Monthly Archives: April 2013

Imitating the Wrong Thing

Imitating the Wrong Thing from Imitating the Wrong Thing See it at:


Home away from Home

Home away from Home

1. On this earth

Last fall, Facebook released its first television advertisement. The ad was titled “The Things That Connect Us.” It was intended, Mark Zuckerberg announced, with characteristic humility, “to express what our place is on this earth.” It opened with a shot of a red chair levitating in a forest. Some music welled up. Then came the voiceover:

Chairs. Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair and, if the chair is large enough, they can sit down together.

Doorbells. Airplanes. Bridges. These are things people use to get together, so they can open up and connect about ideas and music and other things that people share.

The Universe. It is vast and dark. And it makes us wonder if we are alone. So maybe the reason we make all of these things is to remind us that we are not.

If Terrence Malick were given a lobotomy, forced to smoke seven joints in rapid succession, and ordered to make the worst TV advertisement the world has ever seen, this is the ad he would have produced. It even ended with a soaring shot of The Tree of Life:

Despite its all-encompassing silliness, the ad was revealing. Its emphasis was entirely on the physical, on the real. Other than a brief image of a couple sharing a set of earbuds, a viewer would hardly have known that we are in a Digital Age. The ad showed people eating and talking and sitting on chairs and walking across bridges and pushing doorbells and sitting on chairs and watching lectures and lying entwined on lawns and waving flags and sitting on chairs and climbing trees and reading paperbacks on porches and having difficult conversations in kitchens and sitting on chairs and dancing and drinking and watching basketball games and climbing trees and gazing at tiny insects drifting through beams of muted sunlight and sitting on chairs, but there was hardly a computer or a smartphone in sight. Everyone was deeply engaged, deeply in the moment. All the objects of the world were luminous. Everything was shining.

In retreating into a gauzy, pre-digital myth of civic and social bliss, “The Things That Connect Us” sought to position Facebook squarely in the mainstream, to portray the social network as a slice of homemade apple pie. Facebook, the ad told us, with considerable defensiveness, wasn’t revolutionary or disruptive or even particularly new. It was just the latest link in a long chain of human-fashioned objects that have allowed us to “open up and connect.” If the point weren’t hammered home hard enough, the ad even included an image of an old dial phone sitting placidly on a desk in the magic hour:

You see: Facebook is just the new Ma Bell. Nestle yourself in her ample lap, rest your weary head on her matronly bosom, and be wrapped in the comforting embrace of friends and family. Have a Coke and a smile.

2. Home invasion

Earlier this month, Facebook unveiled Facebook Home. The announcement came with all the trappings of a Silicon Valley Big Deal: the enigmatic invitation, the fervid PandoInsiderCrunch rumor-mongering, the haltingly portentous Zuckerberg presentation, the synchronized Steven Levy puff piece. But the product itself was a pretty paltry piece of work: essentially, a Facebook-themed Android skin. Big whoop.

Far more interesting than the product was the series of three ads released to promote it, and the most interesting of those ads was the one entitled “Dinner.” “Dinner” is set in an ugly, underlit suburban dining room. An extended family sits around the table, picking at ugly suburban food. The spinster aunt — the one with, you know, the ugly glasses and the ugly ill-fitting sweater and and the ugly haircut and the ugly flat voice — launches into an interminable tale about going to a supermarket to buy cat food for her two cats. Everybody starts squirming. The young, attractive woman sitting next to the spinster aunt gives the spinster aunt a quick disgusted look, and then turns her attention to her smartphone and the other, better home that is Facebook Home. She swipes through a series of photos, and the pictures come to life around her: there’s her friend bashing joyfully on a drum kit in an ugly corner of the ugly room; there’s a troupe of ballerinas dancing across the ugly table and the ugly sideboard; there’s a happy snowball fight and a plow that drives by and flings pretty snow onto the ugly family. The attractive young woman smiles and double-taps a Like as the spinster aunt drones on.

