Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Smell of Freedom and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Sebastian Faust and Ben Howard

Reads of the Week

1) I Know a Boy by Shannan Martin

"There are so many sides to every story and we may never know for sure what happened in those moments where time stood still and a new line of mangled history was inked. It's too hard to wade through, the water too murky, and we don't want to be wrong. So we turn and walk away, back to our tidy corners and our predominantly white churches where things make sense and everyone believes the same version of the story."

2) He Was a Miracle by Laura Turner

"He's there, walking, so alive, so completely, painfully alive. He's right there, a living, breathing human person! His diaphragm is contracting! His lungs are taking in oxygen and nitrogen! Air moved from his trachea to his bronchi, then bronchioles, then alveoli! He was a walking ninth-grade science class, right there in front of us, a fucking miracle on two feet!
It was over in about fifteen seconds. The cops came, of course. They are white. He, as you know, was black."

3) The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail by Christena Cleveland

"Can you see the suffering Christ in the oppressed, even the ones who aren't responding perfectly to society's oppression? Christ doesn't just suffer for the innocent, the ones who don't have the energy to fight back, or the ones who perfectly respond to injustice. He suffers for the ones who suffer now and sin in their suffering."

4) The Eccentric Economy of Love by Richard Beck

"The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don't need anything from the people we are helping, there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.
We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don't need anything from those people. They need us. We don't need them.
But we do need them. And we need each other."

5) For Now, Young Black Males Matter...Until the Cameras Go Off by Romal Tune

"If they go inside now, they know that they will cease to matter. America will go right back to not caring about what happens to them. In their minds, they have to stay outside, they will do whatever it takes to keep the cameras rolling. It's almost as if they are saying please don't go away, please stay, because the moment you leave or turn the channel, no one will care anymore."

Honorable Mention

When Them Becomes Us: On Emmanuel by Abby Norman

Sermon on Grace, Dogs, and Sass-Mouthed Women by Nadia Bolz Weber

What to Wear When You're Lost by Shannan Martin

Tweets of the Week (via Lane Severson)

"According to Led Zeppelin, people in wheelchairs aren't getting into heaven." - @daemonic3

"I held a grape up to a cup of wine before eating it, so it could see how fully my species has subjugated its kind" - @lanyardigan

"i put my pants on like everyone else - surrounded by cops in the middle of a wendy's screaming furiously about my rights" - @rahtzee

On Pop Theology Week in Review 

Ferguson and the Suffering God by Kyle Baughman

"Theology is, for me, a Trojan Horse. I allowed it through the gates and trusted much too quickly, when suddenly its peaceful presence turned savage; the doors fell open and it revealed its nature."

Song of the Week

For Michael Brown, Ferguson, and all the rest... "Final Straw" by R.E.M.

If hatred makes a play on me tomorrow
And forgiveness takes a backseat to revenge
There's a hurt down deep that has not been corrected
There's a voice in me that says you will not win.

Now I don't believe, and I never did,
That two wrongs make a right
But if the world be filled with the likes of you
Then I'm putting up a fight.

So I raise my voice up higher
And I look you in the eye,
And I offer love with one condition:
With conviction, tell me why.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferguson and the Suffering God

by Kyle Baughman

Theology is, for me, a Trojan Horse. I allowed it through the gates and trusted much too quickly, when suddenly its peaceful presence turned savage; the doors fell open and it revealed its nature.

Theology is a force that ravages, that confronts and tears down.

This week, my wife and I were lying in bed, lamenting over Ferguson as its horrors still unfolded, praying together and speaking the cries of the prophets. Yet they seemed to die in the darkened room, unanswered prayers that hoped, that begged for something to change, that something would be done. Against the darkness, we levied the words of Amos:

“Therefore, because you who hate the poor and take from them tariffs of grain, you who have built houses of hewn stone…you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate…Seek good and not evil, that you may live…Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate.”

And then we fell quiet. In silence, we shifted; each of us turned away, and my wife spoke her hurt: “Where is God? Why isn’t God helping?”

Had she known that she was bringing this wooden horse into my fortress, she probably would have turned her lament inward. But the damage had been done. The soldiers of Troy were now waiting patiently in the town square of my stirring mind. “Where is God?” And so, the door swung open, and my mind was torn asunder.

Theology, no matter its pedigree, is only so much mental masturbation if we don’t attend to how its propositions take form in the material world. I often grow frustrated with the metaphysics of theo-talk, the ink that is spilled to argue creatio ex nihilo or that dogs do not fly because angels hold them to the earth. When one invokes the name of God, the most obscure notion has consequences. What matters in theology is how its claims are lived out in the world, how they affect those who believe them. A theology may lead some to feed the poor, and some to oppress them, and still others to despair that hope will ever come.

Theology has power. It names the unnamed God. It defines, and so determines.

And in the midst of our questions about God and the streets of Ferguson, a host of voices rush to battle in my mind. Most come for battle fully armed, swords drawn, shields gleaming. They proclaim their God of distance, letting the world run its course, or their God of power, ready to fight evil and let the chips fall where they may. They cite their texts of warfare and genocide and they do their damage, looting my constructs about a loving God. My city in ruins, they move on, looking for the next great battle by which to win glory, and I am left alone in the rubble. And then a single figure comes, walking slowly, and he sits and mourns beside me. He says, “Only the suffering God can help.”

“Only the suffering God can help.” So wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who lamented his own attempts at stopping the evil wave of Hitler’s Reich. He was a man who spent the remainder of his life in Tegel Prison witnessing the horrors of the concentration camps before his execution in 1945.

Only the suffering God can help. It stings my ears, yet I know it to be true.

Gary M. Simpson did well to point out that the weight of the statement lies at the beginning: only. Bonhoeffer determines that the only possibility of hope is found in no other theology, no other god than the one defined by suffering. And Bonhoeffer’s continued faithfulness in the face of imprisonment and death is warranted only by the image of the God who suffers alongside him.

This is cruciform theology. It is a theology centered on the point where the possibility of God and the inevitability of suffering were merged into a singular moment, a singular event. Bonhoeffer sees in Christ and his crucifixion a demonstration of what is required of God. God must suffer. God must bend beneath its weight. Bonhoeffer rejects the boasting of omnipotence or the tidiness of deus ex machina as trappings of an imperialist god, modeled on imperialist power – a god whose reputation and abilities must be inflated and held distant if God is to be preserved. Instead, he holds fast to a God who suffers.

But how can it be that only a suffering God can save us? Surely a god who descends the mount with sword unsheathed and fire in his eyes is able to triumph over evil! But… what does that god know of me? What does that god know of Ferguson? What does that god know of pain except as a provocation for retribution?

Not many of us have known power. Not many of us have triumphed in warfare. Not many of us have had the privilege of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. How can we identify with a god like that? How can such a god identify with us? Instead, this world is ripe with stories of people who never knew strength or joy, people who are marred with stories of pain and defeat. What does Superman have to do with anyone but himself? To rally around the omnipotent figure is only to grovel for his good favor, in the hopes that he will stay, in the hopes that he will remain on our side. We share nothing with him, and he shares nothing with us.

I have suffered. I have been wounded. I have lost and have mourned, and I bear witness to countless others who have shared in the same.

The suffering God is a God who is capable of empathy and identification. The suffering God is ever-present in the hurt and the pains of this world. We all suffer. We all hurt. And in the face of a suffering, crucified God, we find ourselves looking at one of our own. We bear scars, as does he. He lost his name; so have countless others. Empathy and compassion are the real fragrance of the gospel.

And so I find myself affirming alongside Bonhoeffer: the suffering God, the crucified God is my only hope. It is our only hope, because suffering is the only human experience we all share in common. We all lament together. We see our pain reflected in others, and others see their pain in us. Seeing neighbors battling depression, friends who lose loved ones, systemic social issues that oppress minorities, all draw from us a deep lamentation that unites us with all humanity.

