Thursday, June 16, 2011

Honor your father and mother ...

I have intended to write about this sermon a bit since it was preached a few weeks ago but haven't gotten around to it. I still haven't gotten around to it but that doesn't mean I don't mean to get to it at some point. For now, simply posting the link may suffice. I will say that where I hope to camp is on the observation Haralson makes that the genius of this commandment is that the wording is "honor your father and mother" not "obey your father and mother". The latter would be comparatively easy to fulfill as a matter of course but it is the former that constitutes the core of the command, one of the few commandments in the Ten Commandments that is a positive command rather than a prohibition.
As Haralson notes in his sermon, the core of this command can be seen as relating to how we are disposed in our hearts not merely toward our parents but those who through God's providence are appointed as authorities over us.
If we note that God's command that we honor father and mother does not stipulate that the parents are worthy of honor via conduct this may shed some light on what Christians have at times found the confoundingly sympathetic light the apostles shed on the patently oppressive habits of the Roman empire. How could they take such a nonchalant view toward the abusive use of power by governments? Could there be some insight into that by way of a consideration of the family unit as a miniature government? Where Christian children admonished to foment revolutions against unjust parents any more than adult believers were advised to rebel against tyrants? It is fairly easy for Christians to say we should "salute the uniform" when the subject is a parent who feels he or she is not being adequately honored by his or her children. Do we extend the same eagerness to "salute the uniform" when the authority in question is a government or employer we consider corrupt or stupid? I could write more but at this point with Father's day having just passed by this last Sunday I figure it's better to write a little bit late than find myself never getting to any of the subjects this sermon on this commandment discusses.

HT Mockingbird: In which I wonder if "adultescence" is as simple as people not wanting to grow up

I found this link by way of Mockingbird and it's an intriguing article.

Last October, in an article for the New York Times Magazine, RenĂ©e Bacher, a mother in Louisiana, described the emptiness she felt as she sent her daughter off to college in the Northeast. Bacher tried getting support from other mother friends, who, it turned out, were too busy picking up a refrigerator for a child’s college dorm room or rushing home to turn off a high-schooler’s laptop. And while Bacher initially justified her mother-hen actions as being in her daughter’s best interest—coming up with excuses to vet her daughter’s roommate or staying too long in her daughter’s dorm room under the guise of helping her move in—eventually she concluded: “As with all Helicopter Parenting, this was about me.”

Bacher isn’t unusual. Wendy Mogel says that colleges have had so much trouble getting parents off campus after freshman orientation that school administrators have had to come up with strategies to boot them. At the University of Chicago, she said, they’ve now added a second bagpipe processional at the end of opening ceremonies—the first is to lead the students to another event, the second to usher the parents away from their kids. The University of Vermont has hired “parent bouncers,” whose job is to keep hovering parents at bay. She said that many schools are appointing an unofficial “dean of parents” just to wrangle the grown-ups. Despite the spate of articles in recent years exploring why so many people in their 20s seem reluctant to grow up, the problem may be less that kids are refusing to separate and individuate than that their parents are resisting doing so. (emphasis added)

There have, indeed, been plenty of articles bemoaning the failure of 20-somethings to just grow up already. I have been skeptical about this outrage for multiple reasons. The job market and economy have nose-dived in the last three to five years, by stages. There are not necessarily jobs out there for those people, particularly guys, who are told to "man up" and go get a real job. College has been getting more expensive for less professional return on investment.
But that is not the only reason I have been skeptical about people in their 40s and 50s wanting to know why people won't just grow up. As the above excerpt mentions, there are kids who are subject to a helicopter parenting style where their parents ultimately don't want them to have their own lives. I don't have the impression, honestly, that this is necessarily a problem with my parents' generation so much as it seems like a problem in the generation after that, or as likely as it seems it will be the problem of my generation.

HT Orthocuban: Christians, Vaccinations, and herd immunity

Orthocuban speaks briefly to how herd immunity is a real social health variable and how in earlier times a person could plausibly get away with not immunizing because of herd immunity. As more and more parents in certain regions forego vaccinations the advantage of herd immunity disappears. Perhaps in a form of bucking the trends it may be advantageous to get your kids immunized precisely because most of the other parents around you don't want to immunize their children and assume things will be okay. It may be a time to mention the proverb that says there is a way that seems right to a man but its end leads to death. The proverb does not specify whose death is the result and that, I propose, is part of the warning in the proverb. There was a way that seemed right to Jephthah and yet its end led to the death of his daughter.

Mars Hill, the next stop in the Westboro self-promotion tour

Now I have not stopped having some reservations about the multi-site megachurch disguising itself from its own denominational nature. But I admit that it's a story like this that gets me thinking there are occasional advantages to such a system. If Westboro comes to picket your church and they're too lazy to go where the preaching pastor is they'll settle for a satellite campus within the network.

Westboro seems to spend as much or more time picketing other people as they do spending any time gathered as their own church. Maybe they're just running on the assumption that where two or more of them are gathered in Jesus' name He's there with them so picketing other churches is the same thing as gathering for church.

