Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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.  A long, green stretch and not a church in sight. In between a lot of beautifully life-giving visits with friends and with family, life has mostly been “just me and God.” It’s a phrase I normally abhor, but I find it surprisingly fitting for these weeks of long workdays interspersed with lots of time alone.

Meanwhile, I have read my Bible and talked to my friends and prayed, but I’ve refused to Do Theology. By the end of last semester, I was utterly burned out on analyzing God and having opinions about everything and telling people how to save the world. So I turned in my last paper and I decided to quit thinking. I stopped trying to puzzle out The Big Questions of Christianity in some theory-realm beyond the space and time that I actually occupy. I started cooking instead, and traveling, and crafting, and generally living the life of the average twenty-something whose vocation is not to Think Big Thoughts but just to try, and mostly fail, at making money.

Life, therefore, has been strangely devoid of words about God. Oh, there have been prayers - questions and hopes and thanks offered for me and my little circle of people. But for the last ten weeks, I have pursued no answers and formulated no abstractions, merely the simple stuff of life in summer. Cherries, cucumbers, peppers, popsicles. Long walks at long sunsets. Weddings, homecomings, tangled emotions. Bicycling sticky-hot through the stifling city, and gratitude for an icy shower. Being Christian, in these weeks, has been simply life, prayed through - not in a particularly serious or reflective way, either, only a wandering, companionable one: sharing, asking, thankfulness.

Theology is often spoken of as a quest for metaphors, for word-pictures that will do to describe God. Of course, nothing can describe God; it is only that God has revealed God’s self to us, and we feel ourselves compelled to try. I think it’s worthwhile, or I wouldn’t be making a career of it, but my summer sojourn in Regular Life has taught me about metaphors: metaphors are meant to bring the ineffable closer to us wee humans, yet we can also use it to push the infinite away. We theologians run the risk of idolizing our words, our pet thoughts, and our interpretive methods. Sometimes for it is for the very reason that they once brought us closer to God, or sometimes out of self-righteousness, or sometimes out of an unhealthy, sublimated fear of God. Whatever the reasons, we cling to our words or to our philosophies, and we forget that there was ever anything beyond them but our own belief that we are right.

I love words. They make me grateful to be human. A perfectly-turned phrase is not only beguilingly lovely, but also has such power to shape everything about our perceptions of reality and our ways of living life. Yet I believe that, as people of a Book, we are too prone to allow the mind and its babblings - and yes, even our abstractions like Justice or Truth - to overshadow the humbly sacred things of everyday body and urgent, inexpressible spirit. We fear these or we scorn them; perhaps we grow irritated that they remind us of our finitude. And we miss the point of it all entirely, becoming ever more removed from those unlike us, those who don’t live in their heads or share our oh-so-precise vocabulary. But that’s why we have summer. We have breaks to cease, to rest, and to remember.

Several of my favorite bloggers are taking a break right now as well; it’s fitting and necessary for life. Summer this year feels precious somehow; and I hope for you that you are able to rest in it as well. I hope that on your break, you don’t abandon your own piece of space and time to chase words and formulas and fashions. I hope you are relieved of the need to believe that you are particularly right. I pray only that your summer is full of food that reminds you to love the soil and sun and rain. Of moments when you are overflowing and content. Of new discoveries that bring you joy and old photos whose nostalgia points you toward heaven. May no one explain your frustrations and sorrows away - just for a moment, sit with pain and know how wrong death is. May you encounter a God who cannot be described, and may you simply rest there for a while. There will be another time to reach for your pen and fashion your theories, but right now, there is ever only this present moment to love and be loved by Mystery who defies them all. 

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, July 21, 2014

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

by Ben Howard 

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. They’ll also discuss his previous book What Happened to Sophie Wilder, the cultural place of celebrities and why Beha live-tweeted The Bachelorette. We hope you enjoy the interview and please check out Christopher’s books at Amazon, or preferably at your local bookstore.

Also, you can find Christopher's book recommendation, The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, here.

You can download the podcast by clicking here. Or you can subscribe to the podcast by searching "On Pop Theology" in the iTunes music store. If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. It's the only way to prove to my mom that I have friends.

