Jethani: Blessed Are The Disillusioned

Skye Jethani articulates in a piece today a lot of the frustrations I have felt and heard in recent months. Just a sample:

The tribe of the disillusioned is growing and the institutional containers we have inherited are struggling to hold us. The cracks are spreading. The containers are leaking. But we stay, for now, because we don’t know where to go. We don’t know who to follow. We don’t know where we belong.

The disillusioned wonder—where are the voices that affirm traditional Christian marriage without condemning our neighbors who do not?

The disillusioned wonder—where are the churches that focus more on loving people in the name of God than using people in the name of mission?

The disillusioned wonder—where are the humble Christians that can discern the difference between a loss of privilege and real persecution?

I appreciate that he doesn’t just leave us in the wondering but gives us some encouragement for where to go from here. Worth reading. Blessed Are The Disillusioned

Finished reading: another compendium

If I posted these individually when I finished the books, I’d have more frequent posts on the blog here… oh well.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
An interesting little thriller / mystery about a man who survives a private plane crash. Not as thrilling or involved as it could be, but good basic entertainment. I hear that this guy is writing for the TV show Legion, which leads me to think I should maybe give it a try.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
I saw this one was a fantasy story that had won the Newbery, so I figured I’d give it a shot in hopes of finding something I could give my daughters to read. It’s a nice story, a little bit dark in places but with hopeful messages. It’s not as funny as a Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman story, and there’s a lot going on in it. I think my older two daughters would probably handle it OK, but at the moment I can’t manage to get either of them interested in it. Oh well.

A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians–from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between by Stuart Isacoff
Picked this one up on a whim and enjoyed it. Basically it’s a short history not just of the development of the piano as an instrument but also of the composers and musicians who used it. My favorite part of reading books about music like this is that I’m always pointed to some new music. This time the bit of interest is Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, a cycle modeled after Bach’s. Now if only the sheet music wasn’t nearly $100…

We are from the future, embodying that in the here and now

One of my favorites, Brian Zahnd, talked recently on the Makers and Mystics podcast. I love this little bit of what he had to say about the church being “from the future”:

When I say I’m from the future, what I mean is that in baptism I have come to live under the reign and rule of Christ here and now. And I use an illustration: this is what the Church should be like.

If you go to a movie, and you’re there to see, well, whatever you’re there to see, everybody knows that before the actual movie starts you have the previews. And what a preview is, is 2, 3, 4 minutes of a coming attraction. This movie is not here yet, but they’re going to show you enough of it that you get an idea of what it will be like.

The church is to be a preview of the age to come. We’re not perfect, we don’t claim that. But we should be able – I don’t think we really can, for the most part – but we should be able to say to the wider culture, “look at our communities. This is where this thing is headed. This is what the reign of Christ actually looks like, because we are from the future, we are embodying that here and now.”

So good.

Finished Reading: The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

When the good Bishop N. T. Wright has a new book out it’s an automatic purchase for me at this point. And Wright does not disappoint with The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright examines the meaning of Jesus’ death in his usual lucid style, with a focus on what understanding the first-century Christians would’ve had of that death.

Wright keys on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. This launches him on a review of the Old Testament idea of salvation and forgiveness of sins, and how for Israel “forgiveness of sins” was closely tied to the covenant promise of restoration from exile.

Wright then takes the reader through the various New Testament discussions of the meaning of the crucifixion to make the case that “salvation” isn’t really primarily about individual salvation (though individuals are saved), but is rather about the restoration and blessing of the whole earth through Israel in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Wright, as usual, says some things that undoubtedly set some conservative theologians on edge. Notable among these is his contention that Jesus’ death isn’t really about some sort of penal substitution. That, says Wright, is still buying into a system of works righteousness – even if the works aren’t our works – that isn’t borne out in the Bible’s view of God’s love as shown in His covenant promises.

Wright makes the case that salvation is really about much more than we are led to believe. And while he acknowledges that theologians will typically provide a more nuanced view, he believes (and I agree) that at the lay level in evangelicalism, the understanding of salvation is very individual and transactional – people sin, which makes God angry, a price must be paid, Jesus pays that price to step in the way of God’s anger, people are saved to go to heaven. I don’t think that Wright would disagree with any of those statements… from a certain point of view. However, his picture of salvation is much wider and more appealing. It’s really worth a read and consideration.

This volume would be a nice companion piece to go alongside Surprised by Hope – which itself is still the volume I’d encourage people to read if they need an intro to Wright. Good stuff.

NTW on ‘a central part of the Christian vocation’

[F]ollowers of Jesus have no choice. A central part of our vocation is, prayerfully and thoughtfully, to remind people with power, both official (government ministers) and unofficial (backstreet bullies), that there is a different way to be human. A true way. The Jesus way. This doesn’t mean “electing into office someone who shares our particular agenda”; that might or might not be appropriate. It means being prepared, whoever the current officials are, to do what Jesus did with Pontius Pilate: confront them with a different vision of kingdom, truth, and power.

