What Emojis can’t say

Amanda Mull considers the virtues of telephones over texting. It’s not a binary choice, but the intimacy of phones does have an advantage

In place of the natural intimacy of verbal conversation, texters and technology companies have tried to retrofit emotional richness into messaging through abbreviation (lmao) and emoji. Those signifiers work to a certain extent, but there’s an irony to so many people mimicking the touchstones of spoken conversation on their phones when they’re just a button-press away from the real thing.

From The Atlantic.

On the Marginalized and the Oppressed

 We hear the term all the time as a sort of political trope, but can we recover something else, something more substantive from it?

For me, the political/social stance starts with practice: the public is built on the acts and practices in our own life. We can’t stand on the side of the marginalized and oppressed if we don’t also understand that wrt God we are most certainly marginalized, oppressed, rebels with no hope until God acted in our lives; we who were strangers have become friends of God. Pietist that I sometimes can be, becoming a friend of God is not forensic, or the broccoli before we get to the good stuff, rather it is the start. 

But I have also been thinking about the different ways that standing on the side of the marginalized and oppressed actually looks like:

• Giving the job to the ex-con for the third time

• Standing there in court, alongside, knowing that without your help they are in deep trouble…

• Guiding your construction company to create job training programs for kids in the city

• Visiting the irascible widow, the one whose son did not tell her that she had cancer….

Standing alongside is an act of solidarity and mercy.

Slipping Into Darkness

Read on conservative side of the Religious Right and one can catch a whiff of an anti-democratic spirit, a longing for something other. Is just the patriarchal longing by another name? Is something else at work?

On her Facebook page, Kristin Kobes DuMez ponders this in light of a new article at Sojo (currently paywalled) by David Gushee, “The Trump Prophecy.”

This is something I kept seeing in my research that caught me off guard—the lack of support for democracy in conservative evangelical circles. When you believe in a patriarchal, authoritarian chain of command, democracy doesn’t make sense. Plus, for presuppositionalists, why would you want corrupt ideas holding sway? The question I struggled with is how influential/pervasive these ideas are within evangelicalism more broadly. More prevalent than I one thought.

So I don’t see this as an after-the-fact turn to justify support for Trump.

This emerging taste for hierarchy is certainly culturally different from the traditional culure of the Plain Folk, or the Scots-Irish that have so nurtured the Religious Right, which in turn leads me to wonder if this perhaps is a continuing capture by (conservative) Catholic social teaching? On Right to Life, the Catholics won the narrative, so Evangelicals started talking about “Natural Law” and likewise got up in arms supposed abortifacients (even got Calvin to sputter about Plan B as I recall). Also look for the use of subsidiarity by Evangelical political thinkers. In this framework, Trad Catholics lean away from representative democracy so it’s not surprising that the ties to representative government also get loosened.

As an aside, we can note the use of “Natural Law” as a sort of catchall in the desegregation debate. C.f. G.T. Gillespie, “Segregation is one of Nature’s Universal Laws” in Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, Zondervan 2019. p. 133. Further, the authoritarian turn may also be an instance of what Michael Lind describes as Southern Bourbonism politics with its aristo-oligarchic, Big House style authoritarianism; another dark shadow of the Cotton Kingdom.

The authoritarian turn also destabilizes Evangelical theology. The suspicion that is built into the Reformation and especially its Baptist wing gets dulled. To reverse the James II “no bishop, no king” we instead have “king, so bishop.” And to the degree the authoritarian is shadow of the Cotton Kingdom, it becomes a white box, a substitution of the Evangelical proclamation of good news for all into a good news (only) for some.

Yes?No? Maybe?

Brian Keepers revisits what it means to be Evangelical. Are we? Aren’t we? Sometimes? It is a confusing thing, he notes,

it’s got to be about more than just loyalty to the past. That wouldn’t be reason enough to stay with the label. Mouw would agree. As I consider why I’m still self-identifying as an evangelical, it is also because I believe in the heart of evangelicalism.

The model for the evangelicalism he’s seeking is one he takes from Richard Mouw, a manner of approach, “a kind of evangelicalism that is both convicted yet humble, robust and generous, open-hearted and curious, faithful to the past’s legacy but always restless and willing to be self-critical.”

As noted, being evangelical is almost entirely contextual or social: in some places I will be read as an “evangelical” because of my beliefs; elsewhere I can be vaguely progressive because of my politics. To the extent that Evangelical has a meaning, it points to a community, both the one that shaped us — a community of memory if you will, and the present social community — a society. One may belong to one and not the other, or to both.

