Our little bump into Spring took a hit this week with a cold snap, but it wasn’t enough to dissuade me from thinking Spring is around the corner.

Churches, Christians, guns, with Michael Grigoni:

While church shootings remain statistically rare, their possibility now shapes ecclesial imaginaries in radically determinative ways.

As recent headlines suggest, they will continue to do so. Still fresh at the time of writing, the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting—the six seconds, captured on video from beginning to end which left three people dead—will serve as a pedagogical tool for those tasked with providing church security in our contemporary context. This video will reinforce an already existing “imagined community,” one whose “horizontal comradeship” is sustained not by print-capitalism but the viscerality of a digital live-stream captured, shared, and viewed again and again, frame by frame. This imagined community sees guns not only as essential to the securing of churches, but as integral to enacting a form of Christian discipleship on behalf of the vulnerable.

The entanglement of guns, conservative evangelical Protestantism, and Christian nationalism appears differently when considered from this ethnographic vantage point. It is an entanglement that occurs not primarily in the realm of the intellect, but the gut, shot through with a sense of the precariousness of life. Further, the self-defense engaged in by those who conceal carry at church cannot be easily disentangled from the self-preservation that drives a Christian nationalist framework. For many of my interlocutors, both ecclesial space and a Christian nation are under siege.

Making this entanglement visible is part of the task of political theology. Only with a thick description of this entanglement in place might we then be able to ask: what should be done?

Bobonbooks and American exceptionalism:

When I look at things this way, it leads me to far greater modesty about my country. While not denying the goods, there is another kind of history about which I’ve learned since I was in school. Much of it isn’t pretty. Some examples, that could be vastly expanded:

We didn’t “discover” America. There were Native peoples who called this home before we knew “America” was even here. There were blacks forcibly brought as slaves to the United States even before the Mayflower landed in 1620. Well into the early nineteenth century slavery was legal in the north as well as the south, and even when northern states abolished slavery, the economics of north and south made slavery a continuing necessity upheld by fugitive slave laws. The subjection of Native peoples, Blacks, and women was written into our founding documents. Section 2, Article 3 of our Constitution reads: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” In other words, Native peoples had no representation (or tax responsibilities, a mark of citizenship), slaves were considered three-fifths of a person (and considerably less in the eyes of many), and women are not even mentioned. Women did not obtain the right to vote until 1920. After the Civil War, blacks were free but subject to a reign of terror through lynching, denial of voting rights, and segregation, collectively known as Jim Crow. More recent policies of incarceration have been called the “New Jim Crow” because of their focus on black men. Native peoples suffered a string of broken agreements, displacement from good lands, and obliteration of their population through disease, the “Trail of Tears,” and massacres like Wounded Knee. Only in 2020, after over two hundred failed attempts, did Congress pass a law making lynching illegal on a national basis, fifty years after the horrible lynching of Emmitt Till.

I don’t want to get into arguments that call out the notable exceptions or arguments that discuss the injustices, tyranny, and genocide that have occurred in other countries. It is a sad fact of human societies that they (and we) are capable of unspeakable evil.

John Hawthorne on which Christian colleges/universities will survive?

The first set of winners will be those Christian institutions of higher education with a national reputation. These are the schools that journalists contact when looking for trends in Christian higher ed. They are the names that get selected in the US News and World Reports reputational survey. While I’m sure I’ll leave some out, it’s clear to me that Wheaton, Calvin, Taylor, Seattle Pacific, Bethel (MN), Azusa Pacific, Gordon, Messiah, Belmont, and Abilene Christian are in this group.

The second set are those school who are located in destination locations. A recent story highlighted the success of three Christian universities in Nashville. It is a booming market in general and is not surprising that students would see it as a vibrant place to study for four years. On the other hand, many Christian universities were founded in areas far away from metropolitan areas. My non-exhaustive list of destination schools would include Wheaton, North Park, Seattle Pacific, George Fox, Point Loma Nazarene, King’s, Colorado Christian, and Bethel (MN).

A third set may not represent destination locations but serve as the major Christian university in their region. Given that students are staying close to home, there is an advantage to those schools that are one of a handful of Christian institution in a two-hour radius. Those schools may not draw large numbers of students from far away but control their local market. Some examples of this group would include Northwest Nazarene, University of Sioux Falls, Colorado Christian, Gordon, Belhaven, and Cedarville.

The fourth set of winning schools are those who, in the face of the gen-Z religious changes discussed earlier, have held most closely to their theologically (and politically) conservative bona fides. They take pride in their non-accommodationist stance and will guarantee to pastors, trustees, donors, and parents that this is not going to change. In fact, many of these schools have taken stances in the last several years to guarantee faculty adherence to traditional positions. Those faculty who don’t align are either not renewed or made to feel unwelcome so that they go elsewhere. Examples of this pattern can be seen at Cedarville, Bryan, Oklahoma Wesleyan, College of the Ozarks, Asbury, and Bethel (IN).

University anxiety:

As colleges and universities across the country report an explosion of mental health problems, a new book argues that college life may be more stressful than ever. Dr. Anthony Rostain, co-author of The Stressed Years of Their Lives, notes that today's college students are experiencing an "inordinate amount of anxiety" — much of it centered on "surviving college and doing well."

"What we're seeing now are growing numbers of students coming [onto] campus who are already being treated for mental illness, or who are on various medications and who really have learned to manage their illnesses at home," he says, "but suddenly they're on their own and sometimes they're not following through [with] their own recommended treatments."

Rostain is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the former chair of the school's Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare. His co-author, B. Janet Hibbs, is a family and couples psychotherapist whose son took a medical leave of absence during his first college spring break to deal with anxiety and depression. Hibbs faced a difficult set of choices: she wanted to best parent her son as he struggled, but she also wanted his life to stay on track.

"One of the reasons we wrote this book is not to scare parents, but to help them know what they can do to help," she says. "When a child, for whatever reason, is hopeless or verging on that, families are incredibly, vitally important in maintaining hope. ... Having the emotional expression of the family convey warmth, support, unconditional support, not judgment, that ... is one of the best medicines."

Because the genders are different, ordain women:

Last week I finally got around to listening to a podcast episode I had saved sometime in the past year. Obviously, I’m not a huge podcast devotee. But it was totally worth the wait.This podcast interviewed married evangelical Anglican co-priests Jonathan and Tish Harrison Warren on how and why they had come to support women’s ordination. They had earlier opposed it, having both grown up in the Southern Baptist Church and later joined the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), neither of which ordain women.

What struck me most was that they made a gender difference argument for women’s ordination, rather than a gender justice argument. In other words, they claimed women and men should both serve as pastors precisely because they are different, rather than because they are similar. This approach made their reflections—particularly on the pastoral needs of lay women—useful to those on both sides of the debate. One of these needs was robust theological education, often reserved for men in denominations that ordain only male pastors.

A Lenten abstinence: political hobbyism:

I’ve always been interested in politics. I am, after all, a political historian in addition to being a religion scholar and an immigration scholar. It’s my professional responsibility to stay informed and bring my expertise to inform public debate. But my excessive consumption of news has become almost pathological in the past few years, especially in the past few months, with the ongoing political drama of both impeachment and the 2020 election.

And so, for Lent, the solemn season of reflection and repentance, I have vowed to give up political hobbyism. I’m striving instead to trade shallow political engagement for deep political engagement, which focuses on building relationships, serving my community, and effecting real change that has an impact on my neighbors. I know from my research on religious communities and their involvement in immigration and refugee issues that this type of work matters immensely—not simply for meeting the real, immediate needs of people, but for creating enduring and impactful political change.

The problem, I’m finding, is that political hobbyism is hard to give up. Like chocolate and red meat and single-use plastic, it’s pervasive, it’s convenient, and it often feels good—until we wake up the next morning.

Thank you, Rick Steves:

I just gave a $4 million apartment complex for homeless women and kids to the YWCA. Let me explain why.

I know vacation travel is supposed to provide a break from the grinding reality of our workaday lives. But for me, travel and the peace of mind of having a roof over your head have always been associated.

Before “Europe Through the Back Door,” my travels were “Europe Through the Gutter.” Slumming through Europe as a teenage backpacker, life for me was the daily challenge of finding an affordable (i.e., free) place to sleep. With my rail pass, I’d sleep on a train four hours out, cross the tracks, and sleep four hours back in. I’d sleep on a ferry (covered by the rail pass) between Stockholm and Helsinki on successive nights to afford spending entire days of sightseeing alternating between the two most expensive cities in Europe. I’d sneak into my friends’ hotel rooms and sleep on the floor (restlessly and stressed-out…but free). I’d sleep free on the pews of Greek churches, on the concrete floors of Dutch construction projects, and in barns at the edge of unaffordable Swiss alpine resorts. How else would a white, middle-class American kid gain a firsthand appreciation for the value of a safe and comfortable place to sleep?

In my earliest days as a tour guide, I’d put people in terrible rooms just so they would better appreciate having a nice home as their norm. I’d intentionally not have a hotel reservation for my groups until late in the afternoon…just to put my tourists through the anxiety of not knowing if they’d have a roof over their head tonight. The intended souvenir: More empathy for the homeless. (This experiment was very short-lived. These days, of course, our tours pursue enlightenment more maturely, gracefully, and effectively.)

I traveled in Central America, where I learned civil wars that I thought were between communists and capitalists were actually between obscenely rich oligarchs and landless peasants. I hung out with poor Christians who took the Biblical Jubilee Year (the notion that every fifty years the land is to be re-divided and debts are to be forgiven) seriously…even though rich Christians assumed God must have been kidding.

Back home, one of my pet social causes has long been affordable housing. Twenty years ago, I devised a scheme where I could put my retirement savings not into a bank to get interest, but into cheap apartments to house struggling neighbors. I would retain my capital, my equity would grow as the apartment complex appreciated, and I would suffer none of the headaches that I would have if I had rented out the units as a landlord. Rather than collecting rent, my “income” would be the joy of housing otherwise desperate people. I found this a creative, compassionate and more enlightened way to “invest” while retaining my long-term security.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) should stop third-party sellers from price gouging for items like Purell hand sanitizer as people seek to protect themselves from the coronavirus, U.S. Senator Edward Markey said in a letter to the online retailer on Wednesday.

A box of small Purell bottles that usually sells for $10 was listed online for $400, he said. One third-party seller listed a bottle for $600 on Wednesday afternoon. However, the Amazon brand of hand sanitizer was listed for $8.25 for a large bottle.

The virus, which first erupted in China, has sickened more than 94,000 people globally and killed 3,220. The disease was recently detected in the United States and has killed 11 people in this country.

“As the world confronts the prospect of a serious and far-reaching pandemic, corporate America has a responsibility to prevent profiteering on the sales of items such as hand-sanitizer and surgical masks,” Markey wrote in his letter.

Amazon called the price-gougers “bad actors.” “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”

Amazon said it was monitoring prices to ensure sellers complied with fair pricing policies and said that it could remove sellers who violate them.