— N. T. Wright, The Day The Revolution Began, p. 401

Finished reading: a quick compendium

Because I’ve been lazy and not keeping up:

The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies – and What They Have Done to Us by David Thomson
An extensive trip through the history of filmmaking. I’m interested in movies far more than I get the opportunity to watch them, so this was an interesting read and gives me lots of movie watching gaps to fill in.

City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder
This came on the tail of visiting Manhattan for a week for work. A really fascinating read starting with the first white settlers in New York and carrying on through the late 20th century.

The Believer by Joakim Zander
A thriller novel that hits a little too close to home, including a wanna-be jihadist and shady government forces at work.

Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson
A time-travel novel in which the present day has a gate into one possible past, but only to a specific time the 1870s. More thoughtful than I anticipated.

Dune by Frank Herbert
Caught up with a classic I’d never read. Really enjoyed it. Now I suppose I’ll get sucked into the whole series.

Another view of ‘love of neighbor’

I was catching up on my backlog of On Being podcasts and came across a fascinating discussion with writer Alain de Botton. de Botton is an atheist, but provided a description of the idea of love of fellow citizen (in my words, “neighbor”) that was insightful to me.

MR. DE BOTTON: …I think you’re onto something huge and rather counterintuitive because we associate the word “love” with private life. We don’t associate it with life in the republic, with civil society.

But I think that a functioning society requires two things that, again, just don’t sound very normal, but they require love and politeness. And by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong, not just to chuck them immediately in prison or to hold them up in front of a law court but to…

MS. TIPPETT: Or just tell them how stupid they are, right?

MR. DE BOTTON: Right. Exactly. We’re permanently — all sides are attempting to show how stupid every other side is. And the other thing, of course, is politeness, which is an attempt not necessarily to say everything, to understand that there is a role for private feelings, which if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone concerned. But we’ve got this culture of kind of self-disclosure. And as I say, it spills out into politics as well. The same dynamic goes on of, like, “If I’m not telling you exactly what I think, then I may develop a twitch or an illness from not expunging my feelings.” To which I would say, “No, you’re not. You’re preserving the peace and the good nature of the republic, and it’s absolutely what you should be doing.”

I really like this definition of love of neighbor that way – to work to understand them by giving them the benefit of the doubt, to look for the most charitable explanation for their position. We as Christians could take that idea to heart.

Finished reading: Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller

Another random library selection, and a nice change of pace from history and theology. In Now, Cal Berkeley professor Richard Muller sets out to provide a layman’s-level discussion of the nature of time and how the domain of physics interacts with and helps explain it.

Muller provides an engaging discussion about relativistic time dilation, the big bang, quantum effects and “spooky action at a distance”, and his own thoughts about what it is that causes time to move only forward. It’s not entirely for the faint of heart, but he at least is good enough to leave his derivation of equations into appendices rather than embedding them within the body text. The Goodreads reviews of the book seem to be a bunch of physics nerds giving the author flack for his approach, but to this engineering nerd who isn’t deep into physics, it was just fine.

Now: The Physics of Time

Finished reading: Instrumental: A memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music by James Rhodes

I’ll confess I’d never heard of James Rhodes prior to picking this book up at the library. Turns out he’s about my age, and a British classical pianist who has had some amount of popular culture impact in Britain trying to make classical music less culturally stuffy and more accessible to the masses.

Instrumental isn’t nearly so much about music as it is about a man trying to come to grips with the effects of some horrifying abuse he underwent as a young boy in primary school. I’ve never read an account that so directly describes the horror and brokenness that an abuse victim can feel. One of Rhodes’ escapes is music, but he vividly describes others that are much less beautiful and much more self-destructive.

Rhodes does mention a couple handfuls of favorite classical pieces through the book, which someone has already arranged into a convenient Spotify playlist.

Instrumental is a worthwhile read but not for the faint of heart.

Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music

Finished reading: A Wretched and Precarious Situation by David Welky

Found this one on the New Books shelf at the library and figured hey, why not? Welky tells here the story of a handful of Arctic explorers who followed up on Robert Peary’s claim to have seen an Arctic continent he called “Crocker Land” (named after one of his financial sponsors).

Want to trek for multiple years living off pemmican, hardtack, and the internal organs of whatever bears and musk oxen you can hunt? Lose your toes to frostbite? Go (in some cases, at least) more than a bit loony? Early 20th century Arctic exploration might be for you!

Welky’s writing is engaging and the story is an adventurous one. After reading it, I think it’ll be at least a week before I stop feeling cold.

A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier