Weaponized Shame :: The Weekend Reading List

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval. — Jon Ronson

The full removal of evil in our world is one of the breathless longings of Christianity. We hopefully await a time where death, cancer, genocide, abuse, and countless other atrocities are vanquished. And though we count on this, it can be difficult to picture life without the petty evils that accost us daily.

We don’t even think of things like stress and life’s regular anxieties and discouragements as stemming from evil — perhaps because we try to individualize evil and these are systemic forces that plague us all. Though we have sinned, we are also all victims of a broken world.

Shame and bullying, which in the past were among the ongoing pains of our world, have taken on a force of their own through the internet. Far too many people — some who have done legitimate wrong others who were simply imprudent or taken out of context — have had their lives destroyed by a maelstrom of anonymous digital hate. In extreme cases people have lost jobs, struggled with depression and PTSD, and had to leave their home after their addresses were posted online and linked to death threats.

We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you.

Twitter could have been a town square. But now it’s more like a drunken, heaving mosh pit. — Umair Haque
Though this disproportionately affects children and students, the modern digital age has made it something nearly all of us can suffer from as victims — or participate in as perpetrators.
A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We’re in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click, we make a choice. — Monica Lewinsky

In her TED talk, “The Price of Shame,” Monika Lewinsky opens up about the profound toll public shaming can take on a person, “In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life… The public humiliation was excruciating. Life was almost unbearable.”

Lewinsky’s talk focuses outside the guilt of her actions on the weight of public shaming — our active roll in disintegrating another human being through quips and clicks. “It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.”

In a Medium post this month Umair Haque, who writes on economics and technology for the Harvard Business Review, chronicles the way technology has weaponized our ability to harm one another:
The social web became a nasty, brutish place… What really happens on Twitter these days? People have self-sorted into cliques, little in-groups, tribes. The purpose of tribes is to defend their beliefs, their ways, their customs, their culture — their ways of seeing the world… and if you dare not to bow down before it…or worse still to challenge it…well, then the faithful will do what they must to defend their gods. They will declare a crusade against you.

We are at the beginning of a large cultural conversation about shame, guilt, bullying, and behavior in the public square. Christians have the opportunity live as salt and light in a bland, rotting, and dark digital world. What we click, how we respond — if we we respond at all — shares a testimony to the world.

Nietzsche warned, “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.” Though the gospel takes it one step further: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In this‚ in what we post, and click, and share — we join Christ in bringing heaven to earth now.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13) 1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)
2 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:05) 1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)

The Weekend Reading List

Vocation as Spiritual Practice :: Throwback Thursday

2 Thessalonians 3.11
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work.

By Thomas Cole (1627-1697)

We are called to Christianity by the preaching of the gospel of Christ. We are called to outward worldly calling by God’s special appointment: “Six days shalt you labor and do all your work.” Every man has his work — a full business which must not be neglected — we are called to our particular employment by Providence.

Many of the duties and graces of our Christian calling follow us into our particular callings and into all the works of our hands. Your present duty lies in your present work, in the daily business of your particular callings. If you seek only yourselves — your own profit and pleasure — this is not serving God, but yourselves. You must do what you do in faith, as to the Lord; and then every thing you do will be an act of worship, because it carries in it a religious respect to the will of God.

Herein lies the nature of all practical holiness; whatever you are doing, be sure exercise some grace: there can be no godliness without grace. Grace in the heart guides the hand. These gracious dispositions toward God follow a saint into all his employments, inclining him to holiness in all his ways.

What I am pressing you to is your present duty — what is past cannot be recalled. Your present duty is to repent of past sins, and to walk with God in your callings for the time to come. Be upright in your way; admit nothing into your particular callings that is inconsistent with the principles of your general calling, as you are Christians.

Grace will help you at every turn. If you thrive in your calling, grace will teach you to give God the praise, and to be thankful. If you sink and go backwards, grace will teach you quietly to submit to God; how to bear with cheerfulness all disappointments and losses that you meet with; how to receive evil, as well as good.

