Theology/Religion
Katy Perry, Celine Dion, and the Shamelessness of Poptimism

Katy Perry, Celine Dion, and the Shamelessness of Poptimism

Another stellar entry from Joey Shook:

Once again this year, there’s been a debate going on between music writers about what it means to appreciate that dirty, three-letter genre simply known as “pop”. The spectrum of opinions (and number of those offering them) is of course quite wide—Katy Perry is “genius” vs. “Katy Perry is trash music”—and the two most notable articles (which represent both sides of the argument) have been a NY Times piece by Saul Austerlitz and an NPR piece by Ann Powers and Carl Wilson (Mike Powell’s response to both pieces on The Pitch is also very much…

Read More »

Disgruntled Millennials and Theology of the Cross

Disgruntled Millennials and Theology of the Cross

It’s hard to talk about millennials without feeling the same confusion as Whit Stillman’s post-college prep, Des McGrath, over the term “yuppie”, ht DZ:

Des McGrath: Do yuppies even exist? No one says, “I am a yuppie,” it’s always the other guy who’s a yuppie. I think for a group to exist, somebody has to admit to be part of it.

Dan Powers: Of course yuppies exist. Most people would say you two are prime specimens.

Someone asked me the other day what the term ‘millennials’ means, and though I seem to check most of the boxes (20-something, anxious, on a misguided quest…

Read More »

Waving the Freak Flag in the Face of Playing the Game the “Right Way”

Waving the Freak Flag in the Face of Playing the Game the “Right Way”

One of my favorite missionary stories is told by Peter Letchford, a 95 year-old long time British missionary to Zambia, who relayed an exchange he had in the 1940s with a newly converted tribal chief. “The chief came to me with his newly translated bible in hand and a perplexed look on his face. It was open to Ephesians 5.  ‘Peter, please tell me how do I love all five of my wives like Christ loves his church?’, he asked”. It’s always fascinating to watch how the gospel speaks into a “not conveniently Western/American” cultural context. Peter simply smiled and said,…

Read More »

Kumare: The True Story of a (False) False Prophet

Kumare: The True Story of a (False) False Prophet

This fabulous review/reflection comes to us from Josh Hall:

Plenty has been said about the documentary Kumare, and I certainly don’t want to stir up controversy. What happens in it is undeniably fascinating and worth talking about: this guy, by all accounts a normal American male, gets the idea to set out into the world as a “false prophet”. With pseudo-message and made-up rituals in hand, he brings a camera crew along to capture the whole thing. Not your typical documentary.

His stated purpose is as follows:

“My problem wasn’t with spirituality, but with spiritual leaders. Why do we need them? I wanted…

Read More »

Moral Children and Their Praising Parents

Moral Children and Their Praising Parents

The New Yorker may have published the definitive word on parenting think-pieces a few weeks ago, but apparently the memo didn’t make it across town to The Times. Which is fortunate, since there’s quite a bit to be gleaned from Adam Grant’s recent “Raising a Moral Child”. If most parenting articles tend to focus on things like anxiety and self-image and work ethic, Grant gives us a helpful survey of current social science on how/where kids develop conscience and compassion and kindness. He begins by telling us that “when people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles…

Read More »

Legalism, Gnosticism, and Resurrection: An Easter Reflection

Legalism, Gnosticism, and Resurrection: An Easter Reflection

Some people have said that the ‘grace message’ can tend toward Gnosticism. Luther’s exposition of St. Paul’s distrust of the Law can feel like a distrust of the restored, peaceful world to which the Law bears witness. The most extreme interpretations of Luther’s “two kingdoms”, with Christianity’s oft-implied indifference to temporal matters, does nothing to help the problem. And the best modern adaptations of his theology have often been indebted to existentialism, or progenitors of it. The Kierkegaard of the Postscript immediately springs to mind (pseudonymously Johannes Climacus), who argued that world-history is a distraction, and the most important thing to…

Read More »

PZ’s Podcast: Cosmic Recension

PZ’s Podcast: Cosmic Recension

EPISODE 165

In traditional New Testament studies, the student is trying to get as close as possible to the original text. The idea is that the closer you are to the original, the closer you are to the Inspiration that created the text in the first place.

The same principle applies to almost any branch of study, and also to art and literature. You want Kerouac’s actual scroll, Pollack’s actual canvas, Wordsworth’s actual pad, Mike Francis’ actual demo.

I think that Burton Cummings, Canada’s piano man, comes close to Inspiration in several of his songs, including songs he performed with The Guess Who….

