Building bridges (actual, literal bridges)

Here’s an illustration that also illustrates why I’m a lousy religion blogger. The illustrious Scot McKnight writes about “Cracks in the Bridge“:

From a distance the bridge looks healthy, even attractive. Up close, and under the eyes of a careful observer, the bridge has cracks. If the cracks are attended to in the right way at the right time, the bridge can sustain itself — even get stronger. If not attended to, the cracks can bring the bridge down.

Marriage is the one-and-only relationship in which the cracks of each of our characters become obvious.

See that segue?

McKnight is a top-notch religion blogger, so he sees cracks in a bridge and ties it together with popular religion writer Tim Keller’s new book on marriage, crafting an insightful discussion of love and grace that’s grounded in practical advice for actual families. That’s what a good religion blogger does. That’ll preach.

Me, I see cracks in a bridge and I think of cracks in bridges.

I think of the National Bridge Inventory and the $550 billion shortfall in necessary spending for the maintenance of America’s bridges and roads and how, right now, with the bond market begging our federal government to borrow more at ridiculously low or negative rates, it’s just inexcusable that we’re not launching a major reinvestment in the country’s infrastructure — an investment that Paul Krugman says could go a long way toward putting some of our millions of unwanted workers back to work.

I’ll probably try to tie all that back in to basic morality — noting that our generation’s free-riding on the infrastructure our grandparents built and our constant preference for tax cuts for ourselves instead of safe, decent bridges for our grandchildren reflects a epic moral failing, a stunted selfishness, a sin — but that sort of discussion is not the sort of thing that gets one included in the cool lists of the “Top 200 Church Blogs.” Too much Krugman, not enough Keller, I guess.

OK, then.

* * * * * * * * *

Rachel Held Evans and Richard Beck are in, they’re in for good, so they’ve decided they might as well go the whole hog.

Which is to say that two of my favorite bloggers recently wrote about the greatest conversion scene in literature:

And that’s as good an excuse as any to link back to a relatively early post from our excursion of Left Behind: “L.B.: The Rise of the Anti-Huck.”

* * * * * * * * *

President Barack Obama famously described his gradual path toward support for marriage equality as an “evolution.” At Internet Monk, Craig Brubeck describes his own evolution-in-progress in a post titled “‘But’ Out of God’s Love“:

In our objectively absolute, modernist evangelical’s way-of-the-worldview, love is an excuse for mushy thinking and diluted theology. When it comes down to it, we suspect it’s an attempt to minimize sin and therein God’s wrath and justice. In our guts, we know the guilty are just trying to avoid their rightful come-uppance.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I know whereof I speak — because I’ve been among the greatest of evangelical sinners in this regard … for decades.

Brubeck stares in a mirror and reflects on his reflection. It’s an honest, lovely, humble and hopeful essay.

“If Christianity is not all about love,” he writes, “it is nothing other than one more impotently human religious construct — a loud and annoyingly clanging cymbal.”

It’s almost the exact opposite and antidote to that nasty “Do as you’re told, young people” post I linked to last week — the one in which David French ordered Millennial generation evangelicals to fall in line and vote Republican as all true Christians must, lest the firmness of their stances on tribal social issues be called into question.

  • Ken

    noting that our generation’s free-riding on the infrastructure our grandparents built

    I first learned the term “found thing” from Donald Westlake’s Kahawa, a fiction novel set in East Africa in the 1980s. He notes the term in passing in reference to the East African rail systems built by the British. After independence, some nations – Kenya, for one – kept up the maintenance and installed capital improvements, and continued to reap benefits indefinitely. Other nations, like Uganda under Idi Amin, treated the railroads as a “found thing” – using them but not bothering to repair or replace what broke – and their systems were in about the shape you would expect two decades later.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     It’s almost the exact opposite and antidote to that nasty “Do as you’re told, young people”
    post I linked to last week — the one in which David French ordered
    Millennial generation evangelicals to fall in line and vote Republican
    as all true Christians must, lest the firmness of their stances on
    tribal social issues be called into question.