The suffering God is the only one who can truly know us, and who can be truly known. The fullness of God is not found in the warrior arrayed for battle or the splendor of cathedrals. Instead, the fullness of God is discovered to be suffering alongside those who suffer, crying out just as they do. God, then, is the one who is capable of bearing our iniquities, both individually and societally, because God suffers among those who are subject to our evil. God bears the pain of Ferguson, and we cannot help but have a share in it, for the same God bears our own.

Kyle Baughman is a human. He studied theology at Fuller Seminary and enjoys the attention he receives from flirting with several different theo-camps. He hits things with sticks as the drummer for Coyotes in Boxes. You can find him on Twitter @truekyleb.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams

by Lyndsey Graves

The first thing you have to say about Robin Williams is that he was brilliant. We watch his films over and over again, always in anticipation of catching the little things we missed the last time round: the quick aside, the triple entendre you didn’t appreciate before, the sincerity in a facial expression that made you really fall in love with his character. Williams was an intellectual and emotional genius who plied his craft with excellence.

But he was more than that, or we wouldn’t be bawling in public places. He is someone we carry with us, even if we didn’t realize it until tonight. So many of us bear some little piece of understanding about life and this world that we learned only from him, from the bits of himself that he brought to every part, whether gentle, bold, or playful.

I first connected with Mrs. Doubtfire and Genie as a young kid already enamored with words and wit; I recognized in Williams my own appreciation for language, as obliging as Mrs. Doubtfire’s overstuffed bag for supplying just the right tool for any job. Since becoming an improviser, though, I’ve drawn even more inspiration from his ability to play without pretense, without forethought, without reason. Williams’ comedy sprang from that improvised worldview and gave him an immense, but often underrated, power - the power to make us laugh in spite of ourselves.

Abandoning oneself completely to a given moment, without a thought for the next, is a mindset most people take years to really master. Williams seemed to do it instinctively and purely, without a thought for himself at all, simply from a desire to see what might happen. He was as happy as we were to see something funny come of it; and if something didn’t, in the words of a friend, he just kept going - barreling over any possibility of embarrassment or defeat. What may be hard to recognize in an actor is self-evident to another improviser: an immense and hard-won humility that trusts serendipity rather than one’s own whirling cogs, that risks dignity for art and laughter.

If every child of God inherits a special strand of kinship with the divine, perhaps this was part of Williams’; someone so rarely self-regarding who offers us an image of what it might mean to be confident, powerful, and humble all at once. So, too, Williams seemed to thrill to the small and the simple, a wisdom that enabled him to peer through convoluted situations and cultures into the core of things. Those simple truths are often piercingly funny, and Williams was able to celebrate them in all their hilarity and their poignancy. He shared, I think, God’s attention and appreciation for small things of beauty and oddity.

Because of that, he rarely, if ever, resorted to the cheap cynicism that is the fallback of most comedians. He delighted in the absurdities of life without trivializing them, without denying the wonder that is found in simple things. But neither did he glibly gloss over the pain in the world or the cruelly irreducible complexities that confront us in the midst of it. He did justice to the idiocy of golf and the bewilderment of divorce without making us feel that either one was meaningless – he had none of the comedian’s arrogance which leave the impression that life exists only to be mocked.

We can talk about the un-funniness of someone’s death brought on by depression when he had made so many millions of people happier. There is something about the sincerity Williams brought to a shifty and dissembling Hollywood, though, about his capacity for play and delight, that makes this feel so much more than unfunny; it feels unfair. Death is always cruel, but not because it is the opposite of laughter; it is because it is the thief of a genuine joy in the weirdness and beauty of human life that Williams taught us just by his own revelry in it.

To take him seriously is certainly not to try and conjure a happy ending or moral from this story. It is more frightening than anything to recognize that an impish comic can be as much a tortured genius as any dour painter of doom, or any self-righteous playwright of opaque satire. The suicide of someone whose characters brought so much joy and wisdom to others’ hard times reminds us that battling demons is not always just a metaphor. Depression is a real, dark, and enormous monster, all the more bewildering because others can hardly see it, because others are unable to fight it for you. Only stay with the person in your life with depression, even when you are helpless to understand or act. There is a persistent and quiet love that often means more than all the dramatic interventions ever devised.

