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1. Occasionally buzzwords in hip Christianity osmose into the world outside, or vice versa, and that’s definitely the case with ‘broken,’ a word which has somehow found favor in all sorts of social circles, from megachurches to not-so-mega churches, to Hollywood. It caught my eye in The New York Times’ article, Ben Affleck’s ‘Broken’ Batman:

When he watches other movies that strain to make their protagonists likable and valorous, Mr. Affleck said: “I find that boring. Instead, I think it’s interesting how we manage the best version of ourselves, despite our flaws and our weaknesses and our sometime tendencies to do the wrong thing.”

How do we manage the best versions of ourselves? Through kicking and screaming, lots of effort, while we rarely if ever feel like we have ‘arrived.’ The article says as much here:

[Affleck] has also realized that for all of his Hollywood success, some part of him will always feel like a relentless striver who must prove, through his work, that he has a right to be there.

“That never goes away,” he said.

We might, despite our ‘broken’ selves, put our best foot forward, and still we can’t change the feeling that we are somehow lost. The character of Batman has almost always been in a darker place than other super heroes (especially Christian Bale’s Batman), simply because of his humanity. It’s possible that Affleck’s Batman will go even further in this direction.

Mr. Affleck said he was not interested in a “down-the-middle version” of the hero.

But he was won over by [director] Mr. Snyder’s presentation — further emphasized in a revision of the script by Chris Terrio, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Argo” — of Batman as a vengeful vigilante still haunted by the murders of his parents. Having seen the devastation already brought to Metropolis, he is driven to extremes by his fear of the further havoc Superman could wreak.

“He’s living in this gray zone,” Mr. Affleck said of his Batman. “He’s more broken, not slick. He’s filling the hole in his soul with these increasingly morally questionable nighttime excursions — fighting crime as well as by being this playboy.”

“Broken,” “filling the hole in his soul.” This is Christianese, is it not? At the same time, as Affleck’s Batman grows darker, and more ‘broken,’ the character becomes more human, and will hopefully resonate with more viewers in the theater.

2. This week, our favorite Mallory Ortberg, over at The Toast, gave us yet another new translation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

A man has two sons, one of whom goes to his father, demands his inheritance (which, in context is not just a request for money but a not-so-subtle “I wish you would HURRY UP and DIE, old man” kind of thing), sails off and squanders every penny getting drunk with idiots. The money runs out, the idiots jump ship, and the son is now crammed full of regrets and tries to sneak home and get a job as a servant. His father sees him coming, is having none of it, and runs out to forgive him before he even apologizes, they embrace.

Also, the other brother is deeply angry that his father would slaughter a calf in celebration for his ne’er-do-well sibling, and says, “You never even gave me and my friends a single goat,” which has to be the greatest complaint in the entirety of religious literature.

Ortberg proceeds with hilarious commentary on a series of Prodigal Son paintings, in classic Toast fashion. Some of the best articles from that site are the art history commentaries, and this is definitely up there. One of my favorite lines, from the first painting, where the prodigal son looks like a young boy: “The wages of sin don’t look especially bad here. 2/10, would not redeem.”


3. On the more academic side of things, this week The Atlantic discussed the value of the modern novel in an article entitled, The New Fiction of Solitude. Following up with Obama’s interview with Marilynne Robinson from October, the article asks if the value of the modern novel is to maintain a standard of empathy.

The theory endorsed by the president—that a deficit in empathy imperils a democratic culture, and that novels keep us entwined and engaged when we might otherwise drift apart in shrill and narcissistic self-certainty—has its roots in pragmatist thinking of the 1980s. Specifically, it draws on the philosopher Richard Rorty’s argument that, in a pluralist culture, theology and philosophy cease to be persuasive sources of a universal, shared human nature that can undergird moral injunctions against cruelty. Catalysts of mutual concern are therefore to be found elsewhere, in imagination rather than dogma. “Novels and ethnographies which sensitize one to the pain of those who do not speak our language,” Rorty proposed, “must do the job which demonstrations of a common human nature were supposed to do.” …

By encouraging us to adopt the perspective of an other—in particular, a profoundly alien other—fiction leads us to draw new and wider nets around our otherwise more isolated selves. Reading novels breaks down the boundary between “me” and “not me.”

I love that point. But consider, the article says, that we are less isolated than ever: constantly filling ourselves with words and pictures [and blogposts!] from phones, iPads, laptops, and, if you’re so old-fashioned, even TVs. Many modern novels feature introspective, more internal narrators searching for purpose, etc., and such a style actually highlights isolation, paradoxically extending it to the reader—“to share that which cannot be shared.”

[New] fiction is exactly that, a communication from a voice that distrusts, or disbelieves in, the possibility of communication; an exhibition of a perspective that is true by virtue of not being knowable by anyone else.

We read alone, our received story goes, in order to conjure up what others are like and to soothe our isolation. But if we are not isolated? If we are now relentlessly connected, every marginal identity gaining collective recognition, becoming assimilated, ever more rapidly? If that is where we stand, then something like a stubbornly solitary voice may be welcome, even necessary, telling us that what it means to be human—and what may keep us human—is to feel alone in a strange room, with our seclusion the thing that defines and can save us.

I don’t know if seclusion is salvific per se, but there is definitely some value in a “stubbornly solitary voice telling us what it means to be human,” especially when so much media is concerned with how to advance humans beyond humanity, to something better. This is a good drink-coffee-and-think article, if you can swing it.


4. Miracles from Heaven, starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, opened this week and has already done relatively well at the Box Office, despite both a Wednesday release slot and overtly Christian subject matter.

Since 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood has punched the gas on Christian movies, and with a faithful viewership, they are not likely to slow down soon. The Wall Street Journal noted that the increase in popularity of Christian movies has also resulted in a more nuanced production of them:

Drawing from real-life events separates the movies from “those Sunday school films that don’t deal with reality,” said T.D. Jakes, the bishop of The Potter’s House, a nondenominational megachurch with more than 30,000 members… Religiously oriented movies have grown beyond strict biblical retellings to include contemporary comedies, family dramas and even thrillers, said Mr. Peluso. Getting away from the swords-and-sandals biblical stories was welcomed by several moviegoers at an early screening of “Miracles from Heaven” in Los Angeles this week.

Hollywood needs to get out of Egypt, said Ercilia Hernandez, a 28-year-old who works with the homeless. “They’re overdoing the slave movies,” she said.

“Miracles from Heaven” doesn’t shy away from the faith of its characters…But the movie’s director, Patricia Riggen, said she wanted to avoid dogma and heightened a theme of everyday gestures of kindness that can be interpreted as their own “miracles.”

5. Here is a kind of scathing article, which you may read at your own risk, from Chris Kratzer. Entitled, “Why Modern Christianity Makes People Vomit.” (Not the stomach bug, which I had this week, and which actually made me vomit.) Despite the writer’s accusatory tone and his ‘us v. you’ sentence structure, many people have unfortunately experienced the shade of Christianity he writes about and know that much of what is written here is accurate. One excerpt that made me squirm:

You Think You Have It-  So drunk on the sound of your own voice, as if God allotted you exclusive awareness to all things Bible and its proper interpretation, you cling onto your truth as if the Deity has trademarked your understanding.  No room for questioning, no room for thinking, no room for living to the beat of an alternative drum—if only to assimilate us all into the collective of your spiritual Borg.

You are always right; a true, genuine follower of Christ—everyone else, some shade of rebellion and unfaithfulness—desperately in need of your discipleship.

(I wonder if in rejecting this kind of certainty-based Christianity we begin to approach a new self-righteousness, one built around justification-by-ambiguity and visions of ourselves as wayward? In seeing ourselves as outsiders, do we find ourselves somehow on the inside of some other exclusive club? Either way, I can’t help but read this article as ‘law’ and feel slightly damned by it.)


6. From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, today March 18:

“If you keep the law, the law will keep you,” we students were told on the first day in the seminary. As earnest young men anxious to succeed, we replied, “Yes, Father!” We knew how to survive in any closed system…A strong emphasis on law and order makes for a sane boarding school, or an organized anything, for that matter. I really get that. It probably made it much easier for the professors to get a good night’s sleep with one hundred twenty young men next door. But it isn’t anywhere close to the Gospel. The Gospel was not made to help organizations run smoothly. The full Gospel actually creates necessary dilemmas for the soul much more than resolving the organizational problems of institutions. Fortunately, the Gospel is also a profound remedy for any need to rebel or be an iconoclast.

We come to God not by doing it right but, surprise of surprises, we come to God by doing it wrong. We are justified not by good works, but by faith in an Infinite Mercy that we call grace….

How could God love me so unconditionally, we all ask? This was Paul’s struggle as well, and it led him to his cataclysmic conclusion. God loved Paul in his unworthiness, “while he was yet a sinner” as he puts it (Romans 5:8). Therefore he did not have to waste the rest of his life trying to become worthy or prove his worthiness, to himself or to others.

7. And, if you can’t seem to find anything redemptive about the upcoming election, there’s at least this: The 2016 Election is Helping Stephen Colbert Find His ‘Late Show’ Voice. There’s definitely some death-to-life motif in stony politics becoming the Late Show’s humorous inspiration.

Last week, after Trump celebrated a primary victory with a speech in front of tables loaded with his branded wine, bottled water and steaks, the “Late Show” staff tried to probe beyond their initial comparisons to a tacky infomercial. (Colbert: “If he’s elected, this would make Trump the first president to come with a sticker, ‘As seen on TV.’”)

To cap the nearly five-minute analysis of Trump’s product display, the host switched gears, describing it as a sign of insecurity about attacks aimed at the candidate’s touted business acumen.

Says [“Late Show” executive producer] Purcell, “The best jokes are emotional in nature, and that’s why I like that one. Trump is a human being who didn’t like it when Mitt Romney said, ‘You’re a failure.’ We’ve all been there.

Or as Colbert put it on air, “Isn’t that what all of us want? Love? And maybe steak.


  • This week, DZ was a guest speaker on the wonderful podcast, Ezer Uncaged. He talks about Mockingbird and gender roles. Check it out here!
  • You will likely never hear another good thing about The Divergent Series: Allegiant, so here’s something, and I’ll make it quick. Allegiant is about a genetically pure protagonist—unique and exceptional in every way—who is sent into a ‘damaged’ world to save it. Come on.
  • A Youth Soccer Player’s Acceptance Speech.
  • Mbird Tyler is underway. You can register for the upcoming NYC Conference here!
  • And check out the cool Tedtalks below!