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Strongly Recommend: Ezra Klein,”Why We’re Polarized”

I strongly recommend Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein as single best diagnosis of American politics I have read.

Think back to the 1950’s. Republicans and Democrats were similar. Each party had its own left and right wings, but neither party was “the left wing” or “the right wing” of America. They were similar enough that most voters made decisions based a politician’s integrity, military service, regional heritage, persuasive speech, or something like that, but not based on ideology. The unique way voter coalitions were lined up made this possible.

Northern Democrats, Republicans, and Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats) were each about a third of the Senate, and any two together would win a majority. Northern Democrats were allied with Southern Dixiecrats with a commanding supermajority (2/3). The South had one-party rule because of Jim Crow voter suppression, which was distasteful to Northern Democrats. But Northern Democrats were willing to turn a blind eye to the injustices of Jim Crow because they needed Southern votes to pass their bills, like the New Deal.

Everything changed with the Civil Rights Movement. Political pressure grew for new legislation. Republicans supported it, and Northern Democrats eventually supported it. Together they passed bills culminating in the ’64, ’65, and ’68 Civil Rights Acts. Northern Democrats decided to snap their coalition to pass these bills, which alienated Dixiecrats, who for a time supported their own 3rd party candidates (like George Wallace in 1968) but then migrated to the Republican party. Republicans incompatible with racism in their party then reshuffled to become Democrats. In this way, the Civil Rights Movement’s success triggered a racist backlash, causing the polarization within parties to externalize into polarization between parties.

There are more answers to “Why are we polarized?” than racism, but racism is the foundational answer that kicked the other factors into gear. For example, Christian politics were roughly even between Republicans and Democrats, because the two parties were not yet polarized by racial (and racist) voting blocks. But a Christian Republican coalition emerged to defend segregation academies, and only later shifted to public morality and family values. Race caused the politicization, which then hardened, and as racism became less popular, new platforms had to develop. But even if those new platforms were race-neutral, their coalitions were race-driven.

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Another topic Klein explores is the moral narratives through which we see our country, and how these are “activated” by threats to our personal identity. If you are a straight white male with a high school diploma who lives in the country and eats CFA, your identity will be “activated” most by a highly educated, non-white, smooth-talking politician from the city who disses CFA. Naturally! That’s just how personal identity works. The parts of who we are become more salient when they are differentiated from others.

If you are a black, gay, city-dwelling college student who drinks Starbucks, and a certain politician is racist, homophobic, rural-presenting, threatens to defund colleges, and hates Starbucks, your identity will be very “activated.” Naturally! That’s just how personal identity works. The parts of who we are become more salient when they are differentiated from others.

But imagine someone who crosses over those categories. Someone who is a white, Christian, man, who eats CFA, but also is gay, college-educated, somewhat urban, and drinks Starbucks… imagine someone… I’m certain there is a person you know. What effect do divisive politicians have on him? They pull in different directions on competing aspects, which leaves him ambivalent and unactivated. Truth be told, most Americans fit into that middle category in so many ways. Most Americans are some wild mix of these categories: gender, race, religion, location, and CFA/Starbucks. But because the ones whose identities align are most “activated,” their stories become the stereotypes that define our political coalitions. The most normative and the most marginalized, but who between?

Here’s what I’m getting at, and what I think Klein is getting at in subtext without fully spelling it out. There are more political stories to be told. There are varieties of American experience that our polarized politics seem designed to ignore. There are historical and structural factors pulling Americans into two silos of attempted homogeneity. Don’t let that happen. Recognize the unique ways politicians attempt to “activate” you, notice the times your experience is being ignored, and speak a politics from that place. As much as our media culture preaches at us to be ourselves, products sell better to crowds, and so we become crowds.

What would more American stories look like? What stories could be told that unsettle the simplistic narrative that there are two-and-only-two clashing visions of our country? I think that’s the value I see in current and specific ethnographies like Chris Arnade’s Dignity (Review, Book) or Amy Goldstein’s Janesvile: An American Story (Review, Book), or Ta-Nahisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (Review, Book), or Ryan Berg’s No Place to Call My Home (Review, Book). These accounts become the raw material for another American story. I’m talking about a politics built from the ground up, one that doesn’t begin with ideological abstractions and work down, but begins with real American stories and builds out.

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Those are just a few of my thoughts. I can’t begin to cover everything Klein covers — he has written a fantastic book, one anybody interested in politics needs to read. As a disclaimer, I should note that Klein’s center-left slant comes through in some of his examples, but still I think progressives and conservatives will find themselves agreeing with the real substance of most of his points.

I especially recommend the chapters “Your Brain on Groups,” “The Press Secretary in Your Mind,” and “When Bipartisanship Becomes Irrational,” along with the conclusion, and then Francis Fukuyama’s review of the book. Most importantly, please, read it before the election, not after!

Discussion on Bostock

Here was my Facebook status on Bostock v. Clayton County, and some discussion from the comments.

###

Good decision from Gorsuch. His legal argument is sound.

Keep in mind that none of the three cases claimed religious exemption. (One did in lower court, but later dropped that claim). So this decision does not impact religious organizations as the evangelical fearmongerers told us it would.

On the narrower religious exemption question, we desperately need new, clarifying legislation. Many orgs fall between “religious” and secular, like Christian colleges that are associated with, but not owned by, a denomination. Christian colleges receive billions of dollars annually from the federal government in student aid, but discriminate against a now-protected group. Colleges that discriminate on the basis of race are banned from federal funding, even if they have deeply held racist religious beliefs (see Bob Jones University). So the precedent is set to ban funding on the legally similar basis of sex. If exemptions are denied.

Additionally, many positions within orgs fall between “religious” and secular, like the math teacher at a Christian private high school, or the accountant at a church. These positions could be considered secular functions, but that does not matter. If the organization is religious, its hiring decisions are an extension of their 1A protected speech. (As Hosanna-Tabor (2012) and Presiding Bishop (1987) have already held).

I’m not sure the best path forward. Religious orgs cannot be forced to hire ministers or minister-adjacent staff who disagree with their deeply held religious beliefs. On the other hand, the bare fact of sexual orientation, apart from the decision to marry, is not a choice. Nobody should be able to discriminate on the basis of orientation alone. It seems as unchosen as race, and therefore discrimination on orientation seems as immoral as on race.

For example, I was discriminated against (denied employment) on the basis of orientation, even though I agreed with the religious org’s statement of faith on marriage and sexuality, and was not seeking same-sex marriage. That discrimination is clearly wrong. They broke their own rules. I did not choose my orientation, but to the extent that I can choose to follow the org’s rules, I did, yet they used my orientation to discriminate against me. I want that to be illegal, religious exemption or not. But what legal standard would outlaw that discrimination, without treading on religious freedom to discriminate on gay marriage? I don’t think there is a legally sound standard. My compromise position isn’t possible.