Williams’ death is sad and wrong and worthy of our tears, yet it also seems much too pious and stuffy to try and remember him without laughter. In all the best and worst ways, things just do not make sense - and sometimes all there is to do for the moment is to laugh despite ourselves.

 Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest. 

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Christology, Munchkin and the God-World Relationship

by Kyle Baughman 

“Oh, my God.”

-the doxology of Kyle Baughman whilst playing board games with OPT editor Sebastian Faust

This post is about Christology, Munchkin and why I can’t play games with Sebastian Faust anymore.

[First, a quick primer on the game of Munchkin. It was created by Steve Jackson as a comedic and satirical take on role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and his own creations, Melee and The Fantasy Trip. The result is a tongue-in-cheek dungeon game in which you do everything in your power to screw over all of your fellow dungeoneers (I said it first) and progress to level 10, thereby winning the game. It’s beautifully selfish, terribly greedy and ultimately destructive to any relationships you hold dear (screw off Oxford Comma!)]

“Oh, my God,” I exclaim. The move was so clear; if he’d chosen to go forward he would have won the game. And yet, despite all the petitioning and all the confusion, he refused to make the move that would secure victory. Instead, even when chastised, he insisted he simply didn’t want the game to end yet.

How frustrating it is to watch Sebastian Faust play Munchkin!

In a game premised upon destroying your neighbor and traversing the dungeon before anyone else can, where second place means nothing, it is inconceivable, it is humiliating for another person to sacrifice his turn, for him to desire the game to continue with the chances all but certain that someone else will win. Somewhere, high atop a mountain, Steve Jackson is now tossing sleeplessly on his bed made of literal clouds after hearing of someone incapable of playing a game that aligns so perfectly with our American ethos – a form that demands both a winner and a loser. That one would sacrifice his turn for the exaltation of play is nothing but foolishness, nay, a very insult. I hate these types of players; I despise playing with them. Whenever they arise on the field of play, I find myself wanting to quit before they ruin it, or barring that, to use all my wiles and cunning to crush them completely.

I must stop for a moment; my neurosis is clearly on display when it comes to board games.

I’m a purist. There are proper ways to play the game; they were handed down to us by our ancestors. We did not break from a tyrannical Monarchy all those years ago just to have Sebastian decide he didn’t want to win.

When given the chance, always choose to win! The point of winning is to prove your power, to dominate your foes; and to gloat, always gloat. By divine fiat, we, as a community, had established what it meant to play Munchkin in a way that would honor Sir Steve Jackson (knighthood pending). But here, Sebastian had the nerve, no, the audacity to come into my home and play the game the wrong way.

We decided to crucify Sebastian that day, and rightly so. We channeled our outrage against the one who played by different rules. Our righteous indignation said much about the law we love, and the blasphemer who fell under the weight of that love.

In a culture that demands a winner and a loser, Sebastian found himself caught in the crosshairs of ideology and pragmatism. But by rejecting our form of play, he revealed the motivation behind the form. And what did it reveal about my motivation?

Sure, here I could wax on about capitalism and political ideology at play, but that would be side-stepping the truth; the truth is simply this: I am selfish. My assumption in board games is that everybody is out for blood. My appeal was to my own pride, to prove myself the grand warrior half-elf I knew myself to be. But Sebastian, that lowly, lowly dwarf-wizard, was set ablaze that night as a sign to all others at the table that his form of play shall not be tolerated. I was indeed out for blood, but it wasn’t until I saw somebody play who had no intention of blood-letting that my manner of play was exposed, not in the instant, but only after I had crucified him.

And seeing him hanging there, dead in the balance of my indignation, I felt rebuked. He allowed himself to be crucified, and for what? One more turn.

This is the reason I get so mad at Jesus.

