Category: Ethics and Social Justice

Poster for Hidden Figures

The Gospels, Hidden Figures, and Strength in Diversity

Poster for Hidden FiguresDuring January of each year, our church brings in a biblical scholar to teach through a book. This year is Matthew. In the first adult Bible Study last week, Tom Yoder Neufeld covered many introductory topics, including his explanation of the layers that go into each Gospel: Jesus, the oral history, the compiler, and so on. He also talked about how there was an effort in the early church to compile into one Gospel, which was soundly rejected. That left me thinking: Why? If the goal is strictly to convey the story of Jesus, doing it as a single story would have made a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s the whole goal, though.

Hidden Figures

This weekend, we went to see Hidden Figures. It is a fantastic movie from any objective measure, now picking up some Academy Award nominations, but one particular theme stood out to me and two scenes that really captured this theme.

Atonement - Cross

The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers

The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers (cover)A few years ago I was strongly considering writing a book. My premise was essentially a systematic theology but starting with the idea that God looks like Jesus, particularly when it comes to rejection of violence. The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers is the closest I’ve encountered to trying for the same goal, with a couple of significant differences:

  • It is not nearly as comprehensive as a systematic theology, sticking to topics that are directly related to a non-violent understanding of the atonement.
  • The starting point is a non-violent understanding of the atonement in particular, rather than a non-violent God in general.

Maybe that excitement biased me, but I felt like the book was only moderately successful.

Style

My main complaints are related to the style, not the content. It feels sloppily written. It often gets very repetitive, which meant that although it was a short book, it probably could have been half the size. It doesn’t really do a good job explaining what is meant by some terms, such as pacifism (see below). It uses gendered language, and I don’t just mean some that are very understandable like male pronouns for God – I mean regularly using “man” to mean humanity.

Trouble I've Seen

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart

Trouble I've SeenThis was a great book for helping Christians understand the nature of racial hierarchies present in the United States – much would be also true elsewhere, but Hart’s focus is on his home country. A few factors make this a highly recommended read to me:

Hart speaks well from the facts as well as his own experience. Facts alone could easily come across as boring. His experience alone could be easily dismissed as an anomaly. This book carries a great balance: relatable but going much deeper than just a few stories of discrimination.

Hart’s work is accessible to white people (like myself) while critiquing the system of white supremacy. There are many ideas that I’m sure would still offend many of us simply because it puts us on the defensive for our complicity, and they should offend us if we haven’t been desensitized to it, but I never felt like he was attacking me individually. It carried a pastoral tone, using more positive reinforcement to call us into something better rather than berating us. I regularly see white people getting upset over language of white supremacy insisting that they individually are not a member of the KKK. Hart does a great job explaining why this is missing the point while being gentle toward those who are missing the point.

Captain America Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

Nuanced Sides of Captain America: Civil War

Ever since I first heard about Captain America: Civil War, I’ve been solidly on Team Cap’s anti-registration side. For those who aren’t nerds, here’s the basic plot: after the events of previous movies where all these superpowered humans wreak havoc on the world, governments of the world (mostly the U.S.) want to register those with superpowers so they can provide some oversight to their activities. Iron Man is pro-registration, which makes sense given that the last Avengers movie villain was literally his creation and he feels guilty about it. Captain America leads the anti-registration side, which culminates the direction of his character throughout The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron but in this case will be sparked by defending his friend Bucky. The majority of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except Thor and Hulk who get a movie later) line up on one side or the other.

I had a lightbulb moment watching this video from The Mary Sue, though, that made it harder for me to think Cap is clearly in the right:

Technology - Bible and Headphones

Pacifist Video Games

Fallout 4 cover artI just now came across a fascinating story from back in December about Kyle Hinckley who managed to beat the game Fallout 4 without killing a single person. Well, not really. He managed to avoid directly killing anybody, but he did do things like brainwashing non-playable characters into doing it for him.

Kyle said this to Kotaku:

I’d love to ask [the developers] why pacifism is so difficult in this Fallout … I’m a little disappointed in the lack of diplomatic solutions in this game, it’s a lonely departure from the rest of the Fallout series. My version of pacifism isn’t really diplomatic, it’s more exploitative of the game mechanics to achieve a zero-kill record. In other [Fallout] games, you had a lot of alternatives for bypassing the combat, whether it was with sneaking, speech checks, or a back door opened with lock-picking and hacking. In fact, in previous games (at least 3 and NV), your companion kills didn’t count towards your record either.

I don’t know much about the Fallout games at all, but this is a worrying trend in the video game industry in general. I’m not primarily talking about the long-running question of whether we become more violent by playing violent video games.

SNL: The Day Beyoncé Turned Black

In light of my recent post after the Super Bowl including some discussion of Beyoncé‘s new video, this skit from Saturday Night Live is appropriate to also share here (if you’re in the U.S., you can get the official one at a higher quality, but it’s region-blocked so I share this one instead):

Bible

Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust

Unprotected TextsUnprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust seeks to make a biblical analysis of various topics related to sex. In general, it’s academically rigorous but very accessible and I would recommend it, although some sections definitely dragged on more for me than others. The topics themselves were definitely interesting. Some I had learned more about in my own studies, particularly the current cultural controversies. Others tackled questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. The chapters:

  1. The Bible and the Joy of Sex, texts like Song of Songs that view sex as a good thing
  2. Biblical Marriage, the complicated and varying definitions of marriage in the Bible
  3. The Evil Impulse, particularly Jesus and Paul’s call to celibacy
  4. Sexual Politics, the inconsistent rules against certain types of sex
  5. Strange Flesh, the one consistent sex rule: no sex with angels
  6. Bodily Parts, circumcision and genital emissions

Some people are probably squirming just reading that list since a small portion of the Western church (and culture in general) are actually willing to talk about sex. That makes this book extra important if only for its willingness to be honest and comprehensive about what the Bible actually says: a fair bit, but probably not what you think or as clearly as you think.

Giza Pyramids

Lazy Slaves?

Giza Pyramids

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_Gizah_Pyramids.jpg

I couldn’t help but see some present day parallels with the Old Testament text in my daily lectionary reading for today:

10The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, “The king says he will not give you any more straw.11Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before.”

12The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.13But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, “Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw.”14The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, “Why didn’t you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?”

15Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, “Why are you treating us like this?16No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame.”

17The king replied, “You are lazy—nothing but lazy!

Super Bowl 50 logo

SB50: Beyoncé, Bruno, and Cam

Super Bowl 50 logoI’m a casual (American) football fan. I probably watch 2 regular season games a year, then a couple of playoffs before the Super Bowl, which is more of an excuse to hang out with friends and eat unhealthy food than to watch the game. There were a couple of interesting things happen this year, though.

The Halftime Show: Beyoncé, Bruno Mars… and Coldplay

Technically this was supposed to be Coldplay’s halftime show. I don’t have any problem with Coldplay. They did a fine job. But they probably should have marketed it as Beyoncé featuring Coldplay and Bruno Mars, because Beyoncé was who everyone was waiting to see. Coldplay opened with some of their pleasant singable rock anthems. Then Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson performed Uptown Funk.

Then Beyoncé showed up, singing her new political song Formation. If you haven’t seen that yet, here’s the music video:

Howard Thurman

What Kind of Nonviolent Activist?

Howard Thurman

My match for “what kind of nonviolent activist are you?”

Across a few social media networks I began seeing people share their results from a quiz for “What kind of nonviolent activist are you?” made by Sojourners. I took it, and I’ll share my results at the end, but more important than that, I thought this was a great idea to educate people on nonviolent activism. Most people are generally familiar with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., although usually in whitewashed forms that aren’t nearly as radical as they actually were. Beyond that, even proponents of nonviolent action like myself can’t name too many nonviolent activists. So I first just wanted to praise this quiz for that accomplishment.

Now, onto the questions:

Is violence ever permissible?

No. At least not for a Christian. Some violence I can be more sympathetic toward, specifically the oppressed feeling like they have no other choice, but I still don’t think even in those situations it is actually helpful or in line with Jesus’ life and teachings. I don’t really have any interest in debating what’s “permissible” for those who don’t hold themselves to Jesus’ teachings, but I would still say it is not helpful.