Theology/Religion

On Symbols, Dutiful Wives, and Religious Recessions

On Symbols, Dutiful Wives, and Religious Recessions

(Spoilers for George Eliot’s Middlemarch ahead.) Dorothea was a devout and idealistic girl whose greatest desires were to help other people and to serve some high purpose for God. When she met Mr. Casaubon, a scholarly middle-aged man in the midst of writing his opus, a “Key to All Mythologies”, she saw a chance to serve him dutifully as a wife (it was 1830 or so) and was thrilled to be a part of this higher purpose. Yet Casaubon is vain, self-important, and deeply insecure. Dorothea has overestimated both her capacity to sacrifice all for him and has overestimated Casaubon’s value…

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Pimp My Whitewashed Tomb

Pimp My Whitewashed Tomb

Not the actual car- it wasn’t nearly this bad.

The family car was involved in a hit and run last week. Police are still looking for the woman in the red van who sped off, the insurance company is working with us to get the car restored, and we’ve made the appointment with the body shop to get it all fixed. Duct tape has been deployed to keep various automotive parts in place. Can I confess to you that the car is a 2006 PT Cruiser? We’ve affectionately nicknamed it The PT Loser for being a mechanically challenged money-pit. Between…

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The Tune Stuck in Luther’s Head

A great passage from Steven Paulson’s Luther for Armchair Theologians

Luther said “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. “Bound by the Scriptures” with a conscience “captive to the Word of God” hardly sounds like freedom. But scripture’s freedom has never been an isolated, individualistic, lonely and ultimately death-dealing notion like the ones that capture our imagination today. True freedom is being captivated by Christ’s promise for forgiveness of sins. It is like getting a tune stuck in your head that you can’t get rid of, only this time instead of a legal refrain, “Have you done enough?” it repeats a promise: “God is pleased with you, on account of Christ.”

The Lame Shall Enter First: Grace and Weakness in Flannery O’Connor

Getting close to the end of our video rollout. This one comes from the incomparable Mr. McD:

The Lame Shall Enter First: Grace and Weakness in Flannery O’Connor – Will McDavid from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Hopelessly Devoted: Exodus Chapter Fourteen Verses Twenty One and Twenty Two

This morning’s devotion comes from the one and only Justin Holcomb.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

This passage is about God showing up in the middle of insecurity and confusion. The Exodus and subsequent journey to the Promised Land are the great moments of deliverance in Jewish history. bible-archeology-red-sea-crossingAs it is written in the Psalms, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—come, let us rejoice in him” (66:5-6). For thousands of years now, Jews remember and celebrate that God took them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. At the last minute, on their way out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, God divided the Red Sea—had God not provided, they would have died.

To Christians, the Exodus foreshadows the ultimate story of deliverance. It points to the cross—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as “the work of God on our behalf.” The Exodus and the ministry of Jesus both tell us that God provides for those in need, and that God causes life and flourishing where death and destruction try to reign. The Exodus and the cross tell us that God’s operative principle is rescue. God comes near to us—down here in the thick of it—to rescue us.

There is no work we can do in exchange for this rescue: it is undeserved and unearned. As the psalmist highlights the mighty works of God on our behalf, so we see this fulfilled in Christ. Jesus, who came to “fulfill the law,” did the work we couldn’t do, on our behalf. We could never be good enough. We could never fulfill the righteousness required by the Law. God, in the person of Jesus, did the work we couldn’t do for ourselves, and so God attributes Jesus’ work as our work. God exchanges our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. The work of God on our behalf is the best news possible to those in need of rescue.

Another Week Ends: Health As Wealth, A New(ish) Take on Addiction, More DFW, Cellular Dependence, and Francis I

Another Week Ends: Health As Wealth, A New(ish) Take on Addiction, More DFW, Cellular Dependence, and Francis I

1. Whatever form the Law takes, dictated by fickle zeitgeist, it leaves behind a few years later. Forms can be remarkably inconsistent among different demographics, and after we finally escape one form of (little-l) law, we look back and scorn it, wondering how we (or anyone else) ever could’ve gotten so attached to it. For example, masculinity: the more and more we escape the pressure for men to be super macho, the more contemptible we find its earnest expression, as if embarrassed by our previous adherence. Even commercials which target the lowest common denominator of the masculine – such as Axe –…

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Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Thank you Aaron Rodgers! The Green Bay QB gave a great answer to a question he was asked on his weekly radio show a few days ago during a “mailbag answer” segment. Here’s the exchange:

(Radio Host) Jason Wilde: Melissa says: I always find it a little off-putting when athletes, actors, and anybody says, “This is what God wanted” or “I want to thank God for helping us win today” — anything along those lines when a game or award is won. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the gist. Personally, with all the chaos in the world, I’m not sure…

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Grace in Sports (and Practice): Jacob Jarvis and Ohio St. Football

In preparing a new series we’re offering at my church, I was reminded of this post from a few years ago about Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. The man experienced a breakdown following his team’s loss to Alabama in 2009, enough to warrant him stepping away from coaching for a year. One recent interview indicated that indeed things have been going much better for him, personally, since coming back to coach at OSU. That he managed to win another National Championship on the other side of such a wake-up call, strikes me as fantastic news. Much better, at least, than hearing it was simply the product of a return to (old) form. His daughter even reports that they now speak on the phone “five times a day.” Which is to say, the support and connection to his family is apparently stronger than ever, and his work has not suffered for it. But best of all was discovering the video below, which displays just how much Urban’s new set of priorities have trickled over into the lives of his players and, especially, Jacob Jarvis and his younger brother. As Jacob wheels onto the field, holding hands with the players on the team, I couldn’t help but think: “Now that’s imputation, which is love.”

Rick Moody on the Parable of the Hidden Treasure

From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:

51GvNP+0GZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?

He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.

Running For Cover: The Unbearable Weight of Goodness in Broadchurch

Running For Cover: The Unbearable Weight of Goodness in Broadchurch

This one comes to us from Nick Rynerson:

Before we get into it, let’s have a quick chat. Nick here. Hey. If you haven’t watched the first season of Broadchurch don’t read this yet. Seriously. Stop. The show is on Netflix right now. Borrow your friend’s password and binge-watch it! It’s only eight episodes. Go on! Get! It’s not that I don’t want you to read this. It’s just that I’m pretty much going to ruin the ending of season one, and it’s a doozy.

Sometimes I wonder why I write. I usually feel guilty after I write something for publications that…

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David Brooks and the Ever-Pinging Status Sonar

A great way of talking about the continuous feedback loop of self-examination, this is a throwback quote from a favorite, The Social Animal, David Brooks’ investigation of the interior lives of people. The book follows the lives of two fictional lovers, Harold and Erica, from infancy to adulthood, and all the bumps along the way. We pick up as Harold and Erica have fallen in love. Mark, who is mentioned here, is Harold’s exotic, take-life-by-the-horns roommate.

This “sonar” analogy is a pretty apt picture of little-l law in our lives. It may not be the law of God, but its effect often feels the same. It forces us to rate ourselves on the continuum of righteous living. (It is also interesting what falling in love does to Harold’s self-appraisal.)

Doctor_jacobyA few weeks later, Harold sat alone in his apartment, feeling that his life was going tremendously well. All human beings go through life with a fully operational status sonar. We send out continuous waves of status measurements and receive a stream of positive or negative feedback signals that cumulatively define our place in society. Harold looked around at his loft. PING. A plus signal came back. He loved its open space and high ceilings. Hard contemplated his abs. PING. A negative signal came back. He really should go to the gym more. Harold looked at his face in the mirror. PING. A neutral signal came back. No sculpted cheekbones, but it could be worse.

All day long the status sonar hums along–a stream of pluses, minuses and neutrals building in the mind, producing either happiness, anxiety, or doubt. The status sonar isn’t even a conscious process most of the time; it is just the hedonic tone of existence. Much of life, Mark had told Harold, consists of trying to maximize the number of pluses in the stream and minimize the number of minuses. Much of life is a series of adjustments to plus up the flow.

The problem is, nobody’s status sonar is accurate. Some people are status exaggerators. They wildly inflate their spot in the pecking order. They are sixes they think they are eights and when they ask out women who are nines they are flummoxed when they get rejected. Other people are status minimizers. These people will never apply for jobs for which they are amply qualified because they assume they’ll be crushed by the competition.

…Harold’s sonar sensor was like a finely crafted Swiss watch. It was balanced, sensitive, and appropriately forgiving. Like most happy people, Harold judged himself by his intentions, his friends by their deeds, and his rivals by their mistakes. The PINGs continued. The pluses flowed. And when Harold imagined himself with Erica, well, it was like a surging torrent of pluses…But there was also something deeper going on. All his life, Harold had lived at a certain level, but now he had discovered deeper compulsions. Coming to this realization was like living in a house all your life and suddenly falling through a trapdoor to find there had been a level underground all along, and then to find another level beneath that, and another level and another.

The Risk of Grace Pt 2 – Tullian Tchividjian

Herr Tchividjian’s second talk from Houston, in which he comes clean about the Christian life in no uncertain terms:

The Risk of Grace, part 2 – Tullian Tchividjian from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Speaking of our man Tullian, just found out that he’ll be with us in NYC in April to lead an on-stage conversation with his good friend Nadia Bolz Weber (on Saturday morning). Should be incredible. And don’t forget: the LIBERATE conference is only a month away!