What Old Books and Rwandan Bishops Have in Common

The last couple weeks have been depressing. Of course, there’s the usual stuff: hectic job, crowded schedule, and the existential horror of finding a grey hair in your mustache scruff. The social mediasphere is as toxic as I’ve ever seen it. It’s getting to the point where each new development in the Kavanaugh quagmire makes me feel nauseous.

But this week, I’ve found comfort from two different sources: century-old books, and a Rwandan bishop. I think they’re comforting for the same reason. But before I explain, here’s a little bit about the two sources:

  • Old Books. This past week I’ve been revisiting a couple old books that I love. They aren’t profound. In fact, they’re pulpy and kind of silly. One is “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins, which was published in 1859. The other is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” from 1912. But what the books lack in substance they make up in other virtues–they’re both imaginative, atmospheric, and charged with adventure. And they both have wonderful narratorial voices. By wonderful, I mean different. There’s a unique kind of intimacy that comes from following the way a narrator guides a novel. You get access not only into their opinions, but also the assumptions and habits that were commonplace to them, but are alien to modern readers. While sometimes shocking, on the whole it’s charming.
  • Rwandan Bishops. One of my favorite things about my church is our connection with Rwanda. We were planted by the Anglican Church of Rwanda, and have kept close ties ever since. Folks from our church regularly head over to Rwanda on pilgrimage. And, on the rare occasions, the visa system permits Rwandan leaders to visit us. This past Sunday we hosted Bishop Samuel Mugisha Mugiraneza. His sermon was excellent–you can listen to it here. His insights into American culture were especially striking. Being a visitor and observer helped him identify uniquely American struggles we take for granted–a consuming desire to get ahead, a gnawing need to work, and monetizing all our time.

You probably guessed what these sources have in common, but I’ll explain anyway. They both got me out of my neurotic news bubble. Getting outside the bubble lets me see its limits, feel its edges, and put it in context. My problems aren’t the whole world. My country’s problems aren’t either. They’re just a tiny piece of a larger picture. Whether you’re hearing the Word of God from the other side of the world, or just spending some time in a pleasant Victorian page-turner, it helps to remember that.

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Photo by David Flores

Twitter Cranks and Evangelical Identity

So I’ve been doing something new and exciting—for me anyway. I’ve started buying some Twitter ads for this blog (it’s going well, thanks for asking). As you can imagine, exposing my tweets to a large number of strangers has done some . . . interesting things to my mentions. Random rude people just come with the territory, but there’s one particular type of comment that I’ve been getting that has gotten my attention:

Lots of people think I’m a Trump supporter.

Obviously, the people making these comments have spent no time on my site. Even a quick glance will show a half dozen posts criticizing Trump.

Which means the comments were prompted solely by the tweet. And what does the tweet say? Absolutely nothing about Trump, or even politics. After thinking about it, I’ve concluded that people assume I’m a Trump supporter because my tweet was not explicitly anti-evangelical.

And that’s got me worried.

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Good News: Our Great-Grandchildren Won’t Care About Trump

I want to share a comforting thought. For this thought, I want to take you to to the year 2068.

I’m sitting on my front porch, scratching my wrinkled head with a finger from my robot body.1 Two of my grandchildren, Xenon and Zorpo, play in the surf2 with my new thylacine3 puppy.

I’m reading my antique iPhone 20 while another grandson, Nikolajokic,4 reads his high school textbook on his iLens.5

“This new dinosaur theme park is a bad idea–mark my words.” I mutter. “Life finds a way–not that young people today know anything about that.”

“Hey grandpa.” Nikolajokic cuts in. “We’re studying the early 21st century in my history class. Is that Don Trump guy for real?”

I get a far away look as a shudder surges through my circuits. “Donald Trump. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time.”

“How did a guy like him become president?” When Nikolajokic sees the gleam in my eye, he instantly regrets the question.

Over the next fifteen minutes, I tell him the whole story–how we all thought it was a joke at first, how he kept winning no matter what we did, and how most evangelicals eventually followed him. I then made some thoughtful remarks about how evangelicals learned from their mistake and tried to make amends to later generations, but Nikolajokic has stopped listening. As soon as I started talking about some ancient technology called “Twitter,” he secretly played a Seinfeld6 episode on his iLens.

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Conservatives Have Weasel Words, Too

A couple weeks ago, I argued that “toxic” was a weasel word that progressive Christians use too much. On my Facebook page,1 a reader2 pointed out that conservative Christians have their own weasel words. One in particular caught my attention: liberal. I think that’s spot-on. And yes, I have several specific points about why conservative Christians shouldn’t use it so much:

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Of Trojans and Turtles

I noticed something strange when I walked past Target’s toy aisle. It was dominated by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is not a criticism. As someone whose boyhood was in the 80’s and 90’s, I loved the Turtles. I watched every show, practiced every ninja move, and collected every action figure. A giant bin of them is still in a corner of my parents’ basement.

But that was nearly thirty years ago, and the Turtles are still popular. I would never have picked the Turtles as something that could endure to new generations. After all, they are a group of humanoid turtles who use karate to fight an army of robots in the sewers of Manhattan. They love pizza and skateboards and shell-based puns. How is this so lasting?

One possible reason for their staying power is their use of classical themes. Beneath the cartoon silliness is a story that has been repeated since Ancient Greece. This is especially evident in the most important relationship in the series: Leonardo and Raphael.

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Let’s Quit with the “Toxic” Talk

There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot that drives me crazy, both for rational and irrational reasons. That term is “toxic.”

It seems especially popular with Christians on the Left1 for describing things they dislike on the Right. Traditional sexuality is toxic. The concept of hell is toxic. Complementarianism is toxic. Missions culture is toxic. Etc., etc., etc.

I don’t want to get into the substance of those controversies. In fact, I agree with some of those critiques. Instead, I’m just giving reasons why we should stop labelling any beliefs we don’t like as toxic.

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Why I Don’t Think Much About Atheism Anymore

So I’ve been on this YA kick because I’m researching a writing project.1 As such, I started on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.2 The prologue did a great job of setting up an enticing premise. Then in the first chapter, the protagonist–a teenager from a dystopian future trailer park–gives his personal philosophical manifesto. For some reason.3

The speil was predictable new atheist talking points: how evolution is true, and how that somehow disproves the supernatural. How humanity is on its own and we should just deal with it. How all religion is just fairytales used to manipulate the non-enlightened.

At age twenty, this sort of thing would have sent me into a cocoon. I would have journaled my inner thoughts and doubts, constructed arguments and counter-arguments examining the issue from all sides, and stared in horror at the unblinking stars as I contemplated being alone in the universe.

But that didn’t happen this time. I shrugged it off and continued on. My main emotion was irritation that such a silly argument could have such widespread acceptance.4

Is it bad that Matt of 305 doesn’t spend as much time with this stuff as Matt of 20? Have I become intellectually lazy or stubborn? At the risk of being self-serving, I don’t think so. Here’s why:

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5 Christian TV Characters Who Are Actually Likeable

Like any Christian who enjoys complaining, I often criticize Christian characters on tv. It seems like they’re all judgmental, narrow-minded hypocrites whose faith is an easy punchline. Watching those characters makes me wonder if the script writers have ever even met a Christian.

But happily, not every show is like this. In fact, several do a great job portraying Christian characters. I thought I’d list my five favorites.

These characters are either currently on air, or have been in the recent(ish) past. While far from perfect, these are fully-fleshed characters who are openly Christian, and who are portrayed sympathetically.

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Stop Calling Yourself an “Exvangelical”

So the term “exvangelical” is a thing now. It’s an earnest hashtag on Twitter. It’s also the name of a podcast1 with over seventy episodes. The Guardian even used the term for evangelicals who dropped the label after the 2016 election.

You can guess who exvangelicals are: folks who were raised in conservative evangelical homes, have now become progressives, and who keep enumerating the ways their childhood injured them. You can also guess that I reeeeaaaaaally don’t like the term. And yes, I have bullet-pointed reasons for it.

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Why Couldn’t 90’s Kids Watch Cool TV?

If you were raised evangelical in the 90’s, there were lots of tv shows you weren’t allowed to watch for hilarious reasons.1 If you don’t believe me, watch this John Crist video right now.

While it’s fun to laugh at our parents for what my dad calls “Christian political correctness,” we should sympathize with them. They were trying to protect their kids from a multi-headed hydra of influences they knew almost nothing about. Also, there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll do the same thing with our kids.

Maybe.

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