So I may have reservations about the multi-site megachurch model but in this case I'll make an exception. Perhaps, and I speculate here, that Westboro is even more of a celebrity driven church than Mars Hill in Seattle, since so much of the Westboro flock is Phelps family. The purity of the church now may necessitate some in-breeding at some point if they're going to stick to what they're known for.

At another level this may be an object lesson in how churches in America who gain notoriety for being giant or small tend to gain that notoriety through strategic branding. It is, I guess, a quintessentially American way of doing and being church. Still, I do not hesitate to say that I prefer Mars Hill on this point to Westboro.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

part two of the new Mockingbird series is up, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Toys"

This is where I spend a bit of time explaining Optimus Prime for those who, really, probably already know about him. The more I have considered things the more I have noticed that Transformers were to 1980s children what the Beatles were to a bunch of American teenagers and 20-somethings but one of these two is considered, by far, more "respectable" in the annals of pop cultural veneration. I'm not convinced one is truly better than the other. I'm not convinced that either are necessarily great investments but at the same time I can't say "no", either. It's too easy to dismiss the hobbies of others as dumb or stupid or maybe even, in crankier moments, evil. There are plenty of people who would say my fascination with chamber music for classical guitar is a time-waster. I was once into Transformers and I realized over some time that my transition away from being a Transformers fan was that though I could still grant some of those toys were awesome I no longer bought the story that was used to sell those toys to American kids like me. A big, big part of my ultimate failure to keep buying the story was Optimus Prime.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Link: You Are Not So Smart--The Backfire Effect

As the article puts it so simply and eloquently, the misconception is that when you are presented with evidence to persuade you to change your mind you do. The reality is that when you hold firmly to something and are presented with evidence to the contrary you are more likely to dig in your heels and assume you're right and the counter-evidence must be wrong.

There are too many examples of this backfire effect for me to wish to discuss any of the specific examples at any significant length. In terms of internet conversations the Backfire Effect can be one of the more depressing things to observe. This is one of the means by which a person who could be able to concede ignorance or poor scholarship on a particular issue will just dig in his heels and declare "I'm right" and attempt to end discussion. Of course it happens on the internet because it has happened everywhere else for as long as humans have existed.

The Backfire Effect is arguably how people defend the people and causes they like when evidence is presented that something has gone wrong. Suppose someone at Mars Hill plays video games and really digs Mars Hill. When Driscoll says video games are stupid time-wasting enterprises on victories that don't matter this person may nod in agreement and say video games are stupid but say that gaming as an enterprise isn't the same thing as video games and develop a way to express a view that Driscoll, in some indirect way, isn't just ripping on video games but talking about sinful ways of cultural activity.

Well, there's just this thing that the categorical declaration that video games are stupid wasn't couched in terms of that. This sort of response could be construed as a kind of backfire effect by someone who, when presented with a decision to either concede his pastor has said video games are stupid and stick with that or to finesse the actual content of the statement to justify still being a gamer but attending the church, makes the decision to finesse what Driscoll meant rather than take the statement as given. The victories that don't matter which are a distraction from "creating a legacy" stops becoming the argument against gaming and "creating a legacy" is transsubstantiated into gaming, which is precisely the opposite of what Driscoll seemed (to me) to obviously intend.

Now since I think that baseball is even more stupid than video-gaming I am not so sure that ripping on someone's past-times is an effective way to make any polemic but here I'm simply discussing how a backfire effect could work in a day-to-day example. When presented with evidence that his pastor thinks video games are stupid a loyal church member comes up with a way to say that what his pastor really meant was that gaming is okay if you don't do it in a sinful way.

The backfire effect frequently manifests itself in defense of or offence of particular teachers, ideologies, or goals. A Calvinist will be willing to overlook or minimize certain deeds done by Calvin. Confederate sympathizers famously emphasize states rights over racial agendas--R. L. Dabney is cited as a prophetic voice regarding public schools leading to secularization and the bit about how public schools would merely train Negro children to be better criminals and criminally use the taxed dollars of whites to train inferior Negro children gets skimmed over by all but the most openly white supremacist/kinist groups. People who back Martin Luther King Jr. will emphasize the greatness of his mission and concede that extramartial activity was an unfortunate thing. People who are determined to see Rev. King as a bad guy will assume that allegations of communism by Hoover's efforts must be taken at face value. People who have been suckered by a fraud can at times double down in their faith because it is more comforting to believe that the fraud is not really a fraud than to admit one was hoodwinked.

The most famous examples of the backfire effect since Harold Camping's need to recalculate would be false prophecies related to the return of Christ or of judgment. I still remember a self-described prophet from Korea who said that before 1997 passed California would sink into the sea for its sins. Didn't happen. When a false prophet gets things wrong the escape hatch is to say he or she misunderstood the relevant data and calculations. It's a fancy way of saying they misunderstoof the prophecy and that this time the thing is properly understood. It becomes the standard evasion technique for avoiding the reality that one has made a false prophetic prediction. A person in the throes if this mentality cannot concede the possibility of being wrong and so doubles down on his or her prophetic powers and discernment as a way to cover up a spectacular error in perception or character assessment. This is because for the person who conceives of himself or herself as a prophet that is, per the Backfire Effect, a fundamental understanding of the self.

But it's easy to imagine how the backfire effect works on someone you're arguing with, the exponentially trickier part is figuring out how and where you may be doing this to yourself.

Multi-site megachurches, with friends and advocates like James MacDonald do they need enemies?

I have to admit that the first interview I saw with James MacDonald left me singularly unimpressed with him. He frequently interrupted Mark Dever and wouldn't let him finish making his various points and did not seem to really answer his questions. Mark Driscoll had a "you see I beat you" moment but I expect Driscoll to have that one-upmanship weakness. He's like that but despite that bad habit I think Driscoll still comes off looking more respectful and considerate. He also (and this I know from ten years connected to Mars Hill) can concede there are pragmatic reasons for settling on a type of church government. Now don't expect me to go into the Mars Hill by-laws 2007. That's not what I'm here for today. I'm here to say that James MacDonald made a singularly bad impression on me with his tag team interview with Mark Dever.

Then this stuff came up. Saying that congregational government is an unbiblical and satanic approach is even more assasine than Driscoll saying in Reformission Rev that congregational leadership is like letting the inmates run the insane asylum. Driscoll's prone to hyperbole and occasionally weak but emotionally charged arguments. But even he has not (that I know of) declared that congregational governance is from Satan.

MacDonald is already on my radar of stupid pastoral arguments for claiming J. Vernon McGee's sermons shouldn't be on the radio because he's dead and the Spirit isn't working through those sermons anymore. Whatever, let's just burn all the writings of the Puritans and the Spurgeon sermons because those aren't being used by the Lord anymore. A multi-site church by its nature creates a temporal and spatial gap between the pastor and the flock that isn't metaphysically or socially any different from McGee sermons. If MacDonald pre-records a sermon for a later time then by his own metric he's got sermons that aren't used by the Holy Spirit.

But wait, Mars Hill made a "videology" case that using video-taped sermons was like Paul's epistles. Now as someone who has a visual disability that precludes me from driving I actually love downloadable sermons. I also think the Spirit can use sermons written thousands of years ago by Christian teachers who have no connection temporally, spatially or culturally to the people receiving the message. If MacDonald wants to take his poorly thought-out case against old sermons from dead guys to the kind of reductio ad absurdum he seems to like then we should just cut Hebrews out of the canon right now.

Then there's this stuff about voting is unbiblical. Of course he's really only saying that congregational voting in a church is unbiblical. He doesn't really mean to say that voting in a representative democracy is unbiblical or that federalism or republican political ideals are unbiblical. If he really wants to play the voting is unbiblical card I guess ecumenical councils have to get an exemption. Oh, well, maybe that's because those could be considered executive elder board meetings. That way he's not sawing off the executive elder vote that he seems to be going for. Claiming that even Dever concedes congregational leadership is not strictly biblical and benefits from hybridization doesn't prove that MacDonald is right, it just proves that Dever is smart enough to advocate for congregational rule as something tempered by a group of elders.

But here's the thing that might be considered unbiblical, having a big multi-site megachurch assimilate a failing congregation as a way to continue growing may not be biblical either. How many church sites added to a multi-site denomination amount to keeping local congregations alive? I'm not saying that's necessarily bad. In fact I'm at a church whose history, if I understand it properly, was that it was once a non-denominational church that hit a major crisis and was saved from a nosedive by denominational help. I can appreciate that. What I'm not sure is quite so cool is if this becomes a PATTERN. Mars Hill got some sites added through church plants or failing churches that decided to integrate or reintegrate. But if the flock to be doesn't vote for it in whatever way is called for then that's how the cookie crumbles.

Way back when the Driscoll, MacDonald, and Dever "interview" happened I had some Mars Hill friends with whom I talked about the matter. My Mars Hill buddies found how Dever got treated to be embarrassing. Mark, they said, was quite a bit more respectful (I actually agree) but that they found themselves wishing James MacDonald would just shut up already and let Mark Dever finish a sentence. Dude, if people at Driscoll's megachurch multi-site wish you'd have shut up and let Dever get a word in edgewise instead of having to be right that might suggest that even people who would theoretically be on board with you think you're doing it wrong.

But why should MacDonald care what nameless members of Mars Hill think about how poorly and disrespectfully he tried to claim Dever was wrong? I don't have to assume the worst about MacDonald to say that based on what I've seen of him so far his motives may seem pristine in his own mind but he's not on his best behavior or best position of reasoning from the few things I've seen and heard from him. He's not inspiring me to pay any attention to him at this point. If he's any kind of big gun advocate of multi-site megachurches then the model and the concept needs a more compelling and courteous advocate.

And if 73% isn't 75% then trust that God's providential power to orchestrate circumstances is what it is and that we can't know it. Sometimes the worst thing the Lord can visit on us is giving us exactly what we ask for as a way of revealing our mistrust of Him. Sometimes the thing that looks like God opening a door for a church to move forward can end up looking a bit more like a money pit.