I enjoy hanging out with Jesus; I just can’t play board games with him.

And if it were only Munchkin with Jesus that was problematic, I would be ok. But I look through the stacks of board games we own, and I must admit it’s all of them, even Clue. Even Chutes and Ladders.

I hate playing games with Jesus because playing games with Jesus exposes the way I play the game.

It’s very easy for me to use Jesus to rebuke the systems and powers of ideology that hurt children in Palestine, that allow villages in Asia to become subservient to American enterprises or that promote the exploitation of West Virginian land, where the benefits of their loss never return to the state. But, it is not so easy when I am sitting across a game board from Jesus, and the same Jesus I wield as a sword against my opponents has shown himself to be the double-edged one.

There’s no new Christology here. Jesus has long been the challenge that Paul faced when he said “I am crucified with Christ.” The moment I am most confident to live and call myself a Christian, there is Jesus…sitting across from me. And he plays by a different rule set. He says:

“Do not resist the one who is evil,” and “give to the one who begs from you” and “love your enemies.”

These are less troubling when sitting in a pew. I can generalize these statements, hold them as tenets that the church should embody. And thus, when the church falls short and acts contrary to what it professes, I can denounce the church and repudiate it. But it’s much more difficult when Jesus is sitting across the table from me.

For, much as Sebastian’s joy was in delaying the end, for the sake of the game, for one more turn, so I see in Christ a willingness that the game not be decided by the present paradigm, and the willing of time, the willing of new opportunity.

I do not know what The Eschaton will look like, or when, or if, those things Jesus talked about will occur. But, what I do know from Jesus’ life is that he plays the game with a willingness that time be made for people to change. And here I see Paul’s note that, in God’s forbearance, God left past transgressions unpunished so that now he could demonstrate a righteous form of play. And here I also see that there was so much potential, so much more that could have been done in that game with Sebastian. So much opportunity for us to share joy, and Sebastian gave us the time by playing as he did.

God hasn’t come in trumpet blasts and with angels descending. I’m not here to argue time or dates, mythology and eschatology, or any of the rest. But perhaps in the silence, the non-return, is the answer to where God is. God desires one more turn. Maybe endless turns. Who knows?

What I do know is that I am alive today. And there is still time for yet one more round of play. 

Kyle Baughman is a human. He studied theology at Fuller Seminary and enjoys the attention he receives from flirting with several different theo-camps. He hits things with sticks as the drummer for Coyotes in Boxes. You can find him on Twitter @truekyleb.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Useful Signs and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) The Cost of Repentance by Zack Hunt

"Our actions have consequences. And while we may no longer face eternal consequences for our sin because of Jesus, the earthly consequences are very real and aren’t going anywhere. Which is why forgiveness divorced from accountability is so dangerous."

2) Cripple by Shannan Martin

"We worry sometimes that we'll seem too churchy, too weird, and all Jesus ever did was be weird and ridiculous and shocking and bold. We tell ourselves the world wants us to be more like them, and caught in the exact-right light, it's true. But the harder truth is, the world wants us to love them with the heart-ruined love of the only thing that ever made us alive."

3) Letting Go of God by Heath Bradley

"Throughout the Christian tradition there has always been a constructive tension between saying things about God, and at the same time acknowledging that all our words fall short of the divine reality. It is to our detriment when this paradoxical polarity gets out of balance."

4) Farewell, StrongBlackWoman by Christena Cleveland

"Meanwhile, the StrongBlackWoman identity, which at first glance seems like a positive identity, has wreaked havoc on black women’s emotional, physical, spiritual and relational health. In an attempt to escape one set of racist/sexist stereotypes, black women have run smack dab into another stereotype, one that is also maintained by societal racism and sexism."

5) Sermon on Lembas Bread, the Feeding of the 5,000 and Why I Hated Pastoral Care Classes by Nadia Bolz-Weber

"Perhaps Jesus’ injunction against sending the crowd away wasn’t because he was about to magically multiply a couple loaves into thousands, (although, again, that is a totally valid reading of the text). Maybe he didn’t want the disciples to send the people away because Jesus knew that those people had what the disciples lacked."

