The Weekend Wanderer: 25 June 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.


abortion ruling“Dobbs decision and the fall of Roe is met with rejoicing, dismay from faith groups” – Bob Smietana in Religion News Service: “After nearly 50 years, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, is no more. In a 6-3 decision Friday (June 24), the Supreme Court overruled both Roe, decided in 1973, and a 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling came in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenged a Mississippi law that imposed strict restrictions on abortion. ‘Abortion presents a profound moral question,’ the Supreme Court ruled. ‘The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.’ The Dobbs decision has been anticipated since May, when an early draft of the ruling was leaked to Politico. Friday’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion was met with both rejoicing and dismay by faith leaders, who have been loud voices on either side of the abortion debate since before Roe.”


Dates“Charlie Dates to Succeed Retiring Chicago Megachurch Pastor; Will Lead 2 Churches” – Sarah Einselen at The Roys Report: “Nationally known pastor Rev. Charlie Dates is set to succeed Rev. James Meeks next year as senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church—one of Chicago’s biggest megachurches. Meeks, a former state senator, founded Salem Baptist 38 years ago. He announced Sunday he’ll preach his last sermon to the 10,000-member church on January 8, 2023. The 65-year-old has been a pastor for 42 years and said he feels like he’s “got 42 more years in me.’ But Meeks added he’s learned from King David’s life ‘when it’s time to come off the battlefield.’ ‘It’s time for Salem to move forward,” he told his congregants. ‘It’s time for Salem to have younger leadership . . . We need new ideas. We need new opportunities. And God has blessed us with our own son’ as the church’s next pastor. Dates, 41, is senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church—a position he’ll keep, despite assuming the pastorate at Salem. In a video message to Progressive, Dates said the two churches will stay distinct, though he’ll pastor them both.”


Leithart progress“Radical Hope: When worlds die, we need something sturdier than the myth of technological and social progress” – Peter Leithart in Plough: “The year 2020 came down like the wolf on the fold. Then came 2021. And 2022. It feels like ‘the end of the world as we know it.’ It feels like an apocalypse. It may be one. Worlds do die. Historians and junior high students debate the precise end of the Roman Empire and whether it should be described as a ‘fall,’ but no one doubts the Roman Empire now lies peacefully in the graveyard of history. Remnants of medieval life persist in our world, more than we realize, but we no longer live medievally. Worlds can disappear speedily. Less than a month after the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, France’s National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism and the mandatory tithe, shattering the foundations of medieval order and slashing the alliance between the French monarchy and the Catholic Church that began with Clovis’s baptism in the early sixth century. Within two years, the royal family fled the palace and early in 1793 Louis XVI was executed. More recently: the world that existed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine is gone, a memory of the age of American unipolarity and what was in retrospect a shockingly fragile European peace. The change was rapid and distinct: the week after the invasion, one felt a nostalgia for a stable geopolitical order that simply didn’t exist anymore. Once it was destabilized, its former stability in retrospect looks illusory.”


harmful social media“How Harmful Is Social Media?” – Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New Yorker: “In April, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic in which he sought to explain, as the piece’s title had it, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Anyone familiar with Haidt’s work in the past half decade could have anticipated his answer: social media. Although Haidt concedes that political polarization and factional enmity long predate the rise of the platforms, and that there are plenty of other factors involved, he believes that the tools of virality—Facebook’s Like and Share buttons, Twitter’s Retweet function—have algorithmically and irrevocably corroded public life. He has determined that a great historical discontinuity can be dated with some precision to the period between 2010 and 2014, when these features became widely available on phones….These are, needless to say, common concerns. Chief among Haidt’s worries is that use of social media has left us particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias, or the propensity to fix upon evidence that shores up our prior beliefs. Haidt acknowledges that the extant literature on social media’s effects is large and complex, and that there is something in it for everyone. On January 6, 2021, he was on the phone with Chris Bail, a sociologist at Duke and the author of the recent book ‘Breaking the Social Media Prism,’ when Bail urged him to turn on the television. Two weeks later, Haidt wrote to Bail, expressing his frustration at the way Facebook officials consistently cited the same handful of studies in their defense. He suggested that the two of them collaborate on a comprehensive literature review that they could share, as a Google Doc, with other researchers. (Haidt had experimented with such a model before.) Bail was cautious. He told me, ‘What I said to him was, “Well, you know, I’m not sure the research is going to bear out your version of the story,” and he said, “Why don’t we see?”‘”


