The Weekend Wanderer: 25 April 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.


116902“We May Be ‘Safer at Home.’ But Many At-Risk Kids Aren’t” – Here’s Chris Palusky, President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services: “While most children in the country are dealing with the frustrations of missing their friends, a hiatus in sports seasons, and closed playgrounds, others worry about the very real possibility of homelessness, abuse, or neglect. Most of all, they face the fear and uncertainty of wondering if they are alone. This is a fear no child should ever endure. As we stay home to protect the medically fragile and elderly, we can’t forget this other highly vulnerable group. I won’t parse words: The number of children in foster care will dramatically increase because of the coronavirus pandemic.”


Beaty-GettyImages-1215355325-780-x-508“NYC Medical Ethicist: It’s Time We Learned to Talk about Death” – Katelyn Beaty in Religion & Politics: “Lydia Dugdale, director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia University, is perhaps prepared more than most to face death….In addition to her medical degree from the University of Chicago, she earned a master’s in ethics from Yale Divinity School, and she co-directed the Program for Medicine, Spirituality, and Religion at Yale School of Medicine. Dugdale has also spent more than a decade recovering ancient wisdom from the tradition of Ars Moriendi, which translated from the Latin means ‘the art of dying.’ Beginning in the fourteenth century, as the bubonic plague ravaged Western Europe, the Ars Moriendi was a handbook on how to prepare for death. ‘A central premise [of the handbook] was that in order to die well, you had to live well,’” writes Dugdale in a new book, The Lost Art of Dying. ‘Part of living well meant anticipating and preparing for death within the context of your community over the course of a lifetime.'”


Kidd - tactile religion“Tactile Religion in a Time of Pandemic” – Here is Thomas Kidd, author of the recent acclaimed book, Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis, on the impact of the pandemic on tactile aspects of our religious gatherings, such as hand-shakes, hugs, and passing the peace. “Whenever we are able to go back to some sort of normalcy, I don’t see those contact rituals coming back until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available (sometime in 2021, Lord willing). That will mean that church will remain strange, because tactile religion is such a common feature of Christianity that we don’t notice it until it is gone.”


Kierkegaard Harpers“Difficulties Everywhere” – My first exposure to Søren Kierkegaard that I remember was through my sister-in-law’s brother, who was the same age as me and obsessed with the Danish philosopher when we met during our college years. It was only later that I really came to appreciate Kierkegaard’s unique approach to faith and Christianity, as well as being credited as the founder of existentialist philosophy. Kierkegaard is perhaps best known for advocating the ‘leap of faith,’ a phrase he never formally used, which refers to moving beyond mere rational understanding by engaging the will and trust in the crisis of decision-making and living. Christopher Beha’s review of Clare Carlisle’s Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard is well worth the read as a minor introduction to Kierkegaard.


Austin Kleon prayer“On praying, whether you believe or not” – I have really enjoyed Austin Kleon’s work on creativity. A fun father-son highlight for me with one of my kids this past year was seeing Kleon when he visited Milwaukee and gave a lecture at Boswell Books. In this post, Kleon reflects on prayer from a very interesting perspective. Describing it as “the best proselytizing I ever heard”, he shares Mary Karr‘s advice on prayer: “Why don’t you pray for 30 days and see if your life gets better?” I think you’ll enjoy Kleon’s thoughts here, regardless of whether you believe or not.


Ideas_Art-Crisis-Productivity-200020298-001-“Productivity Is Not Working” – Our culture is frenetically busy and often assesses value based in terms of what we can produce. The nature of our faith reminds us that we are more than what we do, but we still wrestle with it. In WIRED magazine, Laurie Penny offers a refreshingly honest depiction of how the pandemic heightened her struggle with the need to produce. “There has always been something a little obscene about the cult of the hustle, the treadmill of alienated insecurity that tells you that if you stop running for even an instant, you’ll be flung flat on your face—but the treadmill is familiar. The treadmill feels normal. And right now, when the world economy has jerked to a sudden, shuddering stop, most of us are desperate to feel normal.”


AP-immigration-trump-cf-170126_12x5_1600“World Relief on the White House’s Proposed Immigration Restrictions: ‘This Is Unacceptable'” – Some of you may know that, after a short stint working at a bookstore, I began my working career with World Relief, working with the Africa Regional Director for several years. I am aware that a lot of attention has been given to the topic of immigration in recent years with vastly different opinions on the topic. However, I do agree with President of World Relief, Scott Arbeiter, who writes: “World Relief is supportive of the administration’s efforts to manage and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, but urges the government to reconsider measures that contradict both public health advice and the principles on which the U.S. is formed.”


