Flotsam and jetsam (9/3)

not a sith

Good Reads

  • Religious Language and Everyday Discourse: My list of seven troublesome words and brief explanations is below, with suggested alternatives. Feel free to consider them for yourself and wonder about the continuing usefulness of these terms that most non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about. Many Christians are foggy on the meaning as well. This is an appeal for clarity in our communication. (The Good Book Blog)
  • Give Us This Day Our Daily Brew: My husband has been working in specialty coffee shops since his teens, and the Chicago location he now manages is our second home. Watching him and other Christian friends work their way quietly through the coffee scene, I’ve observed the theology behind their work, and I’ve seen how coffee can be a uniquely-suited vocation for Christians to live out the image of God. (Hermeneutics)
  • Liberalism’s Parochialism: What I find remarkable is that liberals aren’t even willing to entertain the possibility that I’m right. I’m a heretic—a menace to society—not someone who cares about people, worries about the common good, reads surveys, observes society, and has a capacity to reason and analyze. (First Things)

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August’s Top Posts

top fiveIt’s always interesting when the most popular post of the last month is something that I just posted a few days ago. But that’s the case with the post about Phil Ryken’s commencement speech and his reflections on depression. That has generated a lot of interest, so check it out if you haven’t already.

And although the “Top Posts” lists each month usually focus only on posts that were actually written during that month, I’m breaking that rule here by including 6 Reasons You Should “Waste” Your Time Reading Fiction. Apparently, quite a few English teachers use that one with their middle school and high school classes, so it’s always a top post around the beginning of the school year. I thought I’d include it this time in case it’s one you haven’t seen yet.

  1. Breaking the Silence: When Christian Leaders Speak Openly about Depression

  2. Become a Heretic for a While

  3. 6 Reasons You Should “Waste” Your Time Reading Fiction

  4. The Best Theology Books from the First Half of 2014

  5. Blaise Pascal (A Prayer for Sunday)

5 Kinds of Writer’s Block Everyone Faces

I used to think that writer’s block was a problem for creative types. I know better now. Whether it’s a novel, a poem, or a research paper, everyone who writes faces writer’s block eventually. And since students spend much of their time writing, you know exactly what I’m talking about: sitting at your desk, staring at the screen with your hands hovering over the keyboard, nothing happening, the screen stubbornly blank. You’re blocked.

What do you do?



The problem with much of the advice that I’ve seen on how to deal with writer’s block is the failure to recognize the different kinds of blocks you might encounter. And dealing with each requires its own tool. Imagine that you moved to Chicago last year, right before one of the nastiest winters in memory. (I’m not sure who would do such a foolish thing, but just pretend.) You go out to your car one January morning and discover copious amounts of snow between you and the street. Would you address this obstacle by going inside and getting the plunger from your bathroom? I sure hope not. And I strongly recommend not trying to fix a clogged toilet with a snow shovel. Different blocks require different tools or you’ll have a mess on your hands (and probably your shoes).

The same is true with writer’s block. If you’re stuck, you need to recognize why you’re stuck and identify the right kinds of tools for getting unstuck. Otherwise, you might just make things worse.

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/29)

can't even

Good Reads

  • Going, going, gone: Books study exodus from religion:  he question of what is happening to organized religion in America remains unanswered, but one thing is clear: Larger and larger numbers of individuals are drifting away from traditional notions of church. (National Catholic Reporter)
  • Overall, Americans in the Suburbs Are Still the Happiest: City centers and downtowns across the United States may very well be in the midst of a comeback or a renaissance, be reaching a moment of triumph or successfully transforming themselves into magnets for millennials and retiring boomers. But according to the new Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll, when it comes to overall community satisfaction, the suburbs are still king. (CityLab)
  • Kindle + Evernote = ♥:  Books hold the information I want to know while Evernote holds the information I want to retain. When I put the two of them together, I get a powerful system to record and remember what I have read. Let me share a simple technique to quickly and easily get every one of your Kindle notes and highlights into Evernote. (Tim Challies)
  • Iraqi Christian Village: From Sanctuary To Ghost Town In 2 Months:  While the Christian exodus from Iraq is extreme and driven by the country’s bloodshed, it’s a trend that’s been underway for decades throughout the Middle East. In the mid-20th century, Christians were estimated to be about 20 percent of the Middle East’s population. Today, it’s 5 percent at most. (NPR)

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Breaking the Silence: When Christian Leaders Speak Openly about Depression

There is still a stigma around depression that silences many Christian voices and prevents them from letting anyone know about their painful, personal struggles. A stigma that destroys people by making them suffer alone.

In his presidential speech at Wheaton College’s convocation ceremony this year, Dr. Phil Ryken pushed back. And he did so by sharing honestly and transparently about his own struggles with depression last spring, struggles serious enough that he said at one point that he thought he was “losing the will to live.

He focused most of the talk on sharing some of the things that helped him through the struggle, which I’ll mention below. But there wasn’t anything ground-breaking. He relied on friends, family, church, everyday routines, and of course, God. The power of his talk wasn’t in anything radical that he said, it was in the radical fact that he spoke at all.

I hear more and more Christian leaders talking about depression, which is a good thing. When they do so, however, it’s usually about depression as an abstract concept (people often get depressed), the struggles of some other Christian (Luther was depressed), or at best some personal struggle with depression in their own distant past (I was depressed a long time ago). But it’s rare in my experience for a Christian leader to bare themselves openly about a current or very recent bout with depression. And that’s precisely what Dr. Ryken did, modeling for us the kind of humble and honest dependence that should characterize the body of Christ as a whole.

You should watch the entire talk, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” But I’ve highlighted some of the main points below.

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/27)

star wars

Good Reads

  • Can You See Too Much Jesus in the Bible? Throughout history, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the focus of Scripture. But one Bible scholar is being forced to take early retirement by a conservative seminary for seeing too much Jesus in the Old Testament. (Christianity Today)
  • How Pastors Get Hired Today: Sure, candidates can just keep mailing unsolicited resumes to overwhelmed search committees of small churches and hoping for different results. But don’t be surprised if this approach is less likely to land you behind a pulpit than on the front page of USA Today. (Gospel Coalition)
  • How the Internet Could Protect Your Memory: The Internet is frequently blamed for messing with our minds, making us superficial, distracted and even deluded. But a new study suggests that for some people, using it could actually be healthy. (New York Times)
  • Multi-Ethnic Churches Lament America’s Racial Injustice:  The fact that 86.3% of local churches throughout this country fail to have at least 20% diversity in their attending membership is one reason the American Church has been rendered impotent in attempting to speak on what is, perhaps, the most critical issue of our time: lingering, systemic, racial injustice in a supposedly post-racial society. (Time)

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Are You Human?


This is the human test, a test to see if you are…a human.

Thus begins Ze Frank’s recent TedTalk, with a series of questions designed to ascertain whether you qualify as a “human.” As the talk develops, Frank moves from the sillier end of human experience (Have you ever eaten a booger past childhood?) to the more painful and poignant (Have you ever lost the ability to imagine a future without a person that was no longer in your life?).

The gist of the test, of course, as people all around the room raise their hands in response to Frank’s questions, is that “being human” involves a whole range of experiences that we have all shared, some silly and embarrassing, others tragic and painful. Being human can be a lonely when we think that we’re the only ones wading through the murky waters of our own experiences. But Frank reminds us that we’re wading together.

As much as I appreciated the video, though, I would like to render one objection. Continue Reading…

Flotsam and jetsam (8/25)

new study

Good Reads

  • School Starts Too Early:  Parents, students and teachers often argue, with little evidence, about whether U.S. high schools begin too early in the morning. In the past three years, however, scientific studies have piled up, and they all lead to the same conclusion: a later start time improves learning. And the later the start, the better. (Scientific American)
  • How Magic Conquered Pop Culture: Something odd happened to popular culture somewhere around the turn of the millennium: Whereas the great franchises of the late twentieth century had tended to be science fiction—Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix—somewhere around 2000 a shifting of the tectonic plates occurred. The great eye of Sauron swiveled, and we began to pay attention to other things. What we paid attention to was magic. (Time)
  • Of Exiles and Educating in the Tradition:  The task was not to defend the particular stream of Christianity in which my students had first touched the waters of baptism, but to show them that it was fed by a vast river stretching back two millennia. In short, I defended Christianity by helping them swim upstream so that they could discover just how deep and wide Christian Tradition was. Through a confrontation with full-throated Christianity, students had the resources to criticize the stream to which they belonged while also locating that tradition within the great river of Christian Tradition. (First Things)

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/22)

dark side cookies

Good Reads

  • Why We Never “Wait” for All the Facts Before We Speak: What wisdom is there in a silence that risks nothing for the oppressed and grants no opportunity for understanding? What wisdom is there in a call for “all the facts” while ignoring some basic and publicly available facts that give cause to lament? What wisdom is there in a silence that actually speaks volumes about its willingness to not even comfort the grieving? (Thabiti Anyabwile)
  • Four Unexpected Benefits of a Small Church: over the years I have been so grateful for our small church, and many of its unexpected benefits and opportunities are specifically related to its … smallness. (Leadership Journal)
  • Behind Ferguson: How Black and White Christians Think Differently About Race: With an increasing number of Christian writers arguing that a significant gap exists between black and white Christians, the latest findings from a significant ongoing study of religion and race in America offers some hard statistics—and suggest that polarization is increasing. (Christianity Today)
  • 5 Misunderstandings about Church Discipline: In the evangelical churches I have participated in during my adult life, there has always been a policy regarding church discipline, attempting to be true to the teaching of Jesus in this text. But a number of exegetical observations are often overlooked. (Craig Blomberg)

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/20)

rolling tacos

Good Reads

  • What Are Gospel Issues? All I am saying is that virtually any topic can be tied to the gospel in some way or another. If that is all we are doing, the argument “X is a gospel issue” is a well-nigh useless argument, because the claim could be advanced for almost any topic, irrespective of that to which X refers. (Don Carson)
  • Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds: We need to provide research and evidence-based knowledge to publishers on what kind of devices (iPad, Kindle, print) should be used for what kind of content; what kinds of texts are likely to be less hampered by being read digitally, and which might require the support of paper. (The Guardian)

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