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A Brief Thought on that First Things Article

So, the conservative journal First Thingspublished a piece by Dominican friar Romanus Cessario, defending the Mortara affair.  For those not familiar, Edgardo Mortara was a Jewish boy living at the tail end of the Papal States period who was secretly baptised by a nurse in a Catholic hospital.  Having done so, Papal law required that he be raised Catholic, and so he was forcibly taken from his parents and raised more or less directly by the Pope at the time, Pius IX.  This has generally been seen as one of the more monstrous black marks on the Roman Catholic Church in its long history of anti-Semitism, and so the Hot Take of defending the Pope's action were bound to be controversial.  Ross Douthat, no liberal Catholic he, gave a strong negative reaction to the piece, as did others.

In particular, Douthat makes the case that the article is clarifying as to the nature of the traditionalist Catholic stance--i.e. still anti-Semitic.  I think Douthat is right, but it goes further than …

If You Can't Sin, then You Can't Change

All of these stories point to why I'm sadly pessimistic about a #metoo-style cultural shift in evangelical Christianity (and, to an extent, the broader Church). I'm pessimistic because of the deadly combination of patriarchy & (as discussed recently) evangelical exceptionalism... — Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018 As I've stated before, evangelical exceptionalism understands "the world" or "the culture" to be filled with darkness & sin, teeming with people who are "lost," and evangelicalism & evangelicals to be the sole bearers of light, the counter-cultural path to salvation... — Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018 ...White evangelicals perceive "the world" to struggle with racism & sexual immorality, but not themselves. Because of this, it's rare to see serious efforts made at examining the ways racism & toxic masculinity/patriarchy are embedded in evangelical culture.…

Following a Star, and then Leaving by Another Road

1. In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard t…

Advent Reflections, Part 2--"He Has Cast Down the Mighty from Their Thrones"

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There are many radical ideas and claims in Christianity.  But if I had to pick one, it would be what Christianity, or more specifically Jesus, has to say about power.  There are probably other religious or wisdom traditions have a similar take on power, but I am not aware of any that present it so clearly and so forcefully.

Here is what Jesus, in essence, teaches us about power:  We think that power and having power (in all of its normal forms--authority, money, sex, fame, social or other kinds of status, etc.) makes us powerful.  In fact, phrased this way, it sound like a self-evident truism.  But, and here is the truly radical part, it's not true.  And not just not true--having power and acquiring power and protecting power actually is a trap, a prison that disempowers us in the end.  In fact, the only way to obtain something like "power," if that's the right word, is to voluntarily and self-consciously give up all of our power.
As I said, this is an incredibly …

"So What I Told You Was True . . . From a Certain Point of View"--A Theological Reflection on The Last Jedi

[Warning.  There is no way to talk about what I want to talk about in this post without getting deep into story beats and specific elements from The Last Jedi.  So, this post will be one big spoiler for the movie.  Since the movie has only recently come out, if you have not seen it and want to be surprised, stop reading now.]

I saw the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, on opening night on Friday.  For an overall grade, I would give it an "A -."  There were elements that simply did not work, suggesting (strangely, given that this was such a massive, big budget film) that the script could have used one more editing pass.  Still, it was great fun, with some excellent performances--especially Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), who are excellent together.

Reviews of the film have been very polarized.  On the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, professional reviews were almost uniformly positive, while the fan review score is middling.  And, if you drill down on …

Advent Reflections, Part 1--God Out of the Machine

David Bentley Hart, a well-regarded classics scholar and provocateur, has published his own translation of the New Testament that is a fascinating read.  Hart's goal with this new translation is to try to capture what it would have been like for a 1st Century reader to encounter these texts for the first time, as opposed to the more staid and committee-driven versions to which we are now accustomed.  My Greek is no where near good enough to judge whether Hart has succeeded in capturing these subtle nuances of the original, but his text has a striking quality to it, far different than any other translation I have encountered.

In particular, one thing that Hart conveys very effectively is a frantic, almost manic, quality to many of the texts of the New Testament.  This can be seen most clearly in the earliest texts--Paul's letters and the Gospel of Mark.  Everything is in a hurry, everything is coming soon, events are moving quickly toward their conclusion.  Part of that is driv…

Two Christianities

We are coming to the point where no one really doubts that there is a serious divide in the Christian world, a divide that appears to be getting wider as time goes on.  But I feel like people are struggling to give a name to this divide, and I would like to take a crack at providing some framework for talking about this divide.

On one side, you have a group of people who understand Christianity fundamentally and primarily as a way of life.  Under this view, we have been given by God a model of how to live our lives, a model that reflects the "best life" we and those around us can have, and our job is to go out and try as best we can to do that.  This model, above anything else, is to be found in the life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth as set forth in the canonical Gospels, and then secondarily in other parts of the Bible, and tertiarily in the lives of other Christian witnesses.  
Under this view, the ultimate measure of whether and to what extent one is a Christian can be…