Wicker Park, 2020
Francis Collins, literally the top scientist in the land:
We Americans tend to be pioneers in individual behavior, but this is a time for individuals to moderate their behavior.
It’s one of the great tragedies of this current moment that scientifically based public-health measures have somehow been captured as cultural or political phenomena. Your chance of spreading the coronavirus to a vulnerable person has nothing to do with what culture you come from or what political party you belong to. Your responsibility is to try to prevent that from happening to vulnerable people around you. But our country’s polarization is so extreme that it even seems to extend into a place like this — where it absolutely doesn’t belong. That is really troubling because it’s putting people at risk who shouldn’t be.
It took me a couple of years to get through those many thickets of intellectual debate, but it led me then at that point in my life to see science and spirituality as not in conflict but actually quite compatible, quite harmonious, quite self- and co-reinforcing. People said my head was going to explode, that it would not be possible to both study genetics and read the Bible. I’ve never found a problem with this at all, despite the way in which some scientists have caricatured faith to make it seem incompatible. Most of those caricatures don’t resemble my faith. Similarly, the way that some people have caricatured science as a threat to God, that doesn’t resemble the science that I’m doing.
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
—George Orwell, “1984”
Christians, of all people, should know that evil is held in place not just by the flesh (the sinful self), or even the devil (and associated demonic powers), but also by the world: the structures and systems of human power that perpetuate injustice, idolatry and immorality. It seems clear to me, for instance, that contemporary Britain is not just comprised of individual men and women who are idolatrous, or sexually immoral; our systems, structures and institutions promote idolatry and sexual immorality, in a way that is often tangential to or independent of deliberate human agency. The same is true of injustices, including racial ones. Christians are not saying this because we have been influenced by Marx. Marxists are saying it because they have been influenced by Christ.
More in this quick primer on institutional racism, unconscious bias, legacy of historical injustices, racialized assumptions, and intentional racism.
an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.
—Leonard Bernstein, quoted in chapt. 5 of The Nation City by Rahm Emanuel
Tim Keller on “Racism and Corporate Evil“:
Systemic evil… is a system that excludes and marginalizes people on the basis of race even though most of the people in the system are probably not intentionally trying to do so.
Friends, I’ve yet to find anything else like it:
The Christian gospel supplies both the security to boldly stand against injustice and the grace to humbly forgo cancel culture
Two explorers enter a cave filled with the most elaborate spiderwebs. One of them cannot locate a spider, and thus refuses to believe it exists. You see the webs, replies the other. The spider is implied. Racial prejudice is the implied spider that has woven the web of policies and practices, inequalities and abuses that have constrained black Americans now for four hundred years.
This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns.
Many Christian leaders are asking how they can constructively and practically advance the cause of justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and national protests. Here are steps we recommend you consider as you lead people to address injustice through civic engagement. As the nation convulses with anger and mourning in awareness of its own injustice, the Church’s response will help to determine whether this is a season of rebuilding or one of disintegration. We’re in a position to change the dialogue and enact policies that change the system.
The Bible very clearly demands justice in the sight of oppression and murder. In response to vain worship, the Lord told ancient Israel, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:23-24, NKJV). Any theology or ideology that minimizes or denies the importance of justice in a social context is not biblical and must be called out accordingly. We cannot place our cultural preferences, partisan interests and flawed race narratives ahead of the Christian justice imperative.
More in the full statement from the AND Campaign…
“When Marco Polo came at last to Cathay, seven hundred years ago, did he not feel — and did his heart not falter as he realized — that this great and splendid capital of an empire had had its being all the years of his life and far longer, and that he had been ignorant of it? That it was in need of nothing from him, from Venice, from Europe? That it was full of wonders beyond his understanding? That his arrival was a matter of no importance whatever? We know that he felt these things, and so has many a traveller in foreign parts who did not know what he was going to find. There is nothing that cuts you down to size like coming to some strange and marvellous place where no one even stops to notice that you stare about you.”
—Richard Adams, Watership Down, “The Great River”
Jesus: “It is written.”
Satan: “Is it written?”
Know the difference.
Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic:
QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end. The group harnesses paranoia to fervent hope and a deep sense of belonging. The way it breathes life into an ancient preoccupation with end-times is also radically new. To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.
Tara Isabella Burton for the NYT:
“Weird Christians reject as overly accommodationist those churches, primarily Mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism, that have watered down the stranger and more supernatural elements of the faith (like miracles, say, or the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ). But they reject, too, the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement.
They are finding that ancient theology can better answer contemporary problems than any of the modern secular world’s solutions.”
What these two paragraphs describe as “weird Christianity” sounds a lot like what many have — for centuries — simply called “Christianity.” In any case, it is always refreshing to read about more people encountering and engaging ancient Christian belief.
Tweet thread from @howertonjosh:
We often get sins and wounds confused. Sins are rebellious places in our heart that need repentance. Wounds are tender places in our heart that need healing. You can’t repent of wounds. And you can’t get therapy for sins.” –– Darrin Patrick
Christian fundamentalism pushes everything into the sin category. Modern secularism pushes everything into the wounds category. Both far too simplistic to address what’s going on. And this doesn’t even factor in the reality of spiritual warfare. You can’t “cast out” the flesh. You can’t disciple a demon. The Bible is the worldview that addresses the full complexity of human personhood.
