Are You a Little Weltschmerz?

Even for the most optimistic among us, the events of the past few weeks have been difficult: Social unrest, ideological clashes, political turmoil, nuclear threats, and to top it off, one of the most devastating storms in American history. Any one of these is capable of producing a knot of anxiety. But all of them at once is enough to make you more than a little weltschmerz.

Wait, what? What is weltschmerz? Not exactly a household word, weltschmerz is in fact a useful and appropriate way to describe the state many people are in right now. Coined by the German Romantic writer Jean Paul at the turn of the 19th century, it literally means “world pain” or “world weariness.” The word has been used from time to time to describe the anxiety many feel because of all the troubles in the world.

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Do We Live in a Dark World?

People who see the world as “dark” aren’t held in high regard. They are called curmudgeons, pessimists, even villains.

By contract, people who see the world in a positive light are considered optimistic. They’re the good guys.

Donald Trump’s speech at the close of the Republican National Convention was castigated by the opposition and the press as being “dark.” President Obama was so bothered by its tone that he felt compelled to reply the next day, “This idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse—this vision of violence and chaos everywhere—doesn’t really jibe with the experience of most people.”

Taking politics out of this discussion (I know, that’s nearly impossible), this sunny statement by the president against the negative images conjured by Trump begs an important question, one that doesn’t concern only our time, but all of time, the way it’s always been, at least since the fall.

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Held to a Higher Standard

Criticizing, marginalizing, shaming, and otherwise denigrating Christians has become something of a national pastime. And we don’t just hear the negative talk from the unwashed. A lot of the critical words come from Christians themselves.

Are you surprised? We Christians can be hypocritical, judgmental, and holier-than-thou—sometimes all at once. And when we are, we embarrass ourselves, not to mention the God we claim to follow. So we call out the offenders, mostly in blogs or books, hoping they’ll straighten out and fly right.

You know who we’re talking about. We wrote about them in our book, I’m Fine With God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand. Here are a few categories from our book, plus a bonus category:

  • Christians who impose their morality on others
  • Christians who think science is the enemy
  • Christians who use the Bible as a weapon
  • Christians who don’t practice what they preach
Bonus Category
  • Christians who support Donald Trump
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In Between the Best and Worst

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens’ first line in his classic A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous in all of literature for a very good reason. Every person in every era in every part of the world knows what it means, even if they’ve never read the book (which applies to just about everybody, including us).

Not only is the line true, it’s disquieting. It’s one of those universal truths you acknowledge but wish were not the case: The relentless parade of human achievement that makes our lives better and longer is offset at every turn by the ongoing plight of human misery. Often, the contrast comes in a moment.

Something very good happens to you, and then you check your phone to scan the headlines and a picture of a two-year-old Syrian refugee laying face down on a beach slaps you across the face and makes your heart ache. And once again you are reminded of Dickens’ famous first line.

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When We Fast

I got sick a week or so ago, and it was awesome.  The reason is that when I get sick, I don’t go to work, don’t do errands, and I don’t do chores – I rest and recover.  My method of recovery when sick often justifies hours of catching up on TV shows, or enjoying my XBOX – guilt free.  I mean, what else can I do when my choices are sit on the couch or lay in the bed…lest I infect everyone around me and wear my body down further?

This particular round of sick had me bingeing on a certain crime drama TV show that was taught, tense, and filled with great cliffhangers every step of the way.  The kind of stuff I can’t look away from.  And, it all served its purpose – I didn’t have to focus on my sore throat, my rising and lowering temperature, and the loss of hearing that comes from my body’s production of mucus that seems trapped between my ears.  I was able to distract myself from those pesky symptoms.  As long as the TV was on, everything else was off.

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Are You Free to NOT Drink?

Brett McCracken is one of the original team of bloggers for ConversantLife.com. His newest book, Gray Matters (Baker Books), examines some of the hot-button gray matters of Christian cultural consumption. In this excerpt, Brett explores the matter of alcohol.

I went to an evangelical Christian college that did not permit the consumption of alcohol. I grew up in a household and a conservative church culture–Midwest to boot–where drinking was out of the question and seen as bereft of goodness. I’m the child of an American evangelicalism that has had a decidedly contentious (to put it mildly) relationship with alcohol (see Christians and Alcohol: A Timeline”).

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Trayvon Martin as Shape Shifter: Why Truth Matters

I wrote this last year when the Martin tragedy first came to light. Today, it's still important.  

In literature and mythology, Shape Shifters are deceptive characters who cross boundaries at will, moving between worlds to confuse the sacred and the profane. Sometimes a character even finds its shape changed by someone else through a curse or spell. The transformation may or may not be voluntary. 

And so goes the tragic story of Trayvon Martin, the newest Shape Shifter in a long history of American journalism. 

In this world, some things are pure and innocent while other things are evil. Racism and bigotry are transcendent evils, while defending the innocent is universally just. But Trayvon’s tragic death--and its chaotic aftermath--teaches us that perception is often a Shape Shifter. Under the spell of one version, Trayvon teaches us that trigger-happy racial profilers are alive and well. Under the spell of another version, Trayvon teaches us that young black men often contribute to their own violent downfall. 

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Don’t Hang All Your Stuff on the Fridge: How an Audience Can Ruin Good, Honest Work

You love an audience. If you were born since 1985, you’ve always had one. For years now you and your circle of friends have become each other’s micro-paparazzi, watching each other dance in videos, sing solos with ukuleles, write fan fiction, and pose for photo shoots. Andy Warhol, who famously quipped that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes, was not some cultural prophet like some have suggested. All he needed to do was read about the Greek figure Narcissus who after staring at himself in a pool of water was dying to upload that pose. Since 900 BC, I guess, we’ve been needing an audience.  

Now that technology has caught up with our narcissism, I offer some principles that might help guide our pursuit of an audience. 

Principle One: The size of your audience should be proportional to the quality of your product.

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The Deeper Cuts

Tonight is graduation for most of the high schools in our area. It’s a big deal everywhere but nowhere is it as big of deal as in Hawaii.

Traffic snarls around graduation time as lei and balloon encumbered parents, relatives and friends jockey for parking spaces and then make their way to the local football fields for the ceremony.

Those fortunate enough to have scored a ticket get to hang out in the bleachers for the proceedings while outside the fence the crowd of well wishers swells waiting for the security to allow them on to the field.

By the end of the evening every graduate will be smothered in leis, often stacked so high that they can barely see.

It is the big event that every family member celebrates. Well, almost every family member.

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Ten Things I've Learned From Teenagers

Teenagers are a piece of work, didn’t you know? They are shallow, self-absorbed little beasts who eat their parents’ food, snicker at old ladies, and drop out of school every nine seconds. They break into grandpa’s liquor cabinet and sell drugs out of their ninth grade backpacks in the bathroom behind the baseball field. Teens destroy things. They sometimes torture cats. 

If this is what you think of young adults, come hang out with me for a few days. I see things differently.

It might help to know why I care so much. I started living in Teen Land at age thirteen, and never really left. I went from high school, then to college, and right back to high school having earned a secondary teaching credential at the tender age of 21. Since then, I’ve taught public high school in the rural Ozark Mountains of Missouri, the material world of Orange County, and a middle class suburb of California’s Central Valley. Twenty-five years later, I’ve earned the right to love them. 

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