The biggest news of the week is, of course, the news that Mbird is hosting a Reformation Conference in D.C. this October! Check out the conference page for details, mark your calendars for October 27-28, and get ready celebrate 500 years of the Christian tradition we love so much. Now: onto our regular wrap-up.

1. Here at West Virginia University, we are a mere 8 days away from move in weekend. It’s been a quiet news summer on the free-speech front, though the think-pieces certainly haven’t stopped coming. As schools prepare for another semester of classes, there are no signs that activist culture is slowing down.

1.a Over at The Atlantic, we get a crash course in Richard Rorty’s critique that the cultural left is just as religious as the cultural right, courtesy of Victor Tan Chen:

The cultural left, Rorty emphasized, made people far more sensitive about matters of identity and language, bringing about an “enormous” change for the better in the way Americans treated each other and making America a “far more civilized society.” At the same time, it “reinvented” sin—taking a concept often employed by its counterparts on the right to attack morally undeserving Americans who lived on state largesse, and using it to decry a morally undeserving America that abused state power and victimized weaker nations. Yet, the new generation of activists, progressive and conservative alike, often seemed oblivious to the idea of forgiveness that figures so prominently in Christian understandings of sin, he argued…

In the absence of a practical vision for political change, today’s left opens itself up to the criticism that it speaks only to lightweight matters of language. A relentless focus on sin worsens this problem. The idea that bigotry is, as Rorty puts it, a “diabolical stain on every human soul,” unforgiven and unforgivable, does not inspire action.

While the article is certainly directed leftward, there’s no denying that the power dynamics employed are the same used by right leaning movements in years prior, lest anyone accuse this weekender of partisan pandering.

1.b. While some in academia may bemoan the return of student activist culture, some parents are extremely happy that the activism is no longer at home. The New York Times is on it with their profile of politically blended families and how campus culture fares at home. Spoiler alert: fighting happens.

2. This week’s Theology of the Cross comes from renowned Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: “Have you thanked God for this failure already?” Buckle up, well worth the 7 minutes.

3.  On the work and play front, Finland has us all beat. Nobody’s quite sure how Finland transitioned from national sports powerhouse to swamp soccer, but it looks like they’re having a million times more fun than we are.

There’s something strange going on in Finland. Over the past few decades, as it has all but disappeared from the global sports stage, this humble Nordic nation has sort of lost its sports mind.

More than 2,000 people ventured to the remote backwaters of central Finland recently for the 20th annual Swamp Soccer World Championships. If you and your spouse want to compete in the Wife Carrying World Championships, you must come to Finland. The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships? Finland. The World Berry Picking Championship and the Air Guitar World Championships? Finland and Finland.

“We have some weird hobbies,” said Paivi Kemppainen, 26, a staff member at the swamp soccer competition and master of the understatement.

Perhaps it has something to do with the oppressive winters, or the geographical proximity to Russia? Either way, sign me up for next year’s Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship.

4. Two great reads this week on the illness front:

4a. What do you say to someone with cancer? Like anybody actually knows, but Deanna Pai breaks down her experience with the disease over at NYMag. Here’s What Not to Say to Somebody with Cancer is a bit on the clickbait side of titles, but the well here is deep:

The only thing you can count on with cancer is that people will bombard you with clichés. “Stay strong” was a fan favorite. So were “You’re my hero,” and “You’re so inspiring,” even though I’m the sort of person who doesn’t hold elevator doors for people. And then there was the requisite battle terminology: “You just have to fight this,” or “You’re going to win this thing.” (Just look at Senator John McCain, whose brain cancer diagnosis last month spurred a wave of politicians to describe him as a “fighter” and a “warrior” who would “give [cancer] hell.”)

But I didn’t fight. I didn’t do anything besides take a cab to Memorial Sloan-Kettering every week, where I would lie under a warm blanket for hours while I was infused with a chemo cocktail. If anything, my team of doctors and the chemo drugs did all the heavy lifting. Even now, in remission two years later, I do not refer to myself as a cancer survivor. I prefer “former cancer landlord.” After all, I only hosted the cancer before modern medicine evicted it. That’s my gripe with words like strong and brave and the accompanying battle metaphors: Cancer doesn’t care how tough you are. If it kills you — as cancer is wont to do — it’s not because of some lack of grit or determination.

4b. Normally, a headline titled “Empathy Gadget” would bring out layers of sarcasm, with thoughts of robotic seals and silicon valley solutions to problems too real for tech. But give this first paragraph a shot:

The device slipped over my arm like a blood pressure cuff. Eight domino-size electrodes were pressed against my skin. I heard a series of beeps and felt a small electrical pulse, like a pinprick. Then, before I knew it, my arm was quivering like a bowl of gelatin.

The demonstration took place this year at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The device, a new technology called the SymPulse, was feeding a signal into my arm that simulated the tremors of a patient with Parkinson’s disease. My mother had Parkinson’s. For years, I’d wanted — and struggled — to understand what she was going through. That day I finally got my chance…

Whether the result can fairly be called “empathy,” I am not sure. Temporarily experiencing an alien sensation of discomfort does not necessarily lead to compassion for those who endure it in real life. But if tele-empathy does improve compassion for our most vulnerable citizens, it will have served one of caregiving’s most important functions.

5. The Babylon Bee pulled no punches this week, reporting that Episcopalians May Still Exist. So much for safe spaces.

6. This write-up on Billy Joel at Target Field in Minneapolis makes us miss DZ all the more, so here’s a quick blurb so we can move on and leave Sabbatical man alone for a few more weeks. Billy Joel sharing the stage as Axl Rose? Not as crazy an idea as you might think.

Axl Rose and Billy Joel are perfect for each other, when you think about it.

Not that I ever thought about it. Not till Friday night, when Rose joined Joel onstage at Target Field, belting “Highway to Hell” while the star of the show, in dark suit and tie, happily power-chorded in support like the luckiest dad at Rock Camp. Axl returned during the encore for the head-slappingly obvious (again when you think about it) “Big Shot” – hardly a stretch to imagine Rose contemptuously haranguing some hungover social-climbing loudmouth, even if the sax break’s not really his thing.

When Rose was still a young Gun writhing his way to security-hassling, venom-spewing, larynx-shredding Valhalla, Joel was already a Ray-Ban-concealed elder squiring Christie Brinkley to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame soirees. But even then a similar raw nerve of insecurity, aggravated by perceived disrespect, throbbed at the center of each man’s art, leading both to play against type. Rose flaunted his sensitivity via piano ballads to prove he wasn’t just a lowlife scuzz, while Joel indulged a compulsion to rock out, as though condemned his whole life to prove to the schoolyard bullies he wasn’t a wuss. And, of course, both stars are notorious for bouts of onstage petulance.

 

Strays:

For our dad readers, if you’re losing the fight against #dadbod, you’re not alone.

For our Australian friends (paging, SP?), a bit of Christian forgiveness in Rugby.

For our Canadian friends, don’t be alarmed by the giant robotic spider on the Ottawa Cathedral.

For our art critic friends: Mbird contributor/speaker/friend Matt Milliner’s write-up of the new Getty Exhibit Illuminating Women in the Medieval World will flip your script on the dark-ages damsel in distress.