The Convivial Society“Trading Solitude for Loneliness” – L. M. Sacasas in The Convivial Society: “We live in a world of pervasive connection but also rising rates of loneliness. How do we make sense of this state of affairs? I suspect there are a few answers that may come readily to mind, particularly if you already take a dim view of social media. But I’m intrigued by a certain possibility that had not occurred to me until recently. As I’ve thought about loneliness and digital networks over the years, I’ve done so in conversation with the work of the 20th century political theorist, Hannah Arendt. For one thing, I think Arendt was right about the political stakes. Loneliness and isolation, she argued, were the seedbeds of totalitarianism….But Arendt also helps us distinguish among a variety of experiences that may bear a surface resemblance. Loneliness, for example, is to be distinguished from solitude, and solitude is essential to thought.”


webRNS-Gallup-God1“Poll: Americans’ belief in God is dropping” – Yonat Shimron at Religion News Service: “Belief in God has been one of the strongest, most reliable markers of the persistence of American religiosity over the years. But a new Gallup Poll suggests that may be changing. In the latest Gallup Poll, belief in God dipped to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017, and the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944. Even at 81%, Americans’ belief in God remains robust, at least in comparison with Europe, where only 26% said they believed in the God of the Bible, and an additional 36% believe in a higher power, according to a 2018 Pew poll. Throughout the post-World War II era, an overwhelming 98% of U.S. adults said they believed in God. That began to fall in 2011, when 92% of Americans said they believed in God and, in 2013, went down again to 87%. The latest decline may be part of the larger growth in the number of Americans who are unaffiliated or say they have no religion in particular. About 29% of Americans are religious ‘nones’ — people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. ‘Belief is typically the last thing to go,’ said Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. ‘They stop attending, they stop affiliating and then they stop believing.'”


Music: Sandra McCracken (ft. All Sons & Daughters), “Trinity Song” (Live), originally from God’s Highway

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 June 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.


Spiritual-Needs-Are-Still-Needs-980x551“Spiritual Needs Are Still Needs: Compassion, trauma, and the heart of pastoral care.” – Samuel Needham in Comment: “The last time I saw my grandfather alive was in a dimly lit hospice room outside Morrow, Ohio, in February 2016. His cancer had spread further and faster than medicine could manage. Nurses made every effort to keep him comfortable, but he was in enough pain that we’d stopped praying for breakthrough healing and started praying for peace. We understood he was close to the end. My mother and I came into the room and saw him: gaunt, hairless, exhausted. Grandpa had been a farmer and engineer and soldier, a towering figure of strength and joy throughout my life, an invincible man. Seeing him on that bed, I mourned the death of the man I knew and loved while he was yet alive. As with any visit with the dying, in that room God’s grace was greater than sickness. Grandpa was lucid enough to recognize me. When his pained face broke into a remembering smile, I cried. When he asked for a good word, we prayed. When he wanted only a soothing voice, we told stories. And when he needed to rest, we left.”


Nigeria_christians“Nigeria’s Christians are relentlessly under attack” – Kunwar Khuldune Shahid in The Spectator: “Dozens of Christian worshippers, including several children, were killed in a gun raid on a church in Nigeria’s Owo town on Sunday. Initial estimates place the death toll at around least 70 parishioners but that number is set to rise, given that the church in question, St Francis Catholic Church, has one of the largest parishes in the southwestern state of Ondo. Nigeria is experiencing an epidemic of terror attacks. Over the last six months, gunmen have killed 48 in the northwestern Zamfara state, massacred over 100 villagers in Plateau state, and raided trains and buses leaving dozens dead and hundreds missing. At least 3,000 Nigerians were killed and 1,500 abducted in the first quarter of 2022 alone, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker. Most of the recent attacks are carried out by ‘bandits’: local militants that are currently spearheading Nigeria’s abduction spree. However, just as local kidnapping gangs have borrowed Boko Haram’s modus operandi to abduct schoolchildren, various militants are increasingly following the jihadist rulebook to spread terror in Nigeria.”


