Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cruelty Catching Fire: Violence, Voyeurism, and "The Hunger Games"

"Perhaps our fear is that we have become like the Capitol, too easily delighting in the sufferings of others—even if they are reality television stars. Perhaps we watch The Hunger Games to prove to ourselves that this national pastime of voyeurism could be worse...But what can be said for a society that finds its solace in cruelty?"

From my new article up today at Ethika Politika.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ANONANIMAL Reads: November Edition

Right now, I am reading thirty-two books. Simultaneously. This is far more than I picked up in college or graduate school, when even my casual reading was dictated by an unrelenting need to feel "impressive." Now I'm liberated: I read what fascinates me, and that's that. Here's a highlight of my latest fascinations.

1. Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, Kate Bowler 
Ms. Bowler, a Duke Divinity School professor born and bred at Duke Divinity, spent years in the trenches of the Prosperity Gospel (movement?). We're talking hundreds of church visits, interviews, and conferences over the span of nearly a decade. Unflinchingly, she surveys the ups and downs of a theology that often reduces prayers to quarters and God to a heavenly vending machine.

2. The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Thomas Bergler
"...Is the music we sing in church fostering a self-centered, romantic spirituality in which following Jesus is compared to 'falling in love'?" Bergler asks. It shouldn't come as a shock, he says, if the resulting faith "has all the maturity and staying power of an adolescent infatuation." This book (and the one above) feels like an addendum to Ross Douthat's essential Bad Religion. (A sidenote: both also appear to be doctoral theses-turned-books; rthe reading was work, but work well worth it.) Berlger's extensive Christianity Today article is also highly recommended. He masterfully maps our culture's descent into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--which, if you haven't read about, you need to. Now.

3. American Educational History Revisited: A Critique of Progress, Milton Gaither
I love Milton Gaither. Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and re-reading) his even-handed history of homeschooling. He reads like a worldly, scholarly uncle, the type you'd seek out after Thanksgiving dinner to tell you how it really is.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Do You Solve a (Liturgical) Problem Like Maria?

New essay of mine up at Ethika Politika. Here's an excerpt:

"Matter matters. The Incarnation teaches us that it can even be sacred. This would not have been a new concept to the Hebrews, who had the benefit of the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant. But for those of us living in today’s throwaway world, where most of that which is not virtual is easily disposable, the concept of sacredness—of a place, a presence, a material thing—is novel indeed. Sacred places are hard to find."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Notes from a Midwesterner in Red Sox Nation

[Author's note: just a short one today. It's my husband's birthday. I am busy celebrating.]
 Last August brought us to our third state in fourteen months. We made the drive with all our worldly possessions (save a few dishes and precious books stored at the in-laws’) piled to the roof of our Mitsubishi Lancer. A friend laughed when she saw every last nook and cranny of the car packed with whatever we could manage—houseplants, spices, pants. We were ready for anything.

I planned an appropriate soundtrack: just as we entered the city, our car resounded with The BQE, Sufjan Steven’s symphonic love song for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. We heard the song, we saw the city, we fell in love. Later, when I first glimpsed the city skyline, I jumped for joy. (I jumped again an hour later, when we heard sudden fireworks from Fenway Park.)

Then came the reality of la vita metropolitan: the toll roads, the long lines, the traffic jams now-routine. Within a couple months, I spotted that same city skyline again and smelled the metallic pollution and vowed that if I didn’t find some sort of nature by that afternoon, I would lose it. Mercifully, a community farm later revealed itself. I gloried in the crunch of hay beneath my feet. That evening, fireworks again flew from Fenway Park; they’d become part of the background noise.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Who is My Neighbor?: Charity in an Age of Consumerism

The mall was so clean, it hurt. The marble floors gleamed a vaguely menacing glow. This was no ordinary credit cathedral: the surrounding town itself was a shopping mecca for the whole of the Boston metropolis. Nordstrom, Coach, even Tesla cars—the crème de la crème shopped here, and while they spent, personal valets cleaned and waxed their vehicles. Between purchases, buyers lounged in restaurants and nibbled sushi delivered to them not by waiters, but by motorized conveyor belts. 

In the midst of all this, I was lost. The homogeneous vastness of the mall had turned me around a third time. Weaving across aisles, I dodged countless kiosks and their hawkers of sub-standard goods—cell phone covers, electronic cigarettes, abundant summer sausages. And in every mall, I swear, works that poor soul whose livelihood depends on selling you that overpriced manicure kit, right here, RIGHT NOW, for only $64.95! Look! they say as they grasp your thumb, see how it shines up your fingernail!

That is shiny, you think to yourself. You excuse yourself with a mumble and move on.

I was about to give up and go home when I turned the very last corner and saw a kiosk that made me stop dead. This one wasn’t hawking eyebrow threading or trashy wigs. It was hawking child sponsorship.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Katy Perry and the Cost of Celebrity

It happened by accident. I never meant to become fascinated by Katy Perry. I missed “I Kissed A Girl” on the radio. I’d never heard “Firework,” nor hummed “TGIF” and its infectious refrains. But last summer,  I came home from work, exhausted, and turned to Netflix, finding the same old tired titles in my queue. (A word to the wise: if something has been in your queue since 2008, you probably aren’t going to watch it. Sorry, The 400 Blows.) And there, nestled among cerebral classics unwatched, lay Katy Perry: Part of Me.

I don’t know what made me push play. It could be that I remembered Katy from her CCM days, finding her self-titled debut in the Christian bookstore. It could be that she, like me, was an expatriate of the charismatic church. It could have been her baby-blue wig. Whatever it was, I clicked.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

ANONANIMAL Reads (or, My Floor is Covered with Books)

Last summer, when I was beginning to write seriously again, I learned--or remembered for the hundredth time--that to write, one must read. Often. Concurrently, our new city apartment landed me within a five-minute walk of our local library. My living room floor became a vast athenaeum scattered with tomes of urban planning, writing advice, and a strange line of country music biographies. Now, with the whole of the Boston Public Library (and then some) at my disposal, my appetite knows no bounds. I haven't seen my floor in weeks.

1. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle.
Someday, when I have a real kitchen, I will judge its quality by its resemblance to the first chapter of this book: "The cocoa steamed fragrantly in the saucepan; geraniums bloomed on the window sills and there was a bouquet of tiny yellow chrysanthemums in the center of the table. The curtains, red, with a blue and green geometrical pattern, were drawn, and seemed to reflect their cheerfulness throughout the room. The furnace purred like a great, sleepy animal...."

2. Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, Dale Pollock.
I'm including this title only for the sake of quoting this gem: "Like a fat man who couldn't stop eating, George gorged himself on film..."

3. Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Mary Eberstadt.
For several years now, I've been on the hunt for a thorough and even-handed analysis of the Sexual Revolution: what happened, how it happened, and how it affects us today. This wasn't it. Ms. Eberstadt's thesis, that our culture's apparent sexual depravity can be blamed on the widespread use of oral contraceptives, would have been much stronger had she not referred incessantly to "serious people" and "the results of endless studies" without referencing what the research entailed and what, exactly, makes one serious.