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, California, Contemp Culture, Food, Future, Global, Green, Peacemaking, politics, Quotes, Ramblings, Technology, Urban

11 Local Practices to Address the Global Climate Crisis

My father-in-law is a scientist – a very good scientist at a large research university – whose research and work focuses on the intersection of plant/insect responses to changing climate conditions. He will occasionally send an email about his work or about a recent headline regarding global climate change, and this past week he sent a few alarming articles along with some of his own comments:

I’m very sorry to be such a downer; I wish as much as anyone that this would all go away. But the science is undeniable. And the choices before us now are to “mitigate, adapt, or suffer.” Human society will do all three, but the sooner and more effectively we do the former, the less we will experience the latter. And not so much us, but those with few resources around us (it’s a matter of social justice) and those who follow us (it’s a matter of intergenerational justice).

I’m a localist. I believe that how we perceive reality is primarily shaped by what lies within walking distance of us. I believe relationships develop when real people gather around a real table and share real food with each other. Isimpleearth believe change happens when real people in real places address a real problem with real shared action.

Yes, we live in a globalizing world and I don’t deny the necessity of global awareness.

Yes, we live in a digital age and I don’t deny the impact of technology on every aspect of our lives.

Yet…we’re bodied creatures that occupy real space in local places. So I’m with Wendell Berry when he writes:

Global thinking can only be statistical…Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground.

On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.

As a localist, it’s difficult to hear about massive global issues – especially a crisis like global climate change. Our own individual contributions (to both the problem and the solution) seem so small and insignificant. And whether we want to believe it or not, the problem is enormous.

NBC writes on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specifically noting that:

  • the issue is not global warming, but climate change.

“Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.”

  • global climate change is getting worse.

“We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

  • the hardest and first hit are those already most vulnerable.

“Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report…While the problems from global warming will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won’t be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women.”

  • the window for constructive correction is quickly closing.

“We have a closing window of opportunity,” she said. “We do have choices. We need to act now.”

In light of a massive global crisis, what are we to do, especially if (like me) you think real solutions must originate locally?

Here are 11 local practices that, directly and indirectly, can serve as a starting place for addressing the global climate crisis:

  • Know your neighbors.
  • Know your neighborhood businesses.
  • Spend more time outside than you spend online.
  • Spend time connecting to people in your place rather than placeless pixels.
  • Minimize the distance your food travels to get on your plate. (You can eat kale, carrots, and onions but you cannot eat grass.)
  • Choose a lower rung on the food chain.
  • Maximize the life cycle of all products you use.
  • Wherever possible, begin your use of a product in the middle of its life cycle (i.e. buy used).
  • Dread driving; love biking or walking.
  • Control your climate through your wardrobe, not central air/heating.
  • Because real sustainability can only happen through community, invite others into all of the above.

Thoughts? Pushbacks? Other local practices you’d suggest?

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How Much Do Superbowl Commercials Cost? And What Do They Cost Us?

I wrote this post in 2011 before the Super Bowl and, because it’s still relevant, it has become my annual pre-Superbowl blog post. As you watch the Superbowl (or any television, especially with kids around), please consider the ways that you are being shaped by the media and advertisements you allow ourselves to be exposed to.

I don’t care about the game…

I just watch it for the commercials

One of my pet peeves is how many times I hear that phrase in the weeks preceding the Super Bowl. I have a guttural reaction because it is such an honest sign of our culture’s addiction to entertainment.  We watch “for the commercials” even though we know that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to cloak powerful messages about cravings, sexuality, consumerism, fulfillment and identity in a 30-second charade of funny, provocative, and/or racy images and dialogue.  I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment but hope we start asking better questions about what we are entertained by.

The average American is exposed to hundreds or thousands of commercial advertisements each day.  On TV or Hulu, on the train, bus, or subway, on the highway, on the radio, on Facebook or Google, on the street corners. The amount of TV our culture watches is out of control, just as the amount of time we spend on Facebook as a culture is out of  control. We are swimming – no, drowning – in a sea of not-so-subliminal messages vying for our attention and our allegiance.

In the midst of a world filled with poverty, violence, injustice, and disease – in a world where we are so normalized to receiving messages – what messages are we sending about what is important, valuable, beneficial, noble, true, excellent, or praiseworthy?

I saw this video today (yes, yes, I recognize the irony) and would encourage everyone watch it.  Or, better yet, watch it with your friends before you watch the Super Bowl – not to make you or anyone else feel guilty, but to bring some desperately needed perspective to our media- and advertising-saturated lives.

