Thursday, August 18, 2011

JS Bangs: Abjection of the past in fantasy literature

I have much I could write about this but for now I'd rather just link to what my friend J. S. Bangs has written in these two links. The first link about the abjection of the past in literature and literary criticism is particularly intriguing to me. The observation that genre fiction emerged precisely at the moment when Western intellectual culture decided the past definitively needed to be escaped from so that we could embrace better-modern is something we could camp out on for a long time.

Priestly Rants: On the Stupidity of Mission Statements

I had never really considered it until I read Smith’s book on moving from being Evangelical to Roman Catholic, but upon consideration I think he’s right. Have you ever noticed how many non-denominational “evangelical” churches post “statements of belief”?


I don’t know; maybe it’s cool to sit down with your pals at Starbucks, enjoy a whatever kind of $6.00 latte they’re serving and compose some hip-cool-funk-a-delic-post-modern statement of why it is you feel the need to work with the poor or whom/whatever, but it seems to me to be more ego masturbation than anything else. In essence what you’re saying is that Creeds are not enough; the Gospel needs something else; Jesus needs a PR man. Of course the irony is that at the end of the day the only mission statement that matters is already written: “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will” (Ps. 40). [emphasis added]
There's almost nothing I could add to this, well, rant. :) Almost.
This is a long-term risk in the "missional" camp, which is why I am not surprised that churches that a decade ago were described as "emerging" are slowly emerging into either standard liberal or conservative Protestant lines of thought. When I was in my early twenties and was quite a bit more naive and lacking in historical grounding I thought that an emerging/missional church might actually turn out to be something else.
Well, youthful naivete can sometimes be excused, I hope! Now that I'm closer to forty than thirty I realize that it was youthful naivete to imagine that things would turn out that differently after all. In fact a certain pastor said in a sermon earlier this year that in some cases plain old-fashioned naivete was married to arrogance on the subject of how differently things would turn out "this time". Everyone wants to imagine he or she will be that exceptional person who didn't go along with "authority" in the Milgram experiment. Everyone wants to imagine that "I" will not be like the others. There's a huge difference between hoping and praying that you do not sin the same way your fathers did, and another thing to say that you won't in full confidence that the way you plan to honor the legacy of your forebears is to be a better person than them. One of these paths does not consist of pride going before a fall, right?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Link: The Guardian: Internet Anonymity and Trolling

Some ten years ago I was on an unmoderated forum. You can probably guess which one if you've read this blog for a while. I was unusual in that when I participated on the forum I used my real name. One man eventually met me in a class setting and said he'd been wanting to meet me for a while. He said anyone who had the balls to use his real name on a site like the one we both participated in was someone he wanted to meet. I didn't just use my real first name as a sobriquet, I used my real name.

Although I have long since developed the pseudonym Wenatchee The Hatchet this has never really been a truly identify-hiding pseudonym. It gives a person a snowball's chance of figuring out what region of the United States I live in by including the name of a real town in the Northwest (not that I've ever lived there, mind you). Even the alliteration built into the name could lead a widely read reader to suspect I have read more than a few comic books penned by Stan Lee. I have made no effort to conceal a longstanding connection in the last eleven years to Mars Hill. Of course last year I began writing for Mockingbird and decided that my pseudonym, already effectively doing nothing to conceal my identity, could be considered less a pseudonym and more like a brand.

But as I have said before the distinction between anonymous blogging and a public persona is not so big as might first appear. A comedian can appreciate this, as can an actor or a musician. It is easy for someone to remark on the public persona without seeing that this is the persona and not the person. It can be difficult for a person who has cultivated a persona to remember the distinction between persona and person for that matter. Someone might be tempted to shield family or friends from public remarks about the persona thinking they may feel that these remarks are about the person. That's understandable, yet it may also need to be said that when you compose a persona and enter the public sphere you invite comment that will inevitably emerge in the world on-line, which, if it were not really in any way effecting the real world, could not include statements over which lawsuits could be formed.