    Wow.  That post is a nasty piece of work.  It’s also fascinating in that at the end the author basically lies about what we call the Big Four around here.  It’s also fascinating that he seems to think that you can conflate budgets with impact when comparing anti-poverty organizations to culture wars organizations and then claim that because the former has more money, that means the latter doesn’t actually have an impact and it’s all a big phony, invented by the librul media.

    It’s fascinating the way the message boils down to, “Everyone who isn’t us hates us and will do terrible things to you if you dare leave the fold.”  It’s just further mind control.  It’s also great the way he implies that in order to be a real, true Christian you have to vote for Romney and would have had to be a Reaganite back in the day.  Because those two are so kind and loving and, well, Jesus-y in all they do…

  • Magic_Cracker

    I suspect* the reason people prefer the bridges-as-metaphors style of sermonizing is that the tenor/ground/target of such metaphors tend to be topics that allow us to acknowledge the problem without acknowledging our role in causing the problem and doing the hard work of solving it.  “What a great sermon on marriage/friendship/race relations/etc.! If everyone took these words to heart (as I already have. No beams here, nosiree!), then the world would be a better place!”

    Meanwhile, to talk of actual bridges is to talk of collective problems requiring collective solutions, implying collective responsibility for failing to solve those problems, i.e., it makes it harder to fob the problem onto those other people who are fucking things up.

    *That’s what I call a “disingenuous softener,” because what I really mean is “I am absolutely sure but lack any evidence beyond anecdotes filtered through my misanthropic lens.”

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    I suspect* the reason people prefer the bridges-as-metaphors style of
    sermonizing is that the tenor/ground/target of such metaphors tend to be
    topics that allow us to acknowledge the problem without acknowledging
    our role in causing the problem and doing the hard work of solving it.

    It’s a pretty common trope in Evangelical Christianity specifically, but I’ve experienced it in other forms of Christianity and I suppose it’s probably common in anything that’s, for lack of a better term, time delivered  and sermon-driven.  By that I mean, in Evangelical Christianity especially, the entire point of the church experience is to hear the message of the service.  That’s how we have the lionization of certain pastors and the cult of personality built around pastors.

    The problem is that it requires them to come up with something interesting and profound week-in and week-out.  That sort of thing is impossible, so it leads to an awful lot of strained analogies in search of something to explain.  Ideally the analogy should come out of the thing in need of explanation, but, hey, it’s Friday night and they can’t all be winners, amirite?

    Long story short, that sort of thing becomes standard practice, since everyone is used to it.  So it ends up sounding like a totally normal thing that causes the faithful to nod along and think, “Oh, yeah, cracks and bridges and such…”  They then go home and don’t even think about it anymore, since most sermons, for all their popularity and draw, tend to be quickly forgotten (at least in my experience).  It takes a little extra work to say, “Hey, wait, shouldn’t we be talking about something of substance here?  Bridges, man!  They SHOULDN’T BE FALLING DOWN!  People cross those bridges!”

  • joel_hanes

    “I’ll go to hell” is a great scene.

    But the one that brings tears to my eyes every time is “Trash”, at the end of Chapter XV

  • cyllan


    Marriage is the one-and-only relationship in which the cracks of each of our characters become obvious.

    Although Mr. McKnight has corrected himself (and gracefully apologized as well)  to say that marriage is not the one and only relationship that demonstrates the flaws in your character, I am still somewhat fascinated and horrified by the original thought.  He clearly called out marriage as the one and only relationship where people can not hide their flaws from each other, and I find this troubling. It implies that all friendships are false; all relationships other than spouse&spouse rest on the ability to hide things from another person.

  • Lunch Meat

     

    Wow.  That post is a nasty piece of work.

    I think I see his problem. He thinks that being non-partisan is about image and popularity. Whether a desire for popularity and a better image is what caused him to call himself “non-partisan”, or whether he’s misremembering his motivations, I can’t say–but based on this post, he just wanted to be popular, and so he thinks that’s why every other young Christian is talking about nonpartisanship.

    That’s not so. We don’t want to change the church because we’re upset that it has an image of being unloving. We want to change the church because we’re upset that it is unloving. We don’t want to stop talking about abortion because we don’t like upsetting people. We want to stop talking about abortion because we realize that we need to care about women as well as babies, and we’re actually not sure that the traditional evangelical position is correct.

    Basically this post boils down to another “being like Jesus will get you persecuted and opposition is persecution, so if you agree with us and people oppose you, that means you’re being like Jesus. and if you disagree then you’re just scared of what people think and ashamed of Jesus.” But he’s trying to frame it as “I was like you once” and it fails because he completely misunderstands our motivation.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Marriage is the one-and-only relationship in which the cracks of each of our characters become obvious.

    I don’t know how true that is. Isn’t it conceivable that with enough distraction or deception, the cracks in the bridge just won’t be noticed? You know, you can keep paving over the cracks or change the inspection criteria or put up a detour … I don’t see how marriage is any less prone to deception than any other relationship.

    And anyway, everyone knows that marriage is really like a box of chocolates… or is it that marriage is like a sailing ship… or a tree on a lonely hill… or a flock of geese flying north (or is it south?)… or a–

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     That’s not so. We don’t want to change the church because we’re upset
    that it has an image of being unloving. We want to change the church
    because we’re upset that it is unloving.

    That makes a certain amount of sense.  I remember, back when I was still a Christian and still mostly in the Evangelical camp, I saw one of the Pat Robertson/Jerry Fawell types doing their standard stupid thing.  I responded to it with, “Well, that’s gonna make us look bad.”

    The girl I was seeing at the time responded with, “Why do you care how it makes everyone look?”  I don’t remember where the question came from, but I do remember stopping and thinking, “Why is appearance the biggest problem I have, here?”  I’m guessing I didn’t learn that reaction from strangers, so I might well have picked up on an undercurrent of, “It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we look right doing it.”

    So, I guess that’s a long way around to saying, yeah, he might just think it’s a big popularity contest.  Which is odd, really, since the point of evangelism is to become increasingly popular.  And we supposedly live in a Christian nation and the author thinks that voting to make the nation more Christian is the way to go.  But that also makes them unpopular.

    And now I have a headache.  Christianity really isn’t compatible with both representational democracy and in-group politics at the same time on the same plane of reality…

  • ReverendRef

    Here’s an illustration that also illustrates why I’m a lousy religion blogger.

    I’ve been reading Fred long enough to know that this not true.

  • Tricksterson

    It’s like a troop of platypi dancing “Swan Lake”

  • Magic_Cracker

    It’s like a troop of platypi dancing “Swan Lake”

    To an empty house on St. Swithin’s Day Eve…

  • friendly reader

    Wait, was that blog post supposed to be a review of the book? That’s not a review, it’s a three-point summary with an awkward introduction. Go back and read the rubric, McKnight, you have to provide your opinion.

    Grade: D

    (I’m a harsh teacher)

  • friendly reader

    Also, I’m totally not against pastors using analogies as a start for a sermon, but why bridges? You can’t just pluck an analogy out of midair.

  • Magic_Cracker

    FWIW, marriage is a lot like plucking an analogy from midair.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    Basically this post boils down to another “being like Jesus will get you
    persecuted and opposition is persecution, so if you agree with us and
    people oppose you, that means you’re being like Jesus. and if you
    disagree then you’re just scared of what people think and ashamed of
    Jesus.”

    And of course, other evangelicals opposing you doesn’t count, nosirsee.  Only the “libruals” and those who are “politically correct.”  Because the evangelical church’s (and the Catholic bishops’ these days) priorities are right and yours are wrong.

  • hapax

     

    everyone knows that marriage is really like a box of chocolates… or is
    it that marriage is like a sailing ship… or a tree on a lonely
    hill… or a flock of geese flying north (or is it south?)… or a–

    Mawwiage.  Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.  Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam….

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Here’s an illustration that also illustrates why I’m a lousy religion blogger.

    I’ve been reading Fred long enough to know that this not true.

