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 –…
“What are my initials?” my friend Billy asked in response to my ludicrous comment. The obvious answer—apparent to anyone who knows him—is: “BS!” It’s not that I was spewing lies, though they most certainly weren’t truthful. It’s just that it carried no concern for the truth whatsoever because the statements were given for a different purpose: I said them only to get a rise out of him. And Billy saw right through it.
So at the risk of oversimplification, one might say there’s truth, lies, and the ambiguous middle known as bullsh*t. This is what philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s little book On Bullsh*t explores. He…
Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, and More Messes of Help
Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.
1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…
I present this with all of the love and Christian charity I can muster, but if I ever hear the following churchy phrases again, it will be too soon. And if you use them around me in the year of 2015, I will give you the “Ouiser Boudreaux.”
1. She’s earning jewels for her crown in heaven.
Wait, there are crowns and a system of jewels? Is this like a Kay Jeweler Add a Charm, bracelet thing? Can I request an all emerald edition? But seriously, I’ve never heard this phrase used in regards to anything except our own egos. And it…
George Frideric Handel’s Messiah was originally an Easter offering. It burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, as ladies had heeded pleas by management to wear dresses “without Hoops” in order to make “Room for more company.” Handel’s superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce.
The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So moved was the [Anglican clergyman] Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
After being in the ministry for 50 years, The Rev. Dr. Stephen Tyng (who, from 1845-1878, was rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, where we hold our annual NYC Conference) was asked to deliver a series of lectures to the School of Theology in Boston University entitled “The Christian Pastor.” This particular quote comes from his lecture on the topic of preaching. He never intended to have them published, but evidently the students were so blown away by the whole presentation that they insisted the talks be made available. It’s always reminded me of the mission of Mockingbird:
This is your message…
Since Reformation Day is kind of a big deal around here, I’d like to take a moment to remember those largely unsung heroes of the time: clergy wives. It is a role that many of us take for granted. History tells us that these women were treated horribly. Among other “fun facts,” they were called harlots and were often denied midwives in childbirth. An archbishop of the time recorded a visitation to a church by writing: “all the married priests in England are knaves and their wives are very whores.” As a priest wife myself, I am hoping no one…
EPISODE 178: Without Which Not
The social-media fracas concerning General Seminary in New York is revealing. It has shown how far ideology can go in conceptualizing one’s enemies. It’s kept me thinking about the French Revolution. Everybody got further and further (and further) extreme until even the most thorough “liberal” was branded a reactionary. Off with his head! And so it did. Get cut off, I mean.
Where I find hope is a no-brainer in my world, tho’ maybe a stretch in yours. I find hope in a story by Irvin S. Cobb, entitled “Ex-Fightin’ Billy”. Cobb, that old Kentuckian, portrays the…
There is a current meltdown in more than one venerable institution within the Christian Church nationally. It’s like the explosions at the beginning of Cloverfield. They seem a little far away at first, but, turns out, they’re headed right for you.
I try to interpret these escalations of conflict within the Church as an expression of incompatibility — the incompatibility of institutions and institutional process with the improvisation and inspiration that mark genuine spiritual religion. (The phrase “improvisation and inspiration” to describe what ought to be, comes from Lloyd Fonvielle.) I have to say, institutions and property and hierarchy are in general incompatible with the teachings of the Founder. Emil Brunner stated this unarguably in 1951 in his book The Misunderstanding of the Church.
“Karma” comes into this, too, tho’ it’s a word I’m a little uncomfortable using, as it sounds awfully Eastern in this context. Meanwhile, Christianity has the same idea! Not to mention Eric Clapton and the Band, who electrified the world once in their performance of “Further on up the Road”. It’s striking how one’s persecutors yesterday become the persecuted themselves, today. As Marshall Schomberg at the Boyne cried to his Huguenot troops, pointing at the French soldiers across the river, “Voici vos persecuteurs!” You never have to worry that someone’s going to get his or her comeuppance. It always happens. You’re not going to have to lift a finger.
Finally, there’s the hope of the Contraption. God is actually with us. He’s neither against us nor indifferent. He is pro nobis, and that’s nothing new. Here, tho’, we can also look to Jane Austen. She’s going to have the last word today.
This podcast is dedicated to Jacob and Melina Smith.
A quick one from Tullian Tchividjian’s impassioned introduction to One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Couldn’t be more excited that Tullian will be speaking at our Houston Conference next week!
It often seems that the Good News of God’s grace has been tragically hijacked by an oppressive religious moralism that is all about rules, rules, and more rules. Doing more, trying harder, self-help, getting better, and fixing, fixing, fixing—ourselves, our kids, our spouses, our friends, our enemies, our culture, our world. Christianity is perceived as being a vehicle for good behavior and clean living—and the judgments that result from them—rather than the only recourse for those who have failed over and over and over again…
I do not mean to imply that Christians don’t believe in grace. It is just that we have a hard time with grace alone. As Max Lucado recently observed, “It wasn’t that [certain Judean Christians who Paul chastised in Acts 15] didn’t believe in grace at all. They did. They believed in grace a lot. They just didn’t believe in grace alone.”
There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:
Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…
Good news! Yesterday saw the release of Christian Wiman’s new book of poetry, Once in the West. While my copy is still in mail, I couldn’t resist sharing the opening portion of what Dwight Garner in the NY Times has already called a “major performance” and “near-masterpiece”, one that Wiman was kind enough to preview for us when he was here in 2013, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”. It’s biting and uncomfortable but also extremely funny, a veritable catalog of churchy tropes, both inane and indicting. Given its tone, the ending, which you’ll have to buy the book to read, may surprise you.
don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself
toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake
to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.
Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn
we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.
You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.
I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep
sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:
boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,
and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.
Anyone interested in Wiman would do well to read Matthew Sitman’s excellent new essay for The Deep Dish, “Finding the Words for Faith”, in which he dubs CW “America’s most important Christian writer.”