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Discipleship in Mark

For my class on the Gospels and Acts, I was asked to reflect on Mark’s vision of discipleship. Follow along in your Bible as you read, because this post is loaded with Scripture.

What is discipleship?

Discipleship is the Imitation of Christ. First, we see early on (1:16-18) Jesus call Simon and Andrew with words that reflect what Jesus is doing in issuing the call: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus is fishing, and in doing so, making further fishers. The call is self-referential like Mark as a whole: Mark’s Gospel is a narrative of Jesus’s life, and at the same time functions to make disciples out of those who read it. Second, at the Gospel’s midway point, the seam between its first (1-8) and second (9-16) movements, Jesus tells the crowd what discipleship requires: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34-9:1). Jesus calls the crowd to be open to martyrdom immediately after he has first predicted his own death (8:31-33). Hence taking up the cross is synonymous with the call to “follow me,” the imitation of Christ. Third, when James and John request authority and glory from Jesus (10:35-45), Jesus responds by acknowledging they will suffer his same fate. He concludes his remarks about servant leadership with another comparison to his own example: “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus centers his example in his responses to James and John and to the other disciples. Therefore, discipleship is the imitation of Christ.

How do disciples imitate Jesus?

Fight Death. Disciples of Jesus are engaged, first and foremost, in a spiritual battle against the powers of Death that wreak havoc in the world. First, at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptist characterizes Jesus’s ministry this way: “one more powerful than I… will baptize with holy spirit.” Mark uses the unique word “powerful” (ischuroteros) again later when Jesus is describing his own ministry (3:20-35, Class Notes). How is Jesus’s ministry different from Satan’s work? In a parable, Jesus talks about “binding up the strong man,” who is Satan. So, Jesus’s ministry is the exact opposite of Satan’s work, it is a war against the spiritual forces of darkness and death. Second, Mark depicts Jesus casting out demons (1:21-28 (parallel 5:1-20) (Thiessen, 141-148). He casts out demons from holy places (in the former passage, from the synagogue on the Sabbath) and into unholy places (in the latter passage, into nearby unclean pigs). Jesus’s demon exorcism is not just to heal the possessed, or they would simply be called “healings.” Rather, they are part of a larger fight against “powers and principalities, spiritual forces, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12) as another author later writes. Third, Jesus commissions the disciples to cast out demons as well. (Mark 3:14-15 / 6:7-13) (See Witmer 132-142, 153-201 for more). Now, this command is repeated in 16:17, but it does not matter for Mark, because 16:17 is not authentic, it was added later. But this addition indicates that the early church (up to the late 4th century when 16:9-20 was added) continued to practice exorcism, as Jesus originally commanded. Therefore, disciples of Jesus fight Death and the spiritual battle it wages against God.

Live in Constructed Community. Mark depicts discipleship as shared life. First, Jesus constructs a community which, when anything else conflicts with it, must supersede all other forms of community. Jesus says, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive 100-fold in the age to come” (10:29-30). Second, Jesus gives a specific discourse about living in and leading community in 10:35-45 in response to bickering and infighting (10:41) among his disciples. It is in this context that Jesus makes a key statement about discipleship, drawing from his own example: “not to be served… but to serve.” Disciples are to imitate Jesus’s example in our own communities of shared discipleship. Third, there are clues in the text (direct references to crowds, rhetorical use of “we”) which indicate that “Jesus is one who is almost constantly surrounded by a circle of disciples; he does not exist primarily as a solitary individual but as a being-in-community, and living the Christian life means “being with him.” This portrayal of the life of discipleship as a communion with Jesus would undoubtedly resonate with the experience of Mark’s community” (Joel Marcus 267). Therefore, disciples of Jesus live in constructed communities.

Discernment. Discipleship means seeing and knowing things as they truly are, and this includes events, people, and Jesus’s own mission. First, Mark repeatedly goes out of his way to mention that Jesus “sees” people. The most significant example is 6:34: “When Jesus landed, he looked at the large crowd, and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Joel Marcus (182) also lists these passages: 1:18-20, 2:14, 3:34, 6:34, 8:33, 9:25, 10:21, 23, 27, 12:34. Several of these are about the disciples’ calling). Second, Jesus heals the blind man (8:22-26), and then another blind man (Bartimaeus, 10:46ff). In the former case, the blind man gives an example of not being able to see: he “sees men like trees.” Not animals, not objects, but humans, an unclear perspective of the people around him. Jesus restores vision to the blind to make them like him, as he is so often described as seeing others in Mark’s Gospel. Since Jesus can see, those he disciples are given sight as well, that they may imitate him. Third, disciples of Jesus are to see people and see the world as they truly are. Jesus commands disciples to watch the signs of the time (chapter 13 in its entirety) and to be watchful at Gethsemane, though they keep falling asleep (14:32-42). God is at work in the world. God restores the nation of Israel, symbolically expressed in Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River (1:5 = Jordan river crossing), the commissioning of 12 disciples from a mountain (3:13-19 = 12 tribes & Sinai), and the twelve baskets of bread and seven baskets of bread (8:17-21 = Israel & fullness, restoration). The disciples needed eyes to see this work of God in their time. Therefore, disciples of Jesus must be watchful for the work of God in the world.