    Obviously Fred is not a lousy blogger. (Me, OTOH . . . ) I think his comment about being a “lousy religion blogger” was meant as a comment on what makes a “religion blogger”: the ability to drag any subject back to a small selection of themes considered to be specifically “religious”. So our crumbling infrastructure isn’t “religious”, whereas marriage is. Whereas, of course, in Fred’s view (and what makes him not a lousy blogger), there are religious implications to all aspects of how we do community. (Oh, God, I can’t believe I just used a phrase like “how we do community”.)

    And I realize I may be explaining something that you actually understood and meant to imply, rather than beating it over the head with a hammer like me.

  • MaryKaye

    The comments on Rachel Held Evans’ post brought up something that’s been a very tough issue for me.  For any religious or moral decision you make, there are always people ready to jump up and say, oh, that was because of *feelings*.  We all know you can’t trust *feelings.*  You can’t just do what *feels good*–that’s the road to Hell.

    That is not what Huck is doing, though.  He is not doing what “feels good” so much as what “feels right.”  And yes, that’s not a 100% reliable moral compass, but humans don’t *have* a 100% reliable moral compass.  In my own life, anyway, doing something that I strongly feel is morally wrong has not worked out for me.  Not ever, I don’t think.  I’d venture to say that if you feel that something is morally wrong, you should consider not doing it even if you don’t have a worked out intellectual argument that it’s wrong.  You *might* be the victim of a scruple or phobia or aversion masquerading as morality, but…that’s not the way to bet.

    If you open your mouth to say something to your neighbor, and your heart is filled with “If I say this thing I will be doing evil”–consider not saying it.  *Maybe* you have to say it.  But that feeling is something to be taken very, very seriously.  If you manage to kill it, you’re going to turn into a monster.

    This is raw and painful right now for me because it appears that the best practice for helping my mentally ill child is to walk away when he loses behavioral control, letting the people who are tending him restrain him–even though doing this feels totally awful.  But I think that I would not be a good parent ever again if I taught myself to do this with no twinge of discomfort.

  • Joshua

    why I’m a lousy religion blogger

    Fishing for a compliment.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Fishing for a compliment.

    No.  As coleslaw pointed out, I doubt Fred thinks he’s a lousy blogger.  I also doubt Fred thinks he’s lousy when it comes to religion.  But there is a sort of rubric one must follow to be a religion blogger, and Fred doesn’t really follow that rubric.

    I think it comes down to the same thing as being good v. lousy color commentator at sports.  The “good” ones are the guys who say obvious things, like, “The team with the most points is the team that wins the game.”  That doesn’t make them worthwhile commentators on what it takes to be good at sports, but it does mean they’re good at making the thoughtless comments that keep the games going and make the casual fans feel smart.

    Fred…Fred doesn’t do that.  So they’ll never hire him, say, at the NYT to replace Ross Douthat, EVEN THOUGH THEY TOTALLY SHOULD.  But Douthat is a self-involved moron who’s thoughts about religion are slightly shallower than the Platte River.  As such, he’s super popular and the sort of guy who is thought of as being able to bring eyeballs.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira


    We all know you can’t trust *feelings.* You can’t just do what *feels good*–that’s the road to Hell.

    And I wonder why anyone thinks this, because it’s total bs.

    It feels good — really good, forever good, hindsight good — to help people. It feels good to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It feels good to do one’s best at one’s undertakings. Any type of “good feeling” one gets from assholishness and oppression is like the “good feeling” one gets from cocaine. It’s not lasting, and one needs bigger and bigger hits to be satisfied. 

    Then there’s the stuff that feels good and hurts no one but maybe doesn’t help others either that we’re told is completely and totally evil and we’re going to hell for it, literally or metaphorically. Masturbation. Chocolate cake. If it feels good it must be bad because… ?

    The road to Hell is paved with the good intentions of other people wagging their fingers at us about how bad and wicked and naughty we are for wanting to feel good. 

  • Don Gisselbeck

    The way to deal with the bridge and road maintaince problem is simple, increase the gas and diesel tax (in this case a true “user fee”). We use about 140 billion gallons a year of gas and some what less on-road diesel. A $0.50/gal tax increase would take care of the backlog in about 4 years. (Us bicycle mechanics would also get more work.)

  • Münchner Kindl

    “The comments on Rachel Held Evans’ post brought up something that’s been a very tough issue for me. For any religious or moral decision you make, there are always people ready to jump up and say, oh, that was because of *feelings*. We all know you can’t trust *feelings.* You can’t just do what *feels good*–that’s the road to Hell. That is not what Huck is doing, though. He is not doing what “feels good” so much as what “feels right.” And yes, that’s not a 100% reliable moral compass, but humans don’t *have* a 100% reliable moral compass. In my own life, anyway, doing something that I strongly feel is morally wrong has not worked out for me. Not ever, I don’t think. I’d venture to say that if you feel that something is morally wrong, you should consider not doing it even if you don’t have a worked out intellectual argument that it’s wrong. You *might* be the victim of a scruple or phobia or aversion masquerading as morality, but…that’s not the way to bet.”Or you could use feelings as starting point, as indication, and then go to the sources that determine moral behaviour. Huck had to rely on what felt right to him because he was an uneducated child. A literate adult today who has a moral problem that doesn’t have to be resolved in 10 minutes can go and do research beyond what his pastor or (narrow) church tells him. They can look at what Augustinus or Aristoteles say about friendship and its obligations or what Jesus said about people being free (and read a comment on why Paul sent the slave back with a letter instead of declaring war on slavery right then).So it’s not “Listen to your feelings” vs. “Listen to your head” or even “Listen to the Bible”; it’s “listen to your feelings and do research using your head” and “find out what the Bible really says” vs. “Listen to what your pastor /some right-wing radio guy tells you about the Bible” (how many fundies have actually read the Bible verses in question vs. just relying on their pastor/ radio guy?)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    And now I have a headache.  Christianity really isn’t compatible with both representational democracy and in-group politics at the same time on the same plane of reality… 

    Alexis de Tocqueville (a scholar who made many observations and analysis on the birth of modern democracy) had the opposite impression, arguing that Christianity was better suited to representational democracy than say, Islam, if only for the reason that Christianity did not specify governmental roles and social functions in its own dogma.  He felt that a religion, any religion, which tried to lay down how the government should be would struggle greatly to achieve a truly democratic state.  

    Maybe some of these Evangelical voters ought to read some of him.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Alexis de Tocqueville (a scholar who made many observations and analysis
    on the birth of modern democracy) had the opposite impression

    I don’t see how de Tocqueville’s thoughts are contrary to mine.  I simply said that you can use Christianity as part of a democracy or as part of an in-group political identification scheme, but you can’t use it for both.  de Toqueville would agree with the first half and, well, history would prove the second.

    But if you want to use Christianity to support democracy, you have to use it from the perspective that Christianity is value-neutral as to the government’s role.  Render unto Caeser and obey the rulers of the world, etc.  That is basically how Evangelicals used it before Ronnie Raygun took office.  They were seen as a largely apolitical and disinterested force before.  It was the supremacy of Christianity as an in-group exclusivist position that messed that whole thing up.

  • arcseconds

    One of the things that disturbs me about certain forms of Christianity is that it ends up being really a form of egocentric hedonism – it’s just that God has the biggest carrot and the biggest stick.   I sometimes get the impression that if God was out of the picture they’d be selling their grandmothers for a kilo of heroin and the best underage illegal immigrant prostitutes money can buy.

    Huck’s like the opposite of this – he’s going to do what he thinks is right and God can go stick it. That’s powerful stuff – God might be wrong, you’re going to be punished forever for doing the right thing, but you do it anyway.

    On this note I’m inclined to reiterate the point made in some of the comments on the other ‘blogs.  Rachel Held Evans doesn’t think she’s going to hell for serving communion to a gay man.  She seems to take herself to be ruffling a few feathers and going against what her sunday school teacher said — all well and good, but not in the same ball-park, and I’m inclined to question the comparison here.

    If someone were to say “yes, the Bible is the Word of God, and yes, it says that homosexuality is bad,  and yes, it seems that supporting homosexuality will damn you, but, damnit, God’s got this wrong, and I’m going to support it anyway, hellfire be damned (as it were).”  — then the comparison would be apt.


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