1. As a follow-up to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan points out the extraordinary character of the community’s response:

[In the courtroom, victims’ family members] spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God.

There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke.

“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” said the daughter of Ethel Lance, killed in the shooting. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.” She asked that God have mercy on the shooter’s soul. “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

Reports have since come out that the shooter, in his words, “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to me.” Christianity Today offers a heartbreaking reflection on that “almost,” the bit of arbitrary evil in the human heart, a hate which sometimes endures even the most beautiful and graceful acts of love. But in an interview with a victim’s children (available at BBC News), it’s clear that love can prove still more endurant.


2. Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change deserves all the attention it’s getting, and likely more. One dangerous interpretation of it would be an ‘updating’ of Catholicism to make it more in line with contemporary issues, catching up to and appropriating secular values. In fact, the opposite is the case: the encyclical’s writers mine a deep tradition of distinctly Christian theology, and in so doing, they offer vital input on an important issue.

[St.] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…  If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

On this reading, environmental destruction is a product not (only) of avaricious consumerism or misaligned incentives, but a modern outlook on things in which we stand above nature. Pitches environmentalists sometimes use, like maximizing long-run profitability or saving resources for our grandchildren are effective within a certain scope, but they sometimes fail to escape the modernistic values which underpin the problem. Openness, awe, appreciation for beauty, and the sense of bond with the surrounding world are, he suggests, the only long-term fixes for the problem. At First Things, R. R. Reno elucidates this thread:

Another feature of modernity and its faith in progress has been a political commitment to liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be modern is to believe that, for all our flaws, Western societies are more democratic, more egalitarian, and more inclusive than any in history. This is not the Pope’s view. The West is rapacious…

In effect, the present world system created by European and North American modernity—the world made possible by Newton, Locke, Rousseau, Ricardo, Kant, Pasteur, Einstein, Keynes, and countless other architects of modern science, economics, and political culture—is an abomination. Francis never quite says that. But this strong judgment is implied in his many fierce denunciations of the current global order. It destroys the environment, oppresses the multitudes, and makes us blind to the beauty of creation.




“Abomination” seems a strong choice of words to me, but I don’t see many American environmentalists going there, preferring data-gathering and modeling and haranguing passersby about petitions (only Greenpeace, really). Again, that work is effective, but Francis provides insight going well beyond any of that. It’s a genuine example of the Church contributing to a global conversation.

How does any of this relate to our message? It seems like we humans like to continually assert control, looking to ourselves for solutions when we are the problem. The search for fixes to political issues can sometimes look for easy, implementable solutions, but lack sufficient introspection or willingness to reexamine tightly-held values. That is, on the environmental front, the issue may run deeper than advocates usually think – as deep as our will to power or Adam’s and Eve’s desire to be like gods. More Francis in closing:

The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.

3. In culture, anyone who’s ever wondered whether listening to too much NPR can make you smug will have their suspicions affirmed. Apparently their comedy program, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, hosted Kim Kardashian and received hundreds of listener complaints.

Writing on her blog, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensenwhose job it is to filter and respond to the complaints of unhappy NPR listeners, in what sounds very like the textbook definition of Hellshared some of the concerns people had raised. “Vapid, talentless, and shallow individuals who have not earned fame or fortune through an ounce of hard work have no place on a show of such caliber,” one listener wrote, with another adding, “I listen to NPR to get AWAY from Kardashian-like garbage.” A few even threatened to revoke their public radio pledges, or refuse to support the organization in the future.


Most interesting here is the language of getting “AWAY from… garbage.” Apparently Kardashian ended up being a below-average guest anyway, but you have to assume that personal identity-construction/management is a major factor. If my pastor read from Augustine’s Confessions in a sermon but misattributed it to Joel Osteen, I’d almost certainly pronounce the quote garbage and send him an angry email the next day. And there’s probably an analogous situation, somewhere, for you. So much of our consumption is driven not by what we want (itself of unreliable value) but who we want to be.It’s a nice opportunity to revisit some long-dormant thoughts on snobbery: Mark Oppenheimer wrote a great confessional on Slate, and one of our writers feels deeply threatened by the music of Taylor Swift. Oppenheimer’s closing lines, in particular, deserve another nod:

The art critic Dave Hickey has written that good taste is just the residue of someone else’s privilege, and I have to admit that’s right. God—the universe—the perfect good—whatever you want to call the arbiter of moral truth—does not care whether my floors are parquet or covered by wall-to-wall carpeting. That I do care is a fact about me, best confronted and managed. It is not to be exalted, but it cannot be honestly denied.

4. On a lighter (?) note, for any pastors who happen to be reading, new facial recognition software for churches is available! It’ll let you know who has been attending, or not attending, on Sundays, and it’s already used by 30 churches. When those burnt out by the Church would complain of scorekeeping and paternalism, we used to tell them it could be worse. Now, who knows – but wasn’t keeping track of your attendance supposed to be God’s role?

5. In the redditsphere, there’s a new sub called “Prayer or Slayer”, ht BJ, which lets you test your sensus divinitatis and sensus metalis (though the Net says that means “conical”) by reading lines and guessing whether they’re from metal songs or sacred texts. E.g.,

He shall suck the poison of asps, the viper’s tongue shall slay him! And yes, he shall burn in the fires of rejection, for he hath gone a-whoring from the LORD our GOD!

Funeral Mist – Anathema Mananatha

Highlight above for the answer.


6. For other links, check out the Honest Movie Trailer for Toy Story, which is pretty funny. Additionally, Stephen Colbert covers Toby Keith at the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. And Emma Green in the June edition of The Atlantic covers professional hypocrisy – some of the ironies absolutely fantastic, and even better than that to an Mbird point of view:

Another study shows ethicists to be especially delinquent librarypatrons: compared with other philosophy texts, “contemporary ethics books of the sort likely to be borrowed mainly by professors and advanced students of philosophy” were roughly 50 percent more likely to bepermanently missing[3].

Also in the ethics department, someone found a bunch of vintage educational films at the A.V. Club. It’s weirdly addictive, not altogether inoffensive, and the strangest pairing of plot with music you’ll see all week.

7. Finally, those craving long content this weekend will find that David Zahl’s discussion of his book, A Mess of Help, at Cathedral Church of the Advent won’t disappoint (two below). And not sure if we’ve already announced this or not, but the definitive Mbird take on Michael Jackson – among other things, like an ABBA playlist – is recently available for Kindle. Happy weekend!