The only solution I can see would retain religious orgs’ right to discriminate on basis of sexual orientation, period. Then, we the people pressure them to adopt anti-discrimination standards internally which guarantee equal hiring on the basis of mere orientation. However, that would likely only work for a slim minority of religious orgs. I am not optimistic about widespread acceptance, or even recognition, of celibate gay people. But I don’t think the state, whether courts or Congress, has grounds to impose this. As expansively as Title VII is written, the First Amendment is more, and Constitutional.

Regardless of how the dust settles on the narrow question of religious exemptions, the main question of Title VII discrimination has been decided rightly by the court. The fight against discrimination “on the basis of sex” won a major battle today.

###

A friend said, “Beautifully said. I don’t see a good legal path either, although I have not thought about this in as much detail as you have. One would hope that, as Plato said, in a good society we would need fewer laws. Can we expect those religious communities who discriminate now to become good without legal force? Sadly, it is part of the “no compromise” identity they have forged for themselves with respect to sex and gender. (Why the hell are Evangelicals so obsessed with sex, anyway?) I hope your efforts to bring change from within bear fruit.”

To which I replied, “”it is part of the “no compromise” identity they have forged for themselves with respect to sex and gender” Exactly. The evangelical impulse post-Obergefell has been reactionary over-correction driven by fear. Anything that resembles the out-group must be condemned. When you encounter slippery slope arguments at every turn, it is a feature, not a bug. Entire denominations are in cold war over using the word “gay” or over (this is a quote) “adopting a homosexual self-conception.” They are using these far lesser questions to acid test for evangelical purity, and as proxies for the real debate over same-sex marriage. This has led to considerable damage among gay Christians, as nobody likes to be used as a political football. These pastors and thought leaders are people who engage in what I call “competitive homophobia,” where the most egregious displays of anti-gay prejudice earn greater credibility and in-group purity. Dynamics like these make it impossible for institutions to do what I described. (If my university were to adopt anti-discrimination rules for celibate gay Christians, they would be flooded with press about “going left” and “abandoning evangelical faithfulness” even though they would have done neither.)”

To his other question, I said “”Why the hell are Evangelicals so obsessed with sex, anyway?” is a great question, one that I’ve asked since reading Samuel Perry’s book Addicted to Lust earlier this year. He calls it “Sexual Exceptionalism” but unfortunately I left the book in university storage for the summer, so I don’t have much more than that…”

To which that same friend said, “It’s an oversimplification, but generally speaking when an organization loses a positive sense of who it is and no longer trusts its own values, its best option is to scapegoat and find blame outside of itself. Instead of saying this is who we are and what we stand for because these values are good, they define themselves by who they reject.I have also lived through the dramatic politicization of evangelicals, beginning in the 80s. I don’t think that is always a bad thing, but they have been manipulated and co-opted by cynical politicians for decades. David Koh, GW Bush’s first director of the office for faith-based initiatives, I believe it was called, wrote a book before he died describing his chagrin at the way Karl Rove and others cynically used him and the office for their own political ends. Just one example, but a very prominent one. … Competitive homophobia. Captures a lot, sadly.”

~

Another friend said, “Sorry Ross, but if you are willing to follow a religious organization’s statement of faith, and they still discriminate against you, maybe you should be looking at better organizations who know a good candidate when they see one. That’s just lousy. Dust your sandals off friend.”

~

Someone asked my opinion on the Alito dissent, to which I said, “I don’t see how an employer can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without knowing their sex. Knowing that someone is gay requires knowing that they are attracted to a sex which is their own sex, and that requires knowing their sex. Similarly, to discriminate on transgender status requires the employer to first know the person’s sex assigned at birth. He also focuses heavily on the meaning of the word “sex” in 1964, even attaching 7 pages of dictionary definitions (55-62). But I don’t think it matters what “sex” means. Gorsuch says it doesn’t matter per se what the meaning of “sex” is, “but what Title VII says about it.” Since orientation discrimination requires sex discrimination, Title VII applies, without defining the meaning of the text…”

I continued, “Adam Winkler on twitter was less generous with Alito. He said, “Alito says that “sex” must be defined exactly the way that lawmakers understood that term in 1964. I’m skeptical he’ll apply that same rule to defining what counts as “arms” when reading the Second Amendment.” That is the issue, strict textualism applies when it helps conservative causes and doesn’t when it doesn’t. Usually they align, but in a case where the textualist approach conflicts with the conservative outcome, the justices have to choose method (Gorsuch, Roberts) or outcome (Alito, Thomas, Kavanaugh)… FWIW, I thought Kavanaugh’s dissent was much better than Alito’s in writing and in substance, but also missed the point. Gorsuch wasn’t disagreeing that the meaning of “sex” in 1964 meant biological sex itself. So while Kavanaugh’s hermentutics were nice (and would be great to see Christians use when interpreting Scripture…) it did not matter.”

To which my friend replied, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do think both Alito and Kavanaugh raise one very strong point, in that Congress has been trying to pass bills that would prohibit employer discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ many times in recent years. That would suggest that Congress doesn’t even think they are included in Title VII. That’s the main issue I have with the decision – not the outcome itself, but that it appears the court updated a law instead of Congress.” And in a second comment, “Also, I forgot to say earlier, thanks for raising those questions about religious and semi-religious organizations! I think there will be a lot of confusion in those areas over the next few years.” A few other friends said the same thing, they had not considered the ambiguity over who gets religious exemptions.

~

A different friend said, “So I have a question that I feel I might as well shoot in your direction: do you think this kind of decision oversteps the judicial rights of the Supreme court? I just wonder if this is an ok precedent to set, even if it does benefit the lives of LGBTQ individuals.”

To which I responded, “I don’t think so. If “legislating from the bench” is the problem, SCOTUS has been doing that for decades. Nothing new to see here. Just a consistent application of that practice. But I don’t see this as legislating from the bench. Gorsuch went out of his way not to construe the definition of sexual orientation or transgender status as including sex, but instead to say that discrimination on that basis requires discrimination on sex. There is no scenario in which someone can discriminate on the basis of orientation/trans and not simultaneously also be discriminating on the basis of sex. If he made the redefining words argument, it would be legislating from the bench, but as he wrote the Opinion, he is just doing regular legal interpretation.”

~

Finally, a friend asked me if I’m going to publish a book, on anything, to which I responded, “Tim Keller says not to publish until you turn 40…”

~

My lead photo is a tree near chapel on campus last October.

Gay for the world

Sketching a theological use for Christian Sexuality in the world today.

I

Lunch with my former pastor from high school. He eats a soup. I eat cheese fries. He is on a diet. I am not. We talk about my experience coming out and about his attempts to lead his church into a more compassionate tone on sexuality. In that conversation he backs up and makes a larger point than I expected.

He brings up James Davison Hunter’s book To Change the World. We had read this together back when I lived in town. Hunter sorts out four ways that Christians engage culture. Well, three, and the fourth is a proposal.

First, there is the ‘defense against’ strategy. Think Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Sr., or the Religious Right as a political strategy. The goal is to defend the church from a hostile society seeking to destroy the church and everything it stands for. We wage war, cultural war, to keep Christian values established at the national level. Non-Christians and non-Christian institutions are either potential converts, or enemies.

Second, there is the ‘purity from’ strategy. Think the Amish, or to a lesser extent, homeschooling. Since you can’t win the culture war against public schools, you retreat and homeschool, or private Christian school. Rod Dreher has come forward as the leading proponent of this tendency. Instead of trying to win back society, his book The Benedict Option argues we need to begin building institutions for a parallel society which is distinctly Christian. Non-Christian people and institutions are potential contaminants to be avoided.

Third, beyond fight and flight is another option, the ‘relevance to’ strategy. This tendency is to blend in by shedding pieces of Christian faith and practice. Many on the Christian Left attempt this approach. It works for a time but the common logic holds that eventually people stop being recognizably Christian at all. Non-Christian people and institutions are seen as not that different from Christians.

Fight, flight, assimilate. Hunter proposes a fourth route, ‘faithful presence within,’ which he defines with two theological statements:

The first is that incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. From this follows the second: it is the way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to challenge of difference. For the Christian, if there is a possibility for human flourishing in a world such as ours, it begins when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, a trust is forged between the word spoken and the reality to which it speaks; to the words we speak and the realities to which we, the church, point. In all, presence and place matter decisively. (241)

Also helpful for understanding his point is the quote a few pages later:

Faithful presence in our spheres of influence does not imply passive conformity to the established structures. Rather, within the dialectic between affirmation and antithesis, faithful presence means a constructive resistance that seeks new patterns of social organization that challenge, undermine, and otherwise diminish oppression, injustice, enmity, and corruption and, in turn, encourage harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy, security, and well-being. In the normal course of social life, the challenge and alternative that faithful presence entails is not so much a direct opposition through a contest of power but, as Miraslov Volf puts it, a “bursting out” of an alternative within the proper space of the old. (247-248)

Here our pose towards the world is not defensive (defense against), distancing (purity from), or naively and uncritically positive (relevance to). Rather, we remain distinctly Christian while living in and for the sake of the world, loving and serving others like Jesus did.

My pastor slurped soup from his spoon. My cheesy fries were long gone. They stood no chance.

That was all background from our conversations over the years. In this meal, my pastor made this point: Far too many Christian leaders view sexuality in church-political categories rather than in pastoral-theological categories.

“Church-political” roughly lines up with defense against and purity from, and “pastoral-theological” could mean in a weaker form a relevance to approach or in a stronger form a faithful presence within approach. That stronger form is the goal.

I’ll give an example. Most conservative churches have done a poor job at pastoral care for gay people who are non-affirming. Even though such a person agrees with the church on how to live the Christian life, just being gay is made more difficult than it needs to be. Different things cause this. Silence. Taboo. Homophobic comments. Homophobic pastors. Unrealistic expectations. Singling out that sin instead of treating it as an equal to other sins. These are bad things, and we could end them without sacrificing our doctrinal stance.

But we can’t have those conversations. For those who view the topic through church-political lenses, straight pastors and ministry leaders should not be criticized. Gay people are the ones who are ‘other’ in a political sense, so they are the ones to be critiqued. Gay people (the distinction between celibate and sexually active gets ignored) are inherently opposed to the social and cultural goals of our church politics. To capitulate is to lose points in the game of church politics. If you acknowledge that there could be reasons why gay people are against the conservative church which were biblically unnecessary all along, you’ve lost the war. Nobody admits any of this, but it defines the underlying logic at work, the deep structure of the conversation. In its worst forms this thinking leads to the explicit denial that gay people “can be” Christians. In lighter form it leads to consistent privileging of institutional and organizational interests against those of gay people. Neither form recognizes the God-given dignity inherent in gay people, and both make the Christian life harder for no good reason.

Such is life when Christian leaders see the world through church-political frames. By contrast, my soup-eating pastor pointed to Wesley Hill as someone whose framing of the topic comes primarily from a pastoral-theological mindset. I would add Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved, which is all about seeing gay people as people and not as ideas, or worse, as enemies.

II

The Amazon pages for Nancy Pearcy’s book Love Thy Body in print and on audiobook have different descriptions.

The print editions have this description:

Why the Call to Love Thy Body? 
To counter the hostility toward the human body and biological facts of life driving many of today’s headline stories. Many people absorb pre-packaged media mantras on watershed moral issues without being aware of their hurtful real-world implications. Consider:

Transgenderism: Activists detach gender from biology. Kids down to kindergarten are being taught their body is irrelevant to their authentic self. Is this affirming–or does it demean the body?

Homosexuality: Advocates disconnect sexuality from being biologically male or female. Is this liberating–or does it denigrate who we really are?

Abortion: Supporters admit that pre-born babies are human, but deny that they are persons worthy of legal protection. Does this lead to equality for women–or does it threaten the intrinsic dignity of all humans?

Hookup Culture: On campus, in Hollywood, and in the boardroom, the sexual revolution was supposed to liberate us for recreational sex. But has it really led to schizoid sex and bodies without meaning?

In Love Thy Body, best-selling author Nancy Pearcey goes beyond politically correct talking points to offer a riveting exposé of the dehumanizing secularist ethos that shapes critical moral and socio-political issues of our day.

Formerly an agnostic, Pearcey was hailed in The Economist as”America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.” Fearlessly and with compassion, she makes the case that secularism denigrates the body and destroys the basis for human rights.

Throughout, Pearcey sets forth a holistic and humane alternative available to all–one that offers realityoriented solutions that embrace the dignity of the human body and provide a sustainable basis for inalienable human rights.

Now, more than ever, we need to learn to “love thy body.”

Then, there are endorsements by Robert George, Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, and Glenn Stanton, of the names I recognize.

But now look at the description from the audiobook edition:

Are transgender people discovering their authentic self? Is the hookup culture really liberating? Does abortion lead to equality for women? Does homosexuality contradict our biological sex?

In Love Thy Body, best-selling and award-winning author Nancy Pearcey takes on the hard questions about life and sexuality. She offers a respectful but riveting exposé of the secular worldview that lies behind trendy slogans and political talking points. A former agnostic, Pearcey is a sensitive guide to the secular ideas that shape current debates. She empowers listeners to intelligently and compassionately engage today’s most controversial moral and social challenges.

In a surprise shattering of stereotypes, Pearcey demonstrates that while secularism promises much, in reality it delivers little. She turns the tables on stereotypes that portray Christianity as harsh and bigoted, and invites a fresh look at its holistic, life-affirming principles: It is a worldview that matches the real world and fits with human experience.

All along, Pearcey keeps listeners entranced with gripping stories of real people wrestling with hard questions in their own lives – sharing their pain, their struggles, and their triumphs.