Honorable Mention

Search Term Friday: Judas Suicide by Richard Beck

Holy Relics: A Focus on the Family Movie Review by Martyn Wendell Jones

The Book That Changed Amy's Life by Amy Peterson

Not Our Problem: Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn't an Option by Richard Clark

Tweets of the Week

"When He Goes Limp You Have To Stop Punching, Charlie Brown" - @briangarr

"Good thing most planes have TVs. Nothings worse than having to look out the window at Earths sacred majesty from the point of view of angels" - @pharmasean

"I raised my kid as a philistine. "How about less Schopenhauer & more QVC Shopping Hour?" I'd scold—but German idealism already corrupted him" - @BigRedDreck

On Pop Theology Week in Review

Harry, Severus, & David: The Danger of a Single Narrative by Laura Brekke

"Recently, I had an epic weekend of re-watching all the Harry Potter films (okay, it was more than a weekend, because: sleep)."

Song of the Week

"Let Your Heart Hold Fast" by Fort Atlantic


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Harry, Severus, & David: The Danger of a Single Narrative

by Laura Brekke

WARNING: this post contains Harry Potter spoilers!

Recently, I had an epic weekend of re-watching all the Harry Potter films (okay, it was more than a weekend, because: sleep). I’ve read all the books, and have, at times, reflected on the fact that the relationship I began with the characters when I was about 12 years old constitutes one of the longest relationships of my life (I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe).

One of the many twists and turns I love about the Harry Potter series is the unfolding development of the character of Severus Snape. Ah yes, the wicked potions master who picks on poor Harry from the beginning; who seems to be out to get Harry and his meddlesome gang of Gryffindor’s at every turn. Snape, who we later discover is a spy for the Order of the Pheonix. Snape, who is the self-described Half-Blood Prince. Snape, who in the most brilliant, heart-wrenching revelation is actually nursing a broken heart.

Severus Snape is the perfect example of the dangers of listening to only one narrative. Despite insistence to the contrary by Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, Harry remains convinced of Snape's villainany, and is incapable of trusting him. Harry cannot hear the alternative narrative, one in which Snape is a complex, complicated man who has earned the trust of Harry’s own much-admired mentor. Only after Severus’ death is Harry able to hear – or see, rather – the alternative narrative, as Snape’s memories reveal a deep and unwavering love for Lily Potter and a steadfast commitment to protect her only son which resulted from that love.

But the beauty of the Harry Potter series is that, while Harry and gang only accept the single narrative about the nature of Severus Snape, other characters are constantly offering another (albeit ignored) story. And in the end, that other story confronts us, unraveling the suspicions and convictions that we, too, carried against Snape. Such a single narrative is dangerous because it narrowly assumes that our experience is the only experience, and that there can be no other way of interpreting the same series of events.

Scripture knows that a single narrative is a dangerous thing1. Take the King David cycle in 1 and 2 Samuel. Most of us learned in Sunday School classrooms that David was the greatest of Israel’s kings; a man after God’s own heart. But he is a complicated figure, a man who becomes a rapist and murderer. He is a monarch whose son later leads a revolt against him to avenge his sister’s honor. These stories demonstrate skepticism about monarchy, and give clear indications that while David may have been a beloved king, he was much less universally loved that we often think.

However, 1 Chronicles 11-29 retells the story with a drastically different angle. The less-than-savory bits of King David’s sordid personal life are scrubbed clean. In fact, the only negative report about David’s reign concerns his taking of a census. The Chronicler makes it clear that David was tempted by Satan to take a census (1 Chronicles 21:1) – in direct opposition to God’s command – and the resulting plague could be traced by to this first transgression. This is the only instance from the Chronicler that seems to call into question what seems like a relatively peaceful, well-administered reign.

Regardless of the accuracy of either cycle of stories, what is most important is that there is more than one angle on this King David character. Neither story is allowed to supplant the other; they are asked to dwell in the tension, side by side. The pro-monarchy telling, in which he is a flawless monarch caring for his kingdom and living an upright and righteous life, is not the only picture painted. Nor is the story of David’s blunders and abuses of power the only presentation of the ancient king. Rather, there are multiple, competing narratives about the man and the king which give us perspective and remind us that, depending upon one’s position, our narratives may be wildly divergent2.

In Harry Potter, as in life, it’s dangerous to assume that our perspective on things is the only one which is valid. The story we tell ourselves about who is “good” and who is “bad” is always filtered through our perspective. How? Simple examples: are the police there to protect you or bully you? Or, is Kanye an entertainment genius or a self-absorbed uber narcissist? It is our own life narratives that will inform how we understand law enforcement and Kanye West (and everything in between).

Right now, a war rages in Gaza. As of writing this post, upwards of 1,200 Palestinians have died as a result of Israeli bombing. In the same conflict, 43 Israelis have died. One narrative would say that Israel, remembering the violence of the bus bombings of civilians, is doing everything in their power to crush a terrorist cell that is sending rockets across the Gaza border into Israeli lands. But, another narrative would say that the use of excessive force, and the targeted bombing of civilians in hospitals and schools reveal that Israel intends to decimate Gaza in a show of force. Both of these perspectives inform the larger narrative. History defies simplicity; there is no single way to understand what is happening in Gaza; rather, there are many – often competing – narratives, all which must be heard in order to work toward resolution.

The danger of a single narrative is that we begin to devalue the people who hold those other narratives, whether it’s refusing to acknowledge the complexity of a sardonic and sour-faced potions master, or ignoring that there are two (or more) valid experiences of the current conflict in Gaza. Only after the death of Severus Snape did Harry Potter learn another narrative of the events he himself experienced; let us learn from Harry’s blindness – let us remember that there is never just a single story, but the myriad and complex stories of human experience. 

1. There are 4 Gospels after all; Jesus brings a single message of Good News, but it is told from 4 different perspectives which emphasize different things. Our understanding of Jesus would be lessened without each of these narratives.  
2. John Green does an excellent job of looking at how the current crisis in Crimea has two wildly different (actually, opposing) narratives which can come from the same historical experience. Watch that video here.  

Laura Brekke is a woman of many names and many interests. When she is being a grown up, she directs Religious Diversity as a Catholic university in California. When she is being an academic, she ponders theological anthropology and popular culture. When she’s being a pastor, she writes a blog musing about faith, spirituality, and our reluctance to be vulnerable. And when she is just being herself, she proudly embraced her inner Whovian fangirl.

You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at If you'd like to support what we do here, you can donate via the button on the right of the screen.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Economic Insights of Children's Books and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) Sermon on How Hard It Is Being Spiritual Without You by Nadia Bolz-Weber

"Of course I wasn’t thinking about God’s love much when I was away from you guys. Because as inconvenient and at times, unreliable as it might be – other people are the most common way of knowing and experiencing the love of God in Christ. And you guys are my other people. As much as experiencing the love of God in Christ though meditating alone on a mountain might sound awesome, that’s not what Jesus sent his disciples to do after he left. He told them to love each other as he loved them."

2) If Evil Has a Best Friend, It's Apathy by Jamie Wright

"I've spent the last 12 months trying to get my head around the language of modern day slavery and the fact that when we are using these words - word's like sold, smuggled, traded, transported, brokered, abused, starved, beaten, broken in – we're talking about human beings. Actual human beings. The kind with names and faces and families. The kind with dreams. The kind with hearts and souls. Real live people."

3) 'Send Them Away': A Homily for the Loaves and Fish (Proper 13A) by David R. Henson

"The priest, though, shrugged and offered the bread to him anyway. Now, it would have been easy for the priest to simply send Jeff away with a blessing only and not with the bread. It was technically the right thing to do. But by placing the thin wafer of Christ’s body onto Jeff’s tongue, the priest broke church law and, to some Catholics, violated the Sacrament itself."

4) I Don't Always Tell You by Rachel Held Evans

"I don’t always tell you about the mornings I wake up and feel the absence of God as though it were a presence—thick and certain, remembered all over again the way you remember in the morning that someone you love has died. Or about the days when the idea that a single religion can stop the CNN crawler from reporting one more missile strike, one more downed plane, one more bombed hospital, strikes me as freshly stupid, dangerously na├»ve."

5) "I Used to Believe X for Reason Y..." and the Failure of Intellectual Imagination by Derek Rishmawy (Note: Read the comments)

"This, as I said, is a failure of the intellectual imagination, and for reasons I’m not entirely sure of (and I’d love others to weigh in on), it’s one that seems increasingly common. I will say that I’m fairly sure it has something to do with the narcissism of human experience. The story we know best is our own and our human tendency is to shrink the world to fit our experiences. We take our personal stories, and instead of seeing them as one, particular, unique experience, we expand them out and unjustifiably universalize them."

Honorable Mention

Mark Driscoll and Me and Our Desperate Desire To Be "Okay" by Ben Moberg

Parched for Community by Katie Bergman

Those Who Are Not Like Us by Sarah Schwartz

Holy Relics: Super 3D Noah's Ark by Martyn Wendell Jones

Why I Think You Should (Sometimes) Ignore Your Children by Esther Emery

Tweets of the (Last Two) Week(s)

"I've seen a lot of Jesus billboards on this road trip. Call me crazy but I don't think he likes being hung up on display to make a point." - @primaawesome


"I'm just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him for all the money in the cash register." - @lindzeta 

"You can do anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to disassociate and become a goddamn monster" - @ashfein

"Maybe I'm reading this chart wrong, but according to my weight, I'm 7'3" tall." - @Thing_finder

"I violently wiped all the fingerprint smudges on my iPad and I think I accidentally earned an online degree from the University of Phoenix" - @MeetGreg

The Best Things You Could Have Hypothetically Read Last Week 

Without Justice, We're Not Reading the Same Book by Fred Clark  

 #FaithFeminisms: Faith, Feminism, and the Battle for Supremacy by Becca Rose

Faith Like a Kid by Shannan Martin 

#WeAreN: What the Media Misses About the Iraqi Christian Persecution by Jonathan Merritt 

Sweet Tea and Sympathy for Invisible Women by Melinda Jackson   

Defending the Powerful Is Not Our Mission by Joy Bennett

A Good Joke Can Change the World by Fred Clark

The Red Couch: Americanah Discussion by D.L. Mayfield

On Reading More Women: Examining Our Consumption Habits by Krista Dalton

#Sorrynotsorry: On Sexual Abuse in the Church by Janice Rees

On Pop Theology Fortnight in Review

On Pop Theology Podcast: Episode 58 - Arts & Entertainments w/ Christopher Beha

"This week on the show Ben talks with author Christopher Beha about his new novel Arts & Entertainments, his Catholic faith, and the nature of the novel of ultimate concern."

On Metaphors and Summer Breaks by Lyndsey Graves

"It has been ten weeks since I last attended church. I didn’t plan it this way, and there are a hundred reasons why this is a terrible state of affairs, but it is how the summer has turned out."

Chaos and Fictional Theology by Ben Howard

"As a writer who occasionally has opinions about Christianity I am required by divine fiat to have a definitive position on the issue of the afterlife."

How The Bachelor Illuminates the Falsehoods In Our Lives by Emily Joy Allison

"I get a lot of scornful, “I can’t believe YOU watch THE BACHELOR” sort of comments from my friends when they find out about my obsession. Granted, if you know me even a little, it’s a bit surprising."

The Cosmic Effect of Violence (and Peace) by Rebekah Mays

"A photo of a man holding a limp child lit up my computer screen as I clicked on the Twitter link. The boy was one of four Palestinian children playing on a beach, killed by an Israeli airstrike."

Song of the (Elongated) Week

"Secrets" by Mary Lambert


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Contact us at onpoptheology [at]  

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