Lawrence+Cherono+at+Kiptagat+Training+Center,+Kiptagat,+Kenya-1_web“How Christian Faith Propels Elite Kenyan Runners To Global Success” – Dr. Robert Carle in Religion Unplugged: “Since 1988, 20 out of the 25 first-place men in the Boston Marathon have been Kenyan. Of the top 25 male record holders for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 18 are Kenyan. Eight of the 10 fastest marathon runners in history are Kenyan, and the two outliers are Ethiopian. The fastest marathon time ever recorded was Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The fastest women’s marathon ever recorded was Kenyan Bridgid Kosgei’s in the Chicago Marathon. Three-quarters of these Kenyan champions come from the Kalenjin ethnic minority, which has only 6 million people, or 0.06% of the global population. The Kalenjin live in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Iten, a town that sits on the edge of the valley at 7,000 feet above sea level, is nicknamed the City of Champions. ‘If you look at it statistically, it sort of becomes laughable,’ said David Epstein, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. ‘There are 17 American men in history who have run under 2:10 in marathons. There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in October of 2011.’ American journalists have been fascinated by Kalenjin runners for decades, and their explanations for Kenyan dominance in running have included training, culture, biology and diet. However, one factor remains little explored or understood in media coverage: The spiritual lives of the Kalenjin runners have received scant attention.”


32telushkinaroundthecircle“The Apocalyptic Visions of Wassily Kandinsky” – Shira Telushkin in Plough: “There is a moment, as one rounds the final span of the four-level exhibit of Wassily Kandinsky’s works at the Guggenheim in New York, on display through September 2022, where the art gives way to an almost transgressive sense of intimacy. The exhibit, Around the Circle, is hung in reverse chronological order: We begin at the end, with the artist’s final years in 1940s Paris. The show then winds upward through two world wars, the Russian Revolution, his drawings, sketches, the writings on theory and art. As we move back through time, the works start to come into focus, the abstract lines and circles turning back into legible shapes and forms. A house suddenly comes into view as one finally reaches the beginning of the 1910s, his earliest period. A few paces later there are men and women unambiguously conversing over a picnic. Perpendicular to this painting is a train, pumping a recognizable pillar of steam through clearly discernible mountains. We have wound back to Kandinsky’s first forays into painting, the start of his experiments with color and texture and light. After nearly seventy works of nuanced spiritual abstraction, these early works hold an almost childlike wonder, so straightforward and requiring no translation. They are still impressionistic, almost dreamlike in their blurred silhouettes and textured brushstrokes of primary colors, but they feel personal, stripped of those outer layers of meaning and symbolism we have come to expect. It is as if we’ve intruded on the artist at home, unvarnished, playing around with friends and family, not suited up for serious theological debate.”


Poetry pulls the splinter outPoetry Pulls the Splinter Out” – Mike Bonikowsky in Ekstasis Magazine: “Before the poem, there is the pain. Sometimes it’s a good pain: a stab of delight, an ache of longing, a sudden blaze of joy. More often it is something else: the dull clanging alarms of anxiety, the hot tearing of rage, the long slow labour of the Maranatha agony. The pain, whatever it is, grows until it can no longer be ignored, then continues to work its way deeper until it can no longer be borne. And then something must be done about it. Somehow or other, the splinter has to come out. When I was young and knew no better, I would cut patterns on my skin and try to bleed it out. These days I’m more likely to yell at the kids or punch a hole in the drywall or lie under the covers scrolling down on my phone for hour after hour. But there is better, wiser, healthier catharsis, and its name is poetry.”


CSJ_Press_Conference_7_June_2022_(3)“Islamabad: Religious minorities demand more space in the census” – Shafique Khokhar in PIME Asia News: “Pakistan’s civil society is calling for a review of the methods used by the government to conduct censuses. During a conference organised yesterday by the Centre for Social Justice, speakers urged the Bureau of Statistics to rethink the questions in the questionnaires and count nomadic populations and other minorities (Baha’i, Kalash, Jews, Buddhists) separately, instead of grouping them all under the heading ‘others’: in this way it would be possible to account for the country’s ethnic and religious diversity and plan targeted policies. During the event, a document entitled ‘Demographic Confusion of Minorities’ was presented, which examines data from the 1981, 1998 and 2017 censuses: the demographic picture appears inconsistent and illogical, giving rise to doubts about the credibility of the statistics compiled by the government. For example, the percentage of people belonging to religious minorities, 3.32% of the total population in 1981, rose to 3.73% in 1998 and then fell to 3.52% in 2017. In absolute numbers, this amounts to 7.32 million people, including Christians (2.64 million), Hindus (3.6 million), Ahmadis (0.19 million), people of the Scheduled Castes (0.85 million) and people of ‘other’ religions (0.04 million).  Part of the inconsistencies can be explained by looking at the categories used by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra): while citizens can choose to identify themselves in one of the 18 available categories, census data limits the choice to six or at most nine categories, excluding some minorities.”


social media“Social Media That Doesn’t Shrink Your Soul?” – Jon Jordan in The Living Church: “There are lots of reasons to be wary of social media, and there is no shortage of opinions currently being published about a certain billionaire’s looming purchase of a certain network. While I have plenty of opinions on that matter, I will refrain from sharing any of them here because, at the end of the day, this purchase matters very little. There is a far graver issue at hand when it comes to our relationship with social media. Virtues are moral muscles that, like our physical muscles, are either strengthened or given to atrophy every single day. Thousands of small, daily thoughts, actions, and reactions become engrained habits, which mold us into who we are becoming. When we exercise temperance — our moral ‘no’ muscle — on small things like passing on dessert, skipping meat on Fridays, or leaving the phone turned off for an hour around dinnertime, we are actually strengthening our ability to say ‘no’ when it matters most. When we exercise courage — our moral ‘yes’ muscle — by saying ‘yes’ to a neighbor in need despite the inconvenience, or when we read stories of those who say ‘yes’ even when it is unpopular or dangerous to do so, we are actually strengthening our own ability to say ‘yes’ when it matters most. This is how moral formation works, and we ignore the virtues to our collective peril.”


Music: Donny McClurkin with Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise,” from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 April 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.


128862“As for Me and My Household, We’ll Resist Mammon” – Andy Crouch in Christianity Today: “Several friends helped my wife, Catherine, and me move into our first apartment, down and then up two steep and narrow sets of stairs. Three items seemed almost impossible to get up those stairs: a fragile old chest of drawers my wife had inherited from her grandmother, a queen-sized box spring, and an unfathomably heavy sofa bed. We christened them the Ordeal of Delicacy, the Ordeal of Dimension, and the Ordeal of Strength. Twenty years later we remember those ordeals; the friends who cheerfully endured them with us, sweating and swearing on a hot June day; and the sense of relief when we managed to overcome each one. A few years later, it was time to move again when my wife took the job she has held ever since. This time, the college that hired her covered the moving costs. The professional movers went through the same ordeals on our behalf that our friends had gone through a few years before—sweating and likely swearing as well—but I certainly cannot remember their names, or even a hint of their faces. They were paid, fairly, to do a fair job. And once the job was done, they were gone. This is the power of money: It allows us to get things done, often by means of other people, without the entanglements of friendship.”


The Convivial Society“On Twitter, Briefly” – L. M. Sacasas at The Convivial Society: “Maybe you’ve been thinking to yourself, ‘I wonder what Sacasas makes of all this Twitter business?’ In truth, I don’t actually believe any of you have been thinking any such thing. Nonetheless, I have been thinking a bit about Twitter, if for no other reason than to reconsider my own use of the platform. So here you go, in no particular order, a few thoughts … some mine, some not.

1. Twitter is the only social media platform I use, and I’ve long characterized my use of it as a devil’s bargain. The platform has benefitted me in certain ways, but this has come at a cost. The benefits and costs are what you would expect. I’ve made good connections through the platform, my writing has garnered a bit more of an audience, and I’ve encountered the good work of others. On the other hand, I’ve given it too much of my time and energy, and I’m pretty sure my thinking and my writing have, on the whole, suffered as a consequence. Assuming I’m right in my self-assessment, that’s too high of a price, is it not? The problem, as I’ve suggested before, is that the machine requires too much virtue to operate, and, frankly, I’m not always up to the task.

2. And yet, to return to the other side of the ledger, the human connections are real and meaningful. A few months back, someone I’ve known on Twitter for years lost their father. I’ve know this person only as an avatar and occasional strings of text, but I was genuinely saddened by his loss and felt it keenly. Chiefly, I regretted that I could not offer more than my own string of text in support. And, so it is with more than a few others. Over time, occasional interactions and mutual awareness amounts to something. My sense of these Twitter-based friendships, if I may call them that, is not that they are inauthentic or inferior, but only that they are incomplete….”


repair-and-remain1-980x551“Repair and Remain: How to do the slow, hard, good work of staying put.” – Kurt Armstrong in Comment: “I’ve never had anything like a real career, only a long and varied string of jobs. I grew up working on the family farm, and then had jobs as a roofer, a groundskeeper at a rural hospital, and a mineral-bagging-machine operator in an unheated feed mill one frigid Manitoba winter. I spent a year as a photographer and store manager in a tiny portrait studio just as digital cameras were beginning to consign film cameras to obsolescence. I worked for three years as a barista at one of Vancouver’s top-rated independent coffee shops. I’ve been a magazine editor, a sessional lecturer in a couple of liberal arts schools, a glazier’s assistant, a mason tender, a plumber’s labourer, and a daycare worker. One winter I lived in a simple little cabin—no plumbing, no electricity—and I made homemade soap over a wood stove and sold it at craft sales. In my twenties and thirties I spent many of my summers planting close to half a million trees on countless logging clear-cuts between Hyder, Alaska, and Dryden, Ontario. And for twelve years now I’ve had a hybrid operation, juggling a one-man autodidact home-repair business and part-time lay ministry at a little Anglican church in Winnipeg. My basic MO in both roles is simple: repair and remain.”


Restoration of the Church

“The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 – The Path to Renewal” – Tim Keller at Life in the Gospel: “What is wrong with the American Church and how can its life and ministry be renewed? To answer this, I wrote two articles looking at the decline of the church, limiting myself to Protestantism, though recognizing that the Catholic church is facing its own waning. In this article and the next, however, I would like to map out a possible way forward to renewal and new growth.  Basically—we need a revival that only God can provide, and a new movement to capture the fruit of that revival for the renewal of the American church. Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith. In Europe and North America there were significant revivals in the 1740s, the 1830s, and the late 1850s. The 1857 revival began in lower New York City and is often called ‘the Fulton Street Revival.’ By one account, during a period of about 2 years, about 10% of the population of Manhattan was converted and joined the city’s churches. In the Welsh revival of 1904, it is estimated that 150,000 people, or 7.5% of the nation’s population, were converted and came into Protestant churches. [1] Looking back further for revivals, historians point to the monastic movements that transformed Europe, and the Lutheran Pietist and Moravian movements. More recently there have also been major revivals in East Africa, Korea, as well as many more localized revivals.”


afghan-town-IMB-1024x683“USCIRF report: Religious liberty falters in Afghanistan” – Tom Strode in Baptist Press News: “The Taliban’s return to control of Afghanistan headlined the examples of religious freedom deteriorating in multiple countries last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its annual report issued April 25. For the first time in more than two decades, USCIRF – a bipartisan panel established by federal law in 1998 – recommended Afghanistan’s inclusion on a list of the world’s most egregious violators of the right to believe and practice faith. The commission last urged the U.S. State Department to designate Afghanistan as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) in 2001, shortly before the Taliban was removed from power. Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan ‘went into an immediate and disastrous downward spiral following the full U.S. withdrawal in August 2021 and the immediate takeover by the Taliban,’ USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said during an online news conference. ‘[T]he Taliban’s return to power has had an immediate, chilling impact on religious freedom and on the broader human rights environment.’ Afghanistan is one of 15 countries USCIRF recommended to the State Department in its 2022 report for CPC designation. CPCs are governments the State Department determines are guilty of ‘systematic, ongoing [and] egregious violations’ of religious liberty. USCIRF also called for the State Department to place 12 countries on its Special Watch List (SWL), a category reserved for governments that meet two of the three criteria of the ‘systematic, ongoing [and] egregious’ standard.”