On the internet there's trolls to be sure but in a sad way there is really no trouble on the internet that we have not, for the most part, brought upon ourselves. The internet has been around for some twenty years and it can still be hard to fully appreciate this. We can imagine we get trouble or emotionally troubled by bloggers or news feeds or crazy people on the internet but we are not merely tempted by things outside, real as those external temptations may be. Those external temptations are given to us in "new" ways by means of the internet but the temptations themselves are ancient. Rumors of wars predated the internet by millenia. Rumors of scandals in church circles predated the church, if you think about it. The temptation to covet someone else's spouse predated the internet. The temptation to lie about someone to bolster your own reputation predates the printing press. Even if you were to hole yourself up and avoid any contact with the internet none of the temptations you think the internet will make worse will be absent.

In a way trolling exists in more than one form. How about forwards from supposedly real people who are often not attributed as sources? You know, the forwards that lambast this or that person and make claims that are not necessarily true but confirm your worst suspicions about so and so? Some of the most persistent and pervasive trolling on the internet comes in the form of spammy chain emails that we forward because we agree with whatever the sentiment is, frequently tagged with something to the effect of "and if you're a real American you'll forward this." I guess I'm not a real American.

I delete just about every forward I receive. Let me tell you, unbidden, why. I wouldn't want someone forwarding stuff of that sort about my family members and since I appreciate that people I disagree with, however strongly, also have family members, I'm not interested in forwarding this paranoid forward about how Obama is a Muslim conqueror or that forward about how Bush 2 was going to declare martial law and suspend the Constitution. It all ends up reading more or less the same way. Trolling happens in your heart long before you hit the reply button. We are all tempted to troll but that doesn't mean we have to give into that temptation. No, really, we are all tempted to troll. The difference between some of us and others of us has nothing to do with the temptation or even the disposition of the heart, the difference is more a matter of the fact that some of us go beyond imagining our witty rejoinders and put-downs to working at making those a reality. But the equally unhappy truth is that the vast majority of us are not so witty or clever or funny or coherent as we tell ourselves we are.

Priestly Rants writes about the gap between forensic justification and an actually transformed life

The author at Priestly Rants is Lutheran and not "evangelical", which is to say not evangelical. He mentions how many Lutherans speak as if the "as if" part of salvation is the focal point of everything. Of course if the purely forensic aspect of justification is the big deal then what happens when a Christian continues to struggle with depression or continues to display patterns that reveal mental illness? Does the person with bipolar disorder get told that he or she just needs to trust in the forensic/judicial statement of justification? What does that mean?

In eternity, sure, we know what that means, but a forensic declaration of justification by faith doesn't look like the renewal of the mind, does it? What would the renewal of the mind look like? Not planning on discussing that at length here, smarter and better people than I shall ever be have fielded that subject generations before me. But I do want to link to this and mention that there can be a difference between a Christian counselor wanting to avoid "pop pyschology" and a Christian counselor who assumes that "all truth is God's truth" just so long as it doesn't require one to come up with a nuanced understanding of mental illness that doesn't involve mere demonization or "lack of repentance".

so angry Irish guys tend to die in disputes about honor and manhood?

... That’s the premise of a new study out today in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The three authors, all from the University of Oklahoma, found that states with a “culture of honor” –- in the South, and the West, mainly -- also have higher rates of accidental death for white males: 42 per 100,000 compared to 36.8 per 100,000 in non “honor” states.

So what’s a “culture of honor”? “The relentless, and sometimes violent, defense of masculine reputation,” according to the study.

“This is an adaptation to what the Ulster Scots [also called the Scots-Irish] experienced over 800 or 900 years in southern Scotland,” one of the study’s authors, Ryan P. Brown, explained. “That’s a breeding ground for the types of dynamics we are looking at.”

Interclan raiding and warfare led to allegiance to family and a high value being placed on one’s personal bravery; think Mel Gibson and his blue William Wallace face. Then, when those people came to the United States, they tended to move to some pretty wild areas.

So does this mean road rage is more common in the West and South? Not entirely sure about the nature of the study or if it has replicable results. Psychologist Roy Baumeister has done work on violence and social integration and he has proposed that the badass is a person who fights more by reputation than actual fighting. If the badass is perceived as, well, a badass, then he doesn't have to fight most of the time. In fact he only needs to win the few fights he may get into or merely be perceived as having not lost his honor to keep his position. It's not entirely surprising that cultures in which a badass could emerge are those in which honor and masculinity are felt to be at stake.

I suppose the upshot so far as the author is concerned is that you, as a man, will live a bit longer if you don't feel obliged to actually prove your manhood over slights real or imagined, particularly if those slights are, well, slight.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

and then there were three executive elders

Okay, so instead of five executive elders there are now three. Quaint ... and unfortunately unsurprising. The by-laws indicate that there ought be no less than three but no more than six executive elders so this fits the parameters of design but, still, three is a bare minium indeed. Setting aside (for the moment) that I think the kingly/priest/prophetic delineation is lazy one that not supportable by a truly thorough study of the scriptures, I would have found it difficult to stay at a church where the executive elder board shrinks from 5 to 3 in five years. What was the point of drafting by-laws if the organization was going to change so rapidly those by-laws were functionally meaningless? Just to have by-laws so you can get your 501(c)3 status cleared up?

This executive elder board trinity still includes an executive board with a member who got the bright idea to suggest the boondoggle in Ballard. I suppose he's older and wiser now but even Ahithophel can be thwarted by the Lord. Since I'm not there, one could say, it shouldn't make much difference to me. Well, it does. Just as accountability from pastors across the country who don't interact with a man and who both stepped down from active pastoral work in the last two years for a while doesn't come off like real accountability from "above" ; so a steadily shrinking executive elder board for a denomination in all but name doesn't come across like it necessarily provides a lot of room for accountabililty from "below". It's particularly true when one of the executives was converted under the preaching of the "prophet" pastor and has effectively had no professional life of any consequence outside the organization.

Precisely because the organization is so obviously a denomination in all but name it would seem that with ten churches, and with the new razzle-dazzle of all the campuses being churches then why wouldn't the executive board include the lead pastors of each campus, er, church? An executive board of ten or twelve would not seem too unwieldy for an organization with about ten thousand people in the organization and churches in multiple states with plans to go international at some point. The Seattle Symphony has 7 people on its board of directors. Seattle Art Museum has nine members on its managing board of trustees. There are nine members on the board of directors at Microsoft, to cast the net into for-profit organizations. Boeing has eleven members on its board of directors.

But the executive elder board at a certain denomination in all but name consists of just three people. It didn't matter that dozens of elders voted on the purchase of a certain piece of property that isn't being used as a campus so much as that there is a type of unanimity and efficiency that is counterproductive. There are two ways in which this can happen. One is when the leadership team tasked with making executive decisions is too big ... but another is when it is too small. We don't know whether or not three are really going to avoid the pitfalls of thirty. Considering that the three were once five and that only two of those have remained while the rest have been a revolving door it seems as though what should have been done from the outset was simply making the two the official executives who mattered at all who would then pick subordinates to do their will. Unofficially that may simply be exactly what has transpired.

Anyway, just making a few mental notes by way of blogging on the matter. If you get it then you get it and if you don't then you don't.

A link for later discussion: The Triumph of the Cyborg Composer

First off the title is a wonderful, provocative title. Secondly, there is a great deal I wish to write about this article later when I get much more work done on my BTAS series for Mockingbird. For now I just want to link to the article.

Sovereign Grace Ministries spiritual abuse/blackmail controversies and Mars Hill accountability