This description is not followed by endorsements.

Where the second description is warm and friendly (“a sensitive guide” “fresh look at holistic, life-affirming principles” “sharing their pain”), the first description is hostile and adversarial (“to counter” “beyond politically correct talking points” “Fearlessly” is fronted in the pair with “compassion”). Where the second frames its rhetorical questions as benign, detached ideas, the first pre-loads its rhetorical questions with declarative statements (“Activists detach gender from biology” “Advocates disconnect sexuality from being biologically male or female” “Supporters admit that pre-born babies are human, but deny that they are persons worthy of legal protection” “On campus, in Hollywood, and in the boardroom, the sexual revolution was supposed to liberate us for recreational sex”). Notice the difference. Now we aren’t arguing against ideas, or proposing our own constructive ideas. We are arguing against “Activists” “Advocates” “Supporters [of abortion]” and “Hollywood, the boardroom [or those who this applies to], and the sexual revolution.” Suddenly things seem less compassionate. The stakes are raised. We have an enemy in this fight. Even the tailing endorsements on the print editions scream Tribal Affiliation, but no such endorsements are to be found on the audiobook.

I don’t know whether this is Pearcey’s own doing, or the publisher’s work. My understanding is that authors have control over their body-text and title, and that’s about it. Nor do I fault the publishers for resorting to this type of politcking. It sells. What I notice, though, is that the rah rah lets fight spirit in one description comes at the expense of the calm, wise, compassionate spirit in the other. A “church-political,” defense against and purity from mindset bleeds off the page.

Can we do better?

III

As I try to sketch out the contours of a Christian Sexuality that is faithfully present in the world, I am reminded of this post from a friend last year. (I share this with his permission).

“Cold water! Stay hydrated! Be safe!”
“Oh, thank goodness. How much?”
“Nothing, it’s free.”
“Wait, it’s free?”
“Yep. You need more than one?”
“Uhh, sure. Thanks. Y’all are doing a really, really good thing… Who are you with?”
“We’re just a group of Christians from different local churches, here to make sure folks have some water.”

This conversation happened hundreds of times today. Let it be a parable of free grace for your Sunday. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55)

Had a great time at my first-ever Pride!

@ Downtown St. Louis

I don’t know if you remember that day, but it was nearly 100 degrees and humid. There was talk about cancelling the parades outright because of the heat risk. So this is not mere political posturing — it has real substance. It also declines to antagonize. This small act of grace does not defend against the parade and all it represents, or seek purity from the potentially ‘infectious’ effects of being too close to sinful (gay) people. Nor does it seek relevance to Pride by sacrificing or eliding critical differences between Christian and non-Christian practice. It exemplifies, even typifies, faithful presence within. Loving and serving others to whom we especially owe that love and service. Not recoiling at or restraining from the ‘other.’ Unlike the first description of Pearcy’s book, it does not center our obvious disagreements and reduce gay people to enemy status to score points in our cliques. This small act can teach us what it means to be gay for the world.

When there is no bread

Elijah called for a battle between the Lord and the rival nation’s god Ba’al in 1 Kings 18. The Lord showed in dramatic fashion that he is the real God of Israel. This would normally be good, but the king and queen of Israel had adopted Ba’al as one of their gods, so Elijah had committed treason. The wicked queen raged. She sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “O may the gods do to me also, and even more, if I do not kill you by this time tomorrow!” Elijah takes the hint and flees the country.

Elijah flees to the southern desert. His life seems over. He feels alone. Isolated. Think ‘social distancing.’ He sits beneath a thin tree and asks God to kill him. He passes out.

After this point it is unclear whether the narrative occurs in “the real world” or in a surreal dreamscape. Narrated time will begin to move faster, 40 days and 40 nights will pass in a breath, past and present co-mingling into one timeline, miraculous signs will happen at sacred locations, and Elijah ultimately receives a prophetic Word from the Lord. But before that journey, sleeping under the thin tree, an angel comes to wake Elijah. He looks and sees a flask (sappahat) of water and baked bread on coals by his head. “Arise and eat,” says the angel. Elijah does. He goes back to sleep. The angel wakes him up again. “No, you really don’t get it. Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Elijah eats and drinks again. With strength from the meal, he travels through the desert to Sinai.

From verses 3-17, the text of 1 Kings 19 enters into so many allusions and echoes of earlier texts that I can only describe it as textual recycling. Think of how Revelation alludes to the Old Testament in every single verse. Ignore the allusions and you end up with a bad Left Behind style interpretation. You miss the point unless you can distinguish what is recycled from what is new, or what is old but used in a new way. Same here.

What few notice in this scene is the textual connection to 1 Samuel 26. There, Saul and his men are put into a deep slumber by God, enabling David to sneak through the camp and steal Saul’s spear. Like before, David is showing off that he could kill Saul, but has decided to obey God instead. We see this connection in three ways.

  • First, the scenes happen in or near the same place: a day’s journey from Beersheeba into the wilderness and the Wilderness of Ziph line up. Because Elijah is from the north, his unfamiliarity with southern place-names makes sense.
  • Second, the word flask (sappahat) is an extremely uncommon word. It occurs in these two passages, and in the Widow of Zarephath, and that is all. Rare words can imply direct borrowing.
  • Third, the placement of the flask. While David sneaks by Saul to get his spear, he grabs Saul’s flask which was “at his head” (m’ra’ashot). Similarly, the sleeping Elijah had a flask “at his head,” (m’ra’ashot) the narrator specifies. At five unique occurrences this phrase is not extremely rare, but infrequent enough to suggest direct borrowing.

The textual connection is clear.

So what? When I encountered this passage in a class last semester, I was unsure where to go. Authors allude to older texts for a reason, not just because. These scenes are completely different. What’s the point of sprinkling details from the 1 Samuel passage into the narrative in 1 Kings? Then I realized that the Elijah story adds a key detail: the bread, baked on coals. Saul has his flask, but Elijah his flask and bread. The author uses textual recycling to frame the story but the key is where the new text breaks from the old one.

Sinai. 40. Wandering. Wilderness. Idolatry of the nation. Righteous prophet who destroys the idolaters. Now, bread. These pieces come together in an even broader textual recycling to evoke Moses’s encounter with God (which Elijah is about to have in verse 10) and the Exodus generation. Together they recall an important lesson from those days: God will provide. God will sustain. God gave the wilderness generation manna in the desert, ‘our daily bread,’ which could not be stored yet would appear fresh every day. God provided exactly what they needed in the barrenness and desolation of those days. Not more or less. Not early or late. God provided Elijah with water and bread, manna, for his journey, and he was nourished. God also provided ‘socially,’ so to speak, by correcting Elijah: he is not alone. There are 6000 in Israel who have not worshiped Ba’al.

Tell me if any of this feels familiar. Elijah felt isolated and lonely. The coming 40 days seemed unbearable. Death threatens the near future. Everything that his country should be was falling apart before his eyes. He resented the inept leadership running his people into the ground. He felt not just physical need but also social need. The parallels to today are clear.

