The Weekend Wanderer: 8 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.

Platt TrumpTrump stops by evangelical church to pray for victims of Virginia Beach massacre – President Trump made a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church last weekend, where David Platt , author of Radical and Counter Culture, serves as pastor. Of course, this created a Twitter firestorm about whether Platt should or should not have prayed for Trump, whether it should have been on the main platform or in a back office, and many other things. You can read Platt’s written response in The Washington Post, “‘My aim was in no way to endorse the president’: Pastor explains why he prayed for Trump.” I also appreciated the comments by John Fea, a Christian historian who is not a Trump supporter, agreeing with Ed Stetzer on the difficult predicament Platt found himself in as a pastor in that moment. Also, here is Ruth Graham at Slate talking about Platt’s “assiduously non-partisan” ministry, while also wrestling with Platt inviting Trump on platform.

 

 

Desmond-Percy-FD-Suicide“Prophets for Our Age of Suicide”Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews John F. Desmond’s recent book, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide. “Every age needs prophets—whether or not they heed their cautions—because prophets stand out of and often against the current. They can reveal to those caught in its tide that we ought to chart another direction towards a more fitting destination. For Dostoevsky and Percy, their audience required them to create extreme characters and situations to see the unfortunate end we were all heading towards.”

 

11 reasons smartphone“11 reasons to stop looking at your smartphone” – Believe it or not, this article is from Mashable, a resource site for tech, digital culture and entertainment content. I have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone and have been taking the summer to turn my smartphone into a dumbphone. More on that later, but you should definitely read this list of reasons to stop looking at your smartphone, which run from relational to physical to mental and more.

 

Trump“What a Clash Between Conservatives Reveals” – Alan Jacobs on a recent conservative clash of cultures, specifically between David French and Sohrab Ahmari. “It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.”

 

Frederick Douglass.jpeg“Frederick Douglass Is Not Dead!” – Allis Radosh reflecting on three new books about Frederick Douglass and the contest to define his legacy. “The effort to pigeonhole Douglass is nothing new. A giant in the 19th century, Douglass’s stature was receding in the 20th. It was black writers like Booker T. Washington, who wrote his biography in 1906, and Benjamin Quarles, who published one in 1948, who kept his story alive. This changed when the Left claimed Douglass as a hero, concentrating on his antebellum abolitionist activities. American Communists of the 1930s and 1940s argued that Douglass was their predecessor, while historian Eric Foner claimed that his uncle Philip S. Foner rescued him from “undeserved obscurity” when in the 1950s he edited four volumes of his speeches and writings. More recently, he has been claimed by Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives. When a statue of Douglass was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol in 2013, GOP attendees proudly wore buttons that read ‘Frederick Douglass was a Republican.’  All of these claims on Douglass have some grounding in reality. But if Frederick Douglass can be all things to all people, it is paradoxically because his life was so complex—and his full legacy so impossible to circumscribe.”

 

BGC“Billy Graham Archives Begin Move from Wheaton to Charlotte” – Maybe this is just of interest to a few people, like me, who have a connection to Wheaton College or the Billy Graham Center. However, it does seem like big news that the Billy Graham Center on Wheaton’s campus is no longer host to the Billy Graham Archives, which are on their way to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham’s hometown.

 

spaghetti westerns“Quentin Tarantino on how spaghetti westerns shaped modern cinema” – Well, this one isn’t really about faith and art, but as a great lover of the works of Sergio Leone, I couldn’t help but share this piece by Quentin Tarantino. “When Elvis Mitchell [the critic, scholar and broadcaster] shows a film to his young students — this movie from the 1950s, this movie from the 1960s, this movie from the 1940s — it’s only when he shows them a Sergio Leone, if they haven’t seen it before, that they pick up. That’s when they start recognising the elements. That’s when they’re not just ‘I’m looking at an older movie now.’ It’s the use of music, the use of the set piece, the ironic sense of humour. They appreciate the surrealism, the craziness, and they appreciate the cutting to music. So it is the true beginning of what filmmaking had evolved to by the 1990s. You don’t go past Leone, you start with Leone.”

 

Envy - Kleon“An enemy of envy” – Here’s Austin Kleon reflecting on Jerry Saltz’s words, “You’ve got to make an enemy of envy.” “I agree with him: it will eat you alive if you keep it inside. I think one thing you can do is spit it out, cut it out, or get it out by whatever means available — write it down or draw it out on paper — and take a hard look at it so it might actually teach you something.” This is good advice for artists, but for all of us. After all, there might be a reason that envy is one of the seven deadly sins.

 

Music: Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, “Ai Du,” from Talking Timbuktu.

[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.]

Jenny Odell on neighboring

How to do nothingThis past weekend in my message at Eastbrook, “Living Like Light in the World,” I referenced some words by Jenny Odell from her quirky and wonderful book, How to Do Nothing. If you care about the way the information economy is malforming us and the ways in which we willingly subject ourselves to it, you should read the book. The quotation was an excerpt on neighboring, something we have been talking about at Eastbrook all through this month of May. I shared a slightly shorter version of this because of time, but here is what she wrote on pages 134-135 of the book.

 

In fact, I have experienced this sudden transformation, although thankfully not because of a disaster. My boyfriend and I live in a large apartment complex that’s next to the house of a family of four, and when we’re sitting on our balcony and they’re sitting on their porch, we can easily see each other. The sound of the man listening to dad rock while weeding, or the outbursts of the two young sons (such as fart noises followed by cackling), became comforting background noise for us. But we didn’t learn each other’s names for two years, and we may not have chatted at all if it hadn’t been for the neighborliness of Paul, the dad.

One day Paul invited us over for dinner. Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment. The interior of the house went from being an idea to a palpable reality. And just like their view of the street similar to ours, but slightly different-our neighbors were people who we had no reason not to know, but who we probably wouldn’t have met in our usual circles, online or otherwise. That meant that there were things that we had to explain to each other that might have been taken for granted in our respective habitual contexts-and in these explanations we probably all saw ourselves from a new angle. For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.

When we arrived back to our apartment, it felt different to me-less like the center of things. Instead the street was full of such “centers,” and each one contained other lives, other rooms, other people turning in for the night and worrying their own worries for the next dy. Of course I had already accepted all of this in an abstract sense, but it wasn’t felt. And as silly as this story may sound to anyone who is used to knowing their neighbors, I find it worthwhile to recount because it bears out what I’ve experienced with other expansions of attention: they’re hard to reverse. When something goes from being an idea to a reality, you can’t easily force your perception back into the narrow container it came from.

[From Jenny Odell, How to do Nothing (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2019), 134-135.]

The Lust for Seeing: from Josef Pieper

Josef PieperThis quotation from philosopher and theologian Josef Pieper captured my attention over a year ago when I was preparing a series of messages for students on distraction and attention. Themes of distraction and attentiveness have become increasingly important to me as the information economy takes hold of our culture and shapes our lives more than we realize. I saved this quotation on my desktop for further consideration, and I continue to return to it again and again. While Pieper wrote these words just shy of eighty years ago, I feel they are just as relevant today as ever. Maybe you will agree.

There is a lust for seeing that perverts the original meaning of sight and casts a person into disorder. The meaning of sight is the perception of reality. However, the “concupiscence of the eyes” does not seek to perceive reality but rather just to see. Augustine notes that the “lust of the palate” does not attain satisfaction but only results in eating and drinking; the same holds true for curiositas (curiosity) and the “concupiscence of the eyes”. In his book Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Martin Heidegger says, “The concern of this kind of sight is not about grasping the truth and knowingly living within it but is about chances for abandoning oneself to the world.” The degradation into curiositas of the natural desire to see can thus be substantially more than a harmless confusion on the surface. It can be the sign of one’s fatal uprooting. It can signify that a person has lost the capacity to dwell in his own self; that he, fleeing from himself, disgusted and bored with the waste of an interior that is burnt out by despair, seeks in a thousand futile ways with selfish anxiety that which is accessible only to the high-minded calm of a heart disposed to self-sacrifice and thus in mastery over itself: the fullness of being. Since such a person does not truly live out of the wellspring of his being, he accordingly seeks, as again Heidegger says, in the “curiosity to which nothing is closed off”, “the security of a would-be genuine ‘living life’.”

