Reformation
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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The Theological Mis-Commitment Behind Our Exhaustion

The Theological Mis-Commitment Behind Our Exhaustion

Some salient thoughts on rest and restlessness from Walter Brueggemann’s new booklet, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. He may skirt what we might call an overly gracious view of the Law, putting an uncomfortable amount of onus for current restlessness on external circumstances (rather than locating the roots within), but still, the core diagnosis strikes me as a valid one:

The alternative on offer [in the Sabbath] is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God. To be so situated is a staggering option,…

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All The Things David Foster Wallace’s Parents Said to Him

All The Things David Foster Wallace’s Parents Said to Him

I’ve been making my way through Conversations with David Foster Wallace, and as expected, it’s chock-full of interesting exchanges. You also get to witness a certain evolution in his thought. Anyway, three favorite quotes thus far would be the following. The first comes from an interview with Salon in 1996, post-Infinite Jest:

“It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that…

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Everything New Is Moralism Again – Jacob Smith

Our video coverage of the NYC Conference rolls on with a killer breakout from the one and only Jacob Smith:

Everything New Is Moralism Again ~ Jacob Smith from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

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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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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A Reality Check from Bad Suns (and John Calvin)

A Reality Check from Bad Suns (and John Calvin)

I recently discovered Bad Suns, an up-and-coming band from California, whose song “Salt” seems to be played almost daily during my commute. Listen to what it says: “Look in the mirror and tell me/ What it is like to be free/ How do I grasp reality/ When I don’t have an identity?/ Who, who can I look to ’cause I’m not like you, you?/ And I don’t believe in the truth, truth/ Because all of my life’s built on lies.”

When I hear these lyrics, I can’t help but think of what Paul Zahl recently says in PZ’s Podcast episode #162 called “Rain Dance”. Simple…

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Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

It’s become fashionable in some Protestant circles to talk about inspiring virtue not through dry rules or frustrated self-discipline, but through a vision of the moral life. ‘Living into the Kingdom’, or looking at a beautiful vision of God’s restoration in the eschaton and ‘mapping backwards’ (see Ethan’s TFA piece in The Mockingbird) to see how we act in light of God’s redemption are ideas and phrases enjoying broad use in American Christianity. Even those who haven’t read the intellectual mainstays of this idea (Wright, Smith, etc) still implicitly think this way. I know I’d rather show my children Caillou’s…

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Fighting a Long-Lost Battle in Romans 7

From Mark Seifrid of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

perspectives-on-our-inner-struggle“Paul does not speak of the Christian struggle with sin in Romans 7. He describes a battle already lost, long ago in Adam. Nevertheless, in sheer wonder, the long-lost battle has been decided in our favor by God in Christ. The Christian is thus called to walk the very narrow path marked by the intersection of the new creation with the present fallen world. On the one side we are subject to the danger of the despair that loses sight of God’s work in Christ. On the other hand, we are subject to the danger of a pride that falsely supposes that the power of salvation is now ours, if only we realize its potential. Such a pride in its own way also loses sight of God’s work in Christ. It brings a ‘therapeutic Christianity’ that turns outward achievements, whether individual, corporate, or social, into a measure of spiritual progress and a mark of the presence of the kingdom. It does not see that what has been accomplished in Christ is located abidingly in Christ, not in ourselves. Our salvation, and therefore all true progress, both individual and corporate, does not rest in our hands…

As Paul tells the Philippians, progress is a progress in faith (Phil 1:21). It is not a turning inward but a being-turned-outward. It is hearing the address of the gospel afresh within the changing circumstances of life. To use Paul’s language, it is again and again ‘reckoning yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6:11)… Not only the first step but every step of Christian progress begins with Paul’s sober and realistic confession in Rom 7:25b [...with my flesh I serve the law of sin]. It begins with the acknowledgment that as long as we remain in this body and life the unhappy truth that we ‘serve the law of sin’ remains.”

-Mark A. Seifrid, Perspectives on Our Struggle with Sin

Karl Barth on The Humanity of God

The great Swiss theologian  addresses the task of preaching, from a late-career book of the same name:

barth“A fourth consequence [of God's humanity]: the sense and sound of our voice must be fundamentally positive. Proclamation of the covenant of God with man, announcement of the place which is once for all opened and assigned to man in this covenant, the message of Immanuel, the message of Christ – this is the task. The dialogue and encounter which are our theological theme involve God’s grace and man’s gratitude. To open up again the abyss closed in Jesus Christ cannot be our task. Man is not good: that is indeed true and must once more be asserted. God does not turn toward him without uttering an inexorable ‘No’ to his transgression. Thus theology has no choice but to put this ‘No’ into words within the framework of its theme. However, it must be the ‘No’ which Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself for us men, in order that it may no longer affect us and that we may no longer place ourselves under it. What takes place in God’s humanity is, since it includes that ‘No’ in itself, the affirmation of man.

The direction of our word is given therewith. The man with whom we have to do in ourselves and in others, though a rebel, a sluggard, a hypocrite, is likewise the creature to whom his Creator is faithful and not unfaithful. But there is still more: he is the being whom God has loved, loves, and will love, because He has substituted Himself in Jesus Christ and made Himself the guarantee… And with this explanation the statement that the human spirit is naturally Christian may also be valid as an obstinately joyful proclamation. That is what we have to testify to men in view of the humanism of God, irrespective of the more or less dense godlessness of their humanism – everything else must be valid only in the framework of this statement and promise.”

Man’s Prosthetic God: Technologies of Glory and the Still-Present Need for Salvation

Man’s Prosthetic God: Technologies of Glory and the Still-Present Need for Salvation

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some thoughts on identity and freedom, prompted in part by Apple’s iPad Air commercial. So to continue the theme of ads-from-tech-companies, I thought I might also offer just some brief comments on Microsoft’s ad from the Super Bowl, which is begging for religious reflection. (If you happened to be grabbing some wings from the kitchen while it aired on Super Bowl Sunday, be sure to watch it below.)

Here are the lines from the video:

“What is technology? What can it do? How far can we go? Technology has the power to unite us. It…

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Another Week Ends: Reciprocal Favors, Atheism’s Biggest Challenge, The New Yorker Profiles Francis I, Declining WASPs, Social Media Christmas Cards, Ascendant Meritocracies, and Simon Pegg

Another Week Ends: Reciprocal Favors, Atheism’s Biggest Challenge, The New Yorker Profiles Francis I, Declining WASPs, Social Media Christmas Cards, Ascendant Meritocracies, and Simon Pegg

1. New Year’s Resolutions: we’ve said about all we’re going to say concerning a yearly ritual of personal bootstrapping, but some great articles this year from Tullian Tchividjian (on the spiritual side of things), from Woody Guthrie’s Sermon-on-the-Mount-standard life guide (pictured below), and finally, a wonderful Quartz article about how to make resolutions you can keep. After long study, they basically reverse-engineered the historically Christian approach to behavior change, from one perspective:

Losing weight, drinking less alcohol, and spending more time with family tend to top New Year’s resolution lists—but they are also among the most commonly broken resolutions. Although about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% of us manage to achieve these goals…

I have…

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Resolved to Fail: Honesty and Personal Transformation

Resolved to Fail: Honesty and Personal Transformation

Well, time for our annual skepticism of New Year’s resolutions to take off a little (despite a promise to stop - our wills are bound here!), with this timely reflection on habit-change coming from our friend Jim McNeely:

It’s New Year’s!

It’s a new year, and I’m always excited about that. This year is especially a time for me to set new directions, new career paths, new relationships, and new patterns and disciplines. However, I’ve learned about myself that the cliche can be true, that these things last only so long. You have to be careful to plan things that are doable and simple,…

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Another Week Ends: Flannery Prays, Calvin Outsells Luther, More ‘Millenials’-ism, Next-Next-Gen Gaming Consoles (PSILOVU), Backfiring Discipline, Zombie Impressionism and Noah: The Movie

Another Week Ends: Flannery Prays, Calvin Outsells Luther, More ‘Millenials’-ism, Next-Next-Gen Gaming Consoles (PSILOVU), Backfiring Discipline, Zombie Impressionism and Noah: The Movie

1. Well, we knew about Mary Flannery’s early life of training chickens to walk backward (1932); it appears that God marked O’Connor out as different from pretty early on. We remember the short stories of violent grace and brilliant essays, and we even got to read some excerpts from her year-and-a-half-long prayer journal (written while still studying for her MFA at Iowa) in September. Well, three days ago the full work was released, edited by her friend William Sessions, and The New Yorker posted a great review/primer for anyone interested in fiction, O’Connor, prayer, the South, grad school, wooden legs, etc:

She reckoned that her success…

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Halloween/Reformation Day Linkathon: Equal Opportunity Holidays, Fat Letters, Midnight Coteries, The Returned and more Lou Reed

Halloween/Reformation Day Linkathon: Equal Opportunity Holidays, Fat Letters, Midnight Coteries, The Returned and more Lou Reed

A quick grab bag in honor of the day:

1. Over at Liberate Nick Lannon reflects on the gratuity of Halloween relative to Christmas, stating from the outset that “Halloween has become more Christian than Christmas”. He’s not wrong:

“Consider the theological implications of Halloween. Halloween is the ultimate equal opportunity holiday. EVERYONE gets candy. On the surface, it’s the picture of the Gospel!  There is no checking of qualifications at the door. You come, you receive. Christmas, on the other hand… well, you know the song:  ‘He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa…

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