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Walser’s Wounds, Diet Supremacists, Homeless Christ, Hart’s Lament, Flat Circus, Mad Men, Parenthood, and The Secret Sisters

Another Week Ends: Walser’s Wounds, Diet Supremacists, Homeless Christ, Hart’s Lament, Flat Circus, Mad Men, Parenthood, and The Secret Sisters

1. Much of value comes across one’s desk during Holy Week, and this year was no exception. But the sources are seldom the expected ones. What stopped me in my tracks this week was an interview The European conducted with prominent German intellectual Martin Walser on “Kafka, Faith and Atheism” (and Karl Barth), which was picked up by The Huffington Post in 2012. Don’t gloss over! Despite the somewhat confusing allusion to Martin Luther–a generous read of which would surmise he’s referring either to the -ism that followed the man, or the way the Reformer’s understanding of vocation was culturally…

Read More »

When “Idiot” Became a Term of Endearment

When “Idiot” Became a Term of Endearment

When I was in college (many years ago) I was driving with a friend and someone cut us off in traffic.  I called the guy an idiot – because that’s just what people who cut you off in traffic are.   My friend chastised me for the comment – “you know Jesus said that if you call someone an ‘idiot’ (Matt. 5:22) you won’t be able to escape the fires of hell, right?”  Yikes!  That little lecture from my friend has stuck with me for over 30 years.  I always (kind of) cringe when that word comes out of my mouth,…

Read More »

From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

We have been delighted (and humbled) to hear all the encouraging words about the first issue of The Mockingbird. If you’re without a copy, it’s not too late to place an order. We’re not biased, but we think you’ll be glad you did. In the following weeks, we’ll be publishing some of the essays from that issue on our magazine’s page, beginning with this one, from R-J Heijmen, on the art of dying in the era of the modern hospital.

While there’s no good way to enjoy a long-form read online–and as far as the look and feel of the magazine,…

Read More »

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbcher Goes to School (by Laurie Halse Anderson) is a children’s picture book about a young girl who has  untamable red hair with a mind of its own. Zoe loves her hair, her parents love her hair, and last year, her free-spirited kindergarten teacher loved Zoe’s hair since it helped around the classroom, picking up trash, erasing the chalkboard, setting the snack table, and comforting the children during nap time. But things change this year when Zoe goes to first grade. “School has rules,” her new teacher, Ms. Trisk, likes to say. “No wild hair in…

Read More »

W.H. Auden Was There on Good Friday

This one has been making the rounds a bit recently, but fortunately no amount of familiarity can detract from its power. From Wystan’s long out of print ‘commonplace book’ A Certain World:

daisy_nookJust as we are all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar sight – three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute people humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

In NYC a couple of weeks ago, we held a reception for Paul Zahl’s Festschrift, Comfortable Words (more details here), edited by Jady Koch and Todd Brewer. The work honors Paul Zahl’s life-giving influence upon academics, pastors, laypeople, and everything in between. Among many extraordinary essays, Dylan Potter’s “Ministry as Leisure” struck a note with its insight and empathy into a commonly neglected problem with ministers, one which easily extends to lay Christians, too:

One indication that a clergyperson has come under the law’s heavy hand is that they begin to eschew leisure in order to pursue what are perceived to be…

Read More »

Eminem Writes the Textbook on Reconciliation… Sort Of

Eminem Writes the Textbook on Reconciliation… Sort Of

When I teach students about reconciliation, I start with an unexpected source: Eminem. Believe it or not, his new track, “Headlights,” serves not only as a musical olive branch to his mother but as a beautiful example of human reconciliation. At the same time, the rapper demonstrates an interesting deviation from this approach when he considers divine reconciliation.

Eminem describes his tense, explosive arguments with his mother as “atomic bombs” and the climate of his house growing up as “Vietnam.” He suggests that his mother struggled with alcoholism to such a degree that the state ultimately seized his younger brother, Nate,…

Read More »

D.G. Myers on the Art of Dying

A powerful (and very Holy Week-appropriate) reflection on death came from literary critic D.G. Myers, who faces his own mortality in the throes of prostate cancer. This was originally uncovered by our friends over at The Dish.

tumblr_kvtcvdVG4q1qzkyblo1_500Dying is the problem, not death. As an Orthodox Jew, I believe with perfect faith in the resurrection of the dead, but until that happens, death is the termination of consciousness. No peeking back into life. I won’t get to keep a scorecard of who is crying at my funeral, who is dry-eyed, who never bothered to show up. If I want someone to cry at my funeral, I need to patch things up with him before the last weak images flicker out.

In the past few weeks I have been approaching ex-friends whom I have damaged to ask their forgiveness. I’ve been behaving, in short, as if dying were a twelve-step program. Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Not that I mind having enemies. One person whom I approached recently accused me of “basking in self-importance,” which is one possible way, I suppose, of describing the tireless knowledge that death is near. But there are other persons, including some with whom I have had very public fallings-out, whom I don’t want as enemies when I pass away. To die without accepting responsibility for the damage I have done to relationships that were once meaningful to me would be shameful and undeniably self-important.