If God inclines your hearts every day to consider the spiritual act of your present duty, you will be always found in a holy frame and the blessing of God will be upon you. You will “flourish like the palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon; bringing forth fruit in old age.”


*Abridged and language updated from Thomas Cole’s sermon, How May The Well-Discharge Of Our Present Duty Give Us Assurance Of Help From God For The Well-Discharge Of All Future Duties?

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

Fresh Experiences in Ancient Traditions

2 Thessalonians 2.15

Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.

Acquisition of property was highly regulated under Roman law. Items, land, and even slaves abandoned during conquest could be claimed by Roman citizens under a section of the law entitled res nullius (literally: nobody’s property). Property passed from an existing owner to another fell under a different section called tradtio.
Traditio required two steps: the owner voluntarily placing the property into the care of another, and the recipient accepting ownership.
We derive the english word tradition from this process, in hope we can transfer significant parts of the human experience from one generation to another. In recent history, individualism has proven to be a hostile environment for tradition. Family traditions rarely extend beyond one or two generations. Political traditions are under fire. Religious traditions have been on the decline for decades.
A person who maintains intentional roots in past practices is labeled “traditional” — using the word in the pejorative sense: obsolete and old-fashioned.

When we turn away from tradition, from the past, we are left only with the present. As a result we try to recover what we’ve lost in tradition through flailing moments of intention. Mobile apps offer us help with a few minutes in the morning to control our breathing and turning habit formation into a game.

Hacks to reclaiming the moment aren’t bad — but they don’t lead us beyond ourselves. Surely one of the ways we gather strength from those who went before us, as Hebrews exhorts, is to be formed by what formed them. We experience something great inside ourselves when we join our faith to those who walked before us.
Liturgies are compressed, performed narratives that recruit the imagination through the body. — James K.A. Smith

Paul’s challenge to the Thessalonians to return to the traditions of the faith isn’t a cry to return to a nostalgic past. Quite the opposite, it was an invitation to gather strength from the saints and root their lives in something transcendent. The gospel is an invitation to community.

Yielding to tradition renews our ability to express the grace God first showed to us. Fresh experiences in tradition are a way we can experience ownership of our faith. But settling for a life unhinged from spiritual tradition is a way to deny the world has an owner and stake a claim of lordship over our own lives.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

Finding Meaning in Suffering

2 Thessalonians 1.4

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,
In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.
While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.
Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,
Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)

N.T. Wright on Political Allegiance

1 Thessalonians 5.3

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them.

I am not proposing that we give up looking at Paul as a theologian and read him simply as a covert politician… If there is indeed a reference to Caesar and his cult in Romans, Philippians, and elsewhere, it would be a mistake to universalize this and suppose that Paul is covertly opposing Caesar in all sorts of other places as well.

The critique of the powers which Paul has in mind depends precisely on a thoroughgoing and well worked out theology, not least a very high Christology and a strong doctrine of justification. — N.T. Wright

In his paper on Paul and Caesar, N.T. Wright highlights Paul’s confrontation of the Thessalonians when he quotes Roman the propaganda, “peace and security” — Caesar’s promise to all who would worship him. Paul wasn’t critiquing one political view over another, but reorienting the way Christians looked to government in its entirety.

As a member of the ruling global superpower of his day, Paul would have had access to fantastic privileges and faced enormous temptations — he saw both as detrimental to faith. Even the Roman government, the largest superpower at that point in history, was insufficient to deliver humanity’s greatest needs. Wright summarizes Paul’s challenge to the first century church:
Paul had abandoned his Jewish privileges to find Christ, so the Philippians should be prepared, at least, not to take advantage of their belonging to a Roman colony, with the same end in view (finding Christ).
It is impossible for genuine faith not to influence a person’s politics. Paul explains that Christian faith does not result in a doubling down on political ideology as a means toward “peace and security,” but in radical commitment to Christ. Wright concludes:
Paul’s underlying point is that the victory of the true God is not won by the normal means of revolution. Rome could cope with revolutions; she could not cope, as history demonstrated, with a community owing imitative allegiance to the crucified and risen Jesus.

Paul closes his letter the to Thessalonians by pointing them toward the one true source of peace and security; “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)