Finally, if you'd like to stream the podcast, you can do that here:


   

Peace,
Ben 


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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hardcore Asthmatics and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) The Evil at Our Borders: Migrants, Refugees, and the Spiritual Crisis of Immigration by David R. Henson

"For conservatives, it is an immigration crisis, demonstrating the failures of the U.S. immigration policy and the need for militarized borders. For liberals, it is a humanitarian crisis, demonstrating the failures of U.S. economic policy, the immediate need for aid, and the necessity of immigration reform. For me, while I agree with progressives here, it is also a profoundly spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of faith, and right now, we are not the bearers of liberty, hope, democracy, or good news. Rather, we are the bearers of evil."

2) Re-thinking Communion by Christena Cleveland

"It seems that the way we do communion in many churches is too easy, too convenient, too painless, too safe, too inorganic, too separate from actual reconciliation work, and too individualistic. I’m starting to think that the way we do communion is not scandalous enough to represent the cross."

3) Hebel, Grace and the Art of Andy Goldsworthy: Part 2, Living as a Sacrament by Richard Beck

"Here's what I mean. Today each of us will wander out into the world. And around us we'll find all sorts people and all sorts of situations. It's a fractal, messy, and chaotic world out there. And it's not all bad. There are beautiful things, like flowers, out there. But there is also sadness and brokenness, conflict and deadness. And what we'll try to do today (or what we should be doing today) is very similar to what Goldsworthy does. We will try, given what we find out there, to bring grace and beauty into the world."

4) Authentic Modesty: Compassion Over Shame by Saskia Wishart

"Imagine if we, as women who love, started talking about how we deal with harassment from men on the street instead of slut-shaming women for drawing the harassment. My hope is that we learn to look with compassion, not lust. That we can place value, rather than casting shame. My hope is that we understand that body parts are only the start of the story, and there is so much more to be known about an individual."

5) "Why I Use Birth Control": 11 Women Speak Up by Rachel Held Evans

"Opinions about the ruling aside, I’ve been stunned by some of the misinformation circulating around social media about contraception, the most unhelpful of which characterizes women who use contraception as 'entitled,' 'sluts,' 'moochers,' and 'whores.'  I’ve shared my own thoughts on contraception in a post entitled 'Privilege and the Pill,' but today I wanted to yield the floor to ten women whose stories challenge these unfair caricatures. I am incredibly grateful for their bravery and honesty in stepping forward to tell the truth of their experiences. Please, listen."

Honorable Mention

The Saddest - and Classiest - Soccer Fan by Jason Morehead

How Secrets Made Me Sick by J.

Gettin' on the Mat by Diana Trautwein

Tweets of the Week

"An exclamation point is like a tiny little crutch for your joke." - @bazecraze

"God was dead. But the show had to go on. His doppelgänger Göd stepped in, executed the Apocalypse to rapturous applause." - @VikramParalkar

"Crossfitters are the Boy Scouts of the adult world." - @chettarcheese


On Pop Theology Week in Review

Because I Know You: Friendship and Tom Cruise by Charity Erickson

"The other day, I went to see Edge of Tomorrow, the newest addition to Tom Cruise’s rather extensive sci-fi repertoire."

Elephants in the Room: Israel, Palestine, and the Nature of Oppression by David Creech

"My natural disposition is to side with those who are oppressed. I also prefer to hear people tell their own story rather than insert my opinions from the outside. Enter the Israel-Palestine conflict."

Song of the Week

"Lanterns" by Birds of Tokyo


Peace,
Ben

You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnPopTheology. If you'd like to help us pay the bills, you can donate via the button on the right of the screen.

Contact us at onpoptheology [at] gmail.com.  


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Elephants in the Room: Israel, Palestine, and the Nature of Oppression

by David Creech

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu

My natural disposition is to side with those who are oppressed. I also prefer to hear people tell their own story rather than insert my opinions from the outside. Enter the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This longstanding (Western-created) conflict reentered my thinking in late June when the Presbyterian Church (USA) very narrowly voted to divest from U.S. companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. This decision was given much more attention than their equally significant (and overwhelmingly supported) decision to allow a process for gay marriage. (Quick aside: the relative silence about this decision in popular media suggests to me that, as a society, we are done with this conversation. Support of gay marriage remains an issue only in certain conservative communities. Move along, people.) The resolution was criticized by many Jewish and pro-Israel groups as tone deaf at best and anti-Semitic at worst.

