Before we dive in, a quick reminder that next Friday and Saturday (2/23-24) we’ll be in Tyler, Texas for our fourth annual conference there! Speakers include John Zahl, John Newton, Charlotte Getz, Aaron Zimmerman, yours truly, and a bunch of others. Would love to see you – just be sure to register beforehand.

1. To begin, we couldn’t ask for a more wondrous February dispatch than Dante Stewart’s re-telling in Christianity Today of early African-American Christianity and “The Black Reformation of 1736”. At the heart of the piece lies the key question of why (and how) an enslaved population would not only not reject/despise the religion of their oppressors, but adopt itand what, if anything, that says about the heart of the Christian faith. I’m embarrassed to confess that this is the first I’ve read of Rebecca Protten, who sounds like one of the God’s true evangelists.

The simple fact that the enslaved were able to “hold on” to Jesus, as it were, is in our day a story of the power of the Resurrection. Emerson Powery and Rodney Sadler Jr. shared in their book, The Genesis of Liberation, “African-Americans’ respect for the authority of the Christian Scriptures is a miracle in itself.”

Why did enslaved Africans embrace the religion of their captors, who used the Bible to justify the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade? Powery and Sadler’s simple answer is that “they fell in love with the God of Scripture.…In Christ they found salvation from their sins and reconciliation.” They conclude that though this was certainly enough, there was more to the answer. They write: In these texts they found not just an otherworldly God offering spiritual blessings, but a here-and-now God who cared principally for the oppressed, acting historically and eschatologically to deliver the down trodden from their abusers. They also found Jesus, a suffering Savior whose life and struggles paralleled their own struggles.

In the biblical narratives that described these characters the enslaved Africans found reasons to believe not only in the liberating power of the God of Scripture, but in the liberating emphasis of Scripture itself… As they came in contact with this God, they found a different reality in him: the reality of Resurrection power.

2. Amen to that and amen to this: in anticipation of the Mr Rogers stamp arriving next month (March 23rd), Ethics Daily unearthed a beautiful little nugget from the man himself:

“I remember so keenly one of the times I learned how individually the Spirit can work. It was years ago, and Joanne [the concert pianist who married Rogers in 1952] and I were worshiping in a little church with friends of ours, another husband and wife. We were on vacation, and I was in the middle of my homiletics course at the time.”

“During the sermon I kept ticking off every mistake I thought the preacher—he must have been 80 years old—was making. When this interminable sermon finally ended, I turned to my friend, intending to say something critical about the sermon. I stopped myself when I saw the tears running down her face.”

“She whispered to me, ‘He said exactly what I needed to hear.’ That was a seminal experience for me. I was judging and she was needing, and the Holy Spirit responded to need, not to judgment.”

3. Writing in Fathom, Professor Anthony Bradley expanded his recent Twitter thread to explore the Jordan Peterson phenomenon he’s observed among his students, many of whom do not fit the caricature of Peterson’s (growing) audience that’s often presented. Regardless of what you think of Peterson or his prognosis, the man is clearly tapping into some deep emotions, and Bradley’s exegesis of Evangelicalism’s spotty history with men (Promise Keepers, Wild at Heart, Acts 29, etc) identifies the roots as precisely and compassionately as anything I’ve read:

The well-intentioned Promise Keepers movement, in part, set out to save men, retrieve “biblical manhood,” and put men in “accountability groups” that would restrain their masculinity from growing sinfully out of control. While evangelicals were directing men to pledge their allegiance to moralistic promises, Jungians were trying to help men recover their hearts and souls. Jordan Peterson is retrieving the Jungian archetypal discussion for the disintegrated, shame-driven, emasculated lives of young men for the twenty-first century.

Evangelicals were not reading psychiatrists like Andrew P. Morrison or historians like Christopher Lasch, both of whom saw that the narcissism brewing in America life increasingly valued people on the basis of performance. A narcissistic and performance-oriented culture eventually becomes a culture characterized by perfectionism. A perfectionist culture sets up every man to be destroyed by the shame of not measuring up to his idealized self.

The world that nurtured Millennial and GenZ men is that of exaggerated and romanticized versions of masculine success aimed at winning the validation and affirmation of others. In this perfectionistic world, you never measure up, which forces you to think there’s something ontologically wrong with you. Toxic shame, then, leads men to self-assess as pathetic, weak, worthless, stupid, cowardly, foolish, inadequate, insufficient, or never good enough.

That last part is almost a paraphrasing of Brene Brown’s research on men and shame. Which is a topic we’ve written about a number of times before. Again, the issue is not whether men should feel this way (which is where most of the conversation stalls out), but that a lot of them do.

On a somewhat related note, after some strong recommendations, last night I watched Judd Apatow’s documentary about The Avett Brothers, May It Last, and was genuinely moved, not just by the brotherly love, vulnerable songwriting and deep faithfulness on display, but the overall male decency. Which may not be a word you commonly want to associate with a rock band, but in this case (and at this particular ‘moment’), it feels like a precious commodity. Shame on me for being too cool, pun intended. Plus, Rick Rubin is clearly channeling something good.

4. In humor, the best Onion headline of the week has got to be “Chloe Kim Recalls Growing Up Under Parents’ Intense Pressure To Just Chillax And Shred The Gnar Gnar.” Elsewhere, McSweeney’s lists Eight Additional Love Languages and a few are pretty priceless, e.g., “Purchasing of Cheat Foods”, “Lawn Care”, “Co-Napping”. And then there’s the genius of gym teacher Dale Irby, which I only discovered this week.

5. Mosaic of the Decade comes from Jeremy Champeny, ht BJ. It’s titled “Healer”, but you’ll have to watch the video below to figure out why:

6. Social Science Study of the Week is definitely the collection reported Melissa Dahl explaining “Why Trying To Be Less Awkward Never Works.” I’m trying to resist the urge to mention that you could sub out “awkward” for “sinful” and it would still apply but… it didn’t work.

7. Finally, a duo of Lenten-related musings from the Christian blogosphere. First, I greatly enjoyed Kendall Vanderslice and Hal Koss cleverly titled meditation “Lenten Fasting Biohacks”, in which the authors contrast the current Silicon Valley fasting phenomenon with its seasonal Christian antecedent. Basically, the former has to do with liberation from constraint (i.e. fasting as a means of self-improvement), the latter with acceptance of it (i.e., self-divestment as an end in itself). Not that it’s always as simple as ‘choosing’ the right form, ht RS:

Of course, even with the humble purpose of fasting, Christians risk bungling this Lenten practice with the desire for self-improvement and power. In the early modern era, for example, a person could purchase permission from the Church to relax fasting requirements. Today, Christians have myriad opportunities to sneak an ulterior agenda under the sacred camouflage of Lent. Our motivation, behind these holy-seeming forms, can too easily mirror that of Silicon Valley. We can watch our waistbands and track our steps (the faithful restrictive eater can even find guides to capitalizing on Daniel’s diet or liturgies to help pray the weight away). We can use hunger to feel better about our bodies and better than our neighbors.

Jan 16, 2007; Winston Salem, NC, USA; Sculpture by Brad Spencer at the new Wall Mart.

Like the devil whispering into Jesus’s ear, our fasting schemes often promise the keys to human satisfaction. They suggest that holiness is achieved through human effort to refrain, or that with the right set of prayers, God will help us move past the mortal limits with which we were created. The lesser reward is the bigger target.

But when the Lenten fast is used to embrace the beauty of limitation, the Christian finds freedom in the season’s paradox. True freedom comes not in “liberating” bodies from their humanity, nor in achieving measurable results. It comes in tumbling into the care of the God who gives us each day our daily bread, that we may carry on as humans.

8. Second (and lastly), in what I promise will be our final mention of #Ashentine2018, Tish Harrison Warren penned a powerful reflection on the day entitled, “True Love Dies”:

The church is not a morbidity-obsessed death cult that wants to extinguish the warm glow of romantic love, but we reject the idea that what really makes a life complete is finding an erotic partner. We also reject the sentimental idea that anyone could really love another without it costing something—and something far more than the “Cost of Loving” index could ever track. The true contrast on display in this year’s “Ash Valentine’s Day” is not the contrast between erotic love and agape love—but instead the contrast of sentimental love and sacrificial love…

…we are not reveling in death while the culture around us embraces love and laughter. On the contrary, we, too, are celebrating love—a love more substantial and costly than we can imagine, a love that’s unsentimental yet endlessly passionate, a love that defeated sin and death, that woos us, forgives us, and calls us both his friends and his bride.