Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings

The Fuzzying-Up of Facts and Finding Wisdom’s Way

When I was a boy, we used, in order to draw oft’ the harriers from the trail of a hare that we had set down as our own private property…drag a red-herring, tied to a string, four or five miles over hedges and ditches, across fields and through coppices, till we got to a point, whence we were pretty sure the hunters would not return to the spot where they had thrown off (William Cobbett)

Misdirection, bombasticism, and the fuzzying-up of facts seem to be sending all of us ‘over hedges and ditches, across fields and through coppics.’

I’m not an epistemological foundationalist but neither am I a relativist.

It’s an honest and worthy struggle to dig in to what is real.
But it is a struggle.

I’m worried we are being invited to ignore what is real for the sake of what is interesting (to draw on the previous post, quoting David Foster Wallace).

May we carefully listen.
May we closely discern.
May we strongly object to fabricated falsehoods.
May we see beyond charades, smoke, and mirrors.
May we not lose sight of the Real.

May we find wisdom’s way.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Leadership, Meaning, politics, Quotes, Ramblings, Resurrection, social

Be as Uninteresting as You Can Be? (Thoughts from David Foster Wallace)

I stumbled across this David Foster Wallace interview from almost 15 years ago.

A few of my thoughts are at the bottom after the snippet.


DFW: No one is asking questions about the connections between how we live, what we drive, and the things that are happening [in the world].

INTERVIEWER: Are there means of rebellion [from the status quo]?

DFW: There are people doing it all over the place…The people I know who are rebelling meaningfully don’t buy a lot of stuff and don’t get their view of the world from television and are willing to spend 4-5 hours researching an election rather than going by commercials.

The thing about it is in America, we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing that involves action and force, and my guess is the forms of rebellion that will change anything meaningfully will be very quiet and very individual and probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside.

I’m now hoping for less interesting than more interesting.

Violence is interesting. Horrible corruption and scandals and rattling sabers and talking about war and demonizing a billion people of a different faith in the world – those are all interesting.

Sitting in a chair and really thinking about what this means and why the fact of what I drive might have something to do with how people in other parts of the world feel about me isn’t interesting to anybody else.


Here’s the full interview.

Whether you agree with DFW or not, it seems strikingly applicable to our world, perhaps particularly this week.

Parts of it also strike me as complexly-privileged, specifically the ability to “wait it out” with quiet, uninteresting, rebellion.

But I am especially struck by the gravity of the “interesting” and how it plays out in the stories of our world.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings

I (do not) believe in the god named Scarcity.

I like to think I don’t believe in the god named Scarcity, but the last few days have reminded me that my subtle allegiances to Scarcity are surprisingly strongly-held.

Scarcity peaks around a corner when all the wrong lights flash on my car’s dashboard (you know those lights – the ones you have to flip through your manual to find out what they mean and they say “stop driving your car right now and take your car to the dealership,” even if you’re not sure how to get to the dealership if you stop driving your car).

The whisper of Scarcity is heard when bills (even expected bills) all show up on the same day.

Scarcity doesn’t strictly operate in cash but shows up in the deluge of meeting requests, pressing deadlines, and wasted minutes or hours of a long commute.

Scarcity laughs at the seemingly-endless buzzing drone of notifications, pop-up reminders, and unread messages in your email inbox.

Scarcity says the water is rising and you’ll never find dry land again.

Scarcity’s song’s melody begins with “There is not enough. You do not have enough.” and rises to the refrain of “You are not enough. You will never be enough.”

Scarcity invites me to surrender to fear, to give up, to prey on myself and others.

I rarely, if ever, have strong, mountaintop, “Come to Scarcity” moments.

But the draw, allure, and movements of Scarcity are more subtle than that.

Some days I actually do believe in this god I don’t believe in.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings

“But, are ya still preaching the gospel?” and other solicitous questions

We just moved and, apparently, with moving comes solicitors.

no-solicitors-allowed-1444909We’ve had people come to the door asking about everything from security systems (You do plan on protecting your family, right?) to cable television (With us, you’ll get a bazillion channels!), and, tonight, we had a visit from bless-their-hearts church people that just wanted us to know they are starting up a new gospel preachin’ church in the neighborhood and, if you don’t attend a gospel preachin’ church, would you like to come and visit?

They handed us a tract covered in stars, stripes, regal eagles, and “God Bless America”s.

Between the move, toddler-dom, less-than-ideal-sleep, and 25% of the adult ankles in our house sprained, all amidst the piles to unpack and organize, I feel like my energy and interest in engaging solicitors has been minimal.

Tonight, we were having post-dinner family time – dancing, laughing, and listening to records (Gershwin) – as the solicitors approached.

Hi, we’re just here to let you know about our new church.
Oh, hi.
Do you have a church you go to?
Uhh, yeah, actually, I’m a pastor.
Oh, where are you planting your church?
It’s been around for a while, it’s called Open Door.
Oh, you get a lot of young folks, then?
Yeah, I guess.
But are you still preaching the gospel?
Uhh, yeah.
What is it?
What is what?
The gospel.
Oh, I think we both have answers to that question.
Only by the blood of Jesus!
[Tired smile.]
And no works, right? You don’t preach works, do you?
Sorry, we were having family time, so I think we’re actually going to go back to that now. Have a good night.

There’s all kinds of commentary to add here – about my response and what it should or could have been, about door-to-door church invitations, about the strange-but-all-too-common bedfellows of patriotism and religion.

I sometimes wish I had more energy to enter into constructive dialogue with these solicitors (their questions, how we might differ on our understanding of the gospel and where we might agree, how there is more about Jesus than his blood that is good news, etc.).

But, at the end of the conversation, I decided I would rather spend my energy dancing with my family than picking theological nits with strangers (err, brothers and sisters in Christ?).

Thoughts?

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Guide Our Feet on the Path of Peace

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from Luke had us hear the words of Zechariah, a man whom I imagine was familiar with personal longing and societal brokenness.

As a priest of an exiled people, I imagine he was weary and tired of infusing hope in desperate and exhausting circumstances.

I imagine he regularly faced those who invoked fear and violence and rallied for exclusion of the other and the call to take up arms as the biblical and Godly way of faithfulness.

I imagine he himself wavered between succumbing to fear and holding on to hope.

And I imagine he experienced both trembling and relief as “he was filled with a fresh wind from God” (Luke 1:67) and proclaimed with prophetic confidence that God’s good news would “guide our feet on the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The path of peace, not the path of war.
The path of peace, not the path of self-defense.
The path of peace, not the path of retaliation.
The path of peace, not the path of exclusion.
The path of peace, not the path of violence.
The path of peace, not the path of fear.

Not the path of Christian university presidents.
Not the path of politicians.

The path of peace
following the Prince of Peace
who would welcome the stranger as family
before casting them away and closing the door,
who would lay down his life
before ending the life of another.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

The Slow Suicide of Donald Draper

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From the first season, the opening credits of Mad Men told us how this story would end.

Our eyes are drawn to a silhouette slowly falling to his death. Even with the dishevelment of gravity, the silhouette is incredibly well-kept, almost calm. Slim-fitting suit, neat tie, a graceful free-fall past the icons and idols of advertisement and consumption.

So calm, so graceful that you almost forget the silhouette is falling.

Almost.

Mad-men-title-cardThe credits close with the same figure, cigarette lazily at his side, no longer falling, simply an observer. Waiting for the inevitable to occur. An object in motion stays in motion, a body falling continues to fall until it hits rock bottom.

Much has been written (eloquently, thoughtfully, truthfully, beautifully) about the closing of Mad Men’s story. I love a story that leaves room for our own. The best stories are so intricate and true that we find ourselves inside of them, leaving us wondering how much, if any, distance there is between fact and fiction. I love the thick, stubborn nature of redemption – that even in the most tragic characters, even in the most tragic circumstances, there lies the potential to find hope. So I’m grateful for those who saw redemption in Mad Men.

But the silhouette is falling and, in Mad Men’s closing scene, Donald Draper hits bottom.

The bottom isn’t the concrete of a New York sidewalk or the barrel of a smoking gun or the bottom of an oft-filled tumbler.

That’s what I expected. That would have been too obvious.

The bottom is a return to the thin illusion of happiness.

The bottom is a return to the suicide-in-progress that has slowly unfolded since the opening credits of Episode 1.

The writers saved us the dignity of watching the gruesome end.
Our cigarettes can still hang lazily from our fingers as we watch the fall with a curious ambivalence.
We can hum a catchy jingle while waiting for the train.

But don’t we all know how this story ends?

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Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Quotes, Race, Ramblings, Reading Reflections

The New Jim Crow (Reading Reflections, Part 2)

I’m continuing to read and process through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. Here are some continued thoughts – largely ideas and statistics offered by Alexander that I’m taking special notice of and lingering on.

The first reflection I posted followed Alexander’s historical narrative of race relations in the United States; in the next two chapters she moves to a discussion of the current criminal justice system in America.

Some terminology:

War on Drugs: a declaration and collection of anti-drug policies championed by the executive branch leading to harsh mandatory sentencing, increased searches (with or without warrants), and federally-funded/incentivized militarization of police.

Mass incarceration: It is worth repeating that Alexander is not simply looking at people in prison, but those who are caught up in the criminal justice system at all levels (those who are detained, in parole, probation, etc. in addition to those in prison)

And some quotes from Chapters 2 and 3:

“Despite the fact that most drug arrests are for nonviolent minor offenses…the percentage of drug arrests that result in prison sentences has quadrupled” (59).

“Up to 99 percent of traffic stops made by federally funded narcotics task forces result in no citation and that 98 percent of task-force searches during traffic stops are discretionary searches in which the officer searches the car with the driver’s verbal “consent” but has no other legal authority to do so” (70).

“[Madison’s Capital Times] explained that in the 1990s, Wisconsin police departments were given nearly a hundred thousand pieces of military equipment…justified to city councils and skeptical citizens as essential to fight terrorism or deal with hostage situations, [but] were rarely deployed for those reasons but instead were sent to serve routine search warrants for drugs or make drug arrests” (77).

“Suddenly, police departments were capable of increasing the size of their budgets, quite substantially, simply by taking the cash, cars, and homes of people suspected of drug use or sales…Between 1988 and 1992 alone, Byrne-funded drug task forces seized over $1 billion in assets” (78).

“Never before in our history have such an extraordinary number of people felt compelled to plead guilty, even if they are innocent, simply because the punishment for the minor, nonviolent offense with which they have been charged is so unbelievably severe” (86)

A few thoughts:

As the situation in Ferguson has continued to unfold, the protesting voices are naming Ferguson as a microcosm of a wider, systemic issue. The voices speaking out against the protesters seem to suggest Ferguson is an isolated incident – one man, one police officer, one situation. From all the conversations I’ve had, these are the two most common “camps” people find themselves in (realizing that there are, of course, radical positions stemming from both of these).

Michelle Alexander’s picture is nothing less than a widespread, systemic issue in our law enforcement and criminal justice system. Even if you took the racial thread out of her argument, the narratives of implementation/enforcement and statistics comparing sentencing in the USA compared to global norms are still pretty shocking. Though as I mentioned in my first post on this book, Alexander’s work is intended to name mass incarceration as a racial caste system, not simply an unjust or unnecessary obsession with fighting drugs.

Her work continues to push into statistics, research, and accounts suggesting this is not simply a widespread, equal-opportunity injustice, but this amounts to the new Jim Crow. I think there’s still work to do in order to communicate across the two camps mentioned above. How do we not simply continue moving forward with the status quo if our population is so divided on whether there is, indeed, any kind of systemic issues at play in all this?

Thoughts? Questions? Oversights? Objections?

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