A pet topic of mine is the tendency of some Christians to fixate on belief and its boundaries. You can't just state why you think belief in x, y, and z is important to Christian faith and life; you have to claim that those who believe x and y but not so much z are not real Christians. You can't just disagree with someone with a different view from yours; you have to stage an inquisition.
It frustrates me to see this all-belief-all-the-time orientation used to frame things as us real Christians vs. them fake ones. When people take a similar approach in drawing themselves outside the circle, it just makes me sad.
In 1401, under the patronage of the Arte di Calimala, a competition to decorate the east doors of the baptistery in Florence was announced. Of the seven Tuscan sculptors who entered the competition, the young Lorenzo Ghiberti, barely 20 years of age, emerged the victor. The subject of the doors was the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), and the theme was that of divine intervention. In this climactic scene, Abraham is poised to strike a fatal blow with his knife. Isaac is depicted as what some have called “the first truly Renaissance nude”—perfectly proportioned, energetic yet graceful. An angel’s gesture stops the sacrifice, and the viewer notices a ram caught in the thickets in the upper left-hand register. This text has long challenged communities of faith. Some Jewish interpretations, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, posited that Isaac was 37 years old, and the near sacrifice was an act of faith of not one but two consenting adults, both Isaac and Abraham. Christian interpreters from the patristic period (if not earlier; cf. Hebrews 11:17) had interpreted the story typologically. Melito of Sardis, for example, wrote: “For as a ram he [Christ] was bound . . . And he carried the wood upon his shoulders. And he was led up to be slain like Isaac by his Father. But Christ suffered, whereas Isaac did not suffer” (cf. Frag. 9–11).
If you’ve heard of The Fault in Our Stars, the recently released movie based on John Green’s bestselling book, you’ve probably heard that it’s about teenagers with cancer. And while this is true—the main characters, Gus and Hazel, meet in a teenage cancer support group—one of the movie’s greatest triumphs is not letting the characters be defined by their cancer.
They warned us, like innocents, not to name our goat, to exercise good sense, refuse to see him as a pet or even, oops, as him. Just do whatever all it takes to tame the thing toward that appointed time when goat and fate should meet, when the dull drawn blade would withdraw blood from funny, fuzzy throat.
For days or weeks, we avoided eyes, made it a point to see the animal as meat. Through open window, so relieved, I heard you say to our neighbor, “No, you do it.”
And kindly, our neighbor did—spared you, and me too. But I will never forgive myself the rare deliciousness of the stew.
A professor of the theory and practice of social media, Clay Shirky, doesn’t let his students use electronic devices in his classes. It’s not just that he can’t compete with the hardware or the software. Studies show that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall. One study showed that students who multitasked in class scored lower than those who didn’t. The presence of electronic devices also distracts those who aren’t using them. “I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process,” Shirky said (Washington Post, September 25).