Culture Matters Roundup 12.16.16

1. Remembering John Glenn

Last week, John Glenn passed away at the age of 95. Glenn was a pilot in the Marines, a businessman, a senator, an astronaut, and he was married to his high school sweetheart for 73 years. He made history in 1962 by becoming the first American to orbit the earth and again in 1998 by being the oldest person to “touch the stars.”

For most men and women, fame is fleeting and greatness is short-lived. For John Herschel Glenn Jr., it lasted a lifetime.

2. Early Thoughts on the Oscars

With 2016 coming to a close, The Atlantic's David Sims is beginning to speculate about the year’s Oscar nominees. The last few years have been controversial, with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite being used to lambast the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees. This led president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to rework the Academy’s membership process.

The New York Times also published “The Best Movies of 2016” according to their film critics: Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott and Stephen Holden.

The simple fact is, the Oscars reward films about creativity and the Hollywood process—even when they’re out of sync with the world around them.

3. Creating Silence

Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming movie, Silence, is based on Shūsaku Endō’s novel by the same name. The story follows the life of Jesuit missionaries who undergo torture and struggle with apostasy while seeking to minister in Japan. In this interview, Scorsese discusses his faith and the film.

The vehicle that one takes towards faith can be very helpful. So, the church—the institution of the church, the sacraments—this all can be very helpful. But ultimately it has to be yourself, and you have to find it. You have to find that faith, or you have to find a relationship with Jesus with yourself really, because ultimately that’s the one you face.

4. The Dangers of “Fake News”

After a man was arrested last week in the midst of investigating false claims about a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., being involved in child sex slavery, Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote a letter in The Washington Post about the phrase “fake news.” Bailey’s complaint is that conservatives often use “fake news” to mean “liberal bias,” but there is a real danger in news that is legitimately false.

We are living in a post-truth time of fake news and misinformation, something that should be deeply troubling to people of faith who claim to seek truth in their everyday lives.

5. It’s Time We Think of Politics More Like Religion

Writing for Religion News Service, Arthur E. Farnsley II draws this comparison between religion and politics: Who we are comes first. We like to think elections are about ideas, reason and argumentation, when they are really about emotion, intuition and tribal affiliation.

As with religion, the choice between “facts” and “identity” in politics is a false one. We can argue about policies using evidence, just as religionists argue internally about theology and ethics. But we should also remember that political behavior, like religious behavior, begins with the way we understand our place in the universe.

6. Dylann Roof on Trial

Dylann Roof, who shot and killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year, is now on trial. This Vox article explains some of the unusual aspects of the trial, including that some of the survivors and family of the victims oppose the death penalty, even for Roof, and that the 22-year-old is considering representing himself in court.

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Culture Matters Roundup 12.9.16

1. Why We Love This Is Us

Writing for The Washington Post, Russell Moore attempts to explain the popularity of NBC’s This Is Us, the highest-performing new show of 2016. Moore writes that we are drawn to the show for far more than its excellent writing and acting. We’re able to connect to it personally, especially as it jumps back and forth in time, showing the main characters as both children and adults, because our pasts are part of who we are.  

We wouldn’t be who we are if not for the stories that have made us—stories we love, stories we hate, and sometimes stories we long to peer into but leave us in mystery.

2. The Problem With Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs

Last week on his own blog, Russell Moore wrote about the lack of narrative tension in much Christmas music. He calls the Church to speak to the full range of human emotion, just as the Bible does.

I suspect many people in our pews look around them and think the others have the kind of happiness we keep promising—especially around Christmas—and wonder why it’s passed them by.

3. Two Views on Social Media

Cal Newport wrote an article last month for The New York Times called “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It,” wherein he suggests that social media is not as powerful and important as many others are saying. In fact, he believes it is detrimental, diminishing our ability to concentrate on our real work. The argument is especially interesting contrasted with this Medium article from last year, which calls for high schools to teach their students how to effectively use social media.  

The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used—persistently throughout your waking hours—the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

4. A Love Letter to a Love Story

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning musical, Hamilton, has been in the news consistently since it opened. Last week, The Hamilton Mixtape was released, an album of songs from the musical and inspired by the musical, by many of the artists Miranda was inspired by—Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah and more. In his review on The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber writes that the mixtape gives Hamilton a whole new feel.

While few tracks match the cast album in emotional impact, many do shift emphases in refreshing ways, confirming these songs’ potential to live outside of a narrative.

