The latest issue of U.S. Catholic features a story with a title that will be familiar to long-time Patrollers, “Born-again Catholics: Evangelicals crossing the Tiber.” If you recall, almost exactly two years ago I published a piece in Religion Dispatches entitled “Evangelicals ‘Crossing the Tiber’ to Catholicism.”
Now, I know I’m […]
Last night, after “Modern Family” ended and before the new sitcom “Happy Endings” began, in that wasteland of ABC television’s programming called “Cougar Town,” my wife and I flipped through the four channels our digital antenna pulls in searching for a half hour of interim entertainment. We landed, for a brief time, on “
It’s been a while since I’ve read Relevant. I found some time ago that it’s better for my blood pressure if I stay away. But every once in a while something catches my attention and just like that I get sucked back in. And, here we are.
There’s so much wrong with this piece […]
James K. A. Smith is currently Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI where he also teaches in the Department of Congregational and Ministry Studies. He also serves as Executive Director of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation was awarded The 2010 Word Guild Award in Leadership/Theoretical, as well the Christianity Today2010 Book Award in Theology/Ethics. His new book, Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, was just published by Brazos.
1. You’re currently teaching philosophy at Calvin College, and you’ve written a series of books, from academic philosophical studies to collections of op-ed essays about contemporary Christianity. For Patrol readers who aren’t familiar with your work, tell us a little about your journey: when you became a Christian, when and why you decided upon a life in academia.
I wasn’t raised in the church and became a Christian when I was 18 years-old, back in Canada (through my girlfriend—now wife—doing a little missionary dating). This was a sort of Damascus Road experience for me, not because I’d been a licentious frat boy but because I quickly discovered why I had a brain. I immediately abandoned my plans to become an architect in order to pursue what I sensed was a call to pastoral ministry. When I was a sophomore in college, I discovered Reformed theology and then, shortly afterwards, began reading Francis Schaeffer and later Alvin Plantinga. All sorts of lights went on for me and I began to sense that perhaps my calling was to be a Christian scholar.
So at the end of college, I had to choose between seminary and grad school in philosophy. It was a real struggle for me—one of the few really existential choices I had to make. But when we settled on the academic direction, everything sort of fell into place and I was at peace with the decision. I’m sometimes still tempted by pastoral ministry a bit, but it’s a heck of a lot more work, so that usually passes pretty quickly.
However, I do think it’s been that sort of “pastoral” side that has always made me inclined to be a scholar who tries to serve the church—trying to think through issues and challenges in order to help the church be a faithful witness in our late modern culture. I think that’s what’s behind my more “popular” work: I sometimes describe that as “outreach scholarship.” My exemplar here is Rich Mouw, one of my predecessors in the philosophy department at Calvin and now president of Fuller Seminary. Rich is the model of what we might call an “ecclesial scholar.”
Okay Patrol readers, let’s see just how much you know about religion. And we’re not talking about just evangelical Christianity here. We’re not asking if you can name Amy Grant’s first record or provide the date of the first Billy Graham crusade (can you, incidentally?).
No, this is serious business. Click here to take the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s Religious Knowledge Quiz. Your reward for completing the 15 questions is a few pages full of statistics comparing you to the general public and members of different religions.
Just as a bit of a taunt/challenge: I scored 15/15. Just saying.
Go ahead and take the quiz, and then come on back here to let us know how you did!
Since Christopher Hitchens, renowned atheist and author, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer this summer, it seems everyone has started praying. Some are praying for his salvation, some that he will burn in hell, some pray that he will recover, and others pray that the spirit in which he lives his life – the wine-loving, controversy-inciting, love-to-hate him atheist – will continue in his life and his death.
Hitchens’ father died of esophageal cancer at the age of 79. It happened quickly in a time when medicine offered few treatment options. The junior Hitchens is 61, and while doctors have prescribed a rigorous regimen of what Hitchens calls chemo-poison, for the most part, effective detection and treatment of esophageal cancer remains a mystery. The odds are not good…
Nevermind the World Cup or General Petraeus, for me the big news of the day is the release of the iPhone 4. Though some lucky people received their prize yesterday, the rest of us (early adopters? Fanboys?) are forced to wait expectantly for the elusive FedEx or UPS truck to roll down the street. Anyway, that’s the story here in Jersey City where there’s nothing to do (actually, there’s always a ton of things to do) but wait.
In the meantime, this gadget-lust and obsessive need to upgrade got me thinking about a piece I wrote a while back for our sister-magazine The Curator. Here’s an excerpt, and a link to the rest below:
I think upgrading is great. I upgrade as often as possible: phone software, websites, computer hardware, anything. But I’m very much aware that something important is lost in all of this frenzied upgrading – namely, permanence.
For instance: consider that website you visit frequently. Imagine that the design has changed, but you really liked the way it looked before. Too bad – it’s gone now. This certainly has been evident in the many new iterations of Facebook that have been released in the last few years. Every time that social networking site updates their look or the way certain features work, a group (the existence of which was, of course, an added feature to their previous platform) is created decrying the new look and feel.
We, as humans, long for change, for the chance to better ourselves and our surroundings and yet, almost as vehemently, we mourn the loss of what we had. Take for example, the graphic designer who decided to print out 437 “featured” Wikipedia articles, producing a book 5,000 pages long and 19 inches thick, to “make a comment on how everyone goes to the internet these days for information, yet it is very unreliable compared to what it has replaced.” No one, not even this “artist,” is even sure what is being replaced, but we’re sure we’ll miss it – that is, if we take the time to think about it long enough.
Read the rest here.
Last night my wife and I had the distinct privilege of attending the preview night of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park presentation of The Merchant of Venice. This is the second time we’ve had the opportunity to attend the event and in both instances we have been blown away by the cast performances, lighting and stage design, and artful rendering of Shakespeare’s masterpieces.
Last year’s Twelfth Night was mirthful and quirky, the directors and cast obviously having fun with the gender-bending roles. One of my favorite features of The Public Theater’s (the company that puts on Shakespeare in the Park) staging of the plays is the way they manage to make Shakespeare’s antiquated language sound, to the casual listener, as if the cast were speaking in contemporary parlance. In this way, what may be difficult to understand and follow for the uninitiated becomes more accessible.
The Merchant of Venice is no exception. The Public set the play in the 19th century, and still many of the lines are so casually recited that the listener might wonder, did Shakespeare write that line, or was it added? But Merchant provides another opportunity – or challenge, depending on how you look at it – for the director and cast. That is, when viewed through the eyes of contemporary culture it can easily be seen as a very racist play. Much has been written about the portrayal of Shylock, “The Jew,” but his character, though the most prominent, is not the only stereotype that lives and breathes and walks across Shakespeare’s stage. Each of the princes that tries for Portia’s hand in marriage, the ones you see on stage like the Moroccan and the aging prince from Aragon, in addition to those that are merely described, are walking caricatures.
Any day on which a new Josh Ritter record is released is a good day. Thus, today, my friends, is a good day.
Ritter’s music has been important to me (and my wife…and our relationship) since I first heard him sing “All the other girls here are stars, you are the northern lights…” This line, from the song Kathleen off his album Hello Starling, was all it took to hook me on his music for good. (I know, this is not his first record, how uncool to join the bandwagon after the fact, but believe me, I dug into the back catalog as well).
Hello Starling was amazing and is lodged in my memory of the spring that my wife and I first started dating. But as good as that record is, his next, The Animal Years blew it out of the water. Maybe the best album I own. Maybe. Even Stephen King named it his best album of 2006, calling the stand-out track “Thin Blue Fame,” “…the most exuberant outburst of imagery since Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ in 1963.”
If my friend and Curator Magazine editor, Alissa Wilkinson was late to the “Media Diet” party, then I am, without a doubt, a crasher. That being the case, however, I still want to take a bit of time here to record the specifics of my own media ingestion. I find, as I’m sure every other writer who has engaged in this exercise has, that it is a mildly self-serving endeavor. But even more that, I’ve found myself deeply interested, not only in the writers I follow or care about like Alissa or, at The Atlantic, Susan Orlean and a number of others, but in the reading habits of most anyone who cares to divulge.