Gerhard Richter: <i>Birkenau</i> (installation view), 2014“The Master of Unknowing” – Two years ago, when Kelly and I traveled to London in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, we meandered our way through many of the museums in the city. While visiting the Tate Modern, we stumbled into a room displaying the work of Gerhard Richter. I wasn’t familiar with Richter’s work, but it was stunning in person. I enjoyed reading more about Richter and his work in this feature by Susan Tallman in The New York Review of Books. One quotation from Richter just captured me: “It is my wish, to create a well-built, beautiful, constructive painting. And there are many moments when I plan to do just that, and then I realize that it looks terrible. Then I start to destroy it, piece by piece, and I arrive at something that I didn’t want but that looks pretty good.”


 

Music: Ludovico Einaudi, “Night,” from Elements

[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 Weekend Wanderer: 17 August 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.

Marty Sampson“What could have helped Marty Sampson’s faith” – Some of you may have heard that Marty Sampson, well-known as a worship leader and song writer with Hillsong United and Hillsong Young & Free, announced that he is departing from his Christian faith. After pointing to the string of failures in ministry leaders and sharing some of his own doubts, Sampson says multiple times, “No one talks about it.” Aside from the fact that a lot of people talk about it, this raises multiple issues about the theological vacuity of much of evangelicalism, the inability of many churches to give space and guidance to people in moments of questioning or doubt, and also the lack of long-term growth mindset that gives space for ups and downs in much hyped-up contemporary worship-experience churches. Australian missiologist Michael Frost offers some meaningful insights in this article, with reference to the life of Thomas Merton: “In our information-drunk, effectiveness-addicted culture, finding genuine truth happens through the life-tested skill of gathering what is needed to sustain faith without killing faith in the gathering.”

I’d also encourage you to read Russell Moore’s article, “When Someone You Admire Abandons the Faith.He writes, “The Internet is atwitter with opinions on all of that, from atheists, from Christians, and everyone in between. As sad as I am about all of this, I can’t help but think about lots of people I’ve known, many of whom would never make headlines, who just, sometimes very quietly, walked away from the faith. ” Along with that, David French’s article on this issue, “Another Pop-Culture Christian Loses His Faith,” in National Review is painfully relevant: “I’m noticing a pattern in many of the people who fall away (again, only Sampson knows his heart): They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the adversity of adherence to increasingly countercultural doctrine grows too great.”

 

J D Vance Catholic“J.D. Vance Becomes Catholic” – At another point in the faith journey continuum, there is this news. J. D. Vance wrote the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis as a reflection on social challenges in our country, the struggle to find stability in life, and what it means to become a good person in spite of a difficult family upbringing. The book became a New York Times bestseller and is being made into a movie directed by Ron Howard. Rod Dreher reported this past week that Vance has converted to Roman Catholicism. Vance comments: “one of the things I love about Catholicism is that it’s very old. I take a longer view….The hope of the Christian faith is not rooted in any short-term conquest of the material world, but in the fact that it is true, and over the long term, with various fits and starts, things will work out.”

 

91727“Preaching Against Racism Is Not a Distraction from the Gospel” – Here is Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College: “In light of recent gun violence, some of which appears to be racially motivated, the church’s response to racial controversy is once again in the spotlight. We have to ask ourselves: What will our testimony be? What do we do when violent events occur with such startling frequency that we don’t know what to do or what to say? How do know when it is wise to be silent or when it is necessary to speak? Pastors, in particular, have to ask: How do we use the pulpit to preach against racism?”

 

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“Does Your Preaching Touch Politics?” – And if that raised some questions about how the pulpit should engage with current issues, here is a 2008 article featuring Mark Dever, Adam Hamilton, Joel Hunter, and Efrem Smith on how they preach on political issues. While some aspects of it show their age, as we continue in a divisive climate in our society, advice from these seasoned pastors is worth the read.

 

NewYorker_Mosquito_Vertical_v5“How Mosquitoes Changed Everything” – We all dislike mosquitoes, but now there is an assembly of their great impact on human civilization. “Winegard finds first-person descriptions of death and suffering caused by mosquito-borne diseases in many eras. Florence Nightingale called the Pontine Marshes, near Rome, ‘the Valley of the Shadow of Death’; a German missionary visiting the southern United States wrote that it was ‘in the spring a paradise, in the summer a hell, and in the autumn a hospital’; a Mayan survivor of post-Columbus epidemics remembered, ‘Great was the stench of death. . . . All of us were thus. We were born to die!’ And yet human beings lived with, and died from, mosquito-borne diseases for thousands of years without understanding how they were reaching us. Not until the end of the nineteenth century was it scientifically established that mosquitoes transmitted malaria. Before then, the miasma theory, holding that fevers travelled independently, through fetid environments, held sway, reflected in the very word ‘malaria’: we thought we were the victims of ‘bad air.’ That these tiny biting insects might be affecting our lives so profoundly was a leap beyond imagining.”

