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No such thing as secular



Updated: 2017-04-26T14:34:00Z

 



Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and the Transformational Power of Laughter

2017-04-26T14:34:00Z

After initial funding from enthusiastic fans via Kickstarter, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Posted on 04/26/17 After initial funding from enthusiastic fans via Kickstarter, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 has come to Netflix for an 11th season with new host Jonah Ray. If you aren’t already familiar with the cult classic, you will likely be confused by the new episodes. It’s a unique concept built around a thin premise: evil villains have forced the host and his robot friends to watch terrible movies, which they survive with a constant patter of quips and references. The premise is really only there to give a context for the real point of the show: the jokes. In fact, the theme song warns you if you’re wondering about details, such as “how he eats and breathes and other science facts,” you should “just think to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax.” The laid-back commitment to the premise is part of the show’s low-budget ethos. I started watching the new season over Easter weekend, and it struck me that it was an appropriate match in the way it flips conventional thinking on its head. The show takes really bad movies and makes them something I enjoy as much as a good movie. And, to be clear, most of these movies are not in the category that the podcast The Flop House (incidentally co-hosted by new MST3K head writer Elliott Kalan) would call “good bad.” They are just plain bad: boring, poorly paced, and terribly acted. What Mystery Science Theatre 3000 does is bring an unbridled sense of joy and even delight into riffing on these movies. The show takes the very elements that make the movies nearly unwatchable on their own and turns them into the best, most hilarious parts. And that’s where, in the context of celebrating Jesus’ life-changing work on the cross, I saw a tiny bit of redemption in this form of comedy. A lot of the humor in MST3K does come at the expense of the movie. For instance, in the second episode, “Cry Wilderness,” plenty of comic attention is given to the poorly focused nature scenes. Joking about why the mountain lion is out of focus when the rocks are perfect is funny, but not particularly transformative. That critical impulse doesn’t have as much in common with God’s redemptive work as some of the other jokes, which are based more in silliness, references, and (often the best ones) sheer delight in having fun with others. I think the companionship of the main jokesters is what makes the show feel like you’re hanging out with your funniest friends, enjoying spending time together and making something boring fun. Like most fans of the series, I like MST3K because of its distinctive sense of humor and the rapid pace of its jokes. I also like it because it reminds me that anything is better if you have friends around, even terrible movies. A strange and silly television show, mostly popularized through word of mouth and the Internet of the 1990s, seems an unlikely place to see the way God redeems the world through comic community. Nevertheless, there it is: joy and friendship taking something terrible and making it into something comforting and fun. So fun, in fact, that thousands of fans contributed to that Kickstarter campaign (48,000 in fact). It’s not a complete picture of the message of Easter, of course. I wouldn’t expect so much from something so silly. But the basic movement of joy and friendship redeeming something in a surprising way—that feels Eastery enough for me. Comments (0) [...]



Feeling the Midnight Moonlight Music of Ravyn Lenae

2017-04-25T15:18:00Z

The agony of love lost, the hurt of betrayal, the hopelessness of depression, the despair Posted on 04/25/17 The agony of love lost, the hurt of betrayal, the hopelessness of depression, the despair of loneliness, and the torture of anxiety are transformative emotional experiences. Whenever we come in contact with these emotions, we grow up a little. We are imparted a fuller dimension of the human experience in a broken world. Through God’s grace, such difficult emotions can also become a catalyst for growth. Though we can feel like we’re trapped in a suffocating cocoon, in the hands of our redeemer, such emotional experiences can transform us into free-flying butterflies. With her latest release, Midnight Moonlight, 18-year-old Ravyn Lenae grows up a little too. In an interview with Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of March’s 10 artists to watch, Lenae used colors to explain the difference between her first EP and this one. “Moon Shoes is very pink and yellow, and maybe orange, very bright, whereas Midnight Moonlight is purple and blue and, I don't know, gray,” she said. “Not to say those colors are sad, because a lot of times people like to equate those colors with sadness, or [being] blue. But those colors are more emotion-felt, and deep, and sultry.” On Midnight Moonlight, Lenae’s soulful, R&B voice, combined with experimental electronica, creates exactly this sort of sultry depth. It seems as if the depth also stems from emotionally charged experiences, like the feelings of loneliness Lenae sings about in “Unknown”: I'm only lonely When the night is home Controlling for me 'Til my right is wrong Nothing's the way it seems When things go wrong I know me, know me I cannot move on I cannot move on In another song, “Thirst,” Lenae refers to sleepless nights, a thirst she can’t quench, and a feeling of emptiness. The melancholy blue of these emotions plays through in the mellow meandering of the music, which also includes audible bursts and disrupting popping sounds. There is an emotional depth being captured here, an echo of the struggles that surface in different seasons of life. Whether young or old, all of us have had our own emotional struggles. One of the great claims of Christianity is that we have a savior who plumbed the depths of these human emotions when he took our place on the cross. Christ is our fellow traveler as we navigate confusing, and oftentimes conflicting, emotions. He knows how difficult life can be as we try and grow up. God is a good parent who, in love, wants us to grow up. George MacDonald said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” What he meant is that God takes joy and delight in every baby step we take, but he still wants us to learn to walk and one day even run. The plan of our heavenly father is for us to grow up, in all aspects, into him who is the head—Christ. It can be a painful process. As the apostle Paul wrote, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The loneliness, emptiness, and endless thirsting in Midnight Moonlight is part of the transformation process. In those difficult times, may we run to God and say with Lenae, “I’m empty, fill me up.” Comments (0) [...]



Let’s Not Throw “She” and “He” Out With the Grammatical Bathwater

2017-04-24T13:15:00Z

The fact that the English language has no neutral singular personal pronoun has long vexed Posted on 04/24/17 The fact that the English language has no neutral singular personal pronoun has long vexed linguists, writers, and college freshmen. It’s also a problem that’s been in the news in recent years. In 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported growing acceptance of the use of “they” as a singular pronoun among copy editors. Later linguists at the American Dialect Society voted “they” as the 2015 Word of the Year. And in March of this year, the Associated Press announced it (they?) would change its style guide to include the use of “they” as a singular pronoun as one option among other more preferred choices. The development is prompted by increased awareness of gender dysphoria and a corresponding resistance to the gender binary altogether. The use of “they” (or “them” in the objective case) offers a seeming solution when referring to a person whose gender is unknown or a person who does not identify with a gender. This practice raises two categories of concern: grammatical and cultural. In his manual, Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner calls the lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun an “inadequacy of the English language” that manifests itself in numerous ways. Grammatically, of course, it seems at first glance silly and wrong to write (and judge as correct) sentences such as, “Maggie starts college in the fall. They will go to Yale.” While the AP style guide offers more desirable workarounds to such a construction, the new guideline allows this sort of use. On the other hand, most of us use third-person plural pronouns incorrectly all the time, most commonly when we state something such as, “Everyone brought their favorite dish.” Everyone is singular, so the grammatically correct way to say this is, “Everyone brought his or her favorite dish.” In fact, as many grammarians and historians point out, the use of “they” or “their” as a singular can be found throughout the history of the English language: from Chaucer to Shakespeare to the Bible to Jane Austen (whose use of it was so frequent that there is a whole website devoted to examples in her work). It was reportedly the Victorians who put an end to use of the singular “they,” instructing that the single male pronoun was sufficient as it could be understood to imply the female. Obviously, such thinking isn’t acceptable now. As descriptivist grammarians and linguists are wont to say, language is always evolving and changing. The rejection of “they” as a singular pronoun occurred only in a small slice of English language history. Barry McCarty, Professor of Rhetoric and Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told me that using “they,” “their,” and “them” as singular pronouns is a far better option than the “hideous” alternatives “s/he,” “he/she,” or “themself.” McCarty agrees with Garner’s prediction that “they” will, as with all shifts in usage, eventually sound right to our ears and is the “ultimate solution” to the grammatical problem. Yet, the current development in the news isn’t about grammar, as its advocates and early adopters readily acknowledge. It is about accommodating a cultural shift in which gender is no longer seen as biological or fixed. For Christians like me who want to affirm the physical and biological realities of the bodies God has wondrously created as male or female, the use of gendered personal pronouns is about more than grammar: it’s about anthropology, sociology, ontology, and theology. I no more want to perpetuate an illusion about the laws of biology than I would want to do so about the law of gravity. Yet, human beings—and [...]



Being Human: A Stunt Documentary That Reminds Us We’re All Needy

2017-04-19T22:14:00Z

When Tim Owens lost his lucrative, director-level job with a major media company, he did Posted on 04/19/17 When Tim Owens lost his lucrative, director-level job with a major media company, he did what any self-respecting executive might do in such a situation. He cashed his final paycheck and gave it all away—to complete strangers. That isn't normal, you say? Just wait. It gets better. Owens wanted to do something memorable, so he came up with a provocative idea. He posed as a homeless panhandler at a busy Phoenix intersection, freely offering a crisp $50 bill to any passing driver who would roll down the window and accept it from him. He secretly recorded the interactions and turned the footage into a self-produced, five-minute documentary called Being Human. The video has garnered a considerable following and was featured at USA Today earlier this month. If you haven't seen it yet, you should. It’s a delightful, paradigm-inverting piece of work that’s well worth sharing, especially among Christians. It’s also a timely reminder that, particularly when it comes to our regard for others, appearances can be deceiving—and sometimes our greatest blessings come in disguise. In the video, drivers are predictably bewildered as this unkempt, ostensibly destitute man approaches their vehicles, turning away their loose change, and offering them his money instead. “My needs are met,” he repeatedly insists. “This is for you. I'm not kidding!” Some smile broadly and gladly receive the handout. Others require a little convincing, cautiously accepting the cash through a partially open window. A few simply won’t oblige—and they’re literally poorer for it. Yet who can blame them? Ours is a pervasively skeptical culture, and we’re not exactly good at recognizing blessings in unexpected places. In fact, I suspect that if Jesus were to come in the flesh today as he did two millennia ago, people would treat him the same way they treated Owens. Some, like Zacchaeus, would eagerly roll down the window and start a conversation. Others, like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, would cautiously interact with him through a crack in the window. But most, I fear, would casually lock the doors and stare straight ahead to avoid making eye contact—wholly unaware of the enormous gift they were forfeiting in the process. In an especially poignant reflection, Owens describes watching for worn-out-looking vehicles that obviously didn’t have air conditioning. “Those were the easiest ones to approach,” he says, “because they couldn’t roll up their window and tell me no.” I like that, because our Savior so often comes to us the same way—in our weakest moments, when we’re too broken to refuse. It makes me wonder how many times I’ve been the one in the Lexus, running behind on my way to work, waving Jesus off when he wants to share my burdens. “Not today, thank you!” I don’t want to be that driver. Perhaps that’s why Being Human seems like more than just another piece of “feel-good” Internet fodder. When I watch it, I see a parable of the gospel (and of our response). It’s less about being human and more about the God who became human—and turned our world upside down. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c4ldDOoD4ZA" width="560"> Comments (0) [...]



What Transhumanism Misunderstands About Being Human

2017-04-19T12:43:00Z

Talk of cyborgs isn’t only for fans of science fiction anymore. A recent National Posted on 04/19/17 Talk of cyborgs isn’t only for fans of science fiction anymore. A recent National Geographic article by D. T. Max highlights the ways in which advocates and practitioners of transhumanism are merging our bodies with technology. Perhaps we are well on our way to what the magazine’s cover describes as “the next human.” How should Christians think about the technological optimism of transhumanism? I would suggest that we should be wary, for transhumanism is simply the latest example of our sinful impulse to reach beyond our proper human limits, whereas Jesus shows us that being truly human means accepting our limits. The piece by Max is especially helpful in uncovering the tensions and problems in transhumanist thought. Transhumanism interprets being human as merely one cluster of characteristics on an evolutionary scale. To be clear, it’s not simply an embrace of evolution that’s a problem, but the philosophical assumption that being “human” is the result of a completely natural, dysteleological process. In other words, there is no reason (theologically or philosophically) why we are the way we are and there is no reason to stay the way we are. But if being human is merely a cluster of characteristics on the evolutionary scale, there’s no reason to value human life generally or any individual life specifically. Instead, that life can be manipulated, used, or destroyed for the sake of advancing the cause of transcending our limits, our “humanity.” Though Max’s article is largely optimistic about our use of power, he alludes to our experiments on and destruction of embryos, our ability to use CRISPR technology to produce babies with our preferred characteristics, and the role of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Products Agency), noting that their role is not to enhance life but to create “vast weapons systems of the future.” There’s a nod to the fact that we often use technology in very destructive ways, but technology is, for many, the ultimate savior from what ails us. One might ask: don’t we use technology to enhance and improve life all the time, from pacemakers to hearing aids to new prescription medication? How is transhumanism any different? One key difference is that by defining “human” as merely a cluster of biological characteristics, it cannot properly distinguish between remedial medicines and technologies, and those that attempt to transcend natural human limitations. In other words, a hearing aid attempts to restore a malfunctioning ear to its proper function, whereas an implant that would allow someone to transcend normal human capabilities of hearing would be more problematic. From a transhumanist perspective, it is not merely that humans have certain malfunctions that need to be fixed, but that the human condition itself, with its finitude and limits, including death, is something to be overcome. That is, the problem to be fixed is not something that’s gone wrong with humans; the problem is being human.   Of course, for Christians, this impulse toward transcending our humanity isn’t surprising. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we see God creating humans with power, but also with clear limits. Those boundaries were soon crossed. Though already like God as image-bearers, we are not content; we want to be God. We are often dissatisfied with the fact that we cannot see everything, know everything, or do everything. When we attempt to transcend our human limits by our own plans and means, Genesis 3-11 shows us that murder, violence, and prideful culture-making is the result.   In light of Genesis, we can read the Incarnation as a fascinating inversion of the transhumanist impulse. Sinful humanity tries to leave our humanity beh[...]



Fargo: Seeking Harmony in the Face of Discord

2017-04-18T14:28:00Z

Fargo, the FX anthology series inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers’ movie of the same Posted on 04/18/17 Fargo, the FX anthology series inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers’ movie of the same name, is one of the most Christian shows on television today—not in the sense that it’s evangelical or apologetic, but in the manner that it offers a Christian way of looking at the world, and at evil in particular. As in the Westerns of old, Fargo bristles with cataclysmic clashes between good and evil, where nefarious villainy is met with indefatigable fortitude. Indeed, Fargo’s is a world in which evil is actually recognized as depravity and heroism, while perhaps not rewarded, is at least honored. Season three of the series features Ewan McGregor and premieres Wednesday. The first two seasons have fundamentally been about courageous characters who clash with malevolent villains intent on tearing apart the harmony and tranquility of an otherwise peaceful place. In season one, deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) of Duluth, Minn., encounters drifter and con man Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), whose inspired trickery convinces otherwise mild-mannered Lester Nygard (Martin Freeman) to do away with his oppressive wife. Malvo is an antagonist straight out of central casting, complete with a long, dark coat and a caustic grin. Solverson, meanwhile, is the opposite: a protagonist worth rooting for. She’s smart, thoughtful, imaginative, and steadfast—a sort of modern-day Will Kane. In season two, we see the mesmerizing story of Molly’s father, Lou (Patrick Wilson), who two decades before her own adventure challenged a darkness equally as heinous as the one his daughter would end up facing. As one might expect from a show inspired by the work of Joel and Ethan Coen, Fargo is quirky and strange and highly stylized. It can be side-splittingly funny and bitterly heartbreaking at once. And it’s rich with the sort of provincial vernacular that has long defined the work of the Coens. But for all that, it never loses track of its center: the idea that the world is broken and imprisoned and full of discord and that good people must rail against its complete dissolution. As Lou tells his cancer-stricken wife midway through season two, “We’re just out of balance ... the whole world ... used to know right from wrong ... a moral center ... now ...”  He can’t bring himself to finish the thought. And who can blame him? Maybe there is no ending worth saying out loud. As one of Lou’s friends notes, things start small, maybe with a random act of ugliness, a relationship gone bad, a dream dashed. But so often these small things eventually turn into full-blown evil. “Just watch,” says Lou’s friend, “this thing’s only getting bigger.” Yet Lou Solverson is no film-noir nihilist. He’s hopeful and carries within himself a deep-seated moral center—a desire for harmony—that drives his passion for justice and his search for peace. Whereas many other characters allow themselves to get swept up in the cancerous evils that haunt the story, Solverson is steadfast in his fidelity to the idea that there is a higher power in control. In fact, Lou (in season two) and Molly (in season one) stand out as protagonists worth rooting for largely because they resist the fleeting temptations that small evils can offer, small evils that turn into de-harmonizing cancers. Instead, these heroes remain hopeful that evil can be defeated. Sometimes evil will win, they know. But to stop pushing back is never an option. In On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius describes sin as a disease that overcomes and corrupts the Christian’s soul. But he also offers a hopeful reminder worth contemplating in Easter’s afterglow: “For this purpose, then, the incorporeal[...]