The extreme circumstances that drove Elijah into solitude in the desert caused him to feel these things. But behind those circumstances remained the challenge to trust God. Elijah failed this challenge, calling out “better to die than to live. O Lord, take away my life.” Trusting God was easy when God destroyed the enemy in an outrageous battle and then Elijah got to slaughter all the enemy priests in triumph. That was an easy time to trust God. When Elijah was exiled from his homeland and running for his life, stumbling through the desert, starving, a day out from seeing another soul? That’s hard. Those are times that try a man’s soul.

If you thought you trusted God when everything went well, but fail to trust him now that things look bad, you may be surprised to realize that you have never trusted God at all. You enjoyed the material and social comfort provided by God, and called that enjoyment “trust.”

The recycling of old texts and themes in 1 Kings 19 has a double effect: it brings the main ideas of those older texts into the mix of ideas in the new text, and more generally it causes the reader to remember. Look what God has done in the past. His faithfulness lasts through all generations. See his provision in yesteryear and know that he will provide again. Deuteronomy 8 makes the point, on which we will close:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

10 Movies on Netflix for your Quarantine

Hello my friends. Social distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, which for most people means lots of Netflix. Here are 10 good movies on Netflix — I have checked, they are all available in the US for at least the month of March — to enjoy while apart from friends.

(Or with friends, thru the Netflix Party app on Chrome).

Note that besides Spider-Verse and The Two Popes, none of these are appropriate for family viewing.

Marriage Story

Length: 2 hours 17 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 93
Description: An incisive and compassionate portrait of a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

Burning

Length: 2 hours 38 minutes
Language: Korean
Metacritic: 90
Description: The difficult life of Jongsu (Ah-in Yoo), a frustrated introvert, is complicated by the appearance of two people into his orbit: first, Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), a spirited woman who offers romantic possibility, and then, Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy and sophisticated young man she returns with from a trip. When Jongsu learns of Ben’s mysterious hobby and Haemi suddenly disappears, his confusion and obsessions begin to mount, culminating in a stunning finale.

We the Animals

Length: 1 hour 34 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 83
Description: Us three. Us brothers. Us kings, inseparable. Three boys tear through their childhood, in the midst of their young parents’ volatile love that makes and unmakes the family many times over. While Manny and Joel grow into versions of their loving and unpredictable father, Ma seeks to shelter her youngest, Jonah, in the cocoon of home. More sensitive and conscious than his older siblings, Jonah increasingly embraces an imagined world all his own.

Moonlight

Length: 1 hour 51 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 99 (!)
Description: Moonlight is the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality.

There Will Be Blood

Length: 2 hours 38 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 93
Description: When Daniel Plainview gets a mysterious tip-off that there’s a little town out West where an ocean of oil is oozing out of the ground, he heads there with his son, H.W., to take their chances in dust-worn Little Boston. In this hardscrabble town, where the main excitement centers around the Holy Roller church of charismatic preacher Eli Sunday, Plainview and H.W. make their lucky strike. But even as the well raises all of their fortunes, nothing will remain the same as conflicts escalate and every human value—love, hope, community, belief, ambition, and even the bond between father and son—is imperiled by corruption, deception, and the flow of oil.

Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse

Length: 1 hour 57 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 87
Description: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduces Brooklyn teen Miles Morales, and the limitless possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one can wear the mask.

The Irishman

Length: 3 hours 29 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 94
Description: The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hustler and hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th Century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics. 

The Two Popes

Length: 2 hours 5 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 75
Description: Behind Vatican walls, the traditionalist Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the reformist future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Candyman (1992)

Length: 1 hour 39 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 61
Description: The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.

*This isn’t a great movie, but Jordan Peele has a remake coming out this summer, so watch the original before seeing that.

Good Time

Length: 1 hour 41 minutes
Language: English
Metacritic: 80
Description: After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city’s underworld in an increasingly desperate—and dangerous—attempt to get his brother out of jail. Over the course of one adrenalized night, Constantine finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance.

Onward!

The fight against corruption continues!

Trump commutes the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois governor serving 14 years in prison for selling a US Senate seat and for extorting a Children’s Hospital to give money to his campaign.

With this pardon, Trump’s unprecedented efforts to Drain the Swamp extend beyond the usually praiseworthy acts of hiring industry insiders to Cabinet positions and appointing his political donors to federal judgeships and ambassadorships. No, those earlier days pale in comparison to his new efforts to root out corruption and uphold the Rule of Law.

Trump has already extended his anti-corruption campaign to foreign counties such as Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, Israel, Azerbaijan, Panama, and Saudi Arabia. In such far-flung places, he has sought to bring down strongmen and their under-the-radar goons, along with their illegal, retaliatory schemes. Thankfully, our strong man Trump has an eminently qualified team consisting of Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman, and the like, who have all acted totally above-the-radar, and have absolutely not engaged in any illegal, retaliatory schemes.

Bribery is wrong, we all agree, which is why it is so good that Trump not only pardoned Blagojevich but also — in consistency purer than the Washington Establishment’s brazen hypocrites would dare try to match — tried to eliminate post-Watergate laws banning US companies from committing bribery across the world. We could not ask for a better champion in the war against corruption.

Moral of the story: being a contestant on The Apprentice is a smart career move after all.

How to Twitter Better

Social media platforms can be better or worse depending on how we use them. Facebook doesn’t “cause” jealousy, but jealous people will definitely use Facebook in a way that inflames their jealousy. Instagram doesn’t “cause” anxiety, but people with anxiety use Instagram in a way that makes anxiety worse. The platforms themselves matter — I think Reddit is best for content seeking, Twitter for network building, Instagram for IRL friends, etc. — but far more important than their design is the way you can mod the system to your advantage. Here are some ways I have learned to Twitter better.

Clean the algorithm

Twitter’s algorithm puts weird things in your feed, like tweets from accounts that are followed by accounts you follow. Go to this page, and copy and paste each term into your Mute list. It cuts out the gunk.

Unfollow if annoyed twice

If you get bad vibes more than once from the same account, unfollow them. Nobody is owed your attention. Be loose with unfollowing. Careless.

Ditch “Influencers,” follow real humans

Retweet memes

And follow small meme producers instead of the bigger pages that aggregate memes from others.

Follow journalists, not their publications

When you find a well-written opinion piece or well-researched article, go follow the journalist. I don’t bother with the NYT or WaPo main accounts. Journalists promote their own articles anyways. Plus its more fun to get to know them as thinkers with whole perspectives rather than just someone who wrote that one article.

Follow interest Lists

If you find a semi-popular account, chances are, someone has put them in a list. Go to twitter.com/ [their @ ] /lists/memberships and you will find other accounts like them. For example if you like Liz Bruenig (of NYT) as much as I do, you would go to https://twitter.com/ebruenig/lists/memberships and find smaller but just as good accounts.

Follow at least 2000 accounts

Good rule of thumb, or you will see the same people’s posts too often.

Find best of the out-group

You want to follow members outside your in-group to avoid the echo-chamber effect. But you don’t want to follow out-group plebs who just retweet others and provide no insight of their own. The goal is to find high quality out-group posters. This is very difficult but rewarding.

Limit one hour a day

Unrealistic but a good goal.

Block Bad Actors

Bad Actors are people who are only in it “to win” the game, have no commitment to changing their minds if wrong, or just troll others and call people names. I recently blocked Rick Wilson (a GOP strategist who is very Never-Trump) when he called someone a pukeface or something. The very next day he was on TV mocking southerners as idiots, to considerable backlash, so I felt vindicated in blocking him. If you are a Christian, I highly recommend blocking Pulpit & Pen, a site notorious for its inaccurate hitpieces designed to get rage clicks. When you’ve blocked them, you can’t give them attention, and they lose power.

Mute key terms from Bad Actors

Sometimes the followers of Bad Actors will have insider terms to signal their in-group membership. A while ago I decided to mute “1689” because it had become one of these signals. I still see their other tweets. But any discussion from them about themselves or from others about them which uses the signal 1689 gets hidden from my feed.

Don’t Brigade, don’t get Brigaded

Brigading is when an influential account sics their followers on a smaller account to hound them. Don’t do this to people. If you see yourself quote-tweeted in this way, just block their account and unblock it the next day.

Follow your retweeters

If you attract people who retweet you often, follow them back. They probably retweet other things you’d like. And they are worth getting to know.

Start threads with Thread Starter

Never start a thread with the first point you want to make. Always say something like “Why do conservative Protestants hate gay people? A Thread:” and then in the second tweet make the first point. If you don’t do this, people won’t read the thread. I learned this last semester when a thread I posted went viral… but 98% of the views were on the first tweet only. Most people missed the whole thing. If you start with a Thread Starter, more people will read beyond the first point.

Soft block

Someone going full reply-guy and annoying you with their constant commentary on your tweets? Most often this happens to me when someone isn’t obeying the 2000+ following rule, so I am one of the 100 accounts they follow, half of which are inactive. It is their fault. But one way to ward off the reply-guys is to Soft Block: block them, then unblock them, then mute them. This causes their account to unfollow you. Then can always refollow, but hopefully they will forget for a while. When they come back, you’ve muted them.

Revoke old apps

I revoked old apps that still had access to my account from TWO THOUSAND AND TWELVE. Go to Settings, then Account, then Apps and Settings and click revoke access on each one you do not use. Keeping old apps is a security risk.

Delete all old tweets

Make sure to save your data archive first, since there really is no way to get deleted content back. You should delete your old tweets. You should. This is becoming more imperative over time, not less. Unfortunately it is not very easy to do this for free if you have more than 3200 tweets. So I used Tweet Eraser for $7.

Basic text criticism example

You’ve heard it said that “there are thousands of textual variants in the Bible. How can we know what the original text said?” But I say to you, “most of the variants are trivial, but anyway, use a good apparatus and follow the basic rules.”

What are the basic rules? How do we figure out which manuscripts of the Bible are changed by copyists and which manuscripts are the original? Before giving these rules, let’s look at a random example. And by random, I mean there are 789 pages in my Greek New Testament and I am going to use a random number generator to pick a page 1-789, then point at at the page with my finger.

p654, which is Titus 3:5-15. Let’s look at verse 7.

“so that being justified by His grace we would be ⸢made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Notice the little ⸢ mark in front of the word “made.” There is a variant on this word. If you look down at the NA28 critical apparatus, it says this:

So here’s the problem: one set of manuscripts use γενωμεθα and the other uses γενηθωμεν. (Because the editors think the second one is better, they put it above in the body text, and here they just say txt). What’s the difference? They are both Aorist tense (past tense), both subjunctive mood (“would”), both 1st person plural (“we”). The only difference between these words is that γενωμεθα is in the Middle voice and γενηθωμεν is in the Passive voice. Since we have no Middle voice in English, there is literally no difference in our Bibles based on this variant.

That goes a long way to showing how trivial most of the variants are. And there are thousands more not listed by NA28 because they are deemed too trivial. The ones in the apparatus are the interesting ones, the ones that split the manuscripts, but even then, most are pedantic and do not change the passage’s interpretation.

But for sake of this example, I will explain the rules of how to decide based on the notes in the apparatus. Pretend like it makes a difference. Here is the apparatus code, deciphered:

γενωμεθα
א [two] is a correction of Sinaiticus from the 7th century.
D [two] is a correction of Claromontanus from the 9th century.
K Mosquensis from the 9th century.
L Angelicus from the 9th century.
Ψ Athous Lavrensis from the 9th or 10th century.
365. a manuscript from the 12th century. (Marked with an * because it is an especially reliable manuscript).
1241. a manuscript from the 12th century.
1505. a manuscript from the 12th century. (also marked with an *).
M. The entire rest of the manuscripts not listed.

γενηθωμεν
א* [original] is the pre-corrected version of Sinaiticus, 4th century.
A is Alexandrinus from the 5th century.
C is Ephraemi Rescriptus from the 5th century.
D* is the pre-corrected version of Claromontanus, 6th century.
F is Augensis from the 9th century.
G is Boernerianus from the 9th century.
P is Porphyrianus from the 9th century.
33. a manuscript from the 9th century.
81. a manuscript from from 1044 (I wonder how they know this date)
104. a manuscript from 1087 (or this date) (Marked with an * because it is an especially reliable manuscript).
630. a manuscript from the 12th or 13th century. (also with an *).
1739. a manuscript from the 10th century.
1881. a manuscript from the 9th or 10th century. (with a *).

The first way to find the original is to use the dates of these manuscripts to see which is earlier. Since we have no manuscripts for the first spelling until the 600s, but four significant manuscripts from the years 300-500 for the second spelling, it would seem like the second spelling has stronger external evidence. External evidence is evidence from “outside” the text, i.e., from the manuscripts. So even though M, the rest of all manuscripts we have, agree with the first spelling, we go with the second. Manuscripts have to be weighed, not counted.

Internal evidence comes next. These are arguments from within the text. For example, scribes are more likely to add than to subtract from a manuscript. So if one is longer than the other, the short reading is preferable. Also, scribes have a tendency to skip words if two words end in the same letter. If they are looking from their left papyrus (the original) to the right papyrus (their project) and in the process they see του ενρου αβρου σμαλου τιπλου ασωμου μνενομου you can bet they will see the -ου endings and get mixed up in their spot on the page. Also sometimes scribes skip entire lines if two lines happen to start with the same letter. More importantly, scribes are more likely to add later doctrines into earlier texts than to delete proof-texts for their favorite doctrines (this is the story of 1 John 5:7). Finally, if one reading is more difficult than another, keep the difficult one. Scribes tend to simplify difficulties, not create new problems in the text. In this verse, I see no internal evidence to decide either way.

