanta Hinduism, J. D. Salinger. The author of The Catcher in the Rye was one of many Western devotees of Hinduism and Eastern monastic traditions whom Moffitt met or corresponded with over the years. Another was Thomas Merton, whom Moffitt met at a conference on monasticism outside Bangkok in December 1968—the conference where Merton died. The two had never met in person before, though their youthful interests in religion have a curious point of connection. In his autobiography The Seven-Storey Mountain, Merton traced his interest in religion to reading Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means, a collection of essays on religion, ethics and the nature of the universe. Huxley was among the many literary and cultural luminaries who had taken an interest in Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, and he eventually became associated with the Vedanta Society of Southern California, even writing the introduction to an English translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. (Readers interested in Sri Ramakrishna, the Hindu monk whose teachings Vivekananda sought to spread, might profit from this 1986 America essay on him by Francis X. Clooney, S.J.) The Bengali translator of the book was Swami Nikhilananda, the spiritual guide to both Salinger and Moffitt. Credited with rendering Ramakrishna’s mystic hymns into free verse was (you guessed it) John Moffitt.”

springsteen“Of Songs and Stories: What Bruce Springsteen Learned From Flannery O’Connor” – Warren Zanes at LitHub: “Shortly after the birth of his sister Virginia in 1951, Springsteen’s family moved in with his paternal grandparents. They would stay there through 1956, but the years spent in that house would remain with Springsteen, a thing to untangle. It was a period of his childhood that, in his telling, would come to the fore in Nebraska. ‘I know the house was very dilapidated,’ Springsteen told me. ‘That was something that embarrassed me as a child. It was visibly ramshackle, my grandparents’ house. On the street you could see that it was deteriorating. I just remember being embarrassed about it as a child. That would have been my only sense that something wasn’t right with who we were and what we were doing. I can’t quite describe it. It was intense. The house was eventually condemned. Really, it fell apart around us. I lived there when there was only one functional room, the living room. Everything else was pretty much finished.’ In the living room was the portrait of his aunt Virginia, his father’s sister, an image Springsteen has described on a few occasions. Virginia, at age six and out riding her bicycle, was hit and killed by a truck as it pulled out of a gas station on Freehold’s McLean Street. In some misguided tribute to Virginia’s early and sudden death, Springsteen’s grandparents withheld discipline from their first grandchild, Bruce. It was a twisting of logic that likely seemed beneficent, if only to minds stuck in grief. His was a terrible freedom. When Bruce pushed, there was nothing there to push against.”

Music: Bruce Springsteen, “My Father’s House,” from Nebraska

The Weekend Wanderer: 13 May 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, 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.

Spiritual Timekeeping“Spiritual Timekeeping” – James K. A. Smith talks about his book How to Inhabit Time in Spark: “WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?  There were a few inspirations. The first, to be candid, was my own experience of therapy for depression, which was a personal exercise of reckoning with my past, so I could “live forward” into a different future. In counseling, coming to terms with the past allowed me to hope again. But then reckoning with our collective past is also something we have been undergoing as a country, particularly as we grapple with systemic racism and police brutality, since the murder of George Floyd. Finally, my work is part of a broader conversation about spiritual formation (in the work of Dallas Willard and Tish Harrison Warren, for example), and it seemed to me that we had not yet taken seriously the significance of time in spiritual formation. I hope How to Inhabit Time takes us in new directions.”

134512“Western Classics Exclude Me. But Christ Can Redeem Them: As an Asian American, God’s great story helps me value literature that often leaves me out.” – Sara Kyoungah White in Christianity Today: “Last year, I began reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. At first, I was swept away by Ishmael’s beautiful descriptions of his passion for the sea. But I grew increasingly uncomfortable in chapter two, when Ishmael accidentally stumbles into a Black, presumably Christian, worship service. He shockingly describes the gathering as a ‘great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet’ (another name for hell) and the preacher as ‘a black Angel of Doom.’ In the next chapter, we meet the Native American character Queequeg, whose first words are ‘Who-e debel you? … you no speak-e, dam-me, I kill-e,’ before he is promptly labeled as a cannibal. What do we do with racist passages in classic books like this—especially as readers of color? As a lifelong lover of books, I heartily applaud that many Christians seem to have a vested interest in preserving and championing classic Western literature. In On Reading Well and various articles, Karen Swallow Prior writes about how good books can help cultivate our virtues. Similarly, Jessica Hooten Wilson has said that books help us to be holier. They can sharpen our worldview and help us develop empathy. Reading good books can, as Philip Ryken writes, sanctify our imaginations and nourish our love for beauty; it can even help us be more effective teachers, preachers, and leaders. As a nonwhite Christian, however, I find that most discussions of reading classic Western literature today either fail to acknowledge or only tangentially mention two difficult truths.”

2F97EWN.jpg“Why millennial men are turning to the Book of Common Prayer” – David French in The Spectator: “The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival in the Church of England, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. Over the past two years, more and more churchgoers have asked me about a return to Thomas Cranmer’s exquisite language, essentially unaltered since 1662, for church services and private devotions. Other vicars tell me they have had a similar increase in interest. It helps that the Book of Common Prayer has had a fair bit of attention recently. The late Queen Elizabeth’s insistence on the use of Prayer Book texts in her funeral rites meant that in September more people witnessed the beauty of this liturgical treasure than watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled as I heard on TV the solemn words echo around Westminster Abbey: ‘In the midst of life we are in death.’ And in the lead-up to the coronation, the Prayer Book has once again been in the public eye – although not all the publicity has been good. Cambridge University Press’s beautifully bound new Prayer Book, published in time for the coronation, had to be recalled from its first print run when it was noticed that the text mistakenly included France as a dominion under Charles III. Some priests have held on to their misprints in the hope that they might become rare collectors’ items or in case the sorry state of French politics makes them prophetic. What’s interesting is that the C of E’s Book of Common Prayer revival is overwhelmingly led by millennials.”

MAID - David Brooks“The Outer Limits of Liberalism: What happens when a society takes individualism to its logical conclusion?” – David Brooks in The Atlantic: “Many good ideas turn bad when taken to their extreme. And that’s true of liberalism. The freedom of choice that liberals celebrate can be turned into a rigid free-market ideology that enables the rich to concentrate economic power while the vulnerable are abandoned. The wild and creative modes of self-expression that liberals adore can turn into a narcissistic culture in which people worship themselves and neglect their neighbors. These versions of liberalism provoke people to become anti-liberal, to argue that liberalism itself is spiritually empty and too individualistic. They contend that it leads to social breakdown and undermines what is sacred about life. We find ourselves surrounded by such anti-liberals today. I’d like to walk with you through one battlefield in the current crisis of liberalism, to show you how liberalism is now threatened by an extreme version of itself, and how we might recover a better, more humane liberalism—something closer to what the Mills had in mind in the first place. In 2016, the Canadian government legalized medical assistance in dying. The program, called MAID, was founded on good Millian grounds. The Canadian Supreme Court concluded that laws preventing assisted suicide stifled individual rights. If people have the right to be the architect of their life, shouldn’t they have the right to control their death? Shouldn’t they have the right to spare themselves needless suffering and indignity at the end of life?”

GettyImages-1393206444-1024x683“You Have Permission to Be a Smartphone Skeptic” – Clare Coffey in The Bulwark: “Recently, the news that minor British celebrity Sophie Winkelman had pulled her children out of a posh school because students there were going to be issued iPads occasioned the brief return of one of my favorite discursive topics—are the kids all right?—in one of my least-favorite variations: why shouldn’t each of them have a smartphone and tablet? Whenever this subject arises, there are more or less two camps. One camp says yes, the kids are fine; complaints about screen time merely conceal a desire to punish hard-working parents for marginally benefiting from climbing luxury standards, provide examples of the moral panic occasioned by all new technologies, or mistakenly blame screens for ill effects caused by the general political situation. No, says the other camp, led by Jonathan Haidt; the kids are not all right, their devices are partly to blame, and here are the studies showing why. As useful as the statistical correlations in the detractors’ learned studies are, they are not conclusive in either direction, and we should not wait for the replication crisis in the social sciences to resolve itself before we consider the question of whether the naysayers are on to something. And normal powers of observation and imagination should be sufficient to make us at least wary of smartphones.”

silence-is-underrated1“The Most Underrated Sound in Our Society” – Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist: “A few months ago, my wife and I took our kids on a short weekend trip to the mountains. As we pulled out of our neighborhood and merged onto the four lane highway, we suddenly realized an important detail for the trip had been left undone. Kim and I both assumed the other person was going to make the necessary arrangements. As a result, neither of us had accomplished the task. And now, the trip had already begun. The problem would ultimately be fixed with a little extra time and money. But in the moment, our conversation abruptly ended. Tenseness ensued. And both of us stared silently out the windshield in disgust. After a few short minutes, one little voice called out from the backseat, ‘Umm, are you guys ever going to talk again?’ The silence had become unbearable. I was reminded again how silence has become a difficult atmosphere in our society. In our homes, we turn on our televisions. In our cars, we turn on the radio. When we exercise, we put on our headphones. Even when waiting in elevators or on hold with customer service, sound fills the void. It seems we have become uncomfortable with the very presence of silence in our lives. We speak of “awkward silences” in a room full of people. We fear that brief moment when we meet someone new and aren’t quite sure what to say.”

Music: The Porter’s Gate, “May the Peace” (feat. Josh Garrels), from Worship for Workers

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 April 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, 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.

134178“A Witness for the Creator (Part One): Creation Care as Stewardship” – Christi Huizenga Renaud and Lynne Marian in The Better Samaritan: “In a recent blog post, we shared that believers are the most well-equipped to lead in the face of a global climate crisis because of our faith in Christ. Many people read that article and asked, “What should I do?” This two-part feature provides a framework and helpful tips for getting started. ‘There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there,’ said author and environmentalist Bill McKibben in his seminal book, The End of Nature. That rings especially true as we face our global climate crisis. It’s truly overwhelming, but just as we wouldn’t ignore a house fire or bald tires on our car, we as Christians must courageously take action to prevent greater suffering. Thankfully, we are not alone. When we take action, we join our global church family, as believers from Europe, Asia, South America and many climate-vulnerable countries are already taking a leading role as advocates for people and the planet. Even small steps make a difference. Begin where you are, then keep walking. As we take action, God uses moments along the way to cultivate our hearts, pruning and shaping us. We’ve seen individuals, families, and entire communities respond to God through environmental stewardship. It regularly leads to greater awareness of God’s presence and love.”

GeorgeVerwer-scaled-e1681738964622Charles StanleyThis past week marked the passing of two well-known Christian leaders: Dr. Charles Stanley (1932-2023), known for his Bible teaching ministry, and George Verwer (1938-2023), renowned as a catalyst for world mission with Operation Mobilisation. Reflections on their respective legacies can be viewed at the links above, but there are many powerful reflections on their lives by others. Missions leader Greg Livingstone writes about how “One Night with George Verwer Changed My Life.” NPR news carried this news piece and reflection on the influence of Charles Stanley: “Charles Stanley, whose Christian broadcasts spanned the world, dies at 90.”

134219“The Bible Does Everything Critical Theory Does, but Better” – Mark Talbot interviews Christopher Watkin in Christianity Today: “Many people become suspicious at the mention of critical theory, especially as it applies to controversial matters of race, gender, law, and public policy. Some see the ideologies traveling under that banner as abstruse frameworks only minimally related to real-world affairs. Others see critical theory as a ruse meant to confer unearned scholarly legitimacy on highly debatable political and cultural opinions. Christopher Watkin, an Australian scholar on religion and philosophy, wants to reorient discussions of critical theory around Scripture’s grand narrative of redemption. In Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture, he shows how God’s Word furnishes the tools for a better, more compelling critical theory—one that harmonizes the fragmentary truths advanced by its secular alternatives. Mark Talbot, professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, spoke with Watkin about his book.”

red-yarn-enlarged“Unraveling and Un-othering” – Prasanta Verma at Three-Fifths: “I stood three feet away from my mother, holding the dark red knotted up ball of yarn. She held one end of the yarn, and began patiently unraveling the knots, creating a new mound of usable fiber. The yarn was perfectly wrapped in an oblong skein when purchased; at some point, it unraveled and tangled. Undoing the knotty mass was the only way to put it back together again. ‘Othering’ can feel like being a tangled web of yarn. People of color, and those who are different, are viewed as tangles (or perhaps, mistakes) and aren’t being seen for their beauty and potential; we aren’t seen as in the image of God. To undo all of this, of course, isn’t as easy as standing three feet apart and rewrapping a single thread. There are centuries of layers of yarn to unravel; a thicket of pains and sorrows to crawl through. As an Asian American, I often live in a liminal space in between a white and Black binary. Othering and invisibility were part of my ‘normal’ upbringing, though I didn’t fully name it until I was an adult. Until then, I maneuvered my way through the brambles as an ‘other’. Naming my identity wasn’t a straightforward task. I grew up around few Asians. Forms that asked me to check the box identifying my race or ethnicity were baffling. I didn’t know what to call myself: Indian American? Asian American? Indian? Asian? I didn’t have the vocabulary to name myself. It took years before I could confidently name myself.”

Age of Average“The age of average” – Alex Murrell at his blog: “In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art. Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions. What’s your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape? Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya. Each piece in the series, titled ‘People’s Choice’, was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture. But it didn’t quite go to plan. Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said: ‘In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue.’ Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same.”

Austrailian view on decline in mental health“Do the Kids Think They’re Alright?: It’s hard to find members of Gen Z who think their phone-based childhoods benefitted their generation” – Jon Haidt and Eli George in After Babel: “A common criticism I have received since 2015 is that I am misunderstanding the younger generation; I’m just another in a long line of older people lamenting the behavior of ‘kids these days.’ As a social psychologist long active in the field of cultural psychology, I know that this could be true. Even more than previous generations, Gen Z has created an online culture that us older folk can’t even see, let alone understand. So I have been on the lookout for writings by members of Gen Z explaining their generation to outsiders, and I would especially like to find criticisms of The Coddling of the American Mind, or of my more recent writings about social media.  So far, I have found almost none. When I speak to high school and college audiences, I usually ask those who think I got the story wrong to raise their hands and then come forward and ask the first questions. I rarely get a hand raised or a critical question. I therefore asked my two research assistants, Zach Rausch and Eli George, for help finding voices of Gen Z. Zach was born in 1994, so he’s a late millennial. Eli, however, was born in 1999, so he’s Gen Z, and he took on the task. He graduated last May from Harvard with majors in philosophy and musicology and with a good deal of academic research in the humanities. Below is his report. He too, failed to find much disagreement about the path Gen Z is on, although he found some keen observations about additional sociological and economic factors that are contributing to Gen Z’s difficulties. I hope in particular that members of Gen Z will read it and tell us what they think Eli got wrong.”

Music: All Sons & Daughters., “Rest in You,” from Poets & Saints