HT: GOOD.

What do you think?

What is the REAL cost of Super Bowl commercials?

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What if Christians all moved to Detroit?

dangerWell, maybe not all of us. A sudden influx of 2 billion people might not be so helpful.

But what if a good chunk of Christians decided to move to Detroit?

If these “25 Facts” (a few copied below) are indeed anywhere close to reality, things are not good for Detroit or the people of Detroit:

7) At this point, there are approximately 78,000 abandoned homes in the city.

9) An astounding 47 percent of the residents of the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.

10) Less than half of the residents of Detroit over the age of 16 are working at this point.

11) If you can believe it, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.

15) 40 percent of the street lights do not work.

16) Only about a third of the ambulances are running.

18) Two-thirds of the parks in the city of Detroit have been permanently closed down since 2008.

20) When you call the police in Detroit, it takes them an average of 58 minutes to respond.

22) The violent crime rate in Detroit is five times higher than the national average.

25) Crime has gotten so bad in Detroit that even the police are telling people to “enter Detroit at your own risk

So things are bad.

Bad for the city, bad for the economy, bad for the working-age adults, and bad for the children. Things are really bad.

Christian discipleship is a call to follow Jesus into the broken, downtrodden, depressed, and hopeless areas of our world.

What is Christian discipleship if not a call to follow Jesus into Detroit?

I love this video from Al Roxburgh calling followers of Jesus to embed themselves in neighborhoods and re-weave the broken social fabric of our parishes. It gives language to the Christian imagination for place and is well worth nine minutes of your time.

Call to the Parish – Alan Roxburgh from The Missional Network on Vimeo.

So why don’t we (followers of Jesus) moved to Detroit to participate in…

  • rebuilding the social fabric of care, neighbor to neighbor, city block to city block?
  • contributing to the education, safety, and flourishing of “the least of these”?
  • re-imagining a new economy in the wake of industrial abandonment?
  • re-using the forgotten natural resources of land and space for the purposes of growing food and providing places for children and adults alike to laugh, smile, and play?
  • restoring the dignity and humanity of this city and its people?

Not to single-handedly save the place but to witness to the God who is at work bringing up redemption and renewal to the broken places and participate in the holistic salvation of a once-great-but-now-fallen city

(And you can apparently buy a house for $500 so it’s not that you can’t afford it.)

Is this notion of relocation naïve? Where else is there hope for Detroit?

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A New Evangelical Manifesto (book review, and some meandering thoughts about politics)

A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good (Chalice Press, 2012) is a collection of essays edited by David Gushee released in late summer. On the eve of a national election, it seems only fitting to write a little review of a book with the word “manifesto” in the title.

A manifesto is a plumb line, a marker in the sand, a call to action. A manifesto is a political word. Having studied and worked in both sectors, I have found that politics and religion make an awkward combination. Politicians with strong religious affiliation often make really strange decisions. And religious leaders with strong political affiliations often make really, really strange decisions. Both of these institutions compete for loyal followers representing, at their core, a zero sum game. While I’ve seen people navigate the tension, it’s a rare occurrence.

While I cringe at the strange bedfellows of religion and politics, I also realize that there is little, if anything, in the world that is not political. In its broadest sense, politics is a way of describing the actions of people groups. So religion is political, cultural trends are political, book clubs are political, politics are political and line dancing is political (in fact, line dancers are some of the most political people I know, zing!).

So A New Evangelical Manifesto is a political book. But it’s mainly a book about the politics of the church – the outward presence, actions, and thinking of those who are following Jesus. In talking about the church’s outward presence, it necessarily addresses the more popular form of politics, looking at the well-known issues like poverty, climate change, sexuality, and economics, through the lens of God’s kingdom while also engaging lesser-discussed topics like human trafficking, the role of children in society, torture, and consumerism.

With over 20 contributors, a wide range of opinions is represented with most falling in the moderate to left-leaning crowd (with many identifying in some fashion with the evangelical label). The specific chapters provide good starting points for conversations on a variety of issues facing the world. Overall, while not exactly breaking new ground, A New Evangelical Manifesto joins a line of publications (like Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics) strengthening the voice of a more centrist Christian message too often lost in a world sharply divided into extreme categories of conservative and liberal.

A copy of this book was passed on to me at no cost to myself other than the time spent reading it by the good folks at SpeakEasy.

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The Death Penalty is Wrong; Vote Against It

Last month, I wrote about the question of justice for mass murders (Is Life Cheap in Norway?).

