Friday, April 29, 2011

Carl Trueman's "An interesting email".

1. With the rise of the conservative evangelical celebrity megapastor, are we creating a situation where the expectation of the rising generation will be that they will never know their pastor personally at any level at all? That he will simply be the famous guy they see at a distance each Sunday, or, even worse, on some remote television monitor? That is a tragic travesty of what a people should expect their pastor to be. And it is a travesty of what Christians have thought the pastor and the church should be throughout the ages -- from the Didache to Bonhoeffer's Life Together. When I lie dying, I do hope I know the person sitting next to me and praying for me; I do not want some stranger intruding on my family's grief.

We're already there. We already have megachurch pastors who are only seen via remote television monitor. Depending on the church the sermon may be preached at one campus one week, subject to a week delay while the DVD is mailed out to other sites in the network, and then two weeks later you can download the sermon if you missed it. There's even a passle of theological arguments for why this is the best way to do things. There's probably a campus pastor who can do all the things the teaching pastor doesn' t do. This probably isn't what Trueman is hoping for but that is where a lot of the bigger churches are at in evangelical megachurch land. There are already thousands of people at one church nearby who have never actually seen their pastor except through screens, never had dinner with him talking about anything at all, and probably never will.

I admit that though I understand why some pastors see that as not so tragic I can also admit that an important part of the Christian I am today was because an Assemblies of God youth pastor who instructed me in other people in the youth group about exegesis and hermeneutics was willing to have breakfast with me and spend time with me talking about Gordon Fee, Solzhenitsyn, Watchman Nee, Francis Schaeffer, and music. I had a public speaking teacher in high school who was a Baptist who would write me notes so I could get away from those stupid pep assemblies so that he and I could discuss the poetry of Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot and give him time to rip apart my terrible poetry so as to help me write something better. Christian lives come when we give of our life in Christ to others so as to help them share in the life of Christ. Yes, there's all that official churchy stuff, too, but for things to stick requires, as some book title put it a "life together". But seeing as the family is supposed to be the foundation of this does it matter if a Christian family never sees its shepherd? (sarcasm alert, in case it's needed).

2. Do we really want men who represent the kind of ministry described being held up as role models? I warn students at Westminster that such ministries bear no resemblance to that which they are going to experience. That is one reason I love my friend Tim Witmer's book, The Shepherd Leader. It is actually written by a man who does not have the luxury of not visiting the dying or praying with the sick or counseling the broken-hearted.

Once again, in a few places we're already there.

3. Frankly, who wants a ministry where you do not get to know people anyway? Is that not a major part of what ministry is meant to be?

To be fair I don't think the pastors who are in ministries that have gotten to that point ever STARTED there. Oh, I see Trueman gets to that issue.

4. Should conference speaking not be the thing that one does only when one is absolutely confident that the pastoral duties at one's own church are fully covered? Men are called to pastor local congregations and to preach to churches, not to speak at conference venues. The latter is a spare-time bonus.

Well, let me propose for the few people who may ever read this, that the pastors doing these sorts of conference speaking are likely at megachurches that should not be called megachurches. That implies that the thing is a church in a historically comprehensible and sociological sense of the term. It would be more accurate to say these new pastors at megachurch multi-site franchises are de facto denominational leaders. Catholics don't expect the Pope to show up at their door when they're sick. A local priest will do. They wouldn't even expect the regional bishop to show up, either, I imagine. So while the top dog preaching teaching guy won't ever show up if you're sick a campus pastor very likely will. That's okay.

I think that we should keep in mind that if we get past the smoke and mirrors megachurch pastors have about their real vocation and call the denominational leaders that the lack of congregational interaction can be seen as less offensive than it might otherwise be if we bought the self-directed hype of megachurch pastors who call themselves teaching pastor because denominational/spiritual leader sounds too institutional.

I'm being too snarky here but I've seen how a church that was once around 120 morphed over a bit more than a decade into a massive thing across three states with more than 10,000 people attending. Nobody starts off with the idea of never being seen except on a big screen ... not even people on TBN. Sure, pastors who become that sort of thing over time in their 40s might have been seen by their 20-something selves. Their 20-something selves would have had multiple cows. But if we can persuade ourselves that what we used to call "selling out" is for the glory of God then we'll go with that. The transition from avoiding altar calls as emotional manipulation to incorporating them into services despite years of explaining how altar calls aren't something endorsed in the Reformed tradition and are more a product of the Arminian Second Great Awakening can be elided.

