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Failure: A Theological Account

Verona: Burt, are we fuckups? Burt: No! What do you mean? Verona: I mean, we’re thirty-four— Burt: I’m thirty-three. Verona: —and we don’t even have this basic stuff figured out. Burt: Basic, like how? Verona: Basic, like how to live. Burt: We’re not fuckups. Verona: We have a cardboard window. Burt [Looks at window]: We’re not fuckups. Verona [Whispers]: I think we might be fuckups. Burt [Whispers back]: We’re not fuckups. —Away We Go   What... Read More

Making Culture in the Consumption Echo-Chamber

I. In the fall of 2013, I loaded into a fifteen-passenger van in Grand Rapids, Michigan, heading for Toronto. We wove north of Detroit, across the bridge and over the Canadian border, destined for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). On my last night in town, I sat in the back row of a packed theater to watch the premiere of Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. The moments of intimacy between Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin’s characters were authentic and moving. I felt that... Read More

The Cinematic Experience as Experiment: Reflection on The Stanford Prison Experiment

This film is hell to sit through. In dramatizing the now infamous psychological experiment of 1973, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s The Stanford Prison Experiment does a number on its viewers. It forces us into an associative relationship with the events it depicts, with the participants of the study on screen, and with the system that shapes the participants of that study. And yet the film refuses us any sort of generative, willful power through our viewership. We are stuck, and our... Read More

On Boyhood, Tralfamadore, and the Meaning of Life

I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five   Tralfamadorians, of planet Tralfamadore, where flying saucers come from, cast a bleak vision of life outside time. These extraterrestrial beings, introduced in Kurt Vonnegut’s antiwar satire Slaughterhouse-Five, exist in all times simultaneously.... Read More

Pilgrimage, Geography, and Mischievous Theology

One hundred years ago, the Scottish poet Edwin Muir mourned that Christianity had apostatized by abandoning its incarnate, embodied grounding. In his poem “The Incarnate One,” he laments that “The Word-made-flesh here is made word again.”[1] In our generation, Charles Taylor coined the problem even more succinctly: excarnation. This inclination to strip Christianity of its more fleshly elements for an exalted spirituality of the mind has dogged Christianity from the start,... Read More

The Forgotten Brush Strokes of Painters

As the universe is composed of solar systems within galaxies, so do we exist as a swarm of molecules, corpuscles, and atoms. The essential building blocks of the stars are the same as those of human beings. We exist within a universe we did not create that was formed by dynamic events we are still trying to comprehend, within a planet that is the only one (as far as we know) among hundreds of billions with the right amount of hydrogen and helium to sustain life. Either by chance... Read More

Reclaiming Christian Marriage: What the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Needs to Learn from the Southern Baptists

On June 19, 2014, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to allow their pastors to perform “same-gender marriages in civil jurisdictions where such marriages are legal.”[1] As expected, this has caused no small hubbub among American Christians. While gay rights advocates and Christians on the left have lauded this progressive decision and praised the denomination for changing its official policy on marriage, conservatives vociferously oppose the change and some have even threatened... Read More

Spirit, Tradition, and the Pneumatology of Liberation

The Holy Spirit and the Logic of Tradition According to the French Dominican theologian Yves Congar (1904-1995), the term “Tradition” [1] (from the Latin, tradere) was originally used in Roman legal documents, where it signified the transfer of property from a donor to a beneficiary.[2] When the term was adopted by Christian theologians, it came to signify a transmission from God to humanity, with humans understood as the recipients of God’s revelation, the deposit of faith,... Read More

The Spirit Helps Us in Our Weakness: A Review of God, Sexuality, and the Self

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 2013).   In her recently published prayer journal, the influential southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Dear Lord please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. . . . Oh Lord please make this dead desire living.”[1] O’Connor’s prayer is the unsung chorus of Sarah Coakley’s important new work, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On... Read More

A Religion of Losers: Dissenting Voices in Church History

The 1930s debate between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth has come to have iconic status in the history of Christian theology. It has been said that if you understand what’s at stake in that debate over natural theology, then you understand the situation of Christian theology in the first half of the twentieth century. Stanley Hauerwas recounts that when he was being interviewed for his first seminary field placement, he was only asked two questions: Do you have a car? And what side... Read More