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Jesus had to be one with us.

diary of a country priest image

We human people are so fallen, and we’ve been so fallen for so long, that we actually think that we are the measure of what it means to be human. It’s striking. We say things like “to err is human.” And we unwittingly then begin to define humanity in terms of that fallenness, in terms of its brokenness, in terms of its incompleteness. But if you define humanity like that, what do you do with Jesus? What do you do with Jesus who takes upon himself our humanity, yet, as the Bible tells us, is without sin, who does not err?

What we see in Jesus is true humanity. What we see in his incarnation, his earthly life and ministry, is what humanity was meant to be, what Adam was created to be but ruined in his sin and his fall. So, as Romans 5 teaches, the first man Adam sins, and through his sin death enters the world. But here comes a second Adam, a true Adam, Christ, who is truly man. What Christ does in his humanity is nothing short of remarkable. In his humanity, he offers to God everything that we owe God. In his humanity, in his perfect obedience to God’s commands, he offers to God the obedience that we refuse to give him (and could not give him) because of our fallen, sinful nature.

It’s absolutely essential that what we see in Christ is perfect righteousness, because he’s supplying that righteousness on our behalf. All the righteousness we will ever need is in the Son of God who took upon himself our flesh, our likeness, our human nature. Not only does he positively supply the righteousness, but on the cross, our Savior dies and pays the penalty that humanity owed. He dies in our place. We owe God not only righteousness, but now because we didn’t supply that righteousness, we also owe God our lives, our death, our blood. Christ takes our place, and he supplies to God the sacrifice on our behalf that satisfies God’s demands for righteousness and his righteous determination to punish sin.

And so in order to be for us a perfect High Priest, in order to be for us a perfect offering, Jesus had to be one with us. He had to take upon himself our nature and in that nature demonstrate what humanity is, what is was meant to be — righteous before God, obedient to God, worshiping God in all things, loving him fully. And he also demonstrates what humanity owes when he pays the penalty on Calvary’s cross for our sin. And so to be that High Priest, a perfect High Priest, who also now sympathizes with us, knows our suffering, knows our failures, knows our troubles, and knows them intimately because he experienced them in our flesh, he can look to humanity with sympathy and represent humanity to God with perfection.

And so it was necessary that he be made like us in every way, but without sin.

Thabiti Anyabwile, from question 22 of the New City Catechism Devotional.

Photo of Claude Laydu from Diary of a Country Priest (1951), the ultimate symbol of humanity.

I’m pro-life. “Unplanned” is not worth seeing.

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Put aside production quality failures and Unplanned still does not work. Forget issues with lighting, camera angles, editing, pacing, colorization, any of it. Disregard whatever expectations you have of cinematography — because, let’s be honest, directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman of God’s Not Dead I & II fame are not trying to make a beautiful or sophisticated film. Meet Unplanned where it is at, which is not a film but a message-movie. Let’s focus only on the message.

I’m going to be generous here.

The argument against abortion in Unplanned is threefold. First, abortion looks gross. Visually you cannot watch it happen. To watch an abortion is to watch something bloody, gory, something alien to our sanitized suburban lifestyles. When you see an abortion on-screen you go, “Eww, gross.” It evokes a negative mind-body reaction. Second, the administration at Planned Parenthood is bad. Planned Parenthood makes profit-maximizing decisions and does not treat their employees well. They compare fetuses to french fries and soda, they speak in strict subject-predicate syntax and never use the passive voice, and they arbitrarily reprimand their employees (and later SLAPP sue them). Third, some people who stand at the Fence on Saturdays are good people who want to support women and provide them other options than having an abortion. Other people at the Fence are mean, but these certain ones treat women with respect and genuine kindness.

That’s all.

Grossness, Meanness, Kindness. These reasons can motivate any given person to become pro-life. I’m not denying that. And they come from Abby Johnson’s personal memoir. I see no real reason to doubt that these three reasons were significant in her conversion to the pro-life cause. (Though other aspects of the narrative are disputed). But they are unconvincing beyond sheer emotional appeal. Unfortunately that was not the case for the pro-choice arguments. As Abby becomes a Planned Parenthood advocate the audience is treated to many of the arguments that convinced her: (1) Women should have the right to choose, (2) Many women are in vulnerable living situations and can’t justify having a child, (3) Many teenagers are too young to responsibly raise children. These arguments can be easily diffused. Watch this: (1) Yes, but choices must be made in the moral-legislative context of democracy, so ultimately, we all must choose what we want our society to look like, whether pro-choice or pro-life. (2) Yes, which is why adoption matters. (3) Yes, which is why adoption matters.

