The List: July 23, 2018

I love being able to share the gems, insightful articles, and provocative pieces I come across with my friends on Facebook. I’ve come to dislike just about everything else about Facebook. With that in mind, I’m trying an experiment in order to salvage the vestiges of what I like about the medium. I’m only logging on one time a week to check notifications, look in on the groups I enjoy being a part of, and probably share a pun or two.

I still enjoy the idea of sharing the cool stuff I run across – the stuff that’s got me thinking, or tapping my feet, or laughing, or whatever – but I don’t want to clog up anyone’s feed with a week’s worth of shares made in rapid succession, so as I come across something of interest, I’m stashing it here, and once a week, I can share my list.

Here’s the list for this week:

– Dr. Richard Beck talks about violence and victimization and the cycles we trap ourselves in over at his blog, Experimental Theology.

– Everyone’s favorite astrophysicist (Neil DeGrasse Tyson) interviews everyone’s favorite uber-nerd (Kevin Smith) on Startalk Radio. There’s some rich stuff for theological reflection here that I’m going to have to come back to some day. Tyson asks Smith what he would pick if he could choose any super power. He responded he choose the power to change people’s hearts. Solid, solid stuff. Listen here.

– I listened to this episode of More Perfect – “Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man” – on the way to Chicago last weekend and it’s haunted me ever since. It dives into the deep complexities at play in the frequent tensions between the African-American community and law enforcement. This is another one I’m coming back to after I process some more. Listen here.

“Christianity vs. Biblicism.” Here’s a hard word from BZ about how we look at the Bible and who is Lord. As a good CoC kid, this is one of the points that BZ makes me a little uncomfortable. At the same time, I suspect he’s got a point.

– Tokens Show offers us Stanley Hauerwas on patience. ‘Nuff said. Good, good. Read here.

– I’ve recently discovered Danny Sims blog. He is provocative and insightful. Here, he offers some theological reflections on the border crisis. Take a look here.

– On the virtue of restraint. Watch here.

– We are totally psyched about this in the Sparks household:

– A throwback to a few years ago, The Brilliance hitting us with a still-relevant message. “When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brother.”

– Dave! Check the lyrics out for this. We need to hear this.

– I’ve been digging Dylan (covers) since Tokens last month. This song is a favorite.

– Here’s a trilogy of seemingly unrelated pieces on the ravages of modern media. It seems there is a lesson about keeping Sabbath in here somewhere. 1) “Study: Watching Only Fox New Makes You Less Informed Than Watching No News At All”, 2) No Name Photo Show, Episode 37, 3) Fresh Air interview with director Bo Burnham.

– And, finally, Malcolm Gladwell offers one of the absolute best hours of radio I’ve ever heard. It is brilliant, provocative, and caused my eyelids to have the feels. (Also, Malcolm jams with Jack White.) Take a listen to “Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis.”

The List: July 23, 2018

Symbols aren’t “Just Symbols”

In his book The New Testament and the People of God, NT Wright provides a framework for evaluating culture. In his context, he is providing a helpful framework for understanding the cultures of Jesus, Paul, and the early church, but this tool can also be used to understand our culture – or how culture works more generally.

His framework is simple. Any culture will have stories, questions, symbols, and practices that serve as entry points to understanding what that culture is all about. Noting that humans use stories to make sense of the world around us, Wright argues a fundamental function of culture is to provide just such a narrative. He goes on to say,

… from these stories one can in principle discover how to answer the basic questions that determine human existence: who are we, where are we, what is wrong, and what is the solution? All cultures cherish deep-rooted beliefs which can in principle be called up to answer these questions. (pg. 123)

In any culture, this story (and the way it answers fundamental questions) is embodied in cultural symbols, into objects or practices that serve as touchstones to reinforce and root us in the story, values, and practices of the culture. For instance, in Christianity, the sacraments of baptism and eucharist serve as symbols. They are embodied retellings of the narrative that fundamentally makes us who we are. In the same way, from the earliest days of the church, the cross has been used as a symbol in Christianity to call us back to our identity and values. These symbols serve to root us in our narrative, to remind us of the sorts of things we should value, do, and be. Holidays, ceremonies, family traditions, rites of passage, flags, statues, and memorials all serve within a culture as these kinds of symbols – and as such, they are formative.

All this is to suggest that our symbols are never “just symbols.”

Good or bad, they are never amoral “parts of our history.”

They are meant to communicate something about what a culture or people group holds valuable or sees as the way forward in the world. This is precisely why such symbols are created in the first place.

Symbols aren’t “Just Symbols”