What About The Bonhoeffer Option?

2017-04-17T15:33:00Z

Last autumn, in the midst of the tumultuous American election season, I began reading and Posted on 04/17/17 Last autumn, in the midst of the tumultuous American election season, I began reading and discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s magnum opus, Ethics, as part of a book club at my seminary. Fragmented and unfinished, it contains perhaps his most prophetic and political writings. Assessing Western culture during World War II, he wrote, “Seldom has a generation been as uninterested as ours in any kind of ethical theory or program.” The national German church, in the midst of the National Socialist regime, either quietly disengaged from the political sphere or conformed to Nazi positions. Bonhoeffer took a different path, a path of resistance, the path of the cross of Christ. And on April 9, 1945, he was executed in a concentration camp for colluding with anti-Nazi factions. If a reader were pulling quotes as proof texts, Bonhoeffer’s Ethics would both offend and support almost any Christian position. Theological conservatives would appreciate his emphasis on Scripture and morality, a weightier version of “what would Jesus do?” But they’d also likely be put off by his radical relativism and near-universalist ideas. Theological progressives might resonate with his posture emphasizing social justice and love of neighbor through a prophetic outcry against the status quo. Yet Bonhoeffer goes to great lengths to critique progressive ideologies and notions of revolution, instead exhorting submission to the authority of Jesus. In an era of political unrest and moral confusion, where we’re looking to a Benedict Option and deconstructing political parties, I suggest the Western church consider what I’ll call “The Bonhoeffer Option.” Perhaps the following four themes from Ethics could be a starting point for Christian responsibility in politics and culture. Christology over ideology. Ethics, truth, goodness, human flourishing, love, reality—for Bonhoeffer, all these find their origin and definition in the person of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer refutes any ideology, even the “good” ones of his era, because Jesus was/is a human being in concrete history, not an abstract principle or belief system. One’s ethical and political postures must begin with Christ, then move into faithful action, not the other way around. The incarnated Christ becomes the primary lens through which we view all of reality, transcending political parties and expectations. Practices over principles. Bonhoeffer has little patience for ethereal, all-encompassing moral pronouncements. There is no one-size-fits-all ethic. The wise person knows “the limited receptivity of reality for principles, because they know that reality is not built on principles, but rests on the living, creating God.” This living God showed up in human history as a person, Jesus Christ, and showed God’s love in concrete practices. In stark contrast to his Lutheran theology, this is a spirituality of doing. Elevation over dualism. The church and the world, Christianity and government, Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative—Bonhoeffer refuses to fall into either camp, instead swinging the polarizing pendulum upward into an elevated conversation. There are not two moralities or two realms of sacred and secular; there is one reality under the cross of Christ, which “sets us free to live in genuine worldliness.” Divisions between the “world” and “Christian” are broken down, not through sectarianism or syncretism or theocracy or Christian counterculture, but by free individuals responsibly loving their neighbors in their contexts. Bonhoeffer writes, “A Christianity that withdraws from the world falls prey to unnaturalness, irrational[...]



Why We Let Our Friends Review Our Bank Account

2017-04-13T13:45:00Z

The most radical thing about our family's tax return this year isn’t that we Posted on 04/13/17 The most radical thing about our family's tax return this year isn’t that we used it to pay off a student loan. Plenty of Americans use their refunds for that purpose. This tax season, those who get refunds will on average see an extra $2,800 in their bank accounts—a sum large enough to generate the annual news stories about how massive numbers of people will spend the cash. Plus, we’ve been working on paying off our debt for more than five years. So while it’s a victory, it wasn’t unexpected. No, the most countercultural, subversive component is that my husband and I invited a couple friends to share their opinion about what we should do with the money. We prayed about it. We listened. Our culture can create a spectator sport out of the financial decisions of strangers. This is ironic, if only because we are not as a culture open to talking about money with people in our lives. In an attempt to break the taboo in a small, safe space, consider that Tom and Sarah already know the rest of our financial picture. These covenantal friends know what we make each month and how much we spend on groceries. They’ve shared with us how much they put away for retirement and what they spend on date nights—information I don’t ask for or receive from my own family members or most friends I’d meet for tea. The agreement between our two families compels us to this kind of honesty. We agreed that accountability and spiritual support were both necessary if we really were going to live simply for the sake of becoming more generous. And our covenantal friendship isn’t an extrabiblical suggestion: David and Jonathan were covenantal friends, for instance. Our story mimics parts of theirs. Jonathan tells David painful words—things David would rather not hear. So do ours. Jonathan saves David’s life, and David later cares for Jonathan’s son. These relationships are costly, long-lasting, and consequential. This relationship encourages us and directs our attention back to God, as Jonathan spoke to David in a cave in Horesh. Talking about money with Tom and Sarah does the same thing for Dave and me. Making money part of our ongoing conversations is part of our conversion story: Do our spending habits reflect what we believe about Jesus? If someone looked at our bank accounts, would they know we follow a man who said that our hearts are going to follow wherever we place our treasures—our cash, our savings, the things that money buys? When Dave and I log on to our bank’s website and slide the laptop toward the Arthurs, we’re asking, “Do you see any places where we could challenge ourselves to live more simply?” We seek out this information. They do, too. To be honest, this is not my favorite thing. My husband and I are exposed in those moments; we’re vulnerable. Our culture shirks from intrusions of privacy, especially related to finances. Of course, financial discussions shouldn’t replace professional advice. But how likely are financial planners to ask how our values align with Jesus’ words spoken on a Galilean hillside two thousand years ago? Likewise, covenantal friendships don’t replace managing your own finances. But how likely am I to convict myself of my own spending habits—and to follow up a month later to ask what changes I’ve made? We need each other as brothers and sisters. We have to be continually shaped and reminded that our everyday purchases, savings, and debt reflects what we believe about God’s kingdom. We reflect what we believe, too, when we subvert the urge to keep those decisions private. Comments (0) [...]



Khalid Sings a Truer Tale of Teenage Life

2017-04-12T13:00:00Z

You may not have heard of Khalid, but Kylie Jenner has. Shortly after Khalid released his Posted on 04/12/17 You may not have heard of Khalid, but Kylie Jenner has. Shortly after Khalid released his first single, “Location,” the Kardashian associate posted a Snapchat of herself dancing to the song. The single exploded on YouTube and Spotify, and the 19-year-old musician’s tour quickly sold out. Having your single featured on a celebrity’s Snapchat is about as perfect a marketing opportunity as Khalid could have gotten. It dovetailed perfectly with the themes of American Teen, his debut album: the communication crisis—and opportunity—faced by teens in the United States, brought on by social media like Twitter, Facebook, and yes, Snapchat. Khalid kicks off the album by acknowledging the transience of teenage life: “Living the good life full of goodbyes.” That transience is an example of one obvious fact of young life: it will be over pretty soon. Pop music has tended to overlook this mark of the teen experience. Boy bands, Katy Perry types, and angsty rock musicians all present themselves as thinkers addressing uniquely adult issues. They’ve lost (or found) the love of their life. They’ve determined that no one understands them. They’ve discovered that the way to infuse meaning into life is to just, like, have fun. Pop music’s MO has been to apply rather immature teenage “wisdom” to adult situations. The result is a kind of reverse-aspirational musical genre that only affirms what may be a teenager’s worst suspicions about the world: you can’t live without her, you’re all alone, and this is all there is. American Teen explores the ways these assumptions are misguided. Without the preachiness that overwhelms alternate takes on teen life (see: Christian music, the after-school special, etc.), Khalid looks at the high-school experience with awe and wonder, but also with a disarming, stakes-lowering eye to the future. Accompanied by synthesizers and drum machines, the album sounds like the Stranger Things soundtrack co-opted by a seasoned R & B singer. It’s a musical nod to Khalid’s beyond-his-years wisdom. American Teen could easily create connections between  a younger and older audience. In fact, Khalid seems to understand human connection better than most adults. In “Location,” he speaks to the necessity of both in-person conversation and relational intentionality. It’s a love song built around the truth that “things go a little bit better when you plan it.” The song’s request to meet in person is presented as a chill suggestion, rather than a desperate demand. Even more impressive and countercultural, Khalid leaves ample room for his prospective girlfriend’s consideration and consent. If all of this paints a rosy picture of Khalid, the album makes clear that he’s less mature than he is self-aware. On “Another Sad Love Song,” he admits that he’s “not good at showing my emotions.” “I must be honest, I have a lot of pride / But I'm broken inside,” he admits before a haunting chorus lingers on the fallout of his communication skills: “Bridges they are burning/Lover, I am worried/Tables they are turning/Lover, I am hurting.” The album hints throughout that some preternatural figures may be responsible for guiding Khalid through life. In the final ballad, he seems to give a shout-out to his parents, whom he refers to as “Angels in my living room.” They give him guidance and perspective, and pave the way for him to thrive: “I hope for better days / And lately times are tough / The angels give me strength / And I'm[...]