Among the Dutch, the term, even the idea is a bit more complicated. The Evangelical were those who left e.g. PJ Zondervan, or Calvary Undenom and RBC both out of then Calvary Reformed): they were “methodists” then “fundamentalists,” then ‘thank-G– I’m not one of them’ they’re from Iowa (Wisconsin, or Ottawa County).’

Given that the personal nature turns the question into a sort of navel-gazing and a consideration of who belongs, words from John come to mind. Peter wonders “what about him (the other guy over there — John)?” And Jesus’ words are to work on our own business, “You are to follow me.” (John 21:21-22). I wouldn’t worry about Evangelical as much as I would worry about the following part. There’s plenty to be done.

Keepers, Brian. "Is It Time to  Let Go of the Label 'Evangelical?'". Reformed Journal:The Twelve. April 8, 2019.

Christian Politics? Nothing social about it.

Over at The Twelve, Jason Lief pushes back against those who see the call for Christian engagement on social issues as “the social gospel.” For him, the Christian community is called to oppose the ideologies, the powers of this age, starting wtih Jacque Ellul’s thoughts about money or Mammon. Following Ellul, Christians are called to bear witness, to speak on behalf of the weak and voiceless. And they are called to listen

The Christian community must listen to the voices of the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized. We must oppose every form of hatred, every form of racism and bigotry, and every attempt to silence. This begins with confession—listening to the poor and the oppressed, and confessing our participation in sinful systems that pay homage to the idols of power and wealth.

But is he right, here? Is this the path for Christian engagement in politics?

After all, most of us take our politics from the sociological community where we live, so a person from Ann Arbor has a certain politics, and the Dutch dairy farmer has another political framework. We’re embodied, and the challenge for us within the scope of our own life is to manifest and promote the reign of God. The press of acting justly towards our neighbor or of acting for the good of our community is common. Likewise the resistance to the powers of this Age is common to us in our varied sociological settings. E.g. we all struggle with Ellul’s technology (techinque) as it actively seeks to stop our growth into Christian maturity. And technique is but one of the Powers with which we must engage in conflict.

So if we face a common task, albeit expressed differently, what is the role of confession? Isn’t that a form of perfectionism, my need to be absolved before I can speak: one more leftover of individual pietism, of me and Jesus?

So, too, consider the notion of opposition, itself an inherently reactive stance. If I oppose I do not really have to change, the problem is always with the Other. And to the extent we oppose abstract causes — those general national, international problems– we are only importing our own pre-existing values. Our sociology reigns.

Rather than think in terms of the political, why not think in terms of diverse voices, that the task of God’s People is to pursue justice and the good of the neighbor in the context of their particular sociological settings? We are open to the seduction of power, money, and the other idols and principalities of the age, what we need is not opposition, but a common cause, a commitment to confess Christ in our public lives as well. This will look different depending on where we are, and I would think that’s ok, perhaps even what God seeks. This finally why opposition doesn’t work, it muffles the summons to proclaim and act on Resurrection.

Haunted.

Adam Copeland is a haunted man, haunted by the memory of where he once was, who he once was, who interacted with hinm on the road to faith. The result? He doesn’t really go to church, even though he has a part in the church as institution. His article in the Christian Century considers this circumstance:

… frankly, the church of our future may not be as life-giving as those of our past. More likely than not, it will be in decline. It may be experimenting—badly—with ways to attract millennials. It may not have hit its budget target in years. It may struggle with mission beyond its doors. It may be somewhat uncomfortable, even painful, to visit and to join.

This closing thought has it almost right: we have to settle for the imperfect, rather than pursue the ideal. The point of having great memories of life-changing congregations is to treat them as the gift they are. They not only have shaped you to be the person you are, but also are a sort of gift to be shared with others. Keeping them only to yourself, refusing the messy and imperfect, does not keep the memory fresh it only curdles it.

And it’s Lent: what are we called to do but lay aside our own self for the sake of others? How can that be done alone. Only with the messy and imperfect can we have the mind of Christ who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. Only with the messy and imperfect can we open ourselves to being surprised by God’s goodness in the face of another.

Finally there’s the Table: how does one come to the Table except in the context of the messy and imperfect?

My recommendation? Talk with the custodian at the school, where does she go to church? Go there.

Adam Copeland, “I’m a ‘church leader’ who doesn’t really go to church” The Christian Century. March 28, 3029