So, with moot internal evidence and strong external evidence for γενηθωμεν, we go with that. And so did the NA28, and so do modern English Bibles.

This example should show that the tons and tons of textual variants do not make it harder to know what the Bible originally said. The reverse: because there are so many, it is easier to recover the original text.

My Oscar Picks

Tonight, the awards season comes to its annual close with the 92nd Oscars. Good news this year! Even if the worst Best Picture nominee wins tonight’s award, it will still be better than Green Book!

We all know that award ceremonies do not pick the best films. A Hidden Life was seen by only a handful of viewers across the country because Fox Searchlight / Disney bombed its distribution. It makes sense it wouldn’t have any nominations, even though it was my decisive pick of 2019. The Farewell fared well at last night’s Indie Spirits awards but was somehow snubbed outright from the Oscars. Why and how did the faith-based film Breakthrough get nominated for Best Song for… a very mediocre song? Over Wild Rose? Can someone explain why Joker received 11 nominations? Cynthia Erivo of Harriet is the only actor of color nominated, which is an undue weight for any single performance. This will earn it more votes than it should, but also take away votes because others want to compensate for those they predict will give it sympathy votes. (If diversity were normalized, it wouldn’t need to be politicized.) These odd games are what one writer last year called “the inscrutable politics of the Academy.” Other voters are saying the same about Parasite: why give it Best Picture if it is going to win Best International Film? Answer: because it is the best picture.

(And don’t get me started about Uncut Gems, better than 8 of the 9 Best Picture nominees, and Sandler’s lead performance, better than 4 of the 5 nominees. The Sandman threatened to make a movie “so bad on purpose” if he was snubbed, and the Academy voters called his bluff. He wasn’t bluffing.)

It takes a few years for the dust to settle and the critical consensus to solidify around the year’s best films. Everyone has a stake in the game, and our personal allegiances to certain actors and directors skew our takes. Not to mention the difficulty of seeing everything the year it comes out. Not to mention that “best” is so wide-open as a category that it stops meaning anything at all. We lose sight of what films are for: not just excellence in an abstract sense but excellence at some specific goal or in service of a particular advance in filmmaking. Monos was the best war movie of the year, A Hidden Life the best hagiography, Climax the best experimental film, Midsommar the best horror, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the best role-model film to show to children. Without some further purpose in mind, labels like “best” picture seem apt to go to watery, room temperature oatmeal movies like Green Book. Or as could happen tonight, Ford v Ferrari. So, the work of film critique doesn’t reduce to the Oscars, or even resemble it.

But hey, whatever, here are my picks (bold) and my predictions (~~~).

Best Picture

“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women” (2)
“Marriage Story” (3)
“1917” ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“Parasite” (1)

Lead Actor

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” ~~~
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Lead Actress

Honestly I have only seen three of these (Judy, Marriage Story, Little Women), and none stood out to me as better than the others, so I don’t know what to pick.

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy” ~~~

Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ~~~

Supporting Actress

Again, only saw three of these, but Laura Dern as the manipulative lawyer Nora is my top performance of the year, and I doubt see Richard Jewell or Bombshell would change that.

Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story” ~~~
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

Director

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite” ~~~

Animated Feature

Hahaha I saw zero of these.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” Dean DeBlois
“I Lost My Body,” Jeremy Clapin
“Klaus,” Sergio Pablos
“Missing Link,” Chris Butler
“Toy Story 4,”  Josh Cooley ~~~

Animated Short

“Dcera,” Daria Kashcheeva
“Hair Love,” Matthew A. Cherry
“Kitbull,” Rosana Sullivan ~~~
“Memorable,” Bruno Collet
“Sister,” Siqi Song

Adapted Screenplay

“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi ~~~
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten

Original Screenplay

“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino ~~~
“Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han

Cinematography

“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson

Best Documentary Feature

Only saw Honeyland, and only saw half of that before turning it off.

“American Factory,” Julia Rieichert, Steven Bognar
“The Cave,” Feras Fayyad
“The Edge of Democracy,” Petra Costa
“For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov

Best Documentary Short Subject

Only saw In the Absence (no theaters around me screened the ShortsTV program for docs), so can’t say.

“In the Absence,” Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” Carol Dysinger
“Life Overtakes Me,” Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas
“St. Louis Superman,” Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan
“Walk Run Cha-Cha,” Laura Nix

Best Live Action Short Film

“Brotherhood,” Meryam Joobeur
“Nefta Football Club,” Yves Piat
“The Neighbors’ Window,” Marshall Curry
“Saria,” Bryan Buckley ~~~
“A Sister,” Delphine Girard

Best International Feature Film

“Corpus Christi,” Jan Komasa
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
“Les Miserables,” Ladj Ly
“Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodovar
“Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho ~~~

Film Editing

“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker ~~~
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang

Sound Editing

“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker,” Matthew Wood, David Acord

Sound Mixing

“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“1917” ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Production Design

“The Irishman,” Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
“Jojo Rabbit,” Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova
“1917,” Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
“Parasite,” Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee

Original Score

“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir ~~~
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman” ~~~
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen 2”
“Stand Up,” “Harriet”

Makeup and Hair

Only saw three, so no clue who will win, but Rene Zellweger’s total transformation into Judy Garland was really the only good part of that movie, so I get why that is the front-runner.

“Bombshell”
“Joker”
“Judy” ~~~
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
“1917”

Costume Design

”The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran ~~~
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips

Visual Effects

“Avengers Endgame”
“The Irishman”
“1917” ~~~
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

My Score

There are 24 awards. I predicted 22 awards and got 13 correct. Of my 19 personal picks, 7 won and for that I am happy. Parasite, in particular, got the glam it deserved.

Myth, legend, dust

I have tried to hold back and even now will keep holding back. Half of what demands to be said is too hard to say well, for the emotions but no less for the sake of precision. I’m writing about the secret motivations of others, and about my own interior life, and about these big abstract entities called “evangelicalism” and “homophobia.” The margin of error is wider than the target. But something needs to be written so that this time can be known after my memory fades. Put shortly: my life has bled fire and I don’t recognize the person I was a year ago.

Winter and Spring

January, February, and March were spent working up the nerve to come out publicly. I wrote an essay and edited it for months. In conversation after conversation I came out early to those who deserved to know. These months held a sense of rising action, my life animated by plot, suspense. But I was unprepared for the mix of reactions I would receive. I had found an article saying everything would go great. That, along with many conversations with (straight) professors and pastors left me clueless about what would come.

