On the same day that Christians are called to enter a time of waiting and anticipation, Amazon suggested with Prime Air that we should never have to wait. The iGods (Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg, et. al.) have made waiting a sin, a thing of the past that we can and should avoid at all cost. Yet, Advent is a waiting game, a season to prepare for the arrival of a life changing baby. He isn’t delivered via stork or drone, but through a teen mother. Mary had time to consider the promise growing within her. She came to welcome her calling and her baby. At Advent, we are invited to sing the Magnificat recorded in the Gospel of Luke with her.
2. Welcoming Kickstarter into the clubhouse
The winter issue of Comment (which will arrive soon, I hope!) is all about patronage, a theme that probably doesn’t keep many of us up at night—but maybe it should! Lukas Naugle’s article considers whether Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms—which use the language of patronage unabashedly—can truly bear the weight of deep patronage:
Deep patronage requires relationships of trust between patron and creator that can withstand the rigours of transparency and accountability. We are each better off when we are supported by healthy relationships and partnerships. Deep patronage requires time, intentionality, and not least, presence. Online platforms and networks are at their best when they enhance actual face-to-face conversations and experiences. They lead us astray when they begin to replace relationships in the flesh. But embodied relationships are messy, and they entail hefty doses of the unexpected and the unpredictable. Because resources can be squandered or lost, such relationships are risky. They are also, of course, infinitely more rewarding.
4. The beauty and tension of Advent
The folks at the Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts at Biola University has produced a stunning multimedia Advent calendar. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to make a bookmark and revisit it each day until Christmas.
5. Advent to Christmas
I’ve been loving the seasonal collection of songs from Page CXVI on their new album Advent to Christmas.
Politics has limits. Governments can and must restrain criminals and public violence, establish just and effective laws and courts, and shape a public order within which the other spheres of human society may flourish. But not with the best will or instruments can a government and its citizenry bring parents to love their children, make the lazy diligent or the profligate frugal, or accurately anticipate all of the unintended consequences of every legislative or executive effort. And so, much as we may honor and learn from Nelson Mandela, and resolve to live in the light of Isaiah 58, so must we also live in the light of Isaiah 60, and its sobering but hopeful revelation that in the end, all will be well, although not ultimately because of the work of human hands, but because of the outworking of the reign of God in Christ and through the Spirit—toward which the work of a Nelson Mandela is indeed a signpost.”
Wendell Berry has taught me that even the most complex situations, socially, economically, politically, are like marriage, and I’m sure that he is right. Most moments in our marriage reflect the deeper, harder truth that we each are implicated in the problem, and that we each have something important to say about its resolution. The only way forward is to make peace with proximate justice. It is a choice to make peace with something, something that is honest and true, something that is more just and more merciful, even if it is not everything. All-or-nothing never works– in marriages, in friendships, in the workplace, in the church. And it never works in politics.
2. A long faithfulness
It’s no secret I’m a bigfan of Eugene Peterson and that I’m pretty sure we’re related. Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) managed to arrange an interview with him, and it’s chock full of wisdom, like this word to restless young Christians in search of spiritual depth:
Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.
3. What is integral mission?
Thanks to Tim Amstutz (@TimAmstutz) for sharing this helpful resource from David Westlake (@davidwestlake) of Tearfund, explaining what international development practitioners mean when they talk about integral mission, and why it’s such a helpful way of thinking about mission and ministry among the poor. He’s producing a series of podcasts and videos about it, and they seem excellent so far. Incidentally, I learned a lot about integral mission from Tim Amstutz and his exceptional colleagues with World Relief in Cambodia when I lived there back in 2006, so thanks Tim!
This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature should be announced in early October, and over on the tony British betting site Ladbrokes, Haruki Murakami of Japan, riding the waves of acclaim for his fantastical novel “1Q84,” is the favorite. Other well-known names — Milan Kundera, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates — are bandied about, but Mr. Murakami is unique: among perennial Nobel front-runners, it would be difficult to find a writer more influenced by the popular music and culture born of the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s. That fact prompts a pressing question: why isn’t the most vital of the artistic catalysts of those upheavals himself a front-runner for the prize? I’m referring of course to Bob Dylan, a fierce and uncompromising poet whose writing, 50 years on, still crackles with relevance. Mr. Dylan’s work remains utterly lacking in conventionality, moral sleight of hand, pop pabulum or sops to his audience. His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence.