5. Mothers in the Church

Writing for Ligonier Ministries, Jen Wilkin calls women in the Church to spiritual motherhood. She also encourages young men and women to seek the wisdom of a spiritual mother, while recognizing that this process isn’t always easy.

Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength.

6. 100 Outstanding Audio Stories of 2016

It’s that time of year when “Best of” lists begin to be published. Here’s Bello Collective’s top 100 podcast episodes of the year (in no particular order).

From unique partnerships and collaborations, to interviews and political coverage, this was the year that podcasts found their footing as a form of journalism.

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Wait for It… Wait for It

Wait.

It’s a word that nobody likes to hear. The word “wait” doesn’t conjure up fuzzy feelings of a dreamy evening next to a toasty fire. If I’m honest, what it really conjures within me is the desire to punch something. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

No one likes to wait—not my 3-year-old, who fidgets in his seat before dinner, not my grandfather, who wouldn’t wait for the rest of us to open his gifts at Christmas, and not me on my third trip to the DMV. The concept of waiting challenges our perceived need to have something now. This desire is fed by our culture of instant gratification, yet it goes all the way back to the very first people on earth, Adam and Eve.

When God created the world and made Adam and Eve in His own image, He gave the earth to them to fill and subdue. Within the earth was everything they could have ever wanted. They were granted full access to the most beautiful and perfect of all creation (Gen. 1:28-30).

But when sin came into the world through the Enemy’s temptation, everything broke. The shattering of communion with God brought with it many consequences; one of those is the toil of waiting.  

However, waiting isn’t all bad. God graciously made a promise to Adam and Eve that someone would come to crush the head of the serpent. That someone—Jesus Christ—did come, after a long wait. And now, especially in this season of Advent, we find ourselves waiting again, expectant for the fulfillment of His promise to return.

A New Way of Life

After the Fall, waiting became a way of life. When God called Noah to build the ark, it took time and patience for the ark to be ready and the rains to fall. God called Abraham to wait before his son, Isaac, was born, from whom God would make a people, as He had promised. Sold into slavery and wrongfully imprisoned, Joseph waited for redemption. God’s people waited over 400 years under the tyrannical pharaohs of Egypt. Complaining and disobedient, they followed Moses in the wilderness, wandering and waiting for another 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. David waited upon the Lord when he was pursued by King Saul. Though God’s people didn’t know the details, they were all waiting for a Savior.

Jesus did come at the perfect time to be a ransom for their sins and restore the relationship with God that was lost in the garden. But even His death and resurrection has not put an end to our waiting. The apostle Paul writes repeatedly about the Christian's wrestle with waiting:

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:23)

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal. 5:5)

Paul struggled with a "thorn" in his flesh that he asked the Lord to take away, but he had to wait and trust that the Lord was working (2 Cor. 12:7-10). As we wait, we too can trust that the Lord is always working.

Waiting Produces Something

Though the Fall brought about the toil of waiting, God, in His sovereignty, redeems our waiting by using it to produce good fruit in us. The Bible, especially the Psalms, gives us many different pictures of how we should wait: being still, putting our hope in Him, giving thanks for what He has done and considering His Word.

God is always about making us more into the likeness of His Son. These are just a few examples of what He is doing in our waiting.

He Is Strengthening Us

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)

Have you ever gone on a vacation and come back exhausted? A whole week away, and you are dead tired. What's the deal? One of things we learn as we grow in knowledge of the Lord is that He and He alone is the giver of strength. Though relaxation and sleep are gifts of common grace from God, only He can take away our weariness. As we wait upon the Lord, He strengthens us. As we surrender to all that He is and does, we find ourselves able to do the things He's called us to do.

He Is Providing for Us

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Ps. 33:18- 22)

God is the Author and Sustainer of life. In His loving kindness, He casts His gaze on those who fear Him and on those who place their hope in Him. It’s the pride of our hearts that says, “I can do it by myself,” and, “I don’t need God.” Yet He is the One who is sustaining the breath that carries those words. As we humble ourselves before our awesome Creator, He takes notice of us. As we wait for Him, trusting in His beautiful Name, He shows us mercy and protects us.

He Is Working Out His Plan in Us

The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exod. 14:14)

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Ps. 62:1-2)

In our Exodus series, we are learning about God’s great plan to redeem His people from the evil grasp of Pharaoh. Yet, soon we will see that even in the midst of God's rescue, Israel complains. The ungrateful voice of impatience rises to God.