My former employer denied me a job because I came out, and then offered me another, lesser job on specious conditions that amounted to workplace harassment on the basis of sexual orientation. (Of course, I turned that down, as it was not a legitimate offer at all). It was unfair and it burned. I spent hours of those days screaming in my room. I would rant what I wish I had said. Whenever my mind went quiet, the rage would return. One time I remembered it while alone in the car. I beat the steering wheel until my right hand bruised. This lasted for months. At the same time, I had to bottle these emotions because of the reactions I kept getting from others across my Christian life. I couldn’t handle everything at once.

April and May. The anger I felt about losing my job continued. A roommate didn’t talk to me for 3 weeks after coming out. Some people at church said things. [Redacted so that I don’t get another angry message from them for talking about them online]. Another person said another thing, but worse. Most people said exactly nothing ever. I was failing Hebrew, the hardest class I had ever taken. I would open Quizlet to study vocab and start to shake, my blood pressure surging. I would cry myself to sleep the nights before that class. The stress of grad school (for which my undergrad was no help) grew along with questions about whether any church would ever take me as a pastor. If not, why bother with Hebrew? I scraped rock bottom between this class and the rejection I felt from work and alienation from church and school…

Meanwhile, something worse happened. A camper from my cabin in 2016, 17, and 18, who I loved deeply, committed suicide. I have never grieved someone’s death so hard. I felt survivor’s guilt. He had looked up to me. Could I have done more? Said something? My last words to him were that I wouldn’t see him that summer because I wasn’t on staff anymore. His loss gnawed at me, and I became empty and hopeless. I listened to sad songs on repeat and thought about death, immobile on the Lower Waybright couch for hours. I wrote him letters and tore them up, because none worked. While this wound was still raw, every additional perceived slight related to my sexuality was 10x harder. The worst timed example was the day before his visitation, when I was brought into a trick meeting about sexuality [redacted to avoid angry emails etc]. It broke my trust in a few key people.

Summer and Fall

The school year ended, and I lived as a hermit on campus for the summer. Alone, isolated, desolate. Any church conflict froze because we went on summer schedule. My feelings of ostracization and exclusion cemented. But there was a single beacon of hope: the Revoice Conference. Finally, a place where I felt no need to defend or justify myself. Or even explain myself. They already got it. Everything was very warm, very gay, very celibate. I have never felt more at home. But that week ended, and my isolation on campus resumed. I would go half-weeks without seeing another person.

A professor at school recruited me into a high school leadership program for two weeks. I instantly said yes — people! After I decided to join and only logistics remained, I was told to be closeted for the two weeks. Delete social media posts, etc. This was hard for me, but worse, it impacted someone else more than myself. The program slowly became a living hell that I regretted joining. Then, the summer continued. The job that rejected me took me for one week, no conditions, because they were short staffed. This was incredible (and hypocritical). It became a week of joy, healing, and growth. It also compounded my anger. I have a vivid memory of scream-weeping on the floor when I found out that an LGBT student had decided to follow Jesus because of a conversation we had. Why was I there for 6 days instead of 10 weeks? The bitter truth: the gospel does not matter. Keeping the status quo does.

It became impossible to separate the voices. One person’s stray remark over lunch blended into another’s haphazard Facebook screed. The friend “just trying to wrap his mind around the whole thing” and the stranger arguing that gay people are inherently pedophilic were not the same person, but they might as well have been. Those who gave me an awkward cold shoulder for months, those who talked to me with false enthusiasm to make sure I felt “welcomed,” and those who accused me of living in sin behind my back but would never confront me — all different people, all one person. The friend so behind on this topic that his only analysis was that “some people are just behind on this topic.” Everyone became one voice, each guilty of what all the others had said and done.

August. New semester. I got an email that changed everything. [Redacted to avoid angry responses]. My whiplash reaction was a pathetic attempt to hold it together, but everything was falling apart regardless. [Redacted an entire paragraph]. After that experience, it became clear that things needed to change. October. I left my church for good, trying to find a place that would do more than tolerate my existence as a celibate gay man. [Redacted]. I eventually found one. Things have inched towards improving since then. I made it through the fall and early winter. There were episodes of week-long blues, laying around for days doing nothing, unable to make myself try. Gazing out my window, lifeless, watching dry leaves fall, also lifeless. I kept up counseling and have tried to process what has happened, especially [redacted] and the loss from that. The semester ended and I somehow passed all my classes.

In short. I took a huge risk, unaware it was a risk at all, and it worked against me. Then, the various aspects of my life each went up in flames. Other unrelated bad things that happened (Hebrew issues and my camper dying) were accelerants for the fire. The resulting blaze killed the me I used to know. My experience of God, my theology, my most important relationships, my career direction, even my personality have been caused to change. In November and December I have been rebuilding something of myself from the bare foundations: the Resurrection of Jesus, the people who supported me, and my testimony. I don’t have much else.

Memory

I turned 22 but aged to 30 at least. Everything looks different now. The world is bigger, more interconnected, more threatening, and more fragile but more worth saving. I overcame my irony poisoning and became more earnest, sincere, and direct. I am less sarcastic, because less things seem funny. I am softer and quieter. My cynicism is deeper. I act like I have a constant headache. When things got really hard, I didn’t have the capacity to care about my skincare routine or exercising or cleaning my dorm. I let myself go in these and other ways. I didn’t and don’t care. It became hard to do my school work even though it felt like it mattered for the first time. Anything unnecessary about my exegetical method melted. What remained was concentrated and serious. Unflinching. My way of interacting with others changed. Little pet peeves became irrelevant. Tap your pencil against the table, leave your coffee grounds in the sink, fake-laugh at my jokes, I don’t care. Just don’t tell me that my faith requires me to “chemically castrate” myself, and we’re good.

I have lost hope that evangelicalism can be a welcoming or even hospitable place for gay people. Burn it to the ground and start over. I don’t know whether I will apply for pastoral jobs when I graduate, but if so, it will not be in the kind of churches I have always called home. If no pastoral routes work, I could continue to nerd away at a PhD program. I hate that the only reason I would do a doctorate would be because virulent homophobia has killed my other options, where my real passions lie (i.e., student ministry). Also unfortunately, my grades have been bad enough this year that I would need to do a successful ThM first. I want to avoid this path if at all possible.

Things will get better. Or who knows, maybe 2019 was tame compared to what 2020 holds. I am not a prophet. But I know that this year has been bitter, and I shouldn’t sweeten it with the conclusion that I have become a better person for enduring it. No. I would be a more faithful follower of Jesus today if it wasn’t for all this. I wouldn’t be filled with rage. I wouldn’t have half-seriously considered leaving Christianity altogether. I wouldn’t have repeatedly lost my will to live. Sure, I gain “having a great testimony,” but everybody just wants the bragging rights that comes with that, not the traumatic experience itself. Everything has hurt. Everything has died. Where did I go? The Ross who lived before will live on only as memory:

They are gone now. Fled, banished in death or exile, lost, undone. Over the land sun and wind still move to burn and sway the trees, the grasses. No avatar, no scion, no vestige of that people remains. On the lips of the strange race that now dwells there their names are myth, legend, dust.

Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper