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Archive for the ‘Cultural Criticism’ Category

The modern person experiences a buffer between themselves and the world out there—including transcendent ideas and truths. The constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true. The value of individual choice and the multiplication of micronarratives shield us from committing to a consistent and coherent worldview. This allows the modern person to debate religion and politics freely, without any anxiety about what is at stake—because very little is at stake. Between the buzz of our lives and the fluidity of our narratives, there’s no reason any truth should ever threaten our understanding of the world or ourselves. Perhaps as a result, Christianity and atheism have never been as debated as they have in the last decade. But because of our buffered selves, what is at stake in such debates is a sense of superiority or social accolades, not whether we must sell everything we have, give to the poor, and follow Jesus.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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Jemar Tisby in an interview about his new book The Color of Compromise:

Christianity has the doctrine called original sin. We recognize that every part of ourselves and anything we touch as human beings is subject to corruption of sin. Christians, of all people, should be able to look in the mirror and say, “I’m guilty. I have been part of systems that have oppressed and marginalized other people.” That’s the thrust of the book. I think one of the big criticisms people will eventually come out with is that the book is not balanced. That’s for two reasons. First, the history itself is not balanced. The story of race in the church involves recognizing that there were people who were actively racist or complicit with racism. That group outnumbered the people who actively fought against racism. The analogy I use is of a football game. The referee isn’t fair if he or she calls an equal amount of penalties on both teams. The referee is responsible for calling the penalties against the team that deserved them, even if one team has many more penalties than another.

The other reason why the book may seem imbalanced is because we’ve told and celebrated the story of Christians fighting racism. We’ve done this to a detrimental degree because we take the exception—the minority of racism-conscious people—and we claim them as our own without recognizing the church’s broad complicity in racism. I wanted to make sure that we took a long, hard look at the way a majority of the American church for the majority of American history has helped to propagate and perpetuate a racial caste system.

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Simplicity is a positive virtue. It’s not just the lack of stuff. It’s embracing the right things with our time, the right things in our life. In that sense, it is like humility. Humility is not just the absence of pride, it is the virtue, even the habit, of viewing oneself rightly and correctly; it’s  appropriate self-knowledge. I do think that, in some sense, we approach simplicity not just by trying to get rid of stuff, but trying to pursue things like silence, things like solitude, things like generosity, which will inevitably require simplicity. Things like rest and Sabbath. These kinds of practices all result in a simpler lifestyle, but they’re a positive vision instead of just a negative vision of ridding ourselves of materialistic things. There is absolutely room for the message that we need to get rid of stuff, but at the end of the day, practicing simplicity is not primarily about “emptying out,” in and of itself. That cannot be the telos. It has to be filling up with the right and proper things that will help us to flourish, and so it’s really both. We need a negative and positive vision of simplicity.

Tish Harrison Warren, “Liturgies of Less and More”

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The front line of simplicity right now is technological simplicity. How do we think well about technology? Because what I’m seeing is that our technical devices are causing an erosion of an internal self, an internal life. Ten years ago if my kid said something funny, I might have told my husband. Now I put it on Facebook. Anything that happens to us, we now externalize, which, I think, erodes an internal self.

Tish Harrison Warren, “Liturgies of Less and More”

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I do not believe that skepticism is the default mode for humans. For one thing, we are bothered by the inconsistency of saying that we know that nothing can be known, or that it is true that there is no truth.

But I believe also that we all feel within ourselves the misfit of skepticism, as Cinderella’s stepsisters did the glass slipper. (And you might say that for centuries we have been cutting off our big toe to make the slipper fit.) For knowing nothing at all, you and I seem to know quite a lot. Or at least we seem to live like it—that is, when it isn’t more personally advantageous to be skeptics. Vast portions of our lives and jobs and society are devoted to information, learning, and discovery. What’s more, we continually make advances from unknowing to knowing, whether in the classroom or the science lab or in the ordinary affairs of life. This is the story of our lives. This belies skepticism. We’ve felt compelled to call ourselves skeptics in the name of integrity. But all along we felt the inauthenticity of such a label, since our human lives, just because they are human lives, are a tapestry of acts of knowing.

— Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know 

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Technical failures contribute to postmodern unmasking. Early in the nineteenth century, Germany undertook one of the most ambitious civil engineering projects ever attempted in central Europe—the “rectification” of the Rhine River in an effort to prevent flooding along the Rhine Valley and “to create a faster, deeper, shorter river whose formerly marshy plain could be turned over to agriculture.” This was only one of many water management projects that played a role in the creation of modern Germany—draining the floodplains of the Oder River, redirecting the Upper Rhine, monumental dam projects. It is an archetypal modern plan involving the management of the one of the most unmanageable of natural substances, water. It was a massive project to shepherd the wind and sculpt the mist. Despite many successes, floods continue to occur, though recent floods along the Oder have devastated portions of Poland and the Czech Republic rather than Germany—perhaps that was the plan all along.

The German water management project stands as a parable of modernity, and of postmodern disillusionment with modernity’s efforts to control the world. Moderns tried to instill shock and awe through smoke, pumping pistons, a loud voice; postmoderns pull back the curtain to find a little old man running the show, and not all that effectively. Postmodernism arises in part from the recognition that technology has never achieved the control it promised and claimed, that science—marked as it is by debate, uncertainty, contested evidence—has never been as unified and stable as the textbooks make it appear.

— Peter Leithart, Solomon among the Postmoderns 

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Consider the array of profound and moving insights that the self-imposed constraints of a sonnet’s fourteen lines of iambic pentameter allow. Or how many small and large acts of love are made possible within the self-imposed constraints of a lifelong marriage or committed friendship. Just think of the potential resources in timber, fresh water, fish, poultry, and even crude oil if we produced and consumed within self-imposed constraints on our appetites and our use of resources we hope to pass on to the thousandth generation.

Doug Sikkema, “Minimalism for the Sake of the World”

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