A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy
1. Over at aeon, Benjamin Grant Purzycki once again demonstrates the poverty of discourse about religion – the fact that little understanding of its required to make grand pronouncements. Anyway, he says some interesting things along the way, and it’s worth a read. First, we’re all biased toward thinking of God as a cosmic judge:
In a 2013 article in Cognition, I reported that Christian students from the University of Connecticut who claim that God knows everything will nonetheless rate His knowledge of moral information (Does God know that Sebastian robs grocery stores?) as better than His knowledge of non-moral information (Does God…
Walker Percy said that Wednesday afternoon is the worst time of the week, when an existential fugue settles over you – and as T-Bone Walker sang, “Thursday’s also sad.” The narrator of Ikiru said, “he will have to get a lot worse before he can get better.” So here’s some afternoon Law to help, from Conrad’s Lord Jim, as he describes a man trying to define himself, to narrate a shameful mistake from his past in such a way as to lessen his guilt:
It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts, by the awful penalties of its failure.
2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:
Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.
The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.
There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…
Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.
(This essay was originally published in issue 3 of The Mockingbird. All issues and subscriptions, including issue 4 which ships tomorrow, are available available here).
“We can permit ourselves to be more romantic than the romanticists and more humanistic than the humanists. But we must be more precise.” —Karl Barth, “The Christian’s Place in Society”
Every recess for eight years, I was picked last on the team for two-hand-touch football. The turning point came in the ninth grade, when recess was replaced by study hall.
But, before that, there was another turning point I had blundered right past: the opportunity…
A fantastic quote from her novel Middlemarch concerning, interestingly enough, a devoutly Christian man. She wrote like no one else, ht PW:
The terror of being judged sharpens the memory: it sends an inevitable glare over that long-unvisited past which has been habitually recalled only in general phrases. Even without memory, the life is bound into one by a zone of dependence in growth and decay; but intense memory forces a man to own his blameworthy past. With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man’s past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame.
Here at Mbird we spend a good deal of time hemming and hawing against the myth of humanism – that we are free to shape our own destinies, unconstrained, or mostly unconstrained, by our past, circumstances, and vices – unbound, that is, to our deeply distorted wills. The facts dismantle this myth quickly: the fact that the worst human atrocities have been committed in our most advanced century, that New Year’s resolutions quickly dwindle into February guilt, that the decades in our lives when we’re advancing and progressing tend to be the most unhappy ones. When people actually do change for the better, it…
Another Week Ends: Even More Camille Paglia, Digital Soul-Training, Backstabbing Enablers, Apolitical Auden, and Masculine Christianity
1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…
I recently got an invitation via email for a new social network for businesspeople, GoBuyside.com. While I know far too little about the finance world to receive an invitation, let alone reflect on it, I think buy side means the people who buy securities for investment, which seems like the more prestigious/lucrative: you can make a windfall if you do it right. The network’s title is clear, expressing a movement toward higher positions, bigger money, more potential for advancement.
Why in the world would you name a business networking site that? Well, it’s an identity marker in a way that LinkedIn…
This selection of a sermon comes from John Zahl’s collection, Sermons of Grace, available here. For those who made it to Liberate this year, the moving illustration towards the end should sound familiar:
My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Unlike the peace of the world, the peace of God lasts. The forgiveness of God is not a bait-and-switch trap. It does not expire. When Jesus uttered those fateful words on the cross, “It is finished,” he meant what he said. The heavenly parking meter is not ticking.
Imagine, if you will, a cup of…
A teacher of mine in college used to say that the Old Testament prophets didn’t quite get supernatural revelation, but they read the future just like everyone else. But while other prophets would read the signs of the times in the stars, or in a peculiar palm-line, or in hallucinogenic-induced visions, the Hebrew prophets read the future from a close examination of Israel’s heart. Because the heart of a culture – often something few are aware of until decades later, if ever – determines its future, directs its role in the complex drama between humanity and God, traces the plight…
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Mt 6:3-4).
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).
Another Week Ends: More PC, Orthorexia, Perfect Ripostes, Grace in Addiction in Asheville, SBTB Redivivus, and Implausible Pop-Country Songs
1. One subject that’s been on our minds lately is political correctness, the orthodoxy of speech by which the progressives are divided from the bigots. It’s a division almost as absolute as that between righteous and sinners, and the press and universities – places supposed to be bastions of the liberal ideal of open speech – have instead been on the forefront of the new censorship. Fredrick deBoer, a leftist activist and grad student at Purdue, weighs in:
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom…