Learning while Grading

It’s the end of the quarter, which means grades are almost due.  It’s nice to listen to sermon and interviews while taking care of things.  One that I listened to today was this recent interview with James K. A. Smith through the Trinity Forum.  Always Augustine, but always so much more, too.

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Sunday’s Best: Misreading the Screen

Today’s FoxTrot by Bill Amend is another nice episode of “online follies” with Paige and the Fox family.  Online learning is a whole new world in lots of ways, it seems.

FoxTrot Online Learning(image from gocomics.com)

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Toward a Sense of Suffering?

This last week we have been talking about the problem of evil in class.  It’s a short unit, but you’d like to think it’s something that will come back around (the discussion, not the evil) throughout a lifetime.  Attempting to reconcile good and evil is a difficult thing (unless you over-simplify it).  And that is particularly true for Christians.

Earlier this year, Ephraim Radner was interviewed by the Anglican Journal, primarily about his understanding of the Covid crisis.  He had published a piece or two that had gotten some attention and that demanded follow-up.  (He has since written another one, a piece that I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now and hope to write about in the next week).  One thing I appreciate greatly about Radner is his sense of the span of a human life along with the need to ask difficult questions.

The question of God’s goodness in such circumstances is at the heart of the conversation for most people, of course.  As we learn in class, God’ goodness and omnipotence are most called into question because of evil.  And the church often doesn’t know how to talk about it.  From the interview:

Yes, the issue isn’t that people before our era didn’t think God was good. They thought that God was good, but they understood goodness differently. You know, Hebrews 12 has this thing about God punishes those whom he loves. Chastises. And that’s suffering, and that’s how you learn. [God is] like a parent, and so on. That whole framework is not one which is acceptable any longer, by and large. And so we don’t have a way of thinking about God’s goodness that can comprehend our own suffering as God-ordered.

I’m not denying that there are all kinds of problems with thinking these ways, you know—God’s justice, and so on. It is complicated, but in the past, by and large, that wasn’t the issue.

Why did it become an issue now? These problems, which are real—”How can we have a good God who also has us suffer and thinks that’s good?” and, “Why didn’t he make things better so we didn’t have to suffer?”—People began to ask those questions in the 17th, 18th centuries, not before, and by and large most people didn’t ask those questions. Now, everybody asks those questions.

And believers, by and large, don’t want to ask those questions—that’s why they’re believers. I’m talking about our current day. You know, plenty of skeptics and atheists and agnostics are willing to realize the complicated problematic character of God’s goodness as we project it out of ourselves onto God. By and large believers don’t want to do that, because they’re holding onto a rather small way, as you put it, of understanding goodness that fits certain cultural patterns and so on. I mean we are a culture that believes—[Canadian philosopher] Charles Taylor wrote this—that the moral goal is to alleviate all suffering as far as possible. We don’t necessarily act that way, but that’s our ethic as a culture. There’s nothing in the Bible about alleviating all suffering as far as possible.

And then concerning Jesus, who represents the divine response to the problem of evil:

He chose to suffer. I lay down my life—nobody takes it from me—and you’re going to have to do the same. That wouldn’t have surprised many people, because everybody knew they had to suffer, but as you said, the fact that one could sort of deify that reality—give it over to the all-good, all-powerful God, was shocking, and it remains shocking to that extent. It’s not an obvious concept. But it’s always been at the centre of the gospel. My point is that COVID now has unveiled the fact that we haven’t, I don’t think, done a very good job of holding on to that at all. I’m talking about within the churches.

There’s more to it than that, of course.  It’s an interview well worth your time.

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“A Love That Is Hard”

In preparation for the release of the 20th Anniversary Edition of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 has released a lyric-video for a previously unreleased song from that “era” (if that’s the right word . . . it feels appropriate).  It’s definitely interesting to hear some musical and lyrical resonance from the time.  Here’s “Levitate.”

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Prince and Plague

Today was our first day back in classrooms with students.  It was a kind of “preview” day with just a small selection of students present, but it was really nice to have others in the room.  How strange that it’s been six months since that happened last!

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This past Sunday’s Frazz by Jef Mallett was an interesting one.  Visually beautiful and an interesting attempt to play off of wise sayings of the past.  Plus, turns out it’s also an homage for the creator of The Little Prince, a profound yet confusing piece of literature.

Frazz Prince and Plague(image from gocomics.com)

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Not Quite the Same

This recent WuMo strip brings out something true on multiple levels.  But at the basic level it’s just true: these two “vocations” just aren’t the same.

WuMo Wizard(image from gocomics.com)

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Approaching Quarter’s End

Today I recorded my last chapel talk of the quarter.  Mind you, I hadn’t planned on it happening today.  It was lunch time when a co-worker reminded me that next week was the last week of the quarter.  That plus the fact that I record chapel talks a week in advance has obviously messed with my sense of time.  And so it goes.

It’s a sobering thing to realize that we are a week-and-a-half out from the end of the first quarter.  On one hand, it’s flown by.  On another, the days have just been long.  My students have done a great job hanging in there (as best as I can tell).  It will be interesting to actually meet students face to face later this week (some, not many) and then next quarter (all of them, but never at the same time).  I’ll be curious to see how dynamics change, such as they were.

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Today, of course, marks the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.  It was fun to be reminded of that this morning.  When you’re young, you tend to feel like Frodo, I suppose.  But the older you get?  Definitely Bilbo: all you want to do is see mountains again and write your book.  Here’s a favorite clip from The Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson.  Sad to remember that Ian Holm has passed just over three months ago.  A great scene.

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Clearer Vision?

It’s crazy to think that the next thing we get from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to be a television show.  But that’s exactly what’s about to happen if WandaVision drops before Black Widow makes it into the theaters.  Marvel and Disney+ recently released the trailer for the show, which should leave viewers asking lots of questions (and long-time comic fans searching for Easter eggs).  This will definitely be something unlike Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD or even the Netflix shows.

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Sunday’s Best: Calvin and the Book of Amos

There’s this judgment passed in the book of Amos that reads a lot like today’s classic Calvin and Hobbes strip by Bill Watterson.  Except instead of a lion, bear, and snake, it’s just Hobbes and Hobbes.

Calvin Open Door(image from gocomics.com)

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Twenty-Three

Today marked the 23rd anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins.  While I deeply love A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, I have found Brother’s Keeper becoming a truly close second.  On some level, it feels a little light, but I think it’s deceptive.  Here’s a recording of the title track with Mitch McVicker singing back-up.

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