“At least I didn’t nail anything to a door.”

The Vatican is an imposing enough place to speak, especially for a Southern Baptist, so I guess I can plead that my mind was distracted with nervousness. I waited in line with several friends and colleagues of various communions and denominations to enter the center of the Church of Rome to attend a gathering, called by Pope Francis, of religious leaders from around the world to talk about marriage and family. Going through security, I fished in my coat pocket for my passport. The problem was that I had worn the same suit the week before, lecturing on the Protestant Reformation at an Evangelical seminary. Without thinking, I pulled out what I took to be my passport, only to find that I was handing the Swiss Guard a pocket-size copy of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

As I made a fumbling attempt to put the little booklet away and find the right documentation, I wondered which of my grandparents would be more ashamed of me: my Roman Catholic grandmother, for my ushering the tumult of the 16th century right there to the pope’s door; my Baptist-preacher grandfather, for entering the Vatican at all; or all of my grandparents together — Evangelicals and Catholics alike — for my violation of southern manners. My awkwardness was all my own, though. The Swiss Guards didn’t recognize the 95 theses, and my American Catholic colleagues roared with laughter. At least I didn’t nail anything to a door.

–Russell Moore, The Reformation at 500

To betray our nature.

Anthropocene describes what we are doing to our environment, while posthuman is largely phenomenological, a condensed articulation of what it’s like to live in a world where we are constantly making and remaking ourselves, especially via biotechnology. And surely there is some truth in these points, but I want to suggest that the apparent disjunction obscures a deeper unity. A world in which we remake our environment and ourselves is a world that does not feel human to us. We do not know how to play the role of gods, and on some level perceive that to act as gods is to betray our nature.

–Alan Jacobs, Anthropocene theology

Increasingly unpleasant and unbearable.

Jennifer Bryson, a pro-life Catholic who works at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, has found herself increasingly isolated in Christian conservative circles. In 2008, the conservative Witherspoon Institute, where she then worked, included Muslims in a project on the “Social Costs of Pornography.” Today, she fears, “it would be much harder to include Muslims as partners. So many supporters, including donors, would object that it would be viewed as more trouble as it’s worth.”

Bryson regularly participates in the annual March for Life on the National Mall. But “In past few years when people have found out about my work [with Muslims] it has become increasingly unpleasant and increasingly unbearable. When I’m at these events there are several people who will launch into tirades about Islam.” One of the anti-abortion publications she used to read is lifesitenews.com, which was created by a Canadian group called Campaign Life. But the site is now so infused with hostility to Muslims and Islam that she no longer reads it.

There are two ironies here. First, much of the Christian right’s influence rests on its success in building alliances between religious groups—evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox Jews—that were once bitterly hostile. Second, Christian conservatives have grown less sympathetic to Muslim religious freedom at exactly the moment that their rhetoric on behalf of religious freedom has grown more thunderous.

— Peter Beinart, “When Conservatives Oppose ‘Religious Freedom'”

A monochromatic and male bastion

I debated whether I should leave my job. Since I was not a political appointee, but a direct hire of the NSC, I had the option to stay. The incoming and now departed national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had said things like “fear of Muslims is rational.” Some colleagues and community leaders encouraged me to stay, while others expressed concern for my safety. Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump’s NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot.

The weeks leading up to the inauguration prepared me and my colleagues for what we thought would come, but not for what actually came. On Monday, January 23, I walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the new staffers there. Rather than the excitement I encountered when I first came to the White House under Obama, the new staff looked at me with a cold surprise. The diverse White House I had worked in became a monochromatic and male bastion.

The days I spent in the Trump White House were strange, appalling and disturbing. As one staffer serving since the Reagan administration said, “This place has been turned upside down. It’s chaos. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.” This was not typical Republican leadership, or even that of a businessman. It was a chaotic attempt at authoritarianism––legally questionable executive orders, accusations of the press being “fake,” peddling countless lies as “alternative facts,” and assertions by White House surrogates that the president’s national security authority would “not be questioned.”