main-v01-18-1536x1024“Supreme Court tackles case about praying football coach” – Jessica Gresko at Religion News Service: “A coach who crosses himself before a game. A teacher who reads the Bible aloud before the bell rings. A coach who hosts an after-school Christian youth group in his home. Supreme Court justices discussed all those hypothetical scenarios Monday while hearing arguments about a former public high school football coach from Washington state who wanted to kneel and pray on the field after games. The justices were wrestling with how to balance the religious and free speech rights of teachers and coaches with the rights of students not to feel pressured into participating in religious practices. The court’s conservative majority seemed sympathetic to the coach while its three liberals seemed more skeptical. The outcome could strengthen the acceptability of some religious practices in the public school setting.”


Music: Sons of Korah, “Psalm 131,” from Resurrection.

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 January 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 the articles


173811“Mosaic made by freed slave to thank God found in Turkey’s Hatay” – Anadolu Agency in Daily Sabah: “A mosaic made by a freed slave to thank God for his emancipation was unearthed during the excavation at the 6th-century Church of the Holy Apostles in southern Hatay province. The Church of the Holy Apostles was found in an orange grove in the Arpaçiftlik neighborhood by Mehmet Keleş in 2007. After Keleş recognized historical artifacts while planting orange saplings in the grove, archaeological digs were launched in the area. With the disclosure of mosaics, animal figures, stone graves and bone remains, expert teams determined that the area was a church and its name was the Church of the Holy Apostles. While digs continue in the historical church, archaeologists have recently found an area with a mosaic. The mosaic with a peacock figure also features an inscription in which a slave thanked God after being freed.”


joy-ike-007-980x551“Grow Deep, Not Wide: The art of nurturing the life that really is life.” – Joy Ike in Comment: “This summer, while on my porch, I experienced a drive-by shooting for the first time. Germantown, my beloved neighbourhood here in Philadelphia, has probably been like most inner-city neighbourhoods this past year: destitute, depressed, run down, pressure-cooked. I live on a high-traffic street and a block or two from the dividing line of what would be considered ‘safe Germantown’ and ‘unsafe Germantown.’ On one side of my house is my neighbour, who has become a dear friend and a teammate of sorts: we hope together. On the other side is an abandoned house by the corner, and beside that, a street that has become known as the local epicentre of crime and drug dealing. We’ll call it ‘T Street.’ As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, I’ve watched as the drug culture has slowly turned the bend and crept around my street corner, like a shadow trying to cover more territory. And this is where my pandemic story begins.”


127321“Christians Are Going Back to Church—But Maybe Not the Same One” – Melissa Morgan Kelley in Christianity Today: “Houston Northwest Church suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. By the time its flooded facilities were finally rebuilt a couple years ago, the congregation was only back at full capacity for six weeks before services were shut down by the pandemic. As the church endured one setback after another, senior pastor Steve Bezner has seen the flock ebb and flow. ‘About a third of our congregation worshiping in person are new faces,’ he said. His church currently draws 1,600 attendees each week, including several hundred viewing online—not far from its pre-pandemic weekly average of 1,700. Bezner marvels at the number of members who left during the pandemic and the number of new people who have showed up to take their place. ‘It will make you believe in the preservation of the Holy Spirit,’ the Houston pastor said. Member turnover is as common to the life cycle of a church as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But the pandemic has accelerated people’s comings and goings and has required new strategies to welcome and assimilate new members into the church community.”