*pause for deep breath*

And yet, the recent events leading up to and culminating in Israel’s so-called “Operation Protective Edge” demonstrate why the Presbyterian decision may be warranted. At the time of this writing (a running tally of the deaths is available here), Israel has launched more than 1,300 rockets into the Palestinian territories, killing at least 222 Palestinians (approximately 77% of whom are civilians) and injuring nearly 1,700 more. This in response to three Israeli teens who were (quite wrongfully) killed by Palestinian extremists. As one Palestinian advocate on Twitter put it, if a toddler bites the neighborhood bully and the bully retaliates with an axe, one is justifiably angrier about the axe.

To choose neutrality in this conflict is to side with the elephant.

Except… this is where it gets tricky. Historically, Jews have been oppressed by Christians. This previously referenced article gives a helpful history. And though the oppression spans centuries, one needn’t look far beyond Christianity’s primary documents to see the horror of anti-Semitism in its very foundations. (Quick qualifying statement: perceived anti-Semitism in the New Testament is in some ways anachronistic—the authors were members of a Jewish sect engaged in an intramural conflict.) Paul calls Jews children of a slave woman. The Gospel of Matthew unequivocally blames the Jewish people for Jesus’ death. The Gospel of John calls the Jews children of Satan. Statements such as these (and many more could be adduced) led to a horrible history of disenfranchisement, ghettoization, pogroms, and ultimately the Holocaust.

Jews are right to feel like the mouse whose tail is being crushed by an elephant.

In this context, it is fair to ask why the state of Israel was singled out by the PC(USA) for sanctions. There are a host of unjust regimes around the world, many of whom are far more vicious and cruel (Egypt, anyone?). It is also fair to ask why this conflict captures my attention and elicits more rage than those far more devastating wars in Syria and Iraq. What latent anti-Semitism may be operative in this focus on Israel?

Perhaps the PC(USA) had no holdings to divest themselves of with regard to first-tier actors in the other brutal conflicts that are unfolding.  And perhaps it was some rhetorical break with the odd pairing of American Christianity and the state of Israel that grew from a peculiar eschatology. And certainly Israel’s actions rightly cause outrage and anger. But how do we speak to this injustice when we are part of a much larger and longer history of discrimination and violence, when that history is still fresh, still continues even in many forms today?

What do you do when you realize that you are the elephant? 

David Creech is Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Before taking his teaching post up on the frozen tundra he worked for four years doing anti-hunger education and mobilization with ELCA World Hunger. When he is not herding cats (i.e., spending quality time with his three kids) he posts profound thoughts on Twitter @dyingsparrows.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Because I Know You: Friendship and Tom Cruise

by Charity Erickson

The other day, I went to see Edge of Tomorrow, the newest addition to Tom Cruise’s rather extensive sci-fi repertoire. I entered the theater not knowing much about the film, and to my amusement, I found it follows the same basic plot of Groundhog Day--with an alien invasion as the backdrop. (Google confirms that I am approximately the 416,000th person to make this observation.)

The similarities are uncanny: in Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s Phil Connors relives the same day over and over until he figures out how to love selflessly. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s William Cage is a military propagandist who finds himself able to reset the same day over and over as he attempts to defeat the time-manipulating collective consciousness of an alien horde that besets humanity. Also, there is a woman!

Each day that Cage resets--which he does by dying--he must find this woman, a soldier wunderkind named Rita, and together they try (and fail) each time to defeat their indomitable foe. Upon failing, Cage kills himself. And then, *respawn*. However, Cage is the only one able to remember and learn from all of their failed attempts to save the world; for Rita, each day she meets Cage is the first.

While the film is pretty meh in the inventiveness of its hero’s arc (even with the whole time travel thing, the film’s action unfolds in a staid and predictable fashion,) the relationship between Rita and Cage saves this piece of science fiction. Really good science fiction, in the end, is not simply speculation about other worlds, realities, futures and pasts; it uses that which is fictive and far away to talk about things that are close: love, war, fear, family. In the case of Edge of Tomorrow, amidst exploding aircraft and vicious aliens, we find a rather poignant statement on what makes a friendship.

