Another Week Ends

1. Well, we knew about Mary Flannery’s early life of training chickens to walk backward (1932); it […]

Will McDavid / 11.15.13

1. Well, we knew about Mary Flannery’s early life of training chickens to walk backward (1932); it appears that God marked O’Connor out as different from pretty early on. We remember the short stories of violent grace and brilliant essays, and we even got to read some excerpts from her year-and-a-half-long prayer journal (written while still studying for her MFA at Iowa) in September. Well, three days ago the full work was released, edited by her friend William Sessions, and The New Yorker posted a great review/primer for anyone interested in fiction, O’Connor, prayer, the South, grad school, wooden legs, etc:

e0d71b61287cec26420f6a706700f333She reckoned that her success would be the product of a holy collaboration: “If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.” Such an understanding of authorship may seem strange, yet for many writers it will echo a sense that their work is somehow foreign to them, that their characters have a life of their own, that there is terrifying mystery in how words arrange themselves on the page…

The journal is chiefly an interior one, a record of a Christian who hoped the rightful orientation of her own life would contribute to righting the orientation of the world. O’Connor yearns for prayer to come effortlessly, even while exerting great intellectual effort to understand and induce it. “Prayer should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication and I would like to see what I can do with each without an exegesis.” Confessing that her mind “is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery,” she asks for a faith motivated by love, not fear: “Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You, for even this I cannot do for myself.”…

O’Connor found the same way through cliché to invention in her spirituality and in her writing. How else could the tired old stories of tenant farmers, street prophets, ne’er-do-well teen-agers, agrarian widows, travelling bible salesmen, and murderous misfits become such celebrated works of fiction? Every believer finds a way to speak to God, but O’Connor also found a way to speak to everyone else.

2. Veering over into the Protestant side of things, at Strange Herring Anthony Sacramone does a quasi-genius, if a little acerbic, answer to the question, “Why Calvin and Not Luther?” – referring to what we might call Calvin-ism‘s heightened appeal and marketability, especially in the US-of-A. As a Lutheran-atheist-Redeemer Pres – Lutheran, the guy’s got some real basis for comparison. (As a sidenote, I’d recommend the blog in general – provocative, fresh, and interesting):

Calvinism, like other evangelical movements, offers new beginnings. Under powerful preaching, even the baptized come to believe they are starting a new life in Christ. Before they may have experienced, or been subjected to, dead religion with its rituals and liturgies, but now they have living faith — a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. They often mark their lives by the day they came to faith (which had nothing to do with water baptism) and how nothing was the same after that. We love the idea of the do-over. The Lutheran teaching of continual repentance does not have the same psychological effect (nor is it intended to)…

Lutheranism is never going to be as “appealing” as Calvinism. It’s going to have to settle for being a church that former/burned-out Reformed repair to.


3. Mark Galli weighs in with a surprisingly sympathetic (though still critical) take on Joel Osteen, using Osteen’s penchant for giving good advice on how to live life as a window into churches in general:

Tune in to many a church website, and you’ll find comparable sermon series on improving relationships, raising kids, practicing faith in the workplace, and, in general, living successfully. You’ll find lots of good, practical advice, much of it grounded in Scripture, very often the Book of Proverbs. No wonder people flock to such churches; they are some of the few places where they can hear commonsense wisdom about daily life.

But if you think about it, you’ll realize that most of that advice can be found in pop psychology books, self-help conferences, and other religions. That’s not to slam this content as much as it is to point out that God in his grace has made such principles available far and wide. You don’t have to be a Christian to raise good kids or succeed in business or learn from suffering. A little philosophy here and psychology there, and you can construct a life that “works.”…

Proverbs is only half of wisdom. The other half is found in the Book of Job. And Ecclesiastes. And Jesus at Golgotha. The other part of wisdom—the deeper wisdom—centers on the folly of the Cross.

Not the Cross as a mere rest stop on the way to Resurrection. Not suffering as a means to an end. Not hardship that builds character and makes us better. That’s more Proverbs wisdom and is true as far as it goes. That’s the theology of glory—if we do this and that, and endure this and that with the right attitude, all will be well.

The theology of the Cross says that God is most deeply met in the suffering itself, not just on the other side of it. Forgiveness of sins is not found after the Cross, but in, with, and under the Cross. This is the “wisdom of the cross” (1 Cor. 1–2) that is folly to the world.


4. On a similar topic, we keep hearing more and more about the ‘millennial’ thing – I wish Google’s word frequency tracker could go up to 2013; we’d be seeing a huge spike. Rachel Held Evans’s piece started off the frenzy; something a lecturer I recently heard called “a contemporary 95 theses.” I think that’s an overstatement. Anyway, a very Mockingbird-y take on the why Gen-Y, or millennials, or whoever else is leaving church is available here, but for this week, we have the Washington Post’s Buzzfeed-y headline, “5 churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials“, by “recovering Jesus Freak” Addie Zierman:

“God will never give you more than you can handle”

This paraphrased Mother Teresa quote has become so commonplace in Christian culture that I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t in the Bible.

Inherent in this phrase is the undertone that if life has become “more than you can handle,” then your faith must not be strong enough. We millennials may be a bit narcissistic, but we also know the weight of too much. We understand that we need help. Connections. Friendship. Sometimes therapy.

