28 July 2021

Tee shorts

Panther Pond

I am enjoying a few free hours of Internet today, courtesy of the wonderful Raymond Village Library. They're closed tomorrow, so I'm posting a day early.

Last week, our friend Sara Hubner visited us here in Raymond. I loved the text on her tee shirt: "All theology has an adjective." The back of the shirt revealed the source: it was merchandise from one of my favorite podcasts, "The Bible for Normal People."

Among other places, there's some context for the "all theology" text here on Pete Briscoe's Facebook page, but you probably already get the point. In any case, the way my brain works, I couldn't help playing with the text in reverse: "Every adjective has a theology."

Some adjectives come freighted with theological implications: liberal, conservative, biblical, dominionist, reformed, Arminian, anabaptist, German, and on and on.

Other adjectives might not be so directly linked to theology, but it's interesting to think how they might link with the ways we relate to God: strict, gracious, vertical, horizontal, open, closed, underground, cautious, adventurous, skeptical, enthusiastic, verbose, and short enough to fit on a tee shirt.

(Possibly related: Regarding.)

When we got to Raymond, I posted a selfie of Judy and me with one of my own favorite tee shirts. We bought it about ten years ago at the Bulgakov Museum near the Mayakovsky metro station in Moscow. (Or maybe we bought it here!) The shirt depicts characters from Mikhail Bulgakov's classic novel, The Master and Margarita. The quotation from the trickster cat Behemoth comes from the scene in which the state police try to arrest him. He tells them that "I'm not bothering anyone, I'm just fixing the Primus stove." He goes on to warn them that the cat is an ancient and untouchable animal. When they shoot him anyway, he takes a drink from the Primus fuel ("the only cure for a mortally wounded cat") and bounces back. (Here's one of the screen versions of this scene, dubbed in English. The attempted arrest starts here.)

I have a particular memory of wearing this shirt. It was during my Christian Peacemakers tour of duty in Hebron back in 2019. One day I was observing Israeli soldiers conducting an operation in the Old City, and I noticed one particular soldier studying my shirt closely. I wish I could have asked him what he found interesting about it.

(Possibly related: my post on visiting Spaso House.)

(Not the exact shirt I saw in the metro.) Source.
The last of my favorite tee shirt texts for today comes from an escalator on the Moscow metro, maybe four years ago. As I was descending, I noticed a woman approaching on the ascending escalator. Her shirt said, in English, "You always have a choice."

I can't claim to believe this is literally always true. (What kind of theology would that be?) However, I'm sure it has a lot of uncomfortable truth. The version of this shirt that seems very popular adds the advice, "Choose kindness." It's very easy for me to think about the times when others have chosen cruelty over kindness, or deception over truth, or shame over recovery, or addiction over self-care. It is much harder to turn the scope on myself.

Given my preoccupation with the church as an institution that must learn how to be trustworthy, I can't help wondering how this tee shirt theology could help us grow in trust. I remember Tom Mullen's preaching classes at Earlham School of Religion, where -- over and over again -- he emphasized that Christian preaching really has only one central theme: grace. What would happen to our churches if, whenever we are (that is, I am) tempted to speculate on someone else's faults, or their eternal destiny, or their obvious ignorance of Quaker folkways, we would always choose grace?

What risks would we be taking? Are they worth it?

(Possibly related: my post on The Shack.)

"Securing the safety of the [Lugansk] Republic" from the dangers of Christian literature (including the Gospel of John). Apparently they had no choice?

What Friends Committee on National Legislation intern Abby McElroy has learned from working with faith leaders. (I personally was especially taken with her insight no. 3, "Faith leaders can do nonpartisan work that others struggle with." They do have a choice!)

What Russians must not write about in order to avoid being declared a "foreign agent" -- the list of topics just got very long. Andrei Soldatov: "Secrecy is being taken to a monstrous extreme."

The next chapter in the Ben & Jerry story.

Which poets did mature poet Nancy Thomas steal from?

Musical ecstasy: Henry Gray (r.i.p.), Lynwood Slim (r.i.p.), Kid Ramos.

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