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Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

Allen Tate, an admired Southern poet (friend of Robert Penn Warren and teacher of Robert Lowell), published an essay in 1930 diagnosing the complexities of Southern and, by extension, American religion. It appears in a work by defenders of the agrarian way of life, titled I’ll Take My Stand, a book with some high points of wisdom which are neglected, now, as a result of its significant/egregious low points of racism and Southern revanchism. Tate finds American religion to be pragmatic in a bad way, focused on an abstract ability to work rather than a view of the whole human. You can…

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Another Week Ends: Blinded with Science, Stumped by Meaning After God, Paralyzed by the Law of Ice and Fire, Outmaneuvered by a Cheeseburger and Oversimplified by Gallup

Another Week Ends: Blinded with Science, Stumped by Meaning After God, Paralyzed by the Law of Ice and Fire, Outmaneuvered by a Cheeseburger and Oversimplified by Gallup

1. Aquinas followed Aristotle in claiming the end (telos, purpose) of biology is medicine. Science has long been a technical discipline designed primarily to promote human flourishing / well-being. Of course, it was always contemplative to a degree, satisfying curiosity or even, as Aquinas also notes, teaching us about God. The study of creation reflects upon the Creator. One wonders what the role of science is today, what a panel of researchers would say if asked. My best guess would be something along the lines of increasing knowledge for knowledge’s sake; if pressed further, one might say that pure knowledge works to bolster happiness and/or…

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“Lest Ye Be Judged” – Dean Esskew and his Umpire Church

“Lest Ye Be Judged” – Dean Esskew and his Umpire Church

What if you made your living passing judgement? What if you, on the rarest of occasions (and without the intention of doing so) passed judgement incorrectly? (Maybe one time in 100). What if, for each “one” time, you were mercilessly berated and held responsible for ruining the “day” of tens of thousands? Keep in mind, you were absolutely stellar and were cheered (albeit unwittingly) the other 99 times. It doesn’t matter though. That one time? It can’t possibly be made up for by the other 99 cheers you heard because, honestly?, those cheers were for someone else. That one miscue?…

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Forgetting the Right to Be Forgotten

Forgetting the Right to Be Forgotten

There’s likely no such thing as the right to be forgotten. So why are we talking about it?

In the sixth grade, I opportunistically backstabbed one of my friends; the story reads like an appendix to a middle-school The Prince. I’d had a crush on a girl for three long weeks (give or take), and one of my two best friends, we’ll call him Phil, started ‘going out’ with her almost at random, I think after one of those weekend field trips which always seemed to break apart cliques, form new ones, and breathe fresh life into the daily math-science-history routine. The…

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Christian Battle Lines and the Narcissism of Small Differences

Christian Battle Lines and the Narcissism of Small Differences

I became a Christian during summer camp at age eleven, and few experiences since then can compare to the bliss of that first night and the month or so following it. I still remember, though distantly, the thrill of morning devotionals and a general sense of wonder at the strange, unmapped new territory of Christianity.

Walker Percy wrote that every explorer names his island Formosa, “beautiful”, and such Christianity was to me. After a time, however, I started hearing an internal voice, one that said, roughly, why do morning devotionals for ten minutes – you could do them for thirty. So…

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Another Week Ends: Cultural Literati Pretenders, Fake Empathy, The Search for Cool (Moms), Kurt Vonnegut, Calvary, and the Gospel Dustups

Another Week Ends: Cultural Literati Pretenders, Fake Empathy, The Search for Cool (Moms), Kurt Vonnegut, Calvary, and the Gospel Dustups

1) The Atlantic attempted a definition of “cool” this week, and it runs in tow with Shane Snow’s definition of humor in the New Yorker. Whereas humor can be defined as “benign violation,” cool is defined by Derek Thompson as “a measured violation of malign expectations.” Sounds good to me! Within this definition, cool is bound on both ends by law: cool is a response to some form of constraint or expectation, but it also must operate within an expected set of parameters in order for it to be seen as cool. If it operates beyond the parameters of its…

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Another Week Ends: Trophy Rage, Thriving, Cave Churches, Flannery’s Freedom, Cheap Trick, and Facebook Love

Another Week Ends: Trophy Rage, Thriving, Cave Churches, Flannery’s Freedom, Cheap Trick, and Facebook Love

1. We all love The Incredibles, right? It’s as good a movie as Pixar has made, which is saying a lot (rumors of a sequel are legit!). And we all remember the rant that Bob Parr goes on in the middle of the film, when he objects to attending his son’s “graduation” from the fifth grade. “He’s merely moving from the fifth grade to the sixth grade,” Parr notes. Director Brad Bird put his finger on something that many have noticed in our culture, the rise of the “participation trophy”, where kids get prizes and acclamations just for showing up…

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PZ’s Podcast: The House That Jack Built

PZ’s Podcast: The House That Jack Built

EPISODE 166

It is really happening now, a much prayed for thing. Women are starting to be called to the big jobs, at least in the church. The “walls of Jericho” (as in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night”) are coming down. “No Doubt About It” (Hot Chocolate).

Podcast 166 talks about the promise inherent in this breakthrough, such as reduced conflict in parish communities, reduced transference on the minister, reduced counter-transference from the minister, reduced reactivity (in everybody), and in general, reduced resistance. What a relief for there to be less “heat in the kitchen” when it comes to parish ministry….

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Another Week Ends: Evil Without, Fitness Within, Gilbert and Sullivan, Jesus and “My Wife”, Relentless Popes, Concessive Friends, Bad TV Fans and Worse Tinder Dates

Another Week Ends: Evil Without, Fitness Within, Gilbert and Sullivan, Jesus and “My Wife”, Relentless Popes, Concessive Friends, Bad TV Fans and Worse Tinder Dates

1. Sarah Palin this week let loose another of the brand of comments she’s known for – offensive or courageous or whatever, depending on your politics. The exact line was something along the lines of, “If I were in charge they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” It would be a mistake to blame Palin too much; it’s hard to win primaries as a moderate these days, right or left. The more sobering news comes from the world of Stats: reporting on Palin’s comments, The Dish noted the following:

[The best recent research] reveals that vast swathes of American Christianity are…

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Reviewing The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

Reviewing The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

I was honored a few months ago to be asked to review Alan Jacobs’ new biography of The Book of Common Prayer for Modern Reformation magazine, one of my/our favorite periodicals. Seeing as the issue in which it appears just hit stands (May-June), here’s a generous portion of the article. Be sure to head over to Mod Ref and subscribe to read the whole thing:

To borrow a phrase from faux fashion icon Mugatu in Ben Stiller’s film Zoolander, liturgy is so hot right now. A minister at an evangelical Congregational church in Massachusetts uses The Book of Common Prayer at every…

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Another Week Ends: Homo Animatus and Adventure Time, Dreher Reads Dante, Eulogies (not Résumés), Smugness Is For Real, Everybody Dies, Nuremberg Chaplains, and Christian Rap

Another Week Ends: Homo Animatus and Adventure Time, Dreher Reads Dante, Eulogies (not Résumés), Smugness Is For Real, Everybody Dies, Nuremberg Chaplains, and Christian Rap

1. In TV: Game of Thrones continues with a strong fourth season, despite some controversy on Sunday as it plumbed the worst of Martin Luther’s incurvatus in se (sin as being “curved-in on oneself”) in a scene horrific even by GOT standards. In animated television, it’s recently come to our attention that Rick and Morty on Adult Swim is absolutely brilliant, ht SA, if you have a high threshold for (lots of) ribaldry. Its first season has been perhaps the most creative in recent TV memory, as a boy (Morty) is dragged along into bizarre sci-fi escapades by his grandfather (Rick), a mentally damaged man whose…

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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…

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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…

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Another Week Ends: Normcore, Eterni.me, Colbert’s Late Show Prospects, Post-Grad Advice, and “I Love You, Buts”

Another Week Ends: Normcore, Eterni.me, Colbert’s Late Show Prospects, Post-Grad Advice, and “I Love You, Buts”

Real quick before we get going: Conference recordings should be up early next week! Videos will roll out gradually after that. Also, we’ve pulled Eden and Afterward to make some final changes. Look for a release announcement in the next ten days.

1) Even getting out of the game is part of the game, now. In fact, it is the game de rigueur. If you thought you weren’t in a fashion trend, if you didn’t know a group existed for people who were actually dressed just like most people, now there is, and you are, and it is the innest…

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2014 NYC Book Table / Reading List

Thanks so much to volunteers, speakers, and attendants of our 2014 NYC Conference! Recordings and videos should be coming soon, but for now, here’s our conference book table, which doubles as a recommended reading list from Mbird. Titles with asterisks are either new or new to us:

LITERATURE

photo 2-W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays
-Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King (Penguin Classics)*
-T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party
-George Herbert, Herbert Poems
-Mary Karr, Lit: A Memoir (P.S.)
-Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome: Poems
-C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale*
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story
-Reynolds Price, A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing
-J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
-Oscar Wilde, De Profundis: The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Writings
-Thornton Wilder, Theophilus North: A Novel
-Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing: Poems

CHRISTIANITY / THEOLOGY

-Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation
-Todd Brewer and David Zahl, The Gospel According to Pixar
-Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace
-Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus
-Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought
-Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Theology)
-Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man
-Bo Giertz, Hammer of God
-John D. Koch and Todd Brewer, Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F. M. Zahl*
-Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Luther Classic Commentaries)
-Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will
-Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

photo 3 (1)
-William McDavid, Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis*
-Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace
-Sean Norris, Judgment and Love
-Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love
-Ethan Richardson, This American Gospel: Public Radio Parables and the Grace of God
-Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris, The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day)
-Ethan Richardson, The Mockingbird (Magazine)*
-Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
-Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World
-Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Addiction: The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody
-Paul F.M. Zahl, The Merciful Impasse
-Paul F.M. Zahl, PZ’s Panopticon: An Off-the-Wall Guide to World Religion*
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us?: The Present Power of the Death of Christ

photo 4

SOCIAL SCIENCE
-Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
-Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage)
-Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays*
-Dorothy Martyn, Beyond Deserving: Children, Parents, and Responsibility Revisited
-Walker Percy, Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays
-Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life*
-Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought
-Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

MUSIC

-Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine, Love and Mercy*
-High Street Hymns, High Street Hymns
-High Street Hymns, Love Shall Be Our Token