I'm grateful to Amy Frkyholm for her thoughtful response to my media column on clickbait. I have a religious autobiography similar to Amy's: raised in a highly emotional evangelical/charismatic church, which I left in young adulthood for high liturgy. My response to liturgical forms of worship was very much the same feeling of relief and freedom within structure that Amy describes so well. I appreciate, and in many ways share, her experience with and insight into the pitfalls of coerced emotionality—in worship, church groups, or online.
I'm not sure, however, that the parallel between clickbait and worship really works.
This year at Vacation Bible School I told the story of Jairus’s daughter. My plan was to have one child pretend to “sleep” and then be raised up by Jesus. But it turned out that all the children wanted a chance to be Jairus’ daughter. So around I went, taking the hands of “sleeping” children and touching their foreheads and saying something like, “Get up! Jesus makes you well.”
As I went around raising these children and sending them off to craft sheep out of marshmallows, I could not help but think of all the children who will not be raised up.
In her media column for the Century last month, Kathryn Reklis, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote about the many times a day that social media asks her to watch a video and feel something. “You too will cry after watching this . . . 90 percent of people cry,” the Facebook post tells her. She argues that, while kitschy, these videos contain the power of shared feeling, and shared feeling is a step toward empathy and a further step toward compassion—and so, in essence, a social good. I am not sure I agree.
Hubris is easy to spot in other people, harder in ourselves. Volunteers for the First Crusade shouted “God wills it!” in various languages, thinking they knew the mind of God well enough to be sure that God wanted them to kill people. That’s hubris. Reverence—the opposite of hubris—feels that God is beyond full understanding by human beings.
My educational background is in the humanities; my exposure to the sciences has been almost nil. The closest I come to the sciences is through my daughter and her husband, both high school biology teachers. However, I've become interested in the conversation between science and religion.
Ministry is one of the only professions besides writing where a person has daily need for poetry. Poetry refreshes and renews language and adds insight to stories we’ve heard many times. It can be woven meaningfully into sermons, and it bolsters the human spirit.
But pastors often turn to the same poets over and over again, and time to explore new territory is limited.
In the days after my grandmother died, my aunts introduced me to Iris DeMent's song “Let the Mystery Be." As is true for many people, from the early years of Christian faith, the loss of one dear to me sparked wonderings about what happens after death. I have fuzzy, 15-year-old memories of one of my aunts thinking aloud about the possibility of reincarnation, and older family members assuring us all that my grandmother was sitting at the feet of Jesus.
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.
Years ago I was very good at hope. I could hope for a more celebrated position, flatter abs, or to cross the finish of Ironman. I was also good at setting goals to achieve these ends: I put my head down and knocked them off.
The elation of accomplishing these goals and garnering a little attention for my efforts was a great high, but unfortunately it did not usually last long.