1. Mark Galli is at his best in his article, “Whatever Became of Repentance?” In a time riddled with righteous anger and categorical division on almost every level, it makes sense how the 500-year anniversary could be co-opted as a central reminder of the power of the Reformer and the Protest. Galli points the conversation in another direction entirely, towards a movement within rather than a movement without. Repentance, in fact, was the dawn of the Lutheran Protest. The return to the good news of true Christianity, Luther argued, was paved in the language of repentance. And as Galli notes, the notion is just as offensive today.

We avoid repentance because we remain addicted to the drug of self-justification. “I don’t need to repent because I’m the one righteously calling out the social and personal sins of others.” Or “If I say I am complicit, it will give my political and social enemies leverage against me and my cause.” Or even more to the point, “If I were to really look at and then acknowledge how much self-centeredness and pride infects even my most righteous actions, I would have to admit I’m a hypocrite and a moral failure.”

Well, yes. Aren’t we all? That’s precisely why Jesus came, to save the world from itself and to save us from ourselves. That’s why the word repentance is usually connected to the phrase “good news,” as Mark highlights in his summary of Jesus’ early preaching: “Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15).

Repentance is the means by which we experience the forgiveness of sins, for one. This alone changes everything, of course. And thus it is also the means by which we can change the temperature of the angry debates in church, online, and in our culture. What if instead of stubbornly entrenching ourselves deeper in argument or accusations, we paused and said sincerely, “I’m sorry to say that I’ve contributed to this problem, and I have a lot to repent of.” Or “I have to admit that I’ve said some stupid and offensive things like the very thing I’m criticizing.” If we were to do that, yes, some would crucify us. This is the risk taken by followers of the crucified Lord, who teaches us to be meek and humble of heart. But often, this repentant posture disarms people and can turn caustic debate into humane conversation.

It makes little sense that any great movement could be driven by an honest appraisal of human failure. But the liberating power of repentance—in its connection with absolution—is the heart of Christian belief. As Galli describes, it makes no promises to change the world; and yet, sometimes, by the grace of God, it softens hearts.

2. CJ listed this in the strays last week, but it’s too good not to quote from extensively. For the Performancism File in your cabinet of sermon illustrations. A French Restaurant with three Michelin stars wants to give them back and start anew. A real-life parable on the weight of expectations—and how the reward we want most might be a punishment after all. Despite his restaurant being called “spellbinding,” Chef Sebastién Bras says he wants a clean slate, a chance to just be a chef again, and to “redefine what is essential”:

Bras, who took over the family restaurant from his parents 10 years ago, later explained to AFP: “You’re inspected two or three times a year, you never know when. Every meal that goes out could be inspected. That means that, every day, one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.

“Maybe I will be less famous but I accept that,” he said, adding that he would continue to cook excellent local produce “without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin’s inspectors”.

3. Maybe you caught Chance the Rapper on The Late Show, or maybe you read David Brooks’ piece delineating “sincerity” as opposed to “authenticity.” While Brooks is just one more to top off on the self-centricity of Taylor Swift’s new song, his description of what makes Chance’s new song “sincere” is redolent of item #1 above, the ability to speak quite frankly about one’s own needs, the ability to express needs at all, as opposed to defining oneself on what one isn’t. I’m not sure that I agree that Swift’s new song exactly shows itself as an “authentic” expression—but I do think it evokes what it looks like, and feels like, to be caught up in the authenticity game.

The first thing you notice in comparing the Chance and Swift songs is the difference between a person and a brand. A lot of young people I know talk about “working on their brand,” and sometimes I wish that word had never been invented.

A person has a soul, which is what Chance is worrying about. A brand has a reputation, which is the title of Swift’s next album. A person has private dignity. A brand is a creation for an audience. “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,” is how Swift puts it.

The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting against the society you find so vicious and corrupt.

A trusting society is not something I would say I live in, and I don’t know what Brooks is trying to evoke, either. Maybe family, or church. To me, though, it’s all about the recognition (or lack of recognition) of a soul and the soul’s ultimate audience (and director), God. Chance’s lyrics seem to speaking of/to another realm entirely.

4. Oliver Burkeman talking about the hard work of leisure, again. Another one for the ages, he describes daily “work” vocabulary thrown around non-work items of life. What happens, then, is not just that we forget what’s work and what isn’t—we implicitly devalue anyone who can’t be seen as a working hard enough at whatever they’re (not) “working” at.

In recent decades, of course, one major reason for defining more things as work has been to call attention to burdens that still fall disproportionately on women – cooking, toddler-chasing, caring for ageing relatives – and that are no less arduous, or crucial to the economy, simply because they’re unpaid. But as theology professor Jonathan Malesic wrote recently in the New Republic, there’s a dark side even to that worthy goal: in extending the logic of the workplace to life outside it, we implicitly concede that workers are the only kind of people worth valuing. “If everything is work,” Malesic writes, “then talk of work/life balance is a sham.” And we start judging parents, partners and others by their work ethic. “We shame mothers who don’t perform ‘best practices’ like breastfeeding, or initiating skin-to-skin contact with their child within seconds of birth,” he says, while the childless are seen as self-indulgent slackers.

5. McSweeney’s on a roll this week. Three titles worth checking out: 1) Our Open-Plan Office Failed, So We’re Moving to a Towering Panopticon (ht MS). 2) Facebook Anniversaries You’d Actually Want to Celebrate. And 3) A Few Reminders from Your Child’s Third Class’s Room Moms, of which here’s a taste:

Volunteer in the classroom! You might have thought since fall is here you could finally get something done without your kids underfoot every day, but it’s really not that hard to prioritize your sweet babies! And seriously, Mrs. Webber needs all the help she can get with these 33 little ones crammed in the classroom, so carve out time in your calendar to volunteer at least one (1) time a week. You can always flex that guilt muscle instead of hitting the gym, are we right?! And no excuses from you ladies with “jobs” — there’s no work more important than your child. (Confidential to Denise, surely you can’t be the ONLY pediatric neurosurgeon in the tri-county region?!) Patty will have the sign-up sheet for classroom hours at pick-up and drop-off every day — if you miss her, don’t worry, she’ll track you down!!!

6. Long read of the week comes from Andrew Sullivan over at the New York Magazine, enchantingly titled “America Wasn’t Built for Humans” (ht RS). Discussing the ideal of democracy and the tribalism which, for over two hundred years now, continues to haunt us.

One of the great attractions of tribalism is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. You pick up signals from everyone around you, you slowly winnow your acquaintances to those who will reinforce your worldview, a tribal leader calls the shots, and everything slips into place. After a while, your immersion in tribal loyalty makes the activities of another tribe not just alien but close to incomprehensible. It has been noticed, for example, that primitive tribes can sometimes call their members simply “people” while describing others as some kind of alien. So the word Inuit means people, but a rival indigenous people, the Ojibwe, call them Eskimos, which, according to lore, means “eaters of raw meat.”

This one is out today, two weeks after we lost a great one (RIP HDS).

7. I leave you with this: Wesley Hill on Nadia Bolz-Weber on the Beatitudes:

“It can be easy to view the Beatitudes,” she reflected afterward on her blog, “as Jesus’ command for us to try real hard to be meeker, poorer and mournier in order that we might be blessed in the eyes of God.” Surely many in her audience were used to thinking of the Beatitudes in this way, judging by how often sermons and Sunday school lessons seem to treat them as exhortations in disguise. “But what if Jesus saying blessed are the meek is not instructive—what if it’s performative? . . . meaning the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself.” Just as surely as the Sunday-school self-help interpretation would surprise no regular churchgoer, this must have sounded strangely liberating to many of Bolz-Weber’s hearers and readers: to think that the Beatitudes might be more about God and God’s activity than human worthiness or active response.


-Carina Chocano on self-importance of calling something a “distraction.”

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