The “concupiscence of the eyes” reaches its utmost destructive and extirpative power at the point where it has constructed for itself a world in its own image and likeness, where it has surrounded itself with the restlessness of a ceaseless film of meaningless objects for show and with a literally deafening noise of nothing more than impressions and sensations that roar in an uninterrupted chase around every window of the senses. Behind their papery façade of ostentatious lies absolute nothingness, a “world” of at most one-day constructs that often become insipid after just one-quarter of an hour and are thrown out like a newspaper that has been read or a magazine that has been paged through; a world which, before the revealing gaze of a sound spirit uninfected by its contagion, shows itself to be like a metropolitan entertainment district in the harsh clarity of a winter morning: barren, bleak, and ghostly to the point of pushing one to despair.

Still, the destructive element of this disorder, born out of and shaped by illness, is found in the fact that this disorder obstructs the original power of man to perceive reality, that it renders a person unable not only to attain his own self but also to attain reality and truth.

If, therefore, a fraudulent world of this kind threatens to overrun and conceal the world of reality, then the cultivation of the natural desire to see assumes the character of a measure of self-preservation and self-defense. And then studiositas (diligence) means especially this: that a person resists the nearly inescapable temptation to indiscipline with all the power of selfless self-protection, that he radically closes off the inner space of his life against the pressingly unruly pseudoreality of empty sights and sounds-in order that, through and only through this asceticism of perception, he might safeguard or recoup that which truly constitutes man’s living existence: to perceive the reality of God and of creation and to shape himself and the world by the truth that discloses itself only in silence.

[From Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1991), 39-41.]

 

 

Attention as a Key to Wisdom

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

The distractions of our lives slowly become the purpose of our lives when inattention and lack of focus reign within our souls.

The more information we have, the less true knowledge we attain. The less knowledge we attain, the more confusing our life experiences become.

Lacking knowledge and meaningful experience in a whirlpool of information, the more improbable becomes the development of wisdom in our lives.

One key toward gaining wisdom in our engagement with the world around us is attention.

Attention involves an extension of the self into the world, so that the world is more powerfully received into the self. It is the essential and necessary means of our growth in knowledge and of any progress that we make on the path toward wisdom. Attention shapes what we know and value, and therefore determines who we are and can become. – Christopher O. Blum and Joshua P. Hochschild,  A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Manchester, NH: Sophie Institute Press, 2017), 120 [italics mine].

Without attention, we lack the ability to focus in our growth into true knowledge. Without attention, knowledge will not mix with our experience to become wisdom. While not the only key to wisdom, without the ability to attend to people, objects, and experiences around us, we will never move forward in gaining true wisdom.

Learning to Pay Attention [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 2]

fullsizeoutput_ae1If we are to hold onto our identity and calling as pastors in North America, then we must resist the consumer-driven impulses that have infested our culture and even the church. We must become, as Eugene Peterson suggest, more than religious shopkeepers who keep the budget growing, the building improving, and the congregation busy. We must re-learn how to pay attention, not just in general, but primarily by paying attention to God. There are three pastoral acts that Peterson says are “so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else.” What are they? “The acts are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction” (3).

These three pastoral acts are part of “the pastor’s responsibility…to keep the community attentive to God” (2). Peterson goes on to explain the way in which of those acts does this:

prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading scripture is an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment.