I understand that the arguments are more complicated than this. But these basic argument-objection conversations were 100% absent from Unplanned. The movie didn’t go over any of them, at all. The only ones it attempted to address were that the fetus is a baby and that abortions are medically unsafe. (Neither of these are communicated fully in language, but they do get visually gruesome scenes). However, both of these objections are incorrect given the movie’s own reasoning. The movie depicts a 13 week fetus struggling against an abortion — this is Abby’s big conversion moment — but according to the oft-cited report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the fetus cannot feel pain until 27 weeks, the third trimester, at which point most States ban abortion. The other point, that abortions are medically unsafe, was depicted with a young woman almost dying from a perforated uterus. However, medical complications from abortion are exceedingly rare. Honestly, let’s admit it, abortion isn’t an unsafe operation (for the woman!). Medical safety isn’t why we should reject it. We should reject abortion on other moral grounds — and anyways, if the whole argument is medical safety, then when medical science advances and abortion becomes less dangerous (for the woman!) than it already is, the argument gets even weaker.

So, Unplanned left me with a powerful emotional journey as Abby converted from the pro-choice to pro-life cause. That is an important testimony and a sign of God’s grace in her life, personally, and the power of God to transform anyone, whatever they are “complicit in,” as the movie interestingly remarks. Not “guilty for,” but “complicit in.” This is good language for discussing sin that we did not ourselves commit

Unfortunately, Unplanned failed to say really anything else meaningful about abortion.

Notice that I have avoided mentioning the technical, formal failures in this movie. There are so many. But in order to not look like a film snob who missed the directors’ point, I’ve withheld my specific critiques. And even now I won’t say them. Just watch the movie yourself, you will immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY spot them.

The production failure upset me, though, because abortion is a really serious topic. I believe that abortion is killing and that in the vast majority of cases such killing crosses a moral threshold into murder, so far past that moral threshold that it ought to be outright banned in nearly all contexts. We need a ban for the good of society at large and because abortion will have no place on the Mountain of God. This is eschatology in action, that one day all of humanity “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” The scalpels, clamps and suction devices used in abortion will one day find a new use in the New Jerusalem, a use that builds rather than destroys life.

So when this movie does such an awful job, cinematically, it upset me. Poor filmmaking makes a mockery of its subject. The directors of Unplanned should have known better, tried harder, and done more with their (honestly good-sized) budget ($6m). Abortion deserves a serious film.

I left the theater not more passionate about my pro-life convictions, but less.

Therefore I will hope in him.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.

“I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
You came near when I called on you;
you said, ‘Do not fear!’

“You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.”

Lamentations 3:16-24; 31-33; 55-58

The Abundant Links

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that you may have links, and have them abundantly,” Jesus said (John 10:10). Ah yes, abundant links, and with them, abundant click traffic for my website which generates no revenue whatsoever. This is the life, I’m telling you. Anyways, here are some finds from the past two weeks.

• It was only a matter of time until someone pointed out that the Bieber Pastors are wearing really expensive shoes. @preachersnsneakers is an Instagram account posting side-by-sides of celebrity megachurch leaders (Chad Veach, Judah Smith, Steven Furtick, John Grey, etc.) and the actual retail value of their designer clothes. Here are three reply takes of various quality: from okay, to great, to annoying.

• Countering the narrative that high income taxes drive high-tax payers out of the state, we have Poor Left, Rich Thrived When Illinois Hiked Flat Tax. Main takeaway should be that of course it isn’t as simple as the narrative would have it: “Nuance, however, is not the stuff of political narratives, which in the case of Illinois’ anemic population numbers often draw on anecdotes and cherry-picked data to attempt a cause-and-effect link to tax rates.”

The Brown One, The Honey Eater, The Shaggy Coat, The Destroyer:

The Germanic speaking peoples, who inhabited and hunted in northern climes and were presumably in frequent contact with the bear, did not use its common name. Instead, they used a circumlocution: “the brown one”, and this is reflected in the modern word for bear in all the Germanic languages. Linguists hypothesize that in old common Germanic, the true name of the bear was under a taboo — not to be spoken directly. The exact details of the taboo are not known. Did it apply to hunters who were hunting the bear and did not want to warn it? Or to hunters hunting other animals and did not wanting to rile up the bear and have it steal their prey? Or did it apply to anyone who did not want to summon the bear by its name and perhaps become its prey? Whatever the details, the taboo worked so well that no trace of the original *rkto- word remains in Germanic languages, except as borrowed historically in learned words from Greek or Latin.

• Incoming College Students Are Re-creating Facebook on Instagram.

Alexis Queen, who runs Harvard’s class account, adding that the school’s official Facebook groups are ghost towns. “The most popular post in our admission group is just, ‘Comment your Instagram handle,’” she said. “Facebook is just an easy way to find people on Instagram.”

• My friend and fellow seminarian Yangkwon Jeong also happens to be a world-class photographer. Here is one of his recent works, in three parts:

Understanding the Light

Understanding the light

Knowing the Light

Knowing the light

Walk in the Light

Walk in the light

Thanks Kwon for sharing these!

• In my last post I recommended the sermons by Ligon Duncan, Trip Lee, and David Platt. Listen to them. Have your Bible open, especially for Ligon’s.