We know that life so often feels like entirely too much to handle. And we want to know that this is okay with you and with God…


Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding”

Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist. Those of us who follow the Christian faith know that world around us feels truer than the invisible God who holds it together.

Terms like backsliding that try to pinpoint the success (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of our faith, frustrate us. We don’t want to hustle to prove our faith; we don’t want to pretend. We want to be accepted, not analyzed.

I think we should all be pretty skeptical of ‘millennial manifestos’, but this one certainly feels true. The danger with some of these articles is they risk just taking all the trendy ideas and buzzwords of mainline ‘secular’ culture and demanding Christianity fall in line. You have to admire someone like Zierman for striking a semi-balance between the clear need for a change of tone in American churches and the need to maintain some semblance of seriousness about faith’s contents. Certainly piques interest in her memoir of a burned-out Evangelical.

4. To round out religion/theology for the week, Sarah Cunningham at Christianity Today has “grown cynical of cynicism”, specifically about the church, and offers a gentle reminder that merely criticizing Christianity/the church may be valid and true, but doesn’t accomplish all that much in the long run.

simple_answers5. In entertainment, our favorite gaming blog Kill Screen provides a delightful satire on entertainment technology. With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on deck as the newest, coolest, and most satisfying entertainment machines to date, Zack Handlen takes a look at his concept for the next-next-gen gaming consoles, the X-Bot Infinity and the PSILOVU, in a brilliant commentary on gaming systems’ promise to provide love, companionship, fulfillment, etc (image right via XKCD):

During the initial period of adjustment, the X-Bot Infinity will observe your viewing and listening habits, judging you when your taste is inappropriate or inefficient. Once the system has taken a measure of your personality by filming you with the infrared cameras which have been surreptitiously installed in every room in your apartment, it will make decisions based on your height, weight, and genetic tendency towards disease. It will process these decisions, and somewhere within five minutes and six months of your becoming aware of the system, the X-Bot will emerge from its metal cocoon and take its true form: a cybernetic being designed to fulfill your every entertainment need, although nothing creepy please, there’s a warranty to consider.

The X-Bot will quickly take control of your DVR, selecting a viewing diet for the next year of programs that will provide you with a richer, more satisfying life than that season pass for Mama’s Family ever could. While you sleep, the X-Bot while convert your video and music library into the electronic data stream, where any material not deemed sufficiently appropriate while be exchanged for store credit that the X-Bot will spend for you. If the X-Bot discovers any burned or copied DVRs, it will alert the authorities before flogging you..

The PSILOVU is bad-ass and awesome and totally cool with your needs, and it is here to help you spend every weekend until you die desperately trying to recapture that feeling of excitement, wonder, and hope you’re pretty sure you used to get all the time. The PSILOVU really needs this to work out, okay. It won’t let anyone hurt you again. Press X to continue. Please.


6. In the New York Times Opinionator column on Wednesday, David Bornstein examines the relationship between childhood trauma and misbehavior in school and – you guessed it – how the relationship between acting-out and woundedness changes how we think about discipline, ht CB:

When a child violates rules or expectations, the standard response is to try to reason with the child or use punishment, he added. “What the science tells us about how stressed brains react to change, loss or threat is that children will often violate rules because they feel profoundly out of control. It’s a survival reaction and it may actually be intended to control the situation.”…

“This is about changing the whole school environment,” explained Susan Cole, a former special education teacher who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. “You can have a great trauma-sensitive classroom, but if the child goes into the hall or cafeteria and gets yelled at, he can get retriggered. It’s about creating a common context that keeps kids feeling safe.”…

It’s not just about helping them get through school, either. It’s about taking care of everyone. Just as we send a powerful message about our values when we make accommodations for people with disabilities, schools send powerful messages by the way they treat children whose behavior falls outside the normal bounds. They can mete out punishment in ways that reinforce judgments and hierarchies and perpetuate crises – or respond by deepening the understanding about others and building supportive communities.

7. In culture, the A.V. Club posted impressionist paintings of zombie movies (Day of the Dead Above), as well as some seriously funny gritty Mario Bros short films; George Clooney gave Esquire what’s probably the most interesting interview/profil of the week, The Atlantic looks at how “Social Media Is Redefining Depression” and, Deadspin takes an excerpt from the ever-wise Mike Tyson’s new memoir (available now!), and The Onion reports that a Salem, Oregon based “Boyfriend Can Really Envision Losing His Sense Of Self Long-Term With This One”, in one of those articles that’s just a bit too dead-on, ht DZ:

Increasingly smitten as the relationship enters its third year, local man Jeffrey Winston is beginning to see girlfriend Karen Lompoc as the one for whom he could throw away any claim to a personal identity for the rest of his life. “She’s that amazing kind of woman who could make a guy give up any hobbies or interests of his own—even his own circle of friends,” the doting 30-year-old boyfriend said Thursday. “As it stands, I haven’t seen a horror movie, played paintball, or watched any sport in over a year. I could honestly envision ceasing, for all intents and purposes, to be, and existing solely as an extension of her will.”

Going back to gritty remakes, this looks amazing, at worst hilarious, at best – and what I suspect, given the cast/director – a really cool movie:

And, finally, also via Kill Screen: