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Success, Significance, and the Subtle Power of Culture

A comic strip that reproduces a 1990 speech by Bill Watterson, author of the rightfully popular Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, has been making the rounds over the last few days. I’ve seen it shared enthusiastically by Christians on several social media sites, which I can understand. On one level, it can be read as a clear critique of how our society defines “success” and the many ways we can get trapped by that vision, drawn into its soul-destroying way of life. The cartoon is worth reading for that warning alone. (Even though I’m going to critique the cartoon a bit later, please don’t let that keep you from reading it. It’s really worthwhile.)

life reflects values

But the cartoon carries subtler messages as well, ones that warrant more careful consideration.

I think the cartoon actually serves as an excellent example of how we receive messages from our culture every day, ideas that unconsciously shape how we view much of life. And, like many of the messages our culture sends, these can have  destructive consequences.

So I think it’s worth taking a few minutes and using this as a case study in analyzing subtle signals. The cartoon is fairly long, and it would be pretty distracting to post all of it before I make my comments. So instead I’m going to mix some excerpts in with my comments and post the entire cartoon below. If you haven’t read it yet–and you should–you may want to skip to the end and then (hopefully) come back for my reflections.

Let’s start with the good.

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flotsam and jetsam (8/30)

balloon hat

Good Reads

  • Haters Are Gonna Hate, Study Confirms: Haters really are going to hate. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology corroborates the hip-hop and Internet truism that you just can’t win with some people. (No word yet on whether playas gonna play or ballers gonna ball, but we’ll probably find out soon. Researchers gonna research.) (Slate)
  • Exploring the Religious Prisoner’s Dilemma: America is a country with an extremely high regard for religion, which regard is matched only by her enthusiasm for mass incarceration. What, then, of the intersection between the two things, religion in prison? (Big Think)
  • Against Symbolic Killing: Just war-making requires clearly articulated and substantive goals. Launching cruise missiles or air strikes simply to “show resolve” or “send a message” cannot be justified. At the end of the day, these rationales authorize symbolic killing, which is fundamentally immoral. (First Thoughts)

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Is the Incarnation a Contradiction?

thinker (300x320)Expressed simply, the incarnation looks like a pretty straightforward contradiction. After all, traditional theology claims that the following set of propositions are all true.

  • God is immutable (unchanging).
  • Humans are mutable (changing).
  • Jesus is both God and human.

Er? How can it make any sense to say that Jesus is both immutable and mutable at the same time? Isn’t that a little like saying that I’m in Illinois and Washington at the same time? I may have put on a few pounds over the years, but I’m pretty sure that it hasn’t gotten that bad yet.

Looking at “logic” like this, many draw the conclusion that the incarnation, one of the central beliefs of the Christian faith, is more than just paradoxical; it’s absurd, a contradiction, a logical impossibility. It’s like believing in square circles, straight curves, or a good VMA awards show.

It’s no wonder that people think Christians are idiots.

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30 Dr. Seuss Quotes That Can Change Your Life

Well, I don’t think they’ll actually change your life. But that’s the title of the infographic. And I suppose that if you read these quotes you’ll be doing that instead of something else for the next few minutes. So these quotes really will change your life. Kind of.

Anyway, if you can get past the usual Dr. Seuss belief in the absolute awesomeness of me (despite my rather obvious shortcomings) and my amazing ability to do whatever I want (despite significant evidence to the contrary), these quotes are still a great way to start the day. I’ve always loved “It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.” And it is a good challenge to hear, “Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I shall be remembered,” though it seems a bit presumptuous to think that any of my days will be remembered for very long.

dr-seuss-quotes-life-infographicvia ChurchMag


Flotsam and jetsam (8/28)

in memory of

Good Reads

  • How To Be Polemical Without Being a Downright Nasty Person: There was a time, of course, when every theologian, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was a polemicist. Later, polemics became merely a distinct position on a theological faculty. Finally, it disappeared altogether in a spirit of congenial tolerance. (Michael Horton)
  • Duck Dynasty’s Cultural Christianity: Here’s the dilemma – what the show presents is a good life, but it is not in any specific way the Christian life. It is cultural Christianity of the kind that still characterizes much of the South. (Thomas Kidd)
  • Creating an Assessment Culture: When we speak of the need for an assessment culture, we want churches and Christians to avoid making claims that are unsubstantiated. We, above all others, need to be trustworthy, and we can do that with accurate assessment of where we are as individuals and a church. (Ed Stetzer)

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6 Ways to Your Teacher’s Heart

You don’t want a grumpy teacher. It’s as simple as that. A grumpy teacher grading your paper is like a dentist with a migraine working on your teeth: painful for both of you.

teaching (450x300)

So, as you get this near school year started, it makes sense to spend a little time reflecting on how to keep the professors in your life happy. You could always try some of the more time-honored techniques for maintaining professorial happiness–e.g. bribes gifts, flattery, random acts of service. And those might work on some professors. But if you really want to worm your way into the heart of your favorite teacher, here’s what you need to do.

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The Omnipresent Smart Phone

Here’s a creative look at how the ever-present smart phone changes the way we experience life. It’s a good reminder that sometimes you just need to put the phone down and live your life. (The birthday scene at the ending is priceless.)

Flotsam and jetsam (8/26)

usb position

Good Reads

  • Race Equality Is Still a Work in Progress, Survey Finds: Though gaps in life expectancy and high school graduation rates have all but been eliminated, disparities in poverty and homeownership rates are about the same. Compared with five decades ago, imbalances in household income and wealth, marriage and incarceration rates have widened. (New York Times)
  • Make the Bible Your Native Tongue: Our limitless access to prepackaged devotional, inspirational, and theological insights from others can unwittingly give us a BSL — Bible as a Second Language — status with God. But intimacy with him is better reached via a firsthand relationship through his word than through someone else’s translation of it on our behalf. (Desiring God)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Augustine of Hippo)

Augustine (200x310)The famous North African bishop Augustine of Hippo was so influential in theology, philosophy, and history, that he hardly needs introduction. A prolific author and creative thinker, Augustine’s writings shaped Western society and continues to impact Christians today.

Augustine died on August 28, 430, while his beloved city of Hippo was besieged by the invading Vandals, ending Augustine’s nearly 40 year ministry in that city as priest, bishop, and theologian. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

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Saturday Morning Fun…Parenting with Guilt

Parenting-with-Guilt-SMBCFrom SMBC via 22 Words.