Always it is God to whom we are paying, or trying to pay, attention. The contexts, though vary: in prayer the context is myself; in Scripture it is the community of faith in history; in spiritual direction it is the person before me. God is the one to whom we are being primarily attentive in these contexts, but it is never God-in-himself; rather, it is God-in-relationship — with me, with his people, with this person. (3-4)

This attentiveness to God in various contexts is difficult. As Peterson suggests, “great crowds of people have entered into a grand conspiracy to eliminate prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction from our lives” (4). This feels even more true in the thirty-year distance since he wrote this book. Distractions multiply like rabbits with the rhythmic clicking of a laptop touchpad or the frictionless swiping of a smart phone.

In a distracted culture, how countercultural is it for the pastor to be a person who is utterly attentive to God, self, Scripture, and others? Well, it so countercultural that many of us pastors are as distracted as anyone else, simultaneously immersed in our social media profiles and the endless notifications on our devices. When was the last time we knew what it was to truly enter into uninterrupted solitude with God ourselves? When did we last hear the voice of God whisper into our souls while we sat across from someone asking us for a word from God?

I have returned again and again to the cry of the psalmist:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)

Lord, teach us pastors Your ways, and strengthen us to walk in your truth, that we might enter into the undivided heart that leads us to reverent attentiveness before You in our calling and ministry activity.

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

paul_lachine_illustration“Less Religion, More Money: Countries Get Wealthier as They Become More Secular, Study Says” – Newsweek reports on a recent study in Science Advances that tracked economic development in countries over the past 100 years. “Researchers called tolerance of individual expression the “ultimate driver” of economic change.” Of course, Newsweek doesn’t mention what the introduction for the study says: “Although a correlation between economic development and secularization is evident, in that countries that are highly religious tend to be the poorest (7, 8), it is not obvious which change precedes which through time: whether development causes secularization (9, 10), or vice versa (11), or whether both changes are driven, with different time lags, by a factor such as education or advances in technology.”  It does seem to me that if “individual expression” is the “‘ultimate driver’ of economic change,” we should also ask the question of whether economic change is the ultimate evaluative tool of individual and corporate satisfaction in a country. Are the wealthiest countries reflective of the highest level of well-being? While “well-being” is defined further down in the study, it is not clear how this relates to overall economic development and whether the definition of well-being is implicitly drawn from a secular versus religious definition.

 

pregnantOn a slightly different but related note, Philip Jenkins highlights the dipping fertility rates in the United States in his article: “Faith, Fertility, and the Fate of American Religion.” He writes: “The United States just passed a critical statistical landmark, one that I think – I fear – has immense implications for the nation’s religious life. If I am right, and we are dealing with early days, we might seriously be looking at the opening stages of a large scale process of secularization. After being reported and speculated about for decades, that secularization might finally be happening. As I will argue, the term “secularization” over-simplifies the process, but let that stand presently.”

 

Bonhoeffer_Union_Class“Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Harlem Renaissance” – It’s no secret that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my theological heroes. Ever since I first read his book The Cost of Discipleship in high school after giving my life to Christ, I have continued to learn from his writings up to the present time. Here is a thought-provoking presentation by Dr. Reggie Williams on the intersection of the Harlem Renaissance with Bonhoeffer’s studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Williams is also the author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus.

 

VanhoozerSpeaking of theologians in development, every pastor, student pursuing their PhD in theology, or other budding theologians should read Kevin Vanhoozer‘s excellent essay: Letter to an Aspiring Theologian:” How to Speak of God Truly.” Along with giving all of us some excellent reading to pursue, Vanhoozer brings the pursuit of theological thinking into context of thought and context of life.

 

18-mariia-butina.w710.h473.2x“Alleged Russian Spy Was Working to Infiltrate Religious Right As Well As Gun Groups” – With all the ongoing attention given to spying and infiltration between the United States and Russia, one of the more interesting twists this past week came from the case of indicted Russian-spy Maria Butina. Not only was she seeking to influence gun groups, she was also intentionally targeting religious conservative groups as well.

 

michelle-jimenez-211321-unsplash-770x513Last week in “The Weekend Wanderer,” I shared an article on the dramatic increase of multiracial congregations in Protestant Christianity. Not everything about this is positive, however, as at times this can be what some call “racist multiculturalism.” Dr. Lamont Francies explores the potential negative aspects of multi-ethnic churches in his challenging article: “The Mask of Multicultural Churches.” Many of the issues he raises are areas we have struggled with at Eastbrook Church as we continue to navigate what it truly means to move from the appearance of ethnic diversity to deeper Gospel transformation toward the Revelation 7 family of God.

 

Andrew Brunson 2I continue to follow the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed for the past two years in Turkey on allegations tying him to rebel groups there. You can read my latest update here, but also recent articles at Christianity Today (“Turkey Keeps American Pastor Behind Bars—At Least for Three More Months“), CNN (“Trump calls for Turkey to release US pastor accused of spying“), The New York Times (“Turkey Resists Pressure to Release American Pastor From Jail“), and The Washington Post (“Turkish court rejects appeals to release jailed American pastor“).

 

5-medina“4 Ways Men Can Combat Abuse in the Church” – In light of pervasive abuse in our society that also unfortunately touches the church, Gricel Medina says its time for a change. “#ChurchToo and #SilenceIsNotSpiritual have proven that, too often, our instinct is to blame the victim and assume the best of the abuser. Men receive standing ovations in some churches just for responding to allegations; whether they confess or deny misconduct appears almost irrelevant. It might be because Christians love a story of repentance and forgiveness more than the hard work of justice. Or, it might be because we want to believe the best of our leaders.” [Thanks to Sandra Maria Van Opstal for sharing this article.]

 

Laity-Age-of-Distraction-BW-0019-webEver wish you could have two of your favorite thinkers in one room talking about the same topic for an extended period of time. Sadly, I found out I missed on opportunity just like that when Alan Jacobs and Jamie Smith led a retreat together earlier this summer at the Laity Lodge entitled “Attending to God in an Age of Distraction.” Thankfully, I also discovered that audio recordings of the sessions are all available online here.

 

[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.]

Seth Godin on our Driveby Culture

Seth Godin is one of the best voices in contemporary culture on marketing and true connections in our ever-changing world. His blog post today (“Driveby Culture and the Endless Search for Wow”) is worth taking the time to read. He is getting at one of the biggest challenges in our culture:

We’re creating a culture of clickers, stumblers and jaded spectators who decide in the space of a moment whether to watch and participate (or not).

More and more often, we’re seeing products and services coming to market designed to appeal to the momentary attention of the clickers. The Huffington Post has downgraded itself, pushing thoughtful stories down the page in exchange for linkbait and sensational celebrity riffs. This strategy gets page views, but does it generate thought or change?

At the same time, Godin is also suggesting that those who do not succumb to this ‘driveby culture’ will also be the true catalysts for change:

My fear is that the endless search for wow further coarsens our culture at the same time it encourages marketers to get ever more shallow. That’s where the first trend comes in… the artists, idea merchants and marketers that are having the most success are ignoring those that would rubberneck and drive on, focusing instead on cadres of fans that matter. Fans that will give permission, fans that will return tomorrow, fans that will spread the word to others that can also take action.

The interesting question here, though, is not how fast is too fast, but what works? What works to change mindsets, to spread important ideas and to create an audience for work that matters? What’s worth your effort and investment as a marketer or creator?

In the race between ‘who’ and ‘how many’, who usually wins–if action is your goal. Find the right people, those that are willing to listen to what you have to say, and ignore the masses that are just going to race on, unchanged.

What do you think about what Godin is saying here?

Are we creating a ‘driveby culture’ through the web and easy-to-use web-based applications?

How can one create true ‘followers’ and community around your initiatives, art, or passions?