New Here?
     
Suffering

The Final Confession of Donald Draper

The Final Confession of Donald Draper

Spoilers, people, spoilers.

“I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name and made nothing of it.”

Thus goes the bottoming out we’ve been waiting for these past 7-8 years from Don Draper. His long dismantling, both self-instigated and otherwise, reached its endpoint in Mad Men‘s finale. Don’s marriage, his position, his children are gone–the various phone calls make that clear. Even his “niece” Stephanie refuses to let him be needed, going so far as to remove his last shred of agency, stranding him at the retreat center. Reduced to nothing, Don makes his confession to…

Read More > > >

Eight Must-See 30 for 30s: A Magazine List

Eight Must-See 30 for 30s: A Magazine List

Another list from Issue 4, this one covers all that the sports world could not leave behind:

It would seem that the reach of ESPN’s 30 for 30 project surprised even ESPN. One might have imagined that a selection of human-interest stories and documentaries from the nether regions of the sports world could have some cult potential for the multitude of fans out there, but people are almost always surprised to know that there are more than just 30 of these documentaries under the franchise’s belt. They are also not 30 minutes long, another misconception. No, the reason for the name 30…

Read More > > >

Judas’ Charitable Enterprise for the Poor

This passage in Georges Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest comes from our hero’s mentor, the Priest of Torcy, who, if a little harsh, stands as a clear-eyed check on our young cleric’s idealism. This is his monologue on Christ’s love for the poor. But for the priest, and for Bernanos, the love for the poor is not some systematic ethic for justice—it is romance. Referring to the story of the widow’s costly perfume “wasted” on Jesus’ feet, the priest speaks (as Christ) to Judas, against his kind of cautionary, penny-wise methods for selling off a poor woman’s nard.

The poor you will always have with you, but me you have not always with you, answered Our Lord. Which amounts to this: don’t let the hour of mercy strike in vain. You’d do far better to cough up that money you stole, at once, instead of trying to get My apostles worked up over your imaginary financial deals in toilet waters, and your charitable enterprises. Moreover you think you’re flattering My notorious weakness for down-and-outs, but you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’m not attached to My paupers like an English old maid to lost cats, or to the poor bulls in the Spanish bull-ring. I love Diary_of_a_Country_Priestpoverty with a deep, reasoned, lucid love—as equal loves equal. I love her as a wife who is faithful and fruitful. If the poor man’s right was derived only from strict necessity, your piddling selfishness would soon reduce him to a bare minimum, paid for by unending gratitude and servility. You’ve been holding forth against this woman to-day who has just bathed My feet with very expensive nard, as though My poor people had no right to best scent…The poor you have always with you, just because there will always be the rich, that is to say there will always be hard and grasping men out for power more than possession. These men exist as much among the poor as among the rich, and the scallywag vomiting up his drink in the gutter is perhaps drunk with the very same dreams as Caesar asleep under his purple canopy. Rich and poor alike, you’d do better to look at yourselves in the mirror of want, for poverty is the image of your own fundamental illusion. Poverty is the emptiness in your hearts and in your hands. It is only because your malice is known to Me that I have placed poverty so high, crowned her and taken her as My bride.

The Way to God Is the Way Into Darkness: Bultmann on Hope and the Cross

Another appropriate Easter quote comes from a sermon on Lamentations 3:22-41, found in Rudolf Bultmann’s sermon collection, This World and Beyond:

imageThe way to God leads not to hell but through hell, or, in Christian terms through the cross. It leads us not to hopelessness but to a hope which transcends all human hope; and we must silence all human hope, if that divine hope is to dawn for us.

We must make this clear to ourselves: for man as he is, laden with wishes and plans, with longings and hope — and this means for us all, we who form our dream pictures as to how our life should go according to our desire and will — for all of us the way to God is the way into that darkness which for us means hell…. the breath of the Lord can sweep away everything of ours in a second and for our eyes there is nothing left but comfortless waste. That is the meaning of God: His majesty annihilates whatever stands independently. His word is a word that slays.

This hell we must traverse; before the life of the resurrection stands the cross. “It is the essence of God” says Luther, “first to destroy what is in us before He bestows on us His gifts.” (p 233)

Christianity for Losers: Giles Fraser on Good Friday and Easter

It’s a rare moment when someone in the Net thinkpiece world not only gets Christianity ‘right’ but also breaks through to something very near to its essence. Enter Giles Fraser at The Guardian, who published an extraordinary piece on Christianity for losers that we at Mbird will envy for weeks to come. Apologies to the folks at The Guardian for quoting almost everything – click the link above and view their ads, maybe click around some (they deserve it, and the other Fraser stuff is probably awesome):

ted_turner_color_2When he was nothing but a suspended carcass, dripping with his own blood and other people’s spit, there were no worshippers around clapping their hands and singing their hymns. They were long gone. At the very end, ironically at the moment of greatest triumph, he had no followers left. That says something profoundly counterintuitive about what a successful church looks like. For if the core of the Christian message – death first, then resurrection – is so existentially full-on that nobody can possibly endure it, then a church that successfully proclaims that message is likely to be empty and not full. Which is also why, quite possibly, a successful priest ought to be hated rather than feted. For here, as elsewhere in the Christian story, success and failure are inverted. The first will be last and the last first. The rich are cast down and the poor are exulted. The true king is crowned with mockery and thorns not with gold and ermine…

Deep failure, the failure of our lives, is something we occasionally contemplate in the middle of the night, in those moments of terrifying honesty before we get up and dress for success. Ecce homo, said Pilate. Behold, the man. This is humanity. And the facade of success we present to the world is commonly a desperate attempt to ward off this knowledge. At the beginning of Lent, Christians are reminded of this in the most emphatic of ways: know that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Those who used the period of Lent to give things up are invited to live life stripped bare, experiencing humanity in the raw, without the familiar props to our ego. This has nothing to do with the avoidance of chocolate and everything to do with facing the unvarnished truth about human failure. There is no way 100 top business leaders would endorse the cross. It is life without the advertising, without the accoutrements of success. It is life on a zero-hours contract, where at any moment we can be told we are not needed.