“Dinner” has already spawned much commentary. “Ugh,” wrote Robert Hof at Forbes. “Facebook Home makes it a whole lot easier to be rude to your family and in-the-flesh friends, who are often, yeah, so boring to a cool person like you.” Evan Selinger, at Wired, saw a deeper corruption of social ethics being celebrated in the ad’s “propaganda.” “Dinner,” he wrote, tells us “that to be cool, worthy of admiration and emulation, we need to be egocentric. We need to care more about our own happiness than our responsibilities towards others.” He brought in Kant, who challenged us to ask ourselves “what right we have to be self-absorbed while expecting others to rise above indifference.” Whitney Erin Boesel, at Cyborgology, offered a different view. On the one hand, she wrote, the ad combines “the best of Silicon Valley ‘play ethic’ with good old technoutopian neoliberalism: traditional social bonds constrain us, but technology liberates us, makes us more independent and self-sufficient, and enables us to express ourselves more fully and freely.” But, on the other hand, the attractive young woman can also be seen as enacting a rebellion against the “well-recognized social obligations” symbolized by the family gathered around the table: ”It may look like thumbs on a screen, but in truth it’s a middle finger raised straight in the face of power.” I have trouble seeing the ridiculed spinster aunt as a face of power — and the rest of the family members come off as utterly powerless, the underemployed, futureless denizens of the class formerly known as middle — but Boesel is right to point out that the ad is not just about being a thoughtless creep but is also about escaping from an oppressive situation. “Sometimes rudeness is also resistance.” The asshole is the hero.

What’s really remarkable about “Dinner,” though, is that, in tone and meaning, it’s set in a universe not parallel to that depicted in “The Things That Connect Us” but altogether opposite to it — fiercely opposed to it, in fact. The new ad comes off, disconcertingly, as a sarcastic and dismissive rejoinder to the earlier one: Facebook calling bullshit on itself. “Our place on this earth”? Doorbells? Bridges? What a load of crap! The earth sucks! Things are boring! People are ugly! Go online and stay online! Chairs, mawkishly celebrated in “The Things That Connect Us” as bulwarks against the meaninglessness of the universe, as concrete means of connection and hence liberation, become in “Dinner” instruments of torture. They trap us in the distasteful world of the flesh, the hell of other people.

Has another company ever come out with a high-concept, big-production “brand ad” and then, just a few months later, turned around and utterly trashed it? I don’t think so. What we learn from this is not just that Zuckerberg is a bullshit artist who’s most insincere when he’s sounding most sincere — we already knew that — but that for Zuckerberg, and for Facebook, “sincere” and “insincere” are equally meaningless terms. Everything is bullshit. A chair levitating in a forest and a ballerina dancing on a dinner table are equally fake. They’re fabrications, as are the emotions that they conjure up in us. It’s all advertising. Despite their glaring differences, “The Things That Connect Us” and “Dinner” actually draw from the same source: the well of nihilism. I’m sure Zuckerberg never gave a thought to the fact that two ads were contradictory. He knew it was all bullshit, and he knew everyone else knew it was all bullshit.

“Have it your way,” wrote Wallace Stevens:

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

One wants to see the levitating red chair as a Stevensesque symbol of the redemptive imagination. But it’s not. It’s the same chair that the ugly spinster aunt is sitting on. It’s the same chair that the attractive young woman with the smartphone is sitting on. Facebook gives us image without imagination. Everything is beyond redemption, which is what makes everything so cool. Have it your way.

3. Two poles

“Home is so sad,” wrote Philip Larkin:

Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Every object, at least in our perception of it, carries its antithesis. Behind the plenitude symbolized by the vase we sense an emptiness: the wilted bouquet rotting in a landfill. And so it is with the tools of communication. When we look at them we sense not only the possibility of connection but also, as a shadow, the inevitability of loneliness. An empty mailbox. A sheet of postage stamps. A telephone in its cradle. The dial of a radio. The dark screen of a television in the corner of a room. A cell phone plugged into an outlet and recharging, like a patient in a hospital receiving a transfusion. The melancholy of communication devices is rarely mentioned, but it has always haunted our homes.

Home and Away are the poles of our being, each exerting a magnetic pull on the psyche. We vibrate between them. Home is comforting but constraining. Away is liberating but lonely. When we’re Home, we dream of Away, and when we’re Away, we dream of Home. Communication tools have always entailed a blurring of Home and Away. Newspaper, phonograph, radio, and TV pulled a little of Away into Home, while the telephone, and before it the mail, granted us a little Home when we were Away. Some blurring is fine, but we don’t want too much of it. We don’t want the two poles to become one pole, the magnetic forces to cancel each other out. The vibration is what matters, what gives beauty to both Home and Away. Facebook Home, in pretending to give us connection without the shadow of loneliness, gives us nothing. It’s Nowheresville.

from ROUGH TYPE See it at:

It Shouldn’t Rinse Off

It Shouldn’t Rinse Off

“Helping is not effeminate. If a man’s masculinity washes off in dishwater, then it was a pretty superficial masculinity” (For a Glory and a Covering, p. 73).

from Blog and Mablog See it at:

Imitating the Wrong Thing

Imitating the Wrong Thing

“Young ministers often help to make doctrinal subjects unpopular, by the fact that their sermons too closely resemble the treatises they have been studying, or the lectures they have heard” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 91).

from Blog and Mablog See it at:

New & Notable Book Reviews

New & Notable Book Reviews

I love reading books, but I also love reading reviews of books. Reviews allow me to discover books I haven’t heard of, they teach me to think wisely, they allow me to better prioritize the books I am considering reading, and they sometimes provide a helpful second opinion on books I have already read. For all of those reasons I publish occasional round-ups of reviews written by other writers. Here are a few notable links I’ve collected recently:

Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being by Zack Eswine. Reviewed by Kevin Wilkening. Here is a positive review of a new book meant primarily for pastors. “By design, this book is not a quick read. Eswine wants us to pause, to feel, to sense. His writing style forces us to slow down and steep in the concept of recovering our humanity. After spending nearly a month seeing myself in the pages of Sensing Jesus I would highly recommend it for pastors and other church leaders. It will set you free from performance-based ministry. It will remind you that you are not God, and yet you are gloriously human—just what God created you to be.” (Mike Emlet at CCEF also speaks highly of this book.) (Learn more and shop at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. Reviewed by Jesse Johnson. This is a new review of a much-praised but controversial book. “The thesis of J+N=E is that the only thing required for your sanctification is to think more about what Jesus has done. That’s it. Jesus, plus Nothing, equals Everything for your sanctification. But I don’t buy that approach to sanctification. I appreciate that Tchividjian clearly described what train he was on, and shows how it gets to his destination, but at the end of the day, I did not buy the ticket, and I’m not taking the ride. I believe that in Christ we are supposed to fight, labor, battle, walk, and work–and that all these efforts are more than looking back to Christ, but they are the active obedience to the commands of Scripture. I believe salvation is monergistic (it is only God’s work), but that sanctification is synergistic, and that God will reward me for how I do my work. This is an actual theological disagreement with J+N=E, and it affects the core message of the book, so in that respect I read the book entirely though that lens.” (Learn more and shop at Amazon or Westminster Books)

The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham. Reviewed by Mike Leake. Leake recommends a book, despite the fact that it’s a difficult read. “Some books are like chopping up spaghetti for a two-year-old. They are really good but might be a little exhausting for the average reader. It’s not that you’ll choke on it and not be able to understand it, it’s just that you might get so exhausted that you don’t get the full benefit of the book. More experienced readers need to read these types of books and know how to ‘chop them up’ for others to enjoy. The Psalter Reclaimed is one of those books.” (Learn more and shop at Amazon or Westminster Books)

God and the Atlantic by Thomas Albert Howard. Reviewed by Carl Trueman. The best book reviews offer instruction even to those who have not read the book; Trueman’s review is a model of this. “One of the most striking differences between the USA, my adopted residence, and the UK, my homeland, is the connection between politics and religion. Back home, there is an Established Church and yet the language of religion is studiedly absent from political discourse. ‘We don’t do God’ as the chief spin doctor Prime Minister Blair once famously declared. By contrast, in the USA there is a First Amendment which prevents the federal establishment of religion and which has come to mean that there is a radical separation of church and state. Yet here the language and performance of politics is suffused with religious idioms and gestures. … This is a short, densely-written, brilliant book that deserves to be read and pondered by any who wonder why America and Europe relate to each other as they do and what the future might hold for religion in both cultures.” (Learn more or shop at Amazon)

Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views by Various. Reviewed by Nathaniel Claiborne. If you appreciate multi-view books, Claiborne suggests that you will enjoy this one. “Overall, this is a very helpful book. The introduction sets out the issues nicely, and the contributors come from a variety of positions. Rather than each being a different shade of evangelical options, only the central two positions are. Though the final position is not entirely incompatible, it represents a well-developed approach that lacks appropriate biblical foundations, which is problematic to say the least.” (Learn more and shop at Amazon or Westminster Books)

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from Challies Dot Com – Informing the Reforming See it at:

Just Plain Vanilla Difficult

Just Plain Vanilla Difficult

“Many men think that they are being forthright and decisive when they are really just difficult to live with” (For a Glory and a Covering, p. 72).

from Blog and Mablog See it at:

Scripture in Worship —

See it at:

A La Carte (4/23)

A La Carte (4/23)

The Power of His Rising – The Power of His Rising is episode 6 of the amazing Dispatches from the Front series of DVDs. Westminster Books has it on sale for just $5 (or the whole series for $40). Seriously, buy it, watch it with your family, church or small group, and discuss it.