How often do we do the same? We don't see what God sees, and what we do see, we see with poor perspective. We think that God is not moving or working, or if He is, He's not doing a good job, not doing it the way we want. God calls us to quiet patience and silent waiting because He is working out His perfect plan in and through us. Waiting quietly is hard, but it shows that our hearts trust God's wisdom and plan even though we don't see all that He is doing. As Charles Spurgeon has said, "When we can't trace His hand, we must trust His heart."

Echoes of a Greater Longing

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil. 3:20-21)

What are the things for which you are waiting? A job, a spouse, healing, relational reconciliation? In God's wisdom, He allows us to wait and also brings resolution to our longing. But even if we get the thing we think we want the most, that longing never fully goes away. Ingrained within us is a longing that will only be fulfilled on the day when we see Jesus face to face. So whether we’re waiting on something trivial, like the line at the DMV or our drink at Starbucks, or we’re waiting on an answer to a heart-wrenching situation, these are all echoes of a greater longing, shadows of the desire for the One who can ultimately satisfy that longing.

So Christians, what's our response? You may be thinking "Yeah, resolution sounds great, but I’m still waiting for my tough circumstances to go away." I get it. But I believe we can find hope in Paul’s words. The Lord Jesus Christ will one day transform our bodies to be like His, which is imperishable (1 Cor. 15:53-54). With that same power, He is sovereignly ruling over all things today and every day, including the things for which we wait. We have a God who is both able and willing to be lovingly involved in our lives. We wait, then, knowing our hope is grounded in God's faithfulness (Heb. 10:23). Right waiting produces godliness and a satisfying hope in Him.

No matter what earthly things we wait for, we all share this ultimate longing. We’re all waiting together. Let’s wait with anticipation that the One for whom we wait will sustain us fully until we see Him. On that day, the wait will be worth it.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Ps. 27:14)

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Culture Matters Roundup 12.2.16

1. Buzz Around Fixer Upper

Season four of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ hit HGTV show Fixer Upper premiered on Tuesday, and that morning, BuzzFeed published this article by Kate Arthur, speculating about the couple’s opinions on same-sex marriage. Yesterday on The Washington Post, Brandon Ambrosino called Arthur’s piece a “non-story,” because her speculations are based entirely on the beliefs of the church the Gaines are part of, not on any statement from either the couple’s representatives or HGTV. Ambrosino, who opens his article by saying that he’s currently in the midst of preparations for his own same-sex wedding, says Arthur’s piece is “dangerous” because it makes so many assumptions and feeds a negative view of journalism.

Besides the fact that the entire case is made by speculation and suggestion, there are many other problems at play.

2. How the Dallas Cowboys Prop Up the NFL

In this article for The Atlantic, Robert O’Connell writes about the NFL’s declining viewership and reliance on younger, more affordable players. The Dallas Cowboys, he writes, are a reminder of what the league once was, even as they deal with their own struggles.

If football can still be beautiful, at least when certain teams are playing it, its ugliness waits just outside the lines.

3. Controversial Funerals

Fidel Castro, former prime minister of Cuba, died last week, and his funeral is proving to be unsurprisingly controversial. Reporting for The Guardian, Homa Khaleeli lists other world statesmen who had complicated funerals, including Israeli president Shimon Peres and Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos.

All in all, the list of western leaders who won’t be attending Fidel Castro’s funeral is looking more notable than those who will.

4. Word of the Year

Every year, Oxford Dictionaries picks something to be their “Word of the Year,” and in 2016, the winner is “post-truth.” They define post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” which speaks to the world we’re living in. Learn more about the Word of the Year at Oxford’s website.

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

5. A Case for Christian Magnanimity

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung writes about the idea of magnanimity: “loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity.” In a world saturated with debate, argument and insults, this is an important concept for us to grasp.

While we certainly want to stand up to real physical violence and insist on all the rights accorded us by God and by the laws of the land, when it comes to insults, rudeness, and social media scrappiness, killing them with kindness is usually the way to go.

6. Zika Virus in Texas

The Zika virus we heard so much about this summer hasn’t gone away, and this Washington Post article covers a case in south Texas that may indicate mosquitoes carrying the virus are in the area. Texas Health Commissioner John Hellerstedt encourages people to “protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter,” as a precaution against the virus.

The CDC has been working with Texas and local health departments to conduct drills on the kinds of testing and investigation that need to be done in response to local transmission.

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The Feast of Passover and the Lord’s Supper

On October 3, 1789, George Washington signed and issued a proclamation that Thursday, the 26th of November of that year, would be a day set aside for rendering thanks to “that great and glorious Being” for the newfound government, peace and plenty found in America. The tradition continued, and on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day to be a permanent national holiday.

For many Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a day of remembrance, when we give thanks for various blessings in our own lives. Thanksgiving also stands as a commemoration of that famous Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth in 1621, when English colonists gathered with Native Americans to celebrate the plenty they experienced and give thanks to God.

Israel and the Commemorative Meal

Thanksgiving is a modern example of what happens for the covenant people of God in Passover. In Exodus 12-13, the story is told of Israel’s salvation from the 10th and final plague in Egypt. The angel of death passed through the land of Egypt and struck down the firstborn son of each household. Unlike the previous plagues, when God withheld His judgment from the Hebrews’ area of residence in Egypt, God only withheld the 10th plague from those who had the blood of a lamb covering their doorposts outside their homes, regardless of what people they belonged to. When God saw the blood covering, He passed over that house, sparing them from death.

In conjunction with killing a lamb for the blood to be put on the doorpost, a family feast was instituted for the commemoration of the event. In Exodus 12:1-28, this Passover meal is outlined. The people of God are commanded to repeat this meal throughout their generations, as a statute forever. The day in which they celebrate the Passover meal each year is to be a “memorial day.”

What does this mean? What is God intending for the Passover Feast to actually be in the life of the people of Israel? A look at several passages of Scripture reveals some of its purpose: The people of God remember God's saving act in the commemorative meal for the purpose of (1) reliving the event, (2) reuniting the community and (3) redirecting their lives.

Reliving the Event

First, the Passover is relived in the Passover meal. In Exodus 12:24-27, when explaining the future significance of Passover, Moses writes, “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” It is clear that the observance of the Passover celebration was always meant to be a remembrance and re-enactment of the event itself, even for those who weren’t there. Consider Deuteronomy 16:3,

“You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.”

At this point, Moses is speaking to the next generation of Hebrews who were born after the Exodus. They weren’t personally saved in the Passover and brought out of the land of Egypt. Yet, they are to experience this meal as a way to relive the Passover for themselves as a people. They are to consider themselves "passed over" by the Lord.

Reuniting the Community

Second, the people of God are drawn together in community by the Passover meal. When originally observed in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Passover meal was designed to be eaten in the individual homes of the people. The meat was not allowed to be taken outside the home (Exod. 12:46). This effectively tethered all Passover-observing Israelites to their respective fathers’ houses, thus nurturing a communal remembrance of God’s salvation. Slaves and foreigners were also to participate, if they had been initiated into the people of God by circumcision (Exod. 12:44, 47).

In Deuteronomy 16:5-6, over 40 years later, Israel is given a slightly new direction: They are instructed to eat Passover at Jerusalem, rather than in their separate towns. Again, this effectively eliminated the segregation of the people of Israel into their clans and families across the land of Israel. Not only did the circumcised ones come (men), but Moses instructed them,

“And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there.” (Deut. 16:11)

Every year, the nation reunited around their common identity as the “passed-over ones.” They were those whom the Lord spared from death and judgment, and this joint identity bound them together.

Redirecting Their Lives

Third, the people of God are redirected by Passover to live rightly. When he instructs Israel on the Feast of Passover and of Unleavened Bread, Moses tells the Israelites the feast will be like “a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes,” and it will remind them that the Lord brought them out of Egypt (Exod. 16:1). Again, before entering the Promised Land, Moses tells Israel it will also be like writing on the doorposts of their houses and on the gates of the city (Deut. 6:9). Every time they looked at their hand or their neighbor’s face, they would remember. Every time they left or entered their house, or they left or entered the town, they (and visitors) would remember. Why does Israel need to be reminded so often of being passed over?

In this Old Testament context, “remembering” means much more than mere mental recollection. This is a type of recollection that implies action. It implies attentiveness to the promises and events of the past in such a way that action is taken which is defined by the thing remembered—this is remembering forward, recalling the past for the sake of propelling oneself into the future. This is why it is such great news when God remembers His people (Exod. 2:23-25). He never “forgot” them or the promises to Abraham but is decisively acting on His promises for the sake of His people. Likewise, Israel is to remember God’s salvation so that they will be who they are. They are to remember His commandments so that they will do them and walk in faithfulness to the covenant.

The Lord’s Supper and Remembering Christ

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He took the bread, He took the cup, and He instituted the commemorative meal for the New Covenant people of God (Matt. 26:26-29). It is probable that Jesus was having the Passover dinner itself when He began a new commemorative meal for God’s people. As the Church, we receive the Lord’s Supper every week to commemorate and proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord (1 Cor. 11:26). Just like the Israelites whom the Lord “passed over,” we remember God's saving act in the commemorative meal for the purpose of (1) reliving the event, (2) reuniting the community and (3) redirecting our lives.

First, when we are gathered for worship, we take the Lord’s Supper to relive the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the Israelites, they underwent and dramatized the escape from death every year. The Passover was the ritual re-enactment of being passed over by God and spared from His judgment. As God’s people partaking in the commemorative meal, we do not passively relive the event, watching from the audience as it goes by like a movie. We bring the event into the present. It is as if we are there at the foot of the cross as the body is broken and the blood is spilt. What’s more, we consider ourselves crucified with Christ (cf. Gal. 2:20). Because of our union with Christ by the indwelling Spirit—received by faith and signified in baptism—we can relive the crucifixion as those who have been united with Christ in His death (cf. Rom. 6:2-4).

Second, just as Passover brought together the Israelites as the “passed-over ones,” so the Lord’s Supper now brings together the people of God in the same way. When the Israelites put the blood on their doorposts, they were seen by God as “in the right.” When we believed in Christ as Lord, the One whom God raised from the dead, we were made righteous by His blood. And if we have been counted righteous by His blood, then we will surely be saved from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). All those who have been justified by the blood of Christ are joined together into the one body of Christ through one baptism, united by the indwelling Spirit of God (Eph. 4:5). Accordingly, when we receive the Lord’s Supper, we do not receive it in disparate places, alone as families or even alone as Home Groups. We come together to the common meeting place on the Lord’s Day and proclaim our common identity as the “passed-over ones,” who have been crucified with Christ and who await the consummation of our redemption. Whenever we come to eat this meal together, if we do so in disunity or discord, we violate the very heart of communion (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Eating this meal in disunity is to partake in an unworthy manner and shows a lack of discernment regarding the body and blood of Christ.

Third, when we eat the Lord’s Supper, we remember forward, recommitting ourselves to the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:4) and to the ethical obedience due our God and Savior. The Ten Commandments begin with a declaration: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). The good news of God’s unconditional deliverance always precedes the mandate for obedience to the covenant. In our case, we celebrate that He is the Lord our God, who draws us out of death and darkness, out of slavery to sin. We look forward, walking in obedience to His commands, having been liberated from slavery to unrighteousness so that we would be free to pursue righteousness even in our mortal bodies. At the Lord’s Supper, we receive mercy for our sin, and we renew our commitment to follow after Jesus, who is our great example.

The Final Remembrance

Israel observed Passover every year as a way to root themselves in their identity as the “passed-over ones.” They were those whom God rescued out of Egypt and were thus the people who inherited God’s promises to Abraham. They continuously looked forward to the day when they would fill the land and be a kingdom of priests to all the nations of the world. In that day “the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). This final remembrance is the hope which drove the Israelites forward.

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember the death and resurrection of Christ, who is the firstborn from the dead. He is the one who will fulfill all God’s promises to Abraham. Through Him, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. We remember forward to that day when all creation is liberated from its bondage to decay and the glory of God is revealed in His sons and daughters. We are those who will finally be made like Jesus Christ in His resurrection, and we will eat the commemorative meal with Him again in the kingdom of God (Matt 26:19). This is our hope, and it is an anchor for our souls. This is the hope for which we strive and the final hope toward which we remember forward.

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Culture Matters Roundup 11.18.16

1. Rescuing Arwa and Brice

CNN producer Hamdi Alkhshali shares this harrowing story of being the one left behind while two of his colleagues were trapped by ISIS. Alkhshali did everything he could to ensure their safe return.  

To see my colleagues walking towards me in one piece fills me with indescribable joy.

2. Comedians as Activists

According to these articles in The Atlantic, there is a vanishing line between politics and comedy. Megan Garber focuses on John Oliver’s plea for activism on last weekend’s episode of Last Week Tonight, while David Sims writes about the cold-open of Saturday Night Live and the absence of Trump’s character throughout the episode.

It was a striking moment—not just in American politics, but in American comedy. It was comedy that insisted, on moral grounds, that there are things more important than being funny.

3. In Light of the Election

Russell Moore’s response to the presidential election was published last week in The Washington Post. He calls Christians to pray and remember that we belong to Christ first.

The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics.

4. The Surprising Theological Possibilities of Virtual Reality

Writing for Christianity Today, C.T. Casberg asks these questions: Why should believers care about this new wave of virtual reality (VR) technology? And what are we to think of it? VR is becoming ubiquitous, so we should be aware of its potential.

It’s important for Christians to be prepared with a thoughtful, positive vision of what VR can do as a medium rather than be caught unaware and forced into a reactive and defensive position where we have nothing to offer but criticism.

5. Remembering Leonard Cohen

After the musician Leonard Cohen’s death last week, Cameron McAllister wrote this article for Christ and Pop Culture, remembering the artist for much more than “Hallelujah,” which is, perhaps, his most well-known song.

In the midst of this tumultuous season, Cohen’s voice may be the one thing we need to hear, an elegant reminder that we need not stoop to the level of so many around us, that pain can be endured with dignity as well as grace, and that beauty can intrude, even in the most dire of circumstances.

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Culture Matters Roundup 11.11.16

1. Election Day 2016

The big news this week is, of course, the presidential election. The Atlantic live-blogged throughout the day on Tuesday, from Hillary and Donald casting their votes to the “I Voted” stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave to Trump’s first tweet the morning after his victory.

2. “I Voted” Stickers Explained

Vox published this interesting little article about the history and purpose behind those “I Voted” stickers you often get at the polls. Whether or not they make a difference in voter turnout, the companies producing the stickers are certainly making a profit.

3. Baseball History

Mark Mellinger writes at The Gospel Coalition about how the Cubs’ victory in last week’s World Series provides just a small glimpse at the greater glory of God.

As John Calvin said, all of creation contains “sparks of God’s glory.” Those sparks can certainly be found in baseball.

4. Family Game Night

Erin Wyble Newcomb writes at Christ and Pop Culture about the joys and benefits of family game nights. She notes how teamwork and togetherness are emphasized through their play, lessons that carry over into other aspects of life.

Like the rituals of the church, our familial liturgy reminds us who we are and where we’ve come from and what we value, not to mention who we want to become.

5. Four Portraits of Power

People seek power through strength, beauty, wealth and charisma. In this article, Jen Wilkin explores the implications of seeking these things to glorify self or to glorify God.

Jesus was rejected by the Jews in large part because he didn’t use power as they’d expected. Or as they’d hoped.

6. Emojination

Who knew the little pictures in our text messages and Instagram captions were so complicated? This New York Times article gives the reader a glimpse into Emojicon, a three-day convention held in San Francisco that’s all about emoji.

Any texter who wants to propose a new emoji for review must first navigate Unicode’s labyrinthine website, submit an academic-style paper arguing the case and ultimately gain the approval of representatives from a pool of tech companies — including Apple, Google, Adobe, Oracle and the German software company SAP — that pay $18,000 each in annual dues for the right to vote on characters.

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Faithful Gospel Presence in the Public Schools

Though our culture would prefer faith stay in the private arena rather than the public one, God calls all Christians to engage their workplaces with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every vocation presents unique challenges and opportunities to follow this call, and the public school system is no exception. As a part-time tutor married to a math teacher, I’ve seen how teachers, coaches and administrators have unique opportunities to creatively leverage their character and the classroom for the gospel. What does this look like? How do you champion the gospel in one of the most guarded places in society?

Faithfulness in the Public Schools

While the opportunities are unique, they are not without their challenges. The public square, very much including schools, is no longer deemed an appropriate place for personal, religious conversations. However, God has made it clear in Scripture that He cares about good teaching, both inside and outside the Church (Deut. 11:19; 1 Tim. 5:17; James 3:1). So how can educators take advantage of the opportunities God has placed before them? I’ve tried to summarize the wisdom, observations and insights from my own experience and that of family and friends in the field to offer some hopeful suggestions.

Classroom Culture

Teachers and coaches set the cultural climate of their classrooms and locker rooms, for better or for worse. Christian teachers should consider how their persona and class management can create an inviting environment for student engagement.

The establishment of this culture begins the moment students walk in the door. One teacher I know asks her students to write a letter about themselves to her, so she can get to know them. As a template, she does a slideshow about herself for her students, in which she briefly mentions her faith. This shows her students that spiritual beliefs (Christian or not) are a topic worthy of being included in their own letters and that the topic doesn’t need to be tense or unapproachable. The teacher makes sure to thank each student for sharing, which establishes a culture in her classroom where students are comfortable talking about themselves and their personal lives.

Another teacher regularly reserves a 10-minute window in her class schedule for herself or her students to share funny, scary, surprising, endearing and embarrassing tales. These spare moments of “story time” foster an environment in which real life is not suspended for the sake of learning. Neither math class nor the locker room is an “inappropriate time” to be honest and engaging, nor is it the wrong time for students and teachers to encourage one another with laughter, kind words and caring hearts.

Other assignments can also be leveraged to promote spiritual conversations. Essays on the topics of justice, fairness or absolute truth might be obvious examples, but from math word problems to Spanish sentence translations, a curriculum can be shaped to spark rich conversation that is tilled for gospel seeds. With a bit of strategic lesson planning and follow-up, a teacher can cultivate deep conversations. Students often want to talk about topics other than the lessons in front of them. A teacher whose Christlike character is on display will be set up well for meaningful and ministerial conversations.

Loving Authority

Teachers and coaches can strategically leverage their authority to model gospel principles. Behavioral correction that is calm, consistent and genuinely caring shows students the kind of loving discipline we know of our Father, and it may be the first time they receive such discipline. These moments are ripe with gospel opportunity because they provide chances to show unexpected love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that interrupt students’ perceptions of their teachers and themselves (Gal. 5:22-23).

One teacher shared this particularly touching discipline moment: A student was acting up and, after being corrected, showed disrespect and anger toward his teacher. In the hallway, away from the other students, she asked, “Hey, what’s going on? You seem really frustrated,” and learned that her public rebuke had embarrassed him. Rather than pointing out his wrongs, she lingered on his grievance, humbly apologizing, committing to be more sensitive in the future and asking for his forgiveness. She asked if he would agree with her to respect each other mutually in front of the class. In a case like this one, a teacher’s sincere apology and request for forgiveness may be a student’s first glimpse of gospel humility.

Moments like this require teachers and coaches to step back from the system of discipline and consider the person being disciplined. Unsurprisingly, this requires genuine humility and careful discernment. But by extending the benefit of doubt, teachers can build up notions of grace and mercy that jolt a student’s sense of justice and fairness. Knowing when to make an exception illustrates that people matter more than the systems that manage them.

Beyond gracious and loving discipline, teachers can proactively care for their students by praying for them. One elementary teacher goes through her roster, praying for four students each week. She also looks for opportunities to pray specifically for students when needs arise and, when appropriate, follows up with the students she is praying for. Another teacher shared this example: “I had a student last year who became depressed after his mom was evicted, and he was doing poorly in school. I had to remind him every day that he had the ability to make a better future for himself. He needed to know that someone in his life cared enough to imagine a better life for him.”

Formal Activities and Organizations

Teachers, coaches and administrators should also take advantage of any formal opportunities that exist for spiritual formation. In most schools, students have the freedom to form and lead religious clubs, and in many districts, these clubs must have a staff sponsor. There are rules regarding the extent to which a sponsor can be involved in leadership, but a Christian adult’s presence in the club offers endless chances to encourage and caution young Christians as they seek to engage the world around them with their faith. As much as you’re able and invited, participate in the spiritual clubs and organizations that meet in your school, even if they are not explicitly Christian. Below is a short list of organizations to consider:

Character that Builds Platform

All of these practices start with an authentic love for students and an unshakable passion for letting them know it. Small moments can add up and establish relationships strong enough to hold the weight of gospel conversations. Simply the amount of time teachers and coaches are able to share with students is enough to make any youth pastor jealous. A teacher who thoughtfully takes advantage of this time will earn the platform to speak gospel truth into their students' lives.

One coach rejoices at the privilege of spending four years demonstrating to her team Christlike character, so that by the time they are graduating seniors, she can invite them to coffee and a conversation about spirituality. They don’t all take her up on the offer, but she understands her role in planting the seeds, others’ roles in watering them and God’s power to make them grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

Paul writes to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). It may not always seem like much, but teachers and coaches have significant opportunities to influence their students with the gospel through the culture of their classrooms, their demonstration of loving authority, and their interest and participation in the spiritual lives of their students.

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Culture Matters Roundup 11.4.16

1. Growing Up Poor in America

Nicholas Kristof wants our presidential candidates to talk more about poverty here in America. In this New York Times article, he writes about teenagers living in the “broken class”—inundated with violence, drug addiction and mental illness—who have talent and aspirations but lack any opportunity to improve their situation.

What many Americans don’t understand about poverty is that it’s perhaps less about a lack of money than about not seeing any path out.

2. Can a Museum Help America Heal?

This mini-documentary from The Atlantic tells the story of The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened this September in Washington, D.C. This is the first national museum dedicated to black history in America.

African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story; it’s not the underside of the American story. It is central to the American story.

3. The Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on the Train

Emily St. John Mandel did a bit of digging into the trend of popular books with “girl” in the title. Some of these books—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, for example—have also become popular movies.

The “girl” in the title is much more likely to be a woman than an actual girl, and the author of the book is more likely to be a woman. But if a book with “girl” in the title was written by a man, the girl is significantly more likely to end up dead.

4. No Kids Allowed

Kerry Potter writes about hostility toward children in public places, commenting on people’s desire for adult-only restaurants, flights, hotels and more. This desire leads to other questions, especially concerning special needs adults. As Christians, we are encouraged to welcome children and to have faith like theirs.

“Everyone benefits when we all mix together,” says Dr Chicot [child development expert and author of The Calm and Happy Toddler]. “It’s the final part of your development as an adult – to support, teach and look after other people. You gain an extra level of wisdom and patience, which you won’t if you just stay in your bubble, looking after number one.”

5. I Pledge Allegiance

In this political season of unrest, Drew Hunter has some encouragement to cling to—no matter what happens in next week’s election, Jesus will remain on His throne.

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Culture Matters Roundup 10.21.16

1. The New Culture of Life

In this article at Slate, Ruth Graham finds that there are many young people who care about ending abortion but aren’t tied to the Republican Party or the Christian right. These pro-life activists are making a case for a new culture of life that is neither a partisan nor religious issue, but one of human rights.

Millennials are both the “pro-life generation” and the least religious generation. The 2013 Pew survey showed that 25 percent of nonreligious Americans believe having an abortion is morally wrong.

2. Pastor-in-Chief

The debate has raged among evangelicals this election season, and there is still much disagreement. Last week, Dr. Norman Geisler explained to Ed Stetzer why he remains a supporter of Trump, and Kevin DeYoung wrote that he will certainly vote, but he won’t vote for either Trump or Clinton. Interestingly, both men make the point that our votes for president are not votes for a “Pastor-in-Chief.”

Whether we like it or not, when we vote for president we are not voting for Pastor-in-Chief. Rather, we are voting for Commander-in-Chief. The qualifications for the two jobs are different...We don’t have any perfect candidates. So we must choose among imperfect ones.

3. Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature but has yet to acknowledge it. According to CNN, the Swedish Academy intends to move forward with the award ceremony as usual, regardless of Dylan’s response. The awarding of the prize to a musician, rather than the traditional poet or novelist, has been met with mixed reactions, as seen in this New York Times article.

In giving the literature prize to Mr. Dylan, the academy may also be recognizing that the gap has closed between high art and more commercial creative forms.

4. The Complicated Case of The Birth of a Nation

Writing for Vox, Alissa Wilkinson says she’s still unsure how to feel about Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which first premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January to two standing ovations. The story is complicated by Parker’s personal history and the current political climate in America, but Wilkinson concludes that it may still do some good. To hear more thoughts on the movie, listen to episode 36 of our Culture Matters podcast.

I’d argue that The Birth of a Nation isn’t really about Nat Turner; his story is just the excuse to tell a bigger story about the Bible and race in America.

5. Harbor Media Podcasts

Harbor Media, the latest venture of author and former-pastor Mike Cosper, is launching two podcasts this month—Cultivated: Conversations About Faith and Work and The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea: A Podcast About Faith and Culture. Available now is the first episode of The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which explains the reasons behind Harbor Media’s creation. Cultivated launches on October 25.

6. Borrowed Time

Many of us know how hard it can be to deal with the grief of loss, particularly untimely death. This beautiful, animated short film entitled “Borrowed Time,” explores this theme. In this featurette about the making of the short film, the creators talk about wanting to show that animation can tell any kind of story.

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