I'm being too snarky here. My real puzzle is that I can sorta see both sides. People who have gotten to know me well don't tend to describe me as fixated on black and white, they tend to see me as paralyzed by observing all manner of shades of gray. Maybe there will be a point whre that is useful instead of debilitating.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Link: Tim Keller "Getting Out", sermon on Exodus

I normally don't link to sermons but I'll make an exception for this one by Tim Keller.

Superman renounces U.S. citizenship, joins Confederacy of the Universe. :)

Superman renouncing his citizenship doesn't really mean a whole lot by itself. After all, while he may renounce his citizenship as Superman Clark Kent could still use a day job and still use work at the Daily Planet to find out what is going on. He can go live in the Fortress of Solitude to ensure he isn't beholden to the United States in any way such as property taxes or income taxes but then he will be breaking a few laws regarding lawful entry into the country. The paradox is that by renouncing his citizenship Superman is nothing more than a quintessential American in precisely the way his story editor and writer proposes is bad. As it stands Superman was never really a legal citizen of the United States because he's an illegal alien, as a Mockingbird commenter so shrewdly pointed out.

But even if we suppose for the sake of argument that Superman's citizenship was truly too legit to quit that doesn't matter. Let's not forget, folks, that back in the 1860s thousands of Americans decided they didn't want to be treated merely as instruments of United States policy and also decided that they didn't consider that good enough. You know who those folks were, folks, they formed the Confederacy because they believed the Constitution and what America stood for had changed so radically and for the worse they wanted no part of it. Superman renouncing his citizenship is simply taking the precedent of the Confederacy but applying it from the "apparently" opposite direction.

Ironically if you really think it through Superman renouncing his citizenship because just being an American isn't good enough exemplifies America and exemplifies it in its most problematic way. We can't just be good enough to be Americans, we must also be able to be citizens of the universe and as far as that goes a lot of Americans are content to be citizens of the universe so as to pay less in taxes or to disregard laws in the United States they consider problematic. Go either in the left or the right and you'll see that the impulse to renounce citizenship because the "wrong" person got elected is always around.

Rather than see this publicity stunt of Superman renouncing his United States citizenship as meaning anything in the long run I cite it as so quintessentially American it embodies the cultural and character flaws it would presume to critique. Notice decades ago when Superman and Batman fight in The Dark Knight Returns that Batman tells Superman he's become a joke, fighting for anyone who hoas a badge. Frank Miller used Superman to symbolize acquiescence to Reagan and 80s consumerism and conservatism. But notice that even in this polemic there are two things that stand out. First and foremost, it wasn't always so, and is implied in the narrative. Second, notice that Superman works out Batman's ruse of faking death but lets him get away with it. In other words, Frank Miller gave us a Superman who was a puppet of a Republican president but someone who still had enough decency and friendship with Batman to let him go off the grid rather than kill him. This is made all the more apparent after we've seen that Superman took Green Arrow's arm from him.

In other words this is citizen renunciation shows us an American raised Superman who doesn't want to be seen as a patsy for American imperialism and proclaims universal citizenship. Well, Presidents have declared that they want to bring democracy and freedom to the rest of the world and make the world safe from terrorism. So far if "Superman" hoped to accomplish anything by renouncing citizenship it does not look to be much more than yet another American trying to shrug off the bond of land and people for ideological reasons. Well, that's okay Confederates were also truly American, too, even when they didn't think they wanted to be puppets of U.S. policies. This, far from making Superman more appealing to ordinary people, may just make him more irrelevant. Superman can be more than a champion of truth, justice and the American way but he can't be less than that either. Both a Yankee who supported Lincoln and a Confederate who supported the stars and bars can see this about Superman plainly enough.

The issue, as I've been discussing it over at Mockingbird, is that if Superman fights for truth, justice and the American way, the challenge is figuring out which American way he is fighting for. A Superman who does not consider American values to be good enough is still an American making an assessment of the weakness of America. If anything it's surprising this publicity stunt story element wasn't pursued decades ago. In the last twenty years I've seen a lot of rhetoric about renunciation of citizenship because a Democrat or Republican got into office. Twenty years ago when someone you didn't like got elected you grumbled but granted that that person was Commander in Chief.

In the last twelve years what has happened is if you didn't want that person to be Commander in Chief you convince yourself that the election was rigged and stolen so you can find some way to state that the person is not legitimately representing "real"American interests. As I noted earlier, this is not new in practice or principle thanks to the Civil War, but what is new is how conveniently bipartisan this practice is. Superman, as an unavoidably American pop culture icon, was going to reflect this bad habit among Americans at some point. Why not now? It, too, is part of the American legacy.