• The Gospel of Mark traces a persistent theme: the Messianic Secret. Jesus on several occasions tells people to be silent about his identity once they’ve figured it out. The demons see him and start screaming about his divinity but Jesus makes them be quiet. Jesus speaks in parables so that nobody understands him. Jesus elicits a confession of his Messianic identity from Peter and then immediately silences him. The reason? Large crowds would gather not to hear Jesus’s preaching but to be healed or to somehow become prosperous, which infuriated Jesus to no end. Now, in 2019, another man shares the same fate. Behold, from Washington Post, The Internet was obsessed with this philosophy-quoting homeless man in China. Now he’s fled the fame.

• King’s Kaleidoscope released their long-anticipated new album ZealFull review coming soon.

Analysis from Ezra Klein of Pete Buttigieg (boot-edge-edge). He raises all the right questions to sort the Democratic field:

The words we use to describe the ideologies of presidential candidates are imperfect, but at least they exist. There are liberals, neoliberals, democratic socialists, leftists, conservatives, neoconservatives, centrists, paleoconservatives, libertarians, and New Democrats, to name just a few. The boundaries among these groups can be fuzzy, but overall, it’s a pretty flexible vocabulary for describing what this or that politician believes.

There’s no similarly accepted shorthand for the difference between candidates like Warren and Buttigieg and Inslee, who envision sweeping reforms to the way laws are made, and people like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who emphasize that their relationships with Republicans better equip them to maximize change in the system we have. Nor are their categories clearly describing the approaches the candidates intend to take toward electing allies or mobilizing public opinion, or much discussion of whether they’d prioritize expanding the earned income tax credit over curbing money in politics….

We are better at discussing what candidates want to do than how they will do it. That hole in our political vocabulary matters, as it makes it hard to debate the core question of any political campaign: How will the candidates actually make real people’s lives better?

(I asked my friend David his thoughts on Buttigieg and he replied, “Is that a type of topsoil?” Long way to go on name recognition.)

• Last, enjoy this new playlist: moode.

8 take-aways from #TGC19

Earlier this week my friend Matt and I went to The Gospel Coalition’s national conference in Indianapolis. This was our second trip and we both thought it was a great experience. Here are my reflections on the conference, on TGC, on some of the talks and breakouts and books, and the themes in our conversations that arose from it all.

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What my hair is doing I do not know.

• Three of the sermons are worth watching once TGC posts them online. Ligon Duncan, Trip Lee and David Platt had excellent biblical-theological exposition and preached with intensity from the heart. Avoid the John Piper sermon. The other messages fell somewhere between.

• The Gospel Coalition has shifted its target audience and content over the past 2 years. They focus less on nerdy, technical Bib studies topics and now write about everyday living, missional lifestyle, applied theology, cultural apologetics. This is a good shift! Coincidentally though, I have moved in the opposite direction as I have fallen deeper into the black hole of Christian academia. I have become less applied, more technical, and far more nerdy. (At some point we must have crossed paths. Maybe last Spring?) At the conference Matt and I could feel it. I love this change — now it is easier for me to share the website and conference content with others.

• The conference had a refreshing and normalized diversity. Worship, plenary addresses, announcers, breakout speakers, and the conference attendees themselves represented more backgrounds than the white evangelicalism in which I dwell. And it was so natural. I am very over the train of thought which says “why select for diversity when you could just pick the best people.” We don’t need the absolute best person to give announcements or play piano, and anyways there are tons of qualified people from different race and class backgrounds who can do just as fine a job. (It is weird that I have to talk myself out of implicit white supremacy but this is America). In other words it dawned on me that on-stage diversity should not be a goal but rather is prerequisite to doing ministry in globalized, multi-cultural 2019 America. This should not be controversial but standard.

• Jackie Hill Perry. I went to her presentation which was good. In her talk about sexuality she put a huge emphasis on the identity critique. And I agreed with it! Something that really needs to be clarified is that Revoice, SF, WH, Side B etc. also agree to a large extent with this critique but disagree that LGBTQ+ labels imply identity. I have found myself reflexively disagreeing with the identity critique (because I fall on the other side of the label debate), which is unnecessary of me. The real answer is that Revoice’s language is being misrepresented and that they have much more in common with conservatives than they are being credited for. JHP’s talk also showcased some important points about intersectionality. Many more thoughts here.

• One person I follow on Twitter makes fun of Evangelical Thought Leaders™ for being pretentious brainiacs who care more about getting the messaging right than getting the message right. Yikes, that’s me! And yikes, that was on full display at the conference. Maybe we should dial it down. And something to chew on: maybe this impulse in me stems more from my desire to be famous and publicly-smart than a desire to help people understand God, his word and his world.

• Conversely, at this conference I saw less Evangelical Celebrity Culture going on than usual. Somehow these speakers are humble enough (and not fake humble, “fumble”) to not makes themselves into a huge deal. Matt went to a breakout with Tim Keller and apparently someone asked him a question like, “Since you are such an amazing preacher, and everything about you is incredible, how did you come to be like this?” To which Keller replied “Well I don’t really know how to answer that, or want to. Can we get a question in here about Jonah?” The temptation to idolize these speakers is huge and I was feeling that temptation myself with some of them.