The reason for this, I think, is that we are in a time of transition of how we consume media. Almost every writer who shares his or her media diet notes this, as I will too. So, without further ado, my media diet:
I’m a loyal person. I like to find one way to do a thing and then stick to it, to make it my routine. In that way, I’m also a creature of habit, so figuring out my routine is not only a necessity, it’s an obsession. And it’s a work in progress. Despite my hunch that there has to be a better way, I am betrothed to Google Reader. I’ve even tried the varied ways to make Google Reader friendlier such as using Feedly to “pretty up” my RSS feed. But, unfortunately, that fell flat. When Google introduced Fast Flip, I thought that may be the answer, but the fact that it doesn’t work on just any site I wish killed that option too. When Sessions posted a few months back that he was forsaking Reader for good old-fashioned bookmarks I tried to follow suit, but soon found that I missed having articles served to me. My latest compromise has been to use the “Next” bookmarklet in Reader. This allows me to choose some of my most necessary feeds and flip through them, viewing the actual web page instead of the ugly Reader interface and it also has the residual benefit of removing the constant pressure from the “unread” counter.
So each morning begins with a few (hundred) obsessive clicks around the Internet. Among my top reads are Engadget, NYTimes, The Daily Beast, HuffPost and Religious Dispatches. From there I check Twitter to see what interesting pieces might have slipped through the cracks and also to get my friends’ recommendations from around the web. Then, throughout the day I repeat this routine, sometimes choosing to click my “Next – Culture” or “Next – Books” bookmarklet to see only stories that I’ve categorized as such.
When it comes time to get out of apartment (where I work in the mornings) and onto the train, I toss a physical book into my bag (right now it’s McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, expect some thoughts soon) and my iPhone in my pocket. It would be an understatement to say that my phone is my new portable media hub. I can access articles I saved using Instapaper’s “Read Later” bookmarklet offline, or check Twitter or Google Reader when I’m online. On top of that I’m also in the midst of a (so far) successful reading experiment in which I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s A Thousand Splendid Suns in its entirety on the Kindle app on my iPhone. I was skeptical, but this has been a great way to decrease the weight of my bag and sneak in a few pages whenever I can. I will definitely keep this up.
On a related note, I have a list a mile long of books that I’m reading and/or want to read. And with my new gig as a book reviewer for The Star-Ledger, the hits keep coming. I’m currently whittling down 8 potential candidates to 5 reads for my first piece covering religion-related books.
When I had to drive to work I used to listen NPR every morning and I truly miss this. I’ve tried a few things such as streaming my local station while I work or listening to podcasts, but neither has caught on. I’m a reader and so if I have anything to read at hand (which, as you can see, I always do) I can’t just listen. Though I’m sure my eyes would thank me for the break if I did.
Additionally, my wife and I subscribe to a few print periodicals such as the New York Times Weekend edition, which we read throughout the week, as well as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Honestly, these don’t get read nearly as much as I wish they did, but who has the time? We also are members of Audible.com so we have a glut of unread (un-listened to) audio books. Again, I consumed these at a much faster rate when I was driving everyday.
I must also note that while all of this reading is happening there is a constant soundtrack, mostly from my own iTunes library which I’m obsessive about maintaing and which features selections from nearly every genre (although, I’m not big on classical). Sometimes, when I’m tired of my own collection and there’s nothing new on my radar, I flip over to Pandora to potentially discover something to add to my library.
Nighttime is when I catch up on television and movies. “Caprica” and “Parenthood” have joined the old Hulu standby’s “The Office,” SNL and “30 Rock” to comprise, with the occasional late night Daily Show/Colbert Report, my (online) television watching. And Netflix features (often documentaries) fill in the gaps when there’s nothing new on Hulu.
I’ve said on more than one occasion that if I could make media consumption my full-time and well paying job, I would. In the meantime, I’m fortunate to have a work situation that allows for a lot of media consumption in the cracks between and even, in some cases, pays me a little money to do it.
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