“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.
“Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” – Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic: “What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower ‘with its top in the heavens’ to ‘make a name’ for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:
Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.
The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension. The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.”
“Trying to raise successful kids? Experts say you shouldn’t forget about faith” – Kelsey Dallas in Deseret News: “In America today, being a parent is much like being a talent manager. Moms and dads shepherd their aspiring sports star or Rhodes scholar from school to practice to private lesson, all the while looking for additional opportunities to maximize their child’s potential. ‘Parents are emphasizing personal achievement and skill-building for their kids. … They’re looking for ways to build-out a resume, whether for college or future career success,’ said Daniel Cox, director and founder of the Survey Center on American Life. As part of this push, moms and dads often deemphasize activities that don’t lead to individual acclaim, like worship services or family dinners. When you’re heavily invested in building measurable skills, you quickly run out of time to do anything else, Cox said. ‘It’s not OK anymore for kids just to hang out and goof around. They have to be learning something,’ he said. In addition to creating a lot of stressed-out kids, modern parents’ fixation on achievement is reshaping families’ relationships with organized religion. Young adults today heard less about faith from their parents during childhood than previous generations and spent less time in church, according to a new report from Cox’s survey center. These findings help explain why members of Generation Z (34%) are more likely than millennials (29%) and members of Generation X (25%) to be religiously unaffiliated. Research has long shown that the quantity and quality of childhood religious experiences predict how religious someone is as an adult, Cox said.”
“High-tech start for restoration of Christianity’s holiest site” – Rod Sweet in Global Construction Review: “A major restoration project at Christianity’s most hallowed place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, has begun with a high-tech start. By collecting more than 50,000 detailed images, built-environment researchers from the Politecnico di Milano have created detailed 3D models of the church’s floor ahead of the project, begun on 14 March, to conserve and restore it, conduct archeological research and install plumbing and other services at the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified and resurrected. The project, jointly funded by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, will also evaluate the stability of the Holy Edicule, a shrine built to enclose what is considered to be Jesus’ empty tomb. Led by architect and archeologist Osama Hamdan of Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, the team collected the data between September and October 2021 using a bespoke system.”
“Divine Intimations: Contemporary Floral Design for Sacred Spaces” – Margaret Gardner in Image: “I sit in the pew waiting for the service to begin. Glancing from the cross to the pulpit, I am struck by the stunning tropical flower arrangement—a contemporary design of cut bamboo, protea, aspidistra, and heliconia, rising from a circle of thorny vines. Not your typical bouquet of roses or lilies, it expresses a sensibility beyond its beauty. The open mouths of the cut bamboo call out; the spiky heliconia, both erect and hanging, speak to spent blood and powerful straining upward. It’s Sunday, January 16, 2022, and the notes in the bulletin say that the flowers are given ‘to the glory of God in recognition of the January 15 birthday and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ The symbolism of the arrangement is tangible. As a floral artist and longtime arranger for churches, I wonder about the vision behind this evocative design, and how other congregants connect with it as art. Located in a grand mid-century-modern building, my congregation is National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. As a member of the Reformed tradition, I am aware of our iconoclastic heritage and emphasis on plain style within the worship space. My previous church home, the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, was an early nineteenth-century Protestant box of bare-bone architecture. Clear glass, no paintings on the walls, no cross in the front, a few historic tombstones embedded in the floor, it honored our forebears’ distaste for distractions from the word of God. Yet, as Reformed scholar William Dyrness has pointed out (in his works Visual Faith and Reformed Theology and Visual Culture), even John Calvin, who forbade the use of images in worship, waxed eloquent on the beauty of the natural world and the presence of God in the theater of creation. Arranged flowers seem an ideal way to bring that ‘third book’ of God into the sacred space.”
“Despite Drop in Deportations, Turkey Still Troubles Christians” – Jayson Casper in Christianity Today: “Last year, Protestant Christians in Turkey suffered no physical attacks. There were no reported violations of their freedom to share their faith. And there was a sharp reduction in foreign missionaries denied residency. But not all is well, according to the 2021 Human Rights Violation Report, issued March 18 by the nationally registered Association of Protestant Churches (APC). Hate speech against Christians is increasing, fueled by social media. Legal recognition as a church is limited to historic places of worship. And missionaries are still needed, because it remains exceedingly difficult to formalize the training of Turkish pastors. ‘Generally there is freedom of religion in our country,’ stated the report. ‘But despite legal protections, there were still some basic problems.'”
“The rise and fall of Hillsong’s ‘hypepriests'” – Leah Payne at NBC News: “Is the era of the ‘hypepriest’ over? The ouster of pastor-turned-celebrity Carl Lentz of Hillsong NYC, the controversy and legal troubles swirling around Hillsong founder Brian Houston and a recent documentary series chronicling alleged abuse in the famously famous Hillsong Church, might certainly lead some to believe that the American public has tired of expensively dressed pastors with famous friends and large social media followings. But while recent headlines have led to a precipitous decline in Hillsong USA churches, the celebrity pastor’s place in the United States is not under serious threat. At least not yet. America’s affinity for dramatic preaching, sex appeal and celebrity predates the American republic. George Whitefield was an actor in England before he crossed the pond and used his gifts for self-promotion and status as a ‘most beautiful youth’ to win young admirers and become the celebrity preacher of the colonies in the 1700s. Presbyterian Charles Finney’s worship spaces of the 1800s resembled theaters as much as they did sanctuaries, and he popularized ‘new measures’ of engagement, like emotive preaching and stirring music, which entertained and revived the spiritual feelings of the faithful. The 20th century brought enterprising American preachers new media outlets for spreading the good news. The attractiveness of the preachers — their body, voice and demeanor — often went hand in hand with their success. Hellfire and brimstone preacher Billy Sunday understood this well and had suits tailored to displayhis athletic physique. Women and men alike enjoyed his ultra-masculine preaching performances.”
Music: Sufjan Stevens, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” from Silver and Gold