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The Magic Is in the Mundane

My daughters love the Lord of the Rings, but they agree that there’s one major flaw. The magic. It’s just not that impressive. Gandalf is supposed to be one of the most powerful wizards in the world, but he rarely does anything all that magical. He spends most of his time eating, smoking, and getting other people to do all the hard stuff. Sounds like good work if you can get it. (And don’t even get me started on Dumbledore.)

Magic should be more dramatic. Something noticeable, unusual, even startling. In most of the other stories, magic is impressive. But Gandalf is pretty normal most of the time.


I think many of us have the same frustration with God. After all, he’s the most powerful wizard out there, right? Surely he could do some amazing stuff if he wanted to. And he does in the stories: parting seas, raising dead people, turning rivers into blood. That’s the kind of magic we’re looking for. But most of what we see around is pretty run of the mill. The wind blows, the sun shines, the earth revolves, and people drive like idiots. Normal. Boring.

Where’s the magic?

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May’s Top Posts

top fiveMay was awfully quiet around here, but I’ve got some good stuff planned for the rest of the summer. So stay tuned for that. While you’re waiting, here are the top five posts from the last thirty days.

Flotsam and jetsam (6/1)

how i like my coffee

Good Reads

  • Christian humanism and the Twitter tsunamis: So you can see that my own response to the problems I’ve been seeing discussed on Twitter is a Christian one, more specifically one grounded in a theological anthropology that sees all of us as creatures made in the image of God who have (again, all of us) defaced that image. And it is in the recognition of our shared humanity — both in its glories and its failings but often starting with its failings — that we build our case against abuse and exploitation. (Alan Jacobs)
  • Why 80% of the Work You Do Is a Waste of Time:  It’s an old theory, honestly, but Koch explains it well and helps us apply it in new ways. And this theory applies to much more than work. It also means 80 percent of our unhealthiness is likely coming from just 20 percent of the food we eat. And 80 percent of our social troubles likely come from just 20 percent of our relationships. (Don Miller)

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Flotsam and jetsam (5/30)

gone reading

Good Reads

  • Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say:  The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year….Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s. (New York Times)
  • Why Agnosticism Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means:  Agnostics are often characterized as ambivalent or wishy-washy fence sitters who refuse to make up their minds. But there’s much more to agnosticism than these tired misconceptions, including a stricter adherence to scientific principles than those typically invoked by atheists. (io9)

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The Least Popular Books of the Bible

Thanks to information from, here’s an infographic from The Overview Bible Project on the 10 least popular books in the Bible. Most of these aren’t terribly surprising, especially the fact that the list is dominated by the Minor Prophets. But besides the surprising inclusion of Jonah on the list, it’s too bad not to see more love for Zephaniah and Jude at least.


Flotsam and jetsam (5/28)


Good Reads

  • Faking Cultural Literacy:  It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. (New York Times)
  • On TV, How Dark Is Too Dark? ” There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored,” Flannery O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Manners. That is true. Our problems start when we expect that restoration to arise through human action, even the fictional kind. (Hermeneutics)
  • Judging Spinoza: Like Galileo, disciplined by the Roman Catholic Church just two decades before him, Spinoza has gone down as one of history’s great thinkers punished by intolerant ecclesiastic authorities for his intellectual boldness. (New York Times)

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Flotsam and jetsam


Good Reads

  • Searching for Jesus in today’s Church:  Yes, there are days I grieve. But that grief is only overshadowed by the hope I still have in Jesus – the King who turns everything upside down, and who is very good. (Boz Tchividjian)
  • ‘One Anothers’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament:  Sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings . . . . (Ray Ortlund)
  • Could Quitting Facebook Be a Mistake?  Facebook (Instagram, Twitter) didn’t invent the disconnection between my husband and me. It didn’t invent jealousy or time-wasting or procrastination or coveting other people’s stuff. It didn’t invent self-centeredness. All of these things existed long before Facebook or Instagram did.  So why do we assume quitting Facebook will eradicate the problem? The problem isn’t Facebook. The problem is us. (Relevant)

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Saturday Morning Fun…No Signal

no signal

Flotsam and jetsam (5/23)


Good Reads

  • The Myth of a ‘War on Religion’: Americans, especially left-leaning Americans, are less likely than they were a generation ago to go to church. But they’d rather you not know how much less, because religious practice—like service in the military—enjoys prestige as a marker of morality and self-discipline. (The Atlantic)
  • Everything you know about teenage brains is #$@&%!:  Forget what you’ve heard. We don’t know much about how Internet use affects the brain.  After years of being told that the Internet was rotting my brain, I decided to assess the damage by gathering the scientific evidence. My review of the published scientific literature found no evidence that typical Internet use harms the adolescent brain. (Boing Boing)
  • Can Google Search for Friendship? But even the best search algorithm can’t sort sites for a sense of empathy or community; that comes from people, not pages. If a friend asks me about a blown fuse, he may be looking not just for repair instructions, but sympathy. When I need to find the right temperature for toasting walnuts, if I ask a roommate, instead of a search engine, I might get a recipe recommendation or a story about baking gone awry. (The American Conservative)
  • The New Humanities: The new humanistic writing and its enthusiastic readership bear witness to the fact that, as long as there are human beings, there will remain an interest in scholarship and criticism that attempts to illuminate human problems. (The Point)

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When Servant Leadership Goes Wrong

Christian leaders are called to be servants. We understand that. After all, Jesus made it pretty clear that he wanted leaders who would follow his example as one who touched lepers, washed feet, and bore the burdens of a broken world.

But what if being a servant isn’t always a good thing? Or, said a little differently, what if there are various ways to be a servant, and some of them aren’t quite what Jesus had in mind?

A while back I asked a group of teenagers to discuss which of Marvel’s Avengers best exemplified the biblical idea of a servant. And quite a few of them went with Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). After all, he dedicates a considerable portion of his wealth to helping humanity, and he routinely puts his own life on the line to save random strangers. And to top it all off, at the end of Avengers (spoiler alert!), he sacrifices his own life to save the world. You can’t get much more Jesus-like than that! (Granted, he didn’t actually succeed in sacrificing his life, but he gets points for trying.)

For many of my students, then, Tony Stark exemplifies servanthood. But here’s the problem: Stark only exemplifies a particularly dangerous and toxic form of servanthood, but it’s the one that we often find the most attractive.

[This is the beginning of my most recent post over at Pastors Today. Check it out and let me know what you think.]

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