Worth Reading - 12/3

1. Bethany Jenkins has published a very interesting article about a Christian serving in the US Mint who transformed the culture of the mint by recognizing people's God-given worth. It's a helpful story and may be an aid to those seeking to bring their Christianity to bear on all of life.

Christians have such a narrative and purpose. We know that Jesus became incarnate, taking on the daily ordinariness of humanity and enduring the cross. Paul, too, was beaten, lashed, and shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:16–33). Yet these men had a greater narrative in mind than their own personal comfort. They endured because they connected their work to the ultimate narrative—that God sent Jesus to his people to reconcile them to God.

And our narrative includes even more than evangelism, more than spreading the good news of God’s reconciling message. As disciples, we’re called to live our whole lives—from family to church to volunteer activities to “whatever you do” before the face of God and for his glory (Col. 3:17; cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

And that includes our vocations. Our ordinary, everyday work points to that larger narrative. Though we only see small glimpses of glory in this life, we’ll see the whole panorama in heaven. Since the resurrection is true, and the perishable will put on the imperishable, Paul can write: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

2. Penn and Teller are well known entertainers and well-spoken atheists. They have been entertaining people for decades and are, certainly, entertaining to watch. This article at Christ and Pop Culture talks about the wonder they bring to the stage and the enjoyment in their deception, despite their distinctly and vocally anti religious bent.

Magic tricks exist on the edge of human awareness and perception, and magicians are masters of manipulating your senses to ensure that you only see what they want you to see and only when they want you to see it. (The usually silent Teller has explained this approach in more detail.) As such, magic can be more than just mere entertainment. It can also be a great lesson in humility, in admitting your own limitations and ignorance—especially when you’re an aspiring practitioner of prestidigitation yourself.

Since we’ve started watching Fool Us, my family has become somewhat magic-obsessed; we’ve often tried to one-up each other with some magic trick we’ve read about or seen on YouTube. Mind you, we have no desire to start a Vegas act anytime soon, but learning even the basics of sleight of hand and card manipulation have given us a modicum of insight into how some potential foolers do their thing.

Interestingly enough, that hasn’t diminished our enjoyment of the acts that come on Fool Us; if anything, it makes us only appreciate more the amount of skill, talent, and excellence on display. Here, too, is cause for humility. While watching somebody like Michael Vincent perform, I understand some of the basic principles of sleight of hand at play—but that knowledge does absolutely nothing to diminish my appreciation and enjoyment of the level of sheer skill on display in Vincent’s enchanting routine.

3. Fred Sanders, an irenic theologian who specializes in the doctrine of the Trinity, has put fingers to keyboard to write an entertaining, humorous, but very critical review of a recent book that claims to be about the Trinity by a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. Sanders' essay is significant because he actually marks Rohr's redescription of the triune God as a divine flow as heretical. Coming from someone who is generally very soft-spoken, this is a significant critique. However, Rohr is a popular writer among the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd of Christians, which makes the critique of this book important.

Rohr is a bestselling author who enjoys great popularity on the spirituality scene. He has Oprah cred, a Bono blurb, and an alternative school in Albuquerque. He’s written a lot of other books (he refers helpfully to several of them in the footnotes of this one), and I have to admit I haven’t yet read any of them. I picked up The Divine Dance because it says it’s about the Trinity, and also because it seems likely to be influential in coming months. The book is endorsed by Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Rob Bell. Weeks before it was even published, The Divine Dance was already the bestselling new release on the Trinity—indeed, the top seller in Amazon’s listing of newly released theology books, period.
Father Richard Rohr, in other words, has a thing going on. He has a signature style, a devoted fan base, and a certain something people expect him to bring to whatever topic he takes up. In The Divine Dance he takes up the Trinity.

Except he doesn’t. This book, The Divine Dance, is not about the Trinity.

What it’s about is the flow (see first paragraph above). What Rohr does in this book is teach about the Divine Flow, and he gets his message across by pressing into service some bits and pieces of Christian theological terminology. If that sounds perniciously subversive to you, there’s a reason. It’s perniciously subversive. In The Divine Dance, Rohr aggressively misappropriates Trinitarian language in order to commend his own eclectic spiritual teaching.

4. There is a big difference between racial bias (which everyone has) and white supremacy. However, in the ongoing identity wars, some on the left have taken to calling any form of bias white supremacy. The trouble is that a minor implicit bias is not the same degree a problem as actually cognitively believing one race is inferior to another. As a result, by trying to kill subliminal bias by classifying it as a horrendous evil (specifically white supremacy), the evil is getting watered down. It is a healthy thing that some on the left are beginning to recognize this, as can be witnessed in this article in Time magazine:

The term “dogwhistle” is even an example, in that we typically use it in reference to the right wing. However, white supremacy is now a dogwhistle itself. A leftist contingent is now charging any white person who seriously questions a position associated with people of color as a white supremacist. The idea is that if you go against a certain orthodoxy, then it isn’t only that you disagree, but that you also wish white people were still in charge, that you want people of color to sit down and shut up.

This is hasty and unfair. David Duke is, indeed, a white supremacist. The alt-right is, indeed, white supremacist. For one, they openly say so. Are there some whites who are more codedly white supremacist, even if they don’t quite know it? One assumes so—but the rhetorical brush is being applied much too broadly. After all, if whites accept anything a person of color states, is this not a new form of condescension? These days, the term “white supremacy” is being used not as an argument but as a weapon.

“White supremacist” is a new way of saying “racist” while stepping around the steadily increasing awareness that that word, too, is being wielded in sloppy ways. Writing “white supremacist” is a way of making the reader jump, in the way that “prejudiced” and “racist” once were. What handier way of driving your critique home than implying that your target would have broken bread with the Confederacy, stood at the school doors at the behest of Orville Faubus, or today would be happy to sip coffee at conferences with well-spoken alt-righters?

5. Adoption is an important ministry, but we shouldn't ignore the occasions when it goes really poorly. It doesn't always work out like Anne of Green Gables as this family's story shows. Worth a read, though it shouldn't discourage people from considering the ministry of adoption.

Our girl had a hard life before she came to us. A harder life in those 7 years before we knew her than most adults will experience in a lifetime. Her story is her story. It’s private and tender and it’s not mine to tell. The amount of abuse and rejection she has experienced brings me to my knees and it amazes me how she’s still standing at all.

Adoption is wrought with trauma. It’s not always the happy picture that gets shared from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Sometimes it is and that is glorious. We have one of those glorious adoption stories living in our home, too. But in many cases, adopted kids have been through hell. They’ve lost their mothers, their culture, their innocence. And while the world thinks that love will fix these kids and all will be rosy and smell like pine needles, the reality is sometimes very different. You don’t fix heartache that deep overnight with a new comforter and new brothers and sisters, a touch of therapy and tons of love. You don’t replace one mom with another. Or rip away years of hard history. Histories shape us, for better or for worse. Those hurts become the fabric of our stories, even when those stories are woven with love. So when your story doesn’t turn out like the happy ones from the pulpit, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed.

6. It should come as little surprise, but casinos are geared to benefit the owners and operators. Whatever surface attempts they make at pacifying conscience they are providing assistance for those with addictions to gambling, they actually enable gambling and destroy the lives of many people who get sucked into their snare. This Atlantic article provides some context for the danger of casinos.

Stevens methodically concealed his addiction from his wife. He handled all the couple’s finances. He kept separate bank accounts. He used his work address for his gambling correspondence: W-2Gs (the IRS form used to report gambling winnings), wire transfers, casino mailings. Even his best friend and brother-in-law, Carl Nelson, who occasionally gambled alongside Stevens, had no inkling of his problem. “I was shocked when I found out afterwards,” he says. “There was a whole Scott I didn’t know.”

When Stevens ran out of money at the casino, he would leave, write a company check on one of the Berkman accounts for which he had check-cashing privileges, and return to the casino with more cash. He sometimes did this three or four times in a single day. His colleagues did not question his absences from the office, because his job involved overseeing various companies in different locations. By the time the firm detected irregularities and he admitted the extent of his embezzlement, Stevens—the likable, responsible, trustworthy company man—had stolen nearly $4 million.

7. This 3 minute video on the study and preservation of archaic Greek language is interesting for those of us who think languages are pretty cool.