Why Free Speech Is a Christian Virtue

2017-04-10T13:00:00Z

A friend recently shared a post by a Christian literary agent with this premise: If they Posted on 04/10/17 A friend recently shared a post by a Christian literary agent with this premise: If they want to sell books, writers should refrain from sharing political opinions and commenting on—or even liking—political articles. The proposal is not a new one. And it doesn’t apply to writers only. Lots of professionals in many fields are encouraged to ease off political opinions lest they tarnish their employers’ or their own reputation. We want people to like us, not necessarily to know what we think or how we feel. That’s not how we sell products. While I get why Big Business shies away from potentially divisive speech, I have to admit: the idea of asking writers, especially Christian writers, to stay mum on ideas and opinions (even wild and woolly ones) on strongly held beliefs or even surface-level curiosities chills me to the core. Not just because speaking up and speaking out are what writers do, but also because this advice, from a Christian agent to Christian writers, is as worldly and material and fearful as it comes. We Christians can do better. Years ago, I learned that tenure was created in part to protect professors from their own wild and woolly thoughts. The idea was that academics needed to hold off-the-wall, troubling views as part of their trade. But of course, off-the-wall and troubling views can get a person in trouble with the public and among colleagues. Thus, the protection of tenure, which grants them the academic freedom to think and speak bold and even terrifying ideas—without fear of losing their jobs. Though tenure operates differently today (and to be honest, I’m not sure a kindergarten teacher needs the same academic freedom as a physics or theology or creative-writing professor), I’m intrigued by it. Frankly, I’d like to see a tenure of sorts extended far beyond academia. After all, it seems “dangerous” thinking is everywhere we turn. In fact, the only positions that aren’t seen as dangerous or troubling are ones that square with the groupthink of the circles we run in. From the uprisings on college campuses, silencing or physically hurting people with “bigoted” ideas, to the uprisings on Christian blogs, trashing other Christians and their “heretical” ideas, we see attacks on free speech and free thought everywhere.  If your opinion or ideas offends us, we seek to shut down and shut up. But in this, there is no seeking to understand. There is no empathy. There is no love. Not of our neighbors or our enemies. And that is what should trouble us. The opinions and views of others may bother or even scare us, but more scary is the impulse to shut down these views instead of hearing and considering them. What if we turned it around? What if we responded to tricky or troubling or merely different opinions by turning our cheeks and offering a cultural tenure? What if instead of telling writers to shut up, we dared to buy their books, even when we disagree with their political views? What if we read and engaged and asked questions? What if instead of condemning, we sought to understand how someone arrived at that opinion? What if we learned to offer bon mots rather than biting words? This is, after all, what tenured professors (good ones, at least) hope to hear when they share a wild theory—thoughtful engagement and even disagreement with an openness to converse. And, of course, it’s what Christians hope to hear when we share our wild theories. I’m not talking about positions on gay marriage or abortion or baptism, the kinds of views that are seen as especially weird or offensive in our day. I&r[...]



What If My Daughter Wants to Be a Pastor?

2017-04-06T19:24:00Z

“I had no idea that people have issues with female pastors.” One of the Posted on 04/06/17 “I had no idea that people have issues with female pastors.” One of the congregants at our church lamented this to me with shock and exasperation. She was in her early 30s and considering a change in professional direction by attending seminary. Sandra came to me for my thoughts on choosing the right school; her face went blank when I suggested she study at a place that supports women serving in pastoral roles. “That’s like a thing?” she asked, clearly confounded. “Like people tell women they can’t do what you do?” The fact that this was new information for a seasoned, thirtysomething Christian woman was both delightful and devastating. Sandra grew up worshipping at our church, attended a college ministry and church where women were in leadership, then she returned home. In all the places she spent time, women were considered capable and elevated leaders. They preached and led significant ministries. What I wanted to tell Sandra was that the future of the church will eventually be like what she experienced at our church, that the limits on women in ministry were rapidly eroding, and that she should go brightly into a future where job opportunities for her were vast. Yet a recent Barna Group study on the State of Pastors suggests this future is still far away. They interviewed some 10,000 pastors in all 50 states and found that only 9 percent of senior pastors are female. There is actually something to celebrate here in that this number is triple what it was 25 years ago. However, the flip side of that statistic reveals that 91 percent of all senior pastorates are held by men. The Slingshot Group asked a great question in response to the study: What do we tell our daughters when they feel God calling them to become a pastor or ministry leader? I am raising a daughter and she is encouraged at school and at home to dream big, to make whatever plans she wants for her future. She can be an astronaut or a scientist or a politician. Fields that were formerly closed to women are cracking open (although struggles also still abound). But what if my daughter wants to be a pastor? Do I tell her this one may be off-limits? I am 100-percent confident of God’s call on women to serve in pastoral roles. I have served as a pastor for 15 years and I feel the power and Spirit of God in my life and in my work when I live out of this vocational call. I was so proud to have this conversation with Sandra within the walls of our church, where women have been welcomed into leadership for years. On the occasion of my own ordination, as many men as women thanked me for my pastoral work. It grieved me to tell Sandra this was not the norm. “Capable women ready to lead are stacked up and waiting to land like planes at O’Hare,” a friend once lamented to me. I relayed this quote to Sandra and told her that you could be called, gifted, prepared, and capable but not land a pastoral job simply because many churches will delete your resume because of your gender. This is the “state” of female pastors today. Among M Div students at evangelical seminaries, only one in five students is female. In Romans 12, Paul unpacks what it means to live together as the body of Christ. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us,” he writes. I looked Sandra in the eye and told her that her decision was a hard one, that it would be so much easier to pursue a different path. I told her that she should expect resistance, prejudice, and to be challenged unfairly. And then I asked her if she believed God had indeed called her to lead in the chur[...]



Foodie Movies and the Fruit of the Spirit

2017-04-05T20:15:00Z

It’s officially spring, which means many of us have plants on the mind, as well as Posted on 04/05/17 It’s officially spring, which means many of us have plants on the mind, as well as the food they produce. We’ll be frequenting farmer’s markets and loading soil and fertilizer into cars. We’ll be digging and planting and weeding and watering. And then we’ll be waiting. This whole process makes me think of the fruit of the Spirit. Food production is so much about love, joy, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. In fact, I suspect a wise farmer could craft a whole philosophy of work around Galatians 5 and be quite successful. The same could be said of chefs, the best of which are guided by these Christian fruits even if they don’t know it. Really great food documentaries reveal this dynamic at work. And so here are five contemplative, moving foodie movies worth chewing over this spring. Somm From director Jason Wise, this 2012 doc tells the story of four candidates undergoing the ultra-challenging Master Sommelier examination, a test so difficult that only 230 people from around the world were granted the Master Sommelier diploma between 1969 and 2015. As you might imagine, Somm is both harrowing and inspiring, an ode to the value of artistic mastery, while also being a deeply human story about passion, failure, and, ultimately, perseverance. It’s a reminder of the great heights humanity can reach when gifting, moxie, and purposefulness meet. Jiro Dreams of Sushi Roger Ebert once described this 2011 film about a famous sushi chef as “a portrait of tunnel vision,” which is something that could probably said of every film on this list. But Jiro stands out as an examination of an artist so dedicated to precision and perfection, so imbued with self-control and exactitude, that he’s become a legend, a master, and a maestro. Like an era-defining athlete who changes the rules of his or her sport, Jiro Ono helped revolutionize an entire culinary approach and establish a new way of thinking about one of the world’s most formative (and popular) dining experiences. Chef’s Table, Season 1, Episode 1 Still my favorite episode from Netflix’s mesmerizing documentary series, this pilot tells the story of Massimo Bottura, a three-Michelin-star chef from Modena, Italy, whose mission is to preserve a robust, shared cultural memory of what makes Italian food sophisticated artistry and uplifting comfort food at once. Whether he’s spearheading a campaign to save a large supply of Italy’s finest Parmigiano Reggiano or revering traditional methods of pasta-making, Bottura is a faithful custodian of historic and unrivaled gastronomic invention. Sustainable Any list of great food documentaries necessarily has to include at least one film about the ethics of modern food production. Like the recently released Wendell Berry-centric doc, Look & See, Sustainable is a work that declares that “we owe a debt to those of the past and we can only pay it to the future.” It asks us to contemplate what it means to love the earth and those who tend to it as much as ourselves. A film like this reminds us Christian love cannot be limited to those whom we know now. Rather, we are responsible for providing a future that enables our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to flourish (and multiply). Sustainable challenges us to consider what that means in relation to our eating habits. It’s not only a political question. It’s an inherently Christian question. Noma My Perfect Storm For many true foodies, Danish chef Rene Redzepi is a superhero. He has been hugely inf[...]



Moord Velden: Portraits of Christians Caught in Chicago’s Crossfire

2017-04-05T14:04:00Z

Editor’s note: This is adapted from Keri Wyatt Kent’s introduction to the Posted on 04/05/17 Editor’s note: This is adapted from Keri Wyatt Kent’s introduction to the Moord Velden project. The full text and all of photographer Michael VanDerAa’s images can be found here. moord (plural moorden, diminutive moordje n) 1. murder velden (plural form of veld n) 1. fields An area just under five square miles bordered by two major expressways on Chicago’s south side, Roseland was originally a Dutch enclave, settled in the 1840s. Today, it is a place without much reason for hope. In Roseland, everyone knows someone who’s been shot. In many cases, it is their own family members. Mothers and grandmothers mourn the loss of children, gunned down outside their own homes. It’s a dangerous place. Why are these things happening? Why does Chicago suffer from so much gun violence, particularly in neighborhoods like Roseland? Where are the guns coming from? Why do even young children settle their disputes with guns, especially when Chicago has strict gun laws? When people are sent to prison, do they come back reformed, or just better at being criminals? Does the threat of incarceration or even being killed stem the violence, or just make people more desperate? There are huge, complicated, systemic issues involved: poverty, drugs, unemployment, inferior schools, racism, corruption in the criminal justice system, parenting issues, family breakdown. There are no easy answers to the violence. It is a tangled, complex problem that seems to be getting worse. These incredibly difficult questions raise even deeper ones: have we lost hope? Should we simply give up? Can anyone do anything to make a difference? Can Roseland change? What will bring healing and restoration to this community? In the middle of this violent neighborhood, at 108th and Michigan Avenue, stands a solid brick building: Roseland Christian Ministries, a beacon of hope in the neighborhood. The ministry runs a women’s shelter and a food pantry. Children from the neighborhood show up after school to play basketball in the gym and attend tutoring sessions. There are also meals provided for the community, including a daily lunch. Other initiatives include a free day camp for younger children during the summer. There are also youth arts programs, Bible studies, and more. The Men of Honor program, for example, mentors and guides young men ages 13 to 18 and challenges them to live at a higher standard than the culture around them. There are no easy answers to the questions, no simple solutions to the incredibly complex problems. However, nearly all of the people we interviewed have found something else inside this big brick building. Here, they know that they are not alone. Here, in the midst of the pain and struggle, they find encouragement, friendship, support, strength, faith, and yes, even hope. It’s a beautiful picture. Kamari Pleasant, Kisha Pleasant As he walked home late one night in 2015, Kamari Pleasant heard a car in the street behind him. He had reached his front porch when bullets started flying. The 16-year-old took off running, and his mother, Kisha, awakened by the sound of gunshots, grabbed her phone and called her son. “Where are you? Where are you?” she asked. He told her he thought he’d been shot, and to open the front door. A moment later, Kamari ran down the street and into the house. He had a burn mark on his arm where a bullet had grazed it, but thankfully he’d escaped without any other injury. Who was it, his mother demanded to know. He said he didn’t know, that he hadn’t had any problems with a[...]