• On Tuesday morning I got coffee with another conference attendee who is same-sex attracted. We had a great conversation about our own stories and some of our thoughts about the current debates. More than anything I was blown away by how different our personalities are. As in, besides being celibate and Christians, we have nothing in common. Maybe this is encouraging because it means that one or both of us doesn’t fit “the stereotype.” He was also encouraging to be around, just himself. I could tell that he prays more than me and that he has more compassion than I do, two traits that are not coincidental.

• I bought eight books.
James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series,
Josh Chatrow’s Apologetics at the Cross,
Hannah Anderson’s All That is Good, and
Elliot Clark’s Evangelism as Exiles.

And then there’s the gay books.
Jackie Hill Perry’s Gay Girl, Good God,
Brad Hambrick’s Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk,
Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, and
Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved.

Honorable Mention (books I almost bought):
Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk,
Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body,
Robert Spaemann, Persons,
Trevin Wax, Eschatological Discipleship, and
Paul Gould, Cultural Apologetics.

Of me, as Ross

Ramrod straight I sat in that chair as my heart pounded away. The time came. There was a door in the corner of my eye, waiting for me to walk out, run away, do anything else with my late afternoon but this. I was tapping my fingers in some weird pattern, I don’t know what or why. A few in that small room might have been getting uncomfortable because I was making intense, sustained eye contact with each. Could they see my nerves? I haven’t said anything, but maybe my tells were obvious. Sometimes the tension gets the best of me. In this moment more than ever.

My therapy support group isn’t judgmental, so I don’t know why I panicked. In my journal that night I jotted down some ideas. Here’s the one I landed on:

But those words, those words, they carry the meaning of 20 pages compressed into three syllables: I am gay. The kind of sentence that should take 10 minutes to speak but comes out in seconds. Something so deeply buried in me doesn’t feel right to be released so fast. With a single clause the perceptions of me held by those in the room become completely out of my control — a bizarre feeling, seeing as I seem to spend all of my social energy on perception management. I lose a certain power when I become so vulnerable. The guys in the group took it well. They either said nothing or were affirming of me. Not in a theologico-sexual way. But of me, as Ross.

These guys are grace and peace to me. Coming out was the most difficult thing in my life and I’m glad to have had their support.

I’m gay. I’m homosexual. I’m a homosexual. I have homosexuality. I experience same-sex attraction. I’m same sex attracted. (That’s six ways to say something I have never said publicly before). I have been this way since hitting puberty, and in my life I have never been sexually attracted to a woman. Even once. I dated some girls along the way and had genuine emotional attraction to them, but that didn’t lead anywhere physically past friendship.

However, I have had consistent strong sexual attraction for other guys. You would think that this fact would have… tipped me off? To think, Gee, huh, maybe I’m gay? But that’s not how denial works. It took honesty and courage to come out to myself and that didn’t happen until the Fall of 2018. For years I had known about my sexual attraction to men but never realized the depth and exclusivity of these attractions. At some earlier points I had used terms like asexual. But I could not deny that I had sexual attraction going on. So maybe bisexual? But I could not deny that I simply did not have any attraction to women. Maybe that means I’m asexual with respect to women… and… um… and… and… that’s where the sidewalk ends. That’s when I couldn’t sustain the denial any longer. I began to recognize and name my same-sex attraction and tell a few trustworthy people.

My friends asked about my faith. After all — they reminded me — I am in seminary to become a pastor. The answer is complex, so I’ll write more in the future, but three things for now.

  • First, I believe that my same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall but is not itself sin. God intends marriage to be a male-female union, so I will not marry or date.
  • Second, my lack of opposite-sex attraction means that I am called to singleness which is celibacy with Christ. Thankfully singleness is better than marriage! 1 Corinthians 7:32-35.
  • Third, and the product of the first two points, I will find relational fulfillment not in one spouse but in a whole community of people, the body of Christ. I will pursue spiritual friendship by loving friends and being loved by them in the life-together of the local church.

As for pastoral ministry I see no necessary problems. Of course there are all the unnecessary problems. Like some who fear that I might infect them with my gayness. Nobody admits to thinking this but they do, you can tell. Or the outcry when I change some minor aesthetic detail (wall decorations, what type of stirring rods we use in our coffee, etc.) and the decision is attributed to my sexuality. Yes, these trivial things come up in church life. Or people who assume I will be political about sexuality all the time. Or others who think (groundlessly) that I will abuse their children. Or still others who run out of arguments and throw up their hands, saying, “We just prefer the other candidate.” I’ll deal with those responses as they come. But there are no necessary reasons why I would be excluded from pastoral ministry. I follow the example of singleness set by Paul and more importantly by Jesus himself.

I don’t care to defend myself. I don’t need to argue, though a close friend once described my love language simply as “debate.” Some people will stereotype me and others will flock to me, choosing me as their token gay friend. Both of these responses are frustrating but I will get over myself and deal with it. Some kindhearted people will thoroughly critique my use of the word “gay.” Okay. Kind of an in-house argument among us same-sex attracted Christians, so probably stop caring so much about that. Less kindhearted people will attack me for using “gay” as a pretext for their broader intent to malign and slander me. In the gentle authority of Jesus’s name please stop.

Instead, here is what I ask of you. Can you do what the gracious people in my support group did? Can you put aside for now your theories about what went wrong in my body (or my childhood development, or in my DNA, or etc. etc. etc.) and instead accept me? Not accept my actions as moral or reject them as immoral. Again, that is still a judgement, an evaluation. Can you be accepting of me, as me? Of me, as Ross?

I’ll lose Christian friends because they disagree with homosexuality. This makes no sense to me, as I do not have gay sex. But still I’ll lose friends. On the other side I’ll lose non-Christian friends because they will see my sexual ethics as self-repressive and hostile to other gay people. Rejected by some conservatives as too liberal, and by some liberals as too conservative, I’m caught in a trap I hate, defending a position I didn’t choose. Can you move past that with me? With me, as me? With me, as Ross?

Let’s talk about Ross. Ross likes to watch movies, especially Westerns and Thrillers. (Bonus points for Western Thrillers). Ross does dumb talent show performances, calls them “art,” and then refuses to explain their true meaning. Ross goes to college where he studies philosophy and ministry. Ross complains about the dining hall at school but appreciates it in secret. Ross gets riled up and wants to make everything a debate, because that’s somehow the way his mind is wired. Ross used to run Cross Country but out of laziness no longer runs or exercises at all. Ross cares about the migration crisis and wants to learn Spanish so he can be helpful to a Chicago-area immigrant ministry. Ross loves Junior High students and in many ways still is one. When he is angry Ross shuts down instead of lashing out. When he is sad Ross isolates himself and waits for it to pass. When he is humored, you will hear it, whether you are in the same room or not. Ross loves Jesus and has found more meaning in that relationship than in all others combined. And so Ross loves the Bible, because Jesus loved the Bible, and Ross wants to be like him. Ross sometimes runs out of socks and has to wear used ones twice. When it gets bad, he just goes to the store and buys more socks. That should solve the problem, he thinks.

Guys, this is me. I’m more than my sexuality. I’m more than my coming out narrative. I’m more than the prejudice and invective that mindless people hurl at gay folk every day. Forget all that. Can you love me? Can you love me, as me? Can you love me, as Ross?

Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for your grace. Above all, thank you for your friendship. To me it means everything.

Love,
Ross

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Thanks Todd for the photos!

Thanks Tim, Stephen, Josh, and Steve for helping me write this post!

Even more links yet

Welcome back to the links posts, how did you survive last week without my links, I do not know exactly. Today the chef suggests a Mere Orthodoxy piece on gender ethics (couldn’t recommend more), an essay on Identity from Brainpickings, and a podcast with Mike Erre and Preston Sprinkle on sort of everything.

• HOO BOY we have the best take on Gender ethics ever written, of course from Mere Orthodoxy:

This is the moral context in which Scripture speaks. The moral universe of the divine law is not a set of stand-alone commands which we ought to follow if we wish to enter the Good Place after we die. The world described in the moral law, rather, is reality itself and when we indwell that universe, however falteringly, we are habituating ourselves to reality and to the God who exists behind reality. Our lives in this world are a conditioning for the life of eternity when we behold God as he is.

The Pauline texts on gender, along with the creation account on which Paul’s account is built, fits within this broader context. In other words, the scriptural norms around gender are actually good news. This reality undercuts both the fearful paranoia of the maximalists and the timidity of the minimalists. We do not need to shout a person into affirming scriptural ideas about gender, nor do we need to feel badly about upholding those norms. They exist within a broader moral order that is good and the task of Christian wisdom is to learn how to discern that order and indwell it happily.

• So much to disagree with in this Washington Post editorial on sex education, but instead of that, here are some interesting things that I appreciated. The first: “we know that accurate information about sex and access to reproductive health care makes teens less likely to become sexually active in the first place.” A counter-intuitive point that usually gets left out. I was taught the opposite growing up, but I wonder if this isn’t exactly the heart of the problem with ABSE. The second: her emphasis on confidential access to healthcare, which now that I think about it obviously matters. The third: teens should “become sexually informed and proficient long before they become sexually active.” We usually just think “before.” But how would our sex education curriculum change to incorporate this “long before”? Something to chew on.

• When you click on dumb Buzzfeed listicles you know to expect nothing good. But not this time! Are you distracted doing your homework and can’t muster up the self-discipline to just be productive? Do you have procrastination issues big enough to ruin your academic life but not big enough to justify asking a doctor if you have ADD? Do you have $31.28 to spend on some dumb product on Amazon when you could otherwise just find an app that does the same thing? (Y, Y, N). The aptly-named Time Timer is for you!

A little somethin somethin about the void of smart people surrounding President Trump.

• Ingmar Chen, Souvenir:

ingmar berman photo

(h/t booooooom.com)

• A rich, gorgeous essay from Maria Popova of Brainpickings. She writes about poet John O’Donohue’s perspective on identity, very insightful. Read A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Identity Politics Turning Us on Each Other and on Ourselves:

Today, we seem to serve not as custodians of our inner worlds but as their terrified and terrible wardens, policing our own interiority along with that of others for any deviation from the proscribed identity-political correctness. And yet identity is exclusionary by definition — we are what remains after everything we are not. Even those remnants are not static and solid ground onto which to stake the flag of an immutable personhood but fluid currents in an ever-shifting, shoreless self — for, as Virginia Wolf memorably wrote, “a self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.”

• Not sure what I think about this post on TGC but it does pull some ideas together. Maybe “offensive” is the wrong word for what she describes. Assertive? Feisty? I’m down for some feisty Christianity.

• 10/10 endorse Cameron Cole’s post on Rooted from last week, Hope Amidst College Admissions InsanityHe gets it. The opening comparison to Canaanite child sacrifice is perfectly accurate and not an exaggeration at all.

This conversation between Mike Erre and Preston Sprinkle begins with sexuality and ends somewhere totally else — open communion? Unpaid church staff? House churches? Disillusionment with Christian culture? Give it a listen, there’s a huge breadth to the conversation and that breadth exposes some of the underlying issues in holding together a diverse Christian community.

5 movies you SLEPT ON in 2018 — and how to watch them now

It happens every year. Some movies don’t get the press they deserve and others become known only after the awards season ends. While in one of these cases it is an outrage that it received no Academy Award nominations (Leave No Trace), the other four simply did not get enough recognition to be considered. Here are five movies that I think deserved awards but got SLEPT ON, and how to view them.

Lean on Pete

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Andrew Haigh directed this movie with enough empathy that a sociopath could feel moved by the end. With an unsuspecting, tired premise (boy and his horse run away from home on an adventure across the Wild West), the plot quickly moves into its own territory. Haigh explores teen homelessness, what a distant father does to masculinity, and having to grieve without support. He does this in a script that easily beats half the Adapted Screenplay nominees. Charlie Plummer gives a stellar acting performance (he won Best Young Actor @ Venice IFF) and is supported by the also-stellar Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny. Steve Buscemi deserved the Best Supporting Actor nomination for this, much more than Sam Rockwell playing George W. Bush. Lean on Pete joins the next movie on this list in somehow creating a whole world of transcendence, a world hinting at another world lurking just around the corner or behind the next mountain range. Magical. Was it the camera angles, the shot lengths? I couldn’t tell how Haigh achieved this effect, but when you watch it, you will feel it. Sadly, Lean on Pete got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $3.99.

 

Leave No Trace

Image result for leave no trace poster

Will and his 13 year old daughter Tom live off the grid in a forest. Unfortunately for them, the State considers this not just an alternative lifestyle but rather homelessness. When they are discovered, they must adjust to life in civilized society. Along the way director Debra Granik captures the most visually beautiful film of 2018, and her leads (Ben Foster and Australian newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) gave knock. out. performances. marked by subtlety and tension. The cinematography by Michael McDonough and original screenplay by Granik were deserving of full Oscar wins, not to mention nominations, but sadly Leave No Trace got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $5.99.

 

Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade (2018)

Packing in all the cringe he possibly — and I mean possibly — could, director Bo Burnham captured the true essence of the middle school vibe. Hilarious, but also deeply concerning, Eighth Grade will give you an eye into the pressures teens face today. Social media and easy-to-access technology have changed the landscape so much that the middle school experience of Kayla (Elsie Fisher) barely looks like mine. All the same awkwardness, all the same pettiness, but in a whole new world. Despite receiving zero Oscar nominations, Eighth Grade won the Indie Spirit Awards for Best First Screenplay, and was far better than Green Book, winner of the original screenplay Oscar. Though in fairness, Green Book didn’t deserve that award either. Elsie Fisher’s performance and the film’s painful clarity make it worth watching, if not as a research piece then at minimum as great comedy. However, with exactly zero Academy Award nominations, Eighth Grade got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $4.99.

 

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy (2018)

This film from Belgian director Felix van Groeningen follows a father (Steve Carell) and son (Timothée Chalamet) as the son’s methamphetamine addiction tears their relationship apart. Heavy drug use — rock bottom — sobriety — critical situation that threatens the tentative stability of newfound sobriety — right back into heavy drug use. We see this cycle unfold four or five times in the fast two hour run-time, and it gets more painful with each. Timothée Chalamet played a difficult role and did it flawlessly, and the artistic directing was also great, evoking a certain light, airy wistfulness while the characters’ lives go to hell. I strongly recommend this film, though it is not for the light at heart. Some critics did not like the editing style in Beautiful Boy which I understand though personally I loved it. But that held it back from getting the major awards recognition that it deserved. For this lame reason and no others, it got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. Nowhere else, as Amazon produced it.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Mr. Rogers! This documentary made the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature but then… didn’t… get nominated? I’m not sure what happened there, since this was better than all the other documentaries besides Minding the Gap. Following the career of Fred Rogers, this happy little film weaves between Roger’s social commentary (having a black co-star in a children’s program in the 1960’s), the big moments of happiness, the political success of his 1969 Congressional testimony, his doubts about the show, and the religious philosophy that supported his work. You will laugh, you will smile, you will cry, and you will be a better person for having watched Will You Be My Neighbor? Don’t be a fool and ignore this movie, like the Academy, which SLEPT ON it this year.

How to Watch: Because HBO picked it up, you can either pay the full $14.99 to buy it, or you can use your one week HBO free trial (via Hulu or Amazon Prime) and make sure to cancel before the week ends. That way, it’s free.

More links yet

Highlights: Brett McCracken on engaging art, Wesley Hill’s critique of Bolz-Weber’s book, an editorial comparing the Trump Org to a classic organized crime mob, and an essay on the essence of African Traditional Religion.


• The content on TGC has changed since I started reading two years ago. More practical living, more women’s ministry, more on vocation and calling, less on nerdy theology and deep biblical studies. (This comes at a time, seminary, when my life feels more nerdy and less practical). But someone whose writing I cannot enjoy enough is Brett McCracken. Consider this week’s Make ‘Christian’ Engagement with the Arts More . . . Christian. He is reviewing a book by Jeremy Begbie about theological aesthetics, something that fits really nicely with my interest in film. Strong recommend. (But maybe first, try out his more accessible piece The Christ-like Gaze in Film).

• Continuing with last week’s review of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, we have Wesley Hill’s critique in Christianity Today:

It would be easy, at this juncture, to point a finger at the thinness of much of what is labeled “progressive” theology these days in order to account for the flaws in Shameless. In this progressive Christianity, it often seems that a spirituality of the goodness of creation downplays—or bypasses altogether—any serious consideration of our fallenness. Popular progressive ways of distinguishing the Mosaic law and the legalisms of the apostle Paul from the good news that Jesus preached, with the former considered nitpicky and vindictive and the latter portrayed as no-strings-attached, often verge on anti-Judaism and drive a wedge between Jesus and the spokespersons he appointed to carry on his ministry. And what the theologian D. Stephen Long has called “a commitment to ‘progressive revelation,’ where some theologians proclaim with thoroughgoing certitude what God is doing in the world today and how it differs with what God was thought to have worked in previous times,” often permits present experience to seem clear as glass compared to the murky complexity of ancient Scripture. And, indeed, all these lamentable progressive tendencies are present in abundance in Shameless.

But the harder task would be for more conservative, traditionalist readers like me—who still think that sexual purity is a scriptural (and therefore indispensable) category and that the biblical rules against, say, premarital and extramarital sex are still binding on believers today—to take Shameless as an occasion to practice some self-scrutiny and ask ourselves whether our own failings and hypocrisies might be part of what gives a book like this its powerful appeal.

• Best opinions from Washington Post opinion section on Thursday of last week:

1. The court’s opinion was right on this case. But the concurrence was even righter.

2. The mob analogy got a whole lot stronger. 

3. The Supreme Court’s struggles on the Peace Cross case reflect a bigger challenge.

4. Conservative Christians are counting on the Supreme Court to stall their cultural losses

5. Amy Klobuchar’s defenders mistake the promise of feminism.

• Sam Allberry has a new book out on Christian singleness. Here’s an open letter to the church on singleness he wrote, presumably as promo for the book, and a positive review from TGC.

• New Global, Orthodox Identity for United Methodists Surprises Many, but it shouldn’t be surprising, nor is there an Orthodox identity ’emerging’ in a global sense. Most of the fault lines was along United States / non-US delegates. There is no new common identity, only a denominational structure that ties together two disparate (geographically, theologically) groups. Nobody should be surprised at a major split in 2020.

• What’s the worst job ever? After reading THE TRAUMA FLOOR: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America, I think I know the answer. My goodness, I wouldn’t take this job for 5x that pay. (Follow-up: Slatestarcodex wrote a good push-back piece).

• Henrietta Harris from Booooooom.com’s artist spotlight this week:

Henrietta Harris

Henrietta Harris

Henrietta Harris

• Slatestarcodex’s culture wars thread is dead (but also reincarnated elsewhere). He gives some fascinating insights into the whole “civil discourse is dead” thing, like this:

The fact is, it’s very easy to moderate comment sections. It’s very easy to remove spam, bots, racial slurs, low-effort trolls, and abuse. I do it single-handedly on this blog’s 2000+ weekly comments. r/slatestarcodex’s volunteer team of six moderators did it every day on the CW Thread, and you can scroll through week after week of multiple-thousand-post culture war thread and see how thorough a job they did.

But once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all.