PRESBYTERIANS: “You need discipleship” CHARISMATICS: “You need deliverance” THE BIBLE: “Yep”
Reminds me also of the importance of understanding both “broken” and “bent.”
“What elevates the constrained visions’ virtue, not to mention its viability in finding workable solutions while encouraging cooperation, is sober realism that people will make mistakes, combined with its willingness to move beyond such mistakes to foster cooperation”
“Truly, my soul finds rest in God” (Ps.62:1)
“All this running around, going to Christian meetings, listening to people talk, reading your bible for a little bit every morning — all the busyness of being a Christian — is not going to do a thing unless you obey.”
Tim Keller on “Active Discipline”
He said to me, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
A couple of weeks ago, Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk where he articulated some of his analysis of – you guessed it – the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve followed Gladwell before, you may have heard him refer to the idea of “strong links” verses “weak links.” Sports, Gladwell explains, offer a good way to understand the principle: Basketball is a classic “strong link” sport. There’s no faster way to upgrade a basketball team than getting the brightest superstar you can. Soccer, in contrast, is a prime example of a “weak link” sport. To upgrade a soccer team, you replace the worst player with someone better. In basketball, the star makes the play. In soccer, the weak point breaks the play.
Gladwell continues, “What I think this crisis has brought home very powerfully… is that this is the classic weak link crisis. This has the economies of the West brought to a standstill because we don’t have enough masks and gowns.” Places like the US have Nobel laureates, the greatest teaching hospitals, and the most prestigious research universities, yet “are incurring trillions of dollars in economic damage because we don’t have on hand millions of dollars of medical supplies.”
How might this principle apply to churches?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard comments that the only churches who are going to survive are those that have dedicated video and tech teams, state-of-the-art studios, and elaborate digital expertise. This is a classic “strong link” point of view. It assumes that something of exotic quality is required to prevail – that LeBron James is the only one who can win the game.
However, I contend that this way of thinking means approaching a weak link problem with a strong link solution. This crisis has, among other things, helped to strip away the superfluous and impose a reconsideration of the fundamentals. For example, individuals are now making masks in their homes; no rockstar scientist required. Tackling weak link problems is accessible to far more people. Likewise, churches of varying sizes, budgets, and ages can meaningfully engage at least two “weak link” phenomena that are crushing far too many people: 1) receiving true communication and 2) finding true community.
Throughout this pandemic, there has been no shortage of articles in our newsfeeds citing two accelerating trends: the rise of distrust and misinformation, and the rise of loneliness and isolation. These are weak link crises. Discerning truth from falsehood and fostering meaningful relationships are not remarkable experiences reserved for the elite, but fundamental human experiences that confront everyone. Furthermore, damage to truth and damage to relationship are precisely the kinds of things that churches specialize in helping to repair. Since the inaugural sermon in the book of Acts, unflinching yet understandable communication of truth has been at the forefront of the church’s mission. And since the earliest church gatherings, building a new and sacrificial community has been central to the church’s durability.
Every church and church leader can ask how they can be meeting these two weak links. Gospel communication and Christian community are our paper gowns and masks. They appear too simple, too fragile, too weak to be of any real value, yet crisis reveals their true saving strength. Helping people to see and percieve all that Jesus has done to draw them into restored relationship to himself has the power to change everything about them.
Relatively simple footage of a compelling gospel presentation will be more resonant to the heart than yet another highly produced self-help video or TED talk. Text messages or lo-fi phone calls will be more meaningful than off-the-charts Facebook “engagement” numbers. Small groups and Zoom groups with real friends and guests will pave the way for self-giving community in a way that collecting Instagram “likes” cannot.
Churches can and should engage the digital channels at their disposal, but it would be a mistake to think that staging the highest production levels or competing with professional Youtube influencers are the only ways to “survive” the crisis. Social and digital media are tools in the kit that churches can apply for greater ends. Mere survival thinking is missing the big picture. Churches have set before them the same weak links that they have always served, those social and individual vulnerabilities that have perennially existed but that have become freshly raw and exposed in these days of COVID19.
Local churches are made for this: contextually and creatively engaging real people in real places with real truth for real relationship with the real Jesus – our strength in weakness.
A version of this article first appeared on Orchard Group’s blog
Anil Dash for anildash.com:
The web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data in the ways that Facebook properties do.… With billions of people using the major social platforms, and the people who remember a pre-social-media web increasing in age while decreasing as cultural force on the internet, we’re rapidly losing fluency in what the internet could look like.
Cal Newport on the Ezra Klein Show:
Digital interaction” actually doesn’t come close to giving the same rewards as… real world conversation. So this is why you can actually get more lonely as you spend more time doing digital interaction. It’s not because the digital interaction itself is causing this negative effect; it’s because it’s crowding out the real world conversation which is what our brain is evolved to actually crave. Our brain doesn’t understand that that number or that little comment under a picture on a small glowing rectangle in your hand is another human being who’s interacting with you and fulfilling your need for sociality. There is some part of your frontal cortex that thinks that counts, and so you do more and more of that and less and less of the real world, and it leaves you worse off…[Digital interaction] is not a substitute. It’s a sort of arbitrary activity that was cooked up by 20-somethings in some incubator rec room in Northern California.