In preparation for writing Uncomfortable I wanted to get a sense for what proves most uncomfortable about Christianity in real churches today. I emailed a number of pastors from around the world and asked them about what aspects of Christianity or church life proved to be especially uncomfortable, challenging or offensive in their particular congregations and contexts. Here are 10 of the responses I received.
I’m a theologically conservative evangelical Christian who is ardently pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage. I’m also ardently pro-environment. All of these positions are connected and stem from my faith more than my politics, particularly a glad acceptance of and respect for God’s created order. Here are my arguments for why care for the environment should be a concern for conservative Christians.
Richard Tanne's Southside With You, a compelling cinematic depiction of the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama (played brilliantly by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter), is on one hand a smart romance in the vein of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy or James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. It's a quiet, simple love story that captures the innocence, awkwardness and impermanence of the early days of relationships. Southside is a snapshot of a couple of lawyers in 1989 Chicago who two decades later would be ruling the free world in the White House. That's the obvious hindsight angle that makes the film interesting as narration of a particular m
I think it’s time America gets serious about moving beyond a rigid two party system. If the 2016 election has confirmed anything, it is that the recent incompetence and unpopularity of the two existing parties is reaching a crisis point. The crazy fringes are now taking over the mainstream parties, and so it’s time we start thinking of third parties not as extremist dreams but as realistic options for the sane, moderate and balanced Americans who are being left behind.
The only real way to make sense of 2016 America, in particular the unfolding presidential election, is to see it in the way Donald Trump does: as a game. Donald Trump’s stump speeches mostly consist of talking about winning, calling others losers, and insisting that he will help America win again. This involves beating China, Japan and Mexico (and everyone else) at trade, as he said in his New Hampshire victory speech. It also involves building a wall along the Mexican border and forbidding the entry of Muslims, presumably to keep foreigners from undermining America’s winning.
Every group, every movement, every family, every coalition or club or team of any kind requires some level of agreement/consensus in order to be meaningfully distinct in identity and remotely efficacious in purpose. And every one of these groups knows how elusive but essential consensus can be. But consensus seems to be more elusive than ever, at every stratum of society.
The ferociously partisan atmosphere in America these days isn't limited to Washington D.C., though it certainly is epitomized there. No, the divisive, bitter ambience in this country exists everywhere, from sea to shining sea. A few minutes on cable news or a cursory scroll through one's social media feed at any given moment confirms it. And it's getting worse.
One of the dominant attributes of Christianity today is that its adherents can’t seem to agree on much; or at least, we fight about things more loudly and publicly than we agree about things. This is sad, but probably inevitable. Since Christ’s time on this planet, his followers have been arguing about almost everything. It’s nothing new, though certain technologies (the blogosphere, Twitterverse, etc) seem to amplify it today. We argue about all sorts of things—small, large, petty, important. We argue about “essentials” and “nonessentials,” and even about who decides which is which. The following is my solemn reflection on the things that divide us the most these days. What can we do to have better dialogue about these things?
The Coen Brothers new film, Burn After Reading, suffers from the fact that it followed No Country for Old Men, last year’s best picture Oscar winner. By comparison, Reading looks a tad lightweight—a goofy black comedy without the obvious “prestige” elegance of No Country. But I think that Reading is a very good, concise, underrated film. And perhaps the Coen’s most timely movie ever.
On a filmmaking level, you have to appreciate the razor-sharp economy with which the Coens make films. In No Country, they showed just how evocative a film can be when its most crucial, waited-for moments are only implied (as in, the moment when Javier Bardem lifts up his shoe at the end of the film). In Reading, they do the same thing. The Coens use an effective narrative device—C.I.A. officials being “briefed”—to comically tell us how the most horrendously violent scenes unfold. It is often said that good filmmakers “show” rather than “tell” a scene, but in the case of violence, I think that the Coens have found a way to effectively render it in our minds without always showing it. Certainly the endings of Reading and No Country are effective in this way.
But I also appreciated Reading for other things: its great cast (Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins are especially fun), for one thing, but also its strange, quirky ability to capture the zeitgeist of America (well, Washington) in 2008.
The film has a resigned feeling to it—an almost nihilistic sense that everyone is stupid, selfish, and self-destructive. It’s a dark, cynical film, but it captures a familiar weariness that I think rings more true than ever today—in these days when Washington seems more inept than ever, more self-serving, and more prone to make a problem worse by trying to “solve” it in a quick and easy manner.
Burn After Reading never directly addresses one political party or another, and certainly it may be interpreted as a critique of the 8-year-long train wreck that has been the Bush years, but I see it more as a commentary on Washington D.C. in general, on bureaucracy, on the failed systems of power and secrecy and cover-ups that have made this generation of young Americans the most cynical ever about politics.
No Country felt timely as well, but not in a way that felt particularly American. Reading feels completely and utterly about America—about big, dumb, angry, short-tempered Americans who are scared about the future, paranoid about the present, dubious about anyone or anything “official,” and perpetually engaged in a downward spiral/comedy of errors.
At a time like this—when faith in America is dropping with the stocks, when many of us are losing all interest in the election and just wish it would end—perhaps Burn After Reading is not the best film for us. But then again, maybe it’s exactly the film we need.