 

_108333557_overallwinner_matbeetson_watermarked“In pictures: Australian Geographic’s photo prize winners” – The world is a beautiful place, and there are many parts to it that we will never be able to see in person. Thankfully, there are skilled photographers who can share unique views of God’s good creation with great skill and from fascinating angles.

 

bach-manuscript-well-tempered-clavier-prelude-no-1-1414409439-1-600x452“The Prelude” – Here’s Austin Kleon combatting violence with Bach. “I thought today that I was going to sit down and blog about violence, about how hard I am trying to cleanse my house of violence, how violence is not just guns and bombs and knives and fists, but how many kinds of touch can be violent, how words can be violent, how you can stab your salad violently….The only thing I feel like I can do is make my home a haven, a place where we celebrate things of beauty and rationality and love and peace. Bach’s music is one of those things.”

 

Music: J. S. Bach, “The Goldberg Variations,” performed by Glenn Gould (1955).

[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 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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 April 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly 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.

glorious humility jesus“Glorious Humility” – About three weeks ago, I read Wesley Hill’s beautiful reflection on the humble glory of Jesus the Messiah. Weaving in some thoughts on Jane Williams’ The Merciful Humility of God, he writes at one point: “We look to Jesus—above all, to his self-giving in life and death—and find our notions of ‘glory’ and ‘power’ transformed completely.” Hill’s essay is worth reading, particularly as we celebrate the Paschal Triduum.

 

TOPSHOT-FRANCE-FIRE-NOTRE DAMENotre Dame Cathedral Fire – The historic Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire this week and billions of Euros have already been pledged to rebuild it.  There have been photo tributes to the beauty of Notre Dame, as well as photo summaries of the damage wreaked upon it by the fire. Some journalists have addressed why it is so significant to Roman Catholics worldwide, and to France as a country. Matthew Milliner offers a marvelous reflection on this in light of Good Friday in his essay, “At Notre Dame, Good Friday Came Early.”

 

Matthias Grünewald Crucifixion“Crucifixion is horribly violent – we must confront its reality head on” – “One reason people before modern times wanted their crucifixions gory and their churches full of images of death was that mortality and its horrors haunted their real lives. Death was everywhere, from the sick beds of people struck down by all the diseases medicine had yet to conquer to public executions whose victims were left to rot on gibbets or, as Bruegel paints them, on open platforms at the tops of wooden poles. In other words, when artists 500 years ago depicted the crucifixion they were not showing a totally unfamiliar sight. People were still executed and left to rot in public, just as they had been in ancient Roman times. Death was ever present.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 11.39.09 AM“Hardship-Birthed Hymns: What Can We Learn From the Negro Spiritual?” – At The Witness, DeAron Washington reflects on how hymnody shapes us and the power of the Negro Spirituals: “We must pay attention to the songs we sing. If we are not careful, we will sing lies that exalt ourselves. We will sing about an idol and disguise it as Jesus. If we are not careful, we will sing songs that call people to trust in themselves. The spirituals are oozing with pungent biblical truths. They are not perfect, but we can learn much from their content. Beloved, read and sing them. Drink from the well of spirituals that is overflowing with sapid theology.”

 

18sneakers1-print-jumbo-v2“Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone” – And now for something completely different, mainly the firestorm of interest in the preachers’ sneakers, and how much they paid for them. “Carl Lentz, the pastor who baptized Justin Bieber in a professional basketball player’s bath tub, appeared wearing a pair of Nike Air Fear of God sneakers that were selling online for about $500. Then John Gray, a pastor from South Carolina, was shown in blood-red Air Yeezy 2s, the sneakers made in collaboration with Kanye West, that were going for upward of $5,000. And in another photo, Chad Veach, who preaches in Los Angeles, had a $1,900 Gucci bag and wore $795 pants….the photos have led to soul-searching over what some see as an undercurrent of materialism that has been getting uncomfortable attention. The exchange has grown beyond simply criticizing the pastors, as many young Christians were nudged to wrestle over how they present themselves to the world and how it squares with the faith’s teachings.”

 

heart cord“How Disconnection Boosts Your Creativity” – From Austin Kleon: “Creativity is about connection—you must be connected to others in order to be inspired and share your own work—but it is also about disconnection. You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others. You must play a little hide-and-seek in order to produce something worth being found.”

 

idea_sized-codex1-add-ms-43725“The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex” – “A codex is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book roll, volumen); codices have a built-in cover for protection; and pages that can be numbered for reference, from which arose a cornucopia of tables of contents and indices. The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. The early Christians, however, took to the codex with singular enthusiasm.”

 

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded,” King’s College Cambridge (2011).

[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.]