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1. The Atlantic’s project, “Choosing My Religion,” is running full steam ahead (Ethan mentioned it a couple weeks back), and its goal is simply to record stories of how young people deal or don’t deal with religion.

As a part of the project, a particularly interesting article surfaced this week entitled, “Cheerleaders for Christ,” featuring the story (as reported with a surprising amount of grace) about a Texas high school whose cheerleaders wrote Bible verses on their banners at football games. (Speaking of Texas high school football, and by extension Friday Night Lights, Explosions in the Sky released a new album this week.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation took issue with school-sanctioned religion, and, well, things escalated quickly, kicking up a flurry of lawyers, debates with the school board, and media attention.

The cheerleaders’ hometown of Kountze, TX is made up of an almost exclusively Christian demographic which felt collectively bullied by the FFRF–and the girls, standing their ground, became heroes.

Even though Richardson [one of the cheerleaders, now graduated] said she loves her town, she has sometimes felt relieved to be out of Kountze. “I’m so blessed by the community. I really am. But sometimes it can be really old when people tell you how good you are all the time,” she said. “I’m just like everybody else, and I was just in the right place at the right time.” She has told a few of her friends at college about the court case but generally avoids explaining it all, she said.

What a brave thing to say–“Sometimes it can be really old when people tell you how good you are all the time…I’m just like everybody else.” That strikes me as true humility, one of the fruits of the Gospel. Despite occupying space in the Christian limelight, Richardson maintains a grip on reality. She perceives herself not as an active hero but more as a witness, or a bystander, to God’s actions during their case.

That’s not to say she’s ashamed of her squad’s court case or wishes it hadn’t happened. “God just let us watch him work,” she said. “He would have gone after those people anyways because he longs so passionately for people’s hearts. In my mind, I’m thinking that God was like, ‘I love these girls, and I’m going to let them watch me draw those people to me,’ because it’s a blessing to watch God call his children to himself.”


2. This past week marked the sixth anniversary of the death of Michael Spencer, the founder and primary writer over at Internet Monk, and on Wednesday the site posted one of his exceptionally powerful essays in his honor.

Spencer’s words remain unfalteringly rooted in the cross of Christ, and this essay is well worth your time this weekend, entitled, “When I am Weak: Why we must embrace our brokenness and never be good Christians.” I’ve pulled a few excerpts here:

You people with your Bibles. Look something up for me? Isn’t almost everyone in that book screwed up? I mean, don’t the screwed up people–like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Hosea- outnumber the “good Christians” by about ten to one? And isn’t it true that the more we get to look at a Biblical character close up, the more likely it will be that we’ll see a whole nasty collection of things that Christians say they no longer have to deal with because, praise God! I’m fixed? Not just a few temper tantrums or ordinary lies, but stuff like violence. Sex addictions. Abuse. Racism. Depression. It’s all there, yet we still flop our Bibles open on the pulpit and talk about “Ten Ways To Have Joy That Never Goes Away!” Where is the laugh track?

Even in the New Testament, after the resurrection of Christ, the apostles have disagreements and miscommunications. Even St. Peter, who in some moments has the power to heal sickness, never fully outruns his “old ways” (Gal 2) and continues to grapple for authority and understanding.

Spencer goes on to discuss a passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which God communicates to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Here is even more undeniable, unarguable language. Weaknesses are with me for the whole journey. Paul was particularly thinking of persecutions, but how much more does this passage apply to human frailty, brokenness and hurt? How essential is it for us to be broken, if Christ is going to be our strength? When I am weak I am strong. Not, “When I am cured,” or “When I am successful,” or “When I am a good Christian,” but when I am weak. Weakness–the human experience of weakness–is God’s blueprint for exalting and magnifying his Son. When broken people, miserably failing people, continue to belong to, believe in and worship Jesus, God is happy.

For daily life, this is bad news. No rabbits out of a hat, no spectacle. Surely God can do all things, but our desire to run from pain bumps its head against the reality that God doesn’t always take the pain away. He does, however, experience it with us. Spencer isn’t afraid of bad news, and that’s probably because he knows that we can only receive true Good News following true bad news. Cf: Law & Gospel.

3. In humor this week: check out McSweeney’s post, Pascal’s Other Wagers. Very funny.

Pascal’s Wager states that man is forced to bet his soul on whether he believes there is a God. Pascal also made other wagers.

On Hot Chocolate: When one orders a hot chocolate and is asked, “Do you want marshmallows in that?” one must make a grim and terrible wager. Do I have faith that these are goodly mallows, plump and squishy? They may be mallows of bitter disappointment, small and brittle as birdshot. But is not any mallow better than staring into the abyss of an ungarnished cocoa?…


4. The Gospel Coalition posted a wonderful article on the largely misunderstood Jessica Rabbit of theology, ‘antinomianism’. It’s a polarizing term that people can get pretty heated about, and, if you’re like me, you may have already given up on this topic because maybe you’re more interested in, say, late night TV (the OJ Simpson finale? Anyone?). Fear not, this article, entitled “What is Antinomianism and Who Teaches It?” makes the subject more palatable than your average theological quandary.

Antinomianism, for those who may not already be aware, is a term first used by Martin Luther to describe people who are “against” the “law.” It’s generally accepted that antinomians are either feared or greatly disliked, and Christians who emphasize grace may well find themselves in the danger zone. The article’s writer, Ryan Reeves, first explains that lots of people in pop Christianity throw around more-or-less highfalutin theological terms, especially “antinomianism,” but in doing so, not everyone means the same thing. So you have Christians talking past each other.

One of the more popular uses of the word is applied to Christians who believe, either loosely or with conviction, that Jesus abolished the law. Drawing on history, here’s how Reeves defines it:

episcodiscoAntinomianism, then, is conviction-less Christianity. It sees repentance as a single event, not to be repeated. Walk the aisle and then just wait for heaven. Sermons are no longer to expose our sins, allowing us to admit our faults and confess them freely. The Christian life is more about ignoring sin and resting on a foggy concept of grace.

Christianity needs both the Law and the Gospel. Repentance can’t be a one-and-done kind of thing–otherwise we ignore our daily sins and build ourselves into the kind of delusion Spencer was hinting at above. We must stick close to reality, because grace is real.

The Gospel, for Luther, frees us to admit our faults. We hear the Law repeatedly in preaching as a tool for conviction and repentance…

Beyond this, the problem is perhaps fixed by not equating every statement with an ‘ism’. This is a lesson I often have learned, and one I likely will need again in my life. Sometimes the rot in popular preaching has set more deeply than merely identifying what brand of bad thinking a person falls under. Just as often the problem can be in our own contexts, where people who reject Antinomianism are just as often still teaching these things, only under a different guise.

For example, Christians who soften the law may be more antinomian than grace bullies. Read more on Mockingbird’s take on Antinomianism here.

5. Speaking of lawbreakers, have you seen the new Star Wars trailer? It inspires me to riot.

6. The New Yorker published a long, strange story from the legendary Gay Talese this week, “The Voyeur’s Motel”. It’s very much R-rated but too fascinating–and truthful–not to mention, the real-life story of a man named Gerald Foos who, in the 1960s, bought a motel in order to watch what people did “behind closed doors”. He built an attic space from where he could peer down into the rooms, and he did so, for years, without getting caught. Over time, Foos began to fixate on more than just the sex, ultimately fancying himself something of a researcher (talk about self-justifcation!). Anyway, peering into the private lives of thousands of vacationers, eating, sleeping, watching TV, using the bathroom, he began to notice how poorly behaved so many of his guests were. From his own notes:

My observations indicate that the majority of vacationers spend their time in misery. They fight about money; where to visit. . . . All their aggressions somehow are immeasurably increased, and this is the time they discover they are not properly matched. Women especially have a difficult time adjusting to both the new surroundings and their husbands. Vacations produce all the anxieties within mankind to come forward during this time, and to perpetuate the worst of emotions. . . .

You can never really determine during their appearances in public that their private life is full of hell and unhappiness. . . . This is the “plight of the human corpus,” and I’m sure provides the answer that if the misery of mankind were revealed all together spontaneously, mass genocide might correspondently follow.

0030477-FacebookImageFirst thing to note: For me, being the always-guilty millennial/victim of unending sociological scrutiny, this just proves that human beings have always lived double lives, even before the advent of social media. Vacationers of all generations have worn happy masks in public and, after removing them in private, reveal anxiety and zits only to their closest comrades. Vacations are typically intended as a break from the bad things of daily life–but those bad things (as evidenced by notes of “the voyeur”) follow us even on vacation, no matter how far we travel. The reason? Biblically speaking, it’s because we are the bad things.

As he watched his guests, Foos grew increasingly frustrated with their bad habits (wiping fast food grease on the bed sheets, etc.), and on his way to developing a solid low anthropology, he decided to test them. He called it an “honesty test”:

He would leave a suitcase, secured with a cheap padlock, in the closet of a motel room. When a guest checked in, he would say to Donna [his wife and coworker], in the guest’s hearing, that someone had just called to report leaving behind a suitcase with a thousand dollars inside. Foos then watched from the attic as the new guest found the suitcase and deliberated over whether to break the lock and look inside or return the suitcase to the motel office.

Out of fifteen guests who were subjected to the honesty test, including a minister, a lawyer, and an Army lieutenant colonel, only two returned the suitcase to the office with the padlock intact. The others all opened the suitcase and then tried to dispose of it in different ways. The minister pushed the suitcase out the bathroom window into the bushes.

7. This week, The Onion put out a (maybe?) funny article on solitary confinement, which more than anything actually highlights in a significant way that the source of human rehabilitation is not punishment but love. It’s titled, “I Was Skeptical At First, But It Turns Out Those 20 Years Of Solitary Confinement Were Exactly What I Needed.”

And just think, all I needed to turn things around was to have my interactions with other human beings limited to the three times a day someone passes me a meal through the slot in my cell door, plus whenever I manage to score a day or two in the prison infirmary by intentionally strangling myself.

Of course, I don’t want to sugarcoat things. There was definitely a period, either two weeks or 10 years ago—it’s hard to tell—when I was having some serious doubts about whether prolonged isolation was really a good idea for someone with as many preexisting psychological issues as me.