Empathy

current reading 2It was not that they were looking for meaning, this man and woman on the hilltop in the early morning. They were too tired for that. But it rose like the sun among us, shadowed and slow, revealing a day we did not wish to see. In waiting, in sleepless nights, in labor, in fears, in blood, in tears, in a grave, in the gospel of the brokenhearted, in the life of the world to come, in a moment, our labor is not in vain . . . .” Sarah Willard, “Talitha Cumi,” Blind Mule Blog (Sept. 11, 2018) [link].

Elissa Ely, “From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to be a Doctor,” New York Times (Mar. 16, 2009) [link]; see also Alan Jacobs, “Rene Giraud, please call your office,” Snakes & Ladders (August 29, 2018) [link].

Judgment

Judgment&JusticeOur teaching elder has been teaching through the book of Revelation, and it doesn’t look easy. One thing which has been pretty obvious (at least after chapter 5 or so) is that there is a lot of judgment to be meted out in the future.

Of course there is a lot of judgment being meted out now, too.

Everyone, not just Christians, wants justice to be done. More than half of the outrage on the internet is just that kind of thing—people want judgment on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump, Peter Strzok, the molesting priests, Serena Williams, etc., for the things they did (or we think they did).*

Of course we disagree about the particulars, either because we identify with the person being judged, or we simply don’t know enough of the facts, or because we are willing to give some people the benefit of the doubt.

Andrew Peterson wrote a song which begins “Do you feel the world is broken?” and it is hard to believe that there are many people — believers or not — who would not say “yes.”

Everyone feels the need for justice, and thus first for judgment. Religious people are notorious for it, but non-religious people seem to feel the same way. (It’s a big reason for non-belief—how could a good God permit natural disasters and human evil to occur?)

Some people recognize that honestly, they too, deserve to be judged.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The Gulag Archipelago (1973).

The most obvious theme of the book of Revelation is that, in the end, God wins. But a second theme is that there must be judgment on evil; indeed there must be judgment on all evil.

But that judgment is beyond me, because I simply don’t know enough. I cannot tell whether a person meant what they said, or whether what they did was outside their control, or whether they were warped by the actions of their parents, or whether . . . I just don’t know. And I wouldn’t really make a good judge, because, by all that is fair, that judgment should fall on me, not just Hitler and Harvey Weinstein, because I think and do evil, too.

And in the face of that, the most hopeful message of Revelation is that the God, who has judged and will judge with perfect knowledge, and perfect righteousness, nevertheless offers grace so that none need be separated from his love.

That’s not the whole story, but it is a pretty important part.

*I think only a tiny minority thinks everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want. If you feel like that is a sustainable position, then I guess I am not really writing to you.

 

New book

Jacobs 1943Today I received The Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs (one of my favorite thinkers). Jacobs, a prolific writer on the Web (see, e.g., Snakes & Ladders, microblog, Text Patterns, etc.) seems to manage to produce a physical book every year or two (sometimes on fairly esoteric topics) as well as fulfilling his University teaching duties.

This one looks at five Christian thinkers who, separately and in deeply personal ways, considered what the war meant and would mean for Christianity and the West:

The war raised for each of the thinkers . . . a pressing set of questions about the relationship between Christianity and the Western democratic social order, and especially about whether Christianity was uniquely suited to the moral underpinning of that order. These questions led in turn to others: How might an increasingly secularized and religiously indifferent populace be educated and formed in Christian beliefs and practices? And what role might people like them—poets, novelists, philosophers, thinkers, but not professional theologians or pastors—play in the education of their fellow citizens of the West?

p. xvii.

The five are Jacques Maritain, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, and Simone Weil. I am in the throes of anticipation and will report back when I have finished it.

All bad, not all bad

Baseball 2I read this about 10 days ago.  I continue to think about it. Eric Dorman, “Of Cubs and Humans and Good Thieves,” Mockingbird (July 30, 2018) [link].

It reminds me of  “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable.” David Foster Wallace, “This is Water,” available many places on the Web, including [link] and [audio link].

1st Journey

Acts logoThe kind of thing I always want worked out (but can’t find), so I make it:

13 1Now there were in the church at Antioch . . . .