The entire presidential support structure of nonpartisan national security and legal experts within the White House complex and across federal agencies was being undermined. Decision-making authority was now centralized to a few in the West Wing. Frustration and mistrust developed as some staff felt out of the loop on issues within their purview. There was no structure or clear guidance. Hallways were eerily quiet as key positions and offices responsible for national security or engagement with Americans were left unfilled.

–Rumana Ahmed, I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House

“I am obviously missing something.”

I should be clear about this: I don’t believe in magic of any kind, in any form. If I thought magic was real I would be doing it, not writing about it. But I don’t.

For people who don’t believe in magic I recommend Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. It’s the best book I can think of. For people who do believe in magic: maybe you could recommend a few books for me, because I am obviously missing something.

–Lev Grossman, interviewed by Emily Temple

Official conduct warning

In October, Smith wrote a piece for The Washington Post about her experience with sexual assault, criticizing Trump for his derogatory comments toward women and Christian leaders for not speaking out. And that’s when she started getting serious internal pushback.

Almost as soon as the article went up, Paul Batura, Focus’s vice president of communications, pulled Smith into a meeting with her supervisor, Lisa Anderson, Smith alleges. Batura asked Smith if she could have the piece removed from the Post’s website. That would be impossible, Smith explained; and besides, she had written the piece under her own byline, not as a representative of Focus. Batura told her to remove her affiliation with Boundless from her personal social-media accounts, and at the end of the day, she was given notice of an official conduct warning.

–Emma Green, These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump–and Suffering the Consequences

Enigma and apocalypse

When Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx, the creature flings itself off a cliff to its death; conversely, his inability to solve the riddle of his own birth leads to his mother’s suicide and his own self-blinding and exile. Similarly, when in The Libation Bearers Orestes comes to kill his mother Clytemnestra and a servant cries out “The dead are killing the living!” — because Orestes was believed to be dead — Clytemnestra replies, “Ah, a riddle. I do well at riddles.” But she hasn’t done well: she never penetrated the riddling words of Cassandra, or she would not have acted as she did. And now her understanding of her own peril arrives too late to save her life.

The word there translated as “riddle” is ainigma. A form of that word appears also in the New Testament — only once, but in an especially famous verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly” — en ainigmati, in obscurity, enigmatically, as though riddled to — “but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The key point here, I think, is that this is not a condition we can remedy through our own efforts — not even the most ingenious. In order to “see face to face,” to “know fully,” we must wait along with the whole Creation which (paraphrasing the second half of Romans 8 here) awaits its deliverance from enslavement to decay. When we are all delivered, redeemed, when the expectation of the children of God is realized, when the “great mystery” — Ephesians 5:21, not just a mysterion but a mega mysterion! — of the marriage of Christ and his church is consummated in glory, all of that will happen as an unveiling, a revelation: apokalypsin (Romans 8:21).

–Alan Jacobs, Tolkein’s riddles

Athens and Jerusalem

The true source of the current trouble reaches back to the foundations of Western civilization and democracy. Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions, or “Athens and Jerusalem,” taught westerners to put their faith in God or reason, and often both, and to be wary of despots and demagogues. Although many have warned of the steady erosion of those traditions, the full consequences of their loss are not appreciated. For the first time, vast swaths of the West are living with the death not only of God but of reason as well. Such a vacuum makes ample room for opportunism and exploitation, while moral chaos invites tyranny.

–R. A. Brown, Illiberalism Rising

Atomized thinking and Biblical proof-texting

The founders of Twitter are to our discursive culture what Robert Estienne — the guy who divided the Bible up into verses — is to biblical interpretation. Is it possible, when faced with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians divided into verses, to keep clearly in mind the larger dialectical structure of his exposition? Sure. But it’s very hard, as generations of Christians who think that they can settle an argument by quoting a verse, a verse that might not even be a complete sentence, have demonstrated to us all. Becoming habituated to tweet-sized chunks of thought is damaging to one’s grasp of theology and social issues alike.

–Alan Jacobs, against tweetstorms