Desperate – Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe is a book I really enjoyed and highly recommend. The Kindle edition is down to just $3.99. (Here’s my review)

Discussing and Dealing with Pornography – Anthony Carter: “Today, we are evangelizing and disciplining a generation of men who have been inundated with sexually provocative images and have in many instances become numb to sinful sexual practices and inappropriateness.”

There Really Is a Reason – Mark Altrogge says that there really is a reason for our suffering and offers twelve benefits stored up in our afflictions.

Scripture in Worship – I once attended a megachurch in which there was no Scripture reading (beyond fragments within the sermon) and no prayer (beyond a “with every head bowed and every eye closed” response to the sermon). Joe Thorn addresses Scripture in worship in this article.

The Least of These – Randy Alcorn: “We need to think this through carefully. I’m morally/politically conservative on issues such as abortion, in which lives are at stake. But I am also concerned about the welfare of the environment God has entrusted to our care. We need to understand that human lives are at stake in the issue of creation care! Consider, for instance, how many people die from contaminated water. Taking care of water is taking care of people!”

The TIME 100 – For whatever it’s worth, which is probably not much, here is TIME’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world today.

For every one hundred men who can stand adversity there is only one who can withstand prosperity. —Thomas Carlyle

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from Challies Dot Com – Informing the Reforming See it at:

Triablogue: Chess or Dominos?

Chess or Dominos? According to a common Arminian analogy, God is like a Grand Master chess player while we are mere novices. We can make our moves, but God is going to win the game no matter what we choose to move.
There are two problems with this analogy. The first has been discussed here before, in that such an analogy simply is the definition of fatalism. Fatalism is when the end is assured no matter what choices are made by the actors involved. In Greek mythology, where this concept first emerged, this is seen in the fact that someone is told their future doom, and in seeking to avoid that future doom the actor brings about the very doom that he was seeking to avoid. To give an example, suppose someone is fated to die by drowning. To avoid this, he moves to the middle of the desert, makes sure that there are no bodies of water nearby—not even sinks or bathtubs. On the day he is fated to drown, he is thirsty and gets a cup of water. While drinking, he hiccups, inhales the water into his lungs, and drowns. Thus, his fate is confirmed despite how hard he tried to get around it.
This is precisely what the chess analogy does, however. No matter what moves the player opposite God makes, he is fated to lose the game. It is impossible for him to make a move that would checkmate God, in such an analogy.
It is important to make a distinction between this and the Calvinist view of determinism. Under Calvinism, were it not for the exact choices that we make, the end result would not attain. In other words, contra the Arminian position that no matter what choice we make God will win in the end, the Calvinist position is that God will win in the end precisely because he has ensured what choices we will make.
In this sense, Calvinism is more akin to someone who has set up an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. Or for a simpler concept, think of a set of dominos. He pushes the first domino over, and the last domino is destined to fall because every single needed domino is in the exact position it needs to be in so that when it falls it will push over the next domino. If the domino were to be in a different position, the cascade would stop and the final domino would not fall.
With this in mind, we can now look at the second problem the chess analogy exposes in Arminianism. Under the chess analogy, none of our choices actually matter. Whether we move a pawn or a knight for our first move will not impact the fact that we are going to lose the game. As such, if the chess analogy is an accurate representation of Arminianism, then what it teaches us is that our free will is irrelevant to the end goal God has in mind. Our choices simply do not matter one bit. We can choose anything and it won’t affect the outcome.
In other words, the chess analogy offers us freedom in exchange for irrelevance. Just as it does not matter that the man fated to drown moved to the middle of the desert, so too it does not matter what we choose to do with our lives. The end is has been fated. This trivializes our choices and renders them nonsensical.
On the contrary, however, the Calvinist view demonstrates that our choices are meaningful and, indeed, necessary for the end God has in mind. Without our exact choices being exactly what they are, the end result would not attain at all. The end, therefore, is dependent upon what we choose. Our choices simply are the plan that God has put in place.
So what are we to make of these choices under Calvinism? They are, as the Westminster Confession calls it, the secondary causes by which God enacts His will. Our choices are what God uses to enact His will. He has created each and every one of us, knows us intimately and knows what influences must be in place in order for us to make the exact choice needed to render His will enacted. Unlike the chess master who must wait for us to act in order to know what to do next, God is an artist who has put the pieces of his carefully constructed scenario into place so that each bit will function precisely as intended along the entire path.
Thus, if you believe that the chess analogy is an accurate representation of Arminian theology, and you also believe that your choices are relevant and matter, then you cannot consistently hold to Arminian theology. But there is still plenty of room for you in the Calvinist camp. from Triablogue See it at:

Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing

Genius See it at: