Religion
The Gaslight Anthem Got Hurt

The Gaslight Anthem Got Hurt

In the trend of recent conversation pieces, Blake (B.I.C.) and I bring you a discussion of The Gaslight Anthem’s newest album Get Hurt.

Carl: First off, how do you feel about “break-up” albums? Intense emotional pain and torment have produced classic albums like Blood on the Tracks, but more often than not I find “break-up” records to be less interesting than others. Get Hurt is certainly a “break-up” record, and while that adds an emotional rawness missing from Gaslight Anthem’s earlier work, I felt as if Fallon’s lyrics lost some of the universality they have on Handwritten and The ’59 Sound.

Blake: As far as…

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Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

A great section from Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark, a book of meditations on the light that can be found in the darkness of doubt. Reminiscent of a staircase invention we’ve heard of before…

There is a silly little jingle that goes something like this:

My face I don’t mind it
For I am behind it,
It’s the people out front get the jar.

But, on the contrary, the person inside gets the jar too. You catch sight of your face in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth in the morning or combing your hair, and often…

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Paul Tillich Is Simul Justus Et Peccator

Perhaps not quite as salacious as Tillich fans or foes might infer from the title, but here, one of our ‘top three’ favorite heretics (Bultmann and Kuyper – just kidding), contributes this gem on justification from his Systematic Theology:

Justification in the objective sense is the eternal act of God by which he accepts as not estranged those who are indeed estranged from him by guilt and the act by which he takes them into unity with him which is manifest in the New Being of Christ. Justification literally means “making just,” namely, making man that which he essentially is and from which he is estranged. If used in this sense, the word would be identical with Sanctification. But the Pauline doctrine of Justification by grace through faith has given the word a meaning which makes it the opposite pole of Sanctification. It is an act of God which is in no way dependent on man, an act in which he accepts him who is unacceptable. In the paradoxical formula, simul peccator, simul justus, which is the core of the Lutheran revolution, the in-spite-of character is decisive for the whole Christian message as the salvation from despair about one’s guilt. It is actually the only way to overcome the anxiety of guilt; it enables man to look away from himself and his state of estrangement and self-destruction to the justifying act of God. He who looks at himself and tries to measure his relation to God by his achievements increases his estrangement and the anxiety of guilt and despair.

PZ’s Podcast: Phony Wars, And the Winner Is, and The Federal Theology of Samuel Rutherford

PZ’s Podcast: Phony Wars, And the Winner Is, and The Federal Theology of Samuel Rutherford

Episode 172: Phony Wars

This purports to be an attack of reality in the midst of “phony wars”.

I am always struck by the truth of pop songs. Not all of them, but some of them. Such as “Waterloo” by ABBA. (Mary and I were there, as it were, when ABBA hit, stuck at a “Saturday Dance” (Geoff Goddard) during the spring of 1974 in the parish hall of Holy Trinity, Hounslow. As soon as we heard the song, and watched the girls line-dancing to ABBA, we knew we weren’t stuck any more. We got up ourselves, tho’ I’m no Diamond.)

There was…

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From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

A throwback from the first issue! Ethan Richardson’s long-form treatise on the promise and perils of America’s great education reform movement.

And let this be a reminder: the first issue is on sale on the magazine webpage for $10. And we’re not far from the release of the Fall Relationships Issue. Click here to subscribe.

My two-year career as a teacher began much as my Evangelical education did—in a single summer in the Arizona desert, far and away from where my training would be put to use. Teach For America placed me in the Greater New Orleans region to teach middle school…

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“My Fall My Stay”: Addiction and Low Anthropology

Some more highlights from John Z.’s remarkable Grace in Addiction:

“The only person lacking desperation is the one who does not know herself very well. Usually a few examples of typical, universal human difficulty are enough to ‘raise the bottom’ to the point where the idea of powerlessness will connect with any layperson. Let’s explore some of these…

Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes. The Twelve Step approach is quick to draw attention to those holes, rather than try to dodge, cover, or counterbalance them. So which weaknesses tend to be present universally? The Big Book provides its own list:

“We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (52)

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I have yet to meet the person who cannot identify with a least one of the items on that list. Who, for example, is a stranger to fear? Jesus offered a similar list in his famous Sermon on the Mount, but his list also included anger, lust, and anxiety. These are the “classics”, and they account for much of the content of the day-to-day experience of being human.

Using similar logic, AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: “we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics.” Have you ever thought of misdoing as a kind of illness? Like an allergy or a virus, self-centeredness cannot easily be mastered or controlled. The good news is that our negative attributes can become a bedrock upon which effective spirituality can be built. Without them, there is no hope for spiritual rejuvenation; in the place of health, there is apparently no need for recovery.

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The realization of our own weakness is so counterintuitive to human nature that the revelation can be rightly ascribed to the divine. A Christian would ascribe this work to the Holy Spirit. The old-fashioned word for it is repentance.

And so it is with the entire progression of AA’s Twelve Steps. As the ego is deflated and self-confidence is discouraged at every turn, something called “faith”, or “God-confidence” miraculously begins to take its place – although it doesn’t appear that way to the subject at first. In Step 12, AA refers to the fruit of this faith as “a spiritual awakening.”

We close this section on Step 1 with an incisive quote from the sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker:

My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay.

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that…

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Steve Brown on the Laughter of the Forgiven

WBGIGE_13610f86-7f95-48b5-8411-f07cf247ee34_1024x1024Mockingbird-favorite Steve Brown’s classic, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (recently revised in a new edition), calls us to enter the impasse of the overcontrolled Christian, half-looking at ourselves or at others with one eye, while the other one’s uneasily flitting back and forth to the scoreboard, seeing how things are measuring up. It admits that despite our doctrinal sophistication, our born-again spiritual credentials, our good work, and/or our pursuit of holiness, something still seems to missing. Brown says we miss laughter, the normal reaction to one’s own silliness or unexpected good fortune, because we take ourselves very seriously – especially in faith – and try to expect, predict, and control for everything. How could there be laughter in those circumstances? How can there be?

One story of his follows a woman who moved from having everything under control to being forced to give it up, ht JH:

Early in my ministry I counseled a woman who, some twenty years before, had been unfaithful to her husband. For years that sin had haunted her. I was the first person she had ever told about it. After we talked and prayed for a long time, I recommended she tell her husband. (That, by the way, isn’t always the advice I give. In this case, I knew the woman’s husband and knew that her revelation, after the initial shock, would probably strengthen their marriage.) It wasn’t easy for her, but she promised she would tell him. “Pastor,” she said, “I trust you enough to do what you ask, but if my marriage falls apart as a result, I want you to know I’m going to blame you.” She didn’t smile when she said that, either.

That’s when I commenced to pray with a high degree of seriousness. (I pray best when I’m scared.) “Father,” I prayed, “if I gave her dumb advice, forgive me and clean up my mess.”

I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!” Perhaps you are like this woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it.

 

New Music: Mac Demarco’s Salad Days and the Impasse of Good Advice

New Music: Mac Demarco’s Salad Days and the Impasse of Good Advice

“Treat Her Better”, and “Go Easy”: the voice of pleading fights down that of advice in Demarco’s latest release.

Mac Demarco’s Salad Days has been, strangely enough, a joy to listen to. If I were a music critic, I’d try and fail to describe the playful self-awareness, the almost-total coincidence between irony and sincerity, etc. I can’t describe musical form too precisely, but suffice it to say, it’s tailored extremely well to the album’s content. And the content is stunning – or would be, if it didn’t have so many layers of irony and alienation covering it over.

In this case, that’s…

Spiritual but Not Religious (and Constantly Navel-Gazing)…

Wow! This Huffington Post editorial from a couple years ago by Lillian Daniel pretty well hits the whole “spiritual but not religious” thing in the mouth. Hard not to relate to her exasperation:

Religious, noBeing privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.

According to a 2013 Gallup survey, as many as 1 in 3 Americans identifies as “spiritual but not religious,” and in 2010 a USA Today survey claimed that more than 70% of Generation Y identify as “more spiritual than religious.”  So the question becomes, why?  Why are so many Americans clinging to spirituality but divorcing it from organized religion? Is this a legitimate outgrowth of American self-determinism, or is it simply postmodern navel gazing?

Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Another look into the redemptive story of the Prodigal Son’s elder brother, Raleigh W. Hayes, and his mischievous minister father, the Episcopal minister Earley Hayes.

FOMO and the Fear of a Better Option

FOMO and the Fear of a Better Option

FOMO’s not the whole story – nor is it new.

The Boston Magazine this week published a history of “Fear of Missing Out“, tracing its beginnings, like a careful epidemiologist, back to 2004, at Harvard Business School. Of greater interest were its comments on FOBO, Fear of a Better Option (more precisely, Fear that a Better Option Exists, but FOBO’s easier than FBOE, so there it is):

But this mentality had its costs: McGinnis and his group found they couldn’t commit to anything. Working with the rudimentary tools available to them (cell phones and address books), they developed complex algorithms to plan…

New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

On the heels of obsessing over Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Matthew Linder and I found another target for our obsession in French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait. The band is made from members of We Barbarians and Cold War Kids, and most of the lyrical content comes straight out of the poetry of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and mystic. Here are the results of a conversation surrounding one of the deepest albums we have heard in quite a while.

Matt: So what did you think about “All the Way Down”?

Blake: That track is just so credal. I can’t ignore that…

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The Lame Shall Enter First: Remembering Flannery O’Connor, Fifty Years Later

The Lame Shall Enter First: Remembering Flannery O’Connor, Fifty Years Later

A woman once wrote Flannery O’Connor, whose stories spanned such plots as misfit murderers, rapacious Bible salesmen, and racist old men, and the woman suggested Flannery’s stories weren’t uplifting. Complaining about the criticism in a letter to a friend, O’Connor said she would’ve found them uplifting, “if her heart were in the right place.”

Flannery’s stories usually involved the all-out assault on the human illusion of mastery and independence, undertaken desperately and absurdly. An invalid for years, you can almost hear O’Connor’s relish as she describes various medical aids:

The brace shop was a small concrete warehouse lined and stacked with the equipment…

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Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

1. Buried in a weekender earlier this month, you may have seen the, er, shocking report of a study conducted at UVA (of all places!) that found that “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts.” If you dismissed it as classic social science clickbait, Lord knows you’d have our sympathy. But it would appear the findings were for real. In an article for The NY Times this week, Kate Murphy expanded on them substantially, folding in a number of our hobby horses along the way (compulsive busyness, over-distraction, Romans 7, even male underachievement), while curiously missing a golden opportunity…

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