Another Week Ends

1. As we enter into Lent, Fred Sanders has a wonderful reflection on the centrality […]

Todd Brewer / 2.28.20

1. As we enter into Lent, Fred Sanders has a wonderful reflection on the centrality of Jesus’ crucifixion, arguing “The Cross Changes Everything.” Whether from the Apostle Paul, Charles Wesley, or the Apostle’s Creed, the salvation wrought by Jesus at Calvary is a refrain worth repeating again and again.

The centrality of the Cross changes everything. When you receive the Good News that Jesus died for you, the result is like dropping a rock in a smooth pond: The ripples radiate outward to the farthest edges of reality. It is the death of Christ that enables us to die to ourselves. It is his death that justifies us before God’s perfect righteousness, that sets us free, that gives us courage to face persecution. The community centered on the Cross is a great company of people reconciled to God and each other through the Cross. People centered on the Cross know how to die, learn how to live, and love like they’ve been forever changed by the love they’ve received.

2. Over at 1517, Chad Bird offers some thoughts on temptation and the slavery of sin. While doing the wrong thing, giving into temptation, can feel like freedom, it’s actually the opposite. “The wages of sin is death”… true freedom comes from God.

But when we’ve finally burned all the flags of those who seek to suppress us, when we’ve snubbed our noses at every rule and law, when we’ve acted on what we think is best for us—God and others be damned—what happens? We open our eyes to see that we’re safe, alright, safe in the freedom of our own prisons. We’ve poured the concrete, welded the bars, and locked ourselves inside the penitentiary of impenitence. While we thought we were becoming masters of our own destiny, we were really reducing ourselves to slaves of our bellies, bravado, genitals, and ego. Welcome to the fake freedom of evil.

3. In NPR’s “Life Kit,” an advice columnist gives tips for how to give advice and, without noting the irony, says that the best course of action is to NOT give advice at all, but to listen with empathy.

People who ask “What should I do?” often want to process a problem themselves. You’re giving good advice if you can help them get there on their own. “A lot of it is to unload things that they have going on inside,” Latif says. “And you creating a space where they can self express freely.” Part of the trick with this is remembering that it’s not about you. A friend’s priorities might not match your own, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Don’t assume their choices are any kind of statement about your own values and decisions. “Empathy … I would say necessitates a complete suspension of the ego, where anything that’s feeding your feeling, it gets put to the side,” Latif says. Easy, right? Just remember that listening goes a long way.

4. This week brought the shocking news that Jean Vanier, Catholic philosopher and the founder of L’Arch, has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct. Vanier, who died last year, has been mentioned as a candidate for canonization and has been viewed by many to be a modern day saint. When our heroes fall, and outrage gives way to cynicism, the perilous foundations of our faith are exposed and the goodness of God in this broken world feels distant, if not absent. As Thomas Reese notes, it is here that the belief in the bound will and original sin is a helpful antidote.

As a social scientist, I am never surprised by sin, corruption and conflict. I am a firm believer in Original Sin, for which there is lots of empirical evidence, although I don’t blame it on Eve and the apple. For me, Original Sin is the reality that sins of the past provide fertile ground for sins in the present (think slavery and racism). And sins in our time will make it difficult for people to be good in the future (think global warming). What surprises me is goodness, kindness and love, which are signs of God’s grace in the world. Many people turn away from God because they cannot resolve the problem of evil: How can there be a God when there is such evil in the world?

I have the opposite question.

Granted that we have been struggling to survive ever since we crawled out of the muck, evil does not surprise me. I am surprised by the problem of good. Why is there good in the world? Given where we came from and the world in which we live, why is there love? Why is there self-sacrifice? These are miracles of grace. These are signs of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in the world. It is the Holy Spirit that pushes us upward in our evolutionary journey beyond selfishness and sin to kindness and love.

So, if you, too, are angry and depressed by the failures of great men, if all these failures are turning you into a cynic, don’t let sin blind you to the presence of grace in our world. Be surprised by love.

5. In humor: The Onion strikes again: “Man Doesn’t Mind Long Commute Because It Gives Him Extra Time To Listen To Voice In Head Saying He Can’t Keep Living Like This.” And for anyone who is a little too self-conscious: “How to Be A Better Listener When All You’re Thinking About is What the Normal Amount of Eye Contact Is While Listening.

6. The latest Pixar movie “Onward” comes out next week and the glowing reviews are pouring in. The mythical tale of two brothers in search of their deceased Dad is really a thinly veiled autobiography of co-writer and director, Dan Scanlon.

Onward is based on the director and co-writer Dan Scanlon’s personal story. As we meet in a plush Soho hotel, he is shy but warm, mentioning the piece I recently wrote for the Guardian about my own childhood bereavement. His father died in a car accident when he was one and his older brother aged three. Scanlon was not going to answer questions about the nature of his dad’s death until very recently, as he did not want to upset his mother. “But I double-checked with her and she said: ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ She’s really great – like the mom in the movie.” The part is voiced by Julia-Louis Dreyfus.

When he was 16, an aunt and uncle gave Scanlon a cassette featuring his father’s voice. He only says two words on it: “Hi!” and “Goodbye”. “In a weird way,” he says, “I felt: ‘Oh, I can tell he’s shy and nervous when he over-says the hi. Then I can tell he’s a little awkward when he says goodbye. Oh, he’s my brother and I!’” The need to know a parent, he says, is often to get a road-map for yourself, to know who you could be, or can be.

7. The rumors are true: “The ‘Dating Market’ is Getting Worse.” We often think of dating as a marketplace, particularly with the rise of dating apps that make searching for a romantic partner as easy as buying a new pair of shoes. People become commodities, objects of our affection and self-fulfillment, governed by the logic of supply and demand. The whole “business” is ruining love altogether, or so argue The Atlantic‘s Ashley Fetters and Kaitlyn Tiffany:

The unfortunate coincidence is that the fine-tuned analysis of dating’s numbers game and the streamlining of its trial-and-error process of shopping around have taken place as dating’s definition has expanded from “the search for a suitable marriage partner” into something decidedly more ambiguous. Meanwhile, technologies have emerged that make the market more visible than ever to the average person, encouraging a ruthless mind-set of assigning “objective” values to potential partners and to ourselves—with little regard for the ways that framework might be weaponized. The idea that a population of single people can be analyzed like a market might be useful to some extent to sociologists or economists, but the widespread adoption of it by single people themselves can result in a warped outlook on love. […]

The idea of the dating market is appealing because a market is something a person can understand and try to manipulate. But fiddling with the inputs—by sending more messages, going on more dates, toggling and re-toggling search parameters, or even moving to a city with a better ratio—isn’t necessarily going to help anybody succeed on that market in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Last year, researchers at Ohio State University examined the link between loneliness and compulsive use of dating apps—interviewing college students who spent above-average time swiping—and found a terrible feedback loop: The lonelier you are, the more doggedly you will seek out a partner, and the more negative outcomes you’re likely to be faced with, and the more alienated from other people you will feel. This happens to men and women in the same way.

8. A helpful reminder in this season of Lent… Over at the National Review Kevin Williamson makes a case for reclaiming moral language of good and evil, rather than the pseudo-psychological jargon so prevalent today. Jesus cast out demons, or so I hear, rather than restoring the insane to sanity. Our sins are forgiven; our neurosis is probably something else altogether.

As the pop-fiction psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter puts it, we have “given up good and evil for behaviorism.” We cannot stand to call evil evil, and so resort to the sterile language of psychiatry. […]

Moral language makes us uncomfortable, because we abandoned the notion of judgment when we abandoned responsible adulthood and began to insist that hierarchical social relations were necessarily unjust and oppressive — Who are you to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong? Who are you to judge? Moral language forces us to face our moral illiteracy, to admit that we have not engaged in the necessary moral education to cultivate ourselves and our children for some generations now. This surrender was very much abetted by the schools and the churches and other institutions, but the abandonment was, by and large, organic and self-organizing. What we rejected was authority.


Happy Lent!

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3 responses to “Another Week Ends: the Cross of Christ, Not Giving Advice, Temptation, Jean Vanier, Pixar’s Onward, the Dating Market, and Reclaiming Moral Language”

  1. Pierre says:

    Man, that article about the dating marketplace is depressing to a single person like me. It’s exactly the crystallization of everything I can sense is wrong with the dating app culture. I wish anyone, anywhere, had some idea of how to reintroduce grace and humanity to the experience.

  2. Vincent says:

    What are your thoughts on the life kit article?

    • Todd Brewer says:

      My thoughts? I’m a little wary of the “anything goes” undertone to it, but anything that gets people listening to people in need rather than trying to fix things is definitely a plus.

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