Open to the Inner Self. Disciples of Jesus are called to imitate their master by living with an openness to their inner selves. First, in his humanity Jesus sets an example for his disciples as one with a rich emotional life. He is angry (1:41 and 3:5) and sad (14:33). He shows signs of frustration (8:12) and exhaustion (4:38). He feels indignancy (10:14) and love (10:21). These emotions express his true humanity. Second, Luke’s Gospel transfers these emotions onto the disciples or omits them altogether, and Matthew’s Gospel retains them but switches the terms to lesser emotions (like “annoyed” instead of “enraged”) or gives reasons to justify Jesus’s emotions (Asikainen 134-155). Mark does not. His portrayal of Jesus is raw and unfiltered. Third, Jesus’s openness to the inner self would have conflicted with the Greco-Roman ideal of self-mastery over the emotions. Mark’s portrayal is thus particularly sharp, as it subverts contemporary expectations for masculinity. Jesus sets this example for his disciples to follow. Therefore, disciples of Jesus live with an openness to their inner selves.

Divine Silence. Disciples of Jesus have a relationship with Our Father that is not clean, tidy, or convenient. First, Jesus had a rich connection with the Father throughout Mark. The Father literally spoke to him out of heaven (twice: 1:11, 9:7) and Jesus is often withdrawing to solitary places for prayer (1:35, 6:30-32, 46). Second, Mark’s ascent narrative (ch 9-16) follows Jesus ascending from Galilee to Jerusalem. This ascent evokes at once the Mountain of God image from various places in the OT, including both Sinai (Marcus 423) and Zion, along with the narrative substructure of the book of Leviticus (See Morales 257-304), the rhetorical question from the Psalmist “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?” (24:3), and the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), all in one large conflated image. Yet the opposite end comes than one would expect. Jesus will not enter the presence and the glory of the LORD in the temple. He must die (8:31-33 / 9:30-32 / 10:32-34). From Gethsemane to the end, Jesus does not pray and the Father is silent. Third, Bonhoeffer, confined to prison in Tegel and perhaps viewing the whole world through the lens of that space, cites Mark 15:34 (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”). He felt the hollow sting of protracted abandonment by God which Jesus also felt in his final hours. “The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us,” Bonhoeffer wrote (July 16th, 1944, italic original). Jesus’s cry on the cross amounts to a functional atheism. There ends our portrait of Jesus in Mark. Even as word of his resurrection leaks out, our extant text ends before we see him alive, victorious. Fourth, the Word of God is hidden, so that those without the spirit of discernment cannot find it (4:11-12). Jesus’s life is itself a parable, as are the spiritual journeys of his faithful disciples. When we seek and do not find the voice of God, then we know that we are following the true Christ.

Bibliography

Asikainen, Susanna. Jesus and Other Men: Ideal Masculinities in the Synoptic Gospels. Boston, MA: Brill, 2018.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. by Eberhard Bethge. New York, NY: The Macamillan Company, 1959 edition.

Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2000.

Morales, L. Michael. “Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the LORD?” A Biblical Theology of Leviticus. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2015.

Thiessen, Matthew. Jesus and the Forces of Death: The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity within First-Century Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020.

Witmer, Amanda. Jesus, The Galilean Exorcist: His Exorcisms in Social and Political Context. London, UK: T&T Clark International, 2012.

The photos are some shots of mine from the past two weeks on campus. Filtered with +0.5 exposure, -1.0 saturation, +1.0 fade. Trinity’s native falcon appears in one of the photos, for those with eyes to see.

Pastoral Prayer for September 13th, 2020

Today I gave the pastoral prayer at my church. Here is the text:

Pray with me, selections from the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, who has placed us in this country for its betterment:

Bless our land with honorable and abundant work, sound and safe learning, and peace. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many nations and languages. Fill with the spirit of wisdom those entrusted with the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Yet we live in days of trouble, division, and injustice. Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; so that we may live in justice and peace.

We give thanks for Pastor Mike’s recovery from Covid and pray you give him full health. To medical researchers working to create a vaccine, give ingenuity and patience. To victims of wildfire in California, Oregon, and Colorado, give protection and provision. We remember now the 412 first responders nineteen years ago who laid down their lives for the lives of others. May they remain for us a parable of your Son’s own life. Comfort as well the families of the victims of the attack, God of all comfort.

All of this we ask through the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Paul within Judaism Reading List

Here is my reading list for Paul within Judaism. I developed this list by finding a few writers in dialogue with one another, and finding the journals and volumes where they have published, who else writes there, what books they tend to cite, and who endorses or forewords whose books. This started because I happened to check out the 2012 Paul and Judaism: Crosscurrents in Pauline Exegesis volume right before quarantine, and then the seminary library let us keep our books all summer, so I used that volume for my summer class term paper.

Before this gets going, a word from Paula Fredriksen on the diversity of views that go under this label:

the so-called “Paul within Judaism” [school] is a doctrinal mess. Important differences within it abound. Significant ones… distinguish my views on particular issues from those of John Gager. Gager’s Paul is no longer Law-observant; mine continues to be. (Why wouldn’t he be?) Gager’s Paul thinks that Christ has redemptive relevance only for gentiles; my Paul sees Jesus quite precisely as the eschatological Davidic messiah, thus and therefore the christos of Israel as well. And so on. Do we then represent “a school” or “a perspective”? Or something more like a “network”? A movement, maybe? Whatever.

But the label represents some unity. She continues:

The interpretive point of principle that binds us all together is the
recognition that no one in Paul’s generation would have looked at his euangelion as anything other than a particular — perhaps peculiar — inflection of late Second Temple Judaism. Thus our commitment, no matter what our various conclusions, to construing Paul’s letters within and with those criteria of meaning specific to late Second Temple Jewishness. “Christianity” as an idea and as an entity is born only long after Paul’s lifetime. To echo Pam Eisenbaum’s felicitous title, Paul was not a Christian.

From Paula Fredriksen, “Putting Paul in His (Historical) Place: A Response to James Crossley, Margaret Mitchell, and Matthew Novenson.” JJMJS No. 5 (2018), 105-106.

With that said, here is my list of journals, key scholars, edited volumes, studies, and commentaries. I will update with any suggestions.

Journals

Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (online)

Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations (online)

Key Scholars

Frantisek Abel, Michael Bachmann, Thomas R. Blanton IV, Daniel Boyrain, William S. Campbell, James D.G. Dunn, Kathy Ehrensperger, Paula Fredriksen, Jorg Frey, John Gager, Joshua Garroway, Amy-Jill Levine, Caroline Johnson Hodge, Joel Marcus, Mark Nanos, Isaac W. Oliver, Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, Matthew V. Novenson, Rafael Rodriguez, Anders Runesson, Matthew Thiessen, J. Brian Tucker, Magnus Zetterholm.

Edited Volumes

Abel, Frantisek, ed., Israel and Nations: Paul’s Gospel in the Context of Jewish Expectation. Minneapolis, MN: Lexington Fortress, 2020.

Abel, Frantisek, ed., The Message of the Apostle Paul within Second Temple Judaism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2020.

Avery-Peck, Alan, et al., eds. Earliest Christianity within the Boundaries of Judaism: Essays in Honor of Bruce Chilton. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

Baron, Lori, Jill Hicks-Keeton, and Matthew Thiessen, eds., The Ways that Often Parted: Essays in Honor of Joel Marcus. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2018.

Bieringer, Reimund and Didier Pollefeyt, eds., Paul and Judaism:  Crosscurrents in Pauline Exegesis and the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations. London, UK: T&T Clark International, 2012.

Boccaccini, Gabriele, and Carlos A. Segovia, eds., Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016.

Johnson Hodge, Caroline et al., eds., The One Who Sows Bountifully: Essays in Honor of Stanley K. Stowers. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2013.

Nanos, Mark and Magnus Zetterholm, eds., Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015.

Nanos, Mark. Reading Paul within Judaism: Collected Essays of Mark D. Nanos Vol. 1. Eugene, OR: Cascade Press, 2017. See also Reading Romans within Judaism (Vol. 2), Reading Galatians within Judaism (Vol. 3), and Reading Corithians and Philippians within Judaism (Vol. 4).

Thiessen, Matthew and Rafael Rodriguez, eds., The So-Called Jew in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016.

Studies

Boyarin, Daniel. A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1997.

Campbell, William S. Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. London, UK: T&T Clark International, 2008.

Eisenbaum, Pamela. Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. New York, NY: HaperOne, 2010 ed.

Fredrikson, Paula. Paul: the Pagan’s Apostle. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2017.

Fredrikson, Paula. When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2019.

Johnson Hodge, Caroline. If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Novenson, Matthew V. The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Uses. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Stowers, Stanley K. A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1994.

Thiessen, Matthew. Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision, and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Thiessen, Matthew. Paul and the Gentile Problem. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Thiessen, Matthew. Jesus and the Forces of Death: The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity within First-Century Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020.

Thornhill, A. Chadwick. The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Tucker, J. Brian. Reading Romans after Supersessionism: The Continuation of Jewish Covenantal Identity. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018.

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.

Commentaries

Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017 2nd ed.

Tucker, J. Brian. Reading 1 Corinthians. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018.

Rodriguez, Rafael. If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

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.

~~~

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.

~~~

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.