Magnificent Distractions

18 Apr

Whether standing, sitting, walking or talking, it seems that half the people I see are somewhere else. They gaze into that handheld device that puts them in touch with the big wide world. They are wherever they want to be, except where they are.

So writes theologian Michael Downey in “So Much Nothing” in Weavings 29 (May/June 2014), p. 21. Around here, in small-town Iowa, even on our college campus, it is not nearly half the people who walk around gazing into handheld devices. Yet, I know what Downey is driving at. I don’t have a handheld device (well, we do, but it is a basic, primitive, cheap, no-frills thing we only turn on when we go on long road trips). Even so, I have a hard time being where I am. I and so many of the rest of us, its seems, are, to use Downey’s phrasing, “magnificently distracted.”

It is hard to be present to where we are/I am.

This difficulty seems hard for me to avoid as I sit in my office on this Good Friday, having graded all the research papers that have come in. In order to grade, I’ve suppressed my inner restlessness as best I can. Now that the grading is, for the moment, over, the inner restlessness–or is it tiredness?–surges.

Sculpture outside of chapel, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

Sculpture outside of chapel, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

I recall something from Romano Guardini, the 20th-century Italian Catholic priest and philosopher, wrote. I read it days ago in the Lenten reader I am following (Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter [Maryknoll, MY: Orbins Books, 2005], pp. 122-123). He is speaking of the risen Jesus’ comment to Thomas in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!”

Blessed indeed are “those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but who find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but who know that everything coming from God must remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring. Those who know that the heart is not overcome by faith, that there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes. What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, inclination to “know better.” Who are quick to hear, humble, free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel for the day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they have heard a thousand times, phrases with no quality of charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of everyday life which always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety–and then again some kind of success, some joy, an encounter, and a sorrow.

Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all these things!

Seeing God in the ordinary, the mundane, the grading, the here and the now, takes presence.

Lord Jesus Christ, as you were and are present for us this terrible and magnificent Good Friday, so in you may I be present now and not distracted.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West puts collections online

17 Apr

Yee  haw! The Buffalo Bill Center of the West–formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center–is announcing the debut of its Online Collections.

The announcement and the portal is here: The New Online Collections – Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The collections are stunning in their scope and variety–Buffalo Bill Cody material, Western art, Plains Indian crafts, firearms, Yellowstone Basin environment. My wife and I got to explore them extensively in 2002-2003. Now they will be available digitally to a global audience.

Photographs, the Past, and Making Ends Meat

17 Apr

Our photographic history of Orange City is out and in town. Our project, although completed, has increased my interest in images of time and place. (Whether I will get involved with another photographic history, though, remains to be seen [pardon the pun]. For previous posts related to photography, click here.)

Apropos photographic history is a post by Barbara Orbach Natanson at the Library of Congress about some pictures of a meat boycott in the U.S. in 1910, such as this one:

Crowd gathered in front of butcher shop during meat riot, New York

Crowd gathered in front of a butcher shop during meat riot, New York. Library of Congress.

 

You can read the entire post, and view more photographs, here: Feast Your Eyes Not: A Meat Boycott | Picture This: Library of Congress Prints & Photos.

More than Hobby Lobby

16 Apr

What is the difference between Hobby Lobby and some megachurches, other than tax status? I know, I know, a lot. But at a core level, is there a similar history there that ties these types of organizations together? I’d argue yes. Both have strong doctrinal beliefs, both spread those beliefs to the masses either through broadcasts and services or through products and business practices. The difference, of course, is that megachurches evangelize in an open, intentional way and corporations like Hobby Lobby are more slippery in their approach. They want to be religious organizations but without the pulpit or fancy glass podium that can be removed for the massive praise band, if you want to get technical.

So writes historian (and former Hobby Lobby employee) Charity Carney at the Religion in American History blog about Hobby Lobby’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Read the entire piece here: Religion in American History: More than Hobby Lobby: My Take as a Scholar of Religious History.

“Jesus Freaks in the Streets”

13 Apr

Christianity Today’s Book of the Year award for 2013 went to a volume whose first chapter is entitled, “Jesus Knocked Me off My Metaphysical Ass.” The book in question is God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (Oxford University Press, 2013) by Wheaton College history professor Larry Eskridge. The book, as befits the conjunction of A-word and an Evangelical first prize, calls to mind Bob Dylan’s lyric from 1965, “something’s happening here/but you don’t know what it is/do you, Mr. Jones.”

James Bratt, historian at Calvin College, begins his review of a fascinating new book with the above words. See the rest of Bratt’s review here: the12 – James Bratt – “Jesus Freaks in the Streets”.

Northwestern Professor Co-Authors Book About Orange City – SiouxlandMatters

11 Apr

The Sioux City ABC TV station came today to do a story on our book Orange City. You can find the text and a photo of 3 of us co-authors here: Northwestern Professor Co-Authors Book About Orange City – SiouxlandMatters.

A Contemporary Sioux Indian

8 Apr

In what world do Indians belong? Such a question is posed by artist James Bama with his painting “A Contemporary Sioux Indian” (1978).

You can read a brief commentary on it by Nancy McClure of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West here: Treasures: A Contemporary Sioux Indian.

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