A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
Another Week Ends: More Thoughts on Charleston, Papal Sustainability, NPR Snobbery, Holy Metal, and Delinquent Ethicists
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…
I welcome judgment.
[Spoilers follow.] The opener of season 2 for HBO’s newest flagship seemed to do everything it could to distance itself from the expectations and tone of its first season. Where once we had the show’s reflective, philosophical voice from the haunted, brilliant, and wise Rustin Cohle, we get comic musings from a fraudish guru: “When we see the universe from God’s eyes” (to paraphrase), “it is meaningless… but God would not create a meaningless universe. Hold these ideas as true and equal.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Farrell’s sad musings – “Astronauts don’t even go to the…
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
“they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is…
From Oswald Bayer’s interpretation of Martin Luther’s Theology, pages 228-9:
“The effect that the law creates is not surprising. One has no trouble understanding what it means to rely on oneself and on one’s own deeds; the action-consequences relationship has its own logic. But the gospel is absolutely, completely incomprehensible. That God rescues one from, and brings one safely through, the deserved judgment is a miracle. Law and gospel cannot be plausibly intertwined together; their existence is hard and fast in opposition to each other. The gospel is literally a paradox: it stands against that which the sinner can reasonably expect; it stands against damnation.
It is thus not surprising that the communion between the sinning human being and the God who justifies through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible; it is stupefying – astonishing – which does not lead one to be calm and at peace. Rather, it is described by Luther as a ‘stupendumduellum‘ – as a duel that arouses astonishment, as a duel like the one Jacob engaged in at Jabbok (Gen. 32). That this deadly confrontation between God and humanity is a ‘happy exchange,’ is a miracle. The one who has escaped from judgment and death cannot be sufficiently astounded about this.
‘The love of God does not find one worthy of its love to be present already, but [first] creates it.’ In this sense God is ‘God and no mortal’ (Hos. 11:9). For: ‘human love comes for the one who holds another worthy of love [already].’ (Luther, WA 1:354.35f). By contrast, the justification of the ungodly (Rom 4:5) is nothing less than the resurrection of the dead and the creation out of nothing (4:17).”
You guessed it – secularization! There was that recent Pew survey release showing that 78% of Americans identified as Christians in 2007, but only 70% in 2014. DZ’s already covered that topic pretty well, and the stats are disheartening, but it’s worth thinking about some possible silver linings.
First, from a Law/Gospel perspective, pressure engenders rebellion, so it’s nice that Christianity is less mandatory than before. The people I know least receptive to religion of any kind are megachurch children or people who went to (the wrong kind of) Catholic gradeschool. As long as Christianity’s a cultural status quo, people can…
Another Week Ends: More Underachieving Males, Baffling Temptations, Upper East Side Claustrophobia, John Gray, Star Wars, and Vocation
1. After Dave’s post on male problems this week, The Economist published a long-form essay about the plight of blue-collar men in the West. The pay for men with only a high-school diploma fell by 21% (real terms) between 1979 and 2013, as one of the clear male advantages is brawn, which is less relevant than ever when it comes to earnings. Moreover, these men may not have studied feminism in college, but they’ve found themselves in a world increasingly affected by it:
Their ideas of the world and their place in it are shaped by old assumptions about the special role and status due…
In the can’t-make-this-up department, someone commented on The Guardian’s review of John Gray’s The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom:
While science is the only game in town in deepening our understanding reality, obviously, philosophers and experts in history are also pretty handy to have around.
Here is a distorted picture of British philosopher/public intellectual John Gray’s ideal of the graceful (because un-self-conscious) marionette: someone likely careening this way and that through life, with no semblance of where he’s going or what it all means. This blindness is typical of triumphalism, and we live in triumphalistic times, times…
A quote by Richard Rohr recently struck me, from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Rohr admittedly sounds new-agey sometimes, and this is no exception, but he talks in the book about how things fall apart from the “first half” of life, characterized by identity-building and Law, and then the “second half” – analogous to what we might call life under the cross – happens. This second moment is marked by mystery, surrender, destitution, and spiritual maturity, traits which often go together, as Rohr’s monastic tradition remembers. How does this passage from worldliness to spirituality, identity-building to identity-surrender, life under law to life under grace, happen? At Mbird, we talk a lot about theology of the cross, the idea that suffering can expose the pride and futility behind our self-justification schemes and free us from their burden. (It’s not the healthy who need a doctor anyway, but the sick.) Rohr describes this transition in his own, to me fresh, way:
Today we might use a variety of metaphors: reversing engines, a change in game plan, a falling off the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously; we must somehow ‘fall’ into it. Those who are too carefully engineering their own superiority systems will usually not allow it at all. It is much more done to you than anything you do yourself, and sometimes nonreligious folks are more open to this change in strategy than are religious folks who have their private salvation project all worked out. This is how I would interpret Jesus’ enigmatic words, ‘The children of this world are wiser in their ways than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8)…
The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling or changing or dying. The ego is the part of you that loves the status quo, even when it is not working. It attaches to past and present, and fears the future.
The rest of Rohr’s book explores the mechanism of this transition, and I think he does well to remind us, that God’s work to change is often deconstructive, undesired, even violent. And it reminds me that whatever else people might say about the Bible, its books are some of the only ones written with sufficient originality to speak against the grain of any time or place or culture, since it speaks against the Adamic ego itself. And he does well to remind us that nonreligious people often do best with the message; early Christianity got the most traction among Gentiles, after all. Which means that, far from the prevalent American model of preaching the Gospel to unbelievers and (baptized) self-improvement to the ‘mature’, we religious people need the message just as deeply as anyone – though we’re more likely to resist it.
Check out the mostly-related part II here, or start fresh here.
The memory verse is not always a good idea. Often it can be a shortcut toward getting a crisp, clear, self-contained biblical truth – but the search for a certain type of clarity often reflects more on our time and place as moderns than on the way the Bible means to present itself. To memorize a Proverb makes sense, but to memorize a Gospel verse often doesn’t. The former is meant to be taken as a one-sentence aphorism which doesn’t need context, but the latter is written as part of…
Another Week Ends: The Onion’s Guide to Mothering, The Happiness Industry, Selling Beauty, Cultural Christians, Sad David Brooks, and More Bill Fay
1. First off, The Onion has been doing marvelous things lately. Their insight into the human condition is always surprising, especially their sense for all the pressures of social life, how ridiculous they are, and how strange is our reliance on them for identity. Cue Mothershould, their new web series on how to be a better Mom. Our frequent use of scorekeeping as a description of our obsession with metrics and comparison has found its best video example since King of Kong, below:
2. In the dystopian scare department this week, Vicky Price of The Independent reviews a new book by William Davies called The Happiness Industry. Our unprecedented ability to…
There’s this funny revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics going on in the Church today, typified by N. T. Wright. The Nicomachean Ethics, while more approachable than most Greek philosophy, is as dry as the Metaphysics, so I’m going to pass over my due diligence here and throw out an interesting anomaly.
The virtues we like to take up from the Greeks are not quite the same ones they would have clung to. Wright’s After You Believe (Virtue Reborn, before they decided to market it to Americans) is a little choosy about its use of virtue ethics. After deploying Hamlet’s suggestion that we put on virtue…
The tangentially related part I, mostly about Bible interpretation, can be found here.
“Words are wind,” the great George R.R. Martin wrote, and he was partly right. Words have meaning insofar as they are anchored in a lived context, so long as speech and feeling are closely knit. But words may lose power too, becoming desiccated with overuse and, more to the point, over-mobilization. Which is to say that the more someone invokes a powerful word in the service of an agenda, the more the word’s original meaning gets covered over.
In the Church, think of phrases like “speaking the truth in…