Julia: Sesame Street’s New Image-Bearer

2017-04-03T18:39:00Z

In some ways, she is another young celebrity making the promotional rounds on various talk Posted on 04/03/17 In some ways, she is another young celebrity making the promotional rounds on various talk shows. Last month, she made her television debut on 60 Minutes. Since then, she has been generating great buzz, with a variety of radio and TV appearances, including National Public Radio, CNN, and the BBC, as well as articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, People, and more.   However, this actor, Julia, is neither typical nor neurotypical. She has autism and is the first new muppet to debut on the children’s show, Sesame Street, in 10 years. Julia already has her own collection of videos on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel, as well as her own fan page on a Muppet Wiki. Both Julia’s creator, Leslie Kimmelman, and her puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, are mothers who have children with autism. Julia first came to life in a Sesame Street digital storybook, We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!, which shows two other Sesame Street characters, Elmo and Abby, playing with Julia in a way that accepts her own way of interacting. In a video segment, Elmo explains that Julia “sometimes does things a little differently.” Sesame Street creatives worked for nine months and consulted with 14 major autism organizations to plan out Julia’s characteristics, which include echolalia, hand-flapping, and slow or unexpected responses to others. Many people with autism exhibit these behaviors; however, as a female Julia breaks one common stereotype of autism. Although nearly five times as many boys have autism as girls, Sherrie Westin, a Sesame Street executive, says, “We’re trying to eliminate misconceptions, and a lot of people think that only boys have autism.” Julia gives Sesame Street another opportunity to talk about difference in a way that’s respectful and engaging rather than frightening. The approach is positive rather than pitying. As they adjust to Julia’s differences, the other characters enjoy playing with Julia. Julia loves to sing and remembers song lyrics better than the other characters. Julia makes her own unique and positive contribution to the Sesame Street family. The show never calls on Julia to represent all people with autism spectrum disorder; rather, she is one 4-year-old with autism. Gordon, Julia’s puppeteer, wishes that Julia had been around years ago, when her son was “Sesame Street age.” She told 60 Minutes, “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. And [they] would have known that he plays in a different way, and that that’s OK.” Many people who have autism do not self-identify as having a disability, and those voices were heard in Julia’s creation. Interactions of Sesame Street’s characters with Julia emphasize difference and diversity, not disability. This parallels the biblical principle that God values every person as an image-bearer, and that the people who seem to be weaker are indispensable. God works through unexpected means, including people who interact with others a little differently, whose senses perceive in different ways, who repeat other’s words, and who express joy (or stress) through hand-flapping or jumping. Considering the patriarchal, ethnocentric nature of a society like ancient Israel, the inclusion of several women, including two foreigners, in the genealogy of Jesus offers evidence of God’s surprising choices for those through who[...]



There is No Secular Music

2017-04-03T15:01:00Z

I’ve said it before and I imagine I’ll keep saying it until the day I die: I Posted on 04/03/17 I’ve said it before and I imagine I’ll keep saying it until the day I die: I don’t believe in “secular” music. It’s not that I don’t agree with it or listen to it. I don’t believe in secular music the same way I don’t believe in mind readers or alien abductions. It doesn’t exist. Ever since I was a little kid there was something about music that captured me—as a fan first, then as a participant. Music is spiritual. I believe, in fact, that it is essentially spiritual. It is its spirituality that makes it so powerful. In the Bible, music soothed an angry King Saul. It led Joshua’s troops into battle. It encouraged the early church, ushering partakers into the presence of God. Today, music still helps us celebrate and mourn. Of course, music can also sell cheeseburgers, spread political lies, and embed the telephone number of a carpet company deep into the recesses of our brains. So we should be just a little afraid of music. It is the spiritual essence of music, I would suggest, that gives it its power. While artists attempt to harness that power in the service of thought and feeling, propagandists harness it in the pursuit of crass and nefarious ends. As “secular” as a burger ad may seem, it is the spiritual nature of music that makes that ad so effective. In a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, interviewer Wyatt Mason spoke to three very different musical artists about artistic creation. Their thoughts revealed something about the spiritual quality of music. In separate conversations with Kendrick Lamar, Tom Waits, and Beck, Mason instigates the kind of hype-free, non-commercial, creative reflection that is like water to someone like me. Mason opens the article with words from the late Leonard Cohen, shared just a few days before his death. When asked by a Japanese reporter about one of his Hebrew-inflected lyrics—“Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord,” which appears in Cohen’s chilling song “You Want It Darker”—Cohen turned theological: “That ‘hineni,’ that declaration of readiness no matter what the outcome, that’s a part of everyone’s soul. We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are willing to serve.” As I let this sink in a for a few days, I was reminded of Moses. Full of weakness and fear, when he knew God’s call would be more than he could possibly accomplish, he said, “Here I am.” Hineni. There is not only a deeply sacred element to our consumption of music, but to our creation of it. Are we, as artists, here to serve, or to be served? If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is when it comes to music, the Times article will be enlightening. It will help you understand why people like me obsess over this stuff so much. If, on the other hand, music affects you deeply but you struggle to understand why, this piece might help you find the words. And it will do that by sharing the words of some of today's most influential artists. Here's Kendrick Lamar, as quoted by Mason: We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system. Lamar describes his attempts to synthesize[...]