Toward the end of the film, Rita expresses frustration with Cage that he is unwilling to sacrifice her life in order to complete their mission and end the war. In her reality, they’ve only just met; yet in Cage’s reality, they have spent the equivalent of years together. She asks him why he cares whether she lives or dies, and he answers, as though it should be self-evident: “Because I know you.” Not “Because I love you,” or “Because I need you,” but simply because he knows her. There is something terribly beautiful about the simplicity of his statement: all it takes to deeply care about another person is to take the time to know her.*

Through the vast majority of the film, the relationship between Rita and Cage reads as a completely platonic, even one-sided friendship, and I find this fascinating as it is not a topic often explored in “serious” film; it is a topic most often relegated to comedy and chick flicks. (The only opposite-gender friendships I can think of in popular media are found in sitcoms--Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy being the most touching example, obvs.) The “bromance” has made the topic of male friendship more common in film, but somewhat-problematically so. Not only does the term whiff of giggling, “no homo” douchebaggery, but it also demonstrates that we are still so ill at ease when speaking about deep friendship, we can’t even figure out a word to call it that doesn’t confusingly conflate it with eros.

That said, I am happy that films exploring the importance of friendship are being made. Anything that acknowledges and normalizes the role deep friendships play in our lives is a boon to the emotional life of our culture, a guide to better and healthier relationships. When we don’t take friendship seriously in art and media, when we leave it unacknowledged as a source both of joy and pain in life, we do a disservice to the richness to be found in meaningful relationships that are founded neither on kinship nor sexual attraction.

For just as we are interdependent with other people, we are interdependent with our media--we trust it to hold a mirror to humanity, and we inform it, just as it informs us. When media portrays the love among friends as trivial compared to, say, romantic love, that attitude leaches into our lived lives, and we find ourselves either confused by the powerful emotions of friendship or we deprive ourselves of those relationships from the start. Like Edge of Tomorrow, perhaps more films will think deeply about the sanctity of friendship and usher in a future where our definitions of love are bigger. Tom-Cruise-summer-blockbuster-sized, even. Amen.

*Spoiler/Caveat: the film hinted at romance at the VERY end, but I chose to ignore it. BECAUSE IT MADE NO SENSE. And apparently, no such romantic relationship exists in the graphic novel upon which the film is based--which must be why the intimation here seemed so out-of-place. 


Charity Erickson and her husband live and work together in the north woods of Minnesota. Check out her blog for more of her writing and follow her on Twitter @ecumystic.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Dangers of Ladders and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) What the Pope's Popularity Says About American Culture by Jonathan Merritt

"Recognizing the complexity of this cultural narrative provides an opportunity for those who call themselves “Christians” to reflect on why they are actually encountering some resistance from some sectors of society. Is any of it deserved? Which opposition can be written off as irrational disdain and which is legitimate defiance to a malformation of the faith? When is the social tension a necessary result of speaking prophetically and when are we paying a price unnecessarily?"

2) Blue Valentines by Chelsea Batten

"Typically, with pain like this, I don’t grieve so much as hurl it back from whence it came. It feels like contesting a traffic ticket–a long, protracted thumb-wrestle between mute power and dedicated protest. I make my prayers, if you can call them that, with impassioned thoroughness and elaborate legalese, listing with categorical precision why I didn’t deserve to experience this. Again. And again, the answer comes back mute–another form to fill, out as it were–each one saps my strength a little more, until finally I’m just dully, mulishly repeating 'No. No.'"

3) 5 Ways Progressive Mainline Churches Can Welcome Disenfranchised Evangelicals by Rachel Held Evans

"There is much to love about evangelicalism, but lately I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from disenfranchised evangelicals who, after a break from church, are looking to return. Many hope to find a place in a more progressive tradition, but feel a bit disoriented their first time in an Episcopal Church or at a PCUSA coffee hour.  In addition, when I travel, I meet many progressive ministers who are eager to welcome new people to their churches. So with all that in mind, here are some ideas for helping those evangelical visitors feel more at home."

4) The Complexity of Loving Your Neighbor by Nate Pyle

"Here’s what I believe. I do not believe that loving God with our whole being ever has to be in conflict with loving our neighbor. If, in our love of God, we fail to love and serve our neighbor, then maybe we are misunderstanding what it means to love God."

5) Dismantling the White Male Industrial Complex by Christena Cleveland

"The truth is that the battle for justice won’t be won when white men finally join the fight. The battle was already won on the cross. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s here. It’s happening. It’s already been set in motion.  We’re inevitably moving toward a world that reflects the prophetic reality of the resurrection. Justice will be done. All things will be made new."

Honorable Mention

How To Be Free by Shannan Martin


Tweets of the Week

"Don't text and drive. Just pull over until you're done using your phone. That's what I do. I've been on the side of the road since 2011." - @jwoodham


"If only there was a German word for schadenfreude." - @psmith


"Cookie Monster is nearly 50 now and is somehow neither a) progressing in English subject/verb agreement, nor b) dead from all those cookies." - @TheRevReid


On Pop Theology Week in Review

James Bond is the Church by Laura Brekke


"Let us suppose that James Bond is the Church. Not a church, but the Church."


The Popes Predict the World Cup Final by Ben Moore


"Never before have the home countries of two living popes played each other in a World Cup Final."


Song of the Week

"Turn Down for What" by DJ Snake and Lil Jon


Peace,
Ben

You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnPopTheology. If you'd like to help us pay the bills, you can donate via the button on the right of the screen.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

The Popes Predict the World Cup Final

by Ben Moore

Never before have the home countries of two living popes played each other in a World Cup Final. Of course, never before have two popes been alive for a World Cup Final. This obviously means something. In the tradition of end times prognosticators making wild predictions based on barely intelligible evidence let’s assume we can use this serendipitous moment to divine the future. 

By looking at the styles of the two popes throughout their careers as priests, bishops, cardinals and pope, we can extrapolate how they would play on the field and, ultimately, who will win the World Cup. This assumes, of course, that a nation’s soccer team takes on the character of its leading religious figure, but I think we can call that a given. Trust me, I’m a Master of Divinity and watch a lot of soccer.

GERMANY (POPE BENEDICT XVI)

Let’s start with Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict’s career was spent primarily in the ivory towers of academia. His election as cardinal, in 1977, followed a long and noted career as a professor. Pope Benedict’s writings and decisions have been based more in ideology, and, though widely viewed as a conservative and defender of tradition, Benedict started his career as a reformer. In response to riots and anti-authoritarian views of many reformers in Europe, Benedict seems to have turned from a pursuer of gradual reform to a defender of doctrine and institution. Translated onto the soccer field, Benedict’s style would result in a team with a strict style of play from which they will rarely deviate, but also a team with the power to defend against threats with impunity. As the one time leader of the modern Catholic Inquisition his team will be all about playing offense by pushing hard on defense. Precise set pieces, counter-attacks, and really tall guys playing in central defense are the modus operandi of a Pope Benedict XVI infused German team.

ARGENTINA (POPE FRANCIS)

Pope Francis’ career was primarily spent doing pastoral work and handling the stresses and every day problems of the real world. As a priest during Argentina’s “Dirty War” Francis often had to make hard decisions without much time to think. His beliefs, more often than not, were either found through accepted doctrine or formed in the crucible of the crisis of the moment. This has made Francis simultaneously traditionalist, though without Benedict’s deep need to defend tradition, and inventive. This has also helped foster an interest in the importance of the little things and Francis has been celebrated for his concern for the least of these. A team based on Pope Francis would likely be very process oriented, but would also play with a lot of flair and originality. They would look to have their own take on the beautiful game, full of flair and life. On the other hand, while their defense might appear wobbly at times, they would respond will in the crisis moments of the other team’s attack.

PREDICTION

It can, and certainly has been, argued that Francis’ views and actions as Pope are a real-life example of Jesus. Many will hold him up against Benedict XVI and point out that Francis’ concern for the least of these, and distaste for the things of wealth and power, prove that he is doing a better job of leading Church toward Jesus. Jesus certainly did not seem interested in things like power, money, or how opulent the temple looked. He was more interested in the poor, the children, the outcast, and the sick. However, the question of the World Cup is not one of eschatology, or soteriology, or Christology. When it comes down to fundamentals, Jesus was not very good at winning. In fact, Jesus seemed to think that losing was winning, which is not the traditional attitude of a winner. And while that may be great for our faith, it’s not very good on the scoreboard. There is only one conclusion: Germany’s crushing of Brazil was only a portent of the wrath with which they will dismantle Argentina. May God have mercy on their souls.

Unless, of course, the German team resigns before the game’s over. 

Ben Moore is a person. He is also Ben Howard's doppelganger. You can follow him on Twitter @untamedpastor.  

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