Speaking of which ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HT Mockingbird: Rethinking Individualism with David Brooks

It’s almost too common to read op-ed columns or hear sermons about how individualistic Americans are. Yet a brief remark in David Brooks’ recent book, “The Social Animal”, has implied to me the real absurdity of these diatribes. He said:

The United States is a collective society that thinks it is an individualistic one. If you ask American to describe their values, they will give you the most individualistic answers of any nation on the planet. Yet if you actually watch how Americans behave, you see that they trust one another instinctively and form groups with alacrity.

I agree. It's easy to talk about the problem of American individualism and consumerism without realizing that this critique can become too easy and too inaccurate. Todd's money quote comes in this simple observation about pop culture:

We may esteem personal autonomy yet most pop songs are about love.

This has not been lost on me over the last twenty years. There are an awful lot of pop songs about romantic love, more so than about the love between father and son, mother and daughter, and so on. Songs about friendship tend to be rare and even songs that ostensibly "could" be about friendship tend to get mutated into songs that are about "something more". And so like turns into like-like and like-like turns to love

Even in church culture there have been any number of times where, when a man and a woman decide to marry, the little speeches about "redemption" come up and how this man or that woman has found great redemption in the arms of another by virtue of marrying. Maybe this is something I could understand if I were married but the idea that there is some kind of redemptive power in romantic love puts me immensely ill at ease. When a certain important person in my life remarried it eventually had plenty of redemptive activity connected to it but it had a few nasty bumps along the road, too.

But I want to playfully reverse the conclusion that Americans are collectivists who think they are individualists. My reversal is this, that most of the Christians who speak about the dangers of individualism and promote community are actually the most individualistic thinking Christians I have met. They pay lip service to community but I never really see them unless there's something important enough to warrant a house meeting or a church event or something like that. While they talk the talk of community they often keep to themselves.

I have not thought of myself as placing a very high priority on "community" and have even had moements where I think I dislike it. But I realize I find it easier to plan meals if there's more than just me involved. I find it necessary to bounce ideas off of people. I don't compose music in a vacuum at all. I frequently create music that has a strong social element. I write for musicians I know, I explore musical ideas that of necessity involve placing a guitarist with a non-guitarist and interacting as much as possible with non-guitar literature. For a man who has often considered himself a musical hermit with a lot of nerdy interests in theology that people don't care about I care more about community than I consciously tell myself I do. In fact in some respects I might care more about community and discussion than my "community" associates. It's not that they don't care about community ... it's that they seem to see community as something they will contribute to or something they should be part of.

At the risk of going out on a limb here, there are people who participate in "community" because they want to be part of something bigger as individuals. A lot of us who joined Mars Hill Church Seattle did so, I'll venture to guess, because we believed we were participating in something different, something that mattered. We were into the community thing but there is a sense in which we were into that community thing for what we as individuals could both get out of and bring to things. When we did get what we wanted and gave what was considered useful we were happy. When we stopped getting what we wanted or maybe never got what we wanted we became cranky. If we had gifts and ideas that weren't useful or lacked a certain leadership pizazz in this or that realm we began to be less useful.

As I wrote long ago at this blog there is a social functionality to how and why individuals get into community. Someone who is socially and financially upwardly mobile in a community, someone whose cultural capital is increasing, finds plenty of reasons to invest in the community. He or she thinks this is because community is important but that's not the real reason. The real reason is that he or she is still getting as much out of it as he or she puts into it and synergy works favorably at the moment. In this respect the "community" person is simply an individualist who has fooled himself or herself into thinking the main objective is community when it's not.

Conversely, a person who is aspiring to live individually and amass influence or fame is striving toward an identity within a community and the most adamant free-thinker is still looking for disciples despite protestations that every man and woman of age should think for themselves and be reasonable. I hesitate to say that this makes everyone a hypocrite, it means that we can paradoxically consciously affirm this or that as our value while being completely oblivious to the reality that the lives we actually live do not conform to these values. Someone may protest about the importance of family but not value family connections so much as family as a source of affirmation of personal worth.

There are people who need to be needed and for them family becomes crucial not so much because they value the family or its members in the way they tell themselves they do but because they have a desire met through that connection. A single guy or gal may talk obsessively about how much he/she wants to be married for emotional connection but will pass over various candidates who have hearts that are generous enough but who don't fit a social, economic, or physical criterion that goes unexamined because it is not consciously observed. This is an ever relevant example of how we crave community (i.e. all those pop songs extolling love) and yet paradoxically crave it for individualistic reasons.

And yet when we critique the "rampant materialism" and "cult of individualism" in culture we're actually just going along with the herd. Even the people who dare to promulgate what they would call the virtue of selfishness are paradoxically herd animals, too. The heart is deceptive above all things, who can understand it? We must consider that this observation must first be recognized as true of our own hearts before we dare to apply this principle to the hearts of others (which is not to say we should even do that most of the time).

a didactic impulse

Coming as I do from a Pentecostal background (long since set aside for theological reasons too numerous to bother with) I got a few earfuls and books read about generational curses and soul ties. There are reasons I don't subscribe to those sorts of things that have a lot to do with a critique of American spiritual warfare fads as being a kind of sympathetic magic masquerading as a radical and vigorous Christian faith. Yes, I read Internet Monk and am party to at least some of the discussion about the generational curse of each era to embrace a "radical" Christianity that is more "authentic" and obviously I recently linked to a fun dissection of what most 20-somethings and 30-somethings really mean when they talk about "authentic" or "community".

This term I've used, generational curse, is not how spiritual warfare fans would normally use it. I consider it a generational curse that in every generation some blow-hard self-appointed prophet and seer of visions deigns to tell the rest of us Christians why we need to listen to what he/she has to say. Whether it's Rick Joyner or Todd Bentley or William Branham or whomever else goes Montanist the result tends to be the same, a lot of post hoc defense of things that are indefensible coming from any other person at any other time with any other fan club.

Well, this is all merely to propose what anyone can observe, that families can display shared traits. A family may be known for producing generations of professional musicians like the Bach family. A family may be known for producing animators like the Miyazaki family. The Coppola family (including, we know, Nicholas Cage) is in show business. Bushes and Kennedys get into politics. And so on, and so forth.

Well, when we talk about something llike a generational sin we're talking not merely about some trait but a communal ethos. There are ways of erring as a social unit that can pervade a family. They do not come up for discussion much because they can't even be observed. A family full of racists will never ask themselves whether or not they have erred in their views about a racial or ethnic gruop because they all share that racist sentiment.

Certain character flaws may come to attention if they are delineated more or less along a gender. The males in a family may have a reputation for being short-tempered or lazy or something like that. Females in the family may have a propensity to give unsolicited advice or a penchant for emotional manipulation via dramatic outbursts or a curiously mercurial way of having total or zero empathy depending on whether or not a particular issue or relational pattern persists. But if something pervades the entire family then such a character flaw will go largely unexamined because the social unit as a whole is not particularly effected by it most of the time.

Once again, I'm back to the family of racists where they have no problem getting along with each other due to this trait and thus, to them, all is well. It is only when something goes awry in some relational matrix that a character flaw that is family-wide could even get noticed and that something that goes wrong may be a tiny thing.

Or it may be a giant thing that goes unnoticed because it can't be considered. There are some families that have problems with money managing. They get into debt or they lose money in foolish money-making plans that they never get back again. Perhaps the family craves respect and a good reputation in a community. Perhaps a family is beset by a need for everyone in the family to 1) be right and 2) argue with anyone and everyone who isn't right. This might come across to those within the family as caring about the facts and wanting to make sure that the truth is discovered. To people outside the family this will not be what seems to be going on.

There are moments when you may discover that you embody some lesser quality in your family in ways you never anticipated. I don't remember why I made this observation about myself but I noticed that when I offer constructive criticism (and, trust me, it's always supposed to be constructive criticism in my mind!) I can be very specific. When I praise something I can be specific ... but sometimes the praise is a little vague. "That's cool!" doesn't seem very particular, does it? No, more what I mean is to say that I realize articulating constructive criticism can be easier for me to say than "I love you" or "You mean a lot to me."

Now in the annals of pop psychology and "emotional intelligence" no one is going to accept the proposal "Constructive criticism is my love language!" Yet set aside my jocularity and consider that for many people there is a didactic impulse which does, in fact, spring from love. Consider the whole purpose in Proverbs. The entire book was collected so that children would learn from parents; so that the simple might become wise and the wise yet wiser still. The scriptures are given for, among many other reasons, the benefit of our instruction. It hardly needs to be disputed that a didactic impulse can be a great thing.

But ... how many people are thinking at this point that a didactic impulse in a family could lead to a legalistic stance, a "works righteousness" expression of love, or a feeling that love is often conditioned upon proper performance? Yeah, that's possible. It may even be likely. I would hasten to add here that the didactic impulse is tainted by sins both delliberate and unwitting. With someone who has a particularly didactic nature, a need to discuss concepts and reasons and methods at length, a substantial risk in all of the above is that a person may be remembered more for that constructive criticism than for emotional expression.

Lest anyone think that this is a propensity for fathers and for men it's not the case. Women can be just as prone to this kind of thing as men. It is an equal opportunity trait. Have you ever found yourself thinking about the ratio of words you say in criticism of friends or family and their ideas or actions compared to affirmation of their good points? It dawned on me recently that this habit of mine to be more particular about subjects then sentiments seems to mirror, at least in some ways, patterns I see and hear throughout my family. This is not to excuse that propensity but it does help me understand it a little better. Let me put it this way, when a person can be particular about criticism but only generic in praise how do people on the receiving end of that communication tend to feel? Truthfully I don't entirely know because it's hard to gauge sometimes, but I would imagine that gets old.

Conversely, being on the receiving end of the didactic impulse "can" be helpful but it can feel discouraging in ways that don't easily spring to mind in the didactic moment. There are times when you feel like you're getting advice because someone assumes you're not smart enough to make the right decision on your own or because there's some belief that you have the wrong view and it is paramount that you have the right view. In a family where both politics and religion are important this can play out in a few ways that are obvious enough that I "probably" don't need to spell them out.

If in polite company one doesn't discuss politics or religion then I have a very impolite family where both politics AND religion not only must be discussed but preferably get mixed together inextricably at all times. This can put a majorly big wet blanket on people who want "community" and "keeping it real" because those people don't want to keep it real if it means people share genuine and adamant differences in either politics or religion, let alone both.

And I'll admit it, I can thrive in discussions (not arguments, as such) about drastic differences in both politics and religion because for me the goal is both intellectual and emotional understanding of what values are and how they motivate people. As a matter of day to day living it is also imperative. I have family members spread so far across confessional lines and differing in any number of practical political views that strict adherance to a family-wide praxis makes no sense. I'm not going to go around trying to argue that my Orthodox relatives shouldn't be Orthodox and they don't go around trying to insist that I or other Calvinists in the family (all two of us) stop being where we're at.

Notice how I'm framing all of this in terms of subjects rather than sentiments, ideas rather than feelings. It is safer that way not only because I'm eager to not just stomp on toes but also because talking about the ideas and values as things in themselves permits me consider how and why they are embraced. Ideas, I have held for most of my life, always have an emotional weight attached to them. We cannot be strictly rational creatures anymore than we can be strictly emotional creatures. Anyone attempting to frame humanity chiefly in one of those two extremes is unbalanced.

Well, I realized in the last week or so my family and I have in common would I would consider a flaw. We are very good at providing details in constructive criticism or complaint but are woefully generic in positive things. If there's something amiss in how you think about something we'll make certain to let you know (or perhaps say nothing in the resignation that you're not going to change your mind, yes, we are all like that here). If we're proud of you we'll let you know, sometimes, and if we love you, well, uh ... that's usually implied, right? It took being around some families who are profuse in their verbal expressions of love (alongside actions) to help me realize that families work in profoundly mysterious ways and with mysterious similarity and dissimilarity.

One friend of mine from a very emotionally expressive family once told me that I had a valuable role to play in relationship to the patriach of that family. I come from this family that is, er, distinguished in direct constructive critique and this means that no matter how emotionally forceful a loyalty is everyone in my family has this alternately helpful or obscenely annoying capacity to set aside all personal affection and loyalty and to simply state flatly that this or that idea is not rational and can't possibly be backed up. You'll hate us if you're on the receiving end of that. I don't blame you. On the other hand, if the time comes to share in a joyful accomplishment my family and I are kind of stoic. In fact I wonder if the prouder we are the less likely my family and I are to actually say anything about it!

I was telling a friend recently that I don't quickly tell people that I love them. I don't. I don't tell someone I love them often even within the family and I find myself thinking I'd like this to change but with a grim suspicion that despite my efforts this is not likely to change. It's not just that I as an individual don't tend to do well in praising as specifically as a criticize it's that, well, my whole family is this way, too I don't know if I'd want to say this is really a generational sin in the way insane spiritual warfare junkies would label it but it does feel, now that I'm closer to 40 than 30, like a pattern that can be easy for someone outside the family to grossly misunderstand.

One of the things I began to put together about a lot of people I met at my old church and about myself and about my family is that there is a temptation to build a narrative of discontent. I didn't get loved the way I needed when I was growing up and now I need to remedy that failure. Churches have bought into this kind of pop psychological fable even while supposedly repudiating pop psychology. I have wondered what the appeal of this kind of pop pyschological narrative would be even amongst church counselors who officially repudiate it. The appeal is that the local church or the pastor or the community group leader or whomever can view himself/herself/the church as the real community and the Christian family that can make up for the failures of flesh and blood family. And in many cases this really does happen, and happens often.

... butI look at this with a deeply wary and jaded eye, this narrative of the church as the better family. I've seen young guys talk about how their family aren't Christian and aren't very supportive. A guy can talk this talk early in his Christian years (i.e. twenties). He's totally sold on the idea that his church family is great and his flesh-and-blood family is messed up. But let this man get married and become a parent and he may discover that those flesh and blood relatives he felt were not good enough compared to his Christian family may be far more reliable and precious to him than "Christian" family. It takes a lot of bad blood and ill will for family relations to break down to the point where two family members don't speak to each other face to face for twenty-one years.

Many of us in American, parents, children, siblings, and so on, manufacture a discontent with our family that lets us play the role of martyr within our family unit that is not really called for. We pretend to ourselves that no one in our family REALLY knows us. This is not true, has probably never been true, and can be demonstrably disproven at so many casual points it should not be considered. To give a purely arbitrary and silly personal example, I could spout on and on about how my sister doesn't know me that well for this or that goofy reason but my sister has noticed I'm kind of a sucker for redheads. She's never had to say she's noticed this but she's noticed it somewhere along the way. I know she's got a much stronger sentimental streak than most people would guess she has, which is why I implored her to not watch the Pixar movie Up until after her husband was back from his deployment to Afghanistan and she'd had her baby.

This is something that, I think, may present itself across generations. Many years ago I was showing my older niece Miss O some Batman: the animated series. It would happen on each Saturday that she and I would watch an episode of Batman: the animated series, an episode of Teen Titans, and then an episode of Justice League. Well, each Saturday when she was good and mama said it was okay we would do this. Well, one evening I asked Miss O, "Is Batman a good guy or a bad guy?" She said, "A bad guy" once, early on but not long after seeing a few Batman episodes she would say, "A good guy." I asked, "What makes him a good guy?" and to this Miss O replied, "He scares bad guys." And to this I proudly said, "Yep, that's pretty much what he does. That's a very good answer." I trust this is a manifestation of my family's didactic impulse few should complain about unless they just strenously object to an uncle watching superhero cartoons with his niece.

My brother and I have been talking about ancient Israelite military campaigns. This must assuredly sound like something very boring to many people either because they think the biblical records must all be made up junk cast as religious propaganda for Josiah and company or because they consider the idea that geographical and population details don't have any practical connection to Christian life which is a life of the spirit and so on. Both views are, in my estimation, ignorant but I don't wish to utterly succumb to the didactic impulse any further than I have! Or perhaps it's too late for that and I should just take Robert Plant's cue and ramble on.

I have come to the tentatively confident conclusion that any given strength is also a weakness. I admit that I find it harder to explain how any given weakness could ever be a strength. I guess I could decide that it's somehow sad that a lot of my family members don't readily say things like "I love you". Our didactic impulse can lead us to make sales pitches that sound more reasonable than they are in our optimistic moments and can come across as a dreaded litany of "I told you so" moments either before or after something has gone wrong. It's easier to be upset when you're on the receiving end of this than to realize you're actually doing it yourself to someone else in the family. :)

I could try to frame this as a family sin that spans generations if I wanted to get all spiritual warfare on this subject. I could because, in one respect, it's actually true. but in this case the spiritual disciplines of encouraging one another in the Lord are probably the better way to go rather than attempt to diagnose all the ways in which I and my family employ the didactic impulse we have to this or that situation. To everything there is a season and every person and every family will have a thing or two in which it is proverbially said, "When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail." I think a more accurate variation of the proverb with my family is that even though that screw needs a phillips head screwdriver we're going to see if we can make do with a slightly smaller flathead screwdriver because, hey, it "should" still get the job done, right?

What I hope to do is to find ways to remember to say things like "I love you" but not just generic stuff--I hope I can also be thankful and encouraging for more specific things and that, perhaps, our family as a whole can improve in this. I wrote elsewhere in this blog, long ago, that if we work on the assumption that all sins are done from pride and are done on purpose this practical hamartiology does more harm than any good it could possibly be proposed to do. That is one of the core temptations to people in a family like mine. When we take offense we tend to take offense assuming the worst about each other, all around. This leads us to withdraw when we don't need to. We can't resist dispensing advice even when it's either not needed or when we're getting out of our depth or don't have all the details. I try to be conscientious about this but I would say I probably fail more often than I succeed here.

But I ramble, as usual. Perhaps in His kindness the Lord will make what currently seems like a weakness, some kind of strength. I really do have this problem of not being able to field one question without looking at how that question connects to all the other questions. I'm obsessively big picture and get discouraged, demoralized, distracted, and troubled. This, I fear, may be a unique flaw I have my other family members may not struggle with so much (or maybe they do). I'm much more apt to think of all the things that seem likely to go wrong than to go right with anything I do. I'm more likely to worry that something basically can't be done. I am at a stage in life where I feel like there's not a lot going my way in the job search. I feel like I screwed up by not continuing to educate myself in tools to keep me more competitive back when I had work but ... I really had been told the odds of my losing my job after five years of work were virtually zero unless I committed a crime. Well, that turned out to not be true. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I keep looking for work, keep tabs on temp agencies and try to find places I can apply to. I've tried looking into continuing education but have been discovering that the great and vast social welfare network caters chiefly to the married with children. There's some wiggle room if you're a veteran (though you can get the short end of the stick big time there, too) but it has dawned on me how much of the social welfare net caters to families. When I hear married people talk about how selfish single people are and consider how many welfare programs (i.e. "socialism") exist to help families in financial binds I wonder whether or not there is some weird irony afoot. It's like financially well-off married guys have this knack for talking about how selfish single people are and yet probably two out of eight social service programs cater to the married. Who are the people more habitually living beyond their means here? But I digress. I have a lot more writing to do on other subjects that will not necessarily become blog posts here at Wenatchee The Hatchet. I'm not altogether sure what this ramble was supposed to be about anymore.

Link: Bon Jovi, Rob Bell and Generational Myopia

As Jon Bon Jovi stumbles into his 50's he is beginning to sound like someone, well, stumbling into his 50's. In a recent interview with the Sunday Times Magazine he waxed nostalgic about his teenage experience with the vinyl album era and, incredibly, began with "Kids today".

Ah, yes, now rock and pop stars are leading with "kids today".

To be sure, generational myopia is inclusive. If those near the end of this mortal coil use their memories to project a superior experience, the young have their own perceptional indulgences. Armed with the leverage of inexperience, the tabula rasa of their future and the real and imagined iniquities of those who have gone before them they are quick to see things with a clarity that managed to elude all previous generations

I share the belief that those who are closer to death lament that the good old days and the wonder of life are gone. They aren't and never will go away but as you get closer to death you begin to lament that your options are vanishing before your eyes while you have enough experience to see the failures you fear for your children or the children that your generation has brought into the world. You are dread that the "youth" will make all kinds of mistakes and will not appreciate the wonder and majesty of life.

Conversely, the youth of today think that the old screwed up everything and that, to put it in the most polemical fashion possible, the best way to honor the old is to be a better person and to be better people than they were. My pessimism about this approach to living life when young lacks for words. We can avoid some of the sins of our fathers but in other respects we may embody them in ways we can't even begin to imagine.

The "we/they are just looking for community" mantra is flattery of the first order. For what it's worth my experience is that those who drone on most about "community" either live it out as if the concept flows heavily in one direction (toward them) or it's used as a pretext to see their own subgroup (who - now here's a shock - share the same life stage and preferences) as being the only ones who are worth having community with. The boring, the prosaic, the unlovely and the uncool (read that: most of the church) are to be endured and not taken seriously. This culture is to be ruthlessly challenged, not pandered to.

Amen! I was at Mars Hill and so I was both part of and observer of this fad of "community". It's never been new because there is nothing new under the sun. In fact "community" and being a city within a city was stuff I heard about at SPU and I was as dubious about that then as I sometimes was at Mars Hill. Lacking a sufficiently robust understanding of church history I got the idea that something new was actually happening. It was new to me and there was much that was very good about it. I came out of my shell in a lot of ways.

But the observation that "community" turns out to be a case of building friendships on a combination of affinity, proximity, and convenience never stops being true. We can sell ourselves on the idea that we're transcending mere "friendship" by aspiring to "gospel partnership" but this can still lead us to form relationships that are not so much friendships or fellowship as useful alliances of convenience. I am more convinced now than I was ten years ago that the people who blather on the most about "community" are those who least understand it and who, ultimately, may even be those who least want what they blather about.

Then there's "authenticity" and "being real".

This is a near relative to "community" but has its own peculiar indications. To be completely fair the "quest for authenticity" did not spring up recently. Its roots go back hundreds of years as the rise of secularism and the market economy gave birth to the comforts of modernity and a creeping spiritual malaise. When people began to enjoy freedom from want and almost certain early death from disease, that freedom produced a sense of disconnect and alienation. As Geoff Pevere writes, "Since existential crises are the domain of full bellies, the quest for authenticity is actually a luxury specifically afforded by modern life." These days this quest is commonly seen in, among many other things, the dismissal of the suburbs as a vacuous wasteland, spending more than you have to for groceries at Whole Foods Market, and moving to Portland. [emphasis added] I'm kidding about Portland.

Please don't be kidding about Portland! I grew up in western Oregon and saw enough sanctimonious Earth Muffins to last me the rest of my life!

The significance of Pevere's observation is nearly impossible to overstate. People who are most concerned with the subject of destiny are those who least have to wonder if they will have water, food, shelter, and gainful employment a week from now. Those most eager to prattle on about the ennui and meaninglessness of the suburbs are those who have benefited from the stability of that lifestyle. Authenticity should never be our goal, not when authenticity is yet another shibboleth permitting us the opportunity to rhetorically ask, "And who is my neighbor?"

I am no longer skeptical about community groups in which people don't get heavy, deep or real. I become skeptical about groups that say "This is where I can be real." Sure, like you aren't real when you are hanging out with friends or going on a date with your significant other or potty-training your toddler. The problem with the quest for authenticity is that you already have it but it's not the kind of authenticity you want. Josef Stalin, Martin Luther King Jr. and that guy across the street who you are sure is not really homeless are all equally authentic people in the end. The attractive woman who snubbed your attempts at small talk is not less authentic than you are because she doesn't have any interest in Supergirl. The influential big shot at the local church is not less authentic than you for making more money than you do. Heretics and unbelievers and people you don't like are never less "real" or authentic than you are but you will find it in your heart to convince that either you yourself "are" the real deal or that they somehow aren't, for whatever reasons you will contrive for yourself to make yourself happy.

The problem with "community" is that it allows us to decide who isn't our neighbor and the problem with "authenticity" allows you to decide that whatever the group you're visiting is part of is boring and that we should talk about what you want to talk about. A guy visiting a community gruop who has recently gone through a divorce might decide he needs to be authentic about where he's at and that he misses this or that about marriage but didn't like this or that and broach the subject in mixed company with some unmarried people around. Awkward, no? Someone might share a history of sexual abuse in a setting with a bunch of marrieds with kids nearby and singles who have no reference point. Awkward, no? Someone might share that family can be a source of discouragement and exasperation in a family where nobody has substantial problems getting along. You get the idea.

Into this kind of "authentic" "community" it will be tough for people to relate to things. I've seen whole fields of experience be described as beyond the comprehension of singles. I've also seen community groups cool considerably when someone talks about how she supports Obama and straightaway someone else in the group talks about Obama's socialism. It wasn't long before these people stopped being in the same community group.

It can be interesting hearing older guys talk about how younger guys have no sense of direction or purpose and when I consider the lives of these older men I say, without meaning any disrespect, that there have been many times when I realize that it has been these older guys struggling to find a new direction. The passions of young men often guide them into foolish pursuits but it's hard to say that their passions don't drive them. They may not know precisely "what" they want to do but they'll do it with their might.

As we get older the energies of the body disperse and are spent and it becomes more challenging to muster the energy to do what we have resolved to do when, by contrast, in our youth we had so much energy that hardly committing to any particular path did not seem like a great problem. Our horizons at the beginning and the end may be small. That is probably the perennial danger of generational myopia everywhere but perhaps most especially in the very young and the very old. Perhaps the reason God providentially has a big swath that could be described as middle-aged is so that there are groups of men and women whose horizons are not constrained by either a lack of experience or the horizon of death. Then again, death can strike us at any time regardless of age and this, some family members tell me, is something I think about too often.

Well, as this relates to generational myopia about "community' and "authenticity" let me speak of these things as someone who relies on public transit. That old man with the walker who needs the lift to get on the bus and who slows down your bus from getting to where you want to go. He is authentically your neighbor. That drunk hitting on the nervous college student is authentically your neighbor, too. That toddler screeching his head off to his mother's frustration on public transit is being totally authentic! He also is an image-bearer of God who is part of the community you live in! Now tell me how grateful to God you are for his endless screeching, eh? He's not my favorite person on public transit but you know what? We all know we were screeching toddlers in someone else's vehicle at some point ... and just maybe that we're still that screeching toddler in ways we don't want to admit to ourselves or other people. Those people in "community" already notice these things about us and it may be a credit to their "authentic" selves that they point out that it would be nice if we used our inside voice a little more.