Another Week Ends

1. Say you’re jonesing for a stirring interreligious discourse this weekend — have I got […]

CJ Green / 3.15.19

1. Say you’re jonesing for a stirring interreligious discourse this weekend — have I got the thing for you! In a great piece for the latest First Things, art historian Matthew Milliner discusses the relationship between Eastern religions and evangelical Christianity. “…it is often thought,” he says, “that evangelical ­Protestants have little to offer interreligious dialogue.” However, “when Protestant faith returns to Pauline pulses of grace, a genuine evangelical contribution to interreligious dialogue emerges.”

Sifting Buddhism for these “pulses of grace,” Milliner highlights several:

Shinran [Buddhist monk, b. 1173] insisted that increasing awareness of sin results in ­increasing dependence on grace from beyond the ego. [Shinran] could be as forceful in delivering this message as Luther: “With our evil natures hard to subdue, our minds are like asps and scorpions,” he wrote. “As the practice of virtue is mixed poison, we call it false, vain practice.” ­Shinran might as well be citing a favorite passage of the ­Reformers: Romans 3.

Shinran’s realism, like Paul’s, results in mercy. “Even the good person attains birth in Pure Land. How much more so the evil person!” Self-power (jiriki) cannot deliver salvation, but other-power (tariki) can. And it is available to every common ­householder, not just monks and nuns.

Yet however much one tradition might learn from and even overlap the other, Christianity remains, Milliner says, ultimately distinct. This in no way diminishes its universal offering:

Unlike any other religion, Christianity offers a real incarnation (not an avatar), in which real sins (not illusions) are really taken care of (not transcended) on the hard wood of the Cross. But the definitiveness of this revelation enables us to recognize mysterious anticipations elsewhere. In the Gospel of John, Christ is “the light of all people” (John 1:4). Christ is the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). There is no corner of culture, even religious culture, where something of that light might not be found.

2. This week, we’ve caught wind of various “mysterious anticipations” (to borrow Milliner’s language from above), not the least of which is this: Francis Spufford (who is not C. S. Lewis) has written a new book…set in Narnia. Which is insanely exciting. Will it ever get published? One can hope & pray. Read the first page here.

(Above, see Mr. Beaver faceplant, around 1:06 — but “nobody’s to laugh…”)

3. If you’re a podcast person, Season 5 of NPR’s Invisibilia is something you’ll be glad to tune into. Episode 1, “The Fifth Vital Sign,” investigates the history of pain, how, in the 50s for example, pain was often repressed or simply endured. Today, we give pain a lot more attention — and possibly to our detriment.

Host Alix Spiegal explains: “Attention is not a neutral force. It invariably changes the thing that it purports to observe. Often, it makes that thing bigger. Attention can change all kinds of things, even the physical response of the body.” The more attention you call to pain, the more likely you are to feel it. Yet there’s more to the story. In the 50s, pain was repressed; now, it’s a primary object of attention. Neither scenario is ideal, and the way forward, the Invisi-hosts suggest, is in becoming more versed in the complex vocabulary of emotion.

When you’re unable to name and think about your emotions and don’t have the tools to diffuse them, whatever stress you experience is directed at and absorbed by the body. That’s an important part of the problem with these girls [who suffer Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome AMPS], Dr. Wallace says. They’re not in touch with their feelings. They just plaster on what the program calls an I’m fine face, so their nervous systems go haywire because they don’t have the incredibly sophisticated emotional skills that they need to manage in an increasingly stressful world.

(A kinda funny twist is, after this episode aired, NPR issued an apology about it: “We recognize that some chronic pain patients felt triggered or harmed by our story and for that, we apologize.”) Episode 2 was released this morning.

4. If you don’t know the name Meghan O’Gieblyn by now, well, I don’t know what to say, except, read on, I suppose. One of the more scintillating essayists currently writing (that I know of), M.O’G. regularly addresses themes of spirituality and the human condition, with an anthropology that rings consistently true. This week, we relay another installment in her column “Objects of Despair”; last time, it was the fake meat phenomenon; this time, it’s the mirror and the contemporary mirror, the smartphone.

Cultural critics of every generation have decried the narcissism of their age, but never before has a single object—the phone—been made to bear the entire weight of our descent into solipsism. Perhaps this stems from the irony that these devices were originally intended for connection and communication. The turn inward suggests the closing of some imaginative possibility: a window becoming a mirror. […]

But, she explains, we’re being unimaginative and even a little bit silly, perhaps, when we blame the phones themselves for this “solipsistic” descent:

All of us have entered willingly into this bargain with the devil, who knows better than anyone that our weak spot is vanity. Our online reflections—the idealized images that appear in Google image results—are largely the objects of our own creation, more real to us than our fragmented bodies. We have become the pale custodians of these digital eidolons, the marionettes of our shadows. […]

Unlike the primary narcissism that occurs in children, which is a source of power and delight, the adult narcissist finds her double uncanny and comes to believe she is being persecuted by it. This is the problem with megalomaniacs: they see themselves everywhere and believe all events are related to them. We have no shortage of scapegoats for our own paranoia: Twitter mobs, the NSA, malware. But the unease we experience in the digital maze recalls the deeper, more primal logic of horror stories and our most unsettling nightmares. There is a moment when you’re forced to acknowledge that the voice on the other end of the line is eerily familiar. You flee down a corridor, only to turn the corner and come face to face with yourself.

5. Related to the above (and also related to a certain Mockingbird confessional from earlier this month), the following post from McSweeney’s catches the latest social trend at its crest: “Did I mention that I’m not on social media?

Since deleting my entire social presence, I’ve found that I have soooo much more time on my hands to do other things, like “be present in the moment” and “spend time with loved ones” and “tell anyone who will listen that I am not on social media.” […]

I feel so much closer to God lately! Also to Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Emily Blunt, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Stone, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Rachel McAdams, the Olsen Twins, and Jesus — all higher beings who are not on social media, like myself.

6. Lenten humor includes: this piece from Aleteia, which tells of some 17th-century monks who, during Lent, fasted all solid foods. For nutrition, they brewed “liquid bread” — a strong doppelbock-style beer, the name of which can be translated as “Holy Father beer”:

Vine Pair explains that the monks, proud of their work, became worried that the brew was too delicious to count as a Lenten sacrifice. Hoping for a conclusive ruling, the Paulaner monks sought guidance from Rome and shipped a barrel of their best to the pope, who could determine if the beer was appropriate fasting fare.

In a bit of a twist, during the long trip from Bavaria to Rome, the beer spoiled. When the pope tasted it, he deemed it so foul that consuming it was considered a “sacrifice unto itself.” He gave the monks the go-ahead and they enjoyed their liquid Lent with clear consciences.

When Harper Lee Doodled in Shakespeare Class, from The New Yorker

7. In politics, Arthur C. Brooks — for an op-ed at the Times — offered up an insightful vocab term:

‘motive attribution asymmetry’ — the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate […]

Political scientists have found that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. […] Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.

The #seculosity of politics shows its colors, as it is wont to do: that politics so frequently become a competition of moral standing or a quest for righteousness. They are usually less about civil discussion than how one stacks up in the eyes of some righteous authority.

8. Mockingbird’s latest publication, Life Is Impossible: And That’s Good News, by Nick Lannon is now available! I had the privilege of reading its early drafts and am pleased to report Nick has written an insightful, concise book that distinguishes the law and the gospel in everyday life. Anyone familiar with his preaching will not be surprised. You can find Life Is Impossible in Mockingbird’s online bookstore and at Amazon (where all positive reviews help the cause!)

Happy weekend, everyone!

Featured image credit: Convexed by Will Wilson. 

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