All our attempts at justice – whether it be community service hours, prison time, or the death penalty – fall short. And they don’t just fall short because we lack complete knowledge over the situations we’re judging. They fall short because our attempts at justice are rooted in fear and vengeance. To speak of “justice being served” is nothing but a myth on this side of redemption.

Last year, I wrote about the death penalty in light of the Troy Davis execution (The Death Penalty is Wrong).

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours

So now here I am, writing about the death penalty again because it’s a dated, unjust, arrogant, and shameful policy the USA should cease immediately.

And I’m writing about it because those of us in California have a chance to stop further state-sponsored executions with the passage of Proposition 34.

California has an infamous number of initiatives and propositions on each election ballot, and this year is no different. As I see it, a ballot initiative is a chance for relatively simple issues to be so muddled up in legalities and technicalities that no one understands it and then ridiculously politicize the once-simple issue to the point that no one wants to vote for anything anymore because there is no way to know what you’re really voting for.

But I don’t think Proposition 34 is that confusing.

Even as someone who pragmatically thinks our democracy is fraught with problems and theologically prefers a less-activist stance in the political sphere, I think there is no compelling reason why our government should have the right or the need to kill people and am proud to be listed amongst clergy and community leaders who support this Proposition. We have all the technology and infrastructure to protect the innocent from the guilty without resorting to state executions. We simply have no need for capital punishment and Proposition 34 provides a new way forward that continues to take terrible crimes seriously and seeks the peace and prosperity of our society.

Specifically, Proposition 34 seeks to:

  • Repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • Apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.
  • Require persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.
  • Create a $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

In short:

  1. We stop killing people.
  2. Killers stay in jail forever.
  3. Victim’s families are provided some tangible recompense.
  4. We don’t resort to lex talionis eye-for-an-eye vengeance that does not belong to us but to God (see Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1, Proverbs 20:22, Matthew 26:52 Romans 12:17, and Hebrews 10:30 as well as the entire narrative and ethical trajectory of the Scriptures if you want to engage this on a theological/biblical level).

A no-brainer, right? End the death penalty. Support Proposition 34. 

As always, all my writing and ranting on this blog are my own personal opinions, unless otherwise noted. Please try not to assume any organization, entity, or other individuals I may or may not be connected with
hold these same opinions!

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Is Life Cheap in Norway? (Reflecting on Anders Breivik, John Piper, and Justice)

John Piper, a notable pastor/theologian from Minnesota, writes this:

Anders Breivik’s sentence for killing 77 people in Norway on July 22, 2011 is outrageous. He was deemed sane and sentenced to serve 21 years in prison “in a three-cell suite of rooms equipped with exercise equipment, a television and a laptop.” That’s 100 days of posh prison time for each person he murdered, with a legal release possible at age 53. Life is cheap in Norway.

I disagree.

And I realize I’m not just disagreeing with John Piper but also with C.S. Lewis (whose essay “The Humanitarian  Theory of Punishment” Piper draws from in the above-quoted article). And if disagreeing with C.S. Lewis was not bad enough, I am also probably disagreeing with many Christians and many, many more Americans who would have called (or who did call) for the death penalty for Breivik.
But I have to disagree because all our attempts at justice – whether it be community service hours, prison time, or the death penalty – fall short. And they don’t just fall short because we lack complete knowledge over the situations we’re judging. They fall short because our attempts at justice are rooted in fear and vengeance. To speak of “justice being served” is nothing but a myth on this side of redemption.

This is not to belittle the work of lawyers, judges, police officers, etc. I have friends and family who diligently and faithfully serve in often-thankless no-win situations. But there are limits to what we can accomplish in our “justice system.”

Back to Norway. When the Breivik sentence was released, I was terribly impressed by the interviews and reactions from the Norwegian people. Heard with American ears, their commitment to a system with an end-goal of rehabilitation was highly unusual. Even with such a high-profile and costly crime, those I heard respond seemed to feel this was a fair and adequate sentence. Even in a situation, like Breivik’s, where rehabilitation may be unlikely, it was still held up as the ideal.

There can be no “justice” rendered by humans for the murder of 77 people. There is nothing we can do to balance those scales. The Norwegian system recognizes that and instead aims for the loftier and much more difficult goal of rehabilitation.

Justice is us trying to play God.

Rehabilitation is us trying to leverage our skills, abilities, and talents towards God’s kingdom coming more fully on earth (as it is in heaven).

What do you think?

I realize I’ve weighed into some areas outside my expertise – i.e. the legal/judicial system of a foreign country…so if you feel I’ve missed something, please let me know!

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