CB019074“The Gift of Being Yourself” – David G. Benner in Conversatio: “We all live life searching for that one possible way of being that carries with it the gift of authenticity. We are often most conscious of this search for identity during adolescence, when it takes front stage for most people. At this stage of life, we try on identities like clothing, looking for a style of being that fits with how we want to be seen. But long after adolescence has passed, most adults know the occasional feeling of being a fraud—a sense of not being what they pretend to be, but rather being precisely what they pretend not to be. With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks that we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability, but which have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle so easily for pretense and a truly authentic self often seems elusive. There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip. Beneath the roles and masks lies a possibility of a self that is as distinctive as a snowflake. It is an originality that has existed since God first loved us into existence. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity. It and it alone provides an identity that is eternal.”


sound of metal“Picturing Silence: Stillness in Sound of Metal” – James K. A. Smith in Image: “For me, one of the gifts of contemporary art is precisely its difficulty. A subtle blessing of such art—whether painting or poetry—is that it demands something of me, and above all it demands that I make myself available for contemplation. This is because such art does not yield easily accessible nuggets of sentiment or pleasure. But its difficulty harbors an invitation. In its refusal to be immediately available to surface attention, it suggests that I might attend to my world differently. Rather than just offering emotion or decoration or a ‘statement,’ the best contemporary art asks me to slow the frenetic pace of incessant distraction to pause and dwell. It requires a stillness that already verges on the spiritual. One of the most convicting pictures I’ve seen of such spiritual stillness was Darius Marder’s recent film, Sound of Metal. The film follows the harrowing journey of Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who experiences catastrophic hearing loss as a young man. What is unique about the movie is its sonic environment, the way the soundtrack invites us in and out of Ruben’s own point of—not view, but hearing. The opening scene is an overwhelming, alienating wall of sound. Four minutes in, you’ll be wondering if you can stay much longer. Then, in scenes from the next morning, the world’s quiet pleasures are a chorus: the crisp, gentle tinkling of cutlery; the drip of a coffee maker; rustling sheets upon waking and the gentle intimacy of a kiss.”


smarphone dump“The people deciding to ditch their smartphones” – Suzanne Bearne at the BBC: “In a world where many of us are glued to our smartphones, Dulcie Cowling is something of an anomaly – she has ditched hers. The 36-year-old decided at the end of last year that getting rid of her handset would improve her mental health. So, over Christmas she told her family and friends that she was switching to an old Nokia phone that could only make and receive calls and text messages. She recalls that one of the pivotal moments that led to her decision was a day at the park with her two boys, aged six and three: “I was on my mobile at a playground with the kids and I looked up and every single parent – there was up to 20 – were looking at their phones, just scrolling away,” she says. “I thought ‘when did this happen?’. Everyone is missing out on real life. I don’t think you get to your death bed and think you should have spent more time on Twitter, or reading articles online.” Ms Cowling, who is a creative director at London-based advertising agency Hell Yeah!, adds that the idea to abandon her smartphone had built up during the Covid lockdowns.”


Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, “The Road,” The Road Original Film Score

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 October 2021

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 the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Lord's Prayer Luke“Christ’s Prayers Can Transform Ours” – Catherine J. Wright: “Alongside Jesus’ astonishing miracles and teachings, the Gospels depict something just as compelling: Jesus—who is himself fully God—prayed. In fact, he prayed a lot. Luke, the go-to
Gospel for a theology of prayer, includes more descriptions of Jesus’ own prayer habits than any other Gospel. When we look closely at how Jesus’ prayer life is depicted Luke, we discover how essential prayer is for the life of faith and our participation in God’s kingdom….Luke draws a vital connection between Jesus’ faithfulness in prayer and the inauguration of and empowerment for his earthly ministry. If we want to be used by God for God’s kingdom work, the preliminary step for us also is to be faithful in prayer.”


church breaking apart“The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart” – Peter Wehner in The Atlantic: “The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn’t receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed. ‘A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,’ David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon….What happened at McLean Bible Church is happening all over the evangelical world. Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and ‘spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.’ Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.”


