Friday, July 04, 2008

ah ... cranky

I thought about blogging about it but I won't. I would end up writing stuff that would be pretty harsh. But there are things I have blogged about eliptically that I am tempted to write about in a more direct and forceful way. I am in a situation where I am demanded to provide a certain amount of loyalty where neither of two sides has given me a whole lot of reason to demand such loyalty. It is the will of one demagogue against another in some ways, which is tough because I don't exactly dislike either demagogue.. That's a bit more than I planned to blog about on the 4th of July.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

You know you're part of the mainstream if The Door makes fun of you ... so Driscoll has arrived

It's pretty funny, but then I would expect funny from The Door. Turnaround is fair play, after all. :) Masculinity has been a big theme for Driscoll over the years, so big that The Door understandably is sending him up for it now. This is a good sign. Last time The Door covered anything to do with Driscoll they wouldn't even make fun of him and suggested people pray for the church. If The Wittenburg Door won't make fun of you and asks people to pray that might be a red flag, because they'll make fun of just about everyone.

Other local news has not been so pleasant so reading something funny makes the day ever so slightly better.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Now even our most critically acclaimed films are cartoons ... "

I certainly accept the fact that America's overall cultural tastes have degraded. Serious films for adults, such as The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Graduate, and The Godfather, were all No. 1 box office hits for their respective years. So was Saving Private Ryan as recently as 1998. Seems an eternity ago. Now even our most critically acclaimed films are cartoons: Persepolis, Ratatouille, and The Simpsons Movie.

As though that were a measure of the degradation of cultural taste. The most critically acclaimed cartoons in the last ten years have included movies like Princess Mononoke, The Iron Giant, South Park, the aforementioned Persepolis, Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, The Incredibles, and the like.

Using the cartoon as a measure for what is wrong in the arts is one of the biggest ironies in the nature of the medium. Every frame literally is a work of art and there's no sense in which the moving picture is more a set of moving pictures than in a cartoon. I don't think Erik Lundegaard is necessarily going to pine for the days when cartoons were like, say, Heavy Metal, is he?

The old canard that live action is somehow more venerable and serious than animated film in the same way that books are more serious than comic books probably isn't going to die. If you look at the range of story-telling that is happening in international animation over the last twenty years the problem isn't that cartoons are somehow bad. If anything they have reached a level of nuance and sophistication the venerated films of the past were said to get to, while live-action films have become more cartoony and not necessarily because of cartoons.

We live in a highly polarized time and it's one of the ironies of our culture that cartoons seem better able to split the differences and punch holes in expectations than live-action where an art house film is going to be exactly what I expect it to be, the tent-pole film is going to be more or less exactly what I expect it to be. And yet because we have expected so little from them as a culture and have the biases of our assumptions about them being a medium for kids, cartoons, for all the complaints critics sometimes dish out in principle, the reviews and box offices suggest that the best cartoons out there are doing what the other films aren't, surprising us and entertaining us. Is there a film-maker out there that would dare to have the first hour of the film have virtually no dialogue like Andrew Stanton did with WALL-E? Sure, but Angel's Egg didn't exactly get huge distribution, did it? If you're wondering what Angel's Egg is that's my point. Not everyone can make an animated fantasy film in which Noah's ark gets flipped over and have it get distributed anywhere. Not all live action movies can successfully make those risks either.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Intriguingly, the more educated Americans become, the more insular they are. (Hence Mr Miller's confusion.) Better-educated people tend to be richer, so they have more choice about where they live. And they are more mobile. One study that covered most of the 1980s and 1990s found that 45% of young Americans with a college degree moved state within five years of graduating, whereas only 19% of those with only a high-school education did.

There is a danger in this. Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.
And the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike. Melynda Wortendyke, a devout Christian who teaches all six of her children at her home in Virginia, says she took her eldest out of public kindergarten because she thought the standards there were low, but also because the kids were exposed to a book about lesbian mothers.

The Galilee of Jesus’ day was a multicultural place. To function in his world, Jesus was constantly confronted with the need to deal with other cultures, other languages, other customs and comfort zones. Into this world, the Pharisees, zealots and Essenes had put forward their own options for dealing with those who were different. Those options ranged from asserting a new encyclopedia of rules, declaring “clean and unclean” zones/persons, withdrawing into subculture ghettos of their own and declaring those who were different worthy of violent response.
As a result, some of the most controversial and incarnationally revealing things Jesus did were simply actions of eating with sinners, touching lepers, speaking to women, walking through communities and taking a public stand against the religious ghetto-think of his time.

Okay, i can't resist, are Pharisees the people of their time who would have condoned the equivalent of home-schooling? Nah, too easy and too inaccurate, but there IS a danger that because of culture war mentalities on any side of any major issue that people will entrench themselves. A liberal I once worked with said that the reason liberals get blind-sided is they operate under the assumption that THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE SHOULD THINK EXACTLY LIKE THEY DO. He wasn't joking, he wasn't being sarcastic, he said that that's exactly the case and that everyone SHOULD be a political liberal. Conservatives realize that not everyone is a conservative and that they have to work at winning people to their side and informing people, so that's what they do. Well, that's kinda true. Truth tends to become whatever confirms both in their already established views.

But there's a flip side, less educated people aren't really LESS insular, they just lack the academic credentials through which to ESPOUSE insularity. Anyone can simply assume insularity is the way to go, just like anyone can assume that Republicans or Democrats are the directly reportings minions of the Evil One.

In more or less this manner I've seen people circle the wagons about masculinity in a certain place and a certain satire magazine has made sport of this. I've seen guys my age go that route and then come out the other side being mellower ... and even somehow acquiring girlfriends in the process. One even got married, through a miracle of God, and is slowly mellowing out.

The gap between rhetoric aimed to create a certain effect (or affect) and the real world can get (and stay) big. It has been interesting for me to consider what men aspiring to be "real men" may think if they ask actual women what they think about some things. A very good friend of mine once shared with me that she discovered that sometimes a guy would approach her and lay out his whole ten year plan. Perhaps it was naivete and optimism but it was in some sense a ground plan for marriage set up pretty much at the start of what was merely a relationship of casual acquaintence, not necessarily an actual friendship. What I would admit I have done by way of simply being afraid and emotionally closed off (i.e. not dating) other guys may attempt to circumvent by going old school and attempting to invoke some kind of courtship/calling method of getting a wife.

When a group is ideologically homogenous ... indeed. It's the sort of setting in which a friend of mine could be approached by a guy in all seriousness about what he planned to do years away as though that in itself constituted a serious proposal. There are times when, to be very, very blunt, I think I'd be wasting my time even attempting to put myself on the market not just because I don't think I'm the greatest catch but also because I'm in a setting where (thanks to the frenetic efforts of some friends and associates, actually) an environment got set up where the idea that Christians dated was framed as though it were a sin, a priori. The definition of date was front-loaded with so much historical and cultural anathema that it became a marvel that so many people were "courting" when it seemed pretty damned obvious they were dating.

I had at least one relative who said he pitied singles in this context, that the sexual desperation was so thick you'd have to pull out two chainsaws to cut through it. I confess I never really noticed it much in its mass effect. I just noticed it in individual cases. Years ago I met a fellow who introduced me to a woman he was discipling. I looked at her for half a second and thought to myself, "Yeah, right. SUUURE you're discipling her." This woman was clearly not a moron and the "discipling" relationship must have ended soon, as did any interest in her part on being part of that particular community of Christians. I hope she found a place better suited to her. It's not as though the town has no other places sharing the Gospel even if people at a certain place pretend to themselves that's the case. And, really, it's only those who do a good chunk of investing.

In a time when I feel as though more and more is required where less and less seems able to be done there is a case to be made for a Christian who is disengaged from the life and turmoil of the church he or she attends. There is such a thing as coveting things within a Christian community and spiritualizing more or less worldly impulses. If you don't seek to be a leader or a prominent member of the community, and if you don't seek to leverage that status in any way to get what you want, to trump anyone else's position, or to outright bully them into submission by pulling rank and demanding respect ... then, well, you also won't get burned if people do to you what you have done to others. And, at the same time, you have nothing anyone would covet by way of this or that prominent role in the community. In other words, no one covets the stuff of the followers in the organization, by and large. It's the leaders that are self-appointed or appointed by others that become targets.

That is why in the midst of a politically charged situation where I have no desire to move up in the organization, and have virtually no desire to wield power or influence other than what the Lord in His providence may provide (and, really, I don't even need THAT, since it is whatever the Lord sees fit to accomplish), that is why I find I can continue to participate in a setting where other people think I shouldn't even stay. The reason they say this may be because they have had places that were prominent and that very place of prominence became a snare for them when they attempted to leverage it to get what they want. It's not that what they wanted was necessarily a bad thing, it might have been perfectly good. But it was the willingness to USE THEIR STATUS as a weapon that became a problem. Scripture might call this a fruit of the boastful pride of life. Christians have over the years described this as craving the acclaim, admiration, praise, and respect of other men. It is in short nothing less than believing your own hype and the hype of others and needing to have the hype machine working in your favor all the time.

One way this can manifest for demagogues and dictators (for instance) is ideological homogeneity. But it is fair to point out that what we might call ideological homogeneity can and is very healthy in certain settings. "Mom loves me" is an assumption that is generally true and something every child could probably say of his or her mom. "Mom or Dad is usually right and they have my best interests" is generally reliable, too. But the relationship itself becomes the basis for agreement, not the rank. No sooner has Mom or Dad said, "Obey me because I'm your parent" and defenses go up. "You should respect my opinion because I'm the older person with more vested authority." Same deal. And it's no small step from there to "You should obey me because I'm your pastor." The nature of the relationship is basically the same, a given or assumed role of power is used as leverage to socially impel a person to conformity with a decision and ideological uniformity can be the means through which enforcement of a decision can happen. And this can be good ... just as it can also be terrible.

This is why, I hope, Scripture is above Christians, that Christians should not simply appropriate Scripture for this or that purpose. Theoretically Protestants do this but it often doesn't work. Theoretically all believers submit to Christ and the Church but in practice ... well, it often looks different.

And it's tough because I can spiritualize my sins. Fear becomes caution, coveting becomes ambition, disregard becomes concern for the truth, condemnation becomes discernment, obsession with doctrine becomes contending for the faith. And at length contending for my desires, my agendas, and grasping for the things that I covet becomes saying and doing the right thing on principle. My capacity for self-deception is not small.

What is interesting about Paul's discussion of the Body of Christ is how manifold and multifaceted it is and how in practice we often wish the Body was simplly one big eye or one giant ear. It is so tempting to want the body of Christ to be unified where it is diverse, and to be single where it is variegated. We don't want to imagine that God in His wisdom would let the kingdom of God's people be divided over petty and stupid arguments. But He let it happen in the old covenant, so it is no surprise if He lets it happen in the new.

What each side failed to realize is that the unity of the kingdom was not the thing that would solve their problem of their idolatry and turning from the Lord. They were united within but in each united community of Judah and Samaria the problem was the same. They were finally only united in Exile, I guess.

What has been will be again, perhaps not in quite the same form but there is nothing new under the sun.