Friday Link Love

Still at FFW. (Ah, the joy of pre-scheduled posts…)


Gymnast Johanna Quaas — YouTube

She’s 86.

That’s Eighty-Six:


95 Tweets against Hell — Two Friars and a Fool

I love the friars, and this is a tweeting tour de force:

#95Tweets #E1: Eternal Hell is not in any way restorative – it eternally severs relationship and eternally prevents redemption

#95Tweets #E2: In fact, eternal Hell is the teaching that there are people and things that can never be redeemed, even by God

#95Tweets #E3: Eternal Hell is vengeance made infinite, and is therefore even less noble than vengeance

#95Tweets #E4: Eternal Hell lacks the sole moral underpinning of punishment, which is correction

 And yes, there are 95 of them.


How to Store Fruits, Vegetables and Eggs without a Fridge — Improvised Life

Such ingenuity and simple beauty in this approach.


Walking the Tightrope: Thoughts on Vulnerability and Hurt — Brene Brown

Brene is one of my heroes. With this post, she takes a stand: she will no longer write articles for venues that don’t moderate their comments or have some basic controls in place to keep the discussion civil.



Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy — YouTube

My friend Todd passed this along: why the first follower is just as (more?) important than the leader. Good stuff and a joy to watch:


A Congregation of Theological Coherence — Alban Institute

I really like the idea of a congregation having a common theological vocabulary:

This pastor leads a congregation that is sturdy. It isn’t likely to be the focus of a church growth study, or make the cover of Time during Holy Week. However, it is a congregation that makes a difference in people’s lives. The parking lot is full during the week. The lights are on in the evening. Membership numbers are steady. 

Several conditions enhance a congregation’s ability to address the challenges and opportunities it faces. They include simple yet important realities: use of outside resources to learn new capacities, clergy and laity learning together, and congregations assuming the initiative over their futures. 

Another emerging condition we’re observing is theological coherence; the ability to think clearly about God and then act accordingly. A congregation that is clear and consistent about how it understands God, and applies this understanding to its daily life, is more able to deal effectively with challenges and opportunities. 


Why Storytellers Lie — Atlantic Monthly

I’ve just put Gotschall’s book,  The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, on my Goodreads:

When we tell stories about ourselves, they also serve another important (arguably higher) function: They help us to believe our lives are meaningful. “The storytelling mind”—the human mind, in other words—”is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence,” Gottschall writes. It doesn’t like to believe life is accidental; it wants to believe everything happens for a reason. Stories allow us to impose order on the chaos.

And we all concoct stories, Gotschall notes—even those of us who have never commanded the attention of a room full of people while telling a wild tale. “[S]ocial psychologists point out that when we meet a friend, our conversation mostly consists of an exchange of gossipy stories,” he writes. “And every night, we reconvene with our loved ones … to share the small comedies and tragedies of our day.”

…Every day of our lives—sometimes with help working things out via tweets or Facebook status updates—we fine-tune the grand narratives of our lives; the stories of who we are, and how we came to be…

…We like stories because, as Gotschall puts it, we are “addicted to meaning”—and meaning is not always the same as the truth.


Have a good weekend, dear readers.


Friday Link Love

Tonight we celebrate Robert’s birthday with a trip to the Arlington Drafthouse to see this guy:

Wyatt Cenac

We’re pretty psyched.

In the meantime, here are some links to keep you busy:

Don’t Give Up: The Inspirational Letters Project

The eternal truth of a lot of creative work: 3% of the time you are on fire, and 97% of the time is a messy slog. The key: persist, despite all the difficulties…

These are letters from animators at Pixar and elsewhere to an aspiring animator… the response prompted him to start a spinoff called the Inspirational Letters Project. As you would expect, they are visually interesting.


King’s God: The Unknown Faith of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King denied the ontological divinity of Jesus, didn’t think heaven/hell were literal places, saw the Bible as myth, rejected the bodily resurrection of Jesus (beginning at the age of 13), rejected original sin, and more. In other words, a liberal theologian.