webRNS-Refugees-Afghanistan1-100821-768x512“Showing Hospitality to Strangers: Texas Churches Welcome Afghan Refugees” – Heather Sells in CBN News: “As many as 50,000 Afghan refugees will soon be re-settling in US communities, most fleeing right after the Taliban takeover of their country in August. The regime change happened at breakneck speed, forcing many, like former US Army interpreter ‘Zaheer’ and his family, to flee with little more than a small bundle of personal items. Zaheer initially applied for his SIV visa in 2018 but admits he struggled in August when it became clear he and his family must go. ‘It’s very difficult to walk away,” he said. “I got only one small bag with me, a little bit of clothes.’ Thanks to the faith-based resettlement agency World Relief and church volunteers in the Ft. Worth area, Zaheer and his family were able to rent an apartment and find furniture. Zaheer’s priority now is to find a car and a job. He’s willing to take anything to provide for his family.”


Blanchard Hall“Wide Awoke at Wheaton?” – Vince Bacote in Current: “I experienced a range of emotions—including exasperation and anger—upon reading Gerald McDermott’s “Woke Theory at Evangelical Colleges” in First Things last week, an article written as an exposé of what is happening at my own institution, Wheaton College, and elsewhere. McDermott charges Wheaton, Baylor, and Samford, among others, with a compromising submission to standards and practices identified with the broader social justice movement in American higher education at large. The use of minimal evidence, anonymous voices, and suggestions of infidelity to the faith presented a genuine temptation to respond in anger and take the road of holy rage in reply to an ephemeral and thin article—ephemeral, because of the ongoing avalanche of media content; thin, because the article seems not to be the result of an effort to know what is really happening at institutions like my own and others. One wonders whether McDermott thought to go to the sources of purported wokeness at Wheaton, Baylor, and Samford, instead of merely to the voices of concern or worry.  But rather than anger, I write from a place of lament.”


Self-Portrait-with-Grey-Felt-Hat-846x1024“Vision, Leadership & van Gogh” – Derek R. Nelson at Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program: “Before he was a great-but-not-much-appreciated painter, Vincent van Gogh was a lousy-but-very-much-appreciated pastor. The details of this little-known chapter in his life are of some interest, I think, to those who are wondering about how early career pastors find sources of resilience to sustain them in their ministries, and also how pastors seeking to exercise leadership in their communities can do so effectively….After some failings in love, work and art, van Gogh needed a new start. He hoped to become a preacher like his father. He was not considered a strong candidate by the theological faculty at Amsterdam because of his volatility and apparent mental instability. His refusal to learn Latin — he already was fluent in four “living” languages and did not wish to learn a dead one! — gave them the pretext they needed to deny him admission. Lacking a path to the usual credentials, Vincent volunteered to be a missionary preacher to the Borinage, a very impoverished mining region in Belgium. He went at the age of 25 and remained there two years.”


online radio concept
rivalry between old and new:laptop computer and retro radio on the table

“How to Fix Social Media” – Nicholas Carr in The New Atlantis: “Around two o’clock in the afternoon on October 30, 1973, a disc jockey at the New York City radio station WBAI played a track called ‘Filthy Words’ from comedian George Carlin’s latest album. ‘I was thinking one night about the words you couldn’t say on the public airwaves,’ Carlin began. He then rattled off seven choice examples — ‘f***’ was among the milder ones — and proceeded to riff on their origin, usage, and relative offensiveness for the next ten minutes. A Long Island man named John Douglas heard the broadcast as he was driving home from a trip to Connecticut with his teenaged son. He promptly filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. ‘Whereas I can perhaps understand an “X-rated” phonograph record’s being sold for private use, I certainly cannot understand the broadcast of same over the air that, supposedly, you control,’ he wrote. ‘Can you say this is a responsible radio station, that demonstrates a responsibility to the public for its license?’…Today, mired as we are in partisan, bitter, and seemingly fruitless debates over the roles and responsibilities of social media companies, the controversy surrounding George Carlin’s naughty comedy routine can seem distant and even quaint. Thanks to the Internet’s dismantling of traditional barriers to broadcasting, companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter transmit a volume and variety of content that would have been unimaginable fifty years ago. What’s at issue now is far greater than the propriety of a few dirty words. Arguments over whether and how to control the information distributed through social media go to the heart of America’s democratic ideals.”


Music: Jpk., “Some Days.”