Years ago Mark Driscoll said that he was being held accountable by C. J. Mahaney and John Piper. Well, it appears that as scandals brew up people have asked who is keeping Mahaney accountable. I know Josh Harris resigned and heard at least some of his sermon and though I can't speak authoritatively about the "Syrian" remarks that people have said were supremely unfair I got the impression Harris was very sincere in his belief that the Lord was letting some heavy stuff hit the fan.
For me, having observed things here in Seattle in connection to Mars Hill the stuff all of this raises as a subject for consideration (if not discussion) is what this means for the accountability (if any) Mars Hill leadership, but most specifically Driscoll, gets. How do pastors on the other side of the country manage to mentor or lead a pastor who has a penchant for Facebook posts inviting people to share stories about anatomically male yet effeminate worship leaders? He did not, as some bloggers noted with some fervor, refer to homosexual worship leaders. Bloggers who go that direction are using Driscoll to continue frying their own fish rather than consider which fish Driscoll is out to fry. The salient issue I consider is that if one of the key pastors described as mentoring Driscoll has stepped down temporarily and partly conceded allegations of spiritual abuse in the leadership of his church and, to go by recent news via the Christian blogosphere, is no longer even attending the church he founded for a time, how is Driscoll supposed to be held accountable by this fellow?
Let me put it another way, if Mahaney himself has been accused of abusing spiritual authority and his leaders have been accused of blackmail and covering up abuse how can those comparable sins be called to account in a setting like Mars Hill? It's not that they categorically "can't", it's that the odds of such happening are so unlikely as to approach the appearance of zero even if zero is not literally obtainable.
But even if real accountability were happening it would seem moot now. It is easy for a pastor or an author to sound off in the public sphere about young adult fiction for girls or movies. Anyone can pontificate on that. It's far more dangerous to pontificate on things that matter in the life of an actual church. So while a pastor may use the pulpit to speak about gender roles in a public setting (while imagining he has not had a real opportunity to do so), said pastor will scrupulously avoid discussing churches going into financial ruin such as Crystal Cathedral. A pastor will studiously avoid discussing the news that R. C. Sproul's son was defrocked and found to have abused spiritual authority. Allegations of EIN fraud will go unremarked upon altogether.
There will likely be little to no comment about SGM scandals. There wouldn't be simply because if CJ is Driscoll's mentor/advisor/person-holding-him accountable, the man can't afford to publicly sound off on stuff he probably knows little to nothing about regarding a person he has described as being in spiritual authority over him. We may ask whether such a formal informal statement even means anything but we can't say there's no sense in keeping one's mouth shut in every medium and wait for everything to blow over. It remains to be seen whether Mahaney will even continue attending or participating in the church he founded.
What this means simply, and at a practical level, is what I already felt was the case, whatever accountability Driscoll says Mahaney has provided is probably of a pro forma variety. It isn't entirely without merit or meaning but it has probably never been of a particularly deep kind or involved much by way of relationship. There's a difference between the affectation of the bad boy willing to confront tough issues in the church and someone willing to confront tough issues in the church.
Piper, famously, stepped down for a time because he felt he had, among other issues, some species of pride that he did not believe disqualified him for ministry but that were significant issues that needed to be addressed. If Piper himself felt a need to step down over some issues for a time and Mahaney has stepped down amidst allegations of straightforward wrong-doing it does not fill me with the greatest confidence that these men were holding Driscoll accountable in any meaningful way. Truthfully I never expected it was possible even if a genuine will to that end existed.
Since I no longer attend Mars Hill I suppose in a way it's all moot ... BUT I still consider myself fairly Reformed, attend a Presbyterian church, and realize that the young, restless Reformed aren't going away. In fact they are working extremely hard to be the ones who, in their minds, guide and shape white American males who will influence the future. Yeah, I did put it like that for reasons I won't necessarily get into here but the neo-Calvinist movement has always flirted with mainly stuff that white people like. I linked earlier to Drew G. I. Hart's observation that the older school evangelicals have actually done more to reach out to blacks and other people of color than the emerging/emergent sorts, let alone newer evangelicals. While the new Calvinists and the emergents battle over who gets the as -yet-single white boys, there's a battle between the new Calvinists and self-described old Calvinists (i.e. the John MacArthur crowd) over who should be getting the white boys.
So even though I'm not at that church/denomination I notice that they frequently get themselves into the heart of controversies within things Reformed in America and the English-speaking world. They will continue to vie for a heavy amount of importance and relevance. Whether or not they would be able to consciously admit it they want to be THE movement that matters in new Calvinism. If SGM continues to spiral and the old self-appointed Calvinist vanguards like MacArthur, Piper, or others split over Mars as an issue then the nascent denomination may get exactly what it wants.
The price, however, will be that once it get what it wants it will become the focal point of institutional criticism. You can't become the biggest, fastest, most important church of your kind without becoming an institution and getting the kinds of surgical examinations that institutions warrant. It was easy to dismiss trenchant criticism ten or fourteen years ago because it was easy to imagine there was no institutional element involved. The closer the organization gets to the two decade mark the more unavoidable this set of issues shall become. Don't expect to see any concession of the reality of institutionalism.
Expect to see new ways of perceiving the self as having a big vision. Guess what, that's what institutions do, too. The little school by the canal just across the water from the not-institution/not-denomination has been doing that sort of "vision casting" for more than a century now. I still say (as I have said for years) that it's better to brace yourself for the reality of what you're becoming, a fat middle-aged guy, than to pretend you can still fit into the high school uniform. Varsity was a long time ago. Meanwhile, the accountability from "above" seems to be weirdly absent and the accountability from below ... well ... that's not something I have any keen insights into, I'm afraid.