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, Future, Global, Meaning, politics, Ramblings, social

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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Are televised sports compatible with Christian discipleship?

I tweeted this over the weekend:

I really don’t understand pro sports. Who has time to remember which sport is in season, keep all those teams straight, AND watch the games?

This is a busy season for sports which means social media feeds are buzzing about bad calls, good plays, and bragging rights. It also means those of us who are not into sports walk around with glazed-over eyes and cotton balls in our ears most of the time.

But it also has made me wonder: are televised, professional sports compatible with the life of Christian discipleship?

I imagine I will get a number of overwhelming YESs in response, but hear me out.

Given the number of hours in each game, set, or match, think about the collective good that could be done with that time.

After some brief Google research, it seems fair to say at least 20 million people will watch an NFL football game if it’s on TV. With most weekends having multiple games throughout the day, I imagine the actual number is much highe. But 20 million people watching a three-hour football game is 60 million hours of time that could be spent out in the neighborhood, gardening, reading, cooking, worshiping, creating, and playing. And that’s one game. Most people I know watch more than one game a week.

Because I’m sure this will come up, I do realize many people watch sports together. They get together, share food, and talk about life while peripherally paying attention to the game; this is an American past time, a way to bond and connect while cheering on our local team. But many, many people watch sports alone and, with enormously rich athletes and owners and with global corporate sponsors, there are few, if any, truly “local teams” to root for anymore.

Given the amount of money spent on professional and televised sports, think about the collective good that could be done with that money.

Professional sports are multi-billion dollar industries (and I imagine regularly televised sports at the college level are too). Player salaries, stadium construction and renovation, advertising and sponsorships, and bounty payouts  (zing!) all add up to a massive amount of money I don’t even feel like estimating.

World poverty statistics are too well-known and too numbing to bother citing. We can all think of about a million things that could be done with that money to affect real change in the local and global society.

These are things I think about that I think more people should think about. Although you can definitely read my bias in this, I want to this to come across as a genuine question (not as finger pointing, speck-in-the-eye picking, etc.):

Can these massively time-consuming and massively expensive activities be justified given what we know of the world and, for Christians, can they be compatible with a call to Christian discipleship?

What say you, sports fans?

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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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Bike To Work Day

We call it our favorite holiday of the year.

Bike to Work Day.

  • Free bike rides on all metro buses and trains.
  • Free breakfast in Pasadena.
  • Free “swag” at various pit stops around town (we found four different stops this morning and picked up items including water bottles, bags, wrench sets, bike patch kits, cliff bars, energy drinks, and coupons for free smoothies at Whole Foods).
  • Chat with other cyclists.
  • Show up to work late wearing a “Bike to Work Day” t-shirt.

It’s an annual tradition with my bike-riding friends and we have a blast.

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What’s Missional About a Missional Block Party?

Yesterday I posted some rambling thoughts entitled “Missional Block Party: Take One.” I thought I’d post a few more thoughts about what that adjective – missional – actually means or looks like in the context of a block party.

First, “missional” is an overused but still helpful term that is rooted in the theological understanding that God is on the move in the world around us, and, thankfully, that God is on the move in a redemptive way in the world around us.

Much damage has been done because of the perception (too often based in reality) that Christianity is primarily about bad news. Bad news for you, bad new for me, bad news for the middle east, bad news for our neighbors, bad news for trees and animals, and bad news for everyone.

But Christianity is not primarily about bad news.

Isaiah, the ancient prophet, wrote this:

Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. (Isaiah 43:19, CEB)

God is on the move. God is on the move in a redemptive way. God is on the move in a redemptive way in the world around us.

In other words, God is on mission among us.

So, a “missional” block party is one that, somehow or another, connects what we are doing with a block party with the big project of restoration and renewal that God’s up to.

And it doesn’t just mean getting preachy or passing out tracts, though there are elements of the unique and narrow story of Jesus that I think are worth sharing as part of my participation in this beautiful project.

But sometimes the initial entry points into God’s mission might be more universal or accessible. Planting a garden. Laughing and enjoying food with people. Creating and appreciating creativity. Some of the reformers called this common grace – the idea that pieces of God’s character and mission are to be enjoyed and extended to all, regardless of belief or cognitive assent of certain theological principles.

So a Missional Block Party is simply a party where the point and purpose is wrapped up in and pointing tothis experience of common grace – it’s a pointer, even if a subtle pointer, to a God at work, doing a new thing and making a way where there was no way before . Not conversion (at least not as many think of it) but an awareness and recognition that a piece of God’s redemption can be experienced in the here and now as we grill and play and laugh as your dog chases our cat.

And that all of this can be a start and an entry point into something bigger and more beautiful.

That’s (mission)all.

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What Percentage of the Population is Honest?

I love riding the metro system in LA. 

It may not be as efficient as many other metro systems in the country – but the spread of the Los Angeles metro area would require a massive upheaval of the city’s infrastructure to create a more efficient mass transit system.

(Aside: The people who whine about the Metro not taking you anywhere are the people who (1) have never tried to take the Metro anywhere or (2) refuse to consider riding a city bus (which will take you just about anywhere).

Unlike a lot of metro systems around the world, the LA metro rail works on the honor system. There are turnstyles in most stations, but they do not require a valid ticket to “unlock” – you can simply walk through them the whole time. There are occasionally county sheriff officers checking tickets when you exit the train, but it is more common that you simply experience an “honor system” – if you ride the metro, it’s expected that you pay for your trip.

Since I’ve been in LA (six years now!), there’s been a number of efforts to lock down the metro and require a valid pass before entry. Another effort is now underway. Read about it here.

I found this quote interesting:

“It’s impossible that in a system where there’s, practically speaking, no checking whether people paid their fare or not, that 97% would pay their fare,” [county supervisor and Metro board member Zev] Yaroslavsky said.

In other words, it’s impossible that 97% of the population is honest.

——–

  • What do you think?

  • Is honesty an impossibility?

  • Is this symptomatic of a bigger reality in our culture’s understanding of ethics and what’s right and wrong?

  • Or is this just a story about trains?

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