5. Telling the story with integrity
Shortly after Katie and I got back from visiting La Limonada, Guatemala this spring, I wrote a post reflecting on the importance of integrity in telling the stories of the poor. The Chalmers Center values the same thing and demonstrates it in this video (can’t be embedded, unfortunately) featuring women who belong to savings groups in Togo.
A more plausible argument than Renn’s might go like this: Only in the suburbs are Christians still concerned to build sacred spaces, that is, spaces specifically dedicated to the celebration of and immersion in the holy, the divine. Urban Christians, by contrast, are content to — must be content to — find sacred experiences in spaces never consecrated to such a quest and bearing always the marks of their wholly secular purposes. I don’t think that’s an argument I want to make, but it would be a more plausible one; and it would have the further merit of raising a very important question: whether “sacred space” is primarily a function of architecture or, rather, primarily a function of the character of the communities that dwell in built environments.
2. Is compromise a bad word?
Michael Gerson (@MJGerson) asks us to consider an important political question in this column in Capital Commentary (though grammatically, he should know better than to refer to “the media” in the singular):
The gap between parties and ideologies in America is wide. The areas of policy overlap are relatively small. This means that middle ground proposals will always have built in critics. The media loves to cover ideological arguments. And the partisan media, on left and right, has an interest in feeding controversy. But even prior to such ideological disagreements, people concerned about politics need to answer a question: Is legislative compromise a virtue or a failure?
3. No easy answers, no trite salvos
Cathleen Falsani (@godgrrl) writes for the Washington Post’s On Faith blog about the spiritual substance of Mumford & Sons’ music, following a concert of theirs in California:
“You are not alone in this,” we sang. “You are not alone in this. As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.” It was a sacred promise from fellow travelers along the spiritual journey that is this life. Mumford offered no easy answers, no trite salvos. “I will tell the night, whisper, ‘lose your sight,’” he sang, “but I can’t move the mountains for you.” Such heavy lifting is the work of the Spirit alone. While we wait, the hold music is marvelous, and we’re in great company.
4. The strength of Mariano Rivera I hate the Yankees as much as the next guy, but it’s hard not to think the world of Mariano Rivera, undoubtedly the best closer ever to play the game. Lisa Miller (@lisaxmiller) writes for New York Magazine about what matters most to him as his baseball career comes to a close (though it’s obvious Miller doesn’t share many of his convictions):
Sportswriters often discount athletes’ religiosity as a sideshow, and the secular viewers of cable TV may prefer the bloodless scrutiny of slo-mo video than to give credit to divine causes, but the full story of Rivera’s career is unmistakably a story about faith. On the mound, Rivera is implacable, a warrior with the Buddha’s face. But talking about faith with Rivera is like opening a bottle; years of feeling come out. He speaks less like a theologian than like an enthusiastic believer, channeling all his considerable charisma, curiosity, and preternatural seriousness into the conveyance of passion. His is not a questioning faith but a conviction, invulnerable to attacks from skeptics and doubters, and so his answers to existentially vexing questions can sound to some uncomfortably neat. But Rivera isn’t worried about rationalist complaints because it is in certitude that he finds his strength.
5. Go Wherever You Want To Go
Last night Katie and I went to the Patty Griffin show with some friends. Here’s a new favorite tune.
In that 2011 speech – which I’ve embedded at the end of this post – Rodriguez sought to reassure his audience, saying with a tinge of humor, “We are not here to teach America the macarena. We are not here to increase the dividend portfolios of those that have invested in Taco Bell. We are not here to make you press one for English and two for Spanish.”
Invoking Dr. King as an inspiration, the fiery Pentecostal preacher went on to say:
I believe that we stand at the precipice of a new civil rights movement in America – a movement committed to righteousness and justice, one where our communities come together like Joshua and Caleb, and with faith in God we will declare the words, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” So let us be strong and brave as we carry Dr. King’s dream into the barrios and Beverly Hills, from New York to L.A., from Atlanta to Phoenix, let us remind America that the kingdom of God is not red state or blue state, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, immigrant or native, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost!
Needless to say, Rodriguez is an evangelical leader worth paying attention to, and now that he’s written The Lamb’s Agenda: Why Jesus Is Calling You to a Life of Righteousness and Justice (Thomas Nelson), more of us are getting the chance to hear what he has to say. I’ll admit from the outset that while I have a great deal of respect for Rodriguez as a Christian leader, and while I’d encourage everyone to give him an attentive hearing, I didn’t love this book, though I really wanted to.
Ever since the age of 14, Rodriguez has considered it a personal calling to reconcile the messages of Martin Luther King and Billy Graham – to help Christians establish “the crucial connection between biblical social justice and spiritual righteousness.” He points to the nexus of the cross of Christ as a model for our lives. Christians are living fully, he argues, when their lives align vertically with God and horizontally with their neighbors. Much of this book is about explaining and reinforcing those essential connections. While the concepts are simple, and may strike some of us as Christian clichés, I’m not convinced the majority of us have fully internalized them yet, so I’m grateful for his impassioned pleas.
Politics is a central theme in the book, and from the start Rodriguez appears to take a refreshingly nonpartisan approach. At a time when Latinos are seen as a demographic up for grabs, and when there finally appears to be traction for bipartisan immigration reform, it’s obviously a timely moment for a book by a politically-minded Latino evangelical leader to be published – a book showing Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc, say, who aren’t going to have their votes coopted. But ultimately I found Rodriguez’s political comments a bit confusing.
As Rodriguez puts it, the Lamb’s Agenda is distinct from the competing and pervasive political agendas of our day, whether of the donkey or the elephant. I agree. Yet Rodriguez’s own agenda – and, in turn, his explanation of what he considers the agenda of the Lamb – is far less distinct. While he’d possibly part ways with some Republicans in his support for immigration reform (recent GOP support for reform notwithstanding), the rest of his political platform is strikingly consistent along party lines – he’s a fervent defender of the unborn, supports traditional marriage, and is deeply concerned about violations of religious freedom, citing the deeply troubling HHS contraceptive mandate (David Neff’s review of the book in Christianity Today has more to say about this). Rodriguez is also a vocal supporter of the Manhattan Declaration.
I respect all of that, even if I’d nuance things differently in some cases. It’s perfectly fine he’s a conservative Republican, writing a book as a Latino leader in support of conservative Republican values. I just wish he’d say so. That would, after all, make for an interesting, important book. But it’s not how this one is presented. (And to be clear, I’d be equally critical if his articulation of the “Lamb’s Agenda” amounted to nothing more than boilerplate for a group on the other side of the aisle.)
Further, when he plays into simplistic, sensationalized ideas about a monolithic entity called “the media” being a sinister enemy, and when he talks approvingly of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism,” he sounds like he’s memorized a set of predictable talking points, rather than truly articulating heartfelt convictions – which is precisely what he does so well in that MLK Day speech, and why I was so eager to learn from him in the first place.
At the end of the day, maybe my beef has more to do with the medium than with anything else. Maybe Samuel Rodriguez communicates best in the pulpit or on the street corner, speaking his mind with passion, not confined to the printed page. After all, a book about the importance of both spiritual vitality and social engagement is generally the kind of thing that tends to be right up my alley.
Rodriguez does well when he reminds us that every man and woman – including those with whom we most disagree – is made in the image of God. I’m just disappointed he risks undoing all that by playing into an us-versus-them culture war mentality that pits Christians against the attacks of government, schools, the media, insert-various-other-sinister-institutions-here. He would have done better, in my view, to skip those tired polemics and instead expand on the ideas, for instance, behind this wonderfully evocative paragraph:
The day of angry evangelicalism is officially over. The day of a loving, Bible-believing community espousing truth with love officially commences right now. For if we truly understand that every human being is made in God’s image, then we can proceed to advance the Lamb’s Agenda.