Some people think society should tolerate pedophilia, are obsessed with this, and can rattle off a laundry list of studies that they say justify their opinion. Some people think police officers are enforcers of oppression and this makes them valid targets for violence. Some people think immigrants are destroying the cultural cohesion necessary for a free and prosperous country. Some people think transwomen are a tool of the patriarchy trying to appropriate female spaces. Some people think Charles Murray and The Bell Curve were right about everything. Some people think Islam represents an existential threat to the West. Some people think women are biologically less likely to be good at or interested in technology. Some people think men are biologically more violent and dangerous to children. Some people just really worry a lot about the Freemasons.

Each of these views has adherents who are, no offense, smarter than you are. Each of these views has, at times, won over entire cultures so completely that disagreeing with them then was as unthinkable as agreeing with them is today. I disagree with most of them but don’t want to be too harsh on any of them. Reasoning correctly about these things is excruciatingly hard, trusting consensus opinion would have led you horrifyingly wrong throughout most of the past, and other options, if they exist, are obscure and full of pitfalls. I tend to go with philosophers from Voltaire to Mill to Popper who say the only solution is to let everybody have their say and then try to figure it out in the marketplace of ideas.

But none of those luminaries had to deal with online comment sections.

• Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia has had to semi-lock their article on Fortnite until 2020 because of vandalism. View some of the glorious revisions here, and press ctrl+f “vandalism” and click prev to feast your eyes.

• From Church Life Journal The Essence of African Traditional Religion. Very good, read the whole thing.

Even more links

Providing a valuable public service here, folks. That’s what I’m doing with these links posts. How could you continue to function in your everyday life without my links. There is simply no way. Not in the age of Trump, or the age of Millennials, or the age of Terror, or whatever age we are in these days. Have I already made the joke where I call these ‘gourmet links’? If not, that’s what this week’s links are. Gourmet. Make sure to read the first one, the one about teens and mental health, and the one on Workism.

• Being Biblical™: When the Bible Becomes a Brand:

Many people have been horribly scarred by biblical™ culture. Countless young people, hurt by the failed promises of the biblical™ ideology, with its attendant practices and unhealthy communities, of their upbringing, have abandoned Christian faith for non-Christian worldviews. These have often merely damaged them in other ways, offering alternative ideologies, rather than genuine engagement with reality. We need to abandon the biblical™ trademark and to recover the challenge of discerning and applying Scripture to our lives and worlds. We need to grow in a scripturally oriented wisdom in the pursuit of the great human project, which we have in common with all who are wrestling with the concrete reality in which God addresses us.

• Worst headline (and concept piece) of the week: The Best Combs a Presidential Candidate Could Use to Eat a Salad. Remember that the next election isn’t for another 21 months. An excerpt:

Still, the alleged comb use itself is hilariously absurd. Did Klobuchar wash the comb before eating? Don’t all airplanes have forks on board? Is it even possible to eat a salad with a comb?

Klobuchar’s purported choice of replacement utensil might not have been as uncommon as it sounds. As a high-school swimmer rushing through the locker room, I too once found myself hungry and forkless, and resorted to eating a cup of Greek yogurt with a comb. But a salad is a different textural animal entirely. It’s layered and varied, and sometimes there are croutons.

• Critiquing Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book on sexuality, we have, from Mere Orthodoxy, A Christian Ethic of Sex in a Pornographic Age:

Those who are ‘in Christ’ are called to not only cultivate but traverse the limits and possibilities of human desire, and arguably more than any humans on earth. By striving to be pure in heart – however unfashionable or prudish that might sound in Late Modernity – we so prepare for the beatific vision, a sight our exhausted age of restless searching pines after, even if unknowingly.

We need scripts that form us “to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4), and that cultivate habits, appetites, and dispositions that comport with the fidelity requisite for a life of celibacy, or, for instance, where we or our spouses are persons with disabilities in our fragile, mortal bodies.

• Brian Tallerico (from RogerEbert.com) gives his ranking of Oscar Best Picture winners from 2000-on. Take special note of the film in last place.

• On teens and mental health from The Atlantic.

• Also from The Atlantic, a piece that continues the theme from last month’s Millennials: The Burnout Generation. Enjoy Workism is Making Americans Miserable.

• From Marissa Voytenko, a collection titled Examen. See the full set here.

Examen I

Examen XV

Examen VI

• Brett McCracken on The Favourite and Roma:

The radical self-denial and service of Cleo in Roma, like the feet-washing posture of Jesus (John 13:1–17), provides a picture of power in vivid contrast to that in The Favourite. The latter captures power as pre- and post-Christian societies construe it: self-interest, self-preservation, winner take all, only the strong survive. The former presents power through weakness, through self-denial and sacrificial love.

Good points all around here. But I also wonder about the way that McCracken tries to distance himself from The Favourite. Can’t we just acknowledge that it represents an opposing viewpoint, and then enjoy it as a creative presentation of that viewpoint? This reminds me of the controversy over the professor who assigned a blasphemous book at a Catholic college. In short, he said, yeah it was a terrible book, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it? That we can’t grow from seeing where the author goes wrong? Seems simple to me but this way of thinking gets steamrolled in Christian circles, for the reasons in the Being Biblical™ essay.

• Jared Wilson with 3 Principles for Christian Political Engagement.