On that topic, I’m sympathetic with James McGrath, who laments that many of the “new atheists” are putting forth criticisms of Christianity and the Bible as if they are new and original, when in fact many theologians have been saying similar stuff for centuries, including MLK, it would seem. (I also note that the comments on McGrath’s post are largely substantive and respectful. Kudos to him.)


Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There


Numerous writers, artists, poets and musicians have testified to the virtues of such idleness in their own creative lives. It was when he was completely alone, Mozart wrote in a letter, “say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when [he] could not sleep,” that his ideas flowed best and most abundantly…

Such testimony is not just plain good sense; it is good science too. In a recent article in Discover magazine, the journalist Stephen Johnson reported on a conversation with neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. The cognitive part of our brain works very fast, Damasio explained. “So you can do a lot of reasoning, a lot of recognition of objects, remembering names in just a few hundredths of a second.” But the emotional part of our brains works very differently, and there is precious little evidence that this is going to change. Tasks that have to do with empathy and imagination, with slow-growing qualities like love and fidelity and ethics, will continue to develop in their own sweet time.


Kurt Andersen: Our Politics Are Sick

I love Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360; it’s one of my favorite podcasts. “Creativity, pop culture and the arts”: what’s not to love?

He nails this metaphor in my opinion:

The American body politic suffers from autoimmune disorders.

It’s a metaphor, but it’s not a joke. I’ve read a lot about autoimmune diseases — the literal, medical kinds, also disconcertingly on the rise — because several members of my family have them. At some point, our bodies’ own immune systems went nuts, mistaking healthy pieces of our anatomies — a pancreas, a thyroid, a joint — for foreign tissue, dangerous enemies within, and proceeded to attack and try to destroy them. It’s as close to tragedy as biology gets.

Which is pretty much exactly what’s been happening the last decade in our politics. The Truthers decided the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Others decided our black president is definitely foreign-born and Muslim. Tea Party Republicans are convinced his administration is crypto-socialist and/or proto-fascist. The anti-Shariah people are terrified of the nonexistent threat of Islamic law infecting American jurisprudence. It’s now considered reasonable to regard organs and limbs of the federal government — the E.P.A., the education department, the Federal Reserve — as tumors that must be removed. Taxation itself is now considered a parasitic pathogen rather than a crucial part of our social organism.



The Procrastination Flowchart

I resemble that.


And finally, Steve Job’s 2005 Commencement Speech to Stanford. Wise and touching. I wish him well.





The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism: Book Review

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller

This book was chosen by our book group at church, and I went to it kicking and screaming. Keller is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, which broke off from our denomination over the ordination of women. I don’t pay them much attention most of the time, and I certainly don’t seek them out on matters of theology. Whether that’s close-mindedness or good discernment on my part, I’ll leave that to others to judge. Bottom line, though, is I’m glad I read this book, but I’m also glad I could get it from the library rather than buy it…

The first half of the book addresses the questions and charges people make against Christianity (the evil done in its name, how can a good God allow suffering), and the second half makes a more positive case for the Christian faith. I actually liked the first part of the book better. For one thing, it’s somewhat less systematic, less interested in building a logical argument so much as addressing (and in some cases dismantling) the traditional arguments against God and faith.

I would have been happy for him to stop there. That’s a temperament thing—I was reminded of spiritual types recently and I am more on the apophatic side. Apophatic spirituality is centered on the mystery of God that goes way beyond whatever we think we know. Apophatic spirituality approaches God by saying what God is not, and tends to be suspicious of attempts to nail things down too handily. Christianity is largely “kataphatic,” centered on the idea that God is revealed and known in the person of Jesus Christ. In this sense, apophatics provide a necessary corrective and a reminder that we don’t know everything, never will, and that’s probably a good thing.  (More on this topic)

It could also be that apophatic Christians are Buddhists who just can’t quit Jesus.

Back to the book.

I appreciated the places where Keller was able to bring some nuance. He deftly weaves literary and historical material into his discussion and quotes heavily from C.S. Lewis. (These were some of my favorite bits in the book; clearly I need to read more Lewis.) I agree with his assessment of the church’s role in systems of injustice. To the extent that it participates and colludes with them, it is an affront to the gospel. But the answer, Keller, is not to throw the whole thing away but to go deeper into a life with Christ. In fact, Christianity has within it rather robust tools for critiquing and correcting religiously-based injustice and oppression, including its own. (I’m not claiming that Christianity is unique in that regard, though Keller might be.)

His chapter on biblical interpretation was strong, and I liked how he handled the facile argument that if you can’t take the Bible literally everywhere, you can’t take it literally anywhere. You have to consider the genre and intent of a passage. Genesis 1, for example, is not a scientific text: “Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a ‘song’ about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation… it is false logic to argue that if one part of the Scripture can’t be taken literally then none of it can be. That isn’t true of any human communication.

I take this to mean that one might say “I love you” to one’s spouse upon leaving for work, and five minutes later say, “Ugh! I’m gonna kill that guy!” to the bozo who cut her off on the freeway, and the latter should not be taken literally, nor does it preclude the former from being taken literally. But did you catch that? He just called the Bible “human communication”! Not even this prominent PCA pastor is willing to say that the Bible is God’s dictated word, jot and tittle, and for that I am thankful. In fact, some of his principles for interpretation seemed to come right out of Jack Rogers’s books for the Presbyterian Church (USA) on biblical interpretation. Maybe these guys are mellowing out.

Ultimately, however, I wish Keller had stuck more to  theology than apologetics, which unfortunately is his emphasis. Can we “logic” our way to God? Maybe, but I hope not. Yes, the bodily resurrection of Jesus would have been a complete scandal to people at the time, an offense even to pre-modern sensibilities, and totally outside the realm of what they would have consider possible at the time. He’s right; to make up such a thing would not have lent credibility to those following the way of Jesus. That does not mean that it happened… though that’s essentially Keller’s argument.

He also employs a number of circular arguments and dualistic, all-or-nothing thinking. For example, quoting Plantinga, “a [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort… and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness.” On the contrary, I think there can be broad moral consensus of good and evil in secular societies. (He would say that this consensus originates within religion, specifically Christianity. That’s Christianity as Godfather: “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”)

He also tries to defend God on the matter of suffering:

Though none of these people are grateful for the tragedies themselves, they would not trade the insight, character, and strength they had gotten from them for anything. With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?

I guess it could be possible, but… no. Just no. Here’s the apophatic talking: there is no benefit to trying to nail that stuff down and systematize it. It is a mystery. Maybe it will all make sense in the sweet by and by, but if you’re trying to build a bridge for the non-religious, it does not benefit your case by even going there.

I would be interested in hearing a non-religious person’s take on this book. My sense is that it provides lots of food for thought for Christians, and maybe even folks who lean Christian. (I expect very vigorous discussion of this book in our group.) But is not going to do much to sway folks who are resolutely non-Christian.

BBT on Sabbath

One of my major areas of interest (personally and professionally) is Sabbath-keeping. Since this trip is a sort of extended Sabbath experience, I’ve collected some quotes and thoughts about the topic to share while I’m away. Ah, the miracle of scheduled posts…

Here’s a quote from Barbara Brown Taylor from her incredible book An Altar in the World:

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, ‘A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.’ By that definition, I have a hard time counting many free beings among my acquaintance. I know people who can do five things at once who are incapable of doing nothing. I know people who can decide what to do without being able to do less of it. Since I have been one of these people, I know that saying no is a more difficult spiritual practice than tithing, praying on a cold stone floor, or visiting a prisoner on death row.

Photo: a large cairn on top of Dun I in Iona, which always comes to mind with BBT’s book title, An Altar in the World.