4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, [Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark] went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, . . . . 6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, . . . .

13Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia . . . . . 49And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. . . . 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium . . . .

14 6[They] fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7and there they continued to preach the gospel.

* * *

19But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch . . . .

24Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

First missionary journey rev3

1st Missionary Journey handout

Reading online

ReadingfromFathomTwo excellent posts on Fathom, one from a writer/artist I follow online and the other from a journalist I had not heard of:

  • Makoto Fujimura, “Which presidential portrait would you save from fire?” Fathom (Mar. 14, 2018) [link].
  • , “Outrage Culture,”  Fathom (Mar. 14, 2018) [link].

fujimura d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront.netfujimura 5550074_origFujimura, an outspoken Christian and abstract artist, discusses what he sees as a decline in portrait painting through the lens of the Presidential portraits. This is particularly fascinating since Fujimura’s own work is primarily abstract. Fujimura says:

“A good portrait—like Michelangelo’s depiction of the young Andrea Quaratesi, an extraordinary drawing featured in the recent Metropolitan Museum exhibit, or Madame X by John Singer Sargent across the hall at the Metropolitan—remains enduring because the artist captures more than a person. The portrait moves us away from mere depiction of the external element and begins to reveal the mysteries of the inner person’s soul. Such a work captures both the present reality and historical context of the time. But it also actualizes future audiences to believe in the art of portraiture itself.”

keith george-f-peabody-esqWhile my friend, Kyle Keith, himself a fine portrait painter, [link] may interact with Fujimura’s thoughts at the level of their shared craft, I enjoyed this as another example of a believer thinking through his work as a way of honoring God.

‘s piece, though, is more practical for me, because it interacts with the temptations I face every single day.  Danielsen’s topic is how we might reasonably and righteously display outrage, and it is virtually impossible to read or watch the news without hearing a call to outrage.  Danielsen suggests that “Of all God’s attributes, his outrage at injustice—with all its wildness and fiery breath—is among the hardest to wield with integrity.”

He poses four questions for dealing with outrage, eventually asking:

Am I outraged by grace most of all? There is nothing more outrageous than the cross. There, God plows the killing field to level the playing field. Our sins lie on the same plane as those who sicken us most. We both are offered life from one cup.

Knowing this shouldn’t quell our outrage. To guilt-trip or Jesus-juke someone into suppressing righteous outrage is a critical mistake and denies something God-given. Yet as creatures driven by the hope of redemption, we should sigh with longing for even the worst of sinners to stop in the middle of the road and turn around.

Be outraged, and sin not.

Each of these pieces is well worth the five minutes or so it will take to read them.

In Code

Life in CodeEllen Ullman, has compiled a series of seventeen mostly witty, sometimes snarky,* often insightful essays about the intersection of technology and life. Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology (2017) [link].

I particularly liked the earlier essays about “The Programming Life” in the 1990s, in which she explains tech and illuminates the social realities which programmers (particularly female programmers) faced, and probably still face.

Her social critique of the internet is also spot on, as she describes the searcher’s hopeless search, “adrift in a sea of empty, illusory, misery-inducing choice.” p. 89.

She sounds almost prescient as she writes (in 1998!):

Before the advent of the web, if you wanted to sustain a belief in far-fetched ideas, you had to go out into the desert, or live on a compound in the mountains, or move from one badly furnished room to another in a series of safe houses. Physical reality—the discomfort and difficulty of abandoning one’s normal life—put a natural break on the formation of cults, separatist colonies, underground groups, apocalyptic churches, and extreme political parties.

Id.

One point she circles back to from time to time is the way the internet removes the intermediaries from our decisions, stripping out those who “traditionally had been involved in [] transactions—even librarians and journalists—[but who were now seen as] incompetents, out for themselves, dishonest, the next thing to snake-oil salesmen and mustache twirlers.  The intermediaries were useless; you could trust only websites; go directly to the internet.” p. 297. This “disintermediation” has brought us closer to a kind of freedom which often just leaves us adrift. GOTO p. 89.

Recommended.

*”Microsoft, as ever, was last in invention but first in its ability to out-market its rivals.”