But here’s the thing. The Christian story, like the best sort of terrifying psychoanalysis, strips you down to nothing in order for you to face yourself anew. For it turns out that losers are not despised or rejected, not ultimately. In fact, losers can discover something about themselves that winners cannot ever appreciate – that they are loved and wanted simply because of who they are and not because of what they achieve… This is revealed precisely at the greatest point of dejection. The resurrection is not a conjuring trick with bones. It is a revelation that love is stronger than death, that human worth is not indexed to worldly success.

In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers. Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort. This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success. Failure is redeemed. Hallelujah.

Not much more to say, really. We’ll be taking today, Easter Monday, off on the blog, but for those who are looking for more content, check out David Zahl’s Good Friday sermon, and then finish up your triduum with Jacob Smith’s Easter sermon from last year. Happy Easter!

New Music: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

New Music: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

Inside the liner notes of Kendrick Lamar’s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, is a picture of Lamar (shown above) sitting in a room with assorted dollar bills scattered around him on the floor.  Pictures like this are a common and maybe tired rap trope, typically appearing in magazine spreads and liner notes, rife with allegories of success and the spoils of excess that come with it.  Lamar’s picture strikes a different chord though.  He sits solitary on a crate in sweatpants with untied Reebok sneakers and a bottle of liquor in one hand, his tranquil eyes looking right at…

Read More > > >

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

A Holy Week-appropriate reflection from Paul Zahl, via The Mockingbird Devotional.

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’” (RSV)

Palm Sunday is a day in the Christian Calendar, and a day in history, that could define the word “irony.”

It depicts the advance on Jerusalem of the city’s “King,” but in the form of a man seated on a donkey. It begins a week of ‘triumphal entry’ that only ends in…

Read More > > >

Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

This month’s edition of Christianity Today features a cover story, “The Return of Shame,” that draws a clear, causative link between the prevalence of social media and its corollary stripping of privacy with the emergence of a shame-fame culture. I couldn’t help but relate this to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face”).

n contrast to a guilt culture wherein morality is evaluated on the basis on individual conscience, a shame culture’s efficacy rests on community’s conception of your behavior. According to Crouch, “you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you.” This…

Read More > > >

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The title of the Oscar-nominated movie The Theory of Everything might seem a little ambitious, maybe even ironic in its grandiose magnitude, and, in some ways, it is. The title pokes at real-life physicist Stephen Hawking’s initial desire to find a theory of everything, a single equation to explain the creation of the universe. Having never settled on such an equation, Stephen’s ambition ensures an ironic sort of surrender even in the title, which unexpectedly exudes earnestness, too, given that the film’s themes are endless: Everything’s here. The Theory of Everything investigates the very beginning of the universe as well…

Read More > > >

The Danger of Rolling Suffering Into Evil (According to Gerhard Forde)

A helpful and ever-timely distinction from pages 84-85 of On Being a Theologian of the Cross:

luther-preaching

“Contemporary theologians talk much about the problem of evil. Some think it is the most difficult problem for theology today and one of the most persistent causes of unbelief. … Since suffering is itself classified as evil, it is of course simply lumped together with disaster, crime, misfortune of every sort, abuse, holocaust, and all manner of notorious wrong as one and the same problem. So it is almost universally the case that theologians and philosophers include suffering without further qualification among those things they call evil. … Evil does cause suffering — but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don’t seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil — perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just the toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil…”

“Identification of suffering with evil has the further result that God must be absolved from all blame. Thus, the theologian of glory adds to the perfidy of false speech by trying to assure us that God, of course, has nothing to do with suffering and evil. God is “good,” the rewarder of all our “good” works, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of merit. …Meanwhile, suffering goes on unabated. If God has nothing to do with suffering, what is he involved with? Whoever does not know God hidden in suffering, Luther asserts in his proof, does not know God at all.”

And speaking of God hidden in suffering, today’s bonus track would have to be JAZ’s new mix, “For the Heads and the Heart”, which was selected as Dream Chimney’s current mix of the week:

The Gardner of Eden

The Gardner of Eden

They say ev’rything can be replaced . . .

-Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released”

Twenty-five years ago, Rick Abath, a hippie Berklee College of Music dropout, was working the night shift at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men dressed as Boston Police officers asked Abath to let them in. When Abath did, they informed Abath that it was a robbery, covered his eyes and mouth in duct tape, and handcuffed him to an electrical box. During the next seven hours, the thieves stole 13 objects from the Museum worth around $500 million. Abath passed the time by singing…

Read More > > >

Nadia Bolz-Weber Pawns Off Narcissism as a Virtue

2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of  imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:

RNS-FALSANI-COLUMN

Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.

The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.

There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…

Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.