• Pete Holmes is a pretty funny guy. Holmes talked to to Terry Gross on Fresh Air last week discussing, among other things, his years at Gordon College where he planned to major in youth min. Heard that and thought, “Ah, OK, yes.” That explains the recovering evangelical vibe I’d been getting from Holmes’ stand-up.
About a third of youth-min majors are wanna-be stand-up comedians, but unlike Holmes, most of them aren’t very good at it. (Another third are wanna-be rock stars, and the rest are earnest wanna-be youth ministers. That last third will probably turn out to be good at that job for several years before realizing it will never allow them to repay their student loans.)
Hearing Terry Gross react to Holmes’ description of “open dorms” hours on an evangelical campus (lights on, door open, feet on the floor) was another reminder that, oh, right, other people don’t know about that stuff. I’ve sometimes forgotten how weird it sounds when we mention it out loud.
Pete Holmes’ latest special on Netflix is pretty good, too. Odd thing about that was the listing in the closing credits for a “wardrobe” person, who I imagine must’ve been the person who stopped him backstage just before he went on and said “Seriously? That’s what you’re going to wear?” Now I need to check to see if this is the same wardrobe person who handles Gaffigan.
• The latest from the Old 97’s is pretty spiffy, and theologically interesting:
The track before that one on the album also has a religious angle. “Jesus Loves You” takes the Jesus Is My Boyfriend theme of so much awful worship music and turns it on its head, with the first-person protagonist ineptly attempting to woo a good evangelical girl while acknowledging he might not measure up against her current main squeeze.
Note from the copy desk: The band’s name refers to the famous/infamous wreck of a steam train and not to a year of vintage — hence the location of the apostrophe after the numerals, rather than before. It’s “Old 97’s” and not “Old ’97s.” Here’s Johnny Cash singing the namesake ballad, “The Wreck of the Old 97” which recounts the deadly crash from back in old ’03.
• James McGrath and Jason Byassee write about An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, a new documentary by Martin Doblmeier that airs next month on PBS. Doblmeier was also a guest on the most recent episode of John Fea’s Way of Improvement podcast.
That last conversation was terrific, but Fea teaches at Messiah College and I worry it might not fully prepare some of his more evangelical listeners for what they’ll encounter if they decide based on this introduction to go and read some Niebuhr. The way I try to prepare evangelical readers for Niebuhr is by citing the title of one of his later books, The Nature and Destiny of [Humanity]. I tell them they probably won’t like what Niebuhr has to say about the destiny part, but they need to pay close attention to what he has to say about our nature. Human nature is his great theme, and few theologians have written about that theme with more insight and acuity than Niebuhr.
We tend to take the word “theology” too literally, imagining that it only addresses the study of God. But that’s only half of it. The other half of it has to do with us — with human beings, human nature, human society, human sin, human goodness, human love, and human justice. Neglect that half and you’re probably not going to get the other half right either. These two sides of theology tend to be related: Tell me what your theology says about people and I’ll have a pretty good idea of what you believe about God. (And vice versa.)